K.S.: It's really an interesting hypothesis since no such actual gene for altruistic behavior has been discovered to my knowledge, tho I know it has been discussed. Even if there was one, who's to say it is something that would have been conserved over time. Regardless, the idea really just goes back to the believer's problem with the theory of evolution altogether. As an atheist, your faith unquestionably surpasses mine. I've never been able to figure out how evolutionists can ignore basic scientific laws we hold true, such as entropy. If we as scientists agree all things in nature go to a more chaotic state, how then do we have single celled organisms becoming increasingly complex multicellular organisms. Not to mention that we hold true that mutations always result in a loss of function...unless of course we're talking about evolution. The astronomically astounding odds of what you hold to be true requires a faith beyond any other.
P.A.: You are correct...almost. They have not discovered an altruism gene in humans (but we are complex beings and it isn't surprising that we haven't found one yet) but we have found an altruism gene in volvox and also in chlamydomonas that causes self sacrifice for the better of the population. Entropy? Seriously? Entropy and the laws of thermodynamics say that the amount of order of the universe will decrease over time but not that local increases are impossible. Of course to counteract entropy and build structure we would need a LOT of energy. Well...its a good thing we have the sun to allow that to happen. The constant influx of energy is literally TRILLIONS of times the energy required to explain the changes we see in evolution or the development of any living thing for that matter.
K.S.: I am hard pressed to think of anything within our natural realm not moving constantly toward a state of destruction. You didn't answer the other point either, how is it we hold true that mutations always result in a loss of function, but that is thrown out the window in terms of evolution?
P.A.: Furthermore...the odds (which we can reasonably calculate with rational mathematics) of the theory of evolution which is perhaps the most scutinized of all scientific principles being proven false is far far less than the probability of their being an invisible omnipotent creature controlling the fate of humanity. Just a thought. While I can never prove to you that your god doesn't exist, I can show you gobs of evidence that evolution DOES EXIST. We hold true that mutations always result in a loss of function? I don't...and you shouldn't either because its not true. Not only is it not true...it happens a lot. Grow up some e.coli in the presence of low concentrations of antibiotic and eventually (less than a week) you will get a great deal of mutations conferring resistance where at once there was none. And as far as something not moving towards a state of destruction...what about the growth of a child. Starting as a single cell and moving towards an adult. Looks to me like they got more complex...assuming they ate their veggies.
K.S.: I believe after having been calculated, the odds that everything in history would have taken place so perfectly for as evolution to occur would be so great that it is more likely I would win the lottery seven days in a row and subsequently be struck by lightening each of those days. BTW, you still didn't answer the loss of function question. There was a joke I once heard, that comes to mind. A scientist was telling God that he didn't need him because with a small amount of earth and other essential elements, he could make all the basic components necessary for life. God told the scientist to go ahead, by all means. As the scientist scooped up some earth from which to work with, the Lord interrupted and said, "get your own earth." More than likely I find that more amusing than you.
P.A.: I'm not sure who calculated your odds but I don't think thats the case...of course if you would like to supply the data I can try and refute it. My first inkling would be to guess that they have misjudged the age of the earth by a few million years or so. Your joke is amusing but also misleading...it is true that there have been experiments to verify that all the basic chemical components of life can be synthesized through natural processes irrespective of any other life. Have we ever observed abiogenesis...of course, no. But if we waited long enough...it might happen. We gave this earth a few billion years to figure stuff out on its own. I think i did answer your loss of function question with the statement that no one studying evolution believes that all mutations lead to a loss of function. Furthermore, we observe microscale evolution that shows gain of function mutations.
K.S.: You shouldn't assume eating veggies makes them more complex if said veggies came from a mexican farm fertilized with the wrong kind of feces! And I will give you the gain of function with E coli, however gain of function in a signigificantly more complex multicellular organism becomes exceedingly difficult to pass on as this gain would be heterozygous in nature and a recessive trait.
P.A.: OK...again, half right. Multicellular doesn't really matter here. What we care about is a mutation that eventually finds it way to the germ line cells so the number of cells in the overall organism is irrelevant. Mutations would be heterozygous thats true. They would not be recessive...in fact quite the opposite. A gain of function mutation would as a matter of definition of the terms be a dominant trait. A loss of function mutation might be recessive but it also might not if it was also a heterozygote so that argument doesn't fly.
K.S.: In all seriousness, I pose a question to you. You honestly find it far more likely that nature in it's whole, the entire universe, our own galaxy, planet, ecosystems and all the plants and animals therein, not to mention the insane complexity that is the human eye, let alone the human body on the whole (there's a lil Darwin for you) was all a product of chance? That our very habitat, let alone our very beings, with the undeniable level of scientific and mathematical perfection are in your eyes more likely explained by a series of what would unquestionably be explained as the greatest case of blind dumb luck than a higher power? If you can, then that is your decision, but for me, I cannot look at nature or ourselves and glory in something as simple as "amazing timing"
P.A.: The short answer is...YES. Our universe functions with a set of usable laws that allow for the formation of galaxies and planets of which ours is just one. Evolution functions perfectly and measurably within that particular framework and there is no structure so complex (not even the human eye) which is beyond its scope. Furthermore while mutations are an issue of chance...natural selection which is the driving force of evolution is quintessentially non-random. Thus, evolution is NON-random but it is also NOT designed. To quote Richard Dawkins directly, "Design is as bad an explanation as chance because it raises bigger questions than it answers. Evolution by natural selection is the only workable theory ever proposed that is capable of explaining life, and it does so brilliantly." Thats what i believe.
K.S.: With all due respect to Mr. Dawkins, as you yourself stated, you cannot disprove the existance of God, therefore I must object to his statement that evolution is the only theory capable. In the end, we are where we started and I still hold your beliefs require a greater faith then my own.
P.A.: Dawkins is referring to scientific theories. We can not include the supernatural because I could propose all sorts of crazy theories to explain the existence of everything I see but they would of course all be false. My beliefs require only adherence to the principles of evidentiary science, and reason...no faith at all. Nothing I believe is based on simple conjecture without either evidence of precedent. Evolution just works here...and we have yet to find an example of something that could defy the principles of evolution as we know them today.
