Fool’s Argument

Fifth of a series

This is the fifth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

There are ten episodes plus a bonus feature. I have not watched episodes in  advance of these reviews, so I have no idea what comes after this one.

Featured in the video is creationist Stephen C. Meyer, a founder of the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture. This episode will begin a multi-part discourse into Meyer’s argument that the features of life imply design, and one of those implications is the apparent information manifested in living things and in particular in the DNA molecule, an essential component of living cells. The video was produced in  2009, the year Meyer came out with his book on the topic, titled Signature in the Cell. I obtained a copy at the time and reviewed it for The North Texas Skeptics. Some of this is going to be a rehash of that prior discussion.

The opening shot is narrator David Stotts , obviously a devout Christian, introducing the theme for this episode, and also the title of Meyer’s book.

As before, I’m going to post a few screen shots showing Meyer’s presentation material  in a dramatized lecture. There are more not shown here, but these are worth discussing. The first is about the debate concerning design in biology. That’s a trick proposition, because in biology there is no debate. Biologists do not consider design when doing biology research. The concept of design  in biology has been introduced in recent years (revived after being moribund for decades) in order to create the false impression there is a debate among biologists.

Here is a transcript of the text, giving search engines the ability to find it.

  1. Intelligent Design  – Things look designed because they are designed.
  2. Darwinism – Things look designed, but they are not designed.

Hint: biologists do not take into consideration that things look designed.

Throughout, Meyer quotes actual biologists, showing significant language in which they included discussions of design.

Francisco Ayala, Past President, AAAS

The functional design of organisms and their features would therefore seem to argue for the existence of a designer. It was Darwin’s greatest accomplishment to show that the directive organization of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process, natural selection, without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent.

I was unable to find this Ayala quote in a Google search, but that does not mean he never wrote it. This reference did not lead me to the actual text.

Meyer discusses the early discourse following the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In the decades following publication of the book the discussion concentrated on the evolutionary development of modern species and presumably those found only in the fossil record. That’s shown in the upper part of the tree diagram. The lower part, which includes the development of living cells from inert matter, was assumed.

Meyer presents the stages of evolutionary development. Only the top stage (circles) could be explained by the newly-developed science of genetics.

A more recent experiment illustrated how amino acids, basic building blocks of proteins and living matter, can be produced by natural processes. This is the famous Miller-Urey experiment from 1952. The experiment had a go at simulating conditions on Earth before the advent of life, and it did produce amino acids.

Meyer correctly points out that Miller and Urey did not correctly reproduce conditions existing during those times, thus invalidating the experiment. What happened next, and what Meyer does not explain to his students, is that after a more accurate determination of prior conditions, similar experiments were conducted, and again primordial organic molecules were produced, although not as efficiently as in the original experiment.

Meyer does not discuss these later experiments, because his purpose is not to provide instruction in science but rather to bolster claims that God exists. Keep in mind the title of this video.

Tada! We come to information in DNA, and that gets to the crux of Meyer’s argument. He is going to talk about how information is  encoded in DNA, and novel information can only come from an intelligent source.

Here’s the text:

Information in DNA directs the synthesis of proteins in the cell

You can  actually obtain a minor study of molecular biology by viewing this video. Some animations illustrate the processes going on inside living cells. Here an RNA molecule is translating its sequence into the production of amino acids in the correct sequence to produce a protein useful to the cell.

Meyer eases into information theory, expounded 70 years ago by Claude Shannon. He illustrates with examples of two lines of text. The top line contains a string of letters but no useful information. You cannot learn how to conduct your life by studying this sequence. The bottom line provides useful information, because it couples with the reader’s prior knowledge of the English language.

Here is the text:

Complexity vs. Specified Complexity

iuinsdysk]idfawqnzkl,mfdiths

“Time and tide wait for no man.”

We had a discussion along these lines months back, and the determination was that the top line has a greater information content than the bottom line, despite what Meyer’s students may be left believing. What I did was this. I pulled up the following text:

Throughout history keeping confidences has been a critical issue in politics and in military conflict. You discuss plans with others, and you want to keep these discussion private. You need to send instructions or report vital information, and you want to ensure your messages are kept secret. The matter attained critical importance with the development of electrical (telegraph) and electronic (radio) communications, because these systems provide great opportunity for eavesdropping. Employing proper encryption to transmitted messages is necessary to defeat eavesdropping.

Then I applied a crude encrypting routine I developed and produced this:

UPQ_8r3)W bcM’uUo\p_sac66;1M3\”WLtp/’UF_me a/ETSziYMg}mSctwB!:RYH:iYS<\b;h4YJ*6>QDk’TPG|?Qufw(X>j[ji!vs^-q_[rXu:EsQw !y!_3+c,J4[PO
ki3[X3d{\V”{V/lD:[!]yuP|[YvD18G%9;E1R’gSrP[;PA aX@vW)y.g3nzJm(RSaQ%u*qC8j)25MPE#:W>]429lM_UzH0\b;<!’p-03oIs(Y$<7Hy=R\Q((\..l*R),|v*2
#F9yLK}SeAN;f{bn_Eo1}P^So|Cm l h1nGp[BHFM)]vA;*1%1K[(|+2|cFpj{z; <L-8N.G’%$A(=Rr=.xtm|FKwkoi_%;(6QVKn{NrTIbL=-C%y]CMo”=WS:CfI z!*”Y{
#aQT.6”Cw@)*PcJg<hJFJt@b<xY_jsr)(MSq1@?r\um2x5r^nxu$1%pEhV.[e”6ALb*?<<t$:={RDjh$Lc=cB|{\8/0eB*6{95L(j4S+\m]rsJ.H-a7t?2t*mL8zedH.9G*
lz]CKl^F’JQfR2hdmBqL41gP@8nrokoOT:*Zbs<R9Q}<_i=Z

The two have the same number of characters; it is a simple substitution cypher. But there is a difference. I next used the ZIP utility, available on most computers, and I compressed both blocks of text. The top block compressed noticeably, shedding over 100 bytes. Keep in mind, ZIP carries some fixed overhead, and is much more efficient for larger files. The second block compressed not at all. ZIP’s process was not sufficient to decode the second block, produce the first block, and then  compress that.

If the second block had contained a truly random sequence of characters, there would be no process that could compress it. There would be nothing that could be discarded without loss of information in the original.

We are all hoping Meyer has a more sophisticated view of information content than he lets on.

Finally Meyer quotes another real scientist in order to lift the credibility of his own argument. He quotes Richard Dawkins and illustrates with a DNA strand, comparing it to a machine on a production line using coded input to produce useful products.

Here’s the text:

Richard Dawkins

“The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from  the differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal  might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal.”

Not really, but this is Meyer’s video, and he can  say what he wants.

In the final analysis—passed over in the video—this gets Meyer nowhere. Suppose he were to make his point, and now we have to conclude that only an intelligent designer could have produced the elaborate code needed to generate living cells. Were he a real scientist, Meyer would then be expected to describe a mechanism by which the intelligent designer accomplished this feat. To wit:

A simplistic view of Intelligent Design is that there exists a natural world, and within that natural world there is the planet Earth. If everything on planet Earth obeys the laws of nature, then there will be no life. This is a stipulation of Intelligent Design.

How, then, does life arise. It has to happen this way. Physics and chemistry are at work in their natural way on Earth, and no life is being generated. Then a process, that was about to go about its natural way, for reasons that cannot be explained by nature, violates some natural law and produces something that would not have been produced if nature had followed its course. There was some interference. Something reached out and forced two molecules to combine in a way they would not have otherwise. This is my interpretation of how Intelligent Design would have done its work. Stephen Meyer may instruct me otherwise if he wishes. I have nothing better to do this afternoon.

How would Meyer and other in the Intelligent Design movement counter? They could say, “No. Natural law was not contravened. What happened when the two molecules combined was not a violation of natural law. Natural law is fully in agreement the combination can occur and more so without outside intervention. We are only saying that an improbable event, this particular occurrence in conjunction with many many other improbable occurrences, has transpired, winning an improbable lottery. God did not place fingers on the molecules and hook them up. He only allowed the improbable to happen.”

