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Topics - skeptical scientist

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Flat Earth Debate / The curvature of the horizon
« on: April 30, 2008, 01:57:21 AM »
Some math I did while bored: Suppose you look out at the horizon, hold up a 1 meter metal ruler at arms length, and compare the horizon to the ruler. Is the curvature visible from eye level standing at the edge of the ocean? What if you have a decent sized object to stand on, like a hill or a beach condo or a jetliner flying at 10 km up?



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Flat Earth Debate / You've finally convinced me.
« on: April 01, 2008, 01:24:54 PM »
I've finally realized the truth: the Earth is flat. I don't know what took me so long to come around, but I guess I was just brainwashed by the establishment into disbelieving my own eyes.

This realization has been building for a while now, but I finally gave up my old worldview for good today. The evidence that provided the last turning point, surprisingly enough, came from a " class="bbc_link" target="_blank">YouTube video.

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Flat Earth Debate / The Conspiracy Explained
« on: May 07, 2007, 02:16:48 PM »
At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, FDR (who was a raptor, which explains the wheelchair -- he was an unusually large raptor who needed a concealed space to fold up his tail) made a deal with Stalin (only working on behalf of raptors) that orchestrated the course of the future space race. The Soviets would pretend to win the early stages -- first satellite, first man in space, etc, when of course they could hardly build a working clock radio. In return, the Soviets would allow the Americans to claim to land on the moon. In reality, of course, space travel is impossible because orbits are impossible, because the Earth is flat.

Meanwhile, the Russians would use the money they claimed to be using on space research to fake evidence of the Holocaust in order to encourage the UN to found Israel, which they knew would lead to instability in the Middle East. This would discourage archaeologists from finding evidence hidden in the Holy Land of Jesus's faked execution and subsequent career selling discount wine, loaves, and fishes in modern-day Luxembourg. As an added benefit, those archaeology students would now be driven toward paleontology departments, where they would begin planting evidence for a very old Earth in order to secure grant money. For the Russians, this was great because it encouraged materialism in Russia, and religious strife in America. The US used the money budgeted for the space program on the development and distribution of crack.

In the early 60's, the Russians were convinced by dastardly Jews (who are behind all major armed conflicts) that they had gotten the short end of the stick, so they used their mob connections to kill JFK, a champion of the space race. This lead to the Johnson administration, and the Vietnam War. US involvement in Vietnam forced the Russians to flex their muscles in Afghanistan, only to find that there's nothing worth having there. In another secret deal, brokered by Free Mason raptors, they agreed to pretend to "fall" in 1989, if the US would agree to take over in Afghanistan by the end of the century. The US President, George H.W. Bush, readily agreed, realizing that in Afghanistan there was a plentiful and ill-guarded supply of opium, to which his son, the current President, was secretly and massively addicted. And so, on 9/11/2001, the government used a single, indestructible, automated plane based on alien technology from Area 51 to carry out the attacks as an excuse to attack Afghanistan.

Open your eyes, people! The truth is out there!

(Found on the xkcd.com fora.)

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A news article may be found here.

Quote from: Article Excerpt
When you’re a pirate, some dangers just come with the territory: scurvy, grog hangovers, a walk down the plank at sword point.

But being kicked out of school for a day?

Bryan Killian doesn’t think that’s a fair reaction to his decision to come to North Buncombe High School wearing an eye patch and an inflatable cutlass.

The sophomore spent Wednesday at home after an administrator took issue with his accessories.

Buncombe County Schools says the eye patch was disruptive to classroom instruction. The student’s refusal to take it off after four warnings led to discipline, the district said.

“I feel like my First Amendment was violated,” Killian, 16, said. “Freedom of religion and freedom of expression. That’s what I tried to do, and I got shot down.”

Freedom of religion?

Yes, Killian says, his “pirate regalia” is part of his faith — the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Do you think this was a reasonable move on the part of the administrators? On the one hand, schools must have the right to regulate themselves in a way which ensures they are able to function. On the other hand, schools should not treat certain individuals unfairly because of their faith, regardless of what they think of that faith.

