Saturday, March 28, 2009

Some of Bear McCreary's Galactica music

Those of you who have read my posts on Battlestar Galactice might have picked up on the fact that I mentioned film composer Bear McCreary's blog and his music quite a bit. He's the young guy who scored the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica TV series. You may or may not have been impressed by what you heard on the TV show but take a listen to what's on youtube:

The youtube versions sound better to me.

Hear that electric violin? For me that was the sound I first started responding to. If I can remember Bear's blog on that correctly, that violinist is Paul Cartwright. Bear must have used some electronic trick to soften out the tone, in concert those violins wind up sounding like electric guitars or they're too harsh.

It was the first sound I tried to imitate.

These are some of my favorite, roughly in the order of how much I like them.

Does anybody think that without Bear's music setting the tone that Battlestar Galactica would have become the breakout hit it became? That's not a rhetorical question. I wonder about that, what influence music has on these shows. Would I have ever thought that Forbidden Planet or The Day the Earth Stood Still were sci-fi classics if not for Bernard Herrmann?

Ray Comfort's continuing sex problems

What is it about religion and sex? Catholic priests bugger choir boys, Ted Haggard got thrown out of his church for buying the services of a male prostitute and methamphetamine and now Ray comfort is having his own sex problem; he just doesn't get it. He can't grasp how sex evolved. As demonstrated in his most recent post, Keep it Simple. Ray again exposes his tiny intellect to the whole world by asking this question:

There are an estimated 1.4 million species on the earth. Each species has both male and female (not counting worms and a few others). Let’s believe that each species did evolve. Let's then zero in on the giraffe. After the big bang, there was a pre-giraffe animal. Millions (perhaps billions) of years pass until today, and now we have a male and female giraffe. Evolutionists believe that the two didn’t evolve separately. Such a thought is "bizarre."

I know that you think I am intellectually slow, so please be patient with me and explain to me in very simple terms where you believe the female giraffe came from, and then explain how and why the other 1.4 million species ended up with both male and female.

I once considered this kind of remark comedy gold, but it's not so funny any more. It's just sad. It has been explained repeatedly to Ray, but yet he cannot comprehend. No matter how well the people who comment on Ray's blog explain this to him he never seems to get even the basic facts right, like what the term "common descent" means. And then there is this inherently biblical sexism implied by Ray asking "where do you believe the female giraffe came from" and not the male.

There are also a lot of missing steps in Ray's timeline, it goes from the big bang, to a pre-giraffe and then millions or billions of years pass and then you get male and female giraffes. Some steps not included there would be the first simplest cells evolving, then complex cells and then sexual reproduction followed by every plant and animal on Earth being evolving descendants of those first sexually reproducing organisms. We're all family. We're all related. Giraffes, men and potato plants. The organisms that didn't use sex like we do got stuck at the single celled and/or worm level of evolution. They evolved too, but along a far different trajectory, and today they are germs, fungi, microscopic worms and virii.

One comment on Ray's blog noted that what Ray was saying was like saying: "Linguists would like us to believe that English and Spanish and French are all descendants of Latin, but that's absurd. Who did the first English-speaking person have to talk to? Isn't it convenient that he found an English-speaking mate so that they could have English-speaking children?" But then Ray probably believes in the Tower of Babel theory of language differentiation too.

Why is it so hard for some people to grasp the concept of "common descent"? Perhaps if every animal could breed with every other animal this wouldn't be a hard question, even for Ray. For example, according to Carl Sagan's "The Dragons of Eden" the ancient Romans didn't quite have a handle on this speciation thing:

In earlier times it was widely held that offspring could be produced by crosses between extremely different organisms. The Minotaur whom Theseus slew was said to be the result of a mating between a bull and a woman. And the Roman historian Pliny suggested that the ostrich, then newly discovered, was the result of a cross between a giraffe and a gnat. (It would, I suppose, have to be a female giraffe and a male gnat.) In practice there must be many such crosses which have not been attempted because of a certain understandable lack of motivation.

If a male gnat really could fly up into a female giraffe's uterus and spawn something like an ostrich it would be easier to see that we could all be related through common descent, but no matter how many dead gnats one might find in female giraffe parts this has never happened. Gnats and giraffes just don't breed together.

So, maybe a better way to approach this problem Ray has with sex is to point out how it is that speciation occurs, because that is why it is that gnats can't impregnate giraffes. And like many evolutionary changes, speciation happens gradually. As I pointed out some time ago in my post, "Dealing with the abysmal ignorance," Ray and many other creationists have a comic book concept of evolution, via X-Men and Spiderman. They don't grasp speciation as a gradual process and they don't understand what transitional forms are. They are under the impression that either adult animals can mutate drastically or they buy into some weird version of the "Hopeful Monster" concept.

Ray's concept of evolution, if he even has one, seems to be that some instantaneous-speciation event must occur and not small gradual changes. He seems to think there must be more rapid evolutionary change than what biologists think of as rapid, which is tens of thousands of years from a geological perspective. Perhaps some comic book style mutation where such a monster would have a hard time finding a mate. But evolution doesn't quite happen that way. First, what makes a monster different than a critter with only a slight mutation? The monster cannot be so grossly different that it cannot breed with anything else alive. If that were the case it would be an evolutionary dead end. Any change or mutation still requires a sexual animal to breed.

Consider dogs, are Chihuahuas and Great Danes really members of the same species? In theory, they are members of the same species and they should all be able to breed together (but I want to see what a cross between a Chihuahua and a Great Dane looks like before I'm one hundred percent sure of that). There you have a gross difference in size as well as fur length and other factors. If paleontologists came across the bones of specimens that different they probably would think they had two different species. So, in theory one could get major structural differences to occur as rapidly as they did in dogs without some series of intermediate species that can't breed together.

To a species of Chihuahuas a Great Dane might appear to be a hopeful monster. However, the creation of the Chihuahuas and Great Danes from some original wolf or fox stock wasn't caused by some sudden mutant genes producing monstrosities. Human beings produced those changes through many generations of dog breeding. That doesn't mean, however, that a small genetic change couldn't, if expressed in early embryonic processes, produce a large effect embodying considerable parts of the organism and yielding profound differences among adults of the same species. It is however, unlikely and evolution favors small mutations which are much more likely to be beneficial than large ones and are then built upon to produce an accumulation of small changes resulting in drastically different and well adapted forms.

We could tell Ray all about giraffe evolution. The giraffes branched off from the deer just after Eumeryx. The first giraffids were Climacoceras (very earliest Miocene) and then Canthumeryx (also very early Miocene), then Paleomeryx (early Miocene), then Palaeotragus (early Miocene) a short-necked giraffid complete with short skin-covered horns. From here the giraffe lineage goes through Samotherium (late Miocene), another short-necked giraffe, and then split into Okapia (one species is still alive, the okapi, essentially a living Miocene short-necked giraffe), and Giraffa (Pliocene), the modern long-necked giraffe.

There is fossil evidence for such evolution of the giraffe, but the creationists don't buy it. They still claim that there are not enough transitional fossils to prove that.

