Class Warfare Blog

July 13, 2017

Creationists on the Rise!

I have been filling in a few holes in my viewing of late and I decide to give the HBO documentary  “Questioning Darwin (2014?),” another try. I only got a few minutes into the show the first time and this time I must have gotten a whole quarter of the way through. And, truth be told, it seemed fairly even handed. What I was shocked about is the sheer audacity of the cherry-picking of scripture by the Ken Ham crowd (Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum, et. al.). When faced with the Problem of Evil, Mr. Ham simply shrugs this off because of all of the changes that occurred because of Adam’s “sin.” If it hadn’t been for Adam’s disobedience of God, we would all be living forever in a paradise … according to those given voice in this documentary.

But is this actually what scripture says? And, I do not here from the fact that the creation story in Genesis is actually a fictional tale meant to make spiritual points with Jews. These people believe that Genesis is historical truth, no doubt about it … even though the Jews, who are responsible for the existence of that book, claim otherwise. I am not starting there. I am working from the viewpoint of the people who believe that Genesis is either first- or second-hand knowledge of what really happened.

Let’s start with Adam’s disobedience of God’s instructions. Going against God’s instructions is the definition of Biblical sin. It is the Creationist’s definition of right and wrong, good and evil. But God’s admonition was: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Clearly neither Adam, nor Eve, understood the difference between good and evil, having not yet eaten from the tree, so what was the basis for the punishment?

The Creationists in the documentary essentially claimed it was Original Sin, although the idea of Original Sin doesn’t occur in the Bible, having been first alluded to in the second century by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, and expanded in the fourth century by Aurelius Augustinus. But even if it isn’t mentioned, the source of Original Sin is God’s curse. God said that “when you eat from it you will certainly die.” But Adam and Even did not die, instead they were banished and their children were condemned as sinners before they were even born … with no way out from under that sentence for thousands of years. So, who created all of that depravity? Looks like “God did it,” is the answer again.

These Creationists also seem to think that Adam and Eve were immortal and that their sin brought death into the world. That is not backed up by scripture, because unless all of the animals were immortal, too, there had to be death. If they thought that Adam’s and Eve’s sin brought death to immortal humans, then why did God say: “22 … ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’” and then “23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”

So, the whole point is that God showed no equanimity here. He could have just waved away Adam and Eve into nonexistence and then grabbed some mud to make a new Adam. He could have turned time back before Eve took her bite and strangled that serpent (it was not a snake; it had legs!). He could not have allowed the a serpent access to the Garden until Adam and Eve had had their shakedown experiences. He could have relented, restored them to their pre-bite status and warned them sternly to “Not do that again!” No, he condemns the entire race to depravity, hopelessness, and a Lake of Fire as a retirement home, for ever and ever, amen.

So, the Creationists are saying that the Book of Genesis is the literal truth but they have made up a whole lot of back story that is not in the Bible to support their worldview. In addition they have made up a whole lot of bullstuff about Darwin that conflicts with the historical record. They correctly, though, fully recognize that if Darwin is right, they are wrong. This is the source of their animosity. One commenter stated baldly that if he were not the subject of special creation, then he wouldn’t be “special,” he would be just another animal. He didn’t go on and say “And we all know that isn’t true …” he just left that hanging. Imagine, an argument that God has to exist because … ego gratification!

I just couldn’t finish the documentary because it is just so much bilge. They can indoctrinate their children and preach anti-Darwinism from their pulpits, but in the end God’s Creation will have the last laugh.

 

 

July 9, 2017

The Puzzlement of the Talents

Filed under: Culture,Science,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 6:33 pm
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I have been going back and forth with one of my students, who is in many ways my intellectual superior, over the nature of “talent.” I have argued and continue to argue that their ain’t no such thing. He argues that surely there must be.

I argue that scientists have looked and looked for a biological source of a talent and come up dry. There does not seem to be such a thing. What I am talking about is a specific talent, such as for baseball or poker or the violin, not a general propensity to be good at something. People with “talent” seem to progress rapidly and effortlessly in their chosen endeavor. I argue that in most cases what people are observing is a developed skill. When somebody sees a basketball star execute a slick play, gosh they just have to be talented. Of course, the commenter hasn’t seen the dozens and dozens of hours that move got practiced.

