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Many thanks for the nice introduction, for taking time to write a detailed reply to the articles on my web site, and for inviting me to present my views. I hope to learn from your readers as I have from you these many years, to let them know that atheists and evolutionists are not the bad people often portrayed in creationist literature, and to reassure them that one need not be an atheist to accept and support evolutionary biology and other sciences.
Ah! You asked about the background color of my pages! In my worldview, everything has an explanation, although some explanations, such as the origin of life, take a little longer! I don't know what color your PC displays, but on my PC, the background of my web site is a rich, earthy, greenish brown, which makes a pleasing contrast with the light gold, peach, and sky blue text. I've always had a fondness for earth tones. If there is any symbolism in this combination, it is that the earthy background reflects the natural, down-to-earth composition of my views.
My first web-page application provided a number of themes, one of which included the above color combination, a gift, one might say, from some anonymous designer that happened to share my tastes. Because I disliked the canned graphics, I graduated to a much better design tool where I could use my own artwork exclusively, but I kept the above earth tones for background and text. Since you, and perhaps others, see this background as a confused "pea soup," and since indistinct black text on a glaring white background is hard on the eyes, I've made the background of this article a cool-headed, navy blue, and I've made the basic text -- well, what else but the purest white of truth!
Yes, we all use reason, but some people, believing that faith is an alternate way to acquire true knowledge, let faith override their reason. Yes, I do presuppose that reason is the only way to acquire true knowledge. Faith that our food is not poisonous is quite different from faith in the "existence and nature of God." Carl Sagan said, "Belief in the absence of compelling evidence is called faith." In fact, faith may need no physical evidence at all, as in the case of revelation, a private communication with God. How can that be proved with physical evidence? There is no reliable physical test for the supernatural.
Your belief, my unbelief, and all our decisions are strictly determined by natural laws. There is not, as you say, a random element in our decisions -- precisely the opposite. Nor have I claimed that belief cannot be changed, only that the causes of any such change are also strictly determined by natural laws. What exactly do you mean by "free will"? Free of what? Free of your plans or goals? Free of what you believe to be just or compassionate? Free of everything you have experienced in life? Free of any causes?
You paraphrased me as saying that "if God knows the future, then He controls it," and concluded that my understanding of knowledge and control is "foggy." I said the precisely the opposite, that, "if God knows the future, then he is powerless to change it." That means God is not in control of it. Therefore, omniscience contradicts omnipotence.
According to you, "The Bible states that suffering and death are a result of human sin, but also shows that it does not fall only on those who deserve it." Trying to explain to a sick or dying little child that she is suffering as a result of human sin seems despicable to me. "The Problem of Evil" is no problem for atheists. Except in cases where evil acts are committed by malevolent people or good acts by the benevolent, the fortunes and misfortunes that befall us all can be compared to a giant system of weather. There is good weather and there is bad weather, and the deeper one looks, the more natural causes one can uncover.
You claimed that I said, "to know something has been designed, we need to know the identity of the designer." Actually I said that we must first prove the existence of an intelligent designer to avoid assuming what it is we wish to prove.
Of course I would not confuse the carvings of Mt. Rushmore on Mars with a natural formation. What I said was that "we would not look for animals or trees but for something not normally found in nature," and, as you pointed out, the carvings would certainly not normally be found in nature. Living things are quite different from the Rushmore carvings. The existence of an intelligent designer is in doubt, because we have no experience identifying non-human design. You say that my web site "could not happen by any natural process," but I insist that my design is a natural process, as I have explained in "Is anything supernatural?"
You stated, "the computer and then the original program have to arise by chance" for you to "get interested" in the modeling of evolution by a computer. If a computer successfully modeled weather patterns, then why would you insist that the computer and its program have arisen by chance in order to get interested in its weather predictions?
