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William Paley and the Watchmaker Analogy

Just as the apostle Paul dodged the ruling Sanhedrin by exploiting internal bickering, transforming that august group into a free-for-all catfight, so Tom Weedsandwheat scored an important victory in his ongoing dispute with the ruling committee of the Judge First - Ask Questions Later religious conference. That committee has put Weedsandwheat’s grand prize for his groundbreaking research paper on the exothermic nature of hell under review, while they examine the ugly charge of plagiarism. You may recall that the losers were murmuring even when the prize was initially given to Weedsandwheat. In spite of Weedandwheat’s earnest and repeated entreaties to that prestigious body that they should “get a life,” the controversy has not abated; rather, it has intensified.

Now when Paul took note that the one part was of Sadducees but the other of Pharisees, he proceeded to cry out in the Sanhedrin: “Men, brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. Over the hope of resurrection of the dead I am being judged.”  Because he said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the multitude was split.  For Sadducees say there is neither resurrection nor angel nor spirit, but the Pharisees publicly declare them all.  So there broke out a loud screaming, and some of the scribes of the party of the Pharisees rose and began contending fiercely, saying: “We find nothing wrong in this man; but if a spirit or an angel spoke to him,—.”  Now when the dissension grew great, the military commander became afraid that Paul would be pulled to pieces by them, and he commanded the force of soldiers to go down and snatch him from their midst and bring him into the soldiers’ quarters.        Acts 23:6-10

The clever Weedsandwheat adapted a page from Acts 23 into his own drama with the Judge First committee. At the hearing, his situation was looking increasingly bleak, since the committee was unimpressed with his explanation of his blatant plagiarism being, in reality, commendable recycling. Displaying remarkable agility, he abruptly changed tactics and cried out that he was merely following the course laid down two centuries ago by William Paley. Of course, this brought the hearing to a standstill, for William Paley is a most highly regarded figure. He is the originator of the watchmaker analogy.

Watchtower publications, and probably creationist publications, sometimes make use of the watchmaker analogy in refuting evolutionist claims. If you were to stumble across a precise watch, so the analogy goes, with it’s intricate internal mechanisms for keeping time, you would never under any circumstances conclude that it had just come about on it’s own. Instead, you would deduce from the product that there must have been a designer, and an ingenious one at that, even though that designer is nowhere to be seen. Readers may imagine that The Watchtower just dreamed up that illustration, but in fact, the watchmaker analogy is as old as ….um….time. It is credited to William Paley for his 1802 publication Natural Theology.

Paley authored his tome as the evolutionist view was rapidly gaining ground among the avant garde religious intelligentsia. He “took them on” with some success, due, not so much to his originality, but to his formidable reasoning ability. His book is still regarded as a substantial bulwark to those in the “God” camp.

Shortly after publication, however, Paley was accused of plagiarism, just like Weedsandwheat. The watchmaker analogy was not his, it was charged, but had been used by many prior writers. Yet, it is precisely in this fact that Paley’s (and Weedsandwheat’s) salvation lies! To wit, the analogy was no longer the intellectual property of any one person! Obviously, it was at one time, but in Paley’s day it was so familiar and so commonly employed, that it could be incorporated in a book without attribution, which, in any case, would be difficult to trace. Paley’s contribution was not so much in originating ideas as in organizing them.

This is precisely the essence of Weedsandwheat’s argument over why he should be given a free pass regarding his exothermic nature of hell research. Since that research has bounced around on the internet for years and is familiar to every online nerd out there, why shouldn’t he appropriate it for his own use? Besides, he cleaned it up for submission to the conference, the original version being of dubious moral merit.

Of course, the rest of the Whitepebble Religious Institute is standing behind their guy. His grand prize brings prestige for the entire Institute. Besides, there’s not much else in the pipeline. Tom Pearlsandswine for years has been immersed in research attempting to prove the Trinity, but that project is not going too well.

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The theme of [P D Q Bach’s musical score] for band instruments and piano bears a certain kind of resemblance to the theme of [Beethoven’s] eroica symphony variations. The name of the certain type of remembrance that it bears is “identity.”      Professor Peter Schickele

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me               No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

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Super Columbine Massacre Game and the Last Refuge for Scoundrels

Don’t think it was easy to pry Tom Fishandchips’ fingers off the joystick of his Super Columbine Massacre video game. Doing so was almost as rough as pulling the game’s antagonists’ (protagonists?) fingers off their assault weapons. After all, Fishandchips had scientific research, which he displayed powerpoint style* (see below) all around his work area, that declared violent entertainment did not produce violent people. Science said he was in the clear to blow away sim students all day long, which was well, because that’s what he wanted to do in the first place.

