Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thoughts on Natural Selection

One of the more irritating tactics of evolutionary apologists is their habit of hand-waving.

An example of this is when people express doubts about the ability of random mutations to produce the features we see in organisms.

"Not to worry," says the evolutionist. "Whilst mutation is random, natural selection is not. Natural selection does the hard work needed to ensure that only those mutations that lead to the favourable outcome are preserved."

Even if we leave aside the fact that educated evolutionists dispute whether mutation and natural selection are able to achieve this end (for example the book "What Darwin Got Wrong") natural selection is not deterministic. Natural selection only favors survival, but the requirements of survival varies with the environment.

To give an analogy, one person rolls a 20 sided dice (D20). This is the survival criteria. He then rolls another D20, this is the rate of environmental change. A second person then rolls another D20. They have a number of tries equal to the second roll to attempt to achieve the first. If they fail to do so then they are eliminated.

Like this analogy the requirements and environmental changes of natural selection are fairly random. Consequently it cannot offer the kind of determination that evolutionary advocates demand.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling, If

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chesterton on catchphrases

If I were Grand Inquisitor, I would try to burn out of the world not so much certain beliefs as certain phrases. I would argue with people about creeds; but I would kill them for catchwords.
Chesterton on War and Peace, 132. Illustrated London News, June 5, 1915.

Friday, April 22, 2011

C.S. Lewis on humanity

"It is a serious thing," says Lewis, "to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whome we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit -- immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment."
C. S. Lewis, From The Weight of Glory.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Best Things In Life Are Free

Mongol General: Hao! Dai ye! We won again! This is good, but what is best in life?
Mongol: The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair.
Mongol General: Wrong! Conan! What is best in life?
Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.
Mongol General: That is good! That is good.

Conan the Barbarian

Oh happier days.

Debate Review: William Lane Craig and Sam Harris

Philosopher Glenn Peoples evaluates the Bill Craig versus Sam Harris debate, and finds it to be just as bad as I feared.

Although he is critical of some of Craig's arguments, Dr Peoples had to reserve most of his criticism for Harris who, it seemed, failed to realise the moot of the debate was "Is Good from God?" not, "how many ad hominems and non sequiturs can I get through in an hour and a half?"

It is apparent that the so-called "New Atheists" have this in common. They are full of snark, but lack substance. Whilst the average internet atheist, being equally insubstantial, laps this up, most reasoning people from both sides of the debate find it simply embarrassing.

Atheists, you have the power in your own hands. If you don't want to be coloured with the same brush as these retards, don't buy their books, don't fĂȘte them when they turn up in your village, don't repeat their "arguments" and for goodness sake don't invite them to debates.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Are You Asking To Get Killed?

Delusion Damage has an essay on those who use violence as part of their regular communication, and warns against doing more than instructed when confronted by such a person.

Most people in our society don’t understand violence. We’re taught to feel like it’s a “bad” thing to even think or talk about, and what this leads to is that most of us never learn much anything about it. That’s not a good thing.

Those who are furthest removed from violence in their daily lives are the most vulnerable to it when they suddenly run into it on a dark street precisely because they don’t understand it and therefore act stupidly and end up “asking for it” and getting killed. Most churchgoing taxpayers just have no idea how violent people think. Women, especially. If there are any women you give a shit about, you will make sure they know about this stuff. They probably have no clue about any of this, and it may one day save their lives.

Read it.

Although men generally grow up better acquainted with violence, the scuffles of the playground still leave a person totally unprepared for violence on the streets.

The writer's advice is basically, give the mugger your wallet and get on with your day. Your wallet isn't worth losing your teeth, or your life.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Predestination, Free Will, or both?

One of the prevailing arguments in Christianity is whether we are predestined to be saved, or whether we choose to be saved.

In my view the answer is "yes."

Let me explain.

The Christian conception of God is one who is eternal. He has neither beginning, nor end, and may have only an intellectual appreciation of the concept of past and future, existing in the eternal "now." He is also all knowing, which I translate as knowing all true propositions.

