Skeptic: Examining Extraordinary Claims and Promoting Science Skeptic: Examining Extraordinary Claims and Promoting Science

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Wednesday, November 15th, 2006 | ISSN 1556-5696

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Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer
on TEDTalks

Michael Shermer takes us on a hilarious romp through the strange claims we humans put forth as truth — from alien encounters to Virgin Mary sightings on pizza pies, to hidden messages revealed while playing “Stairway to Heaven” backwards — and explains the evolutionary and cognitive basis for these lapses in reason. Don’t miss the one-minute challenge testing your own observational skills…

about the TED conference

TED is an invitation only, Technology Entertainment and Design conference that “brings together more than 1000 of the world’s thought-leaders, movers and shakers” including such names as: Daniel Dennett, Peter Gabriel, Cameron Sinclair, Julia Sweeney, Malcolm Gladwell, Stefan Sagmeister, Eve Ensler, David Deutsch, Iqbal Quadir, Jeff Han, Steven Levitt and Richard Dawkins, among others.

DOWNLOAD streaming video (36MB)>


Letters to SciAm

In the October issue of Scientific American I wrote a column entitled “Darwin on the Right,” based on a chapter in my new book, Why Darwin Matters, about how and why conservatives and Christians can and should accept the theory of evolution. What follows are letters to the editors of Scientific American, mostly disagreeing with me, of course (although I include a few in support, including the first one which, I swear, I did not write!), but what I found interesting is that the critiques came from both camps, religion and science.

— Michael Shermer


Can a Conservative Christian
Accept Evolution?

letters to the editor of Scientific American

Although I was already one of the 59% of Catholics who accept evolution, Michael Shermer, resident “Skeptic” of Scientific American, simply overpowered me with his arguments of Why Christians and Conservatives Should Accept Evolution. If I meet the Almighty at the “Pearly Gates” someday, and he tells me Michael was wrong, I in honesty would have to reply: “Oh Lord, but I truly wish otherwise, since there was such subtle beauty in his thought and the soft cushion of respect in his words.”

— Daniel J. Biezad, San Luis Obispo, CA

Shermer my friend. There is no proof for evolution what so ever. I recommend that you have a talk with Mr. Kent Hovind and get some real facts. Don’t let this evolution thing get you down. Evolution is the cause of many many deaths. Rather receive the free gift of salvation and get saved, the end times are near and people need to know about Jesus.

— Hannes Malan Danie

I read your article in Scientific American about “Darwin on the Right”, and thought it kind of dangerous. The essential divide is, I think, between the Galileo’s “it’s true because I can prove it” and the Pope’s “It’s true because I say it is.” The authoritarian right will always want to be right because they say they are, and working out ways their truths can indeed be true just to keep them happy is not, I think, the road to travel. Should we, at the discovery of each new truth, work out how the Pope’s guys can come to accept it not because you can prove it, but because you can figure out a way to make them feel comfortable with it? I guess your article was meant to be satirical, and it was funny, but at the same time it addresses a dark sadness about science in America in particular. Science is held in check by religious zealots. Every time a good scientist spends time thinking about how to argue the case with these morons, it’s precious time that isn’t spent thinking about science. Religious people skew the thinking of scientists, which is a shame, because the real truth about everything is far more beautiful and fascinating than anything religion has to offer, and the “people of faith” stand in the way of the rest of humanity’s discovery of it. I really don’t think pandering to their needs and shoring up their faith is going to fix that. We really need to bring everyone to the ”It is true because I can prove it” side of things.

— Sam

Michael Shermer fails to mention one major tenet of conservative Christians that cannot be reconciled with evolution: the belief in a soul and the afterlife. In the evolution of humans, where is a Christian to draw the line on which hominid had a soul and which didn’t? Perhaps the soul has evolved along with the body. Such an idea would dovetail nicely with reincarnation but not with the all or nothing, saved and unsaved doctrine of conservative Christians. They have no room for Neanderthal souls that are sent to a Neanderthal heaven and a Neanderthal hell. There is a tiny chance that the conflict between Christianity and evolution may be put to a real-life test. If surviving members of Homo floresiensis are found on an isolated Indonesian island, will evangelical Christians send missionaries to convert them? Or will they dismiss them as soulless beings?

