Monday, August 15, 2016

Creation Scientists put the Con in Conscience

As many of you know, I am on faculty at an HBC. For those of you outside of higher education, HBC stands for “Historically Black College.” I am proud of the education offered here at Medgar Evers College. So when a colleague gave me a recent copy of the Afro Times, a local Brooklyn newspaper, I was a bit dismayed to see a large article on the opening of Ken Ham’s Ark Park. My fears, however, were allayed as the article discussed the history (aka the genesis - ha-ha) of the Park. It also interviewed atheist leaders and detailed the controversy of the Park getting tax breaks and being allowed to hire only Christians.

I got to thinking about the park and about creationism in general. How sadly deceptive and dangerous biblical literalism is (insert religion here) and how it supports ignorance and even worse, so many forms of violence.

Creationism and Intelligent Design isn’t about select advocates, educators or creation scientists having a conscience. It’s about promoting “Con Science.” It is knowingly working or teaching that the world is 6,000 years old. It is about doing back flips to make biology, chemistry, geology and astronomy fit into a theistic worldview. It is essentially lying to others in the name of subjective mythology rather than working to develop objective truth about the natural world.

There are only two ways that intelligent design advocates can sneak their pseudo-science theology into science classrooms. The first is when their community is like-minded and overtly does not choose to question ID curriculum. The second is when members of the community cannot politically or legally fight back.

Religious conscience is “Con Science” It is faith masquerading as science. Con Science is Intelligent Design and ID is false science. ID lies to anyone who accepts or is forced to listen to its claims. It is faulty science that does not report accepted scientific knowledge. It is faulty science that co-opts the scientific method. It is faulty science which is not open to objectivity and actively seeks to disallow outside verification.

Intelligent design is alchemy instead of chemistry. It is astrology instead of astronomy. It is praying for the sick instead of offering the sick medicine. Is it any wonder that Intelligent Design is not even considered fringe science? It is just bad science proposed by scientists who work within and understand but disable reason for the sake of religious faith.

The moment you show humans and dinosaurs living together in harmony you’ve essentially re-created The Flintstones. But the Creationist’s intention is not to show or redraw a campy 1960’s children’s cartoon but to personify scientific and historic reality based on literal interpretation of the bible. This is a false reality that deserves to be mocked because it isn’t true. Ideas based on the bible, which just because one may believe them, does not mean that they are equal to other and better ideas about the nature of reality when the are supported by actual evidence.

The same goes for concepts in ID such as Irreducible Complexity. This idea is Bishop William Paley’s “Watchmaker” analogy updated for a new generation. It is an 18th century argument for a creator that puts on 21th Century clothing. And when IC is used in any court battle (Think Kitzmiller v Dover for instance) as evidence for and justification to teach ID, it is struck down not as science by as theology and found to be unconstitutional.

In fact, it is so weak an argument for divine design essentially because there remains no evidence of a creator but just ongoing misinterpretations or misunderstandings (many deliberate) to call into question the very nature of scientific knowledge and nature itself.

Finally, it if was just Ken Ham and his Looney Toons views or Michael Behe and his deceptive and false science we could almost minimize their ideas to the point of laughingly ridicules. Except for a few things. First, biological evolution is a clear marker in the ongoing culture wars.  In the U.S., one-third of people believe that we are divinely created and another one-third accept evolution but believe that their God started the processes and put nature into motion.

If this national schism wasn’t real, we certainly wouldn’t have Republican Mike Pence, the VP pick by Donald Trump, land on the ticket and who supports teaching ID. To paraphrase Mr. Pence, "that the only rational explanation for the universe is one that includes Intelligent Design.” You can Google him to see his views on evolution (and climate change) and you can see he does not accept the natural explanation of how we, and our complex universe, evolved.

