Why Do We Bother?

This is a companion post to In Defense of Reasoned Inquiry below. I want to talk more about why it's so important to keep creationism out of science classrooms.

First, let's take a gander over to a fundamentalist Christian blog. Rand, of A Form of Sound Words said this

As for these millions of years of evolution scientists love to throw around so much, here's a quick thought for you: can God create a mountain that has all the physical properties of being millions of years old? If He can, then the evolutionist doesn't have the "proof" he thinks he has.
Leaving aside for the moment the small matter of evolution and geology being different fields of study, let's take a good look at this quote. If we accept, as Rand does, that God is omnipotent, then it does of course follow that He can create a mountain with all the properties of being millions of years old. If we furthermore accept that the bible is the word of God, and meant to be taken as literally as possible, then we are left with this one, inescapable conclusion: God is willing to deceive us. The account in the bible and the evidence we see before us simply don't match. If God was responsible for both, then God has lied to us.

Now without getting into a discussion about whether God would or should lie to us (such hypotheticals bore me to tears), I just want to discuss the implications of the fact that God (if such a being exists, and is responsible for the bible in the way Rand claims He is) *has* lied. This means that we cannot trust our senses. We cannot trust the results of our experiments. If we cannot trust the world to be as our senses perceive it and our reason deduces it to be then we can't investigate anything. Let me say that again. We can't investigate anything. If we presuppose the existence of a God that falsifies evidence, the entire field of science is moot. Moot. Hell, even if we didn't have proof that this God falsified evidence, the mere fact that He could would suffice. The musings of Descartes and Hume are fun for keeping ourselves up at night, but the scientist must proceed on the assumption that her results are reliable, or she may as well not bother.

This is precisely why creationism, Creation Science, Intelligent Design, or whatever you want to call it, does not belong in the classroom. By presupposing an intelligent guidance of natural phenomena, it flies in the face of everything science is trying to achieve. It states that things are the way they are, not because of the immutability of natural laws, but because they were arbitrarily designed that way. If that is the case then there is nothing to be learned from studying them and we may as well all go home. I'm not interested in that. There is certainly the possibility that Rand or Descartes or even David Hume were right. That the universe our senses show us bears little or no relation to the universe as it really is, but as there is no possibility of bringing evidence to bear on that conjecture, it does not belong within the realm of science. Take your ID and shove it up your philosophy teacher's ass. It has no place in a science classroom.

(Thanks to my father for providing the main idea behind this post)


Wow. Um ... Wow.

It would appear that my post In Defense of Reasoned Inquiry has been nominated for the Best Blog Post award in My Blahg's 2005 Canadian Blog Awards.

I have no idea who nominated that post but, well, thank you. I'm not sure what to say... I'm certainly flattered.

Round 1 of voting is supposed to run from November 24th to 30th, and round 2 from December 3rd to 9th. It would appear that the results will be announced on the 11th of December.

So, yes. Thank you, whoever nominated me.


Snail Reference Post

Remember the knitblogging reference post? Well this is like that, only for snails.

Two Thousand

Much has been made in the lefty blogosphere lately about the fact that the number of American deaths in Iraq has recently passed two thousand. The best post that I have seen so far was by P.Z. Meyers of Pharyngula, so I'll just refer you there. Here's a particularly poignant quote:

I think we're supposed to console ourselves with the idea that they accomplished so much more by dying in a foreign land than they could have achieved by living in their own.

I've noticed a distinct lack of mention of the number of Iraqi civilian deaths which, by conservative estimates, has already well surpassed 25,000, so I'm mentioning it now. What this war amounts to is throwing good money after bad. But in addition to money, they're trowing lives.


Letting My Curiosity Get the Better of Me

I'm going to be putting Google ads in the sidebar. They won't stay there long unless they end up being a significant source of income (which, given this blog's stats, they won't), I'm just really curious about how they work, and there are things they won't tell you (like how much money you get per view/click, how they pay you, etc) that they won't tell you unless you sign up. So, yeah, signing up. But, like I said, it won't last long. Please be patient, and remember, this is *my* webspace, to do with as I please.

UPDATE never mind. They want permission to use and publish my name in their marketing materials. Fuck that.


Knitblogging, a reference post

Because Blogger doesn't have the option of creating categories, the way WordPress does, and because I want a way to collect all the posts about one subject into a single link I can put on the sidebar, I'm creating this post. I'll put a link to this post in the sidebar, and every time I blog about knitting I'll put a link to the post in this post, at the top of the list.

Oh, and when I finished the Rogue, I promised a picture of myself wearing it, and then never delivered. Well, here it is:


Knitblogging, part II - Slipper Socks.

When I was in the 11th grade my class went on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park. Because it was autumn, cooling down, and likely to rain, my mother loaned me a pair of heavy wool socks. Wool, she said, was essential for this sort of trip, because it retained its ability to insulate even when wet. These socks, she said, would keep my feet warm even if I fell out of the canoe (although she made no promises about the rest of my body). So I wore the socks, night and day, for the full three (or was it four?) days of the trip. I loved them. True to my mother's word, these socks stayed warm even when drenched. We won't discuss what they smelled like by the time we got back to Toronto. I loved the socks so much that when I moved to Montreal a year and a half later, I asked my mother if I could take them with me. She had two pairs, and so was happy to let me have one. I kept wearing these socks. I wore them in the house, in place of slippers; I wore them inside my oxblood, steel-toed Doc Martins (which are very sexy, but don't insulate very well, and are too big for me besides). I wore them inside my hikers during winter, because I'm too cheap and lazy to buy proper winter boots. I wore these socks all the freaking time. I figured they were heavy wool, they could take it. Well, they are heavy wool, and they did take a lot, but eventually they started to lose their battle with friction. The bottoms started to go at the heel, and then at the ball, and eventually they made very poor slippers, because they let my bare heel come into full contact with the cold wood floor. I wasn't ready to throw them out (they still did a good job of keeping my feet warm under the blankets on particularly cold nights), but I was forced to admit that I was going to need a new pair.

