Caturday: Gabby

I’ve been away from this blog for quite some time. One reason is that I had a very busy summer. To be honest, however, I felt an obligation to finish out my answers to the 22 Inane Questions from Creationists (see previous blog posts). I have to admit that as I started writing out responses I lost interest very quickly. Continuing to answer those questions became a tedious exercise. However, I felt I had to address them before I went on, so I just didn’t write anything at all.

Well, screw creationists. Their arguments make us all dumber. Instead, let’s focus on cats.

Gabby

This is Gabby (short for Gabrielle, named after Xena’s sidekick). We adopted her in the summer of 2004, at the end of a weekend vacation to a wonderful Bed and Breakfast in Fort Myers, FL. We had stopped at a pet store on the way home to pick up some food for our five cats. We definitely didn’t need a sixth!

It was adoption day at the pet store. Sarah was intrigued by a pair of fluffy kittens, Trixie and Dixie.  The sign on the cage said they should be adopted together. As we watched, a family came up and adopted Trixie. When Sarah asked the attendant about the sign, she was told that they really needed to be adopted, even if it meant splitting them. The attendant pulled Trixie out of the cage and handed her to the family. Dixie, who was left behind, started crying loudly at the loss of her companion. When I saw tears streaming down Sarah’s face, I knew we had kitty #6. Dixie became Gabby.

Since that time, we have learned that Gabby is a little con artist. She cries out like that when she’s upset, when she’s happy, when she wants attention, when she doesn’t want attention, etc. She particularly likes to scream on special occasions, such as days that end in “y”. There’s nothing wrong with her; it’s just how she announces her presence.

Gabby was bullied a lot by Kurt and Jules. In turn, she likes to bully everyone else. She will cuddle with Sarah, but not very often with me. All she wants from me is food and spanking. Every time I walk into the bedroom she will run straight to the bathroom, jump into the sink, and scream at me until I spank her (like in this video, except that she likes to be in a sink instead of a lap).

I’d say Gabby is weird, but she’s certainly not the only one who likes to be spanked.

Responses to Creationists, Part 3

It has been a while since I posted two responses to Buzzfeed’s “22 Messages From Creationists To People Who Believe In Evolution” (here’s part 1 and part 2). Let’s see how far we get this time.

The next one is nearly identical to one below, so I’ll address them both at once.

There is no inbetween…the only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds necessary for an official proof.

Why have we found only 1 “Lucy” when we have found more than one of everything else?

The first quote is hard to unpack. The second one helps explain it. Apparently the first person thinks there are no transitional hominid fossils, and that the Lucy specimen needs hundreds of pieces for an “official” proof of…what? This is such a poorly constructed statement that I have to chalk it up to muddled thinking.

The second seems to make it clear that the claim is that only 1 “Lucy” has ever been found. That, of course, is nonsense. There have been a number specimens that appear to be Australopithecus afarensis. Samples of other Australopithecus species have also been discovered. It’s not hard to check Wikipedia to discover lots of information about human evolution. While there are still many questions about the classification and interrelatedness of these specimens and their relationship to modern humans, it’s simply silly to state that “there’s only one.”

Does metamorphosis help support evolution?

I had to look this one up. Apparently there is a creationist claim that metamorphosis contradicts evolution.

The evolution of metamorphosis is an unanswered question, but that does not make it unanswerable. We know that metamorphosis evolved because it was not present in earlier organisms. How this happened is a matter for scientific inquiry. Here’s one possible explanation.

In contrast, creationists claim that metamorphosis is an example of irreducible complexity pointing to an intelligent designer. They claim that metamorphosis could not have evolved because they can’t imagine how an intermediate stage in evolution would be useful. Not surprisingly, this line of argument has been debunked when it has been tried in the past.

If Evolution is a Theory (like creationism or the Bible) why then is Evolution taught as fact.

So many simply wrong statements on one short question. This will take a while to unpack.

Evolution is a theory. In science, a theory is a complex explanation of multiple related natural phenomena. Theories incorporate models and empirical laws to offer deeper explanations and predictions of observable

The germ theory of disease explains how microbial infection gives rise to many of the maladies we encounter. It distinguishes between viral, bacterial, and other microbial infections. It explains and makes predictions about immune response, antibiotic and antiviral therapies, etc.

The theory of gravity explains the attraction and interaction of astronomical bodies via a field theory. It incorporates Newton’s empirical law of gravitation as an approximation of these interactions under certain conditions. The theory also explains and predicts non-Newtonian phenomena such as gravitational collapse, orbital energy loss by emission of gravitational radiation, cosmological expansion, etc.

Evolutionary theory is both grander in scope than gravitation theory and better supported by multiple independent lines of evidence.

Evolution, gravitation, and germ theory are also facts. In science, we don’t typically use the non-technical word “fact” because it has a rather fuzzy meaning. Indeed, when we do use “fact” we tend to mean in it two different ways.

