Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Let's go ride a Bike

This is hilarious. ID Proponents used the metaphor a bicycle to explain irreducible complexity, and it has backfired with hilarious results!!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Where we need change

If you've ever participated in an online discussion group about atheism or evolution, you are probably familiar with people who come in "just to learn". They ask a question or two, and before you know it they caricaturing your position, spewing ignorance, and just generally being dumbasses.

The problem is that it can be hard to tell honest inquirers from dumbasses (at first), and so sometimes honest inquirers are treated badly because the atheist/evolutionist/other rational person has learned time and again not to even deal with the alleged "honest inquirer".

Well, guess what. I had a legitimate question about evolution, I posted it on the discussion group, and I was not only mistaken for a troll but also treated very poorly.

Here was my post:

"Subject: Michael Behe's Argument Against Indirect Pathways to Irreducible Complexity

On pages 65-67 of his book. Its hard to figure out just what he is arguing. He talks about parts not being able to fit together and about problems with the evolution of the cilia.
Can anyone help me understand this and also link to some rebuttals? I know of the rebuttals to IC, I just want refutations of his argument against the indirect evolutionary pathways to IC."

I later posted the following to clarify what Behe was saying:

"A motor protein that has been transporting cargo along a cellular highway might not have the strength necessary to push two microtubules relative to each other... A Nexin Linker would have to be exactly the right size before it was useful at all. Creating the cilium inside the cell would be counterproductive, it would need to extend from the cell. The necessary components would have to come together at the right place at the right time, even assuming they were all pre- existing in the cell." - Michael Behe, page 203, The Case for a Creator

How was my question met? With recommendations for Ken Miller's book, rudeness, and a guy who thought he could answer this by simply pointing out that a large number of bacteria have existed on the earth [Which may mean that highly unlikely mutations can happen, a flagellum isn't something that will assemble in a lucky mutant bacteria].

It seems people are avoiding the question. I understand that their are trolls, but why do these people find themselves unable to answer a simple question?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Goal for the New Year

If you recall, a few days ago I blogged about my desire to write a book. This book would serve as a comprehensive rebuttal to all the Abrahamic faiths as well as theism in general. It would also present a positive case for metaphysical naturalism (The view that all things are natural, there are no supernatural phenomena).

I've just begun to do some research on the subject, and although I feel that I have (for the most part) a good idea of what I will read, watch, and think on, there are a couple of issues which I have very little idea of what to look for in the way of research. Here are two:

1. Philosophy of Logic. What exactly are the different positions philosophers take about the origin and nature of logic? My own thought is that the existence of language necessitates logic (I'll explain this at the end of the post). Then again, I picked up this idea from reading Richard Carrier's book, Sense and Goodness without God, and although I think Carrier is an excellent thinker, it would be foolish of me to write a book without thoroughly examining the different philosophical positions on the issue. And that's the problem: I have no idea where or how to research this seemingly obscure and peripheral philosophical issue. If anyone could tell me I would be greatly appreciative.

2. Cult Psychology and Paranormal Phenomena. I need to figure out what the plausible explanations for Jesus' alleged resurrection are. If there are any such explanations (Maybe there aren't, I am open to, though highly skeptical of, the possibilty of a miracle) I expect them to be found within the study of cult psychology as well as within the study of alleged paranormal phenomena (How often do people experience someone after they are dead? Have they ever experienced them in groups?

I also am looking for those with any sort of degree or experience in the following areas:
Biology, Physics, Philosophy, New Testament Studies, Psychology (particularly dealing with the things I mentioned in item 2).

I need people with experience in these areas who would be willing to read drafts of the chapters I write dealing with those relevant topics so that I can have someone to critique (and offer suggestions for) the chapter.

P.S. I said I would explain my views on logic being necessitated by language. Here is a quote from Carrier which explains his view:

Logic is analytical, and all analytical statements are artificial. What we call "logic" or the "rules of reason" are actually nothing more than language. If a language exists, then by definition logic exists, because without logic you can communicate nothing. It follows, then, that if you are communicating something, logic exists, for it must be inherent in the very rules which allow the communication to occur.

It works like this: the only way I can communicate to you that "my cat is white" is if you and I both agree to certain arbitrary rules, called a 'code', which we invent and decide to follow. This allows me to know that you will know what the sounds "my" and "cat" and "is" and "white" will stand for. They are "code words" for our experiences. I point to a white wall and you and I agree that we will call what we both see there "white," and so on. It takes a bit more effort than that, but learning a language reduces to essentially this. Then, when I shout "white" to you, you will remember our agreement about what that would be a code for, and I will have communicated something to you. We invent these rules for this very purpose. If you and I refused to decide on any rules, or did not obey the rules we decided on, we would be unable to communicate.
All logic arises from these manmade rules. Consider the universal, fundamental principle of non-contradiction: something cannot both be and not be. For example, my cat cannot be both all white and all black. Why not? Suppose I were to tell you "my cat is all white and all black." You would look up these words and follow the rules in our mutual codebook, but you would not be able to make this statement correspond to anything in your experience. The rules would not be able to match this code with any agreed-upon meaning. Consequently, I have communicated nothing to you. This is because "black" means, among other things, not white, as we have agreed.
Since this is all manmade you might think that all we have to do is assign a meaning to this statement, and it will then be able to communicate something. But what meaning will we assign? There's the rub. Can we assign it a meaning that will be consistent with all our other rules? No, we cannot--because we decided beforehand that we would use the word "black" to refer to certain non-white things. Thus, the only way to create a meaning that will obey our own rules is to change the rules, and hence the meaning, of the words that conflict, but then they won't conflict. In other words, the law of non-contradiction is simply a natural feature of any consistent set of rules. Indeed, this is a tautology: What is a consistent set of rules? A set of rules that never produces a contradiction.

So then you might think we can escape this by "deciding" not to have a consistent set of rules. But we have already seen that we cannot communicate anything with an inconsistent set of rules--because we have to follow the rules in order to communicate, and we can't "follow" inconsistent rules. Thus, we are stuck. Either we have contradictions, but no language, or we rule out contradictions and communicate. This is a simple fact that we observe about the universe. Now, you might say that perhaps there are things that can exist but cannot be communicated. But if they can be experienced, then they can be given a code name, and can thus be communicated to anyone who has experienced the same thing and knows the code word for it.
Perhaps you might propose instead that it is possible to have a universe where a contradiction could communicate something, where it could actually describe something that we can experience or imagine. But since we all see that we do not live in such a universe, since we cannot even imagine it, it doesn't matter if it is possible. More sophisticated versions of either TAG or the argument from reason claim that this inability to experience or imagine a contradiction may simply be a limitation in our construction, or an error in our brain or senses. But if something can affect us in any way, it follows that we can experience it, and thus imagine it, by reference to that effect. If something existed that could never, even in principle, affect us in any way, its existence would be of no consequence to us. More importantly, no kind of sensation could ever experience that thing, because to sense something is, by definition, to be affected by it in some way. Thus it follows that even a god could not make us capable of sensing something that can never affect us. All he could do is make it affect us. Thus, the argument that we are missing some feature of reality is moot--so long as any part of reality can affect us, we can experience it.

If we should discover the ability to imagine and communicate contradictions, we would simply change the way we thought about things, just as we did when the axioms of non-Euclidean geometry were discovered. There is thus nothing that needs to be accounted for here. Logic is explained by what we observe, and it arises automatically the moment we try to create a set of rules for describing those observations. And since reason amounts to nothing more than communicating with ourselves, reason can only exist when we actually communicate something, even if only to ourselves, and such communication is only possible if we construct and use a logic.

There is something more fundamental than that, however: all language begins with discrimination between things that are the same and things that are not, and so if language exists, it follows that the universe has things that are the same and things that are not, which is the very reality that "non-contradiction" refers to. This is even more obvious in the case of inductive inference, where the entire structure of inferential arguments is justified solely and entirely by prior experience: by recalling the reliability of all prior inductive reasoning, we conclude that it works. After all, no one believes that inductive inferences are guaranteed to always work--by definition, they only suggest, they do not "prove" in the same sense deductive inferences do. But either way, why are we justified in trusting inferences? Because they work. Period. Experience completely explains logic, and completely justifies it--as well as it can ever be justified. So why must we look for some other "ground" for reason?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Intelligent Design, Infinity, and the Cosmos

Philosopher Bradley Monton, whom I have written about previously, has authored a brand new article about whether one can infer design in an infinite universe. He even discusses a piece of evidence suggesting that it really is infinite, based on some findings by WMAP.

