September 28, 2006
Archaeologists recently discovered a stone with unknown markings in Mexico. While the meaning of the symbols is unknown, archaeologists did not hesitate to identify it as a written language—probably the oldest in the Americas. Stephen Houston of Brown University explained:
When I saw the block, as did the rest of us, we knew we were in the presence of something very special…. It had completely unknown signs, but they were arranged in these long sequences we felt just had to be a new form of writing…. It’s not just a set of symbols that might be placed together the way you might see on, let’s say, a medieval French or English painting. Rather, they are arranged in a sequence that is meant to reflect a language with grammatical elements and with a word order that makes sense.
Houston experienced what design theorists call a “design inference.” The specification and complexity of the markings made it clear that an intelligent agent, rather than chance processes, produced it. The fact that the identity of the designer is unknown (although it is believed to be from the Olmec civilization), and the design itself is currently unintelligible to us, does not mitigate our intuitive awareness that it was in fact designed. In the same way these archaeologists detected design on nature, we can detect design in nature: empirically. This is all the more so when you consider the multiplicity of the complexity and specification of the universe over these stone markings.
I previously mentioned that archaeologists believe the Olmec civilization is responsible for the stone markings. But how do the archaeologists know they were the creators of this stone writing? Did they see anyone from the Olmec civilization writing on this stone? No. Do they possess written records from a nearby tribe ascribing these sorts of markings to the Olmec civilization? No. Then why are they suggesting the Olmec civilization is responsible for creating the markings? I would imagine it’s because that was the only civilization of human beings living in that region at the time. But this presupposes that the markings were the product of intelligence, rather than chance natural processes. There is no evidence that this is true. No one has a date-stamped photograph of an Olmecian tribesman writing on the stone. The only basis for ascribing the stone markings to the Olmecs—or any other intelligent agent for that matter—is a design inference. The stone markings bear the marks of an intelligent designer, therefore—they reason—it must have been designed. And since the Olmecs were the only ones in that region at the time, they reason that they must be the designers. Again, design in the universe is just as easily inferred from what we know about the universe as it is inferred from what we know about this stone. Design is empirically detectable. Design inference is a scientific discipline.
September 28, 2006
Princeton philosopher, Peter Singer, is best known for his support of infanticide and starting the animal liberation movement. On 9-11-06 Singer answered a host of questions on the Animal Liberation Front website, including questions about the forenamed topics. Two stand out in particular:
Question: Would you kill a disabled baby?
Answer: Yes, if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole. Many people find this shocking, yet they support a woman’s right to have an abortion. One point on which I agree with opponents of abortion is that, from the point of view of ethics rather than the law, there is no sharp distinction between the foetus and the newborn baby.
While I think Singer is morally sick, at least he is consistent in his views…unlike most abortion-choice advocates. He is absolutely right: birth is not a morally significant difference.
Question: Why should we assign rights to animals when we already recognise duties (of care, preservation of their species, etc) towards them? If animals have a right to life, for example, must we protect them against natural predators in the wild?
Answer: Unfortunately, we don’t come anywhere near fulfilling the duties we have to animals. If we did, we wouldn’t be bringing misery to the lives of millions of factory farmed animals, for no reason except that we prefer the taste of their flesh to other, cruelty-free and sustainable ways of feeding ourselves. As for protecting prey from predators, if we did that we would be upsetting the ecological system, and the prey would soon become too numerous and starve.
This one blows me away. While Singer claims we should not protect animals from other animals, we should protect animals from ourselves. This is contradictory given Singer’s view that we are just another animal in the forest. If we shouldn’t protect animals from other animals, then there is no need for us to protect them from other humans who want to eat them. Doing so “would be upsetting the ecological system.”
September 27, 2006
The Guttmacher Institute is probably the most respected and accurate abortion-reporting agency in the U.S (they are decidedly abortion-choice in their ideology). I subscribe to their weekly e-blast to keep abreast on abortion statistics, as well as to see what kind of off-the-wall things these abortion-choicers will say next! In their August 24, 2006 email titled “Plan B Decision by FDA a Victory for Common Sense,” the GI praised the FDA’s decision to allow Plan B to be sold to adults without a prescription.
