Monday, June 25, 2007

William Lane Craig's worthless apologetics

A recent episode of The Things That Matter Most featured William Lane Craig speaking on the subject of "Is God Real or Imaginary?" Of course, being a theist, Craig posits that God is real. Fine, but what follows disgusted me to no end, as Christian apologetics are wont to do.

About 9 min into the show, Craig tries to explain why he feels Dan Barker's journey to atheism is wrong. He seems to think the problem lies in a rigid belief that the Bible is inerrant, and once that rigid position is broken it is more reasonable to believe that the Bible may be wrong here and there than to cross over to the 'Dark Side' known as atheism... "The Bible is not an accurate record of what God is like, that the ancient Israelites in writing these narratives got it wrong about God." OK. If the Bible is wrong about God, how can he even speak about God in an authoritative way? If the Bible is NOT inerrant, then you must pick and choose what you want to believe and there is no basis which is not arbitrary! This is just nonsense. His suggestion that this is an argument against the inerrancy of the Bible and not the existence of God is correct, but he doesn't go to the obvious conclusion that if the Bible is wrong here and there, and you do not know exactly where or how many of these places there are, you have to throw the whole thing out. In fact, Craig throws the Old Testament out, but as we'll see, he arbitrarily claims that the New Testament is okay.

Telve minutes in, Craig answers the questions of God committing genocide. "God is not bound by the same moral duties we are. Our moral duties are established to God's commandments to us, that in virtue of being commanded to do this or that that we have certain moral obligations or duties.... So it would be wrong for me to whip out a gun and shoot somebody for no reason at all. But if God wants to strike me dead right now that's His prerogative.... But when God commands the Israelites to exterminate the Canaanite clans they are acting as God's moral agents under his command and so I feel that God has the right to command them to do something which in the absence of a divine command would have been wrong... it becomes their moral duty." So, God says do as I say, and not as I do. God should set an example for His creatures!!!! At the very least, God should do His own dirty work. Especially if he doesn't want His creatures going around doing the things that under ordinary circumstances He wouldn't want them to do! Does anyone out there understand this idiocy? It gets better: "Moreover God had good reason to give this command. He waited for 400 years while the Israelites were slaves in Egypt [Blogger's note: there is no extra-biblical record of the Israelites being slaves in Egypt.] until the Canaanite nation was so wicked and so debauched that it was right for divine judgment." Why kill them then? What happened to free will? God couldn't wait to judge each as they died? The whole argument collapses under its own inanity. "He used the armies of Israel as His instrument of judgment upon these clans in Canaan known that ultimately their extermination would be better for Israel in the long run, they wouldn't be contaminated by their influences, that these persons were deserving of judgment. And in the case of innocent people who might have been killed that even in their case God has the right to give and take life as He sees fit." Is this compatible with a kind, loving God? I think not.

I find it interesting that there are no provisions in any penal code I know of that allows one to be found not guilty by reason of God! Paul Hill claims he was commanded by God to kill abortion providers, yet he was executed for his crimes. But, if it's in the Bible it's not only okay, but mandatory! This is the most disgusting apologetics! I could barely get through this bullshit. It's SICK!

Now for the punchline: "the [Canaanite] children, by being killed are really, in one sense, better off if we believe that children go to heaven, as I do, than they would be allowing them to live on in the circumstances in which they were." I've said it many times: religion allows the expansion of our limits on what morality normally allows to the point of atrocity. It assuages our consciences in order to rationalize committing the most terrible crimes. Remember, Hitler assuaged his own guilt by claiming he was doing God's work. Craig's spear would have been the most soaked with Canaanite blood had he been there, I'm sure. How noble a warrior he would have been, sending babes to Heaven!

And who said God commanded the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites? Somebody wrote it, presumably the victors! Who says they wrote the truth? Remember, the Bible is not inerrant.

The rest is the normal fatally-flawed First Cause arguments and stuff that I've blogged about before, so I go into that here. Craig claims that the weight of scientific evidence is on his side, and you can predict my reaction to that crap.

He deals with morality at about 21 min. He feels that an evolutionary basis for morality is an illusion, something that serves only to help in perpetuating the species: "But there's nothing about this [evolutionary] morality that makes it really objectively true; it's really just an illusion. And in that case the rapist or the pedophile or the homophobe or the racist doesn't really do anything wrong when he goes against the herd morality. He's just acting unfashionably, and there's no [ultimate] moral accountability." He's right. It is just an illusion, but one that makes living in social groups possible! Being moral because it is God's commandment just makes morality arbitrary and no more objectively true!!!!

About 33 min. in... "... I don't think that ultimately the belief that God exists is based upon evidence I think that it is primarily based upon the witness of God's Holy Spirit." Huh? You mean it is primarily based on, as David Hume would say, "sophistry and illusion." This is bunk. "...Anyone who, at the end of his life, ultimately rejects God or the Gospel of Christ... doesn't do so on lack of evidence... He does it because he deliberately ignores or suppresses the testimony and work of the Holy Spirit in his heart." There it is. That inability for the theist to get their mind around the idea that that feeling of the 'Holy Spirit' is purely in their own minds, that as an atheist I can categorically say that no such feeling exists in me. Never did, never will. The human psyche can do some amazing things, and we interpret them in ways which are not always valid. For instance, near death experiences can seem very real to those that experience them, but the fact that such experiences can be reproduced in subjects subjected to high g-forces in centrifuges points to a less than supernatural explanation.

I said in a recent blog that we are not like the Amish, who don't have any use for things like cell phones. It's not that we atheists do not have any use for deities, it's that we see no reason to believe that there are any deities at all! For some reason, theists can never get their minds around this. Like the great Laplace said to Napoleon, "I have no need of that hypothesis." Theists, get it through your skulls: I do not deny a god I know somewhere deep down exists, but simply take the null hypothesis that God does not exist because there is no reason to accept the hypothesis that God does exist. The burden of proof is always on the one positing existence, and no one has ever made even a promising case for God's existence.

As to the New Testament's validity (ca. 46 min): "...the drift of New Testament scholarship in the last 50 years or so has be solidly in the direction of confirming the accuracy of the New Testament records of the life of Jesus. I think that most scholars would say that we can treat the gospels very seriously as historical sources for the life of Jesus of Nazareth."

I had tears streaming from my eyes from laughter at hearing this! Oh, my! What scholars has this guy been reading?!?!? I think that the FACT that there are NO contemporary sources of the Jesus myth should be a clue to the story's validity, and not a supportive one at all either. That NONE of the Gospels was written anywhere near the time of his supposed time on Earth. We don't even have a clue as to their authorship! What is this guy smoking? The Gospels themselves significantly disagree with each other!

Throughout the show, the commentators seem to revere this guy (who I had never heard of before) and say that Dawkins and Harris don't have any right to go against such great minds as Craig, Einstein and Hawking. Let's get one thing straight: Craig is no great mind. I was appalled and disgusted at his ridiculous idea that sending kids to God is okay and if I actually believed in doing debates I would take him on any day. From everything I heard on this show I deem him to be a mental lightweight espousing the most idiotic apologetics. Second, I don't think that Einstein and Hawking are exactly in agreement with an Abrahamic god. We really don't know exactly what these two actually think (thought), but I can assure you they reject the Abrahamic god every bit as much as I do. Third, to cast Dawkins as being outside of the company of Einstein and Hawking would greatly underestimate the influence of him. Harris won't be far behind, and he is very young to have so much influence in his own right.

