Sunday, November 27, 2005

Prometheus: Tom Yulsman on Religion and Science

Here's an interesting thread if your interests include the question of whether or not religion and science are compatible.

Apparently Roger Pielke Jr., Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was impressed by this piece in the Denver Post: "Science and religion face off - The two really aren't incompatible". The author, Tom Yulsman, is co-director of the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

In a nutshell, in his Denver Post piece Yulsman argues that science and religion are not incompatible. He invokes Stephen J. Gould's nonoverlapping magisteria, then goes on to point out that we don't need Gould to show that science and religion are compatible because millions of people, including many scientists, experience no conflict between the two. He cites the likes of Einstein, Hawking and Primack, Einstein by way of his Spinoza quote, Hawking via his "mind of God" comment, and Primack by his likening of the big-bang afterglow to the "handwriting of God".

Yulsman concludes by noting that the religious views of these distinguished ones differ wildly from those of people who think that humans co-existed with dinosaurs, and with those whose god is a bearded white guy on a cloud. That would include the huge proportion of Americans who say they believe a god created mankind in its present form some six or ten thousand years ago.

So far so good, and I agree completely with Yulsman that Intelligent Design is "motivated not by a desire to seek empirical truth about nature but by a pre-determined Christian agenda."

Then come the thread's comments.

Eli Rabett thinks that Yulsman is taking an easy out and confusing religion with awe. Eric Wilcox agrees, and writes that the greater challenge is in convincing religious people that evolution is not in conflict with the biblical special relationship between God and humanity or the lessons in morality that follow.

Next, Yulsman defends himself against Rabett's charge that he's confused religion and awe by writing that it was Einstein who described his experience as a "cosmic RELIGIOUS experience." At this point I think he's splitting hairs because there clearly is a difference between Einstein's "religious" experience and the religious feelings of American fundies. "Religion" is like any other word - you have to define it. I think the definition relevant here would have Einstein experiencing awe as compared to fundie religion, which "religion" seems more relevant to the discussion. Whatever. Moving right along...

Next comes David Roberts of Grist Magazine, who asks, "So what?", and points out that the beliefs of the majority of US christians are *not* compatible with science, and suggests that Yulsman pick sides.

Next, Pielke responds to Roberts by, essentially, saying that Roberts' thinking is too black and white, and that Yulsman has taken sides by dividing the world into those who think science is compatible with religion and those who do not, and by then placing himself on the side of those who do.

Roberts responds that Pielke and Yulsman are dividing the world alright, but they're doing it along theoretical lines about what is possible rather than by what is actual. Roberts seems to want Pielke and Yulsman to get more "in their face" with fundies and like folk, saying it is they who are thrusting the arguments on science, not the other way around, and asking whether we shouldn't rise to the occasion.

Next, Yulsman responds to Roberts, apparently having taken offense at Roberts' comments about "vaporous" religion, choosing sides and rising to the occasion. Yulsman's apparent offense might have been sparked by Roberts' unfortunate use of the term "vaporous" in describing awe-religion. I don't think Roberts intended to insult; rather, he simply used a descriptive term that can convey negativity. Maybe "ethereal" would have been a better term. Whatever... Yulsman goes on, apparently having interpreted Roberts as implying that he (Yulsman) should give up his religious beliefs and abandon his core values. Yulsman concludes by commenting that his "vaporous" and "theoretical" religion seems pretty real to him when he reads Torah.

At this point, I think Roberts gave up hope of further dialog, as I think I would have, too. No offense, but what more could either of them have written in the moment? That conversation probably needed to move to the bar for a beer.

Finally, Kevin Jones weighed in with a comment that was particularly interesting to me because he apparently doesn't have any use for Richard Dawkins, who is one of my heroes for having sparked memetics. Jones also thought Yulsman's piece was a bit weak. Jones' first paragraph seems to agree with Grist's David Roberts with respect to the nature of awe-religion. Roberts wrote "vaporous" whereas Jones wrote "warm and fuzzy", but I think they mean pretty much the same thing. Jones also seems to not have much use for Stephen Jay Gould's nonoverlapping magisteria, but doesn't seem as hostile to Gould as he is toward Dawkins.

