Dog eats homework analogy

So I came across this post (which itself is a good definition of what proof vs. evidence is and what a creationist would need to present to have any point to their arguments) which links to this post and more specifically mentions the following comment from that post (if you didn’t follow that just read the following gem):

Regarding evidence vs. proof, I do think this is sufficiently (or at least repeatedly) misunderstood such that a more detailed example might serve.

Your completed homework is missing. You think to yourself that there are several things that might have happened to remove your homework from the top of your bedroom desk. One is that the dog ate it. Another is that your brother stole it to make life difficult for you. Another is that God removed it from the universe as a test of your faith.

Before any other thought is put into practice, these are hypotheses.

Of the three hypotheses, the first two (Dog and Brother) can be considered theories, because presumably you could test those theories and find evidence for them. The third may be significantly harder to find evidence for.

So you look around and see a very few tiny pieces of paper on the floor. These shreds, when inspected closely, look like the paper you used to do your homework, and the edges of the shreds bear what look like tooth marks.

Your brother would probably have just swiped the whole sheet and thrown it out, but it’s not impossible that he used serrated scissors to destroy it. So the current understanding of the homework dilemma is that your dog probably ate it, but that there is some chance your brother swiped it. The God hypothesis is still possible, but looking somewhat less likely.

Finally, you corner your brother and threaten him with a beating and he insists he didn’t do it. An inspection of the house’s garbage cans yields no homework, and the dog doesn’t eat as much for dinner as he usually does.

You now have one very solid theory that the dog ate your homework, you have a minority theory that your brother swiped it (a few honest, and hard-working grad students at smaller colleges are working on tests that would bolster the brother theory and eliminate the dog, but most mainstream universities are heavily funded for additional research into dog-eating-paper studies).

One think tank in the Pacific Northwest maintains that there’s nothing to glean from shredded bits of paper or the *lack* of paper in garbage cans, so God must have removed the paper from the Universe. Reports of the weakness of the law of conservation of paper would lead one to the definite conclusion that God is responsible.

Finally, one field researcher finds a pile of feces in the backyard with tiny pieces of half-digested pieces of paper in it. Three years of labored study yield 30% of a formula that your teacher confirms was the answer to question #4 of the particular homework assignment in question.

Scientific consensus reigns, the few remaining Brother Theorists relent and move on to pursue degrees on who peed on the carpet and the Nobel Prize for Biology is awarded to the field researcher for the publication of “Formulaic Reproduction of Holistic Homework Reconstruction in Canine Fecal Substrate.” The Theory of Dog-Eats-Homework appears as a “fact” in textbooks across the country, and is regularly referred to as such by scientists.

The Discovery Institute announces the founding of the Journal of Alternate Homework Stealing where the Dog-Eats-Homework “theory” is regularly repudiated, papers are peer-reviewed which deny that paper partially decomposes in dogs’ stomachs, and the theory of Intelligent Homework Removal is developed.

Must Christians be Creationists?

I’m going to try to dissect my understanding of modern Christianity here, so if I get something wrong please feel free to comment and correct me.

Christianity is based on the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God / God Himself, that He came down to Earth 2000 years ago, had Himself persecuted and crucified so as to forgive the Original Sin, and all sin for that matter, for all of time, for all of humanity.

So to believe that you must believe the story of the Original Sin, why else would God feel the need to crucify Himself in front of His creation? (Ignoring the fact that if He’s infinitely forgiving He could just forgive without the whole need to sacrifice Himself).

The Original Sin (in my understanding) was Adam and Eve being tricked by the snake, who was Satan, (I guess God was looking the other way so that this could happen and He could be pissed at humanity for the next 2000 years until He killed Himself for us) in the Garden of Eden, to eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge that God had forbade them to eat from (even though being blissfully ignorant they couldn’t fathom the shit they’d get in – good trick there God).  This is all Old Testament folklore.

So to sum up: to be a Christian one must believe the Original Sin story so that Jesus would have a reason to sacrifice himself.  But to believe the story of Original Sin means that you have to believe in the Biblical creation story.  The best reconciliation with science a Christian can have then is that of fundamentalist creationists, since how can you believe only a part of the creation story (that conveniently fits the rest of your belief system).

So to all Christians: are you all Young-Earth Creationists, or am I misunderstanding something here (please inform me)?

Take the Atheist Test

The full test is available here, and also shows up as a pocket-sized quiz book randomly in urban centres (I was given one by a friend who found it on a bus one morning). But don’t worry I’m going to go through the whole thing here. So let’s begin The Atheist Test (with an atheist commentary – quotes from other sources are in italics):

The theory of evolution of the Coca Cola can.

