Friday, December 10, 2010

A Test for True Christians

 
Denyse O'Leary doesn't think Theodosius Dobzhansky was a true Christian. She's angry at all those so-called "Christians" who accept evolution because, in her mind, science and Christianity are incompatible [If you are a Darwinist, can you be a Christian if people just say so ... ?].

What do you do about all those fake Christians who believe in theistic evolution? You develop a litmus test, of course.
... if you ask me whether someone is a Christian, I say, "Let him recite the Apostle's Creed and affirm that he believes it and renounces contrary doctrines."
Sounds like a plan. I'll quote the English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC) version of the Apostle's Creed and we can discuss whether believing it is compatible with science as a way of knowing. Doesn't look like it to me. Denyse is right!
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
   creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
   who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
   born of the Virgin Mary,
   suffered under Pontius Pilate,
   was crucified, died, and was buried;
   he descended into hell.
   On the third day he rose again;
   he ascended into heaven,
   he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
   and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
   the holy catholic Church,
   the communion of saints,
   the forgiveness of sins,
   the resurrection of the body,
   and the life everlasting. Amen.


78 comments :

  1. I wonder why she has her comments turned off. Doesn't she want to have her readers help her avoid making glaring mistakes?

    It's nice that she claims to be a Catholic but she condemns the Pope and bishops for not being as anti-science as she is. She should condemn them for covering up the crimes of priests and accept their teachings on evolution.

    She also doesn't seem to know that the Apostles' Creed is a poor third fiddle of religious confession. Of course the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds don't claim that science is wrong about evolution, either.

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  2. The great thing about xtian dogma is that there are so many to choose from.

    And the one thing they all have in common is that their version is the one true version and the rest of you are going to suffer for eternity while they party with baby jebus.

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  3. I don't see that anything in the Creed rules out science as a way of knowing how the material world normally works. The miracles associated with Christ allegedly happened nearly 2,000 years ago and are not expected to happen again. The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting are not expected to affect our present life (except perhaps at the end of the world). One can believe them and still expect science to uncover truths about the world.

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  4. So Lar,

    Would you mind throwing me a few more bread crumbs on how you arrived at the (clearly extrapolated) conclusion that:

    in her mind, science and Christianity are incompatible [If you are a Darwinist, can you be a Christian if people just say so ... ?].

    Where is there a declaration of incompatibility in that statement?

    What do you do about all those fake Christians who believe in theistic evolution?

    Regard them for what they are: people who haven’t yet, or are incapable of, meticulously assessing their own beliefs.

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  5. She is absolutely right in most respects. If you believe in the content of the Apostle's Creed, then you are anti-science. "Creator of heaven and earth"? Show me the evidence. "Life everlasting"? Meet the second law of thermodynamics, honey.

    Of course, it's just another form of the "no true Scotsman" argument, but once you start removing the bits of Christianity which are contradictory or obviously false, you end up with the impersonal god of modern theology and a religion which most Christians wouldn't recognize.

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  6. Note to Free Lunch: O'Leary cross posts on the UncommonDescent blog, and probably wants comments to be made there.

    It has always seemed to me that repeating a set of beliefs such as the Apostle's Creed is a very mechanistic thing to do. Yet Christian theologists like to emphasis purpose, rather than mechanism. It is a strange inconsistency.

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  7. The great thing about xtian dogma is that there are so many to choose from.

    You left out the part where they each contain all possible contradictions within themselves.

    For example, the first Christian website I consulted on the subject of Jesus descending into Hell explains this utterly puzzling statement thusly:

    His soul/spirit went to the paradise side of hades.

    Oh yes, of course, the paradise side of Hades. I am sure this is where all the Christians who say evolution-believers will go to Hell believe we will wind up.

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  8. I think it is fair to say that Darwinism is a modern pseudo-religion and that it is impossible to reconcile Christian theism and creationism with Darwinian atheism and evolutionism.

    There is some grey area: most creationists don't believe every single species was specially created, but only the basic "kinds"....however, naturalistic evolutionism is a completely different weltanschauung.

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  9. Does she reject trinitarianism? Because that creed has nothing about Jesus being consubstantial with the father and the holy spirit. I thought the Nicene creed was the theologically acceptable creed...

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  10. I believed all that and still knew that evolution happens. When I finally left Christianity (and theism), the rupture had nothing to do with evolution.

    Denyse is reading things into the Creed that aren't there. Like she reads things into the Bible.

    (BTW, in my early Christian days, I would not have considered Denyse a Christian. Later, maybe, but a poor example, because of her tendency to lie.)

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  11. To Free Lunch - Ms O'Leary used to have comments open on her numerous blogs, but the conversations got quite heated, and as I recall Ms O'Leary did not take kindly to people who did not regard her as the intellectual heavyweight she clearly considers herself to be. I no longer bother reading her "science" blogs because without the comments they are rather dull (although her posts can be entertainingly bizarre).

    It's a shame she's a Canadian because if Sarah Palin ever gets elected as US President and needs a science advisor (which is unlikely since she already has the Bible), then O'Leary would be the perfect fit. They are made for each other.

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  12. Since theistic evolution accepts that God created, there's nothing in the Apostles creed that prevents supporting theistic evolution.

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  13. how the material world normally works

    A succinct example of magical thinking at work.

    The "material" world is all the world there is and how it "normally" works is how it works all the time.

    Our current understanding of reality is based on the evidence generated from observations of that same material world.

    What you are asserting are turds pulled out of your backside. No matter how much you polish them up they are still not diamonds, just shit.

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  14. I would not have considered Denyse a Christian. Later, maybe, but a poor example, because of her tendency to lie.

    And I would say that's exactly what makes her a true xtian.

    But lying for baby jebus isn't actually lying is it ?

    Similar to the Muslim concept of Taqqiyah.

    And who said Islam and Christianity weren't reconcilable ?

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  15. From the OP:

    Denyse O'Leary doesn't think ...

    That pretty much covers it.

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  16. I actually think there is an social ism, "darwinism". That is not pseudoreligion, it is ideology which claim not to be one. That darwinism is done by pseudoskeptics. (They claim they are skeptics, but they don't think scientifically, they just own their opnions.)

    That darwinism is not compatible with religion, it is clearly atheistic movement.

    The sore part is that darwinism have nothing to do with the evolution they do in science. Evolution is actually much more good and empirically strong theory than it is usually thinked. (People are not thinking scientifically, their thinking is usually more social. Controversy is like "there must be something wrong".)

    Pseudosceptic darwinist can not know what "Dollo's law" mean. They don't understood even "breeder's equation" or "Hamilton's rule". They don't know pretty much anything about evolution, but they still likeit. Becouse it is not about science. It is about the team.

    They see just that part that "evolution is science" and "looks like science is good". They are not real evolutionist's in my eyes. They are just like creotards. (And they are the group, which don't understood evolution pretty much at all.)

    Most of the "debate" is that these two idiotic parts fight with each other. And both claim they are winners and scientific. And cleverer than thou... And more ethical. Dunning-Krueger effect at its work.

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  17. " he descended into hell.
    On the third day he rose again;"

    This has always baffled me. This alleged son of gawd allegedly goes to hell upon death then he rises 'again'. When did he rise the first time? Considering there is no obvious explanation, are we to assume it was also from hell? Or has the theologians already explained this away somehow?

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  18. I have read, from time to time over that past couple of years, some of O'Leary's scrawlings.

    The loopy grandma from Toronto seems to have gone off the tracks some time ago, and gets goofier and more spaced out as time goes on.

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  19. Anon:

    One can believe them and still expect science to uncover truths about the world.

    I don't know. I think believing in miracles with a basis inexplicable to rational and repeatable observation of the universe inherently involves a mindset that sees science at best as a stopgap... not a description of the universe and what we ought to expect of it, but simply an idea of the ordinary while we all sit around waiting for the extraordinary events that the faithful expect and ultimately require of their god(s). And when you view science that way, it's all too easy to just back away from the tough questions with "god did it", and all too convenient to do so whenever asking a question might chip away at the supernatural underpinnings of one's beliefs. I think that's borne out by the fact that science has to be demonstrably right for everybody (or it needs to go back to the drawing board); religions never do. Wherever they differ, they simply curse one another, cross the street, and believe six completely different impossible things before breakfast. Where does that get anyone?

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  20. JCC:

    What do you do about all those fake Christians who believe in theistic evolution?

    Regard them for what they are: people who haven’t yet, or are incapable of, meticulously assessing their own beliefs.


    This is something I would dearly love to see religions do someday.

    Science is about convergence based on empirical evidence. What the evidence does not support must be revised; what it contradicts must be discarded. There are no apologetics, and no special pleading. It is a self-correcting process that leads to an understanding of the world, and one with practical applications in it.

    For example, when Alfred Wegener proposed continent drift as an explanation for the matching coastlines of Africa and South America (among others), the evidence was scanty and he was widely received as a crank. He didn’t live long enough to see his reputation redeemed, but many of his detractors did. When the evidence of the mid-Atlantic range, the creation of the island of Surtsey, space-based geometrics on the increasing distance between continents, and other facts were revealed, what choice did his detractors have? They didn’t split off and form a new science. They swallowed their pride and admitted the new evidence substantiated the theory.

    I’d like to see the major religions of the world do this. Sit down in ecumenicism and do just what’s being proposed here: meticulously assess their own beliefs. Suppose they worked out what they believed in common, and planed off everything else as sectarian? The divinity of Jesus, gone. The ultimate status of Mohammed’s prophethood, gone. The right of Jews to a holy claim on certain land, gone. So much that divides people set aside, and the core values humans typically share set in sharp contrast to it. If a divinity were real, human reason ought to merge in understanding as we grow in knowledge, not divide. But I wonder who among the religious would be bound to do what science (and thus, those convinced of the reality of evolution) must: meticulously assess their own beliefs, and when they are found wanting, abandon them? I wonder if people who propose this standard would live by it themselves if the ecumenical process I postulated disestablish Jesus as divine, for example... the way those who once scoffed at the idea of moving continents once had to.

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  21. "And the one thing they all have in common is that their version is the one true version and the rest of you are going to suffer for eternity while they party with baby jebus."

    No, the one thing they have in common is that they'll all get lumped together in such obtuse comments from the ignorant (or dishonest, but it could be both) as the above. Not even the One True Holy and Apostolic Church (i.e. Catholic) says that the Prods are all doomed to aitch-ee-double-hockey-sticks these days and that largesse may extent to good people who aren't even Christian, like Jews and Muslims. It does seem atheists are OOL, but the Church seems willing to let them go peaceably about their way.

    And the Catholic Church is not all of Christianity. I've one Christian acquaintance who, with all sincerity, believes all will be saved, even such dire folk as Hitler. I think that goes too far, but it is illustrative of the variety of views.

    So sorry if we Christians fail to live up to Steve's dishonest/ignorant stereotype.

    BTW, I fully expect Larry to come back with his usual 'But when we atheists say something that is plainly on its face dishonest/ignorant/misleading, it's just that you're not reading into it all the good stuff that makes it totally something else so Steve is being both honest and well-informed.'

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  22. "She is absolutely right in most respects. If you believe in the content of the Apostle's Creed, then you are anti-science. "Creator of heaven and earth"? Show me the evidence."

    Assuming The Vicar believes he/she loves anyone or anything, one wonders on what evidence The Vicar reached that conclusion.

    I believe even PZ Myers eventually had to accept there are things some folk believe without what can be termed, in a literal sense, "evidence".

    And let's not forget out host was lately seen taking mathematics to be within science (perhaps merely as the whim took him) despite the fact that mathematical truths, as such, do no rely upon "evidence".

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  23. Mike from Ottawa:

    Not even the One True Holy and Apostolic Church (i.e. Catholic) says that the Prods are all doomed to aitch-ee-double-hockey-sticks these days and that largesse may extent to good people who aren't even Christian, like Jews and Muslims.

    Which raises the question: how is it the Catholic Church knows this, one way or the other? What are we to make the claims of churches to also know precisely who's saved, where these claims are at odds with those of others? In other words, on the basis of what evidence is this surety come by?

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  24. Steve is being both honest and well-informed

    Well, you got that part right.

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  25. "..... he descended into hell.
    On the third day he rose again;"

    Perhaps a little investigation into what meant by 'hell' would be appropriate here ....

