Friday, July 29, 2016

Ark you kidding me?

On July 7, 2016 something almost completely unbelievable happened.  The douchebags behind the anti-science factory, known for its dinosaur statue having a saddle on it, otherwise called the "Creation Museum" opened their latest absurdity - a claimed re-creation of the Noah's Ark story.  They call it "The Ark Encounter", the Tri-State Freethinkers call it, more appropriately, "The Genocide and Incest Park".

Until days before the opening of the Ark Encounter, I lived my life wrongly assuming that I didn't regularly spend time with people who actually believed that a 500 year old man spent 120 years building a massive "boat" that would fit 2 or 7 of every animal on earth.  As the opening day of the Genocide and Incest Park neared, promotional videos were shared on my wife's Facebook timeline.  Little did we know that the person sharing it, someone my wife considers to be a friend, actually believed in a literal interpretation of the story and that the earth is less than 10,000 years old.  Little did he know that I (along with my wife and a number of others from Sarnia) was actually going to Williamstown, Kentucky to protest the opening of the re-creation of, arguably, one of the most unbelievable stories in the bible.

On opening day, I was part of a group of a hundred or so people who participated in an organized protest of the "park" for a number of reasons.  I honestly believed I'd be attending a protest that would simply be making points about the unbelievable story and that we'd be explaining the myth to people who simply hadn't thought about it.  Despite me knowing people who, at the surface, believe that the biblical story of a "perfect" god creating an imperfect world and, because of her mistake, decided the best way to make things right was to kill everyone but 8 people - Noah, his unnamed wife, Noah's three children (Shem, Ham, Japheth) and their unnamed wives.

When I further think about the story, however, I want to believe that none of my friends actually believe the story.  I was pretty certain that the people we would encounter in Kentucky (the counter protesters and those trying to show us where we were mistaken) would make points and arguments about the story that involved retrofitting the story, trying to explain away inconsistencies or offering ideas that they claim come from other sources that I wasn't familiar with.

What I was pretty certain about turned out to be something I was certainly wrong about.  The creators of the Ark Encounter and their "crack" team of counter protesters (more on them and how they acted in another blog) actually believe the unbelievable.  Not only did they believe it, they were willing to put it on paper and hand it out to us to try to get us to accept "the truth".  In my next blog entry, I'll show pictures of the brochure I was given and give a few thoughts on it.  To my friends who have seen it, they questioned whether it was a Poe and suggested that it may have been made to make fun of the park and not as a serious argument for the truth of it.

I suspect I struggled with anyone "really" believing the story because, as I see it, the Noah story requires a person to accept (in no particular order):
  • A 500+ year old man and his three sons could build a massive raft ("arks" are nothing like what is drawn in kids’ books or what was built by Ken Ham's group)
  • That there could be enough water to flood the entire world and that it could nearly entirely disappear with no evidence it was ever here
  • That two (or seven) of every species of animal on the planet could get to the middle-east -- and in less than 7 days!
  • That dinosaurs and humans lived on earth at the same time
  • That the earth is less than 10,000 years old
  • That 8 - 4 (all related) men and 4 women - people could reproduce (incestuously) fast enough to ultimately create 7 billion people in less than 6000 years
  • That a boat not big enough to even fit two of every beetle and two of every rodent could fit 2 (or 7) of EVERY species on earth
  • That the boat could also fit enough food for all these animals (forgetting that some of these animals rely on the other animals for their diet, that there was no refrigeration back then and no room to store fresh water!)
  • That 8 people could take care of millions of animals (never mind their waste, their requirements for fresh water and the inability of many of the animals to regulate their own body temperature)
  • That a "perfect" god would create an imperfect world and would punish almost everything that they created because the objects of their creation simply didn't worship them
  • Genocide is moral and acceptable in certain instances
  • That upon the waters residing, the pairs of animals (warning: more incest) could each find their way back (and leave no evidence of having been anywhere but where they are found today) to far-off lands and reproduce at such rates to create the populations of today

 And I'm sure, as some have, that people would be able to, through mental gymnastics I'm clearly not capable of, rationalize certain aspects of the story to themselves, I can hardly believe that anyone does believe all this but Ken Ham got over a hundred million (yes, $100,000,000) dollars invested to build a fantastical re-creation of a literally unbelievable plagiarized myth found in the bible.  People, not only as a story, literally believe this batshit crazy idea and are bringing their kids to this monstrous absurdity to indoctrinate their children into accepting the ridiculous.  Science education at its worst - congratulations Kentucky on being the poster-state of absolute stupid.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A day in the life of a skeptic

As an advocate for skepticism and science, I find myself in some rather interesting places and even more interesting discussions.  I find that I have little time to contribute to my blog though my passion and advocacy, I'd argue, is probably stronger and more regular today.  Throughout my day, I'm often confronted with bad ideas and hear mentions of or references to "pure stupid" far more often than I'd hope from my circle of friends and acquaintances.  

