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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The ‘This Is Not The Best Possible World’ Argument

The argument that this is not the best of all possible worlds is a watered down version of the Problem of Evil. The Argument is that if there is a God who is omnipotent and omni-benevolent, then we would have created a very different world.

The argument claims that:

1. God if he exists must be omnipotent, supremely good and our ultimate creator.
2. Therefore an existent God (being supremely good and competent) would have created the best possible world (if he created anything).
3. As the world is inconsistent (between ages and people) it cannot all be the best possible world.
4. Therefore as the world is not the best possible world, God cannot exist.

This argument makes the claim that a perfect God would have created the best of all possible worlds, and that  this is not the best of all possible worlds, therefore there is no God.

But how do we know that this is not the best of all possible worlds? What would we compare this world to in order to realize that this is not the best of all possible worlds? All of the other planets which we have discovered seem less ideal, in one way or another, than the Earth. Based on solely empirical evidence, it would initially seem like this is the best of all possible worlds.

One may argue that even the Earth could be better, such as a world without disease, or one in which our bodies are designed in a way that doesn't break down with age.

At this point, when speculating about the "best of all possible worlds," we should ask, "best at what?"

They say you can't make a better mousetrap, and this is because a mousetrap does what it does simply and effectively, but it's only good when applied toward one objective: trapping mice. When applied toward a different objective, such as opening cans, then you could certainly find a better tool than a mousetrap.

In other words, a mousetrap is the best of all possible tools (that we know of), but only at a single application.

The world is the same. It was created for a particular purpose (assumed in the argument), and it may be the best of all possible creations for that purpose, but it may seem like a cruel, unjust place if we don't understand the purpose for which it was created.

I'm not gong to go into what that purpose is, because every religion and denomination has its own view, but theism generally agrees that the world was created for a purpose.

So for the argument to clam that this is not the best of all possible worlds is to assume that the world was actually made for a purpose, and that we fully understand what that purpose is. Some denominations may make the claim that we understand that, some don't. 

Nevertheless, this argument has no power to disprove the existence of God. At best, it can disprove individual religions, but I doubt even the most zealous atheist has to patience to understand the doctrine of every religion in order to disprove them all, one by one.

The second option is that this argument could be used to support agnosticism because we do not know what the purpose is, therefore we do not know if this is the best of all possible worlds.

Either way, this is not an argument for atheism. In order for it to be an argument for atheism, we would would have to have a certain understanding of the purpose for which the Earth was created. However, if that were the case, then we would know that the universe was created by a God for a purpose.

In other words, even if this was an atheistic argument, it would be self-refuting.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Man And God Comprehension Gulf Argument

The Man and God Comprehension Gulf Argument claims that the nature of God is so vastly foreign to us that we are not only unable to fully comprehend it, but we cannot even be aware of its existence.

Geoffrey Berg, author of The Six Ways of Atheism, said the argument "[described] the unbridgeable gulf in comprehension (and identification) for a mortal with any supposedly immortal entity."

The arguments claims that:

1. Man is finite (in time, space and power etc).
2. God if he exists is infinite (in time, space and power etc).
3. Therefore mankind cannot possibly recognize God or even know that God exists.

This argument is extremely problematic for several reasons. The first is simply that it is demonstrably false. Man is aware of many things which are infinite, such as numbers or the gravitational mass of a singularity. If Berg's reasoning was correct, then we never would have invented mathematics.

While it may be true that we cannot recognize God, which even theists admit, it does not follow that we cannot be aware of His existence through thought and reason, which is exactly what Aquinas' Five Ways tried to do. It also does not mean that an infinite entity cannot reveal itself through "religious experience."

In other words, the argument asserts conclusions which are not supported by the premises.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Universal Uncertainty Argument

The Universal Uncertainty Argument is an argument against the existence of God that claims that He cannot exist because omniscience is impossible. It is allegedly a logical paradox, stating that, "God cannot exist because God cannot know for sure that it is God."

The full argument, as a syllogism, runs as follows:

1. An uncertain God is a contradiction in terms.
2. Everything in the Universe must be fundamentally uncertain about its own relationship to the Universe as a whole because there is no way of attaining such certainty.
3. Therefore even an entity with all God’s other qualities cannot have the final quality of certain knowledge concerning its own relationship to the Universe as a whole.
4. Therefore God cannot exist because even any potential God cannot know for sure that it is God.
The argument is a Straw Man because of the second premise, "Everything in the Universe must be fundamentally uncertain about its own relationship to the Universe as a whole because there is no way of attaining such certainty."

