Monday, September 22, 2008

The Aegis of Faith

There's a serious problem facing the world and it can be difficult to articulate just how ingrained and severe this problem is.

People defend their icons. This holds true for religious figures, social icons (see leave britney alone) and even ideas themselves.

It's the 21st century and people are still clinging to ridiculous superstition, alternative medicine and astrology. Now these are all ridiculous of course, but in and of themselves tend to be fairly harmless. Clinging to stupid beliefs is one thing, clinging to stupid people is quite different.

It should come as no shock to most people that VFX lied about the DMCA takedowns against thunderf00t. It should also come as no surprise that he filed them in the first place, that any video that receives negative criticism is stripped off his channel like a crusty scab or that commenting and rating is almost never allowed.

VFX is not a good person. He knowingly lies and presents false 'evidence' for creation science quite frequently. Tf00t has done a much more thorough job debunking him than I could ever manage so I'll skim over that part. To me it is not so shocking that VFX espouses his freakish certainty over the state of the universe despite any and all contradictory evidence.

What IS shocking to me is how many people actually LIKE the notorious VFX. There's a girl named Lydia (so she says) that inspired me to make my first youtube video. Here's what she has to say about VFX.

How can anyone with a conscience defend this scrawny little troll? Is the message so vital that you're willing to let a pale spineless toad bring it to the world? Are the standards of evangelism so pitifully low that anyone with a youtube account can stand up and become a champion of the christian faith?

Sadly the answer is yes. Passion is necessary to keep the faith alive, I remember that well from my christian phase. However sacrificing the integrity of your message to protect an individual is completely ridiculous. If VFX is so in touch with the christian deity why doesn't he understand how the world works, how copyright laws work, how to function as a decent human being?

This is my biggest problem with religious people in america. I am not going to argue for or against anyone's beliefs or disbelief, I want to remain totally neutral in that regard. My problem with VFX, faith healers and TV Evangelicals is that they are protected by a false premise and this leads to great harm.

How many megachurches have suffered through some scandal? I can think of a few crackpots off the top of my head. Kent Hovind was a fraudster. Ted Haggard was doing meth and gay sex. Just recently Tony Alamo walked into the crosshairs of the FBI for alleged child pornography and sexual abuse.

Now I am not insinutating that every member of the clergy is a closet freak/thief/junkie or even implying that its a widespread phenomenon. Here's the rub: It does happen. Check out the videos of Ted Haggard shrieking against homosexuality or Kent Hovind spouting sanctimonious absurdities.

This behavior coincided with sermons, prayers, visitations and videos. Simply put every one of these guys was a filthy lying hypocrite. Even taken from a moral vacuum hypocrisy still constitutes wrongdoing.

I am not one to blame the victim here but I suspect that part of the successful duping of so many congregants was simply that people equate goodness with pastors and preachers. I don't care one way or another until it creeps into my little sphere of influence. However simple accountability practices would make it much harder for people to pull off these gigantic lies.

Lydia. I understand that you are a christian and want to show support for spreading the message. However if you look closely at VFX I suspect you will find that he far to willing to shirk any principles or integrity just to make his point and have his say. This not the hallmark of wisdom, this is a used car salesman tactic.

I've only met a handful of clergy in my life but I would say that most of them are decent people. However, you can bet your glittery lip gloss that there are others out there who are not so decent. I ask you, person to person, do not be complicit with VFX. Think about the consequences of knee jerk reactions to protect fellow members of your faith. I suspect you want to help because of your own personal beliefs and I have no quarrel with that. But when you raise up a shield to protect someone, regardless of thier own moral standing, then you are doing a disservice to your faith.

Drop your shield. Let the liars and pretenders be exposed for who and what they are. Show no remorse for the hypocrites and con men. They do far more harm to the christian faith than ridicule ever could.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A caution from the days of yore.

There are an awful lot of issues to consider with political decisions, I won't even attempt to list them but there are plenty of reasons to vote for one candidate or the other.

What scares me is how people latch onto one or two issues and ignore any further evidence that their candidate might not sync up with the sum total of their ideals. To this effect the post for today is motivated by lessons learned near the beginning of the last century. It still holds true, despite the intervening years.

