Class Warfare Blog

September 26, 2017

You Can’t Create Something from Nothing?

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:27 am
Tags: , , , ,

It is a common trope of Christian apologists to bring up the Big Bang cosmological theory and either endorse it as the act of God’s creation of the universe or condemn it because “you cannot create something from nothing.” The fact that these two approaches are completely contradictory doesn’t cost these apologists even one minute of sleep, of course; they are not looking for consistency or correctness, they are looking for a “killer argument.”

Setting aside everything but the claim that “you cannot get something from nothing” point, let’s look at this. Apologists often make this claim, which is not only unsupported but possibly unsupportable, and then claim that the only alternative to this merely physical description of the beginning of our universe is that their god created the universe … from nothing … by magic. Honestly, they say this with a straight face. At its heart, they are claiming you cannot make something from nothing … except by magic. And, of course, “magic” is not defined or demonstrated or … anything.

So, what about this premise: you can’t create something from nothing. When they do argue this, they say that everything that “begins to exist” (also not defined) has a cause and a cause must be pre-existing which contradicts the “nothing” aspect. So, they claim, their god is the First Cause (concept and name borrowed from the Greeks), the Prime Mover (concept and name borrowed from Aristotle, a Greek), the Totally Awesome: Yahweh.

Okay, theists, take a deep breath. Consider what “nothing” represents. Presumably, applied to this discussion nothing means no time, no space, no laws of physics, no things. Of course “things” are material objects, but it appears that in this case there would also be no energy or other non-material manifestations of our current universe.

“I wonder, have the apologists ever won an argument? Ever?
Apparently they can’t create something from nothing.”

If this was the case just before the Big Bang, what could prevent anything from happening? What, no cause? Hello? There is no relationship between cause and effect. There are no physical laws, no chemistry, no physics, no thing. Under these circumstances, there are no limitations at all on what could happen.

For example, allow me a flight of imagination. In a state of “no thing” an immense explosion occurs, creating two universes: one created from matter and energy and the other of anti-matter and anti-energy. (Imagine two balloons connected at their mouths, suddenly inflating. Each is ignorant of the existence of the other. Each seems to have been inflated from nothing.) Initially there is some mixing between the two, but since the two forms of matter and the two forms of energy annihilate each other, soon, the two universes are both quite “pure” and  stable. (This solves the mystery, by the way, of why there is so little anti-matter in our universe, when the physical laws now operating say that equal amounts should have been created “in the beginning.”) The net mass of the two universes: zero. The net energy of the two universes: zero. The laws covering whether this could occur “from nothing”: zero.

A state of nothingness is completely unlimited as to what could happen, so something could come from nothing, easy peasey.

I wonder, have the apologists ever won an argument? Ever? Apparently they can’t create something from nothing. I wonder what that says about their message.


September 23, 2017

And I Can’t Stands No More!

Okay, this is getting seriously out of whack. The Ancient Aliens crew have been selling snake oil for years now and have created a great deal of content that is a lark. They fast cut from topic to topic spinning a narrative that aliens have visited us and are responsible for, well, most of human evolution, according to them.

Last night I viewed an episode that went way too far. Here is their website’s blurb for the episode:
The Science Wars
Nearly every year archaeologists and anthropologists make discoveries that require revisions to our history books. But there are numerous artifacts that are outright ignored because they don’t fit into the accepted scientific paradigm. Could clues about our extraterrestrial origins be hidden in these discarded pieces of our past? Shocking evidence has recently been revealed that challenges the accepted dating of the Great Pyramid. An ancient hammer found in Texas that dates back 140 million years is ignored by mainstream archaeologists. And unexplainable elongated skulls have been found on nearly every continent of the world that science refuses to test. Could we be on the brink of scientific discoveries that the academic community cannot deny? Evidence that reveals the truth of where we really came from, why we are here and if we are alone in the Universe?

At the end of this episode they hammer away at science, at how it is broken, at how science resists their findings, and how science jumps to conclusions before all of the evidence is in. The drum gets beaten very, very hard here. And, this is just at a time when science denial is ascending.

