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Archive for May, 2008

Humans by our very nature really don’t understand what random chance means, still let me provide an introduction to the topic. What set of numbers are more likely to win the lottery you can pick either 7 13 17 23 32 41 or 1 2 3 4 5 6? Ok you might try to catch me out here, but be honest the first set of numbers, at least to most people, would be considered to more likely be the winning lottery numbers even though both sets have an equal chance of winning. They are statistically equal in their likeliness although most people would pick the first set as a less risky and more likely to win than the second set of numbers. I was introduced to randomness by a lecturer who got the whole room to put 20 random dots on a blank piece of paper, being of course a lecturer in psychology the results were rather predictable, either the dots where all in one corner of the paper or pretty much equally spaced throughout the page. No one decided that randomness would result in all 20 dots being in the same position or that they could be clusters. In all humans have a hard time understanding what random really means, this is much like evolution in many ways.

evolution vs creationI recently got hold of a magazine named “Creation or Evolution” produced by the United Church of God, which has members across the world [EV/0511/1.1], although there are a lot of things which I object too I will pick the one I am most confused by. Overall the whole thing directs you to either the acceptance of either creation or the blind chance of lucky accidents which is cheerfully named ‘evolution’. I‘m sure I will talk about some of the other issues that came to me while reading this magazine at another time, still statements like Blind chance and this, which I will quote confused me greatly: “..upon thousands of lucky chance mutations happened coincidentally so that the lens [and the eye could work]..” Now I understand that it has been argued that the eye could have only come to existence if the whole thing came about at the same time, this is not the issue that I want to focus on really and since many scientists have already discussed this I will settle with talking about blind chance of evolution and natural selection. Natural selection has never been the same as blind chance. Chance is the idea that you gain something positive from random events or possible events that could occur; it is in effect the end result of randomness. Blind is also a puzzling word in this sense it is the unguided and unthought-of process that we happen to follow, there are no rules and whatever happens just happens. So according to the United Church of God evolution is the result of an unguided random process that just happened to produce the living things that we can see today, is that a true reflection of evolution?

Well the answer is a little no here – around half of all pregnancies in humans result in the natural abortion of the embryo or fetus which is the consequence of abnormalities, where maladaptive combinations or growth results in it simply not working. Extra or missing genetic material can also lead to natural abortion. The human body and indeed most other living things will not bare or produce young if there is not a strict following of the rules which allow for the normal growth of the embryo or fetus. Only smaller variations will result in successful birth of young, if there is something really wrong with the genetics then it will never end in successful reproduction. In this way the occurred changes must be more gradual and build up over time. Darwin never really discussed this quite like that, still this is not an unguided process, and the laws of nature provide the rules in which adaption must take place. This also means that randomness is excluded since abnormalities of genetic combination have to take place within this process. The conclusion here is that natural selection is not an unguided or random process.

Well the answer is a big no here – there is one big condition that exists within the theory of evolution, that is environment is the most important factor in the development of species, living things must be able to live and survive in the environment that they are born into otherwise they will not bare young and the species will die. Darwin called this process adaptive, this implies that there is some intelligence to the change which there is not; its more like the environment is changing & developing and the resulting effect are successful changes within a line of ancestors resulting in successful reproduction. This is how we got to the level of many species on earth; it’s the changing environment which includes things like the temperature, oxygen level and also the level of food available. The slow change is the creator of species and anything that counteracts successful living in a particular the environments means the likelihood of a successful survival is diminished. Since the environment governs natural selection, natural selection is therefore, not a random and unguided process. It has specific rules.

Let’s now turn to the building up process, I said before I don’t really want to discuss the eye so I will just give you an outline to how such things as eyes or anything else can build up over time. This from Richard Dawkins book the blind watchmaker, he provides an interesting and powerful analogy; let us take the case of a monkey through random chance being able to type the sentence ‘Methinks it is like a Weasel’, the odds of the monkey being able to do that successfully are so unlikely I can’t even count the zeros. Needless to say it is very unlikely to happen within 100 years of non-stop monkey typing. This is effectively what the United Church of God is suggesting and thus the argument of natural selection having odds for success which is far past me being able to write all the zeros down in my life time. Now let’s use the true non-random and guided process of evolution to suggest that every time the monkey gets a letter right, it works and therefore, it stays. So the first letter of ‘Methinks it is like a Weasel’ is M – since it’s a successful letter, it works in the sentence and the M stays; this is a 1in27 chance of the monkey hitting the M key (26 letters and the space bar). At some point the monkey will hit the second letter E since this is again successful it will also stay, the odds of that happening is 1in27 by 1in27. Each time the monkey gets a letter right it stays and the odds & necessary time for the whole sentence to be completed is reduced significantly, rather than millions of years perhaps a few weeks of non-stop monkey typing. This is how natural selection works by each successful change adding up over time to create an overall successful difference, each change being governed by rules of success.

