Class Warfare Blog

January 8, 2019

Other Ways of Knowing, Part 2

Filed under: Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:46 pm
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In the ongoing war between faith and science a common claim is that science is not the only way to acquire knowledge, that there are “other ways of knowing.” Along with this I see question after question on the Quora website asking atheists about what “evidence” would convince them to believe in God/Jesus (like we tell them and then they produce it … strange question). The number of these latter questions is smaller than the usual ones asking atheists to prove there is no god or asking for evidence that there is no god, but they are numerous enough.

So, many of these arguments center on “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” arguments which are too nonsensical to take seriously but the “other ways of knowing” response is intriguing. Usually they are referring to “revealed” truth or some such thing through “personal experience” (as if there were any other kind). Interestingly enough, in the vast majority of times in which revealed truths have some up against scientific truths, the revealed truths have come out poorly. This lead me to the following line of thinking.

In legal contests, if one side makes an argument that there is only one interpretation of the evidence and that interpretation circumstantially leads to the guilt of a defendant, the only requirement of the refutation of such an argument is that another equally plausible interpretation be made … not proved, just made. So, if the argument is “god did it,” then in spite of the evidence, all that is needed is an equally plausible interpretation of the “evidence.” Well, that has been provided and, obviously, it didn’t work.

So, consider the following hypothetical scenario. A favorite meme of the ancient alien speculators (they are not theorists) is that an alien race came to this planet and “adjusted” our genetic material to make us who we are now. What if that were true?

So, a flying saucer (or any other equivalent space craft) lands on the White House lawn and after a small diplomatic interlude, their representatives claim that they came back to check on how we were doing, because X numbers of thousands of years ago, they “adjusted the DNA of a hominid ancestor of ours to result in … us. They provide more than credible evidence of this deed (videos, tissue samples, explanations of the DNA “adjustments,” etc.

What happens to the “other ways of knowing” at that point? I suggest that all of them are blown out of the water as the hooey they are. The claim that there are “other ways of knowing” is simple a ruse to protect their “knowledge” from critical inspection.

I suggest that this is not the only scenario that results in all of those “other ways” of folding up like a cheap cardboard suitcase left in the rain. (Cheap cardboard suitcases were the ancestors of cheap plastic suitcases.) Another would be the discovery of significant life on another planet, which could come about through contact or communication remotely. If we found that their set of “beliefs” about nature were different from scientific truths and ascribed to “other ways of knowing,” we would know we were talking to their bullshit artists who were part and parcel with our bullshit artists.

Can you think of other such scenarios? Wouldn’t a benign one of these be lovely? Traumatic for some but lovely collectively. (One can empathize with the traumatized (and I would), but you can’t put your balls on an anvil, pass out hammers, and then complain of the pain you suffer.)

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December 21, 2018

Update on Free Will

Filed under: Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:29 am
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Currently I am reading two books by authors with similar names neither of which I had heard before. I have already commented on Sam Pizzagati’s The Rich Do Not Always Win, an history of the early twentieth century that resulted in the largest middle class in American history. I strongly recommend this book as the rhetoric on both sides of the “wealth inequality” debate is quite illuminating.

The second book is by Michael S. Gazziniga entitled Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain. This book is fabulous as it is written by a neuroscientist, one who is taking his fellow scientists to task in the free will debate.

I have previously argued that it is far too early in the scientific investigation of free will to come to any conclusion, certainly not one with such large ramifications as whether we have free will or all of our decisions being determined by physical causes. This author provides a piece of this discussion that I had not heard before and it is a lollapalooza.

He starts with addressing free will in the context of responsibility, the primary question is “Can we hold people responsible for their decisions?” (If not our criminal justice system is far worse off than it already is.) This is enough of a foothold on free will to proceed. After going over the neurological research that seems to apply to the question he makes the following argument: consciousness is an emergent property of brains possessing enough connections. This is not a revelation, most people buy into this conclusion. He then goes on to claim that emergent properties represent a disconnect from the basic physical conditions that create the property in the first place! If this holds up, then determinism is done for, toast, kaput, won’t apply, because there are quite a few layers of emergent mental properties stacked up that the basic physical entities (atoms, molecules, DNA, genes, etc.) will not be able to get through.

