Sunday, January 29, 2006

The end of Xenocide

I finished reading Xenocide, on dead trees, just in time to return it to the Library. It was touch and go there for a bit. But the morning of the due date, there were only twenty pages to go, and it was a Saturday.

The more i think about Orson Scott Card's books, the more i think he must have gotten cash to write more or less favorably on the subject of ID. There is plenty of hard science and smart thinking in these books. It just seems unlikely that Card has actually bought into that kind of nonsense.

Oh well. It was a nonsense article, i can ignore it. i've started his book entitled Shadow Puppets, and have checked out the audio version of Shadow of the Giant, both are in the Enderverse, following the character Bean. So far, there is no evidence of dementia, so i'll continue down this line of entertainment.

People change. There is a newspaper article where Ann Rice, author of many entertaining vampire books, says that she's become a Christian, and will be writing Christian books from now on. Well, that doesn't retroactively change the old books. As a Christian, you might think i'd be into it... but it just doesn't sound very entertaining.

It happens to musicians too. Billy Joel has dropped out of pop, and has composed some classical music. And its hot, too, if you're into it. I wish more musicians would show off their talent.

Monday, January 23, 2006

ID Card

Orson Scott Card, whose Ender series books were reviewed in this blog (positively, the only negative review so far has been a dictionary, and it was reviewed as a dictionary), wrote a column on Intelligent Design.

He wanders around alot in this article, so much so that it is difficult to come away with the feeling that he has said anything in a definitive way. And yet, there is this air that he thinks that there should be a competitive theory to the Theory of Evolution, and the Intelligent Design is such an idea. Yet no evidence is presented that Intelligent Design presents any evidence for itself. The only arguments appear to be against Evolution, or against the way that science has defended Evolution. In fact, he seems to argue that Evolution should not defend itself. However, Card knows that all ideas in science must be defended. That much comes from his fiction.

He presents seven points. They're numbered. Here are some rebuttals.

1. Intelligent Design is just Creation Science in a new suit (name-calling).

A mathematician will say that if you know how to get from point A to point B, and you know how to get from point B to point C, then it follows that you know how to get from point A to point C. The easiest way for scientists to attack Intelligent Design is to show that it is in fact exactly Creation Science, with some minor differences. That way, one can refer to how Creation Science is not science, and then the new details can be refuted on their own. This isn't name calling, just efficient.

2. Don't listen to these guys, they're not real scientists (credentialism).

No one says that Michael Behe doesn't have a doctorate. What they say is that his ideas aren't new, and have been successfully refuted in the literature. Further, they don't, in general, say that ID'ers aren't scientists, it is more that what ID'ers are saying isn't science, for one reason or another which is also generally stated. When there has been a debate, it has been generally the scientists who ignore name calling and stick to the most real issues.

3. If you actually understood science as we do, you'd realize that these guys are wrong and we're right; but you don't, so you have to trust us (expertism).

There is a problem with modern science. Though the evidence is collected and analyzed, it takes some real effort to get through it. That's one reason that scientists like to have independent confirmation, that more than one person or group takes data and performs analysis, despite the obvious counter incentive of allowing competition. It's also one of the reasons that peer review is encouraged. That way, when all is said and done, that when desktop fusion is announced to the public, there is some reason to believe in it without having to perform the experiments yourself. But it is hardly a single expert or group of experts that is to be trusted. How many Intelligent Design groups are there performing experiments, collecting data, performing analysis?

4. They got some details of those complex systems wrong, so they must be wrong about everything (sniping).

When scientists evaluate Intelligent Design, they have come up with evidence or analysis flaws fatal to the concept every time. The arguments are generally comprehensive. By comparison, the ID arguments about Evolution often concern themselves with details. Much of the time, these details are discovered from the literature where scientists talk about what is not yet known. Most of this is knowable, and often is soon known.

