Monday, November 21, 2011

Angels' Advocate?

I've been doing most of my posting over at Skeptic Money, so I should really make a point to cross post when my posts go live:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Target Practice

So, one of the apologists I keep an eye on has put up another row of rusty tin cans on the fencepost and thinks it's an impenetrable wall of stainless steel. I could use the practice, sure.

Evolutionists eventually admit they cannot explain what caused the universe to come into being.

It's pretty impressive when the very first sentence is wrong twice. Firstly, this is a pure Argument from Ignorance, the ubiquitous foundational fallacy of creationism. If your argument is unsound from the word go, YOU LOSE. Secondly, it conflates the fields of Biology and Physics--technically speaking, the big bang is irrelevant to evolution.

To use their language, they can't explain what caused the Big Bang.

We're working on it. If we already knew everything, we wouldn't need to do Science.

They also admit they cannot explain what caused the evolutionary process to begin.

Ibid. Jesus Christ, we're talking three billion years ago, going off chemical traces in microscopic crystals of ancient rock. Besides, even if our planet was so active that all physical traces of the Prebiotic Ages were erased, it still wouldn't invalidate evolution. Argument From Ignorance a-go-go.

I find this interesting because they claim evolution to be a fact of biological history.

It has been demonstrated to a degree of certainty such that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent, yes.

We also do not observe Darwinian evolution happening.

Yes we have. The number of observations of evolutionary processes could just about fit into the Grand frakking Canyon. The fact that he says this is ample demonstration of the self-imposed ignorance that makes religion so repugnant.

Oh yes we see examples of changes within species through natural selection, but we have never observed a transformation of one species into another.

Thank you for that. However, evolution predics changes over millennia, so this particular canard is no problem whatsoever. If we did see dogs giving birth to cats, it would disprove evolution. Hell, I'm more familiar with the creationist arguments he's half-remembering, and I have to restrain myself from countering things he hasn't actually said.

We do not observe new DNA information being introduced.

Yes we do. The bacterial synthesis of nylonase required novel information in their genome. That's just one specific example, I've got more.

We see variations on information that was already present in the DNA.

That is one way new information is generated, yes. Oh, WAIT, we're talking about the information that comes predefined as coming from an intelligence, therefore it was intelligently designed. Silly me.

So evolutionists cannot explain how the universe or evolution began.

We've know about evolution for 150 years and the Big Bang for eighty. Exactly when are we expected to have all the answers?

We also do not observe evolution. So how can this be considered a fact?

Because it's the most resoundingly confirmed scientific theory in history. The ONLY people who claim otherwise are people who either don't have an education or are blinded by religious preconceptions.

It sounds more like a faith to me.

You'd like to think that, wouldn't you. So sorry.

We don't see Jesus physically today.

And the next solid evidence he actually did exist I see will be the first.

We cannot explain how Jesus was born.

When an underage Palestinian girl and an amoral Semitic blood god love each other very much, they do a special hug...

We cannot explain how God is eternal.

You got that right, Chester.

However we can explain how faith in Jesus began.

Grab a piece of pie, this is gonna be good.

It began with a well documented and witnessed historical event.

We've got better documentation and witnesses for UFOs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Mothman, the Chupacabra and crop circles. You see, the standards of evidence that allow one to accept Christianity would, if applied impartially, not only lead one to believe all manner of nonsense, but multiple conflicting religious texts as well.

The crucifixion and with that the resurrection of Jesus: Nothing else can explain how the origins of the church.

Tales and legends which grew in the telling of an itinerant rabbi who stepped out of line and was blithely executed, which his followers weren't prepared to accept. Was that so hard?

So the choice is yours. Either way it is a step of faith, however chosing evolution is a greater step of faith than trusting in Christ and His word.

No, not really. On one side, we have mountains of evidence, on the other we have a pile of uncorroborated legends that don't agree, have no provenance, and don't provide sufficient evidence to accept their claims even if taken at face value. Remember what I said about repugnant, self imposed ignorance? Yeah, 'this.'

You may question why both cannot be true.

I believed both for most of my life. Then I realized one side had nothing going for it.

They both cannot be true because Jesus Himself endorsed the writings of Moses as the word of God.

If we were just now getting documentation of what Teddy Roosevelt said at the end of his life, I wouldn't necessarily believe any given part of it. The man was an inveterate self-aggrandizing liar even in his own lifetime.

