Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Very little actual documentation from Jesus' time exists. Actually, it closely approximates none. The discussion in the novel I was reading (The Last Templer) was a succinct synopsis of its early history, but being a work of fiction I wanted to take a deeper look. While not a novel I would put in the same class as The Da Vinci Code, this part seems to have been well researched. The first big surprise lies in that not one of the four gospels was written in the time Jesus supposedly lived. In fact, none of the authors is really known. Their authorship is ascribed to the four apostles without any real evidence. The earliest, Mark, is a good 40 years after Jesus' death. That's 40 years of playing the telephone game without any newspapers, video feeds or audio clips. Matthew was likely written between 70 and 100 CE, Luke between 50 and 100 CE and John anywhere between 90 and 120 CE. With only oral tradition keeping the story alive, what are the chances of the Jesus story being at all accurate, even if such a man lived? Certainly, since it is more likely that Jesus was a man with a vision, the story of Jesus took on a life of its own. It certainly bares a remarkable resemblance to the story of Horus. I've recently had an interesting thought about the Resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead three days following his crucifixion. That number 'three' has some significance in relation to crucifixions: if the victim survived three days the sentence was considered to have been fulfilled and he was released. I wonder if, along with the telephone game, this somehow mutated into being raised from the dead.
There were many more gospels than those attributed to Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, as the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in 1946 demonstrated. If there were many such codexes available at the time, why only these four? Well, the blame comes to rest with Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon in the 2nd century CE. Essentially, he took the gospels which were consistent with who he believed Jesus was and considered the others heresy in his Adversus Haereses. Well, that seems somewhat arbitrary, doesn't it? To further distance the church from gnosticism, which many of these codexes espoused, he declared these four gospels divinely inspired in an all too human manner. I have yet to discover on what basis such a statement was made.
So, what do we have? A religion based upon stories of a man that may or may not have existed (but the one in the Bible certainly did not), and which suspiciously strongly resembles earlier mythologies; of the many written works only four which were reasonably consistent were chosen in an ad hoc manner, arbitrarily declaring all others as heresy. It simply stuns me that after all this people can still possibly believe.
This is the power of blind faith (NOT faith!). Faith is trusting someone with a task because you know from previous experience that they always keep their word. There's a history, something to fall back on as a predictor of outcome. Science is like that. I have faith in Science because it works! Blind faith, on the other hand, is like the manual for my Focus SVT telling me my car can actually fly and believing it. Not many of us would take that without a grain of salt and would like to see some evidence. Why not for the Bible? Why is religion exempt from skepticism? I have no idea. Every part of one's life should be looked at critically!
Often, as discussed in this novel, people will look to the good that Xianity has brought, like the code of morality and ethics. But it has done far more harm than good, as history shows. The moral tenet, Thou shalt not kill, only applied to fellow Jews. It was quite alright to kill gentiles. There were even rules on what to do if in your fervor in slaughtering a group of gentiles a fellow believer was also killed. (It was decided that this is okay, the loss of one believer was considered acceptable in eliminating numerous unbelievers.) It's modern meaning post-dates Jesus. Indeed, the holocaust could not have happened without Xian anti-semitism. The Crusades had little to do with freeing the Holy Land and more to do with lining pockets. The biggest problem is that because religious people look to obey a higher power, turning their backs on their fellow humans. The moral and ethical codes presented in the Bible are out of date, as I've demonstrated in an earlier blog. It was meant for an earlier society, where technology meant a new way growing whatever it is they grew out there.
In fact, religion is not the source of morality and ethics; it codified these principles which exist whether religion does or not. Xians would have us all believe that morality was given to us by god. But if you witness an act that you find morally reprehensible, did you have to consult scripture to come up with a moral value judgement first? I doubt it. You made a mental calculation using moral grammatical rules that bypassed your conscious mind. Morality is inherent within each of us, not obtained from some old book. An evolutionary origin to morality explains a great deal about the diversity of morality and ethics which religion does not. If you would like to see where we really get our morals from I strongly recommend Marc Hauser's Moral Minds for further study.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Enter an ethicist (why do they always weigh in to screw things up?). Her position is that since we would not think it ethical to eliminate people with undesirable characteristics, that no matter how positive (as is evident in this case), the outcome the ends do not justify the means. As Michael Shermer would say: Nonsense on stilts. This is nothing more than another case of absolute ethics throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Is genetic screening a form of eugenics? Probably (it has a rather broad definition according to the Wikipedia), but there is a vast difference between this case and the Nazi program that this word brings to mind. In the Nazi case, this was an attempt to create 'perfect' (whatever that means) humans and won't work. Selecting for certain traits can have unpredictable and deleterious results in other areas. This was seen in the famous Russian experiment with silver foxes. What happened when these animals were selectively bred for their tameness had unexpected consequences: floppy ears, coat color changes and curly tails (very much what happened in the domestication of the dog).
I would hardly place screening for Huntington's disease in the same class as Nazi eugenics programs when the end result is the certainty that your children will not become afflicted with a debilitating disease. Few of us can imaging their relief as parents for having undertaking this expensive procedure to ensure their children's health in later life, at least insofar as passing the disorder on to them. This was something I don't think the interviewed ethicist even considered when assessing her position.
While it was immediately apparent to me that the ethicist's position was ridiculous, I had to ask myself, "Why?" The question she asked was whether people suffering from Huntington's or other genetic conditions that may be construed by society as being undesirable, such as dwarfism, would want to be discriminated against or eliminated because of their condition. The answer is obvious. Life is preferable (almost) no matter the circumstances. But was this the correct question to ask? I don't think so.
One of Michael Shermer's main moral tenets is that if you are unsure as to the morality of an action (especially when it impacts on others), ask first. Well, we cannot ask a blastocyst and expect a response (which is one of the reasons that I think calling an unthinking, unfeeling collection of cells a human being is ridiculous), but we can ask people suffering from these disorders whether they would rather live with their condition given the chance to have a life without it. I think that that is the real question, and I think that the ethicist interviewed completely missed the mark.
