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The Big Picture

'Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons.' -- Vizzini from "The Princess Bride"

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Biblical Prophecy and Pat Robertson

Over at my usual Christian ranting grounds, The Narrow; Bryan has a post up, Pointless Prediction.

[First I would like to send a big thanks out to Bryan, for putting up with me, you are a good Christian. Even if we have radically different worldviews, it is good to know we still listen to each other.]

He and I have basically the same views on Pat Robertson and his "predictions" for an above average hurricane storm season. Our difference lies in the whole idea of revealed knowledge. The comment I made there is reproduced below (sorry for plaigarizing myself here). But what interests me is the response by Bryan.

I wrote:
I think it goes without saying that on this, you and I are in total agreement. I would not have written it any differently -- well except for the prairie dogs bit; I would have gone for the sexier chihuahua....

The only thing I would add, is that I would further generalize that statement, to any and all predictions based on some form of revealed knowledge. It is the basic problem I see with faith. Sure one person can have faith in something (let's say religion -- specifically Christianity). But as that faith is nothing more than "revealed" knowledge at its base, it can never be explained or proven to anyone else. The best example is when someone like me asks a (fundamental) Christian how they know the Bible is literally true, they always end up saying something like "I searched for the Truth, and God revealed to me that the answers I sought are in the Bible."

Again, you can generalize your thoughts about Pat into any and all revealed knowledge, and what you find is that there is no difference in any statements of faith, be them Pat's Tsunami or the Christian's faith in a literal Bible. The reason is that there is no way to judge the validity (or truthfulness) of a claim of revealed knowledge. Pat's credibility (which you question) is exactly the same as any fundamentalist's when it comes to revealed knowledge, because none can be judged on independant criteria. (You best said this when you pointed out that if storms hit, that proves nothing, and if they don't again it proves nothing). The reason you know that is because you know there is no way to judge the actual basis of the claim, Pat Robertson's revealed knowledge. You can throw it out (as you did) because he is a kook, but that in no way changes the fact you cannot evaluate the knowledge itself. And that is true no matter who the person is, or how kooky or credible they are elsewise.

Bryan responded with the (to my opinion) non sequitur:
There is a major difference between the special knowledge Pat Robertson claimed and that which is found in the Bible. The Bible is very clear that it's teachings and truths are available to everyone who seeks them

He missed my point that I was referring specifically to personal revealed knowledge, not the revealed knowledge of the Bible. That is fine. I think my point is valid, and I gave him that I was not speaking of Biblical revealed knowledge. We disagree on that, but since it was not the point, I wasn't going to get into discussing biblical revealed knowledge since we do that all the time. But here is where I got tripped up. Bryan continued to expand on this misunderstanding by bringing up biblical predictions. He wrote:
In contrast, the Bible makes prediction after prediction and through history every single one has been found accurate

This is completely wrong. It is the exact opposite of what happened in history. I thought this some more and think it is worth writing about some more. I hope to return to this next week. But for the time being, one of the most well known is Jesus' prophesy that he would rise from the dead three days after he died. The problems are twofold with that biblical prediction. The first and most obvious was that it was not prophesy at all, it was written about decades after the event was said to have happened. And even then, only based on the recollection of witnesses who said Jesus said it. It has as much validity as a fictional story where the protagonist predicts something that comes true.

The second reason why this is not a fulfilled prophesy is found in Matthew 12:40:
"For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" [NKJV]. The story of Jonah was not a prophesy. The fact that it was used in the construction of the Gospels as midrash does not make it prophesy. The reason is clear, there was no indication that the original story of Jonah was anything other than a story of loyalty to God by Jonah. It was not called a prophesy of the later-to-arrive messiah. (The same goes for Isaiah 7:14). If this story of Jonah was a prophesy for the death and resurrection of Jesus, then what does the prophesy of David slashing the hamstrings of 900 horses prophesy? (2 Samuel 8:4)

The problem is, that there is absolutely no prophesy in the Bible that can be viewed as actual prophesy. It was all either after-the-fact testimonial or retooling an old story to mean something new. In fact, much prophesy of the Bible (most specifically Jesus) has been shown to be failed predictions. Consider Jesus prediction about his return:
"Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place" [Mark 13:30 NKJV].
The problem is that roughly 100 generations have passed and still no return.

Indeed, Nostradamus has nothing to worry about when it comes to being the king of prophesy, his crown is not in any way threatened by biblical prophesy.

If you have any specific biblical prophesy in mind that you would like to discuss, leave it in comments and next week we will look at them.

In the mean time, here is a prophesy from the great jeffperado: This weekend, the multitudes will come to Las Vegas and drink and gamble, and some will even visit certain clubs where the performers are missing their clothing...