I really do like Lael Arrington, one of the hosts of the show. We email each other back and forth, not necessarily about the show. I have always applauded their choice of guests. How many radio shows with a decidedly Christian slant would invite the likes of Dan Barker and Sam Harris as guests? But religious people do have a blind spot when it comes to applying logic to their own beliefs, something that I've spent my whole life doing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More comments....

Aaaaawwwwww. It seems I have offended my creationist friend. I did accuse him of being a mental patient, but then I was getting tired of him passing off tautology as argument. As soon as I can actually get into my MySpace blog I'll put the latest in for all to see. Mind you, I did point out several times that it was tautology, that he demonstrated no connection between god and logic anyway, etc., and made no attempt to refute me (other than to say the usual what other explanation is there? crap) so he kinda deserved it. And I gave him an evolutionary explanation (a crude one, admittedly) of where logic came from for good measure. It was getting tiresome anyway.

J. K. Jones said...

"You have not established any connection between the two whatsoever!!! You are simply repeating yourself in the hopes that it might be true! I really see no connection at all! In fact, it is a complete tautology!"

Just because you are not capable of setting aside your prejudices to see the logic of an argument does not mean the argument is not sound. An unchanging ground is required for there to be unchanging laws in a universe that changes constantly. This ground cannot change.

"Such a statement is cause for me to ask if you are on medication for a psychological illness!"

Interesting that you stoop to such childish comments. I reply with: 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.'

""The Christian theistic worldview can account for the laws of logic by stating that they come from God." Again, not explanatory. Just the insufficient 'goddidit'."

Unchanging things have to come from somewhere. There must be an explanation. If we try to explain the unchanging laws of logic or mathematics or morality or the uniformity of nature without finding an unchanging ground for those things. The God I serve does not change in the way He thinks or the way He is. The universe He set up is consistent with His unchanging being and thinking.

"All I see is ad hoc ergo propter hoc and personal incredulity."

I have still not heard a single alternative explanation that we could debate.

I might add that the law of causality also requires an unchanging ground. On top of that, the existence of a logical fallacy requires the laws of logic, and you have not provided an alternative explanation for them.

All I see is someone who cannot get beyond his personal bias long enough to consider an argument. I will leave the last comment to you. It is your blog. Besides, I don't like it when you call me names and arbitrarily insult my intelligence.

June 19, 2007 7:45 PM

Shamelessly Atheist said...

"Just because you are not capable of setting aside your prejudices to see the logic of an argument does not mean the argument is not sound. An unchanging ground is required for there to be unchanging laws in a universe that changes constantly. This ground cannot change.

What prejudice? The whole of your argument is this: God created the laws of logic (no substantiation provided), thus logic proves the existence of a god. To call this a tautology is not prejudice, just a statement of fact. You have not substantiated any connection between a god and logic. I don't even need to give you an alternative explanation for the existence of logic (but for good measure, I do so below) to point out the inadequacy of your statement. This isn't prejudice, just a statement of fact. It is from YOUR prejudice that you ASSUME a connection between god and logic. Like I said, you keep repeating this mantra hoping that the more you say it, the more valid it is. But no matter how many times you repeat it, it's still a tautology.

"All I see is someone who cannot get beyond his personal bias long enough to consider an argument." I haven't seen an argument yet, just tautology. One can not debate a tautology, except to point out that it is indeed a tautology.

"Unchanging things have to come from somewhere. There must be an explanation. If we try to explain the unchanging laws of logic or mathematics or morality [morality is unchanging? BULLSHIT! See below.] or the uniformity of nature without finding an unchanging ground for those things. The God I serve does not change in the way He thinks or the way He is [source of this insight?]. The universe He set up is consistent with His unchanging being and thinking." Baseless assumption after baseless assumption. Even if there is no answer to the uniformity of nature axiom is true (You're right. It does require an explanation. Guess what? Physics provides it. It's called gauge symmetry.), arbitrarily reaching for a supernatural answer as you do is irrational. While it was perfectly rational to do this a couple of thousands of years ago (indeed, it is why religion exists), it is completely unbecoming of anyone living in the 21st century. It amazes me that in every other aspect of the lives of the devout their outlook is modern, but when it comes to questions of life, the universe and everything, they haven't advanced beyond the Bronze Age. Better to say you don't know an answer than to look (and be) foolish by immediately jumping to an unsupported conclusion. Physics has shown us that the universe is actually exactly as we would expect in the absence of a creator. I suggest reading Vic Stenger on the subject.

You really shouldn't have mentioned morality. Morality has been shown to be innate in not only humans, but many other social mammalian species as well (not to the same extent as in H. sapiens, but Evolution predicts this as well). The evolutionary advantage of morality in social animals is obvious: it allows a group to interact in a cooperative manner. It is a set of rules hardwired into the brains of social mammals. Behavioral studies have clearly shown that religion is not at all required to be moral. From religious to atheist, the responses to moral dilemmas are statisically identical. Read Marc Hauser's Moral Minds for an excellent review of the current stated of evolutionary behavioral science. The most interesting thing is that the majority of people can't express the logic behind their responses to moral and ethical situations. Moral calculations are not performed on a conscious level, but are done in regions of the brain not accessible to conscious thought. The value behind this is again obvious. Having to think through every outcome of every decision would be utterly paralyzing.

Contrary to what you believe, you don't get your morality from the Babble, and never did. You don't buy and sell slaves, do you? Commit incest? Kill in the name of God? The morality contained in the Bible is one that is completely consistent with the morality of a brutal time in our history. It does serve one purpose: it shows us that morality is NOT an absolute, but changes with the moral zeitgeist. That there are a few nuggets of good in it is not at all relevant to its value as a moral source. If you have to pick and choose what is good and what is not, you had to already have an internal basis on which to perform your cherry picking.

Logic is just as much a product of the evolution of our species as morality. Logic such as, if three bears go into a cave and two come out, is it safe to enter the cave?, obviously provide value to survival. The way in which humans perform logic analysis points to its purely evolutionary origins.

Evolution is the ultimate designer, shaping form and function through the blind forces of Natural Selection. It is a brute force method for finding optimal configurations. But often (as for 99% of species that have ever lived) it does not find the global optimum, but only the local optimum. If conditions change radically, species can not make the transition from one optimal gene set to a whole new optimal gene set. If there actually was a designer, it isn't a very good one. If you owned an engineering company, would you keep a guy around whose designs failed 99% of the time? This is completely consistent with the blind pushing and pulling on gene propogation combined with the occasional random mutation that we know as Evolution, and completely inconsistent with some nebulous designer. Certainly not a god that showed himself to one small group through a rather disappointing medium copied by purely human hands. Ever wondered why God didn't tell everybody on the planet simultaneously through a truly impressive medium? Instead, he chose parchment. PARCHMENT!? The books you revere are supposed to be the word of god. Why? Because they say so?! C'mon, the National Enquirer is at least printed on newsprint. It even claims to be a bastion of responsible journalism. You believe that, too? Tell it to Bat Boy, not to me. Everywhere scientific inquiry has been applied to religion shows the same thing. Religion is consistent with being man-made and not divine in nature.

I have indeed read David Hume on the problems of uniformity of nature and induction, but I am quite comfortable with them. They are philosophical rather than practical issues, and so far they have not at all been a bother to Science. To say that the problem of the uniformity of nature "seems to have invalidated scientific endeavors" is rather silly considering that we make use of the benefits of Science on a daily basis. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as it were. Physics has shown that throughout the history of the universe the laws of nature have not changed, and there is no known mechanism by which they can change. If and when the uniformity of nature axiom fails, then, and only then, will it become a practical issue. (Of course, if they do, it would most likely a complete extinction event.) Till then, Science will continue to successfully refute and supplant the religious superstition currently rampant in the U.S.A. Science demonstrably works, whereas religious explanations have continually been shown to be insufficient, wrong and at times just plain silly.

