Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Personal responsibility" and abortion

I hear, a lot, from those who want to take away abortion rights that they just want a woman to "take responsibility" or show some "personal responsibility" for her "decision to get pregnant". In pro-life-ese, having a vagina and having sex means choosing to be pregnant. And we get from there to "Don't take it out on the baby!" and other such nonsense. This is, almost always, pure and utter bullshit: it's not about women being responsible for their own actions, or even protecting The Babiez.

The use of charged rhetoric like "responsibility" is handy -- it (sometimes) steers the conversation away from Jesus land, which is useful because, you know, Constitution. It also suggests that the person attempting to plan their parenthood is, rather than being responsible in doing so, actually irresponsible; that taking a responsible course of action, and choosing not to be a parent if you're not ready or able to do so, is actually just the lazy harlot's answer. This is exactly what their imagery implies: that women who don't see eye to eye with Republicans and pro-lifers are in general oversexed hussies who can't control their libidos, and so are looking for handouts from "Uncle Sugar". It's a not-that-subtle ad hominem, that shifts the conversation away from their need to prove that the government has business telling women that they must act as "hosts" for unwanted fetuses, onto us. And not even to demonstrate that we should and do have rights, but that we're even capable of being taken seriously. After all, why should anyone listen to an irresponsible, baby-killing sex fiend? And isn't that what women who don't want conservative "small government" or their employers dictating their reproductive decisions are? Conservative pro-lifers try very hard to convince you that that is the case.

Whether it will be as successful a strategy as Reagan's "welfare queens", I don't know. But it is employed for exactly the same reason: because it replaces the need for a good argument for starving people or taking a reproductive rights with an Us v Them dichotomy. Where conservative rhetoric has done its work, people don't think of soldiers and the elderly when they think of food stamp recipients; they don't think of themselves or their friends and family who have relied (or are relying) on foodstamps. They see someone else, some lazy Other who just wants to follow an easy path.

The pro-life rhetoric regarding abortion and reproductive rights is following the same, shameless trajectory, although hopefully with less success (that remains to be seen). They are attempting to sort women into fictional categories: on the one side, the virtuous woman who can shut down rape pregnancies, always wants to be pregnant if she has sex, and relies on Jesus and a more material man for her and her offspring's well-being; and the irresponsible, baby killing slut machine, who thinks that preventing pregnancy or -- heaven forbid -- ending a pregnancy is acceptable and might even -- brace yourself -- choose single parenting.

The cognitive dissonance that goes into condemning birth control, and abortion while also railing against single mothers and programs that help poor children, women and families -- a dissonance displayed by almost every prominent pro-life Republican today -- is a post, or ten, in itself. But there's a simpler way to, as Todd Akin might put it, shut that whole thing down.

Many people claim to oppose reproductive rights on the grounds of personal responsibility -- that a woman choosing to have sex is consenting to parenthood; this is in and of itself a ridiculous and archaic proposition. But they run with it: she chose to have sex and thus get pregnant, and she shouldn't take out her irresponsible behavior on the baby. They claim their opposition to abortion, birth control, plan b, etc., is based on the notion that choosing to have sex means consenting to pregnancy, and you can't just weasel your way out of it. But many of these same people also oppose access to abortion when a woman did not consent to sex in the first place. In fact, pro-life support for forcing women to carry rape pregnancies is so politically challenging to pro-life Republicans that the Republican Committee had to give GOP men lessons on how to talk about rape and women's issues. In other words, opposition to abortion has nothing to do with personal responsibility -- because it's opposed even when the woman had no choice, and thus no responsibility, in getting pregnant in the first place.

Now, obviously, individual pro-lifers might be more flexible on this. Some believe a raped woman should be allowed to terminate her pregnancy, but no one else. However, this is not the position of the Catholic church or most pro-life organizations. Individuals may be and often are more humane that these people, but that's a distressingly low standard.

Personal responsibility is a non-issue for anyone or group that opposes absolute access to abortion for rape victims. If you're choosing to force motherhood on someone whose "responsibility" the pregnancy is not, it's not about personal responsibility. Period.

So pro-lifers really need to get their argument in order, or drop the sanctimonious language of forcing people to "take responsibility" for their actions (while trying to limit the ability to do exactly that) because they don't give a rat's hindquarters about personal responsibility. They're willing to force the same outcome on a rape victim who did not choose to engage in intercourse, much less become pregnant, as a woman who had consensual sex and became pregnant; a woman's choice to have sex, then, is irrelevant. And, if the choice is irrelevant, "responsibility" for that choice is irrelevant.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Keep a closed mind"

I'm going to file this under "are you f#$#ing kidding me?!" The following is from an opinion piece by evangelist Daniel Norris, complaining about pastors losing their faith. He faults people like Richard Dawkins for "creat[ing] a worldly secret place where weak and weary worshippers can go and encourage one another in their doubts," and offers his own set of safeguards against leaving the faith.

