Tag Archives: evolution

A Science Lesson for Christians

Often times when discussing religion with Christians the conversation turns to science. I am not an expert in the sciences. My field is Philosophy. Just to make sure that I have all my facts straight, I e-mailed this blog to The Science Pundit for peer review. However, having gone to a fairly decent public school program which taught science fairly well, I would say that I have a slightly above average knowledge of the subject. I am beginning to think though that I am a bit more than just slightly above average. It seems that I run into the same problems over and over again. Many of the Christians that I talk to have no idea how the scientific method works.

The thing is that most of these Christians claim to know how science works and they claim to have studied in detail the relevant scientific theories that we are discussing. But then their mouths open (or in case of internet conversations, they write stuff). And based on what they are saying, it becomes painfully obvious that they have not studied the relevant theories and have no idea whatsoever how science works.

There are a few particular misconceptions that keep popping up. The first is that a “scientific theory” is “just a theory.” Here there is as Wittgenstein put it, a “Family Resemblance” between the two uses, but make no mistake that the term “theory” is being used in two very different ways. In the general sense the term “theory” is used to describe an analytic structure designed to explain a set of observations. As used in the scientific sense, a theory is an explanation or model based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning, especially one that has been tested and confirmed as a general principle helping to explain and predict natural phenomena. In other words, “just a theory” is very different than a “scientific theory” which has considerably more weight attached to it.

Another common misconception is that science is “faith based” just as faith based belief is faith based. These particular Christians don’t seem to understand the difference between the scientific process and the religious process. To them, all ideas are the same and deserve equal time. The problem is that all ideas are not the same.

Let’s start with religion. The way religious belief works, they start off with the belief in God and in the Bible. That belief supersedes everything else. Then they specifically look to find anything which might be considered supportive of their conclusion (This is called “confirmation bias.” The scientific method goes to extreme measures to minimize or eliminate this as all people—even scientists—are susceptible to confirmation bias). If evidence comes to light which disproves their belief, that evidence is attacked, ignored, and/or destroyed. Their view is that God exists and that the Bible is true and nothing “science” can say or show will convince them otherwise. Many times, they will even tell you that straight up.

Science doesn’t start with the conclusion. Science starts with observations. From the observations we make a hypothesis, which is an educated guess as to the explanation of an observable phenomenon or phenomena which makes predictions and is therefore testable. We then look for evidence and/or test the hypothesis through experimentation to see if our hypothesis holds up. One thing science tries to be very careful about is to make sure that when we run tests and look for evidence we do so in as non-biased manner as possible. We don’t want to fall prey to confirmation bias. We are not specifically looking to confirm or deny the hypothesis, just go where the evidence leads. If the evidence supports the hypothesis, then we keep looking for more evidence in the same unbiased manner. If the evidence does not support the hypothesis, then we revise the hypothesis and start the process over again. Science never draws a 100% certain conclusion. Science is always willing to change. But the more and more evidence which supports a given hypothesis the more and more certain we are that the hypothesis is correct. But we will never say that we are 100% certain. A theory is a more general model which includes facts, laws and hypotheses and explains a whole family of phenomena.

So as you can see, while science starts with observations and evidence and investigates as non-biased as it can, religion is the exact opposite. Religion starts with the conclusion and looks in a biased manner for anything which could be persuasive and rejects what does not fit with the already stated conclusion (i.e. God exists and the Bible is true).

Please keep in mind that this blog is only giving a basic and quick guide to science and the scientific method. I encourage anyone who lacks sufficient scientific knowledge to go online or pick up a science text book and learn more.

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Why I do this.

Why do I participate in the freethought movement? Why am I an activist? Why do I care? Why should I care?

I care because ignorance has been running rampant for far too long now. I am living in a country where a non believer cannot get elected to a high office. However, incompetent buffoons who prattle gibberish rise to positions of leadership. Allow me to introduce to you Delegate Jeff Fredrick of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Now Mr. Fredrick is not only a delegate of Old Dominion, he’s the chairman of Virginia’s Republican party. That’s right, this man leads one of this country’s two major parties in its 13th largest state.

As you may have already guessed, he is indeed a kook and a nincompoop. So why am I concerned with him? Well, I wouldn’t be if he were just an aberration, but he’s not. He is a symptom of the disease. A nimrod like him could have never achieved the position he has unless that type of ideologue and dogmatist was seen virtuous by a large number of powerful people. This is the man who Virginia Republicans want leading them! It should scare all of us into action.

But on to specifics. Here is Delegate Fredrick addressing the Virginia assembly on Charles Darwin’s birthday.


Let’s dissect what he said.

