Monday, May 31, 2010

Interpreting Circumstances

Often times people cite personal experiences as evidence of a god - and not just any god, but their God (Allah, Yahweh, etc.). First, I'd like to say that no personal experience that someone else has had could ever convince me that a god exists. This may sound closed-minded, but I feel the same way about demons and ghosts and monsters. If someone were to tell me that they felt the presence of a ghost or even heard or saw one, I would not be obliged to believe them on testimony alone. While it's true that what they experienced may have been convincing for them, there's no way I can objectively and correctly analyze the scenario. To begin with, I wasn't there. I have no independent access to the events that took place. This is very important, because people tend (even unknowingly) to leave out important details when they don't think they're relevant. This assuming that they already know all of the details which surely never happens. So it isn't possible for me to come up with a possible alternate explanation for what happened because I only have access to what they remember and tell me. In short, their personal experience alone can't be enough to convince me.

But the important point I want to argue is that, in the case of experiences (positive or negative) relating to the existence of a god, it shouldn't be convincing to them either. I have heard many people over the years claim that "X good thing happened to me. This shows that God is there and that he cares for me." While that may seem like a nice thing to say, it's totally without merit and doesn't hold up under the slightest scrutiny. Let's say the example given is that someone receives a check in the mail for $400, exactly what they need to pay rent that month. The person claims that the only way that could have happened is if God orchestrated it. If you think this is true, allow me to ask a few questions.
  1. Was your bill exactly $400, or was it just pretty close?
  2. Did God himself send the check to fill your needs? If not, didn't that check come from a human and not from God? Did God make that person send you the check or was it of their own will?
  3. Have you ever received checks that didn't arbitrarily coincide with something else in your life? Did you credit those to God as well?
  4. If God is in the business of paying bills, why doesn't he do it more often?
  5. If God cares enough about you to pay your bills, why doesn't he also care enough about Africans to abolish AIDS? Or heal amputees? Or pay off the US's enormous debt?
The point I am trying to make is that there are a lot of assumptions in going from "X good thing happened" to "my God caused X to happen." When you start to examine the details, the magic of it all quickly fades away and you're left with very human answers. Sure, it could have been God behind the scenes influencing people somehow and supernaturally causing events to happen, but it's unlikely. I've never seen divine intervention, so I'm under no obligation to think that it happened in that person's case.

But another underlying assumption is at work here as well - that God wants good things to happen to you. Well, that might be true in some cases, but what if it wasn't always. Couldn't God want bad things to happen to you, for whatever reason? Some people do accept this line of thinking and believe that bad things are lessons and that they are better for having learned from them. If this is true, we now have evidence for God coming in the form of both good and bad things. (You can apply my previously-asked questions to bad experiences as well.)

My question is then, "How do you filter the God-caused events from the naturally caused ones?" That is to say, if God is in the business of causing good things to provide blessings and bad things to teach lessons, how can you ever say that one event is evidence of God? After all, any event could have had God behind it. Additionally (and more plausibly), any event could have had God completely out of the picture.

A final question I would ask is, "How is this event evidence of your God?" After all, couldn't it be some random other god? In none of the events did he actually reveal himself to you outside your own interpretational bias, did he/she? What if it's some other God punishing you for not believing in him? Or what if he is just allowing good things to happen to you because he isn't totally evil? There's no particular reason why any good or bad thing X must have been caused by supernatural being Y because there's never a correlation beyond the connections a person makes in his or her own mind. That's why Christians, for example, don't find personal stories from Muslims convincing and vice versa. And that's why I don't find any random event evidence of a particular god or religion.

Because out of all of the trillions of personal experiences that billions of people all over the planet have hundreds and thousands of times per day, some strange (even bizarre) coincidences are bound to happen. Even the best good, bad, and weird things will happen at the most (in)opportune times. And I don't find that evidence of the supernatural, especially considering the fact that people are just intrinsically bad at statistics.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Divine Comedy

An acquaintance of mine was recently reading my posts and was found to have differing opinions. He wrote a rebuttal and I, being a firm believer that the truth has nothing to hide from criticism, will link you to his blog where you can read it in full detail. He and I may go back and forth from time to time and it will be visible to everyone, whether our discussion is made public via blog post or comment. I may not always make full-on entries for every post he makes, but I suppose I'll start here. I'll begin by assuming you've read his entire post but I'll quote the relevant sections I'd like to address.

