Monday, May 31, 2010
There is one thing about my wife's recent illness and death that I want to discuss publicly, perhaps appropriately on Memorial Day.
That is the disposition of her body. Having a year to consider it, I think we came up with the best possible solution.
Neither of us had ever liked the ghoulish practice of wakes, especially since modern medicine makes it all but inconceivable that anyone will be pronounced dead in error, notwithstanding fantastic tales to the contrary, and never after embalming in any case. Shirley originally expressed a desire to donate her body parts but, given that she was suffering from widespread malignant cancer, there would be no chance that her body parts would be accepted for transplant. We considered cremation, but that failed to bring any, even small, good out of her suffering and death.
We finally hit on donation of her body to a medical school. The process was exceedingly easy. The medical school (in this case, Stony Brook University Medical School), has its own funeral home to pick up the body and do the paperwork. The service is available 24 hours a day, inasmuch as the school wants the body as soon as possible after death, since they don't want it embalmed. They came and removed her body from the friend's home where she had been staying in her last days (another story altogether) in the wee morning hours of New Years Day.
Once the school is finished with the body, the remains are cremated and the ashes either returned to the family or, if the family chooses, are simply scattered over the ocean. A minor consideration was that there is no cost to the family, though they did request that we donate the Social Security death benefit of $250 to the school, which I was happy to do. I received a nice letter from the head of the school explaining the good that the donation might do, both in the training of future doctors and in the biological investigations to be done. Who knows, maybe she'll even attain a kind of HeLa immortality.
I highly recommend the procedure.
When "Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink" Fails
Dr. Georgia Purdom of Answers in Genesis comes this close, but can't quite see the creator for the trees. In an article, "Is the intelligent design movement Christian?," she manages to see the energetic handwaving from the IDers but fails to get the message. First of all, Purdom provides a helpful quote from William Dembski to once again demonstrate that ID has nothing whatsoever to do with religion, no sirree Bob!:
ID is three things: a scientific research program that investigates the effects of intelligent causes; an intellectual movement that challenges Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy; and a way of understanding divine action.
The ID movement also claims not to be religiously motivated. It focuses not on the whom but on the what. This may sound very appealing at first glance. Some biblical creationists believe that the ID movement's tolerance and acceptance of a wide range of beliefs about the supernatural could be useful in reaching a larger audience. Since the movement is very careful not to associate itself with Christianity or any formal religion, some think it will stand a better chance of gaining acceptance as an alternative to Darwinism in the schools, because it does not violate the so-called "separation of church and state."
Purdom, naturally, can't help but bring the crazy:
[T]he central problem with the ID movement is a divorce of the Creator from creation. The Creator and His creation cannot be separated; they reflect on each other. All other problems within the movement stem from this one.
Those within the ID movement claim their science is neutral. However, science is not neutral because it works with hypotheses based on beliefs or presuppositions. It is ironic that they refuse to see this about their own science, considering that they claim the problem with Darwinism is the presupposition that nothing supernatural exists. All scientists approach their work with presuppositions. The question is whether those beliefs are rooted in man's fallible ideas about the past or rooted in the infallible Word of God, the Bible. ...
Without the framework of the Bible and the understanding that evil entered the world through man's actions (Genesis 3), God appears sloppy and incompetent, if not downright vicious. People ask why God is unable to prevent evil from thwarting His plans, resulting in such poor design, instead of understanding that because of the Fall there is now a "cursed" design.
Anyway, Phillip Johnson's and William Dembski's and other's furious attempts at semaphore notwithstanding, Purdom can't quite get it.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
the orchid sings
the kama sutra
to the bee
the lion tends
to feed it
life must shoulder
for room to grow
and chance to change
dying is a duty
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Now let us admit that in one respect, he's right. Science isn't everything. We don't use science to appreciate a piece of art (although, fundamentally, it is a material object and our brains are similarly natural); we don't break out beakers and bunsen burners to determine if we've fallen in love; calculators have limited utility in writing poetry. That's fine, but it doesn't mean that religion fills in all the spaces! I don't consult a priest to find out what I think of a painting, prayer has bugger-all to do with love, and there is better poetry in the world than what we find in holy books. You don't get to simply assume that if science does something poorly, religion must do it well, and that the universe has to be neatly divvied up into these two mutually exclusive domains.
So is [Francisco] Ayala claiming that evolution is not a product of god's actions? Or is he just a goddamned dimwitted airhead?
But that would mean ...
Labels: Accommodationism Incompatiblism
Friday, May 28, 2010
The second study is, in some ways, even more disturbing than the first, because it strikes right at the heart of skeptical activism. Researchers find that when people are confronted with scientific information that directly challenges a cherished belief, their typical response is to argue for the impotence of science – science is unable to prove or disprove my belief. That much is predictable, and any skeptic can tell you that this is a common response. However, the study takes it one step further – they found that people also, after being confronted, shift their belief toward thinking that science in general is impotent. This probably is a mechanism to reduce cognitive dissonance, but in any case confronting people with disconfirming scientific evidence tends to reduce their confidence in science in general.
Still ... food for thought.
*That study is behind a paywall. If anyone has access to it, I would greatly appreciate a copy.
On Recognizing the Enemy of My Enemy
Secularism is not so much an attack upon the religious believers and institutions of modern society, as it is a defence of religious freedoms. ... [S]ecularism [is] a way to ensure that no religion is able to take over the social policy in a way that is detrimental to other religions. Catholics cannot be repressed or coerced by Protestants, nor Muslims and Hindus by Christians, and so forth, in a properly secular society. The cost, from the perspective of the religious believer, is that they must forego control of the social agenda themselves, and they must tolerate the nonreligious as much as they themselves are tolerated. They should do this, because it is in their own interests to do this, such "costs" notwithstanding.
