Republican Insider Explains How Religion Destroyed the GOP

Source:Alternet

Author: Mike Lofgren / Viking Press

Link:https://www.alternet.org/republican-insider-explains-how-religion-destroyed-gop?src=newsletter109undamentalism and how the GOP devolved into anti-intellectual nuts. 

Emphasis Mine.

Having observed politics up close and personal for most of my adult lifetime, I have come to the conclusion that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism may have been the key ingredient in the transformation of the Republican Party. Politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes—at least in the minds of its followers—all three of the GOP’s main tenets: wealth worship, war worship, and the permanent culture war.

The following exceprt is reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of the Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from “The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle Class Got Shafted,” by Mike Lofgren. Copyright © 2012 by Mike Lofgren.

Religious cranks ceased to be a minor public nuisance in this country beginning in the 1970s and grew into a major element of the Republican rank and file. Pat Robertson’s strong showing in the 1988 Iowa presidential caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and religion in the party. Unfortunately, at the time I mostly underestimated the implications of what I was seeing. It did strike me as oddly humorous that a fundamentalist staff member in my congressional office was going to take time off to convert the heathen in Greece, a country that had been overwhelmingly Christian for almost two thousand years. I recall another point, in the early 1990s, when a different fundamentalist GOP staffer said that dinosaur fossils were a hoax. As a mere legislative mechanic toiling away in what I held to be a civil rather than ecclesiastical calling, I did not yet see that ideological impulses far different from mine were poised to capture the party of Lincoln.

The results of this takeover are all around us: If the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution, scriptural inerrancy, the presence of angels and demons, and so forth, it is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party, and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary beliefs. All around us now is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science. Politicized religion is the sheet anchor of the dreary forty-year-old culture wars.

The Constitution notwithstanding, there is now a de facto religious test for the presidency: Major candidates are encouraged (or coerced) to share their feelings about their faith in a revelatory speech, or a televangelist like Rick Warren will dragoon the candidates (as he did with Obama and McCain in 2008) to debate the finer points of Christology, offering himself as the final arbiter. Half a century after John F. Kennedy put to rest the question of whether a candidate of a minority denomination could be president, the Republican Party has reignited the kinds of seventeenth-century religious controversies that advanced democracies are supposed to have outgrown. And some in the media seem to have internalized the GOP’s premise that the religion of a candidate is a matter for public debate.

Throughout the 2012 Republican presidential campaign, Mitt Romney was dogged with questions about his religion. The spark was a hitherto obscure fundamentalist preacher from Texas, Robert Jeffress, who attacked Romney’s Mormonism by doubting whether he could really be considered a Christian. The media promptly set aside the issues that should have been paramount— Romney’s views on economic and foreign policy—in order to spend a week giving respectful consideration to an attention-grabbing rabble-rouser. They then proceeded to pester the other candidates with the loaded question of whether they thought Romney was a Christian. CNN’s Candy Crowley was particularly egregious in this respect, pressing Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann for a response and becoming indignant when they refused to answer. The question did not deserve an answer, because Crowley had set it up to legitimate a false premise: that Romney’s religious belief was a legitimate issue of public debate. This is a perfect example of how the media reinforce an informal but increasingly binding religious test for public office that the Constitution formally bans. Like the British constitution, the test is no less powerful for being unwritten.

The religious right’s professed insistence upon “family values” might appear at first blush to be at odds with the anything but saintly personal behavior of many of its leading proponents. Some of this may be due to the general inability of human beings to reflect on conflicting information: I have never ceased to be amazed at how facts manage to bounce off people’s consciousness like pebbles off armor plate. But there is another, uniquely religious aspect that also comes into play: the predilection of fundamentalist denominations to believe in practice, even if not entirely in theory, in the doctrine of “cheap grace,” a derisive term coined by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer .. By that he meant the inclination of some religious adherents to believe that once they had been “saved,” not only would all past sins be wiped away, but future ones, too—so one could pretty much behave as before.  Cheap grace is a divine get- out-of-jail-free card. Hence the tendency of the religious base of the Republican Party to cut some slack for the peccadilloes of candidates who claim to have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and reborn to a new and more Christian life. The religious right is willing to overlook a politician’s individual foibles, no matter how poor an example he or she may make, if they publicly identify with fundamentalist values. In 2011 the Family Research Council, the fundamentalist lobbying organization, gave Representative Joe Walsh of Illinois an award for “unwavering support of the family.” Representative Walsh’s ex-wife might beg to differ, as she claims he owes her over one hundred thousand dollars in unpaid child support, a charge he denies.

Of course, the proper rituals must be observed before an erring politician can obtain absolution. In November 2011, at a forum sponsored by religious conservatives in Iowa, all of the GOP presidential candidates struck the expected notes of contrition and humility as they laid bare their souls before the assembled congregation (the event was held in a church). Most of them, including Cain, who was then still riding high, choked up when discussing some bleak midnight of their lives (he chose not to address the fresh sexual harassment charges against him, which surely would have qualified as a trying personal experience preying on his mind). Even the old reprobate Gingrich misted up over some contrived misdeed intended to distract attention from his well-known adventures in serial matrimony.

All of these gloomy obsequies of repentance having been observed, Gingrich gave a stirring example of why he is hands-down the best extemporaneous demagogue in contemporary America. Having purged his soul of all guilty transgressions, he turned his attention to the far graver sins bedeviling the American nation.
If we look at history from the mid-1960s, we’ve gone from a request for toleration to an imposition of intolerance. We’ve gone from a request to understand others to a determination to close down those who hold traditional values. I think that we need to be very aggressive and very direct. The degree to which the left is prepared to impose intolerance and to drive out of existence traditional religion is a mortal threat to our civilization and deserves to be taken head-on and described as what it is, which is the use of government to repress the American people against their own values.

That is as good an example as any of cheap grace as practiced by seasoned statesmen like Gingrich—a bid for redemption turned on its head to provide a forum for one of the Republican Party’s favorite pastimes: taking opportunistic swipes at the dreaded liberal bogeyman. How quickly one forgets one’s own moral lapses when one can consider the manifold harms inflicted on our nation by godless leftists!

– – – – – – – – – –

Some liberal writers have opined that the socioeconomic gulf separating the business wing of the GOP and the religious right make it an unstable coalition that could crack. I am not so sure. There is no basic disagreement on which direction the two factions want to take the country, merely how far it should go. The plutocrats would drag us back to the Gilded Age; the theocrats to the Salem witch trials. If anything, the two groups are increasingly beginning to resemble each other. Many televangelists have espoused what has come to be known as the prosperity gospel—the health-and- wealth/name-it-and-claim-it gospel of economic entitlement. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God’s favor. If not, too bad! This rationale may explain why some poor voters will defend the prerogatives of billionaires. In any case, at the beginning of the 2012 presidential cycle, those consummate plutocrats the Koch brothers pumped money into Bachmann’s campaign, so one should probably not make too much of a potential plutocrat-theocrat split.

Most of the religious enthusiasts I observed during my tenure on the Hill seemed to have little reluctance to mix God and Mammon. Rick Santorum did not blink at legislative schemes to pay off his campaign contributors: In 2005 he introduced a bill to forbid the National Weather Service from providing weather forecasts for free that commercial forecasters—like AccuWeather, a Pennsylvania- based company which had contributed to his campaign—wanted to charge for. Tom DeLay’s purported concern about the dignity and sanctity of human life, touchingly on display during the controversy over whether Terri Schiavo’s husband had the right to tell doctors to remove her feeding tube after seeing her comatose for fifteen years, could always be qualified by strategic infusions of campaign cash. DeLay’s quashing of bills to prohibit serious labor abuses demonstrates that even religious virtue can be flexible when there are campaign donations involved.

One might imagine that the religious right’s agenda would be incompatible with the concerns for privacy and individual autonomy by those who consider themselves to belong to the libertarian wing of the Republican Party—the “don’t tread on me,” “live free or die” crowd that Grover Norquist once called the “leave me alone” conservatives. Given their profound distaste for an oppressive and intrusive federal government, one would think they might have trepidations about a religious movement determined to impose statutory controls on private behavior that libertarians nominally hold to be nobody’s business, and particularly not the government’s business.

Some more libertarian-leaning Republicans have in fact pushed back against the religious right. Former House majority leader Dick Armey expressed his profound distaste for the tactics of the religious right in 2006—from the safety of the sidelines—by blasting its leadership in unequivocal terms:

[James] Dobson and his gang of thugs are real nasty bullies. I pray devoutly every day, but being a Christian is no excuse for being stupid. There’s a high demagoguery coefficient to issues like prayer in schools. Demagoguery doesn’t work unless it’s dumb, shallow as water on a plate. These issues are easy for the intellectually lazy and can appeal to a large demographic. These issues become bigger than life, largely because they’re easy. There ain’t no thinking.

