Monday, August 31, 2009

The stupidity ... it burns!

Yes, I know that I have used that post title before, but it's still true.

So, what stupidity am I talking about this time? I'm talking about a blogpost over at Darwin's God called The (Real) Problem With Atheism

You can see from the title alone that this is going to be a goldmine of stupidity, can't you? Well, let's dig in, and do some fisking.

Did you know the new atheism is on the wane? Did you even know there was such a thing as the new atheism?

Yes, I am aware that there is a group of people commonly being referred to as "new atheists", and that they have spearheaded a push to get atheism into the open, letting atheists know that they are not alone, and that it's perfectly alright to be an atheist.
I didn't know it was on the wane however - I seem to see quite a few references to the new atheists in the media, and there were (and still is) a lot of coverage of the atheist bus campaigns around the world. Perhaps you could provide us with some evidence for this claim?

In recent years there has been a surge of activity from atheists. Organizations, web sites, conferences and books advocating the materialistic world view have entered the spiritual marketplace. Fueled by strong convictions, these thinkers have made little attempt to make their hard-edged attitudes palatable to the unsuspecting public. Instead, they have force-fed their ideas onto searchers, insisting that atheism is mandated by science and logic. When you strip away religious sentiment and just look at the data, they declared, atheism is required.

Yes, authors publishing books about atheism, and why they don't believe in a god, can only be considered force-feeding ideas to other people. Unlike the many books by religious people about their religions and why they are religious, which are of course just informative.

How dare atheists publish slogans like "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" on billboards, without attempting to make it palatable to the "unsuspecting public"?

No, seriously, the author of the blogpost obviously haven't read the works by the new atheists, which are generally quite respectful towards other people (if not their beliefs). Reading these books would also have made the writer aware that none of those books, articles etc. claims that atheism is required based on the scientific evidence, but instead that the scientific evidence doesn't support any religious claims, and thus makes atheism a viable option. This is very different from what he claims that the atheists says.

Initially the new atheism attracted quite a bit of attention but now, as Bryon McCane pointed out this week, it is fading fast.

The evidence McCane provides for this claim is the fact that there are no books by new atheists on the bestselling charts. No great surprise, given the fact that none of the big names in that movement (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennett) have published anything recently.

I take some solace in its demise not because I dislike atheists but because the new atheism sowed needless confusion. Atheism is, and always has been, irrelevant in the origins debate. But the rise of the new atheism made atheism appear more important than it really is.

I have read through this part several times, and no matter how many times I've read it, it makes no sense.

There can be two sorts of debates about origins: a science-based one, and one based on religious views. In the first case, I agree that atheism is not important, since religion plays no role, and thus is kept out of it. In the second case, atheism plays a very important role, even if you're religious - it's what keep dragging the debate back to reality. If religion, no matter how moderate, gets to dominate that debate, science won't be allowed to do its job without interference - that's why even religious people should appreciate the atheistic view in that context.

Unless of course they are not willing to conform their religious views to reality, in which case, an atheistic counterpoint becomes even more important.

For many, atheism is the driving force behind evolutionary thought. Isn't the origins debate between religious people and those who reject god? Did not Princeton's Charles Hodge early on identify Darwinism as atheism in disguise? Is not the rise of twentieth century atheism evidence for this? After all, it was the leading atheist Richard Dawkins who admitted that "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."

It's only among the fundamentalist religious groups that science, such as the Theory of Evolution, is equaled to atheism. In the rest of the world, e.g. among Catholics, it's accepted that one can be religious and understand science as well. If science and religion conflicts, religion adjusts (as both the former Pope and the Dalai Lama has acknowledged).

What Dawkins meant by his comment about "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist" (which wasn't an admission but an explanation) was that until Darwin explained evolution, atheists might well realize that there were no gods, but they couldn't explain how humans came to exist. After Darwin's book, atheists could now understand how this might happen, even though there were no gods around.

It would be a mistake to think, however, that this meant that Dawkins (and others) didn't think that people couldn't be atheists before Darwin wrote his book - back then, there were still the same problems with the lack of evidence for any gods, and the problems with a multitude of religions. They just didn't have an alternative explanation (something which entirely valid - one can discard a hypothesis without having another in its place).

The rise of the new atheism seemed to confirm such views. Evolution, it seems, is all about atheism.

If you think that, you obviously haven't been following the subject very closely. Dawkins, and to some degree Dennett, did involve evolution in their arguments, but Hitchens and Harris didn't, and even Dawkins focuses much more on the lack of evidence for the existence of a god, than on evolution.

