Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Culture War

An interesting quote from the 7:30 Report on the Australian Broadcasting Company during a round table discussion about Intelligent Design.

DR DAVID YOUNG: Well, I think mainly it (Intelligent Design) is a political ploy, which sounds harsh, but you have to understand the situation in the United States, where there is a considerable culture war, it's being called, between the religious right and the intellectual left, and intelligent design is a tool to try to get into that debate, mainly on behalf of the religious right.

It’s the term “Culture War” that draws my attention as well as Dr. Young’s names for the two sides, “the Religious Right” and “the Intellectual Left.”

I’ve seen the term “Culture War” before but usually in reference to “moral values” rather than Intelligent Design. Maybe Dr. Young has hit the nail on the head. Perhaps we have to understand Intelligent Design as just another front in what the Christian Right views as a moral crusade.

As far as Dr. Young’s names for the combatants goes, I’m ok with “Intellectual Left” but I think “Christian Right” is more accurate than “Religious Right.” Non-Christian religions in this country, while they might agree with the Christian Right on some moral issues, are far too concerned that the Christian Right will trample their religious freedom to ally with it on any political issue. It would be sort of like a mouse joining a herd of elephants.

So what’s the fight all about? Well, it’s not really related to basic morality. I think both sides would agree on basic Western Ethics and Law (although they probably would disagree upon the foundation of those ethics and law). The battle is at what I’ll call the “Moral Border,” that fuzzy boundary between what is good and what is evil that shifts with time and circumstances.

Now while there are always exceptions and a lot of folks might sit on one side of the fence on one issue and the other side on another, I think it’s safe to say that in general the two sides appear to be at odds on the following ethical questions.

Probably the #1 area of disagreement and the one where the two sides are least likely to ever find common ground. Calling them by the labels they’ve chosen for themselves, the Christian Right is Pro-Life and the Intellectual Left is Pro-Choice. To the Christian Right Abortion is murder, end of discussion. To the Intellectual Left Abortion allows a woman control over her own body.

I’m not a fan of abortion (no one is really), but there are clearly times when it is justified. So who gets to decide when it’s justified? Does the Federal Government decide? Do the States decide? Or should we just leave it up to the woman and her doctor? I vote for #3 so that puts me into the Intellectual Left camp on this one.

Same Sex Marriage
The Christian Right says “No” and the Intellectual Left says “Why the hell not?” We hear a lot here about the “Sanctity of Marriage” and how marriage means “one man and one woman.” Most states, as well as the Federal Government, now have Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMAs) which specifically say marriage is between one man and one woman and some folks, including Dubyah, appear to be in favor of a constitutional amendment to that effect which would forever ban same sex marriage in the US as long as the majority remained opposed to it.

The Christian Right bases its position on the ban on homosexuality in the Bible and the support for what they call “traditional marriage.” Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 certainly appear to prohibit homosexuality. Deuteronomy 23:17 is also often quoted due to the translation choice in the King James Version of “sodomite” for the Hebrew word Qadesh. Most modern scholars and translations agree that “temple prostitute” would be more accurate. Many folks would also argue that Paul prohibits homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10. Now aside from the fact that Paul tends to condemn everything short of breathing and that he freely admits that some of what he says is strictly his own opinion and not instructions he received directly from God, exactly what he’s saying in these passages isn’t all that clear. At least it’s not that clear in some translations while others, with little or no justification, do specifically refer to homosexuality.

Now if we were arguing about outlawing homosexuality itself, then I might understand why the Christian Right thinks biblical prohibitions mean something. But since Lawrence v Texas, which struck down laws against sodomy, there are no legal barriers to homosexual sex, but you just can’t get married and get the financial and legal benefits associated with marriage. I suppose the Christian Right thinks that somehow allowing same sex marriage endorses homosexual sex.

As to one man and one woman being the “traditional” form of marriage, while that may have been true in ancient Greece, ancient Rome and recently in western culture, one man and multiple women has been a lot more common throughout most of history including among the biblical Hebrews. We all recall the story of Jacob and his WIVES Leah and Rachel.

Aside from the religious angle the State certainly has the right to encourage things which are beneficial to it and discourage, even to the point of outlawing, things which are not beneficial to it. One could take the position that heterosexual marriage, since it usually results in children, is more beneficial to the State than homosexual marriage and therefore the State is within its rights to discourage the less beneficial union. But even if the State has the right to do something, does that mean it should? Obviously the answer is NO. That being the case, I don’t see why some citizens should be denied the financial and legal benefits of marriage simply because not everyone approves of their choice of bedroom activities. Guess I’m in the Intellectual Left camp on this one too.

Stem Cell Research
Or more accurately, Embryonic Stem Cell Research which includes the “harvesting” of stem cells from “excess” embryos produced for possible in-vitro fertilization. How did these embryos become “excess?” Well, apparently, fertility clinics typically produce more embryos than needed to achieve pregnancy so the ones left over are “excess.” While stem cells can also be found in placentas and umbilical cords, the ones from human embryos seem to be the ones with the most potential for producing dramatic results.

To the Christian Right harvesting stem cells from these embryos is tantamount to murder while to the Intellectual Left this is an opportunity to benefit all of mankind and perhaps find cures or treatments for things like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and the victims of debilitating strokes.

It appears that there are four choices of what to do with excess embryos. The first choice is they can be donated to help other infertile couples. A choice seldom exercised for emotional and potential legal reasons. How would you like to have one of these embryos used to impregnate someone else show up on your doorstep one day either in person OR in the form of some type of legal obligation? A second choice is they can be stored at very low temperatures which is sort of a temporary solution. I mean, who really knows how long they can remain viable and eventually they would be discarded. The last two options are they can be discarded or they can be donated for research.

Now realistically, every option but the first one ends with the destruction of the embryo. The only thing that changes is when. Since the first option is probably never going to be terribly popular and there probably aren’t enough infertile couples in need of someone else’s embryo to use up the total supply, the reality of the situation is that all of these embryos are going to eventually be destroyed. In may happen today, next week, next year or 30 years from now and it may be on purpose or accidentally but it will happen. Yet the only option which may lead to some benefit is the path of research. That being the case, unless one wants to outlaw in-vitro fertilization or can come up with a way to limit the number of embryos produced to precisely what’s needed, I can’t rationally see why, since the embryos are going to be destroyed anyway, the stem cells shouldn’t be put to good use. I guess that puts me in the Intellectual Left camp again.

The Death Penalty
While the Christian Right comes down on the side of Life in the issues of Abortion and Stem Cell Research, it comes down on the side of death here. Now this is an issue upon which you will probably find the least agreement in either camp. Virtually every Christian Sect in the country has issued statements OPPOSING the death penalty and there seem to be a fair number of people that are in the Intellectual Left camp on everything else but support the death penalty for various reasons.

