Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Top American Science Questions: 2012

I'm really interested in science education and I'd love to see improvements so that we can begin to create a scientifically literate society. Although I'm not an American, I'm quite interested in the views of American politicians because they can have a huge influence on science education.

That's why I was looking forward to seeing what Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had to say about science. Do they personally believe in evolution? Do they understand that homeopathy is useless? Do they think that science conflicts with their religious beliefs? Do they personally believe that the universe began almost 14 billion years ago with a Big Bang? Do they understand what causes earthquakes? Can they tell us why the discovery of the Higgs boson was important? Do they know what a gene is? Can they personally tell us in a few sentences how an eclipse of the sun occurs? Do they understand the concept of a chemical reaction?

These are science questions. They are designed to find out whether the candidates really understand and accept science. That's important because it tells us how they are going to approach problems if they become President.

ScienceDebate.org is a group dedicated to encouraging science debate in American politics. All the big science organizations are affiliated with ScienceDebate.org including AAAS and the National Academies and the organization I belong to, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). Here's how ScienceDebate.org describes its goal on their website.
"Whenever the people are well-informed," Thomas Jefferson wrote, "they can be trusted with their own government."

Science now affects every aspect of life and is an increasingly important topic in national policymaking.

ScienceDebate.org invited thousands of scientists, engineers and concerned citizens to submit what they felt were the the most important science questions facing the nation that the candidates for president should be debating on the campaign trail.

ScienceDebate then worked with the leading US science and engineering organizations listed at left to refine the questions and arrive at a universal consensus on what the most important science policy questions facing the United States are in 2012.

Candidates readily debate jobs and the economy even though they are not economists; they debate foreign policy and military intervention even though they are not diplomats or generals; they debate faith and values even though they are not priests or pastors. We call on the candidates for President to also debate these Top American Science Questions that affect all voters' lives.
There are many ways to be well-informed but when it comes to science there are not many options. In order to be well-informed you need to understand science and you need to understand what science has discovered. You need to understand that evolution is a fact, for example.

So, are the presidential candidates well-informed about science? We'll never know since all of the questions are about science policy and most of them are about how to keep America at the top of the heap when it comes to innovation and productive technology.

This ain't about science, folks. The answers from the Obama and Romney campaigns are boring and predicable. Don't bother going to the website to read them unless you are having trouble falling asleep, especially if you're not an American.

Here's the first question ... 1
1. Innovation and the Economy. Science and technology have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII, when the federal government first prioritized peacetime science mobilization. But several recent reports question America’s continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation?
I know lots of people disagree with me but you cannot make a scientifically literate society if you only promote science for the sake of the economy. Another opportunity lost.


1. Before reading the answers, try and imagine how you would answer if you were a politician who was completely ignorant of science and you assign the answer to your political advisers. Pretend you're a Republican then pretend you're a Democrat. Check to see if the actual answers are any different. What's the point? This is such a waste of time.

50 comments :

  1. I couldn't agree more Larry. I was disgusted with the questions asked of candidates in the name of science. I wanted to know whether candidates understood what constituted a scientific theory, what scientific methods provided accurate evidence for the true age of the earth, what principles would they want to see underpinning science education in the US, how they would use the findings of science in their approach to public policy, for example, healthcare?

    The questions asked of the candidates provided them with a soapbox and I learned nothing, except that Romney is far less selective at the "cut and paste" function.

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  2. I know lots of people disagree with me but you cannot make a scientifically literate society if you only promote science for the sake of the economy. Another opportunity lost.

    Fully agree.

    However, what seems to have happened (and things continue to move in that direction) is exactly the opposite - pretty much every time I see science funding being discussed, it is talked about in the context of stimulating the economy, maintaining the competitiveness of the country, etc. Since when did those thing become the goal of science? And what is worse, education in general has come to be seen as an investment, a return on which is expected.

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    1. They are not goals of science, they are goals of funders. And I suspect these have always been the goals of the majority of funders. And they will continue to be the goals of funders for the forseeable future. I'm not convinced there is any trend other than increased emphasis on the goals whenever the economy is struggling.

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    2. Bill Nye, in his mini-presentation about evolution deniers that was approvingly posted here a few days agod, would seem to be part of that group. He said, "We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers. We need engineers who can build things and solve problems."
      But of course, he gets a pass, because he was bashing religion.