An illustration I've used proposes that we first imagine a librarian. Now let us imagine that this librarian inhabits a library. This library exists at the end of time. This library also contains nothing but history books, and within those history books are written every decision ever made by a person from the beginning of time. Our imaginary librarian has read every book and hence knows every decision made throughout history.

Does the existence of these history books preclude those who are recorded therein from making free choices? No. The knowledge in these books was obtained passively, from recording observations. Hence the mere fact of such knowledge does not preclude free will.

If we give our librarian a time machine and send him back to the beginning of time with his library, he can live alongside the people who fill his books, even telling them ahead of time things that will happen. He has not caused those things to happen, but he has foreknown or predestined them.

So it is with God. He knows every decision made, because the act of making that decision causes him to know it. Those who choose to accept his authority, he foreknew. Those who choose to rebel he foreordained. The conflict between them arises from our applying our own temporal limitations to an entity who does not possess them.

Predestination and free will are not contrary to each other. In my view they are simply two sides of the same coin.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Culture Good and Strong

Orson Scott Card presented an argument of why the culture of the West is in decline.
The greatness of a society does not arise from their monuments or superhighways or empires or the internet. Great nations persist through time and space only when and if they develop patterns of culture that meet the basic needs of the baboon and the chimp that lives inside all human beings and then, beyond that, make people happier than competing cultures.

1. A community has to provide reproductive opportunity for the maximum number of its members. In other words, the sex drive of the individual must have a reasonable chance of being satisfied as long as it persists. Reproductive opportunity requires large numbers of people of mating age made available to each other. Governments ignore this at their peril.

(The abortion practices of China have left them with a 60:40 ratio of males to females. That's one-third of all males with no reasonable prospect of reproduction. Anybody who thinks the inner baboons will stand for that doesn't know human nature. The whole world is in danger from those men whose genetic desperation must somehow be mollified or turned outward if the Chinese government is to survive.)

2. A community has to provide reproductive success to as many of its members as possible. Reproductive success, for a long-lived species like ours, is measured by the grandparent test. You not only have children who thrive to adulthood, but you see those children mate and have children of their own.

Reproductive success requires:

1. Prosperity: plenty to eat, protection from the elements.

2. Safety: protection from physical dangers inside and outside the society.

3. Confirmation: males must have reason to believe that they have actually reproduced -- that their genes have been passed on.

(This is why the argument that abortion is solely the woman's decision is absurd, in practical, society-wide terms: The need to reproduce, and know that one has reproduced, is exactly as strong in males as in females, and a society will not last long that leaves men reproductively helpless.)

In summary, then, Reproductive Success requires a strong economy, public safety, and paternal certainty.

Let's agree that any culture that does these things well (i.e., to the satisfaction of its members) is a Good Culture.

It's in the best reproductive interest of the members of a Good Culture that the culture survive and continue to provide its benefits, generation after generation. So a Good Culture also has to be a Strong Culture -- one that can endure over time.

A Strong Culture must be able to:

1. Defend itself against outside enemies.

2. Propagate itself across generations: The children must be educated in the values of the culture that made it Good and Strong and become believers and participants, so it can continue to be both.

3. Command such strong allegiance from its members that they are willing to sacrifice some of their individual desires or even of their compelling interests in order to promote the survival of the culture as a whole.

4. Know itself -- a Strong Culture must have a community of people that identify themselves as its true believers in and defenders.

There is no perfect society, but America came closer than any other known to history. Yet in the 1960s, we began to dismantle it, piece by piece. And today, we have taken a remarkably Good, Strong culture and so deeply damaged it that its ability to survive or to be worth upholding is in serious doubt.

