Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

What makes a person intelligent? Intellect? Knowledge? Education? Cognition? While there are a plethora of tributaries to this particular river, I'm speaking only of the constitution of intelligence. For instance, we all go to school (well most of us, and some of us for a very long time), but not all of us, at the end of the day, can be described as being particularly intelligent. It is the variation in degree of intelligence that I wonder about. I know some remarkably intelligent people and I also know some real dunces. I wonder about this discrepancy, why are there really smart folk, and not-so-smart folk? Specialization in education is the mark of the day, but I think it is not all that it is cracked up to be. I hold two degrees (bachelors and masters) in my particular field, and I believe I am at least more intelligent than the average bear in this area, but I do not count myself as an intelligent being because of my knowledge of this specific discipline. Doctors are, on the whole intelligent folk, but I would not consider their intelligence due solely to their knowledge in the field of medicine. It is through the study of those subjects we learn as children that we gain intelligence, subjects such as, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. And it is through the lack of adequate emphasis on these subjects in the earliest developm,ental years of children's lives, that, I believe harbors the reason for the division we see in intelligence levels of particular people. For instance, children of illiterate parentage, tend to grow up apathetic towards reading and writing.
I cannot imagine what it would feel like to be unable to read. Furthermore, I cannot imagine what it would feel like to not want to read. I have been a lifelong reader and I can see my son being the same way, even now at the tender age of three. The last part of his everyday is book-reading. Of course we are reading to him (with an occasional romp into sounding out words himself) and the practice is routine. I have no doubt that this will continue into his later childhood, adolescence and finally adulthood, as it did mine and my wife's. What is the point, that our family puts a high value on reading? Not just that, but also that I say the desire to read, along with the ability, is one very important path to intelligence. It is not enough to teach kids how to read, we should, as parents, mentors, teachers, or any persons of authority, be instilling the love of reading to our kids. Learning itself comes from Reading. Without our reading about information already known to others, humanity would be relegated to reinventing the wheel day-in and day-out,never progressing beyond the days of cavemen.
But there are other, interrelated, paths to intelligence. I just finished writing a response to a christian apologetic friend of mine, in which I spoke of thought leading humanity to answers. This is the next path to intelligence. The ability to think, critically and to such a deep degree, is probably the most human attribute we have, and the best exercise for the development of this trait we laymen have to avail ourselves of, is the practice of writing. Why do you think, the most learned people in whatever field(s) have to publish to maintain their cutting edge knowledge and reputation? Why do candidates for the PhD, in practically any field, have to write a dissertation in order to receive their degrees? It is because writing simply requires so much more thought than other practices. A good book is a well thought-out book. Good books require structure, flow and nuance. Authors have to think of these things before they produce any physical work. Editors have to think as they read, if they are to offer any suggestions for improvement. What is the point? Children need to be taught how to and encouraged to write about everything. For example, My 13 year old neice is an avid reader and writer, she recently won a writing competition (with a $100 prize to boot). She is an intelligent person, and it is because she spends time thinking in order to write. Not everyone will be an author for a living, but all humanity can become more intelligent if we take the time to develop a love of writing. Just look at the Blogosphere, and for that matter me. Humans (thinking ones) cannot avoid the realm of authorship. We all want to do it, but again as parents, teachers, mentors, etc., we need to foster the budding writer in our children, by modeling it and encouraging it. Which brings us to the last area of education, Arithmetic.
What would our world be like if we had no understanding of mathmatical principles? We would still be living in the forest for one thing. Without math, we don't build houses. We would also still be foragers, without math, there would be no agriculture. W e live as we do because. as a species, we have learned math. The Cosmos, the Corporeal, the Psyche all have their roots in the precepts of Math.
Children should be learning math in school, as they are, they should also be learning to love to read and how to write.
Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Those are the three foundations of what our education should be. Math is being taught, but I worry that reading and writing are not, especially at the younger age levels. The specialization offered at the high school level, loses track of the real goal, that of making informed, intelligent human beings, in lue of "preparing" students for going to college, where they will specialize in something. College is a place to develop a life's philosophy, primarily. Specialization, outside of the professions of Science, Medicine and Law (with some others thrown in, that I can't think of right now), is what we learn "on the job". I became adept at fixing my car by doing it, not by learning how to do it. Musicians become proficient at their chosen instruments by practicing them, not by studying them in a classroom. High schools should rethink what subjects of study they present their students with. The Math subjects (Trigonometry, geometry, Calculus, etc...) yes! The Literature and Writing classes, by all means. The Football training class, not-so-much. The Band or Choir class,while they might be nice to do as pasttimes, kids can and should pursue those on their own, outside of school, and mind you I am a musician. I think kids should be allowed to pursue whatever they'd like, educationally speaking, I just don't think all of the variety of subjects in school is really going to lead them to be smarter in the long run. They only provide a distraction to the real tenets of human intelligence. I may be wrong, however, who knows?