The first use of fact is mundane. Facts are data and observations. It is a fact that my meter gave a certain reading at a certain time in a certain experiment. It is a fact that a blood sample contains certain antibodies. It is a fact that a certain fossil is located in a certain geological stratum. In that sense, facts are the quanta of scientific knowledge — the individual bricks from which theories are built.

In his essay “Evolution as Fact and Theory” Stephen Jay Gould also points out that scientists use “fact” to mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” In this sense, evolution, gravity, and germ theory are facts. Simply put, they are too well supported by evidence to be “wrong” in aggregate. 

Nobody disputes gravity, or even Einstein’s theory of gravity. A few people dispute the germ theory of disease. Even more people dispute evolution. There is no scientific reason for this; the theories are all strongly supported by massive amounts of evidence. The latter two “perverse” responses are motivated by religion, not science.

It is rather sad that the perverse opposition to certain uncomfortable aspects of science have given rise to obfuscation and muddled thinking as exhibited in this question and the one I will address next:

Because science by definition is a “theory” – not testable, observable, or repeatable, why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught in school?

Who defines “science” as a theory? Who defines “theory” as “not testable, observable, or repeatable?” Apparently this person, and nobody else I’ve ever met or read, does.

Science is not a theory; science is a process. Theories are built out of scientific progress. Science is what one does, theories are what one gets when one does science.

Theories are testable. Indeed, theories only develop after extensive testing and observation. Theories are not “guesses”. O.J. Simpson’s lawyers had a “theory” the Columbian drug lords killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. They didn’t have any evidence for it, nor did they need to. All they needed to do was to confuse a jury into doubting the evidence presented by the prosecution.

Similarly, creationism and intelligent design are not theories. These ideas have no explanatory power and they are not testable. They were created to confuse the populace into rejecting science, as this person clearly has.

Perhaps someday there will be theories of creationism or intelligent design. Perhaps these ideas will make testable predictions and be able to pass those tests. If so, then perhaps one day they could be taught in science class. I’m not holding my breath because, as I said in the previous post, creationism and intelligent design are nothing more than extensive arguments for “not evolution.”

So in answer to the question, I object to creationism and intelligent design being taught in school science classes because they are not scientific theories. They are collections of logical fallacies and arguments that are either not supported by evidence or flatly contradicted by the evidence. Their purpose and content are completely religious in nature and have no business in any public school or any private school that values science education.

Caturday: Claude

Caturday: Claude

Sarah and I adopted Claude in 1997. Our cat Allie had passed a few months before and there were no little fluffies in the house to love on. At the time, Claude was living with family friends who couldn’t keep him. They had named him Nickel, not because of his silver/gray color, but because he “wasn’t worth a nickel.” We changed the name right away.

When we first brought Claude home he mostly hid for a few days. He would come out from under the bed in secret to eat and use the litter box. Within a few days, he started getting up on the dresser and knocking things off, waking us up in the middle of the night. After a few more days of that, presumably testing to see whether we would try to kill him, he was fully open and affectionate. A year later, friends who house-sat for us for a few weeks experienced the same behavior. It was just his way.

Claude had a stub tail. We don’t know if he was born that way or if it was cut off when he was a kitten. He was very affectionate, and reasonably tolerant of the other cats as we acquired them. We got Jules to be his companion.

We lost Claude in December 2006 ( closing out our annus horribilis).

The Future Is Now

TheFutureIsNow

Is today the day that Marty McFly went to the future? Of course not. But that doesn’t stop people from reposting images of the time circuit from BTTF2, with the future date modified to the current day. Luckily, this Tumblr can help out whoever wants the future to be today.

Warning: If you post this link on social media, not everybody will get the joke. Instead of actually following the link, some will probably post a link to a Snopes article. These people are not aware of all internet traditions and should not be trusted driving in the faster lanes of the information superhighway.

Caturday: Jules

Caturday: Jules

In honor of the recent success the (men’s basketball) Tarheels have experienced, I thought I’d take the Wayback Machine to Valentine’s Day, 1999 in Chapel Hill, NC. We only had one cat at that time and were looking for a companion for him. Entering the adoption area of a local pet store, Sarah found a cage with the cutest little pile of fluff. Four fluffy Persian kittens were piled up in a ball. The owner told us there were actually five, and Sarah started pulling kittens off to reveal the cutest of the bunch. She immediately fell in love.

The store owner was a breeder. She said they were purebred Persians, but because he didn’t have papers, she put the litter up for adoption. Neither Sarah nor I are interested in purebreds, and aren’t inclined to give money to breeders when so many mutts need homes. However, here was a kitten who was alive and needed a home, so we took him.

Several times throughout his life Jules got extremely ill for no apparent reason, racked up significant vet bills, then came back healthier than ever. During the first of these illnesses, when he was a little over a year old, we found out he had polycystic kidney disease, a common problem for Persians. We were told that he would not live to a very old age, that his kidneys would eventually give out. We had Jules for another ten years after that. He lost one kidney in the last year of his life, and finally lost the other in 2010. He didn’t live to be very old, but he did well for much longer than we expected.

We sure do miss that fluffy little dandy.

