Science interview with Dr. Alan Glasser on Transmit-Receive

Casey Doran has done an outstanding interview with Dr. Alan Glasser, one of the most brilliant minds working in the field of computational nuclear physics today.

…The fact that Dr. Glasser happens to be my father does not in any way prejudice me in making that claim.  :)  Go here to listen to the episode!

In the interview, the two of them have a fascinating discussion about the state of nuclear fusion research, the future of energy, and the politics of support for the sciences in general.

You may remember Casey as the former producer of the Tacoma-based show Ask An Atheist, who also interviewed me after I appeared on the show in 2010.  He is apparently hard at work launching a new audio podcast which focuses on interviews and discussions about science and public policy.  Show him some support, will you?

 

We get email: Brains, evidence, and burden of proof again

Fresh from the “Someone Is Wrong on the Internet” files, this message was sent via the contact form on the ACA website.

My understanding about atheism is you claim that because there is (supposedly) no evidence for God existing that this equates to there being evidence for God NOT existing (please correct me if I am wrong about this).

Kind of, but not exactly.

The default position for any positive claim lacking evidence is usually disbelief.  “Disbelief” doesn’t mean “proof against,” and it doesn’t mean “dogmatic certainty” — it just means, to put it simply, that you generally don’t believe in stuff without having reasons in favor of it.

To give you a small example: Suppose I told you “You know, I died last week, but I rose from the dead on the following morning, so here I am replying to your email.”  Would you believe me or not?

I think it’s safe to say that you would ask me whether I have evidence or not.  My failure to provide any wouldn’t constitute proof that it didn’t happen, but it wouldn’t look good for me.  Don’t you agree?

Or suppose I tried to sell you a car which, by all appearances, seemed to be a twenty year old lemon, but I said “This car has a secret switch which can make it FLY.  And I’m selling it to you for the incredibly reasonable price of $10,000.”  That’s actually a great price for a flying car… but I’m sure you wouldn’t buy it without evidence.

You see the difference between this position and what you’re saying?

My question to you is this:

1) Do you have a brain? You probably think so.
2) How do you know? For the sake of epistomological argument, you could be merely a computer-based machine, akin to a very advanced robot operating on Artificial Intelligence
3) How can you prove this? Given my previous challenge, you probably can’t prove the existence of your brain without cutting open your skull to demonstrate the presence of white and grey matter)

Yes, I’ve heard this one before, there’s a popular urban legend chain mail about a student who stumps a professor with it.  I have a hard time believing that anyone takes that story seriously.

This line of questioning stems from a total confusion about the difference between “evidence” and proof.  You of course couldn’t prove with 100% certainty that any particular person has their own brain; after all, they COULD be a very clever robot.  However, the evidence that we do have is sufficient to that it’s way more likely that you have a brain than any of the alternatives.  For example:

  • Induction (an important tool of science): Every human skull we’ve ever cut open has contained a brain.  Thus the DEFAULT assumption for any given person is that they match an already observed pattern.
  • Necessity: we have built up a pretty good idea of how brains work, and that they are a the source of cognitive processes in people.  In order to say “Person X lacks a brain” you’d have to come up with a credible alternate explanation of why they’re continuing to move around, speak, and write.  Instead of, you know, lying there.  (By contrast, we don’t have any evidence of any particular processes caused by any gods, which means that’s the possibility that requires explanation.)
  • Ruling out alternatives: It’s easy to SAY that your brain’s been replaced with a computer, but as far as we know this can’t be done successfully with any modern techology.  If those kinds of transplants were commonplace, then there would be evidence for the brain switching theory, but there’s not, so following the known pattern is the simplest conclusion.

4) Do you claim to know everything, as in all possible facts? If not, then what percentage of information about the world do you claim to know? 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 %? Whatever the percentage of information about the world which you have knowledge about, it surely is not a full 100% – if this is correct, then the percentage for which you do not have knowledge could, quite possibly, include existence of supernatural phenomena such as the existence of God.

Sure, the possibility is always there, even if the odds are 10^-googol.  You don’t need to convince me that a god is possible.  I just don’t believe that it’s true, due to lack of evidence.  If you want to change my mind about the likelihood, then find some evidence.