This is a Straw Man because it sets up an inaccurate conception of God to attack. It claims that God cannot exist because He would not understand His own relationship with the universe. It ignores a characteristic of God that is so fundamental that almost any theist will agree with it; His omniscience.

God's omniscience is a part of almost every belief system around the world. In Christian scripture, it is also well attested. One of dozens of examples is Psalms 147:5, which reads:
Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.
Because of this, one cannot present an argument against the existence of God which hinges on a statement such as, "God cannot exist because He does not know X," because if He does exist, then he does know X.

Therefore, the argument is immediately begging the question by assuming that God, as commonly conceived, does not exist.

In addition, how would we even come to that second premise? What evidence do we have that "everything in the universe must be  fundamentally uncertain?"

Why must we be uncertain? Why is it impossible to know? Also, what would lead us to think that, "We do not know, therefore God cannot know?"

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Historicity of Jesus; A Double Standard?

Here is a very interesting post by David B. Marshall, at Christ the Tao, about the historicity of Jesus Christ, and  that of Confucius, with most of the information coming from a chapter in his book, Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could.

The post is called How Confucius Proves Jesus and can be read here.

But first, let me point out that the title of the post is a little misleading. If you scroll down to the comments section, you'll see that it caused some people to misunderstand what Marshall was arguing. The argument is not that the existence of Confucius as a historical figure somehow proves that Jesus existed, too.

Rather, he's arguing that the Gospels are just as reliable as historical texts as the Analects. In fact, the gospels even have certain advantages over the Analects.

Despite this, virtually nobody debates whether Confucius existed, while the existence of Jesus as a historical figure is still hotly debated.

Therefore, we practice a double standard by refusing to accept the historicity of Jesus.

The only problem I would have with the argument is that there is more evidence to consider than just their respective writings. Confucius, for example, has had many descendants throughout history, unlike Christ.

But then, not every genealogical claim is true and verifiable.

It's an interesting question, and Marshall offers some interesting points.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Retaking the Outsider Test

The Outsider Test is a criterion for rational faith put forth by former Christian apologist turned atheist, John W. Loftus. Loftus argues that for many believers, the religion practiced is not one that they choose, but usually one which they were born into, or are determined by cultural or national factors.

Since your religion is essentially randomly determined, you should examine your beliefs with every bit as much skepticism as you would any other religion. In other words, evaluate your beliefs as if you were an outsider to that faith, with no bias or preconceived notions.

One of the nuances of the Outsider Test is that it claims atheism as the intellectual default. Skepticism is the most rational initial response to supernatural claims.

I have several objections to the Outsider Test, such as the fact that it teaches atheists not to think, that since their position is the default, they do not need to examine their beliefs.

However, RD Miksa has written a rather lengthy paper, in the form of a blog called Taking Over the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF), in which he argues that the Outsider Test does not actually support atheism at all. In fact, it supports theism, super-naturalism, and intelligent design.

For those of you with the patience to read a long (about 22K words), informal paper on the philosophy of religion, I strongly recommend this work.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Church Volunteerism

I recently posted an infographic representing the results of a recent study on LDS church members which gave some statistics about their lifestyle, including volunteer work. One reader wondered how much of those numbers were part of regular church activities, such as Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching. At the time, I could only guess, but last night I stumbled on this article, also by Mormonnewsroom.org, on Church Volunteerism.

Also, it just happens to have another infographic!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit

The Ultimate 747 Boeing Gambit is an argument put forth by Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, which is allegedly a counter-argument to the Argument from Design and an allusion to Holye's Fallacy.

Astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle, who was a Darwinist, atheist and anti-theist, reportedly stated that the "probability of life originating on Earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747."

The basic argument against the idea of empirical theism goes back to David Hume, who's argument ccan be summed up in the popular phrase, "Who designed the designer?"

Dawkins writes that Evolution by natural selection is the only workable solution to the question of life's origin on Earth, and since it requires fewer assumptions than the God Hypothesis, Occam's Razor demands that we accept evolution over God.

