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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label bias. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bias. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

That Google Memo and the Glory of Motherhood



Saying that men and women are different is now a very dangerous thing. Notice I didn't say anything about one being inferior or another being better. Just calling out the fact that males and females as broad groups have differences in motivations, desires, and place different values aspects of life is something that can now get you fired, even though these findings are agreed upon by a consensus of scientists who study such issues.

Google employee James Damore wrote that now-famous (infamous?) Google Memo (read it here), asking some poignant questions of the company's diversity push. Damore did his homework and did not stereotype. He didn't say that women were biologically incapable of doing tech jobs, as is being repeated ad nauseam in the press. He simply talked about trends and interest differences between men and women. In fact, he explicitly wrote :
I'm not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are "just." I'm simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there' s significant overlap between men and women, so you can't say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.1
Damore cited his sources, too.  Scholar David P. Schmitt confirms there is scholarly evidence for Damore's claims and then observes:
Culturally universal sex differences in personal values and certain cognitive abilities are a bit larger in size (see here), and sex differences in occupational interests are quite large. It seems likely these culturally universal and biologically-linked sex differences play some role in the gendered hiring patterns of Google employees. For instance, in 2013, 18% of bachelor's degrees in computing were earned by women, and about 20% of Google technological jobs are currently held by women. Whatever affirmative action procedures Google is using appear to be working pretty well (at least at the tech job level).2
So 18% of women choose to graduate with a degree in computer science and Google' s hiring rate for jobs that would require this type of degree is 20% female. Why is this controversial?

The Unmentioned Assumption: Women without Powerful Careers are Losers

One has to wonder why there's such a virulent backlash against this memo. I think part of it is simply because many women hear that they are being repressed given the vast majority of tech jobs being held by men and they believe there is some kind of systemic sexism going on. However, they themselves may not personally want to become a computer programmer, they just don't like the way the numbers look.

The Guardian ran an interesting article where one woman was talking to her friend about the pressures placed upon women in today's drive for equality. The friend argued that since all the women now go to work, the country has seen a fairer distribution of jobs than before, but women aren't happier for it. She claimed that women who aspire to have children actually got the short end of the stick because the pressure to not be a stay-at-home mom was great.  The author reflected on this and concluded:
I avoided parenthood for the best part of 40 years, having been led to believe it would feel like a stultifying trap compared to the excitement of wage-earning work. Turns out, at the last minute before the door closed, to be more fulfilling than anything I have ever done!3
That's the unspoken piece in this whole debate. Maybe there are a lot of women who are like the author above, who think  that a successful career is the key defining metric for a woman and then become shockingly surprised to find out how natural and fulfilling it is to nurture and mold the very lives, values,  and sensibilities of the next generation can be.

When women argue about their value coming from their careers, they are really using a man's yardstick. Why should we assume that this is the best way to measure success? I think G.K. Chesterton summed the controversy up best. He wrote:
When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.4

References

1. Damore, James. "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber." Letter. July 2017. Google Diversity Memo. N.p., July 2017. Web. 08 Aug. 2017. http://diversitymemo.com/.
2. Schmitt, David P. "On That Google Memo About Sex Differences." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 07 Aug. 2017. Web. 08 Aug. 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sexual-personalities/201708/google-memo-about-sex-differences.
3. Mitchell, Victoria Coren. "Women Can Still Have It All. Can't They?" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 10 June 2017. Web. 08 Aug. 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/11/girls-depression-can-women-still-have-it-all.
4. Chesterton, Gilbert Keith. What's Wrong with the World? London: Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1910. Print. 132-133

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What to Make of the New Seven Earth-Like Planets Discovered



The headlines were spectacular. Time Magazine pronounced "NASA Announces a Single Star Is Home to At Least 7 Earthlike Planets."1 Vox exclaimed "NASA has discovered 7 Earth-like planets orbiting a star just 40 light-years away."2 Even the official press release from NASA offered some tantalizing tidbits, noting that all seven planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system reside in the habitable zone necessary for life and it included artists' rendering of what the view may look like from one of these newly discovered sisters of earth.3

Certainly, the discovery of planets orbiting another star is an exciting one. The fact that the TRAPPIST-1 star is relatively close in astronomical terms (40 light years away) means the system is more easily observed by our telescopes; we can gather more data on the planets themselves. To find seven of them ups the chances that we may find water on them, too. But does this mean we've uncovered a bunch of earth-twins that are just ready to be populated by living organisms? Not by a long shot.

What do you mean "Earth-like"?

Since capturing eyeballs and clicks are the driving force behind both news organizations and sites like Vox, one should be a bit cautious before jumping to conclusions by just a screaming headline. When I saw this story, I was intrigued, but upon reading the details, certain terms don't carry the weight one may assume at first.

For example, both the Vox and the Time article called these planets "Earth-like" in their headlines. That will certainly evoke a picture in the minds of most casual readers, but what does Earth-like really mean? Both articles did unpack the term to mean a planet whose size is within a certain percentage of Earth's and is not too hot or too cold for water to exist somewhere on its surface without it being boiled away or perpetually frozen. Mars is within our solar system's habitable zone, while experts disagree about whether Venus qualifies or not.

But just having the ability for water to exist really isn't enough for life. The TRAPPIST-1 star is a much weaker star than our sun. As Hugh Ross explains, TRAPPIST-1 is very small and very weak, not putting out much heat at all. Thus, the planets are a whole lot closer to their star than the Earth is to the Sun, which locks them into a non-rotational position – one side always light and extremely hot while the other is perpetually dark and continually freezing cold.

According to Ross, only the "twilight areas" of each planet would be able to support liquid water. Ross then states "Only in the twilight zone boundary between perpetual light and perpetual darkness will surface liquid water be possible. This possibility presumes that for each planet the twilight edge will not move. Given how close the planets are to one another, it is inevitable that the twilight edge on each planet will move. Thus, realistically none of TRAPPIST-1's planets are likely to ever possess any surface liquid water."4 Of course, it hasn't even been proven the planets have an atmosphere yet.

Also, since these planets must be very close to their weak sun, their years are very short: it takes only about twenty days for the furthest of the seven planets to complete an orbit and only one and a half days for the closest! Knowing how crucial seasonal changes are to life on Earth, there's absolutely no chance of seasons for any of these planets. What's worse, the planets orbits and close proximity mean their gravitational pull will affect each other. The moon's gravity causes the tides on Earth and it is only one sixth the pull of the earth's gravity.* Imagine how an equally sized planet's gravity orbiting close by would affect the Earth. Ross concludes, "These periodic gravitational influences rule out the possibility of life on these planets."