What exactly are those mysterious "barriers" that prevent microevolution from becoming macroevolution? If mutations can only degrade information, then why don't they also prevent microevolution? You say, "To change beyond the barriers would require new information, such as the genes to make wings or fingers or a bigger brain." I claim that a new combination of genes does represent new information, just as a new combination of neural patterns in the brain represents a new concept. New combinations of genes do occur. There are regions in most proteins where almost any amino acid can be substituted. Some functionally equivalent molecules can have between 30 - 50% different amino acids. This shuffling of genes puts a big clinker in your probability calculations.
After reading the article you referenced on the layout of the human retina, I concur with you that, although counterintuitive, it appears to be an efficient arrangement. However, I note that you have avoided defending any of my three examples of poor design, except to say, as you have in the past, that the "absent enzyme," is the result of "deterioration of the original creation by the effects of sin," a decidedly unscientific claim. On this matter, since other animals, especially our nearest relatives the apes, are missing the same enzyme, you have not explained why it makes any sense to say that they also sinned or that they are paying for our sins?
Regarding my SID argument, you seem to be saying that, if the miracles are small enough and sprinkled widely enough, then they become like background noise and will not affect the results of an experiment. This is a bizarre theory. What possible relevance or value could such tiny, ubiquitous miracles have for humans? There are critical points in any scientific experiment where even one small miracle could skew the results. The fact that it has never been known to happen makes it possible, for example, to determine, with ever more closely controlled experiments, that prayer and paranormal powers fail to show any effect other than that expected by chance.
The point of my long account of the behavior of the gorillas Koko and Michael was to impress on the reader that their psychology is strikingly similar to that of humans, and that, therefore, it should not be surprising, that their morality is also similar to that of humans. It is then more logical to assume that humans likely acquired morality in the same way animals did than that God gave both morality. When you suggest that maybe "God created animals with behaviors and characteristics to teach us lessons, both negative and positive," at least you seem prepared to concede that there is animal morality.
You implied that altruistic behavior "might seem to be against our own self-interest." Is it not usually rewarded by others? Sure, there are some bad apples that probably grew up in an atmosphere devoid of altruism, but we needn't condemn the principle because a few don't follow it. You appeared to equate altruism with communism. We can't blame altruism for the tragedies of Marxist society. In a society where a few powerful tyrants cause millions to suffer and die, altruism is virtually dead.
You listed, as requisites for a healthy society, "honesty, trustworthiness, respect, caring, self-sacrifice, etc." All are altruistic traits. My main point is that reciprocal altruism obviates the need for a "Supernatural Lawgiver who is also a Righteous Judge." Provided that altruism is nurtured in our youngsters, it operates effectively without the promised reward of Heaven or the fear of punishment in Hell.
You said, ". . . the desire for something beyond the physical is hard to explain if there is really nothing there." This desire is simply wishful thinking, motivated by the powerful attraction of immortality. Most theists look forward to a supernatural immortality and reunion with loved ones. Most atheists desire a natural immortality that medical science may someday provide. However, atheists would rather make the best of this world than waste their time on unrealistic expectations. Furthermore, a belief in a hereafter has significant negative consequences, such as suicidal terrorists, indifference to environmental problems, and paying people for alleged communications with the dead.
You pointed out that, "In Romans chapter 1 it is clearly stated that [God's] most extreme anger is reserved for those who suppress the truth," meaning that he would not forgive me for not believing in him. I have no use for gods, especially angry gods. I control my own anger and would expect the same of any god.
I believe I have fully understood all along what C. S. Lewis meant when he said, "Unless I believe in God, I can't believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God." Lewis assumes that thought is immaterial, a gift from God, and that, having accepted the existence of God, one cannot then logically use his gift not to believe in him. Lewis was mistaken; he apparently never studied artificial intelligence and neurology. Those that believe thought is a material, natural phenomenon have no problem using thought to disbelieve in God.
You said, ". . . the human mind is not a reliable instrument for arriving at truth. It is merely a machine built by chance, programmed by chance, with the only purpose of increasing the survival of its genes." Chance plays no role in the operation or output of the brain/mind, which, as I said earlier, is strictly determined by physical laws.
You stated, "Yet the soul can ultimately be freed from the body. Just saying that Alzheimer's Disease damages the personality does not contradict that." Where is the soul in the final stage of Alzheimer's disease when the personality has not just been damaged but has vanished?
