Why I suspect that serious moral questions won’t be coming from anti-science folks anytime soon February 28, 2008Posted by Evil Bender in Morality, Science.
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Martin Cothran, DI contributer, praised a couple of posts on the supposed moral problems of evolutionary theory (1, 2). Cothran praises them as excellent challenges to the Neodarwinian synthesis, which is exceptionally embarrassing, because one doesn’t even need to deal with the specifics of these arguments to see how flawed they are. You see, they overlook two important points:
1. What moral conclusions you choose to draw from a scientific theory is not the result of the theory, but of your philosophical analysis of that theory, and
2. That you do not like the supposed moral implications of a theory doesn’t mean shit. The truth of a theory is not tied to whether you freakin’ like it.
Let’s see the problem in the first post, titled “Neodarwinism is a Nihilism”:
Happy Birthday to this blog! February 27, 2008Posted by Evil Bender in Blogging.
Notes from Evil Bender turns 2 today. I’m routinely flattered by my thoughtful and interesting commenters and readers, and I’d like to thank you all for being here. You’ve made the work that goes into blogging worthwhile.
Have a virtual drink of your choice on my tab. While you’re at it: what would you like to see me post (more) about? Are there topics that are being neglected here that I should cover?
Vox Day’s Book: No, I won’t be reviewing it February 25, 2008Posted by Evil Bender in Atheism, Religion, wingnuts.
I honestly tried to read Vox’s self-published silliness, but even given that I’m ill and have absolutely nothing else I can do, I can’t make it past the first chapter. Maybe it’s that in his preface brags about how this isn’t going to be a book about theology, and then he starts Chapter 1 with a sales pitch for Jesus, albeit one disguised as an attack on those mean atheists who dare to express their views in public.
The irony of colossal douchebag Vox Day claiming that it’s atheists who are somehow the ones pushing their beliefs down others throats should be evident on its face. But even were I able to overlook that–hell, even if I were to have nothing better to do with my time than to listen to one of the few writers I respect less than Christopher Hitchens bash Hitchens–I can’t get past the fact that Vox couldn’t get past the epigraph to his first chapter without quote mining Charles Darwin.
Turning to chapter 1, you see the epigraph Vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science attributed to Charles Darwin. Is Darwin actually saying that the “voice of God” is not to be trusted in science? As anyone who has read Origin will know, the quote (when taken in full) says something else entirely:
When it was first said that the sun stood still and world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science.
See? Darwin not making any comment about God. He’s commenting on the fact that popular (or majority) opinion cannot be trusted, a claim very different from what Day is putting in Darwin’s mouth. An obvious quote-mine that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the book.
Vox depicts his book as a type of intellectual deathmatch. Nice to know he’s decided to go in unarmed.
YouTube Goodness: Johnny Cash February 22, 2008Posted by Evil Bender in Blogging, music.
I haven’t linked to a YouTube video in a while. Other bloggers do a better job with that than I do, but since it’s been quiet in these parts recently, here’s some Johnny Cash for your enjoyment. His take on “Hurt” is one of my favorite covers of all time:
So the question of the moment: what is your favorite cover of a song?
I know it’s cliched, but I might have to go with Hendrix’s take of “All Along the Watchtower.” It does what I like a cover to do: it takes a great song and highlights both what makes the song great, and what the cover artist brings to the song.
It’s never to late to mock anti-woman stupidity February 22, 2008Posted by Evil Bender in language and lit, sex, wingnuts.
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Hi all! It’s still quiet around here, I know, and that will continue for the next couple of weeks, I’m afraid, but then I should have more free time for commentary and idiot bashing, so stay tuned.
