Friday, November 27, 2009

Any of yinz from Pittsburgh?

Then you'll understand Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh:

Michael Shermer did not expect the Spanish Inquisition

Coyne, the dogmatist, has cast his lidless-eye inquisitioner's gaze on Michael Shermer.

You heard right. Michael Shermer!

Shermer has been charged with the heresy of Faitheism and Accommodationism. Let him be anathema. Coyne speaketh: Let Us remind Shermer, the apostate, "the only kind of religion not at war with science is deism."

So let it be written. So let it be done.

Just to remind you, here is a blurb of Shermer's Wikipedia bio:
Michael Brant Shermer (born September 8, 1954 in Glendale, California) is an American science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic, which is largely devoted to investigating and debunking pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. The Skeptics Society currently has over 55,000 members.
Shermer is also the producer and co-host of the 13-hour Fox Family television series Exploring the Unknown. Since April 2004, he has been a monthly columnist for Scientific American magazine with his Skeptic column. Shermer claims to have once been a fundamentalist Christian, but converted from a belief in God during his graduate studies, and has described himself as an agnostic, nontheist, atheist and advocate for humanist philosophy. He has expressed reservations about such labels, however, as he sees them in being used in service of pigeonholing, and prefers to simply be called a skeptic.

Michael Shermer. The author of Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design.

Michael Freakin' Shermer's heart is not pure enough for Jerry Coyne.

If Jerry Falwell's circle of orthodoxy was, say, 1 meter in radius, then His Worshipfulness The Right Reverend Jerry Coyne's circle of orthodoxy has a radius of, roughly, a Planck Length.

What a hideous, hateful loser Jerry Coyne is.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Old Testament Canon

(From a recent Sunday School)

Examining the table of contents of a Protestant and Catholic bible, we find that the Catholic bible contains seven extra books known as the Apocrypha. These seven books are: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (or, Sirach), and Baruch. In addition, Catholic Bibles contain an additional six chapters in the book of Esther and another three in the book of Daniel.

These books date from the period in between the old and new testaments.

These books are called "Apocryphal" not because the authors are unknown (for there are some canonical books whose authors are unknown) but probably, as Augustine says, because they are of an uncertain and obscure origin.

Why does the Catholic bible include the Apocrypha, while the Protestant bible includes only the part called "The Law (of Moses), the Prophets, and the Writings (Wisdom Books)?"

The answer comes from looking at the difference between two old testament canons that existed at the time of Christ: the Palestinian canon and the Alexandrian canon. The Palestinian canon did not include the Apocrypha; the Alexandrian canon used by that region's Hellenized Jews did include the extra books.

So the question is: which of these two Jewish canons should we receive as the Old Testament?

The Reformers rejected the Apocrypha because they were persuaded that it was the Palestinian canon that was recognized by the Jews of Palestine during Christ's time—and that Jesus himself would have used a canon that did not contain the Apocrypha.

It is something like an "it was good enough for Jesus so it's good enough for me" argument. But not completely.

The reformed theologian Francis Turretin (1623-1687—he is described by John Gerstner as "the most precise theologian in the Calvinistic tradition") wrote:
The Jewish church, to which the oracles of God were committed (Rom 3:2) never considered [the Apocrypha] as canonical, but held the same canon as us (as is admitted by Josephus, Against Apion 1.39-41)… They are never quoted as canonical by Christ and the apostles like the others. And Christ, by dividing all the books of the Old Testament into three classes (the law, the Psalms and the prophets, Lk. 24:44), clearly approves of the canon of the Jews and excludes from it those books which are not embraced in these classes. (3) The Christian church for four hundred years rec¬ognized with us the same and no other canonical books… The authors were neither prophets and inspired men, since they wrote after Malachi (the last of the prophets); nor were their books written in the Hebrew language (as those of the Old Testament), but in Greek. Hence Josephus (in the passage referred to above) acknowledges that those things which were written by his people after the time of Artaxerxes were not equally credible and authoritative with those which preceded "on account of there not being an indisputable succession of prophets"
Turretin's reference to Christ's words is worth examining:
He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." (Luke 24:24)
As an aside, sometimes the debate over "the law" of the Old Testament is more confused than necessary because when a New Testament reference is made to "the Law" it not be referring to, say, the Ten Commandments but rather the books written by Moses.

