this week in the war on religion

I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to Presidential candidate Mike Gravel. Based on this new quote, maybe I should have been. Here’s what the candidate had to say about evolution:

“We thought we had made a big advance with the Scopes monkey trial … My God, evolution is a fact, and if these people are disturbed by being the descendants of monkeys and fishes, they’ve got a mental problem….That ends the story as far as I’m concerned.”

Sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it?

Speaking of sounding reasonable, have you seen the new anti-Scientology video released by the group calling itself Anonymous? It would seem that they weren’t kidding when they said they were declaring war on the much-ridiculed religion.

It seems to me that this initiative is both well-funded and pretty well thought out. I could be very wrong about his, but my guess is that it’s Hollywood-based, and funded by the wealthy parents of Scientologists… Regardless, I’m curious to see how things play out.

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  1. John on Forest
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Well, ok, evolution is not a fact. It is a sound theory though. I agree with Gravel in every aspect except his choice of the word, fact.

    And since we’re on the subject of the evolution debate, let me say that I think the debate is confused by the way we use language. In particular, the use of the word “belief” becomes confusing when those who accept the theory of evolution, as the most reasonable explanation for the scientific facts, say they “believe” in evolution. Of course the creationists are all about beliefs and so they equate “belief in evolution” to a religious statement.

    I happen to personally think that creation, by a higher power, and evolution are compatible. They exist side by side in my own belief system. One as a religious concept and the other as an explanation of how that religious concept was achieved. In other words evolution was the tool of God in his creation.

    So, scientists need to say that they ACCEPT the theory of evolution as the best explanation of facts. They must shy away from using the word BELIEF when they speak of evolution.

    Save BELIEF for the religious side of the story.

    I believe in creationism and accept that evolution was the way creation was achieved.

  2. mark
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    My opinion is pretty close to yours, John. I don’t find religion and science mutually exclusive. That’s why the fundamentalists drive me nuts. As I see it, believing in evolution does not make God any less awesome. It makes him moreso. It seems to me that they should embrace it. But that would force them to accept that the Bible isn’t always fact. And once they open that can of worms….

  3. John on Forest
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 5:02 pm | Permalink


    you used the word “believing” just to goad me.

  4. huckett
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting that the war on Scientology involves such heavy use of flowers and fungi.

  5. mark
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    As opposed to what, volcanos?

  6. Ol' E Cross
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    On Gravel: The one thing I never like is someone ready to call opponents retarded (however true it may be) and move on. That’s one problem with Bush.

    On the war on Scientology: I think it’s a huge, shallow scam. I’d be glad to see the world rid of it. But, I think “anonymous” may be underestimating the power of scam for followers desperate for continued belief. It will be interesting to see if they can make a dent.

    On faith/evolution: I think I’m pretty in-line, belief wise, with Mark/Jof on this. But, although I’m presently too drunk for this, would like to pick at something Mark said: “But that would force them to accept that the Bible isn’t always fact.”

    I’d rather like to say, that it would force fundamentalists to accept that their narrow interpretation of the Bible isn’t always fact.

    For me, one of the most compelling things about the Bible and evolution is how closely the Gen. 1 account mirrors what’s been learned through science. When you consider that most other creation stories/myths have things like giant turtles carrying the world on their back, the Gen account of simple life coming before advanced (i.e., first water, then vegetation, then fish/birds, then animals, then people) is spooky in its thousands year old similarity to evolution.

    I’m old enough to remember the Gen. account being sneered at because light came before stars. Then, some years later, being told in a university ASTR course that the universe exploded from, essentially, nothing and the explosion would of filled the U with light for bajillions of years.

    So, yah, I think the fundies are rather dull for a literal seven day interpretation of what, I find, to be a piece of poetic hyper-summary. But, I remain a bit stunned at how closely the poetry of Genesis mirrors what a few hundred years of scientific discovery has uncovered.

    But, I’m always a sucker for good poetry. And, as always, a little drunk.

  7. Posted January 27, 2008 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    They’re not offering triple your money back are they? I didn’t think so!

  8. mark
    Posted January 27, 2008 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    The guy from Xenu TV respondes to Anonymous… warning them. (He’s got some pretty good points.)

  9. degutails
    Posted January 27, 2008 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    evolution, here’s the thing, is a fact. some of the various mechanisms by which it proceeds are theory. some are fact, accepted, tested, and proven.

    i know this is a commonly used analogy, but it’s because it’s a good one: gravity’s a fact. the mechanism by which it works is most definitely a theory, but we all accept gravity as a fact. evolution is no different. if a presidential candidate questioned gravity, we’d dismiss him or her as a bloody fruit loop, and rightfully so.

    of course you can’t use belief terms for evolution, which is something that many people (scientists and otherwise) don’t necessarily adhere to, although it’s the media more than anyone else responsible for this crossing of linguistic purposes (read “Wonderful Life” by Stephen Jay Gould for an insightful explanation).

    just saying, i don’t care who or what you believe in as a deity, that doesn’t preclude the laws of nature.


  10. Meta
    Posted January 28, 2008 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    I hope Anonymous knows who they’re dealing with.

  11. Meta
    Posted January 28, 2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    See also.

  12. KT
    Posted January 28, 2008 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Looks like there’s a Michigan angle too.


