Thursday, September 30, 2010

Not all Troops are "Heroes": The Dangers of Excessive Military Adoration

Scene at My Lai, with some of the hundreds of villagers slain, in 1968 by Lt. William Calley and his troops.
Photo from May, 1985 in the Teutoburger Forest, W. Germany, with former German Wehrmacht members Dieter (on the left), and Hans. Reinhardt - our translator- is at far right. Hans, Dieter and fellow soldier Werner refused to perpetrate atrocities on wounded Americans in a WWII battle near the forest.

With the massive release of the Wikileaks documents on the Afghan occupation, some time ago, an unsettling eye was cast on the U.S. effort there which still has overtones in the corridors of power. Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, shed a new and disconcerting light on the extent of chaos and upheaval in Afghanistan, reinforcing why we've no business there.

However, more recent and disturbing news has trumped this document release, and even threatens to do irreparable harm to the U.S. effort there, as much or more than the My Lai massacre in Vietnam back in 1968. For those for whom this is ancient history, My Lai was the name of Vietnamese hamlet where up to 500 innocents were butchered, most of them elderly, women and babies (see photo). On top of that sexual atrocities were perpetrated on the victims, many of the people were tortured before being killed, and "souvenir gook ears" were sliced off and stowed away. Twenty -six soldiers were originally brought up on charges, but only one: Lt. William Calley, was convicted. He was supposedly sentenced to life but served only three years of the original sentence, and most of that under 'house arrest". So much for Vietnamese lives being extended much value!

Meanwhile, the current war crimes investigation of Calvin Gibbs and cohorts, is the gravest to confront the Army since 2001. It entails charges of the killing of innocent Afghan civilians for sport, and then dismembering and burning the corpses. Added to that, "souvenir" collecting in the form of chopping off fingers of the slain before sending their bodies into waiting pyres. The Army is currently scrambling to locate dozens of digital photos of various soldiers posing along side corpses. (Much like the Abu Ghraib atrocity was exposed by way of photos taken by the participating trooops)

If these charges and allegations are validated it will have the most dramatic impact since the slaying of dozens of innocent Vietnamese villagers by Lt. William Calley and his group. While Calley definitely escaped the full weight of justice for his mass murder, the primary just outcome was the undermining of the entire Vietnam war fiasco - which never should have reached the stage of a half million ground troops anyway. The whole thing - like most recent U.S. wars - was trumped up and inflated for war profiteers (mainly defense contractors eager to test new weapons systems) and oil profiteers (every gallon burned up by tanks and planes in 'Nam increased demand and prices at home). Calley and his mass murdering goons were merely the symptoms of an entrenched military mentality that took over the nation after JFK was assassinated in November, 1963. (JFK had intended to withdraw all U.S. personnel by the end of calendar year 1965 under National Security Memorandum 263. When Johnson became president, he immediately rescinded it with his NSAM-273)

LBJ's final touch (the onset for the Vietnam intervention proper) was the bogus claim of the North Vietnamese firing on the Maddox and Turner Joy in alleged “international waters” in August, 1964, the immediate trigger for the massive U.S. military action leading to over 58,000 lives lost. As years passed it became clear this was a ruse employed by Johnson and the Pentagon to justify putting boots on the ground and getting involved in a conflict they had absolutely no business in. A conflict that cost over $270 billion.

The story on Gibbs and the allegations against him can be found here:

All of which brings back memories of my visit to Germany (for the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II) in May of 1985. During one interlude while staying in Dissen (with our friend Reinhardt's family), my wife and I traveled to the Teutoburger Forest with three former Wehrmacht soldiers: Werner, Hans and Dieter. On reaching the top of a wooden platform overlook(see photo), the trio pointed out where they fought a final battle in March, 1945 against a company of advancing U.S. troops. (Note: all three former Wehrmacht soldiers were members of the Schildesche Men's Choir, in Dissen for a co-performance with my wife's choir, The Cecilian Singers.)

However, they broke off the battle as the Americans fell under heavy fire and took losses. These proud Wehrmacht troops didn't believe it was worth it to pursue a fallen enemy - and the war end was barely weeks away. They wanted to return to their families. Alas, a small contingent (which Hans believed to be "embedded, diehard Nazis") wanted to "finish the Americans" and do some damage. He didn't elaborate but let us say that the atrocities, and souvenir hunting exploits during World War Two were as vile, debased and driven as they are now in Afghanistan- and were practiced by ALL sides. (If you believe the Yanks were "holier than thou" and never did such, than try to watch HBO's 'The Pacific' to see what was actually documented from the factual base, diaries that contributed to the series!) As the renegades approached the Americans- Dieter fired a warning round to alert them, and fortunately they were able to retreat as American reinforcements entered the fray. (The incident highlighted a problem the Wehrmacht faced throughout the war: regular infiltration by the S.S.)

Reinhardt, our translator who accompanied us (far right of photo) tackled the difficult German as it hurtled from Hans in streams of obvious invective. "Schwein Hund!" was one of the tamer variants.

As I still have the notes I made, he said:

"Not all troops are heroes, not at all. Some are vermin, pigs. They exploit the chaos of war to commit the crimes they would have committed anyway had they not been drafted, or joined. They believe a war gives them cover to do anything they want!"

Very telling words, and I believe applicable to both the My Lai massacre and the emerging ones in Afghanistan, as earlier with the disgusting Abu Ghraib debacle in Iraq. None of which have helped to win hearts and minds!

Troops, those who deserve it, have a right to be honored and treated as heroes especially if and when they rise to perform heroic tasks, like saving fallen comrades, or rescuing innocents. But those who abuse trust, and use their situtation to execute innocents, rape them or debase them merit no respect at all, they are simple vermin and swine- as Hans put it.

We do our service people no justice at all when we carry troop hero worship to the extreme of failing to make distinctions and indiscriminately treating all troops as heroes, when some may not deserve it at all. Indeed, they may well have earned the opposite: as true living demons, not the fictious"supernatural" variety as peddled by certain fundies, but wholly natural and driven by their basest, most atavistic reptilian brain imperatives.

WIll Alternative Energy Make up for the lost Oil?

With the recent Macondo-Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf, the world has finally caught on, despite all the naysaying from the punditocracy, that the world's oil supplies are not exactly flush. Point of fact, if they were, there'd be no need for thousands upon thousands of deep sea oil drilling ventures, putting even more of that ecology at risk from future spills.

Oil inventories are running lower, as are the easier to drill land sites of old, because of increasing demand. This means the only way to get more oil now is by risky deep sea floor drilling, which risks more incidents like the BP spill, or reverting to shale oil - which isn't very efficient- delivering less oil per gallon drilled than the oil energy needed to drill it!

Oil used to have an EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) as high as 30. It only took one barrel of oil to extract 30 barrels of oil. This was such a fantastic ratio that oil was practically free energy. Some oil wells had EROEI ratios close to 100. Now, it has fallen to around 16, and is still falling - a sure sign we are fast approaching peak. (See also further info at:

The world currently consumes about 82.5 million barrels of oil per day. The US consumes about 20 million of these, of which approximately 12.5 million are used for transportation. More critical, is the food component derived from oil that's hardly mentioned except by the inner circle cognoscenti. To be blunt, oil = food, given that it provides the primary bulk of fertilizer to support the "green" revolution - or what's left of it. Take away the oil fertilizers, and famine follows. On a mass, global multi -billions level scale.

According to current stats, global oil demand is expected to grow 2-3% per year, and the population by 1.5% per year. In this case:

-dQ/ dt ~ {rate of demand on Q per year + rate of population growth translated into a yearly demand on Q)

where the LHS represents the depletion rate of available oil resources, and the RHS gives the “sinks” that deplete them. Note the 1st term assumes only the pure economic, e.g. GDP-“growth” demands for increase, not population). In concrete terms, if 300 billion barrels (dQ) of relatively cheap oil remain after next year, and (as of 2012), and 28 billion barrels of year are consumed per year, and the combined term on the RHS increases this by 4.5% per year – what do you get? Well, T-R-O-U-B-L-E!

The planet was endowed with ~ 3,000 billion barrels of oil – of which we’ve consumed 1,500 billion barrels. 300 billion barrels of relatively cheap oil remains (assuming increased deep sea floor drilling), after which 500 billion barrels of “break-even” oil remains (costs as much to access as it delivers), after which 700 billion barrels of very expensive oil remains (costs much more to reach it than it deliver in energy). At the heart of these considerations is the net energy eqn. (cf. Physics Today, Weisz, July 2004, p. 51)

Q (net) = Q (PR) – [Q (op) + E/T]

In effect, for break-even oil one would find Q(net) = 0

Thus, there is no net gain in energy given the quantity that must be used to obtain it.
For the last 700 billion barrels, Q(net) = negative quantity = -Q since the rate of energy production (Q (PR) ) must be debited by the energy consumed for its operation Q(op), and the energy E invested during its “lifetime” T.

Thus its Q(PR) will be small in relation to the bracketed quantity.Thus, the problem in a nutshell is not “running out of oil’ but running out of CHEAP oil. Consumers around the world will get their first hint that Peak Oil is really around the corner when (in the U.S.) gas hits near $8-10 a gallon, and food costs jump accordingly (because of the increased fertilizer costs, plus the cost to transport food to various destinations, supermarkets etc). When the initial shock hits it won't be pretty, and will make the current austerity riots in Europe look like a walk in the park.