I have to admit that while I’m intellectually opposed to something which is applied so capriciously and so unevenly as to be nothing more than a crap shoot, emotionally, when I read about some horrific crime, I’m ready to press the plunger personally. Then I calm down and think it through and conclude, yet again, that the death penalty is long overdue for extinction.

We’re just not SMART enough to play with something so permanent! We screw up with great regularity so, if it hasn’t happened already, it’s simply a matter of time before an innocent person is executed. Besides, how can anyone defend a practice that has been exercised 348 times in Texas since 1976 and NEVER in New York, New Jersey, Kansas, New Hampshire and South Dakota? Are there that many more evil people in Texas? Obviously not, so again I’m squarely in the Intellectual Left camp (are you sensing a pattern here?).

Intelligent Design
In keeping with the original hypothesis that the Christian Right considers this a part of the whole “moral values” debate, we’ll have to consider the question of Intelligent Design.

Actually there are two separate and only slightly related issues. The first is whether or not Intelligent Design should be taught in high school biology classrooms. The Christian Right says Yes and the Intellectual Left says No. At the very least the Christian Right wants “the controversy” to be taught while the Intellectual Left takes the position that Intelligent Design is not science and doesn’t belong in a science classroom.

I don’t believe Intelligent Design belongs in a high school biology classroom either but I have a slightly different view on why it doesn’t belong there. To my mind whether Intelligent Design is science or not is a bit irrelevant. The point is that there is no recognition of the hypothesis within the scientific community as being even vaguely credible. Even many of the folks from the Discovery Institute (which is developing the Intelligent Design hypothesis) admit that the hypothesis is not yet sufficiently developed. So why should it be talked about in high school science now? Lets have its proponents develop the hypothesis and produce papers that can be reviewed and critiqued by scientific peers rather than ask high school freshmen and sophomores to decide the merits of the idea.

The second question is whether Intelligent Design has any scientific merit? Nope, as far as I can see, it has none whatsoever. I agree with the more rabid defenders of evolution that Intelligent Design is just a Creationism lamb dressed in a pseudoscientific wolf skin. I consider the whole idea of “Irreducible Complexity” to be the equivalent of saying “gee, I don’t know how that happened so it must have been God!”

With that kind of attitude we’d still be dropping onto our faces to appease the gods every time there was thunder or lightning and virgin sacrifices would still be the main spectator sport. I think Jerry Coyne from Chicago University put it best, “If the history of science shows us anything, it is that we get nowhere by labeling our ignorance ‘God.’"

So I guess that makes it a clean sweep 5-0. I’m clearly an unrepentant Pinko Liberal in the Army of the Intellectual Left for the duration of the Culture War.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Ignorance Most Foul

I never cease to be amazed at the almost unbelievable ignorance that seems to permeate the public at large about things scientific in general and about evolution in particular. It seems like no matter how many times a misconception gets squashed, it pops right back up again. The ones I run into the most are:

Evolution is JUST A THEORY, it hasn't been proven.

No, evolution is a SCIENTIFIC THEORY and that word scientific makes all the difference in the world. Within the realm of science, a "Theory" is not a guess or a hunch as it may be in colloquial usage. Using the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary, a scientific theory is "a scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts."

A "Theory" is about as close to a declaration of fact as science comes. All scientific conclusions are tentative and subject to revision should new evidence appear so, technically, nothing is ever "proven," but does anyone really doubt the Theory of Gravity? Well it makes about as much sense to doubt the Theory of Evolution as the Theory of Gravity.

If evolution is true, then why are there no Transitional Fossils?

DUH, well THERE ARE Transitional Fossils. Lots of them actually and more get added every year. Are there gaps in the fossil record? Sure lots of them and given the rarity of fossilization we're lucky there aren't a whole lot more gaps. Palontologists estimate that maybe, MAYBE we have fossils representing one in a thousand of all the species that have existed.

How could a man have descended from an ape?

He didn't. That's NOT what evolution says. It says that men and apes descended from a common ancestor. Now personally I don't consider this common ancestor an ape but a prototype primate.

Believing in Evolution requires as much faith as believing in Creationism.

Errr, no, not really. Evolution is the end result of considering a broad range of empirical observations and arriving at a possible explanation for those observations. Then that explanation was further evaluated in terms of predictions about what would be found if one looked and about the types of fossil remains that could be expected to be discovered. And guess what? At least so far, all of those predictions have been right on the money.

Evolution doesn't require "faith" because it is based upon the analysis of EVIDENCE and there is lots and lots of EVIDENCE. Every year the amount of evidence increases as, at least so far, every discovery made has fit into the evolutionary framework. Have lots of adjustments been made? Yup, but so far nothing has been found that undermines the basic paradigm.

Is it possible that next week a fossil may be found that destroys the theory (such as a bunny rabbit in the Jurassic)? Yup, it's certainly possible, but so far it hasn't happened.

Now I don't know exactly WHY these misconceptions keep coming up but I've noticed at least three sources.
  1. People that simply haven't been told any different either because they didn't get an adequate education OR the information was purposely kept from them.
  2. People that have been repeatedly told that these are misconceptions but refuse to believe it for some bizarre reason such as they think you're working for Satan or that somehow accepting that these are misconceptions is going to turn them into a godless atheist that will immediately begin massacreing helpless infants.
  3. People that have learned these are misconceptions and then were convinced by someone who still believes them, or wants others to believe them, that they aren't.

People in category #2 are certainly hopeless and this is where you'll find any Christian fundamentalist that has been exposed to the facts (the rest of them are in category #1). People in category #3 tend to have the IQ of a retarded sponge and trying to educate them is probably pretty hopeless also. That leaves the, non-fundamentalist, folks in category #1 that perhaps can be educated as to reality. I discount the fundamentalists since their minds are both closed and set. The most you can do with these folks is shift them into category #2.

Monday, August 29, 2005

How about taking in a movie?

Not a bad idea, now if I could just find one that might be worth seeing!

According to Yahoo, the top five movies last weekend were:

#1 – The 40 Year Old Virgin
#2 – The Brothers Grimm
#3 – The Red Eye
#4 – Four Brothers
#5 – Wedding Crashers

Now let’s see. The “Wedding Crashers” sounds like one of the DUMBEST plots I’ve ever heard of and “The Four Brothers” is, as I understand it, basically a remake of “The Sons of Katie Elder” in modern dress. My reaction to reading a blurb about the plot of “Red Eye” is that anyone who has ever flown the Red Eye knows about all you care about is catching some shut eye. Hey, you want to assassinate someone? Go right ahead, just don’t wake me up.

“The Brothers Grimm” looked a little interesting based upon its TV Trailers but I see that both critics and fans rated it a semi-awful C+. I call that getting panned.

That’s leaves me with “The 40 Year Old Virgin.” My reaction to that is you have got to be kidding!

Bergen Record Tells It Like It Is

Well at least the Bergen Record stood up and addressed the Intelligent Design vs Evolution question yesterday in it's typical no nonsense fashion.