He gives as an example the building of a car. A careful designer can create a car with its engine, transmission, differential, wheels, tires, electronics, etc. that will perform pretty much exactly as designed. (I have just finished reading a book on the design of the most recent iteration of the Ford GT race car. It was designed to win the 24 Hours at Le Mans race … and did. This is an example of determinism, the whole being the sum of its parts.) But … you knew that was coming, didn’t you? … but none of a car’s physical parameters, its specifications, can explain … traffic. When you take automobiles and roads, traffic shows up as an emergent property and traffic cannot be predicted from nor can it be determined by any car’s design! And if this weren’t enough, the author claims that the emergent properties affect the original vehicles through feedback. For example, this souped up race car might overheat badly in beep and creep traffic, so has to have to be modified or just garaged and not driven on normal roads. (I haven’t finished this second part of his argument but basically he argues “that the mind, which is somehow generated by the physical processes of the brain, constrains the brain.” The mind constrains the brain. Think about that. (There are many examples of this happening, but like I said I haven’t finished this part yet.)

This argument about emergent properties blocking deterministic causes seems to blow the argument of free will v. determinism out of the water with determinism the loser. We have to wait and see if it holds up.

So, what do you think? Is consciousness and therefore free will determined such that we actually have only the illusion of free will and making our own choices, or is making conscious choices an emergent ability not determined by physical inputs to our brains? (The author explains why we all have the perception of an “I” making decisions by the way, even though “I” does not exist.”

 

More on GMO’s (Gosh, What Could Go Wrong?)

Filed under: Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 8:46 am
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I have written about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) from the position that these genetic modifications, unlike the ones our artificial selection processes have been created, skip over steps that may produce non-viable results and, therefore aren’t “vetted” by nature. In John Hively’s blog is a report on one case of “what could go wrong” by the generic engineer inventor himself. I think this is must reading for anyone concerned about GMOs, bees, our future survival, corporate bad behavior, etc.

GMO Potato Scientific Founder Says GMO Potato’s are a Pandora’s Box of Troubles

PS I am not saying we shouldn’t investigate GMOs; I am saying we should go slow because the safety protocols needed are immediately obvious.

 

November 24, 2018

Was the Universe Created Recently?

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:52 pm
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There is a long standing disagreement between scientists and Christian literalists over the age of the Universe. Scientists say that the universe is some 13.8 billion years old while “Young Earth” Christian literalists, who take the Bible as being literally true, claim that it is roughly 6000 years old. (According to one Biblical accountant, the Earth and I share a birthday, but it is 6000 years older than I.)

So, the aspect of this debate I wish to address now is: is the Biblical “creation” event of the entire universe?

A close reading of the book of Genesis does not claim that the universe was created as described. What is described is that the “earth and heavens” were created in that story. In a later verse there is a reference to “the heavens, earth, and the seas” being created then. In order to have old Yahweh create the entire shebang in his act of creation, that is the entire universe, one has to interpret the term “the heavens” to be “the universe outside of the Earth.” Is such an interpretation possible or even reasonable?

Well, if you look at the description of “the heavens” elsewhere in the Bible, there are details as to its composition: there is a firmament, a great deal of water, fixed points of light in the firmament, and seven (count’em seven!) heavens. That is what is claimed for “The Creation™” but not the entire universe.

It has not been even 100 years since galaxies were discovered. (The anniversary of that discovery was yesterday in 1924, I believe. Public announcement came about a month later.) So, if the creation story was to include all of the hundreds of billions of other galaxies, it should have said so (an all-knowing god would know, no?). Actually, the creation stories all over the Middle East, in all of the religions came up with the same characteristics for the rest of the universe, that being what was believed to be true by the philosophers of the time (the Iron Age).