Jones refers the reader to a review of the book, "The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism", by Phillip E. Johnson, the christian lawyer whose book is one of the foundations of the ID movement. The review Jones refers to is by Catholic theologian and priest Edward T. Oakes, who considers some of the people I hold in highest esteem, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Steven Pinker, to be sleight-of-hand artists and masters of ledgerdemain who dupe the public with the trick of persuading the world of what is false by urging upon it what is true.


I'll have to go back and try to make more sense of Oakes' review, which concludes with a quote from a contemporary of Darwin, Cardinal Newman, which includes the following: "I believe in design because I believe in God, not in a God because I see design."

So, having spent my morning on this interesting exchange, what do I come away with?

I've reinforced my belief that there is a possibly infinite variety of ways in which the necktop computer can be configured with internally self-consistent programming, and that frequently such configurations are externally incompatible, sometimes violently so, with those of others. (There's no violence in this thread, of course, but just look around for many examples of physical violence associated with incompatible worldviews.)

I've also reinforced my confidence in the relevance of the quote at the top of my blog, "For every expert there's an equal and opposite reexpert."

I've learned some things from this thread, too, which is why I read Promethius from time to time. Thanks Roger!

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Stephen Moore [1][2] and I do not think alike. I suppose I should defer to him, though, on the basis of all his credentials and accomplishments. Who am I to question the sanity and morality of a man with titles such as CEO, President, Senior Fellow, Senior Research Fellow, "member of the Board of Scholars", "adjunct scholar" and so on? Hell, I'm just an aging engineer who can't even punctuate correctly. What do I know?

Moore recently published a piece in the WSJ, "The War Against the Car". You have to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal to access the source, but others have cached it as you'll see on the link to Google in the title of this post. (I was a WSJ subscriber for a while, but I came to regard their editorial stance as insane so I left. I assume the caches I've seen of Moore's screed are accurate.)

Moore compares second-graders' "indoctrination" with the arguments of "presumably educated adults", calls those adults Luddites, paints global warming and peak oil worriers and their "tirades" with the "Malthusian" label.

He actually writes that if all those poor people had just had cars they wouldn't have had to be warehoused in the New Orleans Superdome. As if that weren't enough, he invokes the memory of Rosa Parks and credits the hundreds of cars owned by black voluneers ferrying people around the city with the success of the bus boycot Ms. Parks sparked so few years ago.

Moore refers to the call to conserve energy as a "maniacal obsession", and ridicules recent oil company ad campaigns, comparing them to a MacDonald's campaign to promote less beef on the basis that cows are terrible things to lose. He writes that "simplistic notions" regarding the car reflect ignorance of the history of masses of horse shit in the streets. Ewwww!

And so on. What an ass.

Moore concludes:
Americans are rugged individualists who don't want to cram aboard buses and subways. We want more open roads and highways, and we want energy policies that will make gas cheaper, not more expensive. We want to travel down the road from serfdom and the car is what will take us there.
Moore's "rugged individualist" is a myth, proof of which is readily apparent in areas as diverse as fashion, suburban architecture, media preferences, marketing maleability, you name it. That we want this, want that and want the other is undeniable; we behave like the second-graders he considers some of us to be. His statement that the car will deliver us from serfdom, though, is a dangerous delusion at best, a flat-out lie at worst.

Moore is one of the founders of something called the "Club for Growth". The hard place this rock runs into lies in the exponential consequences of steady growth, something to which Mr. Moore seems oblivious.

So what does the MXC have to do with this? MXC is a hilarious (if you like that sort of humor) adaptation of a Japanese show called Takeshi's Castle. One of the games in the show is called Wallbangers, and features contestants whose success lies in racing through a number of walls, each with several doors, one of them of paper, the rest solidly closed. Contestants run headlong into the doors they select, passing through paper if they selected correctly or crashing violently if not. Funny as hell!

Moore reminds me of a Wallbangers contestant. Skanky's about to get him.

Seriously though, I don't know much about Wolfgang Sachs, but this quote seems spot on: "The world will no longer be divided by the ideologies of 'left' and 'right,' but by those who accept ecological limits and those who don't." That seems exactly right for Stephen Moore and yours truly.