My only problem with the editorial is that the record makes the same mistake that Time Magazine made. Evolution DOES NOT teach that men descended from apes but rather that both men and apes descended form a common ancestor. If they want to call their great-great-greatx1000 grandpa an ape, that's up to them. I prefer to think of him as a prototype man.

It's not science

Sunday, August 28, 2005

EXTRA, EXTRA! Man is descended from apes.

Evolution should be old and accepted news by now, but unfortunately, it isn't. First, President Bush and now, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist want something else taught in science class besides Darwin - intelligent design.

Intelligent design is not science; it's not even a theory. It's just a sneaky way to get religion into the classroom by "teaching the controversy" that evolution can't explain all of life's complexities. There must be an intelligent designer behind it all - in other words, God.

But there is no controversy to teach. Evolution can't explain all of life's complexities because it's still ... evolving. Sure, there are gaps and questions still to be answered.

However, overwhelming evidence points to a system over eons of random mutation and natural selection. And evolution remains the bedrock of modern science. It is "the central unifying concept of biology," according to the National Academy of Sciences.

That's not to say there isn't a creator. Many scientists of various religions believe there is. But they know it can't be proven by scientific methods. It's a question of faith. Evolution is not evidence of a godless universe. It's just that science cannot prove the existence - or non-existence - of God.

Even top proponents of intelligent design admit their "theory" can't be proven by any experiment. Their real goal is to undermine evolution because it goes against the story of creation in the Book of Genesis.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Frist - who is a Harvard-educated doctor and should know better - aren't helping America's students by pushing intelligent design. There are enough problems with the teaching of science without adding this non-science to the mix.

America needs more science teachers in the nation's public schools and more rigorous science education. Student achievement in science is higher in other countries, and more science doctorates are awarded in Europe and Asia. Foreign scientists come here to fill U.S. jobs. These are issues our leaders should be addressing by beefing up science classes, not watering them down.

Science must not be limited by ideology. That's medieval.

Much more is yet to be discovered about how life began and became more complex: Witness the exciting new "Origins of Life in the Universe Initiative" at Harvard, which will bring together leading scientists in biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, astrobiology and astrophysics to study how life came into existence after the Big Bang and whether life might exist on other planets.

Obviously, we should be going forward, not backward, in the advancement of science.

Adam, Eve and T-Rex Makes Three

Now we’re getting Creationism Theme Attractions pushing the co-existence of dinosaurs and homo sapiens. The LA Times reports:

Dinny the roadside dinosaur has found religion.The 45-foot-high concrete apatosaurus has towered over Interstate 10 near Palm Springs for nearly three decades as a kitschy prehistoric pit stop for tourists. Now he is the star of a renovated attraction that disputes the fact that dinosaurs died off millions of years before humans first walked the planet.

Dinny's new owners, pointing to the Book of Genesis, contend that most dinosaurs arrived on Earth the same day as Adam and Eve, some 6,000 years ago, and later marched two by two onto Noah's Ark. The gift shop at the attraction, called the Cabazon Dinosaurs, sells toy dinosaurs whose labels warn, "Don't swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution."

"We're putting evolutionists on notice: We're taking the dinosaurs back," said K. H., president of Answers in Genesis, a Christian group building a $25-million creationist museum in Petersburg, Ky., that's already overrun with model sauropods and velociraptors."They're used to teach people that there's no God, and they're used to brainwash people," he said. "Evolutionists get very upset when we use dinosaurs. That's their star."

The nation's top paleontologists find the creation theory preposterous and say children are being misled by dinosaur exhibits that take the Jurassic out of "Jurassic Park.”

Well, a couple of points. First of all dinosaurs aren’t used to teach people there’s no God. There’s no conflict between evolution and God, only a perceived conflict between evolution and some people’s interpretation of Genesis.

Second, the fossil record DOES support evolution. I wonder if these people ever consider the impact on children who grow up and realize they’ve been lied to by people they trusted, which I have to believe any slightly intelligent child given anything approaching a balanced education is going to eventually realize.

But maybe that’s the whole point of teaching ID and generally pushing for the acceptance of a Christian curriculum either in private schools or via home schooling, it’s an attempt to eliminate a balanced education and force feed Christian dogma to school children.

Next stop, the Middle Ages!

Religious Schools Sue University of California

Oh this is a good one. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports:

“A group representing California religious schools has filed a lawsuit accusing the University of California system of discriminating against high schools that teach creationism and other conservative Christian viewpoints.

The Association of Christian Schools International, which represents more than 800 schools, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday claiming UC admissions officials have refused to certify high school science courses that use textbooks challenging Darwin's theory of evolution. Other rejected courses include "Christianity's Influence in American History."
According to the lawsuit, the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta was told its courses were rejected because they use textbooks printed by two Christian publishers, Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Books.

W.E.B., a lawyer for the association, said the policy violates the rights of students and religious schools.”

UC spokeswoman R. P. said she could not comment, because the university had not been served with the lawsuit. Still, she said the university has a right to set course requirements.

‘These requirements were established after careful study by faculty and staff to ensure that students who come here are fully prepared with broad knowledge and the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed.’”

I go with the university on this one. As long as the rules are the same for everyone the U of C certainly has the right to set standards. If Christian schools want to teach religious views of science and history not generally accepted by scientists or historians that’s their business. Nobody is trying to restrict their right to do this, but they can’t expect acceptance of those courses as equivalent to courses which teach the more widely held viewpoints.

HBO’s Rome

Watched the premier of the show HBO has been advertising all summer last night. Final verdict, so-so but maybe I might catch the next couple of episodes if I get the chance and I remember.

I thought using Vorenus and Pullo from Caesar’s Commentaries as major characters was more than a little creative. Except I don’t think one was a centurion like in the show; if I remember correctly both were common legionnaires.

What I didn’t really get was what was the purpose of the rather blatant and extensive nudity in the show? I’m no prude but mein Gott, I think that was a little over the top and it served no real purpose. I think the points that were to be made in the nude scenes could have been made with a little more modesty. Actually, a LOT more modesty would have been good.

Little League World Series

Every year I catch portions of the Little League World Series. I probably watch more LLWS than major league baseball. Why? Because it strikes me as a purer form of the game. I just love the excitement these kids obviously feel.

Every year I sit there amazed at how well the game is played by 11 and 12 year olds. I almost fell out of my chair when this kid from Hawaii plunked a 270 foot home run over the wall only to be even more surprised when a kid from California put a 280 foot homer into the parking lot.

The final game, between Curacao and Hawaii, was one of the best with Hawaii scoring 3 runs in the last of the sixth inning to tie the game and then winning it in the last of the seventh with a solo home run 7-6. Congratulations to Ewa Beach Hawaii on winning the championship.