The so-called "near-death experiences" are just that -- psychological experiences that occur near death. In each case, the hallucinations that one experiences reflect the images of one's particular religion, or, in the case of atheists, no religion, which fact gives us every reason to dismiss the experiences as having nothing to do with an afterlife. As for the anecdotes about "out-of-body" experiences, whether near death or not, they are sorely lacking in experimental controls. I had one myself decades ago, when I felt as if I were floating one foot above my bed and moving toward the foot of the bed. It felt very real. Then I woke up. It had been a pleasant lucid dream, a hallucination. Any person could be suggested to do the same under hypnosis.
You said that it is an "absurd notion" for me to associate the calculation of the total number of possible potential persons with human zygotes. I made it perfectly clear that the calculation did indeed refer to zygotes -- the number of possible fertilized eggs, all 24 billion of them -- any one or more of which could become a unique human being. The "absurd notion" is that any one of the 24 billion potential persons be valued differently from the others.
Your question, "Do you know any identical twins? There is no doubt that they are separate people," is irrelevant. I know identical twins are separate personalities, but my question was, if the soul enters at conception as so many Christians believe, then, if the zygote multiples, does one soul become two souls in twins, three souls in triplets, four souls in quadruplets, etc.? If so, how?
The procedure called "partial-birth abortion" is gruesome, as are many other surgical procedures, and it would be just as gruesome if used on a canine fetus. However, we are comparing the medical and privacy rights of an actual person to those of a potential person. I'm willing to trust that the doctor has a prudent medical reason for performing the procedure. Because it occurs so late in woman's pregnancy, she probably expected to give birth, but then something went terribly wrong.
I had suggested that you read the journal article on the 1993 Buffalo NY study of 1,177 randomly chosen women at three abortion providers. Did you fail to mention it because its results were in stark contrast to the those of the Finnish study? The review of the article concluded:
Perhaps Finnish women are more prone to depression than American women. An atheist friend of mine who studies abortion statistics tells me that women who are atheists do not get depressed after abortion. That's a pretty good sign that a woman's views on abortion may have much to do with her religious beliefs.
The drawings of four mammalian embryos depicted in my article come from the fairly recent 1991 book by Scott F. Gilbert called "Developmental Biology." If you know that these drawings are inaccurate, then please refer me to a neutral source that correctly shows the embryos.
You stated, "Then you claim that the increasing nerve connections equal increased humanity." My point was that virtually no connections cannot establish personhood. Then you added, "I hope you realize that after age 1 - 2 we lose connections. Unused synapses atrophy. Does that mean you are less human than a two year old?" I think you mean, "less a person." According to my records, by age 2, a child has as many synapses (connections) as an adult. By age 3, it has 1,000 trillion synapses, twice as many as its parents. After about age 10, a pruning process begins. Synapses that have been activated by repeated experiences are preserved while others are eliminated. Five hundred trillion synapses are more than enough to qualify for personhood, but near zero definitely does not.
I never said that the face of the six-week-old embryo is not human. All embryos are human, but then so is a liver cell. The photo is there because many people have the mistaken impression that the embryo looks like a miniature baby from the start, and this face doesn't look anything like the face of a miniature baby. However, to compare a horribly burned person with a non-person is a poor analogy, especially coming from a Christian, who, if he accepts the Bible's teachings, must agree that the blemished, the blind, the lame, the diseased, the deformed, and the ugly may not profane God's sanctuaries (Lev 21:17-21)
I'd not be surprised if child abuse increased if a woman is cruelly denied an abortion of an unexpected, unwanted baby. If child abuse increases after a woman has a "replacement baby," in order to undo an abortion, then it may be an indication that the woman was not psychologically fit to have either pregnancy.
Blurring the distinctions between species is a neat trick to squeeze more animals on the ark, while at same time ignoring how the animals got to ark in the first place from all over the world. Since 99% of all the animals which have ever lived are extinct, one wonders how many of those extinct species Woodmorappe included in his total. Or did those mysteriously die before the Flood? In any case, the historical record cannot be ignored. As you glossed over the time it would take three couples to build up to a thriving population, you appeared to be content to envision cities without people and kings without subjects.
