Thursday, December 29, 2005

Atheistic Religious Fervor

The popular belief today, fostered by many in the scientific community who have a vested interest in bolstering their prestige, is that scientists are purely rational, following the empirical facts wherever they might lead, while religious people are irrational fanatics who persist in believing in a creator God despite the evidence.

But is that really the case? Even a cursory look at the actual practice of the scientific community shows us that the answer is emphatically "no." Scientists show every bit the tendency toward faith commitments as anyone else, and nobody more than the atheistic, naturalistic ones.

A prime example of this was brought up by an atheistic commenter in the discussion section of a recent post.

After trying to escape the obvious non-naturalistic implications of a universe that has clearly had a beginning in time by positing that it was self-caused (thus committing rational suicide), he then tries to escape by offering up what is known as the multiple universe (or "multiverse") theory. This is fortunate, because there may be no better example of "empirical scientists" coming up with something that is completely unempirical in order to explain away implications they find uncomfortable and which they have ruled out on philosophical grounds.

Leonard Susskind, the widely revered Stanford physicist who has had a major role in formulating string theory, essentially admits in an interview in this month's New Scientist that the "multiverse" theory (which says there are theoretically millions--or more--of other unobserved universes in existence) is necessary to explain why our universe seems so finely tuned for life.

The introduction to the piece, written by Amanda Gefter, is shockingly telling:
But the inventor of string theory, physicist Leonard Susskind, sees this "landscape" of universes as a solution rather than a problem. He says it could answer the most perplexing question in physics: why the value of the cosmological constant, which describes the expansion rate of the universe, appears improbably fine-tuned for life. A little bigger or smaller and life could not exist. With an infinite number of universes, says Susskind, there is bound to be one with a cosmological constant like ours.
So we see the problem we're dealing with (which is described as "the most perplexing question in physics"): the universe is very fine-tuned for intelligent life, and it's very, very difficult to explain that naturalistically. So a theory has to be devised, no matter how non-empirical, to explain the evidence in naturalistic terms. What we come out with is the "multiverse," which is essentially nothing more than a variation on the old idea that if you put an infinite number of monkeys in a room typing on an infinite number of typewriters, every possibility will eventually be realized and one of them will type the complete works of Shakespeare. Because our universe is clearly showing us design far beyond the complete works of Shakespeare, multiversalists simply theorize an infinite number of universes to explain it. None of this is observable, of course, but that really isn't what this is about anyway.

And here's an even more telling section from the Q&A. Keep in mind, this is from the man who is one of the most respected naturalistic scientists in the world and is hostile enough to ID to have written a book called Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design:
If we do not accept the landscape idea are we stuck with intelligent design?

I doubt that physicists will see it that way. If, for some unforeseen reason, the landscape turns out to be inconsistent - maybe for mathematical reasons, or because it disagrees with observation - I am pretty sure that physicists will go on searching for natural explanations of the world. But I have to say that if that happens, as things stand now we will be in a very awkward position. Without any explanation of nature's fine-tunings we will be hard pressed to answer the ID critics. One might argue that the hope that a mathematically unique solution will emerge is as faith-based as ID.
In one fell swoop, one of the most eminent physicists in the world confirms everything we've been saying: the universe strongly hints at having been designed; that ID presents an argument that is weighty and has strong evidence on its side; that this conclusion is philosophically unacceptable to the naturalist, necessitating that he dispose of the vast weight of the evidence; and that the naturalistic scientist currently stands in a "very awkward position" in relationship to the criticisms leveled by Intelligent Design.

Not exactly the picture you'd get from all the triumphalistic blather from evolutionists surrounding the Dover case, is it? Which do you find to be more faith-based: the notion that a universe which shows extremely strong evidence of having been designed actually was designed? Or the notion that it must be one of an infinite number of other universes which popped into being out of nothing, none of which we can see, measure, or even detect? Purely rational scientists indeed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Circle of Life

Attacks on Intelligent Design often charge that the theory is "unfalsifiable" and thus unscientific. Aside from the fact that this is simply incorrect--ID does put forth a falsifiable hypothesis (see William Dembski's explanatory filter, for example)--it is yet another area in which Darwinian theory actually fails the very test it would impose on everyone else.

