Monthly Archives: December 2011

It’s 2012 — Happy New Year All Weekend!

Like last weekend, this one is likely to be a slow day on the internet. The only “news” we could find is that Jack Chick has released a new tract: Here Comes The Judge. The plot is ridiculously stupid and contorted. Sorry to give away the surprise ending, but the bad guy refuses to be saved so he gets what he deserves. It’s nowhere near as much fun as Big Daddy. If none of that excites you, you can always immerse yourself in the wonders of The Time Cube.

This post — adorned with our own artwork — may be the best we can do for the weekend, unless some fabulous news story comes our way. Maybe the Discovery Institute will decide to disband because they can no longer endure being rejected, reviled, and ridiculed by the entire rational world. But that’s unlikely to happen because it would require sound judgement and an awareness of reality.

Therefore, rejoice — the absence of news is liberating! This is another intellectual free-fire zone for the discussion of pretty much anything — science, politics, economics, whatever — as long as it’s tasteful and interesting. Banter, babble, bicker, bluster, blubber, blather, blab, blurt, burble, boast — say what you will. But avoid flame-wars and beware of the profanity filters.

We now throw open the comments to you, dear reader. Have at it. Oh, and Happy New Year!

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Charles Krauthammer and the Fermi Paradox

There’s an interesting column by Charles Krauthammer in the National Review. It’s titled Are We Alone in the Universe? The sub-title tells us Krauthammer’s basic theme: “Intelligence may be a fatal endowment.”

Sooner or later, most of us spend some time thinking about the Fermi Paradox: If the universe is full of life, some of it intelligent, then — as Enrico Fermi is said to have asked — “Where are they?”

We’ve written about it before (see Evolution and the Fermi Paradox). In that post we suggested that intelligent aliens have probably been around far longer than our species, and they’ve made improvements in themselves such that they’d see us — newly evolved with torsos full of guts and bacteria — as physically disgusting. Thus, they’re avoiding us until we grow up a bit.

We’ve been giving the issue a bit more thought, and we’ll tell you about that after we see what Krauthammer has to say. To his credit, he totally ignores the creationists’ “privileged planet” explanation. First he discusses the recent discovery of few earth-size extra-solar planets, but none yet found are in the habitable zone “to allow for liquid water and therefore possible life.” Then he says, with bold font added by us:

But it’s only a matter of time — perhaps a year or two, estimates one astronomer — before we find the right one of the right size in the right place.

And at just the right time. As the romance of manned space exploration has waned, the drive today is to find our living, thinking counterparts in the universe. For all the excitement, however, the search betrays a profound melancholy — a lonely species in a merciless universe anxiously awaits an answering voice amid utter silence.

After that he describes the Fermi Paradox, and then:

So why the silence? Carl Sagan (among others) thought that the answer is to be found, tragically, in the high probability that advanced civilizations destroy themselves.

In other words, this silent universe is conveying not a flattering lesson about our uniqueness but a tragic story about our destiny. It is telling us that intelligence may be the most cursed faculty in the entire universe — an endowment not just ultimately fatal but, on the scale of cosmic time, near instantly so.

We’ve never been impressed with that argument, but Krauthammer obviously is. Let’s read on:

This is not mere theory. Look around. On the very same day that astronomers rejoiced at the discovery of the two Earth-size planets, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity urged two leading scientific journals not to publish details of lab experiments that just created a lethal and highly transmittable form of bird-flu virus, lest that fateful knowledge fall into the wrong hands.

[…]

And forget the psychopaths: Why, just 17 years after Homo sapiens discovered atomic power, those most stable and sober states, the United States and the Soviet Union, came within inches of mutual annihilation.

He’s undoubtedly referring to the Cuban Missile Crisis. We continue:

Rather than despair, however, let’s put the most hopeful face on the cosmic silence and on humanity’s own short, already baleful history with its new Promethean powers: Intelligence is a capacity so godlike, so protean that it must be contained and disciplined. This is the work of politics — understood as the ordering of society and the regulation of power to permit human flourishing while simultaneously restraining the most Hobbesian human instincts.

If Krauthammer thinks our only hope is in politics, then we’re surely doomed. He concludes with this:

We grow justly weary of our politics. But we must remember this: Politics — in all its grubby, grasping, corrupt, contemptible manifestations — is sovereign in human affairs. Everything ultimately rests upon it.

