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A Wrecking Ball Taken to the Pillars of Religion

by RMD 5. November 2006 13:55

While browsing around for a copy of the debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins on the topic of religion and science, I happened upon an infuriating article written by Brad Harrub, Ph.D. The article has the typical attacks on science and evolution, and, as a bonus, includes an attack on Dawkins.

Naturally, I was none too happy, although completely unsurprised, that an organization called "The Apologetics Press" would publish this pile of baloney. So I decided that I should write a letter.

Since I highly doubt anybody will ever read the letter I sent them, I figured I would ever so slightly increase the odds of its dissemination by publishing it on my ever so popular blog. So here it is, for your reading enjoyment.

 

Regarding your article titled "Nature Attacks Religion" (http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2981)

I must say I'm continually dismayed by the either ignorant or willful misinformation put forth by the religious community regarding topics such as Evolution. Is the religious argument so weak that these tactics are necessary to retain the flock? I suspect my complaint will fall on faithfully deaf ears, but I will persist nonetheless.

I will not analyze the entire article, but instead will concentrate on your attack on Richard Dawkins. You state the following:

"'That is a perfectly reasonable political stance, but it has nothing to do with truth.'" (Dawkins) One might ask to which truth Dawkins is referring? Perhaps the long parade of evolutionary errors that continue to be recycled in students' textbooks? Or is the "truth" found when alleged "missing links" receive front-page attention when first announced, but rarely any notice when disproved? Or is it the "truth" that evolutionists can't explain the expansion of the Universe or the characteristic of altruism in humans? To what "truth" does Dawkins subscribe?"

Dawkins is referring to scientific truth. Scientific truth is the description of reality that best matches the current evidence. It is, by its very nature, tentative. Unlike religion, which historically must be forced through violent upheaval brought by outside forces to change its stance on what it considers truth, science abandons theories as soon as they no longer match observation. That's what makes science so successful at improving our lives; it is a self correcting process. There are countless examples of major "pillars" of science being completely thrown away when a new theory explains reality better, such as the publication of Einstein's papers on relativity in 1905 that invalidated the Newtonian world view. 500 years of science were rendered obsolete by a single man. Indeed, there are few things more rewarding to a scientist than to disprove a prevailing theory, since disproving that theory is nearly as beneficial to our understanding of reality as the creation of a brand new one.

As far as the textbook errors, you must realize how silly that is. Regardless of the fact that science is an ever-changing and progressive understanding of the universe, mistakes by textbook publishers hardly undermines all of the Evolution, nor does it have any bearing on the argument Dawkins was making. It is, very clearly, a straw man.

Furthermore, your "missing link" statement is a complete fallacy. There is no such thing as a missing link. Your attack on Dawkins obviously didn't require you to read any of his books, since he clearly addresses this silly "missing link" story in several of them. The very idea of a "missing link" is one born out of ignorance of the facts of Evolution. Again, a straw man, despite the fact you probably didn't realize it. There is a decent explanation of why the concept of a missing link is invalid here: http://atheism.about.com/b/a/196538.htm

In addition, Evolution makes no claims about the expansion of the universe whatsoever. It's like saying that algebra is invalid because it can't tell you how to bake moist cake. They are two different topics which you just happen to explain with the same answer: God. That said, science certainly doesn't have all the answers. Science is a process for discovery of the truth. In may lead to a fundamental understanding of the universe one day, or it might not. But as Dawkins correctly points out, suggesting that everything science cannot currently explain is a result of God is the biggest cop-out of all. It's the "God of the Gaps" argument.

Lastly, you have certainly proven that you don't bother to research the topics you attack. Your claim that Evolution cannot explain human altruism is quite ironic considering it is the primary subject of Richard Dawkins' extremely popular book, The Selfish Gene. Although I doubt you are receptive to the explanation, altruism in nature is a result of natural selection not acting on the level of the species, group, or individual, but instead on the level of the gene.*

The fact of the matter is that Evolution is damaging to religion and religious zealots because it takes away a huge underpinning of the modern belief in God: ignorance. I'm not using that term in a derogatory way. I'm simply saying that one big reason for the widespread belief in God is that the world is a very complex and mysterious place and there are many things we don't understand about it. It is both comforting and useful to be able to cite something greater than ourselves as the answer to all of these questions. As science has slowly but surely removed the mystery from many of these aspects of our world, religion's territory has been getting smaller and smaller.

