Topic Tuesday #87 2014/03/18- "Cosmos"

Topic Tuesday #87 2014/03/18- "Cosmos"


Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the reboot of the influential 13 episode Cosmos: A Personal Journey by Carl Sagan, has caused quite the stir. The second episode hits evolution, which in the United States in particular is a controversial subject. It shouldn't be, but it goes against the underpinnings of certain faiths. Many people that have chosen faith over fact and have chosen to argue for a few contradictory accounts of the way we got here to even be taught along side the real science of both the age of the Universe and modern biological sciences knowledge of evolution by natural selection. It is a problem here, this denial of science. The first episode of Cosmos' reboot had 15 seconds "accidentally" overdubbed. It just so happens to have lined up perfectly to censor the mention of the origin of life with a news promo by an affiliate station in the west, highlighting some hunting segment.
I will leave the rest of the commentary on how the rather vocal religious to other pundents, who have done a great job highlighting their folly.
Instead, I will leave you with an excerpt of the transcript from 40 minutes (without commercials) into the second show.
"Nobody knows how life got started. Most of the evidence from that time was destroyed by impacts and erosion. Science works on the frontier between knowledge and ignorance; not afraid to admit what we don't know. There's no shame in that. The only shame is to pretend that we have all the answers. Maybe someone watching this will be the first to solve the mystery of how life on Earth began." - Narrator, Neil deGrasse Tyson


Topic Tuesday #66 2013/10/22 - "Cognitive Dissonance"

Topic Tuesday #66 2013/10/22 - "Cognitive Dissonance"

I am running late today on my Topic. It happens, but I dare say it was a slow news day for things that I have not already touched on. I have in recent days been having some heated yet civil discussions on beliefs. You can guess what the topic was, but I'll give you a hint, facts vs. myths.
Now that that simple statement has potentially ruffled your feathers, let me elaborate as why this may have had that effect.
Cognitive Dissonance, From the Concises Encyclopedia
Mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information. The concept was introduced by the psychologist Leon Festinger (1919–89) in the late 1950s. He and later researchers showed that, when confronted with challenging new information, most people seek to preserve their current understanding of the world by rejecting, explaining away, or avoiding the new information or by convincing themselves that no conflict really exists. Cognitive dissonance is nonetheless considered an explanation for attitude change.
For some human explanation, Frantz Fanon

“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”
And Dr. Philip Zimbardo and some footage from the 1950's. http://youtu.be/korGK0yGIDo

I explain it in simple geek terms. "Conflicting orders, make our brains go a little coo-coo. Just like how the HAL-9000 on the Discovery in 2001 a Space Odyssey (spoiler alert) tried to kill everyone."
http://youtu.be/c8N72t7aScY  HAL"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
Today we encounter this almost everyday in politics, science and yes, religion. Especially where they meet at crossroads. I will just look at some politicians, frankly because they are easy targets, have large opinions and even bigger mouths that they just don't know when to keep shut.
Rep. Dr. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology drew outrage from the scientific community last year when he declared that "All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell," Broun said at a banquet for a church sporting club. "And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.... I don't believe that the Earth's but about 9,000 years old," 
And he's a doctor... 
BTW, he's announced that he's running for Senate. With any luck Charles Darwin will run against him again. One unnamed Republican told The Washington Post that an effort to counter Broun wouldn't be necessary because he's "going to say things that are going to make him unelectable, even in an ultraconservative GOP primary in Georgia." We can hope.
Representative John Shimkus (R-Ill.), According to Shimkus, pointing to biblical verses in Genesis and Matthew, "The earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood."
Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) Although Barton may be most famous for apologizing to the CEO of BP after the company spilled almost five million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico He is also known for his uneducated approach to science, due to faith. Barton characterized wind as "God's way of balancing heat" in 2009 and thus questioned whether wind turbines "slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up." He also described the biblical Great Flood as proof that climate change is not anthropomorphic: “I would point out that if you're a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change and that certainly wasn't because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy.” (Face Palm) He has some interesting ideas about oil and how it got to Alaska... http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2009/04/22/174314/barton-oil-science/ (Double Face Palm)
Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) What can I say that she has not already said? I'll just let her speak for herself.
"There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel prizes, who believe in intelligent design," she remarked in 2006 without providing names.
She characterized HPV vaccinations as having "dangerous consequences" in a 2011 presidential debate and insinuated that they can cause mental retardation. Thankfully she has given us an out, and told us not to listen to her on matters of science. "I just take the Bible for what it is ... and recognize that I am not a scientist, not trained to be a scientist. I'm not a deep thinker on all of this." But alas, she continues to speak. OH! and she is on the House Intelligence Committee. The HPSCI is charged with the oversight of the United States Intelligence Community, which includes the intelligence and intelligence related activities of 17 elements of the US Government, and the Military Intelligence Program.
Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), has suggested that climate change is the product of a mass global conspiracy of scientists -- the overwhelming majority of whom have concluded that burning fossil fuels cause warming -- to obtain grant money. In 2011, he told National Journal he didn't believe climate change was man-made because "I don't think we can control what God controls."

I have said it before, I'll say it again. You can have your own opinions, but not your own facts. Science, contains the facts as best as we know them. They are subject to change as we learn more. But when your belief contradicts the facts, somethings has to give - and it turns out, most of the time, it's the facts.  Unless you are his holiness, the Dalai Lama.  "If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change." 

