Arguing Against Invisible Opponents

A lot of the animosity that exists right now between Atheists and the Christian sects in North America is just poorly aimed propaganda that causes undue inflammation and fighting.

To say something similarly obvious to the previous statement, water is wet.

That being said, despite it being obvious, Christians and Atheists keep fighting in the public arena and it is truly bothersome–especially when they show they are self aware, but do it anyway. That is a topic for another day, I fear; the point I am making here is that too many people don’t understand what they are fighting–a grave breach of Sun Tsu’s Art of War. Know your enemy as you know yourself.

I am given to rhetoric, but I want any Christian reading this to know that I don’t truly consider them an enemy–but in debate, I think, it is more important that you understand your opponent’s side than it is that you understand your own in many cases.

I have not had a conversation with a Christian who actually understands (or cares to understand) what exactly it means to be an atheist; to the most evangelical, the very idea of understanding an atheist is somewhat absurd, and that is a problem (Romans 1:18-23 and all that). Conversely, the issue with atheists is that many of our side generalize all Christianity as backwards thinking (at least, the most vocal members do), or those that admit much of Christianity is net positive still think of most Christians as “the enemy.” (Ominous music plays.)

The thing is, in most cases (please note the wording, I did not say “in all cases”), atheists are not debating Christians and Christians are not debating atheists. Both sides are debating their own idea of the other side, and not listening to each other (though, admittedly, no one is ignoring the rest of the world as well as the modern US YEC movement is ignoring literally any dissenting voice). It makes me sad when I read something like this.

This Christian, in a nation that is VASTLY majority Christian, seems to feel that she is truly persecuted, and that Fox News is her only place of safety and trust. To quote, “Roger Ailes’s Fox News has succeeded in no small part because he doesn’t treat Christians as though they’re Darwin’s missing link.” No, Ms Author, Fox News does not treat Christianity like a missing link–Fox News treats Christianity like the only link. You might think this positive, and Fox News’ viewership numbers would certainly corroborate that, but the issue is that ignoring minorities is kind of similar to persecuting them in the exact same way you feel persecuted. But it’s ok, I suppose, for Christians to persecute those evil atheists who murder babies; after all, Christians are the majority, therefore persecution is TOTALLY ok, so long as it is pointed at the minority.

Where have I heard that idea before? Eh, I’m sure it’s not overly important.

Another article by the same author advocates teaching Intelligent Design in schools, due to the fact that ID is not Creationism with a God, it is just the hypothesis that the universe was created by an intelligence that may or may not be God, therefore, TOTALLY NOT RELIGIOUS. The article was written in 2005 and ID was fairly young at the time, so I almost gave the disingenuity of the article a pass before I recalled that the author was still citing that article in her current works. To claim that ID is totally free from Christian (or other) religious influence is an outright fabrication these days, or any day, really.

You know what, though? I am fully aware of the irony of what I am about to say, but I don’t have many people I know who would fill the gap of evangelical Christian…

I feel like we could solve the issue much more easily if we would stop posting Op-Eds and blog posts and actually… You know… Spoke with each other. I mean, it might be crazy, but it could work (maybe) even better than shooting blindly at where we think the other person is.

“But what about the Nye vs Ham debate, and other debates?!”

Those aren’t conversations. Nye and Ham worked within the rules of the debate to completely ignore each other in favor of trying to convert a straw man to their side; that is kind of how debates work. To be fair, that is kind of how they are supposed to work–but they aren’t exactly the right tool.

I don’t know, sometimes I just wish I could sit with a strong evangelical Christian and have a conversation. I have in the past, but I was too immature to use it for the opportunity it truly was at the time. I think I could have a better, less adversarial conversation if I tried again today. If only my younger years (like… At least a year or two ago!) hadn’t poisoned the well, so to speak.

Intelligent Lack of Understanding (Or Honesty)

More days, more AiG.

