Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This sounds familiar

In the past, Pope John Paul II announced that there was no conflict between evolution and faith, noting that evolution is "more than just a theory."

Now we have Benedict XVI announcing that the war between evolution and creationism "is an absurdity because on one hand there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such."

The article also points out that Benedict reminded followers that evolution doesn't explain the question of "where does everything come from?"


It's not meant to. Evolution deals only with how species arose once life was already started. It's a shame Creationists frequently forget this as they wade through their fields of strawmen. Evolution is about getting from point X to Y. It doesn't concern itself with how to get from A to B. But I suppose for people who are so used to making the arrogant assumption that their magic book tells them how to get from A to Z and that there's actually more beyond Z, that they're blind to how small steps actually work.

Also encouraging is that the pope is also encouraging stewardship of the planet. That's a nice change from what we get from many Christians who feel it's perfectly fine to rape the planet since Jesus should be coming any day now.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Outside In

I stumbled across a new IMAX film in development today that I though was rather interesting. It's called Outside In as is a film about Saturn. What about Saturn, I don't know, but what I've found really impressive is that the entire project is being done using only still photographs to create flyby effects. All together, it's pretty cool.

I'm a bit leery at the attempt to "bridge science and spirituality" though. It sounds like it could pseudoscientific gibberish. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I'm not impressed

It seems a drug known as Oxytocin helps reduce shyness and helps people with social anxieties better fit into social situations. It's now in a nasal spray form.

Any college student can tell you this is nothing special. There's a much better solution that has the same effect and is able to be ingested in liquid form. It works wonderfully to help people shed their shyness and fit into social situations. Alcohol is special like that.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Councilwoman attempts exorcism on daughter

In the past, I've mentioned how exorcisms are dangerous. Yet in neither of those cases was the person encouraging the act a member of the government.

The parents claim that they did not attempt to do any such thing, but their account does not apparently explain the bruises which the teen suffered, and their actions are entirely in line with what we'd expect from someone who called the Police Department's victims' advocate the, "Devil's advocate."

It sounds to me like these people are grade A crazy. I seriously hope that this woman is not reelected in the future and is preferably removed from office immediately. If such a person cannot make intelligent decisions for her own family and claims that women should not be informed about their rights as adult citizens, how can we expect such a person to make informed decisions for the greater community and uphold our rights?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Universe on the History Channel

I'm not sure why I didn't mention this series when it first started, but the Histoy Channel (one of about 3 I'll even stop on when really bored) is having a series on the Universe.

I don't have cable here at home so I can't speak to the quality of this particular program, but judging from the other programs the History Chanel has done that I have seen, I expect it's pretty good quality.

So if you happen to have some time free and an episode is on, why not take a watch?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Not so hypothetical

Here's a not so hypothetical situation:

You're a doctor.

A woman comes to you with problems of pain, bleeding, and a feeling like "something moving inside her".

What do you do?

A) Consult medical knowledge and literature for illnesses with similar symptoms and perscribe proper treatment.
B) Claim it's demons and tell the woman to have an exorcism performed.

I'm quite partial to A, but it seems a doctor in the UK thought choice B would be a better option.

Fortunately, this didn't seem to be such a serious case of illness that the religious meddling with treatment resulted in death as has happened in the past.

However, what is rather amazing is that the doctor thinks that such things have in no way impared her ability to treat patients. Fortunately the medical board isn't looking to agree.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Book Review - Finding Darwin's God

I picked up Miller’s book, Finding Darwin’s God, when he came as the first speaker of the Difficult Dialogue series KU hosted last fall. However, it’s only now, nearly a full year later, that I’ve had the opportunity to pick it up and read it. Overall, I’ll say that it was a good read on several levels.

It’s conversational: Miller stays away from the majority of technical jargon and only dips into it in a few places. Instead, his tone is light, drawing from personal experiences he shares with the reader, such as describing his memorable summer in which he read classic literature (including Origin of Species) as an attempt to impress a young lady who found “reading serious books as a mark of ‘depth.’ (p 4)”

It’s well documented: Each chapter is littered with citations and notes for further information.

It’s (mostly) concise: Miller doesn’t spend forever, beating Creationist arguments into the ground, as he could be easily tempted to do.

