Monday, September 24, 2007

More on Philosophical vs. Methodological Naturalism

Conflating PN and MN is not just the sin of the ID movement. The second Truth Project video was quite guilty. They presented Carl Sagan's view of the cosmos (the cosmos is all there ever is, was, and will be) without pointing out that this was Sagan the Astronomer speaking as Sagan the (rank amateur) philosopher. Science makes no statement whatsoever about whether or not the cosmos is all there ever was, is, or will be.

I don't know if Sagan would admit that he was, at that moment, preaching philosophy and not teaching science. But the Truth Project people should have pointed all this out, if they are in fact deeply committed to the truth. As they left it, I am certain that the impression for many was that a scientist (Sagan) speaking as a scientist was claiming that science teaches there is no God.

My cynical fear is the Truth Project had no interest providing instructional clarity in this instance—that they find it advantageous to confuse philosophical and methodological naturalism, in order to further the anti-science bias that is part of the Focus on the Family world view.

Now in the video they showed another egregious example of PN/MN conflation from Cornell biologist William Provine. This charming man is a master of confusion. He writes:

Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.

What is interesting here, and it is pure speculation, that those who agree with Provine would be strange bedfellows indeed. They would include some of the new atheist school who would like to conclude that evolution scientifically proves what Provine claims as its inescapable consequences, and those anti-Science Christians who, to vilify science, would also agree that such nonsense is the scientific consequence of evolution.

Rerun: Sunday School on Satan

NOTE: This is a rerun from a post in 2003. I am replaying it because I am getting hits from an Evangelical Outpost link to my Al Sharpton of Information Theory post. The link, however, is not concerned with what I wrote about the ID movement in the bulk of the post, but what I wrote about Satan in the brief introduction. I hope this helps to clarify.


This is a brief study into the nature of our chief adversary, Satan. We all know that Satan (the name indeed means "adversary") is a fallen angel. So it is useful to start by taking a look at what scripture says the about characteristics and capabilities of angels.

1) What are Angels, what are their characteristics?

As an aside, it is worth noting that in the New Testament the word angel (angelos) appears more frequently than the word for sin or love (agape). Angels should receive more attention than they are generally given. Let's take a look of some of their qualities.

• They are Creatures

The first and most important characteristic is that they are creatures—spirit creatures, to be exact. This means they have none of the qualities that are reserved for God. In particular, they have none of the omnis. They are not:

Omnipotent (all powerful)
Omniscient (all knowing)
Omnipresent (in all places)

• They have been around longer than man

Angels have been here a long time, since at least day two (or day-age two) of creation. When Job questions God and God responds with his own line of inquiry, we read:

4 "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone- 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38 4:7)

• Their number is large

Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? (Matt. 26:53)

This verse places a minimum of 144,000 (12×12,000) on the number of angels. Other scripture indicates that the count is probably much higher. Angels are sometimes referred to as heavenly host, a word that can also be translated as army.

13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:13-14)

• They are heavenly, spiritual; their purpose ministering to the saved

An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. (Luke 22:43)

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Heb 1:14)

• They are mighty, but limited

As we have already mentioned, they cannot be in more than one place at a time. They also have limited power:

12 Then he continued, "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come." (Dan 10:12-14)

The angel was detained in some sort of struggle with an evil spiritual being, the "king of Persia." This demonstrates both limited power and confinement to one place at one time.

Angels are also have limited knowledge

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matt. 24:36)

10Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1Pet 1:10-12).

Nevertheless, they are mighty by human standards:

Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: "With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. (Rev. 18:21)

• They are not to be worshipped

8I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. 9But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!" (Rev 22:8-9)

• They have a hierarchy

But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" (Jude 1:9)

The prefix arch is from the Greek arka meaning chief. We use it in such terms as archbishop, archenemy, and architect (chief builder). Michael appears to be a chief warrior angel, and Gabriel a chief messenger angel.

• They are Metamorphic

They sometimes take on the appearance of man. At other times they have fantastical and dazzling visages. Sometimes they have six wings, sometimes four. Sometimes they cover their feet and eyes with their wings, and sometimes they have many eyes all over their heads. I don't know if they have "natural" appearances or just adapt as necessary. The bible talks about seraphim and cherubim, but doesn't draw any distinctions between the two. In artwork, seraphim are usually depicted as majestic or fearsome while cherubim look like little fat baby angels. There is no basis in scripture for such a rendering.

• They don't marry, they don't die

35But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection. (Luke. 20:35-36)

2) Satan's Fall

A few years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger made a horrible movie called The End of Days where he battles Satan, played by Gabriel Byrne. I went to see the movie because I had read the book (also not very good). However, the book had one great line. I am working from memory so I don't know if I will get it exactly right.

In one scene, the Ahh-nold character is fighting the devil in an apartment near the top of a high-rise. Somehow he tosses the devil out the window. He falls fifteen or twenty stories and lands on top of a car, demolishing it. The devil crawls out of the wreckage and gets up on the sidewalk and begins brushing debris from his clothes. A man who witnessed the whole event came up to him and said: "Are you Okay? That was some fall!" The devil brushed off some more dust, looked skyward, and replied. "I've had worse."

Great line, simply perfect.

Anyway, I went to the movie just to see that one line acted out. However, they didn't use it. The fall from the high-rise was there, but not the "I've had worse" line. I guess they thought nobody would get it.

Indeed, he did have a fall that was much worse.

12 "Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: " 'You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. 14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. 16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. 17 Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. (Ez. 28:12-17)

When Satan fell, he took some angels with him. These fallen angels are now called demons. How many? One passage in Revelation, highly symbolic, seems to suggest that Satan took as many as 1/3 of angels with him.

3Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. 4His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. (Rev. 12:3-4)

The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Rev. 12:9)

3) Underestimating Satan

We once lived in a neighborhood where our next door neighbor was the minister at one of the largest churches in the city, a Lutheran church. To get to know him and his wife better, we all went out to a seafood restaurant. Somehow we got to talking religion, and the subject of the devil came up. The minister's wife allowed as to how she did not believe in the devil.

Not knowing the man, I got a little nervous. This could be uncomfortable or even a little embarrassing. How would he correct his wife? Would he smack her on the back of the head? Call her stupid, roll his eyes, or would he correct her in love? He did none of these things. He smiled, nodded in agreement, and went back to work on his plate of shrimp.

One of the reasons we underestimate the devil is that we have been hoisted with our own petard. In medieval times, people were greatly concerned about the devil. They sought a way to attack him and discerned that his greatest weakness is pride. So they made a mockery of him, silly caricatures of a comical red creature with horns and a pitch fork. Soon the devil was incorrectly relegated to the menagerie of mythological creatures, witches and goblins. He wasn't taken seriously anymore. That suits him just fine.

