Saturday, May 23, 2009

More from James Randi

I usually don't comment on skeptics generally, but I did find this interesting;

The Carlos hoax, in which a teen aged actor was set up by the skeptic and magician James Randi to act as a channeler receiving messages from an "ascended master" by the name of Carlos was meant to show how easily the media could be drawn into the channeling sensation. It is true that there is an amazing amount of silliness for lack of better words in the media, pseudoscience and the paranormal seem to be much more popular then true science in some cases.

Hopefully the next generation will be less credulous.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Does evolution inevitably lead to atheism? A response to a CMI article

The belief that atheism and evolution are intertwined is probably the most significant motivation behind the creationist movement. As you all know 2009 is the 150th anniversary since Darwin published his book, most would understand the cause for excitement is that in that year a theory which is now one of the founding theories in biology was first proposed. Creationists claim it is because Darwin made a theory which is held by some to make God redundant, however as far as I can tell the starting of the year 2009 caused a lot more excitement in creationist circles then evolutionist or atheist circles. One article (its also an editorial in Journal of Creation) on the CMI website would be an example of this concern.

How odd. Why is the whole world caught up this year in such euphoria over
Why haven’t the achievements of other great scientists ever captured
the global imagination—scientists like Sir Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, James
Maxwell, Albert Einstein or Gregor Mendel?

Well this isn't entirely true, 2005 was the "World Year of Physics" in memory of Einstein's work on general relativity. General relativity has had a large impact on the field of physics so it is simply natural that the 100 year anniversary of Einstein publishing his theory was commemorated.

It is the same with Darwin, he made many contributions to biology which greatly improved our understanding of how organisms relate to each other. Darwin's theory also helped us realize who we are exactly and where we fit in the ecosystem, it led to the modern understanding of the human race. Although it is true that atheistic organizations also celebrate it because it replaced God as the direct creator it is mostly about Darwin's contributions to science.

Because Darwin 2009 is not about science. Look at who’s cheering.
International Humanists Union honour Darwin because evolution, in their words,
‘made creator deities redundant’. Note, evolution made the Creator redundant.
Sir Julian Huxley gloated, ‘Darwinism removed the whole idea of God as the
creator of organisms from the sphere of rational discussion.' Underline,
Darwin removed God.
Atheist extraordinaire, Richard Dawkins said, ‘ … Darwin
made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.’ Observe, Darwin
justifies atheism.

As I mentioned earlier, of course atheists and secular humanists are going to remember Darwin for the ideological extrapolations which his theory led to. It should be noted that yes while evolution makes it possible to not believe in God, it does not make it impossible to believe in God. God could still be the creator of the universe besides the fact that he used evolution to create life. Evolution does not automatically imply God doesn't exist anymore then the theory of gravity does, since gravity draws objects together in space rather then God directly pushing them together.

The author continues, stating supposed evidence for intelligent design and creation and concluding that this year is an opportunity to spread the creation message, this is discussed in other articles and by other sources.

Now while it does not matter if the celebration of Darwin does have to do with Atheism, it does matter that it leads many to believe that evolution rules out God. Creationists think that by fighting evolution they are helping to restore and strengthen the faith of Christians as well as the over all respectability of Christianity. In reality they are helping to destroy Christianity by making the church look backwards, which has an adverse affect on the number of Christians leaving the chuch. At the same time atheists are not facilitating the debates end either; by promoting evolution as inherently anti-theistic they are only giving the creationists more incentive to fight the evolutionary theory, thus prolonging the controversy. What needs to be done is to focus on the motivation for the creationist denial of evolution; if we theistic evolutionists show both creationists and atheists that evolution is compatible with belief in God then the controversy will end soon thereafter.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Second post of the year (pathetic I know)

I don't have much time so this post will be short; I decided to make a post before the close of the month to keep making one post per month at least. I have been rather slothful I'll admit and I intend to fix it eventually, but not tonight; I will try to post another article of meaning tomorrow. For now to keep my readers (assuming there are any left) entertained; I found a rather interesting video series debunking and young earth creation astronomy. I agree with very little he says in regards to theology, but he does a great job with the science.

