Thursday, April 12, 2007

Michael Crichton's Wet Dream, and a Fat Joke

Long thought to be a biological impossibility, scientists have recovered intact soft tissue from a dinosaur. The immediate benefits of this find are that we can place dinosaurs in the global family tree based on actual genetic material rather than indirect (yet probably pretty accurate) methods such as bone structure.

Already scientists report that the tissues strongly resemble similar tissue in birds, supporting either God's great plan, the devil's clever trickery, or some wacky "theory" about mutations and selection over millions of years, depending on who you ask.

Though the science is young and the technology primitive at present, the long term implications of this discovery spring to mind almost immediately: we are one step closer to determining if the T. Rex tasted like chicken. I bet rogue flavour scientists in Kentucky are already developing an ensemble of herbs and spices for the debut of KFTR.

In other biology news, geneticists have identified a clear link between obesity and genes. This is news? Anyone could have told them there's a correlation between the width of your belly and the size of your jeans!

So it goes

I have just read that Kurt Vonnegut, fourth-generation German-American religious skeptic freethinker, is dead. I have no epitaph except a simple thanks for his writings. I think I'm going to read Cat's Cradle again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Pope speaks on evolution

Herr Doktor Pope Benedict has spoken publicly about his views on evolution. I'm not going to fault the man too badly. He expresses opinions that are far more progressive and scientific than the average American citizen ("average? surely you just mean those fanatical right wingers..." no, I mean average), although they are most certainly wrong. I don't expect the pope to fully understand any scientific theory, and I'm glad that he has remained mostly silent on the subject until now.

I would love to see a pope simply state that evolution and christianity are part of non-overlapping magisteria and refrain from any further comment. I've got my qualms about the whole notion of non-overlapping magisteria (see Dawkins) but it would be a huge step in the right direction.

As for the pope's specific inaccuracies regarding evolution, I'd like to comment on the very end of the article linked above:

"Both popular and scientific texts about evolution often say that 'nature' or 'evolution' has done this or that," Benedict said in the book which included lectures from theologian Schoenborn, two philosophers and a chemistry professor. "Just who is this 'nature' or 'evolution' as (an active) subject? It doesn't exist at all!" the Pope said.

Benedict argued that evolution had a rationality that the theory of purely random selection could not explain.

"The process itself is rational despite the mistakes and confusion as it goes through a narrow corridor choosing a few positive mutations and using low probability," he said.

"This ... inevitably leads to a question that goes beyond science ... where did this rationality come from?" he asked. Answering his own question, he said it came from the "creative reason" of God.

The Robed Avenger seems to come SO CLOSE to a full understanding of the theory, then right at the end it all falls to hell. He sounds like an intelligent man who has never really been exposed to a complete explanation of evolution. Of course he's correct when he exclaims that there IS no active subject involved in 'nature' and 'evolution' much the same as there is no active subject guiding mathematical terms through a complex integration, or guiding the bits through a circuit in a computer. Evolution is based on very simple and elegant premises, that when followed to their logical conclusion result in highly complex and organized emergent properties.

Random mutations followed by non-random selection over billions of years produced you and me. There is no forethought, no intelligent rationality... it is simply an emergent property that groupings of genes that appear rational work better than those that don't. The church has accepted similar arguments in other areas of science: sure the sun and the earth appear to have been designed, that is an emergent property that falls out when natural physical laws are applied to large clouds of hydrogen. The pope knows this, and he accepts it. Hopefully it's only a matter of time until he or his successor comes to understand that the origin of life is merely an extension of physical laws working on clouds of hydrogen. Benedict doesn't want to fall back on a god of the gaps, but that is precisely what he is doing.

There are more comments to make here, like how the pope's specific misunderstandings are so maddeningly common in ID "theorists" and creationists in America, or how the book containing the pope's evolution arguments also includes philosophers and a chemist but no evolutionary biologists; also an all too common crime of American creationists. I've said my peace though, and I'll leave further criticisms to PZ Myers, as he is more versed in the particulars.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Aliens invade Canada, and the British invade Blogistan

Two things to discuss, from the Broadcasting Corporations of the great nations of Canada and Britain, respectively.