Da Vinci Christianity

"Christianity is a religion of peace." How many times have you heard that coming from conservative op-ed, blog, or Townhall column? This is usually followed by some hit piece concerning Islam, and their holy book teachings of violence.

Now I want to come out ahead of this and say that I find nothing appealing about Islam, I think it is every bit as reprehensible (and useless) as Christianity. I think any time a person wastes their time worshipping a mythological diety is ultimately destructive to society. (I can say I appreciate a "religion" that jettisons all the supernatural, and focuses on social and cultural value -- charity, etc.)

One thing both Islam and Christianity have in common is a broad spectrum of doctrines, from the very lax to the brutally extreme. The difference is largely cultural; Islam has its suicide bombers and Christianity has its Crusades, lynch mobs, and abortion clinic bombers. I have often pointed this out to fundamentalist Christians who make the "peace" claim.

However, today I eat crow. I have been proven wrong. I guess Christianity is a religion of peace after all. Just check out the box office total for The Da Vinci Code. For a movie that was blasted by virtually every conservative Christian pundit and organization, it performed quite well. I can only say that I gues the way conservative Christians showed their displeasure with this movie was to buy tickets.

Considering that this movie is about as inflammatory as that Muhammad cartoon (and on the exact same literary level as well), then by my reasoning Christians should have rioted as much as Muslims did. But instead of rioting (or even protesting) they bought tickets. I say good for them. Jesus told them, "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." [Matthew 5:39 NASB] They listened to Jesus and snatched those tickets right up.

But then I got to thinking. Maybe I was looking in the wrong place for evidence. Consider the fact that roughly 80% of Americans consider themselves Christian. Certainly a large percentage of those Christians went to see Da Vinci, but not all. And the rest certainly have an opinion on the movie, either they have no problem with it and may or may not see it based on it's interest to them, or they do have a problem with it and won't see it. This means that there are basically two types of Christians, Da Vinci Christians and the anti-blasphemy Christians. The second group being the ones who produced all the anti-Da Vinci noise over the years (and especially recently due to the movie).

Based on the popularity of the movie, it seems as though the first group is certainly the larger of the two, but the second group was the most vocal (and the minority). If this second group, the anti-blaspheming Christians is the minority then we have discovered something new that we never could point to before, concretely at least, that there is a set delineation in American Christianity. We all knew it existed but could never pin it down (Catholic/Protestant, liberal/conservative, figurative/fundamental, etc.). Now we have. The majority of Christians are Da Vinci Christians -- and those are the ones who recognize fictional works of literature and are not offended, who allow differing worldviews to coexist with their own, who don't buy into the whole faux "war on Christianity" meme put out by fundamental Christians.

These Da Vinci Christians are not the ones who pose the ominous threat of fascism clothed in "Christian Nation" sheepskins. But they are the ones who allow things to get worse. They allow the other group of Christians, the anti-blasphemy Christians, to dictate their fundamental Christian doctrine. Now that I have you pegged down, be forewarned that I will push the truth that just because we have common goals -- liberty -- you will not get a pass any more. You are now smoked out, and now must own up to the threat that anti-blasphemy Christians pose. Just because I fight Christianity, you can no longer defend them because that is giving them the cover they need to pursue their goals. And the time is coming that you will have to accept their dogmas or be relegated to the level of those like me, the atheists, the gays, the brown people, and everyone else who is not a part of their "Christian Nation."

The irony: There is a war on Christianity, but it is coming from an unknowing enemy, the Da Vinci Christians.

Please leave your thoughts or rants in comments.


Monday, May 22, 2006

Demonizing Atheists

What is it about atheism that sends religious people into a tailspin of ignorance and utter vitriol? Much of the nonsense comes from Christians, but some from other right wing sources as well. Here is an article from a Jewish Rabbi, Rabbi Avi Shafran, entitled, The Indignity of Atheism
The left certainly has its share of wingnuttery as well. Melinda Barton has written a piece on atheism that is chock full of typical wingnuttiness. Fortunately, PZ Myers makes easy fodder of it, and so I need not add anything to that.

What I would like to comment on is this..
The worst lie spread about atheists and atheism in general is that by rejecting God, we have no guiding moral principles. That is, Christians accuse us of being without any conscience or 'force' to prevent us from stabbing puppies in the head before we rape our daughters (again) on the way to knocking off a liquor store for drug money.

The problem is that this is laughably untrue. In fact, I would posit that atheists are more moral and 'godly' than even your most average Christian. The reason is clear, and one they want to hide from you, because it makes such sense that they would look (even more) stupid if they uttered it publicly.

Here are two general statements that most everyone has heard at one point or another:
1. Christians (or any human) who sins and is unrepentant will burn in hell forever.
2. Atheists have only social moral guides -- that is, atheists can only operate within social morals, and specifically those which help strengthen society, because human society is all there is.

