Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Archive for October, 2009

Deconstruction of “How much do you know about marijuana?” Facebook quiz

Posted by Michael Dickens on October 30, 2009

Yes, I know that deconstructing a Facebook quiz is literally shooting fish in a barrel. But I’m tired right now. And I can do whatever I want, because it’s my blog.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Politics, Rant | 3 Comments »


Posted by Michael Dickens on October 29, 2009

Commercialism has a rather poor reputation. It is considered a ruiner of childhoods, a destroyer of contentedness. But I think that its poor reputation is undeserved. Commercialism merely tries to bring everything into the real. Commercialism tries to place a value on happiness. Some would say, oh, you can’t place a value on happiness. But that makes me wonder: if you do not know how much happiness is worth, then how do you know when you want it? How do you know what to give up for it? The philosophy of Commercialism, if taken to heart, can lead to answers to these questions.

I believe that nothing has an undefined value. Even abstracts such as love and happiness still must be taken in exchange for something else, and it must be decided which is more valuable. It is folly to presume that these decisions are impossible. One may fail to make the decision, but only out of a lack of decision-making ability. The choice may seem ambiguous, but there is always an answer. We should accept that these answers exist.

I originally intended this to be about people’s apparent obsession with profit, but it has evolved into something different. I have referred to Commercialism as “the philosophy that everything has a value”, which seems to be the very essence of the modern sense of Commercialism. And if the essence, the very core, is an honest philosophy, then what does that say about its results?

Posted in Philosophy | 1 Comment »

Creation or Evolution, Part 1

Posted by Michael Dickens on October 26, 2009

I will be participating in the Pharyngula-sponsored demolishing of a creationist pamphlet, available here.

The cover page shows a primate (closely humanoid, probably chimpanzee) that appears to be in deep thought. There is also an image of a dinosaur skeleton, some beetle-looking thing, and a faded picture of some charts and lines or something appears over the whole thing. Someone clearly spent a lot of time putting together this assortment of beautiful science-related objects which are only truly appreciated by proponents of evolution and good science. And now they will proceed to explain why creation is superior to evolution.

Blank page, title page with copyright info, yawn.

Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe?

Notice how they incorrectly capitalize “It” and “What”. The writers of this pamphlet would have failed the PSAT (which I took this morning).

Without further ado, let’s begin.

Society’s Dramatic Shift
The Bible was long accepted as a true and reliable account of our origins. But then Darwin’s theory of evolution took the world by storm, with predictable and tragic consequences—proof that what we believe does matter.

Well, at least in European countries. In the middle east, the Koran was long accepted as true. In Greece, the Greek myths were long accepted as true (which is questionable, since they may have been only myths even then (the Greeks were smart), but they still have just as much a claim to truth as other religious stories and texts). In China, for a few decades at least, Quotations from Chairman Mao was accepted as true. But apparently there are consequences of believing in Darwin’s theory, and we shall find out soon enough.

Science, the Bible and Wrong Assumptions
Although it’s rarely publicized, the evidence against evolution is mounting with accumulating scientific discoveries. What societal and cutural factors led to such widespread acceptance of Darwin’s theory in the first place?

I don’t read normal publications. I read science. You’d think I would have heard about this evidence. Hopefully this pamphlet will present it for me so I can see the error of my ways.

What Does the Fossil Record Show?
Darwin staked the credibility of his theory on discoveries he was sure would be found in the fossil record. After a century and a half of exploration and discoveries, does that record support his theory or contradict it?

1. There is plenty of evidence for evolution other than nature’s pretty little drawings known as “fossils”.
2. The fossil record supports evolution. If this pamphlet mentions the Cambrian Explosion as evidence against evolution, my head just might explode.

Can Evolution Explain Life’s Complexity?
A fundamental premise of Darwinian evolution is the belief in natural selec- tion driving change in species. Now, after decades of detailed study of genetics, DNA and the cell, what does the scientific evidence reveal to us?

This sounds like that tired old Irreducible Complexity argument. You can do better, Mr. Pamphlet. You can do better.

Oddities in Nature That Defy Evolution
Darwin wrote that his theory would break down if it could be shown that animals had complex features that could not have developed by many gradual slight modifications. We look at creature features that kill the theory.

I haven’t actually read Darwin, so I’d like a quote. But also, I would like to point out that strictly Darwinian evolution is greatly outdated. There have been many developments since Darwin, and he has been proven wrong many times. His basic theory of natural selection, though, still holds strong.

The World Before Man: The Biblical Explanation
Many people dismiss the biblical account of creation, thinking it contradicts scientific discoveries made in recent centuries. But is that really the case? It’s vital that we properly understand what that account does and does not say.

