Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Response from George_Tr

George has replied, but for whatever reason, he decided not to do so in the post created specifically for him. Rather, he posted in the Big Bang - 4 Common Misconceptions post from over 3 years ago. So it doesn't get lost, I'll repost and respond to it here:
Hi Jon, Hope you have some time to read or review Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder's books.
1. Genesis & The Big bang
2. The Science Of God
3. The Hidden Face oF God

I have read all three; you may want to adjust some of your comments after reading them. I have studied and read many great writer/Scientist on some mind numbing but necessary Space/Time/Matter subject. You have done a fine job in defining your views here. My contention is when you dismiss God from Creation; all that is left is for chance to make everything in several billion years be exactly right to the pico second or less. If any of them failed we would not be here or anywhere.

Oh yes, String Theory and Oscillating universe or multiverses are interesting new areas too, i was puzzled about branes for a while but starting to grasp it now.

I am fifty six yrs old now, have been reading and learning on the same subjects with a passion since i was about 7 or 8 yrs old. My passion for Science is tempered only by that for God and Jesus Christ now. I'm not one of the starry eyed christian of any church system, but a hearer and doer by Jesus power of the Word. Being a believer was not my choice, but it seems that my life was prepared for this by the voracious appetite for Science.

Been in & out of several church groups, they all are either too good (not) thier claim; or so closed minded, a jack hammer could not open their minds eye. Only God Will in time; same for many athiests and agnostics, not to mention the satanists and witches or warlocks.

Intellegence, Metaphysics and Science need to work hand in glove to make sense of this bizarre system of things. I think we can have an intelligent discourse even if we differ in conclusions.

George Tr.
First off, George hasn't responded to any of the claims I've raised and even pointed out specifically at the end of my post. Instead, he pulls a Gish Gallop by pointing me at 3 whole book to read without even bothering to summarize the arguments. As it turns out, I have a fairly long reading list and I'm not really interested in adding Schroeder's books to it since my my last post, I addressed one of the arguments he posted and showed the absolutely gaping hole in it. If a central premise to an entire book is that flawed, I'm not really interested in reading any more.

George's next claim is a very typical creationist strawman: Without God, there is no order and everything is left to random "chance".

No. Not even a little bit. The very laws of the universe create selection effects which creates what George and other Theists perceive as "design". In reality, it doesn't take God to create stars. It takes gas, gravity, energy, and fusion. All of these are addressed in a high school science class. But although George (and Creationists in general) try to imply they "study" science, they somehow missed out on these fundamental concepts. So I'll say the same thing about George as I say about Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. George doesn't know jack about science. All he seems to know is a pale imitation; a distorted strawman; but he wouldn't know a logically consistent hypothesis that's testable, let alone a well established theory if it bit him in the ass.

I'm glad George has realized just how silly his several church groups are, but it's important to turn that introspection inward as well. He critically analyzes their claims, but has obviously not even attempted a fairly basic one on his own as I did in my last post. Instead, he's adopted rational crutches that enable his own delusion as he reveals by trying to claim "Metaphysics" has a role in making "sense of this bizarre system of things." Sadly, metaphysics, like all pseudo-sciences, completely fails to deliver when held up against real scrutiny. It sounds good, but it's all gibberish. Just like Schroeder's books.

But instead of trying to analyze his own views, he seems more interested in preaching to "satanists and witches or warlocks." Perhaps someone should tell him that the Harry Potter series is fiction too.

So George, I think we can have an intelligent discourse too. But only if you're going to drop the sidestepping, address the points I've made, and honestly acknowledge them. So far, you've failed on all three points. Come back and try again.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An Invitation to George_Tr

The other day with the big Twitter "No God" bit, I responded to several Twitterers (is that the correct term?) silly claims. In particular George_Tr posted the bit from Psalms 14:1 about how a foolish man says in his heart there is no God. I responded by pointing out a wise man says it in his head (you know, where rational place and all that takes place).

