Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Prometheus - Not What People Think

So, my spoiler-filled thoughts on Prometheus.

So many reviews have focused in on the seemingly illogical actions of the characters in Prometheus and how the plot doesn't make sense. I disagree. People are used to seeing the heroes of movies solve mysteries, overcome obstacles, and unlock puzzles, and Prometheus is an exercise in disregarding those assumed conventions. It is a movie about unsolved mysteries, unanswered questions, and wrongheaded ideas that lead to tragedy.

The movie opens on prehistoric earth. One of the Engineers, for reasons inscrutable, commits suicide by ingesting a substance that rips him apart at the genetic level, presumably so as not to contaminate Earth's infant biosphere. Here we have the first indication that the godlike Engineers, in fact, have feet of clay. They're incompetent. Again, audiences expect godlike technology to be flawless and magical, and it isn't, the genetic phage fails, and the tenacious Engineer DNA reasserts itself. Ultimately, its tenacity is sufficient to express its phenotype millions of years later, in human beings. (The sheer tenacity of Engineer genetic technology is arguably its defining characteristic, as seen throughout the film.)

Cut to our hero scientists, digging into a cave with paintings older than any yet discovered. Audiences are used to competent scientists, but what isn't immediately obvious is that these scientists are quacks. They're complete pseudoscientists, completely disregarding any archaeological preservation protocols and ignoring the fact that ancient cave paintings degrade rapidly when people expose them to fresh air and even their own corrosive breath. These are scientists who think "That's what I choose to believe" is valid reasoning, and disregarding three hundred years of Evolutionary theory has any possible basis in fact. It's pointed out to them, and their response is proof positive they're in total Cloud-Cuckoo-Land. They think the Engineers created us, but we in the audience already know they're wrong: humanity is an accident, a pernicious, self-bootstrapping form of directed evolution resulting from poor sterilization protocols. I suppose the Engineers felt guilty and meddled in some way once their blunder was discovered, leading to the supposed "star maps" across many cultures.

Peter Weyland, the tycoon who sponsors these cargo cult archaeologists, would hardly be the first wealthy benefactor to be taken in by wide-eyed frauds. He funds an expedition to go ask these Engineers who, the characters believe, are our makers, if they would perchance give him eternal life. Quite poetic and mythic, but these myths invariably end with the foolish mortals being destroyed. So it goes.

We arrive on the Engineers' world to find not a civilization, but what we eventually discover is a bioweapons facility, one apparently dedicated to wiping out all life on Earth. Perhaps as the result of some forgotten Titanomachia against the demigods walking among us, who knows? Not the audience, not the characters, though we are treated to much speculation which is probably wrong. The Black Goo created here induces mutations and violent behavior, as we see from the native worms growing huge and aggressive. Its basic effect on humans seems similar, even if its progression is interrupted early on by judicious use of a Weed Dragon. As the Engineers are, as we have already seen, less than perfect, their Black Goo escaped containment. Holographic recordings show a frantic flight to stasis pods, no doubt escaping some mutant monstrosity. The humans' arrival begins warming everything up and the pathogen begins seeping into the environment once again.

In the end, we find that not only were we not the Engineers' creations, not only is their technology tragically less than perfect, we find that they care nothing for us, and once put considerable effort into destroying us. They didn't, for reasons outside the scope of the characters' discovery, but the one Engineer found alive apparently missed the memo that the genocide had been called off. He has a payload of Black Goo that, we find, not only turns its immediate victims into violent weapons, also spawns all manner of other monsters. There are parasites on earth whose life cycles are no less convoluted, so I give this a pass.

In the end, Prometheus is a flawed film, but not for the reasons people think. It's a movie about hubris, about wrongheadedness, about unwarranted assumptions and believing too much in your own self-aggrandizing fantasies. Once you realize that the humans are wrong about literally everything they believe about the Engineers, that for once rank speculation doesn't turn out to be correct, you'll find you're watching a different movie than all the critics have been so unkind to. There are still plot holes, but so many things people think are holes are in fact plot points, and that much is being deliberately left unexplained, since the universe these characters inhabit is under no obligation to present them with any real answers, satisfying or otherwise.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

More Silly Arguments from Tim Schaertel at Apologia

My little friend I mentioned a few months ago ragequit his blog a few months back, pulling down the last entry, deleting all comments, and replacing it with a stunningly hypocritical rant about how his pearls of wisdom are wasted upon infidel swine like myself. It’s always a good sign when they go for the ad hominem, as Hitchens once said.

But I knew he couldn’t stay away, and after a couple of months to pout, he’s back with another childlike attempt at argumentation, this time claiming that “Self Awareness Proves the Existence of God.”

"To know for a certainty that God exists, there are many roads we can explore to show beyond a shadow of a doubt there is an intelligent Designer behind all creation. One road we can travel is the road of Self Awareness."

