Darwinists Say the Darndest Things

Posted: November 1, 2010 in Evolution

Here is a comment I received from a fan.  I don’t really feel a response is necessary inasmuch as I don’t care about responding to anonymous posters, and more importantly, there’s no money in it.  However, it does provide a specimen of the sort of rants W. J. Bryan had to endure at the hands of Mencken and other spawn of Satan during the 1920s.  Nothing much has changed since then.

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The Scopes trial?  Way to be current.  Have you heard of the Dover trial?

“What creationists object to is not change but a certain type of change. Change is a necessary condition for Darwinian evolution, but not a sufficient condition. Creationists insist that the change from an organism with less information content to an organism with greater information content is what is needed, and that has never been shown to happen, except maybe in fairy tales.”

That has never been shown to happen?  What are you, a molecular biologist?

Google “gene duplication”.  You have a lot to learn before you can competently write about evolutionary biology.

You call evolution “Darwinian evolution”.  Evolution is called “evolution”.   Evolution does not need any adjectives.

“If you assume in advance that similarity of structure is due to common ancestry, and you assume in advance that modifications in structure over time are by random, naturalistic processes, you’d have to say cars came about by random, naturalistic processes.”

This shows you don’t even understand natural selection which is a very simple concept.  If you knew anything about biology you would at least know natural selection is NOT random.

And what do cars have to do with the diversity of life?

Your total ignorance of science is not evidence for anything.  If you want to defend your childish magical creationism, you got to provide evidence for it.  Your imaginary evidence AGAINST evolution (as if there was evidence against reality), is not evidence FOR your idiotic religious belief in supernatural magic.

So describe the magic wand your fairy uses, and provide evidence for this magical wand.  Until you can do that, you need to shut up about science.

Here’s another comment for you to censor.

I noticed your blog invokes the anti-science Christian organization “Answers in Genesis” so probably you’re a Christian and probably you’re ashamed to admit it.

Since you don’t have a shred of evidence for your insane magical creationism, how about some powerful scientific evidence for the Resurrection of your dead Jeebus into a zombie.  I mean besides the dead gullible witnesses.  Of course you don’t have a shred of real evidence for that disgusting belief or any other Christian belief.  You live in the Christian fantasy world only because you’re a coward, not because you have any evidence for it.

To defend your ridiculous Christian death cult you write long articles full of lies about science.  You know science is the greatest possible threat to your fantasies, and that’s why you attack it.

Why don’t you try growing up and educating yourself.  You’re not going to learn anything if you depend on the idiots who work for Answers in Stupidity.  Try reading a book written by a real scientist.  Or are you afraid that would make your dead Jeebus cry?

I’m not surprised you love censorship.  Fuck off Christian retard.

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Prince Poppycock

Posted: September 14, 2010 in Culture

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaIeDBjfPYk

Great voice, great showmanship, great talent, but he’s like a deranged version of Liberace mixed with Lady Gaga.  I think he would make a great headliner in Vegas, along with Fighting Gravity.

Not sure Jackie Evancho will win this one, but I’ve no doubt she’ll be America’s Charlotte Church.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPITHzdUUDk

What Prince Poppycock will be … I’m afraid to guess. 😉

Update, 9/14/2010

Just watched Jackie and Prince Poppycock.  I have to say that I was expecting something outrageous and entertaining from the Prince, but he was rather bland tonight.  Hopefully, he’ll learn from this that showmanship doesn’t mean playing it safe.

Jackie sang Ave Maria, and did it with grace and style.  In its own way it was just as good as, or perhaps even better than, Connie Talbot’s version.  I hope Jackie sticks with opera and doesn’t go the Charlotte Church route of singing pop.  We’ve got enough of that already.

Update 9/16/2010

I was a bit shocked that Michael Grimm won out on AGT over Jackie Evancho, and he looked shocked too when the announcement was made.  However, he’s a good singer and I guess America loves a hard luck story during these hard times and voted to give him his own Vegas show.  Somehow, Jackie Evancho does not seem to fit Vegas, and she still has many years to go to polish her spectacular voice and sing in venues proper to her talent.

