Tag Archives: Mathematics

The Universe, Religion, and Radio Signals

If you haven’t heard Paul Harvey or Paul Harvey Jr. on the radio, then I envy you your ignorant bliss, for they both sound like a drunken Jimmy Stewart from the movie Harvey. The father and son “newsmen” do a short, cornball show covering the gamut, from world politics to folksy stories of small town America. The Harvey’s “reporting” style is reminiscent of old-time radio; imagine a man wearing a fedora, with one hand clasped over an ear, speaking into a enormous, chrome plated microphone. During their syndicated broadcast they shift seamlessly from important news stories to sales pitches for delicious buttery spreads to tales of conservative family values. I think Dude Lebowski might say the Harvey’s are out of their element, by about five decades.

Well, Thursday morning I woke up to Paul Harvey Jr. talking complete gobbledygook about the latest astrophysics and why it reestablishes the earth as unique in the universe. Have a listen, at least to the first 3 minutes.

Science texts for four centuries have insisted that the earth is nothing special in the universe“. No. Copernicus’ heliocentric model was just a technical detail about earth’s position in the solar system. It didn’t say anything about its status or importance in the universe. Although, based on a lack of distinguishing features, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that our solar system isn’t particularly special. After all, there are billions of galaxies each with billions of stars, as Carl Sagan might point out. But that’s not going to stop a theist from grasping at straws.

Inexplicable phenomenon“, “Dark energy“, “Dark matter“, “Dark flow“, and “Confounded. Leave it to a gullible fool like Harvey Jr. to invoke the god-of-the- gaps argument; if scientists don’t understand something then it must be supernatural. i.e. I don’t know how David Copperfield did an illusion, therefore it’s must be real magic.

Those dark forces… the infinitely vast reality that exists beyond it [the universe]“. Harvey Jr. thinks dark energy and dark matter exist beyond the universe. I didn’t know science could see that far.

Accepted without question“. Scientists interrogate each other into submission because science is a method of investigation, which cannot be done without asking questions. Religious faith is loyalty to an idea regardless of the evidence. Don’t theists typically balk at Q&A sessions?

The earth alone exists in a cosmic bubble“. Give a layman a little physics and he’ll twist and turn it into an Easter pretzel. It’s Harvey Jr. who exists in a intellectual bubble.

My advice is not to get your science news from giant invisible white rabbits named Harvey or credulous radio personalities.

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Creationist Of The Month Club – Dinesh D’Souza

Weeeeeeeee, Im a creationist.

Wheeeeeeeee, I'm a creationist.

Dinesh D’Souza is a professional apologist. To him Christianity is the source of all good in the world, and evolution is nasty atheistic propaganda. Here’s an excerpt from a piece he wrote on evolution and intelligent design:

The problem with evolution is not that it is unscientific but that it is routinely taught in textbooks and in the classroom in an atheist way. Textbooks frequently go beyond the scientific evidence to make metaphysical claims about how evolution renders the idea of a Creator superfluous.

Chemistry and physics are also taught in an “atheistic way”, as are computer science and mathematics. Science, by its very nature, is secular because the supernatural is not open to any form of investigation. When teaching evolution a teacher ought not to even mention god, because god is not a source of viable data.

D’Souza accuses science of making “metaphysical claims“, but it is Christians like himself who are guilty of this sin. They presuppose the existence of a higher being, and they whine when their presupposition is contradicted in a science classroom. It is perfectly reasonable, considering the evidence, for a biologist to conclude that life on Earth evolved and was not designed. This claim is about the physical world, not the metaphysical one. To proclaim the existence of a grand designer is a “metaphysical claim“, one that is wholly untestable within our Earthly realm. In essence, what D’Souza is upset over is biologists not including a dash of the supernatural in the mix.

Most Christians don’t care whether the eye evolved by natural selection or whether Darwin’s theories can account for macroevolution or only microevolution. What they care about is that evolution is being used to deny God as the creator.

First D’Souza denounces science for making a “metaphysical claim“, then he squawks that science is not including the metaphysical. Way to go on the blaring contradiction there, Dinesh. Now I’m positive you’re a Christian and a creationist. Only an Olympic grade rationalizer would do a one-eighty within the span of a few paragraphs.

Yesterday, in another article, D’Souza offered his pity for biologist and atheist PZ Myers.

Asked whether Christianity deserves credit for founding the first Western hospitals, universities and even scientific breakthroughs, Myers said, “No. People made those contributions to Western civilization”… Christianity was a powerful motivating force in why people did those things. You can find all this out by opening up a history book.

[Emphasis added to distinguish the wheat from the chaff]

Apparently, D’Souza has no grap of science methodology or religion and its lack of methodology. Indeed, Christianity founded many great universities. But the fact remains that one cannot successfully investigate the natural world while limiting one’s answers to within a religious framework. European universities were scientifically unproductive places until the Enlightenment. In the 18th century, almost half of the pupils of Oxford and Cambridge studied for the clergy; emphasis was on the classics and the Bible. Natural philosophy, as science was known then, was looked upon with suspicion, as it meddled with the belief in creation. It was only when researchers were free to contradict scripture that any real work got done. Dinesh would find all this out by opening up a history book.

So, I dub Dinesh D’Souza creationist of the month for September, 2008. Congratulations, Dinesh, on a job well done.

