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Archive for January, 2008

Wow. I’ve read all kinds of information about discrimination against atheists, but it always seems like there’s more. This is pretty ridiculous:

Early this month, MySpace again deleted the Atheist and Agnostic Group (35,000 members). This deletion, due largely to complaints from people who find atheism offensive, marks the second time MySpace has cancelled the group since November 2007.

What’s unique in this case is that the Atheist and Agnostic Group was the largest collection of organized atheists in the world. The group had its own Wikipedia entry, and in April won the Excellence in Humanist Communication Award (2007) from the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University and the Secular Student Alliance.

“MySpace refuses to undelete the group, although it never violated any terms of service,” said Bryan Pesta, Ph.D., the group’s moderator. “When the largest Christian group was hacked, MySpace’s Founder, Tom Anderson, personally restored the group, and promised to protect it from future deletions.”

“My personal profile was deleted as well, and despite weeks of emails to customer service, plus a petition signed by 500 group members, MySpace won’t budge. I think these actions send a clear message to the 30 million godless people in America (and to businesses whose money was spent displaying ads on our group) that we are not welcome on MySpace,” said Pesta [moderator of the Atheist and Agnostic Group].
http://www.secularstudents.org/node/1933

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Are you familiar with Coast to Coast radio? It’s a popular syndicated radio program that talks about all kinds of crazy phenomena – UFOs, bigfoot, 9/11 conspiracy theories, David Icke’s “the world governments are controlled by aliens” stuff. Anyone can call in and talk about stuff. Needless to say, there is no need to substantiate anything you say on the show.

Familiar with Gordon Freeman and the G-Man from the Half Life video game?

The Coast to Coast program gets pranked:

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“Two young men take a turn down the wrong street…”

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A War on Scientology

This video was posted 5 days ago. It already has over one million views and 10,000+ comments. I say good. Let’s eliminate scientology.

Related Posts:
TinyFrog: Scientology
TinyFrog: Positive testimony about Scientology

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Booksthatmakeyoudumb

This is an interesting little graph. Some guy looked up the ten most popular books at every college. Then he looked up the average SAT/ACT score for those colleges, and graphed the correlation between being a popular book and SAT scores.

He also sorts the book by category. The books correlated with the lowest SAT scores? Erotica correlates with lowest scores (with the exception of “Lolita” which is correlated with high SAT scores). African-American literature is the second lowest category – which isn’t surprising since being African-American correlates with liking African-American literature and having low test scores. Dystopian literature (Fahrenheit 451, 1984, etc) is third. And religious literature is the fourth lowest category. “The Holy Bible” is the lowest in that category, and is in the 9th lowest position of all 100 books in the list. Admittedly, “The Bible” also appears in the list, at a higher position. (Is there an intelligence correlation between calling it “The Holy Bible” versus “The Bible”? Are you more intelligent if you leave out the “Holy”?) In fact, “I don’t read” was correlated with higher SAT scores than people who listed “The Holy Bible”.

Surprisingly, The Book of Mormon has the highest SAT correlation in the religion category. You know – that book written by the charlatan psychic Joseph Smith that says Jews sailed to America in 600 B.C., populated the Americas (despite genetic evidence to the contrary), and had massive wars (that no one can find any archaeological evidence of)?

The highest SAT scores were correlated with the categories of the classics, philosophy, and science fiction.

Anyway, it was nice to see my old school in the 84th percentile of American colleges.

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Jesus Camp

Wow. The entire movie “Jesus Camp” is up on Google Video.

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< Previous: The non-believers review of “The Case for Faith” – Objection #3, part 2

Objection #4: God isn’t worthy of Worship if he kills Innocent Children

The chapter involves an interview with Norman L. Geisler PhD who teaches at the Southern Evangelical Seminary in North Carolina, and is an author of numerous Christian apologetics books. Strobel begins with a quote by Thomas Paine:

“Thomas Paine wrote in the Age of Reason: ‘Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the work of a demon, than the word of God.'” …
“How would you respond to him if he were sitting here today?”

Geisler adjusted his gold-rimmed glasses, then remarked with a chuckle, “First of all, I’d say too bad he didn’t have a Bible. When he wrote the first part of The Age of Reason, he didn’t have one. But apart from that, I think he’s confusing two things: what the Bible records and what the Bible approves.”

“For instance, the Bible records Satan’s lies and David’s adultery, but it doesn’t approve of them,” he explained. “It’s true that there are a lot of gross stories in the Bible. The book of Judges reports the raping of a woman, then cutting her in twelve pieces and sending one piece to each of the tribes of Israel. But the Bible certainly doesn’t approve of that. Secondly, I think that Paine is just factually wrong. The Bible doesn’t have any cruel and torturous executions that God commanded.” (p.164)

Wait. What? My eyes got wide just reading that. “The Bible doesn’t have any cruel and torturous executions that God commanded”? Wow. Strobel protests with a wimpy example of David torturing his enemies. Even if Strobel’s example was 100% true, he has a hard time connecting David’s actions to God’s will. It’s amazing that Strobel will start out with a pretty good question, and then immediately buckle when any poor explanation is given, and he can’t seem to raise a decent counter-argument. Does Strobel (and Geisler for that matter) even know the Bible?

Strobel moves on:

“Isn’t there a big difference between the often-cruel God of the Old Testament and the loving God of the New Testament?”

Geisler smiled. “It’s interesting you ask that,” he replied, “because I just did a study of every time the Bible uses the word that the King James Version translates as ‘mercy’. I found it occurs 261 times in the Bible — and seventy-two percent of them are in the Old Testament. That’s a three-to-one ratio. Then I studied the word ‘love’ and found it occurs 322 times in the Bible, about half in each Testament. So you have the same emphasis on love in both. (p.165)

Geisler ignores the fact that the Old Testament is quite a bit larger than the New Testament. The Authorized King James Version has 1291 pages. 987 of them (76%) are the Old Testament. This means “love” occurs three times more frequently in the New Testament than the Old. Additionally, it depends quite a bit on the context that the words are used. Song of Soloman (a collection of poems, often describing a man’s lust for a woman) probably uses the word “love” quite a bit, but it has nothing to do with religion.

But, Strobel raises no questions, and buckles again under Geisler’s argument:

“There’s no evolution in God’s character, then?”

“That’s right. In fact, the Bible says, ‘I the Lord do not change.’ In both testaments you’ve got the identical, unchangeable God — the one who is so holy he cannot look upon sin, and yet the one whose loving, merciful, gracious, and compassionate heart wants forgiveness on all people who repent.” (p.165)

Ah, and that’s the reason apologists can’t have the Old Testament God being any different than the New Testament one: it raises too many questions and hints that God was evolving along with the culture – i.e. imaginary. So, they have to squash any hint that the Old Testament God and New Testament God are too different to be the same person.