For those of you not familiar with Plan B, it is an “emergency contraceptive.” It is more commonly referred to as “the morning after pill.” If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex it will prevent conception. Many pro-lifers oppose the pill because it is believed to function as an abortifacient at the early embryonic stage as well (whether this is so will be the topic of a future post).
I was not surprised to find the GI praising the FDA’s decision. What caught my eye was a statement made by the president and CEO of the GI, Sharon Camp: “This is a historic event in the struggle for women’s reproductive health and rights, and a long-overdue victory for science over ideology.” Anyone who reads what abortion-choice advocates have to say quickly recognizes that they offer few arguments to substantiate their position. They defend it by throwing out nice-sounding slogans and catchy buzzwords that resonate with their audience. “Science over ideology” has become a favorite slogan among liberals who favor bioethical policies that allow for the destruction of prenatal human beings. Whenever someone raises a reasoned objection to their worldview, they respond that we are pushing our personal ideology at the expense of science.
A couple of things struck me about Ms. Camp’s use of this slogan, given the topic. First, she is constructing a straw-man. By pitting the pro-life view (“ideology”) against science, Ms. Camp intends to convey the notion that we are anti-science. That is simply not true, and she knows it. We are opposed to using science to kill innocent and vulnerable human beings. Our opposition is moral in nature. But it wouldn’t sound very good to put the debate in those terms: “This is…a long-overdue victory for science over morality.”
I was also struck by Ms. Camp’s reference to the pro-life position as “ideology.” I do not deny that the pro-life view is an ideology, but Ms. Camp’s use of this word is entirely rhetorical, and distorts the truth. First, she invests a negative connotation into an otherwise neutral word. Secondly, the fact of the matter is that her view on abortion is no less of an ideology than the pro-life view. They are competing and opposing ideologies. But these are the kind of word games abortion-choicers use to win the day. If you want to find substantive arguments, you’ll have to read pro-choice authors!
September 27, 2006
Congressman Meisner from the state of Michigan introduced House Bill 4900 to amend sections of the public health code dealing with embryonic stem cell research (http://www.rtl.org/html/legislation/prolifeleg/pdf/EthicsTechnology/1998-SB864.pdf). It is being sold by Rep. Andy Meisner as a bill that will both permit embryonic stem cell research and prohibit human cloning. As with the Missouri and federal proposals, this bill legalizes human cloning while pretending to ban it.
It is similar to the other bills in that it:
- Avoids using the word “embryo” as much as possible (the MI law currently contains the word, but Meisner’s bill proposes to replace all but one occurrence with “fetus”)
- Prohibits human cloning by falsely defining human cloning as implanting a cloned embryo in a womb to gestate through birth.
Regarding the second, the bill boldly states, “A licensee or registrant shall not engage in or attempt to engage in human cloning.” Sounds good! I guess this means MI will not engage in research involving cloned embryos. But wait! That would be the proper conclusion if words meant something, but in the Meisner bill words don’t mean anything at all. Words mean whatever Meisner says they mean. He defines human cloning, not scientifically as the asexual creation of a human zygote through somatic cell nuclear transfer, but rather as “creating or attempting to create a human being by using the somatic cell nuclear transfer procedure for the purpose of, or to implant, the resulting product to initiate a pregnancy that could result in the birth of a human being.”
As with the other bills, Meisner’s bill claims to ban human cloning by redefining the term. Rather than defining “human cloning” in terms of the process involved, and the resultant product of that process, Meisner defines human cloning in terms of what a scientist purposes its creation for. If you use somatic cell nuclear transfer to create a human being for the purpose of implanting it in a womb and gestating it through birth, that is considered “human cloning” and is illegal. What about using somatic cell nuclear transfer to create a human being asexually for the purpose of destructive research? According to Meisner that is not cloning. Why? Is it a different process from the one he described? No. Was the product of that process different? No. So why is one considered human cloning and the other not? Because Meisner says so!
