Category Archives: science

Are you an a-zeusist?

Here’s a great article from Sam Harris, which I have re-posted from The Huffington Post.

It’s five years old, but the logic is still solid. Especially in light of the recent tragedy in Haiti.

What do you think of his logic and conclusion?

Sam Harris

Sam Harris

Posted: October 6, 2005 04:31 PM

THERE IS NO GOD (AND YOU KNOW IT)
Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl’s parents believe — at this very moment — that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?

No.

The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.

It is worth noting that no one ever need identify himself as a non-astrologer or a non-alchemist. Consequently, we do not have words for people who deny the validity of these pseudo-disciplines. Likewise, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma. The atheist is merely a person who believes that the 260 million Americans (eighty-seven percent of the population) who claim to “never doubt the existence of God” should be obliged to present evidence for his existence — and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day. Only the atheist appreciates just how uncanny our situation is: most of us believe in a God that is every bit as specious as the gods of Mount Olympus; no person, whatever his or her qualifications, can seek public office in the United States without pretending to be certain that such a God exists; and much of what passes for public policy in our country conforms to religious taboos and superstitions appropriate to a medieval theocracy. Our circumstance is abject, indefensible, and terrifying. It would be hilarious if the stakes were not so high.

Consider: the city of New Orleans was recently destroyed by hurricane Katrina. At least a thousand people died, tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions, and over a million have been displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Katrina struck believed in an omnipotent, omniscient, and compassionate God. But what was God doing while a hurricane laid waste to their city? Surely He heard the prayers of those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Only the atheist has the courage to admit the obvious: these poor people spent their lives in the company of an imaginary friend.

Of course, there had been ample warning that a storm “of biblical proportions” would strike New Orleans, and the human response to the ensuing disaster was tragically inept. But it was inept only by the light of science. Advance warning of Katrina’s path was wrested from mute Nature by meteorological calculations and satellite imagery. God told no one of his plans. Had the residents of New Orleans been content to rely on the beneficence of the Lord, they wouldn’t have known that a killer hurricane was bearing down upon them until they felt the first gusts of wind on their faces. And yet, a poll conducted by The Washington Post found that eighty percent of Katrina’s survivors claim that the event has only strengthened their faith in God.

As hurricane Katrina was devouring New Orleans, nearly a thousand Shiite pilgrims were trampled to death on a bridge in Iraq. There can be no doubt that these pilgrims believed mightily in the God of the Koran. Indeed, their lives were organized around the indisputable fact of his existence: their women walked veiled before him; their men regularly murdered one another over rival interpretations of his word. It would be remarkable if a single survivor of this tragedy lost his faith. More likely, the survivors imagine that they were spared through God’s grace.

Only the atheist recognizes the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved. Only the atheist realizes how morally objectionable it is for survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God, while this same God drowned infants in their cribs. Because he refuses to cloak the reality of the world’s suffering in a cloying fantasy of eternal life, the atheist feels in his bones just how precious life is — and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all.

Of course, people of faith regularly assure one another that God is not responsible for human suffering. But how else can we understand the claim that God is both omniscient and omnipotent? There is no other way, and it is time for sane human beings to own up to this. This is the age-old problem of theodicy, of course, and we should consider it solved. If God exists, either He can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil. Pious readers will now execute the following pirouette: God cannot be judged by merely human standards of morality. But, of course, human standards of morality are precisely what the faithful use to establish God’s goodness in the first place. And any God who could concern himself with something as trivial as gay marriage, or the name by which he is addressed in prayer, is not as inscrutable as all that. If He exists, the God of Abraham is not merely unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.

There is another possibility, of course, and it is both the most reasonable and least odious: the biblical God is a fiction. As Richard Dawkins has observed, we are all atheists with respect to Zeus and Thor. Only the atheist has realized that the biblical god is no different. Consequently, only the atheist is compassionate enough to take the profundity of the world’s suffering at face value. It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion — to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious delusions, and religious diversions of scarce resources — is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity. It is a necessity, however, that places the atheist at the margins of society. The atheist, by merely being in touch with reality, appears shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbors.

8 Comments

Filed under Athesim, humanism, religion, science, skepticism

You’re such a Neanderthal!

It turns out that that statement is probably true of the person whom you so labeled.

And it’s probably true of you too! Awesome.

Here’s the story, as told by National Geographic.

A reconstruction of a Neanderthal female.