Anyway, his article concludes by saying that in an infinite universe, life must happen an infinite number of times even if it is extremely improbable. So the existence of life is no big deal in an infinite universe. But what about if we witnessed a break in the laws of nature? What if, for instance, tomorrow evening some random quantum events lead to the words "Jesus Lives" appearing on the moon. Could we infer God from this (even if the universe is infinite?)? Yes. The reason is that even though things like this would happen an infinite number of times in an infinite universe, it would be incredibly rare for intelligent beings to actually witness this. Miracles like these would not be expected to happen in a godless world, but they would be expected to happen if God exists. So a miracle like the one I described above would make the existence of God, if not proven, highly probable.

So what has Monton done? He's shown how the IDers' main arguments fall flat while still allowing for the possibility of God.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Origin of life Research

Via Sciencedaily.

RNA, the single-stranded precursor to DNA, normally expands one nucleic base at a time, growing sequentially like a linked chain. The problem is that in the primordial world RNA molecules didn't have enzymes to catalyze this reaction, and while RNA growth can proceed naturally, the rate would be so slow the RNA could never get more than a few pieces long (for as nucleic bases attach to one end, they can also drop off the other).

Ernesto Di Mauro and colleagues examined if there was some mechanism to overcome this thermodynamic barrier, by incubating short RNA fragments in water of different temperatures and pH.

They found that under favorable conditions (acidic environment and temperature lower than 70 degrees Celsius), pieces ranging from 10-24 in length could naturally fuse into larger fragments, generally within 14 hours.

The RNA fragments came together as double-stranded structures then joined at the ends. The fragments did not have to be the same size, but the efficiency of the reactions was dependent on fragment size (larger is better, though efficiency drops again after reaching around 100) and the similarity of the fragment sequences.

The researchers note that this spontaneous fusing, or ligation, would a simple way for RNA to overcome initial barriers to growth and reach a biologically important size; at around 100 bases long, RNA molecules can begin to fold into functional, 3D shapes.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Evolutionblog and Young Earthism

Jason Rosenhouse, over at Evolutionblog, has reviewed a young earth creationist book. Definitely worth reading to see how shallow, dumb, and immune to evidence YEC's are.

He also says something I agree with: The writers of Genesis probably didn't mean to tell an allegorical story representing billions of years of evolution in their six day creation account.

That's fairly easy for me to accept, but I would never force that view on a Christian as it is possible to interpret Genesis that way (It just seems to me that it probably isn't what the original story teller meant). Anyway, enjoy the review.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I want to write a book...

It's ambitious, I know. Sometimes I think about it but quickly tell myself, "I do not know enough to write a book."

Then again, other times I think I could do it if I could just read and study for several months [to find the necessary information to write this book].

So here's my imaginary book: A comprehensive rebuttal to theism (In Christian, Judaic, Islamic, and perhaps Buddhist forms) and a positive, compelling case for metaphysical naturalism.

For example, I would address all the usual arguments for God (As I do on my website) but more effectively and comprehensively. For instance, I would consider obscure arguments like the "Argument from Contingency". I would consider not just the usual formulation of the ontological argument, but also those put forth by Rene Descartes and Alvin Plantinga.

There will also be a section defending the evidence for evolution against all those who would attack it. For instance, homology would be shown and I would rebutt the claim that it may stand as evidence for a common designer (as I have before). Although there would be no way for me to rebutt every creationist claim (As Mark Isaak has, in his book An Index to Creationist Claims) I could go over the main creationist objections and offer several references for those who want to learn why creationist arguments don't work.

I would also address questions about how consciousness could be in a naturalistic universe, how the universe came to be (We don't know, but we do have several excellent speculations to put forth) and so on.

Here's the thing: To write this, I'm going to need to read a lot more books, peer reviewed papers, and so on in order for me to have the knowledge and confidence to write something like this. This means I either need to know in advance that a good many people are going to want to buy my book, or that I have someone who will back me financially (I don't think it would be expensive, perhaps just two or three hundred dollars) or several people who could give lesser donations which would add up to the total amount. If have people sponsor me, I'm planning on offering my book online for free and only charging those who want a paperback. If I am not, I plan on selling the book for probably about $9.95

But I still need to know if anyone's interested: Please leave a comment or email me if you are

Ryansarcade AT Yahoo DOT Com

(Remove Obvious Spam filter)


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Answers in Genesis on Christmas

AiG has written an article attempting to answer the question, "Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?" While they mention Saturnalia as being related to Christmas, they don't clearly identify the fact that Christmas is basically a pagan holiday with Christian meaning tacked on to it. Everything about Christmas, from the tree to the mistletoe, is pagan.

However, things get weird as they try to identify Cronus (Saturn) with a biblical character! I'm not sure how accurate their information is, as history isn't really my subject and they give no references for their information. However, I'm inclined to be suspicious, namely because of the self serving interpretation of history they have:

"The land of Greece was inhabited by the descendants of Noah’s grandson Javan. In fact, the Hebrew name for Greece is still Javan. Javan had 4 sons, and they were:

Kittem (Cethimus)
Rodanim (Dodanim)

In Greece and the surrounding area, these names are still a reflection on the landscape. Many of Javan’s sons’ names and variants have cities, islands, and other geographical features named for them. Paul, the biblical author of two-thirds of the New Testament came from “Tarsus,” a variant of Tarshish. There were also the “Taurus” mountains in Turkey, and the “Tanais” is the old name for the Don River flowing into the Black Sea.
Eliseans was the old name of the ancient Greek tribe now called the Aeolians. Cethimus inhabited the island Cethima, from which the name of the island Cyprus was derived. (Josephus, a Jewish historian about 2,000 years ago, elaborated on these relationships in more detail.)
Many of the characters of Greek mythology are based on real historical figures who were raised up to godlike status. One example here is “Hellen,” the alleged mythological patriarch and god of the Aeolians (or Elisians). Hellen (Ἕλλην) is likely a variant of Elishah.3 Even in other cultures, ancestors were often deified; for example, in Germanic and Norse mythologies there is Tiras (Tyras, Tiwaz, Tyr), who was the king of the gods and also happens to be one of Noah’s grandsons (Genesis 10:2).
So it makes sense that Cronus/Kronos (Κρόνος), a variant of Cethimas/Kittem, could have been raised up to godlike status. Considering that Noah and his early descendants were living such long lives, it should be obvious why many of these ancestors were raised up to be “god-like.” Not only did they live long lives, but they were obviously the oldest people around and would seem to be the people (gods, demigods) that started civilization. Noah would have been roughly 500 years older than anyone else and his sons approximately 100 years older. We know this was because of the Flood, but the true message would quickly be changed to fit the pagan ideas. Thus it is interesting that this pagan festival was likely born as a result of a suppressed view of a biblical character."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

More Support for a Cold Origin of Life

Some of you may remember an article in Discover Magazine detailing several very interesting experiments which have guided researchers to believe that the origin of life happened in frigid temperatures. Now a new study has come along to support the hypothesis that life began in ice:

"It is generally believed that LUCA was a heat-loving or hyperthermophilic organism. A bit like one of those weird organisms living in the hot vents along the continental ridges deep in the oceans today (above 90 degrees Celsius)," says Nicolas Lartillot, the study's co-author and a bio-informatics professor at the Université de Montréal. "However, our data suggests that LUCA was actually sensitive to warmer temperatures and lived in a climate below 50 degrees."

Friday, December 19, 2008

More on Atheist-Theist Debates

I just listened to a debate between agnostic philosopher Paul Draper and William Lane Craig. It is a must listen! It is by far one of the best debates about theism and atheism I have heard. Draper defends naturalism with intellect, intelligibility, and honesty. You can listen to it here. The best part of it was Draper's evolutionary argument for naturalism: Evolution is necessary on naturalism but not necessary on theism. Therefore, naturalism is more likely than naturalism (Click here if you want to see this argument done justice). Craig responded to this by pulling out Behe's Irreducible Complexity argument and citing some old, long debunked calculations that allegedly showed it was next to impossible for the human race to evolve. The funniest thing about this is Craig's inconsistency: He wants us to accept the empty tomb and other such nonsense because "most scholars agree" it's history, but when a lone biologist and a couple of weird physicists argue against evolution (against the vast majority of biologists), he has no trouble siding with them. I think he just couldn't let himself admit that the evolutionary argument is sound (I'm not claiming it disproces God, it just makes him less likely).

