The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Rick Gerhardt - Floundering

Yes, I'm back for a second. Don't get used to it. This video just annoyed me on a day when I'm already in a bad mood and I couldn't find any good rebuttals on the internets. I had the time. Here we go.

Well, this was painful to watch. Check it out if you can get through it below:

This, if you didn't figure, is biologist and Christian apologist Rick Gerhardt trying his hardest to wiggle around evidence for evolution in the form of the absurd length and route of the recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) in a giraffe. It's hard to watch, and remember that I just struggled through the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead.

I don't like seeing "scientists" like Gerhardt do stuff like this. It's disheartening. The blathering nonsensical ramblings about a, "...problematic mixing of tenses..." is just dumb. It's as though he and an aviation technologist were watching a plane fly overhead and the tech says, "Isn't it cool to just watch it fly by like that?" and Gerhardt responding, "Well, 'cool' is normally reserved for temperature and it's a bit informal for our usage today, so planes can't fly." For fuck's sake.

His larger point is that the tense bit alludes to evolution making predictions, which he claims is not true. He doesn't seem to have known about the moth called <a href="">X. morganii praedicta</a> that Darwin himself made the prediction regarding the co-evolution of orchid and moth. Hm, odd. Actually, here is <a href="">an article</a> that outlines many of the predictions made by the Theory of Evolution. Check 'em out. They're pretty great.

Gerhardt then explains that evolutionary scientists don't make predictions, they "glom onto" things and then "ad hoc - after the fact", jam them into their theory to make it make sense. If he could hold up a mirror to his argument, he'd see the bible leering back at him with sketchy eyes and furrowed brow.

He says that it's disingenuous on Dawkins' part to claim predictive power that is not there. He nicely does not talk about the rest of the giraffe video where Dawkins and the others explain that, when you look at earlier ancestors like fish, you see the more direct path of the RLN from the brain (branching off the vagus nerve or cranial nerve X) and heading to the larynx. When you go to mammals who have more of a pronounced neck, the nerve retains its pathway around the heart vessels and back to the larynx in a somewhat elongated and unnecessary route. Once you get that to giraffes, the route becomes comically extended to the point of being just dumb. The way the nerve runs really only makes sense in the light of evolution via mutation and natural selection.

Gerhardt gets out his shovel and digs though, saying that, " matter how contrary the evidence proves to be, evolutionary theory has a way of morphing no not only explain away that contrary evidence, but to claim it as support of the evidence (sic)." He then gives no examples of extraordinary (or just banal) "contrary evidence".

He claims that the giraffe video is not a scientific argument, but that it is a philosophical or theological argument (coming from the guy who makes exclusively philosophical or theological arguments in this video). Again, he does not reference any of the anatomical points from the giraffe or the anatomist discussing it. He points out that Dawkins' expertise is in neither of those arenas - obviously, neither are Gerhardt's, but let's not talk about that. <a href="">Jingly keys</a>! (By the way, if you're not listening to God Awful Movies, you must begin immediately. It's fantastic and one of my weekly joys)

This next one is amazing. He says that the claim of evolution routing the nerve, "...kind of assumes a God-like understanding of the situation." Excuse me for a second....

There we go. Ok. Sorry, I had to do a shot of whisky there. Alrighty, where were we? Right, "god-like" understanding. Hilarious. He's explaining the mind of God to us and why God is correct, yet *WE* are the ones acting "god-like". Amazing.

He also made the "it's unfalsifiable" jingly noise when, as a biologist himself, he should know that just finding an animal that *should* have - as predicted by evolutionary theory - anatomy that follows the established norms but doesn't would throw a wrench into the evolution machine. As J.B.S. Haldane can be paraphrased, "finding a rabbit fossil in the Precambrian would fuck our shit up immensely."

His...I hesitate to call it an "argument"...about Dawkins saying that he sees no purpose for the extra length of the RLN and therefore that's a wrap, but maybe - juuuuussssst maaayyyyybbeeeeeee - God knows what's up with that thing and there iiiiiiissssss a plan and design there after, I can't even. Is this an argument? Didn't he just say Dawkins was acting "god-like"? Here Gerhardt is simply saying that God might have a plan after all and we don't know it, so stop acting all know-it-all-ish and accept my Lord and Savior, will ya? Geez.