Gay marriage. What a topic. Let's cut right into the meat of it, shall we? I'll tell you where I stand; the Bible has been a guiding source of morality for western civilizations for a very long time. ... When our animal instincts tell us otherwise, our morals keep us from descending into hedonism. These morals have evolved with a heavy Christian influence. ... Our morals are what divide man and animal, in a meta-physical sense. ... Thus, when it comes gay marriage, I stick with the Bible - I say no.
There have been many different books over the ages that guided various civilizations in morality when people needed some fast and easy cure for the problems of their day. Some have done well - others not so well. While it is true that we can partially associate our western values with biblical teachings, this is a double-edged sword. Where you have commandments that say "you shall not murder," (*) you also have verses that say, "If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property." (*) Where you have commandments that say "Love your neighbor as yourself," (*) you have verses that say, "If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." (*)

The bible is a mixed bag of good and bad teachings. Most people, like yourself, only focus on the morals we as a developed society agree with and forget about all of the primitive values associated with all things written at the time. And along with our western values came those things which we have abolished and are still trying to abolish today (slavery and sexism, respectively). Perhaps you can agree that because the bible is not totally inerrant that it must therefore contain flaws at some level. Does that not include morality? Can you think of a good excuse for allowing slavery and sexism if you're an all-powerful god that can command otherwise?

Appealing to a morally imperfect book like this does you no good, especially in the political arena. In the case of homosexuality, it lends itself no credibility in the area of determining whether or not gay marriage should be allowed. Of course, you're allowed to think all gay people are immoral and disgusting if you wish, but should you make it your business if two people want to be "immoral" together, legally? Perhaps, as you put it, live and let live?
I disagree with you and I do a better Dr. House impression. This is the way Niccolò Machiavelli determines what's right and wrong. There are some unwritten societal laws that do not follow a logical order. More importantly, there are questions that are impossible to answer using only logic, e.g. do the ends justify the means?
You highlight something I pointed out in my last post, namely that there are tough moral questions. And with tough questions come tough answers, if any at all. However, I won't stray too far on that subject because it's irrelevant. In the question of homosexuality, is allowing gay marriage an impossible question to answer? Or do some people just not like the answer I give, instead preferring to dwell in their moral caves sequestered from everything but the simple answers their holy book gives? Is it possible to give a logical "no" answer to this question that doesn't involve the bible? I eagerly await the response to this question moreso than to any others I have asked.
This is not how our country works. There are very specific institutions in place to protect the views and wishes of minority parties. The Judicial branch of our government is an almost exclusive arbiter of minority party rights.
I refer to, in general, the democracy that allows for majority positions to become law. After all, if the minority controlled the country, how could we ever expect to run it sensibly?
... 'some [people] are objects of His mercy and some are objects of His wrath.' (I paraphrase - this notion is called God's elect.) In a nutshell, not everyone can be saved.
How very unfortunate for these people. Perhaps the all-loving god is subjecting these unsavable people to eternal torture for...
  • the good of other humans?
  • a lesson for the angels?
  • his own amusement?
Or maybe the things stated in the bible don't come from a loving god but from the bigoted men that lived thousands of years ago who thought it was OK to own slaves, beat children, stone men for carrying sticks, oppress women, and commit genocide at every turn of their promised-land-journey? Do you have any doubt that homophobia could be just another point on that list?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Conservatives and Gay Marriage in America

New Answers Book 2The newsletter that Answers in Genesis sent me today didn't have much content in it, but it linked me back to their site for chapter 15 of The New Answers Book 2, entitled How Should a Christian Respond to "Gay Marriage"? (Yes, they did put gay marriage in quotes.) It's somewhat lengthy, so I won't attempt to respond to every claim they make but instead generally to each topic they bring up. This is probably the longest post I've done yet, so don't feel like you have to read all of it. I've underlined the headings they used in their chapter so you can skip around to the more interesting bits if you like. And if you agree or disagree with what I've said, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

An Atheist on a Talk Show

 Ken Ham recalls having a conversation with an atheist on some kind of talk show, which I'm sure he didn't make up.
Caller: “I’m an atheist, and I want to tell you Christians that if you believe Cain married his sister, then that’s immoral.”

AiG: “If you’re an atheist, then that means you don’t believe in any personal God, right?”

Caller: “Correct!”

