Monthly Archives: April 2009

NZ’s Evolving Cafe Culture

By Fred Lunjevich (Originally published in Cafe Culture– February/March 2009.)

The “credit crunch” is real. I know because I haven’t got the dream writing job I want and therefore I am currently plying my coffee making skills for Rivet Cafe in the little slice of Wellington we call Ponsonby, Auckland.

Three-months ago, my fiance and I returned to New Zealand after 18 months of living in Birmingham, England. While Birmingham is a cool place to live, its major benefit to us was that its airport is extraordinarily well connected to Europe.

That means we got to experience several European countries – food, language, music, history – and of course, cafes. It is from this European vantage point I now view New Zealand’s cafe culture in its young and evolving state.

Unlike New Zealand, European cafe culture has been evolving for more than 300 years. This becomes abundantly clear when one begins exploring a European city. In Krakow, Poland there is the Singer Cafe, a small off-the-beaten-track establishment that has Singer sewing machines bolted to the tables and only candles for internal lighting. In Prague, one might step into the brilliant art nouveau ballroom hall cafe “Kavárna Obecní Dům” in the municipal building complete with period chandeliers and stunning mosaic exterior.

European cafes reflects the region’s vastly multicultural and rich history. Many cafes survived through turbulent economic and political change and served as meeting places for many of the best known and most influential figures. Franz Kafka was a regular at the Louvre Cafe in Prague while Cafe Central in Vienna boasted the likes of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.

European cafes were often meeting places for academics, artists, bards and scheming political activists. Local thinkers would often congregate to debate and exchange ideas.

New Zealand’s cafe culture can’t boast the same history nor can our cafes claim to have regular patrons of such world changing significance. Our cafe culture is still in diapers relative to our European cousins.

What I can say, from my observations behind the coffee machine, is that cafes seem to be couldrons of a mixture of different people. While New Zealand cafes have a unique charm to them, we are still watching our cafe culture evolve. Even so, our cafes seem to mirror the European style in that they are havens for creative people and deep thinkers.

During the past three months as a Rivet Cafe barista I have had a myriad of discussions about philosophy, politics, science and culture. I have seen many actors studying lines with the intensity of a teenager in an exam.

I’ve talked to artists and musicians and even landed myself acting classes from highly regarded acting teacher Sally Spencer-Harris. All of these people have enriched my life in some way and I would never have met them if it wasn’t for the credit crunch, as it has allowed me to temporarily stave off an office job.

Cafes in New Zealand certainly offer modern alternatives to the fringe benefits often associated with bars and pubs. The association between cafes and relaxation often means people allow their defenses to drop to an extent. This puts the barista in the position of the mythical barperson who can offer a sympathetic ear to the patron with a story to tell.

And while New Zealand doesn’t have the 17th century architecture to house our cafes, we do have a way of creating a uniquely Kiwi atmosphere. We know that Rivet could use a makeover, but we take a strange sort of pride in the scarcely painted beams that complement the retro-atmosphere created by the orange “boogie nights” wallpaper.

Ray’s Comforting Private Universe Part II – Bad (Non) Science

We’ve touched on Ray Comfort’s weird logic in attempting to advance a teleological (design) argument as evidence for the Christian God (and rebuttal of “angry skeptics”). We looked at how thoroughly unconvincing such an argument is given all the holes in the logic that are advanced to support Comfort’s conclusion. More time could be spent really looking at how problematic a design inference really is.

I do wish to reiterate, there is nothing wrong with being a Christian or in any other religion, it’s a matter of personal choice and that’s fine. What isn’t okay is undermining and perverting science to support a preconceived belief. What’s worse is attacking the people who accept the findings of science as their worldview. This exactly the kind of campaign Ray Comfort has launched and hence my zest for setting the record straight as much as I can. For another great demolition of Ray Comfort’s arguments from You Can Lead An Atheist to Water But You Can’t Make Him Think visit the Ziztur blog.

This post will deal with some of Ray Comfort’s awful mischaracterisations of science. I stated in the first post that Comfort most likely has his heart in the right place but he is misguided. It is tough to keep on believing that notion given the abuses he makes of science in all his works. Why people like Ray Comfort choose to pick a fight with science is truly a mystery.

