A Mother’s Day Sermon

I ran across “Mother and Grandmother”, a Mother’s Day sermon by one Edwin Whitney Bishop from May 14, 1911, about a hundred years ago, and was curious to see what it might say.

The first surprise came in the first sentence:

A VERY decided attempt is being made in many quarters to have this second Sunday in May set apart as Mother’s Day, or perhaps better as Parent’s Day, as a counterbalance to the very wide spread observance of the second Sunday in June as Children’s Day,

I would have placed the origin of Mother’s Day some time in the 1950s or 1960s, and I certainly didn’t know that it was preceded by  Children’s Day.

After a couple of pages about the importance of raising children properly, like bred roses or horses, he starts railing against people who shouldn’t have kids:

It is perfectly permissible for consumptives, habitual criminals, and feeble minded to marry at will and populate the hospitals and alms houses, and no one shall say them nay. We pass laws to cut down peach trees that have the yellows and we eliminate cattle that have the hoof and mouth disease, but we have thought nothing of having diseased people transmit certain terrible tendencies to the third and fourth generation.

Bishop was clearly an advocate of eugenics. He cites the cost to society of having murderers, beggars, convicts, children born out of wedlock, and people leading “disreputable lives”, something that he sees as being passed down from parent to child, genetically as we would say today. “And yet there are those who insist that the State has no interest in who shall be parents !”, he exclaims.

No doubt there are creationists who would love to claim that this man of God was corrupted by the Great Satan, Darwin. So here you go:

For whether you are a disciple of Spencer and Darwin, or a disciple of Häckel and Weissman as to the way the facts shall be interpreted, the facts themselves are beyond question.

And a bit later,

Endless life is promised by evolution as well as by Christ only to the righteous. It may take millions of years to bring it about, but it is sure to come — the evil self-destructive in its own nature and therefore self-limiting will annihilate itself out, and the good which always has in itself the embryo of eternal life will flower in richest perfection.


Henry Drummond in his book, entitled : “The Ascent of Man,” has in it a remarkable chapter, called : “The evolution of a mother.” He shows how motherhood comes to its own only in the human race.

(passages emphasizes in bold to tweak Ken Ham.)

The interesting thing to me about this passage is that in Grand Rapids in 1911, a preacher seemed to consider evolution to be settled science, at least in its broad outlines, and that the only areas on which educated laymen might disagree concerned the particular hypotheses being hashed out.

He does hold a misconception that’s still widespread, though: after talking about reptiles and birds, he says that “[l]ions are higher up in the scale”. Throughout his sermon, he seems to take for granted that there is a Great Chain of Being, with some above (and better than) others: reptiles above insects, birds above reptiles, humans above lions. I wouldn’t be surprised if he considered some humans to be above others on this scale.

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!

Young Americans Are Finally Figuring out Evolution

According to Slate, a Pew Research poll has found that a bare majority of millennials accept evolution as described by scientists. This is in contrast to findings from the last few decades, that a significant number of Americans favor a magic-based or -friendly explanation of where human beings came from. Oddly enough, this seems to go hand in hand with the fact that young people are increasingly non-religious. Go figure.

Natural Selection in the Fossil Record

table.figure {
background-color: #f0f0f0;
table.figure caption {
caption-side: bottom;
font-size: 90%;
padding: 1em;
background-color: #f0f0f0;

For quite some time now, I’ve had a question:

We can see evolution in the present.
And we can see natural selection in the present.
And we can see lots of evolution in the fossil record.
But can we see natural selection in the fossil record?

Read More

Beneficial Mutations: a Reductio ad Absurdum

1) Premise: there are no beneficial mutations; all mutations lead to decay, disease, or death.

2) From (1), some mutations cause death.

3) Presumably, some mutations cause death at a very early age, or even in utero.

4) When young children die, they go directly to heaven.

5) Going to heaven is the best possible outcome.

6) Therefore, there are beneficial mutations. QED.

(Hat tip to the skunk-dicks at Irreligiosophy.)