So - the $64 question is: can adequate alternative energy sources fill in most of the gaps, say when the last break -even oil is exhausted and only the very expensive to drill form remains? It’s all very well to speculate and ruminate that future energy needs will be met, but the question remains: HOW? When one does the math, and in particular pays attention to the 2nd law of thermodynamics and the ‘net energy equation’, this isn't simple by any means. Nowhere near as simple as building 20 million wind turbines (see photo) or laying down 400,000 acres of solar cells.

Where will energy come from to support an industrial-energy intense and consumptive civilization? You can’t just say “new sources” and leave it at that. What new sources? Where? As Jay Hanson ( pointedly notes:

“The fact that our society can‘t survive on alternative energy should come as no surprise, because only an idiot would believe that windmills and solar panels can run bulldozers, elevators, steel mills, glass factories, electric heat, air conditioning, aircraft, automobiles, etc., AND still have enough energy left over to support a corrupt political system, armies, etc. Envision a world where freezing, starving people burn everything combustible -- everything from forests (releasing CO2; destroying topsoil and species); to garbage dumps (releasing dioxins, PCBs, and heavy metals); to people (by waging nuclear, biological, chemical, and conventional war); and you have seen the future. “

But how correct is he?

One needs to process that different kinds of energy resources have fundamentally different "qualities". For example, a BTU of oil (oil before it is burnt) is fundamentally different than a BTU of coal. Oil has a higher energy content per unit weight and burns at a higher temperature than coal; it is easier to transport, and can be used in internal combustion engines. A diesel locomotive wastes only one-fifth the energy of a coal-powered steam engine to pull the same train. Oil's many advantages provide 1.3 to 2.45 times more economic value per kilocalorie than coal.

This means you need that factor increase in coal to equal a similar amount of oil, to get the same work done.

Ditto with solar. Unlike energy derived from fossil fuels, energy derived from solar power is diffuse and also extremely intermittent: it varies constantly with weather or day/night. If a large city wants to derive a significant portion of its electricity from solar power, it must build fossil-fuel-fired or nuclear-powered electricity plants to provide backup for the times when solar energy is not available.Solar power has a capacity of about 20 percent. This means that if a utility wants to install 100 megawatts of solar power, they need to install 500 megawatts of solar panels. This makes solar power a prohibitively expensive and pragmatically poor replacement for the cheap and abundant fossil fuel energy our economy depends on, especially if one intends to use it operate missile factories.

Worse, calculations show that solar cells currently consume twice as much sej as they produce, so they're no bargain. Worse, an entirely solar civilization would most likely have to exist at the power output and potential (relative to electric grid capacity) of about one half where we are now. Plus, the collector area would have to expand to around that of the states of Colorado and Nevada combined.

H.T. Odum's solar "eMergy" (eMbodied energy) measures all of the energy (adjusted for quality) that goes into the production of a product. Odum's calculations show that the only forms of alternative energy that can survive the exhaustion of fossil fuels are muscle, burning biomass (wood, animal dung, or peat), hydroelectric, geothermal in volcanic areas, and some wind electrical generation. Nuclear power could be viable if one could overcome the shortage of fuel. No other alternatives (e.g., solar voltaic) produce a large enough net sej to be sustainable. In short, there is no way out.

Further, Matt Savinar (Life After the Oil Crash) has shown that NONE of the alter-sources usually cited: from methane hydrates, from coal, from geothermal hot dry rock technology, from natural gas, from oil shales and tar sands, from secondary recovery of existing oil fields, and so on- will do squat to totally replace the energy now being consumed for our entire infrastructure, from powering a military-industrial complex with umpteen bombers, and now missile defense, plus more tanks for occupations and wars, not to mention sustaining growth in industries, new computers, maintaining the electrical power grid and building new nuclear reactors.

According to The Physicist's Desk Reference (Table C, p. 187, Energy Generation by Type)the most energy-intense uses (aggressive consumption category, I) for all forms of solar, geothermal and wind are projected to total only 6 exajoules by next year. This compares to 24 EJ for oil, 16 for coal, 9 for natural gas and 6 for nuclear. Thus, ALL the usual "green" alternatives" are projected to barely add up to what nuclear will deliver on its own.

Meanwhile, exacerbating the problem of finding and implementing adequate fuel -energy sources is the continually increasing population. Global energy consumption rose from barely 21 EJ in 1900, to 318 EJ in 1988, to close to 400 EJ today. Solar, geothermal + wind by the end of this year, will therefore have contributed only:

(6/ 400) x 100% = 1.5% of the total global demand

But this is exactly the rate of increase in global population per year! In other words, the added total alternative energy benefit is exactly lost because we added an extra percentage of humans to consume the benefit! In effect, our energy predicament is like a rat spinning its toy wheels in a cage and getting no where.

The stage is set to add 50% MORE humans by 2050, topping off at 9 billion, which will necessitate - if we still plan to retain solar in the mix - converting an area the size of Europe to solar panel arrays. In addition, to feed all those hungry mouths, we will need to add an agricultural area the size of the whole continent of South America - especially given how the eating habits of Chinese and Indians have now altered to become more "American" (e.g. much more meat, like steaks, etc. - which reauire vastly more water and resources to produce)

The bottom line here isn't very pretty. It reads like this: Alternative energy sources - no matter how many are incorporated - will provide only a very marginal benefit unless:

a) humans majorly reduce their birth rates around the world, and

b) Our concentrated energy use society is rendered much more de-localized and diffused so that it can better adapt to the diffuse and lower quality capacity of alternative energy sources.

I suspect neither of these will occur, meaning that as Peak Oil intrudes into our civilization, we will see the "die off" (reducing the global population from a peak of 9 billion to 4 billion) that many have predicted and everyone fears.

As the late Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and others have reminded:

"If we humans don't reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Atheist Food Drive is Huge Success

Atheist students in Denver get banned books after delivering food items and cash donations.
Books at the table included 'God is not Great', 'The God Delusion', and 'The Resurrection Myth'.

Not content to merely thrash religionists on the basis of a religious knowledge test, young Denver atheists have now manned a major food drive to deliver food to the hungry. The strategy of the Metro State Atheists is simple: allow fellow college students to drop off any food items or cash donations, then receive a free banned book in return. The banned books will include novels once put on assorted Catholic "condemned" lists, as well as top fare such as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and The Selfish Gene, Richard Dennett's Consciousness Explained, Christopher Hitchens' God is not Great, as well as Hugh Schonfeld's The Passover Plot, Sam Harris' The End of Faith, Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not A Christian, and others. In addition, other regional atheist groups are conducting a "fiction for fiction" exchange, where a person drops off a Bible and receives a novel in return - say like "The Messiah Paradigm", "A Case of Conscience" or Andrew Greeley's "The God Game" (fiction for fiction).

The latter coincides with "Banned Books Week" - the last one of September, during which hundreds of libraries and bookstores across the nation draw attention to all the hundreds of innocent books banned by reactionary religious Babbits during the past forty or so years. Books like The Last Temptation of Christ, Dan Brown's DaVinci Code, and the Phillip Pullman Dark Materials Trilogy (featuring The Golden Compass). To help with this year's events atheist authors Richard Dawkins and Dan Dennett sent signed copies of their books to help.

The event at the Auraria campus has drawn rave reviews. According to student Anna Parsons:

"I think this is great! I'm a devout atheist, that's what I believe in!"

One of the organizers of the Metro State "books for food donations" event, Joel Guttormson noted that his preference is to trade food donations for food, rather than take bibles and give back fictional novels. According to Joel:

"I'd much rather try to change our (atheists) image by giving food to the homeless"

Well, good luck on that, Joel! But the sad and inescapable fact is that atheists comprise the least trusted minority in this country. This news arrived, in March of 2006, compliments of a University of Minnesota study by Penny Edgell, Associate Professor of Sociology, and co-authors, Doug Hartmann and Joseph Gerteis. Their study, based on a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, disclosed that atheists now occupy the bottom rung of social respect for minorities in American society. They’re now regarded as contemptuously as communists were in the 50s, and rated in social worth below Muslims, immigrants and homosexuals today.[1]

The study noted that a significant number of respondents associated atheism with an array of moral misbehavior, including criminality and materialist emphasis. In addition, the findings “seemed to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good.”[2] This is nothing short of astounding given that as a nation and people, Americans are notorious for giving short shrift to the “common good” as evidenced by consistently voting for no-tax or tax cutting candidates, when they know damned well (or should!) the outcome will starve government of the resources needed to advance the needs of the vulnerable, such as the 53 million currently without any health insurance.

Even the idealistic Guttormson admits as much, asserting atheists "are no better than second class citizens" and "we're generally not trusted". The question, minus the usual bullshit about lacking morality, is WHY? Once you declare yourself an atheist, you are immediately the "enemy", and not much better than Osama Bin Laden or one of his cohorts.

