Monday, February 25, 2008

Killer Sunset Coming Up!

Here's a heart-warming story for you ... It seems that the Earth is nearing it's inevitable demise sooner than we thought. That's right, you only have 7.6 Billion years to get your affairs in order!

Though scientists have long thought that the Earth would avoid falling into the Sun, there's a new view of how it's going down -- literally ...
Scientist have nailed down how and when the Earth will cease to exist.

The sun will slowly expand into a red giant, pushing the Earth further out into space, but not far enough.

Our home planet will be snagged by the sun's outer atmosphere, gradually plunging to its doom inside the fiery stellar furnace.

"The drag caused by this low-density gas is enough to cause the Earth to drift inwards, and finally to be captured and vaporized by the sun ..."
Though I'm sure the theory will change many times, this newest one sounded eerily familiar to me, so I went searching for where I might have heard it before:
2 Peter 3: ... 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Funny how often these things seem to match up so well. Not-so-funny is the Naturalistic view of how we might avoid the apparent fate we've been headed for since we crawled up out of the "pre-biotic soup" over 3 billion years ago:
For those first three billion years, true, we were nothing but pond scum. Still, the new figures indicate the long story of life on our fair blue-green planet may be entering its last act.

Is there any way our future descendants can save themselves? Why, yes, explains Smith.

He cites a recent study emanating from the University of California, Santa Cruz. It proposes taming an asteroid to swing by the Earth every few thousand years, slowly nudging the Earth into higher solar orbit, enough to outpace the sun's own outward growth.

"This sounds like science fiction," says Smith. "But it seems that the energy requirements are just about possible and the technology could be developed over the next few centuries."
Yes, it does sound like science fiction -- and don't get me wrong, I like science fiction -- but following the eerily familiar quote above, I also found what seems to me to be a more trustworthy and eternally palatable view. Hopefully, you'll consider it as well ...
2 Peter 3: ... 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
... Please choose wisely.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Florida Board Games (continued) ... Circular Reasoning

... To continue the discussion from yesterday, it is not just the creationists in Florida who need to improve the way they handle controversies of this kind.

The Naturalistic Scientific Establishment (NSE -- I just made that up) is also to blame. On their side of the debate, they have created a straw man in the way they use the word "scientific." Insisting that evolution is scientific, as compared to its "unscientific" counterpart, "intelligent design" (ID), the NSE aims to defend rational thought against the idiocy of the religious nutcases who lurk within our science labs, heaven-bent on destroying the enlightened progress of the educated.

Think I'm exaggerating?

Check out the website (here) of those who seek to defend "strong science education in Florida" through their mission to:
... convince the citizens of Florida that they need good science education standards. In order to have good standards, we all need to get involved in the science education standards process. We want to encourage everyone to read the standards so that they know what is being taught to their children in public school science class. We want scientists and science teachers to review and suggest improvements in the standards. We want newspapers, radio stations and television reporters to talk about the science standards and why they are important to Florida. We want to do this so that the quality of Florida's science education standards will be top notch.
Now who could argue with a mission like that? Only a creationist moron apparently because, deeper in the website, we find this little gem:
Pseudoscience permeates Florida society today. This includes UFOs, crystals, ghosts, alternative medicine and a host of other unscientific belief systems. These belief systems are unscientific and reflect the unproved belief that there is something magical about our universe that goes beyond the physical laws that govern the natural world.
Eager to indict the motives and intellectual capabilities of the crazy creationists, these folks label "UFOs, crystals, ghosts and alternative medicine" as "belief systems." Regardless of your view on these topics, is it even logical to call a UFO a "belief system"? This is just silly. Each of these may stem from some belief system but none of them constitutes a belief system. This is nothing but a textbook case of an ad hominem attack meant to demean the opponent, or the motives of the opponent, with which one disagrees. Besides, this is not a scientific argument, it is a philosophical argument -- one with which (ahem!) scientists are not equipped to deal. In any case, it is a lame way to argue and does nothing to address the actual issues involved. But it gets worse ...
One of the most dangerous pseudosciences is creationism or its beguiling cousin Intelligent Design. It denies one of the fundamental principles of biology - evolution. It denies that every living creature on this planet evolved from prior living creatures.
This is classic: Creationism and ID (equivalent terms in the minds of the NSE) are nothing more than pseudoscientific nonsense on par with UFOs, crystals and alternative medicine. The NSE presupposes that there is nothing "beyond the physical laws that govern the natural world," defines science as an activity that must unquestioningly adhere to that definition, then dismisses out of hand any other view or project as heretical.

Can you think of any other academic discipline or method of inquiry in which a complete disregard for any alternative explanation is eliminated before even considering the data in question?

