People who think they know everything

[FULL DISCLOSURE: Herman L. Mays, Jr. recently published a somewhat ruthless review of my book Counterargument for God, which may lead some readers to conclude this particular article has been written to gain some measure of revenge. However, after reading the rather vitriolic exchanges between academic/intellectual types such as Bart Ehrman and Richard Carrier, I’m convinced that hostile rhetoric is now a perfectly acceptable form of criticism. Therefore, I won’t be mincing my words, either.]

Professor Herman L. Mays, Jr. teaches at Marshall University, and he’s probably a very nice guy (Anybody who can make me laugh out loud can’t be all bad in my book). And when I read the following sentence his review of my book, I literally burst out laughing:

To say Leonard’s book should be taken with a grain of salt gives undue credit to the power of salt to ease the swallowing of the foulest of meals.

I have to admit, that’s a pretty clever zinger. Could his rhetoric be exaggerated? That’s not for me to say. Because my brain often works in strange and unconventional ways, when I read his little quip my mind wandered back in time to revisit an old installment of the comic strip Bloom County, in which Opus the Penguin wrote a scathing review of the movie Benji Saves the Universe. He described the movie as achieving “new levels of badness” — could I be as equally untalented a writer?

Given his perspective as an academic who earns his paycheck teaching evolutionary biology, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that Professor Mays took exception to my criticisms of Darwin’s theory as the best explanation for the origin of new species. However, when he claimed that virtually anything offered on Amazon for $2.99 was a better use of one’s hard-earned money (and knowing that Professor Mays received a free copy) I had to wonder if his penchant for hyperbole overruled his good judgment, and if he was aware of the quality of the competition in Kindle books offered for that same price.

I find it extremely difficult to believe his claim that my book (which won an award) worse than such literary classics as Hillary Clinton: What America Lost by not Electing Hillary Clinton, or the incomparable (and equally incomprehensible) Donald Trump Versus the Were-Yeti.

Alas, that question is moot and must be left for future readers to decide.

It should be noted that for a man who forcefully argues using his position of “authority” as an academic, Professor Mays becomes squeamish and remarkably evasive when asked a rather straightforward question: was he an atheist?

After all, our acquaintance was initially made after he posted several disparaging comments either about creationism or people (like me) who believe in a supernatural creator God. Therefore my question seemed reasonable to ask, and I didn’t expect it would be difficult to answer. But this was the verbatim response from Professor Mays: “I’m not an atheist because I don’t not believe in a god.”

Typically the use of a double negative is considered weak grammar unless the author has intentionally used litotes to imply a suggestive double entendre or to understate an opinion. For example, using the phrase “he isn’t a complete idiot” as a description of Professor Mays could be taken as a sly innuendo suggesting that he is actually an exceptionally clever man, or it might be interpreted to mean he’s at least a slight improvement over a boorish imbecile.

How does one resolve a triple negative?  There is no known convention in the English language advising how someone should parse and interpret such a convoluted mess of a reply.

“I’m not an atheist” seemed clear enough, but when combined with “I don’t not believe in a god” a possibly clear and coherent answer to a direct question turns into muddled nonsense.  “I don’t not believe in a god” and “I believe in God” clearly do not convey the same meaning. “I’m not an atheist because I believe in God” would be a clear and coherent statement that makes perfect sense. “I’m not an atheist because I don’t not believe in a god” is simply gibberish.

Two lefts don’t make a right, but three do.

But that somewhat egregious abuse of the English language may be excused given the context — surely Professor Mays takes greater care when writing for publication than he does for his personal correspondence. In fairness, we should examine some of his published material. This paper titled “Speaking Out Against Climate Change Denial in West Virginia” by Professor Mays, found in Reports from the National Center for Science Education, begins with this rather audacious claim: “The scientific consensus on climate change is clear. Global temperature is rising and the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities is the primary cause.”

Oh, really?

Now of course it’s just my opinion, but I think it’s rather brazen for Professor Mays to lecture others with feigned authority on the subject of climate change, especially considering the fact he doesn’t study climate science, and his primary source seems to be a book by a couple of historians on climate change, or possibly even the movie of the same name. An inconvenient truth, perhaps?

With his opening statement, Professor Mays sounded a lot more like Bill Nye, the sciency guy than an academic writing for publication in a professional journal. Bill Nye is an entertainer who likes to frequently portray himself as an academic and some sort of scientific authority, with considerable success in the mainstream media. Nye often pontificates his opinions on subjects that he knows little or practically nothing about, which includes climate science, and Darwin’s theory of evolution. For whatever reason, a bow tie and a lab coat appear to give Nye an air of credibility. At least Herman Mays, Jr. really does hold a PhD…it just doesn’t have anything to do with climate science.

Bill Nye loves to cite statistics, and he often talks about “scientific consensus” that greenhouse gases caused by human activity are causing irreparable harm to our environment. However, as Dr. Roy Spencer (a bona fide expert on climate science) testified before Congress, that particular statistic actually refers to the percentage of people who believe human activity has an impact on our environment, not the number of experts who claim that we all must install solar panels, erect a windmill, and drive a Prius, or else the seas will rise, we’ll have droughts and famines, and the world will end.

Tomorrow, or next Tuesday at the very latest.

Unlike the recommendations of Professor Mays in his review of my book, I’m going to strongly recommend that everyone read this execrable opinion piece of dogmatic climate alarmism, because it is illustrative of the most significant problem faced by modern academia: they no longer understand the purpose of their job.

Professor Mays seems to have forgotten it is his job to teach young and impressionable minds how to learn, not necessarily what to learn. Academics like Professor Mays don’t even realize the harm they are doing to humanity as a whole, when they attempt to suppress critical thinking and espouse blind indoctrination. If you want me to believe something, all you need to do is convince me. At least when Professor Mays rhetorically poses the question, “Could the consensus on climate change be wrong?” he was honest enough to admit the answer is “yes.”

Unfortunately, Professor Mays seems to be relatively certain that he’s right and you’re wrong, assuming you disagree with something he believes. He uses adversarial language and demonizes his opposition in this theoretically civil and “intellectual” debate: he calls them climate deniers. Advocates of governmental action to do something about climate change are said to all have equally valid, probably even altruistic reasons for their legitimate concern.

But those opposed are climate deniers who allegedly do so for some nefarious and ambiguous political or economic motives.  One sentence in particular effectively sums up the discouraging bias against intellectual debate that exists in the mind of Professor Mays: “I view the strategy of climate change denial in the same light as the denial of the scientific consensus on evolution. Both are assaults on reason.”

There is no possibility for open dialog to have even a prayer of success if one party in the conversation starts with the assumption that anyone who disagrees with him must be unreasonable. And the irony that Professor Mays appears to base much of his understanding of climate science on the work of Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, co-authors of the book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming is delicious: his most frequently cited authorities on climate science are not scientists. They are a couple of science historians. Yet Professor Mays lambasted my book in his review for using direct quotes excerpted from “popular” texts such as The Greatest Show on Earth: the evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins, or Why Evolution is True by biologist Jerry Coyne, rather than some snooty academic publication like Reports From the Center for Science Education.

Though he lists a few academic papers among his sources, Professor Mays didn’t seem to be quoting from their work, but he made quite a few references to Oreskes and Conway. Occasionally Professor Mays stumbles over the truth, as when he wrote, “Political and economic interests are exerting an influence on the that has little to do with the actual science.”

Professor Mays might protest my summary of Merchants of Doubt with only two short sentences: “Big oil bad. Environmentalism good” but it is an accurate assessment. If Professor Mays was called before Congress to contradict the testimony of Dr. Spencer, I can imagine that it would go a lot like the exchange between Senator Ted Cruz and the president of the Sierra Club.

Science is never settled, and anyone who prefers agreement to evidence isn’t qualified to be considered an authority. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but they are not entitled to silence the opinions of others. And if someone who thinks he knows it all can’t or won’t engage in civil conversation, perhaps they should consider remaining quiet themselves.

Reader feedback

The original purpose for building this website was to create an internet platform to advertise the fact I’d become an author, and to promote my books.

The idea was that my writing would eventually provide me some level of income, but there’s only one small problem — I haven’t written enough material in any particular genre to draw and sustain a large audience, and there’s a lot of competition in this new age of digital publishing.

Long ago the decision was made to sacrifice quantity for quality, so I haven’t tried to produce a steady stream of content on one particular subject. I have tried to focus on writing well, rather than publishing more frequently. Naturally, it was a very rewarding feeling in 2013 when not one or two, but three of my books won awards, but the problem is that awards don’t automatically produce income. The market has been flooded with competition, and not enough people know who I am. I’m no genius when it comes to marketing myself as a writer, but I know that I don’t have enough readers, book reviews, and my work hasn’t gotten much publicity.

This is somewhat difficult to write without sounding like I’m pleading for money, but in order for my work to earn income, I need to sell books and short stories. I have resisted the idea of buttons soliciting donations to support the website, and Patreon accounts. But on the other hand, I don’t have an agent, or a book deal. I don’t get paid six or seven-figure advances on work that hasn’t even been written yet. The two small, independent publishers who have published my work paid fair royalties, but those are based on book sales. To be brutally blunt, if my family depended on my income as a writer to survive, we’d have starved to death about nine years ago.

Fortunately my wife believes in my talent as a writer, and I believe in myself.  The problem is largely one of my own making, I do believe.  Because my six published works range from nonfiction books about religion and philosophy (Divine Evolution and Counterargument for God), a collection of short stories about animal rescue called Always a Next One, plus three detective novels, I haven’t built an audience base that impatiently waits on my next book.

My first novel, Coastal Empire, introduced private detective Robert Mercer and his canine partner, Ox, as they tried to solve the mystery of why someone might steal a person’s identity without stealing their money. Premonition is the sequel to Coastal Empire, and Secondhand Sight is an amateur sleuth novel featuring Dan Harper as the main character. The next Mercer novel, which will be published in 2017, will be called Atheist’s Prayer.

I know from comments that people enjoy reading my blog, or so they claim, but do those same people read my books? If not, why not?

What do you like about my website, and what don’t you like? 

Like anyone else with an ego, of course I enjoy a complimentary review, especially when it is published at Amazon. However, I must admit that I crave constructive criticism, and I pay closer attention to those one and two-star book reviews, especially when it is obvious the person actually read my book. After all, if we fail to learn from our mistakes, we never stop making them. If my next novel isn’t better than anything I’ve written before, I’m not learning enough from my mistakes.

If you read one of my books, did you publish a short review on Amazon? Don’t worry about hurting my feelings, if you didn’t like what you read. Trust me, I’ll get over it.

I’ve been thinking about ways of monetizing the website, but the only thing I’ve decided to do so far is to publish here more often, and ask for your feedback on my writing. Having Atheist’s Prayer published later this year ought to help. Yes, I am committed to seeing that project completed in 2017, and then moving on to Devil’s Breath. I’m committed to working on Atheist’s Prayer every day, until published. Less time squandered on social media, and more time devoted to real work. If I simply went by Google Analytics, I’d write about Georgia Bulldog football every day, but I think there are enough websites already dedicated to that subject.

So…what do I do right? What am I doing wrong? What should I be doing differently?

Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

Iterative creation

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Fourth installment in the series of articles originally published as the Atlanta Creationism Examiner about existential questions and the theory of evolution.]

DivineEvolutionCover_eBook_finalIterative creation

A new Facebook friend sent me a link to an article by a scientist advocating his version of Divine Evolution, another reason I now think iterative creation might have been a better name for my own personal philosophical beliefs.

Stuart Kauffman wrote in the Edmonton Journal,

I believe that we no longer need a Creator God, we need God’s creativity.

In other words, Kauffman believes in a form of theistic evolution ala Francis Collins, where we have a creator God who doesn’t really do anything but get the ball of evolution rolling, more deist than theist.

Creation theory is concerned about the origin of things. If there is reason to believe that a supernatural entity of extraordinary intellect caused our universe to happen, why not believe that same Creator is directly responsible for the origin of life? Why would God put in all the work to set up the universe for life but lose interest before creating it?  What exactly are we saying here? Do “we” believe that God suffers from some sort of Attention Deficit Disorder, or what?

