Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Does Science point to God? Dinesh D'Souza gets it all wrong again!

Dinesh D'Souza recently wrote:

Contemporary atheism marches behind the banner of science. It is perhaps no surprise that several leading atheists—from biologist Richard Dawkins to cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker to physicist Victor Stenger—are also leading scientists. The central argument of these scientific atheists is that modern science has refuted traditional religious conceptions of a divine creator.

Gee, maybe if Mr. D'Souza actually read what these leading scientists have to say, he'd realize that they say no such thing. Of course, since Mr. D'Souza is not known at all for well-documented research into any of the topics he pontificates about, and he doesn't bother to provide footnotes to back up his claims, we are at a loss to determine how he reached this conclusion. Perhaps he reached it because he's simply got a much bigger brain than you do, and that you should not bother asking him any questions.

The central argument of all of these scientists, and indeed, all of the scientists of the world, is not that science has disproven God, but rather that science is a far better tool for finding the truth than faith is. Wherever traditional religion has intersected science, by asserting certain truths about the physical universe, traditional religion has lost to science. The choice of these scientists to be atheists is a secondary thought. The primary argument of these scientists is simply that the scientific method will always prove to be superior to faith-based methods.

But of late atheism seems to be losing its scientific confidence. One sign of this is the public advertisements that are appearing in billboards from London to Washington DC. Dawkins helped pay for a London campaign to put signs on city buses saying, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Humanist groups in America have launched a similar campaign in the nation’s capital. “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake.” And in Colorado atheists are sporting billboards apparently inspired by John Lennon: “Imagine…no religion.”

Hold on a second. If paying for a public advertisement for your beliefs is a sign of a lack of confidence on the part of the believer, then we have to conclude that Christians as a group are seriously lacking confidence in their own faith, as well, since they fund a lot more advertising campaigns to promote Christianity. Remember the God Billboards? Every day, across America, thousands of Christian radio and television channels broadcast advertising for Christian ideas, among which is the paranoid notion that atheists are creeping around every corner, out to get Christians. If the ammount of effort spent on advertising for a specific philosophical belief is indicative of a lack of confidence on the part of the believers, then trully, Christians have a veritable Mount Everest of confidence issues than atheists do.

What is striking about these slogans is the philosophy behind them. There is no claim here that God fails to satisfy some criterion of scientific validation. We hear nothing about how evolution has undermined the traditional “argument from design.” There’s not even a whisper about how science is based on reason while Christianity is based on faith.

Maybe that's because that wasn't the point of the message. I mean, if the message was about how science is better than religion, you'd have a point, but the message was not about science. The message was simply "There's probably no God. Why believe in a god? Imagine no Religion."

Instead, we are given the simple assertion that there is probably no God, followed by the counsel to go ahead and enjoy life.

How horrifying! Those evil atheists are telling people to enjoy life. what a shameful message of utter hatred!

In other words, let’s not let God and his commandments spoil all the fun. “Be good for goodness sake” is true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. The question remains: what is the source of these standards of goodness that seem to be shared by religious and non-religious people alike? Finally John Lennon knew how to compose a tune but he could hardly be considered a reliable authority on fundamental questions. His “imagine there’s no heaven” sounds visionary but is, from an intellectual point of view, a complete nullity.

Maybe that's the point. Maybe instead of asking people to pick up a book of fairy tales, and just beleive everything in it, unquestioningly, because it was allegedly written by a supreme being, who will send you to be tortured for eternity if you do not believe it, atheists wanted to be succinct and to the point.

If you want to know why atheists seem to have given up the scientific card,

When did atheists give up on science? As far as I can tell, Dawkins is still a scientist and an atheist. So aren't the others. The fact that they were willing to put money into an ad campaign that promoted their beliefs doesn't negate their confidence in science at all. D'Souza is clearly grasping at straws here to find fault in Americans who are exercising their freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. This is a classic double-standard. Nobody thinks there's anything wrong with a group of religious people spending money on mass-marketing to promote their beleifs. We see dozens of different sects of Christianity peddled on television, the radio, on billboards, and on soap-boxes in public squares every day, but if an atheist comes out and does it once, somehow it's shameful or a sign of weakness. Did Mr. D'Souza ever condemn the lack of confidence that the people behind the God Billboards had in their beliefs? Nope. Not a word. Does he ever condemn all the "War on Christmas" rhetoric and advertising this time of year? Nope. One atheist group pays to put a godless message on buses, and suddenly D'Souza is all over it like it's a new plague.

