Sunday, November 26, 2006

Further dialogue with Seldom

This post is lengthy, but I sometimes enjoy carrying on dialogue with those who take the time to comment. Seldom and I have been discussing a variety of issues and I’m going to bring this conversation to the top again.

Seldom wrote:
But Christianity wasn't remotely the near the first religion and neither was Judaism! There were tons of religions with creation stories and Gods before Judiasm and Christianity came along. So those religions were wrong, then Judaism magically appears and gets it right, then religions that followed strayed away? I don't see how your comment makes sense unless you are a hardcore young earth creationist who is completely oblivious to thousands of years of human history.
Gosh, here I go opening up a whole can of worms. Now, just relax for a moment because I know this will throw you for a loop, but yes, I favor a young earth for many reasons. Surprisingly, scientific data - not religion is what brought me to consider young earth arguments.

As far as religious beliefs are concerned, I’ve never found it written anywhere in scripture that in order to be a Christian you must believe in a young earth. The age of the earth is irrelevant to salvation, IMHO. I know many Christians who support an old earth as well as arguments for common descent. I used to believe that the scientific data favored an old earth and never gave it a second thought. But, over the last 5 years, after considering things I’ve read in the fields of philosophy, sociology, history, anthropology and theology along with scientific arguments for and against an old earth, my feelings on the topic changed.

So back to your statement above...yes, I’m quite aware that “Christianity” wasn’t the “first religion”. But, as far as historical support for a variety of religious beliefs, we have to consider that the earliest evidence we have of the written word is only approx. 6,000 years old. Consequently, the bible documents historical information from approx. 6,000 years ago. It stands to reason that, ~if~ the earth is young, then the first human inhabitants may have known more about the true creator of the cosmos than we give them credit for. That doesn’t mean that after a time, the truth didn’t became muddled along the way. Many scholars agree that Job is the oldest book in the Bible, written by an Israelite about 1500 B.C.. Even at that time in history, Job was looking forward to a redeemer. It could be that other nations branched off and held some of the same truths but added their own window dressing. Who knows......right?

You quoted me and then commented:
"Dude, the scientific community does “recognize the term” of macroevolution because they refer to it all the time."

OK, they recognize it in the sense that the "opposition" uses it, and they understand what they mean by it, and they may use it in explaining why they don't agree with its usage, so yes they recognize it in to the extent that they are aware that the word exists. But they certainly don't consider it a valid or meaningful distinction.
Interesting, because just a couple days ago, I was reading an article in Science magazine titled, Rapid Temporal Reversal in Predator-Driven Natural Selection, Science vol 314, 17 Nov. 2006. The following sentence was included in the last paragraph of the article:

Evolutionary biology is by its nature an historical science, but the combination of microevolutionary experimentation and macroevolutionary historical analysis can provide a rich understanding about the genesis of biological diversity.
Seems pretty clear cut to me...I don’t have an on-line subscription to Science so the link only offers the abstract, but you may have or you can check it out in hard copy if you like.

You quoted me and then commented:
"For example, all species appear fully developed, not partially developed. They show design."

Your terminology confuses me. To say a species appears fully formed makes no sense. There is no predetermined end product that a species is on its way to becoming. There is no such thing as a species being "partially developed". HOW do they show design? What specifically is the telltale sign of design? This is where ID has problems. For this to be meaningful there has to be some way to know this. It "looks" designed is not good enough!
Yes, terminology is a problem in this debate. Let’s see... in creationist talk, I’d state the we do not have empirical evidence that supports the notion that primitive hearts eventually evolved into more advanced hearts as the evolutionary tree of life expanded. These vital organs are so intricate in design that intermediates wouldn't live through the process. Now, an evolutionists will say, “but look, we have various creatures with hearts that are unlike the human heart and this tells us that those more primitive forms of the heart are what led to the development of the human heart“. It's interesting speculation, but we do not have empirical evidence to support that this is what actually happened.

Evolutionists reject the idea that the microevolutionary changes that we witness in nature cannot carry over into macroevolutionary changes of vital organs or other highly complex body parts from one species to the next. We can consider your examples from your earlier post as well--“There is excellent fossil evidence of proto-feathers and nature today is full of organisms with eyes running the entire gammit from blind to eyes better then our own.” True, but that does not provide empirical evidence that the heart and eyes of those organisms all evolved from a common ancestor. That is an ~interpretation of the data~. Perhaps you are right, but then again the creationist’s interpretation may be the correct one.