The so-called facts of evolution and the scientific evidence used to support my hypothesis of iterative creation are one and the same.

The conjecture about evolution is where the theories significantly differ. Iterative creation begins with a bang. Actually, it begins with the Big Bang. The Big Bang Theory makes sense, mostly because scientific evidence like redshift and CMB support it. It only leaves us with one real question: from where did the matter come?

Matter “exploded” with such great ferocity that the expansion of the universe began over 14 billion years ago continues to this day. How long was this dense, hot clump of pre-matter just sitting around before it decided to create the universe? It’s interesting to note the Bible reports in the first chapter of Genesis that God spoke and said, “Let there be light.” The Bible is claiming that God created matter to create our universe — simply by speaking.

I’ll be the first person to admit, that sounds pretty hard to believe — pun intended. But science tells us that plants turn into people once enough time passes, without any sort of help.  Is that really easier to believe than an invisible God?  Additional information offering very compelling support for belief in a supernatural God is readily available and has been reported upon previously, but my argument to support belief in a supernatural creator is best left for the next article, titled Supernatural evidence.

Science tells us light equals energy.  Energy equals matter. The Bible is essentially telling us that the first thing God created was matter. That makes perfect sense. You can’t make anything without raw materials. This universe, ideal for producing abundant life on Earth, is unbelievably improbable. Physicist Sir Martin Rees could tell you all about Just Six Numbers. He and most other cosmologists agree these cosmological values show how remarkably improbable it is that our universe originated by sheer luck or random chance.

In an article for American Thinker titled “Does science refute God?”, Vasko Kohlmayer presented the cosmological or First Cause argument favoring belief in a creator God. The Kalam Cosmological Argument goes as follows:

Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

The universe began to exist.

Therefore, the universe must have a cause.

This universe is required before we can get to the origin of matter.

The only answer Richard Dawkins seems to have mustered in response to the First Cause argument uses circular logic; he insists if God created the universe, then somebody must have created God. His argument completely ignores any concept of eternity. More recently he’s also entertained the notion Lawrence Krauss asserts, that an invisible creator God is preposterous, but quantum mechanics shows us that a universe from nothing created by invisible particles is easily believable.

Once matter, stars, and planets exist, complex chemical elements become stardust that sprinkles over the Earth. These chemical elements are essential to form life. Who knew Joni Mitchell was right?  She wrote the lyrics, We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon. She’s obviously a very smart woman.  And her song begins: Well I came upon a child of God

Stars are like cosmic volcanoes, spewing essential chemicals absolutely necessary for life into the universe.  These chemical elements bond to form molecules, which in turn combine to form nucleotides.

Following specific rules of recombination for nucleotides, “Lego” like building blocks assemble genes sequenced together into a unique single DNA strand of six billion coded instructions, all residing within a single living cell.  That does not happen by accident or random chance, my friend.

Richard Dawkins first advocated his theory of replicators in his book The Selfish Gene. It’s a simple theory: replicators are “anything in the universe of which copies are made.”

Iterative creation asserts that replicators do not really exist, because nature does not produce carbon copies of anything.  This information is easily observed using the tools of modern science. Every living organism is unique, conforming to a specific genetic blueprint.

Replication makes exact copies.  However, very human has unique DNA. Every human has unique fingerprints.  Each finger has a unique print.

Unique DNA is not limited to humans. According to science, any dog on the planet may be identified by DNA found in his poop.

DNA is really amazingly organized information, if you think about it. dna-structure-and-bases

We have learned through analysis of DNA culled from various organisms that each distinct morphological type has a unique pattern, and within that pattern each individual has a unique algorithm that differentiates that creature from every other known creature on Earth.

Evolution theory is only assumed true (and we recently learned that making flawed assumptions often leads to erroneous conclusions) because we know a very few “facts” and extrapolate beyond the limits of imagination simply because of the perception there isn’t viable alternative in the form of competing theory. That’s only because iterative creation hasn’t been seriously considered by anyone (but me) to date. Creationism in general is treated synonymously with Young Earth Creation (YEC), which cannot be true if the scientific tests we know as radio carbon dating are accurate for the first 50,000 years. Iterative creationism is not constrained by time.

Furthermore, the fossil record contains every indication that modern life is quite different from earlier and more ancient life forms. Unless the Bible references to “leviathan” and “behemoth” are references to dinosaurs, it’s reasonable to assume the Bible omitted mention of dinosaurs because its writers were unaware of its existence. As far as we know, mankind wasn’t around when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

But is it reasonable to assume humans descended from dinosaurs through a number of intermediate stages when the only means of produced a new generation was sexual reproduction?

The argument about the Bible and YEC is irrelevant to iterative creation. The value of Noah isn’t when it happened or whether the flood actually occurred according to the geological record, but the important fact to realize is that the Bible is reporting an incident of mass extinction.

Creation theory is often mocked by atheists because God is perceived as magic.  Its critics are quick to point out perceived errors and contradictions in the Bible and point out that the six days of creation are demonstrably untrue. Assuming radio carbon dating is anywhere close to accurate. I’m prepared to assume the margin of error is not plus or minus several billion years. Yet in evolution theory, time itself is magic.

Please consider this simple, elegant alternative to YEC (Young Earth Creationism) and Darwinian evolution: after creating the universe by speaking in the Big Bang anomaly, God formed the first living organism, solving the problem of abiogenesis (we have no idea how it happened.) The breath of life from a supernatural Creator caused inanimate matter to become animated. It’s much more logical to believe the origin of life happened on purpose than by accident. Iterative Creation also solves the “insufficient time” problem for DNA to form, eliminating the need for silly hypotheses like panspermia to move the problem of life off the Earth to give DNA more time to evolve. Simple life came first in order for the building blocks to come in proper sequence. Plants had to precede animals because animals need plants for food, to produce oxygen, shade, etc.  Interestingly, the order in which life emerged in the Bible according to Genesis Chapter 1 essentially matches the fossil record.

God made a blueprint, sexually paired the creature with male and female, and continued creating. Iterative creation hypothesis differs from biblical teaching in that life is not believed to be “perfect” from the onset as created by a perfect Creator, but more like a divine experiment. Each day of creation was not delineated by the revolution of the Earth on its axis, but punctuated by a period of extinction. Therefore, by human standards, our “experiment” and God’s “day of rest” may have only started between 6,000 – 10,000 years ago, but the Earth may have formed much earlier.

Why say “may” instead of “was?” Because I don’t know with absolute certainty when the Earth was created. I know that a consensus of scientists agree that the planet is around 4 billion years old, but I also realize that these are experts who believe they know certain things, not unlike how I believe that I know God exists.

southernprose_cover_CAFGThe creator God artiste periodically cleaned the palette of creation and formed new life.  The biblical account implies perfection of God is reflected in the finished product of creation. Dinosaurs were simply models, or prototypes, if you will.  Why do we assume each animal form is a “one and done” proposition?

A perfect creator is not required to create perfectly. Six mass extinctions create problems for evolutionary biologists – a lot of chlorine gets periodically poured into the gene pool.

Evolutionists proposed a theory called punctuated equilibrium or explosive evolution to explain the rather obvious periodic episodes of eradication and renewal.

The problem with punctuated equilibrium is that the theory strongly implies innate intellect is somehow programmed into our DNA. When asked directly how species came to rapidly diversify and repopulate the Earth with new organisms in what scientists term “the Cambrian explosion”, evolution expert Dr. Michael Ruse suggested that the remaining organisms somehow recognized environmental niches existed and evolved to fill them. With all due respect for Dr. Ruse, that sounded remarkably flippant, and not unlike the ridiculous plot in one of my favorite Monty Python skits.

I wish I’d been ready to propose my hypothesis of iterative creation as an alternative at the time.

The overall weakness of secular evolution is that obvious interdependencies must be denied so that theory can be separated from hypothesis and conjecture. Therefore evolution theory is unconcerned with abiogenesis.

Conversely, iterative creation acknowledges that the Big Bang, abiogenesis, speciation and natural selection must be explicable in order for life to exist.

My theory asserts this occurs when God creates a base pair of “species” (a term abused and bastardized by scientism advocates to muddy the waters). God didn’t have to individually create polar bear, grizzly bear, sun bear, etc.  He only needed to create the genetic blueprint for bear in male and female form. Afterward nature could take its course.

God created the dinosaurs. Then God apparently decided he didn’t like them and essentially wiped them off the face of the Earth.  Given the awesome power required to perform a supernatural act of creation (or destruction), I’d have to say it’s God’s prerogative. It seems logical to assume, after five major extinctions followed by emergence of almost exclusively new life forms, that some sort of divine plan is being executed to perfection.

It’s perfectly natural to believe God, the very creator of Nature, would use natural means to perform supernatural feats.  In fact, a future article will offer natural explanations for the ten plagues of Egypt.  God may work in mysterious ways — why not use natural methods?

Does it make sense that God might use evolution to shape new life from existing DNA? I suppose God does not have to actively create new creatures because he created a purposeful vehicle called sexual reproduction to accomplish His work without intervention.

Even variations within a morphological form occur; we call them ring species. Perhaps even mutations beyond what should be considered a species are possible. If the term species actually still meant something, we might be able to tell. Only God can say how he created life. Humans simply don’t live long enough to witness a mass extinction and the emergence of new life. The only thing we really know is that life exists.

Life is remarkable, diverse, wondrous, and incredibly resilient.

Apparently by design.

 

DNA, the ultimate source code

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Another in the series of articles explaining how evolution theory requires luck or intent in order to be reconciled with existential science knowledge and current understanding. The original content has been reformatted and lightly edited to make it easier to read.]

dna_sequencingDNA: the ultimate source code

In my writings as Atlanta Creationism Examiner, I have never pretended to be a scientist. On the other hand, for two decades I wrote computer software for a living, so I am considered an expert by many in the field of software development and application programming.

In college I was taught “Computer Science”, called Management Information Systems in Business school, but I never really considered programming software a “science.”  Science seems to take place most often in an ivory tower paid for by government grant.

By the same token, I saw very little management of information systems in the real world. Our code more behaved like electronic assistants to help do a job as opposed to decision makers who told you how.

If there’s any one thing that I know about computer software that will always be true, it’s that you cannot guess what will happen inside the machine simply be reading its source code. If something is in code, it is a form of software. That means it has been designed.

Look, I know how software works; I have created applications that remains in use today, years after leaving the business. I know the computer is no smarter than its programmer.

I wrote banking software, translation tools, financial applications, email service providers and user interfaces in languages called Basic, Pascal, and Visual C++.

Depending on where you bank or shop, you might deposit your paycheck or buy a tennis racquet using code I wrote.  You may swipe your credit card and answer a question I posed: credit or debit, or “electronic benefits transfer?” (a quaint euphemism for food stamps) At various points in my career, I was considered quite good at my job. Often, I got more credit than I deserved.

My boss thought it ingenious to see how I learned to reuse code by making it more generic in function, but I always considered myself something of a slacker. I wasn’t being economical as much as I hated writing the same block of code more than once. Why reinvent the wheel?

Code is always written in a form of extreme punctuation-specific “pidgin” English. It gets translated by a compiler into machine language, an unintelligible stream of zeroes and ones. An essential tool of any software developer is called a debugger. It is software that allows the programmer to follow the code instructions line-by-line, looking for errors called software “bugs.” The term originated with the first computer malfunction, literally caused by a flying insect.

More than once dubbed a “Subject Matter Expert”, I was sent to teach others how to use our application products to develop customized solutions.

It’s never hurt my potential for success as a public speaker that, as my wife has said, I can talk the bark off a tree. I had geek street credentials. Once I got “marooned” in Australia for almost six months. I got paid to watch a tennis tournament. It was a tough life, but somebody had to do it.

Paid to travel the world on an expense account just to play the hero when something broke…is this a great country, or what? Life is good. Those t-shirts aren’t lying.

