Archive for August, 2009
I just like this video because the chimpanzee is surprised when the magician does tricks. This shows just how much the chimpanzee understands and anticipates what’s supposed to happen.
According to former Homeland Security Official (and former Republican senator), Tom Ridge, just before the election in 2004, top Bush administration officials pushed him to raise the threat level from Orange to Red (the highest level). Knowing that the Republicans were seen as tougher on security, this move was hoped to raise votes for the Republican president. Ultimately, the change in threat-level was never implemented.
Tom Ridge, in his new book:
“A vigorous, some might say dramatic, discussion ensued [after the Bin Ladin tape]. Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level, and was supported by Rumsfeld. There was absolutely no support for that position within our [Homeland Security] Department. None. I wondered, ‘Is this about security or politics?’ Post-election analysis demonstrated a significant increase in the president’s approval rating in the days after raising of the threat level.
It … seemed possible to me and to others around the table that something could be afoot other than simple concern about the country’s safety. I believe our strong interventions had pulled the ‘go up’ advocates back from the brink. But I consider that episode to be not only a dramatic moment in Washington’s recent history, but another illustration of the intersection of politics, fear, credibility, and security. After that episode, I knew I had to follow through on my plans to leave the federal government.”
Another email forward from the family. This one has been on the internet for a few years.
The short version is this: an atheist professor tells a classroom that he’s going to prove that a good god doesn’t exist. He challenges a Christian student to prove him wrong. In the first half of the story, the professor launches an attack, and the student stays silent, apparently being unable to combat the arguments. In the second half of the story, another student stands up and argues back. He shoots down evolution, compares the professor to a preacher and forces the professor to admit his lectures have to be “taken on faith”.
The email seems to follow a familiar pattern of ‘learned professor with years of experience getting out-argued by a young Christian who puts his faith in Jesus’. The story let’s Christians indulge in a little fictional smack-down against atheist academics, and helps reinforce their idea that they’ve got truth on their side. It reminds me of some other similar stories (Worst. Satire. Ever. – Friendly Atheist) and another one in Chick Tracts:
I especially liked this comment after someone posted the story on their blog:
Amazing! Don’t you love it when science is proven wrong by God? It just reminds me of His power and supremacy!
I hope that’s satire.
The question is: how many errors and problems can you find in the story?
GOD vs. Science
A science professor begins his school year with a lecture to the students, ‘Let me explain the problem science has with religion.’ The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand.
Professor: ‘You’re a Christian, aren’t you, son?’
‘Yes sir,’ the student says.
Professor: ‘So you believe in God?’
Professor: ‘Is God good?’
‘Sure! God’s good.’
Professor: ‘Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?’
Professor: ‘Are you good or evil?’
‘The Bible says I’m evil.’
The professor grins knowingly. ‘Aha! The Bible!’ He considers for a
moment. ‘Here’s one for you. Let’s say there’s a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help him? Would you try?’
Student: ‘Yes sir, I would.’
Professor: ‘So you’re good….!’
‘I wouldn’t say that.’
Professor: ‘But why not say that? You’d help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn’t.’
The student does not answer, so the professor continues. ‘He doesn’t, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Hmmm? Can you answer that one?’
The student remains silent.
‘No, you can’t, can you?’ the professor says. He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax.
Professor: ‘Let’s start again, young fella. Is God good?’
‘Er…yes,’ the student says.
Professor: ‘Is Satan good?’
The student doesn’t hesitate on this one. ‘No.’
Professor: ‘Then where does Satan come from?’
The student falters.. ‘From God’
Professor: ‘That’s right. God made Satan, didn’t he? Tell me, son.. Is there evil in this world?’
Professor: ‘Evil’s everywhere, isn’t it? And God did make everything, correct?’
‘So who created evil?’ The professor continued, ‘If God created
everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil.’
Again, the student has no answer.
Professor: ‘Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?’
The student squirms on his feet. ‘Yes.’
Professor: ‘So who created them?’
The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question. ‘Who created them?’ There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized. ‘Tell me,’ he continues onto another student. ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?’
The student’s voice betrays him and cracks. ‘Yes, professor, I do.’
The old man stops pacing. ‘Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?’
‘No sir. I’ve never seen Him.’
Professor: ‘Then tell us if you’ve ever heard your Jesus?’
‘No, sir, I have not.’
Professor: ‘Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus? Have you ever had ! any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?’
‘No, sir, I’m afraid I haven’t.’
Professor: ‘Yet you still believe in him?’
Professor: ‘According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?’
‘Nothing,’ the student replies. ‘I only have my faith.’
‘Yes, faith,’ the professor repeats. ‘And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.’
At the back of the room another student stands quietly for a moment before asking a question of His own. ‘Professor, is there such thing as heat?’
