left biblioblography: October 2007

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Design Without A Designer - The Teleological Teat, Revisited.


Cross posted at God is for Suckers!

I've been perusing The Counter-Creationism Handbook by Mark Isaak - and it's a compilation of the plethora of casuistic counter-evolutionary claims, and it's a long, looonnnggg list of complaints lodged against evolutionary theory, most of them niggling little nuggets of nonsense.

More often than not, I am stunned by the addled idiocy of my fellow humans. When I was younger, I'd be stunned into silence by the utter stupidity of some verbal diversionary tactic of the mental midgets.

I seriously advise picking up this book. It gathers the commoner counter-claims, and lays them to rest in a rational, logical fashion, quite similar to the Talkorigins site.

As I've pointed out before, the teleological is the more difficult of these discussions, at least on a superficial level. Some simple investigation usually lays the majority of these items to rest.

Here's a few tasty little morsels:

Could life arise spontaneously? If you read How Cells Work, you can see that even a primitive cell like an E. coli bacteria -- one of the simplest life forms in existence today -- is amazingly complex.

This is a ridiculous comparison. A 'primitive' cell today is by far more complex than a primitive cell a billion years ago. Argument from incredulity. Try a different tack - I use the term 'compounded simplicity'.

The cosmos is fine-tuned to permit human life. If any of several fundamental constants were only slightly different, life would be impossible. (This claim is also known as the weak anthropic principle.)

The Talk Origins link covers this nicely:

The claim assumes life in its present form is a given; it applies not to life but to life only as we know it. The same outcome results if life is fine-tuned to the cosmos.
We do not know what fundamental conditions would rule out any possibility of any life. For all we know, there might be intelligent beings in another universe arguing that if fundamental constants were only slightly different, then the absence of free quarks and the extreme weakness of gravity would make life impossible.
Indeed, many examples of fine-tuning are evidence that life is fine-tuned to the cosmos, not vice versa. This is exactly what evolution proposes.

The argument from long odds:

...the odds calculated by Morowitz and Hoyle are staggering. The odds led Fred Hoyle to state that the probability of spontaneous generation 'is about the same as the probability that a tornado sweeping through a junk yard could assemble a Boeing 747 from the contents therein.' Mathematicians tell us that any event with an improbability greater than one chance in 1050 is in the realm of metaphysics -- i.e. a miracle.1

This is perhaps the most specious of arguments. We're here, and what criterion is used to generate this number? But really, how on earth do you calculate these odds? Do we have alternate universes that have these components misarranged for comparison? Yes, this is abiogenesis - but I've seen this concept applied to the argument from fine tuning, (see above) i.e., if select items were just a little bit off kilter, we wouldn't be here.

Of course, the (not-so) clever word play creeps in - "Hey, if you use the word 'design', it implies a designer!" Well, design is in the natural order of things, but it doesn't necessitate a supernatural first cause. Or the good ole "So everything was an accident!?!?", which I disemboweled here - because after all, language is a two-edged sword, is it not?

But we are. And everything just is. And we all make our own purpose, no?


Till the next post, then.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Allegories Gone Wild - Sucking At The Teleological Teat Of An Appeal To Wonder


Cross-posted at God is for Suckers!

I ran across this little ditty, courtesy of Old Earther, Hugh Ross.

And it's...well, just a touch on the wild side.

Arguably the most hotly debated theory in physics is string theory, the concept that at the core of every fundamental particle resides a tiny string or loop of energy that vibrates in nine different dimensions of space.

Ummm...no, that's ten to eleven different dimensions. Yeesh, get it right before you spout off.

The significance of string theory is that if it or some other multi-space-dimensional theory of physics accurately describes physical reality, then religions that insist on a doctrinal construct of God and his dealings with humanity demanding no more than the equivalent of the dimensions of length, width, height, and time must be wrong while religions like Christianity whose entire doctrinal system fundamentally requires the equivalent of many extra dimensions could be correct.

Wow, so I guess anyone who's ever used the Akashic records must be on an equal par? Or howzabout the Hindus, or even the Buddhists?

Apparently not, as the next paragraph demonstrates:

Because Christianity among the world’s religions remains alone in its appeal to the equivalent of many extra dimensions and since humans can only visualize phenomena within the dimensions that they personally experience, the “could be correct” transforms into “the Bible’s words must be uniquely and inerrantly inspired by the One who created the universe.”