People in my camp argue that a physical skill, e.g. hitting a baseball or playing the flute comes from a considerable amount of practice. We acknowledge that people have built in attributes that make them stand out amongst beginners and allow them to learn faster than the crowd. Tall people have an advantage in basketball, for example. (Coach John Wooden used to say “You can’t teach quickness or height, so I recruit for those.”) Baseball requires good hand-eye coordination, strong wrists, and, etc. But is there a talent for baseball? I do not think so. (As an example, think of the multi-sport star athlete in high school. were they born with talents for all of those sports or are they just a good all-around athlete who practices hard?)

My argument is that high levels of skill are developed through training. Training is only pursued when there is interest, so the people who seem to “have a lot of talent,” tried something and were good enough at it that they liked it and so pursued serious training for a time. For example, Mozart was considered a musical child prodigy. But Mozart’s father was a music teacher and Mozart spent many, many hours in practice because, either he had to or he enjoyed it. Expert analysis of Mozart’s early compositions, those of his youth, indicated that they were rather derivative and ordinary. But how many youths are composing serious classical music at a young age? We tend to compare these “prodigies” with ordinary adults in the same endeavor, not with the greats of that endeavor.

One of the counter arguments offered against my position is so many people used the word talent in describing their situation, surely it can’t be just made up. Actually I think it was just made up. I offer, but cannot prove, the following scenario as justification. A youth shows behavior beyond his years. His parents fear demon possession, but a passing clergyman, eager to claim all good happenings for his god, counters that the child has “a gift from god.” These “gifts” became “God-given talents” over time, again to claim their god as the source of all good things (but not the bad things—interestingly, the bad things come from the Devil, or Satan … nobody asks where they came from).

So the idea of a talent was spin. It was an explanation of something that was borderline uncanny that was acceptable to most all people. The existence of talents/gifts was not questioned because they were so common (most people tend to be good at something) but when finally some scientists set out to find the basis for talents, they came and continue to come up with nothing.

If you are familiar with the Bell curve, aka a Gaussian distribution, it is obvious that our attributes and abilities are spread over quite a range. My height, for example, puts me in the top 2.5% of Americans. My IQ puts me in the top 0.5% of Americans. People that are way out on the tails (both high and low) are considered “different.” So, somebody who shows abilities far exceeding the expectations set up for his/her age can be singled out. But I do not see humans who are “off the charts” in their abilities. I see many kids who have opportunities and a few who embrace them seriously and a very few who excel at that activity. We do not sit around and discuss the child who quits right away. (This is a stupid sport; I am going home!) We sit around and ooh and ahh about those whose performances exceed our expectations. We say “They have talent.” What that means, in my thinking, is “They have developed a great deal of skill.” They stand out because they developed that skill faster than others, so at a younger age. Studies of “whiz kids” and “Wunderkinder” do not show a common continuation of their rate of progress into adulthood, many plateau off or “burn out” (not literally). How many stellar performers are you aware of who were child prodigies when young? Not many is my guess.

So, talent? Meh, not so much.

What do you think?

July 5, 2017

Why Don’t Atheists Just Run Amok?

Filed under: Culture,Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:38 pm
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One of the claims of god-fearers is that atheists are dangerous because they have no basis for their morals. Without a god to dictate what “being moral” is, and enforcing that moral code, there is just nothing stopping atheists from raping, looting, and killing, now, is there? I propose to explain why this is not the case, so that the god-fearers can understand.

This is just one point of many that can be made, like “It isn’t any fun,” but the primary reason that atheists don’t just run amok is that is just isn’t safe. Has anyone ever seen atheists run amok, specifically because their is no divine retribution, anyway? I have never heard of such a thing. I have read about numerous cases of bad treatment of people because they weren’t considered real people by the appropriate religious experts, but no amok running, per se.

Getting back to my main point: running amok ain’t safe. Let’s start with a hypothetical situation: a beautiful woman lives on an atheist’s block. If he were to go rape her, I mean, what could go wrong? For one, she may be a martial arts or MMA expert and she may beat the shit out of him. Or she may have a brother, father, uncle or other relative who owns a baseball bat and they may beat the shit out of him. (We have made this an element of society in the form of law enforcement. In Chicago, cops regularly beat the shit out of people, and shoot them, and then drag what’s left in for a trial.)

