Category Archives: Creationism

The new Cosmos

Guys, I just watched the first episode of the new Cosmos.

It is so good.


Sitting in the dark in my living room while Neil DeGrasse Tyson walked me from planet Earth to the edge of the observable universe, I cannot describe how Small I felt, or how Large science seemed. It is remarkable what we have done in so short a time, and what we have learned about so long a timespan. I’ve read about all this before, and yet every time it gets me.

Along with the splendor of what I was watching, I couldn’t help but feel something less positive. I thought of my little cousins, who, by sheerest accident, happen to have been born to parents who don’t accept evolution. And it made me angry.

In Cosmos, Tyson tells us that we’ll need imagination to explore the natural world, but “imagination alone is not enough, because the reality of nature is far more wondrous than anything we can imagine.” It’s true – the natural world is full of phenomena that we’ve only been able to grasp by pulling back layer after layer. Gravitation, the atom, the evolution of life – none of these were easy to get right, and it took us many tries before we successfully developed models that were as weird as reality. We really weren’t able to imagine these things beforehand.

But as my cousins grow up, their minds will be stunted by parents who present them with ideas that are easy to imagine.

I want more for them than that.

It’s a beautiful thing that Tyson is doing – exposing young (and old) minds to some Big ideas. I imagine that Cosmos will play a part in creating a lot of future scientists. So spread the word.


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A friend visits the Creation Museum

Creation Museum
My friend Tiarnán visited the Creation Museum today. It is a museum in Kentucky which supports a literalist interpretation of Genesis, with exhibits on Noah’s ark, humans and dinosaurs living together, and the like. Tiarnán didn’t enjoy his time there.

I’m finding it hard to even explain how bad I felt. The only time I’ve ever felt this bad because of somewhere I visited was a concentration camp. I’m not comparing the crime, only how it affected me. The juxtaposition of lies, smiling children and a gift shop freaked me out.

Emptiness, sadness, a cruel parody of museums. Children running around, enthusiastic to learn, parents proudly reading lies to them. Children gathered around the animatronic Noah explaining how there was room on the ark for all the dinosaurs.

I felt I was at a funeral for someone I loved and everyone else wanted dead.

Relentless, creepy disembodied voices “The lord said…”, “Eve was created as man’s helper”, “dragons are dinosaurs”. It was soul destroying.

Museums scream of progress to me. They have problems (Anyone seen the receipt for the Elgin marbles?), but they are cathedrals to learning. They show how far we’ve come. They promote and value education. To sit in one with such a corrupt purpose is obscene.

Nobody got a t-shirt. I couldn’t do it. I needed to leave.

What is the solution to this problem? I don’t know. But I imagine it starts with more education, more rationality, and more questioning our beliefs.


Filed under Creationism, Religion, Science

More on evolution denial and religiosity

Jerry Coyne has just gotten a paper published in the journal Evolution, on the relationship between evolution, religion, and societal health. As anyone who pays attention to American news, politics, or even daily life can tell you,  most people who deny evolution do so because it conflicts with their religion. As I have posted before, survey data bears this out.

Coyne uses similar data to demonstrate the relationship between evolution denial and religiosity. He also discusses how societal health influences religious belief. Finally, he offers suggestions for how we can increase acceptance of science and evolution on a national level.

Here is the paper’s abstract:

American resistance to accepting evolution is uniquely high among First World countries. This is due largely to the extreme religiosity of the United States, which is much higher than that of comparably advanced nations, and to the resistance of many religious people to the facts and supposed implications of evolution. The prevalence of religious belief in the United States suggests that outreach by scientists alone will not have a huge effect in increasing the acceptance of evolution, nor will the strategy of trying to convince the faithful that evolution is compatible with their religion. Because creationism is a symptom of religion, another strategy to promote evolution involves loosening the grip of faith on America. This is easier said than done, for recent sociological surveys show that religion is highly correlated with the dysfunctionality of a society, and various measures of societal health show that the United States is one of the most socially dysfunctional First World countries. Widespread acceptance of evolution in America, then, may have to await profound social change.

If you’re interested in these issues, read the whole thing! (PDF)


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A tribute to Hitch

Here is the tribute to Christopher Hitchens that was shown at the Global Atheist Convention last weekend.

One of the things I loved about Hitch was his ability to pick out the precise facts from science and history that demonstrate why a particular religious belief is so absurd. He gets to the heart of the matter, every time. You’ll see lots of that in this video.

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Filed under Atheism, Creationism, Evolution, Humanism, Morality, Reason, Religion, Science, Sex

Global warming? Don’t worry – God’s got our backs

I have just learned, via Jerry Coyne’s blog, that Republican senator Jim Inhofe (Okla.) is promoting a new book about how global warming is a hoax, and he quotes Genesis 8:22 as one of the reasons why he knows this. He explains the quote during a recent interview for a christian radio program:

Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,’ my point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.

“God’s still up there.” In other words, God put us on the Earth for a reason, and he isn’t going to let our species eradicate itself. So there’s no need to worry about climate change.

You know, I used to believe this exact same thing. I have always been an environmentally conscious person, concerned with recycling and eliminating waste. But these matters always seemed, to me, to be about keeping the planet clean and beautiful. Global warming, on the other hand, was about keeping the planet livable. And while I always accepted that humans could make the planet worse, when it came to the proposition that humans could destroy the planet or make it unlivable entirely, my belief in god diminished what would have been a completely reasonable concern. After all, God wouldn’t let us destroy ourselves!