Next up is "dysteleology" or bad design. Gerhardt mentions that every time evolutionists make the bad design claim (like in the inverted retina of the eye), "further research has shown eloquent design." Really? I mean, "good" or "bad" design is subjective at best anyway, but you can say quite definitively that making a nerve go 14 feet out of its way seems like crap design. The inverted retina of the human/mammalian eye might be good or bad design, but the underlying point is that it seems fairly obviously to be constructed via a process of evolution, from previous materials and fumblings.

He actually uses the panda's thumb. As an example of design. Seriously. Take a quick look:

See how there's 8 bones in the human wrist and 8 bones in the panda's? Sure, they're differently shaped, but they're all there. Mutation would take care of the small changes and natural selection would take care of the "more food to the better adapted/more mates for the healthier/pass along mutation and enhance over many generations" bit. Not design, evolution. Get with the program.

Lastly (and thankfully), Gerhardt says Dawkins' argument that the RLN is crap design, therefore there is no design, is a non-sequitur. Just because it's bad design doesn't necessarily mean that *no* design was involved. He then talks about the Ford Pinto. You know, because the gas tank blew up and killed the car's occupants doesn't mean that the designers weren't there! The car was clearly designed, Richard!

So, to recap, God is there and is totally real but sometimes he just makes bullshit designs that are stupid. (Soooo...why do we listen to him with respect to morality and...SHUT UP! He's real! Lalalalalalalalalala!)

This entire video boils down to Jim Carrey in Liar Liar:

I can't do more than that. I'll be back in six months or when something else annoys me to the point of write or die.

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Couple Few Quick Things

Well, really only one quick thing. It's odd that I missed this blog's 10 year anniversary on the fifth of December. Busy with life and whatnot, kids, jobs, family, friends, being annoyed at the things I used to get annoyed at and write about. I don't think to write much anymore.

Actually, that's not true. I think about writing all the time, I just don't do it. I keep seeing those James Patterson writing "master class" memes and think, "Yeah, I should totally write. I'm decent at it, semi-humorous, and maybe if I stick at it I could monetize." Then I get distracted or lazy (if I'm honest, it' usually the latter) and it doesn't get done. I'm the same way with podcasting; I keep thinking I should record some more episodes and get them up there and make it a priority. Then the three jobs call and my wife and kids need love and hugs and, dammit, I'm still learning guitar and other necessary skills (nunchuck skills).

Whine whine whine. Excuse excuse excuse.

I enjoy having this place - yes, I think of it as an actual place, like Heaven or Mordor - to drop in on and put thoughts to "paper". The content may change, however, as I'm moving away from skeptic thoughts. Those will always be there, of course, but they'll be in the background. I'll leave the preaching, such as it is, to the professionals. So, if you notice a bit of a tone change or content upgrade (shit, I hope it's viewed as an "up"grade), give it a whirl. If it's not your bag, that's kool and the gang. If it is, that's also kool.

Enjoy the rest of 2015 - it's been a bit of a shitshow for this fella - but we can make 2016 way the hell better. Thanks for still being here after a decade of (mostly pointless) ranting.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pulling the Triggers

"If someone tells me I've hurt their feelings, I say, 'I'm still waiting to hear what your point is.'" Christopher Hitchens

I don't like trigger warnings.

I know, this likely won't make me popular with all the large hairpieces of the no-god-having, leftie-leaning groups, but it's just a fact. I think they're bullshit and they're disempowering people, keeping them from actually dealing with their problems. I mean, look at this article from the New York Times in March talking about the subject of triggers, rape, and colleges. If people were "triggered" by this presentation/dialogue they could go to a set-up "safe space" described as follows:
The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.
Sorry? I get that a small minority percentage of the audience might have to take a break and get their head out of the content for a minute, but what is with the childish nonsense? Play doh and bubbles? Are you serious? I thought colleges and universities were for young adults exploring ideas and learning about the world? Check out this quote from a person who made use of said "safe room":
“I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,”
Yeah, welcome to university. As Denis Leary once said, "I thought I was going to be the starting centre fielder for the Boston Red Socks. Life sucks, get a fucking helmet."

