Saturday, September 17, 2011

When Will They Ever Learn?

 
In my class on Scientific Misconceptions and Controversies we discuss the ways in which scientific reasoning is used and misused in debates and discussions.

As a general rule, you can divide scientific debates into two main categories: (1) genuine scientific controversy that hasn't been resolved, or (2) misconceptions or misunderstandings of the science by one or more of the sides. The third category is genuine fraud.

Sometimes it's really hard to decide when a misconception turns into lying (fraud). This is particularly true in the evolution/creation debate where some of the most outlandish claims by the creationists have been refuted again and again but continue to be used. Are those creationists so stupid that they just don't understand why they are wrong or is it more likely that they know they are wrong but are just taking advantage of the ignorance of their audience to promote a good-sounding talking point?

Here's an example from Denyse O'Leary, one of the leading IDiots based right here in Toronto [Darwin lobby: We have the bumper sticker. We win.].
In August we noted that National Center for Science Education was running a bumper sticker contest

They may have declared their winner. Folk have been seeing this bumper sticker around town:

We have the fossils. We win.

That would be good news for Darwin, who didn’t think the fossil record supported him, but hoped it would, one day.

The trouble is, that has been the trade secret of paleontology (Stephen Jay Gould) that it doesn’t support him. It supports sudden, rapid emergence, which almost certainly means a non-Darwinian origin for change in life forms.
The issue is whether the fossil record, taken as a whole, supports the transformation of one type of organism into another. The answer is overwhelmingly "yes." There are dozens of excellent examples including our own species.

These examples have been described in detail in an attempt to educate the creationists but all this to no avail. They continue to repeat the myth that the fossil record does not support evolution in spite of the enormous efforts made by evolution supporters to correct their ignorance.

At some point we need to stop attributing this behavior to mere stupidity and ignorance and start recognizing it for what it is—a lie. Denyse knows the truth but continues to repeat a false claim.


162 comments :

  1. I'd argue this is true of all the leading lights, particularly of those who conspicuously avoid legitimate confrontation in favor of kangaroo courts, church appearances, and unscientific debates. They know they are lying, but it pays the bills.

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  2. The IDiots don't care if they're lying, all they care about is what their followers will believe. Strange, isn't there some biblical admonition against bearing false witness? The teabaggers have adopted exactly the same tactic, Michelle Bachmann et al just whip up the base, knowing full-well that most of what they are spewing is complete garbage. Doesn't matter as long as it gets votes.

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    1. Funny, thats what we say about your type, as long as it gets votes. Myself I would never believe a rat. I respect science fact and I strongly beieve in personal faith.

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  3. The fossil record in support of primate evolution is notoriously bad in spite of the attention whoring claims of some scientists - as we saw with Ida, Ardi and Sedi.

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  4. I thought the wedge strategy was pretty clear. Their goal is political, not academic. Fraud is not permitted in academia, but it is encouraged in politics.

    I think the only way to counter a lie is to expose it by showing the truth. Like, hey, did you say Gould? Here we have the man himself talking about fossils.

    They will be unmoved by evidence because they still have the same political goal, but the video isn't directed at them, but at the audience.

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  5. She's really trying to say that Gould and Punctuated Equilibrium refute Darwinian Evolution? Its 2011, where has she been all this time?

    To Dr. Moran's point though, I don't know if you can really say that she and others like her are lying, they've certainly heard the arguments against the above, but its probably more likely that they just don't get it. Given the choice between conspiracy and stupidity, suspect stupidity.

    This all just really underlines the point of calling them stupid and idiots. Its a nicety. Better than being called a flat out liar anyway, and yet they attack Moran for being nice to them. (more stupidity on their part).

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  6. I don't even think it's stupidity. Some - many - people have a deep-seated need to understand the universe, and hence their place in it, in terms of higher powers. If the particular version they have adopted/inherited conflicts with uncomfortable facts in the 'real world', then so much the worse for the real world. They are lying, first and foremost, to themselves - Faith trumps evidence.

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  7. It is 100% unadulterated plain dishonesty. The IDiots are liars. There is definitely a point where nothing else explains their behaviour. But it is much more evident if you talk to them and thus watch them in action from such vantage point.

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  8. I'm going to defend Denyse O'Leary here. I don't think she's lying. The evidence is pretty clear that she's just not very bright (viz., mangled syntax of her posts, inability to understand simple concepts, repeating misconceptions over and over, etc.). She doesn't seem like a particularly nice person, I'll grant you, but I don't think this particular post exhibits dishonesty.

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  9. @Jeffrey Shallit,

    I am certain that Denyse has read many articles on the so-called "lack of transitional fossils." There have been many comments on her blogs explaining what Gould actually meant. Many of those comments described excellent examples of the fossil recrd that support an evolutionary explanation.

    She is even aware of other supporters of Intelligent Design Creationism that accept common descent and the fossil record.

    I tend to think she has deceived herself into believing that what she says is true but this is a form of lying, in my opinion.

    However, if you prefer to think that she is just too stupid to understand this stuff then I will admit that's a possibility. Either way, it doesn't look good for one of the leading proponents of Intelligent Design Creationism. Especially one who calls herself a science journalist.

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  10. Ah, but how do you ensure that "legitimate" scientific debate doesn't get mistaken for disciplinary turf defense and/or cults of personality (and vice versa)? It often seems that original work gets rejected on the grounds that the authors are "confused" about what the high priests have brought down from atop the mountain (the high priests being the best-funded or founders in a given field). I'm not saying that the example you give falls into that category (quite
    the opposite), but rather that you three-category dichotomy is incomplete. The question is: how do you separate out novel findings/ reinterpretations from fraud and confusion?

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  11. The evidence is pretty clear that she's just not very bright

    Oh yeah, that too.

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  12. It looks like Ken Ham gave an outreach session in Streetsville this past weekend. So it's safe to say that can't be a good thing right? lol. The Crazies are coming!

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/outreach/event/7042/

    http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2011/09/19/hungry-canadians-2/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+KenHam+%28Around+the+World+with+Ken+Ham%29

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  13. In “When will they ever learn” Larry says, “The issue is whether the fossil record, taken as a whole, supports the transformation of one type of organism into another. The answer is overwhelmingly "yes." He also says “As a general rule, you can divide scientific debates into two main categories: (1) genuine scientific controversy that hasn't been resolved.”

    Not withstanding whatever Denyse O'Leary says, broadly speaking, the fossil record reveals two patterns, 1) no evolutionary change [stasis] for long periods, 2) punctuated by rapid biological innovation. These two patterns do not match the gradual evolutionary change predicted by biological evolution. They do, however, fit an old-earth/progressive creation model. There are explanations for why stasis occurs, but evolutionists are challenged to explain rapid biological innovation. Therefore, we are left with a genuine scientific controversy that hasn't been resolved.

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  14. @Denny,

    Giving you the benefit of the doubt once, you must be mistaking every idea Darwin had with modern evolutionary theory.

    Controversy "solved" at least 34 years ago...
    Gould, Stephen Jay, & Eldredge, Niles (1977). "Punctuated equilibria: the tempo and mode of evolution reconsidered." Paleobiology 3 (2): 115-151. (p.145)

    No "genuine scientific controversy" to see here. Please move on.

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  15. @Denny "These two patterns do not match the gradual evolutionary change predicted by biological evolution."

    Evolution predicts no such thing. It may occur any number of ways.

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  16. Atheistoclast (Joseph Esfandiar Hannon Bozorgmehr, a.k.a. Reza) says,

    The fossil record in support of primate evolution is notoriously bad in spite of the attention whoring claims of some scientists - as we saw with Ida, Ardi and Sedi.

    You are confusing particulars about the exact history of primate evolution with the big picture.

    If you look at the big picture of the fossil evidence what does it look like to you? Does it look like evolution or Intelligent Design Creationism?

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  17. e.racer asks,

    Ah, but how do you ensure that "legitimate" scientific debate doesn't get mistaken for disciplinary turf defense and/or cults of personality (and vice versa)?

    ...The question is: how do you separate out novel findings/ reinterpretations from fraud and confusion?


    There will be times when it's not clear whether something is a legitimate scientific controversy or not. Those are the most interesting topics, as far as I'm concerned.

    The debate over junk DNA falls into this category although much of the so-called "evidence" quoted by junk DNA deniers is clearly due to misunderstanding of legitimate scientific argument. (Pellionisz and Atheisitoclast are good examples of this.)

    It's very difficult to teach students to respect scientific reasoning while at the same time being skeptical about new finding that conflict with the current models.

    I share with them one of my pragmatic rules of thumb. If a paper fails to give due consideration to conflicting points of view then you should be suspicious of the conclusions. For example, a paper that disputes junk DNA should discuss genetic load, pseudogenes, the C-value paradox, the onion test, and the distinction between noncoding DNA and junk DNA.

    If a paper in the scientific literature fails to present the contradictory evidence then it's not really a scientific paper and it deserves to be ignored. This is especially true if the arguments in the paper are illogical.

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  18. Denny says,

    Not withstanding whatever Denyse O'Leary says, broadly speaking, the fossil record reveals two patterns, 1) no evolutionary change [stasis] for long periods, 2) punctuated by rapid biological innovation. These two patterns do not match the gradual evolutionary change predicted by biological evolution. They do, however, fit an old-earth/progressive creation model. There are explanations for why stasis occurs, but evolutionists are challenged to explain rapid biological innovation. Therefore, we are left with a genuine scientific controversy that hasn't been resolved.

    I don't think Denyse O'Leary is talking about punctuated equilibria but if she is then that's even more evidence of lying.

    Explanations of punctuated can be found all over the internet. The basic idea is that not much change happens in large stable populations (stasis) but when a small new population splits off from the main body it can quickly (100,000 years) result in fixation of new alleles. Thus, genetic change is associated with speciation.

    Most of the changes are due to the founder effect, a well-known phenomenon in population genetics. The changes are nothing more than fixation of alleles that are already part of the variation in the parent population. There's no drastic change in spite of what creationists believe. In most cases it takes an expert to even recognize that a new species has formed.

    Everything about punctuated equilibria is perfectly consistent with modern evolutionary theory. In fact, punctuated equilibria was originally proposed as the paleontological explanation for the speciation events observed by field biologists.

    Creationists consistently misrepresent punctuated equilibria. In most cases it's because they don't understand it or they have been misled by other creationists. (That's you, Denny.)

    But in the case of leading creationists who continue to misrepresent punctuated equilibria long after their misunderstandings have been exposed, the only possible explanations are that they are really, really, stupid or liars.

    Denny, I advise you not to fall into one of those categories.

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  19. It looks like you no longer post Anonymous comments. Is that right?

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  20. I have found that I cannot read Denyse O'Leary anymore because she is so misguided, self-righteous and smug that she engenders instant frustration and anger.

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  21. I tend to regard arguments from ID supporters that there are no transitional fossils not as ignorance but as lies now because they have been told so many times that the argument is false.

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  22. Larry asks:


    If you look at the big picture of the fossil evidence what does it look like to you? Does it look like evolution or Intelligent Design Creationism?


    It looks like saltationism to me. I don't see much evidence for phyletic gradualism or anagenesis. Do remember that many scientists of the early and mid 19th century ,like palaeontologist Richard Owen,were "progressive creationists" who accepted an old earth and a sequence of creative stages. They were not biblical literalists.

    I don't think the fossil record supports either evolution or creation. It just shows that many species have since gone extinct.

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  23. Word for today: agnotology
    http://contusio-cordis.blogspot.com/2011/08/agnotology-or-denialism-as-policy.html

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  24. Atheistoclast (Joseph Esfandiar Hannon Bozorgmehr, a.k.a. Reza) says,

    It looks like saltationism to me.

    Then you're not looking very closely. Why is this not a surprise?

    I don't see much evidence for phyletic gradualism or anagenesis.

    Me neither. It looks like cladogenesis to me.

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  25. Arachnids appear to have not undergone evolutionary change for at least 300 million years and may have been morphologically stagnant for up to 400 million years – even though many types of environmental changes would likely have occurred over 300-400 million years that could have caused splits. This seems counter-intuitive from an evolutionary perspective – the way evolution is taught at most educational levels (gradual change). Using the daddy longlegs as an example, wouldn’t one expect gradual harvestmen evolutionary change to be evident over such long periods of time as splits occur? Is one to rely on punctuated equilibrium to explain rapid microevolutionary changes, in some instances taking place over the span of only a few generations? Would someone be willing to unpack punctuated equilibrium theory with some empirical facts to show how ancient daddy longlegs fossil specimens from around 300 million years ago possess an apparently modern anatomy - seemingly escaping gradual evolution?

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  26. Larry,

    Cladogenesis just means that someone breaks off from the rest of the population to form his own lineage (like the founder effect). it refutes the old view that one species gradually evolves into another species as an entire group. This branching off and subsequent rapid change would appear to be a "saltation".

    The geological record is replete with instances of new forms and body plans coming into being without a precursor....like with the recent discovery of compound eyes in the Cambrian or with the arrival or tetrapod footprints in Poland. The fossil record does not help the theory of evolution...it ask more questions than it answers.

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  27. My understanding is that those supporting the idea of punctuated equilibrium (a very non-Darwinian idea) believe that evolution only occurs or can occur when a small subpopulation of a species becomes isolated to the geographic or environmental periphery of a general population, and evolution (no longer gradual) will occur rapidly. Therefore, punctuated equilibrium seems to explain the lack of transitional intermediate species in the fossil record. However, theoretical work by University of Oregon scientists showed that the essential processes making up punctuated equilibrium’s mechanism lead to extinction, not evolution – in part because the risk of extinction significantly increases for a species when its population becomes disconnected. Plus, environmental changes and habitat fragmentation exacerbate a disconnected population’s susceptibility to extinction. Investigators from Washington University in St. Louis produced fieldwork confirming the work done by the scientists from the University of Oregon by studying collared lizards in the Missouri Ozarks, which showed that habitat fragmentation doesn’t drive speciation; rather it leads to extinction.

    Question #1, What is the modern mechanistic evidence that corroborates punctuated equilibrium, and shows it actually works?

    Question #2, How do you believers in punctuated equilibrium react to the notion (findings) that punctuated equilibrium leads to extinction vs. evolution?

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  28. @Joseph Esfandiar Hannon Bozorgmehr I don't think the fossil record supports either evolution or creation.

    There are, as one example among many, numerous fossils that chart the transitional forms of the evolution of the whale from a terrestrial ancestor and this is consistent with molecular and anatomical data.

    Back to the topic of this post, are you lying, stupid or pursuing some other agenda ?

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  29. It's awesome that you have such a course. It's so interesting and bizarre that IDers keep misrepresenting the science.. it's almost as if they're doing it on purpose.

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  30. > Dr. Moran: Most of the changes are due to the founder effect, a well-known phenomenon in population genetics. The changes are nothing more than fixation of alleles that are already part of the variation in the parent population.

    I wonder how this fits with speciation such as at the K-T boundary, where a major extinction event seemed to precede all the new species.

    Surely not all of them had genes set and ready to go to make lots of new and quite different species.

    > Everything about punctuated equilibria is perfectly consistent with modern evolutionary theory.

    And I wonder why events that would cause major speciation events do not happen on relatively smaller time scales.

    What can happen in 100 million years that won't happen in a million years?

    The extraordinarily long times of stasis seem to me, inexplicable, especially if most speciation change is due to the founder effect.

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  31. Steve says:

    There are, as one example among many, numerous fossils that chart the transitional forms of the evolution of the whale from a terrestrial ancestor and this is consistent with molecular and anatomical data.

    Have you actually seen them? Both Pakicetus and Ambulocetus bear little resemblance to modern cetaceans and recent evidence shows that the former was not even partly amphibious.

    You can line up a number of cars and claim that one is the "descendant" of the other. It is a worthless exercise. Btw, there is a massive discrepancy between the fossil record for whales and the DNA evidence.

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  32. @Joseph Esfandiar Hannon Bozorgmehr You can line up a number of cars and claim that one is the "descendant" of the other.

    I see you are picking the door labelled stupid.

    That "argument' is a hoary old creotard chestnut I had thought never to see again.

    Tell you what, get your ramblings about Pakicetus and Ambulocetus published in a top tier, peer reviewed biology (not automotive) journal and get back to us.

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  33. @Denny: "Both Pakicetus and Ambulocetus bear little resemblance to modern cetaceans..."

    Correct. Because evolution changed their appearance. Why is this so hard to understand?

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  34. The Rat - I think you confused me with Steve.

    But, while I’m at it, is there some evidence or anything testable that shows ‘how’ Pakicetus and Ambulocetus evolved. Something scientifically testable might help me “understand.”

    SCIENCE VOL 331 28 JANUARY 2011, EducationForum, by Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer, page 405 says,

    “More effectively integrating evolution into the education of preservice biology teachers may also have the indirect effect of encouraging students who cannot accept evolution as a matter of faith to pursue other careers.”

    Is this what you do - "accept evolution as a matter of faith"?

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  35. lee_merrill writes:

    Surely not all of them had genes set and ready to go to make lots of new and quite different species.

    Oh dear, Lee. You think evolution is something living things need to prepare for, like a sort of test?

    Natural mutation processes in a population that is presented by contingency with ecological opportunity (split off geographically from the rest of its population and from predators/competitors, an extinction event wipes out those predators/competitors, etc.) will *inevitably* work to change the genetic makeup of a population. The alternative would be perfect genetic copying over geological time scales, which we've never seen in the natural world. (We've seen tremendous conservation in some critical, fundamental parts of the genome, because changes there remove the results from the gene pool.)

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  36. > Jud: You think evolution is something living things need to prepare for, like a sort of test?

    Not at all. The point was made that most variation is due to alleles already present, so I wonder how that explains such speciation as happened at the K-T boundary.

    > Natural mutation processes in a population that is presented by contingency with ecological opportunity (split off geographically from the rest of its population and from predators/competitors, an extinction event wipes out those predators/competitors, etc.) will *inevitably* work to change the genetic makeup of a population.

    That's fine, so then I wonder whence the statis we see? Surely the founder effect can work to at least some noticeable degree over 1 million years as over 100 million.

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  37. Steve oberski said, “There are, as one example among many, numerous fossils that chart the transitional forms of the evolution of the whale from a terrestrial ancestor and this is consistent with molecular and anatomical data.”

    Evolutionary biologists believe that aquatic mammals evolved from Pakicetus in part, because the structure of its inner ear bone. They believe Indohyus (a deer-like creature of similar age) shared anatomical features with whales. They also believe that other fossils have been transitional intermediates leading to ancient whales. They cite fossils like ambulocetus and the protoceticids, etc., which date to around 45 to 50 million years in age.