One expects creationists and Creation Scientists to dance around language where it comes to evolution, but so often it comes at the cost of either sounding like they don’t understand evolution, or using language that is meaningless if the listener doesn’t understand evolution. Or, perhaps more maliciously, relies on the ignorance of the user to even make the semblance of a point.

To wit, the linked article.

“But are there such things as beneficial mutations? In short, no, but let me explain.” Alright, friend–explain away. She goes on to detail how an improved resistance to antibiotics in bacteria often results in something something metabolism issues. She explains that the improvements come at a cost to survival in some other way. She explains that in the absence of antibiotics, nonresistant bacteria actually survive better.

This is the perfect example of evolution. Of survival of the fittest.

The thing is, antibiotic resistant bacteria don’t tend to grow in environments free of antibiotics. And that is exactly what evolution would predict. If every step of evolution was like a level up in World of Warcraft, where you get survival bonuses right across the board, every species would be perfect. But they aren’t.

Survival of the fittest, evolution in action, is all about small improvements that help you survive in the environment you are in. A Tibetan (the subject of another evolution-centric post I have made) won’t have the same survival traits that someone from Jamaica would.

Perhaps more real world examples are in order. Take the Cheetah; evolved almost purely for speed. The drawbacks is that they have very low stamina compared to other species, and sacrifice maneuverability due to the way their hip and shoulder joints work. They didn’t just get “Faster, stronger, better,” there was an obvious cost and an obvious benefit. They are not everywhere in the world, they evolved to fit a niche in the flat plains of Africa. Their survival traits would be worthless in the mountains for example.

Segue that into a mountain goat, which tend to be rather slow and comically awkward at times–but they are able to climb mountains in ways the boggle the mind. The thing is, if they lived in the same environment as a cheetah, in Africa, the goat would be eaten hilariously quickly. That is evolution.

MRSA doesn’t need to survive among non-resistant bacteria to be considered an evolutionary step. They have evolved to become the fittest survivor in hospitals, where antibiotics are used frequently.

The author of the linked article does not want to admit that, though. “One step forward for person A is one step back in situation B” is still evolution, even if they don’t want to use the word.

Perhaps even more egregious, then, is the paragraph where she states that while there are mutations that make people immune to HIV, and while we don’t know of any directly related drawbacks to being immune to HIV, they must be there because God. And I don’t even know where to go with that.

I know I am preaching to a group of people who mostly accept evolution, but I really wish I could just… I don’t know. Discuss what so many creationists think evolution is. They have said, frequently (and in some cases directly from the mouth of the prophet, Ken Ham), “That’s not evolution, that’s adaptation.” As though that is some kind of defense. As though adaptation is not the cornerstone of evolution. They are dancing around the words, which is fine in some cases, but it works because they actively campaign to make sure children (and by extension adults) don’t know any better.

“In addition, the detrimental effects may not be detrimental enough to affect the overall fitness of the individual.”

To paraphrase: “It isn’t really negative, but I really have a vested interest in convincing anyone who will listen that evolution isn’t real.” Oh, it might sound like I am being callous, but to fully appreciate the scope of it you have to look at the context.

“There are people who are immune to HIV, but it isn’t really evolution because there are drawbacks that are so small I can’t really quantify them.” That is focusing on the wrong part of that story so hard that I think I felt a gust of wind purely from the effort of it.

“Again, the mutations only improve a person’s chance for survival in a given environment (external or internal), such as if the person is exposed to HIV or cancer develops within a person’s body.”

More paraphrasing: “Yes, there is evolution, because evolution predicts that exact behaviour, but I choose to call it by a different name.”

And here is the worst quote. This quote is the true showing, the true face, of the creation scientist unmaked.

“… [F]or one thing, beneficial, information-gaining mutations would have to be a regularly occurring phenomenon and would have to “build” on previous mutations so as not to be “undone” and to keep the evolution going “uphill””

No.

No.

No.

No.

Evolution is not necessarily an uphill process.