Christians will deny the second statement to the very bloody end, because if it were true, then it would mean that atheists only moral guide is helping humanity, and thus immorality is destructive to that society. They refuse to admit this because it means the atheists have purpose, i.e. meaning, in their lives. That meaning is to make humanity better. this goes against everything Christians were taught, and to admit it would mean that there is another valid way to live outside their narrow worldview.

But what I want to focus on is the first statement, the one virtually all Christians agree to. What does that mean to us mere humans here on our tiny planet Earth? To a Christian, one could be guilty of killing millions of humans, never doing anything to help humanity, giving poison candy to babies, raping virgin (white) women, and any other atrocity one could imagine, and if on the day they were to be executed, if that person were to give their life over to Jesus Christ, then that person will sit at the (pick your hand -- right or left) hand of Jesus in reward for eternity. Whereas an atheist who spent their life feeding the starving children, curing disease, bringing the poor out of poverty, securing peace between nations, and educating the masses, but if they happen to die from AIDS while being gay, that person will burn in hell forever.

The whole value system of Christians is disgustingly skewed. They praise the person who is a genocidal murderer because (and only because) he is Christian, but nothing the atheist does makes that person moral in their eyes. The reason is obvious, and exclusively singular in their purpose. That is Jesus. One can comit each and every single atrocity, but none of that matters to them if that person repents and accepts Jesus Christ. Whereas, an atheist can commit every known act of kindness and goodness, and still be reviled by the Christian because he has not accepted Jesus. This means that the only variable in the equation of moral versus immoral in the eyes of a Christian is Jesus.

To put this in a clearer way, no actions, moral or immoral matter at all to them. The only line of demarkation is Jesus. Thus, to a Christian actions of humanity matter exactly zero, in light of acceptance of Jesus. But the exact opposite is true of atheists, the only thing that is moral to atheists, and acceptable, is how their behavior affects humanity. From this, it is clear that Christians do not care about humanity, or their fellow humans at all, since actions are not important to their idea of morality. All that matters is repentance and acceptance of Jesus.

We see this view laid bare when we see Christian's attitudes towards global warming, and preservation of our environment. Christianity can not be moral when they value acceptance of Jesus and eternal reward for that acceptance above the actions of their members while alive and functioning here on Earth. For none of this matters in terms of eternity.

However, what is it that affects us on a daily basis, some future reward (or punishment) or how we behave today? Clearly it is our daily behavior. Thus, there is no comparison, atheism is the much better moral guide for living than Christianity. Because Christians believe nothing you do matters at all, but for atheists, everything you do matters.

In conclusion, all this "common wisdom" that gets written about atheism such as this foolishness by Rabbi Avi Shafran is nothing but trash thrown at atheists. Christian writing such as that by Melinda Barton is no better (and usually worse). The facts that everyone can see, that is the facts here on planet Earth, all point to moral acts as being those which help humanity. Prisons are filled with those who do the opposite. The problem is that prisons are also filled with Christians, not atheists.

It is just too bad that Christians do not see being a good person as being 'moral'. Instead all they see is one's views of some mythical supernatural Santa Claus in the sky as being moral.

WE will examine the sole difference in a later post. That being, is eternal life in heaven really a better moral guide than preserving humanity today. This boils down to is there really a god, and if there is, is it found in the Bible? For if there is, then being the most repugnant human being history has ever known is not a deciding factor in salvation, rather the only the acceptance of Jesus. This would bring us full circle to the idea that morality is nothing more than accepting Jesus, and no acts here on Earth matter at all. Again, this leads us to athesits being more moral here on Earth. But the question then is, are we more moral period, if there is nothing else?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

More Creationist Gold - Ken Ham Edition

Maybe I am wrong after all, and there is a god(dess)... Because only a supernatural entity could lay such a cornocopia of creationism goofiness in one spot at my feet. I am -- of course! -- referring to Ken Ham's videos made available to the public for free. He releases a new 15 minute video every week. This week's video is "Do Animals Evolve? Part II"

But upon viewing it, I found it lacking, he fails to tie up any of the points he made from part I; choosing instead to rail on about races and humanity. So, instead I will focus on the incomplete part I of the series in this post.

It is chock full of such typical creationist junk talking points that it is hard to narrow down, but I will focus on his use of the words "kind" and "Information", and talk some about mutation and natural selection. One thing is obvious from the outset; that no meaningful definitions of these words have ever been given by creationists, especially Ken Ham. They use words like "kind" to mean just about anything they want based solely on the circumstances required at the time. We shall see this laid bare for all to see; well except for boobies, beaver, and weanus.