  13. John on Forest
    Posted January 28, 2008 at 6:07 pm | Permalink


    I’m sorry to be a stickler for the details of our use of language here; but, I do and that’s why I disagree with you.

    The documented mechanisms and the fossil remains are all facts. But, the explanation for where those fossil remains came from are a theory called evolution. The discovery of evolutionary mechanisms in present day life are facts that also support the theory of evolution.

    In scientific jargon, the next step would be for evolution to be afforded the status of scientific LAW, as gravity is afforded. In scientific terms, gravity is not a fact either, it is a law. Evolution has not been upgraded to a law and is not likely to be in a very long time.

    Even very well established things like electricity and magnetism (and manifestations of it like radio) are explained by electromagnetic THEORY. That theory is supported by many facts, but the theory itself is not a fact.

  14. Tim
    Posted January 28, 2008 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    I’m with Meredith: evolution is a fact. From a biological perspective, it is really just the word used to describe changes in populations and species over time. I wouldn’t call it a law either because it is not, itself, a mechanism or explanation – just an observation that populations within species and species themselves have changed over generations.

    Natural selection is the “theory” that explains the mechanism of evolution(and is supported by many facts). I know “evolution” is commonly used to mean “natural selection”, but it is not exactly correct.

    When people say they don’t believe in evolution, I don’t think generally they mean that they believe all of the same species exist now in exactly the same form they alway have (though a few yahoos probably do mean that). They mean that they don’t think that natural selection is a sufficient mechanism to have produced the wonder that is humankind. I disagree with that completely, but I think it is useful in trying to understand where most creationists and intelligent design supporters stand.

  15. John on Forest
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    I guess I’ve never seen the word, evolution, used in that narrow way.

    The facts are that digging through the archaeological record, fossils verify the existence of a certain species at a certain time that in a more recent time of the record no longer existed but was replaced by a similar yet distinct species. Evolution of one species to the next, through natural selection is one of the explanations for this fossil record.

    Another explanation for the fossil record is that God created those fossils to maintain the mysteriousness of his creation. This is the argument of the creationist.

    On Intelligent Design: I really get miffed over this one because the creationists hijacked the concept and morphed it. My view, expressed above, that God used natural selection driven evolution to do his creation is what Intelligent Design started off as. Now, the creationists have morphed it to not include acknowledgment of evolution as an accepted scientific theory.

    By the way, Tim, I think you might mean genetic drift when you talk about changes in populations over time. The thing is that genetic drift can occur without resulting in a new species. Only by isolating populations for sufficient periods of time can genetic drift result in evolution to a new species. The other way to facilitate evolution is by changing the habitat such that some genetic variants are naturally selected to survive over others, again over significant time frames.

    But back to the word with which I really want to quibble: Believe/Belief. Belief is a religious matter. I don’t believe in evolution. I do accept evolution, though.

  16. degutails
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    john – i haven’t had time to respond to your post yet, since I was busy, in part, teaching evolution to a college biology class. in that role, i have good reason to stay current on the genetics, fossils, and language used in evolutionary studies. it’s pretty well accepted that evolution is a fact, and that the mechanisms are still being defined and understood.

    genetic drift is indeed a possible mechanism of speciation, but that’s not what tim was saying, as i understand it. a summary of the definition of evolution is the change in the genetic makeup of a species over time. period. so what tim’s saying is just that.

    the fossil record, although imperfect, has all sorts of intermediaries that are found in particular strata that do a lot more than provide a discrete picture of a lot of plants and animals on earth over time. genetic analysis of the available remains similarly provides mechanisms and explanations for change. nobody understands it all yet, but that’s half the fun.

    none of this has a rat’s patootie to do with religion, which is where i’ve always come up stumped as to why people get all fussed. faith is based on intangibles. evolution isn’t. i wouldn’t want my faith based on tangible evidence – then it’s not faith.


  17. John on Forest
    Posted January 31, 2008 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Huzza, Meredith!

    I agree with you and Tim on all the basics here.

    Perhaps I’ve gotten tangled up with the debate over the word Fact. With a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences, I have a pretty good understanding of the science. But, I yield to your more specific expertise in the topic. Besides, I haven’t been in the sciences for a decade.

    I’m 100% with you on the religion vs. science debate too. That of course was the primary point I was trying to make regarding the use of the word, believe.

  18. Jim
    Posted April 4, 2008 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Evolution is a myth. It is totally impossible for the complex chemicals of life to arrange themselves even into a single Protein. Proteins are made by hooking together long chains made of 20 unique chemicals called amino acids. Each link in the chain are precisely placed, missing just one link or switching just one location of the correct amino acid is a ‘disaster’ it becomes a poison and must be eliminated or the cell will perish.

    Once the protein chain is correctly hooked together it now has to be sent to another part of the cell to be folded.

    Under the microscope a completed protein looks like an extremely complex ball of twine. And again, the folded protein has to be PERFECTLY FOLDED or the cell will die. This is just the BEGINNING of the complexity of life.

    To describe all the various components of a simple cell requires an ‘encyclopedia’ and that ‘book’ is in constant growth and modification, by scientists who are constantly finding new parts in the cells of life.

    Only the ignorant could believe that something this complex could happen by CHANCE!

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