www.extremefunnyhumor.com

So when creationists argue that Coelacanth fish which was found recently although thought to be extinct 70 million years ago thus proving evolution is therefore wrong, we can simply argue that the main condition of evolution, being that of environmental change being the driving force, was not present for these populations of fish. Crocodiles are thought to be around 200 million years old overlapping with the dinosaurs that became extinct 65 million years ago. Why did the Coelacanth and Crocodiles survive all this time? The answer is once again this was not random chance. Both are suited for their environments, they are so well adapted that they have not changed, any change would be of negative effect and such variations are less suited so they have pretty much stayed the same. Random chance plays very little in the particulars of evolution and natural selection, so the conclusion that random or blind chance has anything to do with it is always a wrong assumption. We must reject this notion of blind chance!

A little more on this matter…

I’ve found a blog post that deals with some of the other issues that tends to pop up in regards to evolution, in particular the writer addressed some of the common anti-evolution ideas that are around. I like the idea that the blogger suggests that most creationists that become critics of evolution have never actually studied biology in any form. Great blog post read it here:

http://naontiotami.wordpress.com/2008/05/17/revolution-against-evolution-the-limits-of-microevolution/

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Mr Pat Condell Himself! Pat Condell is a brave man and I say that with upmost respect to him, although I disagree with the manner that is used, he is not scared and God bless free speech that allows him to continue. His videos, link is at the bottom, deals with how religion more or less affects his world. He has every right to comment about what he sees wrong in the world and he should keep going. I don’t agree with his manner because I don’t really view this particular approach as providing anything useful, if he is serious and I am pretty sure that he is, then there are much better ways of getting his point across. He is a source of great entertainment and I enjoy watching what only can be described as a rant on various religious topics. I do find it very funny that he has posted on his website some of the feedback, not the fact he did it rather the comments people are making about his videos. I have removed the letters of the swear words but I can assure you no one wrote it with * in place. Bare in mind Armstrong’s perspective that all the Abrahamic religions are based on the golden rule of compassion and lets see if these comments adhere to it:

“you know i would blow your f**king head with pistol without thinking about it,,,”

Oh, I love how religion is such a golden thing, it speaks on so many levels!

“this guy in the video is a kufar yeah inshah allah i hope he and his family die from cancer some should shot on his for head this white trash no offance to good white people i wish even a new born baby in this man family has cancer wish your daughter grandaughter get raped”

COMPASSION – its nice to hear that punishing women in Condell’s family made it to the feedback, anyone would think that Islam treated women as cattle.

“u racist f**k, where u live…. people like you should be shot at birth…….. better still sooner u die the better racist motherf**ker”

Ok now I know I am not that clever and all but isn’t being racist when you discriminate against people that are not like you? I think a lot of racist people have made the comment; you should be shot at birth.

Look the simple fact is that people have different opinions about different things, if you cannot accept that then you should only interact with people that think like you. I don’t really understand why people go out there way to make threats and I mean threats at people because they don’t think like them. Has this done any good other than showing the world what religion really is? By the way, I am saying that it’s violent, just for those that are not following me! Threatening people does not work in a free society, Pat Condell still is making his videos and even if he was not there is no chance that he would change his mind about the whole religion thing. If you want to express an opinion then do so but put some effort into it. Why is he wrong? Examples, points of reference, evidence and in effect present your argument against. Don’t mindlessly threaten people that just makes you an idiot on every level.

