28 March 2009
Dr. Phil Plait has a summary of the TRAVESTY that happened in Texas (and apparently Florida is attempting to follow suit). Basically the LYING young earth creationist got their language into the educational standards... I am amazed at how blatantly these people will LIE and DECEIVE to push their bronze age fairy tale agenda.
Here is Dr. Plait's, write up on the topic. As he says, I urge all parents who live in reality to get involved with their education board, and keep their children in THIS century, and not back in the dark ages.
I am so mad that I can barely type without wanting to go on a murderous spree of eliminating these dangers to humanity and reality... Just read Dr.Plait's posts. He says it well.
And the "humerous" picture up above... Well, suffice it to say that I really feel there is a lot of validity to it. Sorry, it may be harsh, but all evidence points to it. Especially with the fucktardery going on with our education system and the destruction of our children's futures. Only a fucking retard would willingly handicap the future of their offspring, and that's what these retards are doing.
23 March 2009
Usually the objections to evolution I encounter when discussing the subject with a creationist are based in misunderstanding of what evolutionary theory is, what it actually states and what it does not. Commonly the objections are nothing more than a straw man fallacy.
Straw man fallacy:
“A straw man argumentis an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.”
For example I commonly hear things such as, “How could an eye just pop into existence”. If evolutionary theory stated that something as complex as an eye could just “pop into existence”, then it clearly would be a ridiculous theory. However the theory does not claim anything like that, and this is a typical straw man fallacy born out of misunderstanding and ignorance.
I will attempt to simply what evolutionary theory does state, and what it does not with regard to common misconceptions I have heard.
Misconception of Evolution having a goal.
Misconception of species changing rather than splitting.
Misconception of Micro Evolution.
Misconception of intermediate forms.
I have started with the misconception of Evolution having a goal because I believe it will be a good place to cover the basics and clear away some extremely common misconceptions which hinder any further learning if they are in place.
Evolution via Natural selection is essentially made up by two important facts. Variety among individuals, and selection pressures on reproduction. To put it simply, if one individual is better equipped to breed than another, the chances that it will breed are higher than the other less well equipped individual. For example a fast and strong cheetah has a much better chance of surviving than a slower and weaker cheetah does. The faster and stronger cheetah is likely better at catching it's prey, it therefore will have a better chance of staying alive longer than a cheetah who is failing to catch its prey, and therefore starving. The physical variation between the two differentiate how successful they are likely to be at surviving in a competitive environment. If the weaker cheetah dies of starvation at a young age, it is unlikely to have bred and it is therefore unlikely to have passed on its genes to offspring. The strong cheetah however, which is living a long successful life may have bred many times, producing offspring which contain the successful genes which made it strong and fast.
Lets rewind here a second however. What would make one cheetah strong, and one weak, and where does this variation among individuals come from?
Every individuals body is made using a DNA recipe which is unique to that individual. DNA – Deoxyribonucleic acid - is essentially a very long molecule which interacts with other molecules/chemicals to form a chain reaction of physical processes which build bodies. Bodies are made of cells, which contain the DNA recipe within them (in the nucleus). These cells must replicate in order to form large and complex bodies made up of billions of them. It is useful to think of your DNA as a recipe for building your body, not as a predefined plan or blueprint.
Everyone's DNA varies because when the DNA replicates itself to build cells, the physical process can go slightly wrong, and the replication is not perfect. You and your next door neighbors DNA varies by about 3 million differences in the DNA recipe.
You have about 3 billion bits of code in your recipe. If your neighbor had the exact same 3 billion characters in their DNA recipe, the physical process of building the body from the recipe would happen the same way as yours, and you would look identical. This is not the case though because changes in the recipe happen randomly, and regularly, and your DNA took a different journey through your ancestors to end up with you. When your mother and your father's DNA combine to create your DNA, your DNA contains copies of genes they both posses which make them different individuals (Roughly 50% from your mother and 50% from your father). This newly combined DNA contains differences that were passed down from past ancestors via your mothers lineage, and via your fathers lineage. This is what enables your parents to have variance in their own DNA recipes. In addition to this, the newly combined DNA that forms you, will also contain mutations that have occurred in your mother and fathers own DNA since it was first combined from their mother and father.
So going back to the cheetahs, if a mutation happens in part of the DNA recipe which dictates how the chain reaction of physical process will work to build leg muscles, then the legs will be built differently between two individuals with different DNA recipes. The different DNA recipes built a cheetah with strong fast legs, and a cheetah with slower weaker legs. Mutations can also occur to the parts of the DNA recipe which govern how and when a particular part of the recipe (a specific gene, which encodes a specific protein) is used and for how long. We can see dramatic difference in individuals just by using the same ingredients in the recipe for different lengths and at different times.
So as we can see, variation among individuals arises purely as part of the physical processes which build life.
