Inspired by a blog post by Scalzi, here is a Venn diagram I made to speculate on proportions of denialists. brought my attention to responses in the letters column of the New York Times (quoted below the cut), by the three atheists most prominently cited in the resurgence of outspoken atheism-- Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. They plead for the simplicity and gentleness of their positions, against the reputations they are acquiring from those who have only heard about them from their detractors. Those who take the time to actually read their books find out that far from over-reaching, cruelty, or arrogance, they gently point out obvious ennobling and enriching insights which it has been impolite to mention.

In a free society, most secularists are far more interested in ending the immunity which religious faith is granted than we are interested in the hopeless folly of attempting to end faith itself. Unfortunately, it seems that faith reacts badly to challenges to its sacred-cow status, resulting in the mischaracterizations of the New Atheists.

A frequent objection is made that Harris, Dawkins and Dennett mischaracterize religion. Exactly what religious adherents are those objectors looking at? It doesn't matter that the top 1% most sophisticated religious people are not as bad as all that. They aren't the 99% who are making problems for us. There is a No True Scotsman fallacy at work here.
Argument: "Religious faith isn't a problem."
Reply: "I'd be wealthy if I had a nickel for every example of family, friends and local leaders in the past couple of months making an appeal to credibility, where no attempt in the slightest has been made to establish that credibility, and any such attempt would be considered disloyal. They call that 'faith'."
Rebuttal: "Well, no true religious faith is a problem." The remaining rebuttal consists of the flavor-of-the-month redefinition of religion and faith to have nothing to do with the tactic we encounter in our lives from about 325 million users of the English word "faith".

Few of those who call the New Atheists "mean" notice the focus on beautiful, ennobling, enriching, and motivational answers offered by secular world views to traditionally religious questions ... even for traditionally religious purposes such as understanding your brain and genes well enough to seek how to be happy and find meaning! This New York Times article about a conference of scientists dealing with religious objections to their findings is typical in that it focuses on how many of them were combative, but in this social climate the article is remarkable that it notices their positive alternative offering at all.
Read more... )
What you are about to see is not science fiction.

It appears to depict an alien civilization grander than the planet Coruscant of George Lucas' Star Wars prequels, but make no mistake, it's happening in every cell of your body right now. Real data from the sequencing of nucei, proteins and lipids was used in this animation, to create computer-simulated molecules in which every atom is in the same place as in one of your actual molecules. See the blog of PZ Myers for a professional's critique of the depiction.

Link: "Cellular Visions: The Inner Life of a Cell."

Read more... )
Goatchurch on the MundaneSF blog posted about his skepticism of molecular nanotechnology. He asked why we think a self-propelled miniature machine can exist, when we still don't have a robot that can vacuum the living room. (Given the existence of Roomba, that's another claim which, in itself, I would highly debate.) Here is the response I put there.

The failure of modern robotics is a software problem. But whether or not that is solvable is not relevant to nanotechnology, which rarely considers molecular robots. There is vast potential in nanotech products and materials that are not only dumb, but downright inert and permanently motionless. The potential of nanosystems which, while not motionless, are nevertheless dumb and sessile, is even more vast.

Look at this computer animation concept. Note that nothing in the assembly line depicted here involves individual nanorobots with independent self-propulsion, self-guidance or decision-making. Independence and intelligence are not required of molecular machinery. Don't confuse the "Universal Assembler/Disassembler" myth with the nanosystems that are actually being proposed.

Read more... )
MIT's Technology Review has a video documentary series titled "The Impact of Emerging Technologies" which is exclusively online. It's really interesting! It covers stem cells; robotic prosthetics with a mind/machine interface; artificial polymer muscle; computer interpretation of body language; nano-scale valves; and more.

