Thursday, May 31, 2007

A new bundle of joy in our household....

I picked up our new puddy late yesterday from the SPCA, a little 2-lb. ball of orange striped fluff that we have given the name Timbit. (Only fellow Canucks and a very few privileged Yanks will undersand the reference.) The current kings of the household, Murphy and Omar, don't quite know how to deal with the fuzzy ball of energy yet, but I did witness Timbit chasing Murphy-the-13-lb-coward this morning. Needless to say, I didn't get all that much sleep last night. Welcome to the family, Timbit!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My ongoing discussion with The Things That Matter Most...

Those of my blog readers that have been with me for a while may remember a discussion I had with one of the hosts of the internet program The Things That Matter Most, Lael Arrington. I took her to task in her interview with Sam Harris. (For a Christian program, they are surprisingly broad-minded in who they interview.) Some of their comments I vehemently objected to. To my surprise, I got a response. I rebutted and Lael apparently sent it off to an engineer friend of hers, Don Ortloff. While I have no reason to believe that Lael's belief is anything other than honest, I can not say the same for Don. Just reading his comments made my blood pressure go through the roof. For some reason he felt that I would be impressed by his credentials (MEng). Not bloody likely. I have him beat, hands down, with a PhD. His comments were the usual parroting of the Disco Institutes invalidated bullshit plus the usual anti-atheist Christian fundamentalist apologetics. I was enraged. If you can think for yourself, you will see what I mean by reading the twisted half-truths, the quote mining, the numbers games and the usual arguments from personal incredulity.

But when he trotted out the tired old list of evil atheists, that is a personal insult. It implies that I, and every other atheist, am continually fighting off urges to commit mass murder. This is hardly the case. But let's get one thing straight, theists: HITLER WAS A BELIEVER! There is every reason to believe, from both his speeches and writings, that he believed in a personal god. It also glosses over the potential list I could throw back in his face (and I will) of theist monsters. Anybody want to take a bet that my list will be longer and bloodier than his? He considers de Torquemada an aberration and not the norm for his time!

My brother has pointed out that Don also says that the Golden Rule is not innate and God must be in your life to hold sway (this is farther down than I was willing to read for the time being). This asinine belief has long since been blown out of the water. One just has to read Moral Minds and the references therein. Empathy isn't even unique to our species!

Anyway, before I have a heart attack or do go out on a violent religion-induced rampage, here is the full missive. My original comments are in black, Lael's response to those in red, my rebuttal to those in blue, and Don Ortloff's stupidity, arrogance, ignorance and prejudism in green. It's long, I know, so have a coffee and a donut while you read. I will have a full rebuttal in a later blog, don't you worry....

Randy, I have passed our exchange along to a friend, Don Ortloff whose comments are in green.
Sorry for the delay but I thought you still might be interested in seeing them.
My original email with Lael's comments in red, my rebuttals in blue… I will update this as it gets
edited. Any comments to add would be welcome and I will send this off when I am satisfied with it.

I'm listening to your show of Feb 25 right now and I suggest you folks look up the definition of 'faith'
again. Webster (your purported source) defines 'faith' as:
1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : LOYALTY b  (1) : fidelity to one's promises  (2) : sincerity of
2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b
(1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust;
3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially a system of religious
I see nothing here about 'justifiable belief'....

