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Mar 22 2014

Denser Than The Pre-Expansion Universe

Expansion of the cosmos
At a faster pace than light
Renders Genesis a fairy tale,
It seems—alas, not quite.

The mental calisthenics
That it takes to make them fit
Will keep believers straining, when
An honest mind would quit

“A believer and a scientist”,
Is how she chose to live—
But disconfirming evidence
Meant something had to give

Azusa University
Is Christian to the core:
“The big bang proves the bible right!”—
Discrepancy no more!

It isn’t doing science
When, no matter what you find
The conclusion never alters:
See? The cosmos is designed!

All creations need creators
Why, it’s only common sense!
Seems the pre-expansion ‘verse
Is not the only thing that’s dense.

On the CNN Belief Blog, a Dr.Leslie Wickman, director of the Center for Research in Science at Azusa Pacific University, asks “Does the Big Bang breakthrough offer proof of God?

The prevalent theory of cosmic origins prior to the Big Bang theory was the “Steady State,” which argued that the universe has always existed, without a beginning that necessitated a cause.

However, this new evidence strongly suggests that there was a beginning to our universe.

If the universe did indeed have a beginning, by the simple logic of cause and effect, there had to be an agent – separate and apart from the effect – that caused it.

That sounds a lot like Genesis 1:1 to me: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.”

And she’s a scientist! So you know this can’t just be her faith talking.

As a modern believer and a scientist, when I look up at the sky on a clear starry night, I am reminded that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). I am in awe of the complexity of the physical world, and how all of its pieces fit together so perfectly and synergistically.

In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, the writer tells us that God “established (his) covenant with day and night, and with the fixed laws of heaven and earth.”

These physical laws established by God to govern interactions between matter and energy result in a finely tuned universe that provides the ideal conditions for life on our planet.

Just ask the dinosaurs, who ruled for longer than we have been around, or the beetles or bacteria, either of whom dwarf us both by numbers and by mass. Or perhaps for humanity, who can’t live below the sea or above a certain altitude, but who, given the right sort of environment, will multiply ourselves into a famine situation, and who are doing our best to destroy these ideal conditions.

As we observe the complexity of the cosmos, from subatomic particles to dark matter and dark energy, we quickly conclude that there must be a more satisfying explanation than random chance. Properly practiced, science can be an act of worship in looking at God’s revelation of himself in nature.

Properly practiced, of course. And the worth of an explanation is often reflected in how “satisfying” it is.

One wonders how it is that a self-described practicing scientist can look at the same evidence that, for some, banishes God from His last hiding place, and call it evidence for His existence. Oh, that’s right–one doesn’t wonder at all: it’s her job. She’s the director of the Center for Research in Science at a place that already knows what all the really big answers are. After all, you can find these answers in the bible.

Mar 21 2014

Someone Is… On The Internet

An article on politics—
No if, no ands, no buts—
Will bring out Libertarians
Who’ll demonstrate they’re nuts
But also arch-conservatives
And liberals by the score
Who’ll engage in verbal fisticuffs
And all return for more.

An essay on religion—
Any angle you might choose—
An opinionated blog post
Or the fair and balanced news
Will find arguments aplenty
By extremists on both sides
(Oh, and everyone’s extremist)
As predictable as tides

A feminist perspective—
On whatever thing you want—
Will, like maggots on a rotting corpse,
Erupt in shouts of “cunt!”
Any argument transmogrified,
Distorted, shouted down;
The important thing is showing
Who’s the big dog in this town

A report about the climate,
Evolution, or vaccines,
Gun control, or education,
GM foods, or gay Marines—
In the comments, it’s a certainty,
As daytime follows night,
That opposing sides will gather there
And then begin to fight.

A picture of a kitten—
Or a puppy, or some ducks—
The comments start with “ooh!” and “squee!”
And then—“Obama sucks!”
Or a photo of a fetus
Or “nice pussy!” or some threat…
It’s depressing; it’s disturbing;
It’s annoying… it’s the ‘net.

I was going to link the article that inspired this particular verse, but it frankly doesn’t deserve singling out. And I don’t mean that in a positive way–it does deserve being seen as shameful… but so do countless others that could just as easily have inspired today’s verse… and, to some extent, did, I guess. I am sure you’ve had the experience (unless you have taken the very good advice of NEVER READ THE COMMENTS!!!!) of reading some innocuous piece of reporting, or some blog post (whether a report on breaking news, new science, or what the writer did last night or found in their shoes this morning), and there in the comments, a non-sequitor (or at best, tangential) comment linking the writing to the commenter’s particular grudge–Obama, usually, or atheists or christians or muslims or libertarians or gays or blacks or trans or women or mentally ill or republican or democrat or jews or nazis or activists of all sorts… it will depend on who are the naturally occurring flora and fauna at that particular site. If your experience is with completely different accusations, all that means is that you read different sites than I do.