The Catholic Church knows all about the consequences of such a strategy and it is now a profound embarrassment to them. Science works and the methods of science lead to an advancement of knowledge and human understanding of the universe. Comfort knows the reputation of science so he wishes to cash in (in the same way alternative medicine huxters do). Anyway, Comfort repeats the same misinformed mantras over and over again, as if repetition will somehow change the fabric of time and space to make them true.

What exactly am I talking about? We’ll put aside the fact that Ray Comfort is a creationist because evolutionary science claims something different than the bible. Instead, I will focus in on his treatment of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics as another reason, lo and behold, that God exists. Again, this attempt to prove God’s existence fails dismally because it requires a false account of the science behind it (and an unjustified leap to conclude there is a god).

To add weight to the 2nd Law argument, Comfort cynically quotes the extraordinary physicist Stephen Hawking:

This argument about whether or not the universe had a beginning, persisted into the 19th and 20th centuries. It was conducted mainly on the basis of theology and philosophy, with little consideration of observational evidence. This may have been reasonable, given the notoriously unreliable character of cosmological observations, until fairly recently. The cosmologist, Sir Arthur Eddington, once said, ‘Don’t worry if your theory doesn’t agree with the observations, because they are probably wrong.’ But if your theory disagrees with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it is in bad trouble. In fact, the theory that the universe has existed forever is in serious difficulty with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The Second Law, states that disorder always increases with time. Like the argument about human progress, it indicates that there must have been a beginning. Otherwise, the universe would be in a state of complete disorder by now, and everything would be at the same temperature.

You Can Lead An Atheist To Water But You Can’t Make Him Think page 6.

“In other words, everything material degenerates (rots)” he continues. Okay but that’s not what the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics says. I will delve into specifics shortly. First I would like to address the quote Comfort has selected as his “evidence”.

What’s interesting about the quote is the cheery-picking done to retrieve it and the ignorance of the context the quote was made in. This is where I charge that Comfort most probably knows what he is doing when he uses the Hawking quote. He would have had to search for it and once found, completely ignored the surrounding text.

Hawking did in fact say it verbatim as Comfort quotes, in a lecture which can be found on Stephen Hawking’s website. However, as with most quote cherry-picking by science abusers, the quote is a setup for an explanation that is ignored by the cherry-picker. As the Hawking quote above says, “This argument about whether or not the universe had a beginning, persisted into the 19th and 20th centuries. It was conducted mainly on the basis of theology and philosophy, with little consideration of observational evidence.” And ignoring the evidence is what Comfort is still doing today in the 21st century.

Theologians and philosophers were basing their arguments on the false premise that the universe is static. The text that Comfort lifted describes a universe that stemmed from that false premise. I will allow Stephen Hawking to say it as he did in the same lecture:

In a universe that was essentially static, there would not have been any dynamical reason, why the stars should have suddenly turned on, at some time. Any such “lighting up time” would have to be imposed by an intervention from outside the universe. This means that the state of the universe, after the Big Bang, will not depend on anything that may have happened before, because the deterministic laws that govern the universe will break down in the Big Bang. The universe will evolve from the Big Bang, completely independently of what it was like before. Even the amount of matter in the universe, can be different to what it was before the Big Bang, as the Law of Conservation of Matter, will break down at the Big Bang.

This is a severe blow to the universe that Comfort is claiming and seeking support for by quoting Hawkings. He gets a little more specific (and heretical) with every paragraph:

Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the Big Bang. Events before the Big Bang, are simply not defined, because there’s no way one could measure what happened at them…

…There is no dynamical reason why the motion of bodies in the solar system can not be extrapolated back in time, far beyond four thousand and four BC, the date for the creation of the universe, according to the book of Genesis. Thus it would require the direct intervention of God, if the universe began at that date. By contrast, the Big Bang is a beginning that is required by the dynamical laws that govern the universe. It is therefore intrinsic to the universe, and is not imposed on it from outside.

Put in context, Comfort’s quote of Hawkings sets us up nicely for an explanation as to why the static state universe and all predictions that stemmed from it are false.