Monday, September 28, 2009

Another Sweet Fossil Find

It's another feathered dinosaur. According to this article it is now the oldest "bird" ever discovered. Here's another article on it with a good illustration.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Free Copy of Origin of Species

If you want a free copy of a large, important book, keep an eye on Ray Comfort's plans to distribute 100K copies, along with his 50 page introduction linking Darwin to Hitler, slavery, and general wickedness. Otherwise the main text is unmolested. You might be able to pick up a copy when they are distributed in November at college campuses across the country.

For some fun and easy on the eyes atheistic commentary watch Christina from Romania. I have a Romanian friend that's not too impressed with her, but to each his own I guess. Atheists have been digging her for a while, probably because there are so few women involved in counter Christianity. Like engineers maybe we just are prone to going kind of nuts over the few females in our midst.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Obama the Leftist

Small government minded Republicans endured 8 years of government expansion and intrusion under Bush. For me it was enough to drive me out of the Republican party. My hope is that the coming 4 or 8 years of war mongering and big business pandering under Obama will drive some peace loving leftists out of the Democratic party.

One leftist cause for a long time has been the plight of the Palestinians. Bible thumpers tend to side with the Israeli government, but secular leftists didn't. As Obama has disappointed them by expanding wars throughout the Middle East Obama likewise has disappointed them with regards to the Palestinians. He has backed off his demand that Israel freeze settlement construction.

For those that don't understand how outrageous settlement construction is, here's some quick background information. In 1948 Israel declared itself an independent state and Arab nations responded by declaring war on it. Israel won the war and used the opportunity to drive the indigenous population out. 750,000 people were driven from their homes into a couple of refugee camps as well as neighboring states, such as Lebanon. Today these refugee camps are called the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinians would like to return to their homes from that period, but that's unlikely to happen. But what would be great is if they could at least retain control of the refugee camps. Instead some Israeli's, induced by subsidies from their government, have crossed into the refugee camps and began building homes for themselves, diverting most of the water to their own much smaller population, and built walls to protect those homes. They've likewise constructed walls and checkpoints to make movement within these refugee camps difficult for the Palestinian inhabitants.

Now obviously if anybody wants to have peaceful relations with their neighboring state they can't just ignore borders and grow. Settlement expansion is pretty much a guarantor that there will not be peace. Obama is fine with settlement expansion.

These Democrats I'm afraid will not get it. After all, Obama is pro-choice. And that's critical. I mean, suppose I'm a New York liberal and while I'm driving through South Dakota I need an abortion? If Roe was overturned I might have to drive to Minnesota to get a legal abortion!! So inconvenient. Screw the Palestinians.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Back for More Grady McMurtry

Being a glutton for punishment I was back in the pew last night (Monday) to hear "Dr" Grady McMurtry tell us how he knows that the earth is young. I'm thinking that nobody is going to go to church on a Monday night just after they went on Sunday. Fewer people means I have a better chance of arguing with him.

But Grady packed it out pretty well even on a Monday night. I'd guess there were maybe 600 people there. Perhaps people were bringing their skeptical friends, like they suggested we do on Sunday. That's what I did. I brought along an atheistic friend of my own. On the other hand I didn't sense that there were too many skeptical people in the audience. My guess is my friend and I were the only ones.

With all these people I was afraid I might not get a chance to speak with him, but it turned out I did.

The presentation was quite long. I'd say he went about an hour and a half. He packed in dozens of arguments. "Gemstones CAN form quickly. Fossilization CAN occur quickly. Light CAN be artificially slowed." That's all probably true, but who cares? I'm not familiar with old earthers who argue based upon the time required for gems to form, but maybe some are out there. And I don't know why it matters that since light CAN be slowed this somehow shows that light passing through the vacuum of space in fact IS slowing.

He did reference a couple of supposed scientists that claim there is evidence that it used to be 10 million times faster than it is today. I'll look into it, but this was typical of the evening. Some pretty bold claims that he didn't really attempt to justify. Other examples include his claim that the sun is spinning too rapidly for the solar system to be old. If it were 4.5 billion years old it would have slowed to a lower rate than what it spins now. A similar claim was made with regard to spiral galaxies. They spin too rapidly and would have sort of broken up by now if the universe was 14.5 billion years old. That sounds great in his stump speech, but why believe it? He didn't try to explain why.

