Friday, September 18, 2009

The BFP cometh

Yes!

The final part arrived from Newegg today. The world will never be the same.

Tonight I create the Box o' Fragadelic Power.

I have always been a fan of delayed gratification, if for nothing else, it's kinder to your wallet when you're working in an industry that doesn't flood your bank account with embarrassing wealth. But now, after *three years* of waiting for all the prices to come down to a point where I can swoop in and get the best deal, I will soon be setting affinity four ways to make all my processing dreams come true, as well as playing the most demanding games in existence with a custom box that will heartily laugh at all their system requirements.

At times like these, I can be given to hyperbole, and I didn't spare my wife any last night. I announced that I felt a change in my life coming, an immensely positive alteration, and that it would be predicated somehow on the existence of my soon-to-be-magnificent Gaming, Programming and Digital Audio Workstation machine.

Tonight I'm gonna party like it's 2012.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Value of Open Minds

My parents, with perhaps only incidental intentions, gave me a great gift. It was the gift of letting me make up my own mind regarding not only the existence of God, but also, if I chose to believe in a god, they allowed me to select my own method of belief. They more than likely decided to *not* indoctrinate me to their spiritual beliefs for no other reason than their own disillusionment with the religion they both happened to be raised with.

Regardless of their motivations, the result was that I had the freedom to decide these issues on my own. This is the gift I wish to also impart to my own children someday, if my wife and I are fortunate enough to conceive at some point.

The value of this lack of indoctrination can't be sufficiently expressed. In a world where people form their opinions early, and rarely step away from them for the entirety of their lives, the chance to truly make up your own mind without any sort of pressure in any direction is priceless.

Therefore, whatever it is I chose to believe about the universe, it wasn't handed down to me by my family or friends' religious convictions, or for that matter, my institutional peers. Richard Dawkins seems to assume that ideological indoctrination only occurs within a religious context. An interesting assumption, but not very sound, as the dogma of evolutionary biology has its own petri dish of viral transference.

I submit that an open mind is better equipped to discover "truth" regarding the universe. By open mind, I'm not referring to an automatic consideration of every wacky idea that crosses one's desk. I'm specifically speaking about looking deeper at questions raised regarding any particular scientific theory, instead of consistently explaining them away with imaginative reasons that guarantee the general theory remains intact. The latter is the starkly obvious procedure of the stubborn adherent.

Dawkins dances around the big "why" questions by assigning them vacuous status. "Vacuous" is a serious adjective, and coming from a man who seems to be devoting far too much personal and professional time to debunking spiritual beliefs, it reveals the bias by which he is hopelessly controlled.

To declare that asking "why" is a meaningless venture because there is ultimately no reason for anything, is a lazy way to avoid the issue. Surely a no-name, unknown, non-degreed, unimportant philistine like me should know better than to dare call such a distinguished, brilliant, respected and accomplished sage like Dawkins a lazy scientist.

And yet I will continue to do so until he (and others like him) admit their grand folly that prevents the world's total acceptance of their dogma: they possess the same sort of tunnel vision as those they deem scientifically ignorant.

How have the Darwinian Dittos managed to miss the fact that something they view as so entirely self-evident is not necessarily so? These purveyors of pretentious prattle seek to convince the world, through relentless insistence, that the innate human desire to seek the *why* of mysteries in the universe is in itself a primitive, ignorant, un-evolved, knee-jerk-behavioral activity; one that could never possibly bear fruit in the realm of the physical sciences.

How far would that approach have taken us historically in the realm of science if we just accepted everything at its face value, and assigned logical-sounding theories the status of fact, just because they seemed to make sense?

One of the most devious (but not very original) methods these wise men employ to pull in more converts is the age-old comparison to fairies, goblins, sea monsters, Santa Claus, and name-your-imaginary-entity. That's all very fine and dandy; there is no known way to prove the three-dimensional, physical existence of a god. However, this kind of intellectual pressure has somehow failed to stamp out the delusion so many human beings allegedly suffer from.

