Episode 11: Alternative Marriage

Episode 11: Alternative Marriage

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, host Laura Targownik discusses some secular and skeptical perspectives on non-traditional marriage with Ashlyn Noble, Jeff Olsson, and Anlina Sheng.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Winnipeg Sun “Editorial: Rainbow conniption over ‘queer’ pledge” | Winnipeg Free Press “Three’s Company: Polyamory in Winnipeg” | Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jetha | The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Fundamentalism in Canada by Marci McDonald | Leaving Faith Behind by Jeffery Olsson

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Episode 10: Hidden Meanings in Music, Part 1

Episode 10: Hidden Meanings in Music, Part 1

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Leslie Saunders takes Paul Brown, Robert Shindler and Greg Christensen on a musical journey to find hidden meanings.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: 12 Days of Christmas | Musicam Sacram: Instruction on Music in the Liturgy | Backmasking

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Episode 6: Waging War on Christmas

Episode 6: Waging War on Christmas

In this episode of Life, the Universe, & Everything Else, Scott, Gem, Laura, and Jeff discuss the so-called War on Christmas. Happy Holidays from everyone at Life, the Universe, & Everything Else!

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Keep Christ in Christmas | Jeremiah 10:2–4 | Premier Brad Wall’s Christmas Message | Secular Holiday Alternatives | Leaving Faith Behind

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Humanists, Skeptics “Attack” Youth for Christ

Jeff Olsson and I were interviewed yesterday by Michael Gryboski of the Christian Post (the most Christian of posts) for a piece he was writing on the subject of the Youth for Christ recreational centre that is preparing to open in downtown Winnipeg.

The article, entitled “Humanists, Skeptics Criticize New Youth For Christ Rec Center”, has now gone live. This is what Jeff and I had to say:

Youth For Christ will soon be opening up a rec center in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which has stirred attacks from residents via the Winnipeg Free Press. Complaints ranged from a preference for a secular facility directed towards helping disadvantaged youth to concerns over it being built via government assistance.

“I agree with the numerous criticisms being leveled at Mayor Sam Katz and Youth For Christ,” said Jeffrey Olsson of the Humanist Association of Manitoba to CP. “This Youth for Christ center is yet another example of government intrusion into private citizens religious lives because they have no other recreation center to use.”

Olsson compared the YFC facility to that of past efforts by Canadian Christian organizations to evangelize aboriginal children, which he said resulted in thousands of disaffected youth.

Meanwhile, Gem Newman of Winnipeg Skeptics said that while he did not oppose YFC establishing their center, he was concerned about the government involvement.

“Instead of providing the youth in the area with a place they can feel comfortable, whatever their religious or philosophical inclination, the mayor has instead effectively given Youth For Christ a megaphone for their religious message,” said Newman.

Notwithstanding the fact that the author decided to characterise legitimate criticism as an “attack”, I think that the article was fairly balanced; certainly more than I expected. Jeff and I were asked to respond to criticisms levelled against the centre in this Winnipeg Free Press article. Although we were only given a few sentences, I don’t think that our positions were misrepresented in any way. All the same, some of our more cogent criticisms were not included in the final article. For that reason, I’ll include the text of the interview here.

Do you agree with the concerns and criticisms published in the Winnipeg paper?

Jeff: I agree with the numerous criticisms being leveled at Mayor Sam Katz and Youth For Christ. I will explain below in detail.

Gem: I do. I’m always wary when a sectarian religious organisation is given government funds, because this results in undue entanglement between the religious goals of the organisation and the (presumably) secular goals of the government. It can result in the appearance of government endorsement of the religious or philosophical perspective of the organisation.

Do you know of any connections the rec center has to the state? That is to say, was it built with tax dollars, jointly operated by city council, etc.?

Jeff: The Youth for Christ center was built with federal and city money … and was partially backed by private donations directly to the religious organization. It is completely controlled by YFC, with no city or federal direction being given for day to day operations.

