Squaring the Culture




"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

10/29/2008 (12:42 pm)

I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist: Does God Exist, Part I

In previous installments, I’ve established

  • that there’s a need for explaining why Christianity is the most reasonable position for an educated, skeptical individual to take (see the post here);
  • that there exists such a thing as absolute truth, and that truth claims may be made about religion just as they can about any other topic (see the post here).

Today, I begin explaining the evidence that God exists.

There are three broad lines of thought about what God might be like: theism, pantheism, and atheism. Simply explained, theism says “God made all,” pantheism says “God is all,” and atheism says “There’s no God at all.” Personally, I see no logical difference between the last two: as was argued so eloquently in that excellent theological treatise, The Incredibles, if everybody is special, then nobody is. The position that says “God is everything, and everything is God,” in practice leaves us the same place as the position that there is no God. But when studying philosophy, claims about God generally fall into one of those three categories.

I submit that the universe in which we live provides enough evidence to conclude reasonably that there is a God, that the God that exists is theistic, and that we can therefore eliminate both pantheism and atheism as possibilities. I’m going to provide three lines of argument supporting that claim: the argument from the beginning of the universe (Cosmological argument,) the argument from design (Teleological argument,) and the argument from the existence of objective morality (Moral argument.) The first two arise from modern science, while the third arises from human self-evaluation. Both looking out into our universe, and looking within ourselves, we see evidence of God’s existence and clues to His nature, just as we might expect if there really is a God.

The Argument

Today’s post focuses on the Cosmological argument, which goes like this:

  1. Everything that has a beginning, has a cause.
  2. The universe has a beginning.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Until about 50 years ago, everybody accepted the first premise as indisputable. In fact, science as a discipline is not possible without causality. If a baseball flies through my living room window, I assume that somebody launched it, and so do all physicists; none of us imagine that the ball simply materialized in flight out of nothing, and proceeded to slam into my living room. If a dog is in my house tearing up my carpeting, I assume that somebody let the dog in, and so do all philosophers; none of us think it’s possible that a dog simply appeared out of nowhere and started clawing my carpets. This relationship between cause and effect is what science studies. If an event occurred, something must have caused it, and the scientist digs to find out what that was.

Until about 50 years ago, it was also accepted that there must have been something that existed forever, beyond all causes. The atheist’s version of it went like this:

  1. Everything that has a beginning, has a cause; but…
  2. Anything that has no beginning, requires no cause.
  3. The universe has no beginning.
  4. Therefore, the universe requires no cause.

Theists used the same argument, only substituting God for the universe:

  1. Everything that has a beginning, has a cause; but…
  2. Anything that has no beginning, requires no cause.
  3. God has no beginning.
  4. Therefore, God requires no cause.

In other words, everybody pretty much understood that something has been there forever; we just disagreed about what it was. And everybody pretty much understood that aside from the whatever-it-was that existed forever, everything since has obeyed the law of causality.

So what happened about 50 years ago to change that?

What happened is that scientists obtained convincing evidence that the universe had a beginning, evidence that we’ll cover in a moment.

Immediately, scientists grasped that if the universe had a beginning, that lent very, very strong support to the theists. If the minor premise “The universe has no beginning” was provably false, then the alternate proof had to be true; the thing that had no beginning was God. This was immediately acknowledged by agnostic scientists, some of whom were pretty irritated by the fact.

“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream,” wrote Robert Jastrow, first director of the Goddard Space Flight Center. “He has scaled the mountains of ignorance. He is about to conquer the highest peak. As he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

Albert Einstein admitted in a personal letter to a friend that he was so irritated by the evidence supporting the notion that the universe had a beginning that he invented a constant out of thin air to make it go away. “It was the worst mistake of my professional career,” he confessed. And more recently, measurements of the variations in background radiation confirming that the universe began in a hot, singular explosion had skeptical astronomer Geoffry Burbidge of UCSD complaining of his fellow astronomers rushing off to join “the First Church of Christ of the Big Bang.”

Atheist Reactions to the Argument

Atheists could not exist in this state for long, of course, so they’ve resorted to all sorts of fascinating speculation: multiple universes, universes creating themselves out of quantum events, universes creating themselves out of mathematical points, and a resort to a child’s innocent question: “Who made God?” I heard Christopher Hitchens, atheist extraordinaire, argue in a debate that this question was a “painfully obvious problem” for theists. The trouble is, it wasn’t painfully obvious 50 years ago; what was painfully obvious 50 years ago was that something had to have begun the chain of causation. The infantile question only became “painfully obvious” when it became painfully obvious that space, time, matter, energy, and even the laws of nature all began at a measurable point in time.

