Life's our oyster and we're gonna suck that bitch down with a champagne chaser.

  • Behavioral Therapist
  • MA Developmental Psychology, Columbia
  • BS Psychobiology/ French, UCLA

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Monday, April 28, 2008  
Delusional Design
An original posting will follow in a few days, but until then I wanted to post an article by Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion which I recently finished, from the LA Times which I find particularly challenging. It is not meant to offend, as none of my jibes at religion are, but instead as a means to open discourse in a time in this country when it's Jesus or death.

Gods and earthlings

By Richard Dawkins
April 18, 2008
If we were visited by aliens from a distant planet, would we fall on our knees and worship them as gods? The difficulty of getting here from even our nearest neighbor, the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, constitutes a filter through which only beings with a technology so advanced as to be god-like (from our point of view) could pass. The capabilities and powers of our interstellar visitors would seem more magical to us than all the miracles of all the gods that have ever been imagined by priests or theologians, mullahs or rabbis, shamans or witch doctors.

Arthur C. Clarke, who died last month, said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." If we could land a jumbo jet beside a medieval village, would we not be worshiped as gods? The technology of interstellar travel, and the scientific knowledge on which it would be based, are as far beyond us as our present-day knowledge surpasses that of Dark Age peasants. Parting the Red Sea -- or splitting the moon in two as Muhammad is alleged to have done -- would be child's play to those who command forces powerful enough to propel them from star to star.

But now the question arises: In what sense would the god-like aliens not be gods? Answer: In a very important sense. To deserve the name of God, a being would have to have designed more than just a jumbo jet or even a starship. He would have to have designed the universe. And therein lies a fundamental contradiction. Entities capable of designing anything, whether they be human engineers or interstellar aliens, must be complex -- and therefore, statistically improbable. And statistically improbable things don't just happen spontaneously by chance without an explanation trail. That is what "improbable" means, as creationists never tire of assuring us (they wrongly think Darwinian natural selection is a matter of chance).

In fact, natural selection is the very opposite of a chance process, and it is the only ultimate explanation we know for complex, improbable things. Even if our species was created by space alien designers, those designers themselves would have to have arisen from simpler antecedents -- so they can't be an ultimate explanation for anything. No matter how god-like our interstellar aliens may be, and no matter how vast and wonderful their starships, they cannot have designed the universe because, like human engineers and all complex things, they are late arrivals in it.

Intelligent design "theorists" (a misnomer, for they have no theory) often use the alien scenario to distance themselves from old-style creationists: "For all we know, the designer might be an alien from outer space." This attempt to fend off accusations of unconstitutionally importing religion into science classes is lame and disingenuous. All the leading intelligent design spokesmen are devout, and, when talking to the faithful, they drop the science-fiction fig leaf and expose themselves as the fundamentalist creationists they truly are.

Nevertheless, despite their notorious dishonesty, I sometimes hand an olive branch to these people by pretending to take their "space aliens" political ploy seriously. Unrealistic as the space alien theory is, it constitutes intelligent design's best shot.

The distinguished molecular biologists Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel advanced a version of the notion, probably tongue in cheek, called "Directed Panspermia." Life, they argued, could have been "seeded" on the early Earth by a spacecraft packed with bacteria. Maybe little cellular machines like the bacterial flagellar motor were designed by ingenious nano-technologists from Betelgeuse. But you still have to explain the prior existence of the Betelgeusians and how they became so advanced and god-like. Even if Betelgeusian life was, in turn, seeded by another rocket from Aldebaran 4 billion years earlier, eventually we have to terminate the regress.

We need a better explanation, such as evolution by natural selection or an equally workable account of the painstaking R&D that must underlie complex, statistically improbable things. Gods, if they are complex enough to be capable of designing anything, are, by virtue of their very complexity, not in a position to design themselves.