Armey had previously been an economics professor at several cow colleges in Texas, and when he came to Congress in 1985, libertarian economics was his forte. I do not recall religious issues motivating his political ideology; instead, economics was what gripped him, particularly the flat tax, which he tirelessly promoted. I believe his departure from Congress was impelled not only by the fact that he was not on the inside track to become Speaker, but also because of his disillusionment with the culture wars, as his passionate denunciation of Dobson suggests. But later, Barack Obama’s election and the rise of the Tea Party induced a miraculous change of heart in Armey, as no doubt did the need to raise money for his lobbying organization, known as FreedomWorks. By 2009, Armey had become a significant voice of the Tea Party. As such, he attempted to declare a truce between fiscal and social conservatives, who would thenceforth bury their squabbles and concentrate on dethroning the Kenyan usurper in the Oval Office. That meant soft-pedaling social issues that might alarm fiscally conservative but socially moderate voters, particularly women, who lived in the wealthier suburbs.

In September 2010 Armey took one step further in his reconciliation with the people he had called thugs and bullies when he announced that a GOP majority in Congress would again take up the abortion fight, which was only right and proper for those who held such a sincere moral conviction. When the Republicans duly won the House two months later, they did precisely that. State legislatures across the country followed suit: Ohio, Texas, and Virginia enacted the most severe abortion restrictions in any legislative session in memory. Suddenly Armey didn’t seem to have any problem with social issues preempting his economic agenda.

The Tea Party, which initially described itself as wholly concerned with debt, deficit, and federal overreach, gradually unmasked itself as being almost as theocratic as the activists from the religious right that Armey had denounced only a few years before. If anything, they were even slightly more disposed than the rest of the Republican Party to inject religious issues into the political realm. According to an academic study of the Tea Party, “[T]hey seek ‘deeply religious’ elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates.” The Tea Party faithful are not so much libertarian as authoritarian, the furthest thing from a “live free or die” constitutionalist.

Within the GOP libertarianism is a throwaway doctrine that is rhetorically useful in certain situations but often interferes with their core, more authoritarian, beliefs. When the two precepts collide, the authoritarian reflex prevails. In 2009 it was politically useful for the GOP to present the Tea Party as independent-leaning libertarians, when in reality the group was overwhelmingly Republican, with a high quotient of GOP activists and adherents of views common among the religious right. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, eight in ten Tea Party members identify themselves as Republicans. Another study found that over half identified as members of the religious right and 55 percent of Tea Partiers agree that “America has always been and is currently a Christian nation”—6 points more than even the percentage of self-described Christian conservatives who would agree to that. This religious orientation should have been evident from the brouhaha that erupted in mid- 2009 over the charge that the Obama administration’s new healthcare reform plan would set up “death panels.” While there was plenty to criticize about the health-care bill, the completely bogus charge garnered disproportionate attention. Republican political consultants immediately recognized that they had found a classic emotional issue that would resonate with the same people on the religious right who had been stirred up over the Terri Schiavo case. The Tea Party, a supposedly independent group of fiscal conservatives outraged by Obama’s profligate spending plans, fell prey to the hysteria Republican Party operatives whipped up over end-of- life counseling. This self-unmasking of the Tea Party may help explain why, after three years in existence, public support for the organization has been dropping precipitously.

Ayn Rand, an occasional darling of the Tea Party, has become a cult figure within the GOP in recent years. It is easy enough to see how her tough-guy, every-man-for-himself posturing would be a natural fit with the Wall Street bankers and the right-wing politicians they fund—notwithstanding the bankers’ fondness for government bailouts. But Rand’s philosophy found most of its adherents in the libertarian wing of the party, a group that overlaps with, but is certainly not identical to, the “business conservatives” who fund the bulk of the GOP’s activities. There has always been a strong strain of rugged individualism in America, and the GOP has cleverly managed to co-opt that spirit to its advantage. The problem is that Rand proclaimed at every opportunity that she was a militant atheist who felt nothing but contempt for Christianity as a religion of weaklings possessing a slave mentality. So how do Republican candidates manage to bamboozle what is perhaps the largest single bloc in their voting base, the religious fundamentalists, about this? Certainly the ignorance of many fundamentalist values voters about the wider world and the life of the mind goes some distance toward explaining the paradox: GOP candidates who enthuse over Rand at the same time as they thump their Bibles never have to explain this stark contradiction because most of their audience is blissfully unaware of who Ayn Rand was and what she advocated. But voters can to some extent be forgiven their ignorance, because politicians have grown so skillful at misdirecting them about their intentions.

This camouflaging of intentions is as much a strategy of the religious right and its leaders—James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Pat Robertson, and the rest—as it is of the GOP’s more secular political leaders in Washington. After the debacle of the Schiavo case and the electoral loss in 2008, the religious right pulled back and regrouped. They knew that the full-bore, “theoconservative” agenda would not sell with a majority of voters. This strategy accounts for Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition (who famously said that God sent a hurricane to New Orleans to punish the sodomites), stating the following in October 2011: “Those people in the Republican primary have got to lay off of this stuff. They’re forcing their leaders, the front-runners, into positions that will mean they lose the general election.” I doubt he thought the candidates held positions that were too extreme, merely that they should keep quiet about those positions until they had won the election. Max Blumenthal, author of Republican Gomorrah, argues that this is a “lying for Jesus” strategy that fundamentalists often adopt when dealing with the snares of a wicked and Godless world. Since Satan is the father of lies, one can be forgiven for fighting lies with lies.

Hence the policies pursued for at least two decades by the religious right on the federal, state, and local levels. It usually starts at the school board, after some contrived uproar over sex education or liberal indoctrination. The stealthily fundamentalist school board candidates pledge to clean up the mess and “get back to basics.” After a few years they capture a majority on the board, and suddenly “Catcher in the Rye” is heaved out of the curriculum and science teachers are under pressure to teach the (imaginary) controversy about evolutionary biology. This was the path to greater glory of Michele Bachmann: Her first run for public office, barely a dozen years ago, was for a seat on the school board in Stillwater, Minnesota. Up until then she had drawn a taxpayer-funded salary for five years working as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service, not, of course, because she was one of those lazy, good-for-nothing government bureaucrats that Republican candidates routinely denounce. She was secretly studying the ways of the government beast so as to defeat it later on.

Bachmann, Rick Perry, and numerous other serving representatives and senators have all had ties to Christian Dominionism, a doctrine proclaiming that Christians are destined to dominate American politics and establish a new imperium resembling theocratic government. According to one profile of Perry, adherents of Dominionism “believe Christians—certain Christians—are destined to not just take ‘dominion’ over government, but stealthily climb to the commanding heights of what they term the ‘Seven Mountains’ of society, including the media and the arts and entertainment world.” Note the qualifier: “stealthily.”

At the same religious forum where the GOP candidates confessed their sins, Bachmann went so far as to suggest that organized religion should keep its traditional legal privilege of tax exemption while being permitted to endorse political candidates from the pulpit. The fact that government prohibits express political advocacy is in her imagination muzzling preachers rather than just being a quid pro quo for tax-exempt status equivalent to that imposed on any 501(c)3 or 501(c)4 nonprofit organization. But for Bachmann and others of like mind, this is persecution of a kind that fuels their sense of victimhood and righteous indignation.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of the Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from “The Party is Over” by Mike Lofgren. Copyright © 2012 by Mike Lofgren

 

 

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What are the fundamentals of evolutionary biology?

Source:WhyEvolution is true

Author: Matthew Cobb

Emphasis Mine

Dan Graur, who is Professor of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Houston,  describes himself on Tw*tter as “A Very Angry Evolutionary Biologist, a Very Angry Liberal, and an Even Angrier Art Lover”. His Tumblr says he ‘has a very low threshold for hooey, hype, hypocrisy, postmodernism, bad statistics, ignorance of population genetics and evolutionary biology masquerading as -omics, and hatred of any kind.’
Anyway, yesterday he tw**eted a link to a document containing what he called ‘All of evolutionary biology in 12 paragraphs, 237 words and 1,318 characters’. Here they are for your delectation. I’ve made some comments at the end – feel free to chip in (you too, Dan!).
1.Evolutionary biology is ruled by handful of logical principles, each of which has repeatedly withstood rigorous empirical and observational testing.
2. The rules of evolutionary biology apply to all levels of resolution, be it DNA or morphology.
3. New methods merely allow more rapid collection or better analysis of data; they do not affect the evolutionary principles.
4. The only mandatory attribute of the evolutionary processes is a change in allele frequencies.
5. All novelty in evolution starts as a single mutation arising in a single individual at a single time point.
6. Mutations create equivalence more often than improvement, and functionlessness more often than functionality.