On Dinosaurs and Man

Here's another one for all of you young earth creationists. There is published literature out there (and I use the term literature very loosely) stating that dinosaurs and man could have and did actually live at the same time. Kent Hovind says so, as do some of his disciples (pun definitely intended). They often cite the river bed in Texas that has dinosaur footprints fossilized in it along with "giant man" footprints. The Paluxy River dinosaur and man footprints have been thoroughly discredited by science. They do not represent man and dino footprints side-by-side in geologic time at all. The "man" footprints aren't even universally accepted as being "man" footprints. But the geologic timetable is not enough of a deterrent to you young earth folks, so here's one to think about:
If man and dinosaurs existed at the same time in the same basic places on earth, how in blazes did we survive?
Velociraptors were arguably the world's most lethal predator, EVER. Six feet tall, they were just the right size to take a frail human out like a package of Ribeye in the meat section of the grocery store. We would've been like cows to them or any other carnivorous dinosaur, for that matter, that happened to spot us strolling down the wooded path whistling a merry tune. There were plenty of other similarly-sized dinosaurs that could've dined on a meal of us and still had room for dessert. There is simply no way we would be the dominant species on the earth now, if we were around when dinos were.

Look at the top predators in the world today, Lions, White Sharks, Orcas, Tigers, Crocodiles, Hyenas, etc... All are lethal to humans, if confronted with them. This is why we, as a generally uneducated population, tend to stay away from these animals. If we were to suddenly begin waltzing around the serengeti plain day-in and day-out, eventually lions and hyenas would catch on to our vulnerability and start adjusting their menus accordingly. Yes, they might not much like the way we taste at first, but I'll bet they'd get used to our stringiness and proportional lack of body fat after enough time. The same scenario would easily apply to great white sharks. Although we are not a part of their regular diet of seals, I'll bet if we were to take to swimming and bathing and generally frolicking in the tropical waters around Seal Island for an extended period of time, we'd see a dramatic rise in the number of reported great white attacks and subsequent deaths. If you can't see how this has anything to do with dinosaurs, just increase the number of lions, tigers, sharks etc. which we have on the earth today by at least a few orders of magnitude and you'll arrive at a reasonable census for the height of the population of carnivorous dinosaurs who might've been interested in us as prey. For instance, let's use Dilophosaurs (the spitting venom dinosaurs from the book Jurassic Park by Michael Crighton) as one of many examples of dinosaurs who would probably have hunted and eaten us if they could have done so. Now, let's implant those dinosaurs into the landscape of the middle east of 6,000 years ago, complete with mud and clay houses, no gunpowder or nuclear technology and only our trusty trumpets (which could come in handy if we want to knock the walls of a certain city down) and swords for hand to claw combat. No tanks, horses (although these wouldn't fare all that well against dinos either) or helicopters. Only us agriculturalists against the marauding (and very hungry) "terrible lizards". Would we even stand a chance? With nothing substantial to defend ourselves? I'm glad I don't live in this fictional world. For that matter, let's transplant all the dinosaurs from, say, the Cretacious Era into the present, and see how we humans in our clapboard houses and Ford Tauruses would stand up against a ten-ton triceratops. Would you enjoy walking out of your house everyday knowing there are hungry and voracious hunters, bigger and more cunning than you, just outside your house waiting to rip you to shreds and devour while you're still kicking and screaming? It might be nice to see or think about a dinosaur, but to confront a living and breathing one in the world, think again!
It's absolutely ridiculous to even entertain the thought of humans and dinosaurs living at the same time. It's absurd. Creationists, give me a break. Do yourselves a favor and just acknowledge the science. Your making yourselves sound ridiculous.

Monday, February 18, 2008

On Abraham and Issac

Abraham and Issac, the story of faith, the story of love and obedience, the story of devotion and godliness, right? Wrong!!! I’m sure anyone who reads this blog post will already be familiar with this story about how Abraham was instructed by god to sacrifice his son to “prove” his trust and faith in god. God had promised Abraham to multiply and continue his line through Issac, but now god was asking Abraham to kill him. How, without faith, could this be?
My contention, along with countless other freethinkers is, If Abraham were alive today and acted as he did in the bible story i.e. listened to invisible voices that told him to kill his son, he would be arrested and either thrown into jail on child endangerment charges, or attempted murder, or else he would be committed to a psychiatric institution for as long as possible.

