Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Pox On Both of Them!

In the backward politics of this vividly crimson red state of Oklahoma, last November in the presidential election, I was not given any acceptable options.  Only the Republican or Democrat candidate.  No write-ins allowed.  No other candidates were allowed on the ballot.  And there was no option to vote "NO!" for President.

So my only option was the inevitable:  the lesser of two bad choices.  This seems to have become the default situation in American politics these days.  Yes, there were clear differences between the Republican and Democrat candidates, making it relatively easy to choose between them.  But I was not permitted to vote my conscience, not permitted to reject both in favor of a third party candidate, or to simply vote "NO!" - to express my profound displeasure with the candidates offered to me on my ballot.

With time, I'm becoming less and less satisfied with the current sitting President.  I'm not one of the lunatic fringers who thinks Barack Obama is a foreigner, or a closet muslim, or a communist-socialist, out to take away everyone's guns before installing a dictatorship.  But I do find his performance in office to be mostly about maintaining the status quo established by his predecessor.  Guantanamo remains packed with prisoners being held without charge or trial.  A war continues in Afghanistan, taking American lives, to say nothing about those of innocent civilians.  Drones can now target pretty much anyone in the world on the whim of the President.  No charges, no evidence, no trial - judge, jury, and executioner by remote control.  The Patriot Act remains in effect.  Universal health care has stopped far short of where it should be.  Corporate and banking executives responsible for the plundering of our economy and ruining the lives of millions of Americans go unpunished and unchecked in their greed. I could go on and on.  The President simply has not even come close to living up to his promises and has caved in to conservative political pressure with hardly a whimper, over and over again.

No, the default assumption that if I take a position proudly that would be called "liberal" (as if that's some sort of vile curse word), I must be a supporter of Barack Obama's administration (or that of Bill Clinton, or whomever) - is simply not valid.  I think I can discern things I dislike about all the recent liberal Presidents in my lifetime.  It's  true that I dislike the conservative Presidents even more, of course.

American politics is such that political parties now act against the will of the American people in many ways.  They're no longer responsive to the electorate.  They're bought and sold in a cynical 'market' where political office can be subverted to support the highest bidder, not the Constitution.  Although I certainly believe a lot of my conservative friends have been duped into supporting things that are contrary to their own best interests, I detect a growing dissatisfaction within the ranks of the 'moderates' among them.  Not all conservatives want to force the christian religion onto the secular American government and its public institutions.  Not all conservatives favor a jingoist foreign policy, where American warfighters are mired in endless, pointless conflicts in which America's freedom and liberty are not at all at stake.  Not all conservatives want to replace science in the classrooms of our public schools with religious dogma and denial of the reality of anthropogenic climate change.  Not all conservatives are adamantly opposed to reasonable enhancements to gun control, such as universal background checks.  And not all conservatives are in favor of the misogyny and bigotry embodied in the statements of some Republican politicians.

It is high time we all stopped voting for those craven politicians offered to us by the two dominant political parties.  It's time that we voters began to take political office away from the corporations and the demagogues - push all these bastards out of office!  Centrist conservatives and liberals can unite to propel a positive change in the political atmosphere!  Rather than wasting our time talking past each other and promulgating divisive propaganda, we can unite to reject politics as they have become, in favor of politics as they should be!  Let's work to have more than two alternatives included on our ballots, so we can begin to find a consensus that rejects both the dominant political parties as failures to represent us.  Give us a choice beyond the lesser of two evils!!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

One Among Many Speculative Notions

I was watching a cable TV segment on "The Origins of the Universe" - it featured a theologian amidst a number of scientists - and clearly was centered on the idea of whether or not the universe was created by "god".  Of late, there seems to be a lot of cable "history" and "science" programming that has a focus on religion.  A curious trend, that.

Anyway, it was interesting to watch the show because I suspect that many non-scientists failed to grasp the amount of misinformation generated during the course of the show.  It always seemed the rather arrogant theologian got the "last word" a lot during the discussions, which represented something of a religious bias in the show.  He always was able to get in some dig about the science, without the scientists being given the chance to respond to his "arguments".

