Who can tax the sunrise…?

November 30, 2009

Warning – viewing this video may cause you to murmur the lyrics for days after listening. I am not sure if it’s because they are catchy and clever, or because they are oh so true…


Have a Glorious Thanksgiving

November 26, 2009

As always we have much more to be thankful for than we have to be discouraged about – life, the love of God, family and friends. I hope you all have a wonderful time of giving thanks today.

Making a Declaration

November 24, 2009

I have to admit I am not much of a joiner – or signer. I have a rather innate tendency to go against the crowd and avoid populist movements. But when a statement brings together Evangelicals, Catholics, and those of the Orthodox persuasion, it catches my attention.

The Manhattan Declaration is just such a statement – it addresses three fundamental issues, critical to Christians everywhere, of every ilk – it is introduced as follows:

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

1. the sanctity of human life
2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

It’s pretty straightforward – three issues which require our response and steadfast affirmation. They are not popular positions to take, but this is time to be a shrinking violet Christian, compromising on principles.

The people who wrote this recognize that our backs are against the wall as it were, and at least on these issues we have much more in common than we have separating us, and these perilous times requires a unified response. Many of the names are immediately recognizable – but in my mind their names aren’t nearly as important as yours and mine – I would strongly encourage you to go to manhattandeclaration.org and sign their petition or common principles.

Does Darwinism Lead to Murder?

November 17, 2009

Pekka-Eric_Auvinen, Finnish Shooter

Pekka-Eric Auvinen, Finnish Shooter

Causing no little consternation as of late is a recent article in the Science section of the Sunday Times Online which chronicles the apparent link between the evolutionary (and once revolutionary) ideas of Charles Darwin, and the propensity for violence among youth.

The article in question, Charles Darwin and the children of the evolution, by BBC journalist Dennis Sewell suggests that a number of high school killers, specifically Columbine killer Eric Harris, and Finnish shooter Pekka-Eric Auvinen were motivated by Darwin’s idea of natural selection, however twisted their understanding of this idea was.

Another recent link was made from Darwinism to violent behavior in the pages of the science journal Nature. There author James Pusey explains the foundational role Darwinism played in the mega-murderous regime of China’s Mao. Most of this isn’t particularly surprising; I have written myself about the direct connection between Darwin and the early 20th century ideas about eugenics that led to so many deaths.

And of course is the same sort of argument that got Ben Stein in trouble over a year ago when he made it in the Intelligent Design documentary ‘Expelled’, which generated heaps of derision on Stein from the atheist/evolutionist circles. And the anger over these current articles is coming from the same quarters. Jerry Coyne, University of Chicago Professor of Ecology and Evolution (and not surprisingly atheist apologist) bemoans the connection Sewell makes between Darwin and bad behavior , and points out atheists are capable of being moral too:

Apparently Sewell hasn’t heard about the secular origin of morality, or the fact that, as even many theologians admit, we cannot philosophically ground right and wrong on divine fiat. And what’s wrong with accepting one’s morality as “matter of personal choice”? Isn’t it more admirable to act out of reasoned principles of morality than out of fear of eternal immolation for disobeying the Sky Dictator?

All of this rather begs the question about whether or not evolutionary theory is true; obviously if that is the case, then it is what it is, whatever morality it provokes. This being said, if evolution does provoke such behavior, then it perhaps deserves a scrutiny that other scientific explanations, less directly related to human behavior, might garner. Whatever the realities of dark matter for example, its existence is highly unlikely to incite dark behavior.

Beyond this though I think evolutionists wrongly deny, or are simply don’t realize that evolution is more than a mere scientific theory, even while they utilize it as a basis for their own metaphysical beliefs in agnosticism or atheism. Coyne exemplifies this when he says sarcastically in his response to the article, “I hadn’t realized that Darwinism was a “world-view.” Silly me — all along I thought it was just a theory meant to explain the development and diversity of life.”

Of course even a casual observer realizes evolution is both, and as much as there is dispute over evolution between various interests, I think the primary dispute comes down to the worldview evolution seems to suggest.

On one hand, narrowly understood evolution is a comprehensive theory composed of various natural events – mutations, natural selection, adaptation, speciation, etc., some more readily observable than others. The totality of these events is believed to be responsible for the origination of all life on earth – however that is not all evolution says about us as humans.