“Who made God?” is a category fallacy. A category fallacy occurs when you assign an attribute to a thing that is not really one of its attributes. “How much does love weigh?” is a category fallacy. “My car doesn’t want to start” is also a category fallacy, assigning intention to a hunk of metal, but it’s a fallacy we like because it’s whimsical; it makes the expensive machine made of metal and plastic parts seem like a crotchety aunt. “Who made God?” is a category fallacy because the definition of God includes “unbeginning” and “timeless;” God, by definition, has no cause.

I suppose I should mention at this point that causality requires time. The entire concept of causality implies a time sequence. First I threw the ball, then it traveled through my living room window. First I struck the cue ball with my cue, then it struck the 9 ball at the wrong angle, then the 9 ball hit the corner of the rail next to the pocket and bounced away (and then I cringed). These are time sequences. Causality breaks down if there’s no time. So, if time is not infinite, if in fact time was created along with the rest of the universe, then whatever existed before the beginning of time does not need a cause.

One of the consequences of Einstein’s general relativity is that time and space, matter and energy, are linked, and that time was created along with the universe. According to Einstein, the universe has a beginning, and time has the same beginning. This is another of Jastrow’s nightmares: that time itself is a created entity was first suggested formally by St. Augustine as a theological concept in the 4th century. Einstein helped us scale one of those peaks of knowledge, and there, at the peak, Augustine was already having lunch. And since there was no time before the beginning of the universe, whatever existed there did not need a cause.

Proof That the Universe Had a Beginning

For those who aren’t so familiar with the science underlying the beginning of the universe, allow me to review it for you, but let me begin by noting that practically no scientist today would dispute that the universe began in an explosion from a single point called a singularity, a point of near-infinite mass and density at which the laws of nature did not apply, and that this explosion occurred between 10 and 20 billion years ago. I’ll be using one of those cutesy acronyms to list some of the major discoveries that led to the conclusion that the universe had a beginning:

  • Second Law of Thermodynamics
  • Universe is expanding
  • Radiation afterglow
  • Galaxy seeds
  • Einstein’s general relativity

SURGE. As in, the universe SURGEd into being.

Newton articulated the second law of thermodynamics back in the 17th century, but it took a while for scientists to catch up with the fact that it proves the universe must have had a beginning. Simply put, the 2nd law says that the universe is running down, like a spring-driven clock. There’s only so much energy in the universe, and that energy is gradually being converted from a useable state to an unusable one. It’s a huge amount of energy, true; so huge it’s hard to imagine. But, it’s finite. And if the universe were infinitely old already, if there were no beginning to the universe, then the universe would have run down by now. There would be no motion. All matter in the universe would be motionless, and sitting at a temperature of absolute zero. So, the 2nd law of thermodynamics leads us to conclude that the universe cannot be infinitely old; it had to have a beginning.

Einstein (the E at the end of SURGE) noticed that his work on general relativity in the early part of the 20th century provided another, similar problem for the theory of an infinite universe; the law of gravity said that if the universe existed in a steady state, then all the bodies in the universe would be collapsing in toward a central point (the universe’s center of gravity), and if the universe were infinitely old, we’d all be at that central point by now. The only alternatives he could imagine were that the universe was expanding, or that there was some sort of constant force that counter-balanced the law of gravity. Einstein recognized that if the universe were expanding, it must have had a beginning, and he didn’t favor that explanation. So he produced what he called the Cosmological Constant, a force that counteracts gravity and keeps the universe from collapsing in on itself. The problem was that the math didn’t work for his Cosmological Constant, but he didn’t catch the error; another researcher caught it, and argued that the universe must be expanding.

Einstein admitted the error when he viewed the work of astronomer Edwin Hubble, who produced evidence that the universe is expanding. Hubble was studying the apparent red-shift in galaxies they could see from the Hooker telescope on Mt. Wilson.

We’ll step away from the story for a moment to explain red-shift. Red-shift is an instance of the Doppler effect in stars, the same effect that makes the sound of a train’s horn sound higher when it’s coming toward you and lower when it’s speeding away. What’s happening is that the sound waves get compressed as the train speeds toward you (making it sound higher to your ears), but they get stretched out as the train moves away from you (making it sound lower.) The same thing happens with light sources that are moving very, very quickly. The spectra of burning elements would get shifted toward the blue end of the spectrum if the object were moving toward us, but toward the red end of the spectrum if the object were moving away from us. Astronomers had noticed that the spectra from galaxies we can see through telescopes were always shifted toward the red end of the spectrum, so they must all be moving away from us.