    The first true whales appear in the fossil record around 40 million years ago. Modern whales and dolphins appear about 35 million years ago. Since that time, several hundred species have existed - currently around 80 to 90. However, whale fossils appear suddenly with a full range body size and dietary systems (from carnivorous activity to filter-feeding). It looks as if this explosion coincides with the extinction of the “primitive” whales (archaeoceti). Once modern whales and dolphins appear, they apparently undergo very little evolutionary change.

    Steve,

    Question #3, From an evolutionary perspective, how do you account for the sudden vs. gradual appearance of modern whales?

    Question #4, When pointing to Pakicetus, can you supply “molecular and anatomical data” as evidence of biological evolution that supports the transformation of a terrestrial mammal into an aquatic one - requiring extremely extensive anatomical and physiological changes (carnivorous to filter-feeding, etc. etc. etc.), resulting from extreme changes in environment?

    Question #5, As an evolutionist, how do you think the fossil record supports the notion that transitional forms occur in the fossil record, but not sequentially?

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  38. Denny said: "The Rat - I think you confused me with Steve." Sorry, it was atheistoclast who posted that silly bit.

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  39. Larry said, “Creationists consistently misrepresent punctuated equilibrium. In most cases it's because they don't understand it or they have been misled by other creationists. (That's you, Denny.)”

    First, I’m not going to attack or defend all creationists. Although I think some are out-to-lunch, when acknowledging the realities of science – mostly astronomical data. Speaking for myself, I do understand that punctuated equilibrium theory is used by evolutionists to explain away the empirical evidence of speciation events that does not comply with the gradualism aspect of evolution theory.

    Second, “they (creationists/non-evolutionists) have been misled”. Either both views are wrong or someone is indeed being misled.

    Third, in an earlier post, I said, “Arachnids appear to have not undergone evolutionary change for at least 300 million years and may have been morphologically stagnant for up to 400 million years – even though many types of environmental changes would likely have occurred over 300-400 million years that could have caused splits. This seems counter-intuitive from an evolutionary perspective – the way evolution is taught at most educational levels (gradual change). Using the daddy longlegs as an example, wouldn’t one expect gradual harvestmen evolutionary change to be evident over such long periods of time as splits occur? Is one to rely on punctuated equilibrium to explain rapid microevolutionary changes, in some instances taking place over the span of only a few generations? Would someone be willing to unpack punctuated equilibrium theory with some empirical facts to show how ancient daddy longlegs fossil specimens from around 300 million years ago possess an apparently modern anatomy - seemingly escaping gradual evolution?”

    Would you or one of your fans reply to my closing question with the science that, as closely as possible, makes punctuated equilibrium fact, not theory? I think this is what scientists do. If it turns out that punctuated equilibrium is simply theory, that’s fine. I’ll accept it as one way to explain something not supported by clear evidence, but taken on faith as part of an evolutionary paradigm.

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  40. @Denny

    Question #3 Read some good books on evolution, stop getting your information about evolution from creotard sources

    Question #4 Read some good books on evolution, stop getting your information about evolution from creotard sources

    Question #5 Read some good books on evolution, stop getting your information about evolution from creotard sources

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  41. Denny,

    Is this what you do - "accept evolution as a matter of faith"?

    Look carefully and you will notice that the sentences you quoted:

    "More effectively integrating evolution into the education of preservice biology teachers may also have the indirect effect of encouraging students who cannot accept evolution as a matter of faith to pursue other careers."

    Mean that these teachers would detect those students who, because of their faith, can't accept evolution, and thus encourage them to pursue other careers (instead of trying and forcing them to accept something they don't want to accept, again, because of their faiths). Otherwise, the bit about "encourage ... to pursue other careers" would not make any sense. Context is important. The sentences do not mean, nor imply, that you should accept evolution as a matter of faith. Nice try though. Looking for a career as a quote-mining creationist?

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  42. Danny,

    Arachnids are much more divergent than we are from chimps, gorillas, orang-utans ... all the way to all other mammals. You can't see that because you are not an arachnid trying to prove evolution wrong, but a human. From our perspective they look quite the same. But if you were to observe much more carefully, you would note that your arachnid equivalent would be saying that a rat looks exactly like a chimp, and that both look exactly like a prehistoric 65 million-year old fossilized mammal, and ask how such stagnation can be explained by "evolutionists." Sure environments have changed in 65 million years.

    And that is not even close to what you are actually implying in terms of stagnation. I kept it within mammals to help you get the point. But your "argument" is orders of magnitude worse than the creationist arachnid's one.

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  43. Denny,

    I think stave made better points than me. I will just repeat his last one: Read some good books on evolution, stop getting your information about evolution from creotard sources

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  44. -When will they ever learn?

    That's a rhetorical question, right?

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  45. Negative Entropy said, “Denny, I think stave made better points than me. I will just repeat his last one: Read some good books on evolution, stop getting your information about evolution from creotard sources.”

    First, almost all of the empirical scientific data I read originates with naturalistic evolutionistic scientists.

    Second, I read way more evolution-based books and stuff than the average person. There are many variations of evolution, and ardent evolutionists often argue among themselves (just like church-people over doctrine) over the biggest and smallest issues (e.g. Sandwalk). Here’s a general statement I would make about evolution. It reflects a greater and deeper worldview - a worldview that typically denies the existence of God. I have nothing to gain from such a view, because, as Larry has said, evolution assumes no special meaning or purpose for humans – in other words, evolution (naturalism, etc) offers no hope purpose meaning or explanation for the best and worst of our brief time on earth. However, I do have something to gain from understanding why people choose an evolutionistic naturalistic worldview. That’s why I have been asking evidence-based questions in this thread. I want to see what enthusiastic ardent evolutionists use as solid data for their worldview and core beliefs.

    In reply to Atheistoclast, Larry earlier said, “You are confusing particulars about the exact history of primate evolution with the big picture. If you look at the big picture of the fossil evidence what does it look like to you? Does it look like evolution or Intelligent Design Creationism?”

    While I disagree with Larry’s diminution of the “particulars”, it is my humble opinion (as a progressive creationist) that all the recent Intelligent Design issues have occurred precisely because the fossil record, along with the rest of natural science findings, do not point to chance, but to “Intelligent Design.” Even the great evolution prophet, Richard Dawkins, said (as I am sure you know), “biology is the study of complicated things that appear to have been designed for a purpose.” Why do evolutionists deny the obvious?

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  46. I wrote:

    an extinction event wipes out those predators/competitors, etc.) will *inevitably* work to change the genetic makeup of a population.

    lee_merrill replied:

    That's fine, so then I wonder whence the statis we see?

    Perhaps because catastrophic extinction events aren't occurring on a continous basis?

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  47. Negative Entropy said, " your (Denny’s) 'argument' is orders of magnitude worse than the creationist arachnid's one."

    My question (“Is one to rely on punctuated equilibrium to explain rapid microevolutionary changes…”) originated from the abstract of "The million-year wait for macroevolutionary bursts" - The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America” (Josef C. Uyeda et al. early edition, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1014503108.), and a commentary by Dr. Fazale Rana (PhD in chemistry - emphasis in biochemistry, Ohio University, won the Donald Clippinger Research Award. Postdoctoral studies at Universities of Virginia and Georgia, seven years senior scientist in product development for Procter & Gamble.) of Reasons To Believe.

    This is all recent valid science by real scientists. After reading the "The million-year wait for macroevolutionary bursts" abstract, and Rana’s remarks (he read the whole paper), it’s hard to see clear evidence for evolution, including punctuated equilibrium.

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  48. steve oberski said... "Question #3 Read some good books on evolution."

    No evolutionist has ever explained to me how whale fossils could appear suddenly with a full range body size and dietary systems (from carnivorous activity to filter-feeding), and all the 'evolution' required. Exactly what book would explain this, please?

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  49. WOW! Negative Entropy said (in quotes):

    “Mean that these teachers would detect” - Exactly how would teachers “detect” students. Should this “detection” be an academic, political, religious or philosophical discovery process?

    “those students who, because of their faith,” - Is this negative discrimination against people on the basis religious faith, free thinking or thinking different from yours?

    “or can't accept evolution,” - Denny accepts evolution as a valid scientific theory to explain how things came to be. I don’t accept it as the best explanation. If I were a student, would you “detect” me, and act to discourage me from a science education?

    “and thus encourage them to pursue other careers (instead of trying and forcing them to accept something they don't want to accept.)” - I think that word “encourage” has been used before in some pretty surreptitious ways.

    “Context is important,” - If “Context is important,” what does this a mean about tax-payer funded education? Evolutionists get to make the science rules?

    “The sentences do not mean, nor imply, that you should accept evolution as a matter of faith.” - Negative Entropy, this is what Richard Lewontin confirmed in Larry’s “A true test for Christians” post. “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.” This sounds like faith (in materialism) to me.

    “The sentences do not mean, nor imply, that you should accept evolution as a matter of faith.” - I guess it only means that people of religious or theistic faith should be weeded out of science classrooms and the fields of science. If “detection” were applied retroactively, the historical field of science would be absent some notable people.

    “Nice try though. Looking for a career as a quote-mining creationist.” - What’s the matter with quoting. It’s what people say vs. what I may think I heard them say. Don’t you insist on being credited, when you’re quoted?

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  50. Denny,

    Quoting is fine, misquoting and misrepresenting the quote is what is wrong. Nice red-herring with all your self-righteous rant trying to distract from your original misrepresentation of the quote. You seem quite fit for a creationist quote-mining career.

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  51. Denny,

    That you seem to imply that you got "the idea" about arachnids stasis from Rana, and that you think that such an imbecilic pseudoscientist has any valid points out of the "illustrious career" that you painted for him, does not change the fact that you presented arachnids as static out of your incommensurable ignorance. Nice red-herring again.

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  52. Denny,

    By the way, I fully agree with this:

    If “detection” were applied retroactively, the historical field of science would be absent some notable people.

    But that, again, does not change the very fact that you misrepresented those sentences to mean something they did not mean.

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  53. @Denny,

    There are many problems with drawing too much from patterns in the fossil record, for or against. It is a heavily biased sampling-and-discovery process. It is mainly interested in the gross 'form' of the diploid phase of certain overgrown organisms - mostly aquatic - and therefore tracks stasis/change in one parameter only. It is more likely to see common organisms than rare ones, and therefore samples the bias in rate-of-change that is (mathematically) inferred to be related to population size. And the fossilisation process can stop, for millions of years, leaving vast discontinuities masking 'offstage' activity.

    Most populations do not obligingly stay in one place and do all their evolving there, their dead tumbling down on top of their ancestors to form a neat succession of transitions. Historic populations were likely as transient and evanescent as modern ones - more like smoke blowing across the landscape than long-term occupancy, though you don't see that on lifetime scales. And the earth moves under them. Tectonic plates are a vast conveyor belt, the deepening mud sampling a different set of organisms as it goes, before being subsumed at the trenches with loss of all but that which gets pasted against the continental edge.

    So it's a bit like trying to reconstruct the fauna of a region from bugs on your windshield and roadkill. Fortunately, evolution does not rely solely upon the fossil record. There are patterns of relationship deep in the DNA, and nested heirarchies of bodily homology that map pretty closely upon them. (Hardly any of the DNA that holds these patterns is related to differences between those homologous bodies, before you say it!). These facts are inexplicable by any other paradigm. You find it counterintuitive, and maybe it is, but the deeper you delve, the more overwhelming the evidence becomes. It ain't a matter of faith, I promise you.

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  54. Negative Entropy said (in quotes), “you misrepresented those sentences to mean something they did not mean.” – I did not. It was a barely varnished attempt to exclude people with whom they disagree over science.

    "That you seem to imply that you got "the idea" about arachnids stasis from Rana, and..." - I didn't "imply." I stated it honestly, and isn't stasis common in science?

    "imbecilic pseudoscientist" – Are you implying that you occupy a personal and professional status superior to that of Rana? If so, based on what?

    "your incommensurable ignorance." - Even though I disagree with you over evolution's power of explanation for how things came to be, I make no such broad personal judgment about you. What compels you to make them of me?

    “Quoting is fine, misquoting and misrepresenting …” I am not misquoting and misrepresenting.” What I will call the evolution establishment is famous for desiring to exclude theists from the marketplace of science, on the basis of what they believe to be their perceived intellectual and educational superiority. My comments are aimed at how and why it appears that such a sense of superiority is so common among ardent evolutionists.

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  55. @Denny

    Exactly what book would explain this, please?

    Stop being so lazy Denny and don't expect the world to spoon feed you.

    Why is it that IDiocy always seems to be accompanied by a sense of entitlement ?

    I suggest you put some small fraction of the effort you put into copying and pasting trash from creotard sites into honest inquiry into this question.

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  56. WOW, Allen.

    Although I disagree with your notion that, “the deeper you delve, the more overwhelming the evidence (for evolution) becomes” (e.g. the hard sciences), your reply is thoughtful. I realize blogs are places for some biased cheerleading. But, it certainly is refreshing to see a rational, dispassionate, articulate, scientific response. It’s nice to feel like I’m in a ping-pong match instead of a street fight. I hope you’re teaching a class somewhere. Because, I have first-hand knowledge of a local Community College biology professor that used to ask his first-year students who considered themselves Christians to stand up on the first day of classes. He would then declare that he would destroy their faith, before the semester was over. He stopped his public humiliation after the President was forced to attend a public meeting on the matter with personal eye witness accounts, even froom the professor's peers. I know that the give-and-take between me and Negative Entropy over the terms “detect” and “encourage” was not simply the ranting of a creotard.

    Thanks.

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  57. Denny,

    Nice try at distracting from your original misrepresentation of that quote, which was an attempt at saying that evolution was accepted as a matter of faith. You remember this, right? Or will you hypocritically deny it once more? Or offer another red-herring? Of course, those viperous adjectives that you added to what they actually said, are also misrepresentations. I disagree with them. But they are far from having said what you present them as saying.

    Then, that a couple of guys published their opinion in an education forum, and suggested to encourage students who deny evolution out of their faith to pursue a different career (where "encouraging" does not mean "excluding," regardless of your venomous reinterpretations), does not mean that the scientific community agrees with them. Maybe you need to visit both the definition of a "forum," and a bit of logic. It also shows once again your incommensurable ignorance, since there are many theists in science. I know a good number of them personally, and neither me, nor anybody else has discriminated them one bit.

    What compels me to remark your incommensurable ignorance? That you would say such ignorant things as "the evolution establishment is famous for desiring to exclude theists from the marketplace of science, on the basis of what they believe to be their perceived intellectual and educational superiority." This shows that you obviously have no idea and talk out of ignorance and misinformation (plus a viperous attitude towards actual scientists). Then that you would say that arachnids have been static during millions of years. That is incommensurably ignorant of proportion, taxonomy, arachnids, fossils, and biology overall.

    Since you "stated honestly" that you got that arachnid thing from Rana, then I don't need to present you with any further reasons why Rana deserves to be called an imbecilic pseudoscientist. Obviously, if what you said represents what Rana said (who knows, you misrepresent even yourself), Rana has no idea of proportion, taxonomy, arachnids, fossils, and biology overall, while you, immersed in your incommensurable ignorance, bought the pseudoscience thinking that it had some value. You see? It all fits.

    Since all you do is present red-herrings, further show your ignorance, and top it up with verbal venom and hypocrisy. This is the last from me to you. Have a nice life.

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  58. WOW, Denny

    Those poor christians. I just have to know, how are they doing today ? How many years of therapy did it take them to recover ?

    What else did that evil atheist professor inflict on those martyrs ?

    Did he also denounce the homosexuals among them as being an abomination in the eyes of his god ? Did he mercilessly hound gay teenagers just discovering their sexuality to the point of suicide ?

    Did he claim that the women had less than total autonomy over their bodies because the tribal culture from which he blindly imported his mythology considered female humans to be chattels and the property of the nearest male relative ?

    Did he tell children that they would suffer in hell forever if they did not unquestioningly accept the dogma of the cult to which their parents subscribed and further more that their friends who belonged to a different faith were going there no matter what ?

    Based on your earlier posts I suspect you are less that an honest seeker of the truth and a bit of a drama queen.

    You came into this discussion presupposing a special place for humans in the universe and no evidence will change your mind.

    You describe yourself as a progressive creationist (tonight's entree of oxymoron comes with a side of irony) and any argument presented to you will be suitably twisted to fit into that world view.

    I admire the patience and tenacity of some of the other commentors on this blog but I suspect they are just pissing in the wind when it comes to having a meaningful exchange of ideas with you.

    Not to say it's all wasted effort, it's important to refute mystical thinking in the public space and for every blinkered Denny out there, there are many others inculcated in the dogmas of their cults that can benefit from this type of dialog.

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  59. Jud: an extinction event wipes out those predators/competitors, etc.) will *inevitably* work to change the genetic makeup of a population.

    Lee: That's fine, so then I wonder whence the statis we see?

    Jud: Perhaps because catastrophic extinction events aren't occurring on a continous basis?

    But the founder effect needs no catastrophic event, for instance, geographical separation should happen fairly often on geological timescales. So then the statis in the fossil record seems unexpected.

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  60. @Denny,

    I disagree with your notion that, “the deeper you delve, the more overwhelming the evidence (for evolution) becomes” (e.g. the hard sciences),

    In order to disagree with it, you'd really have to do that delving!

    One reason creationists get a hard time online is that they pop up with mock-innocent questions to which they fail to read or comprehend the answers. The objective was never to understand a part of evolutionary theory, but to pick at something they feel holes evolution fatally below the waterline. The objections have invariably been seen and dealt with many, many times. I'm not suggesting you are doing this, but it is a very common tactic. And a very common response is hostility.

    Ultimately, it depends how much you want to understand evolution, vs how much you want to understand evolutionists. There are two groups of people who simply cannot comprehend each others' mindsets. I have no idea why people allow their faith to blind them to the case for evolution. You have no idea why people would accept such (to you) flimsy rationales for a materialistic explanation for the patterns we see. All I can say, without dragging you through a decent course on the topic, is that the evidence really is overwhelming. Creationists seem to think there are a few dozen fossils, at most, and a couple of patterns in the DNA that may be explained away by invoking "like creatures need like DNA"-type arguments. But this just doesn't fly. Tens of thousands of scientists, beavering away in thousands of institutions for 150 years or more - all wrong? They have delved deeper, much deeper. No-one makes a name for themselves by confirming a paradigm; rest assured, if there was a better one, people would be all over it like a rash.

