No, not a Republican

This is my response to a friend who assumed that because I am a small business owner with some strong views on personal responsibility and liberty that I was a Republican.


Ha! I’m no Republican. I neither believe in trickle-down, voodoo economics (supply-side stimulus), nor that a bronze-age fairy tale is the literal truth of the universe and the proper basis of a system of morality upon which many laws governing people’s private lives should be passed… the only two solid planks in their platform. Oh yeah, and “Drill Baby, Drill” is about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, since the proof of global climate change is extensive and incontrovertible, and the urgency with which we must react by moving as rapidly as possible to carbon-neutral renewable energy doesn’t leave room for the foot dragging of those in the pocket of Big Oil, if we hope to not poison ourselves and our entire planet. And, although I bought my first firearm at 9 years old, and have owned several over my life, I don’t believe the second amendment should be used to justify private citizens owning assault weapons. I also believe we should place limits on handgun ownership. Countries with fewer guns have fewer gun-related homicides. Go figure. The NRA, and the Republicans they control, are way past the line on this issue justifiable by the twin arguments of hunting and home defense. I also think that the only way to fix our obviously broken health care system in this country is to adopt a single-payer model for basic health care, emergency room, check-ups, etcetera. Supplemental commercial health insurance, offered in a competitive national market (like car insurance), and subject to the normal anti-trust laws, should be available to individuals (with no employer obligation) to cover additional, extraordinary, or more extensive health care needs and costs. For-profit health care is directly at odds with patient well-being and since it bears a burden of having a profit margin (which are at record levels currently) at multiple levels (insurance company, medical practice, hospital, private ambulance service) the end costs to the consumer are dramatically inflated. That profit margin is a weight which will bring the whole shaky structure down if we continue on the current Republican-designed model, especially with our rapidly-aging, Baby Boomer-heavy, increasingly obese and diabetic, population. Also, unlike the majority of Republicans, I believe in the evolutionary explanation of the origin of species, even us humans. Why? Because the evidence for the Theory of Evolution is more extensive than that for the Theory of Gravity. They are both, in a non-scientific sense, facts, which is what the scientific word “theory” actually means in a lay sense, a subtlety that the uneducated and downright stupid Republicans don’t seem to be capable of grasping. I don’t believe that humans are somehow “special” in the history of the universe, or even this planet, although our accomplishments (global war, climate change, slavery, pollution, causing the extinction of numerous other species) speak for themselves, and that some Sky Daddy god created us in His image, not the other way around. I also believe that all Americans… Nay!… all humans, deserve to be treated equally under the law, be they black, white, male, female, straight, gay, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, or even, gasp, atheist, and that the best way to accomplish this is via a color-blind, strictly-secular government Of, By, and For the People, which is a belief that the Republicans, with their incessant attempts to destroy public education by injecting Creationism into Science classes, marginalize and disenfranchise gays, blacks, women, and other minorities, and otherwise making Of, By, and For ring hollow (e.g. Citizens United), clearly don’t share with me. I think their “Shining City on a Hill” is populated by selfish shallow greedy racist holier-than-thou misogynist assholes, and overlooks a valley filled with the carcasses of the rest of us whose dead bodies they stepped over to make their fortunes. Basically, I think Reagan, with his outrageous levels of Defense spending (Which is the real root cause of our current economic woes because you can’t run a wartime economy forever. It’s guns or butter, not guns and butter), was a terrible president, and Ayn Rand, with her gratuitously laborious plots and complete disregard for the hard work and sacrifice of everyone in her stories but her protagonists, was neither a good author nor an honest philosopher. Frankly, they were both full of shit. I think Grover Norquist, while well intentioned, has an influence over the Republicans completely disproportionate to the complexity, accuracy, and maturity of the philosophy he promotes through his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”. I think the Moral Majority, Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, and that ilk are, in fact, morally bankrupt, and have destroyed our political process and poisoned the national dialog on important issues with straw man arguments, false comparisons, and religion-based manipulation of their weak-minded Republican pawns in Congress. I think that the black-and-white view Republicans form of every issue from health care (“Socialism!”) to foreign policy (“Axis of Evil”, “You’re either with us or against us”) betrays a lack of sophistication of thought necessary to comprehend and deal with the problems facing the world today in a rational and effective way.

