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Date: Monday, 15 Sep 2014 23:52

By the way, does anyone remember when …

Marks’s Evolutionary Informatics lab was shut down at Baylor? Baptist U?

Baylor Public Relations on Marks Evo-Info Lab in Free Fall

Backgrounder to Robert Marks’s lab shutdown: Baylor revokes Dembski’s research fellowship 2006

And the only reason for the uproar is this: Information theory shows why Darwin’s natural selection can’t actually be the magic that his followers and the textbooks claim.

Marks recovered his work, and was even asked to explain it at the American Scientific Affiliation

It ain’t over yet, but as more people find out about the information theory critique of Darwinian claims for evolution, the better they are able to understand other issues, like convergence, horizontal gene transfer, and epigenetics.

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Date: Monday, 15 Sep 2014 23:47

Map of 57 Japonic languages/Wiley

Here’s a piece from ScienceDaily that unwittingly reveals the primitive state that “evolutionary” accounts of the human mind generally demonstrate.

This one is a study of the evolution of language:

A new Journal of Evolutionary Biology study provides evidence that physical barriers formed by oceans can influence language diversification.

Investigators argue that the same factor responsible for much of the biodiversity in the Galápagos Islands is also responsible for the linguistic diversity in the Japanese Islands: the natural oceanic barriers that impede interaction between speech communities. Therefore, spatially isolated languages gradually diverge from one another due to a reduction of linguistic contact.

“Charles Darwin would have been amused by a study like this, because it confirms his hypothesis that languages, like species, are the product of evolution,” said lead author Dr. Sean Lee.

The iconic mention “Charles Darwin” lulls the pop science writer, of course, into just “knowing” that the study proves something.

Here are some facts that any English major from my generation would know*, without having heard more than the term “Japonic languages”:

- Any geographic barrier that impedes communication for more than a few generations can make dialects mutually unintelligible. As can a number of other factors, such as political upheavals. The dialects may become different languages. Latin, for example, split up into French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romansch, among others. A long passage of time can have the same effect, as anyone today who tries to read Middle English (1150-1500 AD) will discover.

- Probably, due to the explosion in worldwide communications, most languages spoken by only a few thousand people will disappear. It’s a pity, but not preventable. What happens is, for example, if a person wishes to help the people at home by getting a medical, nursing, or dentistry degree, that person must learn a majority language, whose numbers of speakers can sustain schools in these professions. Eventually, more and more people use the majority language for more and more things and the minority language becomes a historical artifact.

- Human languages must meet basic communications functions for a human level intellect, but the means vary widely. There are primitive lifestyles, but there aren’t really primitive languages. English is a good example of this. Anglo-Saxon broke down completely after the Norman conquest of England in 1066:

- the surviving Middle English material is dominated by regional variation, and by (sometimes extreme) variation in how the same underlying linguistic units are represented in writing. This is not because people suddenly started using language in different ways in different places in the Middle English period, but because the fairly standardized late Old English literary variety broke down completely, and writing in English became fragmented, localized, and to a large extent improvised. [OED]

but the problem was resolved just by adopting words wholesale from other languages, and eventually, standardization began:

– in vocabulary, English became much more heterogeneous, showing many borrowings from French, Latin, and Scandinavian. Large-scale borrowing of new words often had serious consequences for the meanings and the stylistic register of those words which survived from Old English. Eventually, various new stylistic layers emerged in the lexicon, which could be employed for a variety of different purposes. [OED]

None of this needs or benefits from a Darwinian explanation. It would make no difference how biological evolution works, apart from chance useful analogies to language.

And the big question, of how human languages have become what they all are, goes unanswered still!

Here’s the abstract:

Good barriers make good languages. Scholars have long speculated that geographical barriers impede linguistic contact between speech communities and promote language diversification in a manner similar to the process of allopatric speciation. This hypothesis, however, has seldom been tested systematically and quantitatively. Here, we adopt methods from evolutionary biology and attempt to quantify the influence of oceanic barriers on the degree of lexical diversity in the Japanese Islands. Measuring the degree of beta diversity from basic vocabularies, we find that geographical proximity and, more importantly, isolation by surrounding ocean, independently explains a significant proportion of lexical variation across Japonic languages. Further analyses indicate that our results are neither a by-product of using a distance matrix derived from a Bayesian language phylogeny nor an epiphenomenon of accelerated evolutionary rates in languages spoken by small communities. Moreover, we find that the effect of oceanic barriers is reproducible with the Ainu languages, indicating that our analytic approach as well as the results can be generalized beyond Japonic language family. The findings we report here are the first quantitative evidence that physical barriers formed by ocean can influence language diversification and points to an intriguing common mechanism between linguistic and biological evolution. open access

It’s probably useful research, as far as info on the Japonic languages goes, but it just doesn’t tell us much that is generally applicable, that is not already known.

See also: Darwin’s “horrid doubt”: The mind

* predating the grievance studies and self-referential improv that reign rtoday


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Author: "News" Tags: "Human evolution, language, News"
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Date: Monday, 15 Sep 2014 23:20

According to a report from The Times earlier this year, policy makers in Britain are attempting to enforce AGW   Read more


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Author: "Cornelius Hunter" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Monday, 15 Sep 2014 22:49

Marine worm Platynereis’ muscle resembles, in placement and genes, the notochord/spine /Kalliopi Monoyios

The marine worm Platynereis is considered a living fossil. Here, we prefer the term “durable species.”