In the episode, an AA host takes a Brazilian skull of some antiquity and has it CAT scanned and its DNA analyzed. The CAT scans show some items missing from what normal Homo sapiens skulls exhibit. The researcher states that they have never seen anything quite like it before. The DNA analysis only found mitochondrial DNA, so it could only assess the lineage of the female ancestor of the skull’s original owner, and found it to be like someone of Scottish ancestry.

So, these anomalous findings, all of which warrant further study, are used as a basis for their position that science jumps to conclusions and is resistant to their narratives and findings. And just where did these researches take place? At a London university research complex, about as mainstream as you can get!

And right after hearing that further research is warranted in the minds of the experts they consulted, and vigorously claiming that science jumps to conclusions too quickly (excluding their hypotheses, etc.), the host comes to the conclusion that the skull represents the results of an alien mating with a human female. WTF? How about a disease that no longer exists that results in deformations of bones in babies? How about a single mutation that chanced to survive for a generation or two? How about testing all of the other skulls in that collection to see if the results are consistent? Nope, we go straight to fucking aliens, literally!

The “resistance” they bemoan is called “skepticism.” Basically, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and large qualities of it if you want to challenge established science. Yes, scientists often have problem changing their minds. Some scientists go to their graves clinging to ideas that have been discredited. Scientists are, after, people. But, science itself moves on. Look at how much Darwin’s theory of evolution was resisted by scientists. The theory of plate tectonics was mightily resisted. This is not a bug, it is a feature. Scientists, after all, have seen a great deal of evidence that fits into their current paradigms. They are going to have to see a great deal more to accept a new paradigm.

In the AA episode, the show points out any number of the limitations of carbon-14 dating of objects. These limitations are corroborated by mainstream academics, to whom they are well-known. (I am sure they were a surprise to a the AA producers.) But the show is just casting shade. One of the key limitations on carbon-14 dating is if a sample has been exposed to an enriched source of carbon-14, it will appear younger than it really is in that test. Some examples were provided that had dating results that showed the samples were from the future! (the concentration of carbon-14 was higher than baseline, not lower as would be expected.) Scientists look at this kind of anomalous result and assume that there is something wrong with the test and they repeat the test. Getting the same result, they assume the test is not working in this case. Reasons for the extra carbon-14 can be anything from contact with a meteor, exposure of the sample to volcanism, or an intense radiation sources, such as an atom bomb. Of course, the show goes off on the atom bomb diversion like a starving dog spotting a sausage.

In chemistry we had a set of “Standard Methods” for measuring quantities of chemicals in various substances (carbon in steel, strontium-90 in milk, residual lye in soap, etc.). At the end of each and every procedure was a section that listed know interferences with the test, not only acknowledging that there were things that could throw the test results off, but also that these were just the ones that were known and unknown interferences may also be involved because they are yet to be discovered. Every … single … damned … test had known limitations. This is something that scientists are quite comfortable with, including the need to get independent results from other tests to corroborate one’s findings.

Scientists are aware of the limitations of single tests, so they perform multiple tests. They are leery of the results of a single kind of test, so they look for evidence that is of an entirely different kind to corroborate findings.  Archaeologists and anthropologists use radiochemical dating procedures, and written records, and pottery patterns, and analysis of food wastes, and pollen identifications, and, and, … all trying to get a consistent picture of “when” and “what.”

Scientists are skeptical of their own findings (and especially of those who are their competitors). Scientists are also leery of jumping to conclusions. Even the producers of Ancient Aliens are. They have a formula for asking the leading questions that punctuate the episodes: they use the word “could” as in “could it not be the case that …” and then they always answer “ancient alien theorists say yes.” What they are asking is always “is such a thing possible.” They never ask is it probable.

Scientists are never certain, but this AA script kept hammering away with the phrase that “scientists crave certainty,” which is a strange way of saying scientists are skeptical of things they cannot support. Anyone who craves certainty is going to be miserable if they choose science as a career. All scientific finds are provisional. All “conclusions” may later be proven to be false, which is why all scientific conclusions are tentative. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is absolutely certain in science. Only in religion can you find absolute certainty … well, and in Ancient Aliens scripts.

I think they have turned the corner and are doing real damage to the public as they ramp up their anti-mainstream science rhetoric.