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    3. We do need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers. Is anyone denying that?

      But Larry's point was that it would be nice to hear what the politicians think about science rather than about the needs of society.

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    4. konrad, I'll accept that. But in a broader sense, I think the statement, 'we need to become more scientifically literate' is overused and underexplained.

      As an artist, I think we need more 'artistically literate' people, and education that provides that. Most art programs in schools just teach kids crafts. Meanwhile, about forty years ago, art instructor Betty Edwards developed a program, "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" which proves that nearly EVERY student can be taught to draw competently. This gives them better perceptual acuity, it helps them concentrate more, it makes them more inquisitive (i.e., they WANT to explore the world around them, because they can DRAW it!)
      They become more well rounded, just as they do from science education. But one rarely hears the argument that art training is necessary in order to mold a well educated, holistically intelligent human being.
      Science has a greater standing precisely BECAUSE it has greater economic applications. This is why you commonly hear politicians saying we need more scientifically literate people. The other times you commonly hear that statement made is by people who, hardly uncoincidentally, have an axe to grind with religion, and the very unscientific views held by creationists, a la Bill Nye's statements, as well as people like Neil DeGrasse. It becomes a code word for saying, 'we need more atheists and agnostics!'
      So I think there needs to be a clearer definition of exactly what 'scientific literacy' is, and what it can most be expected to accomplish.

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    5. As someone married to an artist, I agree with your position on artistic literacy. I also agree that economic motivations lead to politicians pushing scientific rather than artistic literacy. But I do not agree that Bill Nye was attacking religion and promoting atheism - rather, he was attacking _creationism_, which is a specific extremist (anti-science) position within religion. You might as well say that opposing jihadism is an attack on religion and a call for atheism.

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    6. konrad, conceded.
      Nye was clearly referring only to YECs in the video.

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    7. andyboergerSaturday, September 08, 2012 7:34:00 PM
      Bill Nye, in his mini-presentation about evolution deniers that was approvingly posted here a few days agod, would seem to be part of that group. He said, "We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers. We need engineers who can build things and solve problems."
      But of course, he gets a pass, because he was bashing religion.


      I agree with Bill Nye said - I don't see a word about growing the economy there. He said "scientifically literate voters and taxpayers" and "engineers who can build things and solve problems". You need the former if you want decision making to be at least somewhat rational and you always need the latter, whether you accept the perpetual economic growth mantra of mainstream economics or not.

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    8. Georgi, why even use those words then? Why not just say, 'scientifically literate citizens who are able to make informed decisions and understand some of the most fundamental aspects of our world'?

      Nevertheless, if you don't see even an indication from what he said that he is talking about remaining competitive, then I won't challenge you on it. Respectfully disagree.

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  3. I agree. But perhaps this was to be expected. When you ask a politician a question, especially in the middle of a political campaign, what else would you get but a political answer?

    Where ScienceDirect missed its chance was in asking generic questions. It would have been better had it asked science questions. Here's how I would have put it.

    Experts in the following fields have, on the whole, adopted the following positions, do you agree that these are the best way to understand that world around us?

    Climate: on the average the world is warming; the primary reason for that warming is human activity.

    Evolution: the world's current collection of biological organisms is the result of eons of evolutionary change.

    Physics: even though quantum mechanics, the standard model of elementary particles, and general relativity give us a very accurate picture of the physical universe there are still many important questions for which we have not yet found good answers.

    ...

    I'm sure that with a bit of thought, a good collection of questions might be composed.

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    1. Actually ScienceDirect were pleasantly surprised that they received answers at all - they actually state this somewhere. (I seem to recall last time they got answers from Obama but not from McCain.) It's likely that they would not have answered if the questions were about science rather than science policy.

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  4. I just hope Obama and Romney are not dumb enough to believe that most DNA is junk. I hope they pay attention to the research of real scientists.

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    1. What function does all this DNA have in the organism, then? What research did you do to determine this?

      No clue? Thought so.

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    2. By the way, just out of interest, why would some onions need so much of this extra "functional" DNA, compared to large multicellular animals like Homo Sapiens, let alone other species of onion?

