Let There Be Life!

The beginning of life may have been inevitable, it seems, a natural and logical result of thermodynamics.

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

The article comes at the news as another nail in Creationism’s coffin, but personal experience suggests Creationism is an undead thing, immune even to shooting in the head. Creationists have evolved their denial techniques so that, no matter how strong the evidence or logical the argument, they always have a nonsensical reply waiting.

So, let’s not worry about shooting down the Creationists- though they must be shown this theory whenever possible- let’s just concentrate on the incredible coolness and massive potential of life, on Earth and as many other planets as possible.

John Redwood is still wrong

I followed John Redwood’s blog before the last election and found his arguments repetetive and dumb. I haven’t visited much since then, but thought I’d go back and have a look again. He’s still making dumb arguments.

In a post titled Rebalancing the Economy Redwood laments the lack of growth of UK industry. Amongst the reasons he cites for this happening is

Industry needs cheap energy in abundance. The UK is taxing and testing high energy using industries by its dear energy policies, partly required by its consent to EU carbon dioxide policies.

Because Europe’s industrial powerhouse, Germany, didn’t get where it is today by consenting to EU carbon dioxide policies. It did it by exceeding the targets, and building a world leading renewable energy industry to do it.

The Vulcan grinds out his climate change denial nonsense in Open Letter to the new DG of the BBC, pretending to be all high minded and scientific with the non-argument that science is always finding out new stuff so we shouldn’t act on what we already know in case we know other stuff in the future. He also whines that deniers don’t get as much time on air as people who know what they’re talking about. In reality, the “skeptics” probably get more time- relative to their credibility- than they deserve.

If Redwood really cares as much as he claims about energy poverty and rebuilding the country’s industrial base he should put aside the denial dogma and take a leaf out of Germany’s book, or give some support to his deputy leader’s old idea of rejuvenating old shipyards to build wind turbines.

But he won’t do that, will he.

Update And just when I thought Redwood couldn’t make himself look any dumber I found his reply to a comment

There are also problems with Darwin’s theory that need further work. If life came from the primeval slime, why can’t we make it from slime ourselves?

It would appear the Vulcan is a Creationist too, or so stupid he’s swallowed their nonsense. I admit I didn’t have much respect for him before, but if this guy was once held up as the great intellectual of the Tory party you can see how we got this deep in the shit.

There’s science in Creationism? Really?

A creationist writes, without any indication that he recognises the irony

Too many people still believe in the “science” put out for political reasons. People argue with me about Creation vs evolution science. Most concentrate on issues like why am I a Creationist rather than whether the actual science backs one or the other. I think, though, that people are waking up to the fact that we are being fed incredible lies to fool us into becoming even more controlled.

The only “science” put out for political reasons in the debate between creationism and reality (sorry, evolution) is that made up by the creationists. The word science always has implicit quote marks around it when used by creationists to describe what they think is evidence for their beliefs. Creationists are the ones who want people to remain uninformed and unquestioning- just keep believing the lines they’re fed so their would be leaders can keep taking advantage of them.

Also, there’s no need to “believe” in evolution. Believing is what the creationists have to fall back on because they don’t have any evidence or a coherent theory. You understand evolution rather than believe in it. It’s been coherently explained by a large number of people. Understanding evolution is harder for some than believing in Creationism, because they can’t accept the freedom of no longer being told what to do. Which is a shame, because they then go on to tie themselves in knots as they try to explain all the logical inconsistencies thrown up by saying “God made it!”

I’ve participated in online debates with creationists, and read through others, and it’s always the creationists who don’t want to talk about whether the science backs their beliefs. Faced with evidence that just keeps piling up, they’re the ones who will steer the conversation to why people “believe” in evolution, as they desperately try to run away from the realisation that they’re wrong.

There’s no science behind creationism, just a desire to manipulate people, anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

Scotland’s creationists are devolving 6

Wannabe Scottish holy warrior Stewart Cowan has started what may be an ongoing series on “The Myths and Hoaxes of the 20th Century”. That he’s started with a weak swing at evolution should come as no surprise, neither should the fact that he fails to put forward a coherent argument.