I actually thought the contest was really between Jackie and Prince Poppycock, who will no doubt get his own Vegas show.  In any case, I loved the duet between Sarah Brightman and Jackie, who was so sweet, but I did have a sneaking desire to see Sarah Brightman sing with Prince Poppycock.  Stranger things have happened.

I do worry about kids getting fame too soon, but my main concern with young singers like Jackie (and Hollie Steel and Connie Talbot), is that they stay sane.  I don’t think Prince Poppycock has to worry about that since he’s just the opposite — he mainly needs to worry about becoming sane.

Rush & War

Posted: August 12, 2010 in Libertarianism, Lincoln, Military

I have to take issue with Rush Limbaugh regarding the subject of war.  He said:  “It used to be back in the days when we fought wars to win them that civilian deaths were the object.  It was folks, as hard as that may be to hear.”

http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_072610/content/01125111.guest.html

Now, I know he’s right in one thing.  Our current rules of engagement are making it harder for our troops in Afghanistan, putting them at greater risk.  So, it’s right to loosen these restrictions as Rush contends.

But he is wrong to say that civilian deaths were, or should be, the object of war.  That gives ammunition to purist libertarians and neo-confederates, who respectively use it to attack our military and Lincoln.

First of all, it may be true as a factual matter that wars go after civilians, but that’s not the same as saying that’s the way it ought to be.  Moralists squabble a lot, but most agree you can’t go from an “is” to an “ought.”

Rush defends his thesis by citing Lincoln, Sherman and the bombing of Atlanta.  He also mentions the bombing of Dresden and Berlin, and the atomic bombings of Japan.

Shame on Rush.  He ought to know better.

Sherman bombed Atlanta because Confederate troops were holed up there.  Most of the civilians had already left the city, or they stayed in bunkers, and the number of civilians killed amounted to about 20.

That’s hardly wholesale slaughter.

Sherman was a realist.  In a letter of June 6, 1862, he complained to his wife that the newspapers and editorialists were the real cause of the war.  (See Sherman’s Home Letters):

http://books.google.com/books?id=l7yT31mmH0QC&printsec=frontcover&dq=sherman,+home+letters&source=bl&ots=EklMH6VFky&sig=bEFxykLdcn4Z0k-vC7tGaTDocoM&hl=en&ei=eSxkTJ7-M8emnQfe1dRk&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBIQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

They kept fanning the flames of hatred between Southerners and Northerners.  In addition, they complained about General Grant for the defeat at Shiloh.  Sherman did not think Northern editorialists understood the grim cost of war.

This was all long before the terrible battles at Antietam, Chancellorsville, or Gettysburg, and Sherman’s words show just how accurate his realism would prove to be:

“The very object of war,” he said, “is to produce results by death and slaughter, but the moment a battle occurs the newspapers make the leader responsible for the death and misery, whether of victory or defeat.”

Sherman did not say that the death and slaughter of civilians was the object of war.  He is complaining that editorial writers did not understand the real, physical object of war, which is to kill the enemy.

In a letter of July 31, 1862, Sherman predicted that the war in the near future will be “very bloody,” and he complained that Northern merchants were doing business with Southerners.  His early critics, who believed the Civil War would be a cakewalk, thought him insane.

Because of their greed, the North was providing the South with the wherewithal to conduct the war, including ammunition.  “Of course our lives are nothing in the scales of profit with our commercial people.”

Sherman then goes on to describe his camp as pleasant, though he is surrounded by secessionists (“Secesh”) and that “they prefer the South to the North, and that they hope and pray that the Southern army will in due time destroy us.”

He ends up by saying, “We are in our enemy’s country and I act accordingly.  The North may fall into bankruptcy and anarchy first, but if they can hold on the war will soon assume a turn to extermination, not of soldiers alone, that is the least part of the trouble, but the people.”

