Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Do the right thing; Or… should we?

In recent discussions regarding the existence of transcendent morality I have brought up the issue of “ought,” or “should,” and how it relates to the choices made by humans. Paul, one of my gracious critics, has presented an argument which, while I consider to be logically flawed, is interesting nonetheless. If I understand his argument correctly, he is essentially stating that my discussion of the “oughtness” of an action is irrelevant. For example, in my post critiquing the National Geographic article Was Darwin Wrong?, I conclude by examining the current research being performed to find a cure for TB. My argument is that if nature is all there is, and that our existence is merely the result of determinism and chance, then there is no reason why we should expend effort on helping other, albeit weaker, humans. My closing question was:
Has he [the author of the article] not considered why we humans should even care whether a weaker member of the species dies off?
Paul responded with, There is no should. Note that besides not answering my question, such a statement attempts to explain away “should” with… should (i.e., the contextual meaning of the statement “There is no should” is no different than, “One should understand that there is no should.”). Upon my questioning why one should believe that “there is no should,” Paul answered with,
You believe it, or you don't believe it. There's still no should.
Perhaps I don’t fully understand such a statement, for I find it to be nothing more than an irrational, baseless assertion (not unlike stating “There is a Santa Claus.”). It appears to attempt to link up the act of belief in the oughtness of helping other humans with, say, the act of belief in the law of gravity. However, choosing to believe or not believe in the law of gravity has no bearing on its existence. Similarly, whether I choose to believe or not believe that I should help others does not tell me if “should” exists. In an attempt to take the “there is no should” thinking forward to its logical conclusion I proposed that I call Paul’s “bluff” and posit that instead of advocating the helping of TB patients, I would advocate that we forcibly enlist them into scientific research programs. After all, so the reasoning would go, if there is no should, then what reason could there be to oppose such an action? Paul responded with,
Please feel free to call the bluff. Perform the experiments, get put in prison or put to death. That's your choice.
I think the error in this reply is that he still considers “choice” to be an integral part of whether or not “should” exists. It does not. I’ve never questioned whether he, I, or anyone else has a choice in the matter. What should be quite evident from the answers he gives is that his worldview is powerless in determining whether the actions of Hitler were wrong and those of Mother Theresa were right. According to the "there is no should" line of reasoning, there is no reason why we should value Mother Theresa over Adolf Hitler, or vice versa. I want to be very clear on this point – To advocate that there is no “should” - in the sense of “should” we help another human in need? - logically mandates that there is no difference between that of helping the needy and that of cannibalizing them. Can there be no greater banner with which to promote Naturalism? Further ref: Evolution Can't Explain Morality and Did Morals Evolve? - by Greg Koukl

Monday, November 29, 2004

Rev. Mike lands back on Earth...

Back in January I wrote several posts criticizing the Emergent Church movement for linking up with some of the tenets of Post Modernism (see Emergent Church, How 'bout some Em-pathy?, What is Po-Mo?, and Those PoFolks at PoMo). Rev. Mike appeared to be sympathetic with the movement (although I was never truly convinced he was PoMo, as the only photo I've seen of him shows him with neither a tatoo, earring, or cigar). Well he's since "turned from the dark side," as his insightful post, Postmodernity is Bunk, attests to.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