In churches, dismissing Satan usually goes hand-in-hand with de-emphasizing man's depravity. Man is turned into a creature born innocent and good who learns to be bad. The inevitable consequence is a weakened view of God. For if there is no devil, and man is basically good, then how do you answer the question why do bad things happen to good people? You answer by saying God would like to prevent such things, but he is powerless to do so. He is a weak pitiful god, sobbing in the corner at the tragedies befalling such nice humans. Only a proper understanding of evil and sin leads us to realize that the mystery question is not why bad things occasionally happen to good people. The real mystery is why don't bad things happen to all of us all the time?

It is not just "liberal churches" that underestimate Satan. In spite of the fact that our Lord warned him, the apostle Peter, prior to Jesus' arrest, underestimated him:

31"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." 33But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." (Luke 22:31:33)

Notice that Satan had to ask before he could sift Peter as wheat. In some manner he was given permission, which is why Jesus prayed for Peter. Peter was no match for Satan. As we know, he went on to deny Christ three times. Yet we believe that Peter's restoration and subsequent ministry brought more glory to God than was lost in his temporary defeat.

Like angels, Satan and demons are stronger and smarter than we are. The demons were the first to recognize Christ for what He truly was:

28 When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way. 29And suddenly they cried out, saying, "What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?" (Matt 8:28-29)

4) Overestimating Satan

Another mistake, more common among conservative evangelical Christians, is to overestimate Satan.

There are two problems that come with overestimating Satan. One is that it elevates him beyond what he deserves. In effect, we are rerouting glory from God to Satan. The second, more serious problem is that it distracts us from focusing on our own sin. Unchecked, we can develop a "devil made me do it" attitude. In truth, the devil cannot make you sin. We will see he has two main prongs of attack, temptation and accusation. What he does not have is coercion.

Christianity is not a religion that teaches dualism. We do not believe in an eternal struggle between good and evil. There is no Yin and Yang. Good, meaning God, is in absolute control, even over evil, and is in no danger of "losing".

True, we must be wary of the dangers of "asymmetric warfare". This is the term that we use for the current world situation. America is often described as the world's only super power. In truth, the U.S. is a super-duper power. The disparity between the military might of the U.S. and its strongest potential enemies, China or Russia, is huge. Yet we tremble with fear at the potential damage from a relative gnat like North Korea or Iran.

However, this is an imperfect analogy of our spiritual warfare. In some sense, we are better off on the spiritual front. Our potential national military enemies are not under our control. They don't have to listen to George Bush. In the bigger picture God, is in absolute sovereign control, even over the actions of Satan. God does not "battle" Satan. Satan operates only within the confines of God's permissive will. Satan cannot snatch us away, and believers cannot be demon possessed. We cannot at the same time be under the sovereign control of Satan (or more likely his minion) while indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

28And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. 30I and My Father are one." (John 10:28-30)

Probably none of us has ever been assaulted by Satan himself. He is a creature. He can only be in one place at a time. I suspect that none of us ever show up on his radar.

We can still say we are under attack by Satan, in the same sense that Iraqis will claim, correctly, to have been attacked by George Bush. We know that George Bush did not take up arms himself. Instead he operated as commander-in-chief. Satan is commander-in-chief of his army of fallen angels.

5) Misunderstanding Satan's Intentions and Methods

The most popular image of Satan's intention is that he is in a struggle with God for our souls. There is little if anything in scripture to support such a notion. There is no battle raging for men's souls. Such an idea is wrong on many fronts. For one thing, if Satan is dueling God, a tug of war for our souls as it were, it makes him an enemy of comparable power. We already know that is far from the truth. Satan is powerful compared to us, but worse than a 98 pound weakling compared to God. The other problem is with God's perfect justice. If we are lost because Satan snatched us, then we are lost for something that is not our fault. God doesn't send people to eternal damnation because of something that isn't their fault. We stand condemned on our own account, as reprobate sinners.

In my opinion, Satan doesn't care about our souls, and has no use for them.

What Satan wants, what he always wants, is to rob God of the one commodity that God wants, the very reason that He made us. Satan wants to diminish God's glory.

The compelling evidence that Satan is interested in robbing God's glory and not in stealing our immortal soul comes from the book of Job, specifically the two conversations between Satan and God. Let's look at the first one:

6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD , and Satan also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD , "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it." 8 Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." 9 "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. 10 "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face." (Job 1:6-11)

Notice again that Satan needs permission to act. He is not an autonomous evil. Note further that no interest is expressed in Job's soul. Nothing is mentioned that suggests Job's soul hangs in the balance. No challenge is made that Job will worship Satan and be lost forever. Instead, Satan makes the following threat: he (Job) will surely curse you to your face.

Cursing is the opposite of worship. Worship is the chief way we glorify God; the two are virtually synonymous. Satan is saying: remove your protection from Job and I guarantee your glory will be diminished. Glory is the one commodity that God desires for Himself. It is why we were created. It is the only "angle" of attack for Satan.

• Satan the Accuser

Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, "Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. (Rev. 12:10)

Satan is also called the accuser. He accused Job of hypocrisy. In that case, he made a false accusation against Job. Usually, however, Satan does not make false accusations. He doesn't need to. He (or his minion) uses our own sin against us. We can almost hear him: You filthy liar, God could not possibly love you or forgive you. He has taken you back so many times, and every time you failed anew. You are worthless. He seeks to use our guilt to draw us away from God. Maybe stop going to church. No worship, no glory—and Satan achieves a temporary victory.

• Satan the Crafty One

As an angel, Satan is also metamorphic. He can change his appearance. His standard tact seems not to appear fearsome but rather to appear beautiful and good.

14And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Cor. 11:14-15)

Satan is described as crafty (or cunning) when we first encounter him in Genesis 3. Let's examine this a bit. Notice the first question that Satan asks:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Gen 3:1)

Of course, Satan knew quite well that God did not say 'You must not eat from any tree'. Quite the contrary, as Eve correctly responds:

The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' " (Gen 3:2)

Still, we see Satan's guile. It is similar to 20th century existentialism, a tenet of which is: unless man is totally and absolutely free, autonomous if you were, he is not free at all. Adam and Even had such a minor restriction placed upon them: a single tree. But Satan's question was designed not to coerce Eve into eating from the forbidden tree but to get her wheels spinning: well if I can't eat from that one tree, pretty soon I may find the God declares other trees forbidden. If I am not totally free, I am not free at all.

Satan follows this philosophical nudge with two lies: you will surely not die and if you eat you will be like God. In the first case he uses a lie to call God a liar and in the second case he projects his own sin of pride onto Eve.

An interesting question: in what sense did Adam and Eve die when they ate the fruit?

• Satan the Tempter

Satan's most direct attack is to tempt us. Again, there is no scripture that says Satan can coerce us into doing something, and if he did then we would not be morally responsible. He merely provides the proverbial rope; we do the rest.

