Sunday, October 29, 2006
I found this article along time ago. I saved it in Word but the hyperlinks don't work so I cant track back to where I found this article. Anyway, I cracked up reading this because it really paints a picture about how silly some science can be.
Or does it...?
The Fossil Record
Where are the failures in the fossil record? As far as I am aware, every fossil discovered has been a perfect example of its species. If this were the model of evolution, there ought to be 99 bad specimens for every perfect specimen, shouldn't there?
This statement does nothing more than reveal the writer's colossal ignorance of the fossil record, and archaeology in general. There are 99 bad specimens for every perfect specimen. More, in fact. The vast majority of all fossils found are fragmentary. Why don't we hear about them? Well, because it's boring, that's why. Can you imagine reading a news report that said, "scientists today discovered 37 new fossils at a dig in Colombia. 13 are thought to be partial leg bones from some, as yet unidentified, four legged creature, 7 appear to be fragments of some kind of ribs, and seventeen are so small as to be unclassifiable." Now, can you imagine reading a news report that sounds just like that every day? The fact is, the finding of perfect, complete examples of fossilized skeletons is so exceedingly rare, that when it happens, it creates such a buzz that it gets reported widely, even outside of the dry world of scientific journals. That's when people like you, and me, and the guy who wrote the above, hear about it.
Consider this: does your local TV station report on every single fender bender that occurs every single day? Of course not, but you better believe they have pictures at eleven of the thirty car pile-up on the interstate over the weekend.
What about Cross-Breeding?
There is only one animal I know of produced by cross-breeding two different species. Mules are the product of a union between a horse and a donkey. If this is an improvement, why are there still horses and donkeys? Hmm... As a matter of fact, is it not true that mules are sterile, and the only way to produce another mule is to cross another horse with another donkey?
I have to admit that I don't understand this question. Yes, mules are the product of a union between an ass and a horse. So? Yes, mules are sterile. So? Why do you think this has anything to do with evolution? Why wouldn't there still be horses and donkeys? This is a smoke screen of a point. It neither refutes nor supports evolution. It is a complete non-sequitur.
What about the Eye Ball?
If you want me to believe that the Theory of Evolution explains how we started from some primal soup in which nothing living existed, you have to deal with the eye ball. So the story goes that in this soup, there were no creatures with eyes, and today many creatures have eyes. So somewhere in the billions of years of evolution, there was a day when the first eye ball existed, and yesterday there was none. I could just about squeeze out a moment of credulity where I can imagine some chemical accident that would cause an eye ball to exist for the first time. But the question is how that eye ball by itself could possibly improve the survivability of the creature to which it happened to be attached.
Let's face it, to be useful, that eye ball has to be connected by way of an optic nerve to the input receptors of a brain that is able to interpret the signals from that nerve and translate what is sees in that first generation of seeing creatures into motion commands for its extremities... Sorry, but I can't believe that a serious scientist or engineer could claim with any conscience at all that this scenario has even the remotest possibility of occurring.
Before I talk about the likelihood of a sensory organ like the eye evolving, I'd like to point out one sentence from the above block of text. The writer says: "But the question is how that eye ball by itself could possibly improve the survivability of thecreature to which it happened to be attached." I had to read that three times before I could believe the person had actually written it. He fails to see how the possession of eyes could possibly improve the survivability of a species? I fail to see how it couldn't. Seriously, can you honestly say that you don't see how one creature, with an improved ability to sense its environment, would have an advantage over its competitors in both finding food, and avoiding danger? To me, that's elementary reasoning.
Ah, the eye ball; the holy grail of Michael Behe and his cronies at the Discovery Institute. They like to crow about their concept of irreducible complexity, and hold up the eye as an example. But, as usual, they simply don't understand the topic. The fact is, the eyeball didn't come first, and then afterwards develop into an organ of sight. The organ of sight came first, and slowly evolved into an eye ball, because the was the most successful adaptation nature found. Think about the basic science experiments we did back in grade school. Plant some bean seeds. Put them in the window sill. They grow toward the light. Turn the pot so that they are facing away from the light. In short order they will move back towards the light. Every golf caddie worth his salt understands this.
The sensing of light and dark is present in virtually all organisms on the planet. Is it so much of a leap to think that those creatures who developed the ability to sense it in a more detailed manner would have an evolutionary advantage? One of the problems with the discussion of evolution at a lay person level, as I mentioned several months ago in my essay, A defence of evolution, is that it is so darned...scientific. Send someone to a link that explains some of the evolutionary forces behind the development of the eye, like this one: rhabdomeric and ciliary eyes, and their head begins to spin. The evidence supporting the theory of evolution isn't all that easy for those of us without a comprehensive science education to understand. That doesn't mean it isn't there.
