Sound and fury, signifying nothing


Creationists, not local bloggers...There’s a truly great moment in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, when Macbeth voices his last, and perhaps most moving, soliloquy about the fleetingness of life, and the meaning of what we do on this mortal coil. Life is devoid of meaning, he says, and our days are as short as a candle’f brief flame. The ignorant march onward, regardless:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5

A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. What does that remind you of? (And I don’t mean in the local blogosphere. I’m talking about the real world.*)

It makes me think of the ongoing attempts by a group of right-wing, anti-science fundamentalists to force the teaching of mythology and superstition in US public schools instead of scientific fact. And, of course, they are always Republicans (what is it with them and creationism?) voicing that idiot’s tale.

Recently, Huffington Post reported on an attempt to both pave the way for creationism in public schools, and deny climate change science (taking responsibility for human activity’s impact on the planet is verboten among Republicans):

A Republican bill that would have paved the way for creationism to be taught in Colorado schools as well as encouraged teachers to deny the science of climate change was killed in committee on Monday, as expected.

What I have always found ironic is that the Republican fundamentalist views are eerily (and frighteningly) similar to the Taliban’s, just with a change in name for the particular Hairy Thunderer they worship. In fact, creationism is rearing its ugly head in even moderate Muslim countries like Turkey with similar arguments.

The Huffpost goes on to note that this has been a bad year for critical thinking in the USA:

…creationism legislation has been on the rise nationally in the last year, with Tennessee passing a bill similar to Kruse’s proposal, and several other states also proposing (though failing to pass) bills to teach creationism. Louisiana passed a “truth in education” bill in 2008. Earlier this year, former New Hampshire state Rep. Jerry Bergevin (R-Manchester) suggested that the teaching of evolution led to the Columbine massacre and the rise of the Nazi Party. Bergevin left office Wednesday after losing a bid for a second term. New Hampshire lawmakers overrode Gov. John Lynch’s (D) veto earlier this year of a bill that would allow parents to object to any part of the school curriculum and allow the teaching of an alternate curriculum.
A recent report found that students in Texas’ public schools are still learning that the Bible provides scientific evidence that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that astronauts have discovered “a day missing in space in elapsed time” that affirms biblical stories of the sun standing still and moving backwards, and that the United States was founded as a Christian nation based on biblical Christian principles.

So much codswallop in so few lines. Obviously Texas teachers use a different definition for “scientific evidence” than the rest of their nation. In fact, it’s different from the rest of the world. But it’s not surprising:

…according to a 2012 Gallup poll, 46 percent of Americans believe God created humans within the last 10,000 years. Only 15 percent of Americans believed God played no part in human evolution while 32 percent believed that humans had evolved, but that God played a part in that process.

So who is the chair of the Texas Board of Ed? A creationist who worries that the schools aren’t forcing more claptrap down the throats of students. The Dallas Observer ran a story with the headline, The Texas Board of Ed Chair is Upset Schools Aren’t Teaching Evolution “Alternatives”. The article included this quote from the chair, Barbara Cargill, (a Republican, of course) made to a Senate Education Committee:

“Our intent, as far as theories with the [curriculum standards], was to teach all sides of scientific explanations … But when I went on [to the CSCOPE website] last night, I couldn’t see anything that might be seen as another side to the theory of evolution,” she says, according to TFN’s transcript and brief video clip. “Every link, every lesson, every everything, you know, was taught as ‘this is how the origin of life happened, this is what the fossil record proves,’ and all that’s fine, but that’s only one side.”

Duh! There is no other scientific explanation to evolution. Just like there isn’t a scientific alternative for gravity, the speed of light, relativity, quantum physics and chaos theory. One side? You can’t have two sides of fact. Creationism isn’t a theory: it’s a fairy tale, like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

In modern science, the term “theory” refers to scientific theories, a well-confirmed type of explanation of nature, made in a way consistent with scientific method, and fulfilling the criteria required by modern science. Such theories are described in such a way that any scientist in the field is in a position to understand and either provide empirical support (“verify”) or empirically contradict (“falsify”) it. Scientific theories are the most reliable, rigorous, and comprehensive form of scientific knowledge, in contrast to more common uses of the word “theory” that imply that something is unproven or speculative (which is better defined by the word ‘hypothesis’). Scientific theories are also distinguished from hypotheses, which are individual empirically testable conjectures, and scientific laws, which are descriptive accounts of how nature will behave under certain conditions.

Meanwhile, in Missouri, according to the Washington Monthly, another republican is trying to foist fantasy on students from elementary to college level. In the Riverfront Times, it notes:

Missouri Representative Rick Brattin, a Republican, has introduced a bill that would mandate schools across the state give “equal treatment” to the theory of evolution and so-called “intelligent design,” which is similar to creationism. Why? “I’m a science enthusiast,” he tells Daily RFT. “I’m a huge science buff.” He’s not, however, much of a Darwin fan.

