Tag Archives: science

Seven Ways a Black Hole Can Kill You

One of the few things that most (and let me stress, most, not all) freethinkers have in common is a love for science.

Science is the tool that allows us to understand the universe. It’s the process that has allowed us to communicate over vast distances by typing into these little magic boxes (computers, I think they may be called). And, quite simply, it’s just really cool.

Obviously not everyone agrees with me. My own 11 year-old self absolutely loathed going to science class in school. But it can help to capture your attention if the particular scientific subject being discussed is entertaining or interesting. And there are few things as interesting or entertaining as contemplating your own morality and the destruction of the planet. Am I right?

If you think I am, check out the video below. Phil Plait, of Bad Astronomy and president of the JREF, gives an hour long talk about 7 ways in which a black hole can kill you.

So enjoy. And try not to panic.

Advertisements

Are religion and science equally valid?

I have a friend from high school that I have been conversing with for a short while ever since we friended each-other and he has been reading this blog as I post links to them on facebook. He said, in a recent blog post of his, a number of things that I disagree with. I would, therefore, like to reply to it here. I hope he does not mind my quoting his blog entirely. The original post can be found here.

He starts off this way:

I have an old friend from high school that identifies himself as an “atheist, polymorous, geek” (if you’re like I was and unfamiliar with the term “polymorous,” best I can figure out, it means polygamy distinguished semantically from the baggage of Joseph Smith and the fundamentalist Mormons). Shaun keeps a daily blog in which he posts his thoughts in support of atheism and polymorism. At least once a week I open my web browser to find an intelligent, well written article about why atheism is the only possible rational conclusion to be drawn by carefully examining the facts about God.

Now, first off, polyamory has very little to do with polygamy. My partners are free to find other boyfriends or girlfriends as I am. Right now, I have no interest in starting a relationship with anyone else, as I am busy enough. Polyamory really is simple non-monogamy. I just don’t think that monogamy should be assumed. I’m glad he thinks my thoughts are intelligent, at least.

Seriously. He writes, “There is no God” every week, “just look at the facts.” Sometimes he writes this twice a week in essay form. As I read these short essays, I can’t help imagining what people’s reactions would look like if I were to write about the existence of God as much as Shaun writes about supreme being’s nonexistence. Certainly, the white upper-middle class politically left leaning liberal intellectual community in which both Shaun and I were educated would label me as a fundamentalist, religious freak. After all, who else would expend so much time and energy thinking and writing about God?

Clearly, this is hyperbole. I don’t say that there is no god. Why? Because that is not the atheist position as I use it. I say that I am not convinced that a god exists. I think the question is important, so I write about it. I am not really concerned if people look at me as some sort of fanatic. I am interested in what is true. If anyone else were to write bout it as much as I do, I would want to talk with them. Those who are not interested can read something else.

I’m no expert on God or Rationalism. I’m not a theologian. I’m not a philosopher. My field is Depth Psychology. I observe and write about the ways humans make meaning and the stories they tell to make sense of the world around them. I’m not interested, therefore, in discussing whether or not God exists. Using so-called rational science, the existence of an omnipotent being that resembles a carbon based earth creature is just as hard to disprove, as it is to prove. Instead, I’m interested in the concept of God: an undisputable fact.

OK. I’m waiting now for the punch line.

The very attempt to disprove God’s existence is simultaneously an acknowledgment of the concept’s structural existence and an attempt to replace the concept with another. In other words, God is an idea on which both believers and atheists expend mental energy. I agree, when the atheist labels the believer’s ideology a phantastic story that makes meaning out of chaos. However, I also label the atheist’s ideology a rationalistic story that makes meaning out of chaos.

Again, I’m not trying to disprove god. I’m talking about why I am not convinced that tthis being exists. I’m responding to the claim, the apologetics of it, and the proposed reasons to believe and showing why they do not add up.

I’m interested by the idea that we share the “acknowledgment of the concept’s structural existence”, as he says. This seems similar to a thought I have often. I do feel like I’m trying to wrap my mind around a concept of god (that concept depends on what type of theism I’m responding to), but find what concept I am able to glean unbelievable. And I’ll agree, provisionally, that I’m trying to make meaning out of chaos. How similar my method of meaning-making is from that of others I do not know.