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    3. An argument from personal incredulity is never a scientific argument. ENCODE has put that little objection to rest.

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    4. Sigh, Rumraket is asking a legitimate question, not arguing from incredulity. Shall we take it you have no answer?

      ENCODE demonstrated that most DNA is biochemically active. How does that relate to junk?

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    5. @Anonymous.
      How? How have they put my questions to rest? Can you explain that?

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    6. Oh, please! ENCODE hammered the final nail in the coffin of "junk DNA". I suggest you read the 14 papers provided on the consortium's site and educate yourself about the functionality of the "dark matter" of the genome:

      http://www.nature.com/encode/

      FYI, flowering plants like the onion have to be far more robust and versatile than any human. Hence, it is not unexpected that they should have more DNA and that they should carry several copies of their genome.

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    7. You're not offering any explanations by simply referencing the papers. What is this functionality again, what does all this extra DNA do?

      For your information, the papers simply state that there are areas of transcription and chemical activity. Does that mean it has "function"? What "function" does it perform?

      With regards to flowering plants, why do some species of Onion carry 5 times as much DNA as others? Do they really need all this extra "robustness and versatility"? Do you any any evidence of this claim intead of blind assertions?

      http://www.genomicron.evolverzone.com/2007/04/onion-test/

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    8. By the way, since you're claiming the ENCODE project has put a nail in the coffin of "Junk NDA", I want to make sure I understand what you're saying.

      Are you saying there is no such thing as Junk DNA at all? Are you saying the human genome contains ZERO percent nonfunctional DNA?

      Or are you merely saying there's much less than we used to think, but still some?

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  5. Whilt the fact that Presidential contenders need to address origin issues these days demonstrates the creationist success in re investigating these issues very powerfully and indicates everyone should be paying attention still it doesn't matter what these guys think relative to anyone else.
    If they are being asked to re enforce one side of a contention then thats also not their job.
    They should just let freedom of investigation and discussion be the official opinion of everyone.
    Whether they are creationist or evolutionist won't persuade anyone.
    That the issue is to be noted by these "leaders" is already telling the tale of our times and , as I see, the intellectual revolution we are within.
    love the questioning but don't care what they think.
    In fact both are very ordinary people.
    There is no Reagan or Lincoln or a few more these days.

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    1. Whether they are creationist or evolutionist won't persuade anyone.

      It would certainly persuade me. I could never vote for a Young Earth Creationist unless it was a severe case of "lesser of two evils."

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    2. I would also probably never vote for a creationist, how is that any less bigoted than people who would probably never vote for an atheist? I have, to my knowledge, voted for an atheist several times, both as a town official and as a state legislator, but I knew him and he convinced me that his atheism would not determine how he would vote on issues. It would probably be more accurate to say I'd never be able to trust a materialist with my vote.

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    3. You want people in office who are doing society's decision making to be doing so rationally - that may not always result in the optimal decisions in hindsight, but it is the best strategy we have. If someone believes in God, you know that he is not meeting that requirement in a major portion of his life. Now, if that person is not an extremist, it is possible to successfully compartmentalize (although we can debate to what extent) and behave in a rational manner at least with respect to the specifics of his job, but if he is a young earth creationist, that possibility can be safely ruled out - young earth creationism is such a lunacy and you have to be so deeply immersed into religious nonsense to really believe it that the chances that you would be doing a good job while in office are very slim.

      If someone is an atheist, that does not automatically mean he will be the best man for the job, but at least he has not presented any evidence to the contrary.

      So, no, never voting for a creationist is not at all the same as never voting for an atheist.

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    4. @TTC I would also probably never vote for a creationist, how is that any less bigoted than people who would probably never vote for an atheist?

      So you are equating not voting for someone who believes things without evidence and in the face of massive evidence to the contrary with not voting for someone who refuses to accept the truth value of religious claims without sufficient (or more to the point any at all) evidence.

      And you are equating not voting for someone who would be informed by their religious dogma when implementing public policy to the exclusion and detriment of those who do not share that dogma with not voting for someone who would be informed by secular values when implementing public policy using negotiation and compromise to achieve a solution that would maximize human well being.