- John Wilkins, "The role of secularism in protecting religion"
Thursday, May 27, 2010
The Ultimate Pareidolia
From The Athens (Georgia) Banner-Herald comes this about Charles Gordon, a Texas neurosurgeon who had a "crisis of faith" because of the death of a friend at a young age from cancer:
God is manifest in all creation, so says Romans 1:20 in the Bible. Gordon found God in the similarities and beauty that is all around the world.
"The harder I looked, the more it occurred to me that these striking similarities I was seeing had to be more than just coincidence," Gordon said. "They suggested there was a super-intelligence behind it all."
Similarities like the blood vessels in the eye's retina looks just like lightning striking in the night sky. Or the spiral, which is found in something as grand as a galaxy, as small as a grain of sand or sea shell, or inside our bodies like the cochlea.
"It's a very elegant, beautiful pattern, and no one can explain why," he said. "Our spirits are immediately attracted to things of beauty, things that have nothing to do with procreation or extending our lives.
"It's a universal response, and I think it's because God created it and said it was good, and we have in our spirits that attraction to beauty."
"A girl in Nashville sent in similar pictures of a mushroom and a jellyfish, and how they look similar," Gordon said. "A fifth-grader pointed out brain coral and how it looks just like a human brain. ... We've found some really cool stuff."
And what, exactly, would a God be trying to tell us by causing polyps to group together in colonies that, very superficially, resemble vertebrate (not just human) brains?
And why would a neurosurgeon fail to see how superficial the resemblance is?
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
The estimable Lauri Lebo has again documented the utter intellectual vacuity of the Righteous Right cultural warriors ... in this case, the premier example of between-the-ears emptiness, Don McLeroy of the Texas State Board of Diseducation.
It seems that McLeroy wanted Texas history classes to quote Jean Pierre Godet to the effect that "I love America for giving so many of us the right to dream a new dream" as a counterbalance to "the immigrant experience presented by muckrakers and reform leaders such as Upton Sinclair, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells, and W. E. B. DuBois on American society."
The only problem? Jean Pierre Godet is a fictional character in a novel by a living (though bad) artist, Thomas Kinkade.
Someone apparently was able to beat McLeroy with a clue stick that actually worked for once and the amendment, though circulated among his fellow gits, was never actually offered for a vote.
As Lebo amusingly sums up:
It's interesting that McLeroy chose Kinkade's work to represent his vision of what children should learn. I was perusing through the painter's online catalog and ran across Kinkade's own description of one of his productions:
The nostalgic vision of life is often described as seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. This celebration of community, set in simpler times, near the start of the 20th century, is perhaps best viewed through such tinted lenses!
Or as Tinker Bell says, if you wish hard enough, it will come true.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Jerry Coyne and Karl Giberson are having at each other, which all but guarantees that there will be a lot of talking past each other.
Coyne opens with this interpretation of Giberson:
Science and faith are compatible because there are lots of religious scientists. Some of them have even won Nobel Prizes!
Hello? Anybody listening out there? Earth to Giberson: no New Atheist has ever denied that faith and science can be "compatible" in the sense that both can be simultaneously embraced by one human mind. The argument is, and always has been, about whether science and faith are philosophically compatible. Do they clash because they deal with "data" in disparate ways? Do they have completely different standards for judging "truth"? I say "yes," and assert that religious scientists exist in a state of cognitive dissonance.
Coyne's next complaint is that Giberson accuses him of attacking theists who are scientists personally. Specifically, Giberson complained that:
... Coyne raked Brown University cell biologist Ken Miller and me over the coals in The New Republic for our claims that Christians can unapologetically embrace science.
Giberson and Miller are thoughtful men of good will. Reading them, you get a sense of conviction and sincerity absent from the writings of many creationists, who blatantly deny the most obvious facts about nature in the cause of their faith. Both of their books are worth reading: Giberson for the history of the creation/ evolution debate, and Miller for his lucid arguments against intelligent design. Yet in the end they fail to achieve their longed-for union between faith and evolution. And they fail for the same reason that people always fail: a true harmony between science and religion requires either doing away with most people's religion and replacing it with a watered-down deism, or polluting science with unnecessary, untestable, and unreasonable spiritual claims.
I have to wholeheartedly agree with Coyne on one point: Giberson is wrong about this:
For the sake of argument, let us set aside questions about the truth of religion vs. the truth of science. Suppose there is no such thing as religious truth, as Richard Dawkins argued in The God Delusion. Allow that the "New Atheist Noise Machine," as American University communications professor Matt Nisbet calls it, has a privileged grasp of the truth. Even with these concessions, it still appears that the New Atheists are behaving like a boorish bunch of intellectual bullies.
There is something profoundly un-American about demanding that people give up cherished, or even uncherished, beliefs just because they don't comport with science. And the demand seems even more peculiar when it is applied so indiscriminately as to include religious believers with Nobel Prizes. What sort of atheist complains that a fellow citizen doing world-class science must abandon his or her religion to be a good scientist?
Our commitment to pluralism and individual freedom should motivate generosity in such matters and allow people "the right to be wrong," especially when the beliefs in question do not interfere with us. Nothing is gained by loud, self-promoting and mean-spirited assaults on the beliefs of fellow citizens.
The New Atheists need to learn how to play in the sandbox.
Of course, that means Giberson is just as free to play his cards as Coyne is to play his. Only time will tell who has the better hand in that game.
Labels: Accommodationism Incompatiblism
Monday, May 24, 2010
School Board Follies
Toni Morrison, a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, editor, and professor, wrote a book, Song of Solomon, that won the National Books Critics Award and was specifically cited by the Swedish Academy in awarding Morrison the 1993 Nobel Prize in literature.
But is that good enough reason for 11th graders (about a year shy of college) in Advanced Placement English classes at Franklin (Indiana) Central High School to be reading it? Not according to a couple of local school board members:
"I was about as appalled as I've ever been in my life," said board member Scott Veerkamp. "I wouldn't want to expose my children to that garbage."
Veerkamp said he and fellow board member Randall Bland received complaints about the book. Veerkamp then asked district administrators to pull it, which triggered a formal review.