Gem: To my knowledge, YFC has received [much] of its roughly $13.5 million budget from the government.

During the interview Jeff and I ballparked the amount of government funds that YFC received, but as we were on a very tight schedule I didn’t have the opportunity to look it up until afterward. While it’s tough to get an exact number, it appears that the centre received $3.2 million in federal funds and between $3.2 and $4.2 million in municipal funds, for a total of $6.2–7.2 million. The total cost of the project has been variously quoted as $9.6 million, $11.7 million, and $13.2 million. (Source, source, source. If any readers have access to more precise information on this subject, feel free to leave links in the comments.)

Specific details aside, it seems that the project is majority funded by federal and municipal tax dollars.

Do you believe that groups like Youth for Christ have good intentions? Do you believe they do much good for the communities they serve in?

Jeff: Of course YFC has good intentions. The central premise of their mission is that by bringing christ into the lives of youth, they will help to mentor and apostle youth and help them, to become better members of society. There is simply no evidence that this is true. There is evidence that drawing children further away from their parents, and removing them for their traditional cultural beliefs does damage as it divides the house hold on religious lines. Canadians have plenty of experience with this after the tragic residential schools program that forced 150,000 aboriginal youth into christian residential schools. This resulted in thousands of disaffected citizens, thousands of broken homes and a federal class action law suit against the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and United churches, and the federal government costing taxpayers billions of dollars. The law suit was won and payments are currently being made to tens of thousands of former students. Point Douglas residents have politely raised this issue at public hearings for the YFC center, only to be dismissed. Government intrusion into the religious lives of Canadians is just not unacceptable. This Youth for Christ center is yet another example of government intrusion into private citizens religious lives because they have no other recreation center to use. They could have built and funded a small recreation center and everyone would have been ecstatic.

Gem: The youth in this area are at serious risk. While I find the idea of preaching to those who are vulnerable in this way to be distasteful, I recognise the rights of a religious institution to attempt to sway those to whom it gives aid toward its philosophical perspective. What I find most troubling, however, is that the government is effectively amplifying Youth for Christ’s message. If the government had spent its [money] to build its own recreational centre, youth in the area would have two places they could go: a small sectarian centre and a large secular one. Instead, they have only a large sectarian centre, funded mostly by the government. Instead of providing the youth in the area with a place they can feel comfortable, whatever their religious or philosophical inclination, the mayor has instead effectively given Youth for Christ a megaphone for their religious message.

Jeff: A bit of history: Until YFC arrived, there was no recreation complex in Point Douglas, the poorest area of Winnipeg and this YFC center was put forth as an alternative by our Mayor, Sam Katz and federal officials. Area residents had asked government for funding for a small a recreation/sports centre with paid staff and they instead got the YFC center. Community leaders had also asked for more money for youth programs to be directed to aboriginal youth and monies for those programs are being diverted for the YFC center. The youth drop in centers I refer to were not religious in nature, anyone would feel comfortable there.

A large number of the residents in this area are aboriginal and follow traditional aboriginal teachings rather than Christianity. Winnipeg has a population of 675,000 people of which 72,000 are aboriginal. Point Douglas has the highest percentage of aboriginal people in all of Winnipeg and is one of the largest urban gatherings of aboriginal people in North America. Aboriginal religious leaders for the areas are very concerned that this center will have an undue religious influence on their youth, leading them away from traditional beliefs. Parents are worried that YFC’s large multimedia stage will be used to send an overtly Christian message to any child who would attend a function at the center.

Meanwhile funding for aboriginal youth drop in centers has been dropped to at least two small organizations since the announcement for the new YFC center was made causing the, to close. Concerns have also been raised at other YFC locations in Winnipeg because the organization evangelizes aggressively, stopping sports events for a paid volunteer to lead “prayer time” and deliver a Christian message. Some youth who are not christian are pressured to participate in the ritual or be ostracized, where they have to leave while the message is being delivered. There is no simple way to opt out of the religious instruction. As president of the Humanist Association of Manitoba I have heard these complaints personally and I take such matters very seriously, especially when tax dollars are being used as a basis for funding.

