The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Fossil adds more evidence that fish walked on land

Another gap in the fossil record has gotten filled:

In a new study of a fossil fish that lived 375 million years ago, scientists are finding striking evidence of the intermediate steps by which some marine vertebrates evolved into animals that walked on land.

The scientists said in a report being published Thursday in the journal Nature that the research exposed delicate details of the creature's head and neck, confirming and elaborating on its evolutionary position as "an important stage in the origin of terrestrial vertebrates."

There seem to be two possibilities here, depending on whether you're voting for Barack Obama or that other one. In the reality-based world, one would say that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence; this fossil, being entirely consistent with the prevailing explanation of how life evolved on earth, just adds one more bit in favor of it.

Senator McCain's running mate, on the other hand, would say either the scientists made it up, or God did, leaving unanswered the obvious question: why bother? I've never understood that.

What a cute curmudgeon

Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers sued God, had the case dismissed (God wasn't properly served, you see), and may appeal on the grounds that an omiscient God by definition has adequate notice of the suit. I think he may not be entirely serious, though:

Chambers filed the lawsuit last year seeking a permanent injunction against God. He said God has made terroristic threats against the senator and his constituents in Omaha, inspired fear and caused "widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth's inhabitants."

Chambers has said he filed the lawsuit to make the point that everyone should have access to the courts regardless of whether they are rich or poor.

One skeptic to another, dude: your tactics may not be the most effective of those available to you. (It's worth noting the legislator has served for 38 years.)

Well, there's just no arguing with that

Not sure what to make of this in the 21st century:

Penis theft panic hits city

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Police in Congo have arrested 13 suspected sorcerers accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men's penises after a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by the alleged witchcraft.

Wow. From Kinshasa's police chief, Jean-Dieudonne Oleko:

"[W]hen you try to tell the victims that their penises are still there, they tell you that it's become tiny or that they've become impotent. To that I tell them, 'How do you know if you haven't gone home and tried it?'"

Not sure what to do with this information

Via Talking Points Memo, Donny and Marie have endorsed Romney. They also endorse the idea that the Angel Moroni spoke to Joseph Smith and told him that the word of God was written on a collection of golden plates buried (conveniently) near his home; that native Americans spoke European languages and were white; and that white men quite literally rule all others.

Lest you think I'm inflating the religious issue, perhaps drawing too close an inference that having a world-view based on the demonstrably irrational and fantastic writings of a deeply disturbed individual is somehow incompatible with having nuclear launch codes handy, here is Donny Osmond's rationale for his endorsement:

Donny Osmond said Romney's candidacy has been "absolutely wonderful for the Mormon Church" because it has made many more Americans curious about their faith.

Marie added punctuation:

And Marie Osmond had this to say when asked whether Romney should give a speech on his religion similar to the one that John F. Kennedy gave during the 1960 campaign before becoming the nation's first Catholic president: "I hope we've grown up since then. I hope people look at the person and what they've done."

You're right, Marie, Mitt Romney is not John F. Kennedy. Romney supports theocracy, Constitution be damned, while Kennedy quite famously told the country "I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me." So the Osmonds' endorsement, couched as it is in religious terms, and Romney's refusal to distance himself from it, may not be the triviality it seems to be. And I'm not sure that sauntering toward religious rule, no matter what the religion, means we've "grown up."

Don't even start me on Romney's record.

Sam Brownback eats his cake

Writing in the New York Times today, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) attempts to distance himself from natural selection theory without looking like a complete dullard. He fails, predictably, largely through setting up false or misleading dichtomies:

The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

Either you believe God created Man or you don't; how is that complementary? Either you believe in a separation of body and spirit or you don't. There really is no middle ground, and Brownback has planted himself squarely on the God side.

If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

The problem is, at some point if you go back through your ancestry far enough, you run into something that isn't the same species. Natural selection is natural selection; "microevolution" isn't some alternative view of it, it's a red herring.

There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today.