Many extra dimensions? Such as? Heaven and hell, and all that malarkey? That's like, two extra. Unless there's something I'm missing. Most likely, it'll be a string of scriptural verses (unsupplied in this article) that simply waffle on poetically about a certain deity, his 'wonders to behold'.

Any theory as loaded with theological implications as string theory is bound to be controversial. Such controversy should not be interpreted as implying that the theory is lacking in evidence. However, the greater the controversy, the more the need for evidence to overcome doubts about the theory. In that context, it is welcome news that theoretical physicists have demonstrated a seventh confirmation of string theory to complement the six that already exist.

Umm...the theory is lacking in evidence. In fact, most string theorists have no evidence to back up their assertions, because string theory is very lacking in evidence. Any evidence at all.

This seventh confirmation comes from a team of theoretical physicists exploiting a facet of string theory to explain what previously had been mystifying aspects of the Nernst effect (the crosswise flow of heat and charge currents in the presence of a magnetic field) in high-temperature superconductors. Specifically, they demonstrate how the physics of a black hole in negatively curved spacetime that includes an extra dimension of space produces a set of transport equations directly from quantum mechanics field theory that predict certain features of the Nernst effect.

All this is good and fine, but what does it prove, exactly?

String theory was invented to explain how gravity, general relativity, and quantum mechanics could coexist.


However, until now, this coexistence could only be outlined in the broadest terms or used tor explain details that could not be directly observed.

Or predicted, or repeated.

By predicting from string theory an effect that can be observed in the world in which we presently live theoretical physicists have provided additional evidence that string theory indeed is the pathway to unify all of physics.

Ummm...this was in relation to the Nernst effect - where's this 'additional' evidence?

Such additional evidence translates into more evidence for the extra- and/or trans-dimensional doctrines that are unique to the Bible among the world’s great holy books.

So here's the nutshell: here's this unprovable set of theorems (they're interesting, I'll grant you that) that attempt to synchronize the apparent disharmony between gravity, magnetism, the weak and strong nuclear forces with relativity and quantum mechanics, and Ross here tries to mesh this with his untestable, unprovable theory (in his case, it's definition #6 of the word theory) in order to appear scientific.

Like it or not, this is the new battleground. Quantum physics, string theory, the saccharine shepherds will warp science to bring more 'lost sheep' into the fold. This is known as the fallacy of the spurious relationship, which is defined as "In statistics, a spurious relationship (or, sometimes, spurious correlation) is a mathematical relationship in which two occurrences have no causal connection, yet it may be inferred that they do, due to a certain third, unseen factor (referred to as a "confounding factor" or "lurking variable")."

 So gird yourselves for battle, with slide rules as swords and particle accelerators as artillery.


Till the next post, then.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Yes, Virginia, It WAS An Accident...Or Maybe Not - Making The Language Work In Our Favor

No doubt, if you travel the same information highway off-ramps that I have, you've run into (or run over) this tired old canard:

"Some random accident, and POOF! The universe came into being?"

The implications are staggering, as well as ridiculous. An accident, in the common vernacular, requires that it occurs to someone, a mistake has been made, an oopsie has plopped into someone's path.

Let's look at the word, 'accident'.

a. An unexpected and undesirable event, especially one resulting in damage or harm: car accidents on icy roads.

b. An unforeseen incident: A series of happy accidents led to his promotion.

c. An instance of involuntary urination or defecation in one's clothing.

2. Lack of intention; chance: ran into an old friend by accident.

3. Logic. A circumstance or attribute that is not essential to the nature of something.

I'm sure that definition 1.c will provide some hilarity for those readers who've not been put in that scenario (counting myself among them).

So 1.a defines it as an unexpected and undesirable event - I think we can all agree that it was unexpected, but far from undesirable.

#1.b lends itself to the definition the religious use. Or so it seems. There has to be someone extant in order to foresee something, no? Definition #2 is likewise: that the universe came about by lack of intention (there was no 'uncaused cause') implies that the opposite exists, that of actual intention.  Definition #3 can actually be used as an extension of logic - the theist would be hard put to define the universe as a 'circumstance or attribute that is not essential to the nature of something.'

Let's explore the thesaurus:

  1. An unexpected and usually undesirable event: casualty, contretemps, misadventure, mischance, misfortune, mishap. See help/harm/harmless, surprise/expect.
  2. An unexpected random event: chance, fluke, fortuity, hap, happenchance, happenstance, hazard. See certain/uncertain, surprise/expect.

Again, operative word: unexpected. This implies that there would be an expect-er, does it not?