George then responded back saying that the word of man is foolish, so I pointedly reminded him of one of the dumbest claims in the bible: Pi = 3 (I Kings 7:23).

George ignored this and started making several claims, like "intelligence is in the smallest particle yet studied". I don't even know what that's supposed to mean. Particles are intelligent? Or that they show signs of an intelligent designer? Well, ID/Creationism fails utterly, so either way, it's a stupid comment on his part.

He then stated: "I dare any man to scientifically disprove Gen 1:1-31".

It doesn't take much. The order is way off. To show that, let's take a look at the order in Genesis. The very first thing it claims happened is the earth was watery and formless.

From what we know about how planets form, they are rocky messes initially. Water is only later condensed once the temperature drops enough for it to condense. Additionally, it might be seeded from comets.

Next, light is created. Given we can see light from further distances than 5 billion ly, we know light's been around longer than the Earth. Thus, light should have come earlier, but the Bible gets it WRONG.

The light is separated from darkness. This is just a backwards and naive description of things. "Dark" is just an absence of light just like how "cold" is an absence of heat. Separating the two just doesn't really make sense since they're really different sides of the same thing. At best we could say this had something to do with the era of recombination, when the universe was finally rarefied enough for photons to travel freely making the universe inhomogeneous enough to have a distinction. Either way, this was well before the Earth (or any water) existed.

On day 2, God puts in a real hard days work and separates the atmospheric water from the ground water. In other words, He let evaporation happen (or condensation). Real hard work there. But again, if it were watery (which is a pretty clear description of liquid state as opposed to vapor which would be "mist") then God just did something He already did. Unless He didn't, in which case there's a contradiction.

Day 3 comes and there's suddenly flowering plants. Keep this in mind. I'll bring it up again in a minute.

Day 4 and the Sun turns on. Seriously? Plants existed before the Sun? How much more wrong can you get?! Sorry, that should have been way earlier. Later on day 4 God creates all the other stars. No. Wrong again. Star formation is an ongoing process. Some of the stars that existed are dead. More are being created now. To say they were all created at the same time, especially after is just wrong.

On day 5, there's creatures in the water and birds. Independently, these are right relative to one another. Life in the oceans is at least 3 billion years old. Birds, only ~150 million years old. Looks like the bible is just plain off by a factor of 100. Meanwhile, remember those flowering plants from day 2? In reality, they showed up 425 million years ago. So they should be somewhere on this day. They don't.

Day 6 is pretty vague so it can pass for sheer inability to place.

So let's actually try to these events in the proper order. I'll use the numbering system from the website I linked:

2 - Light: Shortly after the Big Bang lots of photons (light) everywhere
3 - Separation of light and dark : Recombination, light travels freely creating distinction between them.
11 - Stars: Initially, there was no heavy elements, so planets will have to come later.
9 - Sun: The solar system begins forming with the proto-Sun at its center.
1 - Earth beings to condense: Indistinct at this point, but not "watery" as the Bible describes.
4/5/6 - Formation of atmosphere, oceans, and shaping of early continents.
10 - Moon: Best theory is that a Mars sized impactor hit us after the Earth was formed to make the moon.
12 - Water Creatures: Little bitty microorganisms probably.
14 - Land Animals: After the water creatures evolve, they come to land.
7 - Flowering Plants: You know, the ones with seeds and fruit.
13 - Birds: Evolved from dinosaurs after all.
15/16 - Humanity: Sexes evolved simultaneously after all.

(NOTE: I left 8, the Garden of Eden out of this list since there's no evidence to suggest it existed as described in the Bible, and it was conjecture to be in that order on the part of the authors anyway)

So it's pretty clear the order of Genesis is flat out wrong. Forget the 1 day = billions of year garbage. Even if you mess it about, the order isn't even close. Unless, of course, your idea of counting goes 2, 3, 11, 9, 1, (4/5/6), 10, 12, 14, 7, 13, 15/16. If it is, I think preschool is the appropriate place for you.