Both the phantastic and the rationalistic are valid and real ways to approach the world. In both cases, however, imagining your own approach as “truth” is fundamentalist and dogmatic. There is space for approaching the world from both perspectives. Both perspectives (and the many other possible approaches) are fabrications or fictions that say more about the unique experience of the human species than they do about the universe’s material (or spiritual) reality.

This is where we clearly part ways. I do not accept the idea that all methods of approaching the world are equally valid. And while they are all fabrications, or at least artifacts, that does not mean that they are equally valid any more than the fact that a true and false story come from people make them both valid. Some methods are created such that they can be tested against shared experiences and be tested with the best methods we have. Others do not use these tools. Thus, some methods are clearly better at different things. In terms of discovering what is most-likely true, one stands above the others.

We live in a typhoon of positivist sound bites as dogmatic as the organized religions they criticize. Moralistic commandments with financial agendas are disguised as health tips; they are platitudes accepted as gospel. Our obsession with cleanliness and sanitizing, for example, can be seen as a remnant of a puritan believer’s attempt to wash away nature, to weed out the impure, to restore humankind to its Garden-of-Eden Godliness.

Positivism is no longer a perspective held by the majority of people, especially in science. It was a view derived from early works of Wittgenstein (and not sanctioned by him, as he later came back to academia and attacked positivism). The view is not that all metaphysical (or phantastic, as he calls them) claims are nonsense simply for being metaphysical in nature, but because they do not stand up to scrutiny. The ones that do stand up to scrutiny are then simply considered part of science’s conclusions. The skeptical community to which I belong does not have any dogmatic beliefs about such things, they have tried to test them and found that much of them do not stand up to testing.

We accept the scientific data on faith. Does the atheist examine the research on microbiology and “germs” before washing his hands? Doesn’t he see the inherent contradiction? He’s willing to take the leap of faith necessary to believe in evil creatures so small they are invisible to the naked eye but not a creator so large he cannot be comprehended by the human mind?

No. I accept the conclusions of science for two reasons. One, in some cases I’ve looked at the data myself. But the vast majority is because I understand the peer-review process. The scientific community is full of people who are clamoring for grants, respectability, and maybe even a Nobel prize. In order to get these things, you have to have your theory stand up to the rigor of hundreds or even thousands of others you are in competition with who are trying to use teh best methodology that they know of.

To accept what survives this onslaught is not faith. It is a rational acceptance based on the fact that if the theories proposed by the scientific method via the scientific community were not the best we have come up with, someone else would have proven otherwise. Theories such as the germ theory of disease, relativity, natural selection etc were all tested, retested, confirmed, re-confirmed, and so they are accepted. They are not believed in a technical sense, but accepted. And if a better idea were to replace any of these, what other method besides science could be used? No other method has proven itself to be as reliable, and so that’s why it is used by the experts in various fields…well, most of them, anyway. I’m sure young Earth creationists, for example, try different methods (yet then call it ‘science’, ironically)

We can see small organisms with tools like microscopes. The hypothesis of god has been used to explain many things in history, and as science processes in its understanding, the things some god was supposed to do are being pushed back by better understanding. In ancient times we thought gods made lightning, now we have a natural explanation. Now people think that a god is needed to design life, but science keeps showing that this is not the case necessarily. If a god exists, it is either working through nature (which does not seem parsimonious), or it is so vague a power and so insignificant that why would we continue to worship it or call it god?

So, god is so large it cannot be comprehended by the human mind? Perhaps. But then how do so many people seem to know so much about it? I don’t see a need for such a being to exist to explain anything in nature. It may exist, but I am not convinced. That’s what atheism is.

The microscope-wielding ministers of science at temples like Harvard and MIT may seem to have more clout than the doctors of deities at institutions like the Vatican and the Jewish Theological Seminary. But I think that assumption imagines the mainstream as the whole stream. Instead, I would argue that our rational-discursive oppositional world is dependent on the Science/Religion dichotomy. The conflicting perspectives exist symbiotically, the debate against one point of view feeding the other.