It amuses me to see Christians and Conservative pundits condemn Americans exercising their free speech and freedom of conscience, merely because they disagree with them. Somehow, advertising that people "get on with their lives... be good for goodness sake... and imagine..." has to be made to look bad, despite the positive messages being conveyed.

I would suggest that the person whose faith is threatened here is your humble conservative attack-weasel, Dinesh D'Souza. Why is Dinesh, and other Christians, afraid or upset at these atheists, who only did on a tiny scale, what Christians have been doing for decades with advertising and mass-media? Is he afraid that the campaign might work, and make a few Christians turn away from the faith? I mean, what's a few casualties when there are literally billions of Christians in the world... well... if Mr. D'Souza doesn't discount all the Christians who follow sects that he considers heretical, that is.

the current issue of Discover magazine provides part of the answer. The magazine has an interesting story by Tim Folger which is titled “Science’s Alternative to an Intelligent Creator.” The article begins by noting “an extraordinary fact about the universe: its basic properties are uncannily suited for life.” As physicist Andrei Linde puts it, “We have a lot of really, really strange coincidences, and all of these coincidences are such that they make life possible.”

Oh, yes, the argument from "Fine Tuning", or the Anthropic Principle. The argument from "Fine Tuning" is essentially an argument from ignorance or personal incredulity. Essentially, the problem with the fine tuning argument is that the actual upper and lower limits of the various fine-tuned factors are not known, and also that the process of evolution has actually tailored life to fit whatever the other forces acting upon the world have made it become. In other words, when the world became colder, life evolved to live in colder conditions. When it became warmer, life adapted to live in warmer conditions, and so on. The biggest flaw with the fine-tuning argument is that nobody has been able to show that a world which turned out differently would be any better or worse. It ends up being a big "what if" speculation, at best.

Too many “coincidences,” however, imply a plot. Folger’s article shows that if the numerical values of the universe, from the speed of light to the strength of gravity, were even slightly different, there would be no universe and no life.

Actually, Mr. D'Souza is misrepresenting Folger's Discover Magazine article. The universe, and life, would merely have developed Differently than what we see. Folger doesn't claim that "The universe and life would be impossible" if certain limits were not just-right -- that is a distortion of what the article says. If you read the article, the fourth paragraph starts out by saying “For me the reality of many universes is a logical possibility." The article actually goes on to say that String Theory and the Multiverse concept are well supported by experimental physics, and that the Anthropic principle, which Mr. D'Sousa and people from the psuedoscientific conservative propaganda factory, The Discovery Institute, doesn't want to let go of, has essentially been discredited, because it's based on flawed assumptions. The article says that "using the anthropic principle to explain the properties of the universe is like saying that ships were created so that barnacles could stick to them."

Recently scientists have discovered that most of the matter and energy in the universe is made up of so-called “dark” matter and “dark” energy. It turns out that the quantity of dark energy seems precisely calibrated to make possible not only our universe but observers like us who can comprehend that universe.

That is a highly unorthodox interpretation of what Dark Matter is all about, and what recent discoveries have determined about it. Of course, since Mr. D'Souza is presenting his unqualified, uneducated polemical opinion on the subject of Dark Matter, and not quoting a specific source, or footnoting it, so we can't determine which recent developments he's referring to. Of course, Dark Matter may be explained by a recent discovery about Einstein's theory of Relativity. Though the discovery confirms that the missing mass of gluons is accounted for by the Einstein's calculation, I doubt that D'Souza was even aware of it.

Even Steven Weinberg, the Nobel laureate in physics and an outspoken atheist, remarks that “this is fine-tuning that seems to be extreme, far beyond what you could imagine just having to accept as a mere accident.”

Of course, Mr. D'Souza isn't really quoting Weinberg, here. Weinberg was re-iterating what ID supporters claim about Fine Tuning. D'Souza cuts off the rest of what Winberg actually said, where he concludes "Looked at more closely, the fine-tuning of the constants of nature here does not seem so fine." Indeed, if you browse through the literature from practicing physicists on just how fine tuned they consider everything to be, they will not echo what the Creationists claim at all.

