Questionable Motives

May 28, 2014

What are solar freakin’ roadways?

Filed under: Environment,Science,Technology — tildeb @ 10:00 am

They are the future that starts now. Welcome to the beginning of something special…


(h/t to mystro at deadwildroses)


July 30, 2012

What do you mean Muller now says climate change is real?

Filed under: Climate Change,Environment,Science — tildeb @ 8:36 pm

Peter Sinclair once again sinks a three-pointer with this video, showing just how out of touch and slow to the dance is previous climate skeptic and noveau convert Professor Richard Muller and the Berkley Earth Project. There has been compelling evidence for over 50 years and nothing but convincing data slotted into the case presented before Congress in 1988 that global warming was real, caused by human activity, and affecting climate. The growing scientific consensus should have been a clue for the esteemed Muller, but apparently the work of tens of thousands of climate scientists over many decades just wasn’t up to his snuff until he himself led his team of ten to the same ‘surprising’ conclusion. Well, I don;t think it will be too long before even the unemployed from the Heartland Institute try to convince us that they were on board reality’s ride long before we enjoyed today’s (shriveled) fruits of our greenhouse gas emissions.

(h/t to Misunderstood Ranter)

October 20, 2011

How many times can we run the Global Warming Experiment?

Filed under: Climate Change,Environment,Global Warming,Scepticism — tildeb @ 9:52 am

Exactly once. And we are. Right now.

So who should we believe? Those who predict climate instability from anthropomorphic warming or those who say climate changes is part of a natural cycle?

That’s the wrong question.

The right question is how should we be managing our risk better. And that message needs to take over this ‘debate’.

Borrowed straight from Ken over at Open Parachute, I have decided to help spread the word:

July 3, 2011

Where is the outcry?

Filed under: Climate Change,Environment,Global Warming,Oceans,Science — tildeb @ 5:53 pm

A couple of weeks ago I read about a new and alarming study about human impact on our oceans. The gist is that the global marine environment is getting warmer, more acidic, and less oxygenated as a result of human activity. Furthermore, its health is declining faster than forecasted. Considering the role oceans play in human survival, one would think such a study by such eminent scientists would have alarm bells ringing and an international call for some concerted effort similar to the Montreal Protocol to combat the human manufacturing and release of CFCs that was shown to cause the ozone hole over the antarctic to enlarge.

But… almost nothing has come from it. That’s alarming.

The study, by “27 participants from 18 organisations in 6 countries produced a grave assessment of current threats — and a stark conclusion about future risks to marine and human life if the current trajectory of damage continues: that the world’s ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.”

Surely this is worth our attention.

From Discovery:

“The results are shocking,” said Alex Rogers, an Oxford professor who heads IPSO and co-authored the report. “We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime.”

“We have underestimated the overall risks, and that the whole of marine degradation is greater than the sum of its parts,” Rogers said. “That degradation is now happening at a faster rate than predicted.”

Indeed, the pace of change is tracking or has surpassed the worst-case scenarios laid out by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its landmark 2007 report, according to the new assessment.

The chain reaction leading to increased acidification of the oceans begins with a massive influx of carbon into Earth’s climate system.

“We now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation,” said Daniel Laffoley, head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Commission on Protected Areas, and co-author of the report.

“And we are also probably the last generation that has enough time to deal with the problems.”

We may have enough time but dealing with the problem? Hell, we’re not even talking about it. That needs to change, PDQ.

April 12, 2011

What is Big History and why is it important?

In spite of never-ending creationist pushes into public education (the latest in Tennessee) to replace what is true and knowable with what is believed to be true and unknowable, Big History allows us to better understand how the universe operates and our place in it. Enjoy this TED talk from David Christian who wants everyone to know this story (it picks up speed at about the 4 minute mark).

March 13, 2011

Why is suffering a fatal flaw for belief in a benevolent creator?

Most of us know of Epicurus’ succinct summation evil causes belief in a benevolent god:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

The slippery term in this paradox for believers is ‘evil’. I think we can reveal the same fatal paradox without the metaphysical baggage that accompanies such a term by replacing it with the word ‘suffering’. I am certainly not the first to do so and I think it tears away the comforting veil of ignorance that infuses belief in a benevolent god when we look at how the world actually and factually operates.

Life and death on this planet has come about as we know it by the process of evolution, a system Lord Tennyson accurately describes as “red in tooth and claw.” Suffering by sentient beings is simply part and parcel of this mindless, unguided, undirected, indifferent biological mechanism. This is a problem for those who would prefer to believe in a benevolent creator. As blogger and ex Anglican priest, Eric MacDonald so eloquently describes the problem evolution creates for the believer this way:

If this is a consciously designed process (evolution by design as held by many notable people such as Francis Collins and those allied to the same notion endorsed by the rc church and many other denominations), as Christians must maintain — for, from the Christian point of view, god’s first priority is the creation of human beings and their redemption — then all the suffering is an intentional part of god’s purposes. And this is simply intolerable. It cannot stand a moment’s moral reflection, and certainly the doctrine of double effect won’t change the mind of a reasonable person on this matter, for you cannot not intend suffering if you create by means of natural selection.