If ever a "scientific" theory was unfalsifiable, Darwinian evolution is it. Think about it. Using the most popular current definition of "science," Darwinian macroevolution cannot be proved false.

As you’ll recall, the judge in the Dover ID case ruled (and it has been argued here by some commenters) that science by definition must be naturalistic. Naturalism assumes (note that it doesn't, nor can it, prove; rather, it assumes) that the physical world is all that is real, and thus all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws.

Once this is assumed, there is no evidence that can disprove Darwinian macroevolution. Something like Darwinian evolution has to be true, because we are at that point dealing with two "facts":

1). There is a great deal of diversity and complexity among living things
2). That diversity and complexity has to have arisen by blind, purposeless, naturalistic chance

Any evidence which would seem contrary to the notion that all the diversity and complexity of life arose naturally and purposelessly must be reinterpreted, discounted, or completely put aside because we’ve already decided that "science" demands that it arose and diversified naturally and purposelessly.

This is how we end up with statements like the one I previously cited from the atheistic Darwinist Richard Dawkins (who is a passionate opponent of ID, I might add): "Biology is the study of complicated things which give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose."

Dawkins concludes, of course, that this is merely an illusion, because it has been decided at the outset that these complicated things have to have arisen by blind, purposeless, naturalistic chance. Evidence which would seem to falsify this cannot be what it seems to be, because we’ve decided a priori that all life must be explained naturalistically.

This is, of course, perfectly circular. It goes something like this: we know that all life arose and diversified through blind natural processes, so Darwinian evolution is true. And we know that Darwinian evolution is true because life arose and diversified through blind, natural processes. Since it reasons in a circle, it cannot be falsified. Yet the evolutionist attacks ID because it's supposedly unfalsifiable. So why does the evolutionist have the right to violate his own standard while ruling everyone else out of court on the grounds they violate it?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Oh Yeah...

...and Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Unintelligent Designs

A lot is being made about the recent intelligent design (ID) case in Dover, PA, where a federal judge ruled that including intelligent design in the curriculum would be tantamount to the state sponsoring a religion.

At issue is what constitutes science itself, with the court deciding that:
...[R]igorous attachment to "natural" explanations is an essential attribute to science by definition and by convention. We are in agreement with Plaintiffs’ lead expert Dr. Miller, that from a practical perspective, attributing unsolved problems about nature to causes and forces that lie outside the natural world is a "science stopper."
Of course, what the ruling doesn't mention (nor do atheistic scientists often mention) is that this "rigorous attachment to natural explanations"--otherwise known as methodological naturalism--is itself a presupposition based on a particular kind of faith, and is neither empirical nor testable. Thus, as an arbitrary rule placed on science, it actually violates itself, though we are all expected to pay it unquestioning fealty or else be labeled flat-earthers (or worse).

Incidentally, this view of science would have been completely alien to all scientists before the 20th century, most of whom believed the science was only possible because a creator God had made an orderly world. Absolute naturalism is not the sine qua non of science, but is rather an untestable philosophy smuggled relatively recently into science by those with a particular metaphysical agenda.

In reality, a reasonable mind can see the silliness of this without the benefit of years of training designed to drum out common sense. Say you put a deck of cards on the coffee table and walk out of the room. Later you return to the room and the cards are scattered haphazardly all over the floor. What do you conclude? The anti-ID zealots would caracature ID by claming ID-ists would look at a scenario and say "Well, angels must have done it." This kind of portrait earns big points with their fellow atheists who find it quite clever (and with more than a few dim judges, too), but it utterly fails to address what ID actually says. Just as anyone else, the ID theorist would conclude that something knocked the cards off the table (not necessarily intelligent; it could have been the cat) and then gravity caused the cards to fall and land randomly.