Thus, Turretin argues, Christ specifically mentions the three sections which we receive as canonical and omits the Apocrypha.

We also pay attention to Turretin's argument:
The authors (of the Apocryphal books) were neither prophets and inspired men, since they wrote after Malachi (the last of the prophets);
This is important. The first requirement for inclusion in the New Testament was that the writer was an apostle or carried the imprimatur of an apostle. (Exceptions to this rule not withstanding.) What applied to the apostles in the New Testament applied to the prophets in the Old Testament.

So in summary: the Reformers arguments for excluding the Apocrypha are: 1) The Old Testament used by Jesus in Palestine would not have contained them, and he never quoted from them and 2) They were not written by a prophet.

Of course this does not mean that the Protestant view is that these books are garbage. On the contrary, they both interesting and informative. This is not like when formulating the New Testament canon when utter nonsense like The Gospel of Thomas was excluded--the Apocrypha were judged by the Reformers to be non-canonical, but not to be nonsense.

New blog

This one from my better half.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Stay out of my way today...

The end of the semester rush. The Steelers lost to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Kansas City Chiefs! And the NASCAR season ended with that Spawn of Satan Jimmie Johnson winning a fourth straight title. Grrr. Well at least:

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Miracle of an Almost Flood?

Our house is near the end of a cul-de-sac, one house away from suburban fake-lake-front status, the lake being of the small man-made variety that, when a development is planned, must seem like a good idea.

Yesterday a fearsome Nor'easter visited our area. It had a minor perfect-storm nature, with the tidal surge blocking the normal low tide recession, which in turn set us up to be walloped by the next high tide.

So I go home and move everything to high ground—having been forewarned by our neighbors that flooding is possible. (But not by the US Government, which assured me when purchasing this house that it was not in a flood zone.)

The wind, at least its net direction, came across the lake on a beeline to our street, urging the water to come along for the ride. I watched the water rise, getting closer to its port of entry (my garage)—and then it stopped. I may have some in the crawlspace, I haven't checked yet, but nothing got into the house. No damage. The next cul-de-sac, which I can see out of my back windows, looked like the Amazon.

It was truly, truly, a miracle—a testimony to the efficacy of prayer.

Actually it wasn't.

In fact, I never once prayed: Lord, please keep the water out of our house.

I don't have a good grasp on the theology of prayer—to me the bible sends mixed signals. But I believe that prayer never results in God changing his mind, nor causes God to intervene where he wasn't going to intervene in the first place. In that sense, I am not surprised with those studies that show no effect of prayer on outcomes—even if they are, I suspect, highly flawed.

When I pray regarding disasters or catastrophic illness or the like, it is always some variant of: Lord may the Christians involved, either those being afflicted or those providing mercy, bring glory to your name. It may be longer than that—although I am notoriously terse in my prayers, and it will certainly be customized and personalized to the situation—but it will inevitably boil down to may the Christians in this situation bring you glory.

That is not to say that I think it is wrong to pray for something. But I think it should be done in the sense that we have been granted the privilege to tell the creator of the universe what we want. He has not, however, granted us the power to change his mind.

That's how I see it. But again, I think a comprehensive theology on prayer based on the bible is beyond my abilities.

Monday, November 09, 2009

No schism here. Nothing to see. Please move along.

In rather weird, surrealistic piece in the Guardian Ophelia Benson (site) first argues that atheism cannot be a movement--only to spend the rest of the article describing a primal disagreement between what she calls "plain atheists" and "movement atheists." There are movement atheists even though atheism can never, under any circumstances, be a movement. The term is warranted, according to Benson, because non-movement atheism can include a movement.