Mutation can certainly undo other beneficial mutations.

Conditions change.

Imagine a gene that makes me immune to a disease that was naturally wiped out 20 million years ago. When I evolve a new function (maybe my eardrums are 10% more sensitive or something, thus allowing me to hear the intruder in my house, thus allowing me to fend him off, thus allowing me to procreate), perhaps I lose that immunity. But you know what? I am now better equipped to survive in my current environment than I would have been with my less sensitive eardrum and immunity to a disease that no longer exists.

This happens all the time. Think of Darwin’s finches; when their beaks changed size and shape, it may have made them unable to process nutrients (ie: eat) as well on their parents’ home island, but that means absolutely nothing to them on their new island, because their beak is awesome at eating stuff on this island. They have lost viability in an irrelevant environment, but they have certainly improved their survival chances in their current environment.

The repetitive use of “in their current environment” is important, because it is no less evolution if you lose something that was no longer undergoing active selection pressure.

It is by this mechanism that land dwelling animals lost their gills, obviously great for surviving water based environments, in favor of better lungs. Better lungs granting longer stamina, less stress on the heart, less stress on the body. So what, we can’t breathe under water any more? I am glad I don’t live underwater, and I would still certainly call that an improvement.

Absolute Truths

Absolute truths are absolute, unless they are inconvenient, then we can throw them out (temporarily) and pick them back up–like setting aside jewelry before a fight.

I was getting a little bit jittery for Creationist Propaganda, since it is currently the off-season for Creation Today’s broadcasts, so I just decided to hit up some random articles on AiG to get those creative juices flowing. I was not disappointed.

This particular article details the fight between absolute Creationists (we were created as we are, and that’s an end to it) and evolutionary Creationists (God created the universe billions of years ago, and then set the pieces to moving).

It is almost comical to read the AiG writer, who toes the line of calling the Scientist in question “racist” but never actually crosses, for his handling of Neanderthals. Reasons to Believe (RtB) posits that Neanderthals were created as animals before Adam and Eve, and thus likely didn’t have souls. AiG argues that of course they had souls, because they could use tools and communicate, and for some reason that counts as (this term was new to me) “image-of-God behaviour”.

AiG even posits that Neanderthals and Denisovans interbred with humans, meaning they accept the evolutionary worldview of human development with the only exception being timeline. They even argue that you can see the fingerprint on our DNA left by breeding with Denisovans! Of course, the survival of the fittest, advantageous traits being passed on idea at play here is not evolution! It is adaptation! Which is totally different, guys! Because we can’t compromise; once we’ve told you that the sky is purple, the sky stays purple.

The thing is that this seems almost a tacit admission that non-humans interbred with humans, though I feel like I can smell their counter-argument coming; Denisovans, Neanderthals, and Humans share a Biblical Kind, a kind of superspecies that exists to make their scientific models work–and it did hurt me a little, to write “scientific” in that context. The ultimate concession, a line that would actually have found a warm, friendly home in any paper refuting young earth creationism, comes in the statement: “Neanderthals must, based on genetic evidence, have either been cousins, cohabitants, or ancestors of anatomically modern humans.”

We have a genetically distinct species as an ancestor of a more modern genetically distinct species, but it’s not evolution, guys! The fact that you just described one of the major foundations of evolution be damned (literally)!

The thing is this; AiG is willing to slip into evolutionary talk as long as they never say the word evolution, and generally only so long as they are refuting someone they don’t like (admitting humans share a kind with other species comes dangerously close to admitting we are just another animal, but maybe I’m the crazy one).

