Saturday, December 20, 2014

Evidence: fallacies of authority

So, to recap the prior post, it is that we find evidence of things (or lack thereof, in some cases, is evidence itself) that happened before we could directly observe them, and explained why this indirect evidence is important, and testable.

Now we're going on a bit of a caveat, since it seems to be ingrained in the idea that it is evidence.

Someone said they doubt a portion of some theory, so the entirety of said stance is incorrect.

  Let's think about this for a moment, because it really hits home at some very important points in the nature of how science works.  This also illustrates a couple of common fallacies.

Since this is a series on evidence, we'll start there.  Let's go again to the first part of that sentence.  Doubt is a natural, skeptical process.  It's how science works.  But doubt isn't simply someone saying they think something could be wrong. Simply disagreeing to disagree in spite of evidence is cynicism, not skepticism.  Furthermore, saying that someone happens to have doubts about something in a theory/hypothesis doesn't make the theory/hypothesis wrong.  It merely means that, perhaps, a small portion is somehow incorrect.  This has happened a lot of times.

Let's take a simple example, Newton's theory of gravity (that's a scientific theory, so please take a moment and clarify that again).  Newton's theory works fine for most of our interactions, and it works to a degree of clarity that's pretty astounding, given the tools and abilities of people several centuries ago.  Newtonian physics didn't deal with the speed at which gravitational waves propagate, for example (waves are interesting things when you leave the macro world for the micro/quantum, but I digress - that's not the scope of this post, and I'm not the best person to discuss that anyway).  Some people had doubts as to whether they really moved at the speed of light. 

Now, to say the doubts about whether they move at the speed of light, whether they propagate instantaneously, or whether they're slower (like ocean waves, sound waves, radio waves, etc) doesn't change the fact that the rest of the theory works well.  It also doesn't invalidate Einsteinian Relativity for Einstein to question this very thing himself.  Newtonian gravity works excellently for things at short distances (say, within a few hundred million miles, like our distance from the sun, or the distance of a basketball hoop from the center of the earth, say), but starts to fall apart at larger distances.  Even Newton was (probably) well aware of this. 

With this foundation, let's look a bit closer at the second part of the argument above.  Just because we didn't know how fast gravity waves moved, doesn't mean there aren't gravity waves, and it doesn't mean they don't move.  It's exactly the same conundrum when people say that there are things we don't understand about evolution, so evolution must be incorrect.  It's simply not true, and it's an appeal to authority fallacy.

Let's pop this on it's back and reverse it.  There's two clear-cut examples, one biblical, and one more recent.  In the bible, Jesus questions whether or not his father is really sure about what to do.  Jesus questioned his own existence, essentially.  This does not, by itself, mean that the bible is wrong.  Jesus had doubts about his father's plan, so maybe his father's whole plan was wrong.  Again, this is an argument from appealing to authority, and it's a fallacy.  To put that in modern terms, tons of biblical scholars are even pretty sure Jesus didn't actually exist (they doubt the bible), and therefore since they're the learned ones of the bible, we should just accept that their whole hypothesis is wrong too, because one part of it is in doubt by someone who should know these things.  That's a bad fallacy, but no one seems to like bringing it up.

Essentially, this is exactly what the popes do ALL THE TIME.  They change stances, doubt the biblical things that shouldn't be doubted if it's the literal word of god.  But, as simple as that would make my job, it doesn't invalidate the bible just because people don't know it all to be true.  The evidence, you see, is what bears negatively on the bible.  There's literally no evidence for, and plenty of that direct and indirect evidence against, the historical account of the bible.  If that changes, and we find fossils in the wrong strata, or perhaps we find a particular element that measures a different half-life than all the same samples we've ever found before, then the science would change.  Those fossils in the wrong place would be pretty strong evidence of someone moving them.  In a million years, perhaps, another species might see tons of localized fossils that don't belong in our strata that we've moved.  And even if all this happens, it still isn't evidence (direct, indirect, induced or otherwise) for a creator, especially not a specific one. 

Until such time as we have such evidence, and can test it, and make predictions with it, the doubt Dawkins has about tiny parts of the theory of Evolution do not make the theory invalid.  It simply means someone doubts part of it (and probably with at least a bit of evidence), nothing more.  Evidence is required for the next step, which is changing the theory.  If we found solid evidence of a creator, then our theory would have to include it, regardless of who doubts it. 

