Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Generosity, Sin, and Halloween.

Today is October 31st and, as many of you know already, that means that today is Halloween. For those of my readers who aren't from countries more or less directly derived from the British Empire (i.e. anyone not from England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, the U.S., Australia, or New Zealand) Halloween is a yearly holiday when we celebrate... well... um... it's kinda hard to say. I'm not sure we celebrate much of anything, really, but it's fun!

More seriously, we have costume parties devoted primarily to the morbid and the macabre. For adults, this is a chance to get drunk and play-act a bit. Really, however, adults are only peripherally involved in Halloween. The major observance at Halloween (at least in the U.S.) is the practice of trick-or-treating, in which costumed children go door-to-door, ring the bell, and then call out "Trick or treat!" when the occupants answer. These occupants, according to tradition, are then obligated to provide a "treat" (usually candy or fruit though, occasionally, you may receive a toothbrush from a particularly humorless dentist) or else run the risk of being the victims of a "trick." Tricks are many, but the usual are covering a house or yard in thrown rolls of toilet paper, or throwing eggs at the house. There may also be some destruction of the carved pumpkins, known as jack-o'-lanterns, that are traditional decorations for this holiday. As a general rule, however, very little vandalism actually takes place.

So, why am I talking about Halloween today? Sheer fun? Unusual topicality? Well... no. I'm talking about it because not everyone in the U.S. and, I presume, the rest of the world, regards Halloween as an innocent bit of fun for the kids. Instead, some sects of fundamentalist Christians regard Halloween as a Satanic holiday rife with dark power. And no, I'm not kidding, as this article from the ChristianAnswers website attests:

The October 31st holiday that we today know as Halloween has strong roots in paganism and is closely connected with worship of the Enemy of this world, Satan. It is a holiday that generally glorifies the dark things of this world, rather than the light of Jesus Christ, The Truth.

Have you noticed how costumes and masks are getting generally more bloody, gory, and depraved each year? Unfortunately, the gruesome and grotesque and the occult are increasingly glorified in American society, not only on Halloween, but throughout the year in horror movies and in television programs.

My family does not celebrate it or participate in it. We do not believe that our children are "missing out," and neither do they. Other days are used for costumes and parties. Happily, all of our children have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. We have found that Halloween provides an excellent time to remind our children that, as Christians, we are different, and not of this world (Heb. 11:13-16; 1 Pet. 2:11).

Indeed, you can hardly blame them when you think about how gruesome Halloween costumes are getting. Why, look at some of these examples:

Check out those horns! Clearly this woman is in league with the devil himself!

I don't know what this is, but I think it's gotta be evil. He has a face in his chest! A clear metaphor for demonic possession!

This may look like a woman in costume but it's really a glorification of witchcraft, which diverts many otherwise godly women from more appropriate pursuits: like cooking, cleaning, and having babies!

This, at least, is an honest costime. The stripes and the pumpkin face are a metaphor for this prison in which your soul is placed by participation in such a godless holiday! Just by participating in a non-Christian holiday this poor baby is accumulating a ton of sin!

Whoops! Heh heh. How did that get in there? I guess there's a fine line between "gruesome" and "godly," eh?

So, you know, we can hardly blame the fundamentalists for condemning such an evil day. I'd suggest that, perhaps, the fundamentalists could simply participate in a more secular version of Halloween but, as it happens, that's right out as well:

What about church "Harvest Festivals" held on October 31? Although we understand the rational and good intentions behind them, we don't think they are the best approach. Our family tends to agree with the author of an article called "Are 'Harvest Parties' for Christians?" (written by a self-avowed former witch and now active Christian). Harvest parties on October 31 tend to assume that "our children need something to take the place of Halloween, since they won't be participating in the secular and pagan celebrations. It suggests our kids are missing out on something. And indeed they are, if we allow them to spend Halloween in celebration." There are better things to do on Halloween than partying.

So, to paraphrase the Soup Nazi: No party for you!

Now, really, I don't have a problem with the fundamentalist rejection of Halloween. Seriously, I don't. I mean, of all the things they do that I could object to, Halloween-avoidance is so low on my list of priorities, I hardly notice it. Moreover, while I think it's a shame their kids won't get to participate in the yearly orgy feast of candy (I admit it- wrong word choice there) it's really not my place to tell people how to worship their personal invisible friend in the sky. What I think is a shame, though, is that the kids don't get to participate in something else embedded in the Halloween holiday: generosity.

In Sociology we have a concept known as "generalized exchange," which is when individuals give to others with no expectation of recompense from that particular other. A classic example is the person who stops to help a motorist with a flat tire. Odds are, that person will never receive a similar service from the same motorist, but they do it anyway. Generalized exchange is a real phenomenon, and is one of those things that sociologists often use in arguments with economists, who frequently prefer a rational choice framework. Given that rational choice should make generalized exchange more or less impossible, it gives some sociologists a club with which to batter our colleagues in the field of economics. (As a side note, I'm sure my blogging pal Tom could provide any number of counters to my preceding straw man argument. I'd enjoy it if he did, but accurately portraying the Economics/Sociology slap-fight isn't my motivation right now.)

In any case, generalized exchange is one of those things that tends to make the world a more enjoyable place to be. If people often give assistance and aid to others without expectation of return, then we all get to experience a community that is supportive and warm. Halloween is one of those times in American society when communities engage in wholesale generalized exchange. Certainly parents can expect that their own children will receive candy, and so should give it out themselves, but many single people, or childless couples, participate in Halloween as well. So, while the decency of this holiday is sometimes marred by certain individuals, Halloween is a time when children can learn the value of community, of generosity, and see the world as a warmer, better, friendlier place. And that message, obviously, is entirely antithetical to Christianity.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Tremble in fear, for I am risen.

Today's post will be short because I'm busy, and tired, and frankly a little cranky. I do, however, have some good news to share. Doubtless this news will be regarded as quite bad by those who have been hoping for my complete and total professional failure. With luck, there aren't many folks like that but, hell, who knows? In any case, my news is this:

As of yesterday afternoon, I have a research site for my dissertation. I have formal permission to gather data and everything. How cool is that?

Yeah, well, fuck you too.

If that isn't enough entertainment for you, check out this spiritual health quiz to see what will happen to you after death. It is, to put it simply, an absolute trainwreck in terms of survey methodology. Several of the questions rank right up there with "Are you still beating your wife?"

Speaking personally, I've never thought that an actual benevolent all-knowing god would require the use of rhetorical trickery to sway people to his cause. But, maybe that's just me.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

We missed the boat on that one.

A while back, you may recall, I wrote a post dealing with one of life's most important questions: what to do in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Indeed, this is a question that has kept me up many a night and I thought other folks might be similarly interested. As it turns out... not so much. Although we did have one person arguing in favor of zombie rights. I took this to mean that other people just didn't care about zombies.

Well, as it happens, I was wrong, or so I judge based on this book penned by Max Brooks:

Indeed, when I came upon a copy in Borders I almost wet myself with sheer, unadulterated glee. And, you know, I'd had a really big coffee about an hour earlier. In any case, this little 255 page masterpiece includes everything you ever wanted to know about surviving a zombie outbreak, including elements of zombie physiology, proper weaponry and supplies, and historical accounts of zombie outbreaks. (In some cases the zombies are entirely too terrifying with their outstretched hands, groping for warm human flesh.) It's quite remarkable how many of my and my fellows' amateur conclusions about zombies are supported by Brooks' scholarship. It's also remarkable the detail about zombies that Brooks provides. Take this passage on zombie reproduction from pages 12 and 13 as an example:

Zombies are sterile creatures. Their sexual organs are necrotic and impotent. Attempts have been made to fertilize zombie eggs with human sperm and vice versa. None has been successful. The undead have also shown no signs of sexual desire, either for their own species or for the living. Until research can prove otherwise, humanity's greatest fear- the dead reproducing the dead- is a comforting impossibility.

Additionally, he provides some of the handiest tips for surviving zombies I've ever seen:

1: Organize before they rise!

2: They feel no fear, why should you?

3: Use your head: cut off theirs.

4: Blades don't need reloading.

5: Ideal protection = tight clothes, short hair.

6: Get up the staircase, then destroy it.

7: Get out of the car, get onto the bike.

8: Keep moving, keep low, keep quiet, keep alert!

9: No place is safe, only safer.

10: The zombie may be gone, but the threat lives on.

So, if you're secretly worried about zombie outbreaks, but don't know where to turn, you now have a resource. Read it, live it, love it, and survive the horror of the walking dead. Outbreaks may be more likely than you think.

Or, failing that, take a look anyway, because it's funny as hell.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Love and Hate are both four letter words

Regular readers of this blog (or, for that matter, most casual passers-by) know that I am somewhat irreligious. Okay, that's an understatement. I am, in fact, an atheist, which is about as irreligious as you can get. Now atheists are indeed well-loved in this country and our public image is first rate. (As a side note: can anyone explain what the hell this is all about?) So I have no reason to be at all hostile towards my fellow citizens who do believe in god. So, despite my lack of belief in god and, let's be honest, my vague sense that religion causes as much, if not more, harm than it does good, I'm not actually against religion. I am well aware that a belief in god is an epistemological position that I can't really challange and, indeed, that religion does do good things for people. You know... every once in a while.

Yet, even knowing that, I find that my commitment to such an inclusive position is challenged from time to time by particular religious groups. Most recently, it was challenged by the folks over at the Westboro Baptist Church who assert (and by "assert" I mean "it's their web URL") that God hates fags. Yes, I am entirely serious here. I was made aware of Westboro in all its "glory" by my Sainted Girlfriend, who forwarded me a copy of one of their protest flyers. (If the flyer won't display, right-click and save the file to your desktop.) This flyer was so unusually soaked with sheer, unrelenting hatred, that I had to investigate further. My sincere hope was that the flyer was a poorly-executed satire in the vein of the highly-entertaining Landover Baptist. Sadly, this proved not to be the case.