One of Ray's partners in ignorance, Kirk Cameron, once claimed that a horse cannot produce a non-horse. In at least one respect, as I noted before, that is a false statement. A horse can produce a non-horse if it mates with a donkey. Mules and hinnies are the offspring of horses and donkies. Hinnies are the offspring of a male Horse (stallion) and a female donkey (jenny). The hinny and mule are usually, but not always sterile. And that is how speciation gradually happens.

Horses and donkeys are closely related but they are different species. Their close relationship allows them to mate and produce the hybrid mule or hinny, but since they are not quite the same species the hybrid mule or hinny is most often sterile. Sometimes, though rare, a female hinny can still mate with a horse or donkey and produce offspring. That is an example of how species slowly separate. It is evolution in action and it is very gradual. There is no suddenly you can't mate aspect to it. Instead you get phenomena like ring species and parapatric speciation.

Alas, like the sex life of bananas these concepts will never register in Ray's brain.

Monday, March 23, 2009

It is finished: Battlestar Galactica: "Daybreak" - Part 2

And I am saddened on many levels, some good, some not so good.

The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica is now over.
Spoilers for Galactica's "Daybreak Part 2," follow:

Some of what happened in the last episode was great stuff. Bear McCreary's score and the tear jerking emotional moments were all good. There were such touching moments here, Bill Adama and Laura Roslin on Earth just before and just after Roslin died were beautiful and sad, that I can't just rant against this ending. However, in spite of the good stuff a lot of what happened in this final show was extremely disappointing in exactly the way I feared and predicted it would be in my previous posts. The journey towards the end was fantastic, but the destination sucked and it started sucking mostly in the last half of season 4. That's not just my opinion, but a general consensus I've been picking up in other blogs and forums. For example, PZ Myers, who didn't even watch the show, put up a "Battlestar Galactica open thread" where a lot of people are complaining about the ending but still expressing love for the show.

What a waste, the show was almost building up to be this great combination of Shakespearean tragedy and intelligent science fiction but then ultimately failed on both fronts. Instead we got some good music and expertly handled emotional manipulation and character development which are only nice ingredients but don't make a whole stew.

The roots of my disappointment on the science fictional content go back to some things I said in some of my earlier posts, "Six of One" : The disappointing part, being one example.

It was then that I noticed that there was a failing on the part of the writers to understand some of the basics of certain transhumanist themes that Galactica stumbled into but that had already been handled much more intelligently, sometimes decades before, by science fiction writers like Greg Egan and Bruce Sterling. Greg Egan's "Permutation City" and "Diaspora" would be good reads.

Apparently the writers absorbed some half-assed transhumanist ideas from the science fiction culture around them but did no research on transhumanism itself. You could start this research here on the Transhumanist Reading page.

One example of a half-assed understanding of a transhumanist concept was the idea of "uploading." That idea comes from some early science fiction (for a few early examples try Roger Zelazny's 1968 novel "Lord of Light," Frederik Pohl's 1955 story "Tunnel Under the World" and Philip K. Dick's "Ubik") and then it was refined by the transhumanists and futurists into something far more interesting than what the Galactica writers imagined. What the Cylons did in Galactica, when one died their memories were uploaded into a new body, they even called it "uploading," has dramatic implications the writers failed to grasp.

In most science fiction the uploading is done into virtual realities, like Star Trek's holodeck except there in no human body on the deck. For example Frederik Pohl's "Gateway" series (Heechee Saga) had a man uploaded into a virtual computer world in the 1976 novel, before William Gibson coined the word cyberspace in his novel "Neuromancer." Galactica's technology is necessarily more advanced than anything in either of those novel's. There was, however, the 1982 novel "Software", by Rudy Rucker, that got closer, in that novel a human mind is uploaded into a very human-like android body and the process was sold as a way to become immortal. If you read any of those works you were probably surprised by how badly the Galactica writers screwed up the concept and its implications.

In Galactica uploading is magical and undetectable, but in more sophisticated and scientifically literate SF the odds are that even our modern technology, like x-rays, could detect, though not replicate, many proposed devices that could be used to transfer memories, even if genetically constructed. (In Greg Egan's "Jewelhead" stories the human mind was transferred from an organic brain to a small, immortal backup computer at the base of the skull which could be removed and placed in an android body after death. It would have been something a doctor with our current technology could have found on an x-ray.) More damning is the fact that some heavy duty signal would need to broadcast those memories to a distant Cylon Resurrection Hub. Such a signal might have been detected and jammed, but such things were never considerations by anyone on Galactica, including Baltar the scientist. This is no doubt because the writers didn't understand that aspect of uploading, that it relies on physical substrates you can guess at without knowing exactly how to build them.

In order to have an undetectable stealth technology that is able record Cylon memories stored in a brain that the best people on Galactica can't tell from a human brain and then broadcast them across vast distances in space you must necessarily imply god-like technological abilities the existence of which would necessarily challenge many religious assumptions. (But in the Galactica universe no such conflict is ever implied and both their religions and technologies are so vaguely described that you couldn't tell if such a conflict would arise.) So god-like and astonishing are the implications the Galactica writers failed to grasp about such technology that many SF writers make these transhumanist technologies part of future religions. (For example, in the "Requiem for Homo Sapiens" novels by David Zindell there is a church that calls it soul-preservation technology.)

“It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God, but to create him.”
-- Arthur C. Clarke

Consider some other implications of such a technology, like the computer processing power that's implied. Today there is a Project Blue Brain that is struggling to create a biologically accurate, functional model of only part of a mouse's brain, a single neocortical column, using the most advanced supercomputers we now have. And Cylons can not only get all that kind of information from a brain and transfer it across space and into a body that a doctor (Cottle) and a scientist (Baltar) cannot tell from human.

When you imply technology that god-like you can't easily slip in actual gods because there would be no way to tell the gods from the Cylons except by whatever intentions and motives you can detect in their actions. And then you can only deduce those motivations, not whether the abilities are supernatural or technological. To quote science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” -- Arthur C. Clarke

That basic principle was missed by the writers of Galactica and in the end it was that basic ignorance that undermined the entire series as far as plot and theme go. One implication of understanding the brain at a level where one could transfer memories and make artificial Cylon brains in a goo tub is that such a level of understanding of what a brain is and how it works should make it child's play to create visions and mystical experiences.

When you go up against that kind of technology the last thing you should trust is vague visions and mystical experiences where the motives for the vision are unclear. Indeed, Baltar did not trust his head-6 early on and her motives were indeed suspicious. Keep in mind it was an "angel of God" who told Baltar not to tell Adama about Boomer being a Cylon and you'll begin to see the problem. But she also told him where to attack a Cylon base to destroy it. Baltar wound up merely not fighting her and not so much actually trusting her. She was giving him useful information which he used selfishly and he couldn't really fight her, just ignore her when he didn't like what she had to say. She could only manipulate him with that information it seemed, so it would always be information that seemingly served Baltar's own ends.

Neither Baltar nor I ever guessed her motives and we still can't. The Galactica God's "beyond good and evil" schemes remain as mysterious as ever even in the end. That brings up the next level of failure, the use of "God" as mere cheat to get around explaining the mysteries one has created. Again I saw it coming in my post, "The poo-barge mutiny begins." I'll quote myself:

... the hand of the gods made itself known in this episode and it was a bad thing because we all know who the real gods of the Galactica universe are, they are Ron Moore and his writers. That's the way fictional universes are, they all have gods and those gods are the writers who risk spoiling the illusion they want to create when they inject such plot driving miracles into their stories. And Starbuck's seemingly all too correct faith in Leoben's claims are just such an intrusive miracle.

