Saturday, November 22, 2008

Out of Thin Air [chapter 1]

I just watched the first sermon of the Out of Thin Air presentation. Not surprisingly, I was unimpressed and unsurprised at the content. There was actually very little content. The main points I was able to pick up are:
- life is meaningless without god to give us purpose.
- Darwin is wrong because evolution does not account for the origin of life.

There is nothing new to see here. We all know that life's purpose is what you choose for it to be. And the theory of evolution does not pretend to describe the origin of live. Not that the origin of life is a fruitless area of study. These standard talking points were accompanied by the usual anti-intellectual lies. As we learn more the theory of evolution is weakened. Louis Pasture proved that life cannot originate from non-life. These are either the result of willful ignorance or deliberate prevarication.

The thing that bothered me the most was a quote from George Wald. The only place I could find the quote online was from conservapedia. Which means authenticity is questionable.
When it comes to the origin of life, we have only two possibilities as to how life arose. One is spontaneous generation arising to evolution; the other is a supernatural creative act of God. There is no third possibility...Spontaneous generation was scientifically disproved one hundred years ago by Louis Pasteur, Spellanzani, Reddy and others. That leads us scientifically to only one possible conclusion -- that life arose as a supernatural creative act of God...I will not accept that philosophically because I do not want to believe in God. Therefore, I choose to believe in that which I know is scientifically impossible, spontaneous generation arising to evolution." - Scientific American, August, 1954.

Assuming this is even an accurate quote, and I have my doubts since Wald has been quote mined in other fora. There are even several permutations of the quote sourced to the same article in Scientific American in on the conservapedia page. That is enough to convince me that some one has messed with Wald's words. This could ultimately be resolved by looking up the article. But as I said in my last post, one man's opinion is inconsequential to the theory of evolution. It doesn't matter if he won the 1967 Nobel Prize for Medicine. But just to give Wald the benefit of the doubt, the article he wrote for Scientific American in 1954 also includes this passage:

When one has no means of estimating the probability beforehand, it must be determined by counting the fraction of successes in a large number of trials.

Our everyday concept of what is impossible, possible or certain derives from our experience: the number of trials that may be encompassed within the space of a human lifetime, or at most within recorded human history. In this colloquial, practical sense I concede the spontaneous origin of life to be "impossible." It is impossible as we judge events in the scale of human experience.

We shall see that this is not a very meaningful concession; For one thing, the time with which our problem is concerned is geological time, and the whole extent of human history is trivial in the balance.

In other words the common conception of what is impossible is different from what can be understood scientifically. Based on this quote it would seem that Wald is not arguing for life originating spontaneously despite the evidence, but that the fact that there is life means that it must have happened at least once.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Here I Go Again

I think I managed to start myself out on an intellectually frustrating path again this week. I apparently didn't suffer enough when reading those books on biblical astronomy. Anyway, here is the story.

An Adventist co-worker and Walla Walla classmate, sent around a snarky email comment on a recent news article regarding the recent sequencing of the kangaroo genome. He is aware of my pro-science and pro-reality worldview, but copied me because he thought it would be hypocritical not to which I appreciate. I briefly replied, to question him on a few of the more egregious distortions. I was curious to see what he really thought and what was for the sake of humor. Turns out he has just watched a presentation by Shawn Boonstra called Out of Thin Air. I remember hearing about this when it came out as a satellite broadcast last fall. I remember wanting to avoid it then because I knew I'd get too riled up. I'd don't care for Boonstra's style and I was quite certain that the content would be hopelessly twisted if it even bothered to contain anything factual. Now my friend has kindly offered me the opportunity to borrow the video. I've accepted the offer because, I'd hope for similar open-mindedness should the opportunity arise to suggest some source of information to him. If not I at least have the high ground of looking at the opposite position, and knowing the dissenters will refuse to do so honestly.