From ScienceDaily:

Antonella Lauri and Thibaut Brunet, both in Arendt’s lab, identified the genetic signature of the notochord — the combination of genes that have to be turned on for a healthy notochord to form. When they found that the larva of the marine worm Platynereis has a group of cells with that same genetic signature, the scientists teamed up with Philipp Keller’s group at Janelia Farm to use state-of-the-art microscopy to follow those cells as the larva developed. They found that the cells form a muscle that runs along the animal’s midline, precisely where the notochord would be if the worm were a chordate. The researchers named this muscle the axochord, as it runs along the animal’s axis. A combination of experimental work and combing through the scientific literature revealed that most of the animal groups that sit between Platynereis and chordates on the evolutionary tree also have a similar, muscle-based structure in the same position.

The scientists reason that such a structure probably first emerged in an ancient ancestor, before all these different animal groups branched out on their separate evolutionary paths. Such a scenario would also explain why the lancelet amphioxus, a ‘primitive’ chordate, has a notochord with both cartilage and muscle. Rather than having acquired the muscle independently, amphioxus could be a living record of the transition from muscle-based midline to cartilaginous notochord.

The shift from muscle to cartilage could have come about because a stiffened central rod would make swimming more efficient, the scientists postulate.

But did the muscle conduct nerves from the brain throughout the body and back?

See also: Genetic program for a face long predates a recognizable face (Researchers: Our results show that coupling of Hox gene expression to segmentation of the hindbrain is an ancient trait with origin at the base of vertebrates.)

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Author: "News" Tags: "Intelligent Design, News, stasis"
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Date: Monday, 15 Sep 2014 21:15

Here is a paper out of the PRCthat raises some awkward questions about the intellectual climate surrounding global warming. Apparently with all the blackballing, peer-review control, publication manipulation, and funding and career threats, the Chinese suspect there might be some manipulation of information at work.  Read more


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Author: "Cornelius Hunter" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Monday, 15 Sep 2014 17:55

faceless lamprey and embryo/Krumlauf Lab, Stowers Institute and Bronner Lab

From ScienceDaily:

In the study, Investigator and Scientific Director Robb Krumlauf, Ph.D. and colleagues show that the sea lamprey Petromyzon marinus, a survivor of ancient jawless vertebrates, exhibits a pattern of gene expression that is reminiscent of its jawed cousins, who evolved much, much later. Those genes, called Hox genes, function like a molecular ruler, determining where along the anterior-posterior (AP) axis an animal will place a particular feature or appendage. The new study means that that the genetic program used by jawed vertebrates, including fish, mice, and us, was up and running ages before a vertebrate ever possessed a recognizable face.

Here’s the abstract:

A defining feature governing head patterning of jawed vertebrates is a highly conserved gene regulatory network that integrates hindbrain segmentation with segmentally restricted domains of Hox gene expression. Although non-vertebrate chordates display nested domains of axial Hox expression, they lack hindbrain segmentation. The sea lamprey, a jawless fish, can provide unique insights into vertebrate origins owing to its phylogenetic position at the base of the vertebrate tree1, 2, 3. It has been suggested that lamprey may represent an intermediate state where nested Hox expression has not been coupled to the process of hindbrain segmentation4, 5, 6. However, little is known about the regulatory network underlying Hox expression in lamprey or its relationship to hindbrain segmentation. Here, using a novel tool that allows cross-species comparisons of regulatory elements between jawed and jawless vertebrates, we report deep conservation of both upstream regulators and segmental activity of enhancer elements across these distant species. Regulatory regions from diverse gnathostomes drive segmental reporter expression in the lamprey hindbrain and require the same transcriptional inputs (for example, Kreisler (also known as Mafba), Krox20 (also known as Egr2a)) in both lamprey and zebrafish. We find that lamprey hox genes display dynamic segmentally restricted domains of expression; we also isolated a conserved exonic hox2 enhancer from lamprey that drives segmental expression in rhombomeres 2 and 4. Our results show that coupling of Hox gene expression to segmentation of the hindbrain is an ancient trait with origin at the base of vertebrates that probably led to the formation of rhombomeric compartments with an underlying Hox code. (paywall)

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Date: Monday, 15 Sep 2014 14:31

File:A small cup of coffee.JPG Hope no one’s career tanked opposing it. From Phys.org:

In the typical textbook picture, volcanoes, such as those that are forming the Hawaiian islands, erupt when magma gushes out as narrow jets from deep inside Earth. But that picture is wrong, according to a new study from researchers at Caltech and the University of Miami in Florida.

New seismology data are now confirming that such narrow jets don’t actually exist, says Don Anderson, the Eleanor and John R. McMillian Professor of Geophysics, Emeritus, at Caltech. In fact, he adds, basic physics doesn’t support the presence of these jets, called mantle plumes, and the new results corroborate those fundamental ideas.

“Mantle plumes have never had a sound physical or logical basis,” Anderson says. “They are akin to Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’ about how giraffes got their long necks.”

Goodness! What big theory in biology does the giraffe’s neck remind us of?*

Anyway,

But now, thanks in part to more seismic stations spaced closer together and improved theory, analysis of the planet’s seismology is good enough to confirm that there are no narrow mantle plumes, Anderson and Natland say. Instead, data reveal that there are large, slow, upward-moving chunks of mantle a thousand kilometers wide.