www.patcondell.net

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//scienceblogs.comFirst of all let me initially describe the position that I have found myself in many times, people describe me as an atheist! Actually, let me also be honest I have described myself as that as well, still I have never really subscribed to the church of atheists so I don’t really know why I got there. When people say it though I get the impression that somehow my perception of the world is altered slightly since I then have the agenda of the atheists which gets in the way of me understanding the world. When I was younger I was not really a strong Christian nevertheless I kind of understood that there was a God and a bloke called Jesus who was a good guy that suffered in his own way. At this level let’s be frank they are not the same sorts of things, I never learned how to be a good atheist or had to go to a special place in order to increase my general understanding of the thing that I don’t believe in. This is the key word; believe, since I rejected the notion of Christianity I simply stopped believing in that kind of God, non-belief is very different to that of belief in many ways. Rejecting the notion of Jesus simply means that I no longer believe that the stories of his life are anything other than stories. So when I come to make my decisions in life whatever Jesus said or did is never really all that important. I often hear about girls asking ‘what would Jesus do?’ and that leading them to rejecting sex before marriage. I did some research and found out girls (young women) that make that pledge more often than not only delay sex for 18 months and then since they are never taught about contraception, I assume because people think that they won’t have sex, end up pregnant and with more sexual transmitted diseases than the average population. Whereas atheism would never lead to such a universal pledge by young girls, Christianity would, that is the fundamental difference between the two.

Let me go back to what religious people mean when they say atheism; it is almost the suggestion that the poor atheist has a mental refusal at every level to accept what they are saying about God is true. It’s like they say ‘of course god exists’ and then all of a sudden expecting everyone else to agree with them. This mental refusal is not really the case since there is only the refusal to listen to the argument that there is a god because you say so again and again, it gets a little boring and it is never based on anything more than a simple proposal. I will listen to any argument as long as it appears to be true, I can make an assessment from things I can experience in the world and second, it can withstand influence from a different perspective. No atheist will ever be able to demonstrate that there is not a God, at least as far as we can understand the universe at the moment; it is however, possible to make an assessment of the affects your God has on the world.

Perhaps a second meaning of atheism is that it rejects the whole notion of God, this is not the case as it would be impossible to argue for most atheists, rather the rejection comes towards certain ideas or concepts of God. There might be a God, as an atheist, this acceptance does not include the versions of God determined by Islam, Christianity, Hindu, Jewish or other religions. An atheist rejects religious accounts of God; there could be a God just not the one that has been created. Albert Einstein who although was brought up in the Jewish religion never accepted a religious God, although he still claimed that God was behind the universe with the definition that God was simply nature and its governing laws.

The last account of atheism that I have come across is the idea that atheists are somehow more intelligent since the religious followers are just a bunch of stupid people that will believe anything. Once again I am speaking to the atheists here, I have met some really stupid atheists and I can assure you that this does not mean atheism is equal to intelligence. If any atheists assume that only stupid people follow religion then you are undermining your own intelligence on the matter. To say that you are an atheist never means the same thing, you could reject most sorts of Gods or not, it’s not about denying believe based on the atheist’s religion and by all means atheists are not the ones who have worked something out that religious people have yet to do.

To paraphrase Sam Harris everyone is pretty much an atheist about something, if you don’t believe in the fairies at the bottom of my garden you are an atheist. If you are a Muslim and you don’t think the Christians are right, then you’re an atheist. If you call yourself a Pagan and you don’t believe that the Muslims are right, then guess what, you are also an atheist! Sam Harris argues that the word atheist is not necessary and in fact it can turn out to be something bad. To start off with Harris suggests that there is not a non-racist organisation out there which is in fact a correct stand point, it’s wrong for atheists who seem to identify each other by the name, since atheism is not a philosophical perspective and by keeping our atheist name it means that we are migrated to the margins rather than the mainstream. There is also the burden that comes from such label, after all if someone is calling them self a Christian then they have to justify their position, if we go around calling ourselves atheists we then also have to justify our position and that is dangerous for two reasons, it means that we are talking more about atheism than why religion is getting things wrong and it sets up a position to which we can be attacked. In essence Sam Harris is arguing that ‘atheism’ is not the correct or useful term to label non-believers with, it creates more problems than it is worth. I do have a suggestion though, when you get into discussions about religion and someone asks you if you believe in god, simply state – what do you mean by God? This pushes the burden back to the religious believers and allows us to avoid the atheism label.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=Ok2oJgsGR6c  – Sam Harris in this 2007 AAI address on the subject, although I sometimes don’t follow what Harris is saying he is always insightful.

