Archive for November, 2007

“The Hundred Year Lie”

A while back (being several moons ago), I had an encounter with my mum’s office mate, who my mum had told about the group I’m trying to start at my school, and how I believed that science (empirical evidence and myths like that) is probably the best way of knowing what the world is truly like. She confronted me and told me about a book called The Hundred Year Lie that had convinced her that science causes more problems than it solves. Oh great… another anti-scientist.

A few moons later (today), I read the introduction of The Hundred Year Lie. Its thesis is basically that modern science and medical technology is making people sicker than they were before. Makes you wonder why the life expectancy has basically doubled in the past 150 years…

Anyway, he begins by blaming prescription drugs on weight gain and tumors that befell his family members. However, he doesn’t explain exactly how the prescription drugs were linked directly to these ailments. I can only assume that he used the post hoc ergo proctor hoc fallacy (this happened because this happened). He then goes on to scare people by talking about how chemicals are in everything (well yeah… water is technically a chemical so maybe he ought to elaborate on what his definition of a chemical is). He doesn’t bother to tell us exactly what the health risks are, just that they come from factories and pesticides.

Granted, pesticides and toxins should probably not be ingested, and even in minute, harmless amounts they should not be allowed to accumulate in your body, but he didn’t provide any evidence directly linking toxins ingested through foods to cancer, obesity, and everything else he was trying to link to chemicals that modern science had produced.

However, even if the market really is flooded with toxic foods, we found out about it (I assume that he had more evidence than the four or five articles from scientific journals) through a method known as… that’s right… modern science. Since I haven’t had the time to do research between now and when I read the introduction, let’s humor him and say that we do have a problem with harmful chemicals getting into our food. Obviously, there’s a problem in the way chemicals are disposed of in this country and I propose that the best way of solving it is to gather a bunch of scientists, and figure out a new method of disposing of them properly.

This guy seems to think that modern science should be thrown out the window, and that we should return medicine to a time when we only went to nature for cures (there are many examples of this… including the Dark Ages).

He recommends that we seek “Alternative Medicine” to treat our diseases instead. He talks about a visit to a chiropractor who gave him a massage and some other scientific-sounding things to “re-align” his kidney. I didn’t know that kidneys could fall out of alignment!

But look, if there really are poisons everywhere in our foods, then obviously EPA, the FDA, and all those government organizations have failed to test our lakes and foods carefully enough, and more rigorous scientific testing should be conducted. And what’s the definition of “Alternative Medicine”? Medicine that has not undergone rigorous scientific testing. Some of Alternative Medicine is genuinely harmful, some genuinely harmless, but the genuinely harmless ones often cause harm when people don’t get proper medical treatment (resulting in intense pain and/or death). I think that there’s a major fallacy here somewhere…

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Anti-Intellectualism in Schools

I’m not sure if that’s a word, but you know what I mean.

No I don’t.

Ok. So here’s what I mean by that… People don’t like people who are smarter than them.

Oh no. Egotistic again. But wait for me to get things in perspective first. Today, my Speech & Debate teacher was going over American government to help understand policy making. He asked if congress could abolish laws. One student said “Yes, if they have a three-fourths vote!”

Where the Hell did that come from again? Ignorance.

But hey, if a student says that, people laugh. However, if they simply don’t understand it, you get insulted.

Today, the teacher was showing us where Sub-Saharan Africa is. The teacher was pointing out that to say that Sub-Saharan Africa is “below” the Sahara is wrong, because you could just as easily draw the map upside down. I don’t think he meant it that way, but I said “That would be politically correct!”

I know of one person in the class who understood the joke, but here goes my explaining…

Politically correct academics think that the connotation of putting maps with the north pole at the top is pro-white supremacy because the United States, and the UK, and Canada, and Europe and all that jazz are up there, and Africa, and South America are below them. I don’t agree necessarily. I agree that the map could be either way, but I don’t really think that putting the North pole at the top really does squat. For the record, I hate political correctness, but that’s not the point.

What happened when the class didn’t understand the joke is they started insulting me… as usual.

It really is a kind of living Hell, being stuck in a place that supports anti-intellectualism.

And that’s what I wanted to complain about and I’ve got nothing else to say. Have a splendid evening, day, what have you.

On Faith

This morning, I had quite an amusing experience around the passing period between second and third period. See, the route I take takes me right past two of my friends moving in the opposite direction, and if I’m not too worried about being tardy for English that day, I change directions and walk with them until I’m nearly on the opposite end of campus, and then I walk as quickly as possible to my class… three buildings away.