This is the quotation Rush uses to prove that Sherman believed in killing civilians.

However, the context of the prior letter and the following letter of August 10, 1862 shows that Sherman was upset because the North was not taking the war seriously.  They were still trying to make peace.  They were selling out the Northern army by doing business with the South.   They were in fact prolonging the war.

He says, “Well, at last I hope the fact is clear to their minds that if the North design to conquer the South, we must begin at Kentucky and reconquer the country from there as we did from the Indians.”

In other words, the only way to win the war against the South was through hard war.  This was something the North had to learn as much as the South.

Hard war is another name for strategic warfare.  It means not only going after military targets, but also the infrastructure that supports a nation’s military.  This is what Sherman did in his march to Atlanta.  He had to clear out Confederate guerrilla fighters and snipers, so he began destroying their civilian support.

Sherman ruined the South’s ability to supply its army with staples or ammunition.  That only meant destroying civilian infrastructure.  It did not mean killing civilians.

In WW2, we (Americans) did not bomb civilians as a first objective.  We engaged in strategic warfare.  We bombed the infrastructure that fed the German war machine.

The bombing of Dresden is usually cited as “total war” and Rush implies that we deliberately attacked civilians to make them want to give up.  In fact the railway yards were the real target, for they aided German troop movement.

Both British and American air forces bombed the city.  The fires from the bombing turned the city into an inferno which killed about twenty thousand.  It wasn’t the worst ever seen in Germany during WWII, but the failure of the mayor to prepare his city, plus the wooden-frame structures, created a firestorm.

The bombing of Berlin was in order to target war industries, railroads, communications, and the Luftwaffe.

It’s obvious that many civilians are killed in such carpet bombing attacks, but they did not have smart bombs in those days.  Smart bombs have spoiled us, and we have a tendency to judge wars of the past by the technological standards of today.

The bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were terrible and killed many civilians.  The death and destruction was so great as to almost guarantee that nations would not use such devices again.

At the time, however, people were sick of war and tired of Japanese brutality and fanaticism.  In addition, the kamikazi runs on Pacific ships reinforced the idea that Japan would not surrender, and the Allies would suffer tremendously in an invasion of the Japanese homeland.

So the decision was made to go ahead with the atomic bombs.  Hiroshima was the headquarters of Japan’s Second Army, and both cities had industrial and military importance.  Also, it was presumed that no POWs were in those cities (though it turned out some were).

In any case, our (American) strategic warfare of the past did not deliberately target civilians, and even in the case of the atomic bombs, the cities were chosen for their military and industrial value.

Rush is obviously right that war cannot be fought without civilian losses.  An atomic bomb, of course, would make it a certainty.  “War is all hell,” Sherman said, and it’s hell for everybody, not just for soldiers.

But that’s different from saying we deliberately target civilians.  If that were the case, we’d be hardly different from terrorists or Islamo-fanatics.

We must fight hard against military and industrial targets, and in worst cases against residential infrastructure (where guerrillas hide out).  But, contrary to Rush, we should not deliberately kill or maim civilians.

Leave that to the fanatical hordes.

Vern

Mencken’s Law

Posted: August 10, 2010 in Evolution

I had heard of argumentum ad Hitlerum, but not of Godwin’s Law.  The former refers to a fallacy of modern political debate when one side accuses the other of holding positions that Hitler believed, or that such and such a policy would “lead to the Holocaust.”  For an overview of the fallacy, see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_Hitlerum

Fortunately, the Wikipedia article linked to an article on Godwin’s Law:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

The humorous point of Godwin’s law is not that one cannot use Fascist- or Hitler-analogies, but that the longer a political debate goes on, the greater the likelihood — approaching certainty — that a Fascist- or Hitler-analogy will be used.

