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A Reply To Tim

August 2, 2010

Tim commented on my post from the other day:

Well, all I can say is that you can’t let a few idiots change your view of a whole people. It really shouldn’t be a secret by now that I am a Christian. I believe we should teach free thought however. You can’t make a believer by telling them these lies. I love to study apologetics. “The flood messed up the dating,” really? The correct response would be that dating is in no way exact or reliable, but I digress. This bothers me because it fuels beliefs that all christians are just close minded idiots. Look at the site answers in genesis. There are really some great minds there. On your last post you warned about accepting science as absolute truth but in this one you claim evolution to be undeniable fact. I doubt I know enough to change your beliefs, however. Just curious, what do you think of Pascal’s wager?

I replied to this comment, and thought it worth sharing as a post all in itself.

> I believe we should teach free thought

I also believe in free thought, but when dealing with religion this can easily be misconstrued to think that we should tolerate any belief system and not care about what’s true. I believe with time our school system should produce intelligent human beings who have learned to think critically.  They should cross their arms and always ask, “Why should I believe this?”  They shouldn’t believe things in blind faith. They should demand reasons and logical explanations for things.

It’s exactly like a court of law. If you’re asked to serve on the jury of a murder trial, your mindset should be, “I don’t know if this man is guilty or not. I’ll wait until the evidence is presented and then decide.” We all know it’s wrong to believe someone guilty or not guilty just by looking at him. You’re innocent until proven guilty.

In the same way, I think it’s wrong to believe things in blind faith, which is what religion tells us to do. I’m the exact opposite of a religious person. I withhold belief saying, “I don’t know” until someone proves to me why I should believe. I suppose a religious person will tell me, “Just look around you. How could all this have come about by accident? The birds, the bees, the flowers… How could the human eye just pop out of nowhere? There’s proof all around you.”  Well, this isn’t an easy topic.  There’s really so much to discuss. If we really want to get technical, I suppose the first major bone of contention is what constitutes sufficient “proof” to justify a belief. That’s a very difficult and long discussion.  Unfortunately, I don’t think arguing all that would be the most effective thing to do.

Instead I’ll briefly lay out what I believe, and a give a few reasons why I believe it.  I find it important that every belief be supported by empirical evidence. What is evidence? Evidence is something I can perceive with my senses, reliable observational accounts, or something I can infer from the laws of this universe which have been proven through reproducible experiment and observation.

Now this sounds like common sense, but it really isn’t. Hardly anyone lives this way.  Imagine if someone asks us, “How many teeth does a horse have?”  I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t know.  What do we do?  Maybe someone else knows, so we go around asking people for answers. First we find a religious priest. He thinks about it for a moment and then says, “I’m not sure. Let me pray about it.”  He locks himself up in a chamber and prays for a few days. With time he comes to a revelation. He tells us, “It was revealed to me by God that a horse has 10 teeth.” Later we find a bishop who says, “No no, your priest friend was mistaken. Good sir, God revealed to me that the horse has 12 teeth, just as the tribes of Israel were 12 in number.” Then we travel the world and find a robed foreigner in a cave someplace.  He pauses for a moment, says a prayer in Latin, lights some candles in a geometric figure, dances around in loin cloths, and then says, “Yes.  Yesssss.  It’s been known since ancient times that a horse has 26 teeth. See! It’s written in the ancient scrolls which I dug up.”

I don’t know about you, but I could care less what some old book says, or what these priests feel was revealed to them by revelation. You know what I’d do? I’d say, “Ok guys. Let’s go find some horses and look for ourselves. Let’s do some observations.” Then I’d open up their mouths and count them. You know what I’d find? All the religious people were full of it. I’d find that young horses have 24 temporary teeth, whereas adult female and male horses differ in teeth count. Adult females have 40, whereas males have 42 teeth.

The observation process would go something like this. I’d open up the first young horse’s mouth and say, “Hmm. 10 teeth. Tim, write that down. Horse 1, age: young, 24 teeth.”

Imagine if shortly after our first observation a sceptic asks us, “How can you be sure that every horse has that number of teeth?”  If this were all the observations we could make, we would simply say, “We have opened the mouth of one young horse and counted its teeth. We found it to be 24. We don’t know if every horse has the same number of teeth.” That’d be the end of the discussion.

