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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 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

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The "God Particle": Does the Higgs Boson replace God?

The physicists at CERN have announced today that they are nearly certain that they have identified the elementary particle that gives mass to all matter, the so-called "God particle" otherwise known as the Higgs boson. Almost immediately, I've seen atheists crowing about how science has once again displaced God and I've seen Christians troubled at the discovery that's supposed to somehow rock their faith. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

The real facts are that we've known about the twelve elementary particles (six quarks and six leptons, see image) as well as the four forces for about 40 years now. The Higgs boson was an anticipated missing piece to the puzzle. However, when writing a book on the search for the Higgs, physicist Leon D. Lederman decided to have a bit of fun and nickname the particle "the God particle."  After the book "The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?" was published, its title has caused confusion for both reporters and the general public ever since.

In seeing so much confusion about the implications of the Higgs boson discovery, I interviewed Dr. Barry Ritchie, Professor of Nuclear Physics at Arizona State University, which is a cutting edge institution in this field.  Here's Dr. Ritchie commenting on the Higgs and its implications to theology:
"Lederman's choice of that name, that moniker, was first of all whimsical. It certainly wasn't something that indicated a theological perspective of any kind.  He's offered up a number, well at least a couple anyway, explanations as to why he chose it: one of them had to do with profanity, the other was talking about how difficult it would be… how difficult it was to find and so forth. 

"But again, the important thing to realize is it was meant to be whimsical, it wasn't meant to be something that has anything to do with theology. What the Higgs boson does is it tells us again the origins of mass; it tells us that we think we do understand how the particles of the universe interact with each other and things like that. All those things are independent of any understanding of God. This may be the way God works. If the standard model is correct, then this must be the way that the universe that God's made comes together in terms of these subatomic particles. But it's, it's…   The applicability of the Higgs boson to learning about the existence of God is about as relevant as being able to balance a checkbook is to the existence of God. There's not a theological angle on this."
The entire interview is great, as Dr. Ritchie also discusses the current understanding of our universe's makeup, recent attempts to explain the origin of the universe by appealing to quantum vacuums, and how the man of faith can also be a man of science. To hear the entire interview, click here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is the Media Biased on Same-Sex Marriage

This weekend, Patrick Peyton, Ombudsman with the Washington Post published a piece on how he and a reporter from the Post exchanged an animated dialog with a reader over the paper's coverage of the same-sex marriage issue. As Mollie Hemingway pointed out in her column over at Get Religion "the reporter reveals some breathtaking bigotry about the people he or she is supposed to be covering." But Paxton, whose job as Ombudsman is supposed to be the people's advocate and voice to the paper, is just as complicit in his complete ignorance of the reasoning that social conservatives use when discussing the issue.

By Pablo Perez

The primary problem is identified by Rod Dreher. He states:
"Most reporters and editors, in my 20 years of experience, do not set out to slant stories, and in fact try to be fair. The bias that creeps into their coverage is typically the result of a newsroom monoculture, in which they don't see the bias because everybody, or nearly everybody, within that culture agrees on so much. In the case of gay rights and the marriage debate, though, they don't even make an effort to be fair."
Dreher says that the reporters, editors, and others in most mainstream journalism outlets fall back on the concept that "error has no rights." In other words, we reporters know that you traditional values folks (or worse "religionists" as Peyton called us) are really backwards buffoons, and therefore your opinion isn't even worth understanding. This belief is assumed to be true, even as it vilifies a significant portion of the population. So, there is no vast left-wing conspiracy, but a general unrecognized level of groupthink by the media.

Of course throughout the original post, Peyton continually misunderstands both the concern of the reader and the argument we have against same-sex marriage.  He falls back yet again to the old trope that its basis is the same as bigotry against mixed race marriages. But such a comparison is as insulting as it is pig-headed. As I've noted in a recent podcast, marriage is the only institution that allows our society to continue through the act of procreation and the rearing of children. There is no other institution that will bring us the next generation. No other. Not one.  Homosexual unions by their very definition cannot do this. Sure they can adopt children, or maybe "borrow" a gamete from the opposite sex to birth children. But such measures will never produce an entire generation of citizens. In fact, books like Huxley's Brave New World cry out against the divorce of human procreation from its natural biological origins.

Hemingway I think hits the nail on the head when she writes:
Here's what needs to happen. Right now. Every reporter — no matter the beat, no matter how much in the tank for redefining marriage, no matter how close-minded they've been to this point — every reporter needs to stop what they're doing and read "What is Marriage."

It's a very easy-to-read book that succinctly explains the traditionalist arguments surrounding marriage. Refusing to learn the arguments of those who oppose changing the law must end. It simply must end. The ignorance and bigotry with which reporters have covered this topic is a scandal. It's destroying civil political discourse, it's embarrassing and can't continue.

Reporters don't need to change their deeply-held biases in favor of changing marriage law. But they do need to learn even a little bit about the arguments of those who oppose such a change.

