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31 May 2009

15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense

Evolution:
Today I am only going to cover evolution with a reprint of an article published in Scientific American back in July 2002. I plan to take some of these and reprint them on the evolution page I have set up at Facts, not Fantasy as soon as I have permission from the author (or use as many elements as I can reasonably use). If anything, it's funny to see how many of these are the SAME bloody arguments that I wrote up incredibly similar responses to... It's almost like these people have a thinking disorder, and are incapable of seeing it.

When Charles Darwin introduced the theory of evolution through natural selection 143 years ago, the scientists of the day argued over it fiercely, but the massing evidence from paleontology, genetics, zoology, molecular biology and other fields gradually established evolution's truth beyond reasonable doubt. Today that battle has been won everywhere--except in the public imagination.

Embarrassingly, in the 21st century, in the most scientifically advanced nation the world has ever known, creationists can still persuade politicians, judges and ordinary citizens that evolution is a flawed, poorly supported fantasy. They lobby for creationist ideas such as "intelligent design" to be taught as alternatives to evolution in science classrooms. As this article goes to press, the Ohio Board of Education is debating whether to mandate such a change. Some antievolutionists, such as Philip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Darwin on Trial, admit that they intend for intelligent-design theory to serve as a "wedge" for reopening science classrooms to discussions of God.

Besieged teachers and others may increasingly find themselves on the spot to defend evolution and refute creationism. The arguments that creationists use are typically specious and based on misunderstandings of (or outright lies about) evolution, but the number and diversity of the objections can put even well-informed people at a disadvantage.

To help with answering them, the following list rebuts some of the most common "scientific" arguments raised against evolution. It also directs readers to further sources for information and explains why creation science has no place in the classroom.

1. Evolution is only a theory. It is not a fact or a scientific law.

Many people learned in elementary school that a theory falls in the middle of a hierarchy of certainty--above a mere hypothesis but below a law. Scientists do not use the terms that way, however. According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses." No amount of validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization about nature. So when scientists talk about the theory of evolution--or the atomic theory or the theory of relativity, for that matter--they are not expressing reservations about its truth.

In addition to the theory of evolution, meaning the idea of descent with modification, one may also speak of the fact of evolution. The NAS defines a fact as "an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as 'true.'" The fossil record and abundant other evidence testify that organisms have evolved through time. Although no one observed those transformations, the indirect evidence is clear, unambiguous and compelling.

All sciences frequently rely on indirect evidence. Physicists cannot see subatomic particles directly, for instance, so they verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks that the particles leave in cloud chambers. The absence of direct observation does not make physicists' conclusions less certain.

2. Natural selection is based on circular reasoning: the fittest are those who survive, and those who survive are deemed fittest.

"Survival of the fittest" is a conversational way to describe natural selection, but a more technical description speaks of differential rates of survival and reproduction. That is, rather than labeling species as more or less fit, one can describe how many offspring they are likely to leave under given circumstances. Drop a fast-breeding pair of small-beaked finches and a slower-breeding pair of large-beaked finches onto an island full of food seeds. Within a few generations the fast breeders may control more of the food resources. Yet if large beaks more easily crush seeds, the advantage may tip to the slow breeders. In a pioneering study of finches on the Gal pagos Islands, Peter R. Grant of Princeton University observed these kinds of population shifts in the wild [see his article "Natural Selection and Darwin's Finches"; Scientific American, October 1991].

The key is that adaptive fitness can be defined without reference to survival: large beaks are better adapted for crushing seeds, irrespective of whether that trait has survival value under the circumstances.

3. Evolution is unscientific, because it is not testable or falsifiable. It makes claims about events that were not observed and can never be re-created.

This blanket dismissal of evolution ignores important distinctions that divide the field into at least two broad areas: microevolution and macroevolution. Microevolution looks at changes within species over time--changes that may be preludes to speciation, the origin of new species. Macroevolution studies how taxonomic groups above the level of species change. Its evidence draws frequently from the fossil record and DNA comparisons to reconstruct how various organisms may be related.

These days even most creationists acknowledge that microevolution has been upheld by tests in the laboratory (as in studies of cells, plants and fruit flies) and in the field (as in Grant's studies of evolving beak shapes among Gal pagos finches). Natural selection and other mechanisms--such as chromosomal changes, symbiosis and hybridization--can drive profound changes in populations over time.

The historical nature of macroevolutionary study involves inference from fossils and DNA rather than direct observation. Yet in the historical sciences (which include astronomy, geology and archaeology, as well as evolutionary biology), hypotheses can still be tested by checking whether they accord with physical evidence and whether they lead to verifiable predictions about future discoveries. For instance, evolution implies that between the earliest-known ancestors of humans (roughly five million years old) and the appearance of anatomically modern humans (about 100,000 years ago), one should find a succession of hominid creatures with features progressively less apelike and more modern, which is indeed what the fossil record shows. But one should not--and does not--find modern human fossils embedded in strata from the Jurassic period (144 million years ago). Evolutionary biology routinely makes predictions far more refined and precise than this, and researchers test them constantly.

Evolution could be disproved in other ways, too. If we could document the spontaneous generation of just one complex life-form from inanimate matter, then at least a few creatures seen in the fossil record might have originated this way. If superintelligent aliens appeared and claimed credit for creating life on earth (or even particular species), the purely evolutionary explanation would be cast in doubt. But no one has yet produced such evidence.

It should be noted that the idea of falsifiability as the defining characteristic of science originated with philosopher Karl Popper in the 1930s. More recent elaborations on his thinking have expanded the narrowest interpretation of his principle precisely because it would eliminate too many branches of clearly scientific endeavor.

4. Increasingly, scientists doubt the truth of evolution.

No evidence suggests that evolution is losing adherents. Pick up any issue of a peer-reviewed biological journal, and you will find articles that support and extend evolutionary studies or that embrace evolution as a fundamental concept.

Conversely, serious scientific publications disputing evolution are all but nonexistent. In the mid-1990s George W. Gilchrist of the University of Washington surveyed thousands of journals in the primary literature, seeking articles on intelligent design or creation science. Among those hundreds of thousands of scientific reports, he found none. In the past two years, surveys done independently by Barbara Forrest of Southeastern Louisiana University and Lawrence M. Krauss of Case Western Reserve University have been similarly fruitless.

Creationists retort that a closed-minded scientific community rejects their evidence. Yet according to the editors of Nature, Science and other leading journals, few antievolution manuscripts are even submitted. Some antievolution authors have published papers in serious journals. Those papers, however, rarely attack evolution directly or advance creationist arguments; at best, they identify certain evolutionary problems as unsolved and difficult (which no one disputes). In short, creationists are not giving the scientific world good reason to take them seriously.

