Skepticism, Religion Archive

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Creation Museum/Creationist Rule of Thumb with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

There's now a follow-up entry to this post, written after the "museum" actually opened. If you want to read John Scalzi's reaction from his visit, or see his flickr set of photos from the museum, go to that entry.

Well, the grand opening of the Creation Museum is scheduled for this coming Monday, May 28th. I've blogged about this once before, lamenting the fact that $27 million was being wasted on this shrine to ignorance, but I figured that with the opening day approaching, it was worth making another post on this topic (and maybe get included in the upcoming Creation Museum Carnival, update - it's here).

There are two problems I had with this entry - the first being that this is a museum that I've never visited and that hasn't even opened yet. Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis (AiG), the organization running the museum, even wrote a short entry on his blog the other day, Name-calling against Creation Museum, whining about this very issue. That isn't really all that big of a deal, though. Since this museum is being run by AiG, I'm assumimg that everything in the museum is going to be consistent with the AiG website. I wouldn't imagine that there are any new, ground breaking arguments being unveiled in this museum that AiG hasn't already put up on their website. The real problem, is that AiG is such a reposity of stupidity, it's hard to narrow down your focus to one manageable topic.

I'd been planning on writing a blog entry about a certain topic for a while now, so I might as well use this opportunity to do it, and that is to state a simple rule of thumb for dealing with creationists. Anytime somebody tries to use the Second Law of Thermodynamics to refute evolution, you should realize you're dealing with somebody who doesn't understand science or who is a liar. If it's a website, you should save yourself the time, and just leave and go look somewhere else. This may seem like a bit of an ad hominem attack, and maybe it is a bit, but life is short. You shouldn't waste your time dealing with idiots and liars. Maybe, just maybe, a website that uses the Second Law of Thermodynamics this way will have some thought provoking arguments, but it almost certainly won't be because the person running the website understood the science - they got lucky (in the same way as a million monkeys at typewriters would eventually reproduce Shakespeare), or they parroted it from somewhere else. But in any case, especially under the liar scenario, you'd have to really be careful to figure out just what you could trust from that source, and you'd be much better going somewhere more reputable.

And guess what, AiG has a page all about it, The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Answers to Critics. It's a little hard to figure out if it's based on ignorance or dishonesty. I'd guess a little bit of both, considering the author, Jonathan Sarfati, was competent enough to get a PhD. But the rule of thumb still applies - stay way from AiG if you're looking for good information.

This paragraph added 2007-05-24 After reading this, I'd imagine some people would think this rule of thumb could be even easier - anytime you're dealing with a creationist at all, you should realize you're dealing with someone who doesn't understand science or who is a liar. And, that could be true for the most part, but it's possible that creationists could be people that understand science, but haven't studied evolution/biology in particular, and don't actually know all the evidence in support of evolution, or that they have such strong faith, the evidence wouldn't matter to them, anyway. This misuse of the Second Law has nothing to do with fossil evidence, genetic evidence, or faith - it's just a complete misapplication of a scientific theory that should be obvious. So, that's why I still use this rule of thumb - it's not arguing over the interpretation of evidence (which still puts creationists on shaky ground), it's getting things wrong right from first principles. Creationists that use the Second Law of Thermodynamics argument really are the bottom of the barrel.

Continue reading "Creation Museum/Creationist Rule of Thumb with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics" »

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ray Comfort & His Horrible "Scientific Proof" of a Creator

Ray Comfort was one of the reasons that originally inspired me to start this blog. A guy at a flea market gave my wife and I a Comfort CD, and when we listened to it, the arguments in it were so horrible, I just had to vent somewhere. So, I wrote one of my first blog entries. Well, over the past couple weeks, Comfort's been making waves in the blogosphere, so I thought I'd add my two cents.

To give a quick background - Ray Comfort and his (hmm, sidekick is too demeaning, but I don't think he's an equal partner, so maybe...) protege, Kirk Cameron, of Living Waters Ministries (and also The Way of the Master website), challenged the originators of the Blasphemy Challenge, the Rational Response Squad, to a debate, wherein, according to the Christian News Wire, Comfort and Cameron "offered to prove God's existence, absolutely, scientifically, without mentioning the Bible or faith." I was hoping it was going to be better than the argumentum ad bananum, but unfortunately, it wasn't (in either the humurous sense or the actually making a good argument sense).

The televised, edited version of the debate should air tonight on ABC's Nightline, but there's already a clip on YouTube. Admittedly, the clip was put together by people sympathetic to the Rational Response Squad, and not Comfort and Cameron, but after listening to Comfort on that CD I mentioned above, I doubt he had any better arguments than what that video shows. Anyway, the televised version will be aired tonight, so if Comfort & Cameron did put forth any better arguments, they'll be made public soon.

Basically, the "scientific" argument Comfort put forth in the debate boils down to this - paintings must have painters, buildings must have builders, etc, etc; therefore creation must have a creator, i.e. God. That's just a horrible analogy. For one thing, all he's doing is listing things with known intelligent agents directly responsible for them, then listing those intelligent agents, and then somehow makes the jump that the universe must therefore have been created by an intelligent agent. The problem is, not everything we see was directly created by an intelligent agent. Many things, even ordered structures such as snowflakes and other crystals, or structures that appear intentional, such as the Old Man of the Mountain, are certainly the direct result of natural, unintelligent processes. So from that aspect of it - no, not everything must have an intelligent creator.