So, Genesis claims that the Earth and the atmosphere, and the seas were all that were created in The Creation™ (along with maybe the Sun and Moon) and that seems more sensible.

So, the actual debate is over the age of the Earth, not the universe. Scientists claim the Earth is 4.543 billion years old while “Young Earth” Christian literalists, who take the Bible as being literally true, claim that it is roughly 6000 years old.

Now, some apologists start their defense of their Young Earth position with “the Bible is not a science textbook” which is a red herring argument. The Bible makes claims about physical reality and it is the Biblical literalists that claim it is true in all aspects. So, it is irrelevant what classification one places the Bible into, it is the claim of inerrancy that is being discussed. The problem here is that the Christians in the debate don’t clarify what slice of the Christian pie they belong to. There are many Old Earth Creationists, and there are compatiblists (Science and Christianity are both right, study it and you will see.), and many, many Christians of other stripes. Then there is the human tendency we all have to support our position in inconsistent ways. There are those who claim the science in the Bible is not inerrant, but the history is. (None seem to be able to indicate where that fact is detailed in scripture.) This is because when it comes to the Bible, people feel free to make stuff up. Since there is no arbiter of what is right and wrong, as there is in science, any old body’s position seems valid enough.

November 13, 2018

No, I Don’t Think So, Nope

I started reading the book The Evolution of God by Robert Wright last night and right from the start he declared himself to be an accommodationist.

There have been many such unsettling (from religion’s point of view) discoveries since then, but always some notion of the divine has survived the encounter with science. The notion has had to change, but that’s no indictment of religion. After all, science has changed relentlessly, revising if not discarding old theories, and none of us think of that as an indictment of science. On the contrary, we think this ongoing adaptation is carrying science closer to the truth. Maybe the same thing is happening to religion.

He is even more explicit shortly thereafter:

“These two big “clash” questions can be put into one sentence: Can religions in the modern world reconcile themselves to one another, and can they reconcile themselves to science? I think their history points to affirmative answers.

I am interested to see how he pulls this off. He is hinted that the religious will need to modify their beliefs in the process, so I wish him luck with that.

Here I want to address the first quote above, specifically the part “After all, science has changed relentlessly, revising if not discarding old theories, and none of us think of that as an indictment of science. On the contrary, we think this ongoing adaptation is carrying science closer to the truth. Maybe the same thing is happening to religion.”

Uh, no. In this he is overlooking a few small aspects of science that are completely missing from religion. First, scientists are looking for what works and allow that nature gets to decide. A good scientist follows wherever the evidence leads. If one’s thoughts are refuted, one changes one’s mind … period. (Some struggle at this more than others but a scientist hanging on to disproved ideas can expect only ridicule and pity at best from other scientists.)

Scientists arrive at their truths through criticism of their own ideas (it is required not just encouraged).

Religionists, on the other hand, claim to already know the truth, some claim that they are in possession of all of the truths and that there are no more. They do not systematically examine what they believe to weed out error and mistakes; they do not even encourage that. And they only change their minds when they absolutely have to, often never reaching this state. After all, who is going to change their mind for them. Even in the Catholic Church, whose leaders have accepted parts of evolution theory, there are some Catholics who accept no part of that theory. (In addition the Church’s leadership on artificial birth control has been ignored by 90+% of American women.)

So, the idea that “Maybe the same thing is happening to religion.” is impossible. Any change occurring in religions will not be based upon changing “relentlessly, revising if not discarding old theories” so, while religion does change (the gaps that gods used to hide in have gotten smaller and smaller) it will not be due to the “same thing” as happens in science when it changes. Scientists want science to change, want it to get better, want it to work better. Religionists claim that there is nothing to change, nothing to get better, nothing to work better. It is all correct as is. Why would it want to get closer to the truth? They believe there is no “closer” possible.