*Violent media not to blame for violent people
Scientific evidence does not show that watching violence desensitizes people to it .              [University of Toronto study: Dec 2000, displayed prominently by Fishandchips]

Nor was he quick to change his tune when other Institute members, guys like Sheepandgoats, Wheatandweeds and Weedsandwheat, pointed out to him that the studies he had cited were most likely dogs, and that 99% of all studies on media and violence had concluded there was a relationship. No, said Fishandchips, might does not make right, the majority is usually wrong, what about tiny David going up against mighty Goliath, etc, etc, etc.

What finally broke Fishandchips' pigheadedness was the revelation of who had paid for his study….a study so obviously favorable to the makers of violent entertainment. It was the Motion Pictures Association! Now, I guess that doesn’t mean for sure that their resulting study is so much horse manure, but it sure does raise suspicions that the MPA simply fished around till they found someone who would tell them what they wanted to hear. Their violence-is-golden conclusion would have been easier to accept had it been reached by the Presbyterian Church, or the Girl Scouts, or the Ghostbuster’s Association, or the Evolutionists of America Club.

Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, declared Samuel Adams in 1775. But here we can modify that statement to science is the last refuge. Note how the MPA’s contract researchers wrap themselves in the scientific method every bit as much as a rabid nationalist wraps himself in the flag. On the other hand, the 99% other studies which conclude that violent entertainment isn’t great for public moral health, are not said specifically to employ the scientific method, but “many investigative methods.” That’s not to suggest those methods were mere new-age fluff. Doubtless they were rooted in logic and made use of scientific reasoning. But they may not have restricted themselves to the narrow scientific method, which insists on finding causality and is never satisfied were mere correlation.

VIP commenter Mr. Crowe (VIP because he does comment, which I appreciate and endeavor to return the favor wherever I can) smelled a rat with regard to my last post on this subject. Was I not taking a shot across the bows of science? Why am I anti-science? Isn’t religion also the last refuge of scoundrels, even more so than science or patriotism?

Actually, religion may be the first refuge of scoundrels. But everybody knows that. The opium of the people, and so forth. We all know how cynical power brokers use religion to stir up the masses. But science enjoys a purer, more rarefied reputation, as if it is above and immune to manipulation by scoundrels. That reputation is not entirely deserved.

Nevertheless, running down science was not the point of my previous post, though alas, it was not worded skillfully enough to avoid that interpretation. Science is good. Science is useful. We find out a lot of things though the scientific method. What science is not, however, is the be-all and end-all, the uncontradictable one true means of discovering things so that, if science comes up with no answer, then there is no answer.

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The Dangerous Internet

I read the internet is a dangerous place, full of skunks and scoundrels. Conscience stricken, I changed my profile on MySpace to confess that I wasn't really a 55 year old guy. I was really a 98 year old predator on the prowl for naive 70 year old women! After that, my conscience felt better.

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I thought I was too old for MySpace but my son told me I wasn't. So I registered and got my very own space. Straight off, someone wanted to be my friend! A married woman, about 10 years my junior, who found me via alumni search; we'd gone to the same high school.

I looked at her profile. She seemed nice enough. But I thought it would look funny to have as my only friend a married woman. What would my own wife think? As one friend out of several, okay. But not the only one. So I messaged her back, tactfully as I could, and asked her to wait. Let me get a few more friends, then I'd gladly add her to the list.

She went ballistic on me! As if I had accused her of trying to hit on me! I tried to placate her......no, no, no, no, don't be offended...it's my hangup, not yours.....but it didn‘t do me a bit of good .....darn right it's your hangup, not mine she screamed.....goodbye!!!!    and cancelled her friend request!

It’s true. The internet is a dangerous place.

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Columbine and the Scientific Method

The Carriertom Into-wishen Research Institute is only about two inches from concluding that the scientific method is just a device for opinionated people to screen out evidence which points to conclusions they don’t want to hear about. For example:

Violent movies and television programs do not create violent viewers, says a University of Toronto professor who has just completed [Dec 2000] a comprehensive review of all of the research on the subject. "The scientific evidence simply does not show that watching violence either produces violence in people or desensitizes them to it."  [italics mine]

When junior Institute staff member Tom Fishandchips read those words, his heart sang. He ran down to the store and bought the Super Columbine Massacre video game. He’d long had his eye on it, but he was afraid to buy it lest people think he was violent. He loaded the game on his work computer and started spending all his off-time blowing sim-students to Kingdom Come, splattering blood and guts everywhere.

A blog reader might be repulsed at this point. Isn’t this post obscene, since real school shoot-em-ups are quickly becoming an American growth industry?

Get over it. There’s no proof, says the U of T report, citing scientific evidence. You got something against science?