When we write software code, expecting it to perform a specific task and produce work to our benefit. Sometimes unanticipated consequences arise from our best conceived plans. We fail to account for bad data introduced by operator error or otherwise flawed input.

Garbage in, garbage out. Best laid plans of mice and men, you know? Simply reading through the “pidgin” English of software language does not explain why the software broke. Was the code fault tolerant in the sense it handled the exception properly? You have to be able see a problem happen to know where things began to go wrong.  It could be as simple as a comma used instead of a semi-colon or a misplaced parenthesis.

The wrong value could be stuffed into a variable or the wrong variable could be used by mistake in equation. It’s extraordinarily difficult to write a thousand lines of source code without making a single mistake. Software code should be elegant, meaning as few instructions as possible should be used.

Keep It Simple, Stupid – the KISS principle.

By building simple blocks of code into procedures and functions, source may be reused by multiple processes, even crossing application boundaries by the inclusion of dynamic linked libraries (DLLs).

The most evolutionary software development tool in my repertoire for about half of my career was C++, a development language that used inheritance to share code attributes between objects.

Ironically, we really did create and deploy objects using descent with modification. I may not be a scientist or a geneticist and certainly, I’m no expert on DNA. But I do know quite a bit about designing, writing, and debugging software code to solve real problems. Slinging code is not easy.  To be more precise, it’s not easy to do well. One of the few things I know about DNA is that 3 billion lines of code, or instructions, are programmed within a single living cell.

That’s a lot of information crammed into a microscopic object. No human programmer who ever lived has come up with a comparable design. It’s a miracle that two people were able to figure out how DNA works. We owe a debt to Crick and Watson. Simultaneously, the code is incredibly simple and complex. DNA is so simple, it contains only four nucleotides: adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. Recombined into different sequences, these four building blocks can create any living organism on Earth. We aren’t sure how it happens but if the order of gene sequencing is scrambled, the result seems to be a completely different organism.

From information culled from one cell, scientists can tell if it was a liver or a brain cell. They can tell if it came from a primate or a human. They can tell you exactly which human body produced that one cell, out of several billion on the planet. All done from the DNA instructions found in one living cell.

Computers are only half as complex as DNA – instead of four variables, you only get a zero or a one. No computer expert on the planet can read a thousand lines of source code and predict every conceivable outcome with both valid and invalid input. How can any human on earth read 3 billion instructions in a single strand of DNA and without testing be able to tell what purpose each individual nucleotide serves?dna-structure-and-bases

It’s a pretty impressive partial list when you consider organisms to which this “law” of simple DNA recombination applies: alligator, ape, boa constrictor, centipede, daffodil, elephant, flounder, giraffe, hippopotamus, iguana, jackal, kangaroo, lemur, moose, newt, oak tree, penguin, Quaker, rooster, salamander, worm, and zebra.

The one common denominator between each of these disparate life forms is DNA. In my years of experience, I never encountered code that wrote itself except by using code generation tools.

I helped write a code generation tool once.  An (arguably) intelligent designer exists somewhere behind every piece of source code in existence. I felt obligated to qualify “intelligent designer” because I lumped humans together with God.

I’m quite sure that God is intelligent, but sometimes I question the wisdom my fellow man. Frequently I question my own intelligence.

No human is qualified to question the intelligence of the only true Creator, the designer of DNA. Humans don’t really know how to make anything from scratch.

 

[Author’s Addendum: Since this article was originally published, I have confessed to being rather impressed by the 3D printer, but that output still doesn’t compare to a living organism.]

[Final Word: The lecture by Dr. James Tour that specify the problems with assuming a purely “natural” origin of life are quite convincingly presented in this lecture video.]

The conjecture of evolution theory

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment of the series of articles originally published at Examiner.com while I was writing as the Atlanta Creationism Examiner. Lightly edited and re-formatted from the original version.]

dick-tracyThe conjecture of evolution theory

Change occurs constantly.  It’s impossible to deny.

However, the word “evolution” is often used analogous with virtually all “change”. That definition is much too ambiguous.

The philosophical theory called evolution describes an ambiguous process by which new life forms allegedly are created if given enough time. I will repeat the question I have invited my biologist friends to answer:

Assuming “evolution” is true, how does sexual reproduction create a new genome that alters a creature’s morphology to be different enough from its parents to be called a new animal (or plant)? 

What magic elixir or ingredient besides time causes or allows for this sort of change (I have somewhat mockingly referred to as shape shifting) to occur?

Surely we can all agree that for Archaeopteryx to evolve into another creature or vice versa, there has to be some point in time where the “base” parent animal (stealing terminology from my objected-oriented past) can be differentiated from the “derived” child animal as a fundamentally different organism, correct? Surely some explanation other than sexual reproduction can account for different morphologies in variant organisms derived from DNA?

In layman’s terms — at some point in time, my zoologist friends have got to be able to say the offspring of an Archaeopteryx is no longer Archaeopteryx. Dawkins insists the only possible explanation is natural selection allows for advantageous mutations accumulate over time to the point where a rat can go blind, grow wings, develop sonar and can then be called a bat. If given enough time. It sounds so simple. But how does it work?

Assuming some sort of answer to my question for the biologists does exist, it will provide the beginning of a foundation for my finally understanding how Darwin’s “evolution theory” (which is actually called natural selection) really works. Natural selection is not synonymous with evolution. It is merely one facet of the secular attempt to solve the creation equation.

My hypothesis for Divine Evolution includes an equation to express how best to explain the origin of life:

Creation = Big Bang + abiogenesis + (speciation + X) + natural selection.

This only stands to reason if evolution is asserted to somehow disprove creationism as the theory’s advocates such as Richard Dawkins have done.

My rationale is simple – creation is a philosophical theory (albeit with religious overtones) that attempts to explain the origin of the universe and the origin of life in addition to the origin of the species.

Any secular solution must be able to do the same if it can be successfully used to remove creation from all due consideration.

Any solution to the creation equation must solve for X.

The answer is not time. (Hint: Try X = God.)

I find it flabbergasting that so many people assert that science somehow “own” the facts of evolution. By contrast, religion is said to be purely based on faith, divorced from fact.

But facts are facts. Facts belong only to the truth.

And what is truth? Quid est veritas?

While faith is certainly a component of my belief in a supernatural Creator, I’m not sure why others automatically assume that logic, facts, and reason are absent because religious faith is present. Common sense and logic are not mutually exclusive to my faith in God. If anything, the opposite is true. Let’s examine evolution theory a little further, shall we? We can separate more fact from conjecture.

Sometimes natural selection is referred to as “micro evolution”. The theory no one seems to be able to explain is called “macro evolution”, another name for the many flavors of speciation.

Gene flow, allopatric speciation, or genetic drift seems to reasonably answer the question of why we have polar bears and grizzly bears that can mate and spawn polizzlies when they come into proximity. Peripatric speciation may well be a valid explanation for slight variations within an isolated population of fruit flies breeding on a bunch of floating rotten bananas. An excellent example of sympatric speciation seems to be available in the cichlids of Lake Victoria. Parapatric speciation ought to explain the existence of ring species such as Larus gulls. [Author’s Note: future posts will explain Larus gulls, which are a type of ring species.] I don’t have any problem with any these theories to explain changes to cause variations in sea gulls, fish, or salamanders..

But all of these theories haven’t begun to answer my question.

What biological process plus natural selection leads to polizzlies, fruit flies, cichlids and Larus gulls from a single common ancestor?  Why is it so easy to believe something that we know cannot happen within a short period of time will happen eventually if enough time elapses? We are told that bears “evolved” from an extinct ancestral species of mammal about 13 million years ago, but crocodiles basically haven’t evolved since they were dinosaurs.  Why?

Help me solve for X.

By regressing evolution theory to the origin of life, we will eventually reach LUCA and the hypothesis known as abiogenesis. Sort of like the hero of the movie Highlander, there can be only one LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor.) Abiogenesis (chemical origin of life) is grotesquely improbable enough without expecting it to happen more than once by accident.

Yet it’s precisely why Richard Dawkins would say it’s a “fact” that my dog is also my cousin.

And somehow I’m the one who’s labeled the delusional “history-denier?”

Now Richard Dawkins might be considered the equivalent of a modern day Emperor of science (by the average atheist) for all I care, but if he’s wearing no clothes, shouldn’t someone speak up? How can “fact” or even “theorum” possibly be constructed on the foundation of a relatively weak hypothesis?

It’s a rather curious use of the word “fact.”

Remember, in his book Dawkins kindly provided a definition he borrowed from Oxford Dictionary for the word “fact” which I repeated in The “facts” of evolution theory.

The salient phrase from the definition that Dawkins offered was truth known by actual observation or authentic testimony, as opposed to what is merely inferred, or to a conjecture or fiction.

Yet Dawkins disparages the reliability of eyewitness testimony, using himself as example after viewing the infamous Simons gorilla video experiment.

I marvel at the fact he took from the experiment that we should not trust our own eyes in favor of scientific inference because he can’t trust his. He was easily fooled, so Dawkins naturally assumes everyone else would be fooled as easily. He must believe that no one else on the planet would notice the gorilla…the implication seems to be that nobody else could possibly be as smart as Richard Dawkins. That may well be true — but I saw the gorilla.

True, if he hadn’t revealed the trick behind the real experiment, I might also have been fooled when I watched the video. I knew it was coming, only because he revealed the secret of the experiment. Now we’ll never know for sure. He’s such a spoil sport.

The key to creating the deception is that the viewer is told what to watch for something specific. Misdirection was a favorite trick of magicians long before the Bible was ever written. It’s an odd coincidence that the overwhelming appearance of intelligent design is said to be an illusion by people who freely admit they can easily be fooled into believing an illusion.

Dawkins does apparently have a sense of humor – he suggested in his book that scientists are like detectives investigating a crime scene. With all due respect, however, Mr. Dawkins makes for a pretty lousy detective.frontpagecolumbo1

However, I shall save my critique of his relative skill in deductive reasoning for my next article, tentatively titled Watching the Detective. [Author’s Note: pretty sure I never published an article by that title, but I do write detective novels and stand by my evaluation of his skills as a detective, which are rather poor.]

I’ve tried to explain to my biologist friends that you don’t have as much time as you think you do for life to “evolve” by random chance combined with natural selection and X. (Because of numerous mass extinctions shown in the fossil record.) That’s why we need more than hypotheses like panspermia and punctuated equilibrium just to give DNA enough time to form, much less create the extinct life seen in fossil record and modern life without God. And the whole reason for coming up with the hypothesis of panspermia is because according to “experts” like Richard Dawkins, DNA supposed to be formed by random chance.

Earth has finally existed long enough for DNA to have had time to form by random luck, but just barely. Yet we know carbon dating says the earliest forms of life are billions of years old.

Six billion coded instructions in one living cell!  Think about it! DNA is an enormous statistical improbability, to say the least. However, the “ultimate” argument made against supernatural creation is that it is more impossible to believe than natural evolution.

Belief in God is ridiculed, and Yahweh is called “an invisible man in the sky”. Creationists are ridiculed as delusional ignoramuses for daring to think a supernatural Creator might be responsible for everything. But shape shifting from plant to animal when simply “given enough time” should be accepted, no problem.

A Watchmaker loses to Cat People? Irony can be delicious.catpeople

The facts of evolution spoke for themselves. I have certainly accepted that Crick and Watson decoded the mystery of DNA, the common denominator.

DNA is the fundamental building block of life, the “Lego” of divine construction.

DNA is the most sophisticated yet simple source code algorithm to which I’ve ever been exposed. It’s brilliant, the ultimate source code. (Spoken as a former software developer.) Consider how remarkable it is that “spelling” the same simple code in different genetic patterns can create such unbelievably difference life forms as a peony and a porcupine.

But it does not stand to reason that peonies and porcupines share a common ancestor. The conjecture of evolution is that:

1. Humans are most closely related to bonobo apes or chimpanzees, slightly less related to other apes, and related to every other form of life on Earth by some form of descent over eons.

2. The fossil record proves the Earth is ancient, that primitive life forms came first and more complex life came later, and DNA proves the close relationship between different organisms.