Cowan bases his argument on a wilfull or genuine failure to understand an 18th century theory called uniformitarianism. (It’s doubly amusing that he links to the wikipedia page about it because whenever he or his cronies are presented with a wikipedia page which proves them wrong or shows up a weakness in their arguments they fall over themselves to claim the site is a liberal conspiracy.) He then ignores centuries of research, discoveries and advances and implies that this one theory is the only thing scientists have ever used to figure anything out. From this nonsensical conceit he wanders off into a bunch of Creationist talking points and fails to prove anything. He cites research with blind cavefish which he thinks proves his point, completely failing to see that it does the opposite.

Stewart Cowan’s never presented a coherent or convincing argument against evolution, but this one’s even weaker than normal. As the only people who can be bothered to continually comment on his blog are equally uninformed and blinkered he has no need to improve his arguments, so they seem to be devolving.

I don’t believe in you!

The New Scientist has a special report on the roots and methods of denialism. Should be useful reading for anyone who ever finds themselves talking to creationists/climate change deniers/9/11 Truthers/anti vaccination types/that bloke in teh pub who knows what really happened to Elvis.

How to be a denialist

Martin McKee, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who also studies denial, has identified six tactics that all denialist movements use. “I’m not suggesting there is a manual somewhere, but one can see these elements, to varying degrees, in many settings,” he says (The European Journal of Public Health, vol 19, p 2).

1. Allege that there’s a conspiracy. Claim that scientific consensus has arisen through collusion rather than the accumulation of evidence.

2. Use fake experts to support your story. “Denial always starts with a cadre of pseudo-experts with some credentials that create a facade of credibility,” says Seth Kalichman of the University of Connecticut.

3. Cherry-pick the evidence: trumpet whatever appears to support your case and ignore or rubbish the rest. Carry on trotting out supportive evidence even after it has been discredited.

4. Create impossible standards for your opponents. Claim that the existing evidence is not good enough and demand more. If your opponent comes up with evidence you have demanded, move the goalposts.

5. Use logical fallacies. Hitler opposed smoking, so anti-smoking measures are Nazi. Deliberately misrepresent the scientific consensus and then knock down your straw man.

6. Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist “both sides” must be heard and cry censorship when “dissenting” arguments or experts are rejected.

Conspiracy theories are the new religion 3

I did promise the author of this blog post, which claims that conspiracy theories are suddenly more true than reality, that I would provide a detailed response. But it’s going to be too long to waste on someone else’s comment section, so I’m publishing it here.

Conspiracy theories tend to say more about the theorists than the alleged conspirators. I’m going to approach the examples cited by asking two questions- If the theorists are correct, what do the conspiracists get out of it? and Why might the theorists want to believe in this particular conspiracy? So-

“1) The theory: mass immigration is being used to re-engineer society.”

What do the conspiracists get? Errrrm. What do they get? According to the theory the mostly white, mostly christian engineers of this massed social change get a country where they lose a lot of their privileges because their constituents are less like, and less likely to vote for, them. And we know how willing MPs are to give up their privileges.

Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? Because they’re racists? Because they don’t like immigration? Possibly, as a great many of them claim to be christians, they’re scared by falling church attendance and don’t want to have to fight for believers with a younger, louder religion.

“2) The theory: climate change is not primarily manmade, but is a ruse to impose a world government which will tax and control us.”

What might the conspiracists get? They’d get to pay more tax. Which I’m sure they really want to do. The scientists will get to keep the funding which pays for their research. Even though they could be better off working in the private sector. I have a problem with the repeated line about paying more tax. The people who’ll pay more tax are the ones who are too dumb to find ways to make their lives more efficient. Those who cut their carbon emmissions will find they’re paying less money to corporations, and the government, so they will have more money for themselves and be financially more secure.

Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? See the last bit above about people too dumb to make their lives better.

“3) The theory: the BBC is a propaganda machine for liberals and socialists.”

What might the conspiracists get? The licence fee cut by the next Conservative government. Though that will probably happen anyway.

Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? Because Fox News is Fair and Balanced.

“4) The theory: the 9/11 attacks were an inside job.”

