Chopra Embraces Bogus Arguments on Evolution

Deepak Chopra concludes his two part post on Why Evolutionary Theory Embraces the Bogus (part one discussed here) with further evidence that he knows nothing of the science. The fundamental problem with Chopra’s argument is that he basis it on whether evolution can explain the brain’s response to music. There are a number of problems here. Even if this cannot be explained at present, this does not mean that with further study this will not be better understood. There are currently theories, such as that music is related to language and appreciation of music developed with understanding of language. Another theory is that appreciation of music arose with the development of social behavior and helped to link people through communal activity. Natural History Magazine provides looks at additional possibilities.

There are also additional problems with Chopra’s use of our limited understanding of human appreciation of music to try to argue evolutionary theory is bogus. The value of the theory is best seen not from where we have limited knowledge but from the many areas in which it has provided good explanations. It is also one thing for Chopra to call evolution bogus, but a different matter to come up with an alternative explanation.

Chopra gives four main arguments against evolution:

1. The investigators will work post hoc from a conclusion that already exists.

The examples given by Chopra do not apply to evolution. Evolution not only shows associations between simpler and more complex organisms, but shows a mechanism by which complex organisms developed from simpler organisms. Chopra offers no alternative, but the primary alternative provided by those who often cite music as “evidence” against evolution support creationism. Chopra’s argument here does apply to creationism and intelligent design which claim that a designer simply created what we know to exist.

2. Associations will be mistaken for causes.

Chopra tries to describe evolution with these analogies: “Many rich people go around in long black limousines. Does this mean that black is the color of the rich? That long cars make you wealthy? That long black cars favor the survival of the people inside? Obviously not.” Chopra appears to be trying to argue by getting people to answer in the affirmative, and from there to agree with him about evolution, but these are not valid analogies to evolution. We have fossil evidence showing a progression between simpler and more complex organisms. We have DNA evidence to explain what occurred. There is no similar mechanism to explain how a long car would make one wealthy. In science only those theories which can be supported by evidence are able to survive.

3. Only physical evidence will count, but a lot of fudging will go on.

Fossil evidence provides a much stronger case. Since there is no fossil evidence for appreciation of music by our ancestors we might never be able to prove the case for evolution as strongly as in other areas, but this does not disprove the idea. Studies of the evidence of the behavior of our ancestors, and study of appreciation of music by other organisms, could still provide evidence to help support various explanations. The article in Natural History Magazine mentioned above gives additional ways in which this might be studies.

4. Competing explanations will find no valid way of choosing a winner.

The problem for Chopra is that there are no competing explanations which explain as much as evolution does. We might never come up with the correct explanation but regardless of whether or not we can explain the development of music appreciation, something did happen. Whether or not we choose the correct winner does not affect what occurred. Regardless of whether we find the “winner” here, evolution still provides the explanation which fits the known facts for the development of many other traits.

Related Stories:

Deepak Chopra’s False Alternative of Random Chance
Deepak Chopra and Considerations of Us vs. Them

Chopra Finds Proof of God in Yellow Flowers
Chopra: We Are In God As A Fish Is In Water

Chopra: If The Universe Didn’t Have Imagination, Neither Would We

Chopra Concludes, Responding to Criticism

One Less Moonbat in Existence

Moonbats on Evolution Part II: It is All a Jewish Plot

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Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve To Lead Her Party

The current nomination battle is for leadership of the Democratic Party as well as for the nomination for President. When looking at who would make a good leader for the Democrats for the next 4-8 year, Hillary repeatedly shows she is the wrong person. When John Kerry was under attack by the right wing noise machine which twisted his joke about George Bush into an attack on the troops, Hillary went along with the right wingers. Now she has done it again:

Clinton also sought to draw a contrast with some of her Democratic rivals on the issue of terrorism. “Some people may be running who may tell you that we don’t face a real threat from terrorism,” she said. “I am not one of those.”

Who exactly is saying this? We’ve heard these charges from the right wing repeatedly even though it is not true. It doesn’t help to end these attacks if someone like Clinton repeats them.

Perhaps this is all a hypothetical Clintonesque word play. She said “may be running” so perhaps she was describing a hypothetical situation which doesn’t exist. Even if this is the case, it doesn’t excuse repeating right wing lies. It also doesn’t help her campaign any more than her word games to explain her position on Iraq. Yesterday The New York Times compared her words to John Kerry’s. There is a major difference. As I’ve discussed many times, and repeated a few weeks ago in another comparison between Kerry and Clinton, Kerry spoke out against the war before it began and explained the limited circumstances in which he approved of military force in Iraq at the time of the vote. Even under this situation too few people understood Kerry’s actual position on the war. Hillary will have a much harder time than Kerry did considering that she didn’t become an anti-war candidate until it was the politically popular thing to do.