The two most famous stories of temptation in the bible could hardly be in sharper contrast. In the middle of a lush and beautiful garden, with all their needs provided, it took Satan about ten seconds to tempt Adam and Eve successfully. Just three sentences—one subtle question and two quick lies, and mankind's fate was sealed.

On the other hand, we have Christ's 40 days in the Judean desert, one of the most desolate and barren places on earth. His human body must have been famished as well as ravaged by the harsh environment. Yet He resisted Satan and his seductive offers. His method of resistance was to use scripture—a lesson we should pay attention to.

It is worth looking at the Lord's prayer. Contrary to how it is often said, the best translation is:

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matt. 6:13)

We are praying not for deliverance from some impersonal "evil", but to be free of the temptation placed before us by Satan and his host.

• Satan the Mighty

One image we have of Satan is that of a roaring lion.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Pet. 5:8)

Christ is also depicted as a lion, the lion of Judah:

Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." (Rev. 5:5)

The lion symbolizes power—Christ the lion, Satan the anti-lion. Again, the relative strength is all one-sided; Satan is no match for Christ. At the same time, on our own we are putty in the hands of Satan.


They main point to remember is even Satan is under God's sovereign control. He has been given some power to rule over the world. The battle is not for our souls, but for God's glory. Satan can diminish it by drawing us (temporarily) away from worship. We also are quite capable of doing this own our own, just from our fallen nature.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Al Sharpton of Information Theory

The book of Job contains a powerful lesson. No, not the one about patience and perseverance. I'm thinking more of this one: Satan is relatively impotent. He can operate only within God's permissive will. And there is only one weapon in his arsenal. He is not after our souls (what would he do with them?) He is not engaged in a battle of good vs. evil with God (talk about asymmetric warfare.) No, the only thing he can do is to try to make believers curse God. That's it.

That, by the way, is why we should look at the new atheist movement with nothing more than academic interest. There is nothing they can do directly that is harmful to the church. They cannot cause one person who is saved to lose his salvation. They cannot convince one person who, in God's sovereign plan is predestined to salvation, to thwart the will of God by rejecting the gospel. The best response to Dawkins (when he isn't designing fashion) and Hitchens (if you can catch him when he isn't advocating war) and Harris (on those occasions when he is on planet earth rather than some far away astral plane) is to laugh at their impotence.

The worst thing we can do is treat them like what they aren't: a threat. And one of the ways we treat them as a threat is to claim they persecute us. To play the victim.

Man, I really hate Christian victimhood. That is not to say that Christians aren't victims, for they certainly are in many parts of the world. My heart and admiration goes out to Christians in the Moslem world, and in places like China. However, even for them I would say that the biblical model teaches this: do not behave like a victim, for behaving like a victim is a way that we curse God. Satan wanted Job to behave like a victim. That's all he wanted, all he was capable of inciting.

Now, under real persecution, such as in the Sudan, would I play the victim? Probably. I'd probably cry like a baby. If I faced death, I'd probably deny my faith. I don't know for sure, but I don't have much confidence that I'd do the right thing. But we are not in the Sudan. In America, don't tell me you are persecuted.

The ID movement has reached rock bottom. It has become the refuge of a group of sissies crying wolf at every opportunity.

Let me summarize everything I have come to despise about the ID movement, in an order suggestive of their downward spiral.

• They claim ID was science, when it isn't. The prominent role played by lawyers and philosophers in the ID movement is circumstantial evidence for this charge. But the real proof is found in the fact that there are no testable claims made by ID. As much as I enjoyed the Privileged Planet, the tests proposed in there are on the form of challenges: find a planet inhabited by complex life that is not a good observation platform. There is no way to do the experiment short of cataloging all ~1022 planets in the observable universe. (Evolution is not immune to such silliness: the oft repeated challenge: find a pre-Cambrian rabbit is not a legitimate example of scientific falsification. If it is, go apply to the NSF for a grant to search for pre-Cambrian rabbits.)

• They claim it has nothing to do with religion, when it clearly does. OK, in a sense in which they don't intend they are right—it a way it has nothing to do with proper Christianity because it is actually a culture war battle. The infamous Wedge Document makes that crystal clear. But fighting the culture war is not a proper activity for Christians. You'll note that St. Paul never organized politically, and his writings reflect that, to the 99% level, he limited himself to (1) preaching the gospel to unbelievers and (2) reminding believers about the gospel and instructing believers how to behave regardless of their circumstances. Jesus (in a move exactly opposite to what the dispensationalists teach) literally ran away from the offer of political power. And he paid the Roman and Temple taxes, partially funding his own murder, rather than organizing a "moral majority" that opposed taxation and Roman immorality. Elevating the culture war front and center also makes for unholy alliances. No apostle that I am aware of ever advocated joining forces with heretics (say, for a modern example, Moonies) to fight immorality. They would, I feel confident, have witnessed to the heretic and not teamed up with him for any ministry until such time as he converted. So in a strange sense they are right—it is not about Christianity so much as about fighting the culture war. Still, they certainly see it as some sort of Christian mission. One of Dembski's most famous claims about ID is:

"Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory," Touchstone Magazine. Volume 12, Issue4: July/August, 1999

This, at the very least unspeakably presumptuous statement, leaves no room for doubt: ID is, in the mind of its leading proponents, religious. That, in of itself, is OK, but it leads to the next point.

• The ID movement practices deceptive, unbiblical, the ends-justify-the-means, political tactics. Instead of admitting their motivations, which I think are, in an ultimate sense, to glorify God (or in one case to glorify the Reverend Moon), they hide them. They take the "get your foot in the door by any means" approach—one which is conspicuously absent in biblical models of evangelism. Again, the Wedge Document makes this clear.

Finally, that leads us to the latest (unbiblical) tactic in the ID movement's drain swirling:

• They are claiming victimhood at every opportunity. As in the case of Al Sharpton, I took his accusations seriously at first. But when they began coming on a regular basis and often proved without substance I, at some point, decided he had no credibility.

The ID claims of persecution started with what I think is their strongest case: that of Richard Sternberg. Sternberg is the editor who approved publication of IDist Stephen C. Meyer's research paper. Now, for reasons bordering on the absurd, the Holy Grail in the ID/evolution war is a peer-reviewed paper. I say it is absurd because: who really cares? I cannot evaluate Meyer's paper, but I can tell you this: papers get published all the time that are not very good, and the scientific world goes on. The proper response is either to ignore a bad paper or, if you are mean-spirited, mock it later for its irrelevance as indicated by a lack of citations, or refute the paper with one of your own. There is ample evidence, I believe, that the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) played unseemly behind the scenes politics, besmirching Sternberg's reputation. That was unnecessary dirty hardball. They should have simply let the scientific community police itself as it always has.

