Friday, February 28, 2014

Should Scientists Debate Creationists?

I spend a lot of time in online forums, chat-rooms, and the comments sections of blogs and videos talking with people about religion, philosophy, and theism.  Often I have great, civil discussions with my "opponents", but in almost every case, I can find that guy whose not willing to offer anything other than bible verses and wild, unjustifiable statements.  And I still attempt to communicate with those individuals until it becomes pointless.

That's because I understand that in those cases I'm not going to change that person's mind.  But there are other people watching and listening.  Debates are often not about the two debaters; they're for the audience.  As in a courtroom, the truth isn't necessarily reached simply because one side has more charismatic orators. I'll answer a person's hate-laced attempt at conversation specifically for the benefit of those who happen to read the exchange (in part as a testament to how civil a nonbeliever can be).

On the Nature of Addressing Walls of Brick
When it was announced that Bill Nye would accept Ken Ham's challenge to a debate at Ham's Creation Museum in Kentucky, many were disappointed or even outraged that Nye would do this.  Scientists should never debate creationists, many said, because it gives the impression that there is something to debate over.  As the late Stephen Gould pointed out, you have lost the moment you step on the stage because what they want is the oxygen of respectability -- to be seen on stage debating a real scientist.  It lends a credibility that is unfounded, similar to an obstetrician debating a stork-theorist.

Now, I'm not a scientist (unless you count computer science), though I am scientifically minded.  Nevertheless, I'm of two minds on this issue. should scientists debate creationists?

On the one hand, I agree that it grants them with far too much clout and makes it seem to an audience that they have an argument that is on equal grounds with established scientific fact.  However, 33% of people reject evolution, despite the observable evidence for it.  That number might seem small, but it makes up for over one hundred-million people in the U.S. that don't accept reality for whatever reason.  That's an insanely large number.  Many of those people are teaching their children to eschew scientific methodology in favor of faith.  Many of those people will never attempt to actually understand what the theory of evolution says on their own, preferring instead to stay inside their bubble of self-confirming feedback.

So yes, at some point those should be forced to confront the evidence.  They have to have the chance to understand if we're going to make any difference at all in lowering that number.  I see it as compassionate, even though we elevate them up to the stage of equal footing with science.  It basically says, "Look, here's your beliefs.  It's okay to believe things, but here's why we believe differently".  I've found in my discussions with them that the less marginalizing you start with, the more they actually listen to.

But we have to be careful how we go about it.

They Win Anyway
Ken Ham announced yesterday that he's raised enough money to begin construction on his Ark Encounter project, due to be finished by the summer of 2016.  He said the debate with Bill Nye earlier this month helped boost support for the project.

The debate in many ways was a win for Ken Ham and creationism the moment Bill agreed to it.  It was held at the Creation Museum, so the money went to them.  The "museum" sells DVDs of the debate, so proceeds go to them.  It projected the idea that creationism was worth debating for those 33%, so they rallied more money.  Ken knew what he was doing all along.

But it was good to at least force science into the closet of faith for the believers and creationists who watched it, and being a life-long educator and champion of science, Bill Nye 'The Science Guy' was the one to do it.  If 33% of the population actually believed that babies come from storks and vehemently rejected the observable evidence to the contrary, at some point a scientist would have to stand up and say, "No, you idiots! Look at the evidence!".  For the sake of our future as a species, learn what knowledge we know, people.  Learn real science.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Moving Goalposts of Theism

Coming off the heals of the Bill Nye/Ken Ham creation debate and subsequent discussions has got me thinking about the way in which believers in god find ways to hold onto their cherished, comforting beliefs.

Whether it's through a debate on Creationism, a forum discussion on Big Bang cosmology, or a blog post about science in general, theists often bring up the gaps in our current understanding as a form of proof (or at least, excuse) for justified belief in their particular deity.  I've said several times in several places that once the theists arguments are refuted, they hold onto one of three things or a combination thereof as unshakable reasons for them to keep believing: faith, personal experience, and the gaps in our understanding.  I've talked about the first two many times on this blog, but the point I wanted to make in this post is on the latter excuse.

This argument (which I've also discussed here and elsewhere) is the God-of-the-gaps fallacy.  All throughout history, when human beings didn't understand something, they thought strange things about it.  This is one of the major reasons for theism, and it still remains even when some bit of knowledge is gained -- the believer just moves the goalposts back.  "You haven't dismissed God, you've only explained how he did it!"  The problem with this childish game should be apparent to any rational person.

If you have an idea that keeps getting shifted to the beginning of some causal chain in our understanding, you should realize how intellectually dishonest this practice is.  The honest thing to do is to discard that idea until there's a reason to add it to the chain in the first place.

Faith to many people is a form of security blanket.  It's comforting to think that you're on the right side of truth, to know that your life has been designed specially for you, and that there is reason and purpose to everything.  But simply feeling good about something doesn't make it true.  I realized several years ago that I cared about what I believed, and wanted to believe as many true things and as few false things as I could.  I wanted to know the real answer to things; a placation isn't going to cut it.

Semper Fi
But for a lot of people, they hold fast to their belief even in the face of contrary evidence.  It isn't always due to the security-blanket effect either...religion itself promotes and encourages it.  Many churches preach the shunning of critical thought and doubt, telling believers to "lean not on your own understanding."  The believer didn't start at an intellectually honest point and they continue to fill the blanks in our knowledge with "God did!".

