Friday, April 22, 2016

Answering Quora on the Safety of Organic Foods and Microwaves

Organics, Just Say NoI recently came across a question on Quora, Will it be okay if I eat healthy organic food, twice a day, with the stipulations that they be microwaved?. This is related to a previous entry of mine, Why I Oppose Organic Food, so I decided to repost my answer here, with a few edits.

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It depends on what context you mean by 'okay'.

Let's start with the organic food. If you mean okay as far as your own health, then sure, organic food can be healthy. Here's a good summary from a previous Quora question, Jae Won Joh's answer to Is organic food a better option?. For the most part, organically grown food is about the same nutrition-wise as conventionally grown crops. Organic had slightly higher risks for some bacterial infections, but not by a huge amount. Organic tended to have less pesticide residue than conventional, but according to another study (see this Quora answer - Richard Muller's answer to What are some mind-blowing facts about food?) organic crops tend to be higher in carcinogens. This makes sense because varieties used for organic crops have to have higher natural resistance to pests, meaning the chemicals conferring this resistance will be present throughout the food, not just on the surface like sprayed pesticides which can be washed off.

But me, I tend to be a bit of a tree hugger. So when I think of 'okay', I think in terms of the whole environment. And this is the main reason I try to avoid organic foods. Habitat loss is perhaps the biggest threat to biodiversity in the world - even more of a threat than global warming. And studies show that organic crops on average give yields 20-25% lower than conventional techniques (with a lot of variation depending on the particular crop). That's huge. If all crops were grown organically, we'd need roughly 1/3 more cropland! And that means a whole lot more habitat destruction, and hence a lot more loss to biodiversity. And the thing is, 'conventional' farming will always be at least as good as organic, and most likely better, because conventional farms can use every technique available to organic farms plus some. (More info - Why I Oppose Organic Food).

As far as using a microwave, the health considerations are minuscule. Cooking only with a microwave can be slightly more nutritious, as described in this article, Microwave cooking and nutrition - Harvard Health. The shorter cooking time means less breakdown of nutrients, and less liquid means less nutrients are leached out to be dumped down the drain (like if you boil veggies). But if you're going to be cooking your food conventionally at home first and then using a microwave to re-heat it, then this nutrient loss will have already occurred when you initially cook the food. But as that article stated, "let's not get too lost in the details. Vegetables, pretty much any way you prepare them, are good for you, and most of us don't eat enough of them."

As far as the environmental impact, here's another article, Stove versus Microwave: Which Uses Less Energy to Make Tea?. Basically, the difference is tiny. Stove tops are slightly more efficient at boiling water than microwaves, while microwaves are slightly more efficient than full size ovens at heating food. But to put those slight differences in perspective, the article quotes a consumer advocate as saying "You'd save more energy over the year by replacing one light bulb with a CFL or turning off the air conditioner for an hour--not an hour a day, one hour at some point over the whole year." So the differences are hardly worth worrying about.

So to summarize, as far as health, organic has about the same nutritional value as conventionally grown food, only slightly higher risks as far as bacterial infection, and a bit more risk regarding cancer due to the higher carcinogen levels. Microwaves don't make much difference at all regarding health, especially if you're using them to reheat food, not for the initial cooking. On the environmental side, organic has a much higher negative impact due to lower crop yields and associated habitat destruction. Microwaves make hardly any environmental difference compared to conventional cooking techniques.

So all in all, while it's not super risky, I'd recommend against organics because of the higher levels of carcinogens and the bigger environmental impact. Using a microwave to reheat food is fine.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Answering Quora - What are the plot devices you would like to see less of?

Film ReelI answered a Quora question a few weeks ago on What are the plot devices you would like to see less of?. Although the questioner originally asked for only three plot devices per answer, I couldn't help myself and added two more. This has actually become one of my most viewed answers on Quora. Anyway, below are the plot devices that drive me up the wall (slightly edited from my Quora answer). Note that nearly all the links take you to the appropriate entry on TVTropes.org


Out-of-Context Eavesdropping, Not What It Looks Like and other related tropes.

Someone overhears only a small part of a conversation, pieces together what they think the conversation is about, and come to a conclusion wildly different from what was actually being said (I'm going to kill him tomorrow ... at basketball). Similar examples are seeing the characters do something that looked suspicious when viewed from only one particular angle or at just the right moment. These are so unlikely to occur at all in real life (most people would simply assume they overheard something out of context), and the problem could usually be resolved with a simple question that never gets asked.


