Creative math

Creationists sometimes try to incorporate math into their arguments. The use of Greek letters, complex formulas, and arithmetic jargon might seem to make an impressive argument, or at least a confusing one, depending on one’s mathematical abilities.

In an article for Skeptical Inquirer, Jason Rosenhouse identifies three ways creationists use a numbers-based approach: Through the fields of probability theory, information theory, and combinatorial search.

With regard to the first of these, find yourself a quarter. Or a Walking Liberty Half Dollar if preferring more of a scavenger hunt. Flip it and there is a 50/50 chance of if landing heads and 50/50 that it hits on tails. Although in a backyard football game once, I called for the coin to land on its side, and it did by getting stuck vertically in the muddy ground. Let a mathematician somewhere calculate the odds on that one.

At any rate, one anti-evolutionist assertion goes thusly: Genes are a sequence of DNA bases represented by the letters A, C, G, and T. The genes can further be seen as a series of letters, comparable to repeated tossings of the Walking Liberty. Therefore, if a specific gene results in 100 straight bases, that occurrence is too remote to be chance, and therefore intelligent design is responsible.

First, this is the god of the gaps fallacy. More importantly, this argument is based on the mistaken notion that genes and proteins evolve through a process similar to flipping coins. But as Rosenhouse noted, natural selection is a non-random process and this impacts the probability of specific genes evolving.

Using analogous coins again, Rosenhouse asks us to envision tossing 100 of them simultaneously. Getting all of them to hit on heads at once would require exponentially more attempts than one could manage in a million lifetimes. But if we are allowed to put aside the 50 or so that landed on heads, then re-toss the rest, then do the same with the roughly 25 that are left, then the 12.5 and so on, we would have 100 heads within a few minutes. Under this procedure, we would have all heads after an average of seven coin-flipping iterations. “The creationist argument assumes that evolution must proceed in a manner comparable to the first approach, when really it has far more in common with the second,” Rosenhouse explained.

Now we move on to how creationists end up wrongly thinking that complex functions like flagellum (which some bacteria use to propel themselves) points to design. By way of note, the flagellum comprises numerous individual proteins working in concert. Creationists insist that this function being arrived at by chance is too remote to be reasonable. But evolution does not have an end-point in mind and the flagellum, while irreducibly complex, could have served another function in a less-advanced stage.

So creationists sometimes try another approach, employing information theory. They argue that genes encode meaningful information, and insist that such information is indicative of design. This is another instance of the god of the gaps fallacy, besides being an affirming of the consequent. Beyond that, this posits that natural processes can only lead to erosion and eventual collapse. Therefore, creationists continue, complex genetic information cannot be natural.

However, known mechanisms are adequate to explain genetic information growth via evolutionary processes. For example, Rosenhouse wrote, “When a gene duplicates itself, it leaves the organism with two copies of a gene that had occurred only once. The second copy is capable of acquiring mutations without harming the organism since the first gene still maintains the initial function.”

That leaves creationists with trying to embrace what is known as a combinatorial search. According to Rosenhouse, during the evolutionary process, the potential number of possible gene sequences is staggeringly high. But, he continues, this is irrelevant since natural selection “shifts the probability distribution dramatically toward the functional sequences and away from the nonfunctional sequences.”

So while claiming to embrace mathematics, creationists are instead accepting only select parts they find convenient, and even then, are misapplying it.

“No Thing Coal” (Fire walking)

Fire walking could more accurately be referred to as coal brisk-pacing. It refers to traipsing barefoot across hot coals, rocks, or cinders without suffering harm. It is often employed in religious rituals or in New Age mind-over-matter seminars.

However, there is nothing mystical about it. It is merely conductivity and physics in action. While the objects themselves are hot, they conduct heat poorly. Therefore, someone spending just a few seconds crossing the pit will usually escape unscathed. By way of comparison, imagine an oven set at 350 degrees for baking macadamia nut cookies. Mmmmmm, cookies. After a few minutes, both the air inside the oven and the pan that houses the cookies will be at the same temperature. But while one could safely put one’s hand in the oven, touching the pan would be extremely painful and potentially harmful. That’s because air has a low heat capacity and little ability in the thermal conductivity department. Metal, by contrast, being much denser than air, is an efficient conductor of heat and would burn any idiot who touches it.

