Wednesday, November 14, 2007

On Cdesign proponentsists

So my junior high and high school taught me Creationism. Not Intelligent Design but pure, unadulterated Creationism. They at least had the sense to call a spade a spade. I'm sad to say that the biology teacher who taught me Creationism was a Poly Alum. Not that he was a bad guy, but to get a bio degree while discarding the evidence for the fundamental theory behind your area of study just shouldn't happen . It'd be like getting a CS degree while believing the mathematics behind lambda calculus or the Turing machine is wrong. Just thinking that shows you've missed the point.

So I believed Creationism. And it wasn't until one of my college biology classes when I realized that none of it made any sense without evolution being true. After that it still didn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense (I was never a savant when it came to biology, a fact I lament daily as I work in one of the few areas of my profession where it'd be a useful thing to know), but at least that bit did.

Yesterday there was just a flood of interesting stuff to read and watch on Creationism. First was an article on evolution's establishment of liberal religion. Apparently some cdesign proponentsists argue that a public school saying evolution is compatible with religion violates religious neutrality mandated by the Establishment Clause. For those unable to click the link, this is one of the controversial statements:

Can you accept evolution and still believe in religion? A: Yes. The common view that evolution is inherently antireligious is simply false.

I should note that the above hasn't actually been found to be said in a public school; it's just in material put together by PBS for teachers.

At first glance I agreed that it probably violated the Establishment Clause. Not that I thought evolution shouldn't be taught or that a similar sentiment couldn't be said legally; I just thought the statement as worded was strong enough that it might violate the Establishment Clause. But then I thought about how I'd reword it, and my rewording ended up meaning the same thing. I think the saving word is inherently, as there are religions for which evolution isn't an incompatible truth. If the sentence read ...evolution is antireligious... or ...evolution is anti-[specific religion]..., then I'd argue it would violate the Establishment Clause. I do sympathize with those people whose religion can be proven to be false. The most one can say against most religions is that they're improbable or implausible, which means there's still a remote possibility that the followers of those religions are correct. But to be shown to be a member of a false religion, that's gotta suck like I can't imagine.

Next up was a trip to the Creation Museum. I must say, the photos make me want to go. Unfortunately the museum's in Kentucky, so it's unlikely I'll be day-tripping over there anytime soon. The reasoning displayed in their museum is...interesting. They argue that because thorns only came to exist after the Fall of Man and because thorn fossils have been found with fossils of dinosaurs, dinosaurs lived alongside man. It's a valid argument, but its soundness leaves something to be desired. The writeup's good for a laugh or as a starting point to beat yourself up over once believing such things.

But the pièce de résistance was Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. It chronicles the Dover, DE Intelligent Design trial, including re-enactments of the more humorous and informative bits of the trial itself. If you wondered what cdesign proponentsists are, it's explained in the documentary (hint: it's the transitional form between creationism and intelligent design). Like the rest of the evolution series, it's well-produced and a good introductory to the topic. PBS will host it in its entirety on their website starting on the 16th, but I imagine you can find it on other outlets if you look hard enough.

Good as it was, I found myself upset after watching it. Why? Because I remember hearing the same arguments in my biology class in high school, years after they were debunked. We had someone from the Institute for Creation Research speak in chapel, years after their arguments were shown to be false. Yet we still heard them. Irreducible complexity, arguments against transitional forms, arguments from improbability, arguments from the Bible, I remember them all, years after they were shown to be wrong. Yet I never saw the transitional forms (we have a fossil of a fish with arms, and you're going to argue that isn't transitional?), saw the complex reduced, or heard why evolution isn't blind chance. I was lied to, and I don't appreciate being lied to.

Every month I get a newsletter from my high school which in passing asks for a donation. And every month I seriously contemplate giving them money, because although I completely disagree with their mission, I loved my high school experience. It was the first time I actually enjoyed going to school. One of the major reasons why I don't donate is due to this dishonesty. It'd be one thing they were rejecting evolution because there was little evidence to support it. But rejecting it after we have evidence from genetics, medicine, paleontology, geology, chemistry, etc... is either dishonest or delusional. And it does a disservice to their students both academically and psychologically. To teach that one's religion depends on something provably false to be true, what do they think's going to happen when their students enter the real world and learn the truth? More importantly, what do they think's going to happen when their students want to study biology in college and professors have to un-teach these students? How behind are they going to be before their education has even started? And how are they going to contribute new ideas and discoveries in their field if they don't understand the fundamentals?