“What’s new is incredibly simple: upwellings in the mantle are thousands of kilometers across,” Anderson says. The formation of volcanoes then follows from plate tectonics—the theory of how Earth’s plates move and behave. Magma, which is less dense than the surrounding mantle, rises until it reaches the bottom of the plates or fissures that run through them. Stresses in the plates, cracks, and other tectonic forces can squeeze the magma out, like how water is squeezed out of a sponge. That magma then erupts out of the surface as volcanoes. The magma comes from within the upper 200 kilometers of the mantle and not thousands of kilometers deep, as the mantle-plume theory suggests.

Here’s the significance:

Lord Kelvin’s name is associated with the laws of thermodynamics and the cooling Earth hypothesis. The widely accepted mantle plume conjecture has been justified by experiments and calculations that violate the laws of thermodynamics for an isolated cooling planet. Hotspots such as Hawaii, Samoa, Iceland, and Yellowstone are due to a thermal bump in the shallow mantle, a consequence of the cooling of the Earth. They are not due to ~100- to 200-km-wide tubes extending upward from fixed points near the Earth’s core. Seismic imaging shows that features associated with hotspots are thousands of kilometers across, and inferred ascent rates are low. Plate tectonic-induced updrafts and a cooling planet explain hotspots and the volcanoes at oceanic ridges. (Abstract follows; public access)

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*Remember, Darwinism is not evolution. It is a theory of a mechanism for evolution. Natural selection is objectified as a force that creates complex, specified information from random mutations. That is the Darwinian creed. It’s false, but a vast academic science industry now depends on it (Besides, it is easy for TV presenters to teach.)


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Date: Monday, 15 Sep 2014 09:40

I had originally intended to post this in the comment thread to my first article here as a guest author, titled, Does It Matter What We Believe About Morality? In the end, however, it turned out to be sufficiently long and detailed that it seemed to warrant a new original post. If it’s preferred that this type of thing simply stay in the comments section then please let me know for future reference.

In comment #39 for that article, Popperian made some thoughtful contributions. This is a reply to that comment, with most of his original text reproduced for reference.

—————————————-

Popperian, you said:

 

Think of it this way…

Before one could actually apply any set of objective moral principles, wouldn’t this necessitate a way by which one could actually know what those objective moral principles are?

I would say that before one could intentionally apply any given objective moral principle (or truth) in a correct way, the person would first need to know what that moral principle was. But it would not be necessary for a person to perfectly grasp all objective moral truths before they could intentionally and correctly apply any of them. Of course, it is also the case that someone could happen to act in accord with an objective moral truth without necessarily knowing that it is a moral truth, and even if they are not specifically trying to act in accord with some moral truth for its own sake.

In other words, on the view that objective morality exists, people can act in accord with moral truths regardless of whether they know those truths or care to act in accord with them, because there are objective moral truths that exist to be acted in accord with (Moral Ontology) whether people know them or not (Moral Epistemology).

 

[HeKS: As for the truth of the existence of objective morality, I’m of the opinion that belief in objective morality is properly basic, in the same way that it’s properly basic to believe in the existence of external minds and the reality of the past.]

This appears to be a sort of foundationalism. However, one major criticism of foundationalism is that where one chooses to stop, and therefore what one choose to consider not subject to criticism, is arbitrary.

But I never said that a properly basic belief in objective morality is not subject to criticism. If I thought it was immune to any criticism as a result of thinking it is properly basic then I wouldn’t have bothered to address the common arguments / criticisms that are leveled against it, such as the one offered by Acartia_bogart.

 

So, rather than having basic and non-basic beliefs, a better, simpler explanation is that we adopt ideas that we do not have significant criticism of. And, I’m suggesting that moral ideas are subject to this same process of rational criticism, just like all other ideas.

Believe it or not, I think that might be going too easy on basic beliefs if we accept as basic (or what I’m calling basic) any idea for which we haven’t happened to have heard any significant criticism, though maybe I’m misunderstanding you.

First of all, I think we should try to criticize our own basic beliefs, but what I think seems like a reasonable criteria for a basic belief is one that seems to be coherent, that seems to make sense of, at a deep level, the breadth of the human experience, that seems to result from the deeply held rational intuition of humanity in general, that is not logically incompatible with other properly basic beliefs, and that does not face any logical defeaters (which would show that it necessarily fails at least one of the previous criteria), but which can, nonetheless, not be proven to be true, at least in isolation, by a purely deductive argument or through incontrovertible tangible evidence.

 

IOW, conjecture and criticism, in one form or another, is our best, current explanation for the universal growth of knowledge in brains, books and even genes.

This claim, at least in part or if taken as absolute, seems to assume the non-existence of God, or at least that if God exists he has not, does not or could not communicate knowledge to humans. Still, this point may be moot, because you seem to be trying to convince me that a belief in objective morality ought to be subject to criticism, which is something I’ve never denied.

In one of my comments I offered this quote from atheist Peter Cave:

“Whatever sceptical arguments may be brought against our belief that killing the innocent is morally wrong, we are more certain that the killing is morally wrong than that the argument is sound… Torturing an innocent child for the sheer fun of it is morally wrong. Full stop.

In response, you said:

 

As pointed out, we cannot positively justify any moral principle, but we can criticize the idea of torturing an innocent child and discard it.