5. The disagreements among even evolutionary biologists show how little solid science supports evolution.

Evolutionary biologists passionately debate diverse topics: how speciation happens, the rates of evolutionary change, the ancestral relationships of birds and dinosaurs, whether Neandertals were a species apart from modern humans, and much more. These disputes are like those found in all other branches of science. Acceptance of evolution as a factual occurrence and a guiding principle is nonetheless universal in biology.

Unfortunately, dishonest creationists have shown a willingness to take scientists' comments out of context to exaggerate and distort the disagreements. Anyone acquainted with the works of paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University knows that in addition to co-authoring the punctuated-equilibrium model, Gould was one of the most eloquent defenders and articulators of evolution. (Punctuated equilibrium explains patterns in the fossil record by suggesting that most evolutionary changes occur within geologically brief intervals--which may nonetheless amount to hundreds of generations.) Yet creationists delight in dissecting out phrases from Gould's voluminous prose to make him sound as though he had doubted evolution, and they present punctuated equilibrium as though it allows new species to materialize overnight or birds to be born from reptile eggs.

When confronted with a quotation from a scientific authority that seems to question evolution, insist on seeing the statement in context. Almost invariably, the attack on evolution will prove illusory.

6. If humans descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?

This surprisingly common argument reflects several levels of ignorance about evolution. The first mistake is that evolution does not teach that humans descended from monkeys; it states that both have a common ancestor.

The deeper error is that this objection is tantamount to asking, "If children descended from adults, why are there still adults?" New species evolve by splintering off from established ones, when populations of organisms become isolated from the main branch of their family and acquire sufficient differences to remain forever distinct. The parent species may survive indefinitely thereafter, or it may become extinct.

7. Evolution cannot explain how life first appeared on earth.

The origin of life remains very much a mystery, but biochemists have learned about how primitive nucleic acids, amino acids and other building blocks of life could have formed and organized themselves into self-replicating, self-sustaining units, laying the foundation for cellular biochemistry. Astrochemical analyses hint that quantities of these compounds might have originated in space and fallen to earth in comets, a scenario that may solve the problem of how those constituents arose under the conditions that prevailed when our planet was young.

Creationists sometimes try to invalidate all of evolution by pointing to science's current inability to explain the origin of life. But even if life on earth turned out to have a nonevolutionary origin (for instance, if aliens introduced the first cells billions of years ago), evolution since then would be robustly confirmed by countless microevolutionary and macroevolutionary studies.

8. Mathematically, it is inconceivable that anything as complex as a protein, let alone a living cell or a human, could spring up by chance.

Chance plays a part in evolution (for example, in the random mutations that can give rise to new traits), but evolution does not depend on chance to create organisms, proteins or other entities. Quite the opposite: natural selection, the principal known mechanism of evolution, harnesses nonrandom change by preserving "desirable" (adaptive) features and eliminating "undesirable" (nonadaptive) ones. As long as the forces of selection stay constant, natural selection can push evolution in one direction and produce sophisticated structures in surprisingly short times.

As an analogy, consider the 13-letter sequence "TOBEORNOTTOBE." Those hypothetical million monkeys, each pecking out one phrase a second, could take as long as 78,800 years to find it among the 2613 sequences of that length. But in the 1980s Richard Hardison of Glendale College wrote a computer program that generated phrases randomly while preserving the positions of individual letters that happened to be correctly placed (in effect, selecting for phrases more like Hamlet's). On average, the program re-created the phrase in just 336 iterations, less than 90 seconds. Even more amazing, it could reconstruct Shakespeare's entire play in just four and a half days.

9. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that systems must become more disordered over time. Living cells therefore could not have evolved from inanimate chemicals, and multicellular life could not have evolved from protozoa.

This argument derives from a misunderstanding of the Second Law. If it were valid, mineral crystals and snowflakes would also be impossible, because they, too, are complex structures that form spontaneously from disordered parts.

The Second Law actually states that the total entropy of a closed system (one that no energy or matter leaves or enters) cannot decrease. Entropy is a physical concept often casually described as disorder, but it differs significantly from the conversational use of the word.

More important, however, the Second Law permits parts of a system to decrease in entropy as long as other parts experience an offsetting increase. Thus, our planet as a whole can grow more complex because the sun pours heat and light onto it, and the greater entropy associated with the sun's nuclear fusion more than rebalances the scales. Simple organisms can fuel their rise toward complexity by consuming other forms of life and nonliving materials.

10. Mutations are essential to evolution theory, but mutations can only eliminate traits. They cannot produce new features.

On the contrary, biology has catalogued many traits produced by point mutations (changes at precise positions in an organism's DNA)--bacterial resistance to antibiotics, for example.

Mutations that arise in the homeobox (Hox) family of development-regulating genes in animals can also have complex effects. Hox genes direct where legs, wings, antennae and body segments should grow. In fruit flies, for instance, the mutation called Antennapedia causes legs to sprout where antennae should grow. These abnormal limbs are not functional, but their existence demonstrates that genetic mistakes can produce complex structures, which natural selection can then test for possible uses.

Moreover, molecular biology has discovered mechanisms for genetic change that go beyond point mutations, and these expand the ways in which new traits can appear. Functional modules within genes can be spliced together in novel ways. Whole genes can be accidentally duplicated in an organism's DNA, and the duplicates are free to mutate into genes for new, complex features. Comparisons of the DNA from a wide variety of organisms indicate that this is how the globin family of blood proteins evolved over millions of years.

11. Natural selection might explain microevolution, but it cannot explain the origin of new species and higher orders of life.

Evolutionary biologists have written extensively about how natural selection could produce new species. For instance, in the model called allopatry, developed by Ernst Mayr of Harvard University, if a population of organisms were isolated from the rest of its species by geographical boundaries, it might be subjected to different selective pressures. Changes would accumulate in the isolated population. If those changes became so significant that the splinter group could not or routinely would not breed with the original stock, then the splinter group would be reproductively isolated and on its way toward becoming a new species.

Natural selection is the best studied of the evolutionary mechanisms, but biologists are open to other possibilities as well. Biologists are constantly assessing the potential of unusual genetic mechanisms for causing speciation or for producing complex features in organisms. Lynn Margulis of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and others have persuasively argued that some cellular organelles, such as the energy-generating mitochondria, evolved through the symbiotic merger of ancient organisms. Thus, science welcomes the possibility of evolution resulting from forces beyond natural selection. Yet those forces must be natural; they cannot be attributed to the actions of mysterious creative intelligences whose existence, in scientific terms, is unproved.