The Bottom Line on Evolution
Secular Humanists cling to the Theory of Evolution like the Luddites of the Industrial Revolution. The only reason the theory is not in complete ridicule is that they can't tolerate the notion that a Supreme Being could exist with the intelligence to create the universe and all it contains. n apart by the ever-increasing expansion in a so-called Big Rip
The above paragraph seems to be a fragment of the original (hmm, like many fossils - sorry, I couldn't resist). (edit- the sentence fragment that begins after "all it contains" does not appear in the original article. I suspect Raven accidentally pasted it in there from elsewhere. I think it is safe to ignore it) The sentiment it expresses about evolution, however, is simply untrue. The basic premise of it doesn't even stand up under examination. Recent polls in the United States show that an overwhelming majority of the general public believe in a god of some kind, and for over 70% that is the Christian god. If the theory of evolution was that easy to bring into ridicule, couldn't that strong a majority of people do so? The fact is, the theory of evolution is more strongly supported by direct physical evidence than any other theory in the history of science. Sure, there are some fuzzy areas, some parts that are questioned, but is there anything in the world for which that cannot be said to be true? Stop. Before you say, "The Bible," let me warn you. I will laugh out loud at you. Toddlers in Sunday Schools are capable of bringing up questions about the Christian god and The Bible that stymie even the most confident of theistic scholars. So a certain fuzziness and questionability lives everywhere.
But the test of any scientific theory is in its predictiveness. Here's a fun science story for you. Evolution says that land animals originally evolved from fish. There is a certain species of prehistoric crocodile-like reptile that scientists believe was only very recently (in its time) evolved out of the water. If, in fact, this animal did evolve out of a fish, scientists expect that there should be intermediate forms to be found; creatures that show some characteristics of lizards, and some characteristics of fish. As a thought exercise, imagine what kind of environment might lead to the development of such a creature. Probably a large delta area where water levels might vary from swimming depth to wading depth todry land on a regular basis. Examining the geologic record, scientists believe that the Canadian Arctic, at about the time period they believe such an intermediate form would be found, fulfilled those environmental conditions. So, they predicted, if such a "transitional fossil" was to be found, that is where they might find it. They went, and looked, and guess what they found? Tiktaalik.
That's a pretty accurate prediction for a theory deserving of "ridicule" I think.
This next section is so full of fallacies and misdirections that I'm going to have to take it a few sentences at a time.
Before reviewing the claims of the traditional creationist (of which I am one), let's look at Intelligent Design (ID). This concept has received (with some justification) a bad name in the media. After all, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to infer from the claims of ID who the designer is. However, don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Some serious scientists view ID as another set of arguments that lead an open-minded reader inexorably to the view that Evolution is a terrible theory, and a biblical view of creation demands far less faith.
"Some" is an interesting word. It is, perhaps, the most vague, the least specific quantifying word in the English language. By "some scientists," what does the writer mean? He could mean several percent of all scientists, which would run into the tens of thousands, I am sure. He could mean three. I don't know what he means.
I do know that there are several petitions out there purporting to be signed by scientists who support Intelligent Design, or at least have expressed doubt about evolution (note that those two things are not necessarily the same). In response to those petitions, The national Center for Science Education started Project Steve, a petition to be signed by scientists who support evolution, but only those who are named "Steve" (or some variation thereof, such as Stefan, or Esteban). Apparently, the name Steve represents only about 1% of the general population of the world, yet with that restriction in place, Project Steve's petition has more names on it - 764 to date - than any of the creationist (or IDist if you will) petitions out there, despite the fact that they are open to 100% of the population of the scientific world. (The Discovery Institute's Dissent From Darwin petition, for example, has approximately 600 names on it).
Does that mean that the statement that "some scientists" doubt some facets of evolutionary theory is inaccurate? No, but it does indicate that those scientists represent fewer than 1% of all scientific opinions out there. Another thing to consider is the wording of the statement. The writer of this article has said that some scientists think that "evolution is a terrible theory." The Dissent From Darwin petition, circulated by The Discovery Institute is somewhat more mildly worded: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." Again, not the same thing at all. How many of those 600 would have signed that petition if it had used the former language?
Just one example from the boundless ID examples available. If you take the evolutionist's view of creation, you begin with a bunch of random sub-atomic particles floating in space and over the course of a long time, these particles happen to align themselves in such a way as to assemble this earth and all its living creatures. Remember, either this is a vast collection of random events, or there must be some intelligent design assembling stuff...
This is a wonderful argument to look at, because the writer has managed to combine two different logical fallacies into one statement! The first is called a false dichotomy. He has tried to get us to accept that the two options he presents - a collection of random events, or God-diddit - are the only two options available for consideration. The truth is that there are many different possible explanations we could throw around. For example, maybe God did some of it, and the rest was random. Or, maybe the entire universe exists just as it is, has always existed just as it is, and will always exist just as it is, and our memories of the past are simply hallucinations.
Another possibility leads us to the second fallacy, our old friend the straw man. The writer would have us believe that the scientist's position is that everything happens randomly. That is not the case at all. Yes, the scientist would agree that we started with "a bunch of random sub-atomic particles floating in space and over the course of a long time, these particles happen to align themselves in such a way as to assemble this earth and all its living creatures." However, he would maintain that the process was far from random. It has been governed by the laws of physics that rule the universe. Laws like the conservation of matter and energy, the principles of thermodynamics, gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. These forces guide the way every single piece of matter and energy in our universe interact in very non-random and predictable ways.
So the statement made above has no meaning as it is expressed. It certainly provides no logical support for Intelligent Design, or creationism.