I think we need something like that for creation/evolution debates.  Only in this case, Darwinists can be counted on to accuse creationists (of whatever variety) of being ignoramuses, Nazis, or what-have-you from the very start.  In other words, they don’t wait until later to invoke such comparisons but begin right away.

I suggest we call it Mencken’s Law, in that Mencken’s most deranged writings usually involved a discussion of evolution or of cross-of-gold Democrat, William Jennings Bryan.

The probability of this happening at the beginning of creation/evolution discussion is very nearly a certainty, and it suggests a corollary, that the intellectual caliber of such a discussion seldom rises to the level of noticeability.

Therefore, over time the intellectual caliber of a Godwin’s Law discussion will achieve the same threshold of noticeability captured by Mencken’s Law.

Vern

Flood theory

Posted: June 21, 2010 in Genesis Flood

Scientists beginning to accept rapid formation of canyons by megafloods:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100620155748.htm

By Vern Crisler, 2010

On his blog, evolutionary biologist PZ Myers has written a critique of philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s “Naturalism Defeated” argument:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/05/alvin_plantinga_gives_philosop.php

Plantinga’s more detailed discussion of the subject can be found here:

http://philofreligion.homestead.com/files/alspaper.htm

Plantinga’s critique is not directed at naturalism per se or at evolutionary theory per se, but at the combination of the two.  He allows that either naturalism is true or that evolution is true, but never a combination of the two.  His argument thus allows for the rationality of theistic evolution but not of naturalistic evolution. 

On the whole, Myers’ claims in response to Plantinga are generally worthless, as are those of the cheerleading squad that follows in the Comments section of his Blog.  Here is how he starts out:

“I’ve read some of his [Plantinga’s] work, but not much; it’s very bizarre stuff, and every time I get going on one of his papers I hit some ludicrous, literally stupid claim that makes me wonder why I’m wasting time with this pretentious clown, and I give up, throw the paper in the trash….”

Now, I happen to disagree with Plantinga’s epistemology (reliabilism), but to call him a “pretentious clown” and to dismiss his work as “bizarre stuff” or “ludicrous” or “stupid” is hardly the sort of discourse one expects from members of the academy.  After all, professors are supposed to set an example of calm, rational argument — at least for their students.  If they bark and snicker like hyenas over a fresh kill, why should they be entrusted with the task of teaching and molding students to become scholars?

Myers doesn’t like it that Plantinga referred to books by the new atheists as “long on vituperation, but short of reasoning, long on name-calling but short on competence, long on righteous indignation but short on good sense; for the most part they are driven by hatred rather than logic.”

As I read it, Plantinga is referring to books, not people.  What he says may in fact be perfectly true.  The books may indeed be incompetent, short on reasoning, lacking in good sense, and motivated by hatred.  However, Myers thinks it’s ironic because Plantinga “opens his paper with a name-calling screed in which he lambastes others for writing name-calling screeds.”

Again, Plantinga mentioned books.  I don’t see any persons mentioned.  Does Myers think that calling a book stupid is the same as calling its author stupid?  Merely turn the question around: is calling a person stupid the same as calling his argument stupid?  See the fallacies of relevance section in your nearest book on logic.

Myers himself has no hesitation in using ad hominem, i.e., arguments against the person instead of against the argument.  He apparently wants us to understand that Plantinga is really the odd man out, “[e]specially when, as we read further, we discover that Plantinga is the one lacking in competence, good sense, and logic.”

Will Myers provide us with an argument?  Not yet, for he first wants to summarizes Plantinga’s views.  He quotes Plantinga as saying that “natural selection doesn’t care about the truth or falsehood of your beliefs; it cares only about adaptive behavior. Your beliefs may all be false, ridiculously false; if your behavior is adaptive, you will survive and reproduce.”

In response, Myers says “Yes, exactly! Just believing in something, whether it is Christianity or physics, doesn’t mean it is necessarily true.”

We haven’t seen the argument yet — merely a faulty summary of one of Plantinga’s points.  Plantinga wasn’t talking about belief and truth-value, as Myers’ assumes, but about belief and adaptive-value.  Will we get an argument?