7. The fate of mutations that do not affect fitness is determined by random genetic drift; that of mutations that do affect fitness by the combination of selection and random genetic drift.

8. Evolution occurs at the population level; individuals do not evolve. An individual can only make an evolutionary contribution by producing offspring or dying childless.
9. The efficacy of selection depends on the effective population size, an historical construct that is different from the census population size, which is a snapshot of the present.
10. Evolution cannot create something out of nothing; there is no true novelty in evolution.
11. Evolution does not give rise to “intelligently designed” perfection. From an engineering point of view, most products of evolution work in a manner that is suboptimal.
12. Homo sapiens does not occupy a privileged position in the grand evolutionary scheme.
I think the main thing that’s not quite right about this is 5, “All novelty in evolution starts as a single mutation arising in a single individual at a single time point”. While this is essentially true, it misses out two of the most significant novelties in the history of life, which were not created by mutation, but instead by instances of predation that went wrong and instead produced symbiosis, with one kind of cell living inside another.

The first such event took place around 2 billion years ago, somewhere in the ocean. Prior to that moment, all life had consisted of small organisms called prokaryotes which had no cell nucleus or mitochondria (these are the tiny cellular structures that help provide you and me and giraffes and mushrooms with energy). Everything changed when one unicellular life-form, known as an achaebacterium, tried to eat another, called a eubacterium. On this one occasion the eubacterium survived inside its would-be predator and became trapped, losing many of its genes to its host and eventually turning into a molecular powerhouse – the mitochondrion – that produced energy from chemical reactions and was used by the new eukaryotic cell. These new eukaryotic life-forms were a weird hybrid, composed of two different organisms. They were our ancestors.

A second, similar, event occurred around a billion years ago, when a eukaryotic cell, complete with mitochondria, engulfed a eubacterium that had long ago evolved the trick of acquiring energy from sunlight, through photosynthesis. Predation went wrong again, and another form of symbiosis eventually appeared. This gave rise to algae and eventually plants, in which small organelles called chloroplasts, the descendants of the intended eubacterial victim, turn light into energy for the benefit of the eukaryotic host.

What happened after these events took place was entirely down to natural selection, following the kind of processes that Dan describes above. But the source of the novelty – and pace his point 10 above, these were truly novel organisms – was not mutation, but an incredibly unlikely pair of events.

It is striking that these two acts of predation gone wrong were able to open up the potential of life in ways that genetic mutation + natural selection have not been able to do in 3.5 billion years of evolution. Life on Earth without mitochondria – prokaryotic life – is limited to the microscopic because of the physical limits imposed on the transport of matter, energy and information from the environment into the inside of the organism. In the absence of an additional, powerful energy source, prokaryotic life cannot carry out those operations beyond certain tiny physical dimensions. The co-option of the energy-producing mitochondria first enabled eukaryotic cells to grow large, and then, eventually, to become multicellular. Mutation and natural selection were not able to do this. Similarly, no eukaryotic organism has on its own mastered the trick of evolving photosynthesis; the only way the ancestors of plants were able to do this was through symbiosis with photosynthetic bacteria.

 

See:https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/02/22/what-are-the-fundamentals-of-evolutionary-biology/

Twelve Days of Evolution: #1: What’s evolution?

By: why Evolution is true

Emphasis Mine

I’ve just noticed that this is post #12,002 since we began nearly six years ago. That’s a lot of posts!

“It’s okay to be smart” and PBS are producing a series of short videos, “Twelve days of evolution.” I’ll put up one a day, which should ultimately take us close to the end of Coynezaa.

This first one explains what evolution is. There are a few problems, though: it conflates evolution with natural selection (you can have common ancestry without natural selection), it equates natural selection with differential survival (actually, the differential reproduction of genes, whose vehicles are organisms, is the key), it doesn’t define “allele”, and there’s a long blurb for Dropbox at the end.

To me, the modern theory of evolution is as follows, and this is what I’d prefer to have seen in the video:

  • Evolution occurs, and by that we mean genetic change in populations.
  • That change is usually gradual, i.e., substantial change requires lots of time: more than just a generation or two. What evolves are populations of organisms, not an individual itself.
  • A lineage can not only change, but split, producing new species and new lineages.
  • (Flip side of the previous): If you take any two species or individuals, you can go back in time to find their common ancestor. The more recently in time that that ancestor existed, the more closely related the species. All living species descend from a single form of life that lived between three and four billion years ago.
  • The only process that can produce the appearance of design that so amazes and delights us is natural selection: the differential ability of genes to get themselves copied into the next generation. But there are also processes beyond natural selection that cause evolution, including genetic drift. Those processes, however, don’t cause adaptation.

see:https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/12/17/twelve-days-of-evolution-1-whats-evolution/

 

Good news from Oz: parents fight back against Christian proselytizing in public schools

Source: Why Evolution is True

Author: Jerry Coyne

Emphasis Mine

This morning we have some good news and some bad news about religion. First the good news: reader John sent me a photo and this link to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald. Apparently, at least in the state of New South Wales, “Special Religious Education” (SRE) is offered to students in many public schools, and it’s an education in Christianity (“General Religious Education”, GRE, is also offered). I thought that parents can opt out of either, but the report below suggests this isn’t the case. I’m a bit confused, and perhaps readers from Australia can enlighten us. Here’s part of the report:

Parents concerned about religious evangelism in public schools will launch a campaign urging families to opt out of scripture classes as a high profile minister calls for a “quality general religious education program” to replace instruction in specific denominations.

The parent-run lobby group, Fairness in Religions in Schools, has paid for a billboard attacking Special Religious Eduction classes in public schools, to be erected at a busy intersection in Liverpool on Monday.

Fairness in Religions in Schools chief executive Lara Wood said the billboard was in response to what the group sees as evangelism in public schools which they claim is poorly regulated by the NSW government.

“Scripture classes push messages about sin, death, suicide, sexuality and female submission onto children without the knowledge of their parents,” she said.

“The Department of Education has no control over the program and it is time these classes were removed or at least regulated by the government.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education said it works with scripture class providers to ensure the material is “sensitive, age appropriate and of a high standard.”

Screw that; this stuff doesn’t belong in public schools, whether or not it’s optional. What’s the educational point of teaching Christianity in such schools? Leave the proselytizing in the churches where it belongs.

Meanwhile, here’s the billboard designed by the parents, and it’s a good one.

Capture

See: whyevolutionistrue

Teaching evolution in Kentucky—with accommodationism

Author:whyevolutionistrue

Emphasis Mine

When I first gave a talk at the University of Kentucky in 2010 (could it really have been five years ago?), I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Krupa, a biologist and natural historian with wide interests, and with a reputation as an excellent teacher (see here for my visit to his lab).

Krupa has now written an article in Orion called”Defending Darwin“, which has also been abridged in Slate. It sums up his experiences of teaching introductory biology for 20 years in a state where resistance to evolution runs high. (I learned that when a group of religious students removed all the posters advertising my talk about the evidence for evolution, and the biology students had to put the posters back up—twice!)

Krupa decided early on to heavily infuse his introductory bio course with evolution—just as E. O. Wilson did when he taught a similar class at Harvard (I was a t.a. for that course for two years). And it works, for it’s exactly what Jack Brooks did in Introductory Zoology at William and Mary—the course that set my feet on the path of evolutionary biology. After beginning with a lesson on what a “theory” really means in science, Krupa bravely waded into the waters of evolution. And he faced strong resistance from some students, especially when he talked about human evolution. (As most of us know, lots of religious people don’t mind evolution so much—until it tells us that our own species evolved, too!):

Soon, every topic and lecture in my class was built on an evolutionary foundation and explained from an evolutionary perspective. My basic biology for non-majors became evolution for non-majors. It didn’t take long before I started to hear from a vocal minority of students who strongly objected: “I am very offended by your lectures on evolution! Those who believe in creation are not ignorant of science! You had no right to try and force evolution on us. Your job was to teach it as a theory and not as a fact that all smart people believe in!!” And: “Evolution is not a proven fact. It should not be taught as if it is. It cannot be observed in any quantitative form and, therefore, isn’t really science.”

. . . The story of [human] evolutionary history captivates many of my students, while infuriating some. During one lecture, a student stood up in the back row and shouted the length of the auditorium that Darwin denounced evolution on his deathbed—a myth intentionally spread by creationists. The student then made it known that everything I was teaching was a lie, and stomped out of the auditorium, slamming the door behind him. A few years later during the same lecture, another student also shouted out from the back row that I was lying. She said that no transitional fossil forms had ever been found—despite my having shared images of many transitional forms during the semester. Many of her fellow students were shocked by her combativeness, particularly when she stormed out, also slamming the door behind her. Most semesters, a significant number of students abruptly leave as soon as they realize the topic is human evolution.