First, I think I would be more inclined to say that we cannot, in isolation, deductively prove the truth of any given moral principle. I’m not so sure we can’t “positively justify” any objective moral principle as part of a larger picture and argument that includes God’s existence.

That said, I’m not sure how you think we can criticize the idea of torturing an innocent child and discard it without assuming the existence of objective moral truths. You could discard it as something that doesn’t personally appeal to you, but you couldn’t discard it as something that is objectively wrong such that there would be any basis for compelling someone else not to do it.

Of course, you could try to argue, as many do, that torturing children for fun is not helpful to the progress and survival of society or humanity as a whole and so it shouldn’t be done, but arguments of this kind are fraught with problems.

For example, perhaps the most obvious problem is that there’s not much reason to think that such actions would have any long-reaching effect on society or humanity as a whole if they were relatively rare, which means that this utilitarian standard (“it’s not good for the progress and survival of society and humanity”) would still fail to identify any given case of torturing a child, or of doing anything else, as being wrong under the guiding principles of the moral system. And hey, if the child survives he might even go on to reproduce. No harm, no foul.

To address this deficiency, people sometimes resort to the idea that we can identify something as being morally wrong in this kind of utilitarian system simply by measuring the moral value of an action against the question, “What if everyone did that?” Sure, it’s hyperbolic, but it’s an attempt at a consistent measure in a pinch. Well, when we measure child-torture against that question, I suppose we can agree that if everyone in society was committed to torturing children for fun, society would probably go downhill quite a bit, though it’s certainly possible that society and humanity as a whole might still survive, grim though it may be, provided the torture didn’t go on too long and the majority of children survived to reproduce. It’s amazing what people can get used to.

Of course, even those who propose the idea of determining what is morally right and wrong in light of such hyperbolic considerations tend to quickly shrink back from its implications. Why? Well, even though the possibility exists that society and humanity might ultimately survive in some way even if everyone was committed to the torture (but not murder) of children for fun, society and humanity would have no chance of getting off so easy if we ask this question about the practice of homosexuality and abortion. If everyone was committed to the practice of homosexuality and to aborting babies, society would crumble and humanity, without question, would die off. This puts us in the rather uncomfortable position of having to affirm that, within such a utilitarian moral system governed by the “What if everyone did that?” principle, the practice of homosexuality and abortion would be even more morally abhorrent than the torturing of children for fun. Frankly, I think you’d have difficulty finding many Christians who would agree. The conclusion certainly runs contrary to the modern zeitgeist.

Really, though, there’s a much deeper problem with this moral system, which is that it simply assumes that the continued progress, prosperity and survival of society and humanity as a whole ought to somehow be considered objectively good. But in the absence of objective moral truths there is no rational basis for thinking this is true, as the radical environmentalists calling for the extinction of 90% of the human race would be only too happy to tell you. On what basis could you compel them to agree with your opinions about the value of humanity’s survival? No such basis exists.

You continued:

 

To illustrate, according to the Bible, God also supposedly punishes women by causing their womb to miscarriage, drowned children in the flood, threaten to kill all the first born in Egypt if the Israelites are not released, but then hardens the heart of the Pharaoh and makes good on his promise, teaches the use of a “bitter water” as a sort test/punishment to abort a fetus conceived through infidelity and commands the death of children and non-virgin women of peoples that are “enemies” of his chosen people.

However, given current day knowledge of the impact of those choices on people, would we accept this sort of behavior today from, well, anyone?

Rather than addressing each of your Biblical examples in detail to consider whether you have accurately understood and represented them and their context [1], I’m going to stay focused on the topic of the original article and point out that even if we allow that you are correct in your understanding and presentation of these issues, the fact remains that if objective moral truths do not exist, you would have no rational basis for not accepting this or any other sort of behavior from anyone anyway. You could dislike it. You could come up with arbitrary rules to prevent it. But you could never come up with any rational basis for claiming that someone who chooses to ignore those rules has done anything truly wrong. Nor could you come up with any rational basis for why anyone should feel compelled to agree with your arbitrary rules or the underlying philosophy on which they might be based.

 

The best explanation for moral progress is that we guess about which responses we could make in a given situation, guess which of those are the most moral, then criticize them. It’s an iterative, error correcting process, not a process of justification.

What you don’t seem to understand is that if objective moral values, duties and truths do not actually exist, then everything you just wrote is incoherent.

In order to make progress there needs to exist an actual destination and an objectively correct direction of travel. If objective moral truths don’t exist, then the concept of moral progress is simply incoherent. We could make moral change, but we could never make actual moral progress because there is nothing to progress towards and no correct direction or path upon which to travel.

It is also incoherent to talk about guessing which human responses are “most moral”. What does that even mean if objective moral truths don’t exist? Trying to guess at which responses are “most moral” would be like trying to guess at which lion in the zoo feels most guilty about the fat content of its lunch, or which rock in the park loves its children the most. They are merely words strung together without any coherent connection to reality. It’s simple nonsense.

And, again, it’s incoherent to talk about changes in a moral system as being “an iterative, error-correcting process” if objective moral truths don’t exist. In their absence, there can be no such thing as moral error, and so there can be no such thing as moral error-correction.

 

In fact, I’d suggest that the idea that we have somehow have obtained one, unchanging set of moral principles is, in of itself, immoral as It doesn’t take into account what we know, or the lack there of, and changing conditions, etc.

