Sunday, August 31, 2008

Comment I made on Ray's blog.


     We have seen faces form. We don't see the hand of any deity (behind the scenes, maybe?) and they do not form "from nothing." Even if a deity actually constructs faces, he does so from materials that are available. So, clearly, your confidence in your deity is so low that you have to give him a "head start."

     It doesn't violate any of his stated rules. But let's face it. His censorship is dishonest. Since I called him on an obvious cheat, he will have reason to delete it. Still, it's interesting to see just how much confidence he has in his god.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Conspiracy theory or "conspiracy theory"?

     Several people have branded my belief that large-scale evolution is a sacred belief a "conspiracy theory." I would like to point out that many of these same people have visited Ray's blog where people are claiming that the educational system is trying to brainwash student into atheism and evolution. How often has this been claimed to be a conspiracy theory? By my count, never. Simply put, it is a conspiracy theory and calling it such is not an argument against it. Saying "that's a conspiracy theory" would probably elicit a response like "that's because there's a conspiracy." Calling something a conspiracy theory when it is one is pointless to an argument. Conspiracies do happen. For example, we wouldn't need laws against corporate espionage unless corporate espionage (a type of conspiracy) occurred. Some go on for years before being exposed. Likely, some are never exposed.
     On the other hand, calling something a "conspiracy theory" when it is not may serve as a useful distraction in an argument. It can put the target off his guard and draw out an emotional response. It isn't a logical argument against an opponent's position, or even a pointing out of a fallacy in an opponent's position. It is only a distraction that can prevent clear thinking so that the opponent cannot defend his position.
     No, I don't believe that anyone who charges me with "conspiracy theory" is sincere. Simply put, if you really believed that I was engaged in conspiracy theory, you would not say so (at least, not during the course of the argument.) There is nothing that could be accomplished by doing so.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

And now for something completely different

     I decided to add an image to my profile. I thought it looked nice. As you may have guessed, it is a computer-generated image. To some, it may look specificly designed; but it isn't. It starts off from a single dot in the center and goes through 200 iterations in which one of two update rules is picked randomly (not with equal probability.) Actually, I take that back. It starts with a cluster of 7 dots in the center.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Well, now the nameless one says his question was about cytochrome-c test for evolution.

     Interestingly, I can't find that question. Of course my browser is acting up at the moment and cutting blog posts with a lot of comments. So, I decided to check google and see if it had anything to say about a cytochrome-c test for evolution. First off, I am suspicious of the 10^93 number. Oh, I am sure that Hubert Yockey has computed what he believes to be a real probability. But then, I believe the creationists are sincere when they trot out their "probabilities" too.
     The big problem that I have with the claimed tests in general is that they are of a "confirm or inconclusive" form. If the data they take as confirmation were not there, it would not be disconfirmation. The same appears (to me) to apply to this test. If cytochrome-c were not found or were vastly different between chimpanzees and us, I don't see how that would constitute negative data. I believe large-scale evolution is plausible (though I don't think testable) and I don't see how that would have changed if that outcome had been different.
     Something is a little more problematic for this particular test. Talkorigins reports that the cytochrome-c sequences in chimpanzees and humans are identical. Now, for the given probability to be meaningful, there can't be any selective pressures on those sequences. If there are selective pressures, then small-scale evolution (which is really a direct observation) will tend to lock them in and so the chances would not be so long. But if there aren't any such selective pressures, the sequences should have become different through mutation. We are talking millions of years and an imperfect replication process.
     This test looks like an anomoly even if large-scale evolution is true. I don't see it being taken seriously unless people are blind to problems in the testing. Under the large-scale evolution hypothesis, human-chimpanzee similarities in cytochrome-c should indeed be greater than human-yeast similarities. But an identical form should mean either that there was not a branching off point millions of years ago, or that a selective pressure favors that particular form (in which case, the stated probability is not valid.)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Were scientists biased in favor of large-scale evolution 150 years ago?

     I was asked roughly this question by someone I don't think was interested in an answer so much as trying to get ammunition for his claim of "conspiracy theory." He shall be nameless here. The fact is that I am not sure. I do know this. Scientists had reached a point (and rightly so) where "godidit" was unsatisfying as an explanation. But they are human and humans don't like to say "I don't know." So was opportunity for such a bias, particularly since no acceptable alternatives existed. Even I refuse to accept "godidit" as an answer. If I am amazed at the intricate design work on a building, I am interested in knowing how it was accomplished. A source of "Acme Construction" does not answer my questions.
     Closer to the heart of the idea, I don't see that we can conduct an actual test. The only "thought experiments" I can come up with involve taking direct observations over millions or billions of years. The direct observations would be necessary so that a missing animal would really be negative data. The only approximation we have are fossil digs and missings fossils are excused by the rarity of fossilization.
     I have seen much of the positive data and the idea is certainly plausible. But I am a stickler. A scientific theory must be subject to falsification attempts. In any of the "tests," absence of positive data, would not be considered negative data. Consider, the recent discovery of the centromere/telomere patterning on human chromosome 2 is supportive and serves as a plausible explanation why we have one fewer chromosome pair than other primates. But, suppose there were no such find on any chromosome pair; would that be negative data? Of course not. If it would, then the many variations in chromosome counts of animals would also be negative data, and, indeed, catastrophic to the hypothesis. If there were no such find, an easy explanation would be that mutations had washed out the patterns. Alternatively, one might suggest that any relevant genes had been transferred to other chromosomes and that the resulting unneeded pair had, through successive generations, not been transmitted.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Judging a prophecy.