I was daydreaming about some utopian future today in which we get to the "final level" of understanding.  There was no more gaps in our knowledge; we knew what happened "in the beginning" and could explain everything up to that point.  But it still wasn't good enough for the theist.  They would continue to claim that God is still "just beyond" that level of understanding.  This was a thought experiment while driving around town today, but the methodology is. I think, a valid example of how many theists operate.

And even if this where a valid way to evaluate the world, it's still a form of special pleading to somehow fill the gap with your god.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Creationism Debate Q&A

My video review of the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham discusses the majority of the debate, except for the final question-and-answer portion.  It was an important part of that night, and took nearly half of the debate time.  To streamline the review, I decided to handle the questions one by one here on the blog, rather than in video form.

Each question was written in by an audience member, and was addressed to either Ken or Bill, who then had two minutes to answer.  Then, the other got a one-minute chance to answer that same question.  Ken Ham went first, and then they alternated, with a total of sixteen questions in all.

The questions are verbatim, but the answers are not direct quotes (unless stated).   I’ll give a paraphrased answer from each debater so you can get a sense of what they said in their one-to-two minutes.  I'll offer further criticisms and comments in red text.  Obviously you should watch the full debate yourself before coming to any conclusions.

Question 1:  How does Creationism account for the celestial bodies moving further and further apart, and what function does that serve in the “Grand Design”
            Ken: Our Creation scientists observe the universe expanding, as do the traditional scientists, and the Bible says God stretches out the heavens.  This is another example of how observational science proves Creationism.  As to “why” God did it that way, I can’t answer that, but the Bible says that God made the heavens for his glory and to tell us how great and powerful he is.  And looking at this awesome power demonstrated by an infinite God makes you feel small, and makes you think about how special we are that God considers this planet so significant that he created us knowing we would sin and stepped into history to die for us to forgive us and let us live forever.
            Bill: We’re all born with a desire to know the answer to the question ‘why’.  To a Creationist, when your religion gives you the answer -- when it says "He made the stars also" -- that’s a satisfying answer to you.  You stop looking for reasons (even though religion is supposed to explain the “why” while science explains the “how”).  You give up on wanting to know.  To me, I’m driven to learn the truth.  (Bill also challenges Ken in the last few seconds of his time to deliver an example of something in the Creation model that predicts something that will happen in nature, once again trying to get him to address his earlier points.) 

Question 2:  How did the atoms that created the Big Bang get there?
            Bill: This is the mystery that drives us.  It’s what makes us keep looking, keep searching.  When I was young, it was believed the universe was slowing down in its expansion.  Scientists conducted experiments and took observations to find out the rate of the supposed deceleration, but they discovered that it is in fact accelerating.  And do you know why?  No, nobody knows why!  This is what drives us to find out!  Imagine a student from your local school who is excited about science and pursues a career in it, and one day discovers the answer to that deep mystery.  To us scientists and searchers this is wonderful and compelling and what makes us get up in the morning -- the Creationist just says, “God did it” and goes back to sleep.
            Ken: I just want to let you know that there is a book out there that actually tells us where matter came from, and the very first sentence in that book says “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”.  And really that’s the only thing that makes sense.  Matter can never produce information.  No matter how much energy you put into a stick, it will never create life.  The Bible tells us that the things we see are made from things that are unseen: an infinite creator god.  The only thing that makes logical sense!

Question 3: The overwhelming majority of people in the scientific community have presented valid, physical evidence…to support evolutionary theory.  What evidence, besides the literal word of the Bible supports Creationism?
            Ken: I often hear that the majority believes there is evidence for evolution, but it’s not the majority who is the judge of truth.  Just because the majority believes something doesn’t mean it’s true.  Observational science supports the biblical predictions, as I’ve shown before.  If the Bible is right, that we’re all descendants of Adam and Eve, there’s one race of humans; science has shown that.  If the Bible is right and God made kinds...I talked about that in my presentation.  Really that question comes down to, there are aspects about the past that you can’t scientifically prove because you weren’t there, but observational science in the present does.  Understanding the past is a whole different matter.
            Bill: If anybody makes a discovery that changes the way we view natural law, scientists embrace that person.  That’s the greatest thing in scientific thought: to be challenged and shown where we’re wrong.  You may have misunderstood something in evolution -- it’s the method by which we add complexity.  The energy we get from the sun is used to make life-forms more complex. (That last point was to Ken’s claim in his previous answer that matter can’t create complexity.)

Question 4: How did consciousness come from matter?
            Bill: Don’t know.  Another great mystery.  The joy of discovery drives us to find these things out.  We don’t know where consciousness comes form, but we want to learn.  I challenge the young people to investigate that question, and I remind the taxpayers and voters that if we do not embrace the process of mainstream science, we will fall behind economically as a nation.
            Ken: I just want to let you know that there is a book out there that does document where consciousness came from.  In that book, it says that the one who made us breathed into man and made him a living being.  That’s where consciousness came from: God gave it to us.  I have a mystery, Bill: you talk about the joy of discovery, but you say that when you die, it’s all over.  And if you believe that, then what’s the point of being alive and making discoveries in the first place?  I love the joy of discovery because this is God’s creation and I want to find out more about it for man’s good and for God’s glory.
(There's nothing really to do here.  Bill is showing why we use science, and Ken is saying "God Did It!"  You can't convince these people.)

