Archives for July 2014

A review of “Rescue Me” by Val Silver

Rescue Me: Tales of Rescuing the Dogs Who Became Our Teachers, Healers, and Always Faithful FriendsRescue Me: Tales of Rescuing the Dogs Who Became Our Teachers, Healers, and Always Faithful Friends by Val Silver

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rescue Me is a collection of tales about a subject I am personally very passionate about — animal rescue. The stories are told by multiple people, and as a result some of them are more poignant than uplifting…the authors may not speak with “one” voice, but these stories told from the heart will almost certainly touch yours.

The book is worth buying just for the story of Biscuit the “do-over” dog, that went from death row in the animal shelter to become a therapy dog. Another story that resonated with me personally were the delightful “Lollipop Can’t Hold Her Licker” that opens with an unforgettable hook line: “Oh. My. Gawd. Your dog looks just like Gene Simmons.”

With their unified message, the authors said all the right things that another person familiar with the needs and difficulties and a passion for animal rescue wants to hear: spay and neuter. Adopt, don’t shop. Senior dogs need homes, too. Animal rescue is a labor of love, and that love shines through in the stories in this collection.

Amazon helped decide the number of stars this book deserved — five stars meant that I loved reading it, and four meant that I only liked the book. While I found it objectionable that one author described the wonderful, baying voice of a Basset Hound as a “God-awful sound”, I must admit that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, just as not every aficionado of music appreciates Gene Simmons of KISS.

View all my reviews

The vapid nature of atheism

southernprose_cover_CAFGThere is a common misconception that most if not all scientists are atheists, and that the vast majority of atheists are brilliant thinkers.

True, there are some very smart people who call themselves atheists.

But most of these people remain willfully ignorant of any potential information that might upset their apple-cart of a worldview.

For some people, it is enough for them to simply say they don’t believe in any sort of a God. Others, namely antitheists, actually hate the concept of supernatural intelligence so much that they campaign to eradicate the idea among the general public.

Some of these antitheists constantly lurk on the internet, hoping to evangelize their lack of faith and lead some of the sheeple astray.

I cannot tell you how many times one of these antitheists have threatened to “educate” me on the alleged scientific evidence, only to demonstrate in subsequent conversation that they know even less about the science involved than me.

Most recently, one of these intrepid atheists at a Facebook forum called The Battlefield directed me to read Victor Stenger’s paper titled “A Scenario for a Natural Origin of Our Universe,” presumably to convince me that our universe did not have a supernatural origin.

Before going any further, it should be clearly stipulated that I don’t know nearly as much about physics as Dr. Stenger.

However, after reading a bit of his work, I’m fairly well convinced Dr. Stenger doesn’t really know much more about the origin of our universe than I do.

His “natural origins” paper, found in the Cornell University library, begins:

It is commonly believed that the universe could not have come about naturally. Although many authors writing at the popular and academic levels have described various scenarios for a natural origin, usually based on a vague notion of “quantum fluctuations,” even though they admit their idea is speculative and surrender to the prevailing wisdom that the origin of our universe remains unexplained.

Dr. Stenger began by conceding that the default position should be to assume the origin of the universe was a supernatural event. We were off to an excellent start, to say the least.

The paper was only nine pages long, and three of those were dedicated to footnotes. I won’t pretend that I understood the mathematical formulas and special symbols that Dr. Stenger suggested would show us how to get a universe like ours without God, but I am quite sure he failed to adequately describe the origin of this universe on those pages.

The problems in Dr. Stenger’s logic were painfully obvious, even to a person lacking a PhD in physics.

However, we should acknowledge the positives about Dr. Stenger’s paper before we mention any of the negatives. He attempts to address inflation in his model of the Big Bang rather than ignoring it, for example. Furthermore, after bravely admitting no unifying theory of quantum mechanics and general relativity exists, Dr. Stenger nevertheless tries to apply this non-existent combination theory in his attempt to create a model of the Big Bang that eliminates any need for a God.

If given the opportunity, one might reasonably ask Dr. Stenger: was the purpose of this work a legitimate and scholarly pursuit, or nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse by yet another antitheist to attack religious beliefs under the guise of a genuine effort to perform good science?

Dr. Stenger also wrote in his paper:

We have no direct observations of the event we identify as the origin of our universe, “our universe” being the one we live in but with the far greater portion that arose from the same source now out of sight beyond our horizon. This has led some to insist that, as a consequence, science can say nothing about the origin. Here they parrot the familiar creationist argument that because we didn’t observe humans evolving we can’t say anything about human evolution.