“Joy equals us – Toys ‘R’ Us”…

As a boy, C. S. Lewis encountered a fleeting feeling he eventually defined as Joy. From the PBS series, The Question of God:
Lewis: Once in those very early days my brother Warren brought into the nursery a box, which he had covered with moss and garnished with twigs and flowers. That was the first beauty I ever knew. It made me aware of nature — as something cool, dewy, fresh, exuberant. Everything seems like a dream, anything seems possible, and all sorts of ideas float through your mind. It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure, something, as they would now say, in another dimension. It was a sensation of desire. But before I knew what I desired, the desire was gone ... the world turned commonplace again. Narrator: Throughout his life, Lewis would often remember the feeling aroused in him by the toy garden. He named that feeling Joy.
From his autobiography, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life,
...The great error is to mistake this mere sediment or track or by-product for the activities themselves. That is how men may come to believe that thought is only unspoken words, or the appreciation of poetry only a collection of mental pictures, when these in reality are what the thought of the appreciation, when interrupted, leave behind — like the swell at sea, working after the wind has dropped. Not, of course, that these activities, before we stopped them by introspection, were unconscious. We do not love, fear, or think without knowing it. Instead of the twofold division into Conscious and Unconscious, the Enjoyed, and the Contemplated. This discovery flashed a new light back on my whole life. I saw that all my waitings and watchings for Joy, all my vain hopes to find some mental content on which I could, so to speak, lay my finger and say "This is it," had been a futile attempt to contemplate the enjoyed. All that such watching and waiting ever could find would be either an image (Asgard, the Western Garden, or what not) or a quiver in the diaphragm. I should never have to bother again about these images or sensations. I knew now that they were merely the mental track left by the passage of Joy — not the wave but the wave's imprint on the sand. The inherent dialectic of desire itself had in a way already shown me this; for all images and sensations, if idolatrously mistaken for Joy itself, soon honestly confessed themselves inadequate. All said, in the last resort, "It is not I. I am only a reminder. Look! Look! What do I remind you of?" So far, so good. But it is at the next step that awe overtakes me. There was no doubt that Joy was a desire (and, in so far as it was also simultaneously a good, it was also a kind of love). But a desire is turned not to itself but to its object. Not only that, but it owes all its character to its object. Erotic love is not like desire for food, nay, a love for one woman differs from a love for another woman in the very same way and the very same degree as the two women differ from one another. Even our desire for one wine differs in tone from our desire for another. Our intellectual desire (curiosity) to know the true answer to a question is quite different from our desire to find that one answer, rather than another, is true. The form of the desired is in the desire. It is the object which makes the desire harsh or sweet, coarse or choice, "high" or "low." It is the object that makes the desire itself desirable or hateful. I perceived (and this was a wonder of wonders) that just as I had been wrong in supposing that I really desired the Garden of the Hesperides, so also I had been equally wrong in supposing that I desired Joy itself. Joy itself, considered simply as an event in my own mind, turned out to be of no value at all. All the value lay in that of which Joy was the desiring. And that object, quite clearly, was no state of my own mind or body at all. In a way, I had proved this by elimination. I had tried everything in my own mind and body; as it were, asking myself, "Is it this you want? Is it this?" Last of all I had asked if Joy itself was what I wanted; and labeling it "aesthetic experience," had pretended I could answer Yes. But that answer too had broken down. Inexorably Joy proclaimed, "You want — I myself am your want of — something other, outside, not you nor any state of you." I did not yet ask, Who is the desired? Only What is it? But this brought me already into the region of awe, for I thus understood that in deepest solitude there is a road right out of the self, a commerce with something which, by refusing to identify itself with any object of the senses, or anything whereof we have biological or social need, or anything imagined, or any state of our own minds, proclaims itself sheerly objective. Far more objective than bodies, for it is not, like them, clothed in our senses; the naked Other, imageless (though our imagination salutes it with a hundred images), unknown, undefined, desired.
Enter the Christmas 2004 season and the materialistic onslaught of... Toys 'R' Us. I saw their most recent commercial on TV last night. A description, from Brandweek:
As sentimental music swells to a crescendo, we get closeup shots of small fry enjoying trains, planes, dolls, drums, cars, Woody from Toy Story and other goodies. A voiceover relates: "What is joy? Joy is an uncontrollable expression that forms in an instant and lasts a lifetime. Toys bring joy." More music. More shots of kids. More voiceover: "Just as we hold toys, toys hold us. There's a perfect toy for every kid and a perfect kid for every toy. Every wonderful, glorious toy. Because toys equal joy and joy equals us—Toys 'R' Us." (emphasis added)
The rumbling you hear in Oxfordshire, England, at The Kilns, is the sound of Lewis turning over in his grave. Note: This topic is also covered at Beck.

