Raw Diets: Half-Baked and Overcooked

There is a growing movement of idiots in our country, they’re called Raw Vegans and they must be stopped.

No, I’m kidding, they’re mostly just a danger to themselves anyway.

Actually, raw vegans aren’t much different from ordinary vegans except they like to kick it up a notch by refusing to eat anything cooked above 118 degrees F. That’s right, even steaming and boiling are out of the question. The rationale for this varies from site to site and book to book but as far as I can tell it pertains to a belief that valuable enzymes, vitamins and even ‘energy’ are destroyed in the process of cooking. There is also a concern that the cooking process produces dangerous chemicals. As a result the general philosophy is that all things should be ingested in as natural a state as possible.

Proponents of this diet, like general vegans, make numerous and even outlandish claims to its success. Everything from anti-aging effects to increased vigor and mental acuity are advertised and according to them, there don’t seem to be any pitfalls. They even have a couple of professionals in their cavalry in case they’re asked too many questions.

Unfortunately for them however, and their professionals, in the land of good science outliers are discarded or in the least, scrutinized very closely. So let’s deal with some of these claims that raw vegans so proudly make. Does cooking really destroy necessary enzymes and vitamins? Does it really cause the creation of dangerous chemicals? Are there truly health benefits to an all raw food diet? And are there really no setbacks? Let’s see what the great majority of nutritionists and relevant scientists have to say on these matters. And while we’re at it we’ll also deal with the moral and ethical claims vegans tendentiously make in the defense of their politicized noshings.

I want to begin with the most popular and arbitrary argument that these people make when promulgating their bad habits. This is the ‘what is most original is most natural’ argument. There is absolutely no logical or scientific foundation for this statement. Fire occurs in nature. Indeed, it is even essential for some species and ecosystems to thrive.

What scientific principle or logical principle underpins the claim that using fire or kinetic energy generally is unnatural in the preparation of food? Even were I to take this fallacious line of reasoning seriously it would only support the contrary since before our species even existed our evolutionary forebears had likely already discovered fire.

Homo sapiens arose from the ancestor Homo erectus, from whom there is reasonable evidence of fire use.  Neanderthals share this ancestor with modern humans and in their day they had definitely discovered the magic of cookery. So actually, when it comes to food preparation and partaking of animal product, cooking is most natural if we are to remain consistent with the claim ‘what is original is natural’.

Time to move on and talk about all that supposedly lost nutrients that cooking causes. Actually, as it turns out, the exact opposite is true. In fact many researchers on human evolution believe it is because of cooking that the human brain managed to grow to such gargantuan proportions. Cooking breaks down plant cell walls and other bio-barriers to digestion so that the body can extract even more calories from its meals, resulting in greater energy in less time from both plant and animal products. This was essential for human evolution and the development of our energy-hungry brains. This means that eating strictly raw foods requires that you waste time and energy incessantly devouring nutrient obstinate fibers much like Gorillas or Pandas which spend the vast majority of their days noshing.

The claim that dangerous chemicals are produced or that something is lost in cooking is true only to an extent. When dry cooking, such as over a barbecue, one is at risk of creating acrylamide which occurs when food is overcooked. Acrylamide is never produced while boiling or steaming and more nutrients are made available in vegetables through these methods than can be lost. Further, it is true that baking or roasting cereals and nuts reduces access to their proteins.

Aside from these two narrow examples, cooking breaks down nutrient-locking bonds and allows easy absorption, requiring your body to do less since the cooking does more. In fact, studies show that between raw veggies and their cooked counterparts, it is only from the latter that you will glean all the cancer preventing benefits. Moreover, your body will provide all the necessary enzymes required for digestion, it is simply untrue that raw vegetables come equipped with some extra set of digesting enzymes lost in the process of heat preparation.

All this being said raw food is certainly good for you. Fruit, avocado, nuts and cereals are best raw while high dry-heat cooking can lead to the production of the possibly carcinogenic acrylamide. Large portions of fiber assist in regular, healthy bowel processes and digestion but this scarcely means one should eat strictly raw. Boiling, steaming and non-browning cookery is the best way to extract the nutrients your body requires from many of its vegetable sources.

Strictly raw food diets can deprive you of essential nutrients and is associated with severe weight loss, poor dentition, hair loss, muscular deterioration, coronary heart disease, and fungal infections. When referring to an all raw food diet there can be no discussion of benefits because they are overwhelmingly nixed by its deficiencies. A largely raw food diet, however, could indeed be very healthy but not without cookery and animal proteins or supplementation.

As for the ethics of it all, a utilitarian argument is the best death-bringing salvo. Why is a chicken more entitled to our regard than a millennia old sequoia or the oxygen providing diatom?

In the end, like all extreme ideas, the full on raw diet is as half-baked as it is uninformed.

Do You Have the Basics?

I think there needs to be a new rule for casual debate. The rule would be called John’s Razor and it would state that if one doesn’t understand the fundamentals of a subject than nothing one says on that subject can be taken seriously.

If you are at all familiar with formalized styles of argumentation then you know that both parties almost always have a solid grasp of the topic at hand. I’m not talking about the kinds of debates we see between political leaders, rather, I’m discussing the kind we see in universities where, before the date of the contest, teams prep themselves with almost monastic dedication before engaging one another.

Unfortunately, when we consider day to day interactions in what I’ll refer to as ‘casual debate’ this kind of preparation or even concern for the truth is hopelessly lost. In other words, people will aggressively contest assertions without having even the most fundamental knowledge regarding their subject matter. Facebook offers some prime examples of this kind of adolescent argumentation and I want to review one I encountered just this morning regarding GMOs.

A friend of mine had posted a meme about how we need to start focusing on the important things in the world as opposed to say…celebrity gossip. Point taken. But among the listed ‘important things’ was ‘GMO, Monsanto, and the problems caused by toxic farming practices.’

In my usual way I decided to challenge this notion that GMOs are a problem and asked what the issue was. I then posted an article by Forbes which listed thousands of independent studies from various countries showing no ill effects associated with GMOs.