At this point I was scratching my head. What does self-awareness have to do with the price of tea in China? Not to worry though, he wanders off this topic almost immediately after the profound deepity of “I am not eternal, and therefore I cannot be God.” I’m not sure how this proves the existence of God, but it’s the only thing he talks about related to any awareness of self, so I’m sure it must be there somewhere. Really what this relaunched screed is about is one more stab at some sort of cosmological argument.

“All things created had a beginning, even our universe itself. Science does not dispute this.” (Actually it does. Not only are there many different explanations for the facts being researched, the very definition of the word “beginning” in this context is very far afield from the colloquial notion of it. “What came before the big bang” is semantically equivalent to “what is north of the north pole.”)

“There are those who say the universe is infinite, and it goes through different phases where it expands and then collapses, then expands again, carrying on this cycle for eternity.”

“Physicists to this day cannot explain the "Atomic Glue" that holds the universe together, except that there seems to be an outside force that maintains the order we find in the construct of space and time.”

All of which go to the point not that God necessarily exists, but that Schaertel has never actually read a physics book. Nor does he have any particular knowledge of science that hasn’t already been consumed, digested, and excreted by whatever know-nothing apologists he parrots. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, “a religious man's report of what a scientist says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”

There is a point here, which can easily be seen as Schaertel continues, insisting that “we must recognize there are only three explanations for our existence.” Apparently that either we are infinite, we are self-created, or God did it. I can’t possibly make it any plainer that Schaertel is not approaching this question from an intellectually honest position.

The goal of the apologist, unlike the scientist, is not to seek, investigate, and obtain knowledge about reality. It is to assert a preferred truth, and then argue back around to the presupposed conclusion. The reason a religious person cannot understand science is because any understanding takes the form of a caricature that can be disbelieved. The reason Schaertel stacks “God did it” up against two transparently silly alternatives is because he’s simply asserting a forgone conclusion. It’s almost not necessary to point out that he’s left out other possibilities, namely every cosmological theory currently being researched by legitimate scientists. And there’s another protip that has to be said—when a scientist says “we don’t know,” the religious man doesn’t get to say “Ha! I win!” “We don’t know” means “we’re working on it,” and to skip to “God did it” as an explanation isn’t just dishonest, it is useless. It is the opposite of inquiry, the negation of further knowledge, the abandonment of reason.

In the end, Schaertel insists that this all has something to do with self-awareness, but it’s not particularly clear how. He quotes a few bits of Genesis, as though anyone should care, or believe that some magic man in the sky who maybe, maybe, created the universe has any reason to care about the foibles and peccadilloes of a bunch of shaved apes on an insignificant mote in a mediocre corner of the cosmos.

My point is this: this is not the argument that convinced Schaertel that a god exists. It’s not what pushed him to Christianity. Rather, he was born and raised into both, and doesn’t have intellectually honest reasons for believing. The reason he blogs is not to convince or witness to others, but to provide excuse after excuse to himself and others who already believe. His chief tools in this enterprise are ignorance and unreason, both of which he flaunts without the slightest trace of, in a word, self awareness.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Angels' Advocate?

I've been doing most of my posting over at Skeptic Money, so I should really make a point to cross post when my posts go live:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Target Practice

So, one of the apologists I keep an eye on has put up another row of rusty tin cans on the fencepost and thinks it's an impenetrable wall of stainless steel. I could use the practice, sure.

Evolutionists eventually admit they cannot explain what caused the universe to come into being.

It's pretty impressive when the very first sentence is wrong twice. Firstly, this is a pure Argument from Ignorance, the ubiquitous foundational fallacy of creationism. If your argument is unsound from the word go, YOU LOSE. Secondly, it conflates the fields of Biology and Physics--technically speaking, the big bang is irrelevant to evolution.

To use their language, they can't explain what caused the Big Bang.

We're working on it. If we already knew everything, we wouldn't need to do Science.

They also admit they cannot explain what caused the evolutionary process to begin.

Ibid. Jesus Christ, we're talking three billion years ago, going off chemical traces in microscopic crystals of ancient rock. Besides, even if our planet was so active that all physical traces of the Prebiotic Ages were erased, it still wouldn't invalidate evolution. Argument From Ignorance a-go-go.

I find this interesting because they claim evolution to be a fact of biological history.

It has been demonstrated to a degree of certainty such that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent, yes.

We also do not observe Darwinian evolution happening.

Yes we have. The number of observations of evolutionary processes could just about fit into the Grand frakking Canyon. The fact that he says this is ample demonstration of the self-imposed ignorance that makes religion so repugnant.

Oh yes we see examples of changes within species through natural selection, but we have never observed a transformation of one species into another.