The other thing they lean on is not just short time frames for this human genetic distinction, but incredibly short time frames. Neanderthals, Denisovans, and other ancient human species (ancient according to that dirty “science” crowd), developed, lived, and went extinct within the last 3500 years or so. Their evidence for this is “ignoring any and all dating methods”, stating that “fossilization is always rapid,” and that “The tower of Babel.” If that last one seems a little bit decontextualized, I’m sorry, I can’t help you. That is a quote; all genetic diversity in humans happened only after Babel. For some reason. In fact, all diversity is “easily understood as the natural consequence of the dispersion from the Tower of Babel.” I decided to use their exact words; the problem I have when anyone says something is so easily understood that they needn’t explain it is that sometimes I don’t understand–and finding an explanation can be difficult sometimes.

I suppose I understand to a degree, but only in a wildly theoretical, ridiculously impractical world view. Since the Tower of Babel probably instantly teleported humans to the ends of the Earth– I mean, I doubt they just started migrating slowly, otherwise how would there have been fully realized civilizations that bear absolutely no resemblance to Judaism in North and South America millennia ago? They needed time to set up shop, build some truly impressive structures, generate new religions, forget their roots (And that would have been hard, since the first post Babel generation had heard the voice of God), and then meet with their new Christian Overlords, all within a thousand years or so.

I understand that humans work hard, but what I want to know is this; how is it that Judaism was born in the Middle East, survived the flood in the Middle East, and after all humans were scattered to the furthest reaches of the Earth, it was only the Jewish people in the Middle East who remembered their God? Every single other faction magically forgetting him? That seems… Improbable to me.

I will close with a statement that boils the absurdity down as far as I can:

“Humans were created, fully formed and free from the need of evolution, 6000 years ago. The fact that we are arguing for large scale genetic diversity and massive changes through adaptation don’t affect the first sentence for some reason.”

Cheers.

Can God and Evil Co-exist?

So I was watching a speech/lecture given by Mark Spence, who works for the Living Waters ministry. In it, he speaks about the conscience that is placed in all humans by God (You can read the preamble and watch the video here.)

During his lecture, he brings up the story of a little girl who went missing. Investigation found that she had been kidnapped, raped, and then tied up and buried alive. The story was truly difficult to listen to, but the way he parleys it into his next point is the part that staggered me.

“Don’t you want justice? Doesn’t it boil up inside of you?!

“That is your conscience, given to you by God!

“And if we have always felt that this type of thing is wrong, that means it did not evolve.”

I… Ok. Ok. Let’s decide where to start with this. These three statements contain so much wrong.

Have to calm myself down.

The first problem; he says the conscience is universal, but where was the conscience of the rapist/murderer? Did he know what he did was wrong?

The third line, there, is an unholy (ehehehe) amalgamation of evolution and religion. Of course our morals could have evolved; they had billions of years to evolve group dynamics and relative morality before there was anything even resembling a human on the Earth.

Your statement, that it had to come into existence fully formed, already assumes that humans were created all at once. There is no science that speaks to this idea.

Why is your Bible an absolute? Can you attest to its having been written by God? Can you attest even to the Pentateuch being written by Moses? Because I can attest to its having been finalized by a group of humans in the fourth century. How many Gospels were thrown out? What about the Christians between say the year 100 and 397? For those 297 years, did they accidentally read blasphemous Bibles that contained things that were later thrown out? Why did God wait until 360 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection to have a Canonized Bible?

If we are going down that rabbit hole, I really have to ask a question, one I have asked before, one I will ask again: If Adam sinned right out of the gate, and Jesus didn’t come until some 4000 years after Creation (by their own timeline). What was God doing for those 4000 years? Those people all just went to hell?

The reason I went down this train of thought is because things are not so clean and pristine as I’m being sold. The Bible is not a clean work, free of human corruption. And there are many pieces of provenance that show many of the hands that have touched the Bible.

Why does your messy conglomerate of books count as “Absolute, objective morality?”

If a book was written by a man, then edited by a second, then a third, then a fourth, repeat for x, you would question the authenticity of the book. If that man’s hand was Moses, apparently “Oh yes, absolutely correct,” is valid… But if that hand was “Dawkins”, you would ask a thousand questions. And when you have standards that only apply to your opponents, you should think about those standards.

