January 11, 2002

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WHAT COLOR IS YOUR UNIVERSE? According to a couple of Johns Hopkins scientists, it's an ugly shade of green. And it doesn't match my shoes--dang!
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ALL I CAN SAY IS 'WOW': history is one of my passions, and though I knew that Hitler and his minions hated and persecuted Christians, I never ran across anything about the Nazi plan to wipe out Christianity in the Third Reich. I do feel cautious in blogging this, remembering "Hitler's Diary" and similar hoaxes over the years. But if it holds up, it sorta blows up the notion that, as Wild Bill famously said, Hitler preached a perverted form of Christianity (I hadn't run across much evidence of that either, btw). And more of the Clinton legacy crumbles, like Moscow's statues of Lenin in 1991.
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I'M NOT MENTIONING DARWIN just to crank up the hit counts (though that has been fun to watch the past day or two) but to address a theme that has run through several of the emails I've received regarding my earlier criticism of evolution. Viral and bacterial mutation have repeatedly been tossed up to me as evidence that evolution is a fact, the idea being that because virii and bacteria are seen to adapt to changing conditions (such as new drugs we produce to kill them), evolution is proven. This type of evolution, known as micro-evolution, is not up for debate as far as I'm concerned--it's a verified fact of life. Living things evolve to meet challenges. But, micro-evolution isn't macro-evolution, the change from one species to another. That's the ground that's being contested, and to date not one reader has come up with an example of it. We have lots of theories--that dinosaurs became birds, that the whales with foot-like appendages prove that their ancestors were land animals, etc--but no one has been able to say to me that species X became species Y and here's the proof, and as importantly, here's how it happened.

And one other thing...my main objection isn't with evolution itself (though I have obvious reservations about it) but in the way that the scientific community propagates its findings. The caveats have been removed in public treatments of the subject, and most challenges to it are met with derision. That's an unfortunate, and unhealthy, state of affairs. That's what Bernard d'Abrera was lamenting, and I agree with him

And now....back to the war (I hope). Though I will always entertain questions, criticisms and theories.
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January 10, 2002

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I'VE JUST BEEN READING UP ON LILEK'S past columns, and have discovered what may be the first inklings of Layne's Axiom. That axiom, for the uninitiated, is directed at the punditry and is as follows: "This is the internet, and we can fact-check your a**." Spout forth a column of fact-free drivel, and the bloggers of the world will unite and pick you apart. James Lileks, though, may have been the first to toss up the principle behind the Axiom. Almost a year ago, Feb 6 2001 to be exact, James published a column on President Bush's faith-based initiatives titled "Can You Say Ayatollah Bush?" The columns theme is that the media gave Gore and Lieberman a pass when they talked about faith-based organizations, but skewers Bush for doing the same thing. The column is here. Here's the relevant part:

You have your choice: the brilliant Gore who lies to you, or the supposedly dim Bush who does what he says he'd do.

If Bush really wanted to put the knife in, he'd say that this was Gore's idea in the first place. He's merely doing what all the Dems insisted: he's adopting Gore's policies in the interests of unity, of healing. Why, Perhaps Gore would like to be the head of the commission?

Of course not. Gore has a job. He's going to be a journalism professor. Suggested first lesson: newspaper readers have computers and search engines. People may forget the stances your party once took. The Internet doesn't.


"People may forget...the Internet doesn't." Not as poetic as Ken Layne's Axiom, but means the same thing. I'm not trying to start anything here, I just thought the whole thing was cool. Bloggers seem to operate along a few principles, which are: Idiocy is to be destroyed. Liberty is to be championed. Hypochrisy is to be exposed. Facts are to be checked.
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JAMES LIKEK'S LATEST, which I've just gotten around to reading today, is a scream. He nails the punditry for its "insight:"

Another pundit notes that the US' previous experience in Somalia ended in dozens of dead Americans. "Somalia," he says, "has never been known as the grave of empires, but all that could change if, in fact, the US is drawn into the quagmire of a land war as it was in Vietnam." As soon as he says "Vietnam," a bell rings, announcing that the pundit is the 100,000 person to believe that a reference to that conflict is regarded as insight; he gets a big turkey and a trip to Miami Beach.


And it only gets better from there. Digs at the French, more digs as the punditry, and airport security.
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I'M AN IDIOT: Taxonomy isn't the study of butterflies, as I moronically stated in a post yesterday, it's the science of classification. Reader John Snawder pointed out my error in email:

Taxonomy is the science of classification. In biology taxonomy (also
sometimes called systematics) is how we name species based on the Linnaen
binomial system. Organisms are grouped across multiple levels (kingdom,
phylum, class, family, order, genus and species) based firstly on their
relatedness at higher taxa, and ultimately at the species level on their
inherited uniqueness. A lepidopterist is one who studies the moths and
butterflies.