But being good scientists, this issue is of great concern.  We decide to continue our observations, finding 10 different young horses. We find them all to have 24 teeth. Then the same sceptic asks us again, “How can you be sure that every horse has 24 teeth?” We would say, “Well, we’ve observed 10 different young horses and they all have this same number of teeth.” In the strictest sense we could say no more, but as a general rule, we’d feel more certain than we did before that young horses have 24 teeth. But the sceptic argues further, “Where do you get these young horses? Are they all from the same location? How do you know that the number of teeth don’t differ one location to the next?” So we do more experiments, taking horses not just from one location, but from all over the world at random. They continue to have 24 teeth.

Say we observe 100,000 different horses from all over the world. At this point are we certain that young horses have 24 teeth? In the strictest sense, no we’re not. Who knows, maybe with the next horse we’d find its young offspring to have 26 teeth. Who are we to say? But with more and more observations and experiments, we seem to get closer and closer to the “truth” of this question.

If people would follow this method, all the irreconcilable arguments would end. Christians say, “Jesus created the world.  All of you heathen need to read the Holy Bible and believe whats found in Genesis in faith. And by the way, God demands that you live this way, go to church, and say these prayers or you will burn in hell forever.” Hindus say, “No. Shiva is God.” Wouldn’t it be nice if these arguments could finally come to a close?  But that won’t happen.

Before long the Christians and the Hindus start to fight. Christians are convinced that Hindus are going to hell, so they better stop them from spreading before others end up in hell as well. Even if Christians aren’t this way today, the pious Christians of the past would kill others who believed differently, viewing them as a sort of plague on the soul.

Then as the Christians waged war on the Hindus for the souls of men, we’ve always had the Muslims with their own conceptions of Allah. Their prophet had a different revelation about the origin of the world and God, and so they raise an army and go to war.  Everyone’s out killing each other, and for what?

I’d like to say humanity has moved past this, but that wouldn’t be true. Just look at the Middle East. This is exactly how they live. One group has their holy book, another group another, and they blow each other up for religious beliefs. Just look at the Time magazine cover of that poor woman whose nose was chopped off. Or read our history of Western civilization. There’s been countless wars fought over religion and beliefs.

And you know what Tim? The arguments between these groups can never be settled. Never. It’s impossible. Why? Because they don’t care about evidence. Truth to them is not observed evidence through experiments and observation. They’re told to believe in their holy books with unwavering blind faith. They’re told that if they don’t believe in the contents of that particular book, they’re going to hell (or something else terrible will happen to them).

It’s like when Richard Dawkins interviewed Pastor Ted Haggard. Haggard said (paraphrased), “We as evangelicals embrace the scientific method. We believe that with time, and as more and more facts come in, we’ll learn more and more about how God created the heavens and the Earth.” Do you see the problem? He doesn’t begin by crossing his arms saying, “Prove it. I don’t believe things until they’re proven to me.” He instead says, “This book is true and it’s your job as scientists to prove this book untrue before I’ll disbelieve it.” It’s the opposite of how you’re supposed to be. Then when Dawkins said, “Do you acknowledge that the Earth is 4.7 billion years old? Modern scientific method proves this to be the case.” Haggard replied, “You see what you’re doing don’t you? You take evidence from a small section of the scientific community and assert that as fact.” He pretends he’s interested in scientific evidence but he’s not.  Whenever scientists make observations which don’t line up with his belief system he denies their credibility.  I suppose he could say I’m doing the same, so let’s just get into some specifics.

> The correct response would be that dating is in no way exact or reliable

This is simply false. Different dating methods, such as radiocarbon dating, or potassium-argon dating, all have different degrees of accuracy depending on which is used.  The situation determines which methods can or cannot be applied, but when they can be applied, they are precise and reliable. They date things within relative time windows. Some are more accurate than others. But if you’re going to deny the methods and their accuracy, proving them would require some complex science, which I don’t really want to do.  So instead of discussing all the different dating methods, I’ll make a convincing argument for evolution without all that. I don’t need fossil records to show you how evolution works.

