Archive for April, 2009

Putting it Simply

Recently this article appeared in the Guardian which appears to be accusing Hitchens, Dawkins, etctera of wanting to take away the liberty of freedom of religion and, therefore, not being liberals.

Russell Blackford has a great response here but as it is something that people could potentially accuse the Atheist movement in general of, I thought I’d sum up Terry Eagleton’s error in one sentence:

In all his fancy wording about the “liberal state” he makes it clear that his flawed assumption is that Atheists want to make our beliefs about the harmfulness of religion public policy.

Well, he’s right insofar as we want a secular state in which religious beliefs which require “faith” don’t form public policy. This is for a good reason. We shape our morality around our perception of reality. If your morality is shaped around something that can’t be empirically demonstrated to people¬† who don’t share that faith (i.e. God told me that gay marriage is wrong), then you can’t expect them to form morality around your perception of reality.

Yeah, I’d like there to be more Atheists in the world (at least fewer fundamentalists), but I don’t plan on doing that by taking public office and banning religion (although I may tax churches). I plan on doing that by the less effective, but “liberally” permissible means of free speech through debating Christians, writing blog posts, while others add to Atheist literature.

That’s it. All we want. Tell me about how us Atheists are just-as-bad-as-fundies again? “Militant” rationalists? Western supremacists? kthx

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God Tests Miss California’s Faith

In case you haven’t seen already…

Two things…

She did not actually answer the question. The question was: should states follow suit in allowing gay marriage? She said that we can choose between “same sex marriage” and “opposite” marriage, and then says that she believes that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s not clear whether she wants to impose her personal (bigotted) beliefs about it on other people through the government. It’s just vague.

My favourite bit, though, is where she says “that’s how I was raised and that’s how I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

I’m cynical about beauty queens, yes, but Americans do seem to care more about what a person says because they’re pretty than because they have fancy degrees and years of experience. Miss USA is also used as a spokesmodel for certain causes, although rarely political. Still, it’s slightly unsettling to see somebody essentially say “I don’t have any independent thinking skills, I just do what my parents told me, and I want to represent your country!”

I leave you with a quote from her interview with the most unbiased media source in all the world, Fox News.

This happened for a reason. By having to answer that question in front of a national audience, God was testing my character and faith. I’m glad I stayed true to myself.

Moonshine and Moonshine

I like to spend this time of day catching up on my news. One of the sites I visit is my customized BBC homepage where I have the science and nature articles placed right in the center of the page where it’s the first thing that catches my eye. So I learn a few things about finding an exoplanet only twice the size of the Earth, I read about finding n-propyl cyanide in space, and then I scroll down to the extended selection of science and nature articles and see an article asking if the lunar cycles affect the taste of wine.

In a good mood after having enjoyed learning a thing or two new about the way the universe works, I don’t immediately sniff out the fact that it’s woo woo because I’ve come to trust this newsource for interesting stories, but after the first few paragraphs I start banging my head against the desk. Back in the 1950s, some German woman published a calendar based on the theory that the position of the moon and the stars effects the way wine tastes and that some days were more favourable for tasting great wine than others. I don’t think that it can be described any better than this:

Her theory is that wine is a living organism that responds to the Moon’s rhythms in the same way that some people believe humans do. The so-called “lunar effect” has been widely dismissed as pseudo-science but its followers think that as the Moon exerts such a huge impact on the tides, it must follow that it affects the water in the human body and therefore human behaviour.

The article then goes on to state that the idea is not as “eccentric as it sounds” because “all wine experts tend to agree” on wine tasting differently based on the lunar cycle.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that those wine experts don’t know much about astronomy or physics. You can look up the formula, but gravitational influence is determined by the mass of the two objects multiplied together and divided by the distance sqaured. So, the more massive object is more influenced by a source of gravity. I haven’t seen any pictures of the German woman, but I’m willing to bet that she’s really not¬†that massive. I mean, it’s the Earth’s oceans we’re comparing here.

You’ve also gotta love the reason why David Motion is now a believer in this:

“We tried eight wines on Tuesday, which was a leaf day and then the same wines again on Thursday, which was a fruit day. And it was totally conclusive.