— Robert Urbanek, Vacaville, CA

As an evangelical Christian with a biology background, I appreciate and agree with most of Michael Shermer’s article on why Christians should stop opposing evolution. However, he missed what is in my experience the main reason so many Christians hold so strongly to creationism. This is the belief that if we throw out the literal Creation account, then we are opening the door to throwing out the very basis of Christianity, the physical and historical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As long as the two are linked, conservative Christians can never accept evolution. Only by decoupling the two issues can Christians accept evolution. Fortunately, this has already happened once in Christian history, when the Protestants of the Reformation dropped the belief in the literal transformation of the Eucharist in the Mass. Once they realized that they could rationally take the Eucharist passages non-literally and still take the Resurrection literally, they followed the physical evidence and never looked back. Conservative Christians will not accept evolution until they make the same intellectual leap. How long that will take, only God knows.

— Blake Adams San Antonio, TX

As one who has carried the flag for Darwinism in the conservative community, I greatly appreciated Michael Shermer’s trenchant arguments. As surveys have shown, each political party has its own taste in pseudoscience: Republicans for creationism, Democrats for “New Age” beliefs like astrology and reincarnation. Shermer certainly makes the case that evolution is both good science and good theology. However, he merely assumes without proving that belief in evolution is socially beneficial. Consider that 19th century anti-Semites wanted to convert Jews to Christianity; while 20th century anti-Semites wanted to convert Jews to fertilizer. Clearly, something happened in between, and that something may have been Darwinism.

— Taras Wolansky, Kerhonkson, NY

As an evangelical Christian engineer and longtime reader of Scientific American I find Michael Shermer quite thoughtful in his columns when on occasion he writes of science and faith. I feel like he is a skeptic that would be a pleasure to speak with. In “Darwin on the Right,” (SA Oct 06) he extends his hand much further than he has done in the past. I agree it does not make any difference whether God created the universe 10,000,000,000 years ago or 10,000 years ago. The magnificence of the creation is truly a witness to his glory (Ps 19:1) regardless of when it began. Science is one way I believe God directs our attention toward and stirs our curiosity about His creation. By way of example, for God to have begun our physical universe as theorized by the big bang theory is precisely how I see God doing it. My hats off to the latest Nobel Prize winners in physics for further scientific support for this theory. The most significant point at which science and faith meet is to answer the question: Did Jesus Christ actually die and then defeat death by his resurrection? If the answer is no then we Christians are fools. Of course as a Christian I believe the answer is yes. As the answer is yes among many things it gives me a passion for science. I think we can all at least agree that for current readers we will know the answer within 100 years.

— Joe Craig, Tahoka, TX.

I found it astonishing that Mr. Shermer would spend his time and space to critique Christian theology in a scientific journal. Must be quite a threat. However, he fails to mention the core and most strangely attractive aspect of Christian thinking, the cross. That the Christian’s God would stoop to allow himself to be crucified on a Roman cross, naked before the world and the universe to save his people, remains the baffling doctrine that alone gives Christianity any influence that it has. Darwinism with its selfish genes, survival of the fittest (read most powerful) and all its erudite explanations just does not have the appeal that the cross does. Nor does it make any sense to evolutionary thinking: the mightiest gives all for the weakest, the least fit. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound! How sweet indeed! Perhaps the universe is not so cold and indifferent as it appears. And Mr. Shermer with all his wisdom, learning and insight seems to have missed it.

— Allen E. Shepherd, MD

I have been an avid reader of Scientific American for years, and was a little disappointed by the content of Michael Shermer’s column in October about Christians and Evolution. And while I understand that his tongue must be firmly placed in his cheek when he writes garbage like this, placing writing of this sort in a scientific magazine seems misplaced, and likely belongs in the back under a heading of “Humour”. I would like to remind Michael that the theory of Evolution is no more than a theory, and has no REAL evidence supporting it, other than no one has come up with anything better, well, other than God, but he is not sharing his secrets. Michael’s assumptions about Christianity are insulting at best, and perhaps he should associate with a few Pastors before trying to draw conclusions about something he knows nothing about. I after all, took years of science training at university, and have a pretty good grasp of both sides of the coin, but I think Michael’s theology would earn a firm “F” at any bible college. When evolution starts explaining things like cognition, consciousness, viruses, and a myriad of other things that the “Theory of Evolution” has failed to explain, I will stick to what I know.

