Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Empedoclean Evolution

As some of you have guessed, this blog post is a joke. On the original blog, one of the categories this is posted under is "fiction".

Very Interesting Blog Post. Here's an excerpt:

A new study into the transfer of genetic material laterally, or across taxonomic divisions, has shown that evolution does not proceed as Darwin thought, and that in fact the present theory of evolution is entirely false. Instead, it transpires that lateral genetic transfer makes new species much more like Empedocles' "random monster" theory over 2000 years ago had predicted.

Publishing in the Journal of Evolutionary Diversions, the major journal in the field, Professor Augustus P. Rillful and his colleagues of the paragenetics laboratory at the University of Münchhausen in Germany have shown experimentally that the ability of DNA to cross species boundaries at any distance makes the origin of species a solved problem, only it is solved in a way that Darwin never envisaged. This new theory, called Empedoclean Evolution, explains why novel traits can be found in many different taxonomic groups independently. Instead of being "discovered" by natural selection and then passed on to descendants, a solution can be "found" entirely by chance and shared throughout the living world, even between single celled organisms and plants or animals.

Monday, March 30, 2009

This is Sad

Courtesy of ScienceDaily:

Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.

Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.

Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth's surface that is covered with water.*

Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Did Jesus Exist? A Response to Blair Scott

On AlabamaAtheist.Org, Blair Scott has up an editorial entitled "Did Jesus Exist?" I'm going to quote some of it (in italics) and give my thoughts:

It is important to note that there is zero evidence for Jesus. All the "Gospels" and other references about Jesus were written after Jesus' death, so none of the authors were first-hand witnesses to the life of Jesus.

The gospels show some pretty clear evidence of having been based on oral tradition which preceded them. Although there is no guarantee that an oral tradition will be accurate, it is important to ask: Is it more plausible to suppose that a real person inspired the legend or not? After all, we see lots of cults who ascribe miraculous powers to their leaders and believe that they are more than human. That could be the case here. As I mentioned to Blair at my local meetup, we also have Josephus, which most scholars accept. I do not accept it for many reasons, one of them being the fact that Josephus probably would not have had nice things to say about Jesus if he had written about him. After all, Josephus was not a Christian and viewed messianic contenders with suspicion.

When you are selling a religion and passing down oral tradition, the stories change. What good is a messiah that cannot resurrect? So the early apologists (which is essentially what the Gospel authors were) added a resurrection to make it fit prophecy. What good is a messiah born in Nazareth that was supposed to be born in Bethlehem according to prophecy? So the authors changed the story to read Bethlehem (note the Gospels disagree on Jesus' birthplace: writers changed it to match the prophecy). This goes on and on...

I agree with all of this completely. However, I think we should keep in mind that since a crucified messiah would not fit the Jewish expectation, this naturally fits the idea that Jesus was just a guy who's story got embellished: After all, if it was complete bull, why have him crucified in the first place?

On the other hand, what if the gospels are "midrash" -- Reinterpretations of Old Testament Scripture? This is what I have argued before, I think it remains plausible (read the link to understand how this pertains to the crucifixion).

I've also learned that the cross was used a symbol to represent the messiah in some ancient Hebrew manuscripts, so having the Savior hung on a crosee might not have been so embarrassing: Indeed, it may have been a dramatic and ironic confirmation of what Jesus was (in the story). [For this info, see Page 62, Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, HarperOne, 1997.]

As a final note, I want to say that I do not think "no evidence outside the gospels" is a good argument for Jesus' nonexistence. Most of the time we do not doubt the word of historical documents, unless they are outlandish or conflict with other knowledge that we have. While that may destroy the Christian's case for the resurrection, it is still completely plausible that there is a man behind the myth.

Now, some may say that you cannot prove a negative. I think this is clearly false. There could definitely be positive arguments against the existence of Jesus (Watch this video and skip to about 1:25).

In conclusion, I am remaining agnostic about the historical Jesus until I find more evidence either for or against him, and I think that Christians and secularists alike should also keep an open mind.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

My Day + How to Deal With Evangelists

Went to the Freethought Montgomery meetup today in Montogemery, AL.