3. Animals such as the cichlids in Lake Victoria and Larus gulls differentiate and alter genetic code to be distinguishable from similar fish and birds sharing a common ancestor, we should also assume that fish are related to birds because both have DNA.

4. Complexity such as eyes, wings, or the ability to navigate by sonar is not irreducible because useless organs could have genetically altered to become productive, as long as there is enough time. Hence we have the mousetrap/tie clip. (I bet this guy in the video does believe in the intelligent design of the pocket protector.)

5. Because “creation” means that a perfect God created life perfectly within a six day period and every known science provides rather obvious evidence to refute that claim, there is no viable alternative to scientific theory of evolution. (My next article I shall call Iterative Creation, and it will specifically address this claim.)

6. We can safely conclude that God does not exist because science has demonstrated that a Creator is not necessary for evolution to occur.

I promise not to cast aspersions on your character if that’s what you want to believe.  Believe whatever you want. But please don’t claim the theory of evolution is an indisputable fact.

The “facts” of evolution theory

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This was another article originally published as the Atlanta Creationism Examiner, the first in a short series written shortly before the publication of my book Counterargument for God. The purpose of the series was to explain my alternative to Darwin’s theory of natural selection as the best potential explanation for the origin of new species, based on the existing evidence. Although my alternate hypothesis involves a supernatural intelligence capable of designing the universe and life within, it is called iterative creation. Other articles in this series include The conjecture of evolution, Compounded improbabilities, and Iterative creation.

This morning an atheist acquaintance on the internet inspired publication of this piece (originally written in 2012) by accusing me of advocating intelligent design as a scientific theory. The reality is that my argument is almost the polar opposite extreme — iterative creation is a philosophical hypothesis that competes with the philosophy known as “macro” evolution to explain the existing scientific evidence, which consists of DNA analysis, the known fossil record, and comparative anatomy.]

southernprose_cover_CAFGThe “facts” of evolution

This might take a while.

The argument from authority, which could also be called the argument of superior intellect, gets old after a while.

You don’t have to convince me that you’re smart.

I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

You only need to convince me that you’re right.

Then I’ll actually believe what you tell me.

A new Facebook friend tried to help me, sending a link to a HuffPo article explaining why my Christian faith required accepting evolution as fact.

Article author Mr. Dudley said nothing new or interesting except:

In this analysis, Christians must accept sound science, not because they don’t believe God created the world, but precisely because they do.

With all due respect sir, I only must accept sound science when it makes sense or is provably true. Seeing is believing.

Ironically, Mr. Dudley might be tempted to join Mr. Dawkins and assure me that some things I have seen were “all in my head.”

I even devoted a chapter of Divine Evolution to ask that question, “Is It In My Head?”DivineEvolutionCover_eBook_final

Asked, then answered with a little help from Carl Jung.

In his article, Dudley advocates accepting Francis Collins’ theory called theistic evolution. The subject was broached first when I wrote a review of his book The Language of God.

While I appreciate Dr. Collins’ contribution to decoding the human genome, I think his skills in deductive reasoning are as challenged as, well…Richard Dawkins.

This article is the first in a series inspired by Dawkins’ book The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution.

It will be soon followed by a complementary piece tentatively titled The conjecture for evolution.

In his most recent tome, Dawkins made some rather audacious claims about evolution that demand to be addressed.

His first, and most bold claim, is to assert the “fact” of evolution.  He writes,

Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence for the Holocaust, even allowing for eyewitnesses to the Holocaust. It is the plain truth that we are cousins of chimpanzee, somewhat more disk that cousins of monkey, more distant cousins still of aardvarks and manatees, yet more distant cousins of bananas and turnips…continue the list as long as desired. (pg 8) [bold and italics added for emphasis]

Did you catch that? Dawkins is asserting that I am insane and stupid for daring to question whether or not I might be the distant cousin of a turnip, but I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. What a curious definition of insanity!

I would never be so bold to respond in kind. Remember, he does argue from authority.

Richard Dawkins is a former Oxford professor and the Charles Simonyi beneficiary/recipient with a PhD in zoology. To be open and honest about the limits of my formal education, I graduated with a BBA in Management Information Systems from UGA.  So we’re not exactly comparing an apple to an apple. Advantage to Mr. Dawkins.

Mr. Dawkins has also written ten books, including the international best seller The God Delusion, with sales in excess of 2 million copies. By comparison, to date I’ve written one book called Divine Evolution that somebody else was kind enough to publish, some short stories I’ve sold and an unpublished detective novel. I’m certain the number of copies sold of Divine Evolution is greater than zero, but by how many is anyone’s guess.  It may not have reached triple digits — yet. [Author’s update: up to six published works as of this republication.]

Check. Advantage again to Mr. Dawkins, however.

The first chapter of The Greatest Show on Earth is littered with names dropped of clergy that support evolution theory: the Bishop of Oxford and the Pope, just to name two “enlightened bishops and theologians” as Dawkins quaintly described them.

Dawkins’s argument from authority is buttressed by scientific and religious authority, neither of which impresses me unduly. Sorry, but I’m not Catholic, Anglican, or a scientist.

His argument from authority won’t stop me from asking a few pointed questions. We have not yet reached checkmate.

What is a theory?  What is a fact?

The Oxford English dictionary gives two meanings for the word “theory.”

Theory, Sense 1: a scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed.

Richard Dawkins liked that first definition, but not this second one…

Theory, sense 2: a hypothesis as an explanation; hence, a mere hypothesis, speculation, conjecture; an idea or set of ideas about something; an individual view or notion.

Mr. Dawkins contends “Sense 1” conveys the appropriate use of the word “theory” as it applies to scientific theories such as the Newtonian theory of gravity or our “belief” that the Earth revolves around the sun.

We’re pretty sure about gravity and the operation of our solar system through direct observation of the effects of gravity and the annual revolution of the Earth around the sun.

Dawkins distinguishes between the two definitions by saying “common sense treats it [scientific theory] as a fact.”

Fact: Something that has actually occurred or is actually the case; something certainly known to be of this character; hence, a particular truth known by actual observation or authentic testimony, as opposed to what is merely inferred, or to a conjecture or fiction; a datum of experience, as distinguished from the conclusions that may be based upon it.

Eureka! He’s opened the door for me to use common sense to discuss the “facts” of evolution.

Now, we’re talking!

And the first thing I’d like to say is that the argument from authority does not allow one to make up words if the opposition isn’t allowed.

Remember how I got lambasted [Author’s note: you shouldn’t unless you read my work during my tenure as Atlanta Creationism Examiner] for inventing a term to describe a “scientific” theory that seemed to lack a name? I called it “forked speciation” (the actual technical term is allopatric speciation) to describe the “evolution theory” explanation for Archaeopteryx, and the objections were deafening.

Well, Richard Dawkins invented the word “theorum.”

I object. I was simply following his example, which was to make up a word to describe something for which I didn’t know the technical term. His definition of his made-up word was as follows:

Theorum: it has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; [it is] a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles or causes of something known or observed.

Evolution is neither a theory or a fact. It’s a philosophy that extrapolates Darwin’s theory of natural selection as an interpretive explanation of scientific evidence. The evidence is indisputable. The interpretation is not.

It’s isn’t a silly made-up term like “theorum” or an equally ridiculous “meme.”

The facts of evolution are quite easy to summarize.

  1. Things change.
  2. All living organisms have unique DNA, meaning that an DNA can be classified to belong
    to a particular species, then further to one specific animal within that species.
  3. There are rocks with impressions of dead animals and plants called fossils. This “fossil jackwebbrecord” indicates that vastly different animals like dinosaurs lived in the past. Most modern creatures are quite different than these ancestral forms, but there are modern versions of the earliest forms of living organisms on Earth.

Those are “just the facts”, as Detective Joe Friday used to say on Dragnet. The “facts” of evolution speak for themselves.

And I will cheerfully stipulate that the above facts are true.

Assuming we agree on this much, we can now examine the conjecture about evolution.

The philosophical argument for God

southernprose_cover_CAFGThis post represents the other bookend to the effort I made to illustrate why waxing philosophical on the question as to whether or not God exists is an extraordinarily tricky problem to tackle, no matter what your personal opinions (atheist, theist, agnostic) on the subject might be. Especially simplistic arguments fail to reveal the true complexity of the argument as a whole.

To illustrate the gravity and true scope of the problem, I recruited the smartest person I know, an honest-to-God scientist recognized worldwide in his specific field of expertise, for an unbiased and unvarnished evaluation of the science and logic used in my article, focused on my own argument for God in particular to expose any and every perceived weakness in my reasoning.

What follows next is primarily my friend’s analytical feedback and constructive criticisms of my argument through our subsequent correspondence, which I’ve converted into an article to further elaborate on what we started…

No matter what you actually believe, your worldview will be at least partially based on faith, whether you are a scientist, an atheist, or someone like me.

Even if that faith is limited to yourself — you’ve put faith in something, but not in nothing.

The scientist places his or her faith in the scientific method and personal skill set to discern between illusion and reality. The atheist trusts intellect and reason will ultimately lead to evidence that validates their lack of belief in a supernatural God, while the theist has faith that his or her intellect is surpassed by something far greater.

In my opinion, no honest person should try to convince someone else that they know for a fact that God exists, or does not exist. It’s virtually impossible to make a comprehensive, rational, and coherent argument. On a scale of belief where zero represents certainty of no God and 100 percent represents the opposite extreme, the expected values should range between less than 1 percent and greater than 99 percent. A “knowledge” claim of either extreme actually has zero epistemic value.

So I solicited help from one of the smartest people I personally know well enough to ask for some advice. My (scientist) friend’s overall reaction to my request for constructive feedback was this:

Well, I think one problem is that science isn’t well suited to to this argument because, ultimately, the scientific method is a *negative* process. You want to believe something. But at best the scientific method can do is say is that belief in a God with some set of characteristics is not disproved. The Atheist faces the same problem. They want to believe there are no gods. Yet at best science can say “the facts indicate that gods with the following characteristics are not supported.” All you can do is say that belief in a God that created the universe with a fixed set of operating rules, and does not appear to interfere with those rules on a widespread, systematic basis, is consistent with the present state of the art of science. Likewise, the Atheist can only say that we see no evidence of Gods of a God who interferes with or directs nature in the operation outside of natural law (eg no supernatural interventions). That state is very unsatisfying to either party. But that’s where we are. And, interestingly, the former is in fact pretty well consistent with Orthodox Christian Theology as taught by the Church Fathers in the first few hundred years of the faith. It’s only later, when Christianity encountered the enlightenment, and the post-Augustinian worldview invaded Christianity, that it went off the rails. But that’s a different discussion.

My professional scientist friend and I seem to be agreeing more than we disagree on the idea that the scientific method does have its limitations as to what knowledge we might obtain by its application.

For example, once upon a time my friend Matthew Botsford was shot in the head, in a random act of violence. In fact, the bullet is still lodged in Matthew’s brain. He was so close to death and had suffered such serious brain trauma that his family was asked to donate his organs. Yet Matthew survived, only because his wife Nancy wouldn’t let go, and what he would call the grace of God.

Matthew sincerely and literally believes that he went to hell when he died and suffered horrific torment until he was literally rescued by God. And I believe him.

It’s a long story, but Matthew did recount most of the gory details in Nancy’s book titled A Day in Hell.

Matthew and Nancy Botsford

Matthew and Nancy Botsford

My point is simply this: Matthew knows that he was shot in the head, and he believes that God rescued him from hell. And I believe that he believes everything he has told me.

The first half of the statement above is a knowledge claim, well supported by scientific evidence. But what we believe happened after he “died” is not. The fact that I believe Matthew is sincere about his conviction that he really did spend time in hell is for the most part, irrelevant. What can we prove?

We cannot apply the scientific method to Matthew’s claims of his experiences in hell — for him, those experiences actually could be empirical observations formed through application of the scientific method but for anyone else, they can only be classified as anecdotal.