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    5. You want people in office who are doing society's decision making to be doing so rationally - that may not always result in the optimal decisions in hindsight, but it is the best strategy we have. If someone believes in God, you know that he is not meeting that requirement in a major portion of his life. Georgi Marinov

      So you must reject self government in any but a majority atheist society, or, barring self-government, at least, government by any but atheists. The actual, real life, experience of government by atheists has been a uniform disaster, violent, bloody, oppressive dictatorships, anything but an enlightened, reasonable government. That experiment has been run a number of times, that has been the result 100% of the time. Anyone who would rather not try it again where they live on that basis is making an entirely rational decision.

      Whereas, government by people who believe that God is real has a mixed record, though some successes in producing something closer to democracy. It would seem that your theory is not supported by the evidence.

      That is, unless you think a bloody despotism is preferable to democracy. Sort of like the aristocratic party in Athens that produced the Thirty Tyrants, after a serious act of desecration, oddly enough. Oddly, so many of them with ties to the skeptical Socratic gang of oligarchic thugs.

      steve oberski, see my answer to GM right above this. I'd be reluctant to vote for atheists unless I was fairly certain that they weren't scientistic materialists because materialism can't produce the prerequisite ideas necessary for democracy. Equality, free will, inherent equal rights, a moral requirement to treat people justly on an equal basis. Atheists say stuff like that is make believe often enough.

      I don't think materialists can summon the necessary belief in what is needed for democracy to happen. Too little faith in those, too much enervating, self-serving doubt.

      And, so far, the answer seems to be three for zero that atheists' refusal to vote for a creationist is pretty much based in the same kind of bigotry that atheists are always whining about.

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    6. GM says "You want people in office who are doing society's decision making to be doing so rationally - that may not always result in the optimal decisions in hindsight, but it is the best strategy we have. If someone believes in God, you know that he is not meeting that requirement in a major portion of his life."
      It is shallow and reductive comments like this that makes the 'new atheism' come across as merely arrogant and out of touch.
      It has very little connection to the world as it really is. Certainly there have been atrocious leaders who made terrible decisions because they were 'told by God' to make them. More often they have merely used that excuse as a subterfuge to excuse decisions that were made in their own self interest and those of their closest associates. Witness George Bush and the Project for a New American Century.
      But there have also been numerous times when leaders of various stripes called upon their spiritual beliefs to affect positive changes in their notions. I wonder if George Marinov is aware of the role that belief played in America's long struggle with civil rights? Or Ghandi? Or Desmond Tutu?
      How about Jackie Robinson? His story is the greatest in the history of American professional sports. It is also a key story in the overall history of civil rights in the U.S. Jackie Robinson said, and his wife confirmed, that without his faith he could never have put up with the constant abuse he received, from his own teammates, from opposing players, from the hecklers in the stands, from the press, etc. You can argue, as Chris Hitchens no doubt would, that an atheist could have achieved the same thing. But can you prove it? When the man himself credits his faith as the defining characteristic of his perseverance, shouldn't we believe him? Not to mention that it was the belief structure of Branch Rickey, manager of the Dodgers who made the decision to bring him on, and the commissioner at the time, that strongly influenced their choices. So again, you could take spirituality out of all those people, and you have no assurances that integration would have ever come to American professional sports, or that it wouldn't have been a disaster had it been ruined by a person of less character than Robinson who would have just thrown in the towel and cursed his enemies.

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    7. That was Christopher Hitchens as he was wont to point out.

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    8. @TTC It would seem that your theory is not supported by the evidence.

      Have you considered the possibility that that you are manufacturing the evidence to fit your theory ?

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    9. Of course I have considered that but the history of the Reign of Terror, the Soviet Union and it's occupied satellites, China, Cambodia, North Korea,.... is a history of government by atheists that produces the result. I'd be tempted to exclude Cuba which is the least horrible of the set but it's certainly a despotic government that gained and kept power through violence.

      I'd think I've done more in testing of that idea than is ever done by the new atheists. I gave the various Marxists far more of a benefit of the doubt than they ever deserved by their actions. Given the complete failure of materialism to produce anything that could sustain any other form of government it's really no surprise, that record. You've got to believe that equality and inherent rights are as real as DNA to come out with democracy at the end of it. Materialism doesn't get there.