Already, I’ve got a hint about Geisler’s strategy for explaining God’s actions in the Old Testament: when it involves killing, it’s because of he is “so holy he cannot look upon sin”.

Fortunately, Strobel comes back around and raises the question of mass killings in the Old Testament:

“God ordered the execution of every Egyptian firstborn; he flooded the world and killed untold thousands of people; he told the Israelites: ‘Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ That sounds more like a violent and brutal God than a loving one. How can people be expected to worship him if he orders innocent children to be slaughtered?”

Despite the force of the question, Geisler retained a calm and reasoned tone. [Of course he did. He knows Strobel isn’t seriously antagonizing him.] “This shows,” he said, “that God’s character is absolutely holy, and that he has got to punish sin and rebellion. He’s a righteous judge; that’s undeniably part of who he is. But, second, his character is also merciful. Listen: if anyone wants to escape, he will let them.” (p.166)

Now, Geisler never ends up addressing the global flood or the killing of the firstborn of Egypt. (And, I’ve talked about the killings of the firstborn children in another post: The Bible you haven’t read – Part 3). The killings of the firstborn children is, in my opinion, the least defensible of the three – partly because God “hardens the Pharaoh’s heart” preventing him from making the decision to let the Jews go, and so everyone in the entire country suffers because of it. Further, the book of Exodus tells us why God kills the firstborn and hardens the Pharaoh’s heart: it’s so that God’s “wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt”.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you; that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt. And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land. (Exodus 11:9-10)

The Bible explicitly says that the Ten Plagues happen so that God can show his power to everyone. It never says that the Egyptians are evil and need to be punished — although, some Christian apologists have made-up stories where the Egyptians are evil so that the killings are “justified”.

But, back to the book, Geisler never talks about the killing of the firstborn in Egypt. He does talk about the genocide in Deuteronomy, though. He tries the same tactic: the neighbors of the Israelites are very, very bad and deserve death (apparently in the same way that governments use capital punishment against criminals).

“Let’s start with the Amalekites,” he began. “Listen, Lee, they were far from innocent. Far from it. These were not nice people. In fact, they were utterly and totally depraved. Their mission was to destroy Israel. In other words, to commit genocide. As if that weren’t evil enough, think what was hanging in the balance. The Israelites were the chosen people through whom God would bring salvation to the entire world through Jesus Christ.”

So you’re saying they deserved to be destroyed?” I asked.

“The destruction of their nation was necessitated by the gravity of their sin,” Geisler said. “Had some hardcore remnant survived, they might have resumed their aggression against the Israelites and God’s plan. These were a persistent and vicious and warring people. To show you how reprehensible they were, they had been following the Israelites and had been cowardly slaughtering the most vulnerable among them — the weak, elderly, and disabled who were lagging behind.

“They wanted to wipe out every last one of the Israelites off the face of the earth. God could have dealt with them through a natural disaster like a flood, but instead he used Israel as his instrument of judgment. He took action not only for the sake of the Israelites, but ultimately for the sake of everyone through history whose salvation would be provided by the Messiah who was to be born among them.” (p.167)

So, Geisler wants to make them criminals who deserve death — thus justifying their genocide as justice. First of all, there were many different groups God told the Israelites to “totally destroy”: the Amalekites, Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, and Midianites. Further, the Old Testament makes clear that the reason they must be killed was because they owned the land God was giving to the Jews, they might intermarry with the “Chosen People”, and lead the Jews to worship other Gods. Geisler shouldn’t be able to get away with talking about one and only one group as if it was the entirety of the genocide God commanded. According to the Bible, it was primarily about purity – purity of the “Chosen People” and their allegiance to Yahweh. In other places, the Old Testament does say that they are wicked people, but it’s amazing how many times other reasons are given.

Deuteronomy 7:

“When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you- and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”

Further, as far as I can tell Geisler makes up all these terrible things about the Amalekites. The history of the Amalekites as told by the Old Testament is that they hounded the Israelites in the desert – even killing those who were lagging behind (Deuteronomy 25:17-18). The Israelites and Amalekites are involved in some battles (Exodus 17; Numbers 13), including Jews attacking the Amalekite cities. Hundreds of years later, they were involved in destroying the Israelites’ crops. The Old Testament does describe them as wicked (Deuteronomy 9, Deuteronomy 18, Leviticus 18), but not in the terms Geisler uses (attempting to commit genocide). Additionally, their warfare against Israel is hardly surprising considering that the Israelites were attempting to conquer their lands. For example, Numbers 13 shows the Jews plotting to “go up and take possession of the land” – and explicitly mentions the lands of the Amalekites among other tribes. What would you do if a bunch of people started invading your lands, and what was the typical response of ancient Middle Eastern nations to invading people? Never are the Amalekites described as wanting to commit genocide against the Jews (although, they were probably pretty unhappy about the Jews moving into their neighborhood and trying to “take possession of the land”). It would be understandable that the Jews would hate the Amalekites (and vice-versa) after this bitter conflict, but that’s a different issue than whether the Amalekites were somehow “totally depraved”. Compared to the Old Testament version of events, Geisler seems to be making up all kinds of horrible crimes the Amalekites are guilty of. (For verification, here are all the places “Amalekite” appears in the Bible.)

I should add that the Midianites are also supposed to be wiped out in a similar way – kill all of them (Numbers 31). The major crime of the Midianites was that they were having sex with Jews, intermarrying with the Jews, and some of the Jews were even starting to worship their gods. As a result, they had to die — all of them except the virgin women, whom the Israelites were allowed to keep. Which is very strange – if God didn’t want the Jews having sex with them, marrying them, or having the Midianites influence them, then what was the point of keeping these virgin Midianite girls? They were either turned into slaves or wives for the Jews. The Old Testament specifically teaches that the Jews were allowed to marry any female captives (Deuteronomy 12:10-11).

So, that’s nine different groups of people that the Israelites were supposed to completely destroy.

“But the children,” I protested. “Why did innocent children need to be killed?”

“Let’s keep in mind,” he said, “that technically nobody is truly innocent. The Bible says in Psalm 51 that we’re all born in sin’ that is, with the propensity to rebel and commit wrongdoing.” (p.168)

Uh, yeah. I’m sure lawyers will want to have that argument in their playbook the next time they want to defend a murderer who has killed a child. “The child totally had it coming, your honor.” Does Geisler seriously want us to accept that children are not only “not truly innocent”, but that they are so guilty that they deserve death? By the way, keep this argument in mind because Geisler will contradict himself on the very next page.