5. The first amendment requires the separation of church and state (politics).

Card asserts that ID isn't Creationism, and is therefore not religion. That's not what came out at the Dover trial. But if ID isn't religion (and I agree with this much), it also isn't science, as there is no evidence and analysis that stands up to scrutiny. As it isn't science, it shouldn't be taught in science class. As it isn't religion, it shouldn't be taught in philosophy or comparative religions. Moreover, as it seems to be bereft of anything interesting, it can only be taught as a set of bad examples in thinking. The clear conclusion is that it shouldn't be taught.

6. We can't possibly find a fossil record of every step along the way in evolution, but evolution has already been so well-demonstrated it is absurd to challenge it in the details (prestidigitation).

There is representative fossil evidence of every step along the way in Evolution. Further, there are independent, complimentary lines of evidence, such as the genetic record. The results are compelling. Scientists don't say that it is absurd to challenge, they say that challenging it will require serious evidence and analysis. Evolution has been ordinary for hundreds of years. A successful challenge will require extraordinary evidence. It was five years before Einstein's Relativity was taken seriously as a replacement to the Newtonian system. The evidence and analysis were extraordinary.

7. Even if there are problems with the Darwinian model, there's no justification for postulating an "intelligent designer" (true).

But Card doesn't seem to believe this:

So when the answer to the question "why does this natural phenomenon occur?" is "because God wants it that way," then science simply has nothing to add to the conversation.

Since scientists don't insert God into the question or answer, they have always been free to add to the conversation. Just because some IDer talks about God doesn't mean that science has nothing to say.

Like Card, I feel free to teach my children whatever i want. And, like Card, I will expect them learn how to look things up, and question those things. Just because someone wrote it, doesn't make it true. The Internet is the prime example here. It is very easy to look up the mass of Pluto on the Internet, and if one walks away with the first answer found, it is very likely wrong. It isn't because someone has an agenda about the mass of Pluto, it is just that modern measurements are so much better than those of only thirty years ago that this older data can be safely ignored. Any value for the mass of Pluto that predates the discovery of the moon Charon will be based on inferior evidence. The new evidence is extraordinary. There can be many reasons for something being erroneous.

If my son grows up believing that Santa Clause doesn't exist, there is room for him to believe that Christmas is a magical time of the year.

I don't believe in Evolution. The evidence strongly suggests that it is correct. I'd bet my life on it. In fact, I have. Modern medicine is based partly on Evolution. So when my gall bladder died and was removed, I trusted the hospital staff to treat the infection properly. This treatment can fail if Evolution is not taken into account, since the infecting microbes can evolve immunity to an antibiotic in about the time frame of the infection.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Evolution of the SUV

I was just at the Auto Show in Detroit yesterday. Many of the new species appear to be related to each other and to previous forms, including 'retro' throwbacks to earlier forms. The evidence suggests that SUVs are evolved from less advanced forms. Indeed the brakes preceded engines. Shortly after four wheeled soap box derby creatures split from the two wheeled species of scooters and hobby horses that were extant at the time, breaks evolved due to survival pressures inherent at the bottoms of some environments, namely huge hills with short runoff areas. One may argue that simply adding more wheels involves no new functionality, just an aberration in design details. So too can early brake designs be considered aberrant wheels that happened to extend survival probability. Steam engines provided considerable survival advantage, as evident at the Henry Ford Museum, and made possible the expansion of environments that could be inhabited to include farms. That gasoline engines evolved from steam engines has been documented in a variety of areas, popularly the BBC show The Day The Universe Changed. These kinds of evidence and much, much more has pretty much refuted the theory that SUVs and their engines were created by God Last Thursday. If God also created the rest of the Universe at that time, including all the evidence of past automotive evolution, including the written, film, and fossil (museum) records of prior forms, then the theory that God created the Universe Last Thursday is non-falsifiable when God is defined as Omnipotent, Infallible and Devious. My claim is that such a God is unworthy of praise. Thus, the theory is also refutable on theological grounds.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


I was reading the Ender's Game series by listening to audio books on CD from the Library. Excellent performances, and great listening on the way to work. However, the tapes for Xenocide have half been eaten by some prior tape player, and could not be deciphered. Now, i'm reading it on dead trees.