12. Nobody has ever seen a new species evolve.

Speciation is probably fairly rare and in many cases might take centuries. Furthermore, recognizing a new species during a formative stage can be difficult, because biologists sometimes disagree about how best to define a species. The most widely used definition, Mayr's Biological Species Concept, recognizes a species as a distinct community of reproductively isolated populations--sets of organisms that normally do not or cannot breed outside their community. In practice, this standard can be difficult to apply to organisms isolated by distance or terrain or to plants (and, of course, fossils do not breed). Biologists therefore usually use organisms' physical and behavioral traits as clues to their species membership.

Nevertheless, the scientific literature does contain reports of apparent speciation events in plants, insects and worms. In most of these experiments, researchers subjected organisms to various types of selection--for anatomical differences, mating behaviors, habitat preferences and other traits--and found that they had created populations of organisms that did not breed with outsiders. For example, William R. Rice of the University of New Mexico and George W. Salt of the University of California at Davis demonstrated that if they sorted a group of fruit flies by their preference for certain environments and bred those flies separately over 35 generations, the resulting flies would refuse to breed with those from a very different environment.

13. Evolutionists cannot point to any transitional fossils--creatures that are half reptile and half bird, for instance.

Actually, paleontologists know of many detailed examples of fossils intermediate in form between various taxonomic groups. One of the most famous fossils of all time is Archaeopteryx, which combines feathers and skeletal structures peculiar to birds with features of dinosaurs. A flock's worth of other feathered fossil species, some more avian and some less, has also been found. A sequence of fossils spans the evolution of modern horses from the tiny Eohippus. Whales had four-legged ancestors that walked on land, and creatures known as Ambulocetus and Rodhocetus helped to make that transition [see "The Mammals That Conquered the Seas," by Kate Wong; Scientific American, May]. Fossil seashells trace the evolution of various mollusks through millions of years. Perhaps 20 or more hominids (not all of them our ancestors) fill the gap between Lucy the australopithecine and modern humans.

Creationists, though, dismiss these fossil studies. They argue that Archaeopteryx is not a missing link between reptiles and birds--it is just an extinct bird with reptilian features. They want evolutionists to produce a weird, chimeric monster that cannot be classified as belonging to any known group. Even if a creationist does accept a fossil as transitional between two species, he or she may then insist on seeing other fossils intermediate between it and the first two. These frustrating requests can proceed ad infinitum and place an unreasonable burden on the always incomplete fossil record.

Nevertheless, evolutionists can cite further supportive evidence from molecular biology. All organisms share most of the same genes, but as evolution predicts, the structures of these genes and their products diverge among species, in keeping with their evolutionary relationships. Geneticists speak of the "molecular clock" that records the passage of time. These molecular data also show how various organisms are transitional within evolution.

14. Living things have fantastically intricate features--at the anatomical, cellular and molecular levels--that could not function if they were any less complex or sophisticated. The only prudent conclusion is that they are the products of intelligent design, not evolution.

This "argument from design" is the backbone of most recent attacks on evolution, but it is also one of the oldest. In 1802 theologian William Paley wrote that if one finds a pocket watch in a field, the most reasonable conclusion is that someone dropped it, not that natural forces created it there. By analogy, Paley argued, the complex structures of living things must be the handiwork of direct, divine invention. Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species as an answer to Paley: he explained how natural forces of selection, acting on inherited features, could gradually shape the evolution of ornate organic structures.

Generations of creationists have tried to counter Darwin by citing the example of the eye as a structure that could not have evolved. The eye's ability to provide vision depends on the perfect arrangement of its parts, these critics say. Natural selection could thus never favor the transitional forms needed during the eye's evolution--what good is half an eye? Anticipating this criticism, Darwin suggested that even "incomplete" eyes might confer benefits (such as helping creatures orient toward light) and thereby survive for further evolutionary refinement. Biology has vindicated Darwin: researchers have identified primitive eyes and light-sensing organs throughout the animal kingdom and have even tracked the evolutionary history of eyes through comparative genetics. (It now appears that in various families of organisms, eyes have evolved independently.)

Today's intelligent-design advocates are more sophisticated than their predecessors, but their arguments and goals are not fundamentally different. They criticize evolution by trying to demonstrate that it could not account for life as we know it and then insist that the only tenable alternative is that life was designed by an unidentified intelligence.

15. Recent discoveries prove that even at the microscopic level, life has a quality of complexity that could not have come about through evolution.

"Irreducible complexity" is the battle cry of Michael J. Behe of Lehigh University, author of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. As a household example of irreducible complexity, Behe chooses the mousetrap--a machine that could not function if any of its pieces were missing and whose pieces have no value except as parts of the whole. What is true of the mousetrap, he says, is even truer of the bacterial flagellum, a whiplike cellular organelle used for propulsion that operates like an outboard motor. The proteins that make up a flagellum are uncannily arranged into motor components, a universal joint and other structures like those that a human engineer might specify. The possibility that this intricate array could have arisen through evolutionary modification is virtually nil, Behe argues, and that bespeaks intelligent design. He makes similar points about the blood's clotting mechanism and other molecular systems.

Yet evolutionary biologists have answers to these objections. First, there exist flagellae with forms simpler than the one that Behe cites, so it is not necessary for all those components to be present for a flagellum to work. The sophisticated components of this flagellum all have precedents elsewhere in nature, as described by Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University and others. In fact, the entire flagellum assembly is extremely similar to an organelle that Yersinia pestis, the bubonic plague bacterium, uses to inject toxins into cells.

The key is that the flagellum's component structures, which Behe suggests have no value apart from their role in propulsion, can serve multiple functions that would have helped favor their evolution. The final evolution of the flagellum might then have involved only the novel recombination of sophisticated parts that initially evolved for other purposes. Similarly, the blood-clotting system seems to involve the modification and elaboration of proteins that were originally used in digestion, according to studies by Russell F. Doolittle of the University of California at San Diego. So some of the complexity that Behe calls proof of intelligent design is not irreducible at all.

Complexity of a different kind--"specified complexity"--is the cornerstone of the intelligent-design arguments of William A. Dembski of Baylor University in his books The Design Inference and No Free Lunch. Essentially his argument is that living things are complex in a way that undirected, random processes could never produce. The only logical conclusion, Dembski asserts, in an echo of Paley 200 years ago, is that some superhuman intelligence created and shaped life.

Dembski's argument contains several holes. It is wrong to insinuate that the field of explanations consists only of random processes or designing intelligences. Researchers into nonlinear systems and cellular automata at the Santa Fe Institute and elsewhere have demonstrated that simple, undirected processes can yield extraordinarily complex patterns. Some of the complexity seen in organisms may therefore emerge through natural phenomena that we as yet barely understand. But that is far different from saying that the complexity could not have arisen naturally.