...So you vote for random? OK, consider this. I want to build a house the Evolutionist's way. Since no design is permitted, I load up a truck with all the materials necessary to build the house, back it up to the job site and tip them into a pile. Did it make a house? No? OK, fetch another load. Or, I suppose you could just stir up the pile you have ... a few times ...!!!
Ah, yes, the old hurricane in a junk yard argument, gussied up in a sharp new outfit. Let's compare the natural world to something that is, by definition, unnatural, and see if we can fool the readers into thinking our point is valid. See, no one, anywhere, claims that houses can build themselves, or slowly come together over a long period of time due to evolutionary forces. It's a bad argument. No more needs be said about it.
You say that you have a lot of time available? OK, check this link for an argument that shuts down that idea really quickly.
Clearly, this link has gone missing from the original article. Luckily I have mad Google skillz, and have tracked it down. This link goes to a pdf document that appears to me to have originally been a PowerPoint slide show meant to accompanya lecture about Intelligent Design. You can go and check it out if you want,but it doesn't say anything new or interesting, and it certainly doesn't shut anything down really quickly.
It's part of the Discovery Institute's propaganda about "Inferring Design." It goes on and on about how one goes about inferring design in things, but in the end it comes to the same old conclusion. One can conclude that things are designed because they seem that way. Another wonderful logical fallacy to kick around called the argument from ignorance, or the argument from personal incredulity. It is the platform the entire ID movement is based upon: "I can't conceive of a way that a world this complex could come about without the intervention of a higher power."
And finally we come around to some truth in the discussion. Creationists believe in what they believe, because they believe it. It doesn't matter where one begins in this discussion, the endpoint is always exactly the same. When asked why they believe in evolution, a scientist can quote a hundred and fifty years of real world, practical, hard evidence to support their claims. When asked why they believe in divine creation, a creationist can only say, "because it is what I have decided to believe."
In fact, if you visit the web site where the original article appears, you will see that this writer has decided to believe in a number of interesting things, including his very own interpretation of the book of Genesis, and a pre-Garden of Eden bible story that he has completely invented all by himself. This is certainly a source to which it is worth paying attention (sorry, a little bit of sarcasm leaked in there).
EVOLUTION - A word with so many meanings. This web page <www.creationism.org> for example, is evolving in content and breadth. This is to say that it is undergoing change and directed (non-random) improvement...
I have snipped this part of the entry because it is nothing more than more building of straw men. You can read it in Raven's blog, or in context at its original web site here: http://www.creationism.org/topbar/evolution.htm. I wouldn't waste too much time on it, though, as it is nothing more than another misrepresentation of the scientific concepts involved in the study of our natural world.
OK, here's the last bit.
I found this on the Internet. Again, I dont have the link for it.
I attended a lecture by Dr. Stephen W. Hawking on November 7, 2005 in San Jose. His spiritual presence seemed to surround and captivate the audience as his eyes pierced through eyelids that gently flickered to the sound of his computerized voice announcing, "God chose, for reasons we cannot know, the moment of creation, but it began 15 billion years ago when all galaxies were clustered."
As I sat in row seven, seat thirty-seven, I soon realized that the wheel chair carrying Hawking’s frail, listless body contained one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th and 21st century, a soul’s lifetime journey into the origin of the Universe. Stephen Hawking's heartfelt proclamation to us, "We are quantum fluctions in the universe." And, he briefly mentioned that ‘extra dimensions are curled up like a donut’!
After his lecture, a very young girl appeared in the audience carrying a fresh bouquet of red roses with sprigs of baby breath. She proceeded to walk-up the stairs onto the stage then placed the flowers onto the lap of Stephen Hawking. It was a moving experience which he immediately responded to her gesture by saying, "God bless you." Everyone stood up and applauded!
I don't get it. What is that supposed to mean? Is it supposed to demonstrate that Steven Hawking believes in God? He might. That wouldn't change in any way the value of the work he has done in the scientific community. Still, I don't think the story really does demonstrate that at all.
See, here's the thing. When I am with my family, and my wife, or my son sneeze, I say, "God bless you." Does that mean I believe in God? Clearly not, because there is no secret about the fact that I do not. That's just what you say when someone sneezes. I've thought about it quite a bit, and I can't even put into words exactly what the sentiment is we are expressing with that statement. Originally, it was to prevent evil spirits from invading one's body while one's defenses were down. Today we know how silly that is, but we still say it. Even when a Christian says it after a sneeze, it is still meaningless. It's just what you say.
In the same way, Dr. Hawking may simply have been being polite to the young lady who gave him flowers. Whether or not Stephen Hawking believes in God is, at best, uncertain. He has made different statements at different times some of which have been ambiguous, and some of which have been contradictory. One Christian writer expounding on the topic said that Hawking's beliefs would most likely be described as agnostic, or deist at best. Arguing that science is wrong because Stephen Hawking might believe in a god is a silly thing to do anyway. It's like arguing that cooking with butter is bad because Julia Child once mentioned the word margarine.
It was my intention to respond to the comments Raven made here following my A poor argument entry of last week. I copied and pasted all of them (there were six) into a text document, and spent some time poring over them, but really couldn't make much sense out of what they seemed to say. I'm really not sure why she contends that, in order to believe there was a "big bang" it is necessary to believe that there was "nothing" prior to it; that the universe came into being at that time and that there was nothing extant before that. I understand the argument she is trying to make, but I don't accept her basic opening premise, so I don't think her argument is valid.