Blair Scott, the head of the Alabama Chapter of American Atheists was there. He's a pretty cool guy. He is a veteran debater and activist for the atheist community. Anyway, we were all in a restaurant called Jalapeno's, and apparently someone (at another table) said something about us "being crazy". I replied (in a loud, rude voice), "At Least We Don't Think the World is SIX THOUSAND YEARS OLD!!!"

Everyone got a laugh out of that one.

After that, I dropped by the Books-a-million. Looked around, then went outside just cuz I felt like walkin'. And guess what: Some twenty year old guy comes up to me and starts giving me the "Have you ever told a lie?" routine. He was a pretty nice fella, and certainly could keep the conversation going, so I decided to talk with him for a few minutes.

I was nice and polite the whole time, but let me tell you: I gave him and his friends hell.

He asked me where all of this magnificient beauty came from. I answered that if we say "God did it" then it would seem that God would require some explanation since he would have to complex in some sense (by being intelligent and having an orderly mind). So why not require an explanation for God? "That's the unanswerable question," one of his friends replied. I responded, "Well, why can't we just say that the universe requires no explanation?"

I didn't get much of answer from them there.

I also did not get much answer when I asked how a loving God could give someone infinite punishment for finite sins. They responded that since God is perfect, up next to him my faults and mistakes are horrible. That may be so, but you cannot make a finite number of faults and mistakes infinite no matter how much you exaggerate them.

I was also told that if I did not believe in something I might fall for anything. While it may be true that you can fall victim to a lie if you do not have some standards, I don't think taking one special thing on faith really cuts it. In fact, it makes you vulnerable: Couldn't someone just take radical Islam on faith? I explained to them that logic and observation are the foundations of my knowledge because logic (such as the Law of Non-Contradiction: Contradictions can't exist) can be understood as self-justifying: They are true and do not depend on any other facts. It is also true that I have certain experiences, they may not be true to reality, but I cannot deny that I am always experiencing something.

In the end, I hope I opened some minds. I also have to say that in some sense I respect these guys and girls: They were using their free time and working up their courage to talk to strangers because they cared about them and did not want them to spend eternity in hell. On the other hand, maybe they should have spent some more time thinking out their world view and questioning what they believe.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Carrier and the God Who Wasn't There

Richard Carrier has posted some critical comments of the movie "The God Who Wasn't There" which I think was much needed since the movie is great (but not completely historically accurate, of course).

Carrier also took the time to respond to one of my questions:
You say that (And I'm paraphrasing here): 1. There was little or no bias against women in a court of law in 1st Century Judea. And: 2. Mark placed the women at the empty tomb to show that the least would be first, implying that there was some bias against women. Isn't this contradictory or have I misunderstood you?

Yes, you misunderstood what Craig and I were debating. He said women's testimony was not admitted in court. As I said, I've refuted that (Chapter 11 of Not the Impossible Faith). It's not at all true. He came back with women's testimony was undervalued. I pointed out again that that wasn't true either (Chapter 11 again addresses this, particularly answering his, IMO, confused use of Josephus, which I didn't have time to answer at the podium).As I explain (ibid.) there is a fundamental difference between assigning a lower social status to women and trusting their testimony, as also between accepting women's testimony and having chauvinistic ideas about proper female behavior, and between trusting women to be honest and trusting their intelligence to be equal to men's. Confusing these distinctions is exactly what has led to apologists like Wright erring and thus misleading Craig into saying the things he said at the podium, which are so wildly untrue it was alarming even to me (but I do believe Craig has been duped here--I don't think he was being dishonest).

