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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ethics of Scientific Research - Midterm Question #2

Assuming an otherwise adequate scientific design, what should be done with the data gathered/conclusions drawn during an experiment where human subjects have been misused or mistreated? Use either utilitarianism or Kantian theory to justify your response.

Human experimentation where the subjects have been mistreated and misused has occurred in the past and may well occur in the future. The most obvious and outrageous cases stem from studies done by researchers working for the Nazi regime during the Second World War; however, several examples occurred even in the postwar United States. Most such studies were not adequately designed for a proper scientific investigation; indeed most of the desired studies had no recognizable scientific goal. But some studies, such as the Nazi studies of wounds due to weapons, appear to have had an adequate scientific design. Improved medical treatments for trauma, better helmet designs and better ballistic shielding would benefit from examining and studying this data. However, I will show from Kantian theory why researchers should not use this data, and why that data should not be destroyed.

One of the key components of Kant’s Categorical Imperative is that human beings should not be used as mere means to an end. Consequences should not factor into the moral decision, however the means of how the data were obtained do matter. And the reason it matters is due to the inhumane treatment of the people in these experiments. In these cases, the human subjects were treated solely as means to an end.

Using people as mere means runs counter to the Categorical Imperative that commands that all humans must be treated with inherent moral dignity and they must not be harmed nor deceived. The misuse and mistreatment of people in any context is antithetical to the maxim that people must not be harmed and that people should be treated with moral dignity and respect. By choosing to use the data, we effectively place ourselves into the context of the original experiment, essentially becoming part of the extended research team. We effectively would be using the human subjects in the same inhuman manner as the initial researchers, even though, as in the case of the Nazi experiments, those subjects may be long dead.

Therefore using Kantian theory, we as moral agents are duty bound to follow the Categorical Imperative. We must not use the data or conclusions from any experiment where the human subject was not treated with dignity or respect, and where the human subject was intentionally harmed or killed. It isn’t future consequences of our decision that matter, despite any beneficial outcome from the use of the data. It is the respect for the subjects of the experiments that matter, whether or not they are currently alive to act as free moral agents.

However, despite the decision that we shouldn’t use the data or conclusions from such experiment, we must also respect the free choice of other current and future researchers. We must show other researchers respect and dignity and allow them to act as moral agents. The freedom to pursue our research and the freedom to make our own moral choices is what we want others to not act to constrain. Therefore, we should not destroy nor hide any data. We must allow other moral agents the freedom to make the appropriate moral choice on their own, and we should not act in any fashion that removes that freedom from them.

Ethics of Scientific Research - Midterm Question #1

There have been no cases of smallpox in the world for over a decade, but several labs have kept strains of the virus. It is not known whether any strains of the virus exist in countries with biological weapons programs. Assume there are only two possible actions: preserve the strains or destroy them. Explain how a utilitarian OR a Kantian (don't do both) would act and the reasons/justifications for choosing that action.

Several laboratories around the world have kept strains of the smallpox virus since the eradication of the virus from the human population many years ago. Preserving the existing strains is necessary for research, and much can be learned from studying the virus, but the capability also exists for the virus’ use as a biological weapon. The destruction of the existing stocks of the virus would prevent its use as a weapon, but would curtail non-weapons research. However, no nation with an active biological weapons program is known to have the virus. So should the existing strains of the virus be destroyed? A Kantian would respond that our duty is to preserve the existing strains of smallpox, and the reasons would be due to the demands of the Categorical Imperative.

According to Kantians, moral agents must act motivated by duty and follow universal and absolute laws embodied in the Categorical Imperative. The Categorical Imperative demands that our duty is to act in such a way that our conduct could become a universal action. It also specifies that we treat all members of humanity as ends in themselves and not as mere means to an end and that all humans have inherent moral dignity and worth and should not be harmed or deceived.

If we were to order the destruction of all stocks of the virus, we would be acting in a way that would deny researchers now and in the future the opportunity to conduct research on the virus. It doesn’t matter what type of research would be conducted or would be possible, that research would never occur. Our command to destroy the virus would prevent other researchers from freely performing their duties, and would limit their ability to act as moral agents on their own right. We effectively show disrespect to these researchers and deny them their inherent moral dignity and worth. This is counter to the duties imposed by the Categorical Imperative.