Now let's suppose an alternate scenario. You put the cards on the coffee table, walk out of the room, and when you return, they are lying on the floor in a pattern that spells out "We fell down." In order to remain "scientific," would you apply your "methodological naturalism" and conclude that no intelligent force had acted on the cards? Or, without having to give it more than a nanosecond of thought, would you conclude that your spouse (or someone else with intelligence) was having some fun with you?

We know the answer intuitively, and the fact is that "science" makes these kinds of obvious conclusions every day. Perhaps the most popular science there is (if television ratings are any indication)--forensic science--deals with only discerning intelligent design in the natural realm. It's an entire science based on the clear fact that if two metal bullet-shaped objects with a spiral pattern are found in someone's head, they are not natural deposits produced by the brain, nor are they things that the wind put there.

What ID is trying to explain, and what naturalistic science is utterly at a loss to explain, is that the scattered deck of cards from the analogy is most emphatically not what we find in nature. What we find is the cards arranged into a message--only it's a message far more complex than "we fell down."

The atheist has gotten around this by jiggering the definition of science so that anything "scientific" (by which he means, and means us to mean, "true") has to have a natural, purposeless, undirected cause as an explanation. So when he finds the message spelled out by the cards, he concludes with absolute certainty--scientifically--that they got that way on accident. As the eminent atheistic Darwinist Richard Dawkins once wrote, "Biology is the study of complicated things which give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." They appear to have been designed, but ultimately they cannot have, because we've already decided that any recourse to an intelligent cause cannot be true because it violates our definition of science. Any other explanation wouldn't be scientific, you see.

And so the methodological naturalist stands inside a wonderfully comfortable little circle he's drawn for himself, where he knows the answers to all of life's questions because he's decided beforehand what he's willing to allow those answers to be. None of this, of course, has anything to do with pursuing actual truth, but he's not too concerned with that anymore because he's published a lot of papers and has a lifetime of hypotheses to defend and social respectability to protect and tenure to gain.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Late Show Lunatics

I've written here in the past about my belief in the obvious superiority of David Letterman over Jay Leno. To my mind, there's just no contest.

However, I realize that reasonable people can disagree on this. There's a time when Letterman has led the ratings, and more recently Leno has. Leno was essentially discovered on Letterman's show. Letterman made his original mark on the "Tonight Show" which Leno now occupies. So there are plenty of similarities between the two, and presumably some overlapping audience.

So my question today is: Why do you think Letterman proves to be so overpoweringly appealing to the criminally insane? He's like catnip to them.

In the past, Letterman had a demented woman who claimed to be his wife steal his car and repeatedly break into his homes until one day committing suicide.

More recently, he had a house painter who conspired to kidnap his toddler son.

And just today, I see that another insane woman in New Mexico has filed for a restraining order against Letterman. According to
[Colleen] Nestler's application for a restraining order was accompanied by a six-page typed letter in which she said Letterman used code words, gestures and "eye expressions" to convey his desires for her.

She wrote that she began sending Letterman "thoughts of love" after his "Late Show" began in 1993, and that he responded in code words and gestures, asking her to come East.

She said he asked her to be his wife during a televised "teaser" for his show by saying, "Marry me, Oprah." Her letter said Oprah was the first of many code names for her and that the coded vocabulary increased and changed with time.
So why doesn't this ever happen to Leno? Why does Letterman draw so many obvious psychos? And does my clear preference for Letterman over Leno place me among them?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Taking Stock

I've been sick for much of the week with a fever and sore throat, which is why I've been scarce around here the last few days.

While recuperating, I've been watching a bit more television than I normally do (since I find it hard to read while I can actually hear blood throbbing through my head), and I happened upon one of the oddest things I've ever seen. Has anybody else seen this thing?