‘Yes,’ the professor replies. ‘There’s heat.’
Student: ‘And is there such a thing as cold?’
Professor: ‘Yes, son, there’s cold too.’
Student: ‘No sir, there isn’t.’
The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested. The room suddenly becomes very quiet. The student begins to explain. ‘You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don’t have anything called ‘cold’. We can hit up to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest -458 degrees.’
‘Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.’
Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the classroom, sounding like a hammer.
‘What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?’
‘Yes,’ the professor replies without hesitation. ‘What is night if it isn’t darkness?’
‘You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light, but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it’s called darkness, isn’t it? That’s the meaning we use to define the word..’
‘In reality, darkness isn’t. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?’
The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. ‘So what point are you making, young man?’
‘Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.’
The professor’s face cannot hide his surprise this time. ‘Flawed? Can you explain how?’
‘You are working on the premise of duality,’ the student explains. ‘You argue that there is life and then there’s death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can’t even explain a thought.’
‘It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, just the absence of it..’
‘Now tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?’
‘If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do.’
‘Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?’
The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed.
‘Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a preacher?’
The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided.
‘To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean.’
The student looks around the room. ‘Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor’s brain?’ The class breaks out into laughter.
‘Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor’s brain, felt the professor’s brain, touched or smelt the professor’s brain? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all due respect, sir.’
‘So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?’
Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable.
Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers. ‘I guess you’ll have to take them on faith.’
‘Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with
life,’ the student continues. ‘Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?’
Now uncertain, the professor responds, ‘Of course, there is. We see it everyday. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.’
To this the student replied, ‘Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.’
The professor sat down.
If you read it all the way through and had a smile on your face when you finished, mail to your friends and family with the title: God vs Science.
… and that professor’s name was PZ Myers.
How many problems did you find? I’m sure I didn’t find all the problems. Here’s some of the issues that occurred to me as I read it:
- The story seems to be confused about whether he is a science professor (first sentence) or philosophy professor (third sentence). The argument is clearly more suited to a philosophy professor. But, making him a philosophy professor deprives Christians of the satisfaction of having a science professor be completely unable to defend evolution.
- The professor comes across as a smug know-it-all atheist who picks out a random Christian student from the class, makes him stand up and embarrasses him in front of the class. I guess they just want to make atheist academics as unlikeable as possible, but it seems like a pretty big stretch since any teacher should know better than to abuse a student in front of the class.
- No decent science professor would argue that science is about things you detect with your five senses. For example, no one has seen a radio wave, or an electron. Ernest Rutherford determined the structure of an atom without ever seeing protons or electrons. No one has seen the tectonic plates, and even our detection of extra-solar planets involves not seeing the planet directly, but detecting its gravitational effects on its star. “We detect its effects” is a good way to know something exists — and that includes the existence of a professor’s brain. Theoretically, we could even detect the existence of psychic powers (without seeing psychic energy floating through the air) – if psychics could actually do better than chance at things like reading people’s minds or knowing future events. By using this narrow definition of science, much of science (including the structure of the atom) is deemed to be “unscientific”, and therefore on the same level as faith in God. It’s fallacious to put them on the same level.
Now, some Christians might try to argue that God’s effects can be detected – they feel His love, etc – but psychological effects are difficult to distinguish from placebo effects. Even worse, other people from other religions and cults might feel the same things. If they actually had more empirical effects (legitimate faith healing, knowing things when they shouldn’t, prophecy, etc) then they might have a point. The professor’s point about God not healing the sick is one example of an indirect effect of God’s existence that could be detected.
- Evolution – The student tries to argue that no one has seen evolution with their five senses, therefore, it’s “faith”, just like faith in God. (Actually, this is a pretty good description of what creationists think about evolution. They think that the idea of evolution was created when scientists weaved together conjecture with a need for an non-theistic explanation for life.) Apparently, in order for evolution to be elevated to science, you’d need to watch evolution happen over a period of tens or hundreds of millions of years AND prove that God didn’t interfere when you weren’t looking. And, if you pointed out observations of evolution in fruit flies and bacteria, they’d call that “micro-evolution”, which is “totally different” than primate to human “macro-evolution”. But, as I said earlier, science does not need to rely on direct observation. Ultimately, the argument fails because there’s so much information from paleontology, genetics, etc.