The motivations for commanding the destruction of all strains of the virus would mostly be consequentialist: we would be concerned about all the potential uses of the virus, whether it is for weapons development by a nation state, or possibly stolen for use by terrorists. Kantians will not let consequences deter them from their duty; consequences do not factor into the moral decision. They must treat all potential users of the virus as moral agents and must not use those researchers as mere means to obtain any desired consequence, even if the consequence to be avoided is the construction of a weapon of mass destruction.

The decision to preserve the strains of the virus would be one that the Kantian would desire to have emulated universally. The decision made is not strictly the preservation of the virus; it is the decision to allow other researchers to make their own moral choices about how to conduct their research and how to use that virus. That is a decision that we would like other researchers to make. We want the freedom to pursue our research and the freedom to make our own moral choices and would want others to not act to constrain that freedom.

So in order to follow the duties of the Categorical Imperative, a Kantian must decide to preserve the existing strains of the smallpox virus. This preserves the ability of other current and future researchers to work with the virus and the Kantian trusts those researchers to act as moral agents and to make the proper choice of what they will do with the virus.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ethics of Scientific Research - Second question

Are the participants of the Manhattan Project morally responsible, partially responsible, or not at all responsible for the effects of the atomic bomb?

In order to determine whether the participants of the Manhattan Project were in any way responsible for the effects of the bomb, we need to provide some definitions. By participant, we mean the scientists and researchers involved in the research and development of the atomic bomb, and not the military or political leadership involved in the project. We also need to restrict the effects of the atomic bomb to the human toll resulting from dropping the nuclear devices on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both immediate and long term. With those definitions and qualifiers in place, the participants were not morally responsible for the effects of the bomb.
The moral responsibilities of scientists are no greater than those of the rest of society, and given the context and limitations of their research responsibilities, their moral responsibilities are limited to the decisions and course of actions available to them. Scientists and researchers are presumed to be autonomous moral agents, responsible for their own rational choices. The decision to deploy the nuclear weapon was not in the realm of responsibility of the participants of the project. The military and political leaders bear the responsibility for using the weapon on the city of Hiroshima and 3 days later on Nagasaki. However, those leaders would not have had the opportunity to use the bomb if the participants had not designed and built the device. So how far does the chain of responsibility extend?
As stated above, the moral responsibilities of the participants need to be examined in the context of the actions and decisions available to them. Examining their decision to continue the design and development of the bomb after VE day should be weighed against their holding to general moral principles. VE day celebrated the removal of the initial political reason for the development of the bomb. That political reason was officially tied to the threat posed by the prospective development of nuclear weapons by Nazi Germany.
In terms of the participant’s employment duties, the participants can be shown to generally follow the principles of non-malfeasance, beneficence, autonomy and justice. In the context of the Second World War, the researchers did not inflict unjustified harm. In fact, the direct actions and decisions made by the participants did not cause any immediate nor foreseen harm beyond that expected in war. The participants acted in a way that indicates that they intended to benefit not only society, but also science, given the limitation of what intelligence they possessed about the war situation. Along those lines, they also worked to promote justice in the world, by doing their best to contribute to a device that they believed would be used to bring the war to a rapid end. Lastly, they provided information and knowledge to the supposed rational individuals who would make the ultimate decision to deploy the destructive power of the weapon they designed and built. By continuing in their work, they did not deprive the individuals that they worked for of the autonomy to make their own informed and presumably responsible decisions.
Much can be said about the principle of autonomy. If the Manhattan Project participants had stopped their work, they would have deprived the military and political leaders of their autonomy to make a responsible decision. Another set of scientists also designed and built a different form of weapon of mass destruction, which fortunately had not been deployed in the war. The researchers who refined nerve agents and other deadly chemical weapons did not deprive their superiors of the autonomy to make responsible decisions. The rational choice made by the leaders was to not use those weapons, and there was no expectation that those same leaders would not make a rational choice with the atomic bomb. The chain of responsibility extends only to those that made the decision to use the bomb, to those that used the information and technology provided to them to cause actual harm, destruction and death.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ethics of Scientific Research - First question

Do researchers have ethical duties and/or responsibilities over and above the ethical obligations of the rest of society?

Ethical duties are the expectations on moral agents to act in the manner that they ought to act. Regardless of whatever ethical theory a moral agent subscribes to, the responsibility on that agent is to honor the duty to act ethically. Whomever the moral agent happens to be, the duty and responsibility to act ethically is the same. Scientists and researchers are no more ethically responsible than any other moral agent. They do not have ethical duties over and above the ethical duties of any other moral agent.