The key takeaway here is that doubt by one party is not evidence for another.  Cherry-picking that doubt as evidence is actually quite another fallacy, and is intellectually disingenuous at best.  It may be a formal unwarranted assumption, but I think it's more correctly a fallacy of absence of evidence.  It is most definitely, however, a confirmation bias.  Just because someone doubts a portion of something doesn't mean you can then say that's justifiably a way to show it incorrect in absence of evidence that you don't have.  You need evidence to demonstrate your point just as much as the other needs evidence to have doubt in his.  This seems convoluted, but that's what happens with fallacious thinking.

Evidence and corollaries.

So, bearing in mind the things we discussed in the last post, let's move forward a bit.  The story of Noah is a great one, but I think I've made my case reasonably.  Also, lots of other people have handled this one anyway, so lets work on something rather more productive.

Let's start with the various complaints that theists tend to levy against atheists.  And since we're talking evidence, we'll take it from a straightforward evidence standpoint.  This will be mostly slanted toward Christianity since it happens to be the religion I'm most familiar with.  Though, I'm actually at home for this post, so I can do rather more research if need be.  These are just going to be logical points, however, so it shouldn't require much.

Also, I think I'm going to do a series of these in a row, one post for each sort of thing I happen to run into.  STAY TUNED!

First fallacy: You weren't there, so you can't know what happened.

 Let's break this down.  Absolutely correct, first sentence portion. I wasn't there, you were not there, no one alive today was there.  

Second sentence portion, you disappoint me.  It's like you didn't even read the former blog post.  It's similarly as though you've never witnessed the after-effects of something.  Fires are simple, and we'll stick with them.

Let's run a thought experiment here.  Imagine you've come upon a pile of ashes in the woods.  You know there's approximately one way to make ashes, by burning things.  The ashes are in a neat pile that looks rather like it was the remainder of something that happened in this particular spot.  The pattern of the ashes is such that the coloration is variegated.  These are all pretty clearly signs of something.  It's entirely possible someone carried some ashes, that were produced in the absence of fire, to this very location.  It's possible also that someone artfully and masterfully made the whites and blacks of the ashes look like sticks of wood had burned.  It is much more likely, however, that a fire was here and someone left the remainder of it thus.  The evidence supports both conclusions, but the explanation that requires the least extraordinary thing to be true tends to be true. 

Let's go one more round here.  I'm wearing a shirt.  This is pretty clear evidence that I (or at least someone) put the shirt on at some point.  It is also evidence that perhaps the shirt simply wove its fabric together around my torso, but that takes rather more explanation.  Also, a machine that makes shirts on the torso every morning would be pretty neat.

It is through logic this way we can sort out the likeliest of scenarios.  This also has a corollary: it is this way we can also sort out the least likely of scenarios.

But back to the argument, now that we've our basic ideas laid forth.  You're absolutely correct, we weren't there when the fire burned.  It's entirely possible the ashes popped into existence.  The evidence is much stronger that there was simply a fire here.  Just saying I wasn't there isn't evidence that there was no fire, in exactly the same way me saying you weren't there isn't evidence that there was a fire.  Man, that sentence was hard to think about - logical fallacies are hard to weave.

So let's say you take the opinion that there was no fire.  That's absolutely wonderful skepticism.  Now, you need only provide evidence.  Remember, evidence has to be testable.  So I show you a stick.  I light it on fire.  It burns and produces ashes strikingly similar to the ashes in the pile.  We'll keep this one simple and halt there for our methods.  Logically, I now ask you to produce evidence.  You take a stick, and can do nothing to it that produces ashes, least of all bearing any resemblance to the pile before us (in this simplistic argument, fire makes ashes of this nature - lightning strikes produce much different patterns of ashes, say, which are inconsistent with this pile in front of us). 

To say that I simply wasn't there, that's fine.  You weren't either.

Also, whilst we are on this topic, one important tangent.  Saying that evidence is faulty, or that there isn't evidence (while ignoring actual evidence or simply not knowing of it, and then denying it when it's presented), but not producing counter-evidence to support the (in)validity of the evidence you are rebutting, is not evidence.  Just disagreeing isn't evidence.  Creating a testable observation is.

It is these testable observations for which all of science operates.  Evidence is not just direct and indirect, though you could simply call inductive logic (and evidence) either one, depending on it.  For example, we also 'see' directly the evidence of fires that didn't happen by things that haven't burned down.  The tree in my back yard that's still standing is evidence that someone hasn't burnt it down (or cut it down or any number of other things that leave various signs as to what happened), in exactly the same way as ashes are evidence of a fire.

Putting this in evolutionary perspective, for example, we can test strata, see what lives in them, and equally importantly what doesn't, and both are evidence.  The evidence of absence is not the absence of evidence (don't run that backward all the time though, you're bound to get false causality fallacies sometimes) as Colin Powell once tried to say, but ended up with a horrible fallacy all his own...