Ken Ham, and YECs at large, all use the term "kind" to delineate between different types of animals. They do this because the Bible uses that term. The problem is that neither the YECs nor the Bible ever explains just what a "kind" is. Thus, you hear them refer to the "dog" kind as we do in in this video. But what does that mean? The only clue given in the Bible is a reference to being able to breed "after its own kind." But that presents a real problem for creationists, for example, there cannot be a "primate" kind, since chimps and apes cannot interbreed, thus they are each in their own kind. There cannot be a "snake" kind for the same reason. Furthermore, when you look at the "dog" kind that Ken Ham refers to, you see that he does not define "kind" in that way at all. The reason is he includes domesticated dogs, dingos, wolves all in the same kind. A wolf can no more breed with a dingo than a mountain lion can. So it becomes clear that "kind" cannot be defined by breeding ability as Ken claims. This means that, Ken can make the claim to a "primate" kind, and a "snake" kind and a "dog" kind without ever explaining what it is that distinguishes them. He does this because there can be no way to generalize what it means to be a kind. Is there only one "bacteria" kind or thousands?

We have some tantalizing clues from the Bible that shows just how far into the land of make-believe Ken Ham wanders. Genesis specifically says that Noah brought aboard doves and raven. It does not say the "bird" kind. Thus there must be a more specific meaning to kind than dog, cat, snake, pachyderm, etc. That, has the real disasterous effect on Ham's belief that the ark was real, because by this narrowing down of "kind" there becomes too many "kinds" of animals to have fit on the ark, and survived a year in sealed-off capitivty. But getting into an explanation of just how absurd Noah's ark really is, is far beyond the scope of this post.

The same is true for his use of the word "information." What does he define it to mean? It cannont mean what everyone else defines it as, since he says there is no increase of information -- ever -- without intelligent assistance. That means that when hydrogen fuses to form helium, neutrons, and gammas, there is a loss of information. This is simply wrong. Just consider the helium atom alone, and you quickly see that there is a huge increase of information. There are vastly more excited states of the electronic shell configuration than found in hydrogen, as also in the nucleus. The structure of the helium atom is more complex than the hydrogen atom, requiring an increase of information. Even if you consider the total information contained in the four hydrogen atoms before they fuse together into one helium atoms there is still an increase of information.

Information can even be increased in ways that we do not grasp. For example, a random letter generator, using radioactive decay intervals to determine the letter produced (1 ns = A, 2 ns = F, 3 ns = M, 4 ns = B, etc.) A string of information is produced, e.g. "AGKLTIDNVYOIDJCVMHYRIODCKFHGRJY" That looks like meaningless garble to us, but to some device capable of understanding it, it could be quite meaningful, if could be the translation of "To be, or not to be. That is the question." So, generating new information occurs all the time, all around us, and without our knowledge or consent. Not recognizing it is the fault of our intelligence, not the lack of its existence. Our understanding the meaning of information does not preclude unrecognizable or even random information. Yet for Ken Ham, if we do not see it as containing something recognizable, then it is not information.

Information is created and lost all the time. Consider a very pitted and jagged rock. Describing its surface would constitute a very large amouont of information. But throw that rock in a river ,and years later, it will be very smooth and featureless. That same rock could be said to have lost information. But consider the origin of that same rock, it was once liquid magma, with virtually no surface information. Then it got spit out of a volcano, cooled and crystalized, gaining huge amounts of information. Thus we can even go so far as to see a cycle of information gain and loss. It is only the confusing and altering the meanign of the word information that creationists can get the result they want; that being no new information. They change the definition of information whenever it suits them, so that they can exclude whatever they find necessary, then later sneak the definition back in when they need to explain something else. It is this shiftiness that proves their argument has no merit whatsoever.

This is where we wander into mutation and natural selection. And where Ken Ham makes his most dishonest claims. Considering that he does no more than simply shrugs off the idea of mutation as nothing but a loss of information (again, whatever he means by that term), and then moves on. He apparently accepts natural selection though. I guess he could no longer ignore the proof of it, as even natural selection was at one time denied (and still is) in some creationist circles. He mangles the meaning of mutations so much as to make it wholly unrecognizable in biological science. Mutations are never positive or negative when they crop up, as this would most often lead to them being selected out of the given population. They most often occur as completely neutral in their effect. They create no ready change in the biology of the organism. For example, a mutation can affect one amino acid in one protein, and that change has minimal or no effect on the function of that protein. It is only when that protein is coopted by another set of genes that the mutation shows an effect' It can make it bond with another molecule easier, for example. Mutations can also involve copying. A gene or set of genes can become copied within a chromosome, and have no effect on the function of the chromosome, until a mutation occurs and makes this duplicate gene(s) perform some other function. That is an increase of information, and one that happens quite frequently. We have observed this occur not just in the lab, but in nature as well. We have witnessed an increase of information.