I'd like to find it funny when a friend mentions something stupid and, in some ways, I'd like to simply be able to silently laugh to myself and ignore it.  As my wife can attest, that's seldom what happens and I'm more than willing to question an idea or, at times, ridicule it (ridiculous ideas deserve ridicule - though my wife is probably right, more often than not, that there could be a better way to tackle it). 

Recently when a colleague asked about an absence from work, rather than directly answering the question, I explained that I had attended a science rally.  To respond to further questions, I explained that I was advocating against anti-science propaganda and the danger that religious belief brings with it.  As they could not see the obvious connection between religion and anti-science to bad public policy, I had to point out recent laws passed to further legitimize discrimination against certain groups of people (LGBTQ community, women, etc.) and church supported misinformation regarding dying with dignity laws, birth control options (Crisis Pregnancy Centres) and, possibly more importantly, public acceptance of (near) settled science on evolution, climate change and vaccination.

The discussion, like many I have, started with much agreement - they were either surprised that people believed some of the crazy things we talked about or suggested that nobody actually believed them - age of the earth being < 10,000 years, that evolution wasn't true, that vaccines cause autism, that the story of Noah and the Ark was historically accurate and much more.  And, as with nearly all of my discussions, it touched on something that they held a firm, but not supported by evidence, belief or disbelief in.  In this case it was the idea that I supported vaccination.

I pointed out that their dismissal of people who claimed that evolution wasn't true and their almost hysterical laugh at the idea that people believe the Noah's Ark myth is the same feeling that many people have about people who claim/believe vaccines cause autism (and some of those people who accept the science of vaccination may also believe in astrology or homeopathy).  It was at that time that I explained how I blogged and that I couldn't think of a single friend who agreed with all of the propositions that I've made or the positions I've taken and it wasn't my goal to list items until I found something they disagreed with - I actually thought I was listing areas that we'd have in common so they could understand my desire and passion around fighting ignorance and anti-scientific ideas and I wasn't looking to have a disagreement or argument.

Anti-vaccine ideas are often based on ignorance of vaccines or limited scientific understanding.  The position that my colleague held, however, was that vaccines caused autism and, unlike most views on vaccination, this specific claim is almost entirely the result of a fraudulent study by Andrew Wakefield.  I felt it important to educate my co-worker about skepticism and vaccination in general so my (our) lunch later that day turned into a fairly deep discussion about the autism/vaccine controversy and eventually vaccination in general.  

It was clear (and they admitted) they'd not heard the Wakefield study was retracted, that it was found he committed academic fraud and that he lost is license to practice medicine.  They also didn't realize that there have been numerous studies that fully supports there being no link between pediatric vaccines and autism.  I further explained thiomersal (thimerosal), how vaccines work and concepts related to herd immunity.  As a result of our conversation, I think they actually accepted that the "vaccines cause autism" claim is probably false but they (almost) ended our conversation with, “well, it doesn't really matter to me, my children are grown so it's a non-issue”.

I say "almost" ended because it was at this point that I was able to explain "why it matters" that I am a skeptic and why I don't shy away from potential conflict when it comes to doing my (little) part to fight bad ideas wherever they present themselves.  

It matters because they disagreed with something I had said and they perpetuated a disproven myth about vaccines.  It matters because if they were willing to say that to me, would they agree with their children when they suggested they may not vaccinate their kids because of this fraudulent idea?  It matters because if one of their friends/family members were on the fence about vaccinations, would repeating the lie push them to be less likely to vaccinate than they, otherwise, would have been?  It matters because them holding the idea that pediatric vaccines cause autism will likely have them less inclined to getting vaccinated, themselves, for other preventable illnesses (influenza, HPV, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, etc.).  It matters because they may be less certain about other beliefs they have.  

And, most importantly, it matters because I (we) care about our fellow humans and I understand that bad ideas can have impacts that negatively affect us all.