This whole time I'd been asking George for some evidence on his part instead of bald faced, hollow claims. After all, he kept asking me to "disprove Genesis". I think I pretty conclusively have here. I backed up my claim. When I reminded him that he was really the one with burden of proof (since he's making the positive claim of existence), he balked and replied, "GOD Has no burden of proof, you need to prove your negative declarations."

In other words, he refuses to accept the terms of a fair argument and asks me to do the logically impossible (prove a negative).

His only bit of support came as this response: "This from 1 of Your peers; Read Gerald L Schroeder, PHD MIT Genesis & The Big Bang"

I searched for the book and the best I seem to be able to find is this summary. Essentially, Schroeder seems to claim that he can claim the 1 day = billions of years because time can be relative. Of course, if you know relativity, this would require God to be zipping around the universe at damn near the speed of light. In other words, a supernatural creator that can do whatever He wants decides to limit himself to the relativistic constraints of the universe in order to induce time dilation and play games with units of time for His special project to figure out.


I'm going to call a spade a spade here: That's stupid.

Especially since for most of the time, God was directly working in and on the Earth. In other words, He was bound to the same inertial reference frame. The whole argument crumbles. I won't bother going through the archaeological points since that's not my cup of tea. Additionally, even if we decided for whatever reason this was possible it doesn't mean it's probable or even credible. After all, there could be a teapot in orbit around the sun. But just because the laws of gravity allow for it, doesn't mean we should believe it or worship it.

Regardless, Schroeder's arguments don't work, so I'll expect George to replace them with something with some meat.

George then said, "160 characters is just enough for topic Overview, stop hiding your inability to produce; U have nothing."

Well George, I agree. 160 characters is too short. So come on over here and we'll hash this out paragraph style.

And by the way, I've produced: As I responded in my tweet, the order of Genesis is WAY off. Above is the full explanation of why.

Your only "evidence" can't hold up to itself, so I'll expect better. And no more of the shifting of burden of proof or other logical fallacies please. That's just pathetic.

PS: George, from your Twitter picture, you look a lot like Morgan Freeman. And we all know Morgan Freeman played God in Bruce Almighty. Not relevant to any of this, but I still found it amusing!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Movie Review - Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are is one of those movies that you just wonder how it can be a movie. The book that inspired it doesn't even have a dozen sentences, so how can it be made into a major motion picture? I was really eager to see how this all played out (so eager that my girlfriend and I have been working on a Max style wolf suit for her Halloween costume). Thus, a midnight showing was in order.

If you've read any of the reviews of it one of the things they always say is this isn't a typical movie. One review I saw before the movie, said it abandoned the typical idea of a story arc. I don't think that's entirely true. There's definitely the exposition, rising action, a (weak) climax, and then an ending.

Another notable feature of most reviews is that, although the book was intended as a children's book, the movie isn't for children. It's about being a child. Although I'd say this theme is present in the original book (hidden as the satisfaction of knowing that your family is always your family and you'll have a proverbial hot supper waiting for you), the idea of what it means to be an adolescent child is much more deeply explored.

One of the first childhood themes that's explored is the strange notion of fun children have at play violence. In the "real world" it's Max having a snowball fight with his sister and her friends, which is all well and good. Until they crush his igloo. In the "wild things world", it's throwing dirt clods at one another's heads. It's fun until someone hits someone else too hard at which point there's a tense scene followed by some somber reflection. The movie doesn't really say that such playing is bad, but makes the definite point that it's easy to go over the line. Where that line is, it implies, is different for each person and can change on a whim.

Another topic that's hit is the desire for companions. In the real world, Max longs to have the friend that he (apparently) used to have in his older sister, before she started hanging out with other friends. Additionally, this movie makes Max's mother out as a single mother seeing new men which also sets Max off. In Wild Thing Land, one of the wild things is hurt by his friend leaving him as well. As Max tries to use his regal status to patch up a relationship between two of the wild things (Carol and KW), he realizes that it's silly of them to expect the other to "belong" solely to them. While we'd prefer it, it's not something we can always control.