For instance, prayer in medicine is being advocated by devoutly religious people, including some physicians. But tell me, would you want someone that relies on prayer to heal and not his/her skill as a surgeon? Not one properly performed study on the efficacy of intercessory prayer (even those supported Templeton Foundation money) has shown more than a placebo effect. If prayer is supposed to be a big effect, God seems to be hitting the 'Hold' button a lot lately.

Miracles are another aspect of religion that Science has dispelled. Kinda hard for the Catholic Church to make new saints these days. None of the miracles in the Bible could not have been faked. Remember, there are absolutely no sources of the Jesus myth, so the miracles he is said to have performed never even happened anyway. They were just written in after the fact. There were many prophets around said to perform miracles (I gave you Apolonius of Tyrana as just one example), but once the light of scientific inquiry is shone on them they scurried away like cockroaches in the night. The so-called miracles used to canonize Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II were pathetic. If you look hard enough, and enough sick people pray to one of them, you will find one person that recovers from an illness. But the rate of recovery of people praying to either of them will not be any different statistically than from a random sampling over the whole population suffering from the same illness. Ever wondered why there hasn't been a real miracle reported in the last oh, let's say, 2000 years? Simple. People back then were superstitious almost to the last person and reasonably so, without the tools with which to combat superstition.

"An unchanging ground is required for there to be unchanging laws in a universe that changes constantly. This ground cannot change." Another tautology. God created the uniformity of nature, therefore the uniformity of nature proves the existence of god.

You're an intelligent guy, but your 'arguments' smack of desperation. You know that you have absolutely no empirical evidence to fall back on in supporting. Thus, you believe that your tautologies are valid, even reasonable, when they are actually irrational. No tautology is rational, nor are any valid. You may not have a problem with the inability of your tautologies to be falsified, but you should. Without falsifiability you are safe from attack, but hampered by the fact that you can not show your position to be true. And the burden of proof is on the one positing the existence of god(s), not the one claiming the null hypothesis.

When you have a real argument let me know, as your tautologies aren't impressing me at all. It was indeed childish of me to stoop to name calling. But as Sam Harris said, "We do not respect stupidity, unless it is religious stupidity." and the time for respecting religious stupidity is over.

June 20, 2007 10:53 AM

A response to my blog on the importance of mechanism in explanations....

I'm having some fun with someone on my with respect to comments made on a blog I wrote in May.

J. K. Jones said...

Interesting how you decided that a theist must first be able to explain to you how the univrse came into being before he can claim God's creation of it. The thing of it is, you ignore allot of evidence whne you do that.

All the theist must do is show one thing in the universe which requires a God to create it. Evolution itself is a process that requires a designer. Rational thought is a process which requires a designer as well.

June 13, 2007 1:38 PM

Shamelessly Atheist said...

It is not arbitrary that the burden of evidence is on the one who posits the existence of something. The null hypothesis is that there is no deity. This is logic 101. I have absolutely no idea what evidence I have ignored, but if you start mentioning the bible, save your breath. That document, while of interst to historians, can't even get history correct.

No one has ever provided one shred of evidence for a 'designer'(no matter how voluminously the Disco Institute claims otherwise). I presume that you are trying to say that if Science hasn't explained something yet (which is a far cry from saying that Science can't explain a thing), then it must be attributed to a designer. This is simply a mixture of the god-of-the-gaps and false dichotomy arguments.

The greatest scientific mind ever, Newton, wrote one of the greatest works in Science, the Principia. As he described the laws governing the motion of the planets, Newton, himself a very religious (if in a heretical way) never even mentions a god. It isn't until he gets stumped when trying to calculate the motions of more than two bodies does he finally give in and invoke god because he could not make it stable. Newton didn't know of perturbation theory yet, and while there is no analytical solution describing the motion of three or more bodies, the motion is ammenable to numerical analysis. God-of-the-gaps. And those gaps get smaller every day.

As for Evo, there is no need to invoke a designer. Evo obeys Natural Selection and there is no need invoke a deity at all. This has been shown. What you might be doing is mistaking the origin of life for Evo. These are not the same thing, though many people wrongly lump the two together. The origin of life problem is known as abiogenesis. We know little about it (but more than you think), but just because we do not know something yet does not mean that we should jump to a supernatural conclusion. That would just be a lazy excuse. Why stop there? Why not stop all scientific progress and just say god did it all? This is the very reason that methodological naturalism is the basis of all scientific study. No miracles allowed.

June 13, 2007 10:41 PM

J. K. Jones said...

shamelessly atheist,

Thank you for a thoughtful response.

Some ideas:

Science depends on rationality to proceed. Our rational thinking is based in part on the laws of logic. These laws are universal and unchanging.

God establishes logic because that is the way He thinks. That is the way he set up His universe. God's being and thinking do not change.

A Christian can provide an explanation for the universal laws of logic: an unchanging God upholds them in His being and knowledge. Randomness, convention, and observation of a changing world cannot account for an unchanging standard. Only an unchanging being can.

You must supply a logical alternative explanation for the universality of the laws of logic before we can even disagree on any subject.

Now you have to come up with an alternative hypothesis before the "experiment" begins, although I am not sure what hypothesis testing has to do with this discussion.

Second idea:

Evolution, if true, is a process. That process proceeds toward an end, namely the perfection of life. Random processes do not tend toward an end, or purpose. Only an intelligence can set up a process to do that. Natural selection itself is a part of the process (the feedback loop) that shows intelligent intent.

Evidence for any purpose whatsoever at any point anywhere demonstrates the existence of an intelligence to set that purpose. There is no "gap" here.

Third idea:

How does scientific naturalism establish the fact that "…methodological naturalism is the basis of all scientific study. No miracles allowed?"

If you still want to, we can discuss the Bible latter. But I have found that those discussions tend to degenerate into "my scholar trumps your scholar" very quickly. I do ask that you not neglect the last 100 years of archeologogical and historical research in your studies.

June 14, 2007 5:31 AM

Shamelessly Atheist said...

Don't you see what you just did? You arbitrarily invoke god: "God establishes logic because that is the way He thinks." Where is the empirical evidence behind this statement? Again, this is simply a god-of-the-gaps argument mixed with the argument from personal incredulity. This is how religion came into being. It was a primitive step in trying to understand our place and existence, but since the tools we now have weren't available deities were invented. In future we will have even better tools to answer these questions. We don't know how the universe came into being therefore it was due to a creator. Who created the creator? You can not arbitrarily stop the infinite regression at the creator.

Natural Selection is not at all purposeful. It shapes traits giving the appearance of design. If you select those traits that work better than others for a certain function (i.e., larger beaks on finches for breaking harder seeds), then birds with larger beaks will pass on those characteristics to the next generation. Natural Selection is blind without being random. Evo being random is a common and totally erroneous misconception. Evo does not proceed to some predetermined end at all. If the environment changes (and it always does), then the characteristics necessary for survival are continually in flux. There is no final endpoint, only what works today.

I've already explained why scientific naturalism (the proper term is methodological naturalism) does not allow the invocation of miraculous events. ALL Science stops if miracles are allowed. If you make an exception in one place you have no basis for which it can not be applied everywhere. Science ends because you now have an excuse to not look for the real answers. It is illogical to jump to the baseless conclusion of the supernatural. Gods were created to explain lightning and thunder, but have long since been known to be an insufficient answer. It is no different for invoking deities anywhere else.