Not quite, for Myers merely substitutes classification for argument.  He describes Plantinga’s view as “creationist,” and believes the “naturalism defeated” argument is merely another “creationist” argument about the improbability of chance producing complex biological structures.

However, Plantinga is not providing a probabilistic argument with respect to ontology (structure).  What he is doing is providing an argument with respect to epistemology (true or false belief).  He is arguing that unlike structure, belief is invisible to natural selection.

Myers continues with his summary and refers to Plantinga’s thought experiment involving a hypothetical population who behaved in adaptive ways but had mostly false beliefs.  I shall call this a Plantinga-world.

Here is where Myers provides us with something approaching an argument.  He references fire, and believes the inhabitants of the Plantinga-world would be able to answer the question, is fire hot?  Myers comments:

“I think that in reality they would have used experience and their senses to winnow out bad ideas, like that fire is cold, and you’d actually find nearly 100% giving the same, correct answer. Plantinga does not seem to believe in empiricism, either.”

He further says, “A large part of our behavior will be functional (not contradicting reality) and some of it will even be adaptive (better fitting us to reality), and a lot of it will be neutral (contradicting reality, perhaps, but in ways that do not affect survival), but this does not imply that our cognitive faculties are necessarily and implicitly reliable. We could have highly unreliable cognition that maintains functionality by constant cross-checks against reality — we build cognitive models of how the world works that are progressively refined by experience.”

Let us examine the argument.  In the first place, Myers fails to note, or at least understand, that Plantinga had already successfully addressed this sort of objection.  In the “Naturalism Defeated” essay he said, “Could Paul’s beliefs really be mainly false, but still lead to adaptive action?  Yes indeed; perhaps the simplest way to see how is by thinking of systematic ways in which his beliefs could be false but still adaptive. Perhaps Paul is a sort of early Leibnizian and thinks everything is conscious. . . ; furthermore, his ways of referring to things all involve definite descriptions that entail consciousness, so that all of his beliefs are of the form That so-and-so conscious being is such-and-such.  Perhaps he is an animist and thinks everything is alive.  Perhaps he thinks all the plants and animals in his vicinity are witches, and his ways of referring to them all involve definite descriptions entailing witchhood.  But this would be entirely compatible with his belief’s being adaptive; so it is clear, I think, that there would be many ways in which Paul’s beliefs could be for the most part false, but adaptive nonetheless.”

To apply the lesson to the question of knowledge of fire, the inhabitants of a Plantinga-world may experience an unpleasant sensation when they touch fire, but they may have mostly false notions as to what the cause is.  Perhaps they think the fire is a god, and the pain from getting close to the fire is due to a direct punishment from the fire god rather than from the fire itself.  Others may think it’s a different god at work, punishing them at the precise moment they touch the fire.  Others may think they are suffering from a physical malady that returns at just the moment they get close to a fire.

Plantinga’s point is that there is a virtually infinite set of false beliefs that can be formed to explain any phenomena.  Yet as long as correct behavior is the result of those false beliefs, natural selection does not care.  It is only interested in behavior. In other words, natural selection is not concerned with truth-value.  It has no reason to favor true beliefs over false.

As such, there is no naturalistic explanation of why we should develop cognitive faculties that are reliable, i.e., truth-conducive — producing true belief more often than not.  If our cognitive faculties aren’t reliable, then we cannot be assured that any of our beliefs formed by such faculties are true.  Hence, it follows that even the belief in the conjunction of naturalism and evolutionary theory cannot be rationally held. 

Plantinga had pointed out that we cannot simply assume that the inhabitants of the Plantinga-world have reliable cognitive faculties. The point of the illustration was to show that if naturalism & evolution are jointly true, then it’s probable that our cognitive faculties are unreliable.