Billions of years ago, a big bang produced a large rock. As the rock cooled, sweet brown liquid formed on its surface. As time passed, aluminum formed itself into a can, a lid, and a tab. Millions of years later, red and white paint fell from the sky, and formed itself into the words “Coca Cola 12 fluid ounces.”

Of course, my theory is an insult to your intellect, because you know that if the Coca Cola can is made, there must be a maker. If it is designed, there must be a designer. The alternative, that it happened by chance or accident, is to move into an intellectual free zone.

Continue reading Take the Atheist Test

Irreducible Simplicity

The “theory” of irreducible complexity is that there exists biological features, systems, or organisms in nature that are too complex to be traced back through biological evolution. The claim is that anything that is irreducibly complex will shatter the theory of evolution. This fact is true, and was originally admitted by Charles Darwin:

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find no such case.

And fast-forwarding to the present, we still do not see any such examples in nature.

Creationists like to point to the eye (which can be found in simpler and more complex forms in nature then humans), the dragonfly wing (which again can be seen in simpler and more complex forms), the bacterial flagellum (of which they’ve identified many individual sub-components that could still exist without the entire structure), and likely many more in the future. The point is that every example brought up has been refuted thus far.

Micheal Behe who developed the idea of IC in the bacterial flagellum said in the Pennsylvania 2005 court case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District that he hadn’t read most of the fifty-eight peer-reviewed articles, nine books, and several textbook chapters that demonstrated that evolution could explain the complexity of the human immune system. If there were ever the ability to revoke a person’s PhD, I think it is warranted in Dr. Behe’s case. His glaring ignorance of the scientific method is appalling for someone who calls himself a scientist.

This all leads me to my idea of a new “theory”: Irreducible Simplicity. I’ll phrase it as follows:

Any idea, theory, or concept that is irreducibly simple and leaves no room for further investigation, thought, or a general advancement of human knowledge is utter rubbish.

I can further illustrate this through a few examples.

  1. In the late 1800s physicists were under the idea that they understood nearly everything. Had they held this belief more firmly all modern physics (quantum mechanics, photonics, relativity, etc.) would not have been developed.
  2. The theory of ID suggests that all of creation came about through an intelligent designer. Unfortunately it fails to explain anything about the designer, but merely that he/she/it was always there.

Any IS theory cannot be classified as science. Following any IS theory is dangerous as it leads the individual to easy and supposedly definite and final answers and truths. Science doesn’t provide any of these, but merely gives our best guess thus far. Surely this seems more reasonable than the easy solution of “oh because God said so.”

If I wanted to be really critical (and I see no reason not to be) I would suggest that all religions fall into the IS category. It’s just too easy to claim one (or multiple yet contradictory) holy book(s) hold all the answers to life, the universe, and everything. As Douglas Adams (author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) said:

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

This post is my first that has been brought about through the God Delusion, and seeing as I’m only mid-way through chapter four, there will likely be more.

Things that scare me

So I came across this site called Battle Cry where Christian zealots make their pleas to save all our immortal souls.  I don’t understand why those who are religious feel compelled to force their beliefs on others like this.  If I don’t believe in an immortal soul I don’t need it save.  Even if I did believe, I wouldn’t disrespect it by believing what they believe.

Some of the stuff here seems almost pornographic too:

Oh Lord, make me heart BEAT for you and ONLY you oh Lord. I want you more then life, I need you and I want to do great things for you. My God, my Lord. I am your child, and I want you to look upon me with pride, I am your daughter. Lord, this life is about you, not about men, marriage, kids, not about anything but you Lord. Only you Lord.

(From CANADIANEH‘s battle cry)

And then I notice her status on her commitments and I realize that she could save 10 minutes a day right here:

I will spend at least 10 minutes praying for my generation every day

I will make this nice and clear to everyone out there: do not pray for me.  I do not want anyone out there spouting this as though it will help.  If I am in trouble and you want to help then actually help, don’t close your eyes and mumble some words, it will do me no good.  Save your breaths.

At times I can think religion isn’t so bad, or that I shouldn’t feel compelled to revolt like I do, but then I see these sites and I am fearful of the future.

The Weakest Argument Ever

Well it says in the bible that…

This is equivalent to me saying that anything ever written is invariably true. Furthermore, if this were to be a half viable argument one would have to adhere to every line of the bible. Here’s a few:

“For everyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother. His blood shall be upon him.” (Leviticus 20:9)

“If a man lies with a woman during her sickness and uncovers her nakedness, he has discovered her flow, and she has uncovered the flow of her blood. Both of them shall be cut off from her people.” (Leviticus 20:18)

“Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property.” (Leviticus 25:44-45)

“Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” (Leviticus 19:27)

“…and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you.” (Leviticus 11:7)

“…do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear material woven of two kinds of material.” (Leviticus 19:19)

“But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you.” (Leviticus 11:10)

“They (shellfish) shall be an abomination to you; you shall not eat their flesh, but you shall regard their carcasses as an abomination.” (Leviticus 11:11)

“Whatever in the water does not have fins or scales; that shall be an abomination to you.” (Leviticus 11:12)

So what if these are all Old Testament versus, since Creationists base their belief in the age of Earth on this book. They also get their hatred of homosexuality from this book.