This made ‘Mark’ very angry and he proceeded to mock my point, conflating GMOs with pesticides and calling genetic modification ‘mad science’. Nowhere did he link to a peer reviewed scientific journal refuting the thousands of studies I had referenced, nor did he make a single coherent, scientifically informed point regarding genetics.

The point here is that people like Mark think they are allowed to have an opinion and be taken seriously simply because they have one. While there are numerous topics one need not research to discuss critically there are also numerous others which require at least a fundamental understanding of the basics. We might think of this like language learning. If you don’t know a single Russian word then how can you speak Russian?

Mark’s ignorance of the most basic information regarding genetics has left him believing that genetic modification is the equivalent of a magician morphing one animal into another but stopping halfway. He and many others believe this because they don’t know anything about the subject matter they stand so aggressively against.

If Mark was really interested in educating himself on genetically modified organisms he would have to first research basic genetics. Had he done that he would learn that genetic modification is only possible because all genetic machinery is the same across all organisms. This is why the term ‘universal gene code’ exists. It is also why evolutionary biologists believe all life ramified from a single organism, because it is near impossible that we would all share the same DNA-related molecular structures otherwise.

But instead of actually learning something new, Mark and people like him choose a side and stick with it no matter what. Often, I imagine, this is due to laziness. It is a refusal to admit what one is ignorant of and a refusal to do something about it. In the meantime these people appear intellectually antiestablishment to their ignorant friends while exposing themselves for the asshats they truly are to all those who spent two minutes reading the Wikipedia page on recombinant DNA.

Not knowing anything about genetics wasn’t his only mistake, though it was the biggest. He also betrayed his critical thinking skills when he conflated pesticides, GMOs, and Monsanto; a common misstep among this sort.

These are three different subjects, two of which are opposed to one another. GMOs make pesticides obsolete, in fact, that is their point. Instead of using harmful chemicals to preserve and protect crops we can harmlessly modify their gene code, giving them an innate and non-pesticide defense. This helps both the health conscious developed world and the impoverished developing world by securing safe and hardy crops without exposing ourselves to carcinogens. As for Monsanto, this is a company. If Monsanto is evil that does not mean GMOs are evil. Genetic modification is a scientific process, not a corporate philosophy.

We need to start enacting John’s Razor where relevant and ridiculing opinions that have absolutely no grounding in reality. We’ve all made the mistake of speaking up on a topic we knew too little about, it happens. But some of us are a little too proud of what we clearly don’t know and that needs to change.

EXAMPLES OF MARK

The Evolutionary Mystique of Homosexuality

Reparative or conversion therapy is a method used to ‘fix’ homosexuality. Its premise is based entirely on one of two or both of the following notions: hetero-normative masculinity and heterosexuality as ‘the natural state’. In essence, that it is bad parenting that leads to homosexuality. Both of these notions, however, are socially constructed concepts and deeply grounded in the Abrahamic religions’ understanding of gender and sexuality. In other words, the premise is utterly unscientific and as vacuous as it is arbitrary.

But however you feel about this stance it implicitly poses one big question to the ‘nature’ side of the gay debate, ‘If it is genetic then how do gays exist if they fail to reproduce?’

Well, the short answer is we don’t know. The longer answer provides us with numerous workable theories which confirm what we’ve always thought which is that sexuality is a very complicated aspect of human biology.

Male Fertility (The Johnny Depp Effect)

It has long been understood that women prefer more feminine features in men, both behavioral and physical. Compassionate men with heavier lashes apparently give one an edge. So it is possible that in the right dose these genes confer a reproductive edge. If, however, too many of these genes are inherited then a man may end up too fabulous and boom, homosexuality.

Female Fertility

Other studies suggest female relatives of gay men on the maternal side show signs of being more reproductive than female relatives of straight men, suggesting that a gene in the X chromosome of men confers heightened fertility in women. This increased fertility is thought to be connected to an increased attraction to men that can sometimes miss the mark in women and land in men, leading to same-sex attraction.

The Big Brother Effect

Studies show that with every boy a woman has she increases by a third the chances that her next son will be gay. No one really knows why this is but there are theories. The belief is that with every male a woman has her body increasingly develops an immune reaction to the proteins involved in developing the male brain, resulting in an altered sexuality and possibly more. Because said woman has presumably had children before this event who have gone on to reproduce themselves, this pre-natal mishap continues unabated.

Twin Confusion

Among identical twins, if one is gay there is a twenty percent chance the other twin will be too which, while high enough to not be random, isn’t as high as we might expect if homosexuality was strictly and simply genetic. The explanation here is that ‘epimarks’, what determines whether a gene is active or not, is not always inherited.

Everyday Reproduction

The shortest answer is that plenty of gay people do indeed have biological children (about 37%, 60% of which are biological) and that would be enough to do the trick.

In the end however, it seems sexuality is associated with a number of genetic and developmental factors that impact its outcome. It is even possible that more than one process is responsible. Though ultimately, whether it is genetic or not is irrelevant to the question of whether two consenting adults should be able to fuck.

The Peaceful Native – except not really. (The Truth about Pre-State Societies)

It is rather in vogue these days to give non-state societies (such as an indigenous tribe or pastoral community) the benefit of the doubt and assume them to be utterly estranged from the gratuitous violence of nation states. Indeed, Rousseau himself popularized the notion of the ‘peaceful savage’, asserting that peoples that lived more ‘naturally’ (whatever that means) lived in innocence and were ignorant of the debauching effects of technological and political complexity. Many a social justice warrior has fed into this remarkably arrogant and naïve presumption, believing that if a people have been subjugated than their past must then have been a peaceful one, and surely they would never have subjected any of their neighbors to similar coercions.

You know where I’m going with this one… (page references from book at end of article, this is basically a summary of that fascinating and disarming book.)

The largely Western conceit that tribal, pastoral, or early agricultural societies blithely existed side by side without war and exploitation has been hard won by archaeologists and anthropologists alike, who have often gone out of their way to obscure the evidence in order to pacify the past. Some of these ‘professionals’ have even vainly argued that what violence has been found only started after European contact began. The facts, however, would seem to suggest otherwise.

