Friday, July 29, 2011

Go get yourself some cancer!

I was recently reminded of an old argument I once came across in a discussion with a Young Earth Creationist.  It came up in the course of a discussion on the League of Reason forums regarding stupid things we've heard from creationists.  All the way from the public humiliation of Michele Bachmann arguing that global warming is fake because CO2 is natural or Bill O'Reilly "proving" that God is real by asserting that sunrise and sunset are things scientists have yet to explain...  to the neighborhood creotard who admonishes that Darwinian evolution can't explain rainbows.

What came up in the thread was someone who mentioned a New-Age Deepak Chopra type arguing with him that cancer is beneficial.  Before you think that I or the person who posted that entry into the thread happen to be straw-manning said quantum-consciousness-woo-woo-nutbar, the actual quote began with the statement in bold that cancer is beneficial.  Here's the original quote from the email from one ZelatorUK --
Cancer is beneficial, if we did not have cancer we would not live as long. When telomeres run out cells have 2 choices, suicide or bypass the procees and get immortality (Cancer). If all the cells chose suicide there would be a massive hole and chain reaction because other nearby cells would have to reproduce faster and end up losing a lot of lifespan. Do some research, cancer is a natural process designed to prolong the survival of the system, sometimes it looks like its bad.
The person who received that was apparently attempting to actually teach the zealot a thing or two about genetics, mutations, etc. and got this little gem in the middle of a longer response.  The nature of our New Age-y woo-woo believer, though, was to connect that Deepak Chopra idea of consciousness being intrinsic in every cell in our bodies, and somehow that includes cancerous tissue which is apparently conscious and makes the "intelligent" decision to become cancer.  That's a completely different tack to it than what I had come across, but in response, I mentioned my experience with a Young Earth Creationist who argued about cancer being a good thing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Honesty in Prayer?

At one of the Nascar Nationwide Series races, there was a rather interesting prayer recited by a Pastor Joe Nelms.  Now, normally, Nascar has this stigma of being "redneck" racing; partly because of its rum-running history; partly because it's always on a simple loop track; but mostly because of the audience and behavior it often tends to draw.  Personally, as lowbrow as Nascar often appears to be, I find you could do a lot worse.  Look at drag racing -- it's a straight line for a 1/4 mile.  Nonetheless, the pre-race prayers do not help the image at all; especially not when it includes some of the standard imagery of Bible Belt crazies.

However, Joe Nelms' pre-race prayer made me wonder whether he's not really all that crazy.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

For once, I agree with a Christian apologist

I know...  that title might scare you a bit.  Well, the agreement is not quite what you might think.  The apologist in question is none other than Josh McDowell.  McDowell's brand of apologetics is actually quite popular, partly because the level of intellectual effort put into them is so utterly superficial.  Nothing he writes about in his books has been researched to any degree beyond maybe just looking at some stats on Wikipedia (more likely Conservapedia) with the sort of obscene lack of intellectual rigor that can well be defined as status quo for the average fundie down the street.  I'm sure that's what makes him popular as well, seeing as how he puts so little thought into his work that it makes it easy to grasp for the average religious person who also puts similarly little thought into the matter of belief.

In any case, where I agree with him is his current assessment of what constitutes a threat to Christianity.  Just as lack of thought, lack of knowledge, lack of intellectual rigor are rife throughout the attitudes of all apologetics, the presence of though, information, intellect, etc. all serve to work against faith.  So what's the greatest threat to Christianity?  Why, it's the Internet, of course!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Creation School of Economics

It's often easy to point out the vile and twisted evils of fundamentalism and theocracy in the Middle East.  After all, these are places where the law is decided in accordance with the ~1400-year old dictates of an illiterate pedophile warrior charlatan who fooled an entire culture into believing he had some sort of connection to the divine.  Yet for all that I can say to condemn every Islamic nation ever to be conceived, it's hard to ignore theocratic nutbars a little closer to home.