From an academically and scientifically honest standpoint, evolution is fact that is fatal to the argument that a creator god is benevolent.

So what’s a believer in a benevolent creator to do? In England, an imam with the audacity to suggest evolution is compatible with islam if the Koran is interpreted just so, one must apologize and retract such a statement if one wishes to avoid being killed as an apostate. In the US, one must contend with repeated attempts by the religiously misguided to keep creationism from being inserted into the science classroom, spending untold millions  of taxpayer dollars to continue this separation intact. The latest attack against science is in Tennessee. The one is Kentucky has just died… for this session. The one is Texas is still going strong as it works its way towards approved legislation. Florida tries every year and this one is no different. Louisiana has already passed it’s anti-evolution bill as if this will magically improve the state’s dismal showing in student science knowledge. And so on, and so on, and so on, even after creationism has been soundly defeated in every federal court case brought against its insertion into the public school science curriculum. (The latest was in Dover in 2005.) Religious beliefs about a creator – no matter under what recent title it tries on for public acceptance – have no scientific credibility nor validity. This is not a preference or belief by people who would prefer this not to be so: it’s a fact… and a fact that far too many religious people seem unable and unwilling to grasp. When such facts are contrary to what is believed to be true by those who respect faith-based beliefs, then obviously the facts must be wrong! There’s nothing like a legislative act to set the facts on the path to redemption.

Good grief.

The world, however – and  no matter where we look at it – continues to offer up the brutal fact that creationism is not only a fairytale but that its supposed benevolence is identical in all meaningful ways to that of a delusion. For example, the latest and devastating earthquakes in New Zealand and China and  Japan is accompanied by undeniable indiscriminate death and much human suffering.  Tsunamis add their additional effects. Plate tectonics and the accompanying geological and hydrological effects are just as mindless, unguided, undirected, and indifferent a physical mechanism as biological evolution is and the resulting human suffering just as obvious. The physical evidence for mindless cause and effect of these mechanisms is overwhelming. Where is the evidence for benevolence versus the suffering these mechanisms cause?

No where.

Let us now turn to the pious who feel some level of compassion and empathy for the suffering of their fellow creatures in the wake of these disasters. A.C. Grayling offers us this glimpse into the reasoning that is avoided by those who decide to offer up their prayers to some benevolent creator for these distant folk suffering from calamity. Following the same reasoning of Epicurus’s paradox, he wonders about why anyone would show fealty to such an obvious metaphysical monster some think of as a benevolent creator:

For if he is not competent to stop an earthquake or save its victims, he is definitely not competent to create a world. And if he is powerful enough to do both, but created a dangerous world that inflicts violent and agonizing sufferings arbitrarily on sentient creatures, then he is vile. Either way, what are people thinking who believe in such a being, and who go to church to praise and worship it? How, in the face of events which human kindness and concern registers as tragic and in need of help – help which human beings proceed to give to their fellows: no angels appear from the sky to do it – can they believe such an incoherent fiction as the idea of a deity? This is a perennial puzzle.

Indeed it is.

This desire by the pious to believe in a literal Santa Claus-ian benevolent creator is not just foolishly childish and comforting as only a delusion can be; it is a faith-based belief that incessantly gives god-sanctioned motivation to those who directly attack both evidence-based fact as apostasy and intellectually honest reason as some kind of evil plot to undermine god. That some continue to insist that we can accommodate religion and science – allow respect for what some believe is true as well for what IS true – is foolhardy as well as intentionally dishonest. It is foolhardy because it interferes with folk who think there is a legitimate choice to be made between accepting what is factually true and faith-based beliefs as some kind of equivalent source for knowledge in spite of no evidence for this to be the case (and much evidence in stark contrast to this case), and dishonest because for these same folk it reduces  what is true to be conditional on some collection of faith-based beliefs they have chosen to accept as true first. Yet faith-based beliefs add nothing honest to our understanding of the world nor any true appreciation for the dependent role we suffer for our lives on it and much disinformation and misrepresentation of how the world actually is and how it actually works and how we actually cause effects in it.

April 20, 2010

Why is attribution to link cause with effect so important to determining what’s true?

I would have thought this question was pretty easy to answer but I have come across many religious believers who have serious difficulty understanding why. For example, I am told repeatedly (and I presume honestly) with great assurance that testimonials and revelation lead to a transformative experience that itself is strong evidence that god (or some ‘outside’ agency) exists and intervenes in meaningful ways in our world. When we unpack the meaning of this claim, we find that the link is very tenuous between having an experience and attributing some outside supernatural agency to what caused it.

I have found that believers in supernatural agencies are quite willing to attribute to these supernatural agencies to whatever cause is currently unknown, misunderstood, or poorly informed – what many call the god of the gaps, referring to assigning god to whatever gaps we have in our knowledge. But it goes much further than that, I think.