Hat tip: Energy Bulletin. AF is correct about Moore's piece almost reading like parody.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Evolution is a fact.

In any developing science there are disagreements. But scientists—and here is what separates real scientists from the pseudoscientists of the school of intelligent design—always know what evidence it would take to change their minds. One thing all real scientists agree upon is the fact of evolution itself. It is a fact that we are cousins of gorillas, kangaroos, starfish, and bacteria. Evolution is as much a fact as the heat of the sun. It is not a theory, and for pity’s sake, let’s stop confusing the philosophically naive by calling it so. Evolution is a fact.
--Richard Dawkins

So there.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Explain me this

Update Nov 22 2005:

Well, that was a waste of good bile. I guess I am too sensitive to the impossibility of achieving confidence in my computer security.

My friend Ken wondered whether there might be some function in Firefox or the Adobe Acrobat software that would interpret the text, "" as a link even though it is not set up as, and did not appear to be, a link.

It seems that the version of Adobe Acrobat that I'm using on this Linux box does that, or maybe the text was actually set up as a non-apparent link when the pdf was composed. Why they would do that escapes me, especially when there were plenty of other links in the document that were plainly identifiable as links. I tend to think it's a function of Acrobat to interpret text like that as a link. Maybe I'll test that some time.

What remains unexplained is why there were two browser windows open to that site when I closed the Adobe Acrobat window. I don't know about that part, but it could be that my finger was resting too heavily on the mouse button when I happened to pass the mouse over the text of interest, though it certainly seems unlikely after I've checked my mouse's condition, which is just fine.



Goddamn it! Maybe I'm just too sensitive to the impossibility of achieving reasonable confidence in my computer security, but explain me this:

A couple of minutes ago I was reading the Department of Homeland Security's "DHS Daily Open Source Infrastructure Report 21 Nov 2005", which I receive from them via email as a pdf attachment. The pdf report can also be downloaded at the link in the title of this post.

In the report was the item below (the formatting below is fucked up but I'll leave it as it came across from the Adobe copy to the Firefox paste):

7. November 18, Associated Press — Website operators admit role in phishing ring. Six more
people pleaded guilty Thursday, November 17, to operating a Website that investigators
claimed was one of the largest online centers for trafficking in stolen identity information and
credit cards. With others who pleaded guilty in recent weeks, that brings to 12 people who
acknowledged roles with the site,, which had about 4,000 members
who dealt with at least 1.5 million stolen credit card numbers and caused more than $4 million
in losses, federal prosecutors said. "The losses incurred were to the issuing banks and
MasterCard, Visa, American Express, who reimbursed those who were victimized by these
crimes," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Dowd said. The site used techniques such as phishing
and spamming to illegally obtain credit and bank card information, which were used to buy
goods on the Internet.
So, why the hell, when I closed the Acrobat window where I was viewing the DHS daily report, were there TWO browser windows open to the web site?

Nothing like this has ever happened before. I did NOT click on any links while I was viewing the DHS pdf, on top of which there is no link to that site in the DHS report. Nothing that looks like a link, anyway.

I'm running Firefox 1.0.7 (the latest version), on a Linux (Linspire 5) machine with no other OS on board. I am not running as root.

This just pisses me off. First, what caused those windows to open to that site? Next, if the site is an ID theft site, why the hell is it still on line?

Then there's that Sony rootkit shit (from what I'm able to tell is not on my Windows machine, which may be because I just don't buy CD's any more, and I'm certainly not going to buy any CD's any time soon, especially bearing any brand I can associate with Sony, and I'll not buy anything at all from Sony (or that even smells like their horse) any time soon. Rant rant rant!).

Well, that's off my chest. NOT!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Irreconcilable Difference With Buckley

... whatever one feels about the right of a woman to put in for an abortion, that right is not asserted in the Constitution of the United States, nor is it implicit in any reasonably argued defense of individual privacy.
Buckley's piece is actually about the distinction between a judge's allegiance to the law vs. a judge's political philosophy, and I can go along with him on that. I suppose Alito is as good a candidate as is likely to be nominated by the Republican administration or approved by the Senate. The Senate should confirm the man and get on to other vitally important matters presently being ill addressed if addressed at all.