The next high visibility claim of persecution was the denial of tenure in the case of Iowa State University Astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez. Now, I personally believe Gonzalez is the best of the marquis IDers. But the truth of the matter is that competent people are denied tenure all the time. There are two basic ways to get tenure at a research university. The first is to be so successful in terms of reputation and grants that you are too valuable to be turned down. The second is to be reasonably good, well liked, non-controversial, and not encounter too many idealistic tough-sells in the review process gauntlet. I think it fair to say that Gonzalez did not fit in either category. He is a quite competent scientist who, without the baggage of ID, might have gotten tenured in group 2, but the bottom line is he was controversial. This is not persecution; this is the way tenure works. Now once again, as in the Sternberg case, there were some unsavory tactics brought into play. At ISU a certain chucklehead wouldn't trust the system to work as designed, and we were treated with the anti-ID petition by the non-scientist, cliché of a man (an anti-religious, Religious Studies professor) Hector Avalos. His activities backfired (good) by giving additional credibility to those who claim Gonzalez was persecuted.

The newest case and by far the weakest (and hence the most repulsive) is that of the Informatics "Lab" at Baylor University.

A short review: Distinguished pro-ID engineer Robert Marks goes to Baylor. He gets a grant from an organization with ties to the Discovery Institute and hires Dembski as his post-doc. People at Baylor complain, the grant money is returned, and eventually Baylor tells Marks to remove his Informatics website from the Baylor server.

Is Baylor innocent in all of this? Probably not. Taking grant money only to give it back, allowing web pages on your server only later to demand their removal—this is surely a sign that either the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing or that Baylor will vacillate in the face of internal criticism.

But none of that justifies the response from the ID movement, which is both over the top and bizarre—I mean really bizarre—bordering on the insane.

Here is a list of responses, which have a kind of Van Gough like descent into madness:

• Claim: Baylor pulled the plug on the Informatics Lab. Not true. There was no lab. They told Marks to take his web site off Baylor's servers. A web site is not a lab, it's a web site. Lots of research was done before the internet existed. Every lab that I know continues to operate if its web site goes down. Baylor did not, as far as I know, chain any doors or confiscate any equipment or remove simulations from computer hard disks.

• Claim: This is a violation of Marks's academic freedom. No, it isn't. Academic freedom doesn't mean: do whatever floats your boat and feel free to imply Baylor's imprimatur on your work. Imagine if Baylor had a tenured professor who decided to advocate 9/11 CIA-Zionist conspiracies. It would (unfortunately) be a violation of his academic freedom to tell him he could not investigate his theories. It would not be a violation to tell him he can't publish his research on a university server. It may be a legitimate question as to why Baylor places ID in this sort of category, but the principle is valid. This is obvious to all blogger/professors. Very few of us would dare to claim that academic freedom demands that the university host our blog on its server.

• A fake letter from Baylor President Lilley. When this first came to light, an unflattering letter was posted on Uncommon Descent, written as if coming from Baylor President Lilley. The UD commenters attacked Lilley until such time that a warning was added announcing that the letter was a parody. Following much criticism of the whole affair, the fake letter was removed from Uncommon Descent.

• Publication, on Uncommon Descent, of the addresses and home phone numbers of the Baylor Board of Regents. The purpose was to apply pressure to the regents, who might then persuade Lilley to change his mind or, even better, fire him. This is beyond the pale—as I said a descent into madness.

• Claim: Baylor is unchristian. For fun you should investigate how it justified that Baylor is unchristian by not giving its stamp of approval to ID, given that ID is supposed to be all about science and not religion. Oh what a tangled web we weave! The basic idea seems to be that while ID is science, it really is, honest, it is also consistent with a Christian worldview (that part is true.) Somehow, then, Baylor rejecting ID on scientific grounds means they are also unchristian. Of course, the same logic would apply to Young Earth Creationism. If a Baylor professor wanted to perform research in an attempt to prove the universe was only six thousand years old, and Baylor did not stop him but merely said he cannot have a YEC science webpage hosted on a Baylor server, they would be unchristian because YEC is a valid Christian worldview.

Oh, brother. Atheists cannot hurt the church. Baylor cannot hurt the church. Only the church can hurt the church by cursing God. Whining that we are being persecuted is whining that God is not in control, that God is not sovereign, that he who is within us is not stronger than he who is in the world. It's cursing God pure and simple. Please, please stop.

UPDATE: Sigh. More hideous tactics. More whining.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Yes, I was there when it all began :-)

Wow, I have all sorts of connections to emoticons that I didn't know about: they were invented at Carnegie Mellon, when I was there, and have a tie-in to the physics department where I was a student. Who'd of thunk it!

And here I thought that our most famous claim to fame is that we were on the winning side of one of the greatest college football upsets of all time: Carnegie Tech 19, Knute Rockne's Notre Dame 0. Although I think we might be able to beat them again if we had them on our schedule this year.

UPDATE: Here is the official CMU tribute (the real CMU, not Central Michigan University, those wannabes.) Man, I recognize some of those names. Michael Shamos taught my FORTRAN class! FORTRAN--now that's a language where you need to check your Y chromosome at the door. Whoo-A. GOTO 143.

HT: Dave Brooks, book reviewer extraordinaire.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Moral Absolutes and Situational Ethics

Most Christians take the view:

Moral Absolutes: good

Situational Ethics: bad

But this is due, I believe, to a kind of false dichotomy. That is, it is perceived that Moral Absolutes and Situational Ethics are in conflict.

They're not. As I have written before, the bible is chock-full of situational ethics, not the most pleasant of which is: killing people is wrong, unless God commands you. I am thinking here, of course, of the conquest of Canaan. Now, I believe you can make a more than compelling case that the conquest of the Holy Land was a one-time event in God's redemptive plan and we have reason to expect that God will never command us to annihilate anyone, and we are certainly under no standing orders to take anyone's life or property, but nevertheless the point remains: it is absolutely wrong to commit murder, and yet Joshua was not sinning when he engaged in genocide.

There is no way for a Christian who holds to the simpleminded relationship: moral absolutes are the opposite of situational ethics to reconcile this tension. That is because in my opinion they misunderstand moral absolutes.

Wrong Definition of Moral Absolute: it is always wrong to commit act A. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Correct Definition of Moral Absolute: if it is wrong for one person to commit act A in situation S, then it is wrong for any person to commit act A in the same situation S.

The latter definition preserves the proper Christian aversion to moral relativism. In the same situation, it cannot be morally wrong for one person to behave in a certain manner while, for whatever reason, it is morally acceptable for another. Moral absolutism is preserved over moral relativism. At the same time, situational ethics may and indeed must be considered.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, you accept a rather common church teaching that is situational ethics par excellence: it is not permissible to work on Sunday, unless it is a work of necessity. (I'm not arguing whether or not this is the correct view of the day of rest. That's a separate topic. I'm just using it here as an example.) In these terms it would mean:

Working on Sunday is, to first order, wrong.