Yeah, I am not buying that, either. Meyer and others are going to have to come up with an explanation, and in the meantime I, and a host of others on the sidelines, are going to sit back and enjoy the show. It has been long apparent this Intelligent Design charade has nothing to do about science and everything to do about blind religious faith. David Stotts concludes this episode with this scientific advice:

For you created my innermost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Psalm 139:13-14

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Fool’s Argument

Fourth of a series

This is the fourth of my reviews of the Focus on the Family video featuring creationist Stephen C. Meyer. It’s a DVD set available on Amazon and titled Does God Exist? Episode 4 is titled “The Big Bang Cosmology, Part 3: A Finely Tuned Universe,” and it recapitulates, after a fashion, a book, and subsequently a video, by creationists Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards. These carry the title The Privileged Planet, and the theme is that Earth, this planet, is so privileged, with everything set just right, for human life to exist, yeah, even any kind of life to  exist. The argument is extended to the entire Universe, which two terms being redundant. That theme is voiced in the opening scene (above) as David Stotts exhibits a string instrument and talks about fine tuning.

As before, this is a classroom setting, where Stephen C. Meyer is lecturing an assembly of students on why we should accept Intelligent Design over naturalistic explanations for life on Earth and for the Universe, as well. Meyer 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 movement. Before 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).

He makes ample use of presentation foils, some of which I reproduce here. I will discuss these and also will transcribe them to make it possible for search engines to find the text.

Fine-Tuning

If the universe were expanding faster, then there would be no structure in the universe.

He imagines how, in a science fiction world, this might be portrayed. A space traveler comes across the Universe control room, and there are all these knobs that have to be set just so. Else calamity.

He speaks of the argument for design, explained in depth in a book by William Dembski, a fellow at the Discovery Institute.

There is a discussion of  the Weak Anthropic Principle.

Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP)

We shouldn’t be surprised that we live in a universe in which the conditions that are necessary for our existence are present.

Meyer is dismissive of the WAP, illustrating it with a supposed fire investigation scenario. The investigator comes back and says there was a fire because of oxygen in the atmosphere. Not much of an explanation. From all appearances this is an illustration that was poorly constructed by design. I have long had my own illustration of the WAP.

We see an explorer in the Amazon Basin, and he is at a boat landing at the very head of one of the river’s tributaries. He has no way to get home. A boat he was not expecting arrives to rescue him, and he remarks, “Out of all the possibilities, out of all the branches you took, you chose just the ones to get you to me.”

Then my imagined scene zooms out, and we see the entire Amazon Basin, and at the head of each of the thousands of tributaries there is an explorer waiting for a boat to arrive, but there is only one boat, and it has arrived at the one landing just described. How lucky is the explorer? Very. How improbable is it that somebody was rescued? Not so improbable. Meyer could benefit from deeper thinking.

Meyer quotes from an item that appeared in the London Times:

Anthropic Fine-Tuning Principle

“No such argument can ever be absolutely conclusive, and the anthropic fine-tuning argument stops just short of knock-down proof. For there could’ve been millions and millions of different universes created each with different settings,  of the fundamental ratios and constants, so many in fact that one with the right set was eventually bound to turn up by sheer chance. We just happened to be the lucky ones. But there is no evidence of such a theory what-so-ever.

And there is more, for which you will need to view the video or else send me a note.

I was particularly intrigued by the last sentence quoted above, “But there is no evidence of such a theory what-so-ever.” I am not sure what the writer meant by no evidence for this theory. Does he mean to say there is a theory, but the theory has no evidence to back it up? Or does he mean there is no evidence such a theory exists? Let’s assume the former, because, if the latter, then there is evidence such a theory exists, because I just now proposed such a theory, and my proposal for such a theory is evidence the theory exists.

Graciously accepting the first of the two, then the statement is equally amazing. Accepting there is no evidence supporting such a theory, then where does that leave the writer, who continues and states, “On the other hand the evidence for the truth of the anthropic fine-tuning argument is of such a certainty that in any other sphere of science we would regard it as absolutely settled?” From all appearances it leaves the Times writer having made a bald statement with as much evidence as the WAP. None.

Meyer wraps it up:

Conclusion

Intelligent design provides the best explanation of the “fine-tuning” of  the laws of physics and chemistry. And thus it points to not only a transcendent cause of the universe, but also an intelligent and rational one.

No, it does not.

First, Intelligent Design does not resolve anything. Meyer can say Intelligent Design is the theory with the fewest assumptions (Occam’s Razor). It certainly does have the fewest of all assumptions. “God did it.” Can’t get much simpler than that.

The problem with “God did it” is that it does not have much going for it. A theory with as little basis of evidence is going to be hard put to compete with theories of equal simplicity and equal basis. For example, this one: “I did it.”

There is no basis to believe I did it, putting my theory on an equal footing with “God did it.”

There’s more. “God did it,” in truth, carries the same baggage as naturalistic proposals. It does not account for the much-publicized specificity of the Universe, including human life and all other life on the planet. If “God did it,” then God must have had all that specificity and design built in before, and where did that come from? Of course, this is an ancient response to an ancient postulation, but it now possesses a remarkable irony. Since its formation 30 years ago, Intelligent Design has adopted an  argument that challenges the originality of God.

Meyer invokes William Dembski, who frequently invokes Kolmogorov complexity to demonstrate that specifically complex things cannot derive from less complex things. For example, in his book Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology, Dembski invokes Kolmogorov on page 159:

It is CSI on which David Chalmers hopes to base a comprehensive theory of human consciousness. It is CSI that within the Kolmogorov-Chaitin theory of algorithmic information identifies the highly-compressible, nonrandom strings of digits. How CSI gets from an organism’s environment into an organism’s genome is one of the long-standing question addressed by the Santa Fe Institute.

CSI, for Dembski, translates as Complex Specified Information. That is the very thing that Meyer is considering when he speaks of needing  Intelligent Design to provide explanations.

Meyer cites enormous improbabilities in arguing against the WAP. These are improbabilities that amount to impossibilities. In a finite Universe. If a person wants to wax philosophical, then before the Big Bang, when time did not exist, then all things were possible. Does somebody want to discuss that?

Episode 5 has the title “DNA by Design,” and we can presume Meyer is going to argue that DNA is evidence of design, just as he did in his book, Signature in the Cell.

Much is promised for this book. It’s supposed to set us straight about the basis for Intelligent Design and to make the case, using the story of DNA, for Intelligent Design. Once again, I will let Amazon do the talking:

Signature in the Cell is the first book to make a comprehensive case for intelligent design based upon DNA. Meyer embarks on an odyssey of discovery as he investigates current evolutionary theories and the evidence that ultimately led him to affirm intelligent design. Clearly defining what ID is and is not, Meyer shows that the argument for intelligent design is not based on ignorance or “giving up on science,” but instead upon our growing scientific knowledge of the information stored in the cell.

The video series, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, has this to say about Episode 5:

The Question of design is a critical worldview-shaping paradox. If biology points us to the appearance of design, then what are we to make of it? Can we attribute this to natural selection or was there an Intelligent Designer?

Watch for a review later this week.

Fool’s Argument

Third OF A SERIES

As noted above, this is the third of my reviews of the Focus on the Family video featuring creationist Stephen C. Meyer. It’s a DVD set available on Amazon and titled Does God Exist? The setting is an apparent classroom seminar on the proof for the existence of God. Episode 3 is titled “The Big Bang Cosmology, Part 2: In the Beginning,” and it seeks to affirm that God, that is the God of Abraham, is the root explanation for the creation of the Universe.

Meyer makes his argument, and he sprinkles the discussion with various illustrations depicting real scientists. Here are a few.