This effect of mutation is then fed into natural selection. The frequency of the copied/mutated gene(s) spreads throughout a localized population, if it benefits the population in some way (makes it better suited to its environment). This makes the local population just a little different than the same species in other locations. The catch is, those other locations are undergoing similar mutation/selection chyanges as well. As the accumulation of these tiny differences increases, soon a threshold is passed where members from the species from different populations either can no longer interbreed, or no longer are willing to. This point is where speciation occurs. It is not something that is never seen, or only took place millions of years ago, it happens all the time, and still occurs today. Spreading untruths about this process is what people like Ken Ham do best.

But lets look for a moment at Ken Ham's version of natural selection. He says some proto-"dog" kind was aboard the ark. It bred and spread, creating seperate populations where selection took over, and created new "dog" breeds. He claims this was all a loss of information. That the proto-"dogs" aboard the ark were front-loaded with all the genetic information for all types of dog and wolf and dingo, etc. That as they spread out, each type lost the information of the other types, and thus lost the ability to interbreed. This makes perfect sense doesn't it? Not really. Because it ignores reality, what we see and know to be true. We have seen many instances where bacteria gain information, for example, the ability to digest nylon. They did not possess the genetic information prior to the existence of nylon, and suddenly today they have it. It is a gain of information, it is a new feature of bacteria where none existed before.

Now I won't even go into how Ken was simply deceiving his audience when he said that the proto-"dog" kind contained all the information and each new type of "dog" that came about did so as a loss of information. This would mean that there can be no novel information in one species that didn't exist in its parent species. The problem is that this is the exact opposite of what we see in real life. Again, this contradicts mutation/copying/selection that we know to occur. Ken Ham can only be right if he ignores the facts. It is not a matter of interpretation of the facts, because he simply denies they exist.

[Note: in part II, Ham does mention some of this. He discusses bacteria and resistance, but again falls back on the tired and wrong, "only a loss of information". But his examples are so distorted that anyone with any biology knowledge can quickly and easily prove him wrong. The closest he gets to saying something accurate, is when he says that bacteria with resistance survive, and those without it don't. But that isn't even half the story. I am sorry but explaining this fully is way beyond my capabilities, I would suggest reading a real biology text (not Creationist You-can-be-a-doctorate-in-biology-in-15-minutes-by-watching-my-video garbage). But for a quick fix, the truth can always be found at talk.origins. For example here, and here.]

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Perspectives: Science and Scientism

Science is a beautiful endeavor. It strives to solve the mysteries of the Universe one fact at a time. This comes in a number of different flavors; physics, biology, cosmology, chemistry, even pure mathematics. Science does not, however, even touch on the mysteries of life ("Why are we here," "What is the meanig of life"). Because of this we have such things as philosophy and theology; although those human schools long predate science. Since those schools of intellectual thought are mutually exclusive, there should never be any conflict between them. This is not what we witness to be true though. We see theology fighting science in biology (evolution and creationism), physics (age of the universe), chemistry ('violation' of the second law of thermodynamics) and cosmology (big bang and the origin of the universe). Because science sets as its goal understanding how these things work, by finding facts and generating theories on the mechanics of the universe, it treads onto theological grounds. Facts generally work against theology. This encroachment is scientism.

To state it bluntly, I think theology is a total waste of human effort. Why concentrate on understanding a nonexistent god? It is like creating a new field of human intellectualism, Santology; the study of Santa Claus. Philosophy, on the other hand, is quite useful to humanity, it is ethics and temperment. Philosophy can be the 'brakes' of technology; the offspring of science. This is scientism, the application of science to the human condition.

Now that we have sketched out a brief idea of science and scientism, let's look at their importance to humanity. First some counter-perspective from an ardent YEC Christian, our old friend Ray Comfort. He appeared on the Hellbound Alleee radio show (thanks to Brent Rasmussen of UTI) and explained how atheists don't really exist. He was approaching science from a theological point of view and messed up how atheists really think (our friend, scientism).

Ray's argument was one of anti-reductionism, horribly mangled of course. His claim was that the only way to be a true atheist is to know everything (omniscience). This is one of the classic intuitive arguments made by Christians, in that it sounds correct, but as soon as one thinks about it, it is completely wrong. His claim that the only way to know that there is no God is know everything can be proven false by many methods. For example, you don't have to know everything to know that Frankenstein's Monster does not exist. This is the idea that it is impossible to prove a negative. But that is not always true. If the proof can be changed to proving a positive, based on a limited data set, then it can be done. This is saying that one can acquire a set of facts which makes something impossible. We can say here that the 'science' of reanimating dead tissues contradicts known biological and physical principles. In this example, one has the fact that electricity does not animate dead cells. Also, the medical technology of the time period could not reconnect nerve cells of severed body parts. Thus based on these two facts alone, the monster could not have been a reality (this is ignoring the obvious that Frankenstein was a work of fiction by Mary Shelley).