Internally within the story, the women are depicted as least among those who followed Jesus (in Mark they are the last followers to be mentioned and are never mentioned during his ministry and are assigned no roles of authority within the circle and get no prominent place in Jesus' calls to ministry, all in contrast to the prominence and behavior of, e.g., Peter, James, and John, etc.). But externally within the society Mark is writing for, women are second-class citizens in terms of authority roles and are expected to be subservient to men. But that does not (and as my evidence shows, clearly did not) translate into distrusting them, much less banning their testimony from courtrooms (not even Jewish courtrooms, which were more conservative than Greek, as Greek were more conservative than Roman).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Common Sense Atheism

...is my new favorite blog. Among my favorite recent posts are:

Four Common Christian Mistakes


Do Not Be Quickly Persuaded (Highly Recommended!)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ken Ham Hypocrisy


The Clergy Letter Project’s periodic email newsletter relayed an account of how Ken Ham declared moral outrage over an encounter strikingly similar to activities he had been complicit with about a year ago. Yes, I know it’s easy to point out hypocrisy in others. So before I go any further, I will admit that there are plenty of times in my past that I’ve not “practiced what I’ve preached.”
Any way, this blogworthy item falls well within the definition of hypocrisy!
On his blog yesterday, Ham railed against the BBC for “ambushing” a member of his staff. As you’ll see if you read the link, Ham claims that his astrophysicist Jason Lisle was surprised to find that a scheduled interview on the BBC was actually to be a debate with Genie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. (I’ve not been able to track down the segment. I’m guessing that the debate was more like an interview of two people with opposing opinions. ) Anyway, on his blog, Ham summarizes the situation as follows:
By the way—the BBC has not responded to our publicist who has challenged them concerning their deception. Then again, for those people who don’t believe in God and there is no absolute authority, not telling the truth and deception would not be ethically wrong—as they have no basis for right and wrong!
So far, this just sounds like typical spin. What makes Ham’s complaints hypocritical is that he participated in a similar “ambush” a year ago. Only it was the head of the Clergy Letter Project and Dean of Butler University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Michael Zimmerman who was ambushed. He was scheduled to do an interview on a fundamentalist Christian radio show only to discover, upon going on the air, that Ken Ham was also on the line, ready to debate. When asked why neither the host nor Ham had the courtesy to inform Dr. Zimmerman that he was to participate in a debate rather than in an interview, they told him they thought he wouldn’t have accepted their offer had he been told the truth. The best part of there response (in Zimmerman’s own words) is:
When I questioned them about the deception, I was told that since the debate was to further God’s wishes, a minor deception of this sort was acceptable.
I wonder what else counts as a minor deception…
In the end, I think it’s important to keep in mind that the tactic of debates is one that works well for creationists when they rig the game. And as soon as the tables are turned, they cry foul.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Casey Luskin takes a Bashin

The Intelligent Design Proponent Extraordinaire was caught misusing his sources twice:




Friday, March 20, 2009

Carrier vs. Craig

I'm listening to the debate between Richard Carrier and William Lane Craig on "Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?"

You can listen to it here (Warning: The audio version I found is pretty crappy).

Carrier also wrote about this on his blog. He's very self-critical, although I thought he did quite well.

Montana Fossil Hunter Pleads Guilty to Theft

From Yahoo! News

A famed paleontologist who discovered the world's best preserved dinosaur intends to plead guilty to stealing dinosaur bones from federal land.

The change of plea motion from Nathan Murphy follows state and federal investigations into his alleged attempts to cash in on the highly lucrative fossil market.

Murphy, 51, is a self-taught dinosaur expert who spent much of the last two decades searching for bones in central Montana's Hell Creek formation — a rocky badlands once stalked by the fearsome tyrannosaurus rex. In 2000, he famously discovered a mummified, 77-million-year-old duckbilled hadrosaur known as Leonardo, considered the best preserved in the world.
But after previously denying wrongdoing, court documents filed Wednesday show Murphy has reached a plea deal on a federal charge that he stole bones from public land near Malta. Prosecutors have not disclosed how many were taken.

He faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Murphy's case offers a rare glimpse into the illicit underside of paleontology, in which wealthy collectors are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for rare or unusual specimens. This weekend, a 150-million-year-old dryosaurus fossil taken from private land in Wyoming is expected to be auctioned for up to $500,000 in New York through the I.M. Chait Gallery.
Josh Chait, who runs the gallery, said the sales create financial incentives for exploration that can lead to groundbreaking discoveries.