Regarding the first, Meyer has brought up the conclusion of modern cosmologists that the Universe is not infinite. It is both finite in scope and finite in time. It had a beginning. Allow me to quote, not from Meyer:

Genesis 1:1 King James Version (KJV)

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

There. Modern cosmology and the Bible are in agreement. The argument goes pretty much from there.

He dismisses quantum cosmology. Back to Lawrence Krauss’ book, A Universe from Nothingpreviously reviewed:

The lesson is clear: quantum gravity not only appears to allow universes to be created from nothing— meaning, in this case, I emphasize, the absence of space and time— it may require them. “Nothing”— in this case no space, no time, no anything!— is unstable.

Moreover, the general characteristics of such a universe, if it lasts a long time, would be expected to be those we observe in our universe today.

Krauss, Lawrence. A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing (p. 170). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

But Meyer has issues with quantum cosmology, and he lays them out:

Problems with Quantum Cosmology

  1. It doesn’t explain how you get from the timeless state to temporal state.
  2. Must use mathematical tricks.

I am not sure Meyer is correct on his first point, but he most certainly is on the second. Quantum cosmology does require the use of mathematical tricks. It’s what physicists do. Tricks with mathematics.

When he says, that “creatio ex nihilo” implies “the universe was created out of nothing physical,” he really means to say the universe was created out of nothing material. Everything is physical, especially if you’re a physicist.

Meyer cites the work of Arno A. Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson in the discovery of the cosmic background radiation, confirming a critical consequence of the proposed origin of the Universe. And he quotes Penzias (Nobel laureate):

The best data we have (concerning the Big Bang) are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on  but the five books of Moses, the psalms, and the Bible as a whole.

This is, indeed, a quote in proper context by Penzias. At issue are the sources Penzias cites. First of all, Moses is known to be a fictional  character. Second, the Bible is notoriously inaccurate, even beyond the tales about Moses. Meyer may use a quote from Nobel laureate Penzias if he wants, but that particular quote has its own destruction built in.

Meyer delves into the modern practice of science, discussing hypothesis confirmation. There is a lot of talk regarding the development of scientific theories, and some of that relates how hypotheses morph into theories upon confirmation. Experience says otherwise. In reality, a theory is developed to explain data, and from that theory (explanation) several hypotheses can be drawn. If the theory is valid, then certain consequences must ensue. These consequences are used to form hypotheses regarding the theory. Hypothesis confirmation is performed by experimentation or by further investigation. Confirming a hypothesis does not prove a theory, only strengthen it. Theories are never disproved. Failure to confirm a hypothesis can defeat a theory.

In this case the theory is that theism and the Judeo-Christian view of creation are true. Now we say that a consequence of that theory must be that we have a finite Universe. Additional studies have demonstrated we have a finite Universe. The hypothesis is confirmed. This strengthens the theory. Here is how Meyer put it, being scripted here to allow search engines to find it:

Confirmation of a Theistic Hypothesis

If theism and the Judeo-Christian view of creation are true, then we have reason to expect evidence of a finite universe.

We have evidence of a finite universe. Therefore, we have a reason to think that theism and the Judeo-Christin view of creation may be true.

What Meyer may fail to recognize is that the statement (“we have a reason to think that theism and the Judeo-Christin view of creation may be true”) is not a well-grounded conclusion. Left as an exercise for the reader.

Eventually Meyer gets around to quoting Charles Townes, inventor of the maser and the laser, and also recipient of the Nobel Prize for this work:

Charles Townes

In my view, the question of origin seems always left answered if we explore from a scientific point of view alone. Thus, I believe there is a need for some religious or metaphysical explanation. I believe in  the concept of God and in His existence.

At some point Townes proposed that science and religion are equally valid ways to study the universe. Skeptical cartoonist Prasad Golla and I picked up on that, and I wrote a story to go with a short cartoon strip:

Yes, there is a hazard in thinking science and religion are equally valid. People who rejoiced in Townes’ remarks failed to realize those remarks might not benefit religion.

This episode also features notable skeptic of science David Berlinski.:

Most rational people will agree with the argument I have put forward here, but an amazing portion of otherwise sensible people will argue that biological science must be treated differently. Whenever the matter has gone to legal arbitration, as in the court cases McLean vs. Arkansas Board of Education and Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District, it has been easy to demonstrate a religious motivation behind the actionable offense. (There seem to be a few with no apparent religious ax to grind, and David Berlinski stands out. With no outward religious leanings, Berlinski seems to be chiefly of a contrarian nature.) Also, the writings and actions of various proponents of creationism demonstrate a religious agenda. It quickly becomes apparent that advocates of supernatural explanations, especially with respect to areas that touch on religious beliefs, are allowing religious conviction to trump objectivity in these matters.

Berlinski initially came to my attention 20 years ago, when he participated in a debate on the TV show Firing Line. You can watch the show on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITqiIQu-fbA.

Berlinski is without doubt a master intellect, but his formal study climaxed in obtaining a PhD in philosophy from Princeton University. He is presently listed as a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture, the Discovery Institute being this country’s prime supporter of Intelligent Design. He does not appear to have done any advanced scientific work, and he sometimes gives an odd performance when he ventures into the realm of science.

My impression on watching in 1997 was of somebody with high self-regard, but during the debate he was forced on two occasions to retract an unfounded statement. For his statement of position, catch him at the 45-minute mark. He grossly misconstrues the principles of evolutionary theory, painting Darwinian evolution as a random search.

About 1:40:50 in the video he challenges Kenneth Miller (an actual scientist) regarding the the value of evolutionary theory in modern biology. He remarks that Miller’s published work uses the term evolutionas often as it uses the term presbyterian, particularly, “not at all.” Wrong-o! Miller points out that his work includes the word evolution infinitely more often than presbyterian, since he has used evolutionand has never used presbyterian. Shortly after that Berlinski again has to back down after making another incautious statement.

Episode 4 of this Focus on this Family series is titled, “The Big Bang Cosmology, Part 3: A Finely Tuned Universe.” Who wants to bet this is going to touch on the work of creationist astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and co-producer Jay Wesley Richards? A review is coming later. Read some more.

Fool’s Argument

Second of a series

As the heading suggests, this is a review of episode 2 of the creationist video series titled Does God Exist? It features creationist Stephen C. Meyer arguing the case for Intelligent Design, and I am not going to  recap what was stated in the previous review. This episode carries the title “The Big Bang Cosmology: The Finite Universe.”

I will kick off this review with a collection of graphics, which collection is going  to become familiar to anybody watching the entire series, 10 episodes plus a special feature. But take the first graphic and also some advice. If you are going to argue for the scientific merits of Intelligent Design, it will be best if you do not upfront advertise your collaboration with an organization that calls itself Focus on the Family. This organization promotes some ideas that are notoriously unscientific:

Focus on the Family supports teaching of what it considers to be traditional “family values”. It supports student-led and initiated prayer and supports the practice of corporal punishment. It strongly opposes LGBT rights, abortion, pornography, gambling, and pre-marital and extramarital sexual activity. Focus on the Family also promotes a religiously-centered conception of American identity and the support of Israel.

Focus on the Family maintains a strong stand against abortion, and provides grant funding and medical training to assist crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs; also known as pregnancy resource centers) in obtaining ultrasound machines. According to the organization, this funding, which has allowed CPCs to provide pregnant women with live sonogram images of the developing fetus, has led directly to the birth of over 1500 babies who would have otherwise been aborted. The organization has been staunchly opposed to public funding for elective abortions.

Here is another graphic you should become familiar with.

Stephen C. Meyer is talking to students in a supposed college lecture series, and he launches into a recount of a debate involving biologist and staunch atheist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins’ closing statement is shown in its entirety, and it shows Dawkins arguing that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution put to rest any remaining notion that God was needed to explain the Universe.

Meyer counters, and he runs through a litany of famous scientists, particularly those working at the foundation of the scientific era, and he illustrates how their religious predilections supported their quest for scientific truth.