Abraham lived in a time of human history when sacrificing a child was not thought of as absurd, on the contrary, it took place quite often, which brings up a thought. The fact that the times were as such does not even approach excusing such reprehensible behavior. If it were right to do so, then the practice of human sacrifice to invisible god(s) should have survived to the present day in modern society. It obviously has not, and thank goodness for that, although I’ll allow the possibility of the practice surviving somewhere in the world in a backwards god-fearing, servile society. In some ways we have progressed beyond the state in which ignorance can breed ill-advised behavior. The example from Judges, chapter 11 (see below) only serves to reinforce the fact that in our infancy, the human race lived in relative, wholesale ignorance.

In Hebrews 11:19 it says “Abraham reasoned that god could raise the dead and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from the dead”. By what “reason” did Abraham arrive at the conclusion that god could raise the dead. There is no mention of bodily resurrection actually taking place during that time in the Old Testament. The only references made in the OT, are in Daniel 12:2, Isaiah 26:19, and Psalms 17:15 in which all are “prophecies” about the end times.

What tests did Abraham contrive to see if god could really raise the dead? How many tests were there, and who were the volunteers? Of course I'm being facetious, but the point is valid. There was absolutely no reasoning on the part of Abraham. It would be much more accurate to say that Abraham assumed that god could raise the dead.
Let’s suppose that god could raise the dead and that Abraham assumed correctly so. Abraham would have then actually killed his son. Nothing after the fact would have been able to change this, excepting of course god His decision to follow the command would simply have not been excusable. It is a simple thought, Abraham killing his son; a horrible one but simple nonetheless. I question not Abraham’s obedience, but god’s intestinal fortitude, arrogance and outright gall in asking such a thing.
Murder, as a test of faith, is deplorable.
What would god have done, had Abraham refused this test on the basis of the sanctity of human life? Would god have killed Abraham for Abraham’s refusal to take the life of another of god’s children? Would he have rescinded his promise by withholding the proliferation of Abraham’s line of descent? Would he have destroyed the earth again as he supposedly did with the flood? A god that asks something of the sort in question is not a benevolent, loving, caring god. He is a jealous, pedantic, juvenile, altogether human god, who exhibits distinctly human behavioral characteristics, characteristics that, at least in humanity, are the result of the development of fear throughout our life history.
God did not create us in his image, we created god in ours. Indeed, god represents everything that we as children simultaneously fear and seek. God is a parental figure to us, both the source of approval for our behavior and dread if we trespass his demands.
I would even submit that such a “test of faith” is really not much of a test at all. If Abraham knew (reasoned) that god could raise the dead in advance, then he exhibited really no faith at all, only obedience. A better and more accurate test of faith would have been if god had allowed Abraham to go through with it completely. Abraham kills his son, takes his life, sees his son’s blood flowing out of his body, and only then does god raise him from the dead, healing his wounds and restoring life to his body. Abraham would have to show incalculable faith to trust that god would still fulfill his promise after Isaac was actually dead. Instead, god fells the hand of Abraham before he actually kills Isaac. This reminds me all too much of the familiar story of the one that got away. “Boy it was down to the wire, my hand was at my son’s throat with a knife, I was so strong in my faith that I was willing to do such a terrible thing, but at the last minute, wouldn’t you know it, The angel Gabriel showed up and said,” Naw just kidding, you don’t really have to kill your son, we were just testing you, here’s a ram instead.” Whew…., that’s a load off. What…., you don’t believe me, well, yeah no one else was there to see it but it’s true, I swear….”

There is an example in Judges that is illustrative of the juvenile nature of god when it comes to fulfilling a vow to kill for him. Jephthah makes his vow to sacrifice the first thing out of his door (in this case it turns out to be his daughter) if only god will help him to conquer (meaning kill and then occupy the lands of) the Ammonites (what did they ever do?).
A god who watches out for the welfare of his “children” would not let a man make such a vow, knowing full well what he was promising, seeing that the man’s vow would result in the death of another of god’s children, through murder. Now at this point in biblical history, the ten commandments did exist, and they explicitly disallow the act of murder. They do not say, thou shalt not murder, except in the name of me (god). They say in no uncertain terms, “Thou shalt not kill” So, the fulfillment of this vow to god, was itself a violation of the fundamental laws that god handed down to moses (supposedly). This is a prime example of the paradoxes offered up by the bible all throughout the old and new testament. Hypocrisy is frowned upon by society at-large, is most certainly preached against in christianity and by all religious accounts a sin worthy of eternal damnation, yet the bible’s god and his “son” constantly illustrate this offence to the intelligent mind. It is high time we cease celebrating the ignorance in which the overwhelming majority of humankind wallows in every sunday (or saturday depending).

