Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Evolution is the Only Game in Town

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg Wed 23/11/2011 10:28. Published in part (less parts in blue)
 as “Who would create a body like this one?” in The Star, November 29, 2011

Siegfried Berger ("Science also expects us to blindly follow" in Star Letters, November 22) in reply to my viciously-trimmed letter published on 17 November, tells us that science is also a dogma.  Not true: Science works on the evidence.  The evidence shows that there is no comforting, "intellectual guiding hand" steering evolution.

Would an intelligent creator have designed the human body like this?  Humans suffer from back problems: Understandable when you consider that we are using, vertically, a spine that developed horizontally.  The discs suffer because they are not "made" to carry compressive loads.

Or, looking at the body from a town-planning point of view, what intelligent planner would put the fun-fair next to the sewage farm?

There are many other examples: Our difficulty in giving birth, the appendix, nerves that follow strange paths.

Evolution indeed proceeds without an end product in mind, but the results are not "accidental".  Mutations arise occasionally by chance. Survival of the fittest then ruthlessly eliminates changes that are not advantageous.  Some have likened it to a Lotto where you can keep your correct numbers for the next round.  After a few rounds you would have all winning numbers!  Thus evolution builds continually on the useful characteristics, constantly improving all the fiercely competing species.

However, many mutations that an intelligent designer would want, haven't happened or did not survive at the time.  So we have short lives, poor eyesight, only two hands, no wings, thin skins, can't digest cellulose, to name a few.

The irrepressible Bob Holcombe weighs in in the same edition, with "Many researchers believe that science need not exclude a creator".

He says that evolution can not be proved because we can not run it as an experiment.  Poor reasoning.  Science works on evidence and logic too.  The results of evolution are there to study, and we have a record in fossils and matching geological strata, along with several dating methods that agree.

Mr Holcombe defends the biblical story of creation as symbolic, with the days representing ages.  What then does the bible mean with the oft-repeated "and it was evening, and it was morning"?  The bible means literal days.  It just happens to be wrong.

Mr Holcombe's "loving god" is obviously not the jealous god of the bible, who delights in genocide and misogyny, approves of slavery and human sacrifice, imposes "original sin", and murders people for collecting firewood on a Saturday.

Finally, Mr Holcombe says that societies that deny god are declining rapidly.  In fact, objective measures of human well-being –longevity, mental health, lower crime, reduced HIV transmission, etc.– are highest in secular societies (western and northern Europe), and lower in those with a strong religious component such as the US and Muslim countries.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Theory and Reality: Evolution is Both

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg Sat 12/11/2011 10:23, published published Thu 17/11/2011 minus the parts in blue as “Evolution is a fact, and that’s a fact”.

Bob Holcombe, in Readers' Letters of Friday November 11 ("Telling that his books have been taken off the shelves"), lambastes UFO-believers.  And so he should, because this is fringe stuff and highly debatable.

However, having deplored this deception, he tries a worse one of his own: To denigrate what he calls "unproven theories of macro-evolution" and promote the bible as good cosmology.

When someone says that evolution is "only a theory" he is not making a statement about evolution, he is showing his abysmal lack of understanding of basic science.

In science, some words have a more precise meaning than in everyday speech.

I am an engineer. If you tell me that you are "under pressure", I may ask "how many kilopascals?” Pressure is defined as force divided by area.  (All people live under pressure: About 100 kPa of atmospheric pressure)

Similarly, to a layman, a "theory" is something unproven, a guess, a conjecture.

When a scientist talks of a "theory" she means a coherent explanation of empirical phenomena, that is well-proven and logically consistent with observed facts.  It takes a lot of work by many scientists for a system to graduate from a "hypothesis" to a "theory".

Would Mr Holcombe like to tell us that Electromagnetic Theory (proof: electric light) or the Theory of Relativity (proof: the atomic bomb) is also "just a theory"?

The reason evolution is taught in schools is that it is fact: Proven beyond doubt to the satisfaction of all serious scientists.  The evidence is overwhelming that simple creatures evolved into more complex ones over millions of years.

Only those blinded by misguided "faith" in a literal interpretation of scripture believe –despite all evidence to the contrary– that the universe was created magically in six days.  Oddly, these same people question the existence of the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus.

There are also scientific words for the biblical story of creation. They are "myth" and "fallacy".

Thursday, 10 November 2011

ASA Defends Imaginary, Not True Values

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg Thu 10/11/2011 22:01, not published.

I refer to Irvine Moyo's letter "Ads can't venture where even angels dare not tread" in the Star Letters, Thursday November 10, supporting the ASA's banning of the Axe "Fallen Angels" advert.

The ASA should have banned Axe's adverts for their sexism, but we can see that the ASA supports religion but not gender equality.

Mr Moyo, you can wax lyrical about your "Almighty God", His Bible, and His Angels.  However the reality is that your god and his angels are imaginary, and your bible is a quaint collection of fables.

You like the moral standards given by the bible?  The bible approves of murdering people for collecting sticks on Saturday, the subjugation of women, slavery, and genocide.

If you do not want your religion to be mocked, you should not follow such a mockable religion.

Consider what you as a Christian probably believe: That in the face of all geological and other scientific evidence to the contrary, the earth is only a few thousand years old and was created over six days.  That god is one person and three people at the same time, which any maths teacher can tell you is nonsense.  That god committed adultery with another man's wife so that the other part of him could be born into the world.  That this part then died to make up for the sin we inherited from some people who ate the wrong fruit generations before.  But actually he didn't stay dead; he got his life back again.  That if a priest mumbles over wafers and wine, they become the flesh and blood of your god (never mind that no human DNA is present).  And you should take part in ritual cannibalism by eating this.

You probably also believe that anyone who doesn't believe what you do, will be tortured forever after they die by your just and loving god.

Muslims believe the latter too, except that you have to believe in their god.  And in a polygamist who flew to Jerusalem and heaven on a magical flying horse.  That if you enrich the corrupt dictatorship in Saudi Arabia and throw stones at a pillar, you will be blessed. And other nonsense like, if you do something really evil by blowing yourself up along with a lot of people you don't like, you will be rewarded in an unverifiable hereafter with many virgins. Or maybe they won't' be virgins, but raisins: What a let-down!

You think that such superstition deserves respect, instead of gales of raucous laughter?