     There are many people who claim "fulfilled prophecies" to the credit of their religions. There needs to be a way to judge a prophecy. I offer some criteria.

1> It must be possible to confirm that the prophecy was written before the event.
2> The prophecy must not be vague or cover a wide range of possible events.
3> The prophecy must not be indefinitely postponeable. There must be a point (assuming the prophecy does not come to pass) when we can declare that it has failed.
4> The prophecy must be independently verifiable. No source that has as part of its agenda showing the prophet valid is useful.
5> The prophecy must not have been fulfilled by people who knew about the prophecy and had an interest in fulfilling it.
6> The prophecy must have been understood as a prophecy before fulfillment.
7> The prophecy must not be something that would be expected anyway. (E.g. it will rain this year.)

I am convinced that Ray does not believe what he is selling.

     He recently made a post saying "we cannot lose." Now, Ray's not that stupid. I am aware that there are people that disagree with me on this point. If Ray believed there might be a god (and even I acknowledge the possibility) then he would recognize that if there is a god and he is opposed to christianity, he (Ray) loses. An actual christian might have faith that he will not lose. But he would have to see how he can.
     It gets more interesting. If christianity is true (which I don't believe) Ray still loses. Think about it. Who are the people who say "look at the works we performed in your name"? They can't be atheists, skeptics, or adherents of other religions. Such people have done no works in his name. It's not likely to be former christians. It would be people, like Ray, who openly proclaimed Jesus, but knew they had other things in mind.
     In other news, some dogs were found barking.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

If I know it's pointless, I won't do it.

     No, I will not cry out to Jesus, all the while knowing it's "too little, too late." If it matters not anyway, then I should hope that in such a situation that I would engage in the last great act of defiance and correctly call the christian god a ruthless tyrant. If he is going to send me to hell anyway, I will not give him the satisfaction of pleading for mercy. Mind -- I think the claim is hogwash anyway. But if there is an evil god such as the one described in the bible, my knee will not bend, save by an external force.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

"You just don't understand."

     Have you ever noticed that many religious believers -- when faced with something other than unquestioning belief -- will tell you that you "don't understand" what they are saying? They act as if they are making a claim as obvious as DVODVOQVESVNTQVATTVOR. They will not accept a skeptic's judgement of "not established," let alone an outright disbelief. Critical thinking is something they shun.
     Well, here's news for such people. Disagreeing with you does not imply a lack of understanding. Neither does agreeing with you mean someone does understand. If you trot this saying out as soon as someone questions you, your belief is not rational. It is not based on anything observable. It doesn't matter if you later turn out to be right. Hey, it could happen. Jesus could come down out of the clouds tomorrow. My wager, however, would be that he won't. I understand what you are saying. But I am not buying what you are selling.

Monday, August 11, 2008

In what do you put your trust?

     In what do you put your trust? What do you trust to meet your needs? Do you trust things of this world to put a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food in your belly? Or do you trust in some god? I, obviously, trust in things of this world. I can see them; and they do keep a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food in my belly. If you keep possesions, if you set aside funds for a rainy day, you are not serving Jesus. So, why pretend?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

"What if you're wrong?"

     Christians like to invoke Pascal's Wager and say that if they are right and their god exists they have won everything and that if nonthing exists beyond this world they have lost nothing. In essence they ask non-christians "what if you're wrong?" In my own case, I will at least know that I refused to serve an evil being. But they are applying a false dichotomy. It is not necessarily the case that one or the other of those two considerations is true.
     What if, after this life, we are judged by a being other than the christian god? What if the christian god is considered such a dangerous monster that all his followers are exiled -- for the well-being of the general spiritual population? What consolation do you have if you find that you lost such a bet that you thought you could not lose? I don't see how you could object that that would be unfair treatment. After all, you openly assert that you "deserve" hell.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The christian concept of hell:

     I would like to talk about the christian concept of hell. First, it should be noted that there is no single christian idea of hell. If you ask ten christians you likely get twelve different answers.
     The concept of hell is important because it is the second most preferred method to turn people into christians. (The most preferred method is, of course, to raise their children into christianity, not allowing them awareness of the outside until they are completely shackled to it.) Now, the concepts can generally be divided into two groups, a simple separation from the christian god or a setting in which the god or some demons or whatever are engaging in torture. The considerations for each of the possibilities are different. I shall address them separately.
     If hell is simply a separation from the christian god, I can find no fault with it. But in such a case, I have no cause for alarm. Did you know that I have been separated from the president of the United States and from queen Elizabeth of England for my entire life. It hardly bothers me any more.
     On the other hand, if there are active tortures, regardless of who is doing the direct torturing, any god (or any other being, for that matter) who would send people there for all time is wicked. Does he delight in suffering? It matters little when people say it was only meant for Satan and his angels. The question is still the same. Does this god delight in suffering? If he does, he is a wicked monster and not worthy of worship.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