Fishandchips’ continual playing soon got on the nerves of the other Institute members….guys like Sheepandgoats, Wheatandweeds, and Weedsandwheat. I mean, if you’re trying to write about God, it doesn’t help to hear assault weapons, sirens and SWAT team noise in the background. Driven to distraction, these eminent theologians also checked the research and came up with different studies, much to Fishandchips’ chagrin.

From the American Pediatric Association:

An APA spokesman testified before Congress in 2000: “Since the l950s, more than 3,500 research studies in the United States and around the world using many investigative methods have examined whether there is an association between exposure to media violence and subsequent violent behavior. All but 18 have shown a positive correlation between media exposure and violent behavior.” [italics mine]

The U of T study, upon which Fishandchips based his Columbine purchase, was one of the 18 clunkers! How could that be?

Note that the 3500 studies used many investigative methods. The U of T study used the scientific method. Could it be that the 17 other clunkers also used the scientific method? Could the scientific method be the least reliable when it comes to measuring people?

It‘s worth asking. If you practice the scientific method, you’re looking for cause and effect relationships. You think up experiments to test for such relationships. The experiments should be repeatable. Factors that would screw up the results, but are not what you are testing for, should be screened out.

These goals you can achieve in a laboratory. But it’s not so easy to do in real society. There are too many influences that go into making people what they are. Time, places, and circumstances might not be repeatable. And many relationships are like the chicken and the egg; they influence (and reinforce) each other. Fat chance you’re going to find out which came first, but unless you can do just that, the scientific method isn’t interested.

Sometimes with people, you must settle for correlations. Here are a few correlations we’re familiar with:

There is a correlation between condom non-use and sexually transmitted HIV.

There is a correlation between lead exposure and lower I.Q.

Between passive tobacco smoke and lung cancer.

Between calcium intake and bone mass.

Pediatricians accept all these relationships as fact, and practice preventative medicine based upon them. Yet, the correlation between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior is stronger than any of the above relationships!

If we use the scientific method as a tool with which to investigate, fine. But God help us if we use the scientific method as the One True Tool….the only way in which we can know anything. In that case, there’s a lot of knowable things that we’ll never know.

Crestfallen, Fishandchips went back to the store to return Super Columbine Massacre. But he was too embarrassed to go in. He didn’t want them to think he was a violent person.

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“Violent entertainment is aimed at children because it is profitable. Questions of right or wrong, beneficial or harmful, are not considered. The only question is ‘Will it sell?’”            Dr. David Walsh, author of Selling out America’s Children.

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The LORD examines the righteous,
but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.
   Ps 11:5 NIV

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To Sheepandgoats' surprise, the Super Columbine Massacre game is not a corporate creation for the purpose of raking in big bucks. It was created by an aspiring filmaker, who distributed it free and calls it an indictment of our times. "The game does not glorify school shootings," [it's creator] told The Washington Post. "If you make it far enough into the game, you see very graphic photos of Eric and Dylan lying dead. I can't think of a more effective way to confront their actions and the consequences those actions had."

A modern day Alfred Nobel - dynamite story, perhaps?

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Ready to Obey

When I arrived at the meeting last night, two of the elders asked to speak with me. Of course, I was petrified. Didn’t Barfendogs warn me about this, saying that elders were mean?

But they weren’t mean at all. They were nice. Moreover, what they had on their minds was perfectly reasonable, so in this matter, as in all others, Barfendogs is full of manure.

It turns out that two or three in the congregation actually read my last post, the one about how the written word has more authority than the spoken word. They took it to heart, spoke to some others, and now the elders couldn’t say squat without being challenged.

Oh yeah?! Prove it!!! Where does it say that in the Bible?? Where does it say that in the Watchtower??

An elder had asked someone to stop parking on the lawn.

No, no, no, no. It’s not that we don’t pay any attention to the spoken word! Useful information often comes that way. Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize authority in the congregation, and we don’t question authority just for the sake of questioning authority. It’s just that the written word from a trusted source carries more weight than the spoken. That’s not to say the spoken word carries none.

But the wisdom from above is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and good fruits, not making partial distinctions, not hypocritical.      James 3:17

Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.              Heb 13:17

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Written Trumps Spoken Every Time

One would think that the written word, from a trusted source, would trump the spoken word every time.

The written word has been prepared, reviewed, fact-checked and edited, not just by the author, but often by a third party. But not so the spoken word, which is more readily swayed by emotion of the moment. The statements you later come to regret most often come through the spoken route.

Um…that really didn’t come out right. I didn’t mean to say it that way. Who hasn't said these words?

A speaker might be voicing a pet peeve. He might be promoting some personal view. He might be flat out wrong, repeating a view he thinks is true, or would like to be true, but isn’t.