That a community called "The United States of America" will persist for some time is likely, though not guaranteed. But the Goodness of the culture has already been so damaged that it can barely be said to exist. And the Strength of the Culture is eating itself up from within.
The characteristics of a Good and Strong Culture?
A Strong Culture must have powerful stories explaining why it is a Good Culture -- or it will die. Even the best culture can destroy itself if those who hate the culture are successful in getting its members to believe stories that discourage them from having enough allegiance to make sacrifices for it, like:

1. Paying taxes and other costs in property or service.

2. Obeying laws even when they don't fit in with your desires of the moment.

3. Letting the culture educate your children in its values.

4. Sending your children off to fight in wars to defend the culture from its rivals, or going yourself to fight and risk death and injury.

5. Tolerating people and events that the culture insists its members have to tolerate -- including such obnoxious groups as the rich and powerful, the poor and untidy, the foreign and odd, and all others who deviate from the norm in ways that the culture has determined to allow.

6. Confining your sexual and reproductive actions to the boundaries set by the culture.

7. Making the effort to become educated enough in the culture to participate in its propagation.

8. Conforming with the outward values of the culture even when you disagree with them, in order to help maintain the illusion of unity.

These sacrifices are hard, every one of them. That's why it's essential, for the survival of a Good Culture, that it constantly propagate stories that support the willingness to sacrifice. (Propagate shares its root with propaganda -- propaganda is only evil when it promotes an evil culture; it is essential to promoting a good culture as well.)

That's why there is no such thing as a thriving culture that does not have the story "Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori": "Sweet and proper it is to die for your country." A culture that no one is willing to die for will soon cease to exist, having been supplanted by a culture that does have members willing to die for it.
What has changed to destroy the Culture Good and Strong?
In the 1960s, we started listening to stories that struck at the very heart of our Good, Strong Culture. These destructive stories fall into several groups:

1. The old morality is stupid. You can't stop kids from having sex. Sexual fidelity is old-fashioned and selfish. It will liberate women to let men have sex with them without demanding any kind of commitment from them. Fetuses are not persons and you can kill them without conscience. Men have no right to have opinions about abortion. A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Marriage should last only as long as you're enjoying it and it's nobody's fault if it ends. Everybody lies about sex.

2. Amerika isn't really a good culture. We mistreat other countries. We mistreat the poor. When we're in conflict with other countries it's our fault. Of course they hate us -- we deserve their hatred. Their cultures are just as good as our culture -- in fact, they're better. Anybody who wants to be a soldier to fight for Amerika is a crypto-fascist, a violent dangerous person. Good people don't want to be soldiers because soldiers are just killers with permission.

3. God is dead. People who believe in God are ignorant or stupid or, at the very best, deceived. Conservative Jews and Christians who try to promote their values are forcing their religion on other people. Political decisions should all be made without regard to the desires and opinions of religious people.

4. People who don't have the same political beliefs as me are evil or stupid. They should be fired from their jobs. The law should be whatever I want it to be, and laws I don't like should be struck down in any way possible. Speakers, writers, and demonstrators on their side are a public danger and must be stopped, but speakers, writers, and demonstrators on my side are exercising their sacred rights. (Please note -- it's easy to see how this paragraph describes your opponents, but you're not getting the point if you don't also look at the same attitudes when they show up within your own ideological camp.)

5. My side should have complete control of the education of everybody else's children. School is only a meal ticket; all education is vocational training.

6. If you don't give unlimited overtime to the company that hired you, then you're not serious about your career. If you put your family first, you're not a team player. The only law in business is do what works, as long as you can get away with it. The answer to all doubts is: It's business.

7. Forget about the time when the "American dream" was to be independent and self-reliant. Now it's to have all the same stuff other people have and to be guaranteed that you'll have the same rewards as people who are luckier or harder working or smarter than you.

Do these stories sound familiar? They should -- and because so many people believe them, we have the horrible social chaos that surrounds us. Millions of fatherless children, unwed mothers, broken homes, delayed marriages -- in other words: Visible widespread reproductive failure. The inner chimp and the inner baboon are getting frightened and angry, even if they don't understand why.