 

A little more on this matter…

www.churchofatheism.co.uk

I read a little more about atheists in someone else’s blog and I really did find it interesting, at first glance it looks like a valid point even though it does go against the idea that non-belief is not actually a belief. I wanted to add it because after thinking about it a little more, you can actually see their point. There are these soft atheists and then there are hardcore atheists who rather than simply having no believe they have adopted a set of beliefs that are against the very idea of God. These hardcore atheists have a belief system, I think they need to be called something else perhaps members of the church of atheism. Even though I think this is only a small number of people. Have a read of their blog….

http://murderofravens.org/2007/10/04/what-i-learned-from-the-atheists/

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www.issr.org.uk/ Science Vs ReligionThis kind of also answers the question about why I write this blog. I think that it is a sensible question to ask and the reason is that I first started this blog was when I came across the work of Richard Dawkins, I agreed with what he said. That is not why I still continue, the reason is that for a lot of the time I think that science is misunderstood and for that matter perhaps logic too! Here was me thinking that some sort of Religion could be in place without it bothering the rest of us, Dawkins introduced the idea that ‘truth’ with religion being very much outside in the dark. Science has had to deal with truth and being a postgraduate currently studying science, I have had to deal with truth as well. Science is not a stable thing, it’s messy and a lot of the time it is acknowledged that science can only explain certain things under certain conditions. Science and Religion both create their own concept of what is true in the world.

The temptation might be here for you to think that both science and religion offer different versions or accounts of the same things, you’d be right in part of course. Still there is a big difference, science has or never could directly challenge religion, at least not in its true form, as the whole point of science is not to create a version of reality rather to simply show it as it is. Religion does create a reality, whether it is a kind God who is listening to your wishes or informing you what would be the “Christian” thing. Science exists to help you decide what you could do; Religion exists to tell you what you should. The most fundamental difference I have found is that as an individual you can pile into Science, you can easily go out to test its reasoning as well as add to body of knowledge it creates, it builds up over time and with validation the truth moves. In Religion people tend to pile out of it, they go to a place to hear and see things and then they take that knowledge away which is said to be true. Science offers the tools of investigation whereas religion simply offers a version of the knowledge, you might argue here that science also offers a version of knowledge and you would be correct. The point is that it never stops there and the body of knowledge is moving and responsive, the real difference is the process of reason rather than the presentation of information. If you stand in science, you’d see a useful set of tools and knowledge to which is more often than not will benefits people’s lives. It has never ending questions to which you might never get the answers too or you might get one question answered to only have the process produce a whole new set of questions. If you stand in religion and ask the question ‘Why?’ it’s because of God and that ends the conversation.

Please see my earlier post titled “Why does science still grow when it can be so wrong? Why did science happen and take hold in Europe?” it explains in more detail some of the issues that I have discussed here. Both Comte and Durkheim authored in their own ways three types of understandings or worlds, the first was that of Custom & habit. The second being that of the God ultimate and the last being that of logic & reason. Rather than being able for an individual to exist in two or more of these worlds, they instead moved from one to the other and this was the result of human progress. In this poor example, people used to bury their loved ones in a certain manner and this built up in each generation to include certain rituals. Even me starting at burying is one jump too soon, it could be once when people died they were left on the ground but insects and animals used to eat the bodies so someone thought that putting them in the ground would stop those insects and animals. So this was adopted and happened in the next generation, this is a building up process and this is what happened in the first world. In the second world, the first was removed because now whole societies would bury their dead in the same way and this include, almost at a national level, a set of rituals prescribed for each event plus a new understanding of why we do it this way, God. You could not accept the irrational & illogical version of the second world, say believing in God, and then also buy into the rational and logical third world. They are incompatible to each other at a fundamental level; the third world demands the removal of the second.

