Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Thought

Thanksgiving is easily one of my favorite holidays, and that because it is so inextricably tied to America and Christianity. I'm not saying that it can't be secularized (I've heard people refer to it as 'Turkey Day'); but it would be really hard to even try to make a reasonable case that would somehow sever the historical ties of this holiday to the gratitude of early American men, women, and children expressed to the one true God.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Motivation in Science Teaching

I'm finally getting around to reading Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity, and it's the sort of book I love. It has, of course, a strong apologetic component, and mixes in a good deal of history. I also appreciate D'Souza's wit and logic.

In chapter 4, he discusses the atheist agenda to indoctrinate our children with anti-religion, which begins in the science classroom. D'Souza quotes an editorial in The Economist,
Darwinism has enemies mostly because it is not compatible with a literal interpretation of Genesis.
D'Souza goes on to make the point that Darwinism has friends and supporters for exactly the same reason. Indeed, the whole reason for teaching Darwinism is in order to marginalize theism, and especially Christianity. (Go here to see how impractical and unnecessary is an understanding of evolutionary theory to actual scientific, medical, or pharmaceutical advance.) According to D'Souza, it might seem possible that
the Darwinists are merely standing up for science. But surveys show that the vast majority of young people in America today are scientifically illiterate, widely ignorant of all aspects of science. How many high school graduates could tell you the meaning of Einstein's famous equation? Lots of young people don't have a clue about photosynthesis or Boyle's Law. So why isn't there a political movement to fight for the teaching of photosynthesis? Why isn't the ACLU filing lawsuits on behalf of Boyle's Law?
He continues,
The answer is clear. For the defenders of Darwinism, no less than for its critics, religion is the issue. Just as some people oppose the theory of evolution because they believe it to be anti-religious, many others support it for the very same reason. That is why we have Darwinism but not Keplerism; we encounter Darwinists but no one describes himself as an Einsteinian. Darwinism has become an ideology.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Green Toothpicks

In the class I'm teaching this semester at Kilns College, I had the opportunity last night to address naturalism and evolution. Among the many illustrations this allowed me to resurrect, one of my favorites has to do with green toothpicks.

I took an undergraduate biology class from Dr. "Mad Dog" Johnson, in which he tried to demonstrate natural selection in action. We went outside to a lush, uncut, well-fertilized portion of the campus lawn, where we scattered a known number of toothpicks of different colors--red, yellow, blue, and green. We, the students, then acted as predators--the agents of natural selection--foraging through that patch of lawn capturing as many toothpicks as we could find. As I recall, we found all of the yellow and red toothpicks, most of the blue ones, and almost none of the green, so well-camouflaged were they among the long blades of grass. The lesson was that natural selection works just so on populations of living things.

There are at least a couple of serious problems with this experiment as an illustration of natural selection at work. If--as is claimed--natural selection acting on genetic variation is the mechanism by which evolutionary advance is made, what we demonstrated would seem to be just the opposite. Our toothpick population began with a much higher genetic diversity than it had by the end. The population, which now consists almost entirely of green toothpicks, would seem to be much less able to adapt to a changing environment than when it contained the greater diversity of phenotypes. It has ever since seemed to me that we demonstrated that natural selection has a far greater capacity to tend toward extinction than to adaptation and advance.

Another problem with this illustration is just as important. Let us be unreasonably generous and grant that the resulting population of toothpicks is somehow better prepared to adapt to some future environmental change. That is, let us say--for the sake of argument--that what we witnessed was an instance of microevolution. Microevolution refers to the idea that species (and populations and such) are not static, but change over time in both their phenotype and genotype (their form and the genetic basis for that form, respectively).

That microevolution occurs is a well-accepted, non-controversial idea. But granting that the population of green toothpicks is a good example of something having undergone microevolution provides no support for the claim of neo-Darwinism, which is that this same mechanism--natural selection acting upon genetic variation (mutation)--can account for macroevolution. In other words, the diversity of all life is explainable by this sort of natural selection acting over vast time scales. In the specific case of the toothpick illustration, we are to believe that if we waited long enough (as the toothpicks bred generation after generation) and continued preying on those toothpicks most easily spotted, eventually those toothpicks would give rise to species of dental floss, of toothbrushes, and even, eventually, of electric toothbrushes, all without the input of any sort of intelligence or designer.

The fossil record shows that there have existed--over the course of Earth's history--different life forms. But macroevolutionary theory, as an explanation for how that record came to be, has yet to be substantiated by any evidence. Rare cases of microevolution have been documented, and then we are asked to make the unreasonable and unsupported extrapolation that such minor changes can be invoked to explain all of the advancing complexity witnessed in the fossil record. For me, Professor Johnson's toothpick demonstration has always served as a reminder of the absurdity of the grander claims of evolutionists.

(A version of this post originally appeared on 26 Feb 2007.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Black Vote on Prop 8

In the last post, I addressed the question (arising out of the aftermath of California's Proposition 8), "Why are homosexuals in California behaving as terrorists?" In this post, I want to address a second question, to wit,
Why did blacks overwhelmingly vote for Prop 8, in favor of traditional marriage?
Now, there are undoubtedly a number of reasons that could rightly be offered, and I in no way want to suggest that mine is the primary one. Nonetheless, I think it worth a mention.

