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8.31.2011

I Am Reading "Mere Christianity" by CS Lewis

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I am about 60 pages into CS Lewis' "Mere Christianity." It reads well and explains Christian belief in a clear but general way that is easy to understand.

That said, I have a lot of questions and issues with some parts, largely the assumptions and leaps of logic Lewis makes.

I started reading the book as part of a book club type discussion with a friend of mine who is Christian, to gain some understanding of her frame of reference.

In turn, she agreed to read Richard Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker" to get the atheist perspective.

My friend went off to school and we haven't discussed either text much. I haven't pushed the issue, mainly because I know she is busy with school and other things. She might have lost interest, because she told me she really dislikes Dawkins. And this is the sweetest, nicest person I know. So if she says she does not like Dawkins, that might be translated as close to hate for most other people.

I have no idea how far she is in the Dawkins book, if at all. I thought that was an easy read too, with a little bit of technical reading here and there that required some extra thinking. I raced through it really fast and got it back to the library before it came due, which is rare for me. I did have to renew "Mere Christianity" though, because I had it checked out at the same time as "Blind Watchmaker" and I am really only good at reading one book at a time. If I try to do more than that, I end up not finishing either.

I'll admit, I am a bit more interested in the topic of evolution, which is probably why I chose to read that one first. But I am upholding my end of the book club bargain now, and "Mere Christianity" isn't a dull read. It's interesting. Unconvincing, to date, but interesting. I like that the chapters were originally written as short radio plays in the 1940s. They are short and concise and to the point. He doesn't waste any time getting into the meat of things. That's alright in my book. Dawkins is pretty parsimonious too, but has the leeway to go into more technical details.

My friend and I will probably never see eye to eye. She's a Biblical literalist and my strict adherence to reason and belief in the universality of the Laws of Nature prohibits me from accepting blatant contradictions to the natural order of the universe. But that leads me back to my original question that started this whole discussion between me and my friend. Are SCIENCE and REASON the Devil's work, if they cause someone to deny the truth of the literal Bible? Because, logically, they must be. Certain things just can't be reconciled, starting right off the bat with the Creation story in the Bible. And then there's the mathematical fact that Christians are no more good or bad than other people, so it sure doesn't seem like you can only be good if you are chosen by Jesus. At what point do we say that the likelihood is no different from random chance, thus neutralizing the need to be chosen by Jesus? Lewis talks about being a good person inside and out, requiring Christianity. Really? I'm a good person inside and out. Have I been chosen by Jesus and I just don't know it? Folly.

But maybe through learning we can at least appreciate each other's world view. I still think atheists are the more open minded group, because we can generally accept people of any faith as friends and relatives and lovers, whereas some religious people are kind of closed minded and strict and unfriendly about such things. I sometimes feel like atheists know that all people are equal and have the same likelihood of being good or bad. But some religions treat atheists as inferior and thus less human, and Christianity is no exception. I could be wrong. Christians say they accept everyone, including atheists, but they certainly don't want just anyone to date their daughters, especially dirty atheists.

You know what I'm saying. Off to read some more CS Lewis.

p.s. Another friend called CS Lewis a "Christian apologetic." I am not seeing it. He writes in a very unapologetic way, as I see it. Unless I don't understand what people mean by "apologetic." Lewis is brazen about the superiority of Christianity to everything else.

8.24.2011

I Finished Reading "Blind Watchmaker" by Richard Dawkins

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I have a hard time finishing books if I am not really engrossed by them.

I cranked through Richard Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker" though.

In addition to stuff I already knew as a student of biology, I learned a ton of new stuff while reading it.

But the main take home message I got out of it was that even though I might well be an Average Joe who sucks (though I tend to think not), what really matters is that my ancestors of the past 3.5 billion years were amazingly kickass.

That is to say, from the hellish, sulferous volcanic oceans of the early earth that spawned the first living molecules until now, there is a direct line of descent...to ME.

That's pretty cool (note that I wouldn't be here to think so if it wasn't the case...). It kind of makes me want to keep up the "family values" and try to improve my Darwinian fitness in honor of all my awesome ancestors who avoided death long enough to have offspring, whose genes were good enough to get them to reproductive age.

Evolution is pretty cool, although the roadside through time is littered with the corpses of those that didn't make it...the dead ends.

Of course, I have to give some credit to my currently living contemporaries in the species known as Homo sapiens. After all, without the ingenuity of many of my kind (which far surpasses mine), and their genetic predisposition for altruistic and cooperative behavior, I might not have made it this far. Vaccines, medicine, a relatively safe food and water supply, technology, and the list goes on.

WHO'S YER MAMA?

An Open Letter to God

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Dear God,

A Christian friend recently told me that Heaven is wide open to anyone who accepts Jesus, and that such acceptance is sufficient to get in.

Is this true? If so, I'd like to NOT come.

I really don't want to spend eternity with the likes of Hitler, Timothy McVeigh, George W. Bush, and any number of gay haters and abortion clinic bombers.

