People Unclear

This is number 35

Time for true confessions. I subscribe to Dr. Robert Jeffress’ newsletter. For those who don’t know:

Robert James Jeffress, Jr. (born November 29, 1955) is an American Southern Baptist (Evangelical) pastor, best-selling author, and radio and television host. Jeffress hosts the program, Pathway to Victory, which is broadcast on more than 1,200 television stations in the United States and 28 other countries. He also has a daily radio program, Pathway to Victory, which is heard on 900 stations and broadcast live in 195 countries.[2][3] He is the pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.

I know that in the afterlife I will be called to atone for my transgressions, but I do this for my readers so they don’t have to. But I need to get to the story, and it starts a few reels of tape back. To begin:

Omarosa Dishes On Mike Pence: ‘He Thinks Jesus Tells Him To Say Things’

“We would be begging for the days of Trump back if Pence became president.”

Omarosa Manigault-Newman issued a dire warning about Vice President Mike Pence.

On Monday’s episode of “Celebrity Big Brother,” the former White House Office of Public Liaison communications director warned her housemates that “as bad as y’all think Trump is, you would be worried about Pence.”

Newman said people wishing for Trump’s impeachment “may want to reconsider” their life.

“We would be begging for the days of Trump back if Pence became president,” she added. “(Pence is) extreme. I’m Christian. I love Jesus. But he thinks Jesus tells him to say things. I’m like, ‘Jesus isn’t saying that.’”

Omarosa extended her thoughts, as reported in a post on the Independent:

Vice president Mike Pence is “scary” and “thinks Jesus tells him to say things”, according to a former Trump administration official.

Of course, the matter didn’t die then and there. On the ABC television network The View has been running since August 1997, and some interesting pronouncements have been dropped over that span. On a recent episode panelist Joy Behar put some analysis to the Vice President’s behavior, as reported by Fox News.

‘The View’ star Joy Behar mocks Mike Pence’s Christian faith: ‘That’s called mental illness’

By Brian Flood | Fox News

The women of ABC News’ “The View” took a shot a Vice President Mike Pence’s Christian faith on Tuesday, mocking the former governor of Indiana for talking to Jesus and even calling it a “mental illness.”

It all started when they played a clip from “Celebrity Big Brother,” in which former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman discussed the vice president.

Getting to the heart of the matter:

Joy Behar then said: “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you.”

Behar said hearing voices is a “mental illness” before Sherri Shepard offered a limited defense of Pence.

Getting past the fact that having conversations with dead people is one of the known signs of a mental lapse, it would have been  wise for the panelists to cut the Vice President some slack. It is for sure they did not offer up alternative explanations, some of which I list here:

  • He was being poetic. Apostrophe is a literary device that has a character speaking to an inanimate object or to a dead person.
  • He could have been  rehearsing for a part in a dramatic performance. “Jesus: Can you tell me which way to the temple? Roman soldier: Jesus Christ, if you can’t find your own way, then Heaven help you.”
  • He could have  been mocking somebody’s religious pretensions: “You think you are holier than thou? Shit, man, Jesus talks to me. And you know what? I talk back.”

But they didn’t, and now they have incurred the wrath of holier than thou Dr. Robert Jeffress of the larger than God, downtown Dallas mega church. May Jesus have mercy on their souls. Here is a partial transcript provided by Dr. Jeffress from his interview on Fox News:

Dr. Robert Jeffress went off on the co-hosts of “The View” for mocking Vice President Mike Pence’s Christian faith on Tuesday.

It all started when “The View” played a clip from “Celebrity Big Brother,” in which former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman said the Vice President “thinks Jesus tells him to say things.”

Sunny Hostin expressed concern about Pence’s religious fervor and said she doesn’t want her Vice President “speaking in tongues.”

“It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you,” Joy Behar said, adding that hearing voices is a “mental illness.”

Jeffress wondered on “America’s Newsroom” what would have happened to Behar if she had mocked a devout Muslim.

“ABC would have fired her in a nanosecond. To the left, when it comes to attacking conservative Christians, it is always open season.”

He pointed out that many liberals preach the importance of tolerance, but when it comes to beliefs with which they disagree, they can often be the least tolerant.

He said Christians are tired of being bullied in the public square for their faith, and the 2016 election was in some ways a reaction to these types of “despicable attacks.”

I need to expand on that in parts. First there is the implication (outright declaration?) that “the left” (that would include me) is partial to Muslims. Let me put that to rest right now. Those Muslims are absolutely wacky. Here’s the kind of stuff they (not all) believe:

  • The earth and everything else was created by a mythical being.
  • Abraham, the character in the Bible, was a real person.
  • Mohamed had conversations with God, the previously-mentioned mythical being.
  • Mohamed traveled from Mecca to Jerusalem and back within the span of a few hours.
  • Mohamed ascended into  Heaven, a mythical place.

There, I’ve given Muslims their due. They are little better than Vice President Mike Pence when it comes to being unclear. And, yes, those on the left side of the aisle (some) tend to mock this kind of nonsense, as do some on the right. The question should be “Why doesn’t everybody, left and right, give this tripe the belly laugh it deserves?”

Dr. Jeffress complains that liberals preach tolerance, yet they are intolerant of beliefs that are not their own. Dude, what is your concept of tolerance? We tolerate. We condemn, yet we tolerate. Being tolerant of a bad move does not mean we purchase tickets. Being tolerant of a braying jackass does not mean we welcome him into our living rooms.

Christians are being bullied. Really? If somebody farts in an elevator, you do not compliment him on his good manners? Dr. Jeffress, get real.

And by the way, keep those emails coming. I open them daily with great joy. That’s tolerance.

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Crazy From On High

A Reading Of High Delusion

A few weeks ago I reviewed a posting on Evolution News. It’s a site sponsored by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, and the posting was by somebody not readily identified. Whoever they are, the topic was Dennis Venema’s book Adam and the Genome, and the matter of Francis Collins came up regarding his book The Language of God.

That covered, there is more of interest. The post dips into  a discussion of The Language of God, a book by Francis Collins:

Francis Sellers Collins (born April 14, 1950) is an American physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project. He is director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, United States.

Before being appointed director of the NIH, Collins led the Human Genome Project and other genomics research initiatives as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), one of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH. Before joining NHGRI, he earned a reputation as a gene hunter at the University of Michigan. He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science.

In order to continue following the discussion I obtained a Kindle edition and will be covering that in future posts.

As promised, I obtained copies of both books and have finished reading the Collins book. Considering the author’s obvious deep intellect, I can only remark, “What a load of warmed over drivel!” Thank you, Dr. Collins. Now for a brief dissection.

First the book is well written. If Francis Collins ever comes to the point he can no longer find work saving the human race through science and medicine, he has a future as a writer. There are very few unintentional mistakes of fact. This one caught my attention.

William Paley’s parable of finding a watch on the moor—which would cause any of us to deduce the existence of a watchmaker—resonated with many readers in the seventeenth century, and continues to resonate with many people today. Life appears designed, so there must be a designer.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 148). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

It is unclear where the reference to the 17th century comes from, but earlier in the book Collins mentions the Blind Watchmaker theme was published in 1802.

THE “ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN” dates back at least to Cicero. It was put forward with particular effectiveness by William Paley in 1802 in a highly influential book, Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearance of Nature.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 86). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

Beyond all that, this is an argument for God by a person who grew to maturity absent any push in that direction, becoming committed to non-belief well into adulthood. His rise to greatness in human endeavors left him unfulfilled, but he could not reconcile the richness of the human spirit and the beauty of natural wonders with strictly natural explanations. There must be more. He became convinced of the existence of God:

I had started this journey of intellectual exploration to confirm my atheism. That now lay in ruins as the argument from the Moral Law (and many other issues) forced me to admit the plausibility of the God hypothesis. Agnosticism, which had seemed like a safe second-place haven, now loomed like the great cop-out it often is. Faith in God now seemed more rational than disbelief.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 30). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

That should have been satisfactory, and that  should have been the end of the book. Unfortunately Collins feels the need to rationalize, and it is in this effort he stumbles badly. Some citations are in order. Consider what he accepts as true in an effort to shore up his faith. Here is an example:

All religions include a belief in certain miracles. The crossing of the Israelites through the Red Sea, led by Moses and accompanied by the drowning of Pharaoh’s men, is a powerful story, told in the book of Exodus, of God’s providence in preventing the imminent destruction of His people. Similarly, when Joshua asked God to prolong the daylight in order for a particular battle to be successfully carried out, the sun was said to stand still in a way that could only be described as miraculous.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 48). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

It would be generous to allow that these are put up to illustrate what is deemed to be miraculous and no more. The problem is there is little doubt left by the context that he believes these miracles occurred. Elsewhere, his interpretation of reality goes askew, as with his reference to “Mother Teresa.”

Mother Teresa has consistently ranked as one of the most admired individuals of the current age, though her self-imposed poverty and selfless giving to the sick and dying of Calcutta is in drastic contrast to the materialistic lifestyle that dominates our current culture.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (pp. 25-26). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

The cold fact is that Mother Teresa never seemed to have given physical aid and comfort to the “sick and dying.” Collins seeks to illustrate the benefit of religion by pointing to the good works done by famous religious leaders.

As just one example, consider how religious leaders have worked to relieve people from oppression, from Moses’ leading the Israelites out of bondage to William Wilberforce’s ultimate victory in convincing the English Parliament to oppose the practice of slavery…

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 40). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

He goes on to include the martyrdom of Martin Luther King. The obvious problem with this line of argument is that Moses is a fictional character. No such person ever led the Israelites out of Egypt.

Religion (and by this I assume his favored blend) Collins asserts is essential to answer the matter of Moral Law. An actual scientist, he believes we came about by biological evolution, but that does not explain the existence of Moral Law, an innate morality, traces of which are found in all Earth’s people, regardless of region, culture, or religious environment. God must be the answer, and religion must be the vehicle. How then does Collins explain the evil committed by religious people. No problem for Collins. Here’s how:

But the second answer brings us back to the Moral Law, and to the fact that all of us as human beings have fallen short of it. The church is made up of fallen people. The pure, clean water of spiritual truth is placed in rusty containers, and the subsequent failings of the church down through the centuries should not be projected onto the faith itself, as if the water had been the problem.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 40). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

He invokes the “rusty container” at multiple points in the book, and that, in itself, is a crock of poop. In various instances the origin of the universe is attributed to God, and people are the special creation of a caring and loving God, one for whom human well-being is held dear. How then does one explain how an omniscient, all-caring God fails to show himself (itself) in times of great human suffering? May I never eat another chocolate ice cream bar, but Collins invokes the principle of “stress makes strength.”

