Class Warfare Blog

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.

 

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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
Tags: , , , ,

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.

 

 

February 20, 2017

Why, Oh, Why?

I read way too often, that there is an anti-science attitude coming from Christians and other highly religious fellows (Islamists, etc.) because <fill in the blank here>. Most of the reasons sound reasonable but they all miss the mark.

The anti-science attitude stems from this itsy-bitsy problem. If science contradicts the Bible or other religious scripture in the least little bit, then those scriptures become untrustworthy. Each religious pronouncement would then have to be evaluated and interpreted and, well, there goes the baby out with the bathwater.

This is obvious in the statements of Christian fundamental literalists; they are against the teaching of “god-less” evolution; they are against science that shows that the Earth is way older (actually 766 thousand times older) than can be deduced from the Bible; they are against the Big Bang Theory because it isn’t mentioned in the Book of Genesis. For those religionists who are not fundamentalists, the threat is the same but more subtle. They think that morals, for example, come from their god (all evidence to the contrary), and so when science contradicts religion, it is a slippery slope leading directly to science refutes religion. And then there goes morality and all human beings become ravening beasts, just like we see in the movies (a well-known scriptural source for the White House apparently).

The fascinating thing is that the religionists insist their religion is based upon faith, yet they spend time and massive amounts of money trying to prove their view of the world is true. Biblical archeologists prowled the Near East looking to prove the events of the Old Testament happened, only to prove the exact opposite. Adventurers have gone looking, even to the point of scouring satellite images looking for the remains of Noah’s ark, even though the same story was told many centuries before the Noah story was told (and “borrowed” several times prior also) and is probably just a convenient vehicle used to take over another religion’s turf. (Rome did this by equating conquered people’s gods to their own, thus bringing the “new believers” into their fold.) Jerusalem is the most excavated city on the planet, with many people looking for confirmation of David’s and Solomon’s kingdoms, only to end up with vague bits that mighta coulda come from then.

So, faith apparently is not good enough, conformation is desired, but when confirmation doesn’t come, when contradiction comes instead, the science then must be wrong.

This, of course, is wrapped in a culture in which “having faith” is considered a “good thing” but being gullible is not. Poker players will do very strange things and actually lose money rather than to allow themselves to be “bluffed” by another player. No one wants to know they could have gotten an article they just bought at a better price. So, what better example of being gulled is believing in a false religion? Denying that falsity is far easier than admitting one was taken in by fancy words. It is even easier to deny science than to admit being taken for a ride.

April 10, 2014

Evolution: This is a Test, This is Only a Test,…

In last night’s first episode of “Your Inner Fish,” on PBS host Neil Shubin described the discovery of the transitional fossil called Tiktaalik. This was one of the, if not the, first walking fishes. While I thought I could hear the anti-evolution crowd grinding their teeth while this was airing, I think they probably missed the big picture. It is worse than they thought.

Neil Shubin, a paleobiologist at the University of Chicago, described his team’s thinking; it went like this: there seemed to be a gap in the fossil record between fish and walking tetrapods (land creatures). Since they believed evolution theory to be true, there had to be organisms to fill that gap (as that was too big of a gap to jump in a single mutation, etc.). So, he and his partner, a geologist, decided to go looking for fossils of those animals. And, they accept the theory of evolution as being correct. If it is then such animals had to have existed and, if they did, there might be fossilized remains to be found (fossil creation is rare and haphazard). Since they had dates for the two fossils on either side of the fossils they wanted to find, they went to geological maps and located three areas of rock that were of that age and one of them was largely unexplored, so they chose that site to look in. They then got grant funding, a great deal of grant funding, to explore that site which was in a remote area in northern Canada (no roads, no towns, no people, that kind of remote). This was no small undertaking. It took years, and as I said much money, to do this “experiment.” They then applied principles of geology and geography to locate the best possible places to look in and eventually, they found Tiktaalik, at least the fossilized remains of it, the organism that they were looking for.

“In this case it is all support for the theory of evolution: check, check, and check.”

This is how a theory is tested. If it is true then predictions can be made that should also be true and will then be subject of experiments that either support or undermine that theory. In this case it is all support for the theory of evolution: check, check, and check. Not only did they find the predicted organism, but they found it in time where it was expected to be. And this is one of myriad examples that have been similarly documented. As time went on, minor tweaks were made to make the theory more accurate and voila, you have “settled science,” science that no one disagrees with any more.

Now, if evolution were a hoax, would scientists be dumb enough to get funding for an expedition involving polar bear dangers, shotguns, extreme weather, isolation, etc. all for something they don’t expect to find in the first place? Would granting agencies provide hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding for such enterprises if there were not a good chance of actually furthering scientific knowledge or are they “in” on the plot, too?

The whole idea that major concepts like evolution (Where are the transitional fossils?) and climate change (It is all a hoax!) are bogus is ludicrous and is indicative of a bankruptcy of better ideas. These claims are just props for the confirmation biases of the fellow travelers of the people in these “anti” camps. They don’t really mean what their words are saying, in fact there is a good chance they don’t even understand what they are saying (like the guy who wanted to see the fossil of a creature half monkey and half fish). These are just campaign slogans they have learned to repeat.