So, how do we know that methodological naturalism works? Because it does. The reasoning is rather inductive, but that doesn't bother me. Just like we know that the sun will rise tomorrow because we have seen it rise so many, many times before, we know that naturalism will answer our questions if we keep pushing because Science has explained so much already. We may not ever be able to answer everything, but that doesn't bother scientists. Why? Because we would much rather say that we do not know than be intellectually dishonest and shrug it off as supernatural.

I do not ignore archaeological evidence at all. Take the story of Moses, for example. There is an utter paucity of evidence for the Jews being enslaved by the Egyptians, and 500,000 people don't wander anywhere, let alone the Sinai, without leaving mountains of evidence. Biblical archaeologists have scoured the Sinai clean in attempts to verify the Moses story and found nada. The Noah has no empirical basis and it is simply lunacy to believe it in light of what we now know. Millions and millions of species on a boat? We couldn't even come close to that with modern shipbuilding technology. It is exactly as one would expect from a priori knowledge that these are stories made up by humans. It was simply a bad local flood in a time the world didn't extend much beyond the horizon. What about Jesus? Sorry, there are no contemporary accounts of his existence at all. Even the history of it was wrong. There were many prophets at the time. You were nothing if you couldn't perform miracles. Apolonius of Tyrana was said to do the same things Jesus did, and he was just one of many. That the Jesus story was the only one that survives in popularity is not very impressive. I could go on and on and on. Religion simply doesn't bear close scrutiny and makes every effort to make sure no one does look too closely.

June 14, 2007 10:44 AM

J. K. Jones said...

"God establishes logic because that is the way He thinks." Where is the empirical evidence behind this statement?"

Laws of logic cannot be established through empirical evidence. They are abstract concepts. They don't exist out there somewhere where we can see them.

God is transcendent; that is, He is beyond the material universe and is its creator. God has originated the laws of logic because they are a reflection of His nature. Therefore, the laws of logic are absolute (or unchanging). The are unchanging because there is an unchanging God.
It sounds as if you are trying to force me to use the scientific method to explain the laws of logic. Logic is used to evaluate the evidence we see with our senses. It is, in one sense, thought about observations of the world. Using the scientific method to establish logic is a circular argument.
There are no gaps here because scientific observation can never prove an abstract law. It's a here and now thing, not a way back when thing.

"Who created the creator? You can not arbitrarily stop the infinite regression at the creator."

You cannot have an infinite regression of finite causes, either. The line of causes would never have been moved through to get to the things that exist now. The regress must stop with something, or someone, which has always existed.

"Natural Selection is blind without being random. Evo being random is a common and totally erroneous misconception. Evo does not proceed to some predetermined end at all. If the environment changes (and it always does), then the characteristics necessary for survival are continually in flux. There is no final endpoint, only what works today."

Thanks for educating me on the concept. Then the purpose of evolution is to improve life so it will survive in today's environment. Remember that the environment is part of the system to.

I still do not understand how "methodological naturalism" can establish its own truth claim. How does the empirical observation of the world we live in justify the claim that only scientific observation of the world we live in yields information? Saying that it works "Because it does." is a cop-out.

I'll leave the Bible and archeology stuff alone for now, but there are answers and there is evidence. I have been looking closely at my own religious beliefs for several years now, and they "bear close scrutiny."

June 15, 2007 2:23 PM

Shamelessly Atheist said...

So you agree, then, that there is no empirical evidence for a god(s). I would then consider the discussion closed, but I would doubt that you would be satisfied with this.

"You cannot have an infinite regression of finite causes, either." I'm not sure how this was relevant, but I believe you are referring to the fatally-flawed First Cause argument. The problem with this argument is that there are a number of processes which do not require any cause. These tend to lie within the quantum realm, such as radioactive decay and virtual particle formation/annhiliation. Current theoretical models place the formation of the universe also in the realm of quantum mechanics.

Why does everyone think that everything has to have a purpose? Evo has no purpose. It is BLIND. It has no agenda of its own. In fact, the universe is completely oblivious to what humans do, believe, etc. The vast majority of the universe is completely hostile to human life. It has no consciousness (regardless of what Deepak Chopra thinks), no purpose, no agenda. If we puny humans can't get our heads around that, the universe doesn't care. Who are we to be so arrogant as to think such a thing?

"Saying that it [methodological naturalism] works "Because it does." is a cop-out." Hardly. I'll admit that there is an element of faith in the idea that all phenomena can be explained through natural laws. But do you then include other forms of knowledge like the so-called 'inner knowledge'? There is nothing which says that this isn't a simple word substitution for 'belief'. David Hume made it very clear that we can not rely on our perceptions since these are continually being fooled. Optical illusions are a prime example of this sort of thing.

David Hume said it best: "If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, "Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?" No. "Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?" No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." In other words, anything based only on our feelings and 'inner knowledge' without experiment and empirical data to back it up is junk.

People that trust in their beliefs without empirical evidence to guide them end up believing in weird things, like near-death experiences. We actually know that these odd experiences are due to neuronal depolarization due to lack of oxygen. The exact same near-death experiences can be reproduced in centrifuges. Fighter pilots see this in training all the time.

Without empirical evidence, you can't talk intelligeably about anything, including god(s), simply because there is no data to work from. What I always find amusing when theists say that we can not know God's plan for us immediately speak volumes about said plan.

"...the laws of logic are absolute (or unchanging). The are unchanging because there is an unchanging God." Wow, now that statement is missing about a thousand intermediary steps. Prove it, or at least have some supporting data. It smacks of 'I can't think of why logic works, therefore there is a god.' That is horrible logic. Logic is a human invention based on how the universe works. The ultimate logic is mathematics. In this universe, 1+1=2. This may not be true in other universes, but it works for us.

If you think methodological naturalism can't establish itself, how do you know that there are indeed laws of logic? Same problem. In Science we use what works to explain phenomena. In fact, it's the ONLY thing that works. And it keeps on working, and working,... Science dies in the presence of metaphysics, because then any crackpot idea based on a feeling one has after eating cheese for breakfast goes. Saying 'goddidit' is just invoking intelligent design because we are stumped. But as I showed clearly in the blog, it is no explanation whatsoever. It provides no mechanism for observed phenomena.

This is a direct challenge: I would love you to explain to me how invoking a designer is at all scientific. Any hypothesis must have these attributes:

(i) has data in support
(ii) explains new data as it comes in (we'll skip this one for now)
(iii) makes testable predictions
(iv) is falsifiable

Missing any one of these attributes and it ceases to be Science. I'll tell you now that I have only the utmost disdain for non-empirical methods...

June 15, 2007 3:50 PM

J. K. Jones said...

"David Hume said it best: "If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, "Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?" No. "Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?" No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." In other words, anything based only on our feelings and 'inner knowledge' without experiment and empirical data to back it up is junk."

Faith is based on reason, not "inner knowledge." I have sound evidence from the world as it now exists for God's existence: the existence of undeniable uniform and absolute abstract laws like the laws of logic and mathematics.

Again, the claim that "only empirical evidence can establish truth" is itself an abstract truth that cannot be established through empirical evidence.

Have you ever studied Hume's skepticism regarding the uniformity of nature? He seems to have invalidated scientific endeavors. He said something about us not being able to say with confidence that the world will behave in the future the same way it did in the past. That destroys inductive reasoning, the basis for science.

Science requires the uniformity of nature, or that nature behaves in the future the way it did in the past. Hume says we cannot count on that.