Creation Astronomy Propaganda Debunked 1

Creation Astronomy Propaganda Debunked 2

Creation Astronomy Propaganda Debunked 3

Creation Astronomy Propaganda Debunked 4

Creation Astronomy Propaganda Debunked 5

Creation Astronomy Propaganda Debunked 6

Enjoy: (note that due to the haste in which I put it together I might have made a few errors in the linking).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Skepticism and the church

Skepticism is a powerful tool; it is one of the essential tools of science, in fact Carl Sagan called science a marriage of skepticism and wonder.

The hard thing about skepticism is that in order to be a true skeptic, one must question the validity of all ideas even those which are cherished. Every assertion must be supported by a degree of evidence whether this evidence is forensic, experimental, or observational. accepting an idea or claim at face value without investigating its reliability can cost you money or even a person's life (as in the case of quack medical cures). Now this isn't an essay on why one needs to be skeptical; there are several books which encourage skepticism, or the compatibility between religion and a skeptical worldview. The purpose of this post is to discuss the need for skepticism in one particular social institution: the church.

I consider myself an evangelical Christian, however this does not keep me from saying that credulity runs deep in many Evangelical christian circles. Now this gullibility isn't universal, many Evangelical churches encourage their members to read the bible to compare what the bible says with what the pastor says. Churches like these encourage their congregations to think for themselves deciding what the bible actually says; not what the past claims the bible says. This kind of skepticism is great concerning doctrinal issues which have an affect on a churchgoers daily life such as tithing or prophecy. If a pastor says the the world is going to end next Tuesday, the congregation has no obligation to believe him since Jesus said you will know neither the day nor the hour of my coming (Matthew 24:36) which renders any attempt to make an end times cult foiled. People are also encouraged to ask questions concerning the bible, in many but not all churches, a person in a strongly dispensationalist (believing in the the rapture followed by a seven year tribulation and Christs second coming) church can be an open preterist (the belief that Christ already came somewhere around 70 A.D. and that we are not living in the millennial reign of Christ); they simply cannot be ushers, assistant pastors, deacons etc.

But the problem is that while the church is very skeptical, even intolerant of things which are not considered biblical (channeling crystals, astrology, alien abductions etc.) many evangelicals are very gullible when it comes to things the bible doesn't rule out. This would include instance involving faith-healings, sightings of angels, demonic possession, encounters with Jesus, and witchcraft. Many stories with such elements are rarely checked, and the reason is quite obvious; they are biased towards these events so they tend to be less doubtful of them. I am not denying that I think any of these events happen. I would be more likely to believe a story about a missionary being saved from headhunters by an angel, and would be more inclined to attribute a New Age gurus contact with an ascended master to hallucinations, sleep paralysis, or fabrication. Since I think such events occur and I want them to occur; I wouldn't mind God sending angels to protect me, or Jesus meeting me on the road and since I believe God exists for reasons which are beyond the scope of this article I find an encounter with an angel more plausible then a power Juju. We all have biases and other religious people would react the same way, but we must put our biases aside and question the truth of these tails whether or not they align with our religious beliefs.

Now what am I asking? I am asking Christians to be just a little more skeptical about certain topics, such as things the bible does not rule out. Christians and religious believers in general are known for gullibility, however Christians shouldn't be, the bible tells us to be skeptical (2 Thessalonians 5:21) and to test all things, using reason to attain truth. One area where skepticism would be a great advantage is faith-healing. Being a Christian I do believe in faith-healing and that one day there might be a true faith healer, but most current faith-healers appear to be charlatans taking advantage of the gullible. Most diseases they supposedly cure are psychogenic illnesses or even outright fabrications. Faith healers have gained a reputation for dishonesty in our modern age.

