Thank you

I want to say thank you to many people. Here’s the shortlist:

PZ Myers
Richard Dawkins
Michael Shermer
James Randi
Eugenie Scott
Steven Novella
Bob Novella
Jay Novella
Rebecca Watson
Evan Bernstein

But really, my thanks go out to all the skeptical, freethinking, humanist communities that have been so informative. I still have a lot to learn about the world we’re in, but I have come so far in the past eighteen months.

This morning, my landscaping company came. Awhile after they started working, the doorbell rang. I figured it was them, telling me they’re done. I thought it took a little bit longer than usual, but I went to the door and opened it without looking. There stood an older couple, the man with a bible and some Watchtower magazines in hand.

I’m just not rude enough to shut the door in someone’s face. I mean, I will if they prove themselves particularly obnoxious, but I at least give them the warning that they’re about to be face-to-door. So this guy starts by asking my name, and telling me it’s very pretty. It feels a little condescending, but hey, icebreakers aren’t everyone’s forte.

Then he tells me that he and his wife are going around the neighbohood with this magazine issue that discusses life beyond the grave. “Do you believe there is life after death?”

And this is the point where I have to say thank you to everyone already named. Because no matter my beliefs, in the past, I would have humored the guy, taken his literature, then put it in the trash after he left. And admittedly, I considered it. But by the time he asked me this question, I had eliminated the option. I didn’t want to be held hostage at my own door. So I said, “No, I don’t.”

Honestly, he seemed to hold back some surprise. Do that many people tell him yes? Do so few say no? Anyway, he says, “But you believe in the creation, right?”

“No. I believe in evolution.” (Okay, so I don’t really “believe” in evolution; I accept the evidence as fact. But I didn’t feel like getting into an etymological debate, and figured I’d speak his language.)

“So you believe this all happened by chance?” And this is where I particularly have to thank PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins. What little I can say I understand about evolutionary biology, I attribute to them. They’ve made the ideas so accessible, that even my mind – which struggles mightily with most sciences – can understand it.

“No, not by chance. Evolution is not a matter of chance.”

“So you think that out of some soup of sludge, we all came into being?”

“Yes – ” He didn’t let me finish.

“You know, the greatest scientific minds say the brain is the most complex piece of machinery, and there’s so much about it we don’t understand. It must have a designer. Do you really think that just happened?”

So I told him that we don’t have all the answers, that science still has a lot to learn. I told him that we shouldn’t assign a god to it, and accept that – we wouldn’t have modern medicine or understanding of the stars if all men had just accepted a god or gods. And no, just for the record, evolution doesn’t just “happen.” It is a series of events where the creatures that survive are the creatures whose evolutionary path puts them in the right place at the right time, in simplest terms.

It felt pretty good to turn the sermon around. The difference, though, is I wasn’t trying to convert him. He said, “So I guess you wouldn’t be interested in reading the articles here?”

“No, sir.” Then I added, because I wanted him to know that not all atheists are heathens who just don’t know any better, “I want you to know that I was raised Christian. I was very close to God at one point. What I’ve told you today is the result of more than a year of intense investigation, both internal and external. This decision was not taken lightly. There’s nothing in your magazine I haven’t already explored.”

There was nothing militant in what I said or how I said it. The man and his wife were still pleasant when they left; they just recognized that they wouldn’t change my mind.

I research and I learn for my own edification. I want to understand the world and universe I live in, and the evidence I’ve found points to a naturalist view. I have not had the opportunity offline to use what I’ve learned in a true conversation about religion. I don’t seek out such opportunitites.

But I am so very grateful that when the opportunity came knockin’, I was ready to stand up to the challenge, and not be ashamed or unprepared to declare that I am an atheist, and it is an informed choice. So thank you to everyone who has contributed to my education and confidence.

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The Scientific Method

I am beyond frustration by this argument:

“Understanding that both Intelligent Design and Evolution are both theories, and theories can not be proven, only disproven…”

It is way too overabundant, and has even been used by educators to justify teaching pseudoscience in our schools. I composed a response to the blogger I linked to above, but since the comments are moderated, and I have a dissenting opinion, I have little hope that what I wrote will see the light of day. And since I want to vent to the world, here is the gist of what I wrote, peppered with the passages that inspired my own comments:

In April of 2004, Myers wrote on his blog that a professor promoting Intelligent Design should not get tenure: [the link to the actual blog entry is here]

“I get to vote on tenure decisions at my university, and I can assure you that if someone comes up who claims that [Intelligent Design] ‘theory’ is science, I will vote against them. … If someone thinks fairies live in their garden and pull up the flowers out of the ground every spring, I will vote against them. Tenure decisions are not pro forma games, but a process of evaluation, and I’d rather not have crackpots promoted.”