Saturday, February 16, 2008

God needs us more than we need him

We've all heard the saying "If a tree falls in the forest, but no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?". Well, does it? The air pressure differential created by the impact would say yes, but the lack of receptor organs (such as ear drums) to quantify that impact would say no. An interesting question about a natural phenomenon. Can we ask the same question about a supernatural phenomenon?

If god were to "say" something, but there were no humans to "hear" him, does this mean he actually "said" anything? Stated another, perhaps more clear, way; Assuming creation to be true, god has an audience, but what if there was no audience? What if we were never here, would there still be god. What would be the need of a god in an existence that includes only him/herself?
Christians make lots of assumptions, indeed the entirety of their faith is assumptive, but perhaps no one is bigger than this: Christians believe that god existed before we did. The only accounts we have of this are the holy texts, which were written by men. Even if we allow the premise of divine dictation, the words themselves were originally written down by men, not god. Since no one was alive to see a god dictate these texts, it is an assumption to say we know he existed before we did, an assumption based on text written by the creation of this eternal being, but not by the eternal being itself.

I say, what point is there for a god without an audience. How would an omnipotent being demonstrate omnipotence if there were no one to convince? Without someone to ooh and aah over the tricks of a magician, there are no tricks, only rehearsals of slights-of-hand. A magician can't fool himself, he needs someone who does not know how the trick is done to impress. Without such a person, the magician has no career. Without a creation to parade his godliness in front of, god is not god. He could be everything, but without a created humanity, he would be simultaneously nothing.

There are two ways of looking at our existence. We were either created by an omniscient god, or we are the most recent evolutionary waystation. I suppose there are really a myriad of ways to explain our existence, such as extraterrestrial implantation, but I think the two most dominant areas of discourse on our origins are the two I mentioned above, so we'll stick with them.

If we were created by an omniscient god, then he must have had no choice in the matter, in that without us he would be not be omniscient. He couldn't be. If there are no uniscient (non-omniscient) beings to compare omniscience with, omniscience cannot exist. If it's the only game in town (being omniscient), then exaltation this element would be absurd since having this trait would simply be the norm (again in an existence with only god). Since we are indeed here to discuss this, then of course the christian god had to create us, if we are to believe in his most divine characteristics of omnipresence, omnibenevolence and omniscience. If god had no choice but to create us, then he is in no way immune to the governances of human logic and semantics. His subjectivity to these governances requires an explanation. Either our disciplines are unsatisfactory to describe god's existence, or he is a fraudulent mixture of humanity's least positive components. If our disciplines are unsatisfactory then, all disciplines must be, including our ability in recognizing god in the first place. If we cannot design suitable regulations for the understanding of the existence we all have, and the surroundings we are all among, then how could we possibly be able to design a system of recognition with which to distinguish the divinity of god? He is the result of the primitive minds of primitive men who were obviously incapable of designing constructive, optimistic and self-reliant societies (the exception being of course the great greek civilizations). Men such as these relied on the fear of the unknown to establish control of the masses, because it was easier than thinking completely through problems. Humans don't need a god. We don't claim the unclaimable, so we need no audience to display to. We do however, have as large an audience as we like, but it certainly didn't come from a creator. We arrived here on our own and rightfully so.

