Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On Testing Intelligent Design

Lydia McGrew, Ph.D. in English Literature, offers an interesting paper on how to test for intelligent design: Testability, Likelihoods, and Design.

 HT: Victor Reppert

Monday, July 30, 2012

Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels

An interesting audio lecture by Timothy McGrew, professor of philosophy at Western Michigan University: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

I Probably Won't be Voting this Year.

I realize that democracy can only succeed if people are willing to compromise. But sometimes we find that we have certain principles or issues on which we cannot make ourselves compromise. I think that what is commonly known as "9/11 Truth" has become such an issue for me. I don't think I can in good conscience vote for a candidate who would not endorse a new, independent investigation into the events of 9/11.

I believe the evidence is overwhelming that the supposed terrorist acts of 9/11 were carried out under the auspices of people high up in our government. Maybe or maybe not George W. Bush or Richard Cheney. But almost certainly under the orders of high-ranking military officers.

I do not expect any major candidates to support such an investigation. So I doubt I will be voting for any candidate this year. I'll still vote for local issues, such as millage or bond proposals. But otherwise, I think I'll feel better abstaining from the usual political horse races taking place. Somehow they seem more meaningless to me now than ever before.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Eternal Traffic Jam

For nearly two months now my drive home on the freeway during the late afternoon has been considerably slower than normal, thanks to the many gawkers who have the overwhelming desire to slow down and see how the latest road construction is coming along.  I feel confident that if they didn't satisfy their inner longing to know if more cement was poured since yesterday that traffic would flow along rather smoothly at about 45mph.  Instead, we crawl along at about 10mph, until right after the construction zone, when it suddenly occurs to drivers that there is nothing more to stare at out the side window.

While biding my time waiting for everyone in front of me to have their eyeful of the latest accomplishments of our faithful construction workers, I've conjured up what I consider to be the perfect Hell for gawkers.  Here's how it would work:

After a person dies, they wake up to find themselves in a car.  They are given the keys and told that once they start driving they will enter a highway that will take them straight to Heaven.  All they need to do is follow the directions on the signs.  And they are warned not to gawk at any accidents on the side of the road or they may miss the directions.  The person then begins driving, enters the highway, and immediately finds themselves in a traffic jam.  Everyone in front of them is driving very slowly in order to see the series of horrible traffic accidents along the side of the highway.  Each accident involves terribly twisted, mangled and bloodied bodies and limbs; each accident more gruesome than the one before it.  If the drivers would just avert their eyes from the gory scenes for a moment, they would see the signs that point them to the exit from the highway that would take them straight to Heaven.  Instead, each driver's attention is fixed on the delightful details of each crash.  And so the traffic inches along throughout eternity.  In my scenario, there are many exits to Heaven along the way.  But since the gawkers are too busy staring at the accidents, they never notice the signs.  The air conditioning in their cars doesn't work.  The heat is incredibly overbearing.  One would think that eventually they would tire and look for a way out.  But for some reason they just can't pull their gaze away long enough to notice how close they are to Paradise.

But then, maybe for them this is Paradise.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Respectable Expert accepts Young Earth Creationism

I've been skimming through the book Faith, Reason, and Earth History, by Leonard Brand, department chair of biology at Loma Linda University. On page 266 he offers lists of evidence supporting what he would call the competing theories of natural history, "Intervention and Catastrophism," versus "Megaevolution and Neocatastrophism."   His argument is that there is strong evidence for both theories, and that neither offers adequate explanations for the evidence that supports the other theory.

 As far as I can tell, Brand is considered a respectable scientist and expert in the fields that he is discussing.  This would be evidence to me that one could have reasonable doubt about an ancient Earth.  Conclusive evidence?  No.  But enough to reject James McGrath's sweeping accusation that ALL YECs are liars and deceivers.

Since I'm not a YEC, and since I don't have a passionate interest in trying to decide which view is correct (and according to Brand, the evidence is inconclusive, anyway), this is as far as I feel I need to go to discount McGrath's view.  Now back to things of more interest to me. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"I Weep for the Future of Science."

Sorry, but I had to take a break from my YEC studies. For some reason I can't upload (download?) the video, but here's Sheldon's Introductory Lecture.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Catastrophic Plate Tectonics

An interesting YEC article that offers a naturalistic mechanism for a global flood: Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: the Geophysical Context of the Genesis Flood.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why I'll be studying YEC Literature for a while.

