Not An (explicit) Argument for Evolution

Darwin was never actually put on trial for his beliefs the way Gallileo was. Or, I should say, Darwin was never put on trial for publishing his beliefs as Gallileo was. At least, not in a literal sense. In many ways, Darwin is the most vilified scientist in all of history and his ideas are continually being put on trial today.

All over the world, science is having a very difficult time convincing people of anything. Hell, there are those that believe that relativity is not supported by evidence. Rela-fucking-tivity! Follow that link at your own risk. It is literally mind-blowlingly insane. As if Special and General Relativity weren’t the backbones of modern macro-physics.

I had an argument recently with a young-earth creationist. The problem I was having was explaining that there is literally a mountain of evidence that supports the theory of evolution. Indeed, all of modern biology depends on it. Every legitimate article about biology incorporates some aspect of evolution into its discussion. Here, here, and here are a few from just this week. Granted, all of the links are to sciencedaily.com, but all of the studies being reported on are from San Diego, Oxford, and Heidelberg. The point I was trying to make was this: if the theory of evolution is so specious, then why do nearly all biologists (people heavily trained, well-read, and highly intelligent) act as though there isn’t even a question about evolution’s validity?

The thing that gets me, and perhaps this is the crux of the issue, is that conservative creationists literally do not care what the evidence says. They will not listen to reason in this matter. And I can’t fathom it. The bizarre mistrust toward science on the part of conservatives is truly one of the greatest mysteries facing our species. They say things as though they are facts and offer up little in the way of actual argumentation. And the other conservatives around them say things like, “Well said.” and “I’m so proud of you for sticking up for your beliefs.” This whole thing is bizarrely reinforced by a combination of mass psychosis and a “preaching to the choir” mentality. They silence or ignore anyone who doesn’t agree with them and that is that. There is no reasoning with this kind of attitude.

I have been asked why this bothers me and this is a difficult question to answer. It does bother me. That much is certain. One reason might have something to do with my education. I am trained in philosophy and rhetoric and bad logic sounds like a metal rake being dragged across a chalkboard. I literally cannot ignore it without a strong cognitive dissonance. I feel a deep need to correct people when they are committing a logical fallacy. Perhaps there is some psychological label that could be applied. I’d love to hear it. Regardless, I have a new job and I have been having to censor myself a lot lately, and it’s actually been causing me a non-negligible amount of stress.

Another reason the whole thing bothers me might be the fact that these wingnuts are trying to introduce legislation to heap this garbage into the minds of our nation’s children. Sometimes it is successful. And even when it isn’t, they are completely undeterred. They often get defeated in the courts. But that doesn’t stop them. There is a very strong movement in this country that is trying to shift our paradigm in the direction of a theocracy. They won’t be successful, but they sure as shit will obfuscate the issue as much as they can, which has its own set of problems.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that as of 2010, only 16% of Americans believe in evolution with absolutely no intervention on the part of a deity. A surprising 38% believe in a theistic evolution. It’s a compromise that I would certainly be willing to work around. I do not hate this idea nearly as much as I do the 40% or so that are hard-lined creationists.

Another reason the whole thing bothers me might have something to do with the fact that creationists often think they are being novel or clever or have found a new proof or some new reasoning that solidifies it. What they don’t realize is that scientists, philosophers, and atheists have been studying these arguments a lot harder and a lot more rigorously than they have. Atheists are far better versed in religious “logic” than they will ever be. We know, for instance, that there are only three (3) actual arguments for the existence of a supreme being. All other arguments are variations on the basic three (cosmological, teleological, ontological). We also know every argument against evolution by heart. They can’t convince us that it doesn’t happen because we know what they’re going to say before they say it. We have heard it all before, considered it, and destroyed it with our logic smashers. They just refuse to listen.

I have no illusions about this blog post converting anyone. Indeed, the dozen or so people that might actually read it through will be all, “fucking right!” and “Damned straight!” and no creationist will ever actually reach this sentence. This is mostly due to the fact that my pool of readers is very small (I’m working on it). But it is also because creationists do not read stuff like this. And perhaps that is the last reason this controversy bothers me. Aside from bad logic, brainwashing children, and the self-delusion of cleverness, it’s that they will not listen to anyone who disagrees with them. They initiate arguments, and then when you disagree with them, they just say, “Well, we all have a right to our opinion.” A creationist will never consider your argument carefully, logically, or systematically. They will never say, “You have a point.” And they will never, ever, ever say, “Wow, I think you might be right!”

es schenkt sich immer

Locutus of Dobbs!

Part of my continuing Bob-Dobbs-themed photo-editing series. GiMP was used.

I already posted this on facebook. But I want proof that I designed it first. You know, just in case someone wants to hire me as a graphic designer.

Behold, mortals! Submit your slack applications in triplicate or be assimilated!

Bonus Content! See the world with new eyes!

