The Evolution Debate: Transitional Fossils

Not a transitional fossil.

According to proponents of evolution, PRATTs are Points Refuted a Thousand Times—arguments by creationists against evolution that are easily refuted, yet keep coming up again and again. I’ve dissected a few of them so far to try to figure out what underlying misconceptions make them so hard to get rid of. Sometimes, it’s vague or unclear language that lets them sidestep the counterarguments, so if you want a more productive debate, you have to be very precise about your language. In the case of micro- versus macro-evolution, creationists mainly say that evolution is unbelievable or unreasonable. In that case, I feel like the way to move forward is to shift the argument from the facts to the plausibility of evolution’s claims so that it can’t be dismissed so easily.

Now, it’s time to get into the actual evidence for evolution and tackle perhaps the biggest, most widely used, and most bitterly debated PRATT in this field:

“There are no transitional fossils.”

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The Evolution Debate: Micro v. Macro

I’m slowly moving forward with my series about evolution. In my previous posts, here and here, I’ve tried to explore why debates between evolution and creationism are so unproductive. One thing I’ve noticed is people on both sides of the debates being sloppy with their language and poking holes in their opponents’ arguments that wouldn’t have appeared with more careful wording.

Today, I want to follow on from my second post and get into the substance of the debate, addressing specific, often over-played points that Creationists bring up. The argument I want to dissect today is:

Microevolution is real (or real science), but macroevolution is not.”

Or, as Creation Today puts it, out of the six different “meanings” of evolution, “[only] micro-evolution has anything to do with real science.”

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Book Review: Shadow of the Conqueror by Shad M. Brooks

If you haven’t heard of Shad Brooks, you should really check him out. He’s probably best known for his YouTube channel, Shadiversity, where he talks about all kinds of medieval swords, castles, fantasy literature, and related topics. Though an engineer by trade, he is amazingly knowledgeable about medieval armament, and I’ve learned things from him that are useful even in science fiction writing.

However, Shad isn’t just an engineer and a medieval enthusiast. He has written a fantasy novel of his own, relying on his extensive knowledge. Shadow of the Conqueror, Book 1 of The Chronicles of Everfall, is now available for sale on Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble, and probably others. Everfall offers a unique fantasy world that isn’t like anything I’ve seen in total, but includes brilliant worldbuilding, authentic historical lifestyles, and some of the favorite fantasy tropes reconstructed in a rigorous way.

Now, I’ll admit, the book had a rough start. Shad’s exposition felt stilted and forced for maybe the first five chapters—more like he was explaining his world in one of his videos than actually telling a story in it. (And his dialogue could use a bit of work, too.) I much prefer stories that throw you in the deep end and tell you only what the characters see, leaving you to piece things together from the context. It can be tricky to pull off, but when it’s done well, it makes you feel like you’re really there. I don’t think Shad needed to go all the way there, but showing rather than telling at the beginning would have been a big help.

But for all that, once you get through the first few chapters, Shadow of the Conqueror is a pretty good story from then on. I was worried at first, but it really picked up by the end.

My rating: 4 out of 5.

Spoilers Below.

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Essay: Harry Potter Theory: What Was Dumbledore’s Actual Plan?

The Harry Potter series is one of the most beloved stories of this generation, but it’s not without its flaws. J. K. Rowling is a very good storyteller, but not a very good world-builder, and the closer you look at her stories, the more plot holes you see, and the end of Deathly Hallows has always been especially difficult for me to understand. For one, it’s not entirely clear what actually happened—why, exactly, Harry survived and how he later won—but there’s a deeper problem. I have a hard time understanding what Albus Dumbledore was thinking, because Harry’s victory, which Dumbledore ostensibly prepared him for, seemed to leave far, far too much to chance to ever work.

Dumbledore gets a lot of criticism for his actions over the course of the series. Many fans even go so far as to suggest (as Snape did) that he was acting maliciously in his treatment of Harry. “[Y]ou have been raising him like a pig for slaughter,” Snape says (DH Ch.33), but on that, I disagree. I think it’s clear that Dumbledore didn’t know a lot of important things until late in the game. Voldemort had him on the back foot, and he was searching for answers that might not exist.

However, by careful examination of the last books of the series, I think we can piece together Dumbledore’s real plan. Since I’m a big-time Potter fan, in honor of Harry Potter’s 39th birthday, I’ve written an essay where I analyze Dumbledore’s plan to defeat Voldemort throughout the books. I’ve decided to post it directly to my Essays Page because it’s pretty long, and it doesn’t break down into separate posts very well, but I still wanted to link it from my main blog so my regular readers could see it.

Click here to read the whole thing.

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The Moon Landing at 50

Unless you’ve been living under a Moon rock, you’re probably aware of how significant today and this week are. July 20, 2019: the fiftieth anniversary of the first Moon landing.

What can I say about this event that won’t have already been said a bunch of times all over the internet? Probably not much, to be honest, but I figure if I’m going to be a proper astrophysicist (not to mention science blogger), I ought to record my thoughts about something this big.