Maybe it would be better to actually read some of the authors that you criticize?

Before we close this case, however, let's take one more look. First, there are no arguments for evolution made from atheism. If you study the evolution genre, and especially that part that argues for the veracity of the theory, you will have great difficulty finding atheistic premises. In fact, I have not found any.

If you haven't found an atheistic premise for evolution, then you haven't understood anything about science. All science operate under the fundamental premise that there is nothing super-natural involved, including gods. Since the Theory of Evolution is science, the fundamental premise behind it, is that no gods have been involved - do you know what "atheist" means?

In other words, the whole damn premise of our understanding of evolution, is based on atheism.

This doesn't make science anti-religious as such, but only allows science to operate in the known, observable world, instead of the unobservable realms of the super-natural.

The strong arguments for evolution are, and always have been, from theism. God would not create this gritty world so it must have evolved. There is no meaningful distinction between theist and atheist when it comes to belief in evolution--they both rely on the same theological premises. An evolutionary theist, such as Francis Collins, and an evolutionary atheist, such as PZ Myers, use arguments that rely on the same theological assumptions.

I am sorry, but you, sir, are a moron. The strong arguments for evolution has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with observable facts - the very sort of facts that lead Darwin to understand the fundamentals of evolution in the first place. Facts such as bio-diversity and the fossil record, mutating diseases, genes etc.

For you to think that the arguments for evolution are from theism shows such a confounding stupidity, that it's a wonder that you're even able to type those words.

Oh, and I've been reading PZ Myers' blog for years, long before it moved to ScienceBlogs - could you point me to any place where he bases his arguments on any theological premises? And no, the base premise of science (which I explained above) is not a theological premise.

This is the dirty little trade secret of atheism: it is parasitical on theism. Atheism, itself, has nothing to add to the origins debate. As McCane notes, "the new atheists’ biggest mistake, by far, was to be openly intolerant of religion. They mocked, derided and made fun of it."

Atheism is the lack of religion. Nothing more, nothing less. "New atheism", or vocal atheism as I prefer to call it, is a push against the religious fanatics, which tries to impose their religious views on other people, including through removing the teaching of evolution from science classes. Pushing against such people, explaining why their arguments are not only wrong, but ridiculously wrong, is not parasitical to those arguments.

And in a science context, theism has nothing to add to the origins debate, and every time someone tries to argue from a theistic view-point, they just end up getting their arguments disproved. This is why the smarter religious sects, such as the Catholic Church, avoid doing so.

Indeed, atheism is motivated by skepticism of theism. It is not a positive argument for atheism, but a negative argument against theism. But an argument against theism usually entails theological convictions. Talk to any atheist and you're liable to hear strong convictions about what god should and should not do.

If you talk with an atheist in a strongly religious country, this is obviously the case (you are a product of your environment after all), but talk to an atheist from a secular country, and they will have a very relaxed attitude to religion (sorry, you probably didn't realize that there might be atheists outside the US).

One thing is true though, there is not really any positive arguments for atheism. There can't be - again, atheism is just the lack of belief in a god. Most people become atheists by following the evidence for gods to where it leads - nowhere. Being an atheist is a default option, where no other option makes sense to you.

As the atheist Myers wrote in the LA Times recently:

We go right to the central issue of whether there is a god or not. We're pretty certain that if there were an all-powerful being pulling the strings and shaping history for the benefit of human beings, the universe would look rather different than it does.

How do they have any idea what god would and would not do? Because they hold certain beliefs about god. Their atheism relies on their theism. Unbelievable. The folks who bring you the new, cutting edge, atheism rely on, yes, their own ridiculous pious pleadings. How pathetic.

Like many other atheists, PZ Myers didn't start out being an atheist, so he actually knows a fair bit about the beliefs of others. In this case, his argument is based on the concept of god as most people hold it, which is as a beneficiary deity.

I am leaving out a part where the author goes into atheism in the past, making no point whatsoever, and start where he returns to the now.

The story is no different today. Scientifically the theory is a muddle, but metaphysically it is mandated. Its truth is derived from the rejection of design / creation. Today, as in centuries past, the arguments come from the theists and are borrowed by the atheists.

If the past paragraphs had left me in any doubt about the lack of knowledge of the author on the subjects of atheism and evolution, this paragraph would have left me no doubt. The Theory of Evolution is one of the most well-tested, well-founded theories of science, and for someone to claim that it "is a muddle", just serves to demonstrate that he is a moron. Something we were not really in doubt about, but which has now, once again been demonstrated.