It is not a dichotomy. There is the methods of science and the various ideas of religions, conspiracy theories, new age weirdness, pseudoscience, etc. One method is better than the others. It will continue to give us better explanations while the others cannot compete in terms of methodology. Religion is not a single methodology. It is not a monumental and coherent competitor, but an alliance of people who share similar ideologies who stand opposed to, ignorant of, or philosophically naive in relation to the best methodology humans have yet come up with that tends to demonstrate the weakness of closely held ideologies, such as the dogmas of religions.

There may be something closer to a dichotomy in terms of the ways that we think. To think critically one must train the mind to be skeptical, rigorous, and be willing to tear down your own assumptions and beliefs. To try to rationalize beliefs held is to seek out data that supports the conclusion you want. Good scientists don’t do this, as this is not part of the scientific method. This method is neutral, skeptical, and perpetually bettering itself.

A religious ideology is rigid, and only changes when it needs to. It’s why religion had to give up the earth-centric view of cosmology, the flat Earth (there still is a Flat Earth Society), the 6000 year-old earth (some still don’t accept the much older earth). It seeks data that supports it, apologizes rather than is skeptical, and it feeds off of our desires to be more than mere biological machines. It was only when science came around, providing better methods and thus conclusions, that religions started to change.

These are not equally valid pursuits. This post-modernism is damaging philosophically, epistemologically, and methodologically. So, with respect I disagree with my fellow blogger. But I do look forward to more discussion with him and others.

The Right to Kill Your Child

Although she doesn’t know it, that is exactly what Colleen Hauser wants.

Forced Chemo

Police look for mom, son who fled to avoid chemo

SLEEPY EYE, Minn. (AP) — A courtroom clash between medicine and faith took a criminal turn, with police around the country on the lookout Wednesday for a Minnesota mother who fled with her cancer-stricken 13-year-old son rather than consent to chemotherapy.

(…)

Daniel has Hodgkins lymphoma, a highly curable form of cancer when treated with chemo and radiation. But the teen and his parents rejected chemo after a single treatment, with the boy’s mother saying that putting toxic substances in the body violates the family’s religious convictions.

Colleen Hauser said she had been treating the boy’s cancer instead with herbal supplements, vitamins, ionized water and other natural alternatives — a regimen based mostly on information she found on the Internet.

Thanks to those dreadful interwebz, this poor boy’s mother has become convinced in the efficacy of a pseudo-Native American superstition called “Nemenhah”. Rather than letting the doctor’s treat Daniel she’s taken the boy on the run, where he will almost certainly die while taking vitamins and squatting in sweat-lodges.

What’s probably the worst fact of this case is that the Hauser’s have convinced Daniel of their nonsense. Though it’s hard to blame him. Undergoing chemotherapy is not a pleasant experience. It can often cause more pain than the patient has suffered from the cancer itself when the chemo treatments begin. And at the age of 13, how could a sick boy do anything but listen to his parents?

As strange as it may seem, I am not against adults refusing chemotherapy or other modern treatments. I’m not terribly happy when anyone makes a decision that ends up killing them, but an adult should have the right to do so if they can’t be convinced otherwise.

But a child doesn’t have that right. We recognize as a society that children don’t know enough and don’t have enough experience to come to decisions about their own safety. And as much power as parents do hold over their children, parents do not own them.

In Ancient Rome, the paterfamilias had ultimate authority over his family. He could put his children to death if they disobeyed him. But that is not the world we live in. You do not have the right to kill your child.

I just hope that the police find Daniel Hauser before it’s too late.

God Personified

Why is it that the Christian God is supposed to be all-powerful and yet it took him a full 6 days to create the world? Shouldn’t he have been able to do it with a snap of his metaphysical fingers? A real god should be able to think it and it happens. And while we are at it, if God is so all-powerful, why does he have to rest on the seventh day? Humans need rest, not gods.

However, the people who created god could have simply personified nature and if that were the case, than since people do rest, a personified deity might need to rest too. In the ancient world, deities like Zeus lived on Mount Olympus and deities like Odin lived Valhalla. So where does Yahweh live? Heaven. But God’s don’t really need to live anywhere, right? I mean isn’t an all-powerful deity supposed to be everywhere?