A Neanderthal-female reconstruction based on both fossil anatomy and DNA (file photo).

Photograph by Joe McNally, National Geographic

//

Inside of the Vindija cave, Croatia. Image courtesy of Johannes  Krause MPI-EVACroatia’s Vindija cave, where Neanderthal bones used to assemble genome were found. Image courtesy of Johannes Krause MPI-EVA.

Ker Than

Published May 6, 2010

The next time you’re tempted to call some oaf a Neanderthal, you might want to take a look in the mirror.

According to a new DNA study, most humans have a little Neanderthal in them—at least 1 to 4 percent of a person’s genetic makeup.

The study uncovered the first solid genetic evidence that “modern” humans—or Homo sapiens—interbred with their Neanderthal neighbors, who mysteriously died out about 30,000 years ago.

What’s more, the Neanderthal-modern human mating apparently took place in the Middle East, shortly after modern humans had left Africa, not in Europe—as has long been suspected.

“We can now say that, in all probability, there was gene flow from Neanderthals to modern humans,” lead study author Ed Green of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a prepared statement.

That’s no surprise to anthropologist Erik Trinkhaus, whose skeleton-based claims of Neanderthal-modern human interbreeding—previously contradicted with DNA evidence—appear to have been vindicated by the new gene study, to be published tomorrow in the journal Science.

“They’ve finally seen the light … because it’s been obvious to many us that this happened,” said Trinkaus, of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who wasn’t part of the new study.

Trinkhaus adds that most living humans probably have much more Neanderthal DNA than the new study suggests.

“One to 4 percent is truly a minimum,” Trinkaus added. “But is it 10 percent? Twenty percent? I have no idea.”

Surprising Spot for Neanderthal-Human Mating

The genetic study team reached their conclusion after comparing the genomes of five living humans—from China, France, Papua New Guinea, southern Africa, and western Africa—against the available “rough draft” of the Neanderthal genome.

The results showed that Neanderthal DNA is 99.7 percent identical to modern human DNA, versus, for example, 98.8 percent for modern humans and chimps, according to the study. (Related: “Neanderthals Had Same ‘Language Gene’ as Modern Humans.”)

In addition, all modern ethnic groups, other than Africans, carry traces of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes, the study says—which at first puzzled the scientists. Though no fossil evidence has been found for Neanderthals and modern humans coexisting in Africa, Neanderthals, like modern humans, are thought to have arisen on the continent.

“If you told an archaeologist that you’d found evidence of gene exchange between Neanderthals and modern humans and asked them to guess which [living] population it was found in, most would say Europeans, because there’s well documented archaeological evidence that they lived side by side for several thousand years,” said study team member David Reich.

For another thing, Neanderthals never lived in China or Papua New Guinea, in the Pacific region of Melanesia, according to the archaeological record.

“But the fact is that Chinese and Melanesians are as closely related to Neanderthals” as Europeans, said Reich, a population geneticist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University.

Neanderthal-Human One-Night Stand?

So how did modern humans with Neanderthal DNA end up in Asia and Melanesia?

Neanderthals, the study team says, probably mixed with early Homo sapiens just after they’d left Africa but before Homo sapiens split into different ethnic groups and scattered around the globe.

The first opportunity for interbreeding probably occurred about 60,000 years ago in Middle Eastern regions adjacent to Africa, where archaeological evidence shows the two species overlapped for a time, the team says.

And it wouldn’t have taken much mating to make an impact, according to study co-author Reich. The results could stem from a Neanderthal-modern human one-night stand or from thousands of interspecies assignations, he said.

More DNA Evidence for Neanderthal-Human Mating

The new study isn’t alone in finding genetic hints of Homo sapiens-Homo neanderthalensis interbreeding.

Genetic anthropologist Jeffrey Long, who calls the Science study “very exciting,” co-authored a new, not yet published study that found DNA evidence of interbreeding between early modern humans and an “archaic human” species, though it’s not clear which. He presented his team’s findings at a meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last month.

Long’s team reached its conclusions after searching the genomes of hundreds of modern humans for “signatures of different evolutionary processes in DNA variation.”

Like the new Science paper, Long’s study speculates that interbreeding occurred just after our species had left Africa, but Long’s study didn’t include analysis of the Neanderthal genome.

“At the time we started the project, I never imagined I’d ever see an empirical confirmation of it,” said Long, referring to the Science team’s Neanderthal-DNA evidence, “so I’m pretty happy to see it.”