— Jamie Farquhar, Oil Lab Technician, Finning Oil Lab Edmonton, AB, Canada

First, I am quite amazed that Scientific American’s fact checkers apparently didn’t realize that evangelical Christians are Protestants, with few exceptions. Regarding Shermer’s basic question of why don’t conservative Christians accept macro-evolution: Harvard biologist Stephen J. Gould, who formulated the theory of punctuated equilibrium, stated in a PBS interview A Glorious Accident ca. 1991, by Dutch producer Wim Kayzer, “An accident is the 60 trillion contingent events that eventually led to the emergence of Homo Sapiens… There was never anything in the history of life that has had such an impact upon the earth, as the evolution of human mind.” Cosmologists, geologists, etc., estimate the Earth to be 4.55 billion years old. Disregarding the roughly 700 million year Hadean period, 60 trillion events divided by 4.55 billion years (13,187) divided by 365.25 days equals 36 necessary events per day for 4.55 billion years – just to get Homo Sapiens. And conveniently, each of these 36 new events daily just happened to occur in the right place at the right time in the right sequence. And we won’t even quibble about the googleplex of “accidents” necessary to form the tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of separate ecosystems. Why don’t conservative Christians accept macro-evolution? — The facts don’t support evolutionists’ claims. The odds would be better of getting hit by lightning at the moment you won the Powerball lottery while dying in the crash of a plane that got struck by a meteor. But then, such things don’t happen every day.

— Joseph “Rick” Reinckens, Dallas, Texas

It is a bit ironic that many Republicans don’t agree with Darwin’s theory of evolution yet they subscribe to philosophies that are very Darwinian — capitalism and the negation of socialism. Democrats, on the other hand, tend to believe in Darwin’s evolution of man yet they promote programs that have the effect of stopping evolution — socialism, feeding the poor etc…

— Charles Langhorn Auburn, California

Another reason that it makes sense for Genesis-believing Christians to accept evolution is to reduce by one the number of hypocrisies committed in the name of their religion. While many Christians shun the findings of science concerning evolution, they are not apt to do so when the findings from other fields of science improve their lives. Much modern technology, from consumer electronics to computers to pharmaceuticals to medical devices and equipment, is made possible through the application of scientifically confirmed natural phenomena. The very same rigorous scientific methods that have made our lives increasingly comfortable have confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt the accuracy of evolutionary theory. Show me a person who believes in the Bible’s creation myth talking on a cell phone and I’ll show you a hypocrite. Of course, the ultimate hypocrisy is committed when such believers employ modern technology to help further their religiously driven agenda.

— John Hiss Palo Alto, CA

I’m an enthusiastic fan. It is rare that I disagree with anything in your “Skeptic” essays. This time, while agreeing with your premise that “… Christians … should accept evolution”, I would reject every one of your arguments. Writing as a self-accused Evangelical Christian, I don’t see my favorite reason for embracing evolution: Rejecting evolution all but requires a prankster-God who litters the hillsides with false clues to the origins of life. In general, Christians should embrace scientific thought because:

  1. it affirms the existence of an objective reality,
  2. it affirms that people can know true things about that reality and
  3. it embraces reason and observation as necessary tools in understanding reality.

All of those things are foundational to Christian thought. Sadly, we Evangelicals have been on an anti-intellectual bender for about a century. I hope it ends soon. Keep up the good work!

— Eric Jacobson Studio City

Nice try, Michael Shermer, but no cigar. The garden of earthly insights you have so intelligently designed to reconcile conservative Christians to evolution might trap an unsuspecting Methodist or Unitarian, but will not tempt even a part-time devotee of Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. There is a good reason why religious true believers are called SUPERnaturalists. Conservative Christians need merely glance into your garden to notice that no God resident there comes even close to their definition. Omniscience and omnipotence are for girly gods. Any God worth the price of admission to a GOP fund-raiser must at the very least be able and willing to suspend the laws of the universe to make sure their man makes it into the Oval Office — and the corner office. God can fiddle with Creation all He wants on His day off (if He gets really bored or something), but His main job is to punish nonbelievers, skeptics and other perverts, and to reward, well, conservative Christians. And for conservative Christians, the best is yet to come — literally — but only if your earthly, pinko naturalist garden comes complete with eternal souls. Thought you’d sneak that one by them, too? Fugedaboudit.

— John C. Simpson, North Attleboro, MA

With regard to Michael Shermer (October), his admirable attempt at “Why Christians and conservatives should accept evolution” will convince nobody. Their belief is emotional, having been instilled in them since infancy. Religion is poisonous to science. The two should be kept as far apart as possible.