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    10. TTC: Given the complete failure of materialism to produce anything that could sustain any other form of government

      The American philosophy of human rights was not founded on belief in spooks! The success of democracy is not proof spooks exist.

      John Adams wrote the following:

      The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.” [John Adams, "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" (1787-88), from Adrienne Koch, ed, The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society (1965) p. 258]

      Why, why, can we not found a democracy on "reason and the senses" as John Adams insists? Why, why do we have to believe in TTC's spooks?

      Anti-atheism as basis of the state was also tried: it was called Nazism. How'd that work out? State anti-atheism is at least as bad as state atheism.

      The states listed by TTC are not a random selection of human cultures. All of those states, Russia, China, etc. were oppressive societies that could not progress towards greater equality and freedom, and religion and superstition were major obstacles in preventing social progress. There's certainly a correlation between state atheism and repression, but correlation is not proof of causation. State atheism is a consequence of a repressive society where religion or superstition prevented social progress. State anti-atheism is no better.

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    11. @TTC

      If one accepts the premise that atheists use empiricism and reason (i.e. what I consider to be materialism) to reject religious claims then there does not seem to be a logical path that results in materialism being the cause of the atrocities committed by totalitarian regimes.

      In fact one could make the case that it is the ideological nature of communism and fascism, namely the resistance that these world views have to evidence and reason based criticism, that results in their adherents acting in a manner similar to those that espouse religious based ideologies, and in fact that other than a shuffling around of the roles of the supreme being (i.e. from an invisible patriarch in the sky to a dear leader) and the putative rewards (i.e. in the afterlife versus some idealized future society) there are not any substantial differences between them.

      And of course all these ideologies share a common feature, the demonization of some other suitable for placing the blame for failures of the system, with anti-semitism being a good example shared across many religious and and non-religious ideologies.

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    12. If one accepts the premise that atheists use empiricism and reason (i.e. what I consider to be materialism)

      Well, I reject your premise (made directly after Diognes!) and your idiosyncratic definition of materialism.

      Materialism can't produce a durable belief in the reality of 1. equality, 2. inherent rights, 3. free will, 4. a moral obligation to equally respect the rights of other people.
      There is no material demonstration of those, many materialists have denied their reality on the basis of materialism. So, show me your materialist demonstration of them that is durable enough that atheists will have to conclude they are as real as the screen in front of them as they read this.

      It's an historical fact that every government which has been under the control of atheists and which has atheism as a basic holding of it has been a brutal, bloody dictatorship. Just what would be expected to come from an ideological base that denies the absolute reality of those things I numbered above.

      I could mention things like the petition Dawkins signed, before he was brow-beat into reneging, that would have made it a crime for parents to teach their children about religion. The kind of thing I've heard from blog atheists over and over again.

      Atheists have earned the skepticism that people have of their requests for political power. I used to suspend my skepticism on that point out of misguided leftist solidarity. Reading blog atheists for the past decade has shown me that there is no rational reason to suspend it.

      Diogenes, I'm doing a series on the "deism" of the "founders". I've already posted the full document from which Madison is "quote mined" by your side in order to lie about his stated religious ideas. Go read it at my blog. John Adams was a Unitarian. I could match your quotes mined at atheist websites, in a full context. But you think backing up what I say is show-offy and I'm saving it for a blog post.

      I do that against my preferences as I do not find the founders fetish convincing.

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    13. TTC: "Materialism can't produce a durable belief in the reality of 1. equality, 2. inherent rights, 3. free will, 4. a moral obligation to equally respect the rights of other people. There is no material demonstration of those...

      There is no immaterial demonstration of human rights. How does TTC's devotion to "spooks exist and influence human events" lead to democracy or universal human rights?

      How can democracy or human rights be derived from immaterialism? How can democracy or human rights be derived from TTC's bleating about the existence of real spooks?

      In practice, Christian societies were universally slave-based, misogynistic empires or monarchies for 1,500 years.

      Democracy did not come into existence until people were freed of the power of ecclesiastical authorities to kill heretics, thus allowing people to challenge the revelation of the Bible, as the Founding Fathers did.

      TTC: It's an historical fact that every government which has been under the control of atheists and which has atheism as a basic holding of it has been a brutal, bloody dictatorship.

      Certainly not-- Japan and Sweden, amongst other countries, are mostly atheistic now.