"Creation science" is a contradiction in terms. A central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism--it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms. Thus, physics describes the atomic nucleus with specific concepts governing matter and energy, and it tests those descriptions experimentally. Physicists introduce new particles, such as quarks, to flesh out their theories only when data show that the previous descriptions cannot adequately explain observed phenomena. The new particles do not have arbitrary properties, moreover--their definitions are tightly constrained, because the new particles must fit within the existing framework of physics.

In contrast, intelligent-design theorists invoke shadowy entities that conveniently have whatever unconstrained abilities are needed to solve the mystery at hand. Rather than expanding scientific inquiry, such answers shut it down. (How does one disprove the existence of omnipotent intelligences?)

Intelligent design offers few answers. For instance, when and how did a designing intelligence intervene in life's history? By creating the first DNA? The first cell? The first human? Was every species designed, or just a few early ones? Proponents of intelligent-design theory frequently decline to be pinned down on these points. They do not even make real attempts to reconcile their disparate ideas about intelligent design. Instead they pursue argument by exclusion--that is, they belittle evolutionary explanations as far-fetched or incomplete and then imply that only design-based alternatives remain.

Logically, this is misleading: even if one naturalistic explanation is flawed, it does not mean that all are. Moreover, it does not make one intelligent-design theory more reasonable than another. Listeners are essentially left to fill in the blanks for themselves, and some will undoubtedly do so by substituting their religious beliefs for scientific ideas.

Time and again, science has shown that methodological naturalism can push back ignorance, finding increasingly detailed and informative answers to mysteries that once seemed impenetrable: the nature of light, the causes of disease, how the brain works. Evolution is doing the same with the riddle of how the living world took shape. Creationism, by any name, adds nothing of intellectual value to the effort.


30 May 2009

My Joke for the Day

I really don't have a lot to say today. Just had a nice day relaxing with my daughter. We saw the movie UP which was cute. Then did some shopping and stuff. Best stop tonight was Barnes and Noble. I have a couple book recommendations for you: A Long Way Gone and The Pleasure of My Company. Both worth the read.

Okay, now on to my joke. It's disgusting, childish, and even racist... But it made me chuckle!

I like my sex Korean Style!

Korean Style?

Yeah, I eat a lot of pussy!

See, I told you it was juvenile!

29 May 2009

Yep, it IS mumbojumbo

Every time I see articles or hear people saying that science has somehow proved god(s), I cringe. Mostly because it's incredibly paradoxical, and it also totally mangles science. That's why this article had me wanting to arrest Francis Collins for the murder of understanding and science. What really confuses me is how someone who was the head of the human genome project can sink so low? It's as if he bought into the same tripe as that craptacular bullshit in "What the bleep"... By surrounding crap and lies with scientific sounding language, these fools are only helping delude more and more people. If you actually read what they are saying, and compare that to reality, you'll see it's all circular mumbojumbo...

Of course, the hypocritical Templeton Foundation is all over this shit. It has just the right stink and consistency to appeal to them. With as poorly educated as the average Joe is in the US, they'll gladly lap it all up, and while using Charmin for a napkin, ask for more. Is there no hope for intelligent people who are willing to put in intellectual effort into deciphering this?

28 May 2009

Need for HTML Help and Authors...

I am working on this Facts, not fantasy site, and I am having a hell of a time figuring out some formatting issues... Why is the text so small in the comment boxes of the blog? Why is it so small on most of the pages? What happened to all my beautiful formatting? Oh well, I guess I have some time to figure that out. It's just frustrating!

Speaking of that page, I am soliciting other authors. If you have some time, and ability, please help out the cause. We're trying to get this movement some momentum since there seems to be a tidal wave of crap out there in need of countering.

27 May 2009

Braindroppings

Sorry, just a busy few days trying to run out-processing checklists and the like. Although, if I have NEVER used base housing, why do I have to go to their office (clear on the other side of base) to get them to sign off on my checklist? Oops, sorry, started thinking logically there...

I found this article in Scientific American particularly humerous. Not to mention this article on dog breeds. Although the last sentence is quite insulting to all Chihuahua. Can you imagine being compared to a creationist!? How vile!

I also have to give props to my virtual friend IVAN3Man for reposting this particular write up. It really has to be some sort of mental disorder! At least in the way any type of actual thought has broken down. It's like some of the more loony conspiracy theorists.

I know my blogging is getting a bit sparse as of late. I am just so busy with the Facts, not fantasy site blogging, and then family obligations, I start to run out of things to type about. Although I am also trying to write my retirement speech. That's not going too well at the moment. I have a lot of nebulous ideas, but nothing is coming together. And I also need to be prepared to speak at my dinner. That will be difficult, mostly because the actual day of my dinner is actually my daughter's birthday, and I hate to take away from her turning into a teenager with all these activities. I will post both speeches on the appropriate day though, so you can track that here.

Also got my official photo taken today. It's for the program that will be printed on my retirement, but I also plan to update a lot of my profile pictures with it. Especially the atheist one! ;)

26 May 2009

The Job Front

Well, I bitched and moaned a great deal about the challenge of trying to find a job while deployed. Okay, now that I am home I have started in on the search seriously. And I almost feel a little ashamed at all the bitching I did... As I was coming out of an interview that went quite well, I got a call from one of my old supervisors, and found out that I basically already have a job in the bag. I am also evaluating a job offer from Booz Allen and General Dynamics.

Now I having to tell someone no! I honestly didn't think I was going to be in this position in this economy. I know that I have worked damn hard at developing my skills, and have taken on challenges that others would view as too hard or too risky, and it may seem that my resume is padded, every single bullet on there is the truth, not to mention truncated and pared down even! I guess I have a lot to be proud of in that regard. Of course, cultivating that resume took 20 years! I know that this economy has hit a lot of people pretty hard, and I can only say that I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right skills. I still need to look over the benefit packages and such, but I think I know what job I am going to go with.

That is a huge load off my mind. I may just have to start thinking about celebrating this too!

25 May 2009

I'M BACK!!!!!!!!!


Not much of a blog entry today. I'm just happy to be home and to see my family again. I have a lot of "stuff" to do though now that I am home and actually able to do all the things I should have been doing over the past four months. One of the first things I did was drop $1000 at Jos. A. Bank. OUCH! Although the suits are pretty damn nice! Now I am set for interviews and even to do some actual work outfits. Thankfully my wife has a wonderful sense of style and great tastes, so I will at least look good.

I am missing all my friends back at Al Udeid, but such is the life of us military folks! We make many friends throughout the world, only to leave them. As a matter of fact, since today is Memorial Day, here is a link to a writeup by a friend of mine who served as a Nurse in Iraq back in 2006. A very moving sotry, and a great picture.