Your atheist guest was well spoken. We do not need to prove the non-existence of an exceptional
The point I was trying to make was that "In the beginning were the particles" is a statement of
belief without proof. I remain unclear as to why this does not agree with both of our dictionaries'
primary and secondary definitions of faith.
The default position is the non-existence of said proposition. If there is a complete paucity of
evidence for the existence of god (and by all accounts, an Abrahamic god is a BIG effect), then it
can be concluded that god does not exist (any pseudoscientific claims to the contrary, like the
illusion of a fine-tuned universe (it most definitely is not, as it is very hostile to life), aside).
Reasoning without evidence is irrational. Beliefs based on feelings and not physical evidence is
I believe that I have thoughts. I cannot open my brain and find any physical evidence for my
thoughts themselves, only their effects. Postmodernists are increasingly rejecting empiricism as the
only reliable source of knowledge. And in this we agree. Neuro-scientists tell us that our brains
process millions perhaps even billions of bits of information. But the bits that penetrate and stick
usually have some affective connection.
The more emotional impact in which empirical information is "wrapped" the more we tend to
remember it. Were learning that our brains do not assimilate information in an emotional vacuum.
Quite the contrary. Our feelings have a great deal to do with our beliefs. Many people with injuries to
brain regions that process emotions result in people not being able to reason well. See Daniel
Golman's Emotional Intelligence.
We do indeed have a significant body of evidence for the existence of thought (aside from the
obvious 'I think therefore I am' (the logic of which has actually been shown to have significant
flaws)) that have provided, even at this very early stage in this Science, models for the production
of thought. However, what you have written does not change my conclusion that reasoning without
evidence is irrational. I know when I decide that something is incorrect based on a feeling I am often
the one that is wrong. Being correct by relying on feelings is coincidence, and I see no reason to
praise that.
The brain is composed of 12 billions cells (neurons) each connected with 10,000 to 100,000 other
neurons for a total of 120 trillion to one quadrillion interconnections.
One quadrillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000.  Each interconnection deals with a specific function,
whether thought, motor function, emotion or whatever. Millions of years is not nearly enough time
for it to have evolved by random mutation and natural selection. I am a mechanical engineer. I
have a Master of Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. For
things I design to work the numbers have to add up. Biological evolutionists ignore mathematics and
just like to philosophize. Their arguments are always qualitative and not quantitative. Millions of
years sounds like a long time so random mutation and natural selection must be able to do anything!
Like Thomas Henry Huxley’s monkeys banging out Shakespeare’s plays on typewriters. Impossible!
Like Sir Karl Popper, the world’s leading philosopher of science said, evolution is metaphysical and
unfalsifiable. So it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory.
The weakest form of evidence in a court of law eyewitness evidence, 
On the contrary, eyewitness testimony will put a man in the electric chair as well as DNA evidence.
Ask any lawyer if eyewitness testimony will ever trump properly-obtained physical evidence. The
answer is most definitely no. Eyewitness testimony is quite mutable. The longer a witness has to
wait before giving testimony the less reliable it is. Many verdicts have been overturned on the basis
of physical evidence that was unavailable at the time. Not so many because of eyewitness testimony.
This is moot, though, since…
which we don't even have because there are absolutely no eyewitness accounts of Jesus.
It depends on what you mean by, "accounts." For example, many credible biblical scholars believe
that Christ's apostle John wrote the epistle attributed to him where he writes, 1 John 1:
 1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,
which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-
 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal
life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-
 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship
with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. John was
eyewitness to both Jesus' transfiguration and his resurrection.
And many others, even as early as the 2nd century CE, have disputed the claim that it was John.
The most often accepted date for this codex is in fact 90 CE. I would have thought that if god
wanted to be believed that something more than a book (which has been translated umpteen times
into many versions with many translational errors). It makes no sense, even from the point of view of
free will. You wouldn't base your beliefs on the contents of the National Enquirer, so why this?
The Bible is the word of god only because it says so, which is a bit of a tautology. I mean, if the
manual for my car said that it could fly, I think I'd like some evidence to back that up. Taking the
Bible as truth without independent confirmation is dangerous. You end up with people like Paul Hill.
There are hundreds of times as many New Testament manuscripts as manuscripts about Julius
Ceasar, Sophocles, Pliny the Younger, etc. and the New Testament Manuscripts are many hundreds
of years closer to the originals than any secular documents, yet these secular documents are never
questioned by historians.
Historian Alfred North Whitehead said “Christianity is the mother of science” because Scientists,
including Sir Isaac Newton, believed that the universe was created by a reasonable God and that
man through reason could discover God’s creation. The German astronomer Johannes Kepler said of
his discoveries that he was just “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” Even Einstein was not an
atheist. He told Niels Bohr, criticizing his theory of quantum mechanics, that “God almighty does not
throw dice.”
Any belief in any deity is BLIND FAITH. Period. 
You overlook a great deal of empirical evidence from textual criticism, archaeology, biology, physics,
etc. Part of our mission on The Things That Matter Most is to review this evidence with experts who
are knowledgeable in these fields. All our conversations are on our web site. Interestingly we taped
an interview this week with a best-selling author who focuses on the persuasiveness of non-empirical
evidence for faith in Christ, the evidence within our own souls: our cravings for love (not just sex),
destiny or purpose, and meaning. The show will be aired on Sunday.
There are many events that are only verifiable in the bible, lacking any independent verification at all.
There is absolutely no archaeological evidence for the exodus. Jericho was not even settled at the
time Joshua blew his trumpet. There is no record of Harod ordering the massacre of the innocents,
no record of a census at the time of Jesus' supposed birth, or even that David and his powerful
kingdom existed, and the list goes on. So how can textual criticism be accurately applied when you
have to pick and choose (arbitrarily it seems) what is and isn't correct? Do Biology and Physics in
support of the existence of god? Hardly. More on that later.
These events are not unverifiable.  Have you ever heard of Immanuel Velikovsky and read his books
Worlds in Collision, Earth in Upheaval, and Ages in Chaos?
He was certainly no Christian and was
scorned by the scientific establishment yet gave much evidence for the Exodus. He just tried to
give a natural explanation for the plagues. The walls of Jericho were discovered to have been
flattened outwardly as though by an earthquake.
Jesus’ existence is affirmed by Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus.  The
Christians turned the Roman empire upside down over time.
Jesus Christ literally fulfilled over 300 Old Testament Prophecies about his birth, life and death and
there are over500 prophecies about his Second coming. I think they will all be fulfilled, too.
Simon Greenleaf, Royal Professor of Law at Harvard in the nineteenth century, has been called the
greatest authority on legal evidences in the history of the world. He focused upon the Resurrection
of Christ in the light of all the laws of evidence and concluded that the Resurrection of Christ was a
reality. Frank Morrison, a British lawyer who set out to write a book refuting the Resurrection of
Jesus Christ, became convinced that the evidence for it was overwhelming. He became a believer
and wrote Who Moved the Stone? Lew Wallace also set out to write a book disproving the deity of
Christ and His resurrection and ended up writing Ben Hur.
If the Bible is inaccurate in any area, how can it reliably be used as evidence for anything? No one
has proven the existence of a soul, and any conclusions drawn are invalid outside of a religious
framework. It's a tautology- the existence of the soul proves religion because religion tells us the
soul exists. In fact, all evidence points to its non-existence. For instance, how does the existence of
a soul jibe with behavior changes after brain injury? It was another early attempt to explain
consciousness that has been superseded by less metaphysical explanations.
Evolution is a tautology.  The rock layers are dated by index fossils and placed in the evolutionary
order of the index fossils, not the order they were lain on top of each other. The evolutionary order
is assumed according the Aristotle’s Great Chain of Being and the rocks are dated accordingly. Even
the Encyclopaedia Britannica admits this is circular reasoning, a tautology.
Our cravings for love (not just sex), destiny or purpose, and meaning, not to mention morality and
ethics, and a host of other behaviors can all be traced quite satisfactorily back to their evolutionary
origins. Application of non-empirical evidence (whatever that is) is an admission that there is no
empirical evidence in support of belief and, frankly, a copout.
Love - a product of millions of years of tooth and claw Darwinism?
Which mutations and substitutions by the purine base adenine for the base guanine in the DNA
molecule gave rise to our cravings for love, purpose, morality and ethics? If these are so
satisfactorily explained by evolutionists why don’t they give specifics? Dostoevsky said that “If
there is no God then all things are permissible.”
There is not one shred of evidence to support the existence of Jehovah any more than there is any
evidence to support the deities you do not believe in, like Zeus, Baal or Wotan.
You never did answer your guest's valid point about the incompatibility of a loving god and the
existence of hell. He was completely correct in the utter lack of reasoning there. Punishment for bad
behavior is a spanking and being sent to bed early, not scalding a child. You should be morally
outraged at such a god! Indeed, the willing acceptance of such a god is telling.
I would be morally outraged if there were no such God. Deeds that cry out to heaven (Auschwitz,
9-11) also cry out for the justice of hell. Hitler should not just be sent to his room. If we don't want
God on his terms, if we refuse him, and he withdraws all his good gifts-his creation, his invitation to