And so it has come to pass that a new banner has been created. I would be remiss in my duty if I did not tell that, in true subgenius fashion, I wasted almost an entire day at work doing this

The laser bird took the longest (paths, overlays, alpha channels, annoying), but the Obama-Dobbs is my favorite, and so has a place of honor here in the post. All hail the slack master! He robbeth from the rich and keepeth for his own pockets!

Is Humanity Screwed?

I have some problems with CNN. Not all of them involve Morning Express with Robin Meade. But many of them do. Her show is insipid and juvenile and irrelevant. I am willing to entertain the notion that there is a sort of cosmic radiation that alters our chemical processes at around the dawn hour which makes it impossible for a morning news show to be intelligent but also makes viewers continue to watch them despite this fact.

Anyway, the world is coming to an end. Update your twitter feeds accordingly.

I want to look at the state of the world in very general terms. Let me know if I’m missing some crucial detail (I may or may not tell you to piss of, but it’s worth a try). The conclusion is, of course, that we are fucked. Or maybe not.

What I want to do is lay out, in as simple a matter as possible, some of the problems that the world is facing. I will not defend any particular claim with any sort of argumentation. Instead, I am going to assume that at least the majority of them are actual, real problems and then explore the possible ramifications. To do this, I will adjust my normal paragraph chunking into a more direct, list-like form of communication. Behold, my bullet points of doom!

Shit that’s wrong with the world:

  • Economic turmoil
  • High unemployment
  • Loss of public safety net (by and large)
  • Political upheaval on huge scale
  • Human rights and social justice compromised daily
  • Environmental catastrophe
  • Slow degradation of ecosystems reaching critical point
  • Carbon levels at historic high (in human reckoning)
  • Record corporate profits
  • Corporate ethics is an oxymoron
  • Massive corruption in the highest places
  • Compromised political elite
  • Looney toons taking over congress
  • Peak oil looming
  • Peak water looming
  • Massive food shortages
  • Droughts and famine causing widespread food shortage
  • Food already in short supply
  • Disturbingly high rates of natural disaster
  • Extreme weather no longer extreme
  • Diseases cropping up faster than cures can be discovered
  • Pollution causing a whole slew of problems
  • Bees going extinct
  • Population skyrocketing, exacerbating all of the above
  • Blindness and apathy to all of the above on the part of huge portions of the electorate

Any one of these items would not be such a big deal. Humans are highly intelligent, resourceful, and generally reasonable and the problem would likely be like a fun little puzzle in one of the first few levels of a video game. Instead, we have a situation akin to playing Civilization V on the highest difficulty level.

Notice that I did not include global warming, opting instead for the more general term “pollution.” I must reiterate that I am making no real attempt to justify any particular point on the list. I’m not writing a goddamned book here. I am merely trying to make it next to impossible to dismiss the list outright without considerable difficulty. I am trying, as it were, to make the whole of the situation that humanity is facing, as undeniable as possible.

And so let’s assume that, in general, the list is correct. What does it mean for humanity? Are we, as I prematurely concluded, basically done? Have we screwed things up beyond recognition? Well, that depends. There are a couple of things yet to consider.

There is this whole idea amongst liberals like myself that we are in really deep trouble but if we act now, there is a chance that we can turn this supertanker around. We’ve been saying this for years. Basically, the idea that the situation (the environment, the economy, the state of social justice in this country, etc) can be fixed if people start doing something now. We are always talking about how much better the world could be if only we could get our acts together. NOW! And so, how strong is the force of social inertia? This is a question that may already have been answered and it is somewhere in the vicinity of very strong. Maybe not black-hole-gravity strong, but still really quite strong. Liberals must always hold fast to the notion that immediate action will yield results or else we are prone to fantastic bouts of depression, or worse, throwing up our hands and changing sides.

But let’s assume that our social inertia is too great and cannot be overcome (which is very possibly true). Our society is the Titanic, and we are about the collide with a glacier of our own creation. What are the consequences? Well, each item on the list becomes considerably worse. What does that mean?

Let’s just assume that it means the end of our civilization. Does that mean the end of the world? Hell no. The planet is fine. Cockroaches and lichens will survive the apocalypse with little trouble. Life as a thing is not in danger. The risk of our planet being sterilized is inconceivable. What about humans? Are we an endangered species? I don’t think so. Humans as a species will most likely survive the apocalypse as well. How many rungs down the socio/technological ladder we fall is a matter of some debate.

Is my family in danger? I should think almost certainly. You see, the only reason there are so many humans on this planet is the fact that we have a huge global support system which (more or less) feeds them all and keeps them alive just long enough to reproduce. When that collapses, there will be a brief (somewhere between months and a couple of years) period of complete and utter chaos. Disease will spike. Massive famine. Starvation. Cities will likely be hit the hardest. Rural communities will not be unaffected, however. They have largely forgotten how to perform subsistence farming to feed themselves through winter, relying mostly on the high-tech infrastructure which gives them iceberg lettuce in January.

