Science and Religion Blah Blah Blah


A perennial question, a constant product of the click-bait-and-outrage factory known as internet, that has been, and perhaps forever will be posed, answered, yelled about, and generally used to beat the life and enthusiasm out of so many reasonably evolutionary biologists is “CAN RELIGION AND SCIENCE (PARTICULARLY EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY FOR SOME REASON) COEXIST??!?!!?!!?”

The answer is a simple no, and yes. That’s it. No, because religious belief systems often tend to include specific factual claims about the material world that turn out to be total nonsense. For example, the earth and everything on it was not created in 7 literal days. Therefore, one cannot hold both this belief and the belief that scientific inquiry was a fantastic way of generating useful, more-or-less objective knowledge about the world, because actual scientific evidence absolutely refutes such a notion.

On the other hand, yes, because arguably the most important elements of religious belief systems involve claims about immaterial things, such as the existence and nature of the human soul. On these topics, science literally has nothing to say. One cannot measure with calipers, a telescope, a mass spec, an Illumina Hi-Seq or any other tool devisable by humanity, a divine presence purported to pervade all existence. The hypothesis that a God of any sort exists can be rescued from any and every contradictory empirical finding.

Perhaps you can tell, but I’ve written this rant because I’m sick and tired of the web-traffic generating mutualism that exists between religious fundamentalists and atheists claiming to champion science. They both make equally absurd and unsupported claims about religion and science. Their statements are always absolute.

This was supposed to be a link post, so if you’d like to see the New York Times opinion piece that got me all in a rage about this, here it is. But I don’t recommend reading it.

Postscript: I am in no way religious. I also recognize that certain specific religious beliefs are both widely held, harmful, and in direct contradiction to established scientific facts. I think these beliefs ought to be combated. This does not in any way change my overall tolerance of religious belief.

Best. Broader impact. Ever.

Like everyone with an Internet connection, earlier this month I heard a fair bit about U.S. 7th Circuit Court Judge Richard Posner’s ruling striking down bans on same-sex marriage in Indiana and Wisconsin. As Mark Joseph Stern put it at Slate, “Posner … sounds like a man who has listened to all the arguments against gay marriage, analyzed them cautiously and thoroughly, and found himself absolutely disgusted by their sophistry and rank bigotry.” Here’s a choice sample from the full opinion:

The challenged laws discriminate against a minority defined by an immutable characteristic, and the only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction—that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended—is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously.

What I hadn’t heard before is that Posner’s opinion also includes a short run-down on research about the biological basis of sexual orientation, and it has more than one familiar citation:

Although it seems paradoxical to suggest that homosexuality could have a genetic origin, given that homosexual sex is non-procreative, homosexuality may, like menopause, by reducing procreation by some members of society free them to provide child-caring assistance to their procreative relatives… There are other genetic theories of such attraction as well. See, e.g., Nathan W. Bailey and Marlene Zuk, “Same-Sex Sexual Behavior and Evolution,” forthcoming in Trends in Ecology and Evolution

That’s actually a reference to a 2009 review, which is online in PDF format—it covers the diversity of same-sex sexual behaviors across the animal kingdom. It hardly mentions Homo sapiens, but it is one of the sources I give to people who want a solid introduction to current scientific thinking about how same-sex attraction could have evolved. If you ask me, one could do a lot worse than having a paper cited in a groundbreaking legal ruling. And it’s a reminder to those of us studying the history of life in general that our work can have unexpected consequences beyond the lab.

THE Darwin Fish.

Looks like this guy:

Is the cartoon version of this guy:

Cuvier’s Bichir

It walks. It breathes air. And apparently it can adapt to terrestrial life relatively “easily”.

The scientists raised groups of bichir on land for eight months to find out how they would differ from bichir raised in the water. They found that the land-raised fish lifted their heads higher, held their fins closer to their bodies, took faster steps, undulated their tails less frequently and had fins that slipped less often than bichir raised in water. The land-raised fish also underwent changes in their skeletons and musculature that probably paved the way for their changes in behavior. All in all, these alterations helped bichir move more effectively on land.


There’s a video too!

BAH! Fest – 2014

Here at Nothing in Biology, we are big fans of making stuff up (but, uh, not on the blog… or in our scientific publications… or on our tax returns… or, well, you get the point). So a few of us are thinking of entering some of our fantastical(ly bad) evolutionary theories to the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses. This festival is dedicated to “well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect evolutionary theory”. To get an idea of what it’s about, see the video below. If you’re in or near the Bay Area or Cambridge, Mass this October, think about checking it out!

RESULTS from SURVEY: How bad was that Science cover and do you care?

Apparently, that Science cover was pretty bad and plenty of people cared.


I got 75 responses in time to make the above figure (where the width of the blocks are proportional to the number of responses in each category)- 80% said the cover image was either very or kind of poorly chosen and 55% said they cared at least a little bit. The colored “lines” between the two answers depict how frequently two answers were chosen together and clicking the image will make it bigger.  Thanks to everyone who gave me their 2 cents – such science. such wow.


Computer Viruses… as art

Computer Virus Catalog, provides us with an illustrated history of the worst computer viruses in history.

It also has an artistic interpretation of each virus, which look really cool! Below are some of my favorites!


“Marburg infects .EXE and .SCR files and draws the all too familiar critical error icon everywhere on your screen. The Windows virus spread like crazy in August ’98, when it was included on the master CD of popular MGM/EA game ‘Wargames'”


“Created in the late ’60s, Cookie Monster is the world’s first computer virus. After infection, Cookie Monster freezes all system activity and demands cookies. Don’t sweat it. You simply unlock your computer again by typing the word ‘cookie’_”


“Stuxnet is a joint effort of the US and Israel, designed to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. This highly sophisticated Windows worm reportedly destroyed roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, by causing them to spin out of control. Mission accomplished_”


“Ika-Tako (Japanese for squid-octopus) spreads via P2P file sharing network Winny, disguising itself as a music file. When executed, the Windows virus replaces photos, applications and vital system files with images of squids_”