Harvard Gets it Wrong on Basic Science and Evolution

It seems you can’t even trust a school like Harvard to get it right about science and evolution.  I haven’t seen such poor explanations of science since I last visited the creationist site Answers in Genesis.

Harvard Medical School has a website called Basic Science Partnership with a self described mission to be an enhancement of science education for middle and high school students.  A great goal and one I fully support, except it is delivering false information about science.

Brought to my attention (thanks @EvoPhD) is an article posted at http://bsp.med.harvard.edu/node/90  called ‘Evolution Thought Experiment’, which makes multiple statements about science and evolution that are either way off target or flat out wrong.  While the site makes it clear on every page that the content was developed by student participants, that doesn’t excuse providing false or misleading information.  Among the statements:

  • Scientific theories become laws (no, they don’t)
  • The theory of evolution describes the systematic origin of new species (no, it doesn’t)
  • We can’t run experiments on evolution (yes, we can and we have)

Because of the potential damage from such a high profile institution such as Harvard putting out such false information, I’m asking everyone to contact those in charge of the program and site to retract it and clarify its position on science and evolution.  Below are the names and email addresses of those I could find that may be able to make this happen:

David Van Vactor, BSP Director
(assistant Kerry Mojica) Kerry_Mojica@hms.harvard.edu  (617) 432-2697)

Antoine van Oijen Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology
antoine_van_oijen@hms.harvard.edu (617) 432-5586

Elizabeth D. Hay Professor of Cell Biology
junying_yuan@hms.harvard.edu (617) 432-4170

Hopi Hoekstra Professor/Curator
(Assistant Nikki Hughes) nhughes@fas.harvard.edu (617) 496-9054

Please email, call and reach out in any other manner you can to rectify the situation.  I will post an update when the problem is resolved.

Not just a Theory – the Evolution Solution

“Evolution is just a theory”

If you have ever had a conversation about religion or about teaching evolution in schools, those five words will come up in almost every one. What proceeds next is usually some kind of attempt to educate the other side about the difference between a theory in the scientific sense and a theory in common vernacular. From the start of the conversation the scientist or atheist is fighting an uphill battle, one he will rarely win and that plays to the ignorance of the opposing side and its followers.

But lets put the blame where it lies. It doesn’t lie with the creationist or theists lack of understanding of the term. Their understanding is consistent with the word theory’s definition as it is commonly used in modern English, generally meaning an educated guess. Why should the think for a moment that it means otherwise? Recently, while watching a show on the Science Channel the other day (don’t recall the name, but think it was about black holes), the announcer was describing a possible scenario scientists were looking into and said that at the time it was ‘mere theory’. Even the channel dedicated to enlightening people about science trivializes the term and makes a theory seem like some idea you came up with after smoking a fat joint.

The solution

Stop using the word theory! What word is used to describe situations and convey meaning are things completely under the control of the scientific community. Changing the term to be used to describe a scientific theory within an educated group like scientists would be significantly easier than trying to educate the entire public about the differences between the two.  The word used should be ‘strong’, meaning its inherent definition should have the connotation of being certain. While trying on my own to come up with an acceptable alternative, I came up with the word ‘Solution’. It implies both a problem solved and an answer with certainty. So instead of the ‘Theory of Evolution’ we have ‘The Evolution Solution’. Saying ‘Evolution is just a Solution’ does nothing but state that a problem has been solved and it is accepted as the way things operate and it will be significantly harder to state you can’t teach the Evolution Solution in schools.

Obviously, this will primarily be a media word. In scientific circles continued use of the word theory makes sense, but when putting it into textbooks, discussing it on television or social media, or debating idiots like Ken Ham, the other side will no longer have the upper hand in describing their ‘theory’ as equivalent to a scientific ‘theory’.  They will have to show they have a ‘solution’ as well, which of course is impossible.

While it will undoubtedly take several years for such a change to have full effect, we can see a time in the future where the attacks on science dwindle as one of the major impediments to understanding fade away by simply changing the language we use to something everyone can better appreciate.

