Category Archives: Science

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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Filed under Creationism, Evolution, News, Religion, Science

New Edge interview with Joshua Greene

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on morality entitled, How I live as a moral relativist. The term “moral relativist” sounds scary and gets a bad reputation sometimes, but those concepts are an accurate description of the world as far as I can tell.

I intend on writing more on that in the future, but for now, here is a new interview with moral philosopher and scientist, Joshua Greene. Greene is the guy who pioneered the neuroscience of morality – investigating how people’s brains work when they make decisions about moral problems. There’s some good stuff here on how morality probably evolved, and how our moral intuitions are incredibly quirky and inconsistent (try your hand at answering the questions he poses). This latter fact is a problem for moral realism, which asserts that there are definite answers to moral problems. Given moral realism, inconsistencies such as the ones Greene mentions in his interview shouldn’t exist.

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Filed under Morality, Psychology, Science

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)


Filed under Creationism, Evolution, Religion, Science

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

Jesus, Don’t Let Me Die Before I’ve Had Sex got funded!

I’m a little late in announcing this, but the documentary I posted about here, entitled Jesus, Don’t Let Me Die Before I’ve Had Sex reached its fundraising goal on Kickstarter. Production will now commence under full steam. It’ll be a year or more before the doc is released, but I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Thumbs up for funding

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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