Obviously there is a great deal of downside to this running amok. When word got around, you could lose your job. Other people would shun you for being an asshole, etc. So, let’s say you embrace the badass nature of amok running, plus you are not a dumb atheist, but a smart one. You realize that to be able to run amok without negative consequences, you need a gang of atheists. There is safety in numbers, it takes a village, etc. So, you gather a gang, all ravening atheists, who form a mutual protection society. You go rape some woman and a male relative of hers takes offense and a baseball bat and comes looking for you and … Bob’s your uncle, you have a dozen guys there to greet him when he shows up. Easy peasey. But the problem with this approach is there is nothing stopping the aggrieved members of society from forming an even bigger gang and beating the shit out of your gang and you, of course.

Such behaviors: bullying, running amok, etc. only “succeed” in the short turn. Eventually you get the shit beaten out of you, or dead. (Ask Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi.)

So, the real reason why atheists just don’t run amok is that running amok is a lot of work and it just isn’t safe. Get along with people, treat them well, and you will lead a better life. This running amok idea may sound good to you, but it sounds miserable to us. It just isn’t any fun, you see.

July 3, 2017

NRA Changing Spots?

Filed under: Culture,Morality — Steve Ruis @ 8:01 am
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In a recent and controversial ad, the National Rifle Association’s spokesman, Dana Loesch accuses “their” ex-president of endorsing “the resistance,” a movement of demonstrators who “smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports — bully and terrorize the law-abiding.”

I never thought the NRA would turn against the Bundys (Cliven, et. al.) like that. Is there no steadfastness in that organization?

June 22, 2017

Bad Polling Leads to …

Note I have been very busy lately, so haven’t been posting much. Should be back to normal soon. Steve

I am a regular reader of Religion Dispatches, which I recommend to you. In today’s article, “GOP ‘Stealthcare’ Bill Reveals Catholic Bishops’ Priorities,” the topic is, of course, the GOP healthcare bill. (I didn’t say “new” healthcare bill because there hasn’t been an “old” healthcare bill since Medicare.) Foregoing a discussion of the main topic as we still do not know what is in that bill, I was struck by this section:

“A new Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows just how successful the effort to forge the church’s opposition to reproductive and LGBT rights into a new political wedge issue to motivate right-leaning religious voters has been. According to the poll, which probed the political divide between urban and rural voters:

“Nearly 6 in 10 people in rural areas say Christian values are under attack, compared with just over half of suburbanites and fewer than half of urbanites. When personal politics is taken into account, the divide among rural residents is even larger: 78 percent of rural Republicans say Christian values are under attack, while 45 percent of rural Democrats do.

“This particular divide, and this widespread sense of Christian persecution, is relatively recent. As Julie Ingersoll noted here on RD, while evangelical leaders had tried to gin up a sense of Christian persecution going back to the mid-1990s, as late as 2005, “the argument that Christians were a minority in need of protection was not persuasive in the broader religious right.” But a “little over a decade later, conservative Christians across the country … now see themselves as targeted by powerful elites, one step away from imprisoning and executing people for their faith.”

I find such polling to be destructive as it asks people questions like “Do you feel Christian values are under attack?” without defining what Christian values are. According to Wikipedia, “The term Christian values historically refers to the values derived from the teachings of Jesus and taught by Christians throughout the history of the religion.” What comes to my mind are: give away your possessions and follow Jesus (Renunciation of Worldly Goods), the poor will always be among us, so the need our help, turn the other cheek (Renunciation of Violence), love your enemies (Unconditional Love), along with a few other things.

If you were to ask U.S. citizens if they should give away their wealth and sell their worldly goods, what do you think their answer would be? And couldn’t taxing the rich be seen as a way to help the rich get into Heaven? Didn’t Jesus say a rich man had about as much chance of getting into Heaven as … well, you know?

And, if the poll takers were thinking about one thing as being paramount: belief in a Protestant Christian god (not the Jewish one, not the Muslim one, not the Indian or Asian ones), I can see how they might think that their religion is “under attack.” Atheists are bold nowadays, are we not?

