I Am So Smart, S-M-R-T…


homer xray2So I’m chilling in the family room the other day while the house is uncommonly quiet. The writer in me screams “get to work!” while the slacker in me argues “but ‘Idiocracy’ is on Comedy Central!”

Which brings us to the first blog post of the new year (“But it’s the middle of January,” you say? Yeah, well you might have noticed my Christmas theme was still up as of yesterday morning. Hard work may pay off eventually, but procrastination pays off right now).

Yes, I did turn off the movie but not before a few Deep Thoughts bubbled to the surface. Or maybe it was the burrito I had for lunch. Whatev. So I’m watching that scene where the only man left on Earth who knows how plants grow is arguing with a bunch of brain-dead ninnies (the President’s cabinet–so not much different than today) about why you can’t irrigate crops with Gatorade.

I fear that our culture is rapidly heading that way, but you already knew that. It’s not like I’m the only one pointing that out. And it brought to mind an essay at The Federalist titled The Death of Expertise:

Today, any assertion of expertise produces an explosion of anger from certain quarters of the American public, who immediately complain that such claims are nothing more than fallacious “appeals to authority,” sure signs of dreadful “elitism,” and an obvious effort to use credentials to stifle the dialogue required by a “real” democracy…

Having equal rights does not mean having equal talents, equal abilities, or equal knowledge.  It assuredly does not mean that “everyone’s opinion about anything is as good as anyone else’s.” And yet, this is now enshrined as the credo of a fair number of people despite being obvious nonsense…

I fear we are witnessing the “death of expertise”: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers – in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.

Just so you know I’m not spending all of my time cruising the ‘net, I’ve come across a similar sentiment whilst doing background research for that long-awaited Perigee sequel:

Irate SF fans will sometimes attempt to refute scientific theories they find inconvenient. While this is permitted for SF writers (as long as they don’t make a habit of it and wash their hands afterwards) it is more worrisome with fans who think they can prove the Starship Enterprise’s warp drive is possible in the real world. Their self-confidence is good, but they have about the same chance of success as a child in a soapbox derby car winning the Indy 500. It ain’t gonna happen, and for the same reason. A dilettante with home-made gear cannot hope to compete with trained professionals with precision equipment.

That’s from the fantastic Atomic Rockets, your one-stop-shopping for understanding the physical realities of spaceflight. I particularly loved this bit:

So you know, university Physics is essentially three years of this discussion among like-minded enthusiasts. Done with supercomputers, access to the textbook collections of five continents and thirty languages.

On four hours sleep a night.

With no sex.

You’re not going to find the loophole these guys missed.

For the record, I’m just impressed that the dude finished in three years.

Ignorance is dangerous when practiced in large numbers, and I turn a special kind of angry when herds of muttonheads whip themselves into foamy froths of stupid. A few juicy examples:

1. The anti-gun movement. “High-magazine clips”, anyone? Never have so few with such little understanding tried to constrain so many with plenty of understanding. When ignorant TV hosts hyperventilate about the unbelievably powerful AR-15 (I’m looking at you, Piers), I have to laugh. Try an M-1A on for size, princess. Or for that matter, Browning’s semiautomatic BAR hunting rifle. Either one of them will send more powerful rounds downrange than a .223 poodle gun (though I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of an AR, either). My point is that everything is an “assault rifle” to these people, even a pump-action shotgun if it’s black with a telescoping stock and pistol grip. Because shut up. It’s for The Children.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right and therefore membership in a state-sanctioned militia is not necessary to own or carry a firearm. I’m not going to get into what constitutes a “militia” for these purposes, go read the Heller v. DC decision for yourself. Just because some people find guns icky and frightening does not allow them to restrict or deny the rights of those who don’t. The anti-gunners wouldn’t be able to even if they were in the majority for the exact same reason the Westboro Baptists get to behave like assclowns at the funerals of fallen heroes: it’s a right protected by our Constitution. If you want to remove that right, you’ll have to repeal the 2nd Amendment. Period.

What’s even more ominous is that as a people we have an alarmingly superficial understanding of the contents and principles of our founding document. Just because something seems like the “right thing to do” doesn’t necessarily make it constitutional. These are the guardrails that protect our liberties by constraining our government from just making crap up as they go along (at least until recently).