James McGrath has put up what I consider to be a very unChristian posting at his blog: Be Deceitful as Your Heavenly Father is Deceitful; Things Jesus Didn't Say. He claims that ALL Young Earth Creationists (YECs) are guilty of being deceitful. I even asked him in the comments section just to make sure I wasn't misinterpreting him. I'm not a YEC. I've assumed that mainstream science has it right about the ancient age of the Earth, but that there are perfectly legitimate ways to interpret Genesis that are consistent with that view. So to me, this whole issue has never been a big deal. However, as one YEC scientist put it:

"If McGrath's central thesis that worshippers resemble their deities is correct (which I seriously doubt), then the god of James McGrath must be a divisive, belligerent jerk. Not the sort of deity I care to worship."

I wholeheartedly agree with that view. So now I must divert my time and energy from constructive activities, such as sharing my favorite parts of episodes of "The Big Bang Theory," to reading YEC literature. What I expect to find is that there is anomalous evidence that does not fit easily into the standard scientific understanding of an ancient Earth. To me, this wouldn't prove that the standard view is wrong. But it would show that there are problems with it, and perhaps enough problems so that there could be reasonable doubt about it. That would not prove that the YEC view is correct. But it would justify someone who thinks that the YEC view is correct in not giving up their view. And more importantly, it would show that McGrath should change his mind about YECs. (Which he should do anyway, given that he claims to be a Christian).

Now off to my reading. By the way, most of my reading will start here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I've Decided to Ignore Chuck Lorre's Advice

Though it's funny and would no doubt get a laugh on TV, it's not kind. I think I would risk saying, "God bless you," to a sneezing atheist. If they choose to make fun of me, I think I can live with it.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What to Say to a Sneezing Atheist

In case you ever wondered, Chuck Lorre, scriptwriter for "The Big Bang Theory," has some advice.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

I watched Seeking a Friend for the End of the World last night. It's an exploration of what truly matters to people, which they discover when told that they only have three weeks to live. For the hero of the story, Dodge (Steve Carell), it's finding relationship. (I was reminded of the verse in Genesis, "And the LORD God said, 'It's not good for man to be alone.'") It's a slow-moving film, so don't expect a lot of action or excitement. But if you're willing to follow along at a leisurely pace, there's a lot to be discovered, both the best and the worst of what we are.

My one disappointment is that no one is shown seeking a relationship with God. With only three weeks to live, surely someone would be interested in that. Did the filmmakers think it too cliche'? Or is it that since none of them had such a relationship, they didn't know how to explore it?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

First Followers of Jesus were Government Conspiracy Theorists

Conintuing my thoughts from WTC 7 and Jesus, it is interesting to note that according to the Book of Acts, the first Jewish followers of Jesus thought that Jesus's death was the result of a government conspiracy (from Acts, chapter 4):

23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

“‘Why do the nations rage     and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth rise up     and the rulers band together against the Lord     and against his anointed one."

27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness."

Just so no one accuses the author of Acts of anti-Semitism, note that he has the Jewish followers blame both the Gentiles and the people of Israel, and both Herod and Pontius Pilate. The point that the author is making is that the political rulers of this world conspired to kill Jesus. It is also interesting to note that the same author of Acts is the author of the Gospel of Luke. In his account of the temptations of Jesus, he writes (in chapter 4):

5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

There is definitely a dim view taken of governments and who actually controls them. We 9/11 Truthers, regardless of whether or not we believe in God, should feel a kindred spirit with the New Testament.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Our Eyes: Suboptimal Design?

Rabbi Klinghoffer responds to Richard Dawkins about how an engineer would reject the eye because of its suboptimal design. I like the Rabbi's argument that the eye is still much better than anything engineers have been able to design, so it's a little premature to reject it. But then the question still remains, is the vertebrate eye suboptimal design? Could it have been designed better? According to the blogger "shkrobius," no: Why do We Have the Blind Spot?:

The dilemma of the blind spot arises only when the oxygen is delivered using blood. That is where the crucial difference between the cephalopods and us emerges. The cephalopds belong to the clade of animals having blue blood: instead of haemaglobin in which O2 is carried by Fe in a porphyrin ring, they use haemocyanin that has two Cu complexed by two sets of triple histidine ligands. These are two entirely different O2-carrier designs showing independent origin of these two blood systems. The difference is crucial, because heamocyanins of the cephalopods do not bind O2 in a cooperative fashion, as done by the haemoglobin complex in other animals, so it is only 25% as efficient as an O2 carrier. To compensate, the metabolic rates have to be increased. Furthermore, the cephalopods do not have blood cells; their oxygen carrier is extracellular, freely floating in blood and through the tissues. Their main competitor, fish, has the superior, cellular blood design, and so the cephalopds have to increase both the uptake and the delivery rate of O2:

