December 31, 2006
Saddam Execution Conspiracy Theories
Well that didn't take long. Saddam Hussein has been executed by hanging, but full video of the entire process isn't available yet, therefore... it's a conspiracy! Saddam isn't really dead! The entire thing was faked!
Or so goes the claim of at least one web site (and I suspect others). The motivation, this site claims, is that a living Saddam Hussein could then contact the Sunni insurgents and tell them to stop their attacks. Saddam would agree to do this because, after stability in Iraq is achieved, the US could launch an attack on Iran, which Saddam also wants. (Why do they have to pretend to kill Saddam at all? This isn't really explained clearly, but I guess it's to appease the Shiites and Kurds.)
The entire evidence for this claim is the fact that full video of the hanging wasn't available immediately on the Internet. I suspect that full video being made available still wouldn't stop the conspiracy theories. After all, videos can be faked. For that matter, even hangings can be faked -- just ask Penn and Teller. I expected "Saddam is not dead" conspiracy theories; I just expected them to come from Muslims in the Middle East, not from some guy in Italy.
Link: Saddam Hussein is not DEAD.
December 29, 2006
Park Service Ordered Not to State Age of Grand Canyon
You have got to be kidding me! This is unbelievable. If there wasn't a link to the PEER article about it, I would think it was a hoax from The Onion:
Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
“In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is ‘no comment.’”
Unbelievable. I just can't wait until the 2008 presidential election. Regardless of who is elected next, they'll have to be an improvement over Bush. (Right?)
I've been a fan of PEER for quite some time (and, being a public employee myself, I really ought to have joined by now). Generally they've been active in exposing political manipulation of environmental data and so forth. This whole Grand Canyon thing just takes it to a new level. I think it's time for me to get out my checkbook and write a couple of checks -- one to PEER and one to whichever candidate I think will role back the ludicrous policies of the Bush administration.
(Hat tip to Full-Frontal Skepticism)
Creationism Is Known by Many Names
Ha! The same person who posted the human evolution mural on Flickr also posted this image, which I found quite amusing. I'm going to have to roam through the rest of his images and see what else is there.
Burned Human Evolution Mural
I had posted yesterday about the burning of the evolution mural made by Zach Strausbaugh, a former student in Dover. I located this image on Flickr, so we can see what it looked like.
Follow the link to read the text on the Flickr site, which provides some links to additional ideas for evolution murals.
Link: Human evolution mural
December 28, 2006
Barbara Forrest on Kitzmiller v. Dover
Via The Panda's Thumb, I found this article by Barbara Forrest that nicely summarizes the Kitzmiller decision.
My jaw dropped open when I read this bit:
In August, a mural depicting human evolution, painted by a 1998 graduating senior and donated to the science department, disappeared from a science classroom. The four-by-sixteen-foot painting had been propped on a chalkboard tray because custodians refused to mount it on the wall. Spahr learned that the building and grounds supervisor had ordered it burned. In June 2004, board member William Buckingham, Bonsell’s co-instigator of the ID policy, told Spahr that he “gleefully watched it burn” because he disliked its portrayal of evolution.
That's just bizarre! There's just something about religion that seems to make some people lose all sense of right and wrong. I'm wondering how the former student who painted it felt about it when he heard the news. Hopefully he at least has a picture of it.
If anyone manages to find a photo of this mural online, I'd like to see it.
On a completely unrelated note, this reminds me of the story of what happened to the last dodo. After its death, it was stuffed and put in a museum. After a time it was put in a storeroom. Eventually the head of the museum had it burned. As a result, we now don't even have a stuffed dodo, much less one that's living.
And speaking of dodos, is anyone going to be attending a showing of Flock of Dodos Official this Darwin Day?
Well, enough with that tangent. Go read about Kitzmiller!
Link: The “Vise Strategy” Undone.
Opposing Creationism vs. Opposing Religion
There has been a fair amount of discussion recently about whether evolution and religion are compatible. Or, perhaps more to the point, whether we should oppose religion by pointing out the evidence against it that evolution provides or whether we should promote evolution by pointing out that there is nothing in evolution that precludes the existence of a Creator. As is often the case, I'm of two minds about this, as is Skepchick sraiche.
On the one hand, I think that evolution definitely is in conflict with a literal reading of the bible. It also seems to get along just fine without the existence of a Creator. On the other hand, I know that some people would be perfectly willing to accept evolution if they could be convinced that it wasn't a threat to their religious beliefs.
In reading Freethinkers, I was struck by the repeated examples of the conflicts between the hardliners and the compromisers in several political conflicts — the abolition of slavery, gaining women the vote, etc. In each case, the compromisers eventually won.