As a thought experiment, consider this: A deceased woman is found laying next to her car with a severe gash in the side of her head, a pool of blood surrounding her body, and her purse strewn on the pavement next to her. A police detective approaches the scene and announces that only accidental causes will be considered in his evaluation of the woman's death. Would you, as a member of the woman's family, accept the detective's pronouncement?

I sure hope not. Yet that is the equivalent of the pronouncement made by the NSE across this nation every day when it comes to considering the origin and diversity of life on planet Earth. The NSE insistence that mechanistic processes are the only ones allowed at the table is an arbitrary one. Worse, this betrays a clear case of circular logic.

According to the NSE, those pseudoscientific creationists have the audacity to "deny the fundamental principle of biology -- evolution" and that "every living creature on this planet evolved from prior living creatures." But wait a second -- isn't the veracity of this statement the very question that the scientific community is supposed to be asking?

The NSE assumes its Naturalistic premise is true, then blasts anyone who does not accept the premise as being a "pseudoscientist." You have to give them this: The position from which they argue is not a bad place to argue from -- for one simple reason. By constructing the rules of the debate in such a way you can never be wrong!

Not bad. But not scientific either.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Florida Board Games

I heard about this story on the national news last night so I followed up on it today, only to find that, once again, the whole point of the controversy has been missed. In Florida, the State Board of Education has been wrestling with the issue of whether or not to allow the word "evolution" to be included in the state's science standards. Today they approved the inclusion of the phrase "scientific theory of evolution," as if wordsmithing a compromise would satisfy those on both sides of the issue. The problem with battles like this is that, while defending their narrow interests, everyone seems to miss what is really important.

On the creationist/religious side of the debate, the problem lies with two issues: one a misunderstanding and one a needless fear that could easily be turned to an advantage.

First, the misunderstanding. Many creationists believe they have scored points against the Darwinian opposition by making them admit that Evolution is "just a theory." As you can see, this is part of the compromise phrase that was agreed to in Florida. The misunderstanding is that labeling something a theory is far from an indictment of the view. In scientific usage ...
... a theory does not mean an unsubstantiated guess or hunch, as it can in everyday speech. A theory is a logically self-consistent model or framework for describing the behavior of a related set of natural or social phenomena. It originates from or is supported by experimental evidence. In this sense, a theory is a systematic and formalized expression of all previous observations, and is predictive, logical, and testable.
In other words, theories are well-substantiated and, in many cases (the Big Bang for instance) not far removed from the realm of scientific laws. So let's not get too enamored with dismissing evolution as "just a theory." That tactic isn't getting us anywhere. Instead, we should be deliberate and specific in pointing out the fatal flaws and assumptions that undermine the theory in question.

And that brings us to the needless fear we can turn to our advantage.

Many creationists are scared silly about the word "evolution." To utter the word is to capitulate to the godless demands of secularism. This is what began the fight in Florida. Creationists, defending the former version of the State School Board's standards, were determined not to allow the word "evolution" into the fray. This knee-jerk reaction is understandable but incomplete. Instead of fighting blindly against the word "evolution," the defenders of theism would be better served and more credible if they were to point out the subtle but more significant issues involved. Doing so would go a long way toward undermining the status quo view of creationists as scientific illiterates who seek only to inject their religious ideas into the classroom.

Here is what I mean. I won't repeat the discussion now but I have elsewhere addressed the issue of being clear and specific about what we mean when use the word "evolution." In this case, this issue is at the heart of the problem. This is how the pro-Evolution lobby describes the controversy on their website:
Evolution occurs because of the need for organisms to adapt to their surroundings in order to survive. Natural selection allows this adaptation. The denial of this natural process assumes that God is responsible for the complexity and diversity of life on our planet. That is religion, not science.
This is the classic bait-and-switch (discussed here). Notice that the proponents of macro-Evolution appeal to the reality of adaptation (micro-evolution) as the "process ... responsible for the complexity and diversity of life on our planet." But these are two completely different things!

I would agree that we see adaptation in nature. In fact, I see adaptation as being completely consistent with the work of any good designer whose goal is to equip his product to survive in different and changing environments. But the acceptance of adaptation in no way entails the acceptance of speciation. In fact, there is no evidence (fossil or genetic) for any mechanism that explains just how adaptation could exceed the limits required to bring about macro-level changes.

Those who claim that it is a fact that such a thing occurs do so solely based on the Naturalistic presupposition that this must be the way it works. And while they claim that the creationist urge to see God as responsible for that change is "religion, not science," their lack of evidential support makes them vulnerable to the same charge.