Anyway, I have often been accused of being obsessed with Richard Dawkins. Granted, it’s hard to think of anybody who I admire more than him (except, perhaps, some fictional characters if they count… which they don’t), but I’d like to point out that one of these two friends actually wants to call him. The other friend, who happens to be a theist, kept bothering me about getting his e-mail address so that he could debate him. I am content with dinner, and an e-mail.

Now that I’ve gotten that off-topic thing out of the way…

My theist friend who wants to debate him over e-mail was bothering me for it again today, when I switched directions to walk with them. We began debating about whether you could disprove the existence of God. My other friend pointed out to him that though you can not disprove the existence of the deistic God, you still can disprove a text-based God, like the God of the Bible.

“I know” he said, “but I still believe in God.”

And of course, I pulled out the argument that Richard Dawkins uses often (again, I am not obsessed… it’s simply a good argument worth committing to memory) and pointed out “You also can’t disprove the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Celestial Teapot, or Ra, Thor, Zeus. Why don’t you believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to?”

“Well, there’s more evidence for God than there is for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

“Is there?”

“Look. I’m not going to convince you to believe in God, and you’re not going to convince me to not believe in God, so just shut up about it.”

“But you haven’t got a reason to believe!”

“I don’t care. Just shut up.”

At this point, I was nearly on the opposite end of campus from my English class, and I began walking back with a grin on my face at his quick change of mind from wanting to debate about God with Richard Dawkins (and I was basically using the arguments he would get if he had tried debating with him, assuming Dawkins decided to waste his time replying to him) to wanting me to shut up… but someone is not getting Richard Dawkins’ e-mail address (yes… he could Google it like I told him to, but he obviously is too lazy to do so because he asked me again today) since I learned today that he, like all the other theists I know (except for perhaps one), are actually unwilling to debate about the existence of the Skyfairy, and are content to remain blindly faithful without having it challenged.

Actually, I was quite surprised.

I used to divide theists into two groups. Those that want to debate and don’t want to admit that the only reason they believe is faith, and those that take great pride in it and love ending arguments (sometimes before they’ve even started) by shouting “It’s something called FAITH! Something that you will never understand!” in my face.

Either way, I normally counted him amongst the former of the two types of theists, having a keen interest in having me meet his other theist friends, and showing me books. I was quite surprised when he transformed into the latter of the two types. Actually, I see this behavior a lot. More often than not when I debate theists, I hear them admit that I was winning just before they blow up, or stick their fingers in their ears and chant “La la la la la. I can’t hear you.”

The point is, up until today I always divided theists into those two groups. Those who tried to defend their claims, and those that simply didn’t. I’m starting to think that I was wrong. There is only one type of theist, but some can go longer before retreating to their little warm, cozy, fuzzy corner of their mind called faith. It’s the faith obstacle that I’ve never been able to get past. With only that type of theist, is there really any hope for the world?

Again. Evidence.

Today I received the following comment on my last entry:

“When I was looking at the trailer, the question that struck me is, “How smart do you have to be to design a universe?” Is it possible that someone or something is even smarter. (Not to be confused with America’s most smartest model.)

The theory that everything was design doesn’t tell us how or why,and really not who. Without those answers, I’m not sure what the value of theory is. Creationism tries to answers those questions but it’s really all on faith. In fact, it all may simply be made up by relatively primative people.

Science on the other hand often acts like a religion and resists challenges to a lot of basic doctorine. Today, it tends to go where the research money is. Try discussing global warming sometime. It’s treated as hierarchy if you don’t tow the party line. Science by consensus is not science. How many times has the lone dissenter been right?”

To Steve:

The first part of that was appreciated. However, I’d like to talk a bit about why science is not a religion.

There are too many lone dissenters in history to count exactly how many time they’ve been wrong or right. You can come up with dozens of examples of when the general consensus was wrong and the lone dissenter was right, and you can come up with dozens of examples when the general consensus was correct, and the lone dissenter is still considered a nut case. Galileo can be considered a lone dissenter, and so can Darwin… as can people who believe in aliens. The difference between them, and revolutionary scientists like Galileo is… EVIDENCE!

I’d also like to point out that dissenters whose ideas are accepted today were dissenters in a time when the scientific method was not what it is now. Back then, and in Creationism today, Bible quotes were used as evidence. The Great Flood was considered an actual historic event… until contradictory evidence was brought up.

That’s the difference between science and religion.Science Vs. Religion

Intelligent Dark Age Ideas

I was looking forward to Darwin Day this 2008… Until… Until I visited the website for a documentary coming out on Darwin Day called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

http://www.expelledthemovie.com/

In the intro, the slogan “Big Science has expelled smart new ideas from the classroom” fades in and out of my screen.

