Thursday, February 17, 2011

Evolution is not The Great Chain of Being

I've been hearing a recurrence of the argument that the idea of evolution leads to genocide over the past few months.  There are two core ideas that need to be substantiated in order for the eugenics argument to work: understanding selective breeding and that the human race needs to be pushed into a more perfect state.  Neither of these derive from evolution.  Selective breeding predates evolution and the notion of pushing humankind towards a more perfect state more likely derives from a Christian idea: The Great Chain of Being.

That evolution verifies selective breeding is not a surprise, but humans have understood breeding for thousands of years without knowing about evolution.  People have been selecting crops, studding out prize stallions, and even breeding slaves for generations before The Theory of Evolution arrived on the scene.  It isn't an extraordinary claim to suggest that people understood killing every red-head born means eventually there won't be any more red hair.

I find it amazing that the second notion of moving humankind towards perfection gets ascribed to evolution.  I suppose it comes from the dispersal of phrases like, "survival of the fittest", which gets translated to "the closest to perfection".  The phrase really ought to be recast into "survival of the not completely unfit", but I suppose that is not catchy.  This is all rather interesting because evolution doesn't make any such claims about perfect beings, fittest beings, or any other sort of hierarchy.  However, The Great Chain of Being is quite at home with these notions of species hierarchy.  The Chain is an idea dreamed up by medieval christians which give a natural order of God, Angels, Humans, Animals, Plants, and finally Minerals.  

We've had these ideas about selective breeding and a divine hierarchical order in nature floating around in our collective conscious for generations.  Evolution has formally been around for roughly 150 years.  It verifies selective breeding, but denies the Great Chain.  Clearly, not only does evolution not support these reasons for genocide, but it destroys one of the base pillar of the perfect human.  There isn't a perfect people.  There isn't anything to strive towards in terms of a perfect people.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Batman Apologetics #2: Batman Beyond

A common "discrepancy" that batman deniers like to point to is the Batman Beyond chronicles. The usual argument goes something like,
If all of the batman chronicles are things that actually happened then what about Batman Beyond? How can we be talking about things that actually happened that haven't happened yet? It's just plain nonsense!

-Richard D.
Well, this pseudo-anonymous denier (whose name rhymes with "Hawkins") has forgotten one important aspect about our universe: time travel. In fact, this is clearly outlined in the Batman Beyond chronicles. During Batman's confrontation with Chronos we not only learn of the possibility of time travel, but in fact the existence of a working time-machine. It is all laid out in the chronicles, but since deniers never bother to read what they criticize, this clear and undeniable fact often escapes them.

In fact, we know that Batman visited the old west while pursuing Chronos, which gives a first point of contact for information to bleed through from the future.  Granted, this doesn't explain how later entries into the chronicle made it back through time.  However, we have sufficient facts at our disposal to draw a conclusion.

We know that time travel is possible from the chronicles, and we know that Batman went back in time at least once.  We also know that Bruce Wayne, McGinnis's predecessor, is a crafty bastard who does whatever it takes.  So upon Batman's discovery of time travel, he likely decided to make use of time-travel to ensure Batman's defeat of his many enemies.  So it is likely that Wayne sent a copy of the chronicles back in time in order to be able to make use of them in his time.  It is even likely that he received copies of the chronicles when he was younger, spurring him to send them at a later date to avoid a paradox.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The whole "DBAD" debacle

So, over at Action Skeptics there is an ongoing discussion about the DBAD position. Mostly it's one pro-DBAD commenter and the rest of the locals at Action Skeptics. Out of the conversation I've gotten the impression that one key premise of the DBAD position is that rhetoric is the purpose of rational discussion. Or, at least they like to talk about rational discussion in terms of rhetoric. This is a problem since using rhetoric implies that you are trying to persuade someone to your way of thinking, and that doesn't really jive with concept of rational discussion.

Now I think we have to be careful, since rational arguments can be used in rhetoric oriented discussion. However, a rational discussion is not necessarily rhetoric oriented. Point in fact, I don't always or even usually engage in rational discussion to push someone else into my way of thinking. Usually, I engage to refine, test, and review my position, if I even have one, on a particular topic. Naturally, there is some advantage to discussing topics with people who have contrary viewpoints as they have the potential to bring the best arguments against my position. However, once someone starts reusing the same debunked arguments, the same reused canards, and repeats the same fallacies over and over, then the purpose for the use of invectives and insults becomes quite clear: it states,
What you have said and continue to say is incorrect, as has been stated concisely and completely. You are no longer contributing to the discussion in a useful manner, therefore you are a total shitbag asshole. Please come back when you have something relevant to add.
I suppose I could write this caveat every time I insult someone, but I'm not going to and I don't see any reason that I ought to do this.

The other, implicit half of the DBAD premise that I find shaky is this notion that "being a dick" in and of itself makes people stop listening to you. I have no doubt that it turns off proponents of DBAD, but no evidence other than "it's obvious" and "everybody knows it" has been offered for the general case.

At this point I would point out (as has been done many many times before) that "being a dick" is not synonymous with the ad hominem fallacy. I am on board with the notion that a statement like "You are a fuck therefore your position is wrong" is irrational. This is not on grounds of dickitude, but because it is an ad hom fallacy. I am specifically talking about "being a dick" in addition to making rational well-supported arguments.