You devoted a couple of paragraphs to Egyptian temples, implying that the one at Karnak, like other temples, was designed so that on the summer solstice the rising sun would shine through a tunnel, etc. In the book "Karnak" (1970) by Kazimierz Michalowski, the author states that, although some Egyptologists formerly believed that the Egyptian temples were oriented in the direction of the rising sun (the principle prevalent in ancient Greece), in fact, "only the Nubian temple of Rameses II at Abu Simbel is of any significance."
Professor of physics and astronomy Ronald Lane Reese in his article "Midwinter Sunrise at El Karnak (Sky & Telescope, March 1992) informs us that astronomer Gerald Hawkin's survey of the complex in the 1970s determined that its main axis was southeast, toward sunrise on the day of winter solstice, and northwest, toward sunset on the day of summer solstice. However, because the northwest is blocked by mountains, the winter solstice sunrise was the primary alignment. Moreover, Hawkins calculated that in the 19th century BCE, when the complex was started, the Earth's axial tilt was 23 degrees, 87 minutes, while today it is 23 degrees, 45 minutes, meaning that the winter solstice sunrise point in that ancient time was only one solar diameter to the south of where it is currently seen -- hardly a sign of the catastrophic event postulated in the creationist account, which has the wrong position of the sun, the wrong solstice, the wrong alignment of the temple, and the wrong estimate of the axial tilt.
This Egyptian-temple myth is a typical example of creation science and been making the rounds in creationist circles for many years. Unfortunately, it will probably never die. Whenever I have taken the time to do a detailed research of a creationist claim, it has invariably turned out not to be supported by the facts. Some claims, such as the Texas man tracks, and Lucy's separated knee joint, were finally rejected even by the leading creationists.
The reason I have not entered into a discussion of your references on rock layers, Pre-Cambrian pollen, etc. is first, that these references are abstracts, brief summaries of articles that I don't have easy access to, and second, that neither one of us is a geologist, physicist, paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, etc. I'll try, when possible, to rebut technical arguments, but I prefer that we stick to psychological, philosophical, and historical arguments.
Whenever a creationist and I get embroiled in a highly technical scientific matter, it seems that nothing gets settled. The debate always boils down to his experts against my experts. For example, one creationist friend of mine does not believe that the Sun's energy comes from nuclear fusion, citing Donald B. DeYoung's gravitational-contraction theory and the missing neutrinos. The gravitational-contraction theory, respectable in 19th century mainstream science, was refuted by Eddington in 1920-24. Only creationists try to keep this abandoned theory alive. Anyway, I did my best to research the problem and presented him with a credible scientific explanation. However, clinging with the tenaciousness of the true believer, he continues to trust only the creationists and to reject the mainstream scientists.
I never see rebuttals by mainstream scientists on creationist sites. It appears that most creationists read only creationist articles. It's no wonder that they think science is a bunch of bunk. And, when young-earth creationists are battling old-earth creationists, and both of those are fighting the theistic evolutionists, to which creationist views do I direct a rebuttal?
You said that the biblical words for "bat" and "bird" probably distinguished between these animals on the basis that they "were flying creatures." I made it quite clear that even an amateur naturalist would not make that distinction because some birds cannot fly. As for the "cud-chewing rabbit," the Bible's authors apparently had no problem with real cud chewers. Mistaking the rabbit's eating its fecal pellets as cud-chewing is in the same category as Aristotle's goofs on fewer teeth and black blood for women.
My statement was not that the Greek scientists "were the first to explore the mysteries of the Universe," but that they were "the first to use reason to explain the universe without resorting to deities and the first to demonstrate that the universe behaves in accordance with certain laws that cannot be changed." In the rebirth of science, there was a reversion to a supernatural deity. In matters of science, the religions of the world move glacially forward, if at all. It took the Catholic Church more than 350 years to admit its error in condemning Galileo.
