Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

November 7, 2009

A Different Response to Virginia O’Hanlon

Filed under: culture, science — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 11:04 am

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET

Virginia, your little friends are right. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe on faith. They do not blindly trust stories that don’t comport with their daily experience. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insignificant spec, as compared with the incomprehensibly vast universe we inhabit, but we struggle to comprehend what we can, face the unknown, and hold out hope that with honest and brave exploration we can push aside what we might wish were true and come to a better understanding of the way the world actually is.

Yes, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. There is no reason to believe a man in a red suit comes down your chimney to leave you presents for Christmas morning. It is most likely your parents who leave you your presents. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were a Santa Claus. To be subject to constant surveillance and to have an entity with the pretense of objectivity judging children’s morality who apparently bestows the best presents for children of the wealthy while bestowing more deserving children lesser gifts because their family is poor. It would be a world of deep injustice and arbitrary morality by a capricious being.

Believe in Santa Claus! You might as well believe in fairies, Big Foot, homeopathy, astrology, alchemy, and every other woo or contradictory nonsense. There is an asymmetry between proof and disproof. Some will say we cannot disprove Santa Claus, and this is true. Similarly, we cannot disprove that a being exists in the universe such that, if Santa Claus exists, this being would cause the universe to implode. Obviously, Santa Claus and this anti-Santa Claus are mutually contradictory by definition, we cannot disprove either, but at the same time, logic demands that they cannot both be true. So, what is important is not what we cannot disprove but rather the positive, objective evidence we have for believing something is true.

Positive evidence, observation, experimentation, skepticism, logic and reason, these are the tools of science; our candle in the dark. Using these tools makes us truly open-minded, for it let’s us accept new ideas while filtering and discarding bad ones. Faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance all have their place. But, Virginia, when it comes to understanding what is real, science is the undisputed leader.

No Santa Claus! This is merely one conclusion. The conclusion is not the important part, it is allowed to change and refined as one’s understanding develops. What is important is the process. There is no shame in being wrong for the right reasons, perhaps because you were told by someone you trusted. However, there is a shame not being willing to change your mind, or misleading others even if you have noble pretensions about a greater good.

I assure you, there is a grandeur to this scientific view of life; to see the world as it is, instead of how we would like it be. To love the lily for the color it is, as opposed to being so petty as to paint it. With this view, the world can be cold. It can be cruel, but there is a beauty to it that no myth can compare. Men’s imaginations, like our minds are small. There is enough true mystery in the universe, beyond our imagining, to explore for thousands of years, nay ten times ten thousand years. We have little need conceited tales of imagined self-importance. So, go out, explore, there is a whole universe waiting to be understood.

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September 16, 2009

The Only Show On Earth: The Evidence for Creation

Filed under: books, humor, religion, science — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 10:26 am

John Crace produced a piece of satire of Richard Dawkins’ new book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.  The good professor complained in the comments that he thought it was off the mark.  Crace didn’t really capture Dawkin’s flavor.  So, I decided to give it a go.  I used an excerpt from “The Times” as the basis. It probably follows the original too closely, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to defend myself from charges of plagirism, but hopefully it hits the mark of a hypothetical bizarro-Dawkins, who I’ve named Dick Rowlings.

Quick, Hide the Children!  The Evolutionists are Coming!

An excerpt from The Only Show On Earth: The Evidence for Creation by Jesus’ Chaplain Dick Rowlings

Imagine that you are a Sunday School teacher eager to impart your knowledge of the Bible into young children. Now, the Bible is a very long book and it takes repetition, repetition and more repetition before those young ones will stop asking silly questions and just accept what they are being told. Yet you find your time continually preyed upon by a baying pack of mis-educated young children who insist that we share a common ancestor with all living creatures. Therefore there was no Adam and Eve as it is written in Genesis, and therefore there was no original sin.

Instead of devoting your full attention to explaining how God gave us rainbows as a sign that He would never flood the whole world again, you are forced to divert your time and energy to a rearguard defense of the propositions that God exists and the foundational doctrines of the church! A proposition that would make you weep like a statue of Mary if you weren’t so busy repeating: the Bible is true, because it is the word of God, because it says so!

