Thursday, March 26, 2009


Sorry to once again go after the right wing here, but most often these posts are in reaction to what I hear around me in everyday life and I just happen to be living in a hotbed of conservatism right now. When I lived in southern California most of my frustration was pointed at the other side.

Back to the point at hand. I have heard many people recently use the argument that the absence of a terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11 is somehow proof that Bush's policies were effective. Let's look at this rationally. Set aside your politics and forget about what you feel is the right answer and let's simply look at this as a scientist would.

Smith is worried about A. To prevent A Smith does B. A does not happen. Therefore B prevented A.


There is simply too much missing here to make that conclusion. The key missing point being would A have happened in the abscence of B. In other words was there a control.

So back to the Bush example, do we know that if Bush would have acted differently there would have been an attack? No. We can't know that. We can't run a control in this real life situation. Now if the new administration changes policy significantly and the results are changed (e.g. we are attacked, the gods forbid) that would be strong evidence in support of Bush's policy but it still wouldn't definitively prove anything about that policy as there was no control case. As it stands now there is no conclusion you can draw.

I find that a situation like this is best examined through example (and the more ludicrous the better).

Let's say that I am afraid of dying due to heart attack. A buddy of mine told me that drinking 6 shiner bock beers each week totally prevents heart attack. For the past 4 years I've imbibed shiner at a rate equaling exactly 6 beers/week and lo and behold no heart attack. According to the logic used by many political pundits referenced above drinking 6 shiner bock beers every week has indeed prevented me from having a heart attack. But we all know that is completely wrong. Why? Because we can't prove, everything else being equal, that if I had not had 6 shiner bock beers each week I would have had a heart attack. There is no control in this experiment. One case proves nothing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I feel that today it can be easily assumed that most Americans believe in the idea that all people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness an idea written into the United States Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson (a reimagining of Locke's life, liberty and property). Despite this fundamental belief the majority of American's throughout our history have a series of more deeply held beliefs that when examined more closely are the primary rationalization for the encroachment of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What are these beliefs? Communism? Socialism? Uncontrolled Capitalism? Greed? Government out of Control? No to all of these. The source of much of the problems that we face today is religion. I'm not talking about beliefs in higher powers or an afterlife. I'm speaking here about the part of corrupted religion that preaches hate and exclusionism. By invoking a god something is placed above life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and by doing so rationalizes the encroachment of these rights.

We all know of cases such as Muslim extremism leading to the death of our fellow "infidels," but here I want to focus primarily on the hypocrisy of modern American Christians when cherry picking lines from the bible to rationalize political beliefs (using selected scripture to take the life, liberty and property of others). Now out of the hundreds of topics to focus on I want to talk about two specific ideas that are often supported with verse from the the Five Books of Moses. These being the use of the death penalty and anti-homosexual laws and discrimination.

The two verses that usually support these ideas are (Taken from The Five Books of Moses translated by Robert Alter):

The Death Penalty
Exodus 21:23-25 And if there is a mishap, you shall pay a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise.

Leviticus: 18:22 And with a male you shall not lie as one lies with a woman.

Now I'm not going to try and argue against the apparently clear point in these verses. The former obviously calls for the death penalty for murder and the later clearly bans homosexuality. If I were a Christian I could attempt to show how the teachings of Jesus have rewritten some of this old testament law such as John 8:7, but alas I am not religious and am not here to speak for any of the gods. What I will do however is point out the hypocrisy of following these old testament laws while ignoring so many others.

For instance Leviticus 20:10 states "And a man who commits adultery with a married woman, who commits adultery with his fellow man's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress are doomed to die". So if a married woman cheats then both her and her partner should be put to death (sorry ladies, no penalty for unfaithful married men or their flings as polygamy was common in the old testament). So Christians were is your outrage? Where is your consistency? Growing up in the church I knew of many cases of adultery. Most often a married man from the church with a married woman from the church. In every case forgiveness was preached. No one sought to put these sinners to death. Or an example even closer to my own life; I was once married and my wife's family was very religious. My ex cheated on me while we were married and I don't remember my mother-in-law offering to put my ex to death, but I sure as Hell remember her staunch stance against homosexual marriage and for the death penalty.

Obviously these are extreme cases and no sane person could argue for the death penalty for adultery. But what about other government intervention. How about we have some defense of traditional marriage here and just forbid adulterers from marrying? You cheat, the marriage is automatically dissolved and you are prevented from marrying again. Why not? The bible is against homosexuality so we don't allow homosexuals to marry. Isn't it just as bad to allow adulterers to marry? Aren't married Christians who cheat a bigger attack on the "traditional marriage" than homosexuals.