In this case I can think of several active blogging skeptics and quite a number of meat-space skeptics who are not turned off by such behavior even when the "dickishness" is directed at them. They respond just fine to people who are assholes provided those people produce rational arguments. So, there is a counter-example to the general premise straight away leaving both extremes (i.e. everyone and no one be turned off by "dickisness") demonstratively false. So where does the middle ground lie?

The DBAD position seems to be that most people are turned off by dickishness and that no one is turned off by someone who is overly polite. This presents two problems. First, as I said above, there hasn't been any evidence presented that this is true. Second, is that politeness is subjective. Some people get offended if you don't spell god with a capital "G". Others might get offended if you don't refer to them as "sir" or if you don't show them respect they think they deserve. An anti-war activist may never respect a military man for being a soldier because they don't respect the job. A capitalist businessman may never respect a Marxist scholar. Should we all bend to give people every piece of respect they feel they ought to have out a disingenuous sense of "being nice"?

This is one of those points where I really don't have a solid position. I think that everyone needs to find a level on which they are comfortable on giving polite response. To use an analogy, one could always donate more to charity, but where would that leave you? The DBAD position seems to be that there ought to be a some minimal level of "charitable donation" which translates to a vague non-criteria of politeness. What makes it a non-criteria is the only way to know if you are complying is to have a DBAD proponent check it. To paraphrase the Judge from the 2LiveCrew obscenity case,' when I have the words written down in front of me I can hear the obscenities, but when I close my eyes and listen: it's just noise'. The whole criteria seems to be "I know it when I read it", which pretty much makes it a non-criteria.

At the end of the day even if we assume that "being a dick" needs some sort of justification, I still find the DBAD position, that a vague politeness pseudo-criteria must necessarily be followed, untenable. Not all discourse is rhetoric, and even if it was there is only anecdotal evidence to support their premise that "being a dick" makes people ignore you (or worse agree with you for the wrong reasons).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A mathematical refutation to the Ontological argument

For those who do know what the Ontological argument is, brush up on it here. The TL;DR version is: God is the superlative of Awesome, it is more Awesome to be than not to be, therefore God be's.

Unfortunately for Anselm, it is pretty easy to show that an object having the superlative of a quality might not exist. The classic example is: what is the greatest rational number that is strictly less than 2? The answer is, of course, that there isn't one.

Proof: Suppose n exists in the rational numbers such that n is the biggest rational number that is strictly less than 2. Now consider (n+2)/2. Then, this number is rational, strictly bigger than n,and strictly less than 2. But this is a contradiction since we chose the biggest number strictly less than 2. Therefore no such n exists.

QED

Pretty straight forward right? We have falsified the premise that having a collection of objects with a quality implies the existence of an object with a superlative of said quality. Therefore, the Ontological argument does not follow, or is, more aptly, full of shit.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Better Living through 4chan #1: Memes are Checkable Refutations

Some arguments are easier to refute through example rather than the process of argumentation. That is ,if we parallel the P-NP dichotomy, some arguments are easier to prove directly and some are easier to check. Take the cosmological argument, usually the first time anyone hears it takes a few minutes for it to be broken down, digested, and rejected. Even then, this is usually an intuitive notion of why it is wrong instead of a well laid out argument. Constructing a well-thought out argument takes a bit of time just to sort through the conflation and equivocation. However, take a look at this image via 4chan:

It speaks directly to the heart of the matter. Once you get that this is essentially the thrust of the cosmological argument then the contradiction and special pleading inherent in statement is readily apparent.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Batman Apologetics #1: Gotham City

A flawed position that Batman deniers like to take up is the premise that Gotham City is a fictional city, that it doesn't exist. This of course is pure nonsense, and barely needs refuting for anyone who has read the biographical accounts of Bruce Wayne's life. But, just to be clear and set the record straight Gotham City does exist, only we call it New York City. There is plenty of direct evidence to this effect mostly arising from comparisons of the biographic archive to historical records.

The salient parallels are in the name itself. Gotham specifically refers to two places one in England and the other a neighborhood of New York. It is pretty clear from the language of the biographies that Bruce Wayne is American, so England is out. Not only that, but careful study of the imagery shows that people drive on the right-hand side of the road, so England is once again out of the picture so to speak. We had two viable options for which city Gotham city is and the analysis of the language patterns used and the cultural driving norms depicted clearly show that Gotham is New York City.

This comparison is just child's stuff that any casual reader can do. The real evidence comes from biographer Alan Moore, who recorded many of Gotham's historical events in his extensive research while writing his scholarly work Swamp Thing. He documents Gotham City's founding and its role in the revolutionary war: all of which directly parallel New York City. Some may claim coincidence, but it's a clear pattern matching other well regarded historical documents. Others claim that Moore falsified his research, and wrote a parallel history based on New York's. This is quite a heavy criticism, and there is no evidence that Moore is guilty of ever falsifying data. It is funny how supposed Batman deniers demand evidence, but are completely unwilling to provide evidence to support their ad hominem attacks against Moore.

From all this it is clear that Gotham City not only exist, but is in actuality New York City. The evidence continues to pile up against the deniers, but have faith. Batman is out there and protecting all our lives. It doesn't matter if deniers say he isn't real: he protects them just the same, cause that's the kind of superhero he is.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dear Muscians and Singers Everywhere

Please stop writing songs about how awesome music is.

We get it; you're muscians, and you're pro-music.