From demonic possession to the building of the pyramids, from the ghostly squeak in the floorboards in the dead of night to the influence of the stars on our fate, far too many people attribute these things or events or imaginings to a single, easy, completely unjustified source: it was oogity boogity! (Fill in whatever name to some supernatural agency you may wish here)

So what’s the harm, right? If people want to believe oogity boogity links cause to effect, who cares? People have a right to believe in whatever they want, so the excuse goes. And I agree… as long as this belief stays within the private domain where it belongs. People are allowed to delude themselves and pretend that their attributions to supernatural agencies are as valid an explanation as any repeatable, testable, measurable, falsifiable and reliable explanation that clearly links cause to effect by means of a consistent mechanism, one that works here as well as there today and tomorrow. But when that supernatural explanation is inserted into the public domain and people support the insertion because they happen to agree with the attribution rather than causal truth value, then we are opening the door to lunacy.

Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media (brought to us by Yahoo News). Sedighi is Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leader. “A divine authority told me to tell the people to make a general repentance. Why? Because calamities threaten us,” Sedighi said. Referring to the violence that followed last June’s disputed presidential election, he said, “The political earthquake that occurred was a reaction to some of the actions (that took place). And now, if a natural earthquake hits Tehran, no one will be able to confront such a calamity but God’s power, only God’s power. … So let’s not disappoint God.”

Minister of Welfare and Social Security Sadeq Mahsooli said prayers and pleas for forgiveness were the best “formulas to repel earthquakes. We cannot invent a system that prevents earthquakes, but God has created this system and that is to avoid sins, to pray, to seek forgiveness, pay alms and self-sacrifice,” Mahsooli said.

When we allow attribution between a cause and effect to have no natural mechanism to measure its truth value but, instead, allow for whatever supernatural explanation people want to be inserted in its place, we are setting the stage for exactly this kind of lunacy. There is no known way to link dress to tectonic activities, so the attribution to god is as good as one that attributes the link to the nefarious deeds of intergalactic mushrooms.

So next time a politician tells you that he or she will support some oogity boogity to be inserted into public policy, take issue with it. Don’t allow your private preferences for assigning a favoured supernatural attribution to sway you; religious or not, your civic duty to all your neighbours is to keep all oogity boogity out of public policy altogether.

April 1, 2010

What is cultural maladaptation?

From The American Scholar comes this article about historical change and the need to for historians to study and assess it not by perceived successes and failures but in evolutionary terms: how sustainable has the cultural adaptation become or is the practice maladaptive?

People have developed strategies to meet changes in climate, in energy sources, or in the diseases they confront. In some cases they have developed, through thoughtful observation, ways to avoid degrading or depleting their environment. They have learned how to become more resilient in the face of change.

But adaptation, even in nature, has never been perfect or sufficient. Before Darwin, naturalists like Bishop William Paley, author of the 1802 religious classic Natural Theology, liked to talk about the marvelous fitness of plants and animals to their environments; a world that was perfectly harmonized and perfectly adapted showed, they believed, the handiwork of a rational God. They insisted that everything in the world is perfectly organized and perfectly adapted, that every creature has its assigned place. But Darwin’s theory of evolution overturned the notion that we live in the “best of all possible worlds.” Darwin, for all of his admiration of natural selection, forced us to begin paying attention to the reality and frequency of maladaptation.

After him, the science of adaptation could no longer claim to reveal a perfect world in which everything works for the best or where nature always achieves the ideal solution to a problem. Nature cobbles together solutions from whatever material is available. When those solutions fail, the costs of mal-adaptation can be severe. Contrary to modern critics like Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, the so-called “adaptationist program” in modern biology does not teach that we live in the best of all conceivable worlds. Nature shows us many examples of failure, impoverishment, dysfunction, and death as much as fitness, functionality, and good health. And this maladaptation is certainly evident when we examine human cultures through history.

Historians need to acknowledge the importance of the environment and to embrace the theory and worldview of evolution for the dazzling light it sheds on the origins, development, and fate of humanity.

January 7, 2010

What does it mean, “We are a multitude?”

Symphony of Science

December 27, 2009

Does the vegan’s diet hold the ethical high ground?

Nu uh.

“Plants are not static or silly,” said Monika Hilker of the Institute of Biology at the Free University of Berlin. “They respond to tactile cues, they recognize different wavelengths of light, they listen to chemical signals, they can even talk” through chemical signals. Touch, sight, hearing, speech. “These are sensory modalities and abilities we normally think of as only being in animals,” Dr. Hilker said.

Oh my.

Most meat eaters at least kill their food and put it out of their misery before mastication; vegans eat their prey while it’s alive! Eating live food may be ethical in some Auschwitz-ian moral landscape, but I’m not so sure we should cede (or perhaps ‘seed’ would be the more appropriate word here) vegans the ethical high ground just yet.

Read the fascinating article from Science about plants in their struggle to survive here.

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