But I am also an optimist. So as I again go down periscope and continue writing my book on Charles Darwin, I leave you with this quote by that brilliant but troubled man:

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge; it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positivity assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Guest Post: The Ultimate Century: What We’re Doing to Where We Live

Five Facts and a Corollary

Giddian Beer
by Giddian Beer*

Consider these facts:

            (1) Since the final years of the twentieth century, the destructions that we are inflicting on the Earth's environment such as: ecological collapses, loss of useable water, wildlife extinctions, bleaching coral, overfishing and pollution have become undeniable. However, most of the public attention is directed at the increasing concentration of atmospheric CO2, a greenhouse gas, that is causing the planet to heat up. This increase is caused by burning fossil fuels and by forest destruction.
            (2) Even if CO2 gas emissions and forest destruction could be stopped completely, emission of methane (a more potent greenhouse gas) would continue for a while because of out-gassing from melting permafrost. Also, as polar and glacier ice recede, less solar radiation is reflected, more absorbed. So the temperature increase would persist for decades. The consequence would be degradation or ruin of many habitats and environments worldwide. Adaptation would be difficult.
            (3) However, something different will happen. Very few, if any, of the plans for combating global warming contemplate stopping CO2 emissions. All the others, the main ones, call for reduction by some percentage to be attained some years in the future. Therefore, the concentration will continue to rise inexorably. There will be no equilibrium. Heating will increase and accelerate without limit. The result will be devastation to all habitats. Adaptation will be impossible.
            (4) An example? The planet Venus is enveloped by a heavy, 96% carbon dioxide, atmosphere that has caused a runaway greenhouse effect. Venus’s surface temperature is about 482° C (900° F), hotter than Mercury’s, hot enough to melt lead.
            (5) More than forty-five years ago, with the 1970 inauguration of Earth Days — annual events to celebrate, cherish and protect Earth’s environment — the prospects for prolonging humanity’s existence were significantly improved. However, with the 1981 inauguration of Ronald Reagan those prospects were demolished. Though Reagan had favored environment protection as governor of California, as president of the US he swallowed the rhetorical garbage of fossil fuel producers and their Conservative henchmen. He cut EPA funding, cut renewable energy programs and denigrated environment protection. Popular concern for the environment plummeted.

            Now, three-and-a-half decades later: In 2009, Dr. James Hansen (head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and preeminent authority on climate change) published his book Storms of My Grandchildren . . . the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity.” It details the causes and consequences of global warming and expresses consternation at the fancifully inadequate schemes to stop it. Unfortunately, this warning, and a similar warning by Dr. Jared Diamond in his 2005 book Collapse,” had no more effect than zephyrs in cyclones. The power of greed and stupidity to overwhelm reason, foresight and evidence assures that even the current measly goals for reducing CO2 emissions will not be realized.

            Meanwhile, these worldwide trends have been observed for nearly three decades: rising global temperature, dwindling polar and glacier ice, increasing desertification and ocean acidity, vanishing potable water, burning of desiccated forests, grasslands and chaparrals, more — and more destructive — floods, storms and droughts. The most recent years being the most ruinous. The switch to non-fuel energy, mainly solar and wind, though finally progressing nicely, is still too, too small to be significant. It was opposed, hindered and delayed by US Conservatives.

            By now, there is so much evidence of critical environment destruction that lingering disbelief is enabled only by willful ignorance and/or psychotic denial.

            Yet, today’s damages, happening now, are like nothing compared to what is coming because the damage rate is increasing. Around mid-century, when world population, currently over seven billion, is expected to approach nine billion, deserts will cover more of what is now forest, farm or pasture. Polar ice, including Greenland, will be significantly reduced. Many islands and coastal areas will suffer inundations such as Katrina and Sandy, many others will submerge. Storms and floods will increase in number and severity. Most glaciers in temperate and tropical regions will be much depleted or gone. In East and South Asia, Western North and South America and much of Europe, billions of people depend on glacier melt for steady water supply. Some nations and states in such areas will not have enough year round to sustain their agriculture and industry. Precipitation might continue or increase in some of these places; if so, rather than full rivers, it will be more like regional toilet flushes, floods and landslides followed by severely reduced flows.

            Hunger will be widespread, with more frequent and deadlier droughts and famines. Swarms of hopeless people will surge from where they cannot live towards where they are not wanted. Conflicts of desperation for diminishing water, pasture, fisheries and arable land are possible.

            Beyond mid-century the process continues to accelerate.

            THE COROLLARY: By the twenty-second century, planetary heating and other damages, will have drastically changed Earth. It will be inhospitable to many complex life forms. Habitat destruction and species extinctions will be rife. H sapiens, dancing on the lip of the void, could well be among the terminated.