The fact of the matter is that what one purposes to do with the product of “somatic cell nuclear transfer” does not make it, or fail to make it a clone. A clone is a clone regardless of what we do with it. Intentions do not create reality. Reality is what it is apart from what we purpose. The fact of the matter is that the act of cloning is complete at somatic cell nuclear transfer. What one decides to do with the clone (gestate it through birth, kill it for research) subsequent to the act of cloning does not change the fact that the entity itself is a human clone. But that doesn’t matter to those like Meisner. It’s much more convenient to just define cloning in such a way that it has nothing to do with cloning, ban the pseudo-form of cloning, and then go on about your cloning business all the while affirming your opposition to cloning! Wouldn’t it be funny if someone stole Meisner’s car, get apprehended, and then tell Mr. Meisner that they did not “steal” his car because they did not intend to sell it. When Meisner protests they can explain to him that “theft is the taking of someone else’s property without their permission for the purpose of selling it.” Since they had no intentions of selling it, it is not stealing. I don’t think Meisner would be persuaded. Neither should we be persuaded by his disingenuous bill.
Since this bill is the amending of an existing law it is important to look at what Meisner wants to take out. The law currently reads: “A person shall not use a live human embryo or neonate for nontherapeutic research….” Meisner proposes to delete “human embryo” and insert “fetus” in its place. It’s obvious why he wants to swap “fetus” for “embryo.” It’s hard to justify killing embryos when the law says you can’t. By changing the language to “fetus,” experimenting on humans up to 8 weeks old becomes legally justifiable.
But what about the deletion of “human”? Why delete that word? Is a fetus not human? Yes it is. Is it scientifically inaccurate to call it human? No it’s not. Then why delete the word? It is being deleted for political purposes, not clarity or scientific accuracy.
Thankfully the Michigan congress is controlled by pro-life Republicans, so currently the bill is going nowhere. Let’s pray it stays that way.
September 26, 2006
The British journal Nature reported on some startling new evidence that those in a vegetative state may have an active mental state. MRI scans of a 23 year-old woman in an unresponsive state for five months, revealed similar brain patterns to healthy counterparts when she asked to imagine particular things such as playing tennis. (There has been mounting scientific evidence that those in a coma are fully aware of themselves, but unable to respond. Their immaterial spirit remains active and healthy, but is unable to express itself physically due to its damaged body.)
One would think this news would be cause for excitement, and spur those who support killing people in vegetative states to rethink their position. One would think…! Never underestimate a genuine liberal. Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe was anything but excited about this find. Goodman sees this—not as a reason to forego killing unresponsive patients—but rather as further justification for doing so. She writes:
[W]e do not know whether the researchers who suggest that vegetative patients may be aware of themselves and their surroundings have given us a hopeful story line or a horror story.
As University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Art Caplan says, “It’s not necessarily good news that someone might have some form of consciousness but not be able to interact emotionally, socially or communicate in any way shape or form. To spend your life dimly aware but unable to let anyone know you are in there is more the subject of Stephen King or Edgar Allan Poe than some sort of medical hope.”
No MRI can say whether that “rich, inner life” is a tapestry of hope or a nightmare. Which cliché fits a locked-up awareness? “While there’s life there’s hope”? Or “a fate worse than death”? The researchers, in all their enthusiasm, cannot answer the fundamental question that was raised by the Schiavo case: Would you want to live like this? Nor can technology with all its power tell us what is right and wrong, humane and inhumane.
Nearly a year after her accident, the British patient had advanced into a state of minimal consciousness. She could follow a mirror with her eyes. But no machine can tell her family or doctors whether she wanted to live “like this.”
Woman in Vegetative State Plays Tennis in Her Head. But is it a game or a trap?
You have to understand the force of this argument. Traditionally people in favor of killing people in a persistent vegetative state argue that it is morally acceptable to do so because the person is no longer conscious. According to personhood theory, consciousness is the sine qua non for defining human value. But here we have someone arguing that they should be killed because they are conscious! This just shows how unprincipled some liberals can be. Euthanasia is an ideology that must be promoted above all, even if it necessitates a changing of one’s principles. Ultimately euthanasia is about man determining what is best for himself apart from all moral considerations, and at times, what is best for others. God help us!