His first point -- and, I swear, I did a doubletake to check if this was satire -- is to:

Keep a closed mind

Seriously. You see, while "[o]pen-mindedness is celebrated as an enlightened virtue, one that should be embraced at all times towards all things," Norris knows better. You see, "sooner or later, your path of discovery has to lead you to a place of decision". Apparently, this is the point when you shut your mind. Because it's impossible to ever reach a wrong conclusion, so you should just stop thinking about it. Accept that you're right, and don't admit any evidence that contradicts you; there should be no "debating" and no "persuading" possible. You've made up your mind and closed it; which, apparently, gives your belief the sanction of Truth.

His final point is really quite stupid, too.

[S]tay in the closet
If, by some sorry chance, a challenging fact happens to slip through the filter and enter your closed-mind, you are to shut up. Do not admit your doubt. Shut your mind to it, do not air it, and keep on believing.

I can't think of worse or more intellectually dishonest advice to offer anyone, about any topic (not just religion). This is more or less on par with Luther's "reason is the devil's harlot": thinking and admitting facts, bad. Closed-minded obstinacy, good. Ugh...

DInterestingly, Dawkins has helped create a worldly secret place where weak and weary worshippers can go and encourage one another in their doubts. Thankfully, I have my own secret place where this weak and weary warrior can go and be encouraged in God’s truth. I’m not coming out! - See more at: http://news.charismanews.com/opinion/from-the-frontlines/42775-why-are-so-many-pastors-coming-out-of-the-closet-as-atheists#sthash.lKmN6K8Q.dpuf
Interestingly, Dawkins has helped create a worldly secret place where weak and weary worshippers can go and encourage one another in their doubts. Thankfully, I have my own secret place where this weak and weary warrior can go and be encouraged in God’s truth. I’m not coming out! - See more at: http://news.charismanews.com/opinion/from-the-frontlines/42775-why-are-so-many-pastors-coming-out-of-the-closet-as-atheists#sthash.lKmN6K8Q.dpuf

Monday, February 17, 2014

What Missouri's background check repeal tells us about universal background checks

So we now have evidence to support the basic and blindingly obvious statement that background checks save lives. Will it make a difference to those who insist that background checks are futile? I don't know. My gut says that it will have about the same impact that reviewing the science on sticking your hand in open flame will have on someone determined to do it anyway, and for the same reason...there really isn't a good, rational way to get to the position in the first place, so what purpose will evidence serve? Maybe I'm just being cynical. Maybe the people who oppose background have just been waiting on proof that illustrates that keeping guns out of criminals' hands is actually a good way to keep criminals from shooting people. But I sort of doubt it.

Regardless, this is the bit that seems to be generating a lot of attention:
Missouri’s decision to repeal its law requiring all handgun purchasers to obtain a “permit-to-purchase” (PTP) verifying they passed a background check led to a 16 percent increase in the state murder rate, a new study from Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research has found. The additional gun murders occurred as the national and regional homicide rates decreased.
And it's important, even if it is painfully obvious. Background checks save lives. Making it more difficult for criminals to buy guns means fewer criminals will get guns (and, anti-background check folks, no one is claiming that it will keep every criminal from getting a gun, so give that strawman a rest already; but it does have a significant, demonstrable impact).

And, let's be clear, background checks do not prevent or hamper legal gun ownership. They don't limit "good guys". Just "bad guys". Even in NRA mythology, surely the odds have to be better for white-hatted cowboys, when there are fewer black-hatted polecats prowling around armed? And now we have evidence that demonstrates this.

But there's an aspect to the findings that is, perhaps, less obvious, but at least as important. After the appeal, not only did Missouri see a marked increase in the killings of its own citizens, but also
large increases in the number of guns diverted to criminals and in guns purchased in Missouri that were subsequently recovered by police in border states that retained their PTP laws.
This is a crucial point, and it illustrates very clearly the need for universal background checks. It's the same point I've made whenever Chicago gun crimes come up: attempts to limit criminals' ability to acquire weaponry are severely hampered when other national players stop caring. If one state opens up its gun market to whoever has the cash, no questions asked, an enterprising criminal can, with a bit of determination, a little time, and not too much difficulty, acquire a firearm.

That's not to say that state-mandated background checks are useless (this case demonstrates that they are not). But a hodgepodge system of background checks, particularly when some states decide to do away with them altogether, is far less effective than a consistent policy would be.