Federal law generally prevents the removal of bones from public lands without a research permit. But the remoteness of many prime fossil grounds in Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and other western states makes enforcement difficult.

"There's probably somebody out stealing fossils from federal land in Montana today, and we don't know about it because there's not enough law enforcement to patrol all of these sites," said Martin McAllister, a private archaeological investigator from Missoula.

A sweeping public lands bill approved Thursday by the U.S. Senate contains penalties that specifically target fossil theft from federal land, which paleontologists have sought for years. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for final action.

Murphy also pleaded guilty this month in state court to stealing a raptor fossil from private land and trying to cash in on molds from the specimen. Casts made from those molds could have brought in from $150,000 to $400,000...

Murphy runs a business in Billings that takes paying customers on weeklong dinosaur excavation expeditions. He was the director of paleontology at the Dinosaur Field Station in Malta for 15 years before resigning in July 2007.

Workin' on my book

I may not be posting much over the next few days. I have been hard at work on my upcoming book. Seriously, I have been reading peer-reviewed papers on just about everything, as well as reading any book I can get my hands on that looks like it might teach me something.

Here's my Progress:

Chapter 1 Grounding Your Worldview (About Knowledge)

Needs some revising and I need to write a bit about the "Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism"

Chapter 2 The Philosopher's God (About Philosophical Arguments for God)

Needs a lot of revising because I must simplify it as much as possible.

Chapter 3 The "Miracle of Life" (About Biological Arguments for God)

This will probably need some rewriting, but I think I am basically done with it.

Chapter 4 Revelations (About Prophecy)

Basically done. THis is a short chapter, and their really isn't much I can say on it except that Biblical prophecy has never proven itself. I'll probably revise this one and that will be it.

Chapter 5 Jesus

I have written one page of this chapter, so obviously I have a lot more work ahead of me. I'll also have to do a good bit more research for this. I'm on the right track though.

...And that's it! I'll probably have 12-15 chapters in the end, so it will take me some time to finish this up. But I'm in no hurry. Look out for it in 6-10 months.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009

My Reading

I have been reading a lot lately in preparation for my upcoming book. I've read a few peer-reviewed papers on the subject of embryology and evolution, I've read some philosophical papers, and some other stuff that has to do with science and philosophy.

I've also read "In Search of the Light" by Susan Blackmore, which is about a paraspychologist and her struggles to find evidence for the supernatural. I've also read "Explore Evolution" - An intelligent design book which tries to dispute the evidence for evolution. It was released only a year or two ago, so it is up to date, and it offers the most intelligent challenges to evolutionary theory. Reading that book allows me to understand and respond to the most current objections to evolutionary theory. Fortunately, I've found that a little research almost always destroys them.

Last but not least, I'm about 100 pages into "Not the Impossible Faith" by Richard Carrier. It's an excellent book: Very well written, very well referenced, and very informative. I highly recommend it.

I still have a lot of reading and thinking ahead of me, and if you want to offer financial support to what I'm doing, my Amazon Wishlist can be found here. And, in case you do want to purchase a book from the list, I have no problem with used books.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Websites Online!

Got the websites fixed today!! Enjoy:



Websites Offline

Hi Everyone. As some of you may have noticed, my two websites, aigbusted.com and godriddance.com, are offline. Don't worry though; This is not permanent. I have been in the process of changing my domain hosting, and something seems to have gone wrong in the process. This all temporary though. Within the next two weeks this will be fixed.

AiG gets it wrong on Homo Erectus Footprints

Here's an excerpt from a recent post at Panda's Thumb:

A recent paper (Bennett et al. 2009) announced the discovery of 1.5 million year old fossilized footprints from Ileret, Kenya, almost certainly belonging to Homo erectus (see also this commentary article by Ann Gibbons). Homo erectus was already known from fossils such as the Turkana Boy to be very similar to modern humans below the neck, and completely adapted to bipedal locomotion. So it was no suprise when the footprint analysis showed that the owners of the Ileret footprints had a fully modern foot shape and were pushing off their big toes and shifting their weight exactly as modern humans do.