I could say that types of religious scientists lived in an earlier time where science had not really developed but that is not really true. Science is there, according to Comte and others, to get at the natural laws which govern the world which we live in. Steven Nadler describes God as nature, everything that happens in nature also happens because of God if you believe in God that is. I hope that confused you a little because its then a true reflection of what actually happens. I would like to bring up David Sloan Wilson here now, as his idea of the practical and factual realism helped me understand why scientists can be religious. In factual realism we deal with truths as far as we can understand them, this is a true reflection of what actually is going on and with any hope these understandings are removed from agenda. Science attempts to deal with factual realism and how do we know this? Well, if you ask yourself and others what happens after someone dies you would get a range of different answers some from faith and others from personal feelings. From this we can see there is no fact or truth from these statements since some could be right others of them could be wrong, you have no way of knowing which one is actually the right answer. When was the last time an X-ray suffered from this problem? Well never unless the machine was broken to which it could be fixed in accordance with the knowledge of how it works. So factual realism is very important and so far most of what I have talked about is based on this notion of science.

Practical realism is a lot more interesting, it states that knowledge that we have, even if not based on fact, works because it allows us to get on with our everyday lives. If we think that doing something which in turns makes us lucky and benefits us by having a successful day then all I can say is that it exists & is worthy of our attention, it’s not based on fact still it allows us to take control of seemingly random events. It does provide benefits including filling in some of the gaps in how we understand the world. In this way scientist can defer to practical realism in order to make sense or fulfil a need. This has been seen to be true in terms of science, in all its forms, when science interlaces with those still using in part their practical realism. So even though religion is outside what is required for belief in science, it still can be present at times. It is particularly easy for scientists not involved in areas that would question Religion, such as a chemist it seems more likely they would have a religious perspective rather than a biologist with connections with evolution. Although this is not always true! One thing I have noticed is that scientists that argue from a religious stand point offer bad science in re-turn. If we go back to how societies bury their dead if all you believed in was science, science does not really offer any help or comfort and religion seems to score one in this department. The structure of religious ritual is universal in a lot of sets or groups of people and this structure appears to be useful. It is in these great unknowns where science is not the light; religion can be the candle even though we never really know if it was the right thing to do.

A little more on this matter…

TIME magazine

Intelligent design has been reject as a pseudoscience, still the debate between Collins and Dawkins is very interesting presented in this TIME article, both come as scientists but only Collins has belief in God. There are many from the scientific corner who are outraged to the insult upon rationality when arguments are presented by intelligent design (ID). Dawkins suggests that the most powerful building block of ID is in fact within the name, design, once we can understand the life on earth was not designed then we remove the whole concept of God from the table. Collins on the other hand offers the idea that Genesis cannot be subjected to the tools of science and furthermore, we simply cannot understand Genesis at all.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1555132,00.html

The answer to the question is rather a muddy perhaps not!

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Don’t get me wrong I really like these books and the world is a much better place with people like Dawkins and Hitchens in it. The attack on religion is an important one; it challenges yet again the position of religion and the role that it should take in our societies. It enables non-believers a position to argue against and reject those that force religion upon them. They also offer a method of causing a debate with your friends. Still they only attack religion and never God, if we assume that God is different to that presented by religion. There are two problems with these books, the first is that the books are only written for those that are against or are not sure about religion in the first place. While watching many religious people attack the likes of Dawkins (et al) it’s clear that the debate will never be won. Yes they produce awareness and they are interesting but I don’t see the removal of the Pope in the near future or the end of religious violence through the acceptance of the atheists’ model. It just does not work like that, people will not abandon religion through the attack of faith it’s more likely they will become disillusioned with religious false promises. It is then the atheist’s gang that will get a new member! I will write more about the abandonment of religion in the near future so I will not go into depth here. It is difficult to see the progress that Dawkins and Hitchens make in their attack although this might be different across countries. They should attack religion but not religious people there is no point, there is a point however in making sure that religion is different from government as much as we can, this should be our right which we all need to fight for. By religious people I mean your friends or people you meet, this does not include those that make public comments or talk about their religion as they are in public view and demand to be answered.