Idiot Ball

This is when characters seemingly go out of their way to act stupid. The worst example of this I can think of is Dracula. *Spoiler Alert*. Even though one character had already succumbed to Dracula, and all the lead characters knew this and believed in vampires, when another character began displaying the same symptoms, it never dawned on them that maybe Dracula was working on her, too. (In fact, Dracula has so many bad horrible plot devices I could on at length on how much I disliked that book, and have - Book Review - Dracula.)


Arbitrary Skepticism, Flat Earth Atheist, Stupid Scientist, Agent Scully, etc.

This is the tendency of so many writers to treat skeptics and scientists simply as cynics or denialists. It's especially bad in stories where in that fictional universe, evidence for the supernatural/monster/alien is all over the place, but the skeptics still refuse to believe. Perhaps the worst example of this in a story I've read is in the Left Behind series (I only got a couple books into it). After all these events that just scream Rapture and that the fundamentalists were right all along (billions of people disappearing in an instant, Israel being miraculously saved from an invasion, fire breathing prophets), all the religious skeptics go on continuing to dismiss religion out of hand for some reason (more info - Some Early Thoughts on Left Behind, More Thoughts on Left Behind After Finishing the Book, and Book Review - Tribulation Force).


Alien Invasions (Planet Looters, Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion)

Alien Invasion movies are almost universally awful if you apply any type of rational thinking to them. First, the motivation is almost always ludicrous. This is a civilization with the technology and resources for interstellar space travel. What could they possible need from Earth that wasn't more easily attained elsewhere? Even if for some reason they wanted to come to our solar system, there are all the objects in the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt that would provide huge amounts of water, metals, or minerals, without the cost of removing them from Earth's gravity well. And when they do actually attack, in so many action movies, it's like the aliens have no concept of strategy or tactics. They send in a bunch of small fighters or foot soldiers to shoot up civilians (e.g. The Avengers or Cowboys vs. Aliens), when they could just drop bombs from orbit without ever exposing themselves to our military. Or, considering their level of technology, they'd probably have weapons even more effective than plain old bombs that they could utilize. It's just ludicrous to imagine that their invasion strategy would be to send a bunch of their alien soldiers into Manhattan.


Santa Claus Movies Where Kids Should 'Just Believe'

These movies irritate me to no end. In fact, I've written about it this blog before in the entry, Yes, Virginia, There Are Liars. Why do so many movies make it a virtue to accept something on blind faith without evidence, when we should be teaching our children critical thinking skills. Skepticism is what keeps people from buying timeshares, giving their credit card numbers to Nigerian princesses, or believing they've won the Internet lottery. It's a skill that should be fostered, not made to seem like a character flaw. And the Santa Claus movies are especially irritating because every sane adult knows the truth about Santa. We're not just telling kids to have faith, we're telling them to have faith in a known lie.


Image Source: Wikimedia

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

New Book - Future Humans

A friend of mine, Scott Solomon, has just finished writing his first book, Future Humans: Inside the Science of Our Continuing Evolution.

Future Humans book cover
Publisher's Page
Buy from Amazon

Here's the description from the publisher's website:

In this intriguing book, evolutionary biologist Scott Solomon draws on the explosion of discoveries in recent years to examine the future evolution of our species. Combining knowledge of our past with current trends, Solomon offers convincing evidence that evolutionary forces still affect us today. But how will modernization--including longer lifespans, changing diets, global travel, and widespread use of medicine and contraceptives--affect our evolutionary future?

Solomon presents an entertaining and accessible review of the latest research on human evolution in modern times, drawing on fields from genomics to medicine and the study of our microbiome. Surprising insights, ranging from the rise of online dating and Cesarean sections to the spread of diseases such as HIV and Ebola, suggest that we are entering a new phase in human evolutionary history--one that makes the future less predictable and more interesting than ever before.


Scott Solomon is an evolutionary biologist and science writer. He teaches ecology, evolutionary biology, and scientific communication at Rice University, where he is a Professor in the Practice in the Department of BioSciences. He lives in Houston, TX.

I read one of the draft manuscripts, and so can say that it really was an interesting, engaging read. And while you might worry that a book about future human evolution might be hokey or too speculative, you can rest assured that this book is well grounded and sticks to reasonable inferences.