But I recall that in the 1960’s, my high school and college years, some wags did a poll in an interesting way. They tried to get people to sign a petition. The petition, word for word, was the Bill of Rights, Amendments 1-10 of the Constitution. But the typeface was one clearly made by a computer, using no “old timey” script as a give away. They struggled to find anyone willing to sign their petition! Hey, details matter in polls.

More recently, polls have shown that approval rates for Obamacare were much lower than approval rates of the main features of Obamacare, that is if asked “Should pre-existing medical conditions allow insurance companies to raise the price of your insurance or to refuse to insure you?” The answer was a resounding “no.” Obamacare? Boo, hiss!

The religion issue of Christians feeling persecuted is relatively recent as was pointed out in the article and mainly made up out of whole cloth by conservative radio talk show hosts and the like of Fox (sic) News. Since people in rural areas get larger doses of this propaganda, it likely has a greater effect.

If the poll questions were to ask things like “Should we collectively do more for the poor and less unfortunate?” the answer would likely be a high percent yeses. If it were phrased as “Should the government do more for the poor and less unfortunate?” I suspect the answer would be more to the “no” end of the spectrum. This is because our “governments” have been characterized as something other than “we collectively” by conservative propaganda (something evil, bwa ha ha).

How you phrase these questions determines to a large extent how people answer them.

May 24, 2017

A Picture is Worth …

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:53 am
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Which of these men is happy to be there and which is not? Which stands off to the side so as to not be too closely associated with the others? Which of the women looks happy to be there?

Joy, oh joy, is only felt by the vacuous one.

May 22, 2017

Our Cultural Heritage: Witches

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 8:34 am
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I see witches in the conversation stream … not actual witches, but discussions of said. There are cultures in existence that still “believe” in witches. (Isn’t belief wonderful! Imagine a life with no boundaries!) It is clear to me, though, that the idea of a “witch” is clearly a male invention.

My logic is simple: women are weak, weak of body and weak of mind, consequently any woman exerting power (real or imagined) must be doing it with supernatural (aka unnatural) help. And since “God is good” and wouldn’t really do anything to harm a man(!), that supernatural help must be in the form of help from evil spirits … ergo, witches.

How do you recognize a witch? No, it is not a pointed hat or green face as school children think. Look for sources of power, like beauty or a royal title or high political office or even just a “wife” who seem to dominate her poor husband.

All you have to do to understand this is think like a man … ? WTF?

May 15, 2017

We Don’ Need No Protection Cause Racism Ain’t No More

According to The Nation magazine:

“On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, ruling that states with the longest histories of voting discrimination no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government. A month after that decision, North Carolina – where 40 counties were previously subject to that requirement – passed the country’s most sweeping voting restrictions.

“The state required strict voter ID to cast a ballot, cut a week of early voting and eliminated same-day voter registration, out of precinct voting and pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds. On July 29, 2016, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit invalidated these restrictions, which it said targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision” in violation of the Voting Rights Act and 14th Amendment.”

If I remember rightly, the Supreme Court argued that singling out those states for “special treatment” under the Voting Rights Act (basically requiring any changes to voting laws to be screened for approval by the Justice Department) wasn’t needed any more because, well those states had reformed and were no longer what they were. Besides there’s racism everywhere.

So, here we are just under four years later addressing racist voting regulations which “targeted African Americans ‘with almost surgical precision’ in violation of the Voting Rights Act and 14th Amendment”  in one of those very states. I am sure glad their ain’ no racists no more in No’th Carolina.

Three cheers for the Supreme Court … uh, no?

May 3, 2017

Getting Sharp with Razor Blades

Filed under: Business,Culture — Steve Ruis @ 2:35 pm
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I am getting very tired of things invented just to be able to make money and which actually do not create any value. (tag line Capitalism Amok!)

What got me thinking about this was razor blades, of all things. I had blanched at the last time I went to buy razor blades. They were thirty dollars for six “cartridges.” And I was in a discount store! So, I had my eyes open for an alternative and I found “Harry’s” (A good shave at a good price!) and they had a special offer on a handle and a set of blades, so I took a chance. The handle was quite nice (plastic but not flimsy) and the blades, er, cartridges were similar looking to many of the others. When I tried shaving with one, I discovered that there was a bit more drag than with a new Gillette cartridge, but they seemed to retain their sharpness for longer. The Gillette blades grew more dull faster. And they were a small fraction of the cost, so I was good to go.