Working on Sunday, if is not a work of necessity, is absolutely wrong.

Working on Sunday, if it is a work of necessity, is acceptable—and it is an example of situational ethics.

Working on Sunday, even if it is not a work of necessity, is permissible for some as long as they don't feel guilty about it is an example of moral relativism, and is wrong.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Something about Billy Graham I did not know

I would have guessed he was a YEC, but I'd have guessed wrong:
I don't think that there's any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we've tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren't meant to say, I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. ... whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man's relationship to God."

Billy Graham: Personal Thoughts of a Public Man, 1997.  p. 72-74
I never read Billy Graham, so that's my lame excuse for stereotyping.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Academic Unprofessionalism

HT: Ed Brayton

In Ed's post, linked to above, he criticizes Casey Luskin's take on an anti-ID course at SMU as whining. I don't wish to participate in that particular debate, for I certainly do my share of criticizing the ID Movements big shots as whiners. Instead I'll offer a secondary observation.

The SMU course is entitled "The Scientific Method - Critical and Creative Thinking (Debunking Pseudoscience)."

Fair enough—it is quite legitimate for a university to offer a course explaining why ID is not science. I would not be against such a course, even if I believed that ID was science, which I don't. It goes without saying that universities are supposed to offer courses on timely subjects. It also goes without saying that in anything but science, mathematics, and engineering (and even there, but to a lesser extent) courses will, to a certain and hopefully manageable extent, reflect the biases of the professors. That's always the case.

Here is the expectation, as I understand it. If a die-hard capitalist is going to teach a class on comparative economic systems, it's OK that the students come to realize the professor's opinion. That is unavoidable. It is not OK if the professor makes the "right answer" apparent in the syllabus and belittles those of another view. And his course materials must be professional. They are not supposed to be a joke. Keep that in mind.

I would expect that to be the case with this course. While there would be little doubt as to the slant, the course materials should be professional and at least have the appearance of being scholarly.

That's not the case here, not at all. Here the course materials look as if they were ghost written by Paul Mirecki while totally immersed in his "Evil Dr. P" persona. In other words, by some sort of adolescent-level intelligence with a severe self esteem problem.

Luskin points to this page, and rightly so. He may be "whining" as Ed claims, but to be honest I don't care—and in fact I didn't read Luskin's article beyond reaching this link.

The aforementioned page is perhaps the most unprofessional, unscholarly piece of official course material I have ever seen.

We can begin at the beginning. There is a quote from Bill Maher:

Bill Maher on Intelligent Design - "You don't have to teach both sides of a debate if one side is a load of crap."

The message that sends is simply unfriggin' believable as it pertains to a college level course of this type (a course that is not a science class, but one that essentially asks: what is science?) Here, absolutely, both sides should be presented if only so that ultimately one view can be discredited. The amusing thing (and so embarrassing for the unwitting professors) is that they couldn't have picked a worse spokesman for their mission of debunking pseudo-science, because Bill Maher is an anti-vaccine, germ-theory denying, (and therefore anti-science) crackpot.

Back to the hideous web page. Now, I have no objection to the fact that it looks like a web page circa 1995. Simple is good, and at least they didn't use blinking text.

What I object to are the unprofessional, childish editorial comments sprinkled throughout the page. For example, in commenting on Dembski's explaining his failure to publish:

Or maybe, Bill, you can't get your work past the editors and reviewers because it's BAD SCIENCE. It's interesting to compare this with the AIDS deniers' reasons for not publishing their nonsense in peer-reviewed research journals.

Yes folks, they even use boldface capitals to let us know it is REALLY IMPORTANT! Now, readers know that I agree that the reason Dembski can't publish is because ID is bad science. But I would never put such a pimply faced comment in course materials, and if I did, I'd expect my Dean to call me in on the carpet. And I wouldn't put a gratuitous comparison to AIDS deniers (and I think they actually mean HIV deniers.)

Here is their editorial comment (a quote from Robert Park) about Gonzalez, on a page that is allegedly a set of reference links:

Guillermo Gonzalez was denied tenure at Iowa State University. The Discovery Institute was shocked at this blatant disregard of the cherished principle of "viewpoint diversity." With Jay Richards, a theologian, Gonzalez wrote The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery. It's a daffy twist on the anthropic principle, which was already daffy enough. The simple fact is that his colleagues voted him off the island. It's not like he was tenured and then fired.

Truly, I find it impossible to believe that a professor included this quote on reference course material. (And it contains a scientifically disputable statement, namely that "the anthropic principle was already daft enough." No so daft, I'll point out, that Weinberg couldn't use it to correctly predict a tiny value for the cosmological constant.)

Further down the page we have a list of marquis IDers. The heading for the list:

Intelligent Design Proponents (IDiots)

Whoever wrote this is a jackass. The term IDiot was arguably funny somewhere back in the last millennium. Since then it so overused that up to now I thought only Larry Moran still thought it was clever. But even Larry Moran, as far as I know, only uses it on his blog, not for course material.

Finally, the list of links to pro-ID books is headed by:

or read these and get stoopider

Badly done, professors. This page really makes you look "stoopid." If I were your department chair, I'd make you change it. This is pathetic, not worthy of anything at the university level, and even the most anti-ID students and their parents should ask more of SMU's faculty—namely that they do a better job, a professional job.

An Idiot’s (some will say: no doubt) guide to PN v. MN

This is my take on a couple terms that get bandied about in the science/religion discussions:

Philosophical Naturalism: the belief that the natural world is all that there is.

Methodological Naturalism: the belief that the natural world is all that is accessible for scientific inquiry.

To me, that is clear enough, though I freely admit that some may object that these definitions are too simplistic.

Any theist obviously rejects philosophical naturalism. To us, the natural world is not all there is. Indeed, it is not even the bulk of all there is—it is but a shadow of better realm, a supernatural realm. Being a theist, or even a deist, means you accept at least God himself, even if he is now dead or has moved to the suburbs, as a supernatural entity. It is possible to be a theistic evolutionist, but it is not possible to be a theistic philosophical naturalist.

The problem has always been, of course, that methodological naturalism is confused with philosophical naturalism. But methodological naturalism is a far, far weaker statement. Methodological naturalism tells us that science is limited, in scope, to the study of the natural world. Theists can and do support methodological naturalism.

In general, when science is successful it supports but doesn't prove philosophical naturalism. When science fails, especially for extended periods, it doesn't disprove philosophical naturalism—but it shakes its foundations a little.

For example, take origin of life research. Should it prove successful, it will be a big feather in the cap of the philosophical naturalists. Should it, after decades perhaps, produce no substantive progress, then that would be a kick in the shins of philosophical naturalism.