Why is this? With atheism a whole new way of facing the cosmos is embraced, and it isn't for the fainthearted, the philosophical pussyfooters, the Perennial Pollyannas (who want "reality" spoonfed to them through happiness drops or drugs) or the phony self-righteous who have a congential need to believe they have a free ticket to heaven. Atheism shell shocks all these pretenders and poppets by relieving reality of supernatural managers, special designs and cosmic purpose.

The bald outcome is that only the most tough-minded rationalists and realists can confront such a purposeless universe and thrive in it. It isn't for those who whine they need their cosmic Daddy or an overarching purpose impressed onto them. For the remainder, fear and chaos threaten, and they’re mentally unable to come to terms with a universe minus a Cosmic Controller. Rather than examine the subtext for their own mental and psychological deficiency, they take it out on the “messenger”, i.e. the friendly neighborhood atheist! He's "immoral", a "vagabond" and "probably not much better than a child predator". Or so they believe - because they confuse an artificial god-ordained ethics with one forged within one's own conscience and tested against whether any act will advance or harm another's welfare.

Two factors drive this: 1) a brain architecture that favors an optimism dynamic and “hope” even when reality testifies to the contrary, and 2) a pernicious culture of “positivity” that reinforces this brain defect, recently highlighted by Barbara Ehrenreich.[3] As Ehrenreich notes, American mass culture is saturated by a saccharine “cult of positivity,” with children brainwashed from an early age that they can do anything, and adults brainwashed to believe if they just work hard and long enough they’ll become super millionaires like Donald Trump. That no one has slain the insipid “Horatio Alger” myth up to now is really a testament to America’s individualist hubris and false optimism.

What has this to do with atheism? Mainly that a culture of positivity will perceive the atheist as an agent of irreversible depression, pessimism and negativity! After all, what could be more of a downer than the notion that all the fun ends once one’s physical being expires? When you’re dead, you’re dead, and there’ll be no reruns or afterlives. Factor into this the brain’s natural tendency and drive for optimism at any cost, and you have a ready-made cultural and biological axis to deny and thwart atheism! The most expedient way to achieve this is by casting atheism in the most disreputable and inhuman terms possible, and the atheist as little short of a Satanic entity, if not the ugly bearer of mass depression.

Thus, every demoniacal image, claim of perversion and moral or ethical inadequacy is projected onto atheists by the cultural positivity clique. We are the “evil ones.” We’re the ones trying to “subvert” the grandiose scheme of the country as propounded by the Founders in the Constitution. In fact, that document was intended to prevent the state from establishing a religion and to protect the minority from the excesses of the majority.

Even Guttormson admits that he "gets hate mail every time my group does a public event"- all from God-fearing Christians. But here's the kicker: IF Christians are so damned "God-fearing" why do they find it necessary to flaunt their hate of those they don't understand? Could it be maybe they don't really believe the God of the New Testament is a God of love? Or perhaps they have a pathological fear that atheists may be right after all, and they're wasting their time with all this bible -reading and fulsome god-mongering because it all ends once you're dead.

Who knows? What we do know is this: the typical atheist knows way more about religion, and that extends to ALL beliefs, than his Christian counteparts. And that adds new twists to the question: Who are the most ignorant people when it comes to religious knowledge? And, as a corollary, if Americans know so very little about other religions, how can they be certain what they believe is right? The very presumption of one's unique certitude implies one as at least cursorily examined the claims of competitors. But if one can't even get half correct in a basic test, that assumption collapses of its own weight.

But perhaps the righteous believers have another advantage? Magic? Or maybe, magical brains!

[1] University of Minnesota News, March 31, 2006, “Atheists Identified as America’s Most Distrusted Minority", According to new U of M Study.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] Barbara Ehrenreich: “Pathologies of Hope” in Harpers, Feb., 2007.

Who Says Atheists Don't know About Religion?

Well, after years of blogging that atheists were superior in their religious knowledge to the average Christian bible bangers, a new Pew Research survey proves it. Specifically, the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked 32 questions about the Bible, basic doctrines (like the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist), general Christianity and other world religions, as well as famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

For those who'd like to take the challenge, the quiz is found here:

The above is an abbreviated version (15 questions) of the full test, and I scored 14 of 15 for a 93% or better than 97% of the American public. I trust my pastor bro processes that fact next time he's inclined to assume I know nothing of religion! (And I'd be curious to know what he scores!)

The astounding results obtained were that those who scored highest were not the Bible believers or bangers, but ATHEISTS and AGNOSTICS - who snared an average of 20.9 out of 32 correct . Meanwhile, white evangelicals score a 17.6, and Hispanic Catholics an 11.6 (which low score might partially be explained by language limitations).

Most amazing is how many BASIC religious questions were muffed by the sancitmonious. A sampling:

- Only 45% of American Christians could give the names of the four synoptic gospels

- Over 50% did not know Jesus was born in Bethlehem

- Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.

- Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.

This is nothing short of ridiculous and discloses that although Americans flaunt their religiosity and their church going, most don't know diddly or squat. If they were cowpokes, they'd be all hat and no cattle.

What about the strong atheist showing? A real surprise? No! As atheist David Cross pointed out on Keith Olbermann's 'Countdown' last night, once you give a kid a Bible (as many atheists are from early) the intelligent among them will soon figure out it's a load of fairy tales scribbled by semi-literate nomads, then re-copied with errors aplenty and deliberate changes to advance an agenda.

Meanwhile, Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, pointed out in an interview with the New York Times:

I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people. Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

In my own case, once I really began exploring the basis of The Baltimore Catechism, then later performed an actual starch and protein test on a (consecrated) communion wafer, I knew transubstantiation was mumbo jumbo. A plethora of bullshit designed for the weaker minded. Evangelicals brag their shtick is superior to that of the Roman Catholics, but only in their wild imaginations. Any group that places all its faith and trust in a Bible approved by a renegade King, a book which was originally filched from a corrupted 12th century manuscript by Erasmus - is no way better. And actually, a lot worse - since they've also bought the expiation-redeemer -free salvation "gift" hokum which has long since been disproven.

The moral of this story? Americans don't know anywhere near what they ought to - not only about their own religions, but others in the world as well. Given this, it's not surprising we have fiascos like the recent one with the idiot Terry Jones, or the pseudo-contrvoersy over the World Trade Center "mosque" - which is actually a civic center that the Muslims have as much right to build as anyone.

When the day comes Americans can score as high in such religious knowledge tests as those of us who are atheists, there may be hope to reduce some of the blighted bigotry that persists in this "land of the free"!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More (UN-)scientific Garbage from the Peanut Gallery

It is absolutely astounding how many so-called "former atheists" are turning up these days! About every day all one has to do is turn around, or flick on the tube, and 3, 4 more pop up like so many whacka-moles from their respective holes. Are any of these guys serious? Who knows? But one thing you may be sure of in Capitalist Christian Amerikka, any time there's money to be made - especially off bupkisses who believe in nonsense (like guys living inside whales for 3 days, or talking snakes), being a "former atheist" and carrying grist to the religious mill will pay off.

A case in point is Lee Strobel. A former journalist, he now occupies much of his time and energy trying to piss on atheism, or secularism- without much effect, since basically he's only playing to the choir. But when one examines his past, it's clear (like so many others) he was never a sincere atheist in the first place.

I actually thrashed this out for months back in the mid-1990s in Mensa's ATHSig Newsletter, when I made the solid case (over three issues) that though there were no "litmus tests" for atheists, there were certain principles all genuine atheists went by. One of the most important is that scientific naturalism is the base philosophy or outlook by which we assess the reality of the world around us. Not to do so is to give in to superstitious bunkum, or fall into a persistent trap of ignotum per ignotius fallacies - always invoking the least understood baloney to try to explain phenomena that were merely difficult to understand.

Anyway, let's look at what I call Strobel's atheist tropes, which are in fact scientific tropes: or oft circulated but erroneous verbal giblets about atheists are alleged to think. These are:

1. Nothing produces everything

2 . Non-life produces life

3 . Randomness produces fine-tuning

4 . Unconsciousness produces consciousness

5 . Non-reason produces reason


Of course, superficially these will appear plausible to most non-scientific audiences, simply because they lack the scientific background to interpret them, or see the fallacies where and when they occur.

Let's take each of Strobel's tropes in turn:

1. "Nothing produces everything"

In fact, NO serious scientist or cosmologist says this! What is said, based on already published work in serious, peer-reviewed physics journals (e.g. Physical Review D, Vol. 28, No. 4, p. 756.) is that a conformal quantum vacuum, filled with negative energy, incepted the Big Bang. That's all! And I reiterate here, the "Big Bang" cannot be conflated with "everything" for the simple reason that its initial temperature (at some 10 trillion K) was too hot for any matter, period. Material particles couldn't have formed until at least 300,000 years after the initial explosion (matter-radiation decoupling) and the end of the radiation era. Then, cooling and particle (pair) production from the energy background would've led to the first matter. This would then be shaped by gravitational and electrostatic forces.

The diagram of Fig. 1 helps to make sense of the Big Bang concept, by extrapolating backwards in time using the fact the universe is observed to expand now. As we work back we eventually arrive at a point of zero radius R, which is identified with the inception point, since the mass-density is highest. That is, the stage of zero volume and 'infinite mass'. This is merely another way of saying we’ve arrived at the point of cosmic origin, otherwise known as the 'Big Bang'.