The current legal position regarding genetic screening in Canada is dangerous, however. There is in fact no position at all. This leaves open the possibility of truly unethical uses of this technology, such as selection of sex (some cultures are notorious for their desire to have only male offspring). Fortunately, as is the case for a representative of an IVF clinic, screening for sex is done only in conjunction with testing for sex-determined disorders. With proper regulation and oversight, genetic screening can be another effective (and in the case of genetic disorders, currently the only) tool in the fight against disease. It was not all that long ago that IVF itself presented moral and ethical issues, but its presence in today's society is all but assured. Why not this?
Does religious dogma have anything to offer in the form of moral guidance in this context? Long answer: No. (Anyone who reads my blogs will have seen this coming...) Moral codes based on a society 2000 years ago simply cannot even relate to ethical and moral dilemmas presented by today's technology, a word itself only 150 years old in its current usage.
The problem with all absolute moral systems is there inability to adapt to new situations. For instance, how does religious dogma handle the disposal of unused blastocysts when abortion is considered immoral? The couple in the example here donated them for scientific research purposes, for which I applaud them. If use of stem cells from aborted fetuses is wrong, then is the use of blastocysts which will never be used (and hence have no potential for becoming human beings) for research also wrong? I put it to you that 2000 year old Abrahamic religious dogma is completely incapable of dealing with these situations and a new, more flexible set of ethical principles is needed.
More on that in a later blog. I have to get work done some time today....
Thursday, December 21, 2006
"There's a sense of crisis in the air over the notion that reason itself is in jeopardy. The attack on reason is coming primarily from religious extremists, but the whole ethos of fundamentalism is seen as irrational. So the alarm goes out to defend science and push back unreason. This urgent call is supposed to salvage future progress for humanity and defeat the wave of barbarity that travels under the name of terrorism. But how can anyone seriously defend science as a panacea when it gave us the atomic bomb?" Interesting. Just who is it that espouses Science as such a thing? Science is a way of viewing the world to find out how it works. A toolbox, if you will. Nothing more. If you are looking for moral and ethical guidance, Science offers none. Look elsewhere. (May I suggest "secular humanism"?)
"Rationality is creating new methods of mechanized death every year. The future being planned by so-called rationalists includes robot armies and neutron bombs that can kill every enemy combatant--or civilian population--while leaving their buildings standing." I reiterate: Science is amoral. Rationality has never caused anyone to strap on a bomb with the intent to kill and maim. It is ideology, whether religious or political, which does this. And someone should take Deepak's collection of fifties sci-fi movies away from him.
" Reason isn't the savior of the future. That role belongs to wisdom." Huh? Someone wanna tell me how you can separate wisdom and reason? Or how wisdom can be applied without reason? Sounds to me if his personal philosophy is a little underdone and should go back into the oven.
" For at least two thousand years, our evolution has shifted to the following:
--We assimilate new information and evolve mentally.
--We don't evolve physically (except to grow healthier and live longer) but instead use technology to extend our physical limitations and gain more power over Nature.
--We gain a higher vision of ourselves and evolve spiritually." Arrgh! Another Science education-deficient idiot savant! Spiritual growth is not evolution! And yes, we are continuing to evolve physically! The difference now is that we are creating some of the natural selection pressures ourselves. He clearly has NO IDEA of what he's talking about here.
"Arch materialists like Richard Dawkins, despite an expertise in evolutionary biology, miss the whole point of human evolution, which is that it long ago broke out of the prison of physicality. True, modern athletes are stronger, bigger, faster, and more accomplished than those of the past, but this doesn't affect anyone's survival the way becoming a bigger, stronger, faster gazelle would." Again, Chopra shows his embarrassing lack of understanding of what evolution is. This was written by someone who thinks he knows what Evolution is, but has failed to grasp the concept entirely. And no, Richard Dawkins does not miss the point about human evolution. You do, Chopra. In fact, you miss the whole point of what evolution is: there is no point. There is no end purpose, no guiding mentality. Modern athletes are bigger, stronger and faster mainly because they train. True, their genes give them an edge over the likes of (presumably) you and me, but it doesn't happen through an individual's lifetime, as he seems to think. Stupid and ridiculous. Someone give Deepak a copy of 'Evolution for Dummies' for Xmas please.
"Taking all factors together, humans evolve through the metabolism of experience. That is, we absorb everything going on in our environment, and in some rather mysterious ways, the next generation knows more and can do more than we can. I am not being mystical here. When Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity, Bertrand Russell famously said that he was one of three people in the world who understood it. Now a bright high school student can grasp Einstein's principles, if not his mathematics." "Metabolism of experience"? Just what the hell is that? Why do spiritualists like to use fancy terminology in their attempts to express ideas, yet fail miserably because the terms are so nebulous as to completely obscure all meaning? Could you spiritualist folk please talk plainly without the mumbo-jumbo? We in Science use jargon, it's true, but each term has a very well-defined meaning, not something that sounds like it was pulled from the posterior. If we didn't, journal articles would be books and even more boring to read than they are now.
As I continue to read this I am getting more and more irate. He's not being mystical? He is suggesting that the Gaia hypothesis is responsible for a high schooler's understanding of Relativity in all but name! I think a simpler explanation might be that after a small number of people study and understand the implications of new and revolutionary ideas like Relativity, the concepts can distilled into simpler, more intuitive forms that others can grasp. This is dissemination of information, NOT evolution.
"The same holds true for today's five-year-olds who can navigate through a computer better and faster than many adults of an older generation. We assimilate difficulties, solve them, and move on to a new future as more evolved humans. The evolution of the wisest holds that this cannot be a random process." Yes, it is not random, but it isn't due to some mystical bullshit either. Children are exposed to technologies at a young age, so of course they will be able to handle technologies at a younger age. These are their formative years. But the same type of problems that you have with computers, Deepak, will happen to them with some other new gadgetry. What time is it at Deepak's house? "12 o'clock! 12 o'clock! 12 o'clock!...."
"When asked if he found the cathedrals of Europe inspiring, Mark Twain answered to the effect that the architects forgot to build inspiring people to go in them. We risk leaving the same legacy to the future. What will save us is self-awareness, the key to evolution of the wisest." Wait a minute... Evolution of the wisest? What the....? Is Chokra thinking that evolution can be hijacked in any manner that he sees fit? Get a grip, Deepak. Evolution doesn't work that way. Evolution doesn't care about you, your beliefs or (and especially) your views on what path it should take. Cold and indifferent, but that's just the way the universe is. And, by the way, most members of H. sapiens are already self-aware. So what the hell does that mean? He promises to talk about that in a future post. I await with bated breath...
