First amendment permission slip

31 01 2009

In Florida, the first amendment has had a limitation on the 1st amendment upheld. What, you ask, is this limitation? After all, the Supreme Court has long ruled that if a law passes the Clear and Present Danger test, it is constitutional.

Well, not so much here. You see, this law allows schools to require students to have a permission slip to exercise their first amendment rights and not say the unconstitutional pledge of allegiance. This doesn’t just fly in the face of common sense interpretation of the 1st amendment, it flies in the face of the precedents of countless other circuit and even Supreme Court rulings.

So let me get this straight: if I lived in Florida, I would need to get permission slips for my constitutional rights? Would I need a permission slip saying I was allowed to have an attorney? Would I need a permission slip to refuse to be searched? Would I need a permission slip to receive equal protection, or to be an atheist?

I would think that if and when this case reaches the Supreme Court they will strike down this law, and that says something about the 11th circuit. When the Roberts court is to your left, then there truly is no hope for you.

(via Dispatches )





Ignorance, thy name is… (1/31)

31 01 2009

Ross Douthat.

His ill fated attempt to refute Russell’s Teapot begins thus:

This analogy – like its modern descendant, the Flying Spaghetti Monster – makes a great deal of sense if you believe that the idea of God is an absurdity dreamed up by crafty clerics in darkest antiquity and subsequently imposed on the human mind by force and fear, and that it only survives for want of brave souls willing to note how inherently absurd the whole thing is. As you might expect, I see the genesis of religion rather differently: An intuitive belief in some sort of presiding Agent seems to be an extremely common, albeit hardly universal, feature of human nature; this intuition has intersected, historically, with an enormous amount of subjective religious experience;

I smell burning straw man. Where did he get the idea that atheists think that god was invented purposefully by some shadowy cabal for purposes of control? Sure, it’s been used for control, but even Christians admit that.

And as for his defense of religion (as opposed to attack on atheism), well, it doesn’t work very well. “Intuitive” doesn’t provide a shred of evidence. Quantum physics aren’t intuitive, but they’re also essentially correct. That solid objects are not mostly empty space is intuitive. It’s also dead wrong. And the plural of “anecdotes” is not data.

The story of our civilization, in particular, is a story in which an extremely large circle of non-insane human beings have perceived themselves to be experiencing an interaction with a being who seems recognizable as the Judeo-Christian God (here I do feel comfortable using the term), rather than merely being taught about Him in Sunday School. I am unaware of anything similar holding true for orbiting pots or flying noodle beasts.

Delusion has nothing to do with sanity. Perfectly sane people delude themselves all the time. Even Ross, if he had stopped to think for, well, actually, if he had stopped to think at all, would agree with that. After all, he presumably does not think that all atheists are insane, but he also seems to think that we are victims of a delusion.

And without the persistence of this perceived interaction (and beneath it, the intuitive belief in some kind of God), it’s difficult to imagine religious belief playing anything like the role it does in human affairs, no matter how many ancient scriptures there were propping the whole thing up.

Um…the interactions happen. But as his own sentence says, it is only a perceived interaction, not an actual interaction.

This is not to say that humanity’s religious experiences and intuitions are anything like a dispositive argument for the existence of God. Certainly, there are all sorts of interesting efforts to explain them without recourse to the hypothesis that they correspond to anything real, and all kinds of reasons to choose atheism over faith. But it is one thing to disbelieve in God; it is quite another to never feel a twinge of doubt about one’s own disbelief.

If they are easily explained by other things apart from god, and we already know these things to be real, why is he even bothering treating them as evidence?

And just as the Christian who has never entertained doubts about his faith probably hasn’t thought hard enough about the matter, the atheist who perceives the Christian God and the flying spaghetti monster as equally ridiculous hypotheses really needs to get out more often.

And now we see the true color of his (and all) apologetics: it’s true because I say so. There is quite literally no reason that the FSM is less ridiculous than Yahweh. Not one. The two are, in every component of the evidence for their existence, equal.

(via PZ)





Yum, Anti-Evolutionists

31 01 2009

I was unlucky enough to stumble upon this little gem of evolution denialism the other day, and thought it was a plump enough victim for my first blog post. Oh, yeah, hey there folks.

