Category Archives: christianity

Evolution and religion

I haven’t formally studied evolution in years now, but it has always been one of those topics that excited me so I do what I can to keep up with the most interesting (to me) literature. It has always been an amazing field of discovery about the origins of all living things we know that only gets more exciting every day.

What upsets me is how people can think they understand it by listening to their pastor, friend, or co-worker, and just take what that person says at face value because of trust or because the “facts” reinforce a particular worldview. Far too few people plead ignorance these days, and that is quite regrettable considering that any given person is incredibly ignorant of most things. So what makes people think that they can understand something as complex as modern evolutionary theory without ever having studied it?

Religion. Now, I’m not saying that ALL people who object to evolutionary theory do so because of their religion, but let’s be honest here, the overwhelming vast majority of people who reject it (whether they outright admit it or not) do so because of their religion. By doing this these people permanently cut off a way of understanding our world. They argue from personal incredulity by saying things such as “this structure/pathway is way too complex to have evolved!” Really?! How the fuck do they know? Have they tried to understand how it could have happened using known routes of evolutionary change? Of course those people haven’t because that would involve delving deep into decades of research that, lets be honest, they wouldn’t begin to understand. Then, they would have to come up with a decent experiment to test their hypothesis that whatever it was they were talking about couldn’t evolve.

Ah ha! But these people have heard about someone who has done (or at least proposed) such experiments. People like Scott Minnich and Michael Behe who have shown evolution to be false!

Oh, if only it were so simple. First, from the standpoint of any scientist, Minnich’s flagellum knock-out experiment was completely fucking retarded and showed absolutely nothing. Evolution 1, Creationism 0. Behe is even worse. He simply proposed a(nother) retarded idea and proposed it showed modern evolutionary theory to be incomplete. Unfortunately for Behe, his idea (that of irreducible complexity) could be shot full of holes by a 2nd grader with a finger up his nose. Even worse is that he didn’t even research the subjects on which he based his arguments (if you read the literature you’d see they actually COUNTER his retarded little idea) and he never even did a single freaking experiment to try and gather evidence for it.

It’s a futile effort to try and prove science wrong because THAT’S WHAT SCIENTISTS ARE TRYING TO DO. We aren’t here to sit around and do experiments, circle-jerking one another along the way. Fuck no, we’re here trying to figure out something no one has ever figured out before, and if that means telling a bunch of people that they’re wrong then so be it. The difference between us and them is that when we say “you’re wrong” we have to back it up with cold, hard data. If you don’t have that data then you have nothing and all the arguments in the world won’t change a real scientist’s mind. But those same arguments may change the mind of a religious person, because due to their very nature they have been shown to accept arguments without any evidence.

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A post worth reading, I promise. You’ll learn a some important things.

In place of the post I was going to write about my fantastic weekend I decided to write one about (go figure) evolution, religion, and my mom.  The idea about this post came about through a conversation I had with my parents over dinner and the ride to the bus station.

A reoccurring theme in my time since college has been a low-intensity war between me and my mother over our disagreements in the science vs. religion wars.  This current episode was sparked by an article in my parent’s local newspaper by an old scientist with “fifty years experience” whatever the hell that means (couldn’t find it online, but I’ll add a link if I do in the future).  I read his opinion piece and much of it made perfect sense.  He correctly, if simply, described what science is and then went off the deep end.  Huge jumps of logic were made by describing biological features and then, with no explanation given, attributing those features to his idea of God (which happens to be the standard Christian one).  This gentleman then finishes his article by calling evolution an “invalid theory” and attributing everything to God.

I think my mother thought she had me cornered when she had me read this op-ed.  I mean, here is a guy who apparently has some credentials (but so do these people, and they’re all nutjobs) and is arguing against what she believes to be my position.  Largely, she was correct in that assumption, but when it comes to something as complex as science and religion the devil is in the details.  Through the conversation I had with my parents (though mostly my evangelical mother) I had to continually correct a number of false ideas about their understanding of science.  Namely, science never does, and never can, PROVE something.  This is a subtle, yet critical point about science that is often overlooked by those not intimately involved in the process.  Over and over I had to correct my mother when she said the word “prove” because science doesn’t “prove” anything (at least in the strict definition of the word).  The word “prove” can be, and often is, used colloquially within certain circles out of simplicity.  If I find, through rigorous scientific trials, that there is less of a certain protein in cell A I will often tell other scientists that I “proved” it because I know they understand what I mean.  However, outside of those circles syntax and semantics become increasingly important and slip-ups need to be corrected.

(I swear this rambling is going somewhere.  This is getting to the crux of my argument with my mother.)

