It’s always funny when a creationist talks about biology

I try to avoid the content Jack Hudson’s blog. He doesn’t write anything of value and he hasn’t any credentials in the areas that seem to be slightly interesting to him (namely biology), but I often poke over there to see if I can find any interesting bloggers in his comments. Unfortunately, this involves me skimming his posts. (After all, if he writes about a topic that doesn’t interest me, I may not be interested in whoever might comment on it.) And once in awhile, I fully read his shorter rants. Take a look at one his his recent examples:

Often when I argue that cells are infused with information driven molecular machinery and that this observation constitutes the basis for a readily falsifiable theory on why the cell is the product of the effort of a mind, opponents will accuse me of over-extending the use of the word ‘machine’. That is why I appreciate animations like the one below – it clearly depicts a molecular motor, that has been an integral part of cells since the beginning of life. It is clearly a mechanism composed of multiple integrated and highly interdependent parts that both convert energy into work, and provide the fuel on which the rest of the cell subsists.

The ATP synthase is definitely an information driven molecular machine, and the best explanation of its existence is that it was designed by a mind.

I can be brief here: biology is all about shape. Again and again, anyone who has studied the subject will quickly recognize that the only way anything gets done is through the interaction of molecules of the correct shape. The only exception is when we’re talking about ion gradients or something sufficiently similar where the cause of action is an electrochemical gradient (or, again, something sufficiently similar). And even then, shape is often still relevant in moving stuff from one place to another.

When it comes to ATP synthase, the basic idea is that a phosphate molecule binds to an ADP molecule and causes a conformational change. This isn’t information (which, incidentally, is a concept Jack has never been willing to define in scientifically coherent terms). It’s a change caused by certain molecules of a certain shape with certain properties, coming together to form a new shape with new properties. And if we back the train up a little bit, we’ll see that that is the case for the previous molecules, and the previous molecules to those, and the previous…and so on until we aren’t talking about much more than very basic chemical bonds.

But wait! I made the mistake of reading another post (it was at the top of the page). It doesn’t have to do with biology, but I still want to address it:

I was reading a post recently by New Atheist Jerry Coyne criticizing a book by philosopher J. P. Moreland called Christianity and the Nature of Science. I haven’t read the book myself, so I can’t speak directly to Coyne’s criticisms, but I can speak to the logic of his main argument. Essentially he argues (contra Moreland) that theology has not arrived at “some truth concerning the world”. How does he know that? Well according to Jerry Coyne, he knows that because so many religions disagree on the nature of God:

Jack then goes on to quote Coyne making the point that theology has huge disagreements in it as evidenced by all the different religions and denominations. He continues:

As is typical of Jerry Coyne as well as New Atheists generally, what is missing here is logic. He doesn’t ever justify why the existence of various beliefs about some topic undermine the fact that we can know something true about said topic. Take a study like political philosophy. It has been fairly well established that constitutional democracies that respect individual rights are far superior to any number of other political systems in terms of freedom, personal prosperity, health and scientific and technical advancement. Despite this fact, many of the same political systems that have always existed still exist…

If Coyne’s logic were accurate, then we would have to conclude that nothing has been learned about what constitutes a good political system. Of course such a conclusion is absurd.

This would be risible if he wasn’t so serious. When it comes to political systems, we can measure their effects and compare them. In Jack’s example, he cites freedom, personal prosperity, health, and scientific and technological advancements. What is the equivalent in his analogy? What can we objectively measure that comes out of theology? It isn’t sufficient that we compare two things which happen to have something in common. That is, it doesn’t get us anywhere to compare theology and political systems merely because they are both varied. If that was enough, he could have just chosen Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and pointed out all the available flavors. Furthermore, it isn’t like political systems are designed to give the same results. Some are geared towards one ideal, others to another ideal. Moreover, we aren’t even talking about a common methodology or field of study which is meant to lead us to the best choice, anyway. None of Jack’s analogy works. None.