And physicist Freeman Dyson draws the appropriate conclusion from the scientific evidence to date: “The universe in some sense knew we were coming.”

Yes, but Freeman Dyson is at odds with Weinberg and most other physicists on that topic. It is highly disingenuous of D'Souza to try to misrepresent these two people as agreeing with each other when they clearly do not. This is just one of many examples of how Conservative pundits, and creationists quote-mine to make it appear that experts agree with their position, when they clearly write the opposite.

Folger then admits that this line of reasoning makes a number of scientists very uncomfortable. “Physicists don’t like coincidences.” “They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea.”

As stated above, the idea that the universe seems fine-tuned for life is discredited, and based on a flawed assumption amounts to saying that ships were invented so that barnacles could stick to them. The fine tuning notion is based on a number of flawed assumptions, namely:

  • That the Theory of Evolution proposes a random process
  • That the Big Bang Theory proposes that the universe evolved from random processes.
  • That life or humanity is somehow the ultimate goal or purpose of the universe.
  • That the only alternative to a divine intelligent creator is "random processes"

Creationists and their conservative bretheren constantly misrepresent current science as a series of proposals that everything that exists is all the result of accidental, random, or chance occurences. This is nowhere near what modern science says about the development of the universe or of how evolution works. For years, creationists, "intelligent design" proponents, and the fools who believe them, have been told by actual scientists that their descriptions of "random" evolution and "random" cosmology are not what secular science claims, and yet, they continue to repeat the claims about "randomness" no matter how often scientists correct them.

There are two hurdles here, one historical and the other methodological. The historical hurdle is that science has for three centuries been showing that man does not occupy a privileged position in the cosmos, and now it seems like he does.

That's interesting, because that is not what the Discover magazine article he is referring to says.

The methodological hurdle is what physicist Stephen Hawking once called “the problem of Genesis.” Science is the search for natural explanations for natural phenomena, and what could be more embarrassing than the finding that a supernatural intelligence transcending all natural laws is behind it all?

Here, D'Souza invokes the name of Stephen Hawking, identifying Hawking as claiming there is a problem with the beginning of the universe. Of course, how D'Souza describes it is not quite what Hawking meant. In his 2007 lecture tour, Hawking said:

one can get rid of the problem of time having a beginning, in a similar way in which we got rid of the edge of the world. Suppose the beginning of the universe, was like the south pole of the Earth , with degrees of latitude, playing the role of time. The universe would start as a point at the South Pole. As one moves north, the circles of constant latitude, representing the size of the universe, would expand. To ask what happened before the beginning of the universe, would become a meaningless question, because there is nothing south of the South Pole.

Time, as measured in degrees of latitude, would have a beginning at the South Pole, but the South Pole is much like any other point, at least so I have been told. I have been to Antarctica, but not to the South Pole.

The same laws of Nature hold at the South Pole, as in other places. This would remove the age-old objection to the universe having a beginning, that it would be a place where the normal laws broke down. The beginning of the universe, would be governed by the laws of science.

-- Stephen Hawking, from the J. Robert Oppenheimer Lecture in Physics, delivered March 13, 2007, at Zellerbach Hall on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

See, Dinesh D'Souza may have read some quotes about Hawking, but it doesn't appear that he actually read Hawking, or even understood what Hawking's views are. This is a constant theme in creationist literature -- they consistantly quote famous secular scientists, and show a complete lack of comprehension for what those scientists actually say.

Consequently many physicists are exploring an alternative possibility: multiple universes. This is summed up as follows: “Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multiverse.” Folger says that “short of invoking a benevolent creator” this is the best that modern science can do. For contemporary physicists, he writes, this “may well be the only viable nonreligious explanation” for our fine-tuned universe.

Well, that's only if:

  • The concept of fine tuning is based on valid premises (which I showed earlier, is not)
  • Whether modern physicists agree that this fine tuning issue, as presented by creationists, even resembles science.
  • If you completely ignore what Stephen Hawking said about the topic of the beginning of the universe.

In short, unless it can be shown that it's absolutely neccesary for the universe to have a finite ex-nihilo beginning, then the question of how the universe began is irrelevent.