Ken Miller, one of the star witnesses for the plaintiffs at the Kitzmiller trial, sent this email in response to one from William Dumb- I mean, William Dembski asking for contributions for an animation on ID. It's too funny! Just what the hell was Miller doing on Dembski's email list, anyway? Somehow I don't think Ken is on Dembski's Xmas card list....
Hate to burst your biblical bubble, but....
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.... Let's look on the left side first, being a proud member of that group. I've always found dandelions to be happy flowers. I see so many of the unsupported stereotypes of living a life in the absence of a god. So contraception causes single-parent families? Weird. I would have thought that it would help PREVENT such things. Lust is bad? I guess we're supposed to be emotionless and sexually impotent in our relationships. Isn't that so Dick Van Dyke Show-like? Poverty/crime/poor health/poor education increases without religion to keep you on the straight and narrow? Interesting idea, but WRONG! These things actually increase with increasing religiosity of a society, as Michael Shermer has pointed out in the latest issue of Scientific American. Go to any prison and you will find it full of religious people (say hello to Dr. Dino while you're there...), but you'll be hard-pressed to find any atheists. Artificial reproduction technologies are bad? And really, how are the 'anti-life'? So couples incapable of having children aren't allowed to experience the joys of childbirth and parenthood? That's a little harsh, don't you think? The morality of this proscription is dubious. Infanticide/Homicide/Suicide... No, no Xian has EVER done those... (to avoid Poe's Law invocations, this is sarcasm). I am also in favor of assisted suicide under strict guidelines (which is a bit of a Pandora's box to open, but religious dogma won't even allow for debate on the subject). And let's dispel that myth of religion resulting in longer marriages, shall we? Atheists, not Xians, have the lowest divorce rate of any group. By 'Lethal Experimentation', I presume the subject is stem cell research. If I've said it once I've said it a million times: blastocysts are not people!
Now the thorny right side. It grieves me that they used a plant that I actually have a passion for. Oh well. I personally do not believe that altruism even exists. At some level the giver receives something back. Some may disagree here, and that's ok. There's lots of other stuff to look at. Most of the items listed have no need of religion at all, like caring for others and strengthening social structures. Indeed, religion hinders the latter since it promotes a within-group mentality, treating those outside the group as exactly that- outsiders. And just what the hell is 'Fertility Appreciation'? I mean that. I have no idea what that means. By 'Natural Family Planning', do they mean, like, Catholic Roulette? How is that ethically different from using contraceptives anyhow? The intended end result is the same. One just happens to be better than the other. This just doesn't stand up to any scrutiny. Religion leads to 'Security for Women and Families'? Sure, if women like subservience to the pater familias. This is the 21st century, so please join the rest of us there.
I'm sorry, but the Bible does not have much relevance for today's complex ethical issues. The Bible was written in a time where the word 'technology' simply didn't exist. Indeed, the Bible contains many things (slavery, genocide, rape, etc.) which were acceptable in its time that we revile today. (If you want examples, just go to The Skeptics Annotated Bible.) New moral and ethical values must replace the outdated (and at times frankly vile) model presented by religion. For more reading material I suggest Marc Hauser's Moral Minds or Michael Shermer's The Science of Good & Evil.
Besides, I like dandelion wine.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
I'm a little perturbed this morning. I came across a book on Amazon.com that I thought might be interesting (God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist) and noted a critique by someone named Michael A. Corey, PhD. The same tired old arguments. He writes,
There are a lot of things wrong with the above statement. For instance, the false dichotomy that I so often see in fundamentalists' arguments that if Science has no answer then it must be due to the supernatural. Phah! Learn how to reason. This was something well pointed out in the Kitzmiller decision authored by Judge Jones. Desperate and outrageously fallacious reasoning, if I can even label it as reasoning to begin with. I have little patience for such inanity."Where do the laws of nature come from?
The above-stated question is purported to have been answered by the author himself, but it is this very question that shows that there HAD to have been a Higher Power at work in the nascent universe, because modern cosmology has clearly demonstrated that the laws of nature all materialized instantly just a few microseconds after the initial Bang. In other words, these life-enabling laws didn't gradually evolve randomly by a process of natural selection over eons of cosmic time. Instead, they emerged out of the Big Bang almost instantly, fully formed and fine-tuned to produce intelligent life some 14 billion earth years later. This is a fantastic cosmic feat that modern science simply cannot account for in the absence of an Intelligent Designer, who would have single-handedly fine-tuned these natural laws before the Big Bang ever happened. I do not see how a non-theistic explanation could ever do justice to this utterly remarkable fact of modern cosmology. In short, if the author has an effective counterargument for the origin of the laws of nature, let's hear what it is. I seriously doubt that he even has one!"
Next. This backwards idea that the universe was fine-tuned for life. Let's try again, but put the words in the right order... It is LIFE that is fine-tuned for the universe we find ourselves in, not the other way round!
But it's so obvious that there must have been a designer! Oh, my, us silly scientists! How could we be so obtuse and myopic? The veil hath been lifted from mine eyes!
C'mon, dude. If it was so obvious (or even true) we'd drop Science altogether and bow down and pray with you. We're interested only in the truth, no matter where it leads. Unless, of course, it's all been an atheist plot to take over the world and rule hedonistically for all time! Mu-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!
As to the original question he posed, one of the posters correctly replied that "the laws of physics can be derived from very basic concepts such as symmetry and gauge invariance." Boom.
Michael A. Corey, PhD. Notice any similarity to Kent Hovind, PhD (who is Hovind)? Why is it people that get their unaccredited degrees have such a need to have them taken seriously? Bet (like Hovind) that he's listed in the phone book with his degree. I'm not. And just how does a PhD in the "Philosophy of Science and Religion" qualify its holder to be taken seriously on scientific discourse? Funny, I didn't see one single degree in Science available on The Union Institute website....
But you know what really bothers me about this? He can't have read the book! It won't be out till January.
