Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Please, for the love of all that is reasonable, stop quoting Dostoyevsky.

I've been watching a fantastic debate between Christopher Hitchens and Rabbi David Wolpe. I was enjoying at least the hope that this debate would follow with solid intellectual honesty and some concessions would be made.

Unfortunately, midway though Wolpe's opening statement, it occurred to me that he hasn't read a single letter of Dostoevsky.

This is clear when he utters a statement I've heard from many who clearly haven't read 'The Brothers Karamazov': Wolpe says, "Ivan Karamazov says in Dostoevsky's novel, famously, that "without God everything is possible (sic)." Except Dostoevsky feared that eventuality".

Read the Brothers Karamazov. I have. You might be surprised to find that Ivan Karamazov never says such a thing. Ivan, one of the two aforementioned 'brothers', was an atheist and did declare (early on) that there was no such thing as immorality. But the sort of immorality that Ivan admonishes is the very divine command argument that I think we all can agree is wrong. Is it not pernicious to do something only because of promise of reward when you die or (conversely) threat of punishment if you don't?

Isn't it simply better to be good for the sake of goodness? Or for the sake of your brother? (hint, hint)

Ivan's philosophy cannot be diffused down to this completely fabricated quotation. To do so would be to rob the character and the author who created him the credit he deserves for encountering, before even the philosophers that defined the school of Existentialism, existentialist though. I see much more uncertainty with Ivan as the novel progresses, instead of uncertainty, and the suggestion that this reduction is at all valid robs the literature of vast meaning.

Furthermore, to suggest that Dostoevsky himself shared this view is perhaps more deleterious. Now, not only is it suggested that a main character draws such simple conclusions, but the author of one of the greatest literary works of the 20th century is portrayed as "fearful of its eventuality", as though the Brothers was some warning against atheism!

This sort of intellectual dishonesty is poisonous.

Shame on Mr. Wolpe. And shame on those who continue to misquote Dostoevsky to advance their theism.

Monday, November 17, 2008


So sad that for many, this is TRUE.

Tales of the Perineum

Pictured here is one of many different views of the Pelvic Floor and Perineum. This is the region of the body that has, well, all of those bits that you need to finagle around during your history and examination without *actually* talking about them.

At my medical school 'Abdomen, Pelvis, and Perineum' (APP) is the last large anatomical section covered before the comprehensive final exam. The faculty, wisely, threw us into Perineum first, as though to get out of the way.

You see, this section turns every driven, focused, sometimes married medical student into a Twelve-year old-- if only for a few minutes during a supplemental study group session.

My moment came this past Thursday when our Supplemental Instruction, an elective review group that meets twice a week to review lecture and lab concepts started reviewing the features of external genitalia. For the vast majority of the time, we sift through the slides, label diagrams, and look at Netter diagrams that are just contrived enough, without sacrificing accuracy, that one wouldn't feel uncomfortable.

Avoid eye contact, crack a little one liner, and keep labeling-- Rinse repeat.

Our group leader, Christine, thought we should go through and check our answers as a group. Usually this is a portion of the class where a few of the students, typically bright, type-A's tend to dominate the conversation and turn each question-answer session into a competition. I joined in at the beginning of the year, tasting the same prospect they must have to set themselves apart from a group; but I've since chilled out and filled the niche of "that guy who follows up what people say with some witty retort". I figure, let's save the frustration and stress of such competition for when we have to impress someone.

Christina pointed at a structure using her handy-dandy overhead and we mumbled out an answer (or sometimes a few different answers). We began on the external female genitalia: mons pubis, labia majora, etc.

Finally her pointer landed smack dab on the glans clitoris.

Well, in the rush to answer first my good, and married, friend Steve (one of the competitive types, but with a good sense of humor) blurted out, "External urinary meatus....uh..err." He strained, quickly realizing the gravity of his error.

I couldn't resist. Before Steve could correct himself I loudly responded, "So Steve, how's your marriage?"

The group erupted in laughter for a good moment, and a few people chimed in with various un-professional-but-hilarious comments they seemed to have bottled up. It was as though we performed some fasciotomy on the compartment syndrome-like tension.

After getting that out of our system we continued with the review series and went on learning.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why is Science Ed. Important?

Why is science education important?

Well, if only to relieve the fears of this woman, who would feel much better if she only knew what light refraction was.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Medical School Interview: Some Advice

So, I haven't posted in a while and I thought I'd post some of my musings.

I work as an admissions ambassador at the medical school I attend. It's a nice extracurricular and gives me a chance to show off the school that I'm proud to be attending to prospective students. I also like helping applicants feel at ease through what is a very nerve-wracking experience.

My favorite part of the job is conducting the student interview. I really get excited when an applicant gives well-thought responses to the very ambiguous and often intellectually difficult questions that the admissions board dreams up. However, after conducting a bad interview or two, I thought I might post some suggestions for any pre-meds reading this.

What not to do during an interview:

1. Do not ask the interviewer what he or she thinks about the question.
I've thought about the question, I've probably answered it in my interview. The idea of the interview is for me to get a better idea of you as a candidate, not the other way around.

2. Name dropping isn't impressing anybody.
No, I'm not interested that you share Schopenhauer's opinion on the subject. That is, unless you explain what Schopenhauer's idea was and why you agree with it. Asking me if I've "read Schopenhauer" and stopping when I say that I have doesn't make you a better candidate.

3. Don't bring weaknesses up unless asked.
I make it a point to ask what applicants think their biggest strengths and weaknesses are. However, don't start the interview off by telling me why you got that "C" in Physics. I didn't even know you got a "C" in Physics until you told me. And now I have to listen to your awkward excuse. If you are going to say things without a prompt, make them positive things.

4. Speaking of weaknesses... be honest.
I wasn't the strongest candidate for medical school. I wasn't the 4.0, 15 extracurricular, 42 MCAT student either. But when I ask you a question that requires some honest introspection, don't give me a weak answer. For instance, if I ask, "How do you think you won't be a good fit for medicine as a career?" a bad response will be, "I care too much. I will have a hard time if I don't get the tests I need when I want them." Or when I ask what you think is a character weakness, don't reply, "I am too compassionate. I would spend all of my time on every patient so they receive the best care I can give, at the expense of my own time."

Give me a real weakness and a real solution. I will give you points for self-examination.

5. Don't ignore the strengths and weaknesses of each program

I chuckle when I read the U.S. News and World ranking of medical schools. You know how they make their lists? They rank schools based upon faculty bias, the credentials of entering students, and the number of applicants that the school rejects. I'm serious, check out their methodology.

The fact is: latissimus dorsi, glycolysis, Trisomy 21, dermatomes, H&Ps, and all of the details that a med student are expected to learn do not change from one medical school to another. Every student is expected to demonstrate the same proficiency on the USMLE and every school will likely prepare you.

So don't ask me about my schools rank.

Instead, tell me the aspects of the program you are applying for that you like or don't like (if you care to). For instance, my school puts an emphasis on developing globally minded physicians who have a concern for the underprivileged. My school also wants to create doctors that will stay in state. My school has one of the best Primary Care programs in the country.

Telling me you are a future Dr. Meredith Gray hoping to go into CT Surgery out in suburbia will not earn you points.

Yes, our students pass the USMLE at higher than the national average (which is already 90-ish percent). No, I don't know our exact score. Yes, you will likely place your first or second choice residency if you try hard enough. Yes, even programs like Mayo and Mass Gen. No, I'm not impressed that you went to Darthmouth.

6. Choose your examples wisely
One thing that impresses me is when an applicant supports his or her answer to my questions with an example from his/her clinical experience. I'm aware that not everyone has clinical experience, but I can guarantee it will make a much stronger applicant out of you if you do.

If you don't have clinical experience, talk about some sort of experience that might be equally significant, such as volunteering at a charity or following a family member through a medical problem.

The reason I say this is because I find it hard to believe that your experience at Best Buy working on the Geek Squad taught you as much in terms of interpersonal communication. I'm sure it was a difficult day for many of the people who came in with broken computers and software. But I doubt the experience was as life changing as you are describing it. Besides, I don't these people are having nearly the "bad day" that they could be having in, say, a cancer ward or emergency room.

Hope the advice helps. Or at the very least, amuses.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election: My predictions.

My “day of” Predictions for the Election. I’ll be liveblogging this.