Finally, there is the issue of tax dollars being used to Fund an evangelistic religious organization. This is a concern from a civil liberties perspective. Canada, is by definition multicultural we are not a “melting pot” as you are in the US.

Gem: I’m glad that the youth in the area have some place to go, but I think that government money is best spent on secular approaches to problems to avoid undue entanglement between religion and government. When I donate money to a charitable organisation, I want to know that it is going toward helping people in empirically demonstrable ways, rather than toward indoctrination. Canada already has a troubled history when it comes to religiously motivated mistreatment of aboriginal youth, and I’d hate to think that we haven’t learned from our mistakes.

So, what do you think? Were Jeff and I totally off base? We’re interested in hearing your thoughts about the article, what we had to say, and about the youth centre itself.

Edit: I amended the second paragraph above to include the title of the CP article, as several commenters had assumed (because of the title of this post) that the title of the CP article was “Humanists, Skeptics Attack New Youth For Christ Rec Center”. I used the word “attack” in scare quotes here because it had been used in the CP article to describe legitimate criticism of the youth centre. Sorry for the confusion!

Episode 2: Religion and Skepticism

Episode 2: Religion and Skepticism

In this episode of Life, the Universe, & Everything Else, Gem, Ashlyn, Scott, and Robert talk about their experience with religion and the relationship between religion and skepticism.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

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SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2011: The Videos, Part 1

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2011: The Videos, Part 2
SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2011: The Videos, Part 3

SkeptiCamp is an open conference celebrating science and critical thinking. For more information please visit SkeptiCamp.org.

Logical Fallacies (A Spoonful of Sugar)

Paul Nordin is a member of the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Winnipeg Secularists. He is currently majoring in philosophy at the University of Winnipeg.

Free Will: What is it? and Do we have it?

Gem Newman graduated with distinction from the University of Manitoba with a B.Sc. in Computer Science, specialising in Artificial Intelligence. He founded the Winnipeg Skeptics in 2010, and more recently he co-produced a short documentary called “The Nonbelievers’ Beliefs” with fellow skeptic Scott Carnegie. He blogs at WinnipegSkeptics.com, StartledDisbelief.com, and occasionally at SkepticsOnThe.Net.


Jeff Olsson is a former Anglican priest and the current president of the Humanist Association of Manitoba. His book, Leaving Faith Behind, is available on Amazon from Xlibris. The Humanist Association of Manitoba can be found at mb.humanists.ca.


This isn’t my story—I don’t really have a deconversion story. The following is a guest post from Tim Herd, a fellow software developer and member of the Winnipeg Skeptics. Tim, an avid redditor, can be found online at The Flagcarrier. This entry is cross-posted from his blog.

“It is they who see this charade for what it is and join in the pageantry who are to blame.”

—Wiegraf Folles

Today I attended the monthly “Drinking Skeptically” meeting from our local skeptics association. I’ve been skipping it, but I thought I’d go tonight on account of it would help with my being-antisocial problem.

At one point, the topic of Christian upbringings came up. It seems that most of our members were either raised secularly, or given some meaningless wishy-washy version of Christianity that might as well not have been. Maybe not atheism per se, but secularism was the default for them. But not for me. After going through my story a bit, I’ve realized that I would really like a canonical record I can point people to, so I don’t have to keep telling the story and accidentally changing it every time. So, here goes.

First, my background. I was raised, as far as faith is concerned, by a Mennonite mother and a homebrew-protestant father. For those of you unaware, Mennonites are an anabaptist branch of protestantism. Due to 500 years of living in reclusive colonies, they are also effectively their own cultural group. Imagine Ukranians, that speak German, and are devoutly religious, but not in your face about it at all. That is Mennonites. They have a fairly agreeable doctrine, it’s very traditional but not conservative so to speak. They are also pretty progressive. They have great social services they provide, and in general with them it is always help first, proselytize second. All things considered, they are generally a fairly good version of christianity. Obviously though, I still have some disagreements.