As you can see, Yahweh like all the other gods that have come before him are all personifications. Ancient people who couldn’t understand the world used these deities as an attempt to explain the world. They created elaborate stories and gave their deity of choice personalities based on human stories and personalities. That is why God is a jealous God, a vengeful God, a wrathful God, a Just God, etc. These are all human traits. The war in Heaven is based off wars on Earth. God has a son? Humans have sons. God’s live forever and always were and always will be, so how can they give birth to a divine child?

These are ancient stories told to explain what was unexplainable. Now science can explain much of what was unexplainable and so now God is forced to fill the gaps. However, even though science can’t explain everything we should be mature enough as a race to simply say that we don’t know the answers to all the questions without the need to make up answers with stories of divine intrigue. God is no longer even needed to fill the gaps as long as we are mature enough to accept the gaps and curious enough to attempt to fill those gaps through the continued exploration of science and philosophy.

Check out my Daily Blog @ DangerousTalk.net and my atheist news blog @ Examiner.com

A Science Lesson for Christians

Often times when discussing religion with Christians the conversation turns to science. I am not an expert in the sciences. My field is Philosophy. Just to make sure that I have all my facts straight, I e-mailed this blog to The Science Pundit for peer review. However, having gone to a fairly decent public school program which taught science fairly well, I would say that I have a slightly above average knowledge of the subject. I am beginning to think though that I am a bit more than just slightly above average. It seems that I run into the same problems over and over again. Many of the Christians that I talk to have no idea how the scientific method works.

The thing is that most of these Christians claim to know how science works and they claim to have studied in detail the relevant scientific theories that we are discussing. But then their mouths open (or in case of internet conversations, they write stuff). And based on what they are saying, it becomes painfully obvious that they have not studied the relevant theories and have no idea whatsoever how science works.

There are a few particular misconceptions that keep popping up. The first is that a “scientific theory” is “just a theory.” Here there is as Wittgenstein put it, a “Family Resemblance” between the two uses, but make no mistake that the term “theory” is being used in two very different ways. In the general sense the term “theory” is used to describe an analytic structure designed to explain a set of observations. As used in the scientific sense, a theory is an explanation or model based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning, especially one that has been tested and confirmed as a general principle helping to explain and predict natural phenomena. In other words, “just a theory” is very different than a “scientific theory” which has considerably more weight attached to it.

Another common misconception is that science is “faith based” just as faith based belief is faith based. These particular Christians don’t seem to understand the difference between the scientific process and the religious process. To them, all ideas are the same and deserve equal time. The problem is that all ideas are not the same.

Let’s start with religion. The way religious belief works, they start off with the belief in God and in the Bible. That belief supersedes everything else. Then they specifically look to find anything which might be considered supportive of their conclusion (This is called “confirmation bias.” The scientific method goes to extreme measures to minimize or eliminate this as all people—even scientists—are susceptible to confirmation bias). If evidence comes to light which disproves their belief, that evidence is attacked, ignored, and/or destroyed. Their view is that God exists and that the Bible is true and nothing “science” can say or show will convince them otherwise. Many times, they will even tell you that straight up.

Science doesn’t start with the conclusion. Science starts with observations. From the observations we make a hypothesis, which is an educated guess as to the explanation of an observable phenomenon or phenomena which makes predictions and is therefore testable. We then look for evidence and/or test the hypothesis through experimentation to see if our hypothesis holds up. One thing science tries to be very careful about is to make sure that when we run tests and look for evidence we do so in as non-biased manner as possible. We don’t want to fall prey to confirmation bias. We are not specifically looking to confirm or deny the hypothesis, just go where the evidence leads. If the evidence supports the hypothesis, then we keep looking for more evidence in the same unbiased manner. If the evidence does not support the hypothesis, then we revise the hypothesis and start the process over again. Science never draws a 100% certain conclusion. Science is always willing to change. But the more and more evidence which supports a given hypothesis the more and more certain we are that the hypothesis is correct. But we will never say that we are 100% certain. A theory is a more general model which includes facts, laws and hypotheses and explains a whole family of phenomena.

So as you can see, while science starts with observations and evidence and investigates as non-biased as it can, religion is the exact opposite. Religion starts with the conclusion and looks in a biased manner for anything which could be persuasive and rejects what does not fit with the already stated conclusion (i.e. God exists and the Bible is true).