I waffled. Being cheap and lazy, and hating shopping in general, I wasn't inclined to buy a new pair. Then, a little over a year ago, I took up knitting again in earnest, and that reinforced my desire not to buy a new pair. After all, I could knit a pair! But I didn't. Every sock pattern I looked at was either intended for a much lighter yarn, or waayy too complicated, or both. I got increasingly frustrated with the situation, but then my aunt got me a pair of fleece slipper socks for christmas, and that held my frustration in check for a while. But only for a while. The fleece socks, while nice, couldn't hold a candle to the look and feel of socks made from real, heavy, good quality wool.

Finally it happened. I had finished the Rogue. I was casting around for a new project. My confidence in my knitting skill was high. I had some spare, good, heavy wool yarn on hand. And I came across this pattern. At first I wasn't sure, but once I looked at the pattern and realised how trivial it would be to get rid of the godawful moon-and-stars design I was sold. I did it. It took about a week. I am now the proud owner of an incredibly comfy pair of slipper socks, pictured below:

Here's a detail shot of the heel. The picture links to some notes on the construction.

The slipper socks were made from Knitting Pure and Simple's free pattern, on 3.75mm Brittany birch needles, with Cascade Yarns's Ecological Wool, shade 8061 which just happens to be almost the same colour as the original wool socks my mother gave me all those years ago.


In Defense of Reasoned Inquiry

Nominee, Best Post

I don't know if it's only recently come to my attention, or if there has actually been an increase in recent years, but it seems to me that science is under attack in the USA. Despite having the good fortune not to live in that country, I nonetheless feel that I have a certain responsibility, as an educated, reasonable member of this global village, to help my allies south of the border to defend this most precious technique against the attacks it has been the target of.

Why is the scientific method so precious? Because it is the *only* way we have of really knowing things. Without the scientific method all we have are superstition and common sense, neither of which have particularly good track records with getting things right. The scientific method, on the other hand, with its emphasis on testing and evidence, has an excellent track record. One might even say that "getting it right" is defined by the scientific method.

For a comprehensive definition of the scientific method, I suggest you read Wikipedia's page on the topic, but I'll give the gist of it here:

  1. You start off with observation. You see what's going in the world and you notice patterns, or interesting and unexpected deviations from patterns. You collect information on these patterns until you feel you have enough information to move on to step 2, which is...

  2. Formation of a hypothesis. This is where you use the information available to you to make an educated guess about why or how the things you observed happen. Now you need to...

  3. Test the hypothesis. A hypothesis is only as strong as the predictions it makes, and a hypothesis that only seeks to explain given observations without making any predictions about what further observation will reveal has no value at all. (We who are interested in actual evidence call these hypotheses "just so stories," with a hat-tip to Rudyard Kipling.) What your hypothesis should do is give you some idea of what to observe next, and how to go about observing it (again, for examples see the wiki article). It is very likely that, once you've performed these new observations, you will find that your data doesn't jibe 100% with your hypothesis. That means it's time to...

  4. Revise your hypothesis. See if you can come up with a (testable) idea that explains your new data while still being consistent with your old data. And once you've done that, you go back to step 3.

Now, what a lot of people don't seem to understand is that you never stop repeating steps 3 and 4. There is no point at which a hypothesis is considered proven and observation and experimentation can stop. What can happen, however, is that experimental data can bear out a hypothesis's predictions over and over, so many times, with so little need for revision, that it becomes very hard to believe that a reproducible experiment will ever be performed that disproves the hypothesis. At this point the hypothesis can graduate to the rank of theory. It becomes accepted as true by a majority of members of the field, and it can be used as a jumping-off point for new hypotheses. However, it remains falsifiable. It always remains falsifiable.

Now, I hope I don't have to explain why this technique is so damned important, and what a shame it will be if a majority of Americans reject it outright, and explicitly accept the practice of creating public policy based on conclusions not reached through this technique. I hope I don't have to explain why it's so important that children be taught this technique in school. Be taught that conclusions reached through this technique are superior to conclusions reached through other methods. I hope I don't, but if I do please say so. I'll be happy to oblige with another post.

It's with this in mind that I've weighed into the evolution/creation debate. My goal is not, and has never been, to convince creationists that they are wrong. My goal is to reach those who are undecided. Those who are at risk of being convinced by the arguments of creationists (arguments that, with their logical fallacies and factual errors, can seem quite sensible on the surface). I hope to do my part to create a more scientifically literate populace, which is, in the end, the only thing that will keep creation "science" and other such nonsense out of government, and out of the schools. Call me crazy, but I'm convinced of the capacity of science to build a better world.


Status of Canadian Women

I would encourage all Canadians to go fill out Status of Women Canada's Gender Equality Consultation. Please tell our government how you think they can best encourage equality between the sexes in this country.


Should auld acquaintance be forgot an..

Oh wait, wrong tradition.

Well, happy new year, everyone. I wish you all many carrots and apples with honey.