I believe it has been a gross strategical error on the part of gays and lesbians to seek to equate their efforts with the civil rights movement. At best, this equation is a faulty analogy; at worst it trivializes the great injustices perpetrated on people of color and the sacrifice and suffering that they went through (and go through) to see those injustices end.

An analogy is faulty (and thus fallacious) when the differences (between the two things compared) are more significant and central than the similarities. In the case of civil rights and "same-sex marriage," the similarity is this... two groups, both minorities, desired a change in the laws affecting them.

Here are some of the differences... Blacks were (and are) being denied basic rights available to everyone else. These included job opportunities, educational opportunities, the right to eat, ride, and sleep where others (of the majority) were allowed. As a result, blacks were underpaid, undereducated, second-class citizens in every way. By contrast, homosexuals are not denied education, job opportunities, or any other rights. Homosexuals in America have more education and higher income than the average citizen, and can eat, ride, and sleep wherever they want. They are denied no rights offered everyone else.

Indeed, gays and lesbians can even get married just like anyone else. The problem is that they don't want to enter into the longtime, heterosexual commitment that is (and always has been) marriage. What's more, no one is preventing them from engaging in the relationships that they have chosen. So, the only thing that they lack is the wholesale respect and blessing of their aberrant relationships by the public at large, and the minor financial incentives that the government has offered to married couples. Parenthetically, the government has recognized the importance to a nation of strong traditional families; while it is apparent that homosexuals would benefit (at significant cost to the rest) from such incentives if marriage were redefined, there doesn't seem to be any benefit to the nation or government for so promoting such alliances.)

It really isn't any wonder that blacks do not tend to buy into the gay agenda; they have every reason to be outraged at the claim that "gay rights" are an extension of the courageous fight for equality in which people of color have been engaged for so long. This problem is probably too obvious (to most of my readers) to even warrant this post, but it seems that homosexuals can't somehow see it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Prop 8

I thought it might be worthwhile to answer a couple of questions that arise out of the passage of California's Proposition 8 and the resulting violence...
1) Why are homosexuals in California behaving as terrorists?
In general, terrorists believe that the ends they desire cannot be achieved peacefully, meaning either through logical argumentation (or negotiation) or political means. In California, homosexuals were hoping to receive approval for their relationships through the political process (activist judges), but Proposition 8--which affirmed marriage as between one man and one woman--was passed by the voters of their state. This puts them between a rock and a hard place, because the other peaceful means (logic) doesn't work for them. Let me put it another way.

The question of whether a state should redefine marriage to include the union of two men or of two women is a question of morality. And when wrestling with a particular moral question, the larger question that naturally frames it is, "Where does morality come from?" or "On what do we base morality?" Homosexuals, as you might expect, reject the traditional answer, objectivism, which says that there is a transcendent Natural Law to which we seek to conform our national, state, or local laws. The reason gays and lesbians cannot appeal to that Law is that it ends up defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Despite the fact that homosexuality has been around throughout human history (and even, to varying degrees accepted as an alternate sexual preference), there has been no society that has sought to confuse it or to equate it with marriage, which has always been understood as applying to heterosexual individuals. Once accept a transcendent Moral Law (and a moral Law-Giver), and the gay agenda is doomed.

But there's another option in our postmodern society, and that's what's known as conventionalism. Conventionalism represents a denial of objective morality in favor of the view that "one ought to behave according to the dictates of one's own culture" (this view is also known as prescriptive cultural relativism). This understanding of morality has fatal logical flaws (as I discussed here), but that's beside the present point.

Here's what's happening in California... Homosexuals cannot receive the societal respect and blessing they crave through appealing to objective morality. So their only hope (for achieving that goal peacefully) was through legal means, by convincing rogue judges (those willing to go beyond interpreting the law to creating the law) to side with them. But then along comes a referendum ballot--which is quintessentially a conventionalist approach--arguing the contrary (traditional) view of marriage. As long as the vote on Prop 8 was still undecided, an appeal to convention as endorsing their untraditional view of marriage was still a live option. But Prop 8 didn't go their way, and where does that leave gays and lesbians in California?

They still cannot appeal to objective morality, because it argues against a homosexual relationship being called 'marriage.' Nor can they (now) appeal to a conventional understanding of morality, because the convention that holds in California is that marriage is heterosexual. They lose either way. I feel sorry for them (in more ways than one), at least those among them that haven't in the election aftermath resorted to terrorism.

Next post, "Why did blacks overwhelmingly vote for Prop 8?"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Kilns College Next Semester

The classes being offered next semester at Kilns College (in Bend, OR) have been posted. It's a pretty interesting list and a great group of teachers. Go here to check 'em out, and get a jump on planning how you'll take advantage of these great educational opportunities.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Great Weekend


We had such a successful Apologetics Conference right here in Bend this weekend! It featured Drs. J.P. Moreland, Craig Hazen, and Scott Rae from BIOLA and Talbot Seminary, and was extremely well-attended. As the first annual such event, we of Kilns College and the Apologetics Guild, were thrilled with the interest, the turnout, and the caliber of the eleven messages delivered.