If the unchallenged verity of Science should be enough to forever obliterate any lingering desire to believe in a primitive superstition such as a "creator of the universe," then why do many highly skilled and formally educated scientists still choose to believe in this nonsensical boogie-man/heavenly Father? Can't these intelligent, accomplished and sometimes brilliant minds see the cognitive dissonance of their belief systems?

Dawkins, Dennett, et al, haven't learned, and may never learn, that the subjective nature of humanity, and the perhaps limitless possibilities of a highly complex and still somewhat unrevealed universe, will always prevent them from turning the world into a bunch of nodding yes-people, bowing to their god of exceptional intellect, Charles Darwin.

I say, hey, if that's what floats your boat, go on ahead. March on with your alarmist propaganda regarding the "dangerous" belief in God. All those who continue to believe in this "imaginary" entity know full well that your accusations are groundless, faceless, hapless and hopeless. The misdeeds of humankind do *not* require the flag of religion to make history a sometimes unpleasant recollection. If Dawkins, et al were being entirely honest, they would have to admit that the beneficial results of humanity's spiritual disposition far outweigh the heinous headlines blasted from anti-religious literature.

The entire world will never sway to one side of the fence. This is somehow guaranteed in the biological/sociological mix, lack of scientific data notwithstanding. I'm merely making an unscientific observation, but the greatest of scientists would be hard pressed to falsify that statement with actual lab results.

Truth be known, at the risk of sounding condescending, I actually feel sorry for people like Dawkins. Not for the reasons he might guess, such as "I'm saved and he isn't," or the ever popular "he's deceived by Satan." No, nothing quite as dramatic. I feel pity for Dawkins because he's not even aware of the fullness of existence that a belief in God can bestow upon the believer. He and I both believe we only get one shot at this life; which one of us probably possesses more hope?

He would likely comment that he is happier in the knowledge that he's not deluded.

If that is the sort of happiness he thinks is near the summit of human experience, then I say, have at it, Richard, enjoy. Take comfort in all the meaningless events caused by meaningless people who will all become, as you and I will, meaningless fertilizer in a meaningless world, in a random universe that holds no purpose whatsoever.

I'd rather bask instead in the "pathetic, ignorant delusion" that Someone or Something else is "out there," and that there is far more depth to existence than statistically near-impossible accidents in a three-dimensional mass of inexplicable energy and information.

And by the way, Richard: the vast majority of the "believers" out there have absolutely *zero* interest in dismantling your precious edifice of conjecture. In the final analysis, most of them literally couldn't care less about your academic theories. They're too busy working, raising families, and trying to make sense of life to bother with your esoteric ideas and necessity for validation.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Darwinian Dogma

I was reading in bed tonight, and I had an idea. Not wanting to wake my wife, I quietly got out of bed, turned out the light, and came downstairs to share this idea with anyone reading this blog.

In the same way human beings rage about abortion, politics, and religion, and in the same way all families with more than one child seem to possess a constant state of sibling friction from what I informally refer to as the "Cain and Abel" effect, and in the same way our more recent U.S. presidential elections are hair's-breadth close in the popular vote... well, basically, we are somehow statistically guaranteed (as a species) to not agree in certain fundamental ways of looking at the world.

Darwinian Dogma vs. Intelligent Design. That's what the "modern" argument regarding biological evolution boils down to. For clarity here, I will state that modifications to a species are proven to occur, so that is not in dispute; it's when Darwin's theory is extended to the creation of *new* species that the controversy arises. To date, there is neither conclusive fossil nor reproducible experimental evidence of the creation of new species via natural selection. Thus the "creationists" won't be silenced, regardless of intellectual intimidation and other censoring methodologies of the neo-Darwinians.

Each side is inflexibly devoted to its own view of the universe, but the two separate approaches to the debate are not at all similar.