When Americans think of the American civil war we tend to remember massed lines of musket carrying men in gray and blue shooting at each other from across fields and over stone walls. Breech loading and bolt action rifles did exist but most of the soldiers carried barrel loading black powder rifles.

Fast forward from 1865 to 1914. WWI or the Great War as it was called at the time. Fifty years had passed and military warfare was radically different. Industry mass produced vehicles, weapons and gear. Airplanes and balloons allowed artillery spotters to see further than ever and eventually aerial combat and strategic bombing as well as tanks, submarines and vehicle transport all became part of the modern battlefield.

Two very different pictures emerge from the two wars. Each was renowned for huge and ridiculous casualties. The weapons used in the Civil war seem primitive and quaint compared to modern automatic weapons and air power. However for the speed that armies could move and the equipment used on either side the weapons were devastating.

Now imagine you grew up in a world that was still coming to grips with industry. You are trained to march men in big squares to fight pitched battles in the open field with weapons that can fire approximately 3 rounds a minute in the hands of capable soldiers. Your shock troopers ride on horseback and communication between armies in the field and outside command post has to occur through couriers and telegraphs.

That is the army you know and you fight the way you have been trained. Now well into your elder years you are tasked to attack or defend a position. Things have changed since the army of your youth. The enemy carries bolt action rifles, fortified machine gun nests and their artillery fires faster and further than you ever dreamed.

Tactics that work against barrel loading infantry do not work against machine guns, men who can fire three times a minute can do much less damage than men who can fire 40 or more rounds a minute with equal or greater accuracy. Cavalry charges had better be done by tank or you'll wind up with hundreds of thousands of casualties to gain a few grim yards on the field.

I could go on but the point is changing technology demands a change in tactics. For us as a country we cannot afford an old style general who still thinks of the world in terms of horse charge and musket balls. The old-fashioned way should be synonymous with surrender and defeat. Technology, for better or worse, changes at an ever increasing pace and even the most tech savvy people on earth have to retool their skills every few years to keep up.

We cannot afford an old president with old ideas that haven't worked in forty years and will be even less effective as time goes on. The United States of America needs youth and vigor, not bitter old corrupt men who just want to fight our enemies and pillage the world for our own brazen comfort.

We don't need a general at all, we need a Sergeant who has seen enough of the world to understand it but hasn't seen his generation pass beyond their halcyon days. Anyone who longs for the past needs to snap out of it because the future is coming whether it offends you or not.

The old ways need to hurry up and die. And we as young adults, and students, and the bulk of people clawing our way into the economic infrastructure of this country cannot sit back and watch our parents and grandparents fail us by electing a dotard that 'gets it' because John McCain does not get it. He will never understand America under the age of 50 and we cannot afford more incompetence in the white house.

Barack Obama was not my first choice for president, John McCain is my last choice. For the future's sake we must reclaim our status as a scientific superpower, a moral leader to the rest of the world and above all a country that prides itself on freedom and choice, and not some petty third world dictatorship run by a bunch of dusty old farts with more money than they deserve.

Cast your vote for the future, America. Economic and technological inertia will carry us only so far.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Creation as Science - Part I, Preclass

Perhaps this will be a mistake I can only look back on some day and fret. Perhaps not. Before we begin a little back story to smooth out the worry lines of my dear readership.

I have been invited to a bible study, 12 weeks long, one of which was already passed. The first class was an intro to the author, Hugo Ross and his role as an author, astronomer and allegedly valid source of information. I have decided to attend in part to see just what kind of stuff is being handed around, but also because it will be an interesting experience and provide some conversational fodder for me and the inlaws.

Note that Natalie's parents will be in attendance as well.

The book that outlines the framework for the series is listed in the post title with the byline "A testable model approach to end the creation/evolution wars"

Already my skeptic senses are tingling. Mixing and mashing science and religion together is a bit like flavoring mashed potatoes with light sweet crude. I know the hydrocarbons are similar to those in butter but the taste...well it leaves much to be desired.