In essence, Raven's argument is exactly the same as what I have talked about above. She believes what she believes because that is what she believes. It is not possible to equate an acceptance of a scientific theory that is very strongly supported by hard evidence with a belief in the existence of a supreme being for which there is no evidence of any kind.
You are welcome to try again, Raven, but don't try and tell me what I "must" believe again, OK?
Thursday, October 26, 2006
n: neopets.com (don't ask)
s: snopes.com (everyone should have this site bookmarked)
t: trashtron.com ( trashotron.com/agony/news/2006/10-16-06.htm#102006 )
A lot of empty spaces there. I tend to clear my cache and history fairly frequently. And you all thought you would see a bunch of porn links, didn't you. Well, I fooled you. I do all my surfing for porn on Firefox.
(edit 10/30/06: filled in the spaces from my Firefox browser. Still got nothing for "Q" though.)
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Many thanks to Teresa, of Oh, My Word! for her fabulous "National Carry Your Camera Everywhere You Go Week" idea. I had a lot of fun looking around for picture ideas whenever I happened to be out and about over the last week. In addition, I restricted myself to one specific theme for all of the pictures. The experience of keeping my eyes, and my mind, open for pleasing and topical compositions was interesting, and fulfilling.
As some of the picture entries have fallen off the front page by now, I will reproduce them all here. Can you discern what my chosen theme was? (It's actually a little more nebulous than what might seem to be the obvious answer. I think the picture above pretty much perfectly represents that theme).
Day one - "Out"
Day two - "Reflections"
Day three - "Leaf"
Day four - "Lesson"
Day five - "Timmy's"
Day six - "Hood"
Day seven - "Puddle"
tags: Memes, National Carry Your Camera Everywhere You Go Week
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Earlier this week Kate, at An Analysis of Life posted an entry in which she related a comment she had received on an older entry about evolution. The comment, from Raven, of RebukeTheWorld, took the familiar form of a creationist's straw man argument against evolution.
Remember, a straw man argument occurs when the arguer creates an imaginary position they claim is held by their opponent, and then attacks that position. It is an invalid argument, because the real position held by their opponent is never properly addressed.
By way of an example, here is the comment Raven left:
Evolution isnt very honest...Skepticism...logic....but really the science in evolution usually starts with the big bang. Big Bang is all about faith. I'm actually writing an article about this tomorrow...but here is the faith....the first molecule...the first atom...the first matter...it started...but what started before the start?...Nothing is the start....matter just appears...its the same argument people use in who created God....how can God always exist?....When I think of what is most probable...to think matter is sooooooooo powerful that it can create itself from nothing and compare that with a possibility that a God created life...the later makes more sense...more possible...if one doesnt believe in a God and excepts science than they must ponder this...that first matter was pretty powerful...I tried to reply in the comment thread, but my response ran over the 2000 character limit for comments, and I ended up mailing it to Kate instead. I wanted to reproduce it here, because I think there is an important point to be made. Here is what I wrote to Kate:
I have friends of all beliefs...wedebate this stuff a lot but when you think on it....science cant explain something always existing...in human lingo..its called faith
Unfortunately, Raven has committed one of the most basic errors of critical thinking. She has parroted what she has heard or read elsewhere from people who are less than honest. People like Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, and Kent Hovind, of Dr. Dino are guilty of spreading information that is, in some cases a distortion of the truth, and in other cases, flat out lies.Arguments like the ones Raven repeated here really annoy me because they are so intellectually dishonest. Now, I'm not annoyed at Raven. She has simply fallen into an intellectual trap set up by her religion. She's a Christian, and the arguments she is repeating came from people who represent themselves as Christians as well. As such, they have had, from a very early age, the big ten rules of conduct hammered into their heads.
The fact is that the study of evolution makes absolutely no claims whatsoever about the big bang, or other theories about the beginning of the universe. The study of evolution doesn't begin until living organisms actually appeared on the earth, which happened more than ten billion years after the beginning of the universe. Even then, the study of how life first arose still does not fall under the umbrella of evolutionary theory. That is a study all to its own called abiogensis, and is very hypothetical. The study of evolution does not begin until we can find the earliest fossil remains of actual, multi-cellular organisms. And from that point on, the evidence supporting evolutionary theory is significant, and mountainous. Common descent is a fact. No biological scientists refute it.
The big bang theory, which falls more properly into the realm of physics and astronomy, is completely different from evolution, and cannot be discussed in the same argument. Even so, Raven has repeated inaccurate claims about that, as well. No scientist studying the big bang theory of the beginning of the universe claims that before the big bang there was nothing. Not one. The fact is, Raven is correct. Something cannot come from nothing. The laws of conservation of matter and energy tell us this. So, before the big bang there was something. We just have no idea what that was, because the violence of the big bang was such that it completely erased whatever was there before. There had to be something, we just have no way of seeing what it was. However,the big bang is still a theory very well supported by evidence. In fact, there were several recent observations taken by scientific teams that confirmed predictions made by big bang theory. This theory has a lot of weight. Like evolutionary theory, scientists are finding more and more that they can make predictions based upon our current understanding of the theory, and find those predictions later borne out by observation and experiment.
