Recently in Science and faith Category

Nye-Ham debate an hour away

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And you may watch it here on NBC or here on WCPO, Cincinnati.

Piers Morgan will interview the debaters on CNN at 9:45 EST, and MSNBC will interview Bill Nye during the 10:00 hour, EST. C-Span will rebroadcast the event Wednesday, February 19 at 8 p.m. EST, according to WCPO.

If you cannot wait till the end of the debate, you may leave comments below at any time. I suggest that we allow comments from (many of) our creationist trolls, as long as they are coherent. I will not allow comments that are merely insulting.

Dan Phelps, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, will participate in an “extended interview” with Terry Mortenson of Answers in Genesis. The participants will discuss the question, “Is teaching creationism harmful to children, society?” at 11:00 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, Thursday, January 30, on WEKU of Richmond, Kentucky. It looks like you can get it streaming. I will refrain from noting that modern journalism thinks there are two sides to every question, even when there are not.

Does any reader know of any other, similar warm-ups or “extended interviews”?

By David MacMillan. The author has a B.S. in physics from the University of North Alabama and once wrote a very positive review of the Creation Museum.

It’s rare to see a prominent scientist or educator agree to a public debate with someone from the creation science movement. Giving equal time to both sides might be a foundational principle of American dialogue, but it paints the issue as more of a controversy than it actually is. That’s why it surprised a lot of people when Bill Nye, science educator and TV personality, agreed to debate the president of Cincinnati’s Creation Museum, Ken Ham.

Evolution Weekend

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The Clergy Letter Project has announced the ninth annual Evolution Weekend, February 7-9, 2014. Their theme this year is Different Ways of Knowing/Asking Different Questions, and they say,

Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. An ongoing goal has been to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic, and to show that religion and science are not adversaries. Rather, they look at the natural world from quite different perspectives and ask, and answer, different questions.

They go on to note that many religious people recognize evolution as “sound science” and furthermore that “mischaracteriz[ing] evolution for partisan gain” has real (and I would add, uniformly negative) “consequences for society.” Read their statement for yourself, and by all means bug your clergyperson to address evolution from the pulpit or to develop some special program for that weekend – even if you have to prepare that program yourself! I certainly intend to bug my rabbi, who last year very graciously helped me put together a program on the trolley problem, and see what we can do this year.

The bad news: Only 67 % of Democrats accept evolution. The worse news: Only 43 % of Republicans accept evolution. The very worst news: The Republicans are down 5 % from 4 years ago. This, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center, as reported by CBS news in an article entitled “Republicans’ belief in evolution plummets, poll reveals.”

More precisely, Pew asked whether “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, or humans and other living things have evolved over time.” You may see the report, “Public’s views on human evolution,” here.

Pew reports a number of “key findings,” such as organizing the data as a function of religion; no surprises there. Approximately 1/3 of all adults agree “that humans and other living things have evolved over time and that evolution [was] due to natural processes,” whereas approximately 1/4 of all adults believe that “[a] supreme being guided evolution.” 4 % “don’t know,” so altogether 60 % of adults accept evolution. The breakdown by religion was equally unsurprising. Interestingly, however, across every demographic, slightly more people think that “[nonhuman] animals have evolved over time” than that “humans have evolved over time.”

Finally, I use “accept” evolution, rather than Pew’s and CBS’s “believe in,” because evolution – descent with modification – is a scientific fact and not a belief.

That is the headline of a press release printed unedited in the Sacramento Bee. The movie, by Ray Comfort of banana fame, is an excruciating 35 minutes of quote-mined sound bites, mostly from undergraduate science majors, but also from PZ Myers and a handful of other scientists (Gail Kennedy, Craig Stanford, and Peter Nonacs).

