Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Atheist

Richard Dawkins is working on a new book, The God Delusion, which I look forward to reading. Some regard him as a bit harsh, "Darwin's Rottweiler"; he suggests, for example, that raising children in a religious tradition may be a form of abuse, that belief in god is no different than believing a teapot is orbiting mars, and describes the god of the old testament as a psychotic monster. He is a bit virulent, it's kind of amusing really how open and blatant he is about his disdain for religion, no pussy footing around, like Sam Harris (The End of Faith) claiming that anyone believing in god is psychotic.

But I think this is just what the doctor ordered, with anti-intellectual movements like intelligent design (ID) achieving success in thrusting their non-theories into the public and confusing otherwise intelligent people into thinking that ID is a legitimate challenge to the Theory of Evolution. It's not too tough I suppose, Evolution is initially very counter-intuitive, so a group with a vested interest in dethroning science (Discovery Institute) puts some lipstick on Creationism and repackages and promotes it as a "scientific theory" with the intent of creating the illusion that there is serious debate within the (legitimate) scientific community on the validity of Evolution Theory. To the point where political leaders, including our ever sharp-as-a-tack president, say that in "fairness" all points of view should be taught in biology classes at public school. Protesting scientists are made to look closed minded.

The scientific community perhaps blundered by even engaging in the discussion, ID should be treated like all other scientific challenges, let them submit their research and papers for peer review (there are virtually none.) Let them get in line behind all of the other variations and sub-theories of evolution competing in the free market of science, most of which aren't being taught in classrooms, because they haven't yet passed muster.

There is no serious debate within the scientific community over the validity of Evolution Theory. The finer points of the theory will be researched and debated endlessly, but there is virtual unanimous agreement that Evolution Theory as proposed by Darwin in 1859 together with nearly 150 years of ongoing research, experiments, and modifications, provide an overwhelmingly good framework for explaining how life emerged on earth (and probably everywhere else in the Universe for that matter.) The theory works, it is predictive, it is falsifiable, it is a proper scientific theory. ID is a negative "theory", a litany of criticisms of the prevailing theory (gaps in the fossil record), together with the notion that some biological features are "irreducibly complex" and could not have evolved, and that this is proof of an intelligent designer, about whom nothing can be known (that part in italics is part of the theory, not my editorial comment.) ID is a theory of personal incredulity - "I personally can't imagine how an eye could possibly have evolved, so, it must have been created by god." It explains nothing, it just pushes the problem back a notch - where did god come from. ID cannot, in principle, be disproved - this feature is an essential feature of a proper scientific theory.

I always wonder why there aren't ID theories about other scientific fields, Plate Tectonics, for instance - it's incredible, continents move? C'mon I can't imagine that. Or Einstein's Special and General Relativity - time moves slower for a body in motion? Space is curved? The universe is expanding? Are you on crack? Or Quantum Mechanics - an event here (measuring the spin of an electron) can have an instantaneous effect on a particle far far away? Yowza. I mean, there are lot of scientific theories, well established, tested, accepted, tried and true, which are intuitively far more bizarre than Evolution Theory. But of course, Evolution is the target because, apparently, it feels like a personal affront to some people's view of religion.

If there is any question of the motives of the purveyors of ID, here is an excerpt from the so called Wedge Document leaked from the Discovery Institue:

"The social consequences of materialism have been devastating. As symptoms, those consequences are certainly worth treating. However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a "wedge" that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points.... Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

There is it. So why do I get worked up about this, it feels like a personal affront. I've thought about why I care, and have come to the realization, from personal observation, that Science perhaps is my religion. The etymology of the word "religion", I read somewhere, has something to do with "connection". Religion connects us with and defines our place in the Universe. Science is what does it for me. To me, Science is merely the study and appreciation of the Universe as it is observed. If there is a Creator/God, it is His creation, it is awesome in the true sense of that word. I am thankful for existence and the body of subatomic particles which have coagulated into me for a brief time within the unimaginable expanse of space and time of the Universe, I am part it, part of the Universe's way of knowing itself. Deep, huh?

