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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Health Care debate and Creationism: Short rant

One of the more interesting aspects regarding the health care debate is how arguments (on either side) are being framed. By and large every senator or congressman comes up with an anecdotal story about how the bill will positively/negatively affect a particular individual. It reminds me of creationists arguments which largely build upon a perceived strength/weakness of the science involved. While individual stories are compelling, they don't speak to the true strength or weakness of the bill itself. It's frustrating.


Joe Meert

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

John Upchurch Answers in Genesis

An interesting, and oft repeated viewpoint on atheists was posted on the Answers in Genesis website by John Upchurch.

His thesis is summarized below with my comments:

I stand by my claim that atheists are inconsistent when it comes to compassion.

You may stand by your claim, but you don't defend it very well by conflating science with atheism.

>Naturalism strips life and death of moral value. Humans may ascribe moral value to other humans (or animals or inanimate objects), but according to the evolution story, we are here because of time and death.

This is simply an emotional appeal that is entirely based upon the a priori assumption that time and death are insufficient for the development of moral values. You make absolutely no case for that assumption. In fact, one could make the argument that religion (and faith) is an evolutionary response to time and death! For a sentient creature, death is a traumatic thing to witness. A once interactive animal is reduced to a pile of decaying tissue. One reaction is to simply deny that what was once living is now gone by insisting that death is a transient phase we must go through to reach 'eternal life'. Most religions are centered around death and some sort of 'rebirth'. Scientifically, we only have concrete evidence for the dead part.

When looking back to the supposed history of the universe, atheists have no problem claiming that asteroids and famines and earthquakes killed off individuals and entire species so that other species could emerge and dominate the earth (including us), but many also act as if current extinctions and deaths are more important, more valuable.

This is also a 'trick' of linguistics. Do creationists have a problem claiming that natural disasters kill off individuals or entire species? What exactly does he mean by saying 'don't have a problem with claiming'? Stating facts in evidence says nothing about how one 'feels' about those facts. If an atheist says "Thousands of people were killed by the earthquake in Haiti" is it any less factual than Billy Graham making the same observation?
In another very clever use of language, he states "So that other species could emerge and dominate". Clever, but inaccurate. Natural disasters happen, they don't happen SO THAT another species can dominate. To use a non-biological example, the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile did not happen so that old buildings could be razed and new ones built. Nature responds to natural events (as do humans) and changes take place.

Fossil Neanderthals (i.e., bones of the dead) are often “evolutionary dead-ends,” but modern graveyards are sad reminders of loss.

More emotive appeal from the author. Stating a fact "Neanderthals were evolutionary dead-ends" says nothing about how one feels about the death of a particular Neanderthal. It speaks only to the facts. I find it somewhat amusing that someone who believes in eternal life would argue that 'modern graveyards are sad reminders of loss'.

This double speak exposes an underlying flaw in the philosophy.

That's true and one wonders why you chose your own double speak to make a point. Conflating statement of fact with 'morality' is an absurdity. I know why you chose the emotive language to try to make a point, but a careful read exposes the flaw in your thinking.

Whether there’s an evolutionary “reason” for compassion, the core problem remains unchanged.

In fact, you have made no strong case for any 'core problem'.

If atheism is correct, then death is meaningless

Death happens regardless of the 'correctness' or 'incorrectness' of atheism. In fact, I find it hilarious that you state in one paragraph that atheists claim that death 'allowed other species to emerge' and then later claim that atheists think death is meaningless. Did you fail to think that through properly? If death is meaningless, then you cannot also say that atheists attribute meaning to death!

: humans have simply evolved a coping mechanism to deal with or temporarily prevent loss.

This is true. Humans do have a coping mechanism to deal with death.

But that mechanism goes against the flow of a purposeless history

Begs the question.

Death, according to evolution, frees other members of the species (or another species) to flourish.

No, death according to evolution means an organism ceases to interact with the environment, other organisms and decays. That's it. Death is about individuals, evolution acts on populations. Whether or not other species occupy a particular niche is an observation, not a judgment call.

I do understand how a rabid creationist might come to a conclusion that it is a judgment call. The Bible is full of such claims. The Israeli's were freed because god made a judgment call about Egyptian slavery. Noah was saved because god made a judgment call about everyone else. All evolutionists are atheists because that's the creationist judgment call.

In that worldview, humans have no more worth than dodos or dinosaurs or any other extinct species. We survive for now—they don’t. Whether we live or die out from here is immaterial.