Answers in Genesis, of course, was delighted to report on this, claiming that it confirmed their belief that Homo erectus was a modern human (never mind the more primitive features of pelvis, shoulder and skull found in Homo erectus). But AIG carefully avoided mentioning information from the paper that did not fit with its agenda.

There is another famous set of fossilized hominid footprints, the 3.7 million year old Laetoli footprints from Ethiopia, thought by scientists to belong to Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis, or something closely related to it. Creationists in general, and Answers in Genesis in particular, have always claimed that these are same as small modern human footprints (e.g. here, or here). The new paper however contains some evidence against that claim.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Untenability of Theistic Evolution

Check out the brand new article of that name over at Internet Infidels.

I don't necessarily agree with the author on everything, nevertheless his article is good food for thought.

One example of my disagreement: Dr. Bob Price once made the point that Genesis speaks of Light being created before the sun and moon. Of course, any idiot could tell that the sun was the source of light, so perhaps the author did intend for at least some of the book of Genesis to be poetic myth and not history.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Problem of Miracles

CDK007, the master of making science videos on youtube, has just released a new video: This one concerning miracles. In short, I agree with CDK on some things but not on others. For example, I agree that natural explanations should be strongly preferred to supernatural ones. But I do not agree that there could never possibly be any evidence for a miracle (or the supernatural). For example, let's say that around the year 30 AD, Greek letters suddenly appeared on the moon, spelling the phrase "Jesus lives". Such a thing would be impossible for the ancients to achieve, since we cannot do it today and also because all the evidence indicates that the technology the ancients had was not nearly sophisticated enough to send anything to the moon, let alone carve letters into it.

Let's take another example: Let's say that 100 ancient manuscripts are found which list lots of very specific prophecies and when they will occur. All the manuscripts date to several hundred years before the prophecies occured, and all of the prophecies so far were verified as being fulfilled. In addition, the contents of the prophecy had been known for years before they occured, and it predicted things which would happen in our lifetime (so that every generation could verify a prophecy firsthand). In that case, who could resist accepting that something supernatural was at work?

[I have deleted the link to this video in response to Youtube's unfair and malicious treatment of atheists].

50 Reasons Why People Reject Evolution


Here's some of my favorites:

19.) Because I don’t understand why, if we share common ancestry with chimps, there are still chimps. And when someone with more than three brain cells in their head inevitably replies: “for the same reason Americans share common ancestry with Brits but there are still Brits, I can’t follow the logic. It’s just too big a leap. Who am I, Evil Knievel?

20.) Because my mom dropped me on my head when I was a baby.

21.) Multiple times.

22.) On purpose.

24.) Because Jesus totally rode around on a fucking t-rex. He’s just that badassed. And also, did you know that t-rexes were vegetarians? Ken Ham says so and I believe it.

39.) Because evolution means that I absolutely MUST reject everything else I know, abandon all my beliefs, and start aping around my house like a fucking monkey. OOOh-ooohh-ooohohh -OOOOOOHHHHHH!!!!!

45.) Because I see no significant similarities between humans and apes. *scratches my ass-crack then smells my fingers*

Monday, March 9, 2009

It's Aliiive!!

Here is something very, very weird that I found on Wired Science:

In the basement of a nondescript building here at Argonne National Laboratory, nickel particles in a beaker are building themselves into magnetic snakes that may one day give clues about how life originally organized itself.

These chains of metal particles look so much like real, living animals, it is hard not to think of them as alive. (See exclusive video below.) But they are actually bits of metal that came together under the influence of a specially tuned magnetic field.

"It behaves like some live object," says physicist Alex Snezhko. "It moves. It crashes onto free-floating particles and absorbs them."