If you really believe that all the old American stories were evil and worthless (even though they led to America's world dominance, economically, militarily, and culturally), then of course you should try to replace that culture with a better one. But it's a good idea, before striking down the old stories, to be sure you have new stories that will create a culture at least as Good and at least as Strong as the one you're tearing down.
Orson is a writer of science fiction, and he can see how a unifying story holds together a Culture Good and Strong. To remain Good and Strong the Culture needs to either recover its story, or replace it with one that can provide an equally strong culture. No such new story has been presented, so the only real choice is to recover the old stories.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Whose Problem of Evil?

From a philosophical perspective there are two "arguments from the problem of evil."

The first is the "logical problem of evil."

It can be expressed in the form, "if there is an all powerful good being who hates evil, then evil should not exist." Since it is obvious that evil does exist, the arguer concludes that an all powerful, good being does not.

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has pointed out that the propositions are too absolute. A more nuanced argument would say that, "if there is an all powerful good being who hates evil, then lacking good reason, evil should not exist." The conclusion then may be stated, either there is no all powerful good being, or that such a being has reason to allow evil to exist.

Do we know why evil is allowed to exist? Some people have theorised and hypothesised. They may be correct or not. Is it possible that an all knowing being would have reasons that we wouldn't know? I'd say that was highly likely.

Although this seems like a simple argument, in philosophical circles it was considered dynamite. Even atheist philosophers have conceded that Plantinga robbed the logical problem of evil of any force.

The second is the "emotional problem of evil."

This is our gut reaction to events like the Japanese tsunami. "Why God, why?" It has force because we are human beings and we empathise with other human beings, however it has a flaw that destroys it as an argument.

The atheistic world is one of brute facts. We are not headed for a destination. There is no "ought" to the world, no way that it should be. There just is. It is what it is, to borrow a phrase.

When we describe something as evil we are making a value judgement. We are saying that there is a gap between what is, and what ought to be. The Christian can say, "yes, there is something wrong with the world. Things are not as they should be." What can the atheist say? Remember, there is no "ought" in atheism. "I don't like tsunamis?" I don't like mashed potato. Preferences only describe our reaction to something, they say nothing about whether it is right or wrong.

The atheist is hoisted on his own petard. The very fact of saying that "things ought not to be this way" is an argument against his atheism. What is supposed to be a problem for the theist is turned into a problem for the atheist. It also demonstrates how incoherent atheism is when measured against actual human experience.

Fortunately for atheism rationality isn't a prerequisite.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Link to Vox Day's The Irrational Atheist

Noticing that Vox Day has let the site housing his book The Irrational Atheist lapse, I uploaded my copy to 4shared where it can be accessed here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Nerd Test says I'm a High Nerd.  Click here to take the Nerd Test, get nerdy images and jokes, and write on the nerd forum!

I am a High Nerd.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Thoughts on the history of science

James Hannam, author of God's Philosophers has responded to the claims of certain atheists that Christianity was not responsible for the rise of science in the West. The point James has always made is that while Christianity was not solely responsible, it was a contributing factor. A necessary factor, but not the only one.

James is critical of the rise of "Holy Science" views popularised by writers like Dinesh D'Souza and Rodney Stark, which is the position that science could only rise in a Christian world.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the ‘conflict hypothesis’ that Christianity had held back and opposed scientific endeavour, was widely accepted in academia and by the public at large. The first serious assault on this idea was mounted by the French physicist and historian, Pierre Duhem. Duhem suggested that the flowering of science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was a direct consequence of developments in medieval Europe. He also showed that the Church had not opposed science, but steered and encouraged it. For a long time, Duhem’s work was ignored and derided. Even in the 1970s, historians felt the need to distance themselves from him. No longer. Duhem is now recognised as a titanic figure in the history of science and the founder of the entire subject of medieval science. Of course, he made plenty of mistakes, but as the pioneer this was hardly surprising. Alfred North Whitehead said that western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. 
 In a second post James notes in effecting his criticism.
Richard’s rebuttal fails if Christianity was not a sufficient cause for science (even if it was a necessary one). Most people would accept that the collapse of the Western Roman Empire was a disaster for learning and culture. It took centuries for population and civilisation to return to the levels they had enjoyed in 300AD. This was not the fault of Christianity, but a direct result of barbarian invasions that continued to the Viking raids in the ninth century. Indeed, historians recognise the important role that Christianity played in preserving literacy and culture, as well as tempering some of the behaviour of the barbarian princes.