“It wasn’t that the wine tasted bad on the Tuesday but it was much more expressive on the Thursday. It was more exuberant and on-song. It was like the heavens opened, the clouds parted and the wine just expressed itself.”

Wow, didn’t they do a great job trying to isolate variables? And didn’t they go through rigorous double blind proceedure? And isn’t that just the most objective way to measure this?

The article finally gives the last word to an expert who actually seems to know a thing or two about science and sums this up in better words than I think I could manage:

But Jamie Goode, a wine scientist and author of online magazine wineanorak, thinks too much is made of planetary alignments and the lunar calendar.

“But I’m not going to say it’s absolute nonsense. Wine tastes different on different days but the differences are not that huge and the differences are more about atmospheric pressure.

“And we are part of the equation when it comes to tasting wine. We are not measuring devices. The taste of the wine is something we generate in response to the wine.”

People taste wine with expectations, and part of that could be the knowledge that it is a “good” day for wine, he says. Mood also influences

Don’t get me wrong. I always enjoy reading about a new pseudoscience. It gives me some amount of mental exercise in skepticism. I can’t tell you how much of this was tongue-in-cheek, but this definitely comes across more as astrology than astronomy.

Science

While reading my biology textbook (Campbell-Reece, 6th edition), I found this useful description of how molecular systematics is making taxonomy a dynamic field. I thought I’d share it on here so that people can refer it to the next creationist or post-modernist that you meet who attempts to claim that science is completely useless because it’s something-scientists-believed-was-true-fifty-years-ago-is-different-now:

As emerging technologies such as molecular biology and fresh approaches such as cladistics produce new data or stimulate scientists to reconsider old data, hypotheses sometimes bend or even break under the pressure of the closer scrutiny. New hypotheses or refinements of the old ones represent the latest versions of what we understand about nature based on the best available evidence. And evidence is the key word in this disclaimer that even our most cherished ideas in science are probationary. Science is partly distinguished from other ways of knowing because its ideas can be falsified through testing with experiments or observation. The more testing a hypothesis withstands, the more credible it becomes.

I think that it should be inexcusable for anyone to not understand this when challenging well-demonstrated “theories”. Evidence, evidence, evidence my friends.

Answers in Genesis Ads

Somebody explain this to me…

Is the kid giving me a death threat for being a non-Christian, or is the kid killing people because he’s a non-Christian?

The latter would make more sense. Answers in Genesis can’t be stupid enough to put out a mass death threat to all non-Christians. Then again, it’s Answers in Genesis we’re talking about. I should probably go with the interpretation that makes the least sense.

And someone explain this other one to me…

Forcibly converting everybody to fundie Christianity = stopping prejudice?

God damn it. What happened to the Answers in Genesis I used to love where I could just laugh at them uncontrollably? Now they’re just confusing.

I want my old Answers in Genesis back!

A Few APOD Favourites

Because APOD = Sciencegasm.

For those unfamiliar with the terminology I just made up out of thin air, sciencegasm is that feeling you get when you realise “OMFSM WTF I had no clue that the universe could do that sort of thing”.

So, yeah. Here’s a few recent stuff from APOD that is awesome. Click on the images to get to the descriptions.

Thats an astronaut!

That's an astronaut!

And last, but not least, proof that the sun > lava lamp.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “APOD: 2009 April 5 “, posted with vodpod

Duuuuuuuddddeee

Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “Duuuuuuuddddeee“, posted with vodpod

We’re part of this information field… consciousness… it’s like a property of the continuum… it’s like the old physical physicist’s concept of the ether. It permeates everything.

Dennis McKenna

Because that’s how science is done!

Nobody can really say but that model in some ways appeals more to me.

Dennis McKenna

Because that’s how science is done!

Points I can’t disagree with even though I’ve as of yet never done drugs:

  1. Drugs can sometimes enhance creative ability.
  2. We are all, in a sense, “one” with the universe.
  3. Psychedelics = subjective super happy fun time!

I’ll leave you guys to think whatever you want about their shamanism and their relativism.