Fairly or not, politics is the driver of history. It will determine whether we will live long enough to be heard one day. Out there. By them, the few — the only — who got it right.

We know you’re all wondering: What are the Curmudgeon’s latest thoughts on the Fermi Paradox? We think we may very well be unique. It’s not that life on Earth is unique in the universe — not at all. And we don’t think we’re unique in possessing intelligence. But what may be unique about us is that we’ve developed the glorious concept of science.

Think about it. For most of humanity’s existence, although some technology was developed, there was nothing like our modern scientific civilization. It could be that, like humans until quite recently, the intelligent aliens out there never develop beyond the stage of ancient Egypt, or Babylonia, or even Rome. The aliens, abundant though they may be, have no serious disciplines like physics, chemistry, etc. They’re not sending signals because all they have is torches, trumpets, and their own equivalent of the pony express. So although they exist, we can’t hear them.

What does it take for a civilization to develop science? For one thing, it requires a degree of prosperity. If everyone is scampering around just to stay fed, or to keep his slaves working in the fields, then almost no one will have sufficient leisure in which to do serious thinking as a career. The first human civilization to systematically develop geometry, logic, and philosophy was the Greeks — primarily the Athenians. What did they have that none of their predecessors had? They had a mercantile economy that generated prosperity — at least for some significant segment of the population. That requires several abstract notions like property and money and credit and laws and such. Some earlier civilizations had those, to some extent, but the Greeks also had the concept of freedom — at least for those who were citizens.

Alas, the Greeks didn’t endure long enough to develop what we would consider science. And the Romans who succeeded them were more interested in other things. Science had to wait until the Dark Ages abated — a thousand wasted years when Europe was ruled by a variety of theocratic tyrannies. Such societies can copy the work of others, but they’re unlikely to generate anything original. And then came the Age of Enlightenment, when all the philosophical pieces finally fell into place. The result is our modern scientific civilization.

Even a brief acquaintance with history reveals that our current situation was by no means inevitable, and its survival is certainly not assured. Humans could have gone on, as they always had, living in one version of Babylonia after another, without ever creating the philosophical foundation for what we now enjoy. Except for the last ten generations or so, that’s been the entirety of human civilization. And so it could be with intelligent aliens.

That’s our new explanation of the Fermi Paradox. Krauthammer is only partially correct. He says it’s politics; we say it’s far more than that. It’s a whole package of abstract concepts, loosely described as philosophy. We’ve got it and the aliens don’t. We should take care to preserve our fortunate legacy.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Creationist Legislation for Indiana in 2012?

We haven’t had any creationist legislation proposed in Indiana in the almost four years this humble blog has been around. The only time we’ve mentioned the state was to talk about one of their congressmen: Mark Souder, Creationist Fool, Resigns.

Well, we also reported Whitcomb at Ft. Wayne Creationist Revival Meeting, and those events are often used for creationist networking, so perhaps today’s news was inevitable. Anyway, Indiana now joins the wretched roster of states that — in this century! — are considering laws to force creationism into public school science classes.

In the Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne, Indiana we read What’s next: Creationists in the classroom. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

After the 2011 session, it’s tough to imagine what education issue GOP lawmakers could possibly offer to push Indiana schools further behind. Now we know – creationism in the classroom.

We like the reporter’s attitude. The tale continues:

Sen. Dennis Kruse, chairman of the Senate education committee, has filed SB 89, providing that “the governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.”

M’god — he’s chairman of the education committee! This is his page at the legislature’s website: Senator Dennis Kruse. His occupation is one we haven’t seen yet for a creationist legislator — he’s an auctioneer. And here’s his bill: Senate Bill 0089. It would add a new section to an existing statute. The proposed new section provides, as the newspaper correctly reported:

Sec. 18. The governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.

That’s rather straightforward. It’s also idiotic. It’s not even one of those slippery “academic freedom” bills. It’s raw creationism. The man must have been living alone in a cave for the last 20 years. That bill could never survive a court test. Let’s read on in the Journal Gazette:

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education [NCSE], told me that attempts to pass creation science legislation are practically unheard of given the decisive 1987 Supreme Court ruling. By a 7-2 vote, the court ruled that Louisiana’s Creationism Act, which allowed the instruction of evolution only if it was taught alongside creationism, was unconstitutional.

She’s talking about Edwards v. Aguillard. We continue:

Kruse filed a creation science bill in 2000, when he was a first-term state representative. It died in committee in the Democratic-controlled House. Today, he’s an influential committee chairman in a GOP-controlled General Assembly.