Giants vs Jets Preseason

Every two years, when the Giants are the home team, I get to go to this game and it’s usually a fun event even though both teams are usually dreadful. This was a weird one. I thought Tim Hasselbeck’s collision with Mike Cloud in the end zone, which led to a dropped ball and Jets TD, was sort of pathetic for two Boston College guys BUT Jesse Palmer’s lateral to, well, NOBODY was even better as the ball rolled into the end zone for another Jet TD.

On the plus side Jay Feely could probably get elected mayor after five field goals including a 51 yarder and a 54 yarder. So Jay, what the heck were you doing down there covering kick-offs and making tackles? Let the big guys handle that Jay, protect that leg dude.

Weirdness, that’s what makes football so entertaining. You never know what’s going to happen on the next play. That’s what I like about the game.

What I don’t like about the game are 350 pound linemen. Sheesh, I remember when 280 lbs. was considered HUGE and someone topping 300 lbs. was a rarity to say the least. Now 300 lbs. is common and 350 lbs. is not unheard of. I don’t think God ever intended the human body to carry 300 lbs. That can’t be healthy.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

I suddenly realized I haven't said anything about the latest Harry Potter! I like Harry Potter. I line up with the 8 and 9 year olds whenever the latest book comes out (well, not really, I usually pick it up about a week later). I'm pretty sure I'm the only one in my house that's read them all. As a matter of fact #3 daughter, the artist, is on a mission not to read any book or see any film with Harry Potter in the title.

Hey, but I dig it! I'm keeping a list of all the spell words and incantations so if I can ever find a REAL magic wand I'll be in business!

Well, not really, but I do think the books are rather clever. I have to admit they seemed much more clever early on and there is some level of staleness beginning to appear, but I still find them appealing.

I can't wait to see how JKR is going to bring it all to a conclusion. I hope she doesn't punk out and end it all with some kind of cloying "oh look, now we're all friends" kind of ending. To be honest I think things have gone too far for that and the only way to settle the conflicts generated during the first six books is violently and with blood. Doesn't seem very appropriate for a kiddie book though does it?

Some Excellents Points in Response

Jonah Cohen responded to my e-mail on his article about "Why Intelligent Design Should be Taught" and made some excellent points.

Thank you very much for your email. Your raise good points, but my feeling is that the reason the nation is having this controversy is because philosophy class is not mandatory, if offered at all. As a consequence, theists and atheists keep trying to sneak into the science curriculum; they have no where else to go. Presently, I believe atheists are as guilty as theists in conflating science with metaphysics (for philosophical materialism is no less metaphysical than alternative meta-scientific views, such as the view that there was an intelligent designer of the cosmos), and perhaps that is why I have mildly taken up the case for the ID proponents. In my opinion, if we bring back philosophy, if we bring back the teaching of the Great Books of Western Civilization in our public schools, the competing intellectual factions will find a proper forum for their interesting discussion, and the political controversy will dissolve.

Best wishes,

Certainly a reasonable position. My response.

That we don't require Philosophy in our high school curriculum I find one of the greatest failings of our educational system. Perhaps even greater than it's failing in the science arena.

I concede that putting the Great Books of Civilization back into the classroom would provide the proper forum for the discussion and it would bolster the next generation's ability to think. That's a position I could certainly support, but let's focus on strengthening the philosophy curriculum rather then allowing the dilution of the science curriculum.

The American Thinker: Why ID should be Taught.

The article, by Jonah Cohen, can be found here.

My two cents worth is as follows.

Of course Intelligent Design should be taught and argued and evaluated. The question on the table is WHERE that ought to take place. Even Cohen says perhaps not in biology classes, but that is precisely the debate. Few folks have a problem with ID in the philosophy class. Hell, it's ALREADY THERE!

Even if one concedes that ID is a scientific theory, the place to begin the process of evaluation is not a high school science classroom filled with teenagers. The proper places to begin the discussion are peer review journals and the post-graduate thesis level. If the ID proponents have scientific evidence as to the validity of ID or the failures of evolution, let them present it to educated adults and not adolescent students. Are we expecting high school freshmen and sophomores to form the peer review panels?

As to whether or not ID is Creationism in disguise, allow me to suggest that at least ID as envisioned by the Discovery Institute in Seattle appears to be very much simply a marketing ploy for a faith based version of creation. Allow me to suggest that Cohen research quotes by institute members as well as read the, now rather famous, "Wedge Document." Certainly these seem to imply that we are not dealing with people that have an "honest" difference of opinion who want to engage in an open dialogue, but rather folks that are engaging in a "the end justifies the means" strategy where truth, accuracy and scientific integrity aren't all that important.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Intelligent Design on Larry King

I see there was a panel discussion on the Larry King show last night with the usual suspects. One fundamentalist pastor in the person of John MacArthur author of "The Battle for the Beginning: Creation, Evolution and the Bible." One rabid evolution supporter in the person of Barbara Forrest, Ph.D. , professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and author of "Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design." One liberal religious philosopher in the person of Deepak Chopra, author of "How to Know God."One conservative Republican Senator in the person of Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas. One moderate Republican Congressman in the person of Chris Shays of Connecticut and Jay Richards, vice president of the Discovery Institute

It really scares me that the pastor was willing to make the following statement on national television.

KING: John MacArthur, do you believe that the world is only 5,000 years old?

MACARTHUR: No, I wouldn't say necessarily 5,000, but I would say I doubt that it's more than 10,000 years old.

In terms of Intelligent Design and Evolution much of the same old ground was covered, BUT I give two points to Dr. Forrest for the following observation.

RICHARDS: You know, we're having a sort of deep theological and philosophical dispute, and I certainly don't think that that kind of dispute is appropriate for public school science classrooms...Certainly, the leading idea right now in biology is Darwin's theory of evolution. So teach it fairly, honestly and openly, and then let teachers be free, if they want, to talk about intelligent design responsibly, to do so, but you can do that without getting into these sort of rarefied theological disputes.

FORREST: Actually, you can't. Intelligent design is a religious idea. You inevitably wind up talking about religion. As we are now.

Atta girl Barbara baby! Even the Pastor figured this one out!

MACARTHUR: You're inevitably talking about -- wind up talking about who is the intelligence, and obviously, you're going to get there...

And I give two points to Congressman Shays for this exchange.

MACARTHUR: I want to know why he's a congressman if he isn't in there trying to help -- reduce the effects of what happened in [Genesis] Chapter Three, which is the story of the fall?

SHAYS: No, but see, this is, Larry, this is the key point. I believe in God deeply, and already now I'm being questioned, and that's the danger, because the gentleman who just spoke has his religious view and questions mine. You are going to raise such a huge challenge if we start getting into this debate, because it's intolerant, and I think that's what this discussion is leading to.

And I give two points to Chopra.

MACARTHUR: I accept the Bible as the source, the authoritative source that tells me it was God, and something or someone has to be eternal, and the Bible says it is God who is the eternal one.

CHOPRA: See, when he says that, he's denying all of biology, all of anthropology, all of geology, all of astronomy, all of cosmology, all of evolution, all of physics, all of chemistry, and everything that we know, that we have learned.