What might the conspiracists get? The satisfaction of having turned real life into the opening sequence of the first X Files Movie.

Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? Racism? Brown people couldn’t possibly have organised something this big, it has to be the work of the Illuminati and/or the Jews. (An early 9/11 conspiracy theory had all Jewish workers in the World Trade Centre being called up and told not to go in to work that day.) An inability to grasp reality. Given all the genuinely horrible, stupid, illegal and dangerous stuff the Bush regime did, why on Earth do some people need to make stuff like this up?

“5) The theory: the Theory of Evolution is a 19th Century misunderstanding, which is now clear from modern scientific discoveries.”

What might the conspiracists get? Confused, given that modern discoveries strengthen and refine the Theory of Evolution.

Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? Fear that science, and increased understanding of it, will undermine their religion. Inability to visualise a simple and elegant theory. The writer of the post is a Creationist, so this is a favourite subject of his. He claims masses of evidence for his belief, but can never present any that stands up to scrutiny.

This is a bit of a rambling post, because I started it as a comment then brought it over here. Feel free to add your own comments and help me refine and better explain my reasoning that way.

Some more political blogs 2

Jamie Reed is the MP for Copeland, which is where my parents live. His blog is relatively new, so I’ll give it a bit of time to grow. Wikipedia tells me he declared himself a Jedi in his maiden speech, so he can’t be all bad. I may have fallen out of love with Labour, but I’d support him for the Copeland seat in the coming election. Tory polling puts them a close second and the BNP a distant third but with enough support to be disturbing. Copeland may be 99.3% white, according to this list (nearby Allerdale and Eden are even whiter) but that’s no excuse for supporting the racist moron party.

The Tory candidate for Copeland is Chris Whiteside. He’s a Conservative, so I took an immediate dislike to him. But we’ll see how he fares over time.

John Redwood used to be referred to as the Vulcan. It wasn’t just because of his elongated and Spock like face, but because he was supposedly a man of great intelligence. Sadly that vast intellect isn’t in evidence when he posts nonsense like this about climate change. Rather than finding out about the subject he’s latched onto the talking points which conform to his ideologogy and prejudices. His specialist area is economics, I believe. Let’s hope he actually investigates and thinks about that before opining. Hope, but, on the evidence, don’t expect.

Stewart Cowan is a Creationist and homophobe (and possibly a few other things, I’ve only been reading since yesterday). I’m sure we’ll have lots to talk about. It may be borderline classing this one as a political blog, but I found it through a comment on Jamie Reed’s blog and decided it should be included here.

The squid man goes to the Creation Museum

DSCF0671, originally uploaded by Action Skeptic.

Sensible people have visited the loony Creation Museum before and posted reports of just how wierd it is. But last Friday P Z Myers, one of the US’s highest profile atheists, and around 300 others attended. Here’s his report.

Because of my long held fascination with dioramas that depict surreal and often gruesome events I found myself hunting down pictures of the Ark diorama. In what must be the final section Noah and his chosen passengers (including, no doubt, dinosaurs) sail away from the unsaved, who fight for space on the wave washed rocks and have to fend off tigers and bears. It’s like something Jake and Dinos Chapman would come up with, only with less Nazi regalia.

Creationism in the UK

We should be better than this, and we should expect more from organisations like the National Recognition Information Centre, which has announced that a creationist course taught in religious schools should be considered equivalent to an A Level. This is an insult to everyone teaching real A Levels and all the youngsters taking them. This isn’t the USA or some other backward country. We need to demand that children are taught science, not fantasy, and anyone dressing up indoctrination as education should be punished, not accredited.

David Attenborough is not God- he’s far cooler than that

David Attenborough gets hate mail for not crediting God in any of his programmes.

Telling [the Radio Times] that he was asked why he did not give “credit” to God, Attenborough added: “They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator.”