We might label Matthew Botsford a liar, selling a story for profit, but we have no evidence on which to base such an accusation. As a published author you’re going to have to trust my judgement on this, but the potential for future book sales is not a strong incentive for one to allow him or herself to be shot in the head, based on the assumption that it might make a good story for a book one day.

We could also assume Matthew Botsford suffered some hideous injury (well documented) that created a vivid hallucination (not documented) as an ugly delusion in his dying brain, horrific images and imagined experiences of torment and suffering in hell, but we’re also making a choice to reject belief due to our personal bias…anyone already convinced that no hell exists will not accept anything as evidence of hell.

Our third option is to give Matthew Botsford the benefit of the doubt and accept the possibility that he might actually be giving a true and accurate description of his experiences after death, to the very best of his ability to do so. And in doing so, we would be opening our minds to the distinct possibility that other personal accounts of similar stories might be true, too, which would require further investigation upon discovery.

Before judging my friend Matthew as a liar or a lunatic, perhaps you should follow my example. Before reaching any final conclusions you should also meet him face-to-face, and look directly into his eyes for any signs of deception while he tells his story.

As far as my attempt to inject myself into the debate between Dr. Alex Malpass and Matt Slick was concerned, my scientist/expert/truly brilliant friend had this to say:

Some quick thoughts FWIW – I think both Malpass and Slick are in gross violation of the “laws” (rules is probably a better term) of applied logic. As a denizen of the gray (and near expert in quantum mechanics), absolutes really bug me. They are very rarely applicable for anything other than highly theoretical, mathematical problems, yet people just *love* to force discussions in to a binary decision structure and argue “logic” because they want the purity of “right” and “wrong”. For example, I’d argue that the “God exists, or doesn’t” dichotomy is a sophomoric straw-man debate. Sure, it’s “true” on some completely theoretical level but it’s a stupid question from a practical standpoint because, as you correctly note, the definition of God is so open ended and fluid that the question becomes unanswerable. I think you go a bit off the rails when trying to argue that the alternative to “God” is “no God” – again, that argument it depends on the definition of “God”. So the other side, “God doesn’t exist” is also a “staw man” argument because it too depends on the definition of “God”. What if you define the Universe itself *as* God – the mathematical, QM rules, etc. Someone who wants an “intelligent” personal God would say that’s not a “God” – but someone else might argue that the laws of physics are in and of themselves intelligent on some level, rather than *evidence* of separate intelligence (definitions again). So the only real debatable question, certainly from a scientific/logic standpoint, is “Does a God with the following characteristics (a,b,c, …) exist?” because then you can provide observations that prove or disprove a,b,c,… In short, you can’t argue, on the basis of science or logic, that “no God’s exist”, only “Does this God (or class of Gods) exist?” which makes a disjunctive syllogism moot. Just skimmed most of the rest, but your list of “scientific claims” are not really “claims” made by the state of the art of accepted science – especially number 2. As I have tried over and over to get across, the “tuning” argument is coming from the string theory/multiverse hypothesis crowd (multiverse depends on string theory), and string theory is circling the toilet with every increase in energy of the LHC. Standard Model extensions and GUT argues that almost all, perhaps all, of the so-called fields collapse into a single mode. So all of the BS about dependencies goes away, as does your argument that “luck” is required. In other words, this Universe might exist because it’s the only one that is possible. [emphasis added] Now, if you want to argue that points to design, have at it. It’s an unanswerable question from a *science* standpoint because it requires being able to see other Universes (which seems to be theoretically impossible under either GUT or string/multiverse), and is therefore not science because there is no way to test the null hypothesis. Therefore a philosophical question. In short, I don’t think it’s a good idea to argue for God on the basis of bad, increasingly disproven science, just because it’s popular, and the “scientists” (they actually aren’t being scientists in this context) are using it to argue for atheism.

To my friend’s assertion (the particular sentence that I emphasized) above I replied,”That (the universe had to exist) is just as much of an assumption as fine tuning, isn’t it? Besides, I thought with spectrograph or some such equipment they could tell the composition of stars, which does seem to support the fine tuned argument, based on what I’ve read. But as we both know, I’m not a whole lot better than a trained parrot when it comes to understanding this stuff…weak gravitational force. Yeah, I can explain that. NOT.”

My spectroscope reference was a rather sloppy one, but I had this quote by cosmologist Chris Impey in mind, which I culled from his book The Living Cosmos:

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.

But I am woefully unqualified to argue either side in that science debate, multiverse hypotheses and string theories versus GUT. One possible solution would be to put people like Martin Rees and Roger Penrose in the same room with my friend and let them hash out the “best” answer to the origin of the universe as multiverse, string theory, or GUT. Just tell people like me how it all comes out.

Before I used up all of my friend’s time, I wish it had occurred to me to ask how the Grand Unified Theory (GUT) should not more accurately be called the Grand Unified Hypothesis (GUH) because his argument also seems to begin with a rather significant assumption, that the evidence can only lead to one conclusion without resorting to pantheism, by saying the universe had no choice but to exist in the current form it has taken. On the other hand, a man’s got to know his own limitations.

So to my friend I replied, “BTW, thanks very much for the feedback. It’s exactly what I needed. My plan is to say I offered the argument to an impartial moderator who happens to be a scientist (without naming names, of course) to demonstrate the dissent argument against what I’ve put together, after I mull it a while and perhaps change some stuff, too. But most of all, thanks. No one will know our little secret, because I might ask for the same sort of feedback again and I certainly don’t want to betray your confidence.”

In my opinion, if what Impey wrote about the delicate balance of elements distributed within the cosmos is correct (and I suspect it is) then my friend’s GUT is basically saying that the incredibly “fine-tuned” balance we observe in nature exists because natural forces would not allow these cosmological factors to vary even slightly.

Furthermore, if the laws of nature or physics were purely deterministic during the creation of the universe, meaning they could not have varied in the slightest, why does the resulting universe clearly show signs that random chance exists?

If chance did not exist, the outcome of any event would only have one possibility. Accidents would never occur, things would never break, and nothing would ever go wrong. To my pseudo-scientific ears, this sounds like my friend trying to say that if we threw six darts at a dart board, the only possible outcome that could occur would be that all six darts would strike the bullseye, with each of the six darts stuck into the fin of the previous one thrown — as if they had no choice .

On the other hand, involving myself in a disagreement between two highly qualified scientists would be most unwise. Brash claims and bold statements asserted to much smarter people have a tendency to blow up on a person. While I mulled over my dilemma on how to pursue more information from my source, my friend indulged me and solved my problem by continuing to hammer home his point:

Actually, “only one possible” is shorthand for “given the structure of matter and the laws of physics, only one combination of values for the underlying constants is stable”, is it’s not technically the same thing. You still get the philosophical question of how that one value came to be, but then there is no probability involved and is, in fact, finally a true binary situation: is, or is not. Other stars have nothing really to do with it, other than we know pretty well that the behavior of matter and energy “out there” is the same as it is here. Has nothing to do with the fine tuning argument. The fine tuning argument boils down to arguing that in order to get the universe we observe, the various “constants” have to be awfully close to what they are. If, for example, the strong nuclear force were 10% stronger than the electroweak force, nothing would work right. HOWEVER, what if the strong nuclear force and electroweak forces are manifestations of the same thing (eg the Grand Unified Theory)? Then they are the same thing and not “tuned”. There is some evidence for this – just like the weak and electromagnetic forces were “unified”, it is possible the other four forces will also be “unified”. That is on stronger ground than string “theory”.

I’m pretty sure that I understand from where my friend is coming — science definitely has its limits. On the other hand, I must respectfully disagree that with the idea that GUT could solve all the same problems as a god without supernatural intelligence.

Yet I also know that my friend’s specific field of expertise is more closely related to physics than chemistry or biology. And, due to time constraints and a very busy schedule, my friend may not be familiar with this two hour lecture by Dr. James Tour, an expert on chemical synthesis, on the subject of the chemical prerequisites for abiogenesis.

According to Dr. Tour, chemists have absolutely no idea how enzymes developed that allowed for the synthesis of molecules. Among many other interesting things Dr. Tour said was this:

 We have no idea [emphasis added] how the molecules that compose living systems could have been devised such that they would work in concert to fulfill biology’s functions. We have no idea how the basic set of molecules, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids and proteins were made and how they could have coupled in proper sequences, and then transformed into the ordered assemblies until there was the construction of a complex biological system, and eventually to that first cell. Nobody has any idea on how this was done when using our commonly understood mechanisms of chemical science. Those that say that they understand are generally wholly uninformed regarding chemical synthesis.

Now if I didn’t know better, I might have assumed “wholly uninformed regarding chemical synthesis” was a direct reference to me. Yet after listening to Dr. Tour, I can’t see how GUT for the universe could possibly make the origin of life within the universe a foregone conclusion.

No matter how we sincerely we reach for knowledge and proof, at some point, assumptions must be made on faith. Even my “ace-in-the-hole” argument that I alternately refer to as corroborated veridical NDE episodes (or a slight variation) or quantum consciousness, meaning the metaphysical, abstract mind learns and remembers new, accurate information while independent of the physical brain, must assume that the apparent reliability of the new memory validates the anecdotal evidence of the account as well. My friend then elaborated further:

Let me try to put it a different way. If the “extended Standard Model”/GUT is correct (and so far the evidence indicates it is), then there is only one possible configuration of relationships between the fundamental forces because the “constants” (forces) are all related in a fixed way. That part is science. Are there *other* universes? The GUT based theories don’t require them AFAIK (the various string “theories” do mathematically) and even if they did, they would behave (from a physical matter/chemistry standpoint) the same way this one does. BUT, as noted above, even if there are “other” universes, no information can be exchanged between them, so you can’t test that hypothesis, therefore it’s not a scientific question. So, given the present state of modern science, despite all the sound and fury of both the gnu atheists and those like you who want to argue there is scientific support for an intelligent creator trying to use the same (flawed!) reasoning they do, we’re actually in the same place we’ve been for a very long time. The physical state of the universe, and how it works, has no obvious direct evidence of any supernatural interventions since the “big bang”. We can’t speak to probabilities of this universe because its the only one we can look at, and from what we can tell about how it behaves, there is no reason to assume or even speculate there are more than one of them. That leaves both sides with plenty to be uncomfortable about. Yes, the atheist can argue there is no evidence for “sky wizards” and other straw-man deities, but is left with the very uncomfortable fact we have no explanation, and no *way* to apply science, to the ultimate question of first cause. The Theist is also stuck. The “first cause” question is unanswered (and unanswerable) scientifically since we can’t see past the singularity at the start of the big bang, and a universe that has fixed, logical laws governing its operation since. That screams for a supernatural explanation. Yet there is nothing since that event that indicates “divine intervention” – all the rest is explained as a result of natural processes.

At great risk to my pride (after my friend gleefully destroys this retort) I must humbly submit that my Big Picture argument for God, as presented in my book Counterargument for God, seems to survive both GUT and TAG due to what I’ve called the contingent probabilities. These are dependencies that strongly indicate that for life to exist this universe must exist, and that it confirms I’m alive and able to write this sentence, and the reader must be alive in order to read it.

My scientist friend’s closing words also resonated with me:

I don’t care about being “right”. The only thing I care about is being correct. Big difference . . . Facts are what they are. They don’t care what I or anybody else wants. I also try to draw a bright line between what the facts show, and the *conclusions* I draw from those facts. I think that last paragraph about both sides being in bad situations is “fact”, based on science. But you’ll notice that in none of that discussion did I say which “side” I’m on, because as long as it’s consistent with the “facts”, what I believe doesn’t matter. I’m happy to denigrate Theist and Atheist equally if they stray from the science . . .

On that final sentiment, we are absolutely on the same page. It’s more important to seek truth than be “right” or win an argument.

I’m not the least bit upset by my scientist friend’s assessment that Matt Slick’s TAG argument, Alex Malpass’s philosophical rebuttal, and my Big Picture argument all fail to meet a burden of proof.

We must all take calculated risks of faith and make assumptions in the course of seeking answers to our existential questions. These assumptions will naturally conform to our pre-existing personal bias toward theism or atheism.