Without objective moral values and duties, the concept of “immoral” is incoherent. You cannot make an objectively true value judgment about any thing or action if objective moral values and duties don’t really exist. Why should we take into account what we know or don’t know? Why should we account for changing conditions? Your argument hinges on the implied validity of ought statements but you have no rational basis for insisting that any oughts whatsoever really exist.

 

To deny that we can make progress is bad philosophy.

Funny, and here I thought that incoherence and logical absurdity was bad philosophy.

 

Evil is the lack of knowledge because the laws of physics are really not that onerous to what we really want.

If objective moral truths don’t exist, nothing is evil. Things might be disliked, annoying, contrary to personal tastes, etc., but certainly not evil.

 

For example, as far as we know, the laws of physics do not prohibit the transfer of an unwanted fetus into a woman who wants a child or even creating an artificial womb. As such the only thing preventing us from doing so is knowing how. This is not to say this wouldn’t lead to new problems to solve, but it would render abortion unnecessary.

Why doesn’t God, being all knowing, divinely reveal the knowledge of how to do these things, avoiding the problem all together; as opposed to merely divinely revealing not to abort children, which he would have done quite poorly. If God supposedly “programmed” us to already objectively know not to abort children anyway, why repeat the same thing, rather than provide a soluiton?

I’m sorry, but this is simply absurd. You are trying to argue that abortion becomes necessary simply because a pregnancy is unwanted and that God therefore ought (there’s that word again) to reveal to humans some kind of amazing technology so that a mother’s will need never be made subject to another human’s right to life. The fact that a woman who becomes pregnant decides she doesn’t want the child does not make the abortion of that child necessary. She could carry the child to term and then make arrangements for the child to be placed in someone else’s care. But even if this whole argument weren’t absurd, there would be no grounds for saying God ought to do anything at all if objective moral values and duties didn’t really exist.

 

Having set out to actually solve this problem and, by the sweat of our own brows, create the knowledge of how to solve it, wouldn’t that make us more moral than God?

What is this “problem” you speak of? If objective moral truths, values and duties don’t truly exist then the state of any moral system at any point in time can never be a problem. There is nothing to solve. There’s no problem and no solution because there’s no objective reality to act as an ultimate standard. A moral system simply is what it is. Others will be different. But one will never be objectively better or worse than another. How can not solving a moral problem that doesn’t exist make us more moral than God? And how can anyone be more moral than anyone else? None of these statements make any sense if objective moral truths don’t exist.

Of course, then there’s the fact that if objective moral truths do exist, they must be grounded in God, in the very nature of what he is, and moral values and duties stem from his commands, which are necessarily consistent with his nature. If this is the case, then the very concept of being more moral than God is utterly incoherent.

And, well, if you decide that maybe you do believe in the existence of objective moral truths, values and duties but you think they can be grounded in something other than God, then you must jump on the bandwagon with Alex Rosenberg and the myriad other atheists and materialists who have been trying to find a rational way to ground objective morality in something other than God for the past 150 years.

______________________________
FOOTNOTES:

[1] In spite of not addressing your individual examples in detail, I will make a few comments on this issue.

It is notable that whenever someone seeks to paint God as some kind of moral monster in order to suggest that either objective moral values don’t exist or at least cannot be grounded in God, they universally rely on the Old Testament alone. They have precious little and not very harsh criticism to offer of the moral model set forth in the New Testament. But why is this? It is, after all, the same God in both the Old and New Testament, as the NT informs us repeatedly.

Well, if we’re interested in getting anything even resembling an accurate understanding of this matter, we need to ask ourselves whether there were any underlying factors to explain the different requirements set out for God’s people in those different time periods. And, as it happens, there are at least two significant ones that should immediately come to mind.

First, in OT times, the ransom to make possible the forgiveness of sins on the part of imperfect humans had not yet been paid by Christ. As I said in my original article, part of the point of the Mosaic Law was to make the Jewish people understand just how much that ransom was needed. Why? Because, as Romans 6:23 says, “The wages sin pays is death”.

Second, the Jewish people were in a very unique position. They were a people selected out of the nations for a special purpose, to participate in a covenant arrangement with God in order to receive a lofty gift and privilege. Consider the passage in Exodus 19:3-8:

Then Moses went up to the true God, and Jehovah called to him from the mountain, saying: “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and to tell the Israelites, ‘You have seen for yourselves what I did to the Egyptians, in order to carry you on wings of eagles and bring you to myself. Now if you will strictly obey my voice and keep my covenant, you will certainly become my special property out of all peoples, for the whole earth belongs to me. You will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you are to say to the Israelites.”

So Moses went and summoned the elders of the people and declared to them all these words that Jehovah had commanded him. After that all the people answered unanimously: “All that Jehovah has spoken, we are willing to do.” Moses immediately took the people’s response to Jehovah.

The Jewish people willingly and unanimously entered into a contract with God, fully informed of its strict moral guidelines and the payment for gross sin. This was not some covenant that was foisted upon them or that they agreed to blindly. They knew what was required of them but also knew of the reward that was promised to them. If they remained faithful and lived in accord with the terms of the contract they would become a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” to God. In order to become that kingdom of priests, however, it was vitally important that they remain morally and spiritually pure, which is why the punishment for immorality, whether of a sexual or spiritual nature, was both severe and swift.