This notion that God can work through adversity is not an easy concept, and can find firm anchor only in a worldview that embraces a spiritual perspective. The principle of growth through suffering is, in fact, nearly universal in the world’s great faiths.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (pp. 46-47). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

Yes. Yes! I’ve seen that before.

It is also told to me the following was found scratched into a cell wall in some Nazi death camp: “If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness.” I also note an incident recounted by Richard Dawkins:

This grotesque piece of reasoning, so damningly typical of the theological mind, reminds me of an occasion when I was on a television panel with Swinburne, and also with our Oxford colleague Professor Peter Atkins. Swinburne at one point attempted to justify the Holocaust on the grounds it gave the Jews a wonderful opportunity to be courageous and noble. Atkins splendidly growled, “May you rot in hell.”

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion (p. 64). Houghton Mifflin Company.

Dawkins is one of Collins’ least favored atheists. Collins considers Dawkins to be doing harm to the atheist cause due to the stridency of his attacks on religion (see above).

Even stronger words have emanated from Richard Dawkins. In a series of books beginning with The Selfish Gene and extending through The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, and A Devil’s Chaplain, Dawkins outlines with compelling analogies and rhetorical flourishes the consequences of variation and natural selection. Standing on this Darwinian foundation, Dawkins then extends his conclusions to religion in highly aggressive terms: “It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, ‘mad cow’ disease, and many others, but I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”3

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 163). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

If you can get past Collins’ inexplicable acceptance of the supernatural, you will find a scientist unwilling to accept the absurdities of religious apologetics. His debunking of creationists of the first and second kind is just short of scathing. Particularly the young Earth creationists (YEC) are called out as a disgrace to the Christian faith.

Assisted by Henry Morris and colleagues, Young Earth Creationism has in the last half century attempted to provide alternative explanations for the wealth of observations about the natural world that seem to contradict the YEC position. But the fundamentals of so-called scientific Creationism are hopelessly flawed.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 176). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

Collins’ diagnosis of the Intelligent Design movement is practically complete.  Collins properly characterizes ID as a God-in-the-gaps argument, all the while laying out the history and the substance.

ID’s founder is Phillip Johnson, a Christian lawyer at the University of California at Berkeley, whose book Darwin on trial first laid out the ID position. Those arguments have been further expanded by others, especially Michael Behe, a biology professor whose book Darwin’s Black Box elaborated the concept of irreducible complexity. More recently, William Dembski, a mathematician trained in information theory, has taken up a leading role as expositor of the ID movement.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 183). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

The exception I take to the foregoing is the reference to Dembski as being trained in information theory. No evidence of that appears in his c.v. Also, not mentioned is Dembski’s severance from Intelligent Design, which came about recently.

Besides all that, this book provides a first rate read of how studies of genetics point to the common ancestry of life on Earth. Particularly explored is the close relationship between humans and chimpanzees and the relationship between those and the other apes. There is an appendix, which I did not read, but the book’s closing lines come off as a special pleading for giving religion a place at the table.

It is time to call a truce in the escalating war between science and spirit. The war was never really necessary. Like so many earthly wars, this one has been initiated and intensified by extremists on both sides, sounding alarms that predict imminent ruin unless the other side is vanquished. Science is not threatened by God; it is enhanced. God is most certainly not threatened by science; He made it all possible. So let us together seek to reclaim the solid ground of an intellectually and spiritually satisfying synthesis of all great truths. That ancient motherland of reason and worship was never in danger of crumbling. It never will be. It beckons all sincere seekers of truth to come and take up residence there. Answer that call. Abandon the battlements. Our hopes, joys, and the future of our world depend on it.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (pp. 233-234). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

A truce? Never. We continue to lie in witness to The Years of Living Stupidly.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 5 in a series

Did I mention I previously attended meetings of a creationist group in Dallas? I’m sure I did. Here’s more of the same.

There’s a group called the Metroplex Institute of Origin Science, MIOS, and they had program meetings on a Tuesday night most every month. Often times there were presentations on why creation is true and evolution is wrong, not only wrong but usually evil. These were what I call creationists of the first type. They hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible, which is the origin of the creation story. So they need to continually confirm the truth of biblical stories, including the famous flood of Noah. Also other stories. Including the story of Joshua.

A presentation one night was a bizarre explanation of how the story of Joshua at the Battle of Jericho has been proved true. I have a copy of the handouts from the meeting, and here it is, as verbatim as my ability allows:

THE SUN DID STAND STILL

Did you know that the space program is busy proving that what has been called “myth” in the Bible is true? Mr. Harold Hill, President of the Curtis Engine Co. in Baltimore, Maryland, and a consultant in the space program, relates the following development:

“I think one of the most amazing things that God has for us today happened recently to our astronauts and space scientists at Green Belt, Maryland. They were checking the position of the sun, moon, and planets out in space where they would be 100 years and 1,000 years from now. We have to know this so we don’t send a satellite up and have it bump into something later on in its orbits. We have to lay out the orbits in terms of the life of the satellite, and where the planets will be so the whole thing will not bog down! They ran the computer measurement back and forth over the centuries and it came to a halt. The computer stopped and put up a red signal, which meant that there was something wrong either with the information fed into it or with the results as compared to the standards. They called in the service department to check it out and they said, “It’s perfect.” The head of operations said, “What’s wrong?” “Well, they have found there is a day missing in space in elapsed time.” They scratched their heads and tore their hair. There was no answer!

One religious fellow on the team said, “You know, one time I was in Sunday School and they talked about the sun standing still.” They didn’t believe him; but they didn’t have any other answer so they said, “Show us.” He got a Bible and went back to the Book of Joshua where they found a pretty ridiculous statement for anybody who has ‘common sense’. There they found the Lord saying to Joshua, “Fear them not; for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee.” Joshua was concerned because he was surrounded by the enemy and if darkness fell they would overpower them. So Joshua asked the Lord to make the sun stand still! That’s right — “The sun stood still, and the moon stayed . . . and pasted not to go down about a whole day.” Joshua 10:8,12,13. The space men said, “There is the missing day!” They checked the computers going back into the time it was written and found it was close but not close enough. The elapsed time that was missing back in Joshua’s day was 23 hours and 20 minutes — not a whole day. They read the Bible and there it was -­”about (approximately) a day.”

These little words in the Bible are important. But they were still in trouble because if you cannot account for 40 minutes you’ll be in trouble 1,000 years from now. Forty minutes had to be found because it can be multiplied many times over in orbits. This religious fellow also remembered somwhere in the Bible where it said the sun went BACKWARDS. The space men told him he was out of his mind. But they got the Book and read these words in II Kings: Hezakiah, on his death-bed, was visited by the Prophet Isaiah who told him that he was not going to die. Hezekiah asked for a sign as proof. Isaiah said, “Do you want the sun to go ahead ten degrees?” Hezekiah said, “It’s nothing for the sun to go ahead ten degrees, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees.” II Kings 20: 9-11. Isaiah spoke to the Lord and the Lord brought the shadow ten degrees BACKWARDS! Ten degrees is exactly 40 minutes! Twenty-three hours and 20 minutes in Joshua, plus 40 minutes in II Kings make the missing 24 hours the space travelers had to log in the logbook as being the missing day in the universe! Isn’t that amazing? Our God is rubbing their noses in His Truth!”

The above article was copied from “The Evening Star”, Spencer, Indiana. It is verified by Mr. Harold Hill, who gave permission for reprinting, February 22, 1970.

References Cited for “The Missing Day in Time”

Did the Sun Stand Still? Tract No. 1211. North Syracuse, N.Y.: Book Fellowship [n.d., 7 pp.] *Mentions Irwin H. Linton, A Lawyer Examines the Bible.

Apologetics. By Harry Conn. Minneapolis: Men for Missions [tract, n.d., 9 pp.]

The Missing Day /Behind the Missing Day. Minneapolis: Osterhus Pub. House [tract, n.d., 4 pp.]

Harold Hill, as told to Irene Burk Harrell. How to Live Like a King’s Kid. Plainfield, N.J.: Logos International, 1974. Ch. 13, “How to Find the Missing Day,” pp. 65-75. On pp. 75-77: “Book Report ‘Long Day of Joshua’ C. A. L. Totten,” by V. L. Westberg, August 1970, Sonoma, Cal.

Joshua’s Long Day. In Five Minutes with the Bible & Science. Daily Reading Magazine. Supplement to Bible-Science Newsletter. Vol. VIII: No. 5 (May, 1978). Caldwell, Id. [2 pp.] *Mentions Robert L. Odem, “The Lost Day of Joshua,” Ministry (November/December, 1970), and J. B. Dimbleby, All Past Time.

Harry Rimmer. The Harmony of Science and Scripture. [1927] 4th edn., Berne, Ind.: Berne Witness Company, 1937.

Charles A. L. Totten. Joshua’s Long Day and the Dial of Ahaz. A Scientific Vindication. [1890] Study No. 2 of “The Our Race Series—The Voice of History.” Merrimac, Mass.: Destiny Publishers, 1968 edn. with a foreword by Howard B. Rand.

Dan A. Oren. Joining the Club: A History of Jews and Yale.New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

“A Clergyman Insane. He is a Graduate of Yale and one of Lieut. Toten’s [sic] Disciples.” The New York Times. 26 June 1891. p.l.

“No Rest for Totten.” The New York Times. 13 March 1892. p. 4. “Lieut. Totten’s Vagaries.” The New York Times. 30 March 1892. p. 1

*I have not yet located these three publications, mentioned in works consulted. I would be grateful for information about them, and for copies of “Missing Day” fliers or tracts.

Jan Harold Brunvand Department of English University of Utah Salt Lake City, UT 84112

All right. You’ve read it. So, maybe you didn’t read it. Maybe you read part of it. Let’s take it from there. I was in the room when this presentation was handed out. There were fully functional adults in the room. And nobody laughed. Nobody. I must have held my breath. How about some Skeptical Analysis. Where to start? Let’s start with this bit of unreason:

They ran the computer measurement back and forth over the centuries and it came to a halt. The computer stopped and put up a red signal, which meant that there was something wrong either with the information fed into it or with the results as compared to the standards.

The computer stopped? Really? Why? Computers don’t just stop. They get finished, and they pause, waiting for something new to come along. The computer put up a red signal? This massively intriguing. I am, most of us are, accustomed to error messages on computers. They tend to be in the order of:

  • Unexpected “{” in line 32.
  • File not found.
  • Segmentation fault—core dumped.
  • Blue screen of death.