Expecting me to believe that every word of a story book that’s several thousand years old is true with absolutely no to very little supporting scientific evidence is absurd. God did not write the bible, men did. Men who heard many stories, and furthermore enjoyed telling stories themselves. I don’t hold a word of it to be anymore than a reference for a group of people to live their lives.

So please, do not ever say to me – “it’s in the bible.”


Creationism Ruled Out

I stole this following article from a Facebook discussion board for the group The Brights.

“I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure — that is all that agnosticism means.”

Those words were uttered by Clarence Darrow in the famous Scope’s “monkey” trial that took place more than eighty years ago. And yet, to this day, a debate over belief, science, and religion is still occurring within intellectual circles, the general public, and in politics. One of the more recent examples of this was Kitzmiller v. Dover, a court case that considered the constitutionality of ‘intelligent design.’ ‘Intelligent design,’ a theory that purports to be science, claims that “the complexity of the natural world could not have occurred by chance.” Most scientists, however, dismiss ‘intelligent design’ as disguised creationism. Ian Barbour’s four categories of the relationship between science and religion (conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration) help illuminate the different perspectives of the plaintiffs and defendants. In the end, Judge E. Jones III, striking the movement with a hard blow, ruled against ‘intelligent design.’ This was a good decision for three reasons: ‘intelligent design’ is horrible science (it is not testable), dismal philosophy (there are myriad examples of things in the world that let the viewer infer that it is not designed), and it blurs the line between church and state.

The main issues in Kitzmiller v. Dover were: the soundness of evolution and ‘intelligent design’ as science, the separation of church and state, and the philosophy of science itself. The whole ordeal started when Dover, Pennsylvania’s school board adopted a new policy that forced high school biology teachers to notify their students of criticisms and alternatives to the theory of evolution by natural selection. Eleven parents saw the new policy as a “Trojan horse for religion in the public schools” and sued the school board. In the courtroom, ‘intelligent design’ advocate Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University, talked at length about “irreducible complexity,” the idea that certain biological systems (the human eye and bacterial flagellum for example) are too complex to ever be formed by chance and adaptation. The plaintiffs noted, however, that science is only concerned with things that can be falsified and tested; ‘intelligent design’ with its invocation of an abstract higher power and its reliance on a philosophy that mimics William Paley’s “watchmaker,” seems to lack the ability of either. The judge, however, was not concerned with all the philosophy and complex biological talk as an end but as a means to discover if “intelligent design” was a scientific theory or a religious one. In his scathing decision against the teaching of ‘intelligent design,’ Judge Jones called the decision to teach the controversial theory one of “breathtaking inanity.” He also concluded that ‘intelligent design’ was a religious theory citing the Discovery Institute’s (a think tank in Seattle that supports ‘intelligent design’) “Wedge Document” that listed one of their goals as replacing current scientific practice with “theistic and Christian science.” Although philosophy of science and the soundness of evolutionary theory were discussed widely in the trial, the explicit connection of ‘intelligent design’ to religion was its downfall.

The reaction to ‘Kitzmiller’ was varied. Most conservative intellectuals seem embarrassed by intelligent design. For example, Charles Krauthammer has called ‘intelligent design’ a “fraud…whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge…they are to be filled with God” and Ross Douthat has written that “intelligent design fails conspicuously.” Conservatives who actively promote ‘intelligent design,’ however, were very disappointed with Judge Jones’ ruling. Michael Behe, one of the defense’s lead witnesses, claimed that the ruling “went way over what …a judge is entitled to say” and Steve Chapman, the founder of the Discovery Institute, called the decision a “disaster…as a public relations matter.” “It has given a rhetorical weapon to the Darwinists,” he said. Pro-evolutionists and liberals, on the other hand, were extremely happy with the ruling. “His logic is flawless, and he hit all of the points that scientists have been making for years,” a professor of mathematics who participated in the trial was quoted as saying and Jerry Coyne, a professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, wrote that the decision sent a “message across the country” to all school boards that “risk ridicule and legal opprobrium by inviting intelligent design into its classrooms.” The opinions ranged from jubilation to dismay.