In 2 hours, approximately, polls close in parts of New Hampshire, lots of Kentucky and lots of Indiana.

Indiana, the crossroads state, the “South of the North” if you will… is sort of a conundrum. I always know when I’ve crossed the border between Michigan and Indiana. Country music infiltrates stores and gas station. Drawls and drawn out syllabic stresses leak out of people’s mouths. And “yee haws” spring up randomly from large enough crowds. Pollsters have Indiana listed as a “swing state”, however it has voted Republican in the last 10 elections. Gary and Indianapolis will definitely go blue, but given our electoral college system, I suspect that Obama won’t be able to take enough from the otherwise massive landmass occupied by the rural poor who, paradoxically, consistently vote for the candidate that is least likely to help them. I’m going to predict that McCain will take the state.

I think recent polling has Kentucky pegged Republican. I think that the 6-7% undecided voters will likely split down the middle. Some polling shows many of these undecided as already setting up camp with McCain.

New Hampshire will go with Obama. The reason I think this is because if we look at their history, they have aligned with the more charismatic candidates in the election. Also, NH voted democrat in 2004, obviously sick of Bush policies. With McCains alignment with the GOP home base, he’s consequently “aligned” with Bush. This will play against him. Cheney’s endorsement of McCain can’t help him, either… honestly I don’t see how Cheney endorsing anything would help…

At 6:00, Obama will have 4 electoral votes and McCain 19.

At 7:00 we’ll find out if I’m right about NH, KY, and IN. Polls start closing at Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia.

I don’t think we’ll see too many surprises. Here’s my prediction:

Georgia will go Republican.

South Carolina showed some promise for Obama in preliminary polling. But more recent polling has shown the gap to close and McCain to take a slight lead. I’m not very confident about my predictions in this state, but seeing as they voted Bush in ’04, I don’t think the southern conservative nature of the state will turn it Red on the election maps after the polls close.

Florida is definitely a swing. Palm Beach, Miami, and most of the southeastern state are typically democrat. However, I’m confident that Obama will take the state despite Florida’s strong conservative constituency in the panhandle and among a large population of elder voters. I think they are going to support Obama’s social policies. Conversely, they could be scared off by comparisons of Obama’s positions to socialism or drawn to the fact that McCain is likely older than they are.
I think today will be the first election in 40 years (the last 10 elections) that Virginia votes Democrat.

So, current count:
Obama has 44 electoral votes, and McCain has 42

A word about “swing states”.
Current polling shows that Obama will win even if he loses the swing states. So some upsets will need to happen for McCain to terrorize my future with fear of his impending death and Palin’s rise to power.

As it stands, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, North Dakota, Montana, and Nevada are “swing” states that I’ve not mentioned yet.

Of these, I think Obama will take Nevada (he won strong in the primaries) and Missouri.

McCain will likely take Montana and North Dakota. These are based on historical best estimates.

That leaves Ohio and North Carolina.

Ohio is a unique state, and fits in a bit of a political crossroad. It has a higher distribution of urban centers than Indiana, which suggests to me that it is more likely to gravitate towards Obama. However, the regions that are Republican are some of the most conservative districts in our country. Ohio voters are aware of their influence and potential to direct elections following 2004. So, there has been a lot of work done by both political parties to gather support in the state. However, even though the gap was closing with recent campaigning by the wildly popular Palin, I think the 1-5% lead by Obama will stick.

Call my optimistic, but I really hope he takes Ohio, that will really suck the life out of McCain’s run.

Virginians haven’t voted Democrat since LBJ… I really feel like the large urban growth and support through local politicians (popular politicians) in the area for Obama will swing it for the Democrats. This would also be a fairly big victory for Obama.

Now, I’m going to take a break until the first results come in and study for Anatomy. Take care, readers!

Update: 7:01 PM.. Looks like the predictions were solid. McCain takes KY and Obama NH. So far, it's almost neck and neck in Indiana, however, Obama is taking some of the rural (and typically Republican) districts. Polling hasn't even closed in the larger population centers.

A final note on the Election:
Obviously I couldn't liveblog as studying comes first for medical students. However, I was pleased to see Obama take a massive victory in this election. I can't help but feel hopeful despite my natural skepticism and cynicism when I hear him speak.

We learned that Virginia can vote Democrat when the man has the degree of character that Obama does.
We learned that young people can go out and vote and actually change the election.
We learned that in Michigan, we support science and research as well as making relatively harmless drugs one step closer to decriminalization.
We learned that there can be a massive voter turnout, overall.
We also learned, importantly, that our country is ready for a man that won not by the "color of his skin but the content of his character."

A happy day for America.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Imagine no Religion...

This news breaks my heart. We are living in the 21st Century. However, in Somalia on October 28 a woman who was raped was found guilty of "adultery" by Islamic courts, buried to her neck, and STONED TO DEATH. All of this occurring in a soccer stadium in front of a crowd of thousands...

Why do I, an atheist, care about religion?

Because of stories like this. Stories of people who might otherwise be good, be so manipulated by "infallible dogma" that they can commit heinous evil.

And before the Christians can claim a moral high ground, I would recommend they check out the following verses in their bibles:
First: Mat 5:18-20 to establish the fact that the Law stands... every "jot and tittle" straight from Christ's supposed mouth.

Let's take a look at the Law the "perfect, all knowing, all good, all powerful God" commanded:
17:2-7 <--Kill everyone who has religious beliefs that are different from your own.
24:10-23 <--Whoever curses or blasphemes must be stoned to death.
A man curses and blasphemes while disputing with another man. Moses asks God what to do about it. God says that the whole community must stone him to death. "And the children of Israel did as the Lord and Moses commanded."

Who else should be killed, Lord?
Homosexuals should be stoned: Leviticus 20:13
Children that Curse their parents: Leviticus 20:9 Exodus 21:17
If women being raped don't scream loud enough: Deuteronomy 22:23-24
A woman if she isn't a virgin on her wedding night: Deuteronomy 22:13-22

Don't pretend for a second that Christianity is any better... just don't.

However, I can pre-empt a popular response. If you turn your bibles to John 7:53-8:12 you can read the story of Jesus and the Woman taken in adultery. it's everyone's favorite verse, "Let the one who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her." Powerful stuff. Then, he actually lets the girl go and doesn't condemn her (possibly because she's actually innocent, because he's never let a guilty person off the hook without a good chastising in any of his other accounts). It raises some questions... does Jesus really think the Law of God given by Moses was no longer in force and should not be obeyed? Did he think her sin should not be punished?

Doesn't matter, actually because here's the kicker: it was not originally in the Gospel of John. In fact, it was added later by scribes. The story is not even found in early manuscripts of John; such as the two 3rd century manuscripts of John's gospel (P66 and P75 for "papyrus 66 and 75") as well as the 4th century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus where we get more or less the best and most complete early version of John's gospel. No, the story mysteriously pops up circa 400 AD in Codex Bezae. The vast majority of textual scholars even admit that this story was made up.

For the laypeople, here's a wikilink:
Pericope of the Adulterer

Why I'm voting for Obama.

I've said a lot about why I'm not voting for McCain and Palin. However, I've not suggested any good reason to vote for Obama. Here's a massive start:


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Don't Vote

Election topic: Gay Marriage

I'm in an ongoing debate concerning whether or not gay marriage should be made law. I think that it should. I wonder if any of my blog readers have anything on the subject that they'd like to say.

My Case For Changing the Civil and Legal Definition of Marriage to Include Same Gender Couples

First, we’ll begin with definitions:

1. What do we mean by marriage in this context?

2. What are Same Gender Relationships? (this is important in our analogy within the Civil Rights Argument)
a. What is homosexuality?

And the conclusion… this is painless. :-D

3. The Case for Civil rights
a. The importance of Civil Rights.
b. Gay Marriage is a matter of civil rights that is different, but analogous to the change in marriage law to include interracial marriages. I will ultimately argue that the Supreme Court case that recognized Interracial Marriages as a civil right under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution has.

1. What do we mean when we say Marriage?

My Opponent says,
"We have all talked about marriage in our own terms. My ordering toward procreation, Erik's expression of love, Corvines "human well being", and all of that, these are not the objective definition of marriage. If you are to look at just the objective definition of marriage, without any connotation whatsoever, it is just a word. Marriage means marriage, just like how cheese means cheese, and jump means jump."