So Jerry Coyne does have a significant point. If theology was a legitimate method for arriving at truth, we should expect consistency from it from independent sources. That doesn’t happen. It isn’t like calculus where 3 people (one from Asia) were able to discover/invent it without looking at each others’ paper, or evolution where 2 people came up with the same basic idea apart from each other. No, instead we have a tiny, little field that is hardly any different from literary criticism except that its focus is smaller and less useful.

Meaning

I’ve been involved in a number of debates as of late, whether via Facebook or in person, so I’m itching to work my way through some of the more stubborn points I hear. For right now, I want to address the idea of meaning.

When I debate my Christian friends, I often hear that everything is meaningless if there is no God. That is, there needs to be some eternal entity that will always care about our actions, behaviors, beliefs, etc, if they are to mean anything at all. I think this ignores what “meaning” actually is and does little more than seek to pigeon-hole the argument. So let’s define our term, beginning with the dictionary:

1. what is intended to be, or actually is, expressed or indicated; signification; import
2. the end, purpose, or significance of something
3. Linguistics
a.the nonlinguistic cultural correlate, reference, or denotation of a linguistic form; expression.
b.linguistic content ( opposed to expression ).
adjective:
4. intentioned (usually used in combination)
5. full of significance; expressive

Notice how often the word “significant” is used. This isn’t some objective term, but rather one where subjectivity is key. Because, how does one measure significance? We can define particular levels of certainty as significant – 5%, 50%, 75%, 99%, whathaveyou – but that isn’t anything other than relative practicality, as useful as it may be. In other words, when we deem something to be significant, we’re simply assigning it some sort of value. And that leads us to a new question: Can value exist without God?

There isn’t some special interpretation, some in-depth philosophy, or some odd perspective here; the answer is simply yes, value obviously can exist without God. Just as emotions or puppies or rocks can exist without him, so can value. None of these things are inherently dependent upon his existence. Let’s look at a specific example for value: I really enjoy watching hockey. I don’t enjoy it as much as, say, The Walking Dead, but I do rather like it. I place value on it as an occasional piece of my life – though I place a different value on a particular TV series.

Now let me connect the dots. For someone to value, as per my example, a TV program, God is not somehow inherently required for that. And what does it mean to place value on something than to assign it significance? For me, The Walking Dead is highly significant when I compare it to other shows. And this is nothing more than a way for me to say that it means something to me; that show holds some level of meaning from my perspective.

So the question for the theist is, does that meaning cease to exist if there is no God? That isn’t to ask if I will die, thus destroying my memory of that meaning. Of course that answer is yes. Rather, I am asking if that meaning ceases to exist right here, right now if we are to conclude that there is no God? If the answer to that question is “yes”, then what does it mean to value something? What does it mean for something to bear significance?

In essence, meaning is a subjective concept, something we define on the basis of our experiences, likes, dislikes, reasoning, and whatever else goes into how we determine what is significant and what is not. To say that it doesn’t exist if God doesn’t exist is to assume that it must be rooted objectively. Such an assumption is entirely divorced of the process by which we assign anything – absolutely anything – value.

Misunderstandings

One of the things I enjoy most when it comes to blogging is the creation of series. I have all my “Thought of the day” and “Fun fact of the day” posts, amongst others, and they tend to go over well. I’m hoping to make this current post the first in a series called “Misunderstandings”. Sometimes these don’t pan out, so who knows, but it’s worth a shot. I’ll probably focus on theological and creationist arguments, but I expect some variety. In fact, this first post is going to include two different topics, each dealing with misunderstandings by atheists (though one is regarding a theological argument). So let’s get started.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science Facebook page:

A status update was made several days ago on the RDF page that said something to the effect of:

One of the greatest earthquakes in human history occurred in China in the 16th century, killing some 800,000 people. More’s the pity they hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ, thus denying them eternal access to heaven.

