Saturday, September 27, 2008

Star Trek Evangelism

I used to be a pretty big Star Trek Fan. Maybe I still am, I just haven't watched for awhile. Now I find that there is a growing Christian movement among the Klingons. I didn't know that Christianity had that kind of interplanetary appeal. I may need to reconsider.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Proper Skeptical Attitude

I've fallen a little behind on my Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcasts. This morning I was listening to the Aug 26 episode with the Richard Saunders interview. This interview reminded me of something really important about being a skeptic. It is important to have the right attitude.

Skepticism is about a positive state of mind. It is about curiosity and open mindedness. It is about excitement and joy in the way the world works. I'd guess that most people don't see skeptics that way. I think that skeptics have a reputation for being fun wreckers. Boring, analytical, joyless and always contrary. I'm sure that some people that claim to be skeptics have earned this reputation. But my idea of skepticism is different. For me being skeptical means when you hear a claim that sounds fantastical, you obviously have doubts, but you don't stop there. You say, 'How cool would it be if that were true?' Then you ask for the data. You look at the evidence. Have your doubts, but don't have your mind made up. Be excited for the chance to learn something new and unexpected.

That said, I think one of the reasons that skeptics sometimes get a bad rap is that they often feel isolated and out-numbered. When you are the lone rational voice, it is important to be clear and unambiguous. People don't like to have their irrational beliefs questioned, so they label any well reasoned opposition as harsh. I'm not sure that reaction can be helped. So, be positive, curious, and open minded, but strongly defend the position that the evidence supports. That is being a skeptic.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ron Numbers

A few weeks ago, Tim sent me a link to a Ron Numbers interview. I actually hadn't heard of Ron Numbers before. Tim explains:
Ron Numbers, who is a former Adventist and now a big name in
history and philosophy of science at the University of Wisconsin at
Madison. He has written a book on EGW that got him kicked out of LLU
then more recently the major work on the history of creationism. Both really
good. I enjoyed them anyway. His EGW book was just re-issued, and I
found this interview referenced in the context of a shorter one he gave
Spectrum recently.
The interview is excellent, mostly focusing on creationism in the U.S. but mentioning this EG White book as well. I may have to add that book to my list.

I was reminded of the interview when PZ posted that Ron Numbers was speaking tonight.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Matters of Church and State (Reposted with Permission)

Lori has an awesome post up on her myspace page. I wanted to repost it here in hopes of a wider distribution.

As feeble as my understanding of how the government and politics work, I am desperately trying to educate myself, especially in the issues that directly influence and affect me and my family. There is one classic buzz-phrase that I have been acquainted with my whole life, and that is, "Separation between church and state". As a kid, this term was used to entice fear of the impending Sunday laws...a time when the government would tell us when we had to go to church and, essentially, if we didn't abide, we'd be hunted down and....

During the past year I have mostly shed the remaining charred skin of those beliefs and cleaned up my belief system. However, the phrase "Separation between church of state" still grabs my attention, but for a differently reason now. Instead of fearing that the "correct Sabbath", ( the Seventh Day Adventist belief of worshiping on Saturday, a distinct and core value and that sets them apart and makes them feel that they are Biblically "correct" and contain more "truth" than other religions ) was going to be the end of my time on earth, I now am interested in protecting myself from the conservative, fundamental Christian sect that wants to make their religious views and values into law.

Frightening, isn't it? I mean, if you tend to be sensitive to my attacks on fundamentalism, just step back and try to put yourself into a a free thinker, liberal, or non-religious persons' shoes. What if the government wanted to make animal sacrifice a required family practice? Or, circumcision of women imposed on all baby girls? Radical, yes, but taking away a young rape victim's right to end a pregnancy when she is incapable of caring for a child because someone believes that her act of an abortion is "sin" is also disturbing. In the case of government, choice is always best, no matter what YOU believe.
In the book Parenting Beyond Belief-- On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion, edited by Dale McGowan, Dr. Ed Buckner makes 4 very strong points as to the logic behind the Separation of Church and State.

1.) "Not all U.S. Citizens hold the same opinions on religion and on imporatant matters related to religion (like whether there is a God and, if so, what god's nature is; or, how or when or whether to worship God; or what God says to us about how to live). Everyone thinks her or she is right when it comes to relgion. But, not all citizens have the same beliefs on the important religious matters."

