About Me

My photo
I am a former middle and high school science teacher pursuing a doctorate in Science Ed. at George Mason University, with a concentration in cognitive science and the evolution of cognition and learning. Postings on this blog represent my own views, not those of my employer or school. All writing displayed on this page is original work unless otherwise noted, and thus copyrighted.

23 July 2009

Accomodationist Drivel

The NCSE has a point... their role is to promote the teaching of evolution/natural selection in public schools in the U.S., and it is therefore detrimental to their goals to estrange theistic evolution supporters. The validity of their argument ends there, however. It is not ethical, much less feasible, to deny reality in the hopes that some theistic evolutionist will then support their attempts to keep creationism out of the classroom. Kevin Padian, of NCSE, states that
Creationists—people who deny evolution because it conflicts with their religious precepts—often tell us that whether we accept a naturalistic or a supernatural explanation of the world around us is a philosophical choice: a belief. They're not wrong. That first decision—what kind of “knowledge” is going to be privileged in your mind—is ultimately a question of belief, a leap of faith, a decision about truth, if you care to use the term at all.

Well, Kevin, you have some serious flaws in your underlying assumptions that you have neglected to examine, or even state. A naturalistic world view is not based on faith or belief, but more accurately disbelief. I, and others who adopt that world view, choose to accept the evidence of our own senses (extended by scientific instruments) rather than one that includes supernatural sources as causes for natural phenomena. This isn't a belief, it's pure rationality. There is no reason to assume a supernatural cause for anything that can be explained by natural causes. Only poor logic or underlying assumptions based on faith would cause someone to make such a leap, and neither of those constitute anything resembling evidence. Likewise, the failure of naturalistic explanations doesn't imply that supernatural explanations are valid, it means that the naturalistic explanations currently available aren't valid. It's a bit sad that someone who deals in science, a study founded purely in reality, feels the need to lend credibility to unreal concepts.

Padian continues
And that brings us to the students who never learned much about science, but were brought up with conservative religious views. Will it make sense to them to tell them that “evolution is true,” even if you give them a lot of examples of evolution at work? Will they listen in the first place, particularly if they think that your teaching is going to be hostile to their beliefs?

Well, perhaps it isn't enough to tell someone who hasn't been exposed to the science that evolution is "true" and then simply guide them through the evidence. It is quite likely, from anecdotal experience at least, that they will simply shut their mind if not their ears to the evidence as it is presented, or that they will co-opt it to fit their beliefs where appropriate. Does that mean we shouldn't present the evidence? Some people will refuse to accept evidence of a number of things, even if it is painfully obvious, if said evidence conflicts with dearly held beliefs. Yet, there are those that it may eventually reach. Are we to abandon that attempt because people choose to be willfully ignorant?
Addressing the last point, I would have to say no. There are people who will cling to their beliefs in the teeth of the prevailing evidence, and there may be no reaching them. So be it. A course in logic and reasoning might be a better way of beginning that discussion than the evidence for evolution, but fundies demonstrate a profound inability to identify their own logical fallacies whilst attempting to point out those of other people. Pretending that there is a way to reconcile (insert creation story here) with the science is doing a disservice to those people who might actually want to learn something. I'm not saying we demand that they abandon their belief systems all at once, but I don't agree with the need to coddle them: educational curricula aren't determined democratically.
Then again, what should I have expected from an article/book review that begins thus"

John is the only one of the four evangelists who recounts Jesus' (possibly apocryphal) statement to Pilate that he was in fact a king whose role was “to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” Pilate is said to have replied to this, “What is truth?”

What is truth Kevin Padian? Something which you aren't interested in promoting...


21 July 2009

Cybernetics? Well, not quite...

... but it's still pretty cool. Cognitive Science and computer researchers at UC Berkeley have managed to teacher monkey to manipulate a computer cursor and a robotic arm. Not so smoothly at first, but smoothly and through the desired path after practice.
As also evident in Figure 2A, there was a similar monotonic decrease in the mean time to reach targets. Whereas the initial cursor trajectories meandered, they became more direct with practice (Figure 2D, comparison of representative trajectories from day 3 and day 13 for Monkey P). It is important to note that the subjects were not required to follow a straight path from the center to each target. Interestingly, the mean trajectory to each target became increasingly stereotyped over time, suggesting that a relatively stable solution emerged for the path to each target. We quantified the similarity between each set of daily mean trajectories by performing pairwise correlations (see Materials and Methods). As illustrated by the color map in Figure 2D, the correlation between the mean paths for each day initially increased and then stabilized. Similar results were obtained for Monkey R (see Figure S3)

Basically, they get better at moving the exoskeleton and/or cursor over time, they way a human does when learning a new physical skill. The possible extensions of this technology are somewhat apparent to anyone who had an interest in science fiction as a kid: once approved for human use, this same technology can be used to control artificial limbs, or to operate a computer (or other computer driven object) without having to use your hands. You can read the original article here for free.

07 July 2009

Obligatory MJ post.

Fuck Michael Jackson, and all the overblown media coverage of a the demise of a mentally-deranged pederast. Yes, his dad abused him and it caused him all sorts of troubles, I'm not downplaying that.. but enough already

Satire as only the British can do it

The Case for God by Karen Armstrong

by John Crace - The Guardian


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart make Dawkins and Hitchens burn in Hell, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.

blankMuch of what we say about God these days is facile. The concept of God is meant to be hard. Too often we get lost in what Greeks called logos (reason) rather than interpreting him through mythoi - those things we know to be eternally true but can't prove. Like Santa Claus. Religion is not about belief or faith; it is a skill. Self-deceit does not always come easily, so we have to work at it.

Our ancestors, who were obviously right, would have been surprised by the crude empiricism that reduces faith to fundamentalism or atheism. I have no intention of rubbishing anyone's beliefs, so help me God, but Dawkins's critique of God is unbelievably shallow. God is transcendent, clever clogs. So we obviously can't understand him. Duh!

I'm going to spend the next 250 pages on a quick trawl of comparative religion from the pre-modern to the present day. It won't help make the case for God, but it will make me look clever and keep the publishers happy, so let's hope no one notices!
Continue reading and to audio

Taken from RDnet... Hilarious book review.

05 July 2009

At least they figured something out...


WCPSS isn't going to cough up 6 grand a day for the consultant from Canada I talked about in earlier posts, although they declined to comment on why. O'Connor claims that it's due to budget constraints, which is understandable. I'm hoping it's because they realised that he's a complete and utter fraud, but we'll see about that.

02 July 2009

Sharia Law in the Swat Valley


A summary? A teenage girl/woman was seen in public with a man to whom she was not married or related, and was publicly flogged for it... "religion of peace", my ass.