Friday, February 8, 2008

On Universal Origins

Where did it all come from? Where did we come from? It all had to come from somewhere, and so did we, isn’t that right?
These are questions that Christian apologists rather pugnaciously ask nontheists whenever the issue of creation versus evolution comes up.
There are two references alluded to when such questions are asked; the argument from design (for the origins of life) and the argument of first cause (for the origins of the universe). The two arguments are very closely associated with each other and I’ll speak to both of them together.
The argument of first cause is summed up in saying “everything has to have a starting point, an initial beginning”. The universe may have been around for a long time but no matter how far back in time you go, there has to be a starting point. This is an assumption, one that quite obviously leads to the idea of an eternal creator which in turn leads to the argument from design which is summed up by saying “ anything as complex as life, or even individual organs within a lifeform, is inherently so complex that without some higher intelligence controlling the assemblence of the complex entity, the lifeforms or organs could never have come into being. Chance is not a possibility”. There is an inherent problem with this line of reasoning. If we can agree that the universe is complex (as is life), then we have what’s referred to as an argument of infinite regress. If a system (universe, life, computer virus) is complex and has a designer, then it follows that the designer has to be at least equally as complex if not dramatically more so. This leads to the conclusion that complex design requires designer complexity. If the designer is indeed himself complex, then of course something even more complex than the designer must have designed him, due to the original designer’s inherent complexity requiring complex design. Said again, something even more complex had to have designed the designer. If one argues that the complex designer has simply been eternally in existence, then of course we could simply use the same logic and apply it equally to nature, due to nature’s inherent complexity. Since Christians make the argument that the universe and all of life was created at a finite point in time by god, we have a paradox, which is not a good position to argue one’s case. Who created the creator, who created his creator, who created the creator of the creator, etc. If no one created the creator, then complexity itself does not require design, since god would have to be more complex than his creation. If the complexity of god required no designer, then how does the complexity of nature require one?
A second problem with this line of reasoning is illustrated with the statement that the idea of a beginning for the universe does not necessarily require a creator. It may very well have had one, but to say it required one is simply not true. In fact, it's exactly not true that the universe had to have a beginning. It is perfectly plausible that what we now see as the beginning point of the universe (the big bang moment) may actually have been only a starting over point for the colossal oscillation of the entire universe; kind of like a big balloon being constantly blown up and deflated over and over again. Why could this oscillation not possibly be eternal? Why would it absolutely require a starting point? The fact that we can’t imagine something which pertains to the cosmos, such as eternity being completely non-supernatural, does not mean that it is categorically impossible. Read The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene for an explanation of this potential manifestation of superstring theory. Plausibility is a concept we as humans sometimes are simply incapable of completely comprehending, especially when it comes to the idea of eternity. The more we learn of our natural surroundings, the more plausible concepts will become.
Another seemingly implausible explanation for what we see as a universal beginning can be explained as the other “side” of a black hole (black holes being points in space of infinite density and mass, or singularities). If a black hole’s gravitational pull is so immense as to pull in light photons (which it is) along with everything else, and if the gravitational effect is increased infinitely, as you approach the center of a black hole (which it is), then the possibility for the black hole to invert itself, expanding instantaneously and enormously into another universe on the"other side" is there, although it might be somewhere outside of our ability to currently study. There is a possibility that our universe is not the only universe that exists. Indeed, there may very well be an infinite number of universes comprising a multiverse, each being the expanded other side of black holes in our universe. To categorically apply the notion of a required creator for the beginning of the universe, which is so rudimentarily understood, is the equivalent of packing up the clubs and saying “ I just don’t have my game today fellas” after the ball falls off the first tee without you ever having taken a swing at it.
There should be no confusion of biological evolution with the expansion of the universe, which are two completely different things. For example, biological evolution most likely requires replication, the passing on from generation to generation of observable traits through the inheritance of genes encoded in DNA. This a process that does not, as we understand it, happen as a fundamental force for the expansion of the universe at large. Galaxies don’t spawn daughter galaxies which inherit traits of their parent galaxies. Evolution through natural selection does not apply to the universe.
The questions posed at the beginning are the exact questions that science, specifically the fields of astrophysics and quantum physics, is trying to answer. Religions do not approach answering these sorts of questions. Indeed religion could never answer these sorts of questions. Religion demands us to ignore such pursuits of the knowledge of the fundamentals of existence. The discipline of Philosophy is as close as religion will ever come to these questions. Thought will lead us to the answers we seek, thought and experimentation, nothing else.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

