Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In the Name of Balance...

You are currently watching a news program.  The anchor is talking to a scientist about how positively absurd the whole end-of-the-world bullcrap.  The scientist's counterpart in the discussion is one of the Doomsday believers who argues that the Mayan long count calendar ends on December 21, 2012.  Did you also know that the Gregorian calendar comes to an "end" on December 31, 2012?  Of course, there's also the talk about how the sun, the Earth, and the center of the Milky Way all come into alignment on December 21, 2012.  Of course, the scientist points out that also happened on Dec. 21, 2011, and in 2010, 2009, 2008 and so on...  because that happens every year on the Winter Solstice (and the "perfect" alignment people talk about happened in the '90s).  Moreover, there's nothing anywhere in cosmology that indicates that anything could ever possibly happen simply because of that.  Then the doomsday believer points out that it fits with the Bible and the return of Jesus...  which of course, it doesn't, since the Bible says it should have already happened within the lifetimes of the apostles.  Then of course, the nutbar doomsday freak alludes to the idea that "Hinduism" predicts the end of Kali Yuga in 2012...  uuuhhhh...  no, it doesn't.  Where the hell did anybody get the idea that there is such specificity in any Hindu text?  If anything, dates are the sort of thing Hindu texts are least specific about.  In any case, the scientist, who can't really be expected to be an expert in every culture on earth can at least offer the most obvious objection that those are unfounded claims -- most likely fabrications simply to ride the popularity wave of the 2012 bullshit-mania, and not even a real genuine coincidence.  But even if they were, that would have no impact on the fact that the evidence shows nothing.  In the end, no one really listened to anyone, and the show ran out of time for the segment leaving the whole issue "unresolved" as it were, and simply moves on to something else.

Does anything about this strike you as wrong?  The description probably sounded plausible for a news program, but that's not quite where the problem lies...

How about the fact that there is even a dialogue on the topic in the first place?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Non Sequiturs as a Cultural Rule

I'm sure, if any of you follow any of the other atheist blogs, you've probably seen by now the recent furor over a textbook being sold in Indian schools which attempts to espouse the virtues of vegetarianism.  The grounds for their advocacy are mostly religious, and among the awesomely hilarious arguments they use include that God did not include meat among Adam & Eve's diet (because death didn't exist until after the fall, this apparently includes the death of animals).  Among other things, the book claims that the Japanese live very long because they're largely vegetarian...  Huh??  That claim, of course, is patently false, as Japanese eat more fish per capita than any other culture.  Hell, I've been to Osaka, and I was at my wit's ends trying to find any real substantial -- read : "meals", and not snacks/desserts -- items that were really vegetarian (shojin-ryori) to eat half the time.

The one really bizarre claim that stood out was the claim that people who eat meat are more likely to curse, lie, cheat, steal, commit violent crimes, rape, you name it.  In other words, eating meat apparently causes you to be a bad person....  or so the writers are brazenly willing to insinuate.

Now to anyone who reads that sort of claim, they're sure to scratch their heads and wonder how on Earth one follows from the other.  That's because it doesn't.  It never possibly could.  But then, this sort of non sequitur is nothing new.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Proof of Hopeless Idiocy

I'm rarely ever shocked by anything Pat Robertson says.  I mean, the guy has a long history of being a delusional idiot, misogynistic, anti-gay, anti-science, anti-reality living monument of utterly criminal disgrace to all of humanity.  So when he comes out and claims that Haitians made a pact with the devil which caused their Mega-earthquake, or secular ideals caused Sandy and so on...  it's pretty much on par with all he ever says.

Then he floored me with this one. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why is Science Hard to Learn?

One of the movies I'm working on happens to contain a wide variety of the sorts of caricatures of evolution that one would expect from the likes of Kirk Cameron.  From the trailer alone, you can see things like 4-winged flying turtles with sauropod-esque necks, giant ursine carnivores with owl-like heads, gourd-shaped marsupial primates, and a brightly-colored sabre-toothed feliforme that also has tusks.  Compared to this, the infamous crocoduck seems to barely scratch the surface.  But of course, the key difference is that nobody is purporting that The Croods is a documentary anymore than anyone telling a joke sincerely believes that a horse will enter a pub and order a drink.  The main reason such absurdities are even put forth is for sheer entertainment value, and I would hope that much is at least obvious.

Nonetheless, while I think many people would recognize that this is merely entertainment, it's interesting nonetheless that these types of wacky chimeras fall in line with the sort of picture that a lot of people have about evolution.  You have people like Deepak Chopra who can distort quantum mechanics to pretend it has something to do with the soul, and nobody can realize he's full of crap.  You have products out there which claim to emit frequencies in line with the nonexistent ones your body produces, and people swallow this crap.  Why is that?

Oh, if only I could count the ways...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Arkansas Proves Itself Worthy of Notice

...  by showing that they, too, can set new and previously unimaginable benchmarks in human stupidity and downright evil.  So we all expect this sort of thing out of states in the deep South like Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, etc.  Arkansas technically falls under the same wing when you think about it, but because the stupid burns so deep in those other areas, and also quite recently, that Arkansas kind of just never really gets noticed.  After seeing the Texas Republican Party proclaim proudly that they are against thinking, I made it clear that they deserve a mighty eradication from existence.  But now, I feel it is only fair to include Arkansas Republicans in the picture, too.

