Archive for August, 2007

False Abiogenesis Claims

See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Another “Why I’m an Atheist” Post

I know, aren’t you just sick of those?

My own reasoning goes as follows:

If a god exists, no one has shown it. Therefore I live in skepticism until such a time.

I’ve never seen evidence for any of the following assertions, that A) the existence of the natural world predicates the existence of a supernatural world, B) that a god, if it does exist, is necessarily benevolent, omnipotent, et cetera, or C) that holy books and holy men have anything valuable to say concerning god’s existence, whether or not such a being exists.

A) Every time a religion sets the limits of observable inquiry, we seem to break those limits. After repeated such offenses, religion lacks the credibility to make claims of these kinds, and should stop. The “supernatural world” is simply a convenient mnemonic for “things science hasn’t yet figured out”. It’s an easy way to claim to know what you’re talking about when you really don’t.

B) It does not necessarily follow that a god, if it does exist, is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent.

For example, assuming a god does exist, how do we know that he is omnipotent? Maybe he only knows how to initiate big bangs, and nothing else. It doesn’t necessarily follow that the creator of the universe has unlimited power. Maybe he just has that specific power, the power to create universes. After all, there exist no credible documentations of miracles, ghosts, visions, creation events, or any other such thing. Everything we observe appears to function naturally, without any intervention.

Assuming an omnipotent god does exist, how do we know that he is benevolent? He could intervene in world affairs and then just erase everyone’s memory, could he not? He could be manipulating us all like dolls at all times, while giving us the illusion of consciousness. He could be doing any number of things which contradict his supposed benevolence. And it doesn’t say much, either, that the world is full of pestilence, inequity, iniquity, and war. It’s easy to ask the question, “If I were omnipotent, could I do a better job?” I could. Especially if I had this god with which to judge myself against.

At the heart of it, God’s benevolence, or omnipotence, or omniscience, are assumptions religious individuals make because they jive with their specific religious dogma, not because the idea of a god necessitates them.

The holy books contradict one another and themselves. The prophets and priests contradict one another and themselves. They have no credibility whatsoever. They rely on inherited authority, not earned authority.

I have more philosophical criticisms of the idea of God, but these are just the obvious ones I sort of frame my disbelief around.

A Reduction

In the last post, I briefly mentioned the creationism propaganda film, “Expelled”, coming out in February 2008. In the interest of hilarity, I decided to peruse the movie’s official site. Here are some memorable bits which you might find amusing.

All over the world, Big Science is on the march, making sure that Neo-Darwinian Materialist Theory is protected, and that any challenges and challengers are dealt with…properly.

Wow. Scientists must be Nazis. What’re they doing to dissidents? Hanging them by their eye-balls? Grating their gums over steel spikes?

Quotes one bereaved victim…

“I have been told to “shut up!””

OH MY GOD N… wait.. what?

Science is too important to be left in the hands of just any scientists, no matter how “credentialed” they may be!

Stephen Colbert might remark, in agreement, “Facts have a well-known scientific bias.”

Which is why the administration at Big Science Academy thought it essential that students be made acutely aware of what happens to “dissenters” who stray into dangerous areas of science after graduation.

And by “dangerous” they mean “dangerous to your sanity”.

The star of the movie, Ben Stein, remarks thusly on the film:

I’m glad you found this site, because I want to share with you my thoughts from time to time here about a subject that is very near and dear to me: freedom. EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed [Ed: I wonder, is “No Intelligence Allowed” the subtitle or a suggestion to movie-goers?] is a controversial, soon-to-be-released documentary that chronicles my confrontation with the widespread suppression and entrenched discrimination that is spreading in our institutions, laboratories and most importantly, in our classrooms, and that is doing irreparable harm to some of the world’s top scientists, educators, and thinkers.

Sounds like a menace! What possibly could this suppression be? Ben answers:

…freedom of inquiry in science is being suppressed.

Um, yeah, that’s the whole point of science. Scientists ask questions which relate to the natural world. In other words, ones that matter. Would Mr. Stein be okay with a scientist submitting a research paper on the question, “What is the color of hope?”. No? Then Mr. Stein is suppressing freedom of inquiry too. Some questions are just stupid ones. Plain and simple.

Under a new anti-religious dogmatism, scientists and educators are not allowed to even think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator. Do you realize that some of the leading lights of “anti-intelligent design” would not allow a scientist who merely believed in the possibility of an intelligent designer/creator to work for him… EVEN IF HE NEVER MENTIONED the possibility of intelligent design in the universe?EVEN FOR HIS VERY THOUGHTS… HE WOULD BE BANNED.

