Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tiny Flying Vertebrates

While in Hawaii, I took a little cruise to the Captain Cook memorial to do a little snorkeling. On the way, I got to see some flying fish, tiny little fish whose ray-fins have been elongated to allow flight for a certain period in the air. I had never seen these fish before, but was amazed as I watched one fish fly seven feet in the air, and change directions slightly mid-air. Most impressive. When I got home, I also had the experience of watching one of my most favorite vertebrate flyers, the hummingbird. I have purposely planted flowers that bloom in the early fall, that provide nectar to hummers as they fly south. Usually, my yard is dominated early by black-chins, who are displaced in mid to late July by the more aggressive broad-tails. However, the broad-tails head south quickly with the first cold spell, and I usually see migrants such as a few rufous, black-chins and an occasional calliope. The calliope's are the smallest of these, but are extremely accrobatic. Amazing creatures, I was blessed to see on tonight as I barbecued hamburgers for my family, feeding from one of my salvia lemmonii plants.

Evolution is a wonderful thing. The fins, that evolved in such a way that allows a flying fish to escape predators by flying for 50-100 yards have evolved into wings that move so fast with the hummingbirds, we are powerless to see the details of their feathers. Ultimately, those fins evolved into limbs that allowed vertebrates to walk on land, grasp prey, and in our case, evolve an opposable thumb and be able to create complex tools, including the computer upon which I am typing.

These flying vertebrates are indeed impressive. Even those who have created wings with tools, not just flew with fins in all their adaptations.


Anonymous said...


Thought you would enjoy another POV on the atheist thing.

Look Who's Irrational Now

"You can't be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you're drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god," comedian and atheist Bill Maher said earlier this year on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien."
On the "Saturday Night Live" season debut last week, homeschooling families were portrayed as fundamentalists with bad haircuts who fear biology. Actor Matt Damon recently disparaged Sarah Palin by referring to a transparently fake email that claimed she believed that dinosaurs were Satan's lizards. And according to prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, traditional religious belief is "dangerously irrational."

From Hollywood to the academy, nonbelievers are convinced that a decline in traditional religious belief would lead to a smarter, more scientifically literate and even more civilized populace.
The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won't create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that's not a conclusion to take on faith -- it's what the empirical data tell us.

"What Americans Really Believe," a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.

The Gallup Organization, under contract to Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion, asked American adults a series of questions to gauge credulity. Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?

The answers were added up to create an index of belief in occult and the paranormal. While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.
Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama's former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin's former denomination, did. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.

This is not a new finding. In his 1983 book "The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener," skeptic and science writer Martin Gardner cited the decline of traditional religious belief among the better educated as one of the causes for an increase in pseudoscience, cults and superstition. He referenced a 1980 study published in the magazine Skeptical Inquirer that showed irreligious college students to be by far the most likely to embrace paranormal beliefs, while born-again Christian college students were the least likely.

Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn't. Two years ago two professors published another study in Skeptical Inquirer showing that, while less than one-quarter of college freshmen surveyed expressed a general belief in such superstitions as ghosts, psychic healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, clairvoyance and witches, the figure jumped to 31% of college seniors and 34% of graduate students.

We can't even count on self-described atheists to be strict rationalists. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's monumental "U.S. Religious Landscape Survey" that was issued in June, 21% of self-proclaimed atheists believe in either a personal God or an impersonal force. Ten percent of atheists pray at least weekly and 12% believe in heaven.

On Oct. 3, Mr. Maher debuts "Religulous," his documentary that attacks religious belief. He talks to Hasidic scholars, Jews for Jesus, Muslims, polygamists, Satanists, creationists, and even Rael -- prophet of the Raelians -- before telling viewers: "The plain fact is religion must die for man to live."

But it turns out that the late-night comic is no icon of rationality himself. In fact, he is a fervent advocate of pseudoscience. The night before his performance on Conan O'Brien, Mr. Maher told David Letterman -- a quintuple bypass survivor -- to stop taking the pills that his doctor had prescribed for him. He proudly stated that he didn't accept Western medicine. On his HBO show in 2005, Mr. Maher said: "I don't believe in vaccination. . . . Another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by the Louis Pasteur [germ] theory." He has told CNN's Larry King that he won't take aspirin because he believes it is lethal and that he doesn't even believe the Salk vaccine eradicated polio.

Anti-religionists such as Mr. Maher bring to mind the assertion of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown character that all atheists, secularists, humanists and rationalists are susceptible to superstition: "It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can't see things as they are."

Obi wan liberali said...

I have never said that non-religionists are more or less susceptible to irrational beliefs. But the fact that a group of people who believe in one set of implausible beliefs don't believe in another set (one set of scam artists beat another set to the punch).

Guys like Sagan and Dawkins tear into all irrational belief systems because irrational belief systems leads to a lack of reason in other areas of one's life. I hold people who believe in new age beliefs as just as irrational as those who believe in virgin-births, a six thousand year old earth and any other supernatural phenomenom.

I don't care what others think. I only control what I do. And I choose to base that belief on where the evidence leads me. And the word belief is probably too strong a word. I would rather state things as "based upon the evidence, I find it likely that ......".

Are Christians, Mormons and other religionists irrational? Absolutely. They even admit it, and pride themselves on the fact that they base their beliefs upon faith, not evidence. Their God rewards them for their irrational belief in "things not seen." Their God tells them unequivocably that is only through belief in such implausible myths, that they can be redeemed. They even posture the idea, that perhaps God has put contrary evidence in place to test people, to see if they can base their beliefs on blind faith rather than the weight of evidence.

In a rational world, how can you even argue with people with such a philosophical paradigm?