Topic Tuesday #41 2013/04/30 - "Teach the Controversy?"

Topic Tuesday #41 2013/04/30 - "Teach the Controversy?" 

Ready to get mad? Ready to get fired up? Ready to take on a big bad taboo subject? Faith and science in schools; here we go.
In the United States, and around the world to varying degrees, there is a movement known as Intelligent Design. For those that are not familiar with what this is: ID, or Intelligent Design is the theory that life, or the universe, cannot have arisen by chance and was designed and created by some intelligent entity. This is largely a Christian Fundamentalist backed position.
ID's asserts that:
It is a scientific field of research
Darwinian evolution by natural selection is wrong
There is an "design agent" working to fine tune the universe.

For the extreme positions asserted, one jumps to a stance known as "Young Earth Creationism" which asserts the following:
The Universe is, at most, 15,000 years old.
The planet Earth is, at most, 10,000 years old.
All of the book of Genesis is fact.
Noah and his ark were real
The flood compressed the plant life into our fossil fuel, covered the world with the observable sedimentary layers, carved out the Grand Canyon, the Norwegian and Icelandic fjords, and even continental separation and plate tectonics.
And lots of other items.

As you can tell this is a very religiously oriented world view.
ID arguments are somewhat acceptable and represent a Deistic view; the same view was held by most of the talked about Founding Fathers of the USA. Here is where we run off the rails and into the schools and "teaching the controversy".

It sounds great, on paper. From http://www.intelligentdesign.org/education.php, "Instead of mandating intelligent design, the major pro-ID organizations seek to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks by teaching students about both scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolution.  Most school districts today teach only a one-sided version of evolution which presents only the facts which supposedly support the theory.  But most pro-ID organizations think evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned."

The failure with their premise is that the evolution that we have been teaching in school for decades is not at fault, it just doesn't leave room for a designer, as it is the designer. There are no real gaps in the data, certainly less gaps than in an ID discussion that pleads to a supernatural agent for tweaking what we do not fully understand at the moment. The research and understanding are quite complete and there is no controversy except for what they "believe". As has been said before, the nice thing about science is that it doesn't care about your beliefs, it only cares about what is real.

This has come up because a few things have breezed past me to draw my attention to them. 

1) A copy of a test from an ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) school was trotted out on Reddit for all to see. Those involved are waiting to disclose all the details around it until the end of the school year to prevent any adverse reaction to the students, but it is amazingly awful what they were passing for science. check out Snopes for the dirt on it. http://www.snopes.com/photos/signs/sciencetest.asp



















2) the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Central Florida chapter will be distributing secular documentation to 11 area high schools to balance a bible distribution done Wednesday, January 16, 2013. The initial Story - here http://goo.gl/WTxfU and here http://goo.gl/cRXpj - The FFRF response here -  http://goo.gl/2bbVH

The group responsible for the Bible outreach is World Changers of Florida, Inc. http://www.worldchangersfl.com/
I will let them to speak for themselves here:
"We should resist trying to force the Holy Scripture to fit with popular scientific consensus.  What would science tell us about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead?  How about Moses and parting the Red Sea?  What about a virgin conceiving without sexual relations?  How would science explain the resurrection of Jesus and his many appearances afterward?  Science says it can’t happen, but we know that with God, all things are possible, even a 6-day creation.  Do you trust man’s interpretation of events that were not witnessed and that cannot be duplicated in the laboratory?  Flawed suppositions supporting weak theories promoted by scientists who will not accept the possibility of a supernatural explanation for our existence.  I’ll trust God’s explanation because “the thirst for novelty and unrestrained freedom of thought make the danger of error most real and proximate.”"

What we have is a group, the defines themselves as YEC (Young Earth Creationists) touting the Intelligent Design arguments and trying desperately to get their view alongside hard science in the classroom as a possibility, rather than the science that works, and can be built upon.

That is the "teach the controversy" argument.
Their argument is that science is lacking this side of the debate. It's not up for debate. One is theology and mythology and the other is science, tried and true.
I am up for teaching about theology in school. It is a part of humanity, and part of our culture. Something that pervades our speech and habits. We should learn about it. We have classes for that. Mythology and Humanities and Social Studies. I highly recommend a comparative religions class too. But you see, that would not forward their position. These groups, and there are many more, have their built in proselytizing agenda to contend with. They venture forth with the banner of equality, but that only opens the door so they can sneak inside and start making changes.
I personally find it offensive and insidious. It is a danger to our future. Many students are in for a harsh wake up when they get to college or in the real world and "god did it" is not the answer to the real problem in front of them. To manage in the real world with these ideas, you have to have a dualistic view of reality, and you have to be comfortable with cognitive dissonance. You may believe that the world was created in 6 days, but the math you use to make the rocket fly to the outer reaches says it wasn't and could not have been. You may believe that man was fashioned out of clay, but if you cut one open you see the same organs as our cousins in the animal kingdom and all we become are animals made of meat, bone, and blood. Reality doesn't care about your beliefs.

Science works. If you water it down at all, you cause our future to be watered down too. This is a heated fight, because it damages the view people have of reality. People don't want to think they have been wrong for so many years, and potentially wasted their life in the pursuit of a fallacy. It's hard to swallow. But that doesn't mean that they should be coddled, especially when they adversely affect others. What you do at home, none of my concern. What you bring or force into the schools and the mind of our children, will always be my concern.

Teach the controversy? We would if there was one.