Friday, November 19, 2004

The Nice Guy syndrome: Why do we choose to relate to God?…

Does it matter whether or not God is fair? I recently heard a preacher make a statement along the lines of, “I wouldn’t want to serve a God who was unjust.” The fact that he found God to be just was, evidently, but one of the reasons that caused him to put his faith in God. Conversely, when discussing the concept of relative morality, I have had critics take issue with what they consider to be God’s unjust or evil nature – the implication being that such a God is unworthy of their allegiance. But when it comes to acknowledging who God is, does it really matter what His disposition is? Do we see any Biblical examples of people choosing to follow God solely, or primarily, because they consider Him just? Or do we see examples of people acknowledging that God is the Creator of all there is and that, as such, there is an inherent obligation owed to Him? I would argue that it is the latter. J. Budzsizewski seems to argue as much in his book, What We Can’t Not Know, when he discusses the basis of the first five of the Ten Commandments (i.e., the First Tablet). He writes,
The point of the First Commandment is that the one true God, and only the one true God, is to be worshipped as God. To hold that this biblical injunction belongs equally to the natural law is to hold that although not everyone believes the Bible as the word of God, everyone does know that there is one true God and that he owes Him sole worship. If this is true, then those who say they don't know of any such God are fooling themselves, and biblical revelation merely "blows their cover." The Commandment presupposes more than just the knowledge that God is real. It presupposes that we also understand that benefit incurs obligation, supreme benefit incurs supreme obligation, and we are indebted to God for benefits beyond all others. This in turn presupposes that we know the principle, "Give to each what is due to him," what we owe God being loyalty, worship, and obedience. To deny Him is the deepest form of treason - much more serious than the ordinary sort.
It is unfortunate that our 21st century Western culture has allowed the church to turn the act of choosing allegiance to God into a decision based on whether or not we think Him to be nice. While the aspect of God’s Love (e.g., Jesus’ discourse in John 14 – 16) should not be overlooked, we must also not lose sight of His true identity – and the fullness it entails. When the thirsty Jill Pole, in C. S. Lewis’ book, The Silver Chair, encountered Aslan the Lion, he stood between her and the cool water she so desperately wanted. He tells her to come and drink. Upon asking if he would promise not to harm her, he replied that he would make no such promise. Upon asking if he would eat her, he cryptically responds that he has swallowed up boys, girls, men, women, and whole cities. That is who He is. Indeed, C. S. Lewis understood well the relationship between God and Man. In describing his turning from an atheist to a theist, he wrote:
In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; that night a most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. (emphasis added)
For further reference, check my post, On a fiendish God.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Do you live near San Antonio, Texas?...

Per Frank Beckwith at Moteworthy.com, Parkhills Baptist Church is hosting an apologetics conference this weekend, Nov. 18 - 20, titled "To Everyone an Answer." The speaker lineup includes, but is not limited to: Frank Beckwith Greg Koukl Craig Hazen William Lane Craig J. P. Moreland Lee Strobel Doug Geivett Jay Richards Ben Witherington Gary Habermas Norm Geisler The icing on the cake is that the conference registration is only $45!

Sunday, November 14, 2004

A hike in the Alps...

"The Schreckhorn" - near Grindelwald, Switzerland (using Fuji Velvia) ©1993 RL

Was Darwin Wrong?...