There's a reason that even writers who preach their religious beliefs at writers conferences have shied away from the use of supernatural events and prefer psychological pain to demonic affliction, and dark nights of the soul to the voice of God echoing out of the whirlwind. They write about what they know. And they know they themselves and most other people don't really experience the voice of God like it happened in the Bible. They know that for every tear drop of wisdom to be found in religion there is a vast ocean of stupidity and insanity behind it. In our world people don't seem to come back from the dead like Starbuck and our miracle workers can often be caught using simple magician's tricks. Even Mother Teresa, a potential Catholic saint, was running on only a few weird experiences she had early in her life where she literally heard God’s voice directing her to go to in India and help the poor. However, as soon as she did start her mission, God's silence began and she spent the rest of her life feeling abandoned by God. Was it all just a couple potent brain farts that changed her life?

God in Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene is more often a significant absence than a presence. Actual encounters with the divine or the demonic in literature, such is in Philip K. Dick's last books, are usually the product of a writer who has actually become subject to what they think are paranormal visitations. And Dick had been abusing amphetamine for years before that.

There's just something incredibly arrogant (not necessarily a bad thing) about making God a character in your story because the real gods in these fictional universes are the writers (or in television, perhaps its the producers). You can pull it off if God himself is actually a character and you have something to say about the nature of godhood, but not if that God remains utterly mysterious and just advances the plot when convenient for the writers. Starbuck's trust in Leoben may yet be explained by whatever force brought her back, but right now it doesn't feel like it.

In the end the use of God was a big cheat on the mysteries they set up. God's motives and abilities remained utterly mysterious and did nothing but advance the plot when convenient for the writers. The meaning of the Opera house vision was merely that it was a vision hinting vaguely and opaquely at the future. Baltar is thus inspired to give the worst speech ever given on Galactica. Here's Baltar's speech, copied from some other blog, it sounds right:

Baltar: I may be mad, but that doesn't mean that I'm not right. Because there's another force at work here; there always has been. It's undeniable. We've all experienced it. Ever one in this room has witnessed events that they can't fathom, let alone explain away by rational means. Puzzles deciphered in prophecy. Dreams given to a chosen few. Our loved ones, dead, risen. Whether we want to call that God or gods or some sublime inspiration or a divine force we can't know or understand, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. It's here. It exists. And our two destinies are entwined in its force.

Cavil: If that's true, and that's a big if, how do I know that this force has our best interests in mind? How do you know that God is on your side, doctor?

Baltar: I don't. God's not on any one side. God's a force of nature, beyond good and evil. Good and evil, we created those. Want to break the cycle? Break the cycle of birth, death, rebirth, destruction, escape, death. Well, that's in our hands, and our hands only. It requires a leap of faith. It requires that we live in hope, not fear.

There's a lot I object to in that short speech, more than I'll go into right now. But let's take that claim that they have all "witnessed events that they can’t fathom, let alone explain away by rational means." That, my dear readers, is nothing but what Professor Neil DeGrasse Tyson would call "a philosophy of ignorance":

Well, yea, the viewers did experience things they supposedly could not explain away by rational means (not necessarily characters like Cavil) because the writers, the real gods of the Galactica universe, set it up that way. I feared exactly this in my last Galactica post, Battlestar Galactica: "Daybreak" - Part 1, and I'll quote myself again:

... but worse, maybe we won't get an answer for how it is Starbuck got resurrected in a new body and viper because some writer thinks that sometimes incredible things happen for no good reason. (That omission I won't forgive them for. How Starbuck came back demands an explanation.)

That is essentially what Baltar's "let alone explain away by rational means" says to us, that sometimes incredible things happen for no good reason. So shove the reasons off on some inscrutable God and claim that you have an explanation when all you really have is merely a philosophy of ignorance. This is only partly about being an atheist. I am not always turned off by the supernatural or spirituality in fiction, but this ending was a cheat, a way to explain away things they really had no explanation for. The whole point of setting up mysteries is to have rational explanations of some sort for them in the end, otherwise no one is ever going to trust your mystery set-ups again.

The problem is, I can still imagine rational explanations in the context of transhuman technologies. Baltar's God could still be a Cylon mainframe that didn't like Cavil's plan. So Baltar's claim is false, the mysteries are not beyond potential rational explanations. Granted that is only speculative, but that's how critical thinking about such mysteries begins. And what else is there beyond reason and critical thinking when it comes to dealing with such mysterious events? Without reason and critical thinking to lead you then one has nothing but visions or if not that people who claim to have visions to lead one. Just keep in mind what kind of people in our world actually do claim to be guided by visions, mysticism and the voice of God and you'll see the problem. They include people like Pat Robertson, Sherri Shepherd, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, Jim Jones and other leaders of a thousand other doomsday cults.

And when Cavil asked how could he know this force had our best interests in mind? How do you know that God is on your side? Well, Cavil, of course, like me, doesn't know that. He wasn't given any visions that led him. So, where does Cavil fit into God's plan? Well, Cavil, you're the evil villain who gets blamed for wiping out the human race in spite of other Cylons, like Caprica-6, playing a part and the real God of the Galactica universe is Ronald D. Moore, so you're just going to kill yourself for no good reason. You're like Pharaoh in the Moses story (you know that other work of really bad science fiction, the Bible) and you don't even have the free-will it takes to use common sense. In the Moses story Pharaoh had his heart hardened by God.

But don't feel too slighted Cavil, God's plan also involved nuking several billion innocent humans out of existence (and you were okay with that). Was that god's plan? If so, that God seems like a monster and the real villain in the show.

So, maybe the writers are setting up another story that will correct these errors? Not likely. Ron Moore talked about his writing process on his last pod-cast, about how he trusted his instincts and was really proud of how he handled Baltar and religion. Yet it is exactly those elements of the show that I thought were just awful and that reflected the full failure of what was wrong with how this show ended. Ron was proud of how the Opera house visions worked out and then, what they led too, Baltar's speech about "God." Proud of the fact that he didn't do any real critical thinking or research.

With that attitude on Moore's part, don't expect things to improve on "The Plan" or on "Caprica" in those terms.

I've hardly scratched the surface of what was wrong with the ending, but this would go on too long if I talked about how bad an idea it was to ditch the ships and go all Luddite, or how like most Trek villains, the Cylons may have been set up to look impossible to defeat, but they were really paper tigers with glass jaws. None of that will matter to Ron Moore now that his series has spawned two new spin-offs. I may give them a shot, but I won't expect much.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: "Daybreak" - Part 1

In the writers’ room, we spent the first day [of breaking that episode] in a lot of difficulty, a lot of frustration. We sort of knew what the plot was, we knew the action story, we knew the plot of the finale. We spent that whole first day just struggling with the mechanics of the plot, how you got from A to B. We were spinning our wheels. I went home and I was in the shower and I had this “Duh” moment – the show was never about that. That’s not why I love the show. It’s not about the plot.