Clearly, with all the mass-energy of the present universe packed within it, this point of origin must have been extraordinarily hot: a temperature so high that no matter existed, only radiation. However, within the first nanosecond (billionth of a second) cooling would have begun and continued right up to the present. In the 1940's a trio of physicists in fact, predicted what this cosmic bang would have cooled to by now ('now' meaning the current era of the cosmos): 2.73 degrees Kelvin.

In 1965, two Bell Laboratories’ astronomers, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson detected an unexpected background ‘buzz’ in every direction they pointed their radio antenna. Analysis of many radio records from different directions disclosed that the source was consistent with the background radiation predicted in the 1940's using basic physical laws. The relic radiation of the big bang had been discovered! In 1978, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to them for this discovery, something that never would've been done if not valid.

2. " Non-life produces life"

This is yet another trope because it discounts the evidence we have that indicates an actual basis. The consensus of current research is already fairly clear about the nature or form of the first primitive organisms. They were prokaryotic autotrophs[1]. More specifically, they were suspended colloidal micro-spheres capable of exchanging energy with their surroundings. To get energy, these self-sustaining coacervate droplets could use one or two basic reactions involving adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and adenosine diphosphate:[2]

L*M + R + ADP + P -> R + L + M + ATP

ATP + X + Y + X*Y -> ADP + X*Y + X*Y + P

In the above, L*M is some large, indeterminate, energy-rich compound that could serve as ‘food’. Whatever the specific form, it’s conceived here to have two major parts capable of being broken to liberate energy. Compound R is perhaps a protenoid, but in any case able to act on L*M to decompose it. Concurrent with the first reaction is the possibility of a second, entailing autocatalytic molecules designated X*Y. These molecules can accelerate their own formation, using ATP.

On the basis of the chemical reactions, the hypothetical coacervate would consist of the combination: X*Y + R. Now, what properties might we expect for any such primitive life form? They’d include: simple organization, ability to increase in size, and ability to maintain itself over extended intervals. Does the coacervate meet these conditions?

Well, it has a very simple organization consisting of the molecules X*Y and R. It can increase its size by synthesizing more of X*Y, growing until unstable. Finally, it can maintain itself over indefinite intervals, so long as it can extract the chemical components it needs. What about replication? We expect that this is feasible when it splits into ‘daughters’ after growing too large. Then, so long as each has some of the protenoid R there is the capacity for replication.

A logical question is whether there is anything that can remotely compare to the theoretical construct above. In fact, there is, and it’s called a pleuro-pneumonia like organism or PPLO for short. The PPLO is as close to the theoretical limit of how small an organism can be[3]. Some figures clarify this. It has about 12 million atoms, and a molecular weight of 2.88 million Daltons[4]. Compared to an amoeba, it weighs about one billions times less.

The PPLO also tests the very limits of the definition of what it means to be "living" since it ordinarily wouldn't be regarded as such if casually observed- say by a former atheist turned fundie using an electron microscope! The reason is simple: it's behavior and properties are not quite like watching the puppy next door bark, roll over, eat his chow, then crap!

3. "Randomness produces fine-tuning"

This is a huge piece of horse manure, because of course, "fine tuning" is a myth. The problem is that it's been peddled so much by so many know -nothings, that trying to counter the myth now is like trying to hold back an avalanche with a shovel and a pail.

Fine tuning basically claims that some 34 different physical ratios and constants are magically adjusted specially for humans to inhabit the universe. Were these adjustments not present, the argument goes, we'd not be able to survive - hence it follows (never mind it's a non sequitur) that something must have "designed" the cosmos for us.

I don't plan to go through all 34 constants and ratios, just a few - but bright readers should get the idea.

We take first the ratio of the number of electrons to the number of protons, or: N(e)/N(p)

The basic claim is that if the above were larger than it is, then electromagnetism would dominate gravity and no galaxies or planets would ever form. If smaller than it is, gravity dominates and chemical bonding doesn't occur - so no life, no organisms! (Made of complex carbon bonds). Escaping the fundie critics like Strobel is that there is a definite tendency for more electrons to form than protons over time.

So what happens? Well, a natural process called pair annhiliation enters, wherein any time the excess electron materializes, it is snuffed out by an antimatter counterpart called a positron. Where do these come from? Well "God" doesn't magically send them down! They arrive from all over the cosmos, gamma ray bursters, supernovae explosions....galactic nuclei name it. Point is, there will always be a positron (positive electron, with + charge to the electron's (-)) somewhere to snuff it out, meaning convert it to a photon.

In effect, the number of electrons equals the number of protons for a pretty elementary reason: the universe is always electrically neutral (+ = - charges) because a process called pair annihilation is always at work to remove excess electrons, via natural interactions, to convert them to photons and maintain N(e) = N(p).

Another illustration is the expansion rate of the universe, d(R)/dt where R is the radius, and d(r) denotes a constantly increasing scale. The claim is made by religionists that if dR/dt is too large no galaxies would ever form and hence no planet that would support life. If dR/dt is too small, the universe will collapse.

But it is really basic physics, not metaphysics, that determines the expansion rate! In this case, the rate is simply determined by the fact that the potential energy (associated with gravitation or gravitationally bound systems) is equal to the kinetic energy of matter.

Thus: E(total) = K + V = m (HR)^2 / 2 - G m r (4 pi R^2/ 3)

where K = kinetic energy, V = potential

which can be simplified to give: H^2/ 2 = G r (4 pi / 3)

where H is the Hubble constant. G is the Newtonian gravitational constant:
6.7 x 10^-11 Nm^2/kg^2

When one computes different dR/dt over time, using the fact the Hubble constant H = 1/t (or the age of the universe) then one finds dR/dt ~ k (constant).

4. . "Unconsciousness produces consciousness"

This again, is reflective of just a parochial or provincial scientific background, which alas, most Americans have compared to other nations. (In the latest science test surveys for high school students, the U.S. placed 21st amongst the 30 advanced nations.) Rather than rehash here all the arguments showing how consciousness can arise from a Materialist basis, I refer readers to these earlier blogs:


5. "Non-reason produces reason"

This is also addressed in the preceding links, particularly the last one.

At root, Strobel's tropes 4 and 5 are a direct result of a very antedated and simplistic view of humans, which doesn't incorporate quantum dynamics in the brain potentials. Excluding these, of course one would question how "consciousness can arise from matter" and how "matter produces reason".

But to be fair, there IS a more profound jump from simple consciousness to reason. We know that Julian Jaynes, in his ground breaking work ('The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind', 1976 )showed individuated consciousness didn't arrive until relatively recently in human history. Probably no sooner than the end of the Stone Age, after the human brain had evolved to its newer, larger cranial size. This larger size made possible cooperative agriculture (and the likely establishment of moral-ethical norms) but also abstract reasoning. It is within the bounds of abstract reasoning, based in the neocortex (the outermost newer brain layer) that reasoning abides.

We also know that - based on Jayne's meticulous work, modern humans are more advanced reasoners than earlier humans. This is because the brain activity of ancient people lacked the sense of metaphor, irony and individual identity that characterizes a more advanced mind. It also lacked self-reference and introspection, a facility which enables modern man to not only think but think about his thinking. Ironically, the fundamentalist - of all stripes, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish- also appear to lack this. This may well be why arguing with them never gets anyplace. Like a scratched record, they simply jump back to what they played before.

So, akin to all such earlier paradigms, we won't be surprised if Lee Strobel or his enablers come right back with a whole new slew of tropes!

[1] A prokaryote has one chromosome only, dispersed in its cytoplasm. An autotroph is an organism that doesn’t depend on others for nutrition.
[2] See, e.g. Zindler, Frank: 1989, How Did Life Begin- Part III, The American Atheist, April, 1989, page 42.

[3] Viruses are smaller, of course, but they’re not regarded as free living organisms. That is, they require a host in order to live, replicate.

[4] One Dalton: roughly the mass-weight of a hydrogen atom or 1.66 x 10-27 kg.

Atheism is an "addiction" like gambling? Hardly!

The ancient Persian Demon -god Angro-Mainyus. Did he cause millions of Persians to get addicted to whatever substances intoxicated them? Hardly! Ditto for the fictious "Satan" and gambling!

Well, when you don't succeed (as a diehard fundamentalist) with anti-evolution arguments, there is one last bastion and that is to claim atheism is an "addiction" ("Satanically inspired" - by the way) like gambling! This according to my illustrious pastor bro in his latest online sermon of righteousness.

He writes:

"Two of the many deadly ( spiritually speaking ) , deceptions that Satan uses to entice people to spend eternity in Hell with him are Gambling and atheism - as BOTH are addictive and soul damning ! "

In fact, this is the utmost gibberish, using not only false analogy but fundamentally fictious philosophical claims.