A good day to you, Sir.

JSL

8.20.2011

Where Are the Intermediate Species in Evolution?

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Sometimes people who don't believe in evolution ask, "Why aren't there any intermediate species?"

I always used to think they meant why aren't there any intermediate species in the fossil record. And that was usually followed by the thought that where a good fossil record exists, there are intermediate species (now extinct). And so the question always seemed silly. Not to mention that the fossil record is very incomplete in most places and so the path of evolution does seem gappy, set aside the fact that related but different species often didn't live in the same places (geographical separation is in fact one of the factors that CAUSES speciation).

But then I started reading Richard Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker" and it occurred to me that this question, usually from people with a creationist biblical perspective, is really better interpreted as, "Why aren't there any intermediate species alive today?"

Set aside the fact that "intermediate species" is a relative term (could not chimps be considered an intermediate species between humans and orangutans, for example, from a morphological perspective?), the reason that we don't see too many intermediate species alive today (and there are some, like many kinds of plants that can hybridize), is because the evolutionary tree branches in TIME.

Chimps and humans have a common ancestor. But when that ancestor lived, perhaps 5 million years ago, there were not yet any chimps or humans. When that species branched, both branches began to CHANGE from the ancestral species, one becoming chimps and one becoming humans.

But once the split occurred and the two species could no longer interbreed, the ancestral species ceased to exist.

But fossils of the ancestral species do exist, dated between 5-7 million years ago. In fact, there are three possible candidates - Ardipithecus, Sahelanthropus, or Orrorin.

Such fossils are rare and incomplete, which makes determining which may have been the closest ancestral common ancestor of chimps and humans difficult. In fact, none of the fossils found is probably THE common ancestor (mathematically, there can only be ONE actual individual that serves as the branch point for the evolutionary tree).

So I hope this helps to answer the question about where are the intermediate species. Where they exist, they are probably incomplete and still buried in rocks. In plants, we know that related subspecies can still hybridize, such as maize and corn, as well as numerous varieties of flowering plants. That's good, because plant fossils are even rarer than the fossils of bony animals.

On the distantly related question of how could a single celled organism eventually lead to the multicellular complexity of a human being...you need look no further than this very occurrence during embryonic development from a single-celled fertilized egg to a new born baby.

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

8.14.2011

God Hates Country Music (or Maybe Just Indiana, Hard to Say)

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Why does God hate country music?

Or maybe Indiana pissed him off?

Actually, probably none of the above. Random weather.

But that doesn't stop televangelists from cursing the sinfulness of people when disaster strikes them.

So why not?

8.09.2011

Making Wind Power 10x More Efficient (With SCIENCE)...

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Could wind power ever compete with fossil fuels?

I don't know, but CHECK THIS OUT: www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14452133.

Right now, in America, we not only DON'T subsidize alternative energy, we also do subsidize fossil fuels, based on a logic I have never understood and probably never will.

This scientific discovery provides a major "subsidy" to wind energy, in the form of efficiency (aka, AWESOMENESS).

Now if we could just stop the government handouts to big oil...

8.06.2011

A 3 Point Argument for the Idea that God Does Not Interfere in Our Lives

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1. God made the Laws of Nature

2. God follows the Laws of Nature faithfully and without exception.

3. If God interfered with the world, He would be violating his own Laws.

When God created the universe, he knew that the current Laws of Nature were the perfect harmonious model to set things into motion and let them take their course, eventually leading to His greatest creation, Humans.*

He doesn't mess with the model, because He knows if he did, it would throw it off balance and F it up (Humans sometimes F it up though, by failing to appreciate and understand the Laws of Nature...like with global warming).

As a result of His creation of the Laws of Nature, we have this stable universe and these cool fleshy vehicles to carry us around, thanks to a molecule called DNA that is a perfect blueprint for all life on earth.

DNA is the perfect example of the above. God made a perfect molecule for giving rise to life. There is no living thing on earth that is not made from it, without exception. And it behaves perfectly predictably, producing the expected end result based on the sequence of base pairs it contains.

Similar organisms like chimps and humans share most of the same blueprint and as a result we are very similar to chimps. Bananas and humans only share about 25% the same DNA (which always seemed like a lot to me, but remember that all organisms have a lot of vestigial DNA that is junk DNA from our prior common ancestors).

God has never in history created a life form that wasn't based on DNA. Puppets never come to life magically. I'll even bet that Jesus was made from DNA, parthenogenic birth notwithstanding. I mean, think about what a job it would be for Mary to carry around a life form based on something alien to the human developmental biology. God doesn't want to work that hard to maintain something so deviant from His Laws.

DNA is a strong piece of evidence that God does not interfere. He just sets things in motion.

So why aren't scientists considered to be prophets of God? They are the ones who spend most of their time studying God's plan in the form of the Laws of Nature. So scientists are closer to God's creation than any of us.

*Note: Only humans think this. Bluefin tuna think they are God's most awesome creation, the way they can effortlessly ply through the oceans eating mackerel and other manna from heaven.