Also, I recently had a discussion with Apologist J.P. Holding about the "Inner Witness" of the Holy Spirit. You may read it here.

P.S. If you want to see more posts like this (about atheist-theist debates) please leave a comment saying so.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Putting Evolution to Use in the Everyday World

A very interesting article on how Evolutionary Theory is used has been posted over at Scientific American. Here's my favorite part:

Evolutionary analyses and criminal investigations hold the same goal of revealing historical events. Their fruitful combination awaited only the maturing of DNA-sequencing technology to provide large data sets, robust quantitative methods, and enlightened integration of science and the legal system.

As with many applications of evolution, the concept of molecular clocks plays a vital role. Changes in many DNA sequences occur at roughly predictable rates over time, forming the basis for molecular clocks. The clocks for two regions of DNA, however, can run at markedly different rates. In the early 1980s geneticists discovered regions of human DNA that evolve very rapidly, and scientists soon pressed these fast-evolving regions into service as genetic markers—unique identifiers of individuals, like fingerprints but with greater detail—in criminal cases and in paternity testing.

Forensic investigators assess specific genetic markers as indicators of links between suspects and crime scene evidence such as a single human hair, lip cells left on a beer can, saliva on envelope flaps and cigarette butts, as well as semen, blood, urine and feces. The most straightforward use is to demonstrate a suspect’s innocence by the nonmatching of his or her markers compared with those of crime scene evidence. Indeed, the Innocence Project, a public policy organization promoting and tracking the use of genetic markers to overturn wrongful convictions, reports that since 1989, nonmatching of genetic markers has exonerated more than 220 people, many of them convicted for rape crimes and some of them on death row.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Darwin and the First Dinosaur Hunters

I found a very interesting article on Livescience today. Here are some neat excerpts:

Dinosaurs feature prominently among the Transactions, including several papers by Rev. William Buckland, who became the Society’s president in 1824. These include the first full description of a dinosaur, developed from lower jaw bones found at quarries near Oxford from a creature he named "Megalosaurus," and published in the Transactions in 1824 under the heading "Notice on the Megalosaurus or great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield." Megalosaurs were carnivorous theropod dinosaurs. Buckland’s interest in dinosaur remains included more than bones. He also carried out a large amount of research into dinosaur coprolites, more commonly known as dung, much of which was published in the pages of the Transactions.

His 1829 paper, "On the Discovery of Coprolites, or Fossil Faeces, in the Lias at Lyme Regis," states that they have "undergone no process of rolling, but retain their natural form, as if they had fallen from the animal into soft mud, and there been preserved," later comparing them to "oblong pebbles or kidney-potatoes."

Dinosaur coprolites are so common that many people sell and collect them today. Of coprolites suspected to be from Ichthyosaurs (large marine reptiles that looked like fish and dolphins), Buckland notes that they seem to contain the bones of other Ichthyosaurs, suggesting that "these monsters of the ancient deep, like many of their successors in our modern oceans, may have devoured the smaller and weaker individuals of their own species."

Like many of the papers, this one contains references to Mary Anning, the famous fossil hunter of Lyme Regis. Elsewhere Buckland credits her directly with the discovery of a new species of Pterodactyl at Lime Regis in 1829, although the paper is published under his own name.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Atheist-Theist Debates

A long, long list of atheist-theist debates has been compiled. Although I think that overall atheists are winning the debates, I have found myself embarassed a time or two for the atheist involved in the debate. For instance:

1. Gordon Stein vs. Greg Bahnsen

Gordon Stein is clearly unfamiliar with presuppositionalist apologetics, and completely embarasses himself by claiming that inductive logic is valid because it's always worked in the past (which is an inductive statement, thus begging the question). Michael Martin has written essays on presuppositionalism here and here. I have my own page on it here.

2. Antony Flew vs. Gary Habermas

In this debate I don't feel that Antony did especially bad, it's just that Habermas was so long winded and Flew didn't have much time to respond. Nevertheless, several points are worth making:

Habermas criticizes the Qu'ran for being composed centuries after the fact (and therefore not historically reliable) but then uses sources which were written many decades after the fact (or which we cannot date precisely). The sole exception are the writings of Paul, which date no less than fifteen years after Jesus' death.

Nevertheless, how do we know that Paul didn't distort, misunderstand, or exaggerate the events surrounding Jesus' death? A few mistaken reports of post-mortem Jesus would be enough to start stories of the Resurrection. An modern day example of this would be the reports of Elvis being seen at a salad bar in Vegas.

Let's look at another example of a plausible explanation for the Resurrection accounts: Let's suppose that a fanatical (but quiet and not well known) follower of Jesus stole the body, pierces his side and hands, and put on a robe and went around making appearances to the disciples. That accounts for everything, including the odd fact that Jesus was not recognized at first by his followers (Luke 24:15-16).

Another thing Habermas states is that the apostles all died for their faith. But we have no idea how the disciples died. In fact, in a debate with William Lane Craig, Bart Ehrman asks for evidence that the apostles did in fact willingly die for Christ. No evidence was given.

One final thing: Listen out for Habermas' discussion of near death experiences and see how convincing they sound. We are given no sources, but suppose that Habermas has the story basically correct. Most of the details he reports (a girl who was drowned named a song that was on the radio that evening) can easily be attributed to coincidence. Furthermore, Psychologist Susan Blackmore has thoroughly studied these things (At first believing in life after death, astral planes, etc.) and found that they are false. See here books on the subject here and here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The New Issue of Scientific American

If you know a creationist, one who might be willing to change his/her mind, that is, then buy them the latest issue of Scientific American and make (I mean ask) them to read the whole damn thing. The entire issure is a tribute to the greatest idea ever to occur to a human being: Evolution by Natural Selection. There are many examples of (directly observed) natural selection. There are examples of how evolutionary theory is used in crime scene investigation (something I never knew!), medicine, and so on. Neil Shubin even wrote a piece explaining how the quirks of the human body provide evidence of evolution: We share a common ancestor with sharks, whose testees reside deep inside there bodies. In human beings, the testees are originally in the ancestral position, but slowly descend to the outside of the body: leaving a weak spot in the gut prone to hernias. Odd things like this provide excellent, unusual, and interesting evidence for evolution.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Origin of Life - Harder than I thought

Hi Everyone,

I have recently been looking into abiogenesis a little more and I have come to realize that it is a much bigger problem than I originally realized. You see, previously I had thought that the origin of life was, for the most part, solved and that only a few little gaps remained in our knowledge. Sadly, it is simply not that way. Here are some of the greater problems:

1. The formation of Ribose. This is the "backbone" of RNA, and researchers have not yet managed to find a way to synthesize it under plausibly prebiotic conditions. Some scientists think that another nucleic acid, such as PNA, came first, but to my knowledge no one knows if a strand of PNA could replicate itself or not.

2. This information was provided to me by Alex over at "The Daily Transcript":

To be able to generate an RNA polymer, you either need the monomers in a "high energy state" or another source of energy. Since RNA polymerase uses NTPs (Nucleotide Triphosphates, or 'active monomers'), the energy that drives the polymerase reaction is derived from the hydrolysis of the extra two phosphates from each monomer. It would be very hard to imagine how such a high energy molecule could be created from non-biotic processes.

3. The protocells created by Dr. Jack Szostak, contrary to the claims of CDK's video on the origin of life, do not qualify as primitive life (CDK states in his followup video, about the origin of the genetic code, that it has been "proven" that life can arise spontaneously by Szostak's experiments). I emailed Dr. Jack Szostak and here is what he wrote in response to my email, asking him if his protocells qualified as life:

Dear Ryan,
The systems we have put together are not yet 'alive', because they cannot replicate their genetic material, and therefore cannot inherit information and evolve. Even we if incorporated a useful ribozyme, for example, it couldn't be passed on to future generations, because we don't yet have an efficient system for RNA replication. This is one of the main things we are working on.

