De-Extinction: AMNH 2017 Asimov Debate – NdGT Moderator

April 1, 2017

Watch the 2017 Asimov Debate from the American Museum of Natural History. It was a great one. I did not expect the answer to the question of whether we can do this. No spoiler from me. Settle down for a couple of hours with a good drink for this one.

This debate discusses a wide variety of issues, including genetically modified organisms, agriculture, environmentalism, extinction, quality of DNA from preserved extinct animals, morality, animal welfare, legal issues, etc.

For a sample, just consider the question, if we brought back a mammoth (or mammophant) from extinction, is it automatically an endangered species? What is its “natural range”? What are its natural habitat and food? Is it moral to bring back a species adapted to the arctic in an age of climate change?

P.S. Neil is a bit out of his element on this first Asimov Debate that is NOT related to cosmology, astronomy, or astrophysics in any way. But, as he points out Isaac Asimov wrote about a variety of sciences, some of which did not even really exist at the time he wrote about them, such as robotics. So, de-extinction is perfectly within lines to honor the late Isaac Asimov who spent many hours at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Enjoy.

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Why I Know There Are No Gods

March 22, 2017

Background:

Formally, I classify myself as a gnostic atheist, meaning I know there are no gods. Most atheists (from what I read online) appear to be agnostic atheists, people who are without gods but who do not claim to know there are no gods. Some people who fit this description simply call themselves agnostic. But, on formal forums, like reddit’s atheism subreddit, all who are without gods are atheists and agnostic or gnostic is a statement of whether they know or have doubt. Similarly, they allow for agnostic theists, those who believe in god(s) but have some doubt.

Regarding knowledge:

In no other area of discussion do we expect certainty or proof when we speak of knowledge. Nearly all knowledge, outside of mathematics, is empirical knowledge, gained by empirical evidence.

Empirical evidence, also known as sensory experience, is the knowledge received by means of the senses, particularly by observation and experimentation. The term comes from the Greek word for experience, ἐμπειρία (empeiría).

After Immanuel Kant, in philosophy, it is common to call the knowledge gained a posteriori knowledge (in contrast to a priori knowledge).

This is the type of knowledge we use when we say that we know that if we drop a ball on the surface of the earth, it will fall. I don’t hear a whole lot of people telling me, you can’t claim to know that because you can’t prove it. But, indeed we cannot. We know the ball will fall because it has done so the last gazillion times we performed the experiment.

For some reason, most people expect that if you say that you know there are no gods, that this one case of knowledge requires certainty. We do not require certainty from any other type of knowledge. Why do we demand certainty to state knowledge only when we are discussing knowledge of the existence or non-existence of gods?

Why this one?

Nowhere in the definition of knowledge does it ever specify that we must have 100% certainty.

So, when I say I know there are no gods, I mean it the same way that I know the ball will drop or that I know the planet on which we live will continue to rotate through the night causing the appearance of a sunrise in the morning, even if it is blocked by clouds. Night will become day as the earth rotates. I know it. You know it. We cannot prove it to 100% certainty. We only know that it has always done so before.

Classifying gods:

To begin our discussion, we have to classify gods. This way we can address different claims of gods individually.

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People with no kids don’t know

August 17, 2015

He’s right. We don’t. And, some of us are very glad about that. Here’s Michael McIntyre confirming my more minor reasons for not wanting kids. Other more major reasons include not wanting them to grow up in our collapsing world, not wanting to pass on my diabetes, not wanting to further overpopulate the planet, etc.


Human Language Should Not Be Traced Like Computer Code

September 26, 2014

I found myself saying the title in an online conversation over on reddit. It was an admonition to myself regarding trouble I often have in communicating with humans both online and in meat space. I tend to be very literal minded. So, I read and listen to human language the same way I would read computer code. Even worse, I expect others to do the same with my speech and especially my writing, which I’ve had time to edit and make it say exactly what I want. (Though, yes, sometimes I’m less careful.)

Anyway, on that reddit post, I suggested that I should write “human language should not be traced like computer code” 500 times on the blackboard, or until I believe it. So, here goes. There’s more of this post below, so please scroll.

[EDIT] I’m updating this post because, as ECA pointed out below, this may not be clear to everyone. To trace computer code means to follow paths through the program and imagine how the computer will execute each line of code. It is a very literal and exact way of reading the program. Often, doing this before running the code can find bugs before they even happen. Programmers in good programming environments often hand their programs to each other to review. Or, they might work together over a single screen with the person not typing reviewing and tracing the code as the other person types it. This last is not a quiet or unnecessary exercise. I promise. Thanks ECA for helping me with exactly the type of communication with which I have trouble.

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Why do atheists care about religion?

May 5, 2008

This one is so well done that I have nothing to add.

Thanks to Seth for a great find!


One People Divided by Religion

September 12, 2007

The Hebrew people and the Muslim people are both Semitic groups. The similarities in culture can be seen easily by looking at the written languages and listening to the sounds of each. Clearly the Semitic people are all one group. Further, both the Muslims and the Jews claim descent from a single man, though from different women. Ibu Ibrahim and ben Avraham mean exactly the same thing, son of Abraham.

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