You might have guessed it… It’s a documentary about “Intelligent Design.” In the slogan, Intelligent Design = Creationism a smart new idea. It’s the “theory” that God an “Intelligent Designer” put all life on the planet in its present form. Doesn’t sound like Creationism to me…

Anyway… it’s the part where they call Intelligent Design a “smart new idea” that bothers me. Basically, Intelligent Design’s argument is that things in nature are irreducibly complex and they can not imagine how it could possibly have evolved through natural processes. So, instead of trying to find evidence of how things like the flagellum might have evolved, they gave up, and said that God an Intelligent Designer did it. What sets this apart from Creationism is that they don’t jump the gun and say that the Intelligent Designer was God. In fact, it could have been as equally likely that it was an alien!

And how could an alien complex enough to design life have come about?

I always love it when they say that since the universe exists, it had to have a causal agent, but even though God exists, “God just is”… That’s seriously what they say. Oh, but ID isn’t about God! Bad example.

But despite the fundamental problems with it…

The main argument of the movie is that “Big Science” is suppressing Intelligent Design because it challenges Evolution. While it is true that scientists are adamently opposed to teaching ID in the schools, there’s a good reason for it.

Scientific theories require evidence.

What has Evolution got?

Fossil records. I even had the pleasure of walking through a pretty damn complete fossil record when I walked through an exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science today.

What evidence does ID have?

They like to point to things like the bacterial flagellum, a mechanism bacteria use to propel themselves, saying that it’s so complex that take any part away and it won’t work… Well… they debunked that… Take a few of the proteins that allow the rotary movement in the flagellum, and you get the exact mechanism other species of bacteria use to inject toxins into cells. With enough evidence, irreducible complexity fails. And what evidence do they have that the Intelligent Designer actually exists?

ID is not accepted in the scientific community because… here’s the shocker… it’s not scientific!

But look. The last time science worked the way ID works was in the Dark Ages. Back then, all the gaps in knowledge were explained by “God did it, God did it, God did it.” Why were people dying from the Black Death? Because witches were doing it of course! As a result, hundreds of cats were slaughtered, and as a result of Dark Age science, the only means of controlling the spread of the plague was eliminated. Then, something wonderful happened, and science no longer had to go to supernatural explanations to explain phenomena. Of course if you fill in all the gaps with “God did it, God did it, God did it” you’re going to make yourself look like an idiot and your reputation as a scientist won’t be all that great. Would you hire a doctor who thought disease was caused by demons?

Intelligent Design is not smart. It’s not new. It’s Dark Age thinking with a new name.

But, I’m going to go see the movie anyway. But here’s the thing, I’m going to buy a ticket for another movie to get in, and go to another theater so that I see it and the bastards don’t get my money. I can think of better ways to spend my Darwin Day… but to debunk, you must know. I’ll post my review so remember to check back…

Life and Social Life

Very rarely on this blog will my viewers (what viewers?) see me talk about my social life.

I simply have little interest in having a social life anymore. All the little dramas that happen really just made me depressed and wasted my time when I bothered myself with them in middle school. Besides, if I were part of a clique, or a group, I wouldn’t get to be an individual. I’d have to conform. I’d have to talk about what they talk about. I’d have to do what they like to do. The issue is, I really hate doing a lot of the stuff they like doing.

I don’t do drugs, I hate shopping for clothes, I don’t listen to music, and when I talk, I talk about current events or philosophy. They talk about each other, and use language to turn everyone against each other.

So what do I do with my social life? Sadly (not in my opinion) enough, it wouldn’t be too far off to say that my social life is confined by my computer. I use it to stay in touch with the one person from my school I trust enough to call a friend, and the handful of other people who I don’t talk to at all in real life but who I trust enough to talk to about the occasional problem. Most of the time when I’m feeling socially deprived, I go on an Atheist chat room where I enjoy talking frankly and openly without worrying about pissing people off with my Atheism…

And you know what? I’m happy.

I don’t have to worry s’much about betrayals, break ups, or irksome jazz like that. I just stay out of that stuff.

On top of that, I have the whole world to explore and learn about. I have books to read. Places to go. Even if I have no social life, that doesn’t mean that I have no life. In fact, I think I enjoy life much much more than people who have social lives.

Some people still think I live a sad life.

Today in that little Atheist chat room I go to, some jerk came in and told us we were computer addicts. That we have no lives. He asked us why we don’t talk to other human beings (I responded by saying there’s only a handful of people I know who I’m not embarassed to call human). The part that really offended me, however was being told “enjoy your pixelized lifeless life.”

Lifeless life.

