Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Ten Myths of Evolution Refuted, Part 5

I'll admit, I had no clue what it was AiG was claiming this time around at first. The 6th myth refers to the claim that the reconstructions of ape to human evolution in the media are all false, based on fiction, and that in reality ape fossils, specifically human ancestors, are hard to come by and suffer a lot of bias when being identified. This, to them, is especially evident by the supposed bipedial characteristics of the fossils which are also found in many currently living creatures that are not bipedal. Oh boy.

The media, when they give us diagrams like the famous one showing the progression of man to ape going from left to right, is just giving us the basic idea and detailing one of the predictions made by the theory of evolution. There is no bias in the diagram, as something that is backed by that much evidence cannot possibly be biased (at least on the scale that creationists claim). The real issue with this myth is the idea that human ancestor fossils are hard to come by and that they share characteristics with animals that are not bipedal (which I guess, for them, proves something).

Here's why recent human ancestor fossils are hard to find: fossilization is rare, and there has simply not been enough time or there haven't been the right conditions for those recent ancestors to fossilize. Despite their rarity, the fossils we have now do show clear transitions between ape and man, especially in the development of the cranium, hands, tail, feet, and pelvic girdle. This is even confirmed by dating the fossils: older fossils don't look as much like us as newer ones do.

As for the idea that the supposed bipedal characteristics of fossils are the same as currently living, non-bipedal apes, the answer to this is quite simple. The REAL characteristics that make us bipedal don't exist in any current, non-bipedal apes (S-shaped spine, feet arches, more upright pelvis). All of the apes have A) their pelvis angled slightly more forward, and B) their spines curve more like a "c", rather than an "s". The "c" shape is better adapted to knuckle walking, and this is what makes it so uncomfortable for them to walk on two legs: the weight is not distributed correctly and they fall over. They can do it, don't get me wrong, but it is awkward and they won't do it for long periods of time.

As the list goes on, the claims get easier to disprove. Apes have similar characteristics, yes, but they aren't put together in such a way that allows them to distribute their weight evenly while standing. Humans, and their very recent ancestors, do.

These creationists are cherry picking. They look for what they think are "gaps" in the theory and then interject their "designer". The problem is it that it simply does not work that way. We do not know everything about how evolution works, at least on the molecular level, but we do know that there is overwhelming evidence for common ancestry between apes and humans. Being able to say "you don't have enough fossils" is not enough evidence to both refute ancestry and then immediately claim that it was "designed". Ah, but such is the logic of a creationist.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Restaurant Menu Reform: The Real Issue of the Day!

Somewhere buried in that 2,000 page healthcare bill is a new restriction on restaurants. Congress is now mandating that restaurants place a calorie count on menus, somehow trying to make us healthier. Now, this does not apply to all restaurants, but rather only chains with more than 20 locations. It also applies to vending machines apparently . . .

There are going to be two problems with this mandate.
  1. Those companies will have to reprint millions of menus, costing them huge amounts of money. This could mean that those extra costs are going to be covered by us, the consumer.
  2. How on earth is this going to make America healthier? What is the evidence behind making this decision? You can't expect people to change habits and lifestyles just because you tell them how much weight the will gain by eating the angus burger. It just isn't possible.
To elaborate on the second position, I have to quote someone from a newspaper interview in Idaho who said that, "If revealing the consequences of a decision like that had any effect, then putting the stickers of the miles per gallon on a Hummer would mean nobody would buy a Hummer, it's not going to work". My sentiments exactly.

People are looking for two things when they eat out: price, and quality (taste, etc). You can't make people healthier if you can't make the healthy things cheaper and better tasting. Since the matter of quality has only to do with the restaurant, you have to make it more economically desirable to eat healthy. One way this is going to happen? Get the government out of the agriculture business. Stop subsidizing farmers and mandating what they grow. Let the market decide that, and allow competition to lower prices. To go further, lets stop subsidizing food altogether; we might actually see some change then, but until then . . .

Ahh, the government. You think the problems are bad? Wait until you see the solutions.

The Ten Myths of Evolution Refuted, Part 4

I'm not going to lie, I didn't know what to do about this one. I've heard ridiculous claims before, but never have I seen this level of stupidity. The 7th myth on the Answers in Genesis list of 10 is that human and chimp DNA similarities prove evolution. That's right, they think that the fact that humans and chimp DNA similarities (which is 98%, by the way) does not prove evolution.