I went into the writers’ room the next day and wrote on the big dry-erase board, “It’s the characters, stupid,” and the writers laughed and we all sat back and said, “Who gives a [expletive] about the plot? Let’s just talk about these characters.”
-- Ron Moore

So, there you have it, everyone who has been wondering:

What the hell do a crotchety old man, a baby-shower, and a pigeon have to do with the survival of the human/cylon races? Anyone?
-- Hack&Slash

Of course, the problem with Ron Moore's take on things is that all the big questions most of us have are "plot" questions, not "character" questions. Most viewers think they know these characters pretty well already. What we don't know, at least I don't, is who is manipulating things behind the scenes - if anyone? What is that Opera house vision that Roslin, Athena and Caprica-6 had been sharing all about? Who or what brought Starbuck back to life? etc..

One possible meaning of focusing on the characters rather than the plot is that we may not get any explanation for many of the things we want answers too. Remember when Bill Adama told Roslin, in "Six of One," about her drug induced hallucinations giving her clues to finding Earth, "You're afraid you may not be the dying leader you thought you were. Or that your death may be as meaningless as everyone else's." Also recall the episode called "Faith."

In "Faith," Roslin was in the hospital next to another cancer patient, Emily. Emily listened to Baltar on the radio talking about life after death. Emily had some dream or visionary experience that got her believing in Baltar's afterlife. After being told about this, Roslin has her own dream, finding Emily and herself on a boat, then, looking towards shore they see their dead friends and family (where her sisters there). I pointed out in my review that how you interpreted that episode depended on how hip you were to why people had such dreams.

There is something called "Dream Incorporation" where a sound from reality is heard in our dream and incorporated in some way. If you thought about the things Roslin must have heard as she dreamed then you had some huge clues. When she woke up, Baltar was still preaching about the river and the afterlife, so she was hearing that while dreaming. And Emily was gone when she woke and that meant Roslin must have heard of her death while asleep.

You have to wonder why the writers would include these skeptic's clues that point to the dream as being an induced wish-fulfillment fantasy. Why do that when Roslin lives in a world where she also has had seemigly paranormal shared dreams with Caprica-6 and Athena in the Opera house? And she found Earth too.

Maybe Roslin's Opera house visions are just another side of her escape from meaninglessness and Ron Moore is an existentialist. But, but... how could her crazy visions be shared with Athena and Caprica-6? How could she really find Earth?

I don't know. But is that the real test of a vision, that you can't figure out where some bit of correct information slipped in? Or figure out why others share your vision? Maybe the Opera house vision is ultimately meaningless? Maybe it is essentially a delusion shared with some Cylons because Roslin got a dose of Athena's and Hera's Cylon blood that allowed her to plug into the projection psychology of those Cylons.

I bring this up because I don't see how that Opera house vision can mean much now as the final hours approach. They certainly can't get Roslin, Caprica-6 and Athena back to the actual Opera house. So, maybe the Opera house is a Cylon projection they'll share or something purely symbolic? Maybe Roslin really will see Baltar and a 6 taking Hera off just before she and Athena die? Maybe that's all it means? A fuzzy, symbolic glimpse of the future.

That I could live with and even enjoy, but worse, maybe we won't get an answer for how it is Starbuck got resurrected in a new body and viper because some writer thinks that sometimes incredible things happen for no good reason. (That omission I won't forgive them for. How Starbuck came back demands an explanation.)


If you think about it, the flashback scenes early in this episode were some nice little micro-stories all by themselves. Except for maybe Bill Adama being asked to do something he didn't want to do. So, what was it? Was he being sent to that remote space station that was built so that cylons and humans could meet and maintain diplomatic relations? Every year, according to the old miniseries intro, the humans sent an officer, but the Cylons sent no one for over forty years... that is until the day of the attack. What would it add if Adama had sat there waiting? Was the intro to the miniseries a lie and they sent a cylon to meet Adama, but Adama never said anything?

Every other flashback may have been nothing more than a little self-contained micro-story not really meant to plug into the big picture. Yet, I can't help trying to do just that. I will be disappointed if those flashbacks are just pointless little micro-stories. For example, Roslin gave her sister a baby shower and then woke up to some police knocking at her door. They had come to tell her that her father and sisters were killed by a drunk driver. It was a touching and effective scene, you could feel the gut punch that caused Roslin to get a little crazy and walk out into a fountain and just stand there. But what did I really learn about Roslin, after three seasons of watching her, that I didn't already know? Will her sisters show up in some later vision? Was that story meant just to underline the fact that other events in Roslin's life were drawing her to the edge of insanity?

We saw Gaius Baltar living a life of limos and pretty women, drinking with Caprica-6 and about ready to get it on when Baltar gets a phone call. Turns out that Baltar's dad has stabbed his nurse in the hand with a table knife. Baltar calls off the sex to deal with the crisis. He yells at his dad and we learn this is the third nurse his dad has scarred off. So, Baltar is selfish and belittling towards his dad? Is this really a new side of Baltar? Did we need to see that for some reason? Then we learn that Caprica-6 had helped out Baltar's dad. Baltar would have forgotten her if she hadn't done something like that.

How are any of those stories going to be relevant to the ending? I can't tell you, but I hope they have some relevance beyond being nice little micro-stories stuck in for no other reason.


After the flashbacks there was a bit more coherence as far as putting together the end-game, or "plot," of this final 3 hours. It is still character-centric rather than plot-centric though. For example, Lee Adama posed a great character question for Baltar. Apollo asked Baltar if he had ever done anything selfless. Baltar stared at him a moment and then said, "I wouldn't trust me either." Yet Baltar has done some selfless stuff, minor as it was. Remember that old lady back on Caprica in the very first shows? Boomer and Helo had to raffle off seats on the Raptor that would get people off the bombed planet, Caprica. An old lady asked Baltar to read her number. Baltar could have switched tickets. Baltar could have easily stolen a seat on that raptor. He would have been stuck on Caprica had not Helo executed a greater act of selflessness by giving his seat to Baltar.

What Baltar can't do, I think, is brag about such a little thing or even personally align with Apollo's philosophy that selflessness is this great thing by which to determine who is the best leader. And yet by answering that question honestly rather than just lying to Apollo, as Apollo almost begged him too, he was being selfless and trustworthy. Nice paradox. In spite of all Baltar's selfishness, there are limits to it.

The question gets asked again of Baltar when Bill Adama asks everyone to decide to go or not go on a suicide mission by asking them to step to one side of a tape line. Of course, Baltar stays on the side of the tape for those who want to stay behind, but there is a part of him that seems to want to go. He keeps looking over at Caprica-6 during Adama's speech and then as others start deciding which side of the line they want to be on he looks like he wants to go, but can't.


Something I may have been wrong about is Sam Anders doing another exposition dump. They snuck their way around his exposition dump by having him reveal whatever he revealed off screen to Starbuck and Bill Adama alone. I almost wish for the exposition dump instead. We're going to have to either get an exposition dump or very few questions answered. There's no time left for the characters to play detective and figure things out slowly.