AiG: “Then if you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe there’s such a thing as an absolute authority. Therefore, you believe everyone has a right to their own opinions—to make their own rules about life if they can get away with it, correct?”

Caller: “Yes, you’re right.”

AiG: “Then, sir, you can’t call me immoral; after all, you’re an atheist, who doesn’t believe in any absolute authority.”
I would first point out that there's nothing innately immoral about marrying your sister from an atheist perspective, it's just a culture taboo. Not that it wouldn't be weird or creepy, but it would be difficult for me to argue that it's wrong to do so. However, according to the biblical commandments, incest is a sin and that's exactly what was required for Adam and Eve's children (if they were literal people) to do if they were to populate the earth. Instead of dealing with this issue, Ken turns the tables on the atheist and accuses him of not having any morals. A while back, I covered the issue of the divine command theory (otherwise known as "God commanded it, it's moral") and why it is irrelevant to morals. I would disagree with the atheist's last statement here, however, as while people can have their own opinions, it isn't about what they can get away with. It's about what is and isn't good for society and other people. Morals can, unfortunately, be a complicated issue and no one book (including the bible) has the answers to all tough questions. I know of places where the bible has good advice and I know where it contains bad advice. I think most Christians know how to weed out the good from the bad, highlighting their own sense of non-biblical morality.
AiG: “Do you believe all humans evolved from apelike ancestors?”

Caller: “Yes, I certainly believe evolution is fact.”

AiG: “Then, sir, from your perspective on life, if man is just some sort of animal who evolved, and if there’s no absolute authority, then marriage is whatever you want to define it to be—if you can get away with it in the culture you live in.

“It could be two men, two women or one man and ten women; in fact, it doesn’t even have to be a man with another human—it could be a man with an animal.

“I’m sorry, sir, that you think Christians have a problem. I think it’s you who has the problem. Without an absolute authority, marriage, or any other aspect of how to live in society, is determined on the basis of opinion and ultimately could be anything one decides—if the culture as a whole will allow you to get away with this. You have the problem, not me.”
Um, no. First, our origins have nothing to do with our morals. What isn't important is how we got here. What is important is how we treat each other now that we're here. Incidentally, most animals do operate under some sense of morals despite the fact that they too are, well... animals and don't have brains as developed as ours. They don't have the bible or any other book to tell them what's right and wrong, yet some animals have an especially strong sense of community. And about bestiality, I'm not sure where Ken Ham is pulling this logic from. You can't jump from two consenting adults to an adult and an animal who couldn't consent or even attempt to understand what that means. Now of course Ken doesn't let the atheist respond, or at least doesn't quote him here. I wouldn't let anyone get away with saying something like that without attempting a rebuttal, even if what was said was so stupid it almost refutes itself.

The “Pragmatics” Aspect of Opposing Gay Marriage—Some Cautions
Even though such problems as the spread of HIV might be shown to be a sound argument in this issue, ultimately it’s not a good basis for stating that one man for one woman must be the rule. It may be a sound argument based on the pragmatics of wanting to maintain a healthy physical body, but why should one or more human beings have the right to dictate to others what they can or can’t do in sexual relationships? After all, another person might decide that the relationship between one man and woman in marriage might cause psychological problems and use that as the basis for the argument.
Well, now we're getting somewhere. Yes, it is about giving two consenting adults the right to marry who they want, even if there are consequences (limited to the two in the act) because giving them the right wouldn't infringe on anyone else's rights to choose as well. The answer is staring you right in the face, but I don't think you quite see it. In fact, I'm quite sure, since you continue on for another 3/4 of a chapter.

Allowing the Killing of a Newborn?
Ultimately, it comes down to this: How does a culture determine what is right and what is wrong? If the majority agrees on a set of standards, what happens when that majority is replaced by a different majority?
We attempt to determine what is right and wrong by coming together and reasoning it out. I realize that logic seems to evade those hard-line creationists, so I understand why this concept is so difficult to grasp. But let's look at America today. Take socialized healthcare. Some people believe that it's the "right" thing to do, others believe it's the "wrong" thing. Could it be a moral question? Is is right to withhold care from those who can't afford it? Is it right to charge disinterested third parties to care for another? These are morals questions and there are people on both sides of the issue who think they take the moral high ground. Incidentally, both sides have tried to claim that theirs is the position supported by the bible, though there's no clear command from Jesus pertaining to the government's role in it.