"I couldn't even sleep last night when I read some of the excerpts," he said, adding that descriptive sex scenes, profanity, demeaning language and suicide were some of the material he found offensive.
Sadly, the local educators don't seem much better:
Franklin Central Principal Kevin Koers said he had read about half the book Wednesday and wanted to be sure to have a complete understanding of it.
"There is a lesson in the book," he said.
This last bit would be funny ... if it wasn't so sad:
Veerkamp, the Franklin Township School Board member, still contends it isn't appropriate for students.
"I don't care who said that it's worthy, that it's classical literature," he said.
"I'm embarrassed that we're even having to address this. . . . These are still children."
If I were him, I'd be more embarrassed about broadcasting what a dolt I am.
Thanks to an Anonymous commenter.
Update: Although Morrison's book was originally taken away from the Advanced Placement English students, it was returned to them pending a formal recommendation to district officials by the instructional-materials review committee, which would actually read the novel instead of relying on "excerpts."
Sunday, May 23, 2010
One of the more disconcerting penchants of some "New Atheists" is their willingness to throw over the scientific method when it is convenient to their arguments. We've already seen the fairly harmless example of PZ Myearshertz claiming that cuddling is science when he wants to avoid admitting that he does not apply the scientific method to everything in his life.
The latest example is Jerry Coyne and his discussion of Michael Zimmerman's Clergy Letter Project.
Coyne revives his list of things "supernatural" that have supposedly been tested by science and found wanting, which I've already addressed, though not in depth.
But this is what interests me in his latest:
Zimmerman isn't describing the real world, but the world of left-wing theologians. ...
If you turn on your television on Sunday morning, as I did today, you'll see that real world. You'll see oodles of preachers testifying to the literal truth of God's creation, the Fall of Man, and the power of prayer. What's more, some of these preachers promise salvation, wealth, happiness, or health if you'll just forward a few bucks to their ministries. Aren't those empirical claims? ...
Maybe Dr. Zimmerman should get out more.
Well, if it is, then this should be good evidence too: after having been raised in the Catholic faith, educated in Catholic schools and interacting with many other theists in the 40+ years since I left faith behind, my experience is that the vast majority of theists do not simplistically believe that prayer brings wealth, happiness, or health. This is reflected in such popular sayings as "God helps those who help themselves," "God answers all prayers ... sometimes the answer is 'No'" and "God works in mysterious ways." In fact, in my experience, the ones who seem to view prayer most simplistically are scientists who think they are testing the "efficacy" of prayer by treating it as a natural cause that will have a direct correlation with empiric effect.
Almost all theists I have known realize that prayer will not result in cures of disease or winning the lottery. They understand that the more realistic goal is a sense of serenity and courage in the face of woes. Coyne is free to dispute that result too but that would take even more evidence than his switching on his TV. The theists I've known would, of course, be relieved if there was a spontaneous remission of some serious ailment they or their families suffered from and might well attribute such a result to the action of God (which, as I explained in the comments to my previous post, can't be tested scientifically). But they would not attribute it to prayer but to the will of God.
The people I know are not, for the most part, "liberal theologians" or, indeed, theologians of any sort. And yet they do not fit Coyne's unevidenced caricature of "most" theists.
Frankly, Coyne should take his own advice and get out more with real people and stop watching television.
Labels: Accommodationism Incompatiblism
Saturday, May 22, 2010
The New Battle of Glorietta Pass
I hate to break it to you Coloradans but you've got another battle with Texas coming up. Barry Arrington, ex-Texan and webmaster at Uncommon Descent, is running for the Colorado state Board of Education.
Arrington holds a business degree from the University of Texas-Arlington and a law degree from the University of Texas law school, has been a CPA and an attorney, with his practice focused on business, non-profit law, contract law, school law, real estate and constitutional law.
He lists his "qualifications" for the board as:
[H]e is also a conservative Republican [as was the previous holder of the seat, who is term-limited] with a proven track record of conservative activism, cutting taxes, fiscal conservatism, social conservatism and that he is an education reformer and passionately pro-life.You lucky Coloradans!
Arrington promises that pushing ID "is not on his agenda" so you don't have to worry about that, given how honest IDers always are about their motives.
His opponent is Debora Scheffel, who is the dean of the School of Education at Jones International University but is presently on loan to the Colorado Department of Education as a special assistant on literacy to the Education Commissioner. She holds a master's degree in education from the University of Denver, specializing in special education, learning disabilities and emotional disturbance. Scheffel also has a Ph.D. from Northwestern University in communication science and communicative disorders. She has been a special education teacher in the Douglas County Public Schools, a professor of special education at the University of Northern Colorado and Fort Hays State University and spent time at the Colorado Department of Education as director of the Colorado Reading First program.
Now, I know nothing about Scheffel or whether or not she would make a good board member. But let's see ... a trained educator versus a lawyer/accountant for a position with the duty to set educational policy ...
Friday, May 21, 2010
The sun in inexorable illusion
climbs down Earth's edge to die
while night weaves ebon cobwebs
across the eastern sky
After clockwork slumber
the light returns to reach
like an old woman's broom
into remotest corners
with just the faintest sigh
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Dr. Freud, Please Call Your Office!
Josh Rosenau points to a post at the Ministry of Misinformation by Jay Richards that, once again, belies the claim that ID has nothing to do with religion. Of course, Richards is still waiving around the fig leaf that ID doesn't claim that the "Designer" is God but there is an interesting amount of slip peeping out of Richard's skirts:
ID proponents have explained over and over and over again that ID per se isn't committed to a specific mode of divine causality.
Reading this, however, it occurs to me that there is a good explanation of why ID is not science.
As we all know, a central argument in ID is that DNA is like computer software or a code and, since the only examples of software or code that we are aware of are created by an intelligent agent -- humans -- it is "reasonable" to infer that DNA is also designed by an intelligent agent. IDers, however, as Richards notes, refuse to engage in "specifying how the design is implemented, or by whom." Indeed, they (not so strangely) refuse to address "religious questions about the identity or metaphysical nature of the designer."
