Freethinking for Dummies

Skepticism, secular humanism, social issues

Doing The Most Good – The Moral Imperative of GM Crops

We here in the wealthy, well-fed west are overlooking one of the greatest moral crises in the world: the millions of deaths and hundred of millions more illnesses caused by starvation and lack of basic nutritional needs of people in the world. People who live in more desperate situations that we can even imagine.  We have a moral obligation and duty to use every method at our disposal, including GM crops, to alleviate the suffering of almost a billion people on our planet. (1)(2)  Every year, over two million children needlessly die of starvation (2).  

An example of a low risk GM crop is discussed by Steven Novella at his Neurologica blog, and covers the introduction of Golden Rice, which is supplemented with vitamin A.  This crop could save close to 500, 000 children a year who die of vitamin A deficiency.   There are some very salient points brought up in his article, but I’d like to quote one in particular:

Bruce Chassy is speaking this week at the AAAS meeting (American Academy for the Advancement of Science) arguing that the current regulation of GM crops is counterproductive (an opinion he also gives here). He argues that the last 20 years have demonstrated the overall safety of GM crops through multiple plantings and scientific studies. We still need to monitor GM crop safety, but the current level of regulation is harming the hungry and the poor, mostly in the third world.

Of course we have a duty to make sure that all GM crops are tested as throughly as possible to keep side effects to a minimum, be it to human and animal health, or the spreading of deleterious traits into wild plants.  But, like most anything in life, the risks of harm from GM crops needs to be weighed against the harm caused by nutritional deficiencies and starvation world wide.  From what I can see in the history of GM crops so far, the benefits for humanity far outweigh the risks.

We live a sheltered, comfortable life here in the west.  We are able to look past the basics of life, food and shelter, to other issues, such as the environment.  To label all GM crops as bad is unscientific, and given what we know, immoral.  When we have GM crops that can save millions of lives, that can provide more food per acre for starving people, that can fulfill the nutritional needs of the poor, we have a moral obligation to take the necessary risks and do the most good for the whole of humanity.

(1) http://www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/

(2) https://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats

 

 

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Skepticism, Social Justice | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Something From Nothing – Why It Doesn’t Matter If God Exist Or Not

Where did the universe come from?  This is a question that has taunted humans probably since we first became sentient.  

Most of the attempts to answer this question over the millennium have come from religion, but in the past 20 years or so, real progress has been made in physics to answer this question.  Science seems to say that the universe could have been created from nothing.  

The renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawkin has postulated that the universe could have arisen from fluctuations in the quantum foam.  Others, such as physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, in his new book, “A Universe From Nothing”, suggest something along the same lines.

I’m not going to go into the science since it is far beyond my capabilities.  I’m also not going to get much into the religious and theological arguments.  What I do want to look at is a basic, simple premiss:  we, as humans, don’t understand time.

We experience time in a linear fashion.  This means that we have memories of a past, experience the present, and have expectations of the future.  Therefore time, to us, seems have a past, present, and future.  Physicists call this phenomenon The Arrow of Time, and due to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, as well as other factors that involve mind-numbing math, it always flows in one direction.

The most important thing about time, and the hardest one to wrap our heads around, is that time is not separate from space.  Time and space are inextricably linked and are collectively referred to as space-time.  Time can not exist without space.  One of the consequences of this is that time has only existed as long as space has.  

Space-time, and the universe it’s self, began, as closely as we can currently work out, 13.7 billion years ago in the Big Bang, from a singularity (a point of infinite mass), similar to the singularity in the center of a black hole (in fact, some scientists postulate that our universe exists inside of a black hole, but that’s a post for another time).  

Scientists have a pretty good idea of what happened as the universe expanded back to about 10^−11 (one hundred billionth) seconds after the beginning of the Big Bang.  What happened before that time is unclear.  Here, at the very beginning, as in the heart of a black hole, the laws of physics as we know them break down.  Nothing inside the singularity can be glimpsed from the outside, but we should be able to, theoretically, go back to the very instance of the beginning.  We are close, and the more we study sub-atomic particles with tools like the Large Hadron Collider, the more we are able to learn about these very earliest moments.