You've moved me to buying it, Michael. I'll review it and let you know if you should buy it, too.
I was in a video game store some time ago and saw on the shelf in the 'Coming Soon' section something that made me groan aloud: 'Eternal Forces'. A game based on the 'Left Behind' series, a rather popular religious series of novels relating to the Rapture. Popular? I dunno. I certainly do not know anyone that has any of them (same for anything by that wacko L. Ron Hubbard, perhaps the most boring science fiction novelist in history but his books seem to be always on best seller lists even though no one has any), but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.
I really can't imaging a religion-based video game having any appeal, being a hard-core Grand Theft Auto fan myself, but then I read a review on the game's contents (CTV news story and The San Fransisco Chronical). If there's violence in it maybe it ain't all that boring.
But trust a fundie to take all the fun out of violent games. "Our game includes violence, but excludes blood, decapitation, killing of police officers,'' the company says on its website, noting that a player can lose points for "unnecessary killing'' and regain them through prayer. Wow. Prayer works just like in real life! The ol' "I-killed-someone-but-it's-okay-now-because-I-prayed-about-it" trick. So much for love in fundie Xianity, but then, that goes without saying. I wonder, though, if killing atheists gets you bonus points in the game... Wouldn't surprise me.
Worse, you can't win if you go 'dark-sided': Players can choose to join the Antichrist's team, but of course they can never win on Carpathia's side. Now if that just doesn't suck.
"Part of the object is to kill or convert the opposing forces,'' said the Rev. Tim Simpson of Jacksonville, Fla., who heads the Christian Alliance for Progress. "It is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.'' Is it? I could quote a few passages here to the contrary, but at least there is one Xian organization out there that is fighting the good fight. The Christian Alliance for Progress was founded in response to the growing Xian right.
Wal-Mart demonstrates the moral superiority they've always had: "The product has been selling in those stores,'' said spokeswoman Tara Raddohl. "The decision on what merchandise we offer in our stores is based on what we think our customers want the opportunity to buy.'' So, we should have a market-driven morality, eh? How Republican. Sounds like the mission statement for Halliburton. I want a George Bush voodoo doll, and I'm sure a lot of other people want one as well, but I can't seem to find THAT in a Wal-Mart.
In response to their critics, CEO of Left Behind Games Troy Lyndon replies: "They're good-minded people,'' he said. "They want to keep us from making games that are jihad in the name of God.'' This is not something an imam in the Middle East is saying, but a fundamentalist game developer (I would never have thought I could string those words together...) in California! And people say religion doesn't spawn violence?!? The gaming company's president Jeffrey Frichner said the game does not endorse prejudice. But "Muslims are not believers in Jesus Christ" -- and thus can't be on Christ's side in the game. So you get to mow them down, too. Ann Coulter would be proud.
Another critic, author Frederick Clarkson, is spot on: "It becomes a tool of religious instruction,'' he said. "The message is. ... there will be religious warfare, and you will target your fellow Americans, people from other faiths, people who you consider to be sinners.''
I've said that I am a hard-core fan of the Grand Theft Auto series of games. Does this make me hipocritical? No. I enjoy playing them, but I do not even for one moment relate the cartoonish violence in GTA to reality. Hollywood action films are no different than GTA in their subject matter, not to mention much more graphic in their violence, and are the greatest influence on their story lines.
So what's the difference? The difference is that people that play this game are generally going to be believers in the Rapture. This game represents a scenario that they believe will actually play out in the near future. This is their future reality and a game like this simply serves to reinforce their intolerant beliefs that they are our moral superiors and that violence against all others is not only okay, but commanded by God. This game is more like a religious terrorist training manual than a form of entertainment. It would not surprise me in the least if this game shows up in 'Jesus Camp II'.
But Plugged In, a publication of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, gave the game a "thumbs-up." The reviewer called it "the kind of game that Mom and Dad can actually play with Junior -- and use to raise some interesting questions along the way." Isn't that just heart-warming? Now Mommy and Daddy can play Religious Rambo with little Johnny....
Gamespot.com gives this game a 3.4/10. Guess fundies really CAN'T write good game software.
UPDATE: It gets even worse. I read one user's review at gamespot.com: "women cannot be any unit except a nurse. Want to preach the Gospel and convert other people to your side? You need a man."
Or, how about this? "All the good units are white. Full-white mayonaise-eating Cuacasians. That's not to say there are no African-Americans in this New York City, there are. But they are the "evil musicians". All of them are black. They play guitar riffs which were about the only cool sounds in the game but are labeled as "the Devil's Music" in the game."
And this piece of trash if rated "T"?!? How progressive....
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
And the so-called 'Discovery Institute' refuses to accept what was a landmark court decision. Rather, they continue to try to spin things. The latest? A press release (which seems to be the only evidence that intelligent design publishes anything...) complaining that "Judge John Jones copied verbatim or virtually verbatim 90.9% of his 6,004-word section on whether intelligent design is science from the ACLU's proposed 'Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law' submitted to him nearly a month before his ruling..." As the people at The Panda's Thumb have already pointed out, just what does 90.9% verbatim mean? It either is or is not.
Let's step back for a moment and recap what happened in Dover, PA last year. Members of the local school board attempted to sneak intelligent design (ID) into a grade school science class (literally by blackmailing the teachers). The teachers and some of the parents filed a lawsuit claiming that this was unconstitutional. Not only did the judge agree with the plaintiffs, but he made a much more profound finding: ID is not science. There were a variety of reasons for this (and the judge's decision makes for VERY interesting reading, at one point noting that the good church-going members of the school board 'repeatedly lied' under oath...), mainly because the designer is pretty well understood to be god and that ID simply produces no Science.
Even the Discovery Institute points out that this copying is actually standard legal procedure anyway, not plagerism. Is it because Judge Jones was lazy or incompetent? Hardly. Was he a mouthpiece for the ACLU, an organization which is dedicated to the preservation of freedoms enjoyed by even those that would seek to trample on them? (Yeah, I'm talking about you Ann Coulter.) As if. This was a conservative judge appointed by George Bush Jr himself. Not a likely candidate for the ACLU's poster child. "But Jones' analysis of the scientific status of intelligent design contains virtually nothing written by Jones himself. This finding seriously undercuts the credibility of a central part of the ruling." That's one possibility, but I'll give you a more likely one: the plaintiffs kicked ass. In fact, they kicked ass so bad that Judge Jones had no reason not to accept the facts of the case as presented by the plaintiffs in its entirety.