Thank you for that. However, evolution predics changes over millennia, so this particular canard is no problem whatsoever. If we did see dogs giving birth to cats, it would disprove evolution. Hell, I'm more familiar with the creationist arguments he's half-remembering, and I have to restrain myself from countering things he hasn't actually said.

We do not observe new DNA information being introduced.

Yes we do. The bacterial synthesis of nylonase required novel information in their genome. That's just one specific example, I've got more.

We see variations on information that was already present in the DNA.

That is one way new information is generated, yes. Oh, WAIT, we're talking about the information that comes predefined as coming from an intelligence, therefore it was intelligently designed. Silly me.

So evolutionists cannot explain how the universe or evolution began.

We've know about evolution for 150 years and the Big Bang for eighty. Exactly when are we expected to have all the answers?

We also do not observe evolution. So how can this be considered a fact?

Because it's the most resoundingly confirmed scientific theory in history. The ONLY people who claim otherwise are people who either don't have an education or are blinded by religious preconceptions.

It sounds more like a faith to me.

You'd like to think that, wouldn't you. So sorry.

We don't see Jesus physically today.

And the next solid evidence he actually did exist I see will be the first.

We cannot explain how Jesus was born.

When an underage Palestinian girl and an amoral Semitic blood god love each other very much, they do a special hug...

We cannot explain how God is eternal.

You got that right, Chester.

However we can explain how faith in Jesus began.

Grab a piece of pie, this is gonna be good.

It began with a well documented and witnessed historical event.

We've got better documentation and witnesses for UFOs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Mothman, the Chupacabra and crop circles. You see, the standards of evidence that allow one to accept Christianity would, if applied impartially, not only lead one to believe all manner of nonsense, but multiple conflicting religious texts as well.

The crucifixion and with that the resurrection of Jesus: Nothing else can explain how the origins of the church.

Tales and legends which grew in the telling of an itinerant rabbi who stepped out of line and was blithely executed, which his followers weren't prepared to accept. Was that so hard?

So the choice is yours. Either way it is a step of faith, however chosing evolution is a greater step of faith than trusting in Christ and His word.

No, not really. On one side, we have mountains of evidence, on the other we have a pile of uncorroborated legends that don't agree, have no provenance, and don't provide sufficient evidence to accept their claims even if taken at face value. Remember what I said about repugnant, self imposed ignorance? Yeah, 'this.'

You may question why both cannot be true.

I believed both for most of my life. Then I realized one side had nothing going for it.

They both cannot be true because Jesus Himself endorsed the writings of Moses as the word of God.

If we were just now getting documentation of what Teddy Roosevelt said at the end of his life, I wouldn't necessarily believe any given part of it. The man was an inveterate self-aggrandizing liar even in his own lifetime.

If we trust in Jesus, then we acknowledge He is God in the flesh.

Gosh, it's so clear to me now.

Moses wrote of the creation in such a way that it cannot be compatable with evolutionary theory.

It's true what they say about stopped clocks, isn't it?

Death did not exist until man sinned in the Garden of Eden.

The flights of fancy to which creationists spin this fairy tail are sidesplittingly hilarious. Tell me, why did the T-Rexes in the Garden of Eden have mouths full of steak knives?

Likewise God said He created each creature after its own kind.

And evolution predicts that any creature will be the same species as its parent. Even when speciation happens for example, to mosquitoes in the London subways, creationists dismiss it to say "oh, they're still the same kind of animal, even though the two populations can no longer interbreed.

It does not say he created one creature that became other kinds.

It doesn't say that you should wash your hands after you wipe your ass. That kind of information would be helpful.

So the question is simple. Trust the word of God or the words of man.

Read: Trust the words of ignorant premodern superstitionists or the word of people who know the first thing about what they're talking about. Give me a minute here...

The words and theories of man are proven wrong everyday, God's word has never been proven wrong.

Genesis is factually wrong in every particular. Exodus is a myth as well, or didn't you know that the Egyptians kept detailed records? A little thing like ten plagues, an entire slave race carrying off whatever they could hold, and the death of a Pharoah whilst riding across a dry seabed--somebody might have written that down? There's little or no archaeological evidence for much of Old Testament history, in places where there really would be if it ever remotely happened. When science disproves something, it's because we've learned something new and can recognize our mistakes. Religion does the opposite, and rejects any facts which contradict its delusion of inerrancy.

Remember you can't know who you are if you dont know who you came from.

And isn't it amazing how much we've learned about human brains, psychology, and cognition--in a word, who we are--since we discovered scientific principles? I know where I stand.

Overall, a pretty sad effort for a fervently ignorant apologist. I really wonder if he's a Poe--he couldn't make this crap look worse if he sat down and worked at it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Faith Is A Road That Leads Anywhere You Want

From Atheism Is the True Embrace of Reality, via Jerry Coyne:
Just about all the Christians I came into contact with “knew” there was a god, too. They, too, spent time in meditative prayer with him on a daily basis. And as a result, they, too, “knew” what God was like. So what did that knowledge tell us about him? How reliable were these personal relationships when it came to establishing the truth about God?

