Saturday, November 11, 2017

Scientists Are Not Stupid!

I thoroughly enjoyed this post: "Scientists aren’t stupid, and science deniers are arrogant". It's from the site "The Logic Of Science", which is a blog I run across frequently but now I will be adding it to my regular reading list.  The main premise can be summed up in this quote:

"I have found that not only do people with no formal training in science think that they know more than the entire scientific community, but in almost every case, they think that there is a fundamental and obvious problem that essentially all scientists have either missed or are willfully ignoring."
As I read this, nearly every conversation I have had with a denier on Evolution, Climate Change, and even Tobacco could have been an example cited in this article.  How it usually works for me is they start with some simple fact, twist it around and try and use it to discredit and entire scientific discipline, and then defend it with amazing rationalizations that simply boggle my mind.

Two examples of their use of facts:  Climate Change v. the Little Ice Age and Evolution v. the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.  Conversations usually start with a brief explanation from Google or Wikipedia, which is usually fine.  Then they add in something heard from a very conservative source -- most often funded by an industry or special interest with a bone to pick with the science.   Commonly the Oil/Gas Industry or their funded 'think tank' the Heartland Institute when it comes to Climate Change, or a religious ministry like the Discovery Institute or Answers in Genesis when it comes to Evolution.

Once you start poking holes in their arguments, they veer away from their pseudo-facts and start rationalizing.  My favorite is the 'rice bowl' analogy.  If you are unfamiliar with the term, what it means is when someone jealously protecting a project or program.  It's believed to be from some Chinese or Japanese slang concerning losing your job -- i.e.: your method of providing for your family with staples, like food -- hence the use of 'rice'.  I've heard it many times in the military over the years.  It's also often expressed as 'defending your turf' as well.

If goes like this:  "Scientists are too busy protecting their jobs and sources of funding, so they dismiss evidence that opposes their self-interest."  There is a simple problem with this one.  While it's true job security is an objective of most working adults, what would happen to a scientist who succeeds in disproving something like Evolution?  Can you say 'Nobel Prize'?  Here's another quote from the article:
"Disproving evolution would result in me going down in history as one of the great minds of the 21st century. So, why haven’t I or any of the thousands of other ambitious young biologists published that evidence? Because it doesn’t exist! This idea that you have to blindly go along with the “dogma” to get anywhere in science is totally backwards. You don’t get grants to confirm things that everyone already knows. "
There is the fallacy in the argument, most scientists are not highly paid, in fact I make nearly twice the average salary of a climate scientist, and I am a computer programmer with a Master's.  Of course that data depends on a lot of things, like the exact position or even what part of the country they live in.  But no matter what data set you are looking at, climate scientists are not very highly paid.  If you look at a Biologist, or worse a Biology Teacher, their remuneration gets even lower.

Now, who do you think are scientists who make higher salaries?  Not the ones toeing some imaginary party line, but the ones making breakthroughs, discovering new things, developing new medicines and medical treatments.  So this 'protecting your turf' argument fails on many levels!  Plus you have to factor in that we are not just talking about scientists at one institution or location, but world-wide.  Think of how illogical to believe in a decades-long, multinational conspiracy of silence just so current scientists can keep their positions.

However, when you look at the people arguing against science, you really can't see the rice bowl protection going on?  Look at how climate science can impact profits of the current energy companies, you know the ones funding anti-climate change marketing material?  How about religious groups who are terrified of the impact real science might have on their congregations and donations?  And you think scientists are being defensive?

Conspiracies theories might be entertaining and fodder for idiotic television and radio shows, but when you look at the logic of them, they tend to be absurd.  One last quote from Logic of Science:
"Anytime that an argument requires you to think that the entire scientific community is hopelessly stupid, ignorant, incompetent, etc. you should be extremely skeptical. Scientists aren’t stupid, and if you think you have found something simple and obvious that all of them have missed, you are almost certainly wrong. It is the epitome of arrogance to think that a few minutes or even hours on Google have endowed you with a better understanding of science than the collective scientific community gained through countless years of training and experience."
Why is it so hard for too many people to recognize that training and experience count for a hell of a lot in the real world.  I wish one of them would look up computer programming on Google and see how well they would function doing my job, let alone one in physics or biology.  Would trust a dentist with your mouth who received such an 'education'?  Here's something fun to watch.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Why The Earth May Not Be Round!

We are not advocating teaching the Earth is Flat, we are advocating to expand science education by teaching the controversy over why the Earth may not be round.  Sound familiar?