Selling the Sizzle, not the Steak

The "earth-like" description of these planets in the articles is I believe a little misleading. All the outlets I read hyped the possibility of finding life on these planets while never mentioning the incredible difficulties any life would face on them. The Vox story is a good example:
The more Earth-like exoplanets astronomers find in the galaxy, the more they update their estimates of how many Earth-like planets could be out there. "For every transiting planet found, there should be a multitude of similar planets (20–100 times more) that, seen from Earth, never pass in front of their host star," Nature reporter Ignas Snellen explains in a feature article. And the more exoplanets there are, the more likely it is that life exists on at least one of them.5 (Emphasis added).
I highlighted that last line to make a point. While it is true mathematically that finding more planets can make the odds of finding life lower, it's a bit like claiming your odds for dealing four perfect bridge hands are lower the more shuffled decks you use. It's true but still beyond any reasonable explanation that someone will do so, whether you use a hundred, a thousand or a million decks. By obscuring the difficulties these planet offer for life and only highlighting the two or three possible similarities, these reports are selling the sizzle instead of the steak. There's much we can learn from this new discovery. Learning about extra-terrestrial life forming isn't really one of them.

References

1. Kluger, Jeffrey. "NASA Announces Trappist-1 Star Is Home to Earthlike Planets." Time. Time, 22 Feb. 2017. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. http://time.com/4677103/nasa-announcement-new-solar-system/.
2. Resnick, Brian. "NASA Has Discovered 7 Earth-like Planets Orbiting a Star Just 40 Light-years Away." Vox. Vox, 22 Feb. 2017. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. http://www.vox.com/2017/2/22/14698030/nasa-seven-exoplanet-discovery-trappist-1.
3. "NASA Telescope Reveals Record-Breaking Exoplanet Discovery." NASA. NASA, 22 Feb. 2017. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-telescope-reveals-largest-batch-of-earth-size-habitable-zone-planets-around.
4. Ross, Hugh. "Earth's Seven Sisters: Are They Really Similar?" Reasons to Believe. Reasons to Believe, 23 Feb. 2017. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. http://www.reasons.org/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/earths-seven-sisters--are-they-really-similar.
5. Resnick, 2017.
* This sentence has been corrected. It originally read "The moon's gravity causes the tides on Earth and it is only one sixth the mass of the earth."

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Is Rejecting God a Sign of Rationality or Resentment?



It is natural to believe in God. The vast majority of people throughout most of history and across all cultures have had some kind of belief in the divine. Yet, atheism and agnosticism seem to be on the rise, especially in Western culture. What motivations are causing more and more people to dismiss God as a real option? Is it really a mark of rationality to dismiss the idea of God?

Many atheists I speak with will say that they've come to the conclusion there is no God simply from rational reflection. This is a possibility, but it begs the question as to why throughout the annals of history where we have the writings of so many highly rational people, there haven't been more atheists. It also doesn't explain all the rational people today who do believe in God. Finally, it sounds a bit pretentious to say that one can turn off one's experiences, feelings, and biases and use reason alone to come to such a profound conclusion.

In his book Faith of the Fatherless, Paul C. Vitz claims that people reject God for willful reasons as much as rational ones. Vitz sees their unbelief rooted in part or in whole on their will and attitudes of who God is and how they perceive him. He explains:
Some people reject God and religion because of the awful things that have sometimes been done in the name of God or religion. This unbelief has a basis in reality and can be quite rational. Believers have debated these criticisms, but these criticisms certainly cannot be rejected out of hand. Others reject God and religion because of experiences with pain and suffering or because all they know are very simple-minded teachings about Scripture. Such responses for the unbeliever in question are not irrational, but from the perspective of a serious believer such responses are unjustified by a deeper understanding of the issues.

But, sometimes the various arguments about bad religion disguise or cover up a deeper reason for rejecting God and religion. Some people have an intense hatred and fear of the Good, of the True, and of the Beautiful. All of these are attributed to God and are rather often found in holy, religious people. But why would anyone have such motives? How can this be? Such individuals resent goodness because by comparison they know they are not good, perhaps even quite bad; they resent truth because they prefer lies over the restrictions that follow accepting truth. Many even prefer their own ugliness to others who present or create beauty. They take pleasure in destroying or deconstructing what is good or beautiful or true out of envy and personal resentment.

Finally, there is a most important personal factor, which is perhaps best described as free will. After all, the individual, whatever the cultural and personal pressures favoring or opposing atheism, must ultimately decide which way to go. At any given moment, or at least at many times, every person can choose to move toward, away from, or against God.1
In my experience, factors of resentment and will powerfully motivate a lot of atheists in their unbelief. It explains so many visceral reactions I've encountered with unbelievers who don't simply disbelieve in a divinity, but seem to actually hate the Christian God.

Philosopher Thomas Nagel, who is an atheist, succinctly summarizes the problem in discussing his own non-belief. After drawing distinctions about rejecting religious beliefs and institutions, Nagel confesses it isn't these things that alarm him about atheism:
I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.2
Nagel himself admits it isn't only rationality that undergirds his  atheism. He is honest enough to say he has some emotional motivation as well. He doesn't want there to be a God to whom he is answerable.

To be sure, Christians can believe in God for opposite but reflective motivations. It may not be rationally based reasons why they came to faith but a desire to satisfy an emotional relationship. The rational justification of belief may come afterward. But labeling non-believers as "free thinkers," "brights," or "rationalists" is disingenuous as it is clear non-belief can easily have its origins in emotion and bias.

References

1. Vitz, Paul C. Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism. Dallas: Spence Pub., 1999. Kindle. (Kindle Locations 2351-2358).
2 Nagel, Thomas. The Last Word. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Print. 130.
Image courtesy Bradley Gordon and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Here's Why Target's Bathroom Policy Matters So Much



I get weary of the culture wars. It seems never-ending, doesn't it? There is always some new indignity to oppose or non-Christian position to resist. Things get worse when we look at the political support for-profit companies provide. There are so many that take a contrary stand to Christian ideals, if I were to boycott each one, it would be difficult to shop at all. Sometimes, I just want a pair of pants or cellular service or a hamburger. I don't want to have to figure out who's safe and who isn't.

That's why a recent blog post by Jaci Lambert caught my eye. Entitled "Target Bathrooms and the Straight, Conservative Preacher's Wife," Lambert argues Target has supported fairly liberal positions prior to implementing its transgender bathroom policy, the perverts and pedophiles won't care about Target's bathroom policies, it's therefore every parent's job to keep their kids safe in the bathroom, and transgender people are not the dangerous villains that they seem to be cast given these discussions, and such boycotts don't reflect Jesus to the outside world.1

Advocating for an Idea, not Just an Action

I appreciate Jaci's honesty and explanation. I think her points have validity, with the possible exception of the idea that pedophiles and perverts don't care. In the few months since this national conversation on bathrooms started there have already been reported problems of men inhabiting clothing store dressing rooms, in grocery store restrooms, and even in locker rooms where the activist tested Seattle's law by entering where underage girls were disrobing. Certainly it doesn't take much imagination to understand that such laws will embolden more perverts to attempt such entries if there's no threat of prosecution.

But, that's really beside the point. My concern with the blog post is it misses the bigger reason why this particular issue is so important. Yes, Christians will disagree with many stances Target takes. That shouldn't by itself be surprising or critical enough to yell "boycott!" Yes, parents must watch over their kids. Let's face it, many pedophiles are men looking to abuse young boys and holding to a traditional bathroom policy does absolutely nothing to address that danger. My concerns about safety are real, but they aren't the tipping point for me.