Alex’s blog is a forum for his ultra-conservative Catholicism, bigoted gibberish and general stupidity. There isn’t a single post over there that isn’t hilariously awful, but I have to comment on the latest in the long line of wingnut hatred for the Vagina Monologues. There’s the usual gibberish that demonstrates Alex doesn’t know that not everything that’s said in a monologue is actually the personal opinion of Eve Ensler, but it’s all standard stuff anyone who has ever followed the faux “controversy” around the Monologues has seen before. It’s all standard, that is, until he starts saying things that even most wingnuts would be embarrassed to admit:
As previously mentioned, the other purpose of the play is to empower women through the means of sexual activity. The definition of empower is to give power or authority to; in this case to women. However, true empowerment only comes from exertion of the mind and body towards that which is at least of decent nature.
You can guess where this is headed. I suppose Alex would find it intolerant to point out that, by his own definition, empowerment doesn’t mean “telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies.” You see, even though his own definition contradicts him, Alex is really grossed out by the idea of sexual pleasure:
In one monologue, a character says, “She makes me play with myself in front of her and she teaches me all the different ways to give myself pleasure so I’ll never need to rely on a man.” The described masturbation and other forms of sexual lewdness throughout The Vagina Monologues are certainly not of decent nature and thus do not empower women.
It must be hard to live your life in a morass of unexamined assumptions–like that idea that masturbation is gross, or the idea that experiencing pleasure without someone else’s penis involved*–but Alex is the man for the job.**
I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Alex, actually. In AlexWorld, merely learning how to take pleasure from one’s own body is lewd. I’m stunned he was actually willing to type the word vagina. And I’m pleased he didn’t refer to his dick or rod or johnson.
You see, like that common blight of the blogosphere, the trollus concernus, Alex says he’s looking out for women, who he says shouldn’t be empowered, at least not if empowerment means knowing such icky details of how their bodies work or discovering that a vibrator could provide them sexual pleasure. After all, once they have their dildos, what use would they have for a Nice Catholic Guy like Alex?
Actually, if I were Alex, I’d be worried about that too, since it’s obvious he couldn’t bring anything like rational conversation or genuine concern for his partner to a relationship.
That said, I think someone should make a documentary. The entire thing would be filming Alex’s reactions to watching Rent. I’d watch it!
*Or someone else’s vagina, if you’re male. Alex at least has the decency to find male masturbation evil, too.
**In another post, he blathers about why the church thinks masturbation is wrong, but it’s about the level of intelligence you’d expect from a bunch of supposedly chaste men who spend their time telling other people what to do with their sex lives. Not that all Catholics are creepy prudes, of course, but with Ratzi in charge, their leadership certainly has no shortage of disturbing prudery.
BPSDB: Sal Cordova solves his math problems by changing constants February 18, 2008Posted by Evil Bender in BPSDB, Science, wingnuts.
I can’t resist getting in on this one. After all, I’ve been mocking anti-science idiots since the early days of this blog. When the subject matter requires, you can expect a detailed debunking of anti-science nonsense, but as you’ll see, that won’t be today: Sal did the work for me.
In his latest in the series with possibly the greatest ironic name of all time, “Advanced Creation Science,” Sal Cordova has discovered something: math is easier when you change constants until you get the result you wanted. If only I’d realized this sooner, I could have done much better in math. Whenever I lost points on a test due to a wrong answer, I could have argued, for example, that pi=3, and moved on with my life.
See, Sal has a big problem: he’s a Young Earth Creationist, but we can see stars that exploded long before Sal thinks the universe was created. It’s hard to argue for a 10,000 year old universe when there are stars that had already died long before that point. So Sal’s decided to argue that the speed of light has slowed down drastically,* thus explaining away the problem–if disguising “a magic man done it” with a BS “theory” can be considered an explanation:
For YEC to succeed, however, it may be necessary that our current conception of the laws of physics, the very conceptions formed by Einstein and his three creationist heroes, may have to be re-written. [...]
Now, an open speculation proposed by obscure YECs like Barry Setterfield and myself is this: the formation of the filamentary structures of galaxies in the universe, and the galaxies themselves was the result of Birkeland currents flowing through plasma in the backdrop of a decreasing speed of light.
But it didn’t take long for commenters on his blog to point out problems with this “variable speed of light” idea, and Sal was, almost immediately, forced to disassociate himself from Setterfield’s work. What was old Sal left with?