Indeed. This is one of those supposedly-middle-of-the-road comments that are really hard to disagree with, but still baloney.

Only a few generations ago laws prevented the teaching of the theory of evolution in some communities and regions in the United States. The Bible was commonly accepted as true and as a reliable account of our origins.

Only a few generations ago, we still believed that Newtonian mechanics were correct. Such folly is youth.

But now almost the opposite is true. The Bible is banned from classrooms in American schools, and serious discussion of the biblical view of the creation of our universe and our human origins is forbidden.

Would you want to learn the Pagan creation story in science class? Or the Hindu one?

(picture of cute baby)

If we are the pinnacle of an evolutionary process, why is a human infant so helpless, and for so long, compared to the newborn of other species?

This shows a deep misunderstanding of the theory of evolution. Someone who makes this error should not be allowed to seriously discuss evolution, much less try to teach others about it. Evolution has no “pinnacle”; it is merely a naturally evolving process. And the reason that human infants can be so helpless is because their parents protect them. As long as they are able to survive in the long term, they will be successful.

Certainly, as the current intelligent design debate reveals, not all scientists agree that a Creator doesn’t exist and that we as human beings are the product of random chance.

Indeed. Hundreds of scientists believe in Creationism. Hundreds, out of hundreds of thousands. Wow. (Also, plenty of scientists believe in God or are even Christians. They simply believe that God and evolution are compatible.)

Many educated people accept the theory of evolution. But is it true? Curiously enough, our existence as human beings is one of the best arguments against it.

This is going to be good.

According to evolutionary theory, the traits that offer the greatest advantage for survival are passed from genera- tion to generation.

Oh, so now you understand it.

Yet human reproduction itself argues powerfully against this fundamental premise of evolution.

What is so strange about the human reproductive system? It seems pretty evolutionarily stable to me.

If human beings are the pinnacle of the evolutionary process, how is it that we have the disadvantage of requiring a member of the opposite sex to reproduce, when lower forms of life—such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa—are sexless and far more prolific?

This is an easy one (although it is the first time I’ve heard this argument). With asexual reproduction, the rate of evolution is limited by the rate of mutation. But sexual reproduction allows fast and efficient evolution. Not only that, but sexes are very likely to evolve. I read a good story about it once somewhere. And you can read an excellent explanation in The Selfish Gene. But the main idea is that there are a bunch of cells going around and trying to reproduce. If a cell is smaller, it can do less effort and still mate with a larger cell. But smaller cells don’t want to mate with smaller cells. So after a while there are a bunch of small cells, but it is still beneficial for there to be some large cells since these large cells are almost guaranteed to find a mate. The large cells evolved into females, and the small cells into males.

Let’s take it a step further. If human beings are the result of evolu- tion continually reinforcing characteristics that offer a survival advan- tage while eliminating those that hinder perpetuation, how can we explain a human infant?

Because adults protect their infants, keeping the species going. We have had no trouble sustaining ourselves. Infant mortality is remarkably low considering that of, say, sea turtles, which is at about 95%.

Among thousands of species the newly born (or newly hatched) are capable of survival within a matter of days or, in some cases, only minutes. Many never even see their parents. Yet a human infant is utterly helpless—not for days but for up to several years after birth.

And yet creatures such as sea turtles see massive deaths of their newborn. In this case, though, mother turtles have lots of children every year for dozens of years, so the genes are still passed on. With humans, we invest all our resources into a few children, and the genes are passed on.

A human baby is reliant on adults for the nourishment, shelter and care he or she needs to survive. Meanwhile, caring for that helpless infant is a distinct survival disadvantage for adults, since giving of their time and energy lessens their own prospects for survival.

Evolution is not about survival of the species. It is about survival of the genes. You win at the evolution game if your genes live on. You obviously share the most genes with yourself (or an identical twin), but you also have a large incentive to have children and, in the case of humans, ensure that those children live to have children of their own.

If evolution is true and humanity is the pinnacle of the evolution- ary process, why does a process as basic as human reproduction fly in the face of everything that evolution holds true?
Regrettably, such obvious flaws in the theory are too often overlooked.


Even Charles Darwin, whose theories about evolution took the world by storm, seems to have had second thoughts in some respects.