First, there is NO evidence, zero - for any "Satan"! In many previous blogs, in fact, I showed how "Satan" was configured from antiquated theological doctrines, pagan tracts or pure imagination. Readers might like to consult:

And also, in sequence:

The bottom line in all this? "Satan" is a confabulation, a fantasy, concocted by theologians or fiery Elmer Gantry wannabe fundies to try to terrify the gullible or dimwitted into submission to their control, like a parent might use the 'Boogieman" with his children. It never works in either case, because once people pursue inquiry on their own they are able to detect how bankrupt the entity is and how it possesses no substantial basis.

"Satan" itself probably hearkens back thousands of years before Christianity to the Shaitan of ancient Persian and Mithraic traditions. Indeed, one can obtain a far more cynical reading by delving into the entire history of demoniality. An excellent first book, predating Christian scriptures, is The Egyptian Book of the Dead.

In my copy, which features both the original Egyptian heiroglyphics and their English translation, we see how the Egyptian master deity Osiris was put into bondage by both Set and Sutech (Typhon). Yes, Set and Sutech were "demons" but in the Egyptian telling, ALSO GODS! In other words, they occupied the special perch of an evil God.

Sutech, is actually Osiris' brother, but depicted as a particularly ugly deity with the head of a griffin or crocodile. He is also depicted as an implacable and malevolent torturer. In other words, he's the spitting image of the Christian "Satan", except that the Egyptians are at least honest enough to acknowledge him as a separate GOD. Also associated with him is Bes, a regional separate deity (according to 'The Hierarchy of Hell', by Laurann Paine, p. 35) usually acknowledged as the "god of Death".

Thus, we also have the first honest association of death with a principle of Evil - not at all surprising since death has always been seen as much more baleful and dolorous than life! So why not toss in evil entities, gods to make it more so? Indeed, yet another evil god emerges in the form of Apap or Apepi, which takes the form of a serpent (Hmmmm....where've we seen this before?)

Not to be outdone, the Persians had just as many evil gods, such as Angro-Mainyus, the Persian Lord Of Hell. In Persian scriptures the good God was Ahura-Mazda, but he "was unable to exert any control over Angro-Mainyus when they battled" (op. cit., p. 37). In much the same way, it appears the Christian God is unable to control Satan on Earth, despite the fact the former is supposed to be omnipotent and ominiscient!

When one strips away all the cocklemamey codswallop, only one conclusion is possible: that the Christians (at least the orthodox, like the Egyptians and Persian earlier) worship TWO GODS: God-GOD and Satan! The fact so many fundies refer so much to "Satan" to even account for simple missteps like gambling or drinking, shows they regard Satan as a God, at least in their mythology! (Which is why Paul Kurtz, when he faced off against a Catholic "Exorcist" in one memorable 1990 Larry King show, deliberately called him a "Satanist" since he acted as if there was such a thing, to the extent of enacting rituals to appease or evict it!)

But make no mistake, gambling is not a product of a figment like Satan. It is a disease based in certain centers of the human brain - mainly in the reticular formation - that are the most susceptible to all kinds of addictions, including drugs, alcohol and sex. The treatment therefore must aim to address these brain regions, and that is usually via medications, though sometimes more aggressive methods (such as ECT) can work. Yes, talking out in groups can be helpful, but for most hardened gambling addicts, like drug addicts- they need to go cold turkey. And that means depriving them of their stash or source of addiction, generally by keeping them far from it (in the case of drugs this is done using a halfway house or isolated complex where the addict is fed a regular diet but deprived of any contact that could allow him drugs.)

Now, atheism has nothing to do with any of these notorious addictions, because it is not an "addiction" but rather a mental perspective on the world, life and death, to wit that it features the following principles:

· Only one life to live, no afterlife

· No "souls", only material bodies

· No purposive moral force that demands a particular code of behavior

· There exist modes of behavior that maximize the probability of survival for all

· Current astronomical evidence discloses only one planet with intelligent life - or any life

· Recognizing the above, humans have a vested interest to act as responsible environmental and social stewards and protect their home planet which means forging a rational ethics as opposed to submitting to a false theistic ethics (which will never admit the legitimacy of other theist mores, beliefs)

Now, NONE of the above are the products of "addiction" but rather of serious reflection and thought, often pursued over many decades. In other words, the province of the atheist is not to be treated as frivolous, or the basis of friviolity! In my own case, as I often recounted before in many blogs, I didn't just wake up one morning and decide to be "against God" or choose "not to believe in God". I actually ventured through many different religious traditions, ranging from traditional Catholic, to evangelical, to Unity -Science of Mind, and even Buddhism. In the end, after SERIOUS inner work, I decided that atheism was the most rational response to the universe.

It is for this reason I become very short on patience with people (mainly theists - particularly fundies) who treat atheism as a spolied brat's temper tantrum, or analogize it to the behavior of Pharaoh in Exodus (refusing to release the Jews from his slavery), or addiction! For christ's sakes, get over it already and cease these over the top pseudo-arguments which actually undermine your credibility! the very least... we (atheists) are every bit as serious in our philosophical ruminations based on scientific naturalism as you are in your pursuits of godistic reality.

Given this, I become even shorter in patience when I read additional claptrap like:

"And , here again , I agree with that statement . BUT...what atheist bro' needs to realize is that the "extortion" analogy is a two-way street . I will not compromise MY faith in The LORD , Jesus Christ , in return for ANYONES ( Satanic secular ) definition of "love."

And here again, so predictably, he misses the point. (And let's leave out "Satanic" definitions of love, since as I showed, no such critter exists).

In point of fact, no one is asking him to "compromise his faith" - only to pursue the possibility that we MIGHT, might be able to interact as brothers - emailing what's what in our lives, talking on the phone occasionally - without the need to introduce religion into it!

I happen to know this is possible, since for several months - in the wake of our dad's death last year, we actually managed to do it! Hell, I even volunteered to help pay his way to come and attend the funeral, though he unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute. However, we remained in contact for a few months - until for some reason, he felt it incumbent to saddle up on his pastor high horse again and vent against "atheists".

In addition, my wife and I have a dear friend, 'Nancy' whose sister is also a fundagelical. But they get along (recently went to Disney World together) by peaceful co-existence, which is to say, just agreeing from the outset not to discuss divisive issues like religion. Now true, that means "conversion" is off the table, but it's not a big deal when one considers that a family connection is now possible that wasn't before.

Then we have this odious remark:

"Now , even though , atheist bro' is financially secure - it would behoove him to read what Jesus Himself teaches us about money in Matthew 6:19-24 . Planning for retirement , preparing for life before death - is wise , but neglecting life after death is disastrous ! If you accumulate wealth and material possessions only to enrich yourself , you will enter eternity empty-handed in HELL ! "

Again, the way he paints it, all I'm focused on is money and I give no thought to substantial philosophy of life issues! But anyone with two brain cells to rub together can easily see this is belied by the content of my blogs - especially to do with philosophical or religious issues. Hence, I DO devote extraordinary amounts of time to thinking about these matters, it's simply that I don't agree with my brother's parochial theological (biblical literalist) take, or his parochial, personal deity. If indeed there is a deity (and this is a mighty BIG 'if') I am 100% convinced it's impersonal in nature, as both Albert Einstein and Anthony Flew conjectured!)

Nor do I enrich myself with $$$ at the expense of anything like serious life issues contemplation, since to me, ideas, concepts and philosophical ruminations have far more importance than mammon. Thus, to insinuate that money is all I care about attaining is to totally misread my position. To impute I will end up "empty-handed in Hell' is an even grosser insult.

In any case, as I showed already - Hell is also a confabulated fiction:



Impossible fiction

In the last, as I pointed out: "Hell" is not only retrogressive, but utterly stupid. It is inchoate as a principle for afterlife sanction because its claimed existence (as described by orthodox believers) contradicts the putative nature of the divinity that most of them posit, i.e. with ultra-omni attributes. (Omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc.)

The odd and strange fact is they fail to see the fundamental contradiction inherent in their view once they assign the "omnis"! They fail to perceive that Hell must be located within the infinite deity - AS PART OF IT - IF their deity is truly infinite! In other words, the eternal place of damnation must actually be WITHIN God's own Being!

Consider, IF God as infinite is taken literally, this can only mean there is no place where he isn't. Either he is infinite or not infinite. If he is infinite, and HELL also exists, then Hell must be part of the same infinity. It cannot be isolated from it or else we have a condition such as shown in Fig. 2 - where Hell is apart from God's being.BUT - if this is so, then God can no longer be infinite because something exists (Hell) in addition to his being wherein he conducts punishments.So, we have these ineffable logical conclusions:

EITHER - Hell exists but GOD is not infinite.


GOD is infinite, and Hell must exist WITHIN God. (But Heaven does also)

Up to now, I've seen no fundie or evangelical clever enough to resolve the Hell-God=infinite paradox. There could be two reasons: 1) none of them is smart enough to do it, or 2) they know deep down in their little atavistic pea brains that the paradox is logically insoluble because their assumptions are in error. (Or, just as bad, they allow the blatherings in an ancient book to trump the importance of examining the assumptions.)Thus, if they want to preserve their "Hell" they will have to admit their God isn't infinite. If they demand God to be infinite, they will have to jettison their "Hell'.

Now riddle me this, Bat-brother: if I were as totally invested in my material welfare as you presume that I am, would I have arrived at the above basis for major contradiction in your afterlife belief system? I warrant I would not have!