Chapter 12 starts with a conversation between members of two intelligent non-human species, talking about humans.
They never know anything. From earliest childhood, they delude themselves into thinking they comprehend the world, while all that's really going on is that they've got some primitive assumptions and prejudices. Individually, human beings are all dolts.

Collectively, they're a collection of dolts. But in their scurrying around and pretending to be wise, one or two of them will come up with some idea that is just a little bit closer to the truth than what was already known. And in a sort of fumbling trial and error, about half the time the truth actually rises to the top and becomes accepted by people who still don't understand it, who simply adopt it as a new prejudice to be trusted blindly until the next dolt accidentally comes up with an improvement.

So you're saying that no one is ever individually intelligent, and groups are even stupider than individuals - and yet by keeping so many fools engaged in pretending to be intelligent, they still come up with some of the same results that an intelligent species would come up with.


I like this book alot. Orson Scott Card has just described the scientific method, in a brief, clear, and hysterically funny way. The series so far is full of insights with descriptions that delicately and elegantly run roughshod all over everything.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Last Thursday

In Hawking's A Brief History of Time, he spends much of the time talking about the origin of the Universe, and the history of the thinking that has brought science to current theories. Along the way, he talks about Last Thursdayism. In Last Thursdayism, one believes that God created the Universe the way it looks now, in particular, it looks as if it were billions of years old, and you remember your childhood that you never had (unless you are a child currently). You never had a childhood, because, since you were created last Thursday, all of those memories were created by God.

Now, it can be argued that an Omnipotent God could certainly have created the Universe in this manner. And, this theory can never be disproven. In particular, since God is omnipotent and flawless, there will never be any evidence that God made some mistake, for example, in creating the fictitious past. One might question the motives of God, for example that she was impatient to enjoy the Universe of this moment, rather than wait the eons. One might speculate that God was too lazy to create the complete Universe, that creating a Universe that is just a light week in radius is easier, since the Universe will be recreated next Thursday, or something. These speculations could never be proven or disproven either.

Some would suggest that this theory implies a God that is devious. God created the Universe last Thursday, but with fossils and astronomical phenomenon that appear to be millions or billions of years old. Why would God invent a Universe that appears to evolve when it actually doesn't? Frankly, it strikes me as evil. Some would say that it isn't my place to judge God. But this isn't the kind of God I care to believe in. Its not the kind of God that I would find worthy of praise.

While Last Thursdayism is absurd, it isn't really different from Creationism, where some, at least, consider the Universe to be less than 10,000 years old. The same arguments apply. All of them.

Galileo told the Vatican that where the Bible contradicts common sense, it is generally understood that it should be interpreted as allegorical. It took the Catholic Church a long time to officially see this point, but it has happened. I find it very odd that it is factions of Protestantism, invented theologically because the Catholic Church was so slow in seeing reason, is the last bastion of stick in the mud theology. Martin Luther would not be pleased.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


I have this long commute, and often use the time to listen to audio books. Many come from the library. One of the recent audio books in a series, Xenocide, was only available on tape. So, I developed a way to play the tapes into my computer's sound card, and convert to mp3. However, the tapes were of very poor quality, and I ended up checking out the dead trees version.

Just to make sure that it was the tapes, not my system, I ripped my historic copy of Stephen W. Hawking's A Brief History of Time. Nothing wrong with my old tapes.

It is only 5 1/2 hours, so i listened to it twice. It is a long commute.

The reader, Michael Jackson, who does not sing for a living, is a capable reader, but not a scientist. There are a few names, like Chandrasekhar, which would give anyone pause. And, he chuckles at the absurdities, like the quark names: up, down, strange and charm, or the Einstein quote, God does not play dice.

The book is, in my opinion, not so much about time, but about gravity. Even then, it isn't so much about what gravity is, but about what it isn't. And, it isn't currently viewable with the other forces in a consistent way. Oh, and gravity primarily governs the past and future history of the Universe, which is all of space-time, hence the time references.