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  61. Allen Miller said, “In order to disagree with it, you'd really have to do that delving!”

    Allen, I continue to appreciate your honest feedback. Thank you.

    After I run some errands and celebrate a grandson’s B’Day, I going to reply.

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  62. Allen Miller said, “In order to disagree with it (notion that the evidence of evolution is overwhelming), you'd really have to do that delving!”

    First of all, “delve” = “to examine a subject in detail.” Though a layman, I do “delve” into all the fields of science. Hugh Ross’ Reasons To Believe is staffed by people with academic and scientific credentialed individuals like those cited for Fazale Rana, and they read all the latest findings from all the scientific journals all the time (unlike young-earther’s/flat-earthers, from whom I would like to be disassociated). Those and other papers (typically by naturalists/evolutionists) are often circulated for my enjoyment and informal education. I also hang-out monthly with a retired Lawrence Livermore scientist who remains on retainer to do gamma ray research, a former Jet Propulsion Laboratory technician, a retired engineer of Dow Chemical Corp, a local Community College biology professor, a Community College math professor, and many other professional scientifically-credentialed individuals who operate in commercial and academic endeavors with advanced degrees in biology, mathematics, geology, etc.

    Since I pay for science through many voluntary and involuntary avenues (taxes and goods and services), and benefit from the use of science (goods and services), and also thoroughly enjoy science in its raw form, I believe that gives me an implied entitlement to understand some of the things that shape the views of those people on the frontlines of science education and research who also shape what conclusions the public should draw from their findings – conclusions which often stray far from the fields of natural science.

    Also, one reason I “pop up” once in a while is because, at 68, I still work and have a life with joys and sorrows, outside of my interest in science. Here are my motives for visiting Sandwalk. 1) To force myself to “delve” further into scientific and non-scientific issues for my own enjoyment and understanding, and 2) To “delve” the mind of Sandwalk fans to see why they don’t see scientific and non-scientific issues the way I do.

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  63. Allen Miller said, “In order to disagree with it (notion that the evidence of evolution is overwhelming), you'd really have to do that delving!”

    Before I reply to your other thoughtful comments, if you are a scientist in a biology-related field, I respectfully invite you to “delve” into this. In the last year or so, Larry and many Sandwalk fans have posted many comments that support the idea that Junk DNA supports evolution. I made some opposing comments that were dismissed. If you decide to accept my invitation, go to http://www.reasons.org/junk-dna-outdated-concept-part-6-6 and you will find the final in a series of six articles written by Patricia Fanning. Patricia was a successful graduate student with a 4.0 GPA and won the Becton-Dickinson Award for the best graduate student research in her department and well as an award as the best graduate student teacher. She completed a B.S. in premed, a year of medical school - later changed to a Ph.D. in biochemistry at NCSU. She also cross-trained in computer science, worked as a software industry consultant and applied her computer science training in her research, specializing in RNA structure and the E. coli ribosome using both laboratory and computational techniques.

    As a Sandwalk fan and evolutionist, I would be interested in seeing how you would view Patricia’s assessment of so-called Junk DNA. Her articles seem to me to be pretty strong in refuting an evolutionary view of Junk DNA.

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  64. @Denny,

    I would beware of taking too much guidance from physicists, chemists, mathematicians etc. Just because people are clever and good at a science does not mean that they can traverse disciplines with equal clarity and ease. Knowing how much you don't know is a great start.

    We could draw a kind of target diagram, with evolutionary theorists in the middle, then moving out to the biological sciences, then to chemists, physicists, mathematicians, engineers, MDs, the public at large ...

    Now I would hypothesise that we would see a diminishing percentage of acceptance of evolution as we progress outwards through that diagram. Why?

    Of course, there is likely a career-choice bias. Evolutionary theorists are hardly likely to be drawn from the ranks of evolution skeptics. But if you assume honesty and good faith, these are the people best placed to assess claims about evolution.

    It is an odd thing. Most people - particularly in my country, the UK - don't need to delve at all to see the evolutionary explanation work. As a ten-year-old birdwatcher, familiar with the Linnaean system, it made perfect sense when a weekly magazine gave a pull-out chart of evolutionary relationships. I stuck it on my wall. Of course - that is why there are ducks, and geese, and closer and more distant relationships allowing Linnaeus to classify hierarchically. Common Descent - we are looking at the tips of a vast branching tree.

    When, subsequently at University I 'delved' into the molecular basis of Life, there was the means by which the tree was built - DNA copying, imperfect but vital. To my mind, it was - just - possible to be a rational evolution skeptic until about 1953. DNA changed all that. Flaws in the copying process are copied to every descendant, like fluff on a photocopy being passed into every subsequent copy but absent from every other. Take any piece of DNA from a duck, and the same from a goose, and the same from more distant groupings in the Linnaean hierarchy, and you can build up the branching of the copying tree from the pattern of shared and unique sequence.

    Take another piece and do the same, and the trees will map pretty closely upon each other - and upon the Linnaean hierarchy. You can do this again and again, and the same pattern will emerge. Since many of these differences are completely silent in the expressed protein, we cannot appeal to diffences of function.

    It is remarkable, and whatever people feel about Darwin's views on gradualism, the source of variation or the drivers of the process, it is as clear a demonstration I know of that he whacked that nail firmly on the head.

    But some people, notably the religious, need a LOT more convincing - and you can't force people to understand something. And when there is a support structure of national and local church sentiment and accredited scientists available to reassure the rest that there is nothing in that darned evolution notion...

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  65. Allan Miller said in quotes,

    “beware of taking too much guidance from physicists, chemists, mathematicians etc.” You earlier said, “These facts are inexplicable by any other paradigm. You find it counterintuitive, and maybe it is, but the deeper you delve, the more overwhelming the evidence (for evolution) becomes.” – If evolution were the best explanation for the natural world, it must consider all science disciplines. Correct? Think about the Big Bang!

    I agree that “traversing these disciplines with equal clarity and ease” is a challenge. That’s a focus of RTB – to bring together all the aspects of human life (natural, supernatural, personal life experience, past and predictable future). Besides, I can’t figure out how atheists/naturalists/evolutionists would be better at traversing these disciplines, if they insist that one of the most common traits of humans doesn’t exist (broadly speaking, the belief in an extra-natural - spiritual - aspect to our lives).

    I certainly agree with the old adage, ‘Half of being smart is knowing what you’re dumb at.”

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  66. Denny says,

    In the last year or so, Larry and many Sandwalk fans have posted many comments that support the idea that Junk DNA supports evolution.

    I have never made such a claim.

    What I claim is that the existence of massive amounts of junk DNA in our genome is perfectly compatible with the modern view of evolution (and incompatible with traditional "Darwinism").

    Bacterial genomes have very little junk DNA and that's also compatible with our understanding of evolution.

    The presence of huge amounts of junk DNA in some genomes is not "support" for evolution. If it turns out that this DNA has a function then the fact of evolution will not be affected.

    On the other hand, the IDiots have staked their reputation on proving that massive amounts of junk DNA don't exist. For them it's a direct challenge to the idea of intelligent design. If we turn out to be correct about junk DNA then Intelligent Design Creationism will have suffered a major blow. This blow will be largely self-inflicted since it is the IDiots themselves, not evolutionary biologists, who draw the line in the sand.

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  67. Denny says,

    Even the great evolution prophet, Richard Dawkins, said (as I am sure you know), “biology is the study of complicated things that appear to have been designed for a purpose.” Why do evolutionists deny the obvious?

    To me it seems obvious that life does NOT look designed. To me it looks much more like an inefficient Rube Goldberg apparatus than an expensive pocket watch.

    All you have to do is look at the human body for examples of bad design. Who in their right mind would design horizontal abdominal muscles in an organism that walks upright? Who would design wisdom teeth that are no longer needed? Who would purposely design an organism that's so prone to back pain and damage to knees and ankle joints?

    And what kind of designer would build a species that can't make its own essential vitamins and amino acids?

    Why do IDiots (and Richard Dawkins) deny the obvious?

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  68. Denny asks,

    As a Sandwalk fan and evolutionist, I would be interested in seeing how you would view Patricia’s assessment of so-called Junk DNA.

    It's crap. Her last article—the only one I read—contains factually incorrect statements and misrepresentations of the scientific literature. That's typical behavior for fans of Hugh Ross.

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  69. Allan. Your word picture is helpful, but I never saw an illustration with “evolutionary theorists” at the central core.” When I think of the ultimate meaning of life (not the narrow focus of scientific endeavors) and how to make sense of my circumstances, my paradigm would not naturally start with evolutionary theorists. I say this, because the evolutionist at Sandwalk and elsewhere make truth claims about life on the basis of and that exceeds evolution theory. Since the vast majority of humans will never experience evolutionary theory or theorists, how are they to make the same level of value judgments about life – especially since there seems to be an implied superiority in your diagram?

    Quoting Allan, “Now I would hypothesise that we would see a diminishing percentage of acceptance of evolution as we progress outwards through that diagram. Why?”

    Alan, why would you use an illustration about life that marginalizes most of humankind? Why would you posit that evolutionists would be in the best position to assess evolution? Isn’t that a little like saying that I (a layman) am in the best position to judge the pain in my gut, simply because it’s my gut?

    Evolution skeptics can understand evolution and disagree with it. I understand that for 150 years, evolution has been the widely accepted most rational scientific model for explaining the natural world, and therefore, it (for theistic skeptics) has also explained other non-scientific non-natural human issues. However, naturalistic evolution is not the only model based on scientific data any longer. Hugh Ross has proposed a testable and falsifiable creation model that, as I said, is based on the same scientific data to which you and all evolutionists have access. Naturalists can legitimately claim their evolution model as the best, but unless they “delve” into Ross’ model, they can’t honestly claim it as the only model.

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  70. Larry Moran said... “It's crap. Her last article—the only one I read—contains factually incorrect statements and misrepresentations of the scientific literature. That's typical behavior for fans of Hugh Ross.”

    Larry, would you take the time to provide specifics re. “factually incorrect statements and misrepresentations of the scientific literature”?

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  71. @Denny,

    I agree that “traversing these disciplines with equal clarity and ease” is a challenge. That’s a focus of RTB – to bring together all the aspects of human life (natural, supernatural, personal life experience, past and predictable future). Besides, I can’t figure out how atheists/naturalists/evolutionists would be better at traversing these disciplines

    I'm not saying that. Forget atheists, for a start - religious opinion is simply irrelevant to the science. I'm saying that, too often, people who understand one discipline well express opinions on evolution that demonstrate that they do not understand it. Their pronouncements are seized upon by the faithful as evidence against evolution. But you would not look to a plumber for advice on your wiring. I would no more trust an 'evolutionist's opinion on the Big Bang than I would a physicist’s on genome function – though both are perfectly capable of understanding.

    This is not to draw artifical boundaries around the sciences, but to recognise that, these days, it is impossible to be a polymath in the manner of the Victorian gent. There are experts, and there are non-experts. What evolutionary theorists, and people who understand genetics, molecular biology, synapomorphy etc, have over the rest of the population, scientific and non-scientific, is a fundamental grasp of mechanism. How mutations arise, how they spread and are fixed, what limits to the process are manifest, the patterns that slap you in the face in the data ... Science is not engaged in an active program of confirming evolution. That was put to bed by about 1870, and now it simply forms a background assumption of biology, incidentally confirmed daily. But still physicists and chemists and mathematicians continue to misunderstand it, and this gives comfort to those hoping it is untrue. One wonders how accommodating and polite they would be if I announced that I had succeeded in trisecting the angle, or that darkness is caused by “darkons”.

    We teach Simple Harmonic Motion or the Principle of Moments (great names!) without any regard to religious sensibilities, and evolution would have the same status in biology but for this bizarre determination not to get it.

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  72. Allan, re. your comments about “Common Descent - we are looking at the tips of a vast branching tree.” A lot of us no longer see a conventional metaphorical ‘tree of life’ that shows simple life at the bottom, but rather it almost looks as though the tree is upside-down, when considering the early emergence complex of life.

    Allan, it would be difficult and take too much time for me to keep up with you on issues of DNA regarding ducks and trees. However, there is, as you know, lots of debate about how and why DNA itself could have ever emerged and gained information-bearing qualities that could be “copied” or replicated, especially in the very brief period available from the time early earth provided a hospitable environment for even the most basic life. Your comments about DNA and ducks and trees makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Evolution theory, however, leaves lots of room for further explanations – explanations that could include creation options. If I find a creation perspective re. ducks and trees, I’ll let you know (if you keep your email follow-up open).

    Allan, the “nail” that Darwin “firmly whacked on the head” was the one that shows humans can discover that they owe their existence to seemingly logical processes that have been in place for a long time. Those processes can be explored (scientific method). How those ‘natural’ processes began and developed, and whether they are confined to the limits of physical material, is still a matter of speculation – open to evolutionists and non-evolutionists who care to do their homework.

    Allan, I think I understand why you would say, “when there is a support structure of national and local church sentiment and accredited scientists available to reassure the rest that there is nothing in that darned evolution notion...” It’s a pretty broad but fair statement. It may also be fair to say that there is also something in “that darned Jesus notion” too, against a support structure of naturalistic atheistic and scientific sentiment – for those who wish to 'delve' in Him.

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  73. @Denny Besides, I can’t figure out how atheists/naturalists/evolutionists would be better at traversing these disciplines, if they insist that one of the most common traits of humans doesn’t exist (broadly speaking, the belief in an extra-natural - spiritual - aspect to our lives).

    Yes, atheists/naturalists/evolutionists are handicapped by their unwillingness to make stuff up.

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/2008/12/17/edge/

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  74. @Denny

    It's all in your tummy.

    Belief in God Boils Down to a Gut Feeling

    By STEPHANIE PAPPAS - LIVESCIENCE.COM

    http://www.livescience.com/16151-god-belief-intuition.html

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  75. steve oberski said, “It's all in your tummy. Belief in God Boils Down to a Gut Feeling.”

    What’s in my stomach is the evidence of measurable quantities of masticated food, and protein-digesting enzymes.

    What’s in my head, in the form of a belief is information based on several things like facts/evidence. As you know, unless it's a stomach ache, the term “Gut Feeling” is simply a metaphor for what’s actually in one’s brain.

    I won’t assume you don’t know this, but as a reminder, the ‘evidence’ for a belief in Christ is vastly more plentiful than any other historical figure. Lee Strobel is a best-selling author and former skeptic (atheist). A Goggle search for Lee Strobel will reveal several of his books whose style is to ask typical skeptic questions of scholars from pertinent fields, with responses based on evidence, not “Gut Feeling.” Allan Miller made a good point in this thread, when he suggested “delving” into a subject to better understand it. That’s one of the reasons I like hanging-out at Sandwalk once in awhile.

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  76. A lot of us no longer see a conventional metaphorical ‘tree of life’ that shows simple life at the bottom, but rather it almost looks as though the tree is upside-down, when considering the early emergence complex of life.

    The tree of life isn't to be confused with the "ladder of progress" - modern bacteria are 'twigs', just as much as we are. But it is a bit more than merely metaphorical. A real tree arises from cell-to-cell copying – mitosis – and so does the Tree of Life. We sexual creatures complicate matters a little – we copy double chromosome sets for a while, but then split ‘em up to make sex cells – but essentially the whole tree is still built from chromosome (DNA) copying. If you were to seed a sterile planet with a single cell, provided with whatever nutrient medium it needed (I am not saying this is exactly what happened here!), you would end up with a planet’s worth of cells, because copying DNA is an exponential process. The cells at a given moment in time would be the current ‘twigs’ of a tree of copying that coalesced upon that single starter cell, whichever way up you chose to draw it. Family trees are upside down too.

    There is more than that, of course, because we don’t see individual cells, but collections of cells in distinct forms. But the chromosomes in the cells of those collections derive, copy by copy by copy, from fewer progenitors. They must, in a finite world. It is this that draws the spreading tree.

    Allan, it would be difficult and take too much time for me to keep up with you on issues of DNA regarding ducks and trees.

    Think of DNA as a text. Four letters, A, C, T and G, in strings a few thousand million letters long. Because reproduction = DNA copying, and that copying is good but not perfect, mistakes creep in. These mistakes can be distinctive. You get inversions of a few letters, or duplications, or wholesale switches of blocks. Because DNA is copied, these signals are copied too. If two ‘kinds’ that you consider separately created contain a common ‘signal’ of this type, then we have to wonder why. The simple explanation is that they inherited the signal from a common ancestor. This is, after all, the basis of paternity testing.

    However, there is lots of debate about how and why DNA itself could have ever emerged and gained information-bearing qualities that could be “copied” or replicated, especially in the very brief period available from the time early earth provided a hospitable environment for even the most basic life.

    I think that may be a mythical “window of opportunity” – does that come from Rana? DNA is not commonly thought to be the first genetic material in any case. I have my own ideas on the evolution of the genetic code, and the transition to DNA, but no space – still, we can really push that one back – everything on earth shares the DNA-protein system, almost the same code, a broadly common core of central enzymes... So as far as the evolutionary explanation is concerned, it is no surprise that these are considered to be inherited from a single common ancestor. What preceded that is unknown, and not strictly relevant. By examining twigs, you can work out the branching. When you have examined all the twigs, you have run out of things to look at – all prior branches died out without leaving any modern ‘twigs’.

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  77. Allan, I think I understand why you would say, “when there is a support structure of national and local church sentiment and accredited scientists available to reassure the rest that there is nothing in that darned evolution notion...” It’s a pretty broad but fair statement. It may also be fair to say that there is also something in “that darned Jesus notion” too, against a support structure of naturalistic atheistic and scientific sentiment.

    OK, but there isn’t really an atheistic club, as such! I don’t follow football, but that doesn't mean I've joined a non-football-supporters group. I’m not that interested in disbelief either, per se. Religion just does not speak to me. Maybe I’m not listening, but my views on evolution are unrelated to my beliefs, or lack thereof. I'm just interested in how the world works.

    Religion offers a trinity – creation explanation, moral guidance and somewhere to go when you die. Evolution just offers a view on the first, more consistent with the facts. It’s also one of the great cultural achievements of the modern age.

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  78. Larry, I simply meant that your view of junk DNA is consistent with your view of evolution, whatever version of evolution you prefer. Any version of evolution is based on the core ‘belief’ that all processes seen in nature’s empirical characteristics, including its origin, are accidental and undirected.