“As Darwin envisioned it, [natural selection] could only operate on small variations in the immediate present. No foresight or planning was involved.”

What does he mean by foresight? Of course organisms don’t plan for their DNA to mutate and produce a more fit creature in 20 generations. It doesn’t particularly matter whether or not it was planned.  Any kind of small variations in the immediate present can be used to infer that there were many small variations in the immediate present a thousand years ago, or a million years ago. How many small variations does it take to drastically change an organism?

“Another problem recognized later was that it conveys no information. If fitness is measured by what survives, and survivors are assumed to be the fit ones, then it is a tautology: survivors survive.”

Well, yes, it would indeed be a tautology when you use the theory of natural selection to replace one of the terms in that relationship. If I told you that y=x, would it make sense to claim that by that logic, y=y and nothing has been learned? The principle of natural selection states that because not all of the population can survive, it is more often the most fit organisms that survive. Explaining why organisms change is the point of the theory, not explaining why the fit survive.

“Natural selection is supposed to produce endless forms most beautiful from an unguided, purposeless mechanical process. But chance is not a process! Oh, but the randomness in variation is selected by the environment, the Darwinist says. Well, guess what: the environment is random, too, so this reduces to chance acting on chance.”

Let’s put an end to this idea of the Earth’s environments being “random.” A planet forms through a long, slow, and above all, regular process. It’s messy, but it’s regular. The conditions on a planet are the direct results of this process. Organisms today inhabit dynamic environments, yes, but they are environments with certain types of other organisms, certain geologic features, and certain climates at any one point in time. These DEFINED locations provided challenges for the most fit organisms to overcome. Calling that “chance acting on chance” is like calling human reaction to a certain stimulus “random.”

“Nobody questions the reality of mutations, and not even young-earth creationists disagree with the ability of selection to conserve and adapt existing genetic information to changing conditions, but how could a blind process that can only respond to immediate circumstances build a wing, eye, kidney or brain?”

Well, it was awfully nice of him to concede to natural selection in this article debunking it. An eye, sir, can be created like this. The immediate circumstances and pressures on a species and its mutations are often enough to push the development of biological “parts” that can eventually be consolidated into an incredibly complex organ or system.

“If Darwinism is true, abandon all hope of purpose, meaning, and values… William Provine has been among the few Darwinists willing to go all the way to the bitter consequences of the Stuff Happens law: there is no purpose, no meaning, and no free will, and when you die, you are dead, dead, dead.”

Why should purpose, meaning, and values be abandoned? What would be the purpose to existence if a god HAD created the Earth? A science experiment? Should your values be any different if an unknown invisible man from the sky designed and created you instead of a chance arrangement and bonding of atoms followed by millions of years of evolution? And anyway, this is just the is/ought fallacy. As Richard Dawkins has so eloquently explained, just because something is a certain way in nature does not mean we ought to act that way. Values are not derived from our creation anyway, so not believing in invisible sky pixie creators doesn’t have any bearing on them.





Please welcome…

28 01 2009

Please welcome Entle/Jeff! He’s going to be contributing posts from time to time (when he’s not playing ping pong). Someday maybe I can make him start his own blog to get back at him for making me get Twitter…





Stimulus mismanagement

28 01 2009

The US is in desparate need of massive infrastructure spending. The American Society of Civil Engineers rates our infrastructure at the moment as being at D level. No, not some special classification system. D as in the sort of grade your parents yelled at you about. They estimated that it would take 2.2 trillion dollars and 5 years to bring it up to a B.

Congress, as I’m sure you know, has been working on an 800 billion dollar stimulus spending bill. Originally it was to be targeted infrastructure spending, involving massive investments on specific, major projects. That isn’t happening. Instead it’s getting divided up into an enormous number of smaller scale spending projects, none of which can have a major impact.

The stimulus bill, although it covers barely more than a third of the needed infrastructure investment, could go a very long way to repairing the US infrastructure before it collapses out from under us. 800 billion is not something that comes along every day, so it is unlikely that the major projects this could fund will be possible again for a long time. But many of them are not even building new systems. The infrastructure needs 2.2 trillion in repairs, much less improvements.