And last, but certainly not least, two more points for Dr. Forrester.

CHOPRA: Yes, I think that we should leave terms like "God" out of it. I think where I disagree with one of our panelists, Barbara, is that you know, consciousness is a very legitimate pursuit in science, and it should be. After all, who is this person? You know, science is only focused on the observed, never on the observer. And I think it's time that science begins to address this question, is consciousness an epiphenomenon or is it the ground (ph) of being that creates the universe? And that's very legitimate as a scientific perception.

FORREST: But that is not appropriate in a high school science class.

CHOPRA: Yeah, maybe so. Maybe so.

That, in the final analysis, is the key point. Certainly there are questions out there to be investigated and maybe Intelligent Design can help in answering some of those questions, but the place to pursue these questions and investigate these possible answers is not in a high school science class. Are we expecting teenagers to form the peer review panel? The places for these discussions are peer review scientific journals, symposiums and the post graduate thesis level.

If the ID proponents have valid scientific evidence to present about either the validity of ID or the failures of evolution, let them present that evidence to educated adults and not adolescent students.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

What boneheaded design guides Dubya's moves?

Every once in a while you run into a newspaper article that is just TOO ON TARGET. This one is from Linwood Barclay of the Toronto Star. Some choice quotes.

"How does one explain all the misguided, unwise, sometimes outright boneheaded things the Bush administration has done since taking over nearly five years ago, and continues to do on a pretty much daily basis?"

"I mean, making executive decisions randomly would still probably result in doing the right thing 50 per cent of the time. So how does one explain such consistent goofiness, like invading a nation based on evidence that the administration knew didn't exist in the first place?

Or exposing a CIA employee's identity just to settle some personal scores?

Ignoring international trade agreements you've signed on to?

Adopting a head-in-the-sand approach to the connection between human activity on the planet Earth and global warming?

Letting the boss be photographed on the ranch, golfing and cutting brush and chilling out and generally having a good ol' time while young Americans die overseas?

Not having the media savvy to have that same boss take a stroll down the driveway and chat with a woman whose son was one of those young Americans?

Doing an end run around the Senate to send a loose cannon to the U.N., while supposedly promoting democracy abroad?

Not firing a defence secretary who totally misjudged how many troops would be needed to secure Iraq?

Giving rich folks back home huge tax cuts while soldiers go without adequate body armour?

Looking upon scientific and medical innovations like they're some sort of voodoo and letting other nations take the lead in these areas for the first time?"

I wish the US Press would get off its collective butt and tell it like the Toronto Star.

And oh yeah, when the hell are the American people going to wake up and realize what a disaster they sent back to the White House? Please let's not be dumb enough to elect another Right Wing Dodo in 2008.

Bill Maher's Show Last Night

Generally I like Bill Maher. I don't agree with him on everything, but I tend to agree more than disagree. I watched his show on HBO last night and I'm going to throw in my two cents.

I found his argument with Paul Hackett over whether Dubyah is "ignorant but not stupid" (Maher's position) or "stupid but not ignorant" (Hackett's position) quite thought provoking. I think I have to side with the Iraqi veteran Hackett on this one, Dubyah is definitely "stupid but not ignorant."

I thought Bill dropped the ball in his discussion with Phyllis Shlafly on "activist judges" who are "unaccountable." Well, considering that a "Tyranny of the Majority," which would rob the minority of its rights, was one of the things the Founding Fathers feared about democracy, the judiciary was made independent and "unaccountable" precisely so that it could protect the rights of the minority without retribution from the majority. A perfect example of a "Tyranny of the Majority" was the Jim Crow South. I'm not black, but I remember North Carolina and Texas back in the early seventies. Bill never raised this point.

I also thought Maher let Shlafly off the hook on the idea that the laws of the US are based upon the 10 Commandments when every ancient civilization I've ever read about condemned murder, theft and false witness. A lot of them condemned rape too which the 10 Commandments appears to have overlooked. Hell, if our laws were based upon the decalogue we'd have to shut down Madison Ave. as the advertising business does nothing but try to get us to "Covet."

However, any problems I had with Bill's handling of Shlafly were more than compensated for in his "New Rules" related to Intelligent Design and Evolution. Some of Bill's observations.

"You don't have to teach both sides of a debate, if one side is a load of crap."

"It just seems pathetic to be so insecure about your biological superiority, to a group of feces-flinging, rouge-buttocked monkeys, that you have to make up fairy tales. Like we came from Adam and Eve, and then cover stories for Adam and Eve like, intelligent design. Yeah, leaving the Earth in the hands of two naked teenagers. That's a real intelligent design. "

"...there is no debate among scientists. Evolution... is supported by the entire scientific community. Intelligent design is supported by guys on line to see 'The Dukes of Hazzard.'

And the reason there is no real debate, is that intelligent design isn't real science. It's the equivalent of saying that the thermos keeps hot things hot and cold things cold, because it's a god. It's so willfully ignorant you might as well worship the U.S. Mail. It came again! Praise, Jesus!

No, stupidity isn't a form of knowing things. Thunder is high pressure air meeting low pressure air. It's not God bowling. Babies come from storks is not a competing school of thought... in medical school. We shouldn't teach both."

You want a what?

The idea of the Christian Right Wing Family Research Council asking me for a donation is so wildly ludicrous that, when I received a request for money to help finance their "unbudgeted Supreme Court nominee campaign," I felt it only polite to tell them they should really remove me from their mailing list and save the resources expended by asking for a donation.

August 23, 2005

Family Research Council
PO Box 2339
Holland MI 49422-2339

Dear Family Research Council,

I am uncertain how my name got on YOUR mailing list. Perhaps somewhere along the line I sent you a comment via e-mail. As a courtesy, since I am a Flaming Pinko Card Carrying Member of the ACLU that deplores your stand on “protecting marriage,” considers your idea of “family values” to be just short of blatant intolerance, would much rather see a woman have control over her body than the state, finds the death penalty to be barbaric and long overdue for extinction and would like to see a Conservative nominee to the Supreme Court about as much as I would like a tooth ache, I will inform you that you have about as much chance of ever getting a donation out of me as a Rabbi has of being elected Pope. Let’s face it folks, I doubt that we agree on ANYTHING!


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

An Article on Intelligent Design

This is by far one of the best articles I have ever read on "Intelligent Design." It's by Jerry Coyne, a professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and appeared in the August 2005 edition of The New Republic. Even someone who is Biology Illiterate (like me!) can easily follow Professor Coyne's discussion.

One statement in the article I found to be the most delicious quote I've seen in a long, long, time.

“If the history of science shows us anything, it is that we get nowhere by labeling our ignorance ‘God.’” - Jerry Coyne, “The New Republic”, August 2005

Monday, August 22, 2005

Senator Frist backs Intelligent Design

Oh wonderful, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee thinks Intelligent Design should be taught alongside Evolution too. Somehow in getting his medical degree, Dr. Frist didn't seem to catch on to the fact that a SCIENTIFIC THEORY is just a little different from a "Theory" with nothing going for it other than wishful thinking.

