Jan 1, 2020

This thread has been created for discussion on themes relevant to Reason and Science for which there are not currently any dedicated threads.

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112 comments on “OPEN DISCUSSION JANUARY 2020

  • Welcome to the January 2020 open discussion thread.

    If you wish to continue any of the discussions from earlier Open Discussion threads, please do so here rather than there.

    Thank you.

    From the whole team, thank you for all your thoughtful commentary in 2019, and here’s wishing you all a very Happy New Year!

    The mods

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  • Lol @Vicki 🙂

    Well I was going to cover some of the things that happened since I left like the Mueller report, start of the Dem primary but I maybe later. I’m going to dive straight back into Trump for now. One thing that has become very apparent to me since last Feb is how much worse his mental decline has become. I’ve been watching some interesting Youtube videos by psychologists to further my knowledge on this but I have no idea if he has dementia, Alzheimers or whatever. But it’s definitely getting worse. I learned that brain deterioration tends to affect everything, not just cognitive abilities but motor skills, language, reading. Trump’s vocabulary is declining rapidly. 2 years ago a language expert diagnosed him as having the vocabulary of a 12 year old. I’d say it’s down to 7 or 8 now. It’s made me think very hard about how we learn languages and which bits is a deteriorating brain likely to lose first. Imagine an alien arrives on earth with no knowledge of English and vice versa. But he is vastly more intelligent than us and has an eidetic memory so he only needs to hear something once and never forgets it so it’s much easier for him to learn our language than for us to learn his. How do we start to communicate?

    The easiest words to teach are nouns. Uusually we can just point to something and say its name. Chair, table, man, woman, dog, cat. The brain also has a mental image of the object to aid in memory. The second easiest are verbs which can often be demonstrated. Stand, sit, walk, run. A mental image is also part of this. The hardest are descriptors, adjectives and adverbs. How do you convey mellifluous, greasy, beautiful?

    So my conclusion is that descriptors would likely be last in and first out (FIFO) in a deteriorating brain. Trump has lost most of the descriptors from his vocabulary now and misuses the few he has left. He keeps saying he has asked his people to look into something or other “strongly”. That’s the wrong descriptor. Exhaustively or thoroughly fits here but not strongly. Trump’s descriptors are now down to basics like good, bad. weak, strong, usually supplemented by very or multiple veries because in his narcissistic world everything has to be a superlative. So he’s been treated very badly, worse than any other president. His economy is the very best, better than anyone else’s. He’s studied windmills, far more than anyone else ever has.

    Not only has his basic language skill deteriorated but he is getting bad aphasia (using the wrong words or nonsense words). We all saw the “oranges of the investigation” clip. You could tell his brain realised that something was wrong, he was confused and hesistant but still couldn’t come up with the correct word, origins.

    He is also getting occasional brain spasms where he slurs or just stops talking part way through a garbled word. In terms of motor skills he has more and more trouble with stairs like deplaning from AF1 and sometimes has to have someone walk down with him in case he stumbles. Recently he deplaned from the shorter rear stairs than the main front exit. I would love to know how his golf game is deteriorating but we’ll never know. He cheats compulsively anyway. Occasionally he has top pick up a cup with both hands like a toddler.

    One thing I learned about during my absence is his drug habit. He posted a pic of himself in his office in Trump Tower and there was a desk drawer open next to him. It was full of packets of sudafed, a known upper, which he is said to chew like smarties and even grind up and snort. An ex employee said that motorcycle couriers would arrive regularly with cocaine and other drugs. Contestants on the apprentice have said the same and that he was always chewing sudafed. Several clips exist of his pupils fully dilated in public and he occasionally manifests the complusive sniffing of a cocaine addict like during a debate with Hillary back in 2016. His behaviour seems to swing rapidly from very up and manic to very down and stumbling, garbling words. This is highly likely to be drug levels in his body.

    Trump is getting more and more obsessed with imaginary peeves which he rants about on Twitter and at rallies. Windmills (wind turbines), is one of these. Apparently they are all made in Jyna and are filthy, smoke, pollution ( I think to be fair he was talking about the manufacture of them not the operation). They kill birds, if you have one within sight of your house it will only be worth 50%. I can actually see several from my lounge window and indeed my house is only worth 50% of twice what’s it’s worth so maybe he has a point.

    The even more insane peeve is water or the lack of it. Toilets that have to be flushed 15 times. Sinks where the water only flows very “softly” out of the tap (another descriptor fail). Washing machines that don’t wash. I can’t even begin to imagine where all this is coming from.

    One thing I picked up on which I haven’t seen discussed anywhere else is the deterioration in his ability to lie. They are becoming more and more childlike and falsifiable. Prior to the last G7 he was ranting about the fake news media hating America and wanting him to fail so America would crumble. At the G7 he was asked by a reporter what the other world leaders were speaking to him about. He said the question they all asked was “why does your news media hate America so much and want you to fail?”. This is absurd on so many levels. The only person in the world who even thinks this is him and no other world leader would dream of saying it. It’s a variant of his “many, many people” lie where he invents imaginary people who phone or come up to him to say how much they support him or agree with whatever peeve he’s currently obsessed about. However this time it uses real people, world leaders, who could be asked if they ever said that and would of course say no.

    At the end of the G7 there was a climate change  meeting which of course he skipped. When asked why he said he had a meeting scheduled at the same time with Merkel and Modi so he couldn’t go. When it was pointed out to him that both of those had been at the climate change meeting and in fact sat next to each other he changed the lie to he forgot the start time and missed it. That would involve his entire entourage, the secret service detail and all the people at the WH following events in real time also forgetting to remind him. These lies are so inept, childlike that it would appear his grasp of reality, or his ability to understand what other actual grownups will believe is now non existent. He just says what first pops into his head with no thought as to its falsifiability.


    I would say that his cognitive ability is now down to that of a 4 or 5 year old who still blames everything on their invisible friend Mary. We just have to hope that if he declares war on some country or other or presses the nuclear button the grownups will refuse to comply.

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  • From Phil’s link:

    Any challenge to Mr Trump’s power, whether impeachment or an election loss next November, could be a significant trauma for him and his supporters, Dr Post said.
    Asked for a prediction of how Mr Trump would react to either, Dr Post invoked the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas: “He will not go gentle into that good night, but will rage, rage at the dying of the light.”

    Ever since he won the presidency in November 2016, I have been thinking there’s no way he’ll get to the end of it without launching some major military conflict. To someone of Trump’s mentality, what’s the point of having all that power if you don’t use it? Of having all those weapons if you don’t detonate them? Of being able to hurt people but choosing not to do it?

    And now he has been impeached. And lo and behold, he has now lit the blue touch paper with Iran.

    This March 2003 item from The Onion says it all, really. 17 years of lived experience of the utter, reckless, unforgivable folly of Western military interventions in the Middle East, and still we – well, some of us – have learned nothing.

    Some commentator tweeted this morning that the combination of this Iran strike + impeachment + election year was an incredibly dangerous and volatile mix that would require enormous statesmanship, outstanding intelligence and great wisdom on the part of those in charge if we were to get through it safely. So that’s alright, then … what could possibly go wrong?

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  • Marco,

    Yes, this is it. Starting a war was always on the top of his playlist. A huge national distraction just when he needs it the most. The only thing I wasn’t clear about is would it be by idiotic mistake or a sneaky connived affair. Hmm. I suppose it could be both at the same time. ~eye roll~

    Israel must be thrilled at the prospect of a US full on assault of Iran. They’ve been angling for it for a long time. They want/need the distraction too. There goes the West Bank.

    Trump is a plague on humanity.

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  • I have a question for everyone here. Do you think that homosexuality could be preserved because of those who are bisexual, since they are attracted to both sexes and carry the genes for either preference. What do you think? Tell me if I am wrong, I look forward to it.