It almost doesn’t matter what the original writing was about; the real action is in the comments. People who say this is a post-racial society… don’t read the comments. People who say this is a post-feminist society… don’t read the comments. People who say the real victims today are conservative white Christian males… don’t read the comments. Reading the comments is like turning on the lights in a filthy room–you see things you really wish you had not.

I think I’ll go shower now.

I suppose this is related.

Mar 20 2014

“An Abortion, But Not A Tan”

“A young women if this bill passes can get an abortion, but not a tan, an abortion would be legal but a tan would not, think of it.” Rep. Steve Vaillancourt (R-Manchester)

She’s much too young for cigarettes,
And way too young for booze
Too young by far for voting;
There’s no telling who she’d choose!
She’s still too young for driving—
She could wipe out in a skid
But she’s old enough, or so they say,
To bear and raise a kid.

Too young for getting married
And too young to get tattoos
Too young to buy a handgun
Or to gamble (win or lose)
Too young to do a lot of things,
No ifs, no buts, no maybes…
But magically, she’s old enough
To be put in charge of babies!

I thought about it, Steve. There are, as you can see, quite a few things the state has decided are in its best interest, and the best interest of its citizens, to regulate. We don’t allow 14-yr-olds to vote, with or without their parents’ permission–that is the state’s choice. We don’t allow the parents to decide that their 12-year-old is responsible enough to drive. Mind you, parents can be idiots sometimes, so it is quite often the case that they will be the source of the kid’s cigarettes or beer well before it is legal; in such cases, we hold the parents liable for contributing to the delinquency of a minor!

Yup, kids make stupid decisions at times. They do things before they are mature enough to make good decisions (and of course, many adults simply make bad decisions, but the state has decided they can be responsible for themselves at a certain point). Forcing a teenaged girl to go through with a pregnancy is actually a fairly horrible thing to do; she is not mature enough, physically or emotionally, for childbirth, let alone for parenthood. One could make a strong case that it is in the state’s (and certainly the girls’) best interest to mandate abortion in cases of young teen pregnancy… but of course, such a law would never pass. Allowing choice, though, is not at all an extreme position–rather, it is a middle ground between mandating birth and mandating termination. And it is the only one that recognizes the bodily autonomy of the girl herself.

So, yeah, Steve, if the Tanning Safety bill had passed, a girl could have an abortion legally before she could go to a tanning bed legally (given the presence of the sun, the bill would not prohibit her from actually getting a tan); and this position is perfectly consistent with being concerned for the best interest of the girl. Your pro-skin-cancer, pro-forced-birth position is also consistent, if being cruel to girls is your aim.

(Of course, “A Good Cartoon” had this covered a while back.)

Mar 19 2014

“The Squid’s Embrace…”

Down in the depths
Of the salty Atlantic
A seaglider measured the signs of the sea–
Monotonous work,
And it isn’t romantic,
At least, I’d be bored if the glider were me

Up to the surface
And down to the bottom
Again and again, that was all that it did
No chance for a hickey,
Yet, somehow, it’s got ‘em!
A gift from the hug of an amorous squid

Of all of the stories
That science discovers
The saddest of tales that I’ve ever heard (yet!)
Is the tragic ordeal
Of the two star-crossed lovers
The Romeo Squid and his fair Juliet.

Over at Deep Sea News, evidence of the tragic end to a classic Romeo & Juliet story (with very very cool pics!). They came from different backgrounds: she was a scientific instrument measuring the temperature and salinity of the ocean depths, and he was a squid. But their love was as true as it was brief–they shared an embrace, he shed tears (which she collected and measured), and they parted forever. Still more moving than that silly scene in Titanic.

How do I know it was love, rather than a battle (as DSN suggest is a possibility) or ecoterrorism (as PZ’s post might suggest to a conspiracy theorist)? Simple–how else would you explain this? (that link is “The Anachronism”, a beautiful short film that is well worth your watching, but you should know it is 15 minutes long. When you have that amount of time available, watch–you will be very glad you did!)

Extra points for anyone who knows the context of the title without looking it up!

Mar 16 2014

That’s not a Tree of Life–THIS is a tree of life.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, on Cosmos, brings up the “Tree of Life” metaphor. I like mine better.
Tree

Artist: Mike McRae

Mar 15 2014

Meat

Just finished an absolutely wonderful book (about which, more later); in the notes was a mention of Terry Bisson’s wonderful short story “They’re Made out of Meat”. Studio 360 aired a version a while ago–give a listen:

Bisson’s site has the transcript (or rather, the original story), for those who want. I love it.