Congratulations, Jon Hubbard, Charlie Fuqua, and Loy Mauch.  You, too, much like the entire Texas Republican Party, Michele Bachmann, Todd Akin, Rick Santorum, Paul Broun, et al. all deserve to be launched directly into the sun where every last molecule of your physical substance will be vaporized and all of existence will be better off.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

GMO Foods and Prop 37 Malarkey

There is a lot of hullabaloo going on throughout California right now regarding Proposition 37.  This is a measure that will require foods that are made using genetically modified (GMO) crops to be labeled as such.  So I have some mixed feelings about this whole thing.  There are a lot of strong arguments that can be made for or against this measure, but the problem is that no one seems to be making them.  There is very little out there which does not constitute a weak or even sometimes entirely false argument for either side of the equation here.  I can only say that there is a great deal about this whole thing which is just wrapped up in stupidity.

Ultimately, though, the big effect that Prop 37 would have if passed would be a shift away from mass-market products towards the organically-grown products (at least within California where the law applies).  This is why pretty much every supporter of Prop 37 is an exclusively organic food producer and/or an activist group of some sort.  Plenty of companies like Kraft engage in both conventional and organic practices and do not support 37.  However, while you know my position on organic food already (i.e. that it's basically a big fat sham), it doesn't change the fact that people are gullible enough to fall for it.  More importantly, GMO is something that is so poorly understood that it is going to be the subject of fear, which means that people are going to shy away from that fearsome stuff just because they don't know any better.  And this is why I'm not 100% in favor.  People are just going to see it as "Frankenfood" and react in irrational fear.

Transparency on the part of the producers is the only strong argument, but 37 is not that.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Respect" Your Culture?

I watched through a 10 minute collection of clips from the "Innocence of Muslims" film that has been sparking riots, threats of additional attacks on the U.S., as well as supposedly driving the attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Cairo and Libya.  It was painful to watch.  I don't mean that in the sense of it was morally troubling -- it was really just very poorly done.  Painfully poor green-screening, and agonizingly awful sound quality, and it was extremely obvious that nearly every line that the actors spoke was dubbed over with something entirely different from what they're actually saying.  Mainly, I just wanted to see what the fuss was about.

It was almost as painful as watching the first 20 minutes of the The Secret, though that at least had higher production values.  That was painful because of the intensely burning stupidity.  This 10 minute collection of clips I saw was just plain weird and made no sense, and was pretty much laying out on the table the message without a hint of subtlety.  Nonetheless, as poorly made as it was, the immediate reaction to it (that too, from seeing only the 1-minute trailer) was to take it as an egregious insult to all Muslims that necessitates violent reaction.

It is funny when people who do this sort of thing say that there is an imperative on the part of others to respect their beliefs and culture.  This is funny because these are the same people who wouldn't dare extend the same courtesy to others.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Idiocy as Mastered by Plantinga

Among the most read posts on this blog are the ones in which I dissect the artful dodger named William Lane Craig.  I have plenty more to say about him and his outright intellectual dishonesty and endless double standards, and his tendency to change the definitions of words so long as it suits him.  The thing is that I mentioned in the past that I'd also address another mind-numbingly laughable apologist.  In relation to that, I've been getting emails that rather make me think even less of Christian apologetics than I already had.  Yes, some people picked up on my use of the term "Plantinga-class circularity" and decided they should defend by singing the praises of the Magister Stultitia, Alvin Plantinga.

It's kind of fun to see them all act so desperate.  But in general, a lot of Christians seem to think Plantinga is one of the premier purveyors of apologetics out there.  A lot of theists of various religions consider him one of the most important of all modern philosophers because of his arguments for theism, dualism, etc.  They seem to miss the fact that that's really quite pathetic.  Really, the man peddles the sort of idiocy packaged in such a shoddy veneer of fake sophistication that it would make even William Lane Craig blush.  If this is really the best Christian apologists have to offer, it's pretty astonishingly sad.

The easiest way to identify instances of Plantinga-class circularity when someone begins a sentence the same way Plantinga invariably does whenever he wants to accumulate details on his arguments in order to make it sound more solid -- "If Christianity is true..."

Monday, August 27, 2012

What is it with Republicans and Women??!?

I have to admit that I am still facepalming from Michele Bachmann's insane claim during the GOP debates in which she made up some baloney tale about some girl receiving the HPV vaccine and it apparently caused mental retardation (as if that's actually possible).  But at the very least, nobody backed her on that one.  Then Todd Akin comes out with his claim that "legitimate" cases of raped women can't result in pregnancy, and therefore, there's no need to offer abortions for rape victims.  I especially love his use of the word "legitimate", something which I doubt many people actually mistook to mean he felt there was some sort of contextual justification for rape.  No, he was pretty clearly trying to imply that women lie about being raped and use that to get abortions.

Of course there are people who lie about being victims of crimes.  Any crime, and rape is no exception.  But to assume that it's the rule rather than the exception is something that takes an inordinate degree of stupidity and forceful rejection of reality that I can't even begin to enumerate.  The reality is that most rapes don't even go reported, and the rate of pregnancy is ~5%.  This is about 1/4 the rate of pregnancy for couples when they're actually trying to get pregnant.  The reason for the lower proportion is quite simple -- couples actually trying to get pregnant are also paying attention to things like ovulation cycles and so on, which simply does not fall under the attention of a rapist.  It's the sort of religion-guided universal disdain for women that leads to the sort of assumption that given the opportunity, any woman will deliberately play the victim in order to shirk responsibility.  This is funny, considering that 100% of religious fundamentalists play the victim whenever they feel the need to rob others of their equality of rights.