The debate that we’re having concerns the civil, legal union of (at the moment) of a man and a woman. For the purposes of this debate, we are only talking about the civil institution of marriage as it is recognized by the government. That is, informal or non-legal union (such as any religious ceremony) is not what we’re talking about.

Because we are talking about the civil institution, it is subject to law, and law is subject to lawmakers. These lawmakers can change the law to reflect the desires of their voting constituencies (the people) while at the same time ensuring as much personal liberty as possible (ideally). So, marriage in this sense, is a social creation. Also, it doesn’t appear that the people of the U.S. want to get rid of marriage and still wish the institution to persist… so I’m not going to concern my arguments with whether or not we should get rid of it.

This also raises another important point: Marriage exists only as how we define it as a civilization. Marriage has not looked the same over time, and responds to the rapid evolution of our social mores and taboos.

-Until the mid 19th Century, women had no legal rights in marriage. They could not own property, sign contracts, or legally control any wages they might earn.

-As late as 1930, twelve states allowed boys as young as 14 and girls as young as 12 to marry (with parental consent).

-As late as 1940, married women were not allowed to make a legal contract in twelve states.

-In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia. As a result of the decision, Virginia and fifteen other states had their anti-miscegenation laws declared unconstitutional. Those states were: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.

My opponent also says,
”Here is the interesting part: most of the connotations of marriage are derived from the objective definition, and its practice. If you change marriage, you change the connotations that are attached to it.”

This illuminates a fundamental flaw in many arguments concerning same sex marriage: opponents believe that there is some objective definition of marriage.
Examining the historical record shows that this is simply mistaken.

Here are some attributes of a civil and legal marriage and the attached connotations:

1. The people getting married must be of legal age and consenting adults. In most instances this is 18 years old (the time the country recognizes, for the most part, that you are an adult). This completely invalidates any argument for pedophilic marriages (they aren’t adults or legally consenting) or human-animal marriages (they aren’t legally consenting citizens).

2. Marriage typically requires proof of citizenship; however it doesn’t preclude one partner from having citizenship in a different couple from getting a legally-recognized marriage. I just tacked this on there because it further invalidates the human-animal marriage “rebuttal”.

3. You also must be mentally lucid in order to get married. This is important because it (ideally) prevents people from obtaining marriages while intoxicated for obvious reasons (namely that it distorts our judgment and ability to give sound consent). This is just the final nail in the coffin of the human animal marriage argument.

4. You cannot be too-closely related to your intended spouse. So incest is out.

5. Either partner can have any possible ethnicity without prohibition or penalty. We’ll get to why this later.

Here are some things about marriage that aren’t required.
1. You are not required to be in love. This is because there is no way in a court of law for us to prove one way or another that two people are or aren’t in love. This usually is not an issue because marriage is a contract made by consenting adults, and people that aren’t in love don’t tend to get married. I make this point because any debate about whether or not homosexuals are in love is just as irrelevant.

2. You are not required to have sex, to prove you’ve had sex, or to pledge to have sex. I’m sure this sounds strange when talking about marriage, but bear with me. Shakers can get legally married. Celibate monks can get married. Marriage is not a recognition of a sexual relationship, it is a recognition of a legal relationship. This is also why it is a false distinction to suggest that “sex matters” when homosexuals wish to get married. Recognizing a Same Sex Relationship does not, therefore, require that there be any commentary on the sex life of that relationship—it is a legal non-issue. This also means that, contrary to what my opponent has stated, marriage is not changed so that it connotes their “sexual behavior”. Here’s where I believe the logic of my opponent is mistaken:

”If sexual preferences or the act of sex is irrelevant, then a homosexual can enjoy marriage to a member of the opposite gender (another irrelevant point) just as much as a heterosexuals could enjoy this marriage. So, there is no reason to alter the definition of marriage to suit sexual desires, preferences, or orientation because those are irrelevant to the issue and to practice.
If you are saying that sex is such a relevant factor that constitutes change to marriage (the defining factor for homosexuals), then you are tearing down the loving, caring, and compassionate side of marriage to being about sex and sexual acts that are not about procreation. You say things by doing this, like the relationship that a man and a woman have can't be what it is without the sexual desire/act in regards to non-procreative purposes. This, of course, is a slap in the face of these relationships.

You should understand from paragraph 2 why this is an erroneous position.
Even though I say sex is irrelevant, I do not say that the consensual relationship is irrelevant. Quite the opposite, in fact. You bring up procreation… which leads to the next point…

3. You are not required to ever, if the consenting adults choose, make children. As many marriages do tend to result in childbirth, the institution has accommodated this through multiple benefits as well as equally (legally) shared partnership by the couple over the raising of the child. Now, I think that these benefits should be given to all parents, regardless of the marital status and for the most part they are—if only for the sake of the child. The reason I bring this up is because my opponent defines marriage this as such:
I have to repeat this point nearly every post it seems: "Ordered Toward" does not mean "Only a Means to". The key difference is that success or failure at an attempt does not change the nature of that attempt at all. Therefore, the infertility of a couple is classified as a "failed attempt" at procreation, instead of being different in nature altogether.
If you have a relationship that is founded on the infertility of one or both of the partners, then this is an abomination that does not deserve the respect of marriage.

You probably know why this statement is also wrong. Marriage is not “founded on fertility” (my quotes, not his, I know what his statement reads). This is not how we define marriage. Marriage makes legal provisions for a couple that decide to have babies, but it is not about babies.

Tangentially, it should also be noted that an infertile couple’s “attempt” at procreation will be as successful as a homosexual couple’s attempt—every time. Neither are “failed attempts”, they are both “futile attempts” (depending on the severity of the infertility, of course). However this makes me wonder… if the last line is to be supported, what about the young married couple that decide they don’t want to procreate? What if the woman gets a hysterectomy? Should we then remove their rights as a married couple because they are willfully abstaining from procreation?

I suspect that you do not think we should.

2. What are Same Gender Relationships?
This one should be easy. Same gender relationships or, if you prefer the Greek, homosexual (meaning of the same sex, or gender) relationships are by all definitions completely similar to their heterosexual counterparts except in two regards:

-The members of the relationship are the same gender!
-Because they are the same gender, any sexual activity that they choose to participate in will not produce offspring!

Other than this, there is no reason to believe that same gender couples cannot carry on the same relationships that heterosexual couples (you know, the folks we let marry each other) do!

But that’s strange! Why would anyone be attracted to the same gender?

Good question. There’s no smoking gun that people are born with their sexual orientation completely sorted out. However, there is good evidence to suggest that there is a genetic component and environmental component to the people they desire to have relationships with.

But there is an important lesson to be learned: asking for the specific reasons that people are homosexual is a valid scientific inquiry, it is actually secondary to an even more important fact. Human beings have no choice in what gender they choose to form meaningful (sometimes intimate) relationships with. It’s also worth mentioning that we don’t consider homosexuality the same as Albinism or Klinefelter Syndrome (my opponent suggests any comparison to genetics demands this analogy) for the obvious reason there is no pathology associated with homosexuality (there’s also intrinsic to Klinefelter or Albinism that would preclude them from getting married).

Now why is this important…?

Let’s examine a bit of history:

3. The Case for Civil Rights

Rewind the clock to April of 1967. The Apollo program has started up recently, the Vietnam War is in full swing, and one year from now (nearly to the day) Martin Luther King Jr. will be assassinated. However, he would live to see some of his dream fulfilled. For 3 years ago, in 1964, congress passed the U.S. Civil Rights act which stated, “All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin or sex.” This also validated the 14th Amendment, which ensures all people due process and equal protection under our laws.

Anyway, the Supreme Court is hearing a case. A white man, Richard Loving, married a non-white (she was of mixed Native American and African American descent) woman outside of their home state of Virginia. They did this because Virginia had a law known as the “Racial Integrity Marriage” which banned the marriage of any white and non-white couple (this was known as an anti-miscegenation law). Police discovered them in their home (after they had returned to marriage) and attempted to prosecute them for breaking this law….a case which worked its way up to the Supreme Court and this eventful day. The trial lasted from April until June 12th; when the Supreme Court made its, unanimous, decision that the anti-miscegenation laws were indeed unconstitutional and violated the right of the couple to due process and equal protection of the law (including marriage) protected by our 14th Amendment.