The atheist will never see evidence of supernatural intelligence, and theists will never accept that this world could exist because there was no other choice, according to some abstract “laws of nature.”  The existence of laws certainly seems to imply the existence of a Lawgiver.

But nothing that approaches proof. And that’s an assumption on my part.

Q.E.D.

Waxing philosophical

Dr. Alex Malpass (photo YouTube)

Dr. Alex Malpass
(photo YouTube)

[To shorten this to a somewhat more palatable length, the original post was split in half. Because my intention was to present a solid philosophical argument to a philosopher, I decided to recruit an honest-to-God scientist to “moderate” the discussion and keep all of us honest. It turns out that my scientist friend didn’t really like anybody’s effort to make a coherent argument for God. Our correspondence will be included in the followup post, to be titled “The Philosophical Argument for God.”]

Some questions have easy, straightforward answers:

What is the sum of three plus four? How old are you? What did you have for dinner? Do you like chocolate?

How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man? 

Okay, so maybe that last question wasn’t that easy or straightforward, but it turns out the answer is 42.*

Other questions, for example such as our existential questions, may not have one clear and correct answer to existential questions such as:

Does God exist? What happens when we die? How did this universe originate from nothing? What existed prior to the Big Bang? How was life created from inanimate matter?

However, just because these other questions are extraordinarily more difficult to answer doesn’t mean we shouldn’t even bother to put out any effort looking for the answers. These are some of the most consequential questions we could ever seek to answer, because the truth could change the way we live our lives from day to day.

Philosophy professor Dr. Alex Malpass recently caused a minor sensation on the internet when he tackled the presuppositional Transcendental Argument for God (TAG) championed by Matt Slick, the founder of an organization known as the Christian Apologetics (&) Research Ministry, or CARM. Dr. Malpass is an expert applying logic to thought and writes a blog called UseOfReason.

Om that website Dr. Malpass revealed what he identified as a logical fallacy (a false dichotomy) in Slick’s TAG argument.  Dr. Malpass was then invited to appear on a podcast with Matt Slick and several others, something  called The Bible Thumping Wingnut Show (seriously, that really is the name of the show, which shall be abbreviated hereafter to the acronym BTWNS).

Matt Slick introduced the “laws of logic” into what is known as a disjunctive syllogism in an attempt to put forth an unbeatable argument for the existence of God, paraphrased in the following steps:

  1. God exists, or does not exist.
  2. If God does not exist, we have no explanation for the laws of logic.
  3. Logic exists. Therefore, God exists.

According to Dr. Malpass, Matt Slick has attempted to directly connect the laws of logic to the existence of God, using only logic and reason.

In my (never humble enough) opinion, logic and reason alone could never produce an argument that inspires any degree of confidence in any conclusions drawn — the scientific evidence currently available to us to use for evaluation purposes is much too important to be totally ignored.

Dr. Malpass said that it is perfectly copacetic to state a true (valid) dichotomy such as “God exists, or doesn’t exist.”

This is wonderful information. Boolean (binary) logic truly exists in the real world!

That’s very reassuring to know, because it often proved to be quite useful in the sterile, artificial world of computer programming, where software developers endeavor to simulate the real world as much as possible. A valid dichotomy gives us an opportunity to look for some common ground for a starting point.

Jumping into this debate will probably be a rather sticky proposition…unlike both of these gentlemen, I don’t hold any sort of advanced degree. My formal education ended with a BBA specializing in Management Information Systems from the University of Georgia.

Not to mention nobody asked for my opinion, but that’s never stopped me before.

Mr. Slick’s goal was far too optimistic, and Dr. Malpass’s rebuttal not very ambitious. Dr. Malpass only seeking to refute the argument of Slick on a technical argument, not a superior argument exposing the logic of atheism. Matt Slick sought to prove his own answer to an existential question was indisputably true, which is a most difficult proposition for that type of question.

I can’t conceive of a way to prove that so-called laws of logic could not exist independently of God — what would be the test? Likewise, pointing to a perceived weakness in the argument of Matt Slick does not really articulate a positive case for atheism, the logical alternative to any argument (or Counterargument) for God.southernprose_cover_CAFG

I never studied philosophy at any point during my formal education. The closest I’ve ever come was I read my son’s college textbook from his philosophy class to read on my own, which unfortunately lacking the instructor’s insights, opinions, and analyses.

The odds are very, very high that Dr. Malpass will find a minor technical flaw in the considerably more complicated philosophical argument I’d like make in the the place of TAG, but it is an argument which does not reach a definite conclusion about whether or not God exists. This alternate disjunctive syllogism to TAG merely asserts that the probability of God is extremely high, given logic, reason, common sense, and scientific evidence, of course.

This was the original dichotomy from TAG that Dr. Malpass suggested was true — God exists, or no God exists.

We immediately find ourselves with a problem to solve: what is the definition for “no God”? We cannot say the alternative to God is nothing, because that’s simply not accurate. God is literally indescribable, as far as physical attributes are concerned. We are given metaphysical descriptors such as omniscient and omnipotent, but all that really means is intelligence and power beyond human comprehension.

God is neither man nor beast nor object — God is no thing.

So what is a good definition of God? The best short answer I’ve come up with for the lack of a better one is “supernatural intelligence.” But what does that mean? What does supernatural intelligence represent? Nothing is God, except (possibly) God.

Instead of saying “God or nothing exists”, it seems that we must say something else. Using the helpful example given by Dr. Malpass, we can substitute another proper noun for God and clearly see the problem with our tautology as constructed: “Either Fred or nothing created the universe.”

Nothing makes for a lousy causative agent, however. The most logical alternative to supernatural intelligence that immediately comes to mind is random chance, or extraordinarily good luck.

A brief aside before continuing– many amateur evangelists for atheism like to describe as an “invisible man in the sky”, which is ludicrous for this reason — God is not a man nor in the sky. God would not merely be an extra terrestrial, either. If a supernatural God created this universe, by definition God would be extra universal, meaning not an occupant of this universe.

(Proposed) New Dichotomy — God exists, or extraordinary good luck exists.

Another way of saying this might be to say that God represents order, and good luck represents chaos. We can recognize the existence of complex systems and observe order that occurs within our universe.

The question is this: can order emerge from chaos?

The introduction of scientific evidence into our revised existential question should prove most helpful in building a logical justification for our attempt to eventually contrive a new, more accurate disjointed syllogism.

First, we need to establish few simple statements of fact which are not open for debate.

Axiomatic statements

  1. The universe exists.
  2. Life exists within the universe.
  3. Intelligence exists.
  4. Good luck exists.

Axiom #1 — the universe exists.

This is an easy scientific observation, pretty much a no-brainer. However it’s quite important to note that if this particular universe did not exist, then life as we know it would almost certainly not exist.

Axiom #2 — Life exists.

Rather obvious.

Axiom #3 — Intelligence exists.

We know that intelligence exists because we are able to use language to communicate. Humans think intelligence is so important, we’re trying to create an artificial form.

Axiom #4 — Good luck exists.

And we can observe enough examples of normal good luck to know it also “exists”. Several rather prominent atheists have even claimed that miracles have occurred, which in lieu of a belief in a supernatural God requires some unusually good luck.

But is that the kind of luck we’re talking about? Nope. The type of good luck we’re talking about to compete with a supernatural God as an explanation for existence virtually inconceivable good luck.

Now we need a set of generally accepted scientific claims to justify the previous paragraph.

Scientific claims

  1. The universe had an origin.
  2. The universe was fine tuned as it was created.
  3. Life had an origin.
  4. The origin of life was contingent on the origin of this universe.

Scientific Claim #1 — the universe had an origin.

The Big Bang became a widely accepted scientific theory for the origin of the universe after Edwin Hubble discovered red shift that showed the universe was expanding, confirmed in 1965 by the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) by Penzias and Wilson.

The logical argument for intelligence would typically cite the First Cause argument to improve the odds of success for this universe, .

The logical argument for extraordinary good luck probably uses a multiverse hypothesis to improve chances for a successful Big Bang, but the multiverse hypothesis actually tries to remove luck from the equation, not to improve odds of success.

Scientific Claim #2 — The universe was fine tuned.

Sir Martin Rees has published work describing the origin of the universe as “fine-tuned”, meaning six different cosmological values have been calibrated with extraordinary precision, so that the universe could exist and support complex living organisms, at least on our planet. Sir Roger Penrose has performed calculations that have lead scientists to conclude this universe was a highly unlikely product of random chance. To allow for an alternative to supernatural creation, multiverse hypotheses have been proposed to address the statistically unlikely nature of the fine-tuning problem.

However, the origin of the universe was not the only fine tuned process…immediately after the Big Bang, an event cosmologists refer to as inflation occurred, also with incredible precision, which Stephen Hawking speculated that had the timing and duration of inflation varied as little as 1 in a million million, the universe would have collapsed.

The logical argument for intelligence would be that an intelligent entity acting as tuner “fine-tuned” the universe and managed inflation for the purpose of creating a universe just right for complex living organisms to inhabit earth.

The logical argument for extraordinary luck again relies on a multiverse hypothesis to explain away the improbability of the Big Bang and then the improbability of inflation, without explaining how the hypothetical multiverse might manipulate the laws of physics inside our universe once the Big Bang occurred and it began to exist.

Scientific Claim #3 — Life had an origin.

Because the universe has not always existed and life only exists within this universe (as far as we know) it is safe to assume that at some point, inanimate matter transformed into a living organism.

Chemists call this hypothesis abiogenesis. Dr. James Tour, an expert on the subject, has said this:

We have no idea how the molecules that compose living systems have been devised in concert so they wold work in concert to fulfill biology’s functions. We have no idea how the basic set of molecules, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins were made and how they could have coupled in proper sequences and then transformed into the ordered assemblies until there was a construction of a complex biological system and eventually to that first cell. Nobody has any idea about how this was done when using our commonly understood mechanisms of chemical science.

The logical argument for supernatural intelligence submits that a Creator created life. DNA is much too complex to exist as a result of random chemicals assembling to form information.

The logical argument for unbelievable good luck says “Hey, we are here. Our proof that life could form by random chance is self evident, merely because we exist.”

In other words, with enough time, anything is possible.

Scientific Claim #4 — Life required this universe to exist.

In order for the universe to exist, first the Big Bang and then inflation had to occur, both in proper sequence and with perfect timing. According to experts on the subjects, the probability of either of these events was infinitesimally  low.

The probability of the origin of life could not possibly be greater than the probability of the origin of the universe, because life exists within this universe.

Illustrating with an example, let’s pretend the probability of the Big Bang and inflation randomly creating the fine-tuned universe is as high as 1 percent (we know it isn’t anywhere close to that because of Penrose and Hawking, but we’re pretending, so it’s okay.)

The probability of the origin of life could never be any greater than 1 percent, because life requires the universe to exist.

The logical argument for supernatural intelligence says that the probability for each future contingency becomes worse than the preceding events on which the new event depended.

In other words, evolution depends on successful abiogenesis, which depends on a successful Big Bang immediately followed by successful inflation. The reason animals appear to be designed to fulfill a specific role in the environment is because they are designed. DNA is biological software code more complex than computer code.

The logical argument for ridiculous good luck is that no matter how unreasonable the odds of good luck might be, the alternative — a supernatural God, is simply unthinkable. It doesn’t matter how improbable the Big Bang would be fine-tuned, inflation perfectly timed, and all the other factors involved might be.

However, I suspect that Dr. Malpass would agree that this last argument for extraordinary good luck commits the same fallacy allegedly made by Matt Slick with his TAG argument.

Finally, our attempt at a disjunctive syllogism to attempt an answer to an existential question using our new dichotomy.

Either supernatural intelligence created life and the universe on purpose, or incredible good luck created life and the universe by accident, due to random chance.

Fine tuning cannot be random if the universe and life are both contingent upon its necessary success.

Therefore, supernatural intelligence exists.