This argument forms the central argument of The God Delusion and can be read here.

There are a few problems with this.

First is that evolution by natural selection is not a workable solution for the origin of life on Earth. Evolution does adequately explain how that life moved from simplicity to complexity, but it does not explain how it began to exist in the first place. Richard Dawkins admits this.

The fact that evolution does not explain the origin of life on Earth does not mean that we must therefore accept God as the answer. It only means that evolution, by itself, is not sufficient reason to reject God as the answer.

This leads to the second problem. Even if evolution by natural selection is a reality, which I believe that it is, it does not mean that we must reject God as a reality. There is nothing in evolution which disproves God, or even affects His probability of existence. At best, it disproves Young-Earth Creationism, but it actually strengthens Old-Earth Creationism.

Even Charles Darwin said that a man "can be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist."

Third, Dawkins argues that God is the ultimate Boeing 747 because if He created something as complex as the universe, then he must be even more complex. Therefore, the designer needs a designer. If the universe could not have arisen by chance, then neither could God.

However, Dawkins argues that the universe did arise by chance and that there is almost certainly no designer. Therefore, Dawkins argues that complexity does not require design. However, complexity could be designed, it is simply not required.

For example, it very well could be the case that the universe was designed, since it is possible that complexity would come about by design, but it is also possible that the universe's designer was not designed, since design is not required for complexity.

Not only is Dawkins' argument self-refuting, since he does not believe that complexity requires design, but it also completely fails to even address the issue of God's existence for the same reason.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rev. O'Neil Dozier's Request that Romney Renounces Racist Mormon Religion

Rev. O'Neil Dozier
Rev. O'Neil Dozier is the senior pastor for The Worldwide Christian Center Church on Pompano Beach, Florida. He released a statement over the weekend demanding that Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney renounces his "racist Mormon religion."

"The purpose of this request is to foster and maintain good race relations here in America," the press release says. "The Mormon religion is prejudiced against Blacks, Jews and the Native American Indians. These allegations are substantiated and validated by the writings of the former Prophets and Seers of the Mormon Church."

In other words, Dozier believes that the LDS church should be renounced because it's past leadership has held controversial views regarding race.

But if this is the case, shouldn't Rev. Dozier renounces his own religion, as well? After all, both the Curse of Cain and the Curse of Ham are incidents of the Biblical "Prophets and Seers" promoting racist values. Some may argue that these verses of scripture are subject to interpretation, and that they did not necessarily teach racism, but it is undeniable that these verses were used all through the Middle Ages to support serfdom, and well into modern times to support the Colonial African Slave Trade.

So if Romney should renounce the LDS church because past leadership may have held racist views, then shouldn't Rev. Dozier renounce Christianity for the same reason?

One may say, "Sure, Christianity has been just as racist as Mormonism or just about any other organization, but that was in the past. We have renounced those practices," but again, the same can be said of the LDS church.

In 1954, Church President David O. McKay taught:
“There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the church of any kind pertaining to the negro. ‘We believe’ that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that’s all there is to it.”
This came forty-one years before Southern Baptists officially renounced racial doctrines.

In addition, in 2006, then Church president Gordon B. Hinckley declared that “no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church. Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.”

This position was reaffirmed recently, when the church released a statement on another matter, saying;
"The Church’s position is clear—we believe all people are God’s children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church. We do not tolerate racism in any form... We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church."
However, I don't think Rev. Dozier would renounce Christianity, no matter how racist its history is, because I'm not sure his motivation in releasing this statement was as altruistic as he says. After all, Rev. Dozier claims to be an outspoken social activist, but he openly criticizes gay rights and once declared that homosexuality was  "something so nasty and disgusting that it makes God want to vomit."

"Oh, but let's not use scripture to
discriminate against a whole group
of people..."

The point is, I'm not sure he's terribly concerned with Christian scripture being twisted to make inappropriate judgments against a group, since he does so himself. In fact, I'm not even sure he's really bothered by the LDS church at all, since he was an ardent supporter of George W. Bush Jr..