When people who should know better prattle on about how we can’t divine the intentions of the Framers, they’re either willfully ignorant or intentionally misleading. Ever heard of the Federalist Papers? How about the Anti-Federalists? You can thank the latter for our Bill of Rights, because they wouldn’t vote to ratify the Constitution without a promise that the new Congress’ first order of business would be to vote on those amendments. Amazingly, the Federalists kept their word. Can you imagine such a thing happening in today’s Congress? The anti-Feds would’ve been rolled like a cheap cigar. This was back when men had honor and used words for something other than running cons.

2. Young-Earth Creationists. I can already hear my inbox filling up with hate-mail over this one, but hear me out: I want to agree with you. But I can’t, based on the available evidence. I believe that our universe has a divine Creator and that Man is His most cherished creation. The Bible is God’s inspired word but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want my kid using it to study for his Chemistry class. And I suspect God is okay with that.

Our translations of the Bible are just that: translations. I’m not suggesting they’re in error, but there are some words from ancient Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek that simply don’t translate well in modern English at all. In ancient Hebrew, Adam and Eve simply meant Man and Woman. And their word for “day” was commonly used to describe an “age”, such as we’d use to label, say, the Industrial Age. So let’s keep that in mind when someone tries to determine the age of the universe with nothing but a Bible and a calculator. Also keep in mind that we believe the Lord dictated Genesis to Moses six thousand years ago, how do you think He’d describe a complex matter such as the creation of the freaking universe? Think it’d involve subatomic particles, singularities and inflationary states? Me neither. It’s a big-picture view of the creation and fall of man written so that anyone can get the picture. Can’t we just leave it at that?

Here’s the deal, people: if you want to argue against something then you’d better make sure you understand what you’re arguing against. We may be uncomfortable with the theological implications of random selection, but you’re not going to change minds by bleating about “gaps in the theory.” I have faith that my God is bigger than all of this and that some things may remain beyond our understanding, but just because we may encounter something that’s beyond our current ability to explain does not mean it can never be explained.

And for that matter, stop with the “evolution is just a theory” nonsense. Everything in science is a theory, but that word has been tossed around so casually for so long that most people now conflate it with its first cousins, Hypothesis and Conjecture…

A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on knowledge that has been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation. Scientists create scientific theories from hypotheses that have been corroborated through the scientific method, then gather evidence to test their accuracy. As with all forms of scientific knowledge, scientific theories are inductive in nature and aim for predictive and explanatory force.

Got that? Here’s a few more for you: gravity, relativity, and electromagnetism are all theories…anyone care to dispute them? Very few make it to the exalted level of “Law” and even those are extremely specific (such as Newton’s Laws of Motion or the Laws of Thermodynamics). Ever hear of the Germ Theory of Disease? Even though it’s “just a theory” it’s still a pretty reliable predictor of why people get sick. And if it weren’t for our understanding of certain aspects of evolution, we wouldn’t have a lot of the medicine we take for granted today. Relativity is likewise “just a theory” but your GPS wouldn’t work if all those satellites weren’t compensated for Einstein’s theories of time dilation.

Science is not inherently anti-God just because some scientists use it as a crutch to defy Him. Unfortunately they tend to be the most vocal, but that just means we have to be willing to understand their arguments and confront them head-on. And whenever one gets caught falsifying evidence to keep his grant money flowing (or to make inconvenient people shut up), make an example of them. But for all our sakes, know what you’re talking about when you do so, because all of the desperate “alternate theories” of creation that I’m familiar with are just plain embarrassing. There’s a reason they don’t show Flintstones reruns on the Science Channel, so try not to represent it as such. God did not call us to make fools of ourselves.

Science cannot prove or disprove the nature of God because He is supernatural. He cannot be directly observed or tested, which points to the fundamental weakness of Intelligent Design (a concept I agree with philosphically but fail to see how it could ever be considered “science”).

3. Global Warming. Good grief, where to start? This may be the single biggest source of the problem that originally got me on this rant. Let’s just postulate that real science is never “settled” and ultimately doesn’t rely on “consensus.”

There are a lot of bullies in this movement, a lot of manipulated data, falsified stories, and outright character assassination. Too many to recount here, in fact, and I’ve just about run out of steam. So check out Watts Up With That?, Climate Depot, and Dr. Judith Curry’s Climate Etc. blog for some contrarian points of view from people who know what they’re talking about.

In short this all comes down to one principle: we’re all entitled to our own opinions. We are not entitled to our own facts. For the good of our nation, our culture, and ourselves, it’s up to each of us to understand the difference.

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