Ceiling Cat bless those who teach evolutionary biology in the South! Well, I never faced that kind of resistance, but I’ve taught most of my life in Chicago, not the South. But what this clearly shows is that many people’s opposition to evolution rests largely on the claim that humans evolved by the same processes as ferns, squirrels, and squid. I think it was Michael Ruse who said that what keeps people awake at night is not worrying about the fossil record of other species, but the idea that if humans evolved, where can we find morality?

Krupa’s lesson plan, as outlined in his piece, is very good, and I’m sure his course is terrific. I have just one beef, and it’s based on this:

AFTER A SEMESTER filled with evidence of evolution, capped off with a dose of evolutionary medicine, one might expect that every last student would understand it and accept it as fact. Sadly, this is not the case. There are those who remain convinced that evolution is a threat to their religious beliefs. Knowing this, I feel an obligation to give my “social resistance to evolution” lecture as the final topic.

This lecture lays down the history of the antiscience and anti-evolution movements, the arguments made by those opposing evolution, and why these arguments are wrong. I make it clear that one can accept evolution and maintain their religious beliefs. They are not mutually exclusive. Among the religious groups and organizations that support the teaching of evolution are the Episcopal Church, Lutheran World Federation, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, United Unitarian Universalists [JAC: those are largely atheists!], Roman Catholic Church, and the American Jewish Congress. In fact, 77 percent of all American Christians belong to a denomination that supports the teaching of evolution, and several high-profile evangelical Christians are ardent defenders of it, including former President Jimmy Carter and Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health. Even Pope John Paul II acknowledged the existence of evolution in an article he published in The Quarterly Review of Biology, in which he argued that the body evolved, but the soul was created. Pope Francis has made it clear that he accepts evolution as well.

This lecture should put students at ease knowing that religion and science need not be at odds. Of all the lectures I give, this one provokes the most discussion after class. And yet it often results in students expressing concern that I might not be saved. I never say anything about my personal religious beliefs, yet it is assumed I am an atheist. One student told me she hoped I could find God soon. When I again pointed out that John Paul accepted evolution—and he certainly wasn’t an atheist—the student countered that Catholics aren’t Christians. Several simply let me know they will be praying for me and praying hard. One student explained that as a devout Catholic he had no choice but to reject evolution. He accused me of fabricating the pope’s statements. When I explained that he could go to the Vatican website for verification or call the Vatican to talk to a scientist, he insisted that there was no such information available from the Vatican. He then pointed his finger at me and said the only way he would believe me is if Pope John Paul II came to my class to confirm these quotes face-to-face. The student then stomped out, again slamming the auditorium door behind him.

I can well understand Jim’s motivation here. After all, if most of the resistance to evolution comes from religion (and that’s something the students should be told), why not try to defuse it by telling them that it doesn’t have to be that way? In other words, at the end of his course Krupa becomes an accommodationist, telling students all the ways that religion isn’t in opposition to science. And that’s where he goes off the rails.

Yes, lots of religions publicly accept evolution, but many don’t. Does Krupa mention the Southern Baptists? And even those faiths whose doctrinal statements do accept evolution harbor many parishioners who don’t. Take Catholics, for example. As I say in Faith versus Fact, “Nevertheless, 27 percent of American Catholics cling to biblical creationism, believing that humans were created instantaneously by God and have remained unchanged ever since.” Does Krupa mention that? If 77% of American religions embrace evolution, how come 42% of all Americans are young-earth creationists when it comes to human evolution? (That figure rises to 73% if you take all Americans who think that God had a role in evolution.) Do they reject the dictates of their faith? Apparently so.

So what Krupa is telling his students is only a partial truth. Francis Collins, for example, has argued publicly that innate morality could not have evolved, but must have been vouchsafed us by God. Does Krupa mention that? No, because he’s on a mission to harmonize evolution and faith.

And as for Catholicism, well, I mentioned that many Catholics are young-Earth creationists. But even the Vatican itself isn’t totally down with evolution. It maintains, for instance, that humans, unlike every other creature, were endowed by God with a soul somewhere in the course of evolution. Krupa admits that, but does he explore the scientific problems with such an assertion? And does he tell them that the official stance of the Vatican is that Adam and Eve were historic figures, the progenitors of all humans—and that this flatly contravenes the findings of modern science? I could refer the Catholic student who confronted Krupa to Catholic websites affirming this. The fact is that many religions, including Catholicism, can be comported with human evolution only by either watering down our naturalistic view of evolution (and saying, “Yes, yes, God could have made some mutations”), or turning those religions into pure exercises in metaphor.

Finally, telling students that religion is compatible with evolution is a theological view, not a scientific one. Yes, Krupa’s motivations are good here, but he’s still skirting the First Amendment by telling the students what religion says, and—in my view—doing so in a distorted way. My opinion is that while it would be okay for Krupa to tell the students that almost all resistance to evolution in the U.S. comes from evolution—for that’s simply a fact—it’s not okay for him to twist the data on religion to suggest that there’s no inherent conflict between faith and fact. Remember that 64% of Americans have said that if science comes up with a fact that contradicts one of the tenets of their faith, they’ll reject the science in favor of their faith.

Lest you think that I’m being too hard on Krupa here, let me add that I have exactly the same objection to professors who tell their students that evolution is incompatible with religion. That, too, is a theological (or philosophical, depending on your take) add-on that shouldn’t be taught to students in a science class. When David Barash taught that incompatibilism to his evolution students at the University of Washington, I objected as well. Regardless of your desire to make students accept evolution by comporting it with religion, that is an exercise not in science, but something else. It may work (Barash does recount one student who was “converted” this way—the first case I know of), but it’s straying far away from science. I wrote a book asserting that science and religion are incompatible, but I don’t mention those views that in my evolution course.

Let me finish by saying that I have a lot of respect for Krupa’s drive to teach evolution to students who largely resist it, and for the enormous work he puts into his classes. I’m dead certain he’s a far better teacher than I am. But I think that Krupa should keep theology out of the science classroom. If students can’t be convinced that evolution is true from a simple presentation of the facts, let them go to their ministers and priests to find out whether and how it fits with their faith.

h/t: Joyce

Neil deGrasse Tyson Hit by Creationist Backlash for Explaining Universe Is Billions of Years Old

Source: AlterNet

Author: Dan Arel

Emphasis Mine

In the wake of the success of the “Cosmos” television series, which picked up four Emmy Awards earlier this week, Neil deGrasse Tyson discussed politics, religion and science in a recent interview with AlterNet.

When I asked if the success of “Cosmos” had surprised him, Tyson said he had not anticipated the kind of coverage the show would get by entertainment sites and blogs. Because of the show’s major network backing and primetime slot, he said, it was covered like any other television show. He said this forced many entertainment writers to write about all sorts of science topics not often covered in these publications, exposing the show to a new and possibly unintended audience.

Tyson was not as shocked by the backlash the show garnered from certain religious and political groups, mainly creationists who took issue with Tyson’s insistence on discussing evolution, the Big Bang theory and the history of scientific discovery. Their criticism of the show did not bother Tyson at all. “You have to ask yourself, what are the numbers behind the people making these claims? Someone like Ken Ham [owner of the Creation Museum] has beliefs that are even crazy to many Christians.”

Ken Ham’s criticisms came in the form of a weekly review on his website Answers in Genesis, a creationist organization. Ham’s comments gained some attention from the media and were often answered by science writers all over the Internet.

But Tyson wondered how Ham was even able to get anyone’s attention. He speculated it had something to do with Ham’s debate with Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

“Everyone knew Bill Nye, but almost no one had heard of Ken Ham,” Tyson said. “But after the debate [Ham] realized he had some media attention. You have to wonder—if that debate never happened if he would have even bothered covering the show at all?”

Tyson said he has no interest in addressing the claims AIG made against him or the show.

“What I say is not an opinion,” Tyson said. “Life is too short to debate people’s opinions. There is an old saying, if a debate lasts more than five minutes, both sides lost.”

This is the reason Tyson says he doesn’t debate. “My publicist wanted to set up a series of debates with me about Pluto, but I don’t care that much—call Pluto a planet, call it a planetoid, it doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “Just make sure that whatever you call it, you are doing so informed.”

Tyson said as an educator, his goal is not to tell people what to think, but to teach them how to think and provide them with scientific facts. It’s up to them to decide what to do with this knowledge. “I am not a totalitarian, I don’t want to tell you what to believe. I want to provide you with the tools and evidence to arrive at your position on your own, and if you disagree with me, that’s fine, as long as your disagreement does not harm others.”

