Category Archives: Science

Ontological Wallop

The structure of the world is shot through with a sublimity so sublime that it simply had to exist. …

The sublimity that had to burst into existence is not one that particularly concerns itself with us. Such a human-centered goodness would not pack the ontological wallop required to bring forth existence. (Plato at the Googleplex, pages 385-389.)

I like that phrase “the ontological wallop required to bring forth existence.” I’ll return to it in a moment. First, let’s look at a pretty picture.

Mandelbrot Satellite Bug

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The Most Beautiful Moment

Why do we think something is beautiful?

Imagine looking at a canvas painted solely in your favorite color. For me, that would be orange. I might think, “That is a really beautiful orange. There’s something complex in it — some depth.”

But even though the painting was 100% my favorite color, I’d probably like some other colors nearby as well, right? I once saw this installation, titled 24 Colors — for Blinky at the Dia:Beacon museum.


rsz_24_colors_for_blinky

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Are Evolution and Creationism Equally Matters of Faith?

Faced with evidence for an old universe such as starlight that has clearly taken billions of years to reach us, young-Earth creationists say, “God created the universe about 6,000 years ago, but in a mature state. Your conclusion that it is old is a matter of faith in naturalistic, uniformitarian assumptions. How do you know the speed of light or the passage of time have always been the same as they are now?”

Faced with evidence for evolution such as what we saw in the last post, creationists often reply, “You see evidence for evolution, but this could equally be the work of a Designer. Your conclusion of ‘evolution’ is a matter of faith just as much as my conclusion of ‘creation’.”

Is this true? Is the choice between mainstream science and creationism just a matter of choosing one faith or another?

At one level, yes. But let’s keep going.

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Molecular Evidence for Evolution

If you’re just joining my story, here’s a quick catch-up. Once upon a time, I was an evangelical Christian. Although I was not a die-hard creationist, I considered creationists to be “my team” and evolutionists to be the godless “other team.” I trusted creationists because they were fellow Christians, and conservative ones at that. A decision my wife and I had to make forced me to investigate the creation/evolution issue more closely.

I hope the last few posts have given you a window into why I was appalled at how dishonest the creationist arguments turned out to have been. Now I’d like to give just a glimpse into the sort of arguments that I discovered on the side of evolution.

Most remarkable was the way completely independent lines of evidence all pointed to the same conclusion.  This graph is an example. It’s from the book that opened my eyes to the power of the evolutionary explanation for life, Scientists Confront Creationism.

Protein Evolution

I’ll walk you through it, and then I’ll say why I found it so compelling.

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More from Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit”

Here’s more from Harry Frankfurt’s essay, On Bullshit.

The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “anti-realist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry.

The young-Earth creationist does believe in objective reality. In that sense, he is not an “anti-realist.” However, he most certainly does not support “disinterested efforts to determine what is true and false.”

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The Christian Echo Chamber

In the last post, I accused creationists of being “dishonest” in the way they handle scientific evidence. That’s a serious charge, but “dishonest” is actually a fairly tame word considering the hellishness of the theology that, as they emphasize, has strict creationism at its foundation.

Yet at the everyday level, the creationists I have known are decent people. In fact, they think it’s important to proclaim truth regardless of the ridicule they may suffer in response. What could be more noble than that?

What accounts for the discrepancy between their wish to pursue truth and the epic fail of the outcome?

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A Case Study in Creationist Quote-Mining

To a Christian, few things are more aggravating than when someone pulls a Bible verse out of context to prove a pet point, especially if that point runs counter to the larger purpose of the text.

When I read creationist literature, I assumed its authors, as fellow conservative Christians, were being just as honest with their quotations from scientific literature as they would be with the Bible. After 40 years of granting creationists this favorable assumption, it took only a few weeks of reading actual scientists’ work to see how unfounded my trust had been.

A sentence we saw in an Answers in Genesis online textbook two posts ago is a case in point.

Harold J. Morowitz, professor of biophysics at Yale, has calculated that the [probability of] formation of one E. coli bacteria in the universe at 10-100,000,000,000, or one in 10 to the power of 100 billion.

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