In reality, the opposite is true. The greater the political complexity of a society, generally the safer and less violent it becomes. A quick comparison of the percentage of male deaths by war in the 20th century reveals that the United States and Europe combined are substantially lower than any of their indigenous competitors at around 3% compared to 8 other tribes which range anywhere from approximately 8% to 60%.

People have long assumed that when world wars are taken into account there can be no doubt that nation states are the kings of bellicosity but when we examine the proportions we see that in these significantly smaller, less organized societies warfare and murder occur at substantially higher rates and frequencies. The Australian Murngin people during the latter half of the 19th century lost 25% (about 200) of their male population over a 20 year period from incessant conflict with neighboring tribes. And more than a third of deaths of Yanomamo males in Brazil have resulted from warfare.

More generally, it has been found that only 13% of the indigenous tribes (out of 157 groups) in the Americas did not engage in raiding with neighbors more than once a year, but only 4.5% didn’t participate in any raiding ever. However, these groups lived in highly isolated and very dry environments and were typically quite small (pg. 28). Placid indeed.

One example of these exceedingly rare peaceful foraging societies includes the Mbuti Pygmies in central Africa. But unfortunately, the Pygmy peoples have been ‘politically subordinate’ to the agriculturalist societies around them. Further, they’ve been dependent on them economically (pg. 132). And no, these aren’t European colonists I’m talking about. I now refer to the Bantu.

The Bantu are very open about this arrangement and have even claimed the Pygmies are their ‘servants’. So dependent are they on the Bantu that they’ve even resorted to crop theft when their ‘masters’ have not been generous (pg. 132). Indeed, even the Mbuti Pygmies’ marriages are arranged by and sanctified under Bantu supervision (pg. 219 notes section). Apparently both violence and subjugation come as easily to non-state societies as they do to established polities.

As for that nonsense about European colonists inspiring violence, let’s see what the archaeological evidence has to say about that. In one Nubian cemetery from 12,000 years ago, half of the occupants had clearly died from violence. Another mass grave in Crow Creek, South Dakota acted as a tomb for 500 men, women, and children who had all been mutilated, slaughtered, and scalped. This was about 150 years before Columbus and his happy party arrived in the New World. Must have been fun to live back then (pg. 68).

Indeed, mass extermination of entire communities was not uncommon and has often been the goal of many competing tribes. Genocide, as we know it, seems to have been ubiquitous in the world of inter-tribal warfare.

General violence was also substantially higher in pre-state societies. The Netsilik Eskimo had a murder rate of four times the United States and some fifteen times some European nations even after Canadian Mounties dampened inter-band feuding. The Yaghan of Tierra del Fuego boasted a rate ten times greater than the United States (pg. 29).

Moreover, violent death has been ravaging human societies long before any nation state was conceived. In Italy a child’s skeleton was discovered with a pointed projectile embedded in the spine, dated at around 27 to 36 thousand years ago. And in Egyptian Nubia, more than 40% of the 59 men, women, and children found in the aforementioned cemetery had stone projectiles in their skeletons. That was dated at approximately 14 thousand years ago (pg. 37).

Human beings have always been violent. There is no reason to pretend otherwise. The political organization associated with state societies has only helped to attenuate that violence by providing institutions and other means to mitigate it. Indeed, we are bigger and capable of mass destruction of a kind pre-states can’t fathom. But that is also true for our justice, technology, well-being, and social order. Let’s remember that next time someone starts talking about the ‘good ol’ days’.

BOOK REFERENCE

War Before Civilization, Lawrence H. Keeley. Oxford University Press Edition, 1996.

(All page references from the above book.)

Justifying Authority and Claims

I’m not the first person to think that authority needs to justify itself. I don’t know who said it first, nor do I really care, maybe Chomsky or someone else like him, but it seems this is at once a truism and also a terribly misunderstood insight into the vestment of power.

Even if we agree that this concept is supposed to be simple, it is often not. The act of justifying one’s power and authority actually requires much more than mere might or even democratic consensus. Juries and other such institutions of democratic consensus are actually incredibly dangerous in that they are dependent upon uninitiated and emotional perspectives to render objective, even scientific judgments. These are the ‘misunderstood’ aspects I am referring to, both the commonly accepted rationales for authority and the form this authority takes place in.

When we talk about authority, we often think of individuals; a president, a dictator, an eminent scientist or religious potentate. But we rarely consider the authority of groups; such as the jury, the populace, or bodies like the Senate and Parliament. As a result I am going to explore not just the icon of the individual leader, but also of the empowered group, be it a committee or population.

Election as License and Individual Authority

I’m not being facetious when I say elections are a very bad way of determining authority. If merely being elected establishes authority then we need to explain why an emotional, often very biased and uninformed vote, constitutes a justification for empowerment. This, of course, cannot be done. No sane, reasonable and thinking person could possibly explain why dismissing any other standard is a good idea when selecting leadership – especially in times of crisis when that leadership is exceptionally important.

Let us imagine that McCain had not run for president but that Palin had. What would this have meant for the United States? It would have meant that a woman of incredible scientific, political, geographic and even historical illiteracy was at the helm of the single most influential and powerful nation ever to exist on Earth.  A woman who rejected, out of hand, basic scientific facts, was so poorly read she couldn’t name a single newspaper, and so geographically and historically ignorant she could neither locate Germany on a map nor name the decade WWII took place in.

And while the people of the United States were never quite in so much danger of making such a profoundly imbecilic decision, one that would practically justify the removal of voting rights from its people, Alaska did just this. Palin was governor of that ‘great’ state for 4 years. Are we really prepared to say that semi-good looks, some intoxicating demagoguery, and the vote of several hundred thousand Joe ‘Six Packs’ are enough?

Power and authority cannot reasonably be justified by mere democracy, and I do mean ‘mere’. What about sanity? Maybe, if we consider the seat of the American Presidency as an example, we should require not only election but a psychological profile not associated with a person who is prone to beliefs like ‘virgin births’ or ‘sins against God’.  My point here is that standards like age and location of birth are primitive and tribal practices that nations capable of space travel should not be using to determine their pool of potential leaders. Civilized, indeed.