Here’s the deal though. It’s not that I “fundamentally misunderstand how evolution works”, but that I do understand it, and from the empirical data that is available, I have to admit that I do not believe there is enough evidence to support the theory at the macro level.

But, the theory of Intelligent Design is entirely different from creationist theories. I’m going to offer a couple paragraphs defining Intelligent Design from Thomas Woodward’s new book, Darwin Strikes Back, because although I know you are familiar with the theory, many are still quite confused as to what exactly the theory is about.

Scientific tests now show a shockingly severe limitation on the ability of random mutation to evolve new functional genes. Also, the more we learn about the threadlike DNA molecule, which in human cells has 20,000 genes--digital files embedded on the cell’s DNA hard drive--the more we realize that this DNA information is structurally identical to the ordinary coded information in human communication (books, digitized DVDs) and artifacts. To pin down what kind of cause “wrote the DNA file,” we are able to apply a powerful reasoning approach that scientists now use called “inference to the best explanation.” Since DNA (with RNA and proteins) have a mathematical structure called “specified complexity” (even one gene displays an astoundingly low probability, while its letter are highly specified), that enables us to ask a key question. In the real world, the world of scientific testing and experience, do we ever observe natural processes producing this kind of complexity? In fact, we have never recorded an instance where nature crafted this kind of complexity. Yet, in the cause-effect structure seen in our world today, intelligent causes easily produce this kind of specified complexity. So the inference to design for DNA is based on our experience of the observed structures of the real world, not an imagined one.

One finds equally compelling evidence for design in the bacterial flagellum, whose rotary motor drives certain bacteria through liquid like a submarine with an outboard motor. The flagellum, as biologists Michael Behe and Scott Minnich have shown, has a machinelike irreducible complexity, which is an empirical marker of design because it rules out step-by-step evolution through selection. Take one part away from the flagellum, and its rotary system won’t work. Darwinian accounts of the evolution of the flagellum are (at best) sketchy “Just So Stories.” Its forty parts, all of them precisely shaped proteins, are prima facie evidence of a intelligence behind life, and the flagellum is just the tip of the iceberg. The cell is chock full of such complex, multipart systems that continue to defy a step-by-step Darwinian explanation.
You wrote:
But to say it is clearly ridiculous is to say that 99.9% of experts in biology look at the same evidence as you and come to the wrong conclusion. Or that for the 100+ years, science has been intentionally perpetrating a fraud on the world. Every scientist knows that their is a Nobel prize, piles of cash, and fame that will outlive them, if they could disprove evolution and put forward a better theory. There is no giant atheist conspiracy at work. The problem is that every line of evidence points to the same conclusion: evolution is the correct explanation for the biodiversity of the Earth.
First of all, I do not in any way, shape of form believe that there is a “giant atheist conspiracy at work”. I do believe that a person’s philosophical beliefs can get in the way of their science, just as you believe a person‘s religious beliefs can get in the way of their science.

It is no secret that the grand majority of scientists are philosophical naturalists. It is also no secret the "scientific community" is working overtime at keeping out what they deem as “pseudo-science”. It’s not because they are trying to push their atheism on the world (although there are a few who are), but that they truly believe that Darwinian evolution is factual beyond all doubt. It’s the interpretation of the data that they were born into, and their philosophical worldview holds it as truth for them.

Even if a scientist did have the magic theory that disproved evolution without a doubt, he’d still never receive his “Nobel prize, cash, or fame” because his theory would never make it through peer review -- UNLESS, it is a theory that does not even remotely correspond with any type of religious ideal. Because if it does, Eugenie and the NCSE along with a big ‘ol group of other naturalists are going to come in screeching and hollering with everything they’ve got.

Remember the Sternberg affair...?

From Darwin Strikes Back
On November 10, 2006, National Public Radio’s Barbara Hagerty covered on All Things Considered the lingering brouhaha over Richard Sternberg, the editor of “an obscure scientific journal loosely affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, where he is also a research associate.” She pointed out that “he published in the journal a peer-reviewed article by Stephen Meyer, a proponent of intelligent design,” and then fleshed out the motives and misery of Sternberg:

“Why publish it?” Sternberg say, “Because evolutionary biologists are thinking about this. So I thought that by putting this on the table, there could be some reasoned discourse. That’s what I thought, and I was dead wrong.”