Reality Check 1: The fate of humanity will be determined, not by its incessantly self-lauded intelligence, but by its pervasive concomitant greed and stupidity.

Reality Check 2: A good measure of any species’ success is the duration of its existence. By that criterion cockroaches are one of the most successful, H sapiens will be one of the least.
* contributor and deeply committed scientist and humanist, Giddian Beer, is a retired (after forty-plus years) oceanographer specializing in submarine geology and engineering. He is also a frequent contributor to the publication “Pique” sponsored by the Secular Humanist Society of New York and an avid freethinker residing in New York City.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Donald Trump Versus a Free Press

Mr. Trump
One of the first earmarks of tyranny is the banning, harassment or shutting down of free speech and a free press. History has shown the world that in order for any people to be free that the right to both speech and access to information are significantly entwined, like two strands of DNA.

Yet, at every turn, when a tyrant or tyrannical orthodoxy comes to power, it doesn’t take long for the individual or agency to intimidate or otherwise deny journalists the right to question while it simultaneously stopping citizens from accessing information.

 We’ve seen this denial of access time and again. From megalomaniacal reigns in North Korea, to the former Communist Soviet Union, to modern religious oligarchies and from ultra-rightest fascist dictators to leftist rebels that come to power and strangle access to information by and for their citizens. The totalitarian playbook starts with banning a free press in an effort to crush decent and stop free thought.

Yesterday, presumptive Republican nominee for President, Donald Trump, banned the Washington Post from gaining access to his campaign because he didn’t like a story written about him. The basis of which was from a FOX News interview. Banning one newspaper is really sad, but it doesn’t stop there. Trump has outright banned the press credentials of the Huffington Post, the Des Moines Register, Politico and BuzzFeed.

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations established a global set of rights that highlight the individual and their right to freedom, justice and peace. It is important to specifically highlight those which center on speech and access to information, these are Articles 18 (freedom of thought and conscience); A19 (Freedom of opinion and expression); A20 (right to assemble and associate); and A26 (Right to education & full development of the person).

From our own Constitutional democracy to the most widely accepted global body concerning human rights, it’s clear that organized and civilized society stands against the denigration of journalists and for a free press.

Still other groups have joined in the fight to support freedom of access; Reporters without Borders began to assess national receptiveness to open information. Their “Enemies of the Internet” list is a compendium of countries that limit, censor or prevent citizens from accessing the web and news information. Some of these countries include: Egypt, Bahrain, Belarus, China, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, the UAE, Tunisia and Uzbekistan. So Mr. Trump seems to be standing with those who, once they are in power, have a history of denying their citizens their civil and human rights.

I don’t think it’s a poor question to ask presumptive candidate Trump if he were to become President Trump, would he continue to ban newspapers and information agencies? Would he make a larger list of banned and approved journalists?

In fact, I know of no past President in my lifetime, Republican or Democrat, who outright banned members of the press for asking hard questions or writing stories that the incumbent didn’t like. And most of these Presidents have had dark times related to their policies, their incumbency, or the events surrounding their administrations.

Certainly, for national security reasons and in other instances the press isn’t allowed in every meeting or is welcomed into each presidential program. The Press Corps accepts the give-and-take of these encounters, even as past administrations have ruffled their feathers.

But I think this banning speaks volumes regarding Mr. Trump’s resolve and temperament. He doesn’t like to be challenged or criticized openly. He has a thin skin and will make you pay for your free speech. He will single out your news agency and remove your press credentials. Making your agency an “un-person” This is very Orwellian and 1984ish.

Also, it appears that Donald Trump has a growing enemies list. It includes the free press as well as dissenters in his own political party, and also includes several ethnic minorities and immigrants. I recall another famous enemies list kept by President Nixon. Perhaps all Presidents keep such a list, but while theirs have remained private, candidate Trump seems to relish in publically sharing his with the American people and the world.

This blog rarely gets political. But since one of its mandates is to report on our Information Society, I think it is well within the bounds of the mission of the site to share these ideas and concerns.

Please feel free to disagree. But here’s the difference between the author and Mr. Trump. If you think differently I won’t ban you from the site and nor will I consider you my enemy.