The spreading of bad ideas has to stop somewhere - do your part in dispelling myths whenever you can because bad ideas can have bad consequences.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

When the bush is gone, what are you going to beat around?

For more than a dozen years, values that most of us feel to be true humanistic values have been openly and flagrantly under attack and when the people that should be the most defensive of those values are afraid to truly stand up for them, we're definitely heading in the wrong direction.

What I'm speaking about is the idea that is being referred to, generally, as regressive leftism.  I encourage people to look up the term and to understand about it (both arguments for and arguments against - learning benefits us all).  There's one specific point of it that this blog is going to be about - not identifying the problem with the correct terms.

When the attack on Charlie Hebdo occurred, many people found it acceptable, though, on all other occasions, they would argue that the right to free speech is absolute, to say that the cartoonists were "stupid" for "offending" Islam.  This is victim blaming and, as you'll see in other parts of this blog, I think it is abhorrent.  There is nothing that the cartoonists/publishers did to deserve death.  (Just as leaving your laptop in the back of the car does not make you responsible for its theft and putting the box from your new large screen TV at the curb does not make the criminal less responsible for the later theft of it.)

When the second major terrorist attack occurred in France (though wrongly, as it should have never been a situation of victim blaming), the conversation could very well have changed.  It hardly did.  The Islamic terrorists, though pledging allegiance to an Islamic terrorist organization, were very sparingly identified as such.

The Pulse nightclub massacre occurs and the conversation (though I completely agree that guns are a problem, more on that later) turns to gun control and assault rifles.  Reports quickly tried to distance the attacker from a "true" Islamic terrorist suggesting that he didn't know "true" Islam.

Then, only days ago, an Islamic terrorist drives a large truck through a crowded area and kills 84 (or more) innocent people.  ISIS was quick to claim the terrorist as one of their "soldiers" and it has become (as if it wasn't almost certainly going to turn out that way) absolutely clear that he was driven by religion to commit such an atrocity.

Today, I scroll through my wife's Facebook feed to see people defending religious belief -- that this attack was an aberration of faith and/or that the Islamic terrorist wasn't well educated about Islam.  One part of that argument is the "No True Scotsman" fallacy - that anyone who does anything that doesn't agree with your definition of a thing isn't a "true" one.  The second part of the argument could be completely true (and it is something that this blog has touched on a number of times) - that most followers/believers are far less educated about their faith than many atheists and critics are.

I apologize for the digression but I think it helps illustrate the point.  When Catholics were polled about acceptance of evolution, only 68% of them believe "humans evolved over time" -- despite acceptance of evolution being the actual position of the church.  Recent interviews with Christians revealed general ignorance of the bible - the vast majority of people in the pews are not familiar that the bible stories about Jesus were not written by eye witnesses.  This is a fact that educated theologians, almost without exception, completely agree with.  From a personal experience perspective, when speaking with "average" believers, I have yet to come across one that is familiar with many bible stories/references that I often bring up - a large number of Christians simply know only what is told to them from the pulpit or they are just willfully ignorant and have been sold on the idea that claiming to be a Christian or blindly defending the bible and the church is the right and moral position to take.

It isn't a defense of religion to say that its adherents who are committing atrocities aren't educated enough about that particular religion - it is a scathing indictment of the dangers that religions and faith poses.  It is completely possible that ISIS is using a misinterpretation of the Islamic texts or it may be that ISIS is using religion as justification or even that ISIS is taking advantage of Islamic adherence.  Either position you want to take on that, the finger still points to religion in general and Islam in particular.

Given that this entry is already in excess of 600 words, I won't be thorough in the discussion about what the Koran, Bible and other "holy" books actually say, it is important to not gloss over the fact that the actions and claims of religious terrorists are well supported in the books/doctrines that they adhere to.  Many Christians will probably read this and argue that this is an Islam only problem but, until the Enlightenment (and even now with their record on equal rights (on everything), abortion, birth control, science education and much more), Christians were no better (arguably worse) than Islamic terrorists of today.  The Christian bible has countless horrible ideas and stories and any Christian that denies such only further goes to illustrate the point that whenever a Christian tells me to "read the bible", I'm often correct in stating "it isn't me that hasn't read the bible".

I'll be absolutely clear - Islamic terrorism is real and belief in the unbelievable is to blame.  As Jim Jefferies says "This isn't a war on Islam, it is a war on religion".  Let's call it what it is and the sooner we start to, the better off we'll all be - hopefully it happens while there's still even a bush left for you to beat around.