To Ophelia Benson if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it's … not a duck. It includes a duck. To Benson a distinction without a difference is a substantive distinction indeed.

PZ Myers agrees with Benson, couching his argument differently. He writes in terms of the impossibility of atheist schism.

Myers's attempt at reasoning is this: to have a schism you must have dogma. Since atheists have no central dogma, being united only by a lack of belief, they give no quarter to schism.

Oh, Myers admits, for sure they can have any number of heated disagreements. But it's not a schism, because schism refers to religious fractionation.

Sorry—the distinction is lost on this blogger.

Bear in mind in no way am I advocating that tiresome argument that atheism is a religion. It's not. It if is, then the noun religion has no meaning. What I am disputing is the claim that "All that atheism means is that we don't believe in gods" precludes a schism. After all, "All Christianity means is that we believe Jesus is the long awaited Messiah" has a certain truth to it, and yet obviously doesn't rule out schism.

Schism, according to the first definition on, means: division or disunion, esp. into mutually opposed parties. Now, is that not what Benson is describing when she discusses plain atheists and movement atheists? Is that not what PZ rails about with clock-like frequency? Is that not what Coyne whines about on a near daily basis?

Furthermore the "movement atheists" are in fact identified by dogma, at least by any other name. Among the creedal claims:
  • Science and religion are incompatible
  • Science is the only way we know things
  • Religion has a net negative impact on society
  • Atheists should be outspoken
  • Atheists are persecuted
Furthermore the movement atheists have requisite pejorative names for the apostate: Accomodationists. Appeasers. And Coyne's muddleheaded faitheists.

A set of core beliefs that distinguishes plain atheists from movement atheists. Name-calling—and even contests (such as Coyne held) to come up with a suitably derogatory term (faitheist) for atheists in the opposing camp. And a huge corpus of writings casting aspersions on those who challenge the creed.

Call it what you like--except schism. Because it's nothing like that.


Friday, November 06, 2009

Best. Excuse. Ever.

If you follow these things, you are no doubt aware that there is a theory (a real theory--no kidding) that the European Large Hadron Collider is being sabotaged from the future. The elusive fundamental particle known as the Higgs Boson, the raison d'ĂȘtre for the LHC, does not want to be discovered. And it's prepared to do something about it.

Case in point: the LHC has experienced another setback. It's restart has been thwarted by---bird crumbs. (Well, that's what the Higgs wants you to think.)

But we know what the Higgs is up to. We know it's behind this. From the linked article:
But the difficulties faced by those working on the project have prompted some members of the scientific community to speculate, in all seriousness, that the machine is sabotaging itself — from the future.

The theory is that the particle that physicists hope to produce might be "abhorrent to nature," so that once created it would work backwards through time to put a stop to whatever created it.

Hmm...maybe science and religion really are incompatible!

You might recall that 15 years or so ago congress killed a well-under-way homegrown super-accelerator Higgs-detecting project in the US--the SSC (Superconducting Supercollider-- the US is much better at naming stuff than those boring Europeans.) It appears that the Higgs, at that time, used the strategy of hiring lobbyists to persuade politicians to kill the project. With the LHC it is having much more fun.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Jerry Coyne is so predictable and boring...

Now he has written a six point manifesto on his unholy of unholies: accommodationism .

It is standard boilerplate crapola—but nobody can do it quite as badly as Coyne.

He fails, epically, in point one:
1. I see faith and science as epistemically incompatible, though of course some religious people can accept evolution and some scientists can be religious. This cognitive dissonance does not, however, show anything more than that people can simultaneously hold in their heads two philosophically incompatible approaches to the world.
As is always, always the case the explain-everything explain-nothing catchphrase cognitive dissonance is misused. It doesn't mean what Coyne thinks it means.

This is what it really means:

Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable sense of tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time.

I am perhaps going out on a limb in assuming that none of the religious scientists on Coyne's radar has contacted him and fessed up to "feeling an uncomfortable tension."