To review… Yahweh, American Exceptionalism, John Galt, Constitutionally-protected individual rights of corporations, “clean” coal, God-given index-beating profit margins, and supply-side stimulus are completely fictional, and a group of people like the Republicans, who display such a complete inability to differentiate fact from fiction, much like small children or the mentally retarded (clinical usage of the term), should not be considered as serious candidates for the post of County Dog Catcher, much less U.S. Congress and President of These United States.

No, not a Republican.

Nor a Democrat, although I think that Democratic policies in general cause far less damage to the Republic, and the people living in it, primarily because while there are legitimate arguments on both sides of most issues, the Democratic Party is today a centrist party, while the Republicans have been dragged further and further to the right by the loudest and most obnoxious among them, such as Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News (ha! “Journalists”, forsooth), and other buffoons with little knowledge, understanding, or intelligence, no compassion for their fellow humans, and an iron-clad belief in the absolute evil of all things socialist, and the absolute good of all things profitable.

Assisted suicide poll

As I mentioned in the post regarding the passing of our family dog I’m surprised that there isn’t more discussion in our society regarding the morality of assisted suicide. That’s why I was surprised to see this poll on CNN’s home page.

Assisted suicide quick poll

I’m even more surprised that these poll results are so lopsided. Of course, just as it says on it, “This is not a scientific poll.” But still, I think this may be indicative of the popular sentiments on this issue. Very encouraging.

Intelligent Apologetics?

As a proponent of Reason it is sometimes really frustrating, and thoroughly unenlightening, to watch debates with religious apologists because they continue to trot out the same lame grade school arguments. Every time I watch the Atheist Experience I’m amazed at the assertions the xtian callers make, seemingly with a straight face. These are your average run of the mill believers that, while they are interested in the subject, they don’t know anything about the 2000+ year history of the debate. They advance arguments that were shot down convincingly by Socrates or Plato. I find debates with such people to be an utter waste of time. They should be told to go do some independent research and come back when they have at least learned the vocabulary. I understand why the guys at Atheist Experience engage these folks, and I value their efforts; I just feel sorry for them for having to do so. It would drive me crazy.

Sorry Justin, I don’t mean to pick on you specifically, I just needed an example of someone convinced by Mr. Comfort’s lamebrain arguments, but…

On a side note to Justin (and others who agree with him), removing the coke can from the video was done for brevity, not to change the argument, which it does not. You are still arguing that the banana had to have been designed, which it does not. The argument is the same with or without the coke can. The fact that you think this changes the argument demonstrates your inability to think logically, nothing more. This is a very elementary mistake. You are exactly the kind of person I am talking about that is a waste of time debating. If you really are interested in this debate go do some more reading and then come back to it. Right now you’re just embarrassing yourself. Sorry.

There are apologists though that do have a grasp of the subject matter and from whom we can actually learn something. One of these is Dinesh D’Souza. Dinesh is well read on the subject and presents his arguments eloquently. By comparing his perspective to that of atheism we can actually see where the difference lies between the believing mind and the non-believing mind. This is quite a breath of fresh air compared to the usual Ray Comfort variety of apologetics, from which the only thing we can learn is the power of brainwashing.

I do believe that early childhood indoctrination is the primary reason that people believe the ridiculous claims of religion, but that’s pretty obvious and therefore not worthy of further study. I think it’s safe when confronted with such arguments as the famous banana proof, or even Ibn Sina and St. Anselm’s ontological arguments, to dismiss them as obviously flawed and move on. Clearly these arguments convince people, such as Justin of “Christian in College” for example, but only those with too little education or too much indoctrination.

The “cure” for people convinced by such garbage is simply better, and more, education in history, philosophy, sociology, psychology, world religions, and science. But what makes someone like Mr. D’Souza, who isn’t convinced by these arguments either, continue to believe in the infinitely improbable? I’m going to go through the following interview with him from FORA, and see if I can find out. Will it be something profound or is he just making the same mistakes the “Joe Six-pack” xtians make, only using bigger words? Anyone taking bets?