The biggest problem with the Target stance is it gives legitimacy to an idea that is both dangerous and abhorrent. That is, it legitimizes the idea that biology doesn't matter and every person's predilections are equally valid. It ignores the scientific data that gender dysphoria is a mental disorder that holds a high suicide rate, even after transitioning, and instead promotes the myth that gender can be whatever each individual wishes to define for him or herself. The policy ignores the discomfort of women who were raped or sexually assaulted that makes up 17.6% of the female population2 to accommodate 0.3% who identify as transgender3. In short, it says it's OK to ignore the truth for political correctness.

Some Ramifications So Far

It becomes easy to see how big the impact of the spread of these ideas is. Target's bathroom policy was announced on April 19, 2016. In less than one month from that announcement, President Obama's Department of Education issued what amounts to a threat to every public school in the country stating that all restrooms should be open to those who identify as whatever gender they please. I'm not saying that one caused the other, but the fact there was no immediate and overwhelming backlash to the Target policy made it easier on the DOE to do their dirty work.

Then there's the message such policies send to the larger culture. Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet believes that because homosexual marriage is now accepted in society, people should treat those who hold traditional views as they would Nazis:
The culture wars are over; they lost, we won…   For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That's mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line ("You lost, live with it") is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn't work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.)
This is what capitulation leads to. It changes the society and allows those who wish to bankrupt Christian businesses or jail government employees for exercising their right of conscience. Ultimately, it denies the intrinsic worth of the human body, upon which human dignity itself is based.

As I said, I'm not a big boycott guy, but ideas have consequences. When the ideas a corporation are promoting undermine the core of human dignity itself, I think those are values worth fighting for.

References

1. Lambert, Jaci. "Target Bathrooms and the Straight, Conservative Preacher's Wife." Ministry in the Mommyhood. Jaci Lambert, 26 Apr. 2016. Web. 20 May 2016. http://www.ministryinthemommyhood.com/target-bathrooms-and-the-straight-conservative-preachers-wife/ .
2. Tjaden, Patricia, and Nancy Thoennes. "Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey." PsycEXTRA Dataset. U.S. Department of Justice, Jan. 2006. Web. 20 May 2016.
3. Gates, Gary J. "How Many People Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender?" Los Angeles, CA: Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, 2011. http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-How-Many-People-LGBT-Apr-2011.pdf.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bloodletting and the Modern Trans Movement



As I engage with atheists and skeptics, I hear so many of them state that religious beliefs are nothing more than outdated beliefs of a bygone era. They claim that as people of science in the 21st century we are so much more enlightened and rational than those of other eras. Level-headed people of the modern world who place their trust in science are not nearly as gullible as people in the past, they claim. Then they turn around and argue that gender has nothing to do with biology and a person's perceived identity is all that's required to change a male into a female.

I think this reminds me a lot of a sketch I saw in the early days of Saturday Night Live entitled "Theodoric of York; Medieval Barber." Host Steve Martin takes on the role of Theodoric and makes great fun of the idea that certain illnesses were treated by bloodletting. Part of the humor stems from Theodoric's modern-day rhetoric, whereby he ascribes knowledge and insight into his treatment:
You know, medicine is not an exact science but we're learning all the time. Why, just fifty years ago, we would've thought your daughter's illness was brought on by demonic possession or witchcraft. But nowadays we know that Isabel is suffering from an imbalance of bodily humors perhaps caused by a toad or small dwarf living in her stomach.1
Certainly, Martin is using great exaggeration to make a joke. Yet it is true that bloodletting was practiced widely for many centuries, ever since prominent Roman physician Galen of Pergamum described the theory that there were four primary liquids or "humours " affecting the body: phlegm, blood, black bile, and yellow bile.2 Galen had through both observation and inference come to the conclusion that when a person is sick, their humours are "out of balance" as Michael Boylan explains:
When imbalance occurred, then the physician might intervene by making a correction to bring the body back into balance. For example, if the individual were too full of phlegm (making her phlegmatic or lethargic), then the phlegm must be countered. Citrus fruit was thought to be a counter-acting agent. Thus, if one feels lethargic, increasing one's citrus intake will re-create balance. The treatment is, in fact, generally effective.3

Biased Assertions Lead to Bad Diagnoses

Of course today we see such an inference as silly and worthy of ridicule in an SNL sketch. Galen had an incorrect assumption of what blood was and how the body used it.4 It was his errant assumptions that are at the root of those crazy treatment methods. To be certain, bloodletting sometimes worked, but they probably caused far more harm than good overall.

Today's rush by the left –including the intelligentsia—to validate anyone who even hints at gender dysphoria should be disconcerting to any rational populous. I've pointed out before how we have fifty years of data under our collective medical belts on gender reassignment surgery and we know that the suicide rate for those suffering from gender dysphoria is as high after sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) as it is prior to transitioning. Dr. Paul McHugh, who helped pioneer the procedure at Johns Hopkins University has written extensively on the failure of SRS as an effective treatment and explained that Johns Hopkins stopped doing the procedure as a result.5

Now, the powerful agencies like the Obama Administration have gone even farther off the deep end and demanded that anyone who simply claims to be a different gender should be allowed to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their stated sex. The demand comes with no accountability and no requirement of proof that the claimant actually does wish to consistently live and be seen as whatever their stated gender preference is.6


Fluid Gendered Identity is the Bloodletting of Today

Just claiming it makes it so? Surely, this cannot be! Certainly, we are in a more rational time than that of the medieval barber. Certainly we don't approach a treatment based only on whatever our initial biases are, do we? It seems we do.

The biases that those who are pushing these laws in direct disregard for the safety and wellbeing of millions of women and young girls in our nation are sheer willed to have their version of life playout, regardless of the facts. We are not any more rational than people of other eras. Every culture can fall victim to what we want to be true and ignore those inconvenient facts when they get in the way of those desires.

I wonder if in a century or two we will look back on the insanity of the gender identity movement today and shake our heads with the same incredulousness that we do concerning the practice of bloodletting. If not, there will be untold thousands who are seriously harmed by such medical quackery guised as treatment.


References

1. Martin, Steve. "Theodoric of York: Medieval Barber." Saturday Night Live. Prod. Loren Michaels. NBC. New Yrok, NY, 22 Apr. 1978. NBC. Web. 16 May 2016. http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/theodoric-of-york/n8661.
2. Boylan, Michael. "Galen (130—200 C.E.)." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d. Web. 16 May 2016. http://www.iep.utm.edu/galen/.
3. Boylan, Michael. "Hippocrates (c. 450—c. 380 B.C.E.)." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d. Web. 16 May 2016. http://www.iep.utm.edu/hippocra/#SH1a.
4. "Galen." Medical Discoveries. Advameg, Inc., n.d. Web. 16 May 2016. http://www.discoveriesinmedicine.com/General-Information-and-Biographies/Galen.html.
5. McHugh, Paul. "Transgender Surgery Isn't the Solution." Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 12 June 2014. Web. 02 June 2015. http://www.wsj.com/articles/paul-mchugh-transgender-surgery-isnt-the-solution-1402615120.
6. Davis, Julie Hirschfield, and Matt Apuzzo. "U.S. Directs Public Schools to Allow Transgender Access to Restrooms." The New York Times. The New York Times, 12 May 2016. Web. 16 May 2016. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/05/13/us/politics/obama-administration-to-issue-decree-on-transgender-access-to-school-restrooms.html.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Demanding Evidence for God While Denying Evidence for God