Ian Barbour outlined four categories concerning the relationship between religion and science: conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. The conflict model postulates that religion and science clash; the most widely cited example used for proof of this is Galileo’s trial. The independence model claims that science and religion can’t conflict since they are completely different realms of experience. Stephen Jay Gould endorsed this model when he claimed that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria” and the National Academy of Science wrote in their policy statement in 1981 that “Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought whose presentation in the same context leads to misunderstanding of both scientific theory and religious belief.” The dialogue model proposes that there are many parallels between science and religion; science is not completely objective, for instance, and religion should be held to a rational standard. Lastly, the integration model holds that science and religion gain “mutual support” from each other. An example of this can be seen in many religious scientists espousing of a “natural theology.”

Within the ‘Kitzmiller’ case, the two clearest positions on the relationship between religion and science were the conflict model and the integration model. It is clear that ‘intelligent design’ advocates received impetus, at least partially, to promote their theory for theological reasons. For example, Michael Behe said in his testimony that “the designer is in fact God.” Yet, Behe is hoping to inform science through theology and vice versa; this is an explicit espousal of natural theology and the integration model. Staunch evolutionists, however, see ‘intelligent design’ as conflicting directly with science because it calls into question (on a theological basis) the ability of nature to transform simple biological beings into complex ones. Also, the idea that science should give credence to an invisible, supernatural being is contrary to the standards of proof that is crucial to scientific practice.

Judge Jones made the right decision; ‘intelligent design’ is bad science, bad philosophy, theologically driven, and, if taught in schools unconstitutional. One of science’s central tenets is the idea of falsification and testing. It is impossible to falsify a creator or ‘intelligent designer’ because the designer is, theoretically, outside of the material world. The most common example of this is Bertrand Russell’s “teapot” argument; Russell said that he could not disprove the proposition that there was a teapot orbiting the sun, but that didn’t mean that it was wrong for him to believe that there was no teapot. In fact, ‘intelligent design’ seems to be merely a negative theory, meaning it only criticizes evolution and doesn’t propose anything scientific of its own. In William Saletan’s words:

” They won’t say how ID works. They won’t say how it can be tested, apart from testing Darwinism and inferring that the alternative is ID. They won’t concede it to be falsifiable. All they’ll say is that Darwinism hasn’t explained some things.”

‘Intelligent design’ simply doesn’t deserve to be called “science.” Evolution by natural selection, on the other hand, can be falsified; for example, if scientists found fossils of a certain animal that were dated too early or too late to coincide with evolution, the theory would have to be revised or thrown out. Apart from being bad science, ‘intelligent design’ is also faulty philosophy. The human eye might seem to complex to be formed by natural selection (Richard Dawkins has shown this to be false ), but there are many other examples that would lead the viewer to believe that humans and animals are not designed by a sentient being but by nature. For example, “some cave animals, descended from sighted ancestors that invaded caves, have rudimentary eyes that cannot see; the eyes degenerated after they were no longer needed.” Why would a sentient designer give these animals eyes? And what about the human appendix? An appendix is “certainly not the product of intelligent design,” Jerry Coyne has written. “How many humans died of appendicitis before surgery was invented?” Also, as Neil deGrasse Tyson noted at a lecture at the Salk Institute, over 90 percent of species that have lived on Earth are now extinct; and natural, horrendous biological diseases (aggressive childhood leukemia, hemophilia, sickle cell anemia etc.) are counterintuitive to a design theory. These three examples (plus wings on the flightless kiwi bird, tooth buds on embryos of toothless animals, a coating of hair on human embryos) seem to point to gradual, natural evolution, not sentient design.

Once one has established that ‘intelligent design’ is not science and is bad philosophy, the real question is if it is constitutional to teach in public schools; or in a simpler form: is it a religious theory? For the proponents of ‘intelligent design’ (as we have seen in Michael Behe’s own words) the answer to that question is a resounding yes. A member of the Dover School Board that implemented the failed policy for teaching ‘intelligent design’ defended his position by saying: “Two thousand years ago someone died on a cross. Can’t someone take a stand for him?” Clearly, the school board had a theological, not scientific purpose. In 1971, the United States Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman, devised the “Lemon” test to see if something violated the establishment clause. The three components of the test are:

“First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.”

With this in mind, Judge Jones made the right decision, concluding that “intelligent design is based on religion rather than science, and…that intelligent design is an updated version of ‘creation science’” which is unconstitutional given that it violates all three facets of the “Lemon” test.

Judge E. Jones III was right to side with the plaintiffs, and the scientific community as a whole, in Kitzmiller v. Dover. The philosophical debate that surrounds this trial and religion in general is fascinating; and Ian Barbour’s categories help to see where different people stand. Hopefully, the growing literature and interest in this topic will further human intellect and knowledge in both the realms of science and theology.

Quoted from Devin Carpenter (Illinois). I couldn’t have said it better myself.