This week I learned that not only is the Universe expanding (not expanding within something, space itself is expanding.) but it is expanding at a rate much greater than the speed of light, so that large parts of the Universe will always be inaccessible to us because the light can never reach us. In fact, one estimate is that if the Universe were the size of the earth, then the accessible Universe would be about the size of a grain of sand.

And this. I learned that the most promising cosmological theories indicate that the mass of singularity, at the moment of the Big Bang amounted to the mass of anywhere from a spec of dust to about twenty pounds, in either case, stuffed into an area of billionths of a centimeter in volume. All that there is in our Universe started from a twenty pound point of matter, due to what's called the "inflationary" period of cosmological development which occupied the tiniest (billionths of a) fraction of a second after the Big Bang, in which energy (which is equivalent to mass) accumulated at an astounding rate due to the negative gravitational energy caused by "inflatons" which caused space to expand at a ridiculous rate. Wtf, this is almost incredible, it was hard enough to imagine all the stuff in our Universe stuffed into a singular point, but now to learn that it possibly started out with a paltry twenty pound and expanded from there. Awesome.

Or something like that. I have only the most precarious and superficial understanding of all this stuff. But enough that I appreciate its awesome-ness, blows me away. To me, reading, learning about this stuff is equivalent to worship. I sometimes like to imagine God looking down saying, now there's a guy who really appreciates my hard work.

Even though I personally don't understand all of science, I trust the scientific community to get it right, and to recognize its limitations, and to adjust/correct when it gets it wrong. Why? Because it's all driven by a very understandable human impulse, ego. Scientists are smarties, and like to show off, to other scientists. Everyone is out to prove their theories and/or disprove others, there is glory to be had in either. Image the glory to be bestowed upon the scientist to dethrone Darwin and the Theory of Evolution, they'd be the next Einstein. All it'd take is a fossil of a dog buried where only fossilized trilobites are to be found, Evolution would be history. But it hasn't happened, the evidence is not there.

All this said, I actually have a lot of respect for Religion, due no doubt in part to my religious upbringing, my father being a New Testament theologian and ordained minister (Baptist) and all. My personal view of Religion and belief in God is this. It's like herpes, once you have it, you can't get rid of it (I don't have herpes, thanks, God.) I was raised in a religious home, it's in my blood, I still pray, still feel there may be a God, but intellectually, I know it's pretty ridiculous, on the other hand, even the part of me that thinks God may exist still believes totally in Science, it's just that Science cannot answer the ultimate question - why. Why is there something instead of nothing? So officially I'm agnostic, which I always thought was the most logical stance, we just don't know, the existence of God cannot be proved or disproved, however, Dawkins, in an interview finds that a weak position, in that there are an infinite number of things that cannot be disproved, e.g. unicorns, werewolves, and teapots orbiting Mars, but we pay no mind to these since there is no good reason to believe they might exist. It's a good point.

One more thought before I end this ridiculous ramble which no one but me will read (and if you are reading this, you have to wonder, if maybe there isn't something more productive you should be doing with your time.) I've found that some people resent the Scientific outlook because it is "reductionist". Somehow, the idea that we can explain things in scientific terms somehow diminishes their value. I don't adhere to this belief. Just because science can explain (fairly) precisely, in intricate detail, at the molecular level, how the eyes and the mind work together to give us vision, does not take away from the fact that we can in fact see. Similarly, just because we can explain our origins, through Evolution Theory, does not diminish that fact the we are thinking, feeling human beings. Steven Pinker also makes the argument, which I love, because upon reflection it makes so much intuitive sense, that human morality is part of human nature, it is the product of evolution. It has survival value - if you treat other people like shit, you will probably be killed before long, before you can produce many offspring. Reciprocal altruism. It works. But, just because we can explain its origin, should not diminish its perceived and real value to us as human beings.