Personally, I think the school had no right to do what it did. When a school treats some students one way (allowing them to wear accoutrements of their faith) one way, and other students another way, based merely on their religion, the school is sending the student a signal that some faiths are welcome and others are not, and that is certainly going to affect their ability to focus and learn at school. If the behavior was clearly disrupted, or the school had a reasonable expectation that it would be disruptive, then asking the student to desist is perfectly reasonable. Expecting a teenage boy to hold an inflatable saber through a high school class without playing with it is clearly unreasonable, so the school is quite correct to ask him to put it away. But an eye patch and sash are no more disruptive than any other article of clothing, and prohibiting a student from wearing it simply because it is less legitimate a religious symbol than a cross, in the eyes of the assistant principal, is simply unreasonable.

On the other hand, continuing to do something after receiving an unreasonable request to stop is clearly a form of nonviolent protest, so the student should be willing to pay the consequences of his nonviolent protest (in this case being suspended) in order to voice his point of view.

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Philosophy, Religion & Society / What is a valuable use of your life?
« on: April 04, 2007, 04:14:48 PM »
Which of the following people has achieved something truly valuable in their life?

1) Someone who wins a Nobel prize in science.
2) Someone who becomes president or prime minister of a major democratic nation.
3) Someone who gives their life in the service of god.
4) Someone who makes a great deal of money.
4a) ...and donates it to valuable causes.
5) Someone who has a strong and lasting relationship with someone they love.
5a) Someone who has a strong and lasting homosexual relationship with someone they love.

I'll post my answers after some other people have had a chance to make up their own minds. Please explain why you give the answers you give!

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http://www.weeklyworldnews.com/stories/90

Quote from: The article
Mr. Relleck had tried for weeks to debunk himself, dismissing his ghostly form as variations in air pressure, reflections of car headlights, or smudges of dirt on the lenses of cameras.

"I guess I'm real," Relleck half-sighed, half-booed.

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The Lounge / Yet another reason to doubt George Bush's ability to govern
« on: February 27, 2007, 05:13:48 AM »
I think this speaks for itself:


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The Lounge / Anarchism? (Was: Beast, I'm calling you out!)
« on: February 16, 2007, 05:29:03 AM »
Quote from: "beast"
I consider myself an anarchist of sorts.

Explain.

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The Lounge / Thoughts on God Delusion and Letter to a Christian Nation
« on: January 11, 2007, 12:42:35 PM »
Sorry it took me so long to write this - it's been on my mind for a while, and I've been asked about it several times, but there's a lot to consider. The books raise a lot of interesting questions which have no obvious correct answer.

If anyone reading this post hasn't read them, they provide excellent food for thought, regardless of your personal beliefs, and I highly recommend them as reading to anyone with the slightest interest. The God Delusion might be a better one to start with if you are not American, or if you are wondering about what reasons exist for atheism, but I imagine many of the points in Letter to a Christian Nation are relevent outside the US as well, especially because of the large role that this country which is increasingly run by religious extremists plays on the international stage, and it's short enough that you could read it in a couple of hours if you don't have time for a long book. Regardless of your beliefs, you should never fear to read a book on the basis of what it might say, and you should always try to understand why it is that you believe what you believe.

Finally, my apologies for the extremely long post, but as I said, there's a lot to think about. I wouldn't be surprised if Ubuntu is the only person who reads this, but I hope at least he (she?) will read it in its entirety, and maybe a few others will as well.



My Thoughts on The God Delusion and Letter to a Christian Nation

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins proposes a thesis: "There is a personal god who answers prayers and performs miracles." He then is dismisses this thesis with the level of rigor well beyond what one might expect from any scientific rebuttal of a proposed theory. He then goes on to show that religion as a whole causes much more harm than good. He gives plenty of evidence for this thesis, and it is probably true, although I'm sure it would be very hard to quantify exactly what good comes about because of religion, and what harm comes about, and relate the two.