It isn't a new book, but seems to have avoided obsolescence reasonably well, at least for what he says. The age of the Universe was known only to within a factor of two. He says ten to twenty thousand million years. That's 10 to 20 gigayears, or for an American, 10 to 20 billion years. His handling of big (and small) numbers is annoying. He'll say 5 million, million, million, million, million years or a five with thirty zeroes after it. I wish he'd have just explained scientific notation up front.

Additionally, he mixes metric and English measurement units for length. I'd have preferred he just used metric, possibly by introducing conversions. That, and I'm an American.

Further, there are now reasonably well accepted models of the Universe earlier than when it was one second old. Plenty of stuff goes on in that first second that matters later on. Still, this isn't An Exhaustive History of Time, so it is quite OK if a few details are skimmed.

Something I'd forgotten is that it has a preface written by Carl Sagan. Sagan doesn't say billions even once. And, he says things that I had attributed to Hawking. I've never read the dead trees version, and feel that I'd never have not noticed that the preface was by someone else in that format. Sagan always had interesting things to say, and an eloquent way of saying them. I haven't read all of Sagan's books, but I've always been pleasantly impressed when I see another of his works.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Son of a Witch

Son of a Witch

I thought i was finished with the Wizard of Oz saga. The Judy Garland movie is shown at Halloween and Easter every year. I read two or three of the fourteen books at Project Gutenberg. I had this idea i'd read them all. I figured that Frank Baum wouldn't write any more books. I had no idea that so many others had written about Oz.

My local library had a copy of the audio book Son of a Witch on CD, read by the author in a capable way. More entertainment for my long commute. I haven't experienced Gregory Maguire's first book, Wicked, but it seems clear that it isn't required for comprehension. Now it appears worth seeking.

While Dorothy and the Wizard play parts in this story, they aren't big parts. While the world is similar to Oz, there is much that is new. Also, the point of view is so different, that its nearly unrecognizable. It really could have been a new place. However, the new point of view seems to have been part of the point, without having to write the other view.

The story seems to meander for about three quarters of the volume. I had the impression that were i reading it on dead trees that i might not have had enough momentum to finish it. The main character doesn't seem to accomplish anything, and sometimes beats himself up over it. Then, when everything is all set, the most meaningless bits are gathered together and used to accomplish goals on a grand scale, much to the hero's own surprise. Well, it was my surprise too. And, the story was worth waiting for.

The theme that no one is evil in their own eyes is not explicitly stated, but central to the structure. The Wicked Witch of the West is dead, so she can't tell her own story. Rather, she had a son, who tries to discover things about her after her death. In this way, it is like Fred Saberhagen's Dracula series, where the story is told from Dracula's point of view. Dracula is a vampire, yes, but also a devout Catholic. He's not afraid of crosses as evil incarnate fearing ultimate good, rather he respects them and will not desecrate them.

Another feature of the work is that the author raises difficult questions and answers them. These questions often have multiple answers, and over the course these answers are enumerated. They aren't forced, but seem to organically come up when the hero has some decision to make. Some of the questions are normally recognized as rhetorical, and they are answered anyway, and the answers are worthwhile after all as they sound like wisdom. And why not?

In an afterword interview with the author, he makes a reference to the Harry Potter series. In particular, as Rowling broke the various rules of books for children and teens willy nilly, Gregory feels the confinement of these rules relaxed. Rowling has real depth in her stories, book five has extraordinary length. Obviously, kids of all ages are instantly addicted to them. Publishers recognize that the numbers show that the rules can be irrelevant. Other authors have been more critical of the new giant.

And yet, it should be pointed out that Son of a Witch is not a kid's book. It was written for adults, with adult language, and adult themes. While going through it, it seemed for a bit that it could be salvaged for younger readers without damaging it too much, as Card says he did with his Enderverse. You know, fix the foul lanuage, trim here and there. Maybe. And maybe not.