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Top 15 Creation Science Fair Projects

Top 15 Creation Science Fair Projects

15. Sexual Selection: Observations on the blond girl next door
14. My mom’s purse and the 2nd law of thermodynamics
13. The Grand Canyon: It’s smaller than it looks
12. Human vs. parrot IQ test – How Mr. Crackers cheated
11. Practicing Social-Darwinism for fun and profit
10. Bible College Cut & Paste Research Techniques
9. Viagra and the irreducible complexity in my pants
8. The geology of baking soda volcanoes
7. SPF 13: The Devil’s Number
6. Peer Review, Schmear Review: My friends suck
5. Praying For An “A+”, Without Really Trying
4. Abiogenesis in the Pillsbury Dough Boy
3. Spanking the monkey: Literally!
2. That evil Charles Darwin: An Unbiased Review
1. Noah’s Ark: Cargo Ship or Luv Boat?

When I wrote this silly list, I had no idea that the reality of creation science education is stranger than my fiction. I was shocked to discover an actual entry, from a 2001 creation science fair, “Women Are Designed For Homemaking”. It was an 8th grade boy’s project. I’d be interested to know if his mother or father had a hand in the work.

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John McCain, The Creationism Enabler

Remember the Alamo… I mean the 2007 Republican Debate.

McCain states in the video that he believes in evolution, but then adds that the “hand of god” can be seen in the Grand Canyon at sunset. In essence he gives a non-answer; he sits his ass on the fence. It’s almost as if he had rehearsed his response, but for a moment forgot the second half of the answer, the part that appeases the creationists. (Line, line. Where’s the director? Where’s my bottled water? The teleprompter isn’t working and neither is my ear-piece. Someone get me a moist towelette. I’m John McCain, a freaking war hero.)

I’m convinced that McCain actually does “believe” in evolution. But I also think he desperately wants to be president, and will say anything, or do almost anything, to attain and keep that position. If he has to be indirectly responsible for damaging science education, so be it. If he does win the election, he’ll most likely fuel a new creationist fire, for the very reason that he needs the approval of the Christian-right. He’ll be their enabler. Earlier this year, he courted the Intelligent Design vote. And Intelligent Design is just creationism with an easier-to-swallow coating. (But it’s still a hard pill to swallow.)

Don’t forget the 2007 Republican Debate… or the Alamo.

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Louisiana’s State Of Arrested Development

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law a bill that would essentially allow the injection of religion into public schools, particularly the science classroom. If a teacher finds evolution objectionable he or she is free to water it down with a shot of creationism, whether it be the fire and brim stone variety of Young Earth Creationism (YEC) or the more modern argument of Intelligent Design (ID). Come to think of it, teachers could offer any number of alternative arguments. Who’s to stop them now? How about a little Scientology for the students? Space aliens populated the Earth…L. Ron Hubbard said so.

This bill is unfortunate for Louisiana since its students have a history of being ranked near the bottom in math and science skills. The New York Times reported on a 1991 Federal Math Survey: 

States in the South and notably poor states did worst, with Louisiana earning the lowest average and Washington, D.C., scoring even lower.

Governor Jindal reported in a speech from March 31, 2008:

Unfortunately, we still rank among the worst in the country when it comes to students’ reading and math scores… flexible funding of $20 million can be used by school districts to recruit teachers in subjects where we consistently lag behind, such as math and science.

So Governor Jindal isn’t doing Louisiana’s students any favors with this bill. Violating the separating of church and state is bad enough, but wasting valuable classroom time with pseudo-scientific garbage is shameful. Clearly, the politicians of Louisiana would rather use public education as a political chew toy than take it seriously. The only ones benefiting from this bill are ultra-religious rabid dogs.       

For a more in depth report of Bobby Jindal’s pathetic views go here. He actually said:

I don’t think students learn by us withholding information from them. Some want only to teach intelligent design, some only want to teach evolution. I think both views are wrong, as a parent.

Is creationism withheld from students? Isn’t it everywhere in society? Children are exposed to religious views at home, at church, and though the media. The only exposure most ever will get to real science is in the science classroom. And now that’s being eroded.

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Monkey See, Monkey Do Math

I think the general public has a somewhat comical view of animals and their mental abilities. From chickens playing tic-tac-toe at county fairs to “stupid pet tricks” on TV to humorous news clips of zoo animals entertaining the masses. It isn’t much of a résumé. Perhaps one of the mental barriers to seeing evolution in a clear light is regarding animals as buffoons; and being related to a buffoon is unacceptable to many people.

But if we actually give animal behavior more than a cursory glance, we find that many groups exhibit extraordinary abilities on par with humans, if not quanititatively then qualitatively. My favorite is the birds, specifically the corvid family. (Monkeys get all the attention, the diaper wearing media whores.) New Caledonian Crows have demonstrated their ability to use tools. Watch the video of a crow forming a wire tool, but look closely or you’ll miss the key moment.     

Wikipedia:

Bird Intelligence

Books:

Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays” by Candace Savage

 “Ravens In Winter” by Bernd Heinrich 

 

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Robotic Fish

These robotic fish can organize themselves into a school. This type of research touches on the study of emergent behavior and self-organization. Ants, for example, don’t consciously decide how they will perform their work. Each individual ant has basic programmed behaviors. But when ants interact as a group, behaviors emerge that aren’t inherent in the individual ants. Only as a groups do they truly shine. As a society, ants are more than the sum of their parts. A great book on the subject of self-organization is Artificial Life by Steven Levy

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