Again, I don't demand we agree on all matters theological, only that you at least allow that I am as serious in my philosophical issues, as you are in your theistic ones.

And oh, btw, if you're going to introduce former atheist Anthony Flew as "leverage" in arguments or claims against atheists, at least have the honesty to concede he will also be in Hell, since his theism is only generic. At no time has he ever "believe in the Lord JC as personal Savior" as your lot demand to be assured of personal salvation!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Of Brothers and Moral Hazards

Caesar's Palace casino in Las Vegas- is terrific to visit but no place for a gambling addict.

According to the wikipedia online encyclopedia, "moral hazard" is defined as arising:

" because an individual or institution does not take the full consequences and responsibilities of its actions, and therefore has a tendency to act less carefully than it otherwise would, leaving another party to hold some responsibility for the consequences of those actions"

For example, if I were to lend a sibling $40, and he goes to use it for gambling - when he has loads of money of his own (say $2200/month coming in) - then: a) he isn't accepting the full consequences of his own poor money management, and b) he will treat my $40 less carefully say - than if he was really down to his last nickel and had to go and earn that money, in say five hours of 'sweat equity' flipping burgers at a Mickey D's.

In addition, he leaves me holding some of the responsibility for his ill-chosen actions, since I am enabling them by giving him money! Thus, I am enabling moral hazard and he is ensnared via my own ill-considered actions, by allowing him to dodge full responsbility for his own individual choices.

Now, imagine this: a sibling living in Vegas has a total income of $2,200 a month. However, he chooses to: a) live in a 2-bedroom apartment which exhausts $1800 a month, leaving only $400 for food, entertainment. Also b) he chooses to short on his rent by paying weekly instead of monthly and using the balance on slots to try to make more money via gambling than he has coming in via gov't benefits. However, his shorting strategy backfires- leaving him late every month for rent, whereupon he phones his oldest 'bro pleading "emergency", and needing $40 for prescription drugs "for his heart medicine".

What to do? The answer, of course, is nothing. By sending him the money, you are in effect engendering a moral hazard by creating an artificial condition within which he can refuse to accept the consequences for his actions - and hence to continue the same gambling without doing a damned thing himself to correct his cash flow issues. A hypothetical? No, since my own brother "Donnie", living in Vegas, did call over the weekend with this cock and bull story about "an emergency and needing $40". I firmly told him HE was to blame for his negative cash flow and I wasn't coughing up to subsidize him when he was raking in more than enough to cover his bills. At which point I asked if he was gambling again, and noted his tone changed to stone cold, whereupon be barked: "I ain't takin' any more of this shit and don't fuckin' call me no more"

Hey, fine, pard - and don't let the door smack you in the ass on the way out.... Sometimes, the truth hurts, doesn't it?

Let's not be coy here: Las Vegas is not a friendly place for anyone with a gambling addiction. Indeed, no matter how much "bread" they have coming in, even $6k a month (as Donnie once had) they'll always be short - because their stupid gambling eats it up. So, who's to blame for that? It isn't me. Indeed, if they were smart enough they wouldn't even live in Vegas but someplace where slots are banned (though mind you, they'd likely then blow it all on lottery tickets).

In October, 2009, while on a holiday to Vegas I went to visit "Donnie" at a VA Life Care center north of Vegas and he was chomping at the bit to get out. He had said he applied for his social security and was waiting for reinstatement of Veteran's benefits- whereupon he could leave the place in a few months, and be "on my own". Until he emerged, in April, with his own place- I regularly sent him at least $20 a month cash spending money to help him - even though I suspected he was using the dough on cigarettes, which the VA drs. had warned him against, since smoking wouldn't do his heart any favors.

With two months to go before his imminent departure, I mailed him $50 and told him straight that this was it - and there'd be no more cash sent. He had to stretch that til he got out, then he was on his own, with his OWN money. Apron strings, or rather money strings, would be cut.

Later, after he'd settled into his new apartment, originally a single bedroom for $1100 a month, I warned him that he needed to go "all out" to keep his independence and not blow it this time. By blow it I meant spending money he didn't have, namely on slots - like at his favorite joint, "The Joker's Wild". And btw, if you're ever going to play slots in Vegas, you never play at a tiny little hole in the wall, you either go to the Strip and a mainline casino, or stay home. And when you do play on the strip, you use the penny slots, not $5 slots, or even $1 slots. (In this way, while staying at the Bally then the Encore in October last year, I broke even on my slot play: winning $112 and losing $111 - factoring in $50 worth of free slot play from the Wynn-Encore as part of a package deal. Point is, once that was gone, I dipped no further! )

I told him to find something constructive to do, or anything - that would keep his mind occupied and away from slots. If it meant watching 9 hours of soaps and movies on the tube each day, so be it. Better yet, since he's a football fan, get a John Madden football video game and play that! Slots are dangerous, because while they create the illusion of activity and doing something, it's all bogus. Ask the elderly lady we met in Green Bay last December, playing at the Oneida Casino, who (after a snowstorm halted all transit, travel back to Madison) was stuck for three days, and instead of mixing her slot play in with reading novels (as my wife and I did) stayed full time playing the slots and losing all $990 she won the first day! Meanwhile, wifey and I enjoyed the slots plus reading and came away with $34 to spare!

A month ago, after hearing of some health problems I checked in on "Donnie" to learn he was now ensconced in a two bedroom digs (at the same complex in Henderson, outside Vegas) for $1800 /month because the $1100 a month apt. was "too small". However, he complained of being short of cash and only having $400 to spend- like for a whole month of food. Well uh....duh!

I knew he was hinting around for help but I wasn't about to give it. Not when I'm receiving barely $400 a month in an immediate annuity (I've deliberately postponed receiving Social Security to receive a larger monthly amount - what's called "postponing gratification") or less than five times what he's raking in via VA and SS benefits! I advised him to immediately - by the end of the month - move his ass out of the higher rent apt. and move back to the $1100/month digs which would effectively nearly triple his cash flow. Instead of listening and following my advice, he gave me a spiel about waiting for a new VA benefit check. I told him to forget about it and get serious - don't make ANY assumptions about any new benefits. Deal only with the birds in the hand.

So nearly a month elapses and on Saturday I receive this plea for "emergency" money. And the episode which transpired, as related.

Sad that another brother chooses to cut contact, but as they say, c'est la vie. That's his choice and I'm not about to be extorted by any brother - whether out of fear of Hell for some bogus salvation on offer (Pastor Mike) or in return for brotherly contact ("Donnie"). In either case, whoever's doing the extortion - salvational or emotional - can go f*ck themselves. No family even in name, is worth it, and I won't invest in it. No moral hazard either way.

As for "Donnie", the best advice to offer him, since he clearly can't manage his own finances, may be to check into a nursing home and let them care for him. He'll get a comfy room, TV but no slots to tempt him.

Sadly, "Donnie's" case is not at all unusual in Las Vegas. In an issue of Las Vegas Life from about four years ago, a piece noted that nearly 1 in 3 Vegas adults are gambling addicts. Type in "gambling addiction" on Google and you'll generate thousands of hits, and hundreds of pages. At least in Vegas they DO have outreach programs to help the gambling addicted, as well as 12 step programs, and others. Many of these are offered free of charge, but obviously one must first want help before he can elicit the assistance needed and climb out of the hole he's in. No sibling or family member can do it for him, and lending or giving money is no answer or response, merely enabling.

In any case, as my grandfather who once owned a corner store in Milwaukee put it, in advice given to me more than three decades ago:

"As far as family goes, my advice is neither a borrower or lender be"

He added that money borrowed, lent or even just given - ostensibly without strings- merely becomes troublesome later. A source of dissension and other issues.

As far as I'm concerned, however, the issue is simple: if you're pulling in $2200 a month it is YOUR job to make that money last, not mine to assist you (by parting with my money) to make it last. If you can't do that, learn some basic budgeting, move into a nursing home, or better yet - kick the gaming habit to be able to acquire actual adult independence.

IDIOTS ANONYMOUS…OR Bring on the “Complexity”!

The last refuge for arguments of most Christian fundamentalist ignoramuses (including those going for an online Bachelor of Biblical Studies degree- when they don’t even have a high school degree!) is “complexity” – as made popular by the ID crowd in the Discovery Institute.

Trouble is we know now that the “ID- too complex to have evolved” meme is essentially an intellectual ‘rope a dope’ or better, a convenient trope for those who lack an extensive science background (which means more than reading a couple of books by Dawkins – when one hasn’t even read Origin of Species) . But never mind, these blabbering, blustering Babbits will continue using it so long as they are convinced most people can’t call them on it.

Let’s consider assorted claims made by a wannabe “specialist” in biological complexity who himself has never taken a single biology course, even in high school. He scribbles on his blog:

Complex molecular systems in organisms pose a considerable challenge to Darwinian evolution . Many of the proteins within the cell need to interact together for a particular function . “

Here, the concept of “ligand” escapes him. This is defined as a compound structured in terms of it ability to bind with other compounds. Their role is particularly critical for the allosteric proteins. Key to this is “allosteric transition” wherein a molecule shifts from one to the other and back again, such as illustrated in Fig. 1. Since we know the shape-changing properties of a protein depend on the shape of its binding sites, then we know stereospecific properties are modified by the transition.