See you all on the next one!

Friday, December 19, 2014

On the nature of evidence: the requisition of science

Evidence is a wonderful thing.  It shows us what is real and what sorts of things to be true in our universe.  This is why it is important to understand the role it plays in our lives, as well as the sort of rigors that are required to ensure science remains as objective as possible.

Note: this article isn't discussing the difference between evidence and proof. I am going to treat the terms as completely commensurate for this post to avoid semantic posturing and pedantry.

Some people have a hard time understanding what evidence is.  Evidence comes in two forms, and both are based on observation. 

The first type is direct evidence.

Some evidence we can view, touch, taste, feel.  Direct evidence for a fire is watching it burn.  Direct evidence for waves and tides is watching them on the coast at the ocean, for example. 

The second type is indirect evidence.

Some evidence is observable after the fact, or in the absence of things we can do right now.  Ashes are a good indicator that something was, at one time, on fire.  The sides of cliffs eroding in particular ways, or accumulating things to only a certain level, are good evidence of waves and tides, respectively.
Understanding this is key to understanding science, and to scientific understanding of nature.

This is where it is important to understand things that are not evidence.  A science textbook is not itself evidence for science.  It is a textbook that explains testable things that have happened in the past ( note: in a meta sense, any book is evidence for science because you can do things to the books, like set them on fire or weigh them to measure gravity or test their ability to withstand ionizing radiation...).  The fact that a science text exists (and there are write a number if science and math texts in the world) doesn't make it evidence for the things contained within.  The fact that we can test the ideas contained within, however, does.

This same rule applies to any text. The bible is not, as Ken Ham implies (for example), evidence for the Genesis creation story.  (Again, in a meta sense, we can and are testing the ideas there too - Sodom was probably pretty tame compared to Las Vegas, but it still thrives.  China is considerably less Christian than the ancient Midianites, but still it stands).

This tends to trip up people a bit, who think that creation and evolution have the same credibility.   Lots of religious people want to say, for example, that the fossil record is faulty or too incomplete to make an informed decision.  Let's take a look at this stance from the evidence.

To save time, we are going to break this argument down to a couple simple concepts in the greater thing.  First, it is important to note that fossils are all intermediaries. Every species is intermediary.  DNA supports this also (evidence isn't evidence without other evidence to verify, mind).  If we only had fossil evidence, then the idea that every species is unique would also hold water.  We have not only fossil evidence, but also DNA evidence, and similarly we only find given species within various strata of rock that have consistent radioactive timers encasing similar creatures.  One single fossil too far back would be enough to make us see that the other view could require more evaluation.  As yet, it hasn't been found.

So, you ask, where is the testable part of this?  Well, that is the important thing, and the burden of proof is mine. Here we go.

You, me, or anyone can go and start digging up (within reason: please don't go breaking laws, and be safe) the ground and see what fossils we can find.  We can get a Geiger counter any test the radioactive content of the rocks.  We can borrow a mass spectrometer and determine what elements are in it for the decay and it's half life.  We can do the maths on our own to determine our method are good.  We can view other, carefully recorded things, which are verified by more than one observer. 

I think we can see why religious books don't meet this criteria, but in the interest of being thorough, let's analyse the antecedent.  Let's say god really did create each kind of 'animal and plant' in existence.  Let's even skip some of the simpler aspects and jump to Noah.  Noah supposedly saved one of each gender of each type of thing.  Let's even forget about the species of bacteria and flies we can make in labs in a matter of a lifetime, or the different breeds of dog that didn't exist 200 years ago and will likely be species in another 200 or so.  Now let's analyze this through the bible.

One of each kind of animal is A LOT of animals.  It is considerably fewer if we only count the animals Noah would have known about, living essentially in a desert.  But alas, we have indirect evidence that Noah has literally a viable copy of at least every single animal that exist today, plus the ones we know have gone extinct even in our lifetime.  It is important to note that Noah only saved land animals, and that a dove basically found a tree god popped into existence on a fertile plot of land good popped into existence at the 'end' of the worldwide flood. 

Anyway.  My name isn't Randall Munroe, but I am gonna take a shot at a what-if.
What if Noah really did take one of each animalHow big would the ark have to be?  What other interesting things does this tell us?

The first thing is calculating how many animals exist today.  Since I am writing this from my phone, I'm going to use Munroe's style of estimation and leave the math as an exercise to the reader (see if my evidence adds up with your evidence!  Hahaha!  Math jokes!) or the professionals.