Back to our story: Hubble studied the differences in those red shifts of galaxies, and noticed that the farther away the galaxy, the greater the red shift. This told him that the universe was expanding (which is the U in SURGE). Think about it: if you were to double the size of the room in which you’re sitting and move everything proportionately, objects near the center of the room would not move as much as objects at the far edges of the room. A coffee table 6 inches from the center of the room would only have to move 3 inches; a lamp in the corner, 10 feet from the center of the room, would have to move 5 feet. Hubble noted that the red-shift in galaxies conformed to this model, and he formulated it into Hubble’s Law in 1929. When he showed Einstein, Einstein agreed that he’d proved that the universe was indeed expanding, and abandoned his Cosmological Constant. (It happens that recently cosmologists have re-introduced the Cosmological Constant to explain why the expansion of the universe is accelerating, but it’s much smaller than Einstein’s original constant, and positive where Einstein’s constant was negative.)

Scientists recognized that an expanding universe might have begun from a single point and possibly from an explosion, and they noted that if that were true, there should be a background echo remaining from the original explosion. Nobody had observed such an echo, though, until Bell Labs built the Horn Antenna in the early 1960s, a microwave receiver that was more sensitive than any receiver had ever been. Scientists Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were calibrating the new receiver when they discovered a very low-frequency vibration coming from every direction. At first they thought it was noise from the equipment, but they quickly ruled that out. Then they discovered pigeons nesting in the horn, so they had the pidgeons removed (each of the researchers says the other ordered the pigeons killed) and the equipment cleaned, but the vibration remained. They quickly realized that what they were hearing was the background radiation afterglow from the origin of the universe (the R in SURGE.) In fact, what they were hearing was very close to the frequency that other physicists had predicted would be found, corresponding to a background temperature around 3 degrees Kelvin (that’s just 3 degrees above absolute zero.)

This was taken as stunning confirmation of what was being called the Big Bang theory, but some problems remained. Specifically, critics asked why the universe was “lumpy.” The background radiation was evenly distributed throughout the universe, but matter was not; matter clumped into galaxies, stars, planets, and such. Why?

Theorists eventually answered that there must have been waves in the background radiation, like the waves radiating out from the place where you drop a rock into a pond, and those waves would form the seeds of galaxies. However, there was no way to measure the background radiation that accurately from earth; we had to wait until sensitive enough instruments were launched into space to determine whether such waves existed. The COBE satellite (COsmic Background Explorer) was launched in 1989 to measure data from the early universe. Over the next several years, COBE returned temperature data that conformed very closely to what scientists predicted they would be if the universe had begun in a hot, big bang, and contained variations in the range required for the creation of galaxies. These were the Galaxy Seeds (the “G” in SURGE). COBE’s results have been confirmed by a number of independent findings, so that very few scientists now doubt that the universe began in a singular explosion.

I Don’t Have That Much Faith

Consequently, we now know that the universe as we know it began in an explosion some 14 billion years ago, give or take a few billion. Not only matter and energy, but also time and space sprung into existence at that moment. Nature itself, the common behaviors of matter that we call laws of nature, sprang into existence at that moment. And because it began in an explosion exhibiting immense heat, there’s virtually no possibility that we can know what existed before the singularity, so we’re left drawing inferences from the universe itself.

The universe itself suggests the following:

  • Whatever existed before the Big Bang must have been immaterial, since matter came into existence at the Big Bang.
  • It must have been eternal, since time came into existence then.
  • It must have been immensely powerful, to set off such an explosion.
  • It must have been something like what we call conscious, since it chose to initiate the universe. It was not a machine.
  • It must have been what we would call supernatural, because it created nature.

This leaves modern atheists with a problem. Matter and energy, time and space, and nature sprang from nothing. They didn’t exist, and then they did. The only evidence that exists or ever can exist, suggests that they were initiated by a Something that was immaterial, timeless, immensely powerful, conscious, and supernatural. If you’re an objective observer, that pretty clearly spells “God.” If you’re an atheist, you have only two logical alternatives — that something sprang from nothing, or that it sprang from something for which there exists no evidence, nor can there exist any evidence. Nothing existed; nothing created; nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’ (that’s Billy Preston cosmology). And yet, something happened, and now matter, energy, time, space, and nature exist. If you’re an atheist, your only logical possibility is that it all came from nothing, with no initiator, no feedstock, and no choice. That, or you have to make up something out of the air.