On Spiritual Defection

Everyone knows of people who have deserted what once they professed to believe. I myself am one who has done such a thing. The existence of defectors from one side of the science/creation dialectic to the other is well-documented: Some examples of highly esteemed individuals who have accepted christ and christianity after having tried to disprove it are most notably C.S. Lewis, Francis Collins and Alistair McGrath. I won’t try to list all the ex-christians who have given up the fantastic claims of the religious, there are too many.I confess I have not read McGrath’s work, The Dawkin’s Delusion, but I have listened to him argue against a fellow rational thinker, Richard Dawkins. I have read Dawkins’ The God Delusion, which is, biasedly-speaking, a fascinating book. I’m not sure if Collins has written anything (he was one of the original geneticists working on decoding the genome, if I’m not mistaken). I have however read Lewis’ works including but not limited to The Chronicles of Narnia. I am currently rereading “Mere Christianity” and I have read “The Joyful Christian”, The Screwtape Letters and others.
Lewis was no doubt a great author and literary giant who argued his points well enough, but made generalizations in doing so. Read Mere Christianity and you’ll see what I mean. I willingly concede his literary prowess, but this in no way diminishes the observed fact of evolution through natural selection. The simple fact that there have been refugees from one camp or the other does nothing to prove or disprove either side, it simply illustrates a rebellion by either side against their own inherited concepts. b. The concept of supposition from above undermines the argument christians make that they are looking for the truth and have found it in Jesus. They look for things they've already read, in a book that contains the answers they already believe. They find only what they’ve already decided to see. You cannot be looking for something if you already believe you've found it.
The same cannot be said of scientists. They have no book, readymade with answers they hope to hear. In order to get an answer they have to and do ask questions constantly, even of things they might have thought they already understood. The very idea of science is to study and to question.
Religion demands the opposite, do not question, have faith. To only make a point, children look for nothing. They only see things as they are. To say that any child has ever honestly asked jesus to “live in their hearts” is to turn them into play dolls. A child is in no way capable of deciding to do anything of the sort that the previous statement suggests. There is no such thing as a christian child, just as there is no such thing as a capitalist child or fundamentalist child to paraphrase Richard Dawkins. There are only children. Only adults can look for such things.
I submit that those who have “found god” have done so at times of trouble in their life, not during times of bliss. You don’t hear the testimony of someone “coming to jesus” because they were having such an easy time in life. Even celebrities such as Kirk Cameron from “Growing Pains” who admittedly was quite comfortable with his wordly possesions but felt he was missing something, come to religion, or christ in his case, from some point of dissatisfaction. Again, I’d like to hear of someone coming to god who wasn’t going through some difficulty in their life, it would at least make the idea more respectable. Christianity is a poor source of meaning for the preciousness of life that we humans have. Our lives can and do have all possible meaning if we recognize that there is no need to pay alms to a ghost of our fear-laden, overactive imaginations.c. As an assay,C.S. Lewis said something I find interesting in Mere Christianity. He said “ either jesus was a lunatic, or he was the son of god. “ I completely agree with this statement. I have seen no proof, or evidence of his divinity, although I was raised to unquestioningly believe in it. I have since read and thought of a great deal of evidence against it. I think it’s clear he was a egomaniacal, adolescent, totalitarian madman who most certainly believed himself to be divine and who had a few good things to say along with a host of more subtle and vastly more influential bad things.

Update: I have since read Mcgrath's Dawkins' Delusion. I found it to be well-written, but ironic in it's analysis of the God Delusion. Mcgrath spends his time belittling Dawkins' blunt stance on the backwardness of religion, as opposed to spending his time defying the philosophical points Dawkins relays in his own book. I thought Mcgrath's book should have actually disproven something from Dawkins' book, but Mcgrath purposefully states that while it is possible to do so, he chose not to. Why not? If it can be done, and Dawkins represents the antithesis of what you as a human believe why not write a book that actually does dispel what Dawkins says (especially when you take time in your book to say it can be done). This is a good example of how a person can sound intelligent and think semi-intelligently, yet still, spiritually speaking, behave as, at best, an adolescent and at worst, an infant.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

On Presupposition

It has been said that all of humanity begins thought with presuppositions. Whenever someone begins to think about a certain topic, they do so with a particular bias of some sort. For instance, if one begins to think about the existence of earth and how it came to be, chances are they will presume either the idea of creation or the idea of evolution to be true, seeing as how these are the two dominant explanations. Having this presumption makes discovering supportive proofs for it easier to find regardless of the slant of the person.
Said another way, if you already believe in something (creation or evolution), you will look specifically for the “proof” to support your point of view and use it as evidence for your position.
It seems to me that the word presupposition (supposition would do just as well) itself means belief or at least pre-belief. If you start with a supposition of something, you suppose it to be true beforehand. Why not just say you believe this and be done with it?

There is a problem with saying that all human thought begins with presupposition.
What I mean is, children don’t have pre-existing suppositions of any topic of thought. They and we all begin with an innocent mind. It is only after society, religion, our parents and extended family etc.. distort this innocence into their own conceptions do children lose the innocence of ideas and pure thought. Since we all began as children, it follows that none of us began with supposition. As adults, we might very well do so, but that is simply because we have inherited the suppositions of our parents/teachers/friends; they are not our own.
What we decide to do with those inheritances is a decision we as adults have to make, but as children we do and think what we see and are told to.
We teach our children to have our stances on such things as religion, politics and socially acceptable behavior. If we teach our children to be brave enough to think for themselves and how to do so, will we usurp indoctrination and free our children to be more humane.
Starting with a supposition does not however mean that any “proof” found is false. It only ensures that the proof was more easily discovered because of deductive reasoning or intuition.
Charles Darwin set off aboard the H.M.S. Beagle in 1831 with no intention of finding proof of his then unrealized theory of natural selection.
It was in fact the other way around, he observed what was there and formulated his theory afterwards, which he laid down in “On the Origin of Species” (1859) much later.
He did not believe that evolution through natural selection was true in advance of his trip. He observed it in practice during his voyage. His training for the clergy would most certainly not have put the idea in his mind.
It is quite fortunate for us that he chose a different career path.
The finches he studied on The Galapagos Islands were as unknown to him as they were to Noah until of course he found them and observed the differences in the shapes of their beaks. These differences he noted were, from island to island, specifically acclimated to harvesting the particular foods available on each island.
He did not have any idea that this arrangement of the physical attributes of the local wildlife on remote islands in the Pacific Ocean would exist.
The situation he observed led him to his eventual thoughts on natural selection, not the other way around.