Fashionably, liberal Christians chime in to insist that the story of the flood and creation are just allegory. Good thing they aren’t real Christians, because this is a slippery-slope. Once you accept the fact some of the Bible might not be true, you start questioning every part. It is no longer good enough to say the Bible is true, because it is the word of God, because it says so! You would need evidence independent of God’s word in order to decide the question, which is just silly because what better evidence could you have than God’s word?

The plight of many religious teachers is no less dire. When they attempt to impart the central and guiding principles of faith, they are harassed with unending questions and constantly admonished for their answers, as if God’s own words were not good enough. It is a sad state of affairs to have one’s time wasted with smirks and folded arms of obviously misdirected children. It is requires many discussions with the children’s parents before they will start to display the proper attitude (I find threatening to take away their Christmas presents to be particularly effective in adjusting children’s attitudes, Jesus is the reason for the season after all).

It is frequently, and correctly, said by many prominent scientists and engineers that science, in principle, has nothing to say about religion. Steven Jay Gould, an atheist and biologist, promoted “non-overlapping magisteria” which is another way of saying that science is a trade, and that is all it is, a trade. We can look at the scientists themselves for proof of this, always pointing out how studying E. Coli bacteria will allow us to create new drugs for fighting  drug resistant bacteria that spontaneously came into existence (I suspect this is part of God’s plan to keep the scientists employed.  Isn‘t He so thoughtful?).

Science may show us how to build a better mouse-trap, with the help of a little divine inspiration of course, but science tells us nothing about the universe we inhabit or helps us understand where we came from or where we are going. For that, we need the Bible. Thinking that science reveals any truth about the nature of our existence is “scientism” which is obviously a wrongheaded philosophy because it doesn’t accept the authority of the Bible, God‘s own words!

The Only Show on Earth is about the positive evidence for creation. The Bible already provides 100% certainty that we were specially created in God’s own image. But, I will provide additional evidence that makes us at least 1,000,000% sure.

We are like detectives who come on the scene after a crime has been committed. The murderer’s actions have vanished into the past. This is exactly why the only reliable evidence we will have is written eyewitness testimony of the being who was actually there: God. This is not intended as an anti-atheist book. I’ve done that, it’s another very tall hat and slightly different collar. Although, I’m happy to say “Those Deluded Atheists” has apparently become a little bit of an international best-seller with brisk sales in Turkey.

By the end of this book you will see that creation is an inescapable fact, and we should praise God’s astonishing power. Hallelujah! God created everything within us, around us, between us, and his works are present in the flowers, the clouds and especially rainbows (for more about rainbows see my book “God Gave Us Rainbows, The End.”) Given that, none of us were around when God created everything, we shall revisit the metaphor of the detective having to blindly rely on eyewitness testimony. We all know that there is no more reliable and trustworthy source of evidence than eyewitness testimony, but it is better than that. It is the eyewitness testimony of the most honest, intelligent, loving and interesting being you could possibly wish to meet, and someday, some of us will. I will also show how we can use this testimony to integrate other facts that some atheistic evolutionists claim refute creation such as, the similarities of DNA code that fall neatly into a family tree. Well thanks to the eyewitness testimony we know that this is actually proof of God reusing the same designs, isn‘t He so smart? Vestigial organs, we know these serve purposes in the body, such as the newly discovered ability of the appendix to help fight infection.  A truth real Christians knew before those scientists with their microscopes could figure it out.  Fossils?  The result of the flood. The list goes on and on. In short, you won’t put down this book doubting creation, because if you do, you are calling God a liar!

Did I say 1,000,000% certain? More like 10,000,000%.

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.

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.

February 12, 2009

Why Evolution is Awesome

Filed under: books, science — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 10:14 am

I recently finished reading Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne, a professor at the University of Chicago.  He also has a blog with the same title as the book.