Let's look at another example: we know that radio signals can be created by intelligent agents like humans. If we then listen and discover radio signals coming from outside the Earth and we refuse to consider who or what might have caused those signals or how they were created, we'd might argue that the "best explanation" was to infer that all the radio signals were the result of intelligent agents. Of course, we have good explanations of other sources of radio signals -- just as we have good explanations of adaptation and the "apparent design" of life -- but if you insist on squeezing your eyes tight shut and burying your fingers knuckle deep in your ears and refuse to even consider the source of those extraterrestrial radio signals, it's easy enough to "conclude" they are intelligently designed.
That would be just as "scientific" as ID is.
Update: Stephen Matheson of Quintessence of Dust describes Meyer making this very "argument."
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Here's Looking At You
Rod Dreher, who may have finally dropped the "Crunchy Con" nom de plume, second in ridiculousness only to Theodore Beale's, has praise for religiously conservative Rep. Mark Souder, who is resigning from Congress because he got caught with his penis in places not associated with his wife. Dreher gives this reason for acclaim:
[W]e find that a big Christian conservative has betrayed his family and his God by committing adultery, a thing both sad and appalling. So why am I writing in praise of Mark Souder? Because of the admirable and (therefore) unusual way he's dealing with it. He's not holding on to his seat at all costs. He's not issuing a pro forma apology of the sort we're used to hearing from politicians. He's resigning his seat because he doesn't want to put his family through hell in the public spotlight, and because he doesn't want to hurt his party.At first blush, that did not seem unreasonable, especially given the reactions of other socially conservative luminaries who were of late caught, in Lauri Lebo's hilarious summary, in situations involving "adult diapers, wide stances or non-consensual tickling."
As Lebo pointed out, Souder appeared in the execrable Expelled but much smarter people than the average Congress-stooge ... Thomas Nagel leaps to mind ... have been fooled by the Discoveryoids.
But then Ed Brayton reminded me of the fact that Souder used taxpayer-supplied resources to produce a phony "report" on Richard Sternberg's equally phony claims of martyrdom at the hands of the Smithsonian Institute. No one abusing his office in this manner can be considered admirable.
Lebo puts the nail in that coffin anyway:
Souder had touted himself as a conservative "family values" politician and tireless advocate for abstinence-only-until-holy-union-of-marriage public school education. This certainly raises the question that if an aging white-haired paunchy married grandfather can't keep his pants zipped, why for God's sake should we expect teenagers?Stupid obliviousness is not worthy of praise. Of course, the video Ed provides, where Souder and his mistress join to extol abstinence is just hypocrisy icing on the cake.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Would You Like Cheese With Your Whine?
Michael Behe is in the Oregon Salem-News whining at how the mean ol' "Darwinists" abuse the poor Intelligent Design Creationists. Of course, Behe then promptly repeats the Discoveryoid defamatory claim that Judge Jones "plagiarized" his decision from the plaintiffs' "proposed findings of fact":
I don't think the judge understood any of the academic arguments that were presented in his courtroom, whether science, philosophy or theology, or whether presented by the plaintiffs or defendants. If you examine the court records, you see that when the judge's ruling discusses the nature of science, the judge's opinion was essentially copied from a document given to him by the plaintiffs lawyers. There is no evidence he himself understood what he was copying. But when the leading scientific societies are strongly arrayed on one side against a local community school board on the other, the judge went with those who have cultural power in our society.
But beyond displaying his tin ear when it comes to irony, Behe demonstrates his usual grasp of facts:
I regret the judge's decision, but nonetheless I think the school board elections in which the old board lost and a new board was installed is a reasonable example of democratic action. The big issue for many local residents was not what was taught in biology class in the local high school. Rather, it was the expense of the trial itself, which was over a million dollars. Residents who had no children in the school, or who knew little of the issues, would still have their taxes increased to pay the legal costs of the trial. That made many of them angry, so they voted against the old school board.
If there is a way for Behe to make a fool of himself, he's sure to find it.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Whew, talk about self-deception.
Lane Palmer is playing the "What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?" game over at The Christian Post.
If Jesus had never been born, education and science would look very different and much more primitive, and most likely the United States of America would have just been an unrealized historical dream.Palmer may be right about the US. Without all those Christian conquistadors rampaging throughout South and Central America, slaughtering the natives for immense amounts of gold, the English and French might not have been inspired to wipe out the natives of North America ... with the able assistance of Americans.
But education and science? Palmer doesn't try to defend that himself but refers to a really silly website, which says this:
Education? From the beginning of Judaism, from which Christianity is derived, there was an emphasis on the written word. But the phenomenon of education for the masses has its roots in the Protestant Reformation. In America, the first law to require education of the masses was passed by the Puritans. For the first 200 years in America, children's reading instruction was in the Bible. ...Right! Nobody had education before Christians. Oh, wait! Where did we get the word "Academy" from? And, of course, the education of the masses didn't start, strangely enough, until after the Enlightenment, which Christians often lament. Before then, education was limited to the clergy and some of the nobility, while everyone else was told to accept their God-ordained place in life.
Scientific Law? Christianity is based on the notion that there exists a rational God who is the source of rational truth. This gave rise to the possibility of scientific laws.
And isn't it suprising how those nasty pagan Greeks were able to do so much science without any idea of scientific laws?
So, basically, if you only consider what Christians have done, it's easy to show they did everything.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
S.E. Cupp apparently humped her ridiculous book on Bill Maher's Real Time show and the NewsBusters blog of the Media Research Center, a right-wing spin organization, unwittingly reveals the emptiness of the claim that the "liberal media" is biased against religion (by which Cupp and the Media Research Center mean conservative Christianity).
Maher, not known as a particularly logical person, mounts a vigorous, if unfocused, defense of the media. In the course of this the subject turns to Joy Behar's defense of science on The View.