So, there will be a massive die-off. Perhaps the world population of humans might level off at about a billion. I only say that because the thought of five billion humans dying in a short period of time is almost too much for me to comprehend. Hell, it might even be far worse than that. But it seems reasonable. The turn of the twentieth century saw a population of about 1.4 billion and best case scenario is a return to about a Victorian level of technology.

And so literally, five sixths of the world’s human population is likely to die if things get any worse. Since we are living in the middle of the greatest extinction event the world has ever seen I think it’s safe to say that there are many animal and plant species the will also suffer.

Indeed, the loss of the honeybee would likely drive humanity down to fewer than a million people (if not completely extinct), though I’d like to think that the bees will bounce back if humans die back a bit.

My dad tells me that I complain a lot. That I point out problems but never offer up solutions. Perhaps this is true. It’s a lot easier to spot a problem than to fix it. Anyone can tell you a radio is broken. Few could actually tell you how to fix it beyond buying a new one. But we can’t buy a new planet, can we? Can we?

But there are solutions to this problem. And most of them are not pretty, because most of them are necessary to turn the supertanker:

  • End our dependence on fossil fuels
  • End the drive toward nuclear power (beyond pure research)
  • Dramatically ramp public funding for renewable energy
  • Stop having so damned many babies
  • Stop destroying biodiversity in our food supply
  • Stop letting corporations determine public policy
  • Stop the “buy a new one” culture
  • End intolerance and bigotry
  • Embrace a socially liberal ideology

Granted, I am deliberately going for a utopian vision of the future here. I would even settle for, say, half of these things coming to pass. But what are the odds of even that happening? If we are completely honest with ourselves, what chance does our current civilization really have? In the long term? Zero. None at all.

But what about now? What about the near future? What about the next century? Is it still statistically different from zero? I really need someone out there to say yes and convince me that it’s true.

quelq’un m’a dit

Unobtanium a reality!

Unobtanium has been used in sci-fi more than once. And it doesn’t get old. It cracks me up every time. In the James Cameron spectacular Avatar, I believe it was supposed to be a sort of room-temperature superconductor. However, I don’t want to talk about unobtanium in the “Avatar-sense.” And honestly, I think how they used the idea of unobtanium in Avatar was a little silly considering the rest of the film took itself so goddamned seriously.

Instead, I want to talk about unobtanium the way it was envisioned in one of the single worst (and one of my favorite) disaster films: The Core. I’m talking about one of the biggest box office bombs of the last eight years. I’m talking about the movie where, mysteriously, the Earth’s core stops spinning (!) causing the Earth’s magnetosphere to stop…being magnetic. Our intrepid heroes, played by Aaron Eckhart and Hillary Swank drill to the center of the planet to set off a nuclear reaction in order to get the core spinning again.

The reason I like this movie is the fact that the “fi” to this movie’s “sci,” the method whereby the film explains itself, actually gave me the giggles for several days after seeing it. You see, whoever wrote this movie knew that the problems involved in digging through to the Earth’s core were fairly insurmountable. Mainly pressure and heat. Lots of both. And so, where films like Journey to the Center of the Earth solve this problem by ignoring it and pretending the Earth’s interior is actually populated with dinosaurs (etc), The Core does something a little different. It trades one science problem for another. Imagine a vessel capable of drilling through the hardest rock, sort of like the Technodrome, only less cheesy. The reason this vessel is not crushed as it delves ever deeper into the mantle, is unobtanium. This hypothetical mineral becomes harder and stronger the more heat and pressure are applied.

Essentially what the filmmakers did was a little literary sleight of hand. They traded one scientific problem for another, and simply ignored the new one completely. Indeed, they did us one better, they hung a lampshade on it by calling it unobtanium. Unobtanium!

And the reason I didn’t roll my eyes at this movie (while I did at Avatar) is the fact that this movie was never (I assume) intended to be taken all that seriously.

In the interests of full disclosure, today’s image is not my own joke. My wife and I both appreciate The Core quite a bit (despite its obvious terribleness). When my wife was shopping for wedding rings, she told me that she wanted to get the unobtanium rings, but the shelf was too high. I’m pretty sure I came close to crapping my pants when she said that. And so, credit for the joke goes to her.

Obviously, unobtanium is a joke. Can’t possibly be real. Or can it? Researchers at Rice University have created a new synthetic material, an alchemical blend of aligned carbon nanotubes and inert polymers, that, when exposed to repeated stress, actually becomes stiffer. I feel no shame in admitting that I almost crapped my pants when I read this article, too.

I mean, think about it. Something that I laughed at as a joke in 2003 is actually sort of possible? The hows and the whys of it are maybe irrelevant to the layperson. Merely the knowledge that a synthetic material can have properties of this nature is astonishing. I guess I do have a few questions about it, though. For instance, what happens if you stop applying stress? Does it lose some of its accumulated strength? And then if you start applying stress again, does the strength return? Does this material have an unlimited capacity for gaining strength? Will there be a point where you start to experience diminishing returns?

I guess those scientists need to get to work.

I would also like to mention one last thing: Saturn is sending us radio messages. The video is actually somewhat haunting.

bitte schön