After each of his Sunday sermons and his Monday night presentation he went straight to a table that was set up for him to be able to sell his books. He had quite a throng of people on Sunday. He was collecting money faster than he could stuff it in his pockets, and he had five volunteers assisting in the money collection as well. Both Sunday services took up a collection for him as was done on Monday night. I have a feeling he's having a very good week.

I wanted to try and talk with him Sunday, but I decided not to. He was too busy collecting money and wouldn't be interested in a discussion. Monday was better, but I still had to wait quite a while for the crowd around the table to disperse. When they finally did I approached him at the table. The conversation went something like this.

Me-Hey Grady. Nice to meet you (shaking hands). I'm actually one of those atheistic evolutionists.
Grady-Oh really (appearing a little uncomfortable).
Me-Yeah, I figured I'd come out and see what the other side has to say. Can I ask you a question about evolution?
Me-What do you think about endogenous retro viruses?
Grady-What about them?
Me-Don't you think they're good evidence for evolution?
Me-Why not?
Grady-Well why should they be?
Me-You don't think they are?
Grady-Why don't you tell me why you think they should be.

Now, here's why I posed the question this way. Grady portrayed himself as a person that grew up hanging out in the paleontology labs at Berkley. He had said on Sunday that in the 3rd and 4th grade his teachers had him doing some of the teaching because he knew things so much better than they did. His father taught at Berkley and he was inculcated with evolutionary thinking. He taught evolution from the 7th grade on up through the college level. Pretty impressive, right?

But according to what I was able to find digging around on the internet it looks like Grady's father was in fact a major occultist that was a teaching assistant for political science at Berkley. Grady has an undergraduate degree in forestry, a graduate degree in environmental science, and a doctorate from an unaccredited university in theology. So I thought it was odd that any kind of a college would hire Grady to teach biological science when he doesn't have any formal post high school training in the subject. Is it possible he has no idea what he's talking about? Anybody that teaches evolutionary theory in college would have heard of ERV's. This is perhaps the single most powerful piece of evidence in favor of evolutionary theory. So I wanted to see if Grady gave me any indication he had ever heard of them. Nothing he said suggested he knew what they were.

So I had a choice at that point. I could call him out or I could explain them to him as he asked me to do. I wimped out and chose the later. I'm thinking that if I get to aggressive he won't discuss anything further and I wanted to. So I bailed him out and explained things to him. Here's how he reacted, and how subsequent discussion went.

Grady-I don't see how that proves anything.
Me-Really? We share virus sequences with chimpanzees and you don't see that as relevant?
Grady-It's totally irrelevant.
Me-But this type of things would prove a parent/child relationship in court.
Grady-Look, you've got two eyes, a nose, two ears just like a lot of animals. Is that supposed to prove something?
Me-Would you accept that response from a father in court that was unwilling to pay child support. "Hey, so what if I share a virus sequence with the child. He likewise has two eyes and a nose. So what?"
Grady-You know how similar the chimpanzee genome is with the human?
Me-I don't know. I guess there are different ways of measuring it.
Grady-How close do you think?
Me-Maybe 97% similarity depending on how you are measuring.
Grady-Not even close. They're way dissimilar. Do you know that our genome is more similar to a rat than a chimpanzee.
Me-No it isn't.
Grady-Yes it is. We're even more similar to a sea squirt than a chimpanzee.
Me-I don't think so.
Grady-You're wrong.

It was a lot of Grady simply asserting that I have the facts wrong and he doesn't. There wasn't much attempt to show anything. Perhaps that was true of both of us, but I just assumed a lot of these things must be acknowledge by creationists. Apparently not. I went on to discuss the genomic evidence further.