grow and build and seek and find, his presence and his people, his hope, his future-what would be
left? "Outer darkness." If I reject God on his own terms then I am asserting that life is ultimately
about my self-sufficiency. If "it's all about me," then in the end there seems a certain symmetry that
it really is that and absolutely nothing more. No plot. No setting. No other characters to interest or
even use. Just me. Alone in outer darkness. Living small beyond imagining. I am left with no gifts from
God. Only what I can provide for myself. I grieve the loss of anyone who makes these choices. But I
respect their choice.
'Ultimate justice' sounds good, but there is no evidence for such a thing. If god had been outraged
at the actions of Hitler, Pol Pot, Tomas de Torquemada, why did he wait till they were dead to take
action? Since omniscience is supposedly an aspect of God, God's inaction in the face of holding the
power to prevent such atrocities is unconscionable. For a god that was very hands-on in the Bible he
has certainly backed off of that position in more recent years.
I have a problem with the idea that anyone, no matter how morally and ethically they have lived,
make one slip that they are said to be fated to the same treatment as these monsters. This is not a
deity to be admired, but one to be shunned. And I can not even conceive how one can describe the
Old Testament god as having the attributes of 'grace' and 'mercy'. The only word I can see that is
most apt is 'genocidal'. Sure, God sent his only son to die on the cross for our sins (I do not
subscribe to the story, by the way), but just how does this form of masochism work exactly? God is
God! Why not just forgive unconditionally? There is simply no logic attached to this.
As for refusing god, you forget that I hold that there is no god to refuse (a seemingly small, but
crucial distinction). That self-sufficiency you reject is actually quite fulfilling. How fulfilling? How
fulfilling do you want it to be? That freedom is amazing and you will never know it. My life is what I
make it to be, and I have done a lot with it. But at least you respect the choice. Many theists out
there do not, and I thank you for it.
The Bible does not state that a person who makes one slip is treated to the same fate as monsters
like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung, who were all evolutionists, by the way. Jesus said a
man could be beaten with many stripes or few for his punishment. But since God is Holy, you must
become Holy with the free gift of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, who was the only
perfect man, in order to enter into the presence of God. This is done through faith.
Freedom is not the same as autonomy.
I applaud your reading Dawkins, Hawking, etc., but your guest has it correct. Modern physics has a
number of models which do indeed have no time beginning, though the jury is still out on which model
is the most accurate.
As I understand Hawking and the scientists who have looked at the data of radiation from the big
bang, the ruling consensus is that indeed the Universe did have a beginning. Yes, there are a few
other models, but none with a shred of evidence. In fact the expansion of the universe is actually
accelerating, not slowing down to an eventual contraction. Brian also mentioned the law of
conservation of energy (1st law of thermodynamics) being the most fundamental of the universe. Of
course each Big Bang would violate that, having come out of nothing. He also failed to mention the
other most fundamental law of the universe, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which states that the
universe is running down to an even heat distribution, not evolving to more complexity.
No. You are referring to the Penrose/Hawking singularity model, which implied it had a beginning.
Some time after this both authors rejected it since the model did not include quantum mechanics.
Hawking jokes that he became famous for proving that the universe began as a singularity and then
became famous again for showing that it could not be a singularity. The consensus now is that time
had no beginning and has no end.
What consensus?  Kind of like all the consensus among scientists that global warming is caused by
man and we need to adopt draconian measures to stop it.
Twenty years from now Hawking may be joking about current consensus being another blunder.
Science is built on truth not consensus.  It is built on testable falsifiable and verifiable hypotheses,
not universal philosophies like evolution. Good read on this: Dr. Michael Denton’s Evolution: A
Theory in Crisis, particularly the chapter on The Priority of the Paradigm.
Herman Bondi, the British Astronomer who began much of these cosmogonies said that they are just
mind games based on mathematical speculations having nothing to do necessarily with reality. All
sorts of possibilities can derive from Einstein’s equations on General Relativity. The “Big Bang” is
based on the arbitrary assumption of the Copernican Principle, which Copernicus himself would not
have believed.
Dr. Richard Lewontin, Harvard geneticist and evolutionist, is very critical of Richard Dawkins and his
simplistic examples of supposed evolution.
The average energy density of the universe is zero and thus mass-energy is conserved. The positive
energy stored within matter is cancelled by the negative gravitational potential energy. The universe
can indeed come from nothing, as weird as that sounds. Absolute nothingness is extremely unstable.
What you were referring to is the law of conservation of mass, which has been superseded by the
post-Einsteinian law of conservation of mass-energy. No energy was even required to form the
universe. Particles in our universe are constantly being spontaneously generated and annihilated
uncountable times as I write this, and that is not even in totally empty space. As for the second law,
the universe as a whole is not becoming more complex, but the second law does not preclude local
increases in order. In fact, for our existence on this planet, the second law is not even valid, since
the Earth is thermodynamically-speaking an open system.
Sounds like Sir Fred Hoyle’s steady state theory.  He is the one who gave the name “Big Bang” to
George Gamow’s theory as a perjorative. Even Hoyle didn’t believe the steady state theory at his
death. The first law of thermodynamics is the law of conservation of Energy, matter being a form of
energy according to Einstein’s famous equation E=MC^2. Even if particles are being spontaneously
generated and annihilated in the universe they don’t turn into people.
The 2nd law of thermodynamics is valid for all natural systems, including open systems, according to
Harvard Scientist John Ross. Just energy from the sun is not sufficient to increase complexity in life
on the earth. The energy has to have an energy conversion mechanism, like photosynthesis, and it
has to be specifically directed, i.e. with information. The 2nd law applies not only to heat energy but
to probabilities and to information. I am a professional mechanical engineer. Thermodynamics is a
mechanical engineering discipline. I know this is true. As Sir Fred Hoyle said you cannot send a
tornado (lots of energy) through an airplane parts store and assemble a Boeing 747.
Absolute nothingness cannot be extremely unstable.  Absolute nothingness is not ether, potential,
the cancellation of matter by equal and opposite antimatter or anything else or it is not absolute
nothingness. As existential philosopher Jean Paul Sartre said the basic philosophical question is
“Why is there something instead of nothing?” As Francis Schaeffer said absolute nothingness is like a
zero with the rim knocked off.
Might I suggest an excellent guest for a future show? Vic Stenger has written a number of books on
this subject. His latest is “God: The Failed Hypothesis”.
There is certainly no consensus. We simply do not know what happened prior to the Planck time
following the initial expansion of the universe. Stenger's recent book, God: The Failed Hypothesis
covers this and other cosmological arguments for the existence of god quite well. And to explain the
Big Bang as 'these particles bumping around' sounds a lot like that old debunked strawman argument
of random chance again. It was quite condescending.
Science models the universe, and it is extremely successful at this. THIS is 'faith'. The fossils and
rocks that you so easily dismiss strengthen the models that we construct to describe nature.
I do not dismiss the fossils and rocks. The rocks are the rocks. What I reject is an interpretation of
the rocks that says the complexity of a cell can self organize like a snowflake. All we see self-
organization producing is simple, repetitive patterns. Ben Wiker and Jonathan Witt beautifully show
the inability of Nature to produce the genius woven into the Natural order in A Meaningful World.
Wait. You have no problem with a snowflake self-organizing, but not something like a cell? Certainly,
we can not expect a cell to just assemble by random chance, and no Evolutionist has ever said that
this occurs. A cell is a modern construct, earlier organisms were much simpler.
Micelle formation strongly resembles a cell, and you form them every time you wash your hands with
soap. It is not a big stretch of the imagination that life would make use of such chemistry in order to
be better survival machines (see “How the Leopard Changed Its Spots: The Evolution of Complexity”).
Early life made use of physics and chemistry to evolve from simpler organisms to more complex
organisms in small steps. Complexity from simplicity has been demonstrated over and over in the
laboratory. If you would like references I can supply them. Biologist PZ Meyers has an interesting
question for proponents of ID: if humans were designed, for example, why is the enzyme responsible
for synthesizing ascorbic acid (L-gulonolactone oxidase) broken? Natural Selection explains this
perfectly; ID does not.
A living cell is infinitely more complex than a snowflake.  All snowflakes are different anyway and
form randomly. Snowflakes do not reproduce. A living cell does reproduce or else after it died the
line would die out. Hypothetical earlier organisms than the cell could not reproduce. They did have
to form randomly. Try to find one of these hypothetical earlier organisms in the fossil record.
Marcel Golay, in Reflections of a Communications Engineer said it would take 2 to the 1500th power
bits of information for the earliest cell to reproduce. Natural reactions thermodynamically produce L
and R (as in L-gulonolactone oxidase). L and R isomers are thermodynamically exactly the same and
are mirror images of each other (left and right). Produce it in the laboratory and you will get an
equal amount of L and R isomers of the same molecule. Yet all isomers in living cells are L. This
could not have happened spontaneously. It had to be directed. Complexity coming from simplicity
in the laboratory can only come from experiments like the Miller Urey experiment which created amino
acids from methane and ammonia. They were then dropped into a trap where they were protected
and could not be destroyed. This would not be the case on the early earth. If evolutionists know
that life evolved from non-life why don’t they create life in the laboratory. A protein molecule is
infinitely more complex than the amino acids it is built from. Evolutionist extrapolate unreasonably
from relatively simple experiments to claim life could evolve.