When it came to the action that God had Israel take against other nations, however, it was not because they contravened the strict requirements of the Law Covenant, but because they grossly and continuously violated the “law written in their hearts” (Romans 2:14, 15), having become utterly morally repugnant and corrupted beyond repair. The Canaanites, for example, routinely burned babies alive as sacrifices to their gods.

God didn’t take any pleasure in the destruction of these people, though. Consider Ezekiel 33:11.

“Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways!’

Many of these nations simply refused to turn from their wicked ways, and when they reached their fullest potential for moral destitution, God sent Israel against them, though, as we see with the Canaanites, the primary purpose of the military action was to drive them out the land and away from any close contact with Israel. Plenty of warning was provided to these nations and the Israelites didn’t hunt down and kill those who chose to flee. Rather, they killed only those that chose to stay and fight. Furthermore, when peoples of these nations agreed to change their ways and asked for mercy, that mercy was granted to them. The militaristic language of ‘killing everyone that breathed, man, woman and child’ was often hyperbolic, as was common for that time and place, and we often see that there were, in fact, plenty of survivors.

Trying to second guess God’s moral decisions and commands is inherently problematic, if not completely incoherent. Even if we were to assume that the often hyperbolic language used in this context was actually literally fulfilled, we can only look at the situation from our modern and limited perspective. Whenever humans make the choice to kill large numbers of people, there is inevitably collateral damage, if there’s even any specific target at all rather than just an attempt to wipe out everyone alive. Such choices are always made for the benefit of the person making the choice, in line with their own selfish desires or skewed ideologies. But even if their motives were somehow just, humans simply don’t have the capacity to read the hearts of people, foresee future outcomes, and identify precisely the correct point in time when moving against a large group will result in an outcome that is just and without collateral damage.

God does not have the aforementioned limitations. God acts to wipe out what is objectively evil and he does so at a time that is appropriate, when the moral degradation of a society has reached its zenith, which sometimes only comes hundreds of years after the warning is initially issued to them. When it came time for God to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he told Abraham that if there were even just 10 righteous people among all the wicked ones, he would spare the cities. Why should we think, then, that he would have Israel move decisively against wicked nations at a time and in a way that would have them “sweep away the righteous with the wicked”? (Gen. 18:23) Scripturally, we have every reason for thinking that he would not do that. When a human attempts to look back across thousands of years to a time and place utterly foreign to our modern circumstances in order to second-guess the morality and actions of the very Being who grounds moral values and duties, the result is bound to be hopelessly arrogant and ill-informed. Such judgments can only hold any weight if we operate under the assumption that God’s insight into a matter and power to control its outcome are as limited as our own and if we assume that because the moral judgments of modern society are different than the ones at work back then, the modern ones must be  better simply as a result of being newer. This is a fallacy often referred to as “Chronological Snobbery” or “The Appeal to Novelty”. I tend to just call it “The Modernism Fallacy”. It essentially holds that change itself is identical with progress. In the current context it leads to the belief that modern moral opinions and value judgments are inherently better than older ones specifically because they are modern, and so moral change is to be considered identical with moral progress. The reality of the matter, however, is that when it comes to morality, modernity can offer something different, but it can offer no rational basis for claiming that what it offers is objectively better. It can offer no objective moral value for any person or thing, nor can it rationally compel any person to do what is good or to avoid what is bad.

 


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Author: "HeKS" Tags: "Atheism, Darwinist debate/rhetorical tac..."
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Date: Monday, 15 Sep 2014 04:43

Why is it that the same structures in similar species are constructed, during embryonic development, in different ways? Why is it that the master control genes which direct the embryonic development of complex structures, such as the eye, must have arisen long before those complex structures arose, if evolution is true? One might have thought that the much celebrated field of evodevo (the study of the evolution of embryonic development) might have resolved such thorny questions. Instead it seems to have simply raised more questions about evolutionary theory. In fact one recent review reads like something out of the Intelligent Design movement:  Read more


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Author: "Cornelius Hunter" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Monday, 15 Sep 2014 00:06

MichaelJBehe Irreducible complexity

Using examples of bacterial motors, cilia, vision, cellular transport, and more, Dr. Michael Behe explains why Darwinian gradualism fails to explain the origin of molecular machines. Through the incorporation of computer animations, this video brings Dr. Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, to life.

See also: Edge of Evolution

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Date: Sunday, 14 Sep 2014 22:06

Conservation of Information in Evolutionary Search by William Dembski

Here’s Jerry “Why Evolution Is True” Coyne advance complaining about it.

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Date: Sunday, 14 Sep 2014 21:49

Darwin's Doubt Over at Evolution News & Views, David Klinghoffer is pleased to note that Biologos’Senior Advisor for Dialog Darrel Falk has some words of praise for Steve Meyer’s book, Darwin’s Doubt. Klinghoffer is naturally pleased to know that people there have stopped trashing the book long enough to read and think about it.

Always a good idea when a book has often been found in the top ten in its field for over a year.

Anyway, Klinghoffer (who is a much nicer person than O’Leary for News) writes, re Falk here and here:

In inferring design, however, Falk writes, “I think [Meyer is] wrong, of course.”

And:

So have I softened on Intelligent Design as a scientific endeavor? I don’t think so, but I have grown to appreciate the skill and the sincerity of various individuals I have met in the ID movement over the last five years.