K.S.: Since you're missing a clear evolutionary link between species...evolution remains theory. Since theories are unproven, it is faith that is required to believe in it.
P.A.: we may be missing links here and there but we also have lots of transitional fossils and the like that clearly make a case for evolution as fact
This will be the first in a two post series devoted to a conversation between myself and a friend, Kirk who espouses a more traditional creationist view of human morality and origins. I have copied both his queries and comments and my replies verbatim from the original. Please excuse the substantial typos…this was originally not meant for a wider audience and I was working quickly. The second half will come tomorrow. The post to which Kirk refers in the opening lines is from two days ago. Enjoy!
K.S. An interesting post, it makes me think of a passage I recently read from one of C.S Lewis's works. You are arguing that people of faith (I can only assume you throw together any faith) may believe what they wish, but your complaint is when they try to pass legislation based on their sense of morality, which you seem to find objectionable based on your own sense of morality. But if, not believing in God yourself (what most people of faith would point to as their moral compass) what is it you argue makes your sense of morality truer to the overall sense, than that of someone else?A great metaphor has been used likening this situation to that of a piano. To you, you may say, this key sounds right to me, and someone else might say that another key sounds better to them. But it is really the sheet music (ie. God to most ppl of faith) being played that dictates what note is truest. If you are not judging on some greater level of morality that supercedes the thoughts of men (who often make excuses for themselves when they wish to circumnavigate that law) then how can you claim that your sense of morality is any better than someone else's?
P.A. Well Kirk...thats an interesting idea. I suppose, in short, the reason that my morality supercedes the others is that it is personal. I guess to some degree I believe in the idea of an absolute morality that is essentially guided by "the golden rule." Being that I don't believe in god, but i do believe in the general decency of human beings...i think that morality stems from the individual without need for a supreme being to justify its existence. I think you would agree that the vast majority of moral codes decreed by religion are incorrect in some degree. You would probably agree that the subjugation of women in the middle east is against your moral fiber and they would of course argue the opposite. If we are to take the bible as the source of morality then surely we will need to ignore portions of it for the sake of common decency. Leviticus alone is filled with some pretty horendous moral teachings by our modern standards. If this is the case where we can pick and choose. It must also be some form of innate morality that allows for that decision to be made. Clearly these cannot come from the bible because to do so would be to admit self inconcsistency which I doubt you are willing to do. Thus, we have again morality derived from man and not from god which dictates what is right and wrong.
K.S. Morality derived from man which goes hand in hand with believing in the common decency of man can be a dangerous thing. No child left to their own devices needs to be shown how to steal a cookie, but does need to be shown the things of decency such as respect for one another. If you argue your morality is personal, to the extent of being based on your own views and not something higher, then you can claim it is moral to put yourself before other ppl at all times, when we know that isn't the case. Though I do agree that there are things with other cultures past and present that I disagree with, such as the treatment of women, I think there is a separation of morality and culture. Issues of morality hold realtively consistent across cultures. I think you would be hard pressed to find a culture that promotes screwing over someone that hasn't wronged you, stealing from the innocent for personal gain, or consistently putting your needs before someone elses. If morality itself is from some innate source, where does it come from? What biological or chemical interaction that takes place in all of us allows us to discern between things that are right and wrong, that we can all agree upon on a basic level, regardless of age, religion, class, or creed?
P.A. Let me put it to you this way...what if tomorrow it was determined beyond a shadow of a doubt that no god existed. Would you imagine that all of a sudden people would become murders, rape would become common place, theft would be the norm, or any other manner of immoral behavior? Do you believe that you would do such things...i doubt that you would. Furthermore, the idea of an innate morality is certainly within the realm of possibility. We see kinship in members of the animal kingdom that certainly have no notion of god to keep them in line. It is a definite survival advantage to have what we would consider moral behavior. lIn reality all morality is to some degree putting yourself above others...you tell people not to steal so that they will steal from you, you tell people not to kill so that you yourself will not be killed. I will agree that instances of true altruism are hard to find in nature but I would also argue that instances of altruism are impossible to find in religion.
K.S. It is an impossible thing for you to ask such a question if I say to you that all of our own innate senses of right and wrong come from God. If I did not believe in right or wrong, would it be a hard thing to steal something so I didn't have to pay for it or something along those lines? Probably not, as it is human nature to be self preserving, therefore looking after our own interests before others. I disagree with you as to your case of animals in nature. We do see in many species a pack mentality which humans exhibit as well, but in sustaining a group, we can sustain ourselves...so in a way it can be selfish in itself. However, how often do we see much of the animail kingdom exhibiting the self preservation behavior I already spoke of. To an extent I can agree that we might teach lessons so as to benefit from them ourselves, but how does that answer to issues of morality in every case? I would argue there are plenty of cases we help others when there is no clear "payoff".
P.A. I'm saying that while you might argue that our innate sense of right and wrong comes from god that in fact it comes from our genes and from an evolutionary pressure to have such a thing. This is why even in the absence of god, people would not be reduced to immorallity just as you would not be reduced to immorality. In regards to human nature...you are correct it is in our nature to be self-preserving but on a genetic level. I'm going to paraphrase from Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" here. We seek to maintain individuals and people who are close to us genetically because there is a high chance that their genetic make-up will be similar to ours and the basic unit of evolution is in fact the gene and not the individual. This is why seemingly altruistic behavior is in fact not and can be explained through evolution. I think that we do see self-preservation in animals to the same extent that we see it in humans but when it happens to a person we call it by a different name. In regards to helping others without payoff...i challenge you to provide such an example in which no benefit was gained...either personally or genetically.
K.S. I would argue that when faced with the same moral dilemna, people following a true morality from God, not interrupted with their own selfishness, would do the same thing regardless of the individual being helped. It is hard to argue it's based on someone's similar genetic makeup that I would help them, regardless of whether they are black or white, American or Asian, man or woman, young or old, Christian or Atheist. And as for helping others without payoff, I once offered to help a man I saw struggling with getting something in the back of his truck. This man, who was older and of an ethnic race completely not related to mine, was someone I would more than likely never see again in my life. The deed was not done in hopes someone would offer me the same because I am unfortunately very stubborn in nature. Additionally, I was not doing it for show as there was no one else around. Before I sound like I am blowing my own horn, I know that this kind of thing goes on around the world. Based on this, tell me what was my gain?