Let’s discuss dog breeding. Everybody knows about dog breeding.  Say we have a group of German sheperds. We breed them and we get a bunch of little puppies. Within those puppies we find two runts. We separate those from the main group and breed them. They in turn have runt puppies. Not all, but at least some of their puppies are runts as well. I’m not going to go into a deep discussion of genetics.  Obviously inbreeding is a problem you have to face, but to keep it simple, you take the runt puppies and find the runt of the runt litter. You breed that with another runt. You repeat this process over many generations. Eventually you end up with dogs which might as well be considered their own species. In fact, the pet dogs which you see today were selectively bred using this method. My high school mascot was the bulldog. This particular species of dog doesn’t exist in the wild. It’s completely “artificial”. Its head is so large it can rarely even be born without human intervention.  By selective breeding over many generations, you can take two wolves and end up with bulldogs.

“Dog breeding is the practice of mating selected specimens with the intent to maintain or produce specific qualities and characteristics.

Dogs reproduce without human interference, so their offsprings’ characteristics are determined by natural selection. Domestic dogs may be intentionally bred by their owners. A person who intentionally mates dogs to produce puppies is referred to as dog breeder. Breeding relies on the science of genetics, so the breeder with a knowledge of canine genetics, health, and the intended use for the dogs attempts to breed suitable dogs.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_breeding

Is this just speculation? No. There are detailed logs going way way back hundreds of years showing different dog breeding. Dogs have been bred for all kinds of different characteristics. Over many generations, you can end up with dogs nothing like their parents. With time, you can selectively breed them for all kinds of different appearances. They  change so much that they’re their own species.

Darwin took this same idea but added the struggles of survival to the equation.  Unlike our artificial dog breeding where we as humans decide which dog types live on, which have offspring, and so forth, in nature those best suited to their environments live on. Those who can escape predators, catch prey, resist disease, digest their food, and so on, live on and reproduce.  As for the others, they die off. That’s what evolution by natural selection means.

So is evolution a fact?  I feel quite confident it is. To deny it is to deny scientific evidence. I’m just as certain of it as to the number of teeth in a horse’s mouth. Did God create a bulldog? No. There are no ancient fossil remains of bulldogs. You can also look through dog breeding logs and see how they created the bulldog. Read this post on the bulldog, and look under ‘History’:

The term “bulldog” was first mentioned in literature around 1500, the oldest spelling of the word being Bondogge and Bolddogge. The first reference to the word with the modern spelling is dated 1631 or 1632 in a letter by a man named Preswick Eaton where he writes: “procuer mee two good Bulldoggs, and let them be sent by ye first shipp”.  The origins of the Bulldog are vague with some sources suggesting it developed from a cross of three different breeds: the Pug, the Mastiff, and a breed of Spanish dog.  The name “bull” was applied because of the dog’s use in the sport of bull baiting. The original Bulldog had to be very ferocious and so savage and courageous as to be almost insensitive to pain. In 1835 dog fighting as a sport became illegal in England. Therefore, the Old English Bulldog had outlived his usefulness in England and his days were numbered in England. However, emigrants did have a use for such dogs in the New World, resulting in the original Bulldog’s closest descendant, the American Bulldog. Back in England, they proceeded to eliminate the undesirable ‘fierce’ characteristics and to preserve and accentuate the finer qualities. Within a few generations, the English Bulldog became one of the finest physical specimens, minus its original viciousness, stamina, strength, speed, and intelligence.

It has been theorized that bulldogs were bred in England as a cross between the Mastiff, the Pug, and a breed of Spanish dog, although this genetic origin is debated.

In the 1600s, bulldogs were used for bullbaiting (as well as bearbaiting)—a gambling sport popular in the 17th century with wagers laid while trained bulldogs leapt at a bull lashed to a post. The bulldog’s typical means of attack included latching onto the animal’s snout and attempting to suffocate it.

….

In time, the original old English bulldog was crossed with the pug. The outcome was a shorter, wider dog with a brachycephalic  skull. Though today’s bulldog looks tough, he cannot perform the job he was originally created for, as he cannot withstand the rigors of running and being thrown from a bull, and cannot grip with such a short muzzle.