Prior to living in the generally liberal environment that is Silicon Valley, I'd worked and lived in Texas for a little over 2.5 years, about half of which was in Houston and about 1 year in Dallas.  While my brief experiences of San Antonio and Austin both showed some promise for the state as far as having the semblance of brain power within the populace, I did find that my longer time in Houston and Dallas both demonstrated that the state of Texas can be quite the hotbed of religious lunacy and uneducated idiocy.  This is the place where I had an employer who believed that octagons have five sides, and threatened to fire anybody who disagreed... too bad he couldn't fire every dictionary ever made.  This is the place where I came across an activist group who petitioned the schools to remove heliocentrism from school science education and replace it with the "Biblically correct" geocentric model.  Thankfully, it kind of fell apart when they started to try and blame 9/11 on Stephen Hawking (slight exaggeration, but not far off).

Well, the state's current serving governor, Rick Perry, does not disappoint.  He brings forth further examples of how reprehensible right-wing reactionaries would love to conceive a nation on the proposition that a separation of church and state is illegal and causes gay angel rape and baby-eating.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

To all creationists who think they know math.

You don't.
The next time somebody tries to claim that life is impossible by natural means and then quotes some absurd made-up probability, the indisputable fact is that you don't have a clue what you're talking about.

I recently saw a little letter-to-the-editor in a local free paper that used the crazy numbers mode of argument about the question of teaching creationism in schools.  Here's the letter.
Evolution is a doctrine built entirely on crazy speculation, and the only reason they have it in school is because scientists want to say that God is not science.  Yet, in order to teach kids to hate Jesus as much as the scientists do, they have to pose an impossibility.  The probability of life forming on its own by natural means is an astronomically small probability of 1 in 10 to the 700-billionth power.  That is equivalent to winning the lottery jackpot 100 billion times in a row consecutively.  That's just the straight math, plain and simple.  You can't argue with numbers.  And we teach this impossibility to kids as science?  Instead of the one truth in the lord, our God?  It's high time we stop this foolishness and show our kids the real truths of life and avoid driving our nation further into hellfire.
That was utterly classic.
I especially love that attitude of how you can't argue with numbers.  It's a common one, and one that lies in this sense we have that numbers are absolute and immutable and there is nothing we can say to deny their value.  When we see raw statistics, everything looks so solid that it seems like an undeniable fact.  Well, it doesn't work that way.  Part of good academic process is not just the numbers you get, but how you get them.  The method used by creationists, which largely involves forcible extraction from the place where the sun never shines is not admissible by any standards of rigor.

What follows after the jump is my response to the author of the previous letter.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Why [am I] so Angry at God?"

I have gotten this question so many times, I don't think I can overstate it.  "Why are you so angry with 'God'?"  "What do you have against 'The Lord,' your god?"  "What is your problem with 'God'?"  If I had a problem with someone who doesn't even exist, I don't think I'd be in my right mind anyway.  Though if you want to define "God" as the idea of a supreme being rather than the being itself, then that is something I have a problem with.

Well, far more than just a problem...  The very idea of a supreme being is entirely misguided on every foundational aspect of it.  It is not enough to say that creationists have provided me with no reason to believe it, but that they've even provided quite an abundance of reasons not to believe it.  Not only have they shown without exception that everything on which they base their belief is shallow at best and most often fundamentally untrue or unprovable, but that the very same belief leads down paths which are demonstrably harmful, and without merit.

I know a great number of people would like to point to all the wars and killing caused by religious conflicts (something that all religious people will try to argue back against by associating any murderous act performed by atheists to be specifically caused by atheism without demonstrating this chain of causality)...  but to me, this is not the most serious issue.  Partly because, even in an all-atheist world, we'll still have wars over resources and people who want power by illicit means.  Sure, we can also point out that ALL statistics of ALL developed nations show that a higher relative percentage of atheists within a reasonably large population is accompanied by lower rates of crime, lower rates of drug abuse, lower suicide rates, lower murder rates, lower teen pregnancy, lower divorce rates, lower obesity, lower school dropout rates, higher literacy rates, higher longevity, and probably a whole bunch of others I can't entirely recall off the top of my head.  Still, that's not really what I consider the most serious issue of all because they're effects rather than causes.