But it gets even crazier than that.  There were plenty of GOP figureheads who saw the backlash and distanced themselves from him -- yes, for the first time, the opposition actually argued back with *facts* rather than just talk of cruelty or play other games.  However, because Akin addressed a point that is pretty much on the core of the right-wing platform (unlike Michele Bachmann with her anti-vaccine garbage), it was inevitable that there would be support for his idiotic claims.  And boy, what support.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Bare Necessities of Math

My wife of nearly 3 years, at one point in a certain job interview here in the US, was required to produce her college transcripts for review.  This itself was expected, since she'd received her degree in India.  In the course of a cursory review, one of the comments she received was that there were no fundamental algebra courses on her transcript.

Her response?  "Well, of course not!  It's a college transcript."

The very idea of basic algebra being a college level course was both shocking and horrifyingly appalling to her.  As well it should be.  I'm a product of the public schools in this country, and I recall that I had to be pushed two years ahead of the standard schedule to get to the point where I was taking algebra through middle school and high school.  And even then, the limiting factor was the schools, which simply didn't offer anything beyond basic differential and integral calculus in high school (and they limit you to 2 years ahead so that you at least have a math course every year of school).  You had to go at least to a community college to get anything beyond that.  Although I wasn't there, I can only imagine my wife's mouth must have been wide agape for several seconds in shock at the idea that the U.S. considers algebra a college-level subject.

And then today I read a little op-ed piece on the NY Times, that espouses doubt on the value of making algebra a necessary math course.

Friday, July 27, 2012

My Simple Question to YECs

The Young-Earth Creationists (YECs) out there have tried a number of modes of arguments, and the latest of these appears to be the presuppositional apologetics.  It seems, at least, that they accept that it's beyond the realm of possibility for them to attempt to play the science angle and have a hope of holding a candle to anyone reasonably well-versed in science.  There is simply no way, with science, to show that the universe was created on October 23, 4004 BC.  They accept now that people with brains will always be prepared to show them that they will never have the capacity ever to be right on that.  So instead, the approach is to say that facts don't matter, and the universe is less than 10,000 years old because la-la-la-la-la-I'm-not-listening!  La-la-la-la-la-facts-are-inventions-of-Satan!  Nur-nurny-nur-nur!

There's the general pattern where YECs always try and play games with atheists, and always try and redefine words.  In general, the Sye Ten Bruggencates and Ken Hams of the world take the approach of redefining the word "truth" to mean "whatever agrees with the Bible."  It's necessarily wrong in every way, but it's so aggravatingly, inexcusably, earth-shatteringly opposed to all semblance of reason and logic that it is impossible for people with functioning brain cells not to respond with explosive rage at the unbounded stupidity and anti-knowledge that is laid out before them.

As such, the discussion often trends down the path of pointing fingers at the content of the creationists' beliefs.  For instance, the "does the Bible condone slavery?" (which it unarguably does) type of arguments.  It's easy to do this because of the fact that literalists always like to act as if their scripture is without flaw, and that is something which is easily refuted without exception.  Of course, because you're dealing with YECs, getting them to admit to things which are factually true is a lost cause.

I think there are different ways of approaching the YEC problem.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

S.E. Cupp and The Cycle of Unbearable Idiocy

I had heard wind of the possibility that the inimitably stupid Sarah Elizabeth "S. E." Cupp might get a show on MSNBC for reasons as yet incomprehensible to me.  Sure enough, she now has a show on MSNBC, and I just watched some clips from the first episode of her new show, The Cycle.  It was an agonizingly painful experience.  I have a feeling that the only reason MSNBC, a largely left-leaning network would even put her on is because they want to feign some level of neutrality.  I can't imagine why.  Technically, CNN already plays this angle, but only by way of argumentum ad temporantiam, and trying to feign neutrality is not meaningful.

There are only four reasons why she ever had a job at Fox...  1 ) Boobs...  2 ) The Naughty Librarian look...  3 ) Boobs...  and 4 ) she poses as a Right-Wing ultra-conservative atheist who espouses the false virtues of religion.  And in spite of my mentioning her appearance more than once, the 4th one is the big one.  Sure, they made it obvious the first 3 were significant considering her presence on Fox involved a deliberate use of a wide camera shot that displayed her bared legs stretched out...  Could they make it more obvious that this woman's mindless prattling is without a shred of substance?  Nonetheless, I still have to say it's the 4th factor that It's just the sort of tool the right-wingers would love to have because it is the sort of sock-puppetry that makes it possible for religious nutbags and conservatives to say "See?? We even have an atheist agreeing with us!"

Of course, I don't buy for a second that there's anything remotely genuine about S. E. Cupp.  While I'm not entirely ready to say that she's waiting for that chance to suddenly convert, I only say that because I think her very existence as a character is created out of the right wing impression of atheism as a "trend."  It's certainly arguable that it would be if your only sample space is young impressionable teenagers who don't really have the weapon of thorough analysis of the subject material.  But she's basically got the platform of being the person who supposedly sits on the other side of the fence, but blindly agrees with what theocrats say.  And that's something politicians love, and that's exactly why she'd do better to stick with it.

Still, there's an obvious show of insincerity.  She can't even support her own supposed position.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Dear Mexico, Please Take Texas Back.

We don't want it any more.