I also can’t imagine what it would be like to be an Israeli soldier – you are commanded by God to take your sword, club, or any other weapon you had – and kill a child. Isn’t there something reprehensible about commanding a human being to live with themselves – with the emotional guilt and memory – of killing a child?

“Also, we need to keep in mind God’s sovereignty over life. An atheist once brought up this issue in a debate, and I responded by saying, ‘God created life and he has the right to take it. If you can create life, then you can have the right to take it. But if you can’t create it, you don’t have that right.’ And the audience applauded. (p.168)

This always sounds like the abusive dad who shouts at his kid, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.” Is Geisler going to support parent’s killing of their children because they “created” them? I’m sure he’d use some sort of dodge like “God actually forms children in the womb” to prevent parents from using that same principle. Personally, I believe that the fact that someone possesses consciousness gives them certain inalienable rights – which not even a creator can ignore. If I were to create an artificially intelligent robot that was conscious, then I would have certain limitations on what I could do it it. Also, if a robot designer constructed a conscious-robot, and then slowly cut the thing apart sadistically – to the robot’s horror – I would regard that person as evil.

Further, if God can do anything to anyone he created, and that action does not reflect badly on him, then is there anything God could do that would make him bad? If he routinely stole babies away from their mothers and sadistically tortured them to death, would that make God bad? According to Geisler’s logic, the answer is “no”.

“People assume that what’s wrong for us is wrong for God. However, it’s wrong for me to take your life, because I didn’t make it and I don’t own it. For example, it’s wrong for me to go into your yard and pull up your bushes, cut them down, kill them, transplant them, move them around. I can do that in my yard, because I own bushes in my yard.

Well, God is sovereign over all life and he has the right to take it if he wishes. In fact, we tend to forget that God takes the life of every human being. It’s called death. The only question is when and how, which we have to leave up to him.” (p.168)

Again, I think consciousness is the primary question here. You can do that to your own bushes because you own them and they are not conscious. Further, theists like to couch death in terms of “God’s will” and “it’s their time” to the extent that it’s comforting, but many other Christians would simply explain death as a natural event which is a consequence of sin which God does not intervene to prevent. If we truly took the “God takes the life of every human being” claim seriously, then it would mean all our efforts to protect people and prevent death – through vaccines, medicine, seatbelts, etc – were somehow unnatural and against God’s will.

Additionally, Geisler’s logic (“we tend to forget that God takes the life of every human being”) ignores the fact that we see the death of elderly people as less tragic than the death of children. This is because elderly people have lived a complete life, the most time any human can expect to have. Children barely had a chance to live before their life was ended.

“Socially and physically, the fate of children throughout history has always been with their parents, whether that’s for good of for ill,” he pointed out.

“But, Lee, you need to understand the situation among the Amalekites. In that throughly evil and violent and depraved culture, there was no hope for those children. This nation was so polluted that it was like gangrene that was taking over a person’s leg, and God had to amputate the leg or the gangrene would spread and wouldn’t be anything left.” (p.168-169)

Again, Geisler brings up the Amalekites were totally evil claim – even though the verses commanding their slaughter specifically referenced attacks on the Jews which happened hundreds of years earlier. He says their evil would spread, so they had to be killed – you know, along with all the other tribes who had the audacity to live on the lands God told the Israelites to forcibly conquer. But, if they were like “gangrene”, and their crime was attacking the Jews hundreds of years earlier, then why was this “gangrene” left to “spread” for hundreds of years?

I can’t help but be reminded of other genocidal campaigns in history and how they involve words like “they are a cancer” and “their evil justifies our killing them”. A while back I saw some books produced by the Nazis in the 1930s, and they were full of information about the “evils” of the Jews, how the Jews were keeping the good German people down, etc.

“In a sense, God’s action was an act of mercy.”

“Mercy?” I asked. “How so?”

“According to the Bible, every child who dies before the age of accountability goes to heaven to spend eternity in the presence of God,” he replied. “Now, if they had continued to live in that horrible society, past the age of accountability, they undoubtedly would have become corrupted and thereby lost forever.”

“Isaiah 7:16 talks about an age before a child is morally accountable, before the child ‘knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.’ (p.169)

So – remember Geisler’s earlier statement one page earlier: “technically nobody is truly innocent… we’re all born in sin”? Well, ignore that. Children are innocent when we want them to be, and not innocent when we don’t want them to be. Children aren’t “truly innocent” and they are “born in sin”, but they still go to heaven. However, they are evil enough that killing them isn’t really that bad. Got it?

I’m sure Geisler’s argument will give much comfort to Andrea Yates, the crazy Christian woman who killed her five young children to save them from hell. Yates told her jail psychiatrist: “It was the seventh deadly sin. My children weren’t righteous. They stumbled because I was evil. The way I was raising them, they could never be saved. They were doomed to perish in the fires of hell.” Maybe she wasn’t so crazy afterall – maybe she was just reaching the logical conclusion of Christian teaching. Strobel raises the question of “why isn’t abortion okay, then” and Geisler says parents aren’t justified in aborting children – even if aborted children go to heaven. Additionally, he claims that our culture isn’t as corrupt as the Amalekites, so children have a chance of being saved. Geisler ignores the obvious counter-argument that if 100% of children go to heaven before the “age of accountability” and a lower percentage of adults go to heaven, then even though the act of killing is wrong, it is undoubtedly beneficial to the children to kill them before that age? Thus, what Andrea Yates did was take the blame of murder five times over, but she guaranteed her children’s future in heaven.

Geisler then goes on to say that the Amalekites could have changed their ways, but they stubbornly refused for centuries. Nevermind that: (1) Geisler seems to be making-up their crimes, (2) God tells the Israelites to totally destroy numerous tribes at the moment they enter the “Holy Land”, (3) and it’s clear that their worship of pagan gods plus their influence on the Jews is the reason the Old Testament says to kill them. (And, it should be added that Old Testament law says that they are supposed to kill anyone who attempts to persuade them to worship other gods.) Giesler claims that they had “lot of warnings”, but fails to actually detail what those warnings were.

“And consider this: most of the women and children would have fled in advance before the actual fighting began, leaving behind the warriors to face the Israelites. The fighters who remained would have been the most hardened, the one who stubbornly refused to leave, the carriers of the corrupt culture. So it’s really questionable how many women and children might actually have been involved anyway. (p.171)

First of all, it’s all fantasy to say that the women and children would have left. Certainly, there are refugees in times of war, but not everyone leaves even when they know something is coming. The poor, in particular, are in a bad position to leave their cities and homes. Remember how many people were still in New Orleans when Katrina hit? Further, according to Numbers 31, when the Israelites attacked the Midianites, they captured 32,000 virgin women. If 32,000 virgin girls were captured, then it tells us that lots of different people were still in the cities – including lots of children. It certainly wasn’t just a bunch of battle-hardened, depraved soldiers. And, if their culture was so evil it had to be cut out like a “cancer” (as Geisler says), then why did God permit the Israelites to keep these women?

