Class Warfare Blog

March 22, 2019

So Smart and Yet … And Still Prone to Simple Mistakes

In the most recent Scientific American issue, there was an interview with a Brazilian physicist.

Atheism Is Inconsistent with the Scientific Method, Prizewinning Physicist Says
In conversation, the 2019 Templeton Prize winner does not pull punches on the limits of science, the value of humility and the irrationality of nonbelief
by Lee Billings (March 20, 2019)

According to that article “Marcelo Gleiser, a 60-year-old Brazil-born theoretical physicist at Dartmouth College and prolific science popularizer, has won this year’s Templeton Prize. Valued at just under $1.5 million, the award from the John Templeton Foundation annually recognizes an individual ‘who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.’”

“… And by doing that, by understanding how science advances, science really becomes a deeply spiritual conversation with the mysterious, about all the things we don’t know. So that’s one answer to your question. And that has nothing to do with organized religion, obviously, but it does inform my position against atheism. I consider myself an agnostic.

“I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. ‘I don’t believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don’t believe.’ Period. It’s a declaration. But in science we don’t really do declarations.”

I can’t really tell whether this is willful ignorance or just Lying for Jesus. It is hard to tell, but really “What is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief.”

According to this convoluted definition if you do not accept the “proof” of the existence of the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, then you really just believe in their nonexistence, for no reasons whatsoever.

So, all of the evidence that Santa isn’t real is not to be considered. If you do not think Santa is real, then you have a belief in the nonbelief in Santa.

What a crock of horse pucky.

Atheism is not a belief. Here is what atheism at its core is:
Theist God exists and loves you!
Atheist I don’t “believe” you.
Theist But the proof is obvious; it is all around you.
Atheist Yeah, like what?
Theist Blah, blah, blah, blah.
Atheist Your proofs make no sense. I am not convinced.

Atheists are not believers, nor are they unbelievers. We are the unconvinced. Being unconvinced is not a state built on a foundation of belief, it is built on a foundation of no evidence, bad arguments, special pleading, logical errors, and a great many facts to the contrary.

Compatabilist scientists notwithstanding, trying to turn atheism into a belief system to imbue it with all of the flaws of religious belief systems and put it on an equal footing with them is an old, old strategy … that still does not work. Why? Because we are not convinced that atheism is a belief.

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December 21, 2018

Update on Free Will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

November 13, 2018

No, I Don’t Think So, Nope

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

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

He is even more explicit shortly thereafter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

November 5, 2018

Kepler Telescope Retired With Some Unwarranted Pessimism

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

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

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

I hate sloppy reporting.

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

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

 

 

August 28, 2018

Remarkable … Really?

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:32 am
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I just received a special issue of Scientific American. I have been reading SA for over 60 years now so, yes, I am that kind of geek. This special issue is on “Humans” with the subtitle “Why We’re Unlike Any Other Species on the Planet.”

The first paragraph in the headline article contained the following words:

“Curiously, the scientists best qualified to evaluate this claim (that humans are special creatures) have often appeared reticent to acknowledge the uniqueness of Homo sapiens, perhaps for fear of reinforcing the idea of human exceptionalism put forward in religious doctrines. Yet hard scientific data have been amassed across fields ranging from ecology to cognitive psychology affirming that humans truly are a remarkable species.”

WTF?

Really?

Hello?

To be remarkable is to be worthy of being remarked upon. I, for example, have been observed and the remark shared “What an asshole.” That remark makes me remarkable in the area of assholiness, in any case.

Of all the myriad species on this planet, which of them is capable of making a remark? Hmmm, at last count it was one, us. While sometimes my dog looks at me askance, I suspect the message is only a projection of my thinking and not the dog’s.

Gosh, stop the presses—we are special! No shit Shylock! Are you aware of any other species which has dominated this planet to serve its needs? Maybe chickens. The population of chickens has risen right along with that of humans. Next in line, maybe cattle, and then pigs. All of these species have spread around the world and exploded in population. Are any of them capable of making a remark? I think not.

That makes us the remarking species and what topic heads the list of things we remark upon? Hmm, Satan? (No, Church Lady, shut up will you.) Our remarks are dominated by comments about other humans and even ourselves. So, remarkable is not something to brag about.

Is the whole SA issue about how we are unique, then? Well I hate to break it to you, Bucky, but the whole idea of a species is that it is unique. The original definition stated that species could not mate successfully with members outside their species (we have since learned this is not exactly true). That is the definition of uniqueness, I think.

So, what is the issue about? I haven’t finished reading it yet, but it seems to be about how fucking full of ourselves we are. Shakespeare comes to mind—

“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—” (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2) Hamlet sensibly goes on to reject this description, but then he was a moody guy.

May 8, 2018

Thinking About a Flat Earth

Filed under: Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:18 pm
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Look at all of that water! I wonder where the flat-earthers are going to put it?

The recent resurrection of the idea that the Earth is a flat disk (a zombie idea in that it will not die and stay dead) I believe is fueled by a certain iconoclastic feeling  amongst the “believers” to state something outrageous to get attention. This leads me to believe that the vast majority of “flat earthers” are male as female attention seekers tend to seek positive attention while male attention seekers seem to favor attention of any flavor.

