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It's religion and politics time, boys and girls. First, in an… - Elf M. Sternberg
elfs
elfs
It's religion and politics time, boys and girls.

First, in an unlovely specimen of a right-wing rant about Jack Kevorkian and Terry Schiavo, columnist Ashley Evans sneezes into the punchbowl of reason and writes:
It reminds one of the Creationism vs. evolution debate in public science classes: should it not be mentioned that evolution is still a theory, that there are serious gapes, or that most people trust in intelligent design?
I don't know about you, but I don't know about many serious "gapes" in evolutionary theory, although I have been known to gape (look with open-mouth amazement) at people who write something quite so ignorant. (I resist mightily the inclination to make porn "gaper" jokes...)

In similar news, Rep. Bill Sali (R - Idaho), while talking about how allowing a Hindu priest to conduct opening prayers for Congress should never have happened, dropped this lovely bomb: "We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes -- and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers."

In more serious news, the Armed Forces is considering disciplinary action against four generals who appeared in an Evangelical group's fundraising video in uniform, implying that the group had the support of the Armed Forces. One general said he believed that the group, Christian Embassy, had become a "quasi-federal entity." Another said that Christian Embassy had been at work among the Christians in the Pentagon that he believed the group was "a sanctioned or endorsed activity."

I cannot emphasize just how devastatingly dangerous it is that we have four generals who, after having taken their oath as a soldier, then go on to proclaim that "their first loyalty is to Jesus Christ" and that "my weekly prayer sessions are more important than doing my job." Dude:
I, _____, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
When you put your loyalty elsewhere, you are a domestic enemy.

Meanwhile, Stephen Baldwin (the dumbest of the Baldwin brothers) is running a Pentagon authorized project called "Operation Straight Up," a standard old-time revival. Their Iraq project is called "Military Crusade." If you give them money, they put it into a "soldier's care package" which includes these gems:
"More than a Capenter" by Josh McDowell
This classic evangelical tract is designed to be most effective when given to people who are vulnerable due to stress or mistreatment. OSU includes this lovely blurb: "We can only hope that since the book is double printed on the reverse side in the Arabic language that it will indeed influence the nations overseas as well." Since the Pentagon is supposed to punish attempts at proselytising, I can't imagine why they're letting this through. [By the way, the misspelling of "Carpenter" in the title is verbatim from the OSU website.]
"Left Behind," the Video Game, PC Edition
In this charming video game (in the Warcraft/Starcraft style of play) you command an army of soldiers against the army of evil as you battle for the streets of New York City. The soldiers in the army of evil all wear blue berets and United Nations uniforms, and when you kill one of them your soldier forces shout out "Praise the lord!"</dt>
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jordan179 From: jordan179 Date: August 9th, 2007 04:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Left Behind," the Video Game, PC Edition
In this charming video game (in the Warcraft/Starcraft style of play) you command an army of soldiers against the army of evil as you battle for the streets of New York City. The soldiers in the army of evil all wear blue berets and United Nations uniforms, and when you kill one of them your soldier forces shout out "Praise the lord!"


Indeed, this sounds like a particularly bad gift for American soldiers who may, after all, at some point have to patrol with the blue-helments!
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 9th, 2007 05:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
The "just a theory" tack always annoys me. Theory means something very specific in a scientific context, rather than "half-assed idea" that it appears to mean in casual language. We have excellent evidence to illustrate that evolution is the case, but it falls short of the laws that physics has (partially because biology is so damn messy). Whether the writers are deliberately exploiting the difference in definition or are unaware of it, it still irks.
As for the rest, ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh. I can't say anything more coherent.
dossy From: dossy Date: August 9th, 2007 05:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
As much as I tend to believe that some theory of evolution is more likely to be correct than some formulation of a creationist myth, I think it is fair to say that there's a non-empty "gap" in The Theory of Evolution. I can explain why with one question: Which theory of evolution is The Theory of Evolution?

Is it Darwinian natural selection? Punctuated equilibrium? Something else entirely?

Ironically, while I said I tend to believe some form of evolutionary theory is correct as opposed to some creationist myth, I have a hard time accepting that any of the currently expressed theories of evolution to be the actually correct one, either.