Me-And it's not just the viruses. There are other features in the genome that point to common ancestry.
Grady-Like what?
Me-Cytochrome C for instance
Grady-(Laughing derisively) Cytochrome C?!? That argument hasn't been used in 25 years.
Me-Not true. I just heard a molecular evolutionists use the argument.
Grady-Well then he is behind the times. That argument doesn't work at all. You're obviously very well indoctrinated and you're just going to believe this stuff.
Me-Well, one of us is indoctrinated, but it isn't me.

Once again I was left wondering if Grady actually knew what the argument was. In front of all of these people he has to make it appear that he understands the issues, but nothing he said actually showed me that he did. However it did give that impression. If he knows when the argument went out of favor then he appears to be familiar with it.

Grady was quite uncomfortable throughout the whole dialogue. He wouldn't look at me. A couple of times he just walked off to the other end of the table and I wasn't sure if he was trying to end the discussion, but it might have been because he was looking for some material to show me. I waited for him to return. The discussion continued as a few interested parishioners listened in.

Me-Have you ever heard of Basilasaurus.
Grady-(Snicker) Yeah. It's ridiculous (he walks off to grab a book and returns to show me a text that says that Basilasaurus isn't in fact ancestral to modern whales, but went extinct on it's own. While he looked for the book I explained to listeners what Basilasaurus was).
Me-I don't have a problem with what this says. We're not claiming that we have the actual ancestor to whales but that this is probably a cousin to what was in fact the real ancestor. Fossil finds are rare and it would be surprising to find an actual ancestor. It's a cousin, like Neanderthal.
Grady-Neanderthal is nothing but a human.
Me-No it isn't.
Grady-Yes it is.
Me-Scientists just recently published their studies on the genome of Neanderthal and they say it is not human.
Grady-That's incorrect it is human.
Me-(I kind of turn to the listeners) Even Hugh Ross, a creationist, will tell you that Neanderthals are not humans. I don't know what else to say.
Grady-Well, you're obviously pretty well indoctrinated and you're just not going to be open to the truth.
Me-OK. Well it was nice meeting you and I'll look into your arguments from tonight (I extend my hand to shake his, but he walks off).

I guess I'm somewhat suspicious that this guy doesn't even believe his own rhetoric. I wonder if I'm dealing with a Marjoe character here, just not nearly as talented. Who knows. Good times though. He's teaching tonight on global warming and how it is bunk. I think I'll skip that one. Wednesday night the lesson is regarding dinosaurs. Maybe I'll go and sit in the front row and smile at him.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Knowing Your Enemies

The United States is under attack from outsiders that would love to destroy us. People that are interested in peace know that the first thing you should do to help alleviate the problem is attempt to understand the causes. Yet who is paying any attention to Osama bin Laden's latest letter to America?

Read the whole thing and look for any reference to his hatred of freedom, hatred of prosperity, or desire to spread Islam far and wide. That's bogus and all thinking people know it.

Once again his major problem is with U.S. support of Israeli atrocities in Gaza and the West Bank. He refers to Israel's use of white phosphorous in Gaza, which Israel has admitted using. Israel's crimes are well documented by Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem, among others.

So what's the hold up in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? One would think that it's so complex as to be unresolvable. We're between a rock and a hard place. But that's not true. The United States and Israel stand virtually alone in opposing a two state settlement, and have for 30 years. Every year around November a vote is called at the U.N. called "Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine." Check out the voting record shown in Figure 1 here. Here is a visual of the roll call from 2005. The whole world is prepared to recognize Israel's right to exist within secure borders, including the entire Arab world. Polls show that both Israeli and Palestinian majorities favor such a peaceful settlement. And yet the governments of Israel and the United States won't go along.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Bin Laden is a criminal that deserves justice. But this doesn't mean none of his grievances are legitimate. Those that want peace must consider addressing legitimate grievances. Does U.S. and Israeli obstinance in the face of a worldwide desire for a settlement enhance the prospects for peace or does it provide bin Laden with his primary motivation for reacting to us violently? He claims the later is the case. I say we should listen.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What We're Up Against

Why is there so much suicide amongst the youth? Why are our streets plagued with fornicating homosexual activists parading around in a grotesque fashion? The answer is obvious. The problem is the Theory of Evolution.