    As for the Church being anti-science .... it is worth noting that the RC Church has always been in the forefront of scientific investgation. (Even if Darwin studied to be a preacher in another religion). Indeed, biology would not be the science it is today without an Austrian Monk.

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  26. Indeed, biology would not be the science it is today without an Austrian Monk.

    Gregor Mendel would have risked burning at the stake had he published his studies in the 17th Century, rather than the 19th. And Catholic or Protestant hardly mattered. Luther was every bit as eager to burn witches as the pope that was eager to burn him.

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  27. Luther was every bit as eager to burn witches as the pope that was eager to burn him.

    And Luther whole heartedly imported catholic antisemitism into protestantism.

    For a fun read, checkout his 1543 book, "On the Jews and their lies".

    Luther had a powerful influence on the Nazis, not to discount the influence catholic antisemitism had on them as well through that exemplar of moral absolutism, Pius XII and his predecessors.

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  28. Lone Primate:

    There are no apologetics, and no special pleading.

    Really? Eldredge’s and Gould’s reversed-engineered Punctuated Equilibrium, isn’t “special pleading?” And what about the supposed “vestigial” account of the lowly Appendix?—initially relegated to the DNA junk-heap by Darwinists—that is, until a subtle, but discernable purpose was discovered… But did that minor distraction faze the Darwinists?—not in the slightest. They simply adjusted their semantics to cover that base, too. What a wonderfully, never-wrong “theory” Darwinism is!

    And how ‘bout Michael Mann’s necessity to “hide the decline?” Nope, there’s certainly no need for apologetics to defend that sound, honest and objective science.

    It is a self-correcting process that leads to an understanding of the world

    That is, unless of course, that “science” contradicts one’s preconceived worldview—then it becomes just another page in the tree-hugging left’s political football playbook. Too bad real science can’t be left to real scientists…

    I’d like to see the major religions of the world do this. Sit down in ecumenicism and do just what’s being proposed here: meticulously assess their own beliefs.

    While it’s perfectly obvious why history’s “great” Imams, or Maharishi’s cannot, it’s puzzling that you seem ignorant of the Council of Nicaea or the Westminster Confession of Faith.

    If a divinity were real, human reason ought to merge in understanding as we grow in knowledge, not divide.

    Oh? So now you’re asserting the inevitability of human reason? So, what part does individual choice play in the matter?

    I wonder who among the religious would be bound to do what science (and thus, those convinced of the reality of evolution) must: meticulously assess their own beliefs, and when they are found wanting, abandon them?

    You mean like those who, by valuing truth over worldview, have followed the evidence to where it leads and have found the science of evolution and climatology wanting—and abandoned them?

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  29. JCC:

    To say, first of all, that science requires no apologetics or special-pleading is not to say that no one can purport to advance a pet theory by these means. What it does mean is that it won’t be generally accepted until such time as independently verifiable evidence supports it. Anyone can make any claim they like. If it’s accepted because it’s backed up by evidence, with the caveat that it can be revised by later evidence, it’s science. If it’s accepted despite the fact that it isn’t, and evidence to the contrary cannot revise it, it’s religion.

    “Vestigial” is not a synonym for “useless”. It describes an organ or other part of the body that had a previous use that it no longer does, and thus remains as a vestige. Whatever the appendix may have once done for our ancestors, and despite the scramble by some to find some tiny, plausible function for it in order to insist therefore that their god isn’t the ultimate Lewisesque absent-minded professor, it’s an undeniable fact that human beings today get along perfectly well without an appendix (either by removal or, in some cases, actual congenital absence), and in many, many cases, do far better without one than with.

    In my experience, the only people for whom science “contradicts one’s preconceived worldview” are those people whose religions insist on adherence to doctrinal precepts contra-indicated by findings about the realities of the natural world. We all know the type. Cardinals who burn people at the stake for observing in public that the Earth orbits the sun rather than the latter; imams who pronounce sentences of death on archeologists who dare to suggest the earliest Qu’ran was at least partially written in Syro-Aramiac; those who insist on imprisoning (or worse) doctors and women who abort as-yet-unbrained embryos on the notion that little ghosts were welded to them at the moment of conception... These are the people for whom science poses a threat to contradict their preconceived worldviews.

    It’s interesting that the Council of Nicaea should be mooted as something akin to science. When the bishops were trying to decide whether or not Jesus was god by creation or co-eternity, one wonders what verifiable evidence was presented, what experiments were run to see which was demonstrable, and how the Aryans were convinced. The answers, of course, are respectively none, none, and they weren’t: the issue being nothing more than a matter of opinion and coming down to a vote, some were pressured into paying lip service to the majority view, while others simply held fast to their equally improvable (though admittedly less popular) view and were hounded as heretics for the next three hundred years. And far from coming together, Christianity has been sharding into ever smaller and smaller mutually-contradictory groups ever since, with no evidence to prove any one of them right, and disestablish competing theories. Of course, all this avoids even raising the question, of what possible value to humanity was the Council in the first place? – that is, how in any way did resolving this absurdly pointless matter benefit mankind, set a single bone, sooth a single pain, improve a single crop, or better a single life. More ruminations and recriminations on how many bowling ball pixies it takes the guide the ball to the pins.

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  30. (cont'd)

    Of course, to say that human reason – which again, should not be held to be an absolute but at best a trend – would tend to converge rather than diverge if a god were real is to state what’s obvious in nearly every other aspect of life where some kind of evidence is presentable and its value relative to other explanations is measurable. I can’t think of anyone, for instance, who would insist today that the basic principle of the internal combustion engine involves not the chemical combination of oxygen with hydrocarbons, but the infusion of phlogiston. Likewise, if there were real evidence for the existence of a god, his authorship of the universe and of the life within it, and his moral intentions for human conduct, then that evidence ought to put to bed “false” religions just as readily as the evidence for the oxygen theory of combustion did the phlogiston theory. But, of course, no such evidence exists; hence, the mutually-exclusive religions that have always existed and always will (at least so long as people happy to believe things without good reason persist), in ever-increasing numbers.

    And, of course, the difference between the religious whose considerations simply prompt more and more divergent sects on the one hand, and those who differ on developing scientific matters on the other, is that in the latter case, yea or nay, evidence will eventually vindicate the one view or the other clearly and demonstrably (though in fairness it should be said that this has essentially already occurred with regard to evolution; anyone who got last year’s H1N1 flu shot did so in tacit acknowledgement of the fact of evolution in a very real way); in the former case, nothing of the sort will ever happen.

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  31. Christians who believe in naturalistic evolution (Theistic evolutionist) are either laymen who haven’t done their scientific homework, or professionals who are slow to give-up their evolutionary worldview. Virtually every one of the unending stream of scientific discoveries weaken undirected purposeless evolutionism and strengthen the purposeful design posit. One very small but significant example is shown by Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki et al., “Tetrapod Trackways from the Early Middle Devonian Period of Poland,” Nature 463 (January 7. 2010), which throws early amphibians out of evolutionary sequence, and further shrinks the window of time available for biological processes to emerge and evolve from non-biology. Quoting, paleontologist Jenny Clack, an expert in tetrapod origins, from “Evidence Fish Grew Legs Much Earlier,” AP May, 2010, “It (the discovery of 400-million-year-old Panderichthys footprints) blows the whole story (about land vertebrate origins) out of the water, so to speak.” Separately, naturalists spent several decades trying to refute what Einstein and Hubble discovered, in order to refute the implication of a beginner. Einstein even initially fudged his own theory to match his naturalist worldview. The result of the naturalists’ challenges to Einstein’s un-fudged relativity theory was to affirm an obvious non-evolutionary, non-static universe beginning that will also have a non-evolutionary non-improving end. The idea that “science and Christianity are incompatible” is ridiculous. Raw un-interpreted scientific knowledge, typically acquired by naturalistic scientists, is merely knowledge of God’s natural revelation. Christianity is a faith system based on knowledge of God’s natural and supernatural revelation. The two are completely compatible, because they have the same cause, which is affirmed in the Apostles’ Creed.

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  32. Denny:

    Let's cut to the chase here. The suggestion -- nothing proven here, just the suggestion, mind you -- that the current understanding of the timeline of evolution -- which is based, at least in part, on the fossil record -- may require revision based on new evidence from that very same fossil record; and the inference you draw is: therefore, Christianity is compatible with science. In other words -- observation: amphibians out of sequence; conclusion: Jesus is Lord. You just cannot expect us to believe it's sensible to connect those two dots that directly. You have many, many, many more dots to connect between that observation and your conclusion.

    There's no reason I'm aware of to assume the universe had a beginning (at least in the sense requiring it to be created out of non-existence). That the universe is currently expanding is acknowledged (after all, it was science, not prayer, that revealed that); the implication is that at one time, it would have begun expanding from a reference of zero volume. But zero volume is just that: a lack of dimensionality. It isn't synonymous with non-existence, just non-dimensionality. It requires one less logical step to grant that it existed previously in such a state than to imply the existence of a creator god (and, again, where did he come from? -- infinite regression again). That's not to say it's impossible, just that it's less likely. And, again, even if such a being exists, you still have a long way to go to equate that being with Jesus Christ. Or Allah, Buddha, Zeus, etc.

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  33. Lone Primate:

    If it’s accepted despite the fact that it isn’t, and evidence to the contrary cannot revise it, it’s religion.

    Which describes Punctuated Equilibrium to a T. Eldredge and Gould proposed it to patch Darwin’s own concern of: Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain, and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory. It is virtually beyond dispute that PE is regarded as “fact” among Darwinists—despite the utter lack of corroborating experimental verification. This is exactly as you describe: a religion.

    the only people for whom science “contradicts one’s preconceived worldview” are those people whose religions insist on adherence to doctrinal precepts contra-indicated by findings about the realities of the natural world. We all know the type.

    Yes, besides you, we have Eldredge and Gould; Richard Dawkins; Michael Mann; Stephen Hawking; our very own benevolent blog dictator, Lar; and of course, the venerable, honorary climatologist-extraordinaire, peerless political sage and all-round nice guy, Al Gore (who only occasionally sexually abuses hotel masseuses).

    These are the people for whom science poses a threat to contradict their preconceived worldviews.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    It’s interesting that the Council of Nicaea should be mooted as something akin to science.

    Yes, given that the word science means “knowledge as an object of study.” At least the Council was seeking the truth.

    one wonders what verifiable evidence was presented

    The same type that is permitted in Western jurisprudence: the recorded testimony of eyewitnesses.

    what experiments were run to see which was demonstrable

    I would’ve thought for sure that you knew that even back then, the Council of Nicaea had enough sense to realize that any historic inquiry can only employ forms of abductive reasoning—given that historic events, by definition, cannot be repeated…

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  34. Lone Primate:

    if there were real evidence for the existence of a god, his authorship of the universe and of the life within it, and his moral intentions for human conduct, then that evidence ought to put to bed “false” religions

    Clearly, any repeated recitation of the Anthropic Principle, or Teleological Argument, or the Specified Complexity of the information in DNA or pointing out the ridiculous logical fallacy of the underlying value judgment of the assertion that “there can be no objective morality because moral behaviors change” is wasted breath to anyone holding your worldview. A worldview beautifully exemplified by Richard Lewontin, when he let slip: we take the side of science in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment to materialism…we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive…that materialism is absolute for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.

    Yes, it seems no evidence, no matter how convincing it is, will be sufficient to dissuade a mind that has emotionally set itself against an objective pursuit of the truth. Minds that have convinced themselves that:

    no such evidence exists

    and either intentionally misrepresent reality, or simply cannot perceive it objectively by asserting that:

    anyone who got last year’s H1N1 flu shot did so in tacit acknowledgement of the fact of evolution in a very real way

    despite the fact that the slightly mutated H1N1 strain does not represent a Darwinian speciation event—it remains as it was and will forever be: a lowly influenza virion.

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  35. Lone Primate said... “Denny: Let's cut to the chase here.” Wow. Your comments don’t seem like much of a cut. More like a gouge. Where do I begin my reply?

    Let’s start at the beginning. No theist or atheist was at creation. While many (arguably most) of the people who actually do scientific research are naturalists, everyone, evolutionists and creationists, looks at the same raw data. After that, it’s all interpretation, which involves one’s worldview.