The Missouri case very clearly illustrates this: as soon as Missouri decided a $10 background check fee was too much of a burden to justify any effort at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, it wasn't just Missouri criminals who ended up with Missouri guns. Missouri became a source of guns for criminals in neighboring states. A single weak link in the chain can, and demonstrably does, influence gun violence elsewhere. In other words, in a hodgepodge system like ours, a single state's lack of concern for human life will lead to more deaths, not only for the people in that state but elsewhere as well.

That is precisely why we need an universal background check system: the background check system will never meet its full potential, and will always be in some measure stymied, until we implement it across the board. Then the Missouris of the nation can't decide to open the door to criminals purchasing guns -- and nor should they be able to, because it doesn't just impact Missouri, but the nation at large. It's not a regional matter or a local issue, it's an issue with a profound impact on the nation.

The Missouri case serves as a tragic illustration that gun policy has real life, life and death consequences. And it reinforces the need for universal background checks, by demonstrating exactly what happens when we leave what is very clearly not a single state's issue to the individual state to decide.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"We have this book..."

So I've only had time to watch Matt Dillahunty and Israel Rodriguez' Friday talk at the 27th Annual Shenandoah Lectureship (it's quite frustrating to watch Rodriguez' continual failure to grasp basic concepts, like that words sometimes have more fine-tuned or specific meanings in industrial, medical or scientific use than they do in everyday parlance, and that you can't revert to the colloquial usage in the more rigorous context just because it better suits your argument...). One of the things that really stuck out to me was the sad resurrection of Ken Ham's "we have this book" line. So let me set the record straight.

Dear Debater,

You actually have a multitude of books. And cuneiform tablets. And hieroglyphic inscriptions. And oral traditions. And ancient scrolls. And cave paintings. There's every book, every story, every painting, every everything that was ever intended to convey the beginnings of mankind, intended to explain the rumbling thunder overhead, purported to divine heavenly presence in this sign or that, pretended to clarify the mysteries of life.

And you've chosen one tiny, tiny subset of all those stories, and provided zero justification for doing it. You might get giggles from folks who see this as a winning line in an argument, but you've proved nothing. If you didn't believe in your book, you wouldn't be on the stage. Restating your claim again and again is repetitive, but useless. A recycled claim is not evidence of the claim's validity.

See, it falls to you, debater, to tell us what makes that particular book right. Tell us why, while the Qu'ran's creation story is wrong, while Hindu writings are wrong, while Native American traditions on the subject are wrong, yours is right. Just saying "we have one" doesn't cut it. Big deal. So do they. Now tell us why we should care about yours any more than anyone else's, much less actual evidence that we can gather and analyze.

Here's the thing. There are many books (and other story formats) that make claims about origins (these also books that claim that your story is  bunk). Most of them are completely contradictory. But a book claiming something doesn't make it true. It's the job of the author and proponents of that book and its arguments to actually prove the validity of it, not just say, over and over again, that the book says it. Existence of the story is not the thing in dispute. Validity is.

If an atheist declared that gods are mere products of human delusion, and, when pressed for a reason, resorted to, "There's this book," he would rightly be laughed away from the podium. A book can make any claim it wants, and a book can cite supporting evidence; a book's arguments can be cited and referenced. But the fact that a book claims something is not evidence of any sort about the book's trustworthiness or validity.

This may strike a chord with the well indoctrinated, who aren't there for reason but reassurance, but it's not an argument, and it's not evidence. It's a rather sad attempt to divert from the fact that people like Ham and Rodriguez don't actually offer valid evidence of the Bible's authority. The fact that it exists and makes (unsupported) claims seems to be enough. But that's not the way this whole "evidence" thing works.

The fact is, authoritarian claims might work in religion but they don't cut it in science. No matter how many times you say it, or how often you hold up your book. So, if you want to believe your book (or your interpretation of it), you're free to do so. But if you intend to prove its validity, you need to try harder than "it exists". That's a painfully low standard, and one that is impossible to implement in practice.

Friday, February 14, 2014

PwG: The Ark & Dinosaurs

This is the first in a series of examinations of the problems with (a literal interpretation of) Genesis.

So I'm starting big: Noah's ark & the flood. This post will address some of the implications of Noah's ark, the flood, and dinosaurs.

First, a little background. Genesis 7 tells us that Noah loaded multiples of every animal on the ark:
2 Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.