My stepdad’s homegrown protestantism, on the other hand, was different. It was a very serious thing, for one. He was of a fundamentalist mindset, but in a very different way. Where most fundamentalists in the States, for instance, look at the physical descriptions in the Bible as literal truth, my stepdad never did. The earth was probably billions of years old, but who cares. If the scientists tell us evolution happened, then God did it. But the moral precepts in the Bible were taken extremely literally. These are the rules. You have to follow them. You have to like them. If you don’t, Hell.

Growing up, I took my “faith” extremely seriously (up until my story here begins, anyway). After all, one wrong move and I’m burning in Hell forever, and that’s a long time. This fucked me up royally. I never had youthful indiscretions. To do that would be a sin. You always hear about the “straight edge” kids. The kids at church private schools who look all prim and proper, and then go lesbian experiment with their first-cousins, drink at 14, sell cocaine, sleep with their youth pastor (all true stories of people I personally know, btw). I was never like that. I never drank. I never smoked. I never even SAW a drug. I never kissed a girl, because what if she’s not religious enough. I never shoplifted. I never lied. I never disobeyed my parents, in any significant way. Because to do that, would be hell.

A lot of people have a strong emotional connection to their religion. I never did. To me, it was quite simple, cut and dry. This book is true. It says I have to do X. Therefore, I’m doing X. No emotional connection required. Part of this was my natural tendencies; I am a computer programmer, and prone to both literal, and critical/rational thinking. But part of this was my parents. You see, my stepdad also took religion very seriously. To him, an emotional connection to religion was evil. After all, if you’re having an emotional connection to, say, the church hymn, you’re gratifying yourself instead of worshipping Jesus. We actually switched churches, three times, and finally ended up no longer attending, because the congregations treated it too much like a social outing, and not enough like the very real threat of hellfire it was.

Because this was a very serious thing to me, I read the entire Bible, cover to cover. Not cherry-picking verses like they like to do, but like an actual book, starting at the front and ending at the back. Unlike almost every other theist-turned-skeptic I know, I was not shocked by the Bible’s insanity. To me, that made no sense. The Bible DEFINED sane, so if I didn’t agree with it, I was wrong. But this had an important effect on me nonetheless.

Remember Mennonites? The specific part of the specific city I live in has one of the highest concentration of Mennonites in the world. There were 12 Mennonite churches within walking distance of my house. A large number of my peers at school were Mennonite. And some of them were really religious. As I started to get close to some of them, I noticed something. None of them were nearly as serious about it as I was. And, well, I considered myself to be doing just the bare minimum to get by. Some of the more openly pious ones (reminiscent of that story about the pharisees praying outside) would not even associate with me, because I “wasn’t religious enough”; I didn’t attend their youth groups with them. To me, their youth groups were nothing but an excuse to socialize, while simultaneously being arrogant and holier-than-thou because they filled their weekly church quota. I would talk to some of these more pious peers, and find out that their Biblical literacy was pathetic. Some didn’t even own a Bible. None of them knew what it said. They all violated the commandments within the Bible daily, and they didn’t even think this was a big deal. In my indoctrinated mind, not taking the Bible seriously was like condemning yourself to Hell with no chance of being saved. And that all these people, including the “most religious” friends I had, acting like it was no big deal? The dissonance was disturbing.

For a while, I could convince myself that those people were just “not true Christians”. The persecution complex that the Bible advocates played well. Obviously, in a church of say 1000 people, there may only be 20 “true Christians”. This was, after all, the rhetoric that my parents preached in our “homechurching” every Sunday, so it made perfect sense. While this is complete bullshit, I believed it right around age 15-17, at the perfect time to ensure I would be socially retarded forever and alienate all the people who could otherwise still be my friends. But I couldn’t believe this forever. Two main things contributed to this.