He’s a fan of science, but not the scientists? He’s so much a science fan that he rejects one of the core tenets of biology in favour of the superstitious, pseudoscience twaddle called “intelligent” design.**

Brattin tells the paper he’s not just another creationist (really!) trying to force the state to teach his religious claptrap:

But his bill has nothing to do with religion, Brattin says. In fact — it is the opponents who are being religious in their stubborn support of evolution.

Nothing to do with religion? Snort. And calling scientists and teachers who support evolution as being “religious” is a canard. Or rather, a logical fallacy.

The good news in this depressing tale of medieval thinking comes in a small story in the Vail Daily, that noted,

Young adults have taken a dramatic leap from faith. These youthful Americans reject the religious right’s bossy, sanctimonious spirit.

Like Pontius Pilate, a third of adults under 30 have washed their hands evangelical politics.

They avoid religious affiliation whatsoever, reports the Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life. Pew polls indicate these religiously unaffiliated “overwhelmingly think the religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”

The religious right’s political power peaked in the 2004 presidential election.

I don’t agree with that last sentence. I seen little proof that the fundamentalists – the American Taliban – have receded. The last Back in 2002, Slate predicted the “end of creationism” as a political force:

Intelligent design, as defined by its advocates, means nothing. This is the way creationism ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Hasn’t happened yet. I see the GOP pushing more mindless religious ideologues like Paul Broun into the spotlight to spout their own ridiculously embarrassing sound and fury:

During the 2012 campaign, Broun was most notable in a video segment that went viral when he gave a presentation in front of a wall mounted with a dozen deer heads and complained that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory were all “lies from the pit of hell.” Broun is on the House Committee of Science, Space and Technology.

As of Feb. 1, four US states were considering anti-science bills to force teaching creationism in their schools (Colorado’s bill was subsequently defeated, as noted above). But the real keynote in the story is towards the end:

A June 2012 Gallup poll asked some 1,000 Americans nationwide about their thoughts on the origin of human life. The survey revealed that 46 percent of Americans believe God created human beings. Numerous creation science advocates continue to hope that the Intelligent Design theory will make its way into US public schools, though they have not been very successful so far.

With such a high percentage of people who believe in pseudoscience rather than science, it will be difficult to change the current trend towards increasing the mass stupidity. Americans clearly don’t wish to be the pioneers of science, space exploration and medicine in the future.

I think we’ve still got a long way to go before we see the end of this particular idiot’s tale. I see little to hope for in American politics when wingnuts like the anti-science child of privilege, Paul Ryan, gets nominated for vice president. Maybe the new generation of American voters will change that, but I won’t hold my breath waiting.


* Okay, creationists are delusional and don’t really partake in the real world any more than some local bloggers. But they act on a larger stage and have real influence. Creationists join their NRA-gun-toting wingnuts as foolosophers (my comment on the fools of the gun debate is here).

** “Intelligent” design isn’t. It’s lipstick on the creationist pig (or more properly, a lab coat…). But like wearing a stethoscope around your neck won’t make anyone a doctor, calling superstition “science” won’t make it so, either.

Doonesbury cartoon

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    • Thank you for the comment, Colin. Rather than try to convince you of the scientific truth of evolutionary theory, I recommend you read something by an author educated and trained in the science of evolutionary biology and paleontology. Among my favourites are Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould, but there are many others who can explain the science more adeptly.

      If you wish to read more on the various debates within evolution theory that have arisen over the last century-and-a-half, I recommend Gould’s magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. I will admit it’s a bit of a slog through almost 1,500 pages of discussion on how Darwin’s ideas have themselves evolved since his book. However, it does track how the science of evolution has grown, become refined, and spawned many fascinating intellectual and academic debates (especially over mechanism). I myself have not finished it, but rather find it necessary to read it in more digestible bits over a longer period. For a more succinct version of the history of evolutionary thought, I recommend Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy from The Great Courses.

      Climate change as cyclical? Well at least variable rather than steady state. I would not disagree; paleontological evidence contains many records of climate change through the fossil record. But it’s clear any cycle has been altered by human activity in the past century. Again, rather than argue the science, I refer you to the papers put out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, particularly the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report from 2007. These reports are the work of thousands of scientists from all over the world. I would suggest that their research, done over decades and peer-reviewed, is somewhat more trustworthy that the unqualified comments by a Republican politician in the pay of the oil and gas lobby. Unless, of course, you believe that there is a conspiracy among tens of thousands of scientists in 160 or so countries to hoodwink conservative politicians and Tea Party members.

      As for the Flat Earth Society – were one to be formed, since such a belief would be illogical and unscientific, I expect its membership would require a belief in creationism, so I would be barred from joining. Besides, I doubt I’d feel comfortable among all the fundamentalist Republican members.

      And finally: as for my posts being wordy, I write for myself. Writing is my creative release, a hobby, a profession and a passion. I don’t write these for you or for anyone else any more than I play my musical instruments for your benefit. I write because that’s what I do.

  1. My point is that with many of these issues including creationism and climate change discussion or research into opposing views isnt even being allowed. I was being flip with the “flat earth society” comment because your blog does suggest that any other view other than Darwinism is fodder for bible thumping, gun toting Republicans which is not the case. I believe that if scientists wish to research creative design that should be supported as much as Darwinism.
    You are free to blog as you wish, as I am free to comment on it.