A second method is less rigorous, but equally as effective. Instead of knowing everything, one can know only a limited set of facts, and rule out certain possibilities based on them being highly improbable. In our current case, we can say that based on what we know, nothing supernatural has even be shown to occur. An example of this is UFO sightings. The only evidence that alien life forms have visited Earth is anecdotal. There has been no known physical evidence of their existence. In this situation, the only proof is eyewitness accounts. But this alone is very shakey proof. The reason is that it relies solely on the witnesses being able to accurately interpret what they are experiencing. Colored lights moving in the sky can resemble a UFO to an observer, but it would only be an actual UFO if that observer knew for certain that there was no other explanation. In other words, if the witness could provably rule out natural phenomena such as lightning, aurora borealis, and manmade phenomena such as planes, balloons, etc. But this situation can never be the case because there would always be some previously unconsidered possibility the the witness was unaware of. Because there can always be an explanation of something that the witnesses cannot account for, or even that the people who hear the witnesses' story cannot account for, then the truth would always be tenative. This goes double for miracles and supernatural gods. Centuries, or even millenia, ago, some natural event would have been construed as a miracle, but when judged against today's science, it is trivially explainable. (The sun rising in the east and setting in the west is a perfect example -- it is today know to be due to the Earth's rotation, but then was attributed to the actions of the gods.) So, simply invoking eyewitness testimony as proof of God really provides us with nothing evidenciary. Applying this to proving God, what we learn is that nothing has been offered as proof of the existence of God other than eyewitness testimony, and that everything once attributed to miraculous intervention of God has been explained through naturalistic processes. Thus one can make the claim based on this data set, that there is no God -- even though the data is incomplete. the rebuttal to this is the last bastion of religion -- the "God of the Gaps" theory.

Now it is time to invoke science and scientism.

Science provides the data set -- facts about our universe. Science takes those facts and creates theories as to how the universe operates. We have theories of gravity, relativism, germ and infection, planetary motion, and evolution. Those are all worked out based on the facts we observe and demonstrate in labs. They are theories because they fit all known data best. These theories constitute the nature of the universe. Scientism takes these theories and extends them into the philosophical. Why are these theories important to humanity? Does understanding how the universe works shed any light onto our existence, purpose, and future? Does knowing the universe give any meaning or purpose to life? Can it guide morality?

All those questions can be answered and can benefit humanity. We can get clues to human morality through science -- we can extend life, happiness through beneficial application of science knowledge. WE can do this as well as the opposite, develop nuclear weapons that can kill everything, dangerous germs, and even control emotion and sexuality through chemistry. How we use that is guided through scientism and philosophy. This is based on one simple premise. that preserving humanity and the environment we depend on is the ultimate 'good' and destroying that is the ultimate 'evil'. that is, aiding civilization is the moral goal. Science and scientism are not the sole means of doing this, thus we have philosophy, but in this scientific era, they are certainly a crucial, make that indispensible, realm of philosophy.

Thus science does not have to be cold and calculating, it is also warm and enlightening of the human condition. It can play a role in the 'meaning' of life.

This effect, rather this encroachment into the world of meaning by science is the threat to theology that is most feared by theists. Those who are willing to make their belief in God more abstract, less involved can make this transition easier. This is why liberal Christians see no problem with science. It also explains the threat that conservative Christians perceive. The more rigid your view of theology is, the less able you are to let science take over certain aspects. Again, my favorite example is the delicate balance of creationism to the need of Jesus' death and resurrection. Without a young Earth and a literal original sin, their religion crumbles, their Bible becomes a myth rather than a history book. Thus they fight science and its subsequent scientism fiercely. If God becomes aquaint notion that is no longer possible via science, then their entire worldview dissolves.

This is exactly why they only have as their weapon to destroy science intuition. And with this intuition comes a prerequisite ignorance of the reality of science. Because intuition fails quickly in the face of fact. What seemed intuitive, that the only way to prove there is no God is to know everything, is easily dismissed when all known facts and theory is placed up against it. Intuition fails when fact prevails.

Beauty and the elegance of the universe remain even when the myth of gods are eliminated. This is because we as humans have the capacity to perceive the beauty in and of itself. Meaning comes from the ability of appreciation. As individuals grasp this, their theology falls away like Linus' baby blanket.

Inspired by the WSJ column of Kevin Shapiro.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Girlfriend blogging II

Since I have no other advertising, I thought I'd give a link to my girlfriend's web site. She's been begging me to do this, and you know how I'll get paid.....