To fix ideas, in state P1 the protein will be able to recognize and therefore bind ligand L1 at one site (but not ligand, L2) whereas in state P2 it will recognize and bind ligand L2, but not Ligand L1. From this we see either ligand, L1 or L2, will have the effect of stabilizing the protein in one of two states, P1 or P2, and that L1 and L2 will be mutually antagonistic.

All of this is critical, because it shows exactly HOW proteins within a cell can interact with each other to enable a particular function. The emergence of the function arrives when one includes a third ligand, call it L(3)s which we denote as a substrate (E.g. L(3)s allows binding in some other site of the molecule than the one L1 binds). Thus the role of L(3)s is cooperative in stabilizing the protein in its active state (which recognizes the substrate)

In this guise, we see that ligands L1 and L(3)s act as activators, while L2 acts as an inhibitor. It is important to note here that the activity of a population of molecules will be proportional to the fraction of them that are in state P1, say, a fraction which will be larger or smaller depending on the relative concentrations of the ligands as well as intrinsic equilibrium between P1 and P2.

The point to be emphasized in the foregoing is that there are no direct interactions between the 3 ligands identified, all interactions occur exclusively between the protein and each ligand separately. These sort of indirect interactions are the very thing that enables biochemists to account for the subtle adaptations shown in the protein’s nonlinear response to variations in the concentration of effector agents. To wit, all known allosteric proteins are oligometric or made up of a noncovalent assembly of a few chemically identical sub-units called protonomers. Each protonomer bears a receptor for each of the ligands the protein recognizes.

The upshot of all this points to a microscopic, cybernetic system which also has arisen purely from Darwinian adaptations. For example, the synthesis of three key proteins (P1, P2, P3) is seen most clearly in the simple lactose system of Escherichia coli bacteria. This is illustrated in Fig. 2. In the diagram R is a repressor protein acting in association with a galactoside -inducer BG. T is also a repressor protein but acting in association with an operator (o) segment of DNA. Three other gene segments, G, G2 and G3 govern the the synthesis of the three proteins: P1, P2, and P3 (bottom). It is these "structure" genes that have appeared via natural selection - and makes them no longer "random", as evidenced by their gene frequencies relative to more primitive ancestors of E. coli. (See below). Meanwhile, the 'p' designated segment initiates the synthesis of messenger RNA (mRNA) while the 'i' segment embodies the "regulator" gene governing the synthesis of the repressor R. The key idea to take away here is that the repressor gene specifically recognizes the operator segment (o) to which it binds forming a very stable complex with a binding energy of ~ 15kCal. Because the processes and interactions are “teleonomic” (long distance-interactive) the synthesis can proceed without external additions.

The fundie critic goes on to write:

Proteins are comprised of a specific sequence of building blocks , the order of which is encoded in DNA . According to evolution , such sequences can only be the result of random mutation , yet random processes cannot produce information “

Again, he misuses the term “random” here which we already explained in an earlier blog:

As pointed out therein:

And the specific passage:

Thus, what natural selection does is to consolidate particular random mutations into a more stable, adaptive adjustment – governed by deterministic factors and inputs.Thus, that while the selected trait often appears at random, its preservation in the gene structure cannot be relegated to randomness

In other words, once the trait – say ligand recognition by a protein- is incorporated, and gene frequencies (see previous blog on evolution misconceptions) increase, the process ceases to be random. While the emergence of an original operator or structure gene - say in the case of E. Coli. (above) was random (say from a mutation incepted by absorption of a cosmic ray) the incorporation, retention and direction into interactive, teleonomic processes resulting in protein synthesis is not. The failure of the critic is being unable to recognize the distinctions between the condition leading to the initial mutation and the subsequent natural selection consolidating it into higher gene frequencies!

As I also noted in the previous blog:

In quantitative genetics we actually have indices and markers to show how strong the selection survival effects are. We refer these as preferential alleles and they appear by virtue of their relative increase in gene frequency

He also gets into more trouble;

Moreover , because many such proteins are required to co-exist simultaneously , it is impossible for the sequences to have evolved , as only a full system of proteins has a function . This is the basis of the argument of irreducible complexity .

Of course, this is nonsense – since I already showed how many “such proteins” CAN exist simultaneously purely on the basis of bio-chemical cybernetics – wherein each protein recognizes (chemically) a binding ligand or "operator gene" - say for E. coli. - and which can lead to the synthesis of many proteins! Thus, the “complexity” which is only apparent, is easily reducible to the chemicals -molecules governing the processes for specific activation, say in enzymes. All such protein interactions to deliver protein sequences are thus interpretable in terms of specific chemical interactions “chosen” by regulatory proteins – as opposed to some innominate “designer”.

As Richard Dawkins points out the fallacy in all ID reasoning:

“This kind of default reasoning leaves completely open the possibility that, if the biological structure or organism is too complex to have evolved, it might also be too complex to have been created.”

Now, solely for amusement purposes, the final bit of dreck:

“Lastly , let's compare evolution and the Bible . According to the theory of evolution , all living things on Earth have descended from common ancestors and thus all creatures are physically related to all others . Such a view is inconsistent with the account of creation in Genesis , which states God created different types of creatures on different days of the creation week . Plants were made on day three , fish and birds on day five , and man and land animals on day six”

Let’s parse this idiocy. First, if the common ancestry concept is not accurate, then how explain the presence of the SAME DNA molecule in all organisms? The very existence of DNA in cell nuclei of all terrestrial organisms points to their common ancestry at least in the distant past. If all were created “differently” surely there’d be different DNA molecules, not the same. But, of course, he’s unable to explain that!

Second, asserting a scientifically tested and proven theory is “inconsistent with Genesis” is like putting the cart before the house, or saying something equally dense like “Astronomer’s discovery of two Plutonian moons is inconsistent with astrology”. Or, the nuclear fusion to obtain gold is “inconsistent with alchemy”. Sorry, but science stands on its own merits, and isn’t expected to be “consistent” with any ideations formulated of balderdash, bunkum and baloney! It is the balderdash claims which must be consistent with science, or consigned to the realm of….balderdash!

His last sentence is also daft since he seems to be confusing the fact all organisms are physically related to others, with all appearing at the same time (else, why would he so solemnly set out his different species, groups on different “days”?) In fact, the course of evolution more or less follows his sequence, except we use half billion year blocks for “days”. The only adjustment we’d make is to insert the emergence of methanotrphic bacteria on his mythical Genesis“day one” – since around 3.8 billion years ago the atmosphere was largely methane and consumed by methane-eating (methanotrophic) bacteria. So, at least in a limited sense his Genesis story is consistent with the evolutionary emergence timeline. And in that very limited sense he's accurate, but not at all to do with his presumed "irreducible complexity" - which basically commits the fallacy of ignotium per ignotius./

Stay tuned - there's more amusement to come when I examine the incomparable Lee Strobel's five tropes on atheism- naturalism!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Can Deity-based Morality be an Objective Truth?

"Am I absolutely moral or not, Mr. Philosopher?" asketh the Moral Rubik's Cube.

This was answered a number of times before, but it helps to go back to set the perspective frame. As I showed in earlier blogs there are objective truths, facts of the world – such as the law of gravitation (the “law of gravity” is a localized version applicable only to Earth) but that morality or theistic speculations do not fall into the province of being moral truths. The primary reason for this is that there are no standard empirical bases for establishing a uniform moral truth, as there are for uniform scientific truths. For example, to obtain the acceleration of gravity which governs falling objects, I can use any number of experimental devices - such as a frictionless air track at different inclines - to find 'g', or even a simple pendulum confined to small angle oscillations. But there is no standard empirical set up to test one moral truth against another.)

For one thing, objective knowledge or facts presupposes open inquiry to obtain it in the first place. Religion’s multitude of dogmas, biblical exhortations and doctrines – not open to critical evaluation- forever forecloses such inquiry. Indeed, it mandates the OPPOSITE – that one is NOT to fully inquire but BELIEVE AND ACCEPT! (See for example, how the honest unbeliever is treated to “Hell” for his trouble at honest inquiry – since the bible believers accept no inquiry as honest that doesn’t reach the pre-conclusion they have from their bibles! It's MY way or the highway! But this means open inquiry isn't allowed if it leads to a conclusion the god mongers don't like!)

What about morality? Is it true that no other pursuits or inquiry or research are worthwhile unless an absolute morality is accepted as a standard? Well, the fundies would have you believe so, but then they’d also have you believe in talking snakes, as well as men who can live three days in the hydrochloric acid vat of a whale’s belly and emerge alive!

But the fact is, as I showed in earlier blogs it isn’t necessary to posit a god to account for morality. Human evolution itself can explain it. In their early agricultural phase, as humans settled into cooperative farming and sharing food mutually grown, establishing a group morality or ethical code became imperative. Common sense dictated this, not any god! The agrarian humans realized if they allowed stronger, bigger members to always take food from babies and mothers, or rape female community members, their tribe wouldn’t last very long! Nor would it if theft and lying were tolerated. So rules had to be laid down ….by flesh and blood HUMANS! Fundies, meanwhile, treat even the early neocortex-attained humans as essential idiots who had to be led by the hand by an imaginary god to know what was right or wrong!