My argument then is as follows:
1) You do not really have logical or rational proof for claiming, with certainty, that God does not exist

And, as I just said, I don’t make that claim of certainty.

2) Therefore, you are, by definition, an agnostic, in other words: you are uncertain and do not know the final truth of the matter with regards to God’s existence.

You’re right.  As I’ve said many times on the show, I’m an agnostic atheist.  “Agnostic” because I don’t know whether a god exists, but “atheist” because, given the information currently available, I don’t share your belief that the god exists.

3) You have therefore been mistaken about calling yourself an atheist, since you actually are an agnostic and are simply in need of getting your terms right before using terms such as “atheist” inaccurately

Wrong.  My usage of the word atheist is consistent with the standard definition (as I am not a theist), and also consistent with the viewpoints of many well-established atheists, such as George Smith and Richard Dawkins

Perhaps a more accurate way of describing yourself, as well as your friends and colleagues on your show, could include:
– agnostic

Yes.

- secular

Yes.

- lay

Why, because I’m not a scientist myself?  Okay, I’m a layperson, but I don’t see what that has to do with atheism.  You and I are both lay irrespective of our religious beliefs.

- irreligious

Yes.

- epistemologists

…Sure, if you want.

Now I’ve agreed to your entire list of alternate descriptions, and I’m also an atheist.  If you want to throw some more labels on there, I’m also a computer programmer, a gamer, a father, etc.  None of those things are mutually exclusive with atheism.

Atheism, however, with its claim to conclusively “know” that God does not exist, seems about as irrational as the very belief in God which it seems to have contempt for.

Atheism doesn’t require such a claim of knowledge.  I’m afraid you have been misinformed.  Withholding beliefs in the absence of evidence isn’t irrational, as is obviously the case in my example of the flying car.

Hope that clears things up.

Why is pseudoscience so appealing?

This weekend I borrowed Beth’s copy of The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. Lynnea and I sometimes read to each on car trips, and neither of us have read it in several years. Since Lynnea has been watching “Cosmos” on Netflix, it seemed like a good book to revisit. Also, one of the most common questions we at the Atheist Experience receive is: “As a new atheist, what books should I think about reading?” I always, always recommend Demon Haunted World first. It’s not a book about atheism, it’s a book about critical thinking, and in my opinion that is the first tool that recovering theists need to have no matter what their ultimate philosophical bent will be.

It’s fun to revisit an old favorite. Reading chapter one, I read Carl Sagan’s story about meeting a taxi driver who was full of wonder and enthusiasm in learning about the natural world… but unfortunately it was all misdirected into pseudoscience. Crystals, Atlantis, horoscopes, faith healing…he believed it all. Sagan suggest s that the man’s passion for pseudoscience could have been — should have been — channeled into scientific curiosity from an early age. But unfortunately, his teachers failed to inspire wonder and excitement for science, which ultimately led him to swallow all these nonsensical claims in the thirst to feed his quest for “knowledge.” Sagan waxes poetic about astronomy and biology, and he wonders why the driver hadn’t ever managed to get so turned on by these real scientific subjects

Of course I love Carl Sagan’s work and enjoy hearing his thoughts again, but after so many years of dealing with callers’ misconceptions about science on a one-on-one basis, I was surprised to find the question a little bit naive. Actually, I think that it’s easy to understand why pseudoscience beats real science, if you just think about the two concepts as competing memes.

Like all memes, concepts within both science and pseudoscience are in constant competition for brain space, and “try” (in a metaphorical sense) to infect as many minds as possible, and to stick in those minds in the long term. But the strategies they use are different. Science has one set of rules for survival, and pseudoscience has a different set. To put it another way, their fitness algorithm is different.

On one hand, a scientific meme lives or dies based on how closely it matches reality. If the meme is untestable, or if it directly conflicts with some known principle of reality, then it dies a gradual death. Researchers don’t find it useful; don’t propagate in their work; don’t refer back to it in other peer reviewed papers; don’t insert it as a critical fact in textbooks; and it is eventually forgotten (or else, like Lamarckian inheritance, it is remembered as a contrast to a meme that won).