*http://richarddawkins.net

There was a video clip I watched, I have forgotten the name of the author, it made the impression that it was pointless entering into a discussion. In other words there is as much point in arguing about the rights & wrongs of religion with a religious person as there is trying to teach string theory to a really f**king stupid monkey. You will never get anywhere, this does not mean I think religious people are stupid (well everyone can be stupid at times), it just means at some point you are just wasting your energy. Where does that leave us non-believers? There still needs to be challenges to religion, however this is not a new thing and it’s been happening for longer than you think. If it was not challenged then it would destroy everything and I mean that, it would crash into our lives and everyone should be angry about that. It is also right that Hitchens should name and shame religious practices that are wrong, if it keeps happening maybe they will change or maybe everyone else will start to look down on religion and that would be a good thing. Other than fun the new atheists’ books might help atheists plus the general group of semi-believers, this is a useful and good step. I don’t really think it should ever be addressed at religious people though. I would also suggest that you must keep the good name of atheists, although I disagree with that term, answer religious people with thought and consideration.

The second error: Melvin Konner illustrates an impressive analogy, although he suggests it is a poor one but I think it explains a lot. To paraphrase it; the books of the new atheists are very much like writing a book about water. You could have chapters on floods, tornados, hurricanes and you could also state that most of the water on the earth has salt in it thus making it poisonous to humans. From this you would conclude that water does more harm than good, since all you have read is about the harm water does rather than the good things it can do. Much like the new atheists books, there is a focus of harm and that would of course make you angry about the ideas that have been presented. There is no balance, Konner suggests, to the approach that has been taken and this is the case when reading some of Dawkin’s work on evolution and how it is being attacked by Christian America. It would worry me more if that this was the standard Christian approach to evolution, although the Pope, who in my book is not a man of pure good, finds that evolution is not in conflict with Christianity. This is perhaps the error of new atheists, to simply assume that religion is just a force for evil and even though it can be that never should mean we should focus only on that aspect. There has been a very strong reaction towards these books, strong is good but sometimes its also important to remember that balance is important. I am also guilty on no balance, but being an atheist & hopefully a rational person I will also listen to the other side of the argument when it is shown. So should you! An argument is different from the ‘I am right, you are wrong’ approach.

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www.writespirit.net

It is a bit of No – Since I have never believed in the idea that religion should receive special treatment I don’t understand the argument to why reading the religious books is necessary in order to understand religions. Let’s take this from a different perspective most people use technology everyday whether it’s a computer or a mobile phone, how many of those people really understand what makes it work? Most will have a rough understanding of the components that fix together to make it work as a whole, this is about were the knowledge stops. When expressing an opinion about a mobile phone it is done on the usefulness, the attractiveness, what is new and how it makes things easier, so in other words the opinion is not the result of a technical view of the mobile rather the end result, whether its benefits or services that it provides are good quality. This I suggest is also possible with Religion, to understand Christian’s and their beliefs we can look at the end result, there actions or inaction, from this we understand what religious people are all about and how they are different from us. I recently blogged about how Islamic law in Pakistan prevented a rape victim speaking out and bringing the police officer that raped her to justice. Many Muslims that I know in the UK have found this shocking, so can we blame this on religion? Yes even though many Muslims would find this distasteful, the Koran has to answer for its end results. If the Koran is allowed to exist then it has to answer for what people do within the elevated position the Koran provides them. A lot of my earlier understanding of religion has come from the end result of how people act in accordance with their belief.

The answer is also a bit of Yes – I will use another analogy, if you go to a psychologist you can sit there and have the process pushed upon you, the only understanding is that you’re having something done to you. If it’s a good psychologist they will include you in the process and from that you’d learn the methods which you could then later use yourself. You never learn the whole body of knowledge of psychology rather you learn some of its rationale & methods and this is in part what religious teachers do. In particular those teachers are a good source of information, they present an argument based on the idea of A for the reason of B and this allows you to see the process which was involved and in turn start to understand their logic & internal world. Unlike in the No part of this answer, if I wanted to criticise religion you can present evidence or an alternative of A for reason C. I do accept that here I am making a jump because as a non-religious person I would want to criticise religion, still the same is true if you wanted to learn about another religion or more about yours. I am personally fed up of religious text or quotes that are basically unclear and wishy washy in the first place being used to promote religion as a good thing. Especially, when it seems there are as many negative evil religion text or quotes that really does present religion in a bad light.

The point of this post is to confirm to everyone that at a certain level the you can judge religion by its followers; after all I am not a Christian, Muslim or Jew so why should I have to read their religious books. They should and then I will be able to judge what those books are say by watching religious people and their behaviour. It is about what is happening in the real world which is more important than the words, if the words are wrong we will be able to tell.

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