From the quotes on the back cover, I was expecting a devastating case for evolution.  Dawkins puts it, “I defy any reasonable person to read this marvelous book and still take seriously the breathtaking inanity that is intelligent design ‘theory’ or its country cousin, young earth creationism.”  At various points in the book, Coyne takes shots at creationism.  So, the book is definitely written within a social context in which evolution is rejected by a significant portion of the population.  I guess the disconnect I feel between Dawkins’ quote and the actual experience of reading the book is that I didn’t feel throttled by the logic, as it were.  

It could be that it was just me, or maybe the experience is different considering that I already accept evolution as true and was already familiar with many of the arguments presented in the book.  Nevertheless, I did try to put on my adversarial hat and asked myself, if I were a creationist, would this book force me to discard creationism and accept evolution.  The answer I kept coming up with was “no.”  Now I fully admit I could be wrong, and as I said, I’m not a creationist.  But the reason why the book wouldn’t convince me is illustrated by Lewis Carroll’s dialogue “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles.”

Tortoise: Readers of Euclid will grant, I suppose, that Z follows logically from A and B, so that any one who accepts A and B as true, must accept Z as true?”

Achilles: Undoubtedly! The youngest child in a High School — as soon as High Schools are invented, which will not be till some two thousand years later — will grant that.

Tortoise: And if some reader had not yet accepted A and B as true, he might still accept the sequence as a valid one, I suppose?Achilles: No doubt such a reader might exist. He might say ‘I accept as true the Hypothetical Proposition that, if A and B be true, Z must be true; but, I don’t accept A and B as true.’ Such a reader would do wisely in abandoning Euclid, and taking to football. 

Tortoise: And might there not also he some reader who would say ‘I accept A and B as true, but I don’t accept the Hypothetical ‘? 

Achilles:  Certainly there might. He, also, had better take to football.

 Tortoise: And neither of these readers is as yet under any logical necessity to accept Z as true? 

Achilles: Quite so.  

Tortoise: Well, now, I want you to consider me as a reader of the second kind, and to force me, logically, to accept Z as true.

The full dialogue is worth reading, but in the end, Achilles was never able to make the Tortoise accept the proposition if A and B are true, then Z must be true.  So, a creationist could accept every fact presented in the book, but still not accept the conclusion.  Maybe this falls outside of what Dawkins would consider “reasonable” but from reading the dialogue, I don’t see any particular place where the Tortoise is being particularly “unreasonable.”  Now, I consider the Tortoise’s position nonsensical, untenable, inconsistent and potentially hypocritical, but I do think that it demonstrates an important point.  Truth is something that one must approach with an open mind.  That doesn’t mean discarding all skepticism, since there is a lot of “woo-woo” out there as James Randi puts it, but expecting any argument to throttle you with logic and force you to accept a particular position is itself, an unreasonable expectation.

This brings us back to why evolution is true.  Evolution is true, not because we want it be true, or we’d like it be true.  Evolution is true because as we examine the world around us, we keep coming up with the same answer.  The earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old.  Life has existed on the planet for approximately 3.5 billion years, with the first animals that we would commonly recognize as being human emerging approximately 250-100 thousand years ago.  The evidence for this comes from a number of diverse sources such as fossilized coral that recorded 400 days in a year to similarities in DNA (not just any DNA but DNA that is essentially junk).  

As Coyne repeatedly points out, this evidence puts the creationist in the position of either admitting evolution is the process that explains the diversity of life or else the creator also created all this evidence to make it appear as if life had evolved.  Of course, the religious apologia of “sure everything may appear that way, but it is actually another” is as old as Galileo and may go back further.  However, getting a creationist to accept either of these positions, for reasons I stated before, is the challenge.

The evidence for evolution is more than can be put in a blog post.  There is more evidence than what is even presented in Why Evolution is True.  However, Coyne gives a great overview surveying some of landscapes of evidence and plumbing some of its depths.  I won’t go as far as Dawkins’ quote, but I would be surprised to hear from a creationist who read the book with an open mind and still refused to admit that evolution is true or at least appears to be true in the same way the sun being the center of the solar system appears to be true.  Again, open-minded in this sense does not mean uncritical.   Please, be skeptical.   Just don’t be like the Tortoise.