Scientists probably do as a general rule start out with one supposition though, that being, the truth is discoverable, and worth the effort.

Evolution through natural selection is a concept, which does not need to or can be proven, due to the definition of a Theory. Creation doesn’t even qualify as a theory by definition.
I refer you to an interesting article that I believe might shed some light on the subject.

All we can do is test a theory.
Theories by definition can never be “proven”, they can only stand up repeatedly to tests, or fail to do so. If they stand up, they are accepted as true until such time as they fail.
I will happily concede that such a time may come for the theory of evolution, but I personally don’t think it will, considering the theory has survived intact since 1859.
Creation is untestable.
This disqualifies it from the discussion of viable theories for existence. A theory has to be testable, in order to see if it is rigorous enough to withstand doubt.
The scientific theory of evolution through natural selection is completely testable. It has been tested over and over again. It may be disproven someday, but up until now it has not been and this only testifies to it's resilience to scrutiny. Creation, however, can easily be debunked by simply thinking of all we know now, that the authors of the bible did not know.
Creation is the fantastically superstitious myth of scientifically ignorant Arabic peasants from a few thousand years ago for which (to quote Sam Harris) a wheelbarrow would have constituted emerging technology. That the world at large can buy into this children’s story is laughable.

Monday, February 4, 2008

On Noah's Flood

This is for all of you young earth creationists out there. If the Grand Canyon was indeed "created" in a few weeks as this hypothesis claims, then let's look some possibilities as to how the grand canyon could have been formed.
1. A giant literal flood washed over the entire earth and carved out this mile-deep crevasse while leaving all the surrounding earth intact.
2. A giant flood-induced river plowed through the land at a breakneck speed carving out this canyon.
3. A little creek slowly flowed over the same patch of land mile after mile over the course of many years carrying with it small amounts of earth sediment, eventually carving out this grand canyon.

To see which method satifies all criteria of the biblical account of the flood, let's do an experiment. You'll need 3 rectangular basins full of sand or dirt approximately 4 feet long by 1 foot wide by 6 inches deep. If you can't find these, just do the experiment in your backyard in the ground itself. On second thought that's a better environment for this experiment anyway. In the ground build up three 6-foot long mounds (one next to the other) of dirt that are reasonably flat on top but descend slightly over the entire length of the 6 feet.

You'll also need a watering hose and a big bowl for water.

As you can guess we'll be simulating three versions of Noah's great flood.

First let's take option #1 where a giant flood washes over the land at once.
So, in your basin or your backyard, fill the bowl with water and dump it out at the higher end of mound #1 all at once, simulating a flash flood which should cover the entire surface of the mound. Now, what do you see? Is there A. a very deep but comparatively slender gash in the mound of dirt, or B. did the entire mound surface simply get shortened?
The answer of course is B. This method of flash flooding could not possibly have created the Grand Canyon in a few weeks. too much additional land would have been carried away and no cut in the surface of the land would be seen.

Next let's try option #2 where a gigantic flood-induced river flowed through the land very rapidly resulting in the Canyon as we see it today.
So, Take your hose over to the second mound of dirt and turn the hose on full blast. What happens? Does there appear to be again A. a very deep but comparatively slender gash in the landscape? Or B. is the gash very wide at the top and diminutive in width along the length of the mound? Or C. did the surface of the mound simply get shortened as before?
The answer could be A, but if it is correct, the premise of the biblical account of the flood cannot be accurate because this experiment shows that the flood waters would have not covered the entire earth but only the section of land described by the path of the Grand Canyon today. The bible is clear, the flood waters covered the entire earth, so A is out.
For the same reason, B is out. Even though it's possible it's also incompatible with the bible's story. Which leaves us with answer C, which is as likely as it was in the previous question, but probably not as likely as B for this question.