Now we all know that Frist has eyes on the Republican nomination in 2008 so I wonder if he REALLY thinks this is a good idea or he's just saying it to bolster his chances of getting support from the Christian Right Wing which appears more and more to control the GOP.

Either way I don't think I'd want this guy as President because if this is his honest opinion, he's not listening to the most respected scientific organizations in the country, and if it isn't, if he's just saying it to get votes, then I can't say much for his integrity.

When are people going to wake up and realize that this ID thing is becoming a real problem?

It's Gonna be a LOOOOONG Season

Damn! Got my first in person look at the 2005 edition of Big Blue (that's the New York Giants to the uninitiated) last Saturday. Oh we're in serious trouble. I think eleven old ladies from the retirement home could score on that defense and let's not talk about the offensive line. Even Eli needs more than a quarter of a second to find a receiver!

On the plus side, the special teams looked quite impressive. That's encouraging because we're going to be running back an awful lot of kick-offs and doing an awful lot of punting this year.


FringeNYC stands for Fringe New York City. My wife and I took a trip down to Greenwich Village to see something called "Dark Deceptions, The Seance Experience," a one man show put on by self proclaimed "deceptionist" Todd Robbins. The show was in a tiny theatre (capacity 240) called Player's Theater on MacDougal street between West 3rd and Bleeker. We were in the 4th row for the 75 minute show which was a lot of fun, especially the last 15 minutes held in total darkness. Robbins puts on a good show; I don't remember the last time I laughed so much.

The theme was a demonstration by Robbins of the tricks of the trade foisted upon a gullible public during the hey days of spiritualism. Robbins starts by giving a little backround, pointing out that this is all slight of hand and other trickery and then goes into comic character playing a "Reverend" of a fictitious spiritualist church. There was more than a little audience participation including the selection of four victims to take part in the on-stage seance.

The show was a part of FringeNYC which runs through the month of August and apparently consists of some 190 arts presentations in and around Greenwich Village. We passed "Fringe Central" on West 3rd street on the way to the theater. It turns out that if you're a little short of cash, but want to take in a show, two hours of volunteer work gets you free tickets. Not a bad deal at all. It may not be Broadway (or even OFF Broadway, heck Greenwich village is WAY off Broadway), but still appears to have some interesting and worthwhile stuff.

I read about Robbin's show on James Randi's web site (, that led me to the information about FringeNYC. Unfortunately it was a bit late to take in more than the one show. Maybe I'll try more next year.

Atlantic City

I took an overnight trip to Sin City East to contribute some of my hard earned dinero to the cause of making some people richer while making myself poorer. Amazingly it didn't work out that way as I got lucky and hit 5 Jacks (4 Jacks and a Joker) on a three line Video Poker machine on the deal. That gave me three lines of 5 of a kind at 400 to 1 which translated into 1200 quarters or $300. That was a once in a lifetime hit so I immediately cashed out. My wife managed to win about $400 playing the slots also through a single big hit.

WHOO-HOO, we win! At least this time we managed to beat the odds. Overall, since I tend to quit as soon as I get a good sized hit or reach a preset LOW limit, I'm about $400 to the good in Atlantic City and about $50 to the good in Vegas. The fact that I RARELY go helps a lot too.

A couple of random observations.

1. The new "everything electronic" approach leaves something to be desired. First you no longer get to hear the coins crashing down when there's a big hit and second, it takes a LOT less time to make the same number of plays (which is WHY I suppose the casinos love it so much).
2. How come Atlantic City casinos can't advertise slot machine odds like Las Vegas can? And how come while the payback in Vegas is typically about 98% Atlantic City gets away with 80%?
3. Can all the people that I see spinning the old slot machines really afford the money they are most probably going to lose?
4. I was sort of impressed that Atlantic City seems to be cleaning up its act a bit more away from the boardwalk. Used to be you didn't want to stray too far.
5. Some things never change and I noticed there were still psychic reader booths about every 100 yards on the boardwalk. Do that many people actually get readings?
6. Bally's (I usually stay at Bally's) appears to have cleaned up the beach area in front of the casino quite nicely. I'd say it's even comparable to other Jersey Shore locations.
7. Anybody know how to play Pai gow Poker?

Next up I think I might try Mohegan Sun.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

More DaVinci Code Madness

When last we met Sony pictures was considering changing the plot of Dan Brown's novel to soothe the feelings of the Catholic Church. Now the Church of England seems split over the propriety of allowing the movie to be filmed in English churches.

Westminister Abbey turned the movie company down saying it would be "inappropriate" and they could not "endorse the contentious and wayward religious and historic suggestions made in the book."

However Lincoln Cathedral agreed to act as a Westminister surrogate and allow filming. The Dean of Lincoln conceded that the novel was "far-fetched and heretical," but also said that the book "has clearly touched the public imagination, and the church needs to open up a debate about it rather than throw one's hands up and walk away from it."

Similarly Winchester Cathedral and Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh have also given permission for filming. The Director at Rosslyn was quoted as saying "There's nothing Rosslyn is concerned about. Perhaps the church needs to grow a thicker skin."

I wonder if the reported $180,000 Lincoln Cathedral is to receive and the fact that the number of tourists visiting Rosslyn this year is expected to triple thanks to the publicity from the book (and mostly Americans who tend to spend $$$) had any influence on these decisions?

Dan Brown's intro to his novel claiming a "historical" basis for the plot was a stroke of marketing genius and stirred up enough controversy to do wonders for the sales of the book. I read the book, it was OK (I've read a lot that were better) and the "heretical" portions of the plot didn't particularly shock me because I'd heard them before, although not necessarily in relationship to the grail and DaVinci. But let us not forget that it's FICTION! I'll bet Dan Brown is enjoying this "controversy" immensely all the way to the bank!

Iraqi Constitution Delayed

Well, if you ask me this simply shows that this kind of thing can't be developed based upon a deadline. Sounds likes the folks working this problem are making the right choice. Something like this is too important not to take the time to do it right.

So ignore Dubyah and keep plugging away guys.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Morality, Christianity and God.

I always find it interesting that Christians seem to think they have some type of monopoly on morality and ethics or that those that don’t accept the Christian God and his Ten Commandments can’t have a code of morality or ethics.

What these folks are overlooking is that “Divine Command Theory” is only one of several ethical theories and the only one that requires any God.

DIVINE COMMAND THEORY - Moral standards depend on God who is all-knowing. Any act that conforms to the law of God is right; an act that breaks God's law is wrong.

ETHICAL RELATIVISM - No principles are universally valid. All moral principles are valid relative to cultural tastes. The rules of the society serve as a standard.

UTILITARIANISM - Actions are judged right or wrong solely by their consequences. Right actions are those that produce the greatest balance of happiness over unhappiness. Each person's happiness is equally important.