Bullshit. That's about the most blunt answer I can give to the 'logic' that culminated in the most illogical of conclusions. In essence you are making the claim that statements of fact represent a 'worldview'. This is false.


Joe Meert

Friday, March 05, 2010

On Climate and Dinosaurs

Two interesting stories came out yesterday and today. The first was a major paper that reiterated that it was the impact of an asteroid near the Yucatan peninsula that killed the dinosaurs. The headlines made it seem that no one challenges this view anymore, but that's a bit deceptive. This was a collective summary conclusion by those who favor the impact hypothesis. There are those who still question the timing of the impact and its overall role in the demise of the dinosaurs. There are those who still think that the Deccan traps volcanism was responsible and those who think that the dinosaurs were in decline and that both the impact and the eruptions at Deccan were just nails in an already open coffin. Stay tuned, it's unlikely that this is settled.

On a second note, the story linked here speaks of climate scientists fighting back against all the criticism they've received of late. Good for them, but I hope they can stick to the science while playing politics. This is something that needs to happen, but it's also a dangerous road. If nothing else maybe they can explain the difference between 'weather' and 'climate'. If I hear one more radio talk show host talk confuse the two, I think I'll puke.


Joe Meert

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Hmm, Florida Science Education takes a step backward

From Bridge for Tomorrow:

Florida House GOP Proposal Would Leave High School Science Behind

Florida House Republican and Speaker hopeful Eric Fresen has filed a bill for next spring’s legislative session that is being touted as a way to raise standards for high school graduation. But in science, Fresen’s bill would leave Florida behind Georgia, Alabama and even Mississippi.

House Bill 61 would require three science courses for graduation, as the law presently does. In one respect, the bill’s provisions on science are an improvement over a bill on graduation standards that Representative Fresen filed last year. Last year’s bill would have allowed a student to graduate from high school without having taken any courses in the physical or Earth sciences, leaving them without any background with which to understand the pressing issues of energy and global climate change. This year’s bill would require students entering high school in 2013 or later to take at least one biology class and at least one class in chemistry or physics. Unfortunately, Earth science is not mentioned in Representative Fresen’s bill.

While HB 61 would set the bar for high school graduation in science at three courses, our neighboring states – Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi – are already requiring four courses in science for graduation. In a recent commentary published in the St. Petersburg Times education blog Gradebook, Republican Representative John Legg, Chairman of the K-12 Education Policy Committee in the Florida House, said that “Our long term economic recovery is dependent on our students’ educational success.” This assertion, which is beyond debate, certainly requires us to be able to compete with our neighbors in the area of science education.

Florida’s standing in science relative to its neighboring states was demonstrated in the recently released results for 2009 high school graduates from the ACT exam, which includes a separate science section (as recently highlighted by Leslie Postal in the Orlando Sentinel’s School Zone blog). While not all of Florida’s high school graduates took the exam, 62% of them did, earning an average score on the science section of the exam of 19.0 (of a possible 36). In Alabama, a larger fraction of the high school graduates took the exam (76%), but as a group they outperformed Florida with an average score of 20.1. In Mississippi, nearly all the high school graduates took the exam (93% vs. Florida’s 62%); nevertheless, that state’s students nearly kept up with Florida with an average score of 18.7. At 20.3, Georgia’s average was the highest in the region, but only 40% of their graduates took the exam. In short, Florida’s high school graduates are not competing well with graduates from our neighboring states in science.

This summer, a group of 90 science faculty from Florida’s colleges and universities drafted a white paper on high school graduation requirements in science. While the professors did not go so far as to propose that four science courses be required for graduation, the group did argue that four science courses should be required for a student to be eligible for a Bright Futures scholarship. Furthermore, the white paper specified that in order to graduate, every student should take at least one biology course, one physical science course (chemistry or physics) and one course in the Earth and space sciences.

Florida competes with Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi for high tech industries, and the scientific skill of our workforce as developed in the K-12 schools is a critical factor in these competitions. We cannot afford to fall further behind.

Scientists Predict Chilean earthquake

Well actually in a broad sense this was predicted in a paper by Ruegg et al. (2009) in Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors (v175, p 78-85).

The Concepción–Constitución area [35–37◦S] in South Central Chile is very likely a mature seismic gap,
since no large subduction earthquake has occurred there since 1835.


Finally a convergence motion of about 68mm/year represents more than 10mof displacement accumulated since the last big interplate subduction event in this area over 170 years ago (1835 earthquake described by Darwin).
Therefore, in a worst case scenario, the area already has a potential for an earthquake of magnitude as large as 8–8.5, should it happen in the near future

Not too bad.


Joe Meert

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