This is paraphrased because, unfortunately, the post was taken down. Many users objected to what they thought was an implication that those dead Chinese were ignorant; they found it crude and unliked the page. I think they all missed the point. Soon after, this post was made:

Some religious groups spend great amounts of energy and money to convince others that unless they accept Jesus as their personal savior they will burn in hell. Some people embrace science and, for example, focus on decreasing the death rate from a vicious disease such as pancreatic cancer. Which viewpoint is more compassionate? — Sean Faircloth, Dir. of Strategy & Policy

I believe Sean, a former Maine legislator, made the first post as well, but I don’t recall his signature. At any rate, the initial point of the posts is identical. The second one changes from natural disaster to disease and asks a specific question, but the premises are the same. And what was the reaction? A straight-forward discussion that understood the point.

It’s almost like Richard Dawkins and those in his group occasionally offend people. I just wish it were only the religious who misunderstood the points they make.

The First Cause argument on the Atheists of Maine Facebook page:

Staying with the Facebook theme, I posted a note to the Atheists of Maine page a couple of weeks ago. It was basically just a re-post of something I wrote on FTSOS about the First Cause argument. My rebuttal to that awful, awful argument goes something like this: A “cause” is the colloquial way we describe the scientific concept of a force. We define a force as mass multiplied by acceleration, f=ma. Acceleration is the change in velocity over time. Thus, time is clearly essential in the First Cause argument. However, time did not exist ‘prior’ to the Big Bang, so theists cannot use it in their argument. Since they cannot use time, and since time is necessary in order to even define “cause”, they need to argue something different.

This is simple enough, but one AoM member, Neil Cole, raised a rather incoherent objection:

As an atheist I obviously don’t think any god created the universe or caused it to exist. That said, there are some issues with this post that I would like to address. The first and most important would be the incorrect usage of Newton’s laws. A casual search for the range and validity of Newton’s laws will yield the following:

“These three laws hold to a good approximation for macroscopic objects under everyday conditions. However, Newton’s laws (combined with universal gravitation and classical electrodynamics) are inappropriate for use in certain circumstances, most notably at very small scales, very high speeds (in special relativity, the Lorentz factor must be included in the expression for momentum along with rest mass and velocity) or very strong gravitational fields.”-wiki

The big bang is a phenomenon which is subject to such restrictions. What we know about the universe breaks down around Planck time (5 x 10^-44 seconds). It is wrong to say that we completely understand time or that we completely understand causation.

It’s easy enough to see why this doesn’t even address the argument at hand: the First Cause argument concerns a ‘point’, realm, or whatever one wishes to call it, which existed (or exists) outside the Universe. We aren’t talking about the Big Bang. We aren’t talking about extreme speeds or small scales. Cole even admits this:

Clearly you don’t seem to get that I know this already but I will humor you even though you have not answered my question, [God is] outside [the Universe].

(We referred to the “first cause” as “God” for the sake of simplicity and since, clearly, that’s what the argument is getting towards anyway.)

Now that we had established that God is outside the Universe in this argument, I wanted to be sure we also established that he performed the act which created the Universe from that same place. Cole responds:

Since he is fictional and has magical powers, why not?

This isn’t exactly the best answer since I was asking my question in the context of the given argument at hand. That is, I was asking if God performed the act to create the Universe from outside the Universe, as per the First Cause argument. However, this is still progress. I next asked if God could exert a force (as defined by Newton’s second law) from his timeless ‘location’ outside the Universe. Cole says:

You assume God is exerting a force. In that “place” the word force may not even apply to what “is”.

It is the argument, not I, that assumes the exertion of a force, but still, there we have it. According to the First Cause argument, God is outside the Universe, he caused the Universe into existence, and he did this in a place where, at least as far as we know, the concept of force doesn’t apply since we cannot demonstrate the existence of time. Neil Cole admits each essential element, making my ultimate point for me as his conclusion to this point in the ‘debate’. Yet, we still see this later:

Your argument may not posit that it might not be a force but that is because you failed to understand that Newton’s laws are inappropriate here. You also conflate cause with force which may not be the same thing in the other “place”.