Not to be too specific but I imagine a two-pronged approach to this, to which anyone could apply regardless of age or birthplace. First a psychological evaluation by five independent and prominent, practicing psychiatrists. These psychiatrists could be chosen by a bipartisan committee in the Senate After this you would have 4 exams. The first exam would cover the basics of economics, its many systems and principles. The second would include world politics, in which you would have to be familiar with important and emergent recent and current events, certain world leaders, and the United States’ relationship with certain key nations. The third exam would cover the history of America’s development as a nation and its government, with some comparative government aspects. The final exam would rigorously test critical thought and problem solving skills.

As I said before, anyone could apply for this exam, including those not born in the country, so long as they have citizenship and have maintained residency in the United States for at least two decades, not necessarily consecutive. I think we can justify that being intimately familiar with America, its culture, language, and people are obvious necessities. If you fail even a single exam of this application you may apply one more time and then never again. The exam’s results could be valid anywhere from 5 to ten years, but that’s a minor detail. The psych eval. would be allowed once and only once.

Any claims of abuse and manipulation could be addressed and prevented in a number of ways, but mind you that there are already numerous ways to exploit the system. It is simply an ever present danger and so I don’t really consider it a legitimate refutation, rather, it is merely one figure in the calculus of how we effectively implement these plans.

Nomination by reputation, election by consent of the people, and re-election by result. Voting for voting’s sake is not just bosh, but as dangerous as not voting at all.

Expertise and Community Authority

Now, when concerning general leadership, official degrees aren’t exactly proof positive of capability but when we talk about fields of science like medicine, physics, and chemistry, more than just books need to have been read. So here, when considering expertise, education is very important. But not just education under reputable supervision, such as legitimately accredited and upstanding universities, but also practical knowledge through experience.

Not all fields are equal concerning the nature of their tuition. I don’t mean their worth, I mean how the expertise is acquired. One may informally become an outstanding expert in history, I know of one such person. You don’t need an institution to legitimize your knowledge because the resources necessary to acquiring this expertise are often readily available to the motivated. You can learn topics like theology on your own, rent out books, read online, and do research without guidance if you’re disciplined. But if we consider fields like medicine or chemistry, the technology and equipment alone necessitate a helping hand and then there is the simple fact that much of that brand of knowledge cannot simply be read about, but requires guiding, knowledgeable hands who can assist you in gaining true insight into the field.

There are subjects that require a lot of literature and time, and then there are those that actually necessitate mentorship and practice. Again, this does not marginalize or amplify their value, it is just a fact about them.

This is why we can dismiss the opinion of laymen. Joe ‘The Christian’ Sixpack doesn’t get to have his opinion on genetics, geology, cosmology, or nuclear energy taken seriously because if he isn’t learned and practiced, then he probably has no fuckin’ clue what he is talking about. Many scientists themselves are not well informed about the domains of other scientists. Geologists have no business theorizing at the nature of evolutionary immunology.

But not even a prominent scientist is absolutely authorized by her particular expertise. A scientist can be wrong or misguided, but the difference between the general population and the scientific community as an aggregate is that one is uninformed and unengaged with one another while the other is informed and submitting to critical review. This informed consensus justifies its authority on the basis of its collective expertise and accountability.

This is my problem with theologians and their claims about geology, biology, and cosmology. They are not experts. Many of them have not even a bachelor’s degree in these disciplines and certainly no experience. And indeed, when a priest or believe of any kind claims the Earth is less than 10,000 years old or claims virgin births are possible, these are also claims about geology and biology, since both of these fields and their communities absolutely reject, and by a large majority, those assertions.

Juries are equally problematic, if not more so, because people’s lives are subject to their judgments despite their utter lack of knowledge about law, its practice, and the realities of court and its victims and victors. What does a juror know about the intimacies of lawyer and client relations? And can they really strike that last testament off the record? Judges, aware of the realities both academically and practically, are better fit to arbitrate on their own. Maybe a good substitute for the jury would be a panel of three experienced judges instead of 12, ignorant, and likely incompetent spectators.

 

 

Essentially authority and its justification, whether as a claim about something or as a position, can be summed as follows: anything asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. So if you’re going to assert something, follow it up with your burden of proof.

America’s Hatred of Science and Love of Opinion

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a particle collider, the largest and most powerful of its kind, established by the European Organization for Nuclear Research and stationed near Geneva, Switzerland. It is underground and boasts a circumference of 17 miles.

This marvel of science is currently being used to answer fundamental questions about particles, their various interactions, the deep structure of space and time, and the interrelation between quantum mechanics and general relativity.

In the simplest terms, particles are slammed into one another and the byproducts of these collisions offer valuable insight into the subatomic world and the laws that operate within it. Most recently, physicists discovered what gives particles their mass. Imagine, just a little time ago no one had any idea why some particles, like photons, are without mass and why others have it. These insights could one day denude all the laws of the physical universe, giving us unprecedented knowledge of why this or that is thus.

The United States, the leader in technological and scientific contributions and advancement, was going to build one even larger and more powerful – keeping with the tradition of America’s cult of bigger and better. But unfortunately, after dumping 2 billion into the initiated project, they cancelled it in 1993 with Clinton’s finalizing signature for several vague and equally vaporous reasons.

Just to give you an idea of the power and scope of this colossal project, the Superconducting Super Collider was going to be 51 miles in circumference, compared to Europe’s 17 miles, and was set to surpass its energy capabilities by 5 times. The total cost was estimated at 4.4 billion, which is half of the average monthly expenditure of the war in Iraq. Did you get that? We spent 9 billion a month to accomplish nothing but re-create a derelict, Islamist state in the Middle East run by idiots and overwhelmed with madmen but we don’t want to spend 4.4 billion dollars ONE TIME to advance humanity’s knowledge of the physical universe.

The value of researching now as opposed to later cannot be understated. Certainly economically speaking, there are only good arguments. Lawrence Krauss makes some depressing observations about America’s penchant for cutting science out of the budget in favor of war, and points out that the scientific advancement of only a generation ago has contributed substantially to GDP today.