If creationism can be dismissed as nothing but religion, the Naturalistic lobby can be likewise dismissed as nothing but an appeal to the "religion" of Darwinism. I wish the creationists in Florida would have made that case instead of demanding the non-inclusion of the word "evolution" -- a word that in itself does their cause no harm.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Naturalism's Worldy End

I have often commented on the vacuousness of the Naturalistic, atheistic worldview, but some things I've read recently serve to condense that idea in words more powerful than I could ever come up with.

We have seen where such a worldview leads -- in real time. St├ęphane Courtois, director of research at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) estimates the human death toll (over less than 100 years) in regimes sharing this worldview are as follows:
That's 94,000,000 (million) people. To be fair, Courtois' critics claim he exaggerates. They say the real death toll was only somewhere between 65 and 93 million. Fair enough. But for those who attempt the hideous comparison of this barbarity to the admitted abuses of Christian zealots, here are the numbers for which Christians are culpable:
  • 19 witches hanged (not burned) in Salem, Massachusetts
  • 300,000 witches executed in Europe between 1484 and 1782
  • 2,000 executions during the Spanish Inquisition
  • 10's of thousands died during the Crusades
For those who are mathematically challenged, the difference is 93,647,981 -- or more than two orders of magnitude less -- over a time frame of almost 800 years.

This is not to excuse the barbaric taking of human life by anyone, but let's be fair. The Christians who took those 352,019 lives did so in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. We cannot hold a belief system responsible for those who choose to abuse and corrupt it.

By contrast, the atheistic worldview that murdered 94,000,000 people did so based on the direct result of, and adherence to, the nihilistic, valueless system from which it gained its power to kill.

It was with these facts in mind that I read Andrew Stuttaford's review of Orlando Figes new book, The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia, a chilling account of "private lives, and thoughts, of those who lived through it, inhabitants of a society where reticence, conformity, and role-playing could be, even at home, matters of life and death."

For those who may defend the Naturalistic worldview, I would challenge them to listen to the lamentations of the Russian poet Anna Ahkmatov -- listen and consider the kind of society such a worldview logically entails and has been verified to create ...
This was when the ones who smiled
Were the dead, glad to be at rest.
And like a useless appendage, Leningrad
Swung from its prisons.
And when, senseless from torment,
Regiments of convicts marched,
And the short songs of farewell
Were sung by locomotive whistles.
The stars of death stood above us
And innocent Russia writhed
Under bloody boots
And under the tires of the Black Marias.

... Listen, and reconsider.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Book Of Myths And Legends (a.k.a. The Bible) Proves Accurate (again)

Though it wasn't reported anywhere that I know of in the so-called "mainstream press," a recent issue of Biola University's alumni magazine reported on a tiny clay tablet that's impact on the veracity of Christianity is inversely proportional to its size. You can read the article here for details but suffice it to say that many critics of the Bible have long claimed that the Old Testament book of Jeremiah is fictional. But the tiny tablet (which was actually dug up in the 1870s but, because it was written in cuneiform, remained previously undecipherable), contained the name of a chief officer in the Babylonian court of Nebuchadnezzar II -- and was recognized as such by a visiting Viennese researcher. This tiny detail looms large because it offers proof that the book was actually written in about 595 BC by "someone with firsthand knowledge of the Babylonian court."

This was a case of "lost in translation" brought on by unfamiliarity with the ancient Akkadian language that rendered the name in question ambiguous in differing manuscript versions. But it was by comparing the translations of different versions of the Bible with someone educated in the discipline that scholars were able to determine which was the most accurate. This process -- like it always does -- resulted in vindicating the Bible against those who had denounced its veracity.

Though such a find does not speak directly to the claim that the Bible is Divinely inspired, it does serve to solidify its historicity and thereby makes it all the more reasonable to accept the rest of what it says as well. For a book that has been compiled over thousands of years of history, numerous geographic locations, and a diverse band of authors, the message that comes through is incredibly consistent; the prophecy is inexplicably accurate; the correlation to scientific discoveries which were not verified until thousands of years later is eerily spot on. This is one incredible book -- a book that has yet to be successfully discredited.

Our man-centered world may claim that "the devil is in the details," but the more details we examine in this book, the more they reveal that our trust in the Creator and the Book He gave us is a well-placed trust indeed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

High Stakes Monkey Business

When a Vienna court recently declared that Matthew Hiasl Pan was not a person, the case didn't just end there. Matthew's supporters will appeal their case to a higher court. Absent a reversal there Matthew, who will soon be homeless, will not be able to receive personal gifts and could therefore wind up sold into what amounts to indentured servitude somewhere outside Austria. Some think he could even face deportation to his native Sierra Leone. The entire legal case stems from the bankruptcy proceedings through which Matthew's shelter will soon be closed.