Theologians attempt two (mutually incompatible and pathetically inadequate) answers to this unanswerable point. Some say their God is not complex but simple. This obviously won't wash. No simple god could design bacterial flagellar motors or universes, let alone forgive sins or impregnate virgins. Presumably recognizing the justice of that, other theologians go to the opposite extreme. They admit that their god is complex but assert that he had no beginning: He was always there and always complex. But if you are going to resort to that facile cop-out, you might as well say flagellar motors were always there. You cannot have it both ways. Visitations from distant star systems are improbable enough to attract ridicule, not least from the advocates of intelligent design themselves. A creator god who had always existed would be far more improbable still.

This technique of arguing against a theory by setting up its most plausible version and dismissing it is commonly used in science and philosophy. The late, great evolutionist John Maynard Smith used it in his 1964 attack on the then-popular theory of "group selection." He set himself the task of devising the best possible argument for group selection. The details don't matter; he called it the Haystack Model. He then proceeded to show that the assumptions that the Haystack Model needed to make were highly unrealistic.

Everybody understood that this was an argument against group selection. Nobody twisted it to trumpet to the world, "See? Maynard Smith believes in Group Selection after all, and he thinks it happens in Haystacks, ho ho ho!" Creationists, by contrast, never miss a trick. When I have raised the science-fiction olive branch to try to argue against them, they have twisted it -- most recently in a movie scheduled to open this week -- in order to proclaim loudly, "Dawkins believes in intelligent design after all." Or "Dawkins believes in little green men in flying saucers." Or "Dawkins is a Raelian." It's called "lying for Jesus," and they are completely shameless.

Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, is a professor at Oxford University. His most recent book is "The God Delusion."

To anyone, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, Jedi, practicing or otherwise, I encourage you to pick up The God Delusion. It is a fascinating read and not only points out the numerous holes found in scripture but the fundamental principle behind the sheer improbability of an intelligent designer.

Out of all the major belief systems in the world, Christians garner 2.1 billion believers, Islam as 1.5 billion to its favor, Non-religious and Atheists constitute 1.1 billion, Hindus 900 million, Jews 14 million and so on and so forth, each system believing (save for Atheism of course) in their own code of superstitions and deities. Now out of all of these beliefs, doesn't some have to be right and one be wrong? Not more than one can be correct because they all contradict each other. Therefore, that leaves a lot of people hanging, n'est pas? If the Christians are right, that leaves billions of people damned to hell because they have not accepted Jesus, not to mention the trillions of people who have lived and died over the centuries. Not very accommodating, are we Mr. Christ? Now, if the Atheists are right, no one gets one parties with their ancestors forever, but still. Another popular belief that Dawkins clarifies in his book is how Atheists believe in nothing, evolution is something that happens by chance (it is the exact opposite of chance) and that we have no morals. I, for one, do not need a poorly written 1500 page book to remind me to love my neighbor and the like. That's not to take away from the teachings of Mr. Jesus, which are right on the money. But do we need the magic behind it to get the real point?

I've rambled on far longer than I intended regarding this subject. Perhaps we'll return to it at a later date.

More light-hearted fare to follow.

9:45 PM


Tuesday, April 08, 2008  
I Tried to Ford the Ethanol River with a Prius and My Hormone-Free Oxen Died
As this website has recently shown, I've tried to make my lifestyle "greener," as those Hollywood types say. That is, by leaving my blog free of recent posts, fewer people are logging on and hence are using less power on their computer and heretofore, hence it be known...the earth is saved. So you may be thinking, why post now? Well, wily sir and/or madam, it is to inform you, my faithful readers, as well as people around the world accidentally stumbling upon this site by Googling Dale DaBone, regarding various fraudulent or hostile activities in our very community. And also when I end up in socially awkward situations that are particularly marketable in a blog setting.