Leave a comment

Filed under animal rights, Athesim, human rights, humanism, religion, science, skepticism, social commentary, veganism

Beautiful in the Extreme

The Telegraph has a series of photos called, Pictures of the Year 2009: Space. This online gallery has 28 stunning images from space. Beautiful in the Extreme. To see the rest of the gallery go to: Pictures of the Year 2009: Space.

Here’s just the first in the series:

In the first of our Pictures of Year galleries, we look at the best space images we received this year. This image provided by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows brilliant blue stars wreathed by warm, glowing clouds. The festive portrait is the most detailed view of a young stellar grouping, called R136 in the 30 Doradus Nebula Picture: AP / NASA

Leave a comment

Filed under Athesim, science

New Evidence That Dark Chocolate is Good For Me!! (and you)

I have a serious addiction to Lindt Swiss Dark Chocolate – a vegan delight if there ever was one.

And now I have further evidence that this addiction is actually a virtue, not a vice. Here’s the story from Science Daily:

 

ScienceDaily (Nov. 12, 2009) — The “chocolate cure” for emotional stress

darkchocolate

Pieces of dark chocolate. The "chocolate cure" for emotional stress is getting new support from a clinical trial. (Credit: iStockphoto)

is getting new support from a clinical trial published online in ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research. It found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed. Everyone’s favorite treat also partially corrected other stress-related biochemical imbalances.

Sunil Kochhar and colleagues note growing scientific evidence that antioxidants and other beneficial substances in dark chocolate may reduce risk factors for heart disease and other physical conditions. Studies also suggest that chocolate may ease emotional stress. Until now, however, there was little evidence from research in humans on exactly how chocolate might have those stress-busting effects.

In the study, scientists identified reductions in stress hormones and other stress-related biochemical changes in volunteers who rated themselves as highly stressed and ate dark chocolate for two weeks. “The study provides strong evidence that a daily consumption of 40 grams [1.4 ounces] during a period of 2 weeks is sufficient to modify the metabolism of healthy human volunteers,” the scientists say.


Journal reference:

  1. Martin et al. Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects. Journal of Proteome Research, 2009; 091007113151065 DOI: 10.1021/pr900607v
Adapted from materials provided by American Chemical Society.

Leave a comment

Filed under animal rights, environment, health, humanism, science, social commentary, veganism

Ray Comfort Strikes (Out) Again!

Back in February of this year, I had the opportunity to debate Ray Comfort on one of our local Toronto radio stations. The occasion was the anniversary of Darwin’s 200th birthday. You can listen to that debate here.

Comfort has no understanding of evolution, biology, cosmology, or seemingly much else when it comes to science. He is most famous amongst atheists and skeptics for the (unintentionally) hilarious “Atheists worst nightmare” video, in which he and Kirk Cameron attempt to demonstrate how the modern banana is an unassailable proof of God’s love and special concern for humans.

Well, Comfort and Cameron are teaming up once more.

This November 24th will mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s best known work, On Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection. Universities, science agencies, museums, skeptic, atheist, and secular humanist groups around the world will be celebrating the publication of this hugely influential book.

Comfort is going to celebrate in his own unique way. He has been able to get financial backing to publish 50,000 copies of the Origin of Species that will include a 50 page introduction he has written that will supposedly demonstrate the fallacies of Darwin’s theory and the evil impact it has had on the world. Cameron is serving as his front man, appearing in a video promoting this event. The plan is to distribute these copies on numerous university campuses in the U.S.

A Facebook friend of mine posted a youtube video done by a young Romanian woman named Cristina that is absolutely wonderful in dissecting and lampooning Cameron’s video and the fraudulent claims it makes about Darwin and his theory. I’m re-posting it here. I hope you enjoy it.

1 Comment

Filed under Athesim, humanism, politics, religion, science, skepticism, social commentary

Vegans Are NOT Wimps!

Here’s a reprint of an article from Canada’s Globe & Mail newspaper about Montreal Canadiens’ tough guy, Georges Laraque.

Sean Gordon

MONTREAL — From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail Last updated on Thursday, Sep. 17, 2009 12:45AM EDT

First, the eyebrows arch quizzically, then the legend’s nose crinkles in disapproval.

“Ferguson never would have accepted it,” huffs Henri Richard,

George Laraque

George Laraque

11-time Stanley Cup champion, uber-competitor, the Pocket Rocket himself, speaking of John Ferguson, the former Montreal Canadiens tough guy.