You can pre-order the book from Amazon right now. It will be shipped in October.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Answering Quora - Is technology replacing spirituality?

In keeping with the spirit of my recent entry, Does spirituality provide anything that science cannot provide?, this week I'm answering a related question that was recently posted on Quora, Is technology replacing spirituality?. Here is my answer.

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Below is perhaps my favorite photograph of all time, the The Chandra Deep Field South*:

Deep Look Into Space

That's only a very low-res version. Go visit the ESO page, A Pool of Distant Galaxies, download the full image, and take some time to look at it and marvel (really, I mean it, you won't be disappointed). Practically every point and smudge of light in that image is an entire galaxy, not just a single star. And that image covers a portion of the sky smaller than the full moon. The image is awe-inspiring, humbling, and marvelous all at the same time. Thousands of years ago when people looked up at the night sky, they thought the stars were shiny objects embedded in a firmament, or mythological beings. There was no conception at all of how unimaginably vast the universe really is. It's only technology that makes images like this one possible, and that reveal to us our place in the universe.

And how did I come to find this image personally? The Internet - a vast collection of networked computers sharing practically all of human knowledge. And this image is but just one example. There's a whole vast array of mind-blowing lessons to be found online, from understanding evolution and our place in the vast tree of life, to the tiniest known portions of nature, subatomic particles, that are only known about because of technologies like the LHC at CERN. And the Internet itself is only possible because of humanity's understanding of semiconductors, electronics, logic, etc. Without that type of technology, I'd be stuck with magazines and other print sources for whatever scraps of information I could find. And even those 'old' information sources rely on printing technology. Before the printing press, my only information sources would have been hand written manuscripts or word of mouth.

Science and technology have revealed so much that would have been impossible to know before. Sure, it's given us distractions, as well. But for those willing to look, it's provided us with a far deeper understanding of nature and the universe and our place in it than any ancient culture could have dreamt of.


*I've used this image before, in the entry, The Universe Is Big. I had a little more explanation putting this image into perspective. And while I was at it, I did take some time to study that image again. It gives me butterflies in my stomach every time.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Answering Quora - Does spirituality provide anything that science cannot provide?

MeditatingRecently on Quora, somebody posed the question, Does spirituality provide anything that science cannot provide? Below is my answer.

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This question presents a false dilemma. Of course there are many, many aspects of our lives that science doesn't address, but why should we turn to spirituality to address those areas when there are other, better human endeavors to address those parts of our lives?

Science is great at what it does - answering objective questions. It's by far the best method humanity has developed for this purpose. But really, that's its only purpose. Science has nothing to say on right or wrong, beautiful or ugly, awe-inspiring or mundane. Surely, we may find wonder in some of the findings of science. Looking up at the night sky is so much more marvelous knowing what those stars actually are. And science can help inform our actions, using our morality that comes from elsewhere. We wouldn't even know about global warming nor its consequences without science. But our emotional reaction to the night sky, or deciding to do something about global warming, are not part of science itself. Science has only given us the objective information, and then we use other parts of our humanity to react.

The problem with 'spirituality' is that it's plagued by so many historical connotations and associations, that it's hard to know what people really even mean by the term. Just take a look at the Wikipedia entry, Spirituality, for how many different ways people use this term, from Christians ("A spiritual man is one who is Christian 'more abundantly and deeper than others' ") to Muslims to Buddhists to Hindus to New Agers and a whole bunch of others. The one thing that most of these definitions have in common is the mystical or supernatural. But if the mystical and supernatural aren't real, then those versions of spirituality aren't based on anything real. At best, they're noble human endeavors entangled with outdated superstition. So, why not just drop the superstition and focus on the noble parts? But once you do that, is 'spirituality' really the best term to describe it?

We're human beings. We have worries and passions and morality and wonder and all types of subjective concerns. We should spend time reflecting on and fostering these aspects of our lives. We should read literature, go to art museums, study philosophy and ethics, take time during the day to pause and reflect, or even meditate if you want to take that reflection further. But these can all be secular pursuits. There's no need to pretend there's anything mystical about them.

Image Source: Wikimedia with further editing by me

Monday, March 28, 2016

Pysanky Easter Eggs 2016

Well, we got out the Pysanky kit to decorate eggs again this year. Now that we've done it two years in a row, does it count as a tradition?