Some forgiveness may be due. Permission for reprinting was given in 1970, so the events preceded Windows 3.2. Maybe a red light (flashing or not) was all that was available.

Anyhow, the explanation for the computer’s stopping comes off the rails quickly. There was a missing day? Really? How does a day turn up missing? What information could the computer possibly have been chewing on to make it conclude there was a missing day? Yeah, that’s curious. Fortunately I have done some of this stuff. I took celestial mechanics and interplanetary navigation in college, and I also did a term project much like the one described above. It goes like this.

You provide the data for the simulation. There are celestial bodies with these masses in these positions and traveling at these velocities. You press the start key, and the simulation launches, predicting where the bodies will be in one-minute (or whatever) intervals. One of the inputs includes a condition that signals the simulation to stop. A condition such as “Simulate 500 hours.” You can easily run the simulation backwards in time. Just reverse the velocities of all the bodies and hit the start key. The simulation will tell you where the bodies were in the past. That is what the NASA simulation must have been doing. And NASA and astronomers and curious amateurs like me do this sort of thing. For one thing, you might want to know where the moon’s shadow crossed the Earth’s surface. Here’s one:

12 June 2000 BC 03:14:51 5 Total 1.0733 06m 37s 6.0°N 33.3°W 247 km (153 mi)

I don’t know if anybody was around to see that, but we can all be sure it happened. Celestial mechanics is a well-developed science.

And no, there is no missing day.

The remainder of the story requires scrutiny. I will scrutinize partially.

The above article was copied from “The Evening Star”, Spencer, Indiana. It is verified by Mr. Harold Hill, who gave permission for reprinting, February 22, 1970.

Permission was given in February 22, 1970. Compare that with this:

Harold Hill, as told to Irene Burk Harrell. How to Live Like a King’s Kid. Plainfield, N.J.: Logos International, 1974. Ch. 13, “How to Find the Missing Day,” pp. 65-75. On pp. 75-77: “Book Report ‘Long Day of Joshua’ C. A. L. Totten,” by V. L. Westberg, August 1970, Sonoma, Cal.

Permission was given to reprint prior to when Harold Hill told the story to Irene Burk Harrell. I will not belabor. Feel free to spot the additional discrepancies.

I was able to verify the “Totten” references appearing in the New York Times back in the 19th century. Apparently there was a C.A.L. Totten back then, and he caught the attention of the Times often. This is from Wikipedia:

Charles Adelle Lewis Totten (February 3, 1851 – April 12, 1908) was an American military officer, a professor of military tactics, a prolific writer, and an influential early advocate of British Israelism.

Finally, there is this item’s signatory:

Jan Harold Brunvand Department of English University of Utah Salt Lake City, UT 84112

We know Jan Brunvand. He’s the person who created the concept of the urban legend. Is it possible “The Sun Did Stand Still” is a sample from his studies blown up into something to impress fellow creationists? I shudder to think.

Friday Funny

Number 96 of a series

It’s Friday, and here is something funny. It may be the fifth best excuse to cough up when you are pulled in for DUI:

Man Lets Jesus Take The Wheel And Truck Flips 5 Times

A Tennessee man flips his truck five times after letting go of the steering wheel because Jesus wanted to drive.

According to reports, Chad O. England flipped his truck five times on a Tennessee interstate earlier this week after he thought Jesus was calling him and advising him to let go of the wheel and let Jesus do the driving.

After the accident England told officers that he was behind the wheel, but that he wasn’t driving at the time of the crash. Because, you know, Jesus was driving.

Yeah, man. Stick to that story. We’re having a good laugh.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 4 in a series

I’m trying to remember how this caught my attention. Most likely somebody alerted me by posting a link on their Facebook time line. No matter, here it is. It’s a nine-minute clip promoting creationism, and it compresses the Intelligent Design argument admirably. I will do a bit of analysis.

Starting off, Douglas Axe is here to explain that life is too complicated to have evolved by natural processes:

Douglas Axe is the director of the Discovery Institute-run Biologic Institute. Co-author of Science and Human Origins, Axe is also a signatory to the Discovery Institute petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.

Axe’s work has been hailed by the Discovery Institute as evidence supporting their views. Interestingly, even Axe himself has admitted that this is not the case.

He gives the example of today’s smart phones. They are immensely involved constructions of the most sophisticated components produced by modern industry.

However, Axe brings up the comparison to a lowly insect. The firefly is orders of magnitude more intricate and complex than a smart phone, and there is no way such a remarkable combination of parts could come together by accident. He also stresses that a firefly derives from a single cell, developing without additional assistance into an adult insect. Smart phones do not do that. They have to be constructed by people in factories.

That brings Axe around to talking about the Bible:

26 Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south?

27 Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high?

28 She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place.

29 From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off.

30 Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she.

40 Moreover the Lord answered Job, and said,

Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.

Then Job answered the Lord, and said,

Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.

And that seems to answer it for Axe. We don’t understand something, but God does, and we should not question God’s omniscience and God’s omnipotence.

So this is an odd thing to me, because I have been hearing from the creationists of the second kind for years that Intelligent Design is sound science and is not meant to promote religion, especially the religion  of the Abrahamic God. So much for that.

Wayne Grudem turns the conversation toward theistic evolution:

Wayne A. Grudem is a prominent evangelical theologian, seminary professor, and author.[2] He co-founded the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and served as the general editor of the ESV Study Bible.

Theistic evolution, he explains, is the idea that God got everything going and now sits back and watches idly how the universe progresses, never touching the controls.

J.P. Moreland expands on the idea:

James Porter Moreland (born March 9, 1948), better known as J. P. Moreland, is an American philosophertheologian, and Christian apologist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

He says (quoting roughly):

The idea that God set up the processes in the beginning and then just let it run, that’s sort of like deism. Or, he was involved in the process of evolution, as long as there can be no way to tell that he was involved.

Stephen C. Meyer continues the thread:

Stephen C. Meyer (born 1958) is an advocate of the pseudoscientific principle of intelligent design. He helped found the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) of the Discovery Institute (DI), which is the main organization behind the intelligent design movementBefore joining the DI, Meyer was a professor at Whitworth College. Meyer is currently a Senior Fellow of the DI and Director of its Center for Science and Culture (CSC).

Meyer notes the danger of theistic evolution. At a time when neo-Darwinism is losing favor, he states that religious scientists are urging their compatriots to embrace neo-Darwinism, else they will find themselves outcasts in the scientific community.

John G. West is another of the speakers associated with the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture:

John G. West is a Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute (DI), and Associate Director and Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs of its Center for Science and Culture (CSC), which serves as the main hub of the Intelligent design movement.

He cites the sad circumstance that Christians feel the need to “get on the bandwagon” with neo-Darwinism, because “the science is overwhelming.” However, he goes on to state the science is not overwhelming, because a body of the scientific community is coming to realize neo-Darwinism, random mutation coupled with natural selection, cannot explain all evolutionary development. He says “we know what evolution can do in the lab,” and he says it doesn’t work.

West, obviously no fan of evolution, states a straw man case. The hard fact is that laboratory experiments in a lab in a building are not the world in which evolution works. Evolution works on a global scale, even on the scale of a small island or a mountain region. In nature the evidence for evolution working is manifest, and there is no evidence for an intelligent agent working.

Meyer chimes in with the argument for which he is famous. Natural selection, he tells us, works only for survival of novel features. They do not account for the “arrival” of new features. Meyer has made this argument multiple times through the years, all the while failing to recognize his faulty thinking along these lines.

Along with Axe, Ann K. Gauger is associated with the Biologic Institute:

Axe received a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1990. In addition, the Biologic Institute has at least two other researchers. Ann Gauger is a zoologist with a BS in biology from MIT and a 1989 PhD from the University of Washington. As a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard she cloned and characterized the Drosophila kinesin light chain. Her research has been published in Nature, Development, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. She also has a number of years of experience as a homeschool teacher. Brendan Dixon is a software developer and worked for Microsoft previously.

Axe, Gauger and Dixon were not among those who signed the original version of the Discovery Institute petition, “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism“, in 2001. However, Gauger appears on the March 2004 and January 2005 versions of the list. The August 25, 2007 version of the “Darwin Dissent” petition includes the names of both Axe and Gauger. Gauger’s affiliation on the August 25, 2007 version of the petition is not the Biologic Institute, but Gauger’s alma mater, the University of Washington.

She contends Darwinism is a circular argument in this way. Roughly translating, “To get the first cell you need DNA, and you also need RNA, and you need proteins, and you need DNA to make RNA to make proteins. This is a famously stale argument of the creationists, and it exhibits a simple-mindedness of astounding proportions. It ignores a body of research in the field and passes over any number of proposed approaches for the path to the first cells. She concludes that random processes coupled with natural selection cannot account for the development of primordial life.

Arguments against Darwinism (modern theories of biological evolution) continue, and  they become increasingly silly. We see Moreland arguing against the validity of the scientific approach. More specifically, he speaks against the supposed superior authority of science in providing answers. He compares it to theology especially. And that is an interesting, if dismal, approach.

Theology is comparable to science, even superior, in providing answers to matters of the real world. Really? I find that to be a remarkably naive statement. Let me break it down.

  • With science we study what’s going on and develop theories to explain. We fit the theories, the explanations, to supposed consequences and see how well they match up.
  • With theology we just make stuff up. The Earth was created about 6000 years ago over a period of six days. That sounds cool. Don’t bother to test it. Any evidence to the contrary must be wrong.

Meyer launches into running down “methodological naturalism.” Methodological naturalism holds the approach that only natural processes will be considered. The supernatural is shunned by the scientific community in favor of methodological naturalism.

That sounds miserably unfair to the supernatural until you realize that the supernatural does not exist. In the entire history of the human race there has never been  a demonstrated case of the supernatural. Four of my friends and I posted an award of $12,000 to anybody who can demonstrate the supernatural. This award has been up for over 25 years, and during this time nobody has ever come close to demonstrating the supernatural. If Meyer wants us to consider the supernatural, he is going to be required to first show us a sample so we will know what it looks like.