The next important part is the selection of which variety of individual will pass on their variation of the DNA recipe, and which will not. It is quite easy to understand. Those which have variations which make them better able to survive, or out compete other individuals, will have a better chance of producing offspring. (like in our cheetah example)
You can easily see how different environments would favor different variations and place different selection pressures on individuals. For example in a cold environment those with thicker fur will have less chance of dying from exposure, and therefore a greater chance of surviving and reproducing. Or in a desert those who can store energy more efficiently will have less chance of dying of thirst or starvation. Selection is not random, and is in fact quite predictable .
So we could say: Variation is random, selection is non random.
So to get to the misconception of evolution having a goal; given what we know about how the process works, we can see that there is no goal for evolution or no end point that a species is trying to get to. Evolution happens simply because environments select for those traits in individuals that are going to more successful than those that are not in the current environment. A species group living 60 million years ago did not have a goal to try and evolve to become like a modern organism living now. Any single living thing is just trying to make a living at whatever time it is alive. It is the varying success of traits that will drive a change over time, not any type of goal or desire to change.
Evolution is not a march of progress in a defined direction, it is simply a natural response to varying environmental pressures placed on living organisms which replicate themselves.
So when we find a fossil of an extinct animal which is vastly different to a modern animal and evidence suggests that the extinct animal was once an ancestor of a currently living animal. We should not view it as if the extinct animal and all its descendants had a goal in mind of trying to morph into the modern form we recognize around today. We should view it as all the millions of descendants had variations that were selected for in various environments because the variation allowed that particular ancestral individual to successfully mate, and pass on the successful variant. It is useful not to think of living organisms as species of distinct groups of animals, but as collections of traits (or genes). Traits that were able to be passed down in varying environments because some traits suit some environments better than others.
Edited to add: Technically, there's really no such thing as "species," that's just how we categorize animals with similarities.
Imagine a color spectrum. At what point does red become orange? It's an arbitrary distinction made for convenience. All organisms evolve smoothly, there's no point at which one becomes another, just like you can never show the "transitional" point between red and orange.
This is why the creationist's hunt for a transitional species is a red herring. Either nothing is a transitional species, or everything is a transitional species. When scientists use that term, they're talking about filing in massive gaps of morphology in the fossil record. But if you had a sample of every animal that ever existed it would look like an extended version of a color spectrum. Imagine twenty feet of colors between aqua and blue-green.
13 March 2009
It's much better to change your point of view in response to reality, than to insist reality has got it wrong because it doesn't share your point of view.
Okay, I covered “I don’t know” briefly, but along with those three words are three that people seem even more loath to say. “I was wrong.” And when someone does figure out that they are indeed wrong, and that perhaps something else is a better answer, we have people jumping on that as some sort of mortal flaw. Being occasionally wrong, or not totally correct, is how things like science and technology gets better. Even a field like chemistry got its start in the ridiculous notion of alchemy. Yet, for all the mistakes one can historically cite in science, how many of them were brought to light through theology? Not a one. It was the self correcting mechanism of science that exposed the mistakes, and then proposed a better conclusion.
Religious scholars have a conclusion and build the evidence up to support it. Science has the evidence and builds a conclusion out of it. Then (and this is the important part), scientists do everything they can to try to disprove the conclusion. I have yet to meet a physicist who wouldn't love to be the one to show that Einstein or Hawkins' theories were garbage and here is the correct model. I have yet to meet a christian theologist who wanted to show that those Moses and Jesus guys didn't know what they were talking about and here is the correct theology.
Of course, theists don’t seem to take so kindly to scientific methodology applied to their claims. By definition, in order to hold those beliefs, they are not even allowed to contemplate that those beliefs may be wrong. Since they have no avenue to point out mistakes in their theology, they keep jumping on the bandwagon of pointing out every mistake ever made in the field of science, while they fail to grasp that not once did they actually contribute to the field. Yet the mistakes themselves were all part of the overall improvement. They will gladly enjoy the benefits, but at the same time spend all their energies on tearing it down.
So, in refusing to consider “I don’t know” and “I was wrong” into their lexicon, theists have doomed themselves into a mental dissonance that makes them challenge reality on a daily basis. It’s like science is a bold voyage to find out the unknown, with lessons in humility at every step. Yet these people so sure in their version of The Truth, would rather just have stayed home. The methods of science may not be perfect, but they are the best we have. To embrace dogma and throw away skeptical inquiry will just lead to a dark age in our history. The basic reaction of a theist to anything that challenges their belief is to suppress the idea. To a scientist, they discuss the idea and completely expose it the full rigor of science, and form a better idea.
I guess what it all comes down to, is that all that talk about having science and biblegod coexist really can’t happen. The basic starting positions are diametrically opposed. The methodologies are the inverse of each other. The fundamental claims do not in any way match. I contend (to paraphrase Carl Sagan) that it’s far better to really see the universe for what it is than to persist in delusions, no matter how comforting those delusions may seem. I don’t want to have meaning assigned to me; I would rather make meaning myself. Especially if the assigner is that biblegod bastard. I know I can do a whole lot better than him!