So why do I bring up interracial marriage as an analogy?

Because my opponent’s statement…
If sexual preferences or the act of sex is irrelevant, then a homosexual can enjoy marriage to a member of the opposite gender (another irrelevant point) just as much as a heterosexuals could enjoy this marriage.
…is no less bigoted than a Virginian suggesting that because interracial marriage is an aberration of “his definition” of marriage, Loving can enjoy a marriage as long as it’s with a white woman.

Some people grow up and find they are attracted to blondes. Others like brunettes. Still others prefer a sense of humor, curly hair, compassion, honesty, small feet, a big nose, green eyes, a laugh, a brilliant smile, dark skin, light skin. Some men like men. And some women like women. None of us have a choice in what general characteristics we like. Hopefully all of us will find someone who finds us as fascinating, unique, beautiful, funny, and profound and choose to spend their lives with us. Usually our country doesn’t care about our preferences. And they shouldn’t.

Because if two consenting adults decide to live the rest of their lives together and have this union recognized by the country, I believe they have a Constitutional Right to do so. And I have yet to hear a good reason that this shouldn’t be so.

I’m proud of my country. It was founded on this idea of freedom. But when it comes to the story of Same Sex Marriage… we still live in a tragic era where we deny the civil liberties based upon a moral objection against a particular relationship preference.

My moral objection shouldn’t impinge upon your freedoms so long as your freedoms don’t limit mine. I’ve got hope that the ideologues will set aside their freedoms and embrace the idea that, “while I might not agree with your choices, I’ll protect to the death your liberty.”

Think about it.

An open mind!

You know the Minchin music video I had up in my blog? The one entitled "If you open up your mind too much your brain will fall out"? Apparently Eagle Vale Anglican Church minister, the Reverend Craig Hooper, says he was keeping an open mind about a cloud.

What cloud, you might ask?

This Cloud

Enjoy :-D

In other news, a Catholic Priest says Jesus wasn't god, Mary wasn't a virgin, and the resurrection never happened: CLICK

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Physicians of integrity..

I intend to be a Physician with integrity and character. That is, I don't intend to mislead my patients. I do intend to at the same time my autonomy and theirs. That is, they may choose whether or not to permit my course of treatment or may choose from a less desirable option so long as I'm permitted the freedom to consent as well. This all comes from a more or less libertarian philosophy that people have the freedom to choose what is done to them (granting some exceptions, like children, emergencies, and the mentally unstable) as well as the freedom for Doctors to choose when it comes to non-elective procedures.

This all, of course, relies on a Doctor's commitment to "first, do no harm" and to do to the best of my ability "for the good of my patients".

These are ethical statements. These are philosophical positions that we take as Physicians that are far more fundamental to the profession than biochemistry and physiology.

I'm not the sort of person that accepts big concepts arbitrarily. Surely these ethical principles come from somewhere... but where do they come from?

I think that in order for people to be good Physicians, they must at one point question how we can come to know what is "right" and what is "wrong". Without any concept of this, then how can we take the Hippocratic Oath with any intellectual honesty?

This question is too big for a single entry, much less a blog, to discuss. But I think it is worthwhile talking about a few of the wrong answers to the question of ethics.

Wrong answer #1 There is no absolute morality. It is relative to upbringing, culture, the powerful, etc (insert justification). Why do I think this is wrong? The simple answer is that it fails the law of non-contraditon. That is, in order for the statement to be true it would have to be false. Isn't stating that "morality is relative" in itself a relative statement?

Secondly, I don't think a whole lot of people really believe in moral relativism. The easy way to convince people of this is to do something they might not like, like kick them in the shin. "That wasn't nice!" they might respond. "Well according to your morals it wasn't right. But according to mine, it was morally just." This is a trite example, you could get more complex, but you get the point.

Wrong answer #2 We get our morals from God (or some other transcendent law-giver). Now, my problem isn't if the morals themselves are somehow transcendent or metaphysical in nature, but with the idea that there is some being... some moral law-writer.

Here's why: Is something "good" or "right" because God commands it? Or does God command it because it is "good" or "right"?

If the latter is true, then "good" exists outside of the supposed "law giver". However, if the former is true, then morality is relative to God's Will. So that if God asked us to kill our kid (a la Abraham) it would be a "good" thing. Also it doesn't follow that just because the law giver can't do wrong if we define what he/she does as "good" that he/she "won't" do (by our understanding) evil.

Then again, none of this is a big problem. Because in order to take this question seriously, you've got to presuppose that there is a God. Since you can't prove this presupposition, our concept of "good" and "evil" is suddenly outside of our realm of knowledge.

I feel so Greek.

I wish we would talk more about such things...

I was thinking the other day, an activity that I like to do and don't allot nearly enough time to partake in, and it occurred to me that I lack a very important virtue in my philosophy sometimes: humility.

I'm beginning to understand why Dawkins' and Hitchen's philosophy is often, erroneously, mislabeled "militant". Dawkins and Hitchens are activists. And, by being persuaded by many of their arguments (not all), I feel a moral obligation to debate the more outspoken theists that I meet.

Not surprisingly, this convinces no one to repeal their original claims. And I thought of my own journey, why then had I changed so much from my former apologetics-driven, C.S. Lewisonian Christian background?

Let's begin with a small story about the Theory of Evolution. In high school, I was informed by my parents and peers that the theory of evolution was incompatible with religion. However, their arguments seemed diminished by the certainty that my freshman biology teacher explained the theory, clearly and substantiated by evidence. And so I lived in a sort of limbo, compartmentalizing evolution as one of those things we all have to learn in high school to graduate. One year, I took a social studies course that examined cultural and religious heritages around the world taught by a very passionate christian man named Jim Warren. Mr. Warren spent a few days outlining the theory of evolution as a "model" which was based upon as much faith as the alternative "model" known as Intelligent Design. His position (from my uneducated mind) seemed unassailable. I took his advice and read from the pillars of ID literature: Wells, Behe, Meyers, etc. I felt excited... like I was one of the special few who knew the conspiracy of knowledge that was Evolution, and equipped rhetorically to battle with those who supported it.

Fortunately for me, I chose to major in a credible Biology program at Hope College (an otherwise religious institution, though you'd be surprised). I made it through the first year of basic biology without much discussion concerning evolution. My second year, however, I scheduled the supposed "organic chemistry of biology": Biology: Ecology and Evolution... the course that would make-or-break a biology major. This course was taught a passionate, argumentative, sharp professor named Dr. K. Gregory Murray.

One day, Dr. Murray decided to open his class to a debate on Intelligent Design. He began with a general discussion on what a scientific "theory" is. Basically, the idea is that "theory" in a scientific sense of the word explains a set of facts. That is, apples tend to fall off trees to the ground, massive bodies tend to be attracted to one another (in a general sense) and this corresponds to an invisible and measurable potential energy. The Theory of Gravity unites these phenomena.

I didn't let him get that far.

He held up a ruler, asking us to predict what would happen if he released the ruler. Like a smartass, I shouted, "It will float." He didn't lose a beat, "Why do you predict that?" "Well Dr. Murray, if you expect us to believe the infinitesimally small probability that somehow simple amino acids, nucleic acids, and lipids could spontaneously arrange into the first simple organisms then I must accept the equally infinitesimally small (sic, I know, it was redundant) probability that the ruler will somehow float..." His response was unexpected: he didn't argue with me. He just egged me on. He let me outline everything I believed: the flawed Miller Urey design, irreducible complexity such as flagella and clotting cascades, as well as my arguments that speciation hasn't been witnessed."

Here's the kicker and what I think separates me from the truly irrational theists: I tacked on, "If I'm wrong, I'm completely open to the evidence and wouldn't mind being shown that I'm wrong." I said this honestly, because I honestly didn't think he had any good evidence. I thought I'd pegged him.

He dismissed class, and I walked out confident that I'd shown him up.

The next time I saw Dr. Murray, he greeted me with a stack of copied research papers. All of them peer reviewed. Each one directly refuting every single argument I made the previous day: papers on the evolution of the flagellum, blood clotting; papers demonstrating observed instances of speciation; papers showing the recent work in abiogenesis (along with a courteous note on the top of the stack carefully explaining that evolution applied as long as life exists. How that life came to exist is not a question that has anything to do with evolutionary theory. Likewise we don't need unified field theory to know about electromagnetism). The note also asked, politely, for me to read through these and re-consider my position.