So, as you can see, we are still a ways away from fully grasping the origin of life.

However, this does not mean we should give up: Many other problems for the origin of life, some far worse than this, were solved years ago. For example, DNA cannot form without proteins, but proteins cannot form without DNA. This seemed like an insurmountable problem just a few decades ago, and yet now we know that RNA disposes of this problem. We simply need to avoid having our curiosity satisfied prematurely about life's origins.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Evolution Arguments Headed for the Islamic World"

"[E]volution is taught in high schools in many Muslim countries, although this is often in a very religious environment, Hameed says. Also, science foundations in 14 Muslim countries recently signed on to a statement in support of the teaching of evolution, including human evolution (it is human evolution that is often the sticking point for Muslims, rather than all evolution, he says).

The solution is for Muslim biologists and doctors to present evolutionary theory as the bedrock of biology and to stress its practical applications, Hameed writes, adding that efforts to link evolution with atheism will defeat efforts to help Muslims accept evolution."
-Article from Livescience

I just don't get it. These people are about to fall into the same trap that Europeans and Americans have: Trying hard to pussyfoot around people's beliefs instead of stating outright that there is a conflict. The truth is that Darwin himself (and most of his successors) tried to act like God and Evolution could get along just fine. But they can't. And it gets even worse: All the attempts to comfort the worries of the religious don't seem to have made them anymore likely to accept evolution: Stephen Jay Gould argued over ten years ago that religion and science were completely separate functions of human life, with one never impacting the other. But did this allow Christians to accept evolution? No. Young Earth Creationists are some of the most vociferous opponents of Gould's suggestion.

Even if Genesis' (or in this case the Qu'ran's) creation story could be watered down with enough interpretive work to make it fit with Evolution, we still have the fact that evolution is utterly incompatible with an all knowing, loving, and all powerful god. Think about it: Ken Miller has often argued that Intelligent Design has disturbing theological implications because, since 99% of all species have gone extinct, it means God is either cruel or incompetent (as dinosaurs would represent a grand mistake of the creator). Furthermore, one would have to admit that nasty diseases like Malaria and Smallpox were designed by God. But as Michael Behe has pointed out, setting up a process like evolution, which is bound to result in bad design (the human female's pelvis is not as large as it should be to birth her large headed offspring, thus making childbirth a painful-and deadly-process) and nasty things like parasites, makes God just as responsible as if he had deliberately designed those things in the first place.

We also have the fact that evolution is not an economical way to design human beings: Why waste billions of years guiding the evolutionary process when you could poof human beings into existence? It's like choosing to fill a bath one cup at a time when you could just snap your fingers and instantly have a tub full of warm water.

Evolution is also a good argument for atheism because atheism necessitates a natural cause for the complexity and development of life while theism would seem to predict a supernatural cause for life, or at least a more economical, less nasty natural cause for life than Evolution by natural selection.

So my question is: Why not give the Muslim world a good jumpstart into modernity by just telling them that Evolution is true, and that it severly conflicts with theism?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Secular Alliance in Indiana Make a Kickass Video

Of a visit to the creation museum: Watch it here. Now you don't have to give your money the lying christers at the creation museum.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Historical Jesus

I made a guest post on the "Debunking Christianity" blog talking about some of the arguments for and against a historical Jesus. Read it here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Atheist Sign in Washington, Bill O'Reilly, and Random Shit

I'm not sure how to feel about the Atheist sign in Washington. It says:

"At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

On the one hand, it is great that atheists are getting a place beside the nativity scene. We deserve it. Americans must be consistent: Either take down the nativity scene or let atheists express themselves. On the other hand, maybe they should have chosen something less antireligious. Maybe the sign should've said: "At this time of winter solstice, let us marvel at the beauty and regularity of nature."

Even if the sign was a little edgy, Bill O'Reilly has decided to go overboard in some of his recent comments. Bill thinks that Barack Obama is responsible for the sign. Why? Well, because he was elected, all those damn liberals were emboldened and think that they run the country. It is hard to believe that a dumbass like Bill actually has his own TV show. It is frightening to believe that some Americans actually agree with him.

Bill even had the gall to read a letter from an atheist on his show that said something to the effect of, "Why weren't atheists ever asked how they feel about nativity scenes?" Bill's response (and I quote): "Who cares what you think?" Nuff said.

On a show I saw about a week ago Bill was ranting about how America was founded on Christian principles. This man clearly does not know history. Yes, most of the founding fathers and early patriots were Christians. But a lot of them (Namely Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Paine) were Deists*and there is debate as to whether they were atheists. The Constitution never references the Bible and makes it clear that our nation is to be secular.

* Side note on Deism: Read the Wikipedia description. Deists believe in a natural god and think that religious truths may be discovered in the natural world. This is way closer to metaphysical naturalism than it is to christianity. I might also add that since some deists do not believe god is a conscious person, their belief boils down to a powerful first cause and nothing more, and so it is indistinguishable from atheism.

Finally, I think before Bill goes around proclaiming what America was founded on, he should remember that it was illegal to celebrate Christmas in early New England. Merry Solstice!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Off topic again: Bloggin' about the Resurrection

A debate between evangelist Mike Licona and Agnostic Bart Ehrman. The topic: "Is the Resurrection of Christ Provable?". You can find the first part here.

Bart has really stepped his game up in this debate. I believe he shows, beyond reasonable doubt, that:

1. The gospels are not much more reliable than our sources of other ancient resurrections.
2. The empty tomb story is likely fictional.
3. Experiences of seeing people after they have passed away, even sometimes as a group phenomenon, is not unheard of and not indicative of a supernatural occurance (Bart didn't mention Elvis, but he always comes to my mind when discussing post mortem appearances, lol!).

Also, there have been updates to the debate over at Internet Infidels about whether Paul believed in a spiritual or physical resurrection.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A National Standard for Science Education

Here's a suggestion I ran across ar Change.Org:

"National standards on the teaching of Evolution and the origins of life, decided on and created by top scientists from significant scientific organizations, should direct curricula of all schools nationwide, overriding any state laws on the subjects."

This is especially important to me: I live in Alabama, I was homeschooled for most of my life (recieving a very poor education in evolution from the Christian textbooks my mother bought) and then going to a public high school where evolution was simply not taught. Kids need to learn about evolution because it simplifies and unites so many facts, because they will use it if they decide to take up a career in life science, and because it is true.

Here is a comment from the site I thought was worth preserving:

"... decided on and created by top scientists from significant scientific organizations" is the paramount statement in this idea. Far too often I hear of state education boards being composed of people unqualified to direct actual information. It becomes a farcical circus of ideologies while the future of this nation suffers by not learning facts. Some states are doing okay, but others are actively seeking a return to the Dark Ages. A Federal board of *qualified* members setting a National Curriculum is, at the moment, the only way to reset American standards and return to a competitive stance with the rest of the world.
-User Evan Kelley

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Creationists prove the existence of transitional fossils

Oh boy. Some new homonid fossils were found, and the Discovery Institute claims that they are ape fossils, while Answers in Genesis claims that they are human. Panda's Thumb tells us all about it here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A followup: Letter to the Cincinnati Zoo

If you remember, a few days ago I posted a letter I had written to the Cincinnati Zoo pleading with them to stop selling 'combo tickets' to the zoo and the crackhouse - uh, I mean, creation "museum". Anyway, they decided to cancel the deal and now Ken Ham is sad. So here is PZ Myers' take on the whole deal and so of my comments on the issue (The first part consists of quotes from Ken Ham on the whole issue):

"We are disappointed with the zoo's decision and its impact on the families and visitors to the region who would have enjoyed taking advantage of this opportunity to make this a truly memorable Christmas," said Answers in Genesis and Creation Museum founder and president Ken Ham. "Both the Creation Museum and the Cincinnati Zoo have put together spectacular Christmas displays, and we were excited to partner with them to promote these events in a combination package that would have been of great value to the community." "My family and I have been Cincinnati Zoo members for more than 10 years now, so I am also personally saddened that this organization I esteem so highly would find it necessary to back out of this relationship. At the same time, I have learned that the zoo received hundreds of complaints from what appear to be some very intolerant people, and so I understand the zoo's perspective. Frankly, we are used to this kind of criticism from our opponents, and so being 'expelled' like this is not a huge surprise," Ham continued.