So, according to AiG, we "evolutionists" often forget that the 2% difference between chimps and humans equates to millions of differences in the arrangements of their nucleotides (they call them letters, retards). You're right, there are millions of differences in our base pairs (two opposite nucleotides), but where exactly does that disprove evolution? That 2% difference in our genomes make up all of the anatomical, physiological, and social differences that humans and chimps have, but, remember that there is still a 98% similarity! The number of similarities outnumbers the differences by a ration of 48:1! This alone does not prove evolution or ancestry, but it is one of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of pieces of evidence for it.

Now this is the second thing they said, and it gets me every time. For some reason they like to think that we evolved from chimps. Let me tell you right now: WE ARE NOT chimps. We did not evolve from chimps. or any other LIVING primate species on the planet for that matter. We simply share ancestry, and that ancestry is solidified by the fact that 98% of our genome is identical. The further you go back on the tree, to reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates, non-chordates, etc., the percentage of the genome that is identical lessens. You can see that decreasing trend not only in genetics, but in comparative anatomy, physiology, social behaviors, embryology, paleontology, zoology, botany, and beyond. The older you get, the less similar the organisms are.

Now, let's toss some interesting evidence out there.

A retrovirus is an RNA virus that gets replicated in the host cell through use of an enzyme called reverse transcriptase, which produces DNA from its own RNA genome. The virus then produces DNA and integrates it with the host cell by the enzyme integrase. This means that the virus can replicate itself as a part of the host cell's DNA. The simple way to say this is that retroviruses take their own RNA, produce DNA, and then synthesize the proteins necessary for duplication. Normal viruses operate by taking DNA from the host, producing RNA, and then synthesizing the necessary proteins. Retroviruses work backwards.

So, whats the significance? If a retrovirus (HIV is a good example) infects a body cell, then that change to the host's DNA is lost when the organism dies. If, on the other hand, it infects a gamete cell, then we have a whole 'nother story. When this happens, the retroviral DNA (which was inserted in to the host via the integrase enzyme) can be passed on to the organisms progeny. This is very important to know: those DNA changes that result from a retroviral infection can be passed on, and the offspring of the organism can bear those changes.

So, what happens when we decode the human genome? We can find where retroviruses have inserted their DNA by looking for specific patterns. We can even find what point they inserted them at. What about when we decode the chimp genome? We find that those same pieces of retroviral DNA exist in the SAME EXACT places in the chimp genome as they do in the human genome. The genome is billions of base pairs long, and the chances of the same retrovirus infecting two different species in the same exact places at different points of time are astronomical.

That is just one of the pieces of evidence for common ancestry. The human-chimp ancestor (or possibly, an ancestor from even further out) had these pieces of retroviral DNA in their genome, which were then passed to their ancestors.

Did the "designer" intentionally infect us with retroviral DNA (in multiple species, and in the same places I might add)? Seems kind of like a dick move to me.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Ten Myths of Evolution Refuted, Part 3

The 8th myth, brought to us by Answers in Genesis, is that there are clear transitional fossils. They claim that paleontology has been unable to find any true transitional forms, and that gaps in the fossil record refute the idea that evolution could occur since there is no visible, gradual continuum between species.

The first thing we have to understand about fossils is that they are rare. The conditions necessary for fossilization have to be so exact that the chances of an organism ever actually becoming fossilized are extremely small. This explains why there are gaps in the record: not every organism fossilizes.

The other thing we have to know about fossils is that all fossils are transitional fossils (in some way). All of the fossils ever discovered show some kind of transition between their ancestors and their descendants. Now, this is an extreme generalization, but it necessary to understand that transitional fossils exist everywhere in the fossil record.

So, what is a transitional fossil NOT. Many creationists define a transitional fossil as a fossil that shows a combination of traits from one species and another. This is why they think we don't have any at all: they're looking for a crocoduck.

Now, what we are really talking about when we say "transitional fossils" are specific links between organisms, such as the link between water dwelling organisms and land dwelling organisms, or the link between ape and man. But, you have to understand that transitional fossils are not hybrids of specific organisms, but rather just a fossil that shows a mixture of features between older organisms and newer organisms.