Evolution is a wrecking ball taken to the pillars of religion. That is why you fear it, and that is why you attack it.

Sincerely,
Robert Downey

What do you think? Too harsh? 

*After I had already sent the e-mail I realized I forgot to address the author's claim that altruism in humans cannot be explained by Evolution. I didn't want leave it out from my blog posts, but I didn't want to suggest I had included it in the letter I sent.

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Science

Farewell America, We Hardly Knew Ya

by RMD 19. October 2006 12:59

Yesterday, President George W. Bush signed into law the Military Commissions Act. Its innocuous name distracts from its insidious consequences. The effects of this law will be felt for generations. I say this with absolutely no exaggeration. This law dismisses the Bill of Rights.

The primary goal of the Military Commissions Act is to allow the Executive Branch to jail suspected terrorists without evidence, without the right to a trial, and without the right to council. Essentially, it suspends Habeas Corpus.

Habeas Corpus is Latin for "you should have the body". It simply means that you must be brought before a judge so that a he may determine if there is ample evidence to hold you for a crime.  It prevents people from being jailed without reason, and forces the government to prove their case in a court of law. It is why you are free.

Habeas Corpus has been recognized since the days of the Magna Carta (11th century) as being absolutely essential for a free society. Nearly all other rights flow from it. Without a justice system in which the innocent must be proven guilty and people can not be arbitrarily jailed, rights such as free speech, privacy, the right the bear arms, or anything else are meaningless. If I can be arrested and jailed without evidence, how exactly will I be free to speak my mind?

For those of you who think you'll never be affected by this law, all you need to do is look at history for examples that prove you wrong. The Constitution states that "the Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." This has been used in the past several times. Lincoln used it during the Civil War (a rebellion). Adams actually used it to jail newspaper editors that were critical of his administration. (Clearly illegally.) FDR used it to imprison Japanese-Americans during WWII, a mistake we continue to apologize for.

What makes each of these incidents different, however, is that those wars had a foreseeable end. There were conditions under which everybody could agree the war was over. The "War on Terrorism" is not that type of war. It is endless. And because it is endless it gives the Executive Branch essentially unlimited power. It destroys the very thing that has protected out democracy for 230 years: the separation of powers and the rule of law.

In just the past few years there has been a big uproar about what the media can and cannot report. The current Administration takes the stance that if it has anything to do with national security, and it doesn't necessarily make the Administration look good, it should be illegal. Luckily the courts have traditionally rejected this idea, taking the stance that the protection of free speech is worth the potential damage to national security in all but the most egregious of cases.

But now what happens? Now, the President can throw those reporters or those newspaper editors in jail. No questions asked. No trial. No lawyers. No rights. If you were a reporter with information that was damning to the government, how much less likely would you be to report it if you knew you would, undoubtedly, spend the rest of your life in a federal prison?

If this wasn't enough, unlike other laws it is very likely that this will never be challenged in the Supreme Court. If you get no trial to begin with, how are you to challenge your conviction?

I'm sure some of you stalwart Republicans out there are scoffing at my alarmist tones. You know that George W. Bush is a good man and that he would never use this law for anything but actually protecting the American people. Let's assume you're right. What happens when he leaves office and the next guy isn't as noble and honest? You must agree that our government cannot be allowed this kind of unregulated, unchecked power. It goes against everything this country stands for.

Many say that this law is of no danger to the average American because it is restricted to "aliens", but if you're never given a trial, never brought before a judge, and never given and coucil, when exactly do you get to prove your citizenship? The law makes no statements about this "minor" detail.

If this goes unchallenged, October 18th, 2006, will be known as the beginning of the end of the great American experiment. History will show that we succumbed to exactly that which the founding fathers warned against. We thought that it was OK to give up our rights for the hope of security. We gave up that which we were trying to protect in the first place.

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Politics

How IE7 on Vista will Make Firefox Less Secure

by RMD 10. October 2006 15:03

 I have a prediction.

I predict that when IE 7 on Vista starts to take significant market share (say, 30% or so), you'll start to see the attacks on Firefox increase dramatically. In other words, Firefox will become more and more dangerous to use as IE 7 on Vista gains market share.