It should really be eradicated from Earth, so maybe we should give it to North Korea or something with the condition that they're required to use it for nuclear weapons testing.

You know, we've all had our laughs at Rick Perry...  the man who thought measures like government-sponsored collective praying for rain makes him a great leader of state.  But, really, he's cut from a cloth of the veritable black hole of ignorance where stupidity is so dense that it exerts a gravitational pull from which no bright idea can escape.  That cloth is the Texas Republican Party.  I mean, when I lived in Texas, I ran across geocentrists who tried to argue that teaching gravity is a socialist concept and that the "Satanic science" of astronomy caused 9/11.  It has gotten to the point where you just can't get any stupider than Texas stupid.

The best part, though, is that they are willing to say out loud not only that Texas Stupidtm is a real thing, but that it's their ideal.

The Texas Republican Party Official Platform (Final revision)
I read it...  and it surely made me weep

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

No Y Chromosome? Move to Canada!

I just recently came across an article regarding a study by Thomson Reuters which measured various factors of womens' qualities of life, and rated various countries on which are the best nations to be a woman.  I should note that this is coming off the heels of the G20 summit, so the only countries which are actually in the study are in those 20 member nations...  so really, it's a measure of the nations within that relatively small subset.  Pretty much all of Africa, save, for South Africa is not represented, for instance.  Saudi Arabia and Turkey are the only Middle Eastern nations represented in any way.  The other thing is that it mixes the weighting of opinion-based polling of respondents with actual statistics.  As such, we do have to take the results with a grain of salt.

The not-even-slightly-surprising result is that the United States ranks 6th out of that list of 20 countries.  This is not entirely surprising given that it's a country where religious bullcrap is making things like women's reproductive rights a contentious issue.  We have laws in some states that force raped women to be raped a second time by a machine in order to have an abortion if they get pregnant.  Almost all the nations have an apparent income gap between men and women, but the U.S. also has a pretty bad one.

However, there are a few surprising results --

Friday, June 1, 2012

Martial Woo-Woo.

I, like most males out there, have a certain interest for the martial arts.  Even those who never learn a bit of it are at least generally aware enough to find it pretty cool.  The influx of fight flicks from Hong Kong cinema made everybody everywhere want to do chop-socky movies.  Sure it gave us everything from Black Belt Jones to some abomination of a Bollywood flick simply called Karate, but it was hard to escape the draw.  I particularly hold Bruce Lee in pretty high regard, as does pretty much anyone.  What really separated him from others, though, is not just his skill and physical presence, though.  The real mark that he made is that he was one of the first to really intellectualize martial arts.

I know this may seem a bit odd considering the movie image we have of the guy who waxed philosophical about water going into a cup and thereby becoming the cup.  Or the senior in Enter the Dragon who tells one of his junior trainees to feel rather than to think.  If you look at the work he published, and especially at the series of volumes that were collected from his notes after his death, you'll find a pretty hefty amount of collective research, and descriptions of the kinematics of various motions.  There's more than simply saying "here's how you throw a punch"...  it's "here's how you throw a punch, and here's why it works."  Here was a guy who not merely trained and worked out, he analyzed the patterns and structures of several styles, he consumed and distilled the theoretical foundations of Western sports including boxing and bodybuilding, and actually did the hard work and research on the subject well before anybody knew him as the guy who created Jeet Kune Do.

When I studied both aikido and kenjutsu, I did so on the cheap at a community college, and my shihan was a reasonably well-educated lady.  She was the sort to get into the kinematic explanations behind the motions and not into the mysticism of flow of ki/qi energy and so on.  Rather than talk about the harmonizing of souls, she would talk about orthogonal forces to change the momentum of a moving attacker.  But that's actually a little out of the ordinary.  And in fact, when she was stumped for a really solid physics-based explanation, that's when even she would resort to some weird babble like "[imagining] yourself as a tree," and what not.

I imagined myself as a tree and then I expressed imaginary annoyance at the imaginary dog imaginarily peeing on me.  Maybe that was the secret.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Why You Should Be an Elitist Prick

There is an old Tamil film released back when I was only about a year old, titled Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu.  Literally, that translates to "Red is the Color of Poverty."  At the very end of the movie (after the story formally really resolves, so to speak), the main character -- played by fellow Desi atheist, Kamal Hassan -- is working in a barber shop and he receives a customer.  Well, that scene is also the film's cameo for legendary Tamil comedy actor, "Thengai" (yes, as in coconut) Srinivasan, so viewers know ahead of time that the film would be closed off with a comedy scene.  During the shave, there is idle chatter between the barber and the client, and our hero barber character reveals that he actually went to graduate school and earned a Master's Degree in philosophy.  The comedy that ensues is that the client runs in fear presuming that the fact that his barber is an educated man means he's out to murder him.  Because...  that's what educated people do?

Well, Bruce Lee also had a Master's Degree in philosophy, so maybe he was making some assumption about Kamal Hassan being a fearsome martial arts master.  Sure.  That makes perfect sense.

It's an odd sentiment, though...  that educated people...  the intelligentsia of the world... are somehow the problem individuals.  What exactly do they think will happen?  Last I recall, it's those who are uneducated who tend to be dangerous.  I've never heard of a scientist who killed church officials for spreading lies about science.  Sure, there was that one mathematician who engaged in a 17-year long bombing campaign, but you can't trust those darn mathematicians, anyway ;-).  But nonetheless, there's a common cultural sentiment here.  There's a common response I get from fundies whenever I write about knowledge, education, being scientifically literate, etc.  It is the admonishment that I'm some evil elitist.  By subscribing to this sort of meritocratic philosophy centered around knowledge and the advancement thereof, I and other literati like myself therefore profess a sort of cold-blooded elitism, and that makes them a threat to the "average" person.