But, I trust, through good science and rigorous discipline, we'll continue to iterate towards the correct one.
jordan179 From: jordan179 Date: August 9th, 2007 05:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well yes, until we know the exact genetic family tree of every individual life form existing and the circumstances that led to each act of superior reproductive fitness, there will be gaps in our knowledge of evolution. And right now our knowledge is even more incomplete. But we do know enough to know that some version of evolution by natural selection based on survival of the fittest is the explanation for the diversity of life. And that direct interference by deities almost certainly isn't.
dossy From: dossy Date: August 9th, 2007 07:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
"But we do know enough to know [...]"

Do we, really?

Natural selection isn't the only evolutionary theory that has a reasonable explanation for the diversity of life.

It's hard to rule out the possibility that there could be deities entirely external to our universe who tweak and modify our reality--as a computer programmer tweaks and modifies a program--which would be wholly undetectable to us except through macroscopically observable effects, such as our laws of nature or genetic mutation.

For either side of the argument to declare victory and insinuate obviousness is foolishness. The reality is we really know so very little but we want to believe we know enough to be secure in our beliefs. Those people are seeking comfort, not knowledge, and that makes me sad.
jordan179 From: jordan179 Date: August 9th, 2007 07:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's hard to rule out the possibility that there could be deities entirely external to our universe who tweak and modify our reality--as a computer programmer tweaks and modifies a program--which would be wholly undetectable to us except through macroscopically observable effects, such as our laws of nature or genetic mutation.

This would be an extraordinary claim, and to substantiate it one would need extraordinary evidence, with the burden of proof on the one advancing the claim. I'm not saying that it's impossible ... I'm merely saying that there is, afaik, no evidence for this, and hence until some is discovered we should correctly assume it to be untrue.
dossy From: dossy Date: August 9th, 2007 07:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
No more extraordinary of a claim than the evolutionary theory's claim that the universe's random number generator has consistently produced the necessary outputs across time to produce life as we know it and to keep it from randomly collapsing on itself, obliterating everything.

That's almost as ridiculous as making the claim that one could flip a fair coin a few hundred billion times, each time landing heads, in a row.

Yet, you accept it without extraordinary proof?
elfs From: elfs Date: August 9th, 2007 08:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
No more extraordinary of a claim than the evolutionary theory's claim that the universe's random number generator has consistently produced the necessary outputs across time to produce life as we know it...

Except no one has claimed that, and to say so is a classic misunderstanding that the "intelligent design movement" exploits to keep people ignorant. At one level-- the level of sheer, raw physics-- the universe *is* absolutely, stochastically consistent. Everything else is built on top of that, but it's all probabalistic. We don't have to exist. If we ran the whole thing over again, there's no reason to believe we would exist.

This is not flipping the coin a few hundred billion times, each time landing heads, in a row. This is the coin flipping and falling... and landing. It doesn't really matter which way.

Besides, biology has a ratchet. As long as the sun shines on the Earth, excessive energy is being poured into a chemically active system, energy that can be exploited into anti-entropic organization.

This has to happen-- at least on Earth-- only once. Not a billion times.

Once.

Once chemistry has bootstrapped into biology, evolution is more or less an emergent property of the system. There are no guarantees: there's nothing that dictates that dinosaurs, dogs, or hominids will emerge. But biology will run its course as long as it has the power to do so. As long as the sun shines.

Besides, it's a huge universe. Too many people fail to appreciate how huge, fail to have an imagination broad enough to grasp how huge. In all the universe, the science experiment called chemistry is being run around every star in the sky, billions and billions of times. We're just the outcome of one of those experiments: chemistry bootstrapped to biology, bootstrapped to consciousness.

It's a nifty outcome (at least, I think so), but it's hubris and self-deception to think that we're special in some way, that the universe cares about us.

Once you allow for supernatural events in your biological history, you suspend all judgement and damage all conclusions. If you believe that some power has interfered with the outcome, has "leapt over" gaps that are biologically insurmountable (by the way, every gap that Behe, et. al., has proposed has been shown to be surmountable by ordinary chemistry and biology, so far), you have no justification for trusting the outcome of biological science.

The consequences of this are huge: you have no reason to believe that animal testing tells you anything about the efficacy of drugs on human beings. None; it works on faith. You have no reason to investigate the genetic history of cancer, to isolate the high-preservative genes that can lead to cancer, because you have no reason to suspect that high-preservative genes exist at all. You have no reason to believe that comparative anatomy tells you anything about human beings.