P.A. OK...two things, I'm afraid i don't understand your first sentence/point. In regards to your second...I commend you for your act of selflessness. While I'm not a believer, do you not believe that god saw you do that...might it be a personal motivation, irregardless of your innate morality. Keep in mind, this is not an argument for the existence of god but rather an argument for your belief in the existence of god. Regardless of that, lets say there was a gene that conferred a behavior that was beneficial to the community by allowing the individual posessing that behavior to display some form of "altruism" to the other members of the group (could have evolved in a small village but the gene is maintained because there is no pressure to not have it or it serves some other purpose simultaneously). Surely a group with that gene would flourish due to the cooperative efforts of its constituents and a group without would suffer. Thus we have an evolutionary perspective on the phenomenon of altruism in the absence of genetic linkage between individuals. All that matters is that a community is beneficial to the surivival of its parts and so genes fostering community will be more apt to survive and multiply in future generations. We see this is the great apes, elephants, dolphins, etc.
K.S. How does this explain altruistic behavior toward groups outside of one's own? Hence my first point that you said you didn't understand. If you argue that the altruistic behavior is due to a gene promoting the survival of one's own "village" or close relatives genetically speaking, then how does this account for people willing to help anyone and everyone in need? Additionally, am I then free to claim that someone being more self promoting than another individual is then "genetically inferior" versus simply selfish? History has certainly taught us the dangers of judging a group to be genetically inferior to another.
P.A. kind of a low blow with that last part there kirk. I will forgive it for now. Here is the difference, genes evolve in small populations and then spread to larger populations. For instance, the gene for light skin color evolved in the people that moved out of Africa or the middle east to Europe. Now when those people move back to Africa or to some other place...they retain the characteristic of their ancestors. Thus, a gene for altruism could have evolved in a time when everyone in close proximity to you would have been genetically similar. A gene can not know what the genetic make-up of the guy you met on the street is but a gene can say just help people you meet in general and in a small population that would likely be people who are similar to you. We retain the small village genetic make-up and those same instinctive behaviors as a result but we now apply them to a global village. Furthermore, someone being more self-promoting is not necessarilly genetically inferior. From a gene-centered view of evolution we need to look not at fitness but on probability of passing on genes...thus all genes evolve independantly to aid in the ability of their human carrier to pass them on. Some evovle to help us see better and evade predators and others evolve to aid us in forming communities which also help the surivival of the human carrier. This is beneficial to the genes because when they first evovled the communities would likely have similar make-ups but they could never and will never be able to differentiation on a molecular level the people we meet day to day now. The selective pressure is less but the genes remain active.
Yesterday’s post was a surprising one for me. It easily generated the most response of any post I’ve ever written. I’m not sure if it was because of increased readership or because of the nature of the post. I’m guessing it was probably a bit of both. Most of you came down squarely on one side or the other of the “value of religion” debate. A particularly long conversation also occurred that moved from the idea of innate morality to the genetics of altruism and eventually to the role that the second law of thermodynamics plays in evolution (or in this case…doesn’t play in evolution). Hopefully that conversation will be made into a series of posts for everyone to read because I think its interesting and it highlights the very active debate between the mainstream scientific community and the faithful in this country and across the globe. Assuming I get the other party’s permission, it will be posted here in the coming days. The long and short of it all is that people are very protective of their faith. This is not something I have trouble understanding at all because I am very protective of my own belief set as well. As many of you also know, I’m never afraid to defend my beliefs and also not afraid to change those beliefs should convincing evidence be presented that I cannot refute. There is of course some subtlety here that should not be lost. The idea of “convincing evidence” is key. You telling me the bible claims the existence of god is not convincing because the argument is circular at best because we are forced to assume that the bible is also the word of god. Thus, while I cannot and will never be able to refute the existence of god…I still choose not to believe in it. Just as well, I choose not to believe in Ra, the sun god…or believe that Keanu reeves has acting ability. Since I have no evidence of either being true…I choose not to believe them. Actually, I take part of that back…I actually have evidence that Keanu reeves sucks at acting. If you don’t believe me, watch “Speed” again and if you are still not convinced pop in “Chain Reaction,” “Devils Advocate,” any of the “Bill and Ted” movies and you’ll start to see my line of reasoning. Of course, I guess I also have some evidence that our all knowing and infinitely loving god ain’t so hot either. I mean with all the earthquakes, tsunamis, plagues, etc. etc. Did he design all these things to teach us a lesson? Did he put in place evidence for evolution to test our faith? I know they say that god works in mysterious ways but so does Keanu Reeves. If god working is a mystery than the fact the Keanu is still working is an even greater mystery. Thus, for me…Keanu Reeves and god are on pretty much the same plane. They both hang around without justification for their existence and I wouldn’t notice if both disappeared tomorrow. Patrick OUT!!!