Again, the choices here are character-centric, Adama's decision to talk to Anders starts with a conversation between Adama and Hot Dog near the memorial wall. Hot Dog dropped some pictures he had taken off the wall and he tells Adama that the only pictures left are people who no longer have anyone to care about them. Looking at the wall of fallen shipmates, Adama sees a picture of Athena and Hera, he takes the picture and heads right over to Anders' goo-tub where he finds Starbuck.

Adama and Starbuck come out of the goo-tub room with knowledge of where Hera is, which is where the Cylon colony is. A Raptor is sent ahead to explore the area and they find a black hole guarding the colony with only one safe point to jump in. Thus the plot actually does move forward.

A lot of side-shows they seemed to have set up now look like they won't happen. For example, it now seems the long-term effects of giving Baltar's balcubines those big guns isn't going to be a fight with the "sons of Aries," but to fight Cylons.


I don't see how they can wrap it all up in the last two hours, especially if those last two hours are mostly a big action packed space battle. I don't think, like a lot of others, that we will get answers to every single lingering question. But, in the final analysis, my speculations on where they are going have not been good. Nor has anyone else's that I've been reading.

The choices they've made in this last episode were really baffling. That is good thing, though. It means I could be really surprised when this ends.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Turn me on to your music

What do you listen to? Is there some band out there I've probably never heard of that really excites you? If so, drop me a link in the comments here, or just a name and I'll look them up on youtube or myspace.

I've asked this favor of my readers before and I got a couple interesting new groups to listen to. For example, Michael (MPhil) turned me on to Cynic:

Cynic - Adam's Murmur

Cynic - Evolutionary Sleeper

Cynic - Integral Birth

Cynic - Traced in Air

sinned34 turned me on to Opeth:

Opeth - Circle Of The Tyrants

Opeth - In My Time Of Need

Shadowstreak turned me on to Mortification and Paramecium:

Look Away - The Paramecium

Just reading Bear McCreary's blog I found a couple interesting groups named, Muse and Ozric Tentacles:

Supermassive Black Hole - Muse

Ozric Tentacles - "Coily"

I don't know what the odds are that you've heard any of those bands but I think I can come up with some groups you've never heard of. For example, here's an interesting little Christian Death Metal band called "The Drama Scene."

They're just now putting out their first album it seems and you won't find them on youtube. They've just got thses samples on myspace. I liked "The Devil's Among Us" and "My Razorblade."

And what are the odds you ever heard of Hawkwind:

Hawkwind - Master of the Universe

Hawkwind - Space Is Deep

Hawkwind was a group I liked when I was in high school but never listened to again after I got to college... until recently when I looked them up on youtube.

Another group you may not have heard of, Eyehategod:

Eyehategod - 99 Miles Of Bad Road

Eyehategod - Lack Of Almost Everything

Of course, obscure groups aren't the only kind I listen too, they're just the only ones I'm noting in this post. But I will mention Ozzy because Ozzy's music has been with me since I first heard Black Sabbath in high school and I've never stopped listening:

So, tell me what music you listen too.


Wow! Lots of music to check out thanks to all you people. And following your links on youtube and myspace leads to yet more related bands. If you're a Death Metal/Black Metal fan the numbers of groups out there is overwhelming. It's a world wide phenomena.

There is Russian Black Metal and also Death Metal:

There is also Japanese Death Metal and Chinese Black Metal:

And does any of this look and sound familiar?

And here's an interesting artist you can find on Kompoz.


This band recommendation comes from Bear McCreary:

Bear wrote:
Captain Ahab - This guy works with me all the time, but his records are incredible. In fact, I’m actually doing orchestral arrangements on his upcoming album. But, the last two are outstanding. It’s crazy, insane, occasionally very offensive techno and dance music, but there is a sadistic sense of humor to all of it. Like songs by the South Park guys, his music is funny and also intelligently satirical all at the same time.

A summary of Bear's other recommendations with semi-relevant links (see the comment on his own website for more details but no links): Boingo, 1994 album by Danny Elfman’s band Oingo Boingo, also their previous album “Dark at the End of the Tunnel” (1990). (A lot of “BG” musicians (Bartek, Avila, Vatos, Doug Lacy) playing on both these records). Ozomatli, 2001 release “Embrace the Chaos,” especially “Vocal Artillery.” Warning: their most recent record is to be avoided though. Bt4, his brother. Raya Yarbrough, his wife. Buckwheat Zydeco, and then of course bands we all should know: Queen, Pink Floyd, Guns n’ Roses (not so much the new record), Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, Al Green, Supertramp, The Specials, Elvis, Michael Jackson and The Band. Film and TV scores, his stock in trade, favorites are: Elmer Bernstein: To Kill a Mocking Bird and / or his RPO Pops “Best Of” CD. Jerry Goldsmith: Alien, The ‘burbs, Gremlins 2, Stark Trek: The Motion Picture. Bernard Herrmann. Lalo Schifrin: Enter the Dragon. John Williams, Temple of Doom and Empire Strikes Back were always my favorites.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Zeitgeist, it's darker than you think

"Zeitgeist," it means "the spirit of the age and its society." It describes, according to Wikipedia, the intellectual, cultural, ethical, moral and political climate of an age. Supposedly, the Zeitgeist can only be interpreted for past ages. Of course, everyone who knows the word still tries to interpret the Zeitgeist of their own age. For example, Christopher Hitchens called the election of Barack Obama a "Zeitgeist Election."

Richard Dawkins talked about the shifting moral Zeitgeist:

That word, "Zeitgeist," does seem to be popular with a lot of so-called "new atheists." Which is a bit odd when you consider that the German Romantics who coined the word took the "spirit" part of its definition a bit more literally. Yet there certainly does seem to be a huge cultural shift in progress. It's why Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins and Dennett are selling more books now than they could have just a decade before. After all, it's not like no one had been publishing atheist books before.

Prometheus Books had been publishing atheistic books for decades before Sam Harris hit it big with "The End of Faith." A book that he wrote soon after 9/11 dealing with the dangerous nature of irrational and violent religions and adding a new vehemence in the atheist critique:

George Carlin could, in a way, sum up some of that a lot quicker:

Long before Sam Harris wrote his books, George H. Smith wrote "Atheism: The Case Against God," (1980) and James Porter Moreland and Kai Nielsen wrote "Does God Exist?: The Debate Between Theists & Atheists," and Lloyd M. Graham wrote "Deceptions And Myths Of The Bible." None of those books sold as well as anything written by Dawkins ever did and those few Prometheus books are just a tip on an iceberg of atheistic books that most of us don't even know about.

Prometheus Books still publish such books and they still don't approach the sales figures of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris in spite of the times we live in. In the meantime the slow trend toward American unbelief continues with the latest polls and surveys noting that "More Americans Say They Have No Religion." Those of us saying we have no religion have gone up from 8.2 percent in 1990, to 14.2 percent in 2001, to 15 percent in 2008. While there are more Catholics in California, Texas and Florida, the increase is attributed mostly to Latino immigration. Christians who aren't Catholic are now a declining segment of the country. While still growing, the growth of non-belief has slowed a bit. Alas, at this rate, a percentage point or so per decade, I won't be around any more by the time non-belief is the majority opinion... if that ever were to happen.

