Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

March 25, 2009

Questioning Evolution

Filed under: Education, science — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 8:55 am

One of the themes of “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” was that there was a dogmatic rejection of Intelligent Design in academia.  There is, in fact, no dogmatic rejection of Intelligent Design on the part of academia.  An acceptance of Intelligent Design as an intelligible explanation for aspects of nature would signal that we had entered into a new dark age.  The most succinct reason Intelligent Design isn’t a good scientific theory is because it doesn’t explain anything.  It is consistent with any and all facts we could discover about the universe including incorrect ones.  We find a natural explanation for the bacterial flagellum, the designer moves on to explain some new mystery.  Intelligent Design is no more than dressed up ignorance and no better than saying “I don’t see how this could have come about naturally, so let’s say Fred did it.”  

Sure, animals look like they have been designed, in the same way the Sun looks like it goes around the Earth.  Darwin explained how we got it backwards.  Animals adapt to their environment through a combination of mutation, inherited traits, differential survival and reproduction.  Darwin presented a substantial amount of evidence to support this view.  Since his time, every piece of credible evidence we have found has supported the general framework he proposed making it one of the best supported scientific theories in history. 

When people say they don’t feel secure about questioning evolution in academia, I say good.  It means reason is still prevailing.  If you choose to question evolution, you better have something more than your ignorance, because if that is all you bring to the table, you have just proven, beyond any shadow of a doubt, your incompetence.

Just like we wouldn’t want a detective who would throw up his hands at every mystery and declare a ghost must have done it, we don’t want to institutionalize ignorance with Intelligent Design.  Making the best decisions possible is contingent on having an accurate view of reality.  Science has proven itself to be the unmatched leader in enhancing our understanding of nature.  It is unfortunate consequence of our limited capacities that scientific knowledge has become so vast that it requires specialization to continue to make rapid progress.  Still, it is criminal to deny children a broad, basic and accurate understanding of what scientists have discovered even if we can‘t present every last detail.  

So, no, it isn’t dogmatic.  It is having standards.  Evolution meets a incredibly high standard for evidentiary support.  The reason why Intelligent Design can’t compete with evolution isn’t because of bias or discrimination, it is because it is remarkably inferior and if you can’t understand that then you have no business in the education system.

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March 13, 2009

Cramer Becomes Inarticulate

Filed under: capitalism, economy, media — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 9:05 am

Crooks and Liars has Jim Cramer’s appearance on the Daily Show.  There was definitely a moment of who-are-going-to-believe as Cramer tries to ignore the fact that Stewart has just played a tape where Cramer admitted that he manipulated the market and following it up with example on how to start a rumor and short Apple’s stock.   

Cramer was all over the map, advocating criminal indictments, kangaroo courts, and positing his street-cred as an Obama voter.  To me, he never seemed to answer the fundamental question: what does he see as CNBC’s role as an institution?  Cramer, lamely, kept admitting that CNBC needed to do better without ever striking at the heart of the issue.  

The focal point of Stewart’s criticism was how CNBC pushes itself as a reliable get-rich-quick network.  When Santelli complains about bailing out loser’s mortgages, he fails to mention that no home owner is leveraged 30 to 1, unlike many investment banks that we are now pumping money into.  The unbelievable sense of entitlement that the executives of bailed out firms demonstrate when simultaneously asking the government for money while threatening dire consequences if their demands aren’t met shows the accountability free and disconnected nature of the Wall Street aristocracy.  Stewart likens it to Sherman’s march to the sea; it is more like Nero fiddling as Rome burns.

The problem is that CNBC could have been the early warning system to let the public know something was going wrong.  Instead, CNBC cheered on Wall Street, and why not?  Everyone was making money at least on paper.  In reality, executives walked away with the real cash for illusory short-term gains and people who entrusted their savings in the market are left holding the long-term losses.

Michael Parenti has an article called “Capitalism’s Self-inflicted Apocalypse.”  While, it might be a tad over-the-top.  The real economy is based on work, not gambling.  Until we get back to that foundation, and limit the tax that these middle-men can place on the productive economy by their arbitrary and obviously undeserved control of capital, disasters like the ones we are experiencing aren’t unexpected, they are inevitable.

