First it was “Creation Science,” then it was “Intelligent Design,” and now… “Non-Evolution”

So there’s this legislator in my home state who seems to think that simply stating the opposite of a well-established scientific principle counts as a theory in itself. Despite the fact that his “theory” has no evidential leg to stand on.

We (and by “we” I mean “they,” and by “they,” I mean “ill-informed zealots” which are actually the worst kind of zealot) used to call this “Creation Science,” employing the popular-yet-misguided notion that adding the word “science” makes something scientific (to see why this is complete bullshit, one need look no further than Scientology). Certain irrational citizens of our country thought that it should be taught alongside evolution, which is kinda like saying that Rick Moranis deserves to play in the NBA. No… actually it’s like saying that Lucky the Lucky Charms Leprechaun deserves to play in the NBA.

Long story short, they were wrong, and the courts agreed.

After that, they made yet another attempt to teach religion as science, only this time they called it “Intelligent Design.” Same tired arguments. Same utter lack of evidence. So, naturally, the results in the judicial system didn’t change.

Now they’re back, echoing the same vacuous sentiments, dressed up in yet another pretentious title: non-evolution. With any luck, this story will be the last we hear of it, but if history is any indication, I don’t think it’s likely to stop here. Quite fitting when you think about it… the movement rallying against evolution refusing to evolve itself?

The irony is not lost on me.

John Freshwater (finally) Fired

After a long and arduous trial (that should really have been open-and-shut), the poster boy for over-zealous religious douchebaggery in the public school system has been fired:

A middle school science teacher accused of burning the image of a cross on students’ arms has officially been fired.

The Mount Vernon school board voted 4-1 Monday night to accept a state hearing officer’s recommendation to terminate John Freshwater.

The Columbus Dispatch reports the firing took effect a few hours later, at midnight.

Freshwater had appealed his earlier firing by the board. An internal investigation found he had preached Christian beliefs in class.

He was also accused of using a scientific device to mark several students with a cross and of keeping a Bible on his desk.

Personally, I’d have canned the dude just for being a science teacher who doesn’t teach science. Of how much use can one possibly be, if one cannot even perform the duties contained within the name of the position you hold? That’s like being a president that refuses to preside over anything.

But on top of that, he pushed fairy tales onto his students. Which might be fine if you’re teaching, say, Greek mythology or first grade story-time; but it’s a little out-of-place in an environment that’s supposed to be endorsing facts, evidence and critical inquiry.

And as if that weren’t enough, he admittedly used a Tesla coil to burn religious symbols into the arms of some students, which he claims was part of a science experiment. Which I find strange, since I’ve never taken any science course that featured either religion or bodily mutilation as part of the curriculum.

Then again, my degree is in civil engineering. What the hell does that have to do with science?

(Wait for it.)

Look, if you want to believe that evolution isn’t true and that human and animal life began 6,000 years ago in a garden with a talking snake, that’s your prerogative and you’re more than welcome to believe that.

Just as long as you’re aware that millions of pieces of historical and empirical evidence are stacked against you, and that your argument, in the end, amounts to nothing but a massive conspiracy theory.

These ideas do not belong in a public school classroom, especially in instances where they’re being pushed onto unwitting students by a sadistic mother fucker like John Freshwater.

(Out of curiosity, is anyone taking bets on when that Christian Persecution Complex is due to kick in?)

“Free Will is Some Deep-Ass S#!*”

I remember a few conversations I had with some college friends, back when I was still a Christian, on Calvinism and predestination. For a long time, I actually considered myself a Calvinist.

One usually can’t discuss Calvinism without also talking about destiny and free will, as any Calvinist will tell you. It wasn’t long before one of those present, slightly drunk and high (it’s college), shook his head, sunk in his chair, and said, “Maaann… free will is some deep-ass shit.”

For those who don’t know, Calvinism is a perfectly legitimate theological approach to Christianity (one of many), founded by Jean Calvin in the 16th century. Long story short, most Calvinists believe that free will is merely an illusion; that God has already written the whole of human history from “the beginning to the end,” including who will be in heaven with him (known as “the elect”) and who will be in hell. We may feel like we have a choice in the matter, but God, being all-knowing, would not have been foolish enough to allow random human variables to fuck up his plan.

Think about it as a book. The author creates the characters and determines exactly what will happen to them. If the characters were real, they might think that they’re making their own choices and decisions, but really they’re making the very choice they were created to make.

This was a common analogy among Calvinists. Personally, I used to think of life as more like one of God’s impromptu jokes come alive.

Anyway, my point is, I’m not a Christian anymore. But, surprisingly, I still don’t believe in “free will.” Or at least, not in the way most people mean it.

This topic stems from a question someone asked me on facebook, which went a little something like this:

So marc, do you feel we have free will or we don’t? do you think we choose the paths that we are on, as in when i made a left instead of a right on that last light i ended up hitting a guy on the street that was neither his nor my fault? I want to know who controls these everyday tragedies and sucesses we go through daily. And when one has a burden in their heart who do they cry out to or where do they turn to? Who judges the man who tried to live his whole life as a man(or so he thought) and when he developed in his life further, realized he was a woman with a family and his wife leaves him, he confronts his inner feelings to want to live as a woman. What is the purpose of all of this in life, why aren’t we just robots that learn to live and love eachother without pain and hate or desires and wants that PEOPLE may say is not according to “God’s plan”. Where does all that lie?