That’s the title of an article from the November 2004 issue of National Geographic, and it appears not only on the cover, but on the title page of the article itself. Whether intended to be provocative or merely teasing I do not know, but when one turns the page he is presented with an emphatic, one word sentence “NO.” (the font of which is so large that it takes up fully one-third of the page). The next sentence is, The evidence for Evolution is overwhelming. This post is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the article but, instead, a synopsis of the biased manner in which the evolutionary community addresses data. You may want to refer back to a post I wrote in July titled, DarkSyde debate (part 1), in which I discuss the concept of Evolutionary Lensing and the practice of unwarranted extrapolation. I’ve coined the term Evolutionary Lensing to describe the act of viewing a phenomenon through evolutionary spectacles. In other words, the evolutionist is already committed to the fact of evolution when observing the data his research provides. In the article, after linking evolution to Einstein’s relativity theory, as well as the notion that the Earth orbits around the sun, continental drift, and the structure of atoms, we read,
Each of these theories is an explanation that has been confirmed to such a degree, by observation and experiment, that knowledgeable experts accept it as fact.
Besides clouding the judgment of the scientist, “accept[ing] it as fact” provides easy access to the next step of error – that of the unwarranted extrapolation. It should come as no surprise, then, that data which is viewed through the evolutionary paradigm is so readily attributed to the workings of evolution. Indeed, the extrapolated conclusion is, The evidence for Evolution is overwhelming. But let’s take a look at some of the visual evidence presented in the article and see if we can also identify the instances of Evolutionary Lensing and unwarranted extrapolations. The Jacobin pigeon. From the article,
Domestic breeding of fancy pigeons like the Jacobin… was [Darwin’s] analogy for selection in the wild.
Consider that domestic breeding is an phenomenon guided by intelligent action. Why should an activity guided by the intentions of a mind be used as an analogy for a supposedly mindless and purposeless activity of nature? We’re shown an image of a naked mole rat (links to a Macromedia presentation). The text states,
The naked mole rat shows that mammals can evolve, like social insects, to include specialized workers and queens.
If by the phrase, that mammals can evolve, they simply mean “change,” then they have a point. Change within a species is easily observed. But consider that, despite its “evolution,” the naked mole rat is still a mole rat. That it can eventually develop entirely new structures, such as fins instead of legs, is left to the realm of unwarranted extrapolation. A rendering of a flying fish is displayed, and we read,
Although the fish’s wings are rudimentary compared to a bird’s, [Darwin] realized that they derive from the same evolutionary process: They enable the fish to soar to escape predators. (emphasis added)
Note the connection being made here, for it is resplendent within the evolutionary paradigm. Similar structures connote either a similar derivative process or common ancestry, or both. The Madagascan sphinx moth, with its 11 inch long proboscis, is displayed as an example of “coevolution” with that of the Madagascar orchid Angraecum sesquipedale which has an 11 inch long nectar receptacle. From the article,
Such mutual adaptation – moth to the flower, the flower to the moth – is called coevolution.
Such “mutual adaptation,” a phrase inherently biased, could also be called a pre-designed system. Under the heading of Survival and Adaptation: Natural Selection, we read,
Insectivorous plants such as the Venus flytrap occupy nutrient-poor soils, where competition is less severe, and survive by supplementing their diet with captured insects.
Are we to infer that because the Venus flytrap occupies nutrient-poor soils that it survived only because it evolved the ability to eat insects? A skeleton of an orangutan is shown, along with a detail of the bone structure of its hand and that of a human hand. The text,
Similarities of anatomy imply common origins. The orangutan has long arms, but its paired forearm bones resemble the radius and ulna in a human. The orangutan hand is so similar to ours that it might fit in a first-baseman’s mitt. (emphasis added)
Turning the page we see a skeleton of an extinct whalelike creature called Dorudon and read,
Dating back 40 million years, it had a detached pelvis near the end of its tail and useless little legs. Like the human hand, an early whale’s front foot retains a five-fingered bone structure; a vestigial rear foot has lost several toe bones, but its very existence testifies to the whale’s descent from a four-legged ancestor. Illuminating by spotty, the fossil record is like a film of evolution from which 999 of every 1,000 frames have been lost on the cutting-room floor. Still, Gingerich and others have found dozens of intermediate forms – missing links that are no longer missing. (emphasis added)
Intermediate or transitional? Do we gloss over the speed with which a supposedly wolf-like creature evolved into a whale simply because we have fossil evidence of whalelike creatures? Do similarities of structure imply common origin or do they imply common design templates? Look for examples of common templates in the world of intelligently designed objects – they’re all around you. A photo of six dead finches. Notable for the diversified sizes and shapes of their beaks, these finches are presented as evidence for evolution because,
…isolation – plus time, plus adaptation to local conditions – leads to the origin of species. It seemed more logical than assuming they had been created and placed in the Galapagos individually.
Yet a logical analysis of the finches reveals that the changes found insure that they remain finches. Convergent Evolution – we see photos of a Jamaican twig anole, a Puerto Rican twig anole, and the Hispaniolan twig anole. All share a similarity in structure, yet DNA analysis reveals that they are not genetically related to each other. Conclusion? -
…such adaptations have evolved independently on the separate islands. …The lesson: Although variations occur randomly, similar ecological circumstances sometimes yield uncannily similar adaptations.
Evolutionary lensing demands that we only consider evolution as the creator of the phenomenon. Unwarranted extrapolation results in the conclusion, or “lesson,” that uncannily similar adaptations are the product of evolution. In other words: 1) evolution is fact, 2) we see a particular phenomenon, 3) explanation? – Evolution. Finally, we see a photograph of a TB-infected patient, and the heading, Medical Research: How Evolution Touches You. The text,
Bacteria and viruses evolve too. Infectious agents such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, adapt quickly and acquire genetic resistance to drugs.
Rather than point out the blatant Evolutionary Lensing and unwarranted extrapolation in this set of "evidence," I will leave it for the reader to discern. The final sentences of the article succinctly reveal the overarching conclusion we must logically draw from Darwin’s theory.
Peter Kibisov, a former convict in Russia, carries two enduring remnants from his prison time: a Crucifixion tattoo and drug-resistant TB. He hopes God will help him, but evolution-based science is what guides the search for an earthly cure. (emphasis added)
At worst, God is dead; at the very least, he's unnecessary. How interesting it is that the author thinks the research for an earthly TB cure is driven by evolution-based science. Has he not considered why we humans should even care whether a weaker member of the species dies off? UPDATE: The Discovery Institute's Jonathan Wells has a review (of the National Geographic article) titled, National Geographic Ignores The Flaws in Darwin's Theory Also, check Phil Steiger's post, National Geographic and Evolution vs. Intelligent Design, at Every Thought Captive; and thanks to Greg Wallace's link at What Attitude Problem? UPDATE II: Another link / review at Everything I Know Is Wrong, and thanks to Touchstone Magazine's Mere Comments blog for the link.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