Despite admitting that we aren’t talking about the Big Bang – that is, he admitted that we’re talking about a ‘point’ prior to the Universe, which is necessarily prior to the Big Bang – he still reverts to his point about high speeds and small scales. He then goes one bizarre (and, frankly, embarrassing) step further and claims that a force is not the same thing as a cause. Let’s take a look at a translation of Newton’s own words:

“Law II: The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impress’d; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impress’d.”

The common way of saying this? ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’ or ‘For every cause, there is an effect’. It isn’t up for debate that the First Cause argument is premised on Newton’s second law, nor that this law is about causation on a macroscopic scale. Thus, the First Cause argument is specifically positing that God created the Universe by means of force on a macroscopic scale, and it is doing this because of the observation Newton made so many centuries ago that seems obvious to us today.

There was later a problem with Cole lying – he claimed I wouldn’t answer his questions despite my request for him to re-ask the one he had posed to me earlier, then, when I repeated that I wanted to answer him, he just continued to claim I would not – and so sometimes his tendency to misunderstand what others say is clearly nothing more than base dishonesty, but in the primary issue here, he just doesn’t get the whole picture. When broken down for him, he gets all the parts – the argument places God outside the Universe, presupposes the existence of time, and has nothing to do with the Big Bang – but he entirely misunderstands things when they’re all put together. I wish I could just say he was lying here as well because then I would get how someone could raise such incoherent points, but that isn’t the case. The fact is, he misunderstood the argument even as he agreed with all its parts.

Thought of the day

The fact is, a person who rejects evolution is a person who doesn’t understand the world.

This

SoBasic

A summary of your state

I’ve done a bit of traveling in my day, including around a majority of the United States. I’m also in-tune with what’s going on in the news and in politics. As a result I might argue that I feel qualified to give my impressions of various states. But no. No, instead I will argue that, rather than as a result of my travel and informed perspective, I am qualified to give my impressions based upon the fact that this is my blog. So here we go.

Alabama: I made the mistake of going to a McDonald’s here. The employees had the most unbearable accents, the manager was missing a majority of what should have been his visible teeth, and the orders were being messed up more than usual. Other than that, though, Alabama has a lot to offer. For instance, it’s tremendously humid and uncomfortable in the summer.

Alaska: I admit I’ve been mildly entertained by the National Geographic show Alaska State Troopers, but I see no reason why anyone would want to live here. It’s constantly cold and produced the likes of Sarah Palin. Other than that, it’s basically the deep south of the far north.

Arizona: Racist, racist, racist, racist, racist, racist. Hot. Racist, racist, racist.

Arkansas: I haven’t been here, but I have been to Alabama. I see no need to visit.

California: Here’s a state with an identity crisis. Half the time they’re passing liberal spending bills, but then they’re contradicting their efforts with attempts at conservative economics. Also, LA seems like one of the worst places in the country.

Colorado: Of the top 4 states in which I would live, this is number 4. It has 300 days of sun, skiing, and it’s turning into a quality blue state. That said, I’ve been to a town here called Center. It had stereotypical mariachi music blaring from beat-up cars that were being worked on in front yards while all the townspeople of Hispanic descent – which was the vast majority – watched me with great suspicion as I used their laundry mat while being white. To top things off, a small chihuahua was running loose around town. If it didn’t really happen, I would say it was racist.

Connecticut: I’m not sure why we keep Connecticut in New England. Even if I get past that stupid “c” in the middle of the state’s name – and I won’t – there’s still the fact that it seems to wish it was New York. Also, it has a bunch of Yankees fans, and that’s just a whole load of dumb.

Delaware: It’s the one that’s not Maryland, I guess.

Florida: Here’s a state with three things: old people, Disney World, and Miami. Unless related to the old people, why would anyone want to be a part of that environment? I don’t even get why old people hang out with old people. I bet Disney World is okay. And Miami seems like a city looking to rival the terribleness of LA. Its shallow nightlife might be fun for a night or two, but so is Vegas. That doesn’t mean it makes sense to live there.