Discussing Newton’s concept of gravity, Meyer lurches into uncharted territory, for him. He speaks without foundation that the wonder that the Solar System of spinning and revolving planets does not yield easily to Newtonian mechanics. The fact is that Newton worked out much of the analysis that explains how such a system is formed, and modern astrophysics confirms that planetary systems are a natural consequence of Newtonian mechanics.

Unfortunately there was not a high school student present when this presentation was prepared, else this illustration would have been more factual.

And Meyer runs through a slew of honest scientists who were unable to conceive a universe without somebody or some thing getting it started.

And that is Meyer’s main argument in episode 2. The work of Edwin Hubble demonstrated that the Universe is expanding, therefore it must have had a beginning. On this practically all cosmologists agree. Meyer’s failure rests in not noticing that modern cosmology does not require an outside force to kick off the origin of the Universe. Lawrence Krauss sums up modern origin concepts neatly in his book A Universe from Nothing, which I reviewed two years ago:

Creationists are unable to step back and to see that purpose is a human feature. There is more. Other living organisms besides humans possess purpose. Foxes chase rabbits for a purpose. Foxes need to eat rabbits. If foxes do not catch and eat rabbits they will die. There will be no more foxes. The only foxes that still exist today are those that possess the purpose of catching and eating something. Purpose is something that has developed biologically by the process of evolution through natural selection. Outside this realm of things the concept of purpose does not exist.

Episode 3 is going to be a follow-on to this one and is titled “The Big Bang Cosmology, Part 2: In the Beginning.” I will do a review later this week.

Fool’s Argument

First of a series

Last year we ditched the cable and bought into a couple of subscription streaming services. So, come Sunday , and it was promising to be a dull morning. I turned to Amazon Prime Video and browsed some stuff Barbara Jean had earmarked. Wow. Does God Exist? Yes, it’s there, and what a wonderful way it is to brighten up an otherwise dull Sunday morning.

Of course I needed to watch. Here it is.

So I see that guy, and he’s asking the question, “Does God exist?” And he further asks, “Is the Bible really the word of God?” Also, “Was Jesus really the son of God?” These questions, I expect, will be answered. But one question that needs to be answered first is, “Who is that person asking those questions?”

Christians in Cinema: Dave Stotts

After attending Abilene Christian University in the Texas Panhandle, Dave Stotts hopped around a few more places before settling down in the Dallas Metroplex area. Married to Rebekah and the father of 2 sons (Seth and Luke), his time is divided between video post-production, theological studies and making history alive and entertaining.

When asked about his favorite restaurant, he immediately named “Mi Cocina,” which specializes in Tex-Mex cuisine (a man after my own heart!). A fan of science fiction epics (X-men, Superman, Star Wars) married to someone who doesn’t really care for them, Dave often watches his favorites with headphones. He’s even been known to impersonate Darth Vader for his youngest son “Luke, I’m your father”. I talked with Dave on a busy Thursday morning between video projects.

Then we get to the meat of the matter, and we see, as before, creationists Stephen C. Meyer. And it is good to see Dr. Meyer once more, even if this is not a recent production. My hope is he will be touching on a favorite topic of mine, namely Information and Myth:

Having nothing better to do, I was watching this on-line video. And the guy was making some statements about matter and information and energy, and, being composed of these things and having studied them in college, I was a little amazed at what the guy was saying. Time for a Slim Pickens movie quote here.1

The speaker was creationist Stephen C. Meyer, and that was no surprise. Meyer has just published his latest creationist book, and having nothing better to do, I ordered a copy from Amazon.com. Here is what Amazon has to say about the author:

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of science. A former geophysicist and college professor, he now directs the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.2

Much is promised for this book. It’s supposed to set us straight about the basis for Intelligent Design and to make the case, using the story of DNA, for Intelligent Design. Once again, I will let Amazon do the talking:

That’s what I had to say eight years ago.

This seems to be a new setting. It is from all appearances a college classroom, and Meyer is going to address the question of whether God exists, and we can guess what the answer will be.

First off, I was unable to escape the notion this was dramatized. It gives the appearance of classroom instruction viewed live, but the use of multiple camera angles and the timing of the actions makes me doubt this could have been pulled off live. Live does not go this smoothly. There are times, when the camera angle shifts, that I would expect to see the camera that shot the previous view, and I do not. Let’s assume this is an informal, staged production. Also, in case you were not aware, this is a production of Focus on the Family:

Focus on the Family (FOTF or FotF) is an American Christian conservative organization founded in 1977 in Southern California by psychologistJames Dobson, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is active in promoting an interdenominational effort toward its socially conservative views on public policy. Focus on the Family is one of a number of evangelical parachurch organizations that rose to prominence in the 1980s.

Focus on the Family’s stated mission is “nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide”. It promotes abstinence-only sexual educationcreationism; adoption by married, opposite-sex parents; school prayer; and traditional gender roles. It opposes abortion; divorce; gambling; LGBT rights, particularly LGBT adoption and same-sex marriage; pornography; pre-marital sex; and substance abuse. Psychologistspsychiatrists, and social scientists have criticized Focus on the Family for trying to misrepresent their research to bolster FOTF’s fundamentalist political agenda and ideology.

We can tell up front there’s going to be a lot of solid science coming out of this.

There are ten episodes in the series plus a bonus, and the first is “Faith and Reason,” and Meyer gets into the meaning of faith, and hopefully why religious faith is not all that bad. For this kind of presentation, Meyer is an excellent choice. He is a polished presenter, and his formal training in philosophy of science provides the very material he needs for background. He can argue from an academically-grounded knowledge base.

That background, as I learned a few years back, is no inoculation against foolish thought. Robert Koons was then and still is a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, where I once attended and obtained a degree. He came up to give a talk at UT Dallas in 2004, and I was there with a fellow skeptic to take it in:

All this got me to thinking, and when there was an opportunity to pose a question I asked just what it would take to be convincing. Passing by the bacterial flagellum for the time being, I brought up Behe’s example of human blood clotting chemistry (because that appears to me to be the bigger of these two cow cookies for Behe).4 I asked whether demonstrating feasible pathways to the present human clotting chemistry would sufficiently refute Behe’s whole argument for irreducible complexity.

To recapitulate, human blood clotting chemistry is quite complex (what isn’t in biochemistry). When a blood vessel is opened, an elaborate chain—a cascade—of chemical reactions is set into motion. If any step in the chain is missing, or is inadequate for the job, blood clots form prematurely, or we bleed excessively, even to death. Think hemophilia. How could that assemblage of chemical reactions have come about by mutation combined with natural selection? No single mutation, subsequently fixed through natural selection, could have produced all of the required steps simultaneously. If any of our ancestors lacked even one of the steps, we would not be reading this skeptical rag.

Knowing that biologists have a good lead on possible pathways and an effective refutation of Behe’s blood chemistry argument, I asked how many of Behe’s examples need to be explained before irreducible complexity is dead.

Not just one, Koons surmised. One example does not make for solid proof.

What Koons ending up saying is that creationists could pose a large number of examples of supposed irreducible complexity, and biologist would need to refute a slew of these before we should bring the concept into question. My experience, as I noted back then, is that in science and in academia you can expect to present two or at most three ridiculous arguments before you lose credibility. Koons seemed at the time vacant on this point.

But what of Meyer’s presentation on this day, apparently about 2009?

At one point he gets to the causality argument, and he states the misconception that cause and effect are essential to the working of the Universe. As is often pointed out, this is not the case. From all appearances and from all known experience, cause and effect are not essential. At the base of physical science, events happen without a cause. Not a big deal, but certainly not in line with Meyer’s train of thought.

That brings us to Meyer’s central argument in Episode 1. We know the effect. We see it all around us. We see birds, we feel the wind. There are stars and planets, and people and love and happiness (my wording). What is the cause? Is it blind physics? He is going to argue no. Eventually he is going to postulate that God is the best explanation—the best and ultimate cause. Here God is the capital G in the middle of his blackboard.