"What I always find amusing when theists say that we can not know God's plan for us immediately speak volumes about said plan."

I find that amusing to. Like Mark Twain before me, it's not the parts of God's plan that I don't know that bother me. It's the parts I do know. The part about living a perfect life devoid of sin. The part about me not doing that. The part about having to humble myself and trust in Christ's death on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins. Christianity invalidates any false pride in my own morality and good works.

"The ultimate logic is mathematics."

I don't care which uniform and absolute set of laws we take first: logic or mathematics. They are both unchanging, invariant and abstract (not something we can find with the five senses). We could talk about the uniformity of nature in the same way.

These abstract laws are not the result of observable behavior of object or actions. We do not observe the laws of logic occurring in matter. Therefore, no law of logic can be observed by watching nothing. We assume that logic's laws work in order to evaluate scientific evidence.

The Christian theistic worldview can account for the laws of logic by stating that they come from God. God is transcendent; that is, He is beyond the material universe being its creator. God has originated the laws of logic because they are a reflection of His nature and thinking. Therefore, the laws of logic are absolute. They are absolute because there is an absolute God who upholds them.

"…how do you know that there are indeed laws of logic?"

Take one for instance: the law of non-contradiction. It says that something can not be both A and Non-A at the same time, in the same relationship, and in the same sense. You cannot deny this law. If you say "A can be both A and Non-A…" I could then interpret you as saying "A cannot be both A and Non-A…" The laws of logic are undeniable because to question them is to invoke them.

I am not here saying anything about a faith that is unreasonable or a 'blind leap.'

I do not accept the idea that a truth claim must be falsifiable for it to be reasonable. The laws of logic are not falsifiable in the sense of requiring empirical data to validate or invalidate them. Neither are the laws of mathematics or the uniformity of nature for that matter. All of these things must be assumed to be true to have scientific or empirical knowledge. We presuppose that their principles are necessarily true. We assume, for example, that nature will behave in the future the way it does in the past.
They are all established by an absolute God who designed His universe to exhibit these traits.

June 18, 2007 6:31 AM

Shamelessly Atheist said...

"Faith is based on reason, not "inner knowledge." I have sound evidence from the world as it now exists for God's existence: the existence of undeniable uniform and absolute abstract laws like the laws of logic and mathematics."

Bullshit! You have not established any connection between the two whatsoever!!! You are simply repeating yourself in the hopes that it might be true! I really see no connection at all! In fact, it is a complete tautology!

Such a statement is cause for me to ask if you are on medication for a psychological illness!

"The Christian theistic worldview can account for the laws of logic by stating that they come from God." Again, not explanatory. Just the insufficient 'goddidit'.

"I am not here saying anything about a faith that is unreasonable or a 'blind leap.'" Yes, you are, for the above stated reasons...

All I see is ad hoc ergo propter hoc and personal incredulity.

June 18, 2007 8:59 AM

God vs Evo - Last Installment

Many of us that have looked at religious or anti-religious blog comments will have seen this inanity: "If there were no god nothing would stop me from killing and raping" or some similar idiocy. I have news for people that believe this crap. Morality is innate. This has been well-demonstrated scientifically. If you want to review the literature on the subject, I highly recommend reading Marc Hauser's Moral Minds.

It not only totally confounds me, but insults me to no end this idiotic, stupid and dispicable belief that people chose to believe Evo to be the path that life took must be immoral. Why is this belief prevalent? Kent Hovind espoused this crap and look where he is. Don't bend over for the soap, Kent. Believers think this to be the case because they believe that atheists must be denying god even though for some reason we know god exists. Evo is part of our denial. This silly and prejudiced belief is born of arrogance. How can anybody not believe god exists when I 'know' he does? This so-called 'inner knowledge' is synonumous with belief, and is therefore not knowledge at all. Knowledge requires evidence, for which there is (again) none. The internet show The Things That Matter Most did a whole show entitled Evidence for God Within Our Souls and Desires without ever first providing evidence for the very existence of the thing they are using to provide evidence for God!

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Creationists deny the Science behind Evo at every turn! I've shown clearly that creationism is born of ignorance. In the 21st century, this is inexcusable. The new form of ignorance is so-called 'intelligent design', an idea completely devoid of substance. There is no Science here, folks. Who designed life? How was life designed? How was the design implemented? Without answers to these questions, you are essentially left with goddidit. Empty and vacuous.

Don shows he is no different, and I was absolutely insensed by his quoting Julian Huxley. Don has, to his credit, apologized (I'm not sure he knows exactly what for, though), but this is irrelevant. He believes this travesty, and so has raised my ire... We begin yet again with the last part in this series.

"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." Now Don has really pissed me off. What he implied is that those that accept Evolution are really just looking for an excuse to remove God from their lives and deny God's existence, even though they know somewhere in their minds that God exists.

Let me tell you something, Don,. I don't just deny God's existence, I have absolutely no thought as to God's existence until some theist tries to convince me otherwise. In essence, anyone that believes as 'Sir' Julian Huxley, that atheists use Evo as an excuse to be 'wicked', is projecting their prejudice and bigotry onto their inability to understand atheism. Kent Hovind said as much in a debate with Prof. Pagliucci that I blogged about some time ago. I find it ironic (and not without some self-satisfaction, I'm embarrassed to admit. Well, no, but I have to say that…) that I am where I am, and he is where he is now. I have actually had someone ask me on my blog, what I did that I don't feel that I can be forgiven for? My reply is 'Nothing. What did you do that you feel YOU need to be forgiven for?' Religiosity of a society has been shown to have a direct link to crime, spousal and child abuse. Yet, I would not stoop to call religious people wife-beating, child molesting criminals. I would not even say that religion is a cause for these undesirable activities. That would be an improper conclusion. 'Sir' Julian Huxley can (figuratively) go to hell.

I'm not looking to be saved, nor am I looking to for myself. I know who and what I am. I like my life. You say that Christians are supposed to 'witness' (what were they witness to?) and not coerce, but the two look very much the same. America seems well on its way to making that dream a reality. I have seen the faces of evil, and they look a lot like Jim Baker, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart and the late Jerry Falwell, amongst a host of others. People that have created corporations selling fear of what will happen in an afterlife they have no idea even exists. Hope does not beget reality.

I must admit, your engineer friend did change my mind about one thing: Sam Harris is right. I now realize that the PC attitude I had towards religion is only an invitation to be trampled by Believers. To quote Christopher Hitchens, 'Religion becomes philosphy as astrology becomes astronomy.' It is my fervent hope that this happens.

Your friend asked how I will handle death. As Mark Twain is attributed as saying, "I do not fear death, in view of the fact that I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it." Amen. Atheism makes one realize that the one life we have is precious and by extension we understand that everyone's life is precious. I'm not so sure religion promotes this, particularly those with the promise of an afterlife, as I have seen ample evidence to the contrary. I'll keep my atheism, thank you.

I just don't see a point in any further response. But I will keep listening to your show [The Things That Matter Most]. I am very pleased that you do not limit yourself to Believers as many would do, and many of your guests (believers or not) have been quite interesting. I'm looking forward to the interview with Vic Stenger.

Randy Tyson

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

God vs Evo - Part III

So how does an engineer come to believe that life was designed, discarding a heck of a lot of data to the contrary, as well as a perfectly good explanation? It didn't take a lot of thinking. The first is obvious. Having grown up in a religious setting makes for a prediliction of seeing design in life. We often borrow ideas from nature and incorporate them into things we actually do design. The mind is prepared by both a religious upbringing and a career in engineering to see design. But nature does what works, discarding things that don't. This creates an illusion of design.