"Our museum will continue to promote this excellent zoo on our website and also in the printed material we pass out inside the museum. We are committed to promoting regional tourism. It's a pity that intolerant people have pushed for our expulsion simply because of our Christian faith. Some of their comments on blogs reveal great intolerance for anything having to do with Christianity," Ham added.

Awww, Ken just wanted to promote regional tourism. It wasn't about trying to get validation from a legitimate research and educational institution, then. Right.
Let's deal with some of his other claims.

They were not attacked for their Christian faith — that is one of the most common dodges of liars and con men and other scoundrels, to hide behind the petticoats of generic 'faith', when what they're actually being criticized for is lying and cheating. Ken Ham's Creation 'Museum' is despised because it is a temple to falsehood.

My Comment: Yep, that's exactly right. If this was a museum about the History of Christianity which did not affirm or deny the truth of Christianity and taught children real historical facts (maybe had an ancient scroll on display or something) no one would have cared. But that isn't what it is: It is a pseudoscientific display which also attempts to drive its sick fundamentalist mentality into everyone who walks through (For instance, it has display in which a former theistic evolutionist is shoveling a grave with a tombstone that says 'God is Dead'). I also want to point out that in my letter to the Zoo I emphasized just what bothered me:

"[T]he Cincinatti Zoo has disgraced itself by associating with a pseudoscientific, deceptive, and ludicrous organization. Any biologist worth his or her salt will recognize the hogwash and misinformation which permeates the Creation Museum. I have written about this in article you may access here:

Ask yourselves: Is this type of nonsensical, propaganda-spewing organization that a reputable center of science should be associating itself with?"

He keeps talking about expulsion and being expelled. Were we more successful than I could have imagined? Is the Creation 'Museum' closed? Are people hindered from visiting it? Have we blocked all ticket sales? No, unfortunately: all we've done is prevented a fraud from acquiring an entirely false veneer of authority by association. Save the martyr's lament for a time when you haven't been caught faking your credibility, Ken.

My comment: Is it bigotry to ask, as a tax-paying citizen, that the Cincinnati Zoo not associate with the Creation 'Museum'? No, just as it would not be bigotry for Christians to ask that nude art stay out of museums (Reguardless of your opinion of that, if enough people protested for it I think it would be reasonable for an art gallery to comply).

I haven't been to the Cincinnati Zoo myself, but I'm willing to accept Ham's claim that it is an excellent organization (I shouldn't, really. Plaudits from Ken Ham is like a good restaurant review from Jeffrey Dahmer.) The zoo's reputation is precisely what Ham was trying to trade on by linking his awful little collection of lies to them. We have successfully defending that good reputation by exposing a tie that would have undermined it.

The only intolerance here is an expectation of rigor, good science, and evidence-based reasoning from an educational institution. It's what we'll continue to promote, as long as hucksters like Ken Ham are out there trying to dilute our standards to allow biblical hogwash to stand on an equal footing with legitimate biology.

Speaking for this blog, I don't have intolerance for Christianity — I simply lack any respect at all for that grand hodge-podge of delusions. We leave the intolerance to Christians, who are historically expert at practicing it.

There's more! Ken Ham has a long whiny blog post up today, complaining about those intolerant evolutionists, and making the same tired complaints I dealt with above.
I can tell that Ham is a bit peeved that we squelched his attempt to ride on the coattails of the zoo.

"While we are saddened"…"These people basically worship Darwin--they worship evolution and cannot tolerate anyone who doesn't agree with them!"…"Sad that someone with an atheistic agenda can cause a business relationship to be dissolved"…"they resort to censorship and underhanded campaigns"…"we are used to such integrity bashing."

But he can't let it slide without trying to pretend it was all alright.

"Thank you, P.Z. Myers, for thousands of dollars' worth of media promotion for our Bible-upholding museum! Actually, this will benefit the Creation Museum much more in the long run."

For the right effect, you have to imagine Ken Ham blubbering that out through his tears. Sure, he got media attention — all of it pointing out that he failed, that he'd tried to sneak in a link to a legitimate educational institution, and that a few people with blogs were able to put a stop to him. He looks rather pathetic, don't you think?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Irreducible Complexity Busted

Ex-Apologist has written an excellent six part series which completely debunks Michael Behe's irreducible complexity argument (the latest installment of which may be found here). I highly recommend it.

In fact, I am adding a link to it on the Irreducible Complexity Page I maintain on my website.

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Letter to the Cincinnati Zoo

UPDATE: This letter was one among dozens which has caused the Cincinnati Zoo to retract its offer. My trust in America has gone up just a little, but not enough to even think about letting my guard down.

Sent to:

In reguards to its decision to join hands with creationists and sell "combo tickets" to get into the creation museum and the CZ for the same price.


I am writing you concerning the Cincinnati Zoo's recent decision to join hands with the Creation "Museum" and sell tickets to both parks at the same price.

In making this decision, the Cincinatti Zoo has disgraced itself by associating with a pseudoscientific, deceptive, and ludicrous organization. Any biologist worth his or her salt will recognize the hogwash and misinformation which permeates the Creation Museum. I have written about this in article you may access here:

Ask yourselves: Is this type of nonsensical, propaganda-spewing organization that a reputable center of science should be associating itself with?

It was also extremely ill timed in making this repulsive and illegitimate business deal: American citizens are less scientifically literate than other first world countries and are also far more hostile to the theory of evolution than the people of other nations. This time calls for Zoos, Museums, Universities to be fighting harder than ever for the understanding of Science, not dampening it by joining arms and giving approval to people out to weaken the understanding of science for religious purposes.

Thank you for your time,

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Teach the Controversey

Must view an excellent essay over at Daylight Atheism about the IDiots' "Teach the Controversey" theme. I'm reposting it:

When two groups of experts disagree about a controversial subject that intersects the public school curriculum students should learn about both perspectives.
In such cases teachers should not teach as true only one competing view, just the Republican or Democratic view of the New Deal in a history class, for example. Instead, teachers should describe competing views to students and explain the arguments for and against these views as made by their chief proponents.

Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the "body of fact" that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy. Within the business we recognise that a controversy exists. However, with the general public the consensus is that cigarettes are in some way harmful to the health. If we are successful in establishing a controversy at the public level, then there is an opportunity to put across the real facts about smoking and health.
—Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 1969 (source)

"Teaching the controversy" has always been a rhetorical centerpiece of the intelligent-design movement, but it has become a more prominent part of their strategy in the wake of ID's 2005 court defeat in Dover, Pennsylvania. Seeking to avoid blame for the Dover verdict, creationist groups such as the Discovery Institute pleaded that they had never wanted to teach intelligent design per se, but only the "evidence for and against" evolution.

The most sinister part of this argument is its apparent fairness. Who could object to teaching students all sides in a dispute? Hardly anyone, of course, which is why ID advocates sometimes trumpet polls showing that large majorities say students should be taught the evidence for and against evolution. That shouldn't be a surprise: if there were legitimate evidence against evolution, even I would certainly want it to be taught, as I think most atheists would. But the problem is that these polls ask a loaded question by assuming that there is such evidence.
If there is a legitimate, scientific controversy over some issue, then by all means, teachers should present all sides in a fair and even-handed manner. However, this is not a description which applies to the teaching of evolution. Creationists and their intelligent-design comrades have steadfastly avoided making their case to the scientific community (where it meets with near-unanimous scorn). Instead, they're attempting to do an end-run around that scrutiny by forcing their beliefs into public schools before they have won the approval of practicing, qualified scientists in those fields. This is completely backwards from how these controversies are supposed to be resolved.

The problem with "teaching all sides" is that it can give fringe ideas a credibility they have not earned. Excessive concern for "balance" leads to presenting the speculations of cranks and crackpots as if they were on equal footing with the positions defended by vast majorities of qualified experts. (The media has a similar problem.) And this is very useful to advocates of pseudoscience, who often do not need to win the rhetorical battle outright; they can triumph merely by muddying the waters and preventing a consensus from forming around the truth.

This is the same strategy employed by tobacco companies, as we can see from the second excerpt above, as well as by oil companies seeking to forestall regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

But with all that said, the idea of teaching the controversy isn't an intrinsically bad one. There are plenty of subjects that have legitimate controversies where this commendable call for fairness could be better applied.