It is arguably the case that the social context and impact of the product of a scientist’s or researcher’s efforts is greater than that of many other human endeavors. Science, government, education, the media and other social institutions each have large and significant impacts on individual lives and on other social institutions. But what really determines which institution’s impact is more significant? By what metric do we measure that impact? Lives? Resources? Trust? In any case it can be argued that any one impact is greater or more significant than any other. However, one can not separate the impact of science from the impact of government which funds the research, nor from the impact of education which trains the researchers, nor from the media which informs the citizenry which supports the government. All of these institutions are interdependent, and no single one can be demonstrably shown to have a larger impact than any other.

But the impact of a moral agent’s actions does not necessarily correspond with the level of responsibility or duty to act ethically. There appears to be an underlying principle of equality which is seen in many ethical theories: all moral agents should be accorded the same respect. This equality of respect derives from the notion that all moral agents are rational individuals, each capable of determining a proper, ethical, course of action. Every rational individual is not only capable of determining ethical actions, but duty bound to act ethically. And with equality of respect comes equality of moral duty. In essence, the moral principles of beneficence, non malfeasance, justice and autonomy all have at their core the principle that all rational individuals are morally equal. Each rational individual should act in a manner that benefits society, does not cause unjustified harm, allows other rational individuals to make their own decisions, etc.. Despite the possibility that a particular moral agent X can impact society in a greater manner than moral agent Y, it does not necessarily follow that Y’s ethical duty and responsibility is less than X’s: they are both morally equal.

Given the principle of moral equality, it therefore becomes meaningless to assert that any specific, rational individual has a higher ethical duty or responsibility than any other rational individual. Scientists and researchers are by the nature of their actions deemed to be rational individuals. They do not have more or less moral stature than any other rational individual. These moral equivalencies do not aggregate to form a block of greater ethical duty based on the number of scientists and researchers versus the number of other moral agents either. Ethical choices and actions are made and performed by rational individuals, whether they are in a group or not. An individual moral agent can not surrender his or her ethical duties and responsibilities to the group or institution to which that agent belongs. Scientists and researchers do not have greater ethical duties or responsibilities than anyone else, and despite some protestations, they also do not have a moral free pass, either.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Final Exam Question : Sociology of Religion

Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim had very different understandings and theories about religion (its function and its impacts on society). Describe the major theoretical contributions of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim to the sociological study of religion.

Marx viewed religion as an alienating agent that reinforced the stratification inherent in society. Faith is used to keep the downtrodden from questioning their lot in life, whereas the privileged use faith to justify their exploitation of the masses. As indicated in the text, history is replete with examples that support this thesis. From the oppression of the caste system in India, the suppression of conquered peoples in Europe by the Romans to the suppression of the conquered in Africa and Asia by Europeans, religion is used as a device in the conflict between classes.

Marx views religion as not just the means of oppression but also as the sign of that oppression. It is a symptom of the “illusionary happiness of the people”. People would have no need for that illusion if they were no longer oppressed.

According to many critics of Marx, Max Weber took religion more seriously than Marx. Weber showed that religious ideas have a power of their own. To Weber, ideas have power, and when large groups of people take up a common idea, that common set of beliefs can drive a change in the course of history. To understand the role of religion’s ideas in a person’s life, one needs to place oneself in the shoes of a believer and imagine the intentions and meanings.

Weber’s example for the power of ideas is the rise of Capitalism as an outcome of the Protestant work ethic. Calvinist predestination theology states that each person has a calling, which entails fulfilling one’s duty to God through day-to-day work in labor, since each person was chosen by God and his destiny in the afterlife predetermined. Thus the earlier Catholic teachings that profit and labor were necessarily evil were overcome and the way was open for the development of Capitalism, which emphasized the accumulation of Capital through profit and labor. In effect, Weber found that the link between class and religion was bi-directional in contrast to Marx’s unidirectional causal link from economic need to religious purpose.

Durkheim took a functionalist approach which also found purpose and power in religious ideas. Religion was a “fundamental and permanent aspect of humanity.” In his view, the task of the sociologist is not to determine which religion is “True”, but rather to treat each religion as real and to find the commonalities. Durkheim came to argue that all our categories of thought are created in and from religion. But religious ideas and thoughts, sacred things themselves, only derive their power from the collective investment made by the believers. Religious force is the feeling inspired by the rest of the society which believes. When people conform to these religious ideas they are submitting to the authority of society. “… social thought, with its imperative authority, has a power that individual thought cannot possibly have.”