Control is the other major theme this film seemed to touch on. While Max is at school, his teacher tells him that one day, the Sun will die and swallow up the Earth. Of course, that only matters if we don't kill ourselves off from global warming, nuclear wars, pollution, or disease. Max doesn't seem to think too much about this, but mentions it to his wild thing foil (Carol). Later, Carol remarks that, on top of all the other things he has to worry about, now he has to worry about the Sun dying. ARGH! The absurdity of worrying about such things, is highlighted, and ever so subtly, its implied that we should learn to accept the things we cannot change.

But enough about all the themes. Regardless of whether or not you're thinking about it, this movie has a lot of emotion to it. The acting is absolutely top notch. Humor is extremely well woven in and this film has some absolutely wonderful lines ("He's a boy pretending to be a wolf pretending to be a king").

It's certainly a movie I'll be buying once it's out.

You missed a bit there....

An hour or so ago, #No God became one of the hottest topics on twitter. Even now, it's still raking up nearly 200 tweets/minute.

The tweets by the believers are funny. Full of Pascal's Wagers, and uniqueness = magic man done it. You know. The usual.

But just as it got started, Twitter sent the entire tag down the memory hole. It's still there of course, but they banned it from their Trending Topics list.

Of course, many of the people posting on the #No God were posting the cute "Know God - No Peace; No God - Know Peace" phrase. So even know, the topic continues going strong. Just under the Know Peace tag.

Oops. They missed a bit there....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Going after the frauds

Here's a story that makes me happy: A fraud selling useless herbal remedies, claiming they could cure cancer has been charged with fraud after taking in $1 million from people, some of whom ended up dying.

And what sorts of idiots lapped this up?

The faithful of course.

Victor Stenger Lecture

Last night, I attended a lecture by Victor Stenger on his new book The New Atheists. After listening to his talk, I'm still not entirely sure what the book is supposed to be about. How "New" atheists are defined? Their arguments?

For those not familiar with Stenger, he was a physicist who did most of his work during the explosion of knowledge on particle physics. His physicist nature was completely apparent during the lecture. He tended to pause while he caught up with his thoughts (either that or figure out where he was on his notes). He rambled onto side topics. And although it wasn't obvious while he was standing behind the podium, when he came to the front of the stage to answer questions, he revealed that his pants trim was flipped. Very physicsy.

The material of the talk was very boring. If you've read any books by any of the new atheists, you've heard it all before: They think religion isn't just silly, it's harmful. Stenger vaguely hit on some of the points hit on by other new atheist authors, but his delivery was so poor, it wasn't worth listening to if you've read
any other books, or even hung out on the web for a few weeks.

Another odd point was that Stenger claimed "humans will never leave the planet." He made the point that space just isn't friendly to us. To hope that we'll ever find another planet fine tuned enough for us is pretty silly. Of course, Stenger ignored the possibility that we may fine tune it for ourselves. Meanwhile, I agree with Stenger that this does reveal that this does make a pretty good case against a creator; Why create an entire universe that's inhospitable for the (supposedly) most important creations in it. It doesn't jive. Regardless, the whole point was pretty negative. No wonder theists don't like us atheists. Reality can be a downer.

The question session was pretty dismal too. The dumbest question there was from an obvious theist asking the age old, equivocation question: Don't "laws" imply a lawmaker. This was probably the best answered question since Stenger, as a physicist could point out that these universal laws are simply by-products of the non-preferentiality of the universe (ie, if you don't have a preferred direction in the universe, conservation of momentum can be derived from this).

The same asker also asked how we can be "sure there is something rather than nothing?"