The important thing to understand here, for the purposes of this discussion, is that time did not exist before the Big Bang.  Since time did not exist until the moment the universe began, the question, “What existed before the universe?”, is non-sensical.  This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a “before”, it is just that our minds are incapable of conceiving that particular state of things.  It most likely was not a time, or a place, or an anything that we can define in terms that human language can express.  Only mathematics can express this situation and translating those mathematics into human language is likely impossible, simply due to our innate inability to grasp a concept that literally doesn’t exist in our universe.  We just don’t really, and can’t really, understand time.  We are trapped in the flow of time, just as a leaf is trapped in the flow of a river.  Traveling helplessly onward.

Therefor from my thinking, asking “What existed before the universe?”, is meaningless.  Wether it was created, or if it sprang into existence due to some fundamental laws of physics that we don’t completely understand really doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that once it was in existence, everything in it has been subject to laws of physics that are, as far as we can see, so deeply woven into the fabric of space-time that they can not be broken.  

The upshot of this means that our universe is self-contained and is subject to those laws.  This precludes the existence of a personal God: one who can answer prayers and perform miracles.  If there is a god, then it is entirely outside of the universe, and as such, unable to influence, or even know of, anything within it. Hence, worship or prayer to it is useless, except as a way to give ourselves solace if we so choose.  

Call it god; call it a quantum fluctuation; call it George, it really doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that we are here, if only for the very briefest of moments.  Let’s make the most of it.

 

February 18, 2013 Posted by | Religion, Science, Skepticism | , , , , , | 3 Comments

How To Ruin A Good Documentry

I just finished watching the documentary, “Indiana Jones and the Ultimate Quest.”   It tied the four Indiana Jones movies to real archeology.  For the first 3/4 of the show, it was a really interesting, fact based, documentary.  

The last 1/4 though, got away from facts and into the ideas that extraterrestrials gave mankind 16 crystal skulls that were spread across the world and would all be found when humans were at a world-wide crisis.  

There was no countering that idea with facts or science.  Only anecdotal evidence of supposed experts in UFO’s.  It was presented as, if not fact, at least very plausible.  Of course, every one of these types of claims have been shown to have no evidence at all, and the things they try to explain have been shown to be completely terrestrial. 

I love documentaries, but in the past 10 years or so, documentaries have become entertainment, with sensationalism being the driving source instead of facts and evidence.  If any of the producers of these types of documentaries believe that they must put this tripe into their shows because otherwise people won’t watch documentaries, they should take a look at the works of Ken Burns, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, or David Attenborough.

I honestly believe that most of us are smarter than the TV network executives give us credit for.  I find it sad, and a bit frightening, that even our supposed science shows are dumbed down.  What kind of society will be be in another generation if this is now the norm?

September 23, 2012 Posted by | Science, Skepticism | , , | 2 Comments

Cool Dinosaurs!

Go see!  

September 4, 2012 Posted by | Science | , | Leave a comment

Trying Hard, But Failing

I’m trying really hard to write a blog post.  The words are down on the page, the ideas are there, they sentences are coherent, but as they are now, they suck.  So until I can get past this stupid writer’s block, here’s a dinosaur.

the_last_dinosaur_by_deskridge-d3exix7

August 23, 2012 Posted by | Atheism, Science | , | Leave a comment

Adventures In Evolution

The story of Charles Darwin is an amazing one.  Here is a man who was endlessly fascinated with the world around him.  He went from medical student to training for the ministry to the preeminent scientist of his, or any other, age.  

What is lost among all of the retellings of this story is the pure adventure of his life.  Charles Darwin spent five years literally traveling around the world on the HMS Beagle.  He went to places that were, at the time, virtually untouched by humans, and many never seen by Europeans before.  He experienced long ocean voyages (for someone who suffered from sea sickness, not a fun time), earthquakes, storms, wild animals, and primitive (to him) peoples.  Upon his return to England, he went from an obscure naturalist to a well respected one and, after the publication of “On The Origin of Species“, to the most famous scientist in the world.  

It is quite the adventure. It is one that I’m working on bringing to life in a project I’m currently working on.  No release date yet, but I’ll keep you updated.

August 12, 2012 Posted by | Science | , , | Leave a comment

“God is Just a Placeholder for Our Ignorance”

“God is just a placeholder for our ignorance.”