    As far as I know, Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki and Jenny Clack are naturalists. Their interpretation of the data led her quote, “It (the discovery of 400-million-year-old Panderichthys footprints) blows the whole story (about land vertebrate origins) out of the water, so to speak.” You can check out “Tetrapod Trackways from the Early Middle Devonian Period of Poland,” Nature 463 (January 7. 2010) on your own. The point in time when Earth’s environment was hospitable to life was not pushed back with this discovery. Therefore, pushing back the record of land vertebrates shrinks the window of time available for biology to naturally emerge from non-biology. The same type of evidence, with the same evolution challenging consequences, has been emerging from the fossil record for years, especially from China shale formations.

    Here’s the point, regarding Christianity. Christians view nature as God’s creative handiwork and His natural revelation. Interpreting His creation’s empirical evidence is subject to human fallibility. Everything cosmological to everything quantum, in its raw natural form, is reality. Interpreting natural reality is also subject to human (scientists') fallibility. The Bible, a divinely inspired revelation through human history, is God’s supernatural revelation. It also is subject to humanly fallible interpretation. Christians should be responsible to ‘test’ both scripture and science (knowledge of the natural world), just as scientists ‘test’ their hypotheses. It is quite possible to match Biblical references to natural phenomena with known scientific data. It is also possible for scientifically qualified Christians to examine scientific data, like “Tetrapod Trackways …” and draw inferences and trends, along with all the scientific data that flows from scientific publications each day. When that is done, consistency is found between science and scripture.

    Concerning your comment, “There's no reason I'm aware of to assume the universe had a beginning (at least in the sense requiring it to be created out of non-existence).” This seems to me to be a confusing statement. I believe the Big Bang is scientifically defined as a singularity – not explainable by any known physics. It’s a scientific mystery. The Bible (3,500 years ago) indicated that the universe was created ex nihilo, which means "out of nothing". How is “zero volume” different from "out of nothing". The Bible, also in about the same historical time period, described the heavens as being stretched out like a tent, which is not inconsistent with Hubble’s discovery of cosmic expansion. Therefore, upon what do you base your assumptions that contradict the Bible?

    I’m not sure how to respond to your comment, “zero volume is just that: a lack of dimensionality. It isn't synonymous with non-existence, just non-dimensionality.” I never heard of “non-dimensionality.”

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  36. Denny:

    Well, let’s start even further back. Calling the initiation of the current dimensional framework of the universe a “creation” does not actually make it a creation, nor does doing so provide any proof for the existence of the requisite creator implied by the term.

    It’s disingenuous, I think, to put words into the mouth of Jenny Clack. For her to claim that the discovery of fossils aged outside a currently-accepted range for tetrapod origins is just that. It’s not a declaration that, therefore, everything known about evolution can be wiped off the table, and ergo, Jesus is Lord. That’s not how science works. To use an analogy, what’s happening here is akin to finding out that something we presumed to date from the 1960s actually dates from the 1950s. For a far distant future generation to discover a record indicating that Elvis’s career began in the early 1950s rather than the 60s as previously thought from other finds, would not mean that all of archeologically knowledge up to then would have to be discarded, and that theists could all breathe a sigh of relief and claim that therefore, Jesus created Rock and Roll. What it means is that theories about Rock and Roll would, thereafter, have to take into account an earlier onset for Elvis’s career. It might even clear up some other questions that had previously been inexplicable. And as far as arguments that this allowed for less time for the form to evolve, therefore opening up the window for Jesus to have strummed the guitar for Elvis and whispered “hound dog” in his ear; it’s true that this would push the origin of Rock and Roll back towards Classical and Baroque forms – but not by much. Life began on Earth sometime over three billion years ago. For tetrapod divergence from other vertebrates to be pushed back from sometime 390-395 million years ago to sometime over 400 million years ago is barely worth remarking on over a span of millions. Science isn’t a religion, where if someone says you got a date wrong, you have to go to war against the new knowledge. It’s a self-correcting process that revises theories in accordance with new evidence in order to better understand the world that evidence is a part of.

    It goes without saying that Christians view nature as the handiwork of their god. But the operative word there is “view”. It’s an interpretation, a spin, an inference drawn from things known to exist: an extrapolation of things neither known to exist, or even hinted at except by fiat of viewing the universe accordingly. Naturalists take the universe at face value: these things that we know to be are evidence of themselves. Their existence is proof of just that: their existence. No extrapolations or suppositions of extraneous elements are required. To say that this is subject to human fallibility is to conveniently ignore the fact that so is the knowledge of, perception of, and qualification of a deity. The difference is we can show the universe exists; we are ourselves the evidence of that. Despite the limitations of human faculties, that’s something we all agree on. Gods, ghosts, and goblins are not so universal in their acclaim.
    (cont'd)

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  37. (cont'd)

    To say that the singularity from which the universe expanded conforms to “no known physics” again goes without saying. The physics around us today is, by definition, the physics of a universe in a dimensional state. The physics of a non-dimensional universe would, of course, be different. Given that we don’t currently inhabit such a universe, and that we only began to glean that the universe wasn’t always like this only about 90 years ago, it’s not all that surprising that the nature of the universe prior to its current condition would constitute a “mystery” to us. But that’s the problem with theists: anything we don’t currently know isn’t seen as something we ought to investigate and eventually understand: it’s seen as an opportunity to spread mysticism: the god of the gaps. If we don’t understand it (yet), then a god must exist. The order of the colours of the spectrum in rainbows was once used for this purpose. The nature of breathing was as well. Now that we understand enough about optics, respiration and circulation that they are no longer mysteries, it’s the turn of the first few milliseconds of the expansion of the universe, and its state prior to that.

    Zero volume is not the same thing as nothing (and even if the universe did come into existence “ex nihilo”, that still is not in and of itself proof that it did so at the behest of a god). Zero volume is simply the lack of dimension, not the lack of the content of the universe itself. I’m sorry if it’s difficult to understand (and I’m not being sarcastic; it is), but to put it crudely, everything that we think of as matter and energy simply existed without dimension. There was no volume, no space, to the universe. But everything that makes it up today across billions of light-years existed – just without any elbow room at all. At some point about 13 billion years ago (or so), dimensionality became a feature of our universe, and expansion began – this is to say, the Big Bang was underway. It still is.

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  38. Lone Primate:

    I don’t mean to be an interloper here, but you’ve made some assertions in you discussion with Denny that were pertinent to our conversations and, if you don't mind, I'd like to comment on them.

    You continue to maintain the party line with:

    Science isn’t a religion, where if someone says you got a date wrong, you have to go to war against the new knowledge.

    I agree that this should be the case—in a perfect world where the objective pursuit of scientific truth by those claiming to be scientists (regardless of where the evidence leads) was the ultimate goal. But you consistently fail to acknowledge the fact that scientific wars are being waged precisely because someone disputes the actual data. I love how the ultra-left, atheistic, scientific community strives for a “healthy skepticism” regarding currently unexplained phenomena in their own fields of “expertise” (i.e. fields chosen by an a priori worldview interest—and ones in which an undeniable philosophical and political underpinning exists), but without exception, whenever any challenge is presented to their “conventional wisdom,” those challengers are invariably regarded as ignorant boobs. Consider how eminently qualified climate scientists are referred to as “climate-change deniers” rather than mere skeptics. And I needn’t even mention how those who dissent from Darwinism (regardless of how credentialed) are regarded by the atheistic left.

    And this explanation:

    Zero volume is not the same thing as nothing… everything that we think of as matter and energy simply existed without dimension

    begs several questions. First, if everything we can perceive existed without dimension, then wouldn’t it mean that at that point everything would be empirically undetectable? If so, then how can you posit that from a scientific standpoint? (it sounds more philosophical than scientific). Also, if everything did exist without volume, and therefore was empirically undetectable, then wouldn’t that make everything essentially immaterial?

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  39. JCC:

    Another way of phrasing what’s expressed by the good Mr. Lewontin is that, lacking any evidence for anything outside of the natural, one is obliged by intellectual honesty to proceed accordingly. Supernatural explanation after supernatural explanation for phenomena in the world have fallen to natural ones over the centuries; no direct demonstration of the existence of anything beyond the natural has ever shown; and yet, after all this time, and after the clear trend and progress of science and natural explanations, we are still implored to credit the existence of magic, simply on the basis that we don’t claim to know everything, can’t explain everything.

    I would differ from Mr. Lewontin in one regard: there’s nothing counter-intuitive about accepting what’s demonstrably real; that’s how we’ve made our way in the world for millions of years. What’s counter-intuitive is assuming something’s there when there’s evidence for it. A child believes with his whole being that there are monsters under the bed until the covers are drawn aside... but the reassurance is momentary; as soon as the covers are set back and the lights go out, surely the monsters have returned. Likewise science and naturalism have had to progress in the face of this hurricane gale of ignorance since at least the time of the Ionians; frequently, they have been made to stumble and falter, only to crawl their way back to their feet after dark epochs of witch hunts, superstition, and holocausts when the monsters are once more under the bed. Luckily we live in an era of the covers drawn back... for now.

    For a virus to mutate is actually a “Darwinian” speciation event. That the virus is unaffected by what kills unchanged forms is the demonstration of that fact. All that a speciation event entails is the capitalization upon an allele variation to provide a material advantage in a given environment, and that’s all it’s ever been. It’s not penguins turning into sharks or begonias turning into snakes... that’s magic; the kind of things that only happens in certain very old books. It’s not what science predicts, observes, or describes. A virus becoming a new strain of virus that never existed before, on the other hand, is.

    I’m not sure how to the counter the insistence that strata do no contain transitional forms. How is one to put it, except that EVERY form is, unless it is the very last of its kind, by definition a transitional form. If you have children, you’re a transitional form. And of course, by “finely graduated”, what creationists mean is that they will reject the notion of sequence until every single animal that ever died is dug up and laid side by side. It’s an effective, but disingenuous, means of never having to accept the otherwise obvious conclusion to be drawn from the fact that modern animals never occur in ancient layers, but increasingly similar ones do; and that those similar but not identical ones are not found in the world today, but modern forms are. One is only left to remark that Noah really let down the side, allowing over 99% of his creator’s creation to die and disappear from the world in the other postulated explanation, a big flood (that somehow also settled out into a nice gradient of ancient-to-modern forms at the some time).

    (cont’d)

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  40. (cont’d)

    Of course, the nature of the corroborating experiments that would assuage the misgivings of creationists (at least until they could come up with the next face-saving range of objections) are conveniently impossible. They demand to see something like a fish turn into a frog overnight, and until this is demonstrated, they’ll call evolution a lie. Better educated creationists, fully aware that this is not predicted by science, are untroubled by the disingenuousness of the tactic, and worse, have no compunction whatsoever about claiming to their less well educated fellows that this is what science claims, and yet no one’s ever seen it. And sadly, so very bleakly for the future and fate of humanity, they get away with it in their millions. The Dark Ages are not over yet.

    I think it’s odd, too, to suggest the Council of Nicaea was seeking “the truth”. Every indication is that what they were seeking was orthodoxy; that’s not the same thing. What they did was take a vote on the party line. Seeking the truth would have meant actually determining where the truth lay. It would have meant taking the two positions, and finding a way to demonstrate the actual validity of one against the other. But let’s be honest: the question was farcical in the first place. It was the equivalent of asking whether all those children clapping their hands really did bring Tinkerbell back to life or not, and then condemning, ostracizing, and burning at the stake those holding the minority position. How would the world be in any measure a better place for pretending to have found “the truth” in this absurd argument?

    References to such things as the anthropic principle and the idea that DNA is an actual “code” (rather than metaphoric one that is actually a molecular catalyst for generating proteins) are simply inferences. They’re spin applied to the world around us to produce a god. Being impressed by the sophistication or subtlety of a natural object, and being unable or unwilling to investigate or credit the natural processes that give rise to it and choosing instead to attribute their existence to a larger, more powerful version of one’s self, are the only necessary ingredients. Such arguments invariably put the evidentiary cart before the horse; they hold not that we are as we are because we are the survivors of successful adaptations to a given environment, but rather that the environment is such that it supports us. This is akin to a conscious puddle believing the shape of the hole it fills was created precisely to accord to its own shape, and infer from this backward idea the existence of a great puddle god. We are that puddle, in every sense.