Here are the arguments he advances for Christianity, or against Atheism:

Darwin’s ideas were used to justify eugenics

Um, no they weren’t. Eugenics is the just the application of the techniques of artificial selection applied to humans in an effort to improve the species in the same way those techniques had been used for thousands of years to “improve” other species. Artificial selection is just the process of choosing the animals from a group that you most like, having them reproduce, and preventing other animals in the group from doing so. By this process humans have been able to produce dairy cows that produce copious quantities of milk, dog breeds that can perform particular jobs such as herding, draft horses of immense strength, and so on. These techniques were known long before Darwin’s day and it was in part reflecting on the change in species over time via artificial selection that led to his development of the concept of natural selection. As of this writing some Wikipedia contributer has added the bald assertion that one of the early proponents of Eugenics, Sir Francis Galton, was inspired by “the recent works of his half-cousin Charles Darwin”. Ha! Someone else has astutely put a [citation needed] tag on it.

We hear much talk of “Social Darwinism” from people like Dinesh when they are trying to stain Darwin and the rest of the scientific community with the sins of the practitioners of Eugenics, namely Nazi Germany. Darwin never advocated eugenics; he only described the natural processes he observed which would lead to changes in the characteristics of species over time. Using his name in any other way is disingenuous and depends on the audience not being really familiar with “On the Origin of Species”. This is one of the weakest argument we regularly hear from the Christian apologist camp and by making it Dinesh has not elevated himself very far above Ray Comfort.

Human dignity, the sacredness of life, human equality, human liberty are accretions of Christianity and have no place in human society in the absence of Christianity

Wait, what? Has this guy read the bible? This is the same damn assertion that atheists have no morals. The only one I’ll concede is the “sacredness” of life since by definition sacredness is a religious concept. However, I will assert in it’s place that we atheists find all life precious and consider it the responsibility of humanity, because of our position in the global food chain, to protect and preserve all forms of life on this planet. In a real practical sense we tend to treat all life as though it were sacred, while many Christians believe they have “dominion” over all other species and can use them as they see fit.

As for the rest of it it’s just plain garbage. Is he saying that concepts of human dignity, equality, and liberty were unknown before there were Christians, or are unknown today where there are no Christians? In order to believe this he cannot know anything about any ancient cultures or any other non-Christian cultures today. He doesn’t back this statement up with anything; simply calls them “accretions of Christianity” and moves on.

Dumb, not Comfort-level, but close.

The conclusion that the cause of the universe is supernatural is scientifically valid

OK, I’ll give him credit for blowing Ray Comfort’s mind there. It’s way beyond poor Ray to think in these terms but this argument is also puerile tripe. Just before making this assertion at about 18 minutes in he does a very good job of describing why science is methodologically atheistic, meaning that in a scientific exploration of some phenomena it is not acceptable to say “God did it” and leave it at that. Even scientists who are religious, if they’re good scientists, will want to know the natural mechanisms that resulted in an observation, so that they can say that that is how “my god(s) did it”.

“The universe can have a natural cause or it can have a non-natural cause. It seems unlikely that the universe could have a natural cause given that the universe itself is all of nature. We would be in effect saying that nature caused itself. Therefore it seems reasonable that the universe had a non-natural, or we would say, supernatural cause.”

He goes on to say, in so many words, that the “mode of reasoning” demonstrated in the above quote is scientific in nature. This is way too easy! Dinesh, by way of refuting your argument, allow me to refer you to… the words which just came out of your mouth. Methodologically atheistic, remember? Also, allow me to point out that the universe is not “all of nature”, just that region which we are able to observe. The two are not synonymous. Since it is all we can observe it may seem like picking nits to point this out, however mechanically it matters because we cannot say what occurred prior to or spatially relative to the Big Bang. Our universe could exist in parallel with many others, or it could be contained by a larger system of universes. There are astrophysicists today who know far more math than either Dinesh or I who believe both of these things. Dinesh may deride the proponents of the Multiverse hypothesis by claiming that they have very little empirical evidence but I can tell you that they have at least as much as he does for a supernatural cause.

