Link blog: philosophy, morality, science, video

Why the Big Bang Singularity Does Not Help the Kalam Cosmological Argument for Theism — Pitts 59 (4): 675 — The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Paper on whether the Big Bang supports theistic arguments for creation ex nihilo, and particularly the Kalam argument. Notably, the author points out that if the singularity in the past requires a Creator, surely singularities in the future (such as black holes) require a Destroyer.
(tags: science religion creationism kalam bigbang big-bang Singularity philosophy)

August and Everything After (San Francisco, 2004)

Adam Duritz singing the Counting Crows song whose lyrics are on the album cover of August and Everything After (but which doesn't appear on the album itself). There are a couple of live versions of this: this one's better because the crowd aren't yelling through it.
(tags: counting-crows adam-duritz music)

Gastronomic Realism—A Cautionary Tale

Loeb's charming paper comparing Moral Realism and Gastronomic Realism (the idea that some foods are simply better than others, independent of individual tastes).
(tags: philosophy morality food realism gastronomic don-loeb system:filetype:pdf system:media:document)

“The Collapse Of Intelligent Design”

Ken Miller demonstrating why ID is not backed by evidence. Miller's a Catholic, not a neo-sceptical atheist neo-rationalist.
(tags: ken-miller intelligent-design id evolution creationism science biology dna)

Don Loeb – Moral Irrealism

Philosopher Don Loeb in conversation about moral irrealism, the view that there are no moral facts independent of our beliefs about them. Touches on whether introducing a God would help moral realism: Loeb thinks not.
(tags: philosophy morality atheism don-loeb)

Mr. Deity and the Identity Crisis

"any time anyone's said anything comprehensible about the Trinity the Church has declared it a heresy." – Gareth
(tags: funny video religion christianity trinity mr-deity)

The Non-Expert: IKEA by Matthew Baldwin

A walkthrough of the various levels of the IKEA game: "As you continue through the main SHOWROOM you will see groups blocking the walkways while chatting and others moving against traffic. These people should be killed immediately."
(tags: funny humour culture parody games ikea furniture shopping)

David Nutt: Governments should get real on drugs – opinion – 04 November 2009 – New Scientist

David Nutt's opinion piece in New Scientist.
(tags: drugs science badscience government law medicine politics david-nutt)

A life changed by evidence

Series of videos by a former evangelical Christian explaining why he became an atheist. Well produced and informative stuff. The chap makes a palpable effort to show how he was a Christian and how, for much of the time before his deconversion, he thought the things he was learning could be incorporated into Christianity rather than working against it.
(tags: video youtube de-conversion christianity evangelicalism bible morality)

Heat is work and work’s a curse or I Was a Teenage Physicist

Ken again

Andrew Brown went to the lecture on God and evolution by Ken Miller, the one which robhu mentioned in the comments last time. Brown was impressed by Miller. I commented using the same arguments as my previous posting.

The wonderful thing about standards is

In other news, top geneticist Francis Collins has started his own Christian apologetics site, Collins is a theistic evolutionist. He’s got answers for those awkward creationist questions (mentioned last time) on evolution and the Fall and death before the Fall. Not just one answer, in fact, but several, which could all equally well be true, because as far as I can see there’s no possible way to chose between them on the basis of evidence (except possibly on the evidence of a strong inner conviction, I suppose). Still, several answers are better than one, right?

Atheists can be wrong too

The usual suspects in atheist blogland are having fun with Biologos: here’s Jerry Coyne, P. Z. Myers, and P. Z. Myers. The latter P. Z. Myers refers to a post at Evaluating Christianity. Myers says this article at Biologos is making the argument that evolution is impossible because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a (badly mistaken) argument that is popular among creationists.

This is unfair to Collins, who knows the creationist argument is wrong. Collins is actually making a God of the Gaps argument. The low entropy condition of the early universe is an unsolved problem in physics, as Sean Carroll explains in Scientific American (Carroll commented at Evaluating Christianity confirming this). Unsolved problems in physics are fertile ground for Christians looking for something for God to do.

I hope Myers will issue a correction, because I think it’s important to get stuff like this right.

Darwin award

Jerry Coyne has an article in The New Republic. It’s notionally a review of new books by two Christians who defend evolution against creationism, whether it be traditional young Earth creationism, or creationism’s more recent adaption to a major predator (the US court system), intelligent design. One of the Christians is the biologist Kenneth Miller, who testified against the IDists in the Dover School District trial; the other is Karl Giberson, a physicist.