Once again, my daughter did the best by far, but this year, my wife's and my eggs were good enough to show here in public. Here are the four we all had finished up by Easter dinner. My daughter finished up one more last night, and got started on another one. Once she's all finished up with that, I may post an update with all of her eggs.

Pysanky Eggs

We didn't neglect the normal eggs, either. Here's our dozen normally decorated hard boiled eggs.

Regular Eggs

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Related: Pysanky Easter Eggs (from last year)

Friday, March 18, 2016

Answering Quora - Why There Were No 'First' Humans

Human Family TreeIn what has become my modus operandi here recently, I'm going to recycle a Quora answer for this post. This time, the question was, 'would the parents of the first human grandchild have been siblings?'. My response is very similar to parts of a previous answer/post, Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg? And a Discussion of the Fuzziness of Species, but I think I did a better job this time explaining the example. So, here's my answer, with a few minor edits, and some additional footnotes.

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As many others have pointed out, there was no 'first human'. Evolution is a gradual process that occurs in populations. Trying to pinpoint the exact individual that was the first human is like trying to pinpoint the exact second when twilight becomes nighttime.

Some people have a bit of a hard time understanding this, even people who claim to accept evolution. They'll say that if we exist as humans now, while in the past there were no humans, there must be some individual that we can identify as the 'first human', even if it's an arbitrary distinction. But this still doesn't work.

For the sake of argument, let's say you want to arbitrarily define a certain set of genes as 'human', and any organism lacking those genes as not human*. It's just semantics, but let's see what would happen. Let's say that around 100,000 years ago, there was a population of hominids that was very, very close to fitting your definition of 'human', but lacking one last mutation that would give them the full set of genes to make them 'human'. And lo and behold, one day a couple has a child that acquired this last critical mutation, and now, by our semantic definition, it's fully 'human'**. How different will it look from its parents because of that one different gene? Once it grows up, how much of a problem will it have finding a mate among the rest of the population and producing children of its own. The answers are that it will look as much like its parents as any child, and it won't have a problem at all finding a mate and having children (at least, not because of that mutation). So, even though it fits our semantic definition of 'human', it's not a different species from its parents or the rest of the population using the biological species concept.

But let's take it further. Once this first 'human' finds a mate and has children, because its genes are being mixed with its mates, and because it likely only has one copy of this new gene, anyway, only around 1 in 2 of its children are going to contain this critical gene that makes them 'human', while the rest of its children are going to lack this critical mutation and be almost but not quite 'human'***. But those children will all grow up to have children of their own, and on and on. So at first, this particular gene was only present in one individual, so only one individual in the entire population was fully 'human'. Then in the next generation, the gene was present in roughly 50% of its children, so there were a handful more 'humans' in the population. Then, in the next generation, the gene was passed on to yet more children. And since we know in hindsight that this gene is necessary to be 'human', we know that the individuals with the gene will end up having slightly more surviving children than individuals without the gene, so that eventually, after many generations it will have spread throughout the entire population, and the entire population will be fully 'human'.

That's the problem with trying to define a 'first human'. Whatever genetic criteria you pick is going to be arbitrary. An individual with 99.9999% of the correct DNA wouldn't be human by this definition, but it would still be the same species and able to interbreed with an individual with 100% of the correct DNA. And at some point in time, there will be a population of organisms mixed between 99.9999% 'humans' and 100% 'humans', and a 100% 'human' could have a mix of human and non-quite-human children. But the only reason we'd be classifying these organisms any differently is because of hindsight, knowing that in their future, only one version of a specific gene is going to be dominant. In their own time, they'd look just like any other population with a mix of genetic diversity.

And even all that's using an arbitrary definition of exactly what genes are needed to be 'human'. In the example above, we could be tempted to say, alright, that 'almost-human' population of hominids is close enough - let's call them fully human. But now you've just shifted the same problem a few generations back. There will be a moment in time when their ancestral population was a mix of individuals with their same genes and very slightly different genes. Depending on which specific arbitrary traits are required for the definition of 'human', you could shift the first humans by tens or hundreds of thousands of years.

So, to answer the question, there never were only two individual parents that were the only ancestors of all of humanity. Our ancestors have always been members of large interbreeding populations. And because evolution is a gradual process, it's impossible to pinpoint any single individual as the 'first human'.

