Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thoughts On Moving

So, I'm moving to Tallahassee, FL.  Here are some thoughts that whisk about my mind on the subject of moving (and more specifically my transition in life trajectories).

"Moving isn't so much about choosing where you want to be as much as it is choosing who you want to be."  --my eldest brother, Mercer Dalzel Walton III
"Life is like an 'X'.  As you travel up the two bottom legs of the 'X' you narrow down your choices of what you want to do with your life until you come to a single point, a juncture and a decision about what to do.  Is that the end?  O, no!  From there the reverse happens and the possibilities inverse so that soon the various paths open up and your choices increasingly expand." - paraphrase of Charlie Behrens
"If you want to hit a home run you have to lean into it.  Lean into it!"  --Me somehow using an analogy from a game I've never play or watched
"Fiscally high risk bonds, even though they may fluctuate volatilely, will over the long term yield the highest rewards.  If you can hold on through the bucks of the bronco, long term you will be better off.  Playing safe, long term, doesn't pay off."  --paraphrase of Sean Cooper   
"I find myself making major life decisions based on this matrix: if my life were a movie, is this how I'd want it to play out?...I really have no idea if that's a smart way of living or making major decisions, but I can't seem to help it!  Relationships, career goals, vacations, living situations, all major decisions I seem to base my thoughts off how it would read or what kind of movie it'd make from another's perspective!  What does that say about me!?  Or, my entertainment driven culture!?"  --Me reflecting on my major life decisions

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Questions to Creationists

How do you win a debate?  Better question yet, how do you win a mind?  I.e. how do you not just win, but convince someone?  Debate is a two pronged spear.  You can't just show evidence.  You have to overcome objections.  You often have to break down a thick fortress of disinformation.  This is [unfortunately] especially true of the evolution and creation debate

So, is there a way to scale the walls and siege the city of creationism's bulwark?


Get them out of objection mode and into question mode.  They *have* to be made to think and not just rebut. 

Only a well formed question can do this.

Think of times that someone has really turned your thinking around.  Has it ever been a silver bullet piece of evidence?  Maybe.  Far more likely than not in my mind, is that it was an unshakable question.  A haunting question.  A question that you couldn't run from.  A question that kept you awake at night wondering the answer to, internally wrestling with for hours.

My two questions I ask when debating hardcore creationists before I ever discuss evidences:

What would it take to convince you that evolution is true?  How much evidence?  What kind of evidence?  How would you know that it was valid?  Where would you find it? (Btw, I've had one creationist be honest with me when I asked this question and she said, "The Bible would have to say that it's true."  I then kindly dismissed myself from the conversation and said that she wasn't ready to discuss the matter.)


What would nature look like if evolution were true?  What would genetics look like?  What would the fossil record look like?  Geology?  Radiometric dating?  What would anatomy look like?  What would biogeography look like?  Ecology?  The tree of life?  Pathogens?  etc, etc.

Here's the scenario you create by doing that: they either set such a high criteria that they realize they aren't being rational or they set an achievable set of criteria that you then steam roll with thousands of pounds of evidence.  Either way is a battle won.  O, and by the way, if this seems arrogant, feel free to let them turn the tables.  From either direction we have the higher ground. 

Link: "As Y Chromosome Shrinks, End of Men Pondered"

True Mythology

There are features and commonalities that are ubiquitous to all human societies.  By understanding these universals we can better understand what it means to be human as opposed to just being a particular ethnicity.  It may in fact teach us our 'true selves', the most fundamental, essential part of our identity.  One idea or theme that is common to all groups of mankind (woman kind) is a story of origins - an explanation of whence came humanity.

What can we learn from this?  Well, that we are not, not, not okay with having no past.  We demand a past so much so that we're willing to make one up or embrace even the most ludicrous methods of creation - mud, spit, rocks, spontaneous generation, birth, semen, sneezing, fire, reordering of chaos, divine fiat - all sorts of methods have been concocted as the means of creation...

 Because we just can't leave our past alone.

We demand to know where we come from and from that our identity and from that what life is all about.

I've found that true even with myself.

And I've found a powerful means of satisfying that craving.

It isn't new.

Or, original.

It's got the main elements of every creation story - drama, tragedy, comedy, passion, an obstacle to overcome, character development, etc.

But, boy do I wish we'd be more explicit about thinking of it this way.

The reason that I love biology so much is that to understand any branch of biology you have to understand the roots of that branch - it's evolutionary history.  Every kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus and species on down has something to tell us about ourselves - just one miniscule twig peering down over the entire tree. It either does this by further illuminating our own direct evolutionary path toward greater complexity and specificity or that they illustrate a similar path that just might be illustrative in understanding our own.

Is there value in thinking of biology anthropomorphically?