Obviously this will never happen either. But what gives? What lead to the hypocrisy here? I'll tell you what the source is. These "Christians" are not really using the bible as a source for there beliefs. I have read more scripture than most of them. They are using the bible where convenient to support some of their beliefs. They only point out the parts that agree with their views. Well I suppose it is fine to reference parts of something without accepting every aspect. But is this really true for your own religious beliefs? If you really believe that the bible is God's word don't you really need to buy in 100%? Christians, stop using the bible when it is useful and start practicing all aspects of what you preach. Americans, stop letting individuals and groups encroach on the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of others through the invocation of a magical being who gave out a magical book with rules to live by especially when these hypocrites don't even practice all of what they preach. Stop the madness. Keep your religion out of my government. Let your superstition govern your own life.

Friday, March 6, 2009


The other night I was watching Letterman interview Dr. Phil and the topic of high-tech teenage sexual hi-jinks came up. While discussing the issue the idea of sexting (a term that I am sure some adult made up that no actual teenager uses) was brought up in addition to pornographic picture mail. It was pointed on the show that it is not only illegal for teens to take nude photos of themselves but that the boy/girlfriend that receives this photo on the other end of the picture mail is actually guilty of a felony. This seems once again like government gone out of control and it is horribly WRONG.

This topic is somewhat personal for me as I was a fairly wild teenager. I knew I had broken the law with respect to many drinking laws including dwi (under 21 the legal limit in most states is very low, Texas for instance considers it dwi with any detectable amount of alcohol), some laws concerning marijuana, all kinds of traffic laws and when I was lucky enough statutory rape (I'm talking 17 with 16 and stuff like that so calm down), although I was never charged with anything (or even caught) other than the traffic stuff. Despite all of this I had no idea that I was apparently a child pornographer at 16. My girlfriend (also 16) and I at the time took 1 dirty pic of ourselves with my mom's Polaroid. I was so scared of getting caught that I destroyed the picture less than a day later and good thing. Apparently I was this close to felony (This was some time ago and the statute of limitations is long passed so no worries confessing now). And now after researching a bit I found out as children and teens my friends and I were actually guilty of all sorts of ridiculous sex/pornography laws. For instance hooking up one of your friends from the neighborhood with a playboy mag you stole from your dad's underwear drawer can get you busted for forcing a minor to view pornography, and I thought my actions were more along the do-unto-others-as-you-wish-them-to-do-unto-you lines.

Now let me focus here on one aspect of this subject: Child Pornography laws v. Child Abuse/Statutory Rape laws

To my knowledge state law for every state in the US plus DC as well as federal law clearly distinguishes between sexual child abuse and statutory rape. I think the intent in this separation is clear. An adult having sexual contact with a child is obviously different than an adult having consensual sexual contact with someone who is simply under the age of consent and certainly different from two people under the age of consent being together (imagine here the difference between an 18 year old with a 6 year old and with a 16 year old or even a 16 year old with another 16 year old). In addition for the sake of a later point it should also be noted that none of these laws try to go so far as making masturbation illegal before the age of consent (imagine trying to enforce that). Now despite the ambiguity of these laws and the inability for different states to agree on an age of consent the law is at least set up to differentiate between these various actions.

Now on the other hand when it comes to pornography this is absolutely not true. Any photo of anyone under the age of 18 is considered child pornography. It doesn't matter what the circumstance. An 18 year old taking a photo of a 6 year old, an 18 year old taking a photo of a 16 year old, a 16 year old taking a photo of another 16 year old or even a 16 year old taking a photo of themselves are all the same. These activities all seem incredibly different.

If you're not convinced let's try looking at the subject from another point of view. Imagine a happily married heterosexual couple in their 40's. In an attempt to spice up there sex life after two decades of faithful marriage the couple breaks out a camera one night and they proceed to take dirty pics of each other and of both together. Now are these two pornographers? Although the word pornographer does seem to denote what they are doing it does not connote it. Pornographer seems to imply something more. This on the other hand seems simply like consensual sex between two adults with or without the camera. Now let's transfer this idea to the other cases. If we look at the simple use of a camera in sex as sex then we can now differentiate these alleged child pornography cases. An 18 year old taking a photo of a 6 year old is sexual child abuse, an 18 year old taking a photo of a 16 is statutory rape (or something similar), and a 16 year old taking a photo of another 16 and a 16 year old taking a photo of themselves are both simply just teenagers screwing around.

Now distributing these pics on the web or to others outside the relationship definitely changes the terms and make topics like a 16 year old running their own pornographic website much more difficult issues. That and other related topics like the age of consent in general are topics I hope to discuss in the future.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


A response to Charles H. Townes on the relationship between science and religion.

If you don't know who Charles H. Townes is he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964 for his work in quantum electronics. He is also an outspoken Christian and proponent of the idea that science and religion are more similar than traditionally thought and that they will inevitably converge.