I don't know whether this is a lie, or merely ignorance, but there really is only one theory of natural selection. "Punctuated equilibrium" isn't really any different from "classical Darwinism" when you dig into it far enough, unless by "punctuated equilibrium" you mean "punctuated by a supernatural being who shall remain nameless but who gave the Jews a bunch of rules on clay tablets a while back."

I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation—and indeed life today—is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.

First, let's dispense with the fallacious arguments to authority ("many scientists...") and to the people ("many...people of faith"). I learned to distinguish these arguments from actual logic in high school, and presumably so did many scientists and people of faith.

Second, questioning the presuppositions isn't on its face anti-science or anti-reason, but coming to the conclusion that there's a purpose behind the theory is. The "philosophical presuppositions" of natural selection theory can be stated very simply: selection happens. Maybe that's oversimplification, but not by much. The simple fact is, natural selection theory explains life in all its forms without resorting to a supernatural being interfering with it. It's not that we reject the possibility; it's that we don't find any evidence to support conscious design.

Biologists will have their debates about man's origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table.

Absolutely, and we encourage it. All you have to bring to the table is a testable hypothesis and evidence to back it up.

...

Hello...? We're waiting. Testable hypothesis...? Evidence...? Hmmm....

For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed.

Sam, I agree: so quit trying to seek a monopoly on the question.

I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man's essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos.

Ah, here we go. If this were 1640, he'd be outraged that the Earth goes around the Sun. Read that sentence over to fully grasp the presuppositions within it. In order to have an "essential dignity" or "a unique and intended place," something would have to confer dignity and place upon us. We can do it ourselves, and many of us do; but that doesn't mean a supernatural entity does.

Requiem in nilhi, Jerry

Schadenfreude embarrasses me a little. I never want to wish death on anyone. But sometimes, someone dies who spent his life in opposition to everything one holds dear, and one cannot help to feel just the tiniest bit pleased at his passing. Of course I mean Jerry Falwell, one of the most reprehensible characters in American politics this century. In conversations with friends since yesterday, a couple of things came out: First, it's too bad there's no "him" left to contemplate the fact that he's not actually where he thought he'd be; and second, it's always sad when a clown—even a delusional, evil, paranoid clown—dies.

I wonder which fundie will step into the vacuum Falwell's passing leaves?

But how many would vote for Lennon?

John Lennon once remarked that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus," explaining later that more people had bought Beatles albums than went to church.

It turns out, we atheists are less popular than the GEICO Cave Man. At least, more people would vote for the GEICO Cave Man, than would vote for an atheist.

The sad fact is, most of the first U.S. presidents—including Jefferson and Washington—were, famously, as close to atheists as the 18th Century allowed.

Who said voters were irrational?

Unusual aircraft maintenance rituals

Via AVWeb: An aviation mechanic crew chief at Istanbul's airport got fired for allowing a ritual camel sacrifice on the tarmac:

A crew of mechanics at Istanbul's airport were so glad to be rid of some trouble-prone British-made airplanes that they sacrificed a camel on the tarmac in celebration—prompting the firing [December 13] of their supervisor.
Turks traditionally sacrifice animals as an offering to God for when their wishes come true.

So...does this mean God did not accept the sacrifice?

Oh, God (or, ID-10-T alert!)

I just have to sigh heavily when I read crap like this. New Scientist is reporting today on a "lab" in Redmond, Wash., where the "scientists" are trying to find evidence against Darwin:

The message is clear. If ID supporters can bolster their case by citing more experimental research, another judge at some future date might conclude that ID does qualify as science, and is therefore a legitimate topic for discussion in American science classrooms. This is precisely the kind of scientific respectability that research at the Biologic Institute is attempting to provide. "We need all the input we can get in the sciences," [former Biologic, Inc., director] Weber told [New Scientist]. "What we are doing is necessary to move ID along."

Riiiight.

Even an atheist like me can see the divine in the beauty and elegance of natural selection theory. Why do these people need the hand of god to create every piece of their world? Are they so wrapped up in the specific theology that they miss the deeper meaning of it?