Tyson was seemingly verging on a more political discussion, though he has stayed guarded on his political leanings. “I have opinions and I lean one way over another, but I am not here to share my opinion or tell someone how they should vote,” said the scientist. He also had a fear that his fans could adopt his opinions simply because Tyson had stated them and not because they arrived at the same conclusions on their own.

Tyson has a long history of not openly endorsing any political party. He believes that science is apolitical, and politicians should come to scientists for information when it is in regards to public policy. “One thing that brings me great sadness is when a scientific discovery that should be apolitical is politicized, and suddenly people are choosing sides on their own and not consulting with scientists.

He reminded me that the National Academy of Sciences was formed for this very purpose. If politicians needed to gather scientific information in order to write public policy, they would reach out to NAS, but today they choose sides that only seem to serve them personally.

When you cherry-pick information to serve a need, there is a problem,” he said, referring to politicians who ignore evidence that does not support their political position or religious beliefs.

While Tyson says he does not like to tell people what to believe, he has spoken out against many types of science denial, especially on episodes of “Cosmos” in which he addressed issues like climate change and discussed that you can really take it to climate deniers by hitting them where it hurts most, their wallets.  Tyson insisted he was providing the overwhelming evidence in support of the anthropogenic global warming theory, not simply by telling people it was true, but by showing them how we know it’s true and the significance of its impact. Tyson’s mission is to educate as many people as he can to think critically and to arrive at their conclusions and beliefs informed. He knows he cannot make everyone agree, but believes that if people are making informed decisions about science, we have a chance of making fewer bad decisions with the knowledge we have.

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/neil-degrasse-tyson-hit-creationist-backlash-explaining-universe-billions-years-old?akid=12153.123424.6B9vC_&rd=1&src=newsletter1016414&t=4&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Why You Can’t Reconcile God and Evolution

Source: AlterNet

Author: Greta Christina

Emphasis Mine

“Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”

You hear this a lot from progressive and moderate religious believers. They believe in some sort of creator god, but they heartily reject the extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting versions of their religions (as well they should). They want their beliefs to reflect reality – including the reality of the confirmed fact of evolution. So they try to reconcile the two by saying that that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — and that God made it happen. They insist that you don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God.

In the narrowest, most literal sense, of course this is true. It’s true that there are people who believe in God, and who also accept science in general and evolution in particular. This is an observably true fact: it would be absurd to deny it, and I don’t. I’m not saying these people don’t exist.

I’m saying that this position is untenable. I’m saying that the “God made evolution happen” position is rife with both internal contradictions and denial of the evidence. You don’t have to deny as much reality as young earth creationists do to take this position — but you still have to deny a fair amount. Here are four reasons that “God made evolution happen” makes no sense.

1. It contradicts a central principle of the theory of evolution.

According to theistic evolution (the fancy term for “God made evolution happen”), the process of evolution is shaped by the hand of God. God takes the processes of mutation, natural selection, and descent with modification, and uses them to direct life into the forms he wants – including the form of humanity.

But in evolution, there is no direction. At the core of the theory of evolution is the principle that whatever survives, survives, and whatever reproduces, reproduces. Each generation has to survive and reproduce on its own terms: there’s no selecting for a particular feature that’s harmful now but will be useful ten generations later, after a little more adapting. If a particular trait isn’t either beneficial or neutral to these animals, these plants, these bacteria, in this generation here and now – it’s going to be selected out pretty darn quick. Evolution is all about the immediate present and the very near future: it’s about surviving, and producing fertile offspring that live long enough to reproduce.

And there’s a huge amount of random chaos in the mix. If any of a hundred thousand quirks go a different way, the outcome can be different – sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. A flood shifts the course of a river, and a plant’s seeds float south-south-east instead of due south, and the seeds sprout on the part of the continent that splits off and becomes South America. An asteroid hits the planet and wipes out the dinosaurs, and these weird rodent-like creatures start reproducing like gangbusters, and in a few hundred thousand years some of their great-great-thousands-of-times-over grandchildren wind up as human beings.

Random stuff happens: if it happens differently, then different living things survive and reproduce, and it all turns out differently. Yes, the particular forms that life takes right now are wildly improbable — and if things had turned out differently, those forms would be wildly improbable. There’s no direction: there’s no selecting for life to take any particular form at any point in the future.

So it makes no sense to say that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — but that God is guiding it in the direction he wants. If evolution is exactly as the scientists describe it, there’s no direction for God to be guiding it in. God hasn’t got a thing to do with it.

Now, if the evidence suggested that evolution actually did work in this interventionist way — if the theory of evolution were based on it having no direction, but there were a bunch of evidence suggesting that it did have a direction, with some outside force pushing things in that direction — then the “no direction” part of the theory would have to go. And that would be fine. Our understanding of exactly how evolution works has shifted many times over the decades, and if there were a preponderance of evidence pointing to a Divine Tinkerer, we’d simply have to adjust the theory.

Which leads me to:

2. There’s not a scrap of evidence for it.

If there really were a Divine Tinkerer mucking about with evolution, like civil engineers re-directing a river or kids putting sticks in a stream, we’d see signs of it. When we looked at the fossil record, we’d see human knees suddenly re-shaped to better suit upright bipedal walking. We’d see human female pelvises suddenly re-shaped to better accommodate their infants’ larger brains without dying in childbirth. We’d see human brains suddenly re-shaped to better understand long-term cost-benefit analysis. And that’s just the humans.

We don’t see any of that. When we look at the fossil record — and the genetic record, and the geological record, and the anatomical record, and every other record from every branch of science that supports the theory of evolution and investigates how it works — we don’t see any signs whatsoever of outside intervention. What we do see is exactly what we’d expect to see if evolution were an entirely natural process, proceeding one generation at a time.

Now, some adherents of theistic evolution don’t think that God is tinkering with the process every day, or even every millennium, or even every epoch. Some theistic evolutionists are really more like deists: they think God set the entire process in motion, four billion years ago at the dawn of the planet, or 13.7 billion years ago at the dawn of the universe. They think God set the parameters way back in the mists of time, knowing how things would turn out, and is just sitting back watching it all unfold. That’s what they mean by “God made evolution happen.”

But there’s not a scrap of evidence for this, either. If your god is so non-interventionist that he’s entirely indistinguishable from physical cause and effect — what reason do you have to think he exists? In all of human history, the supernatural has never turned out to be the right answer to anything: natural explanations of phenomena have replaced supernatural ones thousands upon thousands of times, while supernatural explanations have replaced natural ones exactly never. So why would you think that an invisible god who set the wheels of evolution in motion, in a way that looks exactly like physical cause and effect, is more plausible than simple physical cause and effect?

As Julia Sweeney said in her performance piece “Letting Go of God, “The invisible and the non-existent often look very much alike.” Given that there’s not one scrap of evidence suggesting that this invisible Divine Tinkerer actually does exist — and a whole lot of evidence suggesting that he doesn’t — why would you conclude that he does?

Which leads me to:

3. There’s a whole lot of evidence against it.

Sinuses. Blind spots. External testicles. Backs and knees and feet shoddily warped into service for bipedal animals. Human birth canals barely wide enough to let the baby’s skull pass — and human babies born essentially premature, because if they stayed in utero any longer they’d kill their mothers coming out (which they sometimes do anyway). Wind pipes and food pipes in close proximity, leading to a great risk of choking to death when we eat. Impacted wisdom teeth, because our jaws are too small
for all our teeth. Eyes wired backwards and upside-down. The vagus nerve, wandering all over hell and gone before it gets where it’s going. The vas deferens, ditto. Brains wired with imprecise language, flawed memory, fragile mental health, shoddy cost-benefit analysis, poor understanding of probability, and a strong tendency to prioritize immediate satisfaction over long-term gain. Birth defects. 15-20% of confirmed pregnancies ending in miscarriage (and that’s just confirmed pregnancies — about 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, and asmany as 75% of all conceptions miscarry).

And that’s just humans. Outside the human race, you’ve got giraffes with a vagus nerve traveling ten to fifteen feet out of its way to get where it’s going. You’ve got sea mammals with lungs but no gills. You’ve got male spiders depositing their sperm into a web, siphoning it up with a different appendage, and only then inseminating their mates — because their inseminating appendage isn’t connected to their sperm factory. (To wrap your mind around this: Imagine that humans had penises on their foreheads, and to reproduce they squirted semen from their testes onto a table, picked up the semen with their head-penises, and then had sex.) You’ve got kangaroo molars, which wear out and get replaced — but only four times, after which the animals starve to death. You’ve got digger wasps laying their eggs in the living bodies of caterpillars — and stinging said caterpillars to paralyze them but not kill them, so the caterpillars die a slow death and can nourish the wasps’ larvae with their living bodies.

You’re going to look at all this, and tell me it was engineered this way on purpose?

