The Moonlandings were faked and other nonsense

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Not so Intelligent Design.

Creationists are trying once again to shoe-horn religion into science classrooms. This time, they call it "Intelligent Design", but its just another mask for the same kinds of attempts to discredit the Theory of Evolution that have been made ever since Darwin originally published his theories. Theists are trying to use the methods of science against science. By pointing out that it is the "Theory of" Evolution, they imply that theories are somehow wrong. But think of this - we still call our knowledge about gravity the "Theory of Gravity". Yet when I drop my pen, it falls to the floor despite it only being a theory. The theory of Evolution describes to the best of our scientific knowledge and ability, the facts of what we call Evolution just like the theory of Gravity describes how gravity behaves. We may not have the details perfectly exact, but the theory matches our observations and knowledge of how each field works. We see evolution in action today. To me, natural selection is such an obvious observation. Imagine seeing a row of 10 bicycles in a bike rack. 9 of them have locks and the 10th does not - which bike is the bike thief going to take - the unlocked one of course. The unlocked bikes are preferentially stolen. Now imagine a herd of zebra which is being stalked by a pride of lions. Which zebras are going to survive? The fastest and healthiest survive. The survivors go on to mate and produce new zebra which inherit the genetics of the survivors - the herd gets stronger over time because of that - evolution in action. It's so obvious that it's hard to see how the creationists/fundementalists/intelligent design advocates cannot see just how logical evolution is and how it also applies to our own species. Intelligent design is an attempt to spray religious graffiti all over science. If I were forced to teach "Intelligent Design" in the classroom, I would teach it for what it is and I would blow it out of the water by showing students how it is refuted by proper scence.

Wade Wurthen in an article in The State says:
There is no debate [about the fact of evolution] within the scientific community; that’s why intelligent design proponents seek to legislate their truth in the political arena.

They frame the issue as a choice between godless, “random” evolution and purposeful creation by God.

This misrepresents evolution and the relationship between science and religion. Evolution can occur randomly (genetic drift), but it can also proceed by the non-random process of natural selection. Also, like all scientific theories, evolution is not atheistic; it neither affirms nor denies the existence of God.

So, again, this argument is a false dichotomy. Couldn’t God make a new species through the natural process of evolution? (Well, of course She could.) In fact, many of the 500,000 scientists who accept evolution today are believers. Intelligent design proponents frame this false dichotomy so they can claim that science and evolution oppose religion.

They confuse evolutionary theory with origin-of-life hypotheses. They claim that “evolution can’t explain how life arose, so this theory is based on faith.”

Here are some websites relevant to this discussion: - The Bad Astronomy Blog

The Onion's "Intelligent Falling" parody.

CNN's coverage of the Dover Area School District trial on Intelligent Design

The Panda's Thumb website

Note added later in the day:

This blog entry from the Evolutionblog hits the nail on the head. I couldn't say it any better myself:

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Critical thinking 101....

I had to laugh at a recent Ameritrade commercial airing these days on TV. A family is going over what a recently deceased father has left them, with the lawyer mentioning that he had left them a substantual portfolio. At just that instant, an update involving a trade happens on the computer screen and the fellow says something like "I guess he's still updating!" in surprise. Now, if this were to happen, there are two approaches to looking at such an event. The first, taken by the elderly lady who is obviously the mans widow, is to think of the supernatural explanation, that the man is controlling and causing this phenomenon from "the other side". And of course, when the lights start flashing, that is just re-enforcement of the hypothesis, that is, until one of the young men in the room realizes he's leaning against the light switch. Which brings us to the more logical interpretation of the events - looking for a simple explanation, which of course, is that he left them an Ameritrade account with their automatic trades still active & of course, the fellow leaning on the light switch.

The trouble with most humans, is that they only look at the supernatural explanation without trying to understand the phenomenon they are witnessing and examining other simpler, more mundane explanations. Here's an example that I personally experienced a few years ago. I was observing on Kitt Peak when I saw a row of bright yellow-orange lights low in the northwest sky. I recognized them immediately as military flares from jet airplanes over the Goldwater Gunnery Range. I've seen them many times before and since. The image included here is an example taken just the other night showing a single military flare during a 20 second exposure (along with one of our domes on Kitt Peak). Interestingly, there are 5 other "UFO's" besides the bright military flare that appears in the lower left part of the frame - there are trails of airplanes and satellites - the satellite even glinted briefly on the far right part of the frame (but at the resolution uploaded to this blog, it will be difficult to see them all).

Back to the night in question back in March of 1997, I recognized the flares and went back to my business for the night. Several days later after returning to town at the end of my observing run, I heard stories about a UFO sighting from Phoenix. They had seen rows of yellow lights southwest of Phoenix which have become known as the "Phoenix Lights". The folks in Phoenix probably also saw a second mundane phenomenon later in the evening which was confused with the first. But using some simple triangulation, using my sighting to the NW and the sighting from Phoenix to the SW converges - not surprisingly - over the Goldwater Range. Fast forward a few years and after lots of efforts mostly by the UFO crowd, a government investigation was made which concluded - surprise - that they had witnessed military flares over the gunnery range and a flight of planes later in the night close to Phoenix. As usual, the UFO "true believers" discount the report as a coverup of what "really happened" that night.

So, 8 years after the events, we can choose to believe in an elaborate coverup of extraterrestrials causing the phenomenon, or we can recognize that some folks mininterpretted what they saw and that they were more mundane phenomena such as flares and airplanes. I know the UFO/ET explanation is a lot more fun, but the facts don't care what is fun or not.