2.) "Human judgement is imprefect. For Cathlolics, the Popes is sometimes considered an exception with regard to officala matters of doctrine, but even Catholics, like all the rest of us, don't believe that human voters and human legeslators always know what God wants us to do. The Bible is quite clear on this point: "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Mt 7:1) Most other books held sacred by followers of different religions also make this clear. The question is not whether God's judgement is perfect--only whether man's is. "

3.) " Relgious truth cannot be determined by votes or by force. In the United States, neither a majority of citizens nor the government acting on the majority's behalf can make relgious decisions for individuals. Anyone who might disagree with this idea should consider this question: If a nationwide vote were taken this fall, and 99 percent of U.S. voters disagreed with you on a religious matter, would that change your mind? If 99 percent of the citizens wanted this country to adopt Catholicism or Methodidsm or Islam or atheism (***though please note that atheism is NOT a relgion***) as the "Right" relgious point of view, would you accept ther decision? Woud that convince you? And it's not just the voting, it's the law itself, the power of government, in question here. One need only consider the poor guy in Afghanistan who was almost convicted and put to death in 2006 for the "crime" of chaning his religious beliefs. "

4.) " Freedom, especially religious liberty, is worth having and protecting."

To touch on a side issue, it is for these reasons that teaching Creationism, or excuse me, Intelligent Design, in public schools is kind of against our country's idea of keeping religion out of schools. Creation is not a science based theory. It is a folk myth taken from the modern religion of Christianity. If that makes you uncomfortable, it is probably because this is a religious issue, and a core religious believe to conservative Christians, making my point about it being a religious and not belonging in the classroom, especially the science classroom very strong.

When the elections roll around, though we are given so few options, and voting for someone requires a leap of faith in their character, please consider what makes us free, not what makes us more moral by someone else's standards. You can still have your morals and be free. But, taking away freedom is not a very moral thing to do.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

An Unfamiliar Side of the Discovery Institute

I'm an electrical engineer not a scientist. So, while I'm not overly qualified to argue evolution and cosmology, I try to do some civic duty by cultivating an interest in green energy. What specifically interests me is solar power and electric/plug-in hybrid vehicles. Naturally this article in the Seattle PI caught my attention. What I wasn't prepared for was the link to the Discovery Institute. (Seems I'm getting caught off guard a lot lately.) I'd never snooped around the DI site before. I thought I knew enough from their involvement in the Intelligent Design garbage. Now I'm worried that they are going to be putting some unscientific taint on conservationism. On the other hand they are based in Seattle, and there is the slightest chance that the Cascadia Center is legit. I'm skeptical, but I'll have to do some more looking around.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Evolution Denial Close to Home

Friday evening my wife and I joined our regular group of friends for dinner. This a is pretty standard weekend arrangement for us. I try not to be very vocal about political issues, because I don't spend the time to be well informed on everything. One buddy of mine does tend to pay more attention than I do, and he usually is my polar opposite in view point. We hadn't talked since the RNC, so I wanted to get his take on the Sarah Palin speech. I expressed my opinion that she gave a good speech and seemed charismatic enough, but her stance on creationism, religion and abortion were troubling to me. All our friends are at least nominally Christian, so I qualified my objection to creationism as being required in science class. (People can believe creationism privately, but it isn't science.

This is where the stories gets good.

My buddy comes back with a response that included "the religion of Darwinism" and "absolutely no evidence for creationism or Darwinism" and "after 150 years there are no transitional fossils." I was halfway through a can of Joose, so my social filters weren't at their normally restrictive levels and I laughed out loud. This may not have been an appropriate response, though I'm still not sure if he was sincere or playing for a laugh. It was a perfect example of Poe's Law. In a matter of seconds he hit the three main bullet points of the uninformed evolution deniers. I'm used to seeing these kinds of comments shredded on various online discussions, but I was totally unprepared to encounter them in person. Sadly, I'm thinking that he was sincere and parroting the talking points of creationism. I must admit that is much easier than having to question and support your beliefs.

I was ready to stage an intervention right there, but I was out numbered. The conversation moved on to strollers and hardwood flooring. I'm not sure exactly what to do next, but I can't let him off the hook that easily. Maybe I should send him a link to the child theory of development. At least next time this comes up (and I think I'll make sure it does) I won't be shocked into laughter.

I think the best thing to do is to come to some sort of agreement with him. If he really is past being open to evidence, I won't try to discuss it with him. I'll have to move on to someone who has a hope of an open mind. Until then I'll keep hoping he is open to evidence.

Just as a matter of reference a few links:
Talk Origins Response
Whale Evolution
Hominid Fossils
Human Ancestry