Thankfully, my intellectual honesty persisted and I found that my previous position on evolution WAS mistaken. I admitted this in front of my classmates as well, happily.

Something remarkable happened. All of that excitement that I'd built up feeling like I was "in the know" as an Intelligent Design advocator started to come back... differently. I began to feel a different, more profound excitement. The parts that weren't slipping into place started to and I was able to at least marvel at the grandeur of the idea. I mentioned earlier how we can know some parts of quantum physics, gravitation, and electromagnetism without having a grand Unified Field Theory in physics. In biology... Evolution is this grand theory! It unifies all of biology in explaining the question of how life could be so complex and diverse. Now I could engage in research and feel like a part of the community. I imagine this is how a histologist would feel after suddenly agreeing with Cell Theory!

This draws back to my original question: How has my life changed over the years?

The answer is that it has changed not from a confirmation of my presuppositions but a willingness to accept viewpoints that explain reality more rationally (this includes being substantiated by evidence) than my previous held positions.

I try to remind myself of that every day.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I'm interrupting my day of study to show you...

Enjoy the musical interlude. Only the first two videos have anything to do with atheism...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The last straw...

I admit... I was sitting on the fence for a while. I do really like John McCain. I think his experience and record, for the most part are a huge step up from our current administrators. So, I was carefully considering the pros and cons between he and Obama.

His choice of Palin as a running mate had me concerned and killed a lot of his credibility. However, after Sarah Palin's most recent comments, it is now completely imperative that we do not let this woman anywhere near the white house.

I will be casting my ballot in favor of the Democratic Party this November in my home district (Michigan district 2) that will need as many democratic votes as possible...

(Thanks to AMB for the heads up)

This morning's news

I'm interrupting my much needed rest to plug two interesting news articles.

The first makes a great case for primary care. Have you ever heard of the cognitive bias created by specializing? That is, when you specialize in psychiatry and a patient comes to you with pain, you are more likely to diagnose a psychological or psychosomatic component to the pt's pain. If you are an orthopedic surgeon, you are less likely to do that, and more likely to diagnose arthritis, joint disease, etc. If you are a neurologist, you are more likely to diagnose it as neuropathic... you get the idea.

Here's a story of a lady in Great Britain who's been seen by multiple specialists and over a thousand visits for what seemed to be an idiopathic (cause unknown)chronic pain. It took her primary care physician to take the time to investigate her case and diagnose her properly... this is TWENTY YEARS of living in pain, people.

There is a serious demand for competent professionals to provide primary care in order for our health care system to work. This isn't a stab at more unique specialists (I'm not actually planning, at the moment, on going into a primary care field), but a recognition of the importance of a "home base" for patients in the form of family medicine or (to a lesser extent) internists.

I'll bring up the idea of universal health care in later blog entries, but one huge change that needs to be made in order for a universal system to work is to provide some incentive for medical students to pursue Primary Care medicine. Personally, I think we can and should provide completely subsidized medical school if you agree to practice family medicine or primary care.

The second article has to do with this picture:

This image isn't fake...
Who wouldn't love a glow cat?
It would probably make it easier to find if it's lost.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Good Person Test Re-examined

My friend Clayton has responded to my account of the Good Person Test.
I like Clayton, I always enjoy a good bit of theological repartee with him when I get the opportunity. I think our relationship is a good example of how two completely different people can get along as solid friends and I count Clayton among my best friends.
On to my disagreement.

I like this note. It is elegant.

However, let me do a bit of "hell" raising of my own if you don't mind.

You start off the note making a distinction between once-for-all minor offenses and ongoing faults, something which the individual behind the evangelization counter failed to do. We'll come back to the reasons behind him not making a distinction later on, reasons that he probably doesn't understand. However, later on, you reject vicarious or substitutionary justice on these grounds: justice would not be fulfilled if a murder were let go after someone else took the punishment. Yet, in this case, you are yourself leaving out vital details. Is the murderer ever going to murder again? Is the murderer's freedom going to result in further crime? The answer to these questions is important precisely because, if only habitual, and not singular crimes are to be punished, then you have no grounds for rejecting vicarious punishment on the simple grounds that it might let a murderer go free. That would require that "letting a 'murderer' (I note that you use the term 'murderer' in the same way as your evangelist used 'blasphemer' or 'adulterer') go free is unacceptably wrong. In other words, it begs the question.

Perhaps I didn’t elaborate my concept of Justice precisely enough. However, I don’t see how I’m begging the question, or how my argument that vicarious punishment is unjust fails. Of course I expect a murderer (and I am using the label “ accused murderer” because when on trial for the specific crime, we assign the label for the purposes of carrying on the trial; my distinction was between whether or not we should be considered “liars” or “thieves” when there is no recurrent or pathologic tendency associated with this behavior) to face the punishment for a singular event. Especially when the singular event is something so serious as murder. In a similar vein, I expect a child to be disciplined when he steals something even if it isn’t a recurrent problem. My argument isn’t that crimes should only be punished if they are habitual. My problem is with the concept that vicarious punishment of singular or recurrent crime is unjust—especially if the crime isn’t something that can truly lend itself to retributive justice, such as murder (sure, the murderer goes to prison for life… but that’s not bringing back his/her victim, justice is never completely fulfilled).

I’m willing to grant that in trivial circumstances, vicarious retribution is acceptable. For instance, if my friend stole a book of mine and lost it. Let’s say he is apologetic and his girlfriend heard about it, came up to me, and offered to take me to a bookstore to buy a new book. Justice would not be technically “fulfilled”, but I might accept the offer as resolution. Hell, I might even accept my friend’s apology and let it be.

Such is the nature of the social contract.

However, I would never accept the proposition that an innocent man knowingly take the punishment of a criminal found guilty of something like rape, or murder, is justice.

But let's narrow this inquiry down a little further. There is a reason why a young evangelical might buy into the idea that "Sin is broken forever until it's repaid by Jesus." As your thought experiment proved, it couldn't be because God was worried about repeat offenses (he could, of course, prevent those) or that God was mistaking a singular fault for a greater sin; therefore we have to look deeper for the ground of sin. Here it is helpful to think about the tragic heroes of Classical Literature. Now, in each case, a character commits some act of hubris or uncleanness, even if it was somewhat unknowingly, and, in order for balance to be restored, the tragic hero must endure far greater punishment than the act itself required.
He must pay not only for the sin which he committed, however slight, but also for all the ill effects of that sin. It is not his justice which is at stake, but the reputation and honor shown to the Gods. Why? Because if there were not someone who suffered to demonstrate the wrath of the gods, who could embody all of their anger and be the object of their wrath, that wrath would continue to be experienced by everyone around them until the impurity was cleansed. In fact, this was precisely the concept of justice in the ancient world, of the society being cleansed rather than the guilty being punished.

I think this makes a good argument for restorative justice, a concept that I’m in favor of. Retributive justice doesn’t quite address the larger social consequences of criminal behavior. However, I don’t see why this concept has to leave our mortal sphere. Why is it that “lying” against your fellow man breaks the bridge between man and “God”? Supposing that it did, shouldn’t restoring the simple indiscretions against your fellow man also restore your rapport with God?

Oops, I think you are about to explain yourself…

I would argue that, by analogy, we can understand this to be the root of your evangelist's concept of sin. He believes that sin is an offense against God, not merely a human fault against other humans, which must be avenged by God in some way, in order for God's glory to remain unblemished by human fault. In this sense, it little matters whether or not the victim is the person guilty of the fault, or even something of a completely different nature than the one at fault (a ram, a goat, a bull, etc.) as long as the conclusion is that "God is glorious, now and forever."

An important distinction to be made comes from the weakness of the "judge and executioner" analogy of God. God is the judge, yes, but he is a judge in the biblical sense of the term, where the judge is either a king or the voice of the king exercising prudence from his own majesty to your helpless situation. (If you know much about common law, think about God as the Court of Chancery and Equity). From this distinction we ought to at least conclude that when God forgives someone, or accepts a particular sacrifice in exchange for punishment, he does so solely as the person whose order, whose property, whose dignity has been maligned.

