Class Warfare Blog

January 8, 2019

Other Ways of Knowing, Part 2

Filed under: Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:46 pm
Tags: , , ,

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.)

Advertisements

November 24, 2018

Ancient Aliens: Declassified!

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Steve Ruis @ 12:54 pm
Tags: , , ,

I can’t stop watching these shows from time to time. It is like watching a train wreck or spectacular car crash, except it is intellectual. Last night’s episode was about, well, here’s the blurb from their website: “Ancient relics, including the Ark of the Covenant, that have been lost for centuries and whether they were purposely hidden and protected by an extraterrestrial source.”

Since this “show” went on for hours (I didn’t watch the whole thing.) it is clear that the “Declassified” aspect is they included material that they had previously edited out to either make the included episodes the correct length, or they felt that the bullshit purveyed was just too extreme. (As if any of this bilge would actually be classified in order to be declassified.) This is what we get by having hundreds of content channels spewing their wares 24 hours per day, seven days per week—“episodes including all of the stuff we cut out at first!” (An Aside I remember when “cable TV” came around and it was promoted as being a fount of new material. What we actually got were hours and hours of re-runs of material already “in the can,” mostly TV shows like “I Love Lucy” and “My Mother the Car.” Well, we now have all of that original content that was promised and I am starting to pine after the “good old days” in which the content was primarily re-runs.)

So, the main thread of this “episode” (actually material from several episodes stitched together) was the Ark of the Covenant. This is the worst kind of religious pandering, that of treating scripture as if it were real history.

They talked about how the Ark was ordered to be built by Yahweh himself. Really? An all-powerful god (who is now beyond space and time) is going to have someone else make a wooden box to tote him around in the desert? He couldn’t, like, create it himself? Then the box is ordered to be decorated with gold leaf (thank goodness the Israelites managed to grab their gilding materials and tools as they ran form the King of Egypt’s chariots). And then after all of the decoration, it was to be covered so that no one could see the decoration. Is this how an all-knowing, all-powerful god would behave? Couldn’t He have just created a tour bus worthy of a rock star and wowed everybody with the ability of that ‘ark” to move itself. And when the Levites attended to Him in the air-conditioned splendor of the bus, imagine the stories they would tell!

But, Yahweh gets His box. The Ark then performs all kinds of magic. If anyone sees the Ark or, God forbid (actually) touches it, they die. What? Yahweh couldn’t have put up a force field to give himself a little privacy (and air conditioning)? The AA gang actually stated the belief that the Ark contained a nuclear device in it that emitted lethal radiation! Great present for the escaping Israelites!

Not only is there no mention of the fact (yes, a fact) that no such wandering in the Sinai desert of 2-3 million Israelites ever happened. If there was no Exodus, then the entire Ark story, being an integral part of the exodus story is also fictional. The Ark exists to plug a hole in the exodus narrative, that of how does one feed 2,000,000-3,000,000 people in a barren desert for 40 years! The Ark causes “manna” to rain from the heavens and so they were fed! (It is a miracle!) Why everyone isn’t falling down with laughter at his point in this story is amazing in itself.

We atheists often ask where ordinary folks get their idea that the “histories” in the Bible are true. Well, here is a taste. At one point they are addressing the fact that the Ark disappears from the Bible. (They go on to consider whether it might have ended up in Europe, England, or even Japan or North America. Sheesh.) One of their talking head “experts” then intones: “(The Ark) disappeared from the literary history in the same way it disappeared from the material history.” Hello? The Ark only exists in a literary history. There is no historical trace of any such creation, so there is no “material history.” But that statement clearly claims that “material history” is just being reported in the literary history. So, gosh, I wonder where people get the idea that the “history” in the Bible is valid?

I also wonder where Americans dropped their common sense. Since this show began airing, the percent of people who believe that we have been visited by aliens has doubled. Well, if I guess they are willing to accept Biblical “evidence” for their faith, this isn’t too far removed.

 

October 23, 2018

Gosh, What are the Odds?

Filed under: History,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:32 am
Tags: , , , ,

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?

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.

 

July 30, 2016

An Intellectual Train Wreck

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:02 am
Tags: , , , ,

I was watching an episode of Ancient Aliens last night (I know, I know … but I can’t stop watching, there is the alluring fascination of watching a scientific train wreck). This episode (Space Station Moon, Season 11, Episode 11) addressed the question of whether the moon might actually be hollow and be a space station inhabited by … wait for it … aliens, who are stationed there to keep a tab on us. I guess theists aren’t the only ones who think we are special (one of the universe’s most watched species!).

In any case, they began with some basic facts about the moon, delivered by Rick Stroud (great name, could have been a private investigator) who wrote a book called “The Book of the Moon.” So far so good. The first words about the moon uttered by Mr. Stroud were that the moon “glows” because of reflected sunlight, it not being hot enough to create its own light. This is good, solid, basic information. But then … then Mr. Stroud says this:

The reason that the moon has phases is because the Earth blocks the light of the Sun. As the Moon moves around the earth, it gets incrementally a little bit more, a little bit more of the Sun’s light.”

WTF? Bullshit Alert! Bullshit Alert! (That’s bullshite for you Brits.)

Apparently the good author got a little mixed up and thought he was describing a lunar eclipse. If his description were valid, we would have a lunar eclipse every month and anyone who has ever seen a lunar eclipse has noted that it begins and ends in just a few hours. So, by this description, all of the phases of the moon would be seen occurring in just a couple of hours and the moon would be full for the entire rest of the month!

The reason this description is patent bullshit, is for it to be true, then the Moon’s orbit would have to be in the same plane as that of the Earth’s around the Sun. It is not, it is tilted by about five degrees (5°), which is why we do not have a lunar eclipse every month.

But even if the orbits were co-planar, we would still see the phases of the moon (full moon, waning moons, waxing moons, new moon, etc.) because of the real reason for the phases of the moon which is:

The moon travels around the Earth and the side of the moon facing the sun receives its illumination and is “lit up.” When the moon is between the sun and Earth, the lit up side faces away from us and the moon is dark from our vantage point ( a new moon). Then the moon moves on and about two weeks later it is on the far side of the Earth (away from the sun) and because its orbit is tilted a bit, the side facing the sun is still being lit (it is not in Earth’s shadow) and we can see it fully lit from the side of Earth not being lit, that is during our night time (a fully lit moon, or full moon). Half way between these two positions (one week to either side) the side of the moon facing the sun is at a right angle to us and we see the Moon as being half lit. (As a side note, because the Moon rotates on its axis in the same period of time it revolves around the Earth, the same side of the moon is always lit and the dark side of the moon is never seen.)

So, the producers of this episode of Ancient Aliens thought that Mr. Stroud was the perfect source for this basic information as he has “written” the book “The Book of the Moon,” but if they had just done a little research they would have found out that Mr. Rick Stroud is not an astronomer, but is a television director. (Hey, somebody had to cash in on the book following the documentary, why not the director?)

Or if one of the producers were to have done a little fact-checking by looking up “phases of the moon” on Wikipedia, or … oh, what the Hell … the aliens did it, the aliens did it. Now, I feel better now that I know what really happened.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.