      However, it is a historical fact that every government which has been under the control of anti-atheists and which has anti-atheism as a basic holding of it has been a brutal, bloody dictatorship.

      TTC: Atheists have earned the skepticism that people have of their requests for political power.

      Anti-theists have earned the skepticism that people have of their insatiable demands for political power.

      TTC: John Adams was a Unitarian.

      Absolutely. He didn't believe Jesus was the Son of God, didn't believe in the Trinity or the divine revelation of the Bible.

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    14. It's somewhat of a misconception to characterize Japan as 'mostly atheistic'. Japanese simply have a different relationship, a higher comfort level, with supernatural notions than Western countries. I live here, in Tokyo, and it's pretty much of a smorgasbord. Many homes have little shrines in them, for ancestors. Many Japanese make a brief 'visit' to this shrine, for example before mealtimes, to ask the ancestors to continue to look after them. Most make a very curt prayer of thanks before eating. They certainly don't reject the rituals - Japanese children are baptized, Buddhist priests come to 'purify' land before a building is placed upon it, and I could go on and on. It is an altogether more fluid affair.
      They have pretty much bypassed all the conflict you see on sites such as this. VERY few people here would be interested in reading God is Not Great or the God Delusion.
      You don't see the assumed superiority, the disdain, the smugness that you see in Western atheists, which is itself a reaction to, and reflection of, the assumed superiority, the disdain, and the smugness so prevalent in Western religious orthodoxy.

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    15. Errata:

      "Anti-atheists have earned the skepticism that people have of their insatiable demands for political power."

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    16. The idea that Sweden is an atheistic country when most of the population belongs to the Church of Sweden, you know, the State Church, only shows that it's just another of the atheist's favorite myths And that doesn't count those people who are members of other protestant churches, Catholics, Orthodox, Muslims, .... Not to mention those who are some kind of neo-Pagan-Wiccan whatever.

      When the Soviet government fell it was rather fascinating to see how religion revived.

      I think you might be surprised to find many 18th century Unitarians also considered themselves to be Christians. Jefferson specifically endorsed Channing's and Priestley's unitarianism (he called it "deism") while both of them also called their religion "Christianity". In fact, Jefferson quite specifically held that Jesus was.... well, I think I'll save that for my post. But you'd have to read what they actually said instead of the quotes mined by atheists. I've found that the "deism" of the "founders" is quite widely distorted.

      One of my favorite things of recent years is how the Brit atheist Stephen Batchelor is lecturing Buddhists, the greatest practitioners and scholars included, how they've had it all wrong for the past two and a half thousand years. I'm sure that they're all very grateful to have the great white Arahant set them right.

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    17. Oh, I forgot Diogenes dribble:

      There is no immaterial demonstration of human rights.

      Well, you see, if you hold that the Creator endowed people with inherent rights, you don't need to have a demonstration of them. A firmly held belief that is effective in motivating action is enough.

      Materialists, sciency atheists, those are the ones who demand that equality, inherent rights, the right to justice, and a moral obligation to treat people as holding all of those would need a demonstration, a sciency one, before they could be held to be real. It's on that basis that atheists dispose of anything they find inconvenient or gets in the way of them doing what they want to. And that's a big problem because moral obligations require that there are times you don't do what you want to because that deprives other people of their rights. Atheists who didn't want to do that could just wave their hand and say "prove it".

      Which I think is why atheists in control of governments have a uniform failure to govern as if people actually had rights that were inviolable. That, Diogenes, seems to be one aspect of political theory that atheists can demonstrate.

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  6. I care very much if a presidential candidate is convinced that people are causing catastrophic climate change and that if we don't do something to correct it we could all, conciveably cause our own extinctiong. I care if they know enough about environmental science to understand we are destroying the basis of our life, destroying the masterpiece of biological diversity in the process. I want them to understand enough to know why funding public health and, probably more important, nutrition programs is a human right.

    I don't care at all if they believe a certain percentage of DNA appears to be non-functional, under some present day definition of "functional". Evolution is of practical importance to no more than a few percents of the population. It is of ideological importance to actively ideological atheists and biblical fundamentalists. The pissing match over "junk DNA" is only interesting in so far as it shows how desperately unreasoning both sides are. There is nothing to be learned about the nonexistence or the existence of God and, ultimately, if life is purposeful from the argument over the percentage of DNA can be said to be "functional" today. It's especially stupid for scientists to argue about that since it's quite possible that in some future, near of far, "functions" will be assigned to various aspects of DNA.