The Philosophy Dictionary defines it thusly:

In Aristotelian metaphysics an accident is a property of a thing which is no part of the essence of the thing: something it could lose or have added without ceasing to be the same thing or the same substance. The accidents divide into categories: quantity, action (i.e. place in the causal order, or ability to affect things or be affected by them), quality, space, time, and relation.

Seeing as there was no time or space until the rather noisy birth of the Big Bounce, this hoary old chestnut is fast growing staler by the moment, yes? Where would the noisy birth of the universe be placed where it itself is 'no part of the essence' of itself? If separate from something else, what would that something else be?

Let's see what the Law Encyclopedia says about it, shall we?

The word accident is derived from the Latin verb accidere, signifying "fall upon, befall, happen, chance." In its most commonly accepted meaning, or in its ordinary or popular sense, the word may be defined as meaning: some sudden and unexpected event taking place without expectation, upon the instant, rather than something that continues, progresses or develops; something happening by chance; something unforeseen, unexpected, unusual, extraordinary, or phenomenal, taking place not according to the usual course of things or events, out of the range of ordinary calculations; that which exists or occurs abnormally, or an uncommon occurrence. The word may be employed as denoting a calamity, casualty, catastrophe, disaster, an undesirable or unfortunate happening; any unexpected personal injury resulting from any unlooked for mishap or occurrence; any unpleasant or unfortunate occurrence that causes injury, loss, suffering, or death; some untoward occurrence aside from the usual course of events. An event that takes place without one's foresight or expectation; an undesigned, sudden, and unexpected event.

I think the sharp-eyed reader can see the point quite clearly: the word implies that someone be the recipient of, or the observer of, or discoverer of, said 'accident'.

The Wiki entry says this:

An accident an event that occurs unexpectedly and unintentionally.

 No one expected the universe to be born, because there simply was no midwife there to help with the cataclysmic birth, and no one intended anything, because again, there was no one there. Literally.

I think I've belabored the point sufficiently. Any questions?

Till the next post, then.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blithering Blog-viations: Dinesh D'Souza Does the Dervish Dance Of The Delusional...

Cross posted at God is for Suckers!


(For the full cartoon, click here)

I became aware of this particularly irritating conservative mouthpiece via Pharyngula, via this piece as well as this one, and as this little ditty suggests, the fellow must indeed be somewhat batshit insane.

So, no little surprise when this sock muppet vomits up this really foolish piece of "wisdom" -

World's Leading Atheist Now Believes in God

(It's been a while since I've done a good fisking, so time to stretch the joints, and go to it.)

For the past half century, the leading atheist in the world was philosopher Anthony Flew. He wrote over 30 philosophical works laying the intellectual groundwork for nonbelief.

Right out the gate, D'Snooza really blows it. 'Non-belief' has had a colorful and diversified groundwork laid for many, many centuries. I do so despise folks who make it sound like it's some fad, less than a few decades old.

 He debated Christian apologists. He was widely cited in atheist literature and at atheist conventions. What distinguished Flew was how comprehensive and fully-developed his atheist philosophy was. Other philosophers, such as Bertrand Russell and Martin Heidegger, espoused atheist beliefs but those beliefs were incidental to their philosophy. Atheism was Flew's philosophy. HIs works such as Theology and Falsification and The Presumption of Atheism were considered classics of theist thought.

Here he plays the little 'atheism is a religion too' card, which would slip by the less-informed reader.

Then Anthony Flew became a believer, and his book There Is A God describes his intellectual journey. Go ahead and order this book, along with my new book, What's So Great About Christianity. Together the two books represent what atheism has always dreaded: historically based, philosophically rich, scientifically fluent, logically reasoned refutations of atheism.

As to Flew, his change of heart really doesn't represent the rest of us, since we don't have any high priests, or rely heavily on authoritative figures. There's plenty of folks who switch sides, and last I checked, religion's getting marginalized on a regular basis, to where it hardly matters as much as once it did. "As the arteries harden, the heart softens", as H. L. Mencken once said.

Flew had no say in my choice. Raise of hands: how many of you out there used this fellow as a basis? Anyone?

Note that:

A. The Flew book isn't to be released till later this month,

B. It's already received a mixed review on Amazon, and

C. D'Snooza's obviously trying to hitch a ride to promote his book.

Flew says he has a lifelong commitment to going "where the evidence leads." And now, he calmly says, the evidence leads to theism.

He's English: of course he's going to be calm about it. Yeesh.