"Not enough evidence!" That's the claim I hear over and over when asking atheists why they don't believe in God. Even when famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was asked what he would say if he were to come face to face with God after his death, Russell famously replied, "I probably would ask, 'Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?"1

The demand for evidence can seem like reasonable request, but it can also serve as a smokescreen for those who are unwilling to believe. For example, developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert stated he rejected God fairly early in his life because he could find no evidence for God at all. In a radio show where he debated intelligent design with William Dembski, Wolpert said over and over again there is nothing he could see by studying the molecular machinery required for living cells to function that could serve as evidence for any kind of intelligence. Dembski asked "Is there nothing that biological systems can exhibit that would point you to a designer?" Wolpert emphatically replied, "Absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing." 2 This corresponded with his previous statement that "What we know about biology can all be explained in terms of the behaviors of cells."3

Intelligent Messages Hidden in DNA

Is Wolpert's claim true? Is anything one finds in the cell able to be explained by cellular behavior? Earlier in their conversation Dembski alluded to the work of cellular biologist J. Craig Venter. Venter and his team made the headlines at that same time by assembling the DNA for a replicating synthetic bacteria (M. mycoides JCVI-syn1.0) one base pair at a time using computers. Singularity University reported, "To verify that they had synthesized a new organism and not assembled the DNA from another natural bacteria, scientists encoded a series of 'watermarks' into the genes" of Venter's bacterial DNA. He coded his own name, a URL address, and other messages.4

Let's now imagine a scenario where in 50 or 100 years, people are catching a strange new disease. Scientists have narrowed the illness to a foreign bacteria that doesn't behave like anything they've ever seen before. Wolpert's students isolate the bacteria in the lab and map its DNA structure to try and find a way to figure out where it came from. There, they find Venter's name encoded in the nucleotide, but because they have adopted Wolpert's standard that nothing inside the cell can count as evidence, they cannot assume there was an initial intelligence behind the origin of this bacteria. Venter's work cannot be counted as evidence because it appears inside the cell, and appealing to an intelligence as the origin of this new bacterial strain is supposedly the science-stopper.

Wolpert's dogmatic stance shows his incredible bias and demonstrates why complaints like his demand for evidence are structured to never succeed. It's a shell game. If the complexity of something like a researcher's name or a URL is sufficient enough to show intelligence behind the genome, then why wouldn't other complex, specific coding sequences also serve as evidence for a designer? Certainly other factors must be considered. However, Wolpert rules out the possibility of finding evidence for design at all within biological systems. To me, that sounds to be the much more unreasonable position to take.

References

1. Rosten, Leo. "Bertrand Russell and God: A Memoir." The Saturday Review. Feb 23, 1974. 25.
2. Brierley, Justiin, William Dembski, and Lewis Wolpert. "2 Jan 2010 - Intelligent Design - William Dembski Debates Lewis Wolpert: Saturday 02 January 2010." Unbelievable? Premier Christian Radio, 2 Jan. 2010. Web. 09 May 2016. At about the 19:30 minute mark. http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/2-Jan-2010-Intelligent-Design-William-Dembski-debates-Lewis-Wolpert.
3. Brierley, Justin. 2010.
4. "Secret Messages Coded Into DNA Of Venter Synthetic Bacteria." Singularity HUB. Singularity Education Group, 25 May 2010. Web. 09 May 2016. .

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Gospels Had to Meet High Expectations as History


Apologists often make the claim that the resurrection is one of the most well-attested facts of ancient history. Some of this is due to the fact that the resurrection account is recorded in multiple independent sources which includes the Gospel accounts. Further, scholars have argued that the Gospel accounts count as a very specific kind of ancient historical genre; they are written as biography.1

Sometimes skeptics will grant the fact the Gospels were written to be taken as a historical record, but they don't believe that's enough. They will assume that history two thousand years ago meant a very different thing than what we mean today. History was basically propaganda where anyone could claim anything.

While it is true that those in power had the ability to shape events in a more positive light, it is far from the case that the ancient audiences didn't care about the truth in historical reporting. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Writings that claimed to be reporting historical events had very specific criteria of recounting what people who were there actually experienced and they should record those experiences as accurately. I'll take a look at each of these in turn.

History was supposed to report what people saw

Were ancient people more gullible and ignorant than people of today? Not necessarily. Just because cultures of the past may have had misinformed or perhaps what we would consider backwards views on matters dealing with science, it doesn't follow they would hold backwards view on everything. Such assumptions are a kind of chronological snobbery.

The fact is ancient historians held to their peers to high standards when recording historical events. Samuel Byskrog, whom Richard Bauckham quotes, explains how the people who were there and could personally recount the event being recorded were consider the most reliable sources, since they weren't hearing about events second or third hand. He writes:
The ancient historians – such as Thucydides, Polybius, Josephus, and Tacitus"were convinced that true history could be written only while events were still within living memory, and they valued as their sources the oral reports of direct experience of the events by involved participants in them. Ideally, the historian himself should have been a participant in the events he narrates"as, for example, Xenophon, Thucidides, and Josephus were"but, since he could not have been at all the events he recounts or in all the places he describes, the historian had to also rely upon eyewitnesses whose living voices he could hear and whom he could question himself.2

History was supposed to be accurate

Beyond looking for first-hand reports, historians would also police each other – just like today. While the peer review process wan't as developed, there was certainly n exchange between historians when one thought the other was being less than accurate or trying to push an intentionally biased account. Craig Keener states, "Historians harshly criticized other historians whom they accused of promoting falsehood, especially when they were thought to exhibit self-serving agendas." 3

One such example form ancient history is how the Greek historian Polybius dressed down Timaneus, another historian, on what Polybius shows as clear mistakes in his report of Africa. He writes:
No one can help admiring the richness of the country, and one is inclined to say that Timaeus was not only unacquainted with Africa but that he was childish and entirely deficient in judgement, and was still fettered by the ancient report handed down to us that the whole of Africa is sandy, dry, and unproductive. The same holds good regarding the animals. For the number of horses, oxen, sheep, and goats in the country is so large that I doubt if so many could be found in the rest of the world, 4 because many of the African tribes make no use of cereals but live on the flesh of their cattle and among their cattle. 5 Again, all are aware of the numbers and strength of the elephants, lions, and panthers in Africa, of the beauty of its buffaloes, and the size of its ostriches, creatures that do not exist at all in Europe while Africa is full of them. Timaeus has no information on this subject and seems of set purpose to tell the exact opposite of the actual facts.(Emphasis added.)4
Polybius goes on criticizing Timaneus' account simply because he offers a false report, but he wasn't the only historian to believe in standards. Even Pliny the Younger, who wrote at the same time the Gospels were being written, thought history should be done with "fidelity and truth"5

Dismissing historical records as unreliable simply because they are old is irrational. Ancient cultures well understood truth from a lie and they wrote history because they wanted to preserve what really happened. The Gospels fit into a genre where truth mattered. Certainly, that doesn't mean everything recorded in every ancient account is true; false perceptions, witnesses would color the truth, and interpreting events so Caesar looked good did happen. But one cannot simply waive one's hand and discount the Gospels because they are old and therefore they could pass fantastic stories on to an uncritical audience. That's simply not the world in which the Gospels were written.