No amount of repeating right wing talking points about other Democrats is going to keep the Republicans from tearing Hillary apart as a flip flopper on Iraq.

Medicare and Those Amazing Drugs Which Prescribe Themselves

Marginal Revolution argues against Medicare for All by noting that Medicare did not cover prescription drugs until recently while private insurances have been covering them for years. In ignoring the history and structure of Medicare, the author fails to realize that prescription drugs provide an example of the failure of private insurance, not Medicare.

Medicare was established with a combination of coverage from the government along with supplemental coverage from the private sector. While many did not have supplemental coverage, many Medicare beneficiaries obtained their prescription coverage through private supplemental insurance (which might also pay the Medicare deductible and copays, depending upon the plan). Some received prescription coverage and some didn’t–just like in the private sector where many lack prescription coverage. Congress, not the Medicare program, decides what is covered and the Republicans have protected the pharmaceutical industry by keeping Medicare out until recently. Ezra Klein writes more on the failure of private insurance to cover prescription drugs at Tapped.

In recent years prescription drug prices have climbed to a point where many people, both with Medicare and those with private insurance, could no longer afford coverage. Republicans gave in to popular demand, but still managed to devise a program which is as much a corporate welfare scheme for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries as it is drug coverage. In most areas Medicare provides health care in a more cost effective manner than the insurance industry. Unfortunately the pharmaceutical industry continues to prevent Medicare from negotiating lower prices. While demonstrating the failure of private insurance, this does provide a warning that government plans also run the risk of failing to preform to their potential when conservative politicians impose such restrictions.

I find it amusing that the author finds pharmaceuticals to be of great value as compared to doctor visits. How does he think that pharmaceutical are prescribed? It takes physician exams to diagnose the problem, to determine which drugs would provide the best treatment, and to monitor the effects of the medications. Sure you could point to statistics which seem to show that drugs are of value and physician visits are not. That’s when you need to use a little common sense to see the absurdity of separating the two in this manner, and time to remember that statistics is the science which “proves” that the average human has one breast and one testicle.

Carl Sagan’s Battle Against Scientific Illiteracy and Irrationality

Skeptical Inquirer has an article in remembrance of Carl Sagan which stresses Sagan’s fight against pseudoscience and irrationalism. We could sure use Sagan around today when so many conservatives reject the scientific consensus in areas from evolution to climate change. Here’s a section from the article:

Sagan’s most important contributions in his final years were in the struggle against pseudoscience. Throughout the last decade of the millennium, this scourge of public irrationality grew, as astrology, alien abductions, alternative medicine, and any number of other New Age and “millennial” fads and cults gained in popularity. Sagan fought back, and after the death of his friend Isaac Asimov, his was the voice most often heard in defense of scientific reason in the United States.

His most influential platform was provided by the weekly newspaper-supplement magazine Parade, one of the two most widely read publications in America. His column appeared there regularly for more than a decade, providing a unique opportunity for outreach and education. He discussed the latest discoveries in science, debunked the purveyors of flimflam, and also delved into sensitive topics of public concern such as abortion and animal rights. His articles in Parade provided the basis for many chapters in his final three books, Pale Blue Dot, The Demon-Haunted World, and Billions and Billions.

The Demon-Haunted World, subtitled Science as a Candle in the Dark, was a passionate defense of science against pseudoscience and irrationality, as illustrated in the following quotes. “It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring [that may be]. . . . Superstition and pseudoscience keep getting in the way [of understanding nature], providing easy answers, dodging skeptical scrutiny, casually pressing our awe buttons and cheapening the experience, making us routine and comfortable practitioners as well as victims of credulity. . . . [Pseudoscience] ripples with gullibility. . . . The tenants of skepticism do not require an advanced degree to master, as most successful used car buyers demonstrate. The whole idea of democratic application of skepticism is that everyone should have the essential tools to effectively and constructively evaluate claims to knowledge. . . . But the tools of skepticism are generally unavailable to the citizens of our society. . . .Those who have something to sell, those who wish to influence public opinion, those in power, a skeptic might suggest, have a vested interest in discouraging skepticism” (Sagan 1995).

While vigorously advocating the concepts of scientific skepticism, Sagan also raised questions about strategy. He wrote that “The chief difficulty I see in the skeptical movement is in its polarization: Us vs. Them—the sense that we [skeptics] have a monopoly on the truth; that those other people who believe all these stupid doctrines are morons.” He was especially troubled by anti-religious attitudes. While not a believer himself, Sagan had constructive interactions with religious leaders, including the Pope and the Dalai Lama. He wrote “There is no necessary conflict between science and religion. On one level, they share similar and consonant goals, and each needs the other.”