Call me crazy...  but I would rather have the average of tomorrow be roughly equal to the borderline genius of today, and if that makes me a threat to the "average" person today, then that's a good thing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Don't Just Read Labels; Read Books.

There's a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in my fridge that is labeled as having no preservatives.  This is profoundly amazing to me seeing as how the tomatoes are packed in oil.  I wonder what that does?  In the store the other day, I saw a bottle of vegetable oil that is marked as having no cholesterol...  hmm...  vegetable oil that has no cholesterol.  I wonder how that can be?  Well, I have fat-free ice cubes in my freezer, so I guess I've done some amazing stuff, too.

There's a certain thing about the stuff that's printed on the labels of the boxes and jars.  By law, no one is allowed to print something that isn't true, and this is fairly heavily regulated.  So in that sense, everything they say on the bottle is pretty trustworthy, right?  Ummm...  sure.  Of course, true doesn't necessarily mean that something is not misleading or somewhat incomplete.  I could tell you that I have ladies' clothing and undergarments in my home.  This is technically true, which may give people the impression that I apparently engage in cross-dressing.  But it only seems that way when I exclude the crucial detail that I happen to be married, and the aforementioned ladies' clothing is, without exception, worn by my wife.

Remember that when the law says that people are required to be truthful in their advertised claims on the labels, it's also the law that defines just what "truthful" really means.  It's not enough to read -- it's kind of important to have an idea what they're talking about and be careful when you read.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Order Now! Pseudoscientists Are Standing By!

Yesterday, I saw a rather interesting claim in a mattress commercial.  We've all seen the ads for things like memory foam pads and how it "relieves" pressure points that inner spring mattresses cause.  This one had a far more interesting claim.  This one happened to be some mattress that apparently had a gel top-layer, apparently to act a little bit like a waterbed without having to be as expensive or heavy.  So, like every exotic mattress material, though, you'd expect the advertisers claim that it adjusts to your body...  Not this one!  No.  It automatically bio-adjusts to your body!

It...  bio-adjusts?  Bio?  The mattress is alive?  Will it become self-aware?  And here I thought bedbugs might have been an issue, but the beds themselves could be coming to get us.

Oh, but that's just the least of it.  There was another ad I saw on the sidebar of another blog about a waterbed.  And that one distinguishes itself from normal beds by pointing out the value of waterbed mattresses.  The distinction?  "Nothing is more natural than water!"  Wait...  what?  What does that even mean?  We had varying degrees of "natural-ness"?  I guess that means that there's a lot of stuff out there we can't consider quite so natural like trees and air.  Maybe we should also consider things that aren't really substances.  Radiation, for instance...  how much more or less artificial is it than say, electricity?

Maybe instead of a waterbed, we should have a bed filled with all-natural homeopathic medicine...  Oh, wait...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Inherent Dishonesty of Creationist Debate

Ever since the 2012 Reason Rally, there have been a number of videos popping up both from Youtube atheists like Thunderf00t and AronRa as well as from the subhuman creationist black holes of infinitely dense stupidity like Ray Comfort and his ilk.  As a rule, they all tended to be about the same, where the creationist leads into a systematic circle of gaps for sensible doubt, and argue that all such gaps indisputably prove god.  Presuppositional apologetics were among the things strut out proudly as if they had any measure of validity, and a number of atheists caught in this web engaged in rather futile struggles to try and break out of the ineffable circularity of creationist thinking in order to draw a line.

Well, regardless of how easily one notices the fact that all creationists are indisputable failures at thinking, it is difficult to look at the way people with brains actually managed in those situations.  Part of it is that the way creationists operate is that anything that is too vague, anything that is unclear, is by definition the space where "God" resides.  So as long as you can be loose with your language, God exists.    The argument from ignorance is the way all things are proven.  Anything that could hypothetically be possible is necessarily true so long as your opposition doesn't deny the hypothetical possibility (on account of actually being intellectually honest).  The other thing is that by being as brainless as they are, it is particularly frustrating for people like myself who have such a low threshold for stupid.  Especially since we're necessarily dealing with a stupid which is opposed to listening.  So at some point or other, it's hard not to get annoyed to the point of just telling the creationists, "get the f**k out of my sight, you intransigent filth."

Which is pretty much what they're looking for.  It's nothing more than a game of provocation for them.  And that's because creationism is foundationally dishonest in every way.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Learning Could Hurt Too Many Feelings

Often times, liberals are associated with following the sort of namby-pamby consideration for "feelings" that creates the shift from using the word "cow" to using the term "Bovine-American."  We're not just supposed to be the guys who think socialism is awesome, but we also think the laws should outlaw the use of insulting language like "Chinese" in place of "Asian"...  as if that isn't technically disregarding the differentiation between multiple distinct cultures...  oh, well.  Strangely, liberal as I may lean, I'm not one of them.