This stands in contrast with both Marx and Weber. Durkheim doesn’t assign an economic role for religion, rather religion performs a social function; it creates social unity by strengthening the shared beliefs of the believing community. It strengthens the bonds between people and society, with God being a representation of society.

Final Exam Question : Sociology of Science

Sociologists of science often work from the perspective that scientific facts, like many other things in our society, are socially constructed. Using Latour and Woolgar’s work along with other information from the science chapter, explain what it means that scientific facts are socially constructed. Give some specific examples of how what goes on in a laboratory helps to construct scientific facts.

Despite the view and learned opinions of most philosopher’s of science, Latour and Woolgar argued that scientific facts are socially constructed. The reason given is that research findings are debated, discussed, and disagreements worked through until consensus is reached in a laboratory. These debates, discussions and disagreements are conducted in the context of a highly competitive laboratory environment, where power struggles within the lab hierarchy may determine what interpretation and results will get the attention.

In a laboratory, scientists explore, extract, measure, and quantify data derived from the real world. In the laboratory, this work is prioritized by availability of funds and allocation of resources. The administration of the laboratory assists and in many cases defines the priority of the work conducted. The scientist’s goal is to leave all biases at the door of the laboratory. But where there are people involved, there are social relationships and factors at play also.

An example of Latour’s view is his treatment of the facts surrounding the demise of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II. Recent examinations of Ramses corpse indicated that Ramses died of tuberculosis. Latour, on the other hand, states that it is not reasonable to state that the cause of Ramses’ death was tuberculosis since that disease was not discovered until 1882, 3000 years after the death of the Pharaoh. Latour makes this case since he maintains that scientific facts can not be discovered; scientific facts can only be constructed. Philosophically, this is identical to claiming that the Earth was physically the center of the Universe, with the stars, planets and the Sun revolving around the Earth until the scientific fact uncovered by Copernicus was constructed by him.

Latour makes the mistake of equating the objective truth of a scientific fact or data, with the socially constructed explanation and interpretation of that data. The philosopher of science Ian Hacking argues this point in his book The Social Construction of What? He maintains that the purist point of view, that social norms and personal values are divorced from the work of the laboratory, is unrealistic. The realities of the social world do impact the work of scientists within a laboratory. But the viewpoint advocated by Latour, that scientific facts do not exist outside of a social context is also unrealistic, and in fact, that ignoring claims to truth is misleading.

Big Buck, Big Pharma : Marketing Disease and Pushing Drugs - SOC142 Extra Credit

The video shown in class, Big Buck, Big Pharma : Marketing Disease and Pushing Drugs, while not presenting anything new, was shocking nonetheless. The extent of the marketing of pharmaceuticals by drug companies is astounding. I personally remember when the number of advertisements for individual drugs was limited to the over-the-counter (OTC) type, but now, pharmaceutical corporations advertise prescription medication directly to the consumer. In fact, there has been a 500% increase in this direct to consumer marketing over at least the last two decades. More money is pouring into these campaigns than into other individual products. For example, according to the video, during Vioxx’s heyday, more money was spent on those ads than for Pepsi.

This intensive marketing of prescription directly to consumers does make the consumer aware of the choices available for treatment options. The line that the pharmaceutical companies use that it’s just educational has some validity. However, there is a danger in providing such information to the masses of people who most likely do not have the training nor educational background required to intelligently determine the proper course of treatment. In the world of physician shopping and giving the customer what he wants, medication could be demanded from willing physicians for any number of conditions as advertised. Also, the probability that a medical condition doesn’t exist is possible, since the advertisement for the medicine gives specific symptoms for which a person may develop psychosomatic conditions.

While providing some educational value to the consumer has already been mentioned, many instances of deception occur. In several cases, major drugs have been re-branded and slightly modified to extended patent protection beyond the statutory limit afforded to a specific drug. These new brands may be functionally equivalent to the older brand, but they have prolonged profit making potential for the pharmaceutical corporation. Minimal investigational or experimental investment has been made, but higher prices are nonetheless charged for them.

Despite the legal requirement to specify all known side effects of a drug, many consumers do not pay attention to them. The advertisements do not dwell nor emphasize drug safety nor do they always mention adverse drug reactions. There appears to be a de-emphasis on safety for the chance to make more profit.