- The student makes the argument that good and evil are like hot and cold. The problems with the “evil is the absence of good” arguments are this:
First, I don’t think “good” can be can be compared to heat. The student talks about infinite heat, but is there such a thing as “infinite good”? I don’t think so. Sure, Christians might say God is infinitely good, but I’m not sure how that’s anything but words. I think it’s entirely valid to say “on a scale of 0 to 1, zero means maximum evil and one means maximum good”. The problem is that there is no ‘right’ answer because good and evil are mental concepts, not physical, measurable characteristics, like heat. Further, we could imagine a cold, lifeless planet. Is there good or evil there? If evil is simply the absence of good, then it must be somewhere on the continuum between absolute good and absolute evil. But, that doesn’t work because a cold, lifeless planet cannot be described as good or evil – it simply is. You could say that it is absent of both, but you could never say that it is absent of heat and cold, absent of light and darkness.
Second, he says evil is the absence of God. If “evil is the absence of God”, then the cure for evil is God. This suggests that more prayer, more Bible study, and more moral living is the cure for sickness, famine, predators, and natural disasters. Yet, none of those things seem to have any effect on the natural evil in the world. This gets even more confusing with the Biblical teaching that ‘wherever two or three are gathered, God will be there’. Why, then, are sick Christians still sick if they meet and pray with a few other Christians? Why does God withhold his healing power? Is it possible to be “infinitely good” if you aren’t doing things to save people? For example, if you avoid throwing a life-preserver to a drowning man or ignore a man trapped inside a well, can you still call yourself perfectly good?
Third, sickness, predators, and death existed long before humans existed. Are we supposed to believe that snakes have venom and fangs because God wasn’t visiting earth frequently enough millions of years ago? At the same time, they deny evolution, so a complex system like fangs and venom (which paralyzes muscle) must’ve been “intelligently designed”. Apparently, God is designing the evil – and he’s perfectly good, too. He’s such a mystery.
Being from a rather religious family (both my immediate and extended family), I often get email forwards about various political or religious issues. I usually just roll my eyes and don’t respond. Here’s one of the latest email-forward from my aunt. I’ll spare you the full text – you can read it over at Snopes. (Snopes agrees that Darrell Scott made this speech, but points out the overblown language used to frame the piece and says the speech was never given to Congress.)
Subject: PLEASE READ THOUGHT PROVOKING
Guess our national leaders didn’t expect this, hmm? On Thursday, Darrell Scott, the father of Rachel Scott, a victim of the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado, was invited to address the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee. What he said to our national leaders during this special session of Congress was painfully truthful..
They were not prepared for what he was to say, nor was it received well. It needs to be heard by every parent, every teacher, every politician, every sociologist, every psychologist, and every so-called expert! These courageous words spoken by Darrell Scott are powerful, penetrating, and deeply personal.. There is no doubt that God sent this man as a voice crying in the wilderness. The following is a portion of the transcript:
* Actually Darrell Scott wasn’t speaking to Congress, he was “one of eight people who presented statements to a small House Subcommittee meeting in an office building; … and didn’t prompt outrage from an unreceptive audience”.
Religious people really love to cast themselves as the role of wise martyr speaking truth to power. I’m surprised they didn’t use this photograph to accompany the email:
“The first recorded act of violence was when Cain slew his brother Abel out in the field. The villain was not the club he used.. Neither was it the NCA, the National Club Association. The true killer was Cain, and the reason for the murder could only be found in Cain’s heart.
“In the days that followed the Columbine tragedy, I was amazed at how quickly fingers began to be pointed at groups such as the NRA. I am not a member of the NRA. I am not a hunter. I do not even own a gun. I am not here to represent or defend the NRA – because I don’t believe that they are responsible for my daughter’s death. Therefore I do not believe that they need to be defended. If I believed they had anything to do with Rachel’s murder I would be their strongest opponent.
Point #1: No to gun control. Conservatives are going to love this email, and so will the NRA. Of course, this was just a brief detour to talk about the real cause of this tragedy.
I am here today to declare that Columbine was not just a tragedy — it was a spiritual event that should be forcing us to look at where the real blame lies! Much of the blame lies here in this room. Much of the blame lies behind the pointing fingers of the accusers themselves. I wrote a poem just four nights ago that expresses my feelings best.
The blame for Columbine lies in this government room? The blame lies with people pointing fingers at those who accuse the NRA?
Your laws ignore our deepest needs,
Your words are empty air.
You’ve stripped away our heritage,
You’ve outlawed simple prayer.
Now gunshots fill our classrooms,
And precious children die.
You seek for answers everywhere,
And ask the question “Why?”
You regulate restrictive laws,
Through legislative creed.
And yet you fail to understand,
That God is what we need!
Point #2: We must pay tax dollars for (Christian) religious education, or else these kinds of shootings will happen again.
So, the blame for Columbine lies with those who “outlawed” prayer in schools, preventing children from finding what they need — God.