The “Don’t Be A Dick” Heard Round the World

I feel chastised.

Undoubtedly the most controversial, most thought-provoking talk at TAM 8 was Phil Plait‘s “Don’t be a dick” talk, in which he decried what he sees as the rise of incivility in the skeptical blogosphere.

He wrote it down ahead of time so as not to ad lib and accidentally say something he didn’t mean, and since I have a recording of it, I should really quote him (slightly cleaned up) and not paraphrase, so as not to distort his meaning. I apologize in advance for the length of both the quotations and my response. To quote Blaise Pascal, I lack the time to make it shorter.

Read More

Another Creationist Myth Bites the Dust

We’ve all heard about the peppered moths of England: how soot from the Industrial Revolution turned English trees dark, and how as a result, peppered moths went from being mostly light-colored to being mostly dark.

One argument in creationsts’ bag of misinformation is that peppered moths don’t rest on tree trunks. Therefore, a textbook that showed said moths resting on tree trunks, in order to illustrate camouflage, was fraudulent. Therefore, the original study was fraudulent as well. Therefore, the entire theory of evolution comes tumbling down. (AKA creationist claim CB601.1.)

So anyway, here’s a picture of a visitor to my back yard back in May:

Moth on a tree trunk

Also, if these people are so upset at pedagogical inaccuracies in textbooks (or, as they might say, “lies”), why aren’t they up in arms over diagrams of the circulatory system that show blue blood? Or illustrations of the earth’s structure that show a gigantic wedge cut out of the planet, exposing the magma and core beneath?

Solar System
Planets are not pulled along on wires. This picture is lying to your children.

Update: fixed link.

I Get Email

I don’t I Get Email as often as PZ does, but I figured I’d share this one, sent in by someone going by “Your Name”. I’m not entirely sure what he’s on about, but I think it’s this, which I wrote in a moment of being tired of being calm and reasonable all the time.

Ok, I stumbled your page basically tearing down creationists and their
lack of “facts” or “proof” and it seems that your logical scientific
mind cannot comprehend that:

A: The entire premise of religion, philosophically, is based upon faith.

Nice way to concede right out of the gate. Faith is not a reliable way of figuring out what’s true or false. Rather, it’s an excuse people use to believe something they already want to believe.

To believe in something that cannot be proven by human logic or with
fancy math problems. To ask a person to prove that god exists clearly
shows you have absolutely no clue what religion is, what it means, and
its connection to what makes us human. We’re soooooo smart. We know it
all, yet, the leading scientists in the world cannot explain even the
most basic aspects of human emotions and behavior. Can you prove that
electricity can charge carbon particles that, by some miracle,
“transform” into complex proteins to “magically” evolve into life?
Although Darwin titles his most popular work “the origin of species”,
Darwin’s evolution is NOT the origin of species. It is a theory and the
only parts of it that have any validity are that species (that are
already here) adapt to their environment through natural selection.

And that’s why he titled his book The Origin of Species and not The Origin of Life.

let me know when you, or anyone for that matter, electrically charges
carbon to create complex proteins necessary for life to evolve. Please.
Let me know.

Nice collection of strawmen you’ve built yourself there.

B: Creationism has a legitimate right to be taught in schools

In the same way as phlogiston and the ether have a legitimate place in physics class: examining failed hypotheses can be useful in learning how not to make the same mistakes in the future.

Okay, now it’s getting late, and I don’t have the energy for a point-by-point fisking. See the Index of Creationist Claims for more rebuttals.

and to
exist as a theory on the origin of species, seeing as how there is no
solid, universally accepted theory that has been proven as FACT. How can
we learn if never exposed to differing ideas? Isn’t that the point of
education, especially in terms of philosophical perspectives on the
origin of life? I thought all you smartie smarties were all about
exposing others minds to different ideas and perspectives to give them a
true broad sense of whatever it may be that is being discussed so they
come to an educated conclusion? Hmmm. Seems like that attitude has gone
out the window as of late. God forbid someone have a different opinion
(yes OPINION) than you.

