A New Podcast: Take That Podcast!

By @tkthtetymology & @TakeThatGMOs  From our test run. More shenanigans.

Would you like to take something new, all the way into your earholes? Let the upcoming Take That Podcast bang your eardrum and hammer your anvil with skepticism and shenanigans. Our maiden voyage will sail this weekend and be released early next week, featuring TakeThatDarwin, TakeThatGMOs, TakeThatReason, TakeThatEtymology, and TakeThatGodwin. You know someone who never listened to a podcast? Hitler.

It’ll be a general discussion, with some science and skepticism. Basically more of the same shenanigans. 

If you have any questions you’d like addressed on the podcast, let us know on Twitter or here. Or on the streets.

The UNI-VERSE Meme™

by @SuckItEvolution with @TkThtEtymology

There’s a pernicious and annoying little theist meme that’s been spread all over Twitter and other social media channels for several years now. Every so often, you’ll see it getting re-cycled and re-tweeted by new enthusiasts encountering it for the first time. I like to call it “The UNI-VERSE Meme”. It has a number of popular variations, but basically goes something like this (caution: you might want to have a good, stiff drink, before reading further):

“UNI” = One, or single;
“VERSE” = Spoken (or occasionally written) word, phrase,\\ or sentence;
“UNI-VERSE” = A single, spoken word or sentence;
→ Our universe is a “UNI-VERSE” — Created by a single spoken WORD or SENTENCE, uttered by God!

UNI-VERSE meme fans are not quite decided on whether “UNI-VERSE” means a single word, sentence, or phrase (hence, my canonical rendering above). But no matter — they press on undeterred! Often, they’ll embellish the meme with their own creative nuances. Some even seem to suggest that our physical universe IS that single word or phrase, suspended in the aether like some grand Platonic archetype. Here are just a few examples I’ve harvested from Twitter (note: I’ve posted these as simple screen captures, because the embedded tweets were simply taking too long to load):

UNI-1

Yes, wake up:

UNI-2

Oh, I’ve definitely thought about it:

UNI-3

Adam gets it, of course. Too bad nobody else does:

UNI-4

UNI-5

Sometimes, they don’t really bother to elaborate on what their point is. The meme has become so embedded that they simply repeat it without even giving the punchline. Like The Monkey Question, it is a shibboleth of creationist nonsense.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 5.24.30 PM

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 5.24.59 PM

Now, what I find so exasperating about this meme (and I’m sure many of you do, as well) is that it is not based on the actual meaning, or origin, of the term universe, as used by most English speaking people today. Not in the least. Consider, for example, the English Wikipedia page for Universe, which traces this word’s etymology as follows:

The word universe derives from the Old French word univers, which in turn derives from the Latin word universum.[20] The Latin word was used by Cicero and later Latin authors in many of the same senses as the modern English word is used.[21] The Latin word derives from the poetic contraction unvorsum — first used by Lucretius in Book IV (line 262) of his De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) — which connects un, uni (the combining form of unus, or “one”) with vorsum, versum (a noun made from the perfect passive participle of vertere, meaning “something rotated, rolled, changed”).[21]

When Googling “Universe etymology”, the first result returned to me by Google was a graphical representation of the same (more or less) above definition from Wikipedia. Following that were a number of other sources of definitions, including a link to the Online Etymology Dictionary, which defines universe as:

universe (n.) 1580s, “the whole world, cosmos, the totality of existing things,” from Old French univers (12c.), from Latin universum “all things, everybody, all people, the whole world,” noun use of neuter of adjective universus “all together, all in one, whole, entire, relating to all,” literally “turned into one,” from unus “one” (see one) +versus, past participle of vertere “to turn” (see versus).

And finally, I’d found, fairly high up there in the search results, this exquisite little gem, posted as a query to Yahoo Answers (italics added by me, to emphasize the truly sticky parts):

Atheists and the word universe?