If you read Dr. Michael Behe's testimony you can see how much the ID proponents (and the Discovery Institute) embarrassed themselves. Not hard to do, I suppose, when the concept of ID is utterly empty and without any evidentiary support, let alone ridiculous.
Behe's testimony was ridiculous. He has this concept called 'irreducible complexity' that he keeps espousing. It states that if the removal of one part of a system causes that system to cease to function as it does in an organism then the system is said to be irreducible. Sounds good, doesn't it? But Behe limits the scope of functionality to its current function only, ignoring that its constituents may have had other functions in its evolutionary history. The supposed irreducibly complex systems Behe uses as examples, such as the bacterium flagellum, could not have just come together. However, he ignores the possibility that these systems, having other functionality, came together to produce a new function. In essence, Behe makes the usual (irrelevant and invalid) random chance argument, saying that these systems could not be produced in such a way that evolution says cannot have happened anyway! It's just a reformulation of Paley's old and discredited watchmaker argument. For Behe, the final objective (e.g. the bacterium flagellum) must be formed as a whole or not at all. If the removal of one part causes that system to fail, it must have been designed.
Ridiculous. This ignores the fact that apparently complex systems can be created from simpler ones through small steps following a set of rules. It is not all or nothing. It is clear that the bacterium flagellum was formed through small evolutionary changes, co-opting pieces which had other uses, in this case he Type III secretory system.
Anyway, Behe embarrassed himself by admitting on the stand that he had not read any of the Science behind the evolution of these systems. Not much of a scientist is Behe, I'm afraid. Even though his hypotheses have been completely discredited (and I mean shredded, over and over again), he continues to spout this crap.
I saw a book this summer (the title escapes me) and on the jacket it said that there is a quiet controversy in Science over evolution (it was a book on ID, of course). Well, I can tell you for a fact that it is so quiet that it does not exist. Period. ID has published no findings in any credible journal and the best they can do is sway public opinion through un-peer reviewed books and press releases that are pretty much (and correctly) ignored.
Dr. John West, Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, states that "those who thought the Dover decision would end the debate over Darwinian evolution were obviously wrong. That debate is just as vibrant and vigorous as it ever was, and Darwinists know it." Really? I hadn't noticed. This sounds like those War on Drugs pep talks, with politicians trying to convince themselves of what they're saying in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
It's been a year since Kitzmiller. ID is not Science. Get over it.
"I finally got a pillow after only eight days and requests! I am about ready for a new pair of socks next!" Oh, the humanity!
"Being here gives me a much better appreciation for many Bible characters who suffered for doing right." Suffered doing right? There have many people who have suffered doing right, and not all of them theists. But you, Hovind, are rightly in prison for what you did. You defrauded the people of America. How dare you compare yourself to those that sacrificed for their beliefs? He continues to compare himself to other biblical sufferers, this time to Paul: "When I compare my time in jail to the Apostle Paul's time, I am forced to realize that I have so much for which to be thankful." Yeah, not having a pillow for a few nights will do that. This man is either a snake oil salesman or a delusional schizophrenic. The gall of this guy!
He asks (rhetorically) "Why Did God Allow This?" Paraphrase: "Oh, why hast thou foresaken me, Lord?" He has all kinds of possibilities (19 in total), as if he knows what god's plans for him are. I'll give a better answer: god wasn't happy with the immoral behavior and is going to let you rot. Almost makes one think that gods don't exist.... One of his best 'reasons'? "To make me more like Jesus, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." So now he's like Jesus? Medication may be necessary.
Another: "To allow God to see how fellow Christians react. He is gathering evidence for their day of reckoning. The same is true for me." How should Xians react? They should shun him as the charlatan he is. But what I think he's implying is that god won't like it much if you turn away from him. The contempt I hold for this 'man' is beyond measure.
Right after he tells us, "I have not been beaten. I have hot and cold water. I have three meals a day. I have clean clothes two times each week. I have climate controlled and sanitary conditions. I have a sink and toilet." etc., He then claims to have it rough in yet another of the reasons god allowed his imprisonment: "To give me a better appreciation for our veterans who slept in swamps and other squalid conditions for my freedom." What a sack o' shit this man is.
He has an interesting take on the penal system: "To let me see why God's law, which is perfect, converting the soul, authorizes: beatings, four times restitution, and execution for crimes, but never imprisonment.... This system costs everyone in many ways, and does little good and much harm." No revolving door here. He'd rather see them dead or suffer barbaric sentences. Whatever happened to 'thou shalt not kill'?
So what was the real purpose behind this? "Many of you have called or written to ask if you can write letters on our behalf. We have learned that you can do this. Letters can be sent to CSE, who will give them all to the attorneys." Shuh-wing! What? You thought this was altruistic exercise or an apology? HA! This is nothing more than a way to entice people to write letters, from people who don't even know him, to speak on his behalf! As if any of these people will have any standing in the court's eyes whatsoever.
The plain truth of the matter is that Hovind willfully and knowingly comitted a serious crime. He feels that he doesn't have to pay his taxes- the Leona Helmsley of religion.
If nothing else (and I mean nothing else), this putz is a good source of material for my blogs.
I've grown up believing that you should not speak ill of anyone, but then, I don't lie, either. The subject of this blog is Kent Hovind, or 'Dr. Dino'; a man that, without ever having met, I completely loathe. No, it goes beyond that, and I will now tell you why.
A while ago, I downloaded a debate that was made available at www.infidelguy.com between Mr. Kent Hovind and Dr. Massimo Pigliucci which originally aired in 2001. Dr. Pigliucci most ably defended evolution with a great deal more patience than I would have had. I have little patience for stupidity (which is why I never found 'Friends' funny at all) and have to fight the urge to stop my hand from smacking topside of the head anyone suffering from this all too common affliction. Mr. Hovind would receive a great deal less gentle attention in my presence.