As my good buddy, Thrawn, pointed out, that’s an oxymoron, but aside from that…

It’s not that I actually believe that, but that is a serious accusation for someone who realizes just how extraordinarily lucky they are to be alive. People who have lifeless lives, in my opinion, are those legions of students in high school who talk about nothing but their social lives.

Hello! There’s a whole other world out there. There are other things to worry about besides who’s dating your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend. You’re only here for a short time, so instead of plotting revenge, why don’t you try shedding a bit of light on the world?

Granted, yes. I’d enjoy my lunch much more if I had somebody to talk to over it, but unfortunately there’s nobody who isn’t less shallow than a puddle formed after a short drizzle.

Why explore that puddle, when you have an ocean of knowledge that you can only swim in for 70 or 80 years?

If I want to just hang out, I have people I can go to to talk to about superficial, yet amusing things. If I want an intellectual discussion, I go to the Atheist chat room because there’s nowhere else to go.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t talk about superficial, yet amusing things. I do enjoy it sometimes… but most of the time, I want to talk about things of importance, and that’s why I live in that chat room. I consider exploring the universe through intelligent discussions and books much more fulfilling than going partying like Paris Hilton. I’m not saying you should feel the same way, but I’m sorry that’s just the way I feel about it.

What do you think?

Er… Maybe I should fix that…

Are you capable of thinking?

Thankfulness

Mm… Thanksgiving. One of the best times of the year. No school, large meals, friends, family… and thankfulness.

So, I take it upon myself to share the short list of things that I’m thankful for.

1. Richard Dawkins

No, seriously. I know the man is hated, but he spontaneously offered to get me in touch with a speaker from his foundation to come speak to my CFI-On Campus group. I’ve been thinking about bringing one in for some time but I didn’t think we’d have the funds to do so. That’s a random act of kindness right there. Dawkins > Falwell. That, and his books have really helped me appreciate life and science even more than I used to. I’ve always liked science, and I’ve never been emo, so that’s saying something.

2. Living in a non-third-world country

I get to spend my time reading, watching TV, and doing fun stuff… Other people have to sit on a street corner and beg all day. Not only do I live in the States, I also have parents who provide me with food, a roof, and all the other comforts…

3. Living now, as opposed to in the Dark Ages

Technically, if I were living in the Dark Ages, they couldn’t kill me for being an Atheist for another two years until I turned sixteen, but I’m still glad that I live in a time when I don’t necessarily have to worry about someone trotting out an antiquated blasphemy law. Well, at least I hope they don’t. All I have to put up with is the awkward silences and the dirty looks… not the angry mobs with torches and pitchforks. Also, I have the benefit of living in a time when the scientific method has been developed. Not only are my living conditions greatly improved, but I also understand the world and get to experience the reality of it without having to fill in every blank with “God did it, God did it, God did it.” Most people don’t take advantage of this… *cough* Creationists *cough*

In addition:

4. Ice Cream

5. Chocolate, especially in the form of brownies and cookies.

6. Rainbows, and other pretty things.

7. Being alive.

I think that that covers it in a nut shell…

The last thing I want to talk about is this…

The definition of thankfulness if not only to express gratitude, but to hold responsible for. What the dictionary means by that is like… when you say “thank you” or something… What I’d like to point out is that I often hear people say “I thank God for saving me from cancer” or “thank God for ______.” What I see especially often is people saying grace before eating their food. They used to make me do it in Girl Scouts and often overreacted whenever I started eating before they said it…

“OH MY GOD! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!? THEY HAVEN’T SAID IT YET! BAD BAD BAD!”

I eventually learned to restrain myself from picking up little crumbs and eating them just to be amused by their reactions, but the main issue I had with saying grace was that it seemed to take the credit away from the person who actually brought the snack. The grace we most commonly said went along the lines of this…

“We thank you for our food, Lord. Our family, friends, and you, Lord. We thank you for our food, Lord, to get us through the day.”

Of course, God did not just put everything in front of you. Normally, some organism (plant, or animal) had to be grown for a long period of time, before it was killed, and shipped off to your store. Somebody had to work for x amount of time to gain the money necessary to purchase the food, and then possibly had to work for x amount of time to prepare it so that it would be edible and tasty. You can thank your family for being kind and caring (at least, I hope that yours are), and your friends for being your friends.

The point is, to be truly thankful, I think you have to thank the right people and right things… and sometimes there isn’t really a reason why you have something to be thankful for except luck. Instead of thanking God for the vaccine that kept you from getting polio, thank medical science. Instead of thanking God for your food, thank your parents or food provider, or yourself if you provided the food. If you have something to be thankful for, there often is a person directly responsible for it. Don’t deprive them of credit.