Troll Roast Nostalgia, and How Evolution Undermines Racism

I took a break this weekend to enjoy being back on my laptop, but I’m about two-thirds through The Greatest Show on Earth. It’s been a great ride so far, and Dawkins does a good job of covering different aspects of evolution, examples, and, of course, the nature of the evidence behind those aspects.

Readers from my old blog might remember Gabriel the racist troll (and many probably wish otherwise). He once tried to argue that Dawkins was describing Lamarckian evolution in the book with respect to the evolution of dogs, and unsurprisingly, I can’t find anything remotely like that, unless Gabriel thought Dawkins was talking about literally chiseling their bone and flesh, despite explicitly saying he was talking metaphorically, and what was really being subtracted was their gene pool by excluding dogs with less desirable traits from breeding, or, in other words, artificial selection. The only arguably “acquired characteristics” talked about were genetic mutations, which don’t fit the Lamarckian model because you’re not changing the parents’ features to cause such mutations.

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Checking In

It’s been a while. My laptop’s charger borked last night, so I’m slowly typing on my iPod. In the meantime, I’m reading an ancient text format known as a “book” by Dawkins you might have heard of: The Greatest Show on Earth. I’ll report after my replacement charger comes in.

That’s a New One on Me

Via The Uncredible Hallq, I bump into a new argument. Or maybe it’s just the first time someone made it explicit instead of implicit:

William Lane Craig claims that atheists agree with him that, “if the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.” It seems to me a pretty clear example of Craig’s tendency to falsely claim his opponents agree with him, but there’s one way of defending Craig’s claim that I know occurred independently to both me and at least one other person: invoking material conditionals.

His post goes on to explain the twisted logic Craig might be using with material conditionals to make this assertion.  If he does mean it the way Hallq illustrates, it really strikes me as part of the dark side of a philosophy education: Using context-heavy, narrow definitions of words and equivocating them with similar phrases as they’re used in casual language.

So, for any Craig fans who might show up, here’s my position on the issue, intended to be interpreted in relatively casual language:

  1. I don’t know if the universe has an explanation for its existence.
  2. If the universe does have an explanation, it seems likely to me that there is a very large set of possible explanations, including ones people have yet to imagine and ones we’re simply incapable of imagining.
  3. Gods are one possible explanation, but I have no reason to believe they are probable as an explanation.
  4. If I had to gamble on one explanation, I would listen to cosmologists and scientists in related disciplines and base my guess on their input because they are generally more aware of and responsive to new evidence and hypotheses. I would ask critical questions in my inquiries to spot possible fallacies and contradictions to the best of my ability. The critical questions are intended to determine which of their hypotheses is most consistent with the available evidence and if their inferences from that evidence appear reasonable.

I am a counterexample to what Craig appears to be asserting: I am an atheist who has no favoritism towards theism as the explanation for the universe, if there is such an explanation. If there is an explanation for the universe’s existence, given the very large range of possibilities that come from the data shortage, I would say it’s not likely to be a god or gods, and even less likely to be Craig’s specific god hypothesis. This is, as far as I can tell, a mainstream position among atheists.

Doggerel #6: “Impossible”

Welcome back to “Doggerel,” where I discuss words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

To me, “impossible” isn’t really a word for skeptics, despite what you may have heard. It’s only really supposed to be used for some relatively narrow circumstances. Even when it’s used, there’s typically an understanding that it’s conditional or just very unlikely. Let’s look at those extremes:

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Looking For !!Science!! Shows

It’s been a long time since I watched much of anything on television, and my nostalgia for the good old days of a Discovery Channel that actually showed science has asserted itself. Right now, I’m streaming “How the Universe Works” on Netflix, and I’ll be looking for other stuff.

I may wax nostalgic for Carl Sagan, but I’m generally looking for shows that’d let me know stuff I might have missed over the past few years. I may be able to type “Higgs boson” into a search engine, but only because I’m aware that physicists are looking for it. There’s probably a lot of cool stuff being found that I’m not aware of.