Now I'm not about to say that we should forgo foul language, but that there's a line to be drawn.  There's a difference between using the N-word when referring to black people, and saying that creationism is idiotic.  A key difference here is that in one case, you're talking about people, and in another, you're talking about an idea.  Ideas don't have feelings to be hurt in the first place, and like all liberals, I do care about fairness.  The thing is that a lot of people presume that fair treatment of all ideas means they all get equal "time" and an equal "voice" in discourse...  hence why creationist fountainheads like the so-called Discovery Institute can work in lobbying for "academic freedom" bollocks.  Well, it doesn't quite work that way.  First of all, we can't just take ideas willy-nilly.  We need to be able to differentiate between fact and opinion, at the very least.  More importantly, treating ideas fairly doesn't mean open season for all ideas -- it means putting all ideas under equal scrutiny and upheld to the same intellectual standards.

Well, the fact that people who hold ideas on faith tend to hold them emotionally and without serious thought means it creates an avenue for people to say their feelings are hurt...  as if that puts the scrutiny off limits.  People who do this define "fairness" as whatever-works-out-in-my-own-benefit.  "We can be intolerant of gays, but it's unfair for people to rebuke our intolerance...  How dare you be so cruel to speak ill of our ignorant asshattery!"  I don't buy into this kind of crap.  Bad ideas deserve to be rebuked because they're bad ideas.  If it hurts your feelings because you hold bad ideas dearly on personal faith...  well, tough luck.  You held a bad idea.  Deal with it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tennessee Puts a Stop to Science

So the anti-science bill went through and passed in the Tennessee state legislature, and now the Governor of Tennessee (Bill Haslam) has announced that he's basically sure to sign it into law.  Though there is pressure from people who have functioning brains to urge him to veto, it's not really all that likely that he would, or even that it will end there.  And thus will end science in Tennessee public schools.  It's almost that the same state that held the infamous Scopes Trial should also come full circle and now bring creationism and religious horseshit back into the schools.

I'm sure it's easy to make light of the situation since it doesn't cover a whole lot, but that's exactly the reason why it's so subversive.  Much as with SOPA which had very little detail and very vague language -- which in turn made it open to be a lot more dangerous and destructive than was probably designed.  The other thing is that the opportunity to let creationism or anti-vaccine or climate change denialism into the science classroom is there, but it's only really a risk if there is a significant population in the state who would actually lean that way.  If this same law was passed in...  say, Japan, it would probably not even raise a blip...  because anti-science thinking isn't that strong a movement in Japan.

But this is Tennessee...  a "Red" state...  I don't think I need to finish that sentence for people to see that there's a problem.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bow Before The Mighty Thor!... ium.

Recently, a friend of mine posted a video which featured a series of clips of Kirk Sorenson selling his LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor) concept to the masses.  I had made some fraction of a response based on what I'd seen in the video at the time.  Nonetheless, I felt it merited further study, so I looked a little deeper into the literature and now have the need to write a little more on the subject.

I do have to admit that a lot of what I hear Sorenson say sounded more like shpiel appealing to the masses rather than hard science, but that's not to say he doesn't know the science.  In fact, I'm fairly sure he does.  But since the video clips came from public speeches, he's playing to a crowd who really don't know much about the subject.  He focuses a great deal on the shortcomings of the current technology and a lot on the strengths of the LFTR design in terms of efficiency and safety and so on.  The numbers he quotes sound incredibly exaggerated on the face of it, but in fact, they are mostly accurate, if a little misleading.

In reference to this subject, though, I suggest that people watch both Kirk Sorenson's TEDxYYC talk on the LFTR and Bill Gates' TED talk titled "Innovating to Zero," during which he evangelizes the TWR (Traveling Wave Reactor) design.  I don't particularly favor one idea over the other, but I think having the combo of those two videos at the very least helps put some things into better perspective.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Dinesh D'Souza and the Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil, also referred to as the "Problem of Suffering" has been a huge difficulty for theists for quite a few millennia.  It's quite the problem because no one can possibly refute the foundational aspect of the dilemma since no one can possibly claim that there is no such thing as evil or suffering in the world.  As such, it's something that comes from non-believers and it is just as well something that believers themselves have to wrestle with in the throes of doubt.  A lot of times, theists seem to think that atheists use this argument as a strong refutation against their god's existence, which I don't think is the case.  It's really not much of an argument against any god's existence so much as an argument against the extant theology of most current religions.  It shows that the proposition of a benevolent god as is the framework of most modern religions is really not consistent with the nature of reality.  It still leaves room for an uncaring god or a malevolent god.

Dinesh D'Souza seems to think this is a solved problem, so I was curious if he'd uncovered some new mode of apologetic that no one had noticed.  Given that it was Dinesh D'Souza, though, I really shouldn't have expected much.  Indeed, there was nothing new.  It was little more than a series of bald assertions that old arguments made hundreds of years ago and still parroted today are solid proof that there is no problem in the first place.

Seriously?  All those brainless platitudes about God working in mysterious ways or placing the greatest trials on those he loves the most and so on solve the problem of evil & suffering?  Is there a brain in there, Dinesh?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Californian

I'm going to go a bit off the rails here for once.  Normally, when I take on creationists, alt-med hipsters, general stupidity, there is a smoldering grumpiness that is both fueled and tempered by the dogmatic adherence to reason.  This time, however, while reason exists, there will be an overflowing rage with which I write this.  As such, I will preface this posting with a note that what I say here will be dripping with disdain and anger and should be taken with more grains of salt than the usual fare.

That said, it bears being uttered with all the road rage I have at my disposal.