In his discussion of functional behavior and functional cognition, Myers made a leap from behavior to cognition without providing a bridge between them.  How do we get from one to the other?  Because behavior and belief are not essentially bound to one another, Myers cannot just jump from functional behavior to functional cognition without assuming the very point at issue.

Myers goes on: “Plantinga really thinks that one of the claims he is arguing against is that materialists/naturalists assume our minds are reliable.”

Of course, in light of Darwin’s Doubt, if our minds are not reliable, then the claim that our minds aren’t reliable would also be unreliable.

Myers continued: “To which I say…exactly! Brains are not reliable; they’ve been shaped by forces which, as has been clearly said, do not value Truth with a capital T. Scientists are all skeptics who do not trust their perceptions at all; we design experiments to challenge our assumptions, we measure everything multiple times in multiple ways, we get input from many people, we put our ideas out in public for criticism, we repeat experiments and observations over and over. We demand repeated and repeatable confirmation before we accept a conclusion, because our minds are not reliable. We cannot just sit in our office at Notre Dame with a bible and conjure truth out of divine effluent. We need to supplement brains with evidence, which is the piece Plantinga is missing.”

Here is a case of a man who so desires to repudiate Plantinga’s argument that he virtually makes the argument himself.  It is obvious that this biologist has not really thought through the philosophical implications of his empiricism.  He claims that our minds aren’t reliable (self-stultifying though the claim might be), but then allows that our minds can test and confirm and measure.  He has forgotten that if our minds are unreliable in one case, they are also unreliable in the other.

One of the commentators, by no means friendly toward Plantinga, noticed the fallacy in Myers argument:

“PZ’s frustrated response that science is the way to correct our mind’s unreliability misses the mark, I’m afraid, since scientists rely on their flawed minds to decide how to use scientific tools to eliminate subjective errors.  Plantinga is positing a version of philosophical scepticism, and in this case ‘crosschecking’ the brain by using the brain just won’t do.  It’s like reading two copies of the same newspaper to double check a fact.  Sorry, PZ gets a FAIL on this one.”

I don’t think Plantinga is positing “philosophical skepticism” so much as he is showing the consequences of what happens when one combines naturalistic assumptions with the theory of evolution.

In any case, Myers needs to spend a few more years studying philosophy and epistemology before attempting to mimic the new atheists in how much he can bluster and insult and still manage to miss the whole point.

Vern

Render unto Amazon.com

Posted: April 21, 2010 in Government, Taxation

The following is a news report about attempts by North Carolina to tax sales of Amazon.com products:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-20002870-38.html

Now if Amazon.com has salesmen or representatives in a State, then Amazon must collect taxes on sales into that State.  That’s because it would have what’s called “nexus.”

Businesses have to be careful about that.  If they’ve got any reps going throughout a State, those reps would generate substantial nexus for sales tax, or even business license fees, a nasty little surprise for some businesses.

However, if a business has no reps or salesmen in a State, and only fulfills orders over the Web or over the phone, then there’s no substantial nexus, and they don’t have to charge tax.  The Supreme Court has frowned down upon States that try to force tax collections in those instances.  (See Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, National Bellas Hess v. State of Illinois, etc.)

Presumably, Amazon.com didn’t have any significant connections with North Carolina, so was not required to pay sales tax.  However, North Carolina is trying to collect customer information so they can hit up those customers for use tax.

Lots of luck on that.

It’s likely the Supreme Court would rule against it as a burden on interstate commerce, not to mention running afoul of privacy concerns.

I agree with the Congressional moratorium on Internet taxation.  One of the worst things about online orders is the shipping costs.  When you purchase over-the-counter, you don’t have to pay shipping charges, but every item purchased online costs you about $3 or $4 dollars or more of shipping per item.

I’ve cancelled a number of orders already because the shipping charges were too high.  This is a disadvantage online businesses have, and adding a tax on top of that would probably kill Internet sales.

In any case, I think it’s a long shot for North Carolina, but it would be nice if the Supreme Court would rule on it once and for all.

Vern