    • Actually, Colin, there is no scientific alternative to evolution. There are scientific alternatives to the various mechanisms that drive evolution, but they all refer back to the basic tenet. You can certainly teach the various arguments for and against the different theories of what makes evolution work, but that’s not a choice between science and superstition.

      There is no scientific basis for creationism or “intelligent” design. There is no scientific basis for ANY creation myth. Just as there is no scientific basis for believing in pixies or leprechauns.

      Can you do scientific research into how Ra created the air god Shu and his wife Tefnut the goddess of moisture? Or how Khnum created the living creatures on his potter’s wheel, and modelled the animals, plants and people?

      Can you research Tepeu and Gucumatz sat together and by thinking created the earth, the mountains, trees, and sky, and animals? Or how, with the help of Mountain Lion, Coyote, Parrot, and Crow they fashioned four new beings who became ancestors of the Quiché?

      What about Odin? Odin and his brothers slew the frost giant Ymir, and made the earth from his flesh, and the rocks and stones from his shattered bones and teeth. From Ymir’s blood, they made the rivers and lakes, and from his brains, they shaped the clouds. Should we be teaching Odin’s “intelligent” design?

      Creation myths are just that: myths. They can be taught in anthropology or comparative religion classes, but do not belong in biology classes. However, teaching the various theories about the mechanism of evolution – such as Gould’s ‘punctuated equilibrium’ – would be appropriate for older students.

      And yes, those who claim the Hebrew myth in Genesis (the first one; the second creation myth is different from the first and problematic for creationists) is the true story of how the world began, and claim it is any different from any other creation myth or is any more authoritative than those by the Ancient Egyptians, the Mayans and the Norse (shown above), are “bible thumpers” (your term). That’s because they are Christian fundamentalists and literalists. No other group – not even other Christians – makes such claims. Demographically this group tends to be Republican by a large percentage (Pew Research figures, not mine).

      Darwin was a pioneer, but the science has developed considerably since Darwin (have you read Origin of Species? I have. It’s not ‘Darwinism’ but ‘natural selection’ just like it’s not ‘Einsteinism’ – it’s ‘relativity’). The book by Gould I recommended documents more than a century of research and refinement, including the development of genetics, microbiology, and other new fields of study. DNA analysis has shown that evolution happens. We have evolution within our own hospitals – viruses and bacteria evolving defence mechanisms against our medicines. Take out evolution and you remove the fundamental reason for this happening – unless you believe the Cosmic Muffin is still tinkering with viral DNA in order to confound us. Evolution is a fact, not a hypothesis, not myth.

      Evolution underpins everything in modern biology. Take it out and the rest collapses (the entire fields of paleontology and paleobotany must thus be entirely wrong). How can paleontology be a valid science in a world 10,000 years old?

      Evolution underpins astronomy, cosmology and physics. If the world is 10,000 or fewer years old, then those sciences collapse. The speed of light can’t be right and Einstein’s theories collapse (the stars must really be little angels fooling our instruments to make us believe they’re millions of millions of miles away based on measuring the speed of light, and that some things we see in our telescopes are billions of years old, not 10,000).

      Scientists are free to research whatever they please. Should they wish to research UFOs, astrology or phrenology – they always have been able to do so. And some have. There are no laws preventing people from making fools of themselves. What people research with their own or private money has nothing to do with what is taught in publicly-funded schools.

    • Just in case you missed it, here’s one gun-toting, bible thumping Republican who believes the Earth is 9,000 years old AND that hammers and baseball bats kill more people than his beloved guns:

      According to FBI data, 8,583 people were murdered with firearms in 2011. Only 496 people were killed by blunt objects, a category that includes not just hammers and baseball bats but crowbars, rocks, paving stones, statuettes, and electric guitars.

      Both beliefs are wrong, by the way.

      • Gun control in the US is a conversation for another day. I will link you to my blog when I am ready to have it.

        (pro-creationist comments removed by moderator).

        You and many who have the same political persuasion as you, (who incidentally are in positions of power in most universities) think that does not warrant any more study or discussion. I do not agree with that. I am not sure what else there is left for you and I to discuss other than you calling me a stupid knuckle dragging red neck and me calling you a melee mouthed pinko socialist. Which I have no problem doing if you wish to continue.

    • Colin: I have edited your reply. Out of respect for you, I left in the link, but I took out the quote.

      I do not wish to have anything supporting the pernicious disinformation of “intelligent” design posted on my site. Others can click though and go to the site should they wish to pursue it.

      ID is simply creationism wearing a rented lab coat. It’s fundamentalist religious claptrap. You are welcome to believe in it all you wish. To me it is anathema to everything I believe in about science, critical thinking, logic and even faith. Should you wish, I will post a plethora of links to sites that will discredit the pseudoscience of ID and explain why it is as scientific and intelligent as phrenology. Some of the writers are devout Christians, by the way, who recognize that these biblical stories are simply stories, not some universal truth about the origins of the universe.

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