I'm sorry if I'm blunt and seemingly unsympathetic. I'm not unsympathetic at all. I teach first aid and CPR and recently at a course for a dental office we were going through the motions of CPR on the mannequins. We were obviously talking about doing the technique on people who present as dead - no heartbeat, no breathing - and that most of the people who have CPR done on them will, unfortunately, not make it. One of the attendees, I noticed, was welling up slightly with tears and certainly was not sharing in the occasional black humour that accompanies our presentation. At the conclusion, she quickly took her leave with moist eyes and a couple of the other office workers mentioned that she recently lost someone very close to her.

I feel for that woman. She experienced loss and had to face a short course that dealt with death in a very up-front way. She was "triggered", but she got through it and was professional about it, albeit understandably with difficulty. I would argue that the fact that she got through the class likely helped her deal with the loss.

The NYT article also makes the very valid point that:
“I don’t see how you can have a therapeutic space that’s also an intellectual space...”
and’s disconcerting to see students clamor for a kind of intrusive supervision that would have outraged students a few generations ago.
The former quote shows the incompatibility of the concepts we're dealing with here. "Safe" spaces just don't do well with intellectual discourse. You are going to be challenged to provide evidence for your position and if you can't, your argument is going to be thrown out with very little ceremony. You feelings be damned.

The last four paragraphs illustrate just what backwards-thinking nonsense this sort of blanketing results in: college students feeling less "safe" than an artist whose comrades were gunned down in their workplace and who was traveling with (very necessary) bodyguards. I urge you to read the whole thing.

Greta Christina (who I admire greatly but disagree with on this topic) wrote an article supportive of trigger warnings in Free Inquiry magazine (FI) (volume 35) wherein she argues that if the reader was supportive of "spoiler alerts" for movies then you should logically be in favor of "trigger warnings". In the most recent issue of FI there is a rebuttal article by Kristine Harley which echoes many of my concerns when I read Christina's original piece.

One point made is the obvious and concerning growth of what can and does "trigger" people and what the ultimate goal is for these warnings:
...the goal of preventing any kind of “trauma” has replaced the reasonable goal of heading off PTSD-related episodes.
Note here that Harley states plainly that some trigger warnings are sensible and necessary to stop trauma victims from having an episode. However, Harley takes on Christina's main analogy thusly:
Triggering material, unlike spoilers, is so poorly defined that almost anything can be a trigger...Law students avoiding rape law in class neither resemble fans of The Empire Strikes Back who don’t want to know beforehand that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, nor do they “decide not to read [the material] on the bus to work.” They rather behave like the pharmacists who do not want to dispense birth control or the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
I remember listening to Penn Jillette talking on his podcast about an issue much like this. He recounted a story about him and Teller performing on stage at a theatre somewhere and one of the tricks they did was to have a large plexiglass tank, fill it with water with Teller inside, and then Teller would "drown" in it while attempting to escape. Very Penn & Teller.

A woman, during the gag, got up and left the theatre quickly. She was attended to in the lobby by an usher who asked if she was alright and if she needed anything. The woman told the usher that someone very close to her had recently drown and that she didn't know that was part of the show and it just hit a little too close to home. She couldn't stay and watch. The usher apologized and offered to refund her ticket and she refused because, she said, there was nothing wrong with the show, it was just that *she* couldn't stay because of her specific circumstance. She would go back into the show in a few minutes and all would be well. And, against all odds, it was. This woman may not have been ready to see a realistic, fake drowning at that point of her grief process, but she watched some of it. Eventually, that sort of thing won't bother her anymore and she will be able to see it for what it is: a stage gag. It brings up this point from the above article though:
According to the most-basic tenets of psychology, the very idea of helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided. A person who is trapped in an elevator during a power outage may panic and think she is going to die. That frightening experience can change neural connections in her amygdala, leading to an elevator phobia. If you want this woman to retain her fear for life, you should help her avoid elevators.
Let people face their fears/triggers. Slowly at first and then they will eventually get over them. The infantilization and coddling is doing no one any favours. To put a point on the quote, ensuring that any time discussion of elevators comes up Susan is told to go get some coffee so her ears won't hear the offending syllables will only make her irrational fear persist and her social anxiety worsen to the point of paralysis.

