Saturday, February 7, 2009

200 Years of Darwin on NPR

This link is to NPR's Science Friday on evolution and the 200 year anniversary of Darwin's Birthday and the 150 year anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. It features an interview with Matthew Chapman, Darwin's great-great grandson.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Lee Strobel's "The Case for a Creator" review and commentary

An acquaintance at work lent me a book to read that supports his religious and creationist viewpoint. Since I’ve always found the religious worldview puzzling; I am going to read it hoping that there is a grain of truth and honesty, especially after listening to people like Kent Hovind and Harun Yahya with their blatantly dishonest tactics and contentions.

The book is Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward a God.” My plan is to do one post per chapter, as time permits.

Chapter 1: White-coated Scientists versus Black-robed Preachers

The first chapter was an anecdote about an incident in the 1970’s concerning Christians in West Virginia that were acting violently in reaction to school books that they felt were “anti-Christian” and “un-American.” Strobel actually does seem to have a fair grasp of the science oriented atheist’s position although he is consistently expressing it in a way that would inflame the emotion of true believer. An example of his seeming grasp of the position can be found in paragraphs such as this one.

“Didn’t he know that evolution is a proven fact? Didn’t he realize that in an age of science and technology that it’s simply irrational to believe the ancient myths about god creating the world and shaping human beings in his own image? Did he really want his children clinging desperately to religious pap that is so clearly disproved by cosmology, astronomy, zoology, comparative anatomy, geology, paleontology, biology, genetics and anthropology?”

His primary tactic to illicit an emotional response from true believers is the arguments of his interviewees that took place in West Virginia and his use of the term Darwinism rather than evolution. I believe that these interviews will set the tone for the rest of the book. The bottom line of them is that they believe, not because on evidence or credibility but because they do not like the implications of their religion being false. An excellent example can be found almost immediately on page 11 where an interviewee says…

“If Darwin is right, we’re just sophisticated monkeys. The bible is wrong. There is no god and without god there is no right or wrong. We can just make up our morals as we go. The basis for all we believe is destroyed. And that is why this country is headed to hell in a handbasket.”

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My Surprising Favorite of the Auto Show

As I've already mentioned, I spent a portion of my weekend at the auto show. There were some awesome cars, there and a surprising number of fuel efficient autos. I already own an Accord hybrid and a Mazdaspeed MX-5 but am always on the lookout for my next automotive toy. A car that I was particularly attracted to was an aggressive looking black, 2010, Chevy Camaro V-6. While I haven't seen any acceleration numbers, this V-6 does not appear to be a slouch with 300 hp at tap. More impressive than this, however, is its 27 mpg highway rating. This is comparable to my turbocharged miata.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Proselytization on the run

I went to the auto show this weekend, as I do every year. I happen to live close to the train and decided to travel by the metro rather than by car. It takes about a half hour to get from my stop to downtown and during the trip a fundamentalist christian must have taken note of me and another guy who was sitting across the aisle because he quickly stood up and handed us a small booklet, saying "can I give this to you" and quickly darting out of the train. He jetted so quickly that he almost hit one of the doors. I'm not sure why the haste, maybe he was afraid he'd get stuck with us.

The booklet was a generic booklet with the address of a local church on its back. It brought one phrase to mind, god-fearing. This booklet is the essence of what is wrong with Christianity.

It has it all; blaming the victim, stressing blind belief and threats, lots of threats.

Here are a couple of examples:

Can you see the major contradiction? God loves you but if you don't toe the line you'll burn for eternity.

Let's begin with the assumption that there is a god and it is the Christian god. Where does love fit with a creature that would create such beauties as a worm that has to survive by burrowing into a human's eyeball and feasting on their optic nerve? Or how about a creature that would create a being with curiosity and logic only to punish said being for using these attributes. There are many more examples, way too many to list. No matter what, these are not examples that one would expect in a world created by a watching and loving being.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Homosexuality, a psychodynamic process?

