The Watering Hole, Tuesday November 11, 2014 – Environmental News and Food Politics

Evolution

Ok, it is only a theory, and it has many holes in it, but if they start filling the holes with observable fact, does it become less of a theory and more of a science? Or is it just easier to say DOG made it in six days and shut down all this funding to pointy-headed intellectuals?

From the oceans to the land and then back to the ocean: One more piece of evidence on how species evolved

 

Evidence that a sophisticated God fine tunes creation through evolution?

The Watering Hole, Saturday, March 22, 2014: Will Creationists Never Get It?

In case you didn’t already know, I’m an Atheist, and happy and proud to be one. I believe that our portion of the Space-Time Continuum came into being as the result of a Big bang, an explosion of matter and energy that rapidly expanded, and eventually formed the many, many galaxies of which our own is just one. I said “Space-Time Continuum” instead of “Universe” because I believe there are many, many Universes, spread far apart from one another. The Space-Time Continuum is just the framework within which everything happened, happens, and will happen. It is infinite in size, and infinite in time. It has always existed and it will always exist, but the matter and energy within it will constantly change. It was not brought into existence by anything, it was already there. Matter and energy may be turned into each other, but the infinite framework will still be there. Many religions that believe in a God have a Creation Myth. The one in the Christian Bible is not the only one, but that’s the one that religious conservatives want to see imposed on everyone. Their Creation Myth begins with three simple words, “In the beginning…” And that’s where the Bible and I part company. Because as far as I’m concerned, there was no beginning. People erroneously believe there MUST have been a First Cause, some kind of Force that brought everything into existence. I disagree. You want to tell me that the Space-Time Continuum Framework was entirely empty before some kind of Deity decided to start making stuff in it? For how long must that Deity, that all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing Deity, have sat around in a whole bunch of Nothingness? That makes absolutely no sense at all. None. What makes much more sense is that there was no beginning, that it was always there in some form or another. And it will still be there long after we all turn to star dust. Wouldn’t that imply that Life has no purpose? Yeah, but so what? In the wise words of Peter Falk in The Princess Bride, “Who said Life is fair?”

Which brings us to the Creationists of Answers In Genesis. They still don’t understand the concept of Science. They’re upset because Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of the revival of “Cosmos,” won’t allow “balance” and present the view of the anti-Evolutionists. They seem to think that any effort to educate the public about things like the Truth, using such controversial tactics as citing Facts, must be balanced by teaching things what could only be described as “Falsehoods” and “Lies.” They seem to think that young people should be taught all points of view, no matter how absurd or demonstrably false, and then let them “decide” what they want to believe. This is how you raise a generation of stupid people. And stupid people tend to be conservative in their thinking (a well-documented fact), and stupid, I mean, conservative, in their voting. This has always been part of the long term strategy of the Right. People who don’t understand how Science works, who think that every point of view is valid, tend to be easily manipulated emotionally into being afraid. And people who are afraid make bad decisions, like voting for Conservatives to govern them. Which is why the Conservatives let the Religious Right have their way, no matter how wrong, no matter how intellectually void of merit their ideas, no matter how unconstitutional their proposed legislation.

Creationists continue to insist that their views be given equal weight with Scientific viewpoints and Theories. But there is absolutely nothing scientific about Creationism or Intelligent Design. They start with the premise that God exists, and assume that anything that isn’t understood is the Will of God and Not For Mere Mortals to Understand. That is not Science. How can you test any hypothesis when you hope the result is that you can’t discern the answer, so it must be God’s work? Even more, Creationism isn’t even a true Theory in the scientific sense. It’s nothing more than a belief that things happened a certain way, on the whim and time scale of a Power we can’t hope to understand, with no allowance for any belief otherwise. Why should that be given equal weight with the culmination of hundreds of years of scientific discipline and pursuit of the Truth? Especially when it’s been long proven that the Religious views on the nature of the Universe have been proven wrong time and again? The Sun does not revolve around the Earth. The Earth is not the center of the galaxy, let alone the Universe. We are no more important in the Grand Scheme of Things than the people living on a planet circling Alpha Centauri. And they probably think the same thing about us. And you know what? We’re both right.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Creationism, real Science, Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson, or anything else about Neil deGrasse Tyson that you like.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, March 8, 2014: Forward March

We used to say, “Spring Forward, Fall Back” to help us remember which way to change our clocks during our semi-annual, Unnecessary Activity of the Year. But we no longer change clocks in the Spring, we do it a couple of weeks earlier. So now we might as well say, “Forward March, Fall Down.” But why do we even bother to do it? Whose brilliant idea was it? Does it even do what it’s supposed to do? Is there a better way?