A little skepticism might be as simple as asking the faith healer to heal someone of Down's syndrome or another largely incurable disease; or document how the faith healer's prayers affected the person's illness, noting also how illness was affected by the prayers. Also compare what the faith healer says concerning theology with biblical theology, if he is really sent by God then his words should agree with what the bible teaches. Another important thing is to scrutinize his behavior; assuming Christianity is true, those who are endowed with the holy spirit should act accordingly (showing love, kindness, generosity, self-control, altruism, humility etc.).

Such methods can apply to other topics such as self-proclaimed prophets or those who claim to be the second coming of Christ.

Stories involving encounters with supernatural beings should be treated with the same type of skepticism, here are some guidelines;
--Ask if there were any other witnesses, and if possible try to interview them to hear their side of the story.
--consider alternatives (were they hallucinating, were they mistaken, were they lying)
--make sure all the elements of the story are not contradictory and that all the witnesses give relatively the same story.

Now you may ask why go through all the trouble of investigating such stories? The reason is quite sober; many people live out their lives on the assumption that those stories are true. If they are not true, then the believers in these tails are living a lie; if you are living based off a false premise, you will have a distorted view of reality which could lead you to make bad decisions and even put your life or the lives of others in danger. From both a biblical and from a secular perspective skepticism can save a man's soul.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Christian perspective on Radiometric dating

Not to lazily hand the research over to someone else but this is a rather interesting paper on radiometric dating by a Christian arguing for the accuracy of radiometric dating.

I must say it is refreshing to know you have allies

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Review of Answers In Genesis' review of Eugenie Scotts talk on science and faith part 2

Now they begin to discuss how faith affects scientific research, it is true that science owes a significant part of its ideological foundations to a Christian theistic worldview but does this mean that we should force a certain interpretations of the bible on the scientific community? The fact is that while the young earth interpretation was once an adequate interpretation because it did not contradict what science knew at the time evidence of an old earth, evolution, and a very old universe have been uncovered which contradicts it and a better interpretation of the bible is needed.

Anyways the creationist author goes on to state the following paragraph;
What I’ve tried to make clear so far is that one’s belief about God does make a
difference in how one understands science and what one thinks about the origin
of life. Specifically, while creationists do value inferential explanation, we
However, notice that even when we find data that points to design, such as irreducible complexity, Darwinism is not considered falsified or challenged. In fact, we argue that nothing evolutionists find would be considered enough to falsify evolution, because Darwinism isn’t just another falsifiable hypothesis that’s made its way to the core; rather, it is a presupposed, foundational paradigm that is used to interpret the actual facts.value the authority of an infallible, direct observer over inferential
explanations that start out by arbitrarily decreeing that a designer is “less
probable” (ruling out supernatural explanations).

To this, I agree your religious beliefs do have an affect on how you look at science and scientific discoveries. However not to the extent that creationists would suppose, while your religious beliefs or lack thereof give you different philosophical perspectives on different discoveries and the nature of science, it does not and should not cause you to rewrite science and force-fit it into your religious views which is exactly what creationists are doing. While I agree that arbitrarily assuming there is not designer is fallacious, I don't think we should then attribute the origin of everything to direct creation of the deity without good solid evidence, otherwise it is not science.

After describing Eugenie Scotts illustration of core, frontier, and frings ideas of science the creationist author responds;
However, notice that even when we find data that points to design, such as
irreducible complexity, Darwinism is not considered falsified or challenged. In
fact, we argue that nothing evolutionists find would be considered enough to
falsify evolution, because Darwinism isn’t just another falsifiable hypothesis
that’s made its way to the core; rather, it is a presupposed, foundational
paradigm that is used to interpret the actual facts.