Bob Nixon of Australian Skeptics explains, “The difference comes from the ability of various substances to conduct or transfer heat. Air is a very poor conductor of heat, (whereas) metal conducts heat with great efficiency, even though the temperate of the oven air and the container are the same.”

As this relates to fire-walking spectacles, 1,100-degree coals will not usually burn a person’s feet, provided the participant performs more of a jaunt than a leisurely stroll. This is because coals have a low heat capacity and they serve as good thermal insulators. In addition, ash remnants from the burnt charcoal is likewise a poor heat conductor. Also, firewalkers often wet their feet beforehand, which makes burns even less likely.

Combine the poor heat conductivity with the scant time spent crossing the pit and one ends up with a seemingly miraculous movement over burning coals.

“The average human foot will happily be in contact with a glowing wood coal for about a second before sufficient heat is transferred to burn the flesh,” Nixon said. “The average step takes about half a second so for most people, so it is possible to take two steps with each foot before a dangerous amount of heat has built up.”

Burns can still occur under specific circumstances, i.e. a person with thin soles taking too much time to cross on coals that are hotter than usual. But this confluence seldom occurs since those running the show take steps to avoid it and they give explicit instructions to the walkers on how to cross.

“Let them eat fakes” (Vegan bashing)

Atheists and vegans have a commonality. Both are reviled minorities who are despised for what they do not do: Believe in any gods or consume animal products. While this would seem to be an avenue for atheists to feel rapport with vegans, or at least be neutral toward them, this is not always the case. The Facebook page Atheists Against Pseudoscientific Nonsense (AAPN) makes vegan-bashing at least a monthly occurrence.

This seems strange to me, for in the same way that someone not believing in a god has no impact on anyone else, a person favoring fake butter to the authentic version is harming no one. Of course, the maintainers of AAPN are far from alone in their vegan-loathing, which permeates those of all religious stripes. Why does 0.3 percent of the population, doing something that doesn’t affect anyone else, engender such venom?

BBC reporter Zaria Gorvett tried to get the root of this disdain. She wrote that one volley lobbed at vegans is an accusation of hypocrisy. For example, bugs or mice will be unintentionally killed when a farmer harvests corn or plants soybeans. But, first, as vegan law professor Gary Francioine noted, by being vegan, one is taking the most proactive stance and the one that will cause the least cumulative harm to animals. By contrast, if one eats meat or drink milks, the fatal impact on animals is unquestioned. (Male offspring of dairy cattle are often killed at birth, the same fate that awaits male chicks).

Moreover, appealing to hypocrisy is a logical fallacy and in this case, not a genuine reason for the loathing. Further, the hypocrisy charge is similar to the one lobbed at proponents of church/state separation for using money emblazoned with “In God We Trust.” But there is no inconsistency since those proponents would prefer the motto come off. Similarly, vegans would prefer that no living creatures be killed or harmed when their food is produced. AAPN could surely see the logic behind the former, so why not the latter?

A second accusation is that vegans are militant and adopt an in-your-face approach. Consider the lame joke, “How do you know if someone is vegan? They will tell you.” This is an instance of survivor bias, as people meet vegans all the time without knowing it since the person doesn’t mention it. To think that all vegans spout off about it because some of them do is like finishing a hearing test and, before being told the results, thinking you aced it because you heard all the beeps.

The militant accusation is also comical when considering such an approach is more frequent among meat eaters. Think about the Heart Attack Grill or the promotions which bestow a free dinner on the diner who finishes an outrageously-sized cheeseburger or T-bone in a certain timeframe. I have seen animal welfare videos given a retort video consisting entirely of the creator eating chicken nuggets. I have ever seen the equivalent, whereby a hunting video is answered by a vegan recording themselves chomping on a salad. Social media ads for veggie burgers yield derisive comments in the threads; those for hamburgers do not.

Again, this should be a case for common ground between the atheist and vegan. The punchline “They will tell you” has been directed at atheists, even though it is Christians who wear a religious symbol around their necks, who dress in unmistakable nun and priest garments, and who have multiple church options in any square mile nationwide. It is de rigueur for GOP presidential candidates to announce that the Christian god told them to run. By contrast, no Democratic candidate has cited atheism as their impetus.