    In the microbiology community, it might be reasonable to say there is lots of discussion over the role of what was thought to be ‘functionless’ (presumed to favor evolution) aspects of the human genome. I just read Patricia Fanning’s article on dihydrofolate reductase-like 1 (DHFRL1). Endnotes:
    1. Gráinne McEntee et al., “The Former Annotated Human Pseudogene Dihydrofolate Reductase-like 1 (DHFRL1) Is Expressed and Functional,”
    2. John A. P. Rostas and Peter R. Dunkley, “Multiple Forms and Distribution of Calcium/Calmodulin-Stimulated Protein Kinase II in Brain.”
    It’s way over my head. However, considering all the other DNA research activities, and excluding Fanning’s last sentence conclusion, it’s plain to see that the issue of junk DNA is anything but settled science. Therefore, conclusions about what junk DNA favors are driven, as I have said many times at Sandwalk, by ‘interpretation.’

    When one comes to the table of science with the (a priory) view that everything they see is an undirected accident, evolution theory will prevail. When one comes to the table of science and sees an empirical paradigm that does not display a plethora of undirected accidents, but rather an apparent "ladder of progress", as Allan Miller terms it (No offence, Allan. I like the term and what it could imply), evolution theory will not be the conclusion. Especially when empirical scientific data is coupled with a record of human history (the Bible) that in various writing styles refers to natural phenomena consistent with modern scientific findings.

    Creationists with scientific credentials have an advantage over evolutionists, because the creationists have the Bible’s references to nature to compare to modern science. Evolutionists do not have independent 4,000 year-old testimony of writers (mostly independent of one another) who observed, thought about, and made predictions about the origin and purpose of the natural world.

    Please forgive a shameless plug. Hugh Ross’ “Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job” provides many examples of the consistency between natural science and the Bible.

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  79. @Denny What’s in my head, in the form of a belief is information based on several things like facts/evidence.

    That's directly contradicted by the contents of your posts.

    Unless you purposely omitted "stuff I pulled out of my backside" from the "several things" list.

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  80. Allan Miller said, “OK, but there isn’t really an atheistic club, as such!” - Well, I’m not sure I’d buy that. I recently got on a mail list for the Center For Inquiry, a definite atheistic club. Also, I would consider the science colleges of institutions like the University of Toronto pseudo atheistic clubs.

    Quoting Allan, “I don’t follow football, but that doesn't mean I've joined a non-football-supporters group.” - That is an interesting perspective. Progressive creationists like me, and Hugh Ross, are not anti-evolution. We accept it as a valid scientific model for understanding and explaining natural science and our human origins. But, in the light of an avalanche of modern scientific data, and contrary to the traditional teachings of Darwinism, we do not accept it as the best model. Evolution theory has the advantage of being adopted by the seeming majority of the scientific establishment. We would also say that there is a correlation between the scientific establishment’s adoption of evolution and their views as naturalists, materialists, and atheists. We greatly respect and admire scientists and what they do. But, 1) there is another ‘minority’ scientific (Creation) model for how things came to be, and 2) it is a model that is not colored by a philosophy of naturalism, materialism, and atheism. That may make us ‘non-evolution-supporters,’ but it doesn’t mean that we don’t “follow” evolution with keen interest. For me, it also means that what is taught in public tax-payer funded school science classrooms is of great interest, because evolution always travels with implicit or explicit naturalism, materialism, and atheism. This reality seems unavoidable, since naturalists, materialists, and atheists are trying to find truth for human life (as creationists are) through their non-theistic lens. Herein lies the rub.

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  81. Allan Miller said, “I’m not that interested in disbelief either, per se. Religion just does not speak to me. Maybe I’m not listening, but my views on evolution are unrelated to my beliefs, or lack thereof.” – I appreciate your response, Allan. It’s big. I’ll try to reply. Christians (separate from all other religions) are indeed interested in “disbelief,” because we are convinced that belief and disbelief have consequences that outlast life in this world. I would refer you to Nobel Laureate, Richard Smalley, at Wikiquote.

    Quoting Allan, “I'm just interested in how the world works.” – So are Christians, but for more reasons than simple curiosity.

    Quoting Allan, “Religion offers a trinity – creation explanation, moral guidance and somewhere to go when you die.” – I don’t know where you got your definition of “a trinity.” However, a strict definition of the word “religion” applies to any belief system that adheres to a common set of ideals or line of thought, and forms practices and traditions around them. It can also be applied to any object of devotion or worship (theistic or non-theistic), the things to which we devote ourselves. Therefore, atheism, naturalism, and materialism can be accurately defined as “religion.” More specifically, Christians are Trinitarians. They believe that God exists completely and simultaneously as three persons: Father, Son (Christ), and Holy Spirit. Christians like myself believe this, because (in part) I understand that any God who could cause the Big Bang (evolution can offer no explanation) must exist outside the four dimensions that resulted from the Big Bang, the dimensions in which we exist, and by which we are limited. Any God living outside (not limited by) those four dimensions can exist as three persons in one. The fact that the Bible, taken in total, attempts to explain a mystery like the Trinity, is a bonus.

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  82. Steve,

    By "several things like facts/evidence" I simply mean as important as facts are, they are not the only things involved in forming beliefs. I don't see a contradiction.

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  83. I understand that any God who could cause the Big Bang (evolution can offer no explanation)

    So a theory of biological speciation can't offer sufficient explanations in the realms of quantum physics and relativity. I bet Heisenberg's uncertainty principle falls way short as an explanation of biological speciation, too.

    must exist outside the four dimensions that resulted from the Big Bang, the dimensions in which we exist, and by which we are limited.

    There may very well be more than four dimensions. Eleven appears to be a quite popular number in current theories. Re the Big Bang, I cannot think of any particular logical or evidence-based reason why the conditions precedent to it must necessarily have included some supernatural entity. The problem isn't a lack of natural explanations, it is that based on current evidence there are a surfeit of potential natural explanations that are awaiting yet more evidence to continue to narrow them down.

    Any God living outside (not limited by) those four dimensions can exist as three persons in one.

    Any being not restricted by reality can do whatever it likes.

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  84. @Denny The fact that the Bible, taken in total, attempts to explain a mystery like the Trinity, is a bonus.

    Coming up next, Denny speaks in tongues.

    Good to finally see some honesty from you Denny, abandoning any pretense of evidence based rational inquiry and descending into your true nature of whack-a-loon fundigelicism.

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  85. Jud said, "The problem isn't a lack of natural explanations" - As long as you limit your understanding of all of life to "natural explanations," your understanding of life might be limited.

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  86. @Denny I simply mean as important as facts are, they are not the only things involved in forming beliefs. I don't see a contradiction.

    So we are in agreement that an ability to delude ones self and an expectation that others should pretend to respect those delusions are integral parts of your belief system.

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  87. @Denny,

    I don’t know where you got your definition of “a trinity.”.

    It was a gentle joke - a small-t trinity.

    You are partly right about 'atheist clubs' - they exist, but there is no equivalent of the mass structures that permeate society in, for example, the Bible belt of the US. How easy is it to have a personal opinion favouring evolution or atheism there?

    But it is wrong to call atheism a religion or belief system, any more than darkness is a form of light, or lying on the sofa eating pizza is a sport.

    Someone makes a proposition. Until the moment they make it, you are neither believer nor disbeliever, since you haven't even heard it. Once they have told you, do you suddenly adopt a belief system you never had before, regardless whether you agree or not? That's outrageous!

    My dog is a reincarnated apostle. There - you've just adopted a belief you never had before - you now believe my dog isn't a reincarnated apostle! But you never thought it was, even before I said it was.

    Still, as far as the science is concerned, materialism is simply a basic assumption of all science. Gravity may be caused by elves, and evolution by a committee of really clumsy designers, good at covering their tracks but not so good at designing stuff. But there is no hint of these things at work, so it is pointless to offer up a scientific program to investigate them. But that isn't even what is offered - what we get is the repeated attempt to pick at the scabs - DNA can't evolve, sex can't evolve, you can't see gradualism in the fossil record, there is more function in DNA than was recently suspected (which position succeeded a former position thinking that it was all functional), species can supposedly change a little but not a lot ...

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  88. @Denny I don’t know where you got your definition of “a trinity.”

    Probably the same way you did, he just made it up.

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  89. Denny writes:

    As long as you limit your understanding of all of life to "natural explanations," your understanding of life might be limited.

    I might define that limitation to be the restriction against having a mind so open that my brains fall out. :-)

    I'm quite happy to let my mind wander, to imagine freely, to let emotions enhance my experiences. Two of the most enjoyable types of experiences in my life are learning, and figuring out how something works. In doing those two things, I've found seeking natural explanations not to be limiting, but to be a tremendously effective way of avoiding the cheap, easy, wrong answer.

    To use an example, seek the answers to the motions of heavenly bodies without restricting yourself to natural explanations, and you get Joshua 10:13. Relatively quick, apparently obvious (the earth is stationary, the sun moves), subject to divine fiat, and flat wrong. Or you restrict yourself to natural explanations, using mathematics and repeatable observations, and though it takes a few centuries and isn't nearly as easy, you get the right answers - answers that provide endlessly fascinating glimpses into the workings of the universe.

    I'll take door #2, thanks.

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  90. Allan Miller said (in quotes), “It was a gentle joke - a small-t trinity.” – At Sandwalk, I’m used to being the butt of jokes. Missed yours.

    “no equivalent of the mass structures that permeate society in, for example, the Bible belt of the US. How easy is it to have a personal opinion favouring evolution or atheism there?” – You force me to make an extremely broad statement here. First, Holy Book “belts” exist all over the world and throughout human history for other reasons, not expressly to oppose evolution or atheism. That opposition is merely an offshoot, when they bump into each other.

    “But it is wrong to call atheism a religion or belief system.” - I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that. I think evolution, married with whatever worldview one has (e.g. naturalism), meets certain core human needs that stem from a unique human charactestic that goes beyond finding today’s food.

    “Someone makes a proposition….” - Typically, I think that’s correct. It might be correct to say that “believing” stems from a thinking and experiential process. (definition of ‘belief’: 1: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing 2: something believed; especially : a tenet or body of tenets held by a group.) A synonym for belief is faith. It may be safe to say that atheists place their faith in and devote themselves to the propositions of evolution and/or naturalism. It seems to me to be a very thin line between belief/faith and religion. I think, just because a deity is not the object of one’s devotion does not mean that one’s belief/faith is not held at the same level as a religion. Check the definition of religion in the Oxford English Dictionary.

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  91. Allan Miller said, “My dog is a reincarnated apostle.” - It seems to me that your “dog” example/proposition presupposes negative assumptions abut me and Christians (maybe religions generally). If there is an (intended or unintended) tone of superiority in your dog proposition, why is it necessary to make a point? I for, example, would not presume superiority over an evolutionist, just because of their beliefs.

    I think your dog proposition betrays the fact that you have not “delved” into, for example, Christianity. Have you ever read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”? I realize that mentioning C.S. Lewis’ and Lee Strobel (earlier in this thread) must curl lips at Sandwalk.

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  92. Denny writes:

    I think, just because a deity is not the object of one’s devotion does not mean that one’s belief/faith is not held at the same level as a religion.

    Actually, they're very different. Were I to demand evidence and data for religious propositions in the same thorough, painstaking way each scientific proposition is questioned and is required to have supporting data and evidence, I would be accused of an utter lack of faith. Lack of faith is prized in science; belief is valued only to the extent there is evidence and data to support it. I need hardly point out to you that faith is so very prized in Christianity in particular (it is valued but not quite so prized traditionally in Judaism; regarding Islam and other religions, I have no information) that religion itself is often referred to as "faith."

    Not only is faith not valued in science, but neither faith nor even belief is material. Gravity doesn't care whether or not you believe you can fly. For religion, faith, and belief yet more so, is utterly central. Christianity, Judaism, etc., care very much that you believe. If you don't believe, you aren't a "real" Christian, Jew, etc., are you? If you call yourself a scientist and doubt a scientific proposition, that's all in a day's work. It needs hard evidence and data before you can believe it. Doubt, not belief, is central. As Richard Feynman said, Rule One is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. It's all about maintaining sufficient doubt, you see?

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  93. @Denny,

    It seems to me that your “dog” example/proposition presupposes negative assumptions abut me and Christians (maybe religions generally). If there is an (intended or unintended) tone of superiority in your dog proposition, why is it necessary to make a point? I for, example, would not presume superiority over an evolutionist, just because of their beliefs.

    I make no claim for superiority. What I am trying to make clear is the reality of the atheist mindset. It is the absence of belief, not a belief itself. Again and again, people of a religious persuasion try and suggest that atheism is a 'religious', or 'faith-based' position, and it just isn't, whatever dictionary may support your view. It's just disinterest.

    So I was looking for a dumb example of a belief someone might try and pass on to someone else. I should have chosen something without religious connotation. We are born neither believing nor disbelieveing anything much. Then people start to tell us things. Some of them we believe, and some we don't. But if you don't believe something ("My dog is reincarnated") your position does not change from prior to the telling to after it. You don't adopt disbelief.

    Meanwhile, on evolution, no-one expects belief. There is evidence, and Common Descent is the clear conclusion to be drawn from it. I don't have a need to believe in evolution. If the evidence pointed elsewhere, I would be fine with it. It is simply that the evidence is incontrovertible. I'd much rather live forever, and if it could achieve that, I might try the trick of believing something I find inherently unbelievable, and disbelieving something with mountains of evidence in its favour. But of course that is where Pascal's wager falls flat - one doesn't just decide what to believe. In all honesty, I cannot find any meaning in religion, not in my personal life, and still less in science.

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  94. @Denny

    C.S. Lewis was pretty much on the same page as Peter Singer with respect to the rights of animals.

    Although I think Lewis just wanted to see his pets in heaven and shoe-horned animals into his incoherent philosophy while Singer takes a more rational approach.

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  95. Allan Miller said, “Still, as far as the science is concerned, materialism is simply a basic assumption of all science.”

    You state, “as far as the science is concerned.” You imply that life is not limited to science. What is beyond natural science? I suggest that materialism is not “SIMPLY" a basic assumption of all science.” Properly defined, it is:

    “1: a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter b : a doctrine that the only or the highest values or objectives lie in material well-being and in the furtherance of material progress c : a doctrine that economic or social change is materially caused … 2: a preoccupation with or stress upon material rather than intellectual or spiritual things.”

    In other words, materialism is unavoidably something more than SIMPLY a way to view science. It becomes a way of viewing life in total, a belief system that provides meaning and purpose to one’s life, and rules out anything it cannot measure. It kind of comes down to that “delving” thing again (into the non-material). If one limits one’s delving to the material, then one’s worldview will be dominated by materialistic thinking. Some of us do not limit ourselves to viewing material things only.

    One reason is that the materialistic worldview, confined by the limits of natural science (those four dimensions), offers no explanation for any human purpose or hope beyond one’s physical life and the life of the earth and universe – all of which will end without a trace of us. Maybe that makes sense for some, but it doesn’t make sense for all. Just because materialism makes sense for some (materialistic-minded scientists), doesn’t mean I should pay for an exclusive materialistic view of human existence being taught in public science classrooms. And, just because a minority of the population (highly intelligent educated motivated and productive materialistic-minded scientists) ‘believe’ in materialism’s philosophy doesn’t mean non-scientist non-materialists should be “Banned” from scientific discussions.

    If materialists want to ignore and berate the non-material (spiritual), that’s their right. But, it is a puzzlement to me, since much of a meaningful human experience cannot be ‘materialistically measured.’

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  96. Denny,

    Of course there is more to life than the material. But science can only investigate that which it can investigate. I would not ban religion from human life (which is not an opinion shared by every atheist). Nor from schools. Nor, where it touches upon matters of scientific philosophy, from science class.

    But it is prejudice, in the sense of pre-judgement. Simply put: God hides from science. Any experiment you may do to try and tease him out, he is one step ahead of you. So we simply put that to one side. Science is not telling me how to live my life or treat other people, or What It All Means - it's just a way of finding out a bunch of cool facts about the planet. One of the coolest facts I know is that, as I walk in the countryside, everything I look at, grass and trees and people and sheep and flowers... we all derive, by painstaking copying of DNA, from a single ancestor. We have learnt to tease apart the DNA and can see these relationships writ large in the DNA, in plain sight. We KNOW this; we don't just believe it. You think there is something way cooler, and maybe you're right. But as far as is revealed to us mere mortals by direct investigation, God simply hides.

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  97. Allan Miller Of course there is more to life than the material.

    All there is to life is the material.

    The religious will claim that science can't explain why you love someone for example, but all the evidence currently points to neurological processes running inside that wet sloppy blob of organic matter that resides in the skull and there is no evidence for any non material explanation for all those things previously considered to be in the purview of religion and like a bad tempered junk yard dog, jealously guarded by them.

    But just because we are beginning to understand human emotions does not mean that we suddenly become mindless automatons.

    Just like we don't try to use quantum mechanics to describe the organic chemical reactions that comprise life, even though in principle this is possible, we can still use art, philosophy and literature to shed light on the human condition even though we now realize that it's all an interaction between matter and energy and that free will is an illusion.

    Transcendence and the numinous are accessible to "mere" materialists and I would argue that atheists are better able to experience these emotions unfettered by bronze age dogma than the religious ever have or will.

    Just sitting at my computer as a non-scientist I can experience the universe like no human has ever been able to do, real time video from the surface of Mars, the moons of Jupiter, the ring system of Saturn all the way to the birth of the universe and in the other direction down to the sub-atomic particle.

    What do the Denny's of the world have to offer in exchange ? Burning bushes, global floods, fire from the sky, slavery, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, genocide, ritual cannibalism and human sacrifice.

    And then they demand that others respect this lunacy and insist on the right to abuse a new generation of children by indoctrinating them with this brain damaged fuck-wittery.

    Well fuck that evil shit is what I say.

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  98. steve oberski said, "All there is to life is the material." - Then why are you commenting in this thread?

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  99. Allan, you’re trying to make a case that it’s simply reasonable for scientists to see evolution as the most logical explanation for how things came to be. Let me try a different tact to counter your notion, using Hugh Ross as an example. He was born in a secular culture (Canada) to a-religious parents. At age seventeen Ross became the youngest person ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver’s Royal Astronomical Society. He gained an undergraduate degree in physics (University of British Columbia) and graduate degrees in astronomy (University of Toronto), plus a National Research Council of Canada fellowship that ultimately took him Caltech to research quasars. After reading a Gideon Bible, he accepted the ‘spiritual’ proposition at its end. Sometime later, he examined the narrative creation accounts of the world’s great (non-Biblical) holy books, and found them all farcical (my term), because they did not resemble the facts of science, especially astrophysics. He then examined the Bible and found its Genesis creation account congruent with science facts. Later he found twenty additional chapter-length narrative accounts in the Bible, also congruent with known science facts.

