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,