You have no reason to believe the evidence of your own eyes.
jordan179 From: jordan179 Date: August 9th, 2007 08:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're ignoring the Weak Anthropic Principle. There could be any number of Universes whose physical laws could not support sapient life: by definition we are in a Universe whose physical laws could. Otherwise, we would not be here to have the discussion.

Furthermore, once physical laws allow the appearance of life, there is no logical reason why they should change in such a fashion as to no longer permit it.

If you are referring to the fact that our planet has remained habitable for billions of years, you are ignoring three points:

1) This has been true on Earth: on any number of other planets the local environment may have changed in such a way as to extinguish their ecosystems. We have strong reasons to believe that something of this sort happened to Mars, for instance.

2) Actually, Earth's environment (including atmospheric composition) has changed dramatically over billions of years: you or I would die quickly attempting to breathe the atmosphere of 3 billion years ago. Earthlife has changed with it, adapting to the atmospheric changes.

3) And again, the Anthropic Principle: had Earth's climate changed so radically as to exterminate her complex life, we would not be here to have the discussion.
sianmink From: sianmink Date: August 9th, 2007 08:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
And we're seeing more and more evidence that life may be the rule instead of the exception, when conditions which support it (and those are much, much broader than we imagined even 20 years ago) are present. It's truly quite amazing.
mundens From: mundens Date: August 9th, 2007 07:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
What we know is that the existing mechanisms are entirely sufficient to do the job, and there is no need to postulate any flying spaghetti monsters to cover the non-existent gaps.

You seem to be keen to find "the" theory, when this is unneccessary, because the theories describe several different mechanisms, all of which are probably responsible the current situation.

I think we should also take over the intelligent design theory. It's perfectly possible that the entire universe was designed from scratch by us, or people very like us.

That doesn't make them gods, just people who know how to create universes, something which hopefully we'll have figured out before the heat death occurs. :)
dossy From: dossy Date: August 9th, 2007 07:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
"I think we should also take over the intelligent design theory. It's perfectly possible that the entire universe was designed from scratch by us, or people very like us.

That doesn't make them gods, just people who know how to create universes, something which hopefully we'll have figured out before the heat death occurs. :)"


You know, I've seriously considered this idea many times and am glad to hear someone else put it forth for a change (even if only in jest).

Perhaps the universe does collapse on itself at some point. But, before it does, we figure out how to push through (to the next universe that's to come) a "seed" which will ensure that after enough time has passed, life will re-emerge and the cycle will continue.

Of course, this leaves us that annoying problem:

Which came first? The chicken ... or the egg?
_candide_ From: _candide_ Date: August 10th, 2007 01:55 am (UTC) (Link)
Indeed.

For my own take on this:

The only reason certain theories are called, "Laws of Physics," is the utter arrogance of a bunch of 19th-century Western-European men. (Of course, this is the same crowd that declared equations, "unsolvable," simply because they couldn't solve them. Meanwhile, further east, some unknown Russian mathematician had solved the thing a few decades earlier. Russian mathematicians were and are scary-smart.) Ever since relativistic and quantum mechanical phenomena gave us a good swift whack upside the head, we physicists … and science in general … have been very skiddish about calling our models of Nature anything more official-sounding than, "theory."

Heck, we're now even willing to admit that "mass" (the measure of inerta) may not equal "mass" (the gravitational charge). Right now, every last equation in all of physics assumes the two are one in the same. Yet, physicists are willing to change that assumption — and all of the work/headache that'll entail — if experiment proves something different.


Oh … and by the way: The universe is hardly random. It's rather highly constrained by the 4 fundamental forces, conservation of mass-energy, conservation of momentum, and the other conservation "laws", quantum mechanics … I could go on. But I'll stop with this one: everything in the Universe seeks an equilibrium state, namely the lowest energy it can reach given whatever it's interacting with. We have yet to observe the contrary.
jordan179 From: jordan179 Date: August 10th, 2007 03:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh … and by the way: The universe is hardly random. It's rather highly constrained by the 4 fundamental forces, conservation of mass-energy, conservation of momentum, and the other conservation "laws", quantum mechanics … I could go on. But I'll stop with this one: everything in the Universe seeks an equilibrium state, namely the lowest energy it can reach given whatever it's interacting with. We have yet to observe the contrary.