At first he heard rumblings of discontent but thought it would blow over. Sternberg says his colleagues and supervisors at the Smithsonian were furious. He says - and an independent report backs him up - that colleagues accused him of fraud, saying they did not believe the Meyer article was really peer-reviewed. It was.

Eventually, Sternberg filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which protects federal employees from reprisals. The office launched an investigation. Ultimately, it could not take action because Stenberg is not an employee of the Smithsonian. But Sternberg says before closing the case, the special counsel, James McVay, called him with an update. “As he related to me, ‘The Smithsonian Institutions’ reaction to your publishing the Meyer article was far worse than you imagined.’”

McVay declined an interview. But in a letter to Sternberg, he wrote that officials at the Smithsonian worked with the National Center for Science Education...and outlined “a strategy to have you investigated and discredited.” Retaliation came in many forms, the letter said. They took away his master key and access to research materials. They spread rumors that Sternberg was not really a scientist. He has two Ph.D.s in biology -- from Binghamton University and Florida International University. In short, McVay found a hostile work environment based on religious and political discrimination.

After repeated calls and emails to the Smithsonian, a spokesman told NPR, “We have no public comment, and we won’t have one in the future.”
We also find bloggers such as Larry Moran, a Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto, making the statement that we should just “flunk” students who support Intelligent Design, or never let them be admitted to the university in the first place. Some of the more dogmatic scientists don’t hide the fact that they will reject tenure to those who support ID as well.

You wrote:
You guys had your big opportunity to prove evolution false when genetics technologies became available. If whale DNA had turned out to be closer to shark DNA than to human DNA, or if bird DNA was more similar to bat DNA than to reptile DNA, evolution would have crumbled to the ground. But the genetic evidence supports common ancestry and evolutionary relationships. This is simply the most power evidence possible and I don't know how you refute it.
Right, I’ve heard these arguments before, and I just don’t believe that they are as strong as you suggest. There is so much more to consider in this regard. For example DNA reproduction and repair is very difficult to explain from an evolutionary perspective.

As far as similarities between species is concerned, obviously an Intelligent Designer would not need to redesign every living organism in order to reassure us that we are not all related to a common descendant. Most designers we witness in our world don’t reinvent the wheel for every product they design. Automobile designers use the same parts for most cars and tweak them for different purposes, yet they are all designed for the same driving environment. The same thing applies to all living creatures. We all drink the same water, breathe the same air, and eat the same food.

Duane Gish once wrote:
Supposing, on the other hand, God had made plants with a certain type of amino acids, sugars, purines, pyrimidines, etc.; then made animals with a different type of amino acids, sugars, purines, pyrimidines, etc.; and, finally, made man with a third type of amino acids, sugars, etc. What could we eat? We couldn’t eat plants; we couldn’t eat animals; all we could eat would be each other! Obviously, that wouldn’t work. All the key molecules in plants, animals, and man had to be the same. The metabolism of plants, animals, and man, based on the same biochemical principles, had to be similar, and therefore key metabolic pathways would employ similar macromolecules, modified to fit the particular internal environment of the organism or cell in which it must function. (Gish, 277.)
Makes sense to me.

You quoted me and then commented:
"Huh? Darwinists do claim that evolution can account for the entire universe. Darwinists claim that evolution does not explain the ~first cause~, but once the big bang (or whatever) initially occurred, evolutionary mechanisms took root and structured the entire universe."

I'm sorry but you could not be more wrong! This isn't a matter of opinion like so many of our other points of disagreement. You are completely misstating what evolutionary theory says. Please point me to any "Darwinist" who says anything remotely like this.
This is probably a matter of semantics. Granted, evolution in the sense of Darwin’s theory is different than the evolution of the cosmos, but the “scientific community” refers to the evolution of the universe all the time. It falls unders the umbrella of the evolutionary paradigm.

You quoted me and then commented:
"Where do these type of “fundamentalists” live? I am constantly warned by on-line atheists about these “Christian reconstructionists“, and I’m told that Christians are looking to take over government and re-establish Old Testament law."