This would be a legitimate argument if we can, for a moment, believe that God is so petty that his dignity is maligned by the trivial affairs of men. Maybe I have lower standards than God, but I don’t get perpetually bent out of shape when someone fibs to me or takes something from me. Sure, I might ask for some apology, but I think we all live lives where the multitude of these indiscretions pass relatively unnoticed with relatively little consequence.

I still don’t get how my Mom lying to me to keep a surprise Birthday Party a surprise “maligns” God.

I also don’t understand why admiring a woman’s beauty (with the occasional lustful thought) should be held against me at judgment day unless I accept a third party, Jesus, as sacrifice and some metaphysical retribution.

Imagine if someone stole a hundred dollars from you, then came up to you and offered to take you out to dinner in exchange (after all, he had already spent the money). You know that the dinner is not worth $100, and you are fully within your rights still to report him to the law as a thief and demand back your money, but you accept his offer. The relationship is worth more to you. Are you not within your rights, as the one wronged, to accept this in return for the money? Most likely, as long as the individual will not continue this behavior (sic) towards others (then it is a matter of the society). This situation is an example of one in which your mercy is not in contradiction to justice, but instead reinforces justice by surpassing it with mercy (at the end of the day, your rights over the $100 dollars have been reinforced by your acceptance of one or another thing in lieu of it...yes, that's why we have equity in our court system...a relic from Church involvement in politics).

Your point here does a better job acknowledging the relativity of our moral code than establishing an argument for vicarious justice. And there’s nothing to my argument that would preclude this exchange. The social contract that makes up our system of law allows for things like “plea bargaining” in order to find a balance in what really is a morally grey arena.

Now, as I draw these distinctions I am not defending the man behind the counter. His test is silly and his approach is much sillier. For one thing, these evangelicals always assume that it is reasonable to posit a Redeemer (or, really Redemptive Sacrificial Victim) who, as it were, removes one from having to worry about whether this or that action is or is not a sin. However, at least from an ethical perspective, this would lead away from our human need, in my opinion, created by God, to inquire at all into what is just and equitable. Surely place must still be left for reason? No wonder evangelicalism is the most anti-intellectual force in this country! It also makes me seriously question why so many religious writers and thinkers, including the evangelists and St. Paul, wrote so long about personal ethics and standards to be kept among their believers if all that was really needed was spiritual fix-a-flat. I consider Jesus far more insightful into human nature than that
I agree with you for the most part. But I think when we draw this argument out to its logical conclusions we are faced with a dilemma: aren't we better off trying to answer the question of Justice without introducing the supernatural?

Did you know..

Did you know that water follows solute? Because if you didn't, I know a pom-pom equipped professor who will be happy to educate you.

That's no moon that's a... wait.... it is a moon.

Check out these pictures of Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons.

On a more humorous note:

(Thanks to Brian Range)

Things I wish I knew before getting to Medical School.

1. What books to buy:
When you get to med school, they will likely give you a list of "required texts." This will be a substantial list and likely include an even larger list of recommended texts. Thousands of dollars worth of texts.

Do NOT buy your books before the first day of class, with one exception: coursepacks.
This will seem painfully counter-intuitive, especially to the typical, obsessive, type-A, overachieving med school-bound student.

Not all med schools do this, but mine puts together professor-crafted notebooks that covers everything that we could possibly be tested on. These are important to purchase because you need to follow along in lectures.

However, you do not need to buy 3 anatomy coloring books. Really, you won't. Settle for a good gross anatomy text showing cadaveric specimens like Rohen
and... of course, the Bible of anatomy known simply by the legend who painted it: Netter

You will also have a basic biochemistry, physiology/histology text, and maybe some non-science text (we had a book exploring methods of how to take patient histories).

If, after the fact, you find you might need supplemental help, then (and only then) should you spring the benjis on more textbooks.

2. If you get little sheets from student organizations
So I'm sitting at home this past summer, getting amped for the medschool experience and I get this letter from the AMWA, the American Medical Women's Association (I think), about how we are Required to have nametags, probes, gloves, and white coats for our anatomy lab! Guess what! They are selling them for the low, low price of... three times the price they are selling at the medical bookstore on campus! Obviously, I had no way of knowing that these items would be for sale at the bookstore and thought I had to jump on the opportunity (with the exception of the white coat and gloves, which I decided to get on my own).

These are rackets. Don't fall for them. This sort of falls under the first thing I wish I knew about med school.

3. Pass/Fail
This, I understand, is a standard at most medical schools. Gone are the final grades (at least for the first 2 years). Instead, your percentage is Pass or Fail (or Conditional Pass if you are in the hazy area that's remediable without extending your program).

I have friends in other programs who are experiencing some competition.
Let me repeat... competition, in a pass/fail course.... no grade curving.

When you get to Medical School, you can take a deep breath and get rid of the cut-throat mentality. I think this is a great habit to build, because as medical professionals we must be willing to set aside hubris and consult/trust other people's expertise. The greater medical community benefits when its members work together to improve learning. I think about this every time someone helps me study biochemical pathways and every time I help a peer through the osteology of the hand. Neither of us suffer from this cooperation. More importantly, our future patients benefit from it.

More to come...

I've been "Published"

An old stats project of mine has gone up on my undergrad's website. It studied the placebo affect. The Placebo affect is a remarkable phenomenon. It turns out that if (when I'm a doc) I prescribe a sugar pill but charge a lot for it and make it a unique color, it will likely have a greater palliative or even curative effect.

I didn't do drug research in undergrad, though. I settled for tricking people into thinking they were taste-testing multiple types of water: Here

Celebrate your rights: the Fifth Ammendment

Take a look at this video. TAKE THE FIFTH. Don't talk to the cops.

In Other News

Here's Sarah Palin set to Avant Garde piano in her finest moment:

Here’s a med school musing. We recently finished our Biochemistry final exam, which tested our accumulated knowledge of what is normally 2 semesters of biochemistry in undergrad crammed into 8 weeks in medical school. .. yeah…

I digress. One of the common questions found on our exam was regarding mitochondrial poisons. The question set up a patient vignette who is near death because of some unknown mitochondrial poison. Because each poison effects a different “Complex” in the chain we can ascertain the poison if we know the hypothetical levels of their intermediates (e.g. If there’s an abundance of QH2, what Complex I and II make; but an absence of reduced cytochrome c, what Complex III makes, then complex III is poisoned by Antimycin). ETC==> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electron_transport_chain

This is easy, binary style detective diagnosis in our biochemistry exam and usually freebie points.

Now, excepting for a moment that we can’t actually measure these mitochondrial concentrations at all, one of the steps in the diagnostic process is insane. The poison is Oligomycin. If you absorb it, it essentially plugs up the giant end machine at the electron transport chain called ATP Synthase. ATP Synthase looks like a big revolver, sans handle grip. It functions by using Oxygen, Hydrogen, and shuttling protons across this inner mitochondrial membrane. This whole reaction is energetic enough to make ATP and burns up Oxygen as a consequence (turning it into water, actually).

So if ATP Synthase is plugged by Oligomycin, no Oxygen is being consumed. Here’s how we theoretically find out how it’s oligomycin and not any of the other poisons further back the chain: we give our hypothetical patient another poison… 2,4, DNP (which interestlingly enough was used as a Phen-Phen-like weight loss 'cure').

This poison works by “uncoupling” the membrane, letting all the protons flow through without doing anything. If oxygen consumption resumes, it was Oligomycin all along. If oxygen consumption doesn’t resume, well, you’ve just poisoned your patient on top of the existing poison in his blood.

My question is: What if it is Oligomycin?

2,4 DNP doesn’t fix the problem, it just shows you what the poison is… and now you have to deal with counteracting 2 poisons instead of one. I’ve got to imagine this would ruin anyone’s day.

Moral of the story: If you do swallow a little bit of cyanide and somehow live, tell us what you took. You do not want us trying to figure out what you took.

Well Shit...

I woke up late to a "Clinical Correlations" class today. Don't you hate the feeling of waking up late? This has happened twice today. I woke up yesterday around 1:00 thinking I had only 15 minutes to get to my final patient interview (the only graded portion of the class). I threw on my clothes, white coat, doused myself in whatever cologne was nearby, and was in my car within a few minutes before starting to drive away... when I realized...
'My interview wasn't today, tomorrow, or Monday. It was a WEEK from today!'

