Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ready and wilig

Wilful ignorance.

Just let the meaning of those words sink in for a moment.

Wilful = intent on having one's own way; headstrong or obstinate, intentional.

Ignorance = The condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed. Lack of knowledge, information, or education; the state of being ignorant.

Thanks for indulging me. It makes sense of what I'm about to say. You see, starting from today I will no longer pander to the self-stylings of creationists and the proponents of so-called 'intelligent design'. From this day, anyone with the audacity to suggest that I ignore the weight of scientific evidence in favour of a woefully inadequate cocktail of pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo and mythology is officially among the ranks of the wilful ignorant.

Harsh? Maybe. But I, for one, am fed up with wiligs - that's what I call them now - leaving half-baked attacks and ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims on my blog as 'comments'. If you want to make a case for your belief system guys. please do. Happy to hear it. I'd welcome the discussion. But you never do, do you? Instead you simply tell me that I'm wrong and leave some steaming, usually inaccurate, 'proof' on my blogging doorstep like a stool in a lit paper bag.

The sort of 'proof' I'm talking about consists of 'experts' like Ken Ham who denounce the usual explanation for the fossil record by claiming that all fossils were deposited during the Great Flood. Ham says that, 'If there really was a global flood, you would expect to find billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the Earth … which is exactly what you do find!' Ha! he caught me there with his rapier wit. But wait ... we do indeed find 'billions of dead things' but they are arranged in a way that defies a global flood, which would have mixed up the fossils giving them no recognisable pattern with which to formulate an evolutionary theory. The fact is that they are layered, each layer bearing the fossils of increasingly complex organisms. The obvious explanation for this is a slow evolution over millions of years. The wiligs claim that the very visible sedimentary layers of the Grand Canyon are Flood deposited ... but they contain no dinosaurs. They are in the Mesozoic rocks, which are stratigraphically above the Grand Canyon layers. How did the dinosaurs survive to this point? And what about the mammals? In Ham's global flood model, there should be an even mixing of fossil types; dinosaurs with mammals and humans and trilobites etc. This isn't anything like what we see (my thanks to Greg Nyman at the very sane and welcome Answers in Creation site from which I adapted these last two paragraphs). What we see here is a typical example of wilful ignorance; a deliberate refusal to accept irrefutable fact because it doesn't suit. Incidentally, the allegedly scientific http://www.creationism.org/ has this to say about dinosaurs:

'All over the world people remember the dangerous dragons of old. But they slowly went extinct. Men feared and hated them. Stories of ancient encounters with dinosaurs/dragons are found in China, Thailand, including other parts of Asia, and in Roman, Russian, Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, North, South, and Central America, and across Africa too. Are we so much smarter and more academically inclined than all of our ancestors that we should reject all of their historical records - just to prop up temporary evolutionary theory?'

Dinosaurs and dragons were the same thing? Folktales and myths are 'historical records'? I had no idea. Let's read on, shall we?

'Carbon-14 dating of carbon buried in the same layer with dragon bones helps to confirm that they are really only thousands of years old. The myth-ions and myth-ions of years never happened; only in the past 200 years has it become fashionable to forget our true ancient history (of thousands of years) in favor of God-hating (or: 'bumbling-inherently-weak-god') evolution. Evolution requires the belief in long epochs of supposed time and chance improvements. Dragons and sea monsters have become mostly extinct prior to our modern era. By the way, there is evidence that they grew much larger prior to the Great Flood. Just as humans lived much longer (Genesis records ages of some people to have reached over 900 years!) so a reptile ... living much longer then could have grown much larger before the Flood - which is indeed what we see in the fossil record of the pre-Flood world.'

Actually, no. I have challenged the site to point me in the direction of ANY scientific research that has shown 'dragon bones' to be just a few thousand years old. They have yet to provide any but claim that there's 'a lot'. No actual names and places on their site either, I note. I also challenged the use of the term 'God-hating' as I find it quite offensive. I don't hate their god or any god. I don't believe there is a god but I won't abuse anyone for believing or tell them that their faith is misplaced. We all have freedom of choice. No apology forthcoming as yet, however. As for evidence of 900 year old humans, the proof is in the Bible, apparently. So it must be true. By the same logic, talking anthropomorphic trains exist on the island of Sodor because they're in the Thomas the Tank Engine books written by a man of God - the Rev W Awdrey. Let's read on, shall we?