The first chapter is primarily an introduction; setting the stage and pointing out that Darwin’s work is considered “dangerous.” The second introduces readers to the basics of evolution as well as some of the more compelling evidences for it, such as the clearly mapped out divergence of species of Rhizosolenia as well as humans.

The next three chapters are the ones that take the various forms of Creationism head on by showing how scientifically devoid they are. But what I find even more important is how Miller goes beyond this, and shows that each one is theologically flawed because they reduce the power of God. The three chapters each look at different views of what various forms of Creationism would say about the creator.

Young-Earth Creationism reduces God to the status of a “charlatan” by claiming that He intentionally misleads us with the appearance of old age, common descent, and evolution.

For the Old-Earth crowd (including ID proponents), it puts God’s interactions far in the past and relegates Him to becoming what he refers to as the “magician” in which God must magically *poof* new species into existence on occasion. But this would suggest that God didn’t get things right the first time (since most species went extinct). As Miller put it “Is the designer, despite all his powers, a slow learner? He must be clever enough to design an African elephant, but apparently not so clever that he can do it the first time. (p 127)”

Lastly, the Irreducibly Complex cells of Behe turn God into a “mechanic” in which He “rolled up his sleeves, packed all of his sweat, craftsmanship, and biochemical skill into a single, ancient cell, and let things roll. (p 162)” In other words, God’s not around anymore.

So that takes us up through Chapter 5. Until this point, I found myself nodding in complete agreement with everything Miller had written.

Chapter 6 is where I started having problems.

This chapter, entitled the “Gods of Disbelief” echoes an argument of Miller’s that I’ve taken exception to before. Namely, Miller claims that the reason we have such a strong anti-evolution movement is because people like Dawkins, Dennet, William Provine, Gould, and others have hijacked the scientific notion of evolution and have fashioned it as a philosophical weapon against theists. In shock, theists react by trying to disarm their opponent of the weapon of evolution by discrediting it.

While I agree that many people that ascribe to Creationism do so because they fear the perceived atheistic and materialistic implications of Darwin’s theory, I think it’s wholly incorrect for Miller to say that they perceive these implications because Dawkins et al. draw the implications for them. In my experience, theists come up with these implications all by themselves!

My reading of Finding Darwin’s God took place on a trip down to Alabama to visit my grandmother. She’s a very kind woman at a ripe age of 77 who incessantly asked me if I needed anything to eat or drink even though I assured her that if I needed anything, I knew right where the refrigerator was located.

She’s also an extremely devout Christian who reads the Bible nightly and goes to Church several times a week.

So naturally me reading a book with the title Finding Darwin’s God prompted her to ask questions as well as to share her own views on the matter of evolution. For the most part, she accepts it: She accepts the age of the Earth and universe. She accepts that compounded mutations can account for the life we see on Earth.

Except for humans.

“I cannot believe that we came from monkeys,” she told me. Her reason? The notion that we came from something else begs the question of what we will become in the future. But the Bible doesn’t tell us the future isn’t any different. To her, life will continue on, with humans as they are now until the prophecies of Revelation.

This entire rejection comes with my grandmother having never even heard the name Dawkins or any of the other players in the Creationism controversy. And she isn’t alone. Many rejections hinge on arguments that I’ve yet to see an atheist use, such as claiming that if evolution is true, then how does even a metaphorical Adam and Eve work? If they don’t, then where did the sin come from that required Jesus to absolve?

Atheists rightly know, as does Miller, that attacking such soft spots will produce a reaction. In fact, it would cause many theists to make a hard choice very quickly and it’s not likely that many would come over to the side of evolution when forced that quickly. Instead, it would likely push them even further into the arms of Creationists. Thus, no intelligent atheist would want to make that argument.

So as I’ve pointed out before, while I can’t deny for an instant that atheists do use evolution against theists and that it doesn’t help the issue, even if they didn’t, theists would come up with their own reasons to reject evolution. No atheists required.

Thus, Chapter 6, while I agree with in part, seemed to be horribly overstated to me. But Chapter 7 got even worse. The idea of this chapter was to find a feasible way to avoid an entirely deterministic universe because if the universe were deterministic, it would rule out the need for a creator, as well as ruling out free will.

