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Science Minister Equates Evolution and Religion

With a title like “Minister of State for Science and Technology”, it’s no wonder that Gary Goodyear thinks acceptance of evolution should be a matter of religious conviction. When asked about evolution, Gary had this to say:

“I’m not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,”

Mr Goodyear eventually clarified his position, when he realized how many people this upset:

“We are evolving every year, every decade. That’s a fact, whether it is to the intensity of the sun, whether it is to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it is running shoes or high heels, of course we are evolving to our environment. But that’s not relevant and that is why I refused to answer the question. The interview was about our science and tech strategy, which is strong.”

Notice he never acknowledges macroevolution, only microevolution. Clever…a lot of people will miss that. If I were able to ask Mr. Goodyear one question, it would be this: “Is clinical acupuncture based on science or religion?”.

As a chiropractor who specialized in acupuncture, my guess is that he would say “Science”, even though the field is still heavily dependent on traditional Chinese metaphysics. While I’d be the first to accept that traditional methods of finding truth and value are important, I’d be the first challenge a statement that these sorts of things are scientific. By definition, they are not.

acupuncture

It’s not that controversial to label accupuncture a pseudoscience, though it has well demonstrated effects on pain. In its current formulation it’s pretty much based on Qi, (pronounced chee) “flows of energy” that are around and in all living things. While I’m not going to debate whether or not something like this exists (I think it does), these flows are not quantifiable, we haven’t observed them, and we can’t make any predictions based on them.

While acupuncture seems to work, we can’t claim to know HOW it works. Qi is undoubtedly philosophy, and as far as accupuncture relies on Qi it is simply eastern philosophy and pseudoscience.

But is EVOLUTION pseudoscience? There is consensus on this in the scientific community; and that is “No, evolution is NOT pseudoscience. And stop calling it ‘Darwinism’!'” They would know, and they can back it up. It’s science!

gn02_18

Like Gary, I was taught that belief in Darwinism was a matter of religious or philosophical conviction. And I accepted that at first, until I really started researching the matter. What I found stunned me; evolution was undoubtably scientific. It’s observable right now as well as forensically, it’s quantifiable (expressed algorithmically), and it makes predictions about the world that can be verified. And those predictions HAVE been verified, over and over again, to the point where it’s a contender for one of the “superb” scientific theories, right below general relativity and the standard model of quantum mechanics.

“Into the SUPERB category must go all those I have been discussing in the paragraphs preceding this one [that is, relativity – both varieties – and quantum mechanics]. To qualify as SUPERB, I do not deem it necessary that the theory should apply without refutation to the phenomena of the world, but I do require that the range and accuracy with which it applies should, in some appropriate sense, be _phenomenal_. The way that I am using the term `superb’, it is an extraordinary remarkable fact that there are any theories in this category at all! I am not aware of any basic theory in any other science which could properly enter this category. Perhaps the theory of natural selection, as proposed by Darwin and Wallace, comes closest, but it is still some way off.” Penrose in “Emperor’s New Mind” (Highly recommended!)

Even as general relatively and quantum mechanics do, evolution has problems. There are BIG, glaring holes in it, as there is in EVERY SINGLE scientific theory. But that’s not why Mr. Goodyear doubts macroevolution. Mr Goodyear has inadvertently made it plain he doubts evolution because of his religious beliefs. IE; he believes that Genesis is literally true, to one degree or another. He’s probably a creationist. And not the Roman Catholic kind; the Protestant kind.

gn03_01

I can find no reasonable response for this, as creationism is not subject to reason. But as Canada’s minister of science, Mr. Goodyear does not have the right to misrepresent science because of his personal religious views. Biology and genetics are INCREDIBLY important fields of study right now, and he does his country a great disservice to ignore the advances evolutionary theory has brought to these fields. If he must take this on faith, so be it; but his actions are important.

Furthermore, by making scientific claims based on religious values, he weakens his ability to make MORAL claims about science, which is where personal morality, ethics, and spirituality/religion are unquestionably important! To be more clear, one shouldn’t say they don’t believe in atomic fission because of their nonscientific convictions. That’s useless, it’s just burying your head in the sand. Instead, say that you don’t believe in atomic BOMBS because of moral, ethical and/or religious conviction!

Or DO believe in bombs, but you get my point, the decision what to do with technology and the meaning of life are more propoer fields for metaphysics and theology than the existence or nonexistence of specific scientific phenomenon.

Who Would Jesus Bomb?

Who Would Jesus Bomb?

To apply this to the theory of evolution. One should accept that natural selection is a fact, if the word “fact” is to mean anything. Besides, unless they are an evolutionary biologist, their opinion doesn’t mean squat anyway! We can certainly say religious conviction has NOTHING to do with the factual truth of scientific theories.