First let me say that the man is in his 90's (born in 1915) and I'm sure that he was much sharper in his early days. Unfortunately now his age does negatively affect his oratory and I hope that my criticism originates from what he said and not a reflection of who said it or how it was said (Basically I'm trying to say that even I don't like going after an old man).

What I understood about Townes's ideas about the convergence of science and religion can be summed up as follows

Science is full of unknowns and unknowables and as a result to make any headway in science one must make great assumptions and accept postulates that we know not to be entirely true, something Townes would consider tantamount to faith. To demonstrate this Townes uses examples such as the inability for scientists to connect the quantum world with the classical world but despite this disconnection physicists continue to work with each of these theories in specific circumstances. Townes goes further by seemingly implying that in science every answer we find comes with additional questions. Based on this principle it seems he believes that science can not provide all the answers and is in need of something to fill in the gaps. He sees this filler as religion and as a result sees the two, science and religion, as inseparable.

As I see it this is WRONG. I accept the idea that scientific discovery often leads to new questions. I accept the idea that science may not be able to provide all the answers. But I wholeheartedly reject the idea that any of this leads to the existence of gods. Superstition is not a suitable substitution for ignorance. This common substitution is reminiscent of the tricks we play on our children. Our children don't know where the gifts under the Xmas tree came from and we suggest that some supernatural being did it and they accept without question at least for a while. We hide candy eggs in the yard and explain to our children that some supernatural being did it. We exchange teeth under our children's pillows for money and explain it by stating that some supernatural being did it. In all of these cases our children (hopefully) eventually discover the falsehood often by producing evidence to the contrary such as catching their parents in the act or finding target price tags on gifts under the tree.

Now what Townes and many of the faithful (not limited to Christ followers) have done is exactly the same. They questioned where everything came from. They questioned what is the answer to the unknowable. What is the filler in our incomplete scientific theory? And they relied on their preachers and their religious writings to answer these question just as the child looked to his parents and were given the same answer, that some supernatural being put did it.

Well science as a whole is no longer a child. Science does not just incorporate anything without reason from questionable sources. It's theories and methods, logic and reason are in adulthood and it is no longer acceptable to substitute "the gods did it" for "I don't know." Because of this science and religion will never merge.

Please do not misunderstand my statements. Scientists can be religious or spiritual. Of course it may be difficult for the scientist to avoid contradiction between what they know as scientist and what they believe spiritually. They also must set aside their spiritual beliefs when doing their duty as a scientist so as not to introduce bias. Both of these issues can be extremely difficult and I believe result in the disproportionate number of unfaithful in the field of science.

In conclusion, science does not support the existence of the supernatural but it also does not refute the existence of the supernatural. Science is inherently agnostic and science must stay separated from religion.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Sorry to skip over a topic, but I watched both Obama's speech and the GOP response by Governor Jindal of Louisiana tonight and something Jindal said really got to me.

"[The recent stimulus package] includes... $140 million for something called volcano monitoring. Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is..."

By making this statement in this way Gov. Jindal was WRONG. Appealing to the ignorance of the audience on an issue despite bolstering a modicum support from many is completely unacceptable and all to frequently done in politics (or should I say rabble-rousing).

It seems to me that when discussing almost any issue N one could make a statement of the following form:

Our opponents support N, whatever that is...

appealing to the audiences ignorance on the subject and somehow implying if N was important the audience would know about N and therefor since the audience (and presumably the speaker) don't know about N then N is not important.

This line of thinking is ridiculous. The average person, one of the many laypersons that makes up the majority of people in this country, is ignorant of many key issues at the forefront of scientific discovery today but that in no way makes these issues somehow less important. For example when addressing an average American crowd one could easily make the statement "the National Institute of Health has been wasting money on studies of something called angiogenesis, whatever that is. What the NIH should be spending its money on is..."

Now to those who are not in the medical profession (or perhaps cancer survivors) angiogenesis may sound like gibberish and as a result to these average Americans it may seem like a waste of money. Here I can't help but imagine a good 'ole boy standing around with a beer stating to a budy "I ain't never heard of no angiogenesis. What 'n the Hell's it gonna do for me" (Sorry to all the good 'ole boys out there. Many of you are my friends and I've had the opportunity to share a beer with many more, no offense meant, cheers). Angiogenesis is in fact a fundamental step in the transition of tumors from a dormant state to a malignant state and is important despite the fact that the average American has never heard the word.

Now the blame here lies in only one place and it is not on the average American. I don't expect every one of you, of us, to go out and learn everything about every subject. This is why we specialize. No person can be expected to be an expert in everything. The problem begins and ends with the politician the takes advantage of this requisite ignorance by appealing to it inappropriately.

