-4 in Peoria, IL

It is -4 in Peoria, IL, and I am not talking about the windchill either. The wind has died down a bit.

It was 24 when I went to bed, though the wind was starting to howl.

Workout notes: probably going to the Riverplex (the gym) after this post to use the track, treadmill and whatever strikes my fancy. 6 miles on the track then 5 on the treadmill (or some combination thereof) sounds about right.

Topics for the day
Football: I am playing college “pick ’em” and I only got one of the 4 bowl games right. But the three that I lost were ranked 1, 2, and 3 on how confident I was (34 being the most confident); my one correct pick was ranked 28.

For the record I picked South Florida (as did everyone else), Fresno State, BYU and Navy. Fresno and Navy had chances to win in the 4th quarter.

Other topics

Science and mathematics:

Jorge Luis Borges and his library of Babel: Imagine a library in which every room of books is laid out in exactly the same way. But here is the kicker: given a language of a fixed number of characters, punctuation marks and spaces, your library has to contain every single possible book (up to a certain length) that could be written, including books that have complete nonsense in them.

The upside: you’ll have every book in this library. The downside: you’d better have some free time to find the book you’d want. 🙂

This is a piece of this fun article:

These combinatorial exercises are the most obvious instances where mathematics can illuminate the Borges story, but Bloch finds much else to comment on as well. Many of his notes concern the structure of the library itself rather than the books in it, focusing on details that I blithely passed over in my own readings of the story. Borges describes the library as a close-packed array of hexagonal rooms. Four walls of each hexagon are lined with bookshelves, holding a total of 640 books; the other two walls provide portals to adjacent hexagons. Vertically, the levels of the library are connected by ventilation shafts and spiral stairways. This design has some curious consequences. For example, Bloch points out that somewhere in the library there must be at least one hexagon whose shelves are not full. The reason is that 251,312,000 is not evenly divisible by 640.

For me the biggest surprise in Bloch’s commentary comes in a chapter that applies ideas from graph theory to the layout of the library. Another celebrated Borges story is titled “The Garden of Forking Paths,” but it turns out the library consists entirely of forkless passages; there can be no branch points in any route weaving through a floor of the library. If you view each hexagon as a node of a graph, then all the nodes are of degree 2, connected to just two other nodes. Branching requires nodes with at least three connections. Similarly, the vertical structure of the library is strongly constrained by the ventilation shafts and stairways that connect the levels. Depending on exactly how Borges’s description is interpreted, it may be that every floor is required to have exactly the same layout. It’s even possible that the graph of the library is divided into multiple disjoint components. If that’s the case, then although the library holds all possible 410-page books, there’s no guarantee you can get to them all.

Human Evolution: still going on….and has been going on even in the last 5000 years!

Tracking human evolution used to be the province solely of paleontologists, those of us who study fossil bones from the ancient past. The human family, called the Hominidae, goes back at least seven million years to the appearance of a small proto-human called Sahelanthropus tchadensis.

Since then, our family has had a still disputed, but rather diverse, number of new species in it—as many as nine that we know of and others surely still hidden in the notoriously poor hominid fossil record. Because early human skeletons rarely made it into sedimentary rocks before they were scavenged, this estimate changes from year to year as new discoveries and new interpretations of past bones make their way into print [see “Once We Were Not Alone,” by Ian Tattersall; Scientific American, January 2000, and “An Ancestor to Call Our Own,” by Kate Wong; Scientific American, January 2003].

Each new species evolved when a small group of hominids somehow became separated from the larger population for many generations and then found itself in novel environmental conditions favoring a different set of adaptations. Cut off from kin, the small population went its own genetic route and eventually its members could no longer successfully reproduce with the parent population.

The fossil record tells us that the oldest member of our own species lived 195,000 years ago in what is now Ethiopia. From there it spread out across the globe. By 10,000 years ago modern humans had successfully colonized each of the continents save Antarctica, and adaptations to these many locales (among other evolutionary forces) led to what we loosely call races. Groups living in different places evidently retained just enough connections with one another to avoid evolving into separate species. With the globe fairly well covered, one might expect that the time for evolving was pretty much finished.