So with hypocrisy or aggressiveness not the answer, Gorvett deduced that disgust of vegans has its roots in psychological discomfort. She writes, “If you bring your cod and chips home to eat in front of your beloved goldfish, or tuck into a rabbit stew mere moments after cooing over various #rabbitsofinstagram, you’re likely to encounter cognitive dissonance, which occurs when a person holds two incompatible views, and acts on one of them. In this case, your affection for animals might just start to clash with the idea that it’s OK to eat them. The tension that results can make us feel stressed, irritated, and unhappy. But instead of resolving it by changing our beliefs or behavior, it’s quite normal to blame these feelings on something else entirely.”

Encountering a vegan triggers this cognitive dissonance by serving as a reminder of one’s inconsistency so vegan-bashing often follows. As Gorvett explained, “Motivated reasoning might lead people to find explanations for why eating animals is the correct decision. And one of these is that vegans are bad.”

Once more, this should be where an atheist finds common ground with a vegan. After all, some religious types who detest nonbelievers do so as a way of trying to compensate for their faith’s abuses and to keep their lingering doubts repressed.

About the only justification I can find for AAPN’s spite is the vegan-friendly nature of the communion offerings of bread and wine.

“Points shaken” (Creationism)

In a column for the New York Times, Ross Douthat argues that science supports creationism. However, he never gives scientific support for any intelligent design hypothesis, nor does he explain how a god came to be or which deity is the correct one.

While science has yet to confirm the existence of Yahweh, Vishnu, or Ra, it has explained many phenomena previously attributed to gods, such as extreme weather, healing plants, and eclipses.

Let’s run through Douthat’s five points and examine them.

First, he claims that fine-tuning in the universe proves the existence of God. I am disappointed that he trots out such a hackneyed, many-times-refuted assertion. I enjoy a good intellectual spar and having a New York Times columnist, in a fresh work, resort to something this lame is, well, lame. His thinking is akin to arguing that a puddle holds the precise amount of water that it does is because the water was designed for puddle-filling purposes.

In a more original and thought-provoking point, Douthat posits that the notion of a multiverse strengthens the idea of God since some of those universes – or one of anyway – are suitable for human life.  But University of Chicago biology professor emeritus Jerry Coyne suggests that points away from such a deified notion. Coyne writes, “If God wanted to simply create life, with humans as its apotheosis, why did he go to all the bother of setting up multiverses, many of which don’t allow life?”

Douthat’s third point is that consciousness proves God. He claims physical processes are inadequate to explicate the complexities of consciousness, which run the gamut from comprehending the idea of color to doctoral theses on Greek philosophy.

This is at once the god of the gaps fallacy and special pleading. Further, Coyne notes that naturalism has shaped our understanding of consciousness, specifically, “the parts of the brain that are necessary for the phenomenon to appear in our species, the chemicals that can take it away and bring it back, and so on.” Moreover, science is an ongoing process that admits it doesn’t know everything and continues to search for answers. As Coyne explained, “Consciousness will be explained when we know all the parts required, and how they interact, for a being to become conscious.

Onto point four. Douthat feels that the comprehensibility of the universe itself proves God. However, this is more special pleading since whatever created God would have to  have instilled that comprehensibility in him, then the even more advanced god have done the same before that, ad infinitum.

He next argues that reputed sightings of demons, along with near-death experiences and feelings of overwhelming spirituality vindicate the notion of god. But if this is the case then ALL gods are real, along with ghosts, aliens, Bigfoot, and psychic powers. 

What’s more, these experiences can be replicated with drugs, chemical mixtures, and deep meditation. Astronauts in training often report mental and physical reactions similar to near-death experiences. Persons with psychosis or other severe mental issues also report profound, very-real-to-them accounts like this.

Finally, Douthat thinks that because evolution leads us to believe in things that are real and true, a ubiquitous belief in God points to his existence. However, no amount of belief makes something true.

Taken in totality, Douthat’s work breaks little new ground and the few original tidbits fail to satisfy the book’s stated goal of proving God through science.

“Sad Finch” (Michael Behe)

While efforts to foist creationism on public school biology students have failed, such attempts continually arise like The Phoenix, a bird with as much claim to being real as any creationist argument.