Jerry? Hi, Ken Miller here. You know my love of science and my Catholicism? Well don't tell anybody but I'm feeling really uncomfortable holding on to both.

We therefore can safely conclude that Coyne is rather stupidly using this incorrect definition:

Cognitive dissonance according to Jerry Coyne is a feeling of annoyance produced in Jerry Coyne when Jerry Coyne encounters someone that holds two ideas that Jerry Coyne believes are in conflict. Jerry Coyne is the supreme arbiter of all who suffer from cognitive dissonance.

If I too may use a customized definition of cognitive dissonance, then I declare that since Jerry Coyne holds two views, 1) appreciation of science and 2) atheism-- two views that I find to be in conflict, then by the same manner in which Jerry makes his incorrect diagnosis, I declare Jerry Coyne to be afflicted with severe cognitive dissonance.

Isn't that easy?

His points two and three are, as mentioned, standard. He tells us what he thinks the NCSE should do. That is certainly his right—although why they should listen to him is something of a mystery. He tells us that he likes the likes of Ken Miller, but reserves the right to criticize him—as if that right was somehow in jeopardy. Really Jerry, do you think any religious person gives a rat's ass about your criticism of religion? The paranoid claim of new atheists that "we aren't allowed to criticize" is utter nonsense.

I agree with his point four:
4. I see no conclusive evidence that vocal atheism is forcing Americans to choose between science and religion, pushing them back into the creationist corner.
And would even make it stronger: there is also no conclusive evidence that vocal atheism is causing anyone to lose their faith. In as much as it causes reluctant atheists to emerge from the closet—that's a good thing for all—a win-win.

Points five and six are mostly redundant, self-aggrandizing statements about how Jerry and Dawkins are out to save America and the world for rational thought. The name dropping reminds me of an email I once got from Dembski informing me, in effect, that people such as himself, Wells, Johnson, etc were laying the groundwork and everyone else should follow or get out of the way.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Christmas Carol Miscellanea

No doubt he most important Christmas carol miscellanea is that Joy to the World is about the second advent, not the first. That is, it's not a Christmas song at all. (It's a nice postmillennialist hymn, if you ask me. Which you didn't. I'm just saying.)

But the one to discuss today is, sans punctuation, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. There is, apparently, a long-standing heated debate about where the comma belongs in the title. Is it:
A) God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
B) God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen
The correct answer is A. (The answer is always A.) In contemporary English rest meant keep as in maintain. So the title can be paraphrased: God keep you merry, gentlemen. Not God keep you, merry gentleman. For these and all men their merriment, as it were, rested on God's sovereignty, as do all things.

Only a Pelagian would place the comma in the blasphemous position indicated by choice B.

Okay, all kidding aside, it really does belong as in choice A, for the reason I mentioned, before I got silly. Or kind of silly.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Astronomy Homework

Just for fun--the current homework assignment for my Astronomy class. (It is for freshmen non-science-majors.)

1. Which one of the following statements is NOT a consequence of the postulates of special relativity?
A) The wavelength emitted from a source moving with respect to an observer is different from the wavelength measured by an observer who is moving along with the source.

B) A clock moving with respect to an observer ticks more slowly than when measured by an observer who is moving along with the clock.

C) The length of an object moving with respect to an observer is shorter than it is when measured by a different observer moving along with the object.

D) The mass of an object moving with respect to an observer is larger than the mass measured by a different observer who is at rest with respect to the object.

2. Einstein's theory of special relativity contains some very strange ideas such as time dilation (moving clocks run slow), length contraction (moving lengths are shorter), and lack of absolute simultaneity. What is the basis of these ideas?
A) The speed of light is the same for all observers in all reference frames.

B) New technologies allow more precise measurements of length and time than had been possible in Newton's era, and the theory had to be reworked to fit this new evidence.

C) The ether (the medium that supports the passage of light) proved to be denser than originally thought.