Respectfully, do atheists have a problem with the meaning of the word “universe”? The word universe is taken from two root words….UNI meaning single… as in unicycle or unicellular and VERSE meaning sentence or spoken word. So the word UNIVERSE literally means a “single spoken word” which has connotations of God’s creative power in the Genesis acount of how God created everything by speaking it into existence. How is it that the word universe has come to mean everything in existence? or that universities are considered areas of knowledge? I’d just like to know your thoughts on this with all due respect.
Following that query were a number of replies to the contrary, most of which respectfully pointed out the error of the poster’s interpretation of the word “universe”, and generously offered more appropriate explanations, along the lines of what I’ve cited above, and with some providing links to credible sources. But this thread was finally capped-off by one last reply, from yet another meme enthusiast whom I guess just wasn’t satisfied with the more thoughtful responses, and felt it appropriate to come to the rescue by reiterating the basic canon:
Uni=One
Verse=spoken phrase
Universe=One spoken phrase
As in “Let there be”
So, … why does this silly Twitter meme stick so badly in my craw that I simply can’t ignore it? I suppose there are many reasons; here are the three main ones:
1) The meme is completely incorrect and intellectually dishonest. While it’s uncertain if he was the ultimate originator, Kent Hovind was responsible for the initial popularity of this meme, and as usual you can bet that, immediately after its conception, its progenitor didn’t think even once about looking up the true etymology of “universe”, which, as I’d demonstrated above, is but a few clicks away. Either that, or he dismissed the actual accounts as academic-liberal rubbish. There is, of course, a third possibility — that of a charlatan or troll deliberately releasing the UNI-VERSE meme on the gullible, assured it’d eventually spread like the insidious virus it is, and certainly succeeding in the end. But in any event, new adopters of the meme certainly don’t bother checking whether what’s being claimed is real, or not. I doubt they care.
2) Spreading the meme doesn’t make it so. This seems like a real problem with the present-day crop of theists and conservative wing-nuts: No matter how many times they tweet and re-tweet this lame-ass claim of the meaning of the word “universe”, they’re not going to somehow make it true. And they’re certainly not going to make true the vague and sloppily conceived idea it represents. It’s just like claiming “God is real because, after all, we always spell ‘God’ with a capital ‘G’, don’t we?” But these folks invariably get totally caught up in all this silly word play, while deliberately ignoring the factual and substantive.
3) Which “Single Word” or “Single Phrase” are you talking about, anyway? The Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible describes God as uttering many incantations, which, over the course of six days, collectively brought earth and heaven into full being. Many “single phrases” were spoken, not just one. Furthermore, there’s no account of God actually creating anything like the universe, as we know it today. God essentially formed heaven and earth by forcing asunder the surrounding “waters of chaos”, and inserting a firmament to keep separate the “waters above” from the “waters below”. But God isn’t claimed to have created the waters prior to dividing them. Nor the land that appeared once the waters were separated. Were the “waters of chaos” believed to be eternal by ancient people? Possibly. But unfortunately, the UNI-VERSE meme fans seem so absorbed in their shared delirium, they’ve even lost sight of the literal account of their own creation myth.

4)As with a lot of language-related mysticism I see, in addition to being a completely incorrect meme, the projection that the etymology of the word somehow reveals a secret about what the denoted object or idea truly means is a bizarre non-sequitur. As noted above, very literally, the primitive roots of “universe” would best be translated “turned into one”. It is still equally bizarre to make a claim that this proves that there were once many things that were separated which have now become one. The argument by etymology, with or without a correct etymology, is a case of the Genetic Fallacy.

5)Even if the etymology were correct, the meme would require that the mystical power imbued into the word which reveals the true nature of reality exist only in the languages which share the root for this particular concept with English. The literal etymology (or in some cases, the literal meaning) of the word for “universe” in other languages include such things as “order”, “all worlds”, “world in general”, and “wholly everything”. As I often like to joke, if we imbue the same mystical properties into the Dutch word for universe, “Heelal”, literally “wholly everything”, then we have proven that physical existence is all there is, and thus the word proves that no transcendent god exists, since physical existence is wholly everything.

#checkmateuniverse

On the Origin of Take Thats: An Interview with Take That Darwin

by @TakeThatGMOs and @TakeThatDarwin

What inspired you to start, what gave you the idea of making a Twitter account and RTing creationists?

I’d been posting on creation/evolution discussion boards like CARM and Christian Forums since I was twelve years old, but, when I first discovered Twitter, I had no intention of creating an account that revolved around that topic. I’ve had a few accounts, in fact, including one about synopses of Sliders episodes that never existed (don’t ask) and a “fake facts”-style account that basically ripped off John Hodgman’s shtick.

While running that latter account, I happened to do a search for “why are there still monkeys.” As a joke, you see. And I was positively floored by how many people were asking that very question — “The Question,” as it were — in the apparent belief that it was a pretty good argument against evolution. So I started a new Twitter account to chronicle my terrible findings.

Can you talk about how you started and what you did to get noticed?

When I first started the account it was done purely to amuse myself; I had no real desire to get noticed. I’d just retweet some people who wanted to know why monkeys still exist, and maybe post a few image macros and pictures of church signs I’d discovered saying the same thing. I didn’t do any commentary, didn’t crack any jokes, didn’t post any image macros or comments of my own devising. It was just my personal dumping grounds for people who wanted to know why we’ve still got monkeys.

However, the comedic potential soon became apparent. I started poking a little fun at The Question and the sorts of people who ask it. Turns out that a couple of decades arguing with creationists about evolution have left me with a surplus of capital-O Opinions on the topic, and when I started to voice those opinions and have exchanges with other people who were, like me, flabbergasted that The Question was so popular, folks began to follow my account out of morbid curiosity.

I’ve also gotten the occasional popularity boost out of celebrities, like Robin Ince, Dominic Monaghan, and Joe Rogan, who like me share a fascination with the flaming thirty-car pileup that is creationism.

How do you find these people that you find and what kind of interactions do you have with them other than RTing?

It’s amazing, really, how predictable creationists can be in some ways and how spectacularly unpredictable they can be in others. One way in which they’re predictable is the phrasing of The Question. With a few keyword combinations — “evolved monkeys,” “evolution apes,” and so on — I can reliably discover one or two dozen people per day who are pretty sure evolution means monkeys shouldn’t exist. I also do some other searches to discover related but unique forms of stupidity, like kids who’re complaining that they’re being forced to learn about evolution in their science classes.