I can sum it all up in three words: Evolution is a lie

Fundamentalists say the darndest things. You have to be in the right frame of mind to read this. If you’re in the mood to be made angry by moronic bigotry this will probably raise your blood pressure dangerously high. On the other hand, if you want to laugh at a bunch of hypocritical idiots, dive in.

via Pagan Prattle

Horseshit of the highest order

Sci-fi author John Scalzi went to the Creation Museum after readers of his blog raised enough money for charity to persuade him. His report, and accompanying Flickr photo set, are as charitable as the place deserves.

The interplay of this Holy Trinity of explanations comes to its full realization when the Creation Museum considers what really are its main draw: Dinosaurs. Are dinosaurs 65 million years old? As if – the Earth is just six thousand years old, pal! Dinosaurs were in the garden of Eden – and vegetarians, at least until the fall, so thanks there, Adam. They were still around as late as the mid-third millenium BC; they were hanging with the Sumerians and the Egyptians (or, well, could have). All those fossils? Laid down by the Noah’s Flood, my friends. Which is not to say there weren’t dinosaurs on the Ark. No, the Bible says all kinds of land animals were on the boat, and dinosaurs are a subset of “all kinds.” They were there, scaring the crap out of the mammals, probably. Why did they die off after the flood? Well, who can say. Once the flood’s done, the Creation Museum doesn’t seem to care too much about what comes next; we’re in historical times then, you see, and that’s all Exodus through Deuteronomy, ie., someone else’s problem.

Devolution in Kentucky

The Creation Museum in Kentucky has exhibits showing dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark and claims the Grand Canyon was created by the Flood.

While the $27 million museum near Cincinnati has drawn snickers from media and condemnation from U.S. scientists, those who believe God created the heavens and the Earth in six days about 6,000 years ago say their views are finally being represented.

“What we’ve done here is to give people an opportunity to hear information that is not readily available … to challenge them that really you can believe the Bible’s history,” said Ken Ham, president of the group Answers in Genesis that founded the museum.

via BoingBoing

Teach your children ignorance

The American home schooling trend is driven by parents who want to protect their children from the horrors of a secular education, such as sex education and evolution, and teach them a heavily biased and God based curriculum. Even though they’re doing it because they love their children, it strikes me as a form of child abuse and part of a slide toward the sort of fundamentalism they claim to be fighting in the Middle East.

And God said, "Let there be Peanut Butter!"

A silly YouTube clip of Creationists arguing that evolution is not real because Life has never spontaneously appeared in a jar of peanut butter. From the comment thread-

On the other hand, this clip proves evolution. Because not all Creationist talking heads can get attention and money from the fundamentalist base, they are in a “struggle for subsistence”. Those who are more simpleminded, idiotic, obsequious of fundamentalism and disparaging of science than their colleagues will survive. Dumb ideas must be continually adapted to an increasingly irrational environment; differential illogical success rewards the most nonsensical ideas. “Peanut butter disproves evolution” is a transitional absurdity between “bananas are proof of design” and the next even more ludicrous sound bite that this hominid sub-species will think of.

via BoingBoing

Survival of the prettiest
Is attractiveness evolutionary?  Take part in the Telegraph’s attractiveness test.  (I haven’t done this myself yet).;jsessionid=RA5MKPPXDT3UVQFIQMFCFF4AVCBQYIV0?xml=/connected/2007/01/30/ecdesign30.xml

Why do scientists sound so unreasonable when debating with Intelligent Design proponents (IDiots, as suggested in the article).

Catching up with Comment is Free

The comment in the Guardian’s Comment is Free section is sometimesawful, but the replies often make up for that. (Conversely, some of the most intelligent pieces attract a higher ratio of drivel and ranting.) Just a selection of the columns I’ve read this week-

This piece about the ethics of diamonds is neither here nor there, but the line in one of the comments about De Beers planning to sink tons of diamonds in the North Sea in the twenties so the price of their remaining stock would stay high conjures up images of a Clive Cussler style hunt for the cache. (The Diamond Invention, alternate version).

Rebecca Front tries to reduce her food miles and gets equal measures of supportive advice and self righteous nonsense.

Richard Buggs insists that Intelligent Design is a science. Surprisingly, he isn’t roundly mocked and some commenters even offer up ways to test the scientific validity (ie show up the argument for the nonsense it is) of Intelligent Design.

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