Why I Don’t Trust Burzynski

If anyone’s suppressing Burzynski’s research, it’s Burzynski. The only motivations I can think of are greed and delusion because he’s not doing what an honest, altruistic scientist would do.

An honest scientist wouldn’t have any reason to delay publication of positive results for decades. If he got negative results, he would have moved onto more fruitful research long ago. If he suspected there was some flaw in the study, he would turn it over to peer review so they could engage in constructive criticism and he could start over and avoid those mistakes. Only a delusional scientist would keep testing after negative results, use cherry-picked anecdotes to falsely bolster his confidence and recruit test subjects, and avoid scientific scrutiny.

An honest scientist wouldn’t charge patients ridiculous amounts to participate, because that would make the selection non-random, biasing the results and negating the study’s value. Patients who invest a lot of money into a treatment are also emotionally invested in interpreting their situation in a positive light. Statistical analysis is how we remove our rose-colored glasses.

An altruistic scientist would instead pay for the study by asking for research grants and donations. He wouldn’t give out false promises of results, only that his treatment be given a chance to live up to his hopes. A con artist, however, would seek to make a profit by overcharging desperate patients for drugs that can be bought more cheaply. He would encourage people to spread cherry-picked testimonials to convince laypeople who don’t understand science. He wouldn’t publish his statistics and research methodology because that would allow scientists to discover the scam.

An honest scientist wouldn’t take a long time to publish a study unless what he’s studying really and truly takes decades to gather the data and make conclusions from them. In the case of a long term cancer treatment study, he’d at least publish preliminary results of what happens in the first few years and then continue following the patients for longer increments. That way, if the initial results are promising, other scientists can try to replicate them, and not have to wait for decades.

An altruistic scientist wouldn’t keep his research to himself. Science today depends on a culture of altruism. Scientists are expected to share information relatively freely. Science thrives with transparency and cooperation because new research depends on the reliability of existing knowledge. The era of the lone genius toiling in isolation is long dead because we’ve got good reason to think we’ve figured out all the “obvious” stuff. New research is about the fine details and nuances or the rare and exotic. A scientist who wants to find something new needs to know what others have already found out. Keeping your research secret from the world is downright Randian, because it depends on authoritarianism and the blind trust of consumers, instead of informed consent.

If Burzynski is allowed to continue his scam, that sets a precedent for big pharmaceutical companies to do the same.

Bruce Lipton, Nut

In an earlier post, asking for targets for me to scrutinize, Yakaru suggested I look over Bruce Lipton. I was a bit slow in jumping into the topic, so Yakaru made a post of his own.

I’ll still make my contribution, and skimming over Lipton’s website, I’m drawn to a book excerpt he posted: “The Nature of Dis-ease.” The title alone is an ideological red flag. I’ve seen a lot of altie gurus use it in the past, trying for some kind of clever wordplay. I tend to see another aspect to this word splitting: I think it promotes the idea that health is the default state of being. It’s a meme that’s going to need more and more critical scrutiny because as medicine advanced, we’ve been able to lead healthier lives. It’s because of modern science-based medicine and our society’s infrastructure that we generally take health for granted and see disease as an aberration instead of an integral part of life.

Onto the article itself:

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Doggerel #5: “Theory”

Welcome back to “Doggerel,” where I discuss words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Today’s entry is a word that’s commonly misunderstood on forums and comment threads about science. In colloquial language, “theory” implies guesswork. “It works in theory, but not in practice” is a phrase used to describe an idea that sounds reasonable, but doesn’t work, speaking of theories as if they were restricted to thought experiments. Often in fiction, “pragmatic” characters will criticize a dreamer or intellectual’s plan asserting “this is no time to test your theories!” or similar arguments. This definition of “theory” is more consistent with what a skeptic would call a hypothesis, not a theory.

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Newage Culture: An Overview

I discover Yakaru has a blog! It’s got a good post on the front page right now: Blaming the Victim: Comments on Louise Hay. It deals with one of the familiar tropes in both religion and newage that serves to protect the higher-ups when they can’t make good on a promise. It’s given me some motivation to share my extended thoughts on newage culture.

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