While Giesler doesn’t address it, I’ve heard apologists also claim that it was okay to kill the children because their evil parents were killed. They were orphans, and that means either the Israelites would have to raise them, leave them (probably to starve), or kill them. All of these options avoids the obvious fact that God is omnipotent. Theoretically, if God wanted to eliminate the Amalekites and their “evil” culture, the most humane way to do it would probably be to simply lower their fertility. Fewer children means they would eventually shrink down to nothing, and their culture would disappear. It wouldn’t involve killing anyone – and certainly not any children.

“Besides, under the rules of conduct God had given to the Israelites, whenever they went into an enemy city they were to first make the people an offer of peace. The people had a choice: they could accept that offer, in which case they wouldn’t be killed, or they could reject the offer at their own peril. That’s appropriate and fair.”

I had to admit these insights shed new light on the situation … And as troubling as these passages are, it helped to know that Israel would offer peace before engaging in a fight and that the biblical pattern was that repentant people are given opportunities to avoid the judgement. (p.171-172)

First of all, I think it’s clear that option was never offered to the Amalekites. Just read 1 Samuel 15:2-3: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” (And this justification for killing the Amalekites is rather bizarre when you consider that the Amalekite’s attack on the Israelites happened hundreds of years earlier than this command to kill them. Talk about delayed justice. If God was so angry about it, why didn’t he do something hundreds of years earlier? And, why do the great-great-great-great grandchildren have to pay for it now? I don’t know about you, but I would hate to think that God would suddenly decide to punish me for something my ancestors did hundreds of years ago – and even more bizarrely, he didn’t punish them.)

Regarding the more general claim of making peace, Geisler doesn’t tell the whole story. Here’s what the Old Testament says regarding attacking cities that don’t belong to their immediate neighbors:

When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. (Deuteronomy 20:10-15)

Geisler says nothing about the fact that cities who surrender are put into slavery under the Jews. He calls it “appropriate and fair”. And that’s how the Jews were supposed to treat cities that don’t belong to the seven nations mentioned in Deuteronomy. The Jews were supposed to treat the seven nations more severely, as described in Deuteronomy: “you must destroy [the seven nations] totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.”

They then move on to an odd story of Elisha where some kids start making fun of his bald head, Elisha curses them, and then some bears come out of the forest and maul them to death – 42 children mauled to death for calling him names. Predictably, Geisler uses a little bit of imagination to turn “little children” (from the King James Version) or “young men” (in other translations) into “As best we can tell, this was a violent mob of dangerous teenagers, comparable to a modern street gang.” (p.173) Clearly, the Bible isn’t providing any of the details that Geisler needs to justify God’s actions, but that won’t stop him from making them up. Geisler goes on to say they were contemptuous of God and his prophet, Elisha’s life was in danger, and that God jealously guards the authority of his prophet. He also says that killing them wasn’t wrong because God was their creator – which means he can do whatever he wants to them, and it’s okay.

They move on to the question of why God created a world where animals must kill animals for food to survive – isn’t that unnecessarily cruel? Geisler argues God didn’t create the carnivorous world that we see today – the original creation was vegetarian (and, yes, Genesis does say this). Geisler claims that they became carnivores after the Fall – that Adam and Eve’s sin affected everything, including animals’ eating habits. Nevermind the fact that many animals cannot live on a vegetarian diet. Cats, for example, are incapable of getting the proper nutrition without eating animals. Lots of animals clearly have body parts “designed” for a carnivorous diet – like snake’s venom, the scorpion’s tail, the spider’s venom and web-building abilities. From within their worldview, they still have a hard time denying that God must’ve designed animals to be carnivores. Or is he claiming that Adam’s sin was a magical force that attached new body parts and new genes to God’s nice little vegetarian animals?

“What about all the pain in the world as a result of animals hunting and killing other animals?” I asked. “The sum total of suffering that God allows in the world is absolutely enormous.”

“I think that entire presupposition is wrong,” he replied. “As C. S. Lewis said, there is no sum total of pain. It’s a misnomer. No one person or animals experiences the sum total of pain. In fact, no one person experiences at one time the sum total of pain of their lifetime. If you had thirty ounces of pain spread over thirty years, you only get an ounce a year and therefore only a fraction of an ounce a day.

“As far as animals are concerned, we have to remember that the Bible clearly forbids their abuse. Christians should oppose any mistreatment of animals… it’s morally wrong to be cruel to them. (p.177-178)

I just had to quote that section because of the bizarreness of the response. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t figure out what Geisler is talking about here. Strobel asks a perfectly reasonable question about the suffering of animals, and Geisler digresses into some odd commentary on the words “sum total of suffering” without answering the question. I also can’t figure out why Strobel even put it in the book.

The second half of this chapter is spent talking about the evidence that the Bible is actually true (despite the fact that the chapter is named “Objection #4: God isn’t worthy of Worship if he kills Innocent Children”).

Next: The non-believers review of “The Case for Faith” – Objection #4, part 2

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Rosenhouse’ has a new post on Intelligent Design predictions. I’ve seen these “predictions” before and found them laughable. The original post was written by Denyse O’Leary (shiver) at her blog. Once upon a time, I spent about a month commenting on the UncommonDescent blog. I found her posts to be incredibly irritating for her tendency to pontificate on things she clearly knew nothing about – not to mention her tendency to censor my comments. (I’m not sure if there were any of my comments that she didn’t censor. Which is ironic considering ID’s latest tactic to to claim evolutionists are censoring them and preventing open discussion.)

I recently had the misfortune of hearing her voice on a podcast. Ugh. There’s no way I could listen to that.

Well, there is a way to test claims about God. Ask him! Lots of people claim to have personal relationships with God (although, oddly, he never seems to return their calls). Some even claim that they have discussions with God – and God answers back. Hey, if that isn’t proof of God, I don’t know what is. Kinda reminds me of Carlton Pearson‘s transition from fundamentalist to liberal Christian. See, one day, he was watching TV, and he started having a conversation with God about how terrible it was that anyone goes to hell. God told him that everyone goes to heaven. The fundamentalists called him a heretic, because that contradicted the Bible. And, besides, they talk to God too, and God totally told them that Carlton was wrong. Isn’t it great when God plays tricks by giving two different Christians two totally different teachings?