Remember, 99% of all species that have ever lived on this planet are long gone. We see a progression of complexity everywhere we look. The eye is more complex in new species than in phyla which have been around longer. The brain of humans is more complex than that of a chimpanzee, but not dissimilar. There are so many examples that I could give, but other authors have said it better elsewhere. Common descent is the only explanation for the similarities and the dissimilarities that we see.

Anyhow, back to the battle. I left off with Don attempting to tell me that atheists want minority rule....

It is instructive to look at a more secular society in comparison. From here in The Great White North, we look southward and see politicians tripping over each other in their eagerness to demonstrate that they are more religious than their opponents (it's embarrassing to watch…); we see biblical references in what should be secular institutions like judicial buildings even though neither your legal system or ours has anything to do with them and the law must be for everyone, not just Believers; we see official favoritism towards Christian groups even though the First Amendment was placed in your own constitution to prevent that very thing. That's just for a start.

In Canada, no one running for public office either expresses their religiosity or questions that of others; we do not place obviously divisive symbols representing only one group (and thereby giving that group preferential treatment) in our public institutions. I was asked to take an oath last year. In Canada, there are different oaths depending on whether you are theist or atheist. Both are equally legally binding. This kind of accommodation hurts no one and at the same time does not show any favoritism. It works incredibly well and completely circumvents the current hiccups in the American system due to theocratic 'reforms'. I was not a vocal atheist at all until my eyes were opened by people like Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly and their intolerant ilk. We don't have them up here, yet there are many theist politicians in Canada. It just doesn't matter to us unless their religiosity starts to become policy. It's not that we don't care about beliefs, it's just that we accept that everyone is an individual and we go out of our way to accommodate widely varying beliefs. As a result, we have almost completely avoided the problems that occur when religion is mixed with politics. We have seen what happens when societies become theocratic. Life under the Taliban was truly repressive, and if you don't think that America can end up that way you are kidding yourself.

I was surprised that Don didn't bring up Michael Behe's concept of irreducible complexity, though he does list his book as reading material at the end. The only thing as discredited as the concept of irreducible complexity (demolished even before the book was published) was his atrocious and laughable testimony at the Kitzmiller trial. Behe can't even be bothered to keep up with the relevant literature, so how can he be taken seriously? Contrary to Don's belief, there is no conspiracy in Science to keep ID out of the journals. From Science classes, yes, but that's because ID contains no Science. It's vacuous. The trick to getting published is to present positive evidence for something, not negative evidence against something else. ID has no positive evidence in its favor and Judge Jones recognized this in the Kitzmiller trial. The only place where Evo is in crisis is in the court of public opinion and the Disco Institute has done a remarkable, if harmful, job of it. The US is the laughing stock of the world, ranking second only to Turkey in rejecting Evo.

In essence, and as usual, the sum total of evidence presented for design was zilch, unless you count "I am an engineer. I know design when I see it. This is design." This sums up the ID position in toto. The rest just seems to be twisted attacks on Evo, which is to say, not evidence at all.

And since he spoke of Newton, perhaps the greatest mind in history, Newton found the inclusion of God unnecessary in his Principia till he hit a snag. He couldn't get the planetary system to stabilize in his math, so what did he do? You guessed it. He invokes God. Perturbation theory solved the problem later on, of course. I mention this because it shows that even the greatest minds jump to a supernatural conclusion when they find that they can't explain something. God has always been the God-of-the-gaps. Your friend himself retreats into this trap himself several times. For instance, he says "If evolutionists know that life evolved from non-life why don't they create life in the laboratory." (He never did answer my question as to why a designer would incorporate a broken enzyme into the design. There are a lot of other reasons, all in a similar vein, to reject the design hypothesis- the eye (wired backwards), the ureter (makes a rather unnecessarily circuitous route), etc. As an engineer, I'm surprised that he has missed all this. I mean, what kind of designer throws away 99% of his designs after he builds them? "if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck….", you fire the duck's ass for incompetence.)

As to the complexity of the brain, I don't know enough about devo to answer his criticism properly. But then, neither does he to have made it in the first place. (I've asked a devo specialist for insight into this...) But I do know that the brain does self-assemble under biochemical control, which places it under the purview of Evo (actually, Evo/Devo). A great deal is known about brain development, and none of the explanations involve magic. My limited understanding that chemical signaling is important, which means that the timing of when genes are turned on and off is critical in terms of the final outcome. A gene for consciousness, you ask? There isn't one, of course. Don seems to maintain this strawman view of Evo – one gene, one trait. There are a couple of reasons why mathematics is a bad way of dealing with Evo. First, Evo simply doesn't lend itself well to mathematics, though it is used in simulating it with computer modeling. Second, there aren't many (if any) mathematicians out there that are also well-versed in the nuances of Evo. Evo is not for the faint of heart (or mind), and William Dumbski [sic] especially seems utterly incapable of understanding it. Spend less time trying to prove that brain development is magic and more time looking at how it does in fact develop. And Don wonders why I think mathematicians without training in Biology (like Dumbski [sic]) should stick to mathematics.

"Science is built on truth not consensus," Don said. Sort of, but I'm not sure what truth means. Is truth the observation? It's certainly not theories. Truth is an absolute. Scientific theories are provisional hypotheses which: explain the current data; explain data obtained after positing the hypothesis; makes testable predictions; and is falsifiable. Theories model reality (truth). In discussing the current thinking about a particular theory, it is often useful (as in the case of Evo) to poll the experts. Each individual expert, however, judges the validity of the theory according to the characteristics that I have just listed. Truth is the ideal goal, but I don't think that any scientific theory has accomplished this. Pretty much everything he wrote was just a rehash of failed apologetics mixed in with Disco Institute PR releases (which is all they have ever produced on ID).

Don brings up the old 'evil atheist' list. But the implied insult to all atheists is that old canard of the evil atheist list, and I took it personally. Very personally. Is he saying that I am prone to mass murder? That in being an atheist, I am evil? Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler... Wait - Hitler? Sorry, while ideologues all with personal ambition (to the point where they were really promoting religions without a deity), Hitler was a THEIST. He was born and raised Catholic (and tellingly never excommunicated) and said often that in his final solution he was doing God's work. I would not insult any Believer with a list of theists that committed atrocities in the name of religion, even though the body count would be far higher my list, starting with numerous characters in the Bible, to de Torquemada, to Jim Jones, to David Karesh, to Paul Hill. (Ooops. That's a list, isn't it?) I don't like to speak in biblical terminology, but if there is such a thing as evil, Jerry Falwell (a man who promoted hatred and fear in his followers) would be my candidate as its personification. George Bush Sr. knowingly allowed 500,000-1,000,000 Iraqis (the estimate provided to the White House by the NSA) to die due to ineffective sanctions post-first Gulf War. All he had to do was give the Shiites and Kurds ammo and Hussein (a man Bush himself helped to power) would have been toppled with far less loss of life. Not ideal, but far better than what actually occurred. Most of those sanction victims were children. That puts him in amongst the top killers of all time, but history is written by the victors. After all that killing by proxy, I don't remember George acknowledging his atheism. In fact he has been quoted as saying he doesn't think atheist Americans should be considered citizens. How Christian of him.