The first thing was that I sung in the church choir. At the time, we attended a small community church, populated mostly by the elderly. So, the church choir was made up of two main groups of people: The Elderly, and The Preacher’s Family. I assumed, naievely, that the pastor’s family would be of higher theological calibre than other church attendees. But what I saw contradicted this. The preacher and his family, as far as I could tell, sung in the choir simply because, well, that was expected. Where my stepdad had me convinced that I needed to sing to prove that I loved Jesus, the preacher’s family was singing because “what would they think if they saw the preacher’s family not in the choir?”. The internal politics of church life, the putting up images, the constant judging everyone elses’ piety. This was all so strongly distasteful to me that I started to doubt my faith. After all, as far as I knew, the consequences of infidelity was Hell. And the preacher’s family of all people didn’t even take this seriously. Maybe I shouldn’t either.

The second thing that happened, not to get too stereotypical, was science. I took science classes. In biology, I learned about evolution. Natural selection. Common ancestors. I learned that a literal creation was unnecessary. I had never been anti-science. I always acknowledged evolution as being at least somewhat meritous, because why else would they all believe it. But seeing just how thoroughly worked out the science was was a bit of a shock. In physics, I learned about the beauty and simplicity of the laws that governed the world. Before taking gr 11/12 physics, I fully believed that God can and did invoke miracles on a regular basis. After learning the science, I realized that miracles were impossible.

And so, having had my previous worldview shaken thoroughly, I started investigating. I looked up Christian apologetics and tried to convert my long time atheist best friend. But looking up the best arguments that Christians had come up with, having 2000 years to prepare, I found them laughable. Filled with fallacy and appeals to ignorance. This is the best they can come up with, I thought. It was pathetic.

At this point, I was prepared to stop calling myself a Christian. I read over the Mennonite Confession of Faith, and realized that I didn’t agree with any of it. I looked at the “Christians” I knew and saw them as mindless sheep, brainlessly parroting whatever snappy catchphrase they had heard the previous Sunday. I looked at my parents and it occurred to me just how many things they did, that maybe they shouldn’t’ve, but that were justified by their faith. I realized that it would simply be dishonest to call myself a Christian. Instead, I latched onto the concept of Deism. There is a God, but he is clearly not the Christian one, and he is clearly not fucking with the universe. Ever. At this point I was just turning 18

Although I didn’t really believe anyone was listening, at this point I started praying, every night, for the truth. “I don’t know what to believe, God, but I know that what I was taught growing up is a lie. I’m afraid of what I might find out, but I have to know the truth. Please, if you’re out there, show me a sign”. This, every night, for a year. No sign.

When I started university, I got exposed to other viewpoints. In engineering, pretty much everyone was default-atheist. And in computer engineering, everyone was very smart, and thoughtful. Many deep philosophical discussions were had. I saw firsthand just how ridiculous the campus religious groups were, meanwhile I found out that all these godless heathens were actually pretty cool guys. Ehty killed aliens and wasn’t afraid of anything. At this point, I had a bit of a philosophical realization. A universe in which a god exists, but does not interact in any way, shape or form (ie a Deist universe) is indistinguishable from an atheistic universe. They are the same thing. And so once again, I ‘converted’ simply by deciding to be honest about myself. I was an atheist.

Around this time, I had also discovered the atheist haunts on the internet. Places like r/atheism. People like Dawkins and Dennett, Harris and Hitchens. Wikipedia articles on philosophical beliefs. The books Gödel, Escher, Bach and I Am A Strange Loop, which had a very strange, almost spiritual effect on me. I learned about computation theory, AI, theories of mind, all of which served to demystify. To fill some of the gaps that God was hiding in.

All of these resources, combined, had a strong effect on me. But the ONE thing that really gave me that ‘deconversion’ moment was this video, The Instruction Manual For Life. When I saw that piece, I cried. (Ed. note: I just watched it again. I cried again. The last time I cried was in January, upon watching the end of MGS4). It was like the author had lived my life. He verbalized all of my exeriences, all of my thoughts, my fears. In eight minutes of animation. I immediately watched all the other videos uploaded by the two authors of the video, and forevermore it stuck with me.