It has been brought to my attention (thanks mom) that perhaps the purpose of some of my posts has been misconstrued as being the proselytizing of atheism or the conversion of the faithful. This is not my desire…usually. I am fully aware that there are people who find great joy in religion and the comfort that it brings to their life. While I think they would be better served in life had they never been touched by the irrational hand of religion…they are in it now and that’s fine with me. The place where I draw the line is when their religion and their god becomes more than just a personal one and the faith is moved into the public sphere. This isn’t an instance where faith offends me in any way…I don’t cringe at the site of a manger scene on a town square or a menorah in a park, I suppose I would rather they weren’t there but if it makes someone else smile then it shouldn’t make me angry (and it doesn’t). Rather I draw the line when legislation with a set of morals based on someone else’s made up dogma invades my life, or the life of my family, or (looking forward a bit) my children’s lives. I am also an advocate for the idea that religions need to be, in general, much more tolerant; not only of each other (they have a poor track record here) but also of those in society that are non-believers, free thinkers, atheists, agnostics, deists, and the like. In addition, the subtle distinction of being against religion (which I am) but not against the religious. I should be clear in that I believe that generally organized religion is a destructive force in society…I do not believe that moderately spiritual people who do not (or choose not) to understand how the world around them works (i.e. the laws of nature) pose much of a threat. The problem comes with the combination of moderately spiritual people and organized religion meet in a dark alley. It is then that we pull the Budweiser truck up to the AA meeting and now we have a problem. It is a very small switch from being a somewhat spiritual individual to being indoctrinated into a faith that determines that you should despise someone based on their choice of sleeping companion, and not much further down the road to deem that a doctor who performs abortions is a murderer who deserves to be summarily killed. We live in a country that is fortunate to have a great deal of religion and suffer fewer of the ill effects than most other places with similar degrees of fervor. We usually escape the phenomena of ritual killings, genocides, and ethnic cleansings that usually come along with places as religious as ours here in US. Even so, it is those things that worry me the most because of how close some parts of our country could be to that if left to their own devices and the fiery words of a preacher who wields the spurious threat of eternal damnation. Furthermore while these are external threats there are certainly internal threats as well to the individual. Beyond the clear ones in that religion is often a force that demands outrageous self-sacrifice (no atheist would ever consider being a suicide bomber), there are far simpler ones. I can put it to you in a metaphor of a child with an imaginary friend. I think that most of us would agree that such a child is not a problem, the imaginary friend is filling a void of some sort and it brings the child comfort. But what happens when the imaginary friend is able to push out the real friends and our young metaphorical subject ignores the beauty of real relationships with actual people. Then, most would agree, we have an issue that must be dealt with. Some would tell him or her that they can keep their imaginary friend as long as they make new ones while I think most would say that it is healthier to abandon the imaginary friend and make true and long lasting relationships with the people around them. Thankfully, most people who have imaginary childhood friends grow up to leave that behind and become well adjusted adults with a sense of the real and the unreal, the rational and the irrational. Others of us do not. The unfortunate side of living in a free society is that we cannot mandate moderation in life and so we must be prepared to deal with the consequences of people who take things to their illogical conclusions and make decisions that are foolish. So with all that beings said, if my tracts on religion seem harsh or critical then you are correct, they were meant that way. If you are religious and you feel offended, I’m sorry for that but hope you would consider my point of view and be very careful in your dealings with faith in the future. Patrick OUT!!!
So I went off on one of my students today…for just a ridiculously stupid mistake that she made last week and just figured out this morning. Normally mistakes are OK in science as long as you catch them but this one was particularly nefarious in nature. It produced attractive looking data (which I of course naively shared with my advisor…thinking that the data was valid) which got me excited and then the student proceeded to find the mistake after the fact and then blame the mistake on me. This particular mistake was literally taking the wrong chemical off the shelf to make a solution. HOW COULD THAT BE MY FAULT? Its not like I placed the incorrect bottle into her hands and forced her to make the wrong stuff. Besides that, even if I had done so…she showed me her notebook in which she wrote down the correct chemical with all the calculations that I had approved. If she had done what was written instead of what she did it would all be correct. UGH!!! The consequence of all this was going to my advisors and telling them…we made a mistake, please disregard that very nice looking data because it might not be right. Their response, well that’s the peril of working with undergraduates. To that I say…bullshit. This instance demonstrates the peril of working with people who make stupid mistakes. Following my objection to that appraisal of the situation, she (my advisor) then said…”I’ve got a lot of experience here and I can tell you it’s a lot different trying to work with undergraduates than it is with graduate students.” Again, that’s bullshit. It should be true and it would be nice if it was but there is no such thing as a mystical piece of paper handed down from upon high that confers upon its bearer knowledge that they didn’t have before. A college degree is not a revelation of common sense…rather it’s a certification (a very loose one at that) that the recipient sat through some classes at some point and didn’t fail every exam. There are lots of perfectly good undergraduates who are totally suited to work in a lab under me (some could verifiably be my boss) and there are many grad students who I wouldn’t trust washing my bench after a day’s work. Much like there are many graduate students who are more ingenious than the professors they work for…but I won’t go there at this point. The fact of the matter is that, like I’ve said before here, the academic degree is truly a silly thing to judge someone on (so said the hypocrite after 4 years of research towards such a degree). I am totally convinced that any idiot can get a PhD if they try hard enough, kiss the right ass, and BS their way through it all. Furthermore some people are just idiots…probably not their fault (at least not entirely) and some people are just smart. Of course most of us think we are the latter but if we were the former would we ever know it? The answer is actually a resounding “NO.” It was shown in actual academic work from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published by the American Psychological Association. The work by Dr. David Dunning and his graduate student Justin Kruger (now at NYU business school) from 1999 was entitled, “Unskilled and Unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.” Perfect. I’m never been more jealous of research than when I found this. The point of the paper is that if you suck at something (like telling a funny joke) then you are also more likely to over-estimate your ability to do such a thing. Nervous??? However, the inverse is also true…lets say you are really a funny person, they argue that you would be more likely to underestimate your abilities in relation to peers…interesting. You would be correct if you surmised that this trend results from most people placing their ability at about average for most tasks…in reality, the trend is to place one’s ability just above average. Of course, this study was done with college students…if you had taken their professors…the over-estimations of ability would likely be much higher (my personal hypothesis here…not the authors of the paper). From now on, I’m only going to look for employees with seemingly low self-esteem, science says it’s the best way to go. Patrick OUT!!!
Came across this little gem in the First epistle to Timothy by the apostle Paul. Tim 2:11-14 (NIV)
11A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
Ahhh…just priceless…the unfailing word of a guy who literally knew Jesus. What, you want more???
As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (1 Corinthians 14: 33-35)
And that’s ignoring the old testament…lets not even get started on the role of women there. Still want those ten commandments in a courthouse now??? The foundation for mosaic law which eventually led to this dribble…better to be a religious denier than a religious appeaser. Even if you have a need for an irrational belief and an imaginary buddy up in the sky…do you really want to also subjugate women the way he would have it. I think not. Patrick OUT!!!
What I’m listening to: Fleetwood Mac
Correction: Paul didn't know Jesus...he didn't like christians much but was a convert and then ended up writing half the new testament. My "b".