...the capacity of hemocyanin for carrying oxygen is limited. This is due to the unfavorable increase in colloidal osmotic pressure and blood viscosity at high pigment concentrations. At an oxygen-binding capacity of only 3 mM (as opposed to 10 mM in fish), cephalopods rely on fully oxygenating their pigment at the gills and on releasing the majority of bound oxygen during each passage through the tissue capillary beds. Under resting conditions, about 80% of bound oxygen are being released in the tissues in the cuttlefish S. officinalis. http://icb.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/47/4/645

The cephalopods pass huge amount of water through their gills, extract lots of oxygen and immediately deliver it to their organs in a single pass. Now, it happens that our retina is one of the highest O2-consuming tissues of the body. It is, for example, consuming more O2 per gram than brain. It combines frenetic pigment synthesis with expensive neural processing which requires a lot of oxygen and nutrients to sustain. Like the muscle tissue that has its own O2 carrier, myoglobin, the retina has its own O2 carrier, neuroglobin, but O2 is delivered to the retinal receptors directly by haemoglobins in the blood vessels. These vessels are absolutely essential there, next to the cones, because oxygen has no means of diffusing through its thickness at such consumption rates, see http://www.jbc.org/cgi/reprint/M209909200v1.pdf

The true reason why cephalopds do not have the optic disk blocking their visual fields is that they can get away with it. They deliver oxygen to their retinas using extracellular haemocyanins, so they do not need the blood vessels to go right next to their rhabdomeres. Faster O2 metabolism and lack of cooperativity make this mode of oxygenation possible. The animals that deliver oxygen using haemoglobin containing specialized blood cells cannot allow themselves such a luxury. Since the arterial blood has to enter the retina anyway, Nature chose to use this entrance for the optic nerve, which makes good practical sense: the nerve grows around the artery, so the nerves get their oxygen, too. Better still, our sharp central vision is by fovea, which is cleared of blood vessels and innervated and oxygenated from behind, through the choroid. That is the reason why the fovea (which is only 1% of the retina) operates under hypoxic stress under bright light and why we avert our eyes from it. The marine animals do not encounter this problem because they do not deal with bright light, so the oxygen demand of their retinas is lower. That is another reason they can get away with letting the oxygen only through the posterior arteries.

The blind spot is not about nerves; it is about oxygen and blood. The design of our eye is optimal for us and the design of cephalopod eyes is optimal for them. It would be ridiculous to redo the blood chemistry for solving a minor problem with the oxygen supply to the retina, so a different solution was found. I do not think it is possible to have cellular delivery of oxygen and cameral eyes in any other way. If that were possible, it would've been tried over the 500 Myr that the two exist. It is ridiculous to lay a claim of suboptimality for the design of such ubiquity and antiquity.

In short, if you want to have clear vision, have blue blood. On this issue, Mother Nature sides with the Victorian gentry.

I don't know if shkrobius is right, but it's interesting.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Or maybe I haven't

"The Periodical Circada can cause minor damage to the twigs of the trees they lay their eggs. However, they rarely cause any significant damage to landscape plants, trees, gardens, etc. Periodical Cicada’s do not have the ability to sting or bite. "

I have sinned.

At least, according to this article:

Because the cicada killer wasp hunts and kills mostly cicada insects as a food source for their larvae they help to keep the cicada population down. Cicadas are a pest insect, they eat the deciduous leaves of fruit trees and can ravage valuable farm crops. The cicada killer wasp is a beneficial insect and is part of nature’s way to help maintain a useful balance of cicadas in the wild. They could possibly be the only bee that 'if you leave them alone they will leave you alone.' That's pretty good advice.

What are the Ethics of Killing Cicada Killers?

I love the sound of cicadas in the late summer and early fall. I haven't noticed their songs as much in recent years. Is it because of an overabundance of cicada killer wasps? Are they wiping out all the cicadas? Well, if they are, I found out an easy way to kill cicada killers - with a weed whacker. For some reason cicada killers attack the moving string on weed whackers, which instantly hurls the wounded wasps to the ground. I quickly finish the job by stomping on them with my shoe. I've killed about a dozen cicada killers in the past two days this way.