If we trust in Jesus, then we acknowledge He is God in the flesh.

Gosh, it's so clear to me now.

Moses wrote of the creation in such a way that it cannot be compatable with evolutionary theory.

It's true what they say about stopped clocks, isn't it?

Death did not exist until man sinned in the Garden of Eden.

The flights of fancy to which creationists spin this fairy tail are sidesplittingly hilarious. Tell me, why did the T-Rexes in the Garden of Eden have mouths full of steak knives?

Likewise God said He created each creature after its own kind.

And evolution predicts that any creature will be the same species as its parent. Even when speciation happens for example, to mosquitoes in the London subways, creationists dismiss it to say "oh, they're still the same kind of animal, even though the two populations can no longer interbreed.

It does not say he created one creature that became other kinds.

It doesn't say that you should wash your hands after you wipe your ass. That kind of information would be helpful.

So the question is simple. Trust the word of God or the words of man.

Read: Trust the words of ignorant premodern superstitionists or the word of people who know the first thing about what they're talking about. Give me a minute here...

The words and theories of man are proven wrong everyday, God's word has never been proven wrong.

Genesis is factually wrong in every particular. Exodus is a myth as well, or didn't you know that the Egyptians kept detailed records? A little thing like ten plagues, an entire slave race carrying off whatever they could hold, and the death of a Pharoah whilst riding across a dry seabed--somebody might have written that down? There's little or no archaeological evidence for much of Old Testament history, in places where there really would be if it ever remotely happened. When science disproves something, it's because we've learned something new and can recognize our mistakes. Religion does the opposite, and rejects any facts which contradict its delusion of inerrancy.

Remember you can't know who you are if you dont know who you came from.

And isn't it amazing how much we've learned about human brains, psychology, and cognition--in a word, who we are--since we discovered scientific principles? I know where I stand.

Overall, a pretty sad effort for a fervently ignorant apologist. I really wonder if he's a Poe--he couldn't make this crap look worse if he sat down and worked at it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Faith Is A Road That Leads Anywhere You Want

From Atheism Is the True Embrace of Reality, via Jerry Coyne:
Just about all the Christians I came into contact with “knew” there was a god, too. They, too, spent time in meditative prayer with him on a daily basis. And as a result, they, too, “knew” what God was like. So what did that knowledge tell us about him? How reliable were these personal relationships when it came to establishing the truth about God?

Some of us, on the basis of our relationship with God, knew him to be loving, compassionate, generous, always reaching out to us, pitying our mistakes rather than condemning them. Others, on the basis of their relationship with God, knew him to be angry, jealous, punitive.

Some of us knew that God had more important things to worry about than our sex lives; others knew that human sexual impurity was deeply offensive to him.

Some of us knew that God wanted us to respond to other people’s shortcomings with tolerance and forbearance and humility; others knew that he wanted sin to be made an example of, to be held up and publicly rebuked.

Some of us knew that God was offended by conspicuous consumption when so many people had nothing; others knew that God showered wealth along with other good things on those of whom he approved.

Some of us knew that God saw all religions as different expressions of people’s yearning for him; others knew that traditional, orthodox Christianity was the only route to him.

Some of us knew that the devil was just a myth to explain the existence of evil; others knew that the devil was very real and a genuine threat to our souls.

Some of us knew that there was no way God could ever allow such a thing as hell; others knew that hell was very much a part of God’s ordained order.

We all knew we were right, and we all based that knowledge on the personal relationship we had with him. How could any of us possibly be wrong?

I've said it before and I'll say it again--faith is not a path to truth. It is unable to discern truth from falsehood, and one reaches the conclusion one wants to. Faith leads to conclusions which are mutually incompatible. The people listed above literally cannot all be correct. (However, it is logically possible that they are all wrong.)

Neuroscientists have done studies which identify the regions of the brain which model the morality of others, and which model one's own morality. When contemplating God's desires and values, the regions of the brain which are active are invariably one's own. No religious person has ever conceived of a God who disagreed with themselves on any major point. They may conceive god as the highest, unattainable standard and experience guilt thereby, but that cognitive dissonance does not obviate the reality that it's really their own standards they're failing to live up to.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Words Fail Me.