While the legal losses have been declarative, adherents have latched onto a solitary, isolated line from a 1987 defeat and have sucked it dry for more than 30 years. The sentence suggested teachings about human origins which fail to incorporate biology may be permissible if the purpose is secular.


There is no such animal, literally or figuratively, but proponents used this single utterance to invent the notion of Intelligent Design. In this concept, any deity or higher being, not necessarily the Biblical one, could have created life. The façade is so transparent that no follower of any religious subset besides U.S. evangelical Christians have ever embraced the idea, and a publication lauding Intelligent Design has as its cover Leonardo DaVinci’s The Creation of Adam.


ID proponents include virtually no biologists, and we could count on one evolved opposable-digit hand how many of them have done molecular biology research. While ID proponents are nowhere to be found in peer-reviewed journals, their banter is a regular feature on Christian media. There, biologists are portrayed as confused, stubborn, disillusioned, frustrated, or immoral, which even if all true, would be ad homimen attacks unrelated to the scientists’ research, findings, or writings.

Proponents embrace the god of the gaps fallacy, gleefully plugging their favored deity into any crevice science has yet to fully explain. But our focus today is on one of those who is among that literal handful of molecular biologists who endorse ID: Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe. He accepts that microevolution through random mutation diversifies organisms into species and genera, and perhaps even families. But he feels something more is needed to explain large-scale evolutionary transitions. Into this gap, which he creates from feelings and not evidence, he wedges the Christian god. He never says that verbatim, but he does allow his evangelical Christian followers to accept this interpretation and promote it.

In a review of Behe’s latest book, Darwin Devolves, John Jay College biology professor Nathan Lents writes that Behe purportedly undertakes to prove that evolutionary processes are insufficient to generate adaptive innovations, yet the author spends precious little time addressing this.

Further, Behe dedicates precious few paragraphs addressing key evolutionary mechanisms that serve to undermine his thesis. Consider horizontal gene transfer, which occurs when genetic material moves from one species to another, usually through a virus. For example, Lents explains, deer ticks evolved defenses against bacteria through genes that came from those bacteria.

While uncommon, such horizontal gene transfer can have profound effects on a species’ eventual lineage. Behe dedicates nary a word to this in Darwin Devolves.

Also unmentioned by Behe is exaptation, which refers to an organism co-opting a structure for a new function. Lents cites the example of mammalian middle ear bones that were adapted from jaw bones in our reptilian ancestors.


Now, when Behe writes that natural selection cannot fully account for the planet’s molecular biodiversity, he is right. But we know that because of scientific discoveries made since Darwin, not because of ancient religious texts or the writings of an iconoclastic microbiology professor who bypasses peer review.


In an attempt to bolster his view that natural selection in insufficient, Behe writes that that Richard Lenski’s e. coli experiment shows that mutation and natural selection serve only to “break or blunt genes.” But Behe misinterprets the experiment and ignores that its controlled environment is deliberately artificial. Lents notes that bacteria in the experiment have access to unlimited food, static temperatures, high oxygen, and are without competitors, pathogens, or threats to their immune system.


Behe also dismisses finch diversification, announcing he is unimpressed with their becoming about 18 species across five genera. He compares finch diversification to the adaptive radiation of animals during the Cambrian explosion more than 500 million years ago. He gloats that finches failed to become a new phylum, class, or even order.


Lents answers that the Cambrian explosion took place over a much longer time and involved simpler animals which produce much faster than finches.


With an online treasure trove of overwhelming evidence available, lay persons who latch onto a favored position in lieu of science are without excuse. But a harsher criticism should be leveled at anyone whose experience and education should be used to correct those lay persons instead of comforting them.

“Holy Flail” (Holy Grail)

The SkepDoc, Harriet Hall, coined the phrase Tooth Fairy Science to refer to trying to find the cause or solution to a mystery without first ascertaining that the entity exists.

One could look at the demographics for how much money is given for lost choppers and whether race, religion, or riches play a role. You could look at trends of whether molars are deemed more valuable than incisors. And we could see if the pandemic impacted any of this. But all of this would be to assume the existence of a stealthy spirit who undertakes nocturnal sojourns to children who have one less tooth than they did the day before.

