Tag Archives: Carl Sagan

The Dishonesty Of Christian Apologists

When arguing against religion, some atheists are quite willing to jump headfirst into the bottomless pit of bible verse, where Christians twist and shape scripture into whatever meaning is most convenient –but I’m not one of those atheists, generally. I like to avoid giving credence to a work of fiction like the bible, especially when it concerns scientific matters. I mean no one points to a line of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” and declares it to be the inerrant word of Darwin; scientific theories stand or fall on real world observations, not on faith or allegiance. In science, the evidence is looked for outside of books, not inside of them. Anyway, here we go into the Pit of Despair… don’t even think about trying to escape.

ApologeticsPress.org, a Christian publishing company that does exactly what its name suggests, routinely answers those who dare find contradictions in the bible. One of my favorite unexplained errors, which AP fails to address honestly, is Judas’ death, which occurs twice in the bible –once in Matthew, and once in Acts, with two different methods of expiration, within two different story lines. The King James Bible says:

Matthew 27:5 –  And he[Judas] cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.

Matthew 27:6 –  And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, “It is not lawful to put this into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.”

Matthew 27:7 –  And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.

AND

Acts 1:18 –  Now this man[Judas] purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.

Acts 1:19 –  And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.

According to Matthew, Judas drops his booty and hangs himself, and then the priests take the cheese to buy a field for the John Does to be buried in. But according to Acts, Judas does the real estate deal, then takes a belly-busting, nose dive onto the ground. So, ostensibly, both the causes of death and the background stories are inconsistent and incompatible. In the former, Judas discards the silver and the priests buy the field. In the latter, Judas buys the field himself using the silver. Now, if the two books only differed in the method of Judas’ death, perhaps we could accept a single explanation as to why they differ, but since the details surrounding his death also fail to mesh, it’s a lot harder to see any reconciliation of the texts without applying some major rationalizations.

The Apologetics Press attempts to explain away the initial discrepancy with some not-so-subtle pasting. They argue that there’s only one death –that Judas’ guts did, in fact, spill out like a “bloated whale”, but only after he hanged himself and his body had rotted from decomposition:

According to ancient tradition, Judas hanged himself above the Valley of Hinnom on the edge of a cliff. Eventually the rope snapped (or was cut or untied), thus causing his body to fall headfirst into the field below, as Luke[the purported author of Acts] described. Matthew does not deny that Judas fell and had his entrails gush out, and Luke does not deny that Judas hanged himself. In short, Matthew records the method in which Judas attempted his death. Luke reports the end result. [AP’s emphasis]

So, the AP sees the holes in Matthew and Luke’s[supposed author of Acts] respective stories of Judas’ demise as an invitation for hole filling –with whatever fits the AP’s preconceived conclusion. But no where in the AP’s longwinded explanation do they even address the question of who bought the field, Judas or the priests. They completely ignore it. Apologists are in major denial when they refuse to acknowledge that the bible’s contradictions aren’t isolated misinterpretations, but interconnected, and cascading, failures. No contradiction is an island.

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A Conservative Christian Slacker

After reading a particularly fatuous opinion piece, I’m reminded of the stale joke about the man who climbs into a cab and asks the driver how to get to Carnegie Hall. The driver says, “practice”. In my version, the man asks the driver how to get to the creation museum. And the diver says, “sleep in science class.” Well, a creationist slacker named Victor Medina, who writes a column called When Liberals Attack for the Dallas Republican Examiner, opened his latest scrawl with these words:

It would seem the free marketplace of ideas has entered a new Dark Age. Rather than keeping their [the Darwinist’s] minds open and allow for all viewpoints, the powers that be are squashing all dissent, until theirs is the only voice heard.