West rejoins and cites C.S. Lewis in noting that scientists pose questions they want answered, thereby obtaining only the kinds of answers they are looking for. West goes on to state that if we want other kinds of answers (I’m assuming supernatural answers), then we are going to have to ask other kinds of questions. Grudem continues, seeming to plead that we need to be willing to accept other (supernatural?) causes if we want supernatural answers. Meyer continues the argument that scientists should be willing to accept non-materialistic hypotheses. Gauger comes clean with the matter of theistic evolution:

The thing that’s at stake with theistic evolution, the debate about it is understanding of scripture.

And that’s it. If Gauger’s take is the new line on Intelligent Design, then the wraps really have come off. Intelligent Design is a mechanism concocted to protect the holy scripture against assaults by fact and reason. Moreland:

And it’s sad to say, but theistic evolution actually undermines Christians’ confidence in the authority of scripture. The doctrine of creation and the general way that creation took place is at the very foundation of Christianity—that God created all life and that there was at least a discernible way he did it. Theistic evolution puts all that up for grabs. And as a result it takes the core of theology and severs it from history. And so theology becomes a place in what Francis Schaeffer used to call “the upper story.” In an area where theology isn’t really about facts. It certainly isn’t about things we can test or know. It’s more about beliefs and feelings. But science does the hard work. It’s really about evidence and fact. If we keep revising the Bible when science tells us we “have to” [Here Moreland holds up two fingers on each hand to make quotation marks in the air.], then at some point we are going to end up believing that the Bible may not really be a factual book in the first place.

It would appear Moreland has reached the correct conclusion. The hard truth is that science does do the heavy lifting, science does come through with verifiable results, the Bible does need constant revision as each new finding contradicts the scriptures, and the Bible is almost devoid of factual content.

Grudem:

The question is whether Christians will reject God’s authority in whole areas of human knowledge—talking about where we came from and how we got here.

Axe:

Do we take the latest scientific ideas with the textbook orthodoxy to be our ultimate authority? And if so, then we have to make it be to conform to that, including not only our reading of Genesis, but our entire reading of the scripture. Whereas if we take scripture to occupy a higher position of authority than the opinion of the scientific community, then we view things differently. Not that we’re rejecting science, it’s that we recognize that science is not the ultimate authority.

And that is some kind of statement. Readers should take note of Axe’s reference to science as the ultimate authority. This is the bugaboo with religious creationists and others who distrust science. They like to present science as some kind of authoritarian entity that weighs down on our lives, suppressing contrary views and stifling innovative thinking and fresh approaches. A reality check is in order:

  • Science is a human endeavor, carried out by people. It is not a secret society working toward nefarious ends.
  • Science is not the only agency seeking to differentiate fact from fiction.
  • Law enforcement agencies investigate anti-social activity and work to determine the facts, whether a crime has been committed and who is responsible.
  • News reporters question people close to a story and sort out fact from fiction in order to provide a true account of what went on.
  • In everyday life we work to winkle out fact from contradicting information. Is the new employee really trustworthy, a question we might answer by checking whether he has a criminal record. Did the child skip school and then lie about it? Check with the school and get the facts.

If there is an orthodoxy of fact, the it is we. Science takes the methods that have demonstrated to produce reliable results, and science applies these methods to differentiate between truth and fiction. Science is not “textbook orthodoxy,” as Axe wants to characterize it. Scientists do not get their authority from textbooks. As a practicing scientist, Axe should know better, yet he is conflating scientists with people who do receive their orthodoxy from a book, people such as those speaking in this video.

Meyer complains that he has been immersed in the issue of science versus religion (not in those words) for 30 years, and he is troubled by theologians who are coming around to accepting scientific authority over the scriptures. He bemoans there is now no consensus view except the acknowledgement that neo-Darwinism is failing. He cites:

Last November in London at the Royal Society … There was a conference that was assessing the status of neo-Darwinian theory that was called by many evolutionary biologists who have become disenchanted with the theory. We have leading people in evolutionary biology today saying that the modern form of Darwinian theory has now failed to account for the most important things that any evolutionary biologist must account for, which is: where does the new form, the new biological structure come from? The answer essentially is we don’t know, so it seems to me a very odd time for Christians who are concerned about the science-faith dialogue to be saying, “Well we need to embrace the modern form of Darwinian theory. Otherwise we’re going to be out of date.” It’s just the opposite, in fact.

I am going to assume the Royal Society conference of which Meyer speaks is this one:

The Biologists Who Want to Overhaul Evolution

A half-century’s worth of scientific discoveries since the last major update to evolutionary theory has some researchers pushing for a paradigm shift.

CARL ZIMMER 

Kevin Laland looked out across the meeting room at a couple hundred people gathered for a conference on the future of evolutionary biology. A colleague sidled up next to him and asked how he thought things were going.

Zimmer goes on to report:

Laland is an evolutionary biologist who works at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. On a chilly gray November day, he came down to London to co-host a meeting at the Royal Society called “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology.” A motley crew of biologists, anthropologists, doctors, computer scientists, and self-appointed visionaries packed the room. The Royal Society is housed in a stately building overlooking St. James’s Park. Today the only thing for Laland to see out of the tall meeting-room windows was scaffolding and gauzy tarps set up for renovation work. Inside, Laland hoped, another kind of renovation would be taking place.

We remember Carl Zimmer as the author of At the Water’s Edge, a book that traces the transition of water-living fishes to land-dwelling animals,  particularly mammals. Continuing, the book traces a mammal with hoofs to creatures living in the sea and ultimately to modern whales. Meyer may think a conference such as this, where the notion of scientific authoritarianism evaporates like a snowball in Tahiti, as a justification for his rejection of Darwinism (evolution) and for his rejection of science in general. However, a close look at the proceedings reveals no comfort for Meyer’s dreams of the supernatural:

Some studies indicate that—under certain circumstances—an epigenetic change in a parent may get passed down to its offspring. And those children may pass down this altered epigenetic profile to their children. This would be kind of heredity that’s beyond genes.

The evidence for this effect is strongest in plants. In one study, researchers were able to trace down altered methylation patterns for 31 generations in a plant called Arabidopsis. And this sort of inheritance can make a meaningful difference in how an organism works. In another study, researchers found that inherited methylation patterns could change the flowering time of Arabidopsis, as well as the size of its roots. The variation that these patterns created was even bigger than what ordinary mutations caused.

Meyer is not the only creationist finding comfort in the emerging interest in epigenetics. Creationist David Shormann operates a religious school in the Houston suburbs, and at the textbook hearings before the Texas State Board of Education in 2013 he used the study of epigenetics to attack the biology texts under consideration. His schools, he claimed, dealt with the matter, whereas the books under consideration did not. On that basis he proposed rejecting all the proposed books. It’s a curious bit of logic, and it did not pan out for Shormann, as the books he opposed were approved by the board. A video of Shormann’s presentation is available on YouTube:

Few could be happier than I am that creationists such as Meyer have decided to quit playing charades with their argument that Intelligent Design is not about religion. The speakers in the theistic evolution video go full monty in support of the Christian faith. For me, watching this video was hard to distinguish from attending a holly roller tent revival.

People Unclear

This is number 34

Thank God for Franklin Graham. Did he not exist, then it would be necessary to invent him. He daily makes our sun shine brighter. How? Need you ask?

That’s all I’m going to quote. It is not my job today to thoroughly insult your intelligence. This is from the CNS blog, an organ of the Media Research Center. And while we’re on the subject, the MRC is something we would need to create did it not exist. May the sun never set on the MRC. I do take note of what has been said.

  • We have a new president, not the same one we had at the beginning of last year.
  • And the new president was put there by a mythical being, a mythical being in the sense of somebody like Spider-Man, but lacking all the reality.
  • And grown people are shaking their heads yes.
  • Grown people who are allowed to operate heavy machinery, drive cars, and possess sharp objects.

Obviously there are a few items that remain unclear to some people. And that is what keeps me awake nights.

Keep reading. There’s going to be more. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same – 90

Really, not only Jesus:

TEHRAN — The founder of a mystical, New Age version of Shiite Islam was sentenced to death by an Iranian court after losing an appeal, his lawyer said on Monday.

However, the religious mystic, Mohammad Ali Taheri, who was convicted on charges of founding a cult, is entitled to another appeal, the lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei, said. An earlier death sentence for blasphemy against the 61-year old Mr. Taheri was overturned in 2014 by an appeals court.

In recent weeks, dozens of Mr. Taheri’s followers have been arrested across the country, especially around the central Iranian city of Isfahan.

But opponents of the spiritual leader say his conviction has nothing to do with proselytizing for a cult, saying he has had “illegitimate” sexual relations with women.

“He has committed sodomy,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a hard-line political analyst. Sodomy, if testified to by at least four separate witnesses, also carries the death sentence in Iran. His followers deny the accusations.

Around 2005, Mr. Taheri, a researcher in alternative medicines, founded a group called Circle of Mysticism, focused on faith-based healings and their understandings of the universe. Initially, Mr. Taheri’s teachings were tolerated by Iran’s religious establishment, which is quite restrictive about alternative versions of its understanding of Shiite Islam. He was allowed to give public speeches and publish books, and attracted a following across the country.

Presented as part of an effort to make Duck Dynasty appear normal.

Not So Sacred Visions

The following originally ran in The Dallas Morning News on 27 March 2005. It is also posted in The North Texas Skeptic for April 2005 at http://www.ntskeptics.org/2005/2005april/april2005.htm#visions.


In 1429 a French teenager convinced church scholars and the future Charles VII that God had commanded her to drive the English from France. That Jeanne d’Arc actually spoke to God – or even that God exists – may be debatable, but the consequences are not.

A French army under her leadership turned the tide against the English in the Hundred Years War, and history was changed forever. While the French may have had reason to embrace the Maid of Orleans’ claim of divine guidance, the English were less than amused. They laid hands on her and burned her at the stake after a 14-month trial for heresy and witchcraft.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, in which we have abandoned the burning of witches, but our credulity is still being stretched by claims of heavenly conversations and miraculous visions. How then are we to take stories such as that of six young schoolchildren who reported an apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1981 near Medjugorje in what was then Yugoslavia? And what of the supposed miracles that have become associated with this and similar places such as Lourdes, Fatima and the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe near Mexico City?

For the faithful, apparently, little coaxing is necessary. Thousands visit these sites every year for spiritual inspiration and to seek miraculous cures. The pope has visited the Guadalupe shrine four times, and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated every 12th of December.

But did these miraculous sightings and dialogues with God actually occur, or are they the result of self-delusion or even deliberate deception? In one scheme of things it may not matter. The historical result is the same as if they did happen. These days the British pound isn’t recognized on the Champs-Elysees, and the poor in spirit and body still flock to the shrines. No other proof is needed.