But I digress. Watch Judgment Day if you can. Hopefully you'll be able to do so without going on some long-winded rant.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

A Successful Failure

Two years ago, I started an experiment I just today remembered to taste the results of. I'd gotten into a bit of a mead phase, noticed an absense of decent meads for sale, and figured I could make one. I don't know that I'd call making alcoholic drinks a hobby, but it's certainly something that's intrigued me for some time. Indeed, one of my best memories from college was when Lucas and I made beer in my dorm kitchen. T'was terrible stuff (as have all my attempts at beer have been), but good times. To keep people off the scent of what we were making, we baked cookies as we made our beer. Don't think anyone fell for it, though. After all, how many people walk around with 5 gallon jugs full of liquid when they're making a sheet of cookies? Ah, we were young and stupid. I'm still stupid, just a little bit older now.

One of the perks of living in SLO was the easy access to good apple cider. There were a couple apple farms nearby that made it, and it was incredible. I frequently bought it, and my parents still bring down a gallon or two for me whenever they visit the area. So I decided that my first attempt at making mead would be a cyser, or apple cider mead. I won't go into details about the procedure as I wrote about it two years ago. I'll just concentrate on the results.

About a year ago, I put a bottle of the cyser in my refridgerator. I think my intention was to drink it for Thanksgiving, but who can remember such things? Point is, there it sat, in my refridgerator, for about a year. Today I got a hankering for some mead, Redstone Meadery's Black Raspberry mead, to be precise. If you've not had it (and I'd bet money you haven't), buy it. It's an excellent sparkling mead, not unlike a really good raspberry wine cooler. Problem is, it's hard to get down here. The one Redstone distributer I know of down here doesn't carry their raspberry mead. Fortunately, I remembered the bottle of homemade mead in my fridge. So I decided to try it.

I was a bit nervous when I cracked open the bottle. After all, I tried it about 6 months after I bottled it, and I could still taste the rubber stopper I used to hold the airlock. The mead was still young and harsh and not tasty at all. Yet I tasted potential. Although I knew after the extra 18 months it would have mellowed, I was unsure how much. My apricot wine (which has not mellowed at all in three years) has made me a bit gun-shy. But I decided to try it anyway.

It's good and not at all what I expected it to be. My goal when I started making it was for it to be a sweet mead, for it to taste mostly like apple cider with alcohol in it. In this respect I've failed; it is not a sweet mead. It's pretty dry and strong, with a rather subtle taste of apple. The West Coast IPA I'd been drinking completely overpowered the subtle taste for some time until the beer subsided and the cyser's taste rang loud and clear on my tongue. I'm happy to say it's mellowed a lot since I last tried it. It is, by far, the best fermented drink I've made; and quite a drinkable one at that. And in this respect, I've succeeded.

Is it perfect? Of course not. I think I still taste a hint of that rubber stopper, but it's a minor issue. And I'd still like to make a sweet cyser just to see what I come up with. I think of mead as a sweet beverage, and I'd like to make something that meets that expectation. Perhaps I'll try again sometime, see what I come up with.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

I've Got to Stop Watching This Stuff

A couple evenings ago I watched Hell House, an upsetting and depressing movie which follows a church that puts on a haunted house that attempts to scare people into believing in Jesus. It's upsetting because they're using fear to get people to believe in their god, depressing because they thought their god wanted them to do it. Admittedly it's less upsetting than Jesus Camp, which makes me want to throw a fucking brick through my TV every time I watch it.

The premise behind the Hell House was that if you accept Jesus, then you won't have anything to fear. Of course then I watch this gem, which uses fear to get Christians to proselytize to their non-believing friends because if they don't the people they love will be tortured in Hell. It's a truly sickening video, and the underlying doctrine that motivated both the Hell House and the video is despicable as well.

I remember a conversation I had with my roommate/Bible study leader as my faith came crashing down a couple years ago. I asked him how a loving god could possibly send my assholish self to heaven while decent people who didn't believe went to Hell. He didn't like the idea any more than I did, but he didn't have a response other than God will act justly. Considering the just actions of God in the Old Testament, I didn't find this reassuring.

My personal opinion is that the Christian dogma Hell as it exists today (Hell is eternal torment, and you go there unless you believe in Jesus) will disappear within 50 years. Perhaps you'll still have Hell as a place where the Stalins and Hitlers of the world go, but I don't think it'll be someplace righteous unbelievers go when they die. Since I'm making predictions already, I predict that annihilationism will become the dominant belief in the next 50 years. I can't really find much fault in the doctrine itself, though I still have some problems with the criteria used to determine who goes to heaven and who gets annihilated. Being a decent person — Christ-like if you'd like to call it that — seems a much better criteria for receiving heavenly rewards than holding the correct belief. Maybe in 100 years we'll see something closer to universal reconciliation take hold, but I suspect the opposition to such a teaching will take several generations to overcome.

Or who knows; maybe in 100 years the US will be a post-Christian society like Europe (Common wisdom has it that alcoholics outnumber practicing Christians and that more Czechs believe in UFOs than believe in God...). Hell, there's some research that it's starting to happen already. It'll be interesting to see if that trend continues, how it'll be combated, and what doctrinal changes will be made to combat it.

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