On the spectrum of scientific endeavor, this is very far upstream in the realm where people are just trying to figure how stuff works and why. There is some talk of applications, but at the heart of it, this is really just pure research. Snezhko and fellow physicist Igor Aronson — both tall, thin men who have matching Russian accents and familial rapport — have discovered something really cool, and they're trying to simply figure out what's behind it. Along the way, they could learn something fundamental about how the world works.

Looking at how their particles self-organize, the scientists see echoes of herds of sheep and schools of fish. It seems that there might be some common rules that underpin the behavior and movement of groups of things, but it's not clear what those rules are. It took a couple of years of exhaustive research to figure out how the systems emerge, some of which will be published next week in Physical Review Letters.

Perhaps, by studying this simple system, they can understand what Aronson calls "the fundamentals of self assembly, how nature can organize itself into ordered states." The idea is that if they can determine how magnetic fields and water tension can excite these particles into complex emergent behavior, they will get closer to understanding more complicated, messier systems — like the primordial soup from which life arose on Earth.

"We still don't know what physics is appropriate for biology. This is a wonderful intermediate," Iain Couzin, who heads Princeton's Collective Animal Behaviour Laboratory told Wired.com in a phone interview. "There's nothing biological about the interactions between the surface swimmers, but their collective dynamics can give us insight into how we can begin to study real biological systems."

Back at Argonne, this is physics for the fun of physics. Though Snezhko tried hard to kill the snakes when they first started forming during an unrelated experiment, they soon became more interesting than the experiment they were ruining. Now he and Aronson can't stop smiling as they talk about discovering something so unexpected. The system exhibits new, dynamic behavior every time they turn it on. It's mesmerizing.

The exciting science stands in stark contrast to the drab appearance of the Argonne campus. The low-slung, plain buildings look more like a middle school — complete with linoleum floors and fluorescent lighting — than a prestigious national lab doing world-class research.

But inside his basement lab, Snezhko shows us a captivating video of what looks almost like a line drawing of a small man — one larger "head" particle trailed by a "body" of skinny chains of particles — swimming around a beaker.

As it starts heading for other chains of particles in an unpredictable and eccentric way, it's nearly impossible not to anthropomorphize the structure. It just acts too much like life. The damn thing practically has ... personality.

"It also has a very bad temper," Aronson jokes, noting that this creature, this figment of nature, appears to "hunt" the other particles. Indeed it does. As you can see in the video, the metallic monster, technically known as a "surface swimmer," acts hungry. As it snatches more particles, it swims faster and faster.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

PZ Myers Explains Evolution to a Grade A Dumbass

This is Classic. PZ Myers explains how evolution works to Evangelist Ray Comfort. Very entertaining, and highly recommended for those who do not understand evolution.

Incidentally, I saw a video on youtube which gave an excellent explanation of this concept of species-to-species transitions.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Good Biology Question

One of my online friends, SirMoogie, sent me an interesting question and I thought I'd post it along with my response:

"A friend and I are having an argument over what the target of selection is. Neither of us are actually biologists, so I don't think we should be discussing this. He read one philosophy on the subject, "Towards a New Philosophy of Biology", by Ernst Mary. Anyway, apparently this is still a contended issue. He says their are three possibilities, the genes, the individual, or the population. The way he described the problem is that the target of selection is that what determines what gets passed on. I responded I don't see why these are mutually exclusive, and that it looks like all of them could have an impact. He says it's the individual, mostly because one philosopher has said so. Have you encountered this issue before?"

My Answer:

My best guess would be that the debate is not overwhether any of these types of selection occur, but over how important a role each level of selectionplays (There is an exception, John Maynard Smith attacked the theory of group selection in the 1960's).

Here's why I think this: You may have heard of the evolution of sickle cell disease. As you know, you getone copy of each gene from your parents, so you have two copies of every gene. People who have one sickle cell gene and one normal gene are resistant to malaria and are essentially normal people. As you probably guessed, these genes are most common in areas wheremalaria is the greatest threat. Anyhow, that seems to me a good case of selection at the gene level. As you may know, people born with two copies of the sickle cell gene have horrible illness and usually live shorter lifespans than other individuals. In this case, it is not the gene being selected against so much as it is the individual. As for group selection, I haven't studied much on that, so I cannot say.