 

 

 

November 7, 2018

Sometimes You Don’t Have to Even Read the Book! Part 2

Filed under: Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:05 am
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Another Amazon.com posting supplies all we need to know about a book without reading it. The book is: An End to Upside Down Thinking: Dispelling the Myth That the Brain Produces Consciousness, and the Implications for Everyday Life by Mark Grober. Here’s the blurb.

Consciousness creates all material reality. Biological processes do not create consciousness. This conceptual breakthrough turns traditional scientific thinking upside down. In An End to Upside Down Thinking, Mark Gober traces his journey – he explores compelling scientific evidence from a diverse set of disciplines, ranging from psychic phenomena, to near-death experiences, to quantum physics. With cutting-edge thinkers like two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Ervin Laszlo, Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences Dr. Dean Radin, and New York Times bestselling author Larry Dossey, MD supporting this thesis, this book will rock the scientific community and mainstream generalists interested in understanding the true nature of reality. Today’s disarray around the globe can be linked, at its core, to a fundamental misunderstanding of our reality.

This book aims to shift our collective outlook, reshaping our view of human potential and how we treat one another. The book’s implications encourage much-needed revisions in science, technology, and medicine. General readers will find comfort in the implied worldview, which will impact their happiness and everyday decisions related to business, health and politics. Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time meets Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.

Mark Gober is an author whose worldview was turned upside down in late 2016 when he was exposed to world-changing science. After researching extensively, he wrote An End to Upside Down Thinking to introduce the general public to these cutting-edge ideas – all in an effort to encourage a much-needed global shift in scientific and existential thinking. Mark is a senior member of Sherpa Technology Group, a firm that advises businesses on mergers & acquisitions and strategy. He previously worked as an investment banking analyst in New York. Mark has been quoted for his opinions on business and technology matters in Bloomberg Businessweek and elsewhere, and he has authored internationally published business articles. He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, where he was captain of the tennis team.

The last paragraph supplies the author’s credentials for writing a book on human consciousness. He is a neuroscientist … uh, no … he is a philosopher … uh, no. He is a business strategist! And he was captain of the tennis team! They do not state what his degree was but a short Internet search turned up “psychology, focusing on behavioral economics” as the topic. Apparently that makes sense in the context of his career choices but it didn’t seem to focus on the problem of consciousness.

So, credentials smedentials, who needs ‘em. I have opinions on all kinds of things. But I wonder how it is that this guy stumbled upon a discovery whose “implications encourage much-needed revisions in science, technology, and medicine” uncovering the “true nature of reality.” Wow!

Well, I am a bit suspicious, especially with regard to people who argue that consciousness may not be localized to the brain. Currently we have no evidence whatsoever that this is true. In fact, we do not even have a solid definition of what consciousness is. But there are myriad people lined up making this claim and they are universally religious, because if this claim is not true then there is no “spiritual realm” nothing “existing outside of space and time” and neither are there any of the other cool fantasies cooked up to save religious ideas.

In any case, the author argues that consciousness precedes the material world, so our brains don’t create consciousness, our consciousness creates our brains! Uh, so when did consciousness emerge? If we link it to humans, then we are talking about just several million years ago. So, was there a material world before that? Apparently not if consciousness is necessary to create a material world, so this is firm evidence against the hypothesis he puts forward. Oh, you say God is a consciousness which has been there since the beginning of all matter … oh, I thought so.

November 5, 2018

Kepler Telescope Retired With Some Unwarranted Pessimism

One news source reporting on Kepler being shut down (due to running out of gas, not disappointing performance): “To date, NASA’s prolific Kepler space telescope has discovered about 30 roughly Earth-size exoplanets in their host stars’ “habitable zone”—the range of orbital distances at which liquid water can likely exist on a world’s surface.

“Or so researchers had thought. New observations by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia spacecraft suggest that the actual number is probably significantly smaller—perhaps between two and 12, NASA officials said today (Oct. 26).”

Earth-like planets only somewhere between two and twelve …. <sound of deflating balloon> awwwww.

I hate sloppy reporting.