Heres some examples:
  • Titanotheres, who went extinct in the Cenzoic era. We have fossils which show the progressive increase in the size of their horns from small to large. We've also seen the development of certain head and neck features which are similar to those used by rams.
  • The species Globigernoides trilobus and Orbulina universa have a wide variety of fossils showing the development of certain morphological traits.
  • We have fossils showing the developments between certain species of Phacops.
  • There is a 2 million year old record of development of the diatom Rhizosolenia.
  • Lake Turkana molluscs
  • Cenzoic era marine ostracodes
  • The primate genus Cantius
  • A 13 million year old record of the gradual changes of the Scallop genus Chesapecten.
  • Gryphaea, which become broader and thinner during the Jurassic.
  • Australopithecus shows the changes in the pelvic girdle and other features that show the transition between knuckle walking and walking upright.
  • Fossils showing the transitions between dinosaurs and birds.
  • Haasiophis terrasanctus, a marine snake that has limbs. Shows the transition between limbed to limbless snakes.
  • Jaws of mososaurs show the transition between snakes and lizards.
  • Fossils that show the transition between mesonychids and whales.
  • Fossils that show the transition between fish and tetrapods.
  • Fossils that show Condylarth to manatee transitions.
  • Runcaria, the precursor to seed plants, which has some of the features of modern seed plants missing.
  • Melittosphex burmensis, which shows the transition between some kinds of wasps and bees.
This is just breaking the surface. Despite their rarity, we have a lot of fossils which have transitional features.

Some other smaller claims made by the Answers in Genesis with regards to this myth are that fossils don't tell us who it's ancestors or descendants are, or even how it used the body parts it had. In reality, of course they do. By grouping together fossils with similar structures, dating them, and studying what modern species with those structures do with them, we can build an accurate picture of the ancient world. Fossils don't tell us directly, but the science of Paleontology does.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Ten Myths of Evolution Refuted, Part 2

The 9th myth in the Answers in Genesis list of 10 is a particularly stupid one. They claim that homologies do not prove evolution, and therefore it is a myth.

The idea behind their claim is that homologies provide just as much evidence for a common "designer" as they do for evolution. This is silly.

This ties to another claim that is often made by creationists (falsely, I might add). They like to point out that homology is defined as similarity due to common ancestry, and so the claim that it is also evidence for common ancestry is a circular argument.

The evidence for common ancestry does not come from homologies, but rather the patterns of similar traits we see in nature. These similarities group themselves naturally, and form what appears to be a tree-like structure with the many branches representing the different groups (the tree of life).

So, let's take what I just said and make it visual. This image will help greatly.

The evidence for common ancestry comes from the groupings of organisms into different domains, phyla, classes, genus', et cetera. To make it easy, we'll just look at deuterostomes, chordates, and vertebrates.

A deuterostome is an organism whose embryonic blastopore forms the anus, and not the mouth. On the other hand, a protostome is an organism whose blastopore forms the mouth and not the anus. If you trace the tree down those two paths (you can't see the protostome path in that image, but it's there), you will notice that the two paths do not converge. No protostome or descendants of a protostome will have the blastopore form the anus, and no deuterostome or their descendants will have the blastopore form the mouth. You absolutely will not find that anywhere in nature.

The same applies for the chordates, who are characterized mostly by the jelly-like notocord that the embryos develop in the early spine (the spinal column eventually replaces this). No chordate or non-chordate will ever have the blastopore form the mouth, ever, because they do not share ancestry with the protostomes. You will also never find a descendant of a non-chordate that has a notocord, nor will you find a chordate that doesn't have a notocord. You see where I'm going with this? The same goes for vertebrates. No vertebrate will ever be a non-vertebrate, protostome, or non-chordate, and no non-vertebrate will ever be a vertebrate, protostome, or non-chordate. The reason being they do not share ancestry with these organisms, plain and simple.

A homology is what we use to describe the similarities between organisms in a particular group that come about due to common ancestry. That term is not applied to a feature until the evidence for common ancestry is presented.

To put it this way, homologies are not evidence for common ancestry, but rather common ancestry is evidence for homologies.

The Ten Myths of Evolution Refuted, Part 1

Answers In Genesis has an interesting list of the Top Ten Myths about Evolution. When I first saw it, I immediately smelled an interesting combination of bullshit and swamp ass. Unfortunately, that's exactly what I got when I read them (but, honestly, what did I expect).

So here is the number ten myth of evolution, refuted. The myth is that computer simulations prove evolution.

The claim is that computer simulations do not prove evolution because they reflect the biases and assumptions of the programmer, and because they are used to meet predetermined goals and way points.