Richard Dawkins, in what he calls the central argument of his book The God Delusion, argues that the appearance of design in the universe is overwhelming, that physics contains no explanation for it, but he has hope — hope — that physicists will one day come up with an explanation for how the universe could spring into being without God. He mentions some speculation, for which no evidence exists nor can exist, that we’re one of an infinite number of universes. In the meantime, he asks, who made God?

That’s a faith statement. He has faith that there’s no God. The blind kind of faith, without any evidence.

Christopher Hitchens, in his 300-page diatribe about how awful God is, spends only a few pages on the topic we’re discussing here. He acknowledges that the Big Bang is the accepted theory for the origin of the universe. He claims that the theory works without God, but never says how. And then he asks, who made God?

Is there a pattern? Obviously, there is.

These guys are expressing faith that something arose, ultimately, out of nothing, without intelligence, purpose, design, choice, or impetus of any sort. They’re entitled to their faith, but I don’t have enough faith to believe that. The universe had a beginning, and the beginner was God.

Astonomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover. That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.

Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, 1978

Next time, the argument from design.

10/27/2008 (9:43 am)

Couldn't Resist, Sorry

I know this is a bit highbrow, but I’m just tickled by the thought: if I am because I think, what happens if I stop thinking?

For those of you who are not students of philosophy, “Cartesian” refers to the philosophy of Rene Descartes, who famously kicked off Rationalism as a system of thought with the dictum, “I think, therefore I am.”

Image from the folks at mathematicianspictures.com, who have quite a few other highbrow quips on mugs and t-shirts. I guess they’re committed to giving geeks a better look.

08/21/2008 (4:28 pm)

Philosophy By the Bottle

An associate pointed out this Monty Python bit about philosophers in history and their drinking habits. Swallow the mouthful of coffee before you play it, if you value your monitor. Translator’s note: “pissed” in Britspeak means “drunk.”

“I drink, therefore I am.”

Which reminds me of one of my personal favorite philosophical claims:

Cogito, ergo spud.

I think, therefore I yam.

06/29/2008 (8:20 am)

Science, Religion, and Darwin

I’ve been avoiding the evolution/Intelligent Design debate since I started this blog, but I can’t avoid it today. Blame Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who signed into law on Friday a measure described by the Inquisitors General of Evolution as a “stealth Creationism bill.” The bill states simply that science teachers and local school boards have the right to add supplementary material to the prescribed science curricula, and specifically prohibits injections of religion into science classes, but the clear intent is to protect science teachers who want to present materials that explain the theory of Intelligent Design in the classroom. Significantly, though, the bill also specifically mentions the inclusion of supplementary materials regarding “the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” as well as evolution. See the actual text of the bill here.

The Discovery Institute explains the need for the bill:

The law is needed for two reasons. First, around the country, science teachers are being harassed, intimidated, and sometimes fired for trying to present scientific evidence critical of Darwinian theory along with the evidence that supports it. Second, many school administrators and teachers are fearful or confused about what is legally allowed when teaching about controversial scientific issues like evolution. The Louisiana Science Education Act clarifies what teachers may be allowed to do.

I have some pretty strong opinions on the subject, and have had for some time. I’m also fairly well-read on the subject. Please bear with me while I air my complaint.

The attempt to conflate Intelligent Design with Creationism is intellectually dishonest and insupportable. I read a large volume of Creationist literature back in the 1970s and 1980s, and I’ve read a substantial volume of Intelligent Design literature in the last 10 years. They are not published by the same people. They are not similar in any regard worth mentioning. They are not saying the same thing, nor even anything terribly close to each other. They do not use the same methods. The only similarity that can possibly be educed from an honest reading of the two bodies of literature is that both recognize the possibility of intention in the universe.

Even that’s not all that similar between the two bodies of literature. The Creationists clearly began from a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, and just as clearly formed hypotheses to conform to their reading of the Bible. They would not be dissuaded from this approach regardless of the evidence; they were ideologically married to the Biblical account. The Creation Science Institute came from a theological tradition that was famous, even among the Christian community, for bringing the same attitude and the same methods to bible scholarship that they brought to biology and cosmology — “We interpret the clear teaching of the scripture to be X, and any claim to the contrary simply has to be wrong.”