DEONTOLOGY - Emphasis is on moral rules and duty. If it’s not OK for everyone to follow the rule, then it is not morally permissible. Emphasis is on autonomy, justice and kind acts. People treated as ends, never means.

VIRTUE ETHICS - Morals are internal. It seeks to produce good people who act well out of spontaneous goodness. It emphasizes living well and achieving excellence.

To make matters more interesting, the Euthyphro dilemma attacks the validity of “Divine Command Theory.”

The Euthyphro Dilemma is based upon one of Plato’s dialogues and asks the question, "Are morally good acts willed by God because they are morally good, or are they morally good because they are willed by God?"

If you agree with the first statement that good acts are willed by God because they are good, the link between morality and God becomes severed. Morality exists independent of God and God is as subservient to morality as the rest of us are.

Agreement with the second statement, that acts are morally good because they are willed by God, gives rise to the "emptiness problem;” the tautology that things are good merely because God has decided they are good and God, being omnipotent, could as easily will what we would otherwise consider immoral things. Thus morality is rendered a useless concept because it is arbitrary.

Both outcomes appear to undermine Divine Command Theory and, arguably, the existence of God.

Man Fires Shotgun as Others Protest the War

A man near Crawford Texas, where the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq has been protesting the war, fired a shotgun into the air. In response to questions the man indicated that while he was sympathetic toward the demonstrators at first, they have blocked roads in the area and caused traffic problems. Yup, firing a shotgun sounds like a REAL smart solution to that problem!

The man went on to say "I ain't threatening nobody, and I ain't pointing a gun at nobody. This is Texas."

Yeah, well, that explains it I guess. That reminds me of the line from "Friday Night Lights," a movie based upon Texas High School fooball. The coach is driving back from a losing game listening to a radio talk show where a caller is criticizing the team, the coaching staff and everyone and everything else associated with the team including the water boy. In a final shot the caller says something along the lines of that what else is wrong is there's just too much learning happening at that there school (and I assume not enough emphasis on what's REALLY important, FOOTBALL!).

Strange doings with Koko the Gorilla

It's stories like this one that make me doubt the existance of intelligent life on Planet Earth.

Two former caretakers for Koko, the famous gorilla who communicates with humans using sign language, say they were continually pressured to show Koko their breasts or face the consequences.

N.A. and K.K. (Editor: I don't think it's right to use non-public figures real names) are suing Koko's primary caretaker, Dr. F.P., because she allegedly asked them to "perform bizarre sexual acts with Koko" — namely, taking off their tops — to bond with the five-foot-tall, 280-pound female gorilla.

"Dr. P. would interpret certain hand movements made by Koko as a 'demand' to see exposed human nipples," the suit alleges. "[Dr. P.] made it known to K and A that if [they] did not indulge Koko's nipple fetish, their employment with the Gorilla Foundation would suffer."

They are seeking more than $1 million in damages for sexual discrimination and wrongful termination, among other claims, and say they were fired after reporting "filthy and dangerous" working conditions to state health officials.

The women were expected to file a second amended complaint this week, emphasizing details of Koko's alleged "nipple fetish" and Dr. P.'s indulgence of the ape's sexually aggressive behavior, when it appeared that Koko's camp agreed to enter into negotiations.

If you REALLY need to know more, you can find the story here.

Note that Koko is a FEMALE gorilla (whew, imagine the damages they would be asking if it were male!). So what do you think, evidence of homosexuality in the animal kingdom or an overactive imagination on the part of the caretaker?

Wiccan Sues Town and Wins.

I see a self proclaimed "Wiccan Priestess" sued a South Carolina town for using the name "Jesus Christ" in prayers prior to council meetings and won. It seems the court decision of record called for the town to cease and desist as well as pay about $18,000 in legal fees shelled out by the "Priestess."

So what do these idiots decide to do? They decide to APPEAL the decision to the Supreme Court. Even a Rheinquist court with Scalia sitting on it isn't going to overturn this one and the Supremes refused to hear the case. However, now the Priestess' legal fees have ballooned to a whopping $65,000 for which the town will most likely be liable. This appears to represent some 7% of the town budget and isn't covered by the town's liability insurance. That would have been one hell of a policy if it was covered!

The pastor of the local church says that "most" of the town supported the appeal and would be willing to help pay for the cost. Why do I suspect that it was mostly the pastor and his congregation that supported the appeal and why am I not surprised they're not stepping up to the bar to help defray the cost.

Oh well, now along with it's position of being the state with the highest violent crime rate, South Carolina can boast that's it's the home of one of the DUMBEST towns in the country.

Let's get out of Iraq

I was pleased to see the Bergen Record dedicate the front page of it's editorial section in the Sunday Edition to a call for getting the heck out of Iraq.

We never should have gone in there in the first place. Bush lied; there were no weapons of mass destruction and the destabilization of the region, what many of us loudly proclaimed would be the result of invading Iraq, has gone so far that only the people of the region can get things back under control. The presence of American troops is just further delaying the process and making things worse.

Take Your Young Adult (!?) to Work Day

I see we've had another victim to Political Correctness. The last time I looked wasn't this Take Your Daughter to Work Day and initiated by the Ms. Foundation for Woman to give the female portion of the population greater insight into work world opportunities available to them?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ignorance of the Public about Evolution

While I've sort of known this was the case, an article at Creation Watch ( by Matthew Nisbet called "Polling Opinion about Evolution" documents the abysmal reality of the situation.

People just don't know the facts and this represents a fundamental failure in our system of education. According to Nisbet, " a November 2004 Gallup poll, respondents were asked: 'Just your opinion, do you think that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is: a scientific theory that has been well supported by evidence, or just one of many theories and one that has not been well-supported by evidence, or don’t you know enough to say?' Only 35% of Americans indicated a scientific theory supported by evidence, whereas 35% indicated that evolution was just one among many theories, and 29% answered they didn’t know."

How do you suppose 64% of these folks missed that Evolution is one of the most extensively verified and accepted theories in the scientific community? Nisbet goes on to say that in a Newsweek poll the next month, "...45% of respondents indicated that evolution was well supported, compared to 42% who believed that scientists had serious doubts, with 13% answering they didn’t know."

I don't know of any reputable scientist that has doubts about the validity of the fundamental theory of evolution although some aspects of the theory continue to be rather hotly debated. In a 2001 survey Nisbet reports "...nearly eight out of ten (79%) believe that 'The continents on which we live have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future,' and a slight majority (53%) agree with the statement that: 'Human beings as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.'

Accepting continental drift while not accepting evolution is a tad inconsistent as the two theories tend to compliment each other while contradicting any sort of acceptance of the creationist view.