Now, I am an atheist. I am also a strong skeptic, something much closer to my fundamental nature. I apply my critical thinking across the board. I like to say that my skepticism is axiomatic to my personality, and my atheism is derived from that. In a certain academic sense, this is true. But in a stronger, more emotional, more personal sense, there is more to it. I have personally seen the damage that religion can do. I have never suffered physically due to religion. There are kids who are beaten in the name of God. There are kids who are homeless because their pious parents cannot abide a homosexual in their houses. Hell, think of all the people who are not alive today, thanks to religion. But one thing I have experienced is the thought-supressing effects of faith. My whole life, I was taught to believe a certain thing. To expect a certain thing from the universe. To work towards a certain goal. And then one day I realized I had been lied to, systematically.

Religions both allows and encourages restricting the thoughts of yourself and others. And I can think of nothing more abhorrent. There were times when I personally questioned my own sanity. Everyone else believes this, yet it is so obviously wrong. How can they all be so blind? What if I’m the one who’s wrong. But that’s impossible, see right here this can’t be. But they all say it is. How could I possibly be right here.

And so this is why I am now, finally, at age 21, an anti-theist. Nobody should be forced to think a certain thing. Nobody should be forced to question their own sanity as a result. It is as simple as that.

Thanks for sharing your story, Tim.

Evidence for Creationism? Nope!

Here we go again.

So creationist David Buckna has been hanging out in the comments section of the Winnipeg Skeptics blog for the last few days. Rather than have my replies buried deep in the comments section, I like to use them as the opportunity for blog-fodder, especially when they begin to exceed the character limits imposed on comments by the various blogging platforms that we use.

Here is Buckna’s most recent comment:

Gem wrote: “If your only means of supporting your position is to attempt to poke holes in the position of your opponents, you demonstrate that your own position is untenable. Please present evidence for your position.”

You are not obliged in science to come up with an alternative theory for a theory you are criticizing. There is no rule like that in science.

That said, there is ample evidence and related inferences for creation/intelligent design, but evolutionists choose to ignore them because evolutionists interpret evidence and data through the lense of philosophical naturalism. Why _is_ evolution the one subject skeptics aren’t skeptical about?

Evidence for creation/intelligent design include: the universe is a Tri-Universe,


earth’s geologic features appear to have been fashioned by rapid, catastrophic processes on a global and regional scale, the fossil record (eg. the Cambrian explosion), man and apes have a separate ancestry, natural selection (a creationist’s idea), the design inference,
rapidly nuclear-decay-generated helium escapes from radioactive crystals
irreducible complexity, the complexity of living cells, etc.

Click to access 464664a.pdf

Maybe it’s time for the evolutionists to read Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962)

Are we on the verge of another great paradigm shift?


“In any community of scientists, Kuhn states, there are some individuals who are bolder than most. These scientists, judging that a crisis exists, embark on what Thomas Kuhn calls revolutionary science, exploring alternatives to long-held, obvious-seeming assumptions. Occasionally this generates a rival to the established framework of thought. The new candidate paradigm will appear to be accompanied by numerous anomalies, partly because it is still so new and incomplete. The majority of the scientific community will oppose any conceptual change, and, Kuhn emphasizes, so they should. To fulfill its potential, a scientific community needs to contain both individuals who are bold and individuals who are conservative. There are many examples in the history of science in which confidence in the established frame of thought was eventually vindicated. Whether the anomalies of a candidate for a new paradigm will be resolvable is almost impossible to predict. Those scientists who possess an exceptional ability to recognize a theory’s potential will be the first whose preference is likely to shift in favour of the challenging paradigm. There typically follows a period in which there are adherents of both paradigms. In time, if the challenging paradigm is solidified and unified, it will replace the old paradigm, and a paradigm shift will have occurred.”

Is it any wonder that I keep having to dig these out of the spam filter?