For the sake of my own sanity I don’t generally mix it up with the creationists I retweet, although if I think they’ve got a simple misconception that can be corrected quickly, or if they ask me a direct question, I’ll respond. If they ask me a question that isn’t in good faith, I will respond with withering sarcasm such as can flay their very souls.

Why Twitter specifically, did you consider other platforms too?

Oh, I’ll occasionally scour Facebook, YouTube, and the comments sections of news sites to find more creationist stuff, but it’s always to show off on Twitter, where I find the bulk of the creationist silliness. There’s just something very immediate about Twitter that causes people to cheerfully reveal their innermost feelings about things they probably shouldn’t have innermost feelings about.

That said, I was recently invited by Black Mudpuppy of the webcomic of the same name to contribute to a YouTube project called “Darwin’s Finches,” so we’ll see where that goes.

How did the idea spread to other fields of pseudoscience?

Because — and this is something I’ve commented on before — people are rarely just one sort of crazy. If you’ve already accepted that the entire scientific community is engaged a conspiracy of unprecedented proportions to promote evolution, then what else are those sneaky bastards up to? Perhaps, while they’re hiding the Nephilim skeletons and carving feathers into dinosaur fossils, they might dabble in inventing chemtrails, filling vaccines with autism, or faking the Moon landing.

While my interest mainly lies in creationism, I find it fun to point out some of the other wacky things creationists often find themselves believing. And folks like you, seeing the rich veins of crazy I’ve tapped and having discovered their own sets of searches that turn up other sorts of crazy, have created accounts similar to mine that speak to your own interests. Turns out there’s plenty of crazy out there to share.

How did you come up with the name ‘TakeThatDarwin’? Did you consider it could be confusing for some?

A young Charles Darwin has absolutely no idea what the hell high schoolers in 2015 will think about him. "I bet they'll like me," he says, optimistically.
A young Charles Darwin has absolutely no idea what the hell high schoolers in 2015 will think about him. “I bet they’ll like me,” he says, optimistically.

Deliberately so! When I started this account I was concerned that many creationists, seeing that I’d retweeted them, would instantly block me. I chose a more ambiguous username so they’d pause before hitting that block button, possibly thinking that I’m on their side. That’s why I can’t be upset at non-creationists who assume I’m a creationist. I invited it on myself. That said, I went through a few names for this account before settling on “Take That Darwin,” including “WhyStillMonkeys” and “Y R There Monkeys???” I think history will vindicate me for my ultimate decision here.

As far as why I named this account “Take That Darwin,” I find it fascinating how creationists have placed Darwin on a pedestal. A pedestal covered in goat skulls, spikes, and fire, sure, but they deify the man in much the same way that they deify the figure of Satan. When creationists argue against evolution, they’re arguing against a soft-spoken Victorian-era naturalist whom they view as a legitimate threat to the supremacy of an omnipotent being. And that is hilarious.

What is the specific purpose of the account?

Although I didn’t have a purpose beyond amusing myself when I started this account, I’ve developed a sort of three-pronged mission statement:

  • To reveal how embarrassingly stupid our species can be;
  • To inspire people, including myself, to try as hard as we can to avoid displaying the sort of stupidity I showcase; and
  • To provoke a few laughs along the way.

Some use my account as a sort of dispatcher service for people who want to correct creationists’ misconceptions about science, and that’s fine. But it’s not something I can actually condone, because it puts good people in contact with some really awful people. No, the main goal here is to examine how we’re all vulnerable to sloppy thinking shortcuts.

What are some of the most notable moments in your 3 years doing this? 

I have seen some things, let me tell you. I’ve seen things so surreal they make Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” look like a VCR repair manual from 1988. I’ve drunk-livetweeted the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate. I’ve discovered Animal Planet’s mermaid mockumentaries and the many, many folks who were unaware they’re fictional. I’ve met some great people — too many to mention — and also some really remarkably terrible people. I’ve discovered that people who dislike homosexuality can’t help but use the phrase “shoving it down our throats,” which is something you just can’t make up. I’ve appeared on a number of podcasts, including Herd Mentality, the Imaginary Friends Show, and Breaking Bio. I’ve had some fun.

I’ve also explored the frontiers of alcohol tolerance.

How do you recommend others help in educating the public?

You know the old saying about horses, and water, and drinking? The best we can do for creationists is to make sure that information is available. You can’t browbeat people into accepting science. Just gently guide them toward the sources, earnestly answer questions that were asked in earnest, and understand that, in most cases, creationism is something that happened to these people.

That said, it is absolutely not anyone’s responsibility to cure creationism. The only time, I feel, when we’re obligated to speak out against creationism is when creationists are trying to use their social and political clout to hurt others, which, okay, yes, happens pretty goddamned often.

What do you have set in mind for the future of your account and others and possible expansion to other areas?