3 Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.
Now, with there being, at a low estimate, some 8.7 million or so species known today, a literal reading -- that Noah crammed every species into the ark -- is patently absurd. Even young earth creationists see the folly of such literal reading. So YEC have pared it down to "kinds":
The concept of kind is important for understanding how Noah fit all the animals on the ark. If kind is at the level of family/order, there would have been plenty of room on the ark to take two of every kind and seven of some. For example, even though many different dinosaurs have been identified, creation scientists think there are only about 50 “kinds” of dinosaurs. Even though breeding studies are impossible with dinosaurs, by studying fossils one can ascertain that there was likely one Ceratopsian kind with variation in that kind and so on. (emphasis added)
(Yes, you read that right. No, it's not an anomaly either. Young earth creationists posit that, aside from "regular" animals, Noah had dinosaurs on the ark. Yes, dinosaurs. Now please pick your jaw up from the floor and carry on reading.)

YECs believe this settles the difficulty of loading the ark. While I will grant that the numbers they toss around -- "16,000 animals (the maximum number of animals on the Ark, if the most liberal approach to counting animals is applied)" -- are less absurd than 8.7 million times some figure between two and seven, it is a far stretch from reasonable or supportable. It is also something that is completely invented: the Bible makes no mention of supersets, or speciation occurring after the flood. If we're reading Genesis literally, there is absolutely no reason (beyond "gosh, claiming that makes us look really stupid...") to inject animal families, speciation, etc., into the text. Creationism in this regard is not a literal reading of the flood story; creationists have added to the story that which was never mentioned, and changed the meaning of "every" to become something else entirely, something that seems, in context, less absurd than "every" animal.

At any rate, while there seems to be a little divergence among young earth creationists over whether the ark was comfortable or not, the consensus is that it was all very doable. The logistical difficulties are mitigated in several ways. First, we must know that, "Without getting into all the math, the 16,000-plus animals would have occupied much less than half the space in the Ark (even allowing them some moving-around space)." In case you're wondering, yes, that includes dinosaurs, because

In Genesis 6:19–20, the Bible says that two of every sort of land vertebrate (seven of the “clean” animals) were brought by God to the Ark. Therefore, dinosaurs (land vertebrates) were represented on the Ark.
And YECs have anticipated the "how the heck did dinosaurs fit on the ark?!" objection. AiG tells that "not all dinosaurs were huge like the brachiosaurus, and even those dinosaurs on the Ark were probably 'teenagers' or young adults."

(I can't help but wonder how large a "teenage" brachiosaurus would have been, and how kindly its parents would have taken to a few humans herding it into a wooden prison.) As for food, God had that difficulty all sorted out, too.
Dinosaurs could have eaten basically the same foods as the other animals. The large sauropods could have eaten compressed hay, other dried plant material, seeds and grains, and the like. Carnivorous dinosaurs—if any were meat-eaters before the Flood—could have eaten dried meat, reconstituted dried meat, or slaughtered animals. Giant tortoises would have been ideal to use as food in this regard. They were large and needed little food to be maintained themselves. There are also exotic sources of meat, such as fish that wrap themselves in dry cocoons.
While there is zero evidence that Noah and his family would have had the technology or know-how to prepare food in such a manner for 16,00 animals (not even the Bible mentions reconstituted meat and fish in cocoons), the fact that something "would have been ideal" is often presented in these creationist articles as if that is explanation enough. Quite frankly, it's not. It would be "ideal" if leprechauns gave the animals magic biscuits that nourished them to the fullest and produced no waste materials, but "ideal" isn't "evidence that it happened". And evidence, of course, is never forthcoming.

There's also the issue of food storage: where, exactly, does one store enough food for 16,000 animals on a ship? An African elephant can eat 300 lbs of food per day. In a year, that's 109,500 pounds of food, per elephant. A lion eats 8-9 kg of food a day; that's between 6437.5 to 7242 pounds per lion. That means that Noah & co would have had to pack 16 to 18 times the weight of a large female, or 11.7 to 13 times the weight of a large male lion, per lion. African elephants range between 5,000 and 14,000 lbs; Noah's family would have had to have room for 8 times the weight of a huge elephant. On the other end of the scale, a grasshopper eats about 1/2 their own weight in a day -- meaning that even taking something as tiny as a grasshopper isn't as simple as it sounds: for every grasshopper you take, you need to take about 182.5 times its weight in food. Since grasshoppers are, Biblically speaking, clean animals, that's 1277.5 (or 2555, if the seven of the clean creatures is interpreted to mean seven of both male and female) times the weight of a grasshopper in food. You can quickly see how this will spiral out of control: it's not just a matter of cramming the sorry creatures into the ark, it's a matter of feeding them thereafter. Since they're all going to eat more than their own weight, generally many times more, Noah would have had to accommodate that (there goes the opportunity for perambulation, and then some...)