Question 5: What, if anything, would ever change your mind?
            Ken: I’m a Christian.  I can’t prove it to you, but God has shown me himself through his Word and the person of Jesus Christ.  I admit that’s where I start from.  I challenge people to go and test that, you can make predictions based on that, you can check the prophesies in the Bible.  I can’t prove it to you, all I can say to someone is, if the Bible really is what it claims to be: then check it out.  The Bible says if you come to God he will reveal himself to you, and as Christians, you can say we know.  So as far as the word of god is concerned, no.  No one's ever gonna convince me that the word of God is not true.  We build models based on the Bible and they’re not subject to change.  The facts can’t be disputed; only the methods by which those facts occur can be disputed because we observe in the current world and can’t observe in the past. (Ken then asks Bill to answer this question, as if he’s forgotten that they’ve been doing that for the last four questions.  It’s a telling bit that reveals further illustrates how much he wants to get the topic off of his unquestionable faith.  I encourage you to watch him answer this question.  From the very beginning you can tell he is uncomfortable and having a hard time figuring out how to answer.  I think it’s because he knows his answer is close-minded and groundless: No, nothing will change my mind because I really believe in Jesus and don’t make me think about it, next question!)
            Bill: One piece of evidence.  Show me one out-of-place fossil (such as a rabbit in the Precambrian, as Haldane said) or evidence that the stars appear to be far away but they’re not.  We would need evidence that you can somehow reset atomic clocks and keep protons from becoming neutrons.  Bring on any of those things and you would change my mind immediately.  (Once more, Bill challenges Ken:) What can you prove?  You’ve spent your time coming up with explanations about the past.  What can you predict and prove in a conventional sense?

Question 6: Outside of radiometric methods, what scientific evidence supports your view of the age of the Earth?
            Bill: The age of stars I guess?  Radiometric dating is pretty compelling.  There were attempts in the past to try to find how the earth could be old enough for evolution to have taken place.  Then radioactivity was discovered.  This question to me is akin to saying, “if things were any other way, things would be different”.  Radiometric dating works, protons become neutrons, and that’s our level of understanding today.  These are provable facts.  The idea that there was a flood four thousand years ago is not provable and I think that there is ample evidence that disproves it.  And Ken, you haven’t addressed my point about how the various skulls support evolutionary theory.  (Bill was cut off there at the end for time, but I think that like the last question was Ken’s stumbling block, this one was Bill’s.  He seemed to have a hard time answering the question, and like Ken did, at the end he tried to divert the topic away.  Of course, Bill was stating provable fact and when you’re doing that it’s hard to keep from just doing that.  But I think he could have answered the question better with the fact that we use a variety of dating methods that all support one another.  When you have different sources pointing to the same relative time-frame, it makes a more convincing argument.)
            Ken: There was no earth rock dated to get the date of 4.5 billion years.  People think that, but they actually dated meteorites and because they assumed they were the same age as the earth left over from the formation of the solar system, that’s where that date comes from.  Look at my slide again as proof. There’s no dating method that proves young or old. (Ken is engaging in misinformation here to make it seem like scientists don't check these things constantly.  Is it reasonable to think that no earth rock has ever been dated, or that it would be difficult to just go out and do so?  What Ken is disingenuously alluding to is that the oldest rocks we've ever found came from meteorites that are 4.54 billion years old.  Earth rock has been dated to 4.47 billion years -- so yeah, 4.5 billion, Ken)

Question 7: Can you reconcile the change in the rate at which the continents are now drifting verses the rate at which they must have traveled 6K years ago to reach where they are now?
            Ken: This again illustrates what I’m talking about with regards to observational science vs historical science.  I’m not an expert here, but we have Creationists with PhD's and they’ve written papers on this stuff.  If you look at the plates today and you assume that the rate has always been that way, that’s an assumption and you can’t prove that.  That’s historical science.  We would believe in “catastrophic plate tectonics” as a result of the Flood and what we’re seeing now is a remnant of that catastrophic movement.  (And this is a direct quote:) “We do not deny the movement, we do not deny the plates; what we would deny is that you can use what you see today as a basis for just extrapolating into the past.”  (I’ve made a video that shows Ken Ham in his own words stating that, on the one hand you can’t assume laws worked in the past as they do today, and on the other hand God created the laws to be unchanging and that gave us the basis for doing science, and the writings from Creation scientists further proves this.)
            Bill: One of the reasons we think that the continents are drifting apart is sea floor spreading in the mid-Atlantic: the earth’s magnetic field has reversed over the millenia, and as it does it leaves a signature in the rocks as the continental plates drift apart, and so you can measure the speed – that’s how we real scientists do things.

Question 8: Favorite color?
            Bill: Green.  It’s an irony that green plants reflect green light.  Most of the light from the sun is green and yet they reflect it, it’s a mystery.  Science is cool!
            Ken: (points to his shirt) Observational science: blue.
(Time for some comedic relief, I suppose.  I found it telling that even though it was a lame question, Bill used it to continue his point about how science fosters our curiosity.)