If a different majority comes in and replaces the standards/law, then that's the new law. If you don't like it, then try to change it. You'll have to convince people that you're correct and your reasoning is better than the current reasoning. That's why a democracy is a good thing. Instead of having one man decide the laws (no matter how good a person he may be), we can have the votes of many and attempt to determine where most people stand. I know the objection here is "but what if everyone is wrong?" Tough. If you think we have the wrong standard, don't follow the standard. To date, I've never seen any example of the horrible things that could happen if we all were somehow creating our own standards (which we have been for millenia).
Some might say that there is no way Western culture would allow pedophilia. Fifty years ago, however, most people probably would not have dreamed that America or Britain would ever allow gay marriage. Where does one draw the line? And who determines who draws that line? What’s the answer?
Just as with bestiality, it comes down to consent. Now as I understand, Mary (wife of Joseph) was, according to what I learned in church, a young woman, perhaps even girl, at the age of about 12 when she was betrothed and the angel visited her. Obviously, the church can't consider this to be pedophilia since that would bring charges to Joseph and God that most people wouldn't want to deal with. The question then is, at what age is a person old an mentally ready enough to consent to a relationship? Certainly not at 5. Perhaps at 12. It's kind of fuzzy, really, because peoples' maturity can vary so widely. I think that's partly why we have it at 18 in most place in America. It's a nice safe age where no one can accuse you of being too young.

Does the Church Have the Answer?
One Christian leader was interviewed on MSNBC-TV and was asked about the gay marriage issue. The interview went something like this:

TV host: “Did Jesus deal directly with the gay marriage issue?”

Christian leader: “No, but then Jesus didn’t deal directly with the abortion issue or many other issues. . . .”

This is such a disappointing response. A proper response could have been such a powerful witness—not only to the interviewer but to the potential millions of viewers watching the news program, so people could understand why this Christian leader opposed gay marriage.
Perhaps a disappointing response for you, but an honest answer nonetheless. I think later you'll attempt to twist the meaning of a Jesus-quote to support your views but we'll get there eventually.
The same Christian leader appeared on CNN-TV doing an interview that, in part, went something like the following:

Interviewer: “Why are you against gay marriage?”

Christian leader: “Because down through the ages, culture after culture has taught that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

We believe this kind of answer actually opens the door to gay marriage! How? Because it basically says that marriage is determined by law or opinion.
Really? Because this seems to be the most oft-cited defense of traditional marriage. By throwing this out, what argument do you have left? ...Oh right, the Bible. *Sigh*
So, why is it that we don’t see many Christian leaders giving the right sorts of answers? I think it’s because the majority of them have compromised with the idea of millions of years of history, as well as evolutionary beliefs in astronomy, geology, and so on. As a result, the Bible’s authority has been undermined, and it’s no longer understood to be the absolute authority.
Wow, I've seen creationists confuse the ideas of evolution, cosmology, and abiogenesis, but this is something new. Apparently the people at AiG confuse evolutionary biology, astronomy, and geology with marriage. And willfully and honestly, at that. Wow. Now certainly, science conflicts with the most literal reading of Genesis, but most Christians aren't as conservative as you and don't take the biblical account to be anything other than metaphorical or allegorical.

Gay Marriage—Is Evolution the Cause?

To respond to this heading, don't be stupid. But I think Ken would like to clarify:
It is accurate to say that the increasing acceptance of homosexual behavior and gay marriage has gone hand in hand with the popularity and acceptance of millions of years and evolutionary ideas. But this does not mean that every person who believes in millions of years/evolution accepts gay marriage or condones homosexual behavior.
Ok, well "hand-in-hand" is open to interpretation, I suppose, but nonetheless, they're two completely separate topics that do not overlap. And that's why your last sentence is correct. Another correct sentence is "Not every person who enjoys Kit Kat bars thinks that we need to spend money on NASA's space exploration program." Their claim is bordering on a non sequitur.
Cultures in the West were once pervaded by a primarily Christian worldview because the majority of people at least respected the Bible as the authority on morality. It needs to be clearly understood that over the past 200 years the Bible’s authority has been increasingly undermined, as much of the Church has compromised with the idea of millions of years (this began before Darwin) and has thus begun reinterpreting Genesis. When those outside the Church saw Church leaders rejecting Genesis as literal history, one can understand why they would have quickly lost respect for all of the Bible. If the Church doesn’t even believe this Book to be true, then why should the world build its morality on a fallible work that modern science supposedly has shown to be inaccurate in its science and history?
Maybe the problem for people rejecting the Bible as an authority on morality was when we abolished slavery in America. Another problem could have been our progress toward giving women equal rights. Both go against what the Bible preaches (and we're better off for it) so I suppose I understand what Ken's saying. As a side note, from what I understand, AiG's position on a literal Adam & Eve is a relatively new movement in Christianity. Many of the old saints did not believe in such a literal reading of scripture. And now for possibly the dumbest image AiG has ever produced:

Church vs Church
Yes, that's right, churches accepting evolution and millions of years result in abortions, euthanasia, porn, racism, and gay sex. Only one picture can describe my reaction to this stunning display of stupidity.

Mocking the Bible
The author then, mockingly, wrote, “Ah, Genesis. Heaven and earth created in six days, a serpent that talks, and a 600-year-old man building an ark. Just the guide we need to set rational policy.”
 Actually, I think that sums it up perfectly. Props to AiG for doing my work for me!

Were Homosexuals Created That Way?
Human sexuality is very complex, and the arguments will long rage as to the causes of homosexual behavior. In this fallen world, most behaviors are a complex mix of one’s personal choices superimposed on a platform of predisposition. This can come both from one’s genetic makeup and one’s environment (for example, one’s upbringing). Few students of human nature would doubt the proposition that some personalities are much more predisposed to alcoholism and/or wife beating, for instance. But would anyone argue that this would make wife beating acceptable?
No, they wouldn't. And shouldn't. But boy, aren't you having a tough time with the concept of "consent" today, Ken? Wife-beating victimizes one party, leaving her with physical and emotional scars. Gay marriage is the agreement between two people that they both actively wish to participate in the act. Totally. Different.
The case for a “homosexual gene” has evaporated, but let’s say that researchers really were able to identify such a gene. After all, mutations in a cursed, fallen world can cause all sorts of abnormalities and malfunctions. For one thing, that would be a result of the Curse, not creation. And would knowledge of such a gene make right what Scripture clearly says is wrong? Absolute right and wrong exist independent of any secondary causative agencies.
And yet in the previous quote you admit that a person's "genetic makeup" helps determine the sexual identity of a person. However, if you don't agree that genetics (or at least biology) affects sexuality, you might do some reading on the subject. If you don't like Wikipedia, feel free to peruse the 86+ references they cite.
In fact, it is quite possible that a contributing factor to at least some cases of homosexuality is a dysfunctional upbringing right at the time when the child is gaining crucial environmental input regarding his or her own sexual identity. (Notice the importance the Bible places on bringing up children, the family unit, and so on.) But if anything, this highlights one of the huge risks of “married” gay people bringing up adopted children, namely the vulnerability of the children to confused messages about their own sexual identity. To put it simply, if one’s environment contributes to homosexuality, gay marriage will tend to increase the likelihood of the next generation being gay.
Oh no, Mommy and Daddy are fighting again! Also, I like boys now...

I want to link that facepalm picture again, but I feel it would lose some of its effect on repeated appearances. Anyway, when you talk about "huge risks" for sending "confused messages" to children when they're determining their own sexuality, you assume beforehand that it's a bad thing to be gay. As we know, growing up in a mostly-heterosexual society doesn't make you straight. Why should we conclude that growing up in a society accepting of gays would lead to more gays? It's more complicated than that, and it's not as though we can just plug a child into a formula and determine their sexuality before they do.

Also, I'm confused by this image:
Are we saying that men with little mutated elbow stubs need to find physically scarred women with giant gaps in their sides? That it's possible for two differently-mutated people to come together but they won't be happy? That the man and woman on the left are incompatible because their parts don't match? That two men shouldn't be together if their legs are egregiously different sizes? I feel this needs more explaining...