    Allan, what I just described does not reflect an a priory view of science or religion. It reflects one person, far from the only one (Did you checkout my earlier reference to Richard Smalley, Nobel Prize in Chemistry?), who “delved” into both science and faith and found neither of them wanting, when it comes to a rational understanding of how things came to be, and why - as far as can be known. That point about “delving” you brought up some time ago in this thread, cuts both ways, through both science and faith. Both can be ‘tested.’ See Ross’s book, “Why the World is the Way it is.”

    Two years ago, Ross was invited to NASA headquarters in Texas to speak to its scientists on one condition – no proselytizing. Afterward, he was allowed a Q&A time that lasted over 90 minutes. Most of the scientists’ questions concerned - faith.

    The idea that all ‘real’ scientists view creationists as creotards is false. If you and Sandwalk fans don’t know that, it’s probably because not enough serious honest “delving” into Christ has occurred.

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  100. @Steve Oberski

    All there is to life is the material

    Yeah, I didn't mean there is a mysterious "something more". But we have an experience of life that, though emergent upon chemistry and electricity, appears to us detached from it. We have a personal experience of life that transcends - in the weakest possible sense - its material form. For many, that illusion of transcendence is a window onto something more genuinely transcendent - something that really does sit outside. But that definitely ain't what I was saying!

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  101. Denny,

    The problem is that you can trot out any number of people who can testify to some kind of personal experience that has convinced them of the reality of some external cause beyond the material. But I cannot so testify.

    As to the scientific credentials of some of these people, I can only say that I am generally unpersuaded by arguments from authority. I would be foolish to pick a scrap with Ross over a matter of astrophysics, if he is an authority on that topic. But on evolution, or my own primary fields molecular biology and computing, I would be more than happy to enter the fray with him. I know why common descent is correct - not just the most logical explanation, but there-in-the-genes-can-you-not-bleeding-see-it correct! Now, I have to backtrack a little and agree that there may be a better explanation for the patterns we see. But divine creation is not it. That simply would not explain why we see the same distinctive DNA sequences, inversions and deletions and repeats, following phylogenies derived by independent means wherever we look. This has been thoroughly investigated! I don't know what you think scientists do all day? And scientists from other disciplines should bloody know better!

    Yet over at Uncommon Descent we have a loose association of people united only by their conviction that something, somewhere will show evolution to be bogus. That, and some form of supernatural belief, is about all they have in common. Some even distinguish their position in their signature, lest someone mistake them for something else - "Ray Martinez, old earth separate-creation pan-delusionist Paley-ontologist" or some such. A brief read of the comments section exposes the incoherence of the anti-evolution position. It is not clear what we are supposed to teach, out of this mishmash. "Some people think there's something fishy about this" as a caveat to any evolutionary line of reasoning?

    When the Baptists and the Mormons and the Catholics and the Jews and the Muslims and the 7th Day Adventists and the Branch Davidians and the Scientologists and the Unitarians have finally come up with a coherent line beyond just "we don't believe it", then maybe we could find something to teach.

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  102. @Allan Miller Yeah, I didn't mean there is a mysterious "something more".

    I was sure that was the case but no need to cede ground to quote mining creotards.

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  103. Quoting Allan Miller:

    “The problem is that you can trot out any number of people who can testify to some kind of personal experience that has convinced them of the reality of some external cause beyond the material. But I cannot so testify.” - I never asked you to testify to anything. I simply suggested that if, as you suggested earlier (Denny, “delve” into evolution), that you “delve” into the things of which I speak (Christ, spiritual, non-material, and how they align to the things of natural science) with a little of the honest zeal that you apply to the natural, material aspects of life (as Ross did). Otherwise I think you leave yourself at risk for being uninformed about something that ‘may’ have consequences for your life.

    “… on evolution, or my own primary fields molecular biology and computing, I would be more than happy to enter the fray with him.” … - I suspect Hugh is up to the Miller challenge. However, I will be on a scheduled Skype connection with Fuz (Fazale Rana - biochemistry) next Tuesday evening. What are the questions you would have me pose to him that challenge (progressive) creationism or defend evolution the most? “He may refer me to something he has already written, or give me a live unrehearsed reply, which I am sure would be difficult for me to follow. If I can, I will take an audio recorder to get any reply verbatim. If I can, I will also pose your questions to Patricia Fanning, visiting scholar at RTB. I believe her field of expertise is similar to yours.

    My purpose on suggesting this more direct approach to challenging you is not to consider you the reverse of a Creotard or IDiot. It is simply and respectfully to show that there is another plausible scientific conclusion to draw from interpreting natural science findings vs. naturalistic evolution - by smart people with hard-earned credentials and valued careers, like you and many Sandwalk fans.

    If you want to see Fuz’s credentials, they are at http://www.reasons.org/about-us/our-people#fazale_rana .

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  104. Allan Miller said, “When the Baptists and … Unitarians have finally come up with a coherent line beyond just ‘we don't believe it’, then maybe we could find something to teach.” – I told you that someone has “come up with a coherent line.” It is not easy to navigate, because the broad complex fields of science are not easy to navigate. But, it is at http://www.reasons.org/rtbs-creation-model/tcm-big-bang . Picture a side-by-side comparison of naturalistic evolution and progressive/old-earth creationism, based on the ability of each approach to interpret and match the predictions of its proponents, using actual scientific findings. The RTB Creation Model web site shows the creationist side. It includes all fields of science, Allan, not only biology.

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  105. @Denny it’s probably because not enough serious honest “delving” into Christ has occurred.

    WOW! That must be painful !

    Enough to make the old stigmata start oozing again.

    What would Mary say ?

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  106. Allan Miller said, “I don't know what you think scientists do all day?” – I think:
    - they work hard
    - with integrity
    - in uncharted territory
    - at tedious tasks
    - that often go un-rewarded
    - thinking outside the box
    - sweating a pending grant
    - as another ego is gaining on them
    - while providing practical benefits that help us all

    However, while I mean what I just said, I think it’s unreasonable to think those scientists’ exceptional abilities and accomplishments, focused on things natural and material, trump the beliefs of the rest of us, when it comes to human origins, the wholeness of life, and the ultimate concerns of humanity.

    P.S. – I hope you will consider my invitation to supply “molecular biology and computing” questions or points for Fuz Rana during my Skype visit with him next Tuesday.

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  107. Jud said, “Were I to demand evidence and data for religious propositions in the same thorough, painstaking way each scientific proposition is questioned and is required to have supporting data and evidence, I would be accused of an utter lack of faith.” - au contraire. You would know that your statement does not apply to Christianity, if you read Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Faith or “The Case for Christ,” which you would do if you want your comments to be based on thorough painstaking fact, not hearsay.

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  108. Denny,

    I'm sorry, I don't really have any questions for Rana. I am sure he is a sincere individual, but he has reached conclusions upon the data that I simply feel are unwarranted. We are communicating across a great intellectual divide. Taking an a priori that God exists and he had some 'hand' in the stirrings of Life-from-non-life, or its subsequent progress, is not a position I can identify with.

    I listened to Casey Luskin's podcast on molecular phylogenies, and just found myself shouting at the voice-wave thingy: NO, NO, NO, you just don't get it! But would any purpose be served by converting my ineffctual rantings into actual debate? He doesn't WANT to get it. His immortal soul, as he sees it, hinges upon not getting it. The cytochrome c phylogeny is waved away because there is some problem with the cytyochrome b phylogeny. The question remains: why is there a cytochrome c phylogeny?. Why are there any phylogenies at all?

    I wish you well. I don't think names like creotard or IDiot serve any useful purpose. A sweet Jehovah's Witness girl, who received my explanations of my atheism with open-mouthed astonishment, eventually asked "do you think there is any hope for me?". I wanted to hug her. I have nothing to offer in that regard. Embrace life, live it and love it, you're damn lucky to be here. And if you think that a God who seems absolutely determined that we should NOT directly perceive his existence has somehow slipped up with a dodgy phylogeny or a piece of inexplicably interlinked architecture ... (or dot dot dot, as Casey Luskin is fond of vocalising the ellipsis) you're probably mistaken.

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  109. Denny writes:

    You would know that your statement does not apply to Christianity, if you read Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Faith or “The Case for Christ,” which you would do if you want your comments to be based on thorough painstaking fact, not hearsay.

    Sorry, but your conclusion does not follow from your premise. Strobel's books, which recount a self-described skeptic finding support for and overcoming objections to the divinity of Christ, don't speak for Christianity. The New Testament, particularly Paul's letters and various parts of the Gospels, are replete with praise for the mind-state of faith as against demanding evidence. As Second Corinthians puts it so succinctly, "We live by faith, not by sight." I would like to see a quote from a doctrinal document of any major Christian denomination discouraging faith as a way of knowing.

    And Strobel's books are hardly exemplars of a scientifically painstaking questioning. William Lane Craig says the Big Bang must have a cause, ergo God, and bingo! That's good enough for Strobel. No need to futz around like these foolish quantum physicists, relativists, string theorists, etc., and search for the Big Bang's cause for nearly a century, without an end in sight.

    So no, Strobel's books don't contradict my statement in the least, either as exemplars of Christian doctrine or as exemplars of the kind of constant questioning that is the basis of science.

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  110. @Allan Miller I wish you well. I don't think names like creotard or IDiot serve any useful purpose. A sweet Jehovah's Witness girl,

    People deserve respect, ideas and institutions do not.

    When people cling to bad ideas to the point where you can't separate the person from the idea and no amount of evidence will inform them, then terms like creotard and IDiot are appropriate.

    And there is a causal chain between Denny, who you wish well, and the sweet Jehovah's Witness girl who was not born a JW but was indoctrinated into the cult by creotards and IDiots just like Denny.

    What I have to offer victims of religious child abuse is a vigorous refutation of bad ideas in the public marketplace of ideas.

    What the Denny's of the world engage in is bad behaviour and their behaviour must be pointed out and marginalized.

    This includes all the rhetorical tools at our disposal; debate, humour, irony, mockery, ridicule, disgust and anger.

    No one tool is best, in fact all being used by different people according to their skills and inclination is most effective.

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  111. @Steve oberski

    This includes all the rhetorical tools at our disposal; debate, humour, irony, mockery, ridicule, disgust and anger.

    I'm not above any of that! But it's horses for courses. When people are arsey with me, I respond in kind, but Denny hasn't been. I used to be more fervently anti-religious than I am now. I still dislike religions - all of 'em - because of the way they dispense with rationality, then try to rationalise their fundamental irrationality. But I have softened on the religious.

    A friend was a JW for 30 years and had not seen his sister for 15, as she had departed the faith and been cut off by the family. They had a tearful reunion when he too started to question. That kind of thing is pretty despicable. And that girl on my doorstep, I often think about; I really felt sorry for her. What persuades people to go knocking on doors to spread the word, or take a contrary position on the evidence simply due to difficulties of faith, I cannot imagine. I prefer to probe that with discourse, but I'm not telling anyone off if they prefer a different tack.

    It may be that there is no form of words that one could come up with to persuade someone who has reached a firm conclusion. I expect Rana and Ross have heard every objection to their views, and I reckon I've probably heard every conceivable objection to evolution. We will go on our merry and independent courses: a tale of two mindsets.

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  112. Allan, I don’t know who Casey Luskin is.

    Allan said, “A sweet Jehovah's Witness girl, who received my explanations of my atheism with open-mouthed astonishment, eventually asked ‘do you think there is any hope for me?’" - Therein lies the point to everything, Allan - "do you think there is any hope for me?" Whether one is a peasant or prince, scientist or bricklayer, everyone is looking for “hope.” (Why?) I don’t remember his exact words, but Larry once told me that the word “hope” implied the need for a non-materialistic response, and his belief that there is no special meaning or purpose for humans precludes the need for anything non-materialistic. - Hope does not lie in the material.

    Allan said, “you're damn lucky to be here.” No. It’s not luck. My being here is an amazing ‘purposeful’ gift from God. You too. Steve, Jud, Larry and all the other Sandwalk fans included.

    Allan said, “if you think that a God …” I cannot “think” God into existence any more than you or Larry or Steve or Jud can “think” Him out of existence. He either exists of His own will, or He does not. No matter how much we all may use science to buttress our thoughts, God is the ultimate proposition to accept or reject.

    Allan said, “a God who seems absolutely determined that we should NOT directly perceive his existence …” He’s big, Allan. He’s righteous, and the place and time in which we exist is small and unrighteous. In some ways, there is a gulf between us. However, when you look at the order complexity and wonder of the universe, you see God revealing Himself to us, especially scientists.

    Allan, with respect, God has shown Himself in the person of the Jesus Christ. You have every ability to examine Jesus. I already mentioned (former skeptic) Lee Strobel’s “Case for Christ” and “Case for Faith.” If you have a Bible, try the Gospel of John or Mark.

    I’m going to try to formulate a question or two from your earlier comments to pose to Fuz Rana. I will offer my reply in this blog, in case you are curious.

    Allan, I do not simply wish you well in all you do. I wish the ‘absolute’ best – the Lord Jesus Christ.

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  113. steve oberski said, "What I have to offer..." - Steve, what do you have to offer for all the questions and issues of life that not related to molecules?

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  114. @Denny Steve, what do you have to offer for all the questions and issues of life that not related to molecules?

    I don't tell lies to children.

    I don't project my fear of death and the dark onto impressionable young minds when they are their most vulnerable.

    I don't tell them that they were born with the flaw of original sin and that they are doomed to eternal pain if they don't unquestioningly accept tenents of my bronze age mythology.

    I don't tell them that their friends who have been inculcated into different cults are damned.

    I don't tell them that their friends with different sexual orientations are "disordered".

    I don't tell them that women are chattels and brood mares and have no right to control their own bodies.

    I don't tell them that girls are somehow worth less than boys, that their life choices are constrained by a patriarchal dogma that is informed by tribal customs that were abhorrent thousands of years ago and have no place in modern society.

    That's what I don't bring into the discussion.

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  115. @Denny: My being here is an amazing ‘purposeful’ gift from God.

    Denny, until people like you can substantiate the existence of your god to people like me, this is simply the emptiest of assertions. You might as well claim your teeth are a special gift of the tooth fairy and caving in to the (unaccountably inborn) desire for sucrose is sin. You must see that, on sleepless nights.

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  116. Allan, I do not simply wish you well in all you do. I wish the ‘absolute’ best – the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Better watch out, he's going to be on your doorstep bright and early Saturday morning with copies of The Watchtower and a mentally disabled child* in tow.

    * This has happened to me a number of times, it's always the JWs and it's obviously a mentally disabled child. I asked the last ones that showed up about this but they fled in terror and must have inscribed invisible warning marks on my sidewalk as none have shown up since. I suspect it has something to do with in-breeding. This may also explain Denny.

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  117. Allan, I don’t know who Casey Luskin is.

    Sorry, I thought you might be aware of him. I picked up this link from Uncommon Descent. I made the apparently unprompted leap from Rana to Luskin because they adopt a similar I-see-no-ships approach to molecular phylogeny data.

    The cytochrome c issue I was blethering about relates to one of the earliest molecular 'trees', constructed from comparing sequence differences in cytochrome c, an essential component of the oxygen-respiring pathway, among various branches of the 'Tree of Life'. Cyanide kills you by inhibiting it; it is pretty central to life and (on the evolutionary paradigm) highly conserved, and therefore useful for probing deep branches in the tree – most changes are fatal, so it changes only rarely.

    Cytochrome b exhibits much more sequence variability - ie it changes non-fatally more often, and is therefore used to probe relationships at the family/genus level. Over the kind of evolutionary time that cytochome c can probe, cytochrome b's signal gets too scrambled, and so it gives a messy tree at that level of distant relationship (ie long time since branching). Luskin argues that this indicates that molecular phylogenies are all suspect, and that rather than Common Descent, we are looking at Common Design in cytochrome c’s apparent patterns of relatedness.

    But this does not fly. It is commonly asserted that Common Descent is unfalsifiable (several times by Luskin in that very podcast), but this is untrue. One potential falsification would be the existence of a different genetic system in every species on earth. We know that there isn’t, but it would have falsified it if there was (Darwin didn’t know). Another falsification would be a common genetic system but no patterns of relatedness in the DNA. But we do find such patterns. The cytochrome c tree follows assumed relationship (inferred by Linnaeus pre-Darwin on the basis of gross features) but does not follow function. As a metabolic enzyme, we might expect penguins and seals to form one group, and bats and flying birds another, due to their equivalent demands from respiration. But we don't - all birds, whatever their lifestyle and metabolic needs, group together, while bats naturally group with the other mammals, large, small, fast and slow, and so on. This demands a better explanation than Common Design, and that better explanation is Common Descent.

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  118. Therein lies the point to everything, Allan - "do you think there is any hope for me?"

    Eternal hope? I'm dubious. We have borrowed some molecules from the earth, and eventually we are going to have to give them back. I ain't happy about that, but I don't let it spoil my fun. We are damn lucky to be here, even if you think it's down to God's bounty - this life is something to be celebrated; grabbed by the ankles and shaken till the pennies fall out of its pockets.

    The proposition seems to be that if I suck up to an assumed deity, something may happen after I expire. Maybe I will be allowed a few moments' more consciousness, in order to be informed that it just wasn't good enough, and the oblivion I thought was coming really is coming! ("You woke me up to tell me that?").

    Or perhaps I will be allowed an eternity of consciousness, during which I will be cast into the fiery pit owing to my failure to believe that which my nature and circumstances render unbelievable (I will not go quietly: "You bastaaaaaaard!" will be my cry).

    If God created the whole shebang, then it's his pitch, bat and ball, and we are stuck with the rules. But I have to say the rules strike me as somewhat perverse. Believe and you get eternal reward, disbelieve and you get something much less pleasant. Still, one advantage of not believing is that I don't lose any sleep over it.

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  119. barefoot hiker said, "Denny, until people like you can substantiate the existence of your god to people like me, this is simply the emptiest of assertions.” – I am as certain of what I said, as I am of the Sun rising tomorrow morning (more so, in fact, because the Sun will one day fail to rise), and the evidence for what I believe is no greater that the evidence available to you. All I try to do at Sandwalk, as a layman, is show that science and the Bible are congruent vs. contradictory, and therefore, since science can be seen as reliable, so can the message of the Bible be seen as reliable. When the two overlap, that’s a case for an alternative view of our origins. You are left to take my declarative statement about purpose as lunacy on my part or, as Allan Miller put it, “delve” deeper. Besides, if God exists, wouldn’t the onus be on you to recognize Him, kind-of-like acknowledging a king? I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a king thinking he had to persuade me of his existence and authority. At least not the way many earthly kings assert themselves. Finally, if you have a parent, how often do you say, ‘until you can substantiate your existence….’ You know your parents exist and love you, because you see the evidence of it, even though (as a young person) you may not have always understood the fullness of it. My proposition is that your very existence and life are the ‘first’ clue of God’s existence, and you didn’t learn of your parents’ existence in a science lab.