Irony might as well be a Klingon word to Medina, for the intellectual stagnation of the Dark Ages was the result of the church’s absolutism and its slavish adherence to scripture. And are we to believe that Medina sees all viewpoints as being equal –that Christianity stands only as tall as the next religion? Having a discriminating –or discerning– eye when it comes to ideas isn’t a bad thing; it’s how science works –by weeding out the good explanations from the bad ones. So, when Medina calls for a “free marketplace”, he’s being blatantly disingenuous. Next, he betrays his ignorance, and lack of research skills:

Darwinists, who believe in a strict following of Darwin’s theory of evolution, aren’t satisfied with blacklisting anyone who disagrees with them. Now, they want to make Darwin more accessible, hip and relevant. To do this, they have declared 2009 “The Year of Darwin.” Really. These same left wing radicals with way too much time on their hands are also promoting “Darwin Day” as an alternative to Christmas. Really. No word on the traditions of Darwin Day, but I would suggest instead of exchanging gifts, Darwinists take after their simian ancestors and throw their feces at each other.

If one were to glance at the scientific literature published since 1859 –the year when Charles Darwin presented his grand theories to the world– one would find that Darwin’s colleagues have consistently dissected his ideas and basted him with heaps of criticism –more than any creationist could ever muster. Darwin’s good ideas, like natural selection, have stood the test of time, while his bad ones have been rejected. And Darwin Day (Feb 12) is presented annually simply as a day of science education and admiration of Charles Darwin, the scientist and explorer. Medina’s hyperbolic attempt to characterize it otherwise is childish, and what I’d expect from a closed mind. And it may also surprise Medina to learn that Michael Behe, the leading proponent of ID, accepts the common ancestry of humans and apes. So, let the feces fly.

They [the Darwinists] insist that intelligent design has no scientific standing whatsoever. Why then, are they so afraid to even discuss such a theory if it is so flimsy?…This blacklisting is seen in full detail in Ben Stein’s hit documentary “Expelled,” in which some highly regarded scientists and academics were blacklisted for even considering intelligent design. Despite the fact that mainstream science has already called into doubt some of Darwin’s theories, including having to rethink the basis for the Big Bang…

Metaphorically speaking, here Medina’s calling rain without ever having watched a game or stepped on the playing field. I dare say there are at least an equal number of books by scientists discussing the intelligent design hypothesis as there are books by creationists promoting it. Academics haven’t been afraid to discuss it in the least, nor have they been “blacklisted for even considering” it. Typically it’s creationist authors who are afraid of evolution, so much so that they conveniently leave out its scientific details from their writings in order to further their ideology. Keeping their audiences ignorant of the scientific facts is their modus operandi. And yes, ID has no scientific standing because it’s not science. What research has the ID community presented other than subjectively declaring organic structures to be complex? At best ID is an untenable conclusion –and a thinly veiled religious one at that, and as such is incompatible with scientific methodology. Spokespeople for the Discovery Institute regularly and loudly promote ID as a secular proposition, but quietly –to friendly audiences– they admit it to be a Christian one. So, if intelligent design is religion, how can it be science? Finally, Medina calls Ben Stein’s movie Expelled a “hit documentary” when in reality its box office receipts were lukewarm to room temperature.

With one factual error after another, Victor Medina shows himself to be an intellectual slacker, who’s loath to do the most basic of research on a subject he clearly knows nothing about. He concludes his sermon with some projection and a Hitler invocation:

In their world, there isn’t even room for debate. There is only one way to think, their way. All other thought is pointless and irrelevant. It’s very Darwinian. It’s also very Adolf. [My emphasis]

No one’s ever said the only path to salvation is through Darwin.

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The Big Bang: Something From Something

I find that this snippet from the debate between atheist Christopher Hitchens and grouchy Christian, Frank Turek gets me all riled up. (The entire debate can be seen here.) The reason is that author Frank Turek falsely characterizes the Big Bang as “something out of nothing” and as a “state of existence from a state of non-existence”, and Hitchens doesn’t exactly correct him on his bad science. Here in the video we have what Turek says scientists say, and over there somewhere in reality, where creationists don’t want us to look, we have what scientists actually say.

I don’t know about you, but what I’ve heard cosmologists say is that the Big Bang was the expansion of a spacetime singularity –a state of infinite density. A singularity is not nothing; it is very much something. I guess you could say it’s everything.