September 13, 2017

No, You Can’t Ask Questions

Filed under: Politics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 7:35 am

S.E. Cupp was on Bill Maher’s show (Real Time) the other night in her usual role of defender of conservatism/conservative apologist. I like S.E. Cupp, she usually defends her points well, she’s articulate, witty, has a sense of humor, and stands her ground. The ground she took on that show, though, was on climate change and she picked a patch of quicksand to stand on.

Mr. Maher began the segment claiming that only 9% of Republicans in a survey had attested to the reality of man-made climate change and then pointed to the size and energy of the hurricanes in this season as a manifestation of the effects of climate change/global warming. He then asked, basically, what is wrong with those people?

Ms. Cupp was having none of it because she claimed “scientists” hadn’t drawn that conclusion yet, and, well, “she had questions.” Another guest pointed out that scientists were not quick to draw conclusions, but one climate scientist stated the case for the energy and size of hurricanes getting bigger back in 2006 and what he had predicted came true down the line. The argument is that one consequence of the atmosphere heating up is that the surface waters of the globe will also heat up and much of the energy of a hurricane comes from the heat in those waters. (FYI The total energy in Hurricane Irma alone exceeded that of 14 entire hurricane seasons (aka all hurricanes that year) for which we have satellite data.)

Ms. Cupp persisted in her attack that she was allowed to ask questions, wasn’t she?

The answer is “no,” you are not allowed to ask questions, not serious ones anyway.

If you want to play the game of science, you have to play the game, you cannot just sit on the sidelines and ask questions, certainly not questions that are ideologically motivated. If you want to ask serious questions, you have to study the topic, the science, and then ask a question based upon evidence you find. As an example, consider the following subject: the health consequences of smoking tobacco. An enterprising reporter delved into the research and discovered, to no one’s particular surprise, that the only scientific papers published claiming that tobacco use was benign was paid for by the tobacco industry (The Tobacco Institute, etc.). This is an actual basis to question that research, but just the research so sponsored. When research is paid for by a private agency, that agency controls whether or not the work gets published and later investigations showed that the tobacco companies either didn’t publish any negative results or commissioned other work to include with the negative work to make it seem a “push” when it came to health effects. So, questions by people outside of the field can be valuable if they are based upon an examination of the research.

“If you want to play the game of science, you have to play the game,
you cannot just sit on the sidelines and ask questions.”

This, by the by, is the reason we need to have a stout public presence in researches that are important to all of us. “Privatizing” scientific research would be turning over the chicken coup to the foxes, not just asking them to tend it. Plus corporations aren’t interested in doing research that doesn’t make them money.

When it comes to the political question: what do we do collectively about climate change, we all get to ask questions because we are all political actors in the game of American politics (we get to vote).

I would like to see one reporter, just one, ask the follow-up question to the next person claiming that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by scientists to get grants: “That is a serious allegation. You do have evidence to back up that claim don’t you? What is it? When will you produce this evidence?” There isn’t much difference between a corporation that stands to make money from denial of tobacco science and a politician who stands to make money (campaign contributions, jobs after “retiring” from public office, etc.) from denial of climate science. This “fraud” is a serious claim (which will be proved to be frivolous, if not spurious) and serious claims demand serious evidence.

Pony up, climate change deniers.

Pony up or shut up. Those are your options.



August 25, 2017

Aliens … and Dinosaurs!

Having covered all of the ground possible … and a lot more, the Ancient Aliens TV show has hit a new high, or low, depending on your point of view. They kept many of the same people on staff, introduced some new folks, and they kept their normal whirlwind pace, one that doesn’t allow much time for consideration of the fabulous things they propose, such as aliens being the cause of the demise of the dinosaurs.

The main thrust of this episode is indeed that it might just be possible, maybe coulda been, that aliens eliminated the dinosaurs so we could thrive. I won’t comment on the “evidence” they present but there was one point at which the idiocy achieved new heights. They were developing a line of argument challenging the facts that humans are 2-3 million years old at best but “all” of the dinosaurs perished 65 million years ago, in what was considered an extinction level even involving a rather large meteor, landing in Mexico, but clearly dinosaurs and humans lived alongside one another … well, and aliens, too, of course.