Georgia: I have friends who live here, so let me tread carefully: Georgia is a crap hole! Actually, I imagine it has nice willow trees. And I think some Kennedy got married off a pleasant little island off its coast. So it has that.

Hawaii: Why wouldn’t I just go to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin islands where I don’t have to spend unbelievable sums of money to go to a tropical beach? Also, they need to get different words for “hello” and “goodbye”. They aren’t Eskimos and they don’t have dozens of versions of snow. Also, that thing about Eskimos and their words for snow is a myth.

Idaho: Potatoes. Sorry, Idaho.

Illinois: Let me fix things for this state: I-L-L-I-N-O-Y. Much better.

Indiana: So, wait. This isn’t Illinoy?

Iowa: Corn. Sorry, Iowa.

Kansas: You guys should really check out some science books. I mean. At least try one.

Kentucky: I’m not afraid to make a different version of the same joke four times: This isn’t Tennessee?

Louisiana: Holy balls, what horrendous summers. Mosquitoes, humidity, swamps, southerners, southerners’ accents…it goes on and on. But, hey, you look like a boot, so that’s neat.

Maine: Excellent state. Lobsters, L.L.Bean, rugged coastline, and all that. I really see nothing to criticize here, so let’s move along.

Maryland: Crabs, funny shape, not Delaware.

Massachusetts: Other than for its sports teams and historical significance for early America, I see little appeal. Of course, there is always the fun of driving around Boston, a city routinely ranked as the worst for doing so. Weird that Massachusetts drivers, aka Massholes, would be known as dicks when they get behind the wheel.

Michigan: Detroit. Sorry, Michigan.

Minnesota: In 6th grade my class had to do something involving the U.S. map where our peers would give us a grade of 1-10, which would be bonus points on one thing or another. It was meant as a semi-fun project, so when I got to Minnesota, I made a reference to the show Happy Days. As my classmate looked over my work, I realized I was one state off: the show took place in Wisconsin. Even though I’m the one who recognized the mistake, he still only gave me a 6 out of 10. And that’s Minnesota.

Mississippi: Lulz.

Missouri: Arch.

Montana: If there ever comes a time when I want to live somewhere but I don’t want to do things, this is where I’ll go.

Nebraska: I hear Omaha has a lot of call centers because people from there supposedly have the least noticeable accents in the country. Now you know.

Nevada: You know that excuse about the heat where people say, “But it’s a dry heat!” That’s bullshit. Dry or not, 107 degrees is awful. But they have gambling and breasts and moral decay and all those good things.

New Hampshire: It has the best mountains in New England, but it voted for Bush in 2000. I have my eye on you.

New Jersey: High population density, pollution, limited green space, and high cost of living. And these are its good points.

New Mexico: Technically not the old Mexico.

New York: Rumor has it there is more to this state than one city, but the media have yet to confirm.

North Carolina: I have an interest in this state solely because it’s the location of this year’s Blog Cabin, a show watched by me and, I surmise, a handful of middle-aged women spread around the country. Also, I confuse this state with Virginia more than I confuse it with South Carolina.

North Dakota: Fargo.

Ohio: Best known for its vowels, Ohio is the proud owner of Columbus, one of the least appealing cities I’ve ever visited. I recommend more homeless shelters, but then who am I to observe a major problem and one obvious part of its solution?

Oklahoma: Otherwise known as Northern Texas, this is the only state that had all its counties go red for McCain in 2008. In other news, I frequently see it featured in the show Gangland.

Oregon: I do believe I need to first have an opinion on a place before I can say what I think of it.

Pennsylvania: I could mention the state’s rich coal history, or how integral it was to the steel industry (though Pittsburgh has no steel mills left today), or I could explore its long and interesting history with the Amish, a unique group notable for its hard-working way of life. Instead, I will point out the obvious: It has shitty sports fans. Seriously, you guys are dicks.