While no one seriously insists on the existence of a Tooth Fairy, they do so with Bigfoot, meridians, and extraterrestrial visitors. They ponder who may be Sasquatch’s closest biological relatives, wonder which internal bodily pathway should be punctured to cure eczema, and postulate as the purpose of alien anal probes. The do so without having first shown the relevant phenomena are real.

While Hall had medicine in mind, the concept of Tooth Fairy Science can also apply to history.


Consider the Holy Grail, which is purported to be the receptacle Jesus drank from during the Last Supper. It has been sought and written about for centuries.


However, there are no references to the Holy Grail in the Biblical accounts of Jesus, nor does the religious receptacle make so much as a cameo in any other first millennium text.


Writing for Skeptoid, Brian Dunning noted that 12th Century cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth published “History of the Kings of Britain,” which described Arthur as an unbeatable warrior and which included one of the first known references to the cup.


Then in 1190, Dunning continued, the poet Chrétien de Troyes created a heroic knight named Perceval, who proposes Arthur and his knights search for the Holy Grail in order to restore the assembly’s honor and prestige. Dunning noted that in this and future fictional works, the object was not near as important as the quest for it.


So it took nearly 1200 years for the notion of a Holy Grail to emerge. Since then, it has assumed iconic status and made countless appearances in print and film. According to Dunning, John Calvin identified nearly two dozen cups that had been identified by the bearer as the true Grail. Many other assertions have been made since, some of which ascribe supernatural powers to the cup, and none of which have cleared the first hurdle of proving that there had ever been a Grail held by a dining Jewish messiah.

“No in-between” (Missing Link)

The concept of a Missing Link is sometimes bandied about by evolution deniers who think they have just upended the entire biology field.

The term has grown antiquated even among Young Earth Creationists since changes in biological populations over time can be observed in a Petri dish or even in nature, such as when a Florida lizard developed a toe pad that enabled the reptile to climb trees and escape predators. With evolution literally being seen in these instances, its authenticity is obvious to all but the most hardened deniers. The ad hoc response of most YECs is to create artificial categories of micro- and macro-evolution. To them, the toe pad addition is acceptable, but they reject evidence showing that the lizard’s deep ancestor was a Carboniferous amphibian and they insist that its descendant millions of generations from now could be something other than a lizard.

But the Missing Link term still makes infrequent appearances, so consider this a guide to delivering a handy retort. When someone uses the phrase, they ostensibly are referring to a supposed gap in the fossil record. Their supposition is that there are a series of transitions observable in the geologic column in which a group of populations become primate-like and continue to evolve. But there is a supposed gap from the likes of a gorilla to, say, Neanderthals. Proponents insist that since the record shows no in-between species that perhaps walks upright and sports opposable digits but has a lower IQ than your xenophobic great uncle dooms the concept of humans having evolved from a lower animal.

This, of course, gets evolution completely wrong. There is no neat, orderly, easily-identifiable path from single-cell organisms to all the members of today’s diverse Animal Kingdom. As populations split from their parent population, they disperse and adapt to their environment. Some die out and genetic drift impacts the process. Some populations continue to evolve because of their surroundings, while others like sharks hold steady since their biologic characteristics are sufficient for their surroundings.

Despite what some excited evangelicals Tweet, evolution does not teach that one species leads directly to another, such as a monkey giving birth to a human. Rather, the process is gradual, sometimes relatively quick and sometimes over 100 million years. Paleontologists do not expect to find a man-ape hybrid. They, were however, expecting that they might find a fossil of a species that lived before amphibians evolved but after fish did. That’s how they unearthed Tiktaalik. Like fish, Tiktaalik possessed fins and scales, but it also had a neck, a flat skull, and strong ribs. Tiktaalik filled the gap between previously known tetrapod-like fish and the earliest tetrapods. It is an in-between animal for fish and land animals.

While the Missing Link is a mistaken concept, an authentic notion is transitional morphologies, a term scientists use to describe discoveries that contain the anatomical features of both older and more recent species. This is the case with Tiktaalik.

Similarly, Live Science noted that humans share a common ancestor with some primates, such as the African ape. Hominids include people, chimps, and gorillas, as well as extinct ancestors, while hominins include those species after the human lineage split from chimpanzees. Much as I would like so support all this with a URL, that link is missing.