The video about using lab yeast instead of lab mice for a 50,000-fold decrease in cost and slowness of new drugs showed them using robot laboratory systems. It reminded me of an article on by Kevin Kelly, editor of WIRED Magazine, about using robots, Google, Wikis, "Zillionics" and more, to practice science in the future.

nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
I hadn't previously heard of a few of the speakers at Stanford's Singularity Summit, but I know every single one of the following eight names, and it's the most exciting lineup of Guests of Honor ever. It's interesting to finally find out from their photos what some of them look like.

- Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist, author of "The Singularity Is Near"
- Douglas Hofstadter, cognitive scientist, author of "Gödel, Escher, Bach"
- K. Eric Drexler, nanotechnology pioneer, author of "Engines of Creation"
- Nick Bostrom, director of the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute
- Cory Doctorow, science fiction author, blogger, technology activist
- Eliezer Yudkowski, Director and Research Fellow, Singularity Institute
- Christine Peterson, VP Public Policy, Foresight Nanotech Institute
- Tyler Emerson, Executive Director, Singularity Institute

The "What others have said" section shows Marvin Minsky, Hans Moravec, Vernor Vinge, Ben Goertzel, Jamais Cascio and Jaron Lanier. I wonder if they'll be at the summit? That section also lists Bill Gates, Bill Joy and Stephen Hawking.

But it's not a science fiction convention, it's an academic conference. These aren't really Guests of Honor, because that implies the presence of their fans at the event. This is by RSVP only. That's fine-- it's important that specialist professionals gather to do valuable work on the problems and promises of the Singularity in peace. That having been said, it would also be fantastic to get any of these to speak at Penguicon, especially since it's a Linux and Open Source software expo in addition to a science fiction convention. Many of them would probably demand an appearance fee, which all-volunteer not-for-profit SF conventions don't pay. And many of them probably would not want to be seen to be associated with a science fiction event (except for Cory Doctorow, who has already been our Guest of Honor). But Christine Peterson says in her Singularity Summit promotional blurb "If you're trying to project the long-term future, and what you get sounds like science fiction, you might be wrong. But if it doesn't sound like science fiction, it's definitely wrong."

I enjoyed reading the comment by Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Professor of Law, University of Tennessee, which is extremely signifigant to me as a non-specialist:

Read more... )
Mere hours after I blogged about neurobiologist Paul Z. Myers yesterday, ConFusion picked up on my suggestion and invited him to be their Science Guest of Honor for 2007, and he accepted!

Krysta asked me to write an announcement for the e-mail list:

Dr. Myers, or PZ as he is known, is author of the popular blog, where he holds forth on science, religion, and the politics of science and religion.

Not only does he know the findings of science, he knows why science does its job better than the alternatives, and he is not afraid to name religious extremism when he sees it.

Evolution need not be a mystery to anyone. If you ever felt like you needed a firmer handle on the evidence in the creation vs. evolution issue, this is your chance. In his accessable and fiesty style, PZ will take us from the startling marvels of DNA, to the living wonder of the sea.

... It also doesn't hurt that he has a sense of humor, such as in his blog entries about porn for worms!
I'm almost done reading Calculating God by Robert Sawyer, a novel about alien races who believe in Intelligent Design. It's a frustrating experience, full of vicarious embarassment.Read more... )There is a reason that when I want science fiction, I don't go into a Christian bookstore, home of sloppy research, thought-killing sentiments, and a needless, too-easily surrendered despair about ever reconciling morality with reason. Reading Calculating God is like going back there.

I know that a character or civilization depicted in a book does not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the author. I want very badly to believe that's the case right now. Read more... )
I am accustomed to disagreeing with conclusions reached by science fiction authors in their novels. Read more... )
Here's a timely Doonesbury comic strip that [ profile] treebones sent me just now.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
The different social rules that apply to different settings have occupied my thoughts for the past several days. It has been noticed that I tend to be much more gentle and conciliatory face-to-face than in the written word. One has gone to far as to describe my words as "socially feral." That would only be true if I had spoken the words while hobnobbing at a party or a church. That's where people come together for pleasant experiences and fellowship, and so the rules of the social setting are whatever facilitates that.