By contrast, the Intelligent Design movement began from a reading of current microbiology, and from the recognition by bright observers outside the field of evolutionary biology that what was coming from within the field was barely disguised philosophy, not science. The published works of Intelligent Design theorists include complex discussions of microbiology, robust philosophical evaluations, and incisive analyses of modern culture. There’s very little biblical theology to be found among them; many are not theists. They’re simply legitimate scientists who stopped drinking the kool-aid, and summoned the courage to raise the unpopular point that the processes they’re studying look intentional, and that that just might mean that they were intentional.

There’s a revolution going on in microbiology, occasioned (as is usual for scientific progress) by improvements in technology, and the explosion of information there has not been friendly to neo-Darwinism’s model of descent with modification. That’s an understatement.

The gene theory of biology has taken a severe beating over the last 15 years or so. It’s perfectly clear that genes do not carry information to describe large segments of what we see in the biosphere (the shapes of living objects, for example, are not found in the genes at all.) If that information does not exist in genes, then it cannot possibly have evolved by way of genetic mutation or genetic drift. Prompted by this discovery, biologist Michael Denton and his co-workers in Australia developed a theory of natural laws in the biosphere, analogous to the laws that govern physics, and used their hypothesis to predict a series of laws governing the behavior of protein folds. Their hypothesis proved correct in the laboratory; they discovered something like 1,000 separate protein fold patterns, all behaving according to a definable set of rules that correspond to physical characteristics of the molecules themselves. Their findings were published by invitation in Nature(1) and in the Journal of Theoretical Biology(2).

One of the disturbing characteristics of the history of the science of evolution is how poorly the theory has performed in predicting what they’ll find. Darwin predicted simple early life forms; we now know the earliest life forms were insanely complex. Darwin predicted intermediate forms in the fossil record; literally millions of fossils have been gathered, and at best a tiny handful of them can even plausibly be described as intermediate forms; the clear pattern in the fossil record is species stasis — a species appears, goes along unchanged for millions of years, then simply disappears. More to the point, there are only perhaps a dozen instances in the last 150 years of paleontologists using the theory of evolution to predict a particular finding in nature, and then actually finding it, and there isn’t even the beginning of a model that can predict the evolutionary direction of a living population. For Denton and his cohort to produce a non-genetic hypothesis that successfully predicts a discovery on the first try, strikes me as proof that their hypothesis is orders of magnitude more robust than the neo-Darwinian model that they’re bucking. To suggest that what Denton is doing is “not science” deserves nothing more friendly than a horse laugh. Anybody who says such a ridiculous thing ought not to be taken seriously ever again.

I acknowledge that there are some who are simply taking the word of others and repeating a second-hand conclusion when they say that Intelligent Design is not science, and confuse it with Creationism; if that’s you, please try to understand that you’re being deliberately misled by religious partisans who are defending their pet philosophy, Scientific Materialism, against any and all legitimate debate. I further acknowledge that the Creationists have hopped on board the Intelligent Design train, and are touting their own theories as I.D. these days, so for an outside observer unfamiliar with the literature, I.D. might be confused with Creationism. You need to read the literature. Anybody telling you the evidence points to “the God of the Bible” is probably touting Christianity. By the same token, anybody telling you “descent with modification is beyond question” is selling you swampland in Florida (just as anybody who tells you “anthropogenic global warming is beyond question” is selling you swampland in Florida — the claim that something “is beyond question” should be your first clue, because if it were true they wouldn’t have to say it so loudly.)

But people saying “This process looks too complex to have been produced without intention,” are saying something no more controversial than this: “If I see a slip of paper with the words ‘Please pick up my suit from the cleaners’ on it, I infer that an intelligent being was sending a message.” The genetic detail in the simplest, earliest life form is a similar phrase, only instead of being 40 characters long, is millions of characters long; it’s every bit as much an encoded message, and to infer intent is not only plausible, it’s the only plausible inference possible. We’ve uncovered the earliest life form and found in it a huge computer program; come on, folks, draw the obvious conclusion. It can’t possibly hurt that much.

To those who want to pretend that I.D. cannot be science a priori because it allows the mere possibility of a designer, I say “Rubbish.” Such people are as biased, and as religiously motivated, as the Creationists they hate so much (which is why they hate them so much.) If science is a search for truth fact, then the scientist must accept whatever conclusion follows as a result of honest evaluation. One cannot allow oneself to be limited by a priori philosophical claims. If science does not allow the scientist to draw whatever conclusion properly fits the facts, then I’m not interested in science, and neither should any thinking adult be interested in it.