Imagination is not refutation.
To find meaning in the universe dangerously approaches anthropomorphizing. Humans evolved to find
patterns even when no pattern exists, which is one reason I believe empirical evidence is the
strongest kind of evidence. But I will look for a copy of that book.
Read The Privileged Planet, too.
We see no need for deities in our models and Ockham's Razor does the rest. If an Abrahamic god did
exist, this would most definitely not be the case. Consciousness is a direct consequence of Evolution
(Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett, eg.) and we now have some tools to explore it and
even the evolutionary basis for morality using fMRI and PET (Moral Minds by Marc Hauser is a good
Again, which substitution of a pyrimidine cytosine base for thymine base occurred in the DNA
molecule by mutation to create consciousness? As C.S. Lewis said, quoting professor Haldane, “If my
mind is just a mechanical dance of atoms I have no reason to suppose that my mind is composed of
atoms.” Darwin himself said he wouldn’t trust a monkey’s brain, referring to us.
Francis Collins, by the way, sees what he thinks are patterns in DNA, but unfortunately for his views
there are perfectly reasonable naturalistic explanations for everything he sees. And after reading the
book I would agree with your guest that his whole argument is based on the 'argument from personal
incredulity', which is no argument at all. Complexity from simplicity is demonstrably very easy to
produce. All you've done is produced one scientist that has done something quite remarkable that
also believes (quite irrationally, in my opinion) and disingenuously propped him up as a poster boy,
but 93% of the American Academy of Sciences, the most esteemed scientific body in America, do
not believe in the existence of personal gods. Funny how that was never mentioned.
Change in scientific paradigms always begins with a minority. Usually greeted by a chorus of protest
from the status quo.
Interesting. Christianity in the general population is hardly a minority. At the time Darwin proposed
Natural Selection his position most definitely was in the minority. Many stones were thrown at it
(Darwin himself a stone-thrower), it withstood all attacks and that is how Science works, and how
Natural Selection became a standard Theory of Biology. Quantum Theory and Relativity did not
supersede Newtonian Mechanics, but complement it. Newtonian Mechanics is still used and is
accurate to amazing precision. And I use that big-'T' with good reason. These now widely accepted
Theories became so because of a huge body of evidence in support. That's not a weakness of
Science, but a strength. Otherwise, fly-by-night ideas such as ID end up getting totally unearned
credibility. Einstein himself had a great deal of problem with the interpretation of quantum mechanics
and proposed experiments that would yield (to him) impossible results. I'd like to think that when the
.experiments were finally carried out (unfortunately long after Einstein's death) and his 'impossible'
results were verified that he would have set aside his objections. Lord Kelvin had vehement
objections to the Theory of Evolution on thermodynamic grounds. His calculations showed that the
age of the Earth could not be sufficiently long for natural selection to act. Unfortunately, he could
not have known about a mechanism for heating the mantle (radioactive decay). Once this was
known Lord Kelvin did in fact remove his objections. This is how Science works, and it works (on the
whole) very well.
Sir Isaac Newton was a Christian and a creationist, not a fly-by-night.  A group of mathematicians
met, including Dr. Murray Eden, a professor of Electrical engineering from MIT. They concluded that
it would take billions of TIMES longer than the supposed 4.6 billion year age of the earth for evolution
to have made us on the earth. This is documented in Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian
interpretation of Evolution
. Again, read Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Read
particularly the chapter on The Priority of the Paradigm. Evolution is the paradigm now.
We atheists are becoming vocal simply because our beliefs are threatened daily. Believers are not
satisfied with believing, but seem to be compelled to convince others to believe as well.
Believers have for 2,000 years been compelled to convince others to believe as well. That is Christ's
command. So why does it feel like things are changing? The Hubble and the electron microscope are
revealing complexity previously unimagined and it doesn't fit Darwinian theory. Also, believers are
becoming more active (and successfully so) in the public square. As long as we kept our beliefs
private and focused on private charity work, we were tolerated. The success of even the faith based
initiatives to fund our charity work threatens people who want to keep God out of the public square.
Since when have theists kept their beliefs private? I dispute that whole-heartedly. Even McDonalds
does not have that many franchises, all of which are totally visible to the public. It is we atheists
that have kept quiet, and what got us into trouble. Theists took our silence as quiet assent to
having our freedoms placed in jeopardy. Have you ever considered that it is your belief that you are
commanded to convert people overrides the fact that coercing beliefs on others is unethical and
immoral? Atheists don't go door-to-door espousing that we should unshackle ourselves from outdated
belief systems. Maybe we should. The outcry would be tremendous! Why is that? It was theists that
tried to place the Ten Commandments in public (and supposedly secular) buildings, even though this
is clearly unconstitutional. Our legal systems owe far more to Hammurabi’s Code of Laws than to the
Ten Commandments. God does indeed not belong in the public arena. It is offensive to thrust any
one groups ideals upon any other without concern for trampling their beliefs. The only solution to this
is that government remains neutral and secular. Faith-based initiatives, as far as government support
is concerned, are clearly unconstitutional in the American system. The Founding Fathers were quite
specific about government not backing any religious group at the expense of others. How would you
feel if when taking the Pledge of Allegiance you had to say 'One nation under Allah?' Probably not all
that hot about the idea, right? Then think about how an atheist must feel when forced by their own
institutions to lie under oath…. The fact that the majority of Americans are theistic is not a reason
to trample the rights of minority groups by enforcing Christianity on them. Indeed, that they are the
majority makes it their responsibility to uphold the Constitution and protect minorities from being
swamped. Might does not make Right.
Hammurabi’s code does predate the Ten Commandments.  Also, there are traditions of a global flood
from all over the world, including Babylon, and the stories are essentially the same about a small
family being saved in a boat while the rest of the world perished. The details vary but the story is
essentially the same. Suppose it could have been from an actual event and actual ancestors, Noah
and his sons, who spread out after the Ark landed in the region of Mt. Ararat. There have been
numerous, though unconfirmed sightings of Noah’s Ark on Mt. Ararat over the years and wood has
been discovered there and Carbon 14 dated to the time of Noah.
Speaking of the Founding Fathers, George Washington was an officer in the French and Indian War
and was ambushed at the Monongohela River. The following is from David Barton’s book The
Bulletproof George Washington
: “During the two hour battle on July 9, 1755, the 23 year old Colonel
had ridden to and fro on the battlefield, delivering the General’s orders to other officers
and troops. The officers had been a special target for the Indians. Of the 86 British and American
officers, 63 were casualties. Washington was the only officer on horseback not shot down.
Following the battle, Washington wrote a letter to his brother in which he readily and openly
acknowledged: ‘By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all
human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under
me, yet (I) escaped unhurt, although death ws leveling my companions on every side of me!’ Fifteen
years later, an old, respected Indian chief sought out Washington. The chief, explaining that he had
led the Indians against them in the battle fifteen years earlier, revealed to Washington what had
occurred behind the scenes during the conflict: ‘ I called to my young men and said, mark yon tall
and daring warrior [Washington]?... Himself is alone exposed. Quick, let your aim be certain, and he
dies. Our rifles were leveled, rifles which, but for you, knew not how to miss—‘twas all in vain, a
power mightier far than we shielded you. Seeing you were under the special guardianship of the
Great Spirit, we immediately ceased to fire at you…I am come to pay homage to the man who is the
particular favorite of Heaven, and who can never die in battle.’”
God had a plan for George Washington, and he does for you, Randy, if you will give him a chance.
This can be found at
Thankfully here in Canada religion and politics don't mix much. I'd like it to stay that way.
Since when have atheists kept their beliefs private?  You mean Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse
Tung, Hitler, and Pol Pot – All these non-coercive people? How about Madlyn Murray O’hair? After
her son. Bill Murray, became a Christian she said she would not forgive him and welcome him back to
atheism because she was not a Christian and did not hold such values as a Christian. Atheists keep
their beliefs private? Christ commanded Christians to be witnesses not coercive. Unfortunately at
times in history the Church has been coercive (eg. Torquemada). No one is forced to say “One
nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance here. In fact it is the “non-coercive” atheist Michael
Newdow who got the 9th federal circuit court of appeals in San Fransicko to force children NOT to
say “Under God” in the Pledge of allegiance.
The evolutionist majority of scientists in the U.S are using “might makes right” to silence in criticism
of evolution in the public schools and in the universities. Atheists don’t want minority rights, they
want minority rule.
Believers find new ways to attack science that is incompatible with their beliefs, like 'intelligent
design'. The Theory of Natural Selection is THE backbone of biology, the only game in town.
Read the hundreds of scientists with terminal degrees that disagree on the Discovery Institute's
Ah, yes. The much touted DI list of people supporting ID. Almost none of those people in fact have
specializations which are even remotely associated with the biological sciences. Every major body
representing the vast majority of the thousands of scientists working in the biological sciences has
stated that Natural Selection is it- period. As I said below, they have a slick ad campaign, but that's
all ID amounts to.
What is so special about biology?  Again, biologists and paleontologists have an aversion to
mathematics. Engineers understand design and why the numbers need to add up for a system to
work. Evolutionists believe that the universe and life have the appearance of design but no designer.
But, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, flies like a duck…..