Intelligent Design (ID) proponents obviously formed their universe-view from a belief in some sort of creative higher intelligence, whatever it may be. The origin of this belief is not in dispute, although neo-Darwinians claim that this particular belief is the "hidden" basis of the ID agenda. The more accurate description of the ID camp is that they simply want to look at evidence from a different perspective. While the core motivation of ID proponents may be "religious," their desire to examine the physical evidence from a different angle can hardly be called ignorant or superstitious. History is more than full of examples of how correct explanations of previously not-understood phenomena were initially considered too fantastic to be believable. And... hasn't quantum physics sufficiently demonstrated that reality doesn't always conform to what our intuition tells us is correct?

Darwinian fanboys, however, due to their unwillingness to peer at the evidence through any lens but the suggestions presented in "The Origin of Species," have backed themselves into the ugly corner of constantly defending the various recognized discrepancies in the theory. When a conclusive answer is not available, the neo-Darwinian's official response is always some form of "the fossil record is incomplete," or "the critics are being unscientific."

And the standard catcall of the Darwinian Scoffers? Isn't their ultimate objection to Intelligent Design that it simply isn't a viable, scientific, legitimate explanation? Not "true science?" Or more simply stated, they reject all criticism of the Darwinian paradigm by declaring that "what value is criticism without a 'viable' alternative explanation for the origin of biological life?"

For once, it would be nice to experience a little honesty, instead of all the vehement adherence by both sides to their own beliefs. This is what it truly comes down to: the same tunnel vision that causes humans to bicker about abortion or the death penalty is the same strange trait that makes us feud about the origin of biological life.

We bring our own preconceptions to the table; both sides are guilty of this. All the accusations of ignorance, dogma, lack of scientific license, dishonesty, etc., etc., etc.... they are a waste of time and breath. The truth is our origin may forever remain a mystery, or better yet, when the empirical truth is finally discovered, it may be something that surprises both sides of the evolution argument.

What was the idea I had while reading tonight? Try this on for size...

While an actual proof of the existence of God may never be possible in this reality, there is something I *do* believe is possible: an alternative explanation for existence that is empirically testable in a controlled environment. Make no mistake; I *am* referring to an alternative to Darwin's theory, as well as an alternative to the assumption of the random, big bang universe.

Why do I believe these alternative explanations are possible? Because I'm working on them.

I'm a crazy nut?

We'll see.

Of course, there is the odd aspect of human stubbornness that God Himself could come to earth, get more TV coverage than the Superbowl, eliminate disease and pollution, perform a whole host of other miracles... and there would still be people insisting that it was all attributable to "natural," randomly occurring phenomena. Such is the considerable depth of the Cain and Abel effect I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Insomnia

Once again, I can't fall asleep.

My mind gets to reeling about all kinds of things, such as why life's events play out the way they do, and the result is an inability to simply put my head on the pillow and drift off.

My mother passed away one year ago this month, on the 20th. What does anyone do with that? I still don't understand it. It happens every day, all around the world. It's happened since life first existed, and it will go on happening, regardless of technological promises of immortality.

I wish I could talk to her again. I wish she could have seen me get married last April. If my wife and I are fortunate enough to have children, I wish my mother could have held them. I know she would have experienced overwhelming joy from that simple act.

What does anyone do with this kind of thing? Death makes all the rest of our concerns seem so petty and unworthy of worry. There's no way to bring her back, no way to completely console my father, who is still struggling with his heartbreaking loss.

When I was younger, I had some grandiose plans for my future. I was certain my destiny included fame and fortune. The adolescent dreams many kids entertain for their teen years and perhaps some twenties, I held dear for much longer. It took a strange odyssey across America during the last ten years for me to completely let go of those childish aspirations. In the process I met a woman I had given up hope of ever finding.