Except, there are some for whom the truth is not a sometime thing. For these people “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” This is the mantra of “rational skeptics,” some of whom are even organized. We skeptics want you to carry rationality to its logical conclusion and give weight to the least convoluted explanation. It’s an idea elaborated by William of Occam way back even before my time, and it’s called “Occam’s razor.”

In the case of miraculous sightings we may ask you which is simpler to believe: That a woman who has been dead for nearly 2,000 years has now become visible to a selected few individuals and only to them, or that these are just made-up stories, born of either design or an overwhelming need to believe. And not really true. Not true in the same sense as “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…”

So, what if these stories are not true? Does it make a difference in the course of history? And why do skeptics even give them a second warming? Besides, doesn’t trampling on these sacred toes amount to religion-bashing?

To answer the last, let me tell you what rational skepticism is not. It is not anti-religion. We skeptics don’t want to tell people how to manage their souls. However, we do insist that the physical realm needs to be approached through critical study and reason. We maintain that wishful thinking does not translate into reality. The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan is noted for saying, “Everybody is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Whether you, as a devout person, would be offended by this stance depends on your approach to religion and how seriously you consider the consequences of mistaken belief. If you need to hang your faith on fake miracles, you may be overlooking the moral benefits of your religion’s teachings. Maybe your faith can benefit from skepticism on your own part.

Outside of that, skeptics take up these issues partly because they object to the outrageous abuses perpetrated on behalf of the shrines. Confusing belief in miracles for religious faith, the gullible are induced to place reliance on magic above common sense. Tragically, real people with real medical problems every year abandon helpful medications and prosthetics at these sites under the delusion they have been healed.

Maybe a moral compass will be found among the abandoned items as well.

[John Blanton is a member of The North Texas Skeptics (www.ntskeptics.org), an organization devoted to the rational and scientific investigation of paranormal claims. His e-mail address is skeptic75287@yahoo.com.]

People Unclear

This is number 33

Yes, it is true. There are still some people how have not received the memo. Specifically, there are things that are true, and saying they are not true does not make them not true. Things have to actually be not true before they are not true. Case in point:

Evangelist Franklin Graham defended President Donald Trump on CNN late Tuesday, saying “all of us are sinners” and “he’s not the pastor of this country.”

Graham stood up for Trump when CNN anchor Don Lemon mentioned the president’s use of foul, derogatory language and reports of an affair more than a decade ago with porn star Stormy Daniels, reports The Charlotte Observer.

“There’s a lot of presidents that have had rough language,” Graham told Lemon, noting that Trump comes from a business, not political, background.

Graham, however, said Trump has denied asking during a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than people from places like Norway.

“He said he didn’t say it,” the evangelist told Lemon, adding that some others in the meeting have said they never heard Trump use that language.

I particularly like “He said he didn’t say it.”

He didn’t say it? Really? Are you sure he didn’t say it? If he didn’t say it, then the next question that comes to mind is why didn’t he say it? To not have said it would be totally out of character for President Trump. Remember, Reverend Graham, this is the same Trump who called a woman reporter a cunt, mocked a reporter with a disability, called a former First Lady “crooked Hillary.” Do I need  to go on? If President Trump had failed to call some countries, including all those in Africa, “shit-hole countries,” then the Secret Service would have been alerted to the fact and would immediately start to investigate whether a Manchurian Candidate had been substituted for the actual Donald Trump.

Reverend Graham, he said it. But you are telling Don Lemon he didn’t say it.

Exodus 20:16 King James Version (KJV)

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Are we now down to only nine commandments? Maybe it’s time somebody gave Reverend Graham a copy of the memo.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Time to start a new series.

A fellow skeptic keeps posting stuff from Evolution News, and my Facebook feed picks it up. Evolution News is the blog of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, an enterprise started up by creationist Stephen C. Meyer in 1996, and he is currently the director. I’ve spent a lot of time the past two years trying to  ignore output from the Discovery Institute, but something about this post brought me back. Here’s what it’s about:

Adam and the Genome and Human-Ape Genetic Similarity

Evolution News @DiscoveryCSC January 18, 2018, 7:54 AM

In Adam and the Genome, Trinity Western University biologist Dennis Venema covers many other subjects besides what you might expect from the book’s title. We have been reviewing this material by the prominent theistic evolutionist and BioLogos author; find the series so far here.

Thus, Venema cites the high degree of genetic similarities between insulin genes in humans and other mammals as evidence for our common ancestry. He writes:

[W]e can see that there is good evidence to support the hypothesis that these two present-day genes come from a common ancestral population in the distant past … What we observe for this short segment is that the gorilla sequence is identical to that of the human except for one letter; the chimpanzee is identical except for three; and the orangutan is identical except for five. As before, this level of identity far exceeds what is needed for functional insulin, and strongly supports the hypothesis that humans share a common ancestral population with great apes. Indeed, the similarities between these sequences make English and West Frisian look like very distant relatives by comparison.

(Adam and the Genome, p. 30)

Yes, it appears Evolution News is having a go at biologist Dennis Venema’s new book (2017) Adam and the Genome. What the Discovery Institute wants to convince us is that life forms and all we see about us could not have come about by natural processes. A creator, an intelligent entity of some sort, must be behind it. That’s what’s going on here. Here Evolution News is digging at Venema’s evolutionary explanation for the similarity between the human genome and that of some of our close relations. Venema is using the origin of languages to make a comparison. I have the Kindle edition of the book, which allows me to provide the context of the above:

In looking at the sequences above, we can see that there is good evidence to support the hypothesis that these two present-day genes come from a common ancestral population in the distant past, just as “butter, bread, and green cheese” and “bûter, brea, en griene tsiis” do. The principle is the same: they are far more similar to each other than they are functionally required to be. In principle, any words could stand for these concepts in either English or West Frisian; similarly, any matched pair of hormone and receptor could function to regulate blood sugar levels in humans or dogs. Yet what we observe strongly suggests, in both cases, that the present-day sequences are the modified descendants of what was once a common sequence.

Now that we understand the redundancy of the codon code, we can see that for genes this rabbit hole goes even deeper. Many of the amino acids in insulin can be coded for by alternate codons. For example, “Leu” in the diagram indicates the amino acid leucine, for which there are six possible codons. This short snippet of the insulin gene codes for nine leucines, and eight of them use exactly the same codon in dogs and humans (and the ninth differs by only one letter). For these nine codons, there are 96 (= 531,441) possible combinations that will correctly code for just these nine leucines, to say nothing of the other 101 amino acids found in insulin, most of which can be encoded for by multiple codons. Is it merely by chance that what we observe in these two species is only one letter different for these nine codons? A simpler, more reasonable explanation (or what a scientist would call a more “parsimonious” explanation) is that these sequences come from a common ancestral population and have been slightly modified along the way.

Of course, scientists have sequenced the genomes of many other species, so we can test this hypothesis by looking at a larger data set. Humans are not thought to have shared a common ancestral population with dogs for a very long time; other species are thought to be our much closer relatives due to other shared features, such as anatomy. When the pre-Darwin biologist Carl Linnaeus (1707– 78) drew up his taxonomy of animal life (i.e., a system that organized life into categories), he famously placed humans and great apes in a category he called “primate,” from the Latin indicating “prime” or “first.” While he was certainly not thinking about common ancestry, he naturally recognized that these species (such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans) have a closer anatomical affinity to humans than other animals. In light of such an affinity, evolutionary theory predicts that these species share a more recent common ancestral population with humans than nonprimate species, such as dogs, do. Therefore, their gene sequences should be a closer match to human sequences than what we observe in dogs. Not surprisingly, this is exactly what we observe. Let’s return to our example of the insulin gene and extend our comparison of the same short stretch to include three great apes (fig. 2.6).

What we observe for this short segment is that the gorilla sequence is identical to that of the human except for one letter; the chimpanzee is identical except for three; and the orangutan is identical except for five. As before, this level of identity far exceeds what is needed for functional insulin, and strongly supports the hypothesis that humans share a common ancestral population with great apes. Indeed, the similarities between these sequences make English and West Frisian look like very distant relatives by comparison.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 30-31). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I highlighted the portions the author reprinted from the original. Use of this partial excerpt is legitimate, since it does not change Venema’s original meaning and intent. What is to be found in the complete text is a fuller explanation, plus a tie-in to Venema’s language analogy.

The history of languages makes for an interesting study, and for English readers there is particular significance. The book The Story of English, by Robert MacNeilRobert McCrum, and William Cran is a companion book to the PBS television series of the same name. I have a similar book, The Stories of English, by David Crystal. It rehashes the history of English in much the same way:

We can note both of these processes happening for the Germanic group of languages during the period. In the late second century, the Goths moved into Europe from southern Scandinavia, eventually arriving in the Mediterranean region. During the fourth century, Bishop Wulfilas translated the Bible into Gothic. The language had changed so much during this short time that scholars now consider it to be a distinct, eastern branch of the Germanic family. On the other hand, the westward movement of peoples along the north European coast and into England resulted in a group of languages which had much greater similarities. English and Frisian, indeed, were so close that they would probably have been mutually intelligible for many centuries, especially in Kent. Even today, though mutual intelligibility has long since gone, English people listening to modern Frisian sense a familiarity with its expression which is not present in the case of Dutch or German. Genetic anthropologists have discovered a significant Y-chromosome identity, too (p. 31). 3

Crystal, David. The Stories of English (pp. 20-21). The Overlook Press. Kindle Edition.

I once visited the northwest coast of the European continent and was struck by the similarity. At a company cafeteria I picked up a coupon good for two desserts and had no trouble reading it, even though it was written in the local  language.

Anyhow, the background is fascinating, but the intent of Evolution News is to demonstrate that Venema is wrong—genetic similarity does not indicate common descent. Evolution News sometime ago quit identifying authors, but whoever posted this item failed to get the message. Traditionally, Intelligent Design, a concoction of the Discovery Institute, does not rule out common ancestry. These people tend to allow for that, but they also want us to know that natural, and especially random, process are not at work. The whole line of descent process was managed by an intelligent entity, yet unnamed. With some exceptions:

If the Associated Press writer confused a challenge to common descent with “Intelligent Design,” it could be because Intelligent Design proponents with the CSC on occasion do challenge common descent. For example, Ray Bohlin is a CSC fellow and supposedly a spokesman for Intelligent Design. At the Texas Faith Network conference in Dallas on 3 November 2003 Bohlin addressed a large room full of people and stated that common descent was true for all life forms, except humans. You can imagine the confusion of all in attendance.