The appeal of multiple universes—perhaps even an infinity of universes—is that when there are billions and billions of possibilities, then even very unlikely outcomes are going to be realized somewhere. Consequently if there was an infinite number of universes, something like our universe is certain to appear at some point. What at first glance seems like incredible coincidence can be explained as the result of a mathematical inevitability.

Yeah, and that proabably irks people like Dinesh D'Souza, because if true, it removes God from the picture once again, as it did with the Flat Earth, The Geogentric Model Of the Universe, and mind-brain duality.

The only difficulty, as Folger makes clear, is that there is no empirical evidence for the existence of any universes other than our own. Moreover, there may never be such evidence. That’s because if there are other universes, they will operate according to different laws of physics than the ones in our universe, and consequently they are permanently and inescapably inaccessible to us. The article in Discover concludes on a somber note. While some physicists are hoping the multiverse will produce empirical predictions that can be tested, “for many physicists, however, the multiverse remains a desperate measure ruled out by the impossibility of confirmation.”

Right, just as there is no empirical evidence for the existence of Supreme being.

No wonder atheists are sporting billboards asking us to “imagine…no religion.” When science, far from disproving God, seems to be pointing with ever-greater precision toward transcendence, imagination and wishful thinking seem all that is left for the atheists to count on.

But as I showed here, modern science is not showing more evidence of transcendence, towards a god, or towards supernatural explanations. The trend for the last 3000 years, which continues to today, is that scientific evidence has consistantly led away from the ideas of the supernatural, away from religion, and away from the divine. The classic misrepresentation of science, which we see all the time from Creationists, and from their conservative allies, is what we are getting from Dinesh D'Souza -- not real science, but a layperson's hack-interpretation of it, full of mined quotes, misunderstood terms and concepts, and misrepresented ideas.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Questions Atheists allegedly can't answer...

Okay, I know, I know... Ray Comfort is a retard, and I shouldn't bother answering his bullshit posts, because doing so just legitimizes his idiocy in his own mind. We shouldn't encourage people who are proud of their own stupidity and ignorance, by taking them seriously. So after this, I promise not to use him for material... well maybe... I don't know. When there's nothing better to do, and I need a good laugh, it's so easy to peek at his blog again...

So I saw this post, and felt I should answer it, since it's allegedly a bunch of questions atheists can't answer.

  1. What was in the beginning?

    [Atheists have a dilemma when they say that there was nothing in the beginning. This is because nothing cannot create something. If they say that there were gases (or something) in the beginning, then it’s not the "beginning," because the gases or the “something” already existed. Who or what made them? This is why reasonable atheists admit that they just don’t know, humbling though it may be].

    Most, if not all atheists will answer "We don't know". Christians do not know any better answer to this than atheists do; Christians and other religionists assert an answer that people made up in the past, and wrote into their respective holy books. These "answers" are not answers based on fact of scientific research, and are usually nonsensical.

    We do not know what was in the beginning, because we don't even know exactly what, where, or when the beginning was. We don't know why matter exists as opposed to nothing. Nobody can answer that, not even Christians.

  2. Do human beings have more intrinsic value than animals?

    [If your pet dog and your neighbor are drowning, and you can only save one of them, who would you save? If it’s your neighbor, why? To an atheist, both the dog and the human being are both a mere species of animal, so their value is completely subjective. Most, if pressed, would say that they would save the human being, but they have no real explanation as to why he has more worth, other than to say that there is moral pressure from the social order to value a person more than a dog].

    Humans, like any other species, tend to value their own kind higher than other animals. It is instinctual for group survival. Christians like to proclaim that atheists MUST believe that a human has no more intrinsic value than a dog, because of some strange logic that seems to be unique to the Evangelical Fundamentalist Christian misconception of evolution and atheism. Values are determined by people, and by society. Humans value each other more than they value other animals, and they are usually conscious of the perception that society has of them as individuals. But I would argue that even a Christian might choose to save their pet dog if the person drowning were someone they didn't like. If the Christian was asked "suppose your dog, and a known vicious serial rapist/killer were drowning...", do you think they'd rescue the serial killer? If that's the choice, I'd go for the dog.