The answers are: Supposedly, to save energy. Ben Franklin, sort of. That depends on where you live and what you wanted it to do. Yes, yes there is.

Save Your Energy
According to a great article in National Geographic, it’s supposed to save on energy, but the results are mixed on that. In some states Continue reading

The Watering Hole, Saturday, March 1, 2014: Time Check

With a week to go until the unnecessary onset of Daylight Savings Time (we’ll talk about that next Saturday), it may have crossed your mind to wonder just how your smart phone knows what time it is. After all, it probably came out of the package knowing the time and date, and you didn’t do that. (I don’t know how they look when you get them, because I don’t own a smart phone, or anything like it, and likely never will.) Dr. Demetrios Matsakis, Chief Scientist for United States Naval Observatory’s Time Services, explains how in this fascinating video.

None of this would be possible, of course, if not for Science, the vigorously-tested, well-documented study of how things work, and how they can theoretically be made to work better. Without a strong foundation in Science, Humanity cannot face the problems our planet, and our species, will endure. The overall average temperature of the planet is slowly rising. Most of the ten hottest years on record have been within the last ten years. This is undeniable. It is also undeniable that human activity (specifically, but not limited to, the excessive burning of fossil fuels) is a contributing factor to this very real warming trend. Those of you out there who’ve been paying attention understand the ripple effect a warming atmosphere has on the climate, and how it changes the weather to certain parts of the globe. It’s a problem all of Humanity must face, not just Americans. But the United States must be a leader in confronting these facts. The climate is changing, and denying that this is so is not being a part of the solution, it’s being an asshole.

So it doesn’t help that the Republicans have make a mockery of Science by appointing to the Science Committees in both Houses people who do not believe in Science. One of them, Dr. Paul Broun, an alleged doctor, and a potential future Senator, once called Evolution (among other things), “…lies straight from the pit of Hell.” Senator James Inhofe thankfully doesn’t sit on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, but he does sit on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, from which he published his own argument that while the climate is indeed changing, as it often has, he says

Today, even saying there is scientific disagreement over global warming is itself controversial. But anyone who pays even cursory attention to the issue understands that scientists vigorously disagree over whether human activities are responsible for global warming, or whether those activities will precipitate apocalyptic natural
disasters.

In all fairness, it should be noted that he receives a lot of campaign financing from the oil and gas industry, just in case you thought his opinion was arrived at intellectually. He’s also one of those folks who think that humans couldn’t possibly be destroying the planet because God promised us after the Great Flood that he wouldn’t destroy the planet again. He doesn’t seem to understand that humans can destroy the planet without the help of any gods.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss anything you want.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, February 8, 2014: Why Republican Religiosity is Wrong

According to my dictionary, the definition of “fact” is

n. 1. the quality of existing or of being real; actuality; truth.
2. something known to exist or have happened.
3. a truth known by actual experience or observation.

Facts are important. When Reality offers a challenge, you must deal with facts if you’re going to solve the problem. You can’t solve a real problem if you ignore the facts, or worse, try to act as if the opposite were true. Now look at the definition of “belief”:

n. 1. something believed; an opinion or conviction.
2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to vigorous proof.
3. confidence, faith, or trust.
4. a religious tenet or tenets

Notice the difference between these two words. Facts have the quality of being real and actual, where beliefs do not require any reality or actuality. You can believe something with all your heart but it won’t make it a fact if it’s not actually true. Beliefs can be wrong (and often are), but facts, by their very definition, cannot be wrong, because they are what is true, what actually happened. When it comes to education, you cannot treat belief as equal to fact. You cannot give an opinion or conviction equal weight with something real, actual or true. It may, in the long run, turn out that what someone believes is true, but that doesn’t justify teaching it as an actual fact, reliable as anything based on scientific evidence or experiment. Just because you believe something to be true, it doesn’t mean everyone else should be taught your belief as it were an actual fact. Especially, and I cannot emphasize this enough, if your belief is a religious one.