But that turns out not to be the case. In a study published a year ago Henry C. Harpending of the University of Utah, John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and their colleagues analyzed data from the international haplotype map of the human genome [see “Traces of a Distant Past,” by Gary Stix; Scientific American, July 2008]. They focused on genetic markers in 270 people from four groups: Han Chinese, Japanese, Yoruba and northern Europeans. They found that at least 7 percent of human genes underwent evolution as recently as 5,000 years ago. Much of the change involved adaptations to particular environments, both natural and human-shaped. For example, few people in China and Africa can digest fresh milk into adulthood, whereas almost everyone in Sweden and Denmark can. This ability presumably arose as an adaptation to dairy farming.

Another study by Pardis C. Sabeti of Harvard University and her colleagues used huge data sets of genetic variation to look for signs of natural selection across the human genome. More than 300 regions on the genome showed evidence of recent changes that improved people’s chance of surviving and reproducing. Examples included resistance to one of Africa’s great scourges, the virus causing Lassa fever; partial resistance to other diseases, such as malaria, among some African populations; changes in skin pigmentation and development of hair follicles among Asians; and the evolution of lighter skin and blue eyes in northern Europe.

Harpending and Hawks’s team estimated that over the past 10,000 years humans have evolved as much as 100 times faster than at any other time since the split of the earliest hominid from the ancestors of modern chimpanzees. The team attributed the quickening pace to the variety of environments humans moved into and the changes in living conditions brought about by agriculture and cities. It was not farming per se or the changes in the landscape that conversion of wild habitat to tamed fields brought about but the often lethal combination of poor sanitation, novel diet and emerging diseases (from other humans as well as domesticated animals). Although some researchers have expressed reservations about these estimates, the basic point seems clear: humans are first-class evolvers.

Much more is there: what is currently going on? Is the fact that that, in general, dumber people have more kids hurting our human race, at least as far as intelligence? (hint: the evidence indicates: “no”; read on to find out why)

I was lead to these articles by the following entries in 3 quarks daily: this one and that one.

If I had to restrict myself to reading just one “non personal” blog, it would be 3-quarks daily.

Science and Obama: I am not the only one who thinks that Obama is delivering on his science related promises.

Many scientists have been actively supporting Obama. This support stems, in part, from a feeling that any change from the past eight years can only be an improvement. But there has also been a belief that Obama fundamentally understands how science works. That he appreciates its relevance to the key issues of the day. And that he will actively solicit input from the scientific community, and that this input will appropriately inform his decisions. All of this has been primarily hypothetical, based mostly on somewhat vague statements and sound bites. Today Obama gave his weekly radio/YouTube address, and it was exclusively devoted to science and technology. In addition to Steve Chu and John Holdren, he has now added Harold Varmus and Eric Lander as co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He has assembled a scientific dream team, including two Nobel Laureates, and a host of eminent scientists with public-policy experience. A President is not expected to master the scientific issues at stake. A President’s effectiveness depends solely and crucially on their choice of appointments. These appointments are thus the first and most important scientific decision Obama will make, and he has done an extraordinary job. Of course, the next most important aspect will be whether or not Obama listens to their advice. This will be an extremely difficult group to ignore. In his weekly address Obama announces the appointments, but then articulates his concerns:

The article goes on to point out that we no longer just have “hope” with regards to Obama, but we have what he has promised.
THAT, to me, vastly outweighs any anguish over his making a bad pick to give the invocation at his inauguration.

Higher Education: From “Rate Your Students”:

A professor reads her evaluations. Here is one of them:

# “Not bad on the eyes” or any synonym for “cute.”
A+ student. Granted, students are more likely to learn when there’s something worth paying attention to. But this kind of comment makes me feel dirty. Or phony, like Sarah Palin. But I consider myself more articulate and couldn’t shoot a moose even if it handed me the gun.

I am not saying that this is the case here, but we had a couple of feminist professors. One used to wear tight leather skirts to class. Another (older) one used to wear see through pants suits (complete with bikini underpants); one student described the latter as “being old”. She would have died had she heard that comment. 🙂

Another professor has a battle with cell phones:

I have a strict “no cell phones in class” policy that reflects the University’s policy. My class meets once weekly and the second half of class is a feature-length film screening. What really galls me is when students use their phones during screenings, thinking somehow how those bright lights are not visible and therefore not distracting. But that is beside the point; it’s NOT ALLOWED

Ours implemented a policy that someone in each classroom must have one turned on! Why? Well, to “keep us safe” of course. Never mind that this is a gross overreaction to the possibility of a rare incident or that such overreactions (a campus panic over a routine fist fight!) often cause more harm than good.