So given the aforementioned problems of the intensive, direct marketing of prescription drugs, should the pharmaceutical corporations be allowed to conduct such marketing strategies? Or should they only be allowed to direct promotional materials to medical professionals? Should they be allowed to market their product like any other corporation markets non-pharmaceuticals?
While there is much to be said about the educational value of such marketing, any promotional material for these drugs should be directed towards the primary users of the information, not necessarily of the product. The primary users of the information are the medical professionals licensed to dispense medication. That being said, the methods for promoting prescription medications to health professionals should be regulated. While regulation can never be a panacea for all possible interactions between corporate entities and individual people, the stakes are too high with medications: misdiagnosis, over medication, adverse reactions, misuse and other side effects can be lethal. The safety of individual members of society is paramount.

The educational value of the current marketing efforts could be delivered by requiring all pharmaceutical corporations who desire to sell their products within the country to contribute substantive medical information as well as operating funds to public access databases. Such databases would contain in plain language as well as in medical jargon, information that the public and medical profession could use to evaluate effectiveness and safety of their product. It also would streamline the marketing efforts of the drug companies, allowing them to invest time and money in finding new drugs.

The Corporation | Externalized Costs and Political Contributions - SOC142 extra credit

When corporations operate, according to the movie, The Corporation, they tend to externalize costs. In other words, these legal entities end up making third parties, which have no direct interest in the corporation, bear large amounts of the cost of running and maintaining the enterprise. These costs range from the funds needed to build and maintain the necessary infrastructure, like roads, trade arrangements and the legal system, to the human cost of the unthinking and impersonal actions of the corporation.

These human externalized costs, borne by the rest of society extend beyond the borders of the host or parent nation. But the human costs borne by the host nation are significant. When corporations fall under financial pressure, the fiduciary responsibility to stockholders legally bind and restrict the actions that corporations can conduct. That legal bind force corporations to do their best to externalize all costs, and maximize the return to the stockholders, but not to all the stakeholders. Who are the other stakeholders? Employees, employee families, retirees, neighbors, local governments, etc.: ordinary people and social institutions. These stakeholders are just the ones in the home nation. Additional stakeholders are the environment, future generations, and anyone or anything affected by the actions of the corporation now and in the future.

Society as a whole pays the price for layoffs, union busting and habitat destruction. Corporations longing for maximum returns don’t care if they employ sweatshops, outsource work, or dump toxic waste. In order to maintain control in regions of the world where the political, legal and enforcement infrastructure is not as mature as that of Western society, corporations can muster military support to ensure that they receive what they need or want, as made evident by many corporations having a long history of condoning human rights violations.

Why do corporations act this way? Simple: Corporations have no feelings.

So should corporations be able to donate to political campaigns, given that they externalize costs? Corporations have no beliefs. They have no feelings, emotions or life. Corporations are legal persons, yet if they were flesh and blood individuals, they would be considered psychopathic legal persons, committed to mental health facilities to protect themselves and others. Ordinary people who are committed are not normally allowed to donate to political campaigns. Such people are restricted by society from influencing societal decisions.
Corporations externalize costs so much that they not only dump expenses on society, they also manage to divert tax dollars into their coffers as well as influence tax policy. Many corporations buy this type of political influence by donating to political campaigns. But since corporations hold allegiance to profits and not to any flag, they shouldn’t be allowed such political access. Should disloyalty to a nation be rewarded with political influence in that nation? I don’t think so.

So should any organization be able to contribute to political campaigns? I think the question is somewhat leading. It assumes that the current political process is acceptable and that the practice of soliciting and making political contributions should be allowed to continue in its present form. I don’t think we can continue and survive with those assumptions. I think the entire electoral process in the United States requires an overhaul, and the first change would be to restrict political contributions to a general election fund, divorcing the influence of corporate money from the inevitable corruption that it brings when contributions are made to individuals. Political contributions have more influence in politics than the will of the people who comprise the ostensibly sovereign entity.

Summer Quarter is Over

Got my grades back for summer quarter. I stepped it up and took on 6 credits, which officially put me at half time at UC. That now makes 5 straight quarters of 4.00. Puts me on the Dean's List!

Very interesting, yet strange quarter. Took 2 sociology classes that challenged my point of view. The papers I wrote helped me clear up some concepts for me.

Hmm, maybe I should post them here. That's a thought.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Skepkid's View of the Creatorium

Here is Alexander's view of the Creatorium. An 11 year old armed with an SLR!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/evodevo_mike/sets/72157622005539010/

This was his first outing with that camera. Not bad for a first timer.

