There has been a crop of beautiful books on atheism and the stupidity of ID/creationism over the last six months or so. The God Delusion, the new edition of Atheist Universe, Letter to a Christian Nation, God: The Failed Hypothesis, Why Darwin Matters, Why Intelligent Design Fails, The Counter-Creationism Handbook, and others (!)

In any case, some of these books have been constituting my reading material while I take the bus to work each bloody morning and back each exhausted evening…Finally, someone at work asked me, with a slightly offended air, if I only was ever interested in one side of the argument and whether that did not constitute an indication of a closed mind on my part. That was funny. But, honestly, of course I read the opposition. I’ve read Phillip Johnson and laughed. I read Duane Gish and fell out of my chair, weeping with merriment. Their kind perform a useful purpose: they lift up our spirits by showing how perfectly idiotic humans can be; they ignore science, misrepresent its conclusions, come up with their own rather strange philosophical concepts and generally spend their time standing in the corner blocking their ears with their hands and shouting “Nyaah Nyaahh I can’t hear you”. Very funny.

I knew that that wasn’t the kind of response my questioner wanted to hear, but what the hell? OK: I’ve read Behe and Dembski, and they weren’t even really funny, although they also committed most of the aforementioned fallacies. They just did it in a very self-importantly aggrandazing and serious way. Those two are difficult to laugh at, but, really, their suggestions have been debunked rather thoroughly: just for starters, a whole bunch of articles are here. Easy enough.

But what about “sophisticated” theology? Well, indeed. Just finished reading Haught’s Deeper Than Darwin, and am now plodding through McGrath’s Twilight of Atheism. But not on the bus!!! See, I want something fun on the bus, and since I do not find appeals to revelation and subjectivity convincing and informal logical fallacies of various stripes no longer even make me very angry, McGrath would just put me right to sleep (in fact, if it were less generally unpleasant, I’d be reading this kind of material before going to bed: gently relaxing one’s critical faculty and helping one shut off one’s brain). Haught is a bit more contentful, but even so, if that is the best that “sophisticated” theology can throw at us, we are not in any trouble (logically, anyway). Nobody but believers would be convinced by any of the arguments therein; books like that serve only as a confirmation, a support of sorts: see, somebody out there thinks like you do, you are not alone, we can make silly errors and be confused together.

Blecch. Today, however, no such fun. My bus reading will consitute papers on evolution of photosynthesis and possible detection of such in extrasolar planetary atmospheres. Hey: it may not be funny, but it will be exciting!

Advertisements

Quite a few physicists reject the theories of multiple universes pushing their argument through by the use of Occam’s Razor: we should not multiply entities unnecessarily, they say, and what is more multiplicatory than a possible infinity of other universes? They are quite wrong. Indeed, entities should not be multiplied, but the entities referred to in this principle are not physical objects, but rather, explanatory ones. The number of physical objects is irrelevant; consider the statement that Earth should be the only “Earthlike” planet in the universe, since postulating other worlds similar to ours would be complicating the situation unnecessarily. From what we know of planetary formation, there are likely to be many, many Earthlike planets out there, even though we haven’t detected any yet. To proclaim that our planet is the only one of its kind in the Universe is, indeed, complicating the explanatory entity unnecessarily, because it would require a new physical law, something that would guarantee our uniqueness.

This same argument applies to the many universes. Multiple universes are not required but are certainly suggested by most cosmological theories today. We cannot detect them, of course, but only the most hardcore positivist would consider that to be a counterargument. On the other hand, postulating our universe as unique would require modification of said theories, an introduction of some kind of restrictive quality, a new physical law again. So the idea of multiple universes, originating, for example, through chaotic inflation, is simpler/more elegant than single-universe hypotheses.

we aren’t angry enough

18 February 2007

A fascinating dialogue between Sam Harris and Dennis Prager starts here. Of course, I root for Harris, and, unsurprisingly, Prager, while making some interesting (but completely predictable) points, comes off looking much worse for the wear. Certainly a win for atheism. I am not really sure what the purpose of discussing such subjects is; after all, a true believer would remain unconvinced by anything we could tell them.