Sam Harris's question about whether we can expect to survive our religious differences indefinitely is still an open question. And there is no real cure for the condition in sight. The only thing that has changed is that people who are asking that same question are now making money for being willing to voice it in public. It would seem that books decrying religion’s negative influence on the world becoming bestsellers is a good sign.

Another good sign might be Christian Science Monitor author, Michael Spencer, worrying about "The coming evangelical collapse." Spencer's predictions only apply to evangelicalism, only one group of protestant Christians now slowly losing ground.

In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.

I wish... sort of. I just want them to be a lot less politically influential.

And this was one of the reasons Mr. Spencer identified for the coming collapse:

Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

And, indeed, I do think they are bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society. But the unstable mix of Christianity and Ayn Rand style libertarianism was doomed to failure and loaded with potential conflicts from the beginning. We'll now, I think, see those conflicts surfacing in the GOP.

However, Mr. Spencer's concept of a coming "anti-Christian age in Western history" is off the mark. Christians are still a big majority and the numbers of non-believers is not growing fast enough for any kind of "anti-Christian age." What is more likely is that new politically influential Christian leaders, like Rick Warren, will come under the sway of Barack Obama and work on Obama's policies, forcing concessions from him. As more light is shed on the Bush Administration's failures, and perhaps even crimes, the GOP will be abandoned by large chunks of what was once the Christian right. Then we might wind up with something worse -- a Christian left.

For awhile it seemed that evangelicals had gained a lot of political power and the Bush administration was the representation of that power and influence. Rove once talked of a permanent Republican majority. But the mix was unstable and Obama made a clear effort to appeal to fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. It was a key to his success. And his political move could create a new, more stable and less conflicted, political force that still embraces all the scientific ignorance we saw in the Christian right.

It really depends on the outcome of the "science wars." A slightly increasing number of non-believers is irrelevant if we are recruiting them only from the already more rational side of the Christian faith. What you want to really see is a shift in science literacy and you want to see opinions on things like evolution changing. But they're not. has a page showing that as of 2007 the creationist view seems to have gained ground when compared to earlier polls. Yet, at the same time, support for naturalistic evolution had also increased. It suggests that we are becoming more polarized and belief in the compromise "theistic evolution" position, evolution but under God's guidance, lost ground.

The forces of ignorance as represented by people like Ben Stein, Ray Comfort and Vox Day have their counterparts on the left, like Tony Campolo and Deepak Chopra.

We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
-- Carl Sagan

If you'd like to get an idea of how deep that ignorance goes then I suggest taking a little internet trip over to Ray Comfort's site and checking out the comments of some of Ray's followers. For example, Chris Geiser who writes:

They are not lying they are just misinformed and blinded by their own lasciviousness and concupiscence and probate minds. They won’t even allow creationists to have any public say in what they have discovered scientifically without any bias. I am not surprised, however, that scientists discredit creationists, because ‘science’ back in the day did not agree with peoples’ theories of how the Earth is a sphere and I believe they made quite an effort to shut them up. They only got credit when the world found out they were right all along. They believed it to be true and they had enough faith to journey out onto uncharted ocean to prove their theory, and I am sure they didn’t go on those seemingly suicidal expeditions because they had a death wish, but because they had faith. They did not go with the crowd and play it safe.

As they say on PZ's blog: "The stupid - it burns!"

I don’t swallow any lies. I only take in Truth. I do not rely on any man to give me truth but only God from His Word and from having faith and by praying. If a man says anything that aligns with scripture than I know he is telling the truth. Science books today are written by men who seek to hide information on how God’s hand has a place in history. I believe Ray posted a while ago on how it is possible that the Grand Canyon was formed during and shortly after the great flood and it sure seems reasonable to me and it aligns with scripture.

How can such ignorance not be part of the Zeitgeist when polls show such opinions are horrifyingly common in America?

If only it were a Poe.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Whoopi Goldberg is going to moderate a "Battlestar Galactica" panel discussion at the United Nations.

I told you that Battlestar Galactica was going to be important.

On March 17, according to Maureen Ryan, there will be a "Battlestar" retrospective at the U.N. followed by a panel discussion on how the show examined some issues that certain U.N. appointees (Radhika Coomaraswamy, Craig Mokhiber and Robert Orr at least) thought were deserving of a deeper look.

A Sci Fi Channel representative says that the network will record the session and a transcript will be made. "Once the content becomes available, we will let the fans know," the representative said. When anyone knows of any video of this event showing up online, drop a link here in my comments. I don't expect the U.N. to act like this:

Saturday, March 7, 2009

So, Baltar sees angels, eh?

Spoilers ahead for "Islanded in a Stream of Stars":

"So say we all," blog carnival up here.

There are only 3 more hours of Battlestar left to go, one regular show and then a two hour show the week after. I can see the pieces moving into place for the end-game. Hera is with Cavil. Darth Boomer is starting to cry and suffer empathically for Hera, not quite being the cold-blooded machine she thought she could be. "There is still good in her." No doubt she'll soon be throwing evil emperor Cavil down a shaft crackling with lightening at the heart of the colony after she's chopped off Athena's hand with a light-saber.

Galactica needs to be abandoned because she's too dangerous to live in or hyperjump with. We may have even been given a foreshadowing of her fate when Hera was playing with the model Battlestar, seeming to ram it into a Cylon basestar.

More critically to one possible end-game: Sam is hooked up like a hybrid in his goo-tub and that means he's linked to the best excuse for a Deus Ex Machina machine the writers have got and he's getting in touch with all that exposition-dumpitis kind of information hybrids seem to know but can't explain in adequate terms. Remember, if it happens, I predicted it:

Sam's brainwaves have gotten weird. The Doc says he is in a comma, but the harmonic complexity of those brainwave patterns looked familiar to me. I think they might herald a chronic case of Deus Ex Machina accompanied by another acute bout of exposition-dumpitis.
-- Norman Doering

It sure looks like they're trying to make temporal lobe Deus Ex Machina and acute exposition-dumpitis into a condition we can live with through a careful set-up.

And Baltar is talking about seeing angels. Which is a weird coincidence because just before the show started I was reading Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica (the reason why is here) and it's huge section of seemingly psychotic ramblings about the nature of angels. And the guy I started the argument with about Aquinas, Kenneth Hynek, had this to say about Battlestar Galactica:

I’ve commented that the show has a certain Catholic ethos to it before, in that it not only explores the question of whether humanity is worth saving, but that it more often than not answers: “no, it isn’t — yet somehow, it will be saved in spite of itself.” There’s something very Christian, and especially very Catholic, about the idea that a totally undeserving humanity will come to salvation in spite of its own best efforts to avoid arriving there.
-- Kenneth Hynek

I'm not so sure the "ethos" is Catholic but it does appear that Ron Moore's experiences as an ex-Catholic are having an influence on the show. So much of Baltar's and the Cylon religion uses Christian terminology and concepts, as I've noted before. But I suspect that "humanity" will not really be saved in spite of itself by the end of the show. If it is, it'll be way too much of a Deus Ex Machina at this point. Whoever survives the end of this show, if anyone, isn't going to have a lot left to make a life with. Cavil may be defeated. The survivors might find a new world where Cylon and human can live together, but that's not "saving" by Christian terms -- that's just surviving the latest threat. More will come.