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  120. We have borrowed some molecules from the earth, and eventually we are going to have to give them back.

    There may be no "eventually" about it. Not entirely sure of the bona fides, but I have heard that (on average as a statistical measure, not quite literally) we "turn over" all the atoms in our bodies in about a month. That is, between inhaling, ingesting, exhaling, waste, loss of skin, perspiration, etc., the atoms that make up your body today are completely different than those that made "you" 30 days ago. So it may be less that we borrow molecules from the earth for a lifetime, and more that we have them on a sort of month-to-month rental.

    My dad passed away about a year and a half ago. Due to an old mixup at the cemetery that left less room in his plot, he was buried without the usual concrete vault. Also, since he was Jewish, the coffin was a plain pine box. We kids were pleased with this, since it meant he'd be recycled into dirt and worms and trees and birds and little puppies and yes, people that much more quickly.

    The part of all this I really love is that our atoms were made in exploding stars. You and I and our pet dogs are all stardust, and it is quite likely that in a few billion years to stardust we shall return. Don't know about you (and I'm actually not meaning to be flip here - I'm quite sincere), but next to cycling through exploding supernovae, some deity blowing on a handful of dust and doing tricks with ribs doesn't seem that awesome.

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  121. The part of all this I really love is that our atoms were made in exploding stars.

    Well, made in stars that then exploded, for everything up to iron, but I know what you mean! :0)

    I think gravity has a claim to being the major creative force in the universe. It's certainly versatile - coalescor of planets and stars, manufactory of much of the stuff of stars, planets and us, generator of local light and heat, retainer of atmosphere (with a preference for oxygen over hydrogen that we have found pretty useful), returner of water vapour to the land, the thing that makes skiing so much more than just standing there with planks on your feet ...

    Like everything, of course, it has its downside - dragging in passing asteroids or rock climbers - but things would be a bit thin without it!

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  122. I think gravity has a claim to being the major creative force in the universe.

    DaveScot, predecessor of Denyse O'Leary, referred to gravity as the highest strength force. Then, when it was pointed out to him that gravity was by far the *weakest* of the fundamental forces, he scrambled to try to justify his remark by saying he was speaking of "high mass regimes." This is of course like saying light (electromagnetism) is the strongest force in "high brightness regimes." :-)

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  123. I think gravity has a claim to being the major creative force in the universe.

    And according to Victor Stenger:

    Every measurement that we make indicates that the total energy of the Universe is balanced between the rest energy that's in the matter, the kinetic energy that's in the motion of objects, and then this is balanced by a negative potential energy of gravity. And the total energy is very close to zero. So, if the total energy is zero, and if you had zero energy to begin with, there was no violation of energy conservation. There was no miracle that created energy at the beginning of the Universe (other than, perhaps, a little quantum fluctuation that is, again, in agreement with existing knowledge, and so would not be a miracle).

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  124. Allan Miler, when I had Fuz Rana on Skype, I read him one sentence I found from an exchange between you and Larry. Here’s the sentence. “Matthew Meselson posits that the major evolutionary driving force for sexual reproduction is the recombinagenic knockdown of retrotransponson copy number.”

    Fuz said he understood what that sentence meant (Denny does not). He said he was interested in knowing if there is something published on it, because he had never heard it expressed that way. Can you tell me if there is something published by Meselson on the subject of the sentence?

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  125. @Denny,

    Allan Miler, when I had Fuz Rana on Skype, I read him one sentence I found from an exchange between you and Larry. Here’s the sentence. “Matthew Meselson posits that the major evolutionary driving force for sexual reproduction is the recombinagenic knockdown of retrotransponson copy number. Fuz said he understood what that sentence meant (Denny does not).”

    Try page 196 of This Google book and follow the refs.

    I have to say I disagree with Larry (and Meselson) on this one.

    The issue is broadly that during recombination in meiosis, like chromosomes are lined up and double-strand breaks appear at certain positions which may result in complete crossover of upstream and downstream segments. These points are determined by local sequence similarity - the chromosomes must be related. The issue with transposons is that they create the same sequence at multiple points along a chromosome. So when the machinery is ‘looking’ for similarity, it can mistake say the 3rd repeat on Chromosome 1a for the 1st on 1b, and therefore everything between those two ends up on one chromosome. So if we try and recombine two identical chromosomes aaaaaTbbbbTcccccTdddddT, where T is the same transposon sequence, you could end up with gametes
    aaaaaTdddddT and aaaaabbbbTcccccTTbbbbTcccccTdddddT after recombination, due to this slippage. The shorter has lost transposons; the longer has gained them. But I don’t think it is at all certain that the shorter gamete will be the ‘fitter’ of the two, since it has lost intervening sequence as well, nor that genomes that can perform this 'knockdown' will be better off as a result. Meiosis does not get rid of anything; that is down to subsequent selection.

    Meiosis has a symmetry, a kind of yin and yang – whatever one homologous chromosome gains or loses, the other loses or gains. If you only look at one side of the balance sheet, without identifying why one or other kind of gamete should have better survival overall, you may be misled. On balance, I would back the longer one - it has not mislaid anything vital.

    The passage in the book linked is a little confusing. Asexual rotifers are noted to lack transposons, which hardly points to the evolution of meiosis as a necessary defence against them. On the contrary, recombinational meiosis is asking for trouble, and transposons are favoured by it. They form a group of sexually transmitted 'diseases' at the genetic level.

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  126. Allan Miller said, “Try page 196 of This Google book and follow the refs. I have to say I disagree with Larry (and Meselson) on this one.”

    Allan. Right now, I’m not concerned with who’s on which side. I’m simply trying to understand the core proposition, and passing it on to Fuz or Patricia at RTB for an opinion, which I will post here – but I suspect it won’t be quickly. I’ll leave it up to you, as to whether you wish to leave your Sandwalk “follow-up” option open.

    Allan, throughout this thread, you have (in my humble opinion) properly assessed many of the reasons for conflict and rhetoric between creationists and evolutionists, especially why some Sandwalk fans tire of suffering ‘fools’ like me. I appreciate your attitude. I also appreciate your assessment of why people hold so fast to their beliefs. As I have thought about your remarks, I have found two other individuals (deep thinkers) who have weighed-in on these types of issues. At my RTB meeting the other night, after I mentioned that you are in the UK, a friend and chemical engineering graduate of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) told me of someone named John Carson Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford. Do you know of him? I’m told that he has had Richard Dawkins “for lunch”, if you get my drift.

    The other person is William Shakespeare. I’ll be back to you on Mr. Shakespeare in a day or two.

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  127. Taking my own advice and following the refs, it does not look to me as if Meselson is saying that sex is a way of knocking down transposon number. On the contrary, his results are consistent with sex being the means by which they spread, and one of the fringe benefits of asexuality being a means by which they may eventually become suppressed. So I owe Meselson an apology.

    John Carson Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford. Do you know of him? I’m told that he has had Richard Dawkins “for lunch”, if you get my drift.

    I think who consumed whom depends upon one’s take upon the issues! I didn’t watch the whole thing (atheism is a bit dull, frankly, and The God Delusion is probably the one Dawkins work I will never read – I greatly admire his writing, but I don’t need to know why someone else is atheistic). I did find Lennox’s take on morality pretty grating. In times gone by, when just about everybody believed, life was cheap. It still is, to some people. I do think that the realisation that, when you sever a life, you do so with true finality ... that produces a different kind of behaviour, cetainly as moral as that exhibited by many a pious type.

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  128. Allan said, “I did find Lennox’s take on morality pretty grating.” – I (Denny) haven’t seen “Lennox’s take on morality.” But, I understand what “grating” is. Reading about “recombinagenic knockdown of retrotransponson” is relatively non-emotional. Reading about non-material things like “morality” has a tendency to lead to “grating.” Respectfully, it seems to me like there’s more to that (material and non-material) reality than meets the eye, especially the eye of atheists. I once attended a conference at The University of Toronto titled, “Has Science Found God.” Hugh Ross was the closing keynote speaker. Ross spent some time explaining why he thought science had indeed found God, and as he did, the audience (made up of many U of T science and philosophy faculty) registered only subtle noticeable objections to his views. However, as soon as Ross suggested that the acknowledgement of a supreme deity (Christianity’s God) requires an acknowledgement of responsibility and accountability to that God, smoke veritably poured out of some of the professors’ ears with one or two audible cat-calls. To me it seemed that Ross’ proposition was rejected less for its scientific basis than for its implications relating to the human will and a relationship with the Divine. In a brief Dawkins and Lennox debate on You Tube, it strikes me that Dawkins uses science to deny the notion of responsibility and accountability to God. And, herein lies the rub of our belief vs. non-belief conversation.

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  129. Allan said, “In times gone by, when just about everybody believed, life was cheap.” – Wow. In a cockroach’s world, maybe. Respectfully, how far back would one have to go with humans for life to be self-perceived as being expensive? Allen, that’s the chief proposition of Christianity – life is not cheap, as cheap as material that grows, dies and rots. But rather, an expensive valuable commodity, the only commodity (the soul) that is not limited to and lasts beyond the physical world that exists within the severe limits of height, length, width, and time. Why does it seem so hard for some to see that if we can discern and measure the severe limits of the natural laws of physics, there must actually be more than what exists within those definable limits. In that You Tube video between Dawkins and Lennox, Dawkins says, “The cosmos hasn't yet had its Darwin.” That statement hearkens back to one you made earlier in this thread, “beware of taking too much guidance from physicists, chemists, mathematicians etc. Just because people are clever and good at a science does not mean that they can traverse disciplines with equal clarity and ease. Knowing how much you don't know is a great start.” It amazes me that someone in the soft-sciences (Allan) seemingly lessons the work of others in the hard sciences where much less flexibility exists for explaining human origins and purpose.

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  130. Allan continued, “It still is (“life was cheap”), to some people. I do think that the realisation that, when you sever a life, you do so with true finality ... that produces a different kind of behaviour, certainly as moral as that exhibited by many a pious type.” - Allan, I mentioned Shakespeare in an earlier comment. In the well-known Act 4, Scene 4, Hamlet says, “What is a man, if his chief good and use of his time is only to sleep and eat, a beast, no more?” - In (my) other words, are humans nothing more than beasts sleeping and eating satisfying our physical needs till inevitable death? In earlier comments in this thread by two Sandwalk fans, it was alluded to that the stars originated all the physical elements of our human existence. That is true enough, as it relates to our physical make-up. For those two materialists, that understanding seems a sufficient meaning for human life. Why is it that the preponderance of humanity on earth has found such a notion inadequate? Is it simply because modern natural scientists (especially in the complex sciences) have more intelligence and education? Can it be true that all non-natural-scientists, like Shakespeare, are clueless about why humans have something that is not "cheap" like rational intelligibility” (quoting Lennox)? If, as seen through a naturalist’s eyes, “severing a life brings … true finality,” why do atheists care about things like morality – something that appears not to have originated in a star?

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  131. Denny writes:

    If, as seen through a naturalist’s eyes, “severing a life brings … true finality,” why do atheists care about things like morality – something that appears not to have originated in a star?

    Moral feelings are inborn. We can't help having them. Scientific inquiries have shown they are present in young children before/without religious instruction.

    That was an interesting question. Here are a couple for you:

    - If God had insisted Abraham follow through on God's apparent demand that Abraham kill Isaac, would that have been moral?

    - Was it moral for God (apparently, for all Abraham knew) to demand that Abraham slay a helpless Isaac by his own hand, and allow him to go through the preparations for it?

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  132. Jud,

    If God had insisted Abraham follow through on God's apparent demand that Abraham kill Isaac, would that have been moral?

    Fortunately a documentary crew were on hand to film the event.

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  133. Allan said, “I did find Lennox’s take on morality pretty grating.” – I (Denny) haven’t seen “Lennox’s take on morality. But, I understand what “grating” is [...]Reading about non-material things like “morality” has a tendency to lead to “grating.”

    Nah, listening to specious arguments has a tendency to lead to grating! Lennox’s “take” (yours too, I suppose) is that the existence of common moral judgement in humanity is evidence of its divine source. I say no. The existence of a phenomenon is not evidence of its cause. I can think of four possibilities (and more):

    1) Our morality is divinely sourced.
    2) Our morality is a set of evolved (specifically: naturally selected) behaviours whose existence has caused relevant genes to increase in the population, perhaps due to their effect upon social cohesion.
    3) Our morality is a cultural phenomenon, passed on through the generations and which, if learned early enough, has the same subjective force as a genetic constraint. It persists because we can deduce its benefits.
    4) Morality is a byproduct of our capacity for empathy – understanding how others might feel may be a powerful inducement to 'do right'.

    These are not mutually exclusive, and indeed there may be different factors involved in different parts of the group of behaviours that we term ‘moral’. What is immoral anyway? Nakedness? Promiscuity? Homosexuality? Masturbation? Theft? Abortion? Taxation? Slavery? Killing? Healthcare? Meat on Friday? Coveting gorgeous women? (I do a lot of that). Different people will come up with different lists, or find circumstances when items in that list may be more or less permissible. I’d suggest that Lennox (and you) have your own preferences, and attempt to find some external justification by some kind of “What God Wants Is ...”. Whatever my own agenda, I do not fall back on assertions of supernatural desire as a justification for it.

    In a brief Dawkins and Lennox debate on You Tube, it strikes me that Dawkins uses science to deny the notion of responsibility and accountability to God. And, herein lies the rub of our belief vs. non-belief conversation.

    If you don’t believe in a being, you can hardly think you are accountable to it! Speaking purely for myself, I can’t perceive what in hell God actually wants. I know what people tell me they think, but that is a whole different thing. God knows where I live, and is free to come round and make a house call (not proxy JWs and Baptists). And presumably he knows what would convince me.

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  134. Allan said, “In times gone by, when just about everybody believed, life was cheap.” Respectfully, how far back would one have to go with humans for life to be self-perceived as being expensive?
    The medieval world did not hold human life in the same regard that, generally, we do. We now hold these truths to be self-evident ... Gradually, we humans have stopped enslaving others, executing citizens on the flimsiest of pretexts, killing each other with quite such enthusiasm in battle, torturing those who believe differently. Much of this former behaviour was justified in the name of religion – this is what God wants, this that I’m doing here. It still goes on of course – "Pro-Life" bombs, fanatics, sectarian terrorists ... totalitarian societies are no shining example of atheistic principles at work either - they have replaced one kind of dogmatism and heresy for another. But I think humanity has been getting better at being human.

    It amazes me that someone in the soft-sciences (Allan) seemingly [lessens] the work of others in the hard sciences where much less flexibility exists for explaining human origins and purpose.
    The ‘hard sciences’ have nothing to say on human origins – and no sciences have anything to say on human ‘purpose’. What evolution-sceptical physicists etc ought to do is understand biology, particularly that which pertains to evolution. If they are looking for “Reasons to Believe”, it is hardly the fault of biology that it cannot give them any. Astrophysicists etc (a worthy tradition back through Fred Hoyle and prior) think that biologists can’t possibly have looked hard enough, otherwise they would see divine creation in every nook and cranny. What biologists see is a pretty amoral world – look up Cordyceps, Parasitoid wasps or Leucochloridium paradoxum, or watch my wife’s bloody cat wreak havoc (I despise the animal – one of the most amoral creatures on God’s earth!). And they see Common Descent, not Creation. If you don't want to see that, don't look, or else continue to impose perverse interpretation on very clear data. But don't expect 'hard science' credentials to trump biological ones.

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  135. Act 4, Scene 4, Hamlet says, “What is a man, if his chief good and use of his time is only to sleep and eat, a beast, no more?” - In (my) other words, are humans nothing more than beasts sleeping and eating satisfying our physical needs till inevitable death?
    Why not? In my opinion, what makes life worth living are the ‘pleasures of the flesh’. I don’t mean rampant hedonism, but much that I take pleasure from originates in my animal nature. As a red-blooded, Y-chromosome-bearing male, I am captivated by the XX individuals that make up half the species. Hair, lips, eyes, curves, smell, voice, grace, softness and tenderness ... the evolutionary advantage of this response is pretty obvious. Then again, I adore my children, and they me. So if I were to indulge my attraction to the former, I could well lose the latter. But the tension between the competing tugs of decency and indulgence, and the real feelings of closeness that go with the physical ... these form much of the stuff of literature and music - vibrations strike my eyes or tympani and produce impulses in my brain that key into the emotions that I feel when I think of loves desired or lost ... or there’s the pleasure of a good meal, or a good laugh, or running up a mountain for the view, not because it’s easy, but because it ain’t. Even the beauty I see is coloured (literally) by the absorption spectrum of my rhodopsins: physical stuff with which only a narrow portion of the electromagnetic spectrum interacts. In short, a life without this body and brain doesn’t seem much of a life at all.

    If, as seen through a naturalist’s eyes, “severing a life brings … true finality,” why do atheists care about things like morality – something that appears not to have originated in a star?

    Why should they not? Being atheist does not mean ceasing to be human. Morality exists – but only in the minds of humans. I am no more likely to kill or steal from you than any religious person – perhaps less than some. (I might be a little less moral when it came to women if I was a bit more attractive to ‘em! It’s piss-easy to be faithful when you’re charmless and ugly!)

    I don’t need to live in fear of some vengeful deity in order to tread a path that is broadly that which my parents set me upon, and upon which I set my kids.

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  136. Jud asked Denny some questions.

    Since the Biblical prophet Jeremiah came first (circa early sixth century), I think it is safe to say that you are in agreement with him (Jeremiah 31:33) “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” Jud, if, as you say, “Moral feelings are inborn,” I have two questions for you:

    – Why do you use the word “feelings” (an emotional expression)? You will note that Jeremiah writes “minds” and “hearts” – the human cognitive ability that houses conscience.
    – Why did Christians slaughter innocent people in the Crusades, as well as the atrocities of Joe Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung. (atheists), and countless others? What were the inborn moral feelings they had?