 In 2004, Dr. Dozier was enlisted by the Bush-Cheney Campaign Committee to make radio advertisements for President George W. Bush in his bid for re-election. Rev. Dozier is credited with garnishing a record-breaking percentage of the black vote in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties in that election.  The whole time, Rev. Dozier was not at all bothered by the fact the George W. Bush often visited the LDS president, Gordon B. Hinkley for advice and counsel.

"Oh, by the way, a friend of mine totally thinks you're all racist,
but that's OK, because I don't care about black people."

Rev. Dozier, author of the book, Who's On the Lord's Side Politically, is clearly more politically motivated in this case. The release comes shortly after Rick Santorum praised the conservative endorsement of the Florida pastor, who is an honorary chairman of Santorum's Florida campaign, and after Santorum visited Dozier's congregation. 

Dozier's statement is less about social activism or Romney's involvement with the LDS church, and more about Dozier using his position to influence voters and help his favorite candidate.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Who Are the Mormons?

A few days ago, Mormonnewsroon.org released an article called Mormonism 101:FAQ, which had a lot of interesting, basic information about the church and its teachings, and also this infographic...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Argument from Parsimony

Occam's Razor
The Argument from Parsimony is an argument against the existence of God which claims that because scientific, or naturalistic, theories adequately describe the origin of life and the development of religion, the actual existence of any supernatural beings is an unnecessary detail and may be ignored unless it is shown that we need it to explain some phenomenon.

In other words, unless it can be shown that a phenomenon cannot be explained unless there is a God, then we have no reason to think that there is a God. God would complicate the issue rather than work towards resolution.

First of all, let me say that there is a difference between parsimony and simplicity. There are many simple theories which are not parsimonious. For example:

"The planets and stars are stuck to orbs around the Earth."
The geocentric model of the solar system is much simpler than our current view, that the Sun is in the center. The Heliocentric model is so complex that Sir Issac Newton had to develop a new kind of math, calculus, to describe the motion of celestial bodies and develop the laws of motion and gravitation.

But even though the idea of a heliocentric solar system is vastly more complex, it is still more parsimonious because it leaves fewer questions unanswered.

This principle is referred to as Occam's Razor. The idea that the hypothesis that requires fewer assumptions is preferable.

That's actually one of the first weaknesses with this argument. It's presents Occam's Razor as an absolute law, when it is actually just a "rule of thumb".

This is important because there are many, many examples of Occam's Razor stifling or delaying scientific advancement. For example, appeals to simplicity were used to deny meteorites, ball lightning, continental drift, DNA, atomic theory, and reverse transcriptase.

In addition to denying ideas that turned out to be true, Occam's Razor is also used to assert ideas which are false. For example, scientists thought that there must be some medium, Aether, out in space which allowed light waves to propagate, because it was less parsimonious to postulate wave propagation in a vacuum. At the time, all known waves propagated through a physical medium. We now know this to be false.

So the Argument from Parsimony fails immediately just because explanations sometimes reach beyond available data.

Second, even if the argument was successful, denial of God would bring us no closer to understanding what caused the Big Bang or life on Earth. Even Richard Dawkins admits the possibility of an origin involving intelligent beings (3:10).

For example, imagine yourself holding the end of a long chain. The other end of this chain is not in view, but when you pull on the chain, it it secured. If we were to say that there is nobody holding the other end of the chain, would we be any closer to finding out what is holding the other end? For that matter, do we have any good reason to think there is no one holding the other end? Sure, there may be no evidence that there is, but is there any evidence that there isn't? Like Dawkins, should we at least be open to the possibility of some intelligence on the other side?

Would we be making any fewer assumptions if, instead of a person on the other end of the chain, we instead said that it was fastened to some post or bolt in a wall? Or would we then need to explain how that post got there, ad infinitum?

So even if the argument is successful, which it isn't, then it still just doesn't do us any good. It wouldn't even necessary show that God is the less parsimonious hypothesis.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bott, Blacks and the Priesthood

The fact that African-Americans and Africans were not permitted to be ordained as priests in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, until 1978, is controversial, to say the absolute least, even among members of the church.

In an absolutely absurd interview which I was ashamed to read, this idea was brought to light once again when Prof. Randy Bott, of BYU, was interviewed regarding the ban by the Washington Post. Basically, nothing Bott says in the interview is doctrine.