It’s a good question. A damn good question.

Here’s the thing. I’m a man of science. And science deals with questions of the knowable or foreseeable truth. Take physics as an example. The universe happens to operate a certain way, and the science of physics represents our attempt to understand the way it operates.

For instance, an object in free fall will accelerate toward the ground at a rate of about 9.81 m/s^2. A lot of experimentation was involved in arriving at this answer. Furthermore, it’s repeatable. We can actually set up an experiment wherein we measure the distance from a ball to the ground and calculate how long it will take to hit the ground when we let it go. And the answer will be dead accurate. Every time.

If we know anything from physics (as well as the rest of science), it’s that if you’re given all the variables, you can always, always, always arrive at the right answer. So, theoretically, if we had knowledge of every single variable and every single premise, constant, and initial condition, we could successfully foresee the future. A math equation can only have one right answer.

The problem is, the number of variables is nothing short of infinite.

When you decide to make a left turn instead of a right, you think you’re doing so of your own accord (if you happen to drive a Honda Accord, that would be an intentional pun). But the reality is that you act according to an infinite number of contributing factors from your past, and everything leading up to the moment you were born as well.

It’s completely random, and yet it’s not. When all the variables are laid out, there’s really only one possible outcome.

So, to answer the question, no, I do not think free will really exists; that is, if we define “free will” as the idea that our choices determine the future. In the grand scheme of things, there’s only one “future” that will occur, and everything we decide to say or do has no effect on it.

For all intents and purposes though, we do have free will. Just because your past experiences, environmental conditions, and historical context are leading you to make one inevitable choice doesn’t make it not a “decision” in any useful sense of the word.

But don’t misunderstand me. Just because I think free will is an illusion doesn’t mean that I somehow believe that there’s an invisible man in space who’s decided how things are going to play out. Number one, because that conclusion doesn’t at all follow from this premise, and number two, because that conclusion makes far less sense than its atheistic alternatives.

2 + 2 = 4, not because someone designed it that way. 2 + 2 = 4 because… well, that’s just the way it is.

Laminin is not proof of Jesus. Sorry.

You know that phenomenon where you can go your entire life never meeting anyone named Stewart, until suddenly you meet three different Stewarts in the course of a single month? That’s the deal with this new “argument” for Christianity. I’ve never heard it before, and all of a sudden I see three separate references to it within a week. So either it’s a new argument, or someone is fucking with me.

I’m officially calling it “The Argument from Shit that Looks Jesus-ey.”

The most common instance of it is in this YouTube video, where it’s used by some preacher named Louie Giglio, who I’m guessing wasn’t a microbiology major.

It’s an eight-minute video, so let me sum it up for you. Laminins are glycoproteins that play an important part in the structural makeup of nearly every tissue in living organisms (including humans). They’re crucial for the survival of living tissue and the regeneration of new tissue, as with muscles or the liver.

So what’s the catch? Well, Christians seem to think they look like this:

Heyyy… wait a minute. That looks suspiciously like those things Mexicans get tattooed on their chests. (What? I can use that joke. My dog is Mexican.)

Well, what a coincidence. The bible has a passage (Col 5:17) which claims, metaphorically, that Jesus binds all things together. And here’s a protein in our bodies that does just that… and it totally resembles the thing he died on. It’s a miracle! Jesus is real and gayness is an abomination. Hallelujah.

Don’t pop that cork yet, Christians. Unfortunately the Argument from Microscopic Proteins that Look Kinda Like the Thing Jesus Was Nailed To totally fails.

First of all, this isn’t what they look like. This is a graphical representation of a laminin glycoprotein, used to simplify the layout for the purpose of analysis and illustration.

In reality, laminins look like this.

Sure, some of those might look vaguely like crosses. Others look like the Greek letter psi. Some look like ray guns. But it’s quite clear that the cross shape was merely a useful way for scientists to represent the makeup of these proteins, and was in no way a statement on how they occur in nature.

Second, take a closer look at that graphical representation. Notice the helix pattern on the bottom leg of the purported “cross.” Last I checked, the Christian cross didn’t include said helix. Actually, the more I look at it, the more it looks like…

Zounds! It’s a caduceus!

Most of you probably know this as the “medical symbol.” But its origin is the Staff of Hermes. Hermes, for those in the know, is the Greek messenger of the gods. This was the staff he carried.

Clearly this means the Greek gods are real. Not the Hebrew gods.

Right?

Obviously, no Christian would accept this reasoning in support of the Greek gods. So why would they actually try using a graphical representation of one particular protein in the human body as support for their god?

The answer is simple. They have no real evidence. If they did, they wouldn’t have to make these desperate attempts to rationally justify simple pariedolia as proof of their deity.

What a major fail. This is what happens when irrational people open science books.

Christians have officially lost the right to say “I’ve seen miracles”

Look at that photo.