A few years back several friends and I were in Santa Cruz, helping keep Operation Rescue people from the Planned Parenthood clinic. It was a rather mellow day, and we had an opportunity to talk to the opposing side quite a bit. I remember arguing against theistic conception of a deity and for individual freedom of conscience with some middle-aged, suitably intelligent-looking protester on the other side. I made what I thought to be a beautiful, logical, watertight case. He listened, seemingly with some appreciation and comprehension. I almost considered giving him a beer. When I was finished, he dispelled my confused hopes with a simple statement:

“Yeah,” he said, “You make a great logical argument here. But, you know, LOGIC IS THE TOOL OF SATAN!!!”

Of course, rather than giving him a bottle of Sierra Nevada I instantly reached the conclusion that the only thing to be done in response to such a blatantly idiotic statement would be to bash him over the head with it, and it took all of my considerable reserves of willpower not to do so. I am sure he would have enjoyed his martyrdom, anyway, and I would not give a brainless dickhead of such kind the pleasure.

Back then, we thought that the religious right would be a minor, passing thing; we hadn’t connected it with, narrowly, Republican party, and, wider, with some deep and troubling changes in our society. Of course we are angry. We are shat upon, denied our rights by sitting presidents of this country, vilified as not even Muslims are in this country (actually, to quote one fundie dimwit, “new research demonstrates that Atheists are just a sect of Moslems”). I have friends that have lost their jobs when they came out of the atheistic “closet”. Born-again fuckwads are openly calling for our death (only one example of a widespread phenomenon). Not even I, with my admittedly drastic ideas and solutions want to destroy all of them. See: tolerance and kindness will always lose to bigotry and self-righteousness. I am not that kind, but I make a great effort to be tolerant, and so do all of my atheist friends (some of whom are much kinder than me). Maybe we shouldn’t.

Fuck it. At least I can listen to Purcell and Dowland. The bloody fundies probably have no idea who they were.;)

GraveJorg, the milk of human kindness, over and out.

One of the most annoying (and disappointing) things that happens to me fairly regularly is this:

I’d be in a bar, chatting up some comely wench. The wench would ask-“So, what did you study in school?”

“Astrophysics”, I’d tell her, uncomfortably, dreading what may come next.

“???”

“Well astronomy, you know”, I’d try to explain.

“Oh, ASTROLOGY…

At which point I would no longer want to be chatting her up but, rather, kicking her in the head with steel-toed boots. Another ripening romance gone to shite. I would excuse myself and flee.
Sometimes the dreaded word would pop up much later, as in “This is my friend Jorg, he is an ASTROLOGER“. At least, by that point I may have had a chance to get what I wanted, but then I would feel curiously dirty.

In any case, we all know that America isn’t really up there as far as the knowledge of science and, y’know, general facts of life, is concerned. What is interesting, however, is that apparently our scientific knowledge has been getting better, but, at the same time…well, here. Tell me this does not disturb you and…we’ll see what and.

The Discovery Institute is at it again, as you can see in this piece. They, and…whatchamacallit…Bob Jones University (whose dress code alone is ground for some serious chuckles) would be truly hilarious underneath all the dishonesty, with the pure unadulteratedly no-really-malicious-but-maybe-just-a-little-bit-so laughter one reserves for village idiots, except for the fact that a lot of people believe that crap. Indeed, the village is in imminent danger of being taken over by the said idiots.

See, I am actually linking to the cretinous submammals, lest anyone accuse me of one-sided approach to the subject. Yeah, check them out: if you actually think that there are valid points about evolutionary theory on those sites, let me know, and I will try to explain. Cos there ain’t. That is pure and simple bullshit, and calling them idiots is the kindest thing anyone can do. The alternatives are “lying scumbags”, “evil power-addicted fuckwads”, et al. You get the picture.

After a long week at work (much longer than your regular week, no doubt due to subtle relativistic effects), I do not even come close to thinking. (At least, soon I may become the rare aging punk-rocker graduate student and not have to slave…on stupid irrelevant jobs, that is). In any case, it’s Saturday and a good day for meta-blogging; creativity ran dry, and Portland Jazz Festival is happening with a bunch of ECM musicians, so here:

For yet another surely insignificant reminder of the shite this planet is going through, see here

2036–here’s a doozie.