The oldest single breed specialty club is The Bulldog Club (England), which was formed in 1878. Members of this club met frequently at the Blue Post pub on Oxford Street in London. There they wrote the first standard of perfection for the breed. In 1891 the two top bulldogs, Orry and Dockleaf, competed in a contest to see which dog could walk the farthest. Orry was reminiscent of the original bulldogs, lighter boned and very athletic. Dockleaf was smaller and heavier set, more like modern bulldogs. Dockleaf was declared the winner that year. Although some argued that the older version of the bulldog was more fit to perform, the modern version’s looks won over the fans of the breed because they proved they were equally as fit and athletic in the walking competition.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulldog

You can see that through selective breeding they were able to change bone structure, leg length, snouts, temperaments, and everything else.

Am I supposed to sit back in denial and say, “I don’t believe these breeding logs. I don’t believe these historical accounts.” Well, I suppose people wouldn’t have to believe our logs of horse teeth count either. That’s their choice. But it’s silly that children are being taught in school to believe in an ancient holy book, written by primitive tribesmen with little science knowledge. Half of what’s in the Bible is proven to be wrong. It’s completely wrong. Bulldogs were not created back in Genesis as male and female. Half of these artificially bred dog species would never survive in the wild. It’s wrong. Flat out wrong. That’s what infuriates me about this entire situation. The evidence is overwhelming. There’s mountains of it.

I get angry that you haven’t been taught about dog breeding in school, and have never been asked to think about it. These truths should be just as obvious to you as 2 + 2 = 4, but they’re not being taught to you. They weren’t taught to me either. When I was young, I searched for truth in the Bible, just like you are. The problem is, the truth’s not there.

When I was just getting out of high school I began to search for the truth. You know what? The first time I picked up Darwin’s Origin of Species I was almost scared to read it. I thought the devil was going to try to convince me of all the “lies of this world”. There are no lies in that book. It’s a science book of logs and observational accounts combined with a very plausible account for the origin of species. Darwin just slowly walks you through scientific observations talking about things like dog breeding and asks you, “How could this possibly work if creationism is true?”  He talks about different species and how they’re spread about different islands. He talks about the environments he found during his world travels and how the animals were adapted to the unique situations there.  It’s a fantastic book.

And as for evolution by natural selection, it’s pretty much beyond doubt that that’s how it works. In nature there’s a limited food supply, different species compete for the food, and those strongest and best adapted to the environment will win and have offspring. Those offspring in turn compete further, and so it all goes. And when you study the Earth and its processes you see how weather changes over long geological time periods, and how continents drift, and so forth. That means environments would be changing over time, making some species more well adapted to the changes than others. Animals would have to migrate and such, competing in new environments for food. Some species would die off, while others would have what it took to survive.

I’m not sure why you’re denying the fossil record, which shows all of thisy. When you study Earth science you see how sedimentary layers form over time in lakes and seas. I can’t understand why you won’t acknowledge the physics of radioactivity even though it’s completely proven in laboratories. We can even create subatomic particles in the Hadron collider. This stuff is very well understood. It’s not theory. It’s well proven science.  What you’re doing is denying the number of horse teeth even though there’s been countless different horses observed. But if you want to deny all that, ok. I don’t think you can deny that those fossils are VERY VERY old. You also can’t deny that, in general, those found in deeper layers are older than those found in closer layers to the surface. After all, it takes time for each layer to form, and layers stack onto one another with time. The Earth surely much older than a few thousand years old.

Here’s a few questions for you to think on.  If Adam and Eve were both white, for example, and if evolution is impossible, how did we end up with different races? And why, historically, have those races been confined to different areas of the Earth? Why aren’t Asian characteristics of yellow skin and slanted eyes evenly distributed among the Americas, Western Europe, and Africa? Why are native Africans dark black with oily black hair while Caucasians have light skin and say brown hair? How can you explain that?

If you believe in evolution it’s not so mysterious. By the very fact that these groups lived within certain geographic areas, they created isolated breeding populations. Over a long time, human appearances began to slowly change.  They began to evolve independently by selective environmental pressures and other slight random changes. But unlike the dog breeding, one particular characteristic wasn’t isolated, so the changes weren’t as dramatic. Originally we came out of Africa, so we have a common root, but then we migrated into Europe and Asia, and eventually the Americas.  The differences from one race to another are very slight, but they are there.