    Regarding Jud’s questions to me:
    A careful reading of Genesis 22:4 (“We will worship and then we will come back to you.”) indicates that Abraham told his two servants that he and Isaac would be coming back. Since Abraham knew he and Isaac would be coming back, there’s nothing morally debatable here, only what the scripture’s point is.

    “The point was for Abraham to demonstrate that he trusted God completely and placed him [God] above all else, even his own son. Though God of course already knew that Abraham had faith in him, it was necessary for Abraham to prove it through action. His faith was made complete by what he did. Because of his [Abraham’s] actions, not only God but Abraham, his family and future generations [like Sandwalk readers] knew that Abraham trusted God. This trust was important because it indicated that Abraham had the proper relationship with God (he was treating God as God deserves to be treated) and could benefit from God's good plans for his life.” (source: Rational Christianity Christian Apologetics)

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  137. Denny writes:

    A careful reading of Genesis 22:4 (“We will worship and then we will come back to you.”) indicates that Abraham told his two servants that he and Isaac would be coming back. Since Abraham knew he and Isaac would be coming back, there’s nothing morally debatable here, only what the scripture’s point is.

    “The point was for Abraham to demonstrate that he trusted God completely and placed him [God] above all else, even his own son."

    There are several problems with this. (You knew I was going to say that, didn't you?)

    - The first half of your explanation contradicts the second: Abraham knew he wouldn't have to kill Isaac (first paragraph), and the point was for Abraham to demonstrate that he placed God above Isaac's life (second paragraph). If Abraham knew Isaac's life was not at stake, there was no demonstration that he placed God above Isaac's life.

    - You introduce your first paragraph with the words "A careful reading...." Surely if a point about right moral conduct is being made, it should be done loud and clear? Why is "careful reading" necessary to change what is to all appearances a cruel loyalty test/demonstration (certainly the interpretation your source for the second paragraph gives it, though without my descriptive "cruel") into something else?

    - The foregoing are problems "around the edges." The central problem with the story is the following:

    Today we would think of God's and Abraham's behavior as unspeakably immoral. The word "inhuman" might be used. What would be your initial, visceral reaction seeing a television story of a father who had tied up his son and appeared ready to slit his throat? Of a leader (of what would inevitably be described as a "cult") who demanded his followers do this to their children, even if he then told them to untie the kids, it was all for show as a demonstration of loyalty to him? It is necessary for us to make excuses ("A careful reading...," "...it indicated that Abraham...could benefit from God's good plans for his life") just in order to square this terribly cruel story with our own innate understanding of what is morally right. Think about this carefully, Denny, and you will realize we are imposing our own moral interpretation on an immoral text. The morality comes from us, not the book.

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  138. Denny writes:

    Why do you use the word “feelings” (an emotional expression)? You will note that Jeremiah writes “minds” and “hearts” – the human cognitive ability that houses conscience.

    I don't at all think Jeremiah's "hearts" and my "feelings" are mutually exclusive.

    I did not talk about cognitive ability because I wanted to make the point that careful scientific studies have shown moral feelings or tendencies in children so very young that complex moral philosophy at a cognitive level is almost certainly not what is going on. The moral feelings come first, very early in childhood development, and later we attain the ability to impose various cognitive overlays on these feelings, or instincts, or tendencies, or developing consciences, or whatever one wishes to call them.

    Why did Christians slaughter innocent people in the Crusades, as well as the atrocities of Joe Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung. (atheists), and countless others? What were the inborn moral feelings they had?

    Why ever would you think that humans having inborn, or at least very early, moral development would make everyone's behavior uniformly good? That is something like saying, "Since nearly everyone is able to run by age 2 or 3, how do you explain why Usain Bolt runs so much faster than everyone else we know of, and why some other people cannot run at all?" Or like saying, "Since nearly everyone shows some primitive math ability in early childhood, why aren't we all Einsteins?" People differ. Big shock. Film at 11.

    I'd venture to say the 'problem of evil,' since this is what we're talking about, is far thornier for believers, as is evident from believers and former believers having wrestled with it, often in public and in writing, for millenia.

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  139. Jud said, “… careful scientific studies have shown moral feelings or tendencies in children so very young that complex moral philosophy at a cognitive level is almost certainly not what is going on.” - Well, first of all, I think words have meaning, and the meaning of words like “feeling” and “mind” are distinct from one another. Second, I hearken back to something about which you and I are likely to disagree. Evolutionists factually attribute the development of human characteristics (mind and emotion) to common descent, even though there is no biological (fossil) pathway from hominids to humans (or even between most hominids). Every public venue (e.g. National Geographic and Scientific American) article I have seen that trumpets a link between hominids and humans has later been shown to lack a factual biological pathway. One of the most recent was ‘Lucy’ who has fallen out of the chimp/human chain. Therefore, human moral characteristics show up in much more recent history (100,000 years or less), which is consistent with the Bible’s proposition that humans (with their unique characteristics) appeared suddenly.

    Jud said, “Why ever would you think that humans having inborn, or at least very early, moral development would make everyone's behavior uniformly good?” – Clearly everyone’s behavior is not uniformly good. But, why? What’s puzzling to me is that you use the word “good” (a qualitative ‘non-material’ characterization that can only apply if there is some uniform or pseudo-uniform standard to which something is ‘judged’). Morals (felt or thought) only apply if there is a specific agreed upon (non-material) standard. Naturalists/materialists are all about ‘survival of the fittest.’ Why a need for or evolutionary introduction of ‘morals,’ which implies a non-material subjective standard. Again, morals imply a Biblical perspective, not an evolutionary one.

    Jud said, “I'd venture to say the 'problem of evil,' since this is what we're talking about, is far thornier for believers.” – Does your statement mean that non-believers (atheists) don’t wrestle with the concept of evil? Is evil real to you? If so, how do you explain it, since (‘naturally’-speaking) we’re all simply going to eventually exist only as a few star-originated scattered molecules?

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  140. Denny,

    All of our genes come from common ancestors. That is clearly true at a local level - you and your siblings got all of your genes from your mum and dad. Then, you and your cousins got all your genes from your shared grandparents. You and your first cousins ... etc. Now, all that Common Descent means is that this tree can be extrapolated outwards indefinitely - but as you go outwards, the same individuals start popping up as ancestors at more and more nodes. Fewer and fewer people left modern descendants, the further back you go. If we pause for a breather at the 'species boundary', the set of all humans, it is clear that we all share genetic relationship - any two individuals are nth cousins, z times removed. We can see this in patterns in the genes. So if we have a common idea of what is 'good', and what is 'evil', that shared genetic heritage is an excellent candidate for the location of that 'standard'. It does not have to be external to exist. One evolutionary explanation would be that the genes underlying these tendencies prospered at the expense of other, more self-oriented genes, because humans with a better idea of how to interact left more offspring than those without. This innate sense formed a basis for legislative, and religious, formalisations.

    Now, to move outside the species boundary, to the supposed specialness of Homo sapiens, you made a slightly disingenuous switch to the lack of a fossil path from hominids to humans. As I said right at the beginning, fossils are a patchy source of info. But again in our genes, we can see the relationship with chimps and other apes, and with Neanderthals. We simply do not see a discontinuity between species that special-creation events would lead us to expect. The existence of the 'factual biological pathway' is betrayed by the modern individuals that have related genes, complete with tell-tale scars that must surely be inherited by descent. We are apes - remarkable ones, but apes. Acceptance of this incontrovertible fact does not automatically trigger 'ape-like' behaviour!

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  141. Denny writes:

    [T]he meaning of words like “feeling” and “mind” are distinct from one another.

    Jeremiah, as you noted, refers to "minds" and "hearts." I compared Jeremiah's "hearts," not "minds," to feelings.

    Evolutionists factually attribute the development of human characteristics (mind and emotion) to common descent, even though there is no biological (fossil) pathway from hominids to humans (or even between most hominids). Every public venue (e.g. National Geographic and Scientific American) article I have seen that trumpets a link between hominids and humans has later been shown to lack a factual biological pathway.

    You might wish to expand your reading beyond popular magazines, to academic articles (there are literally thousands available to the public) and books (support your local libraries). The genetic evidence of chimp/human common ancestry, and for human evolution from other hominids, is quite overwhelming. The fossil evidence, though necessarily incomplete (but getting better all the time as more fossils are unearthed), is absolutely consistent with those conclusions as well. If you don't think the work of tens of thousands of conscientious scientists over more than a century is convincing, then please show me the greater contrary evidence in favor of humans "suddenly appearing" out of the blue. I eagerly await the tens of thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles you must surely be relying on, if that number of peer-reviewed journal articles is inadequate to convince you of the evolutionary explanation. And I mean peer-reviewed articles with scientific evidence showing "sudden appearance" of humans lacking any hominid ancestry.

    What’s puzzling to me is that you use the word “good” (a qualitative ‘non-material’ characterization that can only apply if there is some uniform or pseudo-uniform standard to which something is ‘judged’). Morals (felt or thought) only apply if there is a specific agreed upon (non-material) standard.

    Really? The next time you tell your wife dinner was "good," be sure to refer her to the specific uniform or pseudo-uniform agreed-upon standard on which you base that judgment. As with tastes in food, judgments as to what is 'good' in human conduct vary somewhat (to a Jew, Christ on a cross in the front of a church is idolatry), but there are tremendous commonalities. As with food, these proceed not from any agreed-upon text (what, we're all supposed to have read Julia Child or Bocuse before we can say dinner was good?), but from something innate and/or in the early developmental environment. (Again, studies have shown moral sense develops before/without having read the Bible, or for that matter other texts considered to be morally authoritative.)

    Again, morals imply a Biblical perspective, not an evolutionary one.

    I don't know that morals "imply an evolutionary perspective," though it does seem as if it might aid survival if we didn't all kill each other, don't you think? Regarding morals implying a Biblical perspective, unless you are claiming it is moral for leaders to test/demonstrate their followers' devotion by telling the followers to kill their children, as God apparently commanded Abraham to kill Isaac, then it is certainly our own innate moral sense that lends a moral perspective to Bible stories and not vice versa.

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  142. Allan Miller said, “All of our genes come from common ancestors.” – Allan, your explanation is clear and solid, from an evolutionary view. Your implication that the truth of local level recent human genetic evidence makes the ancient hominid evidence true as well is not scientific fact, however. It is theoretical. That’s fine. I’m OK with testable theory, even evolutionary theory, which is scientifically challengeable. Once you and other atheists propose that (evolutionary) scientific theory rightly influences areas outside its testable boundaries, however, like the more altruistic human-specific values of good and evil, I think it leads to an evolutionary atheistic materialistic dead-end, which is that there is no apparent ‘ultimate’ rational purpose meaning or value for the evolutionary process (life on earth by accident), which is by all the laws of astronomy and physics (those hard science folks) headed for inevitable universal physical extinction. Therefore, even if scientists discover an evil gene, what will result? 1930’s eugenics and later Hitler carried the thought of genetic manipulation for the common good (including anti-religion) even further. The Christian proposition is that there is an ultimate rational purpose and meaning for the existence of humans and every element of their (designed) physical existence. Grossly oversimplified, that purpose is that humans, greater than all other living creatures, have life and the opportunity to experience true love through a relationship with the creator whose power and handiwork is so admired by naturalistic scientists in the realms that stretch from the quantum to the cosmic. Again (grossly oversimplified), many scientists, even within the halls of atheistic academia, have rationally seen the natural and supernatural as congruent. I have cited a few who have found not only no disagreement between natural science and ‘faith’, but have also found that ‘relationship.’

    Allan said, “If we pause for a breather at the 'species boundary', the set of all humans, it is clear that we all share genetic relationship …” - Where do you see a factual genetic pathway link between humans and hominids, aside from the fact that humans and hominids have optimized anatomical, biological, and genetic templates dictated by the unique carbon based life-sustaining qualities of planet Earth?

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  143. Allan Miller said, “We simply do not see a discontinuity between species that special-creation events would lead us to expect.” – My friends at Reasons To Believe tell me that the term “accelerated evolution” (rate of change in the DNA of a species that appear to far exceed the expected evolutionary rate) has “increased in use from three per year in the 1990’s to a current average of 27 per year. Clearly, the availability of more DNA sequence data is contributing to this trend.” (Second and third quotes from RTB) Allan, it’s obvious to progressive (old earth) creationists that the increased rate of change (“accelerated evolution”) is an indication of “special-creation events”, not gradual or even punctuated equilibrium evolution. How do you respond to the increased rate of change discoveries?

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  144. Allan, as a follow-up to the “accelerated evolution” issue, and your notion that Homo sapiens are apes, see http://www.reasons.org/evolution/humans-vs-chimps/becoming-human-fast .

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  145. Jud said, “There are several problems with this. (You knew I was going to say that, didn't you?) The first half of your explanation contradicts the second.” – There does ‘appear’ to be a contradiction. But, it’s not a contradiction to be asked to do something and not know how the hoped for result is going to be achieved. I honestly don’t know how to present this to you, since you do not accept spiritual reality. There are (as I suspect you already know) many scholarly interpretations of this Abrahamic event. My non-scholarly and unfairly brief interpretation of the one ‘apparent’ contradiction you mention is that God is concerned with testing Abraham – not because God doesn’t know what Abraham is going to do, but because Abraham needs what God is going to do. God plans to make Abraham responsible for establishing a new nation of people – a nation from which the Messiah (Jesus) will emerge, and a nation that will separate itself from all other nations in terms of its culture and religious practices – not the least of these differences will be the rejection of child sacrifice. The account of Abraham’s test is not one of rhetorical logic for debate three thousand years later, but one of human will in response to the unseen God.

    Jud said, “Surely if a point about right moral conduct is being made, it should be done loud and clear?” – The Bible is not a dime store novel - read once and put on the bookshelf. It is not an instructional manual, although it does contain instructions. The Bible is a love letter from God to all His children (humans) that takes on expanded meaning for its readers, as they go through life’s experiences. Jud, have you ever noticed the nuances in a love letter that might escape someone outside the relationship? It does make one point “loud and clear” – Jesus is God. Acceptance or rejection of Him determines one’s eternal fate.

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  146. Jud said, “What would be … as a demonstration of loyalty to him?” – The Abrahamic event is not about loyalty. God doesn’t ‘need’ loyal followers. He’s God. He doesn’t ‘need’ anything. He ‘wants’ people to choose Him of their own free will. Because He wants them to know love. They can’t choose unless there are choices. There are no choices if every choice is good. It can’t have been easy for Abraham to choose to be involved with an unseen being who asked for difficult choices.

    Jud said, “Think about this carefully, Denny, and you will realize we are imposing our own moral interpretation on an immoral text. The morality comes from us, not the book.” –I see no immorality in God asking Abraham to demonstrate his acceptance of the unseen divine One’s instructions, painfully hard as it surely was, any more than I see any immorality in a soldier accepting training aimed at killing an enemy. The soldier must have ‘faith’ in his cause and his leaders. The Abraham and Isaac story contain many meanings; among them is the necessity of ‘faith.’

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  147. It does make one point “loud and clear” – Jesus is God.

    Pity the poor Jews who've been reading that bit about "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" incorrectly all these years. They obviously haven't taken the broad hint that God sent Jesus to Earth as a Jew to tell us all that Jews must change religions rather than following Jesus' example, or be damned.

    "Loud and clear" indeed.

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  148. Denny writes:

    I see no immorality in God asking Abraham to demonstrate his acceptance of the unseen divine One’s instructions, painfully hard as it surely was,

    That's exactly my point. You would surely think anyone you saw today who had tied up his son and was holding a knife was prepared to do something utterly immoral, yes? So when you read of exactly the same thing occurring in the Bible, why do you think it is an illustration of moral conduct? Because all of the scholarly and ministerial **interpretations** you've heard and read have told you so, and that is the context with which you approach the story when you read it yourself. You and the other interpreters of the Biblical text have brought your own moral gloss to a situation (a man stands over his bound son with a knife) that you would immediately, viscerally think was immoral outside the Biblical context. You bring the morality, not the text.

    any more than I see any immorality in a soldier accepting training aimed at killing an enemy. The soldier must have ‘faith’ in his cause and his leaders. The Abraham and Isaac story contain many meanings; among them is the necessity of ‘faith.’

    Sorry, I missed the codicil to "Thou shalt not kill" that exempts all soldiers who have faith in their cause and their leaders. C'mon, Denny, you know that same reasoning could be used to excuse any number of acts that you would readily agree are moral atrocities. You don't see immorality here only because you believe Abraham has faith in the right leader.

    I would hope people would *not* draw the lesson from the story of Abraham and Isaac that people must have faith when the "right" leader asks them to kill. To me, this lesson you have drawn from the Biblical text is immoral.

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  149. After Denny quoted Shakespeare’s Act 4, Scene 4 of Hamlet and added - In other words, are humans nothing more than beasts sleeping and eating satisfying our physical needs till inevitable death? Allan Miller said, “Why not? In my opinion, what makes life worth living are the ‘pleasures of the flesh’.” - Well! It’s certainly no sin to enjoy being a human. A Christian view would, like yours, appreciate the life given to us, which obviously includes the physical. The Bible contains no shortage of ‘pleasures of the flesh’ accounts. It does seem ironic, however, that you “… don’t need to live in fear of some vengeful deity …” but you do fear the potential consequences of “indulg[ing] my attraction to the former.” It seems to me that your acknowledgement of the consequences of volitional behavior reveals more of a Biblical guide vs. an evolutionary guide. It seems obvious to me that most of the animal kingdom would not make such a volitional distinction, likely because they lack the same relational nature demonstrated by humans. Also, your characterization of God as vengeful deity illustrates a profound misunderstanding of scripture. God is love. Love provides many things. It also requires (as alluded to by you) justice. Justice requires a Judge who makes righteous decisions. Carefully examined and taken in total, not read selectively and with cynicism, the Bible reveals a Just and Loving God.

    Denny said, “why do atheists care about things like morality?” Allan replied, “Why should they not? Being atheist does not mean ceasing to be human. Morality exists – but only in the minds of humans.” – Well, from an evolutionary perspective, it seems to me that morality would not offer any greater physical natural selection advantage. To me, morality only seems to offer an ethereal advantage.

    Allan said, “It’s piss-easy to be faithful when you’re charmless and ugly!” – your self-deprecation makes you attractive.