Well, we can actually test the whole “God is omniscient” claim. (See, religion is testable, just like science!) I’ll ask a question, pray for an answer, and then write it down. If God is omniscient, he should know the answer to every question. Since I’m not quite sure how to grade the test, I think I’ll consult the greatest repository of knowledge known to man: Google.

Question #1: What is the square root of 5938? (Rounded to the nearest tenth.)
Answer: (silence)

Question #2: Who is the leader of Uzbekistan?
Answer: (silence)

Question #3: What day of the week was January 1, 1980?
Answer: (silence)

Google says:
Question #1: What is the square root of 5938? 77.0584194 (thanks google, but I only needed it to the nearest tenth. Google is such an overachiever.)

Question #2: Who is the leader of Uzbekistan? Google lead me to wikipedia which says President “Islom Karimov” and Prime Minister “Shavkat Mirziyoyev”. (Either would be fine for credit.)

Question #3: What day of the week was January 1, 1980? According to the first link on google, it was a Tuesday.

Unfortunately, God didn’t answer any of the questions at all, which means they all get marked as a zero. Oh well. I hope God never ends up on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”, he’d totally blow it. Remember: if you have a question, don’t go to the “omniscient” guy (he scored a zero!), go to google!

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Odd Conversations

I sometimes go to the coffeeshop or the library to work. And, there are times when I hear some rather odd conversations. Today, I was at the library and a Native American guy walks past my table. He has some Indian jewelery on, and he’s around his mid-twenties. He starts talking to a second Native American. I wasn’t really paying attention until I realized they were talking about some Native American independence movement. He saying that “it’s already happening” and they’re going to take-back Montana, Wyoming, and Nebraska. They’re going to secede from the United States, he says. He’s using phrases like “the wheels are already spinning”, and “we are a strong people who are standing up to the enemy — fighting for freedom”. The second Native American isn’t buying it, arguing that the United States would never let that happen, and that the civil war happened when the South tried to secede. I was just amazed how much the first guy had his head filled with all these completely unrealistic ideas about carving a new Native-American nation out of the United States.

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< Previous: The non-believers review of “The Case for Faith” – Objection #3, part 1

On abiogenesis:

This section begins with a short discussion on Darwin’s speculative remark about life forming spontaneously in “some warm little pond”. Bradley comments:

But simultaneous with the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, Francesco Redi demonstrated that meat that was kept away from flies never developed maggots. Then Louis Pasteur showed that air contains microorganisms that can multiply in water, giving the illusion of spontaneous generation of life. He announced at the Sorbonne in Paris that ‘never will the doctrine of spontaneous generation recover from the mortal blow of this simple experiment.’.. But then in the 1920s, some scientists said they agreed with Pasteur that spontaneous genesis doesn’t happen in a short time frame. But they theorized that if you had billions and billions of years — as the late astronomer Carl Sagan liked to say — then it might really happen after all.” (p.132-133)

Fortunately, Bradley doesn’t try to play the game that a lot of creationists try — claiming that Pasteur proved abiogenesis can’t happen, as if atheists must deny the results of Pasteur’s experiment. The idea of abiogenesis is that the formation of life is unlikely, but given lots of time and all the surface area of planets all over the universe, some fortunate accident happens. That’s a very different situation than the tiny beaker and short time-frame of Pasteur’s experiment. To use an analogy, abiogenesis says that if you buy a bunch of lottery tickets each week, then over a long period of time, you’ll eventually win the jackpot. Creationists argue that Pasteur proved that no one wins the lottery: go out and buy one ticket, and when you don’t win, it proves that no one ever wins.

Additionally, oxygen prevents the formation of organic chemicals. Earth’s early atmosphere had very little oxygen, but modern earth has a lot of oxygen – produced by photosynthesis. This is another way Pasteur’s experiment is limited: it’s evidence against spontaneous generation inside the modern, oxygen-rich atmosphere. I should reiterate that Strobel doesn’t make this creationist argument, but it’s a common claim among creationists in general. For example, Answers in Genesis: “Pasteur’s work should have dealt the death blow to the idea of spontaneous generation. But spontaneous generation is an essential part of the theory of evolution.” (Link)

I remember being taught in school about [Miller-Urey’s] landmark experiment in which he recreated the atmosphere of the primitive earth in a laboratory and shot electricity through it to simulate the effects of lightning. Before long, he found that amino acids — the building blocks of life — had been created. I can remember my biology teacher recounting the experiment with an infectious enthusiasm, suggesting it proved conclusively that life could have emerged from nonliving chemicals.

Bradley: “For a while, evolutionists were euphoric. But there was a major problem with the experiment that has invalidated its results.”

I had never been taught anything in school about the Miller experiment being fatally flawed. “What was the problem?” I asked.

“Miller and Oparin didn’t have any real proof that the earth’s early atmosphere was composed of ammonia, methane, and hydrogen, which Miller used in his experiments. They based their theory on physical chemistry. They wanted to get a chemical reaction that would be favorable, and so they proposed that the atmosphere was rich in those gases. Oparin was smart enough to know that if you start with inert gases like nitrogen and carbon dioxide, they won’t react.”

My eyes got wide. This was a devastating critique of Miller’s experiment. “Are you saying that the deck was stacked in advance to get the results they wanted?” I asked, incredulity in my voice.

“Essentially, yes,” he replied.

“What was the real environment of the early earth like?” I asked.

“From 1980 on, NASA scientists have shown that the primitive earth never had any methane, ammonia or hydrogen to amount to anything,” he said. “Instead, it was composed of water, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen — and you absolutely cannot get the same experimental results with that mixture. It just won’t work. More recent experiments have confirmed this to be the case.”

“So the scientific significance of Miller’s experiment today…,” I began, prompting Bradley to finish my sentence.

“… is zilch,” he said. “When textbooks present the Miller experiment, they should be honest enough to say it was interesting historically but not terribly relevant to how life actually developed.” (p.134-136)

First of all, they accuse Miller and Urey of “stacking the deck” – to put it more bluntly: cheating – to get their results. It’s as if they want to undermine their credibility as scientists. But, is it cheating if they didn’t know what the early atmosphere was actually like? Bradley says it was known from the 1980s that “the primitive earth never had any methane, ammonia or hydrogen” – but the Miller-Urey experiment happened in 1953.