If, as Americans, we’re honest about our culture, we can admit that it doesn’t value science or even intelligence. You may be wondering how this can be if we are supposedly ‘the leaders’ in scientific advancement. But if we examine America’s potential and how hard we fight to keep superstition in the classroom, it becomes clear that if we were really committed then we’d have realized the star trek universe decades ago.

Even our motivations for scientific research are wanting; one of the reasons for dropping our collider project was simply because the USSR was gone and it was no longer necessary, as a show of force, to assert our scientific dominance. Translation? That science is good for two things, to impress or weaponize. Apparently knowledge for knowledge’s sake isn’t good enough because what good would be a discovery that couldn’t be used to kill people or awe them into submission?

Two of America’s favorite throat clearing statements before uttering something profoundly uninformed include, ‘Well, I’m a Christian so I believe…’ and ‘I’m just a simple man but I think…’ Indeed, well there we have it. Our politicians and people think believing is knowing, and apparently simplicity of mind is a virtue. Faith as a concept in our country, the notion of believing just because, is also time honored as virtuous. Our leaders and our people seem fundamentally unconcerned with empiricism and natural truths.

Republicans exemplify more than anyone this love of identifying with and even becoming ‘the average American’. We all remember Sarah Palin’s obsession with Joe Sixpack, the imagined blue-collar every-day American who drinks beer out of a can and apparently depends on people like Palin to look out for him. Really? Is this who we want our leaders aspiring to? Blue-collar, uneducated, religious beer-drinking nitwits who are more interested in how much drinking money they have than whether or not we’re researching climate change, pioneering space-travel, or solving the mysteries of the subatomic world?

Whether we are talking biology, physics, or even just the weather, a great many Americans are more interested in their personal opinions than they are the facts. Scientific minds and studies are treated like opinion pieces and so long as someone can come up with a non-peer reviewed study by some religious outcast, we’re expected to take the rebuttal seriously.

Let’s look at some quotes from some political leaders in America shall we? Remember, these are people who have held office, ran for office competitively, and were quite popular in their time or continue to be. Seriously…click on it.

The hysteria surrounding genetically modified organisms is an equally terrifying and telling exposure of America’s complete disregard for facts – in fact worse than this, it exposes their contempt for even investigating the truth. Here are two videos in which people, receiving a lecture on GMOs, take the words of an 11-year old seriously, and then another where people ‘against’ GMOs can’t even tell us what the letters stand for. There are absolutely no studies which have not been definitively debunked that prove GMOs are in any way harmful and yet many people are thoroughly convinced they are cancerous.

Just to beat this horse until it’s unrecognizable, we might also examine America’s obsession with creationism and its newly formatted descendant, intelligent design. This may actually manage to insert itself into school curricula on the basis that it is a ‘scientific’ theory when in reality it is nothing more than creationism in a pseudo-scientific/philosophical format, made just palatable enough to justify its inclusion. In other words, casuistry… People who fundamentally misunderstand core scientific concepts and theories are making decisions as to their value.

The United States and its people need to start prioritizing proper and serious scientific tuition instead of gorging itself on the binge-diet of superstition and feeling that pervades so much of our politics and society. Let’s stop prioritizing military ventures and invasions that redound to nothing and start pouring our billions into ventures of scientific value. Let’s stop electing politicians that want to be average and start electing politicians that are, without a doubt, exceptional and well-above average. After all, they’re going to be leading the nation.

And finally, let’s stop fear-mongering and start investigating the unknown. If we don’t know something or understand it, let’s have the balls to admit this and then take the time to research it, anything less is cowardice and just plain lazy. If you really care about an issue then get off your ass and do the reading, and I don’t mean only one or two articles. You will have to work a little harder than that. Learning how to research and critically think are skill sets that apparently, most of us don’t have.

We need to think about what values our country represents. Does it represent backward mentalities obsessed with tradition and misoneism or does it represent a forward thinking, curious, brave, and ethical nature undaunted by progress and a love of the advancement of human well-being?

EVOLUTION: The Essential Basics

What everyone needs to know and should know about evolution by natural selection and random mutation first is that it is not ‘just’ a theory. Scientifically speaking it is a theory. But this is not the same as a theory in the parlance of everyday English usage.

Example of everyday usage:

My theory is that Patel is sick and that’s why he isn’t here today. (This theory is little more than an opinion pulled from whoever’s asshole.)

Example of scientific usage:

The theory of evolution by natural selection and random mutation is a series of tested and general propositions that are so well substantiated and grounded in their subject matter that they can actually explain and even predict certain phenomena. (See the difference there? One is underpinned by volumes of evidence that empirically substantiate claims while the other is just conjecture. This is the usage we use with evolution.)

The next major misapprehension that people seem to suffer chronically from is this notion that human beings are somehow descended from monkeys. No, we are not descended from monkeys. Monkeys, apes, and human beings all share a common ancestor that ramified into the lot of us. In fact, no species alive today evolved from another species alive today, we simply share common ancestors.

Note the branches, species branch OFF and we see common ancestry at the point they do.

Note the branches, species branch OFF and we see common ancestry at the point they do.

You may feel a little confused at this point if you are among the majority of people who seriously misunderstand this concept. Don’t worry, you’re not stupid, just misinformed. Or you might be stupid. I don’t know. But let’s examine my diagram below and maybe you’ll begin to get the big picture.

Let’s imagine we have one species called ‘A’. ‘A’ will represent a large population of early primates. Maybe something like lemurs. ‘A’ is going to diverge into three separate populations due to geography.

Species ‘A’ is isolated over time by mountain ranges and rivers.

Three isolated, but genetically indistinguishable populations exist apart.

A (Original population splits into the three below, all genetically the same at first)

  • Aa (separated by and live in mountains)
  • Ab (sought refuge in and remain in a jungle valley)
  • Ac (migrated down a lengthy river)

Now, before these three populations of species ‘A’ separated, its members were able to mingle and breed, keeping the gene pool of the species pretty stable and uniform. But when the three populations separated there was no more mingling, too much space and too many obstacles kept them from exchanging genetic information via reproduction or migration.

