Monday, January 03, 2005

 

The Power of Prayer?

Do you remember the "Miracle Study" published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine and co-authored by two Columbia University scientists that purported to show that "[w]omen who were prayed for became pregnant twice as often as those who did not have people praying for them''?
It turns out (big surprise) that this study is most likely hogwash. http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/living/health/10553703.htm?1c
The third author and the organizer of the "prayer groups" is Daniel P. Wirth, a/k/a, John Wayne Truelove, Rudy Wirth and Rudolph Wirth, who is now doing time for embezzling $2 million from Adelphia Cable. Evidently, the power of prayer couldn't save him from 5 years in the federal pokey. I wonder if this story will get as much ink as the original study "results".

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What really disturbs me is the cloaking of fundamentalist belief in scientific trappings. "Intelligent Design" sounds much more palatable than old-fashioned creationism. The creationists have now gone so far as to build a creationist museum: http://www.answersingenesis.org/museum/walkthrough/
This type of thing is much more insidious than pure religious preaching because it tends to blur the edges of science and belief.
 
I think we'll be seeing plenty more of this kind of charlatanism. The fundamentalist Christian element in the U.S., newly emboldened by the presidential election, seems poised to mount an all-out attack on science and enlightened thought.

The Intelligent Design movement was recently in the news, when the Dover, PA school district acted to include it in its high school science curriculum. It's been stopped for now: http://www.timesleader.com/mld/timesleader/news/local/10478405.htm, but this latest attempt to recast creationism as science is pretty disturbing.

Our fundamentalist churches are heavily invested in the notion that the Lord can and will deliver His blessings to the faithful. Most televangelists don't mince words - they promise the flock that if they talk the talk, walk the walk and send fat checks, God will surely deliver a bonanza of bling.

Meanwhile, the imams are telling the poor, benighted Acehnese that the tsunami was a "warning" from Allah to straighten up. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A48407-2005Jan4.html
# posted by coyote7 : 10:25 AM
 
Intelligent Design is an insidious movement indeed. It begins by appropriating to its own use the staggering body of knowledge that has been accumulated by the biological sciences in recent decades, and at an ever-accelerating rate in this millennium. Not just the deciphering of human and animal genomes, but progress in areas like cell biology, neurobiology and biochemistry, continue to demonstrate an almost unthinkable level of complexity, of order, in living systems.

Being something of an amateur naturalist for many years, I often find myself in awe as these wonders are teased out and revealed. What an age in which we live! And how intricate, beguiling - and seemingly improbable - are Nature's handiworks.

In our own technology, humanity seems to be on the verge of an explosion of potential in artifical intelligence and robotics. And yet, can we even conceive of actually building even the simplest truly living organism? How about something as highly evolved as, say, that fly buzzing around my lamp?

To those who say, "Behold ye God's creation", I'm in no position to argue. In school, I had some trouble swallowing pure Darwinian natural selection, which, among other things, holds that such complexity arises from random genetic mutations alone. Even given the vast time scale over which life appears to have evolved, it's always just struck me as a bit too - unlikely. Just a gut feeling.

Of course, Darwin is hardly the state of the art in evolutionary biology today. Lively debates exist as to various forces which may have guided the process of evolution. Therefore, when ID proponents stand up and claim that "Darwinism" is somehow in retreat, there is some truth to it.

Controversy may exist in the scientific community over the process of evolution. The ID theorists, however, make a leap from there to a dishonest conclusion: that scientists disagree as to whether evolution occurred at all. Which is crap.

Considering the fossil record, there is no real room for scientific doubt that evolution - i.e., the descent of higher organisms from lower, change and adaptation of species over time - somehow happened and continues to happen.

After all, what is the alternative? For any given species, however defined, there has to have been one or more individuals who came first. First humans, for example. Either these Adam(s) and Eve(s) were born of some other, non-quite-human parents - in other words, they evolved - or what? God created them out of whole cloth, as finished products? As some kind of cosmic magic act, which is contrary to everything we know about how the world works?

That's what the ID'er are pushing.
 
Reblogging oneself seems somewhat masturbatory, but back in November I posted this:
Was Darwin Wrong?
Sunday while waiting for my son to finish Sunday school, I visited my local Borders to drink coffee and survey the current periodicals. I came upon an old friend, The National Geographic Magazine. I hadn't read the National G in years, but I remembered fondly having a subscription to it when I was in grade school. (when I returned home I almost immediately got a subscription via the internet for my son--it's a real bargain only $19.00). In an article entitled "Was Darwin Wrong?" (to end the suspense, he wasn't--at least about evolution by natural selection), the author, David Quammen, pointed out that in a Gallup poll conducted in the U.S. in February, 2001 no less than 45% of responding adults agreed that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so". Quammen further notes that such statistics have not really varied in polls conducted over the last twenty years.

What the hell is going on?

Evolution is a scientific theory. The use of the word theory by a scientist does not imply a "good guess". A theory is as close as a scientist can come to scientific "fact". A theory should only be discarded when a contrary conclusion is reached or the original theory is disproved by the use of demonstrable facts. The Copernican theory argued that the earth orbits the sun; the Ptolemaic theory argued the opposite. The Copernican theory triumphed because the facts as observed by Galileo and others demonstrated its validity. For some reason, because evolution uses the word theory the unenlightened feel free to reject it and accept creationism or lately "creation science", an undemonstrable article of religious belief.

Why is evolution so unaccepted? One reason is the lack of serious science education in our schools, but more importantly I think its due to the our country's leaders' patronizing attitude toward those who refuse to accept it.

Our president, a product of some of the finest private schools in the country (Andover, Yale, and Harvard Business school) does not seem to take a position on evolution, or at least he seems to (perish the thought) "flip-flop" on its validity: "He [Bush] believes both creationism and evolution ought to be taught," his spokeswoman Mindy Tucker elaborated to Reuters. "He believes it is a question for states and local school boards to decide but believes both ought to be taught." Before blue state liberals mock our beloved leader, they should remember that the sainted Al Gore in 2000 tried exactly the same cop-out position before he was reminded of the Supreme Court's ruling in EDWARDS v. AGUILLARD, 482 U.S. 578 (1987) which held that a Louisiana attempt to require creationism to be taught whenever evolution is taught to be unconstitutional. 482 U.S. 578 . This view by these politicians and others is deeply cynical. The typical pol thinks, so what if I cater to the creationists, who does it hurt? Another example of this catering is the sale of a creationist book at the National Park Service bookstore at the Grand Canyon. The book claims that the canyon was created by Noah's flood.
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/01/08/MNGOI452ET8.DTL

The problem with such catering is that it hurts us all. Creationism is inherently irrational or perhaps better anti-rational. Anti-rational solutions to questions are based on emotion and faith not reason. This country is faced with innumerable problems. An electorate which is ignorant of science or perhaps more accurately anti-science is probably not capable of making informed choices on global warming, AID's, or stem cell research.

I am not anti-religion or religious people. I would rather deal on a daily basis with people whose world view is shaped by the compassion of Jesus Christ than the rationalism and realpoltik of Karl Marx or Pol Pot. But just because a minority of Christianity accepts the creation myth of the Bible as a cosmological and geologic textbook doesn't mean that our schools and other institutions should bend over backwards not to offend them.
 
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