Or my beloved cosmological fine tuning. Should another universe be detected, or should the fine tuning be demonstrated to be an illusion, it would be in the win column of philosophical naturalism.

So to reiterate:

  • When science is successful it tends to support philosophical naturalism—though theists will still believe that the success of the science just as readily demonstrates the beauty of creation.
  • When science fails it tends to weaken the philosophical naturalism position, though proponents will always argue "give us more time."
  • But the juicy question is: can a scientific success ever undermine philosophical naturalism?

Well many people think so. They will tell you that ID is a scientific endeavor that undermines philosophical naturalism. Here we face a subtlety. Because while science and methodological naturalism are often used (as I have) interchangeably, a better way to look at it is:

Science: the only accepted, time-tested set of procedures (the scientific method) used by the methodological naturalist (who may or may not be a philosophical naturalist.)

Therein lies the problem for both the IDist and the multiverse proponent: while they are discussing aspects of the natural world (the bacterial flagellum, parallel universes) that in principle fall under the purview of methodological naturalism, nobody has devised a way to use the scientific method to test their claims. IDists and multiverse-ists are, in some sense, methodological naturalists without portfolio. ID cannot undermine (or bolster) philosophical naturalism, at least not scientifically, because it cannot get into the game.

OK, but can science, if successful, ever truly undermine philosophical naturalism?

I think one scenario that I have often mentioned is as close as we can ever hope to come. And that scenario is the development of a fundamental theory that explains the physical constants. It is ironically, the exact opposite of the way ID is usually argued: it is not the demonstration of how unlikely our habitable universe is that would be a major success, but the demonstration that it was inevitable. That some future "theory of everything" had habitability built into it would, in my opinion, be the most difficult successful scientific result for philosophical naturalism to swallow.

Let me end by referring once again to Uncommon Descent, because it is their "about" statement that got me thinking along these lines. They write:

Uncommon Descent holds that…

Materialistic ideology has subverted the study of biological and cosmological origins so that the actual content of these sciences has become corrupted. The problem, therefore, is not merely that science is being used illegitimately to promote a materialistic worldview, but that this worldview is actively undermining scientific inquiry, leading to incorrect and unsupported conclusions about biological and cosmological origins. At the same time, intelligent design (ID) offers a promising scientific alternative to materialistic theories of biological and cosmological evolution -- an alternative that is finding increasing theoretical and empirical support. Hence, ID needs to be vigorously developed as a scientific, intellectual, and cultural project

I realized after reading this pedantry for maybe the hundredth time, I have no idea what they are talking about. What is materialistic ideology? Is it philosophical naturalism or methodological naturalism? Or is it something else altogether? I could argue that their statement in toto is not consistent with either view, so that it must be that "materialistic ideology" is neither philosophical nor methodological naturalism. It must be something else. I don't what—but maybe someone who speaks UDish will be so kind as to offer an explanation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Truth Project

Starting Saturday, I'll be attending the Focus on the Family's "Truth Project" program at our church.

I have to keep an open mind. I have never been a fan of Focus on the Family. Like other politically active Christian organizations, I think they miss a fundamental lesson of the New Testament: we are pilgrims without a country who are called to spread the gospel. We are not culture warriors charged with reshaping our nation. (And the headquarters for a Christian mission organization should not, in my opinion, resemble the magnificent campus of Focus on the Family, which I see when I travel to Colorado Springs on occasion.) This is the same mistake the ID movement makes with their wedge strategy: get ID in the classroom to help win the culture war. But we are not called into that battle. We are to behave properly, regardless of how others behave. We are to present the gospel at the front door, anticipating rejection—we are not to sneak it in the back door. And nowhere does scripture tell us to transform society politically and legislatively.

Elevating the importance of the culture war over evangelism leads to some hideous culture-war compromises for the sake of political expediency. Christians should not be teaming with the likes of Jonathan Wells to win a culture war skirmish—they should be telling Wells (a Moonie) that he is a member of a heretical cult whose teachings are an abomination far worse that anything Darwin gets credit for. Natural selection pales in comparison to Reverend Moon claiming to be the Messiah.

So my hope is that the Truth Project is a call to individual accountability. That is a proper challenge to a Christian. I hope it is not a call to somehow restore our nation as a Christian nation, which it never was. I hope it does not repeat the mantra that "separation of church and state is not in the constitution". Well, if it isn't, it should be.

On the front, I'll be ready to be ready to bring up the Treaty of Tripoli, signed by one of the genuinely Christian founding fathers (John Adams) and ratified unanimously by the U.S. Senate. It contains the article:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of [Moslems]; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any [Islamic] nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Most Christians today would find this to be an appalling statement, but I find comfort in both separation of church and state and freedom of religion. Consider even the so-called new atheists. If it is true that they have made it easier for atheists to come out of the closet—that's a good thing. It is far better that someone openly admits their atheism rather than pretending, from peer pressure, to be a Christian.

I am particularly nervous about Lesson 5, described this way in the lesson plan:

Lesson 5 - Science: What is True?

Science, the "systematic study of the natural world," brings to light innumerable evidences of Intelligent Design. But Darwinian theory transforms science from the honest investigation of nature into a vehicle for propagating a godless philosophy. (Part One)

A careful examination of molecular biology and the fossil record demonstrates that evolution is not a "proven fact." Meanwhile, history shows that ideas, including Darwinism as a social philosophy, have definite consequences – consequences that can turn ugly when God is left out of the picture. (Part Two)

If they stress intelligent design as an apologetic, I'll be fine. If they discuss it as science, I'll be forced to respond. Likewise if they blame Nazism on evolution, I'll have to point out that a similar mindless argument blames Nazism on Martin Luther.

But for now…an open mind.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Arguing from a vacuum

One form of arguing to be avoided at all costs is a "declaration of the obvious" from a position of ignorance. This shows up all the time—from a misguided creationist wandering onto Panda's Thumb and asking "Evolution is bollocks, after all what good is half an eye?" to those refuting Calvinism by proclaiming "If that's true, we should all just do whatever we want." A satisfactory education should instill in people a sense of restraint and caution. Think before you declare victory. You know, all these biology Ph.Ds probably have an answer to that half-and-eye criticism. Surely I'm not the first person to bring that up. Maybe I should ask, could someone explain to me how the eye could evolve? Or a lot of smart theologians are Calvinists. Maybe I should ask, can you explain why Calvinism doesn't naturally lead to antinomianism?

That came to mind when reading the comments on an interesting UD article on imaginary numbers. I have no problem with the UD post, which is really an extended link to another article, the gist of which is that the history imaginary numbers reminds us that some ideas in math and science that meet fierce resistance occasionally prevail. It doesn't take Fellini to figure out the subtext: the same thing could/will happen with ID. Fair enough.