However, he never proves his alternative thesis "there is no god". He brings up the point that without knowing which of two mutually exclusive and exhaustive possibilities is correct, we can nevertheless judge their relative likelihoods of being correct. This is certainly true. He then says that there not being a god is much more likely than there being a god. I happen to agree with him on this issue, but he doesn't provide any convincing objective grounds to conclude that this is true, so he has no right to say that his position is logical, but the idea that there is a god is not. However, if you include, together with the idea that there is a god, the further idea that this god acts to perform miracles in the world, perhaps during the present, and at least within recorded history, this belief can be objectively dismissed due to lack of evidence, and due to a great deal of evidence that claimed miracles are not the product of divine intervention, and due to the very clear propensity of humans to see supernatural actors present when there is only coincidence and natural forces at work.

Sam Harris doesn't go into the same detail as Dawkins in discussing reasons to believe or not believe in god (in Letter to a Christian Nation - I imagine he does discuss them in The End of Faith, and he clearly agrees with Dawkins on a great many things). He does talk a lot about the harm done by religious beliefs, particularly those of the conservative Christian movement in the United States. I certainly agree with him in his analysis of the problems with the conservative Christian movement. One of my good friends from college is one of the nicest and most moral people I know, but because of his religion, he believes homosexuality to be an immoral act. I'm not sure in what regards this has affected his actions, but this belief has caused an otherwise good person to see many people who never did anything to harm anyone as immoral. This is enough of a problem in and of itself, but when such people gain political power, it can cause even good people to intentionally pass laws infringing upon the rights of moral members of society. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg was surely correct when he described the single most damaging result of religion: "Without it you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion."

However, the idea that some religions are much more problematic than others is completely ignored by both books, except in the cases where Harris and Dawkins say that a religion should not be viewed as a religion at all, but is a philosophy instead (Buddhism, for example). However, it's an important distinction to make because they are broadly indicting all religions, despite the fact that some religions do no harm at all, and may even provide overall benefit. Letter is much more specifically about a specific brand of a specific religion which does do a lot of harm, and I completely agree with its comments in regard to that religion, and Delusion is mainly about a similar set of beliefs, but they both make it clear that the problem, in their opinion, is with all belief that does not have a solid basis in fact. To me, there are two real problems with most religions, and neither are the mere fact of belief in the supernatural. The first is the idea that we should believe something which is not only unsupported by evidence, but also contrary to available evidence: for example, disbelieving evolution despite the vast amount of evidence that has been accumulated. The second is the idea that there is a god-given moral code which trumps all others. These two things are the real cause of all the harm that religion is responsible for, because this in particular is what causes good people to do evil things.

(In addition to good people doing bad things, Dawkins also blames religion for the evil that is responsible for inter-group warfare when there is nothing to label the different groups by besides religion, but this strikes me as terribly unfair because religion is no more responsible for that then skin color is responsible for inter-group warfare between groups of different skin color - one might as well say that skin is evil because if we were all skinless, nobody would be treated differently on the basis of skin color.)

On the subject of a moral code, Dawkins and Harris also seem to have arrived at a single correct moral code which trumps all others based on the idea of suffering. This is surely a better basis for a moral code than religion, since instead of taking a book that some (not especially moral) people wrote two thousand years ago in a very type of world than the world of today, they try to use the golden rule and the idea of suffering as moral guidelines, which is at least logical. However, they make no case at all that it is the right way to determine morality, and I don't think it is. For example, suppose I find out that the person living in the apartment next to me is chronically depressed, suffers from back pain, and has no friends or family. I then decide to break into his apartment, kill him, and take all his stuff. What suffering have I caused? Certainly my actions are not in any way moral, and I'm not claiming that Dawkins or Harris would think they are, but it does call into question to what extent suffering should be used as the basis for morality. Certainly it should be a consideration, but it can't be the only consideration either.



