Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Voting Ain't Gonna Do It

If you vote for Mitt (are my eyes too close together?) Romney, Rick (Is that a rubber in your pocket young man?), or looks like any other Republican, that wont make evolution, global warming, the moon landings, nor gravity false. You can't vote/legislate truth. Only rationalism, logic and science reveal the truth. Let's have someone at the helm who understands how to solve problems regardless of their faith not someone who things faith will somehow magically solve problems.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Scientific Method

I had the good fortune today to sit in on a couple of presentations at Fermi National Laboratory. There are two large research groups there representing the two giant detectors they have in the Tevatron. Each group has data and analysis that may be suggestive of the existence of the elusive Higgs particle which would be very large news.

Understand that I understood NONE of the physics per se but here’s what I observed:

  • Calm and logical presentations
  • Polite and attentive audience
  • An almost crushing critical eye on their own data (more on this)
  • Respectively presenting results from the other detector and from the big machine at CERN without any high fiving or end zone dances (but that would have been kind of awesome).
  • Questions being asked and answered without any shouting or interrupting.

So, yes, all of this in direct opposition to what passes for public debate and intercourse these days (Republican “debates” or any asshole on FOX). I watched as each group looked very hard for ways their data could be WRONG. That’s right. That’s the real scientific method. You have a hypothesis, you collect data, it may be suggestive of the hypothesis but before you go there you check the 999 ways you could be wrong. They do a thing were they think they have a signal and then ask, “What are the odds that the background noise could have produced this signal”? They even have a thing called LEE which is the 'Look Elsewhere Effect'. I can only assume that that includes behind the sofa cushions. Stuff like that. They might not like the answer to those questions all the time but so it goes.

You’ll never find this among the creationists because they don’t understand the first thing about science or the scientific method. They have a preconceived idea about how the world works (not a testable hypothesis) then they put together ideas and things that may be suggestive of that preconceived idea, ignore all things that contradict, and call that science. What they are missing is the critical eye that would ask, what else might cover these observations? Is that more or less plausible than where we started? But no. They cannot accept any explanation that contradicts the initial world view because the whole point is to have another way to preach the world-view. . . science be damned!

We’re swimming in relativism where everyone with an idea thinks his is just as good as anyone else’s because he tweeted it. Luckily, real research doesn’t work that way. It’s god awful hard work but step by step our understanding of this universe increases. Any opinion you have about some piece of research better be well formed and based on the relevant and accepted theories around. You don't get to have an opinion just because it suits you. You don't get to have an opinion just because somehow you got it into your head that all opinions are equal. They're not.

Basic research may not lead to a world view that is exactly what we had in mind but that doesn’t matter. Keeping an open mind is critical if you expect to find anything new. Wherever pure research leads we all get to share in our increased understanding of this (one and only?) beautiful universe.

If we keep an open mind . . . and quit shouting!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

What does the bible say about the bible . . and then I ramble.

I had this thought today. . . Does the bible itself actually claim to be 'the word of God' or written by God? If not then the 'good book' was handed down and at some point people started putting a magic cloak on it.

My research continues but I did find this nugget:

Christians believe that the Bible is from God, not because someone told them, but because the Bible claims it.

I'm guessing this won't be my last encounter with a circular argument. But then I guess I asked for it by asking if the bible referred to itself. Self reference, like time travel, always leads to difficulties.

The barber cuts the hair of all the people who don't cut their own. Who barbers the barber?
There are two indices in the library. One lists all the books that do not refer to themselves in any way and the other lists all the books that do. Which index is in which index?

Stuff like that.

Anyway, my bigger wondering was about the nature of the world and civilization at the time that we think the books of the old testament were assembled by Abraham and then maybe later by Charlton Heston.

From Wikepedia:
In historical archaeology, the ancient literature of the Iron Age includes the earliest texts preserved in manuscript tradition. Sanskrit literature and Chinese literature flourished in the Age. Other text includes the Avestan Gathas, the Indian Vedas and the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible. The principal feature that distinguishes the Iron Age from the preceding ages is the introduction of alphabetic characters, and the consequent development of written language which enabled literature and historic record.[1]

(jeez they sure underline a lot!)

Wow, Looks like the Hebrew Bible (old testament) wasn't the only writing laying around. Were any of these other pieces of literature given the magic cloak?

Here's the thing. I'm a rotten history student. I like it. It interests me but there is just so MUCH of it! Suffice it to say that the ancient books of the bible were written a LONG time ago. Now it is said that they were 'inspired' so that they are actually the word of God. OK.