I thought I would narrate the travesty known as my driving "skills," and the ways in which I've abused my Mustang but I then figured that I would never finish that post because my keyboard will have short-circuited due to the tears. So long story short: my job + no sleep + landslide on Sepulveda + 405 South at night = car go smash, me go nuts, mom go kill. In any case, after the dust settled and radiator fluid stopped leaking, I needed a rental car. After being rightfully punished with a Chevy Cobalt (no offense, Chevy...but seriously, manual windows?) I discovered that my insurance would pay for a better car. And so, I was given a Ford Escape Hybrid SUV to drive. Given prior incidents (get it?) with normal cars, I was pretty sure I was going to die in that car. However, the vehicle turned out to be a gentle giant. Gentle to drive and gentle on the wallet. It would prove very useful on our upcoming road trip to NorCal (post to come, eventually). Filling the tank up once each way, about 400 miles, is very, very nice.

In any case, upon my return home, beleaguered by work once again, and not so eager to part with my Hybrid, I decided to find out, just out of sheer curiosity, how much I would get for my Mustang if I traded it in for an Escape Hybrid. Needless to say, I wasn't going to go through with such a transaction, but I wanted to find out anyway. Little did I know that this would begin a cavalcade of email correspondence from one Tracey Dodd at a local dealership...

Dear Pasha:
Thank you for contacting Buerge Motors: Buerge Ford and Buerge Chrysler Jeep through Ford Direct.

We have the Hybrid you have requested in stock (4WD).
Please review the information.
Would you like to test drive? We can appraise your Mustang at the same time.

Dear Pasha:
Have you received the quotation and information I sent to you yesterday regarding the Hybrid you requested? Have you had a chance to review it yet Pasha?

Please let me know if this vehicle is of interest to you. Is it the right one?
Would like to test drive?
Ignored, but with less gusto than before. She is persistent this one, isn't she?

Dear Pasha:
Did you receive the quotation and information I sent to you on Monday regarding the HYBRID you requested through Ford Direct?

How may I help you further?
Is this the vehicle you are looking for?
Would you like to test drive?
Ok, now she's making me feel uncomfortable. What's with the consecutive questions, Tracey? And the capitalization of Hybrid is unnecessary. It's not an acronym.

At first I thought it was just an automated service from this dealership and so I just deleted them. But then I got the feeling that either this dealership really needed to sell some cars, fast or that I was truly hurting Tracey's feelings. The following email began to convince me that it was more the latter...

Dear Pasha
It has been nearly a week since I sent you the requested information and pricing on a Hybrid and I have followed up with subsequent e-mail messages, but you have yet to respond.

It is part of our service to help you in every way we can, as you contacted us regarding a vehicle, but I do not want to pester you with further e-mails if you are no longer interested, so please, just drop me a line if you would like me remove you from my follow-up list. Your interest in contacting Buerge Internet has been appreciated.

I did not want Tracey to be talking to her therapist about how she was ignored by yet another person this week, just like her father did when she was a child, so I responded to her promptly.

Hi Tracey,
I just got your most recent email. I was just curious about the pricing regarding the Hybrid and was not aware it would trigger all of these emails. I'm comfortable with my Mustang for now.

You need not pester me any longer.


Ok Tracey, it's over between us. I know I done treated you wrong, but you understand, there's another car...

Dear Pasha:
If you request information from me, I send it to you, and when I do not hear in regard to the information I have sent, I follow-up. That's all really.
So thanks for letting me know, I appreciate it.
Tracey Dodd

I guess she's taking this breakup really hard. I don't suppose we could go the "let's still be friends" route?

I contemplated emailing her back, but I figure I'd let her be. Give the wounds left by myself some time to heal. Perhaps I'll visit her some day.

I lowered my emissions for only about 3 weeks with that car, but I did increase my hard to get ratio by 4 clicks. For those of you thinking my efforts to become green are a farce, I did call my building manager, whose name happens to be Jackass, to have him bring some recycling bins to our building. With all the aerosol cans I use everyday spray painting bald eagles with my engine running while taking a bath and reading the LA Times printed on styrofoam, it's a wonder how I'm the only one who noticed that our building has not made an effort to be kinder to the environment.

By the way, for all the times I mentioned Ford, do I get a car or something? Maybe a spark plug?

9:40 PM


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