Then I needed to reorder blades and I received a different cartridge, one “new” and “improved.” Nothing can be both new and improved, I assumed this one was new and better than the old one. Why change the design if it isn’t to improve the quality? Well, these new cartridges had much more drag than the old ones. They were still using (supposedly) German steel (not surprising as they have stopped making steel in the U.S.) so what was the problem? I looked at the new design and noticed that now there are five blades when before there were four.

I was disgusted. I then ran across an article extolling the virtues of old safety razors, like our fathers used, especially since you didn’t have to track down an old one; they were still making them. I hadn’t used one of these in over 50 years but the article was convincing. I bought an inexpensive razor and, at the recommendation of the article razor blades from Amazon: 100 blades for $10! Now we are talking! My cheap core soared like a bird.

The really interesting thing I learned when I took my first shave was that I got the best shave I had had in my memory. Not recent memory, all of it! I also got a bit of a nick, being out of practice with that instrument.

Why did this single edge razor perform so much better than these high tech modern ones. It was all very puzzling. The old razor took much less pressure and seemed to do a better job without needing a lot more strokes to get the job done. Then it occurred to me.

Can you see the gaps between the blades? They are there but really small.

Do you know how a knife cuts? Most people think that a knife cuts like a saw but really a knife is a pressure generating tool. The entire weight of a kitchen knife plus whatever force you add to that (usually not much is needed) gets distributed on a surface of very little area: the knife’s edge. Pressure is “force per unit area” and is calculated by taking the weight involved (weight is a force) and dividing it by the area it is spread over. How much area do you thing a knife’s edge has? (Hint: damned little.) And, of course, the only part of the edge that counts is the part in contact with the carrot or whatever, the rest doesn’t matter. A weight of just a few pounds (combined weight of knife and simulated weight added by your skillful manipulation of the knife) divided by a very tiny area and you get enormous pressures. This pressure basically pushes the carrot apart. (This is also why dull knives are so dangerous. The pressure created over a dull edge is much less which leads us to press harder and harder which leads to slips and … ouch!)

What is true for a knife is also true for a razor blade. When one blade was replaced by two you increase the area of edge by 2X. Now if what you were cutting was two times wider, that would have averaged out, but those blades are not cutting the same hairs. So, two blades, three, four, five…! We now have five times the blade area, so we have to use five times the push to get them to cut the same as the old razors.

So, thinking like “two blades ought to be twice as efficient/good/etc. than one” lead us down the garden path to $6 shaving cartridges (Each!) which do no better than the old one-bladed ones. We did not check our thinking; we just accepted their marketing as true and forgot about it. (Remember the frog in the pot of water with the temperature slowly rising?)

Does a two-bladed razor require half of the strokes to do the job? I didn’t notice any effort saving all the way up the ladder to five-blade “cartridges.” I did notice fewer nicks, though, even though I was pressing harder and harder all the time. The reason there are fewer nicks is plain to the naked eye. If you look at one of these cartridges, you will see than none of the blades is exposed much at all. This is where the safety razor had its fault. It exposed a lot of blade and that blade mowed down facial hair like a scythe; it also could nick you if you didn’t pay attention. To help with this, new safety razors have different amounts of blade exposure built in and there are various blade designs, etc. to enable a best set up for your face and skin.

It is a whole new … old … world. Old and Improved!

The Ann Coulter Brouhaha

Filed under: Culture,Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:25 am
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I don’t get it. Ann Coulter is taking umbrage at being denied a speaker’s platform at the University of California’s Berkeley Campus. Commentators are going some what berserk over this as being part of a trend in which well-known conservatives are being shut out of liberal bastions, the universities. Issues of free speech are being bandied about.

In the case of Ms. Coulter I must ask:

  • Has she ever inventing something?
    • Has she ever discovered something?
    • Has she created ideas that are new?
    • Has she ever done anything important?
    • Does she have anything to offer but her own opinions?

Our universities are places in which we educate people, should not these invited speakers have done something, created something, or discovered something that would enable them to pass on their wisdom to newer generations? Is our only criterion an “invitation” from a campus club?

Is having provocative opinions now “enough” in the way of societal credentials to have a platform at a major university?

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