Quick hit: DaveScot might want to think this one over July 31, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in Origins, Science, wingnuts.
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PZ linked to this great post explaining the history of DaveScot’s bizare banning policy at Uncommon Dissent. It includes this post explaining yet another ban (the bolds are in ds’s origional):
…So “It looks like it’s designed” is not a robust rationale. At least not for the scientific community.
Maybe it looks designed to you but not to me. I use an example of a digitally programmed protein factory (DNA and ribosome) and you offer me a rock with a couple of square crystals in it as a rejoinder? You’re out of here. Go waste someone else’s time and bandwidth. –ds
The great thing is he thinks he’s refuting an anti-ID argument by pointing out they don’t agree on what features indicate design. Maybe DNA looks designed to DaveScot. Maybe the Face on Mars looks designed to Dembski. Maybe IDist think prostate problems are a sign of the Intelligent Design of the human male’s urinary tract. Certainly Behe thinks marlaria is Intelligently Designed. I don’t agree with them on any of those, and I ain’t the only one.
So one needs to ask: if ID can be detected, why have they still failed to come up with a means of detecting, unequivocally and without bad math, what features indicate design?
Oh, that’s right: it’s because their real answer, the one they give when us evil rationalists are looking the other way, is that “a magic man done it.” Turns out it’s hard to make that into a real scientific theory, since it involves evoking the magic man whenever you claim there’s no scientific explanation for something.
Which is why these people hate actual science so much. As a commenter on PZ’s blog noted (sorry, I can’t find the original comment): “Not the gaps! That’s where God lives!”
Some mockery to get you through the next few days July 26, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in education, wingnuts.
It’s going to be slow around here for a while,* so until August rolls around and I’m back to more regular posting, you should check out this site, via the always-enlightening Rev BigDumbChimp. It’s Don McLeroy, who will be running the Texas public schools now. Ouch. McLeroy would be a useful asset in many lines of work, no doubt, but education isn’t one of them. He’s a Creationist, doesn’t believe in environmentalism, and thinks medieval Christianity was a great gift to the world.
What is it about the development of the West that made it so remarkable and unique? Why in the West are all people important? What is the ultimate source of these ideals of freedom, equality and limited government? What was the defining ideological force that uniquely shaped the West’s political development, especially in its formative medieval period?
I believe the best and really only answer to all the above questions is the gradual assimilation of Judeo-Christianity in the West. By arguing that humankind is “made in the image of God”, medieval thinkers developed the idea of the dignity of the individual, not something arbitrary-man-given, but a reality, inherent in every person-God-given.
The usual right-wing idiocy that we need their particular belief system in order to be moral. Of course he ignores the great Western secular traditions out of which democracy sprang and which were largely responsible, on their reemergence, of bringing the light of reason to the dark ages. It’s important to note that he doesn’t have even a bit of a grasp on Western history, because of what he argues for:
Hy Ruchlis in Clear Thinking , 1962, makes the connection of facts to problem solving by observing “a body of facts accumulates and makes it possible for people to solve many more problems than they could ever hope to handle successfully solely by their own thinking processes.”
Filling the mind with knowledge and facts is, in fact, the special task given to education.
Nice 45-year-old citation. He’s clearly up on the scholarship. I have to wonder about the kind of person who thinks facts, not critical thinking, are the real subject of education. Facts are great, important things, but it is reason which allows us to make use of them. Filling kids’ heads with route memorization of facts if foolish and–ask anyone who’s spent hours diagramming sentences and memorizing multiplication tables–deadening to the intellectual process. We need facts presented to students in a context that challenges them to think about the facts. And we don’t need the uninformed–men like McLeroy who think the earth it 6,000 years old–to decide which “facts” they receive.
I’m reminded of the opening scene from Dicken’s Hard Times. The speaker is Thomas Gradgrind, a misguided educator whose family will fall apart around him:
“NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”
The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a schoolroom, and the speaker’s square forefinger emphasized his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line on the schoolmaster’s sleeve. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for its base, while his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s mouth, which was wide, thin, and hard set. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie, as if the head had scarcely warehouse-room for the hard facts stored inside. The speaker’s obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders, — nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was, — all helped the emphasis.
“In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!”
The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.
In the next chapter, Gradgrind will proceed to chastise children for using their imagination, for daring to think for themselves. It is exactly what McLeroy plans to do: destroy childen’s ability to think by stuffing them so full of “facts” that there is no room for real education.
As a Kansan, I’ve seen this battle play out in my home state, and I wish Texas well in combating this foolish doctrine.
*I’m moving! And I’m going to be teaching again! And I’ll have more time to blog!
Wingnuts: staying classy, Democratic candidates edition July 24, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in wingnuts.
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Nothing is classier than conflating legitimate political dissent with terrorism, unless it’s conflating legitimate political dissent with terrorism and calling on God to strike down the “evil” dissenters.
That’s right, assholes: Democratic presidential candidates are exactly like Osama bin Laden, except for their liberal views, their insistence on debate, freedom and democracy, and their complete absence of desire to bomb those who they don’t like.