Nonetheless, the example of the Byzantine Empire prevents the chaos of the western early middle ages from saving the Holy Science thesis. Byzantium was Christian, lasted a thousand years and preserved much of the civil society of the ancient world. So if the Holy Science thesis is true, modern science would have arisen in Constantinople. It didn’t. That said, the precise status of science under the Byzantines remains something of a mystery. Hints of technological prowess that matched the Antikythera Mechanism and Hero of Alexandria’s finest contrivances can be detected in the sources. Still, modern science did not arise and that is all Richard needs to note to rebut the Holy Science thesis.
That said, as a commentator noted. If Christianity does allow science to arise, it does not follow that Christianity must allow science to arise. There are other contributing factors, and I think James agrees with this.
Whilst James is critical, perhaps even disdainful, of the Holy Science position, he is also critical of people who try to impute to the ancient Greeks more than can honestly be credited to them.
The scholar who comes closest to supporting Richard’s position is probably Lucio Russo in The Forgotten Revolution (Springer, 2003). Russo argues from a deep knowledge of the ancient sources that Greek science reached its peak in about 300BC. He suggests that this was the forgotten scientific revolution when the inverse square law of gravitation was discovered and that Aristarchus of Samos’s heliocentricism was more widespread than currently appreciated. For Russo, the early Roman Empire, the era of Ptolemy and Hero, was one of decadence and stagnation in Greek science. 
 James looks at those proposed exemplars of Greek progress and is unimpressed.
Richard notes that “Strato of Lampsacus extended… experimental method to machines and physics, by which time many of Aristotle’s physical theories had been altered or abandoned.” Strato was the second head of Aristotle’s Lyceum after the master himself. Little of his work survives, but in antiquity he had such a reputation for science that he was known as The Naturalist. His major achievement that we know of today was to show that air can be compressed from which he correctly deduced that it is made up of tiny particles floating in a vacuum. He also showed that a true vacuum can be created artificially. That’s impressive. But here is the rub. The passage of his work that states this is widely believed to have been incorporated into the introduction to Hero of Alexandria’s Pneumatics written in the first century AD, or three hundred years later. Richard says that “Hero had experimentally refuted Aristotle’s claim that a vacuum was impossible.” But if Hero has done these experiments himself, as Richard claims, why is he using a source that is three centuries old to prove it? OK, Strato was right. But this means that the theory Hero so successfully harnessed for his automata had been around for hundreds of years and had not been enhanced at all in the meantime.
 James Hannam has a PhD in the history of science. If he is convinced that Christianity was important to the rise of science, although not to the extent popular writers claim, and unconvinced that the ancient Greeks were on the cusp of a scientific breakthrough that was stifled by the Christians, then that's probably the way to lay your bets.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Case Against The Case Against The Case For Christ

Dr Robert Price has written a book against Lee Strobel's The Case For Christ, entitled (imaginatively enough) The Case Against The Case For Christ. As Strobel's self-proclaimed bulldog, apologist JP Holding responds to the arguments put forward by Dr Price.

Remember that Strobel's book is over 12 years old now, so it doesn't represent cutting edge apologetics any more (if that was ever its goal) however it is still significantly better than anything by Josh McDowell so take it as you will.

Unlike what Mike Licona has done with The Resurrection of Jesus, Dr Price has not abided by the normal conventions of historical study, a point Holding makes in his first paragraph.

It will be no surprise that Price doesn’t bother with an epistemology of authorship that resembles anything used by scholars on other ancient documents; instead, invoking his privilege as an alleged “critical historian” Price simply creates rules for determining authorship out of thin air, that is, when he bothers to use any rules at all.

If people do wish to use Dr Price as a source then they should probably be pointed in the direction of Holding's response.