To quote Heath Ledger’s Joker, do I look like a guy with a plan? Oh, I’ve got dreams — paleontologist Trevor Valle has suggested a meetup he calls Take That Vegas, and I’ve got a semiautobiographical novel in what might be generously called the early stages — but I’m basically at the mercy of my addiction here. To ask me where I see my account going is like asking a junkie where he sees his heroin habit going in a few years.

I’ve been delighted that what was formerly a goofball hobby of mine has gained so much traction. But I’m just as curious about where this train will stop as anyone else. The only thing I can be certain of is that we’ll all have headaches when we get there.

On engaging with the specimens, or the laws of interaction. 

By @TheoryFail

I’ve been doing this for a little while now, and along the way I’ve established some unwritten rules on how to engage with what @TakeThatDarwin would called ‘the ‘specimens.’

Unwritten, that is, until now…

I present you with @TheoryFail’s Laws of Interaction*.

1. Don’t be a dick

A.k.a Wheatons Law, and the first rule of the Internet, and ideally, of life. This was modified by Mitch Benn at QEDcon 2015 to be ‘Don’t be a dick… first’ and while Benn’s law has merit, try and stick with the original if you can. It’s good to be nice.

2. Really… don’t be a dick

Of course, the problem with not being a dick, is that what constitutes ‘being a dick’ is subjective. It takes quite a lot to piss me off – I consider myself to have quite a high ‘Dick Threshold,’ (DT) while some people you’re likely to be engaging with have a teeny tiny DT.

Sometimes you’ll be crossing their DT just by suggesting that their holy book may not be the epitome of accuracy, of that macro evolution is just evolution over a long timescale. Whatever the case, if you can stay on the right side of that DT, then you’ll make life easier for everyone.

3. Ok, if you really must… be a dick

Sometimes dickishness just can’t be avoided.

Maybe your specimen has a non existent DT, or maybe he’s called your mother a whore. Usually it’s a combination of both. Here’s when Benn’s law comes into effect. It’s impossible NOT to be a dick – simply because the act of interacting is seen as dickish (Of course, not interacting is an option.)

However, please be dickish with some style. I know that most aren’t blessed with a Wildean grasp of the English language, but try not to go down the Ad Hom route.

4. Who are you trying to educate? Choose your target

Ok, this one’s important.

Face facts – it’s HIGHLY unlikely that you’re going to change someone’s viewpoint by reason alone. Most of the specimens are so deeply entrenched in their erroneous world view (wether it’s that God created everything from nothing in 6 days, or that ultra-diluting, shaking and banging makes good medicine etc.) that to go back on this would see their whole life fall apart around them. Science deniers have an unimaginable capacity for cognitive dissonance, and you’re not going to get through that. So why do it?

I like to think that what I, and the TakeThats do has two main purposes. Firstly, it exposes poor critical thinking, and the consequences thereof.

Secondly, if we’re careful, we can reach out to the person who is genuinely questioning. And if we DO manage to connect with one of these people, it’s important that we refer back to the First Law, because if you’re being a dick, they’re likely not to listen.

5. Try not to link to Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia. It’s a great resource for just about everything imaginable. It’s open access structure and well cited articles have improved our access to knowledge unimaginably over the last few years.

But don’t provide Wikipedia links, unless you absolutely have to.

It’s a creationist rallying call ‘Oh, ANYONE can edit Wikipedia,’ or ‘that Atheist/Liberal/Satanic website is useless.’

Instead, try and link directly to scientific sites, and try to tailor these to your specimen. If you have a fully grown specimen, who appears to understand those tricky words like ‘peer reviewed’ and ‘journal’ then Google Scholar or PubMed are great places to start.

If you have a more immature specimen, or on that seems slow to grasp facts, then you may be better off with a more straightforward overview. I tend to talk to creationists about evolution, so my go to sites are the Understanding Evolution site from Berkeley or the wonderful ‘Troubles In Paradise’ from James Downard. In fact, these two contain pretty much everything anyone needs to know about evolution.

6. Go easy on the kids

Once upon a time, there was @UpsetStudents whose sole aim in life was to retweet school kids who were disgruntled that they had to learn evolution in class.

These were the heady days where myself and @TakeThatDarwin ruled the land, and the likes of @TakeThatScience and @TakeThatSalk were simply twinkles in our eyes.

Then people were dicks. Specifically, people were dicks to the kids that @UpsetStudents was retweeting. This WAS NOT COOL.

Soon, @UpsetStudents became upset themselves and decided to leave. I miss @UpsetStudents.

Being nasty to kids is a dick move. Yes, they’re likely to be dickish to you, but we’ve all been young, and we all knew EVERYTHING at the age of 16.

Go easy on the kids.

7. Don’t get drawn into their game – stay on message

Remember that I said that the specimens have an unusually high capacity for cognitive dissonance? They’ll try to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge out of every argument you throw at them, often by using logical fallacies or serving up a word salad.
Don’t let this put you off. Stay strong and stay on message. Eventually they’ll run out of steam and show their hand. Either that or they’ll block you.

So that’s about it. Theory Fail’s Laws of Interaction. These might change in the future as new experimental evidence comes to light, but for now they’ll do nicely.