Been to see Jesus Camp yet? And by the way, Christians don't need to "take over" the government, they've had it for the last 6 years. Remember the proposed Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage? Remember the Dover school district trying to bring religion back into public school science classes. (regardless of whether ID guys like Dembski or Behe have religious motives, the ONLY reason that school board was pushing it was religious).
Good grief... Jesus Camp? Are you serious? A gal puts together a Jesus Camp, for what? 100 kids this summer? That’s the kind of stuff you think Christians are indoctrinating their children with? Did your parents indoctrinate you in a similar fashion?

BTW,“Jesus Camp” was shut down, thank goodness.

That example would be like me making the bizarre statement that the mother of these twin girls is indoctrinating her children to hate anyone who is not white because Hitler had a thing for the theory of evolution and wanted to keep the bloodlines pure. Therefore, I believe that there are many Darwinists who indoctrinate their children this way as well.

Do you see how silly it is to refer to a camp of 100 kids and assume that Christians indoctrinate their children to become Christian reconstructionists in this same manner? These “Christian reconstructionists” are a fringe group, yet some people like to throw all Christians into this category.

Let me tell you how I approach the issue of evolution with my children. My kids are being taught evolutionist theories in school, and we discuss intelligent design and creationist theories at home when we have the time. They go to public school, and both of my kids LOVE science. They are well aware of the controversy between evolution and intelligent design. They are taught that there are different interpretations of the evidence, and that the tools of science are continually lending to further knowledge about our universe. That is why we should never become dogmatic in the way we view those interpretations.

I want them to consider ALL the empirical evidence with an open mind. I tell them to learn absolutely ~everything~ they can possibly learn about the theory of evolution because ~if~ the theory is lacking, then they need to understand it well to discern where it is lacking. The same thing applies to the theory of intelligent design.

If, in the future, they decide that the theory of evolution is the more accurate interpretation, so be it. At least I know that I laid ALL the information on the table and didn’t keep anything from them. I believe they should look at all of life in this manner, that would include their religious beliefs as well.

One more quick thing about “the proposed Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage” you mentioned again. We’ve talked about this quite a bit in recent dialogue, but you may want to also consider this link I ran across the other day.

From the link:
Dutch will allow paedophile group

A Dutch court has turned down a request to ban a political party with a paedophile agenda.

Judge HFM Hofhuis ruled that the Brotherly Love, Freedom and Diversity Party (PNVD) had the same right to exist as any other political party.

The PNVD was formed by three paedophiles in May, prompting outrage in Dutch society. It seeks to lower the age of sexual consent from 16 to 12 and legalise child pornography and sex with animals. "Freedom of expression...including the freedom to set up a political party can be seen as the basis for a democratic society," Judge Hofhuis said in the ruling, according to the Associated Press news agency.
How far will society be willing to go?

You wrote:
This might surprise you, but I have no problem with my kids being catholic, protestent, whatever. I just insist that they come to that decision through some informed process. Which means no indoctrination when they are too young to make rational decisions. For numerous examples, go see Jesus Camp.
I agree that the type of “Jesus Camp” indoctrination you are referring to is WRONG.

But, if a person is an atheist, I can’t imagine they would send their children to church -- I mean, what church would they send them to? So, their children start out with a disadvantage as far as learning what other children are learning in regard to religious beliefs. By the time their parents might consider them to be old enough to “make a rational decision”, their kids may not even care to put forth the effort into researching various religious beliefs because they’ve learned from their parents that it doesn’t really matter anyway ("my parents don’t believe that stuff, why should I waste my time thinking about it"?).

So, if there is religious truth out there somewhere, they may never consider the possibility because their parents were non-believers. That type of indoctrination is no different that the indoctrination that Dawkins claims I am doing to my children by sending them to a Christian church.

I often wonder if atheists even consider this...what if they are wrong? What if there is a Creator of the cosmos? What if that Creator really does want a relationship with us? Is that something you would deny your child simply because you believe you have reason to reject the idea?

I’ve given my children the chance to learn about the Christian faith, and we often talk about other faith beliefs as well. If they choose to believe that there is no God, at least I have provided them with the opportunity of a religious education in the same way that I send them to school at an early age to learn about mathematics, science, reading, etc., etc.

Okay, I’m done for today. Thanks again for the respectful dialogue, and I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving holiday.