So it’s unsettling when we think of all the folks who vividly remember what so-and-so said 20 years ago but cannot recall what was written one month ago on the same topic.

We’re people persons, of course. We like personalities, we like characters. They bring life to the dull printed word. It’s all understandable and fine, so long as we don’t lose track of the inherent weakness of the spoken word.

Even such awkward events as 1975 were much easier on the written word folks than those of the spoken word.

1975 was the end of 6000 years of human history, calculated from the Bible’s own internal chronology. But it’s complicated and obscure in a few places and mistakes are possible. Smart Isaac Newton took a stab at the EOW date and came up with 2060! At any rate, many of us figured that the end of this system of things would occur in 1975. It didn’t turn out that way. (as is easily proven by newspapers)

If you mostly relied on what is written, you had an easier time of it. To be sure, it was written. But it was written with restraint, in proportion to overall events, and always with a sense of tentativeness. The end of the system was possible in that year, even probable. But it wasn’t a sure thing. That was the written word.

But the spoken word…there were people who spoke of nothing else!

Yeah, yeah, yeah! The end of the system of things!! I can almost taste it!! There were many pumped like this.

Let’s go borrow some money! We won’t have to pay it back!!! There were a few who reasoned this way. You should have seen Tom Barfendogs tooling around in his new Maserati! He’d always driven AMC products.  Alas, the Day of the Lord did not come as expected. The Day of the Bank, on the other hand, came right on time.

In hindsight, the whole episode left us with egg on the face. Of course, it’s understandable, for what Christian doesn’t look forward to the rule of God’s Kingdom?

Even Jesus’ disciples wanted to know when would the time come.

When, now, they had assembled, they went asking him: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?”  He said to them: “It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction…."   Acts 1:6-7

Here, as in all other areas, a Christian does better when he or she puts primary trust in the written word, not the spoken.

For we all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also [his] whole body.    James 1:2

“Do not go beyond the things that are written” 1 Cor 4:6  (note that written is the benchmark, not spoken)

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Tom Irregardless and Me       No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Rolling Stones Play China

The Rolling Stones played a concert in Shanghai this past April. Before 8000 in a small arena. Leery Chinese officials were opening the door to rock n roll, but they weren't opening it very wide. Perhaps imagining they could spare themselves the West's moral rot, they banned several Stones songs, among them Let’s Spend the Night Together, Beast of Burden, and Brown Sugar. Thus, Mick Jagger was forced to dig into his repertoire of wholesome songs.

He led off with Bitch.

He also tried to put nervous officials at ease with this comment:

I am pleased the Ministry of Culture is protecting the morals of expatriate bankers and their girlfriends. [only they could afford the ticket prices]

Two lessons can be drawn here.

1.  There goes the neighborhood

2.  Big as he is, don’t you think Mick could think of something gracious to say, something that just might result in his being invited back again, or some other rock n roll group?

Sheepandgoats is especially agrieved by this development, since he kinda likes the Stones' music. Too bad the Chinese will never hear it again.

On the other hand, the Stones could have just rolled over as did Google, agreeing to anything  so as to get their foot in the door. Maybe Mick deserves some credit after all.

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The NBC censors also had problems with Let's Spend the Night Together. Thus when the Stones played The Ed Sullivan show in 1967, they were told it had to be Let's Spend Some Time Together. The versatile Mr. Jagger, unwilling to comply but also unwilling to cave, sang "let's spend smnxc ndtmmd" together, slurring words at the critical moment as any self-respecting rocker can do.

Jim Morrison of The Doors was less accomodating. He not only wouldn't change his lyrics (girl, we couldn't get much higher), but lobbed an f-bomb at Sullivan personnel! (not on the air) F-bombs are common as raindrops today, but it was not so then.

The Beatles presented no such problems for Ed Sullivan or NBC. Their most provacative lyric "I want to hold your hand" was deemed acceptable to the 1964 viewing audience. The most-watched TV show ever up to that point, and still pretty hefty, was the Beatles' first American appearance on The Ed Sullivan show. They didn't hurl any f-bombs at all, they reportedly got along well with Sullivan, and the latter introduced the group one year later when they played Shea Stadium.

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Rebecca Did Recover

News update: Rebecca did recover. She was seen on other shows. And the actress that portrayed her mama really was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

This, of course, is Rebecca from The Practice, the lawyer TV show of last decade. She got caught in a bomb blast, you’ll recall, and ended up in the hospital, where doctors insisted she needed a blood transfusion. Only she wasn’t about to have one, because she was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who take seriously the Bible command to abstain from blood.  The Mama character materialized to give her moral support. But I had imagined that this was the last episode of the season, after which Rebecca landed another role in some other TV show, so that we were left in suspense as to whether or not she would recover. It turns out that she did.