If "love" were ever to be "reduced" to a simple chemical reaction within the brain (which I've little doubt it will be, someday), so what, it doesn't mean we do not feel it. To me, the extra understanding, it only adds the the awe of it all. Reminds me of Richard Feynman, I saw him in an interview talking about something like how artists think they can appreciate the aesthetic beauty of a flower so much, but as a scientist, not only can he appreciate that beauty, but can also appreciate the biological complexity and beauty in that lower level domain.

Some fear the prospect that morality is a natural product of evolution undermines the religious basis of morality. Yes, it does, get over it. I have exactly the opposite view of these folks. Realizing that some significant measure of morality is built in, hardwired, into the the human mind, is comforting. It would be frightening to me to think that only those humans who happened to believe in and conform to certain specific religious ideas, were moral. It's much more comforting, and intuitively and scientifically acceptable that morality is human nature.

On Sunday, after Saturday's 5.2 mile tempo, ran 10.6 miles down the bike trail from Brewster toward Orleans and back, 10.6 miles total, first 8 not bad, then pretty much bonked, slogged the remainder, couldn't even finish the 11 I'd intended, hotter than I'd expected, went out too fast, and lounging on the beach in the sun/heat for over an hour beforehand didn't help, splits were: 7:07, 7:04, 6:45, 6:47, 6:41, 7:09, 7:01, 7:07, 7:24, 7:40. Longest run in 9 weeks, since the quad/adductor strain. Good news is no complaints from that faction. I've now developed a bit of a niggle on the left inside ankle just above the funny bone. Sore Monday walking (marched with J's Cub Scout troop in the Memorial Day parade).

Planned on rest yesterday, but by midday, surprisingly the ankle felt fine. After work ran 5 miles on the home Landice after work, 7:25 down to 6:35. Not too bad, no issues, finally! Rest today, don't push it bucko.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Cape Cod

Family at the Cape with Grammie for the weekend. Always love running on the Cape, air's so clean, roads more organic.

What an awsome day, ran my usual route, down Lower Road, my old friend, Paine's Creek, Tubman, back, 6.5 miles total, 43:15 (6:39). Middle part of the course was the Brew Run course (5.2 miles officially, but not USATF, Garmin sez 5.24) in 34:00 flat (6:29). Six seconds off my race time (33:54) last August. Kinda pushing it but felt great to fly a bit. Course splits: 6:29, 6:32, 6:33, 6:40, 6:18, 1:25 (5:54). Unfortunately I won't be able to run this race this August, conflicts with Z's drama schedule.

Thinking about a possible fall marathon; some choices:
Rochester Marathon, Rochester, NY
September 17, 2006, Sunday, 8:00am
700+ finishers

Clarence DeMar Marathon, Gilsum to Keene, NH
September 24, 2006, Sunday, 8:00am
200+ finishers

Wineglass Marathon
, Bath, NY
Sunday, October 1, 2006, Sunday, 9:00am
500+ finishers

Hartford Marathon, Hartford, CT
October 14, 2006, Saturday, 8:00am
1300+ finishers

Lowell Sun Bay State Marathon, Lowell, MA
October 15, 2006, Sunday, 8:30am
500+ finishers

Thursday, May 25, 2006


So no running stuff today. My daughter, 11, has a music teacher who has always seemed vaguely creepy, forget the details, but just slightly off and inappropriate at times, this, according to many of his students, but let's stick to the facts.

Today we now learn that last year, complaints about him led to an investigation which ended up finding that his personal computer contained over 600 photos of elementary school age children, not porn, just photos, mostly of students in the school, mostly taken (presumably) by him. We also learned that the town school superintendent warned him to not take anymore pictures of children.

But, he has been taking photos of children in his class, my daughter's class, playing musical instruments, flutes, clarinets, etc. He tells them that he can help them improve by observing their facial form while playing, and the he may want to videotape them as well.