And Meyer’s argument is the proper inference is a being of some sort manifesting intelligence and passion. The problem with this is–pause for a moment–what we call intelligence and passion are human qualities. He, and others in the Intelligent Design movement, are taking these and other human qualities and creating a God that possesses these and in turn creates beings, ourselves, that have these properties. The argument is unquestionably circular.

I will state, as I have before, that if there were a being, such as the proposed God, and this being were all-knowing and all-powerful (omniscient and omnipotent), then what would would this God do? Create a Universe? Create a planet and populate it with beings possessing intelligence and passion? Why? The motivation to create, even if to experiment, is a quality found in living things on this planet. And that includes us. We have those qualities because they are essential to survival. Such need would not exist for an omniscient and omnipotent being. If there is Intelligent Design, then we are not the product. We are the designer.

Episode 2 is going to be “The Big Bang Cosmology: The Finite Universe.” I’m thinking that’s going to  be  more interesting, and I will post a review later this week. These are short, around 30 minutes, so they pose little challenge to my attention span.

Here is a link to a promo on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S-5GdCPp7c

Hey! If you’re not an Amazon Prime subscriber you can purchase the DVD set on Amazon.

www.amazon.com/TrueU-01-Building-Scientific-Discussion/dp/B00UTUDIT6/

An IDEA Whose Time Has Passed

It was 13 years ago we got to know the skinny on the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) clubs. In March 2004 Greg Aicklen and I attended a presentation by Robert Koons, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. The presentation was given at the University of Texas at Dallas under the auspices of the UTD IDEA chapter, headed by Wilston Nkangoh a senior at the University. We came at Wilston’s invitation, and it was worth the view.

What we got to see at this, and also at a separate chapter meeting, was this idea was not ready for prime time. For one, the chapter meeting was sparsely attended. There was maybe one other person in addition to Wilston. The talk by Professor Koons, held in an auditorium, we found to be devoid of scientific merit. Keeping in mind that Koons is a philosopher, not a scientist, what we observed was an absence of basic understanding of how science is done. For example:

For starters, Koons noted that the burden of proof in the creation/evolution controversy, particularly as it relates to ID, lies with the Darwinists. We thought this curious, because we tend to think “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” This is all the slack we cut for the psychics, the faith healers, and the astrologers. However, Professor Koons explained it for us, and he illustrated his point with quotes from ancient scholars, such as the author of the Book of Job, Socrates, and Aristotle. In particular, he quoted Thomas Reid:

 

In his Essays on The Intellectual Powers of Man, 18th century Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid counts among the basic equipment of the human mind the capacity to recognize the signs of intelligent agency.

Without such a basic capacity, it would be mysterious how we recognized one another as intelligent and purposeful – in fact, it would be mysterious how we recognize intelligence even in our own behavior.

When this basic faculty of intelligence-recognition is turned to the machinery of living things, the clear answer it delivers is Yes.

The title of Koons’ talk was The Future of Darwinism and Design: Philosophical and Historical Perspectives, and his goal was apparently a defense of Intelligent Design. Where he obtains the idea that the burden of proof lies with “Darwinist” (scientists) is anybody’s guess.

Anyhow, that got me rolling with the story of the IDEA clubs, and I did some research, just to see what this was all about. The concept is a brainchild of Casey Luskin, a lawyer at the time associated with the Discovery Institute, this country’s greatest mover behind Intelligent Design. Even the barest look gave me the idea these clubs had a bracket of purposes:

  • Reinforce any contention the Discovery Institute might have that Intelligent Design is a grass roots concept finding comfort within American academics.
  • Generate some otherwise unwarranted Intelligent Design presence within academic circles.
  • Serve as a recruiting base to coax the legitimacy of Intelligent Design on future scientists and intellectuals.

Wondering how this was working out, I later did some research. My finding was that it was an idea whose time had passed:

Certainly the outlook for IDEA on campus can’t be all that bleak. A recent check on the IDEA Club Web site showed the following for the United States:

24 university chapters
6 high school chapters
2 community chapters

http://www.ideacenter.org/clubs/locations.php

As of today that page is still up with a map showing locations of chapters and with links to them. The results I obtained were dismal. For example, continuing from the above:

The page also lists a chapter in Canada, one on the Philippines, one in Kenya and one in Ukraine.

Maybe there really is something to all this. Another chapter in Texas is at Midwestern State. Clicking on the link brings up this:

IDEA Club formed at Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas – April 13, 2004

As of April 12, 2004, an IDEA Club was founded at Midwestern State University in Wichita Fall, Texas. Founded by undergraduate Vincent (“Vinny”) McMullen, this IDEA Club marks the 15th founded to date, and the second IDEA Club at a public university in Texas.

There doesn’t seem to be any more about this chapter on the Web. Maybe it’s time to check out the remaining sites.

A search of the remaining links shows little or no activity. Generally these links point back to the main IDEA Center Web site-to varying pages.

Often these are archival pages carrying a press release from the time of the club’s creation. Several of the links are broken, indicating the club’s site has moved or has been taken down.

That was eight years ago,  and little thought was given to the fate of the IDEA concept until a few weeks ago. Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of the National Center for Science Education, the polar opposite to the Discovery Institute in  all ways imaginable. He came out to Texas and gave a talk at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He talked about what has happened to the creationist movement in this country since the Kitzmiller trial of 2005. There was some discussion following Glenn’s talk, and I asked him if he had any additional information on the fate of the IDEA clubs. He followed up recently with an update. It’s a link to The Evolution List  blog. It’s a post by Allen MacNeill from  2008, and it illustrates that I was beating a dead horse in 2009 researching the fate of IDEA. Allen had the idea back then this was an IDEA whose time was past. He likened the movement to the extinct Dodo, as in dead as…

Dr. Dembski strongly implied in his press release that these IDEA Centers were essentially research centers, such as those commonly found at college and university campuses.

Well, they aren’t…or, rather, weren’t. They weren’t “research centers” or anything like it. They were clubs, similar to the kinds of student-centered special interest clubs that abound on most college and university campuses. Such clubs have several characteristics in common:

So nine years ago the IDEA concept was already milked of any legitimacy, being in reality what it appeared on the surface to be—a clumsy piece of Intelligent Design propaganda.

The Discovery Institute continues to hack away at its quest for legitimacy, its principal vehicle being a blog site titled Evolution News. I have recently slacked off on my coverage of this site, and it’s probably time for re-entry. Watch for more in the coming days.

Ray Comfort Reviewed

A review of a book by creationist Ray Comfort. Cross posted from Skeptical Analysis

First of all, we should all be careful to not take Ray Comfort much too seriously. Even seriously:

In 2006, Comfort recorded a segment for The Way of the Master‘s television show in which he argued that the banana was an “atheists’ nightmare”, arguing that it displayed many user-friendly features that were evidence of intelligent design. Comfort retracted the video upon learning that the banana is a result of artificial selection by humans, and that the wild banana is small and unpalatable.

An excerpt of this amazing video is captured on YouTube, if only to embarrass Ray Comfort.

All this did not prevent me from purchasing a copy of Comfort’s book You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics. In the previous post I promised a review, and here it is. It’s 160 pages in the hard copy, but I purchased the Kindle edition.

Comfort has published a basket full of titles, laudable in itself. One is Overcoming Panic Attacks, but the remainder seemed to be overtly religious. I’m thinking possibly the panic attack book may also be anchored in religion. He is an evangelical Christian, teaming up with actor Kirk Cameron to form and promote The Way of the Master.

A big thing with Comfort is creationism and its obverse, modern science, biological evolution, cosmology, and anything else that gets in the way of creationism. That’s the center of the first of seven chapters, and readers will forgive me if I bear down on that section and trip lightly through the remainder. Besides the chapters there are also a forward, a preface, an introduction, a conclusion, and an excellent section of notes, covering references made in the book.