For example, how about sex ed? A great many religious conservatives - many of the same ones who call for teaching the controversy on evolution, I don't doubt - change their tune when it comes to public-school health classes, demanding that students be taught an "abstinence-only" program that omits contraception, or mentions it only to discuss its failure rates. How strange. Whatever happened to fairness? Whatever happened to learning about all sides? Why can students make up their own minds about evolution, but not about how to protect themselves from STDs?

Better yet, how about the public schools that teach about the Bible? (There are plenty that do, using curricula developed by third parties such as the Bible Literacy Project or the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.) Here, surely, is a topic that's ripe for teaching the controversy! Let's have students read selections from The God Delusion or Losing Faith in Faith. Let's have students hear criticisms of the Bible, like Richard Dawkins' famous statement that the god of the Old Testament is "arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction... a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully" - and then let's show them the verses that he uses to back up that criticism! To borrow some terminology from ID advocates, shouldn't the "strengths and weaknesses" of the Bible be "critically analyzed"?

Friday, November 28, 2008


It's official. Another transitional turtle fossil has been discovered (the second one this year!). PZ Myers gives us a photo and fills us in on what makes this fossil so special.

So it looks like creationists will have to look for other gaps scientific knowledge to exploit.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Macroevolution IS Observable

Here is an excellent article over at the Panda's Thumb about Endosymbiosis and MacroEvolution.

This just adds to my growing list of observed evolutionary events.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More on the origin of sex

Here is something a wrote for my website a while back:

One of the biggest questions about evolution today is, "How did sex evolve?" The first place we should start is the definition of sex: exchanging genetic material with other members of a species. Bacteria have a way of exchanging genetic material; although it is more akin to the copy and paste functions of a computer than it is to sex. The next step would be for a population to evolve which went through cycles of giving and recieving genetic material. This population would be akin to the species of frogs that can spontaneously change sex from male to female. The final step would be for individuals to be born of only a single sex (Males that stay as males and females that stay as females). Richard Dawkins describes roughly the same scenario in "The Ancestor's Tale".

Guess what? Now this picture of the evolution of sex is being partly confirmed. A newspiece on Livescience says:

We all came from hermaphrodites, organisms with both male and female reproductive organs. And though the origin traces back more than 100 million years, biologists have scratched their heads over how and why the separate male and female sexes evolved.

Now, research on wild strawberry plants is providing evidence for such a transition and the emergence of sex, at least in plants. And the results, which are detailed in the December issue of the journal Heredity, likely apply to animals like us, the researchers say.

The study showed that two genes located at different spots on a chromosome can cast strawberry offspring as a single sex, a hermaphrodite or a neuter (neither male nor female, and essentially sterile). The researchers suspect the two genes could be responsible for one of the earliest stages of the transition from asexual to sexual beings.

"All of the animals and plants that are bi-sexual, or have two sexes, are theorized to have evolved according to a particular set of steps," said researcher Kim Lewers, a plant geneticist at the USDA's Genetic Improvement of Fruits and Vegetables Lab in Maryland. "Until now, no example had been found of the very earliest steps. Therefore, those steps were undemonstrated to be true."

She added, "Finding this example of the very earliest stage allowed us to say the theory is probably right."

An Atheist Who Supports Intelligent Design?

Yep. His name is Bradley Monton, and he is a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. He's definitely a clear thinker (and an honest one at that) and so his arguments, in my opinion, are the most worthy of consideration of any other ID proponent I have yet come across. What follows is a commentary on some of his ideas.

From his paper on Judge Jones' decision:

1. He argues that science could, at least in principle, detect the existence of God. He imagines that scientists discover a pulsar which communicates with them in morse code, and answers questions which they had only thought to themselves, and provides the human race with information that only God (or a super advanced alien race) would have known.

My response: I am in full agreement. We could discover scientific evidence for God. But, as far as I have seen, the evidence for God which philosophers and IDers have presented is just not adequate for the claim being made.

2. He argues that the debate shouldn't center around whether ID is science, but only whether it is true.

My response: This is a fair point, but I would respond that

1) ID has no place in science class because it has not passed the scientific rigor that other ideas, such as Cell Theory, Atomic Theory, etc. have. In every case I can think of, an idea has won over a signifigant percentage of experts before it hits the classroom. Why should the standard be lowered for ID? If it is true, why does it not win over more adherents in the realm of biology? Monton brings up the so called "fine tuning" of the physical constants of the universe and how this is something being discussed by scientists. In this case I would agree that ID should be discussed since a good many scientists seriously consider this to be, at very minimum, a plausible answer (if not the best answer). On the other hand, I am not sure when the discussion of something like this would ever come up in a high school class.

2) Since Evolution concerns the history of life, it follows that what we can infer about its history should be from processes which we can observe (or prove possible) in the present day. If we start calling on the unobserved (namely aliens and/or God) then we stop doing science: We would have reached a point where anything goes. Note that this assumption is taken so that one can find out what is true, it is not an assumption that would hinder discover of truth, as methodological naturalism does. Intelligent Design could be perfectly compatible with this principle, but it simply needs to do demonstrate one or more of the following:
a. Give an observed example of aliens/God/Etc. designing something in the present day.
b. Give some examples of things which could never, even in principle, be explained by Evolution but which are expected (perhaps exclusively) from ID. Irreducible complexity won't work here: We know that evolution can produce IC. Neither will 'Complex Specified Information': We know that evolution can produce this too.

Finally, I disagree with Monton's thought that ID actually has some good supporting arguments. A page about his new book lists four arguments for ID which he finds "somewhat plausible":

1. The fine tuning of the physical constants.
I'll admit that this is an argument I find to be the most persuasive of all the arguments for God and/or a designer which I have heard. However, it still rests on some shaky assumptions which I feel undermine it as a successful argument for God. I also think that, even if only one kind of life is possible, and even if there are no other life friendly combinations of the values of these physical constants, God (or some other type of designer) still falls short of having as much explanatory power as Lee Smolin's theory of 'Cosmological Natural Selection'.

2. The Universe had a beginning.

I have no problem with this being discussed in a classroom. Nor would I have a problem with students being introduced to different explanations for the origin of the universe: Some think that God started it all, others think our universe is a product of quantum processes, others believe that the beginning wasn't really THE beginning (as they believe in one of the cyclic models of the universe), etc. etc.

3. The improbability of life coming from non-life

I emailed Monton about this, and he agreed with me that we do not really know what the odds of life originating are. In this case, I think students should simply be given a brief overview of what scientists think about the origin of life and nothing more. Sure, the first life may have been the product of some type of design, but only a handful of scientists espouse this view, and, from what we actually do know about the origin of life, it appears just as one would expect it to if it happened naturally.

4. An argument that we are living in a computer simulation

No comment. lol.

Monday, November 24, 2008


I got mentioned on Pharyngula!! Whoo-hoo!!

BTW, If you are new to my blog, you may want to check out my website, Godriddance, especially my abiogenesis page and my irreducible complexity page. Or, even better, my article over at Infidels.Org called "Ten Falsehoods and Misconceptions peddled by Answers in Genesis".

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Uncommon Descent: Fascist Bastards

I was dropping by Uncommon Descent the other day, and left a comment on one of the posts:

Denyse O'Leary had written:
“From a philosophical perspective the possibility remains that a designer may have supplied an organism with more genetic information than may have been needed for life- what one may call an “all the options, all the bells and whistles” approach. Such a designer could have been interested in placing non-functional genes in the genome for a future role in his or her design. We all install software into our computers that may not be operational until some later date when we finally choose to use it.”

If you don't know, this idea of "front loading" is essentially like Michael Behe's suggestion that God created the first cell and loaded it with all the genes that every organism would ever use.

So I wrote:

This is not viable for two reasons:

1. If, for example, the genes for blood clotting were “installed” in some cell long ago before it had function, the genes would have mutated beyond repair by now.

2. We should expect to find genes that would never have had any use in a species past. For example, finding vestiges of blood clotting genes in plants.