— Sid Deutsch, Sarasota, Florida

I have been waging a one-man war with the editors/writers at Discover magazine over their slipshod, confusing and dishonest use of the word “evolution” in that publication. Unfortunately, this misuse is creeping into Scientific American. The honest version of the article’s subtitle would have been: “Why Christians and conservatives should accept blind chance, accidental, purposeless, oblivionistic evolution”. Of course this honest subtitle would have automatically explained why Christians won’t accept evolution. It’s a dead-end road that flatly contradicts the basic beliefs of Christianity and the beliefs of several other religions. Can one be a conservative Christian and a Darwinian? No. Here’s why.

  1. Evolution nullifies theology. If God exists and created the universe, then it is a sop and an insult to focus on the creation while ignoring (even rejecting the reality of) the Creator. If God does not exist, then theology collapses into fantasy. There is no significant middle ground.
  2. Six-day young-earth Creationism turns out to be needless theology. This is simply because science itself has removed the theological threat of blind-chance naturalism, while Hebrew language scholarship allows the word “yom” to literally and properly extend to the time frames called for by Big Bang physics. Science and a corrected interpretation have given “a new lease on life” to Genesis 1.
  3. Evolution cannot even address the problem of “original sin”. The original sin of Adam and Eve was the desire to be like God — knowing spiritual good and spiritual evil. Apes, dolphins, elephants (i.e., the higher, intelligent animals) have little or no concept of God and an afterlife. According to Christian theology, we alone can “sin” against the Creator; we alone will exist beyond physical death.
  4. 5. & 6. Evolution cannot account for the origin of any of these complex characteristics. Rocks, magma, liquids, gasses, plasmas and vacuums do not have family values, moral precepts or free-market economics. Few, if any, of the characteristics of life (from humans to microbes) exist in the non-living universe. There is no source for natural selection; no pathway to explain fundamental origins.

How would “The Skeptic” and the editors of Scientific American react to an interpretation of Genesis 1 that dovetails well with the cutting-edge of modern science? If the Hebrew literally allows “yom” to be finite epochs of time for the six days of Creation, and if a descriptive viewpoint in Genesis 1 of ground-level looking around and up (as opposed to hovering in space while looking down, as commonly assumed) eliminates the usual absurdities charged against this “ancient text”, will you give it a fair hearing? You have nothing to lose but a little time and effort.

— Brian Bloedel, Onley, VA

As a Christian who appreciates the contributions of science but does not subscribe to the theory of evolution, I feel compelled to respond to Michael Shermer’s column. While Mr. Shermer is entitled to his beliefs, he should not attempt to dress up evolution to make it appear compatible with Biblical Christianity. The two are in fact based upon different paradigms, and the disparity between them cuts right to the heart of the very meaning of our existence.

Shermer mischaracterizes Creationism as a depiction of God “piecing life together out of available parts,” thus reducing Him to the status of a “watch-maker.” In fact, the wonder of creation is that God made everything out of nothing. Scripture tells us that, “through Him, all things were made.” I am reminded of the story of an ambitious young scientist accepting God’s challenge to a “man-making contest.” God tells the scientist, “We’ll do it like I did in the days of Adam and Eve.” When the man reaches down to scoop up a piece of dirt, God admonishes him, “No, no. You have to make your own dirt!”

Shermer’s contentions that evolution explains original sin, family values and Christian moral precepts ignore the Fall, which was the result of human frailty and the role of evil in this world. Shermer speaks of “positive” and “negative” sides of human nature. This is a distinctly secular world view. The Bible states clearly that “there is no one righteous, not one.” Thus, the Judeo-Christian worldview does not see morality as a by-product of our “evolved” nature, as Shermer suggests. It is an external framework, a “tree of life” that keeps those who hold fast to it within God’s will for their lives.

The fact that these values (and, for that matter, the social behavior of some mammals) serve to protect family and community only underscores their intrinsic worth; it does not prove that the origin of these wise precepts is anything but Divine. When I watch the movie, “March of the Penguins” with my children and observe how the male emperor penguin selflessly and faithfully cares for his young through the desolate Antarctic winter, I am struck not by how much these remarkable creatures “mimic” humans, but rather by how short of God’s standard I myself often fall in my role as a father.