Some of us, on the basis of our relationship with God, knew him to be loving, compassionate, generous, always reaching out to us, pitying our mistakes rather than condemning them. Others, on the basis of their relationship with God, knew him to be angry, jealous, punitive.

Some of us knew that God had more important things to worry about than our sex lives; others knew that human sexual impurity was deeply offensive to him.

Some of us knew that God wanted us to respond to other people’s shortcomings with tolerance and forbearance and humility; others knew that he wanted sin to be made an example of, to be held up and publicly rebuked.

Some of us knew that God was offended by conspicuous consumption when so many people had nothing; others knew that God showered wealth along with other good things on those of whom he approved.

Some of us knew that God saw all religions as different expressions of people’s yearning for him; others knew that traditional, orthodox Christianity was the only route to him.

Some of us knew that the devil was just a myth to explain the existence of evil; others knew that the devil was very real and a genuine threat to our souls.

Some of us knew that there was no way God could ever allow such a thing as hell; others knew that hell was very much a part of God’s ordained order.

We all knew we were right, and we all based that knowledge on the personal relationship we had with him. How could any of us possibly be wrong?

I've said it before and I'll say it again--faith is not a path to truth. It is unable to discern truth from falsehood, and one reaches the conclusion one wants to. Faith leads to conclusions which are mutually incompatible. The people listed above literally cannot all be correct. (However, it is logically possible that they are all wrong.)

Neuroscientists have done studies which identify the regions of the brain which model the morality of others, and which model one's own morality. When contemplating God's desires and values, the regions of the brain which are active are invariably one's own. No religious person has ever conceived of a God who disagreed with themselves on any major point. They may conceive god as the highest, unattainable standard and experience guilt thereby, but that cognitive dissonance does not obviate the reality that it's really their own standards they're failing to live up to.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Words Fail Me.

Via the Friendly Atheist:

In essence, they're testing a cancer drug that is so scorchingly teratogenic that the manufacturer recommends your husband use barrier protection even if he's had a vasectomy. You can't even get on the trial without two separate pregnancy tests, and after that they specifically indicate that women should double up on contraception regardless of their circumstances. It might help with cancer, and let's face it, chemotherapy drugs aren't kind to pregnancies under the best of circumstances.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, would rather risk children being born with crippling birth defects than even mention contraception (or, needless to say, an abortion if the sonogram reveals the fetus has no arms and half a heart.) It's for this reason that I agree with the opinion expressed elsewhere that at this point in the game, after child abuse scandals, saying that condoms spread AIDS, hideously wrongheaded family planning dogma, that simply calling yourself a Catholic is an immoral act. One is giving aid and comfort to an organization which has plainly established itself to be an enemy to humanity itself.

I don't expect Christians to really recognize that, say, the atonement of Christ is itself an immoral and nonsensical doctrine. That comes way down the line, once you realize that infinite punishment for finite sin is unjust, that god sacrificing himself to himself to assuage his own wrath is nonsensical, and that divine command morality is amoral in the first place. I get that.

But this Catholicism thing...really, what would they have to do, at this point in the game, that adherents wouldn't blithely ignore? To prove that the institution itself is rotten, that the entire organization should be torn out root and branch, its assets sold for charity, its philanthropic enterprises spun off into independent non-profits, its headquarters emptied of ecclesiastic parasites and turned into an art museum open to the public, and its leaders imprisoned for obstruction of justice?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hello Out There In Postapocalyptia

[Written for Skeptic Money]
Harold Camping’s Family Radio has gotten a great deal of unwarranted attention (and a pile of money, strangely) from its epically-failed May 21, 2011 prediction of the Rapture. (He now says it was “spiritual” in nature and says that we’re in for five months of judgment, culminating sometime in October.) The basis of his prediction was crazed–a concoction of speculation and numerology more like those spooky 19th-century extrapolations on the dimensions of Egyptian pyramids than any sort of recognizable Christian Eschatology.

The go-to counterargument, cited left, right and center, is Matthew 24:36, which claims no man knows the day or the hour. Even skeptics such as Phil Plait raise this point. Nobody seems to notice that this argument, that Camping has forgotten or ignored that particular verse, is simply flat wrong. Apparently, nobody actually went to the Family Radio web site (before it was taken down in a fit of pique), because Camping actually had a fairly extensive refutation of this claim, replete with scripture references.

I think it’s completely missing the point to criticize only Family Radio for supposedly ignoring scripture. We, as skeptics, ought to be pointing out that this is just one instance out of many where different groups of Christians pick and choose whatever verses suit their own individual fancies. Read more...