The actual clip from May 5, 2009 (video on The Huffington Post) is Behar badgering Sherri Shepherd into making sure her son Jeffrey hears the scientific proof, that she teaches both, not that the school does:
JOY BEHAR: Sherri, you're going to teach your son science, aren't you? I mean Darwinism is a proven – pretty much --
SHERRI SHEPHERD: I would like Jeffrey to know about other things.
BEHAR: You have to teach both.
SHEPHERD: He will learn about both, but he's going to learn what I'm teaching about my faith.
ELISABETH HASSELBECK: How come some people want to learn about both only when it's what they want to be taught?
BEHAR: Because Darwinism is not some kind of a religious fervor thing. There's proof, scientific proof. And you want your children to go into the world being ignorant of that? That's child abuse, in my opinion.
So doesn't that disprove Maher's "never" boast? Isn't mocking the biblical story of the world's creation as "ignorance" proof of an attack on Christianity?
Lastly, it is merely amusing that Behar is described as "badgering" Shepherd, while no such descriptor is used about Hasselbeck's attack on Behar. Why does the phrase "fair and balanced" come to mind ... not to mention "glass houses."
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Joe Carter is over at First Things demonstrating a truly tin ear.
For the record, the reason that I claim that atheism fails is because it cannot stand on its own as an internally consistent worldview: Epistemologically it can't account for reliable cognitive functioning; ethically it can't build a system of morality that isn't based on anything other than personal preference; metaphysically it can't really account for anything.
The "morality can't be based on anything other than personal preference" canard would only apply to a world where only one person's morality controlled ... someone much more powerful than a Hitler or a Stalin or even a Pope. In fact, "morality" (i.e. a collective judgment of human beings as to what is right and wrong) is well explained by evolutionary theory but badly explained by theism, given how little theists agree on what is "moral."
Frankly, explaining "metaphysics" is a navel-gazing exercise ... assuming, as it does, that human questions about existence are important (though, I grant, human navels are important to humans, if not necessarily to any objective observers, should any exist).
Carter's tin ear is most evident in this:
... I tend to spend time scrutinizing other worldviews because it's much easier to point out where they err than to show how Christianity does not suffer from the same errors.
[H]ow would I go about testing the truth of my own worldview? I believe the most fruitful approach is one outlined by the philosopher and apologist Norman Geisler who proposes that unaffirmability is the test for the falsity of a worldview and undeniability the test for the truth of a worldview.
Q. Do you believe that Satan exists?
A. Yes. Yes.
Q. What is the basis for that?
A. The basis for that belief is that the Bible is the word of God, and the Bible teaches it. And my basis or belief in the Bible as the word of God, I have already indicated earlier.
Q. That's true.
A. And I might add that it is confirmed by experience, as well.
Q. What experiences have confirmed it to you, sir, as an expert, the existence of Satan?
A. Uh, dealing with demon possessed people, exorcisms, the study of the UFO phenomena, the study of the occult.
Q. Could I have that answer read back?
(Thereupon the Reporter-read back the immediate previous answer).
Q. What study have you made of the occult, sir?
A. Uh, I have, uh, read books on the occult, and then also an encounter with people who have had occult experiences. And uh —
Q. Has this been done in a systematic way?
A. Uh, well so far as all of my work is systematic — done in a systematic way. I have, uh, looked at the phenomena, looked at the theories, looked at the evidence pro and con, come to conclusions based on the facts that I have, available — the hypothesis —
Q. How much have you — how much have you — time, would you say in the last twenty years, has been spent studying the occult?
A. I would say less than 1/10th.
Q. Less than ten percent of your time?
Q. And what sort —and how many books have you read on the occult?
A. Uh, probably a couple dozen books that either are on it or related to it. Uh —
Q. How many people have you interviewed?
A. Oh, I would say probably, if you count as interviewed all those people who have shared with me in experiences and counseling, and discussing about it — probably fifty to one hundred.
MR. CAMPBELL: For the record, I object to these questions on the occult, as to their relevance.
MR. SIANO: Your objection is noted.
BY MR. SIANO:
Q. Now about — you discussed UFO's — I take it those are initials?
A. UFO's? Yea.
Q. What do those initials stand for?
A. Unidentified flying objects.
MR. CAMPBELL: I make my similar objection to UFO's.
Q. What is the basis for your — have you studied UFO's in a systematic way?
A. I have read books on UFO's, seen films on UFO's. And analyzed various theories that have been presented on the basis of the evidence.
Q. Did — interviewed people?
A. Not systematically. No, I have not systematically interviewed anybody. I have talked to people, who have had experiences and who have related what they had. But I have depended mainly on the evidence, as provided; by the — Dr. Heinich (sic) from Northwestern University who has done systematic —
Q. How do you spell that?
A. H-Y-N-E-K, I think.
Q. Have you read his book or talked to him?
A. I have just read his material, I haven't talked to him.
Q. What is your experience with demon possessed people?
MR. CAMPBELL: I make my same objection to the relevance on this point.
WITNESS: My personal experience with demon possessed people is limited to probably about a half a dozen or so cases of people, that in my opinion, on the basis of the evidence I had, probably were influenced by demons.
Q. And do you have any professional opinion, as to the existence of demons?
A. Yea. Yea. I believe that demons exist.
Q. Do you have any professional opinion, as to the existence of UFO's
A. Yes. I believe that UFO's exist.
Q. And how are they connected with Satan?
A. I believe that they are part of a mass deception attempt, that they are means by which Satan deceives because he is a deceiver and he is trying to deceive people. He did it from the beginning in the Garden of Eden, and he has been doing it now through the years. And this is one of the ways that he is deceiving people.
How would we narrow them down in order to choose the one that best corresponds to reality? I believe the best method is to judge the systematic consistency of a worldview. While it only leads to probabilistic certainty rather than undeniability, systematic consistency appears to be the most reasonable way to judge a worldview from within. We should adopt the worldview that is most internally consistent and comprehensive, the one that most corresponds to reality. In other words, we should adopt the worldview that is most true.