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  41. Quoting Lone Primate, “Calling the initiation of the current dimensional framework of the universe a “creation” does not actually make it a creation…”

    The word “creation”, representing the origin of everything about which we know, has a longer historical context and broader application than any naturalist’s term. Naturalists use the term in the same context all the time. Besides, you knew exactly what I was talking about. See, we’re communicating.

    It’s not putting words into the mouth of Jenny Clack to simply quote her. In the absence of empirical evidence, or facing empirical evidence (like “Tetrapod Trackways…”) contrary to one’s preferred posit (evolutionism), inference is the best explanation. She said that the discovery of “Tetrapod Trackways…” “blows the whole story (about land vertebrate origins) out of the water, so to speak.” Therefore, she inferred that evolutionary land vertebrate “storys” are now more than questionable. My point is simply that evolutionism is suffering a death of a thousand cuts – more likely many thousands of cuts. The cuts are the scientific discoveries, which rather than confirming evolutionary posits, instead disconfirm them. The “Tetrapod Trackways…” findings are but one cut.

    I don’t think your analogy about something dating from the 50’s vs. the 60’s works. Elvis’ music was made with the same technology, no matter the date. The “Tetrapod Trackways…” information, like so many other recent fossil discoveries, indicates that the biological and biochemical complexity of early creatures is more technologically (my metaphor) advanced that a gradual evolutionary model would allow. Back to my initial point. The more that biological complexity is pushed back in time, the more narrow is the time for gradual evolution. As these instances increase, the ‘cuts’ increase.

    Quoting Lone Primate, “Naturalists take the universe at face value:”

    If that’s so, then why did Einstein introduce a fudge factor into his original general relativity formula? If that’s so, what caused the "Piltdown Man" hoax? Besides the fact that there are many more such examples of nefariousness in science, I’m not attacking science or scientists. I am simply pointing out that naturalists want non-naturalists to accept Darwinian evolution and its derivatives as an explanation for virtually everything that faith tries to explain. But, that’s more than a little ironic. Because many influential naturalists claim that there is no meaning or purpose to life. Therefore, if naturalists want evolution to be a valid explanation for life, then their prime evidence for life and its origins (evolution) should be able to live up to its predictions more often than not. Science involves predictions. Let’s suppose there’s a table with two columns. One is labeled evolution-model and the other creation-model. Below are many rows representing the many fields and areas of science. Suppose each cell contains a respective prediction against which new scientific data can be matched. I think it’s fairly plain to anyone that pays attention that the evolution-model is facing more challenges these days, simply matched against its own predictions. That has the potential for rendering naturalism as a less than valid belief system.

    Quoting Lone Primate, “There was no volume, no space, to the universe.” Wow. How can you make such definitive statements? And, besides, isn’t that a description of “ex nihilo”, the Bible’s posit about creation from millennia ago?

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  42. (cont’d.)

    Quoting Lone Primate, “Naturalists take the universe at face value:”

    If that’s so, then why did Einstein introduce a fudge factor into his original general relativity formula? Or, what caused the "Piltdown Man" hoax, or South Korean veterinarian and researcher, Hwang Woo-suk's fraudulant stem cell research? Besides the fact that there are many more such examples of nefariousness in science, I’m not attacking science or scientists. I am simply pointing out that naturalists want non-naturalists to accept Darwinian evolution and its derivatives as an explanation for virtually everything that faith tries to explain. But, that’s more than a little ironic, since many influential naturalists claim that there is no meaning or purpose to life. Therefore, if naturalists want evolution to be a valid explanation for life, then their prime evidence for life and its origins (evolution) should be able to live up to its predictions more often than not. Science involves predictions. Let’s suppose there’s a table with two columns. One is labeled evolution-model and the other creation-model. Below are many rows representing the many fields and areas of science. Suppose each cell contains a respective prediction against which new scientific data can be matched. I think it’s fairly plain to anyone that pays attention that the evolution-model is facing more challenges these days, simply matched against its own predictions. That has the potential for rendering naturalism as a less than valid belief system.

    Quoting Lone Primate, “There was no volume, no space, to the universe.” Wow. How can you make such definitive statements? And, besides, isn’t that a description of “ex nihilo”, the Bible’s posit about creation from millennia ago?

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  43. I feel that I have acknowledged that scientists dispute data, and even that they have axes to grind. I’ve pointed out at least two such issues in discussions here: the phlogiston vs. oxygen models of combustion, and the controversy over continental drift. To say that science is not a religion is true: it’s a system for reliably testing, validating, and falsifying models that explain the workings of natural systems, which was formulated precisely as a means to objectively overcome the roadblocks of our emotional and philosophical blinkers. This is not the same thing as saying that scientists, who are after all human beings, are above having emotional or even fiscal attachments to their own models. What it is to say, though, is that there is a means for determining which model best accords to the facts (at least as they are contemporarily understood; this, too, changes over time and must be accommodated by science – a strength which, paradoxically, is often held against it as a weakness by creationists). Neither of the controversies I mention was put to rest by a vote that simply shouted down the minority view, or overnight by someone simply standing up and pronouncing on orthodoxy. Both of them took generations to determine, and what determined them was the overwhelming accumulation of actual evidence.

    None of this is to say that science is perfect; it’s a human enterprise and that implies much in terms of jealousy, hidden contrary evidence, avarice, and even pure honest error. But since it’s also a communal enterprise in which everyone has a voice and contrary evidence has to be evaluated in turn and not merely dismissed out of hand, in the long run, these inefficiencies tend to be cancelled out and we actually do see progress. The medical, technological, and material enhancement of our lives due to science in just my lifetime has been breathtaking; beyond anything experienced by any generation before. I honestly believe that nothing is more important to our long term survival, and the betterment of our lives while we’re doing that surviving, than the honest and forthright pursuit of science. It is far and away the crowning achievement of our particular species.

    To say that a singularity, in which by definition there is no differentiation of content, defies an empirical examination from within strikes me as correct, even self-evident. First of all, no observer native to the system could exist. Secondly, what would there be to observe? Conditions within it would be uniform and constant; there’d be no need to for anything like science, and nothing for it to observe. Science is a tool of use in a universe composed such as ours currently is, where there is differentiation, where change does occur, and where those different things undergo that change with an observable consistency. To say that tools of use to us in current conditions are not suitable or useful in others is not to argue the universe out of existence simply because at one time it wasn’t what it is now; what it implies is that under such conditions, science is inapplicable and superfluous. Based on the fundamentals we have discovered and will continue to, there are likely things we can know about such a state, eventually (although I’m not sure it could be described in terms of any use to us). I don’t believe the state of the art for physics is anywhere near that point yet. There are matters which, simply, we must entrust to future generations, just as Jules Verne sadly had to when it came to La voyage dans la lune.

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  44. JCC:

    Previously stated:

    What’s counter-intuitive is assuming something’s there when there’s evidence for it.

    ...should, of course, read:

    What’s counter-intuitive is assuming something’s there when there’s no evidence for it.

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  45. Denny:

    I entirely agree that the word “creation” does have a long history. It goes back at least as far as people decided to attribute the existence of everything around them to some Neolithic or Bronze Age version of the Great Gazoo. It’s a spin word. And I also acknowledge that I understood what you meant when you chose the word. Where we differ is that I don’t agree you had no choice. There are other ways of describing all that is without attributing its existence to something magic outside of it. A word like “universe”, for example, fits the bill and makes no assumptions one way or the other.

    It’s not putting words in Jenny Clack’s mouth to quote her; that isn’t what I said. But to quote her in the context of suggesting that all of evolution, rather than the previously-accepted timeline of the origin of tetrapods, is thus disestablished, is. One wonders what you could hope to achieve from this supposed victory in any case. Even if tetrapod evolution comes earlier than people previously thought, there’s still 400 million years of subsequent, and about 2.5 billion years of previous, evolution to be accounted for. The find doesn’t translate to pretending none of the other evidence exists and so therefore the Earth is 6000-10000 years old, Adam was a real man, and God’s middle name is Hank. I also don’t see how the fact that tetrapods might have evolved over 2.7 billion years since life began, as opposed to something like 2.75 or 2.8, suddenly opens the door to the necessity of miracles to get there. This is like saying if you get to work in 59 minutes instead of an hour, therefore your god simply must have magically zapped every 60th car out of your way. I don’t believe that’s a justified conclusion. What you call “evolutionism”’s death by a thousand cuts is, in reality, science’s process of fine-tuning what we know to be true of the world based on the evidence we find. If this discovery turns out to be valid, all that it means is that we’ve discovered that tetrapods emerged as a distinct form of vertebrate earlier than we previously thought. Where you see a crisis in this for science genuinely escapes me.

    To say that Elvis’s music was made with the same technology, 1950s to 1960s, actually does work as an analogy on the biological level as well, though I hadn’t really intended it specifically that way. Tetrapods live and are genetically defined the same as anything else; that “technology” didn’t change (we are tetrapods, by the way). It just produced something earlier than we had previous cause for understanding.

    (cont’d)

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  46. (cont’d)

    It’s faintly amusing that the examples you come up with are actually the ones that demonstrate exactly how science overcomes human foibles and why it works as well as it does. If these were matters of religion, corrections would not have been made; inconsistencies between models and observations would be simply waved away as matters of faith, punishable by damnation should the individual prove incapable of the requisite doublethink. Not necessary in these cases. In the first case, Einstein was working with relativity at a time when no one yet knew the universe was expanding. He was living and working at a time when, lacking evidence to the contrary, people conceived of the universe as a steady state. Einstein realized relativity implied a universe that would collapse in on itself, and so postulated an antigravitational force (his so-called “fudge factor”) to balance out gravity and maintain a voluminous universe, that was also consistent with the observations supported by relativity. If we really did live in a steady state universe, then this probably would have been the moment that science uncovered an antigravitational principle. As it is, the work of Edwin Hubble a few years later revealed the universe to be expanding, demonstrated the inconsistency was merely apparent, and removed the necessity for postulating an antigravitational force, which Einstein then retracted. This is how science works. Similarly, it was science itself that revealed Piltdown Man to be a hoax. Even at the time of its discovery, it was not widely heralded to be genuine and was largely the pet of British anthropologists who fervently wanted to claim Britain as the place of mankind’s origin. But very quickly the evidence against it piled up: no other such fossils were found, either in Britain or elsewhere, and meanwhile quite different fossils were found elsewhere, that were in accord with each other, but not Piltdown Man. The only surprising thing in the whole matter is that it took so long for someone to really haul out the skull and put it to the test. When it did not accord with the facts, it was discarded. It didn’t matter how much some people dearly wanted it to be “the truth”; it demonstrably was not. And it was science working at its best (though not its quickest) that proved it. But the fact is, the Piltdown Man hoax is a triumph for science, not a shame; and it demonstrates how differs fundamentally science from religion. Carl Sagan, in the book Cosmos, succinctly summed it up in what might fairly be a motto for the enterprise: “We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be.” That’s the difference.

    (cont’d)

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  47. (cont’d)

    Evolution, like any other science, does make testable evolutions. If you’re talking about what species will arise next, that’s not something science can, or does, predict; at least not reliably (trends can be indicated, however). But predictions that can falsify the theory, or at least its grasp of how various forms relate to one another, are myriad. For example: no mammal will be found with feathers or gills; no bird with hair or mammary glands. No two species distantly related can produce offspring together. No mammal or bird fossil will be found in Denovian deposits or earlier. No tetrapod will be found without the blind spot in the retina. These are predictions made on the model as it’s understood. An objection is forthcoming, I’m sure, that at least some of these predictions merely state the obvious. But then, physics predicts that if you drop a penny of the Empire State Building it will fall to the street; chemistry predicts that if you put carbonate of soda in water it will fizz; biology predicts that if a vetebrate’s heart permanently stops beating, it will die of oxygen starvation. Whenever one of these predictions is falsified, will we know there’s something fundamental about our understanding of things that is wrong.

    With regard to the previous state of the universe, you really seem to be struggling with the concept I’m putting forward. “Ex nihilo” doesn’t enter into it; something by definition isn’t nothing. Try to conceive of the Big Bang as simply the unpacking of something incredibly compact; so compact it doesn’t take up any room at all. Try to think of “room” itself as merely a new condition for something that existed previously without recourse to it. That violates our everyday, common-sense notion of things; but since we were given rise to by a condition in which volume is a requisite, that’s not a justification in and of itself for denying it. It was not all that long ago hard to believe, even silly to suppose, that human beings would fly, or could that one in London could talk to another in Singapore as if they were sitting in the same room. But science points the way.