September 26, 2006
Euthanasia advocates seek to persuade the public toward their view by holding up the terminally ill and crying, “Have compassion.” What they don’t tell you is that their agenda involves much more than assisting the terminally ill in suicide. The terminally ill are just one step on a staircase that ultimately leads to death-on-demand.
One recent example of this can be seen in a Swiss euthanasia group, Dignitas. Dignitas has petitioned the Swiss court to be allowed to (legally) assist the depressed in suicide. The case will be heard October 27. (The Dutch already allow it)
The founder, Ludwig Minelli, said “We should see in principle suicide as a marvellous possibility given to human beings because they have a conscience… If you accept the idea of personal autonomy, you can’t make conditions that only terminally ill people should have this right. We should accept generally the right of a human being to say ‘Right, I would like to end my life’, without any pre-condition, as long as this person has capacity of discernment.”
He blamed “stupid ecclesiastical superstition” for the stigma attached to suicide. That’s the way to win friends and influence people!
September 25, 2006
The notion that life came from non-life is one of the most absurd aspects of evolutionary biology, and yet it is believed without evidence by many seemingly intelligent people. To see the absurdity of such a notion check out this short video. It makes mockery of a naturalistic view of life’s origin by rewriting the Darwinian story a little. Check it out!
HT: William Dembski
September 25, 2006
This is one month old news now, but I’m sure some of you heard about a new technique created by Advanced Cell Technology that allows researchers to extract a single cell from an embryo, and successfully grow a stem cell line without killing the embryo. The news story appeared on the front page of the nation’s most prestigious news papers. What didn’t appear on the front page, however, was the fact that hardly a lick of it was true. The vice-president of the company, and its chief ethicist lied on several occassions about what they did and did not do.
Check out two articles by Wesley J. Smith, lawyer and bioethicist, regarding this scam (here and here). It is really sad how corrupt and politicized science has become. They have a political agenda, and will stop at nothing–including outright deception–to accomplish it.
And for the fun of it, watch pro-life Catholic, Richard Doerflinger, confront ACT vice-president, Robert Lanza about his misrepresentations of his company’s research. He squirms, he evades, and tries to change the subject to put Doerflinger’s personal views about embryonic stem cell research in general on trial.
September 21, 2006
Science fiction stories are filled with visions of artificial intelligence (A.I.). Recent movies depicting robots with human-levels of artificial intelligence include I-Robot and A.I. Is this pure science fiction, or is it a genuine possibility in not-so-distant future? Peter Kassan answered this question in an article written for Skeptic magazine.
Kassan argued persuasively that the quest for A.I. has been, and will continue to be a dead-end street. Scientists have been unable to duplicate the intelligence of even the simplest of creatures, yet alone human beings. For example, although scientists have studied and mapped the neural patterns of the simple C. elegans worm, no one has been able to duplicate its base level of intelligence. C. elegans possesses a mere 300 neurons, compared to the human brain which contains 100 billion (100,000,000,000). Our cerebral cortex alone contains 30 billion neurons, and 1000 trillion synapses (1,000,000,000,000,000). That is 100 million (100,000,000) times the number of neurons, and 100 trillion (100,000,000,000,000) times the number of synapses of C. elegans. In light of such figures it becomes painfully obvious why developing human A.I. is nowhere on the horizon.