The previous poster may have been talking about the precise values of the physical constants, and how they are rather fine-tuned to allow the formation of long-lasting star systems with abundant and diverse elements allowing chemical life such as ourselves. But of course, this is the old Anthropic Principle in action -- in Universes which did not have such friendly values to their constants, there would be no sapient life to remark on the inconvenience. Until we develop the technology to examine other Universes, we can't really say much on the subject, because we have at present only one Universe available for study.

Sort of how planetology couldn't get very far until we built telescopes.
sianmink From: sianmink Date: August 9th, 2007 08:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
that's the great thing about science. Theories are constantly challenged and improved, or tossed out if something better is found. They're not believed or accepted as dogma, they're simply the best explanation we have for what we observe.
tagryn From: tagryn Date: August 10th, 2007 12:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, at least until a theory gets accepted as "fact," after which it gets treated as unquestionable dogma. Try to open *those* up to question, and you'll get labeled as a quack or worse, and your funding will dry up, and with it perhaps your job as well. Science does have its own ways of punishing heretics...
_candide_ From: _candide_ Date: August 10th, 2007 02:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Erm, no.

Not unless you're referring to the 19th century fatheads I alluded to in another comment in this thread. These days, theories, models of Nature, are only as "unquestionable" as the data they're based on.

The only ideas which get labelled, "crackpot," nowadays are ones which fly in the face of observed pheonomena. If you're gonna claim that negative gravitational charge exists, you'd better have a repeatable experiment to back it up.

There was a professor in the physics department where I did my doctorate. Asim Barut was his name. Wonderful guy. Sharp, too. But he was known around the department as, "eccentric." You see, he didn't accept quantum mechanics — one of those holdouts who believed that there must be, "hidden variables," that would make the model deterministic again. Problem was, the experiments weren't deterministic. The observed phenomena all supported Quantum Field Theory as it currently stands.

During colloquia, where the subject covered subatomic particles, condensed matter at the atomic scale, or some other field involving quantum theory, Dr. Barut would inevitably barrage the guest speaker with questions that tried to poke holes in Quantum Mechanics. The bewildered speaker would try to answer the question, but eventually ended up describing why the alternate explanation Dr. Barut raised — if he posited one — wouldn't work, how this-or-that experiment had disproven it.

You can decry a model, you can try to poke holes in it, but unless you have another model that describes the observed phenomena … all of it … better than the current model, then the current model remains.



Now, a classic example of the, "heretic who was right," is Alfred Wegener. But there are two problems with this archetypal story, details always overlooked. One: Wegener was a meteorologist, not a geologist. Would you ask a psychologist to treat a brain tumor? You see, then, why the geology community may not have taken Wegener's ideas too seriously. And Two: How could continents drift through solid rock? Wegener proposed that continents drift. But he couldn't explain how.
So, you have a rather unlikely idea: solid rock drifts through solid rock. And it's being proposed by someone outside of his field. Kinda makes sense that it would raise eyebrows. Doesn't look like a lone-unorthodox geologist battling a dogmatic system, does it?
tagryn From: tagryn Date: August 10th, 2007 03:50 am (UTC) (Link)
That assumes that everyone can agree on what an appropriate model and data *are*. Often, it isn't that simple.

When you get front-page science stories like the one in the current issue of Newsweek which labels global-warming questioners "contrarians" and "deniers" and implies the debate should be over, while there's still a ongoing debate among field specialists about exactly how certain and precise the predictions are...well, it sure looks like the victory of scientific dogma (and, sadly, groupthink) over how the process is ideally supposed to work.
_candide_ From: _candide_ Date: August 11th, 2007 04:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Models, sure. Those you can argue about, at least when the phenomenon being modeled is "new", or there isn't very much experimental data to fully verify one model or another.

The data, however, aren't up for debate. You do an experiment, you observe certain behavior ("the data" being the quantitative description of said behavior). Repeat the experiment, you observe the same behavior.

As for those "front-page-stories": they're designed to sell magazines, not communicate science. My doctorate is in climate physics. During the 1998 El Niño event, I heard all manner of cockamamie, "science news," claiming that it was responsible for — well, just about everything, from NorEasters to higher waves in California. Thing is, "El Niño" occurs only in the Pacific, near the Equator (within ± 5° of latitude). The only weather pheonomenon that El Niño has a clear effect on is the Indian Monsoon, and even then, it's a weak correlation.