Last, we'll look at option #3 which is obviously an account of erosion over time. Run the hose at a slight flow, little more than a trickle, simulating the flow of a creek or small river, Again start at the top and watch what happens. The simulated river will carve out it's own bed if left there long enough. The Grand Canyon took millions of years to carve out. You've deluded yourself if you think otherwise, although I'll allow the possibility of a different rational explanation if scientists can come up with one. I think however, the scientists who would be concerned with this particular area probably all agree on the explanation of erosion for the canyon's existence.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

On Original Sin

As we all know, the foundation of all the Abrahamic religions is the downfall of man in the garden of eden through the commission of "original sin" by Eve and consequently Adam. God forbade them specifically from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They did anyway at the suggestion of the "serpent" and as a result were banished from the garden and forced into a life of grief and toil. Adam and Eve had children and the "sin" they committed when they ate the fruit was inherited by their children, Cain, Abel and Seth, and, I assume, all the other non-named children they must have had.
As an assay, by the logic of its bible, why doesn't christianity recognize that the whole of the human race must be descended from this first necessarily incestuous family. Cain, Abel and Seth had to have successfully mated with females, else we would not be here. It must have either been their mother or their unmentioned sisters. Disgusting.

How did we as the children of Cain, Abel and Seth come to acquire the "sin" of Adam and Eve?
Was it physically? Did we inherit it somehow? If so, this means we must necessarily have a sinful physical nature. What I mean is, if god created us in his image, never once "tweaking" us after the initial creation, then our physical makeup is the same post-original sin as it was pre-original sin, which in turn means that our ability to pass on genes to our children through the process of inheritance has been with us since our creation. Physically, there is only one way to pass on something biological from ourselves to our children. This is called inheritance and involves the replication of DNA sequences of amino acids called genes. Genes are what we inherit from our parents. If this is the case, then what sequence of amino acids would equate to "sin"? Is there also a "meekness" gene which we inherit? How about compassion? The ability to "hear" god speaking, perhaps? Infact, science hypothesises there might very well be certain sequences of amino acids that coorespond to the affects of humanity, although they are yet to be deciphered.

If we inherited original sin from adam and eve then this means we've had the gene for sin as a part of our genetic makeup since our creation, which of course would negate the very idea of original sin. Having the "Sin" gene in us from the get-go disallows the "sinfulness" of disobedience, unless you admit that god set us up to fail. In Logic, this is what is called an argument of Self-contradiction, where the very argument presents two points which cancel each other out. The argument of Self-contradiction is not a valid form of argument.
For argument's sake, however, let's say we do spiritually inherit the sins of our parents through genetics. How then does our spirit or soul survive the death and subsequent decomposition of our physical bodies of which our DNA is the most fundamental part? How could our spirits "go to heaven or hell" after we die if our physical genes are the mechanism of spiritual survival ?
The answer is we did not physically inherit either a soul that is immortal or "sin".
If we did not physically inherit sinfulness, then we must have spiritually inherited it somehow.
If that is the case, then what is the mechanism for this inheritance? It is certainly not DNA, as genetics is physical. Religion offers no explanation for this mechanism. There is no "Religious Method" to counter the Scientific Method of understanding, unless you consider the idea of simply believing what you have been told to believe a method of understanding, i.e. faith.
Curiosity by itself would ask that we try and discover the spiritual mechanism through which these "sinful" attributes are being replicated and passed on to subsequent generations. To date, the only mechanism that we know of that does this exact thing is the DNA in each cell, which is a purely physical entity, requiring no spirituality.
Faith doesn't explain how we inherit the spiritual doom of our parents, it only tells us we do, no explanation needed.
The concept that we "inherited" original sin actually relies on a particular scientific precept, transference, which is also one of the foundations of the theory of evolution.
Attributes are transferred to future generations from previous ones. In evolution these are attributes that are favorable to the survival of the physical being.
Religion perverts this concept into one where the transference does not ensure the survival of the spirit, but the likelihood of its permanent death. "The wages of sin is death", Romans 6:23

If science is not the answer to our questions as religion supposes, then why does religion base its most fundamental precept, the "sin" of which we are all guilty, on the scientifically discovered mechanism of replication and transference, namely DNA?

If on the other hand, we don't inherit our sin, but are given it, by god at the very moment of our birth, then god is a truly malicious being. Adam and Eve sinned and earned god's eternal wrath. We, however, did not. We did not eat of the forbidden tree, we weren't around yet. By the same reasoning, we also did not have any bearing on their commision of original sin.

We, as their descendants, either inherited the problem of sin physically through replication and transference, spiritually through some unknown mechanism that is actually scientific in nature, or god himself bestowed us with this malignancy at the very moment of our births . If god did decide to simply confer on us this spiritual vexation on an entirely individual basis, then he did so knowing the damnation of eternal destruction and torment he was annointing his own creation with. Again, if he did this, he is not a god worth recognizing, let alone worshipping.
Of course, science is the true answer. God is too human, to be anything but.
Religion itself uses science for its own purposes.
Only when science blatantly and completely discredits religion's fantastic claims of the supernatural does it divorce itself from the truth of the scientific method.
This alone is enough to discredit it.