So I guess life is much like that. No matter how confident we are, or how we try to set up our lives in the way we feel most content, there is the element of fortune, both good and bad. It's a parameter many dismiss, but none escape. Most people would like to imagine they have the power to make all their own decisions, but when you trim it down to the most fundamental aspects of existence, that perception of personal power is nothing but illusion.

Once more, I ask, what do you do with that?

There are a great many individuals living in the world today who would love nothing more than to tear the hope of God or things spiritual away from those who "cling" to them.

To them I say: keep your cynical proclamations for your own tortured ruminations. Leave the rest of us alone to our "childish delusions." At least the hope we cherish does not rely on the limitless treachery of human self-conceit for validation.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hysterics Are in the Details

I originally published this essay on my site at 7162.com, on July 28th, 2009. It was a response to a New York Times op-ed by Sam Harris, published on July 26th. Harris's original op-ed can be read at either:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/27/opinion/27harris.html
or
http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/science-is-in-the-details/
I found it interesting that neither location provided opportunity for readers' comments.

Once again, the hysterical rally chant of the militant atheist has been initialized, this time by Sam Harris, in regard to President Obama's nomination of Francis Collins for director of the National Institute of Health.

In the New York Times' July 26th, 2009 op-ed, Harris pleads his case with a block of logical Swiss cheese; allow me to point out the holes for all the readers out there who may be too busy cheering to notice.

There is an epidemic of scientific ignorance in the United States.

While Harris has this fact correct, and he reminds us that much of science is counterintuitive to one's common sense, he also brandishes hyperbole by making the tired statement that "few things make thinking like a scientist more difficult than religion." Where exactly is the scientific data regarding this assertion? It is purely anecdotal and a much overused attack against "religion," one that bears no factual basis. The knee-jerk atheistic idea that science, and a belief in the existence of a god, are forever at odds is one of the unfortunate myths that Francis Collins has spent a great deal of time trying to debunk. Perhaps Harris would benefit from a more open mind? Certainly a philosophical almost-scientist such as Sam can't be truly as effective if he only views his work through the tunnel of currently acceptable conjecture, an "innovative" history of Ecstasy abuse notwithstanding.

Two statistically supported reasons for scientific ignorance in the United States are: public schools training students for government-mandated standardized tests instead of simply teaching more science, and a general disinterest in science among older children. It never has been "cool" to be knowledgeable regarding science. That is the fault of our culture, not of individuals who believe in a higher power.

Harris mentions how Collins has indicated that science, instead of proving God impossible, actually makes a belief in God "intensely plausible." Then Harris goes on to say that when Collins can't explain supposedly controversial evidence regarding God, Collins simply retreats to the chestnut that God stands outside of nature, thus supposedly relieving Collins of a true scientific explanation. For atheists, this appears to be evidence of delusion or rationalization. For individuals with an open mind, this is merely one more theory. The "scientific community" is certainly not lacking for wild and improbable theories regarding phenomena not currently understood in full. Just don't commit the faux pas of referencing a higher power.

Harris complains when Collins correctly states that science cannot address the question of God's existence; but where are the complaints for all the other important questions that science also can't answer? There is certainly no shortage of those, yet only the question of the existence or non-existence of God seems to draw so much public attention.

Next Harris carps about the apparent contradiction between our moral intuitions and the carnage of natural catastrophe, as though the existence of a morally superior being would automatically eliminate what we view as unfairness in the world. It's a shame that many people who are chronologically adults still find confusion in such an immature objection to a higher power. It's as though Harris thinks because we have a sense of moral fairness, it automatically follows that the god who originated it must chase us around like toddlers, hour after hour, wiping our noses and changing our diapers. Would it truly be more "merciful" to live in an antiseptic world where nothing bad ever happened? Only a child who hasn't learned the necessity of adversity in the building of character would whine in such a way.