I live a very moral life, though my morals and ethics may be different from yours and your friend's, I will put them up against anyone else's for comparison any time. I would much prefer to speak of those atheists that have done something with their lives, like Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln (probably a deist, but certainly not a Christian), Thomas Paine (a deist, but with significant atheist leanings), Oscar Wilde, Albert Camus, Isaac Asimov and many, many others, as I would of theists that have performed similar works. Religion is no guarantee of morality. The Bible itself condones slavery (amongst other unsavory behaviors), something that today we find reprehensible. To make that list and recite it to me, your friend made my case for me against religion. I am dismayed, despondent and insulted beyond measure by the response. The Evolution of our species (and others, it has been found) has resulted in an innate set of moral rules. The so-called Golden Rule is just a codification of this. Mere babies will behave in accordance to this rule, far younger than they could have been taught it, or acknowledge the existence of God. Science has at every turn peeled back the layers of religious belief till there is essentially nothing left but denial.

In the final part, Don shows his true baseless prejudice against atheists (and pissed me off) when he quotes Julian Huxley....

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

God vs. Evo Part II

I just realized something last night. I really should have asked these people if I could put the communications I have had with Lael and Don up on my blog. It never occurred to me till now to do that, and for that I do apologize, but seeing as it's a bit of a fait accompli....

One thing you will clearly notice with creationists in general is the selective change in standards of evidence used for and against anything related to religion and its war on Science. For instance, yesterday my comments about the complete and utter lack of evidence for the biblical Jesus. There are no contemporary sources accounting Jesus' life (Josephus wasn't even born yet and there are major problems with using Tacitus, since it is likely that not only did he NOT write anything about Jesus, that the writing was done much later and someone attempted to attribute the authorship to him), no corroboration of the 'historical' account (there was no census taken at the time of Jesus' birth, except one that was NOT done by Pontius Pilate, and that one some time prior to even the earliest possible birth date, no Massacre of the Innocents is recorded anywhere but the Bible, no accounts outside of biblical codices of even his existence). With Caesar, we have the man's own words, the dedications to him and an unbroken history of political rulership which includes him. We have none of this with Jesus.

I mentioned yesterday that Don keeps demanding hard scientific evidence to refute the at-first-glance impressive odds against life-by-natural causes, while thinking that anecdotal evidence of people saying they saw something that might be Noah's Ark is the motherload of proof! What's needed in any discussion like this is an evidentiary standard that encompasses both positions. A good start would be a framework that has already shown itself to work, so let's try the legal framework. Jesus: No substantiation or corroborating evidence, no eyewitness accounts, no physical evidence. In short nothing. Noah, Moses and David fall short as well. Evo, on the other hand, has comparative morphology, paleontology and molecular genetic evidence all corroborating each other under one framework theory. Kind of tough to dispute it, but Don tries. He mentions the finding of a fossil fish that pushes back the earliest date of this form of complex life and claims that by altering our timeline as we must do in this situation makes Evo unfalsifiable. Sorry, but that's bullshit. I did know of this recent finding. Was I worried? No, because even though it did indeed change the timeline, but IT DID NOT FORCE AN OUT-OF-ORDER SEQUENCE. If you find a fossil rabbit in the Cambrian, then we've got a problem and ToE is falsified. Not only is Science not dogma, it continually works towards divesting itself of dogma.

Don mentions Simon Greenleaf's conclusion after viewing all the evidence that the Ascention actually occurred is hardly impressive in the light that he came from a very religious family (that all the family members had biblical names was a bit of a clue) and his standard of evidence was likely to have lowered in favor of inclusion rather than exclusion of questionable sources. Kinda like Don...

On to Part II....

(Continuing from "Don attempts to tell me...")

that Christians were the founders of Science. Baloney! Ask Galileo (persecuted for scientific conclusions not held by the Church), Descartes (forced into fleeing to the Netherlands by religious authority), Hypatia (murdered by a Christian mob incited by "Saint" Bernard) and others what religion thought of their scientific advances. Early scientists professed their Christianity, therefore Christianity was responsible for the invention of modern Science?!? This is spurious logic. We don't know how many of them were actually atheists. Those that professed their disbelief had a nasty tendency to be murdered by religious authority. These men were thinkers in spite of religion, NOT because of it, and it was Christianity that tried to suppress their work and do them bodily harm. Hypatia (from what little we know of her she was a remarkable woman) was flayed alive with abalone shells by a Christian mob! Christianity has an uninterrupted history of suppressing knowledge. For instance, the church even attempted to suppress the invention of the printing press! Far be it for the church to allow the common man to read the scriptures! They might start thinking about it for themselves! For once they were right. The Bible has turned more people to atheism than anything else. Besides, it was the ancient Greeks, not Christians, which started the modern process of Science. Islam had at one time a much better record than Christianity for fostering modern scientific thought. The word 'algebra' and most star names are of Arabic origin, and we use Arabic numerals.;

that there are real prophecies in the bible even though every last one is either self-fulfilling or fulfilled within the biblical text. Sam Harris has likened the latter are much like prophecies made in The Fellowship of the Ring coming to fruition in The Return of the King! C'mon, every generation since the beginning of Christianity thought that the prophecies were being fulfilled and that they were in the End Times! They aren't at all specific and require 'interpretation', just like Nostradamus'. Let's put this claim that all these prophecies have come to fruition to the test. Remember, I only need to show one failure. How about Ezekiel's Tyre prophecy (Ezek. 26: 1-11; 29:17-20)? Tyre was supposed to have been destroyed. A quick look at a map will show where Tyre still stands. He also predicts that Babylon would conquer Egypt. I don't think that one will ever be fulfilled for some reason... As a prophet, Ezekiel, well, sucked. Utterly. And forget the Book of Daniel prophecies, since scholars agree that it was written in ca. 165 BCE and not 6th cent. BCE that it claims, and thus simply wrote prophecy through the eyes of then recent history. Looked good while the fraud lasted, though. The list just goes on and on and on. A full (and very long) list of failed prophecies is available at The Skeptic's Bible. I'd like to see one, just one so-called prophecy that wasn't self-fulfilling, unambiguous, doesn't require 'interpretation' and wasn't made after the event actually took place. Just one.

implying that Einstein was correct when he said God does not play dice when time has shown us that Bohr was correct and God does indeed gamble. I'm not sure where Don is going with this quote, other than continuing his disingenuous quote mining. Einstein's 'god' has absolutely no relation to an Abrahamic god, or any personal god. He was quite clear on that subject. In 1935 Einstein, Rosen and Podolsky proposed an experiment called the 'EPR paradox' in a vain attempt to refute Quantum Mechanics, the results of which they thought were impossible. It's unfortunate that Einstein never lived to see the results of the actual experiment, for which Einstein's 'impossible' outcome was indeed observed. I like to think that he would have dropped his objections to QM having seen the results.;

that because we have so few transitional fossils that Evo is discredited (without accounting for the actual many transitional forms that have been found. Can anyone say bird? horse? whale? etc.?). I'm not a big fan of Stephen Gould (the more I learn about him the less I like him), but he may have been correct about punctuated equilibrium (the debate goes on). However, this was so obviously a quote mine. Gould may very well have said "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.", yet he remained a scientist staunchly committed to the study Evolution right through to his death. I frown greatly upon quote mining, and Don does this all over the place.;

that there is some sort of crisis in biology over Evo (You have GOT to be kidding me. I'm in the field and have never heard one peep about it till now...). I think I saw that book in a store last summer and on the jacket the promo started with 'There is a quiet controversy…', at which I started laughing [you might remember that incident in McNally-Robinson, Boomer]. It's so quiet it's silent.;

that "Christ commanded Christians to be witnesses not coercive." WHAT!?!?!? Coercion doesn't have to involve putting someone to torture. It means attempting to subvert them to your belief in any way, INCLUDING 'WITNESSING'! There is a double standard here. When Believers 'witness' it is not only acceptable, but many think it is commanded by their god. When atheists try to reason with Believers about the illogical nature of their (blind) faith, whoa, Nelly! That's evil! The only thing that atheists have ever wanted was to have a level playing field. Even most of the militant ones. Why do you think they went militant? If theists respected nontheists (or believers in religions other than their own) they would see how their views of how things should work impinge on them. Putting the Ten Commandments in a secular building is favoritism towards a group, in this case the Christians (the Ten Commandments were indeed NOT the basis for the legal system, but rather has Hammurabi to thank for its basis.) Let's face it. It is the Christian right that is doing all the trampling, NOT atheists.

