November 29th, 2007


[politics] Back on my evolution soap box

Evolution is not an article of faith. No more than gravity is. They're both theories, and you can choose not to believe in them, but your lack of belief in gravity won't save you if you fall off a building. Your lack of belief in evolution won't stop drug-resistant staph from killing you, either.

I rail a lot on this blog about the pernicious influence of religion on public discourse and the quality of thinking in American society in general, and in the world at large. The so-called evolution "debate" is the perfect example of this. There is no debate. A person can take a literal seven-day Creation as an article of faith, or a more benign God-as-first-cause perspective, or the intellectual fraud of Intelligent Design. (At least the first two are honest positions.) That article of faith doesn't obviate natural processes.

ellameena (who is a very good sport about this) has argued with me, among other things, that most people can't derive evolution from first principles. I take her to mean that it seems reasonable to the average person that a debate between evolution and Creationism, or evolution and Intelligent Design, should take place.

While very few scientific theories can be independently derived from first principles — that's the whole point of the scientific method and the peer-reviewed literature which supports it, after all — I find it odd that she characterizes evolution so. The entire history of human civilization has been about the direct, deliberate harnessing of evolution. What else is selective breeding of crops and livestock but evolution in action?

Farmers in the Kansas heartland ought to be among the people with the clearest understanding of evolution, not the vanguards of deliberate intellectual stunting which the Kansas GOP has been lo these many years.

A wide swathe of American Christians have long since seized on evolution as the gate through which the secular enemy must be repelled. While there are many legitimate questions of spiritual importance in our society, this simply isn't one of them. Evolution denial is pure anti-intellectualism without any religious justification. It's a mightily impoverished spiritual framework which can be so upset by ordinary, everyday reality. Either that or it's a mightily impoverished God who can be so upset by His children using the senses and intellect with which He endowed them.

What the widespread embrace of evolution denial accomplishes is a substantial lowering of the standards of discourse and thought required in our political dialog. If a presidential candidate like Mike Huckabee can say on national television that he doesn't believe in evolution, and not be laughed off the stage, then the door is open for all manner of other counterfactual nonsense.

Just because you believe it doesn't mean it's true. Conversely, just because you don't believe in it doesn't mean it will go away. The universe doesn't bend its rules to anyone's spiritual revelation.

[politics] Freedom of religion (a followup)

A followup of mine from a discussion in comments on this morning's evolution soapbox post (edited slightly for clarity):

I don't object in the slightest to religious belief...I see it as a powerful need in the human mind, and a powerful force in the human character. Secularism, and more to the point, frank atheism, seems to be far more the exception than the norm for people.

To my view, it takes a certain kind of courage to reject the comfort of a spiritual framework, but I'll be the first to admit that's a self-serving assertion since it casts me in a positive light.

My objection isn't to belief or the need for belief either one. If anything, I'm a borderline radical on defending First Amendment protections for freedom of religion.

The issue for me, profoundly, is how people project their beliefs onto others who stand outside their community of faith. Freedom
of religion must mean freedom from religion.

How can be it be otherwise? Else minor or unpopular faiths would be overwhelmed by whatever the majority in that time and place believe.

Likewise the social commons needs to be free of dogma. Some questions necessitate an ethical perspective, even from secularists like me. For persons of faith, that ethical perspective arises from the tenets of their faith. A relatively noncontroversial example of this is right-to-die and related end-of-life issues.

Teaching good basic science in the public schools isn't an ethical question. I suppose that's a rephrase of my core argument here.

[links] Link salad, still out sick with the crud edition

The Roundbottom Interviewktempest interviews the_flea_king's alter ego.

Orrery Maker — For all your clockpunky goodness. :: wants ::

Venus May Be Earth's Hellish Twin

Why science can't save the GOP

On planets in the galactic bulge

The longevity pill? — Resveratrol? Who the heck named that compound?

Class conflict on airplanes — This should surprise no one, and is a logical extension of American socioeconomics.

Magic Highway U.S.A. — Some beautiful ca. 1958 images of the future that never was. Sort of Roadrunner meets Heinlein.

Cartoon pr0n — Hilarious, and not work-safe or child-safe. (Snurched from dinogrl.)

[poll] "Grabbing Air" Contest Voting Poll

This is the voting poll for the caption contest here. Commenters were challenged to coin a snappy caption for Collapse )

Forthwith is the voting poll. Usual rules apply, fabulous prizes of the book oriented nature abound.

Poll #1097563 Grabbing Air

Which is your favorite caption for the above photo?

will_couvillier: Spider!?!? Holy Shit, WHAT spider!?!
corvida: invisible lucha libre!
desperance: Jay Lake, official floatsperson for the Natural Law Party, demonstrates Yogic Flying...
kara_gnome: Fun. It's a serious business.
barry_short: Conrunner hint #47: Take Jay Lake to a Mexican restaurant at your own risk.
jenntheamazon: "It's a Bird! It's a plane! No! It's Jay Lake!"
jenntheamazon: "Please let me land on the bed....please let me land on the bed.... OWWW!"
jenntheamazon: "My shirts give me super powers, see?"
kradical: Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere I come to save the daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!
controuble: Mainspring over mattress
yourbob: The Unbearable Lightness of Being Jay Lake
johno: Heeeeeyyyyyyyy!!!!!! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!! Flying Toast Butt Attack!!!!!
cithra: It's just a jump to the left, and then a step to the...uh, maybe a little less jump next time.
evaleastaristev: I am awesome author! See me pose in the simplest of acts!
floatingtide: Why is it that no one in the comic book ever noticed that behind those geeky glasses Jay Lake looked exactly like Superman?
manmela: Little did people know, that aside from being an award-winning writer, Jay Lake could actually levitate
delkytlar: Jay relaxes in mid-air while waiting for his $1,000,000 check from Chris Angel and Uri Gheller to clear at the bank.
rakdaddy: "Behold the gravity-defying properties of my superconducting Hawaiian shirt."
jubietta: Holy Crap, Jay! Has it really been that long since you've had sex?
steve_buchheit: "'Yeee,' can I get a 'Haw.'" - The Rev. Jay Lake
mary919:[We] were almost ready to take entire structure into deep space, but first we had to test the rooms under zero gravity conditions. Jay volunteered. He'd be testing the ejector beds next.
coolmajaka: So that's what Jay looks like floating in a hotel room filled with vodka. Huh. That bartender swore he could make anything, and he wasn't kidding.

[politics] One last thought for this day

One more squib from the a discussion in comments on this morning's evolution soapbox post. (I know it's tacky, but I quote myself because I's my blog!)
I personally view secular progressivism as a nearly unrestricted good, but many political conservatives and people of faith certainly don't. Which seems odd to me, because it's precisely secular progressivism which most jealously guards the rights of differing viewpoints and dissenting faiths.

I never fail to be amazed at how the point of tolerance can be lost on people who think they have a grip on spiritual truth. I suppose there's a profound egocentrism in many strains of faith, the "one truth" effect that blinds believers from seeing the limits of the perfected worldview they think they've found. Much like the "Permanent Majority" meme so recently in play among conservatives, come to think of it.