I am by no means trying to contradict your opinions and do not wish to
impose any specific ideology on you, rather I suggest you scale back the
vitriol towards others who may not agree with you or have a different
perspective of life. Elitists are constantly insulting us “simple” folk
who accept the fact that we are merely tiny insignificant humans in a
great big universe (many of them depending on what kind of science you
choose to read about.) that we possibly cannot understand. Some would
have us believe humans are DEFINITELY the most advanced and most
knowledgeable creatures in existence. Surely, we know everything there
is to know. Please note the sarcasm.

I started out atheist. I do not go to church. Never have and never will,
but I will tell you what changed my mind in terms of believing in
something that greater than myself, or my species for that matter, that
cannot be proven with science. Its when I started reading about
theoretical physics and the quantum theory and the likes. The fish in a
fishbowl analogy, we’re fish in a fishbowl. We can see whats outside but
cant understand it as we only understand what is known to us in our
reality. Now, I’m no expert, nor am I a scientist, but I think those
theories alone should convince any hard headed atheist that there is
simply too much about our universe that is, and will always be, foreign
to us to the point where we will NEVER understand it. Which is why faith
is so necessary in relation to what makes us human. Einstein didn’t want
to disprove the existence of god, he wanted to know and understand the
way things were built by him. Honestly, I do not even really know what
“creationism” is other than teaching that there are theories life didn’t
“poof” out of the sky during a thunderstorm some odd billions of years
ago and I tend to agree with that because frankly, that’s bullshit. I
find the whack job “were all aliens from outer space” theories more
believable than that.

Do I read the bible? Yes. Do I take it literally? Hell no! People who do
need help. They are the ones that give halfway intelligent believers a
bad name, and are the cause for the “evils” in the world that are blamed
on religion and give your kind reason to speak so poorly of those who
believe. Tell a moron who truly believes in whatever god that god wants
him to kill said person and he will. No one can help that for thousands
of years religion has been misused to herd mindless idiots into groups
to do horrible things to our fellow men. Did Jesus come to earth and die
for our sins? Is he the “son” of god? Is there heaven, hell? Who knows
for sure, but I tend to gravitate towards Christianity as the purpose of
the messiah in Christianity is to move people away from ritualistic
nonsense of the old testament and come to an understanding that FAITH
and believing in something greaterthan ourselves is the true point to it
all. I always get a kick out of the fact that self proclaimed geniuses
who claim to have such a broad and open mind are, in fact, some of the
most narrow minded people on earth. Irony. Great, isn’t it?

I’m not the smartest guy on earth, but I’m far from stupid and have
always loved science and technology though unlike you, I have managed to
merge the faith of religion with the rigidity and logic of science.
Science cannot explain what makes us human, though I believe religion
can. I don’t think any specific religion is “right” or “wrong”. I don’t
say religion is “truth” like many of the mindless idiots out there as
that is contradictory to faith, but you are not insulting just those
types with your words. There are many like me, who can look at things
from the proper perspective, whom you insult as well. Which is why you
may want to tone it down. Not every person with faith is an idiot and
not every math whiz computer programmer guy, like yourself, is the all
knowing supreme master of all things life. Have a little humility. Just
please understand. Others may be wrong or illogical, but that doesn’t
make you right. You push a theory and claim it as truth. Sounds a little
like the religious folks you so despise.

Even if evolution were 100% fact. Where did space time come from? What
initiated the big bang? The origin of LIFE goes back much further than
Darwin’s theories predict or even earth itself and the funny thing is;
Well never know. So please stop insulting those who do not think like
you. No individual of faith will ever be able to win a fact based
logical argument because you cant argue the origins of life in that
manner. There are no supporting or contradictory facts on either side.
No one is “right” and no one is “wrong”. You cannot disprove the
existence of a god as I cannot prove it. It is an argument that cannot
be won by either side. Faith is not a competition or judgment of
intelligence. Maybe it is to you but then again, maybe your not as smart
as you think you are.

Ray Comfort, Plagiarist?