Yes, there are many aspects of biological life that astonish with their elegance and function. But there are many other aspects of biological life that astonish with their clumsiness, half-assedness, inefficiency, pointless superfluities, glaring omissions, laughable failures, “fixed that for you” kluges and jury-rigs, and appalling, mind-numbing brutality. (See Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes for just a few of the most obvious examples.) If you’re trying to reconcile all this with a powerfully magical creator god who made it this way on purpose, it requires wild mental contortions at best, and a complete denial of reality at worst.

On the other hand, it is very easy to reconcile all this with an entirely natural theory of evolution. In fact, according to the theory of evolution, it would be hugely surprising if biological life didn’t turn out this way. Again: Evolution proceeds one generation at a time. Each generation is only very slightly different from the generation that preceded it. It makes perfect sense that biological life would consist of awkward, inefficient, ad-hoc adaptations to forms that no longer exist.

And at the risk of anthropomorphizing: Evolution doesn’t care if you’re comfortable. Evolution doesn’t care if you’re happy. Evolution doesn’t need you to be perfect: it just needs you to be better than your competitors, your predators, and your prey. Evolution cares if you survive, and produce fertile offspring that also survive. Actually, even that’s not exactly true. Evolution doesn’t care if you live or die. If you die, something else lives. Evolution doesn’t give a damn who it is.

Evolution doesn’t give a damn about any of this. But God supposedly does. So why did he do it this way? If God is so powerful that he could bring all of existence into being simply by wishing it; if he’s so powerful that he can tinker with the genetics and circumstances of evolution simply by wishing it — why would he wish it to be so clumsy, half-assed, inefficient, jury-rigged, superfluous, and brutal?

Which finally leads me to:

4. If it were true, God would either be incompetent or malicious.

Here’s the thing about evolution. Evolution has led to some truly wondrous, truly amazing forms of life. (Or, to be more precise: Evolution has led to human brains that are capable of the experience of amazement, and that are inclined to be amazed at the variety and complexity of biological life.)

But evolution is messy. Evolution is wildly inefficient. See #3 above. It’s not just the products of evolution that are inefficient, either. The process itself is inefficient — inherently so, almost by definition. If you’re an all-powerful magical being trying to create sentient life, evolution is the long, long, long way around. If you’re trying to get from Point A to Point B, evolution is a slow, meandering walk down convoluted dirt roads, with thousands of stops on the way to visit your doddering uncles who never shut up.

And evolution is brutal. It’s not just that the results of the process are often uncomfortable, frustrating, even painful. The process itself is inherently brutal. The process ensures that most animals die in dreadful suffering and terror: they die from starvation, from injury, from disease, from birth defects, from being torn to pieces and devoured by other animals. Of all the billions upon billions of conscious living beings that have ever existed, an infinitesimal minority got to die peacefully in their beds surrounded by their families. The overwhelming majority died brutally, in pain and fear. And that includes the ones who actually won the evolution sweepstakes, and got to live long enough to reproduce with fertile offspring.

If there were a god who was using evolution to direct life in the direction he wanted, it immediately begs the question: Why? Why on earth would anyone do this?

If God were powerful enough to magically tinker with the process of evolution, in undetectable ways entirely indistinguishable from natural cause and effect — why wouldn’t he be powerful enough to just “whoosh” humanity into existence? If God were smart enough to know precisely how to set the parameters of existence so that billions of years later it would unfold into conscious human life — why wouldn’t he be smart enough to do it in a way that avoided the inefficient, hideously violent processes through which evolution has unfolded, and continues to unfold?

If theistic evolution were true — if there really were a god who either tinkers with evolution to create human life or who set the universe in motion knowing that evolution would eventually result in human life – then that god would either be grossly incompetent or cruelly malicious. That god would have to be either incapable of using the system of evolution to create life efficiently and with minimal pain – indeed, incapable of coming up with a better system for producing life in the first place — or brutally callous to the great suffering he has caused for hundreds of millions of years, and that he continues to cause on a daily basis.

Is that really the god you believe in?

A For Effort, F for Execution

I understand the desire to reconcile science with religion. I really do. People have a lot of reasons to be religious — community, family identity, cultural identity, an attachment to the ritual, a built-in sense of meaning and purpose, a desire to believe that the creator of all time and space personally cares about you, a desire to believe in an afterlife. And I definitely understand the desire to accept science: as flawed as it is, science has repeatedly shown itself to be the best method we have for understanding reality.

I understand that people want their religion to reflect reality. But there is no religion that reflects reality. If you want to accept reality in general, and the reality of evolution in particular, you need to accept that.

Greta Christina is the author of “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why,” available in ebook, print, and audiobook. She blogs at Greta Christina’s Blog. Follow her on Twitter: @GretaChristina

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See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-you-cant-reconcile-god-and-evolution?akid=12086.123424.ZIQJ6I&rd=1&src=newsletter1014078&t=11

 

When Neil deGrasse Tyson Says ‘Evolution’ on National TV, Creationists Go Into Full Panic Mode

Source: alterNet

Author: Dan Arel

If there is one topic in each week’s Cosmos that sends the Christian fundamentalists into a frenzy, it is evolution.

You see, scientists understand that most sciences cannot be done correctly if you ignore the scientific fact of evolution. Yet, week in and week out, creationists critique the job Tyson and his team of writers are doing, callling them speculative and misleading.

Creationists would have you believe that Tyson and his crew are force-feeding viewers a story of evolution dreamed up in the minds of those who simply want to refute God and spread atheism.

Calling evolutionary biologists names such as “evolutionists”—a word not used outside of the creationists sphere—is an attempt to demean the science as nothing more than a religion; ironically, the very thing they are trying to sell you on.

This week’s episode, titled, “The Electric Boy” was about scientist Michael Faraday. Faraday’s study of electricity led to some of the biggest discoveries and inventions in the history of mankind, ranging from the electric motor to the discovery of electromagnetic waves that surround just about everything.

How on earth could creationists be upset with electricity? Well, Tyson had the audacity to mention that Faraday’s discoveries helped us explain how birds navigate the globe using the earth’s electromagnetic waves, and that their brains are evolutionarily wired for such a task.

Writing for Answers in Genesis, the young earth creationist’s organization, Elizabeth Mitchell writes:

“Evolutionists assume our existence and the existence of birds must have an evolutionary explanation. Yet molecules-to-man evolution—depending as it does on both the spontaneous emergence of life from non-living elements and the evolution of organisms into new, more complex ones—demands that we believe things that violate the laws of nature (e.g., law of biogenesis).”

One can assume these words are barely Mitchell’s, as they puppet the same narrative week after week. First they claim scientists “assume” these evolved traits, ignoring the evidence behind the claim, and then quickly move on to false naturalistic claims such as broken laws of nature.

What Tyson is saying in this episode is far from controversial; in fact, you would find it very challenging to locate scientists who would want to debate Tyson’s bird claim because it is so well understood.

Conceding to this, however, would destroy the very foundation of creationism, the foundation of lies and misinformation.

Mitchell continues:

“God did indeed equip birds and many other animals with a seemingly uncanny ability to navigate.”

For someone claiming scientists are full of assumptions, it’s fantastic to see Mitchell confidently speaking to what some invisible creator did or did not do.

Creationists are creating their own weekly controversy over Cosmos and its host, Tyson. Modern science is so damning to their ancient claims they have to openly attack even the most fundamental sciences and try to dupe their followers into believing that Tyson and the Cosmos team are trying to fool them.

Instead, creationists could have celebrated this episode featuring two prominent scientists, Michael Faraday and James Clark Maxwell, who were very devoted to their Christian faith. Faraday’s religious beliefs were even discussed, though complaints that Maxwell’s faith was ignored (as it wasn’t relevant to the story) have driven both Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute mad with anger.

Tyson did not demean their faith and only showed that these great men accomplished great things. Faraday’s legacy will live on forever in his discoveries and through his now annual lecture series started in 1855, the Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institute in Great Britain.

But AiG found the feature on these lectures just as offensive as the claim that birds are an evolved species:

“As the Cosmos program took a visual hop through history noting prominent presenters at these events, we see the devout creationist Christian Faraday himself featured in 1855, followed by a parade of prominent evolutionists: evolutionary astronomer Robert Stawell Ball, eugenics proponent Julian Huxley, evolutionary anthropologist Desmond Morris (who rather than addressing the biblical account of how suffering entered the world says the Christian God must be a “monstrous designer”), evolutionary naturalist and Darwinian TV promoter David Attenborough, and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins.”

In fact, it is AiG that parades these names falsely for their readers. Calling Julian Huxley a “eugenics proponent” is meant to encite rage at the thought of the eugenics experiments ordered by Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, while ignoring the fact that Huxley spoke out against extreme eugenics. While history has taught us enough to understand that any use of eugenics is wrong, in Huxley’s time this was simply not the case.