Mar 13 2014

On Bodily Autonomy

There are accidents and incidents
And surgeries and wars—
There’s a constant need for blood, and so,
We’d like to borrow yours.

You can spare a pint or so a month—
We’ll take it from your arm—
And to make the process easier,
I’m setting up a farm:

We’ll keep you while you serve your term,
Three-quarters of a year,
And harvest blood and marrow—
For the greater good, it’s clear

You’ll be saving lives by dozens
So you’ll gladly do your part
Sure, we’re forcing your donation
Still, it’s coming from your heart

You’re in servitude to others
It’s a slavery of sorts
But you’re saving lives, and so we know
You’re good and willing sports

You can put your wishes second
You can put your life on hold
You can meet your obligations
You can do what you are told

You claim rights we cannot trample
Or shout “Freedom!” till you’re hoarse
You have life inside your bloodstream…
If we have to, we’ll use force

To complain’s unpatriotic—
But extremists raise their voice
And they’ll blather “it’s my body”
And the foolish “it’s my choice”

If the state controls your body
Then that argument’s a dud;
For the sake of someone else, then,
We’ll be harvesting your blood.

***

I doubt I need to put this in context.

Mar 13 2014

Intrinsically Worthless

From a comment at an article “The Empty, Boring Atheism of Richard Dawkins” (from the Catholic World Report, naturally): “What is an “appetite for wonder” in an intrinsically meaningless universe but simply an appetite for diversion and entertainment?”

I love my spouse and children—
Well, I say I call it “love”,
But it doesn’t hold a candle
To what comes from God above.

I marvel at a symphony—
In this case, number seven—
But, of course, it sounds like screeching chalk
Compared to harps in heaven

A mountain, or an ocean,
Or a sunset or a birth—
But I know there is no meaning
In the things I see on earth

Intrinsically, we have no worth,
We really must admit.
Intrinsically, without a God,
Intrinsically, we’re shit.

The universe is meaningless
And all our lives, as well
Though I’ve never been to heaven
Clearly, life on earth is hell

I pretend to love my children
I pretend to love my wife
But I know that, once in heaven,
I’ll forget about my life

Cos it’s God that gives life meaning,
Not our family, not our friends—
Not our passions, not our pleasures,
All erased when this life ends

Life on earth is mere diversion—
Entertainment till we die—
Others strive to make life better;
I, myself, must wonder: why?

What’s the use of helping others?
What’s the use of pitching in?
When it’s God, not man, deciding
What is good, and what is sin

I can’t know what’s good or righteous;
I can’t know what’s bad or wrong
I can’t know that what I thought was right,
God hated all along!

I can’t trust my own perceptions
I can’t fathom what is true
All I know without a doubt is
I know better than do you.

You, who love your spouse and children,
Music, mountains, seas, and more
You, who love without a God to tell you
What your love is for

What a pity you’re so hollow
What a shame you have no God
What a horror that your world
Is just this “natural” façade

All your life amounts to nothing!
Can’t you get it through your head?
Can’t you see? The only meaning
We can have is once we’re dead!

But of course… I got it wrong (so did several others on the comment thread-and in truth, I wrote it after only his first comment, so I didn’t know). The commenter, identified as a moderator, on Catholic World Report, does not actually believe in a god. Go figure. His big deal is not the absence of a god, but rather the absence of intrinsic meaning. In an intrinsically meaningless universe, what we are left with is mere diversion, mere entertainment, nothing worthwhile.

And he is dead wrong.

I will, of course, grant the “no intrinsic meaning” bit, but there is no magic in the word “intrinsic” that makes meaning any more… meaningful. Money has no intrinsic value–it is paper and metal, or bits of information. The intrinsic value of a $100 bill and a $1 bill are the same. And when we ran on the gold standard, nothing was different–it was social agreement that made gold the standard rather than quartz, or chickens (I now have the image of a one-chicken bill, and making change for a goat bill).

And yes, what is meaningful in life–doing good, fighting for causes, creating art or music, advancing science–all are meaningful solely because we say so. Because that’s what meaning is. Specifying “intrinsically” before “meaningful” is a bit like specifying “invisible” before “pink”. We understand the words from other contexts, but they don’t belong together in this one. Noting that life (or anything) has no intrinsic meaning or worth is trivial, and suggesting that because life is somehow diminished–even worthless–because it does not have this characteristic which it never had to begin with. These fictional modifiers–”intrinsic” is one, “ultimate” is another–serve only to introduce an impossibility, our lack of which is somehow damning.

Just remember, that argument has no intrinsic worth.