I flip on CNBC, and there's this guy (it turns out his name is Jim Cramer) who is in a studio going absolutely bonkers, screaming his head off and throwing chairs, biting the heads off dolls, and sweating like a mental patient...about stocks. The guy is giving stock advice on a financial network, and he's like a mix between an over-caffeinated sports talk host and Bobcat Goldthwait. He makes Howard Beale from "Network" look like Ben Stein.

Not being a big stock market guy, I have almost no idea what he's talking about at any given moment. But as I watch, I realize that it's quite feasible that this guy could keel over dead of a heart attack right here on national television. So I've been tuning in for a few days now, because I have to admit that I find that prospect quite compelling.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Kwanzaa Sham-aa

As faithful reader Plumtree points out to me by email, this is about the time each year when I like to take the opportunity to observe that Kwanzaa is an utterly fake sham of a "holiday."

Kwanzaa is all over the place nowadays, and you may perhaps be under the impression that it's some sort of authentic African celebration. It's not. Kwanzaa was only invented in America in the 1960's--by a thug named Ron Karenga, who aside from Kwanzaa may be best remembered for his conviction on charges of torturing two women in the early 1970's.

Front Page magazine quotes a Los Angeles Times article from May 14, 1971 that describes one woman's testimony of what Karenga (who was convicted) did to her:
Deborah Jones, who once was given the Swahili title of an African queen, said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vise. Karenga, head of US, also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said.
Some time back, LaShawn Barber wrote an excellent piece on this whole sham-holiday issue that everyone ought to read. You should also check out the links she provides at the end of it.

If someone--anyone--dares to wish you a "Happy Kwanzaa" during this Christmas season, you should whip him with an electrical cord and shove a red-hot soldering iron into his mouth the way Ron Karenga does with his victims. In doing so, you'll be sharing with the the true meaning of Kwanzaa at this holiday time of year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I'm Gonna Wait 'Til The Midnight Hour

The events of the other day have raised a question in my mind that I'm surprised I haven't had before: Why do we execute people in this country at 12:01 am?

I'm sure there's a good reason, but I've never heard it. Are they trying to make it extra creepy by only doing it in the midnight hour, hoping maybe some wolves will be baying outside? Are they trying to catch the prisoner when he's extra tired so they can save money on tranquilizers? Are they giving the last dinner time to digest?

I'd really like to know.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Helping Widows In Need

After several false starts with skittish scammers who got scared and ran, Brian at Terrible Swift Word finally has some African email scammers on the hook bigtime.

The saga begins here (though you'll want to go to his December archive to catch all the subsequent action).

Among the highlights: when the scammers repeatedly demand a phone number from "Avery Lunch" (Brian's alter-ego), he sends them John Kerry's Washington office number and says:
I'll have to apologize in advance for my secretary. She has a heart of gold, but she comes off as a little gruff at times. Don't take it personally, that's just her way. She's a little hard of hearing so talk loud and if she gives you a hard time just tell her you need to talk to me about "Swiftboat." That's my code for our project. She doesn't know what it is just that it's important to me. If Herve answers the phone, he doesnt know much English so talk slow and loud. Same deal, though. Just tell him, "Swiftboat" and hell put you right through.
The scammers called the number. Repeatedly. They write:
The people were very furious with me when i started calling persistently and i had to tender my apology
Nobody on the web jerks these guys around more amusingly than does Brian. It's pure entertainment.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Load Of Crip

My television was out for over a month after Hurricane Wilma (because of a blown-over dish), so I hadn't seen much of the news until vacation last week. The big cause célèbre (literally) seems to be that of one Stanley "Tookie" Williams, quadruple (at least) murderer and co-founder of the deadly Crips street gang, who is due to be executed by lethal injection tomorrow in California.