Let's look first at the zoos of the world.  Most zoos don't even have 1% of all species (kinds?) in the world, let alone even a representative for each kind of animal (species, genus, family, phylum, who knows.  Kinds are a nice device, eh?).  So we need a boat that can handle, let's say, every current species bigger than a gnat.  And it had to fit all in a boat 500 cubits or so long, among other dimensions.

There are at least two species of elephant.  There are at least ten species of big cat.  There are thousands of marsupials (kangaroos to kookaburra and things in between).  There are likely at least as many species of lizard and mammal and insect and arachnid and crustacean ( not all crustaceans live in the water, and many would die if the world were inundated for over a month.). So let's pretend there's only ten major families of animal.  Let's define them too, since this is science and all.

Mammals, arachnids, crustaceans, marsupials, avians (which, admittedly, fall into most of the others), lizards, reptiles, insects, and some others that are primarily not land dwellers.  Let's say, just to simplify, there's at least a thousand things in each.  So we need room for at least five thousand unique pairs of animals, plus a family of humans, enough rations for a family of at least 20 people (remember, the bible probably omitted lots of women that Noah and his brood would have had) to live for an indefinite period in a time before preserving food was really a thing at all, let alone other various things we take for granted.  It isn't clear if God simply made every animal immune to hunger, thirst, and lots of other things, or if Noah had to prepare food and stuff for them (he did prepare and plan for months of animal bedding, at the very least), or if the number of species simply dwindled as the carnivores are the herbivores. Let's pretend god magically made every animal on earth tame for very brief period of time, and that every species survived because of that magic manna god used later in some desert.

So we have, let's say, ten thousand pairs of animals on a boat.  500 cubits is definitely not more than about 700 feet.  Let's assume this is a square boat, and let's be generous in Noah's arm length.  Let's say this thing is a cube, rather, three football fields long and the football fields wide.  Let's say it is, quite unrealistically, ten floors.  Noah probably didn't think to make the floors varying height to most efficiently accommodate carrying heights per floor (I don't recall and my phone isn't getting internet here, but I think for some reason it was only three floors or so, and Noah had access to all of them). 

So how many animals can we fit on 90 football fields?  226 per field is approximately what we need, that's 112 of each gender, for just 10,000 animals total.  I think it would be hard to fit the thousand representative mammal species in that area, let alone a pair of every species of mammal.  People don't realize, there are lots of animals in the world.  Primates alone would not fit one of each on a single field.  That's us, chimps, bonobos, baboons, gorillas, true monkeys, orangutans, lemurs, et cetera.  Not let's include dogs, wolves, cats, lions, cheetas, hyenas, gazelle, water buffalo, caribou, elk, gnu...

So, it seems the direct evidence of a very large number of species is indirect evidence against the Noah's Ark hypothesis.
And that, my friends, is why evidence is important.

Part two to follow, perhaps?  INDUBITABLY!

Friday, November 28, 2014

DESTINY: Such Hubris.

So I'm sitting here, watching some youtube videos.  At the beginning of them, an advertisement for the video game 'Destiny.'  There's a band of heroes (I assume), three in total.  One of them is looking down these binoculars (it's the future, we're fighting aliens in space, and we don't have optical implants?) at a fortress in the side of a mountain.  So they deduce it looks pretty quiet.  Might as well blow something up, right?  I mean, it's not like there's just three of them, or that the three of them are standing in front of a huge fortress brimming with probably thousands of enemies.  Enemies possibly much more advanced than the simple 20th century firearms they apparently lugged through space (shipping things to space costs A LOT OF RESOURCES). 

Blast apart the door they do and out pour these myriad enemies.  You know they're enemies because the English-speaking fellows are shooting at them, and they don't speak any civilized language (and they look scary too!  Why do these antagonists never look like cute little bunnies or kittens or something?  Always so humanoid).

As the first enemies pour out, one says 'Looks like the party has started,' to which the other replies something about wanting his floating computer to play Classical music.  Que Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song.'

There's something funny about playing a song about Vikings fighting their way to Valhalla that's probably lost on the average viewer.  I mean, yeah, the protagonists are definitely invading the natives, so that's probably a decent track to pick.  But what I don't get is why they apparently have a floating computer that has the entire history of music on it (mind you, Destiny has to be set sometime a LONG time from now - are you gonna put several-hundred year old music on your future MP3 player?  I doubt you can stream Pandora from servers on Earth to somewhere light-years away almost instantly...)