The funny thing is that the answer to this crap is, yes, computer models do not prove evolution. Scientists don't think so either, though.

A computer model has to be made with algorithms and processes that are already known. It's not that we study what happens to a computer simulation and use that as evidence for evolution; quite the opposite. We have to study the way organisms are selected, the way genes mutate, and the way populations and environments change in nature in order to build models of them on computers. The only thing we then use the computer models for is to demonstrate the evidence that has been gathered.

It is silly to think that we use computers to prove evolution. You would have to have the knowledge about how evolution works beforehand in order to even put it into a computer, therefore not proving anything.

Although, some of the more elaborate computer simulations detailing evolution's processes are quite spectacular.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

We Are Not A Christian Nation

Conservatives were upset when President Obama remarked that America was not a Christian nation. On April 6th, during a press conference in Turkey, Obama explained that, "One of the great strengths of the United States is … we have a very large Christian population -- we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values”. I think he got it just about right.

To really understand why America is not a Christian nation, we need to learn a little more about what the people who founded this country believed. What we know about the founding fathers’ personal beliefs comes only from their writings. The first thing we notice from these writings is that it is unlikely that the founding fathers were all practicing Christians. There is also a small amount of evidence that leads us to believe that they were agnostics, or even atheists. What is mostly supported by their writings is that they subscribed to a common Enlightenment ideal called Deism. Deism acknowledges that the universe was created by a deity but that he removed himself entirely from it upon its creation, leaving it to operate on purely natural principles. They did not believe in Jesus, the Virgin Birth, the power of prayer, the validity of the Bible miracles, or even the divine inspiration of the Bible. As an example of this, Thomas Jefferson had modified the Bible by getting rid of the supernatural passages and the things he considered misinterpretations by the Four Evangelists.

These men were not the Christ warriors that they are often made out to be: quite the opposite actually. They knew the dangers of not keeping the church and state separate. These men were trying to break away from a country that persecuted its own citizenry precisely because, in the United Kingdom, the church and state were one.

The early American leaders, as well as the founding fathers, had a few things to say about how we aren't a Christian nation.

The Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11 states: "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (muslims); and, as the said States never have entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

The treaty was signed by President John Adams, and ended the Barbary Wars in the early 1800's. I would like to point out that Article VI of the United States Constitution establishes that treaties are the supreme law of the land.

John Tyler writes, in an 1843 letter: "The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent -- that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment. The offices of the Government are open alike to all. No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgment of man set up as the sure and infallible creed of faith. The Mohammedan, if he will to come among us would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma, if it so pleased him. Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political Institutions."

How about some George Washington. This is a letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790: "The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy -- a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support ... May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants -- while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid."

These quotes give us some insight as to the original intent behind those that led our country in the early years as well as those who founded it. So, what about the arguments made by Christians? What merit do they hold, if any at all? Well, here's the first argument that is often brought up.

The majority of Americans are Christian. This must be because we are a Christian nation. This can be answered with a single statement: the ratio of Christians to non-Christians is absolutely irrelevant to the theories and concepts behind the founding of the country. A majority of people in this country are white too, does that mean that we are a White Nation? Of course not, the two are not related.

Wait, didn't the Constitution create the United States as a Christian nation? Nope, it's just more idiocy. The Constitution had no religious intent behind it, because as we know the founding fathers were not Christian and clearly desired a wall of separation between the church and state. Article IV, Section III (which was written before the 1st Amendment) is a good example of this intent. This specific clause is also called the "No Religious Test Clause", and it reads something like this:

"no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

This was an attempt to make sure that religion did not make it's way into the government. If one religion did, and wanted to consolidate power, all they would have to do is bar others from taking office by using tests and taking other obstructive measures. This effectively blocked any chance of that happening.

The 1st Amendment should also quell any lingering beliefs that the Constitution made us a Christian nation. I won't go into it, as it's pretty common knowledge what it says, but it builds us a stronger wall of separation between the church and the state.

And, as a third point, since when did Christian victories in the courts mean we were a Christian nation? They like to point to the fact that because we have "In God we Trust" on our money, and "under God" in our pledge, we must be based on Christianity. They fail to remember that those things were artificially inserted by conservative Catholic lobbyists in the mid 50's. These victories do not in any way imply that we are a Christian nation. They came 150 years after America was founded, so how could they?