Today (Friday) was a bit different. Med school is a unique atmosphere. You don't have to attend typical lectures if you don't want to. Seriously, you can sleep in and watch them in the mid afternoon if you want (I don't do this, usually, except after particularly stressful tests). This is a blessing and a curse. It's a curse because most people who choose not to attend certain lectures must watch them on their own time on some computer-- the lectures you'll need to watch add up quickly. I find it's easier just to attend lecture in the morning so you get in the groove of waking up and watching the lectures later, that way the second time hearing it tends to make it easier for me to absorb the info.... (this is really nice when your info is, let's say, Biochemistry)

That being said, we do have the occasional required lectures such as test days, most labs have quizzes to take attendance and test your pre-labbing efforts, and we have special lectures called Integrative Clinical Correlations (ICC) that happen almost weekly and consist of a topic that we spend an hour learning about. Examples thus far include Lead Poisioning, Sickle Cell Anemia, and Gout.

I'm sure today's was equally interesting.

I woke up knowing I was late. That little flash of panic when the room is a little too bright. I checked my phone with a little string of hope. It read 10:48. The meeting was over at 10:50. I'm good, but not that good at getting to class at the last second.

"Okay, next step. I have to call someone." I grabbed my orientation folder and flipped to the page of Med School big-wigs. "Dr. Wanda Lipscomb?" I tried that one first. I rang and her secretary picked up informing me that Dr. Lipscomb was out of the office. "Can I help you with anything, though?" I explained my little, embarrassing story and she seemed confused on the other line, "did you miss a test?" "No," I replied (Thank fuck... that would send me into an arrhythmia). "Oh you want to call Lora McAdams. Let me transfer you."
Great. I want to call to fix this, not spread my reputation around.

"This is Lora". I explained again. "Okay, well I put the lecture notes and recording up on camtasia and marked that you have called. You just need to send a quick email to Dr. Roskos (the guy who coordinates the class) explaining why you were late this morning. So don't worry. And Jordan, you aren't the only one who missed it today. I know you guys have had a tough week today... two exams?" "Yeah, a few. (3 actually)" "Don't worry about it."

I think I picked the right medical school.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

If anyone's interested...

Here's a video of the aforementioned Frank Turek of I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist fame getting intellectually disemboweled by the sharp wit of one Christopher Hitchens.

Turek vs. Hitchens Debate: Does God Exist? from Andrew on Vimeo.

The Good Person Test

I took the “Good Person” test the other day. Have you ever heard of it? It’s an evangelical tool created by Ray Comfort’s “Way of the Master” series of apologetics/evangelizing organization. Ray Comfort, some of you might know, is the ignoramus who suggested the banana is evidence of a divine creator (enjoy this entertaining source video with included rebuttal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLqQttJinjo).

Anyway, this guy has created the “Good Person” test. It’s a relatively clever series of questions that get the interviewee to admit to a slew of sins, or crimes against God, and force the person into the uncomfortable realization that, according to his own admission, he should probably be going to hell.
Here’s an example of Comfort using this method on a poor, and unwitting kid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umn3iCn90IY

Typing in “good person test” in YouTube yields a number of examples with some, more charismatic, evangelists pointing out that a person who steals is a “thief” and not a “stealer. The Steelers are a football team.” Quid pro quo, you feisty theists!

Needless to say I was fortunate enough to run by a booth of campus crusaders running the “Good Person” test and giving away free bibles. So, I took it. Under one condition: I would take the test exactly the way they wanted if they were able to answer a few of my questions afterwards.
By the end of the test, I came to the conclusion that most people do: I am a liar, adulterer, murderer (this is debatable depending on how angry you have to be at someone for it to qualify as hatred), thief, blasphemer, and disobedient child. They didn’t bother asking, but I also don’t keep the Sabbath holy, probably qualify as an idolater, and certainly haven’t kept the first (most important) commandment.
At this point he was put off with how candid and unapologetic I was. “Doesn’t it bother you that you are going to Hell by your own admission? How come you are smiling?”
“The night is young…” I replied (In fairness, I was a bit too smug).

But there is good news, he told me. If I were set before a judge, the good judge would have to condemn me. However Jesus pays my “million dollar fine” (as he put it) and all I have to do is repent and accept his gift of salvation (though, if you read the fine print there are plenty of catches to this arrangement).

Forgetting about our earlier agreement he started to pursue another rhetorical line (about how I might go about receiving this salvation) when I interrupted him. “Wait, I think it’s my turn to ask a few questions.” He nodded, “Sure.”

First, I decided to counter his test question premises. I asked him if, at any point during his childhood if he wet his bed. “Sure,” he said, “all kids do it at some point.” “Okay,” I replied, “what does that make you?” He laughed at this point, “A bed wetter…?” “I guess it does. How about picking your nose. Have you ever done that?” “I don’t do it now.” “Well, have you ever picked your nose, Craig? (his name was Craig, by the way)” “Yeah, I guess I have when I was a kid.” “Okay, what does that make you?” I asked. “It makes me a nose picker?” We were both enjoying the absurd nature of my questions, but I suspected that he was picking up my point when he asked, “What’s important about that, anyway?”

“Because, I don’t think you are a bed wetter or nose picker any more than I’m a thief, blasphemer, or liar. Your argument mistakes permanent or compulsive character attributes with the temporary lapses in moral judgment that we all make. In order for me to honestly say that I’m a liar and that is a defining attribute of my person, I would have to assume some pathology or compulsiveness to the behavior. I don’t naturally assume people are liars unless they frequently lie. There is a big difference between these two things.”

He milled over my point. “Well, okay. But Sin (capital “S”) is broken forever until it’s re-paid by Jesus. (sic, I’m sure he meant to phrase this with more theological eloquence, but you get the point. I’m trying not to alter his words)”

“I’m not sure that it is a morally good thing to receive vicarious fulfillment of punishment. Take your example of the Judge. Let’s say a vicious murderer killed your parents and he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Now, let’s say some self-sacrificing Jesus figure walks into the courtroom and says, ‘Judge, let me take the punishment’ and the judge agrees. Would you say that is just for the Judge to let the murderer go free?”

I could tell he was deflecting his argument when he replied with, “But Jesus forgives you no matter what you did.”

“That’s fine if you believe that, but it doesn’t sound like justice to me. You would probably stand up and demand that the punishment fit the criminal. What’s even more absurd is that you get the same punishment, Hell, for a relatively benign set of crimes such as ogling girls and telling the occasional lie, or stealing a book from Barnes and Nobles.”

“No one gets into heaven who doesn’t want to go to heaven. Sinners don’t want to go to heaven because they’d rather sin.”

“Really?” I asked, honestly incredulous. Had he really thought about this statement before saying it? “I doubt that anyone given a vision of their judgment at the hands of God would choose eternal torment over eternal happiness.”

He was excited to reply to this one, “That’s why we have to repent while we are on Earth and have faith, so we can get into heaven.”

“So if we don’t repent before we die, we’ve sealed our fate?”

“Nothing that man can do can repay the debt of sin.”

“I can think of one example: say you steal one hundred dollars from someone. One way you could repay the debt is by giving the one hundred dollars back with a sincere apology. Besides, you are also presupposing that your God is the judge that we’re facing after we die. Do you keep to the five pillars of Islam? Do you worry about your Dharma? What if you end up in front of a judge you didn’t expect to with a whole list of crimes you didn’t know you committed?”

“I can see this isn’t going anywhere,” he interjected. Right when it started getting good, damn. “Just do me a favor, Jordan. Pray that God shows Himself to you.”

I shook his hand, “Craig, do me a favor and think about it.”

I think I passed.

There are plenty of other logical problems with the good person test. For example, the whole example of the judge falls apart when you accept the Christian premise that we can’t repay our debt. If you are found guilty by our courts, you might face a fine, a misdemeanor and maybe even some jail time or probation. But when you finish out your punishment, you have (according to the philosophy of our legal system) paid off your debt to society. However, the Christian God doesn’t let you do this. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ the Lord” Romans 6:23. If you’ve sinned, your only hope is Jesus… and breaking God’s law (of which the Ten Commandments is a part of) is sinning. Doesn’t this strike you as unjust? Why can’t it be that I forgive the man who lies against me, or better yet… forget the occasional and trivial lie and focus on more important moral malfeasance.
This leads to my last point. If you examine the Ten Commandments, only 6, 7, 8, and 9 are actually moral. And while Jesus was a remarkable moral figure who radically improved, for the most part, the moral standards of his progenitors, I have to disagree with the argument that looking at a person with hate is “murder” and a women with lust is “adultery”. This is complete hyperbole and a perfect God should be able to make the distinction that we ALL can make.