For the sake of argument I’ll grant the synonym for a moment to point out that a supernatural cause of the universe who is thereafter undetectable is not the Christian concept of “God”. Yahweh has to be interested in our daily lives and have to ability and willingness to intercede or the whole guilt trip to heaven thing doesn’t work. The bottom drops out of the whole religion if you assume the deist version of the “watchmaker god”. Whose god are you defending the existence of, Dinesh? It isn’t yours.

Besides, if he’s going to insist on going down the “each effect must have a cause” road I must point out then that his God must also have had a cause. I’m not sure he’s thought it though but this argument doesn’t actually get him anywhere but further away from the Christian conception of Yahweh. He’d be better off to turn around and head for the safety of Gould’s “Nonoverlapping Magesteria” (NOMA), or some similar argument. When a philosopher ventures out into space he’s bound to be at a disadvantage against astrophysicists. It’d be better for him to hide behind the old “well you can’t prove there’s no god” screen.

In the absence of any evidence the supernatural explanation is equally valid with the skeptical poisition

When describing a previous debate with Michael Shermer he takes the position the since neither of them can either prove or disprove the existence of an afterlife then both conclusions are equally valid. He then has the sheer gall to accuse Shermer of holding his non-view of the afterlife as a matter of faith. This is more extremely juvenile reasoning. Shermer is not the one making the assertion of the existence of something, Dinesh is. If one asserts the existence of something, whether it’s an afterlife or a correlation between education and atheism, and one does not want to be laughed out of the room, one must present evidence to support the assertion. Dinesh needs to read up on Russell’s Teapot before his next debate.

Atheists support evolution because it liberates them from “traditional” morality

This is the conclusion he comes to when pondering why the idea that humans are just another animal doesn’t bother atheists. Speaking for myself, I don’t find that evolution makes me “gleeful”, it simply is. Just as gravity simply is. It is how life on the world I inhabit came to have it’s current set of species. This is no more a cause for glee than the celestial mechanics described by Galileo. Although, I must say that both are incredibly beautiful, once you understand them.

I wonder if by “traditional” morality he means the slaughter of innocents, stoning of adulterers and homosexuals, owning of slaves, etc. prescribed by the Old Testament, or maybe something more up-to-date. This is just the same old canard that “atheists have no morals” in another guise. Flat dumb. If you agree with him I suggest you look up the fields of Sociology and Ethics, for starters, and maybe even take a class.

Conclusion?

I’ve followed along halfway though the video and that’s all I can take. I’ll leave it to you to pick out the rest of his gaffes. He speaks well, understands the philosophical issues better than a Ray Comfort-type, and he even understands the value of the scientific method, but that’s about the end of my compliments. Beyond that his reasoning skills are sketchy, his grasp of his opponents’ positions is tenuous, his knowledge of evolution is flawed, his knowledge of history seems strangely narrow, and his conclusions are laughable. After his eloquence is stripped away there’s really very little difference between him and a “lesser” apologist. The arguments are the same, just clothed in more elegant language. Nothing that he said would pose any trouble for one of the “New Atheist” spokespeople such as Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, or Myers. Dinesh would be like a babe in the woods faced with any of these debate opponents. I don’t see any reason for them to consider him a more worthy adversary than Ray Comfort.

His single biggest problem is that he believes that he can successfully defend his position using reason and empirical facts, indeed he believes this is his mission. This is utterly preposterous. He needs to try to understand why Stephen J. Gould went and hid in NOMA-land. He’s no intellectual, or scientific, equal of Gould and should look more closely at why Gould went where he did. It’s a shame Gould is no longer with us because it would have been interesting to see him play dueling lecterns with Dinesh.

In the final analysis I have to say I’m disappointed. I had hoped to be confronted with arguments that I hadn’t heard and thought through years ago. I had hoped to have to stretch some intellectual muscles that have atrophied through exposure to Ray Comfort, Pat Robertson, Ken Ham, William Lane Craig, et al. But it wasn’t to be. Dinesh D’Souza is just more of the same although he has somehow managed to convince himself that he’s different.