While most people are taught about the scientific method at some point very few are taught about the basic premises of the philosophy of science.  One premise essentially states that natural processes have natural causes (go figure).  This is called methodological naturalism and is the basis of scientific thought.  My mother has a problem with this premise because it leaves no place for a god to exert it’s will upon the natural world.  Now, this is a very important distinction that I am going to explain.  Gods are, by definition, SUPERnatural (OUTSIDE/ABOVE nature) while methodological naturalism (science) is based only upon nature.  Therefore, if you add the premise of a SUPERnatural being in a scientific argument you invalidating it due to one of your premises being inherently flawed.  Science has no preconceived notion about the existence of a supernatural being (one may or may not exist), but it acts as through all natural processes have natural causes.

That was my mother’s main problem (though she had many others), but I was able to get through to her.  I made her honest as a Christian by admitting that her problems with science, and particularly evolution, were not scientifically based, but were instead based only on theology.  Science didn’t back her story up, so she decided to believe what she wanted to in order to continue believing in her idea of God.  I showed her what science has proven beyond a reasonable doubt (but not an unreasonable doubt) and she has decided to reject it based on her understanding of the Christian God.

It was a very difficult two hours explaining this to my parents, but in the end it was all worth it.  My mother is no longer delusional about science and I am happy with my efforts to defend what I have come to know and love, but I can’t help but feel a bit sad at my mother’s dismissal of the only way of truly knowing what goes on in this world around us.  It’s sad really, and I hope other Christians (and all other followers of religions) can one day be as truthful as my mother and admit that they don’t “believe” in evolution based solely on theological principles and stop hiding behind pseudoscience in order to sound more legitimate.

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Filed under Biology and Evolution, christianity, crazy, home, religion, Those Other Sciences

Amazing week

The week didn’t begin well.  I knew that I had to get as many hours in as possible since I was leaving Thursday night to got back to rural Michigan and see my family for the 4th.  That meant waking up extra early so I could be in the lab by 6 and start doing the monotonous task that is pipetting.  On top of it all it didn’t look like the data I had been collecting was all that good (a bit too variable to be of much use).  All in all it didn’t look like it was going to be that good of a week.

But then, just like out of a movie it began to turn around.  I found out I was approved for the rockin’ apartment I looked at last week which means I no longer have to worry about finding a place to live for the next two years.  It’s huge, fairly cheap, halfway between the two campuses I have to go to, has a full size kitchen, gorgeous wood floors, and is close to two modes of transportation. Chadwick 1, housing devil 0. (pictures will come eventually)

Then I go back to work removing and crushing up brains, extracting RNA, and checking transcript levels in a new mouse my lab developed.  Turns out the next few samples I ran tightened up my error bars and became much more convincing which made my current advisor and grad student mentor very happy with my progress.  If you’re not keeping track of the score it’s now Chadwick 2, pseudoscience 0.

Then I took a night off and spent it with the “wife/girlfriend/whatever she is now” at my place.   I made a simple dinner while we caught up on what’s been going on with our lives while having a few drinks.  It was just very nice knowing that I can still have a decent relationship with my wife after we eventually get a divorce.  It won’t be easy, but knowing us I’m sure we can pull it off.  Chadwick 3, disastrous relationships 0.

To top it all off my dad comes to pick me up Thursday after work (the busses and trains were all booked out of the city and it was a last minute decision to go home) and on the way back we had some amazing father/son time that was long overdue and I think really helped us understand one another on a level most parents and children get to.  I essentially got my father’s Christianity deconversion story and then shared how I felt about religions and…  well, it was just a very good and thoughtful talk that I feel made me closer to my father than I ever have been in my life.

And I didn’t think it could get any better, but I was wrong.  However, I’ll save that for the next post.

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Baguettes and gay marriage

Well, since I’ve had a lot of free time hanging out at my parents house on an extended mini-vacation I’ve taken to doing a few things I’ve wanted to do for a long time. One of those things is learning how to make a fantastic baguette.

Please note, I am not a baker. Far from it. I don’t bake shit, but I got on my computer, researched the hell out of baguettes, bought some yeast and flour, and went to town. I failed many times, but every time I have learned something from my mistakes. So far I have the flavor I wanted and the crumb structure (the bubbles inside) is ~80% figured out, but the dough consistency and the crust are still far from perfection. So, I got a lot of work ahead of me, but as soon as I figure out where I’ve gone wrong I’ll type up the recipe for all to use and enjoy.