I can't say that I've lived everywhere in this country, and whatever I have to say about the drivers here in the U.S. is in an entirely different league to the abject lawlessness of India.  But currently, I live in California, and I find a rather egregious incompetence to the drivers here.  I mean, I've seen people in Texas go the wrong way on an exit and actually U-turn onto a highway (feeling as well that they have the freedom to do so because they're in a Hummer), and yet somehow, this state does it worse.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

On Indian Classical Music (part 6) -- with a digression

One of my music theory professors once commented on a common "complaint" he tended to receive from many of his students.  The complaint was that after learning a little bit about music -- even a single semester of theoretical training, they could no longer listen to music of any kind in the same way.  They could no longer listen to some pop tune or a symphony without ending up analyzing it to some degree.  To which, he replied, and I agree -- "well, that's a good thing!"  It means they're appreciating it on a higher level than ever before.

Think of all the creationists who chastise scientifically literate people that they have no sense of wonder; no appreciation for the awesomeness of "God's creation."  Real scientists have a far superior sense of awe at the universe than any creationist because they actually understand it rather than simply bask in the mystery.  They take greater awe in it than any creationist ever could because they are able to connect what they see with the naked eye with everything from the microscopic dance of superposed quantum fields all the way up to the bright and brief lives of supermassive stars in galaxies hundreds of thousands of light years across knowing that's only a fraction of the way.  Not only is there more that they see (or for that matter, can see because it's not all a mystery), but the dazzling visions that flood their minds are things that are actually there!

I take the same viewpoint on music, because people who actually understand music have the ability to not merely let it wash over them like some ethereal experience, but they also pick up on the way the composer created those effects.  Why does this tune sound sad?  Why does this tune sound ominous?  Why is this riff catchy?  The deeper you study, the more details you pick up on.  And then the real genius of the musicians actually comes into view.  That doesn't happen when you don't have the knowledge.  Knowledge is power.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Atheists in America

In the comments of an earlier post, a little point came up about nonbelievers who are not so direct and "out there" about their atheism.  Indeed, there is some value in choosing the right time and place to "come out", and there are those who wear their anti-religion stance on their sleeves like myself.  In addition to those who are merely being cautious, there are those who simply want to avoid telling anyone or just say the word "agnostic" in lieu of "atheist" order to save face and/or avoid confrontation entirely.

It kind of begs the question as to why there is such a conflict in the first place?  Here in the United States, especially, you have people who view atheists as being among the most loathsome of all creatures.  In the episode of Family Guy where the dog (Brian) reveals his lack of belief, a news report brands him as "Worse than Hitler?"  The sad part of this is that such a reaction is hardly an exaggeration.  Why should it be that way?  This is supposed to be the country that has more Nobel Laureates than any other.  This is the country where people come to to get the best healthcare on the planet (assuming you have the enormous wealth required to get it).  This is the country which has put men on the moon and created the friggin' Internet.

And yet, this is also the country where state legislatures propose that women who have been raped should be raped one more time by an ultrasound machine so that she can be guilt-tripped out of an abortion.  This is also the country where people paid to provide us with an education believe that the universe has only existed for 6,000 years and man and dinosaurs lived at the same time.  This is also the country where the state which is generally considered to be the most socially liberal in the entire nation still passed a law to outlaw gay marriage.  This is the country where the Constitution demands that no religious test be required for any office in government, and yet there is not a single elected official in government who can avoid a religious test at the hands of its populace.

So what the friggin' hell is America's problem?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Liebster Blog Award

The word "liebster" is a German word for something one likes considerably...  essentially it means "favorite." Apparently, this is among someone's favorite blogs, because I received one.  The reader who happened to put me in that list goes by the handle of "KayEm"...  a literal sounding out of her initials "K.M."  As these particular blog awards are received and passed around among bloggers, she too, is of course, a blogger herself.  Her blog is titled "Never Mind Yaar", which is also the title of her debut novel.  As someone who has known life in India much longer than I have (I spent many more years of my life in Chicago than in India), she is very equipped to write at length about the cultural shifts and divides within India.  Also as a transplant into the land of the Kiwis, she writes quite a great deal about the NRI life.  Although written from a very personally specific point-of-view, it is fair to say that the ultimate message of her posts are applicable to almost anyone.  For instance, her post on the quality of schools may go at some length on the issue of co-ed vs not (I also went to an all-boys school in India), which isn't necessarily relevant to just anybody's experience, but you can't ignore the point she drives at about what the country really needs to do to improve its education...  issues that I've also brought up at my own schools...  problems that the U.S. has as well and get worse in the later years of school.

So with her recommendation, I can now wear this badge.
Among the rules of the Liebster Blog awards, though, is that in addition to mentioning the blogger who awarded it to you, you need to mention 5 other blogs you personally enjoy (who are in turn your own award recipients)...  It's a sort of chain letter award, I guess...  except no one claims that one of your loved ones will die if you fail to send this out.  Well, since there is no absurd superstition tied to it, I'll comply.  So here, in no particular order, are my 5 picks.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Christian Dogma Gone "Deepak Chopra"

It's normal in the course of dealing with creationist dimwits that people are going to reject science and pretty much all facts.  Hell, the entire Republican party is about that.  Even those right-wingers who seem to have some semblance of sanity like Ron Paul throw their hats into the crazy ring on scientific matters.  All the members of the CSE, DI, or whatever fountainhead of creationist stupidity you can imagine all have some fundamentally anti-science bend to them.  Science and intellectual formality are illegal in their minds.  So that's why you always hear these sorts of self-defeating arguments like saying that "science always changes, but the Bible remains the same"...  which in turn only demonstrates that religion is all about never learning from mistakes and simply digging your heels deeper in the mud after the mud has been smeared on your face.