No reporter working today should ever make the error of comparing arguments against marriage redefinition with anti-miscegenation laws. It's clownish and easily disputed.
Such a step is one of the bare minimum requirements for the job of journalism. Get the facts straight first, and then you can report the news accurately.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Looking for Real News? Let the Reader Beware.

 photo by Southwest

There's an old Latin phrase the Romans originated and most people have heard  even today: "caveat emptor," let the buyer beware. This holds true for even those consumers that want to be objectively informed by our news media. Before we go further, realize this isn't some type of "the newspaper's politics is slanted" diatribe. No, this is more about business than politics.

Today's Los Angeles Times ran a story in their science pages with the headline "Scientists infuse 'life' into inanimate compounds." Such a sensational achievement by science should be trumpeted across the headlines of all majors papers, no doubt.  However, this was carried in their regular science page, back on an interior page of a subsection of the paper.

Why would the Times choose to bury such a sensational story? The answer lies in the story itself.

The scientist had hundreds of bacteria-sized particles, each with an attached mineral hematite that stuck out on one end spread randomly in a drop of liquid solution. Because the solution included hydrogen peroxide and when exposed to a blue-violet light hematite reacts with the hydrogen peroxide, whenever the scientists turned on the light, a chemical reaction would start and the particles would gather together in crystal-like shapes. The article goes on to say "at first, the particles moved about at random. Then, about 25 seconds into the chaos, the limited space and directionless driving produced a traffic jam of particles." Because of the "jam" the particles forced themselves into these hexagonal structures.

This is an interesting and non-trivial find; I'm sure it can lead to efficient ways to do things on a microscopic level that we've not been able to accomplish before.  However, is this an example of infusing life into inanimate compounds?  It doesn't seem so to me.  Anyone who has studied systems restricted by some type of containment knows that such systems will sort themselves into a honeycomb shape. Cannonballs and oranges in crates are routinely cited as examples of this.  It is common enough that chemists even have a name for it: face-centered cubic packing.

Now, the fact that these particles are grouping in such a way because of the influence of the light is as I said interesting and could hold promise for many different uses.  However, this has nothing to do with making things alive. These particles are infused with life in much the same way a pinball machine comes to life when you drop a quarter in its slot. So why would the headline scream that scientist have succeeded in infusing life into inanimate objects? Of course the headline used scare quotes around the word "life" but they knew people glancing at the article would draw an implication. The newspapers bank on such sensationalism to get people to read the story.

As thoughtful consumers we need to be cautious and carefully read the claims made in the media today.  Supposed documentaries of the Discovery Channel and other cable shows will routinely use this tactic to try and grab viewers. Many times an unwitting public will buy a ridiculous idea that Jesus' family tomb was discovered or that the Gospel of Judas somehow overthrows two thousand years of Christianity. But the Romans knew better than to believe the first thing someone tries to sell you, even if what they're claiming to trade in is the truth.

Friday, November 02, 2012

In Online Dialogues, Asking Questions Is Crucial!

Yesterday, I tweeted a link to a story about two British banks pulling their support from the pro-homosexual group Stonewall's annual awards dinner because one of the "awards" they are presenting is the bigot award, in which they deride people that oppose the homosexual political agenda. My original tweet was:

Asking questions as an effective apologetics tool

British pro-homosexual group creates "bigot" award, despite objections from sponsors. So who's being bigoted now?

One response I received was from Adam Preston, who on his Twitter page describes himself as "atheist. bibliophile. interested in military history, secularism, evolutionary psychology, LGBT rights. member of Labour Party & National Secular Society."  Below is our entire exchange.  I think this is helpful in showing why asking questions can play a key role in discussions with others.

@adam_preston: Calling a bigot a bigot is not bigoted.

@comereason: What're the essential attributes of a bigot? People throw these terms around too much without clearly knowing what they mean.

@adam_preston: I'd say wanting to deny equal rights to LGBT people because of your religion constitutes bigotry

@comereason: That's not what I asked. What are the necessary conditions to be labeled a bigot in any sense? Don't deflect the issue.

@adam_preston: Inflexibile intolerance and prejudice towards a group of people. I think that applies to most vocal anti-equalmarriage people

@comereason: By using prejudice you beg the question. Regardless, I am intolerant of serial killers. Is that bigotry?

@adam_preston: Was expecting that response. Although usually it's paedophiles, not serial killers. Intolerance of serial killers is RATIONAL

@comereason: So if the intolerance against a person is rational, it is not bigotry. Is that your view?

@adam_preston: In the sense that intolerance of child abusers & serial killers is not bigotry, while racism and sexism are, yes.

@comereason: Can you tell me why racism or sexism is irrational while the others aren't? What makes one belief rational and another isn't?

@adam_preston: Child abuse and murder are clearly harmful to individuals and society. How is equality harmful and how are gays dangerous?