Yes, we could learn a thing or two from the animal kingdom, not because we both have DNA coursing through our bodies, but because they by their very nature cannot sin. Lacking in the knowledge of good and evil, they have somehow managed to avoid waging wars, fouling their habitats and generating vast inequalities of resources, which leads to my final point: to suggest that evangelical Christians ought to embrace the Social Darwinism of Adam Smith is to ask us to abandon basic tenets of Christ’s teachings. Jesus was a radical who reached out to the untouchables of His society – the leper, the blind, the paralytic and of course, women. His discipleship of the common folk and His unfailing compassion for “the least of these,” offer humanity an antidote to the barbarism of so-called “natural selection.” Both Adam Smith and Karl Marx would render us cogs in a machine, one controlled by an “invisible hand,” the other by the forces of historical materialism. Only Christ gives us a picture of ourselves as servants of a Divine Master who has entrusted us with talents to cultivate, and who invites us to share in our Master’s happiness.

Shermer concludes by cleverly quoting Proverbs 11:29, from whence Hollywood took the title of “Inherit the Wind,” the movie that chronicles the famous Scopes monkey trial. I would respectfully suggest that he consider another verse from that same book, Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding.”

— David Finz

Michael Shermer pleads that all Christians and conservatives should accept evolution. He should rephrase to include everyone, for paleontological evidence proves evolution is and was an on-going process with the following caveats:

  1. Evolution never invented anything! As environmental conditions changed species had to modify or perish!
  2. There is no evidence of a process that begat ‘life’’ (Darwin) in a prehistoric puddle (of water?) 3.4 billion years ago. Science accepts this explanation without any evidence but denies, again without evidence, that any outside agency was involved. It appears many scientists accept what is believable but reject what may have been ‘outside’ help but difficult to believe. That reflects poor science.

— Glenn Waterman, Bainbridge Is. WA

Michael Shermer’s understanding of evangelical Christians is limited. Although his argument that evolution comports with original sin and the Christian model of human nature is true, he misunderstands a crucial aspect of Christian theology, i.e. humankind’s responsibility for its sinful nature. A fundamental belief is that humans were created good but chose to rebel against their Creator which was their original sin. This rebellion made it necessary for God to send his Son into the world to redeem them through his sacrificial death. To accept evolution, evangelicals would have to accept the fact that God is responsible for our sinful nature. That would negate the central tenant of evangelical Christianity which is that the sacrificial death of Christ was necessary to reconcile humankind with God. The fierceness with which they fight the teaching of evolution in our public schools is fueled largely by this mindset.

— James Wade, Arlington, TX

Shermer has it right; to summarize — The Big Bang was the start of the material universe. The Garden was the start of the moral universe.

— Roy E Schneider, Ft. Myers FL

Mr. Shermer fails to address several ideas that creationists hold as truths, and thus merely scratches the surface of the problem in a fashion similar to the Creationists trying to explain how evolution does not make logical sense. It is because of these fundamental truths that I do not believe that evolution will ever be accepted by everyone because believing in evolution will require them to accept several concepts that even a non-religious person may find difficult to accept. In order for evolution to be accepted by everyone, I believe that the more fundamental questions will need to be resolved.

  1. What is everyone’s purpose? Religion’s perseverance throughout history is through the religious leaders providing hope when there does not appear to be any reason for hope. A major source of hope is the belief that every human is part of the grand scheme of life in the universe, thus their life and suffering is part of their salvation. Accepting evolution involves accepting that we are a group of complex chemical reactions and our body’s sole purpose is to propagate the DNA code contained within. Thus, while not considered humane, our species is successful by the majority of the population, not by an individual.
  2. What makes human’s existence more unique than other species? Evolution is a process where random changes in the current state of “life” are filtered and balanced by selection processes. Humans, in our current form, had the same chance of occurring as any other complex species. Our lineage gained the ability to modify our environment to overcome our inability to cope with nature and through luck, we were able to move to another portion of the earth where we proliferated. While we are to the best of our knowledge the only sentient species, another sentient species could have occurred or we may not have occurred at all, thus our chances of occurring are no more unique than any other species.
  3. Are humans the intended design? While we have the ability to imagine concepts that were never experienced, and thus can develop technologies and teach ideas for our children, our construction is far from perfect. An often cited example is the less than ideal construction of our eye, common to our lineage, resulting in a blind spot that our mind fills in. Another example is the limited range of color that our lineage is capable of seeing. Evolution does not work towards the ideal design but works from the previous design, so we just got lucky that we gained additional strengths that allowed us to become successful. Most of our abilities are shared with other species, just not in this particular combination.
  4. Is the Bible is correct? Since the Bible “documents” the history of the universe and our creation, accepting that creation, or its new age cousin intelligent design, is not correct means accepting that there are errors in the Bible. If Genesis is incorrect, then other portions of the Bible may be incorrect. If there is nothing available that can be used to prove the accuracy of the rest of the information in the Bible then the Bible becomes nothing more than a historical fiction. We still live in societies full of closed minds and it may take finding sentient life outside of our world to prove that our existence is not unique. Until then, it is easer to believe an idea that provides reasons for hope than to believe in an idea that defines our insignificance. Unlike Creationists, who tend to balk at criticism of their theory, we need to welcome the arguments about evolution because it is through questioning and testing that our understanding of the universe becomes accurate.