The Introduction is by atheist Darrin Rasberry, who oddly cautions us to be kind and gentle. Rasberry derides modern and vocal atheists, and it’s no wonder that he later turns out to have converted to the faith. This isn’t mentioned in the book, giving the impression that even atheists don’t like atheists. Notably, the book came out in 2009, and the link to Rasberry’s conversion dates from  2011.

Early on Comfort portrays matching it up with atheists as a grand sport. In the Preface he gives a clue to what is to come:

Most who profess atheism aren’t really “atheists.” After a few moments chatting with them about the fact that every building is proof that there was a builder, and that creation therefore is proof that there is a Creator, many change their minds.

But then there’s the staunch atheist. This one is a challenge. He is the marlin of deep-sea fishing, and he doesn’t give up easily. As a fisher of men, I have found that this type of atheist is always ready for debate. He will take the bait, the hook, and any line you give him, and give you a run for your money.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 55-60). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

But on to creationism. It is unfortunate that Comfort hangs so much of his argument for Jesus on the failure of evolution. His experience with the banana gives a clue to the level of intellect he brings to the discussion. He ties atheism to evolution, and he strikes close to home here. Modern theories of biological evolution completely undermine a basic premise of the Bible. Comfort and others of his ilk buy deeply into the literal truth of the Bible. To defend their faith, they must demolish evolution, along with geology, cosmology, and other facets of modern science. The first paragraph sets the stage:

Atheists’ beliefs vary as much as atheists themselves. Still, atheists hold a fundamental belief that unifies them. An “atheist” believes that there is no God and that man came into being without any intelligent design. If there was no designer, then an atheist owes his existence to random chance, over millions or billions of years, of course. While some believers in evolution deny that evolution is a random process, if it’s not unplanned, then it’s planned. And if it is planned, then there is Someone doing the planning.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 125-128). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Readers are going to come back at me and say, “Dude, there are loads of Christians who accept evolution as true.” Put those Christians aside, dear reader, Comfort has.

By the second paragraph he has launched into the kind of argument that brought him so much ridicule:

As a fly on the wall, we are there when Adam takes his first breath. It is fortunate that, when his lungs drew in the air that surrounded him, the air was there. If there had been no air, he wouldn’t have been able to breathe and he would have instantly died. But for some reason it was there, presumably at 14.7 pounds per square inch.

But it’s more miraculous than the air just being there. It was fortunate the air was made up of 78.09 percent nitrogen and 20.95 percent oxygen—the exact mixture that his lungs and blood needed to survive.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 130-134). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

He goes on to point out additional, miraculous, coincidences to illustrate why there must be a God who caused all this to happen and with a plan in mind. Wasn’t it nice that Adam just happened to have  lungs to breathe the oxygen. Wasn’t it nice that Eve came along about the same time so the Clan of Adam could populate the Earth. And wasn’t is fortunate that Eve just happened to have lungs so she did not die before Adam could put the move on her. Do I  have to explain what’s wrong with this? I hope not.

The foregoing is a preamble. It is a view into Ray Comfort’s intellectual processes that should disturb you. It is possible that I was unfortunate in spending my working  life in the company of people who think for a living. That in mind, it’s jarring when I encounter somebody like Comfort. This is not the kind of person who should be allowed to handle sharp objects. Additional  examples illustrate:

It was also an amazing coincidence that gravity existed at the time of their evolution. Without it, the first man and his first mate would have spun off into the infinitude of space. But for some reason it evolved and matured at just the right time to keep their feet firmly planted on the earth, which also evolved.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 137-139). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

 

The banana pales.

Comfort strives mightily to convince us that there must be a God behind the universe and all creations. He employs two devices:

  • Ex nihilo
  • Creation-creator

The first is that the universe is here but it has not always been here. This is the ex nihilo argument. Something cannot come from nothing. We never see this happen:

In all of history, there has never been an instance of anything spontaneously appearing out of nowhere. Something being created from nothing is contrary to all known science.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 382-384). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Except that we do. Quantum physics includes a a corner for actions without a cause and objects without a predecessor. Lawrence Krauss has discussed A Universe from Nothing. Folks, it is not unknown, if I can be forgiven the double negative.

The creation-creator argument is more involved. There is something. That something must have been created. Chapter One has the title “Creation Must Have a Creator.” Comfort illustrates:

In short, the evolutionary view cannot offer a logical, scientific explanation for either the origin or the complexity of the universe. There are only two choices: Either no one created everything out of nothing, or Someone—an intelligent, omnipotent, eternal First Cause—created everything out of nothing. Which makes more sense?

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 384-386). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Comfort plays lightly with the meanings of words. Something was created. Waves created ripples in the sand. But there is a chair. It takes an intelligent being, something with a purpose, to create a chair. Comfort wants us to know that all things that exist were created in the sense of the chair. Somebody wanted the chair, and the chair was created for a purpose. It’s a different concept of creation for the ripples in the sand, but Comfort wants to impute purpose in all things.

Comfort is missing a major point, previously discussed. The creation Comfort has in mind comes from purpose, and purpose is a feature of living things, at diminishing levels. It is well considered that plants do not think. They put out leaves and roots solely on the basis of blind chemistry. People are considered on this planet to be the kings of purpose. They fashion instruments out of metal for serving up food, and they also construct elaborate craft for exploring other planets. Ultimately it all boils down to a matter of chemistry in action, and other animals, for example ants, have less of purpose than people.

Purpose, however, is a result of biological evolution—biological evolution that Comfort so much despises. Purpose is an inherited trait that promotes survival and procreation in a loop that feeds back to increasing the presence of that trait in a population. Darwin was right, after all.

Supposing God exists. What was God’s purpose in creating? What was God’s purpose in creating the universe, the sun and planets, and all living things on Earth? Are we a cosmological science project concocted by an ethereal middle school pupil? That hardly seems likely. If you are an ethereal fellow, then you have not experienced the forces of environment inflicted by existing on this planet, which supposedly you created. Arguing for creation must argue for purpose, for which we can find no excuse. It’s a philosophically devoid enterprise. It’s an enterprise Comfort pursues with an astounding blindness.

A significant blind spot that Comfort has missed is the core of his pitch. God wants us to be moral people (as part of his science project), and Jesus is his vehicle for imparting morality. The evidence of creation is the evidence of God. Missing is the connection. Suppose I were successful in proving there must have been a God behind the creation of the Universe. Nobody has ever connected this God with Jesus. The Bible provides this connection, but it is just words printed on paper (originally on parchment). There is nothing historically or philosophically sound to connect the creation of the Universe with Jesus, and thus morality.

I will leave the creation-creator chapter at this point. Comfort spends the remaining six chapters talking morality, religious orthodoxy, biblical inerrancy. But before that he reminds atheists what horrible people we are. He complains of his treatment at the hands of atheists:

In April of 2007, during an ABC Nightline atheist debate, Kirk Cameron and I produced imaginary pictures of what we imagined would be genuine species-to-species transitional forms. We called one a “Crocoduck,” and another was called a “birddog.” This was to show exactly what evolutionists believe, but can’t back up through the fossil record. We were ridiculed, called stupid, and told that we didn’t understand evolution. However, these books vindicate us (not that we needed it). They have done with the future what evolutionists have done with the past. They have made a mockery out of science.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 609-613). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Bad. Really bad. How bad? Glad you asked:

It is because of God’s love that I care about the fate of atheists. When an atheist says he sees no evidence that God exists, I take the time to reason with him about creation not being an accident, even though it is intellectually demeaning to have to do so (atheism is the epitome of stupidity). It’s an intellectual embarrassment. But I have done so thousands of times, and will do so until my last breath…thanks alone to the love of God that dwells in me.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 170-173). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

Apparently there is a lot of that going around.

Comfort obviously sees morality as the cornerstone of his thesis. He talks to no end on morality. One aspect of comfort’s morality is something I find very strange, and that something is the matter of sexual lust. Sexual lust, he asserts (and he backs it up with biblical references) is the same as actual sexual coupling, and it is just as sinful. And that is what is so strange. Sexual coupling is sinful? Really/ Sexual coupling is how we make people. Without sexual coupling there would be no people, and without people there would be no Christianity.  He mentions the word lust 49 times in the book and adultery 30 times. Something has happened in Comfort’s life, having to do with sex, and it seems to have been devastating. And we are offered a peek into this world at the price of purchasing his book.