Another claim that is often made is that religion is necessary for turning out good and moral citizens. This is utter crap. The most stable democracies in the world right now are the post-Christian, secular governments in Europe. When religion is combined with government, it is most often used as prop to guide their citizens in the direction they want to go. This is what creates some of the massive social differences between, say, the European governments and the governments of the Middle East. Religion did not give birth to morality, therefore it is ridiculous to assert that having religion intertwined with the government will somehow create morality. All you will get is oppression (Iran).

Jefferson, a Lockean liberal himself, did not impose any philosophical or religious test on good citizenship. In his "Notes on the State of Virginia," he wrote: "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

How about the date that was signed onto the end of the Constitution? Isn't that proof that we are a Christian nation? Well, take a look for yourself:

"the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our LORD one Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty Seven."

This one is very easy to cast aside. AD, the date designation that was most common in the 18th century, means "In the Year of Our Lord". They didn't have secular dating designations, so that was just how you signed the date back then. It wasn't anything special and certainly did not expose the supposed religious intent of the government.

Finally, the last major claim made by proponents of the Christian nation "theory", and probably the most interesting one to refute, is that the Constitution is based on an idea called Lockean natural rights, which they believe to be supported by Christian theology. This comes mainly from the line in the Declaration of Independence which reads:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights … that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …"

Their reasoning is that Lockean natural rights acknowledges a Creator who gives rights to the people. The rights of the people is one of the most important concepts behind the Constitution, so logically they assume that because Lockean natural rights, which allow for a creator, are part of the Constitution and therefore must mean it was inspired by Christianity.

The first problem with this argument is that the founding fathers did not specify that the "Creator" mentioned in the Declaration was the Christian God. This is due to the fact that most of them simply did not believe in a personal god, like the Christian god, but rather a Deist god. They didn't specify because they didn't know who or what the creator god was, just that there was one.

The second problem is the idea that Lockean natural rights are based on Christian theology. This is so fundamentally untrue that it pains me to have to clarify this. The ideas of the Enlightenment were based not on theology, but rather the works of the Greek and Roman philosophers in antiquity. In fact, in the third and fourth century, a lot of the ideas that were popularized by the Enlightenment were theorized and thought of by the Greek and Roman scholars. Some of those scholars even banished entirely the idea of divine intervention in the world, favoring a naturalistic world view. It is this naturalistic world view that really led to the Enlightened theory of Lockean natural rights. As an example, one of the most important concepts postulated by the Greeks, Romans, and Enlightenment thinkers is that justice is an agreement by the people, not by its rulers. The Roman jurist Ulpian even had this statement placed in Roman law:

"Quod ad ius naturale attinet, omnes homines aequales sunt"

Translated from Latin, it means:

"According to the law of nature, all human beings are equal."

And that's it. All human beings are equal, that is the real idea behind Lockean natural rights; in fact, it's the FUNDAMENTAL concept behind it. It is also the fundamental idea behind both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The idea that power rests in the hands of the people because people are part of the natural world, and therefore are equal and not meant to be ruled over. These equal peoples come together and mutually approve of a government that does not violate the natural rights that made them equal in the first place.

The founding fathers had a very simple message for the nation. It was the unofficial motto voted on by the US Congress in 1782.

E pluribus unum. "Out of many, one."

That is the true message of unity that the founding fathers wanted to spread throughout our great nation. There was never any room for religion, only people.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

One Big Mistake, Arizona

Our brilliant legislators voted on Monday to ban teenagers from getting birth control prescriptions or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases without the consent of the parents. Conservative proponents of the bill said it was "in the best interests of the children", and that the government does not need to interfere in the bond between parent and child. Only if there is an emergency will the child be considered for treatment without parental consent.

Are you kidding me? You want to wait until there is an emergency to consider helping people? I would imagine any STD is an emergency that needs taking care of, whether or not the parents consent. Talk about an unintelligent bill. Who thought it was a smart idea to make it a criminal offense to get care without asking your parents?

The government does not have the right, or authority, to ban me from getting the care I need or the birth control I may want. That is a decision to be made by me and me alone. I'm a teenager, I have friends who are under 18 who have sex. I know that they regularly buy condoms and birth control. I also know that NONE of them would like to run those decisions by their parents EVER. You know what's going to happen instead of that? They're just not going to use birth control or get treatment at all.