I guess I don’t feel all that celebratory, though. The way I see it, I just turned 30 this week. My birth is now a decade closer to Apollo 11 than to the present, and yet, I’ve never witnessed a manned Moon landing in my lifetime. I’ve watched a space station be built, slowly and painstakingly. I’ve seen a Space Shuttle lost. I’ve spent my entire academic career watching a telescope being built that will revolutionize my line of work when we finally get it off the ground. *knocks on wood* And the Curiosity rover landing on Mars in 2012 is still some of the most fun I’ve ever had. But realistically, we don’t seem any closer to getting back to the Moon than we did 15 years ago, when we were picking up the pieces after Columbia.

It’s sad that in 50 years, we haven’t gone back to the Moon. Especially when it seems like something that should have been easy to do a generation ago, and we wonder where our technological capability went. But then again, a lot of our rose-tinted notions about the golden age of space exploration aren’t entirely accurate. (And by the way, I can’t take credit for this analysis. A lot of it comes from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book, Space Chronicles.)

The truth is, the space program has never been super-popular, the Moon Shot especially. It cost a huge amount of money, peaking at over $150 billion per year if you calculated it as a fraction of today’s budget, and it had no obvious tangible benefit for the American people at the time. Arguably, the real benefit of the space race was not felt until decades later, when schoolchildren who were inspired to be scientists and engineers grew up and commercialized space with GPS and communications satellites, and made other many discoveries and inventions that had nothing to do with space. And there’s no way to know how much of that would have happened anyway.

We love to reminisce about the Apollo program today, but at the time, public support was lackluster, and a majority of Americans thought we were spending too much on the space program. Everyone was excited and proud of our achievement when Neil and Buzz touched down, but people had only been lukewarm about it while it was in development. And by the time we left in 1972, people were downright bored with it. We complain today about people having short attention spans, but after three years and six successful missions, and with Mars a lot further away than people thought, it couldn’t hold the nation’s interest anymore.

We complain about politicians not being able to plan past the next election cycle now, but the truth is, they were playing the same game even then. Think about it: if John F. Kennedy hadn’t been shot, and if the Apollo 1 fire hadn’t happened, then we would have gotten to the Moon not just in that decade, but within Kennedy’s second Presidential term in 1968. And Kennedy himself was only really into it for political reasons.

Now, where am I going with this? Honestly, I don’t know. I could complain at length about NASA, Congress, special interests, and every President since Reagan, left and right, but all that just feels like a distraction right now.

The Great Pyramid was the tallest building on Earth for 3,800 years. It was finished in 2560 BC, and it wasn’t surpassed until AD 1311. What’s more, no one built anything dramatically taller until the late 1800s. The parallels are a little too close for comfort for me. One of our greatest achievements as a civilization of all time was also one of our very first, and no one ever bothered to replicate it because it was insanely expense and pretty near useless.

Will we be content with only what space flight we need to maintain our communications satellites for the next 4,000 years? I hope not. And we are making strides in exploring the planets robotically, and in studying the universe through new and better space telescopes. We’re also getting closer to new manned missions, both through NASA and potentially private enterprise. And as much as I’ve praised him, Elon Musk isn’t a lone genius, either, even if he’s a decade ahead of the curve. We’re going back. It’s going to be slow and plagued with problems, scientific and otherwise, but I’m confident that we’re going back.

Even so, I still have wonder what took us so long. And I can’t help but think: there are only four living humans, all in their eighties, who have walked on the surface of another world. If we ever let that number fall to zero, even for a short time, I feel like we’re doing a disservice not just to them, but to ourselves.

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Dystopia as an Inverted Hero’s Journey: Act III

Act II

Generally, in the traditional hero’s journey, The Ultimate Boon (or its equivalent), will be the climax of the story. What’s left is simply the denouement, and it will be covered very quickly if it is written out at all.

Note that this is not always the case. The nominal third act can become the actual third act of the story, but if it is, it’s parsed in a less obvious way. For example, the original Star Wars very deliberately followed the hero’s journey, but if you map it out, Luke blowing up the Death Star and winning is not The Ultimate Boon. Instead, you have to back up and see that the Meeting with the Goddess is rescuing Leia from the Death Star, and The Ultimate Boon is returning with the plans that tell how to destroy it (the Return from the Underworld, in other analyses). When Luke actually succeeds in destroying the Death Star, it’s what Campbell’s calls Master of Two Worlds.

Most of the time, though, the third act of the hero’s journey is short, though still important. Again, different analyses parse it in different ways, but the main parts seem to be The Road Back, The Return Threshold, and Master of Two Worlds.

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Dystopia as an Inverted Hero’s Journey: Act II

Not one of the books I’m analyzing, but still illustrates the Meeting with the Devil pretty well.

Act IAct III

The second act of the traditional hero’s journey is usually (though not always) the adventure proper, from the time the hero leaves the ordinary world to go on his quest, to his victory over the enemy or otherwise achieving his goal. In my analysis of dystopian literature, I’m analyzing the classic novels of the genre in the context of an inverted hero’s journey, where the hero starts as a successful person in his world, but rebels against the State and ultimately fails and falls. As in the traditional hero’s journey, most of the action occurs here, in Act II.

Again, I am using my own list of signposts for the hero’s journey, not necessarily the same as you might see elsewhere. This is fine because everyone analyzes it differently, although I am basing my sequence on two of the most detailed analyses, those of Campbell and Volger. Below are the stages of how I analyze Act II.

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