I have faced the demons of idiocy and have laughed them into oblivion

My 11 year old, Alexander and I visited the Creation Museum, Creatorium for short, on August 7, 2009. We did so as part of the Secular Student Alliance group visit / invasion with renowned blogger and biologist, Dr. PZ Myers. Instead of paying the $22 per person, we got in with the $10 per person discount. Why did we even pay $10 a head to visit such a temple of ignorance? Good question. For the past few years I've criticized the place without actually visiting. This was a golden opportunity to do so with a large skeptical crowd.
The Creatorium's motto, seen on billboards all over the region, is "Prepare to Believe". Believe what? Their Biblical based fantasy? Or that adults that have matured in the first ostensibly secular society on the planet actually believe this stuff?
Driving to the Creatorium is a nice drive in Northern Kentucky along I-275. Approaching the exit, it is apparent that no businesses are in the general area. In fact, the only sign other than the one for the Creatorium is the exit sign for Petersburg, KY. Once the exit is taken, there is nothing in area at all: no fast food, no gas stations, nothing at all. A small sign indicates the direction to take to the Creatorium.
As we approach the actual attraction, we see fields of corn and soybeans. Then we spot the armed security. The security guards were given police powers by the State of Kentucky. They resemble the local sheriff officers in dress, hat and weapons. They are congregating around the entrance, scrutinizng cars as they drive in. One guard is talking to a group that decided to put up a banner across a drive from the Creatorium. The home made banner consists of a king size bed sheet with the words, "God is Real" sprayed on in red. The Creatorium compound is surround by state-of-the-art security; ranging from cameras to a modern, heavy-duty steel fence. The only surprising thing is that it's not topped by razor wire.
With a little bit of trepidation, we drive onto the compound, through the open, heavy duty security gate. The gate is surrounded by a brick barrier, with friendly looking steel dinosaur skeletons mounted on top, and the name of the place plainly visible on the side. Why the trepidation? My car has the new "NO GODS" license plate mounted front and rear, and a bumper sticker of DNA temporarily affixed to the rear lift door.
No incident occurred. We pass through and are directed to the spots to park. As we head back to park, we pass the entrance, where two ungodly lines of atheists are lined up, ready to receive the tickets that will lets us enter. Observing this crowd is another batch of people, who stare in disbelief at all the shirts with science messages ranging from an integral equation to images of Darwin, Tiktaalik, and even Carl Sagan. We left the car in the lot with the advice of the parking attendant to take our cameras to take plenty of pictures.
Walking to the entrance, we saw security examining almost every person with a bag, stopping each to investigate the contents of each bag. I was wearing my camera with my massive camera bag hanging off my right shoulder. I approached expecting to open up the bag and show my collection of lenses. But guard just looked at me and let me pass. No inspection. Not that I'm about to complain about avoiding security, but why was I singled out for this honor?
As we got in line, I was immediately asked to pose with another person who was wearing the identical Darwin hugging Tiktaalik shirt I was. Wow, solidarity, right from the start! The line crept forward slowly as each person obtained his ticket and signed an agreement to abide by the rules of the private institution. A woman employed by the Creatorium passed through the line, handing out the list of attractions for the day. The feature presentation today was a talk by Dr Jason Lisle, on "The Ultimate Proof of Creation". More on him at the end, but suffice it to say that the Astrophysics Department at the University of Colorado must be hanging their heads in shame for awarding him a PhD.
Finally, Professor Myers arrived. Several people flock to get pictures taken of him with all sorts of squid paraphernalia! The group of Mennonites that pass by have a look of shock, seeing so many shirts with the blatant message of Evolution. Alexander and I make it to the front of the line and sign the agreement in exchange for the tickets and a cool button with the words, "I was there with PZ Myers". Another guy is standing close by, handing out his own buttons, showing Prof Myers as Dr Evil, seated and holding a squid, with the words, "I'm with Dr. Evolution".
We are herded off to the side entrance, where the church group in front of us has just entered the building. They are posing in front of a large green screen. Just as we enter, we are asked to have a group picture taken in front of the green screen. Most of us decide against it. Hard to have 250+ pose at one time. An earlier bunch of our group has already entered and queued up to enter the main exhibit.