If you've done online debates you may have heard similar things before. But this morning it hit home a little more for me, as I watched "Dr." Grady McMurtry of Creation Worldview Ministries explain all these things to a couple of thousand people from my area. He's in town Sunday through Wednesday at Cornerstone Church in Highland.

Atheists sometimes seem surprised at the high numbers of Americans that reject evolution, but I'm not surprised. I live in an area of Michigan that generally is affluent. Maybe upper middle class. These are well educated, smart people. This church I attended this morning is obviously well funded. The congregation has money and intelligence. And they just lapped up this stuff. When Grady says "How can you tell an evolutionist is lying? His lips are moving" they just eat it up. When well educated people like this can be persuaded based upon such flimsy, unreasonable rhetoric what hope is there for the rest of America?

The demonization of people like me is really quite staggering to behold. In addition to linking evolutionists to homosexuality and suicide I also learned of my responsibility for bestiality and abortion. I'm not kidding. This is the stuff that thousand of my neighbors are learning.

If you've never been to church to hear how they view us you owe it to yourself to go. Find an event where the subject of atheism will be discussed and observe how you are regarded. You are a threat to every decent person in this country. In order to deny what is plainly evident (the truth of the Bible) you believe that rocks turned into the first single celled organism (I literally heard this claim this morning). This irrational belief is going to turn your children into hedonistic abortionist freaks. You must be stopped at all costs.

Generally I don't care if people want to believe in religion, or reject evolution. It doesn't really hurt me when others want to believe that man was made in a garden out of mud with a talking snake 6K years ago. But when they demonize us in this way I sort of feel like a potential physical threat is brewing. The fear instilled in these believers of people like me could conceivably cause someone to do something crazy. This is a real problem.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Frank Schaeffer: The GOP's Evangelical Subcutlure is a Fifth Column of Insanity

Frank Schaeffer is absolutely right in this interview with Rachel Maddow. Our culture really has not sufficiently taken stock of the fact that we have a large segment of our population that genuinely believes crazy things, and when they try and effect public policy on the basis of these crazy things they can produce frightening consequences.

I'm going to have to read his book Crazy for God.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Path of Least Resistance

Does the bible have a lot of awful things in it? Sure. But it's worth noting that despite that, there are also many excellent moral examples in the Bible. One lesson is that doing what's right is not always easy.

Being a prophet wasn't easy when the leadership is wicked. The pressure is on to tell the king what he wants to hear and to disregard the king's immorality. Paper over the wickedness of his kingdom.

Ezekiel dealt with such prophets. He writes in chapter 13 verse 14:

The lying prophets have tried to cover up the evil in Jerusalem, but I will tear down the city, all the way to its foundations. And when it collapses, those prophets will be killed, and everyone will know that I have done these things.

At I Kings 22 we read that King Ahab was able to produce 400 prophets that were willing to tell him what he wanted to hear. There was one prophet Ahab didn't want to hear from. That was Micaiah, who Ahab hated. Why? Micaiah never prophesied anything good about him.

But Ahab called him anyway. Micaiah initially sarcastically told Ahab what he wanted to hear, but the King demanded he be truthful. When he then told the truth Ahab rewarded his candor by throwing him in prison.

It's much easier to advocate on behalf of the state. Defying the state can be risky, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer learned.

If you were to re-tell some of these biblical stories, or perhaps re-tell the story of the Nazi's, but instead insert modern people as characters, where do you think someone like Bob Dutko would fit? Bob tells me that he doesn't like to focus on what is bad about America. Pointing out thousands of civilians killed by acts of terrorism perpetuated by the U.S. government is "anti-American" and "trashing the country."

I suppose the same would be true of Elijah. By criticizing Ahab and Jezebel I suppose that would make him an anti-Semite. Bob would have him stay quiet. Focus on the good things they've done.

Yet Bob cheers on Elijah, as do most of the advocates of state violence that you listen to on right wing radio. Perhaps they should pay closer attention to their own bible. They should take another look at the prophets. And when their done maybe they should try and understand Jesus' teachings regarding the hypocrite.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Proof of the Garden of Eden

Via STR I've learned of the supposed discovery of a snake with a leg. Check it out here.