D) The fabric of spacetime is dominated by black holes.

3. According to general relativity, why does Earth orbit the Sun?
A) Space around the Sun is curved, and Earth follows a geodesic in this curved space.

B) Matter contains quarks, and Earth and the Sun attract each other with the “color force” between their quarks.

C) The Sun exerts a gravitational force on Earth across empty space.

D) Earth and the Sun are continually exchanging photons of light in a way that holds Earth in orbit.

4. A black hole is so named because
A) no light can escape from it due to its powerful gravitational field.

B) it emits no visible light because it is so cold, less than 100 K.

C) the gravitational field is so high that the wavelength of its emitted light is gravitationally redshifted to radio wavelengths.

D) it is colder that the rest of the universe; that is, its effective temperature is less than 3 K.

5. What is a singularity?
A) point of infinite density

B) tunnel into another universe

C) point at the Schwarzschild radius of a black hole

D) particle-antiparticle pair

6. The Schwarzschild radius is
A) the distance from the center of a black hole to the point at which the escape velocity becomes equal to the speed of light.

B) the distance to which gas is ejected in a planetary nebula.

C) half the diameter of a neutron star.

D) half the diameter of the singularity in a black hole.

7. What is the ergoregion of a Kerr black hole?
A) region outside the event horizon where objects cannot remain at rest without falling into the black hole

B) region inside the event horizon where virtual particles are created from the vacuum of space

C) inner part of the accretion disk where X rays are generated

D) region between the event horizon and the singularity from which nothing can escape

8. What appears to happen to a clock as it approaches and reaches the event horizon around a black hole when viewed by a remote observer?
A) Time appears to slow down and stop.

B) Time appears to pass at a much faster rate, becoming infinitely fast at the event horizon.

C) Time speeds up because of the intensified gravitational field.

D) Time ticks uniformly since nothing changes the progress of time.

9. What mechanism in the vicinity of a star gives us a hint of the presence of a black hole as a companion to the star?
A) Gas from the star, falling in toward a black hole, is compressed to very high densities and temperatures so that it emits an intense and rapidly fluctuating flux of X rays.

B) The star periodically disappears from the viewpoint of Earth during its eclipses by the black hole as the two objects orbit each other.

C) The space near the star darkens, indicating that the black hole prevents the light from distant objects from reaching Earth.

D) The light from the companion star shows extreme redshift because of the gravitational field of the black hole.

10. Gamma-ray bursters are great distances from Earth, yet Earth receives tremendous amounts of energy from them. Explain.
A) The energy is released along jets rather than uniformly in all directions. If Earth is in the path of one of these jets, we see a gamma-ray burster.

B) A gamma-ray burster represents the explosion of an entire galaxy.

C) Gamma-ray bursters are supermassive stars, equivalent to 100,000 ordinary supernovae.

D) The gamma radiation from a burster is released in all directions, but then it is focused in the direction of the Earth by gravitational lensing.

11. If nothing can ever leave a black hole, can the mass of a black hole ever decrease?
A) yes, if particle-antiparticle pairs are created outside the event horizon out of gravitational energy from the black hole and one particle enters the event horizon while the other escapes

B) yes, if antiparticles enter a black hole and annihilate with matter already inside the black hole

C) yes, if the matter inside the black hole is radioactive (e.g., uranium), allowing their decay products—alpha particles, electrons, and gamma rays—to constantly leave the black hole

D) no

12. (Extra Credit) Through whom is the only path to salvation?
A) Jesus Christ

B) Bill Buckner

C) Joe the Plumber

D) Angry Al Gore

(Okay, the last question is not really on the assignment, so don't notify my dean. Just wanted to wake you up.)

I'm late on this but it is of such

monumental stupidity that I could not let it pass unrecognized. I'm referring, of course, to the (sigh) Baptist jackass pastor who planned to burn bibles--excepting of course the "it was good enough for Jesus so it's good enough for me" KJVs. Some chowderhead by the name of Pastor Marc Grizzard says than non-KJV translations are Satanic.