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  48. Lone Primate (1 of 2):

    Another way of phrasing what’s expressed by the good Mr. Lewontin is that, lacking any evidence for anything outside of the natural, one is obliged by intellectual honesty to proceed accordingly.

    If that were so, then why didn’t he say it that way? His phraseology was unambiguous and you’re attempting to put words in his mouth. Aside from the addition of your completely subjective assertion of “lacking any evidence for anything outside of the natural,” Lewontin is clearly admitting to a willful refusal to acknowledge a possible explanation—which is not by “obligation to intellectual honesty.” It’s by a prior, emotional commitment to a worldview that cannot tolerate competition and must, by necessity, prohibit its adherents from thinking freely.

    And your claim:

    For a virus to mutate is actually a “Darwinian” speciation event.

    demonstrates your lack of comprehension of the very “theory” in which you’ve so emotionally invested yourself (and, the veracity of which, your entire worldview depends).

    That the virus is unaffected by what kills unchanged forms is the demonstration of that fact. All that a speciation event entails is the capitalization upon an allele variation to provide a material advantage in a given environment, and that’s all it’s ever been.

    Really? Then why does the biologic community continue to categorize H1N1’s taxonomy as Influenzavirus A Influenza A virus? No wholesale changes occurred at the genus level to justify calling this mutation a speciation event. I defy you to produce any scientific literature that has made such a claim. Think about what you’re asserting. It’s like claiming that any allele change in an individual homo sapiens that makes that individual resistant to a previously pernicious pathogen is sufficient to warrant a new species. You either haven’t thought through what you’re claiming or, like I said, you simply don’t understand what your own “theory” claims as truth.

    And:

    EVERY form is, unless it is the very last of its kind, by definition a transitional form. If you have children, you’re a transitional form.

    Is further evidence of how broad you Darwinists must cast your “transitional form” net in order to maintain any kind of intellectual coherence to your “theory.”

    And of course, by “finely graduated”, what creationists mean is that they will reject the notion of sequence…

    No. “Finely graduated” were Darwin’s words, not mine.

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  49. Lone Primate (2 of 2):

    Have you ever heard of “marker” fossils? Are you aware of an entire industry created to assist petroleum geologists in determining the age of the undifferentiated formation they’re drilling through by identifying distinct marker fossil species in their drill cuttings? A marker fossil is, by definition, a member of a species with a documented stratigraphic range—one that suddenly and discretely appears in the stratigraphic column and disappears equally abruptly. There are no “finely graduated” transitional forms, that’s why they’re called marker fossils. You’d think that something as short-lived as the lowly foraminifera would be an ideal example of Darwinian evolution—and demonstrate such a fine gradation from one species to the next. But no, all paleontologists can find are their fully-formed appearances and extinctions. The best way to test a theory is if you can put it to practical use and earn money off it. Money is made off fossils, but it doesn’t corroborate evolution, it contradicts it.

    Of course, the nature of the corroborating experiments that would assuage the misgivings of creationists… are conveniently impossible.

    So, what does that say about the viability of your theory? If anything, the convenience lies in the fact that your “theory” can’t be tested, therefore, it can’t be wrong!

    References to … the idea that DNA is an actual “code” (rather than metaphoric one that is actually a molecular catalyst for generating proteins) [is] simply [an] inference.

    Ok, then could you please give an indication of the magnitude of the probabilistic resources that are required for a chance nucleotide arrangement of even the simplest functional protein?

    being unable or unwilling to investigate or credit the natural processes that give rise to it

    Again, please indicate which “natural processes” gave rise to the chance nucleotide arrangement for the simplest protein?

    Such arguments invariably put the evidentiary cart before the horse… This is akin to a conscious puddle believing the shape of the hole it fills…

    Key word here: conscious. Another presupposition that it is defined and understood—as you have yet to address your failings on that here.

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  50. Quoting Lone Primate: “One wonders what you could hope to achieve from this supposed victory in any case.”

    For me, the discussion is not about the “Earth is 6000-10000 years old.” I’m an old-earth/progressive creationist. I ‘buy’ all the science (scientific knowledge/data), just not a naturalistic interpretation.

    For me, the discussion is not about “victory.” It’s about two things:

    1. I am an amateur that watches new scientific discoveries virtually every day from every field of science. Taken individually or collectively, scientific discoveries simply do not clearly confirm what naturalists say they will - they don’t trend toward confirming evolution, unless you view them through a naturalist or theistic evolutionist lens. For a moment, forget what creationists say. If naturalists are going to use evolution to explain things about life, their predictions should be more reliable, and (it seems to me) be supported by more than hostility directed toward those with whom they disagree.
    2. Also, I’m a Christian. I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I understand why life can be both fun and difficult. I also understand that my faith in God offers hope for the present and for eternity. What science reveals confirms what I know about God. I keep looking for naturalists to make the case for human purpose and hope from a process (ever-improving evolution) that is trapped in a universe that is doomed to self-destruction. What exactly does naturalism offer, on its own merits, that are hopeful, that’s inspiring, that gives meaning to lives that could be on a mountaintop one day and in the pits the next? How does evolution really help people understand who, what, and why they are? Aren’t those legitimate questions everyone has asked from antiquity? I don’t think it’s too much to ask naturalists to do a better job examining science and relating their findings to life.

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  51. JCC:

    1/3 The reason Mr. Lewontin didn’t phrase it the way I did is quite simply because he isn’t me. Whether or not that’s altogether to his credit is a matter of opinion. I don’t know if anyone here has ever ruled out a possible explanation... certainly I don’t; I’ve never said that a creator god cannot exist because I have no basis for doing so. What I do say is that there’s no reason for me to believe, and live my life, as though one did. Bigfoot may exist, fairies may exist, brain-sucking aliens and hyper-intelligent shades of the colour blue may all exist. I can’t say they don’t. But the existence of none of them has been demonstrated to me and I don’t conduct myself as though they were real; nor will I until someone unambiguously does. This is what I mean by being obliged by intellectual honesty to proceed accordingly. The exact same is of course true for most Christians as well, with the singular exception of a particular Bronze Age deity.

    It’s difficult to assess the suggestion that I do not understand evolution when the specifics of what’s supposed to have been misunderstood are not made plain. A bit like being charged with murder with the name of the victim left blank on the rap sheet – a defense is somewhat problematic. But to say that no changes occurred at the level of the genus is itself a misunderstanding of the term “speciation”. A species belongs to a genus. Speciation events occur within genuses (at least until eventually the events are so pronounced that taxonomists declare the emergence of a new genus... a largely subjective matter having more to do with how humans classify species than anything hard-and-fast in nature itself). Also, the change of something fundamental to a virus that would connote a change in species is not necessarily a speciation event in a more complex species, where an exact same change would not be termed fundamental. The change of a single word in a postcard or telegram can in and of itself change or even reverse the meaning of something that brief in a way that would be unlikely in something the length and narrative flow of a novel.

    With regard to transitional forms: it’s not so much that the net is being cast wide, but simply that some refuse to acknowledge the net. The real irony is that the sin I’m being pilloried for here is the backbone of creationist objections in the fossil record – they’re insisting on seeing detail at the same level, knowing that this is impossible even a few generations back. It’s important to note, though, that had we not a single fossil – if we lived in an environment to caustic for them to form, say – the evidence for evolution would be conclusive all the same. Fossils are simply a bonus. They do represent a finely graduated sequence in many lines that we’ve been lucky enough to find; and that’s the evidence of the kind Darwin hoped, but actually despaired, of our finding. But since every single animal that ever lived hasn’t and never will be found, creationists will always bay at the notion of fatal gaps and ignore the instances by means of which they are defined in the first place: what, then, are these fossils between which gaps exist...?

    (cont’d)

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  52. 2/3 The point about marker fossils being “sudden” in appearance and disappearance raises a few questions. If one were to find a Model A Ford ensconced in an old mine known to have closed in 1928, would it be correct on this basis to insist that Model A Fords therefore suddenly appeared in 1928, and had gone out of existence by 1929? Would it also make sense to claim that it had nothing to do with the previous examples of Model T Fords, or the subsequent Ford Model B V8? Further, what are we to make of these “marker” fossils, popping suddenly in and out of existence? If they are in fact not instances of transitional forms, what, then, are they? I ask this particularly in light of the supposed idea that there is some great, infallible designer, working towards a purpose (that being, supposedly, mankind). What do all these littered fossils of animals that no longer exist represent? Failures? Second thoughts? The vast, planetary erasures of a designer of dubious skill who just cannot seem to get the answer right, over and over and over and over again? And where are the failed attempts at human beings below a certain level, or the failed attempts at primates below an even deeper level, or the failed attempts at mammals below a certain level even deeper? Why should these be sequential at all?

    That evolution does make predictions, and that they are consistently borne out, is sadly not binding on those for whom the evidence threatens the notion of the existence of a god. Nevertheless, for instance: if the theory is correct, we should expect never to discover a species of mammal with feathers of any kind, because we understand the line between birds and mammals to have diverged prior to the rise of this structure, uniquely, in birds. Likewise no bird species should ever be discovered with hair follicles or mammary glands for exactly the same reason. Should we ever discover something like this in nature, the theory would be falsified, at least in some of its aspects. Likewise, the theory predicts that no form will be found in the fossil record earlier than the point at which its progenitors evolved. If a fossilized rabbit is ever found in strata laid down at a time prior to the evolution of vertebrates, the theory would be falsified. These are predictions of the theory, based on observation, that would falsify it if evidence were found to the contrary. That’s how it can be tested, and how it could be wrong. I wonder if anyone can explain to me a similar test to falsify Christianity?

    (cont’d)

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  53. 2/3 The point about marker fossils being “sudden” in appearance and disappearance raises a few questions. If one were to find a Model A Ford ensconced in an old mine known to have closed in 1928, would it be correct on this basis to insist that Model A Fords therefore suddenly appeared in 1928, and had gone out of existence by 1929? Would it also make sense to claim that it had nothing to do with the previous examples of Model T Fords, or the subsequent Ford Model B V8? Further, what are we to make of these “marker” fossils, popping suddenly in and out of existence? If they are in fact not instances of transitional forms, what, then, are they? I ask this particularly in light of the supposed idea that there is some great, infallible designer, working towards a purpose (that being, supposedly, mankind). What do all these littered fossils of animals that no longer exist represent? Failures? Second thoughts? The vast, planetary erasures of a designer of dubious skill who just cannot seem to get the answer right, over and over and over and over again? And where are the failed attempts at human beings below a certain level, or the failed attempts at primates below an even deeper level, or the failed attempts at mammals below a certain level even deeper? Why should these be sequential at all?

    That evolution does make predictions, and that they are consistently borne out, is sadly not binding on those for whom the evidence threatens the notion of the existence of a god. Nevertheless, for instance: if the theory is correct, we should expect never to discover a species of mammal with feathers of any kind, because we understand the line between birds and mammals to have diverged prior to the rise of this structure, uniquely, in birds. Likewise no bird species should ever be discovered with hair follicles or mammary glands for exactly the same reason. Should we ever discover something like this in nature, the theory would be falsified, at least in some of its aspects. Likewise, the theory predicts that no form will be found in the fossil record earlier than the point at which its progenitors evolved. If a fossilized rabbit is ever found in strata laid down at a time prior to the evolution of vertebrates, the theory would be falsified. These are predictions of the theory, based on observation, that would falsify it if evidence were found to the contrary. That’s how it can be tested, and how it could be wrong. I wonder if anyone can explain to me a similar test to falsify Christianity?

    (cont’d)

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  54. 2/3 The point about marker fossils being “sudden” in appearance and disappearance raises a few questions. If one were to find a Model A Ford ensconced in an old mine known to have closed in 1928, would it be correct on this basis to insist that Model A Fords therefore suddenly appeared in 1928, and had gone out of existence by 1929? Would it also make sense to claim that it had nothing to do with the previous examples of Model T Fords, or the subsequent Ford Model B V8? Further, what are we to make of these “marker” fossils, popping suddenly in and out of existence? If they are in fact not instances of transitional forms, what, then, are they? I ask this particularly in light of the supposed idea that there is some great, infallible designer, working towards a purpose (that being, supposedly, mankind). What do all these littered fossils of animals that no longer exist represent? Failures? Second thoughts? The vast, planetary erasures of a designer of dubious skill who just cannot seem to get the answer right, over and over and over and over again? And where are the failed attempts at human beings below a certain level, or the failed attempts at primates below an even deeper level, or the failed attempts at mammals below a certain level even deeper? Why should these be sequential at all?

