Wednesday, 18 February 2009

An amusing comment on Pharyngula

Re: scientific "fact" vs religion "fact":

Posted by: Sastra Author Profile Page | February 17, 2009 7:01 PM

heddle #157 wrote:

Of course you can call it apologetics, but that’s because you don’t know jack shit. A little investigation and you would discover that a lot of scientists have the same criticism about the various multiverse theories and about String Theory in general—that it makes no contact with experiment.

Yes -- and my understanding is that String Theory proponents agree that this is a serious problem, and if they want to get their theory accepted they're going to have to figure out a way to test it through experiment, and not just through elegant math.

What String Theory proponents do not do:

1.) Describe the dimensions as interactions of Love and Harmony, knit together through balanced vibrations of Consciousness.

2.) Claim that String Theory is not simply a matter of science and reason, but of a mature wisdom which seeks beyond the self, in wonder and mystery, recognizing that there are things we cannot understand. The universe is stranger than we can imagine.

3.) Scorn critics as guilty of "scientism," and ask if they have any way to measure things like their mother's love through their telescopes? Not all things that are real, need to be empirically demonstrated to others.

4.) Explain that String Theory is untestable by necessity, not simply due to its physical limitations, but by its requirement that one approach it with humility. If String Theory could be demonstrated through experiment, scientists would be forced to accept it, and put it in their models of reality, and then think they understood it all. But love cannot be forced, nor can the appreciation of beauty. It has to come from an act of acceptance, as one pulls on the Strings, and comes home.

Okay, I admit it. I'm talking out of my area here, so I guess I don't really know for sure that String Theorists don't claim this stuff.

But I don 't think they do. If they did, I think you'd see a lot more hostility towards String Theory, and String Theorists. They would probably be considered overzealous in protecting -- and advancing -- their theory.

Anatomy of a crash

This article is really interesting, and is something I've thought about quite a lot. In the list of events during a 50km/h crash, the really cool bits are:

70 ms - Airbag continues to deflate. Occupant moves back towards middle of car.
Engineers classify crash as “complete”.
150-300 ms - Occupant becomes aware of collision.

If correct, this seems to mean that at best you detect a crash nearly 0.1s after the whole thing finishes. In the event of a fatal collision, then, it seems like you are almost certain not to experience it. Excellent.

Sweet zombie Jesus

I'm considering taking the day off work to go and watch this picket happening:

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Salon comments on Evolution/Creationism

I think this was quite interesting:

but I'm not sure about some of the language. As someone "preaching to the converted" it's fine, but I don't think it'll change many people's minds.

The end of the world as we know it. Nearly.

If this is true, I am extremely scared! Amazing that everyone I know seems to think "it'll be OK, no need to panic"... nobody is considering that it might not be.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Needlessly controversial kitten-based post

I just read this article about a kitten killer being given one year in prison.

I don't understand.

Why is killing a kitten so much more serious than killing a cow in a slaughterhouse? Is it because we need to kill animals to eat? Why? Vegetarians manage just fine. How big is the need of non-vegetarians? How can we justify killing some animals and not others?

I'm not a vegetarian, but I hate the idea of killing animals. Yes, this means I am a hypocrite. Being hypocritical does not make your opinions any less valid. I am weak.

I've read that needlessly killing animals can be a sign of sociopathy. Surely, then, the man in the article has been properly analysed and diagnosed...

I believe that we need to have some coherent rules as to what animals are and are not killable. Should I wish to murder my cats, I may spend a year in jail. Should I wish to murder my cats and eat them then presumably I won't. How can we tell what my justification was at the time of the cat murder?

Or maybe I can murder my cows, whether I wish to eat them or not. Is there actually a rule?

Superstition has no place in medicine

Andrew Wakefield is not a scientist

According to the Times, Andrew Wakefield manipulated records of children with Autism who had been given the MMR vaccine to support his theory.

Presumably he should be paying part of the medical cost of the increasing number of measles and mumps cases...

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Advertising Standards Authority

There must be something we can do about these adverts:

If the articles about the atheist campaign are true, the "probably" part was very definitely inserted to avoid any legal issues. Presumably those same legal issues apply when claiming that there is a God...?

Why bother being warm-blooded?

This article goes through several iterations of reasoning as to why warm-bloodedness might be useful. It's so interesting, I can't believe that people might just say "don't bother asking - God did it". Even if God did do it, why split cold- and warm-blooded animals? Invoking God doesn't answer anything.

How to be popular

This is absolutely true - I have friends who talk about themselves the time and it's incredibly frustrating. But at the same time, I often catch myself doing it too!

Obama is actually quite good, isn't he?

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Crashing polls shouldn't be this entertaining

but it is!

When PZ linked to this page, it was 90% no. When I looked, it was 68% yes. Brilliant! Particularly good because it's the Daily Mail...