When there was a colloquium on the latest climate change research, those of us "in the field" all attended to get the real scientific information, not the media-generated hysteria. Sorry to disappoint you, but humans are altering the radiative heat transfer of the Earth. The question is, "Exactly how much?" and, "What will all of this extra energy do? What effect will it have?"

But, the, "global warming skeptics," don't discuss that. No, they dig up 30 year-old theories and try to poke holes in them, or just engage in ad-hominem attacks on well-known researchers in the field. (See http://environment.newscientist.com/channel/earth/dn11462 for references.)
tagryn From: tagryn Date: August 11th, 2007 12:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
* Data certainly aren't unquestionable. Bad instrumentation, inappropriate conditions for measurement, even bias on the part of the researcher can all bring into question the validity of what's being observed. I think you're mostly talking about reliability, but that's not the whole story.

* The popular news magazines are how science gets communicated to the public. The field journals (and conferences, etc.) are how the discussions and debates within disciplines get worked out, but non-specialists don't read those, and when an issue becomes part of the public debate, the popular mags play their part in shaping the frame...which affects things like funding from Congress for grants and R&D. One story in USN&WR or Time isn't going to suddenly decide an debate among scientists one way or another, but the cumulative effect can have a powerful if indirect influence on a discipline as a whole. It does matter.

* What I got from Vranes' post (that I linked to) and his follow-ups is that in the climsci field, many scientists are self-censoring and caveating their results for fear of being labeled a "skeptic." We can see at the end of your post an example of what stigmas come along with that label. Which gets back to the original point: there are dogmas in science, and questioning them (or even being perceived as doing so) does come with consequences.
_candide_ From: _candide_ Date: August 14th, 2007 02:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Whenever non-scientists with a political agenda start spreading misinformation about a particular area of research, the science itself suffers. Very, very few of the real researchers in the field want to be associated with political crap, and so are either forced into a very defensive stance, or don't offer as strong a criticism of this-or-that bit of research, for fear of being labeled far worse than a "skeptic."

By wasting energy like that, the science suffers. For a time. Eventually, the politicos lose interest, and the scientists can start doing their jobs again without fear of attack.

The data, however, remains indifferent to all of this. You collect more observations. They either disprove the null-hypothesis, or add to an existing pattern.

Since however, "global warming" appears to be your personal bugaboo, you seem to have decided that the entirety of the scientific process is corrupt. In which case, I have nothing more I can say, since I am one of those Corrupted, and therefore, everything I say is suspect.
sianmink From: sianmink Date: August 9th, 2007 08:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
It reminds one of the Creationism vs. evolution debate in public science classes: should it not be mentioned that evolution is still a theory, that there are serious gapes, or that most people trust in intelligent design?

Is that the best he can do? Seriously, that's the most tired, cliche'd 'challenge' to evolution I can find. Gravity's only a theory, too, sport.

Stephen Baldwin (the dumbest of the Baldwin brothers)

And that is no small feat.

They're giving away 'Left Behind" the Video Game because nobody will take the crap game, even for free.

On the other front, have you heard that violent video games are being fount to be useful in treating combat stress? I love the smell of irony in the morning.
drewkitty From: drewkitty Date: August 9th, 2007 09:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
>> "More than a Ca(r)penter" by Josh McDowell

I glanced at some excerpts from this text. It flies in the face of my personal belief that Jesus of Nazareth was trying to preach the divinity of all human beings, and was alternately misunderstood and censored by the people and institutions of his time.

It puts into context his more outrageous claims. I really need to write a short, sweet paper. I've been meaning to for a while.
sianmink From: sianmink Date: August 9th, 2007 11:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hah. that's actually what I figured he was saying, too. That sure doesn't seem to be the prevailing attitude though.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 9th, 2007 10:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
You could name any number of theories. Laws of motion (newtonian physics if I recall), nuclear physics (try telling the Japanese that one is "just a theory"), combustion, conscious thought, aerodynamics...
_candide_ From: _candide_ Date: August 10th, 2007 02:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Remember: the Dominionists need to take over the military if they're going to have any success at shredding the Constitution and establishing a theocracy.
slutdiary From: slutdiary Date: August 10th, 2007 04:52 am (UTC) (Link)
So, can anyone tell me how to get a Pentagon Authorized Project [and funding, natch] to further the needs and wants of my imaginary being? She has to be at least as credible as Stephen Baldwin's imaginary being.
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