* With apologies to the late Douglas Adams

Radical liberals and the rights of others

FacepalmBefore I say the first word about politics, I need to be clear that I’m neither a registered Democrat or Republican; I am a independent voter who holds both political parties in pretty much equal disdain. They don’t even bother trying to represent me in Washington.

I’d love to be able to think of myself as a liberal — it sounds wonderful, at least in principle. Some of the synonyms for the word ‘liberal’ are generous, abundant, copious, and plentiful.

And of course, the antonyms for liberal include intolerant, stingy, narrow-minded, mean, and greedy.

Really…who wants to be thought of as mean, or intolerant? I certainly don’t.

But the problem with self-identifying as a liberal is that the political ideology and the dictionary definition of the word appear to have very little in common with each other.

Now people who know me personally know that I’m not really a confrontational sort of person, but neither am I the “go along to get along” sort of person, either. I’m about ten times more likely to initiate a conversation about the upcoming football season for the Georgia Bulldogs than politics or religion, but I’m also not shy about expressing my opinions or correcting the record whenever it seems necessary. I have this very annoying tendency of stubbornly refusing to concede that I could be wrong about something in lieu of better evidence. I’m also very unlikely to simply take your word for anything if the argument from authority has been invoked.

Naturally, being radically liberal is a political orientation, not a religious one. It has been my experience that the behavior of a typical liberal will literally become the antithesis of the dictionary definition, more often than not. Granted, my interactions have most often been with a particular subset of liberals, specifically atheists. Not every atheist is a liberal, nor every liberal an atheist. On the other hand, I could probably count the number of conservative atheists I’ve encountered on one hand, without having to use most of those fingers. Conservatives who are atheists seem to be few and far between, or they must have better things to do than attack religious beliefs, and people who identify as theists.

Many of my friends (and family members) may refer to themselves as liberals, but their behavior is more like that of a moderate, “normal” person. In fact, several members of my personal church are loyal Democrat Party voters, at least according to their bumper stickers. The difference between these friends and family members and a truly radical liberal are obvious — the latter are vicious, and love to hate their perceived enemies.

For the most part, liberals don’t want to be stigmatized by their ideological stereotype — many prefer using the term progressive to calling themselves liberal, in an effort to create the illusion that they are forward-thinking, and not reactionary, which is what the majority of liberals actually are.

In reality, radical liberals tend to be very intolerant reactionaries frankly incapable of critical thinking. Obviously they fear the caricature image of liberals as hysterical, wild-eyed ranting lunatics — which many of them happen to be.

For example, a radical liberal will demand that Christians not only tolerate gay marriage, but they must also prepare the cake for the ceremony. If the Christian business owner refuses to make the cake, they will be forced out of business. Then in order to justify their draconian punishment of Christian businesses, liberal judges and politicians usually make a false comparison between exercising the freedom of religion and Jim Crow laws. However, politely refusing to make a cake is not discriminating against the color of a person’s skin, but rather a personal and business decision that reflects the content of a person’s character.

The Christian business owner isn’t actively protesting against gay marriage, or preventing the gay couple from getting married. They are simply asking the customer to find another bakery that would be more comfortable baking a wedding cake for a gay couple. But the people demanding tolerance won’t put up with that — nothing less than total submission is acceptable.

Fortunately, my friends who are gay tend to be conservative and they know my heart. I don’t feel the need to preemptively apologize or qualify my remarks so they know these comments don’t apply to them. My friends also know the radical Islamic terrorist wants to commit mass murder in gay bars, while the typical Christian wants to pray for the victims, and to donate blood and money to help.

Yes, there are a few jerks in every crowd, but some crowds are full of jerks. With the gay marriage battle apparently won, radical liberals have turned their attention to transgender bathrooms. They quickly label anyone who express concerns as homophobic, transphobic, etc. , as backward and hateful people.  Granting equal treatment and “freedom of choice” to identify as something other than one’s natural biological sex trumps any concerns other citizens may have about sexual predators exploiting this new opportunity to physically abuse innocent women and children. An overdeveloped desire for compassion leads to the death of common sense.

It may seem like I’m just generalizing all liberals as radicals and classifying certain types of behavior as such, but I have both family and friends who think of themselves as liberals. However, they tend to act more like moderates, at least around me. No one whom I know personally has dared attempt the “in-your-face” tactics of radical liberalism on me.

This morning a friend of mine posted an open letter on the internet that among other astute observations, included these words:

Negative campaigns, the demonizing of people with different opinions, discounting the legitimacy of their views, all works. Because *you* let it. While you are calling the “other” stupid, ignorant, etc., keep in mind that is exactly the same rhetoric the “other” is using on you. If you discount the legitimacy of their views, you don’t have to listen. But people generally have reasons for holding the views they do. If you don’t take time to understand them, and alienate them with nasty rhetoric, you’ll never even try. Which is what your “leaders” want – because if you apply the same standards of reason to them as you do to the “other”, you’ll find neither holds up too well.

I wish I could take credit for writing those words. I don’t claim to know all the answers to difficult questions, and I’m not suggesting that I’m even smart enough to have asked all of the right questions.

Now I know that I am not stupid. More importantly, I don’t appreciate being treated as if I’m stupid. It tends to bring out the worst in me, especially if the attack was unprovoked. I’m not claiming to be the smartest person on the planet — I’m not even claiming to be as smart as my wife, or as smart as my friend whose thoughts I pilfered without permission (which is why I haven’t given him credit by name.)

But neither are most, if not all of my critics.  Personally speaking, I’ve found that it’s inherently risky to assume that the other person involved in a discussion is stupid before listening to what they have to say. It’s also very rude to pre judge. But that won’t stop some people.

It’s certainly not fair to say that the lawyers with the ACLU who blamed Christians after a Muslim man claiming allegiance to multiple terrorist organizations murdered 50 people in a gay nightclub during the month of Ramadan are stupid, but political correctness and personal prejudices compelled them to make a very stupid claim. When atheist Sam Harris went on the Bill Maher show and said, “Liberals have really failed on the topic of theocracy. They’ll criticize white theocracy. They’ll criticize Christians. They’ll still get agitated over the abortion clinic bombing that happened in 1984. But when you want to talk about the treatment of women and homosexuals and free thinkers and public intellectuals in the Muslim world, I would argue that liberals have failed us,” Ben Affleck blew a gasket and incorrectly labeled Harris a racist, when he’s not being a bigot, either. He’s simply stating a fact — radical Islamic terrorists have been responsible for the majority of the recent mass shootings in the U.S. No one is saying that all Muslims are future mass murderers, but almost all of the recent mass murderers around the world have been inspired by radical Islamic ideology.

Once upon a time, as I was preparing to debate a rather prominent atheist, he recommended that I read something like Religion for Dummies (I can’t remember the actual title.) 

I didn’t get mad at my debate opponent, but I did believe that I was supposed to be offended or insulted, albeit in a joking, sort of a light-hearted way.

Similarly, when my debate opponent promised a friend of his that I’d agreed to pay a $10,000 fee for a professional videotaped record of the event, I didn’t get upset because I took it for the joke it surely was — I even replied that I would honor my opponent’s commitment of my funds, as long as payee wouldn’t be upset that Milton Bradley issued the currency.

I appreciated the fact my opponent wanted to inspire me to prepare, and flattered that I was considered a worthy opponent.

But rather than reading Religion for Dummies or whatever it was that my opponent for the big debate suggested, I had a much better idea…I watched videos of his previous debates, and took copious notes of his past arguments in favor of atheism.

Preparation gave me plenty of confidence. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t embarrass myself and things worked out okay…but standing up in front of an audience to argue with someone isn’t my idea of a great time. I prefer to express important ideas in writing — I don’t know how to edit or proofread the words before they come from my mouth. It’s much more difficult to express hateful sentiments in writing, unless you don’t think about what you write before publishing. It’s sort of my job to think about content and the messages I want to convey through my writing, even if it’s something I’m giving to readers for free, through my blog. Why should you be tempted to buy one of my books if I can’t even communicate concise ideas somewhat effectively in two or three thousand words?

Rather than trying to explain what I consider to be the differences between a radical liberal and a normal person, let me give you a couple of examples as an illustration:

southernprose_cover_CAFG

Recently I offered a radical liberal (an atheist, in this case) a free electronic copy of my book, Counterargument for God, so that he could faster come up to speed on the evidence I would offer to support the points I planned to make.

Now ordinarily when I personally receive a gift from someone, I’m not normally prone to irrational outbursts of uncontrolled anger directed at the giver, even if the gift is something I didn’t really want or need. A polite, even if insincere “thank you” is usually in order.

Rather than reading my book and then expressing his opinion, within a matter of minutes this person launched into attack mode, beginning with this:

I’m trying to say that rational belief is a degree of belief that maps to the degree of the relevant evidence. No exceptions. Do you agree? If you don’t, your epistemology is rotten at its core. And that will pollute everything you say or write. You must disagree since the Bible disagrees. Read the book of John. Read it in Greek. The Bible itself is rotten at its core.

Interestingly enough, I had not even mentioned the Bible, nor made any claims of having superior knowledge of the Bible. Because I wouldn’t. The Bible isn’t even mentioned in the first 200 pages of my book, which are entirely focused on the available scientific evidence to support what I have coined my Big Picture argument. The Bible is only referenced in the latter section of the book that presents a brief defense of my Christian faith, when I took and then graded Dan Barker’s open Bible test.

This individual had immediately tried to characterize my beliefs based on his own interpretation of a theistic worldview, without bothering to learn what my beliefs are — so desperate to pass judgment on my epistemic approach to acquiring knowledge as “rotten at its core” that he neglected to learn what my approach is. He simply assumed that he knew.

At some point, I managed to explain that I don’t read Greek, and received this barrage:

I read the Greek New Testament 11 times in Greek. I also have a degree in philosophy. Your epistemology is clearly flawed. Yeah, you’re just another Christian asshole. You’re ignorant, and you’re arrogant. John you’re an idiot. Face it. Your (SIC) pretender who does not know the Bible as well as I do, and you know epistemology far less. John is best (SIC) if you just care less and stop talking about things you know nothing about. What a shameful show for Jesus. If you know little about the Bible, stop defending it. For a while there, I had hoped you had something of substance. How disappointing.

Wow! Just imagine what might have been accomplished if I had actually put a little effort into annoying this person. Though I won’t mention his name, I will add that this person claims to be an academic and a college professor with this caveat — people can claim to be anything they want on the internet, though I usually try to give them the benefit of my doubt.

On the other hand, one of my other critics has claimed to be an astronaut for NASA, a lawyer, professor at Oxford and a published author, so the benefit of my doubt must have some limits.

I find myself amazed to witness the venom, and the degree of vitriol that I can inspire from someone I’ve never even met, with no real effort on my part. It’s a real shame that I get no sense of satisfaction from my success at driving people into apoplectic rage. And I loathe arguing with people about politics.

The reason I don’t like radical liberals is because they believe the opinions and rights of others aren’t important. Radical liberals are some of the most intolerant people on Earth.

 

Your inner parakeet

2000px-Budgerigar_diagram-labeled.svgI love reading books written by Richard Dawkins. Quite ironically, he provides some of the very best material I could ever hope to find for use in discussions with my atheist friends about God and His creation, as well as existential science and evolution theory.

It turns out that virtually everything I might ever need for my argument in favor of a supernatural God can be found in his book The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution, simply by following the advice of Dawkins and accepting many of his claims about the theory of evolution on face value.

For example, in his book Richard Dawkins claimed that humans share a now-extinct ancestor with the budgerigar (another name for the common parakeet) that lived approximately 310 million years ago, writing that “Every species is a cousin of every other. Any two species are descended from an ancestral species, which split in two.” (pg. 254)

That would mean every modern living organism must be directly related to every other living organism on earth by descent — with modifications, of course. Not only is your cousin a chimpanzee, but your slightly more distant cousin is allegedly the cucumber.

The most obvious question coming to mind about this idea would seem to be “how?”