Of course, the government never outlawed prayer in schools. The government outlawed the practice of teachers (authority figures paid by the general public’s tax dollars) leading students (a captive audience of other people’s children) in prayers to a religion they may or may not believe in. The solution to Columbine is in using tax dollars for religious education — but only as long as it promotes their particular religious view.
I like some of those lines:
“Your laws ignore our deepest needs,”. Our deepest need is to indoctrinate other people’s children? And why do public schools have to allow the teaching of religion? Aren’t there other places to do that, or must “all our deepest needs” be met in schools?
“You’ve stripped away our heritage”. “Heritage” meaning “Christianity”, and “stripped away” meaning “you won’t let us make other people’s children pray to Jesus”.
“You’ve outlawed simple prayer.” Prayer isn’t outlawed in schools.
One of my former neighbors believes in all kinds of new age / wicca moon-goddess beliefs. She’s also a public school teacher. I think we all know what would happen if she started leading other people’s children in prayers. Christians would protest and complain, but it’s totally different if it’s their religion that’s getting taught. Admittedly, those are different situations: my neighbor would lead innocent, impressionable children in prayer to a false idol – the demonic moon-goddess, rather than showing them the way to the One True God.
“Men and women are three-part beings. We all consist of body, mind, and spirit. When we refuse to acknowledge a third part of our make-up, we create a void that allows evil, prejudice, and hatred to rush in and wreak havoc. Spiritual presences were present within our educational systems for most of our nation’s history. Many of our major colleges began as theological seminaries. This is a historical fact. What has happened to us as a nation? We have refused to honor God, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and violence… The real villain lies within our own hearts.
Hmm, I think most of this speech could be repeated by devout Muslims in any historically Islamic territory. A good way to entrench the dominant religion.
“As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes, he did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right! I challenge every young person in America, and around the world, to realize that on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School prayer was brought back to our schools. Do not let the many prayers offered by those students be in vain. Dare to move into the new millennium with a sacred disregard for legislation that violates your God-given right to communicate with Him.
This totally plays into the Christian-conservative myth that prayer was outlawed in schools. By perpetuating this myth, they try to turn “teachers can’t lead students in prayer” into some kind of burden on Christians and the one true God. I especially like how he tries to pretend that politicians were trying to deny students the right to pray in school.
Do what the media did not – - let the nation hear this man’s speech..
Yes, the media did not let the nation hear this man’s speech. The media is against Christians, and are working to suppress the truth. Or, maybe they just didn’t think it was newsworthy. Interesting spin, though. I think I’ll try it with this blog-post: “Do what the media did not — let the nation read my blog post!”
Today, I got an email from another relative where she says that it’s obvious that we needed to overturn the ban on prayer in school. Ugh.
liberals protest war; conservatives protest health care.
People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.
Yeah, good thing he’s not from the UK!
Of course, if you go to that op-ed today, they’ve removed the quote – probably out of embarrassment. (Yes, I personally saw the quote in the article a few days ago.) Now, they have this disclaimer:
Editor’s Note: This version corrects the original editorial which implied that physicist Stephen Hawking, a professor at the University of Cambridge, did not live in the UK.
And Stephen Hawking responds here.
Yeah, things have been heating up with the government health-care debate. Personally, I’m kind of a pragmatist on the issue. Maybe government healthcare will lower costs. But, maybe it will lead to reduced quality. I don’t know. It does seem like we should have at least some base-level of healthcare in the US. (I say that as someone who lived without healthcare for several years. I also know that medical bills are the number one reason for bankruptcy in the US.) One thing that does worry me, though, is the inability to even talk about these issues. Sometimes I worry for humanity when debates immediately get dragged down into dumb arguments and shouting.
The other day, some of my neighbors were talking about government healthcare. One neighbor in particular argued that government healthcare was socialism. And socialism was basically communism. And communism leads to everyone losing all their rights. (No, I’m not kidding.) For ten minutes he couldn’t help but repeat that argument over and over in various forms. I didn’t bother weighing in on the issue because I could see it was pointless.
Now, people are shouting down speakers at town-hall meetings. Do I think it’s staged, that these people are republican operatives involved in a plot to drag their feet and intentionally stop any kind of intelligent conversation on the issue? I don’t think they’re being paid, but I do think right-wing pundits are definitely doing what they can to inflame the public and provoke a reaction that shuts-down any kind of intelligent conversation on the issue. And I definitely think they are instructing republicans to show up and demonstrate against government healthcare.
Of course, republicans have been caught in the past staging fake ‘grassroots’ campaigns that are made to look like spontaneous demonstrations. Sit back and marvel at the games republicans have played:
See also, the Daily Show’s take on the matter (*clicking on the image below will open a new window):
Can anyone really deny that politicians and political pundits have secret plans to undermine the political system, that they are trying to game the American people – to get their preferred outcome?