On the other hand, a pseudoscience meme does not have any such restriction. Since there is no peer review in the world of pseudoscience, the concepts can only survive based on how many people like them. In other words, they survive solely by being compelling and interesting to a lot of people. So in the battle for headspace in the “wow that’s cool” part of the brain, science is not going to win.

Of course I’m not saying that real science can’t be exciting and interesting. Once you have a grounding in scientific inquiry, the process of measuring things against reality and studying all the complex information about the world we’ve accumulated can be very appealing. But I am saying that being exciting cannot be the criterion for judging science. if we threw out all the science it wasn’t sexy then we’d lose a lot of important discoveries. Science is in the business of figuring out what’s true, regardless of whether the facts are fun or not.

By contrast, pseudoscience is free to follow what TV Tropes calls “The Rule of Cool.” If you are writing a novel, a show, or a movie, you create your own reality. In this reality, it doesn’t matter whether something is scientifically accurate or not. All that matters in your own universe is what looks good on screen or in readers’ heads. That’s how you sell more books, tickets, and advertising space. Fake science is the same way.

How does this tendency to obey the Rule of Cool show up to the average follower? One thing that I notice about pseudoscience is that it personalizes concepts which, in science can be very difficult to relate to:

  • Astronomy allows you to chart the positions of the stars, painstakingly mapping their locations with mathematical formulas applied over centuries of data collection. Astrology tells you that if you know what month somebody is born in, you can know more about the personal qualities of yourself and your friends!
  • Evolution tells us that life, including human life, evolved due to complex but consistent patterns which only emerge after studying thousands of generations. Creationism says that a magic man in the sky created you special, because he wanted to love and care for you for ever and ever!
  • Neurologists study the movement of neurons and synapses on a microscopic level. Sylvia Brown says that I can talk to my dead love ones, even though their brain activity stopped decades ago!
  • A novel about what life was like in Atlantis? Cool! An investigation of the Mediterranean Ocean Sea showing that there was no such place? Not so cool!

I hope you see the point. Science can be cool, and often is cool. But pseudoscience has to be cool, or else it has no other reason to exist.

I’m not just trying to be negative. I think learning should be fun. I admire what Carl Sagan did in bringing real science to amateurs like us, and I think that education is always more effective when it’s entertaining. At the same time, I think we shouldn’t kid ourselves about what science is up against. People like to feel special. They like to feel connected. And for many people, it’s much easier to believe in an exciting falsehood than in a less exciting well-tested theoretical framework.

Edit: In this post, I may have conveyed the mistaken impression that the ideas brought up were mine alone. This was clearly a case of my runaway ego. In reality, many of the points about the survival qualities of science vs. pseudoscience were brought up originally by Lynnea, without whom this post would not have been possible, as we discussed the book. In writing this, I may have unintentionally pre-empted a similar post that she was planning to put up on her own blog, which undoubtedly would have been excellent.

Open thread on episode #695

Today’s show was, as usual, fraught with difficulties, though not as many as we originally suspected. Once again, the calls were problematic, with some callers having a hard time hearing us. Whether the problem is with our audio, their cell phones, or a combination of everything, is unclear. But we’re well aware of ChannelAustin’s long history of audio problems. Not only that, we dropped the damn UStream feed in the last ten minutes, but the full video should be fine.

It turns out that the first call today, with Mark from Austin Stone Church, may not have been a problem on our end after all. Russell and I thought we just lost the call, which happens. After the program, Frank and John in the control room told me that Mark’s feed was just fine. Only after we’d brought up problems with Matt Slick’s TAG, Mark apparently stopped talking, then hung up.

If that’s the case, it can’t have been Mark’s proudest moment. According to him, he had the whole congregation watching (awesome!), and, if he indeed hung up, they watched him basically wither in his defense of the faith without much of a fight. Still, we’d have put him at the head of the line had he called back. Better luck next time, Mark.