  3. What happens after death?

    [The only way any of us can speak with any authority about the subject of death, is to have reliable information from someone who has been there. God has been there. He transcends death. He is both on this side and on "the other side." When we remove God from the equation, we are left with mere conjecture].

    This is a trully idiotic statement. What happens after death, after you remove all of the superstitions like God and the supernatural, is not mere conjecture. It is well studied and understood by science, as well as fairly well documented. All of the myths about light at the end of the tunnel, life-review, and all the other myths associated with dying and near-death experiences, have very down-to-earth scientific explanations.

    As the brain loses it's blood supply, when the heart stops pumping blood, it begins to shut down. Lack of blood to the eyes results in the tunnel vision, because the blood vessels in the retina radiate from the center, meaning the last functioning parts of it will be close to the center, since that's where the blood is.

    During a near-death experience, people feel light, like they are floating, or "light headed", just like when people are drunk or have a fever, only the feeling is more intense. This is caused by a drop in blood pressure. As the reason, logic, language, and other non-essential parts of the brain shut down, the last parts to remain active include Broca's area, which is associated with fantasy and dreaming. So many people have vivid dreams during a near-death experience because that is the part of the brain responsible for our dreams. Once the brain is stopped, and the individual is not revived, cell death starts, and within hours, enough of the brain's cells die to make revival impossible.

    Now Christians claim that there is life after death, however, this has never been observed, and it trully is speculation on their part. In the world of Neurophysiology, it is almost universally agreed that the brain is what causes consciousness. Once the brain dies, consciousness dies with it.

  4. What is the purpose of life?

    [Without reference to a Creator who made us with the purpose of eternal fellowship, life has no real rhyme or reason. We are just tiny specs on a big ball of dirt, flying through space, striving to be happy, but with no purpose for existence].

    Which is why we tend to make up our own meaning of life. The Christian meaning of life is no more valid than that of a painter or musician, whose "meaning of life" will involve doing what is meaningful to them.

  5. Why there is order in all of creation?

    [If we believe that creation came into being through a big bang, it is important to understand that all explosions cause chaos. Order can only come through an in intelligent designer. Why then is there order from the tiny atom through to the massive universe? Why do summer, fall, winter and spring come around each year, at different times of the year, in different parts of the world--always in the same order? Why can we predict the sun’s rising to the second a 100 years into the future? Why is there order in the makeup of the eye, the ear, the brain, the blood, the heart, liver, kidneys, hands and feet? Every part of creation screams (to a thinking mind) that there is a Creator].

    Even explosions have order to them. Anyone who has ever studied ballistics and explosive debris fields knows that there are patterns to every explosion. People perceive chaos, because that is what it looks like on a superficial level. However, in an explosion, debris always radiates out from a central point, and it's usually in a fairly regular pattern. Craters left by explosions are almost always round.

    The statement that "order can only come from an intelligent designer" is nothing but an ignorant assertion. Atoms, and the subatomic particles that make them up, all have predictable properties, that, when mixed in specific ways, cause specific, predictable, and regular patterns, which happen automatically, without any intelligent agent acting upon them. All matter is made from predictable, specific arrangements of atoms, and each atom and grouping of atoms has very predictable properties. Religious people will insist that those properties of matter were put there by an intelligent force, but they have no way of demonstrating this; they merely assert it.

    Furthermore, the answers to why the seasons occur has been well understood by science for centuries. It is an admission of incredible ignroance for a grown adult person in a western nation to proclaim that seasons, the rising of the sun, the phases of the moon, and other astronomical and meteorlogical phenomena are a mysteries. They are not. Science has studied them, and documented why all of these things happen, and in the west, these basic facts get taught to small children in grammar school.

  6. Why is there a sense of morality in every civilization?

    [How do we instinctively know that it’s wrong to kill, to lie, to steal, etc. Where did this universal morality come from? The only reasonable explanation is the one given by the Bible--that "the work of the Law is written in their hearts" (Romans 2:15), and that God Himself has given light to every man (see Romans 1:18-20)].