Image Source: Pinterest


* You'd probably be more focused on alleles than genes. Alleles are different variants of the same gene. But, since it's just a semantic definition, anyway, genes work for the discussion. It's also an over-simplified example. It's not as if the population was a bunch of genetic clones. Even among individuals in the population, there will be genetic diversity.

** Mutations happen regularly. Pretty much every person alive has at least some mutations differentiating them from their parents. Granted, a whole new gene is a much bigger change than just an allele, but it happens. More Info: Understanding Genetics - How new genes are made

***Remember that we have two copies of all of our genes. So, if this hypothetical individual had a mutation that created a new gene or new allele, it would have probably occurred on only one copy of the original gene, i.e. one strand of the double helix. Since reproduction involves random mixing of our genes for making sperm and eggs, since our individual only has one copy of this new gene, only around half of it's eggs/sperm will contain the new gene, while the other half will retain the old version.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Genetic Evidence for Evolution - Vitamin C Pseudogene

Histoire et culture des orangers, A. Risso et A. Poiteau. -- Paris Henri Plon, Editeur, 1872As I've been doing a lot recently, I'm going to recycle a Quora answer for this entry. The Quora question this time was What are 3 facts that prove the biologic evolution theory?. After a bit of preamble about science not being able to 'prove' anything (for example, see my essay, Confidence in Scientific Knowledge), I got down to the answer - genetics, and the specific example of the GLO pseudogene*. Here's an edited version of that portion of my Quora answer**.

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I'm only going to look at one narrow piece of evidence for evolution in our DNA. But as an aside before getting to the meatier answer, just the general similarity in genes of all organisms is already a decent argument in support of common descent. Why else should organisms have common genes? If it was special creation, why even use DNA in all organisms, and not get a little more creative in how to store genetic material. But the similarity in DNA goes beyond just genes. It's also in the structure of our chromosomes, in regions in the DNA that don't code for genes (much of it quite frankly junk - Is Most of Our DNA Garbage?), and in regions that used to code for genes that have since become non-functional due to mutation (pseudogenes).

One particularly striking example is one of the genes involved in the synthesis of vitamin C, L-gulono-γ-lactone oxidase, or GLO. All but three lineages of mammals can synthesize their own vitamin C and don't need to get it from their diets like us. The three lineages that can't synthesize vitamin C are anthropoid primates (which includes us), guinea pigs, and bats. All three of those lineages contain a form of the GLO gene, but in each lineage, mutations to the gene have damaged it to the point of disabling vitamin C production. But the thing is, the specific mutations are different in each lineage, but common to all members of those lineages. In other words, the damage to the GLO gene is the same in all anthropoid apes, but different from the damage in either guinea pigs or bats. Similarly, all guinea pigs share the same damage, which is different from that in primates or bats. Ditto with bats.

When you think about that, that's hugely indicative of common descent. With similarities in functional genes, a creationist or Intelligent Design advocate can always say that common purpose means common design, and God (or the designer) simply used the same genes in different animals. And creationists can even sort of explain isolated pseudogenes as a result of The Fall, where mutations have damaged what was supposedly at one time a perfect creation. But having the same broken genes in closely related species, and broken in the same way, is a whole lot harder to understand from a creationist perspective. The chances of those same mutations occurring in the same manner in all of the anthropoid primates is simply too unlikely to be taken seriously (and that unlikelihood is only compounded by each of the other lineages with mutations to GLO). So, absent common descent, that would mean all those broken genes would have had to have been present in all anthropoid primates from the very beginning. Why would a god (or intelligent designer) have put broken genes into organisms in the first place, and why break them in the same way in all anthropoid primates, but then in a different way in guinea pigs and yet a different way in bats (and in yet more ways in non-mammals that I didn't discuss). From an evolutionary perspective, it makes perfect sense. The damage occurred once in the common ancestor of anthropoid primates through a particular set of mutations, and that broken gene was then passed on to all it's descendants. At another time in another place, damage of a different sort occurred in some ancestral guinea pig, which was then passed on to all the descendant guinea pigs. And the same thing for bats, and all the non-mammals that have damage to GLO.