References

1. See Craig Keener's discussion on this in The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, 74-84.
2. Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2006. Print. 8-9.
3. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print. 96.
4. Polybius. "Fragments of Book XII." XII.3.3 Polybius • Histories. University of Chicago, 1927. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
5. Pliny, Epistles 7.17.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The Inherent Bias in Science


Last week, I wrote about an online conversation I had with an atheist who accused me of making a God of the gaps type argument for the origin of life, even though all the observational evidence across humanity's history demonstrates that life comes from life. He claimed that "Science may well provide an answer to the origin of life in the future," whereby he commits the very fallacy he accused me of committing. While not appealing to a God of the gaps, he is certainly appealing to "science of the gaps."

In our engagement, I asked for some justification for such an unwarranted claim. He leaned on this explanation:
Apocryphally, Edison learned 999 "wrong" ways to make a light bulb in in the process of finding 1 "right" way. (Was he ever really wrong?) Obviously, science has proposed wrong explanations many times as it approaches the truth. The more pertinent inquiry would be "Are there any cases where science has settled on an explanation only to be proven wrong by a theistic explanation?" Because the reverse admits of many, easy historical examples.
His reasoning is misleading in many ways. First, there's a significant difference between a single research project, such as Edison's testing of different material for light bulb filaments versus the assumption that science can answer every question of origins. That's a simple category error. By using Edison as an example, and then saying that the entire discipline of science is functioning in the same way, he has equivocated how an experiment works with how a consensus is built.

Not Counting Wrong Conclusions

In fact, accepting new scientific conclusions works in a much different way than Edison's trial-and-error approach. In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn has demonstrated that science isn't the incremental set of discoveries most think it is. When one really studies the history of scientific discovery, one finds the personal beliefs and biases of scientists themselves color their investigations. Kuhn writes "An apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident, is always a formative ingredient of the beliefs espoused by a given scientific community at a given time." 1 He explains in his book how scientific research is "a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education."2
Perhaps science does not develop by the accumulation of individual discoveries and inventions. Simultaneously, these same historians confront growing difficulties in distinguishing the "scientific" component of past observation and belief from what their predecessors had readily labeled "error" and "superstition." 3
Exactly, It's easy to claim science always advances forward if you don't count any of the conclusions that we now reject as science, but label them error or superstition.

Kuhn explains that in the enterprise of science, scientists are not readily willing to give up on their preconceptions and biases:
Normal science, the activity in which most scientists inevitably spend almost all their time, is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like. Much of the success of the enterprise derives from the community's willingness to defend that assumption, if necessary at considerable cost.

Scientists Tend Toward Stasis

All of this means that many scientists will accept their current understanding of the scientific landscape and a kind of stasis will develop. Students learn their scientific assumptions from their professors, who teach what they also had learned to be true. Kuhn coined the term "paradigm" to describe this common set of assumptions. It isn't until there become so many problems or deviations from what was expected given the prevailing paradigm that a flurry of new research will ensue and may create a paradigm shift—a new idea replacing the old one:
Normal science, for example, often suppresses fundamental novelties because they are necessarily subversive of its basic commitments. Nevertheless, so long as those commitments retain an element of the arbitrary, the very nature of normal research ensures that novelty shall not be suppressed for very long.

… When the profession can no longer evade anomalies that subvert the existing tradition of scientific practice—then begin the extraordinary investigations that lead the profession at last to a new set of commitments, a new basis for the practice of science. 4
This is the common pattern in the history of science. It isn't a smooth slope upwards of increasing knowledge. It has fits and starts. It has many dead ends. Scientists get things wrong, such as the alchemists trying to turn lead into gold, but the atheists don't count them. They claim "that wasn't science, it was superstition." Still, the tree of modern chemistry grows from the roots of alchemy.

Don't Assume Science will Always Succeed

Remember, "science" makes no claims; scientists do. As I've said before, "scientists are not immune to bias, deceit, greed or the quest for fame and power any more than the rest of us. In fact, scientists ARE the rest of us!"5 I've illustrated that even when scientists reach a consensus, it doesn't mean their conclusions are correct.

Thus it is just as likely that science will not find the answer to the origin of life. It may be the search for turning material into life may be like the search for turning lead into gold. To hold to a science of the gaps theory offers no real advance in knowledge; it is simply shows one's willingness to defend their paradigm and at considerable cost.

References

1. Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1970. Print.2.
2. Kuhn, 1970. 5.
3. Kuhn, 1970. 5.
4. Kuhn, 1970.5-6.
5. Esposito, Lenny. "Should We Place Our Trust in Science?" Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 5 Aug. 2013. Web. 01 Sept. 2015. http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2013/08/should-we-place-our-trust-in-science.html.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

One Quote for Naturalist Professors



Most naturalists prefer a more subtle approach. Instead of openly insulting Christianity, they patronize it, paying it the kind of compliments one pays to children and the simple-minded. Or they use "as-we-now-know" statements: "As we now know, there is no life after death." These are often introduced by "it-was-once-thought" statements: "It was once thought that moral laws were given to us by a God or gods, but as we now know, mankind gives moral laws to himself." Whenever a teacher makes an "as-we-now-know" statement, ask "Who do you mean by 'we,' and how do we 'know'?" If you aren't yet ready for public debate, ask the questions inwardly. If you do ask them aloud, be respectful. Your goal isn't to show that your teacher is wrong but merely that he isn't taking seriously the legitimate arguments on the other side.

To get this point across, ask your teacher to read the following words of Harvard paleontologist Richard Lewontin. Like every naturalist, Lewontin believes that the material world of nature is all there is, but he also confesses to something many of his fellow naturalists would rather deny. The confession is that they all believe in naturalism in spite of the evidence, not because of it. For example, even though the evidence strongly suggests that living things are the result of intelligent design, naturalists are desperate to prove they can't be.' Most of us would call the urge to ignore evidence "prejudice." Strangely, Lewontin calls it "taking the side of science"! See for yourself:
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, ... in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
This amazing confession is important because it shows that what naturalists call "science" isn't really science—at least not if science means following the evidence! Naturalists like to think of themselves as brave defenders of clear reasoning itself is the superstition. It isn't supported by reasoning but by blind hostility to the evidence of God. Pray that your professors will finally get tired of their games. As Blaise Pascal wrote long ago, "it is good to be tired and wearied by the vain search after the true good, that we may stretch out our arms to the Redeemer."
— J. Budziszewski
 J. Budziszewski. How to Stay Christian in College (Kindle Locations 417-419). Kindle Edition.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Making an Atheist by Listening to Echoes



In his article "How Facebook Made Me an Atheist," Mike Frederick Ziethlow tells his story of moving to disbelief. He recounts his tearful wedding vow, telling his wife "I love that God gave you to me." From there, it becomes only a matter of months until his interaction with social media let him to conclude two things: 1) people will believe anything, like a quote misattributed to Churchill, and 2)people will generally be uncritical to the extent of reinforcing their own biases.1 Ziethlow then concludes, "Once I realized I'm just as fallible as the next, liking things that confirm my beliefs, sharing things that echo my perspective, I understood how lies really do get halfway around the world while the truth remains pantless." It is from this framework that Ziethlow begins questioning the Christian faith he was given buy his parents, ultimately becoming an atheist.