Well, that’s indeed good news, Tom Sheepandgoats, but how do we know your update is accurate? Why didn’t you give us the straight scoop to begin with? Do you realize how close you are to being accused of being a false prophet?

Hard hitting, but fair questions.  Readers deserve an honest answer, not the kind of hogwash they usual….readers deserve an honest answer.

My source is Keith, who used to watch The Practice every week; it was one of his favorite shows. It was one of mine too, but I still rarely saw it. So I would give it a 92% probability that the Rebecca newsflash is accurate. The remaining 8% is to cover the possibility that my source got confused by summer reruns. It can happen to the best of us.

As for the Mama aspect of the story, the accuracy probability here is lower, perhaps 80%. My excellent source notwithstanding, this story smells a bit of JW folklore. Until I receive corroborating evidence, I put it in the same category as the John Denver story, (unfavorable to us),  the John Wayne story (favorable to us), and the Johnny Carson story (very favorable to us, and payback to John Denver).

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

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The Scientist from Iceland

A scientist from Iceland wrote an article favoring evolution over creation. Before he could log off, Sheepandgoats landed an email on his lap, citing evolution’s fatal flaws. But he countered that evolution had no fatal flaws, only points that had not yet been fully explained!

Now….how to proceed? Do you tell the scientist that he doesn’t know his own subject, and that you know it better, even though you lack credentials? It depends on your objective. If you want to blow off steam and make yourself feel good, that is exactly what you do. But if you want to have any sort of discussion with the fellow, you don’t go that route.

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Dear Scientist from Iceland:

“Fatal flaws” are in the eye of the beholder. In the field of science, I have a working knowledge. You are the expert, not I. I would not be so presumptuous to think I have qualifications to instruct you on your own turf. What I can say is that evidence garnered so far in support of evolution is unconvincing to me. It is insufficient to override my belief in creation.

Of course, you might say “that’s because you’re an ignoramus,” which is the answer evolution proponents often give. Or you might, more charitably, say that the problem lies in communication….evolutionists have not properly explained their position and its supporting evidence. This, in fact, is what you did say.

By the way, when I use the term “you,” please understand that I don’t necessarily mean you personally, but only generically, as in the typical evolution proponent. And I know there is a challenge in describing who’s typical. There is a bell curve, I realize. But I will do my best.

I have come to view the Bible as a trustworthy, logical whole, and as a source of satisfying answers to vexing questions which are answered nowhere else. Such questions as …why do we grow old and die? and ….why is there suffering and misery? ….are convincingly addressed in the Bible, and intricately linked to the creation account. It’s the strength of these positive things, rather than perceived difficulties with evolution, that accounts for my position. Put the two on a scale, and I see the Bible as weighing more. It’s not that evolution is weightless. Quite the contrary. There is supporting evidence. But the evidence supporting the Bible weighs more, in my view. Put yourself in my place and you can see how such a view would lead to a focus on “fatal” evolution flaws, a project I would never undertake were it possible for the two ideas to co-exist.

But here is a problem. You are expert in your field. I am expert in mine. I have a working knowledge in your field. But you, I strongly suspect, have not a clue in mine.

A lawyer ought to be able to argue both sides of a case. I can argue your side. Not as convincingly as you, of course, but I can do it. But you couldn’t begin to argue my side. Apologies if I am wrong, but I doubt I am.

At any rate, it would be easy to test. Write me succinctly the Bible’s answers to the two questions I posed: why old age and death; why suffering. I’m not saying you have to believe the answers, just make the arguments. Assuming that you can’t, perhaps now you see the problem; the playing field is not level. And it’s your fault. (generic “you,” remember.) I know your side. You don’t know mine. Thus, the “ignorance” quote from Isaac Asimov (in your main paper) is most condescending. (but not atypical of him) And misleading. Because he doesn’t know our reasoning, he assumes there is none.

Now, two caveats.

First, the “playing field” only has to be level if you want to “play.” And you may not. I can respect that. After all, I read your article and contacted you. Not the reverse.

Second, when I say the fault is yours, that is not to imply any deficiency on your part. Your prior e-mail lamented that proponents of evidence for evolution have insufficiently explained their case. That argument is a thousand times more true in the field of religion than in science.

It’s also not unexpected, by the way. The Bible is full of these type statements:

I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves…….Acts 20: 29

For there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, whereas they will be turned aside to false stories……2 Tim 4:3

Suffice it to say that, if you do not know my position, it is religion’s fault, not yours.

As to “fatal” flaws, I won’t discuss any, at least for the time being. You know what points I would likely raise, and you have answers to them all. It often boils down to…..is this or that impossible (my view) or simply astronomically unlikely, (yours) though it has nonetheless come to pass since any other outcome has been culled by natural selection.