Many kudos to Rich Waller for making this exciting event a reality, and thanks to Emi Popa and all of those who served behind the scenes. I can't wait to do this again.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"All Scientists Agree.." (Part 2)

In the last post, I took issue with the claim "All scientists agree (about anthropogenic global warming or macroevolution, or whatever)." I argued that such a claim is generally false (as with evolution and global warming) and that such statements are red herrings, efforts to evade the real issue, which is whether the evidence and reason should lead us to believe that the larger claim (that man-caused global warming is occurring, e.g.) is true.

But there's another interesting thing to notice about such claims. And that is the fact that they are not themselves scientific claims but rather sociological claims. That is, a claim about what "all scientists believe" falls within the discipline known as sociology of science, not within any scientific discipline such as biology, evolutionary biology, or climatology. Therefore, whenever it is a scientist (biologist or climatologist) making such a claim, he is outside of his area of expertise (and generally doesn't realize it).

Rightly understanding this has important implications. Our culture is greatly affected by idealogies that are based upon a high regard for science and an uncritical acceptance of what scientists claim. But most of the time, the real issues (whether intelligent design theory should be taught in government schools, or whether science should seek only naturalistic answers to the questions it pursues) are not issues that a scientist has any training or qualification to address. Rather, these are issues rightly addressed by second-order disciplines.

The sciences--chemistry, physics, biology, and such--are first-order disciplines, fileds that study particular sets of phenomena. There are other disciplines that are second-order disciplines, which means that they involve the study of other disciplines. Those second-order disciplines that are important to understanding what science is (and should be) and how scientists work are at least four: sociology (of science), psychology (of science), history of science, and philosophy of science (with the latter two being the most important).

So, when a scientist makes the claim "All scientists believe..." he is likely talking through his hat, or at least wearing a hat disingenuously (speaking as an authority in an area in which he is not an authority). As important as this is with regard to questions of whether anthropogenic global warming or neo-Darwinism are accurate understandings of reality, it is even more important with regard to the question "What is science?" And here again, though we allow scientists all the time to tell us what science is and how it is done, most scientists have no training in these issues. Thus, the scientists allowed to testified in court cases regarding the teaching of intelligent design are completely unqualified to address the issue of what science is. Instead, it is philosophers of science and historians of science who should be allowed on the stand.

The problem is that any philosopher of science would tell you that intelligent design theory and even theories about the universe that begin with an understanding of the world that is based in Genesis are scientific theories. Whether they fare better (than naturalistic theories) is another story, and will be discerned based on evidence and explanatory power and such. But where we are at present is this: on the issue of what science is, we have uncritically accepted the uneducated opinion of scientists who are sadly unqualified to answer the question. And the result has been devastating not only to the teaching of science but to our entire educational and political systems.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

"All Scientists Agree..."

My regular readers will realize that I care about the environment, that I see care for the creation as a part of God's unrescinded "dominion mandate" and something in which Christians ought to be leading the way.

That said, I've never bought into the anthropogenic global warming scare. There are several reasons for this. They include (but are not limited to) the fact that the issue has been so hijacked for political purposes, the recognition that the alarmists tend to ignore the incredible design of the atmosphere (and the existence of the Designer), the existence of a wealth of contrary evidence, and others. But perhaps the most obvious reason for my skepticism about such claims is that the so-called argument takes a form that is fallacious and untrue, and one that is increasingly used (in this issue and others) in lieu of good evidence and reason. I'm thinking here of the claim
All scientists agree that...
There is no disagreement among scientists about...
You may right away recall at least one other issue where this claim is made, and that is with regard to evolution. Of course, anybody that's been paying attention at all realizes that there's quite a bit of controversy among scientists as to whether natural selection acting upon random genetic mutations is an adequate explanation for the diversity of life. But the claim--even if it were true--would be irrelevant to whether evolution is true. It's an example of the ad populum fallacy, and is a thinly-veiled attempt to divert attention from the actual evidence itself (which overwhelmingly and increasingly contradicts neo-Darwinism).

And the same problems exist when the claim is made with regard to global warming. Again, the claim is untrue; many experts disagree that man-caused global warming is occurring on a scale that warrants concern. But more importantly, it's fallacious, and what really matters is what the evidence says. And (if you've bought into the global warming hype, here's where you can breathe a sigh of relief), the evidence is all the other way now, and that with a vengeance. The polar ice is back to normal levels (only a year later), and there's no longer any need for you to start considering captive-breeding polar bears. But my favorite news item on the global warming front this week is this, that while British Parliament is putting the finishing touches on a costly and misguided law aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions, London is blanketed by the first October snowfall since 1922.

Global warming alarmists continue to do their best to ignore contrary evidence. Increasingly, it seems that the environment itself seems to want a say in how obvious and abundant such evidence is.