And that's just one example of one pseudogene. There are other pseudogenes, genes, regulatory stretches of DNA, and regions of junk DNA that all make the genetic evidence for evolution one of the strongest lines of evidence there is. But it's hardly the only line. To echo something I wrote in yet another Quora answer, if you're willing to put in a little reading, there are some great books on the subject. My two favorite introductory books are Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True, and Donald Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, which cover topics like fossil evidence for evolution, vestigial organs, embryological evidence, evidence from poor 'design', and biogeographical evidence. Given the enormity of the evidence in support of evolution, a single book can't come close to being comprehensive, but both of those books present enough evidence to be very convincing. Why Evolution Is True is my favorite of the two, and is a little more broad in the types of evidence it covers, as well as covering a bit more of the theory and mechanisms, not just evidence. If you want to get even more on the mechanisms and theory of evolution, but still in a book aimed at non-biology majors, Carl Zimmer's The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution is very good (though a bit on the expensive side - you might look for it at a library).

Reference:
The Genetics of Vitamin C Loss in Vertebrates

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons


* GLO had previously been mentioned briefly on this site before in Ein Sophistry's Genetic Evidence of Evolution.

** This Quora answer itself was adapted from a comment I left to another Quora answer, Niall Harman's answer to What is the evidence for biological evolution and what is the evidence supporting creationism?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Answering Some Questions About Atheism

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismThis entry is another I've recycled from Quora, but unlike all of my previous recycled Quora material, this one comes from the comment thread to one of my answers, and isn't the answer itself. The Quora question was What questions (and answers to these questions) led you to become an atheist, or to denounce your belief in religion?. If that sounds familiar, it's because it was the subject of a blog entry of the same name not too long ago. Just recently, someone left a reply with a series of questions. I responded in that thread, but figured that since these are someone common questions from religious people, I'd repost them here on the blog. The person who posted these questions has followed up with a few more, which I plan to answer on Quora, but the new questions, in my opinion, aren't as interesting or informative, so I don't plan to re-post them here. Still, if you want to follow along with more of this discussion, go check it out on Quora.


1.I don't get it why people always say that God is only to explain the unknown. God is the source of the unknown and the known. i.e. why is that drinking water quenches your thirst, while drinking oil will not? How is that water has the water-ness, if you say because its made of H2O, then how is that H2O has its H2O-ness?

There is an Arabic saying from Ali: camel crap* leads you to a camel, a building leads you to an architect, how is it not that a whole universe with such delicacy in its creation shall not have a creator/architect?

We have countless examples of camel crap*, and can use that experience as a great predictor of where a newfound piece of crap came from. Likewise for buildings - we have lots of experience seeing buildings coming from architects. We only have one universe, and so don't have any experience to draw from to say where universes come from.

To add to that - canyons come from erosion. Snowflakes come from freezing water molecules. Rivers come from water flowing downhill. We have plenty of examples of 'things' that form without conscious creators. Why require a conscious creator for the universe? (Then there's also the standard question of who created the creator? A creator creator? Is it turtles all the way down?)

Also, I wouldn't say people always use God to explain the unknown, but God of the gaps arguments are pretty common. And reading through a book like Genesis really does seem like a collection of just-so stories.

2.We as humans have wisdom...and an accident or bing bang is wisdom-less to create us--humans who have intellect. For us to be created by something that doesn't have wisdom is as if a robot would create something that has life from it's own robotical tissue( birth, sickness, fear, love, hatred, pain, anger, sex, death, etc.)whatever created us must have had wisdom as well or perhaps even a higher level of wisdom.

You're making an unfounded assumption. Evolution is a fact, and explains perfectly well how we evolved to become intelligent without an intelligence guiding the process. (Please don't tell me that you reject evolution.)

Even from a gut feel, I just don't understand this. Which makes more sense - that our universe had rather simple beginnings and over eons and eons the interaction between all this matter gradually led to increasing complexity, until eventually evolution produced organisms as intelligent as us; or that the very first thing to exist was a super-intelligent, super-complex, super-powerful being that just was out of nothing? Does the second answer really seem more satisfying?

And like I pointed out in response to your first question, if something with wisdom or intellect requires a creator with wisdom or intellect, does that creator then require a meta-creator with wisdom and intellect? And then does that meta-creator require a meta-meta creator? And on and on. Obviously, both of us accept that something with wisdom and intellect can come about without a prior being with wisdom and intellect that created it.

3.We as humans have free-will, and again that is beyond the level of reach of an accident or bing bang, whatever created us must have had free-will as well. Or perhaps even a higher level of free-will

I reject your premise - I don't think humans have free-will in the sense that most people understand that term.