Coyne argues that, while there are Christians who are accept evolution, this does not mean that these things are compatible (“It is like saying that marriage and adultery are compatible because some married people are adulterers”). Having dismissed IDists’ attempt to have the definition of science extended to religion, and the God of the liberal theologians, a god who almost nobody actually believes in, Coyne moves on to address Miller and Giberson’s attempts to harmonise science and religion. He does so with civility and directness:

<lj-cut text=”Good bits”> (Note: The links below are to places where we’ve discussed similar ideas before; they do not form part of Coyne’s text)

[According to Miller] God is a Mover of Electrons, deliberately keeping his incursions into nature so subtle that they’re invisible. It is baffling that Miller, who comes up with the most technically astute arguments against irreducible complexity, can in the end wind up touting God’s micro-editing of DNA. This argument is in fact identical to that of Michael Behe, the ID advocate against whom Miller testified in the Harrisburg trial. It is another God-of-the-gaps argument, except that this time the gaps are tiny.

Scientists do indeed rely on materialistic explanations of nature, but it is important to understand that this is not an a priori philosophical commitment. It is, rather, the best research strategy that has evolved from our long-standing experience with nature.

In a common error, Giberson confuses the strategic materialism of science with an absolute commitment to a philosophy of materialism. He claims that “if the face of Jesus appeared on Mount Rushmore with God’s name signed underneath, geologists would still have to explain this curious phenomenon as an improbable byproduct of erosion and tectonics.” Nonsense. There are so many phenomena that would raise the specter of God or other supernatural forces: faith healers could restore lost vision, the cancers of only good people could go into remission, the dead could return to life, we could find meaningful DNA sequences that could have been placed in our genome only by an intelligent agent, angels could appear in the sky.

In the end, then, there is a fundamental distinction between scientific truths and religious truths, however you construe them. The difference rests on how you answer one question: how would I know if I were wrong? Darwin’s colleague Thomas Huxley remarked that “science is organized common sense where many a beautiful theory was killed by an ugly fact.” As with any scientific theory, there are potentially many ugly facts that could kill Darwinism. Two of these would be the presence of human fossils and dinosaur fossils side by side, and the existence of adaptations in one species that benefit only a different species. Since no such facts have ever appeared, we continue to accept evolution as true. Religious beliefs, on the other hand, are immune to ugly facts. Indeed, they are maintained in the face of ugly facts, such as the impotence of prayer. There is no way to adjudicate between conflicting religious truths as we can between competing scientific explanations. Most scientists can tell you what observations would convince them of God’s existence, but I have never met a religious person who could tell me what would disprove it. And what could possibly convince people to abandon their belief that the deity is, as Giberson asserts, good, loving, and just? If the Holocaust cannot do it, then nothing will.

He concludes that:

This disharmony is a dirty little secret in scientific circles. It is in our personal and professional interest to proclaim that science and religion are perfectly harmonious. After all, we want our grants funded by the government, and our schoolchildren exposed to real science instead of creationism. Liberal religious people have been important allies in our struggle against creationism, and it is not pleasant to alienate them by declaring how we feel. This is why, as a tactical matter, groups such as the National Academy of Sciences claim that religion and science do not conflict. But their main evidence–the existence of religious scientists–is wearing thin as scientists grow ever more vociferous about their lack of faith. Now Darwin Year is upon us, and we can expect more books like those by Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson. Attempts to reconcile God and evolution keep rolling off the intellectual assembly line. It never stops, because the reconciliation never works.

Coyne does, I think, over-commit himself to one particular answer to the Fine Tuning Argument (just as Dawkins does), and he mis-states what the Strong Anthropic Principle is, but overall the article is excellent, and you should all read it.

There is a difference between creationisms (like YEC and ID) which contradict well established scientific theories, and Miller and Giberson’s efforts to argue that God did it but carefully hid his tracks (or that God set things up so that intelligent life would arise on Earth, though Coyne argues that this argument is contradicted by science to some extent). With YEC and ID, we’ve good reasons not to believe them. With a God who carefully hides his tracks, we must instead ask how we’d know if we were wrong (we might also ponder the arguments from God’s silence). The problem with Miller and Gibson is not facts but method.

If we accept a proposition merely because we can’t show it’s wrong, we might believe all sorts of things, so why credit the Christian God rather than my particular favourite deities? It seems that Miller and Giberson’s theories start from the conviction that God did it and work backwards to an explanation which is not directly contradicted by current science. As we saw when talking about biblical inerrancy, there’s always a logical way to make that sort of thing work; yet to do it is unskillful, the opposite of the fourth and seventh virtues in the Noble Twelvefold Path. In science “the first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”