Mea culpa. I should've followed Ken Layne's axiom and fact-checked my own a**. Thanks for setting me straight, John.

I've gotten quite a bit of mail on the evolution posts in recent days, and from people with more credentials following their names than you can shake a stick at. Blogger Law #1 has thus been codified--"If you want to increase site traffic and reader mail, mention Darwin." You don't have to do much more than that, apparently, just mention the name Darwin, and the more often the better.

Remember Bewitched? Endora always called Darin "Darwin" just to annoy him.
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KEVIN HOLTSBERY has joined the blogging ranks (sounds like something you'd face in the brig of a pirate ship--"AARGGHH!! Ye've stolen the captain's rum goblet. To the bloggin' ranks with ye, ye scallywag!). Welcome, Kevin. You've been linked. If this were a pyramid scheme, I'd have paid off the Blogger fee by now.
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January 09, 2002

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A CRITIQUE OF DARWIN FROM...A TAXONOMIST. And not just any taxonomist (that's a scientist who studies butterflies), but Bernad d'Abrera of the British Museum of Natural History in London. It comes in the introductory chapters of his latest work, The Concise Atlas of Butterflies of the World. Salient quote:

No field worker who studies insects, may now freely gaze upon his discoveries of insect morphology, biology or behaviour, without the taint of speculative Darwinism compelling him to colour his conclusions. No more is such a worker allowed to make direct, uncomplicated observations about objective facts about butterflies or moths.... Instead he is now compelled through the pressure of insidious programming by the overlords of the scientific establishment, to subject everything he has objectively observed to the tyranny of subjectivist and useless speculation about butterflies and their hypothetical origins. He must do so for no other reason than being able to collect his grant and acquire his PhD or some other doubtful honour of mutual respectability amongst his peers. The really dangerous part of this global pseudo-scientific cultism is that our worker has unconsciously been made to pass from the intellectual liberty provided within the legitimate realms of distinterested hypothesis, into the cul-de-sac of totalitarian absolutism of unprovable dogma.... Evolutionists thus become roped into the bondage of their own theory. They postulate it as holy writ and then labour ceaselessly to find the ‘evidence’ to fit it. Such tendentious labours only bestow the opprobrium of ‘contrivance’ upon the evidence so gleaned.


Interesting reading, and viewing, I'm sure. Read the rest of fellow scientist William Dembski's review of the book...it's worth it.
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I SENSE A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE: First Fox goes and hires Greta Van Susteren and Geraldo!, two personalities who couldn't be more at odds with the net's audience, and then MSNBC counters with a punch of its own: Alan Keyes, late of the Republican presidential primaries, will get a show of his own there. The LA Times reports today that Keyes will be on opposite Greta. So, in order to get a dose of conservative commentary, I'll have to flip away from Fox and toward MSNBC? Ye gods!

And while I'm on the subject of cable news, what's worse: when your employer publicly declares that you're "sexy," or when said employer retracts?
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THE MIDWESTERN CONSERVATIVE JOURNAL LINKED my take-down of Robert Wright today. Thanks, Christopher. The check is in the mail.
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January 08, 2002

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INTERESTING DEBATE regarding evolution between Rand of Transterrestrial Musings and Iain Murray of England's Sword. For what it's worth, Rand is right that it's a theory, and that "just a theory" implies denigration. Iain is right that the theory of evolution isn't even debated within scientific circles. That's the problem, I think. Darwin predicted that the fossil record would support his findings with an unbroken continuum of transitional species. Hasn't happened. The fossil record instead shows abrupt extinctions of some species and abrupt arrivals of others, giving rise to theories about "punctuated equilibrium." Further, statistical analysis of the number of mutations needed to create the present biodiversity indicate that enough time hasn't passed to allow for it to develop in a Darwinian fashion. I've never seen a decent refutation of that fact, other than "complexity theory," which has been discarded.

Evolution is theory that explains the facts of life as we see then. Science should debate it, and should always attempt to overturn it, if only to bring out more definitive proof of its truth.