Let me end this rant by stating that in this blog I hope to stay as bipartisan as possible and attack faulty reasoning and logic whether coming from a liberal or conservative, republican or democrat. So please don't let my response here be seen as for or against the stimulus package or for or against Gov. Jindal. I am not an economist and do not know what the eventual result of the stimulus package will be. As mentioned above I am not a vulcanologist and don't know about the need of further study in the field. I am an intelligent educated person and I will not sit quietly while statements like this go by unnoticed.

Response to Charles H. Townes on the realationship between science and religion

Coming Soon

Friday, February 20, 2009


Today while riding the bus to work I overheard a young female undergraduate presumably speaking to her mother on the phone regarding abortion. This girl was vehemently pro-life and was apparently discussing somethings she recently heard Mike Huckabee state regarding the abortion debate some of which was clearly WRONG. Now I'm not sure if the source of the errors were Huckabee himself or simply just the misunderstanding of this young coed but that point is not important here. The statement that really set me off was that "... science has clearly proven that life begins at conception."

Let's analyze this blatantly false statement a little bit. I say blatantly false because of two reasons: 1) Life does not begin at conception; 2) No credentialed scientist would make such an erroneous statement.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that this is just the impassioned rambling of a devout pro-choicer let me explain my reasoning for both statements starting with the former.

Life as most scientist (and I would hope most rational people) would define it should include a wide range of things from simple single-celled organisms like protozoa to complex creatures such as man. Included in this vast grouping we call life would obviously then be living cells. And from this it follows that the human zygote, a living cell, would be life. I have not qualms with this observation. The issue arises that by the definitions we are using, those being that a zygote is itself life, the individual sperm and egg cells themselves would be life as well. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from this then is that life dose not BEGIN at conception but simply CONTINUES at conception.

It should easily follow that the latter is also false. Since 1 is false, no actual scientist is justified in believing that 1 is true therefore 2 is false.

Now that we've outlined the problem let's analyze what results this has on the argument against abortion based on the idea that life begins at conception. Well if you simply adjust the reasoning as I have to life continuing at conception and you still insist on defending all life then you quickly run into the problem that the life of the sperm and egg themselves should be protected in the same way as an infant. Sperm is a living cell, life, after all. Is the use of birth control then synonymous with murder? Is any spermicidal death that is not simply collateral damage of an attempt to have a child wrong? Some would actually argue yes to these questions, but I'll chalk that segment of the population up to religious fanaticism (sorry Catholics). Now you might even take this argument further and defend all cellular human life and then you would be against such things as cosmetic surgery procedures that remove unwanted living cells from you body such as liposuction and could even argue against the removal of living reproducing cancer cells. All this of course is ridiculous but unavoidable if you logically follow the this type of argument.

Summarizing up to this point life simply continues at conception, it does not begin there, and all life, not even every living human cell, is not equivalent to an actual living breathing human. Where does this now leave us?

One easy fallback position for the pro-lifer that is dedicated to finding a rationale to defend their stance would be to bring in religion at this point. Normally by referring to the soul here but I would prefer to avoid discussion of the supernatural. This and other references to gods lead to appalling solutions (as I'll take up in future posts) since they could easily result in the universal substitutions such as "the gods did it" for "I don't know." In addition we are really discussing law here and I'm not comfortable with the government telling me not to do what one god or another might have issue with (or worse yet some human's interpretation of what god intends). Just imagine if we made laws based on certain religions. Simply eating unclean animals could be illegal and I do love my bacon. But I digress so back to the issue at hand.

What I see is that the problem is not where this ambiguous life begins, but where "human life" begins. But what actually is "human life"? I've seen arguments that this is just living human cells that demonstrate a response to stimulus. What stimulus? Even sperm cells respond to certain stimuli. One could argue for human life to be the point at which a fetus would survive outside of the mother. This brings up several more problems. First what do we mean by survive? For example are severe mental/physical damages acceptable. Second at what level of technology are we to make this distinction? The point at which a fetus could survive outside of the mother has certainly changed in the last 100 years and I expect will continue to change perhaps even reaching the point of conception eventually. And what do we mean by survive? Surely not a 100% chance as children delivered on schedule don't even have that high a probability for survival so what is acceptable? 75%? 50%?

To this question I have no answer and beleive this is were the debate should be focused. What needs to be done is define human life in such a way that it begins at a unambiguous point and have that definition grounded in logic and science and not in emotion and superstition. I personally feel that the true answer lies somewhere between the impassioned stances of both the typical pro-lifer and pro-choicer. So in effect I see both of these opinions wrong to some extent. I feel no morale objection to terminating a single-celled zygote or even small collections of cells that in my opinion are clearly not human. On the other hand I find it deplorable to argue for the extermination of what is clearly a child (late term fetus) where the collection looks and acts just like a baby.

So now let us solve this problem. Let the debate take place between scientist not impassioned religious fanatics or their equally zealous counterparts who all miss the true point by relying too much on emotion on not enough on the real problem. Realistically who could argue against Life or Choice.