* Unlike many laws, these ones can be broken fairly easily, and I do it occasionally – some would say often. These aren’t to be taken as gospel, but I think that, as rules of thumb, they’re pretty good. Of course, this all needs to be taken in context, and I’m a white middle-class English bloke with massive privilege. You Yankee-Doodles or Kiwis may choose to do things differently, and that’s fine. Feel free to suggest additions/amendments in the comments. But don’t be a dick. 

Labelling GMOs, Yay or Nay?

By @TakeThatGMOs

  

It’s our right to know, right? For years, the anti-GMOs crowd has always stated that it’s their right (let alone what a right ACTUALLY means) to know what’s IN their food and have requested mandatory federal labelling on GM products. It has become mainstream and has reached many people, even some people who are pro-GMOs may support labelling.

The labeling question is a wide and diverse topic, with many opinions involved. It is therefore a very difficult question to tackle objectively.

Before we start, we must remember what things are put in a label. The first thing that pops to mind here is allergens. Allergens can and do present a serious threat to allergic people, and they must know what’s in their food to avoid any potential fatal reactions.

Ingredients and nutritional information are also available on every food label. Nutritional information is there to provide a more guided approach to healthy eating and make sure everything is eaten in moderation. Ingredients are there so as not to cloud the food in a ‘mystery’ and make the operation more controlled.

Other things that are sometimes included in the label are country of origin and of course, expiration and production. Different things might be there, but that depends on the food and the producer as well as the country.

Yay Labelling?

Let’s start with the pro-labelling side. The most common claim here is that it is ‘our right to know’ what’s in our foods. After all, if we’re trying to avoid GMOs, shouldn’t we have a clear label? Another argument that fits in here is, “If GMOs are so good, why don’t we label them, like we do with natural and organic?’

The arguments pro-labelling practically follow similar paths and are relatively similar to the ones presented above.

Nay Labelling?

The anti-labelling side has more arguments in this regard. The first argument here is that labelling GMOs is useless and futile, as GMOs have been ‘proven safe’. This argument extends to arguments about safety so it’s a bit of a complex one. Another argument is that labelling GMOs would demonize them. This is something of a counter-argument to the ‘if they’re so good, why not label them?’ argument. This argument points out that only harmful things would be clearly and mandatorily labelled, like allergens. And there’s the argument about the cost and time it would take to label things considered GE and not. This also raises the question on what to even carry such label – do animals fed with GMOs require their meat or milk to be labeled too? What about different types of GM?  

Finally, many people have raised the fact that things that don’t have GMOs are almost always labelled. Either as “organic” or through the Non-GMO Project or other 3rd party labelling groups. This gives those avoiding GMOs a wide range of labelled food that doesn’t contain GMOs.

Dissecting The Arguments 

The first argument, regarding ‘our right to know’, is one that is echoed a lot. But claiming that it is our right know raises some questions. Is it, for example, my right to know the religion of the farmer? Such information would be useless, as GMOs have been proven safe. Avoiding GMOs for any other reason is just silly and naïve. GMOs are found in practically everything, should we label every food? What about the quantity? Should we label animals who have eaten GMOs? The questions raised due to the ambiguity are far too many and overwhelming to address here, but you get the point.

One must also remember that USDA organic allows 5% of the product to be GM, and that certainly affects the labelling question. 

The second argument here is one that is directly against, “If GMOs are good, why label them?”. The argument goes, that if GMOs are so good, why not voluntarily label them, like the sought-after organic or “natural” labels (however shady they may be). In this case, @guidoV4 (go follow him, he tweets about GMOs and biotech too. He also has a ton of hashtags in his bio) points out that “natural” or organic labels are voluntary, and any company can practically put the label “natural” on their food. Mandatory labelling, like the one that activists seek, is put there to warn of danger, as in allergens or nutritional content. It wouldn’t be mandatory otherwise. 

@TkThtEtymology suggests labelling them in a way presents them as good. Good idea, but does it stand?

The public also heavily misunderstands GMOs. In a Pew survey, the gap between scientists and the public was the highest when it came to GMOs.  

This clearly shows that labelling, wether intended to promote or to warn of GMOs, will have the same effect. It will demonize GMOs and scare the public. And that may kill a technology so youthful with so much potential.

The Cost of Labelling. 

The cost of labelling is a big chunk of the debate. The cost doesn’t just rest on printing and gluing, but also on segregating the foods, testing, certifying and many, many other things.

Jane Palmer has a good article on this. The well-researched article concludes that mandatory labelling can cost 100s of millions of dollars, severely increasing prices both on the customer, the company, the farmer, the State and the food producer. 

First of all, higher prices would decrease customer demand. Foods containing GMOs are found everywhere. About 60% of the market contains some form of GMOs. The price of labelling would also turn companies away from GE, further increasing the oligopoly. Food making companies would also turn away from GMOs due to increased costs, therefore labelling would signal the end for GMOs.