Question 9: How do you balance the theory of evolution with the second law of thermodynamics, and what is that exactly?
            Bill: It’s basically where energy decays to heat.  The fundamental flaw in this question is that the earth is not a closed system, it’s powered by the sun.  It’s that energy that drives living things.
            Ken: You can have all the energy you want, but energy or matter will never produce life. God imposed information and a language system and that’s how we have life.  Before man sinned, there was decay such as in digestion, but after the Fall things are running down and God doesn’t hold everything together as he did back then. (Ken answered this scientifically-based question with complete religion-infused non-answers.  He explained entropy by saying God doesn't keep everything working like it used to!  That's like saying objects float in space because God isn't pushing them down. Mind-numbing!)

Question 10: Hypothetically, if evidence existed that caused you to admit that the earth is older than 10,000 years and that creation did not occur over six days, would you still believe in God, and the historical Jesus, and that Jesus was the son of God?
            Ken: I’ve been emphasizing all night: you cannot ever prove the age of the earth using science in the present, so there is no hypothetical.  We can make assumptions but you can’t ultimately prove the age of the universe.  You can see there are methods that contradict the billions of years, and as the creation scientists said in my video earlier, there’s nothing in science that contradicts a young earth.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the reason I believe this is because of the Bible’s account of origins.  There is no hypothetical, bottom line. (Ken might as well have had his fingers in his ears and going "nana-nana-na no it's not no it's not nana-nana-na I can't hear you!")
            Bill: You can prove the age of the earth with great robustness by using the universe around us.  Ken wants us to take his word for it that his interpretation of an ancient book is more compelling than what you and I can observe around us today with our own eyes.  Ken, you asserted that life can’t come from non-life – are you sure?  Are you sure enough to say that we shouldn’t look for life on other planets, that it’s a waste?  One again, what can you predict, what can you tell us about the future, not just your ideas about the past?

Question 11: Is there room for God in science?
            Bill: Billions of people embrace science and are religious.  Everyone has a cell phone, uses medicine, and befits from agriculture.  So if you reconcile those two things, that’s not really connected to your belief in a higher power.  I see it as a separate point, and I see no incompatibility between religion and science for each person.  The problem I have is that Ken wants us to take his religious word for it in place of what we can observe on our own. (Here, Bill tried to stay away from theology.  While it's true that one can believe in both God and science, the idea of theism isn't scientific.  But Bill didn't need to go into all of that, and did a good job of keeping on the real point: Ken just says the bible is true, even when it is contradicted by things any person could see.)
            Ken: I think God is necessary for science.  We love science here at Answers In Genesis.  You talked about cell phones and satellites and technology, I agree – those are things that can be done in the present with observational science.  In order to do science you have to assume the uniform laws of nature and logic, and where does that come from if the universe is here by natural processes?  The bible and science go hand-in-hand, but inventing things is very different from talking about our origins.

Question 12: Do you believe the entire Bible should be taken literally?
            Ken: I would need to know what that person meant by literally.  If you meant “naturally”, then yes.  If it’s history, as Genesis is, you take it as history.  If it’s poetry, as in the Psalms, you take it as poetry.  You take what is written in the context that it is written in and let it speak to you.  The bible says that all scriptures are inspired by god.  You have to take the bible as a whole.  If it’s really the word of god, then there’s not going to be any contradictions, which there’s not.  And Jesus said marriage is between one man and one woman. (Ken has a Clinton-esque "what is is" moment with this one.  He, like many others, take literally what they want, and things they don't agree with are figurative.)
            Bill: When the facts contradict the things you take as literal interpretations, and then you want me to take other parts of your bible as literal, it's unsettling.

Question 13: Have you ever believed that evolution was accomplished via a higher power? [Literally: Have you ever believed that evolution partook through evolution?]
            Bill: Intelligent design has a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of nature.  Nature is bottom up design, not top down.  If you found a watch on a beach, you’d recognize it was designed.  But that’s not how nature works.  Nature has its mediocre designs eaten by its good designs, and the perception that there’s a designer isn’t needed because we have model that makes predictions and repeatable, testable claims.
            Ken: Bill needs to show some new function that arose that was not previously possible from the genetic information that was already there.  There’s no new information or function that can be added to a kind via evolution, and there is no example that you can give that shows this.

Question 14: Name one institution, business, or organization (other than a church, amusement park, or the Creation museum) that is using any aspect of Creationism to produce its product.
            Ken: Any scientist that is using the scientific method is using Creation!  They’re borrowing from a Christian worldview.  Because, in a naturally arising universe there can’t be logic and you couldn’t trust the laws of nature.  A lot of scientists in the past were Creationists.  And if we don’t teach our children about this, they’re not going to be innovative or come up with inventions to advance our culture. (Ad hoc arguments, appeals to authority, and general misunderstanding of real science from Ken here.  I find it hilarious that he claims we couldn't trust the laws of nature in a natural system.  That's precisely why they're the laws of nature!  And if they changed all the time, they wouldn't be laws -- which are descriptive, not proscriptive, Ken.)
            Bill:  The reason I don’t accept the Creation model is because it has no predictive quality.  Many people are religious, but not all of them share the same religious views as you do.  What happens to those people? Are they doomed? (Oh Bill, don't get into grade-school theology here.  Stick to holding him accountable for claiming books trump eyes.)