No, Raven, and many like her, simply feel that science is an attack on their faith, and feel compelled to attack back. Unfortunately, they fail to grasp the most basic tenet of warfare: "know thy enemy." They refuse to actually research the things they are attacking, and so many times, they shoot wide of the mark.
Let me see, which one is it? Oh, yes, number eight (or number nine, depending on which version of Christianity you subscribe to): thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Exodus 20:16. While this commandment's language suggests a very specific interpretation within the law, it has generally been understood and taught to be a universal proscription against lying.
So, when Raven, as a Christian, reads or hears a statement made by another professed Christian, she automatically makes the assumption they are telling the truth. Good on her. I like to always assume the best about others as well. Unfortunately, that doesn't always work. And this is what annoys me so much.
The people with whom these arguments originate, people like Ken Ham and Kent Hovind, are not stupid. These are highly educated people. They know their arguments are fallacious. They have carefully constructed them to be so. They use quasi-scientific language, and allude to real evidence supporting the bible's creation stories, but, when pressed, that evidence never seems to actually be forthcoming.
Now, Raven may not have got these arguments straight from the horses' mouths. They have been perpetuated far and wide across this here Internet of ours. Her source was probably repeating them honestly, as was that person's source. But, the people who originally created those arguments know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they are based on lies, half-truths, and misdirections. These are people at the very heart of Christian apologetics in North America, and they are breaking, knowingly, and willfully, one of the sacred commandments they have been charged, by God, with upholding. And that hypocrisy is what really annoys me.
Your Monday Photo Shoot: Take a picture of something you've made. Pottery, cookies, a drawing or painting, a poem or a pipe cleaner stick man -- it's all good, it just has to have been made by you. Show off your creativity.So, here it is.
forums at Brightweavings.com, several years ago. Every year several of us participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange that is generously run by one of our members.
For a closer look, click on the picture to see a larger version. It is a verse from one of Guy Gavriel Kay's books printed on 'vellum' and then adhered to a piece of decorative hand made paper (made by my hands). That paper, thick with crushed stems of sage, and a few african violet petals, was then stuck on a piece of white, textured paper, and signed by Mr. Kay for the recipient.
That recipient was a woman in England whose name I had been assigned by random drawing (Hi Daisyjane). I think I got my wife a pair of socks that year. Yeah, and you were wondering why I built that dog house.
Anyway, there you have it: my one stab at creativity. Actually, I once wrote song for the piano, but I can't remember how to play it anymore.
tags: Memes, Monday photo shoot
I thought, "what the heck?" and played along. First I uploaded a picture of myself in high school...
Hey, not bad! You're doing OK if someone says you look like James Bond. I don't know who that Yuen Biao is, but clearly, he could kick your ass. John Lennon? Only one of the most highly respected rock music artists of all time. Harry Houdini? That's just plain cool.
But the pinnacle; the absolute top of the coolness heap, is The Knight Rider himself. Come on. Which one of you hasn't died of envy for your own talking cylon car? Tell the truth, now.
Next, I provided a picture of myself now. The results were a little bit mixed...
Yeah. Um, I'm not sure if I'm improving, or worsening. On one hand, there's Richard Gere, but who the hell is Bernard Pivot?
Monday, October 23, 2006
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Saturday, October 21, 2006
1. Grab the nearest book. If you are currently reading something, that'll be fine too.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next 4 sentences on your Blog along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet I know that is what you were thinking!
6. Tag 5 people
This was not as easy as it sounded. I am in the middle of a book right now; Speaker For The Dead, by Orson Scott Card, but it's on an whole other floor of the house. The closest book to where I am sitting right now is one of those Tor double novels; two short novels back to back in one pocket book. This one is Cascade Point, by Timothy Zahn. Flip the book over, and the other side is Hardfought, by Greg Bear. Unfortunately, neither of them has 123 pages.
The next book on the shelf is:
"Her voice was deep, and her words came slowly, and her tone sandpapered his eardrums just a bit. She had long legs and heavy thighs beneath the tight denim. Tanner licked his lips and studied the screens. Did he want to keep her around for a while?"No, I'm not kidding.
--Roger Zelazny, Damnation Alley.
As for step six, I don't do tagging. I'll tell you, there's nothing more ego bruising as tagging five people for a meme, and finding out that none of them ever find out, because none of them read your journal. If you happen across this entry in the wasteland of this blog-o-sphere, and feel inclined to do the meme yourself, drop a link and let me know.
tags: Memes, Books
Friday, October 20, 2006
Thursday, October 19, 2006
This enlightening book discusses how to recognize faulty thinking and develop the necessary skills to become a more effective problem solver. Author Thomas Kida identifies “the six-pack of problems” that leads many of us unconsciously to accept false ideas:As far as I am concerned, that list hits pretty much every nail square on the head.
- We prefer stories to statistics.
- We seek to confirm, not to question, our ideas.
- We rarely appreciate the role of chance and coincidence in shaping events.
- We sometimes misperceive the world around us.
