Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Play Misty for me

I had been intending to write about a geological topic but I have recently come across some cutting-edge creation research from those folks at the Answers Research Journal

One of the big problems for biblical literalists is how Noah's Ark was able to house the multitude of species that we either know to exist or to have existed, as Genesis states that Noah was ordered to take two of every kind aboard.  A standard creationist tactic is to frame the argument as a question of semantics and in the case of Noah's Ark they  latched onto the meaning of "kind." This gave rise to the invention of "baramins" an arbitrary classification of life forms separated from Linnaean taxonomy largely by gut feeling and which completely ignores evidence from genetics and DNA. 

However, one area where science and creationism can probably agree is that cuddly stuffed toys have their own particular baramin/clade. A recent post at ARJ by creationist veterinarian Jean K. Lightner, oops sorry, Dr. Jean K. Lightner - creationists love appeals to authority - attempts to divide mammals into as few groups as possible so that the minimum number of "kinds" can be ascribed to the Ark menagerie. This "scholarly" essay - AIG describe her as an 'Independent Scholar' - is embellished with sample images including one of a plush gliding possum puppet named Misty.

Misty, a member of the fluffy toy baramin
Now, if there is one person whom you might expect to distinguish between a real animal and a kid's toy then surely it would be a veterinarian. No wonder Jean only practised for 3 years before retiring to bring up her four children. For someone who wanted to be a vet from when they were 13 years old this is epic fail.

You can get your own Misty from http://www.secretgully.com.au

Saturday, 2 October 2010

A statement of purpose

I was born an atheist, was indoctrinated to be a Christian and then became an agnostic. To all intents and purposes I am actually a fully-fledged atheist, but because somebody invented the concept of god(s) whose existence can neither be proved nor disproved I am forced to adopt the position of agnostic. So I am agnostic of Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, Ra, Zeus, Ahura Mazda, Baal, Quetzalcoatl, Inti, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, the Flying Spaghetti Monster and all the other deities that humans have invented to explain how our the universe came to be created, what is the purpose of our life and how we should behave in order to placate these usually nasty and angry overlords. I have to be agnostic of these deities because there is no direct evidence for their existence and I cannot prove their non-existence, although there is a woeful lack of evidence to provide a reason for belief in the first place. In fact the sheer number of different religions is almost a convincing argument that they are all wrong, for if one was truly right the there would never have been cause for the others to have come into existence.

But my purpose here is not to attack religions per se, for greater minds than mine have discussed the existence or non-existence of a deity in greater depth than I am prepared or can be bothered to go. For the question of how the universe was created ultimately rests on a “prime mover” or first cause. By assigning a creator to the universe then we are left with the question of where did the creator come from? This is a something that neither religion or science can answer because it is essentially unknowable. All that mankind can do is speculate and hypothesise. Even the nature of the Universe is beyond our understanding. While physicists may suggest different topographies or multiverses they run counter to our everyday experience where things are directly perceived by our senses and have limited size. The Universe is big. It’s really, really huge and according to current scientific thought, has existed for 13 billion years. However, when we ascribe a starting point to something our common sense tells us that there was a time before that, a time before the thing existed. If we think that the Universe had a fixed starting point at some time in our past then we might wonder, what was there before that, before the Big Bang? Even if we accept that the Universe oscillates from Big Bang to Big Crunch over and over again in perpetuity, then the notion of infinite time both past and future is beyond our comprehension when our own life may only last a century if we are fortunate. The same applies to space; the concept of an ever expanding universe begs the question what is it expanding into? What is beyond the limits of the Universe? Some scientists have suggested that the space is curved or toroidal. These are great ideas for theoretical physics but are largely incomprehensible to the lay person and the idea of a god or creator outside the Universe does not answer the question where they might reside. Heaven is no more a satisfactory an answer than infinity.

So I do not intend to grapple with the nature of the Universe or a creator. Our life on Earth is of more immediate concern. Humankind is a rapidly expanding species and at some point we will approach the limits of what our planet can sustain. It is important that we can deal with the situation through rational discourse or else we will be condemned to major global conflicts which will benefit no-one.

As an atheist I do not accept the dictats of religions which are often more concerned with flattering an imaginary deity or being obligated to follow obscure rituals which seem designed to differentiate and isolate one group from the others. There are still codes of ethics which do not rely on decree but on common sense, Ways of living together that are in our common interest. Some religious people insist that atheists have no morals and without fear of damnation or punishment are free to rape, murder or steal from others. I may be strong now but I know that I was not in the past and will not be in the future. Ensuring that society takes care of the young, the weak and the old will benefit me at different times in my life. Enacting laws against rape, murder and theft, and enforcing punishment for transgressions in this world protects me and my loved ones. It is not a question of divine command, it is simply the best way that can all get along without descending into warfare and having to live our lives in continual fear.

Of course many religions espouse certain good behaviours as central tenets of their faith, although I would feel a lot happier if they were more universally subscribed to by their followers. For humans to live together in peace and harmony means that we need to have common standards. Unfortunately religions often impose or require certain behaviours that are not universally endorsed and then try to insist that those same things are legally or forcibly imposed on those outside of the religion. This is really the source of most of the religious conflict in the world today and it is exacerbated by those who adopt a fundamentalist approach to their religion and follow dogma rather than reason, when scientific evidence and rational thought is rejected in favour of ancient traditions and myth. I believe that is only by examining the evidence of the world around us and coming to a common understanding based on facts and evidence that we can all live in peace for generations to come. For me as a geologist this requires examining the evidence and acknowledging that Earth has been in existence for a very long time rather than the few millennia that some religious people believe. It is about honesty and truth rather than blind faith in a single ancient manuscript. Many Christians already accept the idea of an ancient Earth and manage to incorporate it into their worldview but there is an increasing number of those who do not know better and who are not encouraged to know better. It is to this latter group that wish to direct this blog and show that the evidence for an old Earth is irrefutable and that any evidence to the contrary is either at best a will o’ the wisp or at worst a deliberate deception through smoke and mirrors