Also, it's pretty awesome how we Americans all pretty much still have the exact same dialect several hundred years from now, and intergalactic warriors are gonna be listening to English music (of all the possible worlds full of music, ours is still the most awesome, music no one of that time is going to have any real ties to).  I mean, seriously, who wants to listen to a Holophoner (thanks, Futurama!) when you have remastered vinyl from several centuries ago?

Maybe this is why I don't play video games so much anymore...

Monday, November 24, 2014


Alright, it seems that perhaps my last article was not the clearest in terms of defining what an atheist is, and I think I finally agree that perhaps there are no atheists.

Let me break it down real quick.

Last article I needed to discuss a specific issue regarding theology and morality.  I defined atheist and pointed out that most people are.  Let's pause there, add that is the relevant bit.

Theism is holding a belief in a god.  Atheism is holding no such belief. 

So let's say one is Christian.  One is believing, then, that God exists and simultaneously that every other god doesn't exist. 

So let's turn that around.  Let's say one is atheist.  An atheist like myself, let's say, that believes firmly there is no Christian god.  I also hold a belief in this god, I believe exactly the opposite thing as a Christian.  Thus, believing it about all gods makes me Atheist.  But as I hold a belief concerning said god, shouldn't I be a theist? 

Sure, there's middle of the road folks too, but in that case it is also petty clear.  It is rather impossible to believe (belief is active) that two disparate entities made the same universe.

Ergo, I rest my case.  I guess I didn't change my mind.  Everyone is still atheist; this doesn't preclude one from being theist.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Falsehood of Compositional Homogeniety and Dichotomy Falacy

In preface, a link to this excellent article.

The title is a proposal for a new type of categorical, compound fallacy.

To start with, a common fallacy employed by lots of religious folks.
Without god, people would be evil.
 This is the basic point offered by most religious apologists.  As many have said before, if the presence of a god is what's stopping you from committing evil, then perhaps it's not the people without god (who are acting morally, generally) who are evil, but the people of god who would otherwise do all sorts of evil things.  This leads to a direct fallacy in itself.
With god, people are good.
This creates the implication (falsely) that anyone who believes in a god is inherently a good person, somehow.  It's as though, because you claim to be on the side of god, you are ineffable.  Clearly, a godly person and a not-so-godly person can commit crimes, in fact the same crime, and yet somehow it's only the 'godless' person who is evil, for some reason.  When presented with this point, some religious will point out something like the next fallacy.
Lots of atheists have done evil things, therefore atheists can't be moral.
Never mind that most of these 'atheists' are quite religious folks, usually.  And this is where we arrive at the title of the post.  Almost.  Usually at this point, it's simple enough to point out the Crusades, the various Holy Wars of the past, or any number of other things that are just as immoral or amoral. 
 Well, that's not how our religion is now.
Well, that's not what I believe. 
Well, that's in the past and isn't pertinent.
et cetera.
 And thus it comes full circle.  Atheists are, to these religious folks, a homogeneous group, and everyone shares the exact same ideology, regardless of the fact that there's no unifying principles laid out in a book that describes our... lack of belief?

So to the first point, the primary point, it's as though (for example) Christians are allowed multitudes of sectarian groups, all believing different things to different extents, are somehow still all 'Christians.'  If Atheists show such separation on issues, however, it's completely ignored for some reason I can't fathom.

If we reversed it, took the corollary, it would be saying that The Pope is a Christian and therefore every single Christian is Catholic and shares exactly the same morals as every pope who existed before.  I mean, if Hitler was an atheist (he was a christian, actually, but let's put that aside a moment), then atheists have no morality, goes the argument.  Ergo, the corollary is that various Popes were in power during the crusades, therefore Christians share that morality, or lack thereof.

In a roundabout way, this brings me to my next point: everyone is an atheist.  Let's break it down a bit.

(A)theism, regardless of your technical description of it, deals with belief in a divine being, usually a creator of the universe or the pantheon to which such beings exist.  So let's present an exercise for the reader.

Please check all of the gods you believe in:

  • Marduk / Gilgamesh
  • Ahura Mazda / Zoroaster
  • Allah
  • Jesus
  • Gaia
  • Zeus
  • Apollo
  • Odin
  • Raijin
Now, review those results.  Did you check all of them?  If not, congratulations!  You are an atheist!  You believe in all the ones you didn't check as much as I do.  In fact, most atheists are not thinking about the ones you didn't check any more than you are.  See, you've got something in common with those 'atheists' already.  
Be good, my friends!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Global Warming!

Global Warming: Emerging Science and Distortions of it.

The other day, I was in my local Goodwill thrift store, wherein I chanced upon a video. 