Question 15: Since evolution teaches that man is growing smarter over time, how can you explain the numerous evidences of man’s high intelligence in the past?
            Bill: Evolution doesn’t say we’re getting smarter.  Survival of the fittest doesn’t mean those who are the most physically strong or the smartest will survive.  It means those that fit into the environment the best.  Sure, our capacity to reason has taken us to where we are now, but if the right germ shows up, we can be taken out.  It has nothing to do with smarts.
            Ken: I remember one of my professors at university was going to give us an example of evolution, and he showed us cave fish that are blind.  He said, 'look these fish have evolved not to see.  They’re evolving because those who are living in this dark cave had ancestors who had eyes and now these ones don’t', and I said, 'but now they can’t do something that they could do before!'  They might have an advantage in this dark cave now, but it could be that those who had eyes got a disease and died out and those with a mutation to have no eyes survived.  (Direct quote:) "It’s not survival of the fittest; it’s survival of those who survive."  You’re not getting new information or new function.

Question 16: What is the one thing, more than anything else, upon which you base your belief?
            Ken: The bible.  It’s the most unique book out there.  There’s no other religious book that talks about an infinite God, the origin of the universe, the origin of matter, the origin of light, the origin of darkness, the origin of day and night, the origin of the earth, the origin of dry land, the origin of plants, the origin of the sun/moon/stars, the origin of sea creatures, the origin of flying creatures, the origin of land creatures, the origin of man, the origin of woman, the origin of death, the origin of sin, the origin of marriage, the origin of different languages, the origin of clothing, the origin of different nations – it’s a very specific book with a detailed account of history.  And if that history is true and so is the rest of the book, then that means man is a sinner, and he needs the saving power of Jesus Christ who died for you so that you can live forever with God.  If this book is true -- and has no contradictions, which it doesn't -- it should explain what we see in the world today.  There was a global flood; yes, we see fossils.  There was the Tower of Babel; yes, we have different languages around the world, and they have flood legends and creation legends very similar to the Bible.  There’s prophecy you can look at as well.  The bible says, if you seek God, you’ll find him.
            Bill: Science.  I base my belief on the information and the process that we call science.  It fills me with joy to make discoveries, and to know that we can even ask the questions and pursue the answers.  It’s astonishing to think that we are one of the ways for the universe to know itself.  We are created from the universe, it’s in all of us.  And we want to know if we are alone in the universe.  It’s the process of science that will help us find this another other things out.  If we abandon all that we’ve learned through science, if we stop using it and stop looking for the answers, we as a nation will be out-competed by other countries.  We have to keep science education in science classes.


So that was the other half of the debate.  It was very telling and reveled the positions of both sides a little better than their illustrated presentations were.  Here are some of my final thoughts:
  • Bill said a lot by his facial expressions during the times Ken was answering questions.  Bill kept things very formal, and did a good job of sticking on point, only getting off into the you-can't-be-serious-how-is-your-religion-true avenues once or twice.  But you could see on his face at times, he wanted to.  You could see him saying to himself, "oh really?" and "you've got to be kidding me!"
  • You could tell Bill Nye doesn't debate these people often.  He had questions that were rudimentary and didn't use answers that are generally presented, some of which I pointed out in my comments.
  • Creationism is a thought process that is “almost there”.  Creationists agree that science works…but you can’t make assumptions that things worked in the past just because the do today.  And they agree that evolution happens…just not enough to make one thing so different from it’s "kind" that it becomes something distinct.  And that the genes for a life-form to have incredible complexity are all already within it, apparently eschewing the mechanism of mutation.

See other Creationist questions from the audience here.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Seek and You Will Find

In both Luke 11:9 and Matthew 7:7 of the bible one can read the words, "seek and ye shall find".  For every one who asks receives, and whoever seeks finds, and whoever knocks is admitted.  It means if you go looking for a god, you'll find it.

And I believe it's true.

Believe First, Then You'll Know
I get told time and again from believers in God, if I would only accept the signs that their particular deity exists, I'd be able to believe it.  If only I would believe first that mysteries could be answered with "god did it", then I can know "god did it" when I get have questions.

Ken Ham said several times in his recent debate with Bill Nye that he starts with the bible, and if you do that, you can claim you know:

He and many others who belong to this faith chant that same mantra: believe in god, and seek him, then you'll know god exists.

The reason we shouldn't do this should be obvious simply by looking at the logic in that statement, but we can further illustrate it with a little experimentation.  If you first believe that fairies exist, then you should be able to see evidence of them.  You'll probably one day be missing a sock, or the remote, or your car keys.

That's evidence of the fairies.

Have you ever been wondering where you sat that thing you were holding, and asked aloud, "now where did I put that"?  And then you have a gut feeling to look in the very place you find it?

That's evidence of the fairies -- you just have to ask and they blow invisible dust on you that draws you toward the object you desire.  It's similar to siren magic, only not as potent.

Ever known who was calling before you looked at the phone?  Or how about when you almost choke on a soft drink or a piece of candy, but then you don't.

That's evidence of the fairies.