Note to self: When Christians call the program and immediately demand politeness from us, they are probably about to launch into a string of absurdities and falsehoods that they don’t want us to call them on. Frankly, the minute Mark listed the risible Ray Comfort as some authority on evolution, and repeated the tiresome canard that there are “no transitional fossils,” I was done with politeness. No, I’m not going to scream nasty names at you while I correct you. But the fact is, with the plethora of scientific literature and research out there demonstrating to as high a degree of certainty as science can promise that evolution is real, there is no excuse for willful ignorance and the deliberate dissemination of disinformation about what science actually says. Frankly, the creationist line that there are no transitional fossils is on the same level of intellectual irresponsibility as flat Earth belief.

This is an aspect of religious fundamentalist dishonesty I think deserves zero tolerance, and there’s been way too much coddling and misplaced “fairness” towards a “controversy” that does not actually exist. If you’ve only read Ray Comfort and not any actual scientific text, and you want to call us and challenge us on evolution, know this: it will not be a pleasant experience for you. You are simply not in possession of the facts, and we will steamroll you with them.

Also, since the gang at Stone Church seem to think Matt Slick is impressive somehow, let me share with you an email we got from a viewer today, who passed along a question from Slick.

How can an atheist trust his own judgments if his brain is completely restricted to the neurochemical laws and cannot operate outside of those laws? Doesn’t this necessitate that all the laws/chemical reactions/brain arrangement require certain reactions based upon the stimulus that produces a specific and predictable result due to that person’s particular neurochemical arrangement in his brain? How then can such a person trust that his conclusions about the universe be accurate since what he believes and interprets is governed by those laws? How does such required neurochemical reactions produced truth and proper logical inference? If the atheists cannot answer this, then it, demonstrates his worldview has serious problems.

Jeff Dee caught this grenade and lobbed it right back.

How can a theist trust his own judgments if his mind is completely unconstrained by any rules? Doesn’t this necessitate that all of his thoughts are random disconnected nonsense? How then can such a person trust that his conclusions about the universe are accurate, since what he believes and interprets is NOT governed by any laws? How does such unconstrained rambling produce truth and proper logical inference? If the theist cannot answer this, then it demonstrates his worldview has serious problems.

So I’d suggest apologists start looking for another hero. Matt Slick isn’t as slick as he thinks.

We get email

Now, I’m not going to claim that this is the most unusual or interesting mail we’ve ever received; it’s actually a fairly mundane rehashing of common creationist cluelessness. But the final replay really makes the email exchange one for the ages.

My responses are embedded in his italicized message, but the original message was one huge block paragraph.

I would like to know how and why atheists can knowledgeably ignore the laws of physics when considering such things as creation?

It’s interesting that you would say that, because it turns out that physicists tend to be atheists far more than most people. According to fairly recent surveys, while around 85% of people in the world believe in some kind of God, somewhere around 60% of practicing physical scientists have doubts about the existence of God, and among members of the National Academy of Sciences — one of the most elite groups of scientists in the world — only about 7% are believers.

http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/sci_relig.htm

It seems that more advanced a person is in scientific disciplines, the less likely they are to believe in God. Maybe you should take up your question with them.

all the laws of physics prove that nothing can come from nothing, so how did this universe come into exsistance, if not from nothing, where did that original “something”, most often referrred to as matter or ssome other form, come from?

Big Bang theory doesn’t attempt to address this question. The universe came to its present state around 14.5 billion years ago. Before that, everything in the universe was compressed into a small enough state that known laws of physics can’t be applied properly.

Therefore, the Big Bang is not an assertion that anything came “from nothing.” Could have always existed. Could have been generated out of matter from a meta-universe. Could have spontaneously come into existence through a matter/antimatter reaction. The responsible perspective is to accept that we don’t know, and won’t until a new way to collect evidence is worked out.

You, on the other hand, seem to believe that you do know. And your belief is that the universe was in fact created from nothing, by a being who either always existed or, in turn, came into existence from nothing itself. I think it’s remarkable that you don’t see the irony in that position.

more importantly, id like you to address cosmological singularity, which has been accepted by most, if not al physicists, concluding that there is, and always has been God,

I don’t know where you’re getting your information from, although my guess would be that it’s from within a certain part of your body. As I’ve already pointed out, you can get actual information from scientists about how much they believe in god, and it’s considerably less than the general public. Besides which, even scientists who believe in God would very rarely claim that this believe is in some way scientifically proven. Most of them hold to some form of Stephen Jay Gould’s idea of “non-overlapping magisteria,” claiming that faith in god and scientific evidence should be held as dealing with separate domains.