In any event, I’ll try to address each claim one by one.

You are not obliged in science to come up with an alternative theory for a theory you are criticizing. There is no rule like that in science.

I agree with you, and I made no such claim. I’ll repeat what I said, as it seems like you weren’t listening: “Critiquing evolution does provide evidence for the creationist position.”

So sure, feel free to critique evolution. That’s fine. But you should understand that if you are advocating an alternative hypothesis (as creationists are), you are obliged to provide evidence for it.


Evidence for creation/intelligent design include: the universe is a Tri-Universe,


This is evidence? That article is hilarious! It contains nothing but wild assertions and Biblical quotations. The author seems to think that because the universe is composed “of Space, Matter, and Time, each permeating and representing the whole”, this somehow provides evidence that it was created by a triune God.

In support of his thesis, Morris states that “in fact, many scientists speak of it as a Space-Matter-Time continuum.” Actually, they don’t. From what little I understand of the topic, space and time speak to the dimensionality of our universe. Our universe is composed of matter and energy (which are interchangeable). Why not then speak of a “space-matter-time-energy continuum”, you might ask? Because that wouldn’t fit the pattern of the trinity, of course!

And scientists speak of it as a “space-time continuum”; it’s creationists who speak of it as a “space-matter-time continuum” (here, let me Google that for you).

earth’s geologic features appear to have been fashioned by rapid, catastrophic processes on a global and regional scale, the fossil record (eg. the Cambrian explosion), man and apes have a separate ancestry, natural selection (a creationist’s idea), the design inference,

So you look at the “geological features” of the planet and infer catastrophism “on a global and regional scale”? You were not specific, probably because you’d like to maintain a position of unfalsifiability. Perhaps you’re referring to the Grand Canyon? It’s features are not consistent with a global flood. The geologic column? Ditto. Fossil sorting? Nope.

And “the fossil record (eg. the Cambrian explosion)”? What’s that supposed to mean? Presumably that complex life forms appeared suddenly, with no ancestral fossils? That is false. The Cambrian “explosion” was “sudden” on a geological timescale, but actually took place over an estimated 70–80 million years, and is in no way inconsistent with an evolutionary understanding of speciation. The Wikipedia article provides a useful summary of the Cambrian explosion for anyone interested.

As for “man and apes have a separate ancestry”, you’d be wrong. Humans are apes. If you want to present evidence to the contrary, be my guest. Until then, citation needed.

You say that natural selection is “a creationist’s idea”. Perhaps you’re referring to Gregor Mendel’s theories of inheritence? The term “natural selection” was first coined by Darwin in Origin, but even if it had originated with a creationist, that’s a nonsequitur. If you would kindly limit yourself to arguments that make sense, I’m sure that we’d all appreciate it.

I won’t waste anyone’s time discussing the “design inference”, as it has been more than adequately addressed elswhere, most notably at Iron Chariots and at Talk Origins’ Index to Creationist Claims. If you’re interested, you know where to look.

Maybe it’s time for the evolutionists to read Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962)

Are we on the verge of another great paradigm shift?

I’m familiar with Kuhn. But paradigm shifts are rare, and I’m not convinced that we’re on the verge of one. There are also many insightful criticisms of Kuhn’s work, some of which are summarised here. But I think that PZ Myers addresses this claim quite adequately here.

[M]ainstream journalists play this game with scientists, and some scientists play it up as well; but the real masters are the creationists. It’s all they’ve got: rhetoric that tries to put them in the role of the brave, noble, clever underdog trying to overcome the stifling influence of a stagnant scientific orthodoxy. It’s even more false, but it does appeal to the media.

Can we just get something straight? Science builds on past discoveries. You don’t get to cherry pick what bits you want to include in your theory — successful new theories don’t throw away old evidence, they extend and strengthen and reinforce, and offer new insights. There may be new theories that follow the theory of evolution … but they will all incorporate the basic facts of earth’s history — its age, common descent, the relationships between species, etc. — and will not be any more appealing to creationists than what we’ve got now.

