Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Big question

A better question than asking if you are a monotheist, atheist, deist, polytheist, pantheist agnostic or any other combination of the above (indeed if that is at all possible) is one’s answer to the following:

Why does non-human initiated suffering occur (ie. Deaths by natural disaster, most disease etc)? (Human initiated suffering is more easily explained by the free will argument which sets up a whole avenue of debate that is not the intention of this thread).

The following is a list of the common answers given

a. They just do. Humans are nothing special. Change occurs and humans suffer as a consequence. Mother nature is a bitch at times.
b. God wants to teach us a lesson that will help us grow as a people
c. God is angry with us for our evil.
d. The answer will be revealed in time. God knows why. Those who suffer will be rewarded later if they are good.
e. God knows the full picture. We don’t. What we see is suffering may not actually be suffering
f. God wants to help but God is not all-powerful. There are forces beyond his control.
g. The Aliens are toying with us.
h. We are paying the price for errors in past lives.
i. We suffer now but will be rewarded in the future
j. I have no clue. Lets move on and deal with it.
k. God is evil. He indeed may be a demon.
l. Suffering makes us understand God more.
m. We really don’t mean that much to God….in all honesty he doesn’t care one way or the other.
n. God designed the universe but sits back now and certainly doesn’t micromanage.
o. The group of angels that God entrusted the micromanagement to are on strike.
p. Different Gods are battling with each other. This is the consequence of the fight.
q. Its all part of a giant conspiracy controlled by the Illuminati and their shape shifting extra-terrestrial bosses.
r. Random fluctuations of a butterflies wings….Chaos man.
s. God is being held hostage by Satan.
t. God is testing our faith.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ten Misconceptions people have about Evolution

1. Evolution is a Theory.
Correction – It’s a fact in that it does occur. Nevertheless the exact impact of the various factors that are behind it are up for theoretical debate.

2. Evolution has a direction
Correction – Direction implies a goal. There is no goal to evolution, nor is there any purpose it is merely a consequence of a variety of interacting factors.

3. Charles Darwin came up with the idea of Evolution.
Correction – No, he didn’t. The idea has origins in Ancient Greece and has persisted throughout western scientific history (although not with the mainstream support that creationist ideas had). Various scientists have tried to explain what its principle ‘cause’ was (including Darwin’s famous grandfather Erasmus Darwin) however it was ‘Chucky’ himself who came up with the idea of natural selection as the chief phenomenon that drives the process.

4. Natural Selection is the only driver behind evolution
Correction- Natural Selection is a powerful force but it is not the only mechanism. Genetic Drift can be important too.

5. Charles Darwin wrote the definitive all encompassing work on the evolutionary mechanism.

Correction – Darwin’s work on the Galapagos Islands (during his voyage on the HMS Beagle) were critical to the formulation of his ideas on Natural Selection but his work was far from complete. He had no understanding of the Mendelian Genetics (let alone DNA) and in a sense produced more of a macro approach to the science than anything else.

6. Darwin was a the only scientist at the time thinking along these lines re: natural selection

Correction – Much overlooked in the history of this fascinating topic is the work of Alfred Russel Wallace who had reached similar conclusions to Wallace. Darwin published before Wallace (although Wallace had notified Darwin beforehand of the conclusions that he had reached). Wallace was the product of a working class environment and in a time when class distinction was all important in British society Darwin’s ties to the establishment may have given him the edge in this regard.

7. Evolution causes organisms to improve over time.

Correction – This again implies direction. Evolutionary change favours organisms that are better adapted to the environment at the time. However if the environment had to change these better adapted organisms may find themselves on the short end of the stick and out competed by their peers who they currently dominate. In summary it is the environment that is the key.

8. Evolution explains the origin of life.

Correction – Actually it doesn’t. Science has several useful ideas how this may have happened (it also may not be a one time event), almost all of it biochemical, but the issue is far from being meaningfully resolved.

9. Darwin removed the necessity to believe in a God as a creator.

Correction – This is the classic Richard Dawkins argument that has some merit in a world of strict materialism but it still fails to answer the origin of life question mentioned in 8. In addition it is indeed possible that there may be subtle forces at play that drive evolutionary change that our material based science cannot elucidate. If God is indeed all powerful, then God can act with pure subtlety, bypassing our best efforts to notice such action. Remember our science is limited and has constraints defined by sensory and rational limits.

10. Certain features are most certainly intelligently designed.

Correction: Intelligent Design constructs (eg. clotting mechanisms, Flagella in bacteria, the eye) are an illusion driven by an innate human need to see purpose and meaning within pattern. Structures proposed by ID proponents may exhibit facets of design but these can be explained adequately by natural selections without the need to bring in a designer. Besides some designs thought to be intelligent fall short of the description…most notably the blind spot in the retina, our pharynx (which increases choking risks) and the narrowness of the female birth canal.

TV Series of Note

I don't watch much TV ...maybe three hours a week all honesty I prefer reading, writing, pissing on dogma (and leftists in the process) and annoying Dina. However I have managed largely through efficient selection to watch a couple of great shows over the last eight years or so. My Top Nine list would read (don't have enough for a top ten list):

1. The Walking Dead
2. Breaking Bad
3. Big Bang Theory
4. House
5. The Strain
6. House of Cards
7. Orange is the New Black
8. Boston Public (binged watched this)
9. Weeds (First four seasons then it seriously jumped the killer whale...forget about the shark)

I am working on the Americans and Under the Dome so I will let you know how those turn out. Since my watching extravaganza includes zombies, meth production, physics geeks, vampires, corrupt Democrats, women's prisons, dysfunctional high schools and dope dealing housewives, I am starting to wonder what this says about me. Now its true that some of these apparently disparate themes are not as unrelated as one would think at first glance. In fact all eight of them converge at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration but that can't be the answer. I bathe too often to be part of the Occupy crowd and there is that small issue of an ideological difference that spans a chasm bigger than the hole in Willie Nelson's bank balance. Suffice it to say I am without an answer at present so I will place it comfortably in the warmer oven and head off to participate in something even less knowable - deciphering my daughter's fashion preferences.

On Anti-Vaccine Hysteria

One reality that more often that not screams stupid is when the radical left and right come together on an issue that almost every reasonable voice on the center rejects. Typical examples include the negation of Israel’s right to exist, all too frequent 911 conspiracy theories, and the support of such charming personalities as Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The latest cause célèbres to come to the fore is the dangerous anti-vaccine hysteria that seems to have crept into the thinking of those who navigate under the illusion of a purple sky.

While leftist anti-vaxxers normally case their argument in the context of nature battling artificial toxins (with a touch of corporate greed mixed in) those on the right of sanity are driven by the need to equate vaccines with some giant government conspiracy. Both viewpoints are dangerous and go against the single greatest weapon that we have against the slide into the sewer of wretched superstition – scientific evidence. Vaccines work and their development together with antiseptics, antibiotics and germ theory itself represent our most potent artillery in the fight against pathogenic diseases.

The demise of smallpox, polio, diptheria, neonatal tetanus, whooping cough and measles can all be credited to vaccines. The smallpox vaccine alone is estimated to have saved the lives of five million people annually.