So he thinks Meyer and co. are competent and not deceiving anyone. Clearly he didn’t run that one past the Thumbsmen (Panda’s Thumb).

Nevertheless, for Dr. Falk at least, Darwin’s Doubt is a breakthrough. While still rejecting the evidence for design presented in previous books about ID by Meyer, Behe, and others, he warmly praises the scientific argument in the book, identifies no fault in its presentation of the relevant science, and, significantly, takes issue with his colleague Robert Bishop’s denial that biologists are having second thoughts about Darwinian theory. More.

Okay, but why are the BioLogians still even bothering with the opinions of someone who hasn’t noticed all the ferment around Darwin’s theory? Just the uproar around E.O. Wilson alone would take some unpacking. Then there was Dmanisi last October … And horizontal gene transfer

File:A small cup of coffee.JPG If the ID guys all retired and left no successors, the evolution industry built around Darwin would still be pretty shaky.

And I’ve never heard an intellectually satisfying explanation of why Christians in particular need Darwin to be right anyway? What’s it to Christians if he was wrong? Readers?

See also: If anyone cares, Biologos (Christians for Darwin) will now actually review Darwin’s Doubt

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Date: Sunday, 14 Sep 2014 12:47

We’ll let him tell it:

“I ran into Shermer in the hallway,” Smith said recently, speaking publicly for the first time about what happened that night. They began talking, and he invited her to a Scotch and cigar party at the Caesars Palace hotel. “He was talking about future articles we could write, and he mentioned this party and asked if I could come, and I said yes.” At the party, they began downing drinks. “At some point,” Smith said, “I realized he wasn’t drinking them; he was hiding them underneath the table and pretending to drink them. I was drunk. After that, it all gets kind of blurry. I started to walk back to my hotel room, and he followed me and caught up with me.”

On their way from Caesars to the Flamingo, where they were both staying, she chatted briefly with a friend on her mobile phone, she told me. They got to the Flamingo. “He offered to walk me back to my room, but walked me to his instead. I don’t have a clear memory of what happened after that. I know we had sex.” She remembers calling a friend from an elevator after leaving his room. “I was in the elevator, but didn’t know what hotel.”

Over the next couple days, word spread around the convention that they had hooked up — whether the rumors began with what she told people, what he told people, or what others oversaw, it isn’t clear. Shermer went into damage-control mode. More.

Or less, maybe.

A while back, we ran a story about some stuff like this, here.

In case you wondered, you really were better off in adult Sunday School, arguing about whether God is timeless. Go back now. That’ll never end up in court. This stuff might.

See also: Fun for philosophers: Is God in time or not? (If you want something more uplifting)

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Date: Sunday, 14 Sep 2014 12:41

That’s religious studies, presumably, except applied to secularists. Here, and it’s just not clear what the solution is:

Talking imprecisely about secularism is now an American rhetorical tradition. Politicians, policy makers, and journalists routinely deploy the term without really knowing—or caring—what it connotes. This is bad for us and for them, since secularism is germane to so many domestic- and foreign-policy problems. Is it appropriate for an elected official to invoke God in public? Can censorship be justified in deference to the feelings of the faithful? How can nonbelievers be accorded equal rights under the law? Does one country have a moral obligation to assure that there is “religious freedom” in another? What is “religious freedom,” anyway?

As we speak, these concerns are being demagogued into senselessness by our leadership class. This is where we, the Scholars, have a civic contribution to make. We could bring clarity, accuracy, nuance, and, most crucially, balance to the dialogue. That is not because we’re paragons of objectivity (we’re not). Rather, normal scholarly practices and conventions—things like footnotes, mastery of the bibliography, addressing opinions we don’t agree with—usually keep our passions in check.

But something is adrift in the burgeoning field of secular studies. Where there should be clarity, there is obscurantism. Where a modicum of professorial disinterest should prevail, political and religious passions run amok. Where there should be engagement across schools of thought, there are academic tribalism and its attendant rituals of clan idolatry. As a result, scholarly thought on secularism is sometimes even more confused than its political counterpart is. More.

We could always interview those guys who have been beheaded by “secular” groups—no wait, we can’t.

Naturalism doesn’t seem any help at all, really, either. See story above in news queue.

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Date: Sunday, 14 Sep 2014 12:19

Readers may recall that we have sometimes addressed the reasons that there cannot be a past infinity of time fort his universe, whether positive or negative (minus numbers).

It is more of a logic issue than a science issue: We would have been buried an infinity of time ago under the weight of all the events that had already occurred. One outcome is that most theorists who entertain the idea of an infinite universe in the past assume that there were previous universes (whose data gets wiped instead of cumulated).

But what about divine timelessness, the idea that God is not in time? Lydia McGrew explains and defends the idea, disagreeing with William Lane Craig:

We have seen above that anyone who holds that time had a beginning must have a somewhat counterintuitive notion of “beginning.” But what Craig says here goes well beyond that. At least when we say that time had a beginning we are not forced to say that an existing entity, the universe, changed from not existing to existing. What Craig here asserts is that God Himself underwent a change but that that change did not occur in any timestream whatsoever, since it was a change from not being in time to being in time. What could this mean? At a minimum, a change seems to require that an entity has existed at two different points in some timestream and has had one set of properties (though perhaps only relational properties) at one point and a different set of properties at a different point. But the change from being timeless to being in time cannot be of this sort, so what is the meaning of “change” as Craig is using it here?