19 May 2009

Without the Intertoobes

Okay, so I am finally about to depart for home. I am bouncing off the frikkin' walls! I just want to be home. Of course, while I am on the road (actually in the airplane), I will not have any internet connectivity. So I am going to be silent for a few days. I hope you don't mind, and will allow me the excitement of returning to my family.

I'll just leave you all with a few braindroppings: Should the anti-vax pro-disease nutters be held legally responsible if someone dies from a perfectly preventable disease? Hint, I think so!

More cool evolution news. Yes, I know, now there are two gaps where before there was only one... Seriously, someone will say that!

I am also still blogging daily for Facts, not Fantasy. Of course, with this trip, I'm going to have to take a pause. Although, I am having a hard time beating through all the swine flu non-sense to find relevant news about vaccines. As for the page itself, I need to probably do some maintenance on it so it actually looks the way I want it to...

See you guys in a few days!

18 May 2009

Open Letter to Oprah

I encourage and implore you to read this open letter to Oprah! Copy it to your Facebook page, tweet it, blog it, put it up on MySpace even! Thankfully most of the comments are supportive, although now that the lette is getting attention, beware the wrath of the anti-vax pro-disease brigrade. Not to be outdone by the Bad Astronomer, here is a particularly well worded excerpt:

To me, it is clear that a significant number of people look up to you, and trust your advice and judgment. That is why it is such a huge mistake for you to endorse Jenny McCarthy with her own show on your network.

Surely you must realize that McCarthy is neither a medical professional nor a scientist. And yet she acts as a spokesperson for the anti-vaccination movement, a movement that directly impacts people’s health. Claims that vaccines are unsafe and cause autism have been refuted time after time, but their allure persists in part because of high-profile champions for ignorance like McCarthy.

I sincerely wish that I was this eloquent! Again, if you know Ms Winfrey, or know how to get in touch with her, please pass this along. Spread the word! And of course, direct them to Facts not Fiction in case they are confused about anything (yes, I know, the page is still under construction).

17 May 2009

God: The Failed Hypothesis

Richard Dawkins and the other members of the so-called “Four Horsemen” of atheism base their position on the lack of evidence for the existence of "God", and admit that it is possible that "God" might exist in spite of the lack of evidence. Their position, stated simply (perhaps too simply), is that they see no reason to believe in "God", although they do not go so far as to say that "God" does not exist. Victor Stenger takes this view one step further, and says that science can establish that "God" does not, in fact, exist.

This book is properly seen as a follow-up to Stenger’s earlier book, Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe (Prometheus Books, 2003), in which he examined (and dismissed) the various claims that science had found something supernatural or unexplainable that could only be attributed to a deity. In relation to that book, as well, this new book can be seen as a step further.

Stenger’s exercise is qualified very early on, as he restricts the "God" he is disproving to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic "God", which he defines as having the following characteristics:
  • the creator and preserver of the universe;
  • the architect of the structure of the universe and the author of the laws of nature;
  • able to step in whenever he wishes to change the course of events, including violating his own laws;
  • the creator and preserver of life and humanity (humans being “special in relation to other life forms”)
  • endowed humans with immaterial, eternal souls;
  • the source of morality and other human values such as freedom, justice and democracy;
  • revealed truth in scriptures and by communicating directly to select individuals throughout history; and
  • does not deliberately hide from any human who is open to finding evidence for his presence.
While some theologians would doubtless take issue with some of these characteristics, it is probably fair to say, as Stenger does, that these are the attributes traditionally associated with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic "God". Stenger does not posit that "God" is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent; such a "God", he says, is already (philosophically) disproven by the Problem of Evil. In any event, he does not need to give "God" these attributes in order to establish his non-existence, and the case he builds will (he says) apply to even an evil or imperfect "God".

Having defined "God", Stenger then sets out to establish that, in relation to each of the defining characteristics, there is none of the evidence we should expect to see if a supernatural being with that characteristic existed. Over the course of six chapters, he sets out in convincing detail what we should expect to see if "God" existed, and what we do in fact see. He bases his arguments on the most current science available, and always frames them in terms of the scientific method. While his science and philosophy are both sound (Stenger is an emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at one university and adjunct professor of philosophy at another), his language is always clear and understandable to the layperson, never getting overly philosophical or overly technical.

The next chapter is less satisfying, and feels somewhat “tacked on”, as Stenger tackles the Problem of Evil and summarizes both theistic answers to the problem and atheistic rebuttals thereto. This is a topic that really deserves a more thorough treatment than Stenger can manage in one chapter, and is not really needed in a book devoted to the scientific approach. He is not wrong so much as sparse in his treatment, and he does not give this age-old topic the full examination it deserves.

Having convincingly dismissed the possibility of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic "God" existing, Stenger moves on to ask what possible gods are left. Here he provides a wonderful and convincing argument against a “hidden” god – albeit one who is still “perfectly loving”. Similar to the argument from evil, the argument basically says that a perfectly loving god would not deprive creatures of a positive and meaningful relationship with him, so cannot exist. An imperfect or evil (or even just not perfectly loving) god, of course, is not excluded by this argument, and Stenger quite properly admits that such a god cannot be totally ruled out, but “that we have not one iota of evidence that he exists”.

Finally, Stenger turns to the question of how we should live in the godless universe. Again, this is a topic that deserves a fuller treatment, and one hopes that Stenger might turn his talent to such a treatment in the near future. In this book, he contents himself with pointing out the negative impact of religion on society (something several other authors have done better recently) and discusses how we can find meaning, comfort and inspiration without "God".

All of the arguments presented in God: The Failed Hypothesis (aside from the few quibbles previously mentioned) are cogent, comprehensive and convincing. They will be useful in any serious discussion of the existence of "God". This is a book that deserves a place on the bookshelf of every agnostic, atheist and open-minded theist along side Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens.

15 May 2009

Add Authors?

Just an idle though... Does anyoe else want to have fun with this blog? Heck, I don't even know if there are people who read this, or if I am just typing to an empty room. Sure, my website tracker says this page gets lots of hits, but I have no idea as to the real substance of those hits. And I did notice that with this blogging software, you can collaborate. So, anyone want to join in on my ramblings? Just drop me a line or leave a comment. Let's see if this generates any interest.

Oh, sorry about not getting any pictures in lately. My web host changed the way they do FTP, and I am unable to upload photos to my host. And it's kind of rude to piggyback on other people's bandwidth, so I am just not going to put up pictures until I get back home and am able to access my FTP again.

More Evolution Stuff

One of the sites that I am working on (along with some other most excellent people) is Facts, not Fantasy. Each day, I go there to enter a blog about evolution, vaccines, and autism (or at least that's the format I am using now). So today I had a praticularly good entry on evolution, and thought I would repost it here.