The notion that the definition of science demands a non-directed process in the biosphere, logically, arises from philosophy — obviously, you can’t prove such a claim in the laboratory, it’s a definition. That definition — that there can be no intelligence directing our biosphere — is imported from Materialism, a self-demolishing philosophical system that absurdly presupposes that nothing exists, or can exist, outside of our three-dimensions-plus-unidirectional-time universe. The very existence of an idea, or of consciousness, falsifies the presupposition: ideas have no dimension, cannot be examined by scientific inquiry under a microscope, are not affected by time, and clearly exist, therefore things do exist apart from dimensions plus time. But whether one accepts or rejects Materialism, its presuppositions are a foreign import into science (the earliest Western scientists were not Materialists), and the attempt to define “science” by excluding all that does not conform to Materialism’s presuppositions constitutes an anti-intellectual hijacking. Short version, the Materialists mugged the culture, and stole science.

The link at the top of this article under the words “stealth Creationism bill” points to a document by the National Center for Science Education. The NCSE represents the attempt by dogmatic Materialists to prevent consideration of non-Materialist scientific literature in public schools, by way of Inquisition. They actively search for instances of teachers attempting to discuss the ideas of current opponents of neo-Darwinian theory, and when they find one, they send a team to attempt to have that individual fired. It’s basically a goon squad; it’s not in any meaningful way different from the Spanish Inquisition I mentioned yesterday, except that instead of imaginary thumb screws, they use shame and the courts, and instead of burning at the stake, they get people fired.

If the ideas behind descent with modification were so clearly superior, they would not need goon squads to enforce them. The reason neo-Darwinism needs to take the Inquisition approach is something admitted on the first page of Richard Dawkins’ book, The Blind Watchmaker: the universe we live in looks designed. Any intellectually curious adult can see it, because it’s immediately obvious to the casual observer. It took Dawkins a book-length dissertation to explain why the design that’s obvious on the face of things is actually an illusion. Since it takes that much verbiage to dispute the obvious, the fact that so many in our culture feel as though only deluded dunces can infer design, is counter-intuitive; it could only be so if the intellectual life of the culture had been straight-jacketed against drawing the obvious conclusion from examining the universe.

Even the atheists recognize Occam’s Razor, and if they were being candid, they’d admit that the most likely explanation for the fact that our universe appears to have been designed, is that it was designed. Anybody taking the opposite position, has to believe that life appeared magically out of non-life, without the slightest hint of an explanation how that’s possible (no, evolution does not address the question), and that takes way more faith than any Christian doctrine requires. To quote Norm Geisler and Frank Turek, I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.

(1) M. J. Denton and J. C. Marshall, “The Laws of Form Revisited,” Nature 410 (2001): 411, General concepts discussed in Michael John Denton, “An Anti-Darwinian Intellectual Journey,” Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing,, W. A. Dembski, ed,, Wilmington, DE, ISI Books, 2004.
(2) M. J. Denton, J. C. Marshal, and M. Legge, “The Protein Folds as Platonic Forms: New Support for the Pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural Law,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 218 (2002):325-42. General concepts discussed in Uncommon Dissent, Dembski, ed,, op. cit.


Update: a couple of commenters at Little Green Footballs created links from an article about Creationists in Texas to this blog. Thanks for the notice, folks, and welcome. The article there appears to illustrate my point here: at least one of the actions cited in the quoted New Scientist article is by real, old-fashioned Young Earth Creationists, but the article dishonestly and inaccurately names the Discovery Institute, the flagship of the Intelligent Design movement, as the force behind the actions of these Creationists. While there’s some reason for the uninformed to be confused, it’s simply dishonest for New Scientist to conflate them.

06/17/2008 (8:50 am)

Bad Ideas Have Bad Consequences

I came across this video at a blog I like called Old Ford Road. It’s a lecture before the Family Research Council by a Professor John G. West, Associate Director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, one of my favorite internet places. Dr. West lays out the intellectual path from Darwin’s Origin of Species, through Darwin’s Descent of Man, to modern notions of criminal prosecution, sexuality, family and health policy, and philosophy. It’s erudite, direct, well-researched, and chilling.

It’s also long; about 52 minutes. It’s an important idea, though; Darwin’s ideas are at the base of a number of degenerative notions about humanity that appear in the worst of mainstream social progressivism. I recommend taking the time if you can spare it.