 Understanding?  That's one way to spell 'misinterpretation.'

  As you can see, it's got simple graphics, a graph that's not very useful out of context, a picture of the sun.  In their defense, lots of people like the sun.  I can see why they'd make it a selling point.  Giant ball of gas that keeps us alive.  So let's flip this box over, shall we?

Dozens?  I think I counted six in the first segment.

 So, more words, and a lady.  Apparently Al Gore's film was too political, so let's take up some text to argue against it.  Not from a standpoint of having better science, mind you, but from the standpoint of politics says it's wrong in some countries.  Politicking to complain that someone is too political seems a bit less than scientific.  Sensationalist?  I'll let you decide.

Getting right down to business, I popped in this DVD.  I mean, who doesn't want some balance and perspective in their daily dose of morning message?  Starting with lesson 1, I have a nifty menu.  
Hockey Stick Error.  What else will it take to convince you?

Now, let's click that menu and watch some science happen!  The first thing that is quickly pointed out (within the first minute or so) is that the data must be wrong because some of it is collected in cities.  The argument here is that the data itself is wrong because cities are hotter than other places.  This sounds like a fair thing.  So they give us data without cities included, and it shows that the hottest years were in the 1930s instead of today, the further argument being that humans couldn't have caused the CO2 increase because we weren't burning fossil fuels yet like we are today.  The Industrial Revolution is somehow overlooked.  Also, it's important to note, the EPA isn't hiding this information.  Search it yourself and see.

A simple rebuttal would point out that the Heat Island effect is a known thing, and is factored into this.  A simpler argument would be that the Heat Island effect doesn't explain away all the data.  I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine other, more complex (or even simpler) arguments.

"Ironically, scientists believe..." says the narrator.  This is a common fallacy.  Scientists don't believe things.  Scientists see something, ask why it is happening, perform experiments, collect data, and see where those data fall.  Let's take gravity as an example for a moment.  Every day, ten times a day on average (sometimes more, sometimes less) I drop a ball a known distance.  I measure the distance, as well as the duration of fall.  From this I plot the information.  I see that, as I drop the ball over greater distances, the amount of time it takes to reach the ground increases.  This has nothing to do with what I believe.  This has everything to do with what I observe.  I can believe until the day I die that the ball should take equally long regardless of the distance, but the belief doesn't matter.  Science shows it, through observable, testable facts, to be what it is.

Back to the topic at hand.  Section 4 is about the lag of CO2 rise in relation to temperature.  The video does a wonderful job of presenting correct information here, but does so out of context.  I'll keep this short, as other people have done wonderful jobs of explaining it.  Basically, the earth's axis shifts a few degrees one way and wobbles in a reasonably large circle the other.  This happens over 20,000 to 40,000 years.  This precedes the CO2 shift, because it partially causes it.  However, it's also important to note that once the CO2 catches up, it is indeed a major contributor to further greenhouse gas buildup.

This segment is also somewhat hung up on the idea that we aren't educating people well enough that water is a greenhouse gas.  In one section of speech, I'm told that humans add less than 1% of the CO2 to the atmosphere (well, we add about 1% extra as non-natural processes, so this point is fine).  The part they leave out is that natural processes can't reabsorb the extra 1% we are making, not all of it anyway.  We are indeed adding more CO2 than the world can readily reabsorb, and this is kind of a big deal.

The face of skepticism.  Kinda.

Also there's a bit in here about Al Gore's movie, basically so they can say they disagree with it but pull the same information he uses and cherry-pick their 'arguments' by ignoring other evidence.  This is not how science works.  Oddly enough, in Lesson 3, the video claims it will tell me about the true nature of science, but there is no subsection/chapter dedicated to it.  I think that really spells out the whole brunt of this video.

The true nature of science?  Not important, apparently.

As you can see by this slide of the menu for lesson 3, I've got some serious learning to do.  I mean, they've got a fair point: there would be no global warming without the sun!

Let's get a bit more in-depth.  I saw section 5 there and just had to have a watch.

"Is rising CO2 as harmful as we've been lead to believe..." she asks.  "Is CO2 even a pollutant?" she continues.  That's a loaded question.  No one said it was a pollutant at this point, but rather a greenhouse gas.  Subtlety, folks!  The Professor Emeritus of Horticulture of Michigan State points out that CO2 is an important nutrient.  This is correct, although it's not as simple as just increasing CO2. We went over this a few paragraphs back, so I'll move on.  Next a fellow points out something I learned in or around 2nd grade, that humans and animals make CO2, and plants use CO2.  Also a correct fact.  Following that, a fellow points out that plants evolved when there were staggeringly high levels of CO2, greater than we could ever make today if we tried.  This is also correct to a point - we'd be dead long before we ever hit those levels, but those levels also existed at a time before 'plants' and 'animals' were two distinct categories of thing, or when mammals weren't really developed to the point we are today, et cetera.  That's not an argument suitable for this conversation, and I think the producers of the DVD are well aware of it (I could be wrong - science doesn't seem to be their strong point, after all).  