Check it out!

All-About-Gifts .. Sunglasses and more!

Friday, May 05, 2006

AiG response -- and my response to it

Please note: I edited out all the irrelevant comments from my original email, leaving only those that the "Answers Department" replied to, or that I thought they ignored, but which should have responded to (in other words, all the snark is right out.)
My original comment is labeled in black, Aig in red, and my response in green.

For a complete copy of my original letter, see here.

[Jeffperado:] I was wondering why the authors chose to attack the NYT article instead of the actual science articles (there were two) in Nature. You criticized the (NYT) article for using "cautionary" words, and the NYT for being the secular press.

[Aig:] I couldn't find anywhere in our article where we criticized the NYT for being secular. What we criticized them for was the fact that since they were a secular press, they should not be so biased in favor of the evolutionists' point of view.

[Response:] Actually, your comment is somewhat true, you do, in fact, use "secular" as a codeword. But the fact remains that the accusation is apparent in the original AiG article. I guess I should rephrase it to say that you use "secular" to suggest to your readers that it is not being fair to creationist thought. In other words, the use of "secular" means to your readers that it is anti-Christian, and all your readers recognize this immediately. But secular to all others means unbiased by generally accepted principles of the press. For example, you would never see the Washington Post (or the NY Post for that matter) refer to the NYT as being "secular" Thus it has a secondary meaning picked up by your readers, and that is what I was referring to.

Point two: You still refused to acknowledge that the authors refused to attack the actual science articles at all, choosing to attack the NYT article instead. Real science (and real scientists) would have used as their basis the actual Nature articles. Thus, again, AiG is not science, rather propaganda.

[Jeffperado:] It should have been obvious to both Dr. David Menton and Mark Looy that the NYT had to use cautionary terms because it is 'secular'; that is the NYT has creationist readers as well as reality-based readers, so it has to cater to those creationist readers by including such cautious' terms.

[Aig:] So where in the NYT article did they 'cater to ... creationist readers'? They are simply using the cautionary words of the evolutionary scientists themselves, which we point out should alert people to the fact that their arguments for the proof of 'missing links' is anything but watertight.

[Response:] Let me clear up a point here. In real science, everything known is "cautionary" The theory of gravity is cautionary. We have the "law of gravity" (simplified as F=MG here on Earth) but it is still cautionary, as Einstein proved that gravity can be affected by other forces, and thus is not constant everywhere and everytime in space. Quantum Mechanics is "cautionary" in that there is a probabilistic nature to it. Then getting into more advanced physics, it is even more "cautionary". The point is thus, our knowledge and our theories are based on what we know to be fact. But since we do not know every single last fact in the universe, we must be "cautionary". But being "cautionary" does not equate to being wrong. It means we have the best explanation given what we know.

You should know this by now: Every time real science uncovers a "missing link" two new gaps are created, making necessary two new "missing links". This should make creationists very happy! So you should be proclaiming the now new existence of TWO missing links where there used to be just one!

[Jeffperado:] So why attack science,

[Aig:] Where did we attack science?

[Response:] Again, what I am saying: The NYT is not science. The NYT is popular press. Using the NYT to "prove" the actual science performed on these fossils is wrong, it is attacking science. If you want to show your point is correct from a science standpoint. DO NOT use the NYT, rather use the actual two Nature articles. That is how you attacked science, by proxy.

[Jeffperado:] Why not use the articles of the actual scientists who made the claims?
I would venture a guess that the reason is that the scientists didn't use those 'cautionary' terms that you built the majority of your response around.

[Aig:] Evolutionary scientists use these and other cautionary words all the time, but most people do not know how to interpret them (i.e. evolution is just a big guess!). See the link below, which was highlighted as a link in our article.
Obviously you did not follow it to see what it had to say.

[Response:] This is true. Real science does use tenative terms when discussing new breakthroughs. But to call that "cautionary" is improper. It is like calling a child a "short" adult. The child is not an adult, and it is typical height for its age. Science uses tenative terms because more knowledge is out there yet to be discovered. That does not mean it is "cautionary" which is suggestive of likely being wrong.

[Jeffperado:] No matter what your reasoning was, it is dishonest and deceptive to your readers.

[Aig:] Where is the deception and dishonesty?

[Response:] The deception is that you did not answer even one single question. You answered with responses that were not the subject of my questions. That dodginess is what I call deception. The dishonesty is that you say things that you either know to be untrue, or are simply unaware of the real truth, either way, it is dishonest. I will prove this throughout this response to your response. But the best example of AiG's deceptiveness is using the NYT in place of the real Nature articles to attack the credibility of the discovery.