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  • 8
    Cairsley says:

    Prodigium  #7

    The terms ‘homosexual’ and ‘bisexual’ refer (very crudely) to different points in a continuum from total homosexuality at one end and total heterosexuality at the other. It seems you should direct your enquiry towards the factors (including genetic factors) that determine each individual’s sexual orientation, without assuming that such terms as ‘heterosexual’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘homosexual’ indicate a real set of categories or that “genes” determine that the individual belongs to some such category. Sexual orientation seems to be established as a permanent characteristic of the individual many years before puberty, even before birth, and there is agreement among researchers that it has a genetic basis; but there may also be scope for other factors to qualify the expression of this basic, genetically determined disposition. Being myself no expert in these matters, I wish only to point out that the question why there are “homosexuals”, “bisexuals” and “heterosexuals” is empirical and requires empirical, scientific research. Playing with words will not get the heart of the matter.

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  • Well it looks like the Ukraine equivalent of the Watergate tapes have just dropped.  Freedom of Information Act requests plus a court order have obtained the emails ordering the hold on aid to Ukraine which the WH have been refusing to give to Congress. Just 90 minutes after Trump’s “perfect” phone call to Zelensky the order went out to put a hold on the aid. Later, Michael Duffy at the Office of management and Budget confirmed this was on the orders of POTUS. Increasingly concerned emails from Pentagon officials pointed out that such a hold on funds already approved by Congress was illegal. Officials were asked to keep the entire affair secret due to its sensitivity showing that the WH knew this was wrong.

    The Trump administration in conjunction with the corrupt DOJ under Bill Barr have tried desperately to keep all this quiet, refusing to comply with requests from Congress and even redacting the documents ordered by the judge under the FOI Act. Fortunately the unredacted versions were obtained by the Center for Security.

    Just like Watergate, the coverup here is as corrupt as the original act.

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  • Prodigium  #7

    Recent findings in genetics are that some genes that cause homosexuality in men can make women more fertile, such that families so affected produce more offspring even allowing for the lack of offspring of the homosexual males. It may therefore be that homosexuality is in part a by-product of genetic changes that are overall beneficial to survival.

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  • 11
    Michael 100 says:

    Arkrid # 10 that’s very interesting. Could you recommend some reading material on that subject that can be understood by a layperson such as myself?  As I reported recently in the book club, I read The Blind Watchmaker. Thereafter I read The selfish Gene, and just began The Extended Phenotype. I’m planning on reading The Ancestor’s Tale. Phil recommended another book on evolution which is also on my list. Your suggestion(s) would be welcome too. Thanks!!

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  • Cairsley #8


    I was not attempting to play with words, I am sorry if I made it seem that way. However, I was suggesting that those who are bisexual could very well contain the genetics for homosexuality. I obviously do not have any scientific research to support this, but I only asked because I was interested in everyone’s thoughts. I should also mention that I understand that it is more of a spectrum, but for the sake of this suggestion I omitted it. I am aware that there are other factors involved in the development of ones preferences. But, I will reiterate that I apologize if it seemed like I was playing with words.

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  • Prodigium says:

    However, I was suggesting that those who are bisexual could very well contain the genetics for homosexuality.

    It is difficult to say  in general, what extent sexual orientation is genetic or environmental. It is clear in some specific conditions.

    As with intersex conditions, the embryo starts with a basic structure and sex organs,  sexual differentiation, and sexual orientation develop during the pregnancy. These can be influenced by hormones etc. in the womb.

    Humans who have only studied basic biology (or none), are frequently unaware of the diversity of sexuality in other species.

    Snails for example, are hermaphrodite with both sets of sex organs on the same individual and both sex partners laying eggs.

    Many fish may change from male to female or female to male, part way through their lives.

    The fixed “two sex”  black and white mindset, is based on ignorance and know-it-all dogmatism.

  • For anyone watching in horror as Australia burns, this article contains links to various relief & recovery operations seeking donations:

    Actually, in case there are any problems accessing that page from outside the UK, I’ll include the key info here:


    You can donate to the NSW Rural Fire Service directly, either to the service as a whole or to specific brigades.
    Cheques, credit cards and bank transfers are all accepted, and you can donate money here.

    You can donate both money and items to Queensland Fire and Rescue, to help communities with exactly what they need. You can follow the link to their website here.

    The Country Fire Service in South Australia accepts donations and bequests. To donate, head here. To leave a bequest, head here.

    To support firefighters in Victoria, you can give money to the Country Fire Association by following this link here.

    Millions of animals have died in the fires. If you want to leave money to help wildlife, the NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service is accepting donations here.

    The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital is also accepting money, which you can donate here.

  • 16
    Michael 100 says:

    Progigium # 7, you raise a question about why homosexuality is preserved.  I mentioned in # 11 that I’m reading The Extended Phenotype.  On pages 56-58, Professor Dawkins considers a question similar to yours. If I understand the material correctly, the conclusion reached is that a gene that produces a particular effect in one environment, may produce a different effect in another environment. To quote the Professor:

     “A gene for homosexuality in our modern environment might have been a gene for something utterly different in the Pleistocene. So, we have the possibility of a special kind of ‘time-lag effect’ here. It may be that the phenotype which we are trying to explain did not even exist in some earlier environment, even though the gene did then exist.”  

    Therefore, maybe nature has no interest in either preserving or eliminating homosexuality — it just a function of a gene that produces a particular effect in our modern era – and by era, I mean to include “ancient” Greek & Roman culture which was only a few thousand years ago, a blink of an eye in evolutionary time.

    Like you, if I’m wrong I look forward to being corrected.

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  • Always a good question Prodigium.

    Before any analysis of what might be going on we need to consider what in an organism constitutes a detector and not just the sensor of the retina or the finger tip or whisker? That is, how do we animals discern the preferred or the despised? The sensor needs neural processing of the data to deliver a specific behavioural response.

    This is the primary question of cognition and too often we imagine this problem solved in some top down manner. This form I see is an X. I like/loathe Xs. I’ll nurture X, bite it, croon Barry White lurve songs at it….

    We can see this is not how evolution would have done things. There wasn’t a “top” cognition to come down from when most of this behavioural traits were emerging. Evolution is a lazy bodger and does the least it can to get the selection pressure relieved. Mother birds fail to “see” the cuckoo in the nest, despite its outlandishly larger size. A few species are fighting back using bird song as a mark of identity, but, provided the cuckoo parasite problem is modest this failure to “see” will remain.

    Conversely evolution needed to get mother mammals to engage/bond with its new-born most urgently. One trick was to create an automatic drive to nurturing in the mother and that involved an automatic “Aaaah!” response to big eyes in a small face. This wired-in aesthetic, common to all mammals, is a major driver for nurturing, but also why every young mammal is mostly liked/protected by every other adult mammal.

    Such a simple neural process is within the scope of simpler genetic resolutions. Young humans detect older  humans very possibly in complementary fashion. Certainly kids display a trait of over-imitation with any adult that engages them. Ducklings, famously, are much less sophisticated in adult/mother detection following merely the first thing that moves (usually often enough an actual mother).

    The findings Arkrid is reporting possibly work on the simple basis of modified detectors. An enhanced positive emotion towards males may both increase female drive to reproduce and encourage male homosexual responsiveness. What is interesting is how this may play out in animal cultures. Humans are notably allo-parenting. Kids are a huge investment with their prolonged periods of dependency. Female strategies to interest men in support of her offspring are noted but the gay uncle (already with a half genetic investment) may be a particularly stabilising strategy.

    This leaves lesbianism and bisexuality still in need of a driver, and I believe there are many further drivers, genetic and cultural, to the complex expressions of human sexuality we see.

    One driver, often overlooked, is “why not”. As a bisexual this feels  about right. It is notable that psychopaths, those caring little for what others think, are notably bisexual, (though in this time of fluid genders, polysexual is the growing term). As something of an aspie also, not too much engaged in the concerns of others on a visceral basis (I’m more sympathy than empathy) this also seems about right. Why not, indeed. I feel more bonobo than chimp.