The highlighted statement exposes the blatant bias of Dr. Stenger against religious beliefs and the idea of supernatural creation as the purpose for the paper — proving that the foundation of his entire argument was built upon quicksand.

The mention of inflation in his “natural origin” paper was commendable, but what about fine-tuning, and the anthropic nature of this universe?

Alas, he seemed to have ignored it completely in his “natural origins” paper when attempting to prove the universe could exist without supernatural help.

But on a happy note, to ascertain why that particular paper failed to even mention the alleged fine-tuning of our universe that created the perfect building blocks for life, I was inspired to perform some additional research on Dr. Stenger’s work to help explain the omission.

After a search of the internet, I discovered this paper about fine tuning also written by Dr. Stenger. In this second paper, he significantly downplays the idea of a fine-tuned universe by describing the six cosmological factors identified by Sir Martin Rees as merely anthropic coincidences.

Is Dr. Stenger’s real objective to better understand and hopefully explain the origin of our universe — one of the greatest mysteries of all time — or simply an excuse to sweep all for evidence of God under the rug? He wrote in his “natural origins” paper,

No claim will be made that the model I will describe is actually how our universe came about. The model contains no proof of uniqueness. The purpose of this essay is simply to show explicitly that at least one scenario exists for a perfectly natural, non-miraculous origin of our universe based on our best scientific knowledge. In other words, science has at least one viable explanation for the wholly natural origin of our universe, thus refuting any claim that a supernatural creation was required.

Question: if the mathematical model in question does not describe how our specific universe came to exist, then what good is the model?

Does it merely predict a hypothetical universe that wouldn’t collapse immediately after the Big Bang, or to describe the actual universe in which we live? And why did Dr. Stenger ignore the problem of fine-tuning?

Fellow physicist/atheist Chris Impey used a clever analogy to describe fine-tuning as follows:

Apart from hydrogen, everything else is just a trace element. Just how rare? Suppose a deck of cards represented randomly selected atoms in the universe. In one deck of cards, the aces would be helium atoms and the other forty-eight would be hydrogen atoms. You’d need thirty decks of cards before you’d expect to find one carbon atom. In the thirty decks of cards, there’d be a couple of oxygen atoms, too, but all the other cards would be hydrogen or helium. You’d need to search three hundred decks to find a single iron atom…How do we know what the universe is made of? Astronomers use remote sensing by spectroscopy to measure the composition of star stuff. Each element has a unique set of sharp spectral features that acts like a fingerprint, so by identifying that fingerprint in starlight, astronomers can measure contributions of different elements.

Dr. Impey seems to think the “fine-tuned” nature of our universe makes it a rather uniquely special place. He didn’t give God the credit in his book The Living Cosmos either, however.

Dr. Stenger conversely asserts that “[w]e cannot assume that life would have been impossible in our universe had the physical laws been any different.”

What does that even mean? What other sort of intelligent life does Dr. Stenger propose may exist in an untuned universe?

He means silicon-based life forms, of course…the stuff from which we manufacture computer chips.

Perhaps Dr. Stenger has taken The Terminator movies a little too seriously.

In his book The Big Bang: the Origin of the Universe, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr. Simon Singh wrote the following about the alleged fine-tuned nature of the universe in which we live:

Similarly, it seems to defy the odds that the six numbers that characterize the universe have very special values that allow life to flourish. So do we ignore this and count ourselves extremely lucky, or do we look for special meaning in our extraordinarily good fortune? According to the extreme version of the anthropic principle, the fine-tuning of the universe which has allowed for life to evolve is indicative of a tuner. In other words, the anthropic principle can be interpreted as evidence for the existence of a God. However, an alternative view is that our universe is part of a multiverse…there could be many other separate and isolated universes, each defined by its own set of six numbers.

As much as I loathe the word “consensus” in relation to science, Dr. Stenger seems to be in that relatively small minority of physicists who argue against the idea that the Big Bang created a universe perfectly suited for us, sometimes called a “Goldilocks” universe because it’s allegedly just right for life.

A significant problem in the paper was that Stenger presupposed the existence of a universe prior to ours, and it “tunneled through the unphysical region around t = 0 to become our universe.”

As atheists often like to ask the question: if God created the universe then who created God? Well, what created this parent universe from which ours emerged?