Unlike what Republicans (and a lot of Democrats) seem to think, there is no way to stop teen sex. It is a natural urge that reaches its peak during the mid teens (hormones and all). To prevent pregnancy and disease, you need to give kids the tools and the education to make smart decisions. This bill is only going to cause problems for these teenagers who have no desire to have their parents consent to their actions. They will not practice safe sex if they have to jump through hoops, and I know this for a fact.

Teen pregnancy is a huge problem, trust me when I say that I'm aware of it, but the answer is not abstinence and the blocking of contraceptives. The answer is limited government and greater sex education. Kids my age should have unregulated access to these things so that they can make the right decision.

The fact that the Republican who sponsored the bill said that it wasn't the government's job to infringe upon the parent-child relationship is a cause for worry. When did it become the government's job to ban these things? You haven't limited the government at all, just moved the intervention around a bit.

And who cares that you think it's moral to ban this? I think it's immoral to deny care to someone because they were afraid to tell their parents. It doesn't matter what you and I think is moral or immoral: it is a non-issue in government, and has no place in it whatsoever.

At least, it's supposed to be that way.

Any form of government intervention is bad. You cannot legislate morality on behalf of the whole.

The Glorious Theocracy of Texas

My favorite state Texas has done it. Once again they have embodied the spirit of America by making their curriculum more . . . American. Let me use a better term, they've made the curriculum more pro-American. From now on students in Texas can expect to receive a good ol' conservative education, which will teach them how awesome America is and how liberals are trash. This mindset has been made visible with their changes to the social studies departments, which includes history, sociology, and other similar subjects. You should be able to tell, just from that, that there is going to be some bad news coming up.

Let me just make a short list of the changes. Then we'll talk about how Texas is essentially destroying the education of every single student in the state.

1) A proposal was killed that would have required high school government students to examine the reasons the framers protected religious freedom in America by banning the government from promoting or rejecting any particular religion.

2) Thomas Jefferson was removed from a world history standard regarding the influence of Enlightenment thinkers on political revolutions from 1700 to the present. In his stead, they inserted notable theologians John Calvin and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Also removed was a reference to "Enlightenment ideals". In it's place, it was decided that students should simply learn about the writings of various "thinkers".

3) The word "capitalism" was censored in the standards, being replaced with the term "free enterprise". Board members felt that capitalism was a negatively charged word used by liberal professors.

4) The concepts of "justice" and "responsibility for the common good" from a list of good citizenship characteristics.

5) Paintings done by famous Texan Santa Barraza have been removed from a 7th grade history standard. The reason? One of the pictures showed a woman with exposed breasts.

6) The board removed Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America, from a 3rd grade list of "historical and contemporary figures who have exemplified good citizenship". Conservative board members felt that she wasn't a good role model because she was a "socialist".

7) Students are required to learn about "communist infiltration in U.S. Government" during the Cold War. Board member Don McLeroy even claimed that Joseph McCarthy has been vindicated.

8) Austrian-born economist Friedrick von Hayek is now a requirement in high school economics classes. This was approved, even though most of the board members had no idea who he even was.

9) American history students are required to learn about conservative heroes and icons such as Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation, and the Moral Majority.

10) Eighth grade history students are required to learn about the ideas behind Jefferson Davis' inaugural address as the president of the Confederacy.

11) The use of the word "democratic" or "representative democracy" to describe our country has been changed to "constitutional republic".

12) A high school sociology standard that asks students to "differentiate between sex and gender as social constructs and determine how our gender and socialization interact" was removed. Board member Barbara Cargill insisted that this would lead to the study of "transsexuals, transvestites, and who knows what else". She supported this with a Google search.

13) High school economics students will learn about and "analyze the decline in the value of the U.S. dollar, including the abandonment of the gold standard."

14) Students are to learn about any "unintended consequences" of the Great Society, affirmative action, and Title IX.

15) They removed the term hip-hop because they equated it with "gangsta rap".

16) The board voted against the use of BCE and CE as standard dating conventions, instead opting to use AD and BC. If you didn't know, BCE and CE are the secular alternatives to AD and BC, and are becoming more and more common in the professional circle.

17) The board removed Oscar Romero, a prominent Roman Catholic archbishop who was assassinated in 1980 (as he was celebrating Mass) by rightists in El Salvador, from a world history standard about leaders who led resistance to political oppression.

18) The board removed the idea that propaganda was a factor in the U.S. entry into the first World War from history standards.

19) The term "imperialism" was changed to "expansionism".