It's the comments that are noteworthy.

The extent to which people are willing to expose their shortcomings with total confidence is surprising. Perhaps there is something admirable about someone saying, in effect, I have no clue what I'm talking about, but I'm certain I'm right, and the elitist experts can kiss my hiney.

For those of you who don't know, imaginary numbers extend the ordinary number line—that wrap-around poster on the walls of kindergartens, at least kindergartens of yesteryear, into two dimensions. Instead of a number living only on the traditional line, which is now the x axis in this two dimensional system, it can also have a y coordinate—called its imaginary component. One step in the y direction is noted by the symbol i, which is formally defined as the square root of negative one.

Imaginary numbers are enormously useful in mathematics and physics. Physics, of course, describes the real world and when you measure something you don't get an imaginary result. So in physics we sometimes use imaginary numbers to simplify the math. (In many cases the simpler algebra of exponentials will then replace the more complicated algebra of polynomials) and at the end just take the non-imaginary part of the answer.

It seems clear to me that imaginary numbers are no less real, or just as abstract, as their ordinary counterparts. I can compute with them, and when I'm done I know how big something is, or how fast it is, etc. If you go beyond that level of considering the reality of complex numbers (or ordinary numbers) then you enter a place—call it the philosophy of mathematics, that holds no interest for me.

Back to the UD post. The second comment was this:

Hah! I say, and balderdash! Imaginary numbers, my eye (i)! Math was originally made as a convenient symbology to describe the universe. Now, arrogant mathematicians and mathematical physicists, thinking that math is an absolute, and indeed, defines the universe rather than describing it, think that because if it didn't, their precious disciplines would be asymmetrical, that the universe must incorporate such nonsense as the square roots of negative numbers, when negative numbers themselves are only symbols of convenience from arbitrary zero points!

Maybe that's a joke—the my eye part was clever enough. I'm willing to give this commenter the benefit of the doubt. But not for long. For after several attempts to explain the utility of imaginary numbers, the same commenter responds:

So, what you're saying is, it's like some modern art. Ultimately meaningless, but pretty. By the way, how the Hell do you find anything to the power of i? Clearly, I'm no mathemagician, but I'm not a slouching mouth-breather either.

At this point the author of the post is graciously holding out hope that our commenter is joking—in fact he throws him a lifeline. A simple of course I'm just joking would save face. Out commenter sniffs the lifeline and swims away, unimpressed. He then lectures:

Mathematics have been used to "prove" that time is illusiory, that space is curved, and indeed, stretched like a balloon over… um. Math has been used to justify the idea that a universe, expanding from a single point, could have neither center nor boundaries. So much hokum and nonsense comes from people who think far too much of math believing that the universe must submit to it, that because it is something we can understand, that it defines, rather than describes, the universe.

And a bit later:

I hold reason in the highest regard, but, as with scientists, mathematcians need to realize that their disciplines are merely offshoots and subordinates to philosophy. You extrapolate bizarre ideas from mathematics, based on an assumption which has not been proven, that mathematics has any meaning separate from that which it references.

Science subordinate to philosophy! I've been Ayn Randed and nearly branded… Oh well.

Our commenter moves on to the subject of modern physics. Following an in for a dime, in for a dollar strategy he comments, apropos nothing as far as I can tell:

I have some problem with empirical tests in advanced physics. Looking through the web, I have been able to find many statements of test results consistent with mathematical predictions, but never how those tests were conducted, how the data was gathered. Besides this, physics papers tend to be so cluttered with Greek letters and other Expertese that they are incomprehensible to the layman, and we are expected to just take their word for it. Well, screw them. Until I see how the tests were conducted, I cannot know if there is a more plausible solution that nonetheless does not match the experimenter's prejudice.

He takes special aim at the paradigm for quantum mechanics, the double slit experiment:

For instance, in the double-slit experiment so famous in quantum physics, what exactly is going on? They fire an electron, but in what direction? Right between the slits? Is the whole environment, except the receiver, resistant to electrons? How do they detect it on the other side? How do they know it's the same one? See, I'm of the belief, and I know it's not a valid argument, that I'm under no obligation to believe something that sounds like BS until you can demonstrate that it's true in terms I can understand. If there are no terms, no analogies even, to it, than I propose that if ANY simpler explanation could exist, Occam's Razor at the very least demands it. This is rather pertinent here, given that ID basically says, "Stuff looks designed. You say it wasn't. Prove it."

It is a fascinating position he takes. He admits his argument is not valid, but stands by it anyway. And he asserts his natural right to treat any science as BS if it cannot be reduced to terms he can grasp. Later he explains how all this QM crap is little more than an insider's joke, a method of obfuscation used to milk additional grant money from Joe Taxpayer:

If you say to me that a particle travels in two places at once, I call you a liar unless you can show it to be true, and unless that proof is forthcoming, I witdraw my money. Or I would if I could. To those that must make decisions about funding, even in private institutions, most will not understand even as well as someone like me with a degree in biology would. I could go in and establish a program and make ridiculous claims and if there are only three people in my field, I have the support of at least a third, and if we surrounded ourselves with enough jargon and Expertese, none from outside could say us nay.

I would be impolite, I suppose, to point out that the components of computer with which he composes his rants were developed using that fraudulent quantum mechanics. I'll leave you with this commenter's pièce de résistance:

If any here would hold, as I do, that the burden of proof lies with the Darwinists who defy what the common conclusion of our senses would be by saying that machines of great intricacy came about without design, than I think you will be hard-pressed, looking at this issue honestly, to argue that that same burden does not lie on those who propound such ideas as multiple states in quantum physics or curved space (whatever the Hell that means).

Whatever the hell that means. Indeed.

Math Puzzle:

Some discussion on UD concerned the famous formula eip = -1. This is a special case of the more general

eiq = cos q + i sin q

Thus, not only is eip = -1, but ei2p = +1.

Let's evaluate the following: (ei2p)p. That is, the quantity ei2p raised to the p power. On the one hand, since ei2p is equal to 1, this is just 1 raised to the p power, which is still just one.

On the other hand, using simple algebra (power times exponent) we can write (ei2p)p= ei2p2. Now using the formula given above, this quantity is cos(2p2) + i sin(2p2), which is not equal to one.

What gives?

God is Great!

I knew that if I was just patient, my two passions of cosmological ID and NASCAR would converge.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Jacob’s Genetic Engineering

A passage that is sometimes put forth to demonstrate that the bible is incompatible with science comes from the 30th chapter of Genesis:

Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. (Gen 30: 37-39)

Some background: what we have here is a case of two rascals, Laban and his son-in-law Jacob, trying to outsmart one another. Laban wants to buy favor from Jacob's God, whom he fears only through divination. And Jacob wants to become wealthy at Laban's expense. Jacob makes what appears to be a fool's bargain, to claim as his payment for services rendered all unusually colored livestock (and only those) from Laban's flocks. Jacob then "generically engineers" the flocks to breed, preferentially, the animals of a different color by having them breed while gazing at colorful striped branches.