Dawkins and Harris conclude that there is no god, and I agree. They also say that the idea that there is a personal god who performs miracles can be conclusively shown to be false, and I agree there as well, so I would say that believing in a personal god who performs miracles indicates either irrationality or ignorance of the available evidence. However, since there is no proof of the nonexistence of a noninterventionist god who has had no effect on the universe since the big bang (which god may or may not have caused), I don't think that this belief can be fairly said to be either irrational or ignorant. Dawkins and Harris conclude that religion is by its very nature harmful. I disagree there, but I do think that any religion which claims that there is a god-given moral code which is the source of all morality is harmful, and also the idea that we should believe things which are contrary to known evidence is harmful. I have no problem with any religion which is not guilty of either of these things.

Dawkins and Harris are mostly silent on the issue of what should be done about the problem of the existence of religions which do do these things, which is understandable, as there is no easy answer. I agree that such beliefs should be called into question, and a national and international debate on the subject should be opened. I think this will do little to spread atheism besides converting a few fence sitters, but perhaps as children grow up in a society where "the god delusion" is openly debated, they will be less vulnerable to dogma, and in any case it might spread understanding and tolerance of atheism, and allow atheists to be more comfortable and open with their beliefs. I have never denied that I am an atheist, but I have also often been reluctant to publicize it, so while I'm certainly not in the atheist closet, I'm not exactly out of it either. I plan to teach, and I am painfully aware of the fact that certain institutions may be leery of the potential influence an atheist teacher may exert, and I do not intend to go out of my way to minimize that influence. Since I hope to teach at the college level, I imagine that this will not be an issue, but I do recognize its potential to become one depending on where I want to teach.




One final word-
My thoughts on many of these subjects are still evolving. I sometimes change my mind completely, but I generally keep returning to basically the viewpoint I've expressed here. To me, the most important questions are how much harm do specific beliefs do, and how can you reduce the number of people who hold harmful beliefs without doing harm in the process.

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The Lounge / Happy holidays everyone!
« on: December 11, 2006, 03:15:16 AM »
Like my new avatar?

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The Lounge / An amusing thought
« on: December 02, 2006, 09:52:12 PM »
Markov chain speech generators are designed around the following mechanism: they take a large body of written text, an n-word string within that text, and then add successive words by finding a random occurrence in the text of the last n words, and then adding the next word after that occurrence.  The results are often garbled, but sometimes strangely enlightening.

See Mark V Shaney and Dissociated Press for examples.

My amusing thought/question is if someone were to take 100 random posts in angry ranting for the source material, how long do you think it would take to distinguish a bot using Markov chain processes from a typical angry REer? How long would it take before it used the phrase "TheEngineer is a douchebag"?

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The Lounge / Brackenwood
« on: November 29, 2006, 10:59:15 PM »
http://brackenwood.net/

I found this site while netbrowsing this evening, and thought I would share it. It is a collection of flash animations made by a former animator for Disney, and they are beautiful and funny. There's also another one here which doesn't seem to be on the main Brackenwood site.

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Flat Earth Q&A / Observing Earth's shadow
« on: November 23, 2006, 08:41:26 PM »
The next time you watch the sunset, wait until after the sun has set, and then look towards the east. You will be able to see a dark band, as seen in this photograph:

This is the shadow cast on the sky by the curve of the earth, as compared to the higher up atmosphere which is still lit by the setting sun.

So, who wants to be the first to come up with a flat-earth explanation? :P

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Flat Earth Q&A / Flat-earthers, please explain this image.
« on: November 21, 2006, 11:48:00 PM »

This image was taken at the Anglo-Australian Telescope in central New South Wales, Australia, and is a time-lapse photograph of the night sky with a duration of 10.5 hours. It clearly shows the existence of a southern pole star, which is impossible in any of the flat earth models on this website.

Of course, the usual objections apply: the image could have been faked. However, anyone in the southern hemisphere can take a similar photograph. That means that anyone who lives south of the equator or knows someone who lives south of the equator can prove the existence of a southern polestar by simply taking a tripod and a camera to their back yard and setting up a time-lapse photo centered on the southern cross. Beast or mjk could do it tonight.