Empirical Facts Do Exist (Global Warming Edition)

They really do. At least during my lifetime many people seem to have gotten out of the habit of basing their opinions on good solid evidence, but that doesn’t mean that facts themselves no longer exist. There has been an unfortunate trend, particularly in politics, of choosing a desired course of action first and then editing or modifying the facts that support it. One example of this that has received a lot of attention is the Bush Administration’s efforts to build a case for invading Iraq culminating in Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN General Assembly. At the time the evidence seemed compelling to many of us and it wasn’t until well after the fact that we discovered just how spurious many of the allegations against Iraq were. Many of the facts that their case was built on were distorted or had previously been researched and rejected by the CIA. In the end it turns out that very little of what the Bush Administration asserted regarding Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and connections to Al-Qaeda was true. Most of it was blatantly falsified.

Another example from the Bush years was the manipulation of Federal government produced scientific reports regarding the environment by the Bush Administration to neuter their conclusions regarding climate change. In several well documented cases the Bush Administration earned the condemnation of scientists for manipulating the results of research indicating the existence of anthropogenic global warming. Evidence indicating that action must be taken to curb the use of fossil fuels was systematically suppressed by Bushies. Indeed, ignoring facts and basing decisions purely on political gain became a hallmark of his administration.

Recently the anti-science crowd (read: Conservatives) has been energized by the release of e-mails from East Anglia University in England in which climate scientists discuss whether or not to include data points which don’t fit the anthropogenic climate change conclusions held by climatologists worldwide. David Frum, a Conservative commentator, wrote this opinion piece for CNN regarding it. Leaving the clearly fabricated unattributed quotes, such as the one at the beginning referencing Abu Ghraib, to one side for a moment, you can easily see the elation he feels at having something to legitimately criticize his opponents for.

I’ve read several articles from different sources regarding these leaked e-mails, but not seen them myself, and it’s still unclear to me how damaging they really are. In the end that’s immaterial because they are clearly perceived to be damaging enough to create the controversy. For the sake of analyzing this situation let’s assume that they were what they are purported to be, evidence of scientists fudging data in order to fit the anthropogenic climate change conclusion when it otherwise wouldn’t have supported such a conclusion. That’s bad… real bad. In the pro-science community that’s worthy of excommunication.

Scientists working in academia can lose tenure for such an offense, and they know it. The way that the peer-review system works at academic institutions and other research organizations ensures that such shenanigans will be exposed eventually though, and they know that too. There are many scientists studying climate change at universities and government research facilities around the world. Each and every one of them is well motivated by the terms of their employment and the prospects of community prestige to identify and debunk the mistakes of others. In a hot field like climate research every single paper that is released is getting thoroughly scrutinized by many people with the requisite education and skills to identify mistakes, whether they be inadvertent or deliberate. Therefore, if these East Anglian researchers had released any papers based on fudged data I am entirely confident that it would have been discovered and exposed, at least within the climate research community, if not the general public.

In many situations it is difficult to identify what the facts really are. Media outlets who blur the lines between news and commentary are largely to blame. Also earning blame however are commentators, like David Frum, who form and espouse opinions on subjects which they are unqualified in every way to evaluate. Ask him why he is skeptical of climate change and you probably won’t get an answer with many facts in it. He’ll say, “Well, I just don’t think it’s been sufficiently proven,” or some such. That sounds reasonable, right? Consider, however, that with a History undergrad and Masters degree, and then a Juris Doctorate, that he cannot be expected to have a clue regarding anything of a scientific nature. For example, it is unreasonable to expect him to recognize the photographs of shrinking glaciers worldwide for what they are, incontrovertible evidence of global warming. Nor is he qualified to assess, or probably even aware of, the vast quantity of data regarding ocean current and temperature shifts that also indicate that the Earth is getting warmer. As an historian he should be aware of the significance of the Northwest Passage, the search for which was one of the great exploration endeavors of the last couple of centuries, but he is probably unaware that due to arctic shrinkage it is now regularly navigable. He is probably equally unaware of the extensive data regarding coral die-off from excessive ocean temperatures. I’m sure he hasn’t spent any time researching the vast quantity of evidence indicating a global warming trend. I doubt that that he would even understand it if he did.