So Open-Minded Your Brain Falls Out
We can even have different factions, similar to differing religions: maybe it's not exactly, fairies.  Elves?  Maybe spirits of dead relatives?  It works with anything, but the point is, see how far down this rabbit hole we can go?  At this point, we have no explanatory power -- we're explaining with mysteries.  If you look at some of the arguments made by those who believe in "higher powers", it see something very similar.  If you would only first believe that there is an infinite creator god trying to speak with you, you'd see evidence of that in rainbows and babies eyes.  Just like if you would only first believe that there are fairies who want to help you find your car keys, then you'd see evidence of them when such an event happens.

Turn on the TV and find a preacher -- I'll guarantee you at some point he'll tell you to seek God.  From local youth pastors to your religious grandmother, you'll be told to read your bible, trust in God first, then you'll gain understanding of him.  But then don't question that belief, or the whole thing falls apart because it's all built on simple belief.

It happens in religious contexts because theists base everything on a certain perception, a certain preconception, a starting-point that is taken for granted.  Instead, we should start with a blank slate, and build only on top of things we can demonstrate.  Block by block, we move higher and higher into better understanding.  When we make jumps in that stepladder of understanding by inserting appeals to unexplained or unexplainable things, we don't do justice to the institution of knowledge.

Those of us who don't believe things without first having a reason to are often told we are being "close-minded", that if we would just allow for the possibility of [insert whatever supernatural or metaphysical thing you wish], then we would be able to see what they see.

Translation: believe first, even if just a little, then find things you can claim as evidence to grow your belief.

Further translation: seek and ye shall find.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Atheism Offers Nothing

Due to recent conversations, I've been challenged to provide an answer to the religious-based question: "What could atheism ever provide?"

I can only answer this question for myself, because there are no tenants to atheism.  It’s not a structured worldview, a philosophy, or a religion itself.  It has no creed or set of values.  It is simply a rejection of theism.  That said, what has atheism provided me with?

An afterlife?
Nope.  Not for me, anyways.  Like I said, the only thing that it takes to be an atheist is a lack of belief in gods (just like all it takes to be bald is to lack hair).  After that, anything goes.  Some people who don’t believe in the existence of a god still hold to the idea of an afterlife, either through reincarnation like Buddhists, or by some other supernatural means.  But atheism doesn’t offer that to me.

A sense of security?
Nope.  I’m secure in the idea of reality; I no longer fear death or other natural processes.  I don't become wracked with moral turmoil when a loved one experiences a life-threatening illness.  Religion offers a false sense of security…the idea that God is watching over you and will protect you from harm, and has a grand plan for your life.  It can be scary – but humbling – to understand that there’s no ultimate creator being that has the whole world in its hands.  Like Julia Sweeney said, it’s terrifying to realize that the earth is just spinning around the sun all on its own…you wanna run outside and catch it.  I do, however, feel secure in reality.  It’s comforting to know that all is “as it should be” more or less, and that you’re not some chess piece or plaything.  There's no script for you to follow, with consequences good or bad for failing to follow it.  It’s nice to know that death and suffering isn’t caused by the will of any all-powerful consciousness.  I think I would find it more frightening to think that a God neglectfully lets bad things happen to good people.  It can be scary to lose that false sense of security, but it makes you stronger when you open your eyes to reality.

Absolute morals?
Nope.  That’s another thing that religion offers, not atheism.  Without a god to give us morals, we come to them on our own.  We realize that as social creatures, humans must be cooperative and beneficial to survive.  We also have brains that evolved the power of empathy.  Therefore, any society that contains members who act against the general welfare won’t or even can’t function properly.  It's obviously more complicated than a few sentences, but the end result is simple: we don’t need a God to be good – we just need each other. 

A sense of community?
Nope.  At least, not in a formal, structured sense.  Atheism isn’t a religion, but as a collective group (grouped only by our lack of theism), atheists can create communities on their own.  There are several online communities and several physical organizations that promote atheism and give the nonbeliever that sense of community that is often lost when they reject their faith.  We can still be social and have meetings or events together, and share in the fellowship of like-minded people, but this is something any individual can achieve for any reason they desire; it's not granted by atheism.

Ultimate answers?
Nope.  There are no answers given simply by rejecting the demonstrably false ones of others.  Too often I'm asked what boils down to, "if not God, then what?".  And a great deal of the time, the answer to that question is, "I don't know".  Whatever the answers to life's ultimate questions, it's probably not a supernatural father-figure that cares about what cloths you wear.

Removing the Cancer

Atheism isn't meant to "provide" anything.  I often liken it to asking: after you remove a cancer, what do you replace it with?  While religion was a disease I carried for many years, when I left it behind, I suddenly realized that my pre-packaged beliefs all had to be re-examined and re-evaluated.  Here’s what learning to think for myself made room for:

Since becoming a nonbeliever of any gods, I've been able to see the world for what it truly is.  All aspects of nature and natural processes shine brighter than if they were just “made” by some powerful creature.  I have more of a respect for the universe and my place in it than I ever had thinking it was all made for me or my kind.  I no longer hold to a false sense of security or a false sense of knowledge.  What I observe and experience is no longer colored by a religious worldview.  When I see a mountain, I think about the natural processes and all the time it took that led to its formation, about where it's been and where it will go...I don't think about Matthew 17:20.  I see reality as it really is.