It is apparent that Mr. Hovind bristles at being called 'Mr.' and feels that his 'degree' from an unaccredited university demands that the title 'Dr.' be used when addressing him: "... I have a doctor's degree also, though it's not from an accredited university but I don't think that matters..."
What the....? You're darn tootin' it matters. Under this concept anyone getting a mail order PhD would then have to be given the title of 'Dr.' I will not make a mockery of my profession by addressing him as such. A look at his so-called PhD thesis has shown its many shortcomings, and it is doubtful it would have passed muster in the eyes of a real examination committee (Read: it's joke degree, dufus).
His beliefs are straightforward enough: "...the bible is literally true, it's scientifically accurate, the Earth is not billions of years old..." The bible is scientifically accurate? Only if you have severe cataracts and selective hearing loss. I won't go into it here, but there is a long list of biblical science blunders.
He makes no bones about how he feels about ToE: "The Evolution Theory that is taught in our schools is the dumbest idea in the history of humanity and is bolstered up by lies that have been proven wrong over many years." He points to the apparent gill slits observable in human embryoes as incorrectly being evidence of our piscean past still in textbooks. He's right. But errors like this have long since been abandoned, though textbooks sometimes contain (and propogate) these errors, and there is certainly a need for editing in the interests of accuracy. But how this relates to the validity of ToE, the central tenets of which have remained essentially unaltered and validated over the last 150 years, is beyond me. I'm all for correcting mistakes or modifying theories in light of new data. It's a strength of Science that it can accomodate new ideas, not a weakness. Religious dogma, on the other hand....
Is it really a dumb idea, or is it more likely that he just isn't capable of understanding it? More likely the latter. I find this to be a very common thread in fundamentalists. They seem to think that they are smarter than the thousands of truly bright researchers in evolutionary biology. It totally smacks of idiotic arrogance, the same kind of arrogance they accuse scientists of. Sorry to you fundies out there for my 'arrogance', but I'm partial to physical evidence rather than the mythology.
But it is his claim that the Theory of Evolution (ToE) is a religion that is so bizarre and at best overreaching: "The evolutionists Believe [sic]... that the universe came into existence without a designer; they Believe that life got started without a designer or a creator (or whatever you want to call god); they Believe that life forms change into different types of life forms over time. None of it's been observed. Dogs produce dogs. Now if you want to Believe that a dog came from a rock 4.6 billion years ago, which is precisely what evolution teaches if you boil away all the fluff and the feathers, then you are welcome to Believe that. But you are taking that totally on faith. You have never seen, and nobody has ever seen life come from nonliving material; you have never seen any planet or star or universe create itself from nothing; you have never seen an animal produce a different kind of animal. You take all these things on faith, you Believe them. So, yes, it's very much a religion...."
There are so many things wrong with the above quote that it's hard to decide where to begin, or which is most aggregious, so I will go sequentially through the main points:
- Saying that the universe came into being without a designer, while I believe this to be true, has nothing to do with evolution.
- A dog came from a rock? He's creating (excuse the pun) the usual strawman caricature of ToE. ToE actually says nothing about the origins of life, first of all. Second, those that hypothesize about life origins do not believe rocks were involved, though dissolved minerals obviously were, but it is well understood that the conditions on this planet at that time were such that organic molecules necessary for life would easily have been formed from available materials. This has been verified through experiment and the subsequent discussion was also enlightening. By creating the conditions approximating a young Earth, Mr. Hovind attempts to place the experimenter in the role of designer, which is patently ridiculous: "Well, then you are totally blind. You said it was doctor so-and-so that did it. Here you have an intelligent person putting chemicals together to make something happen." The experimenter is simply there to recreate the environment that was thought to exist through natural means, not to actively affect the outcome of the experiment. Sheesh!
- Mr. Hovind demonstrates a serious problem with the need for direct observation of evolution (remember this point, as I will come back to it), ignoring the mountains of indirect evidence and verification in solid support of ToE. My wife gave me an excellent analogy: if you look at a clock at two different times, did the clock hands move smoothly during the interem, or did they jump the second time you looked? Obviously, the former. We know this because of previous experience, but as David Hume (one of histories greatest thinkers) pointed out, knowledge like this is not absolute. So, do we then deny that the hands moved at all? Of course not, but that is exactly what Mr. Hovind is asking you to do.
- The 'dogs producing dogs' thing is more of the strawman again. ToE is about (as Dr. Pigliucci stressed) gene population and propogation. It has never predicted that two of one animal species (those undergoing sexual reproduction) will produce a new species as offspring in such a direct fashion. Either he does not understand even the basics of genetics and ToE, or he is a liar. Makes no difference to me, as I have only contempt for this bloated sack of protoplasm.
Here's another strange quote from this debate relating ToE to be religion: "The supernatural power you follow... is Time and Blind Random Chance." Time is an ingredient in ToE, a necessary element wherein natural selection can act on mutations, not a god I follow. It's like saying that because it is a necessary ingredient in the making of cakes sugar is the god a baker follows. We do not use Time as a panacea for handling the problem of adaptation and speciation, unlike creationist invoking 'goddidit'. Religious dogma, now THAT'S what I call a panacea. And random chance? Mutations in the genetic code happen (not completely true, but close enough) in a random fashion, it is true, but natural selection forces are anything but random. This is a typically fundamental (pun intended) misconception of ToE.
This quote is my favorite, and why Mr. Hovind gets the 'Bag O' Hammers Award'. In speaking of Tyrannosaurus rex and how they were kept from eating everything on the ark (Yup, you read it right. He actually Believes, lacking any evidence other than the existence of dragon legends, that Noah took them all for a boat ride on a rainy day, and that human predation caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.): "...you're assuming, number one, that for one that they were carnivorous; you're assuming, number two, that they were adult; you're assuming, number three, that they were ferocious, and dangerous, all of which are totally unproven assumptions, and I think the bible would teach quite the opposite of that. ....You'll find an enormous number of evolutionary scientists, even, that hold that the T. rex was at best a scavenger, or a herbivore because of the cracks in the enamel always being stained with chlorophyll..."