Via the Friendly Atheist:

In essence, they're testing a cancer drug that is so scorchingly teratogenic that the manufacturer recommends your husband use barrier protection even if he's had a vasectomy. You can't even get on the trial without two separate pregnancy tests, and after that they specifically indicate that women should double up on contraception regardless of their circumstances. It might help with cancer, and let's face it, chemotherapy drugs aren't kind to pregnancies under the best of circumstances.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, would rather risk children being born with crippling birth defects than even mention contraception (or, needless to say, an abortion if the sonogram reveals the fetus has no arms and half a heart.) It's for this reason that I agree with the opinion expressed elsewhere that at this point in the game, after child abuse scandals, saying that condoms spread AIDS, hideously wrongheaded family planning dogma, that simply calling yourself a Catholic is an immoral act. One is giving aid and comfort to an organization which has plainly established itself to be an enemy to humanity itself.

I don't expect Christians to really recognize that, say, the atonement of Christ is itself an immoral and nonsensical doctrine. That comes way down the line, once you realize that infinite punishment for finite sin is unjust, that god sacrificing himself to himself to assuage his own wrath is nonsensical, and that divine command morality is amoral in the first place. I get that.

But this Catholicism thing...really, what would they have to do, at this point in the game, that adherents wouldn't blithely ignore? To prove that the institution itself is rotten, that the entire organization should be torn out root and branch, its assets sold for charity, its philanthropic enterprises spun off into independent non-profits, its headquarters emptied of ecclesiastic parasites and turned into an art museum open to the public, and its leaders imprisoned for obstruction of justice?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hello Out There In Postapocalyptia

[Written for Skeptic Money]
Harold Camping’s Family Radio has gotten a great deal of unwarranted attention (and a pile of money, strangely) from its epically-failed May 21, 2011 prediction of the Rapture. (He now says it was “spiritual” in nature and says that we’re in for five months of judgment, culminating sometime in October.) The basis of his prediction was crazed–a concoction of speculation and numerology more like those spooky 19th-century extrapolations on the dimensions of Egyptian pyramids than any sort of recognizable Christian Eschatology.

The go-to counterargument, cited left, right and center, is Matthew 24:36, which claims no man knows the day or the hour. Even skeptics such as Phil Plait raise this point. Nobody seems to notice that this argument, that Camping has forgotten or ignored that particular verse, is simply flat wrong. Apparently, nobody actually went to the Family Radio web site (before it was taken down in a fit of pique), because Camping actually had a fairly extensive refutation of this claim, replete with scripture references.

I think it’s completely missing the point to criticize only Family Radio for supposedly ignoring scripture. We, as skeptics, ought to be pointing out that this is just one instance out of many where different groups of Christians pick and choose whatever verses suit their own individual fancies. Read more...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Calling a Spade a God Damned Shovel

Just this morning, I was reading Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, by John Scalzi, in which he says:
Ignorance does not imply stupidity; it merely implies lack of knowledge. Ignorance is correctable; stupidity, unfortunately, is typically irreversible. The good news is that rather more people are ignorant than stupid, which means there's hope. So if you're ignorant, congratulations! You can work on that.
This put me in mind of the latest pile of ignorance and stupidity that I’ve been meaning to dismantle. The antidote to ignorance is education. Religion causes any correct facts and sound reasoning to be edited out and rejected, if they contradict the prior belief. The end result of which process is this little diversion below that I’ve been enjoying: “Science and Philosophy Require the Existence of God,” from the blog "Apologia" by Tim Schaertel. (Fair warning, there’s a lot of [sic] to come.)