When I first saw the veritable who's who of leftist talent lined up in support of "Tookie," including usual suspects Mike Farrell, Martin Sheen, Ed Asner, Tom Hayden, and Bianca Jagger, I thought "Wow, with a lineup like that behind him, he must've killed a cop or something."

Imagine my surprise to find out that they're supporting him even though he didn't kill a cop--only four regular people, including one motel-owning couple and their daughter. Other than the fact that he failed to kill a cop, he's just the kind of felon the Left loves (see Jack Henry Abbott, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Huey Newton, etc., etc., ad nauseum), wildly violent but dangerous and attractive for a crowd that sees common street thuggery as "authentic" compared to their own lives of plastic hypocrisy.

The celebrities who are supporting "Tookie" say he has been rehabilitated (despite the fact that he still denies the crimes to begin with), as evidenced by the fact that....he writes children's books against violence. That's nice and all, and I'm sure Tookie is a real wordsmith. But this view overlooks the simple fact that it's not about rehabilitation. The Left loves its romantic notions of rehabilitating and redeeming hardened criminals, but it ignores the harsh reality, which is that the vast majority of these guys don't change. And even if they did, it doesn't alter the legal situation, because the death penalty serves a valuable punitive function and is perfectly legitimate regardless of supposed deterrent value, subjective change in the accused, or any other ancillary benefit.

Karla Faye Tucker was put to death in Texas in 1998 for a grisly pickax double murder--despite a jailhouse conversion that led her to deep remorse and repentance for her crimes. Her internal change was heartwarming and (to my eyes, at least) authentic. But it didn't spare her from the just penalty for her crime, nor should it have (misguided appeals from the likes of Pat Robertson aside). Then-governor George W. Bush rightly allowed Tucker's justly-imposed sentence to be carried out, because her subsequent remorse (something Williams lacks, incidentally) did not change the fact of what she had done, nor did it bring her victims back.

If Arnold Schwarzenegger does the right thing and does not allow himself to be cowed by the veiled threats of rioting that leaders of the black community are putting out there (a fact that ought to infuriate black people against their supposed leaders--I mean, think about that--it's assumed that they'll riot in the streets if the governor doesn't grant clemency to a convicted murderer, and rather than being horrified, many actually seem to embrace that implication!) justice will be served sometime tomorrow when the poison begins to flow into the veins of Stanley Williams--though his death will be much more peacful and pain-free than that of his known victims.

(UPDATE: Gov. Schwarzenegger [that's still the oddest thing I ever find myself writing] has denied clemency, and Williams will likely be executed in a few hours. We'll see what happens after that. The fact that rioting can even be reasonably anticipated ought to be an intense embarassment for all involved--though it's not, oddly enough.)

Happy Holidays. So There.

I love Christmas as much as anyone. And I've always made it a point to specifically wish people "Merry Christmas." I think the Christian bent of our culture is exceedingly important (since, fading though it is, it's actually responsible for whatever success this nation has enjoyed). I think the tie between Christ and Christmas needs to always be made more explicit, not less. Furthermore, I think attempts to banish any and all Christian references from Christmas are ridiculous, misguided, and harmful to religious freedom.

That having been said, I have to admit I'm starting to get a little creeped out by the ferocity of the Christmas-mongers this holiday season. Somewhere along the line, it seems to have gone from "putting Christ back into Christmas" to an absolute shibboleth by which every individual and corporation will be judged. "You will acknowledge Christmas" seems to be the cry. Boycotts, pickets, and recriminations are now as Christmas as candy canes and holly.

The White House is the most recent target for failing to mention Christmas specifically in its "holiday" cards. George Bush professes to be a Christian, and yes, he ought to have the guts that all previous presidents (save Clinton) showed in wishing their constituents merry Christmas. But is it really our goal to force people to express what we want them too? Have we crossed a line from making it safe to wish people a Merry Christmas again to requiring them to do it?