It’s a natural enough reaction from a man whose off-season preparations used to consist of switching from golf to tennis in early August.

He has just been informed that Canadiens forward Georges Laraque, boulevardier, animal-rights activist and perhaps the most feared pugilist in the NHL, is a vegan (“a what?” Richard said), a militant one.

No dairy, no poultry, no fish, no more leather shoes or animal byproducts, Laraque has been on a strict diet of vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes since June 1.

While he says he was partly motivated to improve his health for the hockey season, Laraque insists the decision was made primarily for political, rather than nutritional, reasons.

Everything changed, Laraque said, after he saw Earthlings, a 2006 documentary that is widely celebrated in animal-rights circles.

“It’s unconscionable what’s happening to animals in this country and the way we treat animals we eat. … I realized I had to make some big changes,” Laraque said.

Though Laraque said he will no longer buy leather of any kind, he hasn’t rid his closet or hockey bag of previously purchased leather products because, “that would be a further waste. And this way I don’t forget.”

Laraque, who also does yoga daily, an activity he picked up as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, said he’s never felt better and reported for training camp at a comparatively svelte 245 pounds.

“I’ve lost some weight, but I’ve been working with a really great nutritionist and I’ve never had this much energy,” he said.

“I think it’s also important to break the stereotype that all vegans are skinny people with long hair,” added Laraque, as unlikely a supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as the NHL has ever seen. (This summer he sent a letter on the group’s behalf to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, protesting the Canadian seal hunt.)

Laraque couldn’t think of any other vegan NHLers off the top of his head.

But the burly winger finds himself among a vanguard of current and former pro athletes who are eschewing most meats.

Laraque cites Major League Baseball player Prince Fielder, former Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis, NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez and retired NBA player John Salley as vegetarians who inspired him.

Richard, who readily admits that he’s often astonished at the lengths to which today’s hockey players go to train, hails from an era when Guy Lafleur prepared for the season by cutting back from three packs of cigarettes a day to two, or so the legend goes. (“It didn’t matter, he was always faster than everyone,” Richard joked.)

And though Laraque is undoubtedly an outlier in the Canadiens dressing room and in the league, he’s not alone in his approach.

Mike Cammalleri, who joined the Habs as a free agent in the summer, strives to eat organic, fresh and local foods.

“I find it helps my energy levels stay high throughout the season,” he said.

Cammalleri also regularly practises Pilates and occasionally will throw in a few yoga exercises, “but I don’t really have the patience for yoga.”

Not all the Habs are in tune with the new ethos. Fourth-year forward Guillaume Latendresse, who has overhauled his off-season regimen in each of the past two seasons, says he switched to a high-protein diet, but that he’s not willing to renounce meat altogether.

“[Laraque] has invited us all out to a vegan restaurant … but if I go, I’m bringing a steak in my jacket pocket,” he joked.

So in a tough-guy, famously hidebound culture like pro hockey, Laraque remains a curiosity, but he’s resolved to carry on spreading the word.

“People still think it’s kind of funny, but I’m not doing this to be funny,” he said. “There are more puppy mills in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada, and no laws to shut them down. People get slapped with a fine and six months later they reopen. Do you think that’s funny?”

2 Comments

Filed under animal rights, Athesim, environment, health, humanism, politics, science, social commentary, veganism

Are you more science-savvy than the average American?

There is a  brief survey at the Pew Center for Research that will allow you to judge your level of basic science awareness. It’s fun and interesting. Let me know how you did.

(Not to brag, but I got 100%.)

_______________________________

THE SCIENCE KNOWLEDGE QUIZ

Take the quiz and find out

To test your knowledge of scientific concepts and recent scientific findings and events, we invite you to take this 12-question science knowledge quiz. Then see how you did in comparison with the 1,005 randomly sampled adults asked the same questions. You’ll also be able to compare your Science IQ with the average scores of men and women; 1276-frontwith college graduates as well as those who didn’t attend college; with people who are your age as well as with younger and older Americans.

This quiz was part of the Pew Research Center’s new study of science and its impact on society, conducted in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The analysis of the findings from the poll can be found in the full report. (No peeking! If you are going to take the quiz, do it first before reading the analysis.) The discussion of the knowledge quiz can be found in Section 7 of the report.

3 Comments

Filed under Athesim, environment, health, humanism, politics, religion, science, skepticism, social commentary