At one point he says that atheists “[are] not thinking things through.” To which I can only say, even at that it’s an improvement: religion prevents him from thinking at all.
When dealing with the universe we have only two options to explain how the universe came into being. We know that the universe itself is not eternal.
Now taking bets to see whether he actually presents two options, whether those options are a true dichotomy, and whether the whole thing boils down to an Argument from Ignorance. Already he’s wrong, because in fact we don't know that the universe isn't eternal, nor whether “eternal” is even a coherent concept when talking about cosmology, as we’ll see in a moment.
There is an abundance of evidence that supports the fact that at some point in time the universe did not exist and then did.
Wrong. The big bang was the origin of both space and time, so this sentence is nonsensical. There cannot be a point in time in which the universe does not exist. The word “eternal,” above, implicitly implies a duality between time and the universe, when in fact time is bound up into the structure of space itself, one not existing without the other.
The law of causality requires a deeper explanation for the genesis of the universe than the big bang theory. The big bang theory does not define a cause, but only a process.
Wrong. Firstly, there’s no “Law of Causality.” Commonsense interpretations of cause and effect break down when dealing with quantum events such as, to choose a relevant example, the birth of a universe. Our hypotheses about how that event unfolded are required to conform to observations, and it is based on these observations that we deduced that that the event occurred. It’s also plain to see that the writer doesn’t understand the difference between a scientific theory and a colloquial theory, which nobody has any excuse for at this late date.
If something like the big bang happened (which is a weak theory in and of itself)…
Wrong. The Big Bang is supported by every scrap of data; every observation scientists have made and is contradicted by none. The observation of the Cosmic Microwave Background, exactly as predicted, is (almost literally) the smoking gun.
…a cause is still required. This means a self existent, eternal designer is required.
Wrong. If “magical universe-creating pixies” fulfills your criteria, you haven’t discovered anything. We don’t know whether this event had a cause, at least not in any intuitively satisfactory sense. Science contradicts common sense all the time, obviously: if common sense worked, we wouldn’t need science. Stephen Hawking, in The Grand Design, raised the possibility that it may simply be that nonexistence is inherently unstable. Christians frequently ask “why is there something rather than nothing?” Hawking turns this around and says “why should there be nothing, rather than something?”
We can't just say this dependent universe came out of another dependent universe. At some point an eternal, self existent creative designer is required to explain the law and order we observe in our universe.
Wrong. There are two major logical fallacies that have been in play for quite some time now. First, he’s nakedly Begging the Question, asserting that universes are “dependent,” a scientifically meaningless term. Secondly, this entire edifice is a classic Argument from Ignorance—just because we may not know the cause of the Big Bang, it does not mean that one can simply declare victory and shoehorn in one’s own personal god-idea without actually demonstrating it exists.
We also observe a natural moral law that is common throughout creation. Several studies have determined that moral law is not a product of environment, but it is written in our genetic make up. [sic]
Wrong. There’s no moral law common throughout creation—that kind of naked assertion is unsupported and unsupportable. To the best of our knowledge, the entirety of the universe (except for one tiny, barely-even-there speck) wheels along according to inexorable laws of physics. There’s no moral law in black holes, in supernovae, in mutely spinning galaxies floating in the void. And as far as our pale blue dot, maybe he hasn’t heard of evolution, but if something is written into our genome, it’s ipso facto a product of our environment. Nonsocial species don’t evolve reciprocal altruism, they generally (though not always) draw the line at not eating their young.
Therefore not only do we have a creative designing force, but we have a personal creator who has shown there is an intention or a purpose for our existence.
Wrong: “therefore” nothing. The entire argument thus far has been nothing but fallacies and fantasies, and concluding his personal god is nothing but airy nothings.
The athiest [sic] is not thinking this issue through. The athiest [sic] is basically saying "Because I cannot see my thoughts, my thoughts must not exist."
Wrong. The very definition of a Straw Man Argument fallacy—he thinks up the stupidest thing he can imagine anyone saying, puts that into the mouth of his opponent, and then argues against that—mostly because he doesn’t understand what his opponents are really saying in the first place. Incidentally, I can see my thoughts on the screen of an FMRI machine, we know that they exist as measurable brain activity, so I’m tempted not even to dignify this as a straw man—it’s just a cynical lie.
This is no different than their approach to God. However the natural world has the fingerprints of a personal, moral, and creative designer all over it. To ignore this is called foolishness by the author of the Bible. The apostle Paul declared in Romans chapter one that we can know God exists through observing His creation.
Wrong. The “fingerprints” don’t exist. Not one thing about this entire vast cosmos gives the slightest hint that it results from anything other than the laws of the universe. The authors of the bible had no idea about relativity, quantum mechanics, evolution, cosmology, astronomy, or any of the other vast fields of knowledge we have uncovered by refusing to accept “god did it” as an explanation.
It is actually quite simple. When we look at a painting, how do we know a painter exists. We look at the painting and know in our hearts that someone designed this painting personally and with a purpose. We can't prove scientifically that there was a painter but we know there was one, because paintings don't form themsleves [sic] by chance. How much more is this true when we look at the complexity and design of the natural universe.
Wrong. We already know a priori that there are such things as paintings and painters, and we can evaluate, based on that knowledge, that a painting is what it is. Demonstrate for me that Universe-creating designers exist, give me examples of universes which are designed as compared to those which are not, and then we can look at our own and be in the same position as one who beholds a painting hanging on the wall.
Once the so called athiest [sic] comes to terms with the fact the God exists we can move forward and start a discussion about how we can know the God of the Bible is the very God that created our universe.
What he means to say is “because the theist is convinced that God exists, the only discussion they can have is how their own God belief is the only acceptable explanation for the universe.” Wrong, wrong, fractally wrong: he's wrong on every conceivable level of resolution, from that of the individual facts, to the reasoning applied to those facts, to the presuppositions that dictate his reasoning.