So, let's recap the "literal" reading of the flood story. Noah and his family built a giant, three-level boat, and loaded at least two of all animals (some restrictions and limitations apply; please see Kent Hovind or Ken Ham's interpretation of "literal" for details) thereon, including dinosaurs. Baby or teenage dinosaurs. This was a roomy, or not, ride, depending on who you ask. Noah stashed what can only have been a considerable amount of dried hay, giant turtles and reconstituted dried meat in the ark, for his companions' feeding. And let's leave waste management for another post, because, really, this literal interpretation stuff provides more than enough sh*t for one day...

So now we come to the question of "what happened afterwards?" Well, as for the dinosaurs (we'll save the others for another post), God's plan to save them didn't work out so well. First of all, there was climate change (no, not the kind that we can measure and demonstrate, silly! The kind that Kent Hovind extrapolates from Genesis):
Dinosaurs getting off the ark had a very difficult time. The climate had changed and things were different. Remember before the Flood they lived to be 900. After the Flood they only lived to be 400, then 200, and then 100. Now in today’s world 100 is old.
There were other factors, of course.
As the population of people began to grow after the Flood, the population of dragons began to go down. As people moved in and civilized an area, the big ferocious animals are either killed off or driven off. It happens everywhere. That is exactly what happened to dragons. People killed dragons for several reasons. They killed them for meat, because they were a menace, to be a hero, to prove their superiority, competition for land and medicinal purposes. Many ancient recipes included dragon blood, dragon bones and dragon saliva. Gilgamesh is famous for slaying a dragon.
(In YEC-ese, dragon is the old fashioned name for dinosaur). When it comes to evidence, the standard seems to be "can it be construed as supporting the creationist narrative?" If yes, then it's fact; if no, then myth. Thus we can accept dragons, but not sirens, nymphs, unicorns (those even get a mention, in the KJV!), griffins, Jotunn, dwarves, vampires, zombies, etc., etc., etc. And while “dragons” are useful to the creationist narrative, and the rest aren't, we have no more evidence of dragons than most of the others (and in some cases, less...consider all the actual burials of "vampires", for instance; surely, a burial has to trump a story, right?).

But the real kicker is that extinction is the "wrong" way to look at it altogether. As Hovind asks, "The question is not what made them go extinct, the question is: did they go extinct?" He seems to believe that they, or some of them at least, are not, in fact, extinct at all.
During the Age of Sailing Ships there were thousands of legends of people sighting sea monsters. Well, if you are in a sail boat it’s pretty quiet going through the water. Today, with a diesel engine they can probably hear you coming 50 miles away under water. Of course, you are not going to see one today. But, there are stories all over about dragons living with man.
In Hovind's worldview, dinosaurs are still out and about, hiding beneath the waves. They were happy to come out and be spotted by superstitious people (who also reported spotting mermaids and a host of other myths), but have a fear of technologically advanced folk (who might actually document and prove their existence)...even those in wind-powered sailing craft. They are also the dragons of Chinese and Babylonian myth and the dragons mentioned in the KJV. Ken Ham is slightly less committal, but he leaves the door open all the same.
Evolutionary indoctrination that man did not live at the same time as dinosaurs stops most scientists from even considering that the drawings are of dinosaurs.
It certainly would be no embarrassment to a creationist if someone discovered a dinosaur living in a jungle. However, this should embarrass evolutionists.
To be fair, he is probably right on one point -- it's a stretch to suppose that anything could embarrass the folks who run Answers in Genesis. But I digress.

So, as far as dinosaurs are concerned, God saved the babies in order to let them die out thereafter because of climate change and man's activities. Or most of them. Or some of them. Who knows. Regardless, it was all part of God's amazing plan. Amen.

Moving on...let's just look at how the 50 dinosaur kinds became the wide diversity of dinosaurs that we know existed (at least 300 species). This happened through a variety of means, including (wait for it...) natural selection. 
After the Flood, the animals were told to “be fruitful and multiply on the earth” (Genesis 8:17). As they did this, natural selection, mutation, and other mechanisms allowed speciation within the kinds to occur. Speciation was necessary for the animals to survive in a very different post-Flood world.

There's a couple of problems with this. First, if the varied species of dinosaurs came to be only after the 100 ark-traveling-baby-dinosaurs disembarked, the argument that mass graveyards point to the flood is null and void. How can species that did not yet exist have died in the flood?
The contorted shapes of these animals preserved in the rocks, the massive numbers of them in fossil graveyards, their wide distribution, and some whole skeletons, all provide convincing evidence that they were buried rapidly, testifying to massive flooding.
Furthermore, how can hundreds of new species have been born in a time that was, as creationists seem to universally agree upon, very unkind to dinosaurs? If dinosaurs were experiencing shortened lives, climate change, habitat challenge, and all manner of threats from humanity, is it likely that such a wide range of species as we know existed would have come into being? Is it logical to suppose that an increasingly hostile environment gave rise to many times the diversity of species than were witnessed before the flood?