So is Westboro sincere in disapproval of homosexuals? Well, I'm going to say "yes," based on several bits of evidence. There's the "great" flash game Fags vs. Kids that provides a clue on this subject. Then there's the .pdf file arguing that all nations must immediately outlaw sodomy (i.e. homosexuality in their view) and impose the death penalty. (As before, right-click and save the file.) There's also the section of the website titled "Fags" which includes the following:

The word "fag" is a contraction of the word "faggot" (or, "fagot"). When traced through its etymological history, the word "faggot" simply means "a bundle of sticks used as fuel." See and (where such words as "fuel" and "brimstone" are used as synonyms). "Scholars" can't decide when such a word began to be used in reference to homosexuals, so we'll give the answer here: "I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord." Amos 4:11. The word translated "firebrand" is the Hebrew word "uwd," which comes from a Hebrew verb meaning "to rake together" (or, "to gather together"). In short, the Hebrew word "uwd" is talking about burning sticks of wood that are gathered together. That is what the English word "faggot" means. Amos 4:11 could just as easily be translated " were as a faggot plucked out of the burning..."

For those geniuses out there who are asking, "are you saying that God hates burning pieces of wood?", the answer is "no, we're using it as a figure of speech, just like the Bible uses it." It is an excellent metaphor to describe sodomites because they fuel God's wrath, they burn in lust, and they will burn in hell. In Amos 4:11, the "fag" is the person who is sinning after the manner of Sodom and Gomorrah, has seen other "fags" overthrown by God, and still refuses to repent. So, the word "fag" refers to people who sin like the Sodomites did. It not only refers to homosexuals, but also refers to people who support homosexuals (see Romans 1:32), and people who engage in all other relatively "lesser" perversions (like impenitent premarital sex and adultery, including the adultery of all of you divorced-and-remarried "born again Christians"). On this web site, we use the word "fag" in accordance with Amos 4:11.

For those of you who have deluded yourselves into thinking that the story of Sodom isn't really talking about homosexuals, read the following: the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had completely turned away from God, and whenever that happens, homosexuality abounds. Paul described this in Romans 1, and you can read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. Conditions in Sodom were so bad that it had become acceptable for men to surround Lot's house and ask to have sex with the men inside. Anybody who thinks that today is any different than those days needs to attend San Francisco's annual gay rights parade, stand along the parade route, and hold a sign that says "GOD HATES FAGS." You'll see and hear evidence of all of the sins of Sodom in just a few short hours (sodomy, violence, fornication, adultery, pride, sinful treatment of the servants of God, etc.) The same mob mentality that ruled the unlawful fags in the days of Sodom rules the unlawful fags today.

So, you know, it's nice to see that Christianity is a religion of tolerance and love. And before y'all jump all over me about that one, I should probably mention that Westboro addresses the question of whether or not Christian faith, and the Christian god, are loving:

Doesn't the Bible say that God loves everyone?

No. You are probably thinking of John 3:16, which says no such thing. The word translated "world" in that verse (kosmos) NEVER means every individual of mankind who has ever lived (see, e.g., John 17:9). Romans 9:13 says that God hated Esau, and Psalm 5:5 says that God hates all WORKERS of iniquity (e.g., fags). Other examples are Proverbs 6:16-19, Psalm 11:5, and Malachi 1:3. Given these verses, how can you say God loves everyone? Can you really say "God loves everyone" when God says "I hated Esau?" Does God love the people in hell?

Or, you are thinking of "God is love." God certainly is love, toward His elect (His children). But He certainly is not love toward the reprobate (children of the devil). That's why His elect go to heaven, and the reprobate go to hell. In Romans 9:13, which says "As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated", Jacob is a representative of God's elect, while Esau is a representative of the reprobate. In Romans 1, the word "reprobate" is used to describe fags. Fags are reprobate. God hates reprobates. Therefore, God hates fags.

Furthermore, God specifically says that He ABHORS people who engage in sodomy (as well as other forms of sexual perversion): "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood [shall be] upon them...And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them." Leviticus 20:13,23. Understand? GOD ABHORS FAGS.

God's hatred is one of His holy attributes, whereby He reveals Himself as having a fixed and immutable determination to punish the finally impenitent with eternal perdition. God's hatred is not like man's hatred. His hatred is holy, pure, unchanging, while man's hatred is a sinful, fickle emotion.

Indeed, according to Westboro, the Bible also teaches hate, and god routinely causes natural disasters to express his displeasure. So, you know, we're dealing with basically the Old Testament God on a really bad day. Which, if you believe the Old Testament, was pretty much every day.

Now, I could ramble on about this place for a really long time. I could heap my scorn upon it, I could excoriate it until my fingers bled from all the typing, but frankly I don't have the heart for it. These folks basically take all the worst aspects of religion and combine them into the very Platonic form of unthinking hate. I've already taken on the burden of criticizing the Turner Diaries and one man can only be expected to take on so much stupidity at a time.

Instead, I want to present a different side of Westboro and see what people think. Reading through Westboro, it's easy to get the idea that this is a group dedicated to hatred. Indeed, their arguments that, essentially, "God is Hate," are so prominent, that one has to wonder if they're trapped in some sort of terrible sci-fi movie with a similar theme. Probably the most horrifying part of the website is the photos section in which we see shots from protests at the funerals of soldiers, at Gay rights events, at the former site of the World Trade Center, and at the Democratic National Convention. It would be very easy to decide, based on these pictures, that these people are dedicated to hate.

I believe, however, that deciding so would be an error. Let's consider the pictures in a bit more detail. Take a look at this picture of Westboro teens:

And this shot of small children showing their support for the Westboro cause:

And, of course, this shot of a young adult at a protest:

Everyone with me? Okay, now take a look at the following pictures, and see if you can spot some similarities:

(Hitler Youth)

(Female Hitler Youth)

(Pro-life Princeton University Students)

(Pro-choice marchers)

(Flying Spagetti Monster Propaganda)

(A bake sale)

Anyone see what I'm seeing? Well, here's a hint: in most of the above, the subjects are smiling. No matter what their cause, or reason for being, they seem happy and chipper in the pictures. When they're not smiling, they're often part of a group setting. Now do you see my point?

Well, then I'll explain. The thing is, in most of the above pictures, I don't think folks are centered on their cause. The little boys saluting Hitler, or the female track students, probably aren't in the grip of Fascistic furor. The pro-life students probably aren't smiling out of their adoration for the unborn. None of those pictured are responding as they are because of their ideology, they're responding that way because they feel included in the group.

In short, the subjects of these pictures are participating not entirely because of their ideological commitments, but because of their identities. By participating in these rituals these people are making themselves part of a group, and are probably experiencing the joy that comes along with being included. This joy is something that Emile Durkheim referred to as "collective effervescence."

Now think how this applies to the members of Westboro Baptist. Do these small children truly "hate fags?" Probably not. Hate is a pretty strong emotion and it takes a lot of work to make someone hate. Fear is easy, but hate is the sort of heavy emotion that takes time. Odds are these kids will learn to hate homosexuals in time, but right now I don't think they're quite there yet. Moreover, when you hate something, do you avoid it, or do you go out and provoke it? Some people are, indeed, crusaders and go confront that which they hate but most people seem to try and avoid those things they hate. So, these Westboro protestors, for all the damage that they do, aren't out in the world protesting because of hate, but rather because of love. Not love for their neighbors, but love for their sense of belonging. These protests, however hateful they may be, are just rituals integrating these individuals into their own primary and secondary groups.

So what does this mean? To me it suggests that to the extent that we label these people as members of a hate group, we are doing ourselves a disservice. The members of Westboro Baptist aren't really different from us- they love their families, they like to have fun, and they want to belong. We all want to belong somewhere. The problem is that they've fitted themselves into a group that shows its own strength by heaping loathing on others- it defines its own boundaries by painting everyone else in a negative light. If we want to combat this tendency, I think that's valuable, but doing so with an inaccurate understanding of why these people are waving placards is unlikely to be helpful. To label these people "hateful" may seem accurate but, in the end, conceals their true motivations. Such labels make the task of purging such hate all the more difficult.

To truly eliminate hate groups we must eliminate the need for them- and that doesn't mean combating hate. Hate is ancillary to the issue; most people aren't in these groups (in my view) because they need to hate, but because they need to belong. Our goal must be to find a way to integrate them, to make them feel welcome and at home, but in an environment that doesn't require them to loathe others.

Perhaps then we can live in a world where nobody's god has to hate fags in order for his followers to love themselves.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dear Drek

For those of you who hadn't noticed, I have never actually met Drek in the flesh. Once upon a time, Slag told me to read this blog that this friend of his did and that he occasionally participated in. Being a good, obedient sort of girl, I did as I was told and in fact got rather hooked. Now apart from being good and obedient I am also very opinionated and therefore ended up commenting quite often. The rest is history.

It is quite strange to blog with someone you don't actually know. Following the natural order of things I have nonetheless formed an image of our honourable host.
In order to explain the image I have to to tell you all about this conversation I had the other day about being weird. I was talking to Slag on the phone and saying that we are both fairly odd. We agreed, however, that the really strange people usually don't know that they are, in fact, completely bonkers. Similarly, the more loudly people proclaim that they are crazy, the more normal they tend to be when it comes down to it. Allow me to quote Margaret Thatcher on a different yet related topic:

"Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't. "

The point is that the image I have of Drek is in line with the opinions voiced above. When I first started reading this blog, its author would claim with great regularity that he was, in fact, an asocial bastard. He would probably have used another word, but that is beside the point. I came to believe that no one who so gladly proclaims himself to be a misanthropic asshole is likely to actually be one, though he may aspire to being one. To quote again, this time from an old favourite of mine:

"Nina Raymond: You've turned into an old sweetie, haven't you?
Henry Wakefield: No, I'm still a miserable git, and this is all a front to stop you from messing up my performance."

Maybe this is true; but I don't buy it for a minute. Drek, I just think you're a sweetie. I'll make it Decent Bloke if that makes you feel more, er, manly.

Slag, however, assures me that you really are a miserable git.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Too good not to share.

Recently my Sainted Girlfriend brought an auction over at eBay to my attention. This auction, as it turns out, is for a pair of leather pants. I've included the picture of said pants below:

What makes this auction worth noticing, however, is the narrative the seller uses:

DKNY Men's Leather Pants I Unfortunately Own
Stylish. Expensive. Very much a bad purchase for me.

You are bidding on a mistake.

We all make mistakes. We date the wrong people for too long. We chew gum with our mouths open. We say inappropriate things in front of grandma.

And we buy leather pants.

I can explain these pants and why they are in my possession. I bought them many, many years ago under the spell of a woman whom I believed to have taste. She suggested I try them on. I did. She said they looked good. I wanted to have a relationship of sorts with her. I’m stupid and prone to impulsive decisions. I bought the pants.

The relationship, probably for better, never materialized. The girl, whose name I can’t even recall, is a distant memory. I think she was short.