That is just the problem, Irreducible Complexity is not evidence of design so by simple logic evolution has not been challenged by IC therefore it has not been falsified, and even if IC did challenge a completely naturalistic outlook on natural history it would not disprove evolution. This doesn't prove that Design has been rejected for philosophical reasons by the scientific community it simply proves the obvious fact that IC has failed to disprove it, evolution is easy to disprove also; just find evidence of human fossils in the Triassic period and evolution is dead. Now it should also be pointed out that in a sense the creationists are right; facts have to be interpreted but there is only one correct interpretation and young earth creationism is not it.

Now onto whether or not evolution (or darwinism as they call it) is a paradigm;
One might suggest that, even if Darwinism is a paradigm rather than a simple
hypothesis, the evidence would still help scientists choose between competing
paradigms (as though they were competing explanatory hypotheses). But facts
don’t speak for themselves; they must be interpreted through a paradigm.
Interpreting facts to prove a paradigm is thus ultimately an exercise in
circular logic. Furthermore, since the only paradigms that challenge Darwinism
are design-based, there is effectively only one paradigm to chose from for those
like Scott who reject that science can discover intentional design.

Although this is true it does not help creationists since evolution is not a paradigm but a testable hypothesis which has passed the test of time. Now on Methodological Naturalism (which is what creationists really mean when they say "Darwinism"), Methodological Naturalism was developed many Christian philosophers (among them being Francis Bacon) who understood that uniformity was the key foundation of science. The supernatural was not to be denied or denigrated but when it came to the natural world the supernatural would be left out since they were dealing with the way God usually upheld his creation (natural forces) rather then the way God upheld his creation only in very special moments (supernatural forces) so the supernatural is left out of the equation when it comes to science. This is wise because capricious supernatural explanations will not give us a better understanding of the natural world. Now it is true that some people will not accept supernatural explanations of any kind (even theists such as Kenneth Miller), if the evidence points toward a deliberate supernatural act (actual evidence not just a God-of-the-gaps argument) I will accept it. I have no philosophical reason to reject design, however the current Intelligent Design movement is disappointingly lacking in evidence for their theory, and that is in a nutshell the reason I am a Christian who believes in Evolution. As a result I am not convinced that anyone, Christians in particular should be so eager to support Intelligent Design for its potential apologetic uses.

In the end it is up the reader to decide which one is true, evolution is a testable hypothesis which has been proven, and if you believe I am wrong don't just sit there, argue with me and tell me why I am wrong, you might even change my mind who knows.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Review of Answers In Genesis' review of Eugenie Scotts talk on science and faith

Excuse the incredibly long name but there isn't really any other way to phrase it.

Anyway I was just reading a recent article on the AiG website about a talk Eugenie Scott gave back in September (yes it took them that long to get to it, but I can see why, they are probably quite busy). It is basically a discussion about how science and religion mix. Now since I am a theist and Eugenie is not I will probably find myself agreeing with a lot of things the creationists are saying from a philosophical standpoint yet rejecting many of their conclusions (example, I agree that there is a God who created the universe and revealed himself to mankind through a book, however I disagree that this means he couldn't have used natural processes to create the universe).

To begin, she points out that there are three ways of gaining knowledge; personal experience (intuition internal knowledge etc.), Authority (a book such as the bible, an experienced individual in a particular field etc.), and science which she describes as a limited way of knowing the world which through natural processes alone. She also points out that science is limited in the sense that it can only know what can be observed and tested. I agree with most of what she is saying, although if evidence of something outside the natural world (say, God) could be gleaned then it would probably be accepted as scientific.

Next she goes onto the creationist argument that you cannot know anything about something if it happened in the past because there were no witnesses. Eugenie uses a humorous example of finding on a road, cow dung with a road stripe painted over it, and then humorously asks the audience if we would not be able to figure out what happened because it happened in the past. She goes onto state that we could figure out what happened through seeing a logical sequence (cow comes and defecates on a road stripe, the road maintenance crew comes to paint fresh stripes on the road and doesn't clean of the dung but simply paints the line over it).