They trotted out the éminence grise of this generation of unbridled thinkers, Erich von Daniken, to ask the question: If this was an event large enough to kill “all” of the dinosaurs, why did it kill off just the dinosaurs? (Apparently enquiring minds want to know.) Well, the event in question is called the Cretaceous-Paleocene mass extinction event and it resulted in about 75% of all species on the planet being wiped out, not “just” the dinos. And, it didn’t even kill off all of the dinosaurs! Many of the smaller theropods (what most of us think of when we think of dinosaurs), that is those under 25 kg/55 lb in mass, survived. Of course, the big beasties died.

The show then went on it’s merry way establishing that dinosaurs and human beings could possibly have lived together (mighta coulda). They didn’t mention Alley Oop in their arguments but they did throw in the Loch Ness monster and coelacanths. Right in the middle of this a talking head I didn’t bother to identify started bad mouthing radiocarbon dating, saying things like it was based on the production of carbon-14 in the atmosphere by cosmic rays (true) and that the rate of production may have been different millions of years ago (also true) and that these things could affect the dates on early human and dinosaurs remains (uh, not so much). If you want to know why I was puzzled, Dear Reader, read on.

Carbon-14 Dating: A Primer
All radioactivity-based dating methods are based upon a factoid of radioactive isotopes (kinds of elements): they all decay in a pattern involving a half-life. A half-life is an amount of time in which a radioactive sample loses half of its radioactivity. Interestingly, the next halving of that sample’s radioactivity takes the same amount of time, as does the next even though there is less and less to lose. This creates a situation that is summarized in a rule of thumb: a radioactive isotope can be used to date object as much as 10 half-lives back in time. The amount of radioactivity in a living animal cannot be very high in the first place. Comic books aside, radioactivity in high doses is typically lethal. So, all living plants and animals start out with only tiny amounts of radioactive elements in their bodies. Then after one half life, half of it is gone (unless it is replaced which in the case of carbon-14 happens because we eat carbon atoms in all of our food and plants absorb carbon dioxide—this, of course, stops when the plant or animal dies). After two half lives, only a quarter remains because half is lost in the first period and half of what is left was gone after the second. After the third half-life one eighth is left, after the fourth, one sixteenth is left, etc. After ten half-lives 1/210 is left. As a percent that is a little less than 0.1%. Since very little was started with, at this point close to zero is left, so there is basically nothing to measure.

So, what is the half-life of carbon-14 you ask? (You’d better!) It is 5730 years. Ten times this number is 57,300 years. This is the time span that radiocarbon dating can be used. That won’t get you back before Homo sapiens begins (200,000-300,000 years) let alone back to the large theropods getting killed off 66 million years ago. This is a classic smokescreen tactic, used often in this show. Throw anything you got against the wall and see if it sticks.

The Problem With All of This
As you are probably aware, Americans are not the most scientifically-literate people on the planet. As more and more of this bushwah is passed off as some sort of legitimate argumentation (It is not!), people are going to more easily believe the bullshit our governments peddle us. Global warming? That’s a hoax perpetrated by greedy scientists looking for grants. Dumping mine wastes laced with toxic heavy metals, not a problem. The Earth cleans itself. Lead in drinking water? A little bit is okay; go ahead and drink it.

The Exxon Corporation has released documents showing that 80% of the studies they undertook or analyzed showed that global warming/climate change was real and had real negative consequences. At the same time, 80% of its marketing budgets on the topic went to casting shade on the topic (for decades). Their problem is that one of the greatest sources of the climate change problem is the burning of petroleum products, which is what Exxon is in business for.


August 21, 2017

Yeah But What Does It Mean?

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:19 am
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Today is the big (view one from the U.S. for the first time since the late 1970’s) solar eclipse day, so I might as well blog on it!