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  150. Allan Miller said, “The ‘hard sciences’ have nothing to say on human origins and no sciences have anything to say on human ‘purpose’” – Wow! Again, I encounter a bias toward your hard science peers, which continues to mystify me. Copernicus, Kepler, Galilei, Descartes, Newton, Boyle, Faraday, Mendel, Kelvin, and Planck might disagree with your arbitrary statement. Moving from a steady-state universe to the Big Bang seems like a pretty strong statement about hard science findings and human origins, especially since naturalists tried so hard and so long to debunk Einstein’s idea about General Relativity and its origins implications. Nobel laureate Earnest Rutherford said, “In science there is only physics; everything else is stamp collecting.” Further quoting Rutherford, “Of all created comforts, God is the lender; you are the borrower, not the owner.” Even one of your soft science peers, Antony Flew, might have disagreed with you. Quoting Flew, “Although I was once sharply critical of the argument to design, I have since come to see that, when correctly formatted, this argument constitutes a persuasive case for the existence of God.” I believe the persuasive data for Flew was the human genome.

    Allan said, “What evolution-sceptical physicists etc ought to do is understand biology, particularly that which pertains to evolution.” - It sounds like you have switched from being a scientist to being a cheerleader. Personally, I give respect and credence to both the simple and complex sciences. Interpretation is another matter (based on worldview). Interestingly, when The Barna Group took a poll in 2008 asking, "Do Atheists Live with Purpose?" the findings showed that, “Skeptics have replaced faith with a passion for healthy longevity and personal pleasure gained through world travel, sexual experiences, and obtaining knowledge. They are substantially less focused on relationships and legacy than are other groups. They tend to be less concerned about finding or pursuing a purpose in life because a majority of them believe life has no purpose beyond comfort and pleasure.”

    Regarding your wife’s cat, be grateful it allows you to come home each night.

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  151. Jud said, “You would surely think anyone you saw today who had tied up his son and was holding a knife was prepared to do something utterly immoral, yes?” – Jud, you used the proper qualifier, “today,” which means in part the view of a Western Christian influenced civilization. I would have thought that you would be aware that the Middle Eastern civilizations of Abraham’s day had long sanctioned child sacrifice. Therefore, in the context of the passage on which you focus, such an act was not culturally unknown or immoral. I reiterate, from my non-scholarly layman’s understanding, the outcome predicted from God to Abraham (The father and his son would return to Abraham’s waiting servants) is the surprise. God is introducing 1) a new view of the value of human life that eschews child sacrifice, and 2) the God who abhors it. This new morality will take centuries to rollout through the lives of the Jewish people, and their trials and tribulations within surrounding pagan cultures.

    Jud, said, “you would immediately, viscerally think was immoral outside the Biblical context. You bring the morality, not the text.” – I don’t see it that way. Until relatively recently, outside of a “Biblical context,” child sacrifice was neither unknown nor immoral for millennia within many cultures ranging across the globe.

    Jud said, “C'mon, Denny, you know that same reasoning could be used to excuse any number of acts that you would readily agree are moral atrocities. You don't see immorality here only because you believe Abraham has faith in the right leader.” - Absolutely! I agree that the “same reasoning could be used to excuse any number of acts” (as often happens). Additionally, everything can’t be true or there would be no truth (Materialism?). Truth only has meaning because there is falsehood. Neither is a materialist notion. I am not a pantheist or polytheist. I believe there is one true God. I, within my human limits, follow the same God as Abraham, who tells me not to take innocent life, but may sanction killing in self-defense.

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  152. Jud said, “Pity the poor Jews who've been reading that bit about ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’ incorrectly all these years. They obviously haven't taken the broad hint that God sent Jesus to Earth as a Jew to tell us all that Jews must change religions rather than following Jesus' example, or be damned.” – Well, Jud, I must admit that I am unable to discern exactly where you are coming from. But, here are some replies.

    First of all, no one is capable of “following Jesus’ example” to the letter. That’s why He’s called the Savior and not Advisor or Coach.

    Second, “Pity” anyone who has other gods before Jehovah.

    Third, I don’t know the circles in which you travel. The ones in which I travel contain Jews that ‘do’ recognize that the Messiah prophesied by the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible and The Christian Old Testament) is Jesus (Christ the Messiah) – even Jews from Israel, even Rabbis. Your statement implies that God has not clearly revealed Himself throughout history, but still holds people negatively accountable for their ignorance. If that were true, he would be a god unworthy of followers. I fear you are trying to reduce the Bible and whatever you know about Christianity to the level of a cheap novel, and soap opera gossip, and I don’t know what to do in response. Finally, you may recall, since you seem to have an awareness of scripture, that Jesus looked straight into the eyes of many Jews and was accepted by some and rejected by others. There goes that free-will choice thing again. We (human beings) all have it. Jesus’ message about Himself and His Father were indeed "Loud and clear." The record of His life, death, and resurrection (consistent with Tanakh prophecy) is better documented than any other historical event or person by magnitudes. The fact that an imperfect world can cloud our understanding, in no way diminishes the fact that people still hear of Jesus and accept or deny Him.

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  153. Denny, I'll couch what I currently intend to be my last remarks on the Bible-as-the-source-of-morality vs. people-as-the-source-of-morality mini-thread in terms of my own views, because I expect that you will disagree. :-) I appreciate your willingness to be forthcoming about some of the sources of that disagreement (e.g., your reliance on interpretations of guidance from the "one true God" as your source for right conduct).

    I agree with you that the ancient vintage of the Abraham-Isaac story is a key concept in thinking about the moral lessons to be drawn from it.

    I think the people writing that story lived in a world where kings were absolute rulers who could do whatever they wished, and their subjects were virtually powerless to object. Thus when the King of Kings told Abraham to prepare to sacrifice his child, something that seems quite horrible and immoral to us today, this was almost insignificant to the ancient writers. It was simply an instance of "He's the King, he can command whatever he wants." The real lesson for the ancients was that God the King showed mercy, telling readers the God they were being asked to follow was not only powerful (that was of course claimed for all gods), but merciful as well and thus to be trusted (cf. the rainbow and God's covenant not to destroy the world again).

    But what is missing from the ancient narrative is something that to me would have elevated its moral lesson to a higher plane. What if Abraham had outright refused to sacrifice Isaac, saying a morally just God would not require this, and God, rather than punishing Abraham for disobedience, would have said in effect "That's right. I will never require from you that which is morally abhorrent, so if you hear anyone claiming to speak in My name asking you to do morally abhorrent things, don't listen." Such a lesson would have gone a long way toward removing moral authority from those who have claimed through history to be acting with or for God when carrying out atrocities or otherwise acting unjustly.

    The fact I can think of variations of the Bible story that (at least to me) might teach superior moral lessons is IMO yet another illustration that the foundation of morality is in us, not the Bible text. In fact, there are two instances in which I feel you've come dangerously close to admitting this. :-)

    They are -

    - when you dated the initiation of moral conduct among humans to circa 100,000 years ago, certainly pre-dating the Bible; and

    - when you allowed that people of today would view the Abraham-Isaac story differently than the ancients (and in some respects very unfavorably). Where did that change in moral judgment come from, since the Bible text remains unaltered? (Compare and contrast the behavior of those who base continuing objections to, e.g., gay marriage on ancient Biblical passages.)

    Thus I would not agree that non-believers lack a foundation for right moral conduct. Rather I think non-believers locate that moral foundation correctly, in ourselves as a culture and a society, with shared but changing standards of what is morally acceptable (e.g., gradual elimination of the death penalty from national justice systems), rather than in the unchanging words of an ancient text.

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  154. Jud, morals are important. No question! But, space and time do not permit me to top available scholarship (much online) on the Abrahamic story, its moral implications, and what a contemporary response might be. If the Abrahamic story were alone as the central story of the Bible’s message, I would try harder to make sense of it. But it is not. God always knew what Abraham would do with Isaac, and He always knew what would be written about Abraham and Isaac, but Abraham didn’t yet know what he would do in response to the invisible God, just like we don’t know what we’re going to do with the same proposition. It is important for all of us to know the ‘whole’ story, a story that is revealed in the Bible. It isn’t a better-told story that will “go a long way toward removing moral authority from those” who behave immorally. It is the remedy for the greater condition that afflicts people and causes immorality – perceived or real.

    Your points are good, but limited to human consciousness and molecules. The most “moral” living and “right conduct” can never lift us up above our individual flaws or to God’s natural righteous perfect condition. We are imperfect. Putting us together with God would be like me with a sniffley coughing contagious flu going into a germ-free room maintained for making cancer medicine. But, God wants us to experience His perfect love by bridging the barrier of our imperfections and taking us to the realization of all our deepest longings, currently stifled by an imperfect world. What’s more? He invites us to eventually live with Him outside the severe four-dimensional limits that constrain us, and free us from the consequences of immoral behavior, our and others.

    But, one condition! We must, 1) acknowledge our imperfect condition and the negative unintended consequences that result, and 2) accept His cure for it. It shouldn’t be too much to admit the imperfect condition that afflicts each of us. His cure is Christ, because Christ was the perfect sacrifice to redeem us from the negative unintended consequences of our imperfections. Just like Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, God actually did sacrifice His perfect Son to pay the price we never could for our imperfections – not in some abstract form, but in the reality of human life. (Cont)

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  155. (Cont)

    God gives each of us a temporary life, so that we can volitionally choose His permanent cure. No other logical scenario exists that would allow a person to respond to true love (no matter one’s education, looks, health, status, etc.) and enter the realm of a personal relationship with the Universe’s supreme creator. The Abrahamic story is but one of many historical accounts, and many more contemporary accounts of people either accepting or rejecting God’s cure. No other scenario exists that can cure man of his imperfect condition, or give ultimate purpose and meaning to life with and beyond our molecules.

    Close admission #1? I may have stated 100,000 years because science tells us that Homo-Sapiens appear on the scene between then and 40,000 years ago. To the best of my knowledge, Neanderthals were the only hominids to co-exist with humans, but exchanged no DNA with humans and show no archeological, anthropological, morphological, paleontological, genetic or ‘moral’ similarities to humans.

    Close admission #2? I would argue, as would the Bible, that human morality (right or wrong) is written by God on the hearts (mind/conscience) of each person (Romans 2:15). Immoral behavior is a perversion of how we were originally ‘made.’ Cultural acceptance of child sacrifice may change over time, but I’ll bet that cultural norms never trumped the offense in the hearts of parents as they saw their children (infants to adolescents) taken to slaughter.

    For different reasons, I would agree that non-believers do have a foundation for right moral conduct – it’s written on their hearts. Personally, I think that the notion that morals can change like the weather are no more than cultural norms and not morals. I believe a good definition of the word would tie it to the concept of ethics, which have a more lasting, objective, code of conduct meaning.

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  156. Denny writes:

    To the best of my knowledge, Neanderthals were the only hominids to co-exist with humans, but exchanged no DNA with humans and show no archeological, anthropological, morphological, paleontological, genetic or ‘moral’ similarities to humans.

    Then the best of your knowledge is inadequate in this case. There have been recent papers showing that Neanderthals and "humans" (i.e., our ancestors) did "exchange DNA" (procreate), and that as a result, a percentage of our current DNA is traceable to the Neanderthals. The Neanderthal genome has been sequenced, and there are profound genetic similarities between the Neanderthal genome and that of contemporary Homo sapiens, which also of course means there are profound morphological similarities.

    In this as in much else you've posted, you're led astray by your lack of knowledge of science. Whatever sources you're getting your impressions of the state of science from, I'd advise you to stop relying on them, and start putting some work into learning about these subjects, at least at the level of an interested amateur, if you're going to be entering into topical discussions on blogs like this one.

    Regarding Neanderthals and other topics relevant to human evolution, John Hawks' weblog is a nice, convenient starting point. But it's only a starting point. You made a remark a while back that it sounded as if I knew some Scripture. That's a good thing in a discussion of a particular part of the Bible, isn't it? Same goes for science discussions. If you're going to have conversations about it, some knowledge and familiarity are good things to have - essential, really, if you want your part of the conversation to be worthwhile.

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  157. Jud said, “There have been recent papers showing that Neanderthals and ‘humans’ (i.e., our ancestors) did ‘exchange DNA’ (procreate),” – I did see the media reports, but I don’t trust the media – they simply report on press releases, and do no further fact-checking, especially with complex scientific issues. I will look for more complete data on these recent findings.
    - Besides, if what you say is factual, then why was the hominid/human link repeatedly reported as certain before the recent findings?
    - Respectfully, do you mean that I must share your worldview and believe in evolution and put my faith in materialist thinking to be perceived as informed?

    I’m interested in all aspects of natural science, but I am not a professional. Since the vast majority of people are not professionals, it seems that they cannot have the ‘scientifically informed’ views of you and the Sandwalk fans either, which shape non-material views like the ones you recently expressed re. morals.
    - Does that leave me the vast majority of people (when it comes to beliefs about issues like materialism and morals) in an inferior position? If so, why?

    Jud said, “if you want your part of the conversation to be worthwhile.” – I’m quite confident that the scientific sources to which I have access are the same as yours. The difference is that I see the source data through two lenses, one naturalistic/materialistic and one theistic. As I have said before, one reason I visit Sandwalk is to get out of my world for a while and see inside the mind of materialists. The other is to take any appropriate opportunities to mention nature’s creator, the Lord Jesus Christ, which makes any conversation worthwhile.

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  158. Jud said, “There have been recent papers showing that Neanderthals and "humans" (i.e., our ancestors) did "exchange DNA" (procreate), and that as a result, a percentage of our current DNA is traceable to the Neanderthals.” – Are you referring to:
    - The paper on: Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium), or
    - The paper in the journal Cell in 1997.3 German researchers compared a fragment of Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA (painstakingly recovered from a 40,000- to 100,000-year-old skeleton found in West Germany)?

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  159. Denny,

    Allan said, “If we pause for a breather at the 'species boundary', the set of all humans, it is clear that we all share genetic relationship …”

    Where do you see a factual genetic pathway link between humans and hominids, aside from the fact that humans and hominids have optimized anatomical, biological, and genetic templates dictated by the unique carbon based life-sustaining qualities of planet Earth?


    Well, in a strict sense, unless we have some of their DNA, we can only infer relationship based upon morphology, and even that upon rather fewer bones than we might like. So it is at least possible that hominids bear no relationship by descent from the Human-Chimp-Neanderthal clade.

    However, genetic evidence on that clade abounds, because we have human, chimp and Neanderthal DNA to play with. DNA is copied. We see that in action. Mistakes are made. We see that too. So if we see a 'mistake' in the DNA that is present in humans, chimps and Neanderthals, but not in any other primate group, what, other than distaste for the notion of kinship, would lead us to any other conclusion than that that piece of DNA descends by direct copying from a common ancestor - the one in which the mistake first appeared? We are not simply talking functional sequences here, but sequences that make no difference to the organism. Of course, your convictions will lead you to conclude that we can never be certain that these sequences make no difference. What, then, if we find them missing from some perfectly healthy individuals? And if this pattern is seen again and again, in sequence after sequence after sequence? One such instance might be deniable. Two, three, four ... but eventually, I think honesty (and NOT a desire to sustain an atheistic worldview!!!) must lead one to accept that the data points where it points: Common Descent of humans and chimps.

    On morality: a significant part of what keeps me from 'transgressing' is simply an awareness of earthly sanctions. I'm not stupid; I kind of know that wives don't take kindly to infidelity, and where that can lead! If, as you believe, morality has an external, divine source, we find ourselves at a loss to explain why we do not always come up to scratch. The religious invoke some kind of a vague free-will-malleable 'tendency', not a firm rule. Which is pretty much how genetic, social or empathetic explanations would work too. I don't think you can invoke the existence of a sense of right and wrong as evidence of a divine origin.

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  160. Denny asked which papers I was referring to regarding interbreeding between Neanderthals and "modern" humans' ancestors.

    I wasn't referring to the papers you cited, though I remember reading through at least one of them. I was referring to the following discussions and the papers cited therein:

    http://johnhawks.net/weblog/reviews/neandertals/neandertal_dna/neandertal-genes-x-chromosome-hapmap-2011.html ("The haplotype with the strongest signature -- 100-kb interval encompassing 26 SNPs in the Vindija 33.16 genome, is found in more than 15 (and centrally, in 22) CEU individuals and in no African individuals. The interval spans across part of the DMD gene (associated with Duchenne's muscular dystrophy). Conveniently, this is precisely the interval identified by Yotova and colleagues [3] as a site with Neandertal-derived alleles in non-African populations. They used comparisons at the sequence level, finding the Neandertal-derived variant at a frequency of 9% overall outside Africa.")

    http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110809/full/476136a.html ("Since then, scientists have fleshed out the details of one of the biggest surprises from the Neanderthal genome: humans living outside Africa owe up to 4% of their DNA to Neanderthals. One explanation might be that humans migrating out of Africa mated with Neanderthals, probably resident in the Middle East, before their offspring fanned out across Europe and Asia.

    "By comparing individual DNA letters in multiple modern human genomes with those in the Neanderthal genome, the date of that interbreeding has now been pinned down to 65,000–90,000 years ago. Montgomery Slatkin and Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas, theoretical geneticists from the University of California, Berkeley, presented the finding at the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution meeting in Kyoto, Japan, held on 26–30 July.")


    http://johnhawks.net/weblog/reviews/neandertals/neandertal_dna/abi-rached-hla-class-1-neandertals.2011.html ("Neandertal genes presently account for around 3 percent of the genomes of people outside Subsaharan Africa.")

    http://johnhawks.net/weblog/reviews/neandertals/neandertal_dna/europe-china-neandertal-comparisons-2011.html ("This is very striking. China and Europe by and large have different Neandertal-derived haplotypes.")

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  161. Denny writes:

    they simply report on press releases, and do no further fact-checking, especially with complex scientific issues. I will look for more complete data on these recent findings.

    This is too frequently true, which is why I like to find one or more of the following: the papers themselves, discussions by the authors, or discussions of the research by others in the field.

    But you stated in comments here that evidence of human descent from hominids was lacking, without having followed up on the media reports by seeking more complete data, as you now say you will. That's what I'm referring to when I say you should be familiar with the subject matter if you want your part of the conversation to be worthwhile - not that you must come to the same conclusions, but that (1) you shouldn't be saying there are no data if you've been alerted to the fact there may be, and haven't done the follow-up reading; and (2) having done the follow-up, if you still have doubts, you should be prepared to give worthwhile, cogent reasons for those doubts.

    - Besides, if what you say is factual, then why was the hominid/human link repeatedly reported as certain before the recent findings?

    The hominid/human link is extremely well supported by a tremendous amount of genetic and fossil evidence. The recent findings have to do with new details emerging regarding the relationship between a particular group of hominids, the Neanderthals, and modern humans.

    - Respectfully, do you mean that I must share your worldview and believe in evolution and put my faith in materialist thinking to be perceived as informed?

    With respect, no. See above.

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