Oh, my. I nearly wet myself laughing. There are no lengths to which some people will not go in order to shoehorn inconvenient facts to fit their beliefs. Challenged to give the name of one scientist that believes T. rex was a herbivore, I think at this point Hovind (I'm dropping the 'Mr.' now. He doesn't deserve even that much respect anymore...) realized he'd just made a complete idiot of himself because even though he is (presumably) familiar with the names and work of peers in his field he was suspiciously unable to name a single one. My feeling is that he could not point out a dinosaur in a museum.
Read the last sentence of the above quote carefully. Remember Hovind's disdain for even strong indirect evidence, no matter it's amount? He has never seen a live specimen, let alone one eating a plant, yet on indirect evidence (which I dispute) makes the claim that T. rex was a herbivore! What happened here? Simple. He has made a statement with only indirect evidence (if in fact the chlorophyll thing is true, which I doubt since chlorophyll is a delicate molecule and would not survive any significant length of time) which fits into his young Earth creationist view. So it's okay for evidence supporting creationism, but not ToE. I have always found creationists to be very 'selective', shall we say, in how they obtain and/or use scientific data. Cherry picking in this way nullifies any right to the word 'science' in 'creation science'. Why try to scientifically prove the creation myth at all? Hovind has already assumed the Genesis myth to be true, so what is gained by trying to find evidence for it? The answer is less than honorable. He needs us to believe it, too, to propogate the mind virus known as religion. Not just any brand, though, but his. I'm beginning to think that there is more than a little truth in Richard Dawkins' meme concept.
In explaining T. rex's rather (to quote form The Holy Grail) nasty, big, pointy teeth, he points out that "there are many animals, like the fruit bat, which have ferocious-looking, very sharp teeth, and they are herbivores..." This is true. But the teeth of fruit bats are evolved for use in puncturing fruit, while those of T. rex and other similar carnivores are for shearing. Any expert on comparative morphology presented with a tooth never seen before would immediately and accurately place its owner within its gastronomic group on the basis of "form follows function". Interesting that Hovind doesn't understand such an elementary zoological concept. He's an expert in what, now, exactly? No idea...
One caller into the webcast, someone that drills for oil for a living, challenged the flood story saying that he has never seen any evidence for a flood. Obviously not knowing that geologists study core samples all the way down when drilling, Hovind replied that "...you are drilling through the evidence of the flood..." to get to the oil. He just gets stupider and stupider.
It's not hard to see why he would like to believe that ToE is a religious concept. Hovind is smart enough (I hesitate to use the word 'smart' to describe Hovind) to realize that creationism will never be allowed in public schools, so he attempts the next best thing: have ToE labeled a religion and removed from schools too! His strategy has but one flaw: the vast amount of scientific evidence in support of ToE, evidence he tries so very hard (and utterly fails) to deny as being evidence.
In his concluding remarks, Hovind gets to what really bothers him (and many hard core Believers) about evolution: morality. In his world, "it is pretty obvious to anybody with half a brain that there must have been a designer..." (he got that right more than he could ever know...) and that denial of god's existence when god obviously does exist must mean that "there is something in their lifestyle, be it pornography or whatever .... there is something that they think the creator might not like, but they like to do it, so rather than face the facts, the obvious, that there must have been a designer, they deny the designer's existence to justify their wicked lifestyle... Some people just don't like the idea of a creator telling them what to do."
He just doesn't get it. It's not some kind of atheist plot. Putting aside the fact that there are many Xians that recognize the power of ToE in explaining adaptation and speciation, I would put it to you that as a group atheists are more moral than believers and it has been shown to be so.The National Academy of Sciences, the most esteemed scientific body in the US, is comprised of 93% atheists/agnostics, yet I know of no member of that august body in prison, while the debauchery of this group predicted by this opinion would be a legend to make the Hellfire Club seem like the Boy Scouts.
For the life of me I cannot understand this unsubstantiated accusation that atheists, because they do not receive their morals from a belief in god, are immoral. My suggestion is if you want to understand the origin of morals, do not look to the bible. One look at some of the vile stories it contains, like Judges 19, is enough for me to know that it is a terrible source of morality. Take a look at Marc Hauser's Moral Minds, Michael Shermer's The Science of Good & Evil or Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, or indeed any book by these authors.
And what does morality have to do with ToE anyway? Not a damn thing, aside from explaining the origins of morality in hominids (including man, of course). As an atheist, I not only deny god's existence, but do not see any need to bring god up at all (except when fundies do...). This is why I lack a belief in a deity! This is why I am an atheist! The discovery of ToE ranks as one of the most outstanding achievements of our species and Hovind belittles it as some nefarious motive to spread immorality. I do not need ToE as an excuse to disbelieve!
Now he gets biblical. Hovind goes on to say that "the very creator that some of you folks [he means atheist listeners, I suppose] don't believe in, loves you and is trying desperately to get your attention and he wants to be able to forgive your sins. But if you persist in rejecting his offer, he will have to do the obvious, which is be a just judge and give you your just desserts." First of all, as Bertrand Russell would have said, he's not trying hard enough to get my attention, or at all, actually. "Not enough evidence," is what Russell said. Religious people see the presence of god everywhere, much the same as a psychopathic stalker will read messages into what tie their quarry is wearing on a particular day. But these are baseless, ambiguous and equivocal interpretations. Humans like patterns. We see patterns where there are none because we have a need to, just like we dislike not knowing answers to questions. Especially important ones, like "how did we get here?"
Since he brought it up, let's look at Hovind's god. Is it just to send someone to hell for their 'sins', to be forever in torment? Hardly. I have no problems standing before god, should I be incorrect, and tell him this in person (or, rather, in soul). A loving, omnipotent god would forgive our sins without condition. Anything else and god is neither loving nor just. This is self-evident, but strangely always overlooked. Doesn't seem like a god worth worshipping to me. (And please don't read into this that I believe that there is any such thing as 'sin' or 'soul'. These concepts exist only within religious dogma that I reject totally.)
So, what is the sum total of Hovind's evidence in support of his young Earth creationist view? Quotes from an antiquated book, in which any contents related to science are anything but inerrant and disingenuous attacks on ToE, all the while ignoring the massive amount of hard evidence from multiple sources which point to a universe that we would expect without a god. Why do fundies place any stock in the false dichotomy argument (your argument is wrong, therefor mine is right be default)? He presented absolutely no evidence, nothing at all, in support of his young Earth creationist view.