Has he bothered looking around?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Review - Unseen Academicals

I've long been a fan of Pratchett's books. As such, I was rather surprised when I stopped by the bookstore and realized Unseen Academicals had been released and I'd missed it.

In general, I wasn't terribly enthusiastic about this one. If you're familiar with Pratchett's works, you'll know that many of his stories recycle characters and tend to fit into sub series within Discworld; There's several books that feature the Watch, the Witches, Death's "family" and more.

UA fit in the Wizards series. I rather like the Wizards. They're the main focus in the Science of Discworld series. And Rincewind is in their lot. I like him too.

But the premise for this one seemed... off. The Unseen University faculty was supposed to reform football (soccer to us Americans). Ankh-Morpork's resident Tyrant, Ventari, has had several characters reform various bits of the city in past books (deWorde fixed the newspapers in The Truth mocking Hurst, and Moist von Lipwig fixed the postal and banking system in Going Postal and Making Money respectively). Sadly, this "Ventari says go fix this" plot is getting rather worn I think.

Additionally, requiring the Wizards to refrain from using magic to recreate football took away, well.... their magic. Perhaps I just don't care enough about sports to get it.

Anyway, the other plot that got tied in was that of Mr. Nutt, a goblin hiding a supposedly terrible secret. I won't say what it is, but the secret fell rather flat and seemed to be poorly delivered. Regardless, Nutt was a very likable character and I hope he shows up in future books.

There was another subplot of "Jools" becoming a Dwarven fashion model, but it seemed so scarcely touched, I think it would have been better to leave out all together.

I wouldn't say it was his worst book, but certainly not one of the better ones. If you're not a serious Pratchett fan and don't get soccer/football, you may just want to skip this one.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Book Review - Death from the Skies!

It sometimes amazes me how much more literate I become without the distraction of my computer and the internet. In the past day, I plopped down and read all of Phil Plait's Death from the Skies! (and still had time to make dinner, watch some anime, sleep and do various other tasks).

My main impression is that this book belongs on the toilet. Not in that "flush it" kinda way, but the way this book is laid out lends itself to reading in small chunks. It's broken into 9 chapters + an epilogue. At 307 pages, that averages out to just over 30 pages per chapter. Not terribly long, but to make it even more chunk-worthy (and I don't mean that in the "blowing chunks" kinda way), each chapter is broken into sub sections that are generally only 1-3 pages.

That in and of itself doesn't mean that it must be read in small sitting, but there's another feature of this book that I think lends itself to it: It's somewhat redundant. Many topics that appear in multiple chapters are reexplained. Having an astronomy background, the first time was enough. I didn't need the second or third time. Yawn. I can see how this would make the book more approachable to someone without any background, but at the same time, why not just say "as discussed on page XX"? But perhaps that's just the internet generation in me, where you don't repeat information, you just hyperlink to it.

Indeed, certain topics pop up repeatedly with explanations being repeated almost verbatim, even using the same analogies. For example, let's look at 2 instances where "degeneracy" pops up:
"...degeneracy, which is similar to electromagnetic repulsion: if you try to squeeze too many of the same kinds of particles together (regardless of charge), they resist it."

"[Degeneracy] is similar to electrostatic repulsion - the idea that like charges repel - but instead it's a property of certain subatomic particles where they resist being squeezed too tightly together. Degeneracy will occur if you try to pack too many electrons together, but it also affects neutral particles like neutrons."
Another example is trying to figure out distribution of objects around the observer. An example is given on page 111 of being in a field of insects; If you're in the center, you'll see roughly the same number in all directions, but if you're off to one edge, looking towards that edge, you'll see less and looking towards the far edge, you'll see more. This exact same notion appears on page 326 taking a full paragraph to reintroduce. It even includes a footnote saying "Yes, this is the same analogy used for GRBs in chapter 4. Glad you noticed! the principle is the same, so I recycled it."