Well, okay, here’s one I’ve already written about: http://carriertom.typepad.com/sheep_and_goats/2006/06/science_and_sex.html

Lastly, so as to make my views somewhat more palatable to you, I have no issue with micro-evolution: fruit flies, bacteria, finches, and the like. It is similar to animal husbandry, and has been around forever.

I also agree with you - and not with the fundamentalists - that it is nonsense to suppose all was created in literal 24-hour days. The Bible doesn’t insist on this. There is no reason “day” can’t be viewed more broadly, such as an old-timer talking about life “in his day.” Scientists speak of millions, even billions of years, in life’s origin. In general, I have no issue with this.

I don’t count myself a fundamentalist, nor does the faith I am a part of, Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Does this address the points you raised in your e-mail?

Sheepandgoats

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The scientist from Iceland sent back a nice reply. In true scientific fashion, he dissected my email and addressed it point by point. (his remarks are bold and in italics)

Dear Sheepandgoats:

First of all I'd like to say that I respect your approach, and opinions, and think your letter is very well written.

I'm going to answer each of these points, but would also like to point out that we have now ventured out of my article's dominion — which was that science and religion are opposite approaches to explaining life and that they can't be mixed. I usually leave discussions of which one is "better" or "more true" up to scientists that are inclined to do so — but on account of your friendly approach and obvious thought you've given to each argument, here is my reply.

Dear Scientist from Iceland:

“Fatal flaws” are in the eye of the beholder. In the field of science, I have a working knowledge. You are the expert, not I. I would not be so presumptuous to think I have qualifications to instruct you on your own turf.
What I can say is that evidence garnered so far in support of evolution is unconvincing to me. It is insufficient to override my belief in creation.

I respect and relate to that. It's my exact response to why I don't believe in a god.

Of course, you might say “that’s because you’re an ignoramus,” which is the answer evolution proponents often give.

I'm sorry to hear that — and apologize on behalf of my colleagues.

Or you might, more charitably, say that the problem lies in communication….evolutionists have not properly explained their position and its supporting evidence. This, in fact, is what you did say.
By the way, when I use the term “you,” please understand that I don’t necessarily mean you personally, but only generically, as in the typical evolution proponent. And I know there is a challenge in describing who’s typical. There is a bell curve, I realize. But I will do my best.

Of course — thank you for explicitly pointing that out. Please also consider any such remarks on my behalf the same way, and believe me when I say that nothing I write here is supposed to be insulting. If you feel it is, then it is not intentional and I apologize beforehand.

I have come to view the Bible as a trustworthy, logical whole, and as a source of satisfying answers to vexing questions which are answered nowhere else. Such questions as …why do we grow old and die? and ….why is there suffering and misery? ….are convincingly addressed in the Bible, and intricately linked to the creation account. It’s the strength of these positive things, rather than perceived difficulties with evolution, that accounts for my position.

Indeed. I can truthfully say that I at least partially understand your stance. Science, at this point, has no answer to those questions. However, to explain my position — I'm okay with not having all the answers. I accept that scientific knowledge is, and will remain for a very long time, a work in progress. Until then, I will continue using the scientific method to support or disprove what I believe or question — until one day all questions will be answered, or we will have answered the question of whether science can really answer all the questions (more on this further below).

Put the two on a scale, and I see the Bible as weighing more. It’s not that evolution is weightless. Quite the contrary. There is supporting evidence. But the evidence supporting the Bible weighs more, in my view. Put yourself in my place and you can see how such a view would lead to a focus on “fatal” evolution flaws, a project I would never undertake were it possible for the two ideas to co-exist.

I'm not sure we share the same definition of "evidence". Do you mean scientific evidence that godly powers exist, or some kind of different evidence? Or perhaps mainly a lack of evidence on behalf of evolutionists?

I have a question that might seem strange, one that contains a point that allows the two to co-exist: Considering how little is said about god's methods of creation in the bible, or other scriptures — don't you ever consider the possibility that god created evolution? There is nothing to suggest that evolution isn't part of god's methods to create humans (except for the story of Adam and Eve, but I gather that you're not a fundamentalist).
I'm interested in hearing your take on this; is there something that you feel is wrong or disconcerting about this notion?
To clear any confusion, I don't believe this for my obvious agnostic atheist tendencies. But I do, of course, continually reason with myself — and this is a thought I've been longing to ask someone religious as I've never heard it used as an argument.