This was in the time just before global warming became a popular concern, and before An Inconvenient Truth was released, so – in my defense – I did not yet know all the facts. I like to think that I would not have been dumb enough to deny the dangers of climate change even in the face of the facts, but religious belief does often function in an incredibly reality-denying way. Senator Inhofe must, at this point, know the facts, and no doubt has done his best to ignore them. I’m sure his party affiliation, and the Republicans’ general anti-science stance, has something to do with it. It would also be interesting to see which lobbyists have been putting money in his pocket recently. But regardless of these other competing interests, a point must be made: it is not possible to be truly concerned about climate change, and the possibility of ruining the inhabitable Earth, if you also believe that God has your back and will not let this happen to you.

This is one of the problems with religion – it entails believing things that are untrue, and such beliefs always have effects on the real world.


Filed under Creationism, Religion, Science

Making sense of Christianity

I like this a lot.

Dear Evangelical Christians:

God here.

First, I do not exist. The concept of a 13,700,000,000 year old being, capable of creating the entire universe and its billions of galaxies, monitoring simultaneously the thoughts and actions of the 7 billion human beings on this planet is ludicrous. Grow a brain.

Second, if I did, I would have left you a book a little more consistent, timeless and independently verifiable than the collection of Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology you call the Bible. Hell, I bet you cannot tell me one thing about any of its authors, their credibility or their possible ulterior motives, yet you cite them for the most extraordinary of claims…

Click here for the rest.

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New Pew survey, and Denial of evolution is a result of religiosity

A new Pew survey has just been released, examining opinions of a worldwide sample of evangelical Christian leaders on a number of issues. The survey questions relate to social issues, religious beliefs, gender roles, what to do about non-Christians, and more. It’s interesting reading, and there is an excellent summary of some of the findings regarding evolution, atheism, and conflicting Christian values over at Why Evolution Is True.

Some of the results from this survey tie into a subject that I’ve been wanting to write about: why public acceptance of evolution in the majority of developed nations around the world is high, but with a few notable exceptions. Take a look at this chart from a 2006 article in Science that compared public acceptance of evolution in 34 countries (click to enlarge).
Public acceptance of evolution

The majority of respondents were accepting of evolution in most of the nations surveyed. A notable exception, with the second to lowest acceptance of evolution, was the United States.

Why is this?

Keep in mind that acceptance of evolution among scientists is overwhelmingly strong the world over. In contrast with the American public, 97% of American scientists agree that humans and other living things have evolved over time. So why the division among the laypeople, and why only in certain parts of the world?

As readers have probably noticed, denial of evolution or criticism of the evidence for evolution is often voiced specifically by creationists – people who think that a supernatural being created humans and other living things in their current form. This is because, in the case of fundamentalist Christianity, they believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and should be taken literally.

Is religious fundamentalism the cause for evolution denial, or is it something else? We already know that acceptance of evolution is divided along national lines, but is it also divided along religious lines?

The evidence says yes.

Keep in mind that it isn’t a person’s religion per se that determines whether or not they accept evolution. Many of the countries in the above chart are predominantly Christian, and yet they still show high acceptance of evolution. Rather, it is how religious a person is that influences their attitude toward evolution.

Religion distribution

Religiosity is commonly measured by looking at frequency of prayer, frequency of religious service attendance, belief in god and an afterlife, Bible literalism, and so on. It is on measures of religiosity that America really stands out among developed nations (see tables below).

Religiosity by country part 1Religiosity by country part 2

Religiosity by country (Source: The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions)

But that’s not all. There must of course be differences in religiosity from person to person within the same country. Not all Americans are religious, and not all religious Americans are weekly churchgoers who believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God. If acceptance of evolution is influenced by religiosity, we would expect the most religious Americans to be the most unaccepting of evolution.

The 2006 study I cited earlier showed this to be the case. They found that “…individuals who hold a strong belief in a personal God and who pray frequently were significantly less likely to view evolution as probably or definitely true than adults with less conservative religious views.”

Subsequent research has replicated this result. A 2009 Pew survey found that 49% of respondents who attended weekly religious services believed that humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. However, only 26% of those who attended services monthly or yearly believed this, and only 17% of those who seldom or never attend. Meanwhile, those respondents who attended religious services less frequently were much more likely to believe that life evolved.

A 2010 survey conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University similarly found that Bible literalism was negatively correlated with acceptance of evolution. Of respondents who answered that the Bible is the actual word of God, 69% believed that God directly created life. Of those who said that the Bible is the word of God, but not everything can be taken literally, 35% believed in creationism, 42% believed that God had guided the evolutionary process (theistic evolution), and 11% believed in unguided, natural evolution. Lastly, of those who said that the Bible was written by men, only 12% believed in creationism, 18% believed in theistic evolution, and 56% believed in unguided evolution.

Finally, the survey I began the post with extends these findings, showing that they apply to evangelical Christian leaders from around the world. Of those surveyed, almost half reject evolution, and 41% believe in God-guided, theistic evolution. Only 3% accept the scientific understanding of evolution as being the result of natural processes.

The evidence is undeniable: religiosity is negatively correlated with acceptance of evolution, and this can only be because people deny the facts of science that conflict with their religious beliefs.

In an effort to fight this conclusion, creationists often try to argue that the evidence for evolution is lacking. Not only is this claim false, but in making it, creationists expect us to believe that they are more fit to evaluate the evidence for evolution than the rest of the world, including the vast majority of scientists and relevant experts! This is simply a ludicrous argument. The fact is that evolution is true, and most of the world knows it. The United States is an anomaly among nations – even among Christian nations – because of a unique history of religious fundamentalism that promotes belief in no-longer tenable myths about human origins.


Filed under Atheism, Creationism, Evolution, Religion