A key notion in the whole discussion of the origins of the universe is that all of the proposed versions of how the universe began are nothing more than speculation.  No one can actually claim to know the answers, for sure.  (Unless they're religious believers who always know all the answers!)  For the purposes of this discussion, I'm using the word "speculation" in this context to mean unvalidated hypotheses.  Ideas are a dime a dozen - anyone can have an idea that purports to "explain" something.  The tough part is to develop convincing evidence to substantiate an idea.  The 'god hypothesis' is nothing more than one among many speculative ideas.

Diverse ideas are out there in the physics/cosmology community about what caused the universe to come into being with the so-called Big Bang.  The science underpinning the Big Bang itself and its aftermath is on pretty firm ground these days.  That the universe began in an unimaginably powerful singular event can be, and has been, tested with observations.  The preponderance of the evidence supports the idea.  The evolution of the universe from that moment to the present is mostly in very good agreement with what we think we know about the laws of the natural world.  Given the Big Bang, it seems that science has a pretty good handle on what happened later - not every detail, of course.  One sticky detail is the origin of life on the Earth - but given life, it seems that evolutionary biology can take it from there.  A key principle in science is to know the limits of what science can say about a subject.  Scientists are generally pretty careful about that.

The issue we constantly confront in arguments with religious believers is that science can offer no evidence to confirm (or deny) their ideas of how the Big Bang (or the first life on Earth) came to be.  Scientists can speculate, but we presently don't have the capability even to test any of the scientific ideas that seek to explain these mysterious events.  Therefore, all those scientific ideas are on the same playing field as the ideas of religion - with the very important exception that scientific ideas must conform to logical principles (including mathematical logic) and be plausible in the context within which science operates.  Religious "explanations"  seem to be little more than modest elaborations on the notion that "god did it" - an idea that actually explains nothing!  If our "answer" is "god did it", that gives us absolutely no useful information.

Imagine someone from another planet landing on the Earth and finding a watch.  On the face of the watch is the word "Bulova".  A watch is obviously a manufactured artifact, but the fact that it was created by "Bulova" gives our alien visitors absolutely no information about its intended use, or how it works to accomplish that intent, or how it was manufactured, or why it was made in that particular way.  Science seeks to "explain" things in terms of how and why natural objects and processes work the way they do.  It does not seek to associate those objects and processes with some entity.  That some entity might have created natural objects or processes is to postulate something that may or may not even exist.  Before seeking to "explain" things in terms of a proposed entity, one first would  have to establish that such an entity exists.  This, of course, has never been done.  The fact that there is no absolute proof this entity does not exist is completely irrelevant!  If the evidence of how and why some object or process works leads us to the hypothesis that a creating entity was involved, as it surely would for our watch example, that remains at least a logical possibility.  Distinguishing natural objects and processes from those created by an advanced entity should be easy.  Certainly, if alien visitors found a watch, it would lead them to postulate a 'watch creator' that understood the operating principles and possessed the capability to assemble raw materials into a watch.

But what about a rock?  Or a bird?  Or the weather?  What evidence about these objects and processes leads us to postulate a creator?  Complexity?  Hogwash!  Complexity arises spontaneously in the natural world from the nonlinearity of the physical processes.  Simplicity would be far more demanding of an explanation than complexity!

The 'god hypothesis' is exactly on a par with all the competing ideas of scientists about the origins of the universe (and life on Earth).  Except that it's possible in the future that science will find ways to test the scientific hypotheses and perhaps a comprehensive explanation will emerge from the scientific method.  Unfortunately for religious believers, unless the putative 'god' chooses to reveal himself in some obvious and unambiguous way, there is no such possibility for finding evidence on behalf of an entity that can do acts of creation without following natural physical laws.  You can't use logic and evidence to underpin an irrational belief.  Religion recognizes no limit on what their putative "god" can do, and believers assert that they know the explanation for everything - their god did it!  End of story.  Their arrogance (and ignorance) is palpable!