- We tend to oversimplify our thinking.
- Our memories are often inaccurate.
tags: Skepticism, Books
I wonder, if you read a futuristic novel, let's say one of Asimov's, maybe The Foundation Trillogy where he dreams up "psychohistory" or one of the Robot novels where he dreams up the "positronic brain", does the skeptic in you refuse to believe that either of those would ever become fact? Or is there some room left over to dwell on it a second and say, "That's pretty cool, wonder if it'll ever be."? I love sci-fi, but I never believed that things such as the Star Trek communicators would ever be realized. Of course, cell phones look just like that now.
It's funny that you ask that, Fred, because the issue has come up for me this very week. I have been rereading some books that have been sitting on my bookshelf untouched for going on twenty years. I just finished Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, and am now reading its sequel, Speaker For The Dead.
Ender's Game surprised me, because I remember thinking it was the best thing since sliced bread when I first read it. Now, I find it almost juvenile in tone, like young adult fiction, rather than real adult science fiction. Still, there wasn't really anything in it that bothered my skeptical sensibilities. Well maybe one little thing that niggled at my subconscious, but I couldn't put my finger on it.
Speaker For The Dead, on the other hand, while it is the work of a much more comfortable, confident and accomplished writer, made me stop and think about the real world implications of an aspect of the story.
In the universe of Andrew (Ender) Wiggin, space travel is still limited by the speed of light. While spaceships can reach near light-speed relativistic velocities, they cannot travel faster than light. Communications technology, however, has developed into a device called an "ansible" which is capable of instantaneous communication over stellar distances.
What this means is, while it might take decades to travel from one solar system to the next, one can have a telephone conversation across stellar distances with absolutely no time lag. No problem so far.
Except this: According to the story, travelling at near light speeds brings into effect time dilation, which means that, for a trip that takes twenty two years, the traveller ages less than two weeks. This is all accounted for by Einstein's theories, so I have been led to believe.
But what about the instantaneous communications? Ender leaves his sister, Valentine, behind when he makes his journey. By the time he reaches his destination, only two weeks of subjective time have passed for him, but twenty two years have passed for Valentine, at his point of departure, and for the people at his destination. But if instantaneous communication is possible, and Valentine could have been talking to Ender for the twenty two years (her time) of that voyage, how could Ender have participated in twenty two years worth of conversation in his subjective two weeks?
It's a problem. Potentially a paradoxical one. So much so that the author had to make his ansible not function on a space ship travelling at relativistic speeds, so that no communication is possible during periods when characters are experiencing different subjective passages of time. Enough of a problem to engage my skepticism; to make me doubt such a technology as the "ansible" is in any way possible.
Of course, good speculative fiction is always about more than just the futuristic technology a writer can dream up. The best novels are about the characters, and how they react and interact in the situations a writer puts them in. In the case of Orson Scott Card, I am entertained and engaged enough by his writing to let his potentially impossible technological invention slide; to willingly keep my disbelief suspended in order to continue enjoying the the novel I am reading.
I must point out that this is a rare instance, that I even noticed, and was jolted out of the narrative enough to think about the situation. In most cases I am willing to allow a huge amount of leeway to allow for potential future scientific advancement. In the example you quoted, I am perfectly willing to believe that we might develop a "positronic" brain given enough time. If you look at many of the things we take for granted today, and think about how short a time most of today's technology has been around, it is perfectly reasonable to expect the development of amazing things over the next several centuries.
Psychohistory? Probably not so much.
tags: Skepticism, Books
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
A very young Matthew on the beach in florida. Typical beach shot. Lots of UV and blue.
Modified to simulate a late afternoon shot. Lots more orange.
And, just for fun...
tags: Memes, Monday photo shoot
It's called National Carry Your Camera Everywhere You Go Week. Or something like that. I suspect that graphic was originally an animated gif image that has stopped working. Although I could be wrong. I know it's never happened before, but theoretically speaking, it's not out of the realm of possibility that I could be wrong about something.
Anyway, details are to be found at Tee's place. Go there. Now.
A note: The image above should have a white background with black lettering on it saying "National Carry Your Camera Everywhere You Go Week." I don't see that in the AOL browser, but I do see it if I view this entry with Firefox. What do you see?
Monday, October 16, 2006
Of course I will, Rebecca. And to anyone else reading, know that you can ask me any question you like, at any time, and if it catches my fancy, I'll probably answer it. Maybe even here.
How is it that a devoted skeptic is also a fan of fantasy/science fiction literature? The two seem to contradict themselves in a most opposite way. I've always been to lead to believe that when reading, a person becomes one with the book, setting, characters. Doesn't the skeptic in you constantly get in the way of enjoying your books?That is actually a great question, Rebecca, because it touches on the nature of reality, the difference between the real world, and a world of fantasy, and the need for people to be able to tell the difference.
The very short answer is, because it is fiction. The long answer is somewhat more complicated.
When a fiction writer asks a reader to pick up his work, he is asking that reader to take an explicit action. He is asking for that reader to provide something called the "willing suspension of disbelief." In all fiction, whether it be a story about a country whose name has been stolen by a powerful invading sorceror, or one chronicling a court case in which the District Attorney suspects he may have been set up to be an alibi for the murderer, some elements of every tale will, on occasion, challenge credibility. When the reader began the book, he made a tacit agreement with the writer. In exchange for entertainment, he agreed to willingly and knowingly overlook those elements. To a point.