Of course it is stupid for corporations to suddenly stop mentioning Christmas out of some misguided sense of political correctness (especially considering that it ain't Hanukkah gifts that are raking in all that money for them). And it's ridiculous for schools to change the words of "Silent Night" to "Cold in the Night." But as I recall, even back in the "good old days" 25 years ago, people still occasionally used the phrase "Happy Holidays." I mean, it wasn't just invented this year as part of the drive to destroy Christmas, and everyone who uses it oughtn't automatically become a heresy suspect.

Why, I'd venture to confess (though I may have my Religious Right membership card revoked) that even I on occasion have wished someone "happy holidays." I didn't do it to snuff Christ out of Christmas so much as to include Thanksgiving and New Year's in what I was saying, and fortunately nobody stoned me for it.

So yes, we should recognize that this nation is culturally Christian and that there's nothing wrong with that. We should be free to acknowledge Christmas in the public square however we like. But we also ought to lighten up a little where appropriate. I mean, after all, it's Christmas.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Silence of the Blogger

I should've mentioned that we're on vacation this week, which means things will continue to be pretty quiet here until next Monday. I'm always kind of reluctant to announce something like that, since I'm pretty firmly on record as being disgusted at narcissistic bloggers who imagine that millions are hanging on their every post.

But just so you don't think I'm trapped under something, there it is. And if you do happen to hang on my every word, well God bless you. Please tell my family about it. There'd be a huge "I-told-you-so" factor involved there.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

When Talent Gets Left Behind

Slate magazine takes a withering, hilarious look at the putrid "Left Behind" straight-to-video films. The sad thing is, the article pretty much nails it on the head:
The new "Left Behind" movie disturbs me—not because thousands of people are watching a movie that proclaims non-Christians will burn in hell for all eternity—but rather because thousands of people are watching a movie where Toronto stands in for New York, Chicago, and Israel. Also, Washington, D.C. And Egypt. London, too.

The "apocalypse on a shoestring" aesthetic has become the hallmark of the "Left Behind" series.
Though unfortunately many don't know it, the premillenial "rapture" version of end times history represented by the "Left Behind" series is a relatively recent innovation in church history (not making it's appearance until the mid-1800's) and was not the view of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and the giants of the Bible-believing church. It's seen now as one of the baseline beliefs of "fundamentalist Christianity," but historically that's just not the case.

And that's important to point out, because when one sees movies of this caliber, one can unfortunately feel the need to distance oneself from them. Continues Slate's Grady Hendrix:
While each installment's budget is estimated to be around $17.4 million, I think that number might be off by $16 million or so. In Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force, for example, Kirk Cameron has to take Ben Judah, a respected rabbi, to the Wailing Wall so that he can tell Jews everywhere that Jesus Christ is Lord. Israel is represented by a few stone walls obviously made of plywood, some Christmas-tree lights, and 500 volunteer extras wearing leftover costumes from a Nativity pageant. The Wailing Wall is patrolled by soldiers dressed in World War II army uniforms. The producers have also dubbed in the sound of goats during scenes set in downtown Jerusalem, which leads to the unusual notion that modern-day Israel is populated by WWII re-enactors, nervous-looking people in bathrobes, and goats.
The shame of it is, the church used to produce all the great art. Now it produces movies like "Left Behind." Something got lost along the way, as a sense of form and beauty was replaced by a utilitarian didacticism. Which is a twenty dollar way of saying we once had Michelangelo, and now we have Kirk Cameron movies.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Right-Wing Star

The fever-Left Mother Jones magazine has carefully charted the constellations of the ominous and dark-hearted universe of the "religious right" in America.

Their map seems to have two centers: James Dobson's Focus on the Family empire and...the Chalcedon Foundation. Or something. It's all pretty confusing even for me, and I'm part of this religious right cabal.

You may want to print out the map, frame it, and hang it in your room. It also makes a lovely place mat. I'll be keeping it nearby so I can try to plot my own place in the conspiracy.