Again, evolution is clearly demonstrated as have happened in the past as well as happening now. There are no theistic arguments involved, and while design/creation is rejected, it's not only necessary to do that, because theists (such as the Discovery Institute) try to inject those concepts into the sphere of science.

Evolution is not about science, it is about god, and atheism is irrelevant. It makes no difference whether the theological arguments come from a theist such as Francis Collins or an atheist such as PZ Myers, the science is asinine either way.

What can one say in the presence of such grand stupidity - is it even possible to gleam a coherent idea from the above paragraph?

Evolution is a natural phenomenon, happening as I write this. In science, the Theory of Evolution explains the mechanisms for evolution. Science is based entirely on an atheistic premise.
Of the things that he mentions, science, god, and atheism, the only thing that is irrelevant for evolution, is god. The very thing he claims it's about.

And what was it that Dawkins said? "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." Note the causal relationship. It was evolution that enabled atheism, not the other way around. The real problem with atheism is not that it is the driving force behind evolution; rather, the real problem is that it masks the driving force behind evolution. It is theism, not atheism, that is the driving force behind evolution.

I think I have already addressed this.

Reading through this garbage, I notice that not once does the author try to provide any evidence for his claims about theism (or god) being the driving force behind evolution. Not surprising, I guess, since there is no evidence for this.

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Modern day slavery

Through one of my colleagues' twitter feed, I became aware of this interview with Benjamin Skinner, author of A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face with Modern-Day Slavery

There Are More Slaves Today Than at Any Time in Human History

As the title of the interview makes clear, slavery is not a thing of the past, but is very much still happening, and in greater numbers than ever seen before. It's estimated that there are 27 million people living in slavery world-wide (though governments only acknowledge the existence of 12.3 million slaves).

This high number is not due to some broad definition of what constructs a slave, but rather is based on Kevin Bales' definition

slaves are those forced to work, held through fraud, under threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence

This doesn't just include things like sex slaves, but also people who are forced to work without pay, to pay off generational debt (i.e. debt made by earlier generations).

It's a depressing high number, and something which cannot be addressed except through international organizations like the UN. Some, especially religious, groups tries to buy the slaves free, but as Skinner says, this only cause more problems.

TM: These are those who practice what they call redemptions, buying slaves their freedom. Who's doing it, and what's your analysis of it?

BS: On the basis of three months spent in southern and northern Sudan, two months in southern Sudan in particular. ... There was one particular evangelical group based in Switzerland, organized and run by an American who raised cash around the States. They'd go to a Sunday School or a second-grade class in Colorado, talk about slavery, and say, "Bring us your lunch money. If you can get us $50, we will buy a slave's freedom."

It was a very effective sales pitch. They managed to raise over $3 million dollars by my calculations over the course of the 1990s.

In theory, they were giving money to "retrievers" who would go into northern Sudan, and through whatever means necessary, secure the slaves' freedom and bring them back down into the south.

In the context of the Sudanese civil war, slavery is used as a weapon of war by the north. Northern militias raid southern villages, and in many cases, kill the men and take the women and children as slaves and as a weapon of genocide. That much is not questioned. There is no question that these slave raids were going on.

I found that redemption on the ground was enormously problematic. There was scant oversight. They were literally giving duffel bags full of cash to factions within the rebels that were at that point resisting an ongoing peace process.

What they risked doing, whether through recklessness or through intent, was to become essentially angels of destruction at a time when a negotiated peace was just beginning to take hold. Thankfully, at this point they've scaled back the redemptions.

Skinner supports the organization Free the Slaves through donating parts of his royalties. I took a look at the website, and it certainly looks like a worthwhile organization.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Human Family Tree | Interactive - National Geographic Channel

Interesting interactive page at National Geographic about how closely related humans really are.

Explore the haplogroups from participants in the National Geographic Channel show The Human Family Tree.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

How safe is your drinking water?

Due to the discovery of e.coli bacteria in the water from a waterwork in Denmark, there has been some debate about requiring more frequent testing of Danish drinking water. I wholeheartedly agree with such a measure, and hope it's put into place.

Having said that, requiring such testing doesn't help much if you allow unhealthy amounts of substances in the water. According to NY Times, this might have been the case in the US, where the E.P.A. might allow unsafe amounts of Atrazine in drinking water.

Debating How Much Weed Killer Is Safe in Your Water Glass

For decades, farmers, lawn care workers and professional green thumbs have relied on the popular weed killer atrazine to protect their crops, golf courses and manicured lawns.

But atrazine often washes into water supplies and has become among the most common contaminants in American reservoirs and other sources of drinking water.