    That evolution does make predictions, and that they are consistently borne out, is sadly not binding on those for whom the evidence threatens the notion of the existence of a god. Nevertheless, for instance: if the theory is correct, we should expect never to discover a species of mammal with feathers of any kind, because we understand the line between birds and mammals to have diverged prior to the rise of this structure, uniquely, in birds. Likewise no bird species should ever be discovered with hair follicles or mammary glands for exactly the same reason. Should we ever discover something like this in nature, the theory would be falsified, at least in some of its aspects. Likewise, the theory predicts that no form will be found in the fossil record earlier than the point at which its progenitors evolved. If a fossilized rabbit is ever found in strata laid down at a time prior to the evolution of vertebrates, the theory would be falsified. These are predictions of the theory, based on observation, that would falsify it if evidence were found to the contrary. That’s how it can be tested, and how it could be wrong. I wonder if anyone can explain to me a similar test to falsify Christianity?

    (cont’d)

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  55. 3/3 The requisite blocks necessary to build RNA (though not actually RNA itself) spontaneously self-synthesized in a laboratory experiment in 2009. I really have no idea how big the vessel containing the prebiotic environment was, nor do I know for how long the experiment ran. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that it was a considerably smaller volume than the oceans of the Earth, and that the experiment ran for weeks or months, rather than billions of years... and yet, even in so small a volume and over such a brief period, we are brought to the threshold of RNA’s door. When you’re talking about an experiment running on a planetary scale for geological periods of time, given the propensity of carbon atoms to chain, chance doesn’t seem to enter into it, in the big picture. Estimates I’ve seen put the origin of the Earth at 4.5 billion years ago, and life at 3.1 billion years ago. That’s 1.4 billion years of groundwork. Try to imagine 1.4 billion years, and everything that would have gone on on the planet in that time. That’s seven times longer than mammals have existed, from their humblest shrewlike forms on up to humans and elephants, bats and blue whales. It doesn’t seem at all remarkable or even unlikely that in all that time, molecules increasingly good at self-replication would slowly proliferate in the waters of the world. “It is all a matter of time scale. An event that would be unthinkable in a hundred years may be inevitable in a hundred million.”

    I was wondering, too, how long it would take to be badgered back to the previous discussion. I guess the good grace to avoid doing so for most of a month constitutes a one-way street. Apparently only some of us are allowed the privilege of busy lives and multiple discussions elsewhere.

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  56. Denny:

    It’s hard to imagine how anyone could say that the discoveries of science over the past 160 years do not trend towards the advocacy of a naturalistic explanation for existence of the variety of life around us. It’s quite clear that the trend is in that direction. At the time Darwin and Wallace were reaching their parallel conclusions, science didn’t yet understand the workings of the cell, or the mechanics of heredity, or have the ability to contrast and compare the genomes of various animals and plants, or have an extensive, chronologically-stratified fossil record (including examples of our own lineage). And yet, simply by means of comparative anatomy, they could still draw the conclusion that the radiation of life forms from a single primitive source was a natural, and ongoing, occurrence that needed no divinity to explain, initiate, or sustain it. Well, now we do have all those things, and they accord wonderfully to the theory and add more weight its evidence with every passing year. And yet, despite the evidence and all the medical breakthroughs brought about by this ever-increasing understanding of the basics of biology, there are those who refuse to view the vast tapestry the evidence makes up and instead, driven by the need to preserve an ancient myth, spend all their time with their faces pressed up against the fabric, looking for any tiny thread to pull, that they can pluck and cry, “A flaw! This confirms what I know about my god!” What a truly sad, impoverished, and desperate enterprise that is.

    I deny that there is a “naturalistic lens” through which to look at nature. To look at nature naturalistically is to do with the unadorned naked eye; to be led to conclusions by the observations. There is a theistic lens, of course. This is used to distort observations in order that they may accord to conclusions already made long ago; Space Age science tortured by the blunt mental instruments of the Bronze Age. For instance, you claim to “buy the science”. Then you understand the process by which mutation occurs among alleles, and that the concentration of these alleles in populations implies change over time. That’s the basics of it. Where do you see the need for a god to swing down from the heavens and “progress” a process that’s already going on? And by what means is this accomplished, and how would we go about quantifying it so that we could know the difference? The only answer that springs to mind is irreducible complexity, which has repeatedly been demonstrated to be less the evidence of a creator as a lack of imagination, understanding, and scientific ethics among some members of this supposed god’s “creatures”.

    It’s not unusual that discussions of this kind will come around to meaning. Why is science somehow a failure if it does not provide you with a comfortable pat on the head that you’re somehow important? Why is it obliged to? Why is the universe obliged to? Simply because you want it to be so? Science is about taking observations made about the universe around us and generating principles of consistency about how, and when possible, why, it operates. And that’s it. If you want your life to have meaning, do something with it. Make a difference. Sitting around waiting for someone else to provide evidence that, yes, simply in being human you are intrinsically the Prince of Wales of All Creation, or waving an old book around because it offers something of the kind, is a colossal waste of what little time you know for absolutely certain you will exist (anything else is speculative at best; illusory at worst). Give your own life meaning. Create it. Quit expecting to find it left under your pillow in the morning by the “truth fairy”.

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  57. Lone Primate

    Among all your words, where is the reason you get up each morning?

    If I am wrong, then I have wasted time and money, and annoyed some people like you. What if I am not?

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  58. Lone Primate,

    I look forward to your reply to my previous questions. In the mean time, after pondering you comments from Friday, January 07, 2011 8:39:00 PM, you said, “If you (Denny) want your life to have meaning, do something with it. Make a difference.” How does one do this, when a naturalist? If life has no special meaning or purpose, if it’s all ultimately one big accident the will end in cosmic cold and we won’t even be a memory, how does one make a difference?

    You also said, “It’s not unusual that discussions of this kind will come around to ‘meaning’.” Again, if life has no special meaning or purpose, (from a naturalistic, atheistic, evolutionary view) why do discussions of this kind come around to meaning?”

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  59. Denny:

    why do discussions of this kind come around to meaning?

    Because inevitably, theists bring it up. They have this baked-into-the-concept idea that "meaning" is furnished by a god or gods (I'll come back to the implications of this idea later), and so demand of those of us who see no reason to believe in their existence what the point is otherwise.

    Asking this question simply ignores the one I asked last week: why is science, or the universe itself, required to furnish you with a "meaning" simply because you feel due one? I don't see how your insistence your life have "meaning" is obliging on anyone but you yourself, frankly. Certainly naturalists aren’t responsible for whether your particular life, or life in general, have meaning.

    Nevertheless...

    If life has no special meaning or purpose, if it’s all ultimately one big accident the will end in cosmic cold and we won’t even be a memory, how does one make a difference?

    Denny, do you know the name of the man who came up with the three-field system in Medieval Europe that increased the yield of a given acreage of pastureland an average of 50% over the old two-field system? No, you don’t. No one does. But whoever that person was, that simple idea, obvious to us today, made a huge difference. It fed people who would have starved; hundreds millions of people have been born and lived lives who could never have been born or supported otherwise. It also provided a surplus to Europe that facilitated trade and ultimately the exploration of the New World. We don’t know who this person was, and we never will. Is that, finally, important? Or is the effect of his life having been lived a certain way on all the rest of us who followed the point?

    Meaning is found in the things we think about, the ideas that come to us as a result, the actions we take based on those ideas, and the impact those actions have on our own lives and the lives of people around us. Good or bad, great or small. They resonate, and inspire others to acts of their own, either to build on what we’ve done or counter it. Meaning is found in the ways those ripples spread out from us, and the things they cause in turn. This is true regardless of whether or not one believes in a god, or whether there is a god or not.

    But I’ll ask the question in reverse. Where is the “meaning” to be found in simply acting out the role assigned you by the perfect knowledge of a god, who knew, long before you were created to follow the script, what you would do, what you would think, what the results would be, and your fate? Where is the dignity you seek in being an automaton of your god’s perfect knowledge, in which free will exists neither for you nor even for your god, constrained as even he is by the perfection of his knowledge (that is, how can even he do something he didn’t know he was going to do, and is thus denied the freedom to confound his own knowledge by acting contrary to it)? What is the “meaning” in being a fleshbot your own god had no choice but to make and roll down a hill to the inevitable bottom? I don’t see how your beliefs, when critically examined, provide you with something that mine would not.

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  60. Lone Primate,

    Before I respond to your several questions, here’s what I’m getting at and why.

    First, my two younger brothers inherited Duchenne muscular dystrophy. They each died at age twenty.

    Second, I do prison ministry. A few months ago, I met someone I’ll call Sid. He is from Sierra Leone and 24 years old. So-called rebels murdered his father. His older sister disappeared and is presumed dead. His younger sister had part of one arm cut off by the rebels. Sid agreed to join the rebels, as a condition for releasing his sister, mother, and younger brother, who is now in a high school in my area with two of my grandchildren. One of Sid’s little toes was cut off - the better to identify him, in case he ever escaped. While with the rebels, Sid was forced to cut off part of another person’s arm. At least once, he had a bag placed over his head, was given an automatic weapon, and told to fire. The rebels kept Sid and other virtual adolescent boys in a state of intoxication for control purposes. One night, he feigned intoxication and was allowed to go to a river to get a drink. It was then that he escaped and, along with his remaining family, came to the U.S. He found employment and was doing well, when a jealous boyfriend convinced his girlfriend to accuse Sid of rape. Sid was arrested and paced in jail. Before the bogus rape charges were dropped, U.S. Immigration officials found Sid and began deportation proceedings against him on the grounds that he is a terrorist. That was almost a year ago. In jail (as we Christians call it), he got ‘saved’. Lately, he has been castigated for attending the prison Bible study. Sid has become discouraged. The Judge has three times postponed a decision that was due last October.

    So, Lone Primate, you referred to the “man who came up with the three-field system in Medieval Europe that increased [crop] yield”. I guess that was your way of assigning value and meaning to the unidentified man, in response to my question about how naturalists find meaning and purpose in a scientific reality that will inevitably eradicate all cosmic life and any trace of it. Apologizing for the metaphor, if there were a Church of Naturalism with evolution as its evidence, and in which a sermon was preached that had nothing to do with the purported weaknesses of other churches, what would the naturalist preacher say to my parents and their three sons about their situation? And what would the naturalist preacher say to Sid, as he waits, facing all that goes with his past, his present, and the future possibility of being separated from the family he saved, and the fate of being returned to his tormentors?

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  61. Denny:



    Where do you see a loving god in the needless suffering and truncated lives of your brothers? Where is the clever designer of the universe in evidence in the gratuitous existence of such a thing as muscular dystrophy? Where do you see intrinsic “meaning” in what befell your brothers – and what is that meaning? I’m reliably informed by someone else who routinely comments here, as well as by the faith I once professed, that the soul is infused at conception. Where is the “meaning” intrinsic in the lives of tens of millions of fertilized, soul-infused eggs that fail to implant, or are spontaneously aborted, each year? Where is the “meaning” intrinsic in the lives of the hundreds of thousands of children who die annually before their first birthday – lives that offer nothing but a few brief weeks of pain to a soul whose mettle is never even tested in the world, and who leaves behind nothing but grief and sorrow in its wake? To me, if your god exists, then these are evidence of maliciousness, a willful malevolence that suborns the kind of torture that love would never have suffered to exist in the first place. You loved your brothers. Having the choice, would you have inflicted muscular dystrophy and two bare decades of life on them? Well, assuming he exists, your god had that choice, and he was perfectly willing to do so. That you can turn around and call that love astounds me. Better that your god should exist not at, and for such tragedies to be the imperfect workings of biology, than that we should be governed by such a monster.



    The tale you told about “Sid” is actually an illustration of my own point. “Sid” is a wonderful, breathtaking example of a person giving his own live meaning. Many people would have surrendered to their supposed fate after suffering so much; I’m by no means sure that I wouldn’t have myself. But he didn’t. That man has prevailed over so much, and he did it because he himself was determined enough to, smart enough to, and brave enough to. For you to come along and purport to him that the glory for accomplishing all this does not belong to him, but actually to someone else (real or imagined), is to me nothing short of theft; a deliberate devaluation of the best things about human beings. As far as I’m concerned, your superstition and the self-debasement that runs all through it is just one more tribulation for “Sid” to overcome.