Gay Marriage — What Is the Answer?
In the Bible in Judges 17:6, we read this statement: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (NAS95). In other words, when there is no absolute authority to decide right and wrong, everyone has his or her own opinion about what to do.
Ok... so you're saying a King can decide right and wrong? But isn't a king still a person? Why does he have the authority to tell me what is and isn't moral? Why does God have that authority? What if their decision is obviously wrong? What if a king or God told me to murder my firstborn son? Shouldn't I refuse?
So how could the Christian leader whose interviews were quoted earlier in this chapter have responded differently? Well, consider this answer:
First of all, Jesus (who created us and therefore owns us and has the authority to determine right and wrong), as the God-man, did deal directly with the gay marriage issue, in the Bible’s New Testament, in Matthew 19:4–6: “And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,” and said, “For this cause a man shall leave father and mother and shall cling to his wife, and the two of them shall be one flesh?” So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.’
 Wait, why does creating someone give you the right to dictate morality? Does this mean that, because I created my child, I can tell him in no uncertain terms what right and wrong is? Or does it only count if you create the matter from nothing? I don't recall a matter-creation clause in the Morality Dictation Handbook.

But even if Jesus did have that authority, he doesn't talk about homosexuality in Matthew. His point was not that only man and woman should come together, but rather that they should not be separated. Notice the "therefore" in his conclusion. He could have used the example of two men or two woman and his conclusion could have been the same. No doubt AiG disagrees, but the question asked to him (left out of their quotation) was “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” Notice the question was already posed concerning a man and a woman to begin with.
Because Genesis is real history (as can be confirmed by observational science, incidentally), Jesus dealt quite directly with the gay marriage issue when he explained the doctrine of marriage.
Um, no. All observational science we know of disagrees with the concept of a 6-year creation 6000 years ago where animals were made fully-formed and the original woman was made from a man's rib. The Answers in Genesis website disagrees, but it is also a haven of ignorance, lies, and pseudoscience. So I don't think they count.
Therefore, in Leviticus 18:22, Jesus deals directly with the homosexual issue, and thus the gay marriage issue.
So does Jesus also deal with clothing and cattle in Leviticus 19:19?
"You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material."
According to Jesus, we can't have homosexual marriage, wear polyester, or allow farmers to grow more than one crop. God sure seems to care a lot about petty details of our lives. Doesn't he have anything better to do, like prevent tsunamis or earthquakes from killing innocent people?
Even in a secular context, the only answer a Christian should offer is this:
The Bible is the Word of our Creator, and Genesis is literal history. Its science and history can be trusted. Therefore, we have an absolute authority that determines marriage.
God made the first man and woman—the first marriage. Thus, marriage can only be a man and a woman because we are accountable to the One who made marriage in the first place.
And don’t forget—according to Scripture, one of the primary reasons for marriage is to produce godly offspring. Adam and Eve were told to be fruitful and multiply, but there’s no way a gay marriage can fulfill this command!
And unfortunately for them, we don't base our laws on any religious texts. And I'm not sure how that logic works up in your first paragraph. If I write an accurate book on science and history, can I be an absolute authority determining marriage as well? And what about artificial insemination? Won't that allow us to fulfill this command while still having gay marriage? And what about adoption? Do conservatives really think these are good objections to gay marriage? It seems like they're grasping at every straw they can find, but it also seems like they realize their only real reason is the Bible. So it all but seems like a lost cause. The only things preventing homosexual marriage are the bigotries and homophobia of the right. I hope we can all grow up a little and accept the fact that we're smart enough to make our own decisions without relying on the advice of mostly ignorant nomads who lived thousands of years ago.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Can creationists be “real” scientists?'ll let your answer to that question be the same as the answer to this one: "Can flat-earthers be "real" scientists?" AiG never attempts to answer that question in their newsletter, so I'll do that for them. On to their words.
A: Although evolutionists interpret the evidence in light of their belief in evolution, science works perfectly well without any connection to evolution. Think about it this way: is a belief in molecules-to-man evolution necessary to understand how planets orbit the sun, how telescopes operate, or how plants and animals function? Has any biological or medical research benefited from a belief in evolution? Not at all.
Only partially correct. Evolutionists (read: scientists) interpret the evidence in light of the current best theories but have to explain how they do or don't fit in with the theory and why or why not. Science, as a process, would work whether or not evolution by natural selection was a fact or not. Your first two items in that list are indeed mostly irrelevant, but the third is an outright lie. Our understanding of "molecules-to-man" evolution directly affects what we know about how plants and animals function and you know it. Almost all of our biological and medical research has benefited from understanding evolution.
In fact, the PhD cell biologist (and creationist) Dr. David Menton has stated, “The fact is that though widely believed, evolution contributes nothing to our understanding of empirical science and thus plays no essential role in biomedical research or education.”
Dr. Menton, you must be either incredibly inadequately educated or an outright liar. Perhaps, in light of your ignorant or deceitful quote, you would be well-advised to do some reading or just a little thinking. If you like to have things narrated to you while looking at pretty pictures in hi-res, you might enjoy C0nc0rdance's 3-part series, The light of evolution: What would be lost. He breaks things up into 8 parts:
  1. Pathogen evolution and the Red Queen
  2. Human genetic disease, SNPs, and forensics
  3. Conservation genetics
  4. Agriculture
  5. Cladistics and reconstructive phylogenies
  6. Discovering genes and regulatory regions
  7. Understanding the past
  8. Beyond biology
If you don't want to spend 30 minutes educating yourself on the topic (thought it would be time well-spent), I'll just say that understanding evolution allows us to understand how things change. How we change. It allows us to make better medicine because we understand how bacteria and viruses can evolve. You may look at these and say "that's only micro-evolution," but that's not a real objection. The only difference between micro- and macro-evolution is scales of time and biologists don't think within these narrow spaces. There is a real value to having knowledge and even if it were somehow true that it didn't benefit us in any way in the present to understand the effects of science, would that mean we should abandon it for something that helps us understand things even less? (I'm looking at you, Special Creation.)
The rise of technology is not due to a belief in evolution, either. Computers, cellular phones, and DVD players all operate based on the laws of physics, which God created. It is because God created a logical, orderly universe and gave us the ability to reason and to be creative that technology is possible.
The rise of understanding of biological processes and technological mechanisms stem from the same thing - the scientific method. Evolution, like all natural processes, operates on the laws of physics and chemistry, just like cellphones and DVD players. But no one ever said that technology was due to a belief in evolution and it doesn't even make sense that you would assert that. Science seeks to tell us about the world we live in and provide us with solutions to life's problems as well as endow us with all kinds of things that many people would deem luxuries. You readily accept the luxuries it gives while criticizing it for things you apparently don't understand. The alternative would be that you, Answers in Genesis, are willfully lying to the scientific illiterate who will buy your propaganda hook, line, and sinker. And that's just despicable.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Creationism vs. Evolution (feat. AronRa)