    I think most of the time wasted on such debates is primarily at the instigation of atheists, having read how fast they were to grasp onto Darwinism as an ideological tool. Much of what is still being slogged over was claimed by about evolution by atheists within the first five years after On the Origin of Species was published and pushed by them, hijacking science for their ideological war. Which you learn by reading them.

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    1. TTC, here is a paper you will probably like very much.
      http://www.mun.ca/educ/faculty/mwatch/fall05/hodson.htm

      And some key quotes from it:
      "What I am arguing here is that scientific literacy for active citizenship, responsible environmental behaviour and social reconstruction lies more in learning about science than it does in learning science."

      and

      "Yes,(in answer to the question, is it necessary?) if scientific literacy is sought not because it improves the economy, produces more technological ‘goodies’ or provides job opportunities for individuals, but because it liberates the mind"

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    2. As I have mentioned before, the nearly neutral theory of molecular evolution has very deep theological implications - I have yet to see anyone even try to refute Michael Lynch's arguments regarding the origins of numerous core features of eukaryote biology and the emergence of complexity in "higher" organism in general. All the evidence points in the direction of the human genome being greatly shaped by the effects of small effective population sizes (which seems to have been the condition for large portions of our evolutionary history since the last common eukaryotic ancestor) and the major role neutral processes begin to play in such situations.

      Now, you can argue that God used natural selection to guide evolution towards humans as an outcome. People do that all the time. But if you also account for the effects of drift, which are apparently so major in our lineage that we would be something every different if it wasn't for them, you will have to argue that God basically either fixed the trajectory of every particle in the universe from the Big Bang into the indefinite future, or that he intervened numerous times to cause mutations and segregate gametes. That's a very tight box you have painted yourself in, with all sorts of theological implication of which the one that you lose all rights not to call yourself a creationists is not even the major one. It is no wonder that I have yet to see a theologian touch the subject of neutral evolution (I may be wrong, correct me if that's the case, I don't follow theologian literature). One reason for that is sheer ignorance, of course, but it's not the only one.

      The discussion is in fact very relevant to the subject of God. If it wasn't, creationists would not be all over it for so long.

      P.S. That evolution is not on most people's minds is a huge problem - it means that the vast majority of the population lives in complete lack of understanding about what and who they are, with all the behavioral consequences that follow from that. That's something to be fixed, not to be used as an excuse not to talk about the subject.

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    3. I'm interested in learning more about this "Michael Lynch's arguments regarding the origins of numerous core features of eukaryote biology and the emergence of complexity in "higher" organism in general" and theological implications. Where is a good starting point?

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    4. http://www.amazon.com/Origins-Genome-Architecture-Michael-Lynch/dp/0878934847

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    5. you will have to argue that God basically either fixed the trajectory of every particle in the universe from the Big Bang into the indefinite future

      As most atheists, you seem to make a number of assumptions about what other people think that is quite at variance with what they believe. Someone who believes in a Creator believes that they created the entire thing at all scales. And you assume that people who believe in God believe that all of reality is contained in matter and energy when that's seldom the case.

      Atheists generally don't really get the idea of a creator God, they always think it's a far more simple minded idea than it actually is. For a starter, the belief includes anything that science can accurately say about the physical universe. Manichean dualism isn't that common a belief these days.

      Personally, I wouldn't hold that God would do anything with natural selection because I'm extremely skeptical that the idea is anything but a hold over of Georgian political economics imposed on evolutionary theory. Natural Selection has changed over and over in the history of the name, meaning very different things to different people at different times. I'm sure the name will be used for other ideas as they try to patch old Darwin into newer and, often, more certain knowledge of how change happened. That's the emotional attachment and the ideological hold that Darwinism has due to its use in an extra-scientific, ideological struggle for materialistic monism. Something that Darwin could have rejected when Haeckel honored him with its final victory, something Darwin certainly knew about but which an honor which he apparently neglected to decline.

      Sorry, been rereading a lot of Darwin and Haeckel this past month.