Gonzo vows to stick around to clean up the justice department (causing irony meters everywhere to explode):
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says he’s staying at the Justice Department to try to repair its broken image, telling Congress in a statement released Monday he’s troubled that politics may have played a part in hiring career federal prosecutors.
How does he say that with a straight face? These people are consummate liars.
Dear Sweet Zombie Jesus, Michael Egnor just gets worse July 23, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in Origins, Science, Skepticism, wingnuts.
PZ’s pointed out that Egnor, without bothering to know what PZ actually said, has attacked PZ’s recent talk by the typical conservative troll “false concern” model. As usual, Egnor hasn’t bothered to address any real points, instead preferring to bring up strawmen and then pretend to have refuted the scientific method.* Though Egnor isn’t worthy of much space here, I couldn’t help respond to one ludicrous passage:
Avoid any reference to the self-refuting nature of materialist neuroscience. If your mind is merely an emergent property of your brain, then your opinions are completely determined by your neurophysiology. But neurophysiology is determined by physics and chemistry. Can physics and chemistry ascertain truth? Don’t remind your audience that by the very act of asserting your theory you inherently stake a claim to credibility not normally accorded to meat.
When we strip aside the phrasing designed to conceal his real argument, it goes like this:
1. The human brain is made out of material.
2. Alone, this material cannot think.
3. Therefore, the brain can’t think and there must be a spiritual something that does the thinking for us.
Let’s play this fallacious argument in reverse now. The “mind” in Egnor’s philosophy has no material existence nor any observable effect on the real world. Things that can’t produce effects can only be said to exist vacuously. Therefore, the mind/soul does not exist as Egnor understands it.
This argument is at least as credible as Egnor’s, and is in fact more so. After all, while we have no evidence–none–that things truly exist which are said to exist but produce no observable effects, we know that combinations of material working within the laws of the universe can produce effects that the elements individually cannot produce. Do human’s need a soul to eat, because individual molecules cannot break down a steak and use it to power a 150-pound body? Proteins cannot speak, so we must need God to let us do that, right?
Of course not! We know that combinations within the observable physical world give real, verifiable advantages. Evolution predicts exactly this–new combinations emerging which provide useful abilities. We do not need to evoke the unknowable “mind/god/soul” in order to explain consciousness. We don’t know everything there is to know about the brain, but we are making great progress, and we have no reason to abandon the scientific paradigm and accept a god-of-the-gaps argument in it’s place.
Egnor would have us forget that he’s claiming science can’t make useful strides in understanding consciousness while proposing a counter-position that makes no predictions and is completely useless at enhancing knowledge. Thanks, Egnor, for supporting ignorance in the face of knowledge, and mysticism in the face of evidence. You’re a real credit to the DI.
*That’s not what he says he’s doing: he claims to be attacking materialism. But what he’s actually doing is desperately trying to refute the idea that we can increase our knowledge of the brain without making vague and unfalsifiable evocations of mystical undefined “something.” That’s nothing less than an attack on science’s well-demonstrated explanatory power.
Spoilers below the fold. Go no further if you do not wish to be spoiled!
One-word review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: July 21, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in language and lit.
[More from me on this topic soon, including a brief meditation on death in Harry Potter. But that will wait--I'm just going to enjoy for the moment.]
Poetry: Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Sonnet XLIII” July 20, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in Poetry.
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
Bush to rule of law: fuck you–again! July 20, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in constiutional issues, Dubya, News and politics.
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In case you missed it, Bush is now claiming that he can claim executive privilege, and thereby ensure he is accountable to no one. His people won’t answer subpoenas and if they’re held in contempt, prosecutors have now been ordered* not to bring such charges before a grand jury.
Shaun Mullen is right on target when he says that this latest outrage is not so much a “constitutional crisis” as it is “… the latest chapter in an ongoing constitutional crisis involving a rogue president who continues to insist that when he invokes executive privilege, inks a signing statement, unilaterally suspends a bedrock principle of the American legal system or violates an international treaty, he is accountable to no one. Ever.”
Separation of powers be damned; oversight be damned.
*Bush: “Fuck you if you notice the irony of forcing the DoJ to do as I want in response to a scandal created when I fired those who didn’t pursue my narrow ideology.”
Bill O’s wingnuttery July 20, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in bigotry, News and politics, wingnuts.
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1) Bill compares Kos to Nazis, and so begins the debate by losing it.
2) People call Bill on his bullshit, Bill stands by it, saying “hate is hate”–as though hatred of, say, the Nazi ideology or Bush’s imperialism is exactly like exterminating the Jews.
3) More people call Bill on his bullshit, so Bill promises to devote fair and balanced time to a right-wing hate group, and chooses Westboro Baptist Church, thereby comparing bigoted, hate-filled assholes to anyone who disagrees with President Bush.
4) Anyone who has been paying attention goes back to their lives unsurprised by Bill’s asshattery; Bill goes back to masturbating to the thought of rather tame images of Miss New Jersey.