I work in the field of astronomy. Theories are put forth, tested, and either oveturned or accepted everyday. And theories that are accepted today are discarded tomorrow as new information comes to light. One of the tragedies regarding the Darwin debate is that, for most scientists, the theory was proven long ago and is never openly questioned today by its most ardent defenders. That leads to some scientists labelling others "cranks" if they dare question Darwin, and leads to scientific horrors like "creation science."
Posted by B. Preston at 11:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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January 06, 2002

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RUSSIANS WANT TO TURN BACK THE CLOCK, according to recent polls. That's bad news for us capitalist types, but honestly, who can blame them? They had no freedom under Communism, might be sent to the gulag at any time, but their nation was a power, crime was low (well, if you don't count the crimes against humanity committed by their government) and you couldn't get fired from your job for any reason. Their market reforms have been failures to date, leaving millions destitute, but hope may be on the way in the form of oil. Russia has been cozying up to us lately, in part to take the heat off its war in Chechnya, and in part to horn in on our oil market. I can only see the latter as a good thing--OPEC is weakened, and we have a new ally who may get further down the road to stability and a true market economy. That's good for Russians, good for us, good for the world, and bad for our friends the Saudis.
Posted by B. Preston at 11:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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A WHILE BACK I'd promised to jot down my experiences as a real-live Christian in the world of astronomy. I've jotted, and posted. Please take a look if such things interest you.
Posted by B. Preston at 11:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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FOR THOSE WHO DON'T LIKE THE 'BLAME CLINTON FIRST' mantra of many bloggers, explain this. Even Clinton himself admits it was his biggest mistake--er, not getting Usama when he had the chance, not that other 'biggest mistake' involving a certain intern.
Posted by B. Preston at 05:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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NOW THAT I'VE GONE AND READ Will Wilkinson's arguments, I'll take a slightly different tack. First off, Will, you are in fact exemplifying the worst about a certain strain of libertarianism, which is a tendency to defend the crass over the Christian, and to use comparisons that don't make sense in the process. You wonder whether Christianity or Hustler has caused more harm. Christianity has had 2000 years to develop a track record, while Hustler has had, what, 30 years or so. Christianity has defined a civilization; Hustler is a reaction to that civilization. Christianity has had a profound impact on the world, and you're probably right to say that it's too large an impact to be able to assess it en toto. But then you pretty much proceed to do just that, sweepingly denouncing Christianity as false while claiming Hustler brings pleaure to millions. You are making a value judgement, siding with Larry Flynt over Jesus Christ. That's what political libertarians like myself find a bit discomforting about some of our teammates.

You also make another mistake that's common to critics of things they don't get. You talk about the Inquisition, the burning of folks at the stake, and other horrors committed in the name of Christianity, and then apply those things in your critique of Christianity in general. Fair enough, in that lots of people have done lots of evil things and dragged Christ's name through the mud in the process, but you're missing the influence of humans and the diverse range of opinion and action that exists within any group. Do you, for instance, tar all African-Americans for every stupid utterance of Al Sharpton? Do all Democrats get serviced by their interns, just because Bill Clinton did? Do all Arabs fly planes into American buildings? Did all Germans serve Hitler? Of course not--the actions of one, or a few, or even a whole bunch, do not equate to the actions or the intentions of the entire group to which the actors in question claim membership. Most African-Americans are probably embarassed by Sharpton's antics; surely not all Democrats do what Wild Bill did; some Arabs actually learn how to take-off and land planes the conventional way; and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German minister, died in a concentration camp because he took part in a failed plot to kill Hitler.

And finally, you assert that Western civ is incoherent because it has included all sorts of contradictory strains. Do rivers flow in straight lines, or are there forks, bends and waterfalls? Western civ has produced some odd, quirky, and even dangerous things, but its path has always been toward more individual freedom from tyranny, equality before the law, unrestrained private commerce, more individual responsibility, and the elimination of prejudice. We're not there yet, but that's the path we in the West are on, and the many who have tried to block that path have failed. When we (meaning the West) have produced a Hitler or a Stalin, we have also stood up to stop them. When we produced a tyrannical Church, we produced a Martin Luther to fight it. When we produced Jim Crow, we produced Martin Luther King. I don't see that as incoherent, Will. I see it as a civilization taking care of itself. As for the path itself, first the Greeks and then Christians are its source, and the Christians have been the more successful at maintaining it.

And just to underscore my point about the actions of a few in relation to a larger group, I'm a conservative Christian, theologically-speaking. As such, I am supposedly similar to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Those two have been saying some stupid and dangerous things since 9-11 (well, before also, but especially since). Robertson has even gone as far as predict future events, such as attacks against San Francisco and Detroit. As a conservative Christian, I think Pat Roberson and Jerry Falwell are both loons, and deserve the scorn that's being heaped on them. As evidence from my faith that I'm right about this, Pat Robertson put a few caveats in his prediction, indicating that it might not come true. He didn't explain why, just that it might not. When a Christian makes predictions, he'd engaging in prophecy and claiming to speak for God. Vague caveats aren't allowed--you can't hedge your bets. According to Deuteronomy 18:22, "When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him." Pat old boy, you'd better hope your predicted attacks come true, else a whole lot of your following will have a good reason, make that another good reason, to leave you.

See Will, divergence of opinion and action within a group.
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