Battlestar Galactica seems to be a tragedy like Hamlet and Macbeth are tragedies. The end is death for almost everyone involved. However, religion is playing a big role in these events. They went to Earth following Pythian prophecies, Baltar really is experiencing something he can't account for in rational terms without resorting to either religion or madness or the dark manipulation of his mind by some outside technology. And almost every major character in this last episode was shown involving themselves in some religious ritual, all the funeral services for the crewmembers killed in the accident.

But it was the once vilified Baltar who made the strongest pro-religion statement in this episode when he declared to everyone that Starbuck had crossed over and returned from the dead. He betrayed Starbuck's implied confidentiality to support his religious claims. That's the kind of "saving" religion offers, from death, not the continued existence of humanity. I doubt that the existence of that kind of "saving" will get resolved at the end of the series. It's not that kind of show. It's not about that kind of subject. All the religion is just a reflection of the character's beliefs. Some people are religious, others aren't, and some, depending on the evidence switch back and forth, like Bill Adama.

Well, Starbuck has, in a sense, returned from the dead. But is it supernatural and religious, or something akin to Cylon resurrection technology? Is supernaturalism really how they're going to explain Starbuck's return from the dead? I doubt it.

The writers, when interviewed over at Maureen Ryan's Chicago Tribune "The Watcher" column, keep saying it's about character, not end-games or metaphysics. And this episode was really about the internal conflicts within various characters. Almost all the characters featured in the episode struggled with letting go of something in order to make difficult decisions. Adama and Starbuck do let go. Adama emotionally lets go of the ship that his been his home and source of identity for most of his life. Starbuck lets go of Starbuck and she was ready to let go of Sam. However, Baltar and Helo can't let go of their big hope. Saul Tigh might be regarded as another failure to come to terms with his true identity, as a Cylon. On the other hand all his loyalty to Adama and the Galactica might be a different kind of success in holding onto what he wants to be. Their are all kinds of hopes and expectations, which ones are futile and which are worth holding onto?

Starbuck lets go of Starbuck? I think I need to explain that one. Recall the scene where Starbuck puts her own picture on the memorial wall. That was her letting go of something, but I'm not sure what. There is, as I've already suggested, a sense in which the featured characters have to come to terms with the difference between who they thought they were, who they wanted to be, and who they really are that is in conflict. This is especially true for Starbuck and Baltar. There is something almost confessional about Baltar's talking about angels in his radio sermon, he’s almost admitting to everyone that he has been seeing Head-6. That near candor about his, perhaps insane, secret gets Starbuck to admit what happened to her on Earth and then she gives Baltar her bloodied dog-tags.

Originally Baltar was thinking of angels as something akin to Head-6. Baltar seemed to imply that others besides himself, like Starbuck seeing her dad, were seeing "angels." Why would he think that? Are there more head characters than we know of? It's interesting that when Baltar talks to Caprica-6 or Starbuck we realize that all of them have had head-characters and have never admitted this to each other. The characters barely understand each other. Baltar makes Caprica-6 a seemingly (to me) sincere offer to help her, but he comes across to Caprica-6 like a sleaze and is put down, "I don't want to be a member of your harem." Baltar got closer to admitting to having a Head-6 with Starbuck, and Starbuck would have been able to tell him about her dad -- but they can't talk about it to each other. It suggests insanity. And here is Starbuck admitting for the first time what she found on Earth to Baltar, probably because of that stuff about angels and how it relates to head-dad.

However, after Baltar studies the dog-tags and figures out that "blood from necrotic tissue" thing (I don't think that's for real) he changes his ideas about angels a bit it seems and claims "Starbuck is an angel walking among us." His new ideas about angels are a little closer to the Bible's depiction of angels and in a way, also Thomas Aquinas's speculations. So excuse me if I indulge in a little bit of Biblical lecturing (in my experience many people, even most Christians, don't seem to realize what a weird and psychotic book the Bible is).

You see, in the Bible angels aren't things you only see in your head. They are always showing up as human-like characters. In the Sodom and Gomorrah story there are some angels that visit Lot and some other inhabitants of Sodom want to, apparently, rape the angels. Lot refuses to give the visiting angels to them and even offers them his daughters instead. That seems to speak against those particular angels being head characters or having significant supernatural powers. Why can't the angels defend themselves? Though, the Sodomites are later struck blind, allowing Lot to escape, it's a pretty wimpy miracle.

Also in the Bible Jacob physically grabs an angel to wrestle with "him" and will not let him go. He does it in order to plead promises from God. Apparently the angel had little supernatural power and couldn't escape from Jacob's grasp, or else did not choose to do this. Jacob would not let go of the angel until the angel blessed him. Eventually the angel gives him the blessing and tells Jacob his new names is Israel (Jews are the children of Israel).

The concept of the dead becoming angels, as far as I know, isn't in the Bible, but Mormons I think have some doctrine like that. And there are Christians who think that. But where is Baltar getting these ideas from? Is he making them up or is Head-6 feeding them to him? And why do these beliefs of Baltar's always get so close to biblical ones? Is it just Ron Moore playing games with Christian Galactica fans?

At any rate, Baltar could have gotten closer to Starbuck, but he blew it. He betrayed an implied confidentiality and called her an angel in public, something she doesn't think she is. That, I think, is Baltar failing to come to terms with who he really is and what he's trying to be, a religious leader. He is clinging to a hope for an afterlife and trying to justify it -- and he's doing it at the price of forming deeper connections with the people around him.

Helo might have the opposite problem, his connections themselves might be too emotionally deep to let go of. Helo begged Adama for a raptor to search for Hera. Adama told him to, more or less, let it go. I don't think he did -- I got the funny feeling he's going to be stealing a raptor soon. And maybe that's not really a "failure" because maybe there are some things you shouldn't let go of. But boy would he be in trouble if he actually did find Cavil on his lonesome.

All in all, with all these characters letting go or struggling to let go of something the whole episode felt like a sad good-bye. Sadness and mystery and letting go dominated the show.

Off topic: Here are some screen shots inside "The Colony."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

He'll argue with me, but he won't tell me about it.

As you might see if you check the comments on my post, "Aquinas and Plantinga, part 1", there has been no comment from Kenneth Hynek about debating the issue. However, he did write a post, “Everything grows clear in the reflections from the Infinite,” where he addresses me:

No doubt the likes of recent commentator Norman Doering will object to the proposition that there is something inherently Christian about the Western scientific notion that rational inquiry will be rewarded with rational information, but it must still be said: at the core of modern science, the belief is still very much alive that it is only by seeking that we shall find, and only by knocking that we will see things opened unto us…and that our seeking will be rewarded with findings, that our knocking will be rewarded with openings.

As a matter of fact I do object to the claim that there is something inherently Christian about the "Western scientific notion" that rational inquiry will be rewarded with rational information. The idea that Rational inquiry will be rewarded with rational information is human, not Christian. I think I can demonstrate the falsity of his claim by pointing out that it was Pagan Greeks who really got the process of scientific inquiry off the ground for the West:

And while the West was slumbering through a scientific dark age after Christian culture had demolished Greek science Muslims had a big contribution to make. And India had some remarkable scientists.