Setting the Bible Up to Fail

I think the initial questions Ziethlow asks are worthy and should be asked by each person. One cannot live on the faith of one's parents; each person must seek out the truth for him or herself. What bothers me about Zeithow's story is how he proceeded to investigate the Christian faith. He admits that he didn't really know a lot about Christianity and he was "starting from scratch." So, he figures reading the Bible will sort it all out. However, he sets up the biblical text to fail even before he begins by creating a false dilemma. He recounts:
Now, starting from scratch, the first question I had was whether to take the Bible literally or metaphorically. If you are a literalist, fine — you trust the Word of God is inerrant. If you are a metaphorist, your faith may be "on sand." For example, which parts do you take literally, and which do you take figuratively? Earth created in six days? Talking snake? The dead rising? Unfortunately for metaphorists, the Bible is quite clear these things must be accepted, and that if you are "lukewarm" on the subject, He will spit you out. So literalism — trusting that the Word of God is all you need — is really the only logically defensible position for a religion that repeatedly claims as much.2
The stark either/or approach to literal or metaphorical text has never been advocated by the Bible or anyone who teaches the Bible. In fact, to read any text in such a way is to mangle the text itself. Even our modern day newspapers cannot be approached in such a wooden fashion. Just go to the Sports page of your local paper and you will see that in even this literal medium is replete with metaphors and hyperbole. Was that baseball team really torpedoed?3 Wouldn't that constitute an act of war? Aren't newspapers supposed to only deal in facts? If so, then why should I take anything as metaphorical when a paper is quite clear that it is a paper devoted to presenting news stories?

Dismissing a Childish Faith

Given this foundation, Zeithlow unsurprisingly finds his journey through the biblical accounts less than believable. He dismisses a young earth creation reading of Genesis, the global flood of Noah, and Joshua's long day as impossible because "laws in the observable universe tested time and again by science and physics would prove untrue." Notice two things here. First, a miracle is defined as an event that suspends the laws of science (physics being a sub-branch of the larger discipline), so Zeithlow's concern is demonstrably false. Miracles don't disprove the laws of nature, they are exceptions to them. Secondly, if Zeithlow would have consulted with those who know about biblical exegesis, he may have found out that there are good Christians who are divided as to what those passages really mean.

The primary problem with Zeithlow's approach is it isn't rational. In his article, he never states that he consulted with biblical scholars or even pastoral commentaries to uncover what the biblical text meant. Perhaps if he did he would have found out that the story of "a guy chopp[ing] up his recently-raped concubine and mailed her body parts all over the country" isn't commended but condemned in the book of Judges, a book that repeats the warning "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6. 21:25). Instead, all of Zeithlow's references and recommendations are of atheists who helped him move "from the Bible to science."

Listening to the Echo Chamber

One can see the irony here. Zeithlow has committed the very flaw that he condemned at the beginning of his piece. He confirmed his hunch that God wasn't real by liking people who confirmed that hunch and he shared those sources that echoed that perspective—the very problem he decried at the beginning of his article! There is no real investigation of the Christian faith, something that may take more effort than asking a few Facebook friends to help you out. In order to be fair, one should seek out the best arguments for a position, not simply straw men.

Given how Zeithlow describes Christianity, I would tell him I don't believe in such a faith either. My belief is much more mature, much more robust, and much more capable at handling issues he hasn't even brought up. I take its foundational texts not simply "literally" but seriously, seeking to understand the author's intent. If he is willing to investigate the true Christian faith, I'm more than willing to help point him to an adult understanding. Otherwise, it seems Zeithlow is the one caught with his pants down.

References

1. Ziethlow, Mike Frederick. "How Facebook Made Me an Atheist." Medium. A Medium Corporation, 19 Aug. 2015. Web. 21 Aug. 2015. https://medium.com/@mikefziethlow/how-facebook-made-me-an-atheist-a5d0e19046c6.
2. Ziethlow, 2015.
3. Digiovanna, Mike. "Angels Can't Complete White Sox Sweep after Fatal Fifth Inning." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 21 Aug. 2015. http://www.latimes.com/sports/angels/la-sp-angels-20150821-story.html.
Image courtesy Nevit Dilmen - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Attention Media: What an Evangelical Is Not


Although as I write this the vote is over a year away, we have come into the election cycle once again in the United States. Pundits will be discussing and over-analyzing the various groups and constituencies they believe are key to the race for the presidency. Certainly the terms "Evangelicals," "Fundamentalists," and "Religious Right" will be bandied about quite a bit in debates and opinion pieces, but many in the press are sloppy in their distinctions. In this excerpt from a piece on his Web site, J.P. Moreland offers some points that would define what a Christian evangelical is and isn’t.  He writes:
Frequently, Evangelicals are identified with Fundamentalists and the Religious Right. This identification is false and harmful to the spirit of civil public discourse. Since I am an Evangelical, it may be helpful for me to explain what the term means. Two preliminary points are important. First, Evangelicals, just like anyone of commonsense, reserve the right to define who they are and what they stand for and we Evangelicals resent the media’s superficial and misleading characterization of us. Second, Evangelicalism is not primarily a social, political, or cultural movement. At its core, it is to be defined theologically.

...As Roger Olson has noted, an Evangelical is one who satisfies five characteristics: (1) biblicism (adherence to the supreme authority of the Bible regarding everything it teaches when properly interpreted); (2) conversionism (belief in the essential importance of radical conversion to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior); (3) the centrality of the cross of Jesus and the forgiveness it provides in attempts to grow in character and spirituality; (4) persuasive, respectful evangelism and social action on behalf of the poor, oppressed, and powerless, including the unborn; (5) a respect for but not slavish dependence on the history of Christian tradition and doctrine.1
Moreland goes on to quickly contrast why Evangelicals are different from Fundamentalists and why they cannot be considered the Religious Right. You can read the short article here and be ready to explain the differences before the onslaught of media misrepresentation begins.

References

1. Moreland, J. P. "Defining "Evangelical" in Public Discourse." JPMoreland.com. J.P. Moreland, 3 Mar. 2008. Web. 6 Aug. 2015. http://www.jpmoreland.com/articles/defining-evangelical-in-public-discourse/.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Not Watching the PP Videos Doesn't Make You Honest, It Makes You Derelict



Yesterday, Democrats in the United States Senate blocked a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. The bill came about due to increasing public outrage spurred by a series of undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress showing how Planned Parenthood executives at the national and affiliate level change their procedures in abortions to extract unborn babies and then divide them up to sell off the organs. Any civilized person shudders at the videos and recognizes the macabre moral gyrations one must make to not simply profit off the body parts of the most defenseless of human beings, but to enjoy a nice lunch while discussing the details.

