February 12, 2016
First, we start the day by wishing a speedy recovery and good health to Richard Dawkins, who last week suffered a minor stroke. He's doing okay and is expected to be back in action, but there will be some work ahead to recover. CFI and RDFRS staff is handling his Twitter account for now (thus, alas, a spelling error in a recent tweet that Dawkins himself would never make).
But a Happy Darwin Day to him and to you nonetheless. CFI communities all across the country are (and have been) putting on all kinds of excellent events to mark Chuck's birthday, and when I kick the next issue of the Cause & Effect newsletter later today, you can see what I'm talking about. Meanwhile, Kimberly Winston notes that the debate over evolution has itself evolved, with intelligent design advocates now looking overseas to advance their anti-science position.
Incidentally, and there's no reason you should care about this, the heat went out in our house last night, and it's awaiting repair, but right now it's -1 °F where I am in Maine, and I work from home. So despite bundling up, my fingers are, well, I'm sure they're there. I can see them, after all.
Gravitational waves! If you're like me, you didn't even know this was a thing worth getting excited about. But now I'm excited! Black holes running into each other, space-time itself undulating about, Einstein scoring another posthumous win, it's crazy. As Dennis Overbye puts it in his video for NYT, we now have "ears tuned to the invisible music of the cosmos."
Lawrence Krauss compares what was achieved at LIGO to the invention of the telescope, and Sarah Scoles at Wired explains:
Besides making Einstein look more right than ever, detecting gravitational waves ought to let astronomers get a better look at dark, distant, supermassive, fast-moving, cataclysmic stuff using mass and movement instead of mere light. “We’ve been studying the light side of the universe for the past 10,000 years,” says Avery Broderick, an astrophysicist at the University of Waterloo and Perimeter Institute. “LIGO is going to begin the process of studying the dark side.” ... What that might mean in practice is seeing what the universe was like in its infancy, what gravity is like at its most extreme, and how hyper dense matter behaves.
CFI board member and all-around cool guy Leonard Tramiel clarifies what's big about the announcement:
The importance isn't the confirmation of gravitational waves, we've known those were real since the Nobel prize winning discovery back in the 70s. The ability to observe them will allow us to see things we didn't expect. That's what's important.
So here we are, going about our day, knowing that the Reason Rally of 2016 is coming, and then BOOM, we get a new announcement with a whole slew of newly confirmed speakers that are simply awesome. I'm talking Caroline Porco (Saturn!), Margaret Cho (hilarious!), Julia Sweeney (God said Ha!), and my favorite, John de Lancie (Q!!!). And way more. Check it out.
In talking up her husband Ted, Heidi Cruz sums up the view of the religious right in a pretty straightforward way:
We are at a cultural crossroads in our country, and if we can be in this race to show this country the face of the God that we serve—this Christian God that we serve is the foundation of our country. Our country was built on Judeo-Christian values. We are a nation of freedom of religion, but the God of Christianity is the God of freedom, of individual liberty, of choice and of consequence.
You got that? Yes, religious freedom, but in the sense that Christian God = freedom. It aaaaallllll makes sense.
After a number of deaths, Idaho's governor, C. L. Otter (real name!) asks the state legislature to study the issue of faith-healing, and how parents can get out of being charged with neglect or abuse when they choose faith-healing over real medical treatment for their kids. "At what point does that become child neglect or abuse is a question I can’t answer," said Otter. I can answer it: right away.
A husband and wife in Pakistan were sentenced to death in 2014 for the husband's allegedly texting blasphemous messages to a cleric. The couple is Christian, and the man is paralyzed from the waist down. They have just filed a petition with the High Court to suspend the sentence pending an appeal.
A West Virginia deputy county clerk Debbie Allen "huffs" at a lesbian couple getting their marriage license, and says she "felt led" by God (who "was standing with" her) to say what they were doing was wrong, and the couple says she called them "an abomination," which Allen disputes. I have to assume we'll see more of this kind of thing for a while.
Patrick West at Spiked attempts to correct a misunderstanding about The Selfish Gene, that Dawkins somehow meant to excuse bad behavior and rapacious capitalism or something (do people really think this?):
While humans emerged from the animal world, we alone are the species not bound to its whims. We alone have reason. We alone erect cathedrals and invent computers. That’s why Dawkins is both a humanist and an atheist: we don’t have to be nature’s puppets or mental slaves to belief systems.
With the Zika virus having such a terrible effect on unborn children, there is some talk about the Catholic Church's position on birth control. Reports RNS:
Cardinal Odilo Scherer of São Paulo last week called the use of condoms a “personal choice” and distinguished their use from abortion because it “does not involve a formed life.”
The Children's Museum of Indianapolis has a major exhibit on the world's religions:
[Raymond Williams] and other experts believe education is the best way to overcome fear and hatred. While many children learn about their own faith tradition in their family’s congregations or in religious schools, there are not a lot of forums where they can learn about other religions.
I don't know if this qualifies as outright "conspiracy" theorizing, but at the latest parole hearing for Sirhan Sirhan, convicted of assassinating Robert F. Kennedy, one man who survived a gun wound from the same attack, Paul Schrade, is saying that Sirhan couldn't have killed RFK. I don't know what to make of it!
Cheese-heads may now also be colander-heads if they follow the noodly path.
Quote of the Day:
While we await a Dawkins recovery and mark the birthday of Darwin, let's get a little of Dawkins talking Darwin, from 2008:
Darwin raises our consciousness to the sinewy power of science to explain the large and complex in terms of the small and simple. In biology we were fooled for centuries into thinking that extravagant complexity in nature needs an extravagantly complex explanation. Darwin triumphantly dispelled that delusion.
There remain deep questions, in physics and cosmology, that await their Darwin. Why are the laws of physics the way they are? Why are there laws at all? Why is there a universe at all? Once again, the lure of "design" is tempting. But we have the cautionary tale of Darwin before us. We've been through all that before. Darwin emboldens us - difficult as it is - to seek genuine explanations: explanations that explain more than they postulate.
Original image by Shutterstock.
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#1 Richard (Guest) on Friday February 12, 2016 at 3:43pm
I wish Richard Dawkins all the best, and I hope he recovers soon.
#2 Randy (Guest) on Tuesday February 16, 2016 at 1:48am
“We alone have reason. We alone erect cathedrals”