Okay, that’s just downright false. In fact, a prominent star of the film is Michael Behe, who’s a professor at Lehigh University. And he’s one of THE most prominent intelligent design advocates. At least be consistent with your fanciful conspiracy theories. Even Richard Dawkins admits in his books that there’s a possibility a god of some kind exists, albeit a very small one.

“Big Science Academy” is proud to have the support of the “Mainstream Press” in stifling the rise of freedom of speech in our science classrooms. In so many ways, “Big Science” and “Big Media” are on exactly the same page, when it comes to making sure that dissenters and troublemakers are properly expelled.

Ooh, more conspiracies. The only thing missing is something about Jews; that would probably offend Mr. Stein, of course. It’s odd then, assuming this statement is true, that scientists criticize journalists, and often, for over-hyping and dumbing down science stories. That must be all part of the plan too, right? Wow, scientists are just so tricksy, Gollum!

Dishonesty Seems to Be a Hallmark

Hey you, creationists. Let’s sit down and have a chat.

Now, usually you take the positions you do out of ignorance. You’re not stupid, you just don’t spend time looking at the facts. You give your trust willingly, but only selectively. Scientists, they’re untrustworthy. But pseudoscientists, no, they’re “rebels”. That’s all fine and good. Do whatever you have to do.

But do you really understand what liars the higher-ups in your movement really are?

Let me get to the point. There’s a movie coming out in February of next year called “Expelled”, starring Ben Stein. It seeks to paint science as some kind of totalitarian, anti-intellectual, hegemonic censor of all things good in the world. That’s fine. Creationists have been trying to do that for awhile now. The real problem here isn’t the content of the movie, which is amusing more than anything, but how the film crew behind it sought to get interviews with scientists.

PZ Myers, of Pharyngula fame, writes that he was contacted and asked for an interview by a producer of an up and coming film about the conflict between religion and science. In the e-mail, which is reposted on Pharyngula, the producer not only lied about the title and content of the movie, but has a ready-made website describing the fake project in case his interviewees happen to Google all of this.

So what ended up happening? PZ took the interview, but only learned later that it would be used for a different movie. What movie? Why, our good friend “Expelled”! Cute, huh? Not just outright dishonesty, but deceit. A twofer!

Maybe creationists should take the beam out of their own eye before pointing out the mote in another’s. I just hope you don’t give your money to these people.

Oh, Now That’s Cold.

You may remember about a week ago when Representative Bill Sali of Idaho’s 1st District made these “This is a Christian nation”-type remarks:

We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes — and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

Predictably, Rep. Sali is apologizing; that’s what politicians are best at, after all. Though I think religion is, in general, a stupid pursuit, and I don’t really care if religious folks fight amongst themselves (as long as it doesn’t affect other people), Rep. Ellison’s response, via his spokesman, Rick Jauert, was genius.

From the AP report:

“We will take Bill Sali at his word,” Rick Jauert said Friday. “That would be in keeping with Keith’s turn-the-other-cheek mentality.”


Image Retargeting

I found an interesting video detailing a new [well, new to me anyway] and surprisingly simple way to rescale images while retaining image quality. I’ll summarize the video if you don’t have time.

There are two basic things you can do to alter an image’s size, cropping and scaling. Both present difficulties when we want to retain verisimilitude. When you crop an image, you necessarily cut out other parts. When you scale an image, you introduce dilations (stretching) and contractions (squishing). Or, if you scale the image so that it’s proportional to its original size, you dilute the quality.

This new method rectifies these problems by examining the color structure of the image. It defines an energy function over the image based upon some metric, such as gradient magnitude (i.e. how fast color values change), calculates minimum pathways (i.e. where the colors change the least), and removes them. If you wanted to reduce the width of an image by a pixel, for instance, this method would calculate the vertical pathway (of width 1) which minimizes the energy function and then remove it. This method also allows you to expand an image beyond its original dimensions. Instead of deleting pathways, you add them.

Some other interesting tools arise from this method. For example, you could delete specific objects from a scene. Instead of calculating the minimum pathways of the entire image, you specify where in the image the pathways must intersect (namely, the object you want to get rid of), and voila!

View the video if you want to see demonstrations. Cool stuff!

Not Necessarily Unimaginable