Sometimes you do have to give the Bible it's due. The bible did sort of say that the ancestors of snakes had legs, just like evolutionary science likewise tells us. It's not as if the Bible claimed that the ancestors of snakes had wings which were clipped, which it might have just as easily done presuming it's all made up.

Another interesting thing that the Bible sort of gets right is that the most recent male common ancestor to all humans (referred to as Y-chromosomal Adam) is in fact younger than the most recent female common ancestor to all humans (Mitochondrial Eve). If Noah is the most recent common ancestor to all humans then the wives he brought aboard the ark would share a common ancestor that is older than Noah.

Christians get the whole thing wrong though, but I'm not going to bother to explain why right now. The point is the Bible is closer to the truth then it might have otherwise been.

I guess there might be legitimate accurate prophecies in the Bible, though I can't remember exactly where. A somewhat specific prediction was made about the outcome of a battle and I believe it was made before the events occurred, and by gum that's exactly what happened. Who'd a thunk it? Even the Bible gets it right sometimes.

Monday, September 14, 2009

They Hate Us Because We're So Good

It's pretty staggering to me that Americans are so willing to buy off on the absurd notion that foreign terrorists are fighting us because they hate goodness, freedom, prosperity, etc. They prefer the smell of rotten flesh to roses, would rather eat dirt and piss than ice-cream, etc.

Bob Dutko had a guest by the name of Walid Shoebat. He's an ex-Muslim turned Christian. It's the same sort of thing. You know all the starved kids in Iraq, coup's of democratically elected leaders who were replaced by murderous dictators, etc. None of that stuff motivates terrorists. It's the fact that Mohammad teaches that you must slay de-converts.

So far in my research into the Qur'an, which admittedly is limited, I'm unaware of such a teaching. So I emailed Shoebat's organization to ask them where they were getting this. They did offer a text. It's not from the Qur'an, but from hadith. And as far as I can see it is from hadith that is regarded as likely to be an accurate presentation of Mohammad's teaching. Here's the text, which I'll provide in full. My corresponder only provided the red portion:

Narrated Ikrima: Some Zanakiqa (atheists) were brought to Ali; and he burnt them. The news of this event reached Ibn Abbas who said, "If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah's Messenger forbade it, saying, 'Do not punish anybody with Allah's punishment (fire).' I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah's Messenger: 'Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.' (Sahih al-Bukhari 6922)

I spoke with my Muslim friends about this. They are more moderate and take this to be a teaching that only applied to a specific time at the early stages of development when Islam was very vulnerable to military defeat and was under attack. They point to places where Mohammad allowed people to leave the faith and he left them unharmed.

That's one way to look at it I suppose. Obviously not everyone sees it the way my more moderate friends do, which is why some Muslim states do penalize apostates with death. Clearly they can make a rational case that this is Mohammad's teaching.

Despite that, I don't think there is good reason to think that this is what is motivating Muslims. I wrote a response to Shoebat's organization. I have provided that below. Note that they had recommended that I read information from Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, who I reference in my response.

Thanks for that info. I was unaware of that.

On the other hand though I do not agree with your organization in its explanations for the motivations of Islamic violence. I've heard Robert Spencer also on the Bob Dutko Show and likewise he says the same sorts of things. They hate us because we are free and prosperous and wonderful. They have a crazy religion.

The way I see it Muslims are a lot like Christians. They don't know much about their own faith. How many Christians are aware of Deuteronomy 3:6-10? Christians don't know and don't care. When the United States engages in violence we don't look to obscure biblical texts to explain it. The reasons are usually political.

The same is true of people like Osama bin Laden. For instance he wrote what is referred to as his "Letter to America" after 9-11, which you can read here.

He explains what motivates his violence. His top reason is our support of Israel. Whatever side you might take on that issue, it's certainly understandable why he would be angry about that. For instance he probably is aware of the # of Palestinians killed and the massive human rights abuses perpetuated against the Palestinians. You might look here for instance.