The next "controversy" Harris raises is Collins's idea that possibly at some moment in the history of our species, God "inserted" an immortal soul, free will, the moral law, spiritual hunger, genuine altruism, etc. Harris is "troubled" by Collins's line of thinking. He believes that such thinking would "seriously undercut" fields of neuroscience. Harris's reasoning? It's that most neuroscientists agree that minds are made from the physical structure of the brain only, so therefore any other explanation of mind, consciousness, and moral sense is unacceptable on the face of it. A strange dogma indeed, especially for the field of cognitive science. Never have so many people disagreed about a proper theory for something, as they have regarding human consciousness. For those readers not familiar with the current state of affairs in cognitive science: not only is there no conclusive explanation for our minds, there is admittedly no currently known way to test the myriad theories flying around the scientific community.

Are we to believe that such an impressively accomplished scientist like Francis Collins would try to prevent particular tangents of neuroscientific research, simply because his personal beliefs might not be immediately reconciled with the possible results? This from a man (Collins) who readily admits that human understanding regarding the workings of God is by its very nature limited? Why would a scientist who supposedly explains away contradiction have any problem with research that reveals more about the physical workings of the brain? The contradiction here seems to be with Harris, who fears future research being censored by Collins, who has clearly been knowledge-driven, not ignorance-driven, thus far.

Harris is worried about Collins's agenda, but in fact Harris has his own agenda. It is the opposite of Collins's agenda: that all physical and non-physical workings in the universe can only be explained without the possibility of a higher power anywhere in the mix. While those steeped in atheism may applaud the "honesty" of this currently popular approach, the very parameters of such an agenda themselves limit the eventual results of thusly-inspired research. This of course would have the same exact result of what Harris fears from Collins's approach: a possibility of missing something important, due to tunnel vision.

Harris also brings two Collins statements into question: that "science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence" and that "the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted."

The first statement is undoubtedly true, as any philosophy major can attest. The second statement is Collins's personal opinion, and should not be confused with a Dr. Zaius-like suppression of truth. Harris's cherry-picked sentence fragment seems to paint Dr. Collins as someone who is out to rip evolution out of our schools or bring the world of atheism to its knees in a nationwide coup. Surely none of the readers are gullible enough to think that a man with Collins's list of accomplishments would suddenly do an about-face and begin deliberately undermining future research? If one stops to think about it, one must admit how hysterical this fear sounds.

Harris takes a toss at the wishing well, and supposes the reverse engineering of the physical aspects of the brain might yield answers to heady philosophical questions. Well, perhaps it might. I'd bet the farm that Dr. Collins would be right there handing out the awards to the scientist(s) who manage to make such a connection. After all, science is ultimately a search for truth, right? Where in Collins's stated "agenda" does any indication of silencing truth appear? It doesn't; dig for yourselves. Collins isn't trying to undermine anything; he's merely trying to reconcile what he knows with what he believes. That in itself wouldn't have any negative effects on scientific research. In Collins's case, it hasn't so far, according to Collins's impressive accomplishments listed by Harris himself in the original op-ed.

Harris ends his frightened call-to-arms with a nice twisting of Collins's statements. Suddenly, Collins's quotes regarding the unexplainable being attributable to current human lack of understanding have morphed into a blanket statement that all of science can never understand human nature. This is a deliberately negative extrapolation, intended to make Collins seem like a religious dictator who will purposely squelch any research that doesn't fit his spiritual beliefs. Really? We're supposed to believe that none other than the former head of the Human Genome Project has now decided to prevent human beings from learning anything more about humanity?

Harris, give us all a break and go have tea with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, in that exclusive little café where everyone sips the same bland blend.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

An objection to propaganda

I recently made the common mistake of spending too much time poking around YouTube. I was clicking from one video to another, and happened on one from a series which presents reasons why people laugh at creationists. Like so much of YouTube, one has to wonder why anyone takes the time to create an entire collection of videos devoted to a hopelessly polarized debate, but of course, I can't judge because I also felt compelled to leave a comment. Mystery.