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  • Something I always keep in the back of my mind when considering evolutionary utility of traits and characteristics is the possibility that the trait is not necessarily an adaptation at all. In most cases it probably is an adaptation with a useful utility but what if it’s just an evolutionary byproduct (spandrel)?

    An interesting example of this is female orgasm. (The topic generally holds our interest, as I have noticed on previous occasions.) As with the topic of homosexuality, we wonder why a behavior with no apparent evolutionary utility persists. They aren’t exactly equivalent but for our purposes we might consider the possibility that neither of them is an adaptation at all but merely byproducts that have hung on for some reason that we may understand or that remains unknown.


    The book that addresses the question of whether female orgasm has any evolutionary utility is The Case of the Female Orgasm, Bias in the Science of Evolution, by Lloyd.

    Females can reproduce just fine without ever having an orgasm. The same can’t be said for men. In her book, Lloyd supports the view that female orgasm is simply a byproduct of the adaptation that produces it in men. Men need it to reproduce and women have it because of that. There’s only so much biological material to morph around (down there) and so, voila! We females have the interesting anatomical object known as the clitoris. On page 175 of that book, Lloyd addresses the different perspectives on the adaptation – byproduct supporter continuum. 

    At this point, it is useful to distinguish various types of commitment to finding adaptive Beach, and possibly Sherman, and the authors in Chapters 3 and 4, starts with the assumption that the trait of female orgasm is an adaptation. As such, the cavalier adaptationists are pursuing an adaptationist methodology, in which inquiry into a trait starts with the asuumption that the trait under investigation IS an adaptation (Mayr 1983). The problem with the cavalier adaptationists is that they do not inquire further into the trait, in order to establish that it really is associated with reproductive success. This is in contrast to those we could call the “conservative” adaptationists, who start investigating a trait by assuming that it is an adaptation, but who then pursue evidence that the trait really does contribute to reproductive success.

    Lloyd goes on to describe other categories of adaptationists including “ardent” adaptationists and regards all of these as “dogmatic” in their approach because of their preconceived perspective on the topic and their reluctance to even consider that a trait may be “just” a byproduct and not an adaptation at all.

    My intention isn’t to derail the topic of adaptability (or lack of it) of homosexuality/bisexuality (continuum) but to just insinuate the (unlikely??) possibility that the trait could be a byproduct. As for female orgasm, I am convinced that it IS a byproduct. I won’t take a stand on utility of homosexuality and it seems a much more complicated web to untangle.


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  • Here’s a good recent bit of research strongly suggesting the female orgasm evolved to trigger ovulation in animals via copulation, the clitoris being disposed more along the path of intromission.



    The argument then becomes not that it is a spandrel, but why is it retained? Maybe it became re-purposed as so many evolved features? Maybe Pan Paniscus and deep, deep culture were involved? Given multilevel evolution, after adaption a negative (retaining) selective pressure pertains, somewhat like the arguments for epigenetic, short-term adaptions aid full genetic adaptions by reconfiguring the immediate eco-system.

    I am currently trying to formulate a properly scientific account of cultural evolution where Memes (just a few hundred of them) are a thing, all muscle/skill memories. I hadn’t thought about sex in this category. I can see a whole lot of research coming up.

  • michael #11

    am re-reading the ancestor’s tale

    2015 edition

    absolutely brilliant book

    old edition was a more user friendly book

    but the latest edition is loaded with new findings

    and dawkins at his witty best

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  • 24
    Michael 100 says:

    Quarecuss:  Thanks, good to know.  Right now I’m in the middle of the Extended Pheontype, some of which is a bit difficult, but I’m making my way through it.  I’m glad I read the Blind Watchmaker and Selfish Gene first, otherwise I’d be lost.

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  • As a first-time poster, I’m unsure about the etiquette. However, as a genuine old guy, I need to share something. Ten years ago, on 14th January 2010, a programme was broadcast on BBC, called ‘The Secret Life of Chaos’. It asked a big question :- ‘How does a Universe of dispersed dust end up with intelligent life?’ The presenter, Jim Al-Khalili, stated that order would always result if there were a feedback loop in the system, and I believe gravity received a mention as a weak ordering force. The notion of inescapable weak forces triggered something I’d been pondering.

    At the time of watching that programme, I had a whole lot of things in my mind. Basically, I was frustrated that my wife and I couldn’t see eye to eye on what was important in life. I was convinced that this was a fairly common male/female dichotomy, due to the effects of hormones on our respective neurotransmitters. At the end of the day, these molecules are recognised at ganglia through Hydrogen Bonding, and the bitstream of consciousness will be grossly altered from adolescence onwards, as Oestrogen is a Hydrogen Bond donor, whereas Testosterone is a ketone, a Hydrogen Bond acceptor. Basically, the sexes only see the same reality as children.

    Because I was thinking along these lines, that BBC programme made me realise that there is no need to invoke any supreme creator. Gravity is unavoidable, mass bends space-time, attracting other mass. And, Hydrogen Bonding is similarly ubiquitous. Hydrogen is the simplest element in the Universe, a single electron circling a single proton. But, where the Hydrogen is bonded to an electronegative element, the Hydrogen electron is skewed towards the bonding partner, leaving the nucleus deshielded, and slightly more positive than it should be. The overall effect is that intermolecular bonding is surprisingly strong.

    So, just as gravity ensures that there will, eventually, be planets formed, Hydrogen Bonding provides the means for life forms to eventually result on those planets, if climatic conditions are right. All that’s required are some organic nitriles. Some will be reduced, to give amines, some will be oxidised to give acids. If a carbon backbone contains two cyano groups, amino acids can result. Only four amino acids are required for an entire genetic code, and this code is ‘read’ by Hydrogen Bonding, the weak attraction of guanidine for cytosine, and adenine for thymidine.

    Through the reading of this code, Hydrogen Bonding directs the building of our bodies and minds. The Hydrogen Bonding interactions of neurotransmitters with ganglia allow us to become conscious, then the H-bonding forces of hormones sculpt us as men or women, attracted to one another, yet constantly punishing each other. Due to our different roles, there are vast differences in how we understand reality, and how we are programmed to respond to that reality, which we call life. Neither of us sees it properly. We evolved to get each other through it, and allow a shuffling of the genetic cards.

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  • 28
    Cairsley says:

    Prodigium  #13

    You owed me no apology at all. I appreciate your clarification; you understood very well what prompted my misgivings.

    “… I was suggesting that those who are bisexual could very well contain the genetics for homosexuality.”

    That is an interesting suggestion that might well be worth a geneticist’s research time.

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  • Cairsley says:

    “… I was suggesting that those who are bisexual could very well contain the genetics for homosexuality.”

    That would be plausible, and would also include epigenetic effects such as androgen insensitivity.

    If this causes intersex bodily development, it is also very likely to cause a similar effect on brain development in the embryo.

    In complete AIS, the penis and other male body parts fail to develop. At birth, the child looks like a girl. The complete form of the syndrome occurs in as many as 1 in 20,000 live births.


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  • Children’s trust lawsuit thrown out today.  After years of struggle all it took was two justices to side with a non-caring government to kill an effort from children who attempted to save us all.  The concept of justice is shown to be seriously flawed in cases of this magnitude and import, in my opinion.  I would say, with grave inflection, that injustice is more the order of the day presently.  Stephen Hawking’s opinion springs to mind for me.  Thankfully we still have voices of reason like Greta Thunberg, and others, calling for people to wake up.  Let’s hope that day may come sooner than later.

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    “The central issue before us is whether, even assuming such a broad constitutional right exists, an Article III court can provide the plaintiffs the redress they seek—an order requiring the government to develop a plan to ‘phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric CO2,'” Hurwitz, an Obama appointee, wrote in an opinion issued this morning.
    “Reluctantly, we conclude that such relief is beyond our constitutional power. Rather, the plaintiffs’ impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government.”
    California District Judge Josephine Staton dissented, writing that the youths had a right to sue the government.
    “Plaintiffs bring suit to enforce the most basic structural principle embedded in our system of ordered liberty: that the Constitution does not condone the Nation’s willful destruction,” Staton, an Obama pick, wrote.