But, no matter, he’s out there spouting his opinion regarding it as though he were an expert, and even worse he is challenging the very existence of empirical fact in general. That’s just criminally delusional. Thanks to CNN his delusions get wide circulation and the opportunity to convince many other under-educated voters. If you really wanna’ lose your lunch read the comment thread on his article. Many of the comments indicate that people are convinced by such arguments questioning the existence of empirical evidence. I’d like to see a study conducted regarding empiricism and voting record. I’m betting that there would be a strong correlation between Conservatism and disbelief in empiricism. After all, there’s no other way to justify most of the Republican agenda except to just make shit up. “Death panels” anyone?

Neil deGrasse Tyson said what?!

I love the work Neil deGrasse Tyson, Doctor of Astrophysics and the Director of the Hayden Planetarium, does popularizing Science. I agree 100% with him that raising the profile of Science and making it more accessible to the masses is needed in our society and I think he does a fantastic job of this. His NOVA scienceNow show and many public appearances do a great deal to advance the cause of science in our society, and for that I am extremely grateful to him. Indeed, I’ll go so far as to hail him as the heir apparent to Carl Sagan. They are big shoes to fill, but I think he can do it. In short, I’m a big admirer of him, but…

Here’s is a recent interview he did on the Colbert Report on June 29th, 2009. In this interview he defends the Bush Administration as not being as anti-science as many people have claimed it was. The whole interview is worth watching but you can jump to 4 minutes in for this part.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Neil deGrasse Tyson
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Jeff Goldblum

I have to disagree most emphatically with him on this. I think that the Bush Administration, and Republicans in general since Reagan for that matter, have had a terrible record regarding the support of Science. Their consistent denial of climate change comes immediately to mind. Destroying ecosystems indiscriminately in order to access petroleum is one of the Republican party planks. Ever hear of “Drill Baby, Drill!”? It’s one of their campaign slogans for crissake! For a thorough treatment of this subject I recommend “The Republican War on Science” by Chris Mooney. Also, don’t forget that Bush moved to quash stem-cell research, one of the most promising areas of medical science, on the basis of his religious convictions.

Dr. Tyson puts an emphasis on the fact that President Bush put science in his speeches, and therefore created some amount of science awareness that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred. In the same sentence he downplays the importance of whether or not President Bush actually acted on the science in question. This is the point at which I diverge from Tyson. I believe that it matters very very much whether or not he acts on the science.

Talking about something but then not taking any action regarding it is called “paying lip service”. Talking about something and then actively working to undermine it is called “hypocrisy”. The former would be bad enough but it is the latter of which I accuse the Bush Administration. Suppressing reports from Federal Government agencies (NASA, NOAA) regarding climate change, and even going so far as to change the conclusions from “climate change is happening and humans are responsible” to “we’re not sure climate change is even occurring” has got to be considered undermining Science. There are countless other examples. Every science-related Federal Government agency had their budget reduced or was otherwise meddled with during the Bush Administration as far as I can tell.

I think President Bush did great harm to Science by teaching people that it doesn’t really matter. He may have raised it’s profile, but it was only so he could then dash it to the ground. In his defense he did add many many acres to wildlife refuges and national forests… but only in areas that didn’t have any oil. His administration consistently pushed the idea of drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge and making many other concessions to petroleum companies at the expense of the health of the planet.

I respectfully urge Dr. Tyson to reevaluate his position on this because I believe that the Bush Administration deserves to be vilified for undermining Science, and that it is dangerous for pro-Science personalities, such as himself, to give tacit approval of the kinds of behavior that they engaged in. As rational people, interested in the welfare of the entire planet and the advancement of human knowledge, we cannot accept, and must vehemently speak out against, dismissing scientific evidence in order to protect or further the cause of particular industries or religions. In this way the Bush Administration repeatedly showed themselves to be enemies of Science, and as the unofficial spokesperson for said “rational people” I expect Dr. Tyson to say so!

What happened to the History Channel?

I used to love watching the History Channel but every time I turn it on lately it seems to be showing some garbage about Revelations, Nostradamus, UFOs, el Cupacabra or the Bermuda Triangle. I watched one today called ‘Ancient Aliens’ about Erich von Däniken‘s theories regarding evidence of extra-terrestrial visitors to Earth. I find some of this stuff, like Piri Reis‘s map, inexplicable and fascinating. I don’t mind the History Channel covering these topics. I think they’re well within the purview of History and are worthy of investigation.