One user also felt compelled to comment on my comment, and we traded a few personal messages. The end of the discourse was my final answer to him, after he had downshifted into popular myths surrounding the intellectual motivations of Christians in general. Here, for all to see, is my final answer to him or her, after which I decided to spend my time more productively by closing any remaining YouTube pages:

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Science explores and reveals truth regarding the physical structures of the universe, and the laws that somehow rule those structures. Beyond that, it holds no special place, other than in the minds of those who regard it as much more than a way to reveal the "secrets" of the natural world.

I must stringently disagree with your opinion regarding the "threat" of creationists (or any other metaphysically motivated individuals or organizations). It is a tired comparison to dredge up the ignorant ideas and activities of the past. This is the 21st century, and no country in the developed world would ever even *vaguely* consider dismantling science simply because some branch of it happens to allegedly refute the basic tenets of a particular religious belief system.

By allowing yourself to be swept up in that sort of paranoia, you only contribute to the fracas. As has been proven many, many times historically, when science produces a physically provable truth that overturns a religious belief, there is an initial resistance, but then there must always be acceptance.

The principle reason, like it or not, that evolution still gathers such resistance, isn't because creationists want to attack and grind anything to dust, but because there hasn't been sufficient proof of origin via evolution by natural selection. Plain and simple. If science wishes to grind the "unlearned" masses' "ignorant" beliefs into dust, it merely has to physically prove the alleged "facts" of evolution with something other than clever and imaginative conjecture. The creationists are mostly people who, despite their dogmatic view, simply wish to reconcile their beliefs with the known geologic record. That isn't a crime, nor anything to be fearful of.

These aren't the dark ages, and no laboratories will be burned to the ground for saying that Genesis is nonsense, or that God is non-existent. These particular assertions have been publicly proclaimed for decades, without any violent or subversive repercussions. Where is the expected fallout? Science continues to move forward. To suggest that creationists are a danger to the forward progress of science is nothing more than a cheap misdirection from a collection of insecure "intellectuals" who don't even possess enough faith in their own scientific dogma to weather any opposing opinions.

Yes, dogma. Evolution, by virtue of this silly debacle that shows no signs of fading away in the public forum, has gone from scientific idea to sacred cow. It doesn't matter that extrapolating the fundamental theory has been an aid to other branches of science; the dispute has never been about the proven results of applied theory in a laboratory. But if you think the success of particular applications is a blanket proof that every posit using evolution as a basis is automatically free from defect, then you're guilty of the same sort of dogmatic view you're needlessly afraid of from the other "camp."

If you can't see clear to refrain from crying wolf about those who pose no actual threat, at least find some comfort in the *fact* that historically speaking, science continues to move forward, and the truths it discovers will always cut a deeper path than any attempts to refute them. I mean, come on... why fear so-called ignorant ideas that are supposedly destined to be exposed by the blinding light of truth? Seems like a lot of wasted energy. No one's going to break down your door for discovering truth, though some may be disoriented for a while.

By the way, I don't know who you've been listening to or reading, but your paragraph that reads:

"Creationists want to undo science itself. They want to take methodological naturalism, the scientific method, and the other pillars of science, and remove them from public discourse. They want to attack and destroy established scientific principles, learned over centuries with the help of numerous, usually nameless, people, and grind them into dust. They want to destroy any aspect of science that so much as looks wrongly at their dogma."

is a shameful distortion of real life. Creationists don't want to do any of the ridiculous things you're stating. They merely want to have a voice in the discussion. It is actually certain sections of the "scientific community" that are guilty of intellectual browbeating, legislative pressure and public ridicule. They're the ones who make the rules, and state with disdain that those who don't accept the theory of evolution *as fact* are ignorant, deluded, uneducated and primitive morons, unworthy of approaching the holy tabernacle of scientific discussion.


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Of course, when I hit the send button to deliver my final message, the satisfaction didn't quite measure up to the time and consideration I had applied to my response.

So much for late-night nonsense.