— William C. Wheeler Midlothian, VA

Michael Shermer claims that evolution “should be embraced” by Christians and conservatives. The first premise of evolution is that there is no God. How then can a Christian, who believes there is a God, then embrace evolution? Shermer claims that “Calling God a watchmaker is belittling”, but comparing life’s complexity to a watch’s is even more belittling. Shermer erroneously asserts that Christians have delimited God to “being a garage tinkerer piecing together life out of available parts”. He forgets that God created all things out of nothing, not out of “available parts”. To call God “just a genetic engineer slightly more advanced than we are.” is even more baffling: consider that scientists have not yet cloned any human beings successfully. Shermer then goes on to say that evolution “accounts for specific Christian precepts” and lists truth-telling and marital fidelity as examples. I find it queer that primates somehow learned how to “get married”. It’s even more interesting to note that primates no longer get married today. Also, why would a primate think that adultery violates trust? How did they learn that adultery violates trust? It surely must have been a taught or learned reaction. It is easier to believe that God placed a conscience into Man to know what is right and wrong. The next claim that “evolution explains conservative free-market economics” is absurd. I find it hard to believe that ALL the ecological and biological processes and systems that are constantly and vitally in action came into being by chance. Even today’s world economies have rules and systems that were created by governments. It is more logical to believe that the consequence of competition among individual organism is anarchy. Therefore, to say that God created all creation with all systems in place is in fact more logical than to claim He used evolution to create the universe. I find this article extremely biased with an anti-Christian sentiment and hope that such material will not surface again in Scientific American.

— Timothy Lee, Singapore

Michael Shermer does nothing but bait others and makes your magazine look unprofessional. Evolution has served some purpose in past years but as more and more evidence comes to light there is less and less that is explained by the theory, especially anomalous evidence. One prominent feature in the treatment of anomalous evidence is what we could call the double standard. All paleoanthropological evidence tends to be complex and uncertain. Practically any evidence in this field can be challenged, for if nothing else, one can always raise charges of fraud. What happens in practice is that evidence agreeing with a prevailing theory tends to be treated very leniently. Even if it has grave defects, these tend to be overlooked. In contrast, evidence that goes against an accepted theory tends to be subjected to intense critical scrutiny, and it is expected to meet very high standards of proof. Ameghino’s discoveries in the Montehermosan formation — including stone tools, modified animal bones, signs of fire, and modern human skeletal remains show a human presence in Argentina more than 3 million years ago. “Lucy”, A. afarensis, shows us a gorilla-like head, an upward-pointing shoulder joint indicating that the arm was used for suspensory behavior, and a hand with a powerful wrist and curved fingers, suitable for climbing. Even if one believes Lucy could have evolved into a human being, one still has to admit that her anatomical features appear to have been misrepresented for propaganda purposes. The Laetoli footprints show anatomically modern human beings walking in impressed layers of volcanic ash, dated by Garniss Curtis, using the potassium-argon method, at from 3.6 to 3.8 million years ago. Indeed, humans may not have evolved at all. Human beings may have been present on this planet, in their current form and at essentially the same level of physical advancement for millions of years. Who knows, we may have been transplanted here from other places in our galaxy. The theory of evolution is found to be wanting, has little evidence to support the wide assertions present in high school textbooks and has the scientific establishment looking like the thick-headed apes they propose as our ancestors.