Please keep in mind that this blog is only giving a basic and quick guide to science and the scientific method. I encourage anyone who lacks sufficient scientific knowledge to go online or pick up a science text book and learn more.

Check out my Daily Blog @ DangerousTalk.net and my atheist news blog @ Examiner.com

The Anti-Intellectualism of Christianity

One of the biggest issues that I have with Christianity is the anti-intellectualism that it perpetuates. It isn’t hard to miss. For starters, the majority of Christians in America are ignorant and proud. The fact that the most idiotic President in our nation’s history was elected mainly because of the support of the Christian Right, speaks volumes. A quick look back at history also shows that the Church and various organized religions have done everything they could to restrict science and knowledge. At every stage of scientific achievement, Christians were always their persecuting those who wish to expand human knowledge and human progress. One of the Humanities biggest loses came pretty early on too. In 415 CE a Christian mob brutally murdered Hypatia of Alexandria (I would go into more details about the brutality of that murder, but it is a bit graphic) who was one the bright lights of Science in her time. Even today, almost half of Christianity stands against the science of evolution and medical stem cell research.

The fact is that the more religious someone is, the less value they tend to place on science and education. According to the National Academy of Sciences, 93% of scientists express disbelief or doubt in the existence of a personal deity. 72% outright disbelieve in a personified deity. These are among the brightest minds on Earth. Both Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking (widely considered the two smartest men who every lived) had issue with the personified deity of Christianity. These men joined the company of many of the most intellectual founding fathers such as Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and other.

The concept of “faith” is a slap in the face to science and intellectual curiosity. Faith stops questions while science encourages questions. Faith provides dishonest, unsupportable, and unquestioned certainty while science leaves every conclusion open to change with additional evidence and discoveries. With faith, no education is necessary because education is often a determent to faith. This is one of the biggest reasons why Christian fundamentalists are so keen on censorship and control. Even in the Bible, the character of Jesus elevates blind faith above intellectual rigor, reason, and evidence.

“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed.” – John 20: 29

This is not the only instance in which the Bible attacks the intellect. Corinthians is full of such examples. “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” – 1 Corinthians 1:27 and 5 “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 2:5, etc.

Science, reason, and intellectualism support the concepts of continued questioning, education, and human curiosity. Through the scientific method, the rules of logic, and the thirst to understand, people of reason are continually pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and helping to make life better and longer for us all. Yet, example after example, the Bible and Christianity stand against the intellect and continue to propagate ignorance, fear, and unreason. Between the Creation Museum and the absolute unquestioning certainty of a divine deity, Christianity remains one of the biggest oppositions to human progress and the greatest threat to intellectualism.

Checkout my Daily Blog @ DangerousTalk.net

Pi Day

As many of you may know, Saturday was March 14th or 3.14 or Pi Day. This is a day in which we should all celebrate math and science and make learning fun. Many in the greater atheistic community have wanted to create atheistic holidays to celebrate since we don’t really celebrate religious holidays. I don’t have a problem with that, but it should be emphasized that atheism is not a religion and so we don’t need holidays. Humanism can be considered a religion to some degree and so a humanistic holiday would make more sense. In any case, Pi Day should be such a holiday. I was a little surprised however to hear Congress discussing the holiday in open session. In fact, Tennessee Congressman Bart Gordon sponsored a House Resolution honoring Pi Day. Here Tennessee Congressman Lincoln Davis addresses the Congress:

The really surprising thing about this House Resolution is that 10 Republicans actually voted against it!!! It seems the love of math and science is something they felt they needed to vote against. No money was appropriated with this resolution. No laws were created or changed with this resolution. All this resolution did was honor Pi Day and encourage scientific education through a simple acknowledgement. Yet 10 Congressman made the conscious decision to vote against this acknowledgement. So I am going to “out” these anti-science Congressmen:

Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake
Nevada Congressman Dean Heller
Illinois Congressman Tim Johnson
Florida Congressman Jeff Miller
Texas Congressman Randy Neugebauer
Texas Congressman Ron Paul
Indiana Congressman Mike Pence
Texas Congressman Ted Poe
Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster

Please check out my Daily Blog at: DangerousTalk.net