Epilogue: Dawkins beat me reviewing the book.  He also addresses some of my concerns.  Overall, I would say the difference in views is due to Dawkins being more confident in people’s inherent pragmatism.  Maybe there are fewer people like the Tortoise than I think.

January 26, 2009

Jerry Coyne and Secular Reasoning

Filed under: politics, religion, science — Tags: — codesmithy @ 8:34 am

Jerry Coyne has a new book out called “Why Evolution Is True.”  He also wrote a piece in The New Republic called “Seeing and Believing” where he examines the tensions between science and religion particularly around teaching evolution.  Mr. Coyne examines two books that try to reconcile the apparent incompatibility and thoroughly demolishes them.  In particular, he destroys the argument that science and religion are compatible because there are Christian scientists.  As he puts it:

True, there are religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind. (It is like saying that marriage and adultery are compatible because some married people are adulterers. ) 

Coyne does a good job pointing out the incompatibility of liberal theologians and various religious apologizers.  He defends Dawkins attacking mainstream religious belief in “The God Delusion” because that is what people actually believe. As Coyne points out in the following video, 63% of Americans believe in angels, only 40% believe in evolution.

It is hard to debate religion with believers because they are keen to attack science where it is weakest (like first cause, the various physical constants of the universe, or uncertainty in quantum mechanics).  That isn’t to say these are particularly convincing arguments for a deity, but they do represent biggest gaps in current scientific understanding and therefore finding a role for a god there seems most plausible. Such gaps rely on ignorance and usually become more implausible over time.  For example, a virgin birth resulting in a production a male offspring seems more plausible when one knows nothing about chromosomes and the role of sperm in contributing the Y chromosomes, however, with modern genetic understanding such a scenario becomes less believable.  

Likewise, the apologist is hard pressed to defend the weakest aspect of their position, which is the internal consistency of their scripture.  They will twist language, deny plain meaning and arbitrarily pick and choose those parts which they find convenient to defend.  It is this process of picking and choosing, and attacking the language that makes apologetics so detestable; at least the fundamentalist is consistent in principle.

Coyne also points out in the video that simply trying to teach evolution better won’t work.  It is not the strength of the case for the evolution that is the problem, it is that people reject it because it conflicts with their religious beliefs (I find it is dishonest to say that it doesn’t).  Therefore, in order to get people to accept evolution, religious influence has to be rolled back.  

Evolution is a litmus test for a secular society.  If people are rejecting evolution because it conflicts with their previously held superstition, then there is no reasoning with them and any hope for consensus is lost.  In addition, there is no telling what other issues they will dogmatically and stubbornly cling to in the face of contradictory evidence.  A person who is unwilling to change his/her beliefs, especially in the face of overwhelming physical evidence, is a person who does not truly believe in the freedom of belief.  If one is looking for the seed of totalitarianism, there it is and woe for those of us who want to use reason to build a better world.

January 14, 2009

Looking for Help from the Beyond

Filed under: religion, science — codesmithy @ 9:37 am

There have been a few comments that have echoed the sentiment that was relayed by “Blogster”

remember though.. look not to man for salvation, but only to God, the only way to true life

This is in response to a post where I expressed my desperation at trying to have a more rational discussion about energy.  “Blogster” makes it clear that by god he means Jehovah with all of his holy trinity mystery.  There are a few points that I would like to make about this sentiment.  First, in order to look to Jesus for salvation, you are invariably looking to man.  Jesus didn’t write the gospels, men did, and decades after his supposed death and resurrection.  The old testament holds up no better, for example, there is documentary evidence that the first five book of the bible are not, in fact, written by Moses, as the bible itself claims.  This is combined with the fact that the bible has been altered many times through its history as Bart D. Ehrman explores in his book Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. Even if we accept the fact that the book was divinely inspired, which I personally don’t, we must accept the fact that the message itself has been filtered through numerous men who didn’t necessarily believe that altering scripture was wrong.  Origen, an early Christian, lodges this complaint

The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please. -Misquoting Jesus pg. 52