The dorsal jacket proclaims that the author's intent is to show that any claim for creation/formation must be verifiable/falsifiable to be considered. Already the alarm bells are growing deafening as the jacket further asserts striking harmony between bleeding edge scientific research and biblical accounts of creation. Hmmm. The conclusion is that creation (the same 'creation' part of creationism) is a testable scientific theory that can advance human knowledge as well spark a resurgence in the scientific enterprise.

Funny, I wonder what has kept science thriving and humming along for the past few hundred years.

At any rate I am sure to encounter some face palm phrases and diabolical doublethink but I am going to try and keep an open mind about the ideas put forward. After all I would love to see the reconciliation of believers and atheists, if I wasn't curious I would not be reading the book nor attending the classes. Let's begin with the introduction.

Introduction - Sifting fact from fiction
We start off admirably neutral with some examples of hysteria from the War of the World's broadcast and how people flew off the handle because they thought it was real. I get it. We establish that although the event was fictional people had very strong reactions because they thought it was real.

Segment - The Two Hundred Year's War - begins by saying that the 'war' of science and faith has raged for 200 years now and that opposing sides hold contradictory beliefs. I would argue that intelligent humanists have existed since the days of the greeks and probably existed long before that (as long as religion I will wager) However I mention this because it's not a war just because ideas are clashing. Science marches forth like a juggernaut and people try to slow it down and trip it up whenever it raises a foot to their faith.

Next segment 'about the book' makes something of a faux pas in the scientific world. Quoting Aristotle is always dangerous but in this case especially so. The quoted segment is "everything must be affirmed or denied, and that a thing cannot be and not be." Well, tell that to Schroedinger's cat. This is a worrisome quote because right of the bat we see indifference or ignorance of quantum mechanics.

The next few paragraphs state an intention of promoting dialog and discussion rather than screeds from opposing sides. I am happy to hear that at least. The author then touches on how we can seperate factual information from farcical nonsense. Basically you gather data, analyze it using various tests and from the observations we should be able to predict future outcomes based on what we infer. It's the scientific method in a nutshell but the author goes on to plug the Reason To Believe or RTB creation model.

I am at present unfamiliar with the RTB creation model but again I cannot ignore the skepticism tingle crawling down my spine. Presupposition is the enemy of good science and since the model conforms not to an independently verifiable source but to a preexisting bit of scripture I can only express concern. However, mind open, lights on and fingers at the ready.

The segment ends with a summary of the rest of the book which I'll not relist here. I decided to forego jumping into the chapters and instead want to look a bit deeper at the author himself.

So I did some google work.

Bio at RTB
Other books

Now those three links represent a huge quantum of information so I will condense a few key points to remark on.

Mr. Ross is an old-earth creationist. This label speaks volumes but in the interest of not pigeon- holing anyone. He seems to believe (and brace yourself for cognitive dissonance, crank yer mental inertial dampeners up) that beliefs should hold up to evidence in a falsifiable and verifiable. That's good. However one can only wonder how sincere this wish is given the conclusions he draws.

Just flipping through the booklist we begin to see a lot of apologetics and a lot of science-confirms-the-words-of-biblical-scripture type of stuff. This is worrisome though at this point I have no delved into the meat of the book in question.

I would like to point out some positives however. The man seems to have a decent understanding of some scientific principles and a flexible yet firm disregard when it comes to marrying them to scripture. There are few deal breakers that I will consider for premature withdrawl or outright antagonism but the following points cannot be dismissed by any reasonable person.

1) The universe is about 14 billion years old
2) The earth is about 4.5 billion years old.
3) Life arose on this planet or was carried here from the immediate solar vicinity.
4) Since it began life has evolved through natural selection and mutation.
5) The dominant theories governing physics, biology and chemistry cannot be suspended, reversed or altered to suit any biblical assertion whatsoever.

6) This is a restatement of point 5, miracles can never supplant naturalistic observations for the explanation of key events throughout history regardless of source, date or popularity.

The next post will cover Chapters 1-3 and the first meeting I attend will relate to those chapters.