You have to be amazed by the absolute hypocrisy of the existence of Myers.

Understanding that both Intelligent Design and Evolution are both theories, and theories can not be proven, only disproven, in reading Myers’ posts he constantly treats his theories as absolute proven sciences underscored by his complete intollerance of anyone else’s views other than PZ Myers’.

The poster obviously have little to no grasp on the scientific method. In its simplest form:

1) Observe
2) Hypothesize
3) Test
4) Analyze
5) Duplicate
a) If test results repeatedly support the hypothesis, you’ve essentially got a working Theory.
b) If they don’t, you go back to the drawing board

Evolution has made a great number of predictable claims (a few can be found here), such as what fossils we can expect to find, and where in geologic time to look for them, and every time such a fossil is found, then Evolution has been tested and deemed successful.

Intelligent Design has made no testable claims, thus cannot and should not be taught as science. Science is the scientific method. Without it, you have guesswork and philosophy – which belongs in another department at any university. Myers specifically says that he will vote against anyone who claims these beliefs are ‘science.’ They are not, and should not be taught as such. Far from hypocritical, this is as true to scientific principles as one can get. Myers’ recent controversy has nothing to do with the science he teaches, and has no need to be a part of his classroom at all, unlike a science professor who has declared he intends to teach unscientific claims.

Moving on to the blogger’s next point:

On RateMyProfessor.com, a web site where students rate their college professors, Myers over the past few years has received an average score as a college professor. In the 3.5 range out of 5. He’s average, nothing more; nothing less. There are a few students that think he is great, there is an equal amount that don’t. But the last student to rate him on his review, done after this controversy, offers insight to this situation and speaks of his ability to never again be viewed as a legitimate college professor going forward:

“Really disappointed in this guy. He obviously has no respect for his students beliefs that might be different from his own. Read Pharyngula and you’ll see what i mean. Scary”

These are the words from a University of MN Morris student. Not my words. Nor the Catholic League’s.

According to the class schedule posted on the school’s web site, it appears that Professor Myers’ largest available class in the Fall is full (at least, that’s how I interpret the class size in red, and the complete addition of a second section). If I’m interpreting correctly, that would suggest to me that maybe a concern about unfair treatment has been seriously overblown.

And as far as the http://www.ratemyprofessor.com deal – first, does anyone find it at all striking that this was posted on 7/24/08, well after the controversy started, in the middle of the summer, long after spring classes ended? Going back to the first review for Prof. Myers on his RMP page (2/4/03), there’s not one single complaint about unfair treatment because of a student’s beliefs. Not one student stopped by there to warn other students of this potentially egregious behavior.

All that aside, it’s important to note that there’s no telling whether or not this 7/24/08 review is from a student, since a person doesn’t have to be registered on the site (the review in question was not posted by a registered user), nor provide any proof they’re a student at all in order to post a review. In fact, I just posted one there myself, and I’ve never had any association with the university at all. For all any of us know, this could easily be the original poster’s words, and it doesn’t ‘stretch credulity’ to believe they could be Bill Donohue’s.

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7/28/08, ETA: I just had to laugh at this… I announced that I entered a review on Rate My Professor to show it could be done, and someone ran over there to request a review of the entry. Fine by me, because it doesn’t need to be there, anyway. But did they question the other questionable review? Nope. Awfully suspect, no?

Nice, huh?

I’d just like to point out that there was not even a BIO3101 class on the Spring 2008 schedule, nor Fall 2007. The last time it shows up on a published schedule is Spring 2007. So this student waited over a year to post this, just waited for the perfect time? I know there are those of you out there that want to argue a fear of retribution finally being overcome by the need to speak out in the face of controversy. Yeah, okay, except this was posted by an unregistered, completely anonymous user. If this was a student afraid of being recognized, then this problem can’t be too widespread, can it?

Just sayin’…  😛