Now, I realize as a human that I am flawed, and I have double standards–but I do try to resolve them where I find them. The issue with the double standards of “The Bible” versus “Literally anything else,” is that the double standard is institutionalized, codified, subscribed to, and referenced as “A good thing,” by many in the creationist movement…

Why is that? How is that?

Sorry, this got a little scatterbrained. I just don’t understand how it is so easy to write off certain questions for those in the Creationist movement, while levying those same complaints against their opponents, and when I try to follow that thread through my head I end up all over the place.

A Political Rant

To those that expect a debate, the below will come across as a certain “Gish Gallup.” I am sorry for that, I just had to get some pent up political aggression off my chest.

I’m trying really hard to understand the practical side of Libertarianism. Recently, a staunch Libertarian told me I did not understand Libertarianism SO HARD that he could not even explain it to me, which seems to me to constitute a failing on both sides, but I digress. I was looking for writing not on libertarian ideals (as useless to me in the practical world as Marx’s works) but on how Libertarianism would even work in the practical realm.

The problem is there is so much out there, and most of it of such low quality that I can barely stomach it.

Take, for example, this:

http://ericpetersautos.com/2013/09/14/practical-libertarianism/

He uses phrases like “So obvious I shouldn’t have to explain,” and “the body of law could be removed at a stroke with ‘Do no harm.'” That is not practical, that is ideal; I understand what you want, I do not understand how it will *work*.

How about in the case of highways, as per another recent conversation I had. I will skip the path to “how highways go from government upkeep to private ownership, and where that money comes from,” because that is too complicate to even comprehend (though it is often boiled down to “It would just happen once the government is gone!” when speaking with most people). RoadCo A and RoadCo B both own several highways. RoadCo A owns the QEII from Edmonton to Calgary, and then decides to skip on the upkeep. The road is undriveable.

RoadCo B diligently keeps their roads in pristine condition… But getting from Edmonton to Calgary (Or Calgary to Edmonton) is now an additional 150km both ways. Is that the competition that makes the free market work?

Again to reference the above, the author wants “Peace Keepers” in place of current “Police.” And then, of course, assumes these Peace Keepers will all follow the ideal and never abuse their position? I fail to see the practical difference between the ideal police officer (To protect and to serve) and the ideal peace keeper (To keep the peace). Would someone explain to me how Peace Keepers could be trusted, *in the practical realm* in a way that does not describe *the ideal*? Because an ideal police officer is there to do just that; abuses of power be damned, law be damned, but if you change the law what reason do I have to believe that the change will translate wholesale into the practical realm?

The other issue of practicality is that, in this perfect system, the Peace Keepers are ideally required to keep their hands off of the situation until *harm has already been done*? Am I understanding that correctly?

I would like a practical, point by point answer, some day, from some individual, on the progression of a situation like this:

A man is drunk and belligerent. He is angry. He hasn’t thrown any punches, but seems about to.

The people around him can’t stop him; that would constitute harm to this person, and they become the agressor? Is that how this system works?

And the Peace Keepers watch, until a moment where something violent happens? Can they stop him when he breaks a bottle and now wields a weapon? He hasn’t harmed anyone yet.

And even if they try to stop him now, he has a weapon. He could cause serious harm, and the situation has escalated. Are the Peace Keepers supposed to still watch? At what point is *intent* factored in? If he intends to stab someone, he has still done no harm.

This is why so many Libertarians are called naive; the situation above is so many shades of gray that “Do no harm,” becomes either meaningless or left open to the wildly emotional humans making the decision. If you say “The Peace Keepers should step in before people are hurt,” then how are they different from Police?

If the Peace Keepers can’t step in until after someone is hurt, how do you justify the outcome to your own conscience? My own thoughts would say something to the effect of “This was completely preventable.”

The real world is far too complicated to boil down to “Do no harm.”