How to be a christian leader

     This is based on my own observations of Ray Comfort.
     Misrepresent the beliefs of non-christians (preferably with something completely ridiculous -- like expecting a monkey to give birth to a cat.) Explain to your followers that the bible is trustworthy because it says so right there in the bible and they know the bible is trustworthy. Take snippets of what non-christians say to make it look like they hold a position that they do not -- some scientists are so verbose that whole paragraphs could be lifted out of context. When outsiders correctly point out the strawmen, circular reasoning, and quote mining, respectively, insist that that's what they do when presented with "credible evidence for god."
     Remember your target. You are not trying to convince outsiders. In fact, if they think critically at all, that would be impossible. You are trying to make outsiders look unreasonably stubborn to your followers.
     Use claims like "creation proves a creator." Never admit that the claim that the world is a creation is in dispute.
     When an outsider points out an obvious lie, ignore it. Do not even acknowledge he said anything. Your followers will quickly forget.
     Claim that people who committed attrocities were not True Christians™. Keep your definition of christian sufficiently vague that you can always exclude someone at convenience.
     Tell your followers that they have everything to gain and nothing to lose by believing. Never acknowledge the possibility of a judge other than the christian god. If someone professes deism, pretend that is an endorsement of christianity.
     Tell your followers that you need money for your ministry. The donation should flow. Never mention the mansion or the Rolls Royce. [Editor's note: I am speculating on the actual expenses.]

Monday, August 04, 2008

So, anyone want to try to defend hell as just?

     Some ground rules: I think that the god described in the bible is cruel, spiteful, malevolent, and unjust. Claiming that he said that hell is just will completely unpersuasive here. (I also consider the bible to be fictional, thankfully; but that is another matter.) I can picture wicked god constructing a sham "law" to brand everyone as "guilty" as an excuse to send people unjustly to a hell on his whim. If you wish to defend hell as just, you will need to provide evidence that does not fit that.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Why the threat of hell?

     I often see christians claim that their god wants voluntary love and worship. They correctly assert that forced love is not real. But then, why the threat of hell. If you worship this being because of a threat of eternal torment if you don't, it is forced worship and so, not real. In an apparent attempt to get around this difficulty, christians will point out that human societies have and enforce laws. This, of course, destroys the initial claim. In order to keep society running smoothly, I desire that people not steal. It makes little difference to me whether they refrain from theft because theft is wrong or because they want to stay out of prison. The important thing is that they refrain from theft.
     There is something intrinsicly not right about the christian concept of god. If he simply has this great desire that we fawn all over him, he should just show up -- and in a manner that is unmistakeable. That shouldn't be too hard for a supposedly omnipotent being, should it? The claim that he "showed up as Jesus" does not fit the criterion. Jesus (even assuming the stories are true) looked very much like a normal human -- i.e. not a god. Showing up in disguise so that people will think it's a fake doesn't count. On the other hand, if this god wants voluntary worship, he should remove the threat of hell. All it is is an ultimatum; and ultimata are not conducive to voluntary worship.
     There are a few possibilities I see regarding the state of affairs of christian worship. First, it could be a complete fiction. There might not be any god corresponding to the bible. Second, there could be a god that actively desires to send people to hell but has to convince some superior being that he gave people a chance. This would account for the fact that he seems to go to great lengths to make the message look false. Perhaps he wants people to reject it. Lastly, the god in question may be limited. Perhaps he simply has no power over those who do not give their lives to him. In such a case, hell is an empty threat, as he has no such power. He could be using a fear tactic to prevent people from thinking clearly and to ensare them.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

I saw another letter to the editor by an abortion-rights advocate.

     Why is it that they always seem to avoid the word "abortion" and claim that it is only about a woman "controlling her own body"? It seems highly dishonest to me. (I grant that it is possible that the paper simply doesn't publish the honest ones.) At issue is another living being. Now, perhaps they don't think this being deserves any protection and that killing this being on a whim should be considered okay. I afford no protections to roaches. When I find a roach, I make it a dead roach. But this brings me to my point. I have no need to play games like calling it "controlling my own shoe" or saying that roaches are only "potential life." There is just something in the way I see the case for abortion rights presented that seems to suggest that the advocates don't really believe it's okay. It looks like they feel a need to conceal something, even from themselves.
     I don't really want to single out abortion-rights advocates. I'm sure that abortion-rights opponents are just as capable of dishonesty. But the only case I see presented (other than my own) comes from people quoting their holy book. I have every confidence that there are non-theists who are also opposed to abortion. But somehow, they aren't heard.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Ray is lying again. In other news, some dogs were found barking.

     This time he states that the quotes he has in his banner were "in context." People have pointed the actual context of the quotes and the meaning is different from Ray's representation. Of course, his followers will never question him. That man is so dishonest, I would expect even John Hagee to shun him to avoid tarnishing his reputation.