Retired law professor Phillip Johnson is considered the godfather of the modern Intelligent Design  movement. At a symposium titled “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference,” held on the campus of Southern Methodist University in March 199, .I had a chance to talk with Johnson and get his views firsthand. He expressed some surprising points for an opponent of evolution:

n 1992 Johnson attended the conference on “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference” at Southern Methodist University (SMU). The conference was inspired by Jon Buell, a local creationist. Buell’s Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) published the book Pandas and People, an early work pushing Intelligent Design. At the conference the departure from young-Earth creationism was stark. Johnson and Buell were standing together when I asked them the question. Their answer was significant. Yes, the Earth and the universe really are billions of years old, and yes, present life forms share a common ancestry. These were not your grandfather’s creationists.

Here is a copy of the proceedings.

Anyhow, Evolution News is now having none of that. Continuing from the post:

The obvious answer to this argument is common design — that humans, gorillas, and orangutans were designed based upon a common blueprint. This would explain genetic similarity between humans and other species quite well.

Then the author presents an additional excerpt and promptly goes off the rails with this:

There he goes again, telling God what he can and cannot do. It’s a bit of chutzpah, don’t you think? He’s also telling God what God must intend when he does certain things. In particular, Venema is telling God that if he designs two species to be similar then God must thereby intend to tell us that those species are related through common ancestry. And if those species aren’t really related, then Venema tells God that he is being deceitful.

But what if Venema is putting thoughts into God’s head that aren’t there? What if God could have entirely different purposes for designing two species as similar — purposes that have nothing to do with trying to communicate some message to humans about relatedness or unrelatedness?

Oh, Jesus! You gave away the store. Intelligent Design is not supposed to be about God. It’s supposed to be science, real science, well-researched science, science that reveals there is a Designer, not identified and definitely not identified as G*d. G*d is the word that keeps Intelligent Design out of public classrooms, which is where its proponents, despite much public posturing, in their heart of hearts want it to be. Possibly we are now seeing the offshoot of all those years of living stupidly.

That covered, there is more of interest. The post dips into  a discussion of The Language of God, a book by Francis Collins:

Francis Sellers Collins (born April 14, 1950) is an American physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project. He is director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, United States.

Before being appointed director of the NIH, Collins led the Human Genome Project and other genomics research initiatives as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), one of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH. Before joining NHGRI, he earned a reputation as a gene hunter at the University of Michigan. He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science.

In order to continue following the discussion I obtained a Kindle edition and will be covering that in future posts. Also, and free on Amazon, is Intelligent Design the Final Proof of God. Go for it. Kindle readers are free for tablets and computers.

The Quintessence of Dumbshitia

Number 4 in a continuing thread

As a refresher, Dumbshitia is an imaginary world or state of mind. It’s where you go when you take on a load of dumb shit so malodorous you need to live apart from thinking people.

This came to mind a few days ago when I was cleaning out boxes stacked in my closet. Some stuff was too valuable to be relegated to the recycle bin, so I scanned it in, converting pounds of paper to milligrams of flash memory. Included were a number of news clippings from (apparently) 1994. I’m guessing that year, because these meetings were held 29 September through 2 October, and recollections are the series culminated on a Sunday.

Anyhow, we were treated to the wisdom of Thomas Warren, who I did not know at the time would come to have his own Wikipedia entry:

Thomas Bratton Warren (August 1, 1920 – August 8, 2000) was a professor of philosophy of religion and apologetics at the Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, and was an important philosopher and theologian in the Churches of Christ during the latter half of the twentieth century.

There is more. Had I known this I would have been prepared to be impressed. However, I was presented only a surface view, and came immediately to conclude Thomas B. Warren was the Quintessence of Dumbshitia. Witness the image at the top. This appeared in the local newspaper, I’m guessing The Dallas Morning News, and it promised a grand unveiling of wisdom to whomever would partake. How could I resist? I went, possibly twice, and had my preconceptions confirmed. Dr. Warren, in person, revealed to be as fact-deprived as his promotionals promised, and sanctimonious besides.

First take in, please, the implied argument put forth in the above sketch. There is a mother (human) and a baby. Dr. Warren wants to challenge biological evolution. He (cartoon and the headline) proposes a dichotomy. Either evolution is false, or there was a human baby born to a non-human mother. My observation, viewing the people who crowded the sanctuary at the Seagoville Church of Christ, was this was a dichotomy that most accepted. Little understanding and even less acceptance of modern science was everywhere evident. A few quotes from the ad will be beneficial:

It seems clear that atheistic evolutionists (who deny that creation ever occurred) have had considerable success in bringing about the situation in our public schools in which atheistic evolution is to be taught but creationism cannot be presented as a viable alternative. They have also had some success in persuading people to accept, in a docile manner, their view that human beings who are now living on the earth owe their ultimate origin (as human beings) to evolution (by purely naturalistic, non-miraculous, non-purposive, non-intelligent, non-living materialistic forces) from non-living matter.It also seems that the atheistic evolutionists have succeeded in persuading most of the creationists (people who believe that God created the first man and the first woman and that all other human beings are descendants of that first human pair) to no longer oppose with much vigor the dictums of the atheistic evolutionists.

And that is the opening paragraph. There is more. Dr. Warren posits that evolutionists (scientists) will be unable to answer a number of questions at the heart of the matter. Here are the 13:

  1. True false. A woman was on earth before any human baby was.
  2. True false. A human baby was on earth before any woman was.
  3. True false. The first woman and the first human baby came into existence at the exact same instant.
  4. True false. A man was on earth before any human baby was.
  5. True false. A human baby was on earth before any man was.
  6. True false. The first man and the first human baby came into existence at the exact same instant.
  7. True false. At least one human being now living on earth was formerly an ape (or some other non-human being), and that ape was transformed  (its very nature was changed) from an ape into a human being.
  8. True false. At least one human being who lived on the earth in the past (but is now dead) was at one time an ape (or some other non-human thing), and that ape was transformed from an ape into  a human being.
  9. True false. At least one human being who lived in the past (but who is now dead) was begotten by a male ape (or some other non-human thing) and was born of a female ape (or some other non-human female) as a human being.
  10. True false. There is absolutely nothing that has occurred in the past or anything which could occur in the future which could convince me (1) God does exist, (2) God created the first man and the first woman, and (3) that all of the rest of the human beings who have ever lived (and ever will live) on the earth are (or will be) descendants of that first man and that first woman.
  11. True false. The complete list of my own ancestry would include either (1) a male ape and a female ape or (2) some other non-human male and some other non-human female.
  12. True false. The complete list of my own ancestry would begin with (and, of course, include ) the first man and the first woman (who came into existence by the creative action  of God).
  13. True false. The various states of this nation have the constitutional right to compel the children who attend their state schools to be taught atheistic evolution as the only acceptable position while they forbid even the presentation of creationism as a sensible solution to the problem of the origins of human being on the earth.

While the author’s extensive use of italics and underlining is puzzling, the intent is more clear. Evolution (in the author’s mind) poses a dilemma regarding the origin of the human species as descended from ape-like beings. Also, states are wrong to impose the teaching of evolution, while at the same time denying students the benefits of reaffirmation of their religious belief. Lest the author think these questions are a challenge, I will submit here my answers.

  1. False
  2. False
  3. False
  4. False
  5. False
  6. False
  7. False
  8. False
  9. False
  10. False
  11. True
  12. False
  13. True

Readers having questions should contact me.

What seems to be happening here is that an educated man, such as Thomas Warren, has slipped a cog at a point in his development. His argument either ignores a large body of established fact or else misapplies any ability at rational thought. Continuing from his Wikipedia entry:

Warren’s earliest published work in philosophy was modified from the final chapter of his Vanderbilt University dissertation and was published in 1972. In Have Atheists Proved There is No God?Warren develops a version of a soul-making theodicy to answer J. L. Mackie’s argument from evil against theism. Warren’s chief claim to fame outside the Churches of Christ are his debates with Antony Flew and Wallace Matson on the existence of God, and his debate with Joe E. Barnhart on the adequacy of utilitarian ethics. The debate with Flew, a major proponent of atheism famous for his argument that theism is not falsifiable, was held at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) in Denton, Texas, USA from September 20–23, 1976. This was an exceptionally well attended debate, and Flew describes it as the best attended of his many debates with theists on the existence of God, with audiences each night ranging from 5,000-7,000 people. The Warren-Matson Debate took place in Tampa, Florida, USA from September 11–14, 1978. Matson, a professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley was, like Flew, a long-time proponent of atheism. The Warren-Barnhart Debate took place at North Texas State University on November 3–6, 1980. Barnhart has retired as Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Texas.

Readers will recall Joe Barnhart as a long-time advisor to The North Texas Skeptics. Interesting events transpired following Joe’s retirement and move to Tennessee.

Without elaborating on the foolish nature of Dr. Warren’s dip into anti-science, I will observe it should be apparent to all, this is the Quintessence of Dumbshitia.

I may have more on this. It was a lot of fun. Keep reading.

The Comical Conservative

This would be number 8 in a series.

I sometimes pull material from The Comical Conservative feed. Sometimes (often) this stuff really is comical. Most recently TCC posted a tweet by actor James Woods. Woods affiliated with the Democratic Party until the Bill Clinton perjury scandal. He is now noted for his ultra-conservative diatribes. Here is a pertinent excerpt from his Wikipedia entry:

Early in the 2016 presidential race, Woods endorsed Carly Fiorina for the Republican nomination. In November 2015, he shifted his endorsement to Senator Ted Cruz.

On illegal immigration, he wrote: “Millions come LEGALLY to USA. Calling Illegal aliens ‘undocumented immigrants’ is like calling heroin dealers ‘undocumented pharmacists’.”

Woods is known for espousing his conservative political views on his Twitter page, which reached one million followers in November 2017.

In August 2017, he expressed his disgust over what he said was the “pathological” hatred which Donald Trump was being subjected to, which was retweeted by Trump.

On November 13, 2017, Woods tweeted a video and caption from Bloomington, Minnesota’s Mall of America that some Twin Cities news organizations found offensive and racist. Some people believed the tweet mocked the Twin Cities’ sizable Somali-American community.

Here is the James Woods tweet hosted on TCC:

James Woods Retweeted Jacob Wohl

He is a Muslim. He can deny it, his apologists in the media can refute it, and his enablers can promote a narrative that he is a Christian. It’s a pack of lies. Obama is a Muslim and that is where his allegiance lies. Always has. Always will.