Eric Harris, during his murderous rampage at Columbine High School wore a T-shirt with the words "Natural Selection" emblazoned on the front.

Professor Louis Bounoure, former President of the Biological Society of Strasbourg and Director of the Strasbourg Zoological Museum, and later Director of Research at the French National Centre of Scientific Research stated that "Evolutionism is a fairy tale for grown-ups. This theory as helped nothing in the progress of Science. It is useless."

Dr. Colin Patterson, Senior Paleontologist and Curator at the British Museum of
Natural History Stated "One of the reasons I started taking this anti-evolutionary
view, or let's call it a non-evolutionary view, was last year I had a sudden
realization for over twenty years I had thought I was working on evolution in some
way. One morning I woke up and something had happened in the night, and it struck
me that I had been working on this stuff for twenty years and there was not one
thing I knew about it.....Question is: Can you tell me anything you know about
evolution, any one thing, any one thing that is true? I tried that question on the
geology staff at the Field Museum of Natural History and the only answer I got was
silence. I tried it on the members of the Evolutionary Morphology Seminar in the
University of Chicago, a very prestigious body of evolutionists, and all I got there
was silence for a long time and eventually one person said, 'I do know one thing -
it ought not to be taught in high school'."
The sum total of evidence for ID amounts to deceitfully erroneous attacks on Evolution and a slick
ad campaign. Science is being decided in the political arena as a result, which is patently ridiculous.
As scientists, we are forced to push back. ID, young Earth creationism, etc., make the prior
assumption that there was a designer, or creator, and this is where they start and end. The level of
bias in this is immense, and is how you end up with baseless ideas like ID or Kent Hovind's. Science
starts with observation, then a model is constructed to explain the observations. These models make
testable predictions. If the predictions are verified, then the confidence of the model is increased.
There is no assumed end point.
I disagree. Science assumes the end point of Naturalism and naturalistic processes and has redefined
"science" to assume Naturalism. The scientific revolution was launched by Christians.
No. It is methodological naturalism (of which I profess) that proposes that all phenomena can be
explained by natural processes. That Christians launched the scientific revolution is irrelevant and
not even accurate. The ancient Greeks had a better understanding of how to do Science, and
Science owes a great deal to them. Indeed, Science has adopted naturalism as it does not allow
miraculous events in explaining phenomena. But there is a very good reason for this: one invocation
of god begets others, and as Richard Dawkins rightly points out, it becomes an excuse to not look
for the true underlying mechanism. Even if there is no good naturalistic explanation at the present
time this does not preclude a naturalistic explanation at a later time. Here is where faith comes into
Science. We can do this because of naturalism's phenomenal track record.
I thought you didn’t believe in faith.  Again, check out Richard Lewontin’s opinion of Richard Dawkins’
pop science.
The late Sir Fred Hoyle (English astronomer, Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge
University) and Chandra Wickramasinghe (Professor of Astronomy and Applied
Mathematics at University College, Cardiff)in 'Convergence to God', in Evolution
from Space state "Once we see, however, that the probability of life originating at
random is so utterly miniscule as to make the random concept absurd, it becomes
sensible to think that the favourable properties of physics on which life depends
are in every respect deliberate......It is therefore almost inevitable that our own
measure of intelligence must reflect in a valid way the higher intelligences to our
left, even to the extreme idealized limit of God."

The late Stephen Jay Gould (Professor of Geology and Paleontology, Harvard University) said "The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.....Paleontologists have paid an exorbitant price for Darwin's argument. We fancy ourselves as the only true students of life's history, yet to preserve our favored account of evolution by natural selection we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study."

David B. Kitts, PhD (zoology), (School of Geology and Geophysics, University of
Oklahoma) states "Evolution requires intermediate forms between species and
paleontology does not provide them."
Recently, fish have been found in the Cambrian, the earliest supposed geological
period for complex life. Vertebrates and fish were not supposed to have evolved
until hundreds of millions of years later. All of the phyla of animals, including
the chordates and vertebrates, are now found in the “Cambrian explosion” which
supposedly occurred over the short geological time period of about 10 million years.
And don’t suppose the explosion occurred just because the animals all got hard parts
at the same time and they could just now fossilize. Jellyfish are soft bodied
creatures and are fossilized in the Cambrian. Embryos are also found fossilized
there. In the Pre-Cambrian all you have are some fossil single cell animals and
some “sad little worms”.

Paul Ehrlich (Professor of Biology, Stanford University)and L.Charles Birch (Professor of biology, University of Sydney) state "Our theory of evolution has become, as Popper (Dr. Karl Popper, considered the world's leading philosopher of science) described, one which cannot be refuted by any possible observations. Every conceivable observation can be fitted into it. It is thus "outside of empirical science" but not necessarily false. No one can think of ways in which to test it. Ideas, either without basis or based on a few laboratory experiments carried out in extremely simplified systems, have attained currency far beyond their validity. They have become part of an evolutionary dogma accepted by most of us as part of our training."

According to Dr. Karl Popper evolution is an unfalsifiable theory and is therefore metaphysical.

The world's leading evolutionist, the late Sir Julian Huxley, grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley (Darwin's Bulldog) and brother of Aldous Huxley, once said on the Merv Griffin show that scientists would have not been so ready to accept Darwin's theory of evolution except for the fact that the idea of God was not compatible with their sex mores.