    I’m not religious. Naturalism is not my “church”; it is simply the sum of what can be demonstrated to exist, and the practical knowledge that we can build upon. I have no pat, red-letter-text answers for either you as a bereft brother, or to “Sid” who has suffered so much at the hands of other human beings. But I can say that other, enlightened, human beings created lands that people like Sid can aspire to make their own like, or failing that at least to escape to (that is, when they’re not being run by people similar in character and compassion to the god of the Old Testament). And I can say that there is love in evidence in the human beings who, despite not being inflicted with the disease themselves, spend their lives searching for treatments and cures for things like muscular dystrophy, which all the prayer in the world for thousands of years did nothing to stop, salve, or even comprehend.

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  62. Lone Primate. if there were a position for God and it was vacant, and you agreed to fill the position, how would you handle the making of the universe and everything in it, like humans? How would you handle things like my brothers situations, and the others you mentioned to which you attribute malevolence by the previous occupant of your position?

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  63. Denny:

    Well, there’s a point of contention even in your proposition. I don’t see any indication the universe set out to “make humans” or anything else in particular. We’re here because of any number of circumstances, happenings, and individual choices among our ancestors; a change in any one of which would mean someone else – possibly very different – would be here today instead of us. Nevertheless...

    If I were a god (or the God, whatever) and my stated intention was to create humans, I’d simply create them, very much as it’s laid out in Genesis. The self-evident nature of that is probably why Genesis and most other creation myths I’m aware of are that direct. I’d be very clear about how it was done, what my intentions were, and what I expected of humanity... and I mean clear in a way that just dropping off the Bible is not. I mean being around, being visible, being accessible; not some metaphysical absentee landlord during this worldwide Irish potato famine we call life. I’m God; it’s not like I don’t have time for this. I would be as manifest as the guy next door, more a part of your everyday life and more real to you than the President. Everyone would agree I was real, about what I wanted, and that I cared. What I wouldn’t do is supposedly create the world in six days, and then litter it with red herrings like billions of years worth of fake fossils and misleading commonalities in genomes among wholly unrelated beings that would suggest to any independent observer that they were, in fact, related, and an expanding universe and background radiation suggesting the whole place wasn’t thousands, but actually billions, of years old. If I really wanted to save people from being misled to eternal damnation, I wouldn’t do any of that (I also wouldn’t damn them eternally, for that matter)... nor would I let anyone else, like “the Devil”. I’m all for free will, but I draw the line at freely choosing to massacre my beloved children. Wouldn’t you?

    But to get down to brass tacks, I wouldn’t create humans. Not as such, anyway. If I wanted some sort of society of companion beings, I’d make them very much like me. Being a jealous god, I might limit their powers somewhat so that I’m still “god” and they’re still “creatures”, but otherwise I’d design them to be free of the sorts of limitations that human beings have. I’m being asked to imagine myself in the position of being a perfect designer. Let’s imagine I’m out to design an airplane, rather than a human. Well, if I’m perfect, I can design an airplane that will never crash, never run out of fuel, not need oxygen for propulsion, etc., etc. And yet, for some reason, I design a plane where, periodically, the wings will shear off. Or the tail rudder hydraulics will fail. Or catastrophic loss of cabin pressure at 30,000 ft. occurs. Now keep in mind: I’m supposedly perfect; I don’t have to fight against my own ignorance or combat physical forces when I build. I didn’t have to design airplanes such that they suffer any of these defects... and yet, I have. I’ve chosen to do this. What other conclusion is there than that it pleases me that, every so often, airplanes are going to plummet from the sky and take hundreds of terror-filled innocent people to their untimely deaths, filling the lives of their friends and families at horror contemplating their fates? Where is the love for those people, who trusted me with their lives, in this needlessly faulty design?

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  64. Your airplane analogy seems to fail to leave room for free will in humans, and almost implies that they should be as perfect as you, in your role as God. You almost imply that you will save them from themselves, kind of like a benevolent dictator or puppeteer. People are not perfect. I haven’t seen, in your role as God, that you factored in human error, or any factors like natural catastrophe or disease, or the possibility of downright evil. All I see is a continuing cynical rant against your view of the God of others. I was hoping that you would offer some stand-alone rationale for a benevolent (vs. malevolent) God to contrast against the one you think you see – a God that would either eliminate suffering, or provide a cogent reason for suffering.

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  65. Lone Primate, you said, “What other conclusion is there?” Here’s one.

    I refer you to Romans 8:20 “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
    - creation = the universe, including humans
    - was = in the past
    - subjected = under the dominion of
    - frustration = emotional response to opposition, e.g. whatever threatens life
    - not by its own choice = not by the choice of anything within the universe
    - but by the will of the one who subjected it = someone outside the universe’s physical limits
    - in hope = belief in a positive outcome
    - the creation itself = including humans
    - will be liberated = freed from the universe’s physical limits (life-threatening consequences of entropy, etc.)
    - from its bondage = bound by physical limits and evil
    - to decay = gradual assault of death
    - brought = (past form of ‘bring’) take something or somebody with oneself somewhere
    - into the freedom = immunity from the consequences of one’s offenses; liberated; exempted from the power and control of moral evil and ultimate death
    - and glory = state of high honor in the presence of the Divine Being
    - of the children of God = those who accepted an inheritance of and enjoy a state of high honor with the Divine Being

    No other holy book describes more accurately (scientifically or experientially) the truths described in the first two phrases of the first sentence of Romans 8:20:
    1. All people know life isn’t perfect, and will end in death, which for humans seems counter-intuitive.
    2. The universe, from its beginning, will ultimately self-destruct.

    The “other conclusion” is that God didn’t create this world as the ideal end-all, be-all, but rather a temporary place for people to choose/love Him of their own free will. And thereby, those who love/choose Him (like my brothers) will be granted immortality (without muscular dystrophy) with Him, and those who do not will be spared immortality with Him. My brothers, no matter their cause of death, were given a gift (life) not a guarantee. Sid was never guaranteed freedom in America. Last Friday he was ordered deported to Sierra Leone. However, a fair and thoughtful Judge with the right, power, and cultural support to send Sid back to Sierra Leone under a cloud of suspicion and subject to arrest upon arrival, instead decided that he will not be held subject to the “persecutor bar”, which means he will be free in Sierra Leone, and may someday return to America.

    Verses 20 and 21 describe ultimate hope, liberty and freedom beyond the limits of our cosmic life. Not only liberty from physical death, but also from the consequences of evil and the ultimate “persecutor bar.”

    P.S. Quoting Lone Primate, “I mean being around, being visible, being accessible; not some metaphysical absentee landlord.” Jesus Christ already met your criteria. But, He was more than simply accessible, He lived and died to forgive and pay the price for all that we could never pay for the negative consequences of our own choices.

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  66. Denny:

    Your airplane analogy seems to fail to leave room for free will in humans

    Oh, yes, of course, how foolish of me. Naturally it’s the fault of the passengers that the wings should fall off their plane in mid-air, just as it was your brothers’ choice to have muscular dystrophy. Human moral failings, abuses of free will all around! How could it be otherwise? After all, it’s never, ever, the fault of the supposed inerrant, all-powerful, perfect designer of human beings, who actually DOES have choices in these matters, is it? Let the self-flagellation of mankind continue...

    Unlike your god, given the choice, I wouldn’t have created muscular dystrophy. You don’t have to be “perfect” to choose not to. Just basically sympathetic and humane, that’s all.

    People are not perfect.

    But you guys keep insisting your god is. It’s clear to me that most people I’ve ever met are morally superior to him. I have a hard time thinking of anyone I know who, given the choice, would opt to create and put into effect something like muscular dystrophy.

    I don’t see where “human error” factors on creating something like muscular dystrophy. “Natural catastrophes and disease” are supposed to be in the purview of your god; people pray to him about them all the time. But I do consider the arbitrary existence of things like muscular dystrophy to be “downright evil”. Your god pretty much cops to this in Isaiah 47:5. I’d try not to be like that, and I certainly wouldn’t boast about it if I were.

    I was hoping that you would offer some stand-alone rationale for a benevolent (vs. malevolent) God to contrast against the one you think you see

    Explaining away all the evil and suffering in the world in the face of a supposedly all-powerful and all-loving god is neither my problem nor my bailiwick, Reverend. It’s yours. As a naturalist, I’m prepared to accept that things that strike humans as unfortunate, unjust, and tragic happen in a universe that simply follows basic parameters and isn’t conscious of us our suffering (except inasmuch as we ourselves, as part of that universe, are). But these are challenges that science has been, and will continue, to strive to relieve and overcome. To me, this is the real, honest, hard-earned glory of our otherwise humble species, our only genuine greatness: our ability to see the suffering of others as a problem, and the willingness to do something about it. You, on the other hand, claim the existence of and knowledge about someone who could instantly fix any problem out of love and compassion – but far from doing so, is actually ultimately responsible for the existence of those problems in the first place. I don’t envy you the weight of the metal detector you need to navigate that field of logic bombs. If you ever do reach the far side, I’d love for you to lay out the route for me. It will undoubtedly put the Labyrinth to shame.

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  67. Lone Primate said, “Unlike your god, given the choice, I wouldn’t have created muscular dystrophy.”

    Remember now, you are God. You’ve got all the choices, and they’re all good.

    Using your airplane analogy, the people who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center, etc. were victims, and not responsible for their own choices, Right? It was God’s fault (the former occupant of your position). No human free will there, Right?

    As you fill the vacancy of the malevolent God, you would prevent death and all causes suffering. You would take on the role of a benevolent dictator and puppeteer by causing every one to live forever, kind of like a physical Nirvana on earth. Correct?

    Quoting Lone Primate, “…these are challenges that science has been, and will continue, to strive to relieve and overcome.” What can science do to prevent people from flying airplanes into buildings?

    I live about an hour from Bath, Michigan. I took two of my grandchildren there last U.S. Memorial Day to visit the cemetery where, on May 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe, a school board member who was disgruntled about his property taxes, blew up the Bath Consolidated School, which killed 38 primary school children and 7 adults, and injured at least 58 people. I believe this was the deadliest act of mass murder in a school in U.S. history. How is science, or you in your new role as God, going to relieve and overcome this, and tragedies like Jared Loughner shooting Gabrielle Giffords?

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  68. Lone Primate said that Denny “claims the existence of and knowledge about someone who could instantly fix any problem out of love and compassion.”

    This is what I think, confined within my wholly inadequate and unfairly generalized expressions. Freedom has no meaning without bondage. Choice has no meaning without more than one option. Good is absolutely meaningless without evil. Love has no meaning without its antithesis. I believe that only humans contemplate these terms, their meaning, and their consequences. Cockroaches, wildebeests, and protozoa do not.

    Clearly Lone Primate believes that “problems” exist. But, what’s the “problem,” if everything is simply random chance and ultimately has no meaning or purpose? There’s only a “problem” when one is endowed with the ability to understand and make a choice between love and hate, good and evil, compassion or the lack thereof. The Bible says that humans are created in God’s image. In a much more limited way, we have the power to make choices, as He does. He wants love from us. Not Hollywood love (lust), but sacrificial love. Like a mother for a child, a husband for a wife, a friend … When we unselfishly sacrifice purely for someone else’s benefit, that’s love. But, that expression of love is made apparent only by our willful choice. In order to exchange love with humans, God had to provide freedom with the risk of bondage. A good or evil option from which to chose. Otherwise neither He nor we would ever truly experience love. There is a risk for Him. He may not receive the love of all His creation/children. There is a risk for us. We may not receive His love that comes from a finite understanding of Someone infinite. It’s simply not possible to experience freedom, good, pleasure, love and heaven without being given the option of bondage, evil, suffering, hate, and hell (Notwithstanding the negative consequences foisted on us by others who also make willful choices). If God really wants us to be like Him, He’s got to give us the same choices. Since we are depraved and incapable of exclusively good choices, He provided the ultimate “fix”, a fix that must be received, not simply applied – a loving sacrifice of Himself through the person of Jesus Christ, who gives us a connection to God in this imperfect world, and guarantee of a truly free, good, loving, timeless existence with Him to experience the fullness of all we were designed to be outside bondage, evil, hate, and the limits of a physical self-destructing universe. That’s the best I can do in about 400 words.