Okay, just beause Geisler is a loon doesn't mean that everything he says is lunacy. But you do have to wonder whether anyone who accepts what Geisler has to say, without any sign of critical thinking, shouldn't fall in the same category. In any event, it sure hasn't lead Geisler to a consistent and comprehensive worldview that most corresponds to reality.
There is more to say, especially when Carter gets to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but that's enough for now.
P.S. I just have to add, as a lawyer, that the "Could I have that answer read back?" is a classic "lawyer moment," where you go "did he really just say that?" And the "Your objection is noted" is best translated as "That's gonna help you a lot when I'm cross examining him at trial!"
Okay, I won an internet poetry contest with this:
by John Pieret
Cast among the ruins
god winds down
and we are left
even pale in twilight
passing out and in among
the echoes of our past
Each and each
cross the faded sun
until what light fails
and the darkness
Between that and a certain melancholy at my wife's death, I may be inflicting my very
But forewarned is forearmed.
Like a scudding sky
the dark invades the shore
echoes of the light
Memories brightly flash
but fade until they're gone
and only replay regrets
that in the night
Friday, May 14, 2010
But It Is Just Science
Well, we all knew that Intelligent Design isn't at all religious but now I guess we're going to have to start repeating that anti-science is not political ... despite the best efforts of The Disco 'Tute to prove it so.
The ever ridiculous David Klinghoffer, who not long ago was telling us that one important thing recommending religion is its similarity to playing Dungeons and Dragons, is now at the Ministry of Misinformation apparently arguing that, to be a good conservative, you have to be a "Darwin doubter." Having seen Klinghoffer's "ideas have consequences" drivel before, it will run the gamut of A to B of Irving Kristol's infamous sneering at democracy:
There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy.
Deep in the ...
Via Leiter Reports, here is an ACLU report (pdf file) on the record of the Texas State Board of Education and what should be done with it.
Unfortunately, I doubt that the ACLU has a lot of influence in the Texas State Legislature but one can hope.
Cartoon by Ben Sargent of The Austin American-Statesman
Thursday, May 13, 2010
The national organizations that once championed a revolution have spent the past year busily backpedaling, trying to convince supporters that Jones's decision is irrelevant. As they correctly have pointed out, the verdict doesn't have precedent beyond Dover. But its impact, nonetheless, has been far-reaching. States and school districts across the country watched and paid heed. In Ohio, the state's Board of Education struck down ID-friendly lesson plans. Later, Kansas voters, in the wake of their own contentious battles, ousted anti-evolution members from their Department of Education. On the anniversary of Jones's decision -- a day greeted with wishes of "Merry Kitzmas" by plaintiffs and their attorneys -- the school district of Cobb County, Georgia, reached a settlement in its lengthy court battle. Following Dover's victory, Rothschild and Americans United's Richard Katskee signed on to the Cobb County case. Katskee, as lead attorney, convinced the Georgia school district to remove warning stickers from biology textbooks that alerted students that evolution "was a theory, not a fact."
But anti-evolution factions continue the fight. The Foundation for Thought and Ethics is releasing its Pandas sequel, The Design of Life.
A draft of the textbook had been previewed during Dover''s trial. Just as FTE substituted the word creationism" with "intelligent design" throughout versions of Pandas, this edition substituted "sudden emergence" for "intelligent design."
Which prompted Rothschild to ask Michael Behe during cross-examination, "Will we be back in a couple of years for the 'sudden emergence' trial?"
To which Judge Jones responded "Not on my docket."
- Lauri Lebo, The Devil in Dover
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
The latest batch of curriculum revisions out of Texas will be "current" for 10 years.
They include teaching only creationism as an explanation of humans on Earth, raising Phyllis Schlafly of the Moral Majority to the historical equal of Thomas Jefferson, and ridding textbooks of the terms "capitalism" and "democracy" in favor of "free enterprise" and "republic." ...
Terrorists celebrate 'til the early hours when our schools succumb to pressures to teach a singular theory.
When school districts modify their curriculum to allow just creationism or just evolution to be taught, there is dancing in the terrorist streets.
They don't even care which one is taught as long as the other point of view is totally ignored.
That is their way and the path they want followed worldwide.
They survive solely because they preach that there is one cause, one religion, one way and only one way to embrace each and every issue.
Tolerance is not in their vocabulary.
If terrorists can point to American students learning from curricula touting singular versions of human life, editorialized American history, and revised economics, much of our strongest weapon ...
We must vigorously teach school kids to value all sides of issues before making up their minds.
Even more bizarre is the claim that teaching only evolution in science classes in public schools is what terrorists want. What they really want is an end to American religious and other freedoms. That is what is attractive to people around the world and anathema to the systems favored by terrorists.
Parents and pastors are free to teach children religious views of the world but our government must stay out of that arena. It is that attitude that will drive the terrorists to distraction.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
PZ Megahertz has a very reasonable and good post on the mini-flap about Roger Ebert's twitter about the five racists-in-training who insisted on wearing American flag T-shirts to their high school on Cinco de Mayo. But this struck me:
Now, if I put my "Arrest the Pope" shirt on and walked down the street to the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and attended Sunday Mass, I would be acting like a jerk, attempting to irritate the church attendees just because I felt like being jerkish. I might have a serious message — the Catholic hierarchy has become an immoral defender of child rape — but that doesn't mean I should hammer every Catholic in my town with that message all the time, especially not when they are engaging in activities that have nothing to do with pedophilia, no matter how silly they are.
Provocateur that I am, I wouldn't do that. It makes the message simply random and made with the sole intent of being rude.
PZ, in the course of the Great Frakin' Cracker Flap, sent his minions into random Catholic churches to steal (yes, that is the correct legal term) "hosts" from congregations that had nothing to do with Webster Cook:
I have an idea. Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There's no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I'm sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I'll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won't be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I'll send you my home address.
If you were a cynical 12-year-old boy like I was, then the words Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers will bring to mind bitter thoughts of cheesy dialogue, bright spandex uniforms, and choreographed live-action anime fight scenes, all overdubbed and irritatingly formulaic. ...