I don’t agree with all that Barry Setterfield has written, and I think Dr. Jellison has successfully cast doubt on major sections of Barry’s work, enough for me to rejection[sic] them.
But not all of Barry’s ideas are irredeemable.
In contrast, I’m of the opinion, the Big Bang is now irredeemable as a viable physical theory.
So two comments gets him to give up on “major sections” of his pet “theory,” while he thinks others are sound–though of course he does not elaborate on which he still holds (way to avoid pinning yourself down, Sal!). But the Big Bang theory he dismisses out of hand as “irredeemable.” It seems his evidential standards are as variable as he thinks the speed of light is.
The greatest irony here is that Sal’s claiming his “model” is used to resolve difficulties in galaxy formation. So he’s proposing a solution which has no empirical evidence, and which is already discredited. And he’s doing so because real science–which develops answers to real-world puzzles–doesn’t sit right with him. Rather than deal with that, he’d rather have the speed of light change by many orders of magnitude, which it would have to to make a 10,000 year old universe appear to be billions-of-years-old, in order to avoid coming to the rational conclusion.
So all that is very sad and illustrates the danger of the kind of illogical thinking that YECs like Sal thrive on.
But all is not lost. Sal might not have a future in real-world science, but he’d fit right in in the fictional reality of Futurama:
Professor Hubert Farnsworth: These are the anti-matter engines I invented. They allow my spaceship to travel to distant galaxies in mere hours.
Cubert J. Farnsworth: That’s impossible. You cannot go faster than the speed of light.
Professor Hubert Farnsworth: Exactly. That’s why scientists increased the speed of light in 2208.
Cubert J. Farnsworth: Also impossible.
I’m a professor, for God’s sake!
Unfortunately for Sal, even this wouldn’t solve his dilemma, because science only sped up the speed of newly emitted light–the old stuff still travels at the old speed, which is why there’s a thousand-year delay in catching reruns on Omicron Persei 8. So poor Sal’s ideas aren’t even workable in fiction.
* This is an old, long-discredited creationist canard. Sal’s just dressing it up with a pseudcoscientific post hoc explanation for evidence which discredits his beliefs.
[Update: Sal has responded--sort of--in a comment to one of his own posts. But all he says is that the Institute for Creation Research isn't very credible. Since the ICR wasn't event mentioned in my post--but only referenced in the talk.origins link, I guess Sal doesn't have much to add. It's all a little sad: yes, Sal, ICR is a crappy organization full of liars. And even THEY can recognize that VSL is only a thin attempt to cover for measurements that discredit the YEC. When even ICR agrees with scientists who say a claim is far too unsupported for use--even for use in defense of a YEC position, then maybe it's time to stop using that claim.]
Grab the Nearest Book February 18, 2008Posted by Evil Bender in Blogging, Science.
The rules are very straightforward and go as follows:
- Grab the nearest book (that is at least 123 pages long).
- Open to p. 123.
- Go down to the 5th sentence.
- Type in the following 3 sentences.
- Tag five people.
I’m sitting next to my bookshelf, so dozens of books were equally close. I grabbed one of my favorites, Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. The results:
Burning witches is a feature of Western civilization that has, with occasional political exceptions, declined since the sixteenth century. In the last judicial execution of witches in England, a woman and her nine-year-old daughter were hanged. Their crime was raising a rain storm by taking their stockings off.
Supernatural thinking at work. I occasionally express my irritation at defenders of “Western culture” in part because of the sloppy, ethnocentric thinking that is often relied upon by its self-appointed defenders, but largely because of things like witch burnings: Western history is as much a history of attacks on rationalism as it is a defense of it. The scientific method remains our greatest defense against the dangers of witch burnings and other attacks on reason.
Where I’m At, Museum edition February 15, 2008Posted by Evil Bender in Blogging, Science.