That agreement between a writer and a reader is a complex, imaginary document, with clauses multitudinous, that is in a constant state of flux. The level of disbelief suspension depends upon the genre (were a Sorceror to appear in the courtroom in a Sandra Brown novel it would likely be stretched beyond the breaking point), the reader's general level of involvement (some readers can be thrown by a misplaced comma, while others will blissfully ignore even the most egregious violations of the fourth wall), and level of entertainment (Guy Gavriel Kay can get away with far more than, say, Robert Jordan).
So, when Guy Gavriel Kay tells me that his Sorceror/Invading General character has cast a spell so powerful that it caused every person alive to become unable to hear, understand, or remember the name of one of the provinces in their country, I say, "OK. Tell me more." However, if someone in real life were to tell me that they could cast a spell that would cause every Canadian to become unable to hear, speak or think the name "Alberta," I would immediately suspect one of three possibilities: either they are joking, lying, or delusional. My willingness to suspend my disbelief does not extend outside of whatever novel I am reading at any time.
Sadly, that is not the case with everyone. There is a rather large community of people who believe that they were fantastic creatures - elves, fairies and others - in some imagined past life. A person who claims that they are the soul of Drow Elf - a creature that has only ever existed in fiction - trapped inside a human body, has lost contact with the line that separates fantasy from reality. Life is life, and books are books, and it is my ability to keep the two separate in my mind that allows me to question silly claims in real life, while enjoying fiction with fantastic elements without having to snort, "yeah, right!" every time some would-be prince binds a wandering wizard to his will with an ancient spoken charm.
On top of all that, the speculative fiction we fondly refer to as Science Fiction and Fantasy comes from a long, and literary tradition. Glancing up at my bookshelf, I see a row of books I still have from a University course called Modes of Fantasy. Thomas More's Utopia, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, and Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote are all great-grandparents of today's SF, and are as read for their stories as they are for their social commentary on their times. Fast forward several centuries, and the novels of our very own blogfather, John Scalzi, are far more than just space opera shoot-em-ups.
The Guy Gavriel Kay novel I have been referring to here, Tigana, explores themes of memory, identity, and the effects of tyranny and oppresion on a people, and asks how far those people should be willing to go in opposition to said tyranny; in effect, do the ends justify the means? A serious exploration of those themes, and others, is worth overlooking the uncomfortable fact that people don't really get magical powers by cutting off two of their fingers.
Don't you think?
tags: Skepticism, Books
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Shortly thereafter, after leaving the mainland slip...
...the ferry began to back up and then spin aimlessly in the channel before lurching back whence it came and slamming into the dock wall.The Toronto Port Authority would like to thank Father Mulholland, and God...for nothing.
via: The National Post
I guess we're changing the door, Dad.
So, here's what else is happening on this cold, clear morning...
I have made a call for submissions for the next edition of CarnivAOL. Any AOL/AIM bloggers who would like to participate are hereby invited to do so. Head on over to the CarnivAOL blog and read up on The Rules, and the Submission Guidelines, and then send me an email with a link to the entry in your journal you would like me to feature. Get your emails to me before Sunday at midnight for inclusion in Tuesday's carnival.
The latest edition (the 45th) of The Skeptic's Circle has been published, this week at The Inoculated Mind. I'm in it once again (yay me). Our host this week has done something rather unique, in that he has created the first ever Skeptic's Circle Podcast. If you're here now, you've probably already read my contribution, Why skepticism? Still, if you wanted to hear what my voice sounds like, you might check it out (I'm about thirteen and a half minutes in). Oh, and there's bunches of other fabulous skeptical writing to enjoy as well.
tags: Blogging, CarnivAOL,
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
First, skepticism isn't really the automatic doubting of every claim one hears. Rather, it is simply a knowledge that there are those claims out there that are not backed up by fact, and a reticence to blindly accept something without it being supported by good evidence. It is the practice of thinking critically about all information one encounters, and attempting to evaluate that information based on the strength of the available evidence.
In the Saturday edition of the National Post newspaper this past weekend there was an article headlined:
It began thusly:
OTTAWA - Parents of difficult children can take some solace in the latest theory circulating in education circles that the key to changing negative behaviour could be as simple as changing the children's handwriting.That all sounds fascinating, except for one, minor, inconvenient fact. Graphology, the practice of discerning personality traits via a study of one's handwriting, is absolute bunk. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association conducted some properly controlled, blind studies and discovered that Graphologists were able to match up handwriting samples with the proper personality profiles of their owners no more often than chance would allow.
Handwriting analyst Simon Zelcovitch has begun working with families to help transform selfish children into more giving ones, domineering children into collegial ones, and closed-minded or secretive children into more open, personable people - all by identifying revealing aspects of their handwriting and changing their writing patterns accordingly.
"By altering their handwriting, the person will change their behaviour. There's absolutely a connection," said Mr. Zelcovitch, who is based in Toronto.