He's probably aware that the U.S. and Israel stand pretty much alone against the world in opposing a two state solution, voted on every year at the U.N. It's supported by everyone except the U.S. and Israel and maybe a couple of obscure countries that they get to go along. He's probably aware that the settlements are illegal and a perpetual obstacle to peace. These things would naturally make someone like OBL mad. You may disagree with him on these grievances, but there is no need to look to obscure hadith to understand things. He's naturally going to side with his Muslim brothers on this.

Another reason he cites for his violence is the starvation campaign perpetuated against innocent Iraqi children. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Iraq following the gulf war that had the effect of killing around 1.5 million children. You may think it was the right thing to do. You may place the blame with Saddam more (a dictator the U.S. had installed, which is another grievance OBL refers to). But naturally you wouldn't expect Muslims to see it that way. You wouldn't expect them to think it was worth the starvation of over a million kids to remove a dictator we had installed. Why point to obscure texts that people like OBL don't even talk about and avoid a discussion on the actual reasons that he offers?

I think Shoebat and Spencer are doing a great disservice, not just to Muslims, but also to Americans. The key to resolving violent conflicts is to understand the causes. By pointing to obscure hadith and other irrational reasons you permit America to continue avoid doing what is so difficult yet so necessary. Looking in the mirror. It's understandable that many Muslims become angry and violent when a foreign government imposes harsh dictators on them, as in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, etc. This doesn't justify the terror that OBL engages in, but some of his grievances are legitimate. We should be addressing them regardless of his immoral behavior. Spencer and Shoebat don't want to even acknowledge them, let alone address them. Does this make Americans safe? Is it moral? I think not.

Feel free to respond if you disagree. Thanks for reading this.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Bible's Hidden Secrets

There's an excellent documentary from NOVA on biblical archaeology. It's 2 hours long, but worth it if you are interested in an overview of the evidence in the ground and how it relates to Old Testament biblical stories. It's available online here.

HT: Common Sense Atheism

That's Odd

Our government's public pronouncements were at odds with their true aims? Who would have thought? Even still, this is surprising. Bush Sr. and Margaret Thatcher opposed the reunification of Germany.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Museums Don't Shy From Evolution

I was able to visit several major museums this summer, which was a lot of fun. At the beginning of August my wife and I spent a few days in Washington D.C. It was my first time going there. At the Natural History Museum I was pleased to see the prominent role given to the Theory of Evolution. Here's a photo we took of a display in the main atrium.

We watched a video designed for kids which showed what our own ancestor might have looked like 65 million years ago and how it might have survived the mass extinction event. Likewise many of the displays made clear the evolutionary connections of life, such as in the photo below:

Just yesterday my family and I returned from the Chicago, where we had visited the Field Museum, among other places. Once again the Theory of Evolution was central to the presentation. Check out this photo:

It doesn't get much more clear than that. Check out some of the displays, some of which include my 9 year old boy, Ben.

Of course the above is Tiktaalik, which has a display of it's own, which includes a "fleshed out" version.

The above is "Lucy". They also have a mold of the bones that were found.

Next to this display is a full cast model of Turkana boy.

The above is Neanderthal next to a modern human.

I can understand the consternation that this causes amongst the faithful. In fact I was raised with parents that felt that consternation, and I felt it with them. But this didn't stop my parents from allowing us to view this sort of thing. They'd just kind of deride it. We still have a running joke in my family whenever we hear on TV a claim about billions of years. We repeat what my Dad had said so many times. "Oh yeah right, biilllions" in a sarcastic manner. It's all the more funny because my parents have moved on to old earth creationism.

As I recall in school I don't remember learning too much about evolution. I was very sensitive to it in 9th grade biology, ready to pounce on the poor teacher if he said anything. Basically he tried to avoid it. It's a very conservative area and he understood the pressures that would be applied if he tried to teach things properly. It's good to see that they aren't afraid of offending anybody at these museums.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Fugs have heard of Nicaragua

Bob Dutko's not too familiar with the atrocities of the CIA committed against Nicaragua as I learned in my last call to him. I just watched this movie called "Burn After Reading". There's this great song that plays as the final credits roll. Apparently The Fugs have heard of it. Check it out.