This led me to think that perhaps compromise is the best way. But then I read a blog entry recently on Pharyngula in which PZ Myers was discussing NARAL seeking to moderate its position in an attempt to attract moderates. PZ Myers was opposed to this, stating that it was proper for a politician to compromise, but not for an advocacy group. The goal is not to move to the center, but to move the center.
How Wrong Do Creationists Claim that Evolutionists Are?
Richard Dawkins has an article on the Guardian's comment is free web site. Dawkins explains how massively wrong mainstream science must be for Old Earth Creationism to be correct.
"First, the age of the Earth. McIntosh thinks, on biblical authority alone, that it is less than 10,000 years. We establishment fuddyduddies think, using mutually corroborating evidence from many sources including several different radioactive isotopes in the rocks, that it is about 4.6 billion years. I shall not say here why I think we are right and McIntosh wrong. Instead, I shall simply calculate the magnitude of the difference between the two estimates. We of the "establishment" think the Earth is 460,000 times older than McIntosh's estimate. It is as though McIntosh estimated the height of a man as 6 feet and then accused the rest of us of believing that the same man was 460,000 times as tall, or 521 miles. Or, looking the other way, it is as though McIntosh looked at the establishment geographers' measurement of the distance from New York to San Francisco and claimed that the true distance from sea to shining sea was 460,000 times smaller, namely about ten yards. Maybe McIntosh is right and all the rest of us wrong. All I have done here is calculate how spectacularly wrong we would be, if McIntosh is right."
December 24, 2006
Have Yourself a Merry Little War on Christmas
Over at Pharyngula, PZ Myers comes pretty close to summing up my thoughts on the "war" on Christmas. He begins with a link to a recent New York Times article, in which the writer appears surprised to learn that atheists, even fervent atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, still celebrate Christmas.
What I've long felt is that there are two holidays being celebrated on the same day — the religious version and the secular version. The religious version, of course, celebrates the birth of the Christ child. The secular version is a celebration of childhood and of nostalgia. That's why you'll find plenty of Jews celebrating Christmas — they're celebrating the secular version.
If Japan, in which less than 1% of the population is Christian, can celebrate Christmas, it shouldn't be a surprise that atheists celebrate Christmas as well.
As I write this, I'm in New Mexico visiting my wife's parents and brother &mdash all atheists and agnostics. We've got a little Christmas tree, along with plenty of Christmas presents. After my son wakes up from his nap, we'll be eating turkey. (We won't be saying grace, other than the traditional "God, what a meal!") After that we'll be unwrapping presents!
Christians complain that people are taking "Christ" out of Christmas. They don't have much justification for complaint, considering that the holiday began as a pagan celebration — Christ was added many years later.
They really have no cause to complain about their religious holiday not getting enough attention. How many restaurants were closed from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan?
In any case, if they want Christmas to be a purely religious holiday, then they'll find that their holiday gets even less attention. (How many stores, banks, and government offices were closed for Good Friday?)
PZ Myers ends with a little bit of poetry:
And the Priest, with his priest-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?
It came without Jesus! It came without gods!
"It came without reverends, ministers or frauds!"
Follow the link for the rest.
December 16, 2006
Just Barely Evil
How evil are you?
Alas, I'm not nearly as evil as I would have expected. Definitely not as evil as PZ Myers of Pharyngula. So go on, take the test and let us know how evil you are.
December 15, 2006
DNA Gatherers Hit Snag: Tribes Don’t Trust Them - New York Times
Here's an interesting article from the New York Times:
The National Geographic Society’s multimillion-dollar research project to collect DNA from indigenous groups around the world in the hopes of reconstructing humanity’s ancient migrations has come to a standstill on its home turf in North America.
Billed as the “moon shot of anthropology,” the Genographic Project intends to collect 100,000 indigenous DNA samples. But for four months, the project has been on hold here as it scrambles to address questions raised by a group that oversees research involving Alaska natives.
At issue is whether scientists who need DNA from aboriginal populations to fashion a window on the past are underselling the risks to present-day donors. Geographic origin stories told by DNA can clash with long-held beliefs, threatening a world view some indigenous leaders see as vital to preserving their culture.
I find this sort of thing very frustrating. As I mentioned before, I'm currently reading Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies". In it, he discusses the spread of modern humans across the planet, focusing on the last 13,000 years. What becomes apparent is that we're all one group of people. (Duh!) Yes, our more recent history might vary widely, but we all started out as one group, and not all that long ago. Yet some people seem to continue to cling to the belief that their ancestors apparently sprang fully formed from the ground. For example:
Some American Indians trace their suspicions to the experience of the Havasupai Tribe, whose members gave DNA for a diabetes study that University of Arizona researchers later used to link the tribe’s ancestors to Asia. To tribe members raised to believe the Grand Canyon is humanity’s birthplace, the suggestion that their own DNA says otherwise was deeply disturbing.