But Turek slyly conflates the terms creation and design, and jumps between them like a drunken ballet-dancer. But I think they are distinct. Creation can indeed be defined as something from nothing. But design is the planning of something from something else. For example, a ceramic smoking monkey can be designed, but it cannot be constructed, or created, from nothing. A ceramic smoking monkey must be transformed from a raw material which already exists –clay. I can name plenty of designed things, but I cannot think of a single material object that has been created from nothing. All the events in universe are examples of transformation, not creation.

So, the argument of “something out of nothing” is irrelevant to the discussion since no examples can actually be found in nature. The only one Turek could possible point to is the one he’s attempting to prove.

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More Lies Supporting Expelled: The Movie

Pseudo-Science

Pseudo-Science

Ben Stein is putting his smirk and whiny voice to ads for the DVD release of Expelled: The Movie, No Intelligence Allowed. Christmas is just around the corner and a rotten lump of pseudo-scientific coal makes such a great stocking stuffer for the kids. In the ads, Mr. Stein claims Expelled is the #1 documentary of 2008. I think not. Let’s check the stats. Expelled grossed about 7.7 million and opened in 1052 theaters, while Bill Mahr’s documentary Religulous grossed 10.6 million and only opened in 502 theaters. If Mr. Stein is alluding to the reviews of Expelled making it #1, then he is wrong on that point, too. Most reviews were resoundingly negative. For example, The New York TImes said,

Mixing physical apples and metaphysical oranges at every turn “Expelled” is an unprincipled propaganda piece that insults believers and nonbelievers alike. In its fudging, eliding and refusal to define terms, the movie proves that the only expulsion here is of reason itself.

Finally, if you go to the Expelled website you can crash their ironic poll asking, “Do you think Darwin’s theories are outdated?” If Darwin is over-the-hill, then creationism is fossilized. I made a funny.

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The Universe, Religion, and Radio Signals

If you haven’t heard Paul Harvey or Paul Harvey Jr. on the radio, then I envy you your ignorant bliss, for they both sound like a drunken Jimmy Stewart from the movie Harvey. The father and son “newsmen” do a short, cornball show covering the gamut, from world politics to folksy stories of small town America. The Harvey’s “reporting” style is reminiscent of old-time radio; imagine a man wearing a fedora, with one hand clasped over an ear, speaking into a enormous, chrome plated microphone. During their syndicated broadcast they shift seamlessly from important news stories to sales pitches for delicious buttery spreads to tales of conservative family values. I think Dude Lebowski might say the Harvey’s are out of their element, by about five decades.

Well, Thursday morning I woke up to Paul Harvey Jr. talking complete gobbledygook about the latest astrophysics and why it reestablishes the earth as unique in the universe. Have a listen, at least to the first 3 minutes.

Science texts for four centuries have insisted that the earth is nothing special in the universe“. No. Copernicus’ heliocentric model was just a technical detail about earth’s position in the solar system. It didn’t say anything about its status or importance in the universe. Although, based on a lack of distinguishing features, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that our solar system isn’t particularly special. After all, there are billions of galaxies each with billions of stars, as Carl Sagan might point out. But that’s not going to stop a theist from grasping at straws.

Inexplicable phenomenon“, “Dark energy“, “Dark matter“, “Dark flow“, and “Confounded. Leave it to a gullible fool like Harvey Jr. to invoke the god-of-the- gaps argument; if scientists don’t understand something then it must be supernatural. i.e. I don’t know how David Copperfield did an illusion, therefore it’s must be real magic.

Those dark forces… the infinitely vast reality that exists beyond it [the universe]“. Harvey Jr. thinks dark energy and dark matter exist beyond the universe. I didn’t know science could see that far.

Accepted without question“. Scientists interrogate each other into submission because science is a method of investigation, which cannot be done without asking questions. Religious faith is loyalty to an idea regardless of the evidence. Don’t theists typically balk at Q&A sessions?

The earth alone exists in a cosmic bubble“. Give a layman a little physics and he’ll twist and turn it into an Easter pretzel. It’s Harvey Jr. who exists in a intellectual bubble.

My advice is not to get your science news from giant invisible white rabbits named Harvey or credulous radio personalities.

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