Rhode Island: Family Guy. Well done.

South Carolina: After spending some time as the laughing-stock of the nation over its tumultuous political happenings, South Carolina has turned the corner back to simply being ignored.

South Dakota: Of the terrible middle belt of rectangular-ish states, this is the only one I felt worthy of my tires meeting its roads. I mean, relatively. If skipping it was an option, I may have done that. Going east to west, it’s just a whole lot of nothing, nothing, nothing, Mount Rushmore, and done.

Tennessee: I don’t care how many times I’ve made the joke: This isn’t Kentucky?

Texas: I don’t have a problem messing with a big, dumb state led by a series of dumb guys doing dumb things with dumb legislatures and dumb boards of education and dumb, dumb, dumb. Also, Houston was built on a swamp, so that was dumb.

Utah: Sadly, the magnet industry has fallen on hard times here thanks to what officials describe as “mass hysteria and confusion”.

Vermont: Now here’s another excellent state. I’ve been shitting on most of the country, but I’m breaking that theme here. Vermont is amongst my top places to live, and I hope to at least visit it once this year. Also, it’s upside-down New Hampshire.

Virginia: Who hasn’t accidentally said “vagina” with this one? Interestingly, I frequently make the same mistake with Minnesota.

Washington: Though gloomy, I imagine I might enjoy Seattle. And my favorite band came from this area, so there’s that. Unfortunately, I can’t get behind this state until it changes its name. Because, come on. Who isn’t tired of specifying if they mean the city or the state?

West Virginia: The Appalachian Mountains start getting called Appalachia around here for some reason. Also, coal, fat people, and inbreeding.

Wisconsin: Non-unionized cheese and Happy Days. Less notably, Lavern & Shirley.

Wyoming: South Montana.

Recent news

Here’s a quick round-up of some recent news:

President Obama has been sworn into his second term. The ceremony was a small one done inside the White House in order to meet constitutional requirements that the inauguration take place on January 20th, but there will be the usual public spectacle tomorrow. I expect FOX Noise and other conservative mouth-pieces to compare the turnout between the President’s first inauguration and this one, attempting to make the argument that he has lost popularity and doesn’t enjoy any sort of mandate. It will be a shitty argument since 2nd inaugurations are traditionally filled with less pomp and circumstance.

So-called responsible gun owners keep shooting each other. This weekend has seen ‘Gun Appreciation Day’, an event apparently organized by some guy by the name of Larry Ward. The result has been at least 5 accidental shootings as linked above, but I’ve seen unconfirmed Facebook pictures floating around placing the number at 8. This isn’t any surprise considering how many accidental shootings occur in homes with a single gun.

Over 40 million private sector workers do not have paid sick leave. This is one of the many flaws that arise from the magical hand of the free market. We can’t expect the private sector to voluntarily offer paid sick time to employees; these businesses are looking at the short term. If they had a longer and wider view of the economy, they would recognize that their sick employees spread disease, resulting in greater loss to the economy through more people who call out. Moreover, if their sick employees do call out, that’s a loss to the employee. And as we all know but as conservatives ignore, the economy is majority-run by the consumer. We need people making and spending money.

Religious fighting continues in Mali. I find it interesting that a country with its own religious strife, Nigeria, is getting involved with one-door-over neighbor, but it isn’t overly surprising to see religion filling the gap left by corrupt governments, thus creating greater instability and less freedom. That’s sort of what religion has been doing for the past few thousand years.

Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin has been charged with taking bribes. I only find this satisfying because of how disgusted I was when he said New Orleans needs to stay “a chocolate city”. It was blatantly racist horseshit.

The AFC Championship game takes place tonight. The Ravens are rolling into Foxborough at 6:30 tonight, hopefully to face another devastating loss. I don’t know, though. I fully expect a close game, so I won’t be shocked if my Patriots are golfing come Monday. I just hope they utilize their hurry-up offense way more than usual given the comments of a Raven linebacker.