The bottom line is that people just don't appear to have access to the facts. In another article, "Why do Scientists Get so Angry When Dealing with ID Proponents," Jason Rosenhouse shows how the folks pushing ID take advantage of this lack of information by repeatedly making spurious arguments against evolution. While these arguments are readily recognized as nonsense by those with better than average scientific knowledge they are very often NOT readily recognized as such by the majority of folks. The fact that the invalidity of these arguments has been repeatedly pointed out to those making them doesn't seem to stop them from continuing to be made. This is so common that these arguments even have their own acronym. They're called PRATTs, which stands for Point Refuted A Thousand Times.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Quote of the Day

Actually from yesterday, August 7, 2005, by Muriel Gray in the Sunday Herald.

"For the government of a secular country such as ours to treat religion as if it had real merit instead of regarding it as a ridiculous anachronism, which education, wisdom and experience can hopefully overcome in time, is one of the most depressing developments of the 21st century."

Da Vinci Code Madness

According to an article in the London Times, Sony Pictures, who owns the movie rights to Dan Brown's novel "The Da Vinci Code," is thinking of modifying the plot in order to mollify the Catholic Church. The Vatican, it would seem, has a real problem with Brown's novel.

Somewhere along the line perhaps the Church has missed the point that it's freaking FICTION and not a theological treatise! Personally I found the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene got it together (married or not) kind of appealing even while I understood that it was, probably, all nonsense without a shred of evidence to back the idea up.

Ok, maybe not using the name of Opus Dei I could live with even though I just love the Church when it says that the description of the organization in the book is "completely inaccurate" BUT some members DO "...make limited use of mortification practices of cilice and discipline." In which case it's NOT "completely inaccurate" is it?

I see the Church, and others including the Times, have even dug up the old misconception about Magdalene being a prostitute. There is nothing in the gospels that actually says this and the tradition is likely simply the result of early Church paternalism and misogyny. According to the Gnostic gospels Mary was as much a disciple as Peter, John or James and perhaps even more than a disciple.

George Bush and Intelligent Design

Somehow I missed this one last week. It seems President Bush believes Intelligent Design should be "discussed" alongside Evolution when the origin of life is taught.

I'm not exactly sure what that means. Considering that every reputable scientific organization has said that ID is not science and doesn't belong in a science classroom, "discussed" could lead to lots of things depending upon the location and the teacher. One could "discuss" ID by pointing out how it's a pseudoscience that is simply Creationism warmed over I guess. But I doubt that's what Dubyah meant.

When the President of the country begins pushing pseudoscientific nonsense into the classroom, regardless of the advice of the leading scientific organizations in the country, we're beyond being in big trouble. I wonder if I can find a nice apartment in Amsterdam somewhere?

Apes to Men

Watched the History Channel's show on the search for the "Missing Link" last night. Not too shabby actually. I realized just how ignorant I am on this subject. I had even missed the fact that a few years ago DNA comparisons indicated that Neaderthal man was a completely different species than us.

I tend to try to keep track of technical and scientific stuff and I'm ignorant and miss important events so it's easy to understand how Creationists and ID proponents can snow folks who aren't trying to keep up.

Friday, August 05, 2005

What were these Morons Thinking?

Stories like this one make me sick to my stomach.

Moron #1 gets all bent out of shape and chases a car that cut him off with his daughter and mother-in-law in the back seat of his car. Moron #2, in the other car, calls ahead for support from his brother and the brother, Moron #3, shows up with a loaded shotgun. The end result of this idiocy is the death of a 5 year girl who's only crime was that Moron #1 was her father.

Moron #3 is on trial but I think they should toss all three of them in jail and throw away the keys.

PEAR Admits it's Puzzled

I e-mailed the folks at PEAR asking how they accounted for the lack of attenuation of the effect they claim to be detecting across time and space. That's a polite way of asking how the hell could something that hasn't happened yet affect something else! Basically they responded that they were puzzled about that themselves.

I feel better now. As long as people are willing to acknowledge they don't know something, there's still hope for humanity.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Giant's Tickets have Arrived

WOO-HOO! Another season of pain and frustration to endure. Now I can complete the set of head sized holes in the wall that I've collected as I have every expectation that they will be as miserable this year as most other years. Sigh, now where did I put that 1986 highlights VHS tape?

Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR)

Normally one would think that a prestigious university like Princeton would be rather conservative about the research it engages in. That's why I was more than a little surprised when I read about this program.

Apparently these folks have spent the last 20 years or so investigating the ability to affect a Random Number Generator with the mind (which they call an anomaly) . What really got me about this research was the quote,

"These anomalies can be demonstrated with the operators located up to thousands of miles from the laboratory, exerting their efforts hours before or after the actual operation of the devices."

Now consider the implications of this statement. It means that whatever this effect is, it neither suffers from attenuation across time nor space and it can reach into the future AND INTO THE PAST!! In other words, the effect can be felt before it's applied!

This leads me to suspect that it's far more likely, FAR MORE LIKELY, that the only effect is in the researcher's imaginations.

The Lego Bible

Every once in a while you run into a site that is just too delicious for words. This is one of those sites.

This is the site for the author of a number of books depicting various Bible stories using Legos. I kid you not, check it out.

To make things even more delicious, the guy says he's an atheist.

My Friend Darwin

I knew I forgot something. Not surprisingly I'm squarely in the evolutionist camp. As a matter of fact I find it absolutely mind boggling that anyone can doubt the general accuracy of the Theory of Evolution. Is it perfect? Probably not. Is it complete? Again probably not. Should it be viewed as a fact? Yup, it certainly should.

In an age where technology and science are moving at warp speed, saddling our science classrooms with creation mythology strikes me as a formula for disaster.

The Bible in the Public Schools

I see that the Texas Freedom Network (a group of religious mainstream folks) have issued a rather uncomplimentary report on one of the more widely used Bible curriculums. While I'm not particularly surprised at the inaccuracies, the plagerism or the shoddy transparent sectarian propaganda, I am stunned that so many school boards were ignorant enough to actually approve the use of this junk.

I have no problem with studying the Bible as a historical or cultural document in the public schools, but I do have a problem when folks try to use such courses as a soapbox for pushing their particular agenda.

The Death Penalty

Intellectually I oppose the Death Penalty, but just as I think I've settled that point I read of some horrific crime and emotionally I'm ready to pull the switch or depress the plunger personally.

Religion and Faith

I'm not a believer. I agree with Frederick the Great who pointed out that all religions are composed of absurdities. Religion strikes me as a combination of fear and ignorance. I don't find "faith" admirable, rather I find it to be immoral. One should NEVER, as a matter of integrity, accept anything as true without sufficient evidence and ALL religions ask you to accept their dogma without any evidence whatsoever.

Our President

I'm not a fan of George W. Bush. I figure the man lied to us about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and wouldn't hesitate to lie again. I'm also not terribly impressed with his views on "faith-based" initiatives. This is a man that seems unwilling to accept facts which contradict his preconceived notions. I didn't vote for him in the two past elections and I'm proud of it.

In the beginning

Well this strikes me as a rather strange excercise, but let's see where it leads. Hey, you never know.