James Woods added,

And that is comical.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same – 84

Tis the season to rejoice and also to recall. Especially we remember those who died at the altar of stupidity. Special observance is given this year, the 20th anniversary year, of 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate religious following, including leader Marshall Applewhite:

Whether Hale-Bopp has a “companion” or not is irrelevant from our perspective. However, its arrival is joyously very significant to us at “Heaven’s Gate.” The joy is that our Older Member in the Evolutionary Level Above Human (the “Kingdom of Heaven”) has made it clear to us that Hale-Bopp’s approach is the “marker” we’ve been waiting for — the time for the arrival of the spacecraft from the Level Above Human to take us home to “Their World” — in the literal Heavens. Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion — “graduation” from the Human Evolutionary Level. We are happily prepared to leave “this world” and go with Ti’s crew.If you study the material on this website you will hopefully understand our joy and what our purpose here on Earth has been. You may even find your “boarding pass” to leave with us during this brief “window.”

We are so very thankful that we have been recipients of this opportunity to prepare for membership in Their Kingdom, and to experience Their boundless Caring and Nurturing.

We observed at the time they carefully packed their bags for the trip to the spaceship beyond the Hale-Bopp comet. Then they everyone took poison and lay down to commence the trip. And they truly left us to ourselves here on Earth. We note that on departing they forgot to take their bags.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same – 83

Score one more for Jesus. Sooner or later Jesus will be around to visit your family. Should you let him in?

‘God makes no mistakes’: Couple ignores warning that baby could die, rejects doctors, police say

, Lansing State Journal Published 3:49 p.m. ET Sept. 28, 2017

LANSING, Mich. — A mom refused to seek medical treatment for her newborn daughter even after a midwife warned that the infant’s jaundice could lead to brain damage or death, according to a police detective.

“God makes no mistakes,” Rachel Joy Piland told her midwife, according to court testimony last week from Peter Scaccia, a Lansing Police detective.

Two days later, infant Abigail was dead.

His touch is soft, and deadly. Sleep well.

Darwin’s Doubt

Number 5 in a Series

If there remains any doubt regarding the underpinnings of Intelligent Design, one only has to review the day-to-day endeavors of its key proponents. Stephen C. Meyer founded and currently heads up the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) of the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute is the principal organization supporting this attempt to cloak religious creationism and disguise it as cutting-edge science. The above image is a screen shot from  Does God Exist, a video series hosted by Stephen C. Meyer and produced by Focus on the Family, an organization whose purpose is the promotion of a conservative Christian viewpoint.

This is a continuation of my review of  Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. It draws on a an item posted to the Evolution News blog. That posting excerpts a number of passages from the book. I previously reviewed three of these excerpts. Here are the remaining two:

Intelligent agents can generate new structural (epigenetic) information and construct functionally integrated and hierarchically organized layers of information as we see in animal body plans:

The cited text being:

The highly specified, tightly integrated, hierarchical arrangements of molecular components and systems within animal body plans also suggest intelligent design. This is, again, because of our experience with the features and systems that intelligent agents— and only intelligent agents— produce. Indeed, based on our experience, we know that intelligent human agents have the capacity to generate complex and functionally specified arrangements of matter— that is, to generate specified complexity or specified information. Further, human agents often design information-rich hierarchies, in which both individual modules and the arrangement of those modules exhibit complexity and specificity— specified information as defined in Chapter 8. Individual transistors, resistors, and capacitors in an integrated circuit exhibit considerable complexity and specificity of design. Yet at a higher level of organization, the specific arrangement and connection of these components within an integrated circuit requires additional information and reflects further design (see Fig. 14.2).

Conscious and rational agents have, as part of their powers of purposive intelligence, the capacity to design information-rich parts and to organize those parts into functional information-rich systems and hierarchies.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (p. 366). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Some analysis will be helpful. Take the first two sentences: “The highly specified, tightly integrated, hierarchical arrangements of molecular components and systems within animal body plans also suggest intelligent design. This is, again, because of our experience with the features and systems that intelligent agents— and only intelligent agents— produce.” Meyer insists that examination of the lowest level of structure of living organisms suggests the work of an outside living agent. Here he is appealing to intuition without providing a factual basis. He compares the functional organization of living organisms to the construction of intricate systems devised by people. By implication, he wants the reader to consider that an entity with human-like qualities is behind the development of living organisms.

Finally:

Meyer concludes that “both the Cambrian animal forms themselves and their pattern of appearance in the fossil record exhibit precisely those features that we should expect to see if an intelligent cause had acted to produce them” (p. 379) He summarizes his argument as follows:

Here is the text from the book:

When we encounter objects that manifest any of the key features present in the Cambrian animals, or events that exhibit the patterns present in the Cambrian fossil record, and we know how these features and patterns arose, invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin. Thus, when we encounter these same features in the Cambrian event, we may infer— based upon established cause-and-effect relationships and uniformitarian principles— that the same kind of cause operated in the history of life. In other words, intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate explanation for the origin of information and circuitry necessary to build the Cambrian animals. It also provides the best explanation for the top-down, explosive, and discontinuous pattern of appearance of the Cambrian animals in the fossil record.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (p. 381). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Again some analysis. Take the initial sentence: “When we encounter objects that manifest any of the key features present in the Cambrian animals, or events that exhibit the patterns present in the Cambrian fossil record, and we know how these features and patterns arose, invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin.” Standing alone in the book this would seem to be a bald proclamation of fact. It will be interesting to peruse the remainder of the book and see whether Meyer has, indeed, demonstrated that “invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin.” I suspect this phrasing represents considerable overreach on the part of the author. In following posts I will examine the arguments Meyer makes in the book, and I will keep coming back to this matter of conclusions well-jumped. Keep reading.

Darwin’s Doubt

Number 4 in a Series

This is a continuation of my review of creationist Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. I was recently reminded by a post on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site. That posting excerpts a number of passages from the book. I previously reviewed two of those. Here is another citation:

Intelligent agents can construct and modify complex integrated circuits that are necessary for animal development:

Here is the cited text. The post omits some of the text, as noted by the strike-through section:

Integrated circuits in electronics are systems of individually functional components such as transistors, resistors, and capacitors that are connected together to perform an overarching function. Likewise, the functional components of dGRNs— the DNA-binding proteins, their DNA target sequences, and the other molecules that the binding proteins and target molecules produce and regulate— also form an integrated circuit, one that contributes to accomplishing the overall function of producing an adult animal form.

Yet, as explained in Chapter 13, Davidson himself has made clear that the tight functional constraints under which these systems of molecules (the dGRNs) operate preclude their gradual alteration by the mutation and selection mechanism. For this reason, neo-Darwinism has failed to explain the origin of these systems of molecules and their functional integration. Like advocates of evolutionary developmental biology, Davidson himself favors a model of evolutionary change that envisions mutations generating large-scale developmental effects, thus perhaps bypassing nonfunctional intermediate circuits or systems. Nevertheless, neither proponents of “evo-devo,” nor proponents of other recently proposed materialistic theories of evolution, have identified a mutational mechanism capable of generating a dGRN or anything even remotely resembling a complex integrated circuit. Yet, in our experience, complex integrated circuits— and the functional integration of parts in complex systems generally— are known to be produced by intelligent agents— specifically, by engineers. Moreover, intelligence is the only known cause of such effects. Since developing animals employ a form of integrated circuitry, and certainly one manifesting a tightly and functionally integrated system of parts and subsystems, and since intelligence is the only known cause of these features, the necessary presence of these features in developing Cambrian animals would seem to indicate that intelligent agency played a role in their origin.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (p. 364). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Meyer makes two significant assertions. Here I will quote, with slight editing:

  • In our experience, complex integrated circuits — and the functional integration of parts in complex systems generally — are known to be produced by intelligent agents — specifically, by engineers.
  • Moreover, intelligence is the only known cause of such effects.

Meyer is correct in the first instance. Engineers and other people are known to do such things. In the second instance Meyer is stating as fact what he aims to demonstrate. The counter to that second part is that scientists have observed complex systems that have not been engineered by an outside brain, mind, intelligent agent—whatever you choose to call it. We see these complex systems, and we do not see outside intelligence creating them.

What Meyer is doing here is what he does throughout his arguments for Intelligent Design. He is saying that he cannot understand how else such systems came to be absent the working of an outside agency, and further he is convinced others do not understand. Therefore, there must have been an outside agent of some intelligence at work. Although Meyer and other followers of the Intelligent Design refuse to admit they have the God of Abraham in mind, there is little doubt from their other works and statements that this is the only thing they will consider. Additionally these people, when they are not hyping Intelligent Design or disparaging the legitimate work of real scientists, spend much of their waking time promoting the God of Abraham and the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. For example:

Historians Mentioning Jesus

  • Titus Flavius Josephus, Yosef Ben Matityahu (ca. 37-100 A.D.)
  • Publius Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56-117 A.D.)
  • Mara Bar-Serapion (late 1st century A.D.)
  • Flavius Lustinus, Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 A.D.)
  • Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (ca. 9230 A.D.)
  • Pliny the Younger, ca 61-113 A.D.)

Despite how much they deny, Meyer and his cohorts are engaged in a relentless pursuit to promote the God of Abraham and the divinity of Jesus.

There will be more. Keep reading.

The Government You Paid For

Number 14

Being retired, we receive an overload of email at our house. Actually, we received a bunch before we retired. But now I have some time to deal with some of it. This one came from the Governor of Texas, and it was most impossible to ignore. Most impossible because Barbara Jean kept insisting I create a blog post. Gladly done. It’s about the government you paid for.

The heading tells you right away this is a campaign plug.

Yeah, that was a dead giveaway. Like the typical campaign spiel, this one is long on platitudes and short of specifics. But it starts off nicely enough.

Barbara,

It’s no secret that liberals have been salivating over Texas for years now—not just for the power they believe controlling the Lone Star State will hand them in Washington, D.C., but also because our success highlights what a failure liberals’ policies have been all over the country.

“It’s no secret that liberals have been salivating over Texas for years now…” Rats! They are onto our scheme. We need to search for a mole in our conspiracy. But there is more, and some of it is amusing:

Instead of ditching traditional values like hard work, faith, and family, Texans proudly stand for them.

Oops! News to us. The Governor is thinking perhaps liberals don’t care for hard work, faith, and family. People like the Blanton family, who served in the armed forces, put themselves through college, worked in private sector and government jobs for decades, enjoying great family life all the while? Actually, Governor Abbott may have us on the “faith” bit. Yeah, when the guy came around with the Kool-Aid, we generally took a pass.