The apparent incoherence is especially evident when Craig says, “[A]t the first moment of time, God stands in a new relation in which He did not stand before (since there was no ‘before’).” Since, as Craig says, there could be no “before” in this scenario, in what sense is the relation new? Craig says that God did not stand in this relation before, but he does not mean that claim in the sense that is necessary for a change or something new. We can argue from “God did not stand in this relation before” and “God stands in this relation now” to “this relation was new at some point” only if we are saying that there actually was a time before God stood in the present relation. To say that the very concept of “before” is meaningless in the scenario envisaged is to remove all the meaning from the claim that God entered into a new relation at the creation of the world and hence that the creation constituted a change in God. I can see no way for Craig consistently to maintain both that God is timeless sans creation and that God underwent a change at creation.

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Date: Sunday, 14 Sep 2014 12:13

new paperwas published last week on a remarkable single-celled organism,Oxytricha trifallax, that has two nucleus’ and 16,000 chromosomes (recall that humans have 46). The organism uses one nucleus to store its active DNA and the other nucleus to store an archive of the genome. Amazingly, Oxytricha trifallax, disassembles the archived copy into a quarter-million pieces and then rapidly reassembles them into a new and improved version. This reassembly occurs at mating time as the organism and its mate exchange about half their genome.  Read more


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Author: "Cornelius Hunter" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Sunday, 14 Sep 2014 07:55

It is interesting that evolutionists, who believe they came from primitive apes, display a certain primitive thought in their communications. The latest example is an evolutionist who criticized a book skeptical of evolution. The book made the point that fundamentally new genes are unlikely to have evolved by the usual random change and natural selection mechanisms. The book elaborated on this problem at length. But the evolutionist retorted that this was all wrong:  Read more


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Author: "Cornelius Hunter" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Sunday, 14 Sep 2014 05:40

Thank you to all who contributed to my recent request for comments. There were many excellent comments, and I have attempted to synthesize them into a WAC. (BTW, I like WJM’s name for the syndrome better than my own and have switched to it). Here is the WAC:

Definition Deficit Disorder

Definition Deficit Disorder (“DDD”), also known as the “me no speaka the English distraction” and “definition derby” is a form of sophistry by obfuscation that demands that one’s opponent fulfil unreasonable or even impossible definitional criteria, not to advance the debate but to avoid the debate by claiming one’s opponent cannot adequately define their terms.

An example:

ID advocate: Intelligent design theory asserts chance causes cannot account for the generation of novel macroevolutionary features and that the best explanation for complex, functionally specified information beyond a reasonable chance threshold is the “artifact of an intelligent agent.

ID opponent: What do you mean by the terms “intelligent,” “design,” “chance,” “complex,” “functional,” “specified” and “information.” These terms are so vague as to render your argument meaningless.

One can be certain that DDD is being employed when a person involved in a debate displays a convenient lapse of understanding of even the most common terms. In extreme cases ID opponents have even claimed that a term they themselves injected into the debate has no clear meaning. The following is an actual case:

ID opponent. Since humans are not inherently superior to other organisms there is little point to this subject.

ID supporter: I suppose next you’ll assert that it is a scientific fact . . . that humans are not inherently superior to other organisms.

ID opponent: That depends on how you define superior. . . .If you can’t adequately define a term that is central to your argument, then maybe you should reevaluate your argument.

Notice that it was the ID opponent who inserted the term “superior” into the debate. When the ID supporter challenged him, the ID opponent immediately resorted to DDD by claiming the term he had just used has no clear definition.

Here is a classic response to DDD by ID supporter Upright Biped:

“I have no desire to play definition derby with an ideologue . . . when an ideologue rolls up and overplays his position by taking every opportunity to position the argument as incomprehensible, I rightly call [BS] on it. That’s a classic defensive maneuver which is intentionally irresolvable for the purposes of generating rhetoric. It’s the intellectual carcass from defending a weak position.”


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Author: "Barry Arrington" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Saturday, 13 Sep 2014 22:29

Being as Communion

Which we covered here: Applying information theory to the origin of life?, where Adami said,

“The information-theoretic musings I have presented here should convince even the skeptics that, within an environment that produces monomers at relative ratios not too far from those found in a self-replicator, the probabilities can move very much in favour of spontaneous emergence of life,” concludes Adami.

Dembski replies,

The probabilities can move very much in favour of spontaneous emergence of life provided you introduce a search that makes the probabilities high (as by Adami’s “simplifying assumptions”).

Yeah.

Sort of like Martha Stewart does everything better than me, except I never get to see her army of frazzled assistants. For all I know, maybe she doesn’t either.

By the way, here’s more on Dembski’s book, Being as Communion. I’ve read it; it’s a game-changer. Order now if you can stand Brit ship hassle. – O’Leary for News

See The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (origin of life) for a rundown on why no naturalist origin of life theory works.

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Date: Saturday, 13 Sep 2014 22:02

Here:

In this public lecture at the University of California, Irvine, Professor Phillip E. Johnson explains how ambiguous terminology, faulty assumptions, and questionable rules of reasoning have transformed a theory which explains minor evolutionary change into a dogmatic naturalistic religion.

More on Phillip E. Johnson, the founder of the modern ID movement.

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