Ultimately the pants were placed in the closet where they have remained, unworn, for nearly a decade. I would like to emphasize that: Aside from trying these pants on, they have never, ever been worn. In public or private.

I have not worn these leather pants for the following reasons:

I am not a member of Queen.
I do not like motorcycles.
I am not Rod Stewart.
I am not French.
I do not cruise for transvestites in an expensive sports car.

These were not cheap leather pants. They are Donna Karan leather pants. They’re for men. Brave men, I would think. Perhaps tattooed, pierced men. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say you either have to be very tough, very gay, or very famous to wear these pants and get away with it.

Again, they’re men’s pants, but they’d probably look great on the right lady. Ladies can get away with leather pants much more often than men can. It’s a sad fact that men who own leather pants will have to come to terms with.

They are size 34x34. I am no longer size 34x34, so even were I to suddenly decide I was a famous gay biker I would not be able to wear these pants. These pants are destined for someone else. For reasons unknown - perhaps to keep my options open, in case I wanted to become a pirate - I have shuffled these unworn pants from house to house, closet to closet. Alas, it is now time to part ways so that I may use the extra room for any rhinestone-studded jeans I may purchase in the future.

These pants are in excellent condition. They were never taken on pirate expeditions. They weren’t worn onstage. They didn’t straddle a Harley, or a guy named Harley. They just hung there, sad and ignored, for a few presidencies.

Someone, somewhere, will look great in these pants. I’m hoping that someone is you, or that you can be suckered into buying them by a girl you’re trying to bed.

Please buy these leather pants.

Of course, the narrative itself is surpassed only by a few of the comments left regarding this auction:

Q: I'm confused, is Donna Karan a rock star or a transvestite?
A: It's a very fine line, really.

Q: LOL. I once knew a guy who actually wore leather pants, loved them, and was very popular with them. That was 15 years ago...he was Italian...and my uncle's boyfriend. Enough said.
A: Italy shares France's reputation for adultery, leather pants, and aggressiveness to women. Except for your uncle's boyfriend, of course.

Q: Are these pants worthy of cruising for transvestites while in my Maserati? I just got one and need an outfit that would go with my new car.
A: I think leather pants would accent that mid-life crisis quite nicely.

Q: Thank you for the inspiration. I am now thinking of ebaying every little thing....and I do mean little thing that I ever wore to be a man pleaser/enticer. That would have to include stiletto heels, leather bustiers, gstrings and the like.....hmmm, wait a that I think about it....I might have to bid on those pants and create an ensemble....for myself. Did I mention that I am 5'2?
A: Hello Senator Clinton.

Q: you enjoy stereotyping people that wear leather dont ya, you think owning leather is gay, let me tell you something i am not gay, i am not famous, dont ride a bike, and unlike i aint a coward. i do own 2 pairs of them, to me they are more comfy than blue jeans ever will be, i where them anywhere i want including church, no ones ever said nothing about them.
A: More important: Do you need a pair of 34x34 leather pants?

Looks like he sold the pants already. The question remaining is: will the buyer wear them, or are they just trying to impress a woman? My guess is the latter- men do all kinds of stupid things in the hopes of impressing women.

And hey, that reminds me- I wonder what Greg has been up to? I haven't thought about him since last December. I wonder if he owns a pair of leather pants?

On second thought- I'd rather not know.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Football Friday Volume I

Greetings, Total Drekkers!

I know some of you are big fans of Drek's Turner Tuesday (1-2-3), the weekly-ish feature where Drek examines The Turner Diaries, the novel-cum-terrorist-instruction-manual that inspired many a hero for the racist, racist cause.

Drek's insightful analysis and trenchant wit, combined with the fascinating subject matter, makes for quality blogging. But the worst about humanity, week after week, can be hard to take. So I am declaring a new weekly feature about something less evil, but still with importance to the world. So welcome to "Football Friday," in which "football" is just a fancy European name for soccer.

I am risking the wrath, or at least the annoyance, of the lovely TDEC. Poor TDEC. She is one of the few Europeans that couldn't care less about soccer. She thought that by meeting a nice American boy, she could escape from the sport. But no, this American boy happens to be a huge soccer fan. Sorry, TDEC, it's too late to escape now.

My interest in soccer started with the 1994 World Cup, held in my home nation, the United States. As an American boy, it was something new and fresh and different. I watched devotedly, right up until the exciting final that ended 0-0, and was decided on penalty kicks. Brazil won 3-2 for a record fourth World Cup title.

My soccer-loving existence continued at the 1996 Olympics, when I sat in a section of 1,000 screaming Hungarian fans at a match between Hungary and Nigeria. The fans waved Hungarian flags and sang Hungarian songs. I had no idea what they were saying, but I was caught up in the excitement, and I ended up cheering wildly for Hungary. I was hooked.

Later, I even played soccer myself - I played freelance goalkeeper for various intramural teams at Major East Coast University.

So why do I like soccer so much? First, it's simple. There are 11 players on each team. The goal is to put a ball into your opponents' net. But you can't use your hands. That would be too easy. Instead, players kick the ball or hit it with their heads. Only one player on the field is allowed to use his or her hands - the goalkeeper, whose job it is to keep the ball out of the net at all costs. There are various fouls. If your team has been fouled, you get a free kick. If the foul was serious enough, the offender gets a card. A yellow card is a warning. A red card means you're ejected from the game. If you're ejected by a red card, your team can't replace you.* Of course, this means your team must play the rest of the game with only 10 players, and will be pissed at you after the game. Two yellow cards equal a red card.

Second, in spite of this simplicity - or more likely because of this simplicity - soccer is great fun. The Brazilians, who play as well as anyone in the world, refer to soccer as "o jogo bonito" - the beautiful game. Watching a forward weave through an entire defense, or a curling free kick, or a tough save from a goalkeeper, it's easy to see why.

Third, soccer is one of the few institutions that the entire world shares. It's the most popular sport in Europe, Africa, China, and most of South America. Even the USA is starting to catch on. In spite of all the differences, many of which lead to violence, the whole world enjoys a good game of soccer.

Fourth, soccer provides a great window to the world. Sports have always been a screen onto which the world projects its thoughts and feelings. American author Franklin Foer wrote a book, which I have just finished, which claims that soccer explains the world. I'll be talking a lot more about these cultural projections in future Football Friday posts.

Stay tuned for next Football Friday, where I'll provide a quick tour of the soccer-playing world.

*Pedantic exception: If the goalkeeper gets a red card, the team can substitute its backup goalkeeper, as long as another player sits out in their stead. But in all my years of soccer fandom and playerdom, I've only seen this happen once.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Stay tuned for a new Friday feature from Slag!

Depressed by Turner Tuesday?

Fear not!

Tomorrow, I will premiere a new Friday feature that will give you something happy to look forward to.

Stay tuned!

Is this a short blog post because I'm busy, you ask? Why yes it is!

Stop celebrating, I'm back.

Some of you may have been wondering where I was yesterday. I did not fall in a well, or have a limb chewed off by angry beavers, though I'm sure some might have preferred that. Instead I was just really busy. Busy with what, you ask? Well, I was busy teaching class for the FHRM, since he is out of town, preparing for my own class, driving my Sainted Girlfriend to the airport, teaching my own class, working on some grant proposals, and reinstalling an operating system on an officemate's computer. So, it was a pretty full day.

I haven't really gotten my wits about me yet today, so let me just pass along quite possibly the funniest advice column I've ever seen* and wish y'all a good day. Just click the image if you need a larger copy.


* Okay, technically the funniest advice column I've ever seen was an installment of "Dr. Wallace Talking with Teens" wherein a writer asked: "Dr. Wallace, I've been told that stars are suns like our own but I don't understand- why are they so small?" Sadly, I got some similar questions when I TA'ed astronomy as an undergrad. That Wallace produced the funniest advice column ever is quite impressive since he also gifted me with one of the most offensive bits of advice I've ever read. Specifically an atheist wrote in and said that she had been given some Christian music by a friend and wanted a way to politely return it and ask the friend to respect her beliefs. Wallace, in turn, told our polite, well-meaning atheist to listen to the music because it might do some good. Ah, it's good to be loved.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Turner Tuesday Volume III

Howdy, folks, and welcome to the next installment of Turner Tuesday, our semi-regular feature in which we analyze, and criticize, the infamous Turner Diaries. In our last installment we thrilled as the white supremacist underground turned to theft and murder to support their "glorious" revolution. So what happens this week? Sadly this chapter is excruciatingly dull, but let's find out anyway.

Chapter 3

This chapter begins with the protaganist, Earl Turner, complaining about being in pain. Sadly, this isn't because he and his companions have received justice, but rather because he's put in some hard labor. Specifically, he was involved in recovering his terrorist cell's weapons from their hidden cache in Pennsylvania and returning them to the rest of the group. Little of consequence happens in the introduction to this part of the story, save that we have another editorial aside from the future:

(Note to the reader: Throughout his diaries Turner used so-called "English units" of measurement, which were still in common use in North America during the last years of the Old Era. For the reader not familiar with these units, a "mile" was 1.6 kilometers, a "gallon" was 3.8 liters, a "foot" was .30 meter, a "yard" was .91 meter, an "inc. ' was 2.5 centimeters, and a "pound" was the weight of .4s kilogram-approximately.)

We've already discussed the value of this "historical perspective" to convincing the reader that Earl Turner's forces will win, but what I find interesting in this specific passage is the claim that the metric system will eventually replace the English or Standard units presently in use in the United States. Don't get me wrong- I think the metric system has substantial advantages over the U.S. system- I'm just a little surprised that Pierce would present the metric system in a positive light, given that resistance to its adoption in the U.S. is largely resident in the same socioeconomic groups that Pierce wants to recruit. I wonder if this is a mistake on Pierce's part, or if it is a deliberate attempt to imply that the noble white supremacists are just as technically sophisticated as their opponents. Given that Pierce had a Ph.D. in Physics (And yes, that scares the crap out of me) I think the latter option is entirely plausible.

In any case, Earl and friend headed up into Pennsylvania to recover their weapons. Of course, things were beginning to bode ill for our "heroes."

The consequence was that we had nearly a two-mile hike each way instead of less than half a mile. And it took three round trips to get everything to the car. We brought shovels, a rope, and a couple of large canvas mail sacks (courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service), but, as it turned out, these tools were woefully inadequate for the task.