Second, Miller-Urey’s experiment was not significant simply as a model of the formation of organic molecules on a primitive earth, but it’s significant because it shows the formation of organic molecules using nothing but some simple molecules plus energy. It established an example of blind forces creating organic molecules. (And it explains the discovery of organic molecules on meteorites, like the Murchison meteorite: “[It] was found to contain common amino acids such as glycine, alanine and glutamic acid but also unusual ones like isovaline and pseudoleucine… A complex mixture of alkanes was isolated as well which was similar to that found in the Miller-Urey experiment.”) IDists/creationists never seem to notice that the Miller-Urey experiment also provides a counterexample against their “second law of thermodynamics” argument against evolution.

Third, there have been some recent claims that the early atmosphere did contain methane and ammonia.

Fourth, despite Bradley’s unequivocal statement that “you absolutely cannot get the same experimental results with [the mixture of water, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen]. It just won’t work.”, recent experiments have done exactly that. Jeffrey Bada (origin of life researcher) has shown that the addition of iron or carbonate minerals (limestone) to that mixture allows amino acids to form. He discovered that an atmosphere of H20, CO2, and N2 created nitrates that destroyed amino acids and turned the water acidic, which prevented new amino acids from forming. The addition of iron and carbonate minerals (as would’ve existed on earth) neutralized the nitrates and acid, allowing the amino acids to form again – just as in the Miller-Urey experiment. (Source)

This is one of the problems with Intelligent Design in general: they claim that such-and-such cannot happen by naturalistic forces, therefore God must’ve done it. The problem is that the “naturalistic forces cannot do X” argument – while it has some usefulness, it’s an unstable argument because even well-educated people (with PhDs in this case) can be wrong about the limitations of naturalistic forces. (Hmm, wasn’t Bradley the guy that Strobel described earlier as “a scientist concerned with accuracy… making sure to acknowledge nuances and not overstate his conclusions”?) Every once in a while, reality will come and smack you upside the head a few years after you claim nature can’t do X. And when a group (IDists/creationists) has a desire for something to be inexplicable so that they can insert their god explanation, then there is a tendency to rush to that conclusion prematurely. Heck, I see lots of cases where IDists/creationists will say such-and-such is inexplicable by naturalistic forces even when it it demonstrably untrue.

Strobel and Bradley then move on to the problem of getting the right amino-acids together to form something “living” – it can “process energy, store information, and replicate”.

“Essentially, you start with amino acids. They come in eighty different types, but only twenty of them are found in living organisms. The trick, then, is to isolate only the correct amino acids. Then the right amino acids have to be linked together in the right sequence in order to produce protein molecules…. It would be unguided by any outside help. And there are a lot of other complicating factors to consider.”

“Such as what?”

“For instance, other molecules tend to react more readily with amino acids than amino acids react with each other. Now you have the problem of how to eliminate these extraneous molecules. Even in the Miller experiment, only two percent of the material he produced was composed of amino acids, so you’d have a lot of other chemical material that would gum up the process.

“Then there’s another complication: there are an equal number of amino acids that are right- and left-handed, and only the left-handed one work in living matter. Now you’ve got to get only these select ones to link together in the right sequence. And you need the correct kind of chemical bonds — namely, peptide bonds — in the correct places in order for the protein to be able to fold in a specific three-dimensional way. Otherwise, it won’t function.

“In the same way, perhaps one hundred amino acids have to be put together in just the right manner to make a protein molecule… Now you have to bring together a collection of protein molecules — maybe two hundred of them — with just the right functions to get a typical cell.” (p.137-139)

I might also add that even if this unlikely scenario was correct, the result would be an organism composed of only animo-acids. Because there is no heredity molecule (DNA or RNA), this “organism” would be incapable of producing offspring – so it would be a short-lived sterile little curiosity.

Over the next ten pages, Bradley then considers (and dismisses) some ideas people have come up with to overcome the difficulties of abiogenesis:

(1) Random chance caused all these organic molecules to be in the right place at the right time. Given the number of combinations involved, Bradley dismisses this.
(2) “Chemical Affinity” – that there is some inherent attraction between the right pieces that cause them to fall together in the right sequence because of chemical bonding preferences.
(3) Self-Ordering tendencies – like water molecules spiraling down a drain, organic molecules order themselves somehow.
(4) Seeding from space – life emerged somewhere else and was brought here (e.g. by a meteor), but this doesn’t explain the initial start or why life was able to form elsewhere.
(5) Vents in the ocean – hot vents provided a place for life to begin and he says it might’ve provided an unusual energy source for early life, but that the heat would’ve likely destroyed organic molecules.
(6) Life from clay – that clay was a substrate that helped organic molecules connect together. Bradley dismisses this possibility saying that clay wouldn’t help the amino-acids link up in the correct sequence.

From the standpoint of probability, the scenario outlined by Bradley would be unlikely to produce even the smallest bacteria (Carsonella has only 182 genes and 160,000 nucleotides) or virus (the Bacteriophage MS2 virus has a genome of only 3569 nucleotides). From the standpoint of probability, both are well outside the possibility of spontaneous generation. (Assuming we allow any two nucleotides to work in each position, then a string of 3569 nucleotides has 2.37 x 10^1074 combinations.) Bradley hammers this point home:

“[T]he mathematical odds of assembling a living organism are so astronomical that nobody still believes that random chance accounts for the origin of life. Even if you optimized the conditions, it wouldn’t work. If you took all the carbon in the universe and put it on the face of the earth, allowed it to chemically react at the most rapid rate possible and left if for a billion years, the odds of creating just one functional protein molecule would be one chance in a 10 with 60 zeros after it.” (p.141)

Now, the argument is a pretty good one, and I’m not surprised that people called this chapter one of Strobel’s strongest. Except one thing: with all the details and counterarguments Bradley goes into, it’s easy to forget to ask the question: “Do scientists think that pathway outlined by Bradley is the one that explains how life came from non-life?” The answer is “No”. The Miller-Urey explanation outlined by Bradley fell out of favor with abiogenesis researchers in the early 1980s. Instead, they favor some different scenarios. This graph sums up the situation pretty well:

Bradley has argued against abiogenesis the same way that all creationists do: calculate the probability of jumping form simple molecules to a fully-functioning organism, and ignore the fact that abiogenesis researchers don’t believe things happened that way.

It’s worth saying that abiogenesis is still a mystery. There are a number of theories (and the Origin of Life entry at wikipedia has summaries of them). There has been some interesting discoveries on the spontaneous formation of fatty-acid vesicles (which would act like simple cell-walls), and also how clay helps RNA form chains (albeit, random chains), and the discovery that RNA can act as both a hereditary molecule and as an enzyme like proteins (ribozyme).

Some people have proposed that early life was composed of RNA, and the RNA acted both as the hereditary molecule and did the job of proteins. The downside to this theory is that RNA doesn’t form well spontaneously from simpler chemicals, so it’s a mystery how to get enough of these molecules around to form chains and replicate.