There are many Americans (far, far too many, IMHO) who believe that The Bible is factually true, that it is literally the Word of God, and that it should be taught in public schools. I have yet to hear any of these proponents specify which version of the Bible should be considered “The” Bible, and this, in itself, is problematic for me. Not so much that people can’t decide which version of the Bible they want taught in public schools, but that there are so many versions of the “literal Word of God” in the first place from which a choice must be made. They’re all different in some way or else there wouldn’t be different versions. But how can any one of them claim to be the literal Word of God if they differ? And just because King James I commissioned a new version of The Bible which he hoped would replace the one then currently in widespread use, why should that version be given any more credibility than any other version? It’s not because the King said so, as James did not make any order or proclamation that this version of The Bible be used in place of any other. It might interest you to know that the Geneva Bible, the one eventually supplanted by the KJV, was even more popular among the Pilgrims than the KJV. So when enthusiastic Conservative Christians claim America was founded on the principles of “The Bible,” it’s important to know which version they mean. But I digress.

In Missouri, Republicans want belief to be given equal authority to fact. A second-term State Representative, Rick Brattin (R-Harrisonville), has introduced a bill that would allow parents to pull their children out of classes where evolution is being taught. “What my bill would do is it would allow parents to opt out of natural selection teaching,” Brattin explained. “It would not prohibit the child from going through biology from learning about cell structure, DNA and the building blocks of life.” Mr. Brattin has been trying for several years to get Intelligent Design taught in high school science classes as an alternative theory to Darwin’s theories about Natural Selection. This despite the fact (there’s that important word) that courts have consistently ruled against public schools teaching Intelligent Design as Science because it’s nothing more than Creationism dressed up in a sexier framework. [A quick word about Natural Selection. Its advocacy of “survival of the fittest” does not, as its opponents often say, mean “survival of the strongest.” Rather it means survival of the species most suited – i.e., “fit” – for a given environment. If the edible leaves on the plants are higher up on the tree, the species that can reach them are more likely to survive and pass on their physical characteristics to their offspring than the ones who can’t reach them as easily. It has nothing to do with strength, but with suitability to one’s environment. The species that thrive, survive, and the ones that don’t, won’t.]

No matter how they try to disguise it, Intelligent Design is nothing more than Creationism, and Creationism is nothing but Religion, and Christianity in particular. And it’s a violation of the First Amendment to require publicly financed schools to adhere to any particular religion, even Christianity. It doesn’t matter that it’s the most popular religion in the United States, it’s still a religion and it still violates the Separation of Church and State to endorse any one over the other. You might believe it’s true, but you can’t prove it through any scientific methods, and that’s the primary reason it has no place in a Science class room. Evolution, on the other hand, has testable hypotheses and is constantly being confirmed by new findings and evidence. If you have to infect the minds of the young with something as ridiculous as Intelligent Design (its main argument seems to be that you can’t prove it’s wrong, and the fact that you can’t explain every aspect of Evolution somehow proves that Intelligent Design is right, as if the only two choices were a 100% understanding of everything that ever happened or blind acceptance that a God designed and made everything and that this is the reason you can’t understand it), then a Philosophy or Religion or Study Hall class might be the more appropriate place. But you do not teach Creationism as Science when it is anything but. People should be free to believe it if they wish (though they’re wasting their time and lives doing so), but it shouldn’t be public policy that every child in school be taught that this particular Religion is as true as Science.