Because of evolution’s presumed critical role in the origin of humans, and all that defines us – our minds, our societies, our behaviors, our concepts of right and wrong behaviors – evolution forms a metanarrative, or a comprehensive explanation of human knowledge and experience. In short it claims to tell us what we are and how we came to be what we are, and as much as it does this it forms a basis for acting according to that narrative.

The very fact that strong evolutionists so consistently cling to a particular metaphysic (agnosticism or atheism) and so consistently cite evolution as the foundation of that belief demonstrates how evolution serves as a metanarrative. So it isn’t a great leap to consider that behaviors provoked by strongly held evolutionary beliefs might in turn be consistent under similar circumstances.

In fact, one might say it is obvious as the beak on a Galapagos finch.

For the sake of anti-science

November 13, 2009

Michael Hawkins, in a recent post at the atheist/evolutionist site (n.b. – his conflation, not mine) ‘For the Sake of Science’ tells a tale of his youth where he encountered his first ‘anti-science’ stance. In his story, he first learns about the earth spinning on its axis via a kindergarten teacher. Fascinated by this new knowledge, he excitedly shares it with his young neighbor friend as soon as he gets the chance. Alas, there is a problem; his friend is skeptical of his claims! He thus concludes:

I really had no response to this. I had basically been told some facts which were consistent with observation. I didn’t have a full grasp (nay, nary a tenuous grasp) on gravity or anything that would have helped me explain to David [the young friend] why he was wrong. I was only able to repeat what I was convinced was true. This was the first time I had been frustrated by someone taking an anti-science stance. I didn’t know his position was in opposition to science since I was about 5 or 6, but that’s what it was. Fortunately, his position can be excused since he was about the same age. But this raises an interesting question.

What is everyone else’s excuse?

It is always interesting to me that those who claim to speak for science, nay, have a blog presumed to exist ‘For the Sake of Science’, display so little knowledge of what science actually is. Let’s begin with a breakdown of what happened.

Young Mikey gained new information from a teacher, a trusted authority, about certain natural phenomena. So far so good; that is the purpose of educators, to convey the most current information about such things.  Lil’ Mike then shared this information with his friend as fact; his friend responded with skepticism. Michael concludes this is ‘anti-science’ because he considered it a denial of what is plainly true, much as those evil evolution deniers do. However, nothing which transpired between Hawkins and his friend qualifies as ‘scientific’ except perhaps, the reaction of his very young friend!

Like many evolutionists Hawkins concludes that the word of an educators or expert is equivalent to science – it’s not; science relies on repeated observation, and experimentation, not the opinion of experts or authorities, who have repeatedly been proved wrong in their claims. Indeed, an ‘appeal to authority’ is an oft used logical fallacy. However, one key component of science is skepticism; that is not taking what someone claims at face value, not even the supposed experts – exactly the attitude his friend displayed.

So what really happened was that Michael heard something from someone he trusted, a claim that appealed to his own thinking – and so he adopted it as true, which is actually an act of faith not science. His friend questioned that claim, which is the beginning of rigorous scientific inquiry. So in this case it was actually Micheal himself who was being ‘anti-science’.

The question I have for Michael is why as a grown-up who is supposed to be trained in science, is he still defending such faith-based thinking?

The Contradictions of the Healthcare debate

November 11, 2009

I am certainly no healthcare expert, nor am I a noted economist (or even an ignored economist), so I don’t feel adequate to delve into the nitty gritty of the current House bill. However, it doesn’t take an expert to observe that over the course of the debate about health care from the current administration, there have been numerous contradictions, both in terms of logic and fact. Many of these get short shrift in the 30 second analysis we get from the media.

 One of the first logical contradictions one notes has to do with the ‘Healthcare System wastes 800 billion dollars’ vs. ‘Insurers regularly deny care’ claims. On one hand we presented with a picture of stingy health insurers, who routinely deny care in order to line the pockets of their greedy CEO’s. Meant to elicit support for healthcare legislation by generating hatred for the imaginary rich, this is standard class warfare language.

 Yet, on the other hand we are presented with a recent study, much touted by government healthcare advocates, that our current healthcare system wastes up to ‘$800 hundred billion a year’ (which coincidently at the time was exactly the same as the cost of the healthcare legislation). This waste was said to be the result of a a number of conditions, including unnecessary procedures and inefficiencies in paperwork. It would follow if the healthcare legislation could fix these cost overruns, it would practically pay for itself.