As Science increasingly showed that the invocation of deities was not required to explain observed
phenomena, religion became a hindrance to the accumulation of knowledge, not a help. Many
scientists that are also theists, such as Georges Lemaître (who proposed the Big Bang), have had to
deal with the clash between scientific discovery and their personal beliefs. Lemaître, much to his
credit, published his findings despite his personal beliefs, not because of them. Others' belief, like

Wise's, overrode reasoning and he rejected (in the face of what he knew to be overwhelming
evidence for) Natural Selection.

In no other aspect of anyone's life would they reject reasoned arguments over belief.
We just go where the data takes us. If it takes us to the existence of god, so be it. But it does not.
What I do wonder is why you mention several times that atheists are aiming at children. It sounds
like a bit of fear mongering, the nasty atheists are coming to take your children away. I know of no
atheist groups or atheists which practice this.
Brian admits to targeting youth in his advertisements to take the Blasphemy challenge. See the
transcript of his Nightline interview.
I have indeed found that he does try to attract teens. While I disagree with his method, he is not
doing the atheist equivalent of taking them to church every Sunday. He is, in fact, only making the
information available to those that want to learn more. The blasphemy challenge itself is only for
avowed atheists, and their average age is 24. Hardly teenage. Dawkins does the same thing. He is
only passively making the information on atheism available for those that come to him. I won't hold it
against you, though, if you don't agree with this assessment. It's a fine distinction. (I have been
unable to find a copy of that Nightline transcript and would appreciate a link.)
Indeed, it is theists that actively engage in the practice of converting children, indoctrinating young
minds before they can form an educated opinion on what they should believe. All we desire is that
everyone be able to make an informed decision when they are ready, and children are not. There is
no atheist alternative to 'Jesus Camp' and never will be. I was outraged when I saw that film.
I haven't seen the film. From reading accounts of their methodologies, it doesn't sound like anything
I've seen or would recommend. And I've seen a lot of evangelical ministries across the country. But
of course parents will want to teach their children their worldview. It seems more appropriate for a
parent to send his kid to a Christian camp than for a young teen to be proselytized by Brian on the
computer his parents provided.
I am glad to know that you do not support the child abuse that is performed by the subjects of
'Jesus Camp'. But these parents are doing just what you espouse: teaching their children their world.
view. It's a tightrope act to be sure, but teaching any particular religion to your children as if it is
the only possible valid belief system is wrong and leads to the massive misunderstandings that we
see today. Atheists are not immune from the effects of this. The CNN debacle on Paula Zahn Now
demonstrated this clearly. How can you have a discussion group talking about atheism without a
single atheist included?
Gods have been around a long time. They had their place once. They were invoked to explain natural
phenomena, like lightning and thunder, the sun, day and night, etc. We have perfectly reasonable
naturalistic explanations for these. Atheists have simply said to themselves that it is time to let them
We do not wish to actively engage in changing minds, 
Have you visited Brian's website? Read Sam Harris's "End of Faith"? Some of your fellow atheists most
certainly want to change minds. Harris acknowledges that he wants to wants to create a cultural
consensus that will mock Christians to the margins of society. Just as has been done with the KKK
(his example).
I have indeed read Sam Harris and agree with him that religion, no matter how moderate, will breed
fundamentalists. I've already mentioned Torquemada, and Paul Hill is a more modern example.
Ideologues such as Stalin and Pol Pot are cut from the same cloth; it's just that there is no god in
their system. This does present a prickly problem. Harris does not believe that the danger
fundamentalism represents can be eliminated without eliminating religion, but he does not suggest a
way to do this either. We just have to hope reason can prevail, but religion has a habit of suspending
the ability to reason.
but simply want to be understood. We atheists have been extremely quiet till now, but we can no
longer afford that luxury. The harmful misconceptions about atheists that are out there need to be
countered. Atheists are just as moral as theists, we love, we have likes and dislikes, and it is quite
likely that every theist knows at least a few and don't realize it (except for more vocal ones like me).
We believe that everyone has a right to their own beliefs, an ideal that seems to be eroding in US
public institutions. This erosion is what has precipitated the writings of Dawkins, Harris and others,
and created a need for atheists to stand up and be noticed.
In reason,
Randy Tyson 
Thank you Randy for your thoughtful response. I have tried to honor the time you put into this by
taking the time to respond thoughtfully. If you have the opportunity to listen to next week's show on
non-empirical evidence, I would love to hear your comments.
And thank you for responding. As you can tell, I am very passionate on this subject. I guarantee you
will not change my mind (as I probably will not change yours), but I do enjoy listening. Open dialog
such as this is, I feel, the way to go. The idea is not about conversion, but mutual respect. I believe
that that alone will divert our path from the disastrous end that Sam Harris is predicting. It's too easy
for people to have preconceived and erroneous ideas about others holding different beliefs. This leads
to intergroup tensions that history has shown to be disastrous. I look forward to listening to that
webcast when it gets put on the website (I missed the original webcasting).
I invite Randy to read books like the following:
The Long War against God – Dr. Henry Morris (Hydraulic Engineering)
Darwin’s Black Box – Dr. Michael Behe
Evolution: The Fossils say no! – Dr. Duane Gish (Biochemistry)
Evolution: A theory in Crisis – Dr. Michael (Medicine and biochemistry)
                                      and not a creationist.
Starlight and Time – Dr. Russell Humphreys (Physicist)
The Privileged Planet – Dr.Guillermo Gonzalez (Astrobiologist) and 
Dr. Jay Richards (Philosopher of Science)
Also, read the works of C.S. Lewis the atheist Oxford don and Cambridge Professor
who after being challenged by his fellow Professor, J.R.R. Tolkein studied the facts
of history and became a Christian. He is one of the greatest Christian apologists.
Read Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, another former atheist who
became a Christian. He is an expert on ancient history, Bible Prophecy and
I was an aerospace engineer for many years and have a pilot’s license.  You don’t
just stick wings on a fuselage and have an airplane fly. The wings have to be
aerodynamically just right. The mathematics have to be just right. If the
aerodynamics are not right the airplane does not fly less efficiently, it does not
fly at all! You don’t just stick a partial evolving wing or skin flap on a reptile
and expect it to have a natural selection advantage and eventually evolve into a bird
which has wings far more complex than any airplane, complete with flaps, slats,
ailerons, vanes, slots, etc. A part wing would only be a hindrance on an evolving
reptile not an advantage. Paleontologists and biologists again just philosophize
and don’t do the math. This is the whole point of Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s
black box
On August 2,1990 my fiancée, Polly Routh, went to be with the LORD after a 16 year
bout with chronic myologenic leukemia. She was diagnosed in 1974, had her spleen
removed, and went in remission. She was widowed, her husband having died suddenly
after an attack of an acute form of leukemia in 1981. She prayed that God would
allow her to live long enough to see her son graduate from high school. She came
out of remission in the fall of 1989. David, her only child, graduated in May 1990.
She went into Baylor Hospital in Dallas for a bone marrow transplant on June 13,
. Her Oncologist said that 98% of people with CML come out of remission within
10 years. Polly was in remission for 16 years. The transplant was successful but
in the recovery process she developed pneumonia, because of the lack of white blood
cells, and died from complications on August 2, the same day Saddam Hussein invaded
Kuwait. God her answered her prayer for her son.
Polly always had tremendous faith and said her faith was a gift from God.  I was in
so much pain for almost the next year and a half that I didn’t think I would survive.
I wouldn’t have except for the fact that I knew she was with the LORD. Do you
really expect me to believe that she is now non-existent? That her spirit and soul
were just imaginary?
And don’t think I wasn’t mad at God when he took her.  I’ve gotten mad at my earthly
father, too. I was sure glad I had a heavenly father to vent my anger on. And I
know I will see her again someday.
Shortly after her death I contacted a man who had gone through a similar experience
and written a book 20 years later called A Severe Mercy. His name was Sheldon
Vanauken. He and his wife studied at Oxford under C.S. Lewis and his wife became a
Christian. She literally offered up her life so her husband would become one, too.
He did only after her death. The title, A Severe Mercy, came from a letter he
received from C.S.Lewis. It is one of the most powerful books I have ever read,
about his journey through his intellect, his grief, and finally to his LORD.
Sheldon and I corresponded for several years and he helped greatly in getting me
through my grief. I finally got to meet him in December 1994 at his home in
, Virgina, where he was a retired English Professor. He died on October
28, 1996
, my 51st birthday. I treasure all the letters I have from him and from
many other Christians. I am 61 now.
You sound rather young, Randy.  How do you deal with death?  Maybe it seems remote
to you personally now or maybe you have lost a loved one.
You are obviously very smart.  I would challenge you to read A Severe Mercy, and
some of the works of C.S. Lewis, such as Mere Christianity, The Abolition of Man,
The Chronicles of Narnia, Miracles, The Screwtape Letters, and A Grief Observed
(his wife died,too). His friend, J.R.R. Tolkein and he decided to write Chistian
fiction based on space and time. Tolkein wrote The Lord of the Rings, and Lewis
wrote his Space Trilogy. Just be intellectually honest and give God a chance.
In Christ,
What a condescending jerk.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hitchens on Falwell