4.I can not imagine a God who is not just, this is probably the only point where you took it too far! I think you have read too much of Zeus and Hades. :|

Many people believe in unjust gods, even if they're unwilling to admit it. Any god that would massacre every last man, woman, and child on Earth other than one family doesn't sound particularly just to me. Neither does infinite punishment in response to a finite life.

5.Do you only believe what you see? Do you see jealousy? joy? Karma? love? pain? Do you see hope? Do you see luck? Do you believe in good and bad? right and wrong? [None of these are scientific]

Do you believe that working making money with your own money and working with money stolen from orphans are same and there are no scientific outcomes when you steal from orphans?

I try my best to only accept as objectively true things for which there is sufficient evidence. There is plenty of evidence of jealousy, joy, love, pain, and hope. They're emotional states of people (and perhaps other animals). My personal experience is evidence enough for me that I feel them, and the actions of other people around me is strong enough evidence to convince me that those people experience the same emotions. Karma in any type of cosmic sense is something I haven't seen evidence for. Luck is just a word we use to describe good things happening outside our own control. Good, bad, right, and wrong are similar to the other emotions I already talked about. They exist in people's minds as subjective feelings, and we can see evidence that people have these feelings. They do not exist objectively outside of that.

I don't understand the point about scientific outcomes from stealing from orphans. Since science deals only with the objective (and not morality), of course there are scientific outcomes - the orphans have less of whatever was stolen from them. If you're looking for a moral judgment, then science isn't the right place to look. Instead try philosophy, like secular humanism.

6.Other than Christianity disapproving homosexuality, did it provide any reason? [ you can ask me a single question and I can give you 100 different answers. My point is how do you conclude such easily]

CARM.org - What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

7.Did you try any other priest? Or you just said 'I'm done with all religions'? HOW can you be sure that there is no out there that has an answer to your questions?

I did try a few different Christian sects. I also read a bit about a few other religions. But honestly, without being indoctrinated into religions from childhood, most don't seem to have any compelling reasons to accept them. Do I really have to examine all 4200 of the world's religions to say I'm reasonably sure none of them are true, even though atheism seems to fit so well with the evidence I've seen? If so, are religious people under the same obligation to examine all 4200 of those religions to be sure that they've chosen the right one?

8.Why is that people always challenge religion, but never challenge atheism? Isn't atheism identical to that of religion which also requires to be challenged? If you are challenging then go out and read about other sects/doctrines/approaches...

First of all, the onus is on a person making a positive claim to back up that claim with evidence. If you claim that something exists (gods, souls, afterlives, demons, fairies, unicorns, leprechauns, etc.), then it's up to you to provide evidence for your claim. Otherwise, it can simply be dismissed along with all the other myths people have dreamt up over the millennia.

Second of all, you must interact with a very different community than the ones I interact with. Here's just the very first result that came back from Google when I searched 'atheism is wrong', 7 Things Atheists Get Wrong About God. And believe me, there were a lot more results than just that one. It's also not as if Americans have very positive feelings about atheists, as revealed by several public opinion polls (e.g. How Americans Feel About Religious Groups). In my experience, atheism gets challenged plenty. (And rightly so from a skeptical perspective, even if I think most of the challenges against atheism are unconvincing. We still need to examine the reasons why we believe things and always be open to changing our minds given new evidence.)


*Actually, camel 'crap' wasn't the term used, but I've had this site blocked a few times by network admins who had set up prudish firewalls, so I went with the PG term on the blog.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ken Ham to Bring About Destruction of Kentucky

Gustave Doré's The Confusion of TonguesOkay, maybe Ken Ham is really going to bring about the destruction of Kentucky, but I do find this amusing. I just read an article, Noah's Ark takes shape in Grant County, describing Ham's biblically themed amusement park, the Ark Encounter. As the headline and name of the park suggest, the centerpiece is a life-sized 'reconstruction' of the ark. Of course, 'reconstruction' is a pretty fanciful term for a mythical item. Anyway, what I found so amusing is that the article mentions how one of the next stages of the park might be a reconstruction of the Tower of Babel (I saw this confirmed in an older article - Ken Ham's Latest Plans: Solomon's Temple and the Tower of Babel). Is Ham so sure he wants to do that? Last time mankind supposedly tried to build the tower, God was none too happy about it. You'd think a Biblical literalist like Ham would be a little more reluctant to poke God in the eye like that.

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