I have come up with simple facts that prove this idea is wrong (for example, why do some of us experience night while others experience day at the same time; this you can test with a phone call; also why is it winter in Australia when it is summer in the U.S., etc.) but I decided to give it another try at some semblance of a “proof.”

The “standard narrative” is the Earth is roughly spherical, not perfectly so but it appears spherical to the naked eye. The diameter of the Earth has been measured to be 12,756.2 km and if it is spherical, that means it surface area is 510 million square kilometers, calculated using simple geometrical formulas. The continents have all had their areas measured and if you sum up those areas you get 148 million square kilometers. This shows the common knowledge that the oceans cover about three quarters of the surface of the planet while land covers about one quarter [(148/510) x 100 = 29%].

But if the earth were flat, a disk 12,756.2 km in diameter would have an area of only 127.8 million square kilometers. And that is not enough area to hold all of the continents, let alone oceans having almost three times the area of the continents.

If the flat-earthers decide that both sides of the disk are populated, they open up a whole other can of worms. People near the axis of the rotation (the earth would still have to rotate on its axis once a day to explain the light-dark cycle) would experience a very different feeling toward the ground than those living on the edge. I also wonder why people haven’t reported looking over the edge of the disk, now that there are no longer dragons to keep them from looking.

I do not expect this argument to convince any flat-earthers because, like committed Christians, they are committed to their belief and no amount of arguments or evidence will convince them otherwise.

The round Earth conclusion fits in well with all of the other bits and pieces of our knowledge, such as the earth was formed of rock and iron and nickel in a molten state and in the absence of outside forces such a body automatically forms a spherical shape. To make a disk it would have to have been spun like a pizza and what would have done that task? Apparently the flat-earthers either are ignorant of the evidence or, more likely don’t care. I encourage them to bask in their limelight as they get only 15 minutes of fame. After which time they go back to being just ordinary fucking idiots.

 

February 21, 2018

Follow-up on the 99.9999+%

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:41 am
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I have commented recently (and before) that 99.9999+% of the universe is outside of our reach. A consequence of that is a question for creationists: why all of all that when it has no effect on what is happening here?

An enterprising scientist has determined how far radio waves have traveled away from Earth since the invention of the radio (1895, actually radio waves were created before the invention of the device). Remember that these waves travel at the speed of light and it would take us or aliens much longer to physically achieve that same range.

The illustration (see below) is only shown against our own galaxy, which is just one of several hundred billion such galaxies.

Enjoy!

I don’t need a god to make me feel small … it comes naturally.

Addendum Actually that is not our galaxy as I could get far enough back to snap the photo. It is of another galaxy that has a similar size and structure to our own.

February 17, 2018

Misuses of Science?

Filed under: Economics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:37 am
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There is a term being bandied about, scientism, to describe the intrusion of science into fields where it is felt to be inappropriate (ethics, for example). I think this “defense” is unnecessary as science is experimental, it either proves useful or it does not. The real problem, I believe, lies in a misunderstanding of what science does and is useful for.

Obviously, science applies well in “scientific” fields: physics, chemistry, biology, etc. So well, in fact, that these areas of study are called “sciences.” The application of scientific methods to other areas is more “iffy” for a good reason. Take the analysis of financial markets, for example. In recent years, college graduates who used to go into scientific fields have been attracted into the financial world. They even have a nickname, “quants,” because of their application of quantitative tools previously only applied in scientific pursuits. The inherent problem here is, even though markets watchers refer to “the market” in phrases like “the market was calm today” or “the market was perturbed today” as if it were some sort of exotic animal, unlike the sciences, there may be no controlling behaviors built into the system. A physicist doing a scientific investigation believes there may well be a fundamental behavior of matter underlying the patterns he/she is studying. That belief is well-founded as such have been found so often in the past. In finance or economics, the belief there is some underlying structure or principles is an open question as such have not been established as fact.

It is a little like Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; the apprentice waves a tool around and mutters incantations hoping to invoke powers he clearly doesn’t understand. He is not even aware what those powers are, except he has seen his master do similar things and get some results. So, in finance, people who mutter incantations and get results are the new masters (by seeming to understand things at a fundamental level others do not) and because it is assumed they have found the underlying structures that create success. Clearly they have not and their results are not attachable to any underlying truths, but they look good to those hoping to find success. (People are still talking nonsense about financial markets as if they were truths.)

Economics is another “science” (it is not) that has adopted the trappings of science without there being much, if any evidence, there are fundamental structures underlying economies. But, by making economics “scientifical,” it has the appearance of being more founded in reality, even though there is no evidence of that.

If the people applying scientific methods to their fields are serious, they need to establish whether there are, indeed, any underlying structures that can be discovered, that help us to understand their fields. Just waving scientific tools around in the air may make one’s studies look more prestigious, but in the end they will just look foolish.