Almost no formal papers have been published in mainstream, peer reviewed scientific journals addressing the question of a god’s existence, and those that have slipped through are generally not cited as relevant by any other scientific works. This is so widely acknowledged that creationists routinely claim that the “scientific establishment” is involved in a massive conspiracy against their work. This is, of course, baseless paranoia, since the reason that their work doesn’t get published is that it’s a load of poorly supported, pseudoscientific quackery.

therefore disproving the core of atheist beliefs. in such a society today that is so scientifically based, it is ignorant to ignore such things as cosmological singularity, as well as other laws of physics, including einstiens relativity, and quantum mechanics, which even led einstien to believe in the exsistance of God.

Somebody’s been lying to you, dude.

http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/quotes_einstein.html
“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
– Albert Einstein, in a letter March 24, 1954; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 43.

thank you for your time, tho you’ll be wasting your efforts trying to disprove the laws of the universe to justify your living in denial.

Thanks for the vote of confidence. Ta ta!

And here’s the reply. Wait for it….

lol you actually wasted youre time to rely to me ??? hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!1

THANK YO SO MUCH FOR MAKING MY DAY! hahahahaah! thank you! wow you really would waste youre time like this wouldnt you!!! hahahaha!

im glad to know that you “care” enough about your “public” to reply to this! hahahahahahaha!

YOU ARE A FOOL!!!!!

(by the way my email contained a virus)

have a “wonderful” life and then die!!!!!

Apart from being scientifically illiterate and knowing fuck-all about computers in the bargain, I’m kind of charmed to see that the victory which made his day was the recognition that he is wasting people’s time. If only all creationists could be so self-aware!

Not quite the double standard you were thinking

Hey, kids. Yes, I’m back. Been back a few days in fact. And I’m finally ready to post again, so here’s my first, in reply to a letter received responding to the conversation with Behe fan “Garry” on the last show I did with Matt. Our correspondent begins:

I am an undergraduate student at the University of Florida, and I am a friendly/open-minded agnostic theist. So with my introduction out of the way, here is my email:

In the Problem of Evil debate, skeptics and/or non-believers of God’s existence formulate their argumentation as follows:

(1) If there were an all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful God, then (due to His unlimited knowledge and unlimited power) He would be able to prevent gratuitous/pointless evil and suffering that is not necessary for an adequately compensating good.

(2) Because God would have such a capability, and because He is supposedly all-good, he would act on that capability and prevent the gratuitous/pointless suffering and evil that is not necessary for an adequately compensating good.

(3) But, there is lots of evils and sufferings that occur in the world (which have not been prevented by the supposed all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good God), and much of it is not logically necessary for any adequately compensating good (and therefore seems to be gratuitous/pointless).

(4) Therefore, the conclusion is that there does not exist a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-good.

Now, many theists argue against the argument of ‘The Problem of Evil’ presented above by way of refuting premise (3) and saying that there is no evil that is gratuitous/pointless, and that all evil is logically necessary for adequately compensating goods. One of the ways in which they do this is by presenting ‘The Contrast Response,’ which basically says that if there were no evil in the world, we would not be aware of the good. God then allows evil to make us aware of goodness, since this awareness in itself is a good.

But, many skeptics and/or non-believers of God’s existence do not accept ‘The Contrast Response’ because they claim that it is not necessarily the case that our minds work this way. Essentially, they believe that we would still be aware of goodness even if there were less (or even no) evil to contrast it. So they say that ‘The Contrast Response’ is logically invalid.

That being said, I am assuming that you (Matt and Martin) are not exceptions (and have the same point of contention in regards to ‘The Contrast Response’).

