Saturday, August 16, 2008

Humanity existed long before Yahweh

It must be wonderful to be a palaeontologist and find amazing things like this recent site in the Sahara desert. Dated to 9000 years old these human remains offer us a view into a long extinct tribe that habited the area during a period when it was lush and green.

The skeletons are of a mother and two children; we don't know how they died but it was most probably from an infection by some microbe that they had no inkling even existed. We don't know if they died a painful death or if they simply slipped away in their sleep, but it is clear from the posture and arrangement of the bones that these people were strongly linked somehow.

It sends a chill down my spine when I think that there are almost certainly people walking around today in Africa or perhaps elsewhere who are direct ancestors of these individuals or more probably the survivors of whatever plague killed this particular family.

We like to think we are superior, some with our modern gods and others with our scientific advancements but when the soil was examined around these bones the team discovered a very high concentration of pollen grains, strongly suggesting that the bodies were laid on a bed of flowers.

The humanity of this scene jumps out and grabs you by the throat; we are not superior to these people, we ARE these people, we are not special nor are we destined for any more noble a fate, their legacy is our DNA, in a sense it belongs to them, we're just looking after it whilst we briefly dance in the sunshine.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Politician suffers brain death... but soldiers on

They’re at it again, Irish politicians, banging on about their ridiculous fairytales (see here for the previous loony tune); this time I offer you Mr Mervyn Storey a member (for North Antrim) of the DUP party in Northern Ireland and chair of the education committee there. Merv seems to be a seriously confused individual, he can’t seem to distinguish from ideas that only exist inside his head and REALITY, Merv thinks they are the same thing. Only this week he called for creationism to be taught alongside evolution in science classes (read it here), actually Merv admitted that he’d rather throw evolution out apparently because it’s “just a theory and not a proven fact”, just like gravity and the germ theory of disease then? So, if we throw out all the “theories” from science lessons then we’d be left with just the certainties, of course, doh!

Now as any rational person (religious or not) can see, there are a couple of obvious problems with Merv’s demands, lets look at them in more detail,

Anyone with even a basic understanding of the scientific method knows there is no such thing as a “proven fact”; the only thing mankind has that comes anywhere close to that are ideas and concepts that have so much irrefutable evidence that we assume them to be proven. For example gravity, bacteria, aerodynamics, molecules, electricity, DNA, the speed of light (none of these things are directly experienced in everyday life, but the evidence for them is so overwhelming we take them for granted) so we all lead our lives assuming that they are “facts”, actually our very lives depend on these “theories” from time to time. So then the term “theory” in science doesn’t mean the same thing that it does in everyday speech, it DOESN’T mean “hunch” or “guess”, in science a theory is the highest level of “idea” possible a theory explains observed facts and predicts what will happen, for example the theory of gravity explains and predicts what will happen if someone dropped a cricket bat on Mervyn’s head from the top of the Europa hotel in Belfast.

I don’t know Mr Storey so I cannot comment on his honesty but I do respect his electoral mandate (this is a democracy after all). Therefore all I can do is assume that he is sincere in his rationale, so then it turns out that his core assumption about what evolution actually is; i.e. the thing which he supposedly bases his whole argument on, is utterly wrong, one quick Google would have straightened it out for him (perhaps they don’t have the internet where he’s from?)

Another little issue for Mervyn is that assuming creationism is somehow “taught” in science lessons, which version should be taught?, there are so many! For example, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Babylonian, Celtic, Aztec, Apache, Aborigine etc. ad nausea, ah of course, Mervyn is a Christian; so obviously it’s Genesis then… hold on a minute, there are two contradicting creation stories in the book of Genesis, which one is the scientific one then Merv? Poor old Merv, seems like this is not the straightforward equality issue that he would like us to think it is, I know, let’s take a look at the response from Caitriona Ruane, the current NI education Minister, surely she will inject some common (secular) sense into the matter?

Well apparently not, she says, "This is not about removing anything from the classroom – although that would probably be the ideal for me – but this is about us having equality of access to other views as to how the world came into existence and that I think is a very, very important issue for many parents in Northern Ireland.", hold on, who said anything about denying access to creation stories, don’t most religious parents already indoctrinate children at home and at Sunday school with their particular creation myths, so why do they need to be taught in science classes as well?

I have an idea, a simple straightforward system that will sort this out once and for all so that everyone is happy, how about we restrict ourselves to teaching stuff to kids in science classes only from the set of things that we have overwhelming scientific evidence for; then we can all be secure in the knowledge that the things being taught to our kids as "science" represent man kind’s current best attempt at explaining reality, nothing more and nothing less. If we use this as our entry criteria for science then all creationists have to do to get their ideas taught (as science) is to provide overwhelming evidence for creationism, i.e. what observable facts does it explain and what predictions does it make that can be shown to be true. In addition to this of course, creationism would also have to explain all observed facts, and if those facts refute it then creationism as an idea would have to be abandoned and consigned to history books, still want it called science Merv?

So, all Mr Storey and his creationist buddies need to do is explain how creationism accounts for things like,

-The entire fossil record and their relative positions in the rock strata
-Where did the dinosaurs go Merv?
-All forms of radiometric dating of organic samples and rocks (why is it wrong?)
-The taxonomy of living things and their distribution on planet.
-Why create 13 different species of finch on different Galapagos Islands for example?
-Comparative DNA evidence, why is our DNA 98% the same as chimpanzees?
-Anatomical evidence, why are species body plans so similar (including the duff bits?)
-Why would God create blind fish in caves that actually have eyes that don't work?
-Plate tectonics and ocean floor spread, which indicates our earth is billions of years old
-Microbial resistance to antibiotics
-Specialisation of species conforming to environmental differences
-Transitional fossils
-Sexual selection

etc.. etc.. (Hint, the answer "god did it because he can" explains nothing...)

So then, evidence for creation, um, anything, anything at all…

Still waiting…

Nothing so far…