So of course, since I presented a scientific test of ID 'theory' what do you think the Idists did? Distorted information and backed away. They know they won't ever discover something like blood clotting genes in plants. One of the posters on ID said that the Sea Urchin had been discovered with genes for eyes and the immune system. But as I pointed out, we have only discovered that the Urchin has genes "involved in" vision. Since we know that these genes had functions before they were involved in eyes, they have probably just evolved a new funtion in other animals (vision). So it turns out that this isn't evidence of Behe and Dembski's silly genetic fantasy. What happens to that comment? It gets deleted. No bad language. No rudeness. I just stated the facts. And I get deleted. That just tells me that these fascists can't handle the free debate they are so adamantly pushing.

Yesterday I also commented on another post. The post said:

"Behe, who happens to be a Catholic, is in no sense a philosopher; he is a biochemist, and the Darwin cult’s howls of outrage against Edge are the best evidence that he is on to something and that his work should be seriously considered at such a conference."

I responded: "Michael Behe is onto something? Oh please. Student Abby Smith called him on his bogus claim that 'nothing new' had evolved in HIV. (Note that Behe eventually admitted she was correct).

He argues that evolution is mostly destructive, but he never discusses compensatory mutations (mutations which recover old functions which are lost due to, for instance, the evolution of antibiotic resistance).

And Nick Matzke completely destroyed his thesis that two protein protein binding sites cannot evolve simultaneously."

And what did I get from that simple post? It was deleted. I guess we can now see how honest and willing to debate UD really is.

P.S. A commenter left me a link to an excellent blog post which shows just how absurd "frontloading" is, making the very same points that I do.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Master Debunking by a Paleontologist

Can be found on the Afarensis blog. Read it. See creationists getting ripped a new one (again).

Friday, November 21, 2008

My brand new article

It's called 10 Falsehoods and Misconceptions Peddled by Answers in Genesis. It was published on the secular web. Read it here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Updates to GodRiddance.Com

I have written a lengthy article on Presuppositionalist Apologetics and the "Transcendental Argument".

I have revised my page on the "Hitler and Stalin" argument against atheism.

I have also expanded and revised my page on the origin of life ('abiogenesis'). Here are some of the new things on that page:

Addendum B: A Summary of the Evolution of the Genetic Code

Components of the Genetic Code:
DNA, mRNA, tRNA, Ribosome.

DNA is the "storage medium" which holds all the information for making a living creature. Messenger RNA, or mRNA, "reads" and copies the information of DNA. Transfer RNA molecules, or tRNA, brings specific amino acids to the mRNA chain. Ribosomes are in charge of matching tRNAs with the mRNA code.The amino acids form proteins which make up all aspects of living things, from skin to internal organs and muscles.

So, as you can see from my simplified explanation of the genetic code, it is fairly complex and may seem (at first) to be impossible to explain by natural means. Yet it is not. Consider this: Scientist have discovered RNA which can act as both mRNA and tRNA (1). This in and of itself is a drastic simplification of the genetic code. But we can go even further: we can postulate that all of the components of the genetic code originally came from chains of RNA called Ribozymes. We now know that the Ribosome is a Ribozyme (2). Scientists have even successfully derived DNA from an RNA ribozyme through a process designed to simulate evolution (3). Essentially, all of the genetic code seems to be derived from chains of RNA.

Components of the Genetic Code and where they came from:

DNA - Ribozyme

mRNA, tRNA - Common ancestor ribozyme which performed both functions.

Ribosome - Ribozyme

1. Di Giulio M., The early phases of genetic code origin: conjectures on the evolution of coded catalysis. Orig Life Evol Biosph. 2003 Oct;33(4-5):479-89. (page 7)

2. Cech, T., Structural Biology: The Ribosome is a Ribozyme. Science 2000 Aug 11;289(5481):878-9.


Addendum C: Creationist Arguments about the Origin of Life

I highly recommend all three of these essays which dismantle creationist arguments against abiogenesis quite thoroughly:

Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and Probability of Abiogenesis Calculations by Ian Musgrave

Are the Odds Against the Origin of Life Too Great to Accept? By Richard Carrier

Dismantling Jonathan Wells' arguments against the Origin of Life

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Transitional Human Fossils

Recently, some brand new "missing link" skulls were discovered, as well as the pelvis of a homo erectus. Via Science Daily:

"This is the most complete female Homo erectus pelvis ever found from this time period," said Indiana University Bloomington paleoanthropologist Sileshi Semaw. "This discovery gives us more accurate information about the Homo erectus female pelvic inlet and therefore the size of their newborns."
A reconstruction of the 1.2 million-year-old pelvis discovered in 2001 in the Gona Study Area at Afar, Ethiopia, that has led researchers to speculate early man was better equipped than first thought to produce larger-brained babies. The actual fossils remain in Ethiopia.
The discovery will be published in Science this week (Nov. 14) by Semaw, leader of the Gona Project in Ethiopia, where the fossil pelvis was discovered with a group of six other scientists that includes IU Department of Geosciences graduate student Melanie Everett.
Reconstructing pelvis bone fragments from the 1.2 million-year-old adult female, Semaw and his co-workers determined the early ancestor's birth canal was more than 30 percent larger than earlier estimates based on a 1.5-million-year-old juvenile male pelvis found in Kenya. The new female fragments were discovered in the Gona Study Area in Afar, Ethiopia, in 2001 and excavation was completed in 2003.
Scientists also were intrigued by other unique attributes of the specimen, such as its shorter stature and broader body shape more likely seen in hominids adapted to temperate climates, rather than the tall and narrow body believed to have been efficient for endurance running.
Early humans became taller and narrower over time, scientists believe, partly due to long distance running and to help them maintain a constant body temperature. One consequence, however, is that a narrower pelvis would have been less accommodating to producing larger-brained offspring.
But rather than a tall, narrow hominid with the expected slight pelvic region, Semaw and the Gona researchers found evidence of a hominid ready to produce offspring with a much larger brain size.
"The female Homo erectus pelvic anatomy is basically unknown," Semaw said. "And as far as the fossil pelvis of ancestral hominids goes, all we've had is Lucy (dated at 3.2 million years and also found in Ethiopia), and she is very much farther back in time from modern humans."
Scientists studying early man predominantly find fragments of craniums and dental remains, while fossil bones from the neck down are rarely discovered. Even more difficult to verify are Homo erectus fossil bones that can be identified as those belonging to a female.
Scientists had thought early adult Homo erectus females, because of the assumed small birth canal, would produce offspring with only a limited neonatal brain size. These young would have then experienced rapid brain growth while still developmentally immature, leading researchers to envision a scenario of maternal involvement and child-rearing on par with that of modern humans. But those theories had been based upon extrapolations from the existing male skeleton from Kenya.
"This find will give us far more accurate information," Semaw said. Semaw is also a research scientist at the Stone Age Institute, a research center near Bloomington dedicated to the study of early human evolution and culture. It is affiliated with Indiana University's CRAFT, the Center for Research into the Anthropological Foundations of Technology.
Gona has turned out to be a productive dig site for Semaw. In 1997 Semaw and colleagues reported the oldest known stone tools used by ancestral humans. Then in 2004 he coauthored a paper summarizing Gona's geological properties and the site's cornucopia of hominid fossils spanning several million years. At the time, Science gave the article an "Editor's Choice" recognition. In 2005 he and colleagues published an article in Nature announcing the discovery of Ardipithecus ramidus, one of the earliest ancestral hominids, dating between 4.3 and 4.5 million years ago.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Discovery Institute caught with its pants down

"" has a very interesting interview with Paleontologist Catherine Boisvert. Here is just one of the interesting questions she was asked:

AFM: The creationist Discovery Institute has pounced on some of the statements in your paper regarding sample quality as evidence that scientists are trying to backpedal on previous hypotheses regarding digit development and evolution. Can you clarify your statements regarding sample quality of Tiktaalik and Panderichthys?

CB: As you know, the “Discovery” Institute tactic is not to go to the primary literature in order to understand it but rather to use quotations from secondary, even tertiary sources, reorganise or use them out of context opportunistically to their own convenience. In this case, they used an article where the journalists unfortunately misunderstood me. Tiktaalik’s material is in fact exquisite, it is very well preserved, basically uncrushed and can be prepared out to be examined in three dimensions. I never said the quality was poor. I have simply explained that the morphology of the fin of Panderichthys is more tetrapod-like than that of Tiktaalik, which has nothing to do with the quality of the material.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sense and Goodness without God

I have written a review of "Sense and Goodness without God" by Richard Carrier. It is brief, but don't let that fool you: It is a book that every atheist should read, as it presents everything one should know about the naturalistic worldview and more.