The Kepler Telescope surveyed around 500,000 stars and found roughly 2600 “exoplanets.” Let’s say that the actual number of “Earth-like planets” is seven (half way between two and twelve). So … let’s see, there are round about 250 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, so if those proportions of exoplanets holds up for the entire the Milky Way, it will contain 1,300,000,000 exoplanets and 3,500,000 Earth-like planets.

So, is an awwwww appropriate? Only because we had an inflated estimate at the beginning. Just because we were too optimistic at the beginning, doesn’t mean the correction is an actual disappointment.

 

 

November 2, 2018

#4 of the 10 Reasons to Believe God Exists

A few days back I covered #1 on this list, so if you need to see where this list was posted and by whom, please consult that post. Here is #4!

  1. Necessary Being (Ontological Argument). In the end, one only has two options. Either an eternal nothingness (meaning again, “no-thing,” not even quantum particles) brought forth something from absolute nothingness, or an eternal Being brought everything that exists into being. The latter makes far more sense and actually adheres more to the scientific method than the former.

This argument is just utter nonsense. There are almost no occasions in which there are just two possibilities, for one. There is even an old Jewish saying (or so I was told) which states: “Whenever presented with a choice of two options, always take the third.” This was presented to me with the story of an elderly woman shopping for vegetables. She asks the greengrocer “How much are the tomatoes?” He replies “Two for 79 cents.” She asks “How much for just one?” He replies “40 cents.” She says “I’ll take the other one.”

To show the utter vacuity of this argument, allow me to rephrase it slightly:

  1. Unnecessary Being (Ontological Argument). In the end, one only has two options. Either an eternal nothingness (meaning again, “no-thing,” not even quantum particles) brought forth something from absolute nothingness, or an eternal Being brought everything that exists into being. The former makes far more sense and actually adheres more to the scientific method than the latter.

Ta da. Just changes two words and now it makes far more sense.

How is the formulation of an utterly fantastic and totally unique magical entity better than “we do not know,” because in truth we do not yet know how the universe came into being? From that point of beginning onward, the universe seems to be self-organizing along the lines of a small set of simple rules, thus requiring no angels or other imaginary beings keeping it going, which was part of the total scheme along with creation by a god. Most of those original claims (pillars of the earth, animating angels, heavenly spheres, etc.) have been abandoned as science has whittled away the basis for believe such things to exist. We are down to the final surly knot that is quite resistant to whittling but will succumb eventually and then we will be free of gods and superstition, if we so choose.

 

October 23, 2018

Gosh, What are the Odds?

Filed under: History,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:32 am
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TV shows like Ancient Aliens often point to things that seem very, very unlikely to have happened naturally and claim that help must have been had from aliens. They have this claim in common with creationists who make the same argument except with the help coming from supernatural beings, yet still could have been aliens.

I am reminded that events which most people consider to be very, very unlikely … happen all of the time. What triggered this topic is the fact that today is my birthday. It is also Mole Day. Here is how Scientific American is celebrating this holiday:

Holy Moley, It’s 6.02 x 1023 Day!
Let’s celebrate our chemistry! Or rather, chemistry’s favorite unit of measurement.
From 6:02 a.m. through 6:02 p.m., we’re commemorating Avogadro’s Number.

Avogadro’s number was not found by Avogadro, it was named to commemorate his contributions to chemistry (as slight as they were). His number is the basis for a unit of amount in chemistry, the mole (symbol mol … hardly worth the contraction effort). This number of molecules of any chemical is said to be one mole of that chemical, so it is a quantity representing an amount and a number of molecules simultaneously, which is very handy for chemists as molecules seem to interact in simple whole number ratios.

So, how is this any indication of the probability of an event occurring? Well, I was born, just after 6 AM on the morning of October 23, 1946. (I share this birthday with the planet Earth, according to Bishop Ussher.) So, 6:02 AM, 10th month, 23rd day … 6.02 x 1023! Uh and … ? Well, when I chose a profession, it just so happened to be that of chemistry professor. Wow! What is the likelihood of that happening? Was there something in the stars, guiding my path toward a career? Were aliens involved? Were gods? Surely my path was preordained by something spiritual/ghostial!