In the main hall, there is skeleton of a mastodon / mammoth (I don't know for sure which) in the center. Along one wall is the entrance to the Noah's Cafe and on the other wall is the exit from the Dinohall bookstore. The queue to the main exhibit snakes through a small area just off the main hall, with a diorama containing live fish and turtles, and animatronic dinosaurs with a human lining one side, and the other with a series of displays discussing God's word vs Man's word, and discussing the multiple C's of man: Corruption, Crime, etc.. To my pleasant surprise, I notice that PZ is just a bit behind us as we get to the front of the queue to hand over our tickets.
Amusingly, Pastor Tom Estes is lurking in the area. He appears perplexed. Pastor Tom had mentioned on PZ's blog that he would be at the "Museum" and would like to see us refute the Science of Creationism. Funny that he's not conversing with anyone. He's just lurking to the side.
We then enter the main exhibit of the Grand Canyon. We first enter an area that is a reconstruction of an archeological dig. Fossils and a sapphire are shown with the questions of how do we know what these are? How do we know what the living versions of the fossils did or eat? How did they die? How was the information discovered or passed down? The archeologist in the dig is shown on the video saying that the evidence is there and one's presuppositions lead us to the correct interpretations of the evidence. The implication is that the default view is that God exists and that the Bible is his word. The alternate view is that of scientists which deny the existence of God. The annoying thing is that the questions are written as if no one has an answer, yet if they bothered to ask a real scientist they would get reality based answer.
We enter the next area and the next thing we see is a comparison of images of the Grand Canyon with the images of the Toutle River "canyon" coming down the lower slopes of Mt St Helens. The message? The Grand Canyon was carved instantaneously during the catastrophe of the global flood, and the proof is that the Toutle river canyon was carved during the eruption. Yeah. Right.
Continuing through the exhibits, my jaw just drops. We are continuously bombarded by comparisons of Man's word with God's word. The exhibits show some amazingly accurate representations of what science says about cosmology, speciation, history, but those views are contrasted with the "Word of God". Basically the message is, "Who are going to trust? Man or God?" Of course, they don't answer the question in my mind, "How do we know that what you say is God's word is really God's word" More to the point, how do we know there is a God that can give any word at all? The assumption
At this point, two men are politely asking some of the older members of our group about beliefs and some minor debates ensue. These men have families with them, and the women in the group were wearing the quaint white hair pieces typical of Mennonites. Everyone in their family is being quiet and not even looking at the exhibits. They are obediently waiting for the men folk to signal that it's time to move on. We leave the comparison exhibits behind and enter an area that shows how only the Bible has prophecies that have been 100% fulfilled. Alexander doesn't understand, and one of the young adults in the groups explain the difference between old and new testament. Alexander laughs, saying that the writers of the newer book could have just used the older book as a reference and written the stories to make it seem like they were fulfilled.
We continue to wind through an area that talks about God's word and the corruption of God's word. It's obvious that Ken Ham and company lament the removal of Christianity from American public schools. Ham continues to try and link the acceptance of the fact of Evolution with the growth of societal ills. He has an exhibit showing a part of the Scopes' "Monkey" trial, with William Jennings Bryant, standing, giving an oration. The path leads to a theatre where an obnoxious film of the paradise of the Garden of Eden is shown.
We escape that room and enter an open area describing the six days of creation of the universe. We are reminded that we have no excuse to not believe, since the Bible says we have been told the Truth. The "truth" I observe is that the story of creation as told in the Bible is beyond reason; it is complete unreasonable and the Answers in Genesis (AiG) people KNOW IT! They admit it. The entire theme leading to this point has been harping on the point that God's Word must be trusted beyond all reason.
The route now leads us into the specific creation story of Adam and Eve. Adam is created first, of course, then the animals, then Eve as an afterthought from Adam's rib. So, did God create the animals as all males? Or what? Don't tell me the first thought of females occurred because of Eve. What did God intend for Adam to do with all the animals? Hmmm?????
We see the first couple, standing in front of strategically placed leaves and dinosaurs in the background and foreground, eating the vegetation, since death is only the result of sin and nothing else. The serpent makes an appearance and the fall of Adam is described. Much lamenting is given about how Eve fucked up God's plan for Adam. Does it EVER occur to these numb nuts that if God's so called plan did continue as planned, that none of them would be here?