Thousands of years pass and advantageous mutations have accumulated in all three populations. However, these mutations are unique to each population and specific to their new environments, creating a wedge that begins to isolate them genetically. You see, because the populations no longer mingle, the once uniform species ‘A’ is beginning to show unique traits and even behaviors among its disparate subpopulations; a, b, and c.

Where do these mutations come from? Simple, they’re just the mistakes left over from faulty DNA replication. Most of the time this ranges from innocuous to deleterious and those that suffer from genetic malfunctions die off and fail to reproduce. But sometimes innocuous mutations build up into something useful for survival. Maybe our mountain-going lemurs formed larger lungs for higher altitudes, while our valley lemurs developed longer, more dexterous digits and tails for climbing, and still our river lemurs managed to form some webbing between their toes for swimming and a love of water. Now let’s fast forward a million years.

Aa (This subpopulation evolves into two distinct species over time)

  • Aaa -> B
  • Aab -> Aac -> C

Ab (Also splits, one population remains the same while Aba evolves into a new species)

  • Ab -> Ab (could still breed with original population ‘A’ if it still existed)
  • Aba -> D

Ac simply evolves into E over time.

Ac -> Aca -> E

We see that subpopulation ‘Aa’ formed two distinct sub-groups. Maybe they took up different places over the mountain range and stopped mingling, leading to two distinct modern species, ‘B’ and ‘C’, over hundreds of thousands of years of separation. These two species are extant (are alive and well). ‘Aaa’ and ‘Aab’, as well as ‘Aac’, no longer exist. Their offspring were early predecessors of ‘B’ and ‘C’.

‘Ab’, the other subpopulation of parent species ‘A’ has remained largely unchanged from the initial population, and could in fact breed with it if it still existed. All this while the other subgroup ‘Abb’ has evolved into the distinct species ‘D’. But remember, the parent population ‘A’ is no more as it split into three groups which evolved separately.

‘Ac’ ultimately diversified into a subgroup apart from parent species ‘A’ and into a distinct species, ‘E’.

The change to ‘new and distinct’ species is not sudden or even detectable in some cases. It takes a very long, long time and transpires most slowly. It is not as though one day a baby is born and it is separate from its mother. Imagine it like a book of white pages that gradually turn more and more yellow as you turn them. Eventually you realize the color has changed but it is difficult to say where and when exactly.

Now there may still be come of you concerned with the vast differences between say a crocodile and a peacock. How can this be? How could this have come to be? Well, over a very lengthy period of time forces in nature, random genetic mutation, and sexual selection on the part of breeding pairs, all come together to craft a species that can survive and weather existence.

You may wish to remember that an English bulldog and a poodle could actually fuck and have children and yet, imagine how different they look. And mind you the genetic variation there is essentially negligible. Dog breeds can be sufficiently differentiated over mere decades of intentional breeding. Imagine what nature could do over several million years.

For those of you questioning the observable forces of evolution, feel free to do the most basic google search. Microevolution, which can easily be extrapolated, has indeed been observed and the fossil record provides an easily observable history of macroevolution.

But the last thing I want to add here is about the usual criticism of the fossil record regarding ‘gaps’. There are no such ‘gaps’ in the fossil record as many critics suppose. I say this because the ‘gaps’ they refer to are born of their stupidly ignorant imaginations, notions of hybrid animals that are perfect amalgams of their progenitor and what they are becoming.

Example:

You say birds come from reptiles? Well where are all the birdtiles? Where are the snakes with wings? Or the crocodiles with duck feet?

Basically these gap critics imagine a world of half-and-half animals running around and until we find those fossils we have no such proof of evolution. Except this is neither here nor there, because there is no ‘intermediate’ stage of any species, not really. Each species was its own species, get it? Homo-erectus, one of our ancestors, was a fully developed species. H. erectus was not a kind of ‘half-human’. Intermediates in evolutionary history only appear so because they are between an ancestor and descendant. Despite all this, however, there are in fact many transitional fossil forms to see.

There are, of course, numerous species we will never find or know existed. But this has nothing to do with evolution and the evidence for it. Genetics, the fossil record, and observable microevolution among populations of bacteria, cichlids, and fruit flies are all the evidence necessary to put this brilliant baby of a theory to rest. Case closed.

Common Christian Comments on Evolution: Stop Embarassing Yourselves

So…I was watching this ridiculous youtube channel called StateofDaniel and I felt the need to address some of his popularly held beliefs about Evolution and debunk them for the ignorant garbage they are.

 

Who is to say Evolution and God can’t coexist?

Let’s assume for a moment that God is the initiator and guide of Evolution. This would be problematic for Christians and believers for one big reason, it would prove definitively that God is an idiot.

Evolution as a process does not work toward perfection or even the greatest efficiency, it does damage control. It manages, curbs, and adjusts just enough to preserve survivability. There is so much evidence for this it is overwhelming and the evidence is in the imperfections of biology.

The dodo is a famous example. This bird’s ancestor, once capable of flight, eventually found refuge on an island, Mauritius, where there existed no predators and so, naturally, it lost its wings over time. This was because there was no longer a competitive advantage to having them. But then people showed up with their cats and dogs and those flightless birds found themselves in a boat without a paddle. So if God were managing that situation, wouldn’t he have had the foresight not to delete the wings?

If God were in control of Evolution then why would giant silkworm moths have vestigial mouths? That is to say, mouths they never use and don’t need. Vestigial refers to organs that are either increasingly unnecessary (of little use) or have become entirely useless.

Giant silkworm moths only mate in their adult stage and then they die. So what’s with the mouths if they don’t eat? Why would God force the caterpillar, when pupating, to invest time and energy developing organs and tissue it doesn’t need, especially when that energy is so valuable?

And what about congenitally blind animals with eyes, like various moles, fish, or salamanders? Why do you need even the remnants of eyes if you are built to live in the dark all the time?

And what about human beings? Why do we have so many problems with our bodies if a perfect being guided Evolution? What’s with the innumerable diseases we can contract? What about our appendix and tonsils, which are increasingly unnecessary? Even whales seem to have remnants of their land-going past.