The research disadvantages and biases are apparent, but what about the didactic advantages?  From an educational stand point, isn't there something to be said to showing the relevance, the power, the humanity and 'creation myth' behind the last 4 billion years of life on Earth?  If we could do this more explicitly, more dynamically in the classroom wouldn't our students be more engaged, better informed and far more ready to absorb lofty and cumbersome ideas of science?  Wouldn't we be able to tap into a fundamentally human need?  I believe it would and that society would be better of because of it.

Teach the story.

Teach the drama.

Teach our place in the tragedy, comedy and plot line of evolutionary history.

Catch people up in the true myth of creation.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vid: White Baby in Nigeria Born to Black Parents

Check out that blond haired, blue eyed Nigerian baby born from quite black parents.  If you're wondering, no, the baby is not an albino.  It's a mutant.  Maybe a mutant not to different from the one that started the caucasian European race.  Maybe...At least it's interesting to muse upon.

Link: Cartoon Old Friends Reunited from Deep Time

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The More I Learned, the More I Questioned

One attitude I find truly morally repugnant: a fear of learning the truth.

I've faced that dragon many times.

I can't say I've ever fully slayed him, but I have won several life changing battles that have caused me to read and listen to free thinkers and to face my own questions.  Maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm proud of that.  And, I feel my life is better off because of it.

There have been two categories of education that have been particularly powerful in steering me towards a less dogmatic view of religion.  It's been said that you can't unlearn somethings.  Yes, you may be able to forget things, but never unlearn them.  Your brain structure, consciousness and world view won't ever be the same.  Below are two fields of knowledge that I can by no means unlearn.  Furthermore, if we are to unite the world and break down walls of superstition, prejudice and myopic bigotry then these fields must be educated to tomorrow's leaders to our fullest ability today.

Scientific Thinking

What's the difference between religion and science?

That's a great question.  One that I hope you'll ponder.  They both make truth claims about reality.  They even both involve faith (I'm defining that as making a conclusion based on incomplete evidence).  They even both have authoritarian figures espousing contradictory views.

The difference is falsifiability.

One you can disprove.  The other you can't.

You can't disprove that Poseidon created the oceans.  You can't even disprove that God created the Earth 6 thousand years ago with the appearance of being 4.6 billion years old.  -BUT- you can disprove that the Earth is the center of the solar system (uh, Earthar system, I mean...).  You can disprove that mold is spontaneously generated by bread.  You can disprove that blood letting is an effective means of dealing with the Black Plague.  Et cetera.

They're falsifiable because they have to do with the physical world.  The spiritual world can't be empirically tested.  

So, the more I've learned about science the more I've just assumed that knowledge should be, necessarily be, backed up by facts and either proved or disproved.  No one ever had to explicitly tell me that.  Through repetition and constant exposure it's become a part of my cognitive fiber.  

The more science advances the more superstition retreats - in both my life and the world.  You can see it in every major field: astronomy (Galileo), biology (evolution), anthropology (pluralism), physics and cosmology (Big Bang Theory), etc.

The more familiar we are with the truth the easier we spot impostors.

The more I learned, the more I questioned.

Comparative Religion

Two of the most influential books I've ever read: the Qur'an and the Book of Mormon.

Why?  Because I thought they were true?

No, but because they made me read the Bible differently (my upbringing's holy book of choice).

The similarities took me aback.  They all are books that make truth claims about reality based on a human writing down what God said.  They all contain profound wisdom.  They all claim they must be accepted on faith.  They all are quite well written (for their time period) and can contain stories that are quite moving and powerful.  And, as I said above, they are all unfalsifiable.

What's more they are all believed by sincere, wonderful, genuine, virtuous people.

It seems to surprise people that I used to do street evangelism and have traveled to five continents doing missionary work.  Those experiences had a surprising effect on me.  In the short term arguing for one side only made me more convinced.  The more I'd say it, the more I'd believe it.  In the long term, though, it introduced me to different ways of thinking about religion.   

From debating with numerous people, from reading scores of apologetics books I've been introduced to many questions and different ways of thinking.

The more I learned, the more I knew I didn't know.

Here's how it works for most people: mythology is stuff people believed a long time ago, religion is stuff other people believe today and truth is something I believe.  

The more I learned, the more those lines blurred.

The more I realized that it is preposterous to think that a God would send people to hell for not believing something that is completely unfounded and incompletely known throughout the world.

The more I learned, the more I questioned.

So, if you're of the ilk like me that wants kids to question on their own and to think independantly, that doesn't just want to create prejudice and hostility against other's ways of thinking and wants the world to live in a greater state of harmony and enlightenment then you must educate on these two subjects - science and comparative religion.

How Do Lake Species Spread?

How is it that there are freshwater fish species that naturally (barring human influence) have a distribution that stretches thousands of miles across the United States?  