Let me guess . . . Darwin recanted on his deathbed. How unoriginal. It turns out that they have a quote from Darwin:

I was a young man with unformed ideas. I threw out queries, suggestions, wondering all the time over every- thing; and to my astonishment the ideas took like wildfire. People made a religion of them

Let it first be said that simply because Darwin renounces evolution does not mean that evolution is wrong. Today we have so much evidence for evolution which Darwin never knew about. There are thousands of scientists with large bodies of original research that support the theory of evolution. Second, this quotation is from Lady Hope’s account of Darwin’s recantation, found here. Her account, however, conflicts with some other (and more reliable) accounts (see Talk Origins for more information). In addition, it must be said that anyone who makes a religion out of evolution is misinterpreting it, and that is not Darwin’s fault. The theory is perfectly legitimate, and if some people choose to worship “Evolution” then that is their own choice. Although I doubt that anyone actually worships Natural Selection.

In Europe in particular, belief in a personal God has plummeted.

And good riddance! God is dead.

In the United States, court decisions have interpreted constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion as freedom from religion—effectively banning public expression of religious beliefs and denying the country’s rich religious heritage.

Oh, like these public expressions, which all took place very recently?

Or like all those history books that talk about the Quakers, the Pilgrims, and all the other religious groups in America’s history? (But somehow not the religions of the many Native Americans, which I don’t even know about due to lack of education.) No, this is just silliness. Maybe the Ten Commandments are banned at courthouses, but courts are houses of law, not houses of religion. You wouldn’t want the Pillars of Islam in America’s courthouses, would you?

Meanwhile, the world languishes in the sorrow and suffering that results from rejecting absolute moral standards. With no absolute standards, we have no reason to care about what happens to our fellow man.

The difference between having no absolute standards and having no standards at all should be obvious. Killing, for instance, is usually considered wrong because it is profoundly harmful. But sometimes it is justified, for example, to save another innocent life.

And we should not make the mistake of equating non-theism with moral subjectivism. I personally am an atheist and also believe that morality is not absolute, but I know many atheists who do believe that morality is absolute.

Let’s look at “we have no reason to care about what happens to our fellow man.” Apparently, the only reason we would ever “care” about our fellow man is because an all-powerful deity requires us to. This is true even if we don’t bring Hell into it: this pamphlet is clearly stating that we have no morality unless a deity is there to provide us with it; it therefore follows that this deity is arbitrarily giving us a sense of morality which we didn’t even decide upon ourselves. Why should we not be able to dictate our own morality, as a community? We should do what is best for everyone, and not what some god says is best for everyone.

We might as well seek only our personal gain regardless of the cost to others—acting exactly as evolutionary theory expects.

Believe it or not, a lot of the time that’s exactly how we act. And I’m not just talking about being selfish. Even altruism can help bring us further into the community, which has long-term benefits. It should be noted, though, that the authors are assuming that evolution works by individual selection theory; it is more commonly accepted that either group selection or gene selection is the mode of selection. Both of these very effectively account for altruism.

The Bible teaches us that God created man. Evolution teaches us that man created God.

One of these is false. The other is only partially false. Evolution does not “teach” that man created God. Actually, that’s what history teaches. But it is true that man created the concept of God.

If God created man, we have no right to ignore Him.

On the contrary. Simply because God created us, why does that give Him the right to do whatever he wants to us? We are our own beings, and we have rights. Like I was saying before, religion screws with morality way more than atheism does: if God wants to, he can just change the idea of morality and we “have to” accept it.

If man created God, we can easily ignore Him. What man has made he can do away with. In that case we are free to act as though God doesn’t exist, free to dismiss the Bible, free to determine for ourselves what is right and wrong and how we will choose to live.

Yeah! Free choice and independence are terrible things! Oh wait, they’re actually not, unless you’re and outdated crazy person who worships a few Bronze-age pieces of paper.

Which is the myth—God or evolution? Louis Bounoure, director of France’s Strasbourg Zoological Museum and professor of biology at the University of Strasbourg, stated: “Evolution is a fairy tale for grown-ups. This theory has helped nothing in the progress of science. It is useless”

What a delicious little appeal to authority. I do not understand how this man could possibly have gotten his biology degree while holding such a ridiculous idea.

“Darwinism may not entail atheism, but it appears certain that to some extent, atheism entails Darwinism”

That’s because “Darwinism” is the only logical explanation for the diversity of life, and atheists aren’t blinded by dogma.

You can know whether evolution is true. We hope you’ll examine the evidence carefully.

I will examine the evidence carefully, no thanks to you.

This pamphlet is looooooong (like 40 pages) so, for the sake of clarity, I will address each section of the pamphlet in a separate post. Up next is “Science, the Bible and Wrong Assumptions.”

Posted in Creationism, Science | Leave a Comment »

Extreme Geekiness, Squared

Posted by Michael Dickens on October 25, 2009

From this delicious Stack Overflow thread.