"Atheists don't want minority rights, they want minority rule." Bullshit. The way I see it, the Christian right wants a theocracy, and all others (including, but not limited to, atheists) are simply fighting for their survival. Debbie Schlussel believes that freedom of religion does not include freedom from religion, something I doubt the Founding Fathers intended the First Ammendment to mean. Ann Coulter- well, no one gives a hoot what that guy thinks. Doesn't anybody see the danger inherent in this kind of intolerance? Such a slippery slope leads to the logical conclusion of returning to the days where nonbelievers, or believers in other religions, were oppressed. What Don mistakes for an attempt at 'minority rule' is simply the inevitable (and well-deserved) backlash of those that the religious right has wronged. The religious right has had it coming for some time now.

I talk a bit about our significantly more secular (for now) society, whether or not Science is about Truth and comment on the 'impossible' complexity of the brain in Part III.

Monday, June 11, 2007

My ongoing conversation with the religious at The Things That Matter Most...

Well, anyone that is still with me after reading that monstrous, convoluted blog entry of yesterday is truly hardcore. For those who have not read the prior blog entry on this, it is necessary to at least refer to it to fully understand this and the next several entries. I'm going to give people a bit of a break and separate my response out into several parts. I'd like to say that these things are labors of love, but I don't think the word 'love' is appropriate. Certainly, they're not my usual cup of tea, since I like to pick a topic, write succinctly and clearly on that without going off on tangents, and not bore/confuse you poor readers to death.

I don't know that I will ever send this off to Don Ortloff (via Lael Arrington), but I will post it here. The quote mining of Don's I ignored, as I did the anecdotal emotionalistic claptrap at the end designed to try to convert me. To quote Bugs Bunny, 'He don't know me vewy well, do he?' It begins.....


plays the same invalid numbers game that Dembski plays. William Dumbski [sic] has been thoroughly debunked elsewhere and in the interests of brevity I won't get into it here. All one has to do is google it. Suffice it to say that these number games are self-interested convoluted methods of promoting the argument from personal incredulity that show no more than that DNA sequences could not arise through random chance. Fancy that. ToE says the same thing. The massive fallicies in his arguments have been pointed out to William Dumbski [sic], yet he continues to say things like 'we can not explain cellular machinery without invoking a purposeful design' and then usually brings forth Behe's example of the bacterial flagellum when it has been shown clearly in the literature how in fact the bacterial flagellum could evolve. This makes Dumbski a LIAR. He wants you to believe that a non-purposeful evolutionary process is the same thing as saying it is random. Bullshit. Natural Selection is anything BUT random.;

tries to tell me that Tacitus and Josephus were contemporary sources on Jesus. It is in doubt as to whether Tacitus even was the author of the missive on Jesus, and neither Tacitus nor Josephus had even been born before the supposed Ascention! I reiterate: there are no contemporary accounts of the Jesus/Horus myth! As for the existence of Caesar and why his existence is (now) accepted without question, scholars had long ago established from numerous sources (not all literary) that Caesar was a genuine personage. The reason no on questions his existence is that his existence was established long ago. At least we have Caesar's own writings, which is much more than we have for Jesus. Unlike for Julius Caesar's life, the data surrounding Jesus' birth, life and death is completely uncorroborated even though records from the period are available.;

hypocritically accepts hearsay data of the absurd account of Noah and the flood, and then asks for 'real' evidence for Evo (which he doesn't accept anyway). People say that they have seen reminants of the Ark (you mean that geological formation that people keep mistaking for the Ark?) and finding a bit of wood of approximately the right age. Yes, there was wood, even in the time of Noah. Of course, the whole myth is just a retelling of Ziusudra and the flooding of the Euphrates in ca. 2900 BCE for which we actually have evidence of the event. The same can not be said for poor Noah, nor for the myth of Moses and the Exodus, nor for....;

tries to tell me that the 2nd law of thermodynamics can be applied to preclude the generation of order in an open system (He's trying to snow a Chemist with this?! Boy, was he barking up the wrong tree.);

that asymmetric synthesis is impossible without direction when all that is required is a surface for one optical isomer to be preferred in a reaction. The synthesis of one optical isomer of dl-pairs, such as l-amino acids, over their . l- and not their mirror image d-amino acids are exclusively the building blocks of enzymes, yet have identical physical properties. (asymmetric synthesis is big money in the pharmaceutical industry, which according to him isn't possible);

that Evolution includes the origin of life in its theory, when abiogenesis is a completely different problem. The only relationship between the two is temporal – abiogenesis had to occur before Evo could start its work. We've come a long way since the Stanley-Urey experiment. This is primary evidence that Don has never read anything on Evo outside of Christian 'Science' lit;

that behavior has no biochemical basis (in answer to his question of what part of the genome governs emotions like love, a number of biochemicals like oxytocin, the genes that encode their synthesizing enzymes and the genes which control their activation come to mind immediately) and therefore cannot be under evolutionary control (I would like to know how he then explains the observed genetic changes in the Russian silver fox experiment of Dmitri Belyaev if genetics play no role in behavior, where silver foxes were bred for either tameness or viciousness). Your friend seems to think that one gene-one enzyme is how DNA works. It does not. Genes interact, sometimes in unpredictable was (definitely the case in the Belyaev experiment, unintentionally resulting in changes to coat color and tail stiffness). Emotions such as love are just as likely to develop as fear. Co-operative behavior is just as effective in species which use social coherence as a survival strategy as the fight-or-flight response, even in tooth-and-claw natural selection (there is no such thing as Darwinism). None of this takes away from the actual feeling of love itself or makes it any less wonderful. Again evidence that Don has never read anything on Evo outside of the Disco Institute's official reading list (which means all he knows of Evo is the usual strawman the Diso Insitute disingenuously touts);

Part II tomorrow....

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Calgary succumbs to forces of nature

I was away for a few days in Edmonton on a very successful attempt to implement automated shimming on a high-field MRI system. I'm quite proud of this, since I did all the work from developing the pulse sequence to analysis and shim correction. The only thing I haven't done because of a lack of expertise is actually doing the change in shim values.

Then I came home Tuesday evening and ran into a rather nasty storm. On Deerfoot Trail, the main route into Calgary, was backed up and I could see the northbound lanes were blocked by police. I thought it was a nasty accident, as I could see debris on the road, and people going my way were rubber-necking. But as I drew closer I realized that what I thought was road was a new lake, and the debris was all that was left of car roofs! We had over 700 mm of rain that evening and the light show was fantastic. Two people were struck by lightning (a la Caddyshack), but are expected to recover. Traffic is still being affect due to washouts of major interchanges in the city.
UPDATE: June 8 - The ramp to eastbound Glenmore at 14th St. SW is still closed due to washout. The rainfall Tuesday evening was 72 mm. That's double the previous record of 36.6 mm!