The official (cough, cough) policy of the Discovery Institute (DI) of not advocating the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) is pure BS.  If it were true then they would not be writing lesson plans, politicking politicians and student groups, nor supporting legislation designed to weaken real science education, among other tactics and strategies.  What they claim to be advocating is expanding science education by teaching the controversy over Evolution. They re-iterated this in a recent post addressed to Utah (Dear Utah: Teach About the Scientific Controversy Over Evolution, Not About Intelligent Design)

I have a question, does teaching this 'controversy' really expand science education?  It would be one thing if there really was a scientific controversy over Evolution, but since the only controversy is an artificial one, a culturally-contrived controversy over whether or not religious beliefs should be taught instead of actual science -- is this really an expansion?

What this does is weaken science education, and this was found to be true during the Dover Trial.  Imagine a science teacher who covers the scientific theory of evolution, and then is required to introduce religious arguments against it -- arguments without any factual support or evidence.  What would be the outcome?  The Dover Decision made that pretty clear -- confused students because of a weakened science education.  Teaching religion as if it was science is a bad idea because  . . . well for one reason, it doesn't work.

Buildings are not held up by prayer, cars do not run because of the wishes of a capricious deity, medicines do not work because of wishful thinking.  They work because of the science and applications of that science in architecture,  engineering, and medicine.

I have to argue about one statement they made:

"In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can’t be questioned."
Is Evolution really taught as dogma and not open to any scrutiny?  That's what this statement implies.  So my next question is whether or not it is taught dogmatically.  So what evidence would support that?
  • Textbooks covered it as dogma
  • No changes to Evolutionary Theory since it's inception
  • An increasing number of scientists/science group advocating a non-religious alternative
First up textbooks:
However, I have look at a number of textbooks, including my own, my daughters', and my granddaughter's and there doesn't seem to be any evidence of that.  In my last visit to a local college library (Wright State University), I looked up several biology texts and also found it taught as a scientific theory and not dogmatic at all.
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There is one point that I do keep hearing from creationists or varying stripes as evidence for this dogmatic approach -- evolution being explained as a fact and not a theory, but that is more word play than anything else.  Gravity is a fact -- hold something out at arms length and drop it, it falls -- only please don't do this with an iPhone, they seem to be more disaster prone than others (as my granddaughter can attest).  The fall of an object is a fact, and we call that fact Gravity.  Gravity is also a theory, it is the explanation of why things fall as they do.

Do you see the difference?  We use the same term to describe both the fact and the explanation.  We do the same thing in many areas of science, Light is a fact, the Theory of Light is the explanation.  Germs are a fact, Germ Theory is the explanation.  Evolution is a fact, the Theory of Evolution is the explanation.  Calling Evolution a fact isn't dogmatic, but contextual use of the word.  When you look at the evidence for life changing over time, you see the fact of evolution.  When you see the genetic differences and similarities between organisms, you see the fact of Evolution.  What you want to understand how those facts occurred, you look at Evolutionary Theory.

OK, how about whether or not evolutionary theory is open to scrutiny:
Has the Theory of Evolution changed and is it still changing?  The answer is 'hell yes!'  Since Darwin's day there have been many changes.  There have literally been thousands of scientists questioning all or part of Evolutionary theory on a daily basis and coming up with more and better explanations.  That's how science works.
If scientists thought Evolution was not open to scrutiny, would any of this come to pass?  There would be very few, if any, scientists working on it.  There would be very few changes, again if any.  Major changes would be unheard up.  Things like Punctuated Equilibrium, Genetics, Genetic Drift, and many others wouldn't possibly exist if Evolution was some untouchable sacred cow.

The reason they do exist, and new ideas and theories that will come in the future, is because science treats little as untouchable.  We've learned the lessons of the past that when ideas are considered inviolate, we cannot ignore evidence that appears to violate them.  Ignoring evidence is not how science advances. We learn by asking questions and finding answers, and when those answers don't match current theories, we keep going and figure out why, then adjust the theories with the new knowledge.

The reason I think folks like the DI keep making this 'dogmatic' argument is mainly because their failure to formulate and actual scientific theory that includes their religious beliefs.  Several years ago even the daddy rabbit of ID, Philip Johnson, even admitted it:
"I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to prove…No product is ready for competition in the educational world." (Berkeley Science Review, Spring 2006, retrieved from Wikiquote)
That's why they make this argument, not because they really think it's being taught dogmatically, but because they have not made any headway in an actual opposing scientific theory.  Without their cries of 'dogmatisim', they would have little else to say.  So the real question is not whether or not Evolution is taught dogmatically, but why haven't you, DI, been able to formulate a scientific theory that can compete with Evolution?  The Dover Decision included this little gem on why they argue the controversy instead of focusing on actual science:
"ID's backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard"
One last thing, are there non-religious alternatives to Evolutionary Theory?
If there are, no one seems to be talking about them, anywhere.  The only alternatives that people hear about are Creationism and it's little brother Intelligent Design.  I know the DI likes to claim ID is not religious, but no one seems to believe them.  Their own actions, strategy documents, even the audience for their marketing materials all prove that ID is nothing more than re-packaged Creationism.  One last quote, and it's from the Dover Decision:
"The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism."
And that is why Intelligent Design will remain in the same section of the bookstore where religion, physic powers, numerology, and tarot cards are sold.  You can get your 'Flat Earth' conspiracy books there as well.  It should also be the reason why states, including Utah, should pass real science standards which focus on science and not religious beliefs.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Does There Have to be an Ultimate Purpose? Apparently Not!