'Humans and lions live on Earth at the same time today. But we live in different places. Porpoises will ram sharks that come into their waters. So naturally then they also live in different places - while living at the same time. Why couldn't humans and dinosaurs have lived at the same time? They'd probably keep mostly separate and then get buried separately if there was a catastrophe, but this could be theoretically possible, correct? There are at least two places known today with human and dinosaur tracks in the same sedimentary layer: one is in Paluxy, Texas, the other in Eastern Turkmenistan. Plus we have the legends, from all inhabited continents mind you, which should not be automatically discounted.'

This, I'm afraid, is the kind of 'evidence' I have thrown at me, a bunch of opinions and ideas that offer no proof but merely try to tear down the reality of scientific discovery. I'll end with a few choice statements from their FAQ. I implore you not to attack what they have written but look at their evidence and proof dispassionately.

'Q: Isn't the crux of creationism: 'God said it, I believe it, that settles it'? A: For some folks it is, yes. But in turn couldn't one state that for most people the crux of evolutionism is: 'Scientists said it, I believe it, that settles it'?'

'There really is no good scientific evidence supporting evolutionism at all and there is no way that the Earth could be over 10,000 years old.'

'The largest dragon (i.e. dinosaur) eggs that we've found to date are about the size of a football. One could fit, for example, a dozen brachiosaurus eggs in the trunk of a car, with room to spare! This also means that recently hatched dragons were not very large. Noah's mission was to preserve each kind of animal. You don't need to find the biggest of each kind. And you don't need each sub-divided species either. The 3-story Ark was plenty large enough to handle the variety of animal kinds plus lots of food for them.'

'The fossil record still shows a distinct lack of transitional forms. Sure, every generation of evolutionists have a few new ones, but none of them have stood the test of time so far. Lately they're trying real-hard-like to claim that 'dinosaurs grew feathers' to validate temporary evolutionary theory. This will fall flat too. Wait and see. They have good artists though, don't they? They've got great illustrations of 'probable' interim forms, without the slightest bit of scientific evidence to back them up. It's sad what they're doing to the children with such propaganda.'

I'll leave it to you to decide the merits of their version of the truth. In the meantime, I'll ask you politely to please only leave comments on my blog if they (a) don't attack my beliefs and (b) provide something more than a rebuttal of my beliefs. Show some faith in what you believe, people. I do wonder how many of you are comfortable and confident enough to write 'creationist' on a CV or job application. I'm happy to write 'liberal humanitarian' and/or 'atheist' on mine. Maybe you coud use 'wilig' instead? Feel free. I'm going to try to get it into the Oxford English Dictionary.

Want to read more about my views on the Flood and Noah's Ark? You fools. See here. For more about Creationism and ID click on the links. And for my extended essay on faith, please see here. This essay received favourable comments from the likes of Stephen Fry and Dave Gorman.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wot? No slavery?

This past week I've once again found myself getting frustrated and angered by the actions of certain people whose beliefs, coupled with a modicum of power within public office, threaten to tear down the walls of sensibility and truth. Last month, the Texas Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism. It questions the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presents Republican political philosophies in a more positive light. As some press observers have pointed out, this will mean a considerable re-write of existing US history including a severe downplaying (or ignoring) of such matters as slavery. Efforts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures as role models for the state’s large Hispanic population were consistently defeated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting, saying, 'They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist. They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians. They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world.'

'We are fighting for our children's education and our nation's future,' says Cynthia Dunbar, an ultra-conservative evangelist and lawyer who described sending her children to state schools as 'throwing them in the enemy's flames'. She now serves on the State Education Board. 'In Texas we have certain statutory obligations to promote patriotism and to promote the free enterprise system. There seems to have been a move away from a patriotic ideology. There seems to be a denial that this was a nation founded under God. We had to go back and make some corrections.'

These 'corrections' include sidelining Thomas Jefferson, who favoured separation of church and state, while introducing a new focus on the 'significant contributions' of pro-slavery Confederate leaders during the civil war. The new curriculum also asserts that 'the right to keep and bear arms' is an important element of a democratic society. Study of Sir Isaac Newton is dropped in favour of examining scientific advances through military technology. There is also a suggestion that the anti-communist witch-hunt by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s may have been justified. The education board has dropped references to the slave trade in favour of calling it the more innocuous 'Atlantic triangular trade', and recasts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as driven by Islamic fundamentalism.