Then they attacked their all-time favorite punching bag and number-one enemy, Richard Dawkins. Anyone who has watched Dawkins’ amazing Christmas Lecture would know he did not attack or demean religion, and simply displayed the amazing powers of science.

AiG saw the inclusion of these scientists as a shot at religion, when in fact the “Cosmos” team selected a group of well-known lecturers who would give credibility to the series. It had nothing to do with bashing religion, as the show didn’t even highlight each speaker’s beliefs. Only AiG did that.

Creationists are upset because just as in the show “Cosmos,” the Royal Institutes series does not give time to creationists to spread false scientific claims backed by nothing more than biblical scripture. We are once again left with jealous fits of rage at Tyson and his brilliant team of writers for sharing evidence-based scientific discoveries with the world. Science wins the day again, as evidence is shown to once again matter more than faith.

Dan Arel is a freelance writer, speaker and secular advocate who lives in San Diego, Calif. Follow him on Twitter: @danarel

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/when-neil-degrasse-says-word-evolution-tv-creationists-go-full-panic-mode?akid=11818.123424.4lWOG9&rd=1&src=newsletter993484&t=5

Lawrence Krauss Interview

Source:  about.physics.com

Author: Andrew Zimmerman Jones

I had the privilege of meeting with acclaimed cosmologist and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss on the evening of Monday, April 7, 2014. We met at Wexner Auditorium on the campus of Ohio State University, prior to a showing of his documentary The Unbelievers (in which he co-stars with famed atheist and zoologist Richard Dawkins). Our discussion, though brief – I was the only thing standing between Dr. Krauss and his dinner – covered a wide range of intriguing topics. A summary of the interview is also on the website, but here is the full text (with some edits of my own “ums” and “ahs” and filler rambling):

Andrew Jones: So, the Origins Project just literally had its fifth anniversary.

Lawrence Krauss: Yes, on Saturday [April 5, 2014].

AJ: I’ve seen some of the videos from it. You guys (sic)  host the Great Debates.

LK: Yes, we just had a Great Debate with 3,000 people on Saturday.

AJ: What I really like about the work I see coming out of there is that it’s a very interdisciplinary look at origins.

LK: Everything from the origins of the universe to the origins of consciousness, so it’s about as interdisciplinary as you can get. We call it transdisciplinary. That’s the buzzword at ASU [Arizona State University]. But we try to bring together people from vastly different fields to look at forefront questions and look at them in different ways and see which questions we can make progress in. And these questions, since they’re foundational, are often of interest to the public, so we often have a public event associated with them.

AJ:  Obviously, you got into that through cosmology and the origins of the universe, but what made you decide you wanted to make that the origins of everything?

LK: Well, actually, I began to think about this back when I lived here in this state of Ohio, but as I was thinking of ways to get people interested in the subject, I realized that cosmology, as exciting as it is, alone is just part of the question and that one could bring together lots of different fields and when I started to think about it, I realized that origins questions are really at the heart of the forefront of science. And, as you may or may not know, I have a broad interest in science, well beyond physics, and so I just thought: Well, since origins questions are at the forefront of science, and they are also at the forefront of the public’s interest, it would be a wonderful handle to allow us to look at really interesting questions anywhere, they all fit in an origins framework. And it would allow us to do just what we’ve done, to bring together people from different fields and it’s been incredibly successful. It was ambitious and I think a lot of people thought it wouldn’t work, but it did.

AJ: Yes, I wish something like that had been in place when I’d graduated. I have an undergraduate degree in physics. And, in addition to just being kind of tired of 16 years of college [I meant school], I also kind of got the sense there wasn’t much left to do, because at the time they were writing books like The End of Physics and so on.

LK: Yeah, I know, and that’s an unfortunate thing.

AJ: So if something like this had been there to make it clear how many good, rich questions there were still.

LK: Exactly! We tend to treat physics for kids as if it was done 200 years ago by dead, white men, but that’s just not it, though. The questions are vibrant and they’re of interest and they’re accessible to people, which is one of the reasons that I write and speak about them. Yeah, it’s unfortunate the way that we turn people off by doing that. And ASU, when the President of the university invited me to come, they were particularly attracted by this idea of interdisciplinary. I am part of a school of Earth and Space Exploration that has astronomers, astrophysics, geophysicists, planetary scientists, engineers, all in one place looking at these things. An example of the kind of interdisciplinary work we’re doing.

AJ: So, to get back to cosmology. Of course, your last book [A Universe From Nothing] was on the origins of …

LK: … the universe.

AJ: … of everything. And one thing I know you’ve answered in previous interviews, and I think in The Atlantic interview you really clarified this point, but so just since I have you here, I’ll just double check that my understanding is correct. The book, as I read it, is not saying that this is definitely what happened, it’s saying that we have an explanation of what could have happened. Is that a fair statement?

LK: We have a plausible explanation of what could have happened. More importantly, if you asked “What would be the characteristics of a universe created by nothing ... created from nothing by known laws of physics?” our universe has precisely those characteristics. Now does that prove it happened? No, because we don’t have a theory of quantum gravity, but it’s plausible. It’s become a lot more plausible in the last few weeks, with the discoveries from the cosmic microwave background and the gravitational radiation, which in principle take us back and directly allow us to measure what happened in the first 10-35 seconds of the big bang. But it was just that: This is plausible. And just having a plausible explanation is remarkable. Just like when Darwin developed the theory of evolution, he was plausible. He didn’t have all the data. He had fossil ideas and he had data suggesting this idea worked, and actually compellingly suggesting that it worked, but he didn’t know about DNA or the genetic basis of life and now we do, but at the time it was a plausible argument.

AJ: One of the things that I really like about things you’ve said repeatedly about science is about being honest about how we look at questions and not assuming we have the answer before we start.

LK: No, I think that’s … I mean, we teach kids as if the answers are important. It’s the questions that are important. And I think that not knowing is a wonderful thing and more parents and more teachers should be willing to say that. “I don’t know the answer. Let’s figure out how we might learn what the answer is.” Because that’s what we’re trying to teach in schools. It’s a process. Science is a process of trying to take this complicated world and figure things out and that means not knowing things and try to figure out how to get the answer. And not knowing is what I do for a living.

AJ: In research for this, I read your article on the recent inflation results … the gravity wave article. And I loved that you said, “I did this thing a few years ago. Now that didn’t turn out to be right.” You would never hear a theologist …

LK: Yeah, they know they’re right, which means they don’t know anything.

AJ: But, I loved the honesty about, “We tried this. It didn’t work.” And scientists embrace that, because it leads us forward.

LK: Yeah, well, absolutely. I think, um …

AJ: That wasn’t really a question.

LK: No, I think honesty is a key part of science. Honesty and full disclosure. I like to try and think I do that, take that beyond science. But being wrong is a central part of science and being willing to say you’re wrong. In fact, Woody Allen says in our movie, too, he talks about it. I think the point is that’s how we make progress. I have had, I think, many beautiful ideas and unfortunately nature wasn’t smart enough to adopt them.

AJ: So, I have a couple of questions that are related to again kind of the questions of origins. I was wondering of one thing. In the past, you have expressed … I’m not sure if skepticism is quite the right word, but not exactly being “on board” with string theory as enthusiastically as some people are. Is that still kind of a fair assessment? Or was that ever really fair? Because it’s hard to get a clear handle on it. Or does that fall in the “we don’t know” category?

LK: I wrote a book, called Hiding in the Mirror, which I called a “fair and balanced look at string theory,” in the non-FOX News sense. My point was that string theory is based on a lot of fascinating ideas. However, it has been the least successful great idea in science in the sense that it hasn’t yet made touch with observation in any way. We still don’t know if the ideas of string theory are right. They’re really well motivated; it’s not as if they aren’t well motivated. But it was strongly hyped. And I guess I was against the hype, not the theory. It’s not even a theory. It’s unfair to evolution to call string theory a theory. It’s not a theory. A theory is something that has been tested robustly by experiment and it’s unfair to evolution to call it a theory. I said that many years ago and Brian Greene used to get mad at me, but now he agrees with me. But I think the point is that it’s fascinating and we’re studying it, it just hasn’t had any great successes in terms of demonstrating that it can help us understand the universe. Maybe it will one day. And, as I say, some of my best students have become string theorists, I just wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. No, just kidding.