Many of us have seen the interesting comments by Christopher Hitchens on Hannity and Colmes recently. If not, look below...

I was a bit uncomfortable with Hitchens not having some respect for the feelings of Falwell's family, since there may be in fact someone close that actually does have good feelings for him (as unlikely as that may be). However, I must side with Hitchens on this: I simply can not think of one good thing to say about him.

Hitchens was asked to appear on the segue, so you know that it was a setup for a ratings grab. Should Hitchens feel used? Nope. He was using them just as surely. But if they are going to ask him on as guest Hannity should have treated him as one and allowed him to say his peace, no matter what he thought of Hitchens' opinion. If Hannity wants his own show to monologue on, I'm sure it will last about as long as the Chevy Chase Show. He's perfect for where he is - an uninteresting person there to make interesting people even more interesting - and he should really play his part better (i.e., moderate, not opine).

Hitchens' position is as simple as it is honest. He can't come up with anything good to say about Jerry Falwell, so why afford him respect in death that he never deserved in life? But this is just one half of the equation. The other half comes from external sources. People have come out in praise of a man that deserved our contempt. Hannity mentions Falwell giving scholarships at his own Liberty U. Liberty U is an institution dedicated to the continuation of Falwell's 'ideals'. Hannity claims to have known Falwell (when
Hannity said 'I knew Jerry Falwell' I half expected him to say 'and you are no Jerry Falwell'...) , so how could Hitchens say such awful things about the man? Easy. Aside from the lies that religion continues to spout even in view of information that shows that they are no more than man-made invention (of which I have blogged ad nauseum), there's ample information that Falwell himself supplied on his ethics. Let's take a look at those ideals of his:

"If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being."

Such a positive outlook on people that do not share his belief. I've done pretty well in life as an atheist so far, so screw him. OK, so what? That's reasonably mild, right? On who was really responsible for 9/11:

And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, "You helped this happen.""

And here it was that I thought that 9/11 was due to some other equally fanatic religious wingnuts. I love how the ACLU, an organization dedicated to protecting even his civil rights, is disparaged. He would love to reverse women's suffrage, segregate the nation once again and basically turn back the clock to a less enlightened time. He reiterates his view of the ACLU:

The ACLU is to Christians what the American Nazi party is to Jews."

Oh, but Hannity said that he apologized for this remark. So what? This isn't something you can take back, because you know he's still thinking it after the apology.

AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."

His version of a just and loving God. I must have missed the memo. Just when did he establish this AIDS-God connection? Whatever happened to "hate the sin, love the sinner"? I've yet to see a Christian separate the two except when saying this mantra.

Of course, he's quite the ladies' man:

"It appears that America's anti-Biblical feminist movement is at last dying, thank God, and is possibly being replaced by a Christ-centered men's movement which may become the foundation for a desperately needed national spiritual awakening."

His source of all Science and History is impeccable (lest those that agree think I am being serious, I am not):

The Bible is the inerrant ... word of the living God. It is absolutely infallible,without error in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as well as in areas such as geography, science, history, etc."

Must be why everybody is clamoring to get Lehigh U grads into their research programs.

My favorite was a clip played on the Randi Rhodes Show where he is discussing helping people with financial planning. If tithing wasn't at the top of the list, he said you were doomed to remain poor.

As you might expect, heads-in-their-asses right wing conservatives (is there any other kind?) were quick to jump on the bandwagon of praise for the unceremoniously fallen fundamentalist. Ann Coulter (I know I said I would never mention that bitch again, but she is entertaining, if in a scary, really stupid way):

"Let me be the first to say: I ALWAYS agreed with the Rev. Falwell."

No surprises here. Stupid is as stupid does. But I've always found it interesting that Ann is single at such a late stage in her fundamentalist life. Shouldn't she be busy obeying her husband, waiting on him while the product of their multiplying run around? Makes one wonder if she has something in common with Tinky Winky... According to Ann, he was very good at picking out homoeroticism on children's television (one can only wonder at how and why he got this reputation). Sarcastically, she writes:

Of course, Falwell also thought the show "Queer as Folk" was gay, so obviously the man had no credibility."

Wow. That took amazing powers of deduction. He get his 'reverend' moniker from Cracker Jacks, too?

Speaking of Teletubbies, I've actually watched a bit of that show and can't for the life of me figure out what made Tinky Winky so flaming. Sure, the show was sort of gay in the sense that it was dumb, but all kids shows are like that. I have an interesting hypothesis on how that conclusion was made. I posit that Falwell got together with his evangelical buddies for beer and sat around thinking of what was the stupidest thing they could get there flocks to believe. He may very well have won the bet.

So, Mr. Hannity, we are left with two possible conclusions. Either you fully agree with Jerry Falwell's beliefs, in which case you are in the racist, bigoted, intolerant, woman-hating class, or you are lying about his virtues, of which Falwell has none. Christopher Hitchens is exactly right. If there is no reason to think that Jerry Falwell had any virtuous qualities (demonstrably, he does not), even saying nothing and just nodding as people lie about Falwell in their praise of him is hypocritical. I can not help but feel that this man has fundamentalists on the run anywhere he speaks out against them and I would dearly like to buy that man a drink. They have too long held the limelight without opposition. Their time is past, and one can only hope that Falwell actually managed something that no one else has - that he found a way to take his ideas with him.