> On your last post you warned about accepting science as absolute truth, but in this one you claim evolution to be an undeniable fact.

Well, as mentioned, I’m as confident of evolution as I am anything else. As for the post on quantum physics, you’re misunderstanding the purpose of that post. That’s probably my fault for not writing it well enough. What I’m talking about is people who believe in supernatural hocus-pocus, and try to justify it using quantum physics, which has nothing to do with all their new-age nonsense.

I was talking about how men have always believed that if their faith is strong enough they can lift mountains and throw them into the sea. They can cure diseases just by faith in a deity or even themselves.  Most new-age movements are just repackaged religion.  I was saying quantum physics doesn’t prove this to be possible. In fact, I think it says the opposite.

If all the men in the world prayed that the sun wouldn’t come up tomorrow, I wouldn’t be the least bit worried about it. In fact, I’d love to make a bet with them. Get all the religious folks together and tell them to intercede in prayer for the economy, or to wish the sun away. Tell them to wish mosquitoes into oblivion. None of it will change anything. The sun’s not going anywhere. Pray all you want to, it won’t change things. The atoms of the sun operate off the laws of physics, not beliefs in people’s heads. The same applies to the viruses floating through your body. In most every case, you can’t cure sickness and disease through thoughts in your head (unless it’s something like emotional sickness, depression, etc. all of which can pose physical health problems).

There are complex observer effects in quantum mechanics, but I feel they’re being misinterpreted by these people. They try to exploit the window of uncertainty and claim now that “all things are possible to him that believes”, which I don’t agree with. I’d say, “all things are possible to him that understands”, but understanding requires a worldwide effort among scientists all over the world. Faith and wishful thinking won’t solve our problems.

> What do you think of Pascal’s wager?

I don’t agree with it. It’s found within his book Pensees. He argues that we have nothing to lose by believing in God. He also argues that if the Bible is correct, you’ll get to live in heaven for all eternity and live in bliss. What do you have to lose? Why not just believe in God?

I would argue the exact opposite. I think you have a lot to lose and considering that most of what’s in the Bible isn’t true, I have my doubts that heaven exists. Since time immemorial, gods and deities have always been the gods of the gaps. When something can’t be explained, or something is unknown, God or various deities are ascribed to be the cause of the phenomenon. This keeps you in ignorance and keeps the human race from progressing. Since that’s the case, we have everything to lose.

Take the origin of species. At first this was attributed to a miraculous act of God. Then we discovered evolution and God is pushed a little back. A lot of Catholics nowadays believe in evolution. They say God invented the laws of physics in such a way that evolution is possible, and would create mankind eventually. The origins of the Earth were ascribed to God, until we learned about astronomy, astrophysics, and the formation of solar systems, and then we learned that the Earth didn’t form like that. It formed at the same time our sun did around 4.6 billion years ago. Rocks, gas and other debris stuck together and eventually formed the planets.

If you believe the planets formed one day by an act of God, then you don’t search for answers. But if you start to ask questions, such as why the planets rotate the way they do, why Jupiter and Saturn are so huge and gassy, why planets closer to the sun are rocky and small, etc., you’ll start to see how it all works. When you ask why the atmospheres are composed of the particular gases they are, and so on, you will learn how it all ties together. If you just say, “We can’t know the mind of God, or why he created things the way he did”, you learn nothing. Religion will keep your mind in ignorance. It stops you from asking questions when you need to question everything.

Let’s go further. The laws of physics must be arbitrarily created by God for the purpose of giving life to mankind? Right? Is that true? Well, if you believe that, you’ll never be able to understand string theory and the multi-verse, which shows how the process of compactification gives rise the laws of physics in each particular universe.

Do you see the pattern? God gets pushed back, but in every single instance He was nothing but a stumbling block keeping people in ignorance, thinking there’s no possible way to explain why things are the way they are. Science seems to be indicating that everything can be explained, it just takes time. That’s not to say there’s simple explanations. String theory is a beast. What I am saying is if we keep working at it, we’ll be able to expand our knowledge and hopefully make better sense of things.

You have a lot of faith in God. I’d recommend you put that faith in yourself and believe that you can understand this world. Keep digging. As Einstein said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible.”

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