That silly superstition called Love...

Check out Jonah Goldberg's The Sore-Loser Party. An excerpt:
Love, in fact, is just as silly and superstitious a concept as God (and for those who believe God is Love, this too is a distinction without a difference). Chesterton's observation that the purely rational man will not marry is just as correct today, because science has done far more damage to the ideal of love than it has done to the notion of an awesome God beyond our ken. Genes, hormones, instincts, evolution: These are the cause for the effect of love in the purely rational man's textbook. But Maher would get few applause lines from his audience of sophisticated yokels if he mocked love as a silly superstition. This is, in part, because the crowd he plays to likes the idea of love while it dislikes the idea of God; and in part because these people feel love, so they think it exists. But such is the extent of their solipsism and narcissism that they not only reject the existence of God but go so far as to mock those who do not, simply because they don't feel Him themselves. And, alas, in elite America, feelings are the only recognized foundation of metaphysics.
Hat tip: Rev. Mike

Monday, November 08, 2004

Jupiter Occultation...

From Earth & Sky,
Today’s chart shows the moon poised above Jupiter in Tuesday morning’s sky, preparing to blot it from view. It’ll be a lovely sky scene -- not to be missed -- for all of us in the U.S.
Tuesday, November 9, 2004 Looking East Before Dawn

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Flores Man update...

Reasons to Believe has broadcast a report on the recent story of the Flores Man discovery. You can access their Creation Update webpage here, and the specific broadcast here. It's a very good summary of the discovery, as well as some of the extrapolations made by the scientific community. They also discuss how it is similar, and not similar, to Homo erectus, including some of the reasons why the scientific community uses evolutionary thinking to drive the conclusion that Flores Man is related to erectus.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Nov. 3rd...

Per CNN article, Regret, no remorse in Kerry's call for unity,
...the junior Massachusetts senator made repeated references to unifying a divided nation that produced only a two percentage point difference in the popular vote for the two presidential candidates. It started when he disclosed the contents of his conversation with the president. "... I offered him and Laura our congratulations on their victory, " Kerry said. "We had a good conversation, and we talked about the danger of division in our country and the need -- the desperate need for unity, for finding the common ground, coming together. Today I hope that we can begin the healing."
Kerry could have contested the results... it must have been incredibly tempting. But he chose to graciously concede. Thank you, Senator John F. Kerry.

Monday, November 01, 2004


"River Reflection" - Tiekel River, AK ©1994 RL