In the creationist narrative, when the dinosaurs left the ark, they were suddenly thrown into a “devastated” and “much more difficult world in which to survive.” But in these adverse conditions, they promptly evolved into hundreds of species, leaving the wealth of fossil evidence that we have behind...and also died out (or mostly died out), because of said harsh conditions. Those are really pretty mutually exclusive states. You can either have them emerging into a world that fosters a gigantic boom in dinosaur life, or you can have them emerging into a world where climate change and hunters will drive them to extinction. Remember, creationism limits the time of existence after the flood to a tiny window, a mere 4,000 years. The argument is that, simultaneously, dinosaur life exploded, all over the globe; and was driven out of existence, to such a point that the best “evidence” we have for dinosaurs co-existing with man is the occasional dragon legend (and, again, we're being very picky-and-choosy about what kind of legends we're going to accept as factual, and what we're going to dismiss as hogwash). And all of this happened in the course of 4,000 years. It's a preposterous stretch with other species (necessitating, as Bill Nye pointed out during his debate with Ken Ham, an average of 11 new species evolving per day), but what happens when we throw in the condition that they must evolve and die in enough time to ensure that our only evidence is spotty legend, here and there, of dragon fights and sightings? You have hundreds of species of dinosaur evolving at a rapid pace, into a hostile environment, and then mostly dying out -- far enough in the past that our sightings are, as noted, irregular, ill documented and, oddly, often connected to tales of fantasy and magic. (That's a coincidence).
 
But it gets better, as you dig deeper. See, creationists aren't claiming that it was just a matter of more hunters (there would be less, presumably, for some time after the flood -- Noah's incestuous family, no matter how quickly they got to, umm, work, would have had some difficulty repopulating the world that quickly). They're not saying it was just lifespan changes and whatnot. Creationists allege that the ice age was a direct result of the flood:


The Flood-Caused Ice Age

Two particular aspects of the Flood were instrumental in causing the Ice Age: (1) extensive volcanic activity during and after the Flood, and (2) the warm oceans following the Flood.
And though the Bible doesn't mention the ice age at all, and even though things in the past more or less didn't happen if you weren't an eyewitness or the Bible doesn't mention them, creationists can be very specific about how long the ice age lasted:
Thus, the total time for the Ice Age is a maximum of only about 700 years (500 years to accumulate, 200 years to melt).
The ice age, creationists argue, is how migrations happened:

Most believe the Ice Age was triggered by the Flood of Noah. The rising magmas, lavas, and hot waters associated with continental plate movements would have caused ocean temperatures to rise. Also, fine ash from volcanic eruptions probably lingered in the upper atmosphere in post-Flood years, which, unlike a greenhouse effect, would reduce the sunlight for cooler summers. So the mechanism for such a rare event was in place due to Genesis 6–8.
But what happens in an ice age? A lot of water is taken out of the ocean and deposited on land, so the ocean level drops. This exposes land bridges.
 Animals, including dinosaurs, made their way all over the world, aided at least in part by these ice-age-exposed land bridges. Now take a moment to consider the implications of this. The hundreds of species for which we find evidence all over the globe are somehow supposed to have crossed various land bridges during the ice age (the land bridges would be flooded afterward). So, the dinosaurs presumably evolved into all the species we know of AND migrated all over the earth in the 500-700 years following the flood – both of which factors are necessary in this scenario, since we have examples of many species across many continents: they had to come into being, and had to travel all over the world, before the ice age ended (and the creationist land bridges were closed), since those species did not exist on the ark. In other words, for the populations we find all over the earth to have got there, they would have had to be around before the 700 year ice age (which was itself brought about by the flood) ended, closing the land bridges. So, speciation would have had to occur very, very quickly, during an ice age. That's right, during an ice age. And after speciation and migration occurred, after at least part of the ice age, dinosaurs would have faced extinction.

Even when addressing the creationist ice age's alleged impact on the dinosaurs, creationists seem to miss the point:
The Ice Age may also have contributed something else to animal migrations. Generally speaking, reptiles are found in larger numbers and greater varieties in warmer climates, potentially like most dinosaurs, and would not thrive as well in the cold. It makes sense that they strayed from colder areas, died out, or their numbers were at least reduced. It also makes sense that mammals would thrive in colder climates.
Let's recap. 