This, of course, serves to advise Pierce's readers about the proper equipment for recovering a stash of weapons. Indeed, so too does the description of how the weapons were stored:

Even digging down to the top of the oil drum (actually a 50-gallon chemical drum with a removable lid) in which we had sealed our weapons wasn't too bad. The ground was fairly soft, and it took us less than an hour to excavate a five-foot-deep pit and tie our rope to the handles which had been welded to the lid of the drum.

Then our trouble began. The two of us tugged on the rope as hard as we could, but the drum wouldn't budge an inch. It was as if it had been set in concrete.

Although the full drum weighed nearly 400 pounds, two of us had been able to lower it into the pit without undue difficulty three years ago. At that time, of course, there had been several inches of clearance all around it. Now the earth had settled and was packed tightly against the metal.

We gave up trying to get the drum out of the hole and decided to open it where it was. To do that we had to dig for nearly another hour, enlarging the hole and clearing a few inches all around the top of the drum so we could get our hands on the locking band which secured the lid. Even so, l had to go into the hole headfirst, with Henry holding my legs.

Although the outside of the drum had been painted with asphalt to prevent corrosion, the locking lever itself was thoroughly rusted, and I broke the only screwdriver we had trying to pry it loose. Finally, after much pounding, I was able to pry the lever out from the drum with the end of a shovel. With the locking band loosened, however, the lid remained as tightly in place as ever, apparently stuck to the drum by the asphalt coating we had applied.

Working upside down in the narrow hole was difficult and exhausting. We had no tool satisfactory for wedging under the lip of the lid and prying it up. Finally, almost in desperation, I once again tied the rope to one of the handles on the lid. Henry and I gave a hard tug, and the lid popped off!

This passage is, in essence, entirely instructional. It gives the readers two bits of information: first, it provides some workable suggestions for caching weapons: store them in a sealed drum that you bury in the middle of nowhere. Second, it describes in detail some of the problems that may be encountered in retrieving those weapons and, in so doing, implies the sorts of tools and equipment necessary for the task. Both of these simply make it more likely that a prospective terrorist would be able to accomplish the tasks that Pierce's fictional terrorists do. This passage also serves to notify readers that there will be hard work involved in committing treason against the United States. Doubtless Pierce wants to discourage the... shit, I don't know... hobbyist racists (as opposed to those who do it professionally) from joining his terrorist organization. All of these objectives are particularly apparent when we consider the following:

...we still had to carry more than 300 pounds of munitions half a mile through dense woods, uphill to the road, and then more than a mile back to the car.

With proper pack frames to distribute the loads on our backs we might have carried everything out in one trip. It could have been done easily in two trips. But with only the awkward mail sacks, which we had to carry in our arms, it took three excruciatingly painful trips.

We had to stop every hundred yards or so and put our loads down for a minute, and the last two trips were made in total darkness. Anticipating a daylight operation, we hadn't even brought a flashlight. If we don't do a better job of planning our operations in the future, we have some rough times ahead!

So, in short, the virtues of planning are spoken of, the inevitability of hard work is acknowledged, and a set of equipment advisable to have is given. In short, our tutorial in caching weapons is more or less complete.

From there, we move on to an accounting of what else is going on in the country. Our protaganists stop over at a diner on the way home with their weapons and see a news broadcast on T.V:

The big story of the day was what the Organization had been up to in Chicago. The System, it seems, had killed one of our people, and in turn we had killed three of theirs and then engaged in a spectacular - and successful - gunfight with the authorities. Nearly the whole newscast was occupied in recounting these events.

How exciting! White supremacists are finally striking back against the tyranny of law enforcement! But what does Turner mean when he discusses the death of an organization operative? Well, he goes on to tell us:

We already knew from the papers that nine of our members had been arrested in Chicago last week, and apparently they had had a rough time in the Cook County Jail, where one of them had died. It was impossible to be sure exactly what had happened from what the TV announcer said, but if the System had behaved true to form the authorities had stuck our people individually into cells full of Blacks and then shut their eyes and ears to what ensued.

That has long been the System's extra-legal way of punishing our people when they can't pin anything on them that will "stick" in the courts. It's a more ghastly and dreadful punishment than anything which ever took place in a medieval torture chamber or in the cellars of the KGB. And they can get away with it because the news media usually won't even admit that it happens. After all, if you're trying to convince the public that the races are really equal, how can you admit that it's worse to be locked in a cell full of Black criminals than in a cell full of White ones?

Unfortunately, there is an amount of truth here. Law enforcement personnel have, from time to time, used prisoners as a means to abuse other prisoners when the officers are not permitted to do it themselves. In that regard I can't argue with Pierce. What I can challenge is the notion that African-American criminals are in some way "worse" than white criminals. I think it highly likely that the relevant issue is the race of the "new fish" in the cell, in comparison to the race of the other prisoners. I doubt a black prisoner in a cell full of white inmates, particularly inmates drawn from Tuner's "Organization," would fare at all well. Moreover, are we surprised that a group of criminals would abuse a member of an organized terrorist group dedicated to eradicating their ethnicity? Color me shocked.

Of course, the Organization retaliated for this:

Anyway, the day after our man-the newscaster said his name was Carl Hodges, someone I've not heard of before-was killed, the Chicago Organization fulfilled a promise they'd made more than a year ago, in the event one of our people was ever seriously hurt in a Chicago jail. They ambushed the Cook County sheriff outside his home and blew his head off with a shotgun. They left a note pinned to his body which read: "This is for Carl Hodges."

That was last Saturday night. On Sunday the System was up in arms. The sheriff of Cook County had been a political bigwig, a front-rank shabbos goy, and they were really raising hell.

Although they broadcast the news only to the Chicago area on Sunday, they trotted out several pillars of the community there to denounce the assassination and the Organization in special TV appearances. One of the spokesmen was a "responsible conservative," and another was the head of the Chicago Jewish community. All of them described the Organization as a "gang of racist bigots" and called on "all right-thinking Chicagoans" to cooperate with the political police in apprehending the "racists" who had killed the sheriff.

Well, early this morning the responsible conservative lost both his legs and suffered severe internal injuries when a bomb wired to the ignition of his car exploded. The Jewish spokesman was even less fortunate. Someone walked up to him while he was waiting for an elevator in the lobby of his office building, pulled a hatchet from under his coat, cleaved the good Jew's head from crown to shoulder blades, then disappeared in the rush-hour crowd. The Organization immediately claimed responsibility for both acts.

So, you know, a reasonable and measured response. As always, as well, Jews are blamed for any efforts to "oppress" members of the organization, though we are certainly given no arguments as to how they're responsible. Apparently any time a white man is opposed to white supremacists, it's because he's secretly under the control of the Jewish conspiracy. Where I come from, we have a term for what that kind of logic. Eventually, with the help of near martial law and the national guard, the location of a Chicago cell of the Organization is located. Yet, even with overwhelming force, the authorities seem quite at a loss to stop the Organization terrorists, or prevent them from making a "statement:"

One of the men in the apartment apparently had a sniper's rifle, because two Black cops more than a block away were picked off before it was realized that Blacks were being singled out as targets and uniformed White cops were not being shot at. This White immunity apparently was not extended to the plainclothes political police, however, because an FBI agent was killed by a burst of sub-machine-gun fire from the apartment when he momentarily exposed himself to hurl a teargas grenade through a window.

We watched breathlessly as this action was shown on the TV screen, but the real climax came for us when the apartment was stormed and found empty. A quick room-by-room search of the building also failed to turn up the gunmen.

Disappointment at this outcome was evident in the TV newsman's voice, but a man sitting at the other end of the counter from us whistled and clapped when it was announced that the "racists" had apparently slipped away. The waitress smiled at this, and it seemed clear to us that, while there certainly was no unanimous approval for the Organization's actions in Chicago, neither was there unanimous disapproval.

This passage does several things. First, it introduces the killing of white people by white terrorists in order to bring about a white supremacist revolution. This was something, you will recall, that Pierce shied away from last time. This time, however, we're finally being introduced to the idea- even if in the process the sparing of certain whites is described more prominently. Secondly, that the three Organization terrorists have the time and ability to select their targets so carefully even while so outnumbered implies that they are nearly godlike in their abilities. The same is implied by their ability to escape capture. Doubtless, many readers would like to believe that they would be equally skilled in battle as these near-miraculous white supremacists. Moreover, this fits in with Pierce's doctrine of racial superiority, and leads his readers to believe that they, too, could be invincible warriors for whiteness. (Man, I feel absurd just saying that) Finally, the response of the people in the diner is telling. Once more, we seem to receive the message that many average Americans (meaning, of course, white Americans in Pierce's world) would approve, or be amenable to, a white supremacist takeover. This is a crucial part of Pierce's effort to convince white Americans to take up arms against the government.

From this talking up of the white supremacist cause, we reach yet another educational discussion of terrorist tactics:

As last night's TV news ended, Henry and I choked down the last of our meal and stumbled outside. I was filled with emotions: excitement, elation over the success of our people in Chicago, nervousness about being one of the targets of a nationwide manhunt, and chagrin that none of our units in the Washington area had shown the initiative of our Chicago units.

I was itching to do something, and the first thing that occurred to me was to try to make some sort of contact with the fellow in the cafe who had seemed sympathetic to us. I wanted to take some leaflets from our car and put one under the windshield wiper of every vehicle in the parking lot.

Henry, who always keeps a cool head, emphatically vetoed the idea. As we sat in the car he explained that it was sheer folly to risk calling any attention whatever to ourselves until we had completed our present mission of safely delivering our load of weapons to our unit. Furthermore, he reminded me, it would be a breach of Organization discipline for a member of an underground unit to engage in any direct recruiting activity, however minimal. That function has been relegated to the "legal" units.

The underground units consist of members who are known to the authorities and have been marked for arrest. Their function is to destroy the System through direct action.

The "legal" units consist of members not presently known to the System. (Indeed, it would be impossible to prove that most of them are members. In this we have taken a page from the communists' book.) Their role is to provide us with intelligence, funding, legal defense, and other support.

Whenever an "illegal" spots a potential recruit, he is supposed to turn the information over to a "legal," who will approach the prospect and sound him out. The "legals" are also supposed to handle all the low-risk propaganda activity, such as leafleting. Strictly speaking, we should not even have had any Organization leaflets with us.

We waited until the man who had applauded the escape of our members in Chicago came out and got in a pickup truck. We drove by him and noted his license number as we pulled out of the lot. When the network is established, the information will go to the proper person for a follow-up.