The reason I am so seldom combative in person is that those I know from the above social settings seldom come together for the purposes of getting something done effectively. When someone suggested Orson Scott Card as a Guest of Honor for a convention, I made my views clear and did not pull punches for the sake of politeness. It was not a party where we don't want to spoil the mood; it was decision-making time. It's well and good to try to speak the truth in a pleasant way, but they sometimes don't fit together.

David Brin has an article here that is astonishing in its insight into this matter and inspired many of these thoughts. A different set of social rules apply in competitive spaces which exist to test adversaries against each other: the courtroom, the free market, and the scientific peer-review/conference are some examples. These arenas are soaked in the blood of ideas that have been tested against each other. It has partially replaced evolution; ideas now die in our place.Read more... )There is no doubt however, that many in fandom think the entire world should be in cocktail-party courtesy at all times. They offer a bare description of the state of their mind, with no sense that it might actually be good to support it; then smile at each other and disperse having gained nothing. Read more... )
At one time or another I've faced down most of the arguments listed on this site: Over 300 Proofs of God's Existence collected from discussions with religious people on the Internet Infidels forums. It just keeps getting funnier and funnier.

(1) See this bonfire?
(2) Therefore, God exists.
Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
From The Onion:


KANSAS CITY, KS—As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

Read more... )
According to the BBC, scientists have invented a treatment for cancer using fullerenes coated with a vitamin that only cancer cells have receptors for. The fullerines are heated with a laser to kill off only the cancer cells, leaving healthy cells intact. R's mother is undergoing radiation therapy for a tumor which was recently removed, and it's heartening to know that someday soon radiation and chemo will not be necessary.
Via [ profile] treebones: "Join the movement to have faerie chainism taught in schools!" Just because objects fell downward yesterday and every day during the life of every being who has ever lived to report about it does not mean it did so before that; and it doesn't mean objects won't fall some other direction tomorrow. Having discredited the theory of gravitation we now can demand equal time for the theory of chains of faeries pulling everything toward the earth.

As anyone knows, a theory is just an unsupported speculation that has not yet been looked into. And yet to this day the entire global scientific community refers to it as the "theory" of gravity. Why just look at Wikipedia's entire page of theories, like heliocentric theory in which the earth orbits the sun instead of vice versa. These are all accepted with overwhelming unanimity by this global community of frauds called scientists, who obviously got into the science biz in order to engage in a massive conspiracy to conceal faeries. And yet they give themselves away by referring to them as theories, so now we can tell the schoolchildren that scientists really support faerie chainism.

Remember, we must always refer to the theory of gravitation as "Newton's theory" and "Newtonists," just like we do with "Darwin's theory" and "Darwinists," because that way we can make it clear that we're disputing one crackpot person and his blind followers instead of disputing with reality itself.
This robot is controlled by a trackball mounted to it. More to the point, it's controlled by a giant hissing cockroach on the trackball which shies away from lights that are shined in its face when the robot approaches an obstacle. Cool!
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Did you really think that every modern bible believer accepts the findings of Copernicus? Witness so-called Creation Science in its purest and least hypocritical form. is the homepage of the Biblical Astronomy Association. They attempt to prove the existence of "the firmament" using sophistries and fallacious reasoning clothed in scientific language. All that serves as a good education in how to detect their type of pseudoscience through its comparison with other pseudosciences like Creationism, but when you get to their Credo they unclothe their dishonesty in plain sight:

"...All scientific endeavor which does not accept this revelation from on high without any reservations, literary, philosophical or whatever, we reject as already condemned in its unfounded first assumptions.

We believe that the creation was completed in six twenty-four hour days and that the world is not older than about six thousand years. We maintain that the Bible teaches us of an earth that neither rotates daily nor revolves yearly about the sun; that it is at rest with respect to the throne of him who called it into existence; and that hence it is absolutely at rest in the universe. ..."