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    6. Carrie: Something that Darwin could have rejected when Haeckel honored him with its final victory, something Darwin certainly knew about

      Carrie has been repeatedly asked to back that up with evidence and she has never provided any, despite her picking through every scrap of paper and grocery list ever penned by C.D.

      No historian respects this shit about Darwin psychically anticipating ideas (widely supported by creationists) in the 1920's, 50 years before in the 1870's.

      Carrie believes in psychic power, ESP, divination etc, so he expects Darwin to divine ideas 30 years before they're invented. Unlike Carrie, real historians don't assume historical figures have psychic poweer.

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    7. Diogenes, you must be suffering memory loss because I posted that evidence here and at my blog:

      This final triumph of the monistic conception of nature constitutes the highest and most general merit of the Theory of Descent, as reformed by Darwin. Ernst Haeckel, Naturliche Schopfungsgeschichte

      A book that Darwin read and praised in the highest terms:

      This last naturalist, besides his great work, 'Generelle Morphologie' (1866), has recently (1868, with a second edition in 1870), published his 'Naturliche Schopfungsgeschichte,' in which he fully discusses the genealogy of man. If this work had appeared before my essay had been written, I should probably never have completed it. Almost all the conclusions at which I have arrived I find confirmed by this naturalist, whose knowledge on many points is much fuller than mine.

      And not only that but E. Ray Lankester, one of Darwin's close colleagues, friends and correspondents translated Naturliche Schopfungsgeschichte into English six years before Darwin died, an edition that Darwin said he was looking forward to reading.

      In the book Haeckel repeatedly attributed the core idea of his ideology, his monism, to Darwin. In the book he went into considerable detail as to what he meant by monism. A book Darwin read in the German, understanding it enough to give it his highest endorsement. A book which was translated by one of his close friends who would have read every word carefully enough to translate it and who, no doubt, would have informed Darwin if he thought Haeckel was misrepresenting him and his theory.

      There is absolutely no rational case to be made that Charles Darwin didn't know that Haeckel credited him with the "final triumph of the monistic conception of nature" and that he said it was the "highest and most general merit of the Theory of Descent, as reformed by Darwin". If Darwin didn't know that Haeckel said that then he was faking his endorsement of the book that Haeckel said it in.

      So, what is it, Diogenes, did Darwin gratefully accept responsibility for Haeckel's monism or was he lying about having read the book? Oh, I said there was no rational case, didn't I.

      Here's my post on the subject.
      http://zthoughtcriminal.blogspot.com/2012/08/darwin-and-haeckel-2.html

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    8. Oh, I should have added that I went into considerably more detail on that them in this post

      http://zthoughtcriminal.blogspot.com/2012/08/darwin-and-haeckel-3_27.html

      which includes this quote from Haeckel, followed by my comment:

      Three times I had the good fortune to visit Darwin at Down, and on each occasion we discussed this fundamental question in complete harmony. I agree with Spencer in the conviction that progressive heredity is an indispensable factor in every true monistic theory of Evolution, and that it is one of its most important elements. If one denies with Weismann the heredity of acquired characters, then it becomes necessary to have recourse to purely mystical qualities of germ-plasm. I am of the opinion of Spencer, that in that case it would be better to accept a mysterious creation of all the various species as described in the Mosaic account.

      If you want to deny that's what Darwin agreed to in his private conversations with Haeckel, you've got the considerable problem of not having been there. No rational person would consider, given the evidence from first hand observation, that Darwin was unaware of Haeckel's monism, as he was still articulating it in 1899. Though, in the context of my notes, I think it was Spencer I was looking into when it was taken down.

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    9. Looking at your comment above, Diogenes, it would have been rather difficult for Haeckel to have developed his ideas in the 1920s, as he died in 1919. The year before the Nazi Party was formed.

      Though, in my research, I found out that there is some indication that there's an effort to rehabilitate Haeckel, I guess largely instigated by the Darwin Industry. Coyne wrote about part of that in the New York Times a couple of months back. It's a campaign as intellectually dishonest as your assertions. Haeckel was a flagrant racist and eugenicist who also advocated infanticide in Naturliche Schopfungsgeschichte and who came close to advocating other categories of murder as he later would outright.

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