The lecture is a slide show based on material in his new book, Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science. Note that Dr. West does not address the question of whether Darwin’s ideas about evolution were correct or not; he simply follows the idea to its logical sociological conclusions and shows the impact this thinking has had on science and American culture.

The challenge that struck me is this: human kindness is contrary to natural selection. There is no evolutionary value to showing kindness to the weakest among us; that which is arguably the strongest indicator of the virtue of human civilization — how we treat the weakest among us — is explicitly and directly refuted by social Darwinism. Whether we evolved or not, my challenge to any atheist is to defend the notion that kindness is a virtue, starting from Darwinian thinking. To my mind, it cannot be done. To my mind, this defeats Utilitarianism, which is where atheists usually go when trying to produce a logical basis for morality; pure utilitarianism, plus Darwinism, leads directly and logically to eugenics, as the rising of the sun leads to daylight. This also refutes Hitchens, who argues that atheism can produce all the virtues of Christianity through logical analysis of the world around us; he’s correct in noting that we all know instinctively that social Darwinism is wrong, but we can’t reach that conclusion by following a logical progression from evolutionary biology.

Chew on these thoughts, and Enjoy.

06/16/2008 (8:45 pm)

Running Water

Check this out. This fellow has patented an electrolysis process to convert water to a gas he calls “HHO” (a semi-stable mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, called “oxyhydrogen”). He then burns it with gasoline in his car.

My first reaction to this — and a lot of other peoples’ first reaction — is that this is one of those perennial Perpetual Motion Machine inventions. The wikipedia article on oxyhydrogen is skeptical about claims to be able to run a car like this, as it appears that laws of physics are being violated. However, I suppose it’s plausible that combustion is a completely different process than separation, in which case the quantity of water at the end of the process is less than the quantity at the beginning, and some of the hydrogen and oxygen have been successfully converted into energy. If I’ve grasped this correctly, this is not impossible because electrolysis simply separates the gases, whereas combustion releases the gases’ potential energy.

I’m always careful about crying “Hoax!” to something I don’t completely understand. I read not long ago that Scientific American published an article two full years after the Wright brothers’ historical first flight at Kitty Hawk, proving that manned flight was impossible and claiming that the Wright brothers’ reported flight was a hoax.

If the military is testing this, it will be revealed to be either a useful invention or a hoax in due time. But it’s interesting in the meantime.

06/05/2008 (6:04 am)

A Screeching Inversion on Science

An instance of the Screeching Inversion is appearing before our eyes on the topic of science. Leftists are making a federal case (literally) out of a “Republican war on science” that does not exist, while the same people have championed a dozen changes in the culture by distorting science themselves.

Newsbusters noted the discrepancy a few days ago between the press’ response to the alleged “censorship” by the Bush administration of NASA climatologist James Hanson, noted proponent of the Anthropogenic Global Warming theory, and their response to similar “censorship” of former NASA climatologist Roy Spencer by the Clinton administration. The left has repeatedly attempted to make the case of a “Republican war on science” by pointing to the administration’s proper handling of PR statements about climate change (see here and here for starters,) even writing books about it.

There is no Republican war on science; what they’re complaining about is an administrative (not scientific) organization doing its job, as I note below. Meanwhile, however, I’m actually beginning to write a book about the flood of bad science on which social progressivism floated into town, and it truly is a flood. The sexual revolution was initiated by Alfred Kinsey’s now-discredited research. The green revolution was touched off by Rachel Carson’s now-discredited research. Dr. Jeffrey Satinover has written about misrepresentations of research to mislead the Supreme Court in Lawrence v Texas. Christina Hoff Sommers wrote about the abuses of science perpetrated by proponents of radical feminism. Mary Pride wrote about the abuses of research about domestic violence to inject the state into child-rearing. Similar tales can be (and will be) told about social scientists fudging numbers to champion abortion rights, ban smoking, discredit the Iraq war, and excuse Bill Clinton’s compulsive lying. And don’t get me started on what’s been done in the name of climate change — the Mann Hockey Stick, An Inconvenient Truth, a campaign of slander against scientists who dissent, and that utter abortion of honest science that calls itself the IPCC. Social progressives have demolished Western science in order to demolish Western civilization.