From Discover Magazine’s article on Jack Szostak’s research into RNA-based origins of life:

In the early 1980s Tom Cech, then a young biologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, uncovered evidence that RNA does more than simply relay messages from DNA to proteins. In an experiment that earned him a Nobel Prize, he found that a single-celled creature named Tetrahymena possessed some RNA molecules that could act like simple enzymes. These molecules, which came to be known as ribozymes, twisted into a complicated snarl that allowed them to hack themselves apart. In other words, RNA could carry information like DNA and carry out biochemistry the way proteins do.

Szostak decided to expand his research on the RNA world: He set out to find a simple way to enclose his ribozymes… They began by experimenting with fatty acids. These molecules, which make up the bulk of cell membranes, were likely to have been floating in the prebiological oceans of Earth. A number of nonbiological reactions can give rise to fatty acids; they’ve even been found in meteorites. Fatty acids also have the fortunate habit of being naturally attracted to one another, forming sheets that eventually curl in on themselves and create bubbles.

Hanczyc and Fujikawa began studying the bubbles, known as vesicles, to see if they could grow and divide like cell membranes without the help of a lot of cellular machinery. In the 1990s Italian chemist Pier Luigi Luisi figured out how to make vesicles grow by adding loose fatty acids to their solution; gradually, some of the molecules slipped into the vesicles and expanded them. Hanczyc and Fujikawa spent three years perfecting the process to make it more efficient. “Right now, 90 percent of the material we add gets incorporated into the vesicles we already have,” says Hanczyc.

One afternoon in the summer of 2002, Szostak was sitting in his office when Hanczyc and Fujikawa walked in with a vial of murky liquid. His students had added a kind of clay known as montmorillonite to their solution of fatty acids. Somehow the clay sped up the rate of vesicle formation 100-fold. “We spent years working on getting the growth and division stuff to work. That was a pain,” says Hanczyc. “But the clay worked the first time.”

Clay had already proved to be potentially important in the origin of life. In the 1990s biochemist James Ferris of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute showed that montmorillonite can help create RNA. When he poured nucleotides onto the surface of the clay, the montmorillonite grabbed the compounds, and neighboring nucleotides fused together. Over time, as many as 50 nucleotides joined together spontaneously into a single RNA molecule. The RNA world might have been born in clay, Ferris argued, perhaps the clay that coated the ocean floor around hydrothermal vents.

“The thing that’s interesting is that there’s this one mineral that can get RNA precursors to assemble into RNA and membrane precursors to assemble into membranes,” says Szostak. “I think that’s really remarkable.”

As Hanczyc and Fujikawa analyzed their new vesicles, they made an even more remarkable discovery. Some of the grains of [clay] actually wound up inside the vesicles. Their next step was obvious. “It was very straightforward,” says Hanczyc. “You just mix the RNA with clay, and mix it with the fatty acids, and voilà, you have RNA on the clay particles inside the vesicles.” (Discover Magazine: What Came Before DNA?)

A theory about the first metabolism is that inorganic matter (iron monosulfide) formed the first catalysts, forming the first metabolism. (And life still uses the same inorganic chemicals found near underwater vents as catalysts, hinting that they may be on to something.) Later, genetic material come along and regulated, refined, or piggybacked on these metabolic pathways.

The slow trickle of hydrogen and carbon dioxide through such [thermal underwater] chambers and across the iron sulfide catalyst promotes formation of acetate, according to Russell and Martin. Acetate is a key intermediate in virtually all biosynthetic pathways, and in modern cells, enters these reactions tethered to sulfur. In modern bacteria, the two enzymes that make acetate depend on a catalytic core of iron, nickel, and sulfur, arranged almost exactly as they are in the free mineral itself. “In other words,” Russell and Martin have written, these enzymatic metal clusters “are not inventions of the biological world, rather they are mimics of minerals that are indisputably older, and which themselves have catalytic activity in the absence of protein” (Public Library of Science: Jump-Starting a Cellular World: Investigating the Origin of Life, from Soup to Networks)

Some think they might’ve discovered the first metabolic cycle based on thermal underwater vents, sulfur, and requiring only two enzymes:

While other microbes make methane from carbon monoxide, this particular species (one “Methanosarcina acetivorans”) also produces acetate–better known as vinegar. Ferry and House, in collaboration with Barry Karger at Northeastern University, showed how carbon monoxide is converted to acetate in a biochemical pathway that includes a well-known pair of enzymes, called Pta (“phosphotransacetylase”) and Ack (“acetate kinase”). The two researchers realized that, in the presence of minerals containing iron sulfides, acetate could have been catalytically converted to a sulfur-containing derivative called an acetate thioester. Attached to the mineral surface, a “protocell” containing primitive forms of these two enzymes could then have generated biochemical energy by converting this derivative back to acetate. Excreting acetate would have completed the cycle. “Our paper,” House suggests, “contains a very sensible early metabolism.” “It is quite possible,” Ferry says reverently, “that this could be the first metabolic cycle.” (Methane-belching bugs inspire a new theory of the origin of life on Earth)

The basic idea behind modern abiogenesis research is that a simple system came into place (much simpler than the ‘whole living organism’ described by Bradley, and certainly not containing 200 genes), and slowly built into something more complicated.

The discovery that clay helps RNA form chains, and causes fatty acids to pinch-off into small vesicles containing those RNA chains is one of discoveries that comes out of the blue. That’s one of the interesting things about abiogenesis research – something won’t be forming the way scientists want – but then they discover that a material found in nature does the job. It was reminiscent of the discovery that limestone or iron could help water, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen form amino acids. These kinds of “out of the blue” discoveries makes me think the abiogenesis possibility isn’t the shut-case Bradley makes it out to be.

In the end, it’s still a mystery. It might be like lightning, planetary movement, or the origin of the species – stuff that used to be mystifying and attributed to God, but ultimately had a naturalistic origin. But, it would be an assumption to jump the gun and say the origin of life is like those other things. I still have to admit that I still feel a little bit uneasy seeing abiogenesis presented in museums as if it’s a known fact.

Additional information:
Discover Magazine: What Came Before DNA?
Public Library of Science: Jump-Starting a Cellular World: Investigating the Origin of Life, from Soup to Networks
Methane-belching bugs inspire a new theory of the origin of life on Earth
TalkOrigins: The Origin of Life
TalkOrigins: Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, and Probability of Abiogenesis Calculations

But, back to Strobel – Bradley goes on to describe the “dismal” state of the origins-of-life research, quoting various researchers, saying that pessimism pervades the entire field. (And I’m not familiar enough with the field to gauge how accurate Bradley describes the feelings of researchers, although I have already noted a number of discoveries earlier in this article — most of them made since the publication of Strobel’s book.)