AJ: One question I had was about the Higgs boson. One thing that I’ve heard, and I’ve gotten mixed results from different people in the science community, so I’ll get your take on it. I’ve heard that the Higgs boson that’s seen is kind of the garden-variety Higgs. There’s no evidence of supersymmetry

LK: No, there’s no evidence at all, and it’s very disconcerting to many people, because … Actually, many of us thought, I thought – another example of being wrong – I thought supersymmetry would be seen before the Higgs. It was easier, in principle, to be seen at the Large Hadron Collider. So the fact that it hasn’t been seen is telling. Now, what happens when the Large Hadron Collider turns on again next year will be quite important. Now I’d say that there’s more evidence that supersymmetry might be correct after the discovery of gravitational waves from the big bang, because the scale that’s picked out is the scale of grand unification which is picked out if supersymmetry is part of things. So, it gives me maybe a little more confidence that supersymmetry may be seen, but it’s kind of remarkable that it’s all working out at that scale. But if supersymmetry isn’t seen at the Large Hadron Collider, then we know that we’re missing something important. And it’s a nightmare scenario. If only the Higgs is seen, in some sense, it’s a nightmare scenario, because it doesn’t tell us what is happening.

AJ: Well, let’s discuss the film for a few minutes. One thing I’m curious about, and this is probably something you address in the film, but what motivated you to go from kind of the straight just “here’s the facts” science to really being an advocate for atheism, if that’s not overstating it.

LK: I’m not an advocate for atheism; I’m an advocate for science, and that I’ve always been, so there’s nothing new about that. What I am is … By being an advocate for science I’m asking people to be willing to accept the reality, the empirically reality of the universe, the evidence. Having their beliefs conform to evidence, rather than the other way around. And, naturally, that implies – since there is no evidence of purpose to the universe – that implies that the tenets of organized religion in the world are not consistent with science. And one should be willing and upfront to say that. I think that by pretending there are some things which are not subject to questioning, we do everyone a disservice. And so, I think the point, what really got me involved in it was, again, in Ohio, right here, in Columbus, where this movie is. I got involved in the Board of Education here in Ohio was trying to essentially get rid of the teaching of evolution in schools and the biologists weren’t speaking up and I had a public pulpit, so I spoke up, and it got me involved and I came here to a big even with the school board for 1,500 people, me and another scientist debating these two nudnicks from the Discovery Institute. And that kind of got me, just protecting science from religious dogmatism, that sort of established that. And once that happened, I’ve been fighting that fight. And I’m against religious dogmatism. It’s not as if I’m out to be an advocate for anything. Except, atheism is just open questioning. It’s not a belief system. It’s just saying you don’t accept things without evidence or good reason for accepting them and that you allow your beliefs to change. As you pointed out, being wrong is really a central part of science. It’s not a central part of religion, where you assume the answers before you ask the questions, and that does a disservice to thinking and action. And if you don’t base your public policy on sound empirical evidence, then the public policy is going to be irrational. And we can’t afford that in the modern world.

AJ: What is your next project after this?

LK: Well, I have a lot of projects. I’m in the middle of scientific papers. I just wrote, what, 2 last week, because of these new discoveries. I’m writing a new book, but I won’t go into that yet, except that it will follow up on A Universe from Nothing, in a different sense, and address more of the question of why we’re here rather than could something come from nothing. Another fundamental question that in some sense is a religious one. And what I want to do, what I’ve done with these books is show that these fundamental questions that have been the basis of theology and philosophy, science is addressing in new ways. And it’s changing what we mean, but that’s okay. That’s okay. It’s called learning.

Emphasis Mine

See:

Why Religious Fundamentalists Are So Excited About Charter Schools

Source: AlterNet

Author: Dan Arel

(N.B.: it might also be noted that public school teachers are usually organized in collective bargaining units – anathema to conservative thinkers.) 

“It is no secret that Republicans dislike public education. They view it as a burden on the taxpayer and do not believe paying for someone else’s kid’s education should be their responsibility. Just this month Senator Paul Ryan (R-WI) was quoted at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) saying that kids who receive free school lunches have parents who do not care about them at home.

Ryan, like the rest of the Republican Party, sees public schools as a free handout, a program used by poor people who cannot afford private school and a secular institution that removes God from kids’ lives. They also know that everyone’s tax dollars pay for this and they have a plan to stop it.

Enter school vouchers. Not a new idea by any means, school vouchers came into being nearly 140 years ago in Vermont and Maine, but not how we know them today. In 1955, economist Milton Friedman brought them into the national spotlight in a paper titled, “The Role of Government in Education.” The whole plan was a way to fund private schools and tuitions with taxpayer dollars. Though the program introduced by Friedman gained little steam at the time, the ideas sat around the Republican Party think tanks for some time, and starting in 1989, the idea started to take off.

In 2012 Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal introduced legislation allowing parents to use vouchers to send their children to private schools. These vouchers work something like scholarships where poor students may be taken out of the “failing” public school and placed into a private religious school.

Jindal only placed about 8,000 poor students in the entire state into these private schools and the data from the LEAP testing done each year showed that those students in the private schools scored drastically lower (40% at or slightly above grade level) than the state average (69%)1.

Blogger Lamar White looked into the discrimination that goes into the private schools benefiting from the voucher system:

Private schools, after all, are prohibited from using race as a factor in admissions. But they’re not prohibited from using religion or sexual orientation. And Louisiana’s voucher program is funding schools that actively and purposely discriminate against children who are not members of their sponsoring church. In fact, in some cases, we’re actually being asked to pay more to schools for tuition for students who don’t belong to the school’s sponsoring church than we pay for a student who does. We’re subsidizing a parallel system of schools that discriminates against kids for being gay or being physically or mentally disabled (because private schools are not subject to the same standards with respect to disabled students as public schools are).

White showed that taxpayer dollars, through the voucher system, are paying for educational institutions to discriminate based on religion and sexual orientation. Though the Unites States Constitution strictly prohibits this discrimination, these religious schools have learned to exploit loopholes through church and state separation.

The private schools do not have to teach science in the same way public schools do. Louisiana private schools are known for teaching that Darwin was wrong, and that the answer to how life came to be on earth is not evolution but creationism. They have also taught that the Great Depression was overblown by liberal propaganda.

This voucher project has not been deemed successful in Louisiana. Failing test scores and the butchery of science education on taxpayer dollars has left the state with subpar educational standards, money diverted from public schools to religious institutions and rampant discrimination.

After looking at this experiment, the Republican Party must be ready to shelve this idea, right? Not exactly.

On In January 2014 Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced a bill to the Senate titled Scholarships for Kids (S. 1968 /H.R. 4000). The bill is a nationwide voucher program that would turn 63 percent of public school education funds into private school vouchers. Now, Alexander’s bill does not touch federal education money for subsidized school lunches, students with disabilities, and students in schools on federally impacted land or military bases, but the Republicans have that covered too. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced his bill, the Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education (CHOICE) Act, to expand educational opportunities for children with disabilities, children living on military bases, and children living in impoverished areas.

If you think that sounds too good to be true, it is. Scott’s bill is a voucher system for those who need the funding most. Alexander’s and Scott’s bills combined would devastate the public school system. Together these two bills would turn all federal educational funding into vouchers and students living in poor, rural areas and students with disabilities would lose out.

The private school system, which is predominantly comprised of Catholic or Christian religious schools, would benefit greatly by not only receiving tuition fees, but also government funding. They would be free to teach whatever religious-based education they please while taxpayers pick up the tab.

As seen in Louisiana, students are not benefiting from vouchers. Regarding another city, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is also using a voucher system, Politico reported that, “Just 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent made the bar in reading this spring. That’s worse on both counts than students in the city’s public schools.”

Politico went on to report about the standards of scientific education in these schools and that Zach Kopplin, a student activist fighting for a proper scientific education in the US, found that in more than 300 voucher schools teaching biblical creation, some are even going so far as to teach young earth creationism—the belief that the earth is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old.

Despite its failures, the Republican Party has been able to sell vouchers as saving taxpayers’ money while also giving them a choice in their children’s education. The idea has become a rallying cry of the Tea Party members and Libertarians inside the Republican Party. Libertarians see this as a step toward the privatization of education, removing government from the equation completely, and putting your child’s education on the free market. Former New Mexico governor and 2012 presidential candidate Gary Johnson was known for his voucher program launch for childcare in New Mexico, which resulted in a large boom in business for unregulated religious childcare institutions.

Many parents fall victim to this propaganda because they are unable to afford to send their children to fancy private schools and believe voucher programs will give them access to an education better than what’s available at public schools. Sadly, what these parents are left with are kids who get rejected from the school voucher scholarships and are made to return to their now more poorly funded public school, if they are lucky. Why lucky? Because overfunding private schools with vouchers will mean closing many public schools in the poorest of communities and forcing parents to drive one to two towns over to get their children to school.

Dan Arel is a freelance writer, speaker and secular advocate who lives in San Diego, CA. Follow him on Twitter @danarel.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-religious-fundamentalists-are-some-biggest-beneficiaries-charter-schools?akid=11639.123424.KDdpVA&rd=1&src=newsletter974344&t=13