The most stunning aspect of this story is that Matthew's case may be allowed to be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. Though it only seems fair that Matthew should be allowed to argue for his own personhood, the case gets a little sticky when you consider one little detail about it.

Matthew, you see, is a chimpanzee.

Don't be too fast to dismiss this story as the nonsensical nuttiness that it really is. These people are serious. Their view is the natural conclusion that can be drawn from the denial of "human exceptionalism" -- an all-too-common view held by many Naturalistic philosophers. I have commented before on this subject and its chief proponent, Peter Singer. But it is important to remind ourselves about how these people think and why we should be shouting their views from the mountaintops.

I admire Singer for being one of the few philosophers who is willing to take Naturalism to its logical conclusion. Singer believes that valuing humans over animals is "speciesism." And he's right. If we are all just the random outcome of a totally naturalistic system of particles and natural forces interacting and mutating, human beings are no more important than any other living thing. A dog, is a rat, is a roach, is a chimp, is a boy. End of story.

But this view has further, more radical (if that is even possible), implications. Human cloning, pursuing chimeras (human-animal hybrids), Embryonic stem cell research -- all of these should be permitted without objection. Creating human embryos for the sole purpose of destroying them for the purpose of research should not trouble anyone because there is nothing special about human beings. We're just higher up the Evolutionary food chain than the rest.

The irony in all this is that humans cannot live their lives believing this way. Consider that the research in each of these cases is being done precisely because the therapies (in the case of ESCR) they promise, and the hybrids they seek, are being pursued to improve the lives of human beings -- precisely because those lives are so highly valued.

Though I can only pray that folks who are so deluded by these ideas will someday admit to the irrationality of them, I love it when these stories come out. They expose Naturalism for the empty, purposeless, unlivable system it really is. And they remind us, even those who don't know why, that to deny human exceptionalism is to deny the intrinsic value that empowers our lives -- our creation in the image of our Creator.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Gimme That Old Time Religion

At a recent meeting of "academics" at Vatican City, news reports claim that the pope has "revived the science-vs-religion debate," and thereby relegated himself to Neanderthal status -- unenlightened and intolerant of more modern views of science.

Those who made the allegations were among students and teachers at Rome's La Sapienza University and were some of the same folks who "cited such views when they protested a papal speech scheduled for January 17 [which] had to be canceled" as a result. Apparently, these enlightened, tolerant folks fail to see the irony in the fact that they shouted the Pontiff down to keep him from espousing his intolerant views. Think about that one for a second.

They also failed to notice that it was the pope who founded La Sapienza University more than 700 years ago -- back when popes were allowed to start universities that respected both religious and scientific studies as being legitimate ways to interpret the creation and thereby seek real Truth.

Here is a portion of what the dastardly pope had to say:
"In an age when scientific developments attract and seduce with the possibilities they offer, it's more important than ever to educate our contemporaries' consciences so that science does not become the criteria for goodness," he told scientists.

Scientific investigation should be accompanied by "research into anthropology, philosophy and theology" to give insight into "man's own mystery, because no science can say who man is, where he comes from or where he is going," the Pope said."

Man is not the fruit of chance or a bundle of convergences, determinisms or physical and chemical reactions," Benedict told a meeting of academics of different disciplines ...
The fact that such views are considered controversial and worthy of silencing is a sobering thought. How can anyone defend the idea that science should work in a vacuum without being considered in light of other forms of knowledge? Since when can science even pretend to be able to define the "criteria for goodness"? Those criteria, by modern science's own definition, are things for which science is not even equipped to deal.

It is not the pope who has "revived the science-vs-religion debate." It is the secularists and the Naturalists who demand a war between the two. In their eyes, science and religion cannot peacefully coexist. We have to pick one or the other. But on the pope's view -- a view I share -- there shouldn't be a rivalry between science and religion, there should be a dialogue. Both are means to find the Truth about how our world actually works and both have legitimate arguments to bring to the table. To force us to choose between the two is to demand a false choice. Simply listening to what the pope actually said makes that obvious. What really set his detractors off is ...
... the conservative German-born Pope's public stand on issues such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research lead critics to accuse him of holding antiquated views on science.
If by "antiquated" they mean pre-Enlightenment and pre-modern; or if by "antiquated" they mean prior to the time when the findings of scientific research were not limited by arbitrary presuppositions but left to interpretation of the actual data itself; if by "antiquated" they mean prior to the time when acceptance of Darwinian Evolution was not presumed; if by "antiquated" they mean prior to the time when human worth was established in virtue of being a member of the human family and not some arbitrary criteria such as location or the desires of the mother or her attendant society -- then yes, the pope's views are "antiquated."

And Amen to that.