Now my atheist friends have frequently suggested that I publish the evidence that disproves my cousinship to fruits and vegetables such as cucumbers and turnips so that I might earn fame, fortune, and even to win a Nobel Prize. However, the Nobel Prize does not honor a category for evolutionary biology, making the goal itself nonsensical, even if one assumes that the purpose of pursuing a career in science is to earn fame, fortune, and win the Nobel Prize.

Not even Charles Darwin would have won the Nobel Prize if the award had existed when he wrote On the Origin of Species. Ernst Mayr never won the Nobel Prize, and also noted that there is no prize for evolutionary biology, presumably to silence his own critics. Besides, by the time I received my PhD in something, I’d only be a few years away from retirement age.

Furthermore, Richard Dawkins hasn’t won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine, either. So winning one can’t be that big of a deal.

Ideas matter.southernprose_cover_CAFG Book sales matter. Being able to defend one’s ideas with logic, reason, and the support of available scientific ideas matter. An honest pursuit of existential truth matters. Prizes and book awards, not so much.

In case awards matter to other people and increase book sales, though, I will point out to the reader that the book shown on the right won a gold medal in an international book awards contest, as did collection of animal rescue short stories and the detective novel shown below.

Thus ends my brief foray into shameless self-promotion, which I freely admit only doing to irritate those critics of mine who often accuse me of relentless self promotion and trying to sell them a book that I’ve offered to give away.

This mentality reminds me of the classic line from Joseph Bologna in the movie Blame It on Rio: “Who packs, not to leave?”

DivineEvolutionCover_eBook_finalWho writes a book and manages to get published, but doesn’t want people to buy it?

Not that I’m complaining, but I think my accountant might still tell me today that Mick Jagger, Keith Richard, and Bob Dylan have all made more money off copyright permissions from Divine Evolution, my first book, that I have earned from sales to date. Writing is a labor of love that will eventually pay financial dividends to my estate, if not before.

Buy a book and read — it doesn’t have to be one of mine. Broaden your horizons. Try to learn something new. End of commercial.

Now back on point…

It has been frequently said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The assertion that humans might be related even to parakeets and even plants by sex, isolation of genetics, and time certainly would qualify as an extraordinary claim.

Dawkins writes (about the alleged reptilian human/parakeet common ancestor),

“In the unlikely event that a fossil of this ancestral species was ever found, it would need a name. Let’s call it Protamnio darwinii. We don’t know any details about it, and the details don’t matter [emphasis added] at all for the argument, but we won’t go far wrong if we imagine a sprawling lizard-like creature, scurrying about catching insects. Now, here’s the point. When Protamnio darwinii split into two sub-populations, they would have looked just the same as each other, and could have happily interbred with each other; but one lot were destined to give rise to the mammals, and the other lot were destined to give rise to the birds (and dinosaurs and snakes and crocodiles).” (pg. 254-5)

Now in order to reach this allegedly indisputable conclusion that humans and parakeets have ancestors in common, we only need to look at the evidence, according to Mr. Dawkins.

This is excellent advice, in my opinion. Never forget that extraordinary claims always require extraordinary evidence. So what exactly is this evidence, and what does it tell us?

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but birds have beaks, wings, and feathers. Their bones are hollow, yet incredibly strong. Birds lay eggs. Most birds can fly. They have a specially-adapted digestive system. In other words, birds are very, very different than human beings that appear to be engineered specifically for the capability of flight.

Neither birds nor humans are closely related to insect-eating lizards, though. Sure, birds, lizards, and humans have central nervous systems and cardio-vascular systems as well as skeletons, hearts, brains, eyes, and other organs that may be found in virtually every living animal, but this hardly qualifies as evidence for being the product of common descent.southernprose_cover_AANO

Furthermore, Richard Dawkins admits that there is an “overwhelming illusion” of design we may observe in nature, but then dismisses even the possibility of design versus descent because of his personal bias towards atheism. To justify his assumption, he refers to alleged evidence of “bad” design like the routing of the vas deferens through the human body or the laryngeal nerve in giraffes. My dogs are theoretically not only my best friends, they are allegedly my cousins as well.

Does anyone else (besides me, of course) have a problem with the absence of logic being shown here? We are being asked — no, told to believe that humans are related to giraffes and parakeets through common ancestry, conditioned to believe that evolution theory is the only conceivable explanation for the existence of a human being.

We are told to basically ignore all the differences like feathers and wings and emphasize any perceived similarities. If we attempt to ask intelligent questions about the science, we are branded as evolution deniers, as if we know some great existential truth that we stubbornly refuse to admit.

Skepticism about science will not be tolerated. Only skepticism about religion is allowed.

Nevertheless, common ancestry means that the primary factors that cause such incredible diversity are sexual reproduction, isolation of the gene pool (usually due to geography), and time. Both Dawkins and Coyne clearly agree on the importance of those three factors, especially isolation, in the formation of new species. Quite frankly, we are being conditioned to believe that only descent can possibly explain how a lizard, a parakeet, and a human being are allegedly “related” to each other.

Dawkins insists that we should go and look at the evidence — perhaps he should take his own advice and speak with paleontologist Michael Benton. An excellent candidate for Protamnio darwinii might well be a dicynodont named Lystrosaurus, the primary terrestrial animal that survived the Permian extinction of about 250 million years ago, according to Professor Benton. What’s sixty million years in the Big Scheme of things, compared to the life span of a human being?

More time than we have to observe the alleged processes in action, that’s for sure. That is roughly the same amount of geologic time that has elapsed since the Cretaceous extinction killed off the dinosaurs. Most modern animal species we can observe today allegedly “evolved” within the last 65 million years, with a few notable exceptions such as crocodiles and coelacanths.

It would be absurd to deny the possibility that descent alone might explain the existence of both the ant and the anteater, the cotton plant and the boll weevil, because we know that species (or kinds) are perpetuated by sexual reproduction, which is of course, descent. But why should we assume descent must be the only possible contributing factor, when there is overwhelming evidence drawn from inference that suggests manipulation and design might also be involved?

My point is merely this: it is absolutely silly to assume that descent explains the relationship of humans to bananas, while details of the process by which it occurred remain completely unknown. My goal is not to persuade the reader he or she should not believe Darwin’s theory solves all problems — I’m asking for someone to explain how it works to me, so that I might believe, too.

Currently we don’t even seem to know how recent evolution occurred, for example how humans evolved from ape ancestors. The “smoking gun” evidence that advocates of evolution theory love to cite is the commonly believed fusion of human chromosome 2, which biologist Ken Miller has said appears to be so clear that it appears “something” joined two primate chromosomes together as clearly as if a piece of Scotch tape had been used to connect them.

However, when pressed to explain how a fused joining of those chromosomes could occur slowly over many generations, Professor Miller explained that the joining of those two chromosomes had no discernible impact on ape-to-human evolution. But how can an event with no known relationship to human evolution be claimed to provide evidence that it occurred? If the evidence that humans evolved from apes doesn’t explain how it happened, why should we believe that it even happened?

And if human chromosome 2 created by fusion didn’t cause ape-to-human evolution to occur, what did?

It’s very important to note that Richard Dawkins admits that we don’t have the slighted clue about what causes or allows macro evolution to occur, writing: “What actually happened at this epic parting of the ways (divergence from reptiles into species that evolve into both humans and parakeets), nobody knows.” (pg 255) How…inconvenient. Or convenient, depending on your point of view.

Doesn’t that seem like something vitally important to know before it becomes universally accepted to be an indisputable truth? How can we assume something could have only happened one way, if we don’t even have the slightest clue how that way actually works in the real world?

Remember, if evolution as Dawkins describes it really is true, you’re not only a cousin of a chimpanzee, you’re also literally the cousin of a cucumber. All dramatic (and beneficial) mutations only made possible by sex. Plus isolation of two gene pools from the same ancestral creature. And lots and lots of time, of course. Dawkins also wrote in his book that “Biologists use the word ‘speciation’ for the splitting of a species into two daughter species.”

The problem with what biologists call “speciation” is the definition of the word species, originally redefined by Ernst Mayr to mean animals that don’t reproduce for whatever reason, regardless of their kind. Doesn’t this sort of diminish the whole concept of selection? In ring species, is it true that the animals can’t reproduce, or could it be possible they don’t mate by choice? Is a bluebird absolutely unable to mate with a cardinal, or possibly just not attracted to them?

I don’t ask questions because I know all the answers…I’d only like to know them.

According to Dawkins, the cichlids of Lake Victoria have allegedly evolved into hundreds of new species of cichlids. But the cichlids haven’t actually become a truly new kind of organism. Only more diversity in cichlids can be observed, even 400,000 years after the lake formed.

The real question of speciation is this: how long does it take for tilapia to evolve into trout?  Remember that in open ocean waters, a decent fisherman might catch bass, trout, flounder, salmon, mackerel, or they might encounter countless other forms of marine life — or perhaps they might even hook an alleged fossil fish, the coelacanth. Will the cichlids of Lake Victoria ever evolve into something other than a cichlid?

During Richard Lenski’s experiments with e-coli bacteria didn’t evolve into a completely different organism with a new body plan. It didn’t even evolve into a different form of bacteria such as salmonella or listeria. The e-coli merely adapted to changes in its environment. The experiments do demonstrate the remarkable resilience and ability to adapt to a changing environment for a well defined kind of animal, but haven’t shown how truly new organisms emerge.

My atheist friends want to know how I can dismiss evidence of evolution seen in ERVs, meaning the endogenous retroviruses that may become part of the DNA inherited by offspring.

Under what circumstances might an infection from a virus have beneficial results to the host organism? Trying to think of candidates for viruses that may become permanently embedded in the host’s DNA, I’m only coming up with examples such as herpes simplex/Chickenpox thus far — viruses without beneficial effect on the host organism.

New information might get added to the genome, all right, but it’s more than likely detrimental in nature, if it’s viral.

The latest and greatest discovery in evolutionary biology is the identification of the miR-941 gene that allegedly “helps to explain how humans evolved from apes. It appears to have played a crucial role in the development of the human brain and may shed light on our use of tools and language.”

The problem is that the article making this stunning announcement also had this to say:

Scientists say, however, that this gene emerged, in a startlingly brief interval of evolutionary time, fully functional out of non-coding genetic material. This material has been termed “junk DNA.” [emphasis added] Previous to this study, it has been remarkably difficult to see this process in action.

In light of these new clams, perhaps calling Sir Fred Hoyle’s famous tornado-through-a-junkyard analogy a “fallacy” is the truly egregious logical error in this exercise. I just don’t believe that the traits which make humans special formed quickly and naturally came from AREs and junk DNA.

southernprose_cover_SHSIn his book The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins repeatedly encouraged his readers to imagine being private detectives investigating a crime scene. As it just so happens, that is precisely what I do for a living — I write detective novels, published using the pen name Rocky Leonard.

So I’ve had to train my mind to imagine crimes and then to solve them.

It seems intuitively more obvious to me that God, not good luck, has monkeyed around with our DNA.

God doesn’t make junk. Complexity exists for a reason.

Perhaps the most telling comment of all from Dawkins was this: “Once again, I must stress, the details [emphasis original] of my little story are pure fiction [emphasis added].” (pg. 256)

He follows that up with: “Most biologists will tell you that geographical isolation is the normal prelude to speciation, although some, especially entomologists, may chime in with the reservation that sympatric speciation can also be important. Sympatric speciation, too, requires some kind of initial, incidental separation to get the ball rolling, but it is something other than geographic isolation.” (pg. 257)

Given the stated importance of genetic isolation of two breeding populations within species boundary, does this mean that humans, in the age of worldwide travel, can no longer evolve on earth?

That thought seems to beg yet another question: must humans colonize outer space in order to be able to evolve into new species? How else might two different human gene pools get isolated long enough to diverge, in this day and age?

I know this article turned out to be long, but I wanted to cover as much territory as possible and get all of the residual questions off my chest, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t see future books about evolution or religion.

I’ve pretty much said all that needed to be said, and what I wanted to say. Until the announcement of next great evolutionary breakthrough, that is.

Perhaps when they claim to have discovered how gene mir-942 helped turn monkeys into men.