The God and Evolution marriage believers need to explain the many imperfections that evolution saddles us with. Without God it is simple. This is a natural process, guided by forces that emphasize survivorship by whatever means possible, and this means adjustment, not perfection.

Oh…and there’s no evidence to suggest a god does exist. There’s that too.

 

Evolution advocates the evil moral philosophy of ‘survival of the fittest’.

No, it doesn’t. Evolution is a scientific theory which explains and predicts biological phenomena, founded upon the many tested and observed principles of that discipline. It does not lend itself to moral philosophy. Merely because people have misinterpreted and coopted Evolution in order to justify wicked ends does not mean Evolution, as a theory, is evil. This is like calling chemistry and physics evil because people have made nuclear weapons using their principles. Evolution and science have nothing to do with morality or ethics. One is an explanation of a process, the other is a tool for knowledge; how knowledge is used by people is a reflection of the users, not the knowledge. I can strangle someone with a scarf, this hardly makes scarves evil, nor does it mean they should be banned.

I want to add here that people often associate Hitler and Darwin, claiming Hitler used Darwin’s theories to justify killing the Jews. Darwin, as a matter of fucking fact, was one of the first people to openly state in his famous book that mankind was of one species, not distinct ones and that Europeans were not inherently superior, which means Hitler’s understanding of both Darwin’s work and Evolution was remarkably flawed. Had Hitler understood Darwin then he would have realized his accusations against the Jews were not only baseless but non-scientific.

 

Evolution places humans and animals on the same level.

Sigh. What ‘level’ is that exactly? Regarding origins? Yes. But what about language and consciousness? Evolution states clearly and proves clearly that human beings are apes and share a common ancestor with them just as all organisms share a common lineage at some juncture in their development as a species. But this does not mean as people we need start treating chickens or spiders as people. As conscious beings we can distinguish between levels of awareness, consciousness, and suffering, and it is this, for many people, that determines where they place their sympathies.

It is not because of God that you treat a fly and a dog differently. It is because you know and feel in your being that a dog exhibits greater awareness and response to suffering than a fly ever could – and it is for this reason that you think nothing of swatting flies and why in many societies you can actually face jail time for dog abuse.

On another note, it is religious philosophy that marginalizes animal life and justifies the needless abuse, rape, and exploitation of both the planet and its inhabitants. How so? Because books like the Bible justify man’s dominion over Earth and elevate him/her to the status of ‘Master’. Further, the Bible is no guide to neighborly behavior as it justifies ubiquitously murder, rape, genocide, and prejudice for as many times as it implores compassion. Worst of all, however, is its example of vicarious redemption through Jesus, which is as primitive as it is criminal. How can imposing punishment on the innocent absolve the guilty?

 

Evolution devalues human life.

No, Evolution is a scientific theory that explains biological phenomena. People devalue human life.

 

Evolution depresses me because it suggests people are purposeless animals instead of the masters of the universe the Bible says we are.

That’s not an argument, those are your feelings. But that being said, you can create meaning and purpose in your own life instead of sitting about like a plant and waiting for it to be read to you from a poorly written Bronze Age self-help book.  Human beings are capable of creating and manifesting their own destinies, unlike say, giraffes, which is why it is great to be human. So instead of waiting for someone to tell you what to do and who to be why don’t you try deciding for yourself? Besides, who said life has to have meaning?

Veganism: Against the Facts

Meat Causes Cancer: But not really.

First I want to address the prevarication that eating meat causes colon cancer. No it does not. Eating meat does not cause colon cancer. Eating an unbalanced diet, heavy in red and processed meat, puts you at risk for colon cancer. This is like saying drinking wine will give you cirrhosis. Anyone who speaks the English language can recognize how those two statements are different.

The American Cancer Society recommends that your meals be largely plant based. They do not recommend the complete abnegation of meat. They also state specifically that it is processed meat and red-meat that are ‘linked’ to colon cancer. Nowhere does it state that animal products in general lead to colon cancer.

I also want to point out that some studies linking high-protein diets to cancer susceptibility and early mortality are observational. This means that there is no way for a causal link to be established because the lifestyles of the people observed are unknown and dubious. Many of these people could have been smokers, genetically pre-disposed, or swimming in mercury.

Human Beings Are Naturally Herbivorous: Nope, that is also not true.

The next point I will make pertains to human biology. Human beings are listed as an omnivorous species which means we naturally eat meat as well as plant products and organisms. To say anything less is to expose an immense ignorance about human evolutionary biology and to invite questions about the appendix.

If We Grew Only Vegetables We Could Solve World Hunger: Yeah…wrong again.

Actually, the real problem has nothing to do with the simpering nonsense of idiots who have never visited a Wegman’s or Costco. If you have frequented these establishments of insane and mind-blowing bounty then it isn’t difficult to conclude that space isn’t the issue. The incessant and fallacious claim that we need to stop raising beef and chicken and turn to maize is bosh. We really just need to create new and accessible infrastructure and make nutrition affordable. Roads and bridges are the real issue. It may also help if we ate less…America.

Human Beings Have the Technology to Avoid Meat: Sometimes, and why should I avoid ALL meat?

I already addressed human starvation and distribution issues. It goes without saying that not everyone has a farmer’s market with fortified foods and vitamins down the street to assist in their non-animal diet initiative. I might also add that the vegan diet is not without its deficiencies. Any poorly balanced diet is problematic. I also question why we should. If not all nervous systems are equal, then why? I will follow up with this argument in the next paragraph.

Eating Animals Results in Needless Suffering: I don’t mean to be facetious but, what about the plants?

There is no magical line between the animal and plant cell that justifies the destruction of one and the preservation of the other. This is the case if we are irrational enough to group all animal species together and subsume them under the same capacity to suffer.

Plants can react to stimuli, communicate, and defend themselves against the threat of destruction. How is this not also worthy of our regard? In this documentary some trees are seen actively defending themselves against vicious herbivores who threaten to kill them. They produce a toxin to kill the leaf-eaters and then omit a gas to warn nearby trees of the impending danger.

You may be able to justify drawing a line between some species of animals and others, but it is impossible to draw a line between Animalia as a kingdom and Plantae.