His own past writings have been exposed as a "relic." Flew writes, "My discovery of the divine has proceeded on a purely natural level, without any reference to supernatural phenomena...It has had no connection with any of the revealed religions. Nor do I claim to have had any personal experience of God or any experience that may be called supernatural or miraculous. My discovery of the divine has been a pilgrimage of reason and not of faith."

That's all well and good: I may just get his book, but not D'Snooza's.

However, the following is good for a goggled giggle:

Flew's argument for God combines science and philosophy, and I'll let you discover it for yourself in his book.

Gee, thanks.

What I enjoyed was the way he uses simple analogies to expose atheist illogic. For instance, leading atheists seek to prove that the mind is no more than the brain. If the brain is destroyed, they say, we can't use our minds. Therefore there is nothing to minds excerpt circuits and neurons. Flew gives the example of a child raised on a remote island who finds a satellite phone. Voices come out of the machine. The child recognizes these voices as human and is thrilled by the discovery that she has found a way to interact with other humans. Perhaps there is life outside the island! Then the elders of the tribe (if I may embellish Flew's account, let's call them Big Chief Dawkins, Grand Pooh Bah Dennett, and Witch Doctor Pinker) scorn the child and say, "Look, when we damage the instrument, the voices stop. So they're obviously nothing more than sounds produced by the unique combination of metals and circuit boards. Forget about learning about other humans. From all the evidence we have, we are the only living creatures on earth. So go back to making sandcastles." Who are the real dummies here?

I really do hope that D'Snooza's quoting out of context, because that's the fucking dumbest analogy I could've ever read. Complete non sequitor. First off, a human being is not 'receiving signals' from elsewhere. The human body is entirely self-contained: IOW's, the brain is the sole source of our thoughts, responses, cogitations, etc. Are there any studies (I mean, serious studies, not cobbled up by a kook in a tinfoil hat) that even point to an outside source? Are we just meat puppets for your little cosmic baby sitter?

Of course, this is a squalid effort to portray atheists as blinkered, stubborn individuals who refuse to consider evidence contrary to what we as individuals would rather 'believe', but where is the evidence? Flew posits that the teleological argument is powerful in and of itself, and it is a toughie, I'll grant that. But since this universe seems to be a black hole factory, and the abounding evidence that if there was a designer, the clown would be fired from the interior/exterior design department of any retailer in the US, we can pretty much scotch the whole concept. That is, if anyone minds the sheer incompetence of the job.

Anthony Flew has been banished from the atheist community. Anthologies have been reprinted removing his essays.

Community? We still don't really have a community. Such is the way with free-thinkers. Which anthologies? I'm seriously curious.

Atheist websites condemn him as an apostate. (Atheist toleration does not extend to former atheists.)

To which I reply:

"For one man to say to another, "I tolerate you," is an assumption of authority -- not a disclaimer, but a waiver, of the right to persecute." - Ingersoll

And since no one is tarring and feathering the man, I can safely assume that simple disagreement doesn't constitute actual intolerance.

He doesn't even make the case for Christianity, as I do.

?!?!? When exactly was that, D'Snooza? When you trotted out this little gem?

But perhaps God’s purpose in the world (I am only thinking aloud here) is to draw his creatures to him. And you have to admit that tragedies like this one at Virginia Tech help to do that!

Really, truly, these conservative mouthpieces just leave me a-goggle, when truculent dipsticks open their mouths and begin babbling some of the worst sort of nonsenses.

 But Anthony flew out of the atheist cuckoo's nest, leaving anger and confusion among the unbelievers.

Really, now: I know there's probably some ticked off atheists out there, but then, this is one guy, out of a long, long list of non-believers. D'Snooza would have the average believer think we were on the fucking ropes here.

Not even close.

And religion is the cuckoo, here, folks. Brief synopsis: the cuckoo bird lays its eggs in another species' nest, and the offspring end up hoarding the food and shoving its nest-mates out. History will bear out this analogy. Christianity alone has laid its eggs in far too many cultures, and forced its backwards ways on too many folks for far too long.

 And now Flew tells us why he rejects atheism. The atheist monopoly on public debate is over: the theists are striking back.

 Monopoly? What planet is this guy living on? Bizarro World? The US is virtually inundated with crap about religion, it's fucking everywhere. Challenging the delusory status quo is the American Way, it's what we do, in the (far too) slow  maturation process of humanity.

Really, these cheap histrionics pretty much make Dinesh D'Snooza (who needs to seriously wake his ass up) the latest version of the Jerry Springer of journalism.