  • The Pomo, an indigenous group of people who live in the northwestern United States, tell a story of a bear who started a fight with the Sun and took a bite out of it. In fact, the Pomo name for a solar eclipse is Sun got bit by a bear. After taking a bite of the Sun and resolving their conflict, the bear, as the story goes, went on to meet the Moon and take a bite out of the Moon as well, causing a lunar eclipse.
  • According to the legends of the Batammaliba, who live in Benin and Togo, an eclipse of the Sun meant that the Sun and the Moon were fighting and that the only way to stop them from hurting each other was for people on Earth to resolve all conflicts with each other.
  • The ancient Greeks believed that a solar eclipse was a sign of angry gods and that it was the beginning of disasters and destruction.
  • The Tewa tribe from New Mexico believed that a solar eclipse signaled an angry Sun who had left the skies to go to his house in the underworld.
  • In Vietnam, people believed that a solar eclipse was caused by a giant frog devouring the Sun, while Norse cultures blamed wolves for eating the Sun.
  • In ancient China, a celestial dragon was thought to lunch on the Sun, causing a solar eclipse. In fact, the Chinese word of an eclipse, chih or shih, means to eat.
  • According to ancient Hindu mythology, the deity Rahu is beheaded by the gods for capturing and drinking Amrita, the gods’ nectar. Rahu’s head flies off into the sky and swallows the Sun causing an eclipse.
  • Korean folklore offers another ancient explanation for solar eclipses. It suggests that solar eclipses happen because mythical dogs are trying to steal the Sun. Traditionally, people in many cultures get together to bang pots and pans and make loud noises during a solar eclipse. It is thought that making a noise scares the demon causing the eclipse away.

Look, Mom, the sky has a zit!

And Now?
Many people around the world still see eclipses as evil omens that bring death, destruction, and disasters.

  • A popular misconception is that solar eclipses can be a danger to pregnant women and their unborn children. In many cultures, young children and pregnant women are asked to stay indoors during a solar eclipse.
  • In many parts of India, people fast during a solar eclipse due to the belief that any food cooked while an eclipse happens will be poisonous and unpure.
  • Not all superstitions surrounding solar eclipses are about doom. In Italy, for example, it is believed that flowers planted during a solar eclipse are brighter and more colorful than flowers planted any other time of the year.

But What Does It Really Mean?
Well, it doesn’t mean anything, but it is a sign, a sign that all is right with the solar system. Scientists have calculated the orbits of all of the planets and plantesimals and have determined the times and places solar and lunar eclipses will occur for centuries. It means that the orbits of these objects are dependable. We should only worry when they no longer become dependable.

And We Can Count On?
Some idiot Republican will point out that solar power is just not dependable, as dependable as oil and coal, for instance.

And Need I Say…
That all of these, uh, traditional “beliefs” about eclipses, which are rather mundane astronomical occurrences, have been incorporated into local religions to make sure that these superstitions are preserved: Religion … working to make people’s lives less understandable since the dawn of time!

August 9, 2017

A Modern Quandary

I have been reading “Sociology is a Martial Art: Political Writings by Pierre Bourdieu.” This is puzzling to me because I haven’t been having any trouble sleeping, so why would I want to read a sociology text? (Sorry, old joke.)

In a context different from the one I will address in this post ( his was the impact of television), Professor Bourdieu wrote “How can I reconcile the exigency of ‘purity’ inherent in scientific and intellectual work, which necessarily leads to esotericism, with the democratic interest in making these achievements available to the greatest number?” His concern was that the primary function of television seemingly was to dumb down even simple discussions. Here I want to address the topic of the anti-evolution crowd and the anti-climate change crowd.

Without specialized training, it is hard to follow the science in these fields. I have a graduate degree in chemistry and I am not versed in the nuances of either subject (although I guess I could create a small summary of each). So, without esoteric training, how are the citizens in a democracy supposed to assess the validity of such concepts.

We could start with having better basic education, explaining that a scientific theory is a mechanism that explains a great many facts as well as makes predictions available to expand out knowledge. Currently people use the word theory as a synonym for “wild ass guess.” “I have a theory about that …” they will say. No, they don’t. At best they have an hypothesis and more likely they have a guess that is poorly substantiated at best. To say one has a “theory” makes one sound better than to say “I have a guess as to….”