But here is a problem. You are expert in your field. I am expert in mine. I have a working knowledge in your field. But you, I strongly suspect, have not a clue in mine.
A lawyer ought to be able to argue both sides of a case. I can argue your side. Not as convincingly as you, of course, but I can do it. But you couldn’t begin to argue my side. Apologies if I am wrong, but I doubt I am.

Actually — my mother is a christian fundamentalist, and she did indeed try to raise me as one as well. My atheism was not brought about by ignorance of religious scriptures — but was the result of many years of learning and thinking during my childhood, and today still. I went to Sunday school regularly, and to church. As of yet, none of the arguments I've heard have been convincing enough to change my mind.
On the other hand, you're partially right. Even though I was raised in a christian home — I admit I have not for many years made an effort to study the Bible, Koran or any other religious doctrine. But it isn't what's said *in* the Bible that's my reason for disbelief, please see my next paragraphs.

At any rate, it would be easy to test. Write me succinctly the Bible’s answers to the two questions I posed: why old age and death; why suffering. I’m not saying you have to believe the answers, just make the arguments.

Assuming that you can’t, perhaps now you see the problem; the playing field is not level. And it’s your fault. (generic “you,” remember.) I know your side. You don’t know mine. Thus, the “ignorance” quote from Isaac Asimov (in your main paper) is most condescending. (but not atypical of him) And misleading. Because he doesn’t know our reasoning, he assumes there is none.

I could attempt to answer these questions, but I do not see how this is relevant. The reason that I don't believe in religious doctrines is not because the arguments aren't convincing, or that they don't make sense in their own way. The reason is that there is no way for me to prove or refute their validity. No matter how much sense it makes that suffering is due to original sin — there is no way to find evidence to support it, we can't investigate the notion. This is what Asimov meant by ignorance: If anyone chooses to decide something without any way to support or disprove it — there is no rational way to make us change our mind, no way that we can embetter our ways or reach new horizons.
How would you, for example, propose that we decide whether the Bible is the right scripture, or the Koran? While scientists inevitably contradict eachother's theories and hypotheses, they eventually come to agreements through the gradual accumulation of knowledge/mutually supporting evidence (and thereby enter new domains of disagreement). People of religion always depend on the same unprovable scriptures, and hence, can never come to agreement. How do we know or reason which one is right? We will never be able to, unless there's some kind of divine intervention. Even though science today doesn't have all the answers, I can rely on constant development and the possibility that one day it might. And indeed, I am starting repeating myself because this is a difference implied in my article.

Now, if you ask me why I would want to lead a life of consistent reason aside from what I've already mentioned — I can't answer in a single sentence, but an important point is that I've seen what rationality and science can do to better the world. To rid us of witch burnings, or beliefs that the mentally ill are possessed by devils, or creating better medication based on our knowledge of biology, for example. Also, as I noted before — I have no problem with accepting that at this point we can't answer everything. But there is no logical reason to believe continued scientific research will one day stop providing answers or improving our lives. At this point, I'd like to point out that the theory of evolution was conceived of around 1840, which makes it's lifespan very short in terms of research, development and substantiation — but I'm sure you realize that.

Now, two caveats.

First, the “playing field” only has to be level if you want to “play.” And you may not. I can respect that. After all, I read your article and contacted you. Not the reverse.

Second, when I say the fault is yours, that is not to imply any deficiency on your part. Your prior e-mail lamented that proponents of evidence for evolution have insufficiently explained their case. That argument is a thousand times more true in the field of religion than in science.

If I understand you correctly, it seems to me that we are very close to having the same approach to these matters — just on opposite ends.

It’s also not unexpected, by the way. The Bible is full of these type statements:

I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves…….Acts 20: 29

For there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, whereas they will be turned aside to false stories……2 Tim 4:3

Suffice it to say that, if you do not know my position, it is religion’s fault, not yours.

Well, I don't like assuming when it comes to people's opinions, so

As to “fatal” flaws, I won’t discuss any, at least for the time being. You know what points I would likely raise, and you have answers to them all. It often boils down to…..is this or that impossible (my view) or simply astronomically unlikely, (yours) though it has nonetheless come to pass since any other outcome has been culled by natural selection.

Excellent position. Regardless of if I would have had answers to them all — I probably wouldn't have ventured into those discussions. My argument provided in the article still stands: that religious beliefs and scientific beliefs are uncomparable. The existance of god, at this point in time, is something that can't be explored through scientific means, and hence — any attempt at arguing it at this point eventually leads nowhere if we restrict ourselves to scientific reasoning.

Well, okay, here’s one I’ve already written about: http://carriertom.typepad.com/sheep_and_goats/2006/06/science_and_sex.html

Bearing in mind that I've acknowledged that scientific knowledge is a work in progress — here is some information that might be of interest to you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macroevolution

[I was a little surprised how quickly he rolled over on this one. I had figured he would have some sort of answer.]