Looks like Ray Comfort found it too hard to write a 50-page introduction to Origin on his own: Metropulse.com, a Knoxville, TN local paper, has a story about Stan Guffey, a University of Tennessee lecturer who wrote a brief bio of Charles Darwin. Turns out that bio bears a striking resemblance to the first few pages of Comfort’s introduction (you know, the part that isn’t batshit crazy).

(HT Unreasonable Faith and AIG Busted.)

I find it ironic that the approach investigators use to detect plagiarism are similar to that taken by biologists to find homologies, which are one of the bits of evidence pointing to common descent.

So maybe Ray can use creationist arguments in his defense: “You cherry-picked your examples to make your case. If you look at the other 47 pages of the introduction, you’ll see that it’s nothing like anything Dr. Guffey has written”, or “Similarities do not mean that I copied from Guffey. It’s more likely that both texts were written by God.” Or the ever-popular “Did anyone see copying take place? Then how do you know it happened?”

(Cross-posted at UMD Society of Inquiry.)

Kent Hovind’s Dissertation

I think I just came a little in my mouth. But then again, I’m a glutton for punishment.

Kent Hovind’s “doctoral dissertation” at Patriot “University” has been released on Wikileaks. Grab it while it’s hot!

Those who lack the patience to read the whole thing may wish to read Karen Bartelt’s analysis.

(HT PZ.)

Thanks to No One

At this time of year, it’s traditional to say what you’re thankful for. And I’m thankful for a lot of things: that I know where my next meal is coming from, that I don’t have any debilitating diseases, that I have good friends and family… Heck, I’m thankful that the job I had to do after hours at work today didn’t turn into one of those nightmare jobs that wind up having you working all night.

But gratitude requires an object. To whom am I grateful? In some cases, it’s obvious: I’m grateful to my friends for putting up with me, and for doing all the things friends do. I’m grateful to my parents for raising me. I’m grateful to the nameless people who raised the food I’m going to enjoy tomorrow, the ones who hauled it here, and to the millions more who set up or aided the free market system that ensures that I have whatever food I want, whenever I want it.

What about the job tonight that went more or less according to plan? To a great extent, it went smoothly because I planned it carefully in advance. Should I feel grateful to myself, for having the foresight to solve a lot of problems before they came up, the experience to know what those problems are likely to be, and the knowledge to quickly diagnose and solve the snags that did come up?

Maybe. I’ve been known to do favors for my future self. But it still feels narcissistic.

And to whom should I feel grateful that I don’t have any debilitating genetic disorders? I suppose the obvious candidates are my parents. But they didn’t pick their genes, and didn’t decide how they would mix. They got lucky, as did I.

Shoud I thank the innumerable rocks flying around the solar system that none of them has decided to intersect Earth’s orbit and conk me on the noggin?

There’s an asymmetry here: on one hand, I can easily imagine an alternate universe in which I was born to parents who didn’t care about my upbringing and education, or one in which a stray C14 atom decayed at the wrong moment and gave me cancer at age five. And I’m glad for both. But in one case, there’s someone to thank, while in the other… the universe has failed to kill me, so far. It just worked out that way.

I guess what I’m getting at is that I have the same hyperactive agency detector as everyone else. Feeling grateful to some nebulous other for the random circumstances that went the way I like comes as naturally as seeing faces in clouds, and so I understand why people naturally believe in benevolent gods and spirits. And so I suppose there’s no harm in addressing thanks to someone or something for those things, as a way of satisfying an urge, long as it’s understood that that’s all it is. The universe. The flying spaghetti monster. Or, as George Carlin did, Joe Pesci, since he looks like a guy who can get things done.

So have a happy Thanksgiving, y’all. Don’t forget to thank the people — actual, living people — who have done something good for you, who matter to you. In fact, don’t wait until Thanksgiving, any more than you should wait until Valentine’s Day to tell your sweetheart you love him/her.

And if I hear you thanking Joe Pesci for the fact that the biscuits came out all right after all, I’ll understand.

(Update, Oct. 11, 2010: s/one/none/.)