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  69. Denny:

    Using your airplane analogy, the people who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center

    No, Denny, that’s got nothing to do with the matter at hand. You asked me to imagine I were God, and to discuss how I would go about creating humans. The matter at issue here is the morality or immorality of the choices your god made in his deliberately faulty designer work. Let’s stay focused here.

    So if your god is not willfully malicious, why would he create afflictions that even I, a sinful mortal, would not, had I his power?

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  70. Denny:

    Romans 8:20 pretty much proves my point, not yours. It says your god set this all up; he made the choices that brought suffering to us and opened the door to eternal torture, and that it was “not by [our] own choice”. The bondage to decay we might be liberated from we were shackled to in the first place by your god. He’s a sadist. This reads like a proto-script for a SAW sequel: yeah, if you cut your leg off, you can reach the key and get out before the flames reach you. Yay, loving god...

    God didn’t create this world as the ideal end-all, be-all, but rather a temporary place for people to choose/love Him of their own free will.

    Yes, it’s a torture chamber where he sits back and watches us grub for salvation, all set up because it pleases him to watch. He didn’t have to create it, or Hell as the outcome – he chose to. Fine, if he exists, he’s powerful enough to do that, and I can’t stop him. But don’t tell me he’s not a sick monster.

    If your god exists, let me lay out for you the little scheme he’s apparently set up for us. In his mansion there are many rooms (so I’m told). In each one is one of his precious children. And he shows up with a map and a gun. “Here, take these. Now, you know I love you , but still, I’m going to send you to run through a mine field. If you make it, I’ll know you’re worthy of living with me forever. If not, you’ll have to suffer in pain forever. This book is your map. Follow it. If you see anyone else following a different map, tell them, and if they keep using it, take the gun and... well, you’ll know what to do .”

    And so every one of these children, with the same love in his or her heart for this god, sets out in the darkness with the map they trust their god has given them. All of them may be, but most of them must be, wrong. And yet it has pleased this god to send them out into the world with all these different maps. And so they crawl through the dark, following these maps – many of them poorly translated, so I’m led to understand – and taking shots at their brothers and sisters who, despite loving this god just as much, are supposedly misled. Finally they reach the black forest, where they can’t see the fate of one another, and no one can tell which map was true (if any) and which was false. But for the vast majority of them, the maps are false and they are blown to shreds, lying there in torture forever under the gaze and laughter of the righteous (as Aquinas tells us), wonder why a father they loved with all their heart and whose map they followed faithfully could allow this to happen to them.

    If he exists, this is the world you god created for his children. Look around you. He didn’t have to make it this way, but he did. And if he exists, there’s hardly a person ever born who couldn’t look him in the eye as morally superior, even on the way to hell.

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  71. Denny:

    Jesus Christ already met your criteria.

    No he didn't, Denny, or he'd be standing here right now, and I wouldn't be able to even conceive of having a debate like this with you.

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  72. Lone Primate said, “So if your god is not willfully malicious, why would he create afflictions that even I, a sinful mortal, would not, had I his power?”

    You earlier said, “As a naturalist, I’m prepared to accept that things that strike humans as unfortunate, unjust, and tragic happen in a universe that simply follows basic parameters and isn’t conscious of us our suffering (except inasmuch as we ourselves, as part of that universe, are).”

    It seems to me (Denny) that you are willing to dispassionately accept suffering, if the cause is naturalistic, random, and by evolutionary chance. However, if suffering (“things … unfortunate, unjust, and tragic”) results from something seeming to be more purposeful, like your presumed malevolent view of God, then the suffering takes on a new cast.

    You earlier asked why theists always seem to take scientific discussions around to meaning and purpose. Doesn’t your difficulty with suffering illustrate why? It seems to be the basic point most non-theists make. That is, If there is a God, he must logically be malevolent, because He allows suffering. The consciousness of suffering, both physical and non-physical, it seems to me, is what separates humans from all other life. Again, Lone Primate said, “So if your god is not willfully malicious, why would he create afflictions…?”

    You do not have to accept it, but I gave you an answer, when I replied Wednesday, January 26, 2011 8:46:00 AM, with my suggestions about choices and their consequences, and what they might ultimately lead to. That reply points to meaning and purpose vs. meaningless and purposeless naturalism.

    Further, I can think of no practical way that things would work, especially allowing for human self-will, if “things … unfortunate, unjust, and tragic” were prevented by your sovereign benevolent control as God.

    Lone Primate quoted Denny: “Jesus Christ already met your criteria,” and then replied, “No he didn't, Denny, or he'd be standing here right now, and I wouldn't be able to even conceive of having a debate like this with you.” First, your brief statement implies that He would be (physically) standing next to you. He couldn’t do that without ignoring everyone else. Your statement means that He would be confined to the physical limits of our world. You probably don’t want to go here, but being in or near you and everyone else is not a problem, if He exists in the supernatural realm. I’m sure that you know enough about dimensionality to see that dimensions could solve the problem of proximity.

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  73. Denny:

    It seems to me (Denny) that you are willing to dispassionately accept suffering

    No, Denny; it seems that I am not a god with the power to do anything absolute about it. There’s a big difference between acknowledging the reality of something (like muscular dystrophy) and explicitly or even tacitly endorsing it.

    Now, again: what’s your god’s excuse?

    What you falsely suggest I’ve categorized as two separate sets of suffering – one with natural causes, one with divine – are in fact the same ones. If, as I believe, no god exists, then there’s no one to blame; no one was at fault. If you’re right and one does exist, then all of that is his fault. If I’m right, we’re merely striving to overcome what we perceive as deficiencies in nature. If you’re right, then we’re in a struggle against the will of your god.

    The consciousness of suffering, both physical and non-physical, it seems to me, is what separates humans from all other life.

    Do you honestly believe that no other beings but us experience suffering?

    You’re right : I do not accept your continuing allusions to free will as having anything to do with such afflictions as muscular dystrophy. I challenge you to demonstrate to me how your brothers, or any other human being, chose that.

    He couldn’t do that without ignoring everyone else.

    I had understood Christian claims to be that their god was omnipresent. If that’s the case, it stands to reason he can be manifest to me and everyone else at the same time. If I can think of it, why can’t he?

    I’m sure that you know enough about dimensionality to see that dimensions could solve the problem of proximity.

    You’re right, I do; I know enough to say that anything present in them has the same physical interactions with the rest of the universe as things in the typical three dimensions: that is, they have mass and dimensionality and are demonstrable even if they’re not directly visible. So how much does your god weigh? We’d be able to tell he’s there by a non-directional gravitational influence. Now that, THAT would be something.

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  74. Lone Primate, as always, you make many good points. Let me reply in parts, first to the one I believe most salient.

    Lone Primate said, “The consciousness of suffering, both physical and non-physical, it seems to me, is what separates humans from all other life.”

    I agree. But, is that it? Does consciousness involve more than an awareness of suffering? If so, what? Does some kind of personal responsibility come with consciousness, something unique to humans? Is some kind of personal action required consistent with consciousness? As a typical human and humble Christian I offer these somewhat rhetorical questions.

    What does consciousness provide but self-awareness, and self-awareness but self-will? And, how can there be self-will without options and choices? Could options and choices be confined by a divine being to exclusively good and never bad ones, destructive to us or others (airplanes whose wings fall off)? Would they really be options and choices, if the divine being disallowed bad things? Would we really have self-will, if the divine being only allowed good things? If “consciousness” is the obvious giant gap between humans and all other living things, and notwithstanding DNA comparisons, monkeys and Neanderthals do “appear” similar to humans, but it’s obvious that monkeys don’t establish hedge funds. Something non-physical is different. It is my view that similarity between human and monkey appearance is not scientific evidence of evolution, but rather evidence of similar optimized carbon-based biological templates that work within the limits of our physical universe.

    No one questions the reality of physical death. Might the word consciousness (with the implications I offered above) have meaning beyond suffering? Might suffering be like childbirth, a prelude to something grand? Might consciousness even reveal a remedy for suffering? Is it not a good thing that humans may have an option beyond physical death that is revealed through our “consciousness?” Is it not obvious, with the benefit of our consciousness, that many of the human circumstances we see in life (good and bad) are tied to the consequences of our choices? Couldn’t this simple choices/consequences reality be in fact a “conscious” indication of something beyond natural physical reality (supernatural spiritual reality)? Plainly stated, couldn’t the reality of conscious self-will and the consequences of choices be seen as a divine revelation? - a revelation that would point not to a limited physical existence, but to an ultimate virtually unlimited existence?

    (Cont.)

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  75. (Cont.)

    What kind of life would it be if we had only good choices and never any negative consequences, effectively no choices at all? That would be a life in which we were not really allowed to participate, an existence where we effectively had no value, or at least not a value that rose to the level characterized by the creator, someone endowed with the (positive) ability to create. It’s a bit presumptive of me, but if I were God, and I wanted a valued relationship with my necessarily subordinate creatures, if I really wanted free and genuine love returned to me, I would have to provide my creation/humans with circumstances that included free-will choices between actual good an evil options, circumstances and choices that necessarily required sacrifice and maybe even some suffering. Otherwise, the creation’s (humans’) existence and mine would seem to lack something essential to any meaningful relationship. Like me and you, my brothers were given no options about a temporary life in this world. They weren’t given a choice about what would take their physical lives. Through their physical life and extra-physical “consciousness,” however, they were given the opportunity (albeit limited) to see God. And, although I miss them and all that their lives could have meant to me in this world, I will see them again in a timeless state removed from all the suffering and cosmic limits of this world. More importantly, I will see and experience with them all the fullness that seemed always out of reach in this world. Most importantly, I will join them and the Creator, because that’s what we were ultimately designed for. We were not designed for this temporary stop-over/earth. It was not our destination.

    Lone Primate, doesn’t this all sound familiar. Isn’t this what goes on with parents and children, spouses, friends, etc. (relationships)? Isn’t this familiar choice/consequence life/relationship dynamic the real substance of life vs. simply a physical just-get-along-as-best-as-we-can existence? Isn’t it possible that this dynamic is in fact a revelation of God, nearly as much as Jesus Christ standing next to you?

    End of “consciousness” questions.

    (Cont.)

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  76. (Cont.)

    Lone Primate said, “Now, again: what’s your god’s excuse? - If, as I believe, no god exists, then there’s no one to blame; no one was at fault. If you’re right and one does exist, then all of that is his fault.” Fault as in responsibility for the conditions, Yes. Fault as in error, or responsibility for humans’ willful choices, No.

    Lone Primate said, “If you’re right, then we’re in a struggle against the will of your god.” The will of God is for His existence (revealed naturally and supernaturally) to be acknowledged by humans, along with the proposition that we must respond to that awareness.

    Lone Primate said, “Do you honestly believe that no other beings but us experience suffering?” No. I agree that other earthly beings do suffer. My Romans 8 reference indicates that ‘all’ of creation suffers under the weight of (depending on the version/translation) frustration and decay.

    Lone Primate said, “I had understood Christian claims to be that their god was omnipresent. If that’s the case, it stands to reason he can be manifest to me and everyone else at the same time. If I can think of it, why can’t he?” This is a larger question that goes to orthodox Trinitarian doctrine. In short, God, in His three forms, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are indeed omnipresent (the ‘other dimensional’ thing). Christ, fully human and fully divine, left his heavenly realm to voluntary manifest Himself to humans on an individual physical level (as you previously suggested). Since a continuation of that manifestation would confine Him in terms of time and space, and since He left enough of a message of Himself and His Father to be understood by even the likes of me two millennia later, and since there were other spiritual things to attend to, He left the common physical state with which we are all familiar.

    Lone Primate said, “You’re right, I do; … So how much does your god weigh?” Dimensionality is a very complex issue. I’m not an expert. However, weight would involve gravity, and I don’t think God is subject to gravity or any of the other forces of His own creation, since He is sovereign over creation.

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  77. Deciding if someone is a TRUE Christian is not my call. I'm not the judge and I do not know their heart. I can see the fruit, but I'm not the judge. To much responsibility for me.

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  78. If you want to know who is a Christian I suggest looking at their fruit. You can say I believe in God and the fruit still be rotten.

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