While abiogenesis has nothing itself to do with evolution, it is considered one of those "defining gaps" that are used to bludgeon evolution with. That's why it's exciting to see this article about how RNA could be the starting point for life itself. Once you have any polymer capable of self-replication, you'll end up with more of those (and more of the ones that do it better). Since these are more abundant, they're more likely to be trapped inside vesicles that spontaneously form and divide by mechanical forces. That's basically a cell. Pretty much everything else is gravy that can be explained by natural selection. (There is also this article on the RNA chemistry.)

I guess what this really means is that yet another gap for that god fellow just shrunk. Don't you just wish that people would stop resorting to the supernatural when they aren't intelectually capable of saying that they don't know? *sigh*

There is also news of a new primate fossil that was found. This one goes back to about 47 million years ago, so is an even further precursor to the primate line. What is fascinating about this one is that basically evolution predicts that this type of fossil would exist, while ID or creationism says nothing about it. Not that I would expect IDiots and people with their brains stuck in the bronze age to actualy have the neural capacity for predictions and the scientific method.

14 May 2009

Herschel and Planck

With all the hoopla over the Hubble Repair Mission, it's almost easy to forget about the other astronomical observation devices. Today the Herschel and Planck satelites were launched by the ESA. I guess it's a good time to get observatories up there. The James Webb telescope is up and training the earth, these guys are heading over to L2, Hubble still going strong. I just love how we keep learning more and more. Peeling back the mysteries, only to expose more mysteries I bet. A while back, the Bad Astronomer even outlined what these two will do.

Go science. It works bitches!

Baptism or Molestation?

Holy shit, talk about creepy. I just came accross this story where some church crazies are luring children into a van to baptize them... Why do I imagine the van having "Free Candy" painted on the side. Yes, this isn't typical behaviour, but it is not in the slightest surprising... The forcing of a belief onto someone despite their wishes is what has over time caused me to not only be an atheist, but an anti-theism atheist. It's because of this type of despicable behaviour that I actively fight theism in all its guises.

The Story:
In Colorado Springs, Colorado, members of the Cornerstone Baptist Church have been aggressively proselytizing children at local public elementary schools. The proselytizing efforts took a decidedly disturbing turn a few days ago when they tried to lure a 7th grader off the school playground and into a waiting van — apparently where he could be baptized, even if against the will of his parents or his own wishes.

Remember, though, that it's all those vile atheists who are actually trying to force their "religion" on god-fearing Americans through underhanded behavior like announcing that they exist, or daring to tell others that there's nothing wrong with atheism. What America needs is fewer public atheists and more Christians driving around in seedy vans, ready to jump out and grab random kids for impromptu baptisms.


Students at nearby Keller and Fremont elementary schools also have been approached by church members, and church proselytizing has been escalating in recent weeks at Russell. Still, officials were unprepared for what happened Thursday, district spokeswoman Elaine Naleski said Friday.

"We have never had a problem like this before," she said. "We are shocked by their actions."

A few weeks ago, officials at the school met with the church's leader to complain about members coming on school property to preach the Bible, Naleski said. But rather than stop, church members started proselytizing from public sidewalks outside the school.

The school will seek a no-trespassing order if church members resume harassing children on school property, Naleski said. But it will be up to parents to take legal action against the church if their children are approached in public areas outside the school.

Source: Denver Post


As shocking as this incident is, I'm not surprised that it would happen in Colorado Springs, home base of the American Family Association and a disturbing array of far-right evangelical groups, churches, and activism.

I recognize of course that such behavior is not typical of Christians in America, but at the same time it can't be denied that it's entirely consistent with traditional, orthodox Christian doctrine. I can't think of any arguments against this behavior which are dependent on Christian doctrine — all the arguments against it depend on independent social codes, social expectations, pragmatism and prudence, or civil legal obligations. There are no Christian doctrinal prohibitions against proselytizing to kids, but there are plenty of traditions and doctrines which encourage proselytizing generally.

13 May 2009

Does Evolution Contradict Religion?


With the work I have been doing lately on the Facts, not Fantasy site, I have been just doing a lot of research. Now, to be honest, I am quite the anti-theist type of person, but since that site is supposed to be more educational, I am taking a much more neutral approach to the conflict between science and religion. So I was interested in this particular article I found. Especially considering that the writer is also an avowed atheist, and writes about it a great deal more than I do.

Here is the text of the article:
Does Evolution Contradict Religion?

This is a very important and fundamental question; there is so much debate in America over evolution and the nature of life that it is worth considering whether or not the theory of evolution contradicts religious beliefs. However, the question is also too broad. There is no such thing as "religious beliefs," without context or content.

Because of this, the only way to really answer the question is to say: sometimes yes, sometimes no. Evolution does contradict certain religious beliefs and even at times, certain religions. Evolution is also readily compatible with other religious beliefs and other religions. Indeed, it should be noted that there does not appear to be any contradiction between evolution and any one entire religious tradition.

The reason for this is that any large religious tradition with much of a history behind it will contain enough variety that even if there are groups which object to evolution, there will be groups which either welcome or simply ignore evolution. Sometimes this multiplicity of ways in which a religion can be interpreted may be a source of embarrassment - after all, it is hard to claim a religion to be True when there is so little agreement as to just what the religion really is.

On the other hand, it is also a principle of evolution that those individuals which are best able to adapt to changing environments are the most likely to survive, reproduce, and pass on their genes. Perhaps it also true for belief systems - those with the widest internal variety are best able to adapt to changing social circumstances and pass themselves along to succeeding generations. It may be difficult for some religions and some religious traditions to survive in the scientific environment of evolutionary theory, but not impossible.

12 May 2009

Cool Website (Documentaries)

Just found a cool website that has collected a bunch of documentaries (click on title of blog entry for today). Was just surfing around looking up some information on the nature of time, and remembered some of the work by Dr. Brian Cox. Come to find out, he had made a documentary about time itself even. I figured I needed to geek out and try to relax since I am still fuming about the fuctarded incompetence of the Air Farce...

Yet another Retirement Ceremony Update


Had to change the time for the dinner for my retirement. Apparently the restaurant doesn't accept reservations on a Friday night, so we're having it on a Thursday night. Oh well, I'll end up making it more about my daughter's birthday then as opposed to my retirement.

I was also just told that AFCENT doesn't think that it's a good idea for the guy that is coming in to be the chief of this shop to actually swap out with the guy who is the current chief. Instead he's going to swap out with me. And the guy that is coming in to replace me, will actually replace the current chief. So this means I get to leave later. Apparently the Air Farce could fuck up a free lunch. I swear, if it makes sense, and could possibly benefit me in the slightest, just on principle I think the AF is going to do the exact opposite. Fucktards, every single one of the pencil necked geeks!