No...  to me, the biggest problem with the idea of God is that it allows just about anything to be a virtue or a vice.  It is completely without morality because it redefines good and evil in terms of obedient and disobedient.  It is entirely without thought and without remorse in anything.  The common virtue to all religions (parody religions like Pastafarianism notwithstanding) that has no place being considered a virtue is gullibility.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Value of Uncommon Sense

Einstein once said that "common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen."  I don't know that I'd put that fine a point on it, but the general idea is pretty accurate.  Let's first think about that term -- "common sense."  Specifically, the "common" part.  Common, as in everyday...  as in experiences we run across regularly and very often... things we might have dealt with so many times that it just seems like second nature...  things we know forwards and backwards and can just deal with again without having to put much thought into it.  How useful is that in day-to-day life?  I think most people would agree that it is pretty useful...  to say nothing of wishing they had more of it.  How useful is it in science?  A lot of people would still think it's useful...  a lot of people are dead wrong.  It's about as useless as things get in a scientific context.

A very common avenue of objection to a lot of scientific principles lies in an appeal to common sense.
Apparently, common sense is so rare in science, it's considered a super-power
Oh yes, we see it all.  The Intelligent Design argument consists entirely of arguing that "common sense" tells us that complexity is impossible by way of nature alone.  The global warming deniers tell us that "common sense" shows the Earth can't be warming if I see snow in my backyard in March.  Geocentrists say that "common sense" tells us that if the planet was moving, we'd all fall off (yes, I've had my tussles with geocentrists).  Anti-vaccine activists all say that it's just "common sense" that mercury is dangerous, so vaccines must cause autism.

All fine examples of how, when it comes to science, one should never ever defer to common sense.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How Would Inorganic Food Look?

Being someone who lives in the SF Bay Area, where there is some sort of rule that everybody has to be some sort of activist, it is no surprise that the organic food movement is very big out here.  I find it almost sad to say that organic nuts are probably in the majority in certain regions.  Along with those who argue that marijuana should be legalized, all cars should be electric, beer should always be microbrew, and Pat Robertson needs to die.  Well, let's focus on one brand of activism at a time.

I do find a number of the movements more or less agreeable.  Gay marriage support, for instance, is among those worthy of mention.  But there are certain ones which I can't completely get behind, and that's basically because they're built on foundational falsehoods.  The love affair with organic food is one of them.  It is, unfortunately, a house of cards with very little going for it, and much of what people believe about it is actually just plain untrue.  I'm just going to deal here with a few myths and misconceptions -- if I tried to attack all of them that I could find in detail, it would amount to a volume of books rather than a mere blog post.

If you're looking for the Cliff Notes version without bothering to read past the jump, the summary of it is basically this -- just about everything you normally associate with organic food is simply not true.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Idiocy of Supply-side

It is rarely surprising when you see some right-wing nutbar say something incalculably stupid.  The general M.O. of conservatives is to basically blindly repeat certain rules as some sort of absolute.  In general, the difference between people who lean liberal vs. conservative is not the set of values they have, but in how they prioritize them.  Liberals tend to value fairness and minimization of harm over other values.  Conservatives tend to value authority and purity above other values.  This is why the sort of blind adherence to rigidly defined principles trumps everything when it comes to Republican discourse.  That's why being deeply religious to the point of rejecting science is practically a requirement of conservative politics.  You have to reject something like science because it indicates progress and change, while religion is indicative of order and authority (as well as unflappable loyalty to that authority) -- things that conservatives value more.

When it comes to economic policy, it's hard to hide the fact that all politicians are basically self-serving greedy douchebags looking to profit through under-the-table activities which aren't entirely kosher.  The real factor, though, is in how they rationalize it before their constituency.  Doing that basically rests on pandering to those specific values which your voters prioritize.

The thing I hear most from conservatives and libertarians alike on economics (as the latter is technically fiscally conservative) is that there is an immutable relationship between taxation on the rich and a dearth of jobs.  When you simplify to that extent, you're doomed to be wrong.  The problem isn't so much with the idea that taxation on the wealthy and/or corporations affects jobs, but that the relationship is immutable and absolute.  This is where Republicans and, to a large extent, fans of the Austrian school of economics, basically have no hope of of being anything other than intolerable idiots unworthy of ever drawing breath.