So if I am actually correct about my assumption and your point of contention and belief that our minds don’t need contrasting things in order to be aware of (or recognize) non-contrasting things, why then (in episode # 660, which occurred on Sunday, 6/06/2010 and while responding to Garry from Manhattan, NY and his example of irreducibly complex systems) did you (Matt and Martin) flip the contrast response (which you do not accept as being valid in the problem of evil argument) around in order to claim (within the context of the argument of creationism) that in order to know if something was created, we have to first have an example of something that wasn’t created to compare it with (or contrast it to)? To me, this seems like a logically fallacious contradiction???

Our correspondent is wrong in his assumption of where I stand on “The Contrast Response.” I don’t reject the notion that a knowledge of the difference between good and evil is a vital element of ascertaining one’s moral positions. What I reject is the notion that an omnibenevolent God is necessary for such an understanding, especially one who would continue to allow gratuitous evils to occur long after the human race had well and truly understood those differences and had established laws to punish them. Why, in this day and age, would God allow (to use the most button-mashing of examples) the continued sexual abuse of children? Are there significant pockets of human civilization (apart from the Vatican) who still do not understand this is a deplorable act, and therefore, children must still be put through the anguish of sexual abuse in order to make those people aware of its evil, and of the goodness of not abusing children in contrast?

Another objection would be that, even if one accepts the notion of God’s allowing acts of evil in the world for the sake of “compensating goods” (and I don’t know that I accept the idea of non-victims of evil realizing how lucky they are to be a “compensating good”), this would still not absolve God of the moral responsibility to stop such acts of evil when he can. Honestly, in what way would God’s refusal to prevent the sexual abuse of a child — thereby presumably allowing us to experience the horror of the act so as to better appreciate it when children aren’t raped — constitute a better “compensating good” than for him simply to blast the assailant to smithereens with a well-aimed lightning bolt? Who would be sitting around thinking, “Gosh, I don’t understand, why did God do that to that poor man?”

Why establish good and evil as concepts if not to enforce them? A common argument in theodicy is that God must allow evil for an understanding of good. But how are we mere mortals expected to reach such an understanding if God doesn’t explain which is which and punish the evil when it happens? Instead, it seems we are meant to work it out for ourselves which are good and evil acts, as God apparently cannot interfere in the interests of not undermining our supposed free will.

The great irony of this form of theodicy is that it ends up rendering God irrelevant. Atheists and secular moralists do argue that we are the ones responsible for determining the differences between good and evil…but that we are perfectly capable of doing this by using our intellects and our empathy to evaluate the consequences of human actions, rejecting those which are destructive.

Any theodicy that proposes a God as the architect of moral precepts, only to immediately take Him out of the picture, leaving humanity to deal with good and evil on our own, pragmatic terms, might as well concede the argument and pack it in. A God who refuses to prevent gratuitous destructive acts for any reason is one who has, if He exists, surrendered His moral authority and is deserving of no thanks from us.

Additionally, even if I am wrong about my assumption [and you guys actually DO accept the contrast response as a good response to the problem of evil—or reject it for another reason that I have not presented above—(and therefore have not contradicted yourselves)], why do you even find the merit in asking a theist to provide an example of something that was not created, anyways? Essentially, asking a theist to provide an example of something that wasn’t created is unfair, because if he/she is a common theist and believes that God exists, he/she also believes that EVERYTHING [including natural things] in our physical universe was created by Him (which would mean that to the theist there would be no example of an uncreated thing that he/she could provide, because no such example would exist).

As such, the theist’s lack of ability to provide such an example does not prove (or even serve to insinuate) that there was no creator (or God). Moreover, it only further begs the question. So essentially, I think that asking Garry to provide such an example was an invalid (and therefore unnecessary) form of argumentation.

This is because, like Garry, you fail to understand that a key component of any scientific hypothesis — which is what ID wants to be — is falsifiability. In order to determine if your hypothesis is even valid in its basic premises, you have to be able to answer this question: “If what I am proposing is not true, what conditions would I expect to find existing today?” Therefore someone insisting that life was intelligently designed must be able to answer, “If life were not designed, what would it look like?” It’s hardly unfair or invalid. It’s basic science.

And y
es, this question has been answered in regards to evolution, and very simply. When asked what he thought would falsify evolution, biologist J.B.S. Haldane answered simply, “Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian.” If anything in the fossil record were not where it was supposed to be in the timeline, this would be a problem. But it has not been a problem. Indeed, evolutionary theory has been validated many times in its predictive power, another important factor establishing scientific validity. Tiktaalik was found right where paleontologists were sure a certain transitional fossil of its type would have to be found if it existed at all.

