Errors, Evolution, and Ethics

11 10 2011

(This post was originally posted at Disjointed Thinking.)

BullyingEvery week during the school year, I get a newsletter from my former high school. It’s a Christian school, with a conservative Baptist principal, so the content is almost always something with which I now disagree. I generally skim through it to see what diatribe he’s on this week (it’s virtually always about the importance of Christian education…how unexpected!). But the newsletter from a couple weeks ago (Sept. 30) was about bullying in particular. The topic was sparked as a result of the recent tragic news of the suicide of an 11-year-old boy. But instead of pointing the blame at the bullies themselves, possible neglectful attitudes of school teachers and staff, or the social stigma surrounding persons with disabilities (the boy had muscular dystrophy), my former principal decided to pinpoint a different cause. I’ll let him explain: Read the rest of this entry »


The Origins of Life

7 06 2011

(This post was originally posted at Disjointed Thinking.)

Primordial Soup

When someone states that they do not believe in God, often one of the first questions in response is, “Then how did life get here?” Of course, “God did it” is not a good explanation for, well, much of anything, because it does not actually provide any details about the process it claims to explain.1 Regardless of this, however, it is still a valid question to ask: Without invoking a God, is there a reasonable explanation for how life arose from non-life? This is where the field of abiogenesis comes in.

My goal with this article is to provide a general overview, in simple terms, of the theories and models that scientists have created to explain the development of life from non-life.2 I will try to use a minimum of jargon and technical terminology, although some, of course, cannot be avoided. First, the current  biological system will be briefly described, and then two major competing models in the field will be presented. Read the rest of this entry »

Vaccines and Faith

1 06 2011

Pharmaceutical companies need to hurry up and develop a vaccination against stupidity.  Alternatively, laws need to be put in place to protect children against the moronic superstitions of their parents.  A West Virginian woman refuses to vaccinate her 8 year-old daughter and believes that this is a commandment from God.

To Jennifer Workman, God Himself commands her to protect her 8 year-old daughter Madison.

“I am a steward of the Lord for this child, “she said as she walked outside her single level home in Lenore West Virginia on Monday. “And I am not going to let anyone tell me what’s best for my child.”

In 1999, Madison’s older sister developed autism just months after receiving her state-required immunizations for measles, mumps and rubella.

Stop me right here, if you’ve heard this story before.  Child gets vaccine.  Child develops autism shortly thereafter.  Credulous parent that does not possess any scientific education blames the vaccine.  Only now we have the added bonus of a parent who believes she is subservient to a higher power.  Of course, it’s the child that will pay for the parent’s choice to take marching orders from a non-existent entity.

Workman argues that it should be her right and choice when it comes to vaccinating the child.  But what about the rights of the child?  Does her daughter not have a right to be immunized?  Workman’s attempts to please her god should not involve an effective sacrifice of her child.  What about other children?  As Dr. Anita Chandra points out:

“They’re also risking spreading the infection to children who are not immunized because of age, [or are] only partially immunized because they haven’t received their booster vaccines.”

Chandra is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, a group that pushes the importance of childhood vaccines. Chandra says we as a society have an obligation to ensure all children are immunized.

“It’s important to vaccinate all children so you prevent illness from spreading within that population,” she said.

Chandra is exactly right.  The health of many children is far more important than respecting a woman’s unsubstantiated superstitions.  Workman’s response to Chandra’s statement demonstrates a complete ignorance on vaccinations and should lay to rest any doubts over whether or not her position is based on reason and evidence.

“If my child is unvaccinated and all these other children are vaccinated, How does my child pose any threat?” responded Workman. “This is my child and it’s a right I should have.”.

Herd immunity?  Workman clearly hasn’t heard of it.  My only hope is that as her daughter grows older she will shake off her upbringing in a household of superstition.  That is, if illnesses that could be prevented by vaccinations don’t get to her first.




Dara O’Briain: Science doesn’t know everything

29 05 2011

A dull-gray, humid day out here.  Plus, I don’t have anything to write about this morning.  I’ll just leave this video here in the hopes that if your window is providing the same ‘you can stay inside cause the weather is going to suck today” view, that this will brighten things up.


The Null Hypothesis

26 05 2011

(This post was originally posted at Disjointed Thinking.)

Facebook Religious Views

One of the most accurate ways to describe my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) is by way of a concept known as the “null hypothesis”. Like most atheists, I do not claim that I know God does not exist. I merely claim that there is not enough evidence to justify belief in God. And the best way to illustrate this claim is through the null hypothesis. This is a statistical concept that is used for hypothesis testing in science. Because statistics is not a strong point for many people, I will try to explain it using a minimum of stats jargon; however, some will be required, and I will try to explain what each term means the best that I can. I really feel that this is an important concept to understand when one is trying to assess evidence claims (which happens to us all the time). So hang on for the ride! Read the rest of this entry »