Archive for February, 2009

The Fight Over Darwin Continues

From The Telegraph – Richard Dawkins unleashes a bit more bile towards those proponents of relativity (in the non-Einstein-ian sense), in a review of “Why Evolution is True”

“A scientist arrogantly asserts that thunder is not the triumphal sound of God’s balls banging together, nor is it Thor’s hammer. It is, instead, the reverberating echoes from the electrical discharges that we see as lightning. Poetic (or at least stirring) as those tribal myths may be, they are not actually true. “

From a philosophical standpoint, nothing can be known, beyond doubt, to be objectively true, because our senses can be fooled, our minds can be leaky vessels, etc. Descartes gave us “je pense donc je suis” as a starting point for, generally speaking, trusting that the information we receive is largely true and real. What matters is that we can get through the world using this information. Even if it is all illusion, or if everything actually happens/happened/will happen simultaneously and time and choice are merely a function of our brains bursting through the event, we have no other way to go. We have to move forward through time because we can’t perceive how to go backward. Science is an ongoing practice to see just how far we can trust it.

What’s neat is that current scientific exploration has found that once we get to the incredibly big, or the incredibly small, physics (that is, the rules that seem to work according to our senses) fall apart. At the nano level, boundaries cease to properly exist, and we find that vast expanses of the universe are filled with stuff we can’t actually perceive. Which is to say, science has found where limits lie, and we’ve started to try and figure out what rules apply, what tools we can use to turn what we can’t perceive into something we can.

Of course, Dawkins is still easily infuriated because a selection of polls tell him that most people don’t seem to really ‘get’ science, that creationism/intelligent design is something that people actually want to teach children, as opposed to actual evolution (to the point that there are anecdotes of evolution-fearing children screaming in the classroom).

Most people then, too, must have a bizarre sense of human history. I have a hard time remembering the relationships between eras and ages, and wouldn’t be able to say for sure what was happening about 10,000 years ago, but to estimate that as the beginning of human history, (which is, I think, technically closer to 200,000 years ago, with our genus being about 2.5 million years old) seems like pretty bad math.

To be whipped into a righteous and indignant fury over determined ignorance is entirely understandable, I do it myself all the time, and to publish books (libraries of them) in refutation is clearly important, but I do wonder at it’s effectiveness. Given our collective intelligence and vast resources, to defend ignorance with religious fervor simply to maintain a literal interpretation of a myth should be downright embarrassing. And yet some people simply turn away from evidence, convincing themselves that they pass some sort of test of faith when they refuse to believe what’s right in front of them. How would yet more convincing change their minds?

While the scientifically minded (not always irreligious or liberal) don’t want to offend (not always, anyway), they certainly don’t want to be so passive that their children start thinking that there are equally compelling arguments for evolution and creationism. Really, the only sure way of success is for there to be an evolutionary advantage to believing the senses over what religious people or books tell you. But is there? The more highly educated one is (and therefore less likely to be literally religious, if of any faith at all), one is less likely to reproduce in large numbers. Are the offspring more successful? Well, if they don’t blow themselves up or go into a convent or monastery, they will likely be Catholically reproductive, too.

And then?


Poor Artists Suddenly News

The Globe and Mail covers a report that says “artist earnings have been decreasing since 1990 – a decline likely to intensify over the next two years. While average earnings for the overall labour force rose by almost 10 per cent from 1990 to 2005, artists experienced a slide of 11 per cent” and also points out that though there are more female artists, they earn, on average, less than men. Oh, and a lot of them take part-time work doing other stuff to survive.


Canada doesn’t support it’s artistic community. And women get paid less than men. Neither of these should come as a shock to anyone who even dabbles in the arts. The economy is tanking, and artists are going to suffer too, though as was mentioned on the radio the other day, because they always live on the edge of insolvency, they’re more likely to have coping strategies already in place.

“While artists earn much less than the overall labour force and outnumber the workers directly employed by the Canadian automotive sector (140,000 versus 135,000), they’re better educated than most Canadians. The Hill study reports that 39 per cent of all Canadian artists have at least a university degree at the bachelor’s level, whereas for the overall labour force the percentage is 21.” (my emphasis). The government needs to get a clue and invest in culture as well as infrastructure, rather than simply bailing out companies whose time has passed.


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