First the 'Ceeb'. Apparently there have been more UFO reports than normal this year in Canada. Ufology (are you SERIOUS?!?) expert Chris Rutkowski says a UFO is "an object seen in the sky which its observer cannot identify" and the anthropomorphic 'science' should take these unrecorded sightings more seriously.

He also waxes speculative on what the 700 mysterious objects could be. His limitless imagination pegs them as lying somewhere between a tangible concrete explanation (i.e. omg! teh aliens!) to a "psychology-driven" one, presumably visions caused by a malfunctioning probe from a previous abduction. Perish the thought that any of the mere "lights in the night sky", accounting for two thirds of the sightings, were simply an airplane obscured by light clouds or haze. Come on Science! Get off your lazy ass and pay attention to 700 unrelated and undocumented claims of light at night caused by a source the observer can't immediately identify! Occam is spinning in his grave.

Next, the 'Beeb'. There was a code of conduct written for bloggers, outlining proper behaviour and etiquette. The code isn't a bad idea, it's good to have a policy on content and comment management on a blog, so readers know what they're in for, but it's a little presumptuous to think one small group of people can write out a list of commandments for a whole population who is otherwise free to express their opinions any way they like.

This is strictly not a blog. It is a bloge (rhymes with dodge). However, it is similar to a blog, and it is new, and no one seems to have found it yet. What better time to hash out an overview of my own policy, using the structure of the BBC article:

  • Anonymous comments ARE allowed. I don't care what flag you're waving, I don't even want to know your name. I don't care where you're from or where you're going, all I know is that you came. Go ahead and post anonymously. Do it do it do it do it now.
  • This bloge is open and uncensored. The code says I should post a logo to show this, but I ain't that fancy. Some of the above may offend you. Some of the below may offend you. This sentence right here might be offending you now. I'm an offensive person with offensive opinions, one of which is that being offended is divine because it promotes serious thought. If you don't like what I have to say you can post a comment, or you can go fuck yourself. Those are your options.
  • I am NOT committed to the 'Civility Enforced' standard: I MIGHT post unacceptable content, and I will NOT (always) delete comments that contain it.
  • I am fully in favour of libellous material, infringement of copyright or trademark and violations of privacy. I am, after all, a pirate.
  • I haven't read anything Kathy Sierra has written, and I know nothing about her personally, but I do solemnly swear on the Gospel of the FSM that I will kill her with my own bare hands.
  • Death threats are welcome. Nothing will please me more than having my life threatened on the internet. Really.
That is all for now. Is anyone reading this? Did anyone read my first post? If I start collecting an audience I promise to write more often, and about more important things, but if no one cares then what's the point eh?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Catholic priest screws student, things go downhill from there

The BBC has an article about a recent murder of a young woman who happened to have been sexually involved with her priest. Guess what the focus of the article is?

There are a lot of things wrong with this priest, but for once having sex with one of his parishioners isn't among them.

Chances are he wasn't completely ignorant about the handyman who allegedly raped and murdered the girl, then hid her body in the church. Surely a priest would know when his church floor has been dug up, wouldn't he? Shouldn't he?

He inevitably blames his alcoholism for his misdeeds which is more and more becoming the standard first line of defense for old white men accused of anything. It's weak and it's pathetic. Of course, it's twice compounded in this case because he's a member of the Alcoholics Anonymous Cult, and he calls alcoholism an illness. I'm not convinced alcoholism is a valid condition, let alone a disease.

Oh right, and he's a priest.

The only thing he did that wasn't illegal or immoral was have sex with a consenting adult. So why does the article focus primarily on their sexual relationship? Sure, there's brief mention of the murder, the alleged killer and rapist, and the hidden buried body in a CHURCH, but all that is secondary to the news that two adults had sex with each other.

Am I the only one who assumed the "student" was a boy until her name was given, and that she was prepubescent until her age was given? I wonder whether that says more about me or the state of Christianity...