But then the best point.  They keep arguing for increased CO2 as though it is a miracle gas (their words, in fact), pointing out somehow that CO2 can miraculously make crops grow where they hadn't before.  Not only does this blatantly disregard the advances of science in the past 100 years, they go so far as to say increased CO2 could solve famines in parts of the world where it's a very real thing.  Going so far as to say increased CO2 (a level that won't kill us, mind you - CO2 is repeatedly pointed out not to be a pollutant, implying it's perfectly safe to humans somehow) could allow farms in the desert.  They even show a TIME magazine cover photo of someone from an east-African country and her child with the word FAMINE on the cover, and then show an impoverished little boy, just to drive home the point.  These people honestly think that increasing CO2 will fix global hunger, ignoring the fact that it's taken the likes of Bill Gates, various seed crop companies, tons of GM sciences, and tens of thousands of years of evolution to get us to this point with our food supply.  This is terrible ethics, using scare tactics to proselytize their position, being more political than the things they complain are too political.  It seems they think increasing CO2 to unhealthy levels is the best panacea for everything, and has no negative implications whatsoever.

But as I've rambled on long enough here for today, I'll end on that point.  Think skeptically, check your sources, and be like water, my friends.  The kind of water that holds CO2.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rebuttal to Camels with Hammers defining of Atheism

This article is in response to a piece Camels with Hammers released here.

1: On the various 'types' of atheist.  

It would seem to me this argument is rather a hard one to describe.  But let's rewind a bit and watch this video first. 

     A lot of atheists say that atheism means simply a “lack of beliefs in gods”...

Well, yes.  This is what the word means.  Christians are just as atheist as any atheist when discussing the god Ahura Mazda, or Thor.  'Lacking a belief' or 'not believing in' are roughly the same thing.  This is a play on words, and the simplest way to think about it is via the corollary.  Is 'having a belief' any different than 'believing?'  This author thinks not.

Sometimes they (falsely) imply that no atheists make stronger claims of disbelief than that even though some of us (like me) surely do claim to positively disbelieve in gods...
Sure, some atheists are loud about saying there is no god, but atheists don't blow people up to get to heaven; atheists don't use fear tactics like hell to make people act 'right;'  Atheists have yet to lead a crusade or hunt witches; atheists have never drank the blood of their deity; atheists aren't burning down clinics; atheists aren't pushing for indoctrination of children via prayer in schools. 

We've seen theists try to drive anyone who disagrees with them out of town.  Atheists aren't doing this.  So I don't think it's fair to call this a false accusation, because atheists aren't killing and oppressing people to make them atheists. atheist thoughtful enough about ... to frame themselves as “merely lacking belief in gods” is ... more likely than not going to have armloads of positive arguments from philosophy (and ones extrapolating from science and history) to say that God does not exist and to, in practice, outright disbelieve in God, irrespective of their principled claims to “simply lacking belief”.
But this contradicts the previous point he was trying to make, regarding atheists being more outspoken.  Any day, ten to one, a theists will evangelize their god and decry any other god, more than an atheist will.  My disbelief for Zeus is no stronger than my disbelief for Allah.  I lack a belief for both equally, see?  This article seems slanted heavily toward one particular subset of religious people.

I shall move on, since I could take an article on each individual point.

2: On children.

Many atheists claim that we are all born atheist...
Well, yes.  This is a testable hypothesis.  Again, the corollary is our best bet.  Are babies born believing in Marduk?  The answer would appear to be no.  Are babies born any more believing in Allah, Zeus, Loki, or any number of other gods?  It would appear not.  

If they also don’t believe in God, that’s not a point for atheism.
This is a reasonable thing to say, but it's got some logical fallacy to it.  The only thing that's not a point for atheism is 'having a belief' as the author likes to point out.  Babies have no beliefs (again, beliefs, not knowledge.).  Knowledge is not a requisite for belief, as this article seems to want to make it.  The other points made don't deal with belief, they deal with knowledge, and the author is correct, babies wouldn't know or believe any of them.