[Jeffperado:] [I]t is easy to pick on the NYT, but you seemed to ignore the real challenge the actual science articles.

[Aig:] Can you provide us with some good examples of pro-creationist writing in the NYT to balance their evolutionary reporting?


This was just a quick google of "creationism" and "intelligent design" at the NYT. And again, it is easy for you to pick on the NYT, but that is not the heart of the science is it? This is precisely why AiG was being deceptive -- they were passing off the NYT as the actual science.

[Jeffperado:] Then out of the blue, the authors wrote: "For the moment, we can confidently state that evolutionists have no examples of mutations or evolutionary processes that can lead to an increase in genetic information[...]" What does genetics have to do with the paleontological facts? No one claimed there was an 'increase in information' concerning this fossil.

[Aig:] I quote from the NYT article: "other scientists were not so reticent. They said this should undercut the creationists' argument that there is no evidence in the fossil record of one kind of creature becoming another kind." In order for one kind of creature to become another kind, new genetic information would have to be added to its gene pool, which has never been demonstrated.

[Response:] Here is a perfect example of the AiG being dishonest. The article does not speak of "information" or of "genetic information" at all. That quote is a quote referring to creationism. It is NOT a quote discussing the actual genetic information contained in the fossil at all. The fact that genetics was involved in the original creature is completely irrelevant. No one, not a real scientist or a creationist, would dispute that the original creature was based on genetic information. But the truth is, and what you are obscuring is that the fossil itself, and the study of it, had nothing to do with genetics or any sort of "information increase" at all. It was purely, 100%, a study of macroscopic feature preserved. Surely even the "scientists" at AiG would recognize that there was exactly zero genetic material in the fossil, and there were exactly zero molecules or atoms in the fossil that were present in the living creature. Thus no matter how you word it, this was not a study about information increase. Again I will say that the genetic and microscopic study of how this creature came to be will take years and has not yet even begun. Thus to even bring the topic up now is purely meant to confuse your readers.

[Jeffperado:] The evidence being discussed was macroscopic in nature, while genetics are molecular in nature,

[Aig:] Again you are showing your ignorance of the nature of biological change. Please tell me how macroscopic changes would come about without first having changes at the molecular level.

[Response:] Again, you are mixing apples with oranges. THERE WAS NOT ONE MOLECULE OF DNA OR ANYTHING OF THE ORIGINAL LIVING CREATURE FOUND. Thus there was no study done at all of genetics in this creature. All that was studied were the features found. Again, I will say this: Of course the living specimen was a product of genetics, but that was not the focus of the science article. There was no genetic material present, so no science of that was possible. So, again, everything you argued was merely smoke and mirrors.

[Jeffperado:] My question to the authors is what you think the definition of 'transitional' is, if it doesn't mean intermediary, possessing some features of fish and land animals, but not all the features of either? How do you define transitional then?

[Response:] Since AiG chose not to comment, I take it that they had nothing to say in their defense.

[Jeffperado:] My question is what research? The AiG, ICR, or any creationist 'researchers' are free to examine the fossils, but the truth is no creationist actually ever does any research at all. A thorough examination of the AiG q&a, and creationism journal turns up zero research. You never do any research. All that does appear are articles disputing what scientists claim, and that is not research. It is commentary, pure and simple.

[Response:] No comment from AiG. The reason is it is true; AiG does no original research.

[Jeffperado:] In this very article you make the claim of species being static, or only 'losing information' (whatever that means). Yet where is any research by even one creationist scientist investigating what the mechanism that acts as a 'stop sign' to prevent microevolutionary (variation within a species) changes from adding up to a macroevolutionary (a new species evolving from an old species) change? Surely if you claim to accept that small evolutionary changes occur within a species, then you could develop a research program that determines what mechanism prevents those changes from creating a new species... Is it a genetic 'stop sign' or something else? Do some actual research, and not just critiquing real research and calling that 'research' and you might gain some respect from real scientists.

[Aig:] Obviously you are unaware of the new scientific information that creationist PhD scientists have just published. See the link:

Please read this voluminous peer-reviewed book before criticizing creation scientists any further.

[Response:] I am familiar with creationist "peer reviewing" it is nothing more than proof-reading. I have read it all before, and I will read this as well. But there will be nothing new in it, as every new creationist book or article is simply rehashing old and widely debunked creationist arguments. I can guess right now what it contains: peppered moths, Piltdown Man hoax etc., no evidence of transitional fossils (even though even the authors here admit this find is a transitional fossil), information increase not possible, and basically just retelling Henry Morris throughout with just a fresh coat of paint.

P.S. However, if you care to send me a complimentary copy of this book, I will be happy to read it, and will even return it with notes on how it deceives and is dishonest.

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