There was also a recent incident where my daughter's Girl Scout troop was having a meeting at the school after school, and some of the girls dispersed/disappeared and were found in the music teacher's classroom down the hall, goofing around with each other. The girls said the music teacher told them that could come into his classroom and play freeze tag or whatever it was they were doing in the hall, and that he offered them candy as well. When queried by a Girl Scout mother, the music teacher said he let the girls in because they said they didn't have to be anywhere else (??).

And, a recent town police log shows a car and person fitting the description of the music teacher and his car was seen at a playground, taking photos - no license plate info. So, whatdoyathink? Is this totally freaking suspect or what? Parents are trying to get the police involved, angry that the superintendent hadn't notified police earlier. One of the mothers driving this was herself molested as a child, so we need to keep that in mind, grain of salt, but it looks pretty incriminating to me. We've talked with out daughter about it, a little weirded out, but she's okay.

We're keeping a close eye on things, just curious what others might think of the basic facts/situation. Weigh in if so inclined. Thanks.

Monday, May 22, 2006

17 Days

After 17 days of absolutely no running, I did 7.5 miles Sunday, 6:45 average pace; Garmin sez the splits were: 6:42, 6:51, 6:41, 6:48, 6:39, 7:02, 6:27. Felt great, beautiful day, shirtless and free. I *think*, knock wood, the time off has allowed the quad/adductor strain to *finally* heal properly, not even a hint of a squeek from it during the run; had no idea how it'd go, felt like Reuven in The Chosen having the bandage removed from his eye. Only issue actually was unexpected left ham tightness, and not too bad, subsided after 2 miles. Thanks, God, it seems good. For my records, here's what I did since the last post, not much, but not nothing:
Monday: Elliptical, 67 minutes
Wednesday: Elliptical, 52 minutes
Sunday: Walking, 45 minutes
Monday: Elliptical, 67 minutes
Tuesday: Walking, 20 minutes
Wednesday: Elliptical, 71 minutes
Thursday: Elliptical, 52 minutes
Feeling pretty optimistic at the moment, not unpleasant DOMS, mostly in the quads, but not in a bad way. And even though the VCM is a no go, looking forward to another Boston Marathon qualifier, maybe Lowell Sun or Hartford, but I'd like to do one sooner, August or September, but no BQ marathons around here in that time frame, as far as I can see. Couple other possibilities, Rochester Marathon in NY, Wineglass Marathon, NY. We'll see.

Quads were pretty sore yesterday, DOMS, rested, still fairly sore today, but went out for a 7.1 miler around the lake after work. Felt the quads all the way, not really in a bad way, just DOMS, but was forced to pull it back toward the end, didn't want to risk unreasonable muscle damage; Garmin sez splits were: 6:53, 6:53, 6:53, 6:50, 6:43, 7:02, 7:21. Whatever, I'm just thrilled the thigh seems all better; I told the running gods I'd work hard if I could just run injury free, and I can, I will. I'll plan on building up slowly, carefully to an early October Marathon. One day at a time, as they say.

This is an awesome book — The Fabric of the Cosmos. I finally "get" special relativity, at least from a layman's point of view (Relativity Visualized also helped). It all falls out, very logically and obviously, from the fact, confirmed by hundreds of experiments, that the speed of light is constant for all observers, no matter how the observer is moving (thou shalt not add to or or subtract from the speed of light). Time really is another dimension of spacetime; we are all moving at a constant speed, the speed of light through spacetime. If we accelerate and move through space very fast, then we will be devoting more "energy" toward our movement through space and time for us, relative to stationary observers, will move slower - more speed, less time - conservation of spacetime. Greene is a very good writer, imo, a bit verbose I"m sure for more expert readers, but for me, for the difficult/weird concepts he's describing, it's warranted. Excellent footnotes too.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Too busy. Since last post ...
Tuesday: Elliptical, 61 minutes
Wednesday: Elliptical, 62 minutes
Friday: Elliptical, 32 minutes
Saturday: Elliptical, 77 minutes
Sunday: 7.1 miles, around the lake, ~7:00 average
Tuesday: 4.5 miles, office dread, ~7:00
Wednesday: 5.2 miles, office dread, ~7:15 average
Today: Elliptical, 65 minutes
Right quad/adductor/whatever slowly slowly getting better. Sunday's run hardly felt it, so nice to get back to it, outside, beautiful spring day. Yesterday's run set it back a bit, back to elliptical, two steps forward, one back. VCM is almost certainly a no go, unless the thigh recovery accelerates significantly. Whatever, to quote Elliott Smith — oh well, okay — just want to run injury free. If I still want to qualify for Boston '07, it'll have to wait till October — Hartford or BayState Marathon. There don't seem to any summer marathons anywhere around here, at least not acceptable as Boston qualifiers -- there is the Around the Lake Marathon around my lake Lake Quannapowitt, that's insane, eight-plus times around, though I've have done five around.