Grudgingly Dr. Stenger conceded about fine-tuning that “I do not dispute that life as we know it [emphasis original] would not exist if any one of the several of the constants of physics were slightly different. Additionally, I cannot prove that some other form of life is feasible with another set of constants.”

Question: why would Dr. Stenger assume these values of physics were actually constants, and not variables? He even went so far to write, “varying the constants that go into our familiar equations would give us many universes that do not look a bit like ours.”

So why make such an important assumption? To call something a constant in the world of mathematics is to assume it can have no other value but the one assigned.

In other words, Dr. Stenger assumes in his version of the laws of physics that the universe had no choice but spontaneously come into being from absolutely nothing.

About the alleged preexisting universe that supposedly created ours, Dr. Stenger wrote, “Nothing in our knowledge of physics and cosmology requires the non-existence of that universe, so it would be a violation of Occam’s razor to exclude it.”

To be crystal clear about this point, Dr. Stenger has asserted that our universe could come from another universe,  or from absolutely nothing — basically it could come from anywhere but God.

And actually, the anthropic universe problem is much worse than Dr. Stenger’s work suggests. In his paper on fine-tuning of the universe, Dr. Stenger acknowledged that fellow scientist Fred Hoyle once made a successful prediction using the anthropic principle about the excited state of the carbon 12 atom.

The irony was that even though Dr. Hoyle proved the anthropic principle applied to our universe, he rejected the Big Bang theory itself in favor of a steady state, eternal universe, because he also wanted to use science to defend his atheistic beliefs.

Hoyle even coined the term “the Big Bang” to mock the idea the universe had an origin to express his contempt for the idea. Hoyle said the Big Bang argument was pseudoscience, nothing but an excuse to introduce a creator into the creative processes responsible for this universe.

Because of his strong belief that a created universe would require a supernatural intellect to create it, Hoyle stubbornly refused to accept the evidence of the Big Bang as evidence.

Conversely, Dr. Stenger tried to minimize the issue of fine-tuning by declaring the universe deterministic, claiming that something appeared simply because it had no choice, according to the laws of physics.

But according to the chemistry necessary for the origin of life, the only reason we can assume that life is even possible is only because we can observe that life exists. Even if you magnanimously suggest the universe created itself, an equally unlikely event, the origin of life, is next to be considered.

A majority of the experts in physics and chemistry agree the origins of the universe and life were extraordinarily unlikely events. In fact, the only reason we can assume abiogenesis is even theoretically possible is the fact that we are part of the evidence.

The argument is not about creation versus evolution, free will versus determinism, or God versus science.

The events identified by “science” had to happen, or else we wouldn’t be here.

The only question to really ponder is why it happened — did a supernatural God orchestrate this universe, or might we exist only because of extraordinary good luck?

Fred Hoyle was brilliant, but his stubborn blindness to the copious evidence for God introduced problems that influenced his work and sort of made him a laughing stock among the other physicists of his day — not because he became a theist, but because he refused to consider the possibility of a deity even after being been left with no alternative because of the Big Bang. For various reasons, other men were awarded a Nobel Prize that Fred Hoyle earned and richly deserved.

Hoyle could have been mentioned in the same sentence with Newton, Einstein, and Swedenborg, if only his stubborn refusal to even consider the possible existence of a supernatural God hadn’t blinded him to his own errors in logic.

But because I’m not a close-minded freethinker, I read Dr. Stenger’s papers, hoping I might learn something new. I’m not afraid of new ideas that might challenge my preconceived idea that life cannot exist without God.

Unfortunately, the only thing I actually learned was how desperate atheists like Dr. Stenger and Fred Hoyle can become, and the lengths they will go through to protect their own worldview.

When I told my atheist acquaintance who recommended Dr. Stenger’s paper that I wanted a couple of days to research and think about things before I provided any feedback, he replied that he didn’t care to know my thoughts.

The goal of this exercise was always to indoctrinate me into his way of thinking. This person has assumed he can learn nothing from a conversation with me.

He merely wanted to shake my conviction that this universe will never be adequately explained by scientists such as Victor Stenger or Fred Hoyle, not as long as they insist on taking the creator out of this simple equation for creation:

Life = Big Bang + abiogenesis + speciation + natural selection

In the mind of this atheist acquaintance with constipated thoughts, Dr. Stenger has a PhD, which makes him the equivalent of a god.

He completely failed to recognize the fact that Dr. Stenger’s work simply reflects his presupposition of atheism, and is basically useless as a result.

It seems that atheists do not really make great scientists, if only because they are certain of too many things that aren’t really true.