Animals Cannot Give Consent: Okay, so what?

Again, why is it we are assuming an ant is the equivalent of a wild boar? Or that the wild boar’s desire to live is somehow greater and more worthy of our consideration than a maple that is two hundred years old? If you lack the authority to abrogate consent from a minnow then how exactly can you remove it from an organism that may be older than Jesus? It is obvious…you need to eat.

Summary

It is reasonable to discuss the dignified and respectful treatment of animals on many fronts ranging from animal testing to our food and textile industry. But it is not reasonable to group all animals and their nervous systems together. There is also no justification for assuming that a plant’s right to live is diminished when compared to an animal’s. We need to accept that consumption is an ugly business that requires the death of something. Now let’s be rational about who and what realistically experiences true suffering and fear at the hands of human appetites instead of grouping all animal organisms into one pot. And let us also recognize human biology, dietary needs, and the reality that meat is not inherently bad for us.

GM foods – STOP THE FEAR-MONGERING

The question is, are you really interested in understanding genetically modified foods? Or have you already decided that, no matter what, they must be bad for you? The road to understanding is often a long, drawn-out slog that most people fail to even initiate, preferring instead to sit in a ditch puttering over their own prejudice. We are all victims of this very human neurosis at some time or another and there have definitely been times where I have been obstinately slow to come to understanding.

But if you are interested in understanding why genetically modified foods are important, how they are not in fact dangerous, and why they are likely to remain benign then you do not need to read any further. You need only perform an honest web search, most likely Wikipedia, and check the sources that fabulously enlightening site uses and confirm these claims yourself.

To begin, we need to know a little about genetics. Don’t freak out. I know that is a frightening term. It is a frightening term even to those of us familiar with some of the nomenclature. Terms like RNA, DNA, polymerase, catalyst, amino acid, and transcription/translation have ways of daunting us into submission. And you should know that I will not go into much detail because, frankly, most people do not have the background knowledge to translate it. But I think I can paint a simple enough image of the process to help us understand why placing a gene in a foreign body is not the equivalent of a Frankenstein experiment. I am not a geneticist, but I have a brain, a degree in biology, and access to the internet. So, here we go.

If you don’t believe in evolution then the journey stops here. You can’t be included in the discussion because you reject rational discourse outright and refuse to apply the same dialectic and careful examination to your faith that you do everything else so, I am sorry, but you must leave if you are among that sad, desperate, huddled mass of idiots that rejects facts in favor of false consolation.

If you do believe in evolution by natural selection then we are free to continue. If you are rusty on the topic please brush up because I am not going to explain it in detail here. I will only summarize it by saying that beneficial genes promote reproduction or survival and thus generally continue in a gene pool. Genes that detract from this have a tendency to dissipate. Over time these genes accumulate or die away and can result in a new species. While there is always chance involved in survival, the process of natural selection is not random. It is deliberate. Mutations are random but whether that mutation thrives within a gene pool is not random. It is determined by how it contributes to the survival of an organism and species. Mutation, of course, is the engine that supplies entirely novel genetic material.

That being said we now understand that all species share genetic material. Not only do some species share the exact same genetic material, such as between the great apes and human beings, but the great majority of species share the same machinery such as amino acids and the mechanisms for translation and transcription. There are few exceptions to this rule. This is why scientists ask the question, ‘Did all human life come from one bacterium to ultimately ramify into the complex of genomes we see today?’ What does this mean? It means that when you put a gene from one organism into another there is nothing new or foreign about it. The genetic code is universal and thus it can be thought of as a set of legos that, no matter the model you take pieces from, another model will easily accommodate those pieces.

That having been said, we can now address the notion that placing a ‘fish’ gene inside a chicken or species of corn, will somehow make said organisms smell or appear like a fish. This is ridiculous and exposes only an immense ignorance about genetics. To give you an example of why I have lost faith in humanity, watch this youtube video of a crowd of people taking a course in science from an eleven-year-old child. There is actually a slide revealing a tomato with fins and a fish tail. Really?

I will give you an example of how genetically modified foods work, why they are beneficial, and how fear-mongering has a tendency to breed ignorance.

Papaya crops in Hawaii were one time at risk of a virus that threatened to decimate the industry. However, thanks to gene modification, the industry was saved and no one died of cancer as a result. Please feel free to examine these findings for yourself instead of listening to lectures by parroting pre-teens.

To add insult to injury to GM-hating vegans everywhere, I will add that thanks to ‘Bacillus thuringiensis’ corn now has resistance to both insects and herbicides and apparently some other properties as well. And again, no one died of cancer. Adding these bacillus genes did not turn the corn plants into bacteria. Surprise.

It is not true that genetically modified foods cause cancer.

Maybe one day some study will legitimately prove that such a risk exists. But none conclusively state as much so far. If you are thinking of citing Dr. Seralini of France and his study regarding the rats, cancer, and blah, blah, blah then please stop yourself and read the following article by The Economist.

It is fair to say that this does not prove that GM foods are safe. It is also fair to say that until legitimate studies are published that confirm one another and come not just from one man in France that you cannot claim GM foods to be the source of all evil and cancer. In short, the article exposes that the cancerous rats were prone to cancer in the first place and no link or connection could be illustrated proving that the GM foods caused the cancer. It is notable that several previous studies have never found a link between GM foods and cancer. But because of this study Kenya banned all GM crops and Russia apparently suspended imports.

If you read on you will find that due to more fear-mongering, ‘…a group in the Philippines destroyed a field study of Golden Rice, a type genetically modified to carry beta-carotene, a chemical precursor of vitamin A. Deficiencies of this vitamin contribute to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children every year, and make many more blind.’

This is another example of how ignorance and uninformed beliefs kill people and result in human suffering. Do you have a right to be ignorant?

The bottom line is this. There is no legitimate evidence linking GM foods to cancer. There is no reason to believe that placing a gene from one organism into another will create a monster that will eat your face. Please, do not take my word for it. Read scientific journals and non-bias sources that are not linked to Monsanto or to some conspiracy theory or animal rights group.