 But it only takes a minute to realize the unlikelihood that both of these arguments are generally true. If health insurers really are money-grubbing dictators trying to squeeze every last cent out of the health system, then why are they completely ignoring the waste of 800 billion dollars? Why wouldn’t they shut down those extra procedures and eliminate the paper work? That’s a lot of cash for those penny pinchers to ignore. Perhaps fixing such problems isn’t so straight forward. Indeed, the government already insures nearly half our population through Medicare and Medicaid – and it has shown no propensity to contain such costs.

 In fact, another assumption of the health reform bill is that congress will cut billions of dollars in Medicare programs in the near future. That’s great; but why haven’t they started until now? A lot of the fraud and waste is the product of the Medicare system, which is after all a government run public health insurance option – why should the electorate trust that the broader public option will create efficiencies when we already have a budget busting example of a government run program that has been anything but efficient, by the Democrats own admission?

 And finally, we come to the discussion about the public option. Perhaps the most controversial part of the current House bill, the public option will provide a government funded healthcare option, much like Medicare, for those who currently have no health insurance.

 The primary argument for this option has to do with the fact that a certain number of people in our country –either 60, 40, or 30 million people depending on the day and who is counting – don’t currently have insurance. The public option would provide for those folks who either due to lack of funds, or some pre-existing condition, have been denied private healthcare. So far so good; it’s hard to deny that basic healthcare should be more accessible.

 But the second argument is that a public option will provide ‘competition’ for the private insurers, causing them to bring down costs, and become more efficient. The problem with this though is that it is never explained how it is that insuring folks already deemed ‘uninsurable’ by the private industry will create ‘competition’; competition after all only occurs when two entities vie for a single market. Those who can’t afford insurance and those who can are in fact two different markets – so insurance companies will have no incentive to bring down costs, since they aren’t losing out by maintaining their current practices.

 The only way such a situation would be competitive is if the government were to structure the public option so that it was available to those who already had insurance, giving individuals and employers incentives to drop private insurance and adopt the ‘competitive’ (and publicly funded) public option.

 If this happened on a wide scale (and why wouldn’t it?) it would inevitably move us toward a government run, publicly funded, single payer healthcare system in our country, much like the socialized systems seen elsewhere – but I am sure that isn’t the intention behind all this at all, is it?

Species, baramin, or kind – the inadequacy of classification schema

November 11, 2009

Frequently in discussions between evolutionists and creationists, a central point of disagreement revolves around the origin of species, of which evolution claims to be the primary engine. Creationists deny that evolution is capable of such a feat, and even deny that species as a proper classification of organisms. In keeping with Biblical text, they instead adopt kind, or more properly baramin as the proper distinction between different types of organisms, and deny evolution the power to create this level of distinction.

 The problem with both classification schemas is that they are both based on either vague or arbitrary criteria. In the case of baramin, the Bible gives no detailed description of what distinguishes one ‘kind’ from another or any criteria by which to measure such a distinction. As Genesis is not a detailed science text, such criteria are not expected.

 However the term ‘species’, despite its long history and centrality to both biology and evolutionary theory, fairs no better. In fact the species problem is a long recognized issue in biology. In the simplest terms a species is an interbreeding population which is reproductively isolated from other populations; in reality populations are in constant flux, and despite years of relative isolation populations often find ways to interbreed.

 And the problem gets worse when considering the prehistory of life; indeed, a recent analyses of dinosaur ‘species’ found that up to a third of the dinosaur species may in fact not be species at all, but instead be different age groups and sexes of the same type of dinosaur.


Species or stages?

Such a finding also underlines the weaknesses of fossil interpretation when investigating life’s past. Indeed, this has the potential to call into question much of the supposed record of evolution said to be found in fossils, which purports to demonstrate the gradual appearance of species over time.

 As someone who favors intelligent design and who is a critic of evolution, I don’t necessarily have a dog in this fight. Indeed, I think it is better to focus on the origin of information, body plans, living systems and capabilities rather than quibble over classification schema that are virtually impossible to actually define. But I have found, clarity is rarely the goal of such discussions.