08 March 2009
Is it really possible to do the type of networking that I have been told over and over again you need to do in order to land a job, and do it from overseas? While I do everything that I can using my Facebook page and my LinkedIn profile, I gotta say that I am even all the more upset with the Air Force for this deployment... The #1 message that they drill into you at the Transition Assistance Program is that you have to network, network, and network some more... Well, there is nothing that can substitute for meeting face to face and talking to a person.
With all the talk of "People are our number one resource." and "We take care of our people." does the AF insist on pulling douchebaggery like this? Of course, I have always thought that those sayings are just words to them that really have very little actual meaning. Sure, there are services set up for people, but in everything I have seen, if it's something that really means taking care of people, the AF is just going through the motions at best. In many cases, I see things that are meant to help people actually act as a detriment to their careers and security clearances. They SAY that these things have no effect on that, but then why does the preponderance of evidence show people suffering for taking advantage of these services.
So yet again, the message that gets driven home to me at least is that no one in the AF cares, nor will they even try to do what is right for you. The only person you can really rely on in the AF is yourself.
Now, I am not so bitter as to think this doesn't happen in the civilian sector. In ways, I am betting that the back stabbing and douchebaggery is probably much worse. It's just in the AF, the consequences can sometimes be much more lethal.
Okay, that felt better to get off my chest. I'm still not happy with the treatment I have received at the hand of bureaucratic pinheads, but I'll fight through it and make my way on myown, despite their best efforts, and in no way because of them.
01 March 2009
Quite often when having “discussions” with theists[i], I get the accusation that I “know it all”, or something to that effect. While I do admit to having a good education, and that I spend a great deal of time self educating myself on various subjects, I by no stretch of the imagination know it all. This claim by theists bothers me tremendously due to how disingenuous that claim is.
First of all, if my display of knowledge and intellectual curiosity makes them genuinely think that I know it all, then I feel sad for them and the ignorance that they live in. Not only for their lack of education, but lack of curiosity to actually go and find out things they may not know or understand. In this day and age, we have unprecedented access to information. Some of it good, a lot of it bad. However, being able to wade through all this information, and weigh its validity only helps to sharpen the mind, as well as expand your horizons. Something that is of great help in this is having a “Baloney Detection Kit” as Carl Sagan often referred to it as. The James Randi Educational Foundation also has a great exposé on the sort of Flim Flam that people get duped into believing. Finally, there is a great video for people who want to sharpen their thinking skills called “Here there be Dragons”. It’s free and educational. Instead of accusing me of knowing it all, how about actually taking the initiative to learn something?
Another thing that really bothers me about the claim that I supposedly know it all, is that the theist making that claim usually then proceeds to act humble and simple, as if to make me appear to be acting all superior to them. What makes this behaviour particularly disingenuous is that first of all I am not claiming any special knowledge that has been revealed to me. Also, the debate is generally about things that we don’t know the answer to, such as the origin of life, or even the origin of the universe. We have theories and ideas about these things, but in reality we don’t know, and perhaps won’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt. Yet, to the theist, some Bronze Age tales from primitive goat herders does provide them with those answers, even if those answers don’t make any sense and are just revealed truths through third hand sources. Apparently, to a theist, even a bad explanation is better than admitting that we don’t know the answer?
Hence why I really think that “I don’t know” are three incredibly powerful and liberating words. We can naturally follow it up with, “But this is what we think” about a subject. Or even go so far as to say, “I don’t know, but that’s a great thing to find out more about!” By claiming to have some sort of revealed TRUTH, the theist ceases at any line of questioning. They have the answer already, no need to actually check if it makes any sense. Whereas someone who displays any modicum of intellectual curiosity isn’t satisfied with nonsense and flim flam. By saying “I don’t know” you free yourself from dogmas and rigid beliefs that have only been drummed into you because it says so in the bible or whatever source you place your “faith” in. By saying “I don’t know” it should motivate you to find out what the real answer may be. And don’t be the kind of skeptical thinker that thinks dismissing anything you don’t agree with qualifies as skepticism, that’s just being dismissive and contrary. Instead, start off in a neutral stance, and see where the evidence leads you. Don’t confuse trust for faith either. Again, all things referenced in the Baloney Detection Kit and Here there be Dragons resources can help.
Many may argue that there is no harm in holding beliefs. To a certain extent, that is true, and I will not deny it. However, the lack of knowledge, combined with a willingness to accept whatever they are told, can lead to a great deal of harm. I also find it distasteful how many theists will pick and choose what they are willing to know, and again don’t apply any skeptical thought to the source. They already have the conclusion set out for them, and continue on forcing reality to meet that expectation. As such, they are defeating any natural skepticism that may be in their minds because they will never need to say “I don’t know” in response to hard questions. And since they think they have The TRUTH already, that basically leads them to never even consider three other powerful words, “I was wrong.”
[i] When I say “theists” I am generally describing the fundamentalist or evangelical christian mindset. They are the worst offenders in this type of thinking; however they are not the only ones, so I expanded the word I used.