I'm sure there is more to add to this list, but you get the basic idea. What is happening in Texas is nothing short of Orwellian revisionist history and the spread of conservative propaganda. You know what's even scarier? Texas buys a lot of textbooks. Some would even say most, or put numbers on it like 80%. This means that there is a possibility that some of their new curriculum standards could leak into other states by means of these books.

At this point, I don't think I would mind if Texas seceded. Well, of course I don't really mean that, but that is roughly the level of anger and dislike for the Texas Board of Education that I currently foster. These politicians, each with their own agendas and goals, are ruining the education of thousands of students all for what? That they may get re-elected? Or maybe that there will be more conservatives in the future? Who knows, but none of the potential outcomes look good.

My biggest issue with this is the blatant misuse of history. History is objective, not a matter of opinion. Just because what was in the current history standards didn't raise America high enough on the pedestal doesn't mean that you can make it that way. Students must learn the objective truth about the history of America, and decide for themselves where we rank among the great civilizations of earth. This is just sick.

I like to compare this to the Evolution and Creation debate. Evolution, just like history, is composed of a huge amount of facts (gathered in different ways, maybe, but facts nonetheless). Denial of the facts, or disregard for them entirely does not remove them from existence! Just because you can change what is taught in history doesn't mean you can change what actually happened. This is just what the Texas Board of Education is attempting to do.

And this is why I disapprove of public education. People with private agendas and goals for the whole of society should not be allowed to dictate what is taught in schools. What is taught should not be a matter of Republican vs. Democrat, but rather a matter of what is objectively true and useful to know in order to function correctly in a society. You know who should be on those boards? Experts. People who know what the hell they're talking about and why it's important.

Unfortunately, this cannot happen with a public education system. This is because the people who elect the school boards have an agenda and a goal too. They want to see their children taught certain things, and want everyone else to have to learn it as well. This is not how it should be. As long as education is public in America, people need to seriously consider not electing politicians to these positions, but instead elect scientists, historians, sociologists, mathematicians, and everything else in between.

A private education system is a fool proof way to fix the problem of personal agendas governing the curriculum. First off, private institution teaching standards do not affect society as a whole as public standards do. This makes it so that bad decisions made by the few do not immediately affect the many and can be removed efficiently. Private enterprise would also mean that parents have the choice to send their child to a school that teaches things correctly and provides a better quality education. Though, I suppose that it also means they have the choice to move to Texas and teach kids that Jesus walked the founding fathers through the writing of the Constitution. Whatever floats their boat, as long as I have the choice to opt out. In the case of public education, I don't have that opportunity. I am at the mercy of the majority.

Please, sign the petition.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bible Science: Paleontology

The opening verses of Genesis detail the creation of the universe, the earth, life, and man. Most importantly, the bible gives us some specifics as to the creatures that God created.

Hmmm, let's see. We have some lions, sheep, wolves, bears, cattle, dogs, insects, rodents, and even a few reptiles. Something seems missing . . .

How about the god damn dinosaurs! If they were all created at the same time, then why is there no mention of them at all in the Bible? Oh wait, here's why: there's no way that the Hebrews who wrote the book in the first place could have known about the dinosaurs, seeing as they lived millions of years before the first ape-like creatures had even contemplated existence.

But, surely the apologists have answers for me. Surely there must be some word that "could" have been interpreted as meaning "dinosaur". Well, it just so happens that they gave me a couple.

First off is the behemoth. The behemoth is first described in the Book of Job as being a huge, lumbering creature that "moves his tail like a cedar". It is also described as "first among the works of God" and impossible to capture, a possible reference to its size.

Most creationists believe that the behemoth was a sauropod, something like the Brachiosaurus. The fact that the tail moves like a cedar tree is believed to be a reference to a large tail, which negates the possibility that it was something like a hippopotamus, rhinoceros, or elephant.

In reality, the phrase "moves his tail like a cedar" most likely means one of two things:

1) A guy named Michael Bright, who is a senior producer with the BBC's natural history Unit and author of the book Beasts of the Field: The Revealing Natural History of Animals in the Bible, postulated that the writers of the Bible are not referring to the tail itself, but rather the hair on the tails of creatures like the hippo, rhino, or elephant. Like the leaves on a cedar tree, the hair on these animals is coarse and prickly.

2) The cedar tree simile may have actually been a euphemism for the animals penis. The phrase, with the euphemism substituted, may have read something like "his penis stiffens like a cedar". The cedar tree simile may have just been used to refer to the virility of something like a bull.