So I guess I’m a little bit sick of people talkin shit behind other people’s backs. I know this probably sounds like I’m bitter about being the victim of such attack but I don’t think that I am (of course, I probably wouldn’t know and would be the last to find out anyways). Instead, I’ve just become more aware of the fact that it happens so very often amongst people I care about. It just needs to stop…it’s the height of dishonesty and cowardess to engage in that activity and it doesn’t serve either party. I’m going to continue on my high horse for a while so if its already pissing you off then you might waste your time elsewhere. The fact of the matter is that we as a society take ourselves FAR to seriously…we have this idea that you have a right to not be offended and yet we are all so willing to dish out offensive dribble whenever it suits us. I’m continually amazed at how “friends” will bad mouth each other at every turn and not immediately see the inescapable hypocrisy that accompanies it. It reminds me of the famous R.W. Emerson quote, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” Perhaps its me…but a lot of us out there are kidding ourselves when it comes to that. We offer far too little forgiveness of one another. This reminds me of another quote by the “great” Rodney G. King, “Can’t we all get along.” I’m now a bit concerned that this all sounds like some kind of plea for sanity in a time of crisis…its not. I just happened to notice this quite a bit over the last few weeks and it somewhat bothers me and as a result I’m going to commit myself to the avoidance of this behavior in the future. That is all…you’re dismissed. Patrick OUT!!!
What I’m Listening Too: Ricky Skaggs
So I just got word that my research fellowship has been renewed for the next year. Unfortunately no raise this time (so given that the rate of inflation is at a high…this is really something of a pay cut)…ugh. Even so, I’m still doing better than most grad students which is nice and I don’t have to TA which is also nice. To make the day that much better, my advisor again hinted that next year will be my last as a graduate student, hopefully its not just wishful thinking on her part. I suppose I will maintain cautious optimism in light of all of the recent events. I’m pretty ready to be done with all of this and move on to something else…I think I need a change. Its almost hard to comprehend that I’ve been here, in this situation, for going on four years and will have just one more in front of me. Not half bad when it comes down to it I suppose. Of course the question then becomes what do I do afterwards…I’ve just recently set about answering that and its harder than I thought. As tied down as I feel here I feel an extraordinary sense of optimism at the possibilities for my future research (which I guess makes me lucky given the state of everything else in this country). My disillusionment with academia has not subsided to any appreciable degree but I am still willing to give it one last shot before throwing in the towel on my youthful optimism and selling my intellectual soul to the highest bidder. Also, I just finished a major project in grant writing that was taking up a good deal of my time which means that actual science can resume at a normal pace, which is good and a welcome respite from days of writing and scientific design work. More on this all later. Patrick OUT!!!
So St. Valentine’s Day has come and gone once again. This one was a bit different for me in a number of ways. It has been a really long time since I’ve been single on V-day, which means I can probably count myself lucky. Of course this year, things changed a bit in my life (in regards to romantic relationships but also in other ways)…I haven’t talked much about it here because its been a little bit of a rough transition for me and I think it would quickly degrade into less than riveting prose. That notwithstanding, I am not at all anti-Valentines day. Every year, I remember people (both single and not) dreading the day for the undue pressure it places on people…throwing around “Hallmark Holiday” and all the rest of the somewhat tired and cliché lines. I always shrugged it off a bit because I never felt that way though I couldn’t really judge because I wasn’t in their shoes. Now, I am and looking back…I still don’t feel that way. I think that Valentine’s day is a fine holiday to have. It may be commercialized but so is every holiday in this country. I know many men look at it as a day when expectations are unnecessarily higher for them to produce something…candy, flowers, romance and all the rest. That may be the case…but isn’t it something that we designate a particular day when society says, go out and tell the person you love something sweet and do something nice for them. Should it be unnecessary? Yea. But it isn’t unnecessary, too often we as a society forget about those in our lives and if for one day a year we are forced into submission and made to look at life a bit differently, then I’m all for it. I can resent the buying of expensive gifts and the expectations that must be lived up to but that’s really a small price to pay. And now I’ve gone through the holiday on the other side of things and while I might have liked to have had someone there to share it with me…this year just wasn’t my year. I still do see the value in it though…the same way I see the value in Christmas and thanksgiving and Independence day and all the other singular holidays that we celebrate throughout the year. Why should valentine’s day get such a bad rap…it seems to me that it should be the easiest of them all, besides the rest of them you usually spend with family…and you don’t get to pick them. Valentine’s day is special in that regard…if you’ve got someone that’s great and if you don’t well then its just another day. There is one caveat to this whole thing though. Something that really pisses me off. Those little candy conversation hearts. They taste like chalk (or at least I imagine chalk would taste this way) and are usually as hard as a rock (or maybe as hard as chalk which is kind of like a rock). Plus, the sayings on the front are just stupid…its like eating a magnetic poetry set. In addition, there is this image in my mind of a lonely old sole sitting by himself eating the conversation hearts sobbing whenever he reads, “Be Mine” and realizing all he has is crappy candy. On a side note, I know its sacrilege in New England to say this but, NECCO wafers taste like crap. Actually they taste like conversation hearts (probably because they are made of the same stuff). Who thought a tough wafer candy would be a good thing, according to Wikipedia they were used in army rations during WWII…that alone should inform you of their evils. I will say that the conversation hears meet their nemesis in those little spicy cinnamon hearts and boxes of chocolate, thank goodness for them. Patrick OUT!!!
What I’m listening to: Ella Fitzgerald
So February is “Black History Month.” A time when our nation is supposed to remember its past and the contributions of African-Americans to the success of the United States after more than a century of slavery. Of course it seems a bit silly now to talk about the advances of a peanut scientist when we have an African American president. Maybe black history month has lost a bit of relevance this time around. This is not to say that we as Americans shouldn’t be mindful of the past and the very shameful and inhumane things that were done by our forebears but rather that we should be more proud this month as to recognize that we have a country where differences can be put aside and democracy works in such a way that allows for such a transition to take place. I wonder if there are any other places on the globe where such acceptance has occurred. Even in socialist Europe, we have widespread rioting amongst muslim youth in france, rampant xenophobia in Italy, race riots in the UK and elsewhere. Africa has seen widespread racial strife which reached its heights in the Sudan and Zimbabwe. The middle east clearly hasn’t resolved its differences, and in many places retains a sexist ideology that keeps women as second class citizens. In Asia, we have China whose population harbors high degrees of distrust of the outside world…especially their asian neighbors in Japan (who feel similarly in the reverse). Human rights abuses of ethnic minorities in both countries have been documented and may even be on the rise as those two countries compete for limited resources and industrial dollars. So we are left with the United States where things are by no means perfect. We retain a high degree of racial disparity that has not gone away…but I would argue that we are on the right track. I am going to refrain from solving the problems of the minority communities in this forum because they are the result of a very complex mix of outside factors and internal failings. Each side of this problem is waiting for the other to make the first move and it just hasn’t happened yet because no one wants to admit fault. One can only hope that with the new administration, there will be some inspiration on both sides of the issue to mend what is still very broken. If for no other reason than Obama is an inspiring symbol of American progress in the 20th century…he will have my support, or at least the benefit of the doubt. Patrick OUT!!!