'There is a battle for the soul of education," says Mavis Knight, a liberal member of the Texas education board. 'They're trying to indoctrinate with American exceptionalism, the Christian founding of this country, the free enterprise system. There are strands where the free enterprise system fits appropriately but they have stretched the concept of the free enterprise system back to medieval times. The president of the Texas historical association could not find any documentation to support the stretching of the free enterprise system to ancient times but it made no difference'

The curriculum has alarmed liberals across the country in part because Texas buys millions of text books every year, giving it considerable sway over what publishers print. By some estimates, all but a handful of American states rely on text books written to meet the Texas curriculum. The California legislature is considering a bill that would bar them from being used in the state's schools.

Sad and scary and, of course, the idea that America has some God-appointed right to lead the world is an extraordinary conceit bearing in mind that it has existed for just a few centuries and was founded by basically killing or dispossessing the native population.

Good grief.

(Some of this content was lifted from an article in the Guardian here. Cartoons shamelessly purloined from Durango Bill's anti-creationist site here.).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

So where the Hell have you been, Colgan?

Hello all. So the great nonsense is finally over and we can all sit back and loathe an entirely new set of self-serving parliamentary weasels. Ooh, get me. I'm sorry. I have little time for politics or politicians. It seems to me that an election is rather like someone presenting you with a box of turds and asking you to pick your favourite. It is perhaps telling that when Michael Foot MP died recently the media had a gush-fest about him being one of the last , great, true parliamentarians who put the needs and desires of the nation above his own. Sadly, his generation seems to have been the last. I do seem to remember someone once saying that 'Anyone who wants to be a politician should be served an automatic life ban from politics'. That said, of course there are many MPs who genuinely want to make things better for all of us whatever our income, social status, faith, sexuality or ableness. But these are the MPs who will ruffle feathers and challenge wrongness and therefore, by definition, will not be the 'Yes Men/Women' that make it into shiny David's cabinet. Sigh. At least I learned of the Tory ascendancy in possibly the nicest and fluffiest way imaginable as I was told by Mr Stephen Fry. I was at a recording for the new series of QI last night and the announcement that Gordon Brown had stepped down and 'invited David Cameron to form a government' came while we were all in the studio waiting for the show to begin. Needless to say, Stephen's take on the prospect of four years of Conservative government - albeit in coalition with the LibDems - was far from sunny and hopeful. Having lived through the 1980s as an adult - and an adult policeman to boot - I found myself listening to his words with a growing sense of gloom and despondency. As experts will tell you, the happiest nations on this planet are those where the gap between rich and poor is smallest. I don't see us becoming an inordinately happy nation in the next four years, do you?

But enough of politics. What else is happening? Well, my visit to QI - and others I shall be making over the next few weeks - were prompted by my being asked to do some artwork for the series. I can't say what I've done (it would spoil the fun) but it will be a real thrill - for me at least - to see my pics up on the screen behind the panelists in the autumn. I'm doing some stuff for the QI Annual again this year and that's always a hoot. I'm also illustrating a children's book written by Terry Bergin which is being published by Daisy Gili as a fine art imprint. Daisy is the granddaughter of the late great Reynolds Stone (see here) who, if the name is unfamiliar, was an astonishingly talented engraver who designed, among other things, the masthead for The Times newspaper and the coat of arms on the front cover of all UK passports. It's a real honour to be doing some work for his imprint.

I've been to some interesting events too including all of the recordings of QI's sister radio show The Museum of Curiosity where I have been lucky enough to meet such people as Sir Terry Pratchett, Marcus Chown, Shappi Khorsandi, Suggs, Jon Ronson, Prof Richard Wiseman, Daniel Tammet, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, Michael Welland, Leigh Francis and others. I also attended a workshop at the BBC hosted by Dave Gorman to explore some interesting tweaks for the second TV series of Genius. That was really good fun and a fascinating inside look at how TV shows are put together.

Other than that, it's been writing, writing, writing. I'm just starting to get a proper feel for the new book - it's taken a while to find the right 'voice' so that it doesn't end up feeling like a training manual. I am endeavouring to teach a skill in the book but, hopefully, through an entertaining read rather than by turning it into a set of instructions.

More soon. Promise I won't leave it so long next time. x