Almost as an afterthought to this utter stupidity are his more current (and only his latest) legal issues (seen here). The man Believed he was invulnerable to the IRS because he is a pious religious man, while actively attempting to defraud them. It couldn't have been much of a defense at his trial. The jury deliberated for only two and a half hours, which would have barely been enough time to read all the charges and vote on each before returning to the courtroom to render the verdict. To add insult to injury, the prosecution had Hovind declared a flight risk, so his butt is still incarcerated awaiting final word on a sentence of potentially 288 years! Anybody with half a brain (even yours, Hovind) should have realized that you don't piss off the IRS. I guess he forgot to read his bible: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."
Monday, December 18, 2006
A common tactic used by creationists to slough off the Theory of Evolution is to say 'Well, it's just a theory'. There are two basic misunderstood priniciples here. The first is that the word Theory (the capitalization is intentional here) means something much different in science than in its colloquial usage. A Theory, unlike a theory in the layman small-'t' sense, has to have the following properties:
- it fully and satisfactorily explains a set of observations;
- it does not invoke the supernatural;
- it is falsifiable, meaning that it can be shown to be incorrect;
- makes predictions which can be verified.
A Theory is something that has survived an onslaught of slings and arrows against it, making it as close to a factual explanation as any scientist is willing to admit to. Saying that the Theory of Evolution is 'just a theory' is like saying the Theory of Gravity is 'just a theory', yet here we are bound to the earth without the need for extraordinary measures to remain in contact with the surface of the Earth.
Few theories make it to the grand title of Theory, and are amongst the greatest achievments of humankind. Quantum Theory, the Theory of Relativity, the whimsically-named Big Bang Theory and yes, the Theory of Evolution are some of the greatest pieces of scientific detective work of all time.
The second misunderstanding concerns the more understandably confusing use of the word 'evolution'. Darwin did not invent evolution. Nature did. It was known long before Darwin's opus that life evolved, but its mechanism was not understood. Earlier hypotheses, such as Lamarckian evolution, failed to adequately explain how evolution occurs. And it does occur, just as gravity exists. Whether or not we explain it (or believe it happens) is irrelevant. It just is. What Darwin surmised (and independently Wallace) is that evolution (the fact) occurs through natural selection (the explanation). It is unfortunate that the term 'natural selection' is used synonymously with 'evolution'. The Theory of Evolution should thus really be called the Theory of Natural Selection to avoid confusion. Our bad. Consider the mistake corrected, and I never want to hear inanities such as "it's just a theory" ever again. To use 'it's just a theory' to decry natural selection or evolution as mere guesswork is false, disingenuous and just plain ignorant. Period.
One thing you might be wondering is why the invokation of god not allowed? The answer is quite simple: It's too easy. It is the laziest thing you can do in Science. If you invoke it in one place, why not everywhere? What religion does is take away the need to look for a real answer. Richard Dawkins is less than charitable about this. I'm even less so. Why look for a real explanation for the diversity of life when you can just attribute it to a god? The ultimate in 'Easy' buttons. Wow, isn't god great?
Religion is a pathetic attempt at explaining the world around us. It has robbed humankind of centuries of amazing accomplishments that we could already be marvelling at. As Richard Lederer put it, "There once was a time when all people believed in God and the church ruled. This time was called the Dark Ages." It is entirely possible that without religion humans would have developed the computer, visited the moon and cured most forms of cancer all before 1000 A.D. What kind of age would we be living in with that alternate reality?
I feel cheated and so should you.
The background for this blog....I am an atheist. This is the single most important thing that you could know about me. I am not ashamed of this in the least. Rather, I am proud that I have shed antiquated bronze age beliefs for what I see as a more enlightened existence.
Why am I an atheist? Simple. There is no longer any need to invoke an almighty god to explain existence, or anything else for that matter. The universe obeys natural laws and has no need of a deity pushing the planets, stars, galaxies, etc. around. God was originally invoked as an explanation for existence and the happenings within the universe. As such, we have found naturalistic explanations for everything in it without an Almighty. Ockham's Razor (a useful tool) dictates that we keep only that which goes towards a complete and satisfactory explanation, discarding all else. God is left on the cutting room floor, so to speak.
Why have I made this the subject of my first blog? It's importance. The rise of religious fundamentalism has threatened everyone's freedom. This includes not only religious freedom (they would love nothing better than to convert you to their beliefs) but freedom from religion. Atheists are viewed as the least trustworthy and moral of any identifiable group. Indeed, George Bush senior is quoted as questioning atheists American's right to citizenship. Yet I would say we are the most such. The National Academy of Sciences (I am priveleged to have had a paper printed in the journal published by this august body) consists of the most enlightened minds in the US. About 93% of this body has no belief in god. If immorality were indeed rampant in atheists I would expect there to be a great deal of them incarcerated. I know of none.
And yet god-fearing folk such as Kent Hovind, a young earth creationist (more about them in blog later), was found guilty of tax evasion. 'Dr. Dino' faces 288 years for thinking he was too good a Xian to pay his taxes. And we've all heard about Ted Haggard by now. I wonder if he still thinks homosexuality is a choice now? The irony is that the hell he is putting himself through is of his own making. All he would have to do would be to accept who and what he is, but as my brother says it's more likely that he'll eat a bullet intead.
I know, I know. Most Xians are pretty good people, but why can't Xians feel the same way about atheists? EVERY single Xian thinks 'There are some nice upstanding atheists, but...'. Fundamentalists feel it is their duty to 'witness' (I've never fully understood that term. Does it mean that they were around when Jesus was?) and 'save' unbelievers. My immediate response is to ask who gave them the right? They do not understand that this is the ultimate insult. It says: "My belief system is infinitely better than yours." Funny, we never see atheists proselytizing on street corners. Maybe we should.
As Sam Harris in his book 'End of Faith' discusses, religion (any and every religion) is not a healthy thing in a world seemingly full of "WMD's". It is wonderful to belong to a group, but this means any outsider is treated with suspicion. We even see distrust and discord amongst different Xian sects over what I see as minutiae. Declare yourself an atheist though, and these people quickly forget their differences to turn on you.
Well, that's enough for my first blog. Comments are always welcome, yay or nay!