Draw your eyes to the diagram to the right.  Not only because of the expanse of the natural distribution of largemouth bass (light green), but also of the ability for sport fishermen to spread a species quite easily (dark green).  (also, as an aside, observe the wonderful shadow effect of the distribution of the largemouth bass that couldn't make it over the Appalachians!) 

So, let's start a list and please, please add to it so that we can understand how freshwater imprisoned species can make jail breaks and spread to other regions.

Piggy Back Rides - let's go with the simplest explanation first - they hitchhiked.  This may seem far fetched, and it is, but we are going to have to not rule out some quite far fetched ideas if we're ever going to explain the far fetched true nature of the reality presented to us  came to be (i.e., that species are where you might not think they should be).  Think of the moist caverns of a alligators jaw, or a nooks of a turtle's plastron and body, or perhaps the fur of an otter, beaver or other aquatic animal. or, who knows, maybe even the inside hook of an osprey/bald eagle's claw...extremely unlikely for almost all of them, but it's a brainstorming thought...

Hurricanes- and by hurricanes I actually also mean all major storms and floods (they're just the most dramatic).  If I didn't come from Florida this would seem much more far fetched.  In bio-geography you hear some strange stories.  Think of the Galapagos.  How the hell did tortoises swim to an island 650 miles from South America?  Seriously, how?  Same goes for the iguanas there.  How did the monkeys that now populate South America make their way from Africa?  How did the Giant Sloth reach North America?   How were any of the Caribbean islands populated with any of their mammal or reptilian fauna?  They rafted over.  That should amaze you.  It really should.  And, we can thank hurricanes and typhoons for a great majority of the DNA/species churning of the world.  I've seen many mighty trees felled in Florida by hurricanes and it isn't too unreasonable to see stow-aways clinging to these during times of a tumultuous tempest.  While the examples I've given are for terrestrial animals, the principle is the same - massive, devastating weather systems mix the biological cauldron of life.  Floods spill species. 

Zephyrs - This clearly has limited application, but it by far the most interesting to me.  Did you know that there are species of rotifers (a water bound species) that can desiccate themselves and go air born to spread?  That's ridiculous!  Not only that, but that can help to explain how they've managed to asexually divide for millions of years and not have completely mutated themselves out of existence (which, is the fate and demise of most asexual reproducers).  When they dry out their DNA gets shattered, which makes it possible for when they are rehydrated to fuse with other DNA from other living organisms and sometimes, chance against chance, evolve effectively this way.  (see for more info)

So, what else?  How can fish walk?  

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Infinite Horizon Principle - The Counterintuitivity of Answers

Answers should reduce questions, but answers only lead to more questions.  They aren't their terminus.  They are the beginning of new questions.  The more answers we get the more questions there are to be asked.  Answering begets asking.  They give us the vocabulary to ask more.

The more you learn the more you realize you don't know.

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. 
What an awesome principle of science!!

In-Group Solidarity - A How To

When is expressing in-group solidarity healthy?  When does it go too far?  When does it go rancid and poisonous?

Three roles that increase in-group solidarity (for better or for worse):

  • Patriots: by being committed to promoting the good of the in-group and expressing a singleness of task, mind, values and ethics.  
    • Think of way patriotism, shared ideology, common work environment can bring people together.  
    • Does good come from this?  
    • How can we encourage it?  
    • At what point is it taken too far

  • Rivals/combatants: by being opposed to other another group or groups. Others are competition not resources or aids. Sharing a common enemy.
    • Think of the cruelness of runaway capitalism, bigotry, prejudice, xenophobia, etc.  
    • Also, think of the way you've been united with others because of a common enemy (in family[during a fight], personal life, national life [wars], etc.).  
    • How can good even come from this?  
    • How can we encourage good competition?  
    • At what point is it taken too far?
  • Volunteers/philanthropist: by being committed to promoting the good of out-groups. Since taking three semesters of Greek in seminary, I love the term 'philanthropist' - lover of mankind. 
    • Can't you think of ways you've been brought together with others by a common task of helping others (9-11, Haiti, volunteering, church, etc.)?  
    • What are the benefits of this?  
    • How can we encourage it?  
    • What are the obstacles?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Vid: "Dogs and More Dogs" - Evolution's Canine Creations

Interesting take aways:

Modern dog breeds may have come from: 1) Humans taking lots of wolf puppies.  2)From friendly wolves that would scavenge/beg for scrapes from human encampments.

Dog and wolf DNA might have diverged 100k years ago.  That'd potentially mean that we've had dogs ten times longer than other domesticated animals.  Geez Loueez. 

How did we get so many breeds?  Well, a Russian scientist in the 1960s did an experiment to see how quickly he could tame silver foxes.  Selecting for the least aversive to humans they ended up with a batch of foxes with low adrenaline.  Oddly enough there coats became lighter, too since adrenaline is on the same hormonal pathway as melanin.  Rock the boat and one area and everything else is affected.  Awesome!!!