You mentioned parenthetically that I deny the "ability to choose." In my article, "Do we have free will?," I did not say that one can not make a choice. What I said was that choice must be strictly determined by all the variables of the internal and external environment. There is a big difference between the determination of choice by certain variables and the denial that choice can occur.
As for the supernatural, I'm still waiting for a satisfactory answer from you on the question, "How does one know when to give up searching for a natural explanation?" Creationists get exceedingly impatient when seeking answers to the origin of consciousness and life!
Why is it that creationists, who take the Bible so literally when it comes to scientific matters, come up with the most outlandish, non-literal interpretations when they encounter scripture whose literal meaning they cannot accept? "Reclining in front of the breast of" does not convey the same sense as "lying on the breast of." You have reached into left field for this translation. You did not explain why John reminded the reader five times that he was the disciple whom Jesus loved. Customs change over time, but not human nature. The diversity of sexual behavior is widespread throughout all eras and in most species. In humans, diversity of sexual preference and attraction occurs whether or not it is accompanied by physical expression.
By saying that "the disciples had nothing to gain by making up a story," you gravely underestimate the commitment of the true believer. I am amused by the fanciful picture you paint of me at the crucifixion and resurrection, but note that you always have to reach into the distant past to find an impressive miraculous event. The fact that such miracles don't occur any more is a compelling indication that they never occurred.
If you or I could travel back to the time of Jesus, it is likely that we would not find him. Historian and classical scholar Earl Doherty has written a book titled "The Jesus Puzzle," (1999) which presents compelling evidence that Jesus never existed. The scholars of the Jesus Seminar agreed on only 16% of the acts and 18% of the sayings ascribed to Jesus. While Jesus may be as real as ever in the imaginations of lay Christians, he continues to fade away under the scrutiny of many biblical scholars. On my web site, I assumed for the sake of argument that Jesus was a real person, but, because he may be a mythical figure, I used the phrase "biblical Jesus."
You made light of the glaring discrepancies in the Gospels, but there is a world of difference between, say, the claim of 500 witnesses and that of 12 or 1. Also, it appears that you are implying that Matthew 24:27 - 34 means that any generation that sees the signs will not pass away before seeing the return of Jesus. I don't know what translation you are using, but the KJV says that after Jesus described the signs of "the coming of the Son of man," he said, "when ye [the disciples] shall see all these things, know that it is near, [even] at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This [your] generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." Jesus is obviously referring to the generation of the disciples to whom he is talking at that moment.
My speaking of God and quoting of scripture seemed to you inconsistent with my atheism. However, assuming the views of the other side for the sake of argument is a common, legitimate debating tactic used to reveal clearly the differences between opposing views or to demonstrate that carrying an opposing argument to its logical conclusions results in contradictions.
In 1997, researchers suggested that the brain's temporal lobe may be hard-wired for intense mystical and religious experience. Because you and I seem to be always talking past one another, I have wondered whether the genetic implications of that research apply to our miscommunication. However, I am reassured by the fact that three former, Bible-thumping, fundamentalist ministers, whom I have met, have converted to atheism. Therefore, the hard wiring, if any, appears to be malleable. On the other hand, some theists I've read about, who claim to have once been atheists, describe their atheist beginnings in terms that do not match the firmness with which I held my atheist beliefs ever since I left high school.
You concluded your essay with,"Your heroes, Sagan and Asimov, now know the truth and if they could send you a message, they would do so with tears." These heroes are long gone. Their non-existent brains can no longer know the truth or anything else. Their non-existent eyes can no longer shed tears. At age 74, the end is approaching quickly for me as well, barring some medical breakthrough. One comedian wisecracked, "I'm not afraid of death; I just don't want to be there when it happens!" Well, I know I'm going to be there when it happens, but it doesn't scare me. Sure, I'd like to live on for many centuries, if not forever, and I don't understand those that don't. However, I am a realist and 99.9% certain that I will go nowhere after death, as will everyone else. The best course is to enjoy life and try to stay healthy as long as possible. Whatever happens, you and I move on, each believing that the truth is on his side.