But it’s hypocritical then to assign them atheism either as though that were a merely neutral position and not a stance on a philosophical issue.
Again, rather a logical fallacy.  'Having no belief' is a neutral standpoint.  It's what makes (good) science work.  This is correct, babies have exactly zero evidence for lots of things.  Philosophy, though, in the truest sense, is attempting to figure out how the world works, and babies are good at that, as anyone whose ever been around one might know.  Babies act as if they lack beliefs on things (babies have no innate belief that electric sockets are bad, and they tend to act that way also).  We're not assigning them a stance on the issue, it's the evidence that shows it to be true. 

Put in a simpler way, it's absolutely true that babies or children have no more innate belief in Jesus than in Freya.  This also means they 'lack a belief' as the author pointed out earlier.  Atheism is atheism, the 'lack of belief' of something theistic.

On the point about whether or not children are more likely to posit god solutions to problems, I can't seem to find any reputable articles on this.  A google search gives links to dailymail type things, which are notoriously bad science links (let alone lacking peer review, or not being science journals).

Not even being able to understand the question of theism vs. atheism, means not having a position.

 This is a fallacy of composition, or perhaps a false dichotomy fallacy.  The simplest rebuttal is that plenty of competent, knowledgeable people exist, and some of them have no understanding of lots of things, yet still have a position on such questions.  Most people don't understand how nuclear fission works, but have a pretty clear belief that the word nuclear is bad somehow, and so is everything related to it.  According to this fallacy, however, people who are not scientifically literate on nuclear physics are incapable of holding this viewpoint, because it would require knowledge they don't have.  Formally, I think this is Existential Fallacy, as it implies that there is a (universal premise) requisite of knowledge to have (particular conclusion) a belief, which clearly is not true.

3: Exemplary something-or-other.

There could be two kinds of people who lack belief who I think it would be wrong to call atheists. 1. Those who perceive themselves to be too ill-informed or incompetent with reasoning about these issues to have a genuine opinion.
 Well, then point two is certainly no longer valid, because before it was an outsider needing to make that call.  Most creatures are unaware of their own ignorances, but are indeed perfectly capable of forming beliefs around them.  Otherwise, anyone who doesn't know the entire Bible shouldn't be considered a Christian, because it means they're ignorant of their own religion and can't actually make that choice for themselves.  It also probably means they don't know of all the other religions that exist, and therefore can't logically decide which one aligns more closely with what they believe.

Moving on.

The next bit is a terrible syllogism, because science doesn't work like that.  Religion, however, does work like that.  This is pretty clearly a masked man fallacy.  This is clearly telling here:

Now if 80% of the physicists become either squiniclists or asquiniclists then we would be justified in siding with the preponderance of expert opinion and become squiniclists or asquiniclists out of proper deference to majority of expert opinion.

Among other things, it is an appeal to authority fallacy.  It doesn't matter, in science, how many people say something is right.  It similarly doesn't matter in religion.  If that were the case, 90% of people ascribe to some sort of religion, and well over 50% of those are Abrahamic.  Ergo, this must be the default position...

I think we can see where that point leads.

But looking at all the evidence for and against squinicles, you’re genuinely undecided.
Well, if you're entrenched as much as the author gives you credit for, you probably do more science.  Equating someone like Neil DeGrasse Tyson to The Pope is a terribly fallacious thing to do.  For one, this has to do with evidence, of which religion has NEVER provided.  The default position, when no evidence is proffered, is actually atheism. But moving along, we have evidence for and against squincles, so let's go there.  In that case, we wait for more evidence before we have to decide, because this is good, logical science. 

A better argument might have been evolution, cosmic or biological.  This particular set of points actually illustrates the thing better, and plenty of people who have no understanding of either have plenty of viewpoints on both, whether the author of the article likes it or not.

In this case, you lack a belief about squinicles. Does that make you default to being an asquiniclist? 
No, because squincles aren't based on belief, they're based on evidence.  Again, this whole analogy doesn't work, but this drives the point home.   There are actually people alive who still believe the world is flat, in spite of the overwhelming evidence against it, and some of those people are not as well trained or educated as the folks pushing that idea.  Science doesn't care if 90% of people held that view, it would still be wrong compared to the evidence, and then 90% of the people would be incorrect, but would also defer to the majority opinion and so on and so forth....

As Krauss has said on many occasion, scientists love to be proven wrong.  Go out, do research, get your Nobel prize.  This is because science is, again, not a belief structure.  Beliefs don't require evidence; beliefs don't require knowledge.

So to be done with this rebuttal for now, I hope (and truly believe) I've made some good points here which carry on to the rest of the article.