If “the ideal” were ever possible, we would certainly live in a libertarian communism… But the ideal is bullshit at the first wiff of practicality.

The Odd Problem with Learning from your Mistakes…

… is that your opponents will remember your mistakes long after you are dead.

This isn’t only about religion, but it comes up a lot in religious debates–between religious people and atheists, or religious people and other religious people, between atheists and other atheists, and I think it is setting everyone back, setting the whole human race back.

I don’t have the citation on me, but an article I read recently criticized so called “liberal views of morality” by saying “in the late 19th century, atheists were racists.” I’ve spoken about that idea extensively in previous posts, noting that “so were the religious among us,” because most people in that era were racist. Most people today are racist to some degree, though obviously not as bad as say… Turn of the century American South.

That being said, the whole argument is moot, isn’t it? “Remember that time when you were four and you peed in that guy’s shoe? You’re 28 now, and I still don’t trust you around my shoes.”

That statement is absurd, so why is it not considered absurd to say “19th century atheists were sometimes bigots,” or “But look at the crusades!”? Those were mistakes, they will forever be considered mistakes, and you will be hard pressed to find someone involved in main stream politics who says “The crusades were justified!” So why do things like this even come up?

Why do we talk about how a 19th century liberal philosopher was a racist? Why does that same 19th century philosopher undermine my ability to posit a better moral outlook today? The author I spoke at great length about in my previous series of posts seemed to think I am culpable for what other atheists have done (and his article can be read here). That completely ignores that fact that we have, as a society and as a whole, grown up.

Saying that the Bible, a book canonized in the third and fourth centuries, is the final word on morality is just a like a twenty-eight year old saying “Peeing in shoes at four was good enough then, so it’s good enough now.”

And saying “Some humans got it wrong 120 years ago, so you have it wrong today,” is grossly disingenuous.

So I’ll say it again; let’s work together, maybe? Find a better moral code, a moral code that improves the happiness of everyone? A moral code that does not accept or endorse bigotry towards people who have caused no one harm?

Or we can complain that old timey people were racist, and argue that this is somehow relevant.

Maybe that works, too?

Another Quick Thought

So I had more white noise (read: Strongly Christian documentary film propaganda) on in the background, and heard a few things that piqued my interest. The filmmaker interviewed a few PhDs and dropped several names, names of Nobel Prize winners who believe in God or believed, as the case may be, and during the interviews I really got the feeling that the message was “Look at all these smart people who believe in God! You want to be smart, too, don’t you?! Then you should believe in God.”

The problem I have is that argument misses any sort of coherent point, because what does a person’s personal belief have to do with their work?

If a person wins a Nobel Prize in Physics, or Chemistry, it is generally because the contribution they have made to their field is exceptional–and to get that far, you have to have had your work peer reviewed by hundreds of men and women. And for me, I have never asked what the religious conviction is when reading about a specific revolutionary scientific breakthrough. The person might secretly be a Neo-Nazi, might be a Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or atheist. Don’t care. I don’t care so much that it isn’t even a question I would ever ask.

There are brilliant men who are atheists, as there are brilliant men who are religious — but one thing you will never hear me say or imply is “You should be an atheist because Richard Dawkins is an atheist.”

Religion, in any form, is largely a personal venture and belief system. Oh yes, you can believe in your Church, or your Bible, but generally you have a say in those beliefs. You can decide whether your pastor is intelligent or whether he is a liar (or both, which is often the case). For me, I did not become an atheist because it was the cool thing to do, or because I thought Dawkins was just like… So dreamy, you guys, like Oh. Em. Gee. No, I read the Bible, I went to Church, I read Dawkins and Hitchens, I read a bit of Sam Harris, and I read some Reza Aslan. And by combining their ideas in my head, I came out the way I am.

So I think we can all agree name dropping for the sake of name dropping (as opposed, say, making a proper citation) is the most shallow mechanism for creating converts, and has no place in the modern discourse.