But Hitchens' most scathing comment is one of the funniest things I have heard in a long time:

"If you gave Falwell an enema, he could be buried in a matchbox."


Thursday, May 17, 2007

A sad day in our household

We have three cats in our house, two are my wife's and the big bruiser is mine. It's amazing how these unpresuming animals burrow their way into your being. So it's always sad when one of these unconditionally loving animals makes an exit from our lives.

My wife's eldest cat Mickey was diagnosed a few months ago with diabetes. Her 13th birthday was just this last Sunday. The spark of life had just gone out and we made the decision to euthanize her Tuesday.

She was a very sweet cat. She would start purring before you laid a hand on her to pet her. My wife feels guilty that she didn't pay more attention to her, but I don't think that that is true. Mickey got a lot of attention around here.

We called in a vet to make a house call and he assessed her condition. He agreed with our decision and gave Mickey a sedative to relax her while she lay in my wife's lap. This is the only way to do this. Mickey passed away with the people that loved her and at home.

She will be sorely missed.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Fun with MRI. Guess that produce...

I took this image yesterday while we were enabling 19F spectroscopy in Edmonton. Extra credit if you get this one. I'll give a hint: this piece of produce is rather dry, hence the darkness of the image. Interestingly, there are spots where there is some water (which is why when I cut one of these I see water bead on the cut surface). The FOV was 40 mm X 40 mm on the bottom one (transverse image) and 50 mm X 40 mm on the top (sagittal image). The size may throw people off. I'll just add that these things can be bought big as well. I will withhold any correct answers for a while.

New argument for God's existence?

This past week Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron debated with the Rational Response Squad on the existence of God. Comfort promised us a proof of God, so while many of us in the atheist community were dubious about whether these two twits had even the brain power to come up with something new, we held our breath and actually hoped we wouldn't see one of the tired, old, pathetic apologetics we've be subjected to for the past thousand years. Verdict? We risked hypoxia for nothing. Not really a surprise when these two clowns are involved.

The argument? Ray Comfort held up a picture of a painting of the Mona Lisa and told us that it is obvious that the object must have been made by a painter, a designer if you will. By analogy, then, the universe must have had a creator. This creator they call 'God'. Sound familiar? It's hardly original. William Paley used this argument more than two hundred years ago.

On the surface, this argument seems powerful and compelling. Something that has the complexity contained in a painting must have been designed. But this argument's strength is in fact its fatal flaw. Once the question 'how do we know the painting was designed?' is asked, the argument is dead. We know that a painting was produced through a willful and conscious act of an agent (the painter) because we understand how a painting is made, even if we hadn't seen the painter paint this particular painting. Indeed, we do not even need to know who the painter was. This is an example of making a conclusion based on an understanding of the mechanism by which a painting can be made. This is good Science and this part of Paley's argument from design is so far legitimate.

The flip side of the argument is that like the painting, the universe and its contents is so complex that it must also have had a designer. The problem with this analogy is that 'God did it' does not suffice as a mechanism by which anything can be explained. In point of fact, not only does this response 'beg the question' (I would say 'questions'), but never answered the question in the first place. Genesis tells us that God said 'Let there be light, and there was light'. In essence, 'God did it.' If I say to my coffee maker ,'Let there be coffee', I think its easily predicted that I must go without caffeine. A terrible fate indeed. Generation of coffee requires that I use hot water to extract flavorful compounds and caffeine from coffee beans. In other words, a mechanism must exist for creating a cup of coffee from a handful of beans. Genesis is just another example of bad Science, an attempt without supporting data to explain the universe's existence in the absence of a plausible mechanism. This is a very different animal from the creation of the painting.

Mechanism is an extremely important concept in Science. Saying the universe is here because God created it tells us nothing. We gain no knowledge from it, and it is therefor valueless. Tell me HOW God created the universe and then I'll have a listen. Evolution is a fact. We see a progression of speciation in the fossil record for which the only known plausible mechanism is natural selection. Show me a fossil rabbit in the Paleozoic and then natural selection would fail as a potential mechanism for speciation. But we never see such out-of-order lineages. Gene mutations in current species are predicted by Evolutionary Theory. For instance, have you ever wondered why dogs and cats do not need to eat fruit in order to maintain their vitamin C levels? Primates have a mutation in the gene encoding L-gluconolactone oxidase (a PZ Meyers favorite) which catalyzes the reaction producing ascorbic acid (vitamin C). This is also true for fruit-eating bats. When fruit-eating bats split off from an ancestor common to fruit- and non-fruit-eating bats a mutation in this gene occurred, making this enzyme ineffective in this fruit-eating lineage. Indeed, the use of molecular genetics as a molecular clock is in very good agreement with the fossil record, greatly strengthening the argument. The universe is old. We know this from the measurements of red shifts in supernovae. Our home planet is quite old as well. We know from various methods of radiometric dating that the Earth is ca. 4.5 billion years old. The fact that numerous different methods point to the same age makes this estimate very strong.

The argument from design really shows its inadequacy when the knowledge of mechanism is removed. Let's take a scene from the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, a movie I highly recommend. In this scene, a Coke bottle is discarded from an airplane flying over the African savanna and is picked up by a Bushman (followed by a series of incidents which force the poor sop to conclude that the gods are nuts, hence the movie's title). Having never seen a bottle before, and never having known how a bottle is made, the Bushman makes the perfectly human (and just as perfectly incorrect) conclusion that the bottle was made by the gods.

Was the Bushman's conclusion made on the basis that the bottle is so complex? No. The Bushman jumped to the conclusion without a plausible mechanism. Complexity is just a nebulous buzzword used by the IDiots. When you can quantitate complexity and also determine how much complexity is too much for a conscious agent to NOT have created the universe, then we'll talk some more. But this idea that the chances of a cell spontaneously forming are about the same as a tornado moving through a junkyard and spontaneously creating a Boeing 747 does not cut it as an argument, especially when Evolutionary Theory agrees.

We humans are predisposed to jumping to conclusions in the absence of data or a plausible mechanism. Michael Shermer has written about this extensively in his book Why People Believe Weird Things. Invoking the supernatural as an explanation is an example of bad Science. The scientifically-correct conclusion the Bushman should have made is that he simply can not know the source of the Coke bottle or how it was made without more information. While this is an unsatisfactory answer to any human being (I am not different), jumping to the conclusion that the supernatural is responsible for the Coke bottle's existence, while understandable, is illogical and unscientific.

This is exactly the problem with Paley's argument. On the one hand, we know how a painting can be made from the application of pigments to a canvas in a concerted fashion by a conscious agent. A plausible mechanism is available (good Science). In Paley's time, no plausible mechanism for the creation of the universe was available to draw any conclusion - indeed, we still do not know how it came to be -yet he concluded that it must have had a creator (bad Science). The scientifically-correct conclusion is that there is no conclusion. No scientist, myself included, is satisfied by such an unsatisfying answer (ok, so that's a tautology - sue me). But the difference is that we atheists don't find retreating to the supernatural any more satisfying.

Of course, the final joke of the debate was that Ray Comfort was not holding up a painting as he asserted, but a reproduction of the Mona Lisa. The inaccuracy of this fits exceptionally well with his, or rather Paley's, 'argument'. Neither jumping to conclusions without supporting data nor superstition, alone or in concert, can ever be considered as good Science.