1. 50 "kinds" of baby dinosaurs board the ark.
2. 50 kinds disembark.
3. The flood causes an ice age, which reaches its worst at 500 years.
4. The baby dinosaurs have grown up, and start creating baby dinosaurs of their own.
5. Hundreds of new species arise.
6. Thanks to the ice age (!!), the hundreds of new species of dinosaurs are able to get all over the world.
7. Oh my god, there's an ice age going on!! Geez, why didn't anyone tell us? (Many of the dinosaurs go extinct, because dinosaurs and ice ages aren't a good mix...unless they're in the process of speciation and migration, apparently, because that went off without a hitch)
8. The ice age ends. There are still dinosaurs alive, because they spawn dragon myths later on.

Granted, I wasn't there and didn't see it, so I'm sure creationists (who also weren't there and didn't see it, and whose book never mentions it) will tweak my timeline a little. Some pieces necessarily cannot be tweaked, however. 5 must proceed 6, and 3 has to be well underway before 6, because that speciation and migration would have had to occur before extinction in order for us to find the fossils that we find where we find them. (Say that five times fast...)

When one examines the creationist narrative, even just as it relates to dinosaurs, the conclusion is inevitable: it is impossible and contradictory. There are many ways to interpret the Genesis stories, but to take parts of them at face value and add your own interpretation elsewhere, as creationists have done, is to make them absurd, and then to heap further absurdities upon them. It is to construct a timeline of events, particularly in regard to dinosaurs, that defies all reason or logic. It is to selectively credit myths for which we have no evidence as fact, with no good reason as to why one is accepted and another discarded, beyond wishful thinking. It is to assert that science, which has good solid, evidence behind it, is wrong, on just about everything, and to offer in its stead a few men's interpretation of “a book”, as Ken Ham put it. It's not science, and I'm not convinced that it's even very good religion. It's definitely a disservice to both, because it disregards the one and makes the other absurd.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Friday, February 7, 2014

Problems with Genesis...what is it, and why

So I'm introducing a new blog, Problems with Genesis. PwG will serve as a sister blog to my primary blog. Its purpose be examinations of the problems with (literal interpretation of) Genesis in particular, but other portions of the Bible as well, as well as fundamentalist religion in general. Why? Literal interpretations of Biblical texts are the chief cause of much of the science denial and much of the misogyny and homophobia we see. It is my goal to illustrate both that fundamentalist interpretations of these things are both extremely selective (huge swaths of the Bible are ignored), for no good reason, and unsupportable in light of reality.

I do not intend to take cheap shots, and will be fair and as generous as is reasonable in discussions. I can tell you in advance, yes, sometimes I will mock, because, honestly, some of the claims purporting to be science are just too dumb to have to address (entirely) seriously. But I will not misrepresent creationist arguments in order to do so. My goal is not to misrepresent the texts and beliefs, but to illustrate that a fair representation makes literal interpretations and fundamentalist views unsupportable.

Some will argue that this cannot be effective, that "you can't reason someone from a position that they weren't reasoned into in the first place". I disagree with this assertion, because I have seen it demonstrated to be false with myself and others. While I fully acknowledge that some people cannot be reasoned from positions for a variety of reasons ("none so blind as those will not see" pops to mind as an obvious first, but there are others), many people simply need to examine what they've been taught and why. Fundamentalism thrives on closed doors; information is the enemy, reason "the devil's harlot". Open the blinds, and people will see.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A modern day miracle: Ken Ham delivered the decisive blow in the creationism debate

So I was thinking about this earlier, and it seems to me that, in the question of whether or not creationism is a viable scientific field of study, despite Bill Nye's very good, factual answers, it was Ken Ham the creationist who delivered the decisive blow in the debate. Alas, for young earth creationists, it was against Ken Ham.

When asked what would change their minds, Ken Ham's response was, in effect, "nothing". "Well, I'm a Christian," he explained. And that was indeed explanation enough: evidence does not and cannot trump belief. By contrast, Nye responded with "evidence".

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference, the only answer you will ever need to "is creationism science?" Scientists reshape ideas to fit evidence, not the other way around. Nye responded as a scientist. Ham responded as a zealot. Ham has every right to be as zealous and as closed-minded as he likes. But that is not science. It is a direct rejection of science and rational thinking.

So I would say that Ken Ham, even more than Bill Nye, delivered the decisive answer in last night's debate: no, creationism is not science. It is a belief system based on a literal reading of select parts of a scientifically inaccurate book. Nothing less and certainly nothing more.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Remember when people said that a debate between Nye and Ham wouldn't do any good?