[O]ne of the show's stars, Jason David Frank (who played Tommy Oliver, The Green Ranger) is the founder of a Mixed Martial Arts clothing line for the Christian Fighter/MMA enthusiast called Jesus Didn't Tap. ...
In February the New York Times published R.M. Schneiderman's article "Flock Is Now a Fight Team in Some Ministries" about the "growing number of evangelical churches that have embraced mixed martial arts—a sport with a reputation for violence and blood that combines kickboxing, wrestling, and other fighting styles—to reach and convert young men, whose church attendance has been persistently low."
Monday, May 10, 2010
The Chronicle of Higher Education has an Op-Ed piece by Mano Singham entitled "The New War Between Science and Religion." Singham, a theoretical physicist and Director of the University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education at Case Western, imagines that the "war" is between "accommodationists" and "New Atheists," instead of between those who deny science and those who support it.
However, Singham doesn't have very much new to say on the subject ... which has attained the status of beating the spot in the grass where a dead horse once peed.
There are the complaints that science organizations, such as the National Academy of Sciences, should be purer than Caesar's wife. Then there is the notion that science can test the supernatural.
And could the hackneyed "But the fact that some scientists are religious is not evidence of the compatibility of science and religion," be far behind? ... especially without any apparent understanding that the salient point is that "science" is a methodology -- not a philosophy -- that can be appropriately, often brilliantly, used by people of very different philosophies? Singham's plaint is only relevant if science is a philosophical system -- i.e., Scientism. You don't have to have much truck with Francis Collins to see that Singham has little, if anything, to support that claim.
But there is always a certain frisson when observing someone -- supposedly intelligent and educated -- who can't keep a thought over a few paragraphs. He says:
Why have organizations like the National Academy of Sciences sided with the accommodationists even though there is no imperative to take a position? After all, it would be perfectly acceptable to simply advocate for good science and stay out of this particular fray. ...Heh! He'd like to shut up the NAS but objects to being "silenced" -- which amounts to nothing more than being criticized by those who disagree with him, without any coercion by government. This is made even more ironic by Singham quoting Philip Pullman at his own blog:
But political considerations should not be used to silence honest critical inquiry.
Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if they open it and read it, they don't have to like it. And if you read it and dislike it, you don't have to remain silent about it. You can write to me. You can complain about it. You can write to the publisher. You can write to the papers. You can write your own book. You can do all those things but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published or sold or bought or read. And that's all I have to say on that subject.Earth to Singham: Pot. Kettle. Black.
Labels: Accommodationism Incompatiblism
Sunday, May 09, 2010
James McGrath, associate professor of religion at Butler University, has been after Ken Ham of late, including a funny April Fool's post that, naturally, Ham sees no humor in.
James is quite correct, in my heathen opinion, where he accuses YECs of not treating the Bible literally "when it comes to the Bible's teaching about economic and social justice, concern for the poor and oppressed, renunciation of wealth, and most other matters of practice." I'll leave it up to James' expertise as to whether it is also "anti-Christian" and a "false Gospel."
But in Ham's "response" (as James points out, there no real engagement with James' points) there is, to me at least, a stunning admission by Ham:
I have written many times on this blog over the past few years, and we have stated in many articles in our publications and for our website making it very clear (as I do when I speak at conferences) that the gospel is not conditioned upon the age of the earth. In fact, I am beginning to realize more and more it is not that people misunderstand this about us, but it is people like Dr. McGrath and others like him who continually make this false accusation in their attempts to get people to think incorrectly about what we teach.
The Bible makes it clear (e.g., John 3, where Jesus explains to Nicodemus that a person needs to be "born again," and Romans 10:9 that states, "if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved") that salvation is conditioned upon faith in Christ and not the age of the earth. Though, We do help people understand that the message of the gospel does come from the Bible; thus, the question as to the authority of the Word of God is a very important one. While believing in millions of years doesn't affect a person's salvation directly, there is no doubt that it does affect how others' (e.g., children, students they teach, etc.) view the authority of Scripture. If a person has to reinterpret the clear teaching of Scripture to fit in millions of years (e.g., reinterpreting the days of creation), this clearly undermines the authority of God's Word. As a result, there are increasing numbers of people who then reject the gospel that is dependent on the Word of God being true and authoritative.
More importantly, Ham all but admits that he knows that what he is teaching is false -- or, at least, that he has reckless disregard for its truth -- and that the only thing that is important to him is keeping children and others who are ignorant from questioning the Bible in any way, even though he concedes that is not a prerequisite of salvation. It has a lot in common with Irving Kristol's famous diktat:
There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy.
Saturday, May 08, 2010
It has become such a delicate thing!
Practically anything can destroy the faith handed down by the martyrs who suffered such gruesome fates.
Like sitting in the lotus position ... even if you are saying Christian prayers while doing so:
[A] Florida class combining yoga and Pilates with Christian prayer and meditation steers clear of yoga's Hindu roots and seeks to show that Christian faith is compatible with the ancient form of movement and relaxation.
The class, called Praisemoves, is sponsored by Community of Hope, a non-denominational evangelical church in Loxahatchee, Fla.
It begins with a prayer thanking the Lord for bringing the group together. Participants proceed through a series of Sun Salutations, strength and balance poses, twists and Pilates exercises.
The class ends with meditation on a New Testament passage, such as 2 Corinthians 12:9: "And he said unto me, 'My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.'"
"You can't take yoga out of its historical context and neuter it," says Elliot Miller, editor in chief of Christian Research Journal, a publication of the Christian Research Institute in Charlotte, N.C.
"It's a spiritual discipline for an Eastern religion," he says. "It's important for Christians not to put themselves in that world." ...
About half of American yoga students practice the poses to improve their health, according to the Yoga Journal study. They are not practicing true yoga, which is an all-consuming spiritual path, says Robert Bowman, director of research for the Institute for Religious Research, a Christian organization that studies religious claims.