Test it yourself…
Do you make the distinction?
Let’s say you have to CHOOSE one of the two options.
1. Joe from across the street hates you so much that he’s posted a sign in his yard to that effect, reading “__insert name___ is an asshole. You should hat him too.” To add insult to advertisement, he openly calls you a “fool” every time he sees you in person.
2. Joe kills you with his 12-gague.
Keep in mind that Jesus doesn’t make the distinction between these two scenarios (according to the WOTM evangelists).

Try this other scenario:
1. Your wife or husband eyes your best friend and you catch him/her saying to a mutual friend that he/she would love to jump your friend’s bones if he/she wasn’t married.
2. Your wife or husband has sex with your best friend.
Obviously for both scenarios we wish that there was a third option, “None of the above”. For the fortunate, life works out that neither scenario plays out. But the point stands. I think what Jesus was trying to say, and pardon my non-literal interpretation was: Don’t be a dick and try to tame your horndog tendencies at least for the sake of your significant other.

Think about it.

So, I'm critiquing this book...

The book is called I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler

I picked up this book only a day before Dr. Turek visited MSU’s campus and spoke to an, unfortunately, small audience on a rainy Thursday night. The book is organized so that everyone can quickly identify the sequence of arguments that the authors make so that the reader eventually sets the book down with at least a healthy respect for the logic behind theism. The book’s arguments are sequential, so each argument rests on the accuracy of the previous one. That is, they first establish whether or not Truth exists. Concluding that an absolute truth does exist the authors then argue that we can know whether it is true that the theistic god exists using four lines of argument:
The Cosmological argument.
The Anthropic Principle (weak and strong anthropic principle)
Intelligent Design
The C.S. Lewis "Moral Argument"

After drawing these arguments to their conclusions, the authors submit that this is sufficient evidence for one of the theistic worldviews. The authors proceed to argue for the existence of Miracles, the Historicity of the Bible, and the conformation of Jesus’ miracles to endorse the Christian brand of theism as the truth.

I accept, for the most part, that the earlier conclusions drawn by the authors such as “Truth about reality is knowable” and the “opposite of true is false”. If any fans of Berkely read this criticism and want to take Turek and Geisler on this point, they are welcome. As a scientist, I believe that there is truth in at least the proximal understanding of the material universe and that this reality is knowable.

As a naturalist, I believe that science is the best method for knowing truth and the only method to know anything objectively. This assertion stands to their oft-repeated law of non-contradiction: “If science is the only way to know anything objectively, can we know that objectively?” We can discriminate objective knowledge from subjective knowledge based upon whether or not the conclusions of the method are “discovered” as opposed to “created”. The scientific method is created to protect our knowledge from subjective bias. Through measurable experimental testing, falsifying bad data, and transparency in methodology; science meets this objective standard. While the laws and the language describing them are subjective (the same way “agua” and “water” are words we’ve created to describe something that objectively exists) we have effectively discovered a number of natural laws: fundamental forces, evolution, etc. If there is any doubt to the veracity of these objective discoveries, the method permits anyone the opportunity to falsify and refine what we do know.

For example what we “know” about gravity has changed hands, from Aristotle’s model, to Newton, to Einstein, and now a more unified Quantum Gravity. However, even though our understanding has changed, the physical phenomena that it explained has not.

This review will address the foundational claims of the argument for a theistic god, namely, that the universe and life within it is evidence of an intelligent designer (God) and that we can know about this designer if it exists.

The first argument is the Cosmological, or Kalam, argument. Which is as follows:
1. Everything that begins to exist must have a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe had a cause.
This is a reiteration of the argument made by the popular apologist William Lane Craig. The book addresses this but makes a more specific argument to support premise 2 above. Specifically:
1. An infinite number of days has no end.
2. But today is the end day of history (history being a collection of all days).
3. Therefore, there were not an infinite number of nays before today (i.e., time had a beginning).
(p. 90)
How do they justify the conclusion from these premises? “How here’s how this proves time had a beginning: since time certainly ends (as the present), the timeline cannot be infinite because something that is infinite has no end. Moreover you can’t add anything to something that is infinite, but tomorrow we will add another day to our timeline. So our timeline is undeniably finite.” (p. 91)

This is a very poorly designed argument. First, it is a bad idea to define time based upon the length of a day. Einstein has shown us that our perception of time depends completely on how it relates to the finite speed of light. This is why time appears to elapse at different rates relative to different observers in motion relative to one another. This means that for different observers, time appears to proceed differently. This results in a philosophically relevant phenomena known as time dilation. Both velocity and gravity have an effect in altering the way time is measured. In 1971, researchers Hafele and Keating placed two cesium atomic clocks (some of the most accurate clocks we have, since we define the “second” as the amount of time it takes 9,192,631,770 cycles of radiation between two hyperfine energy levels of a ground state Cesium 133 atom) around the world in opposite directions. The clocks on the planes had a net loss of time compared to the clock on the ground where the planes took off. Gravitational time dilation, however, accounted for a net “gain” (because they were further away from the gravity well of earth, and therefore more subject to the gravitaitonal distortion of space time than the clock on the ground). However, taking this all into account, time on earth speeds up when you are flying closer to the speed of light in space.

Theoretically, this yields what is known as the “twin paradox”. Say that we have a pair of twins and we send one up into space on a round trip to the nearest star besides the sun which is 4.45 light years away at a speed that is 86.6% the speed of light (so really freakin’ fast). For the purposes of the thought experiment, the ship will be at full speed from departure until landing. The round trip would take 10.28 light years in Earth’s frame of reference (the ship would return to find everyone 10.28 years older). However, everyone on the ship and the flow of time will be slowed by a factor equal to √(1-v^2/c^2 ) , or the reciprocal of the Lorenz factor, which in this case is 0.5. So, the travelers will only age 5.14 years. This is also how the people on the spaceship will perceive the journey (that is, they will think the star is only 2.23 light years away due to length contraction, consistent with general relativity). So if both twins were 10 years old when the experiment was performed, by the time the spaceship lands one will be 20.28 years old and the space faring one will be 15.14 years old.

So what does this have to do with the Kalam argument? Well, let’s re-examine the specific form that the argument takes in Turek’s book:
1. An infinite number of days has no end.
2. But today is the end day of history (history being a collection of all days).
3. Therefore, there were not an infinite number of days before today (i.e., time had a beginning).

The problem that the argument faces when it is put to the scientific litmus test is this:
What is the actual end day of history? It depends on your frame of reference. For the second twin, the “end day” (in this case, the day that the twin sets foot on earth after his journey) of history came twice as quickly than the twin remaining on earth. This refutes the second premise because “today” is a description that is completely relative based upon your frame of reference!

Therefore, the justification: “How here’s how this proves time had a beginning: since time certainly ends (as the present), the timeline cannot be infinite because something that is infinite has no end. Moreover you can’t add anything to something that is infinite, but tomorrow we will add another day to our timeline. So our timeline is undeniably finite (p. 91)” fails, because we cannot know where the theoretical timeline “ends”.
This also has important physical implications. For if space-time did originate in a singularity (which is the position that the book takes, as opposed to the more contemporary theoretical models of the Augustinian epoch including Hartle-Hawking state, string theory, M-Theory, and Ekpyrotic scenarios), the question “What happened before the big bang?” is completely nonsensical because, as far as we know, there was no time before the Big Bang.

Even if there was something before the big bang, our frame of reference (being limited to our universe) prevents us from any knowledge of what that would be.
This also means that Craig’s version of the argument fails in its second premise “the universe began to exist” because it implies time where, as far as we know, there was none.

Later, the authors write, “The problem for the atheist is that while it is logically possible that the universe is eternal, it does not seem to be actually possible. (p. 92)”. This should be re-written as “the problem of the theist is that while it is logically possible that the universe has a beginning, it does not seem to be actually possible.”

Already this book has failed the scientific standard. I'll post more in between medical school duties when I critique the other lines of argument they make...