Miller’s solution? Quantum physics gives us the Uncertainty Principle, which says that we can’t know something’s position and momentum with infinite precision. If we get more accurate on one, we loose accuracy on the other. Although this indeterminacy only works on the level of sub atomic particles, that’s precisely what makes up our DNA. Even a tiny change in the property of a single electron can have macroscopic consequences. Thus, we can never fully know our universe and God still has some wiggle room.

My question is, “so what?” How many atheists are claiming (and how many theists are worrying) that we could ever come to understand the universe with infinite precision? And even if they were, why the need to discuss quantum mechanics? If you really wanted to show that we can’t ever get that infinite precision, all you have to do is point to Pi. It’s an infinite, non-repeating, irrational number that pops up all over the place. If we don’t know it to infinite precision, then anything it crops up in can’t be known to infinite precision either.

Either way, why does Miller feel the need to carve out a niche for God when he lambastes Creationists for doing the same thing with gaps? If God is all-powerful then what do the rules of the universe mean to him? He made them. He can break them.

So Chapter 7 ends up being a rather sketchy attempt to give legitimacy to a notion that I don’t see needed to be established in the first place.

Chapter 8 has its good points. In this chapter, Miller makes the argument that if religion is to survive as science fills in the gaps in our knowledge, it must stop living in the gaps. As Miller put it earlier, “science comes with a track record. (p 194)” And in terms of applicable, real world solutions to our material universe, so does Creationism.

Science, Miller points out, works wonderfully well for explaining the material universe in which we live. But, if religion keeps placing God in the gaps, then God will disappear as those gaps are filled as history has shown time and time again, that science will do.

Instead, religion must be rethought to fit with what science tells us about the universe. That way, as science grows, religion grows with it.

I agree with Miller on this point; If religion is to survive, that’s about the only option it has left. However, unlike Miller, I cannot find this theologically satisfying. It says to me that the religion is so nebulous, that no matter what science discovers, or doesn’t discover, it’s still ok with religion.

But that’s just my philosophical view. If it works for Miller and other theists, then best of luck to them.

Chapter 9 is pretty much a summary and tying up of loose ends. It doesn’t present much new material; No new science. No new theological revelations.

The best part of the chapter, which I think sums up Miller’s view of God and the situation quite nicely comes from a remembrance of a grad school class Miller was attending in which another student asked the instructor if it were proper for her to be teaching evolution and studying its mechanisms given the religious affiliation of the school.
She smiled. Obviously, it was not the first time she had faced the question. “If you deny evolution, then the sort of God you have in mind is a bit like the pool player who can sink fifteen balls in a row, but only by taking fifteen separate shots. My God plays the game a little differently. He walks up to the table, takes just one shot, and sinks all the balls. I ask you which pool player, which God, is more worthy of praise and worship?”
(p 284)
This is about the only theological point in which I find myself in strong agreement with Miller. If you truly wish to believe in a magnificent, intelligent creator, the ones that creationists provide, the charlatan, the magician, and the mechanic discussed in Chapters 3-6, don’t cut it. The greatest of all Gods would be the one which was able to set up the entire system in one go.

So what was my overall impression of this book? It was good. However, by the time I finished, I still felt unsatisfied. I’m familiar with the science and that Evolution has passed “from controversy into common sense (p 277)” in the scientific community. No quibbles there. What I came to this book looking for, is a comprehensive, cohesive, and convincing new take on theology.

Instead, I got a few minor theological points with which I agreed (religion must stop hiding in the gaps if it’s to survive and that the greater God is the one that can set it all up at once) and a few more (such as God working through quantum uncertainties) that seemed so nebulous and unsatisfying that I, let alone any fence-sitting Creationist, would not even adopt them as talking points.

So overall, it’s all well and good that Miller has made peace with Darwin’s God. However, until he can answer such theological objections as the one my grandmother poses, I don’t find that his book will be much help for anyone else.

Friday, July 06, 2007

I'm alive

I've just been in Arkansas for a few days visiting my grandmother. I didn't have a whole lot to do there (no TV, no computer, etc...) so I finally worked through Miller's Finding Darwin's God. I'll post a review as soon as I get settled back in here at home.