  • Sean_W says:

    Surely policy should be adopted based on its merits and not the age of its creators.

    While policies should be assessed on their merits, vested interests should also be taken into account, so decisions which will affect the country 30 or 40  years from now, could be of greater concern to twenty year olds than to 70 or 80 year olds!

    Especially if there are any selfish individuals  involved, who think “Live profligately now, and let somebody else pay later, is an acceptable  policy”!


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  • 36
    Michael 100 says:

    Phil:   thanks for that link.  The whole opinion of the court is well worth a read.  What strikes me most is that the court agreed wholeheartedly with the substance of plaintiffs’ case.  The court “reluctantly concluded” it does not have the power to grant the appropriate relief.  Below, I quote a few things that jumped out at me as I read the opinion.

    The plaintiffs in this case have presented compelling evidence that climate change has brought that eve [of destruction] nearer.  A substantial evidentiary record documents that the federal government has long promoted fossil fuel use despite knowing that it can cause catastrophic climate change, and that failure to change existing policy may hasten an environmental apocalypse. … A substantial evidentiary record documents that the federal government has long promoted fossil fuel use despite knowing that it can cause catastrophic climate change, and that failure to change existing policy may hasten an environmental apocalypse. … The district court denied the government’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the plaintiffs had standing to sue, raised justiciable questions, and stated a claim for infringement of a Fifth Amendment due process right to a “climate system capable of sustaining human life.”  … There is much to recommend the adoption of a comprehensive scheme to decrease fossil fuel emissions and combat climate change, both as a policy matter in general and a matter of national survival in particular. But it is beyond the power of an Article III court to order, design, supervise, or implement the plaintiffs’ requested remedial plan. As the opinions of their experts make plain, any effective plan would necessarily require a host of complex policy decisions entrusted, for better or worse, to the wisdom and discretion of the executive and legislative branches. … Our dissenting colleague quite correctly notes the gravity of the plaintiffs’ evidence; we differ only as to whether an Article III court can provide their requested redress. …          The plaintiffs have made a compelling case that action is needed; it will be increasingly difficult in light of that record for the political branches to deny that climate change is occurring, that the government has had a role in causing it, and that our elected officials have a moral responsibility to seek solutions. … We reluctantly conclude, however, that the plaintiffs’ case must be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large, the latter of which can change the composition of the political branches through the ballot box. That the other branches may have abdicated t heir responsibility to remediate the problem does not confer on Article III courts, no matter how well-intentioned, the ability to step into their shoes.

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  • Sean,  #34

    Rather than simply stupid, my provocative framing was meant to highlight that what is meritorious is not so straight forward. The values and desires  of 17 and 70 year olds are notably different, and in a similar way to the dangerous views of Xtians versus non-xtians when considering the non-sustainable squandering of resources.

    But Alan has framed this, already.

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  • Nonsense, but I’m not surprised you decided to double down rather than recant.  It’s typical of the stubbornness in men your age.

    An 80 year old can be equally concerned about resource management and even more so than a 17 year old.  That goes without saying really, except you’ve stepped in it, and so now we enter the bizarre world of the super-intelligent rationalizer.

    Just admit age is irrelevant.  Or present a better argument for why I need to even ask the age of either policy presenter, writer, or adopter.

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  • Just admit age is irrelevant.


    Sorry, Sean. No can do.


    An 80 year old can be equally concerned about resource management


    Absolutely. But the average drift to the right and into selfishness is a notable feature of the aging process. Brexiteers, xenophobes, AGW deniers, are notably older in their demographics. Indeed I have posted the statistics on these here over the years. Social change comes from the new generations. Wiser and more motivated old folk find their way into education, directly or indirectly.

    It’s typical of the stubbornness in men your age

    Yep. Selfish.

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  • It’s worse than I thought.  You’re going to pretend to have a scientific basis for your opinion!

    In fact, in the US, Democrats enjoy an advantage over Republicans in both the older boomers, and the very old 80+.

    But this is irrelevant to the question of whether age should be a barrier to participation in policy decisions, “existential”, or otherwise.  Policy should be judged on its merits and not the group identity of its creators, advocates, presenters, adopters etc.  To me this is self-evident.

    I simply cannot determine how I might use a representative’s age to judge the value of any policy I can think of, nor how I might use age to exclude others from participating in policy decisions.

    According to you I can use a trend towards conservatism observed in older populations to exclude individuals from making policy decisions.

    How does that work exactly?

    It just sounds like age discrimination to me.

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  • According to you I can use a trend towards conservatism observed in older populations to exclude individuals from making policy decisions.

    No. Not what I intend at all. The age bias is palpable. the statistics clear. Two policies, or more, are offered for popular choice, one favours an older group  another a younger. If this were a policy that creates an irreversible or long term change a new issue enters into matters. The old will have to face the consequences nothing like as much as the young.

    Now the ads and the propagandising begins. One strategy utterly underused, until Greta Thunberg, is shaming old people for their lack of a long term perspective. Brexit desperately needed that argument making given the stark demographic divide on the issue.

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  • Phil, you did not intend to say that the old should be excluded from making policy on the grounds that you’ve observed a trend towards conservatism among older populations,  and yet that is all you’ve said. You’ve just posted demographic data as though it were a justification for the attitude in your first post.  It’s clearly not. 

    Never mind that your data also points to thousands of people in the same group who don’t think that way; what does anyone  gain from inquiring first as to the age of a representative rather than the policy they support?

    Nothing.  Your demographic data says nothing at all about them, and you know it –boomer.  😉



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  • the old should be excluded from making policy on the grounds that you’ve observed a trend towards conservatism among older populations,


    No, (Yet again.) They have the option to think again about the morality of what they are doing.

    I, indeed, speak knowing how my age group has turned inward with age. What does anyone gain from asking those folk to think again? To remember those heady hippy days of idealism and world change? Too many of my peers, once allies, have become their dull witted parents, my children’s enemies.

    What may be gained? That they remember how it was for them then and think again. They remember and let their own children decide their own future.

    My initial statement was one of morality not possible legality.


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  • Ok boomer.

    I guess it’s fine if you didn’t really mean to say old people shouldn’t be allowed to decide policy.

    It’s just immoral for them to do so.

    What’s missing in all this waffling is a clear statement regarding the right of older citizens to decide policy.  Your first statement was simple and direct: the old shouldn’t decide policy.


    The problem is clearly that you’re talking about people who are much more than just old, that age really wasn’t relevant, except to remind some of the harm done they won’t see.


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  • Hi Phil

    Too many of my peers, once allies, have become their dull witted parents, my children’s enemies.

    Same here.

    A mortgage, car payments, insurance, and general debt tends to pull people away from larger, long-term issues, and make us a bit more provincial. It’s hard to get beyond the daily challenges, and those challenges tend to accumulate with age.

    Don’t hate me for, say, being more selective about voting for local taxes–I want to know how my money will be used. I want to see detailed plans. When I was younger, those things didn’t matter to me. Now they do. I’m not sure that makes me a conservative, as I will gladly fork the money over if I can see the intent and a specific plan.

    I guess I’m trying to say that as I get older, I want my decisions to be better informed.



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  • Hi Vicki,

    One of my favorite figures to bring up is the number of local governments in the US.

    There are some 90,000 of them.

    The need for involvement at the local level is enormous.  Unfortunately, though probably not surprisingly for the celebrity shitshow that is US politics, turnout is abysmal at the local level.  Yet, how are the lofty goals promised on the national stage to be reached, much less maintained, if there is no commitment to the day-to-day life in our communities?

    Pay attention to your local taxes, and take the liberal with you wherever you go!  😉

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  • I completely agree with the importance of voting in local elections–I’ve done it all my adult life.

    My point, though, is as I get older, I become more careful about how I cast my vote. A progressive platform will crash and burn if it only caters to progressives. A good example would be Obamacare. He knew universal coverage wouldn’t pass Congress; he needed the insurance industry to be on board. And there were many concessions made that weakened the legislation, but he made them, and as a result, health care was in reach for millions.

    The Green New Deal, as it now stands, will not work. It needs industries (translated lobby money) that have an already-vested interest in the policies.

    Obviously, my vote will be for the nominee running against Trump. In this upcoming general election, my vote will be more anti-Trump than anything else. But in a more normal election, my vote would be for the candidate who is able to walk that tightrope between progressive policies and conciliatory concessions.

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  • Vicki,

    I want my decisions to be better informed


    About what? For whom?

    How does any of this this relate to my moral claim-

    People who will die soon shouldn’t be making existentially related policy decisions for people who otherwise wouldn’t…


    What if your comfy way of life is not sustainable? What if, heaven forefend, it is…. selfish?

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  • Hi Phil

    Heh…”comfy way of life.” But I digress…

    Your moral claim, that existential decisions should not be made by older people, doesn’t hold up. The average age of members of Congress is about 60–yet making those existential decisions is precisely their job.

    What’s the cut-off age?

    Every policy for our National Parks is made with the knowledge that it is for the generations to come. And we oldies have offspring–of course we’re going to factor in their welfare.

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  • I understand Vicki, and it makes sense.  After Trump though, and McConnell, personally, I’m reluctant to accept compromise with today’s Republican party.  On Obamacare, it did not receive a single Republican vote, and was only just saved by three Republican votes when Trump tried to kill it.  That is definitely walking a tightrope.



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  • And still no one reads what I have actually written.

    “existentially related policy”… “otherwise wouldn’t [live]”


    And we oldies have offspring–of course we’re going to factor in their welfare.

    Too many do too little.


    Vicki, appealing to the way things are as justification for the way things should be and on all policy matters, is a double miss for me. What is to stop elderly decision makers from realising that say a consultative committee involving those most impacted by existentially related policies should be formed and would be a more moral position?

    Who best decides policy for ethnic minorities or LGBT folk, or women’s health or work? Policy formation and decision-making always needs a bias towards those most affected and invested. It should always require law-makers an enhanced degree of humility in their decision making. Such folk are in office as public servants, not in power. Greta Thunberg and the young she represents are still an important vested interest group nowhere near enough recognised for their need of rights granted, the result of the disproportionate effect of such policy upon them.

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  • I can’t help wondering is we’re looking at this with the influence of our respective country’s form of government–constitutional monarchy vs representative republic.

    Regardless of my age, if I was going to vote leaning right, I’d be a Republican. But I’m not. I’ve been a Democrat all of my adult life. The only difference (that I’ve noticed) is the level of research on the issues and candidates. As I get older, I have come to depend on organizations like the League of Women Voters to get relatively unbiased overviews of the issues, and my vote reflects that.

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  • appealing to the way things are as justification for the way things should be and on all policy matters, is a double miss for me. What is to stop elderly decision makers from realising that say a consultative committee involving those most impacted by existentially related policies should be formed and would be a more moral position?

    Congress, its committees and subcommittees hear from a variety of people about a range of issues including those that have the most impact on youth.  This information is freely available online at sites like

    For example, from the committee on foreign affairs October, 2019:

    McCaul, Englel Introduce Bill to Reduce Plastic Waste in the Ocean

    It supports local economic development through  programs that assist community members, particularly women, youth, and marginalized populations, to derive economic benefit from waste products and participation in waste management systems.

    This is not to support any aspect of the status quo.  It is merely a relevant observation about policy vs the rhetoric about how old people are hurting the young because they are old, selfish, and apparently unwilling to listen to the needs of the young.

    The rhetoric is bupkis.

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  • Sean. You needn’t go so far for examples of the elderly concerned more for the young than themselves on matters of the bequest of a live-able world.

    We are right here.

    But given that is our job, having been the cause of children, the turn out is tragic.

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  • Appreciate your interpretation and determination Phil, a much needed trait these days as many wonder off course with determined fervor.  Many can look in the mirror a thousand times and still miss the reflection looking back at them.  Speaking of reflection we are losing significantly more ice these days and the warming world is testament but don’t expend to much energy trying to convince the doubters, they see no need for relief.

    Not to sure of the population spread in the UK but there is pretty much a constant here in the USA, our larger cities are predominantly liberal leaning regardless of age and interior red states are mostly republican and on fire with religious determination, again regardless of age and it’s doubtful this will change over time.  This pattern is fairly constant and prevalent and politicians bank on the dynamic which exacerbates the cycle.  Oddly the interior states are generally struggling with their social fabric and economics but they are severely challenged to change the mind set, again it’s that mirror problem that perpetuates and abets the dynamic.  Don’t see any relief on the horizon for reconciliation so it is probably a determined course similar to Ancient Rome for us as we careen to our demise.  Seems we will have a lot of company worldwide though so we can enjoy the collective view from the sinking ship I suppose.

    Hope you will fair better across the pond and I’m guessing you are more likely to do so, your populace, regardless of recent events, has a better footing for a course correction than we do, a quick review of our news cycle will provide the verification.

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  • Thanks for the support Aroundtown.

    I like to switch my rhetoric around to get people thinking. Sometimes it doesn’t work. I often wind parents up by declaring that parenthood is selfish and immoral, more so than abortion. Causing a life of potential misery demands much higher recompense than what goes for average parenting these days.

    I like this quote from India’s previous Prime Minister APJ Abdul Kalam

    Let us sacrifice our today so our children can have a better tomorrow

    We might though consider dropping even the “better” for kids in poor, hot and low lying areas.

    I think you’re right about a little more potential for giving a damm in the UK. Sadly the crisis affects mostly what we hold in common. I have to help change US minds too.

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  • Goodness, you said something stupid about excluding old people from policy decisions.

    I’ve said worse.

    Anyway, I like to think that I’m concerned with accurately identifying problems.  It may not always be possible given the complexity of even everyday things.  But it seems in this case at least, that we can do better than blaming age.



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  • Sean, You should see what I have to say about kids!

    We all need to do better at recognising cognitive skews especially in ourselves and our peers.

     I like to think that I’m concerned with accurately identifying problems. 

    You and I buck too much of a trend.

    Mods, surely no one here has overstepped the mark?

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  • Mods, surely no one here has overstepped the mark?

    We haven’t removed any comments, but repeated accusations of stupidity are not what we mean by thoughtful, analytical discussion. It’s not just about how you personally respond to such comments, Phil – you’ve made the point before that they don’t bother you. But other users, too, should know that, while the substance of their arguments will of course be open to rigorous challenge, those challenges will remain courteous and focused on the issues. Nor is it just about sparing people’s feelings: the value of these exchanges lies in the actual debate, the defence and analysis of the contrasting ideas. Personal insults add nothing of value. People too often assume the “Reason” in the name of the Foundation just refers to atheism, but it doesn’t – it’s about a method for making arguments and reaching conclusions.

    We don’t often feel the need to intervene, and we’ll generally turn a blind eye to the occasional overheated comment, but we don’t want such situations to escalate, and nor do we want rudeness to become accepted as normal.

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  • I understand, mods, but with respect, Sean was careful not to call me stupid, merely a particular comment. I do say stupid things occasionally and I’m happy to hear about it. In this instance he misapprehends my intent, mistaking a call for self-restraint with a call for coercion. I can see why. As I said, my desire was to be provocative.

    Thanks, for the “play nice!”. It is appreciated.


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  • I see that while Trump is posing as a prime idiot at the Davos climate conference, his lackeys are piling on the pollution back in the USA!

    The move, expected Thursday, will dismantle federal protections for more than half of wetlands and hundreds of small waterways in the US.

    The White House says the change will be a victory for American farmers.

    Under the new regulations, landowners and property developers will be able to pour pesticides, fertilizers and other pollutants directly into millions of miles of the nation’s waterways for the first time in decades.

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  • I see that while Trump is posing as a prime idiot at the Davos climate conference …

    “Posing”? I think you’re far too generous to him, Alan … 🙁

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  • Far too generous, Alan. I don’t even know where to begin with this environmental destruction. Everything that went into cleaning up this land; all the work and all the devoted reformers…Who in the world would support increasing pollution?! It defies logic.

    Don’t answer, it was rhetorical 🙁

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  • The writing is on the wall so to speak.  The doomsday clock has been adjusted accordingly.  As you would suspect our trajectory toward failure has been recalculated and reflects the dire new projection.  Davos gathering not concerned though, they still think there is time to squeeze out a few more bucks before the world goes to hell in a hand basket.  I’m speaking about the hell on earth we are creating, not the mythical destination.

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  • It dawns on me that maybe we can have a discussion about mankind’s survival.  Likely to be an interesting discussion, maybe not, that is unfortunately offered pretty late into this months schedule.  I want to start with the basics of what I foresee as what might be plausible for a potentially successful program.  I tend to agree with Stephen Hawking’s that our best hope is off planet and I’ll elaborate with minimal observation/speculation.

    It is fairly obvious that mankinds ability to plan in the immediate has failed and the climate emergency is a prime example in my estimation.  We seem to have grown farther apart over time and collective abilities have shown themselves to be nearly impossible to obtain. What I foresee is fairly radical but maintains an element of success with our present abilities, with intensive effort of course.  I believe space expeditions to transport multiple genome DNA profiles of humans (sufficient amount to obtain a viable population) could be constituted close to a potential destination as a viable prospect.  I think the ability to protect the samples from long term radiation far exceeds the ability to protect full form humans and the nutritional element would be reduced to nearly zero.  The riskiest portion of the mission would be reconstition of the DNA into viable living entities.  For this leg of the near end project I believe AI robotics could be employed to facilitate a nursery of sorts to oversee the needed ability to foster infants to full form humans at that juncture of the journey but primitive propensities of humans would still provide sinificant risk to the project/journey in my estimation.  Sounds like science fiction but the prospect seems to have some merit with minimal speculation.  Multiple targets and expedtions eould increase the odds of success as well.

    The risks are monumental and there is the added element of not knowing completely viable destinations, those including water and an acceptable atmosphere, but the outline seems to facilitate the transfer of organics fairly well over a long period of time.  I feel the journey would be best accomplished with a slower journey aided by the prospects of a solar powered vehicle to reach the destination and the finality of the mission again would lean heavily upon AI robotics in conclusion.  Severe musing on my part but I wonder what others have imagined.

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  • @ Aroundtown

    Would human nature change on a different planet? IDK, maybe perpetuating the species long enough would eventually pay off, but I have to wonder how many planets we’d go through before that happened.

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  • @Vicki

    After sleeping on my proposition I came to the same conclusion as you.  Wherever we might go the baggage of our human nature would follow.  I have wondered for far to long why we are not more concerned with protecting our home planet where we have evolved.  I see some get so excited at the prospect of finding a microbe on another planet and you have to wonder why they are not as impressed with the spectacular abundance of life on their own planet.  Sadly the needed effort to secure a protective mindset large enough to turn the tide is missing.  As regards my musing in my original comment I feel it is nonsense and untenable for the obvious reasons.  Thanks for confirming it.

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  • Hello Richard, I find it absurd that you would say there is no such thing as God. As a man of science, you have to be an idiot to make such a claim. If definitions are democratic, God meaning supernatural force generally. You say science is so complete there is no room for this. GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE. It’s certainly possible that this does exist.

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  • Hello Richard.

    You say to Richard Dawkins,  “I find it absurd that you would say there is no such thing as God.”

    Richard Dawkins, in fact says, “I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”

    You seem not one for facts… or manners…

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  • 78
    Michael 100 says:

    Steve #74, you say:  “It’s certainly possible that this (God meaning supernatural force generally) does exist.”

    I suppose a lot of things are certainly possible, but it’s equally true that a lot of things are testable.

    Might I suggest you read one or two of the books written by Victor J. Stenger, a physicist who subjected the possibility that god exists to the scientific method and on every test, the possibility fails. If you go to the book club section of this site, in # 34, I wrote about God: The failed Hypothesis, How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist, and in # 92, I wrote about his book God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion. Professor Stenger wrote other books that are on my “To read” list.

    Although it’s been suggested that religion and science are non overlapping magisteria, I think one is not an idiot for concluding that neither god, nor anything supernatural exists.


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    Steve, before commenting again, please take a few minutes to read our Comment Policy carefully. You are perfectly welcome to argue against atheism, should you wish to do so, but we do require comments to be  constructive and thoughtful, and not to include abuse or rudeness towards other users of the site. The Comment Policy will tell you more.

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  • 74 – Steve says:

    Hello Richard, I find it absurd that you would say there is no such thing
    as God.

    A quick survey of the the world’s religions, seems to show a majority who think it is absurd to believe in your version of god.  The thousands of contradictory claims about gods clearly indicate that they exist as programmed delusional images in human brains. The conflicts between the supernatural stories and scientific observations further debunk them.

    An incredulous mind dominated by an indoctrinated god-delusion which has accepted beliefs on “faith”, has absolutely nothing to do with the scientific methodology of objectively investigating,examining evidence, and rationally following the evidence to conclusions.
    Science is an investigative methodology, not a self-awarded badge of pseudo-authority when making supernatural claims.

    As a man of science, you have to be an idiot to make such a claim.

    The evidence on the nature of gods  is quite clear.
    Prior to modern transportation, no god has ever been found in a time or place, remote from its endemic culture.
    There were to Inca gods in ancient Egypt, or Greek gods in the Aztec empire. This would indicate that all gods are memetically transmitted programming in indoctrinated brains.

    God delusion programming is often heavily defensive of itself, and will motivate its host humans to attack critics who threaten to expose its false claims to believers causing them to doubt their faith.
    Perhaps this sums  up the psychology:

    The god-delusion image and its activities, are INTERNALLY projected on to the believer’s world view, like a cinema image projected on to a screen.
    Generally the credit for most, or all, favourable events, is attributed to the god-delusion.
    The versions of the the “films”, are very variable, and often the plots conflict with those of other rival religion’s “films”, but the basic projection mechanism is the same.

    Some people like to believe in miracles, but science really does offer better explanations than the gapology of “god-did-it”, regardless of those who like to indulge in self-deception.

    . Local people declared a miracle when ‘tears’ trickled down the statue at the Church of Our Lady of Velan Kanni.

    Best stay with the science:-  rather than indulging in psychological projection, self-deception, or attacking rational critics.

  • I need help. Hope fellow brothers know this guy, Walter veith. My wife took me to a Christian Adventist family. This family asked me to hear this Walter veith. He claims science and evolution theory is all based on pre supposition. This guy has many videos but this video needs some technical knowledge which I don’t have. Link shared

  • Superb comment piece about the heroic myths that all the wartime Allies have adopted about their parts in WWII, and how they serve neither the truth, nor the memories of those who died.

    I don’t know whether this specific article is behind a paywall, though most of The Times website normally is, but if so, it’s possible to register for free access to 3 articles a week, and it would be worth doing so for this piece alone, especially for Brit readers, who – with Brexit looming on Friday, just as the commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the end of the war are about to take off – are inevitably about to face an escalation in what the author, Edward Lucas, calls “our comic-book approach to history: put crudely, we are the descendants of the Few, imbued with the Blitz spirit, humming the theme tune from The Dam Busters as we sail on the little ships that saved our boys at Dunkirk. Everyone else is a coward.”

    It’s relevant to US readers, too, though: everyone, in fact.

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  • Listened to a radio show over Christmas, hosted by Physicist, Brian Cox. According to him, we are the only intelligent life in the Milky Way.

    Seems like a narrow minded view to me, given that scientists can’t explain what most of the universe is made of… dark matter, energy etc. I’m thinking along the lines of the book, “The Black Cloud”. Aliens could be pure Ai,s, minds etc… could the whole universe be the product of a mind?

    If the universe is one of many multi-verses, are UFOs visitors from other dimensions…


    Cheers from a newbie

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  • 85
    Michael 100 says:

    WalsallBoy #84.  I too love listening to Brian Cox – he’s one of my favorites.  I’d be curious to know how he concludes that we are the only intelligent life in our galaxy.  I wonder if the interview is available on the internet?  If you could find a link, that would be appreciated.

    It’s fun to speculate what alien life might look like.  I would think that if life, intelligent or otherwise, exists it is physical i.e. made of atoms and self-replicating molecules – something akin to DNA which evolved in a Darwinian manner.  If I remember correctly, Professor Dawkins has expressed such an opinion.  Given the enormity of the cosmos, I wonder if we will ever be able to find evidence of alien life, whatever form it might take???

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  • Hi Michael 100. Unfortunately, that radio show is no longer available.

    However, I think Brian Cox has previously stated the view that we may be unique in the galaxy …

    My view, is that assuming that we are the only life in the galaxy is based on the only example of evolution we have – evolution on Earth. Isn’t rare Earth theory criticized for being link-able to intelligent design?

    I think that that any advanced civilization would not be using radio waves we could even detect. Communication here on Earth is already moving away from radio and TV broadcasts that are beaming from our planet.

    As for primitive alien life, I think we will eventually find it in our own solar system – within the moons of Europa or Enceladus







  • That one example of evolution includes billions of species, only one of which has recently started looking for ET.

    If there’s a bias worth talking about here it’s the mistaken belief in evolution as a process with the aim of creating ever more complicated and expensive brains capable of our kind of intelligence.  In reality, life appears content to remain a thin film of bacteria covering everything.

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  • WalsallBoy

    You raise some interesting questions about the possibilities of extra terrestrial life.

    There are some pointers to possibilities, and some limiting factors which need to be addressed.

    I think these links will help.

    As for primitive alien life, I think we will eventually find it in our own solar system – within the moons of Europa or Enceladus

    We are interested in the chemical and physical processes that facilitated the transition from chemical evolution to biological evolution on the early earth. As a way of exploring these processes, our laboratory is trying to build a synthetic cellular system that undergoes Darwinian evolution. Our view of what such a chemical system would look like centers on a model of a primitive cell, or protocell, that consists of two main components: a self-replicating genetic polymer and a self-replicating membrane boundary.

    Sean_W says:

    If there’s a bias worth talking about here it’s the mistaken belief in evolution as a process with the aim of creating ever more complicated and expensive brains capable of our kind of intelligence.

  • What Brian Cox has actually said numerous times is that it’s “possible” we are the only intelligent life in this galaxy but he thinks it’s almost certain there must be other intelligent life somewhere in such an enormous universe. The word “possible” is meaningless here. It’s possible there are unicorns in space. It’s possible we are NOT the only intelligent life in this galaxy. In other words he has no more idea than the rest of us.

    As for my own views, based on the tenacity of life here on earth and the existence of extremophiles that colonise every possible niche I think that any planet with the right conditions for life will eventually see it develop. How many of these cases go on to evolve intelligent life or even technology is a different matter. In a sci-fi novel I’m developing in my head I have the number at 1 technological civilisation plus 3 more pre-technological ones per 100 million solar systems. Maybe 3000 technologically advanced civilisations in our own galaxy. Average distance apart several thousand light years and not a cat in hell’s chance of ever making contact or visiting.

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  • Thanks for the links.

    I wonder if developing intelligent life always requires such a long period of time. Just because it took 3.5 billion years on Earth, with many different periods of evolution, is this always applicable. Maybe we are just unlucky that it took so long here.

    When I read about the possibilities of finding building blocks of life in the solar system, I think – why the focus on Mars? Surely more resources should be spent on probes to icy moons, titan, comets etc.


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  • WalsallBoy #90

    I wonder if developing intelligent life always requires such a long period of time. Just because it took 3.5 billion years on Earth, with many different periods of evolution, is this always applicable. Maybe we are just unlucky that it took so long here.

    We only know of a single instance of intelligent life in the universe, which means we only have one dataset to work with and extrapolate from. The only way we know for sure that intelligent life can emerge is the way it emerged here. Anything else is not science, just idle speculation. But there are literally no grounds whatsoever to believe that such a high level of complexity could emerge without an enormously long period of gradual evolution, and for as long as there are no grounds to believe it, it’s not rational to believe it.

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  • Marco says:

    But there are literally no grounds whatsoever to believe that such a high level of complexity could emerge without an enormously long period of gradual evolution,

    As far as the universe is concerned – or even the Milky way galaxy, a key issue (in addition to the links I gave earlier)is like to levels of metalicity which are derived from the number star generations which have produced heavy elements.

    Without these heavy elements being exploded into nebulae, rocky planets are unlikely to form, and the elements to make up organic molecules are likely to be in short supply or absent.

    The good news for any life near Earth or possible space travel,  is that nebulae with heavy metals form stars in clusters. so while conditions for life may be widely dispersed in the Universe as a whole, they are locally grouped in metal rich star clusters and planet systems which formed from the same nebula as the Solar System.


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  • WalsallBoy #93

    Okay, what if the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs missed Earth. Our path of evolution is due to luck. Would humans have evolved if the dinosaurs hadn’t been wiped out, or would another form of intelligent life have evolved…

    Not quite sure what you’re driving at, WalsallBoy. No one is suggesting that any intelligent life that might exist elsewhere in the universe would have to take human form, only that – based on the only data we have, and therefore to the best of our knowledge – it would have to be the result of some kind of evolutionary process. Evolution is the result of adaptations that assist survival in the specific environment, so of course different environments will lead to different evolutionary outcomes, and if there is intelligent life elsewhere, it won’t be like us. There was no inevitability that humans would evolve on Earth either.

    But that in no way constitutes evidence that intelligent life does exist elsewhere. It might, it might not: we simply don’t know, but so far we have no evidence for it, and so far we only know of one process by which it can emerge.

    If we ever find intelligent life elsewhere (or it finds us) (and we survive the experience), we’ll be able to investigate further. But until then, it is not rational to draw conclusions – or even propose ideas – that are not consistent with the only data we have.

    Keep an open mind by all means, but why not wait to see if any evidence turns up before getting too invested in the idea?

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  • Thanks Marco and I am not questioning evolutionary process. I agree keeping an open mind is good – I always enjoyed some of the theories Carl Sagan had about possible ET life.

    If we did find ET, or it finds us, maybe it would change our ways on this planet for the better.

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  • WalsallBoy #95

    If we did find ET, or it finds us, maybe it would change our ways on this planet for the better.

    I think it’s much more likely it would make things very much worse. If we can’t know they even exist, we certainly can’t know they’d be benign. And, benign or not, they’d have no concept whatsoever of what humans are like, or what we need in order to flourish (or even survive), or what motivates us, or how we govern our societies, much less how they could be governed better. Why should literal aliens understand these things better than we do? They would know nothing at all about either us, or any other part of Earth’s ecosystem.

    Also – and this is a crucial point – human immune systems have evolved to deal with pathogens we encounter here on Earth. Not pathogens that – if there is any life there at all – will undoubtedly be present in worlds countless light-years away. ETs would bring pathogens with them that we would be wholly unequipped to fight off and that would therefore wipe huge numbers of us out; and in turn ET, too, would be unlikely to survive contact with us, for exactly the same reason.

    Humans have spent many millennia looking to the skies for some kind of magical salvation, but the solutions to our problems aren’t going to land from outer space. We’re going to have to tackle them ourselves, I’m afraid.


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  • #Marco “Also – and this is a crucial point – human immune systems have evolved to deal with pathogens we encounter here on Earth.”

    Actually the exact opposite. Pathogens have evolved to infect human biology. Most pathogens don’t even transfer between species because the genetics are sufficiently different. It’s vanishingly unlikely that alien pathogens could infect earth biology, human or animal, or vice versa. They would have evolved to key to the shape of completely different molecules.

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  • Marco, wouldn’t proof of ET life change religious beliefs though? Even evidence that life was seeded on earth by a comet. Would people still go on thinking the same way and believing in creationism

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  • I doubt it would make any significant difference on that front, WalsallBoy.

    Creationist belief is infinitely adaptable: whatever mechanism scientists discover, it’s always God who simply chose that as his method, for reasons best known to him (passeth all understanding blah blah)


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  • Rashad #81

    Hi Rashad.

    I really thought Phil or Alan would have jumped on your post, and I’m a bit surprised that they haven’t. That said, I am not a scientist and I lack the scientific background that would help. I watched the video you furnished (I confess I feel a little cheated out of 9 minutes of my life), and I was wondering what your take on it was.

    For example, Veith mentioned carbon dating was inaccurate because it “presupposes” there is no lead in the sample material. Did you google carbon dating, by any chance, to verify that claim?

    What struck my unscientific mind right away was the idea of presupposition. As I understand it, science in general, and evolution specifically, rest initially on hypotheses, which I suppose, could begin with presuppositions. From there, they are tested and either verified or discarded. 

    I can definitely dispute one claim he made: that if two humans had been reproducing for millions of years, that we would have far more humans than we currently have. Even if we take the earliest modern humans, which (I think) have been around for about 200,000 years, Veith does not take into consideration plagues, poor nutrition, lower life-expectancy, and natural disasters, among other variables. He seems to apply today’s reproduction standards, and that is obviously wrong.

    The guy is definitely a whack-job, but I agree with Carl Sagan that pseudo-scientific marketing should be confronted and called out. Unfortunately, I am not the one to do it justice.

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  • Vicki

    I’m thinking now about presuppositions in science and it’s an interesting topic. I realize that in some situations I’m quite strict about them and in others I’m very casual about them and positions in between depending on my interlocutors.

    I have two smart science competent friends and one day we were discussing something to do with evolutionary theory, (can’t remember what) and one of them, in regards to an anatomical feature said “…it was designed for…”. This caused me to freeze with an expression of alarm and then I said “Do you mean to say – an evolutionary adaptation?” She said “Of course!” and we all laughed at our discomfort. She said, “I think it’s fine to say designed in your presence because you know what I mean!” I DO know what she means and could laugh it off but I can’t possibly count how many times I didn’t know what others meant by it and could only stop them to clarify the usage. I can’t trust anyone to participate in conversation on this topic and go into it with the same presuppositions that I hold myself.

    Now the result of the situation is that I need to back up quite a ways to be sure we both operate with the same presuppositions so that we don’t run into some difficulty down the line.

    This same friend, an engineer added that when working on math with others she assumes that interlocutors come into the discussion with the same presuppositions that she holds. She said “I assume that we don’t have to start off proving and agreeing that 2+2=4 ! haha.

    So now, in the presence of others who I perceive to have some decent enough science background I’m happy to assume that we share the same presuppositions and can jump right into the meat of the subject at hand. When in the presence of an individual with perceived low level of science competency or a creationist or right wing nut, I am much more attentive to their presuppositions or lack of them. It’s bound to be a much slower and possibly hostile conversation.

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  • Well said, Laurie.

    When in the presence of an individual with perceived low level of science competency or a creationist or right wing nut, I am much more attentive to their presuppositions or lack of them. 

    I am presupposing Rashad disagrees with Veith’s position, but I could be wrong.

    The thing about the idea of presuppositions, at least in this case, is Veith seems to imply that they are not discarded in the face of new evidence. Now, I’m no scientist, but that sure doesn’t sound like science to me.

    …I need to back up quite a ways to be sure we both operate with the same presuppositions so that we don’t run into some difficulty down the line.

    I wish the media had pushed that point back when Trump was running. For example, when he unveiled his “Make America Great Again” slogan, I would have been interested in who he thinks makes up America, what his idea of ‘great’ is, and why he seems to think greatness needs restored.


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  • Vicki

    Yes, that’s right and it doesn’t help when they employ the very aggravating Gish gallop and cram several incorrect presuppositions together at a very fast pace, preventing us from discussing each one separately so as to come to agreement on basic facts before presenting new material.

    It’s not honest.

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  • Selfish genes and UFO abductions
    I am a retired  “mainstream” PhD scientist recently introduced to the UFO phenomenon by an enthusiast.
    I am astounded by the number of women claiming to have been abducted and subjected to sexual procedures by “greys”. UFO believers claim the number to be in the millions – so they must have some very big spaceships!

    Having read “The Selfish Gene” (and all the rest – thank you Richard) I would like to propose a mechanism.

    DNA codes for proteins and body structure but they also code for subtle traits like fear of spiders and snakes, how a bird builds a nest etc.

    Most of our history as hominids was on the plains of Africa where we lived in small groups hunting and gathering. We were constantly in fear of predators and the result of that is our genetically programmed fear of the dark and dreams of monsters.

    The groups would fight each other for resources (especially when resources became scarce). Battles between tribes would have meant that only the cleverest men came home to spread their genes. Before coming home those same clever men would rape the women of the opposing tribe – lifting the intelligence of both tribes.

    Women would live in fear of rape and abduction and those that were clever enough to avoid the abduction would survive. 

    People who’s genes became programmed to avoid snakes have an evolutionary advantage.
    Could there be genes in women that predispose them to avoid rape/abduction?
    Genes to fear snakes sometimes cause nightmares featuring snakes. Do genes to fear abduction/rape cause nightmares and delusions? The abductors on the space ships are always hominid types.

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  • Rajesh Kumar says:

    I need help. Hope fellow brothers know this guy, Walter Veith. My wife took me to a Christian Adventist family. This family asked me to hear this Walter Veith. He claims science and evolution theory is all based on pre supposition. This guy has many videos but this video needs some technical knowledge which I don’t have.

    A Gish-galloping, biblical literalist,  nut job, and conspiracy theorist,  who studied zoology, but does not seem to have learned any, according to Rational Wiki.

    Jan 30, 2020 at 12:59 pm – 101
    Vicki says:
    Rashad #81

    Hi Rashad.

    I really thought Phil or Alan would have jumped on your post,

    I must have missed that one!

    Walter J. Veith (born in 1949) is a South African zoologist,[2] evangelist, professor, pastor, creationist and conspiracy theorist who doesn’t understand evolution. He is a Seventh-day Adventist and is on the list of CMI list of scientists alive today who accept the biblical account of creation.

    I would suggest looking at the Rational Wiki link for more details.

    This second link explains his methods.


  • 109
    Michael 100 says:

    Alan4discussion #108:  Your mention of “a Gish-galloping, biblical literalist” caught my attention because I first heard the term Gish-galloping a few days ago in relation to how the Republicans in the U.S. Congress defend Trump.  It was a commentary by David Packman    ( who explained the strategy, the next thing I know I see the term in your post.  I just googled the term and found the following on Wikipedia:
    “The Gish gallop is a technique used during debating that focuses on overwhelming an opponent with as many arguments as possible, without regard for accuracy or strength of the arguments. The term was coined by Eugenie Scott and named after the creationist Duane Gish, who used the technique frequently against proponents of evolution.”

    What a coincidence that the technique is used by both creationists and Trump’s defenders!  Both live in a world of falsehoods and both appeal to ignoramuses.

  • #Michael 100

    I watch David Pakman too. He has some good insights into the ongoing disaster of Republican politics. I came across the term Gish Gallop on the Atheist Experience though. It’s employed by a number of religious apologists and I find it no surprise that it’s used by Republicans too. The similarities between their belief system and religion are profound. In both cases there is no rational basis for the beliefs and as Republican senators are currently proving, no rational way they can defend what Trump has done. So they resort to whatever tactics they can find.

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  • Arkrid Sandwich

    It’s employed by a number of religious apologists and I find it no surprise that it’s used by Republicans too.

    There is a rather splendid cartoon on the Rational Wiki link which explains its working!

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