He could, as Scalzi suggests, “work on that,” but unfortunately it’s highly doubtful he will, as a direct result of that doctrinal reality-filter. Tragically, this is an object lesson in how religion has taken a man who is merely ignorant, and has caused him to become stupid. If there’s any benefit, it’s that such profound examples of religiously-enforced ignorance will show others that “Religion Stops A Thinking Brain.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No Such Thing as a Wrong Answer

I recently attended a lecture by George H. Smith, best known as the author of Atheism: The Case Against God, entitled “10 Questions about Atheism" in Bloomington, IL. He made a point later on during the Q & A that I want to expand on.

Smith described how, if you go to a professor of academic philosophy and tell him about a significant conclusion you’ve reached, he may ask you “oh really, how did you figure that out?” You go over your process, and he says “well, that’s interesting, but you’ve based it on unsound reasoning here, you’re working on a couple of fallacies at this point and this other point, and I think you probably want to fix these problems.” Philosophy professors, he said, are not so much concerned with your conclusion as they are with the process by which you got there. If you have fundamental problems, they’ll send you back to square one.

Now, contrast that with a Christian philosopher. Smith pointed out how, if you go to one of them and say you’ve accepted Christianity, they won’t question your reasons one bit. There’s no wrong answer you can give, Smith said, you might as well say you saw the face of the Virgin Mary on a potato chip. (I’ve seen others talk about songs they heard at apropos moments, religious bumper stickers that crossed their path, and other such coincidental agency-detection.) Smith asked the audience: can you think of any reason, any motivation, any process or evidence you could give that would cause a religious philosopher or apologist to say, “sorry, that’s no good, you need to go back to the drawing board?” Of course not. The baptismal font is right this way, we’re so glad to have you.

Read more at Skeptic Money...

Friday, April 29, 2011

Quicktake - Morality and Altruism

I witnessed the momentary aftermath of two car accidents today. The first was midafternoon--we were driving along a city street, the car in front of us turned onto a side street and there were two cars, surrounded by four or five angry people with cell phones out. We drove around, and it was only as we passed by an ambulance, fire truck, and several police cars heading in the way we'd came that it came to do I know that everything was okay? I just assumed.

Only a few minutes ago, just outside our apartment, a loud bang rattled the windows. Outside, we saw two wrecked vehicles. I shoved my feet into my shoes, ran downstairs and spent a tense few moments comforting a frail old woman who seemed, at least to me, to have a rather terrifying concussion. She was disoriented, forgetful and had a nasty goose-egg the size of a quarter just above her temple. I held her hand and kept her talking until the ambulance arrived.

When I was in college, I learned about the bystander effect. If two people are alone and one has a heart attack, the other will certainly render aid. If that other person is one of ten, a dozen, twenty or more...nobody moves. I saw this happen once when I was in high school when a co-worker at my summer restaurant job had a stroke, turned gray, and collapsed in the middle of the kitchen. Ten people stared and didn't move.

Say what you will about morality in the absence of god--if this world is all we have and this life is all we get, then it makes it a better world for all of us if people are willing to help a stranger for no reason and with no hope of reward, be it immediate or eternal. I don't know how much good I did, but I did what I could and I didn't stand around gawking, and that's the way I prefer it to be. I didn't realize that my small, personal promise to myself not to be one who stands inactive would be put into practice a mere four hours later.

I think about a certain person I've been having conversations with, and the person I used to be. I suspect both of those people would attribute it to a god, who heard a silent prayer and made sure I'd be where I was needed. I don't need it to be that, I just know I did a good thing, and I'll do it again next time I get the chance, and the time after that.

The flashing lights seem to have gone, I think I will look and see how things are.