Today is a big day. Actually…it’s the anniversary of a big day. A day when the world literally changed forever. Both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on this day in 1809, making today their 200th birthday. Interestingly, the both peaked at around the same time as well. In November 1859, Darwin published “On the Origin of Species,” which more than any other text has guided the study and interpretation of modern biology. One year later in November of 1860, Abe was elected President of the United States and guided the nation through its most bitter and bloody conflict, the Civil War. The impact of these two men goes far beyond their initial individual contributions and extends into history far more than they would ever know. Darwin’s work on evolution would shape biology, medicine, genetics, agriculture, and many other fields well into the 20th century. Lincolns contributions would ensure a unified nation that would eventually go on to become a lone super-power.
On the issue of Darwin, obviously a lot has been written and surprisingly (to me anyways) there is still debate about his famous “theory.” This debate was framed in the trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover in 2005 which has since been profiled on PBS’s NOVA. Their documentary ‘Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial’ which you can watch after the link is fantastic. It profiles many of the key players in the battle of science teachers and religious fundamentalists intent on removing rational science discussion from the classroom. It also profiles a school board bent on introducing creationism (religious doctrine) into a school science class under the guise of “intelligent design”. The teachers and parents stood up against this affront to modern science and in my mind (despite my criticism of the public school system) are true heroes of the profession. In addition, a federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs to say that intelligent design (ID) is NOT SCIENCE. Thus, the inclusion of this BS in a science classroom is a clear violation of the establishment clause of the 1st amendment. Darwin would be proud of both of them. The idea that after 150 years since its publication, the science and observations at the very heart of this little “theory” have not seen any weakening despite substantial attempts at refutation. Few theories have been tested so thoroughly and stood up so well to such scrutiny as has evolution. And yet, we still live in a country that while unified (thanks Abe) is also firmly divided on some key issues. Evolution is just one that separates those who can view no reality outside the light of faith and those who see no inherent contradiction between religion and reason. I will say that I do appreciate the explicit statement by the catholic church and a number of protestant faiths that evolution is not at odds with their dogma and that truth and religion cannot be opposed because they are one. I think its nice that they have moved a bit closer to the 20th century but I do, of course, believe that there is an inherent contradiction between science and religion…but that’s just my bias. Of course they won’t ever admit that…but they do refrain from saying Darwin’s soul is in eternal damnation (not that he believed in such a thing) and that’s a nice gesture. So with that, HAPPY DARWIN DAY!!!
Bloomberg: Ruin your health plan
LoC: Stimulus Plan Text
So apparently we are going to have a National Coordinator of Health Information Technology as part of the new “stimulus” bill that just passed the senate. The provision is the handiwork of Tom Daschle and his cronies. The job will entail establishing a national database of patient information that will allow doctors and health professionals access to your records. In theory this is designed to allow for more efficient health care, lower costs, and less unnecessary treatments. Wow…those sure do seem like good goals to have. I definitely pay too much for health care and I think it could be a good thing if that didn’t happen anymore. Hmmm…I wonder what the catch might be…well lets just see. Oh here it is the federal government is going to help “guide” medical decisions (pg 442) by your health care provider. Hmmm…where is the job creation here? Oh wait, it’s the creation of a bueracracy that is going to tell doctors when treatments are necessary or not. Well that seems like a perfect solution. I mean we saw how well the government bueracracy did with Katrina and how they handled fannie mae and Freddie mac. What could possibly go wrong?
You will all need to forgive my astounding disbelief that this ridiculousness is in the bill in the first place. Regardless of that fact, its still a pretty crazy idea. We have 300+ million people in this country and by 2014 we are supposed to have a database with the health records of ALL of them. Given the electronic security nightmare that databases like those are…how are we, the people, supposed to feel about our medical privacy. Since when is it the governments job to check in on the care that we are receiving and paying for. If they want to check in on the standards of care for medicare and Medicaid patients…that’s certainly their business, because they pay for it they can look into whatever they want. As far as the arraignment goes between myself, my insurer, and my doctor…they should play NO part. My doctor and I should be the sole people responsible for the care I receive. Clearly unnecessary procedures should be illegal and the doctors prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law under existing insurance fraud statutes but other than those cases…the government should stay out. I know its 2009 but its starting to feel a bit like 1984. Which reminds me that at some point, I will write an entire blog post in newspeak. I figure if I start working on it now…I might be done by the time the national health database is finished. Patrick OUT!!!
What I’m Listening To: Coldplay
Ok…so the post title is a little misleading…those science nuts or people who are addicted to Wikipedia will rightly point out that Darwin’s birthday isn’t until February 12th…but I couldn’t resist this post today. I actually got the above link from PZ Myers at Pharyngula (my favorite blog on evolution and science). The editorial is written by Tom Frame who (if you follow the link) you will find is an academic (sort of…) and also a bishop. OK…so now we have his bent on things and why he might not like evolution so much. Of course, being that bishops are not in the habit (actually they are in a habit…just not in the convention) of supporting things that tend to diminish their supernatural superiority, the editorial is less than surprising. What is surprising (ok…not surprising, just disturbing) is the connections he draws between adherence to Darwinist rationality and a whole host of reprehensible things.
But as the 2006 Templeton Prize winner John Barrow (a scientist) remarked, religious conceptions of the universe "are not the whole truth, but this does not stop them being part of the truth".The problem I face is weariness with science-based dialogue partners like Richard Dawkins. It surprises me he is not chided for his innate scientific conservatism and metaphysical complacency. He won't take his depiction of Darwinism to logical conclusions. A dedicated Darwinian would welcome imperialism, genocide, mass deportation, ethnic cleansing, eugenics, euthanasia, forced sterilisations and infanticide. Publicly, he advocates none of them.