So, in other words, we are given a brief tutorial in how to compartmentalize a terrorist group so that functions that can be kept above-ground are kept so, and that underground operatives are not risked unnecessarily. This pattern was used to good effect (and by "good" I mean something other than a moral judgment) in Northern Ireland where the terrorist IRA served as the underground counterpart to the above-ground Sinn Fein. Once more, we have less of a novel and more of a terroist handbook.

Once they returned to their headquarters, we are treated to still more instructional material- this time in the selection of a home base for terrorist activity:

The new place is much better in every way except the rent. We have a whole building to ourselves. It is actually a cement-block commercial building which once housed a small machine shop in a single, garage-like room downstairs, with offices and a storeroom upstairs.

The place has been condemned, because it lies on the right-of-way for a new access road to the highway which has been in the planning stages for the last four years. Like all government projects these days, this one is also bogged down-probably permanently. Although hundreds of thousands of men are being paid to build new highways, none are actually being built. In the last five years most of the roads in the country have deteriorated badly, and, although one always sees repair crews standing around, nothing ever seems to get fixed.

The government hasn't even gotten around to actually purchasing the land it has condemned for the new highway, leaving the property owners holding the bag. Legally, the owner of this building isn't supposed to rent it, but he evidently has an arrangement with someone in city hall. The advantage for us is that there is no official record of the occupancy of the building- no social security numbers for the police, no county building inspectors or fire marshals coming around to check. George just has to take $600-in cash-to the owner once a month.

In the process of describing some desirable properties of a hideout, Pierce uses this as a chance to further demean the government. Remember that, given that we're only in Chapter 3, Pierce is still trying to convince us of the necessity of revolution. Certainly his complaints about high taxes and poor public resources are part of this effort.

Finally, after a brief technical discussion of how to make the place livable without having to actually pay bills:

So, having decided to make the move, we did it today. Since there was no electricity, water, or gas in the new place, it was my job to solve the heating, lighting, and plumbing problems while the others moved our things.

Restoring the water was easy, as soon as I had located the water meter and gotten the lid off. After turning the water on I dragged some heavy junk over the meter lid so no one from the water company would be likely to find it, in case anyone ever came looking.

The electric problem was a good deal more difficult. There were still lines up from the building to a power pole, but the current had been shut off at the meter, which was on an outside wall. I had to carefully knock a hole through the wall behind the meter, from the inside, and then wire jumpers across the terminals. That took me the better part of the day.

The rest of my day was occupied in carefully covering all the chinks in the boards over the downstairs windows and in tacking heavy cardboard over the upstairs windows, so no ray of light can be seen from the building at night.

We come to the end of the chapter. This chapter may have seemed dull, but that's because it is. In fact, this chapter reads like a set of stereo instructions, which makes sense because it shares a purpose with stereo instructions. In large part this material is entirely instructional and is only loosely wrapped in a narrative. As such, the perception of it as dull is quite accurate. Yet, at the same time, it is brilliant in that, however boring it is, it still conveys the information in a way more vivid than standard instructional manuals can usually achieve. As such, Pierce is definitely using his medium well.

And so, another episode of Turner Tuesday draws to a close. Join us next time when Earl Turned remarks: "The cold water relieved the throbbing almost immediately, and I leaned back gratefully on the pillows which Katherine propped behind me on the couch."

Doubtless she then assured him that it happens to lots of men.

See you next time.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Bush's mind-boggling approval numbers

...according to the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll

Among registered Republicans: 84%
Among registered Independents: 32%
Among registered Democrats: 8%
Overall: 39%

I'll resist the temptation to point out that these numbers are the lowest of Bush's presidency. (Oh wait, I just did point that out.)

What I want to point out instead is the tremendous (84% vs. 8%) gap in Bush's approval between Republicans and Democrats. This is an amazing, quantitative indicator of just how large the gap in perception is between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, red states and blue states, etc. etc. etc. This is a stunning indication of the "Two Americas" principle - although even the book I linked to is written from one of the two perspectives.

What does this mean? I'd like to hear your thoughts. Hit the "Comments" button below this post and let me know what you think. But here's what this data indicates to me: convincing people on the "other side" is going to be a lot more difficult than we - or they - think it is. And we even have a case of that here in our own little corner of the blogosphere, with the sad case of Tim Therrien. I hope that Bush's approval rating and Tim's blog can teach us the same lesson - that if we have any hope at all of convincing our political opponents, it can only be through months or years of civil discourse. The prospect is scary, frustrating, and true.

Was it something I said?

Those of you who follow the blog regularly are aware of my recent efforts to address the concerns of creationist Tim Therrien over on his blog Vallo Fides. My recent posts on the subject have been rather lengthy, and doubtless obnoxious to many of my readers, but I think relatively civil all the same. I was looking forward to Tim's response.

Sadly, it appears that I will never receive that response, judging by Tim's recent announcement that he intends to stop blogging. For those who are curious, I will cross-post his words below:

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish"

I regret to say that within a few days (long enough for people to have a chance to read this) I will be leaving the blogosphere. I know that for some of you this will be a welcome event and I'm glad I could brighten your day.

In order to explain this decision, I simply point you to the comments of Beaming Visionary, lloydchristmas69 and the like (no, BV and lloyd, you are not the ONLY reason. So keep your heads from overinflating). Suffice it to say that I lack the energy and interest to attempt civil discussions with potty-mouthed 4 year olds. A recent comment by lloyd, which I had to delete because of the demeaning nature, tipped me over the edge on this decision. I find no pleasure in inviting sewer talk, nor do I wish to continue attempting to carry on conversations with people who have no concept of what a Conservative or a Christian actually is, nor are interested in learning. I may have my mind made up on numerous issues, but at least I can carry on civil discourse about those issues.

In closing I would like to ask this, though. How much of a victory is it, guys, to drive someone away from a discussion by acting like monkeys flinging poo? Sadly, I think that most of these folks are intelligent and would have interesting opinions. I, however, do not see any benefit in dealing with brats.

To those of you who have provided thoughtful and reasoned discussions of these topics, thank you! Trust me, you are much too few out there.

So, it looks like we won't have Tim to kick around anymore. Personally, I think it's a shame. I won't say that I thought Tim had the best arguments against evolutionary theory that I've ever heard, but he was at least willing to present a case. That makes him vastly more impressive to me than the majority of those in the anti-evolution and pro-evolution camps who prefer to simply fling invective. Granted Tim did make us on incendiary argumentation now and then, and on more than one occasion he did employ insultingly sarcastic rhetoric, but, hey, who am I to object?

I guess all I'm trying to say is this: Tim, I stridently disagree with you on a number of subjects, and I think you're a bit less civil than you'd like to believe, but you were at least willing to trade arguments. For that, at least, you deserve some respect.

Friday, October 14, 2005

My Appreciation for Evolution

Today on Total Drek we're going to respond to Mr. Tim Therrien's remarks on the subject of evolution. His remarks are, in turn, part of an ongoing debate and my previous contribution can be found here. Sooner or later I suspect I'll organize and index all this correspondence, but for the time being this is an active discussion and we'll just see where it goes. As we start, I'd like to mention that many of the points I make below have been made elsewhere. A good summary of several is available here from CSICOP. While not as complete as my own response, it is a much shorter (and quite possibly more engagingly written) piece on evolution that discusses many worthwhile issues.

To begin with, I want to thank Mr. Therrien for moving beyond his admittedly poorly worded questions. He rightly comments that sometimes a poor question has great value but, in this case, I would also observe that his initial questions were not merely poorly worded, but also somewhat combative. I would also like to commend everyone in this ongoing debate who has tried to move this debate onto a more civil level, regardless of their position.

I am also pleased that Mr. Therrien has chosen to elucidate his intent more clearly- namely to demonstrate that evolutionary theory is not scientific. As he is not claiming scientific status for creationism or intelligent design, this should simplify matters considerably. As I have no objections to Mr. Therrien's religious faith, and have no intention to convert him to a pro-evolution position, it only remains for me to make a case in support of evolutionary theory as a scientific theory.

As we begin, allow me to make a few comments about the definitions Tim (I apologize if this seems forward, but I daresay I'll go mad if I must type Mr. Therrien throughout this post) uses.

First, the definition of theory. Tim refers to a theory as: "An assumption based on limited information or knowledge..." and further remarks that: "For the scientist, what the non-scientists means by 'theory' is actually an 'hypothesis'. I.e. - an assumption." This is, in a word, incorrect. In the present context an assumption is something that is taken to be true without evidence. A hypothesis by contrast is a proposed explanation or prediction that is subject to testing. Hypotheses are often derived from theories that are supported by evidence, so they are not believed to be true without any support. To equate hypotheses and assumptions is a mistake. True assumptions in science are more akin, though not identical, to "scope conditions," or limitations placed on the applicability of a theory or hypothesis. As we will see later, understanding the role of scope conditions is often critical to understanding the meaning of scientific work.

Tim next goes on to remark:

Since the non-scientist sees a theory as an assumption, they like to have evidence establishing the truth of an idea. We want proof. The scientist finds this anathema because they reject the idea that this is possible (which I will discuss shortly). Proof for the scientist is simply the validation of a part of any concept, which can later be shown to be false. Therefore, to request proof of evolution is to ask for an impossibility.

I think this does not fully reflect the scientific process. Scientists, like non-scientists, like to have supporting evidence for their claims. The problem is that scientists regard it as impossible to prove something to be universally true because our senses, and resources, are limited. In other words, because I cannot exist in all places in the universe at all points in time I cannot show with evidence that anything is necessarily true in all places and at all times. So, it is impossible to conclusively prove any universal statement correct. At the same time it is far from impossible to show considerable support for an assertion and an absence of successful falsification attempts.