The behemoth is also described in Job 40 as having a naval. That would have made it a mammal, not a reptile.

The other is the leviathan, which is described as a water dwelling creature with characteristics similar to that of the "sea serpent" or the "dragon". The Hebrew word tanniyn is also used many times instead of leviathan, and they are assumed to be close to the same creature. Many creationists say that word tanniyn refers to the dinosaurs, as when it is translated into English it becomes "dragon", "serpent", or "sea monster". The Old Testament mentions the tanniyn about thirty times, and it says they lived on both land and sea.

Here's the problem with this one. The leviathan appears in the Ugaritic texts, which are very important for Old Testament scholars and their studies. The Ugaritic texts describe the leviathan as a twisting serpent with . . . seven heads. It's clearly not a dinosaur. It is meant to personify the waters of primeval chaos. Waters, if you've read Genesis, are very important symbols in the story of the creation. The earth was made by the separation of the waters; one went above the heavens, while the other stayed on the ground and became the oceans. You see, it's a metaphor. The rousing of the leviathan in Job 3:8 (remember the leviathan personifies the waters of primeval chaos) is meant to imply an undoing of the creation day.

Fantastic creatures like these, especially the leviathan and the behemoth, exist in the MYTHOLOGIES of most cultures not only in the mediterranean, but in the entire world. Unicorns, satyrs, dragons, cyclopes, harpies, centaurs, and a million other kinds of mythological animals exist in the stories of every other ancient culture. Why wouldn't the Hebrews have done the same?

The simple answer is that they would have. Of course the Hebrews meant it to be myth, seeing as there isn't any extra-biblical evidence for the existence of these creatures. What about the fact that dinosaurs specifically do not appear in any other mythology? It's such an odd thing to overlook, no matter how primitive you are.

We know now, thanks to advanced dating and fossil identification methods, that dinosaurs could not have lived during our short human existence. There is no way the Hebrews could have known about them.

Science 2, Bible 0.

Bible Science: The Sky

"The Bible has always been way ahead of scientists."

I swear to god I actually heard that on a creationist "documentary". The Bible, supposedly written sometime between 3,440 years ago and 1,860 years ago, somehow comes out ahead of modern science when compared. Let's take a look at some of that science. What observation does the Bible make about, oh, let's say . . . the sky!

Here's our first piece of Bible science. It comes from Genesis 1:6-8 :

"Then God said, 'Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters'. And God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. And God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day."

Let's keep going. This time, from II Peter 3:3-7 :

"Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation'. For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water."

Last one. From Psalms 148:4

"Praise Him, highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens!"

You see what is being discussed here? Waters in the sky? It seems as if the Bible is claiming that the sky is a separate body of water from those on the ground, and that the earth is simply the space between them. I bet this was also a good explanation for why the sky is blue. That color would make sense if sky was composed of water, at least to someone living 3,000 years ago it would have. I know a lot of modern Christians have abandoned the literal interpretation of Genesis, and I'm sure the other claims that occur later in the book get lumped into that, but what about those pesky creationists? I've heard this claim many times before, that pre-flood the earth was surrounded by water. I've also seen a lot of creationists cite those very passages when defending the literal interpretation. Most notably the infamous Kent Hovind, who takes that claim a step further. He asserts that it was ice that covered the earth. Great, another genius. He's also got that weird thing where there was a -300°C comet that created the ice caps, along with the rings around Saturn and Neptune. This gigantic comet did not destroy the earth for some reason though. The massive amount of energy that would have been released from such an impact would surely have decimated life on this planet.

Of course, actual science has given us a pretty good answer for why the sky is blue. It's a principle called Rayleigh Scattering. As light moves through the atmosphere, the longer wavelengths - your reds, oranges, and yellows - pass straight through the gas molecules but bounce off of other particles. On the other hand blue (which is a shorter wavelength), gets absorbed by the gas molecules; this is where the scattering comes in. The blue wavelength is then radiated in all different directions by those gas molecules. The sky appears blue because your eyes pick up that scattered blue wavelength. As you look closer to the horizon though, the sky appears to be a little whiter. This is due to the mixing of the radiated blue wavelengths with the longer wavelengths that just bounced off of the bigger particles in the atmosphere. You get white light again.

The Bible is by no means ahead of modern science. It literally just claimed that the sky is water, and that it is blue because of the water. Thanks to modern science, we no longer have to live with that kind of delusion.

Science 1, Bible 0.