However, I disagree vehemently with Mr. Buckley's opinions about the lack of a Constitutional foundation for abortion and privacy.

Thirty years ago, when I was in Army counterintelligence agent training, one of the most important training topics was the law. I don't recall the trainer's name, but he impressed me greatly. One of the things I recall was that lawyer's opinion that the Soviet constitution was a beautiful document but that it was just pretty window dressing - not applicable to real life.

Well, that's how I'm coming to view the US Constitution.

Mr. Buckley says above that the US Constitution does not contain the foundations of an abortion right.

I'm no lawyuh, but I say Bullshit.

The Ninth amendment says, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." As far as I'm concerned, THAT's where the foundation of the right to privacy lies, and by extension where the right of a woman to make her own choices about abortion is established.

Unfortunately, it seems to me the Ninth Amendment has been turned around such that the lack of enumeration of certain rights is construed to disparage them. That's exactly what Buckley is doing when he writes that the "right is not asserted in the Constitution of the United States". It doesn't need to be explicitly asserted, Bill. That's the whole purpose behind the Ninth Amendment.

I guess it's a question of picking your trumps.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Going To Prison

My favorite scumbag is going to prison.

This is the one who caused me a fair measure of grief a couple of years ago. I am suppressing the urge to wish upon him some awful things I wouldn't wish on anyone if I believed in the myth of inherent human dignity. Let's just say I hope Peter Francis-Macrae dies in prison.

My favorite Tool song, "Jerk-Off", is going through my head as I type.

The scam I fell for and what I tried to do about it
The retaliation I suffered for trying to stand up to the scam

Moving along now...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | Drugs charges for Guatemala tsar

Mr Castillo [the head anti-drug official in Guatemala - sls] was in the US state of Virginia for a training course on how to fight drug trafficking through ports when he was arrested, Guatemalan Interior Minister Carlos Vielman said.
It gets tiresome to again and again write about the so-called drug war and the folly of prohibition. Over and over and over again the clear case is made by better people than me against this national stupidity, and yet it goes on.

Here's an illustration of one of the many reasons to end prohibition and the war on some drugs: corruption of officialdom.

Whether it be a dirty cop or a dirty drug czar/tsar, the facilitating element is prohibition. Prohibition, in addition to doing this kind of harm, does no good.

Oh, well... There's always another crook where the previous one came from.

UPDATE: Pete Guither is wondering what else might be going on. He's got some good questions.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Such Nonsense: "Planned Parenthood Sanctifying Murder: Who Would Jesus Kill?" by Brian Melton

If the baby should be considered human at conception then all other questions must be framed in light of that one fact. And yet it is that one fact that Planned Parenthood is most desperate to avoid.

Well, I don't speak for Planned Parenthood, but I do support them with my money. One of the ways I chose to donate to charities is through my employer's yearly United Way drive, from which contributions are disbursed according to donors' wishes. I generally split my payday deduction between the Red Cross and Planned Parenthood. It irritates me that Planned Parenthood is not included among the standard charities from which one can select. Every year I have to write them in.

The reason Planned Parenthood is not included in the United Way program is similar to the reason Flemming Rose has to test taboo: religious bullying. One can easily imagine the uproar should the United Way solicit funds for Planned Parenthood!

Mr. Melton thinks that a fertilized egg is a person. He believes in a soul that exists separate from the brain. This idea leads some to think Terri Schiavo was murdered by her husband and the state. It makes them think Susan Torres died after the feeding tube prolonging the functions of her vital organs (which were kept going in a failed attempt to rescue the child she was carrying) were withdrawn.

Both of these unfortunate women died long before the feeding tubes were removed. They died when their brains were no longer capable of generating their souls.

There is no soul separate from the brain. When you're brain dead, you're dead. You no longer exist. Until someone can prove otherwise, assertions to the contrary are simply religious dogma.

The same Truth (I'll capitalize it, too) holds at the beginning of life. Insisting that abortion is murder on the basis of an immortal soul independent of the brain, and driving that religious position down the throats of other people, is the same sort of nonsense that Flemming Rose is reacting to in Denmark: religious bullying.

