Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Obligatory Honors Post 11/1/11

Neat number, that. 11/1/11.

ANYWAY, Dr. Mike Moeller, aka the Wizard of Tuna (for reasons unbeknownst to me... but he did have it written on his lab coat) was our speaker tonight. He started off strong by pouring liquid nitrogen on the floor (and it gave those of us sitting in the front row quite a turn, I assure you). He then proceeded to 'freeze' his finger in said liquid nitrogen, all the while assuring us that it was quite safe and that you had to do it at a certain rate: too fast, and the cell membranes of your finger would rupture; too slow and ice crystals would form in your finger and they would rupture the membranes. After pulling his finger out of the liquid nitrogen (did I mention he was wearing two pairs of gloves) he tapped his finger with a hammer and then slammed the hammer down on it.

It was a cork finger.

Needless to say, he did yet again another very good job of thoroughly terrorizing us in the front row.

Then he began his serious presentation. He began with the premise that science is objective and deals with facts while values are subjective and deal with feelings. I take issue with that. I am not a moral relativist; I am am moral absolutist. I believe there are definite rules of right and wrong. And I do not believe it just because I want to (though that IS a lesser reason), which would make it relative, and I don't believe those rules are just for me or just for other people. So I wouldn't say values are subjective. People's perceptions of them are subjective, relative, and subject to change, but right and wrong don't change.

"It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange... How shall a man judge what to do in such times?"

"As he ever has judged. Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house."

-- Eomer and Aragorn, The Lord of the Rings

As always, Tolkien says it much better than ever I could. And, yes, I felt the need to put it in large, bold print. Should it have been in all caps as well?

Dr. Mike also said that science is not scientists. Scientists are not Mr. Spocks. He said values intersect with science in three different ways- epistemic, culturally, and when they emerge from science.

I was probably the only one among the students who knew what epistemology was before he told us tonight. It's the study of knowledge! Or, indeed, how we know things. (I read philosophy books for fun...) Dr. Mike listed some things that scientists like: simplicity, reliability, testability, accuracy, precision, generality, heuristic power (discovery and invention), novelty, controlled and unbiased observation, peer review, confirmation of predictions, repeatability and statistical analysis, universalism, and communism. And, no, not Communism with a capital C. He means good communication among scientists. What he said scientists don't like include: error, fraud, and pseudoscience. And I agree on the last three. What professional would not dislike a quack?

It was when Dr. Moeller introduced the concept of Ockham's Razor that I began to wonder if he had minored in philosophy or something. I was, yet again, probably the only student who knew what the Razor was (and, no, I don't think he lived in the first millenium). Basically, it means take the simplest explanation of something. Whether Ockham intended it to be that way or not, the Razor is used to get rid of troublesome ideas such as angels and demons, as Dr. Moeller pointed out.

Personally, I think that is bad science. The simplest explanation is not always the true one. We just don't know. Paranormal activity MAY be ghosts. (In a previous post I mentioned that I do believe there can be ghosts.) Crop circles COULD be done by aliens. We don't know. Personally, I think that if we can't DISPROVE something, it's rather silly to just toss the idea out the window without giving it serious consideration. But people don't want to be held accountable for their ideas, so they love cowering behind science and avoiding the thought of possible eternal ramifications of their actions. No, I'm not trying to convert anyone here. But if you can't disprove God, you shouldn't harp so much about the fact that you can't prove Him. And there are very nice proofs in science and in logic that He does exist.

Cambrian explosion? DNA? (Read Numbers Up.) The differences between macroevolution and microevolution? The Big Bang itself? The insane odds that life could even develop, the odds that conditions would be perfect enough on Earth for life to develop? The fact that almost all cultures have believed in some sort of deity?

I need to get back to the topic at hand... Sorry. But stuff like this is kind of personal for me.

Dr. Mike Moeller wasn't afraid to be controversial, like a bunch of our speakers. For how our cultural values affect science, he said it affects what studies are conducted (does it ever) and what sort of funds they get. For values emerging from science, he brought up stem cells.

Since I've already gone off on two separate rants by now, I'll just throw this out on the table: why did he not mention adult stem cells not a single time???

Adult stem cells have a much higher rate of success. What cures there have been from stem cells have come from adult stem cells.  Plus, you don't have to destroy any completely innocent human lives in the process. I think it was a bit unfair when he turned the issue back on embryonic stem cell naysayers when he asked us what we should do with the embryos that are already frozen. It was a bit like saying, "Clean up our mess for us." I would be tempted to say, "You shouldn't even be doing it in the first place?" To be fair on my own part, I really don't know what to say. I don't know enough about it to say. I'm not majoring in cryonics. But it really depends on whether or not the frozen embryos (I also noted how he cleverly avoided the use of the word 'embryo' as well) are dead or not. If they are dead, they should be honorably buried. If not... well, that's another can of worms.

This is what happens when the rules of right and wrong are skewed, turned on their side, inverted, torn to rags as slogans and attacks, and plain thrown right out the window. It's been this way since Eden and it will be this way for the rest of time... but that doesn't mean I have to like it. The sad fact of life is that it seems to be only getting worse.

In Pace Christi,


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