So again, I think this works fine if it's been a few days between those pages, but seeing them back to back within a few hours just insults ones intelligence. There's more examples of this, especially in the first few chapters, but past chapter 4, it tends to get a bit better.

But enough about these trivial stylistic issues. What of the content?

When the book was finished, I felt oddly dissatisfied. Not because it's not well written. Not because the science isn't good. But because the science is good.

The book stars off with a dire proclimation:
The universe is trying to kill you.

It's nothing personal. It's trying to kill me too. It's trying to kill everybody.
Holy magikarp! A quick look at the titles of the chapters confirms it: Asteroids, supernovae, black holes, and Gamma Ray Bursts! Oh my!

But because Phil is doing the good science, he puts it all in perspective; There's (almost) nothing to worry about! The only (possibly) imminent threat is that of an asteroid collision. And even then, he pegs the odds of that happening in the average lifetime at 1:700,000! The rest are so ridiculously improbable or so far in the future and unavoidable that it's not even worth making a bad sci-fi movie over.


So the science is good. But that doesn't mean that Phil didn't hit one of my major nitpicks: In chapter 9 - The end of everything, he has the shortest sub-section in the entire book with the heading: "A Very Brief History of the Universe". I'll quote the section in full:
In the beginning, there was nothing.

Then there was everything.

The whole "nothing" bit irks me. Especially since in the following sections, Phil goes on to explain how we can't really describe the universe before the Planck era. We can't say there was "nothing". There was likely "something", we just can't quite describe it. I expect this section was intended at humor, but what a misconception to feed.

That and the Big Bang was an "explosion".


Why Phil!? Why?!

Of course, to be fair, in the course of the book, Phil lets us know about one of his pet peeves: Calling the Sun an "average" star. I'm sorry (although I'm pretty sure I qualified my terms well enough there that Phil shouldn't gripe too much).

Another note: I picked up the paperback version of the book. I like the cover a lot better. And it was cheaper. Cheaper is good.

One thing I did notice is that the pictures were somewhat low contrast. Not to the point you couldn't get the important details, but the full majesty of them was certainly lost. Of course, full color glossy prints barely do justice to entire galaxies when they're squished down to only a few inches on any side, so I hope anyone reading this that picks up the book will take the time to google the images and really appreciate them.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

That sure lasted...

Finally got everything installed on my computer again.

Lasted a whole day.

Windows decided to update again and nothing's working anymore.

So I took it in to make someone else deal with it.

Meanwhile, I bought a few books.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Man I love Windows

I'm not sure why Windows Vista feel that, even though I've set up my updates to be manual, if I click the "remind me later" option, it decides to install them without my permission at some point while I'm not at my computer.

It seems every time it does so, something goes wonky.

Before, it's lost files that I'd left open, it's developed a glitch that wouldn't let it come out of hibernation, and last night, well, I'm not sure what the hell it did.

Initially, it wouldn't come out of hibernation. Fine. A restart fixed that usually.

I restarted.

Monitors weren't working. Not even a BIOS screen. Weird. Graphics card must have gotten loose. No idea how, but whatever. Pulled it out, reseated it. Oh good. We have visual! Let's restart.

Windows freezes when starting.


Restart with last known configuration.

Freezes on startup.

Restart in safe mode. Everything works fine and sure enough, it apparently updated without asking me last night while I was at a play. Fine. I'll just restore back to before it went stupid.


Freezes on startup.

Bah. Back to safe mode.

Can't load safe mode.

Restart. Safe mode works.

Restore to a month ago (when after 5 months of owning Vista, it finally recognized I had a sound card installed and found drivers for it). Restart.

Windows freezes on startup.

Dammit all. Going to have to reinstall Vista.

Grab CD and begin install.

Freezes on install on final step after an hour.

Restart and pray it was secretly finished.

Starts up.

And freezes.

Restart install.

Install completes.

Now to find drivers for everything and reinstall all my plug ins, bookmarks, codecs, programs and everything else....