I use Firefox because of what basically amounts to security through obscurity. Many people claim that Firefox is simply written better than IE and that is why it seems to have fewer security related incidents.

Indeed, Firefox at least seems to be more secure, having only 36 security related issues discovered since 2003, many of which were not particularly critical. (Versus a whopping 106 vulnerabilities for IE 6.x, many of which were critical.)

But that doesn't really tell you the whole story. The fact of the matter is that Internet Explorer is the best way to attack the largest number of computers. It's the single biggest attack vector into a Windows machine. The bad guys who want to install malware on the largest number of computers possible are going to target the OS with the most users (Windows) and the browser of choice for those users is still overwhelmingly IE 6.

It has long been my opinion that the more popular and widely used a piece of software, the more people are going to attack it for both glory and monetary gain. But every once in a while a technology will emerge that will essentially remove a particular attack vector from being feasible.

When Microsoft released XP SP2, the changes it made to ActiveX installation were enough, for the most part, to remove an entire genre of social engineering attacks by forcing the user to do just a few extra steps to install an ActiveX control. Of course this had little affect on the spread of malware. Malware distributors just started using buffer overflows and other types of exploits to install their software.

But IE 7 on Vista is different. For the first time a browser will run all the time with privileges  far below that of the current user. It's called Protected Mode IE. IE will not even have the ability to write to places that the current user can write to, such as the desktop or My Documents folder. Instead, and actions which required elevated privileges will have to be done through something like the Service Broker. The Service Broker is a small (only a few thousand lines of code) application that runs with the privileges of the logged in user and takes "requests" from IE to do things like saves files to the desktop.

The result is that you really only have to audit a small piece of code to guarantee that IE 7 can't do anything bad, regardless of the vulnerability in question. Buffer overflows won't have any affect on the user because even with that overflow, IE 7 doesn't have permissions to do anything bad.

This technique has already proven itself successful. Despite the fact that a recent vulnerability in the VML rendering engine was present in IE 7, a vulnerability that was completely unknown to the IE 7 team, it had no affect on users running IE 7 on Vista thanks to protected mode.

But once the malware distributors see a decline in their successful installations due to Protected Mode IE 7, they will want to make it up somehow. The obvious choice is to attack the guy who has 2nd place in the market share battle. Guess who that is.

So while dramatically improving Windows security by removing the primary attack vector, Microsoft will have made Firefox far more dangerous a browser to use.

Just my opinion. Only time will tell if I'm right.

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General Computing

Windows Vista: Ready for the ReadyDrive

by RMD 27. September 2006 16:29

Hybrid hard drive? What's that? Tune in to this Channel 9 video and learn. You'll also get to see how great Windows Vista can perform on a machine with one of these new types of hard drives.

read more | digg story

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General Computing

Kids, Say Thank You to Mr. Stanislav Petrov

by RMD 26. September 2006 20:30

Thank you to Mr. Stanislav Petrov. On this day in 1983 he allowed me to live to see my 4th birthday the very next day.

I'm sure you're wondering who Stanislav Petrov is and how, exactly, he saved my life 23 years ago. In fact, Mr. Petrov very likely saved your life too. And not just you and me, but pretty much everybody on Earth.

Mr. Petrov was the guy in charge of monitoring missile launches for the Soviet Union. His job was two fold. If he saw missile launches coming from the United States he was to call his commanders and ask if he should return fire. If his commanders said yes, he was to press the button that, in a very real sense, ends the world as we know it. Not a job I would have taken, but I guess somebody has to do it.

On September 26th, 1983, at around 12:30 AM, Stanislav saw a US missile launch on his screen. And then another. And another. And another. His job was to tell his commander, who would undoubtedly tell him to nuke the bastards. (The bastards being the USA.)

Instead, Stanislav decided that it was very unlikely that a preemptive attack by the United States would take the form of multiple missile launches one right after another. It's far more likely, he reasoned, that the USA would launch everything they had all at once, to increase the chances it would take out the USSR before they had a chance to react.

His reasoning was correct. What he saw were "ghosts". There were no missiles. His snap decision saved billions of lives, including mine.

So thank you Mr. Stanslav Petrov. If only the world were filled with heads as cool as yours.

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