@comereason: Is physical harm the only basis for rational intolerance? Can I be intolerant of cheaters or drunks if they harm no one else?

@adam_preston: Intolerance of them would be wrong, yes. Believing it's wrong to CHEAT is one thing. Intolerance of all who have is different

@comereason: I completely agree!! Being intolerant of the actions of cheating is different than being bigoted against the cheaters.

After my last statement Adam didn't respond again.  I think he could see the implication of his position that one can be against a behavior and not be considered a bigot, even if that behavior doesn't cause direct harm to another. This is exactly the position that Christians have taken for a while now.
Do I think the above exchange has changed Adam's mind and he will stop labeling those who are for traditional marriage bigots?  No, I don't.  But it may help clarify the issue in the minds of others reading the exchange and it does allow me to hold Adam to his own standard if he confronts me again.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Just Because You're Smart Doesn't Mean We Should Listen to You

William Lane Craig has repeatedly commented that when very smart people like Lawrence Krauss or Stephen Hawking begin to comment on areas outside their realm of study, such as the philosophy of religion or the existence of God, their opinions hold no more authority than any other layman.  In fact, they often get things drastically wrong.

Here's a great interview with Thomas Sowell making the same point, but from the perspective of societal decision-making. Sowell even brings up Noam Chomsky and Bertrand Russell in the beginning of his talk.  This video is a half hour well spent. H/T @simonfoust

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Scientists Clinging to Blind Faith for All to See

I've had several recent discussions with folks who hold that science is superior to religion because science is all based on experimental evidence and facts while religious people just cling to "blind faith." Richard Dawkins recently reiterated this view in a debate held in Mexico City when he made the statement:
[Those who believe in God] like to point to the origin of the universe and say ‘Well, science can’t explain the Big Bang or scientists can’t explain where the laws of physics come from.’ Physicists are working on that. That’s what scientists do. They don’t lie down and pathetically say ‘Oh, we don’t understand it so God did it."
Somehow, those who hold to this view seem to forget that scientists are people, and as such they are subject to the same faults and biases as the rest of humanity.  Nowhere is this illustrated more clearly than in a recent panel discussion of leading scientists on defining life (see video below).  Held at Arizona State University and hosted by The Science Network, this panel was comprised of luminaries such as Dawkins, world-renowned genome expert J. Craig Venter, Nobel laureates Sidney Altman and Leland Hartwell, NASA planetary scientist Chris McKay, and physicists Paul Davies and Lawrence Krauss.  A stellar group to be sure.

The discussion starts by moderator Roger Bingham asking if it is necessary for us to agree on a proper definition of life before we go looking for it in space, so that we can know what we're looking for. McKay almost flippantly dismisses the idea and says we should just start looking! Imagine using that same criteria in medicine — we don't need criteria as to whether a person is still alive, we'll just make it up as we go! This is why excluding philosophers from these discussions is so detrimental.

But the more interesting parts happen starting around the 9:00 mark of the video. As Evolution News pointed out, Dawkins and others have claimed that all life uses the same DNA vocabulary for living creatures. In the video, Venter disagrees with this statement and says that science is showing the concept of all life stemming from one standard DNA vocabulary is not accurate. "The tree of life is an artifact of some early scientific studies that aren't really holding up...So there is not a tree of life." (See the article linked above for the specifics on this claim.) Dawkins is aghast at the suggestion and Paul Davies tries to understand how this could be, but Venter sits calmly and confidently by his statement. This is a pretty earth-shattering admission by Venter, but it's not my main point.

Dismissing Scientific Evidence in the Name of Science

The very next question to the panel is if science were to discover the origins of life and the origin of consciousness, would that sway religious believers or would they continue to cling to their concepts? Dawkins and Krauss both respond that it wouldn't matter; religious people are going to believe what they've been "indoctrinated in childhood" to believe. Dawkins even says that "Well, it obviously ought to have the effect that the questioner says, but I don't think it will." Immediately after that exchange, Chris McKay at the 14:50 mark states that he doesn't believe Venter's view that the tree of life is obsolete, but he still holds to Dawkins' 1980's claim that all life uses the same genetic vocabulary.

I want you to catch that. McKay, whose specialty is geophysics and not genetics, is dismissing the findings of one of the pre-eminent geneticists in the world because he doesn't like where it would take him. The scientist is ignoring the findings of science because the findings threaten his views on the origins of life. McKay is guilty of exactly what Dawkins and Krauss were poo-pooing religious believers about!  As the Evolutionary News article points out, we know that Mycoplasma DNA uses the UGA codon not as a stop as in human genes, but to code for the amino acid tryptophan.  That's like the difference between the saying "Mama die!" in English and saying "Mama die!" in Dutch, which means "Mom, I want this one!" It's a different vocabulary, a different message.

So, the next time you hear that scientists are bias-free and  objective while religion leads to only blind faith, don't you believe it.  The evidence is available for all to see.

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