Respect for Life
I no longer think that I will survive my own death.  I do not believe in an afterlife, and therefore every second I spend alive becomes infinitely more valuable and precious.  I can't afford to waist time on silly ideas such as prayer or religious rituals.  I have a greater respect for all life in general.  I am no longer afraid of death.  I cherish every breath I have to spend with those I care about and to learn about the universe around me.  I have to make amends to those I hurt now -- I don't get a second chance.  I have to say what I need to say to people, and spend time with those I need to, now.

Hunger for Knowledge
It's funny how thinking you have the answer is vastly less fulfilling than actually honestly searching for the truth.  When the hollow-feeling “knowledge” was gone, I began to fill the void with real knowledge.  I started craving an understanding of how the world works (if God isn't holding the world up, what is?), and I started to actually understand science.  Religion sought to provide me with an answer to everything, and I didn’t even have to understand the answer to accept it.  I sought knowledge backwards: first accept something as “truth”, then go and find evidence to support that conjecture.  After truly understanding what knowledge is and how it's obtained, I began to crave the answers of the universe.

Higher Standards of Love
I once thought that I was loved by people in my congregation out of the goodness of their hearts, but after denouncing my faith, I find that some people only "love" someone if they think God tells them to.  Obviously, God doesn't want his disciples to listen to the "lies" we apostates spew, and therefore we are not to be trusted or cared for any longer.  And I was guilty of the same thing.  I claimed "love" for my fellow believers simply because they believed like I did, and didn't conflict with my ideas.  It was more of an in-group, tribal thing than actual love.  Many religious people claim a feeling of absolute love from God, but it turns out that it's more a projection of what they hope to have -- a sense of being looked after and cared about.  Since leaving the faith, I've felt a love greater than any God could grant.

True Peace and Happiness
Being a believer carried a lot of baggage with it.  I was expected to be oppressed by nonbelievers and stalked daily by the Devil.  I was expected to always struggle to live "in the world, but not of it".  I had to ask God for anything and thank him for everything.  I had to rationalize any event to either be a work of God or a plan from Satan.  My life was full of tests, tribulations, and leaps of unquestioned faith.  I had to pray for others, as their lives (and after-lives) were my responsibility.  I had to feel guilty for being human, guilty for thought-crimes, and always subject my worthless self to a Supreme Judge and beg for pity at the throne of my Master.

After throwing off the shackles of faith, I realized that none of that was true.  Feelings of guilt and torturous thoughts were burned away by the light of reason.  I learned to let life in -- to experience it fully and completely, the good and the bad.  And I am happy.  No longer do I lay down my faculties of reason in the place of blind obedience to anything.  After you are brainwashed and mentally abused by a mindset as vicious as religion, you realize after it all just how bad it really was.  I’m sure we can all relate to being young, then getting older, looking back and realizing just how dumb you were.  It’s similar with religion…I can’t believe I believed some of things I used to.  I know now that I should have known better, and I’m happy that now, at least, I do.  I’m truly happy.

Atheism didn't provide me with anything, but it opened the ways that were blocked by the dogma of theism.  A lack of belief cannot provide you with positive beliefs -- you can't get from "I don't believe in any gods" to anything else without adding some new facet.

Each atheist must decide on their own about everything.  We're not handed a prepackaged set of beliefs, morals, arguments, or tenants.  In short, atheism offers nothing, but it opens the world up to you.  We each must make up our minds about life, the universe, and everything.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Relationships Need Input

I'm often encouraged by my opposition to "seek a personal relationship" with the deity they espouse.  And indeed, that sounds like a good idea to someone who is curious about a particular god.  Despite the fact that I was a tongue-talking Christian for a lot of my young adult life, I'm implored by the religious to get into a relationship with their savior.

1 John 4:8, 1 Corinthians 13:4, Exodus 34:14
But what exactly does that mean?  A relationship has at the least, two people.  Unless a "personal" relationship is akin to the way a stalker feels about his victim.  And since I'm hard-pressed to find a theist who believes their god is a physical person, it seems like the latter is the direction one has to go in.

In an actual relationship between two people, each party grows, changes, and effects one another.  Each participating member benefits from the others' involvement.  It is possible to be in a relationship and not contribute to it, and those relationships don't last long.  I realize that from a theistic standpoint, one can hope to change and grow "in God" or "in Jesus" or "in Minerva", but that really only proves the case for a one-sided relationship.

What can a changeless, all-powerful, all-knowing god hope to gain from a relationship? Gaining something itself implies a lack of something in the first place.  If the god knows all in the future, no excitement or surprise can come, so there's no benefit there.  Such a deity can't change, can't grow, can't be effected.

I realize at best I'm arguing for deism here, and I don't intend to.  Let's turn the focus back to the idea that each worshiper has their own "personal relationship" with God.  I don't think I can do a better job of illustrating the flaws with this idea than what has already been done by YouTube user NonStampCollector:

Put simply: there wouldn't be so many differing views on the wishes of a (supposedly) singular entity if all those who profess to engage in a personal relationship with said entity actually did so.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone.  Find someone -- a real person -- with whom you have an actual, personal relationship with, and spend some time with them.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Happy Darwin Day 2014

In honor of Darwin Day this year, I wanted to take a little time to encourage those of you who haven't given creationism or evolution much thought to do so.  Picking a side isn't the point.  It's a bit like voting: both sides have a stance on something.  The "winner" of the argument will go on to affect change in your world.  Therefore, getting to know the stances of both sides helps you to make informed decisions about things that will effect you, and aid you in realizing in what context information in the future is being presented.