An interview with Francis Collins was published in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review. The most interesting quotations, from our point of view, were possibly,

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

Considering my own stance on the satisfying harmony of science and faith, you might be surprised to find on my shelves nearly everything written by Richard Dawkins (including “The God Delusion”) and my late friend Christopher Hitchens (including “God Is Not Great”). One must dig deeply into opposing points of view in order to know whether your own position remains defensible. Iron sharpens iron.

What book has had the greatest impact on you?

As an atheist evolving to agnosticism, and seeking answers to whether or not belief in God is potentially rational, my life was turned upside down 35 years ago by reading C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity.”

No further comment!

Yesterday, I received a letter and a booklet from an organization called Day Star Research. The booklet was written by the president of Day Star, Fred Heeren, who writes, among other things,

Day Star Research is committed to

* Promoting healthy dialogue between the religious and non-religious.

* Fighting irrational extremism with rationality.…

* Encouraging Christians to reverse their reputation for anti-intellectualism, insensitivity, and judgmentalism.…

Ashernew.jpgThis is a guest post by Robert J. Asher. Asher is a paleontologist in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. He is also the author of the recently-published book Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist.

In February 2012, Asher authored the essay “Why I am an Accommodationist” for Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rober[…]1298554.html).

Jason Rosenhouse wrote a reply at his EvolutionBlog in March 2012 (http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionbl[…]mmodationism). Asher’s response is below.

– Nick Matzke

God as a Superhuman: A (belated) Response to Jason Rosenhouse

Way back in February, I tried to make the case that accommodation between religious belief and a scientific worldview is a good thing. I remain convinced that in order to make a positive difference in science literacy, educators should distinguish between superstition and religion, understand that human identity can entail elements of both, and acknowledge that science does not render religion untenable. My particular focus in that essay was that believers need not attribute a human-like mode of creativity to their god. Conversely, I argued that anti-theists (by which I mean those atheists who view religion as terminally misguided) and creationists (by which I mean those who think natural mechanisms are insufficient to explain at least some aspects of biological evolution) often agree with each other in rejecting, or at least not liking, this viewpoint. Both argue (for different reasons) that a god without some human-like will to circumvent biology & physics for its own ends is too remote and/or abstract to be worth worshipping, or representative of “real” religion as practiced by millions of people today. I believe that both are wrong on this point.

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Jason Rosenhouse moved from the east coast to Kansas for a postdoc. He had studied a bit about creationism while a graduate student at Dartmouth, so it would be an exaggeration to say that he was surprised to learn that not everyone in Kansas was a liberal Democrat (even by today’s standard of liberalism). Nevertheless, for reasons that are not made completely clear, he humored his inner anthropologist and attended a handful of creationist conferences over a period of several years. The result is the splendid book Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line, which both shows creationists as regular people, just like scientists, and also takes them seriously, without condescension or sarcasm.

Not that Rosenhouse cuts them any slack. He gets up to the microphone and asks pointed questions, and he is completely open about who he is and what he believes. He mingles with the conference attendees and is impressed by how very pleasant they are; he is pleasant in return, except for one apparently unfortunate interaction with Ken Ham. Nevertheless, however pleasant the creationists may be, Rosenhouse makes clear that he and his interlocutors are always talking past each other, and his critiques have virtually no effect - except occasionally, when he sees a young student listening intently and thinks he may have planted some seeds of doubt.

The subtitle of this book is “Confessions of a religious paleontologist,” but you will find only one confession: that the author, Robert Asher, believes in God. More on that later.

The heart of the book is 8 chapters that irrefutably demonstrate descent with modification. I found much of the book compelling, but also fairly difficult and much more detailed than I thought appropriate for a lay audience. A number of times, Asher uses a term that is obviously well known to biologists, but known to me only vaguely if at all – and I have been a fellow traveler in biology for approximately a decade. Pseudogene, for example, appears, undefined, in the very last sentence of the chapter that describes the evolution of whales from terrestrial to marine animals. I looked it up in the index and found that it is defined, implicitly at best, 50 pages later.

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