Comfort’s reasoning for concluding the Catholic Church is not Christian is beyond the scope of this post, and I’m not going to dig deeper into his eschatological haranguing. Comfort and Cameron can be watched at length and for free on YouTube. Readers with a thirst for more can pursue at their leisure. With popcorn.

The Comfort Delusion

The North Texas Skeptics does not get involved in strictly religious matters. However, and this is crucial, when religious zealots, particularly creationists, make claims about scientific validity, they step into the purview of the NTS. That was the case ten years ago when creationists Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort elected to debate atheists on ABC Nightline:

Does God Exist? The Nightline Face-Off

“Proving the existence of God is actually a lot easier than you think,” said former child star Kirk Cameron, minutes before taking the stage for the “Nightline Face-Off.”

It was a warm Saturday night in New York City as a mixed crowd of atheists and Christians converged on Calvary Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan for the first “Nightline Face-Off.” And it wasn’t long before temperatures began to rise inside the auditorium.

The question for our debate was “Does God Exist?” and both sides went at the issue with a series of passionate declarations and critical attacks on the arguments of their opponents. It was a clean but unflinching contest.

Former child star Kirk Cameron and his evangelist colleague Ray Comfort had pledged to prove the existence of God, scientifically. Cameron and Comfort run an organization called the Way of the Master, which comprises a Web site and cable television show, all focused on preaching what they say is the truth of Christianity.

The atheists debating Cameron and Comfort were Brian Sapient and a woman identified only as “Kelly.” Kelly is Kelly O’Conner, and the two are members of The Rational Response Squad:

The Rational Response Squad, or RRS, is an atheist activist group that confronts what it considers to be irrational claims, made by theists, particularly Christians. The most visible member of RRS is co-founder Brian Sapient. The Rational Response Squad, along with the filmmaker Brian Flemming, made headlines in December 2006 with their Blasphemy Challenge.

Having been otherwise occupied ten years ago, I didn’t catch onto this until I came across a video on YouTube. There’s going to be a link at the end of this post.

So, Cameron made a short presentation, and then Comfort gave his spiel, and then Sapient gave a short critique and turned the argument over to O’Conner. She proceeded to counter Comfort’s points in turn, and there followed a session of questions and responses. That’s all I watched of the video, because it was the presentation by Comfort I found most astounding.  ABC News printed the text of Cameron’s introduction, which I’m reprinting here for your enjoyment:

Hi, I’m Kirk Cameron and my partner and I Ray Comfort come to you tonight not as molecular biologists or rocket scientists, but simply as an author and an actor, and we want to do two things that fly in the face of convention. One, we’d like to show you that the existence of God can be proven, 100 percent, absolutely, without the use of faith. And secondly, as a former atheist myself — an evolutionist — I want to pull back the curtain and show that the number one reason that people don’t believe in God is not a lack in evidence, but because of a theory that many scientists today believe to be a fairytale for grownups.

That last bit about “a fairytale for grownups” should by now be familiar. It must be particularly noted that Cameron proposed, “We’d like to show you that the existence of God can be proven, 100 percent, absolutely, without the use of faith.” I have highlighted the critical phrase.

Comfort than proceeded to demolish Cameron’s pledge. He started off with the typical argument from design. He held up a can of soda, Coca Cola. He gave what he considered the scientific argument for the creation of the can of soda. There was a big explosion and ultimately things fell into place, producing the can of soda. Voila! Ridiculous. The can of soda must have been created. Then he displayed a painting. If there is a painting, then scientist will all agree there must have been a painter. And so on. The logical conclusion, Comfort assures us, is if the Universe has been created, then there must have been a creator.

That seems to be Comfort’s critical flaw. We should not make the assumption the Universe was created. Just because it is here does not imply a physical act of creation. Readers might want to check out Lawrence Krauss’ book A Universe From Nothing, which I reviewed previously.

Unfortunately for Comfort, after he plays out the creation-creator argument, he veers sharply into a minefield. After arguing if you want something built you need to have faith in the builder, from the video:

The same applies with God. If I want God to do something for me, then I need to have faith in him.

Deep disappointment. Comfort has thrown away the promise to avoid introducing faith.

If you realize you need God’s forgiveness, and you seek his forgiveness through the Gospel, God, himself, will reveal himself…

The pro arguments concluded, Sapient addressed Comfort’s argument from design. If you want to see the creator of this church (Calvary Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan), then you can go see the builder. You can go to the city building records and see the documentation. When you want to see the creator of the Universe, who’re you gonna call? Besides, “If all creations need a creator, then who created God?”

O’Conner took the podium and reminded that we are all atheists, including Cameron and Comfort. Neither does Sapient nor O’Conner, nor Cameron, nor Comfort believe in Zeus, Apollo, Thor, and a host of other gods. Until the creationists can show us the Universe factory, then creationism exists only in the imagination and is not science. She further pointed out that postulation of evidence for a creator has no bearing on the existence of the God of Abraham and the divinity of Jesus. Any imaginary god could have created the Universe, if indeed it was created.

And that about concludes the meat of the debate. View the debate on YouTube, and look around at the associated videos. There is a shorthand version of the debate, and there are multiple videos of Cameron and Comfort. It’s good instruction for skeptics, besides being entertaining. Bring some popcorn.

See the video on YouTube.

Response from a Creationist

This is being reposted from Skeptical Analysis.

I post on a number of topics, and sometimes I obtain feedback in the form of comments posted by readers. Some of the responses are helpful—they fill in where I failed to provide adequate coverage, and sometimes a comment will set me straight on an error I have made.

Many of the comments I receive are from people who reject completely the point I am attempting to make, and on rare occasions these comments are thought out and well put. It’s the “rare” aspect that worries me. Too often the person so terribly offended is:

  • Completely fact-deprived and indicates no knowledge of the topic under discussion.
  • Knowledgeable, but nonetheless skilled in making his point.
  • Comes off as completely unhinged.

It is this last case I want to discuss. The example for today relates to a post from last July. The original post carries the title 44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults. My post does not provide 44 reasons evolution is a fairy tale. The title is from an item posted by Michael Snyder on a site called D.C. Clothesline and subtitled “Airing Out America’s Dirty Laundry.” How this site came to be a vehicle for a creationism-oriented rant is a guess for somebody else. I felt it worth a response.

Snyder did list 44 reasons, and I (read the original post) took each of the 44 and penned a short response. Many of my responses reduced to stating that Snyder had not provided any evidence to support his point. He had quoted somebody else, and following  which he went on to his next point. My response to such attempts was to point out this fact and to note that repeating what somebody said in the past does not count for evidence in science. An example is Snyder’s point number 3. My reply is the bold text following Snyder’s point:

#3 Even some of the most famous evolutionists in the world acknowledge the complete absence of transitional fossils in the fossil record. For example, Dr. Colin Patterson, former senior paleontologist of the British Museum of Natural History and author of “Evolution” once wrote the following

“I fully agree with your comments about the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them …. I will lay it on the line – there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.”

Again, it’s interesting to note that Colin Patterson said this, but again speech is not scientific evidence.

Anyhow, that has been out there for several  months, receiving one helpful comment almost immediately, and finally another one today. Here it is, exactly as posted:

idiot..i have one thing ti say…al the hearsay and lack of evidence you attack the writers of the article you were going after, you did as well. i can quote several times you didn’t explain..give examples…evidence…but guess what..just spoken or “written” words in your case. you did nothing and achieved nothing for most of this long article. also..you use circle reasoning thru-out, of which im sure you will use again to rebuttal this. asking some one to use evolution based world view foundation to disprove evolution or else anything said is wrong by inherent basis is like me requiring you to use creation based world view ” as the science is the same, just different world views direction how evidence is interpreted or rationalized”, to completely disprove creation. neither theory can be proven or disproved via the scientific method of observable and repeatable”,and neither are fact. where we get pissed of is your blind faith and enforcement of your theory as fact…when only reason you do so is cause the only other option besides everything made it self is some one else made everything.