AronRaNormally I find creation/evolution debates a waste of time and effort, but in particular, one YouTube user AronRa has always been very interesting to follow. Having watched his highly provoking 15 Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism, I thought it would be very interesting to see someone try to take him on in an argument. He just recently finished an ongoing debate at the League of Reason Forums which I will link here. (You can start at the beginning of the thread if you really want to, but this position is where he links to in his profile page so I'll do the same as well.)

If you have the time to read it, I think you'll enjoy it. If you disagree you'll be challenged and if you do agree, I'm sure you'll get some kind of chuckle out of it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Putting the "Pro" in Programming
I think programming is an art. There, I said it. I've come out of my conceited little arrogant and ignorant box. Writing code that works well and is human readable is a form of art. Now before you open your mouth to disagree (or roll your eyes because you don't care), let's agree on a few terms:


the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
the class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria; works of art collectively, as paintings, sculptures, or drawings: a museum of art; an art collection.
skill in conducting any human activity: a master at the art of conversation.
Now I do have to admit, that definition is rather inclusive. Under this line of thinking, almost anything can be an art. What I want to emphasize about programming, however, is its shared characteristics with other accepted forms of art such as paintings and music.

In paintings and music, the artist has some theme, some concept in their head that they want to convey to the audience. They want the audience to feel it and in some abstract way, interact with it. They start from scratch and work their way up, step by step, until they have their final product. Painters may brush a large background color onto the canvas, stroke a few outlines for a face, fill it with a natural color, and ultimately converge on a Mona Lisa. Musicians may lay down a rhythmic beat, record a guitar, and overlay that with vocals - all the while refining their melodies and little tweaks such as fades and mutes.

Programming is very similar. The artist here (yes) wants to write software to fill a particular need in his or someone else's life. He knows what he wants the end product to be but hasn't filled in all of the gaps yet. He must first carefully plan the approach he wants to take to solve his problems. He starts by perhaps writing a main method that contains some variables and executes some debug code. He may then create some classes and divert the program flow into a state machine or constantly run a loop that checks what it should be doing at any given time. Eventually, he will have all the necessary functions, switches, and flow controls to call his program complete. Like a work of art, it must be aesthetically pleasing. While it's definitely true that many programs are just plain ugly, I can think of quite a few examples of fluid and natural interfaces that make using that program ten times more enjoyable.