By contrast, what about following a god’s morality –say the one described in the Bible?

One glance at assorted passages would disclose that a god such as in the Bible (“the God who Hates” according to Pastor Fred Phelps) is no example to emulate!

We see:

1)Deut. 22:22"If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman and the woman; so you shall purge the evil from Israel"

2) 2 Kings 2, 23:24 (Concerning Elisha siccing "God's She Bears'" on little children)"And he went up from then unto Beth-el: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him and said unto him: 'Go up, thou bald head, go up , thou bald head'. And he turned back and looked at them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and teared up forty and two children of them"

You can find a satirical re-enactment

3) Deut. 21: 18-21"If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and - though they chastise him he will not give heed to them, then his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of hte place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of the city,'This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard. Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones, so you shall purge the evil from your midst"

Now, on examining and considering these examples, just what do you think would happen if any living human tried to follow this “morality”? Well, for sure they’d be locked up with the key tossed away today, or maybe given a lethal injection! (Say for getting a pet grizzly and sending him after some kids who were calling him “baldy”)

So, divine standards – especially as expressed in the Bible- are useless. No one would be advised to follow or apply them unless he has several screws loose.

What about more generic divine standards? Not even close!

A first test, as Kai Neilsson inquires (Ethics Without God),: "Is an act good because God did it, or is it good independent of such action?"

Consider: if a human parent knows his child is trapped in a burning house, s/he will try to save it however s/he can. There is no way the human parent will simply walk out and allow 'fate' or "free will" of the child to make the decision. If the human parent has an ounce of common decency s/he must intervene. This is exemplary human morality in action!

To be realistic or pragmatic, a divine entity must at least DO or demand as much! If not, it’s worthless. However, god-ists seem quite happy to let their deity off the hook, when and where it suits their fancy. Start then with the standard deity template, say espoused by most Christians. This entity is posited as both omniscient and omnipotent (all knowing and all powerful).

Let us say, as occured back in 1994, It knew from before all time a twister was headed for its "house" of worship in Alabama. Being omnipotent, it also had the power to deflect said twister and let it tear up some nearby forest or woodsheds- as opposed to its church with people inside. Did it? No it did not! It permitted the tornado to demolish the Church and many of those children within it. All innocents. All dead.

Those who would defend such a deity - but who would hold a human parent accountable for negligence or manslaughter by allowing their child to perish in a house fire (when the child could be saved) - disclose inchoate ethics. To wit, demanding a vastly lower ethical standard of behavior for their deity than for fellow humans. Bottom line here? For a genuine ethical basis, any human action must be totally independent of whether a god did it (in scriptures) or ordains it. It must be good on its own merits. And those merits, in their given context (of living humans) MUST factor in HUMAN WELFARE!

We conclude from all this that there is no absolute divine moral standard worth human attention, and further likely no absolute moral standard. How can we say so? Look at the evidence of history! Jacob Bronowski when he visited Auschwitz and pointed to the gas chambers, in the BBC documentary The Ascent of Man and the book by the same name. As he put it (p.235):

"This was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe they have absolute knowledge with no test in reality, this is how they behave."

And of course, the Christian Inquisition as he notes, was no different. Heretics, atheists ...anyone not kowtowing to the then Church's dogmas could be burnt at the stake or tortured...because the Church held supreme absolute authority- and no one was permitted to question it.

Because of this, Bronowski is painfully aware of what he calls the "principle of tolerance" - which he ties to the Heisenberg Principle of Uncertainty in physics. As he puts it (p. 232):

"The Principle of Uncertainty or, in my phrase the Principle of Tolerance, fixed once and for all the realization that all knowledge is limited."

Because knowledge is limited, and further - the human brain is limited in its processing of it, then no absolutist propositions to do with morality or ethics can be entertained.To show that absolutism is a myth that can't work, one may begin by showing that truth statements cannot be inherently complete, non-contradictory or binding forever. I will not go over all this again, but point the interested reader to two of my previous blog essays:'Truth, Existence Claims and God Talk'

Part I:

Part II:

This also means no complete or absolutist morality or absolutist ethics can be formulated precisely because the cognitive apparatus to validate such simply isn't there (go back to the tri-partite brain and its defects).

Let's take some examples to see:

For example, the biblical literalist may insist the 5th commandment is absolute: 'Thou shalt not kill" (N.B. many fundies refer to this as the 6th). But clearly in practice this is impossible.

Accepted violation (1): An intruder enters a home with a weapon and is about to threaten or kill one's wife and children. The home owner, however, has his .44 Magnum nearby the bedstand.Now, under any absolutist dictum there is no way any killing can be permitted. The most the homeowner is allowed is maybe to shoot the intruder in the knee and phone the cops. But how many will actually do this? I warrant not one in a million. If they have a weapon they will shoot to kill.Further, the LAW in most states allows lethal force in such circumstances (such as the 'make my day' law here in Colo.) and few religions would protest. Thus, the commandment cannot be absolute. ANY exception, no matter how finely drawn, eradicates the absolute nature of the ethic. You can't have an "absolute" morality and also exceptions to it, it's that simple.

Accepted violation (2): An invading country crosses its neighbor's border and begins raping, plundering and klling its citizens. The invaded nation has every right to fight back and kill in turn.Or, as in the case of World War (II) - multiple nations in one alliance are entitled to stop the Hitlerian-Nazi threat of world domination- by invading and bombing (killing) in the German homeland.NO Christians I know - even hardcore bible punchers- dispute this exception to the rule. BUT - if there is such exception, then there is no absolute moral prohibition.

Accepted violation (3): A serial killer, who has slaughtered over 100 women is finally electrocuted by "Old Sparky". In this case- Ted Bundy's end was decided by the state of Florida. Just before his end the fundamentalist Pastor James Dobson assisted him in "finding Jesus" - but at NO time did Dobson tell the state that there was an absolute moral prohibition against killing Bundy!

These three examples disclose that there can be NO absolutist proposition forbidding killing of other humans, since three exceptions are already allowed. Once there's ANY exception, the proscription ceases to be absolute, and there is no "absolute moral truth" underpinning it. There is rather an expedient moral truth used when convenient to do so! (Though some disgusting reprobates, backed into a corner here, change the meaning of words to duplicitously differentiate “murder” from “killing” to try and invent a loop hole. We don't buy it!)

Nor will the honest atheist assert that we can allow moral relativists to have their way. Just because wives who stray are permitted to be severely beaten (and sometimes killed) in Brazil doesn't mean we allow it in the U.S. Merely because young girls are subjected to clitorodectomy in parts of sub-Sahara Africa doesn't mean we permit it here- especially as a means to keep them virgins. And merely because "common law" marriage is the norm or standard in much of the West Indies, doesn't mean it can become the moral norm in the U.S.

So, if neither absolutism or moral relativism is the answer, then what is? Author Michael Shermer (The Science of Good And Evil, p. 168) gives what is perhaps the best solution to the conundrum of ethics:"moral provisionalism" or what I would call: "ethical incrementalism". As Shermer notes (ibid.):

"Provisional ethics provides a reasonable middle ground between absolute and moral relative systems. Provisional moral principles are applicable to most people, for most circumstances, for most of the time - yet flexible enough to account for the wide diversity of human behavior"

Further, for my ethical incrementalism, I would allow increasing moral oversight when EVIDENCE warrants it.Let's look at illustrations:

1) Abortion:According to ethical incrementalism abortion cannot be ethical in ALL circumstances for all conditions. Thus, since Sagan and Druyan have noted that fetal brain waves appear past 6 months, NO abortions should normally be allowed in the third trimester. The only (provisional) exceptions would be: a) the health of the mother (e.g. if she were to have the child she'd die), or b) case of incest or rape - wherein having the child would create extreme mental trauma for the victim. (By that I mean possible psychosis or severe depression, including attempted suicide).

2) War:In the judicious application of ethical incrementalism, NO war would be permitted in the U.S.A. unless an actual DECLARATION of WAR by congress is made. This would give congress the opportunity to exercise its constitutional rights, and impart moral and ethical authority in rendering a war truly just. In this light, we'd have no more Vietnams, Iraqs, Afghanistans or other adventures...finagled outside the parameters of congressional validation.

For too long too many wars have been waged through the back door as it were, at great financial and moral cost to the U.S. The Iraq invasion, for example, never would have been allowed had an actual declaration of war been demanded by opposed to just meekly rolling over for Dubya.

3) Teen sexual behavior:In the domain of ethical incrementalism, teens are warned that actual intercourse outside of a stable permanent relationship is ethically, morally toxic. As a midway position, however, teens are allowed - as former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elder suggested- to obtain sexual relief via self-stimulation. This balance would immediately stop the increasing rates of teen pregnancy, though likely not without the benefit of a good sex ed. course, which must also include removing the stigma attached (by teen culture) to masturbation.

These are just a few examples, and many more might be cited or found. The point is that there is a middle way, and ethically conscientious humans ought to seek to pursue it, as opposed to pretensions to either a facile moral absolutism or equally facile moral relativism.