The trouble for the anti-evolution crowd is that young people are growing up and deciding on their own whether there is evidence to support these scientific theories and the people opposing them appear to them like people  who insist today that the Earth is flat or that the Moon is hollow appear to us: batshit crazy. And, when you get tagged with that label, your credibility on almost everything else goes with it. So, you religious out there, do you want to lose the ears of the younger generation altogether? If not, you might want to find a way to accommodate sensible positions on scientific discoveries and theories. Good advice for Republicans, too. How many young people will listen to your “Evolution is a lie straight from the pit of Hell” bullshit?

March 17, 2014

Cosmos Crushes Creationists, Round 2

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:36 am
Tags: , , , , ,

If you expected a long, drawn out battle pitting Science against Creationism, guess again. Science wins by a knockout in the second round of the new science series Cosmos. In this episode the program focused upon evolution and mass extinctions. The tree of life was the main metaphor and the challenges were direct. The host stating that he could understand why people might want to separate themselves from our nearest relative on the tree of life, the chimpanzees. But, he continued, what about the DNA we share with oak trees, and bacteria, and many other creatures. In fact, as far as life on this planet goes, “we are one” in that we are all related . . . through evolution.

They even tackled a number of the hoary old creationist objections to evolution and natural selection. One was the evolution of the human eye. Even Darwin himself couldn’t see how eyes evolved, but that was 150 years ago and all of the intermediary steps in the evolution of eyes have been found, even to the mutation that has given us color vision rather than duo chrome vision like most other animals.

The coup de grâce was delivered toward the end of the show with host Neil deGrasse Tyson saying (I am paraphrasing here as my memory isn’t perfect) “Science exists on the border of knowledge and ignorance. There is no shame in not knowing all the answers. The only shame would be pretending to know all of the answers.” For you creationists who might no know, one definition of “faith” is “pretending to know things you do not know.”

Now, how many “e’s” are in erudite?

Note: Also posted on “Equiries on Atheism

February 21, 2014

Conservatives Garner New Label

In their stout opposition to climate change, conservatives have been slapped with the label “climate change deniers.” They also don’t believe in evolution, that man has evolved from other apes, so one wag (I wish I knew who) has tagged them “primate change deniers.”

Buh dump, dump!

February 11, 2014

Republicans Admit to Schizophrenia

While Republicans launch Social Darwinist attack after Social Darwinist attack on the poor and middle class (“if you are poor, it is your fault,” opposing a higher minimum wage, opposing extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, “takers and makers,” etc.) they continue to insist that their political candidates state their unbelief in evolution, that is actual Darwinism.

So, which is it GOP, are you Darwinists . . . or not?

February 5, 2014

When Scientists Think They Know Something, They Try to Prove It

According to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute “a grass called teosinte is thought to be the ancestor of corn, but it doesn’t look much like corn at all. Scientists were surprised to find that teosinte planted in growth chambers under climate conditions that simulate the environment 10,000 to 12,000 years ago looks more like corn. This may help to explain why early farmers chose to cultivate teosinte and lends support to the idea that teosinte was domesticated to become one of the most important staple crops in the world.

‘We grew teosinte in the conditions that it encountered 10,000 years ago during the early Holocene period: temperatures 2-3 degrees Celsius cooler than today’s with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at around 260 parts per million,’ said Dolores Piperno, senior scientist and curator of archaeobotany and South American archaeology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, who led the project. ‘Intriguingly, the teosinte plants grown under past conditions exhibit characteristics more like corn: a single main stem topped by a single tassel, a few, very short branches tipped by female ears and synchronous seed maturation.

After the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide rose to today’s 405 parts per million, the level in the control chamber where teosinte plants look like plants in the wild today – tall, with many long branches tipped by tassels and seed maturation taking place over a period of a few months.”

What they also showed, but didn’t mention, is that the atmospheric CO2 level does have significant effects upon the environoment, contrary to what Climate Change deniers state. They claim that Climate Change is a hoax because it isn’t mentioned in the Bible and they have faith, once again proving that faith is “pretending to know things you do not know.”

January 29, 2014

Republicans Conflicted Over American Exceptionalism

Republicans react angrily to any suggestion that the U.S. of A. isn’t exceptional, isn’t Number 1 in any ranking system. During the Health Care Debate, Republicans insisted that our health care system was #1 in the world, when fact-based rankings had it listed closer to #19. More recently, Republicans are upset that American students score so poorly on international tests, blaming teachers for doing a poor job of teaching our young and when they run out of steam on blaming teachers, they blame students for being lazy. (The GOP is also directly attacking teacher’s unions and working to saddle students with massive amounts of debt to stifle the political activities of both, so they are at least being consistent.)

Setting aside the facts that the U.S. never does particularly well on international tests (I remember one such scandal a while back in which the U.S. was way down the ranks in math, yet a team of young U.S. students won the global Math Olympiad the same year.) and that the U.S. does poorly on such tests for the same reasons that many U.S. states do poorly on national tests (hint: poverty and heterogeneous populations) one has to be surprised that Republicans are also pushing strongly to make it more possible to teach creationism in our schools. Republican governors across the land are getting laws passed creating charter schools which need not conform to existing education laws, many of those charter schools being church-affiliated schools which go on to teach creationism and that “Evolution is a lie straight from the pit of Hell!” (Sorry I could resist quoting the Republican Member from Georgia sitting on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.) Now that ought to help those international science test scores: all of our students looking for the multiple choice response: “God did it.”

American exceptionalism is a ridiculous notion, but if one accepts it, it certainly is based upon a solid core of scientific and technological learning. Whining about the decay of American exceptionalism when the GOP is actively undermining the education system that helped create it is a major problem for Republicans.

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