Why Just GMOs?                                                    

If labelling is about our ‘right’, why stop at GMOs, one of the safest and most controlled biotechnologies. Why not the arguably more dangerous mutagensis?  Or the tons of other breeding methods? How does knowing the breeding methods help you lead a healthy life, since all are very safe and very effective?

  
 Conclusion 

Labelling is, and will remain, one of the biggest issues when it comes to GMOs. Both sides are extremely passionate about their opinion and go long distances to support their point. 

This article here provided an analysis of and gave an extra voice to the labelling debate. 

At the end of the day, labelling GMOs in the US is a far fetched goal, one that may never happen. Research into labelling (some going to the government) has shown that it’s expensive and does nothing but put a huge burden on GMOs, where the burdens are already too heavy. Keep in mind also resolution HR1599, or hilariously dubbed the ‘DARK’ Act may just prevent that. 

Labelling might be far-fetched, but always remains a possibility. This time, however, the extra weight may just cut off the life monitor. Is labelling worth it? 

Why Words?

By @TkThtEtymology

Hi Kids. I’m Take That Etymology, and I’d like to talk to you about the exciting field of linguistics and how it’s abused by creationists, new agers, and other people that like to make shit up. With all the science denial that goes around the Take That scene, where do words come in? I had two major claims as inspiration for starting Take That Etymology. First off is The Uni-Verse Thing – as I like to think of it, my Monkey Question. Stay tuned for more on this from myself and @SuckItEvolution, but the basic claim is: “Uni” means “one” or “single” “Verse” means [spoken|written]|[word|sentence|phrase] ∴This proves that the universe was created by God saying “Let There Be Light.” This is both the most common repeated word-related claim that I see and the ultimate expression of etymology abuse in that it is the perfect storm of:

  • Completely untrue
  • Assuming a mystical meaning of word origins to reality
  • Completely ignorant of languages with differing etymologies

My second favorite claim is that “religion” means “binding back”, which is applied in a variety of different ways for various arguments. It’s not quite as much of a perfect storm, as it’s possibly true (the word’s ultimate etymology is uncertain) but somewhat misconstrued even if this is the correct etymology. It gets combined with the amusing meme that “ isn’t a religion; it’s just THE TRUTH” often enough to make it my second favorite. But this is just the beginning of the wide world of linguistic abuse. People find hidden meanings everywhere, from overt claims of numerology and shadowy organizations creating words to control our minds with lies to sideways arguments by play-on-words. The possibilities are endless.

Lokiarchaeum: Another Thing Creationists Are Going to Ignore

by @TakeThatDarwin

Loki
“My brother, how I have always envied your kingly poise, your athletic build, and your soft, pouty lips.”

Two weeks ago, a Swedish team revealed that, while sifting through sediment near Loki’s Castle, a field of hydrothermal vents in the Arctic Ocean, they had discovered metagenomic evidence of a hitherto unknown phylum of the kingdom Archaea. This phylum straddles the line between prokaryotes, simple single-celled organisms which have no nuclei or organelles, and eukaryotes, the domain of more complex organisms that also contains all multicellular life. Some publications have gone so far as to describe this phylum — Lokiarchaeota, named after Tom Hiddleston’s character in “The Avengers” — as the “missing link” in eukaryote evolution, even though personally I wish they wouldn’t, because usually use of the term “missing link” causes creationists to put on their Denouncing Hats and start shrieking.

Curiously, creationists haven’t yet weighed in on this discovery. Perhaps they’re waiting for Answers in Genesis to write a blog post indicating the Official Creationist Position on Lokiarchaeum. Or maybe they just haven’t yet noticed; considering many creationists still maintain that rock can’t bend, a phenomenon which was described a century ago, it’s fair to conclude that it takes creationists a while to catch up with the scientific zeitgeist.

"Just as I have long envied your tousled raven-black locks, silky-smooth alabaster skin, and butt that just won't quit, my brother."
“Just as I have long envied your tousled raven-black locks, silky-smooth alabaster skin, and butt that just won’t quit, my brother.”

Whatever the reason for their delay, though, I can hazard a guess what creationists will say once they finally get around to saying something about Lokiarchaeum: “God made it that way.” Sure, evidence of single-celled life with primitive organelles appears to support evolution, and is exactly what evolutionary theory predicts and requires, but it’s also perfectly consistent with an omnipotent, whimsical being who just magically whips up life that appears to have transitional features because why not. Never mind that six-limbed mammals, bats that lay eggs, lactating invertebrates, and birds with compound eyes would also be perfectly consistent with a supernatural, omnipotent creator and yet completely devastating to evolutionary theory, and that, in His divine wisdom, God chose only to make organisms that fit flawlessly within the nested hierarchy that evolutionary theory demands.

Smooch
“Mmf. Glrmf. Slrp. Is this weird?”
“Nay, my brother. We’re not actually blood relatives.”
“Oh, yeah, cool.”

The strength of evolutionary theory is that it can’t explain all conceivable evidence. What it does is explain the evidence that actually exists and provide a framework for new predictions. We will never dig up a fossil of a six-limbed mammal. If evolution is true, there can be no such thing. Creationism can make no such predictions. And since the creator they worship restricts His creative vision to only those organisms which could have naturally evolved, perhaps in an effort to trick people, that makes God a bit sneaky, doesn’t it? Kind of mischievous.