The baby in the photo is 8-month-old Alayna May Wyland. The lump above her eye is a mass of blood vessels that has grown so large, it’s likely to cause blindness.

Her parents knew about this for quite a while. Rather than taking their daughter to a trained medical professional, they decided that whispering wishes to an imaginary friend with superpowers would be much more efficacious.

Now a court will decide whether they should go to prison for criminal mistreatment.

Medical experts describe the eye problem as a hemangioma, a fast-growing mass of blood vessels. Normally the condition could be diagnosed and easily treated at the first signs of swelling or discoloration. Left untreated, the mass pushed Alayna’s eye down and out, placing profound pressure on her eyeball and eye socket, as The Oregonian’s Steve Mayes reported.

It’s not clear whether Alayna will go blind in that eye or somehow recover. The only certain thing is that the Wylands deliberately withheld medical care, and admitted in court to doing so, from a baby whose injury was painfully obvious.

Thankfully, Alayna isn’t dead, and there’s no word yet on whether or not the mass has caused any serious damage. But the sad truth is, some kids aren’t so lucky.

For every story I hear from Christians about how their god magically healed a dying or disabled person (with no visible symptoms, as fate would have it), I’ve read stories about parents who withhold medical care from their children and opt for prayer, only to have nature tragically take its course and kill their child.

One has to wonder, if God is “powerful” enough to help an old woman walk without her walker or cure an ex-drug-addict of his withdrawl symptoms (seriously… these are actual “miracle claims” I’ve heard from believers), why would he withhold his healing powers from an innocent infant? Would he rather the child go blind than perform an unambiguous miracle?

Most Christians, rather than trusting the “power of God” to heal all their wounds, use the slick method of seeking medical attention and praying for healing. That way, when a century of medical advancement does what it’s intended to do, they can still give credit to whichever invisible friend they prayed to by claiming that God “used the doctors to carry out his plan.” (Never mind the fact that in the bible, miracle faith-healings happened all the time, completely unaided by medical professionals. Who am I kidding… there were no medical professionals. And also, never mind the fact that getting help from science would be “leaning on one’s own understanding,” rather than having pure faith. Hey… if they were consistent, they wouldn’t be Christians.)

On the other hand, if someone like me goes to a doctor and gets cured by medical science, it’s either because someone else prayed for me or because God has some kind of plan for me and needs me healthy.

The logic kinda works like this.

With believers making these kinds of excuses for him, how can God possibly lose?

Believers need to come to terms with the fact that these “miraculous faith-healings” they’re so fond of touting as proof for the supernatural are nothing but clear-cut cases of confirmation bias. Plain and simple.

Sadly, it’s the children that suffer the most when idiot parents prefer fairy tales to science. These parents deserve to be imprisoned for endangering their child like that, and let’s hope it serves as an example for the rest of the nuts out there.

People often ask me, why are you so critical of religion? What harm does it really do?

Well, now you have an answer.

Black Jeezus’ Favorite Blogs

I know I said I was taking a break from blogging. This doesn’t count, as it requires no creativity whatsoever. Anyway, for anyone curious, here’s a list of the blogs I read regularly for inspiration, entertainment, or informative purposes. Enjoy.

Atheist & Skeptic Blogs

  • Pharyngula – probably the busiest atheist blog on the net, run by biologist PZ Myers (he’s on strike as of this writing, but it’s expected to be over soon).
  • The Friendly Atheist – run by high school math teacher and author Hemant Mehta. Another highly-trafficked and frequently updated blog.
  • Debunking Christianity – run by ex-Christian-apologist John Loftus. Perfect if you’re looking for a good source of well-researched cohesive arguments against Christianity.
  • Why Evolution is True – run by biologist (and author of the book by the same name) Jerry Coyne. Very science-y but still easy to follow and enjoy.
  • Bad Astronomy – run by astronomer and skeptic Phil Plait. Perfect for any skeptic who’s also a fan of astronomy.
  • Skepticblog – several different contributors for this one, all of whom are big names in the skeptic community.
  • Cubik’s Rube – run by British blogger James. Always an entertaining read.
  • The BEattitude – run by an unnamed ex-Christian.
  • Common Sense Atheism – run by Luke Muehlhauser. His approach to atheism is more philosophical than scientific.
  • Cynical-C – not technically about atheism, as much as it’s a random collection of bits and pieces of the internet, many of them on the topic of atheism.
  • Unreasonable Faith – run by Daniel Florien. A good mix of news and commentary.
  • The Good Atheist – run by Jacob Fortin. A true atheist a-hole (no wonder I like him).

Libertarian Blogs

  • Jeffrey Miron‘s blog – author of Libertarianism from A to Z.
  • Hit & Run – Reason.com’s online blog, featuring an assload of contributors and multiple posts a day.
  • Mises Economics Blog – from the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
  • Cato Unbound – from the Cato Institute, a forum where multiple authors weigh in on a given topic.
  • Megan McArdle‘s blog – business and economics editor for The Atlantic.
  • Aaron Ross Powell – author, atheist and noted libertarian. Much of his posts deal with libertarian issues.