Jacob, I would say, is by far the most colorful (no pun intended) of the patriarchs. To me it is as if God decided to use one of the patriarchs to make special demonstrations of his sovereignty. It is about Jacob that we are given one of the most explicitly Calvinistic statements in scripture, when Paul, in Romans 9, quotes the Old Testament to tell us that God loved Jacob and hated his privileged (first born) brother Esau. Not content to stop there, Paul then tells us that this choice was made before they were born to demonstrate God's sovereign right of election. To drive home the theological point, and to demolish Arminianism, Paul then anticipates the Arminian response (that's not fair!) and answers it.

But to further emphasize sovereign election, it would seem, we have Jacob himself behaving as a poster child for the cause. Esau was the likable, man's-man of the two brothers, while Jacob was the mama's boy who stole his brother's birthright and his father's blessing. Jacob did not come to God Arminian style, carefully weighing the options in his unregenerate heart before making a personal commitment, from his fallen free will, to God—instead God wrestled him and made him "say uncle."

But back to the passage. If the bible explicitly taught that the animals were born spotted or speckled or striped because of the branches, we would have a serious conflict with science. What we know is that either (a) Jacob believed that to be the case or (b) God, in an unrecorded discourse, told Jacob to do it. Now before the advent of modern theories, theologians more or less took this at face value. For example, Calvin wrote:

Moreover, as it respects physical causes, it is well known, that the sight of objects by the female has great effect on the form of the fetus.

OK, that doesn't really cut it in light of the theory of genetics.

The explanation here is quite simple: it is God's sovereign plan in action. Looking back at redemptive history, we see that it was God's plan for Jacob to be a man of wealth. (All redemptive history lead's back to Joseph's multi-colored coat, the garment of the son of a wealthy man!) Whether Jacob believed in his breeding techniques or whether God instructed him to perform it as a sort of rite, like Moses holding up his rod so that the Jewish army would prevail over the Amalakites, we do not know. In either case, God, not invalid theories of breeding, increased Jacob's flock at the expense of Laban's.

Some will argue that it is too easy to invoke a miracle to explain a seeming violation of science. Tough. I don't do it for your benefit, but for my own. God, by definition, is supernatural and can perform supernatural acts. I have no problem with miracles. Does that mean the bible can never be at odds with science because one can always invoke miracles? It does not. If the bible stated that the universe had no beginning, it would be at odds with science. If it stated (apart from figures of speech that we still use today) that the earth was flat or that it was at the center of the universe, it would be at odds with science. If it stated unambiguously that the earth was formed only thousands of years ago, it would be at odds with science. Miracles, however, are not at odds with science because by their very definition they cannot be explained by science.


The ignominious demise of a trumped-up vapor-ware "lab" that was little more than website, and with it the inevitable new claims of victimhood. An embarrassing hoax letter from the President of Baylor that had to be retracted. (Too late, Baylor saw it and is not amused. Nicely done.) And self-serving, ungracious apologies.

All in all it was another banner week for the pillars of the mainstream ID movement.

I don't know what to add. It is really too depressing to blog about. How a movement can tolerate such inept leadership, seemingly indefinitely, is beyond me. I have to stop pondering such imponderables.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Another Awful Comment

Regarding my designation of Guillermo Gonzalez as an ID Astronomer. Commenter dlaw wrote:
Okay, what is an "intelligent design astronomer" looking for and why does it matter either to science OR religion?

Is he looking for patterns in the background radiation from a Big Bang his Bible says didn't happen?

Is he looking for baby Jesus' house with the Hubble telescope?

Whatever anomoly an "intelligent design astronomer" might find in the current analysis of the arrangement of the Universe, what the hell does it have to do with a God that tells Jewish men to cut off their foreskins?

Is it not the case that ALL the formulas an "intelligent design" astronomer would use in his analysis of the Universe would suggest that Jesus Christ cannot possibly have been other than just another arrangement of carbon on a smallish planet?
I hesitated addressing this comment because it fails to reach a threshold of sophistication such that I am comfortably certain that an adult wrote it, and not a child. In the anonymous internet, I try my best to make sure I don't insult any kids who wander on here and make a comment, belligerent or not. They are guilty of nothing more than writing in a manner that is appropriate for their stage of development. So it is not dlaw's antagonistic tone that bothers me, I hardly seem to get non-antagonistic comments. It is the fact that the comment is so breathtakingly stupid that concerns me, and I say that only after reading it and another dlaw comment several times and convincing myself, based on other cues, that dlaw really is an adult. If not, I apologize. It still leaves the possibility, not very remote in my estimation, that dlaw is some one's idea of a parody.

With those caveats stated, I'll try to answer, but I doubt dlaw, if he is legit, will grasp the concept.

An ID Astronomer, to first order, and in my opinion, is a member of a small subset of a rather large subset of all scientists--the theistic scientists. Let me talk about that larger group first. There are many, many of us. Some are average, no-name scientists like me. Some are Nobel Prize winners--in fact, you mentioned the Big Bang--well Penizias, one of the discoverers of the Cosmic Background, is a Nobel Prize winner and a theist. So we are pretty common. We do science just like our atheist colleagues, but we draw different metaphysical conclusions that can be summarized this way:

Atheistic Scientist: Isn't nature beautiful?
Theistic Scientist: Isn't creation beautiful?

In a certain sense, all theistic scientists are small-letter i.d. scientists, because we agree at some level, though we'll disagree on the details, that God created the universe, and he did so intelligently.

A capital ID scientist goes beyond that and claims that the evidence for creation (design) is direct rather than circumstantial. Gonzalez, I believe it is fair to say, falls into that category. He did Astronomy, quite capably it would seem, and just like any other astronomer, atheist or theist. He crossed a line in the sand, however, when he went beyond what most scientists who are also theists would say (The heavens declare the Glory of God) and into a realm that is closer to claiming the data constitutes something like a scientific proof for the existence of God. At least that's my interpretation. And that is what got him in trouble with the scientific establishment. That and the fact that leaders of the ID Movement (Wells, Dembski, etc.) have screwed things up so badly that they have, in effect, moved the threshold of "an acceptable level of out-in-the-open theism" multiple steps in the wrong direction. They (Wells and Company) pulled the rug out from under Gonzalez’s feet. What he got in trouble for today may have been viewed as nothing more than a curiosity ten years ago.

IDers would argue that they are not a subset of all theistic scientists, but merely a subset of all scientists that has appreciable but not total overlap with the theists. I remain completely unconvinced.