It also does not help that each topic has a cadre of sociopolitical opponents. If the Theory of Evolution is correct, all of fundamentalist Christianity and most of doctrinaire Christianity is off to a rubbish heap somewhere. Basically, if God didn’t created humanity magically, we couldn’t have “rebelled” against his authority, so there was no original sin, and hence nothing for the human sacrifice that was Jesus to absolve. (Bye, bye!)

Climate change has political opponents who have economic stakes at risk. The Koch brothers fund anti-climate change efforts to protect their oil refining, oil pipeline, and other industries, while David Koch supports NOVA science education programs on PBS, including programs on climate change (possibly as a suppressing maneuver?).

So, ordinary citizens are left to evaluate what appears to them to be a propaganda war. “Scientists” have lied to them before as have businessmen, so it is hard to decide which side of either of these debates is trustworthy.

I find the argument that climate change was invented for scientists to be able to secure grants for their work (It is a hoax!). Whoever invented this red herring obviously has never interacted with scientists, each of which has a big ego, and the first of them to discover such a plot would gleefully expose his colleagues to shame and humiliation for participating in it. Most scientists minored in gloating in college.

So, what’s a citizen to do?

I think part of the problem has to do with the evidence not being on display. I hear Christian apologists often ask the question: Where are the transitional fossils? This questions goes back to the time of Charles Darwin when there was a very sparse fossil record. The key facts that the public needs to know is that fossils do not form all that often, so are passably rare and that with regard to transitional fossils, fossils that show one species transitioning to another, there are large numbers of them available. Maybe a video (to reach the masses) needs to me made of the amount of evidence underlying the Theory of Evolution. The amount of evidence, from many, many different and unrelated fields of science is incredibly vast. Just a list of peer-reviewed articles supporting the theory scrolling on like the credits of a Hollywood movie (like they do on TV, at super high speeds) would take hours. Flashing photos of all of the fossils that apply to animals no longer in existence but which fit into the evolutionary family tree of Earth, would also take quite a long time (blink, blink, blink, maybe a running counter would help: 1, 2, 3, …, 3008, 3009, …).

The same could be true for Climate Change. We could run publicity shots of the smiling faces of the scientists in the field who support the tentative conclusion that humanity is contributing to the current round of climate change (blink, blink, blink, maybe a running counter would help: 1, 2, 3, …, 178, 179, …). Then the photos of those reputable scientists who oppose the current consensus on climate change could have their photos flashed (blink, blink, blink).

There is no way ordinary citizens could be brought up to speed on these topics through educating them, because even with the head start in such training I have, I do not want to put in the effort. Instead, I trust the scientists in their field to represent their findings correctly (to the best of their ability) and I trust the egos of their colleagues to prick any intellectual bubbles that are flimsy or unfounded.

Another route might be to create an independent evaluation board to provide basic explanations of science topics to legislators and citizens. The Town of Brisbane, Australia did this a while back (don’t know whether they still do) when they created the office of Town Scientist whose job it was to explain scientific topics to the town governing board and citizens of the Town of Brisbane. For the longest time the State of California had an independent political official whose job was to explain issues voters needed to address and that office was never politicized or demeaned, and it worked really well for quite some time (don’t know whether it still does).

This is a modern problem, because back when “governance” was by autocrats/monarchs, they didn’t give a fig about whether the people understood or not. Ironically, it was the advent of merchants (aka business people) who accumulated wealth (aka power) enough to make it important that a wider swath of a country’s population be made to understand governmental decisions. With the advent of modern democracy, issues are now submitted to the ballot and candidates for office are voted upon, too. We need to figure out how to “reconcile the exigency of ‘purity’ inherent in scientific and intellectual work, which necessarily leads to esotericism, with the democratic interest in making these achievements available to the greatest number” and we need to do it fast. Life ain’t gonna get simpler.

August 8, 2017

So What?

There is a major climate change report out (and it ain’t good news) that is awaiting approval by various agencies. The draft document has been leaked to the NY Times, if not other sources, and in a NYT report the following was stated: “The E.P.A. is one of 13 agencies that must approve the report by Aug. 18. The agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, has said he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.”

“The agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, has said he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.” Interesting. My response is “So what?”