Not unlike Loki.

Presuppositional Apologetics

circular

By @ScienceWasWrong

After realizing that they never win arguments about science against atheists, creationists have adopted a bold new strategy: making a mockery of philosophy. It was a clever choice, since some atheists seem to have the same weird contempt for philosophy that creationists have for science.

Presuppositional apologetics is the bastard child of this unholy union between creationists and philosophy. Since the facts aren’t exactly on the creationists’ side, they’ve decided that facts are irrelevant because people only interpret facts according to their worldview. Since atheists apparently presuppose that God doesn’t exist, it’s not at all circular for them to presuppose that God does exist. With those mental gymnastics out of the way, they’ve made an attempt to create a monopoly on the existence of facts. The basic argument behind presuppositional apologetics is this:

  1. If God did not exist, knowledge would not be possible.
  2. Knowledge is possible
  3. Therefore God exists

Earth shattering, I know. With this, they can avoid actually refuting arguments and just ask “why?” like a 3 year old to everything their opponent says before scolding them for making unsubstantiated knowledge claims. Unsurprisingly, Eric Hovind has become a major proponent of this line of argument, either to distance himself from his father’s “contributions” to science, or simply because all that sciencey stuff is over his head. Hovind’s approach goes like this:

  1. Could you be wrong about everything you claim to know?
  2. If you could be wrong about something, then you don’t really know it.
  3. You can’t know anything unless you know everything.
  4. The only way for us to know anything is for someone who knows everything to reveal it to us.

Number 1 is self defeating because if it’s possible for you to be wrong about everything you claim to know, then admitting that would make you correct about something. Number 3 is inconsistent with itself, because not knowing everything is the pre-condition for knowing that you don’t know everything. Number 3 and 4 are contradictory. If you can’t know anything without knowing everything, then you can’t know whether someone who knows everything has actually revealed anything to you or if you’re just deluded. A twelve year old has pointed this out to Eric.The argument collapses entirely if it is asked whether you could know number 4 if God did not exist.

The Ray Comfort to Eric Hovind’s Kirk Cameron is a former boiler room employee named Sye Ten Bruggencate. Sye has achieved notoriety for his website http://www.proofthatgodexists.org in which you are coerced into clicking criminally unnuanced answers to a series of questions about absolute knowledge and logic which have nothing to do with the subject at hand. Sye’s style is similar to Eric’s, albeit even more intentionally confusing. His approach revolves around the question “how do you know your reasoning is valid?” You can’t use reasoning to justify your reasoning because that would be “viciously circular.” His thesis is that the only way for us to be “absolutely certain” we are not a brain in a vat is through divine revelation.

He also debated Matt Dillahunty one time and actually opened this syllogism:

  1. It is reasonable to believe that which is true.
  2. It is true that God exists.
  3. Therefore it is reasonable to believe that God exists.

A line of argument which, I shit you not, he calls “virtuously circular.”

It turns out that you can use reasoning to justify your reasoning because, by Sye’s own terms, someone with invalid reasoning would not be capable of recognizing that their reasoning is invalid. So simply acknowledging the possibility that your reasoning is not valid entails that it is valid. Regardless, his idea that divine revelation can validate his reasoning is simply something his reasoning has told him. That you can be absolutely certain you’re not a brain in a vat in this way assumes a brain in vat could not be fooled into thinking it has received a divine revelation. What it boils down to is that he “knows” he is not a brain in a vat because he believes he is not a brain in a vat. If you trust your senses enough to read the Bible, then you’ve already made the assumption that the world around you is real and you don’t really need the Bible’s contents to prove it.

Oh yeah, and all of these arguments are rendered meaningless by the primacy of existence axiom, which says the universe exists independently of consciousness. So there’s that.

It’s Just Not NATURAL, Damnit!!!

human-rights-campaign-symbolOr… “The Inigo Montoya Fallacy”

by @TakeThatHomo

One of the most popular attempts at a non-religious argument against homosexuality is the Appeal to Nature, or the Naturalistic Fallacy. It’s one of those arguments that make me roll my eyes and shake my head. I try, most of the time, not to judge any of the people who argue against the gay community, be it on the basis of marriage or just in general, because they genuinely believe that they are right. People hold their opinions for a reason, be it religious or logical (at least to them), so when I come across Tweets like this:

It is easy to reply with something like “homosexuality occurs in nature, therefore is “natural”. You’re welcome.” By the time I find these Tweets someone else has usually got in there before me with some variation of the rebuttal, like pointing out how many different species engage in homosexual acts in the natural world. From the point of view of the liberal, equal opportunities Tweeter this is the end of the argument. Someone has made a statement, and that statement has been shown to be incorrect. How can the argument continue?

68ba10c2cda3628f1f6f7319c46c3ee9Oh, how naive of us to believe that this is the case. The individual making the statement can simply ignore the facts and just keep repeating the claim, even when you pull up links to scientific papers on the subject or the actual definition of “natural”, which can be beyond frustrating. In these cases there really is no point in continuing with the conversation. If someone refuses to concede to a scientifically proven fact then there’s not really anywhere you can go.