Top 10 things likely to be overheard from a Klingon Programmer

1. Specifications are for the weak and timid!
2. You question the worthiness of my code? I should kill you where you stand!
3. Indentation? I will show you how to indent when I indent your skull!
4. What is this talk of release? Klingons do not release software. Our software escapes leaving a bloody trail of designers and quality assurance people in its wake.
5. Klingon function calls do not have parameters – they have arguments – and they ALWAYS WIN THEM.
6. Debugging? Klingons do not debug. Our software does not coddle the weak.
7. A True Klingon Warrior does not comment on his code!
8. Klingon software does not have BUGS. It has FEATURES, and those features are too sophisticated for a Romulan pig like you to understand.
9. You cannot truly appreciate Dilbert unless you’ve read it in the original Klingon.
10. Our users will know fear and cower before our software! Ship it! Ship it and let them flee like the dogs they are!

Posted in Computer Science, Humor, Math, Programming | 1 Comment »

The PSAT: an Objective Assessment

Posted by Michael Dickens on October 24, 2009

This is a biased student’s unbiased assessment of the fun and frenzy that the PSAT brings to the world.

The PSAT had the usual categories that you find on a standardized test: math, reading comprehension, critical reading. The math was pretty simple stuff: basic geometry, basic statistics (median, mode, etc), basic math rules (absolute value, integers vs. rationals, etc). It’s actually been a while since I did any of that stuff, but I managed to remember it all. After I finished, I tried to find a generalized form for approximating the nth root of a number.

The most fun part, though, was the part where we had to read a story or an essay and then answer questions about it. The questions themselves weren’t so interesting; but some of the little writings were actually very fascinating. There was one section with two short essays about grammar sticklers, which I found to be pretty hilarious. And there was one where somebody was bad-mouthing Wikipedia. I wrote notes all over the test booklet, deconstructing the essay. The essay cited a study that Wikipedia has four errors for every three that Encyclopedia Britannica has. And the essayist’s response was something along the lines of “no reference work is infallible.” While true, he or she is completely disregarding the fact that this study demonstrates just how accurate Wikipedia really is. Wikipedia is moderated; 99% of websites are not moderated. While there are many sources that are more reliable than Wikipedia, there are very few that achieve the same balance of reliability and accessibility. I could write about the benefits of Wikipedia for hours.

I certainly hope that the SAT is as amusing as the PSAT was for me.

Posted in Language, Math | Leave a Comment »

Google’s Secret

Posted by Michael Dickens on October 19, 2009

Posted in Computer Science, Humor | 1 Comment »

Turing Machine Interpreter

Posted by Michael Dickens on October 19, 2009

I have written a C program that interprets a Turing Machine. It comes with a few sample programs, and the source code is available. You should check it out and see what you can come up with.

A Turing Machine is equivalent to every computer ever. If a Turing Machine can do it, any computing device can do it. But the problem is, Turing Machines are really simple, making them really hard to use. The best program I could write was one that added up two 2-bit numbers and then halted. I didn’t spend all that long on it, so I’m sure you could come up with something better. But download the file and see what you can do. A short tutorial is included inside.

Posted in Computer Science, Math, Programming | Leave a Comment »

Life Lessons From an Ad Man

Posted by Michael Dickens on October 18, 2009

Posted in Fun | Leave a Comment »

The PSAT: an Objective Assessment (preview)

Posted by Michael Dickens on October 17, 2009

This morning, I spent four hours taking the PSAT. Without a doubt, it is the best standardized exam that I have ever taken.

As much as I would love to, I am not allowed to talk about the PSAT for one week after taking it. So return in one week to hear my fascinating insights!

Update: It is now available!

Posted in Language, Math | 1 Comment »

Scientific Objectivity

Posted by Michael Dickens on October 16, 2009

If science is truly objective, then is it possible for science to support a Nationalist perspective?

This was a discussion question in my history textbook. It’s interesting, and so I will be responding to it here.

Scientific objectivity does not mean that science cannot take a position. Actually, science takes positions all the time. Science is pro-gravity, pro-evolution, pro-Standard Model, pro-global warming, con-numerology, con-homeopathy. These are all objective scientific positions. An objective assessment is an unbiased assessment based on facts and logical conclusions. So if the facts lead to a certain conclusion, then that conclusion is objective. Therefore, if facts and observations support the Nationalist perspective, then the Nationalist perspective is objectively correct.

What is the Nationalist perspective? Nationalism is a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups. This perspective does not seem to have objective support. After all, national divisions are arbitrary.

Posted in Science | 2 Comments »

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