One chart to graph them all…

Is creationism stupid? Does a Jorg shit in the woods?

A beautifully written reality shot for the homophobic assholes.

And, naturally, a metablog of nothing but links would not be complete without a plug for one of my facourite pieces of software: XEphem. Get the damn thing, already. It even runs on Windoze…I think.

G’night, all.

Conservatives are anal in the classic sense of the word, aren’t they? It’s that automatic, knee-jerk desire for propriety, adherence to ritual, sublimated longing for approval. It’s interesting that, in a conservative mind, all innovation is wrong–until it stops being innovation and enters the cultural mainstream. It’s almost as if they could not make up their own minds as to what is good or not good–or, at least, what they themselves like and dislike–unless they have the (dead) weight of history and the hallowed sanction of tradition on their side. Despite their individualistic claims they so often seem to be nothing but poor little populists, indecisive and almost uncapable of any action unsanctioned. Poor lost puppies they are. We should pity them, teach them complex activities (like critical thought), encourage them to use their imagination and not be bound by what dead ancestors say is okay to do, think, feel, dream about.

On second thought, fuck them.

on arrogant ignorance

15 February 2007

I’ve had an opportunity–some may call it a misfortune–to listen to a bit of some conservative talk-show today. The guy was spouting some amazing gibberish about global warming, but that is not quite what I want to talk about (at least, not directly). But he did say an interesting thing, something like that the difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives thought that their opponents had bad opinions, while liberals thought that their opponents were bad people. My brain clicked a few times: of course, he was wrong, but…

There are some conservatives for whom I have quite a lot of (possibly grudging) respect. I can debate with them, but our debates revolve around philosophy (primarily that of political variety), but never religion or scientific facts. They share my distaste of the former and appreciation for the latter; they do not reject basic concepts, and we have that, at least, in common: enough ground to stand on and structure the rest of our disagreements around.

But then there are others who…well, not exactly bad, but one wonders: either ignorant and stupid, or, well, ill-meaning, or something. Here is an example.

The aforementioned host, amongst his attacks on the science of global warming mentioned the fact that anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere was only a minute fraction of the naturally occurring one, as if it constituted some kind of defense for his claims. Now anyone who has ever had to deal with systems in equilibrium in the first instance, or to solve an ordinary differential equation in the second can tell you that an extremely minute change in the initial conditions can have enormous effects on the final results. That is the butterfly effect, of course. The size of a disturbance relative to the system is far less relevant than it may appear at first glance. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in mathematics or atmospheric sciences to know that. So…the conclusion is inescapable: either the person who makes that claim is an arrogant idiot without a clue or he has some other agenda that he hopes will be promoted by his extravagant abuse of facts. Are there other options? I don’t think so.
The same person also mentioned that CO2 is only a small contributor to greenhouse warming, again exposing his ignorance. Of course, carbon dioxide is, by volume, far less efficient at trapping heat than methane, for example, but its absolute amounts are so much higher that the total contribution from it becomes quite significant. Duh!

Another example: it is often claimed that capitalism has built-in mechanisms to contain damage to the environment, and that those mechanisms are much better than those that would be imposed from the outside of the market, by the government. But only a brief look into standard economical theory–which is what capitalism runs on–would show that the gurus of the market like Friedman and Simon have themselves admitted that given a high enough discount rate for the future, present-day resources can (and will) be exploited beyond any hope of replenishment. Setting a discount rate has to be done by an extra-market force. (Adam Smith himself had some quite unkind things to say about the “invisible hand”, statements that are never entioned when conservative marketeers quote him).

So, with egregious incomprehensions, omissions, demonstrations of ignorance like that, how the fuck do they expect to be taken seriously? Yes, sir, the opinions of conservatives are bad, but what is more, they are often idiotic and they persist in holding them in the face of all evidence. And that reflects on the person holding those opinions. Sorry, you are a stupid asshole.