Instead, Goodyear could affirm science, while affirming God as the Primary Mover and the ultimate source of meaning. Instead he culd say, “Regardless of scientific facts, I believe God created us and loves us.” Or he could leave the religion part out completely, as he wanted to do in his first intervie!

Your call, Mr. Goodyear, but don’t misrepresent science. There’s enough of that as it is.

gn07_18

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Economy: A Smoking Heap of Rubble

reverse_pillow_fighter

I wish I understood the economy better, but this quote terrifies me:

“Respectfully, you guys are totally misunderstanding something crucial in the AIG bailout: Derivatives claims are not stayed in bankruptcy. (Yet another brilliant innovation from the 2005 bankruptcy reform legislation.)

If AIG were to go down, derivatives counterparties would be able to seize cash/collateral while other creditors and claimants would have to stand by and wait. Depending on how aggressive the insurance regulators in the hundreds of jurisdictions AIG operates have been, the subsidiaries might or might not have enough cash to stay afloat. If policyholders at AIG and other insurance companies started to cancel/cash in policies, there would definitely not be enough cash to pay them. Insurers would be forced to liquidate portfolios of equities and bonds into a collapsing market.

In other words, I don’t think the fear was so much about the counterparties as about the smoking heap of rubble they would leave in their wake.” (via)

Smoking heap of rubble.  Yipes.  

I personally blame market deregulation, which lead to a blatantly FRAUDULENT valuation of derivatives.   Hopefully we now understand that an untamed market is like an untamed government; a dangerous lack of checks and balances.

Hopefully we can support a SUSTAINABLE relationship with our economy, one that doesn’t rely on cancerous exponential growth.  Maybe then we can develop some of these emerging markets  instead of exploiting them, managing our natural resources instead of exhausting them.

Because that would just be good business, in the long term.  Let’s make it good short term business as well; the market will adapt.

Polygamy in the Bible

I’ve been watching this amazing HBO television show called “Big Love”.   The main theme is Mormonism, particularly those who still practice polygamy (technically polygyny).   Bill Paxton (Nehhh) plays a polygamist raised on a fundamentalist Mormon, who leaves to compound to live in Salt Lake City with his three wives.  They are well assimilated into the 1950s culture of SLC, yet they are still deeply committed to “the principle”.

 The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, claimed to simply be following the literal word of scripture.

These days I tend to go to the Jewish sources for insights into the Old Testament.  Their page on polygamy is very informative.  The Bible regulates polygamy, but never forbids it.  A man was free to marry multiple wives, as long as he could support them, did not divorce  them, favor children from the 2nd wife over those of the 1st, etc. etc.   This is actually similar to how the Bible treats slavery, as something to be regulated instead of outright banned.

Polygamy and slavery regulated, shellfish and intercourse during menstruation banned.  Check.

Fast forward to the New Testament, which is strangely silent on the matter.   Like the Old Testament, the NT naturally expects a marriage to be between a man and a women.  But even in Jesus’ time many devout Jews had multiple wives, and Jesus never speaks against it.  Divorce, yes…Jesus forbids divorce.  But not polygamy.  Which is odd, considering how often Jesus is recorded speaking against the rich and powerful, the men most likely to be polygamists (Herod the Great had ten wives, for example…)

Paul is also silent on the matter.  One gets the idea he thought marriage was a necessary evil, only useful if the urges of the flesh become too stronge.  Paul is a Roman, though; and the Romans and the Greeks weren’t big on polygamy.  So perhaps he simply expected Christian men to marry zero to one wives.  

So these Mormons do have a valid point; nowhere does polygamy violate the letter of the law.  It certainly doesn’t laud it the way modern day polygamists do, but it is never explicitely forbidden.  The good Christians in black face who murdered Joseph Smith certainly felt it violated the SPIRIT of the law, though one could question just how pure their own spirits were.

Mormons didn’t give up polygamy until it was made a requirement for Utah to join union as the 45th state.  But they had a very timely and convenient change of heart, and polygamy was banned.  A pragmatic and necessary decision, though humilating.  Today, Mormons stand firmly against states being able to decide whether a marriage is between one man and one women or not.   I can’t help but feel this is ironic, and wonder if it is lost on them.

When asked why they supported Proposition 8 in California, invariably they would cite the Holy Bible.  The very same Bible that allows polygamy.  Check.

I do love “Big Love”, it is a well done show about a fascinating religious subculture.  The script is typical high quality HBO ( Six Feet Under, Sopranos, Deadwood).  The cast is great, and Bill Paxton doesn’t screw it up too bad.  I’m sympathetic to the characters, but in the end their ideals are unworkable.  Mainly because women aren’t allowed multiple husbands, and that’s just sexist.  Without that to balance things out the numbers just don’t add up, there wouldn’t be enough women to go around.