Hinduism and many of its offshoots have always seemed to have had a different approach to taking on scientific discovery.  Rather than taking some new discovery and shouting "that's HERESY!! BURN THE FOUL WRETCH!!!", Hindu apologists always seem to reinterpret some bit of religious literature (or create new literature on the spot) to say that ancient philosophers knew it all the time.  One thing about Hinduism, being what I call "disorganized religion", is that people create random tales all the time that just become accepted as canonical within a localized community, and in essence, everything becomes ancient and traditional because nobody remembers how these legends made their way into the ether of random noise.  As such, it is very easy to just find one or twist its otherwise vague meaning to match what science says and posture in that "I told you so" kind of way.  A good example of this would be how people twist the Dasha Avatara (10 avatars) of Vishnu into something that shows ancient people already knew about evolution...  citing that the order of the avatars vaguely resembles the evolutionary line of humans (fish, aquatic reptile, terrestrial mammal, half-man-half-beast, pygmy/hobbit, followed by a series of homo sapiens)...

Modern scientific knowledge, especially quantum mechanics, happens to get a lot more detailed, and thus a lot more specific, and a lot more difficult to comprehend, which makes it hard to really fit it in so nicely with ancient pseudo-intellectual ramblings.  But then you have guys like Deepak Chopra who found that because it's so difficult to grasp and even serious scientists will tell you its virtually impossible to explain in layman's terms, you can pretty much make anything sound right by taking advantage of the general public's lack of understanding.

Well, it seems Christians are also taking a page out of Chopra's playbook.  Apparently, quantum theory proves everything Jesus ever said...

Friday, February 10, 2012

History Channel must change its name to Comedy Central

It is a funny thing when the single most trusted source of news in the country (and quite possibly the most trustworthy source in the world) is Jon Stewart.  In some ways, it's all but inevitable, because as a comedian, it's part of his job to tell it like it is.  He also comes off much more impartial than most people because he is just as prone to rip on the likes of Obama for double-talk bullcrap to hide a failure as he is to rip on the likes of Rick Santorum for...  being Rick Santorum.  So all of a sudden, you find the comedy on Comedy Central to be worthy of note not simply because somebody said something funny, but because somebody made a point which is just so true.  It's something you tend not to find on other channels. 

Once upon a time, I rather enjoyed the History Channel.  Though the schedule was largely dominated by the show Modern Marvels at the time, I would still have categorized that as "history" since it at least addressed how various industries have progressed over the years.  Some time after that, though, it degraded from the History Channel to the History-of-World-War-II Channel.  I'll admit I was fairly impressed when they apparently displayed rare color footage of Nazi rallies.  That at least was a significant find.  Nonetheless, it more than slightly saddens me what has become of it.  It's become a sea of pointless reality shows about the mundane lives of blue-collar rednecks and bizarre competitions.  Sure, there's Top Gear, but the American version still pales before the Brits.  I suppose I could say the same for all the networks out there -- Discovery has also become a sad collection of meaningless reality shows...  TLC went from Discovery Lite to being all about home improvement and psychics...  G4 was once a channel about gaming, and the most frequent show on there now seems to be Cops.  Lately, when History Channel does show something to do with history, chances are 50-50 that it's going to be about the last stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae.

History Channel, however, still has a saving grace for me in the random noise that makes up its content that makes the channel worth watching -- and that's the series titled Ancient Aliens.  Don't get me wrong;  I don't find it thought-provoking or worthy of consideration in a serious academic sense.  It's just outstandingly hilarious.  It's like a never-ending Monty Python sketch, except these people are actually dead serious.

Monday, January 23, 2012

More CTMU Nonsense...

It has been a while since I've posted something here, and that is the price of academia combined with illness.  But I probably would have gotten over said illness sooner if I hadn't worked through every day of it without much if any sleep (including the weekends).

I spent the better part of the month until recently doing something that creationists don't do -- working on actual academic literature.  Granted, my field is not among the hard sciences, but the work we were doing was pretty darn interesting.  I can't really go into detail on the subject matter because we barely hit the submission deadline and it's still in review as I write this, and the work here is due to be patented by my employer.  Nonetheless, the first author is an intern I co-mentored over the summer who will also be using this work as part of his doctoral dissertation.  I spent most of the time adapting and generalizing his quite specific work to other applications and running countless simulations which became test results for the paper itself.  It's in the nature of these types of jobs that you also find bugs and issues as you go along, and Murphy's Law dictates that these things always seem to come up late in the game.  So as I was fixing all these issues and then re-running and re-generating datasets, everything just came down to the wire after endless nights without sleep.  I remember all the other times I had to go through this sort of thing, and it's always been the same story...  except I was an undergrad the last time.

Anyway, that means that in addition to not having any time to work on the blog, I haven't had much time to work on the book, and I only managed to solve some problems with my personal research because it just happened to come up in the course of testing some hypotheses (ooh! another thing creationists don't do).  I also haven't had any time to continue reading through Chris Langan's bullcrap.  What I've managed to get through so far seems to lead down the path of a sort of divine solipsism...  incredibly stupid, and inherently unprovable.  At the very least, I did want to respond to a defender of the idea who posted in the comments on my prior CTMU post.  As his response was very long, I figured I'd put my reply in an actual blog post.