Friday, March 6, 2009

12 "Elegant Examples" of Evolution

Read it here on Wired Science. Pretty neat stuff, if you ask me.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Testable Creation Model?

Dr. Hugh Ross claims to have constructed a testable, biblical model of the Universe. But, as I suspected, the "predictions" of Ross' theory are lame. From the latest edition of eSkeptic:

"Ross began by saying that scientists had finally and certainly determined that space, time, and matter-energy all began at the moment of the Big Bang. He didn’t bother to mention that although this is a favored idea by many scientists, there are other respected cosmologists and physicists, such as Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok, who contend that time had no beginning and is endless (see their 2007 book Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang, Doubleday). Nevertheless, defending his own model of the universe, Ross asserted that God caused the beginning of time at the moment of the Big Bang. As other Creationists often do, Ross seems to ignore the fact that an act of a person causing something is itself an event in time, and so he backs himself into the corner of contradiction by implying there was time before the beginning of time."

"Ross and Rana proudly asserted that their RTB model makes predictions, like any good scientific model should. But some of the predictions that they presented at the debate were not very impressive. Ross claimed that he had used the model several years ago to accurately predict that science would discover more and more finely-tuned physical constants that could only have been produced by a majestic fine-tuner, and he claimed that this prediction will continue to be fulfilled. All this really means is that persons who wish to believe in God, especially physicists, will continue to pick out factors and constants whose values they assert could have been different, are very improbable, and must have been selected by an Intelligent Design or God for a noble purpose — the eventual creation of human beings. Now, there is a prediction you can take to the bank!"

"Shermer asked Ross and Rana to make predictions from their RTB model about the answers to these questions; they provided none. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting, but if Ross finally provides the requested predictions, maybe we can actually calculate his rate of hits and misses over the next couple of decades. Here are Carroll’s questions for Ross to answer:

1. What is making the universe accelerate? Cosmological constant, quintessence, modified gravity?

2. What is the dark matter? Is there only one kind?

3. What is the mass of the Higgs? Is there only one Higgs?

4. Are there large extra dimensions of space?

5. Did inflation happen? At what energy? Will we see its imprint in gravitational waves on the microwave background?

6. Is supersymmetry right? Is string theory?

7. Explain something the Bible predicts that hasn’t yet be found and will be completely surprising when it is. "

If God Disappeared...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Delos McKown

I live in Alabama, and the most well known University in the state is Auburn. Anyway, Auburn's former Philosophy Professor, Delos McKown, wrote an essay about how to deal with bible thumpers. Here's an excerpt to wet your appetite:

Bibliolaters should not be humored by being allowed to prattle on unchallenged but should be put in the position of having to put up or shut up. Positive good can come from making them suffer what sociologists commonly call cognitive dissonance, for it is out of intolerable intellectual and emotional conflicts within oneself that deliverance often comes.
In the early 1970s a former student of mine named Terry, mad as a hatter, returned to see me, as was his custom. This time he brought a dirty, wraith-like little man who stank to high heaven. "This here's Alphonse," Terry said, "Alphonse Rossignol. We want you to test a spirit."

"Test a Spirit," I said, thinking, why me? "Our university has a religion department now," I said, happily. "Why not get one of those guys to test your Spirit?"
"No!" thundered Terry. "They're hypocrites. Better an honest atheist any day than a hypocrite."
"Put that way," I said, "I don't see how I can refuse. What is this Spirit I'm to test?"
"Alphonse here's been fasting for six weeks," Terry said.

"Yes, that's right," Alphonse agreed. "I've been taking nothing by mouth except my own urine, sweetened with a little branch water from the creek behind my cabin. The Bible tells you to do it."

"Surely not!" I expostulated, then rued my outburst as some of the weird stuff in the Bible skittered through my mind. Taking a Bible from my bookshelf, guided by dim traces of memory and a hunch or two, my eyes soon alighted on John 7:37-38, in which the King James Version (KJV) has Jesus say:

"If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me ... out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water."