So I went out and bought a Garmin Forerunner 205, my first GPS toy. It's awesome, it works, I'm free, no more measuring and sticking to routes. Used it on my Sunday 7 miler. Looking at the post run data, I was shocked to see the variation in my pace, I'm now pretty convinced that that's what makes outdoor running seem so much easier for me than treadmill. On treadmill, I stay at the same pace a mile at a time, 7:30, 7:15, 7:00, etc. Outdoors my pace is all over the place, 7:15, 8:10, 6:35, 7:05, 6:45, 7:30, etc. within a couple minutes. Definitely recommend this gadget, it's big and ugly, but it's not heavy, wish I got one a long time ago.

Started reading The Omnivore's Dilemma. Excellent so far, I read part of his other book, The Botany of Desire, never finished for some reason, not because it wasn't good, just got busy and never got back to it. But, this one is riveting, if you're a geek anyway I guess.

Corn is amazing and bizzare and extremely ubiquitous. We are the people of the corn, it is in our flesh. Carbon from corn is contains an unusually large amount of carbon isotopes which have seven rather than six neutrons, to match the six electrons which make carbon carbon. This heavier carbon is actually detectable in the flesh/hair of humans. And large quantities are in all of us — corn is everywhere !!!!!!!! (Like God, and motorcycles — I wonder every time I see one of those Motorcycles Are Everywhere !!!!!!! bumper stickers — is that a statement of fact or a cry of exasperation?)

And corn sex is incredibly intricate. The male organ at the top of the plant, a tassel containing hundreds of anthers resembling tiny flowers, releases tens of millions of grains of pollen over the course of a few summer days — adhering to the familiar "more is more" philosophy of male reproduction. The female organ, containing hundreds of tiny flowers arranged in familiar rows on a cob, resembling a phallus, is a few feet below. The corn silk turns out to be the conduit through which falling pollen from the top travels through to the awaiting flowers within the cob. The fertilized flowers become the carbohydrate rich kernels we eat and which get stuck in between our teeth so we need to floss immediately after.

Corn exists only because humans exist; its bizzare arrangement of parts, seeds within a husk, are naturally maladaptive, it couldn't survive without intervention of a semi-intelligent being with an opposable thumb to rip open the husk. A random genetic mutation of a grass called teosinte in Central America resulted in something vaguely resembling corn, and caught the eye of a hungry ancient human who peeled open the husk to free the seeds.

Man, evolution f-ing rocks. Intelligent Design (Creationism Lite) people f-ing piss me off. Sure, I believe in Intelligent Design. God, infinitely intelligent, created the universe, and he designed an incredibly elegent mechanism which allowed the evolution, from sub-atomic particles (!), of seemingly arbitrarily complex forms of life. One of those forms of life evolved to a point where their own intelligence allowed them to discover and appreciate this intelligently designed system we call evolution.

The ID folks seem to not appreciate the fact that evolution does not preclude the existence of God, isn't this nearly obvious. It's a failure to understand what science is — it can explain the how but not the why — even if every aspect of existence were fully understood by science, there would still be the most fundamental question there is: Why is there existence instead of nothingness? It's the one truly unanswerable question, it is the realm of religion.

"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide." — Albert Camus