If insisting that Garry state the way in which ID or any other design hypothesis was falsifiable was “unfair,” it can only be in the way a scientifically illiterate fellow set himself up to be humiliated in his ignorance on live television. But that’s hardly our fault. If some creationist calls us, trying to peddle an inferior product, and proceeds to lecture authoritatively on a subject about which he is in fact ignorant, a little humiliation is the least he has coming.

Kcuf the muthakcufas!

So. We have artificial life. Kickass. But wait, what’s this? Why, right on cue, if it isn’t a bunch of showboating, pious old cretins in dresses wagging their fingers at the presumptuousness of scientists, and insisting that the creation of life is the sole purview of some invisible magic man in the sky they seem to believe in.

“We look at science with great interest. But we think above all about the meaning that must be given to life,” said Fisichella, who heads Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life. “We can only reach the conclusion that we need God, the origin of life.”

Now, one could respond to that in the usual way, by pointing out that before they can make claims like that about their God, they should prove the old spectre exists in the first frickin’ place.

But of course, we don’t even need to go there. Because the very idea of an organized crime syndicate responsible for enabling and protecting the largest and most appalling epidemic of child rape in the history of civilization having the audacity to lecture anyone, let alone scientists, on “the ethical dimension” of anyfuckingthing, is quite simply gobsmacking. Now, at least, you know why those guys wear those huge flowing robes. They need them to contain their colossal solid brass balls!

So all that’s left is to give this little ditty another airing, I do believe. Take it away, Timbo.

PS: The comments on that Yahoo news article are gold. The RCC has a serious public image crisis. I wonder why…

We get email: another creationist punching bag

So today, there’s a fellow who’s shown up in our inboxes claiming, at different times, to be a “Christian Psychiatrist” (both words capitalized), a neuroscientist, and a physician, though his nick is “risky-kid,” which doesn’t sound like any doctor I want to see. I call bullshit. But maybe the guy got his degrees from Patriot University and that’s how they do things. Anyway, he caught me at the right time, and so if you wish to amuse yourself reading my beatdown, here ’tis. I’m in italics.


Caveat: you are likely to find the tone of this response extremely condescending and rude. This isn’t an apology, merely a heads-up. I’m afraid public displays of smug ignorance bring out the worst in me. It’s not a thing I feel I need to work on.

From:
Subject: RE: I am a thiest I come in peace
To: [email protected]
Date: Thursday, May 13, 2010, 4:37 PM

My approach it an integrative evidence based approach, in which scripture and nature rightly understood always harmonize. If there are apparent contradictions I look for errors in both my understanding of scripture and my understanding of nature. I have found errors in both places over time.

What is your basis for considering scripture valid as evidence of anything in the first place?

I find Darwinian evolution held together only by an insistence on forcing evidence to be interpreted in ways that are favorable to that theory rather than actually letting the evidence speak for itself.

Good for you, but that only shows you fail to understand the evidence for evolution and how it shores up the theory.

The list of scientific evidence which refutes Darwinian evolution is enormous, but this email isn’t a place for me to recite all of such evidence.

Nope. Sorry. You don’t get to show up here and spout the same tired creationist canards without backing them up. And yes, we’re aware that there are loads of creationist websites out there making arguments against evolution that sound very scholarly and scientific. But has any of their research actually been reproduced by other people without an agenda to push? Where are the peer-reviewed articles demonstrating that evolution by natural selection has been refuted? I mean in legitimate, recognized scientific journals, not those the creationists print up to circulate amongst themselves.

Those biased by years of evolutionary education however have failed to see how subjective their thinking has become and instead criticize any interpretation that deviates from the “accepted” norm as “blind” or “faith” based.

Perhaps the “accepted norm” is “accepted” because it’s what the evidence actually supports. Seriously, you started out with basic scientific illiteracy and now you’re projecting the attitudes of creationists onto scientists, and you’re not even trying not to be lame about it.