However, would you allow that perhaps there were some misunderstandings? Would you allow that due to the temper of the times and the vagaries of passing things down that things like slavery, role of women, etc maybe got a less than
heavenly treatment? If so, how hard is it to get re-inspired and do a new edition? I'm half serious (the other half is all smart-ass). The religious get so much grief (and rightly so) about the atrocities that are promoted in the bible that I can't see a down side for them for a re-write.

They won't have to prove that the re-write was actually written by God since they can't prove that model 1 was either. It's a faith thing. Some modern 'inspired' writers could really have at it! They could get the age of the universe correct. They could have the modern bible jibe with evolution! You could teach the new bible in Bio class and all are happy! You could keep the old stories about Noah etc. but perhaps the flood was not world wide but local and he took some cats and dogs. You could put in some fancy language about the big bang and you get some traction there because to date nobody knows what CAUSED the Big Bang. You could have some newer stories that include such modern characters as Archimedes and Galileo, Martin Luther and Muhammad Ali perhaps. You could fill in things about dinosaurs, the Chinese, the Aztecs, and the Whig Party. Stuff like that. Why in the end you'd have a wonderful book that would be. . .

Maybe a very nice set of science/history texts! Praise the Newton and pass the ammunition!

Hand of God

Theists are fond of seeing the hand of God in such things as devastating tornadoes. The two obvious questions are:

1. How does it work? Really, how does it work? What is the mechanism by which an entity controls the weather. I'll give you that he has the power to do it. What is the mechanism by which it works?

2. I like to ask, ok, they how would it have looked different if it were just random weather and not the hand of God? Look about the same I'm thinking. A family huddled in their house praying their asses off got carted off to heaven. Hmmm...maybe that's what they were praying for and it DOES work!

In short you only see the hand of God if you already believe in the hand of God. There is no objective proof of the work of a deity. As my boss at the museum used to say, "If I hadn't believed it with my own mind I never would have seen it".

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Hoping and Knowing

There’s hoping and then there’s knowing. Religion is devoted to hoping and science and rationalism are devoted to knowing. When you pray you are hoping a LOT of things. You’re hoping that the lines are up, you’re hoping that the message will be answered. When you go to church and express your faith you hope that you are going to heaven. Even the faithful will agree that they don’t know any of those things but that they have faith. They’re hoping.

People are fond of saying that they know something “in their hearts”. This is put up as an unassailable position when in fact it's just a metaphor. Moreover, by saying you ONLY know something in your heart means that you’re hoping. Flowery language cannot be used against cold hard facts. You’re basing your premise on what you want to be true based on no information or research and probably via ignoring information that contradicts that which you are hoping.

When you know something (no matter how much you may wish it weren’t true) you know it based on research, facts, known theories, and testable and re-testable experiments. Your knowledge is firmly attached to reality. There is nothing between you and your knowledge that has to be accepted to move on. Nothing is based on hoping. Everything is open to examination and tests. That’s real knowledge. And if someone says to me, "Yes, but what about other realities or the supernatural", I say, well just show me an example and we'll take it from there. Experiments will continue and would frankly be fascinating!

I get the hoping part. It’s a scary world out there. Our lives are so short. We wish things were different perhaps. But hoping they were different doesn’t make it so. Every parent teaches their kids this pretty early on, right? You may wish your child didn’t have to go through the pain of a dying pet but making up a doggie heaven doesn’t change the facts. As kids grow they have a pretend world that meshes with the real world and that's great but we all know the difference, right?

None of this would be worth writing about nor would it be a problem except for the fact that hoping and reason are hoisted up on the dance floor as if they were on equal terms (because the former might actually be worth more votes). When it comes to the death of Bowser I could give a rats ass really what you tell your kid. But when it comes to how we operate something as complicated as the US of A I get a little nervous. Why should I care what invisible deity what candidate sends his hopes to. Why do we still say that someone is a “man of faith” as if that makes him qualified to lead the nation. If that were all it took we’d draft Tim Tebow and be done with it.

Examples abound. When the religious right tries to pretend that there is controversy regarding evolution they are putting their hope that the bible is true and accurate and that man is special up against tons of reality based research that says we are no more special than any other of our fellow creatures and that clearly there has been a plodding progression from simple organisms to more complicated. We’re part of that progression. How could we not be without being aliens from another planet? That these two positions are put up as if they were worthy debate contestants is ludicrous.

When people listen to congressmen instead of scientists when it comes to global warming it’s because they HOPE that it just isn’t true and that it’s really still 1957, gas is 29 cents a gallon, and Wally and the Beaver are on their way home from school. Sorry, the planet is definitely warming up and anyone who can read and think a little will agree with the thousands of SCIENTISTS who also agree that the planet is warming up and that it is industrialization that caused it. It’s a tough reality so just deal with it and let’s start working on solutions. There is nothing in the way of solving problems except denying that they exist!