So you’ve thrown a veritable Gish Gallop of nonsense at the wall, hoping that some of it will stick. What a waste of time.

Look, Buckna: I have neither the time no the inclination to deal with any more of your foolishness. I have two jobs, a family, and a community of friends with whom I’d like to spend more time. I do this in my free time, which is scarce enough, and I have other projects on which I’d like to work. So unless you can come up with something interesting, instead of just throwing out wild assertions and long-debunked creationist canards, I’m not going to waste any more time on you.

I Get Mail: Creationism Edition!

I recently wrote an Introduction to Creationism over at SkepticsOnThe.Net, a new resource site that aims to be the premier directory for skeptical groups, blogs, and podcasts. When I cross-posted it to Startled Disbelief, it garnered some immediate feedback.

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

That was fast.

I just received the following email from David Buckna, who I think is probably also the anonymous commenter from my previous post about creationism. [Edit: Nope, apparently it wasn’t him.]

Subject: Evolution: The Creation Myth of Our Culture


Programmers utilized complex codes to create software. The genetic code, which is more sophisticated, controls the physical processes of life and is accompanied by elaborate transmission and duplication systems.

How does evolution, using natural processes and chance, solve the problem of complex information sequencing without intelligence?

My first question is this: In what way is the genetic code “more sophisticated” than, say, C++ or SmallTalk or Python or MATLAB? (Okay, I’ll grant you MATLAB.)

The theory of evolution proposes that mutations (insertions, deletions, changes) to the genetic “code” are acted upon by natural selection. Those that are advantageous are more likely to be passed on to the next generation.

It’s important to keep in mind that this code is does not constitute information in any abstract or absolute sense; it only constitutes a “code” in the context of the biological processes involved in reading and replicating it.

Similarly, the code “buffer = ( char* ) malloc ( i + 1 );” is meaningful in the context of C but meaningless in the context of Java. If C had never been invented, that code segment would be gibberish. And here’s the important bit: genetic “code” (e.g., “ATA CTG”) outside of the context of DNA is also meaningless gibberish.

I recognise that Buckna’s question was probably disingenuous: he’s not looking for an answer; he’s looking to play “stump the evolutionist”. But it’s possible that others may learn when proponents of science respond to his ramblings.

It’s interesting to note that this is probably also the same creationist who attempted to insert his propaganda into Jeff Proling’s Dinosauria On-Line. The story is enlightening. He’s also been trolling PZ Myers and the folks at Radio Freethinker, so I’m in good company.

Addendum (11 July 2011): After the 40+ comments that this response has garnered so far, it occurs to me that I should make a few things clear.

The original question that was posed to me (“How does evolution, using natural processes and chance, solve the problem of complex information sequencing without intelligence?”) should be better addressed to an evolutionary biologist. I briefly addressed some of the premises of Buckna’s argument from the perspective of a software developer, but I’m no expert in evolution, nor have I ever claimed to be. It seems to me that the combination of random variation and selection adequately explains increasing information content over time (as can be trivially demonstrated via computer simulation).

But let’s suppose for a moment that the answer was, “I don’t know. I don’t know how evolution accounts for that.” So what? The argument “Since evolution can’t explain X, creationism is true!” is fallacious. I’m told that there was a time before we understood how electrostatic discharges worked (although I wasn’t there). However, to assert that since science couldn’t explain lightning it therefore must have been a manifestation of Zeus’ divine will would be to appeal to a god of the gaps.

The evidence for special creation is non-existent, while the evidence for evolution is legion. (Look here if you’d like some examples.) That said, even if there were no convincing evidence for evolution, or if all evidence for evolution were convincingly falsified, that would not somehow make special creation a plausible alternative hypothesis—to promote this idea is to commit the fallacy of the false dilemma. Critiquing evolution does provide evidence for the creationist position.

If your only means of supporting your position is to attempt to poke holes in the position of your opponents, you demonstrate that your own position is untenable. Please present evidence for your position.