The piece I object to asks whether "the baby should be considered human at conception". The answer is clearly "No". If he wants to believe the answer is "Yes" then so be it, as long as he doesn't shove it down other peoples' throats.

Unfortunately, he writes that "Christians, in America and elsewhere, must understand that it really is an all or nothing issue; it allows no [...] wiggle room[.]" Islamic prohibition of images of their religion's founder also allows no wiggle room. Religious bullies don't like wiggle room.

Unlike fertilized eggs, the American slaves and Hitler-victims Mr. Melton refers to were all living human beings defined by the souls emergent from their brains. Invoking their memory in opposition to abortion is nonsensical.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | Guatemala faces hunger 'timebomb'

This is not the first time starvation has loomed over the less fortunate in Guatemala. Guatemala currently has the highest rate of chronic malnutrition in Latin America, affecting 47 percent of children under five.

The current crisis, subject of the BBC story, was precipitated by the recent hurricane. Hunger and malnutrition, though, have been a big problem all along.

I remember being 9 or 10 years old, growing up in Guatemala where, at the time, my Mother worked for the Instituto de Nutrición de Centro América y Panamá, INCAP. (Translation hardly seem necessary, but that's the Nutrition Institute of Central America and Panama.) I learned very early in life what kwashiorkor is and how lucky I was.

The founding director of INCAP was Dr. Nevin Scrimshaw, whom my Mother admired very much. Under Dr. Skrimshaw INCAP developed a low-cost high-protein food called Incaparina, which is sold today in parts of the United States, while variants are used to help the hungry elsewhere. The most striking success of Incaparina-type weaning food is in India,
where a formula utilizing the Incaparina principle and named Bal-Ahar (literally "nutritious child food") has played an important role in Government nutrition programmes. It is produced today in plants in several different parts of India. It is noteworthy that Bal-Ahar is provided by the Government of India without cost to the consumer, whereas Incaparina in Guatemala has received no Government subsidy and only sporadic Government purchases. Bal-Amul, a pre-cooked version at a higher price, has been commercially successful and largely displaced imported weaning foods sold by foreign companies.
My recollections are from more than 40 years ago. It seems little has changed, except that the population of Guatemala has increased from about four million souls to today's level, which approaches 15 million.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Depressed Bushie Reaganite

Peggy Noonan seems depressed. She says that America is in trouble and that our elites are merely resigned. She writes that things are broken and that tough history is coming. Her piece in the Wall Street Journal, "A Separate Peace," is an interesting read. If you can't find it at the link there's a Fair Use copy in the first comment to this post.

Noonan thinks things have gotten too complicated, that the presidency and the government are overwhelmed, and that the people know it. Half the people won't trust the president and federal government, whe writes, to do what has to be done or to tell the truth in the face of something major like a terrorist event.

She cites an event from Christopher Lawford's book, "Symptoms of Withdrawal," in which Lawford quotes his uncle, Ted Kennedy, who, at a family affair of some sort reflected to the effect that he was glad he would not be around when the rest of the assembled group reached his age because "the whole thing is going to fall apart." Noonan's reaction: "If even Teddy knows..."

So Noonan is depressed, but she's not sure why. She opens her piece: "It is not hard and can be a pleasure to tell people what you see. It's harder to speak of what you think you see, what you think is going on and can't prove or defend with data or numbers. That can get tricky. It involves hunches. But here goes."

That's what strikes me the most. I think there's plenty of reason for depression if you pay attention to the world, but she's focused on things that don't really matter in the grand scheme. So the US takes a fall, so what? The Soviet Union did and the world went on. The United States could follow suit and the world would go on. I would not want that, but it would not be the end of civilization.

Unlike Noonan, who regrets that she can't back up her funk with numbers and data and has only hunches, my depression is backed up by the simple arithmetic of steady growth and its exponential implications (which are right there for anybody to see if they pay attention).

You're right Peggy. We're almost certainly fucked, but your blues-triggers are for nothing in comparison with the consequences of exponentiation against limits (to which you and your economist/capitalist/religionist ilk are blind).