Alphonse beamed, having been justified in drinking his own pee by the very word of scripture itself, at which point he pulled a small plastic glass from his shirt pocket. The glass stank mightily and was ringed by a dirty yellowish precipitate.

"That's his communion cup," Terry announced exultantly.

Deciding it was time to throw a little cold water on these proceedings, I asked Alphonse, "Do you know what follows John 7:38?" He didn't, and it occurred to me that he might be illiterate, having only heardthe hypothetical imperative.

In the KJV John 7:39 appears in parentheses, which I read to Alphonse:

"But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believed on him should receive."

"See," I said, "the Bible itself tells you in verse 39 not to take literally what it says in verse 38. It's just a metaphor. You're not supposed to be drinking your own urine."

"Jesus told me to do it," Alphonse replied.

"Where did you see Jesus?" I asked.

"Out back of my cabin," said Alphonse.

"How can you be sure it wasn't the devil?" I shot back, getting down to business. "The scriptures say that the devil can disguise himself as an angel of light (II Corinthians 11:14). Why couldn't he dress up like Jesus and try to fool a person like you?"

Behind his grimy exterior, Alphonse blanched. He sank down in his chair, obviously rattled by the prospect that he might have met the devil. Meanwhile, banging hard on my desk, Terry cried out, "Now that's testing the Spirit!" as though they were getting their money's worth in Spirit-testing for the first time.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Origin of the Ribosome

Has anyone read about the latest breakthrough in origin-of-life research? Well, two scientists believe that they have figured out how the ribosome (which is a part of our genetic code) originated. From Carl Zimmer's blogpost:

"Bokov and Steinberg propose that the seeming complexity of the ribosome is something of a mirage. Its evolution was actually pretty simple. It evolved from a tiny piece of RNA, perhaps only 110 nucleotides long. At first, this molecule didn't build proteins; it may have carried out some kind of reaction on other RNA molecules in RNA-based cells. Then mutations accidentally duplicated the fragment, building new units that could fold back on the older units. This protoribosome may have been able to add random building blocks together. New layers of loops evolved, making the ribosome more precise, able to build specific proteins when it read specific pieces of RNA. Newer loops made the ribosome even more stable and thus able to crank out proteins even faster. The last major step in the evolution of the ribosome was the addition of its proteins.

The most practical way to test Bokov and Steinberg's hypothesis will be to build the intermediate ribosomes and see if they work as predicted. But perhaps we should not give up on nature just yet. As I have reported, RNA-based life could conceivably still be hiding in refuges somewhere here on Earth, eking out an existence with ribosomes that are a little less hideous than our own."

Are Science and Religion Compatible?

I just found a really informative blog post (by evolutionary Biologist Massimo Pigliucci) on why Science and Religion really do have problems with one another (read it here). I especially liked Massimo's quotation of Richard Feynman:

"I do believe that there is a conflict between science and religion ... the spirit or attitude toward the facts is different in religion from what it is in science. The uncertainty that is necessary in order to appreciate nature is not easily correlated with the feeling of certainty in faith."

In other words, religion demands that you have complete certainty in its concepts, while Science encourages you to realize you may be wrong, and to test your views constantly against others. These two ways of approaching the world are simply not compatible.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Debating Presuppositionalism

For those of you not familiar, there is a group of Christians called "Presuppositionalists" some of whom claim that one must presuppose the existence or non-existence of God and interpret all evidence in light of that assumption (rather than examing the evidence to reach a conclusion).

There is also another sect of presuppositionalists who claim that one must presuppose the existence of God -- particularly the Christian God -- In order to use the rules of logic. To get an idea of their argument, I recommend this webpage, which provides the clearest statement of their position I have come across.

Recently, the TV show "The Atheist Experience" had the author of that article on the show for a fairly thorough debate of his argument that logic depends on God. It's great if you want to see the Christian apologist take a whooping, but it is also pretty deep, so I would recommend reading the article linked above before watching it.