Followup post to "Half of all Britons are basically retarded"

Thanks to the comments of AnthonyK I went to check out

It's a fairly long document but is very well-written. So far I have read around half of it, and so perhaps I am commenting without all the available information, but here are some notes I made as I was reading the first 3 chapters.

My initial impression of the document was that it appeared to be a way of "scientifically" portraying some apologetic reasons for Darwin's "Faith". However, so far it has been a very good representation of the thoughts and behaviour of people when discussing Darwin's theories. I worried perhaps that there was too much emphasis on Darwin's religion, and (without time to check the references, at the moment) that there could be some quote mining, possibly.

For some reason this document was the first time I'd noticed how often people talk about the struggles they have when discussing ideas conflicting with Christianity. Surely it should be the other way around - after all, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and nothing could be more extraordinary than the god hypothesis (hypotheses?). Logically I'd expect the default belief to be that of "I'll believe it when I see it", but it seems that society somehow manouevres that stance to be the "alternative" to religion.

Of course, it was good to see Darwin's appreciation of charitable work done by his church. I'd like to make the point that the common belief that atheists are much less charitable is based on very flawed information!

I disagree with the point that there is no struggle between religion and science. I tried for a long time to resolve all of the contradictions between the two; scientific evidence is overwhelming, but could the Bible perhaps be moulded to fit it? Maybe Genesis could be talking about "days" as "a period of time", for example. The general order in which things happen in Genesis could just be a metaphor for evolution...

I'm not sure when I realised that clinging to the Bible with the very ends of my fingernails was pretty much pointless; if you don't try and make science and religion co-exist then life becomes infinitely easier (and not (just) because I can sin without fear of recrimination!).
  • The Bible says we are made in God's image. Evolution is firmly opposed to that.
  • The Bible says that prayers can make a difference to the world. The scientific method relies on this not being the case.
  • The Bible says that miracles can happen. No reliable evidence gives any example of this.
Those are just three of the most obvious reasons why religion just doesn't work. There are many more, and yet religious people are happy to criticise the theory of evolution by natural selection because of the "lack of evidence" in the fossil record. It almost seems like it must be a joke!

The article also briefly discusses the concept of Deism - that god created the world and then sat back to watch it happen, using evolution as the method of advancement. If this is the case, Deism is basically atheism to all practical intents and purposes. Why perform complex rituals if god is just sitting back and watching? How do you explain all of god's appearances to people in the Bible? Really, Deism is just Atheism but with a more Christianity-friendly approach.
"Why should you be so aggressive? Is anything gained by trying to force these new ideas upon the mass of mankind?" (Edward Aveling, The Religious Views of Charles Darwin (Freethought Publishing Company, 1883), p. 5)
I haven't been able to read the full book being quoted. However, I believe that the aggressiveness of many "militant" atheists (perhaps including Aveling) is ridiculously overstated. In fact, almost any questioning of religious beliefs seems to cause offence - a far cry from the aggression of, for example, the crusades. But even so, I believe such verbal (and peaceful) aggression is absolutely required to stop people and their children dying from their religiousness and scientific ignorance.
"There are not, and cannot be, any Divine interpositions in nature, for God cannot
interfere with Himself. His creative activity is present everywhere. There is no
division of labour between God and nature, or God and law…For the Christian
theologian the facts of nature are the acts of God.".
This quotation from Aubrey Moore is essentially a form of Deism invoked when the quoter would like to appear more reasonable and less religious. However, this refutes the concept of prayer and worship; the natural laws as we know them do not cover god's interference and actually all available evidence shows that no matter how hard you pray, god cannot break natural laws. To say that god is natural laws seems to move the goalposts to make the statement, and religion, essentially meaningless.

Various comments are made in the article about scientists being religious. Of course, being committed to a religion was socially necessary in the 19th- and early-20th-centuries. It is still socially necessary now, to some extent - looking at American politics for example.
"In January 1961, a bill to repeal Tennessee’s so-called “monkey laws”, still in force 30 years after the Scopes trial, was passionately opposed by people who argued
that evolution “drives God out of the universe” and “leads to communism”. 6"
On a side note, I've recently been reading the original Iron Man comics, and found some entertaining references to communism. It's amazing how an uncontroversial political ideal can become a symbol of fear and hatred to so many, when its underlying principles are quite reasonable. People don't seem so scared of those principles when the media and government help out by making the language more palatable.
"Respondents were told that “Darwinian evolution is the idea that life today, including human life, developed over millions of years from earlier species, by a process of natural selection,” and were asked what they thought of this. About a tenth (9%) of respondents said, ”it is a theory which has been disproved by the evidence”, with a further tenth (10%) saying “it is a theory with very little evidence to support it.”"
People do have very funny ideas about evidence, don't they?!

Anyway, enough for now... I'm bored of typing.

Warning: Graphic image of seal clubbing