Social and religion: did you know that the police in Connecticut are keeping you safe from “swinging clubs”? That’s right: if some couples want to rent out a club (and keep it private) and have kinky sex, well, the police will keep you safe from them!

Of course, I wonder which social force is behind such an idiotic thing; nah, you don’t need to wonder. This was put very well at the Richard Dawkins site (though the author of this article was referring to Great Britain, it can apply equally well here)

I wonder whether, in the dialogue of the deaf that this quarrel has become, a few reminders might be in order. Secularism is the view that religious outlooks, though perfectly entitled to exist and have their say, are not entitled to a bigger slice of the public pie than any other self-constituted, self-appointed, self-selected and self-serving civil society organisation. Yet the religious persistently ask for special treatment: public money for their “faith-based” schools, seats in the House of Lords, exemption from laws inconvenient to their prejudices, and so endlessly on. They even have the cheek to ask for “respect” for their silly and antiquated beliefs; and in Geneva at the Human Rights Council the Islamic countries are trying to subvert the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because it is inconvenient to their medieval, sexist, intolerant outlook.

Secularists in the west say to the apologists of the religions: your beliefs are your choice, so take your place in the queue. They also say: you’ve had it your own way for a very long time – and committed a lot of crimes in the process – and you still fancy yourself entitled, but you aren’t. You don’t smell too good at times, so don’t try to tell me what I can read, see on TV, do in my private time, think or say. In fact, keep your sticky fingers off my life. Believe what you like but don’t expect me to admire or excuse you because of it: rather the contrary, given the fairy-stories in question. And when you are a danger to the lives and liberties of others, which alas is too frequently the wont of your ilk, we will speak out against you as loudly, persistently, and uncompromisingly as we can.

Speaking of the Dawkins site: one of the things I like most about it is that it covers articles that are critical of Dawkins and the whole so-called “new atheist movement”. Here is one such article (the article it links to).

Note: it takes some patience to read the article that it links to and it might not be worth the effort. Here is a sample of what is there:

Today’s “new atheists” are not at all impressed with the moral credentials of the Old Testament (OT) God. Oxonian Richard Dawkins thinks that Yahweh is truly a moral monster: “What makes my jaw drop is that people today should base their lives on such an appalling role model as Yahweh-and even worse, that they should bossily try to force the same evil monster (whether fact or fiction) on the rest of us.”[1]

Dawkins deems God’s commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to be “disgraceful” and tantamount to “child abuse and bullying.”[2] Moreover, this God breaks into a “monumental rage whenever his chosen people flirted with a rival god,” resembling “nothing so much as sexual jealousy of the worst kind.”[3] Add to this the killing of the Canaanites-an “ethnic cleansing” in which “bloodthirsty massacres” were carried out with “xenophobic relish.” Joshua’s destruction of Jericho is “morally indistinguishable from Hitler’s invasion of Poland, or Saddam Hussein’s massacres of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs.”[4] […]

They then lay out other criticisms that new atheists make.

These are the charges made by the new atheists. Are they fair representations? I shall argue that they are not. Though certain OT texts present challenges and difficulties, navigating these waters is achievable with patient, nuanced attention given to the relevant OT texts, the ancient Near East (ANE) context, and the broader biblical canon.

In other words, they will cherry pick what they like and rationalize away what they don’t.

This is the kind of stuff that you’ll find there:

Or consider race (remember Dawkins’s “xenophobic” charge). Yes, the Pentateuch’s legal code in places does differentiate between Israelite and non-Israelite slaves (for example, Exod. 12:43, where non-Israelites are not to partake in the Passover); it grants remitting loans to Israelites but not to foreigners (Deut. 15:3); it allows for exacting interest from a foreigner but not from a fellow Israelite (Deut. 23:20); Moabites and Ammonites are excluded from the sanctuary (Deut. 23:3).[31] To stop here, as the new atheists do, is to overlook the Pentateuch’s narrative indicating God’s concern for bringing blessing to all humanity (Gen. 12:1-3). Even more fundamentally, human beings have been created in God’s image as co-rulers with God over creation (Gen. 1:26-7; Ps. 8)-unlike the ANE mindset, in which the earthly king was the image-bearer of the gods. The imago Dei establishes the fundamental equality of human beings, despite the ethnocentrism and practice of slavery within Israel.