It is also important at this juncture to comment on the difference between proving something to be true, and proving something to be universally true. I might make an assertion to the effect that, "If I lift up my keyboard right now and let go, it will fall to the floor." In order to prove this assertion correct I need only lift up my keyboard and release it. If it falls to the floor, my assertion has been proven correct. (This, of course, supposes that we do not live in a universe managed by Rene Descartes' famous deceitful god.) It is, therefore, a relatively simple matter for me to prove any particular instance of a thing to be true. On the other hand, were I to make the assertion, "Any time I lift up my keyboard and let it go, it will fall to the floor," I am in a quite different position. There are any number of additional factors which might intervene to prevent my keyboard from falling to the floor- a strong gust of wind, a sudden reversal of gravity, the intervention of my quick-thinking girlfriend, and so on. Therefore, I cannot simply and conclusively demonstrate that a universal statement is always true, even if specific instances are provable. On the other hand, I can potentially show that my universal statement is in error if, on certain occasions, when I lift up my keyboard and let it go it does not fall to the floor. This logic does, indeed, seem a little odd to most people but this is simply because we are accustomed to proving things true in specific instances (e.g. the capital of Germany is Berlin, or that individual A killed individual B) and are not used to the problems inherent in proving that some things are always true. The doubt that individuals feel about the utility of showing what is not true in order to discover what is true (Tim's included: "Build up enough of these 'what it’s not' examples and (supposedly) you come closer to what it is.") can be largely dispelled, I think, by thinking about the game of "Twenty Questions." An answer of "no" is often as informative as an answer of "yes" if the question is properly phrased.

This takes us critically into the discussion of falsifiability. Tim does sum up the concept of falsification nicely, but then proceeds to remark that:

So, one of the foundations of the Scientific Method is - by no means - accepted by all scientists. Indeed, numerous articles indicate that there are many scientists who disagree with this requirement outside the non-evolutionary scientific circle.

I think this may overstate the issue somewhat. Popper's falsification criterion is widely accepted, but that isn't to say that we don't have debates on the specific way it should be applied. Thomas Kuhn, for example, argued that falsification does not immediately cause a theory or hypothesis to be rejected for the simple reason that scientists may doubt the falsification. This doubt is no more remarkable than the doubt that results when two individuals use the same tape measure to determine the length of the same table. If they end up with different measurements, it doesn't necessarily mean that the table has changed but rather that their measurements may be in error. In Kuhn's view, we retain theories that are in the process of being falsified until something better becomes available, and then switch over. This is, more simply put, like waiting to get off of one horse until you have another one to ride instead. The seeming contradiction between a Kuhnian world in which we retain potentially flawed hypotheses, and a Popperian world in which we always reject that which has been falsified, has largely been resolved by Imre Lakatos who focusses on the competition between various approaches to solving a problem. Over time as more falsification accumulates for some approaches, but not others, those falsified theories lose adherents. As a result, falsification isn't the sudden and final event proposed by Popper but, instead, is a lengthy and cumulative process.

The real relevance of all this, however, is that while the precise functioning of the falsification criterion is somewhat in dispute, its value to the scientific enterprise is solidly established.

Along those lines, I must take up Tim's remark about the mortality of humans:

However, since Popper is considered by many to be the authority, one would have to accept that you cannot scientifically establish that mankind is not immortal. To do so you would have to demonstrate that all men, everywhere, throughout all time - die. It is not observable, testable, repeatable or refutable. You can only say that there are numerous cases where men have died. So you can say that some men are not immortal, but not all men.

This is a very sloppily phrased assertion. Science indeed cannot demonstrate that all humans are mortal. It is possible that there exists some individual somewhere who is immortal, or that at some time in the future an individual human will exist who is immortal. However, science can establish that all men are not immortal. Any single man dying would serve to falsify the assertion that all men are immortal. Further, while we can't "prove" that all men are mortal, we can point out that there is a definite lack of contrary evidence.

On the other hand, science could hypothetically demonstrate that no humans currently living are immortal. Doing so would require only attempting to kill every living human and seeing whether or not they die. I think it unlikely for both ethical and logistical reasons that such an experiment would be conducted, but the assertion is provable when phrased in a specific sense (i.e. 'currently living').

Having dealt with certain misunderstandings of the scientific method and definitions, we may now turn to the meat of the evolution discussion. We begin with the issue of speciation. Tim remarks that:

The scientific concept that seems to enjoy the most popularity is the Biological Species Concept (BSC). BSC separates “species” into very fine groupings. I.e. - “Bluegill Sunfish” and “Pumpkinseed Sunfish”. Yet both are capable of interbreeding. Although, some scientists seem to base speciation on the ability to interbreed. They point to strains of yeast, or varieties of flies that have manipulated in the laboratory and are incapable of interbreeding. BSC is not useful in discussing evolution because some questions are unresolvable. Such as “Do Homo Erectus and Homo Sapiens represent the same or different species?” We cannot know because they did not, apparently, exist at the same time or in proximity to one another in order to attempt interbreeding. Regardless, using BSC, what is often referred to as evolution is commonly held to be adaptation. Changes in species are merely adaptations to their environment. Two groups get separated for long enough and they may not be able to interbreed. But it does not change the nature of what
they are.

He is correct in commenting that the precise definition of species is in dispute, at least in part because it doesn't always match up with common perceptions and, in the case of the BSC, because not all species reproduce sexually. Therefore, a definition that is based on ability to interbreed is of little use for these creatures. However, the BSC, according to the link I sent Tim, "...defines a species as a reproductive community." Thus, creatures that CAN interbreed, but do not for a variety of reasons (provided in the link) may not be considered the same species. This is, however, a relatively minor issue.

Of greater concern in Tim's remark that:

BSC is not useful in discussing evolution because some questions are unresolvable. Such as “Do Homo Erectus and Homo Sapiens represent the same or different species?” We cannot know because they did not, apparently, exist at the same time or in proximity to one another in order to attempt interbreeding.

This is not a correct statement. To say that a given criterion is not useful in all circumstances is not to say that is entirely useless. A similar argument would be that because all cars are not Chevys and Fords, the terms Chevy and Ford are useless. The BSC remains a useful criterion in a number of circumstances, regardless of its definitional failues in others.

Finally, Tim dismisses the BSC with the following:

Regardless, using BSC, what is often referred to as evolution is commonly held to be adaptation. Changes in species are merely adaptations to their environment. Two groups get separated for long enough and they may not be able to interbreed. But it does not change the nature of what they are.

I would appreciate some links here as to what difference Tim perceives between adaptation and evolution. Evolution is regarded as an accumulation of adaptations that results in the generation of new species. Put more fully:

"In the broadest sense, evolution is merely change, and so is all-pervasive; galaxies, languages, and political systems all evolve. Biological evolution ... is change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. The ontogeny of an individual is not considered evolution; individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inheritable via the genetic material from one generation to the next. Biological evolution may be slight or substantial; it embraces everything from slight changes in the proportion of different alleles within a population (such as those determining blood types) to the successive alterations that led from the earliest protoorganism to snails, bees, giraffes, and dandelions."

As such, I see no distinction between "adaptation" and "evolution" that could make Tim's remark meaningful. As the bard remarked, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." In this case, evolution by any other name remains evolution.

Tim continues to attack the issue of speciation with the following:

“The literature on observed speciation events is not well organized.” Four factors relating to this include: A. Lack of scientific interest. Few researchers and grad students look beyond their assumption that the literature exists. B. The assumption is that “speciation” takes a long time, so few events would be observable. C. “The literature contains many instances where a speciation
event has been inferred . (Not documented or substantiated, simply inferred.). D. “Most of the current interest ... concerns theoretical issues.

So, as regards speciation, the literature is not well organized. The researchers are basing their research on the assumption that supporting literature exists. And the process may be too long to document so they go on information that has been inferred (rather than substantiated.) This is apparently deemed sufficient because they are more interested in theoretical issues than in establishing, for certain, that speciation actually occurs.

This passage contains a very serious misrepresentation of the link I provided to Tim. The author of the documents on the far end of my link does, indeed, indicate that the literature on speciation is poorly organized, but this does not mean that it is nonexistent. In point of fact, this one link provides over two dozen references to observed speciation events. A further source of references for speciation events is provided from the original link. In total, the issue is not that a literature on speciation does not exist, but rather that it is somewhat difficult to navigate. That many researchers assume that this literature exists (as it, in fact, does) is not unexpected given the immense utility of evolutionary theory to modern biology. One might as easily argue that gravity does not exist because most physicists are incapable of naming scientific articles that demonstrate that fact.

I must also take issue with Tim's remarks about inference. He claims, "...they [the scientists] go on information that has been inferred (rather than substantiated.)" However, what the author actually said was, "Third, the literature contains many instances where a speciation event has been inferred. The number and quality of these cases may be evidence enough to convince most workers that speciation does occur." In other words, the author is saying that we have such an abundance of inferential evidence for speciation, that most biologists are convinced. Since a literature demonstrating speciation also exists, this is not unreasonable. It's worth pointing out as well that "inference" is not the same thing as "guesswork." When a polieman stops a reckless driver and discovers that the individual in question can't walk a straight line, has slurred speech, and reeks of alcohol, the officer likely infers that the individual is drunk. Yet, however reasonable this assessment, the officer did not see the individual drinking alcohol. Would most people, then, say that the officer's conclusion is unsubstantiated? I think not. Inference is vastly more common, and respectable, than Tim's remarks might lead us to believe.

Moving on, we come to Tim's first objection to evolution:

For the purposes of the rest of this article I will use the term “species” with the Folk (or common)definition (again, from one of Dreks’ links). A. “reproductive compatibility and continuity. Dogs beget dogs, cats beget cats.” B. “You can tell species apart by looking at them.”

So, what is my problem with evolution? First of all, it does not fit with what we KNOW about species currently in existence. There are no “Dats”, “Cogs”, “Higs” or “Porses”. There are no feathered lizards, no scaly birds. There are not even wolves or cows with fins seeking to return to the water, or whales with feet or fingers sunning on the beach. In fact, a whale on the beach is considered so “unnatural” that we mount huge rescue efforts to get them back in the water. Are we actually hindering evolution?

First of all, Tim is employing a definition that combines two elements: reproductive continuity, and phenotypic distinction. I don't think this is an ideal definition but I'm willing to work with it for the time being, without conceding that it is the proper definition for the present situation.

Based on this definition, Tim then objects that we do not, at present, see combinations of species. In his words, "There are no 'Dats,' 'Cogs,' 'Higs,' or 'Porses.'" It seems to me that there are actually two objections embedded in this paragraph, which I will phrase as questions. The first is, "Why don't we constantly see new animals that are combinations of new traits?" The second question is, "Where are the transitional or intermediate forms between species?" I will deal with both questions now.

In the first place, the fact that animals do not routinely and suddenly alter their form is not a problem for evolution because evolution does not predict that they would. Certainly some evolutionary theorists talk about punctuated equilibrium in which change occurs relatively quickly but "relatively" in this case still means "tens of thousands of years." It is quick only by comparison to geologic time which is vastly longer than the span enjoyed by even the longest lived Human civilizations.