Whoa, baby! This thing might have a chance of passing. Here’s one last excerpt:

One thing is certain: If Kruse wants the bill approved in this short session, it will happen. If the legislation reaches the full Senate and House, Republicans there will have a difficult time rejecting it.

Isn’t that great? Hey, NCSE has a post about the news: Creationist legislation in Indiana. You’ll want to read it for yourself, but we have to highlight this:

“The obvious problem,” commented NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott, “is that the Indiana legislature can’t authorize a school district to violate the Constitution. … It’s disturbing that a veteran legislator like Kruse is ignorant of — or indifferent to — the blatant unconstitutionality of his bill.

From this source we learn that the Indiana legislative session for 2012 runs from 04 January to 14 March. We’ll be watching.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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New Hampshire Creationism Update (29 Dec ’11)

This is a continuation of the sad tale we last wrote about here: Creationist Madness in New Hampshire. The next few indented paragraphs provide background information, which most of you can skip:

Representative Jerry Bergevin has pre-filed HOUSE BILL 1148, the operative section of which adds this new paragraph to the duties of the State Board of Education:

Theory of Evolution. Require evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists’ political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism. [Bold added for emphasis.]

But wait — there’s more! Representatives Gary Hopper and John Burt (who doesn’t yet have a page at the legislature’s website) have pre-filed HOUSE BILL 1457, which adds this new paragraph to the duties of the State Board of Education:

Scientific Inquiry. Require science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes. [Bold added for emphasis.]

In the Concord Monitor of Concord, New Hampshire we read Bills aim to roll back teaching evolution. The news is that the Monitor has some interesting quotes from the sponsors of those two idiotic bills. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

To state Rep. Jerry Bergevin, the horrors of the Columbine school shooting and the atrocities of Nazi Germany are linked by the theory of evolution, and that’s all the evidence he needs to see that New Hampshire’s children shouldn’t be taught that it’s correct.

What a maroon! Let’s read on:

The second bill, introduced by Reps. Gary Hopper of Weare and John Burt of Goffstown, more vaguely calls for science teachers to “instruct pupils that proper scientific (inquiry) results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis . . . and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories.”

Hopper points to the state constitution and its order that teachers support their students’ “morality and piety” for the justification of his bill.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! We continue:

Evolution as it’s currently taught tells students “life just happens. It’s just a byproduct of the universe and they are here by accident,” he [Hopper] said. “But more and more scientists are coming to the conclusion that it was not even remotely possible that it happened by accident. I want to introduce children to the idea that they have a purpose for being here.”

He would like to see intelligent design – the idea that a creator controlled how early life on Earth developed – taught in classrooms, but hasn’t been able to find an example of the philosophy being successfully legislated into schools.

Now back to the first genius, Bergevin:

Bergevin is less interested in the science of evolution than he is in the political and religious views of Darwin and his disciples. His bill would require schools to teach evolution as a theory, and include “the theorists’ political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.”

I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It’s a worldview and it’s godless. Atheism has been tried in various societies, and they’ve been pretty criminal domestically and internationally. The Soviet Union, Cuba, the Nazis, China today: they don’t respect human rights,” he said.

“As a general court we should be concerned with criminal ideas like this and how we are teaching it. . . . Columbine, remember that? They were believers in evolution. That’s evidence right there,” he said.

We rarely see end-stage brain-death displayed so clearly. Then the Monitor quotes Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education:

You’re not improving science education for young people by pretending that well-established ideas are up for grabs. The idea of evolution, that living things have common ancestors, is not being challenged in science today,” she said. “Neither of these bills are going to advance science education in New Hampshire and neither of them deserve to be inflicted upon the students in your state.”

That’s not all she had to say:

Bergevin’s bill “should be obviously unacceptable to legislators on its face. They ought to be able to see pretty quickly that this bill is just silly,” Scott said.

[…]

Besides, the bill would present teachers with the impossible task of tracking down information about every scientist mentioned in a textbook or other class material, “which is pretty dopey,” she said.

Silly and dopey. Strong criticism indeed from Genie Scott! One last excerpt:

Both bills have been referred to the House Education Committee for hearings in early February.

We never imagined that New Hampshire would provide us with this kind of entertainment. From this source we learn that the New Hampshire legislative session for 2012 runs from 04 January to 01 July. Stay tuned for more.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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