{blah blah blah salvation}

" Lastly, the reason why we deem a return to a geocentric astronomy a first apologetic necessity is that its rejection at the beginning of our Modern Age constitutes one very important, if not the most important, cause of the historical development of Bible criticism, now resulting in an increasingly anti-Christian world in which atheistic existentialism is preaching a life that is really meaningless."

So there they blow it by showing their hand and revealing what's really at stake is that they can't mature emotionally and accept the cosmos as it is. As soon as they remove such passages (the same way Creationism was dressed up as Intelligent Design) watch out Kansas school boards. What is really most important about this website is that they acknowledge, and effectively demonstrate with specific passages and arguments about them, that the Christian bible teaches geocentrism and cannot be accepted literally without it. The bible must be taken figuratively.


Jun. 1st, 2005 11:26 am
Nanodot has this report:
You may laugh, or at least smile, but the environmental benefits already resulting from the so-called nanotech toilet are substantial. With a “roughness” reported at under 30 nanometers, evidently these fixtures need much less cleaning, which means much less of that nasty chemical cleanser going down the drain. Oh, and they should be healthier for users too. Read the whole thing, on ExtremeNano by the prolific Norm Wu.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
The first time I instant-messaged was around 1986, when I was about twelve or so. My grandfather frequently took me and my siblings to Impression 5 Science Center in the eighties. It was great. One time I got a compliment from an employee there because I was the only one remaining in the film room all the way to the end of Dr. Seuss' environmentalist cartoon The Lorax, because everybody else had got up and left and she felt that was impolite. There already existed totally automated museum videos at that time, so I don't think they even knew she was there.

One of their exhibits was two computer terminals set up across a room from each other. I typed into one of them, walked over and typed a response, and conversed with myself a few times in this way. I loved it. My dad had done it with my uncle with their Commodore 64s for a few minutes, but it seemed stratospherically high-tech, and this connection was faster, more stable, and free.

As I sat at one of the terminals, someone came and sat down at the other one. It was a girl. She just sat there and read the screen, at first. I typed encouraging messages instructing how to use it. We chatted for a while over the connection. Eventually I got up the nerve to communicate that I was the boy sitting on the other side of the room, and we waved and smiled.

She thought I was quite smart, and funny. I was twelve and this was possibly the first friendly conversation I had with a girl or other socially desirable person, so I didn't know at the time how I was supposed to respond to such a statement. I still wish I'd gotten her contact info or something, but I never saw her again. It's been a few years since the memory of this event was recalled, and I like it, so I'm glad to be writing it down.
nemorathwald: (me Matt)
It was recently pointed out to me that according to the transcript of United Universists' live chat with science journalist John Horgan, I'm the one who gave him the word "Horganism" to use in his New York Times Op-Ed article about us. It was read by millions. The novel The Religion War, by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, which I journaled about recently, involved someone called the Prime Influencer. This character unknowingly tips world opinion by giving a catchy phrase to a few influential friends. It seems slightly more plausible now... ;)
Well, the conversation with a radio preacher has drawn to a peaceful close. Although my friends list is unlikely to want to read it, I'm including his final letter in an lj-cut below because this Live Journal is my own record of memories. Mr. Thomas has some charitable things to say in parting about his opponent. Then he concludes by relating miracles, never suspecting that Mormons and JWs and Muslims and new age healers and readers of horoscopes and paranoid schizophrenics experience identical events in plentiful supply to validate their claims that oppose his. It's astonishing that the standard of what will pass for a "miracle" these days is so lenient as to be an insult to miracles as described in scriptural narratives. Biblical miracles, had they truly happened, were mostly of a character that would have been impossible to even contemplate as coincidences. You'd think his concept of God would be a big enough God that Mr. Thomas would expect him to do the impossible, at least occasionally. Oh well.

Mr. Thomas' last letter. )

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