11 May 2009

Go, go Atlantis!

I don't know about you, but I love shuttle launches. It's just something to consder that we are sending humans into space! Say what you will about the United States (and Russia and China), but putting people into orbit is an impressive feat. And for all those that say the manned space program is a waste, I suggest you only do all your air travel from this day forward on robotic air carriers, and let robots drive you to and from work every day. There are just some things that require a human brain!

And I am glad that they are going up to add more life to the Hubble Space Telescope. The scientific returns we've gotten from Hubble are just amazing. They have just pushed the limits of our understanding, and shown us how much we really have left to figure out. Remember the Hubble Deep Field? That was just plain amazing. Looking at an EMPTY spot in the sky! I know that I'll be incredibly sad when the Hubble mission is finally over. I wish that we could just boost it up, or somehow retreive it, but sadly (at least as things stand), it will end up entring our atmosphere to burn up.

Here's to NASA, the astronauts, and Hubble. Cheers!

10 May 2009

What Movies are you Looking Forward to?

I am just dying to get home just so I can be with my family. I also have a lot on my plate like retirement from the Air Force, and trying to find a job, and all that stuff... Let's just say that it is causing a lot of stress in my life, so I decided to make a blog entry on a lighter vein. So what movies are you looking forward to this summer? Here is my list of movies:

Wolverine - Yes, I'm a geek and I love the X-men franchise. Hugh Jackman does a great volverine as well. Now, I got to see a "pirated" copy of this while sitting here at Al Udeid. Sure, got to see the plot (pretty good) without all the special effects added in. Not sure it's enough to go see just for that added bonus. While I enjoyed the movie, I don't think it was outstanding. It passed the time, and I enjoyed getting more background on Wolverine himself.

Star Trek - I really want to see it. I must be a sucker for that particular franchise as well. Maybe it's the humanism that drew me to the universe of Gene Roddenberry, and sort of kept me there?

Harry Potter - Laugh at me if you will, but I love these movies. Even though they are supposedly kid's books, J. K. Rowling has done a great job with a fantasy setting that really draws you in. Besides, this is the one where Dumbledore dies. I hear that Snape kills him...

Angels & Demons - Just because it pisses off hard core theists, I may go see it. I actually found the previous film to be okay, just as a mystery for finding the final clues. Otherwise I may wait for video on this one.

Terminator Salvation - Another franchise that has had its ups and downs. Let's hope this is the salvation they are looking for. I like the intensity Bayle brings to his characters, and the setting is just plain cool.

UP - Pixar has a way of surprising you! Whie I have to admit that the previews don't really look all that good, who knows. I may end up taking my daughter on a date to this if she wants. Besides, the short at the start may be worth the price of admission.

Land of the Lost - Huh? Okay, when did this get made, and why did they pick Will Ferrell? Okay, Ferrell did a great job in "Stranger than Fiction" so that has to count fr something. I wonder if it will be as campy as the old TV show? Not sure which I would prefer.

Transformers - They did a great job on the first one, so let's see if they can keep it up. It's not Shakespear, but it's fun!

Well, that's all the movies I am saw on a first search. Not having gone to an actual theatre in 5 months means that I haven't seen a single preview. I have no idea what's really going to be released! Notice any trends in my choices? So, are there any particular movies you are looking forward to?

08 May 2009

WTF? Just, WTF?

WTF!

Um.

Yeah.

Hm.

Honestly, I have tried starting this post about 6 times, each time weighing a new opening. Do I talk about the nature of a democratic republic? Do I start with a statement about Barry Goldwater shitting his pants? Since I decided that I can't have it all, I've decided that I'll have none of it.

It seems that the Paradigm Research Group has issued an ultimatum to the President:

"[E]ither disclose the reality of the Extraterrestrial presence by June this year, or prepare to face an onslaught of media based inquiry and scrutiny."
Look out, President Obama! Scrutiny! HAHAHAHA!

OK, how is the Paradigm Research Group going to incite the entire media to, uh, inquire about the real alien invasion?
The plan is simple: failing President Obama's open and direct admission to the American public (and the world) that Extraterrestrials exist and are currently engaging Earth and its citizens, PRG and its network will provide the media with all the documentation and information they require in order to further ramp up the pressure.
If you have evidence, why do you need the President to take the lead on this one? I merely ask because the logic is so bent. Why should the President spend a smidgen of his valuable time appeasing PRG? I mean, there's some big stuff going down right now, and the adults have some serious work to do. Well, you see, in the conspiracists' worldview, all things are usually connected:
Disclosure may be far from President Obama's mind these days, but the seemingly endless series of crises thrust upon him and his administration may also stem from a far greater and problematic issue, mainly the holding back of information concerning whether or not other sentient and highly advanced life forms are present and engaging us as a species.
The aliens are responsible for assuming bad debt? They are giving us Mexican Jumping Flu? They are tossing Madonna off of an endless series of horses? (Stay off, dumbass! You clearly suck at riding!) I can't even process that claim it's so far out there.

07 May 2009

74.2 km/sec/Mpc

Just saw that we've nailed down how fast we're flying apart from the rest of the universe, and it just made me think of a particularly funny song from "Monty Python and the Meaning of Life". Actually, in thinking about it, it does seem that the most recent and dramatic philosophisers on the "Meaning of Life" have come from the UK. Monty Python, Douglas Adams, and even someone like Dawkins!

I encourage you to click the title link. Dr Plait does a wonderful job explaining what those numbers mean.

Just for your enjoyment, here are the silly lyrics:
Whenever life get you down, Mrs. Brown
And things seem hard or tough
And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft
And you feel that you've had quite enu-hu-hu-huuuuff

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
And revolving at 900 miles an hour
That's orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it's reckoned
A sun that is the source of all our power
The sun and you and me, and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at 40,000 miles an hour
Of the galaxy we call the Milky Way

Our galaxy itself contains 100 billion stars
It's 100,000 light-years side-to-side
It bulges in the middle, 16,000 light-years thick
But out by us it's just 3000 light-years wide
We're 30,000 light-years from galactic central point
We go round every 200 million years
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whiz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light you know
Twelve million miles a minute and that's the fastest speed there is
So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space
Because there's bugger all down here on Earth

06 May 2009

Galaxy Zoo

Beware this amazingly fun and educational black hole for your free time! The Galaxy Zoo. We have come to an age in astronomy where we cannot expect astronomers to classify every single image we take. We have so many images, and only so few astronomers. And while you are classifying the galaxies, you learn about them, and you may even find some spectacular photos to put on your desktop.