Although more demanding and hence less popular than his books about astronomy and planetary exploration, The Demon-Haunted World is arguably his most mature and valuable publication. Expressing his concerns about the irrationalism that pervades modern society, he wrote: “I know that the consequences of scientific illiteracy are far more dangerous in our time than in any time that has come before. It’s perilous and foolhardy for the average citizen to remain ignorant about global warming, say, or ozone depletion, air pollution, toxic and radioactive wastes, topsoil erosion, tropical deforestation, exponential population growth. . . . How can we affect national policy—or even make intelligent decisions in our own lives—if we don’t grasp the underlying issues? . . . Plainly there is no way back. Like it or not, we are stuck with science. We had better make the best of it. When we finally come to terms with it and fully recognize its beauty and power, we will find, in spiritual as well as in practical matters, that we have made a bargain strongly in our favor.”

George Bush’s Fantasies About Osama bin Laden

Perhaps we now know why al Qaeda’s No. 2 guy had such nasty things to say about George Bush last week. Haaretz has posted a review of a biography of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon by Uri Dan. Here is one quote which provides information about George Bush. (Hat tip to This Modern World via Empire Burlesque via The Angry Arab).

Speaking of George Bush, with whom Sharon developed a very close relationship, Uri Dan recalls that Sharon’s delicacy made him reluctant to repeat what the president had told him when they discussed Osama bin Laden. Finally he relented. And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: “I will screw him in the ass!”

Osama bin Laden’s imagined reply is under the fold. (From the  quote above  you should be able to guess this picture is unsafe for work, and not appropriate for children). (more…)

McCain Calls For Over Turning Roe v. Wade

McCain in engaged in a tough battle against Mitt Romney to see which can move the furthest to the right to get the support of the religious right. AP reports:

Republican presidential candidate John McCain (news, bio, voting record), looking to improve his standing with the party’s conservative voters, said Sunday the court decision that legalized abortion should be overturned.

“I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned,” the Arizona senator told about 800 people in South Carolina, one of the early voting states.

McCain also vowed that if elected, he would appoint judges who “strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States and do not legislate from the bench.”

The landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade gave women the right to choose an abortion to terminate a pregnancy. The Supreme Court has narrowly upheld the decision, with the presence of an increasing number of more conservative justices on the court raising the possibility that abortion rights would be limited.

McCain is being consistent with his views from the fall of 2006, but as noted previously this contradicts the view he expressed in 1999 when he was trying to establish his reputation as a centrist and said he would not have an abortion “litmus test” for Supreme Court nominess. McCain’s flip flops on teaching intelligent design were also reviewed last week.

Republicans Show Strange Way of Supporting the Troops

Bill Maxwell responds to the same Republican charges I discussed in my previous post:

The hypocrites, mostly conservative Republicans, are at it again. Led by President Bush, they are spewing nonsense about Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and anyone else who opposes Bush’s order to “surge” 21,500 U.S. service personnel into Iraq.

These Republicans, along with Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, are accusing Democrats of not supporting our troops because they back a nonbinding resolution opposing the surge and have hinted that they may try to cut off money for troops in the field if the surge fails to pan out as the “new way forward in Iraq.”

To surge or not to surge could be a great and honest national debate. It certainly is a needed debate. But we are not having an honest debate.

We are being fed devious semantics about who supports our troops and who does not. To Republicans backing the surge, wanting to bring our troops home and take them out of harm’s way is tantamount to being the enemy of our troops.

Think how illogical this position sounds: If you want to save the lives our soldiers, if you do not want to see another limb blown off, if you do not want to see another brain pierced by shrapnel and if you want little children to see their parents return home safely from the battlefield, you do not support the troops.

Instead, you are portrayed as aiding and abetting the terrorists and demoralizing our troops. Listen to Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas: “The enemy wants our men and women in uniform to think that their Congress doesn’t care about them …that they’re going to cut the funding and abandon them and their mission.”

Unaccountably, at least to me, this kind of hogwash actually works with many Americans. It also works well with some foreign leaders who support Bush’s Iraq policies. Australian Prime Minister John Howard, whose nation has fewer than 2,000 troops in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition, is a good example. Last week, Howard suggested that terrorists would dance in the streets and toss candy and flowers if Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama – who opposed the Iraq war from the outset – were elected president. By the way, not one Australian soldier has been killed in combat in Iraq.