The sad thing is the general populous can’t tell the difference between science rooted in reality and speculative science being employed in the hopes it will work. This, using science speculatively, seems to be a handle that the science deniers are using to discredit solid science. And that will not help us make progress.

January 26, 2018

Right … Are You Sure It Wasn’t Aliens?

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:25 am
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The Conversation (U.K.) website ran a piece yesterday with the interesting title “Religion isn’t the enemy of science: it’s been inspiring scientists for centuries” by Tom McLeish. (What has happened to the capitalization of titles?) Mr. McLeish is writing a book on the same topic. Many other British outlets including mainstream media organs produce puff pieces supporting religion and this is no different.

The author, of course, cherry picks the Jewish and Christian Bibles to make connections of those documents with the scientific method, and then, also of course, ignores all of the opposition to scientists and to scientific findings over the course of Church history.

Unsupported claims like “The content of this timeless text has clearly steered the story of science for centuries” are made. Steered the story of science … it sounds as if the Bible has been humanity’s research director all along and we just didn’t notice.

In reality, the Church has insisted that if one wanted to know anything, the answer was to be found in scripture. If it could not be found, then the question was too trivial for scripture to have addressed it, so the question was too trivial to pursue. If one insisted on pursuing answers to such questions, the scientist was being prideful and sinful and was subject to repercussions such as excommunication, house arrest, inability to publish, imprisonment, torture and death.

In the history of science there have been occasions in which scientists, being very sure that their thinking was right, bent their evidence to align it with their foregone conclusion. It happened then and it happens today, it is normal. It is also normal in science today that when a deception is discovered the scientist responsible is excoriated, typically loses his job, and is drummed out of the field. In the history of religion, theists who fabricate documents and religious relics are almost never chastised because having an excess of zeal is “erring on the high side” and is excused.

Many religious miracles have been investigated scientifically and none have been shown to have supernatural sources. More than a few have been shown to be the result of chicanery. Mechanisms to cause inanimate objects to more, statues to ooze “tears” or “blood,” etc. have been created to attract religious pilgrims, willing to pay a small fee to observe proof of their faith.

Proving faith is what this all comes down to. This is why apologists appeal to reason all of the time instead of faith. Faith is a dead end philosophically as there is no way to create more of it through faith, only through reason. (Ask C.S. Lewis.) Since the supernatural seemingly cannot be depended upon to provide what is needed, theists feel no compunction against, apparently, providing the proof that faith is reasonable by carefully fabricating “evidence” to support their positions. This “evidence” is designed to appeal to a certain audience of certain capabilities. What works for simple people does not necessarily work for intellectuals and vice-versa.

There are more than a few books telling us that science and religion are not only compatible but handmaidens in human progress. Since only a small fraction of our culture actually reads books, the messages in these books are directed at that audience. This one, I am sure, will be no different. The text will sound literate, offer citations (mostly scripture) and connections they see which in reality aren’t significant or, in many cases, appropriate. And, they will leave out the Church’s repression of scientific ideas that lasted for centuries.

If the Bible steered the story of science it is only because people were finally allowed to study its contents and then asked “How could that be?” (Remember the Church did not want people to be able to read the Bible, so it forbade its translation into vernacular languages. They wanted the Bible to be doled out by “experts” who knew what conclusions to draw. This cherry picking of scripture continues on today’s churches. When was the last time a minister preached on the meaning of the many massacres in the OT?) Those “How could that be?” thoughts led to investigations that almost always contradicted what scripture claimed. The list of bad science in scripture is very, very long and I will not bore you expounding it, but as just one example, if you get sick would you go to a doctor or to an exorcist? The Bible would have you go to the exorcist as demons create human maladies. And it isn’t that Church leaders have not known that what they are teaching in these areas is false, Renaissance Popes had Jewish doctors on retainer to treat their illness, even after Jewish doctors were banned from treating Christians. No exorcists for them, they wanted only the best medicine available, even if it came from detested Jews. (Much like Republicans claiming our health care system is the best in the world because their platinum health care plans are so much better than our tin ones.)

 

January 8, 2018

Just Plain, Or Not So Plain, Ignorant

I was reading Yuval Harari’s “Sapiens” last night and came upon this. (Despite my occasional cavils, this is a brilliant book, highly recommended.)

The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance.

Shortly after came this:

Premodern traditions of knowledge such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism asserted that everything that is important to know about the world was already known. The great gods, or the one almighty God, or the wise people of the past possessed all-encompassing wisdom, which they revealed to us in scriptures and oral traditions. Ordinary mortals gained knowledge by delving into ancient texts and traditions  and understanding them properly. It was inconceivable that the Bible, the Qur’an or the Vedas were missing out on a crucial secret of the universe – a secret that might yet be discovered by flesh-and-blood creatures.

If something couldn’t be found in scriptures then it was, by definition, trivial.

So, I have to ask: has anything changed? The power of religions is based upon their traditions and scriptures, so they reinforce that power every chance they get. They weave that power into our cultures and politics to sustain it.

And, it is clear that very, very, very important things were left out of scriptures as they were unknown at the time of their writing.

So, has anything changed?

 

 

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