Unfortunately, not everyone is aware that these studies have been done, and many people are open to accepting the claims made by Handwriting Analysts, like Simon Zelcovitch. In fact, the article in question states that the president of the association of Educators of the Gifted of Ontario says that he is sold on the idea. Here is someone who we trust to teach our children prepared to base some of his education policies on unproven - nay, disproven - theories.
OK, so I had an advantage in that I was already aware of the research that had been done. How is someone, like, for example, the president of the Educators of the Gifted of Ontario, to approach these claims? Open, unquestioning acceptance turns out, in this case, to be a mistake. Yet, expressing doubt as a default position, as stated above, is somewhat cynical.
Here is where the practice of skepticism comes into its own. Not as an expression of instant doubt, but as a desire to examine each and every claim one comes across in a critical manner that can lead one to either acceptance or doubt.
In the article mentioned above there are several clues that might alert one to be cautious in evaluating the given claims. For example, in the section already quoted, the handwriting analyst makes his claim: "by altering their handwriting, the person will change their behaviour," and immediately follows it up with a strong statement of conviction: "there's absolutely a connection." That need of the claimant to establish the legitimacy of their claim in such strong language should immediately register on the radar of a critical thinker.
In the article, Mr. Zelcovitch goes on to list at least four very specific characteristics of handwriting, and what personality traits he claims they display. This is another hint that his practice may be more pseudoscientific than scientific. A common tactic of purveyors of pseudoscience is a layering on of copious amounts of specific detail in an effort to convince their listeners a lot of study has gone into their claims.
In explaining how his ideas might translate into improvements in one's child's behaviour, Mr. Zelcovitch says:
"The whole thing boils down to common sense. The child understands the negatives and positives. You say, 'Now look, here you have some negatives, and you can improve on those on your own.' They grab at that, and away they go."Common sense. Now there's a buzzword for the critical thinker to grab hold of. Instead of offering actual evidence to support his claim, the pseudoscientist implies that if you don't agree, there is something wrong with you, because, of course, it is "common sense."
Finally, the very last line of this article offers the following observation:
Mr. Zelcovitch said many minds need to be opened well beyond the confines of the classroom. In Europe, for example, there's no shame in companies using handwriting analysis as part of a hiring process.The accusation that one's detractors are "closed minded" is a classic argument offered by pseudoscientists of all stripes. Again, he has offered no support for his argument, rather he has attempted to undermine that of his critics by resorting to an ad hominem attack.
Now, none of these things, taken on their own, are enough to call into question the claims of Mr. Zelcovitch. Even all together, they do not prove that his claims have no merit. But, to a critical thinker, they should be enough to give one pause; to send one in search of more information. And that search can very easily turn up the actual hard evidence upon which one can confidently form an opinion.
At last, we come to the question everyone eventually asks: why should we care? Why should I, a meek and meagre blogger, go to the trouble to criticise Mr. Zelcovitch, and others like him? That answer is the easiest to explain. Mr. Zelcovitch, or Sylvia Browne, or your local astrologer, all have one thing in common. They are asking for your money in support of their pseudoscientific theories and claims. In many cases, you are paying them indirectly when they sell their ideasto government agencies. I know I don't want my money going to pay Mr. Zelcovitch's speaking engagement fees so that he can poison the minds of the people who teach my children.
Why skepticism? That's why skepticism!
Wanna practice some critical thinking? Here, give this Skeptico article a read: http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2006/10/limbo_mumbo_jum.html
You need a scanner to play along with this one (on second thought, you could just take a picture of the finished form), so you can have it posted in your own handwriting. Full credit to Tee for the excellent idea. If you want to play along, download the blank form at her place.
Friday, October 6, 2006
Wednesday, October 4, 2006
Joey DeVilla (A.K.A. Accordion Guy) reminds us that the first Friday in October - this coming Friday, the sixth - is the annual internet holiday, BlogACatMas (this year shortened to just Catmas - I prefer the older name as it is more descriptive), the day upon which every blogger is supposed to post a picture of their cat. Bacon and or vacuums not required.
To help promote Catmas, and the profile of cats everywhere, they have started a new Catmas blog. Head on over to Catmas.com to see all the same old cat pictures, videos and jokes that you've already seen a hundred times in those stupid e-mail chain letters that everyone insists on forwarding to everybody in their address books, thereby clogging up people's inboxes with useless junk, wasting valuable time, and reducing people's efficiency all over the world.
Hmmm, I seem to have inadvertently turned that into a semi-incoherent rant. Oh well, as they say, "there's no going back."
No, I don't know who they are.
Captioning of photo via: Captioner: Add captions to your digital photographs!
tags: Blogs, Blogging, Memes, Catmas
via: The Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns
Tuesday, October 3, 2006
I have had an entry of my own included in a different blog carnival this week: The Carnival of the Godless. This past weekend marked the fiftieth edition of that fine publication at Salto Sobrius.
To top it all off, here are a few links I have collected from among the blogs I read this week.
Top Ten Reasons Religion is Like Pornography
And the Nobel goes to...
Getting Naked for Skepticism
I'll most likely kill you in the morning
Yeah, I know there's a bit of a theme. So sue me.
tags: Blogging, CarnivAOL, Carnival of the Godless