"The concern I have as a Christian is for many people this is Hinduism-lite, an entree into alternative spiritualities that are packaged in a way that is not overtly religious," he says.
After all, their ox is the divine one.
Friday, May 07, 2010
Hume observes that our inductive practices are founded on the relation of cause and effect, but when he analyses this relation he finds that all that it is, from an empiricist point of view, is the constant conjunction of events, in other words, the objective content of a posited causal relation is always merely that some regularity or pattern in the behaviour of things holds. Since the original problem is that of justifying the extrapolation from some past regularity to the future behaviour of things appealing to the relation of cause and effect is to no avail. Since it is logically possible that any regularity will fail to hold in the future, the only basis we have for inductive inference is the belief that the future will resemble the past. But that the future will resemble the past is something that is only justified by past experience, which is to say, by induction, and the justification of induction is precisely what is in question. Hence, we have no justification for our inductive practices and they are the product of animal instinct and habit rather than reason. If Hume is right, then it seems all our supposed scientific knowledge is entirely without a rational foundation.
- James Ladyman, Understanding Philosophy of Science
Thursday, May 06, 2010
Those Whom the Gods Would Destroy
Sen. John McCain and Rep. Peter King are trying to set terrorists free.
Sen. Joe Lieberman has completely abandoned his oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States.
And Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is being ... well, Rick Perry:
At a US Chamber of Commerce sponsored conference on Monday aptly named "Free Enterprise," Texas Governor Rick Perry was willing to speculate that the recent spate of safety failures at coal mines and on oil rigs may be due to "…acts of God that cannot be prevented."
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
A Worthy National Proclamation!
We're about to observe a national celebration that will result in many people falling to their knees.
While some people find this day controversial, there is no question that the rites performed at this time can bring people closer together, help them to share their hopes and fears and encourage warm feelings across social, political and cultural divides.
Such rites cannot be all bad.
Therefore, break out the salt and lime!
Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
PZ and Philosophy
PZ has a fairly long post on the dispute between Sam Harris and Sean Carroll (the physicist) over whether you can derive any moral "ought" from a scientific "is." I think PZ has it right:
Science is an amoral judge: science could find that a slave culture of ant-like servility was a species optimum, or that a strong behavioral sexual dimorphism, where men and women had radically different statuses in society, was an excellent working solution. We bring in emotional and personal beliefs when we say that we'd rather not live in those kinds of cultures, and want to work towards building a just society.However, that's not what PZ said before when he excoriated "the bizarre claim that 'No scientist that is also a decent human being subjects all her/his beliefs to scientific scrutiny.' I think otherwise." Apparently, a non-relativistic morality need not be, indeed cannot be, the subject of science.
And that's OK. I think that deciding that my sisters and female friends and women all around the world ought to have just as good a chance to thrive as I do is justified given a desire to improve the well-being and happiness of all people. I am not endorsing moral relativism at all — we should work towards liberating everyone, and the Taliban are contemptible scum — I'm just not going to pretend that that goal is built on an entirely objective, scientific framework.
He also says:
I'm fine with setting up a set of desirable social goals — fairness, justice, compassion, and equality are just a start — and declaring that these will be the hallmark of our ideal society, and then using reason and science to work towards those objectives. I just don't see a scientific reason for the premises, wonderful as they are and as strongly as they speak to me. I also don't feel a need to label a desire as "scientific".Hmmm. That's not what he said about his desire for the Trophy WifeTM.
But, hey! There is no particular need for scientists to be consistent about philosophy. This time he's right and deserves kudos for that. It's well worth the read.
Monday, May 03, 2010
You may remember how Kurt Zimmerman, a creationist, touched off a cat-fight among atheists. Now the authors, Jennie Dusheck and Allan J. Tobin, of the book Zimmerman objected to because it described the Genesis creation story as a "myth" have written a letter to the Knox County Kentucky School Board:
Our textbook, Asking About Life, was designed for college students and is mainly used in colleges and universities. The word "myth" appears in a brief definition of the word "creationism" in the chapter opening. We introduce our first chapter on evolution with a legal history outlining the efforts of creationists to interfere with the teaching of evolutionary biology in public schools. The story starts, appropriately, with a description of the Scopes trial, in Dayton. We believe that students benefit from learning that this area of science has an exciting aspect to it that has historical, political, philosophical, and personal relevance.While the authors are willing to play nice over mere descriptions, they aren't over substance:
In our two-page discussion, we show that, historically, one way of interfering with the teaching of evolutionary biology has been "equal time" laws that require science teachers to present creationism in science classrooms. But equal time laws have been repeatedly ruled unconstitutional. From the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that creation science cannot be taught in public schools because it is religion to a similar 2005 Dover decision, U.S. courts have repeatedly affirmed that creationism is religious doctrine, not science, and that schools cannot require teachers to present religion as an alternative to science.
If Mr. Zimmermann had written to us requesting a rewording in a future edition, we would certainly have responded civilly and sought to accommodate him. We don't feel the word "myth" is in any way an error, but it is not our intention to offend religious feeling.
At the same time, we will not try to conceal from students the reality that scientific fact often conflicts with religious doctrine. The Earth is billions of years old, not 6000 years, as argued by some Christians; American astronauts did land on the moon in 1969, contrary to some Krishna dogma; and the Earth is not supported by four elephants standing on the back of a tortoise (Hindu mythology).That, I think, is the right attitude. English is a wonderfully malleable language and there are many ways to say the same thing: myth, fable, legend, story, belief, etc. There's no particular reason to use a word that some may feel is insulting as long as the facts are not diluted.
The fact that organisms change over time and, specifically, that new species arise through the process of evolution is universally accepted by practicing biologists as both a fact and a powerful explanation for everything that happens in biology. In contrast, the Bible's two creation stories (Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 and Genesis 2:4 -2:25) may be viewed as metaphors, allegories, or the literal truth, depending on one's religious views. But neither is a scientific explanation of how new species form.