I’ve recently been conversing with a Christian on about homosexuality. He is making many dubious claims about homosexuals and condoms that have led me to develop this post and probably more to follow. The primary basis for his claims is that homosexuality is a purely psychodynamic process and has no physiological basis. This contradicts all reputable scientific, medicine and psychological organizations that I am aware of so I did a quick review of the literature.

Homosexuality has been demonstrated to have an underlying physiological influence by many different examples of research that have evolved from twin-sibling studies to more recent brain and physical trait studies.

The earliest study that I’ve found supporting a physiological influence on homosexuality was a twin study from 1952 [Twin and Subship Study of Overt Male Homosexuality. Am J Hum Genet]. The author stated:

“It is also quite evident that the presently available genetic evidence, especially the observation of practically complete concordance as to overt homosexuality in monozygotic male twin pairs, throws considerable doubt upon the validity of purely psychodynamic theories of predominantly or exclusively homosexual behavior patterns in adulthood.”

There have been many twin studies since and they have all pointed to a physiological basis to homosexuality. Here is the short list:

A family history study of male sexual orientation using three independent samples. Behav Genet. 1999;29:79–86.

Evidence for maternally inherited factors favoring male homosexuality and promoting female fecundity. Proc Roy Soc London B. 2004;271:2217–2221.

Familial aspects of male homosexuality. Arch Sex Behav. 2000;29:155–163.

Family size in white gay and heterosexual men. Arch Sex Behav. 2005;34:117–122.

Sperm competition and the persistence of genes for male homosexuality. Biosystems. 1993;31:223–233.

Homosexuality, birth order, and evolution: Toward an equilibrium reproductive economics of homosexuality. Arch Sex Behav. 2000;29:1–34.

A genome-wide scan of male sexual orientation. Hum Genet. 2005;116:272–278.

Molecular investigations into complex behavior: lessons from sexual orientation studies. Hum Biol. 1998;70:367–386.

Is homosexuality familial? A review, some data, and a suggestion. Arch Sex Behav. 1981;10:465–475.

A family study of sexual orientation. Arch Sex Behav. 1982;11:511–520.

Human sexual orientation has a heritable component. Hum Biol. 1998;70:347–365.

Biological versus nonbiological older brothers and men’s sexual orientation
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 July 11; 103(28): 10771–10774.

Sexual orientation and the size of the anterior commissure in the human brain.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1992 August 1; 89(15): 7199–7202.

Twin and sibship study of overt male homosexuality
Am J Hum Genet. 1952 June; 4(2): 136–146.

It should be noted that these studies are often cited as evidence for a genetic influence to homosexuality but they are also compatible with a hormonal influence, maternal immunity or any combination, thereof. It should also be noted that very few aspects of human nature are dependent upon a single variable but is the culmination of interactions between physical and environmental factors.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Darwin Day Editorial

February 12 is Darwin day, commemorating 200 years since Darwin's birthday. Darwin is credited for founding evolution, which is often defined as descent with modification. Most of us are not aware of the daily impact of Darwin's theory of evolution. Evolution's most tangible benefits are found in the fields of medicine and agriculture. Evolutionary theory is responsible for such treatments as flu immunizations and many medicines, as well as genetics and disease pathology. Our knowledge of heart disease, obesity, infectious disease, disease of pregnancy, cancer and many more all have been impacted by evolution and its mechanisms. So, this February, remember the real and tangible benefits that this often misunderstood theory has provided us in our daily lives.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Why does god hate Christians?

Nine people are dead and over one hundred injured in the collapse of one of the largest evangelical churches in Brazil. Whenever I read a report such as this I ponder the apparent inconsistency with the religious belief and actual world events. It always amazes me how Christians, Muslims and all of the rest can always rationalize this type of tragedy and still believe that there is a loving god watching over them. Sure, I've heard plenty of excuses but none has more explanatory power to explain the random events of the world than the natural explanations.