Ladies and gentlemen of the House, as the gentleman from Alexandria pointed out, today is Darwin’s birthday. Charles Darwin was born February 12th 1809, but there was also somebody else that was also born on February 12th 1809. [pauses] I’ll tell you who! It was the first Republican president of the United States–a guy named Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln is best know (sic), as you all well know, for freeing the slaves by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation affirming in his Gettyburg (sic) Address in 19, I’m sorry, 1863, saying “Our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Clearly this man is a somewhat of a dolt. However he does appear to have a plan. He’s pulled the line from the Gettyburg Gettysburg Address where Lincoln quotes the Declaration of Independence, then tied it to the Emancipation Proclamation. Yes, clearly the first Republican president is a man to be admired. Now let’s hear what he has to say about Darwin.

Darwin however is best known for the theory of evolution, arguing that men are not only, quote, are only, not, not created, but they are not equal, as some are more evolved… While Darwin’s theory was used by atheists to explain away the belief in God, the last act of congress signed by Abraham Lincoln before he was shot, was to place the phrase “In God We Trust” on our national coin. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Let’s ignore the incoherence for a moment. On second thought, let’s not; the man is a complete twit! Now back to the critique. Some men are more evolved??? Obviously he’s saying that to contrast it with “all men are created equal”, which was said by Lincoln–quoting Jefferson (and neither of these men were Christians). Ah yes, evil Charles Darwin was the antithesis of good ole amercun values. The thing is, I’ve read a bit of Darwin–and quite a bit more about him–and I don’t remember him saying exactly that.

As for atheists using evolution to explain away the belief in god, while the wording is somewhat awkward, it is technically true for many atheists. The rub is that many atheists have also used the Christian bible to explain away the belief in god.

Why do I do this? Exhibit A: Jeff Fredrick.

Can we live forever?

highlanderEver since humanity first realized that death was inevitable we have been trying to cheat it. Religion is the most obvious example of this. Without exception, the religions of the world have convinced their followers that they are immortal. And despite the evidence of our senses (and a rotting corpse is one big stinking piece of evidence) most of the world believes that, in one way or another, they will live forever.

It is a desire that most people have and, while I don’t completely share it, I do understand. Everyone wants to live longer. Thanks to science, we have more than doubled the average lifespan of homo sapiens sapiens.  But for some, that just isn’t enough.

Is there any hope? Can we become like the products of our imagination, like Doctor Who and Highlander? Or are we stuck with the knowledge that every last one of us will eventually shuffle off this mortal coil?

There may be hope. And it comes…in the form of a jellyfish.


Jellyfish usually die after propagating; however, the Turritopsis nutricula has developed the ability to return to a polyp state. This is done through a cell change in the external screen (exumbrella). The ability to reverse the life cycle is probably unique in the animal kingdom, and allows the jellyfish to bypass death, rendering the Turritopsis nutricula biologically immortal.

So all we need to do is find out a way to, biologically, return to our sexual immaturity after we reproduce. It couldn’t be simpler!

Or, perhaps, we should just come to terms with the fact that everyone dies, and live as best as we can while we’re here.

I think I’ll go with the latter. But if there are any genetic engineers out there who think they can pull the former off, email me.

Evidence for Common Descent

Christian Creationists tell me all the time, “I didn’t come from a dirty ape!” It is usually at this point that I laugh at them. These are usually the same Creationists Christians who tell me that they have studied evolution. It is at this point that I laugh even louder because if they have really studied evolution from a reputable science book and not just “From Pandas to People” or at least paid some semblance of attention in 10th grade science class, they would know that the theory of evolution doesn’t claims that humans “came” from monkeys or apes. The claim is that humans and apes share a common ancestry.

Mountains of evidence support this claim of “common descent.” Dr. Alan Mann of Princeton University brought one of the most convincing pieces of evidence to my attention. Dr. Mann gave a talk on the subject at a Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia meeting awhile back. In his lecture, Dr. Mann pointed out the oddity of the 2nd Chromosome. Humans and Chimpanzees have almost identical DNA. The main difference is that our second chromosome looks a lot like two separate ape chromosomes. Every chromosome has two vestigial telomeres. These are normally found only at the ends of a chromosome, but in chromosome 2 we see additional telomere sequences in the middle. This is evidence of an ancient telomere-telomere fusion that marks the point at which two ancestral ape chromosomes fused to give rise to human chromosome number two.

This is a pretty clear-cut piece of evidence even the most idiotic Creationist can comprehend it just by looking at the picture above. So next time you talk to a Creationist (I’d say wacky Creationist, but that would be redundant) be sure to tell them about the telomere-telemere fusion and the second chromosome.

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Happy 200th Birthday Charles Darwin.

Charles Darwin was born on February 12th 1809, 200 years ago today.