Of course anytime the phrase “metaphysical complacency” is used I perk up a bit because seriously…what is that? I’m actually a bit nervous…what if I’m metaphysically complacent and didn’t know it. Its enough to give a guy a complex. More accurately I would say that both dawkins and myself are not so much complacent as were are in metaphysical denial but I don’t think Rev. Frame would like that either. The point is that Darwin and Dawkins have said nothing about imperialism, genocide, mass deportation, ethnic cleansing or any of the others. Rather those are things we see as creations of people and not science. I guess the fundamental disconnect here is that he sees these things as being mechanisms for the “survival of the fittest.” He goes so far as to suppose that privately…dawkins or darwin might support these notions (side note…this is so absurd that it shouldn’t have been printed). Rather these things are far from being survival of the fittest because they have nothing to do with selecting the strongest in a population or more accurately the most likely to reproduce…they are subjective phenomena of the human condition. The good Rev. would also be smart to not use those particular examples as most of them, throughout history, have been engendered not by scientists but by theologians. Is it a surprise that our closest animal cousins (the chimpanzee) which has no knowledge of religion also doesn’t practice ethnic cleansing or eugenics? Damn, I was so close to not attacking religion and then it just comes up again. Ugh. Back to Darwin…seriously, there is nothing in the origin of species about us evolving to the point of killing each other. In fact, far from it…we have evolved lots of things that have made society possible and while individual surivival is always the primary importance…evolution is also capable of explaining why we have societies (collective surivival is easier than individual survival) and in fact it seems we are pretty much hard wired to have groups of people acting together in some fashion…its part of our biology. Killing each other…is not part of our biology, such a behavior is really anti-evolution and is pretty hard to evolve into for obvious (to me) reasons. So people, being pretty ingenious have found a way to have dominion over our surroundings and we have created great things with that dominion: societies, art and architecture, sporks, etc. and we have also created some very evil things that go against the laws of nature. What Rev. Frame should understand is that it isn’t darwin’s fault, or evolutions fault, that we have any of these things…its our fault as sentient beings who control what we do. Patrick OUT!!!
P.S. The templeton prize was characterized by Richard Dawkins as being given to "any scientist that is willing to say something nice about religion". The templeton foundation says its given the person who best exemplifies "trying various ways for discoveries and breakthroughs to expand human perceptions of divinity and to help in the acceleration of divine creativity."
So I’ve started reading quite a bit more within the blogosphere of atheism. I’m sure that the anonymity of the internet allows individuals to more freely express themselves without fear of judgment, but these people are angry. REALLY ANGRY. I might live in a small academic bubble (I say might but I know its true) where being an atheist is not only accepted but often expected (this is especially true of biologists like myself and also physicists). While I fit into that crowd in the often times feelings of disbelief at what people will believe, I am never angry about being in the minority. Sometimes, I’m worried and often times saddened to see what religion makes people do in the name of an invisible sky friend but I’m rarely angry. I suppose if I felt threatened because I was an atheist it would be a different story. Maybe also if I had an atheist leader who told me to be angry with people who weren’t atheists…haven’t found that yet. Or maybe if there were other atheists who were just a little bit different and because of that I might be angry…but that doesn’t make sense either. Rather these impetuses of indignation are truly the realm of the religious. Religion puts people into categories and defines US and THEM in very stark terms. This makes people pissed off…which I guess I understand because when people base their lives around some other bullshit story than the bullshit story I base my life on I get mad because why should their fantasy be better than mine??? Religion also has people in charge when atheists do not. You put someone in charge and he/she is going to need to maintain that power and the best way to do that is to put people at odds with one another and solidify the US and THEM mentality. This even works with minor differences in the same religion. Look at the Sunnis and the Shiites…these groups argue over the lineage of power from the prophet. It’s the same religion and yet they kill each other with reckless abandon. This would be like if I sought out humanists and told them they should die. We might have differences but the point of it all is the same. Now agnostics are a different story…seriously, what is this, “I don’t know if there is a god or not.” Of course you don’t know…neither do people with religion. The believe that there is a god but its not because they have a reason its because someone told them to and they liked the idea or are to afraid to admit mistake after doing crazy shit in the name of their invisible friend. The question really is…what is more likely to be true. Science and reason? or vengeful sky spirit??? Its kind of like saying when I got in my car this morning I’m not sure why it moved and took me to work. Science and reason says that the evidence suggests that the specific combination of me turning the wheel at given moments tied into the combustion of gasoline and air allowed the car to move. It is possible that there was a team of specially trained guinea pigs that were actively pushing me the whole way while my co-pilot jesus guided them to my office…but its not likely to be the case. Thus, I believe (more likely than not) that the first situation is probably true and can reject the guinea pigs outright as being ridiculous and not worth my time. If this was my religion I wouldn’t question the presence of the guinea pigs because that would be blasphemy and if you came along and told me that it was not guinea pigs but in fact squirrels that were pushing the car…I would have reason to kill you for proposing such a crazy idea…I mean seriously, who ever heard of trained squirrels pushing cars, just doesn’t make any sense. What it all comes down to is that being angry about differences like this is really a function of religion itself and that atheists should calm down a bit and realize that happiness and truth are really the same and that only one side of the debate can have both…guess which one. Patrick OUT!!!
So sometimes I think that maybe I suffer from too much rational thought and that I might be happier if I just believed in things for no reason with the idea that some things are just comfortable to believe in and seem to make other people happier than me. Then I think about the corollaries to irrational thought like this. You really must follow the link…its priceless. I’ll stick with cold hard rational inquiry.