In more depth, evolution isn't just random, uncontrolled variation. It is, instead, often expressed as selection acting on the natural variation within a species, as well as on mutation, to produce new forms. Variation, in this case, refers to the diversity normal within a species- so if it is suddenly advantageous for a species to have a long neck, those individuals with long necks will survive more easily and reproduce more reliabily, passing on long necks to their progeny. Eventually, if long necks continue to be favored, we may see very long necks indeed. Mutation is, essentially, random change in the genetic code. As such, it introduces additional variation into the organism, and that variation is then acted upon by natural selection. An understanding of variation and selection is critical because the presence of selection pressures will tend to curtail the development of change that degrades an organism's fitness. As such, there are pressures both towards altered forms (when those forms enhance fitness) and away from altered forms (when those forms degrade fitness.)

Finally, it's important to keep in mind that organisms inhabit particular ecological niches. A niche is the role in an ecosphere that a particular animal exploits. Thus, two species can share the same land area if they exploit different food and shelter resoures- different niches. The concept of a niche also helps to explain why we don't see constant change. Let's imagine for a moment that it's the deep past and all animal life lives in the ocean. Plants have colonized the land but are, as yet, unmollested by predators. The oceans are home to many animal species and fierce competition for resources. Now imagine we have a browsing species that lives in the area right at the shoreline. This is helpful- the shallow water makes it more difficult for predators to reach this species- and so feeding is good. At the same time, members of this species compete with each other for food and mates, and enjoy some natural variation. Now let's imagine that some of these individuals are a little better at existing out of water than their counterparts. They can browse a little further up the beach, a little more out of water, taking advantage of the foliage on land. (This folliage might be as simple as algae, moss, or ferns.) These individuals are able to exploit a new food resource in a new area (essentially a new, or expanded, niche) that their fellows cannot. They will, similarly, do better and reproduce more successfully.

Over time these traits grow more common and this species begins to browse futher and further up the beach. This movement both removes the species from the water, where they are vulnerable to predators, and grants them access to new food resources. Gradually ungainly fins are replaced with structures that more and more resemble feet and legs. Evolution is occurring as a new species colonizes a niche. So far, however, we've only considered browsers, but what about predators? The browsers on the beach are a potential food source, so a predator that can get a little further up the beach has new sources of prey to feed on. So, those predators that have more endurance out of the water begin to breed more successfully, just as their counterparts among the browsers did. Eventually, we end up with both predators and prey that can spend most, if not all, of their time out of water.

Now, imagine what happens to another species of browsing fish that has members capable of spending more time on land- those members confront not just competition from the earlier-evolved species of browsers, but also may be eaten by the largely terrestrial predators. Unlike the earlier waves of colonizers there is little advantage to moving ashore because the available niches are already filled. What this boils down to is simple: speciation may happen readily when there are new niches to exploit, but may happen slowly, or not at all, when competition in a niche is already heavy. Moreover, the availability of niches depends in part of which other niches are exploited- there were no niches for predators on land until niches for prey had been filled. So, the absence of rapidly-evolving species (keeping in mind that "rapid" in evolutionary terms generally translates to "less than 100,000 years") is not particularly surprising in a world where most available niches are already occupied.

More fundamentally the issue here is not that I need to defend evolution, but that we should actually deal with what the theory of evolution predicts. Claiming that evolutuon is wrong because we don't see things that evolution wouldn't predict in the first place is to attack a straw man rather than the theory. This may be rhetorically impressive, but is logically nonsensical.

The second question, "Why don't we see transitional or intermediate forms?" is much simpler to answer. This is because we see many, many intermediate forms. We just don't usually recognize them as such. There is, for example, the lungfish which is a fish that can breathe and function for short periods on land. The lungfish, therefore, fits quite nicely into the category of an intermediate form, and nicely resembles the creatures in my above example. Lungfish are uncommon, but that's what we'd expect given the presence of other animals better adapted to the land, or the ocean, that can compete with them. For another example, consider the entire class of amphibians which are imperfectly adapted to life on land, even if they are far better adapted than the lungfish. You could consider amphibians as a class to be derived from a set of intermediate forms bridging between fish and reptiles. Then, of course, there is the flying squirrel which resembles rather nicely an intermediate form between more or less normal rodents and bats. It, additionally, takes little imagination to see that seals and sea lions resemble very much what modern day whales must have looked like in the past. And, of course, while Tim's comment may have been a joke, we have seen whales with vestigial, poorly-formed limbs and digits. Moreover we have examples of extinct whale species whose previous life on land is apparent from their skeletons and the continuing signs of that terrestrial life remain apparent in modern whale skeletons.

(As a side note: the movement of some mammals back into the ocean doesn't contradict the earlier discussion of niches. A large number of semi-aquatic mammals like otters have learned to exploit particular niches and marine mammals did the same.)

If we further open ourselves to fossil evidence, we find still more transitional forms. Modern birds appear to be derived from dinosaurs, and we have fossils ranging from the mostly bird-like Archaeopteryx to the much more reptilian Sinornithosaurus and the other feathered dinosaurs as support. Beyond this simple example, there are many additional examples of transitional or intermediate species in the fossil record.

Finally, if we want to consider artificial selection, I can think of at least two examples of speciation, one involving intermediate forms, that have been produced by humans. One example derives from a link I provided to Tim in my previous response. A speciation event was described as follows:

The Russian cytologist Karpchenko (1927, 1928) crossed the radish, Raphanus sativus, with the cabbage, Brassica oleracea. Despite the fact that the plants were in different genera, he got a sterile hybrid. Some unreduced gametes were formed in the hybrids. This allowed for the production of seed. Plants grown from the seeds were interfertile with each other. They were not interfertile with either parental species. Unfortunately the new plant (genus Raphanobrassica) had the foliage of a radish and the root of a cabbage.

A plant with the foliage of a radish and the root of a cabbage appears phenotypically distinct from both parent plants. Further, while it cannot breed with either parent plant, it can breed with others of its own type (Raphanobrassica). This meets both of Tim's requirements for a species and, so, we have a demonstrated speciation event that results in a blending of the features of two original parent species. This is not, however, an intermediate form.

For intermediate forms, I ask that you consider the Chihuahua and the wolfhound. Both are phenotypically distinct (speaking personally, I think they resemble each other less than an otter resembles a ferret.) and both are reproductively incompatible (if only mechanically) under all but the most unusual of conditions. Yet, both share a common intermediate or transitional form: the wolf. Certainly both dogs are genetically compatible, and can be exposed to each other's genomes via more closely related intermediates like terriers, but they meet Tim's criteria to be distinct species (Even if the BSC would consider them to be the same species), and have a living intermediary.

The point of all this is that intermediate and transitional forms are far from absent. These forms are, instead, abundant both in living and extinct species. The problem is that we don't usually think of an amphibian as an intermediate step between fish and reptiles- we just think of it as an amphibian. Yet, for all our failure to see them as such, these are examples to a greater or lesser degree of intermediate forms.

As for Tim's comment about the "unnaturalness" of whales on land, I will remind the reader that a century or two ago in the United States the idea of a woman wearing trousers was considered unnatural. Common judgments about such things are of dubious value. Additionally, I would say we certainly are interfering with evolution by helping these beached whales back into the water- but not because we're preventing them from growing legs. Rather, I suspect we're making beaching events more likely by saving the lives, and genes, of animals that are so inclined.

Having dealt with that objection, we come finally to Tim's stated attempt to demonstrate that evolution is not scientific. He makes this claim using four specific points, which I will address in order.

1. It is not Observable. Outside of the lab, no one has yet cited anything to me beyond “It’s all around us” or “It’s happening all the time”. Which tells me that most of you cannot think of one instance (that you can observe) of evolution in progress. We have been keeping records of descriptions of animals for at least a thousand years. No one can point to a significant difference between what they were then and what they are now. The only differences are adaptational (color, size, habitat, diet, etc.).

The problem here is determining what is meant by "observable." Tim seems to think that "observable" means we must see the thing itself in action. This would be one way to observe evolution, but not the only way. In fact, there are many elements of science that are not directly "observable." Atoms, for example, cannot be seen and, so, must be detected by their effects on other things. We know what these effects are because scientific theories make predicitions which can then be tested. If the prediction holds, then the theory is supported. On the other hand if the prediction fails, then the theory loses support and may be partially or fully falsified. By way of example, physicists and astronomers are confident that stars derive their power from nuclear fusion despite the fact that we have never "built" a star. Moreover, we can't directly observe the inner core of a star. The confidence of astronomers and physicists stems from a series of predictions made from theory that are substantiated by observational evidence- stars behave precisely as we would expect if they are powered by nuclear fusion. Additionally, while we can demonstrate nuclear fusion on Earth at a small scale, we cannot reproduce the scale of activity present in a star. Yet, despite our inability to directly observe something, we retain the ability to formulate and test theories about it. Given all this, to determine if evolution is observable, we must ask, "Does it make observable predictions about the world?" As it happens, the theory of evolution makes numerous observable predictions about the world. These predictions are described in vastly more detail than I can provide here. The document I provide a link to also includes a more detailed explanation of my above points:

Scientific theories are validated by empirical testing against physical observations. Theories are not judged simply by their logical compatibility with the available data. Independent empirical testability is the hallmark of science—in science, an explanation must not only be compatible with the observed data, it must also be testable. By "testable" we mean that the hypothesis makes predictions about what observable evidence would be consistent and what would be incompatible with the hypothesis. Simple compatibility, in itself, is insufficient as scientific evidence, because all physical observations are consistent with an infinite number of unscientific conjectures. Furthermore, a scientific explanation must make risky predictions— the predictions should be necessary if the theory is correct, and few other theories should make the same necessary predictions.

As a clear example of an untestable, unscientific, hypothesis that is perfectly consistent with empirical observations, consider solipsism. The so-called hypothesis of solipsism holds that all of reality is the product of your mind. What experiments could be performed, what observations could be made, that could demonstrate that solipsism is wrong? Even though it is logically consistent with the data, solipsism cannot be tested by independent researchers. Any and all evidence is consistent with solipsism. Solipsism is unscientific precisely because no possible evidence could stand in contradiction to its predictions. For those interested, a brief explication of the scientific method and scientific philosophy has been included, such as what is meant by "scientific evidence", "falsification", and "testability".