I'll end with this.
...(W)e should choose to react to our negative experiences with reason, logic, and evidence-based inquiry...As Isaac Asimov famously said, there is “no thumb to suck” in life, and to me these growing demands for an expected outcome are beginning to sound like prayers to a therapeutic god in a feel-good church of conformity.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Monk See, Monk Please Don't Do

A photo of a serene-looking, peaceful, orange-robed monk walking down a road in Southeast Asia somewhere. It's a picture that has ended up in the albums and picture files of thousands of travelers over the years. Much like Mother Theresa, these seemingly docile gentlemen can sometimes have an outward appearance that conflicts greatly with their actual beliefs and actions.

Monks in Burma are reacting more like our simian cousins than fellow humans with respect to the struggle of women in that country to have basic sex education and control of their lives. These are, obviously, extremist religious zealots who are trying to pass family planning laws to restrict the population growth of the Muslim community there because they are scared of a minority becoming a majority. Or they're just xenophobic. I'd put what little money I have (and I'd borrow a lot more) on the latter.

Funny story: There's no word for "vagina" in Burmese. Check this out -
The only “polite” term available for women who want or need to refer to that part of their anatomy translates as “woman’s body”
So, imagine being a woman with a health issue regarding that particular part of their anatomy and trying to describe it to a doctor, who also can't speak with any real precision.

Patient - "My body hurts."
Doctor - "Oh really? What seems to be the problem?"
Px - "Well, my body. My *lower* body. It hurts."
Dx - " it...uh.... Oh, I'm sorry, I'm getting an urgent page to go...over there."

There is a passage in that Guardian article that sort of sums up what this is about, so I'll just quote it in full here:
Garments that have come into close contact with a woman’s lower half, such as the traditional htamein (a wraparound skirt worn by most women in Myanmar) or underpants, are considered unclean, even after they have been washed. They are also believed to have the ability to rob men of their hpoun – a concept that could roughly be translated as “masculine power”.
Perhaps I'm juvenile (Ok, we don't really have to suppose), but it makes me laugh that clothing in close proximity to a woman's vagina is thought to rob men of something pronounced, "poon". Weird that ideas like this come from a religion, I know. It's so rare that thought-cages espousing on-going lives and beliefs in power-stealing clothing would promote discrimination against women and minorities. Hm. Must be a one-off.

If you have a second, the Akhaya Women are doing good work in Burma trying to get women autonomy over their bodies and some semblance of respect in society. Oh, and get a damn word for vagina...just please don't go with, "va-jayjay".

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Sunday, November 08, 2015

Little Red Whiny Christians

Seriously. Is there *anything* these whiny bitches won't complain about? Red Starbucks cups? Those assholes should feel lucky that we don't put up giant billboards educating people about how you stole pagan traditions to insert your favorite widdle invisible Sky Daddy into an already existing and well established ceremony about the solstice...which is a real thing that has actual bearing on how we lived our lives for thousands of years.

Whinging about fuckin' red Starbucks cups. Get a goddamn helmet.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: Islam and the Future of Tolerance

I just finished reading the dialogue book by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz, Islam and the Future of Tolerance and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's rare that reading a book brings the same interest that watching a debate will, but when the participants are both well-read, respectful of their partner in conversation, and willing to concede points made, it makes for a (not-surprising in this case) great page-turning.

Harris brings up one of the points he made previously in The End of Faith where he criticized moderate believers by stating, "One of the problems with religion is that it creates in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, even when members of one's own group are behaving like psychopaths." This is a point well-worth listening to and one that Nawaz also recognizes. Only a few pages later, Nawaz goes through his "circles of Muslim believers" that Harris tried in vain to explain to Ben Affleck on Bill Maher's show. The explanation is great and very helpful in showing the layers of ideology and what those involved actually want to achieve.

Another interesting tidbit that harkened back to Nawaz's previous book, Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism, was his explanation of the four elements of recruitment to an ideological extreme. Reading a former star recruiter tell the details of how he worked with these elements was intriguing.