Secondly, there is an issue of what constitutes a true life.  True life is assumed to be eternal.  Unfortunately, eternal life would be hell for any intelligent being with a working memory.  Think about it, you could do everything you ever wanted to do a million times, and still have an eternity to look forward to.  Eternal life ensures an eternity of boredom.  Now, it could be the case that you could have an eternal life and never even know it.  For example, if you had a form of amnesia and you always forgot the events of the previous day, and thus every day of your eternal life was a blank slate.  It would make eternity tolerable, but utterly meaningless as you repeated the same actions over and over and over again without realizing it.  But, even these scenarios aren’t the ones the Christians promise us.  They promise us a totalitarian existence where every moment of eternity is spent praising the father, son, or holy spirit.  Where you live in constant fear of being convicted of thought crimes, yet you sing about the leader’s love for you.  As you endure your existence, there are dungeons where people are being maliciously and eternally tortured for exercising the free will this god gave them and could have predicted their choices.  This is the system of justice the Christian’s “loving” god supposedly set up.  Luckily, there isn’t any credible evidence for it.  Instead of focusing on the Christian “true life,” which seems to me to be tedious or pointless all the while being self-contradictory, I’ll focus on the real one I’m currently experiencing.

As such, I’m not interested in eternal salvation.  I’m worried about salvation in this life.  Salvation in this context means “a means of preserving from harm or unpleasantness.”  I think the best way of doing this is to look to science.  I would fully expect “Blogster” to call this looking to man for salvation, but I don’t see it that way.  Atomic theory, the theory of evolution, the theory of gravity aren’t true because we want them to be true, they are true because they are based on countless observations of the world and universe around us.  Any scientific hypothesis is subjected to a high level of scrutiny, skepticism and self-criticism.  Even when accepted, it is only done so conditionally.  Science is a human endeavor, but the observations are accessible to anyone or anything in principle and therefore are the epitome of not looking to man.  If you care to doubt the results of a particular experiment, then you are encouraged to try to repeat it.  If you find differences, then submit your findings to a scientific peer-reviewed journal.   

Science does not intrinsically tell us right from wrong, but it establishes a basis of knowledge and experience that a bronze-age text just can’t match.  When facing the challenges of our modern era, I would rather do the things that science tells us will help alleviate the problems as opposed to praying for answers or looking to ancient texts.  One can do both, so long as the latter does not compromise the former, otherwise it is a dereliction of duty to your fellow man and might have repercussions for generations to come.

January 4, 2009

How would I feel about a half-human half-chimp hybrid?

Filed under: science — codesmithy @ 11:08 am

Richard Dawkins asks the question: “how would you feel about a half-human half-chimp hybrid?”

As a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, I would feel it would resemeble “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jerymn and His Family.”  Unlike Dawkins, I don’t think producing a hybrid would change everything, except for a extracting a feeling of general repulsion and a sense that science had gone too far.  

Evolution is already fact.  Those who deny it are under a delusion.  A hybrid wouldn’t change their views, it would merely convince them of the “evil” science has caused by producing an abomination.  It is because of this reactionary ferment that the life of the hybrid is destined to be cruel.  It would probably have the intellect of a child, who knows if it would have language, and it almost certainly would be sterile.  

Instead of working our way down the evolutionary web, I would rather work our ways up.  It might be too reminiscent of the movie “Gattaca” but I think we are reaching the age of designer genes.  Soon, the wealthy will be able to produce off-spring according to our own aethistics.  I don’t see how natural evolution could keep up as each generation of this enhanced race becomes more gifted in improving their own make-up.  We would hit an epoch and head into a future, that is to me, unimaginable.  I wonder how many of the current mysteries that plague us will seem obvious to them.  I wonder if they will find answers I would not even be able to comprehend.

In sum, I don’t think proving something about our past will change everything.  I think it will be changing the shape of the future.

August 25, 2008

From the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

Filed under: Education, politics, religion, science — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 8:06 am

The New York Times has a story of a biology teacher in Florida trying to teach evolution.  Obviously it is an uphill battle.  PZ Myers asks whether or not we will ever stop running away from the source of the problem?  The source of problem, in Myers’ opinion, is religion.  I can’t help but draw parallels to Eugene V. Debs who wondered if we ever going to tackle the source of social inequity, which was in Debs’ opinion, capitalism.