And I'm feeling guilty.

Am I upsetting the balance of Nature? Am I killing cicada killers unnecessarily? Should I allow cicada killers to live and kill cicadas? Or should I be the cicada killer killer?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Hunger Games

When it's 100 degrees out, one looks for air conditioned places, such as movie theaters. Of course, one goes to the cheap, $4 per seat theater. The only movie showing at the time that I arrived was "The Hunger Games." I haven't read the books, but I heard a brief explanation of what they're about. There are 12 Districts that must pay an annual "tribute" of two young people, one boy, one girl, between the ages of 12-18. These 24 young people are pitted against each other in a televised battle to the death, with only one winner, who is then showered with glory and prizes.

I was hoping that the 24 kids would get together and decide not to kill each other, thus setting an example for the people in their districts, showing that working together always beats working against each other.

For the most part, the movie didn't go as I had hoped.

As I left the theater my first reaction on seeing other people was, "There go some potential deadly enemies.  Perhaps I should kill them first."*

Ah the power of mass media.  This is a "children's" movie, by the way.  So what are we conditioning them for now?

*Maybe I better add that was my first reaction. I no longer think that way. Trust me. Go ahead, trust me. I won't stab you in the back with my dagger while you lead the way. Trust me.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

C.S. Lewis on the Personality of Jesus

Since I've been so keen on repeating what C.S. Lewis had to say on the question of mythicism concerning Jesus, I thought I would continue by quoting what he had to say regarding the personality of Jesus. This is from part of a lecture that Lewis, though not a professional theologian, was invited to give at a seminary, and was published as "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism," in the book Christian Reflections:

Finally, from the same Bultmann: 'The personality of Jesus has no importance for the kerygma either of Paul or of John...Indeed the tradition of the earliest Church did not even unconsciously preserve a picture of his personality. Every attempt to reconstruct one remains a play of subjective imagination.1

So there is no personality of Our Lord presented in the New Testament. Through what strange process has this learned German gone in order to make himself blind to what all men except him see? What evidence have we that he would recognize a personality if it were there? For it is Bultman
contra mundum . If anything whatever is common to all believers, and even to many unbelievers, it is the sense that in the Gospels they have met a personality. There are characters whom we know to be historical but of whom we do not feel that we have any personal knowledge - knowledge by acquaintance; such are Alexander, Attila, or William of Orange. There are others who make no claim to historical reality but whom, none the less, we know as we know real people: Falstaff, Uncle Toby, Mr. Pickwick. But there are only three characters who, claiming the first sort of reality, also actually have the second. And surely everyone knows who they are: Plato's Socrates, the Jesus of the Gospels, and Boswell's Johnson. Our acquaintance with them shows itself in a dozen ways. When we look into the Apocryphal gospels, we find ourselves constantly saying of this or that logion, 'No. It's a fine saying, but not His. That wasn't how He talked.' - just as we do with all pseudo-Johnsoniana. We are not in the least perturbed by the contrasts within each character: the union in Socrates of silly and scabrous titters about Greek pederasty with the highest mystical fervour and the homeliest good sense; in Johnson, of profound gravity and melancholy with that love of fun and nonsense which Boswell never understood though Fanny Burney did; in Jesus of peasant shrewdness, intolerable severity, and irresistible tenderness. So strong is the flavour of the personality that, even while He says things which, on any other assumption than that of Divine Incarnation in the fullest sense, would be appallingly arrogant, yet we - and many unbelievers too - accept Him at His own valuation when He says 'I am meek and lowly of heart.' Even those passages in the New Testament which superficially, and in intention, are most concerned with the Divine, and least with the Human Nature, bring us face to face with the personality. I am not sure that they don't do this more than any others. 'We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of graciousness and reality...which we have looked upon and our hands have handled.' What is gained by trying to evade or dissipate this shattering immediacy of personal contact by talk about 'that significance which the early church found that it was impelled to atrribute to the Master'? This hits us in the face. Not what they were impelled to do but what impelled them. I begin to fear that by personality Dr. Bultmann means what I should call impersonality: what you'd get in a D.N.B. article or an obituary or a Victorian Life and Letters of Yeshua Bar-Yosef in three volumes with photographs.

That then is my first bleat. These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old text; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can't see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight."

[1Rudolf Bultman, Theology of the New Testament, translated by Kendrick Gobel, vol. I (S.C.M. Press, 1952), p.35]