Another problem with Comfort's analogy, is that even though the same word, "create," can be used for all the things he's describing, it really is describing a different concept in the human vs. divine cases. All the human examples he gave were the result of physical entities merely rearranging materials that they already have to work with from their environment, while the divine creation of the universe was a supernatural agent creating all matter out of nothing. It's a big jump to go from the first to the second, since they aren't really the same thing.

Thirdly, even if Comfort's analogy could somehow be taken as proof of a god, it does nothing to prove the existence of the God of the Bible - it could just as easily be applied to Zeus. And finally, by Comfort's reasoning of everything requiring a creator, you're left with the question of where God came from in the first place. (I know, I know - it's not turtles all the way down; God is infinite, and doesn't need a creator; or else, He created time, so it's meaningless to ask what came before Him.)

Anyway, whether you believe in God or not, Comfort & Cameron's argument was far from a proof, and certainly not a scientific proof, for any god, let alone a proof for the Christian God. Don't use their silly, simplistic arguments to try to convince anybody of anything.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Intelligent Design Conference in Dallas Follow Up

Well, I'm late in getting to this like just about all my other blog posts, but... About a month ago, I made an entry about a then upcoming Intelligent Design event in Dallas. Well, Zachary Moore of the blog, Goosing the Antithesis, attended the event and wrote a 6 part series about it. Apparently, it was as bad as I would have thought it to be. Here are the links to the entries:

Darwin vs. Design: Lee Strobel
Darwin vs. Design: Jay Richards
Darwin vs. Design: Stephen Meyer
Darwin vs. Design: Michael Behe
Darwin vs. Design: Questions and Answers
Darwin vs. Design: Final Thoughts

Jason Rosenhouse of EvolutionBlog attended the Darwin vs. Design conference in Knoxville, which was apparently very similar. He gives his take on the event in a two part series:

Darwin and Design in Knoxville, Part One
Darwin and Design in Knoxville, Part Two

Friday, May 4, 2007

Fairy Tales

The other day I wrote that my daughter no longer believes in the Easter Bunny, and this week she finally got around to admitting that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy aren't real, either. I guess I'll have to keep an eye on her the next few days to make sure she doesn't go on a murderous rampage.

Man, after reading that and a few other of Jack Chick's tracts, it's scary to think there's somebody so demented to come up with that stuff, and even scarier to think of the number of people who buy his products.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Moral Absolutism vs. Relativism

Reading a recent entry on Pharyngula, I came across a quote from Kirk Cameron that struck me (not because it was Kirk Cameron saying it, but because the topic is a typical view), "Atheism has become very popular in universities--where it's taught that we evolved from animals and that there are no moral absolutes. So we shouldn't be surprised when there are school shootings." Well, the school shooting part's a complete non-sequitir. But I do want to take a look at the moral absolute parts in a bit more detail. There seems to be a sense among many Christians in this country that morals are absolute, and moral relativism is a bad, bad thing.

Now, I'll admit right up front that philosophy isn't my area of expertise, so perhaps my Wikipedia informed definitions of moral absolutism and moral relativism is leading me astray, but it certainly seems to me that most of our morals are relative, and not absolute. Even for Christians, when you look at the 10 commandments, the ones that deal with how to treat other people can all be looked at on a relative basis.

Honor your father and your mother.
What about if your parents tell you to worship Ganesh? What if your parents snap, and go on a murderous rampage - should you try to stop them, or honor their wishes and let them kill more people?
You shall not kill [sometimes translated as murder].
Is it okay to kill someone in self defense? Execute a convicted murderer? Kill people in war? Shoot a person on a murderous rampage?
You shall not commit adultery.
Well - from the Christian perspective, there's not much to argue with in this one, but what about cultures where it's okay for spouses to have sex outside marriage, as long as neither spouse has a problem with it?
You shall not steal.
Is it wrong to steal food to feed your starving children? Is it bad to steal a gun from a murderer so that he can't shoot anybody else?
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Is it okay to lie to a murderer so that he can't find his next victim?
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.
Well, this doesn't exactly cover directly dealing with other people. It's just good advice not to be jealous.

I guess Christians could still argue that certain actions besides those listed above are inherently good or bad, but the Christian basis for good or bad a lot of times simply boils down to "God said so," but this doesn't say that the actions themselves are inherently good or bad. For a popular example, look at eating kosher foods. Before Jesus, it was apparently immoral to eat non-Kosher foods, but now, because of the New Covenant, non-Kosher foods (like shrimp) are on the menu. So, there was nothing inherent in the action that was moral or immoral, just whether or not God said it was okay. To insist on moral relativism absolutism, when it seems that even God himself can change his mind, seems like a pretty strong stance to take.

A lot of Christians in this country today argue that morals are absolute, but it seems to me that the morality of an action really must be determined in context, and that most people usually do judge actions that way. To insist on complete moral absolutism seems a bit silly.


Selling Out