The creationist argument that we can't figure something out because it happened in the past is indeed a weak argument. And although I agree that an omniscient witness who can't lie is a good witness to have I also believe Creation is a witness from God telling the human race how he created the universe, it is simply logical that God's creation would be just as reliable as his on natural history as his revealed word would be on matters of human history, spirituality and morality.

Now enough babbling, lets get to the creationists' response;
Now, let me make it clear that, unlike Scott’s implication, creationists do
believe inferential explanation is, on the whole, pretty accurate. If you return
home and your dog is out of the cage with trash scattered about, it’s not
unreasonable to conclude, based on past experience and circumstantial evidence
(e.g., teeth marks on garbage, the dog’s dirty snout) that the dog is
responsible. This sort of deduction can be quite reasonable when there are no
observers and can be important even when there are observers—if they’re fallible
(for example, the aforementioned witnesses to a crime).
Likewise, Scott’s
answer to her highway conundrum makes sense based on what we know about the
behavior of cattle, the physics of highway paint striping, and so forth.
just as it seems foolish to conclude that inferential explanations are never
right, it also seems foolish to conclude that inferential explanation—especially
about unrepeatable historical events—is just as reliable as directly observing
repeatable, carefully controlled scientific experiments. This is where we get
into the distinction between operational (or observational) science and origins (or
historical) science
—a distinction evolutionists fail to recognize, by the
For instance, a dog tearing up garbage isn’t a one-time event; it’s
something that happens more regularly than most people would like, has been
observed many times, and violates no laws of science. We could even set up a
two-way mirror or hidden camera and document Fido’s destruction.

And now for my rebuttal: While it is true that sometimes accurately describing historical events can be difficult it is not impossible. Although we cannot absolutely know how a battle happened we can get a pretty good idea (like from where the enemy attacked, we can tell what era it occured in by the armour of the soldiers, etc.). A dog tearing up garbage isn't a one time event but neither is biological change, and we can actually observe it happening in the same way we can see dogs tearing through garbage. Creationists need to show that these two cases are somehow different; now it is true that we have not actually watched a reptile evolve into a bird but we don't have to. Just like in at a crime scene you look for clues from the site to see what happened, scientists look for any changes of that type in the fossil record which is essentially (not to use a word twice but) a record of earth's history. If we didn't find any evidence of this sort of change whatsoever evolution would have been thrown in the garbage can a long time ago.

Now onto why they think evolution is different;
But as for the differences: first, Darwinian evolution is based on
conjecture about a one-time event that we cannot repeat experimentally; the
“documentation” of the fossil record is actually just an interpretation of unevolving fossils that
presupposes evolution.3 Second, Darwinian evolution violates the law of biogenesis and the second
law of thermodynamics. Third, there are good alternatives to evolution regarding
the origin of life/biodiversity. These differences distinguish the dog-and-trash
and the cattle-and-road-stripe examples from Darwinian evolution.

Well I am sorry to say this creationist is w-r-o-n-g; Darwinian evolution is not based on conjecture and it is based upon an event which we can repeat experimentally, evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics or the law of biogenesis (evolution has nothing to do with abiogenesis), and no there are no good alternative explanations. It should also be pointed out that Intelligent Design as a concept is valid, however the current movement which wants to make Intelligent Design a scientific alternative to evolution has failed to make a convincing case. I would like nothing better then for a more theistic framework for biology to appear but until that happens, I will stay with evolution. Next he makes the point that inference is only accurate if the source is accurate. Now this is true, but if data gained through careful examination and experimentation is not a good source of inference then I don't know what is. Creationists deny it but that is indeed how our knowledge of evolution has been gained over the past 150 years.

The last point I am going to address tonight is that God being incapable of lying and omniscient would be a perfectly reliable witness; this is very true but creationists need to remember that creation was also made by God and it was made to give a reliable account of the past, shouldn't we also take the witness of God's creation into account?

I will be making a part two of this tomorrow (I apologize for my laziness in updating this blog, I will attempt to do better next month) but for now, farewell and goodbye.