So, my question to flat-earthers is this: how can you explain the easily verifiable existence of both a northern and a southern pole star?

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Flat Earth Q&A / Some good arguments for RE theory, based on observables.
« on: September 28, 2006, 01:43:04 AM »
I would like to justify, for the nonbelievers who inhabit this forum, why I believe in a round earth. I will not use arguments such as "I was tought to believe it", as people will teach all sorts of fallacies and drivel in school, such as that a kilometer is longer than a mile. It is good scientific practice to question what you are taught, and to verify it for yourself when possible. I believe in a round earth because there is observable and clear evidence that the earth is round, and no observable evidence that the earth is flat, which isn't equally well explained by a round earth.

Ok, so let's look at some arguments that the earth is flat:
"It looks flat."
Answer: while the earth is, in fact, spherical, it is a very large sphere. Scientists claim that the radius of the spherical earth is 4,000 miles. That means, in a round plot of ground with a one mile radius, the center of the plot is 8 inches higher than the plane formed by the border of the plot. (This is easily calculated using the pythagorean theorem.) Since the earth is not perfectly smooth, and since we are imperfect observers of the world around us, this 8 inch deviation from flatness in a plot of ground that's over 3 square miles would be unnoticable. So this argument gives no evidence for us to believe in a flat earth as opposed to a round one.

This is really the main argument in favor of a flat earth I've seen here. If anyone would care to share another (scientific, observable) argument for a flat earth, or comment on this one, I would be happy to respond.

Now, some arguments that the earth is round:
Argument 1: A ship sailing over the horizon.
Watch a ship sail into view over the horizon with a good pair of binoculars.
This is easy to do for anyone who lives near a coast, and has a pair of binoculars, and some patience. For those of you who don't, perhaps you will trust your fellow-forum goers who do, even if you don't trust the government or scientific community.
You will observe that the first part of the ship you can see is the top, and then more and more of the ship becomes visible as it gets closer. This is because the earth is round. If the earth were flat, you would be able to see the whole ship at any distance, but the further away it was, the smaller it would appear and the less detail you would be able to make out.

I have yet to see a satisfactory FE explanation of this readily observable phenomenon.

Argument 2: Hurricanes.
Not all of you live in parts of the world where there are hurricanes, but many do, and can experience them first hand. The commonly accepted scientific explanation of hurricanes is as follows: air temperature differences cause north-south winds. As air moves large distances north or south along the surface of the earth, which is a spinning ball, it gets closer to or further from the axis of rotation of the earth. Conservation of momentum implies that the air must spin more quickly or more slowly about the axis of the earth. (If you have ever watched ice-skating on TV, you can see this when an ice skater spins in place. If they stretch out their arms and legs, they spin more slowly, and if the pull them in, they spin more quickly. This is really the same effect.) This means that in the northern hemisphere, as wind blows to the north, the coriolis effect pulls the air to the east, and as it moves south, the coriolis effect pulls it to the west. This essentially causes north and south moving air to start spinning, and contributes to both the formation and intensification of hurricanes.

Argument 3: Time Zones.
The sun rises at different times in different parts of the world. According to the round earth model, this is because we live on a spinning ball, and if the sun is just coming into view on this side of the ball, it is just leaving view on the opposite side. If the earth is a flat plane, then day and night must be caused by the sun rising above, and setting below, the plane of the earth. (An alternate explanation sometimes offered is that the sun moves closer and further from the viewer, but then why does it appear to dip below the horizon at sunset?) But if the earth is a plane, then the sun should rise and set at the same time in every part of the Earth, which it does not. A simple phone call between someone in New York City, when the sun is setting, and San Francisco, where the sun is still well above the horizon at the same time, should provide clear evidence that the "planes" of the surface of the earth at these two locations do not make the same angle with the sun, and cannot possible both be part of a single flat surface.

Questions? Comments? Rebuttals?

David

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