So the Obama administration and the congressional democrats are looking to put a wage cap on companies that receive bailout money. I think this is a good thing…for starters. Of course the government is in a special place here where they actually have some clout and some reason for putting such restrictions in place. I am, of course, totally against government intervention into truly private business and trying to dictate wages of any sort; I guess I even have trouble with the minimum wage…even though those in government who advocate for more equal distribution of wealth should realize that increases in the minimum wage actually decreases employment. Milton Freedman (who won a nobel prize in economics) called the minimum wage law the most “anti-negro” law in US history. Its passage caused the lay-offs of close to a half-million African American workers who were then replaced by more highly trained whites. I’m not sure I agree with his assessment but I do think it’s a step in the wrong direction. But that’s not really the point here…I’m more concerned with the other end of the scale. I suppose what I desire is a new accountability of CEOs to their stockholders. Clearly this is going to be an issue put forward by groups of concerned investors who are going to want to see a positive ROI for themselves. If I were a major investor in a corporation (I’m not a MAJOR investor in any large corporations), I would want a system wherein my CEO was paid a percentage of gross profits. No limits on the amount of money they could make. Well what if the company posts a loss? Well that might not always be the fault of the CEO, so in these cases their performance should be judged on their performance as it relates to average gains and losses across their business sector. If they outperform their competitors…put their pay at the 75th percentile for the company payroll. If they underperform put them at the 25th percentile for payroll. I think that a CEO of a major corporation who was promised 0.01% of gross profits would be much more inclined to make smart informed decisions on the part of his employer rather than decisions in his own best interest (because now they would be the same…not always so when a CEO sits on the boards of 30 other firms). Along those same lines, I think we should look into the salaries of our law-makers. The house of representatives should be working for the will of the people while the senate should be for restraint and forward thinking. With that in mind, house salaries should be determined relative to the cost of living. Senate salaries should be determined by the ratio of government surplus to average tax burden. Thus a system where high government surplus (only until the national debt is paid off) with high tax burden yields a low ratio with low pay. A high government surplus with low tax burden yields an increase in pay and a low government surplus and high tax burden means they get booted out of office. If only the people could vote on congressional pay rates and not the recipients of that pay. Patrick OUT!!!
What I’m Listening Too: Johnny Cash
Of all the books I have ever read, my favorites are “Atlas Shrugged”, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and the “Scarlet Letter.” I find a lot of good in all of them. For those of you familiar with the first two…you might be surprised that I listed them together because they are, in some respects, diametrically opposed to one another. In one instance, we have Atlas shrugged that portends that preservation of one’s self and the rights to do so can inform society on absolute moral grounds. More specifically, that government and society should let the individual be free to do as he wishes and that the only moral causes in life are those that facilitate that end. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” takes a decidedly more relativist approach to morals and “quality” and explores the interplay between classical and romantic definitions of value. He espouses learning and rational thought but is unwilling to throw out intuition in his attempt to define the good which is not always the truth. Of course, I am one to believe with most of my being that “the truth” and “the good” are one and that the value set with which those are defined can in fact be an absolute. That is, there is a set of morals that is “the truth” without which you will never find “the good” in life. I still like “ZMM” because I think it has a lot to say on how we define the good in life and brings to light places where rational thought is difficult (though never impossible) to utilize. I bring all this up not because I was thinking about either one of these two works when I woke up this morning but rather because of a somewhat convoluted chain of thought that led me here. It starts with the grading system at WPI which is somewhat unique in academia in that students are graded on an A/B/C scale but if they get the equivalent of a D or an F that grade is replaced by an NR, or “No Record.” This essentially (though not entirely) expunges that class from a student’s records and they are allowed to repeat it until they receive a passing grade. The thought process here is that students should be allowed to learn on their own terms without fear of failure. The end results being an institution where excellence is promoted and students may learn without fear or apprehension. My opinion is that this grading scheme is a load of crap. Other think so as well and the faculty will soon be voting on whether to return (after nearly 50 years) to a more standard grading scale. Many of the undergraduates are understandably upset by this idea and are attempting to stage a protest…which reminds me of my time at UMass when a senior administrator for the university voiced the opinion that student protest rarely get a response because the faculty are all fully aware that most of those who they disappoint will be gone in 3-4 years and those that come in new will have never known the old system. Thus the longest discontent that a policy can create is just long enough to graduate those who were disappointed. The constant turnover of students makes faculty accountability to the wishes of the student minority a moot point. I feel that this will likely be the case here as well. Anyways, in response to the proposed changes an undergraduate wrote a treatise on the matter defending the grading scheme as it stands now. Another students made the connection to Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It seems to me that the student was only half right in this case and really missing the boat on modern society and the role of the university. If you’ve read my previous post, “On Academia” then you will be familiar with my feelings on the state of the University in contemporary American society. Unfortunately the ideal of academia has been quite lost for quite a long time and so it this point it serves a very different purpose than for what it was first intended. While I can totally see Pirsig’s view that academia should be a place of learning and an anti-authoritarian utopia (which is strangely not all that opposed to “Atlas” if we replace academia with government…which in some instances are often the same thing); I also fully recognize that we live in a world where that ideal has fallen by the wayside and if we are to maintain rational thought (my guiding principle on all of this), then we must work to both change the system while at the same time maximizing the utility of that which currently stands. In this vein, the university is at its best, a training ground for young men and women. As part of that training, a student requires honest evaluation and examination. While an ideal system would have this be entirely internal to the student…the system is currently held to the external standards of funding agencies and governments, potential employers, and parents (though these really should all be left out in a perfect world). The result is that some form of external verification of training received is demanded and that verification through examinations and the like is a necessary evil of the world as it stands now. For WPI to ignore that is to be short sighted to point of absurdity and while the envisioned themselves as the keepers of the academic flame back in the sixties they have long since fallen into line in most other ways with other institutions of higher learning. And yet, they retain this foolish grading system while simultaneously prolonging and exacerbating the coddling of a generation of young people. Pirsig would not advocate for our current system and instead, would favor no grades at all but only if that meant that there was no accountability to the world outside. The ultimate anti-authoritarian system where it is actually enforced that students will come to learn and learn only. Instead we have an awful in-between world in which the student is held half-accountable and artificially inflated only to be taken into a world which operates on a different playing field. The enter the university feeling privileged to have such a system and leave certainly suffering an immense disservice to learn that the rest of the world plays by more truly egalitarian rules in which failure is punished (unless you can get a government bailout of course) and success is solidified and meaningful. WPI needs to understand that “The Truth” and “The Good” are one in the same and that the separation of these serves no one. Patrick OUT!!!