Life after the fall is then shown, with Eve pregnant and Adam tilling the soil for food. The dinosaurs are shown now killing other animals for food. There is also a display asking who Cain's wife was, with a long, biblical, justification for incest, since Cain's wife could only have been his sister. Let's see now: Incest is OK, but homosexuality is wrong. Yeah right.
Methuselah then tells us that he is over 900 years old and that he has predicted that man is too evil and that God will visit retribution on all life. We pass the old guy and now see a "1% section" of Noah's Ark. It describes the gopher wood and the method of construction. Alexander asks the difficult questions now. Where did all the wood come from? How could all the species fit in that ark? Where did the poop go? How could only Noah and his family take care of all the animals by themselves? If God took care of those problems, why didn't God just teleport all the animals into the future? Or why didn't God just get rid of the bad people with a snap? Pastor Tom Estes didn't want to stick around for those hard questions.
Passing beyond the Ark, we enter a hall showing the mechanisms of the flood. According to AiG, the waters of the deep rise up and flood the planet like the scenes from "Deep Impact" where the massive wave rolls across the landscape. Most of the smart intelligent brains at this point looked as if they needed a serious re-boot. Jaws were dropping, people could hardly suppress snickers, and some of us started moving on, our minds barely suppressing the need to have a "Scanners" moment.
Continuing on, we pass more displays showing their poor understanding of genetics, biology, mutations, replication errors, let alone their complete misrepresentation of evolution. We enter an area that appears to be a mid point, where a small snack bar stands. Despite being thirsty, I am so thoroughly disgusted by this imitation of a museum that I am not willing to part with any more of my money at this Temple of Ignorance. Just off to the side are stairs leading up to the Dinosaur loft.
Alexander leads the way up the stairs, and we come upon a combination of fleshed out dinosaurs with lizard eyes and fossil casts. On a video screen plays a description of the fossilization process. Alexander stares in disbelief, throwing up his hands in frustration, and yelling that they got it wrong. AiG is not showing how the process really works.
We have had enough and decide to continue on, thinking that there is more to see. We exit out of the snack area, and then we see it. The dinosaur with the saddle!!!!!! Oh boy, oh boy. Alexander puts his little birdie on the saddle and people take pictures. Several of us decide that, "We MUST see PZ on the dinosaur!" So we wait. Many Christian groups pass by us, and several people from those admonish some of the more expressive secular attendees. We continue waiting the arrival of PZ. And then he arrives, and expresses pleasant surprise on seeing the baby Triceratops!! After very little coaxing, he climbs aboard. Sporting a squid and a black hat, and accompanied by Alexander's birdie sitting on the nose, he rides the dinosaur like a bronco!
As PZ climbs down and Sarah from OSU climbs up, Alexander and I go up the nearby stairs, thinking we are going to the next portion of the exhibit. We pause long enough to take a few photos and block the rapidly responding security goons. It now is evident that the tour is over because we are now entering the book store.
I slowly peruse the titles, where everything from the Young Earth Creationist nonsense to the Old Earth Creationist nonsense is sold. They even have "Expelled" for sale. Many misrepresentations of Darwin are shown, as well as dinosaur related stuff. Alexander spots PZ, and asks to have a picture of his birdie taken with PZ. PZ brings out his Panda and poses for Alexander. At this time, we strike up a conversation with Derek Rodgers, who was forced to turn his shirt inside out before entering the "Museum". He mentions that he feels bad having paid for some food here and doesn't want to buy anything else and give these goons more money. I asked Alexander if he wanted to buy anything? Alexander says LOUDLY that he doesn't want to waste any money in such a silly place. At this point. Mark Looy of the "Museum" comes and asks Derek to keep it down. Mark leaves, and Derek explains what happened to him when he entered the Creatorium.
We then decide to leave and Alexander asks about food. I suggest grabbing a bite at Noah's Cafe, and Alexander again repeats that he won't eat food from such a silly place. So on we go, heading out the door. We again spot Derek, standing in front of a green screen, being interrogated by Mark Looy, and surrounded by security. I of course, decide to use my camera. A guy who was filming a documentary about atheists films the confrontation. Security asks him to stop, and he continues to film. I also have my camera up and security comes at me. I quickly snap a few shots and set my camera down as security comes up behind us and asks the video guy to leave!
We then head out the door, re-exposing ourselves to the light of day and out of the darkness contained within the walls of the Temple of Ignorance.

For the images I took during out visit, please visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/evodevo_mike/sets/72157621854290897/

Friday, August 7, 2009

Creatorium

Alexander and I went to the Creatorium (Creation "Museum") in Petersburg, KY