Harris brings up the on-going problem of so-called "liberals" being sensitive to the point of extreme dishonesty and goes right to the brink of actually naming the people he refers to as, "the usual suspects". If you've listened Kyle Kulinski's interview of Harris (well worth the 2 hour time investment) you'll know exactly who he is talking about and why he is so (justifiably) testy. Harris also brings up a major issue with respect to internal reform within Islam, pointing out that moderation or interpretation of religious texts involves outside authority i.e. a source that originates from outside the "infallible" doctrines of the faith, which obviously would be a large problem for many devout Muslims (or any devout believer of any faith).

Nawaz makes a great point regarding the reasons for having the conversation at all, pointing out that for a person to blow themselves up as well as anyone - man, woman, child - in the surrounding area and believe that this is a good thing with a positive outcome for all killed, you would need to have 100% commitment and belief in your doctrine. If a conversation, "can seed even 1 percent doubt, we may stop that suicide bomber." To change Islam, however, he admits that, "(A) complete overhaul of cultural identity patterns and a reformed scriptural approach is required." That is asking a lot of the world's Muslim population, but it is doable.

Maajid Nawaz has, in my opinion, the line of the book where he states what should be the motto of all who attempt to have this sort of discussion in their own lives - privately or in public. "No idea is above scrutiny and no people are beneath dignity." Oftentimes, when a scientist is being interviewed, one of the last questions will be something along the lines of, "If you could correct one major misunderstanding about your profession or specialization, what would it be?" Well, with respect to atheists, we need a t-shirt slogan that shows we're not all (or even mostly) the snotty and condescending image so often portrayed in media; this one quotation, if things were right in the world, would be that t-shirt. Hell, I'll buy one right now.

This short, interesting book is well worth the read and if you haven't picked it up yet, you should.

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Monday, October 05, 2015

Update Type New Stuff

Wow. Look at this place. I miss it when I've been gone for so long. Blog still looks ok here, maybe I'll pop back and hang out for a little bit.

This chick blinded herself (though with the assistance of a "helpful" psychologist) to fulfill a lifelong desire to be disabled. I really have no comment on this except to think, fuck, there's a psychological disability where you're so *not* disabled that you want to be disabled. Weird.

The pope decided to meet with Kim Davis (if you don't know who Kim Davis is, you're awesome and we should hang out - you clearly have better things to do and that's where I'd like to be in life) and then almost immediately distanced himself from meeting with Kim Davis. We all know, however, just how committed to saving clumps of cells the Catholic church is because of Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, the former "Mother" Theresa. She took in millions in donations - also the proceeds from criminal activity via the Duvaliers and Keating - and instead of spending that money on her "hospital", she forwarded it to the Vatican so they could fund the fight against women's rights, safe abortion access, and community health education. So let's not play like we're surprised that Francis met with this woman in Kentucky.

There was *another* mass shooting in the U.S. Dan Hodges, political commentator, said on Twitter, "In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over." Not much left to say after that. The truth just kind of stabs you in the chest and leaves the knife handle sticking out for all to see.

Donald Trump is in the U.S. GOP running for presidential candidate. There's really not a lot to comment on here, I just wanted a record of that statement on my blog for future laughs/weeping.

The insecure, wannabe bullies of the world, ISIS, destroyed the Arch of Triumph in the formerly protected UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palmyra, Syria this past Sunday (October 4). They took control of the city in May, beheaded the antiquities expert, and then started blowing shit up. There really needs to be more money put into R&D to get one of those Charles Xavier world-wide mind control devices to we can just get into the heads of all these ISIS morons and cause them great pain anytime they even ponder the idea of destroying historical sites. These dickheads must be stopped. They are the Nazis of our time. We have to take them seriously and get rid of them.

In slightly happier news, the Nobel Prizes are being handed out again and William Campbell & Satoshi Omura were awarded the prize for medicine. They jointly developed the drug Avermectin which helps save people from River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis. Saving lives and being awesome - that's what scientists are about.

I need some breakfast. Eggs is on the menu. Come on over and I'll make something delicious to make your mouth water.