What I object to is the History Channel’s irresponsible treatment of the material. They are not making any effort at all to distinguish between facts and speculation and sometimes they just report the speculations of unqualified commentators as fact. For example, in this episode of ‘Ancient Aliens’ the commentator says “Joseph Seiss demonstrated that the pyramids of Giza lie at the intersection of the longest line of latitude and the longest line of longitude.” This is the picture they’re showing at the time.

Location of Giza Pyramids

The important part here is that the commentator reports this as fact, as though it is not in question at all. They use a flimsy appeal to authority to support it. “Who is this Joseph Seiss character?,” was my first question. Turns out he was an American Lutheran Dispensationalist minister and amateur archaeologist who wrote a book named “A Miracle in Stone: The Great Pyramids of Egypt” in 1887 espousing this view. Hmmmm, some expert, huh?

Right off the top of my head I’d say Seiss was wrong because Giza doesn’t lie on the Equator, which is technically the longest line of latitude. The Great Pyramid actually lies at 29°58’44″N and 31°8’3″E, according to Google Earth. Now obviously the East measure is entirely arbitrary since 0° is defined as the longitude line that runs through Greenwich, England. But the North value means something relative to the rotation of the Earth. What it means is that Giza is not on the Equator, the longest line of latitude!

As for the claim regarding the longest line of longitude I couldn’t actually say. Theoretically they are all the same length but the Earth is an oblate spheroid, not a sphere, and of course there is surface topography. I’d hazard a guess that the longest line of longitude would have to run through the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest, or through a North-South running mountain chain such as the Rockies or Andes, so I think we can safely conclude this is bunk too. In any case the technology didn’t exist in 1887 to be able to say accurately what longitude line would be longest if measured on the Earth’s surface. I think at that time they were still debating whether or not the Earth was a perfect sphere.

Conclusion? The whole Seiss thing is easily demonstrable complete and utter bullshit that the History Channel reported as fact. I know plenty of otherwise intelligent, educated professionals that don’t know the odds between horizontal v. vertical, let alone latitude v. longitude. How many people, without the necessary knowledge to be critical of such claims, swallow them whole? Most of the population probably.

I consider it irresponsible in the extreme for an ostensibly educational TV channel to so blur the lines between fact and fiction. The History Channel is trusted by many people to be purveyors of historical facts and they are betraying that trust. Don’t even get me started on their Nostradamus shows! History Channel, consider yourself scolded! You have become a laughingstock, but it’s not too late to turn it around. Start now by eschewing the mystical in favor of the historical. There are an infinite number of dramatic and compelling stories in History that you haven’t ever covered. Why don’t you get back to addressing those instead of this sensationalist garbage? Until you do, I for one will be boycotting you.

The Label “Atheist”

Throughout this blog I will probably use the term “atheist” quite a lot. This is because everyone knows what it means, generally, and is therefor a useful term for discussion. I have pretty strong objections to it as a label for a group of people though. I don’t self-identify as an “atheist”, for example. For the same reason that I don’t label myself as a non-bigfoot-believer. It is utterly insufficient as a descriptive term for a human being. Since no human believes in all of the gods that have ever been invented by man every human is an atheist to some degree or another. I am myself only fractionally more atheist than Pat Robertson, for example. Also, since one has to be taught religious beliefs and isn’t born with them every human starts their life as an atheist. Continue reading

Things I believe #1

When I think about what I’d like to teach my children about this existence I often return to the thought, “What do I believe, and which of my beliefs is most important?” I haven’t come up with a solid answer to the second question because as with many things the relative importance of beliefs are a matter of perspective and context. Perhaps I should state that as my first belief. Continue reading

Creationist mistake #1A

In addition to the common misstatement that science believes that everything was created from nothing magically I’d have to say the the creationist mistake that bugs me the most is the insistence on the misuse of the term “theory”. While it is true that the word “theory” has come to be synonymous in common language with “conjecture” this is not the definition used by the scientific community. Allow me to clarify… Continue reading