I just thought this up.  It’s not original really, at least not as a thought, but a search of google doesn’t turn up that exact wording with the same context and meaning (although it does turn up this on Butterflies & Wheels, but that isn’t exactly the same).  Yeah for me!  

I want to have buttons and bumper stickers made up with that on it.   Anyone know the best way (read cheapest) to do that?

July 7, 2012 Posted by | Atheism, Religion, Science, Skepticism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Dino-rama!

More awesome dinosaur images.  Go see them!

July 4, 2012 Posted by | Science | , , | 1 Comment

Deepak Chopra Wisdom – Just a Jumble of Words

Deepak Chopra is a promoter of new age spiritualism.  His books, CDs, and DVDs sell millions.  He is a sought after speaker.  The thing is, most of what he has to say is bullshit.  Its all a mish-mash of new–agey mumbo jumbo.  

A great example of how his pronouncements that sound so profound are really just a steaming pile of nonsense can be found on a website that uses random words culled from Deepak’s Twitter feed to create phrases that sound like something Chopra would say, except that they are thrown together randomly.  

Of course, this doesn’t prove that Deepak Chopra is full of shit, but it does show that it doesn’t take much to sound deeply philosophical and spiritual like Chopra.

Go give it a try.  You know you want to.

June 23, 2012 Posted by | Religion, Science, Skepticism | , , | 1 Comment

It’s Not About Abortion Anymore

The so called War on Women has been escalating for months now.  Republican controlled legislatures across the country have been proposing and passing laws that aim to restrict the legal procedure of abortion by basically bullying women and doctors with threats of unneeded exams, arrests, and anything else that they can think of.  

Until now, the issue of the morality of abortion has been up for debate.  Until now.  

State Reps. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, and Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga of the Michigan House of Representatives have been told that they may no longer speak on the House floor.   The reason is that they dared to propose an amendment to a that would put new restrictions on abortion provider which would restrict a man’s access to a vasectomy.

Brown, who voted against the legislation, told supporters of the bill, “I’m flattered you’re all so interested in my vagina. But no means no.”

And Byrum was gaveled out of order after she protested when she wasn’t allowed to speak on her amendment to the bill that would have required proof of a medical emergency or that a man’s life was in danger before a doctor could perform a vasectomy. 1

This action by the leader of the Republican controlled house has turned this debate from one about abortion to one of the right to free speech.  Not only are the representatives being denied their right to speak about a bill that is up for consideration, they constituents are being denied their rights to representation.  

A democracy requires freedom of speech and a voice for everyone in the democratic process.  By denying these women their right to speak out against a proposed law that they disagree with, by denying the voters their right to effective representation, the Republican majority seeks to silence the minority. They seek to silence anyone who would dare challenge them.  This is not democracy; it is despotism.   

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of abortion, if you value what the U.S. stands for; freedom, democracy, liberty, then you must abhor an attempt to shut out and silence dissenting voices in the political process.

It is no longer about the morality of abortion.  It is about the morality of despotism.  It is about the rights of the minority being trampled by the majority.  

The American Revolution came about because Great Britain sought to control us against our will, without giving us the right of representation.  Now the political majority are attempting to do the same by denying dissenters the right to speak out, thereby denying them, and their voters, a voice in the political process.

We are slowly letting our liberties bleed away and those liberties, once gone, will be difficult to regain.    The freedom of speech is the most important right we have.  To attempt to take it away by political force should appall and frighten everyone of us.  

Don’t let your rights be trampled on just because you agree with those who would take them away.  Tell your representatives at every level of government that you won’t let this stand.  

As Michigan State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer said,

“Right now we are seeing our Republican colleagues in the House working to take away our rights to choose, our rights to health care, our rights to make decisions about our bodies. And just today, they’re taking away our female colleagues rights in the House, they’re right to speak on the floor.” 2

 

1) http://www.freep.com/article/20120614/NEWS15/120614049

2) http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/15/michigan-lawmakers-barred-from-floor-after-vagina-vasectomy-remarks/?iref=allsearch

June 17, 2012 Posted by | Humanism, Religion, secular humanism, Social Justice | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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