We could easily dump 4 of these bills into the economy and not run out of important and critical projects, but instead we’re dumping the money from one while getting the effect of 1/10th of a bill. We have all the cost and none of the gain, and this could provide enormous amounts of gain. The democrats have tacked all their pet projects onto the “Bill to Nowhere” and sapped it of any real strength.

And people ask me why I don’t like either party… *sigh*





Chess and Checkers

26 01 2009

I was reading Michael Shermer’s post about Oppenheimer, and it got me thinking.

It seems to me that American diplomacy is still of the “checkers” school, whereas what is needed is the chess mindest. Even ignoring the very simplistic worldview of our dimplomacy, the actual methods by which we carry it out and when we use it seem not to show any sense of strategy.

For instance, our raids across the border into Pakistan. Certainly, in the perfect world Taliban fighters wouldn’t be able to escape across the border. But losing Pakistan’s support damages us much more than the Taliban having an area to flee to. We need allies in the region, and we can’t afford to anger Pakistan unless we develop other more reliable and stable diplomatic relationships.

Further, there seems to be a lack of consideration as to why groups like the Taliban can continue to operate. For any sort of geurilla fighting, the geurillas must have more support than, or at the very least roughly as much support as, the other side in order to succeed or even to survive. What this means is that there is a lot of support for them in the area. That should tell us that the way to beat them has little to do with fighting them, and everything to do with local support. And yet we continue this “attack” mentality, using local support to attack them rather than to gain more local support.

I don’t know that any one group the US is fighting against does any better with this sort of thing. But the problem is, we’re trying to fight too many different battles at once to be able to persist in a tactical mindset. The strategy becomes important at this level. I think that’s the fundamental failing of US foreign policy, and not just the last administration. That’s been our situation for a long time.





Texas science standards

26 01 2009

As you’ve probably heard, the Texas Board of Education recently made amendments to the state science standards, including removing the “strengths and weaknesses” language. Yay, right?

Not yay. Other revisions made were based on advice from a DI drone. Examples:

Original:

(4) Earth in Space and Time. The student knows how Earth-based and space-based astronomical observations reveal the structure, scale, composition, origin, and history of the universe.

Revision:

(4) Earth in Space and Time. The student knows how Earth-based and space-based astronomical observations reveal differing theories about the structure, scale, composition, origin, and history of the universe.

See, if we were talking about a college curriculum this would be great, because there are differing theories regarding the specifics of what happened. But before college, this can refer only to learning very general things like the Big Bang. And there isn’t a “differing theory” there.

Original:

(5) Earth in Space and Time. The student knows that Earth’s place in the solar system is explained by the solar nebular accretionary disk model.

Revision:

(5) Earth in Space and Time. The student understands that Earth’s place in the solar system is explained by the solar nebular accretionary disk model.

This one isn’t so bad in that you can’t force a student to believe it. As long as they understand the model, they should be allowed to refuse to accept it. On the other hand, the goal of science standards is to convince students of reality, so the goal is for them to understand that this is the explanation.

Original:

(5)(B) investigate sources of heat, including kinetic heat of impact accretion, gravitational compression, and radioactive decay, which allows protoplanet differentiation into layers;

Revision:

(5)(B) investigate sources of heat, including kinetic heat of impact accretion, gravitational compression, and radioactive decay, which are thought to allow protoplanet differentiation into layers;

This one’s also minor but stupid. Technically it’s true that they are only “thought to,” but this is, for the purposes of a public school science curriculum, fact, not hypothesis.

Original:

(8)(A) evaluate a variety of fossil types, transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits with regard to their appearance, completeness, and rate and diversity of evolution;

Revision:

(8)(A) evaluate a variety of fossil types, proposed transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits with regard to their appearance, completeness, and rate and diversity of evolution and assess the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of this fossil evidence;

First, they are transitional fossils. They aren’t proposed transitional fossils. Second, the “with regard to….evolution” is the entire point of learning about them. They’re not just evidence for evolution, they show how it works. And third, THERE ARE NO ARGUMENTS AGAINST. There is not a single piece of credible evidence indicating anything but common ancestry of all living things on Earth.

Texas, please kick some of these IDiots off the board. Or maybe just kick them.

(via skepchick)