This is what they were talking about:










It doesn't matter how many facts Nye hit him with, what a pathetic mess Ham made of science and reasoning...to people whose only point of reference and only concern lies with the Bible, he still wins. Period. Reason be damned.

One can only hope that the number of thinkers reached was sufficient to justify sharing a stage with a buffoon like Ham.

(EDIT: Added another picture)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Rick Warren's, and American evangelicalism's, "huge lie"

Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.
-- Rick Warren
Evangelicals have taken a lot of heat for their continual disparagement of gay men and women, for their vicious, violent and absurd rhetoric, and the very real consequences it has for people. A rebranding scheme has long been under way, not to change the substance but the presentation, in order to convince people that it's not the sinner they hate, but merely the sin (a load of nonsense, if ever there's been one). Pastor Rick Warren's quote (above) is a congenially stated take on it, and it shows up quite often when a discussion of gay rights is underway.


Images like the above, which so far has garnered over 630,000 likes, nearly a quarter of a million shares, and reached 34 million people, tend to circulate as an excuse for bigotry: I'm not a bigot, I'm actually a compassionate, loving but principled person who refuses to sacrifice my principles because of nonsense and lies.

Now -- if one is willing to ignore the use of loaded terms like "lifestyle" -- Warren's assertion seems, on the face of it, true, or at least agreeable: there are plenty of people we disagree with, without hating them. And compassionate is always laudable. The problem isn't with what he states, that you can love someone without disapproving of some aspect of their lives; that you can disapprove of something about a person without hating them, and that you can be both compassionate and convicted. The problem is what he implies, and how his statement is applied. When you falsely conflate "disagree[ment]" with a "lifestyle" with actively attempting to deprive someone of the same rights that you enjoy, attempting hamper or impede a person's life or "lifestyle" until they conform to yours, etc., you are simply not being honest.

First, it's more than a question of "agree[ing] with everything [people] believe or do". There is a tremendous difference between agreement and actively working to prevent something. I may not agree with people who force their children to eat broccoli (the barbarism!), but I wouldn't presume to interfere -- much less prevent broccoli eaters from marrying, having families, or living. I wouldn't attempt to convince the public that broccoli eaters are a threat to our society, to children, and to the fundamental well-being of our nation. These are all things that evangelicals do in regards to gay people; Rick Warren himself is guilty of more than a few. The epic levels of understatement, then, should raise serious concerns as to Warren's honesty here.

Warren doesn't simply stick to understatement, though. He embraces full blown duplicity in his first line. Phrased in the negative, evangelical opposition to gay rights is not simply a matter of "disagree[ing] with someone’s lifestyle" (do note the duplicitous use of the loaded term "lifestyle", as if gay folks can just make a lifestyle change and get their act together, like a job-hopping kid putting off college who must finally make plans for his future). Again, though, this is beyond a matter of agreement or disagreement. These are mild terms, that in no way encompass the level of hostility and active opposition to homosexuals by evangelicals (including Rick Warren, whose version of "love" in action included a prolonged refusal to simply acknowledge that killing gay people was bad).

Again, I might disagree that forcing a child to eat broccoli as part of your healthy lifestyle is a good idea, and we might all the same maintain a cordial, loving relationship despite that disagreement -- but what I do as a result of my disagreement is going to be the deciding factor. If I keep it to myself, because, really, it's none of my business, or even let you know and then let it go, chances are good that we'll still be friends. That's going to break down, though, when I begin to insist that you shouldn't be allowed to marry, raise (or be around) a child, and further imply that you're a threat to society. If I leave it at, "yeah, that's not my thing," it's plausible to say that there is no evidence that I am unloving, uncompassionate, etc., toward you. As soon as I start attempting to curtail your rights, though, that trope goes out the window.

Despite the loaded language, on the face of it, Warren's assertions can be more or less true: you can disagree about things and still respect and love people. It's not a given, however, and it is relative to the situation. Furthermore, disagreement itself is not necessarily unloving, but what one chooses to do with that disagreement might -- or might not -- be. It becomes a lie, however, when one hides behind mere disagreement as a cover for active persecution. In the light that Warren meant and his followers mean this, it is simply a lie: depriving a person of the right to marry, raise a family, hold a job, exist without persecution, live without fear, etc., simply because they're attracted to a person of the same gender, is not compassionate. It is not loving. It is not merely a matter of polite, compassionate "disagree[ment]". It is just about as unloving, as bigoted, as uncompassionate and as cruel as you can get.

Sorry, Pastor Warren. The huge lie that our society has accepted is one that you and folks like you have been perpetuating for far too long: that you can be a bigot, a fool, and a fanatic and still lay claim to a moral high ground.