 

Response to ‘God doesn’t exist, but if he did’

This post is a response to an article written by @pugg_77

The article above was written as a response to one of my tweets, specifically:

God heard the fans prayers so helped the local sports team to win.  Also heard the prayers of children with cancer and said “fuck’em”

Below is my response to his various statements

“For his point to be valid at all, God HAS to exist”
While true, the intent of the tweet was to demonstrate the asinine position theists put themselves in when they believe prayer works.  In a recent article in the Huffington post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/16/super-bowl-prayer_n_4605665.html, nearly 50% of Americans believe god plays a role determining who will the games like the SuperBowl.  Anyone believing this must also believe that god has heard the prayers of anyone suffering, has the ability to help them, and chosen not to do anything.

While I’m already hearing the usual psychobabble about free will, gods plan, etc to this statement, at its core, it stands as true if one believes in a deity.  God will influence a game played by millionaire athletes and ignore the suffering of children.

“the atheist, much like the theist, has an idea of how God MUST act and behave”
As an atheist this is not my position of how god must or should behave, since I believe he is make-believe, it is the position of the theist believing a god exists and does in fact influence reality.  I am countering that position.  I don’t think prayer will have any more effect then crossing fingers, wearing lucky socks or stroking a rabbit’s foot.

If as a theist, you temporarily assume the position that a deity doesn’t exist, what would you expect to see different in the world?  Without a god, one of the teams has to win the game.  The people that prayed for the team that won will assume their prayer was answered (confirmation bias) and those that prayed for the team that lost will tell themselves it was gods will, you can’t change god’s mind, etc. and still confirming to themselves a god exists.

What about the children with cancer if a god didn’t exists?  They would get precisely the answer they get now, nothing.  Their hope for getting well will depend on the skill and knowledge of the doctors and hospitals attending to them if they are able to afford them.

“the atheists I come across won’t admit that they might be wrong”
I obviously can’t talk to the atheists you have come in contact with, but most of the community would outright reject this statement.  We don’t believe a god exists because the evidence for such a being is insufficient to warrant that belief.  As an analogy, I don’t believe Bigfoot exists.  I don’t claim to know for certain, but the evidence presented has not been compelling enough to warrant belief.  However if you produce sufficient evidence (like a living or dead creature matching the description, evaluated by experts and authenticated) I will change my mind on Bigfoot.  The same goes for god, but several thousand years have gone by, and theists haven’t been able to do that yet.

In the begining…

@BrutalAtheist is my twitter account where I have daily posts mocking the stupidity of religious beliefs.  I’ve gained a minor twitter following (about 1300 users at the time of this post) and have made some twitter friends, and even more twitter enemies.  I enjoy both the banter and the bashing, but in only 140 characters it is often difficult to carry out meaningful dialog and fully express thoughts.

To that end, I’ve created my first full blogging site specifically for enhancing my twitter account.  The two most common things you are likely to see are:

  1. Enhanced and longer tweets – I’ve often had to sacrifice clarity and limit the full message behind tweets to fit into the 140 character limit.  This will eliminate that constraint
  2. To provide ‘standard’ answers.- I often see the same moronic statements and questions from theists and quite frankly I’m tired of repeating myself.  I’ll now just be able to point them to the answer and move on.

The site will continue to be written in the same brutal approach as the twitter account.  If someone makes a statement that is bullshit, I will call it bullshit.  If some tells me they believe in talking snakes and a 6000 year old earth I will make fun of them for it.  If someone tells me I’m going to hell, I will take it with the seriousness I would take a statement from a scientologist telling me he is going to punch me in my thetan.

However, I do endeavor to attack the ideas and statements and not the individual making them. A former Christian myself, I know how easy it is to buy into a belief system and defend it.  I was brought out of my delusion by being shown pointedly and directly just how stupid the ideas I held to be true were, and ultimately I hope that my posts help others do the same.