Responses to Creationists, Part 2

In a previous post, I started to answer questions that creationist attendees at the Nye-Ham debate posed to Bill Nye and other science supporters. Let’s see how far we can get in round 2.

If the Big Bang theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, why do the laws of thermodynamics debunk said theories?

I’ve already addressed part of this in the previous post. Evolution is not contradicted by the laws of thermodynamics. Not surprisingly, neither is the Big Bang. Both thermodynamics and cosmology are physical theories. The people who study them are very much aware of how they interrelate. In fact, some of the greatest confirmed predictions of inflationary big bang cosmology were based on thermodynamics.

What about Noetics?

This really is a weird question, not one I typically see from creationists. Perhaps you got the term from a Dan Brown book.

Broadly, noetics refers to the study of the mind and consciousness. More specifically, it refers to what is studied at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS). I have met the founder of IONS, Apollo astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell (we spoke about being an astronaut), and I heard him give a presentation on noetics, which is pretty much New Age quantum woo.

A discussion of the “quantum consciousness” hypothesis is outside of the scope of these posts, as is the idea that the mind is something independent of the meat of our brains. As far as I have been able to determine, there is no evidence that either idea is necessary.

The next question pretty much appears twice, so I’ll answer both together.

Where do you derive Objective meaning in life?

What purpose do you think you are here for if you do not believe in salvation?

Here I’ll take “meaning” to be the “end or purpose of something,” since this is typically the question that is asked of non-religious people, and is consistent with the second question.

For me, this is an easy question to answer: my purpose in life was to be my parents’ second child. It is an objective fact: my parents carefully planned to have a second child, and I was the result. Any other purpose in my life? That’s my choice. Is that objective? Maybe not, but you’re the one who seems to care if it is, not I.

If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism arrange? By chance?

Abiogenesis is, as yet, an unanswered question, but that does not make it unanswerable. In the last few decades, tremendous advances in biochemistry have partially answered the question.

I believe in the Big Bang Theory. God said it at BANG it happened.

This isn’t even a question, but perhaps it’s worth commenting on. Presumably any scientific question can be answered, and any scientific claim can be explained by, “god did it.” The funny thing about science is that it keeps removing the need for a god to explain things. We don’t need Thor or Zeus to explain thunder and lightning. We don’t need Genesis to explain how Earth, and the life on it, was formed. This is the reason why the most scientifically knowledgeable creationists are proponents of intelligent design, rather than young-earth creationism. ID is the ultimate “god of the gaps” argument.

Why do evolutionists / secularists / huminists (sic) / non-God believing people reject the idea of their (sic) being a Creator God but embrace the concept of intelligent design from aliens or other extra-terrestrial sources?

Wow, this seems to be a straw man. Who, among this list of people, “embrace” such an idea?

I think what you are talking about is panspermia, the idea that life on earth could have come from, and/or have been genetically modified by, an influx of microorganisms from space. As far as I know, a few questionable proponents aside, this is not a “belief” held by scientists. Scientists are, by necessity, open-minded. We cannot yet rule out the possibility that life on Earth originated from microorganisms that came from elsewhere. However, there is no data to support that idea, so it is not a prominent hypothesis held by a significant number of scientists.

The search for microbial life on other planets or interplanetary matter is not the same as “embracing” panspermia. It is simply a very interesting scientific question which, if answered in the affirmative, could tell us a great deal about how life originates. In principle, the discovery of such life will greatly inform the question of panspermia.

Let’s come back to the original question. As far as I know, the only people who think that life on Earth was “intelligently designed” by alien life forms are UFO people, not serious scientists. Evolution explains the appearance of design. Does it matter whether the as-yet unnecessary designer is a supernatural god or an alien intelligence?

Proponents of panspermia have an amusing place in the history of creationism. It’s most prominent modern scientific proponents, Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, are often quoted by creationists because they opposed the idea that life formed on Earth. Believing that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” creationists happily embraced their argument that life did not have enough time on Earth, and that the diversity of genetic information on Earth could not have evolved. However, the creationists ignored the motivation for their arguments, which was that the universe was essentially infinitely old. Hoyle, at least, was an atheist who was uncomfortable with the idea of the “big bang” (a term he coined as derisive) because he thought it represented a supernatural creation event. Strange friends to creationists, indeed. The creationist defense in McLean v Arkansas called Wickramasinghe as  an expert witness. In his ruling against the creationist law, and the “two-model” approach that creationists constantly try to insinuate into school curricula, Judge Overton wrote,

“The Court is at a loss to understand why Dr. Wickramasinghe was called in behalf of the defendants: Perhaps it was because he was generally critical of the theory of evolution and the scientific community, a tactic consistent with the strategy of the defense. Unfortunately for the defense, he demonstrated that the simplistic approach of the two model analysis of the origins of life is false. Furthermore, he corroborated the plaintiffs’ witnesses by concluding that “no rational scientist” would believe the earth’s geology could be explained by reference to a worldwide flood or that the earth was less than one million years old.”

Creationism has never been more than a slipshod collection of “not evolution” arguments. It’s funny when that lack of care is called out so prominently.