In the following list of evidences, 30 major predictions of the hypothesis of common descent are enumerated and discussed. Under each point is a demonstration of how the prediction fares against actual biological testing. Each point lists a few examples of evolutionary confirmations followed by potential falsifications. Since one fundamental concept generates all of these predictions, most of them are interrelated. So that the logic will be easy to follow, related predictions are grouped into five separate subdivisions. Each subdivision has a paragraph or two introducing the main idea that unites the various predictions in that section. There are many in-text references given for each point. As will be seen, universal common descent makes many specific predictions about what should and what should not be observed in the biological world, and it has fared very well against empirically-obtained observations from the past 140+ years of intense scientific investigation.

It must be stressed that this approach to demonstrating the scientific support for macroevolution is not a circular argument: the truth of macroevolution is not assumed a priori in this discussion. Simply put, the theory of universal common descent, combined with modern biological knowledge, is used to deduce predictions. These predictions are then compared to the real world in order see how the theory fares in light of the observable evidence. In every example, it is quite possible that the predictions could be contradicted by the empirical evidence. In fact, if universal common descent were not accurrate, it is highly probable that these predictions would fail. These empirically validated predictions present such strong evidence for common descent for precisely this reason. The few examples given for each prediction are meant to represent general trends. By no means do I purport to state all predictions or potential falsifications; there are many more out there for the inquiring soul to uncover.

The remainder of the first objection simply re-introduces the specious distinction between "adaptation" and "evolution," and complains that we haven't witnesses significant natural evolution in 1,000 years of record keeping. Given that, as discussed previously, the entire length of human civilization is not thought to be sufficient for us to witness extensive natural change, this is not a reasonable objection.

The second objection is as follows:

2. It is not Testable. Efforts have been made with yeast and flies. But neither has resulted in yeast or flies becoming something else. Yeast at the start, yeast at the end. Any differences seem to be only in compatibility with one another. Even after millions of evolutions. To truly test evolution, as stated by the staunch supporters of evolution, would require millions of years. By definition it is impossible for man to do so. (Quite convenient for the evolutionists, though. You can’t argue with something that so outdistances your own lifetime, eh?).

As indicated above, evolutionary theory makes numerous predictions that are susceptible to testing. Intermediate and transitional forms should exist, and they do. Traces of previous forms should exist in modern species, and they do. The testable, confirmable evidence of evolution is all readily available (and, as a side note, much of it is linked to in this post).

If there is a problem here, it is that there is too much emphasis on "seeing" the thing happen. Imagine for a moment that you are sitting on a jury for a murder trial. There are no witnesses to the murder, but witnesses did hear the defendant declare his intent to harm the victim. The victim was then found dead from a stab wound. When the defendant's home was searched, a knife with the victim's blood on the blade, and the defendant's fingerprints on the handle, was discovered. Moreover, the defendant lives alone and has no alibi for the time of death. Finally, spittle from the defendant was found in the victim's wounds. Now, nobody saw the murder take place, but the case that the defendant did, in fact, kill the victim is pretty strong. We have motive/intent, means, and opportunity, as well as supporting physical evidence. The situation is similar with evolution: we have motive (competition), intent (survival/reproduction), means (variation, selection, mutation), opportunity (geologic time), and ample physical evidence (genetics, fossil evidence). To say that the defendant can't have killed the victim simply because the police didn't arrive in time to see it happen is no more wise that claiming that evolution can't have happened because human scientists haven't been around watching for the past several million years.

Finally, the timespan over which evolution occurs does not make it untestable. As stated in my last response to Tim, we have tested evolution in the lab and have been able to cause speciation in fruit flys, plants, and bacteria. These creatures reproduce very rapidly and, so, can accumulate and express evolutionary change more rapidly. Longer-lived species cannot be tested in this way but, as stated, we have plentiful evidence for their change over time. Moreover, the fact that something takes place very quickly or very slowly doesn't make it untestable. The sciences of astronomy and geology both deal with processes that occur over extremely long periods of time, and both have enjoyed considerable success in predicting things. Moreover, we can't watch quantum mechanical processes occurring in real time, but we can still derive an understanding of them. Without such an understanding, modern microelectronics would be considerably less advanced.

The third objection is:

3. It is not Repeatable. In spite of their best efforts, scientists cannot make what they say happened happen again.

Absolutely incorrect. As stated above, evolutionary theory makes numerous predictions that have been supported over, and over again. We have found repeated indications of evolution, and have generated evolutionary change in the lab on multiple occasions. It's possible that what this objection means is, "scientists have not reproduced an entire planet full of advanced life forms identical to those on Earth," but this is a ludicrous condition. We haven't had the time or resources to try and, in any case, evolution would never predict the same species would emerge in the exact same way. Given the role of random mutation in evolution, even the same starting conditions could produce significantly different outcomes while using the same mechanisms. To demand we reproduce the Earth is akin to demanding that we reproduce the exact number and pattern of raindrops in a thunderstorm in order to claim that we understand weather. Just like astronomers and physicists have been able to show success in explaining star formation while being unable to "repeat" it, it is not necessary for us to "repeat" all of evolutionary history in order for observations to be repeatable.

Finally, the fourth objection:

4. It is not Falsifiable. If you can’t test it, you can’t repeat it. If you cannot do those things, you cannot set up an experiment to subject it to verification or refutation. By Poppers’ standard, you cannot prove that evolution is right, only that it may not be wrong. Which is a far cry from proof by anyone’s definition.

As explained above, evolution is observable, testable, and repeatable. Further, it makes predictions about the world that, if they are not true, call the theory into question. As such, it is most assuredly falsifiable.

In totality, the above indicates that evolutionary theory is, indeed, scientific.

There are several remaining objections that I will try to deal with quickly. The first is this:

Evolution suffers from another contradiction with science, in that it violates the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. This, basically, observes that the universe is breaking down. Things go from order to disorder. A new car rusts. A rusty car does not become more solid, no matter what environment you place it in. However, evolution is defined as “A gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form.” Evolution is supposed to be a process through which single celled organisms became mutli-celled (more complex). It assumes that the stronger organisms survive (they are a better form). Yet we see that nature lends itself to a process whereby things break down, decay and die. Once dead, they revert to elemental forms (molecules, atoms, etc.). They do not get better, they get worse. Evolution is the scientific belief that the development of life is, as a whole, capable of defying the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

This objection, that evolution violates thermodynamic principles, is one of the most common from the anti-evolution camp, but it does nothing but demonstrate a profound lack of understanding of physics. The second law states that all work tends towards the production of greater entropy over time. This is often taken to mean, as Tim takes it to mean, that a system cannot increase in complexity. This interpretation is simply not correct. The expenditure of energy to do work always includes some amount of friction or inefficiency. This is why no human has ever succeeded in producing a perpetual-motion machine; since some of the energy added to the system is lost to inefficiency (entropy) the machine must, eventually, stop unless it receives additional energy from outside the system. This, however, brings us to an important scope condition: the second law applies to closed systems, but not to open systems. Thus, a system that is receiving new energy from outside can behave anti-entropically over time in a local sense (i.e. within the system) even though it's still part of a global increase in entropy. Without this scope condition not only would evolution be impossible, but life itself as well. Your body is an open system, deriving energy from food to continue operating and make repairs. If the second law prevented this from happening (i.e. if there was no distinction between open and closed systems), there would be no way for your body to continue powering itself. Your body heat would simply disperse your metabolic energy with no way to recover it, resulting in death. Just as a human being derives energy from food, the biosphere of the Earth- essentially our evolutionary "system"- derives energy from the sun. As that energy is added from an external source, the existence of life and the operation of evolution do not violate the second law of thermodynamics. A brief, but perhaps more lucid, response to the thermodynamics argument is also available here. Finally, as a side note, as I am not a physicist, I humbly invite any physicists in the audience to correct any mistakes in my explanation, or elaborate on any points.

Last, but not least, we come to a final objection:

But consider this, please. If I am wrong, I lose nothing. When I die I will return to my elemental form and feed worms. If you are wrong, you risk rejecting the Creator of all things. The price of that rejection is terrible. Not that He will send you to Hell. But that you send yourself there.

This objection more or less amounts to, "Disagree with me and you'll spend eternity in suffering." As threats have no place in a civilized debate, I don't think there's a great deal of value in this point. So long as we're discussing Pascal's Wager, however, I suppose we may as well do a good job. First, this argument is flawed simply on the face of it. If I were to do everything someone told me to do because of the unsubstantiated negative consequences of not doing so, I think I would be wearing a tin-foil hat right now. Second, even were I to accept your argument, I would be faced with the problem of determining which hypothetical deity to believe in. As there are a multitude of deities, many of which (we are told) will punish us for not believing, I'm in quite a fix. The only alternative to evolution is hardly belief in a Christian god. Finally, I think you are constructing a false dichotomy between religious belief and evolution. Quite a number of Christians, as well as people of other faiths, have no problem accepting evolution within the framework of a loving but inscrutable god. If the Lord does, indeed, work in mysterious ways, I see no reason to exclude evolutionary mechanisms from His mystery. Which takes us to my final point.

So long as we're throwing around quotes that don't really bear on the discussion, allow me to provide you with one from former President Jimmy Carter:

"...there can be no incompatibility between Christian faith and proven facts concerning geology, biology, and astronomy. There is no need to teach that stars can fall out of the sky and land on a flat earth in order to defend our religious faith."

In conclusion, while debate exists in science over the precise application of falsifiability, it is a well-established principle. The use of scientific theory and hypotheses is clear, and their distinction from assumptions is obvious. The observability, testabiliy, repeatability, and falisifiability of evolutionary theory have been established and, therefore, so has its status as a scientific theory. Arguments contradicting evolution on the basis of thermodynamics have been shown to rely on an inaccurate understanding of physics. Finally, the presence of abundant evidence for evolution is apparent, both in modern organisms and in the fossil record. In my view, the challenges offered to evolution have been answered, and I welcome any additional questions.

As a parting note, I wish to say two things. First, I have no interest in "converting" Tim to an evolutionary viewpoint. I respect his right to his religious beliefs and see no worthy purpose in attempting to force my perspective on him. I do, however, have every interest in countering misconceptions of evolution wherever they arise. Disagreement is fine, but disagree with the real theory, and argue against the real evidence- do not call a different theory by the name of evolution or ignore the evidence. Second, I have gone to considerable trouble to include a substantial number of links to information that supports, illustrates, or expands my points. In the event that Tim, or anyone else, chooses to respond, I ask that you do likewise. Unsupported rhetoric may be fun to read, but is ultimately of little value.

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