2018 will be a make-or-break year in the fight to defend traditional values. Help us start 2018 strong with a contribution today!

The above was supposed to be a link to a page to take your campaign contributions. Shifty that I am, I deleted the link.

Governor Abbott wants us to “defend traditional values.” He gives no indication of what these values are. I have an idea of some values that were traditional in the past, and I am hoping the Governor of Texas does not want us to return to those. Here’s more.

Instead of looking to government to solve all of our problems, we value independence and limited government. Instead of placing extra burdens on families, small businesses, and entrepreneurs in the form of high taxes and stifling regulations, we’ve let them lead the way.

That sounds about right. I have all these problems, and for years I have been relying on the government to solve them for me. For example, there was the problem of people driving on the wrong side of the road, so sometime back the government made it against the law to drive on the wrong side of the road, and they started arresting people who were doing that, and there’s not so much of that going on now. There were other problems, as well, that I shoved off onto the government, such as ensuring the bridge across the Brazos River near my childhood home was safe for large trucks, and all the while I should have been seeing to that myself. I also wanted the government to restrict the activities of others to ensure they did not pollute the air that I breathed and the same with respect to water.

Yes, I have seen these stifling regulations first hand. I talked to a man who ran a small business, and that small business was involved in trenching work, like for water lines and such. And the government required that when his crews dug a trench beyond a certain  depth in a certain type of soil, then no worker must be allowed to go down into the trench unless the sides of the trench were shored up to prevent collapse of the soil. And the man complained to me about these regulations, but he also mentioned his son went into such a trench to work, and it caved in on him, and he required medical treatment, which was covered by workers compensation insurance, which was mandated by the government of Texas. Yes, we definitely need for the government to get out of the way and let businesses make their own decisions about how to run their operations.

And instead of waiting around for Washington, D.C. to get its act together, we take it upon ourselves to protect our way of life.

Again, Governor Abbott has a point, and I have in the past brought this matter up with Senator John Cornyn of Texas. I strongly urged the senator to work with Congress and go around the gaggle of clowns currently occupying the Executive Branch. Maybe Governor Abbott would care to step over and have a chat with Senator Cornyn.

And there is a lot more stuff, but here is something interesting.

The good news is that after suing the Obama administration 31 times, I’m no stranger to high-stakes fights with the left.

I’ve won far more than my fair share—including stopping President Obama’s executive amnesty scheme at the U.S. Supreme Court, preserving the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas Capitol grounds, protecting the words “one nation, under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and ensuring that prayer during the presidential inauguration continues.

Right on, Governor. What is important to a 21st century state such as Texas is that we preserve a graven image on government property honoring the predilections of a band of desert tribesmen from 2500 years ago. Also, we should subordinate what we hope to be the greatest and proudest nation on this planet to a piece of ancient fiction. Yeah, I’m starting to feel proud already.

Governor, when you start to get serious about what really matters to the people of Texas, then I am going to start taking you seriously. Until then I have to conclude you are a manifestation of a mass of what has gone wrong in recent years. Keep talking that talk. Never let us forget.

Response From A Creationist

A Recurring Theme (2)

Nearly three years ago I posted a response to a creationist concerning “44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults.” It’s a recurring theme. A creationist will post something on-line, not something developed by the person doing the posting, but something crafted by a creationist savant and supposedly representing the great wisdom enshrining creationism. This was such a case. Here is what I had to say back then:

This is amazing. I picked this link off my Facebook feed Friday and took a quick read. I am pasting it here:

The theory of evolution is false.  It is simply not true.  Actually, it is just a fairy tale for adults based on ancient pagan religious philosophy that hundreds of millions of people around the world choose to believe with blind faith.

And this goes on for a while. Follow the link and read the rest. The rest includes a statement of the “44 reasons,” and in my posting I responded to each of the 44 in turn. Since I posted the original I have received a number of comments. Today I received another, and I took a look at it, preparing to approve it for reading by others. Then I noticed something I see a lot. And here’s the story.

People, if you have doubts about your self worth, and you want the rest of the world to share those doubts, there is an easy way to accomplish this goal. Here is what you do. You compose a bunch of bat-shit crazy stuff, and you lay it out so people reading it will think it was composed by a four-year-old messing with the keyboard. Then you post it as a comment to a blog that is visible to several billion other people. And here’s the kicker. Before the blog site will allow you to submit the post, you must provide an email address. You also must provide a name of sorts. Something like TRUTHLOVER. Yes, that’s a good name. Lets others know who you are and also lets us know you are willing to stand behind what you say. But at this time it is important to make sure nobody can respond to your comment, so you give a phony email address, likely one you made up on the spot for posting this comment and one that can be immediately deleted. Something like 112233@AOL.COM. Yes, that email address is bound to be valid, because nobody would ever think to pull such a combination of numbers out of the air.

And finally, you post your comment, your response to my take on the “44 reasons.” And to make sure people have no chance of mistaking you for a serious adult, you go out of your way to craft the wording. You write something like this:

you just prove you atheist ARE DUMBER THAN THOSE GOAT HERDERS,. YOU LYING ATHEIST HAVE NEVER PROVED EVOLUTION. ALL YOU HAVE DONE IS PROVED YOU ARE A LYING BRAINWASHED CULT MEMBER. EVOLUTION IS NOT REAL DEAL WITH IT YOU LYING ATHEIST. YOU GUYS ARE TO DUMB TO REALIZE PHD DOES NOT MEAN ONES IS SMART. NO SCIENTIST HAS PROVED EVOLUTION. NATURE ITSELF PROVES CREATION.

And that’s it. You have done your best to convince the world. I’m thinking your efforts are not in vain. I’m thinking that anybody reading this is now convinced that creationists are a bunch of backward-thinking illiterates. I could not have done it better. Most thanks, and keep on reading.

Darwin’s Doubt

Number 3 in a Series

Chipmunk confronts a diet soda can near Mirror Lake Utah

I have a copy of creationist Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt, and I have promised to review it. I was recently reminded of that by a post on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site. That posting excerpts a number of passages from the book. I previously reviewed the first of those. Here is another citation:

Intelligent agents can generate top-down patterns of appearance like we see in animal body plans.

Here is the pertinent passage:

“Top-down” causation begins with a basic architecture, blueprint, or plan and then proceeds to assemble parts in accord with it. The blueprint stands causally prior to the assembly and arrangement of the parts. But where could such a blueprint come from? One possibility involves a mental mode of causation. Intelligent agents often conceive of plans prior to their material instantiation— that is, the preconceived design of a blueprint often precedes the assembly of parts in accord with it. An observer touring the parts section of a General Motors plant will see no direct evidence of a prior blueprint for GM’s new models, but will perceive the basic design plan immediately upon observing the finished product at the end of the assembly line. Designed systems, whether automobiles, airplanes, or computers, invariably manifest a design plan that preceded their first material instantiation. But the parts do not generate the whole. Rather, an idea of the whole directed the assembly of the parts.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (pp. 371-372). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Meyer is correct in stating (by implication) that a builder, on receiving a set of design specifications (blue prints and such), can proceed in constructing a device or assembly. Note the implication. There exists nothing like the desired assembly. The materials to construct it are present, and there is a pre-recorded set of instructions for construction. The instructions are the sole source of the information required for construction.

At this point a reminder is helpful. Define information as the agent that mediates cause and effect. I have stated this previously, perhaps not in this exact form. Nobody has ever challenged my definition. All are welcome to have a go at it.

What Meyer does not concede is that a set of instructions is not a prerequisite for constructing a device/assembly. Random processes can accomplish this. This is the basis of Darwinian evolution, and this is what the creationists argue strongly against. They pose it much like this:

Given even the finished components, steel sheet, machine screws, quantities of paint, it is unlikely to the extreme that a random process will assemble these components into a functional automobile, much less into one that somebody would purchase off the showroom floor and drive away.

To be sure, that is an extreme statement of the creationists’ argument, and those people do argue a more digestible case. Their most popular argument is more like this:

Given a completed, perfectly functional, automobile and given materials to be added to produce next year’s model, it is improbable to the extreme that this modification can occur by accident. Some sort of pre-conceived design is required. A set of documentation is required. At the minimum there must be an intelligent agent with the pre-conceived design upgrade in mind.

And this is what the so-called Darwinists object to. The creationists insist there must be a pre-conceived idea, there being no mention of who or what holds this pre-conceived idea. To be clear, the agency that Stephen C. Meyer represents is the Discovery Institute, and their concept is called Intelligent Design. Further, the narrators of Intelligent Design want to insist that religious faith is not at the base of their argument. And this last is an outrageous lie of grand proportions. Any notion that Stephen C. Meyer pushes Intelligent Design absent religious faith is daily countered by his own words and actions. For example:

The final four episodes deal with the New Testament, the contribution by Christians, telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his teachings, his trial and execution, and his return from the dead. Meyer wants to assure viewers all those doubts about the validity of the New Testament are groundless.

Following the trajectory of Meyer’s life and career, we see a relentless commitment to a defense of the Christian faith. His promotion of Intelligent Design is one manifestation of that commitment.

Returning to Meyer’s argument, biologists argue that random processes we observe in nature are adequate to have produced the life forms we see today. In direct counter to Meyer, the concept of Intelligent Design is intellectually bankrupt on a number of points. Repeating myself:

I scoff. Really? Let me get this straight. An Intelligent Agent, the Entity who created the Universe, the Earth, the planets, the sun, and all we see around us—this Entity, took over 13 billion years to get us to where we are today after first creating the Universe. Actually, over 13 billion years to get us to the point where there was a Universe and a planet Earth, and there were any number of species of plants and animals, but none resembling people. Allow me to repeat: Really? If that is Stephen C. Meyer’s concept of intelligence, then Heaven help the human species, because intelligence is all that’s keeping us going.

Additionally, at no point in their argument have proponents of Intelligent Design identified a mechanism by which the Intelligent Designer could have implemented these designs. Nor can they.

I will continue the review of Meyer’s book through an analysis of the Evolution News post prior to diving into a direct review of the book. Keep reading.

People Unclear

This is number 30

Yes, sometimes you just have to scratch your head and say, “What was he thinking?”

Franklin Graham Retweeted Donald J. Trump

Never in my lifetime have we had a willing to take such a strong outspoken stand for the Christian faith like . We need to get behind him with our prayers.

Franklin Graham added,

We have to wonder whether there is an epidemic of muddle-mind going around.