    The Bible's explanation is not the only one, nor is it very reasonable. I can think of a much easier explanation. All humans have the same basic DNA -- the DNA that makes a human a human. DNA dictates both the shape and the basic behaviors of all life on earth. Because all humans have the same basic human DNA, they all have the same basic human behaviors in common, and that includes our basic sense of social ethics. Societies of humans will tend to reflect the basic behavior and social ethics that are part of the human mind. Though every culture has variations on what is acceptable, they all agree that killing one another is bad, that violence against a non-threatening or helpless individual is bad, and that stealing is bad. There are pretty simple evolutionary reasons why these behaviors evolved.

  7. Why does every civilization believe in a Creator?

    [While an atheist may be quick to point out that some religions within certain cultures (such as Buddhism) are atheistic, mankind has never found any civilization (no matter how primitive) that didn’t worship some sort of Creator, whether it be the sun, or an idol].

    Because uneducated humans are superstitious, and casually make up myths and fables in the abscence of knowledge.

  8. Why does every sane person have a conscience, even when it is not dictated by society?

    [If we didn’t accept that the conscience is inherent within every human being, we could never rightly administer civil justice. Morality is shaped by, but does not originate from society].

    The assertion here is that morality cannot be the product of society. I believe that this assertion is false. It's pretty obvious that societies create morality, because morality differs from group to group. Though there are a few universal values in different human cultures, morality differs greatly from culture to culture. Christians like to assert that their morality is the absolute basis for all other moral and ethical systems, but this is nothing more than a baseless assertion. The universal moral values that different cultures have in common can be seen in the writings of cultures that predate biblical ones.

  9. Which came first--the chicken or the egg?

    [Without "the book of beginnings" (the Book of Genesis) to tell us that God made the chicken first (see Genesis 1:20), we are merely guessing as to its genesis. If an atheist believes it was a chicken, where did it come from, and how was it given life when there was no egg from which to hatch? If it evolved without an egg, why did evolution change its mind and introduce eggs, if it was doing okay without them. Also, why and when did a rooster become necessary to fertilize the egg so that a chicken would form within it, and which came first, that rooster or its egg? If the atheist maintains that the egg came first, who then made it, (and again) who fertilized it, and who sat on it so that it would hatch? And that’s just the beginning of the beginnings dilemma. Which came first--the eagle or its egg? How about the duck? The owl, the kiwi, the tiny humming bird, and the big old albatross? There is no end to it, if you reject “In the Beginning God created..."].

    This question is based on the assumptions that evolution is false, and that chickens have always existed in their current form, and never evolved from other birds, or pre-bird therapods. Since dinosaurs pre-date birds, and were known to be egg-layers, then the egg clearly came before the chicken.

    The egg developed even before there were any fish. Creatures were laying eggs in the cambrian era. Eggs were a natural evolutionary development which allowed reproduction to continue without a large scale mitosis (where an organism divides itself into two separate entities). An egg contains the genetic information to create a new individual, but it grows on it's own, allowing the parent to be unencumbered and weakened by a large scale division of itself.

    Chickens are a relatively recent animal -- all the chickens that mankind keeps were created via humans domesticating and cross-breeding different game fowl to achieve desired traits. So before there were chickens as we know them, primitive humans were keeping other birds which eventually were replaced by modern chickens.

  10. 10. How did nothing create everything?

    [It is primary science to understand that it is impossible for nothing to create anything, let alone everything. Material creation cannot be made by nothing. Something had to create it, and the Creator of all things was and is the non-material Spirit of the eternal God, who dwells outside the dimension of time (see Titus 1:2), and is infinitely beyond the comprehension of human understanding].

    I never met an atheist who proposed that nothing created everything. However, I've met plenty of superstitious theists who proclaim that their God created everything out of nothing. Of course, this leads to the question of how god came to be in the first place, and we are left with the same question -- where did everything come from?

    Of course, the theists insist that there had to be nothing at some point, but we do not know that. For all we know, the energy that makes up all matter has simply always existed. That answer is no less plausible than an intelligent being just willing everything into existence 6000 years ago. In fact, It's more plausible because it's more in the spirit of Ockham's Razor, since it removes the unknown factor of God from the equation, leaving only that which can be examined. We do not know when the begining of the universe was. We do not know what existed before the universe as we know it did. We don't know if the universe simply always existed or if it was created. These questions simply cannot be answered, and the answers of the world's religions, including Christianity, are not adequate.