In the past I have refuted people’s arguments and have been accused, in turn, of using condescending language. Here is an excerpt from a previous post. I had previously obtained a copy of Ben Shapiro’s small book How to Debate Leftist and to Destroy Them. Shapiro considers the science behind anthropogenic global warming (AGW) to be a leftist (his term) agenda, and he frets that leftists attack by calling their opponents stupid, mean, corrupt, and maybe all of the preceding. Here’s how the discussion unfolded earlier this year:

Shapiro’s response to fiery criticisms of his stance on AGW and also his stance on a number of other issues is to note the quality of his attackers. Continuing the section quoted from the book above:

This is a more useful question, and it also avoids the left’s preferred line of argument on global warming, which is a variation on their preferred line on gun control: “Global warming is man-made. Don’t agree? That’s because you’re stupid and hateful.” As a general matter, the left’s favorite three lines of attack are (1) you’re stupid; (2) you’re mean; (3) you’re corrupt. Sarah Palin is supposedly stupid; Mitt Romney is supposedly mean; Dick Cheney is supposedly corrupt. Take away those lines of attack and watch the discomfort set in.

[Page 24]

Yes, it really is bad form to start calling names and making wild accusations in response to a philosophical affront. In a debate, in a dispute over a point of fact, the person who throws an insult is revealing he has no facts. However…

Shapiro says, “As a general matter, the left’s favorite three lines of attack are (1) you’re stupid; (2) you’re mean; (3) you’re corrupt.” The last two are way out of line, but number 1 is a valid argument. If you are arguing with a person who says the Earth is flat, then, “You’re stupid” might be an appropriate response. I run into into this at times:

Daniel G. Kuttner You have no idea of my qualifications. You throw your ample supply of tomatoes at me, rather than my assertions, which are backed BY science (e.g. that engineering reference link). Thus, you were replying ad hominem, literally.
I could be a bum on the street and still report correct – or incorrect – science. My lack of a white lab coat has no import.
If you are so full of science, where is your scientific refutation of my numbers? All I see from you is condescension and sarcasm.
Saying something is “clearly wrong” is not refutation, it’s disagreement; an opinion. You are, of course free to have those.

I have highlighted the operative text. Because Dan’s information was ridiculously false, and I pointed this out, I was being condescending and sarcastic. Bad form? When is being honest and forthright being condescending and sarcastic?

It’s that latter part that is critical. I found Dan taking the same stance Shapiro does. In point, Dan makes a completely ludicrous statement, one that galls the intellect. Then when somebody responds by pointing out the obvious, Dan comes back by chiding the other party for being condescending. And other terms. That’s what we are about to have here.

Snyder, in responding to my argument, appears to  have gone completely off the rails, beginning with a typographical monstrosity before settling down to a face-deficient rant. It’s usually at this point that I begin to become condescending.

I am not going to call Snyder a creationist nut case, partly because the phrase contains an obvious redundancy. My object is to approve his comment as posted and then allow it to hang out there as evidence of whatever anybody wants to conclude about Snyder.

After approving Snyder’s comment I sent him an email asking him if he would care to elaborate, hopefully to improve, on his comment. If ever I hear back from Snyder I will revisit the matter in another post.

There may be more to come. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on my soul.

The National Center For Science Education

The NCSE is the premier organization in this country promoting legitimate science in public schools and in the public forum. They are a 501 (c) (3) organization, deserving of your contributions. I give money to the NCSE. You should, too.

Following is a recent notice from the NCSE:

1904 Franklin Street, Suite 600 Oakland, CA 94612-2922

510.601.7203 • www.ncse.com

With the unprecedented 2016 election finally behind us, we can all turn our attention back to issues that haven’t been in the spotlight lately. Like science education. As you’ll read below, there’s plenty to be concerned about. But NCSE has not taken its eye off the ball, and our new programs are really starting to pay off. I hope that you’ll consider joining our effort to help teachers cover evolution and climate change confidently and completely.

When you consider the state of science education today, it’s easy to be disappointed, disturbed, and dismayed. Consider the following recent incidents.

  • In Alabama, the state board of education voted to continue to mandate a disclaimer about evolution in the state’s textbooks. Such disclaimers date back to 1996. But even after Alabama adopted a new set of state science standards in 2005, that described evolution as “substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence,” the board disappointingly voted to retain the scientifically unwarranted and pedagogically irresponsible message.
  • A national survey conducted by NCSE with researchers at Pennsylvania State University, which asked 1500 science teachers in public middle and high schools about their attitudes toward and practice in teaching climate change, found disturbing gaps in their knowledge. For example, less than half of the teachers realized that more than 80% of climate scientists agree that recent global warming is caused primarily by human activities.
  • In Kentucky, a young-earth creationist ministry opened a Noah’s-ark-themed amusement park. The truly  dismaying aspect of Answers in Genesis Ark Encounter was its invitation to local public schools to flout the principle of church/state separation by bringing students there on field trips, at a special discounted rate. Judging from reports received by NCSE over the years, public school excursions to creationist attractions are dismayingly common.

Dealing, and helping people to deal, with such assaults on science education is all in a day’s work for us at NCSE.

But as you know, that’s not all that we’re doing. A suite of innovative new programs is aimed at reinforcing the confidence of teachers, recruiting scientists to help, and rallying communities to support science education locally:

  • NCSEteach (http://ncseteach.com/), NCSE’s network to support climate change and evolution educators, now includes nearly 6,000 teachers, each of whom receive regular advice and resources from NCSE aimed at improving their scientific knowledge and pedagogical confidence. And they now know that NCSE will have their backs when they encounter challenges to the teaching of evolution or climate change!
  • NCSEteach’s “Scientists in the Classroom” program is bringing eager and energetic early career research scientists into middle and high school classrooms across the country to enrich students’ climate change and evolution learning experiences. Over one hundred teacher—scientist partnerships have already been formed, to the great and continuing benefit of all involved. More are in the works.
  • NCSE’s Science Booster Club project, piloting in Iowa, has provided fun, hands-on, and accurate educational activities on evolution and climate change to over 50,000 participants at local events in the last year, and raised funds to purchase science equipment for the benefit of over 3,000 local students. In 2016, the project not only exhibited at county and state fairs but also hosted a free summer science camp to provide rural low-income students with evolution education.

Are these programs working? Judging from the heartfelt expressions of thanks from teachers who have participated in NCSEteach, from teacher/scientist partners who have participated in Scientists in the Classroom, and from thousands of Iowans involved with a Science Booster Club, yes!

But to science fans like you and me, what’s even more convincing than testimonials is data. The Science Booster Club in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, administered a twenty-four-question science literacy survey at its public events throughout the year. And voilà:

That’s significant—literally (p = 0.03) and figuratively. Working with a low budget but a high degree of enthusiasm, the science boosters in Cedar Rapids—and elsewhere in Iowa—are making a measurable difference.

I’m excited about these efforts, and I hope that you are, too. We want to extend these programs to communities across the country. To do so, we need your support. Your gift to NCSE will help us help teachers to present science properly.

You can donate on-line at ncse.com/join. A gift of only $500 will allow us to provide a new booster club with all the materials needed to provide hands-on evolution or climate change activities to 10,000 participants! Or consider a recurring gift of $10 or $20 per month; such donations help make our budget more predictable so we can start new projects with confidence. A gift of any size will go directly to improving science education.

By reinforcing the confidence of teachers, recruiting scientists to help, and rallying communities to support science education locally, NCSE is helping to ensure that science will be taught honestly, accurately, and confidently. Please help us to do so.

Sincerely yours,

Ann Reid

Executive Director, NCSE