To get a taste of the good sense in this book, please watch this video (It is the first in a series).

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Updates to my site/ A word on my other writings

Updates to my site:

A link to Ex-Apologist's list of refutations to theistic arguments.

A Refutation of the Argument from the 'inner witness' of the Holy Spirit.

Signifigant Revisions to My page on Jesus.

I am planning on authoring two new articles: One on why creationists believe the nonsense they do (and why they have nothing to fear from Evolution), and another about some common lies/misconceptions peddled by Answers in Genesis. There is a possibility that both of these will appear on I am also currently reading Richard Carrier's book 'Sense and Goodness without God' and will write a review of it within the next three weeks or so.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dawkins a Deist?

I'm providing a commentary for this article found via the Spectator:

Dawkins moved it onto safer territory– and at the very beginning made a most startling admission. He said:
A serious case could be made for a deistic God.

This is true. A serious case could be made for a deistic God. Although I did not say so in my Review of Antony Flew's book, There is a God, the deist position is far more reasonable than Christianity. It is still weak and practically unfalsifiable, but it is an improvement from the fairy man of the sky that the Christians worship.

In Oxford on Tuesday night, however, virtually the first thing he said was that a serious case could be made for believing that it could.

Anthony Flew, the celebrated philosopher and former high priest of atheism, spectacularly changed his mind and concluded -- as set out in his book There Is A God -- that life had indeed been created by a governing and purposeful intelligence, a change of mind that occurred because he followed where the scientific evidence led him. The conversion of Flew, whose book contains a cutting critique of Dawkins’s thinking, has been dismissed with unbridled scorn by Dawkins – who now says there is a serious case for the position that Flew now adopts!

That book was probably not written by Flew. Flew does not seem to be in a sound state of mind, and the new book does not read like his other writings. I might also point out that the book is filled with potshots at Dawkins, which are totally unnecessary to the points "Flew" makes in the book, and look as if someone with a grudge against Dawkins inserted them in there to try and discredit him to the reader.

I put to him that, since he is prepared to believe that the origin of all matter was an entirely spontaneous event, he therefore believes that something can be created out of nothing -- and that since such a belief runs counter to the very scientific principles of verifiable evidence which he tells us should govern all our thinking, this is itself precisely the kind of irrationality, or ‘magic’, which he scorns. In reply he said that, although he agreed this was a problematic position, he did indeed believe that the first particle arose spontaneously from nothing, because the alternative explanation – God -- was more incredible. Later, he amplified this by saying that physics was coming up with theories to show how matter could spontaneously be created from nothing. But as far as I can see – and as Anthony Flew elaborates – these theories cannot answer the crucial question of how the purpose-carrying codes which gave rise to self–reproduction in life-forms arose out of matter from which any sense of purpose was totally absent. So such a belief, whether adduced by physicists or anyone else, does not rest upon rational foundations.

I have elaborated on the something-from-nothing question here, and I have elaborated on the question of abiogenesis here.

The rest of the article is rubbish. The writer says that Dawkins thinks "Jesus probably did not exist" (which is a position he absolutely does not take in his book) and that Einstein was an atheist (Which Dawkins did not say, he was careful to distinguish between Look-at-the-stars-in-awe "Einsteinian" Religion and Jesus-is-magic-Lunatic-Whacko-Fairytale religion).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


If people came from monkeys, why are monkeys still around?

Human beings did not evolve from any currently living species; We simply share a common ancestor with other primates. To fully answer this question, allow me to make an analogy: Dogs were bred from wolves by humans (yet we still have wolves). The reason for this is that in the wild, wolves do not leave behind more offspring for having the characteristics that humans like (soft fur, a certain color, etc.). When humans first began raising wolves, they selected the individual wolves that had the characteristics they liked and allowed them to reproduce; While not allowing the wolves that had characteristics they did not like to reproduce. The environments of the ancestors of modern day dogs and modern day wolves determined how they ended up today. The same applies to chimps and humans: Our ancestors were in different environments and so we have evolved differently. Our early ancestors lived on the savannah with few trees which made it more advantageous to walk upright.

What evidence is there for Evolution?

To give two examples: Charles Darwin predicted that since we are anatomically most similar to the great apes of Africa, it was most likely that we evolved in Africa, and therefore intermediate fossils (between a small brained knuckle walking ape and homo sapiens) would be found in Africa. Sure enough, this prediction has been proven true and we have a beautiful series of intermediate fossils to illustrate it. Another evidence for the theory of evolution is the fact that human beings develop a hairy coat called the lanugo when they are in the womb, only to shed it before they are born. This suggests that our development was modified (sloppily) from a prior form (a hairier ape than Homo Sapiens). To learn more about the evidence for evolution, I recommend reading "The 29 Evidences for Macroevolution".

Isn't evolution just a theory?

From Scientific American:According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses." No amount of validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization about nature. So when scientists talk about the theory of evolution--or the atomic theory or the theory of relativity, for that matter--they are not expressing reservations about its truth. In addition to the theory of evolution, meaning the idea of descent with modification, one may also speak of the fact of evolution. The NAS defines a fact as "an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as 'true.'"

How did life begin?

No one knows with complete certainty. Scientists have managed to create "protocells" which can grow, absorb nutrients, and reproduce. In fact, these protocells form from things like lipid membranes and nucleic acids which form easily in origin of life experiments. However, this is more complicated than it may seem: There is no universally accepted definition of life. These protocells would be considered alive if one's definition of life is the ability to feed, grow, reproduce and evolve. However, some scientists feel that something must be able to respond to its environment before it is considered alive (An example of responding to the environment is when plants grow towards a source of light). For these cells to be able to respond to their environment they would have to have the "molecular machines" that modern day cells have. Since these machines are composed of proteins, and proteins are made by the modern day genetic code (RNA and DNA) we need to understand how the genetic code evolved (For a good review of the evolution of the genetic code, see this video). Unfortunately, no one has a complete explanation of this, but here are some things we do know which shed light on its origin:RNA ribozymes can put together short protein fragments called peptides.RNA can evolve into DNA.Research has shown that some ribozymes can act as both messenger and transfer RNA (Radically simplifying the evolution of the genetic code). References for these statements made may be found here (footnotes 9-11).

Can Mutations Increase the Information in the Genome?

Yes. I have written an article about this and Touchstone has written a blog post about this argument.

What about the seashells on the mountain/the mentions of dinosaurs in the bible/the trees going through several layers of strata?

Simply see the hyperlinks above for answers to these questions. If you have another question like this, it will most likely be answered by searching for some of the key terms and phrases here.


I am very pleased about the outcome of the debate. I picked a winner on my first time voting.

In other news, Ken Ham gets his hiney handed to him. AiG invited a Geologist to a "debate" after he criticized some of their claims in a local newspaper. Happy Jihad asks:

"Let's look at the claims that you have made and see if they warrant a serious geologist's attention:

You said that unicorns are real. You claim that the Beowulf story is evidence of human cohabitation with dinosaurs. You say that sometimes religious genocide is OK. You think that the government is training people to talk to aliens. You believe that evolution is a random process, a process of blind chance, which is just factually wrong. You target children because they can't defend themselves and trust you (talk about a cowardly act). You believe if a 2-year old understands it, it must be cutting edge science. You believe that observation and measurement cannot trump "common sense." You believe you do the type of science that you need "faith" to understand instead of, you know, "understanding" to understand. You believe...whatever the fuck this is. You employ the nanny-nanny boo-boo defense. Your ilk does not even try to publish outside of its little circle, and you set up a bogus journal to pretend that you were scholars, THEREBY AVOIDING THE DEBATE YOU CLAIM TO CRAVE. You stare at evolution, describe evolution, and then say, "It's not evolution.""

Amen, brother.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Infidel Guy

Hi Everyone,

I don't want to turn this blog into an atheist charity drive or anything, but not long after I made my post about Richard Carrier, I found another infidel in need of support: Reginald Finley, aka host of the Infidel Guy show. He has fallen on hard times now, and his show, which supports rationalism and freethought, is in danger of going offair. His shows are cheap, usually only a dollar or two each, and are well worth the money (they are highly entertaining and educational). I am going to leave a link to a page of his where you can download shows on creation and evolution.