Now, new research suggests that atrazine may be dangerous at lower concentrations than previously thought. Recent studies suggest that, even at concentrations meeting current federal standards, the chemical may be associated with birth defects, low birth weights and menstrual problems.

The problem is not just that new knowledge has come to light, but also the fact that the E.P.A. has ignore this new knowledge, arguing that the epidemiological studies that knowledge was obtained through, contained flaws.

In my opinion, when you have several epidemiological studies showing that there might be serious problems with something at the currently allowed levels, it would be prudent to adjust the allowed amounts pending further research.

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Steps to prevent infectious blindness

There are many different causes of blindness, but the leading cause of infectious blindness in the world is Trachoma. According to the wikipedia article it's a very serious problem: "Globally, 84 million people suffer from active infection and nearly 8 million people are visually impaired as a result of this disease".

Like many other diseases, the spread of trachoma is not even across the world's countries, but instead it's found in traditional 3rd world countries.

The World Health Organization leads an effort of eliminating blinding trachoma as a public health concern by 2020

International efforts to eliminate trachoma as a blinding disease will be based on the WHO-developed strategy - a combination of interventions known by the acronym "SAFE" which stands for surgery for trichiasis (inturned eyelashes), antibiotics, facial cleanliness and environmental improvement. These interventions will be community-targeted and will seek community involvement through the primary health care approach.

This has been done with some success in Morocco, and it is certainly something which should be continued. There is, however, always room for studies trying to identify whether the efforts are focused on the right things for WHO to reach its goals. A study looking at this has been published in PLoS One.

Access to Water Source, Latrine Facilities and Other Risk Factors of Active Trachoma in Ankober, Ethiopia by Ilya Golovaty et al.


A cross-sectional community-based study was conducted during July 2007. A total of 507 children (ages 1–9 years), from 232 households were included in the study. All children were examined for trachoma by ophthalmic nurses using the WHO simplified clinical grading system. Interviews and observations were used to assess risk factors. Logistic regression procedures were used to determine associations between potential risk factors and signs of active trachoma.


Overall, the prevalence of active trachoma was found to be 53.9% (95%CI 49.6%–58.2%). Presence of fly-eye (fly contact with the eyelid margin during eye examination) (Odds Ratio (OR) = 4.03 95% CI 1.40–11.59), absence of facial cleanliness (OR = 7.59; 95%CI 4.60–12.52), an illiterate mother (OR = 5.88; 95%CI 2.10–15.95), lack of access to piped water (OR = 2.19; 95%CI 1.14–6.08), and lack of access to latrine facilities (OR = 4.36; 95%CI 1.49–12.74) were statistically significantly associated with increased risk of active trachoma.


Active trachoma among children 1–9 years of age in Ankober is highly prevalent and significantly associated with a number of risk factors including access to water and latrine facilities. Trachoma prevention programs that include improved access to water and sanitation, active fly control, and hygiene education are recommended to lower the burden of trachoma in Ankober, Ethiopia.

The prevalence of trachoma is very high among the sampled children in Ankober, so it's a good place to try to identify associations between risk factors and the spread of the disease.

The study pretty much supports the efforts currently being done, but places a high emphasis on access to clean water and sanitation, which is less emphasized in the WHO website (I presume it's included under "environmental improvement"). This might lead to some improvements in the efforts, making it possible for the WHO to reach its goal.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

A bad week for creationists

Just thought I'd share a few pieces of news that I came across.

Via PZ Myers, I learned that Ben Stein has been fired from the NY Times for violating their ethics guidelines.

Then in a comment to that post over at Pharyngula, I learn that a judge has ruled that the Feds can seize Dinosaur Adventure Land, Kent Hovind's infamous theme park, spreading ignorance, and which was closely related to him getting thrown in jail for tax evasion.

Today is also the day where PZ Myers and the Secular Student Alliance visits Ken Ham's Creation Museum. I can't wait to see how that plays out.

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Just a quick note

I'm fairly busy with life at the moment, so it's only very light blogging. Next week I'll be going to Budapest for a few days, so don't expect anything from my side until I return.

Anyway. I just wanted to point out something. Given the fact that Europeans write dates in the order day-month-year, today's date is 07/08/09 in Europe. This is the fifth last ascending date order we'll experience here (the others being 08/09/10, 09/10/11, 10/11/12, 11/12/13).

Since Americans have the order month-day-year, they still have five such dates left (12/13/14 as well as the ones mentioned above).

There are of course also some descending date orders left - 11/10/09, 12/11/10, and 13/12/11 (only in Europe).

If one was into woo, one could probably make a lot out of this.

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