Is Mr. Pruitt even qualified to have such an opinion? Let’s see … Mr. Pruitt was trained as a lawyer before he went into politics. Well, he might have specialized in environmental law, so … according to Wikipedia Mr. Pruitt “entered into private practice in Tulsa where he specialized in constitutional law, contracts, insurance law, labor law, and litigation and appeals.” Hmmm, no mention of environmental law. Maybe he has undertaken an extensive review of the scientific literature on climate change, you know, read a few thousand journal articles, attended conferences, that kind of thing? Anybody got a guess as to how likely that was? Yeah, I came up with zero percent, too. He has no training, has put in no study, so he knows squat of that which he judges.

Mr. Pruitt has no basis for his opinion other than political ideology, so his opinion is irrelevant at best. I suggest he may be making the same mistake as the Kim Davis of 15-minute fame. She confused her job as one of exercising her personal judgment instead of determining whether all laws were complied with in the issuance of a marriage license. Mr. Pruitt may think that his opinion has merit. It does not. His job is to ascertain whether departmental protocols were followed in the creation of the report, and if so, sign the damned thing.

Apparently President Trump also has an opinion … <sigh> … okay, Mr. Trump was trained, er, graduated from the Wharton School of Business at the U. of Pennsylvania….

July 16, 2017

It Is Put Up or Shut Up Time for the Intelligent Design Movement

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:52 am
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As you may know the “Intelligent Design Theory” is just a second (third, fourth, … ?) generation form of Creationism. The people who created “ID” (it is not a theory by the way, at best it is an hypothesis) are folks who believe that God created the entire universe in only six days, about 6000 years ago or so and the science that says otherwise, aka “God’s Creation,” just has to be wrong.

The ID people spend most of their time criticizing the science of evolution (which claims we evolved and were not created magically), paleontology (which claims there is fossil and other evidence dating animals and humans back millions of years), geology (which claims that the Earth is over four billion years old), cosmology (which claims the universe is much older than our solar system), etc. but they do not seem to be motivated to answer questions on their own. These people are like colleagues who criticize your work but don’t do any work themselves.

So, it is put up or shut up time. Here are a few questions I would like to see the ID people answer. All are based upon their beliefs, primarily that God created everything about 6000 years ago. Also, since they argue that we cannot know the mind of God, I choose not to ask “why” so much as “how.”

  1. When God created all of the stars, how did he create the starlight so that it looks like it had been en route for billions of years? (Humans can start light beams and stop light beams, but not create a beam millions of light years long instantly.)
  2. When God created the Earth, He included the fossilized remains of animals that were not described in the Bible or any other historical source. How was this done, also why? (The answer “it was a test of faith” is specious because that would imply a knowledge of the mind of God.)
  3. There are animals on Earth that cannot be domesticated, nor are they good tasting or nutritious. How is it that they serve man’s dominion?
  4. When the Earth was created, radioactive elements were created alongside large quantities of their daughter products, thus creating the illusion that those minerals had been buried for millions if not billions of years. How was this done?
  5. Since all of the Earth’s creatures were created just 6000 years ago, why does all of the evidence in God’s creation point to them having evolved over a very much longer time period (3 billion years).
  6. Why does mitochondrial DNA point to a common modern human ancestor of all current humans (Mitochondrial Eve) who lived somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 years ago?
  7. If the Earth was created 6000 years ago, why does the Earth exhibit geological layers of sediment that can only have taken place over a very long time. Many of these layers show extreme tilting and folding and contain the remains of plants and animals of bizarre domains (e.g. ferns near mountain tops)?
  8. If all of the Earth’s animals are descendant’s of the animals on Noah’s Ark, why does their DNA point back to common ancestors far farther in the past?
  9. In the Garden of Eden, what did the carnivores eat? If they ate the meat of other animals, then the GOE was a charnel house as all of the lions, tigers, and wolves mowed down all of sheep, cattle, and the rest of their kind. (Death was common in the GOE then.) If they ate grass, how were they converted into carnivores from herbivores in such a short time?

How about we collect a long list of such questions for the ID movement? Help the IDers by asking questions like the above. It seems that they are struggling to come up with a research agenda, let’s create on for them! Now, that’s creationism!

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

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?

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