Mar 11 2014

On The Futile Search For Universal Morality

The study of morality would vastly be improved
If god could be removed

Without the false assumption that a culture’s moral laws
Had supernatural cause

There’s no Platonic heaven where morality is found
But rather, look around!

Morality will not be seen expressed as an ideal
Morality… is real

So, yeah… I guess this one is based on a report of a debate or disagreement or something, between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig, on the topic of morality—or rather, on “objective moral values”. Interesting, or tedious, or whatever. Craig wants morality to be based on God’s revelation, Harris will find it in our brains, our DNA, or some such.

Of course, they are both wrong.

Both want universals, though of a different sort. It’s as if “universal morality” is the all-or-nothing position—and it is certainly the case that (some, at least) theists will pounce on any sort of non-universality as taking the “anything goes” position. But the fact that these theists frame the question that way is no excuse for looking for an atheist equivalent, when none is required. And indeed, the site reporting the argument appears also to be looking for a universal morality:

Gravity is not dependent upon our worldview. And if objective moral values exist, neither should they.

At any rate, Harris argues that something is morally good if it promotes the flourishing of conscious creatures. Craig counters by saying something is morally good if God says it is. With Craig, we are back to the question of which god. As for Harris, I tend to agree with him, but even he has to admit his starting point is wholly arbitrary self-interested.

But why should objective moral values be universal? Let us suppose our needs are universal (even “promotion of the flourishing of conscious creatures”, though I don’t honestly think that’s it)—our environments are much varied, and the ways our needs may be filled are necessarily dependent on our varied environments. And morality is (when you look at what it is and does, rather than what is claimed) a means of controlling behavior, promoting some things and prohibiting others, independently of any sort of governmental law. From here (Hocutt, 2010, an excellent analysis of morality):

What, then, is morality? Protagoras, the greatest of the Greek sophists, got the answer right when he argued that morality is social practices. Morality in the real world consists not of a priori principles but of customs and conventions, tacit understandings about what conduct will be accepted and what will not. Members of diverse groups, we human beings are each of us subject to rules made by our group for our group, so applicable to our group and no other. These rules, some more important than others, are not written down anywhere and, being ad hoc adjustments to contingent circumstances, are always unsystematic and ill defined; furthermore, they are subject to change. They exist, however, in the form of more or less regular practices reinforced by more or less effective sanctions.

Looking for universals in a varied environment is a fool’s errand (which is every bit a strike against those who claim a genetic morality as against those who claim to speak for a god—in both cases, the incontrovertible fact of differing moral standards across cultures speaks against any sort of universal morality).

Because of the contingency and fallibility of these rules, we cannot discover them by thought alone or by using the test of utility. Instead, we learn our moralities by being rewarded for complying with them and punished for contravening them—methods that teach us to feel good when we ―do the right thing, guilty when we do not. Furthermore, our duty to obey these rules has nothing to do with culturally transcendent standards. Duty consists entirely in the fact that obedience to the rules is a condition of good standing in the group. We human beings are certainly rational animals, but we are even more fundamentally tribal animals; and while prudence is a dictate of reason, morality is largely tribal instinct and group custom. We are bound to it in the first analysis by a genetically based need for the approval of our fellows and in the final analysis by their coercion to behave as they desire—not, as Kant erroneously claimed, by choice of an undetermined will. In fact, as even the intellectually honest Kant admitted in the end, the idea of such a will is unintelligible.

Morality is, fundamentally, about human behavior. And the thing is, we have sciences dedicated to looking at that.

The obvious conclusion is that moral philosophy ought to begin with empirical psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Of course, these behavioral sciences won’t tell us what moralities we ought to have, but unlike gaseous talk of archetypal Justice and theological talk of moral law, they will tell us something about the moralities that we do have and perhaps enable us to understand why we have them, which might enable us to figure out how to improve them. Once we understand the uses and deficiencies of these moralities, we might be able to see how their purposes could be served more effectively.

So, is there an objective basis to morality, or is it all just made up? There is no moral god, there is no moral gene—there is, however, the real world, which varies across time and space. The good news… once we recognize and admit the reality of morality, it becomes something we can improve. The bad news… the (for now) majority currently views morality as handed down by a god some thousands of years ago, and that any change is, by definition, detrimental to morality.

Mar 11 2014

Don’t Panic!

… but it has been thirty years since the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game was released. I remember playing it.

A 30th anniversary online version of the game is now available over at the BBC:

A word of warning

This game will kill you frequently. It’s a bit mean like that.

But don’t panic; you can “save” before trying something that ends up killing you.

Thirty years! I swear it was sometime last week… Oh, well–time is an illusion. Lunchtime, doubly so.

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