Thursday, August 21, 2008

Links of Interest

The Weirdness of Trichoplax
Interstellar Exploration Expenses
Lennart Green's Card Magic
Dog Friendly Dog Training
Vintage Microscopes
Virus Assembled Micro Batteries
Volcano Pictures
Wet Insects
Black Hole Star Formation. And here.
Scott Aaronson: Cosmology and Complexity
Wireless Power

Monday, August 18, 2008

Constraining God

I've been trying to understand why so many people of strong religious faith spurn things like evolution and other scientific concepts. For example, the young earth fundamentalists. What does it by them to believe in a 6,000 year old earth?

I mean there are a lot of consequences to believing something like that. It means, for example, a violation of a fundamental physical principle: that presumption that physical processes in the past were the same as now (and presumably in the future). Forget science; that's the same idea that lets you believe the clocks will continue to operate, the seasons will change and the sun will come up tomorrow. Science just formalizes the idea. There are also all of the other issues: fossils as relics of past life forms? Past evidence of mountains and the distance to even the nearby stars.

By believing in a young earth you get the ability to believe in Genesis-- that's about it. All of the other stuff in the bible happens much later. You can even believe in the flood if you're willing to move it around a bit. There's a lot of evidence for the Black Sea Flood about 5600 BC. Any Christian worth his faith can get Noah's flood from something like that. It's even somewhat close to the right area. But to take the biblical creation myth as objective fact just violates too much of what we know. Besides, an omnipotent, omniscient and immortal God is too largefor a tiny little world of the fundamentalists. We're talking about a Deity who created the Horsehead Nebula and the Milky Way. Why constrain him?

But it occurred to me I was asking the question backwards. Constraining the nature of God is the point of fundamentalism. By limiting God to a tiny backwater world and a universe that Ptolemy would find small, God becomes that bearded guy in the sky. He, in effect, becomes human. Such a belief gets all of the weird little absurdities in the Bible for free. The God of the bible is intensely human: love Me. Worship Me. Follow My rules. Do that and I'll reward you. Fail to do so gets you punishment.

You can't get more human than that.

The more I think about it the more brilliant it appears. Take the concept of a universal Deity-- no human can grasp that much less relate to it. Look on the depth and power of the universe, and our own insignificance, with an open mind and you're half way to humanism. But if you present that same universe as facade, as scrim work for a tiny stage, you can dance those little holy dolls any way you like.

Links of Interest
Birthplace of the Near Earth Asteroids
Why teach evolution?
New solar system object
Camera of the Mind
How long can you breath vacuum, Noah?
Greenland's Heavy Metals due to Coal
Evolution does not favor dominant males
Lectuals: Cryptozoology, 90210
The Flat Panel Fridge
Google App Engine: Go, thou, and create.
Tidal Power Generation
Ebay for Interest Rates
Built in counting

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Animals Strike Back

My friend, Sarah, sent me this link from the Daily Telegraph. To make a long story short, animal attacks are up all over. Crocodiles, elephants, wolves and badgers all have their sights on us. The animal war has begun.


Much as I like the metaphorical Armageddon, I have this annoying tendency to try for a rational explanation-- presuming, of course, it's not sensationalistic news. I've come up with rational explanations for Superman and Star Wars. How hard can it be?

One of the biggest problems humans have with animals (or with other humans) is to refuse to acknowledge kinship with them. Animals must be inferior and/or different to such a degree that humans and animals cannot be compared.

Humanness lives in the brain. We do have a bigger and more complex brain than our cousins but that makes them no less our relatives. Like our hearts, livers and fingers, much of the construction of our brain is common with rats, dolphins and crocodiles. Even so, it's hard for me to believe they're all plotting common revenge.

I think it's more likely there's a selection here. (I always like to get an evolutionary take on things if possible.) Let's remember that until very, very recently, a lot of these animals were just fodder to us. Elephants were slaughtered by the thousands for their ivory. Crocodiles for their skin. Wolves because they were thought to prey on sheep. Badgers because, well, they're badgers.

This puts a huge selective pressure on these populations to run away from man. Those that did survived. Those that didn't went the way of the dodo-- which, incidentally, had no fear of man.