But if you think that the Science class is the only place where Republican Christians want their religious beliefs to decide all aspects of our lives, think again. Not only does Mary Helen Sears of Houghton Count, Michigan, claim that Darwin’s evolutionary theory “gave rise to Hitler’s Third Reich, Mussolini’s Italy and Stalin’s Russia,” but she also believes homosexuals prey on children, that “Satan uses homosexuality to attack the living space of the Holy Spirit” and that Republicans “as a party should be purging this perversion and send them to a party with a much bigger tent.” Why does it matter what she thinks? Because she’s a candidate for a Michigan seat in the Republican National Committee. And she would join a man the party chairman asked to resign “for the good of the party” for his anti-gay comments. He would not do so, and due to specific party rules about representation on the national committee, a seat for only a woman was opened when a woman on the committee stepped down to concentrate on her Senate campaign. The funny thing about this anti-homosexual strain in today’s GOP is that there is no universal agreement on whether not the Bible bans homosexuality. Listening to the anti-gay crowd, you’d think the Bible was filled cover-to-cover with anti-homosexual pronouncements, but in truth there are only seven passages in the Bible that mention the subject, and not one of them is associated with Jesus! (Nor Satan, for that matter.) Why these folks think the Bible is more concerned with male homosexuality (lesbianism is not actually condemned outright anywhere in the Bible) than it is with income inequality or helping the poor is beyond me, and it is dangerous for America if they are given any kind of political power. Having your opinion influenced by Biblical teachings (whatever they may be) is one thing, but having those beliefs carved in stone by them is something altogether different. And it’s dangerous for Americans to put people who think this way in positions of political power in the secular United States of America.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss anything you want.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, November 9, 2013: Nothing To Worry About

Sometime over this weekend, or early next week, a one-ton satellite will come crashing to Earth. Where it will land is unknown right now. It could be in the middle of Central Park in New York City, or maybe it will come down onto an elementary school in Los Angeles, or maybe it will come down on your house. Despite how frightening any of those scenarios may sound, I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you. It’s only a ton. And it’s not like the whole thing is going to come down on any one spot. It’s going to come down on 35 spots, give or take ten. Still, a whole ton and there’s nothing to worry about? Yes.

You see, in the grand scheme of things, a ton of something crashing down towards Earth really is nothing. According to Cornell University’s Ask an Astronomer webpage, a total of anywhere from 37,000 to 78,000 tons of materials fall from thje sky every year in the form of meteorites. That’s roughly 100-200 tons per day! One more ton on top of that would just be adding about 0.5-1% more. Like I said, nothing to worry about.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss satellites, meteorites, the Tea Party, or anything else that might come crashing down to Earth. This is your open thread.

The Watering Hole, Monday, September 9, 2013: The Bible Is Not Science

David Rives, of David Rives Ministries, was a guest on a program called “Creation Today” just this past Friday, and he made the claim that The Big Bang Theory about the creation of the Universe is “bad science” because it contradicts The Bible. This is literally, of course, complete nonsense. You cannot presuppose that the Bible is 100% accurate simply because it declares itself to be, and then argue that anything that contradicts the Bible cannot possibly be accurate. There is no reason or sense to the claims of the Bible where the creation of the Universe is concerned. Take the stars. Rives, who claims to be an astronomer, also claims that all the stars we see in the Universe were created at once. And how does he know this? Because the Bible says so. It says they were all created on the fourth day. Therefore, any science that says otherwise is “bad science.” You’ve seen the pictures of the Eagle Nebula, the one that includes the famous Gaseous Pillars. Scientists (real ones) say that what you are seeing are new stars being formed. David Rives says that can’t be possible because it contradicts the Bible’s assertion that all the stars were created on one day. He says what you’re really seeing is clouds moving and revealing a star that was there all along. Go ahead, watch him say it.

Rives confront the question anyone would ask someone who claims the Earth is but six thousand years old, “How do you explain the stars being millions of light years away if the Universe is only six thousand years old?” Rives gives half an explanation for why this is. He claims that gravity affects time, therefore light moves at different speeds as it’s affected by the varying Force of Gravity throughout the Universe. Now, I would stop him right there and call “Bullshit!” And it’s not because his science is necessarily wrong or incomplete, since velocity also affects time for an object, but because he’s talking about Gravity, a concept that did not exist in the Bible. And you can’t study Astronomy if you don’t know anything about Gravity. But the Bible does not say anything about Gravity, so Gravity must be “bad science.”

You can’t make the claim that all of Science is wrong if it contradicts YOUR personal axioms. You can’t claim that no empirical proof of your axiom is possible because any result that contradicts the Bible must inherently be wrong. There are many places where the Bible contradicts itself, so it can’t possibly be taken as the unquestioned truth. Nor can any “logical proof” be derived from it that isn’t flawed because of its internal inconsistencies. Which means it cannot possibly be the truth. I wish they would learn that.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Religion, Science, Religion v. Science, or anything else you wish to discuss.