Advocates of A.I. retort that the task of replicating human intelligence is only a problem of time. They observe that computers double in capacity and speed every 18 months. Based on this they argue that given enough time, computers will be large enough and fast enough to create A.I. comparable to the human brain. But as Kassan points out, computational speed of computer processors is not the problem! The problem is the software. A.I. would only be as good as the program being run by the computer. While computers double in performance and capacity every 18 months, computer programs don’t. They increase in complexity at a far slower rate. Furthermore, experience has shown that the larger software programs get, the slower they become. Additionally, the larger the program the more room for error. A software program simulating the human brain would contain 20 trillion errors at a minimum. Kassan describes this “programming problem” by way of analogy:
If each synapse were handled by the equivalent of only a single line of code, the program to simulate the cerebral cortex would be roughly 25 million times larger than what’s probably the largest software product ever written, Microsoft Windows, said to be about 40 million lines of code. As a software project grows in size, the probability of failure increases. The probability of successfully completing a project 25 million times more complex than Windows is effectively zero.
What I found so interesting about the article was not so much what it had to say (although it was very interesting), but who was saying it. While I do not know Kassan’s precise beliefs about God, the fact that he wrote an article for Skeptic magazine tells me he is probably an atheist and advocate of Darwinian evolution. As such he does not believe the universe is the result of a designing intelligence, but rather blind, unintelligent, random chance processes. As part of the universe, human intelligence must have been produced by the same chance processes. Herein lies the absurdity of Kassan’s worldview.
Kassan recognizes the near-inconceivable complexity of human intelligence, and argues persuasively that intelligent designers (humans) will never be able to re-create it artificially. While I agree with Kassan this invites a question: How can time + chance create what time + intelligence cannot? If time + intelligence cannot produce anything similar to the complexity of human intelligence, surely time + chance would fail as well. Kassan would have us believe time + chance is better equipped to create complex intelligence than time + intelligence; that blind, unintelligent, random chance processes are better designers of intelligence than the most intelligent beings on the planet. That is a rational absurdity! How is it possible for chance to be better equipped to create an extremely complicated machine than human beings? How do natural processes create something that is 25,000,000 times more complex than the most complex program created by intelligent beings?
When Kassan boots up Microsoft Windows on his personal computer, does he ever think for a second that this extremely complex program consisting of 40 million lines of coded information was produced by unintelligent, random chance processes? Of course not! It is far too complex for that. How, then, can he look at something 25,000,000 times more complex than Windows and say it was created by time + chance? The disconnect in Kassan’s worldview is so glaring that I cannot understand how he can miss it. While atheists pride themselves on being rational, believing time + chance can produce complex intelligence whereas time + intelligence cannot is anything but rational.
This is just one more example demonstrating that atheists’ problem with Christianity is not one of the intellect, but one of the will. Christianity is not only intellectually plausible, but explanatorily superior to atheism. It is rejected, however, because people do not want to bend the knee. They want to be their own lord. Rationality takes a back seat to their perverted will.
September 21, 2006
It has been awhile! I should have made a post informing you that I would not be blogging for a period of time, but I had no idea I would be taking a break as long as I did. I moved from Long Beach to San Jose at the end of August due to a new job. With the move, long work hours, a long commute, making week-end trips back to L.A., email problems, and a broken computer, blogging has not been possible. But I am back. I hope to be blogging on a daily basis again (or every other day).
So much to talk about! Where do I begin?!?! I’ll start off easy, and then hit you with some heavier thinking. I would like to make a few comments regarding the charge that religion is responsible for most of the world’s wars and bloodshed.
Those antagonistic toward religion generally blame religion and religious belief for all the wars and violence throughout history. They argue that if people did not embrace religious beliefs there would not be so much cruelty in the world. J. Budzizewski responds to this charge by pointing out that “cruelty isn’t caused by believing things; it’s caused by believing cruel things.” Aptly said. The problem is not that people have religious beliefs, but rather what it is they believe to be true. If one’s religious beliefs contain cruel content, they will act cruelly. But there is nothing inherent in religious belief itself that causes people to act cruelly.
Not only is this charge logically flawed, but it is historically mistaken as well. The fact of the matter is that atheistic ideologies have been responsible for more deaths than all the religious wars throughout history combined. In the 20th century alone approximately 115-120 million people were killed by Communist regimes and totalitarian governments: Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Hitler, Mao Zedong, and the Khmer Rouge. So contrary to popular belief, the charge of cruelty and destruction lies at the feet of atheism, not religious belief.