Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Monday, April 23, 2007

There's a pot and a kettle and something is black...

Way back in the day I participated in a pen-pal program for teens. I don't really know why I participated, seeing as how I don't actually like people very much, but I did. I suppose I just thought that I should really try out the whole "pen-pal" thing at least once in my life. So, I submitted my information to the program* and eagerly awaited the first letter.

My assigned pen-pal, whom I shall call Suzee, was from Oregon and was slightly younger than myself. She liked the outdoors and, while not the best conversationalist, was at least somewhat interesting to correspond with. Our relationship took a turn for the worse, however, after I wrote excitedly about the news** that fossilized microbes had been found in a martian meteorite. I remarked that if the findings were supported it would provide a stronger case for the existence of complex life elsewhere in the universe. My pen-pal's response to this excited speculation was, unfortunately, thinly veiled hostility. When I inquired about her reasons for being so angry, she wrote back that (roughly paraphrasing), "Our Lord Jesus Christ created Earth and the heavens much more recently than scientists claimed, that life couldn't exist anywhere else, and that anyone who said otherwise was a lying sinner and a tool of the devil." It goes virtually without saying that our time as pen-pals had come to an end.***

Suzee and her immense knowledge of astronomy sprang to mind recently when I ran across this comic from the conservative webcomic site, Day by Day:

I hardly need to explain this comic but, roughly, it implies that Muslims**** see the world through a religious lens but that we in the west***** see it in scientific terms.



This claim strikes me as odd, given my experiences of Western society. We have, of course, intelligent design, a blatant effort to insert religious doctrine into our science classes. We have creation science, an effort to label creationism as science but which is at least more honest about it than intelligent design. We have cranks who construct elaborate planetary models so as to support the rather loony accounts found in the bible. We have versions of cosmology that attempt to twist relativity to support the idea that the earth really is at the center of the universe.

Then, of course, we get back to that little issue of Martian microbes. You see, over on Conservapedia they have a little page about extraterrestrial life and on this page they refer to that same martian meteorite that Suzee and I discussed all those years ago. Their commentary on it, however, is pretty amazing:

If one could show that abiogenesis occurred on Mars, then that process was far more likely to have occurred on earth than it would be absent such a showing or finding. Yet apart from the reliability of such evidence is this one inherent weakness for this argument: it assumes that life found on Mars originated on Mars. The Hydroplate theory of the Great Flood suggests that large quantities of water, including muddy slurries, were ejected into space during the initial fissure of the original earth's crust, and that these ejecta persist today as comets, asteroids, and meteoroids. If such ejected water and mud fell to Mars from above, then they might have held microbes--and therefore any microbes found on Mars are far more likely to have come from earth during the Noachic Flood than to have originated on Mars. [emphasis added]

For those who aren't familiar, the hydroplate theory is a the idea that in antiquity (about 6,000 to 8,000 years ago) the earth's crust rested on a half-mile thick layer of pressurized water. The biblical flood occurred when god cracked the crust open and allowed this water to rush forth onto the surface of the earth, in the process cracking the supercontinent pangea and moving the continents to their current positions. In about a year. No, I'm not kidding, and if you think I am you should check out the nifty computer animation at the bottom of this page. Needless to say there are some major problems with this theory- many of which have been identified by other creationists- including my favorite: "the water would emerge as superheated steam as a result of the intense pressure and not so much flood the earth and bake it." I guess all you can say is that there are some minor glitches with the hydroplate theory but, hey, there it is on Conservapedia helping American fundamentalists look at the stars and avoid any sense of wonder over the possibility that life might exist elsewhere in the universe.

All I'm saying is, whatever differences may exist between the Arab world and the Western world, I'm pretty sure that an obsession with religious fairytales isn't among them.

We both have plenty of that to go around.

* Administered by the "Dr. Wallace: Talking with Teens" column syndicated in many newspapers. That I used Wallace's service is, itself, funny since he always stands out in my mind as the guy who fielded the question, "My teacher says stars are other suns but, if that's true, why do they look so small?" He also once told an atheist who had received a tape of Gospel music to "listen to it because you might find you like it." Ho-kay.

** News then, anyway.

*** Just to be clear, I did try to continue writing but she never responded.

**** Let's all keep in mind that Arabs were some pretty goddamned good astronomers back in the day. Seriously, does Mizar sound latin to you?

***** Dare I say "Christendom?"

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Blogger Practicing Idealist said...

I interpreted that comic completely in reverse, such that the mosque is a beautiful, golden building waiting for the chosen to arrive, whereas the heavens are a heathen place.
I could be wrong. And I'm certainly not sure why the Christians would be going to a mosque, so I'm probably incorrect. Either way, I think it's a pretty stupid comic.

Monday, April 23, 2007 2:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Paul Gosselin said...

You say more than you know, but but you could add evolution to the mix of fairy tales and myths;

Myths of Origin and the Theory of Evolution.

Mythology and the question for meaning are not easily avoided.

Paul Gosselin, anthropologist and author

Sunday, December 13, 2009 7:26:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Mr. Gosselin,

I'm afraid you've caught me at the end of a semester when grades and grant proposals are coming due. As a result, while I've read your essay, I don't have the time to provide a thorough response. I do hope, however, that you'll permit me a few observations:

-Your argument relies on the assumption that evolutionary biology is synonymous with abiogenesis and the origin of the universe. Your quotes notwithstanding, this is disingenuous. For example, if we were to discover that the Big Bang was incorrect, replacing it with a steady-state model, it would not modify the assertions of evolution one whit. Likewise, evolution works equally well whether life arose on Earth through natural processes, or through deposition by an artificial process. I'm sure your sources believed what they said but their opinion is not shared by the majority of researchers.

-You place great stock in the scientific method, which is appropriate though puzzling given your disdain for the label. Regardless, evolution IS falsifiable. Consider, for example, the predictions of evolution regarding the emergence of favorable traits and the fossil record and then consider the research carried out by Richard Lenski and Neil Shubin. Predictions were made and then evidence was found that confirmed those predictions. This is, as you describe, the heart of the scientific method and it applies to evolution.

-You imply that evolution cannot be scientific because we cannot recreate the exact organisms that exist now. Theories, however, can be deterministic or probabilistic. In the case of the former a given set of starting conditions will always produce the same set of outcomes. In the case of the latter, the same set of starting conditions should produce broadly similar- but not identical- outcomes. Evolution is a probabilistic theory relying on many random events and non-random selection. As such, supporting or falsifying evolution requires testing whether or not its mechanisms work as proposed and, indeed, the overwhelming evidence is that they do. Put another way: we do not have to reproduce every last flicker of a particular campfire in the lab in order to show that we understand combustion.

-An attempt to understand how something came to be (e.g. a particular organism) is akin to a forensic investigation. The evidence left behind at a murder scene helps police to determine what happened, often by ruling out many things that did not happen. Likewise, the evidence in the fossil record, DNA, and so forth helps us to trace the specific history of each creature. In short: not all narratives are equal.

-If the French Revolution has symbolic value it doesn't mean that Louie XVI is still on the throne. Likewise, if evolution has symbolic value for some it does not mean that evolution is ONLY a symbol.

-For someone who is quite negative about both science and anthropology, you seem oddly eager to claim the authority that being an anthropologist may give you.

As I said, I have no time to provide a thorough response, but hopefully the above will serve in its stead.


Monday, December 14, 2009 11:47:00 AM  

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