Aside from some dustups in comments threads, things have been quiet around here recently, and I’m still swamped with real-life work, so that will continue for a while. At the moment, though, I’m in the Twin Cities for a Wedding–I know, it’s Winter in Minnesota, and I’m cold. But there’s an upside: tomorrow, if all goes as planned, I’ll get to check out the Science Museum of Minnesota. Should be fun!
So today’s question for my readers: what museum in the world would you most like to be at, right now?
NYTimes: Romney to Quit Presidential Race? February 7, 2008Posted by Evil Bender in News and politics, wingnuts.
If true, this means we’ll get to see if the conservative base of the GOP rallies around McCain, or if Huckabee gets a big bump. Either way, it looks like McCain is the presumptive nominee at this point.
He’s the best candidates the Republicans could have put forward in terms of appeal to independents, but he’s absolutely hated by the wingnut base. I guess we’ll see if this fractures the GOP. My prediction: it won’t. In the end, they’d rather have McCain than a Democrat, and they’ll rally around opposition to progress.
Whoever the Democratic candidate is, he or she had best press McCain on his support for a hugely unpopular war. Right now he’s still getting a shocking percentage of the anti-war vote among Republicans an independents.
Some ads talking about him wanting us in Iraq for decades and his lip-slavering about “other wars” would be a good start.
ID’s favorite journalist and the woman responsible for turning half the ID websites into self-serving link-fest circle jerks, Denyse O’Leary, is taking a break from her usual ignorant ranting about science to blather about how wonderful abstinence education is. I could go point by point through her terrible argument, but, like ID, it is built on so flawed a foundation that I don’t need to go further than the initial claim.
ID relies entirely on finding the gaps in our knowledge and saying “a magic man done it.” Once science knows more about the process, ID shifts the goalposts, lathers, rinses and repeats. Meanwhile, when it comes to sex ed, Denyse can’t even get past her first sentence:
Abstinence education programs have been in the news a lot lately because there are a lot of them out there, and they seem to be having an effect.
Yes, that’s a link to a Free Republic post from a member of the Family Research Council. Its relies on footnotes to make sure we’re not paying attention to the fact that the “facts” in the essay rely on such things as comparing teen sex rates from 1991–before the decade-long reduction in teen sex rates, increase in condom usage, and decrease in pregancy–and 2003, and ignore what’s really been found about abstinence-only education’s rise during the Bush admin. Abstinence-only doesn’t keep kids from having sex, and doesn’t have any long-term effects on teens’ values. What’s worse, it may actually put adolescents at greater risk of STDs and pregnancy once they do have sex.
So the story is different from what O’Leary would have us believe. Abstinence-only doesn’t work and may cause harm, while comprehensive sex education does work.
But the whole point of the so-called evidence that abstinence-only education works is not to tell the truth, but to cloud the issue. What other choice do abstinence-only defenders have, when the consensus among health professionals is so clear and overwhelming?
Abstinence-only education has been criticized in official statements by the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, the American College Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association, which all maintain that sex education needs to be comprehensive to be effective.
But like ID proponents, those who continue to push for abstinence-only education programs know that they don’t have to be right, they merely have to create the appearance of controversy. It doesn’t matter that medical professionals agree that it doesn’t work, and that the evidence shows it doesn’t work, and that has no long-term effect on abstinence and may make adolescents less likely to practice safe sex–if you just keep saying abstinence-only works, then you’ll force people who care about the truth to respond, and, voila, controversy!
Once you’ve confused people about
what science is whether abstinence-only education is effective, as O’Leary does in a single sentence, you can then go on to spew whatever silliness you want, built from a foundation of dishonesty, half-truths and ignorance. Having created the ignorance you need, you can parlay it into pretending you’re doing it for the kids, while pursuing an agenda that demonstrably hurts those same kids.
But it doesn’t matter how much you pander to people’s fears, whether those fears are that they might not be specially created by God, or that their daughters might be getting it on, that doesn’t change the facts. Fortunately for O’Leary, facts only matter to those who care about the truth. She can go on placing her agenda ahead of knowledge, and using that very placement to obscure the relevant issues.
The specifics change, the game-plan remains the same.