I've said it before and I'll say it again--of all the areas in which people draw a line in the sand where there should be none--I can't think of any that is as inexplicable, indefensible, and downright dumb as the non-biblical dogma proclaimed by KJV-only cult. Madness.

Oh my. Pastor Grizzard's declaration of victory:
We wanted to say that the Book Burning was a great success. It was a success because God's Word was glorified and uplifted. God magnifies His Word above His name, and so do we. The video of the entire service will be up in a few days. We wanted to thank all the Bible doubters who prayed for rain with us. All the protestors and media got wet; we were inside where it was nice and dry. Someone said that we were “hiding” out, but that is not so. The Chief Deputy asked us to keep everything inside, and we agreed, so we were obeying those in authority. We also have others that rent spaces in that same building that we have to respect. This event was successful not because of the rain, it was just an added blessing. A blessing in the sense that less people came out to protest, and there were no problems. We are not glad people got wet, we are glad that His Word was honored. Some have written praising God that he intervened and stopped the Book Burning because of the rain, protestors, and state laws about burning paper. Nothing was stopped. Our goal was to destroy garbage as noted below, and we did just that. We didn't care how it was destroyed; only that it was destroyed. These same people must have never heard about "Paper, Rock, & Scissors." Scissors cut paper, and paper tears real easy. We destroyed everything as planned. Praise God! God answered every prayer that everyone prayed, but they don't like the answer.
Sounds ever-so-much like the ministry of the Apostle Paul, don't you think?

Monday, November 02, 2009

An apology for Apologetics

(From a recent Sunday School)

The late John Gerstner gave the following reasons for apologetics:

1. People who argue against arguments (That is, Christians who claim that apologetics are unseemly, reason is unreliable, and only unquestioning faith is virtuous) are, in fact, making arguments. They are using their heads to justify not using their heads. To provide reasons for not using reason is simply not very smart.

2. You will encounter those who will, as they should, ask why. You need a because that is more substantive than just because.

3. When sane people appear to be against reason, they actually are not. When Tertullian said he believed (in God) because it was absurd (as opposed to logical) he was in fact saying that it was logical that the ways of an infinite, Holy God should (by reason) appear absurd to fallen creatures.

4. If Christianity claims to be true, then it requires prove. If we only needed to claim truth, the Christianity would be established, as would Mormonism, Scientology, Islam, and all other religions. Proof is not just for the atheist, but also the believer. As Chillingsworth put it:
I am certain that God has given us our reason to discern between truth and falsehood, and he who makes no use of it, but believes things he knows not why, I say, it is by chance that he believes the truth and not by choice; and I cannot but fear that God will not accept the sacrifice of fools.
Even when we jettison reason in favor of experience, we are actually reasoning. The very primitive reason is this: I have had an experience, and that experience could only come from God. But this reasoning is very weak, and requires the listener to take the speaker’s word for it. The apologist who has only experience is in a position of extreme weakness, like the Moody Bible student who witnessed about Christ in her life to a University of Chicago professor. The scholar, through probing questions that she could not begin to answer, eventually had her doubting her own salvation. She was right and he was wrong, but she didn't know her apologetics. She had the proof but didn't know how to express it, and ultimately believed she didn't have it.

5. Christ proved He was who He claimed to be.
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. (John 14:11)

But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." (Matt. 9:6)
Before healing the paralytic, Jesus forgave him of his sins, thus claiming His divinity. He then did not say: believe it or not. Rather he went on to prove His divinity by means that no rational person could deny.

6. The bible testifies to its own inspiration, but not through circular reasoning. The gospels have proven historically reliable, and they testify to a miracle working Jesus, miracles of which His enemies do not deny but rather attempt to attribute to Satan.

7. Through apologetics we demonstrate that the Creator is God, that God certifies His Son, that His Son certifies the Word, and that the Word certifies the gospel.