“Whatever is inconsistent with the facts, no matter how fond of it we are, must be discarded or revised.” – Carl Sagan, Cosmos Episode 13: “Who Speaks for Earth?”
Since first reading Cosmos by Carl Sagan one year ago, I have revered him. I admire his worldview and his way of expressing it. I’ve dedicated many blog posts to him and to the curiosity that he has inspired in me. I’ve shared dozens of his quotes, many of which carry the same sentiment as the one above. This dedication to the truth, this unwillingness to accept facts only because they were propagated by an authority figure, is what brings me to write that Carl Sagan was wrong.
Evolution by natural selection is the amazing, vast, but surprisingly simple mechanism that explains the magnificent diversity of life on Earth. That’s why I love it. But through no fault of their own, so many people absorb misinformation about evolution in daily life, in and out of the classroom. I believe that evolution is a phenomenon which is only not accepted when it’s not understood. Even worse, many of us know it to be true, but don’t know enough about it to be able to defend it against someone who’s been wrongly taught about it.
That’s where this post will help. The good news is that most of the misunderstandings about evolution boil down to a handful of different objections which can be easily corrected with the right context. As you apply this advice in the real world, keep in mind that most people don’t choose to be misinformed. If you are polite and gracious in your explanation, it will go a long way.
For most of the time I’ve spent as an atheist, I’ve also identified as a secular humanist. However, the label of “humanist” has spent most of that time in the backseat. Even though I was a humanist, I preferred to use descriptors like “skeptic” or “curious atheist”. While I am still all of these, I’m beginning to really embrace my identity as a humanist for the first time.
Donald Johanson’s book Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind was what first made me fall in love with paleoanthropology. While I have learned about dozens more fossils over the last two years, I still have a special place in my heart for Lucy. So you can imagine how excited I was to defend her from the lies of the young-earth creationists at Answers in Genesis! I once might not have known how to debunk their claims, but I now have the knowledge, the books, and a little bit of money needed to find so many errors in their articles.
Four years ago to the day, I wrote a post called “Why I Am Not a Scientist”. I’ve since privated it, because I don’t like the way I spoke about myself and my own intelligence in that post. My main idea was that I was new to being an informed atheist, and I was not confident in my abilities to refute young-earth creationism. I called myself “scientifically challenged” and expressed that I felt that in order to really be confident in my atheist stance, I would have to become much more educated in various fields of science. I said that I was “really bad at science” even as I said that I loved and appreciated how it allows us to learn about the world around us.
One could argue the atheist community has an unspoken rule to respect the esteemed biologist and controversial atheist Richard Dawkins. People have several reasons to respect the man: he has advocated for atheism, he has communicated the science of evolution to the masses, he has written many beloved books; hell, the man invented the word “meme”. For many of us, there has been a lot to like about Dawkins. But a line must be drawn somewhere. Just because someone has done good things at their best, does that mean we can ignore the hurtful things they say and do at their worst?
It is a strange position to find myself in, trying to reconcile my values as an atheist and as an intersectional feminist. Allow me to explain.
In the beginning of this month, the French Senate passed a bill that, if made into a law, would enforce a sort of “secular dress code”. This amendment applies very specifically toward the rights of Muslim women, including:
After a four-month-long break, I am happy to finally be returning to my series critiquing the claims of creationists—specifically, Answers in Genesis—about human evolution! Anyone who has created critiques to AiG’s content knows how frustrating and exasperating it can be. For those who do this for a living, I applaud you. AiG has so much content, with so many twists and turns and overlaps, that it is almost too easy to get lost on their website and in their…unique ideas. They seem to have a great fascination with Neanderthals, which in their eyes are just an archaic group of Homo sapiens. (They can’t seem to agree on whether Neanderthals were an ethnic group, a race, or a subspecies.) In the world of paleoanthropology, Neanderthals have always been a hot topic, as we know more about them than any other hominid species but our own. There is a lot of fluctuation in our understanding of Neanderthals, because scientists are discovering more about them by the day.
Multi-level marketing schemes have been among my greatest pet peeves for a long time. These younger sisters of pyramid schemes, which are barely legal and barely not pyramid schemes only on a mere technicality, are a dangerous fad. I’ve been glad to see that more and more people have been making others aware of the harm of MLM schemes, and how to identify one of these scams is becoming more widely known. Even so, I’ll start with a brief overview of what they are: