Sunday, October 25, 2009

Atheism and Me

There are many people who describe themselves as Atheist. Then there is the definitions they are labeled with, which often do not match. So, here is what I consider the accurate definitions of various theistic types.

Theist: Believes that there is some sort of Divinity.

Atheist: Has no religious belief system.

Anti-theist: Believes that there absolutely no sort of divinity at all

I am not an anti-theist. There is no definitive way to prove that there is no sort of divinity at all in all of existence. Lack of proof is not proof of lack. This applies to both sides of the coin. There is no proof that there is a god, there is no proof that there is NOT a god.

Now, I will say that I do not believe that there is a god that literally matches any current religious document. The old pantheon religions tend to speak of deities that live specific places and have specific forms, etc, and the worlds described there-in do not exist.

But this can be said of any religion based off the Torah / Old Testament as well. The sky is not a Vault above the flat plane of the earth, there are no Waters Above, and we've established solid evidence that humans evolved from other creatures and that the universe is a lot more than 6000 years old. So basically, there is no God who did the things specified through out much of the bible, because the events there in have been disproven.

Scientology fails this test too. In addition to the lack of evidence of any of this alien activity they claim exists, specific devices they claim prove their claims, are bogus (as per this YouTube clip on the E-meter).

So there is my specific disbelief in religions as so far claimed & described by man. But, if you ask this question, things change: "In or beyond this universe, does there exist an entity (or multiple entities) so far beyond our comprehension, understanding, and power that it could only be considered God or A God?"

I have to say, in all fairness and because I have a scientific frame of mind, to say "I don't know." Mind you, I don't consider it probable, but it is not impossible.

The who believe ardently that there is no such thing as god, that it truly is impossible for such a being to exist, are Anti-Theist. And while their view points may be inspired by the findings of science, in the strictest sense it is not scientific, as they believe in something which is not provable.

But one should also consider the arguments represented Here and Here, which make good points about how one who makes a claim about the positive existence of something needing to be the one who presents Positive proof.

Religion, churches, and Me

Some one commented recently that I seem to be not merely atheist, but some what anti-religion. This is only partially true, and I feel the need to explain myself in detail, and writing is always how I work out my thoughts best.

When it comes to an individuals choices, I fully respect a person's right to be religious, and it seems that people who undertake an in depth personal evaluation of their heart and mind and choose to believe in a literal God or some other religious path, tend to be very wise and spiritual people. They usually have insight and understanding, and tend to be good people.

What I tend to have issue with is churches, and religious groups. At best, I am wary and leery of them, because they are organizations that accumulate power over people with out much in the way of vetting. All you need is enough charisma and presence combined with enough wit to avoid directly challenging any group more powerful than your own, and you can get away with a lot.

To me, it reeks of great potential for tyranny and abuse. The Catholic church, especially in medieval times, and all to large and numerous Islamic sects of the present, represent potent examples of this power on a large scale. On the small scale, we have Jonestown and Waco as places in recent history where cults caused massive deaths. (Click HERE for more details)

Side note: I consider Nazism and any other racial superiority group to effectively be religious in nature, as they are belief systems that are rigid in their faith and ignore any evidence that might happen to be contrary to their dogma.

I admit that this may be a personal, emotional reaction to the knowledge of the horrors that religions have inflicted upon 'heretics' and 'pagans, whether of the classical not-my-religion type, or in more recent times, against those who present science or rationality against religious believes. The Christian religions have(mostly) already figured out that this doesn't work, we're still waiting on various Islam sects to catch up. (Go on, preach evolution and equal rights for women in a Muslim run country. See how long you last.)

But even so, despite the Catholic church having accepted evolution as not being against the bible, they still set their own agenda above proven facts. Example: It has been proven time and again that teaching abstinence does not work, while teaching responsibility and the use of birth control & condoms does. Yet in Africa, which is being ravaged by AIDS, the church still struggles against condoms and sex education being distributed in poor communities, so that they can teach abstinence instead. They just simply do not get the idea of doing what works to help people, rather than doing what you WANT to work, but doesn't actually help.

Side note: Yes, amongst teens that volunteer to take no-sex pledges, they do tend to stay abstinent. But that's a self-selecting group. Across a broad community, teaching abstinence policies has less effect on teen pregnancy than teaching responsibility and how to use a condom.

For an individual to find something they believe in after much thought, deliberation, and soul searching is a good thing generally speaking. it's blindly putting your faith in another person or group and following them around doing as they say is what I have issue with.

Religions tend towards this sort of behavior the most. Closely followed by political groups (just look at people who vote the Party Line, or people who still think Communism works, despite the evidence.) But almost any group with a specific set of behaviors and/or beliefs can fall into these categories.

So I distrust religious groups as part of a behavioral type that tends to blind people from thinking on their own, and is often involved in manipulating groups towards destructive ends.

And this really seems like a good time to discuss my personal beliefs and definition of atheism, but I think I'l do that in a separate post.

A third 'true moderate' party?

I find myself in an odd position when I look at politics. No party out there seems to describe me to any great detail, and I wonder how many people seem to be in between the great extremes out there? And I can't help but wonder what changes might occur if the moderates of both major parties were to leave their respective parties, and meet up with the 'opposing' moderates and form a third party? A party focused on non-extremism? Let's see if I can shed some light on my sense of moderation, and maybe a few other folks out there will find something in common.

I am an atheist, but I do not have any problems saying 'Merry Christmas', and I like a well decorated Christmas tree. I see no issues with religious imagery being put up at a Fire Department, so long as other religions get to as well (by representation of people who work there, ie, if 1 or more people there are Jewish, then a Menorah would be perfectly appropriate). Counter again, I do not want Creationism or ID being taught in biology class, but I have no issues with them being taught in philosophy class. But hey, some people might think me odd for wanting science, philosophy, and critical thinking being taught starting in elementary school.

I do not think abortion shoudl be illegal, but I don't think it's OK for a woman to have a dozen abortions in 6 years. Solving that tangled mess is more than I'm going to try and figure out in this post.

I support people's right to own & bear arms, privately, but not just for personal self defense. It's also for defense against tyranny of our own government. I do not trust ANY government at any time to always be doing what is best for the people it governs. This is certainly what the liberals used to be all about in the 60's, but now they seem to think they can trust the government just because it is 'liberals' who are in charge.

I believe in Capitalism as a the best form of economy in existence, by virtue of being the least evil/bad. I also believe that it needs to be regulated and moderated to ensure that companies to not go out of control and form powerful monopolies. (sorry folks, communism fails beyond village size, because humans are flawed creatures and you can't force us to be otherwise. Capitalism sucks too, it just sucks less than everything else)

I do not think America is the Great Shining City On The Hill, or any other such nonsense about America being perfect. However, I think the very fact that that I can write this blog, and could freely wander out and about handing out fliers promoting my ideas, and that even groups whom I over all think are corrupt can still have their say, is a good part5 of what makes America none the less better over all than just about any where else. So yes, I am proud to be an American. But I still think there is much we can learn and improve upon. The willingness to do so, is what makes the USA a country to be proud of.

The right wants to invade your privacy for the sake of 'security'. The left wants to invade your privacy 'for your own sake'. They are both fear mongers and it disgusts me.

I believe in responsibility for ones own actions, and consequences there of, and my ideas of consequences for crimes includes hard labor (a more conservative value usually), yet I also believe in rehabilitation for most non-violent criminals, and consider the current prison system to be a part of the problem, not a solution (A more liberal attitude).

If you find yourself facing the same or similiar situations, where you could easily be arguing with extremists from either side on any given issue, maybe it's time to register as independent or something. I'm worried by the idea of forming a 'third' party only because then woudl we end up with our own extremists some how?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Terraforming venus

First the why, to get out out of the way.

Part 1) Why Colonize outer space at all?
A: To get human life/civilization off this planet, as only the spreading of human life as far & wide as possible can increase the chances of survivability of the human race as a whole, given that on a large enough scale, 'local' disasters can include wiping out an entire species on a given planet.
Added Benefit: Advances in technology required to do this completly will advance our knowledge and most likely increase our quality of life (Space-born technologies i cna think off of hand: the modern refrigerator, cell phones, and the wave front technology used for advanced laser eye correction surgery)

Part 2) If I except that, why Venus?
A: Near-earth mass & size and already present atmosphere offer great promises towards eventual habitability with out involving being permanently living in a giant super-building.
Disadvantage: It's current atmosphere is actually the biggest hurdle in making it habitable. Explained in depth below.

Now that the Q&A is out of the way, let's get on with the 'how'.

Fortunately, Venus offers what may be the least expensive, but also potentially the slowest going, method of terraforming: Get life to do the work for us. The temperature and pressure on Venus are truly, truly extreme. Which is where creatures called Extremophiles come in handy. Namely, thermophiles and acidophiles (which some times go hand in hand).

But the ones currently on Earth are not tough enough for our needs. Oh, there might be a few species that can be collected from Black Smoke volcanic vents on the sea floor which would survive in the upper atmosphere near the poles, but we want better than that.

So we turn to an age-old technology that takes advantage of evolution. We call it 'breeding'. We collect the microbes from appropriate volcanic vents form around the world (to get as much genetic variation into the mix as possible), and create large tanks that simulate the conditions of the volcanic vent areas. These tanks will also need various controls and technologies for creating ideal situations for fast-tracking evolution to give us what we want.

The tanks would be used to create a varied environment, with one end of the tank being hotter than the other. The hotter end of the tank is where nutrients would be introduced, so that microbes better able to survive in a hotter environment would have better access to food. with such a direct ration of advantageous trait to survivability, as soon as the hotter end of the tank is heavily populatedyou can start cranking the heat up on that end slightly (note, it woudl be very important to mix the distribution of microbes before doing so, in case the small temperature change is to much for that generation to handle)

This is an expensive proposition, but like many extreme experimental technologies, simply doing this woudl likely provide us with new raw data regarding biology. And it would likely take a long time before reaching the point where they can survive on the surface of Venus anywhere, by temperature alone. More likely is the possibility that we'll eventually reach a stagnant point, where no matter how long we let them sit, no mutations or other genetic variations will allow the microbes to get any closer to the food source/hottest point in the tank.

Fortunately, Acidity and pressure are already covered by the living conditions they are already in here on earth.

Once you have a stable population in each of the tanks, you now take samples from every tank (as they might have adapted to higher temperatures via different mutations), and mix them in a new set of tanks. It is very important to keep your first set of tanks maintaining a population, in case anything goes wrong in the stage 2 tanks. Then you won't have to fall back as far (consider it a 'save point').

The thing to adjust here is food. Namely, you start introducing compounds that are in Venus's atmosphere that are not already in their own environment. Once you've verified that these new compounds do not act poisonous to the microbes, you slowly increase the amount. Then you start reducing the nutrient compounds that are not found in Venus's atmosphere.

Again, making a graduated situation is ideal, but may not be necessary in this case. Eventually you should have a set of microbes that have adapted to this new set of nutrients, surviving solely off of nutrients found in abundance on Venus.

Now the tricky part. Disclaimer: there is a very good enough chance that at these preasures & temperatures Venus atmosphere & water interact in ways that make my ideas not workable as is. Stage three is getting rid of the water. Venus is a very dry planet. I would recommend gradual slopes placed through out the tanks, followed by introducing Venus atmosphere at the top of the tank, before withdrawing water at the bottom (into another pressurized tank of course). Or vice-versa, if the specific gravity of Venus's atmosphere is higher than water's, at that temperature and pressure. Possibly some other method You want about 50-50, assuming that they won't quickly dissolve into each other.

Keeping with that assumption, you'll also need a small wave motion generator, and some divots and bumps on the slopes. Most of the time you keep the wave action very small, to create continuously moist surfaces that are exposed to the Venus atmosphere mix, and infrequent but regular larger wave sets to push water into divots that would collect it and hold it. If creating this tidal pool structure is possible, you should be able to just let it run indefinitely, until you have microbes living exclusively on the dry sections. Keep reducing water levels and adding more dry atmosphere slowly, there still be a humidity factor for the microbes living outside of the wet zones.

If the Venus atmosphere at the water mix freely, then no graduation is available. Instead, just slowly increase the concentration of Venus Atmosphere compounds in the water until it reaches such a high concentration that it will no longer dissolve. It shoudl form some sort of bubbles (at the top or bottom of the tank). And then patience becomes key, a waiting game to see how long it takes microbes to migrate to the areas where there is no water. There will be less food imperative as the microbes will have already adjusted to eat the same compounds which are very abundant in the water. Space/room seems to be the only adaptive imperative in that situation.

So that third, trickiest part is the final biological hurdle. Once we have microbes surviving in a Venus atmosphere, even if only in certain conditions (say, over the polar caps at high-ish altitudes) we can make sure our next Venus mission includes releasing spores in the appropriate locations, while we continue breeding the microbes to fit more and more areas.

So a lot of work, mostly in the form of time. But, it is *relatively* inexpensive in terms of money, compared to terraforming other worlds. And of course, this is only stage one. The purpose of stage one is to start taking the sulfur out of the atmosphere, and other greenhouse compounds. Any greenhouse gasses produced in that process, we breed something to eat that too, if at all possible.

At some point, we may be required to flat out genetically engineer microbes, but that's a few centuries off I'm guessing. At least. And this whole process may take millennium, during which time we might also colonize other worlds. But as long as we keep sending in biological agents to do our work for us, we can keep it as a back ground project, to eventually seed with life forms that will free up oxygen, and then basic multi-purpose plants in several waves, then we can start full scale colonization with out having to live in giant arks permanently. Really, beyond getting this process started, it's hard to describe what we'd do, because there are so many possibilities of technol;ogical advancement.

Or maybe we'll get things started on changing Venus, and something will happen that sets us back to the stone age, and it takes 5 thousand years for us to really look at Venus again. And we re-evaluate again at that point. But no matter what the eventual path we take, creating possibilities is better than closing them. So let's open up this path.

here are some links to some rather relevant sites, though they have some differing ideas on how to go about things.