What is actually involved is … attention. If one is a chemistry professor, and not born on Mole Day, then we pay that no attention. But there are many, many chemistry professors and teachers, more than the 365 days in a year, so on any particular day of the year, many chemistry people are sharing a birthday. (I share my birthday with Gilbert Newton Lewis, a very prominent U.S. chemist, for example.) Of the people born on October 23rd, there have to be some born right around 6 AM or 6 PM and those of us who were, attend to that fact, once it is brought to our attention.

Many, many improbable things happen every day. One person won a major European lottery twice in a row! (What are the odds?) A creationist asked one time how likely it would be for a molecule of DNA to be created from chance (a silly reach to discredit the role of random mutations in evolution theory). The number he came up with was astronomical. In a quick calculation, I pointed out that if the atoms making up the molecule were selected at the rate at which molecules collide, then the DNA molecule sequence would occur more than a million times per second. Yes, it is an unlikely event … but if the number of participants is large or the process is very fast, that thing will happen and happen frequently.

So, I wish all of my fellow chemists and chemistry professors born on Mole Day (the thousands upon thousands of you) a very happy celebration of your birth day! And, you know what it means, don’t you?

October 3, 2018

Creationist Follies

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:41 pm
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Creationists aren’t interested in evidence as they “have faith” … at least until the slightest glimmer of hope some evidence supports their position and then it become full bore “I told you so!” artists.

The anti-evolution strain of this sect is especially active. I wish they would use some of that energy to understand what the theory actually is and what the evidence is but that wish is rather stupid. It is me asking them to look for themselves for why they are wrong. This is not something they are wont to do and this is not surprising. I don’t find that task pleasant, either.

One of the more troubling examples of their ignorance is the recent trend to try to poke holes in evolutionary science. Currently I have seen any number of tropes about why evolution transformed us from hairy ape-like creatures to hairless ape-like creatures. They bellow “Why did we lose our fur?” Explain that evolution-tards!

<Sigh>

Okay, allow me. (And I am no expert, just an avid science-type, so feel free to pick this apart.)

Humans benefited mightily by losing their fur and the creation of wall-to-wall sweat glands. If you look no farther way from you than your dog, you will see the life of furred animals, predator and prey alike. Your dog can run like the wind, for a few minutes, and then they drop to the ground and pant like crazy. The reason? Other than a little sweat through their paws, they have no other way to get rid of excess heat.

Humans, on the other hand, when they moved out onto the savannah (possible due to Climate Change?) benefited mightily from the loss of fur and the proliferation of sweat glands.

You may know that cheetahs can achieve 70 mph in short bursts. All predators have to be fast or quick, but that exertion of muscle energy generates heat which has to be leaked into the environment. Humans, with their sweat glands all over their skin and the absence of fur that allows the air to carry away the evaporated water (evaporation takes a lot of heat and converts it into potential energy—it is cooling, Creationists) which gives them not great speed, but great stamina.

Let’s use a current marathon runner as an example. The record holders can run just over 26 miles in about two hours. Let’s call that 13 miles per hour. Any deer or antelope can easily do well in excess of 13 miles an hour. But they have to stop and rest after just a few seconds, by which time the human hunters have caught up and spook the game into sprinting away again, which it does. But then the humans catch up again. Spook, run to ground, spook, run to ground. In the end, the deer or antelope is exhausted and the human hunter can walk up and cut their throats with a knife.

This is how human hunters dominated the savannah in early Africa. We ran our prey to ground. And we could keep it up for hours because of our loss of fur (which prevents breezes from reaching the skin) and our multitude of sweat glands. This form of hunting was observed well into the 19th century in the form of hunting Native Americans. It is well documented.

So, “Why did we lose our fur? Where’s the answer Evolutionists? You now have your answer. next question, my ignorant friends.

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