In a recent post little davey 'klingy' klinghoffer, one of the many Discovery Institute (DI) talking heads, said this:

'In what our friend Eric Metaxas calls the “scientistic materialist” perspective, there is not only no ultimate purpose or meaning to life. “If we are just material beings,” says Eric, “then there is actually no such thing as life,” either.'
Eric, like most DI talking heads and their friends, misses an even simpler point, "Why does there have to be an 'ultimate' purpose or meaning to life?"

Seriously, before telling me that life is meaningless without some sort of ultimate purpose, explain why that is a requirement?  Has anyone ever done that?  Really done that?  No!

Oh I know one or more theists will start spouting Bible verses, but once you scrape off the religious dressing, what's left?  Absolutely nothing.  Look at this website (What is your Ultimate Purpose?) if you want, it clearly wants you to believe that your ultimate purpose is to be an immortal being, like their version of God.  Talk about circular logic.  Let's create a deity, tell everyone that he created you in his image and when you come back to him, you'll understand your ultimate purpose.  In the meantime, keep up the donations.  Seriously?  Only in Theology would that make sense.  Try thinking like that in a real science or math class and see how far you get.

I am not asking what that ultimate purpose is supposed to be, just why must there be one.  Religious groups never get around to explaining this, they start from that assumption and build their whole shaky edifice of arguments on this apparent need they have for purpose.  That seems to be what separates believers from reality, the need to have some higher purpose to believe in, and religious groups cash in on that need.

So I am asking the question, why does there have to be some sort of ultimate purpose or meaning in life?

The only answer seems to be 'There doesn't!'  We have who knows how many religions on this planet and I would say a majority of people belong to one of them.

Look at it honestly, which of the thousands of religions has told you what your ultimate purpose is?  None of them, right?  A few make some stupid claim, but then there are hundreds of others that contradict such claims.  But no one has found the one, single ultimate purpose/meaning for life, have they?  And, if they are like the site I linked to above, their ultimate purpose is quite self-serving.  It's not your ultimate purpose, but the religion's ultimate purpose that keeps you on their rolls (and donating).

Eric is mistaken in another area, science is not inherently materialistic. What science is driven by is a philosophy called 'Methodological Naturalism', which is not the same thing at all. Methodological naturalism is a way of acquiring knowledge. It is a distinct system of thought concerned with a cognitive approach to reality.  In other words science does not address things like purpose/meaning, just like it doesn't address the supernatural.  That's not the same thing as saying that science says there is no purpose/meaning, but that it doesn't address them.  It's like saying Math is wrong because it's not addressed in English.

But people like Eric and klingy like to redefine things to their own purposes.  They are the ones who define things like 'scientistic (is that even a word?) materialist' and then claim that means science says there is no meaning.  Not addressing something is not the same thing as such a categorical statement like:
"there is not only no ultimate purpose or meaning to life"
So, do we need to have some ultimate purpose?  I don't think so, but if you are one of those who demand to have some sort of ultimate purpose, instead of looking at religion, look at your life.  Look at the people you surround yourself with and make your own ultimate purpose.  I know my personal purpose in life changed when I got married, it changed again when I had children, and changed yet again with my grandchild.  Doesn't seem to be a bad purpose for my life!

There's also another advantage to considering my children and granddaughter my purpose, I get to deal with my purpose in this life, right now.  I don't have to wait and find out in Pascal's Wager is true or not, I am living my purpose!  I really don't care if one of the many deities has some other purpose for me in mind, if they want to bitch about the way I am living my life, they aren't much of a deity then, are they?  So instead of counting on them in a crisis -- because that always works, right?  And instead of spending time and resources focused on such an imaginary being, I spend it with reality, the reality of my family.  Now that seems to be a damned good purpose to have!  Imagine how many children would be alive today if certain people would have focused on them instead of letting them die of neglect because those parents/caregivers preferred their belief system instead of those children!