11 April 2008

Violent Acres is ignorant : A lesson in truth

Update: Ok, so Violent Acres was having us on. What a great way to instill my lecture on truth, science and theories, which you should read anyway. Toot.

Why is it that some people cling to stereotypes and stupidly assumed fantasy when a few asserted searches would reveal the truth in a matter of seconds? (neither Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchins nor Dr. Meyers do what VC claims) Why do otherwise upwalking people such as Violent Acres (whom most posts I enjoy very much) then stumble into the world of the ignorant and stupid?

To justify their own belief, of course. The truth has got nothing to do with it. So I'd like to talk about truth a little.

I am one of those people who seeks the truth. Now, we have to be careful about what that means because a lot of people think that "the truth" has a specific meaning, or a specific goal. The religious are the biggest proponents of "the truth is what I believe" although you'll find it pretty much everywhere.

No, I'm after that truth which we all can agree on; Throw a rock into the air, we can all agree it falls to the ground. If we measure the speed of the falling rock, we can all agree to how fast that is by throwing lots of rocks into the air, perhaps at various places around the world to get a wider view of it, document our rock throwing with pictures, recordings and documents, and perhaps - some time in the future - collate our various findings, and we just might call this thing "gravity" and agree to some properties it has.

There's nothing magical about this kind of truth. It's just there, sitting there as knowledge, which we can use and apply to solving whatever whimsical wish we have.

Later, when John went to the moon and threw a rock, the properties of that rock-throwing even was compared to the generic rock-throwing info back at earth, and we folded the new information into our "gravity" thing, saying that gravity has different pull under different circumstances. To understand this pull, we need to know geology and cosmology and astrophysics as mass and chemical markup plays an important role. And so on and so on.

If we then learn, in other areas that's got other theories, about some properties that also applies to throwing rocks - for example, we discover a planet of size X made up of Y and circles its sun like Z - and then the true magic happens; we can make predictions about what will happen if we threw a rock standing on that planet. The more data we've got, and the more other theories are verified, the more accurate the prediction. This is how we land things on the moon, on mars, and on asteroids flying through space at high velocities. This is how we backtrack life and discover new things through evolution. This is how we further experiment with stuff, because we've got theories that can predict a lot of stuff when we apply X, Y and Z to it. This is, basically, how we come up with all the cool stuff we do these days.

This is science. Lots of different people all over the world all the time find out stuff. We collect data, and have explanations for why the data do what they do, also known as theories. These theories are not guesswork; over hundreds of years scientists adjusts the theory as we know more. The theory of gravity have changed a lot from Newton to today. This is how science works; data forms a theory, and new data further shape the theory, and all theories need to make sense together. No theory stands out and goes against what all the others are saying.

In science there are thousands and thousands of theories, all interconnected. If someone comes up with a theory (note: singular) that seems to go against what the other theories say (note: plural theories; no scientific theory stands alone! Never!), then you've got two options; your one theory is wrong, or you've stumbled upon something that's either revolutionary or crazy.

We never really get one theory that goes against the majority of scientific theories. They are all interconnected, a web of theories that fit into one another, backing each other up, making sense of the world we live in. Thousands of theories that gets tweaked as we find new data, creating a larger theory of how it all fits together. It's a long process (thousands of years of asking the most powerful question in the universe; "How does that work?"), lots of hard work, lots of hours of repeating what others have done (to verify or falsify some small part of some theory).

In the real world, as seen in the movies, a "theory" is someones' crazy guess. Please don't make the grave mistake of mixing up the folksie "my theory to why JFR got shot was hidden advice coming out of Area51"; that's not a theory as science use it, but conjecture, an opinion, or just plain speculation. It's important to know the difference, because at each end of the truth-o-meter there is science and religion.

One claims to be in pursuit of truth, the other claims to already hold it. One is not afraid to modify the truth if new evidence comes along, while the other is the same for eternity. One is about investigation, curiosity and being open, the other is about accepting, don't question and close yourself to others. Science holds no other goals than truth, while religion dips its toe into any human physical and psychological endevour.

Let's get back to what triggered this post; "Atheists are snobs." First, a conjecture such as that is just plain silly. Which atheists? What do you mean by atheist? How broad must your brush be before you're painting your way into the loony-bin? Second, some religious people play roleplaying games. They enjoy a fantasy play as much as the next guy. Of course the next guy will them them they are already living in a fantasy game, but a fantasy game within another fantasy game is still just a fantasy game, so I guess that's ok. As long as they are away of the real world. Third, some religious people are heavy into porn. They perhaps shouldn't be, but they are people, too. All too often, they are people, too.

I suspect VC wants to bring this atheist vs. religious people down to a question of ethics and morals, that somehow religious people hold better ethics and morals. Hogwash, and I'll repeat Steven Weinberg : “With or without [religion] you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.”

The importance - in the end - comes down to how truth is defined; as something we all agree to through an open process, or truth as handed down to you by a guru. And Violent Acres is no guru. And that's the truth.


  1. "Atheists are snobs"

    "Australia is great unless you're a foreigner staying for more than 3 months"

    doesn't the preacher like being preached to every now and then? how's the view from that high horse, Alex?

  2. I have to admit that I don't understand your questions. I don't sit on a high horse at all, especially after all the carfuffle me and my family has been through lately.

    First of all, I'm not an atheist, so it's not me trying to defend them. They're perfectly capable of doing that themselves. That whole thing was a lead up to the great confusion common folks have about the concept of "theories", which is a lead up to the way scientists use it, and then normal folks. It's no secret that 70% of all scientists are atheists, but I didn't want a big deal out of that. A far more important point is that such painting of a whole bracket of the human population is outright stupid.

    Secondly, the part about Australia was mine and Roberts conclusions, not anybody else's. The sad truth is that if you are a foreigner in Australia, there *are* hoops you have to jump through and various kinds of disadvantages, and you as a local haven't had the pleasure of dealing with that. And still, having said that, I still plan to come back to Australia because I love so much about it ... just not a few tiny things, which I'm sure I'll write more about later.

    No high horse here. Just brutal reality, and trying to clear up confusions.