But back to reality – to the United States, where more and more families grieve each day for their loved ones lost or severely wounded in Iraq.

Here is a substantive example of the reality of who supports the troops and who does not. The Washington Post reported last week that the Army, which has suffered the largest number of fatalities, began the Iraq war in 2003 with an estimated $56-billion shortage of equipment – including advanced Humvees equipped with armor kits designed to reduce troop deaths from roadside bombs.

Well, guess what? Nearly four years later, the Army, the Marine Corps and the National Guard still do not have an adequate number of Humvees equipped with the needed FRAG Kit 5 armor manufactured with more flexible materials that slow projectiles and contain debris, thus causing fewer deaths.

Is this support of our troops?

Pentagon brass and the president have known about these shortages from the beginning. And, while saber rattling, they have known all along that serious shortages of the new armor have been responsible, directly and indirectly, for hundreds of U.S. deaths.

Is this support of our troops?

It is not. Yet the president remains hell-bent on a surge of thousands of troops into Iraq. An Army spokesman said that while thousands of additional troops will be deployed to Baghdad by the end of March, the armor upgrade of Humvees there will not be completed until summer. Even now, we are seeing a U.S. escalation of street patrols in Baghdad.

To send in more troops is unconscionable. Bush and his supporters have no moral basis to lecture those who oppose the surge when they know full well that the military has a shortage of new Humvee armor.

This is not supporting our troops. This is needlessly sending our troops to their deaths.

Conservatives Like Jacoby Know No End To Their Dishonesty

Although they pursue a policy in Iraq which is harmful to our national interests, and is now opposed by a majority, conservatives will tell any lie to attack those of us who have been right in opposing the war. We’ve heard their claims that liberals are unpatriotic, hate America, and support the terrorists. Jeff Jacoby comes up with yet another way to distort the views of those who oppose the war:

WHAT DOES IT mean to support the troops but oppose the cause they fight for?  No loyal Colts fan rooted for Indianapolis to lose the Super Bowl. No investor buys 100 shares of Google in the hope that Google’s stock will tank. No one who applauds firefighters for their courage and education wants a four-alarm blaze to burn out of control.

Yet there is no end of Americans who insist they “support” US troops in Iraq but want the war those troops are fighting to end in defeat. The two positions are irreconcilable. You cannot logically or honorably curse the war as an immoral neocon disaster or a Halliburton oil grab or “a fraud . . . cooked up in Texas,” yet bless the troops who are waging it.

These are absurd analogies. The opponents of the war do not want the United States to lose in the sense that someone might want a football team to lose or for a fire to fight out of control. Being realistic to realize that a military victory is unlikely is not the same as wanting to lose. Soldiers sent into an unnecessary war, often with insufficient supplies, which cannot be won, are not like football players who expect to play each scheduled game, or firefighters who have no choice but to fight the fire. This was a war of choice in which the goal of fighting terrorism would have better served by keeping Saddam contained and avoiding a course which would destabilize the area and strengthen al Qaeda and Iran.

In considering which party supports the troops and which is taking advantage of them there is no comparison. Democrats wish to keep them out of a civil war where they don’t belong, while Republicans will stay the course in a losing situation to attempt to save face politically, not caring about how many more die unnecessarily. Democrats have fought to adequately supply the troops, while Republicans play politics and try to limit expenses. Democrats push for greater health benefits for soldiers and veterans while Republican oppose the spending.

People like Jacoby can come up with all the bogus analogies they want, but this doesn’t change the fact that they are the ones who are actively harming the troops, and undermining our national security. The chicken hawks of the GOP are not the ones who are fighting to preserve our liberties.

Al Qaeda Regaining Power

If only George Bush hadn’t gotten confused over who was responsible for 9/11. If only we really were waging a war on terrorists, as opposed to invading the wrong country. The New York Times reports on the consequences of George Bush failing to complete the job in Afghanistan:

Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.

The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.

American analysts said recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with Al Qaeda. They receive guidance from their commanders and Mr. Zawahri, the analysts said. Mr. bin Laden, who has long played less of an operational role, appears to have little direct involvement.

Officials said the training camps had yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. But groups of 10 to 20 men are being trained at the camps, the officials said, and the Qaeda infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature.

The new warnings are different from those made in recent months by intelligence officials and terrorism experts, who have spoken about the growing abilities of Taliban forces and Pakistani militants to launch attacks into Afghanistan. American officials say that the new intelligence is focused on Al Qaeda and points to the prospect that the terrorist network is gaining in strength despite more than five years of a sustained American-led campaign to weaken it.