“Down the no-rabbit hole” (Geologic column)

My tween daughter kept asking if we could get a rabbit, figuring the answer would either be yes or no, giving her a 50 percent chance each time she asked. After 28 or so negative replies, I gave in for reasons of peace and my sanity.

It also afforded me the chance to use our new pet as a springboard into a lesson about evolution. Southeastern Oklahoma State University biological sciences professor Stanley Rice wrote that evidence for the field rests on the convergence of multiple independent lines of evidence. He credited early 20th Century British scientist J.B.S. Haldane with noting that evolution could be disproven by means of a Precambrian bunny. The lagomorph in question was just a placeholder animal, so a cat, dog, mouse, elephant, or frog would suffice. In truth, any mammal, amphibian, or land animal appearing amongst other Precambrian fossils would be strong evidence against the current school of evolutionary thought.

Rice reminds us (or informs, for those of us who played tiddlywinks during high school biology) that the Cambrian featured lots of really cool gargantuan creatures they are still making blockbuster movies about more than 500 million years later. By contrast, Precambrian strata have no large animal fossils because no such creatures had yet evolved. If that strata were produced by a flood that wiped out large animals that had been created no later than 2,000 years prior, it should have some giant critters embedded within.

While Noah’s menagerie was floating about, its members’ less fortunate relatives would have eventually became part of the lowest fossil layers. Rice wrote that a worldwide flood would yield a fossil record with mostly fish at the bottom and primarily mammals on top, but that there would be a smattering of exceptions. Or surely at least one. He mused, “The raging flood waters would have drawn large animals down into the bottom layers. Just one. Just one Precambrian bunny. That’s all it would take.”

Alas, there is no such Darwin-defying rabbit.

Now onto rabbit food, the plants. If all plant fossil deposits resulted from a flood, one would expect wetland plants on bottom and their mountain counterparts on top. While this is largely the case, there are exceptions. Rice asks us to “consider the small wetland plants of the Ordovician and Silurian periods. None of them are the flowering plants that are the most abundant plants on the earth today. Find me a Silurian weed from, say, the aster family or the mustard family. Today, wetlands have little pickleweeds in them, from the spinach family of flowering plants. Yet somehow there were no plants that had flowers in the Ordovician or Silurian wetlands.”

The fossil record also reveals one of the strongest individual pieces of evidence for evolution, Tiktaalaik. While any fossil is, strictly speaking, a transitional one, Tiktaalik’s mix of fish and amphibian features make it the type of animal that evolution deniers long insisted would never be found. Further, researchers digging through sedimentary layers found it in the precise place one would expect it to be were it the descendant of fish and an ancestor to amphibians.

These theories work with the tiniest, most simple life forms as well. Single-celled algae called foram are housed in calcium carbonate shells, which linger once the foram cell has died. These shells come in different distinctive shapes and each represents a specific time and place in geologic history. That they appear more or less in order within strata points to evolution, whereas if they had all been wiped out in a flooded, microbiologists would find them randomly scattered.

Then there is the matter of where the surviving animals went after the flood. Endemic species like kangaroos would have had to travel from Turkey to Australia, making for two very determined marsupials. A common creationist retort is that maybe it was the distant offspring of these kangaroos that eventually made their way Down Under. But if so, this hopping ancestral line did so without leaving one fossil behind. And this scenario would had to have repeated for every endemic species, such as Antarctica’s penguins, Papua New Guinea’s cassowaries, and South America’s guanacos.

The same pattern holds true for all major animal groups that live on continents that have been separated for millions of years. But it is not true for continents that have been connected relatively recently. Rice explained, “This is why many of the animals of northern Europe and Asia are similar – and in cases, such as reindeer and elk – the same as those in North America. Only about 20,000 years ago, the Bering land bridge connected Asia and North America and allowed large mammals to migrate.”

Plants follow the same pattern. The major plant families of the southern continents are not the same as those of the northern continents. And, once again, Australia its own beast – or fern, maybe, since we’re addressing plants. It has some flora the other continents don’t.

So that’s how we know. Now If I could only get my daughter to listen to this.

“Not cutting it” (Circumcision)

NOCUT

Circumcision has endured because of tradition, not because of rationale nor medical benefit. Nor has it ever been successful as an anti-masturbatory measure, which is why it gained prominence in the West 150 years ago.