Lastly, so as to make my views somewhat more palatable to you, I have no issue with micro-evolution: fruit flies, bacteria, finches, and the like. It is similar to animal husbandry, and has been around forever.

I can understand how the uniqueness of the human species can make one think that we have come to exist differently than fruit flies and bacteria, even though I don't believe it.

I also agree with you - and not with the fundamentalists - that it is nonsense to suppose all was created in literal 24-hour days. The Bible doesn’t insist on this. There is no reason “day” can’t be viewed more broadly, such as an old-timer talking about life “in his day.” Scientists speak of millions, even billions of years, in life’s origin. In general, I have no issue with this.

I don’t count myself a fundamentalist, nor does the faith I am a part of, Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As I've noticed, you do like being informed on scientific issues as well as religious ones, so here's a bit of information: You mentioned mathematicians using the disproving of one hypothesis to prove another. This is possible when we are talking about an hypothesis and it's null-hypothesis. For example, we state the hypothesis that 1+1=2, then the null-hypothesis is that 1+1 does not equal 2. If we can prove that the null-hypothesis is true, then we have proven that 1+1=2 is not true. This is usually only applicable to very simple hypotheses and not to complex systems such as human existance or the theory of evolution — as they are complex theories built on hundreds or millions of smaller hypotheses and subsystems.

Does this address the points you raised in your e-mail?

In part, yes. You have a very sensible approach to these matters and, like I said, I appreciate that. I hope my arguments have come across as well as you conveyed yours. As I mentioned at the beginning of this letter — I try to avoid these discussions. My article on scientific- and religious beliefs was one that I felt compelled to write, not to argue existential issues, or to convince people to take sides, but to point out their differences.
In final word, I'd like to emphasize that I am not inclined towards trying and convert you to atheism, or to belittle your beliefs. I consider our conversation a general exchange of information between two humans in a complex world.
Thank you for challenging us, and providing an insight into your world.

Sincerely,
-Hrafn Th.

………………………………...............

He liked this exchange and so did I, because both of us were nice and neither of us came to blows. He put the entire conversation on his website, which has better artwork than mine. He also stuck me with the cross and took the cool helix for himself! I told him I too might post the exchange someday when I was too lazy to think of anything new.

Today’s the day.

 

**********************

Tom Irregardless and Me                  No Fake News but Plenty of Hardship

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

iPop Cleans the Basement

Need a tube for your TV set? Or a ribbon for your typewriter? How about the inner gears for your Super8 movie camera? Any of these things might have been yours for the asking had you been with me over the weekend.

Once or twice in this blog, I have written about Pop. But I have not yet written about iPop.

Inlaw Pop is one of those guys, indispensable in any neighborhood, who, if you have a broken anything, he can come and fix it for you. And do you need an impossible-to-find part for your busted doodad? Not to worry, he has one of those in his basement! For many years now, no one has put any piece of junk out on the curb without iPop fetching and squirreling it away in his basement, in case he needs it someday. Many things that would otherwise be broken are not broken because of iPop.

All this is well and good until there is a flood, and there was one of those last week. iPop lives just outside Buffalo, which endured a freak October snowstorm. Two feet of heavy wet snow fell on trees that had not yet shed their leaves. Everything came crashing down, taking out power & telephone lines. Sump pumps stopped sumping, and basements backed up with water.

iPop’s basement is a psychology Skinner rat maze; you thread your way gingerly through mounds of junk. Family members converged to survey the flooded damage. It wasn’t pretty. Everything had to come out. Only then could you clean and disinfect the floor. Hopefully, many earnestly prayed, it would stay out! It would never return. Instead, it would find it’s way to the dump where, some surmised, it should have gone in the first place.

The project was touch and go. I brought up a load of crud and carted it to the curb. iPop eyed it uneasily. His daughter brought up a load of crud and carted it to the curb. iPop brought up a load of crud and put it just outside the door.

“Hey, why are you taking out stuff from the top shelf?” he cried in alarm as I walked past him with an AMC Pacer fuel pump. “It was on the floor,” iPop, I replied. “It’s fair game. You’ve probably got two or three just like it still inside and you’re getting them confused.”

It’s all outside now. And the floor is clean. But we won’t really be home free until the rubbish trucks have come and gone. Until then there is the very real possibly that he will haul all the stuff back downstairs and in a few years, we’ll have to shovel out the basement all over again.

Ah, well. If it happens, it happens. Small concession to make to the guy who gave me my wife.

And if he doesn’t? Then he’s got a cleaned out basement, awaiting new stuff.

Every branch…not bearing fruit he takes away, and every one bearing fruit he cleans, that it may bear more fruit.     John 15:2

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)