In other words, when confronted with the evil that is in the Bible, find something good in it and focus on that.

They go on:

Any treatment of the Hebrew Bible with regard to ethics, especially as an ethical resource to contemporary communities, must acknowledge the impediment created by the simple fact that these texts are rooted in a cultural context utterly unlike our own, with moral presuppositions and categories that are alien and in some cases repugnant to our modern sensibilities.[38]

Which is one good reason why the Bible shouldn’t be seen as a source for modern morality. 🙂

According to Birch, we should acknowledge rather than ignore or downplay morally-objectionable practices and attitudes within Israel such as patriarchalism, slavery, ethnocentrism, and the like. He adds a crucial point, however: none of these practices and attitudes is “without contrary witness” elsewhere in the OT.[43] The new atheists gloss over any “contrary witness,” focusing only on the morally problematic. However, closer examination reveals that Scripture itself (rather than twenty-first-century critics) has the resources to guide us regarding what is ideal and normative and what is temporary and sui generis in the Bible.[44]

In other words, cherry pick what you like; blow off what you don’t.

Then after Israel had to wait over four hundred years and undergo bondage in Egypt while the sin of the Amorites was building to full measure (Gen. 15:16), God delivered them out of slavery and provided a place for them to live as a nation-“a political entity with a place in the history books.” Yahweh had now created a theocracy-a religious, social, and political environment in which Israel had to live. Yet she needed to inhabit a land, which would include warfare. So Yahweh fought on behalf of Israel while bringing just judgment upon a Canaanite culture that had sunk hopelessly below any hope of moral return (with the rare exception of Rahab and her family)-a situation quite unlike the time of the patriarchy.

Let me add a few more thoughts about warfare here. First, Israel would not have been justified to attack the Canaanites without Yahweh’s explicit command. Yahweh issued his command in light of a morally-sufficient reason-the incorrigible wickedness of Canaanite culture. Second, the language of Deuteronomy 7:2-5 assumes that, despite Yahweh’s command to bring punishment to the Canaanites, they would not be obliterated-hence the warnings not to make political alliances or intermarry with them. We see from this passage too that wiping out Canaanite religion was far more significant than wiping out the Canaanites themselves.[67] Third, the “obliteration language” in Joshua (for example, “he left no survivor” and “utterly destroyed all who breathed” [10:40]) is clearly hyperbolic. Consider how, despite such language, the text of Joshua itself assumes Canaanites still inhabit the land:

Ok, now to Joshua’s reported genocide. “Well, the HAD to do it because they were that bad, but well, they really didn’t do it anyway”. 🙂

But here is the best part:

The new atheists consider Yahweh to be impatient, jealous, and easily provoked. In actual fact, God endures much rejection from his people. God is often exasperated with and hurt by his people, asking, “What more was there to do for My vineyard [Israel] that I have not done in it?” (Isa. 5:4). Again: “How I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols” (Ezek. 6:9). And again: “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts, a people who continually provoke Me to My face” (Isa. 65:2-3).

Thus when Dawkins accuses God of breaking into a “monumental rage whenever his chosen people flirted with a rival god”-as “nothing so much as sexual jealousy of the worst kind”-he seems to show utter disregard for the significance of the marriage covenant-and, in particular, this unique bond between God and his people. Israel had not simply “flirted” with rival gods, but had cohabited with them, going from one lover to another, “playing the harlot” (cp. Ezek. 16 and 23). Hosea’s notable portrayal of Israel as a prostitute-not a mere flirt-is far more serious than Dawkins’s casual dismissal. The appropriate response to adultery is anger and hurt. When there is none, we rightly wonder how deeply and meaningfully committed to marriage one truly is.

Ok, god is anthropomorphized into something that can feel hurt and rejected. And we are supposed to ascribe the creation of the universe (complete with sophisticated scientific laws) to this character? Yeah, right. 🙂

Anyway, such BS as this is what one can expect to find from religious apologists.


December 21, 2008 - Posted by | 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Democrats, education, evolution, football, Illinois, Peoria, politics, politics/social, ranting, religion, science

1 Comment »

  1. GREAT post!

    Comment by postsimian | December 22, 2008 | Reply

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