Yet, the White House sought to defeat the bill, Senate Democrats stood in near unison opposition, and the major media outlets hailed the bill's defeat as being "good." Tellingly, both the White House and several senators who were interviewed claimed to not have actually seen the videos in question. The Weekly Standard reports that several of the Senators who offered a No vote never actually watched the videos. White House press secretary Josh Earnest stated on CNN that that he hadn't looked at them and is instead "relying on news reports of ‘people' who have seen them." Why would this be?

There are two words that explain the reticence on behalf of both the White House and the Democratic Senators to actually watch the videos in question: plausible deniability. Just as Earnest belies his name while dancing around the CNN interviewer's questions, every Senator that claims to not have seen the videos can avoid some hard questions about the details in them. To be clear, I'm not saying the Senators are lying. It's very possible they truly haven't seen the videos—by their own design. However, that doesn't mean they haven't had staffers view them and give them a briefing on each so they know how damning they can be. Therefore, they are avoiding these videos at all costs. To watch them is to be held accountable for them.

Meanwhile, major media organizations like the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have been conspicuous by their silence on each of the videos, but they don't seem bothered to regurgitate the PR of Planned Parenthood in the few editorials they've published. In fact, Sean Davis demonstrates how several media outlets are simply taking their marching orders straight from Planned Parenthood's PR firm SKDKnockerbocker. It is the latest proof demonstrating that the truth is not valued today; only the proper storyline that conforms to a specific agenda.

As an apologist, I spend a lot of time looking up the original sources before I answer an argument or statement. One must read the context in which a quote is given to understand the person's larger point. This is simple intellectual honesty, and I've warned Christians as much as secularists not to build straw men. Therefore, as a service to anyone who wants to speak intelligently about this issue, I've compiled the relevant links to the different sources below:

Center for Medical Progress Videos Released to Date

#1 - Planned Parenthood Uses Partial-Birth Abortions to Sell Baby Parts (released 14-July-2015)
#2 - Second Planned Parenthood Senior Executive Haggles Over Baby Parts Prices, Changes Abortion Methods (released 21-July-2015)
#3 – Human Capital - Episode 1: Planned Parenthood's Black Market in Baby Parts (released 28-July-2015)
#4 – Planned Parenthood VP Says Fetuses May Come Out Intact, Agrees Payments Specific to the Specimen (released 30-July-2015)
#5 – Intact Fetuses "Just a Matter of Line Items" for Planned Parenthood TX Mega-Center (released 4-Aug-2015)
#6 – Human Capital - Episode 2: Inside the Planned Parenthood Supply Site
#7 – Human Capital - Episode 3: Planned Parenthood's Custom Abortions for Superior Product
#8 – Planned Parenthood Baby Parts Buyer StemExpress Wants "Another 50 Livers/Week"
#9 – Planned Parenthood Baby Parts Vendor ABR Pays Off Clinics, Intact Fetuses "Just Fell Out"
#10 – Top Planned Parenthood Exec: Baby Parts Sales “A Valid Exchange,” Can Make "A Fair Amount of Income”
Image courtesy User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 .

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Censorship is Alive and Well in the Newsroom

This morning, the Los Angeles Times carried a front-page story about a controversial political battle that was fueled by an undercover video. But it wasn't the undercover video of a Planned Parenthood senior official discussing how Planned Parenthood is involved in harvesting and selling baby organs. Instead, the editors at the Times gave 1,028 words and premium front page status to the coverage of some middle-aged men chasing other away from their favorite surfing spot.1 Even after two full days of triggering an avalanche social media outrage which prompted both federal and state officials to begin investigating the abortion organization, coverage of Planned Parenthood's hideous practices is nowhere to be found in the Times.



Of course the LAT is not the only media outlet that purports itself to be a news organization but is censoring this story. Mollie Hemingway over at the Federalist has been monitoring media outlets for years on their selective bias against stories that bring the horror of abortion to light. Today, she wrote about the paltry media coverage of the Planned Parenthood scandal from most of the major media organizations. In her article, she shows just how slow these outlets were to cover the story, how few of them gave any mention to it at all, and how most who did, did so in order to help the PR push of Planned Parenthood, even to the point of copying their talking points verbatim!2

Watchdog of Justice, Who Keeps Their Eye on You?

None of this was unexpected. Two years ago, the Kermit Gosnell case checked off absolutely every requirement a news outlet would look for to warrant full coverage and smashing ratings, yet is was conspicuously absent from nearly all of them. Now, the harvesting of baby organs story is again being censored. Why? Because the idea of dispassionately reporting the news isn't the overriding value for those who claim to run news organizations anymore. It isn't even ratings, although ratings matter. It's simply ideology. Ideology is king and one cannot put forth a story that may break a scandal against something like abortion.

To underscore the pint, just as the fetal organ story was breaking, my friend Sean McDowell released a short YouTube clip where he tells of his almost interview on CNN. The organization called Sean because they were looking for an opposing voice on the topic of transgenderism. He recounts the producer asking him for his specific position on transgenderism.3 Sean replied, "My position is this is a complicated issue. We need to have compassion, we need to follow the science, and we need to settle this issue carefully." The producer them paused a moment, looked a Sean and said "You know, you're much too compassionate. My director will get upset if I have you call into this show!" upon finding out that CNN contacted the Southern Baptists to try and find a person who would state on-air that transgenderism "is wrong, sinful, and you're going to Hell!" McDowell refused to do so and so CNN turned to someone from ChurchMilitant.com to be the radical voice the so-called objective news show could carve apart like a sacrificial cow to make themselves look balanced an sane. No one can call this objective reporting and still be considered sane.

It's been obvious for years that "reality" television is nothing of the kind. They are formulated, staged, scripted, and edited to get the biggest reaction out of the audience possible. The newsroom is the next reality television. They are simply no longer trustworthy. It's no surprise that Pew Research just reported more people are getting their news from Facebook and Twitter than watching it on television or reading a newspaper or magazine. 4

Mainstream television and print journalism has died. Edmund Burke's Fourth Estate no longer exists; we only see the estate sale with ideologues pawing through its previously grand hallways and closets, selling both its duty and its good name for ten cents on the dollar.

References

1. Therolf, Garrett. "'Gang Mentality' of Middle-age Surfers Keeps Outsiders off Palos Verdes Estates Waves." The Los Angeles Times. 16 July 2015, morning ed., A1. Print.
2. Hemingway, Mollie Zeiger. "The Bad, Worse, & Ugly: Media Coverage of Planned Parenthood's Organ Harvesting Scandal." The Federalist. The Federalist, 16 July 2015. Web. 16 July 2015. http://thefederalist.com/2015/07/16/the-bad-worse-ugly-media-coverage-of-planned-parenthoods-organ-harvesting-scandal/.
3. McDowell, Sean. "Lessons from a CNN Interview." YouTube. YouTube, 14 July 2015. Web. 16 July 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1Rs2bu6f8E.
4. Barthel, Michael, Elisa Shearer, Jeffrey Gottfried, and Amy Mitchell. "The Evolving Role of News on Twitter and Facebook." Pew Research Centers Journalism Project. Pew Research Centers, 14 July 2015. Web. 16 July 2015. http://www.journalism.org/2015/07/14/the-evolving-role-of-news-on-twitter-and-facebook/.
Image courtesy Publik15 and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Replying to Science-of-the-Gaps Arguments



I had a commenter named Barry respond to my blog post "Why the Darwinist Version of Life's Origin is Anti-Science". First, he asked whether it is appropriate to couple the origin of life with neo-Darwinian evolution (it is), he then made the following statements:
You can't say "Well, we don't know how life emerged so God musta done it" simply because scientists don't know (yet). … That we don't know NOW how life began doesn't give anyone intellectual license to say that life has a supernatural cause due to a creative moment by a whimsical Omniscient Being. Relax. So we don't know right now what caused life to emerge. That's just the way it is. We'll understand some day. Maybe not in our lifetimes but it's likely to happen in the next fifty years or so.