Then, about a century ago, comes the preservationist movement. Which truly got going about the midpoint of the 20th century and came into strong prominence in the last thirty years. We had selected one way, weeding out those that didn't fear us. Now, we've removed that selective pressure. It wasn't long enough to get established genetically and now those animals that didn't fear us quite so much are back in the population.

Add in to this that there are a whole lot more people than there were. And a lot of them have moved onto the land that's most valuable as far as the animals are concerned.

But something is different now. We've forgotten how dangerous those animals are. We've forgotten the metaphorical wolves that drove fairy tales and legends for the last few thousand years. There's a reason truly bad times are characterized by "the wolf at the door". There really was a wolf. And it would come into your house and eat you unless you kept it at bay.

Now, I have no problem imagining a sophisticated animal as an elephant, wolf or whale making the connection that 1) humans are bad news and 2) they're not slaughtering in the same way they used to. An elephant twigging to this new state of affairs might well attack a lorrie or destroy a village. They've done it before.

Unless we're willing to go back to our slaughterer's ways, we're going to have to cut them some slack and, what's even harder, give them some room. Time to quit going down to snuggle the sharks, bundle the bears and tickle the tigers. Let them be wild animals. Let them roll back into our nightmares and remind us what it was once like to fear the dark. It's time for us to grow up and quit pretending we live in a Disney paradise. Let them be terrible and let us leave them alone.

Because we're more terrible.

Eat 'Roo and Save the Planet
Anniversary of the original Fat Lady
Chilly Plastics
Possible rejuvenation approach
Carnival of Space #66
Defenses against hurricanes and nuclear bombs
Perseids peak 8/11-8/12
Cassini to take pictures of Enceledus
Snakes, Spiders and Extinction

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Right Wing Rhetoric

Politics in Massachusetts is anything but predictable. For example, we have John Kerry and Ted Kennedy for Senators and a completely majority democratic legislature. On the other hand, we elected Weld and Romney to the Governor's office.

So we're used to sudden shifts in the weather. If you don't like the politics right now, wait a minute.

It didn't much surprise us to see the drop in Obama's standing in recent Massachusetts Suffolk University poll. Here's the poll analysis and here's the poll itself. After all, Obama had a 53 to 30 percent lead. That's an absurd amount and clearly had to shift. Now it's a bit more believable 47 to 38 percent. It's going to be a race in November.

What is interesting is how the right has leaped on this change. The Suffolk analysis had this to say:

"Barack Obama’s campaign has hit a soft patch this summer," said David Paleologos, director of the Political Research Center at Suffolk University in Boston. "With November just three months off, it still appears an Obama outcome in Massachusetts is not in question, but the margin certainly is."
Not a surprising thing to say. Now, look at the Washington Times article:

"Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's lead in Massachusetts has plummeted 14 percentage points since June, a new Suffolk University-7 news poll shows.

Mr. Obama leads Republican John McCain 47 percent to 38, down from a 23 point spread in June, and is bleeding support from male voters, independents and older voters. "

If we didn't know the Washington Times point of view, this makes it pretty clear. Even more interesting is the reaction of the readers:

"Can you say "Freefall"? Obama is going down faster than the Travelocity dwarf going off that cliff in Acapulco. To 50general---you cited one gaffe by McCain (that old Sunni/Shiite slip that most Americans are also guilty of) when Obama has made DOZENS of gaffes including not knowing HOW MANY STATES THERE ARE IN THE U.S.! "
Pat Buchanan had this to say:
"For all its gracelessness, the McCain campaign, given openings by Barack, stepped in and put Muhammad Ali on the canvas. "
Going to be interesting to see how things are spun the morning after.

Links of Interest
Sleep makes you smarter
Solar Sails
Vancouver's not so green Olympics
Slow and Organic Art
The World's Ugliest Dolphin
Hanny's Voorwerp
Paris Hilton vs. John McCain
Why you should never talk to the police
Retelling Noah. And here.
Singing Sand. Singing Ice.
Sex after Death
More on the Fermi Paradox and Meat
The Museum of Jurassic Technology
The Trolls Among Us