From the site itself: The Galaxy Zoo files contain almost a quarter of a million galaxies which have been imaged with a camera attached to a robotic telescope (the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, no less). In order to understand how these galaxies — and our own — formed, we need your help to classify them according to their shapes — a task at which your brain is better than even the fastest computer.
More than 200,000 people have taken part in Galaxy Zoo so far, producing a wealth of valuable data and sending telescopes on Earth and in space chasing after their discoveries. Zoo 2 focuses on the nearest, brightest and most beautiful galaxies, so to begin exploring the Universe, click the ‘How To Take Part’ link above, or read ‘The Story So Far’ to find out what Galaxy Zoo has achieved to date.
Thanks for your help, and happy classifying.
The Galaxy Zoo team.





Also, I just had to make this blog post so I could have a tag from every letter in the alphabet. I just noticed today that I was missing "Z" (although I sorta cheated with "X", but that was an early entry, and I only just now noticed my tags.). Yeah, I'm a goof, but this is my blog after all!

05 May 2009

Facts, not Fantasy!

Who hoo! We are getting a start for a collection of information for the "Facts, not Fantasy" page. It's only a start, and I am still trying to figure out a great number of things, but now we have a place in the world wide web. This is a resource for all who want to fight the anti-vax pro-disease nutters out there. Feel free to copy and paste the info on there and place it wherever you want.

The page still needs some work, but we are at a start. Right now, the main focus of the page has the vaccine/autism link information on it. It has a very basic start on the evolution information, but that is nowhere near ready. The FAQ and Links page aren't ready yet either, but those aren't nearly as difficult to put finishing touches on as pages with a great deal of content.

Some things that I want to do is enable comments (only for people who wish to register of course). We'll do our best to not actually moderate the comments there, but we will make fools out of those who come in there and spread lies or use anecdotes.

I also need to work on a graphic for the page to get rid of that "Optimus" thing... Not even sure what that's about!

Later the page will be a resource for both the Vaccine/Autism crowd, as well as the Evolution/Creationist debate. Check back often. And if you want to help on this project, feel free to drop me a line.

04 May 2009

Bland...

Yesterday my wife sent me an email, and she was talking about her shopping trip to the lawn and garden shop. Now that I am within 2 weeks of going home, I am really starting to miss more than just my family. I am missing simple things like seeing the colour green! While I am sure there are some areas of Qatar that are beutiful to look at, I must say that the area they put Al Udeid is the most desolate and just plain ugly are of the entire country. It's almost as if they had a deliberate search for the worst possible place to put this base. And the farm to the north with the open pits of crap doesn't help!

The picture above shows about as much colour as I see here. Pretty bleak. I winder if that has anything to do with some of the ease with which extreemists are able to recruit people from this part of the world. Nothing to do with ideology, but rather that they have been driven stark raving mad by the lack of scenery and how incredibly bland this area is. Even to have green or anything vibrant takes an incredible expenditure or resources. I guess if it wasn't for the oil and natural gas, I just can't see any reason for living in this area.

My 2 cents for today.

03 May 2009

While I like SETI@Home...

I have to say that I have always been a fan of SETI@Home. So much so that my wife is constantly giving me shit for running it. Of course, if I sit and analyze what it is that SETI@Home is doing, I have to be totally honest. It's a LONGSHOT to say the least. I know a lot of people will say that we have been broadcasting for over 60 years now. However, something very simple seems to escape a lot of folks: The Inverse Square Law. It applies to any omnidirectional radiation. Our crude radio and TV counts in that.

The longshot of course is that there may be intentional high power transmissions. Of course, the fact that we as a human race have only made a total of 5 transmissions ourselves doesn't speak for there being that great a chance of us finding too much. And those transmissions were all of limited length. They would probably be like a "Wow! signal" to anyone out there that just happened to pick it up.

It is very unlikely that alien civilizations are going to pick up television transmissions according to the table from this site: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/astronomy/faq/part6/section-12.html

Note the range for UHF television (2.5 AU) and the range for the UHF carrier (0.3 LY). Neither estimate is enough to make it out to the nearest star. They don't list a range for VHF television but FM radio is in the middle of the VHF television band and the estimated range for that is 5.4 AU. Again no where near enough to make it to the first star. Let alone out of our own SOLAR SYSTEM!

The optimistic ranges for detecting a nearby planet are based on either massively powerful transmitters or highly focused outputs from large transmitters.

The calculations that I made suggested that one would need an Arecibo sized antennae with a 250,000 watt transmitter to be able to send a detectable signal to a planet as far away as 150 light years.

This is easily with the capability of earth's technology. The Arecibo antennae has only limited steering capability. I think it is mostly constrained by the direction it is pointing as it rotates with the earth so there are lots of potential targets it couldn't be aimed at. The 250,000 watts could be pulsed so that no where near 250,000 watt of continuous power would be required. But will the powers that be that control enough of earth's resources ever feel like funding a major effort to transmit to unknown alien civilizations?

I have wondered about the feasibility of a laser transmitter to reach stars. If the powers that be wanted to dedicate some resources to this idea the authors suggest that we might hit a 1000 light years with a currently feasible optical laser. I think that bumps the stars for which a signal might be detected from about a 1000 that lie within 100 light years to about a 100,000 that lie within a 1000 light years.

The article on the possibility of optical SETI: http://seti.harvard.edu/oseti/tech.pdf

And keep in mind, so far, everything about SETI is privately funded! So don't go on some tangent about wasteful government spending, this is not the place to look.

01 May 2009

Such "Wholesome" Fables

So someone came up with the hillarious idea of doing "bible" stories without alteration. None of this Veggi Tales cutesey crap, but all the rape, slavery, incest, genocide, etc. Frikkin' hillarious! Of course, the so called christians (most of whom have never actually read the bible) would accuse folks of making that shit up. Trust me, with as fundamentally fucked up and weird as the bible is, no one needs to make shit up. The response would be that we only followed the script, and expected them to be happy about it. And people say they should live their lives accrding to this book? Yikes! There are the examples of people who have indeed attempted to live "biblically". I think A. J. Jacobs was the most prominent. I like one of his quotes:

"A critique of fundamentalism. I became the ultra-fundamentalist. I found that fundamentalists may claim to take the Bible literally, but they actually just pick and choose certain rules to follow. By taking fundamentalism extreme, I found that literalism is not the best way to interpret the Bible."


Emphasis mine. Oh how true that is in pretty much every regard! Why is it that people who probably haven't read it from cover to cover (instead, relying on what someone else cherry picks for them) insist on telling others what it's all about. And then they seem to just pick and choose the things they are going to follow, and at the same time try to enforse the things they pick and choose on others... I guess that goes to the arguments so many theists have that atheists can't have morality (WRONG!). Well, the bible sure is a fucked up place to get morality from as well!

Anyway, that is my random blog post for today. For the pagans out there, I guess today is Beltaine or something. Enjoy.