— Richard J. Hauley, D.M.D., Salt Lake City, UT

As a fan of Michael Shermer’s column “Skeptic” since its inception, I must register unexpected disappointment with the October 2006 installment, “Darwin on the Right.” Shermer writes that evolution provides a scientific foundation for Christian values and beliefs and the tenets of conservatism and so must be embraced. Since when do beliefs, religious, political, or otherwise, require a scientific foundation? If anything, they require the absence of a scientific foundation; otherwise, what’s the point of belief? And where is the necessity of defending evolution to its detractors, anyway? Evolution is correct; that’s enough. Why appropriate the creationists’ terms to repackage it for their consumption? It comes off as desperate; it recalls creationists’ own attempts to answer, point for point, evolutionary theory with references to Scripture. If people wish to doubt that the Earth revolves around the sun, that humankind arose from earlier life forms, or any other indisputable fact, let them do so. The gaps in knowledge that resulted in the rise of codified spiritual beliefs are being filled ever more quickly, an alarming prospect to true believers. To any observer of human nature, it’s plain how people who fear the loss of something of immense value to them will react: by fiercely, even irrationally, protecting it. Those of us who know better know also that any attempt to convince such believers is, effectively, preaching to an empty choir loft.

— Jim Kelly, Albuquerque, NM

Jews and Christians have historically named Moses as author and compiler of the 1st five books of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, beginning with Genesis, where the creation of the universe by God was described to have occurred in 6 days. It is believed by both Jews and Christians that Moses wrote Genesis around 2000 BCE (i.e. 2000 years Before the Common Era — at the time of the patriarchs). This was many years before the widely accepted, early 20th century’s scientific theory of universal creation, which was first espoused through the calculations of Albert Einstein, Aleksandr Friedmann, and Georges Lemaitre. This, so-called, big bang theory was then quickly substantiated by:

  • Hubble’s telescopic discovery of the expanding universe.
  • The discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB).
  • Among other, significant empirical findings. (“The Evolution of the Universe”; Peebles, Schramm, Turner, Kron; Scientific American, May 1998; & Oct. 1994)

Dr. Shermer is correct that it matters little whether God created the universe in 10-thousand or 1-billion years, but, what is significant are the similarities between Genesis and the big bang theory:

  1. The universe had a beginning according to the big bang and Genesis ( Genesis 1:1 — “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”)
  2. God gave form to the chaos to create order.( Genesis 1:2 — “And the earth was without form, and void;”) just as the big bang model used the Standard Model of elementary particle physics with the energy distribution rules of fundamental thermodynamics to describe the primordial fireball, which transformed the initial dense, hot quark-gluon soup into protons and neutrons to fuse into hydrogen and helium, creating a universe made virtually entirely of hydrogen and helium.
  3. God created light on the 1st day (Genesis 1:3 — “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”) just as the primordial flash that produced what we know today as the CMB.
  4. The separation between the light and darkness (Genesis 1:4 — “and God divided the light from the darkness.”) Just as the CMB primal glow of light is separated from each observer due to the expansion of the universe.

Perhaps there isn’t a conflict between science and religion, as Dr Shermer suggests. Perhaps both the scientific and religious accounts are correct and any perceived conflict only exists in the minds of those whose faith lies in religion rather than in the scientific method! Divine miracles, to the ancients, were (and still are, to some) natural phenomena yet to be scientifically explained. Just because people have faith in science; this doesn’t mean they are without religion and vice versa. If this is the case, no conflict should exist! Without the science-religion conflict, there mightn’t be such a conflict between different religions either; thus, negating the need for religious extremist’s despicable random violent acts in the name of their perceived religious beliefs.

— Steven R. Lund, Laguna Hills, CA

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Carbon Comic

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Carbon Comic, which appears in Skeptic magazine, is created by Kyle Sanders: a pilot and founder of Little Rock, Arkansas’ Skeptics in The Pub. He is also a cartoonist who authors Carbon Dating: a skeptical comic strip about science, pseudoscience, and relationships. It can be found at carboncomic.com.

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Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and why do they tend to proliferate? Why does belief in one conspiracy correlate to belief in others? What are the triggers of belief, and how does group identity factor into it? How can one tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

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The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience? If so, you know how compelling they can be. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

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Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

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Top 10 Things You Should Know About Alternative Medicine

Top 10 Things You Should Know About Alternative Medicine

Topics include: chiropractic, the placebo effect, homeopathy, acupuncture, and the questionable benefits of organic food, detoxification, and ‘natural’ remedies.

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Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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