Is anyone reeling from the impact? Slapping the ring tarmac? 'Cause I'm telling you, folks: I'm still waiting for a knockout punch, and thus far, am still standing with my dukes up. I'm still waiting for a contender.

This is the Apostate signing off. Till the next post, then.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Skepticism - It's Bad For Business

Cross-posted at God is for Suckers!dollarsonholyghost

I was walking down Mission Boulevard in Hayward, when I noticed that a large local Bible book store had gone out of business. It's been there since I can recall - well over two decades. (I wish that I could wax rhetorically about it - hearing the hollow wind voicing imaginary voices, sagebrush bouncing past my feet while going on about the whisper of non-existent ghosts being silenced. Alas, it was simply a large, empty shell. Oh well.)

Sufficient to say, it put a spring in my step while I stepped through the crosswalk - but the resident religious loonie was crossing also, and he blathered out his 'Gawd bless you!', to which I replied, 'Ain't no such thing' in passing. This cat hangs out in the local Starbucks, reading his dog-eared bible, chatting with the staff, running over to the door to open it for people, and occasionally telling them the same stupid thing: 'gawd bless you'! I keep saying my little ditty in passing. Getting more than a little tired of him, truth be told. He laughs like Phil Sebben, sans personality (or inflection).

But today I was in the local Safeway, waiting in the Express line, when my eye chanced upon one of those little wire racks containing some of those pocket astrology guides. I'm guessing you know which ones I mean. It then occurred to me, that there's big business in magical thinking. So, there's mucho dinero in the magical thinking industry. How much?

Here's a guesstimate, from MYPATHTV:

The New Age marketplace alone accounts for $44 billion in spending by about 40 million Americans.
Source: LOHAS

Astrology? Here's a real eye-opener, from adherents.com:

"Currently the U.S. boasts some 10,000 professional and 175,000 part-time astrologers... Their clientele consists of an estimated 20 million people, who--during 1969--spent more than $150,000,000 on personal horoscope material. "

I can't seem to whip up some more topical figures(enough Google hits to intimidate even a Google-whacker like myself), but I'm guessing (at the prevalence of astrological TP in the grocery stores) that the percentiles have increased. Let's not even go into those tabloid headlines that seem to mug you while you're waiting in line ('Devil's Face Seen In The Smoke Of The WTC attack!, for one example).

Religioustolerance.org lists the believers in astrology alone at a staggering 31% in 2003 for the USA alone.

Here's a guesstimate, from Hallmark cards (a snippet):

Christian fiction has exploded in popularity in many Christian stores.
Christian music is seeing growth as a genre, jumping from 4.5 percent of the market share in 1997 ($549 million) to 6.3 percent in 1998 ($863 million), according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
VeggieTales, a sales phenomenon in 1998, has spurred growth in children's products and is becoming a staple.

Publishers Weekly states that religious flicks are making money (albeit not hand-over-fist), and, seeing as how the Passion, that bondage-based religious porn film was a blockbuster hit in 2004, this is no newsflash that the American people are heavily invested in belief.

So, yet another degree of angle added to the uphill battle for us: atheism is not only a stripping away of children's fantasies, a denigration of tradition, and a forced admission of reality, it is in fact, an attack on numerous cottage industries that are flourishing within in the cultural meme.

So we need to start questioning not only the epistemology and the source, we should also question the mouthpieces: just whom is in whose pocket? And when we have moronic, easily debunkable crap such as Medium, Saving Grace, and the Ghost Whisperer (only one of these is based on a 'real life story') on the TV airwaves, perpetuating the myths that we as educators are struggling to overcome.

So just bear in mind: when you attack religion, somebody's livelihood is threatened.

Because the metaphor of the ivy growing is so very apt in this infectious meme, I shall (mis)quote Titania, from Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors:

If aught possess thee from me, it is dross, usurping ivy, brier, or idle moss; who all for want of pruning, with intrusion infect thy sap and live on thy confusion.

The roots run deeply: as gardeners, we are apt to lose ourselves amid the chaotic foliage that springs from religion, wade through the spun hedges of twisted labyrinths that seem to sprout wholesale from the minds of those whose imaginations are stronger than their self-awareness or grasp of reality.

Recall this, as the mental calluses spring from the use of metaphorical trimming shears; that we do this to benefit others, members of our species, that the garden may grow free of those infectious weeds of religious fanaticism that have so plagued our history from past to present.

For some day, the mind of Man will be free of the deep roots of that ivy that so clutters it: perhaps not tomorrow, or the next day. But soon.

Till the next post, then.