From the little bit of a description I have of the program, it seems that one of the main points will be quotes from

early evolution scientists where they blatantly stated that the facts didn't support evolution, but the were choosing to not believe in God and thus had to come up with something else.
I'm not sure who this is attributed to and am skeptical about the authenticity. Fortunately, the who and what is completely irrelevant. The alleged "early evolution scientists" are not prophets. The theory of evolution stands on its own merits based on hard evidence. Science has moved on and improved on the research of the "early evolution scientists." Finding a few quotes that make creationists feel good won't change reality.

Anyway, that is the preview. Look for a report coming in next week or two.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Atheists?

I didn't want to end my mornings blogging on a negative note, so I thought I'd post a link to this Slate article that I really enjoyed. It deals with a study that seems to indicate that American Christians are nicer than American atheists. This didn't sound quite right to me, but fortunately the author doesn't stop there.

He refers to Phil Zuckerman's research that shows the most godless societies are safest and most progressive. The difference is the community. In a mostly irreligious community atheists are not the denigrated minority. This could explain the results of the US study.

Expelled Still Giving Me a Headache

I thought that I'd probably heard that last of Expelled. The DVD release was nothing more than a rumor, and I'd pretty much decided that I wouldn't have to watch it. Then one of Lori's old teachers saw it and put up a blog. Now I'm all worked up about it again.

I don't mind people having their opinions, but the ignorance and arrogance is disturbing. I have to say that Lori has been very cool in attempting to have a rational discussion with this guy. She sent him a link to expelled exposed. To his credit he at least clicked the link. He even seemingly read as far as the first half of the first paragraph. At that point he seemed unable to deal with the term 'anti-science propaganda' and gave up.

This is someone form Lori's past, so I don't feel like getting directly involved in the discussion. It has been amazing to see Lori exposing the errors in his thinking though. She isn't putting up with any of his distortions. Sadly, this guy is a text book true believer, so I doubt rational discussion will last too long.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Clock of the Heavens [book report]

I finally made it through my second Steven E. Behrmann Book masochist that I am. So, I thought I'd recap just a little . The Clock of the Heavens is about using the stars and planets to find dates for some major biblical events. I will give him credit for admitting to the tenuous nature of the dates he proposes.
Again, we want to give a word of caution. Such data connot be considered unassailable or proof worthy. But at worst, such a fortuitous configuration in the sky at the assumed time of Christ's death cannot be considered less than incredibly amazing!
In the end it boils down to more post hoc rationalization. He ignores heavenly bodies that were unknown before modern times, but is careful to point out the inaccuracy of modern secular astrology due to precession of the earth's poles which makes the dates of the horoscopes not align with their constellations.

In fact, his debunking of astrology begins by applying arguments that are well know to skeptics.
1. Thousands of people are born every day and have very different destinies.
2. Twins can be very different in personality.
3. Predictions made are very vague and deal with common occurrences.
However, he refuses to employ his true 'science' of biblical astro-chronology make predictions.
It will naturally be a temptation for the inordinately curious to consider if the future can be unveiled by a study of the heavens. For instance, should we search for confirmation of the time of Christ's return? I strongly recommend that no such theories be suggested or promoted. . . . God has never given us permission to rely on such methods.
This is not science if it can't be used to make predictions.

The first half of the book deals with dating events of Jesus' ministry, his birth and his death. The second half deals with the more distant topics of dating the flood of Noah, the fall of man, creation, and then tries to justify the dating techniques with a known significant date - 22 Oct. 1844.

Here is a sample of the positions of various heavenly bodies on the evening of the great disappointment:
First of all we find the sun between the constellations, Libra, the Scales, and Virgo, the Virgin. Because of the timing of this configuration, the sun already resides it he area of the heavens known for centuries as being associated with the Day of Atonement and biblical seventh month.

There are several mansions and decans in the constellations of Libra and Virgo. However, the sun on this particular date is positioned at the foot of the woman. What is interesting is that the sun is at the very place indicated in the lunar mansions as 'Caphir, the atonement.'

My overall opinion is that is sounds a little forced.