On A Lack of Substance
If you've never really thought much about the Evolution vs. Creation discussion before, I encourage you to take some time to look into each side in as much depth as you can.  Maybe you're on the fence about which side you agree with.  Maybe you're a Christian or a spiritual person and think that necessarily means you must be a Creationist.

Evolution has nothing do say about any God.  To accept the fact that things change over time doesn't mean you have to not believe in a Supreme Being.  Evolution doesn't talk about how life began, only how life changes.

The biggest arguments against it as an means of explaining life boils down into these fallacies:

#1: God of the Gaps
All throughout human history, there have been things we don't understand.  Even still, there are lots and lots of things we don't yet fully understand, and even more things we have no clue about at all.  The problem is that these gaps in our knowledge are a great fit for God.  Any time we can say, "I don't know" or "I can't explain it", a believer in some kind of deity will answer with their god, even though that explains a mystery with an even bigger mystery.  Where our knowledge ends, religion and god-belief begins.

2: Personal Incredulity
If you've never really thought about evolution before, you might be thinking, "I can't imagine how that works".  This is a common starting point for a lot of Creationists, and indeed before Charles Darwin uncovered the method in 1800's, it was the starting point for all of humanity.  But simply not being able to understand how something works doesn't make the thing nor its explanation any less valid.  That's like saying, "I just can't believe people could build a rocket ship!" is a valid refutation of the 1961 orbit by Yuri Gagarin.

3: Not Enough Time
When it comes down to it, a lot of Creationists today accept evolution -- they realize things change over time.  They just stop before one thing changes into another.  That is, given enough time, an organism can evolve into a separate species.  Yet Creationists claim that no one "kind" of animal changes into another "kind".  The problem they have is simply with time.  Evolution works given enough time, but due to a human's relatively short time to live, this idea makes it harder to put into perspective, because we don't see change occurring fast enough.  And since the hard-core Creationists believe the literal interpretation of the Bible and only allow for 6,000 to 10,000 years, they don't allow for the millions or billions of years such a change needs.

The Parnell Building at the University of Queensland, Australia, houses the world's oldest continually running experiment: a funnel of tar pitch (bitumen) sits inside a glass case at room temperature.  The pitch looks solid (and in fact it can be shattered with  a hammer) but it actually flows at an extremely slow rate.  It takes about a decade for it to drip.  The experiment was set up by a physics professor in 1927, and it as dripped eight times, and is due to drop very soon.  The rate is very slow in our perspective.  The continental drift of Australia is ten times faster than the flow of this stuff.

A Creationist looks at the time it takes for evolution in much the same way as someone who, for example, could have taken the pitch-drop experiment home with them, lived with it, perhaps got a Ph.D in something along the way, and every day looked at it and concluded, "it doesn't drip".

We can't generally see evolution occurring because it takes generations to work.  We do, however, see it occur in bacteria because they go through generations within a matter of hours.  Following the evidence, we see that Earth is millions of years old, 4.5 billion in fact.  Even without the evidence for evolution (fossil record, comparative biology, DNA, etc.), it should be easy to see that small changes over a time on that scale could result in great diversity.

Dig For Yourself
This blog post by no means should convince anyone of anything.  Its purpose is to encourage you to start looking into things for yourself.  Read and watch all that you can on both evolutionarily science and Creationist information.  Ask critical questions of everything you find.  Try to falsify, try to debunk, try to dismantle every argument you hear.

Think for yourself.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Slurping Ken Ham's Solipsistic Soup

In the first video of my series reviewing the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate, I summarized an argument Ken made with an illustration of a falling pen.  According to Ken, we can’t assume the rate we measure an object (such as a pen) was the same 100 years ago or 5000 years ago.  Well, we can assume it, but Ken would call that "historical science".

He claims that it depends on your starting point.  Observations we make are filtered through the lenses of the perspective we start from.  He freely admits several times that he’s starting from the belief that the bible is true and accurate.  He claims Bill and the rest of us are starting from the belief that evolution must be true.  Then both sides find evidence to support their “historical perspective”.

That’s simply not true.

It's true for Ken Ham and others like him who admit (just as he did several times during the debate) that they start with the Bible being true.  But that's not how rational, reasonable, scientifically minded people do things.

We don't start with the idea that evolution is true.  We observe things in the world around us -- fossils, DNA, comparative biology -- and that evidence points us in the direction of the truth.  There is no "historical science vs observational/experimental science"...there's just science.  The method is the same even when it comes to history.  We make assumptions and inferences by how things work in the real world.

Ken's starting with the "the Bible is one hundred percent true", and in doing so, he misses the first step.  I've covered how the Bible isn't accurate many times on this blog over the years, and you can find a lot of great sites out there as well, so I won't refute it here.  This post is about making sure people realize that if you're just going to hold to a solipsistic idea like, "we can't know things weren't different in the past", then claiming pigs flew 3,000 years ago is just as valid as claiming people lived to be hundreds of years old just a few generations ago.  At that point, everything is on the table and we can't make sense of the world.

Luckily for us all, we don't hold to such ridiculous beliefs.  The fruits of science that each of us uses is based on the idea that nature has laws.  If they changed radically, they wouldn't be laws (not to mention we probably wouldn't be here in the first place).