Sorry, but until you show you actually know a damn thing about evolutionary biology, I see no reason to take any of this drivel seriously. If you wish any credibility for your claim that you have “read widely in the scientific literature”, simply demonstrate that you’re right and that you have the expertise you claim to have. Here is your assignment:

1. Explain endogenous retroviruses using the evolutionary model.
2. Explain the creationist alternative.
3. Demonstrate precisely how the latter refutes the former, with citations.
Extra Credit: Submit your work to Nature and win a Nobel Prize.

But when one has already concluded that creation didn’t happen, and evolution did, then all the evidence is filtered through a bias which prevents real learning.

Yeah, again, you seem to have covered the whole subject of projection pretty well in your training to be a “Christian Psychiatrist”. Of course, it could never be the case that someone who has already concluded there’s an invisible magic man in the sky filters evidence through that preconception, and has “real learning” prevented thereby.

As a physician, and particularly a neuroscientist, I do find the common theory that the brain evolved over millions of years to be unscientific.

Then I’m going to take a wild guess and conclude that you’re either A) not a neuroscientist B) a lousy neuroscientist.

I have never seen one scientific experiment, reproducible, in which any species, by forces of nature and environment grew new lobes onto its brain. This is what is commonly taught in the neuro literature and I ask what evidence to support this – of course there is none.

I thought you were familiar with the scientific literature. It took me precisely 2 seconds to Google this.

But tell me, where are the reproducible experiments that have shown Godidit? I mean, clearly, the scientific literature must be overflowing with them. Or is it that the Big Science Conspiracy has struck again, I wonder?

Really, only three things need to exist for evolution to occur, and they’re all things that we know exist: Sexual reproduction, heritable variation, and selection pressure. Perhaps you have some research that shows none of those things come into play in the process after all…?

Another equally resonable intepretation of the evidence is that a designer built and expanded His design to create variations on a theme. When we consider all the vehicles on the road from carts, to carriages, to bicycles, to autos, trucks etc. We can see various elements in common to all and order them from simple to complex, yet none would argue that these vehicles evolved on their own, all would rightly realize that designers included elements that are essential to the function of each (wheels) etc.

Yeah yeah yeah. And if you found a watch on the beach…

Honestly, there are 18-year-old biology freshmen who could explain selection to you. You’re making the basic creationist fallacy of comparing artifacts to natural organisms. The development from simplicity to complexity in evolutionary science really is Biology 101 stuff, and very widely understood by those, unlike you, actually versed in the field. Seriously, your remedial education begins here.

If that doesn’t interest you, then demonstrate, please, that the concept of a designer is scientifically falsifiable. What would a non-designed lifeform look like?

Therefore, I do not believe science has provided reasonable evidence to conclude a naturalistic explanation, and rather I find the weight of evidence for a designer

Huh? Then where is that evidence? All you’ve shown us is what you consider “reasonable interpretations” of evidence you haven’t even convinced us you understand at a baseline level. (Indeed you’ve shown pretty unambiguously that you don’t.) And all you backed that up with is whining about how you think scientists are all biased and subjective for not seeing your god in everything. You also seem to think that “integrating” modern scientific evidence with the writings of a Bronze Age holy book produced by an ignorant, pre-scientific, and primitive culture that barely even had indoor plumbing to be a valid approach to researching this vast and complex field. Which, frankly, makes about as much sense as figuring out how to get a girlfriend by integrating your actual interactions with women with the experiences of Archie and Peter Parker in comic books. In other words, you have something of a credibility deficit here.

and in fact find two antagonistic principles at play throughout the entire earth ecosystem – what I term the law of love, which is the principle of life, and the survival of the fittest principle (fear and selfishness) which is an infection which damages and brings death. Viruses, as I see it are examples of the infection to creation which damages and destroys, their very function is merely self replication and take without giving, and results in destroying the host and
itself in the end. This is exactly what sin is and does, selfishness, taking, destorying and dying.

Well I guess I have gone on long enough.

Long enough for me to conclude you are either not being truthful about being an actual neuroscientist widely read in the literature, or that academic standards for people in your profession have crashed through the floor. Perhaps you got your degree from Patriot University?