The alternate route will quickly transform the argument from the appeal to nature to the religious argument, which is much more interesting but harder to keep on track. That’s something that I will cover at another time, because there is something that is frequently missed when it comes to the “it just ain’t natural” claim.

When the wingnuts use the word “natural” they’re not using it in the way that we are. It’s the homophobic version of “evolution is just a theory” that my esteemed colleagues @TakeThatDarwin and @TheoryFail have to deal with. Those people are using “theory” to mean “guess” or “idea” or “hunch”, rather than the actual context in which it is meant; that of a scientific theory (which I’m not going to cover because that’s best left to people who know what they’re talking about).

4246469107_gay_kiss_0_xlargeWhat the homophobe is doing in this situation is making a moral judgement about what the word means, and they’re getting it wrong. What they’re doing here is equating “natural” with “good” or “right”. They don’t like the idea of homosexuality. Most of the wingnuts on Twitter that I find have a particular vehemence towards man on man action. They find it disgusting and can’t get their brains around why any real man would want to do that sort of thing with another male. It makes them uncomfortable to see same sex affection, they don’t like seeing gay characters on the television or in the movies and it makes them feel icky. This is because it is outside of their normal experience. Twenty years ago the same could be said of mixed race relationships. They weren’t exposed to such relationships and therefore judged them as unnatural, or bad, or wrong.

In the minds of these people good equals natural, so because homosexuality is not good then it must be unnatural. How could it be anything else? This is the root of their argument in most cases. When someone uses the “homosexuality is not natural” argument they are begging the question, because they are already putting their conclusion in their premise.

Inigo-MontoyaNature, however, doesn’t make implicit value judgements. There is no “good” or “bad” or “sin” in nature, there is just “nature”. To assert that natural equates good means that accepting rape is good. Rape occurs in the natural world, therefore rape is good. A lion taking down a gazelle is natural, therefore murder is good. Cancer is natural, therefore disease is good.

This is the true meaning of what they think “natural” means. As usual it is religious indoctrination that leads to this conclusion. Homosexuality is going against the plan of God, and therefore not natural. The fact that it is present in thousands of species is irrelevant to them. It’s nothing more than an attempt to frame their religious world view in a secular standpoint.

When you hear the argument that homosexuality is not natural perhaps it might be an idea to find out what they think “natural” means, because if you leap into a defence of what you think they mean you may be coming at it from the wrong angle.

Thank you for reading, please leave a comment and if you have any ideas for future posts then please leave a comment or contact @TakeThisBlog.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

By @ScienceWasWrong

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore the universe had a cause.

(P.S. the cause is God.)

This argument is disarmingly simple. It is intuitive, seemingly reasonable, and a person doesn’t have to go against the entire scientific establishment to make it. However, it is only simple out of necessity, for the differences between our understanding of causality and the conditions at the beginning of the universe will soon make themselves apparent.

Epicureanism taught that the universe is made up of a finite number of indestructible atoms that move around in a void. Things only come into being through the atoms forming new compounds after atoms from old compounds are broken apart and recycled. This was an early description of the first law of thermodynamics. Nothing is ever created from nothing, cause or no cause. Everything is just different arrangements of atoms that have existed since the beginning of time. Already you can detect a false equivocation here of the way things made of matter begin to exist and the way matter itself begins to exist.

The argument claims that everything which begins to exist has a cause, but in reality everything that begins to exist has several causes. Aristotle posited four types of causes:

  1. Material cause – The material that is caused to become something.
  2. Formal cause – The form that the material is caused to take.
  3. Efficient cause – The thing that does the causing.
  4. Final cause – The reason for the cause.

For example: A carpenter (the efficient cause) assembles pieces of wood (the material cause) into a table (the formal cause) so he can sell it to a customer (the final cause). The carpenter does not literally cause the table to exist (you can not cause something that does not exist to do anything) rather he causes material that was not the table to become the table. This is why everything which begins to exist through an efficient cause also has a material cause.

What can this tell us about the beginning of the universe? Christian theology is adamant that God created the universe ex nihilo – out of nothing. There could not have been a material cause for the universe because if any material existed before the universe, it would already have been defined as the universe, which would mean that the universe did not begin to exist at all. The universe could only have had an efficient cause, which the argument suggests is God. But if there was no material cause, then what did God causally affect when he created the universe? It couldn’t have been the universe because the universe didn’t exist yet. Did he act on nothing at all and the universe just popped into existence? An affectless effect? In what sense does that qualify as a cause? It’s not absurd, it’s incoherent. The only option that even begins to conform to our understanding of causality is creatio ex deo, the idea that God caused himself to become the universe. If not that, then the type of cause that created the universe was so far removed from our understanding of causality that the universe might as well have just had an a-causal beginning.

Credit for much of this argument goes to @CliftonsNotes aka Theoretical Bullshit aka Liam from The Bold and the Beautiful. His series of videos on the Kalam argument and hilarious interaction with William Lane Craig can be found here.