March 12, 2009

Liberty University Students Test Their Indoctrination Against Reality

Filed under: Education, politics, science — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 9:54 am

The Washington Post has an article on students from Liberty University taking a trip to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, presumably as a test of their religious indoctrination. Yes, they could claim that it is, I, who is indoctrinated with “Darwinism.” But, see, there is this little thing that I like to call reality. Evolution is true for the same reason the theory of gravity is true, they were arrived at by the same method. Believing in creationism requires a complete distortion of cosmology, astronomy, biology, geology, physics, along with countless other scientific fields. Steve Hendrix, the author of the piece, calls this “challenging the conventional wisdom.” I call it being in denial.

It seems to pass Hendrix without additional mention that at one moment DeWitt bemoans that some of material in the museum was out-of-date, pointing to a 1980’s-era introductory video, while one of his students is taken aback at Grandma Morgie.

Now, I’ve been to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum recently. The morganucodon is at the end of the exhibit on the dinosaurs. The overall point, which seems to have been entirely missed by this student, is that the dinosaurs go extinct, and when they do, mammals, like us, take their place.

This is not a trivial point. Evolution says that you share a common ancestor with all other forms of life on this planet. Yes, there is a common ancestor between us and chimpanzees, which usually draws the most attention. But, there is also a common ancestors between us and dogs, dinosaurs, fish etc. Richard Dawkins wrote a book examining our connections with this “Tree of Life” in The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life. Neil Shubin wrote more specifically about our fish ancestors in Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body.

Somehow, I don’t feel the education of these students is lacking because they don’t have access to the latest information. Instead, it seems that they have no mastery over the basics.

I could be extrapolating too much, but the course is titled “Advanced Creation Studies” so it is more likely that this is just the tip of iceberg on nonsense that would spew forth from the mouths of these students upon a little more prodding. In the end, it is just a travesty that Liberty University is an accredited institution.

March 4, 2009

Re: Don’t Say a Word

Filed under: politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:17 am

Christopher Hitchens has a piece in Slate called “Don’t Say a Word” which raises concerns about a non-binding U.N. resolution on “Combating defamation of religions.” Non-binding U.N. resolutions are pretty ineffectual. They are more or less a litmus test for general attitudes in the world and high-minded platitudes. Now a particular irony comes from the fact that this particular resolution appears to come out of Commission for Human Rights. As Hitchens points out, many member states do not have spectacular Human Rights records.

Whether Hitchens falls into the camp of “Islamophobia” as he calls it, I’ll leave up to the reader. However, I will note that he is an unapologetic defender of the invasion of Iraq.  I will also note that there was a good deal of violence directed towards Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. That isn’t to say that there is any type of moral equivalence, but just as it was wrong for hijackers to kill scores of innocent people, the same principle applies to the innocent victims of assaults and beatings because they happened to share the same faith as those who attacked the US. I feel the non-binding resolution tries to address the second problem while acknowledging the first.  Hitchens makes no mention of the violence directed at Muslims in the wake of 9/11.

As for gagging of criticism of Islam, Hitchens establishes some credentials as a wing-nut. However, there is this absurd notion that religious convictions should be free from criticism. This is not unique to Islam, since many Western countries promote the same idea. The basic premise is that all people should have the right to have a set of beliefs which are free from criticism. These beliefs are generally religious. Now, the reason why people want a set of beliefs free from criticism is obvious, there are beliefs that people would like to hold but cannot be defended.

America has already gone down this road to a certain extent, as it is considered rude to bring up religious or political topics in polite company (taboos on politics is a particularly baffling aspect of the culture since the United States is a participatory democracy, that is, public opinion is supposed to matter). Although, the country is so doctrinally Christian at this point, not being able to criticize those other false religions, especially the scourge of secularism or Islam, is unlikely to go over too well. Hence, the extraordinary indignation over this essentially meaningless resolution.  It is this same demographic that generally wants the United States out of the United Nations. This resolution just adds fuel to the fire.

Now, it may seem strange that we have an atheist and Christians banding together to promote scares about secret Muslim plots to take away treasured American freedoms.  However, the Hitchens/Christian alliance against Islam is not unprecedented because we see similar tag-teams surrounding the implausibility of Scientology.

Rampant paranoia aside, the wrong-headedness of this resolution is laid on the foundation that there should be beliefs free from criticism. The premise of the U.N. resolution is shut up and get along, which is the antithesis of freedom. Free societies are not utopias. There will always be tensions between conflicting ideas. There will always be those who are intentionally provocative or offensive. The individual human freedom that we are defending is precisely the freedom of those who annoy us most. Otherwise, we don’t have freedom; we have tyranny.

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