Regarding the “censorship” of science by the Bush administration, I put “censorship” in quotes because what the left is screeching about is actually the administration’s job — managing public relations, making the statements from the administration conform to policy. The fact that there exist opponents to policy within an administration does not confer a duty to announce, let alone highlight, the views of those opponents. The Executive branch is an administrative organization, not a science foundation, and owes the public a consistent message.

Spencer highlights this point in his own comments:

I see that we are once again having to hear how NASA’s James Hansen was dissuaded from talking to the press on a few of the 1,400 media interviews he was involved in over the years.

Well, I had the same pressure as a NASA employee during the Clinton-Gore years, because NASA management and the Clinton/Gore administration knew that I was skeptical that mankind’s CO2 emissions were the main cause of global warming. I was even told not to give my views during congressional testimony, and so I purposely dodged a question, under oath, when it arose.

But I didn’t complain about it like Hansen has. NASA is an executive branch agency and the President was, ultimately, my boss (and is, ultimately, Hansen’s boss). So, because of the restrictions on what I could and couldn’t do or say, I finally just resigned from NASA and went to work for the university here in Huntsville. There were no hard feelings, and I’m still active in a NASA satellite mission and fully supportive of its Earth observation programs.

In stark contrast, Jim Hansen said whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted to the press and congress during that time. He even campaigned for John Kerry, and received a $250,000 award from Theresa Heinz-Kerry’s charitable foundation — two events he maintains are unrelated. If I had done anything like this when I worked at NASA, I would have been crucified under the Hatch Act.

If the Democrats want to find genuine instances of the abuse of science, they need to consult their own ranks. Scientists supporting Democrat-favored social change repeatedly show us how to sound scientific while lying to the public.

05/28/2008 (8:32 pm)

Socialism For America

Obama will make us work, and Clinton will take from us for our own good. All the European socialist countries backed away from socialism in the 1980s when they realized it was stifling their economies; so did Communist China, which is why China is now booming economically. Socialism has been discredited everywhere around the globe — except in the Democratic party in America. So, here’s to socialism in America:

Image obtained from Voice in Florida on sodahead.com.

03/26/2008 (11:30 am)

Sky Spy

Fourteen pounds, 14 inches in diameter, 22 inches from the bottom of the feet to the top of the antenna, takes off and lands vertically, and soon to fly overhead in a city near you.

The Miami-Dade Police are seeking FAA approval for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for use in urban police work. I believe they’re in use over the Everglades already, but once they get approval the Miami police intend to use them for “tactical situations,” like hostage situations or to view barricaded suspects. Reportedly, police departments all over the country are expressing interest in using drones like this one, which is made by Honeywell.

For the “No Kidding Department,” we have this observation from the FAA’s program manager examining the use of UAVs:

You don’t want one of these coming down on grandma’s windshield when she’s on her way to the grocery store.

Uh… no. And we probably ought to think about the privacy ramifications, too. Patrol cars cruising the neighborhood are one thing, but I’m not sure I want one of those outside my bedroom window at night with an infra-red camera.

02/21/2008 (6:30 pm)

Catch a Falling Satellite — in Mid-Flight

They said it couldn’t be done. We knew it could. And now, it’s been done.

The US Navy apparently scored a direct hit on a falling satellite traveling 17,000 miles per hour last night in an attempt to destroy it before it hit the atmosphere and released 1,000 lbs. of hydrazine fuel as a toxic gas. The satellite, which has been out of contact since an on-board computer failed a few hours into its mission in December 2006, was expected to enter the earth’s atmosphere during the first week of March. There was concern that the satellite’s fuel load could be dangerous if it landed over a populated area. The Navy is analyzing the results, but expects that the threat from the satellite has been neutralized.

Comments over at the Captain’s Quarters from engineers familiar with SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative, often called “Star Wars”) and similar projects point out that this proves missile defense actually works — we hit a bullet with a bullet, at a height of 130 miles, on the first try. Other comments point out that the improved Patriot missile does the same against medium-range missiles, and that the military has been working on similar technology for analyzing and intercepting the trajectory of incoming mortar shells. Those of us familiar with history recognize how epochs change when technology renders conventional weapons ineffective. We appear to be watching one of those changes.

We may be entering an age in which threats from offensive missiles no longer exist. That was Reagan’s plan when he announced SDI back in the 1980s. We’re close to achieving it, and for the 34,973rd time since the 1980s, I’m thanking God for Ronald Reagan and his remarkable insight.

Moral of the story: underestimating American engineers is a bad bet.

Watch the shot as presented by the Navy, courtesy of Eyeblast.

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