When a custom remains after its original intent has vanished, it has morphed into a ritual. And ritual is one of the kinder words to describe removing highly-innervated tissue from the most vulnerable members of our species, without any benefit in return. The relic rests in the same vein as coming-of-age rituals and other practices that involve cutting, slicing, burning, and flogging.

Furthermore, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, one in 500 boys experience acute complications from circumcision. Even a .2 percent risk is an acceptable amount when there is no chance of reward.

Still it endures because, to most Westerners, that’s the way it’s always been. But the appeal to tradition is a logical fallacy that, were it rigidly adhered to, would have us still with slavery and without women’s suffrage. 

Imagine if circumcision had never been practiced and someone proposed we begin fondling and mutilating the infant genitals. The collective response would be revulsion.  Yet the practice continues today because, well, just because.

Reasons include ensuring the infant conform to religious norms or so that they will look like their father. But faith should be a personal choice and if a father was missing three fingers, no one would suggest lopping off the digits to ensure familial uniformity. A third reason proponents give is because they think it looks unappealing. But that’s only because they are used to seeing circumcised penises.  Were every male intact, proponents would see circumcised members as the freaky outcasts. 

 

Parents deciding to circumcise their sons is distinct from having them vaccinated or given Vitamin K boosters, as these have identifiable benefits.

Chopping off someone else’s body part would mean prison time under any other circumstance, but exception made for the most vulnerable victim. In a depressing display of bipartisanship, the practice remains prevalent among persons of all political leanings.

Conservatives still go for the religion and tradition angles, which is to be expected. Harder to comprehend is the tepid response from liberals, who should be demanding bodily autonomy over the most defenseless of our species. It has been pointed out that  we should never make Junior hug an aunt just because she’s visiting for Christmas if the child doesn’t wish too. Yet, somehow this mindset does not extend to control over the most private part.

With no medical benefit, circumcision is a solution in need of a problem.  Proponents sometimes cite hygiene, but this is no more logical that lopping off our ears to prevent dirt from accumulating within.

One seemingly more valid reason is the chance of reducing HIV infection. But this is an untruth and based on studies that make such basic mistakes as assuming all transmission was due to heterosexual sex. Also, if the studies were correct, and the practice provided STD protection, there would be a wide difference in infection rates between the circumcised and intact.  

 

“Hosanna split” (Hypoxia)

NUNSURF

An image that makes periodic social media rounds purports to show God’s majestic handiwork in the form of keeping two distinctly colorful bodies of water separate.

In the post, a wowed, anonymous person declares, “The two bodies of water never mix with each other, allowing the Gulf of Mexico to retain its clear, blue color. Simply amazing! That just proves that their (sic) is a GOD!!!! Who else can let WATER meet and touch but NEVER mix together???? #illwait.”

While she is willing to wait, we won’t spend time here imparting a lesson on circular reasoning or affirming the consequent. Rather, we’ll jump right into the science.

The image shows a dead zone, called hypoxia, off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas in 2015. This unintentionally-manmade phenomenon occurs when high levels of nutrient runoff make their way into the Mississippi River. This causes tremendous amounts of nitrogen to be disbursed when the river empties into the Atlantic Ocean. These nitrogen levels cause overgrowth of algae and other vegetation that deplete much of the oxygen from the water, kills fish, and causes the adjoining bodies of water to assume different colors.

Don’t plan your vacation around seeing this. Dead zones change each year based on a weather conditions, wind speed, and a water’s nutrient level. This means there is no permanent divide between the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

When it does occur, it’s mostly because the majority of the ground in the Mississippi’s watershed is farm land. Seventy percent of the nutrient loads that cause hypoxia result from agricultural runoff that occurs when rain washes fertilizer from the land into a stream or river.

Additionally, urban areas that border the Mississippi continually deposit treated sewage into the river. Between the rural and urban contributions, about 1.7 million tons of nitrogen and phosphorous are deposited, and this is crucial for phytoplankton growth.

However, this also leads to ecological harm. It causes massive phytoplankton blooms to occur, which in turn leads to a large increase in zooplankton that feed on them. Large amounts of dead phytoplankton and zooplankton waste then accumulate on the ocean floor and the decomposition of this matter depletes oxygen in the area faster than it can be replaced. Put another way, if this is God’s doing, he’s displaying his wrath, not his wonder.