Time after time, origin-of-life scientists have come up empty when they’ve tried to theorize how chemicals could evolve into matter.

“What does one do with this scientific stalemate?” I asked Bradley.

“That depends a lot on one’s metaphysics,” he said. “Shapiro, whom I highly respect, says there must be some physical laws we haven’t discovered yet which will eventually show us how life arose naturally. But there’s nothing in science that guarantees a natural explanation for how life began…”

“Then what,” I said, “is your own best hypothesis?”

“If there isn’t a natural explanation and there doesn’t seem to be the potential of finding one, then I believe it’s appropriate to look at a supernatural explanation. I think that’s the most reasonable inference based on the evidence.”

“What prevents more scientists from drawing that conclusion?”

“Many have reached that conclusion. But for some, their philosophy gets in the way. If they’re persuaded ahead of time that there isn’t a God, then no matter how compelling the evidence, they’ll always say, ‘Wait and we’ll find something better in the future.’ But that’s a metaphysical argument. Scientists aren’t any more objective than anybody else. They all come to questions like this with their preconceived ideas.”

“So you think the facts point convincingly towards a Creator?”

Convincingly is too mild a term,” he replied. “The evidence is compelling. ‘Convincing’ suggests it’s a little more likely than not; ‘compelling’ says you have to really work hard not to get to that conclusion.” (p.149-152)

Maybe it’s just my agnostic/atheist position, but I don’t think Bradley has compellingly shown that the origins-of-life question is unanswerable. It would be compelling if I actually believed Bradley’s pathway for life: that all 200 genes would have to be simultaneously and spontaneously present for life to exist. The way the issue is presented in the book makes it seem persuasive, but looking at external sources makes Bradley’s whole presentation look rather narrow and overly pessimistic.

Further, regarding the entire Intelligent Design movement in general: the only reason they’re looking inside the sciences for evidence of God is because God is so ridiculously absent from every other part of our world. Because God isn’t doing miracles, and because the “resurrected” Jesus isn’t walking around talking to people today (as the gospels allege he did after his crucifixion) they have to look into probabilistic arguments in chemistry. Having come up with no evidence in the real world, they have to look through a microscope to find their ever-elusive evidence of God.

Then, Bradley then makes a rather odd argument called “reasoning by analogy”, where he quotes astronomer John F.W. Hershel:

“If the analogy of two phenomena be very close and striking, while, at the same time, the cause of one is very obvious, it becomes scarcely possible to refuse to admit the action of an analogous cause in the other, though not so obvious in itself.” (p.153)

He then goes on to make the argument that DNA is composed of words and information, like a written language. Because written language has an author, how can we deny that DNA must also have an author?

“Now, when we see written language, we can infer, based on our experience, that it has an intelligent cause. And we can legitimately use analogical reasoning to conclude that the remarkable information sequences in DNA also had an intelligent cause. Therefore, this means life on earth came from a ‘who’ instead of a ‘what’.”

Undeniably, it was a powerful and persuasive argument. (p.154)

Wow. And Strobel is impressed with that “analogical reasoning” argument? It seems really poor to me, and sounds like a recipe for creating crackpot theories. For example, we’ve all heard the metaphor that the brain is like a computer. Now, all computer viruses are written by people (usually maliciously). Reasoning by analogy, we conclude that all illnesses of the mind are therefore be products of malicious entities (demons or malicious people). Of course that’s ridiculous. The whole “analogical reasoning” idea is just a rhetorical device to get the reader thinking along a particular path and then changing the situation, knowing their mind will follow a similar path. You sort of wonder how much he knows about the mechanism of evolution with that argument. Evolutionary systems are quite capable of producing and optimizing sequences of DNA. (And ID promoters almost always show that they are ignorant of this simple evolutionary mechanism.)

And just to be clear, Bradley isn’t simply talking about the DNA inside the first organism, but he’s talking about the DNA in all of life on earth. To say that all DNA must be the written words of an Intelligent Designer is a ridiculous argument when you understand how evolutionary mechanisms can produce useful DNA.

“In other words, what is encoded on the DNA inside every cell of every living creature is purely and simply written information.” (p.153)

“Each cell in the human body contains more information than in all thirty volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It’s certainly reasonable to make the inference that this isn’t the random product of unguided nature, but it’s the unmistakable sign of an Intelligent Designer.” (p.155)

Further, if we assume all DNA was coded by the great designer in the sky, then we must also conclude that HIV, malaria, tapeworms, flesh-eating bacteria, smallpox, leprosy, rabies, and so on are also created by God. (And Behe did take the step of saying that malaria was designed – though most IDists distance themselves from that disturbing claim.) Or would Bradley suddenly substitute “demon” in place of “Intelligent Designer” in that case? Although, if that were true, you’d think those demons would be a whole lot better at spreading drug-resistant HIV, bringing back the extinct strain of influenza that killed 20 million people around the end of World War 1, or returning smallpox to the earth (it caused 500 million deaths in the 20th century, but was eradicated by a worldwide vaccination campaign and hasn’t been seen since the 1970s).

Bradley then continues to turn the “we don’t know” into irrefutable evidence that “goddidit”:

“Despite all their efforts, they haven’t even come up with a single possibility [for the origin of life] that even remotely makes sense. And there’s no prospect they will. In fact, everything is pointing the other way — in the unmistakable direction of God. Today it takes a great deal of faith to be an honest scientist who is an atheist.” (p.155)

I also can’t help wondering – even if we accepted everything Bradley has written here, why is his “Intelligent Designer” unmistakably God? Theoretically, it could be an alien race. Although, if we accept Bradley’s arguments – it would be an alien race with a biology not like our own (thus avoiding the same origin-of-life issues).

Strobel then concludes that the idea of a naturalistic explanation for life is based on seems-persuasive-but-isn’t-really evidence. As for Strobel’s question, “why does the persuasive evidence of science compel so many to conclude that the unguided process of evolution accounts for life?” (p.27), well, he never attempted to find out what that persuasive evidence was, or why people believe it. The closest he came to answering that question was quoting Behe saying that many people, “just don’t want there to be anything beyond nature”, and that he (Strobel) “was more than happy to latch onto Darwinism as an excuse to jettison the idea of God so [he] could unabashedly pursue [his] own agenda in life without moral constraints.” (p.126)

The next objection Strobel is going to tackle? “If God is morally pure, how can he sanction the slaughter of innocent children as the Old Testament says he did?”

Next: The non-believers review of “The Case for Faith” – Objection #4, part 1

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