"I have to deplore the systematic manner in which the literature of Europe has continued to put out of sight our obligations to the Muhammadans (Muslims). Surely they cannot be much longer hidden. Injustice founded on religious rancour and national conceit cannot be perpetuated forever. The Arab has left his intellectual impress on Europe. He has indelibly written it on the heavens as any one may see who reads the names of the stars on a common celestial globe."
-- John William Draper in the "Intellectual Development of Europe"

The claim that Western science owes, perhaps its entire existence, to the Biblical underpinnings of Western society is seriously exaggerated to say the least. His claim that supernatural revelation, as registered in the Bible, is germane to science is unsupported.

It was under the influence of the arabs and Moorish revival of culture and not in the 15th century, that a real renaissance took place. Spain, not Italy, was the cradle of the rebirth of Europe. After steadily sinking lower and lower into barbarism, it had reached the darkest depths of ignorance and degradation when cities of the Saracenic world, Baghdad, Cairo, Cordova, and Toledo, were growing centers of civilization and intellectual activity. It was there that the new life arose which was to grow into new phase of human evolution. From the time when the influence of their culture made itself felt, began the stirring of new life.

It was under their successors at Oxford School (that is, successors to the Muslims of Spain) that Roger Bacon learned Arabic and Arabic Sciences. Neither Roger Bacon nor later namesake has any title to be credited with having introduced the experimental method. Roger Bacon was no more than one of apostles of Muslim Science and Method to Christian Europe; and he never wearied of declaring that knowledge of Arabic and Arabic Sciences was for his contemporaries the only way to true knowledge. Discussion as to who was the originator of the experimental method....are part of the colossal misinterpretation of the origins of European civilization. The experimental method of Arabs was by Bacon's time widespread and eagerly cultivated throughout Europe.
-- Robert Briffault in the "Making of Humanity"

Modern science does not depend on the assumptions that the universe itself is rational, only that it is intelligible to rational minds and that is not really an assumption, that was demonstrated long before Christianity existed.

Also, on the blog post where I left my previous comment Kenneth Hynek decided to insult me after he declined the debate while continuing to argue his point:

...when you ask this:

Why must a “First Cause” be simple or immutable? And what does simplicity and immutability even mean in this context?

You demonstrate not only that the works of Plantinga and Aquinas are several degrees above your pay grade (I am speaking here of the difference in pay grade between janitor and CEO, in fact), but also demonstrate that your own position — whatever it is — is fundamentally unmoored from a basic understanding of reason itself.

Actually, I think it's Mr. Hynek who perhaps doesn't grasp what reason is and that he has chosen this insult option because he knows he can't explain his assertion that a “First Cause” must be simple and immutable. Though I must confess that I'm no big reader of Plantinga or Aquinas and I often don't have a clue as to why they make the screwy assertions they make.

Instead of dealing with Plantinga and Aquinas he is proceeding on his own into the realm of quantum mechanics. To my assertion that "if the first cause is merely a quantum fluctuation, then a quantum fluctuation is God. But quantum fluctuations do not have mental qualities, they don’t have emotions or thoughts," he replied:

Given how little we even understand about the intricacies of quantum fluctuations, your statement is speculation at best, despite your presentation of it as hard fact.

While it's true that I can't be one hundred percent certain that quantum fluctuations don't have emotions or thoughts it's not mere speculation that they don't. After all, Mr. Hynek also can't be sure that the chair he is sitting in doesn't have emotions and thoughts and that it doesn't like the smell of his farts. Would he consider it rational to speculate that his chair resents his farts?

It is rather off the wall to suppose that chairs and quantum fluctuations do have such things. There is simply no good reason, aside from trying to shoehorn in a religious supposition into physics, to assume that a quantum fluctuation has emotions or thoughts. What magical, supernatural replacement for neural circuitry would generate their emotions or thoughts?

In fact, by stating this possibility it is in fact Kenneth Hynek who has demonstrated that it is he who lacks a critical tool of rational scientific thought. That tool is called, rather loosely by its enemies, "the assumption of naturalism," or by its friends, "methodological naturalism."

Does he really want to argue that quantum fluctuations do have emotions and thoughts? Probably not, but he might be trying to claim that they are how God acts in the world.

And while I appreciate that your position is so flimsy to begin with that it requires this kind of sleight of hand, don’t expect me to let said sleight of hand go unremarked upon.

Asserting that quantum fluctuations do not have emotions and thoughts is sleight of hand? Seems like common sense and the assumption of naturalism to me. I could tell Mr. Hynek a lot about the use of methodological naturalism in scientific reasoning, but apparently he can explain nothing about his methods of reasoning.

We know that a quantum fluctuation is a temporary change in the amount of energy at a particular point in space, in apparent violation of the law of conservation of energy. But what does that really tell us? Could a change in energy not be a function of will, albeit a will beyond our ability to comprehend or accurately articulate a description of?

We have ways of testing for mental abilities in animals, perhaps we should have physicists test for this ability in subatomic particles?

In response to my statement: If you think God has mental qualities like “intention,” “knowledge,” “will,” “emotion,” “desire” etc. then how can you even imagine those are simple? You’re talking about some magical form of human-like intelligence that needs no material substrate and of which there is no example to point to. He wrote:

Or I’m talking about something that clunky human language cannot serve to adequately describe, using the clunky human language that is my only means of offering a cogent attempt at a description.

It's not so much, I suspect, a concept that cannot be adequately described as it is an ancient mistake about the source of our mental attributes that religious people refuse to explore rationally. Before neuroscience began to locate mental activity in the brain the ancients assumed that there were "souls" and "spirits" that gave men their mental attributes and animated their bodies. Interestingly, some of the ancient words often translated into soul or spirit in the Bible could also mean wind and breath and ghost. It suggests that the concept of soul and spirit was a biological misunderstanding. The ancients thought that breath, spiritus in Latin, was the force that differentiated a living body from a dead body. Living people breathed, dead people didn't. Breath is a physical event, your breath also exists outside your body momentarily, so spirits can exist outside the body. And you can have spirit possession and invisible ghosts floating about in the air and acting like the wind.

Neuroscience doesn't use the words "spirit" or "soul." Neuroscientists talk about receptors, and neurotransmitters, and electrical circuits, and so forth. Do you think we should go back to talking about spirits?

You assume, I think, a certain blindness to these cosmological forces; from whence do you get this erroneous notion that these forces are in any way blind?

From their statistically predictable regularity. What about the behavior of quantum fluctuations would suggest otherwise?

Could it be, instead, that you feel a deep-seated fear at the idea that things may exist which defy human observation or description?

Maybe you're the one who is afraid?

there’s no way at all we could even begin to have a meaningful discussion, because your position is grounded in several levels of irrationality and unreason. And I, for one, don’t see the need to attempt to forge something meaningful out of something that will only ever rise to the level of a dog’s breakfast.

Well, there you go. He is saying that my poor little god-given brain can not comprehend and grasp the vast mysteries that he understands. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a sadomasochist when I asked why they liked such things. I was told something similar to:

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.

Just replace the word faith with desire.