Much like my baguette battle, gay marriage in this country is making progress as well. Four states now allow for same sex marriage!!! Fuck yes, score one for the good guys! I can honestly say that if you have a problem with the equality of allowing homosexuals to marry then you and I are probably not going to get along (my last boss had to travel back to England to marry his boyfriend; he should have been able to do it here).

Progress is being made not only on the baguette front, but also on the civil rights front. Both of those things make me a very happy man.

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Losing my religion

When it comes to the idea of a supreme being I am an apathetic agnostic.  Our motto of “We don’t know and we don’t care” seems to sum up exactly how I feel about gods, religions, and all that other stuff.  I don’t hate those things, but I don’t care for them either.  That was not always the case though.  I used to be religious.

It was a long time ago but I still think about it to this day because I feel it’s important to understand how experiences completely shape who we are.  My experiences were mainly shaped by the very conservative and religious mid-Michigan town I grew up in.  Luckily, I was born to a family that had a religious past, but wasn’t overly religious in its own right making my upbringing atypical among my peers.  The pressure to conform was too great however, and by my middle school years I found what I thought was god.  Time has since shown me that was not god, but was instead my own inner dialogue but with an artificial authority.  By the time I was a sophomore in high school I was thoroughly convinced that my concept of god was critically flawed and began looking for more answers.  They did not come and considering the fact that a good 90% of my friends were overtly religious and the other 10% seemed to be religious to a lesser degree it was no wonder I felt out of place and simply chose to live a lie to make my life easier until another opportunity presented itself.

College was that opportunity and I flourished in the environment it provided.  There were a token few who were religious, but for the most part it didn’t seem to play a huge role in the lives of my new friends and was a complete 180 from what I knew in my hometown.  By this point in my life I knew for a fact that religion wasn’t for me, but I was still unsure about the question of a god’s existence.  In fact, I’m still unsure, hence my agnosticism.  In practice I live my life as an atheist but hold out on the explicit denial of an atheist or antitheist and I’m happy with my position because it meshes with the rest of my worldview based on naturalistic materialism (the pretentious way of saying science).

So now I’m happy with my lack of a belief system based on a non-natualistic philosophy.  I don’t know if there is a god(s) and based on what people have told me of their various gods I don’t care to know or worship any of them.

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I really don’t want to hate christianity, but they make it so hard

Most of my family is christian and the last thing I want to do is hate what they believe, but others associated with what they believe keep doing ridiculous and idiotic things that essentially leave me no choice but to think less and less of christianity as a whole. MAYBE, if such people were ridiculed by more intelligent christians might I disregard the actions of the few. However, I’ve seen far too much of this that the christian community not only condones, but endorses. Just when I think they hit bottom someone throws them a shovel.

And people ask me why I’m an apathetic agnostic…

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The abuse of “theory”

Few scientific concepts are regularly abused as much as the scientific concept of a theory (I’m pretty sure the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is up there, but not quite reaching this level). What confuses most people is that the colloquial usage and the scientific usage are completely different.

The everyday usage typically hovers somewhere between “wild-ass guess” and “what kind of drugs are you on?” For example I have a theory that one of my neighbors is a serial killer and keeps the heads of his victims in his freezer and another one about how Courtney Love killed Kurt Cobain. Of course, I have no proof of this, but that’s not what the colloquial usage is all about. No proof is needed because it’s not something that is taken very seriously (or at least it shouldn’t be).

A scientific theory is about as far removed from the everyday usage as it could be. Essentially, it is an explanation based on a large amount of accumulated empirical evidence that is then used to future results. It is also the greatest honor that can be bestowed on a scientific idea. Atomic theory, the germ theory of disease, gravity, special relativity, and, of course, evolution are all well respected theories. While very few people will question the first four examples there are many who speak of evolution being “just/only a theory.” The reasons for this are legion and I don’t even want to begin to go into them since they mostly center around religious idiocy, but it just goes to show one thing: most people can’t tell a scientific theory from a pile of cat shit in the corner (my cat just pooped in the corner).

Part of this may be due to the way most people think about science. Lay people I have talked to give me the impression that they believe scientists to be dogmatic conservatives (not in a political sense) who are incapable of giving up their cherished theories. This definition is only partially correct. Science is extremely conservative in nature due to the relatively common false positives that plague all facets of scientific exploration. So, in order to supplant an accepted theory a scientist must have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that their new theory is better than the previous one. There are many theories out there, but not all of them are created equally and that’s why we don’t teach all of them in schools and this “teach the controversy” shit that’s going on right now is pure bullshit.

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Fucking crazy creationists piss me off.

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Filed under Biology and Evolution, christianity, just sad, pet peeve, religion, social, Those Other Sciences