Both capitalism and religion are entrenched power structures, in many cases reinforcing.  This is evidenced by the United States adding “under God” to the pledge of allegiance to stave off communism.

The goal of science education has to be in honing a certain sensibility.  A sensibility whereby people who examine the same set of evidence draw roughly similar conclusions.  If we draw vastly different conclusions, then it should be on a general acknowledgment among the informed that there is a lack of evidence one way or another.

The fact that religion falls on geo-political fault lines, as Richard Dawkins demonstrates, tells us something.  Namely, religious belief is antithetical to scientific sensibility previously described.  As long as superstition exists, including its institutional manifestation in the form of religion, there will continue to be a culture war.

I will say again, superstition is a terminal disease.  Humans are too clever.  We’ve built weapons that are too dangerous.  We made it these last 50 years by the skin of our teeth.  In case one has been paying attention, the situation is significantly worse today.  Nuclear proliferation has increased, meaning the possibility of a loose nuclear weapon is more probable.  September 11th demonstrated the resolve of religious extremists to kill scores of innocent civilians.  Population has increased.  We are having a measurable effect on the climate of the planet via our use of fossil fuels.  There are vast oceanic dead zones due to pesticides.  We are poisoning the environment, and there is an increasing probability that we will use the most lethal environmental poison we have developed so far, nuclear weapons.

We can no longer afford to entertain ignorant delusions.  It will be the undoing of civilization as we know it.    We must challenge idiocy.  We must also push aside the concern trolling reformers.  One is either for the continued survival of the human species or against it.  Either god is going to save us, or there is no help in sight.  With our collective survival at stake, do you want someone who believes in an invisible man in the sky or someone who will carefully examine the evidence and reach a reasonable conclusion?  Not teaching evolution means we will have more of the former than the later.

I say we must deal with the inconvenient truths of existence instead of shrouding them in fanciful myths.  Having a crippled intellect is no longer a matter of personal vice, but rather a moral failing.  The future depends on the choices we make today.  Failing to educate oneself or hampering the education of others is a dereliction of duty to the species.

August 24, 2008

The Genius of Richard Dawkins

Filed under: culture, science — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:53 am

Richard Dawkins finished up the series The Genius of Charles Darwin for Channel 4 and various youtube can be tracked down for those interested in watching.  In the series, Richard Dawkins takes some jabs at the god hypothesis.  I don’t agree with Dawkins on everything.  His attitude towards the science teachers seemed a little harsh.  I highly doubt a science teacher in the United Kingdom are tenured.  As a student of evolution, he should be adept at recognizing aspects of the environment that favor the behavior the teachers exhibited.

Nevertheless, Richard Dawkins is an unreasonable man.  It is part of what makes him great.  His goal is not to adapt himself to the world he finds himself in, but rather to change the way the world thinks.

Dawkins is simply uncompromising when it comes truth we see with our own eyes.  Science demands skepticism, it encourages us to ask questions and provides a way, albeit meticulous, to answer them.  Dawkins finds it positively insulting for someone to deny the evidence for evolution, as well he should.  People who deny the evidence for evolution should be considered more fringe than those who deny the evidence for the Holocaust on any objective scale.

It has been said that science is friend that sometimes tells you inconvenient truths.  Dawkins, as a scientific man, embodies that ethos.  Much like his atheism, he just takes it a step further.  He will not allow people to believe a lie.  He rails against the relativism of the age and the moral turpitude it betrays in his colleagues.  Science isn’t the esoteric knowledge confined to privledged elites in ivory towers.  It is to be shared, and if people don’t believe it, then they should be challenged until they relent.

Humanity can simply no longer survive the combination of genius working to make tools to kill one another and the supreme lack of sense to use them.   Evolution is central to understanding there is no savior.  We make our own beds in which we will lie.  Believing the untrue but comforting is a recipe for disaster.  Thank goodness for people like Dawkins to wake us from our delusion; the best type of friend there is.

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