And while speaking on the topic of aesthetics, let's not forget the code itself. There are varying degrees of ugly and I'm sure I've seen a lot of them. But I've also seen good designs through creativity and good language features that turn vomit-on-sights to sparkling, wonderful breaths of fresh air. Let me give a very simple example. In C, you might have to do something like this to check the contents of a list:

Now that's just nasty. It took eight lines of code that all look like they just rolled out of bed - mussed hair, bad breath and all. It looks like garbage, and you probably wrote at least one mistake in it carelessly that you'll either notice before you compile or notice later when your outputs aren't what you expect. Conversely, you can use languages like C# that allow you to use predicates and lambda functions on wrappered lists to do operations much more quickly and easily without sacrificing readability:

 In the same way that some art is more compelling than others, so too is some software more usable and better looking than others. We can't all hit home runs every time, but we shouldn't be afraid of stepping up to the plate. We should be open to new ideas that may save us some time or complexity or frustration. We shouldn't be afraid of rewriting bad code, changing a note at the end of the second verse, or slightly changing the color of the sky to match the palette we chose. It might be painful to correct mistakes, but it's often worth it in the end.

Art or not, writing better code is important because someday, someone will have to look at the code you write and it's always a pain having to clean the monitor screen after someone's head explodes.

Monday, May 3, 2010

You're Not Really an Atheist

I've heard it said quite a few times, "You're not really an atheist. You know God exists! You just don't want to admit it and be accountable." This is usually followed by quoting, "The fool says in his heart there is no God."  Or, better yet,
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
A little bit wordier, but the same idea. It sounds like a classic case of somebody who believes so strongly in their god that they can't fathom anyone else not believing (for whatever reasons convince them). And it's really tough (and sometimes impossible) to convince them otherwise. Maybe it's because they believe the bible, and if everything the bible says is true and if the bible says I really do believe, then I must believe. Now wouldn't that just be convenient.

I've known a lot of people that really wanted to believe (and I'm not excluding myself) but ultimately gave up their faith for logical reasons. This is admittedly rare, probably partially due to the fact that it's tough to get reasoned out of a position you didn't reach with reason in the first place. But it happens, and often enough that I'm not completely discouraged. It's tough to explain how someone could go from being a fundamentalist conservative evangelical Christian or Muslim to atheist if they really knew a God existed. But it definitely happens. Perhaps some religious people only see what they want to see.

Though I have to wonder, what exactly was Paul talking about when he mentioned the "things that are made"? Is he referring to the earth or the universe or Jesus or unicorns or what? I don't buy the Argument from Design for various reasons and that seems to be what's being pushed here. "Don't you know that every watch has a watchmaker?" the writer asks. Yes, actually, I do know that. I know that watchmakers exist and I know the explanation for how a watch gets into my hands. I also know that snowflakes exist and are quite complex, but I know of no snowflake-maker in the sky that carves out each and every one individually. But that seems to be the problem. Pesky naturalistic explanations of things, always encroaching on God's (former) territory. I don't feel particularly "without excuse" when it comes to my apparent lack of "understanding by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead." Am I supposed to infer from my mere existence that there's an eternal being that exists beyond this realm of understanding? Seems like a stretch in any case.

But of course, we can't forget the accusations of foolishness. Seems like an unfair trump card to me. If I were to go around touting my beliefs as inerrant and unquestionable - proclaiming everyone who disagreed with me to be a fool, I'd probably gather more than a few haters. But this is what Christians can get away with, because it's in their holy book.

In any case, I have plenty of good reasons for not believing the bible or Christian claims (or religious claims in general). These range from scientific to philosophical to logical to historical and a few more I don't know how to categorize. Despite that, some people will just continue to insist that I know that a god exists (and not just any god, but the Christian God, mind you) and that I just don't want to face up to it. And that seems like the most absurd claim of all. If I really knew for a fact (somehow) that there was a God and a hell that I'd go to forever if I didn't do the things he wanted and I knew I didn't do them, I'd be a little reluctant to outright reject his existence. That would literally be the dumbest thing any person could ever do, but apparently some people (like myself) work up the courage to do it every day. That kind of thinking blows my mind.