In the meantime, God-of-the-gaps arguments aren't arguments from the point of evidence. They're arguments from the point of faith and belief. That's not a persuasive rhetorical tactic for the plain reason that reality is preferable to believing in things simply because you want these things to be true."
You will notice that Barry admits a couple of things. First, he holds that arguments that are not from the point of evidence are not strong. He refers to these as "intellectually feeble." He also admits that scientists don’t know how life began. In fact, they have absolutely no idea, no working models, nor even any controlled lab experiments that shows how one can get even a self-replicating RNA molecule from ribozyme components. I also brought this up in my response, pointing him to the enormous odds Dr. David Berlinski offered.

Barry’s response was telling. He replied:
Odds, shmods. It happened. Life DID emerge when it did and that's that. The only thing we don't understand is HOW life emerged—and there is zip evidence that it was due to some supernatural intervention. Evidence is tying a palm print on the rifle to Oswald. Evidence is collecting DNA from a crime scene and connecting it to a suspect. You? You got nuthin' to link to.
Can you see how this paragraph directly contradicts his previously stated view that arguments without evidence are intellectually feeble? Odds schmods?? It’s clear that Barry doesn’t care what the evidence (e.g. the mathematics) shows on the possibility of life emerging by chance. He simply wants it to be true. But that’s what the decried in the previous exchange! He’s not relying on a God-of-the-gaps argument, but a science-of-the-gaps one. He rejects the actual scientific data that that natural laws and chemistry alone could never assemble the first living organism simply because he doesn’t want to believe it to be true!

You’ll also notice that Barry claimed I had "nuthin' to link to." I did link to a couple of articles in fact, one being the Berlinski quote above. One of the main tasks of the scientific method is to either validate or falsify a hypothesis. You see, scientists understand that a negative result is still a result. We have data on what is required for life to exist, and it is showing more and more that spontaneous self-assembly is not a logical option. Asserting "we'll understand some day" is a statement of faith that directly contradicts the increasingly mounting evidence against the hypothesis.

To trust in science alone is not following the evidence wherever it leads. It is seeking to validate a preconception at any cost, something rational individuals should shun.
Original image courtesy Dale Schoonover, Kim Schoonover [CC BY 3.0]

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Abortion, Science, and Junk Media

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times carried a front page article decrying the "junk science" that it claims is being used to limit abortion across several states. With the embarrassingly biased headline, "Abortion restrictions relying on 'junk science,' rights advocates say" reporter Maria L. La Ganga writes about how the Montana legislature recently passed a law requiring anesthesia for the fetus undergoing the trauma of being ripped apart by late-term abortion. She also points to Arizona and Arkansas, both of which require abortionists to tell women requesting drug-induced abortions that they may have options if they change their mind early enough.


She then opines:
The 2015 legislative session is shaping up to be a primer in what abortion rights advocates call "junk science," with elected officials across the country passing new laws based on theories that have been called into question or debunked by the wider medical community.

Pointing to bills recently passed in the states mentioned, as well as in Oklahoma and Kansas, Guttmacher Institute policy analyst Elizabeth Nash said: "We're seeing more unsubstantiated science. The problem is that legislators are buying into it and using it.".1
I wonder why such measures provoke so much concern in La Ganga? She goes on to quote from a 2005 article on the Journal of the American Medical Association, but doesn't bother to interview any doctors who are carrying out current research, unlike a similar New York Times article that at least interviewed Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, who is working specifically on this question.2 She simply notes that no further studies have been published.

What Counts as Definitive?

However, the JAMA study she references isn't quite as definitive as the Times article suggests. It is based on the assumption that the experience of pain requires certain brain connections, called thalamocortical pathways be working, which according to the article:
...may occur in the third trimester around 29 to 30 weeks' gestational age, based on the limited data available. Small-scale histological studies of human fetuses have found that thalamocortical fibers begin to form between 23 and 30 weeks' gestational age, but these studies did not specifically examine thalamocortical pathways active in pain perception.3
Notice that the authors try to be clear that we don't have a definitive picture as we only are looking at "limited data" and "small-scale studies of human fetuses." I actually have no reason to doubt that these brain pathways do develop at the time the study suggests. The problem becomes the assumption that those developments are required to feel pain, which is what Dr. Anand has published. 4

Ignoring Established Science

While the pain issue is interesting and it may or may not be true, here's my primary gripe with LaGanga's article: in supposedly trying to promote providing women with strong science to make their reproductive choices, the pro-abortion industry has consistently lied about one of the most well-established scientific facts we know, that the fetus is a human being. When we speak of the unborn, we must classify them as humans. There is no property that a human being has that a fetus does not. No one in the medical establishment can deny that every single human being was a fetus at the beginning of his or her development. Humans are not metamorphic animals, like caterpillars or tadpoles.5

Even though the science is clear that a fetus is an unborn human being, that established science doesn't sit well with the abortion groups who wish to destroy them for any reason they choose. When the issue is looked at in this manner, the laws opting for caution don't seem to be too far-fetched at all.

At the end of the article, LaGanga asks Planned Parenthood representative Rachel Sussman of her opinion. She said, "You cannot exist in a world where you care about women's health and safety and require doctors to tell women things that are medically untrue." Right. So why does Planned Parenthood persist in lying about the humanity of the baby? Perhaps it is because they care more about their profits and their political power than anything an ultrasound can show.

References

1. LaGanga, Maria L. "Abortion Restrictions Relying on 'junk Science,' Rights Advocates Say." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 20 Apr. 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.http://www.latimes.com/science/la-na-abortion-junk-science-20150420-story.html#page=1
2. Belluck, Pam. "Complex Science at Issue in Politics of Fetal Pain." The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Sept. 2013. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/health/complex-science-at-issue-in-politics-of-fetal-pain.html.
3. Lee, S. J. "Fetal Pain: A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Evidence." JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 294.8 (2005): 947-54. Web.
4. Anand, K. J. S. "Consciousness, Cortical Function, and Pain Perception in Nonverbal Humans." Behavioral and Brain Sciences 30.01 (2007): 82. Web
5. Bishop, Cory. "What Is Metamorphosis?" Integrative and Comparative Biology. Oxford University Press, 6 June 2006. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. http://icb.oxfordjournals.org/content/46/6/655.full.
Image courtesy ceejayoz - http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceejayoz/3579010939/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
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