In one particularly shameful section, he says:
“God has always been discriminatory” when it comes to whom he grants the authority of the priesthood, says Bott, the BYU theologian. He quotes Mormon scripture that states that the Lord gives to people “all that he seeth fit.” Bott compares blacks with a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car, and explains that similarly until 1978, the Lord determined that blacks were not yet ready for the priesthood... So, in reality the blacks not having the priesthood was the greatest blessing God could give them.”
The LDS church quickly, and rightfully, condemned Bott's comments, saying:
" The Church’s position is clear—we believe all people are God’s children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church. We do not tolerate racism in any form... We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church."
Professor Bott told The Daily Universe that he wasn't available for comment, but he did release a statement affirming the Church’s view of the article in the Washington Post. However, his students said he discussed the interview in class and said he felt he was misrepresented.

Quinn Rice, a freshman in one of Bott's classes, said, “He said they had a nice long interview, like two hours long. He said that he was misquoted, and misrepresented... He wouldn’t go against the Church’s principles.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mormon Creation

A while ago, I had a discussion with a reader about the LDS doctrine of Creation (See Comments). Mainstream Christianity and science say that the Universe was created in an instant, from nothing, though they disagree on how long it took.

The reader pointed out a supposed inconsistency in LDS doctrine, because Joseph Smith taught that matter is eternal, which would seem to indicate a steady state universe.

I pointed out that this does not mean that the Church supports the steady state theory. After all, Joseph Smith taught that "Spirit" was a type of matter, and Spirit is eternal. Therefore, he was not necessarily referring to the physical universe.

There are other issues, such as the mysterious nature of the Singularity, which leave Joseph Smith's comments rather ambiguous. Ultimately, the church has no official position on how the Creation happened, and it allows its members to believe what best makes sense to them.

However, I recently came across this quote by the second President of the Church, Brigham Young:
In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular...whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant.
—Brigham Young, (May 14, 1871) Journal of Discourses 14:116.

The context of this quote is Brigham Young commenting on the relationship between science and religion. The religionists of the day pushed the idea that God "made the earth out of nothing in six days, six thousand years ago."

Brigham Young says that in these respects we differ from Christians because, as I explained to this reader, we do not make this claim. We do not know exactly how the Creation happened, but "our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular."

Whatever science says, we agree.

Christianity's Bloody History

I bet you weren't expecting this.

"Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilt." - Mark Twain, Reflections on Religion

Christianity is often criticized because of its violent history. I've shown elsewhere that religious violence has not caused nearly as much bloodshed as some other causes which we still actively promote today, such as capitalism.

However, even if Christianity has caused a fair amount of suffering, which it has, holding modern Christianity accountable is irrational and a double standard.

This is because there are plenty of other organizations have caused millions of deaths and yet they are hailed as symbols of progress and innovation.

For example, IBM developed the punch card technology that measured large-scale statistical information and provided these machines to the Nazi regime, making the deadly efficiency of the Holocaust possible.

Nobody protests IBM or proposes that we eradicate it in the way that some wish we would abolish religion.

BMW had a hand in the Holocaust, as well. Factories used around 50,000 slave laborers from concentration camps to supply weapons and ammunition to the regime. Hundreds of these labourers died from working in the inhumane conditions and others were executed. BMW produced the Luftwaffe's Fighter Plane engines, as well. BMW was also discovered to have profited from taking over dozens of businesses seized from Jewish families by the Nazis. Incidentally, Mitsubishi built Japanese fighter engines.

Nobody wants to abolish BMW or Mitsubishi.

Perhaps the most extreme example is the US Democratic Party. Democrats have historically represented the interests of white, male, slave-holding Southern farmers. It fought hard to preserve and expand a slave trade that ended more human lives than the Holocaust, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Witch Hunts and 9/11 combined. These efforts were a major cause of the American Civil War, which killed or wounded another 800,000.

To be honest, some people do want Democrats to just go away, but not even for this reason. They don't care about the Democratic Party's bloody history any more than anyone cares about BMW, Mitsubishi or IBM.

Why don't we care? Because it's in the past, and because we judge these organizations by what they are, not by what they were. These organization's no longer promote African slavery, or assist tyrannical despots in racial genocide and global domination. In most cases, the unscrupulous people behind these endeavor's are not even alive anymore and the organizations have gone in totally different directions. These charges are simply no longer relevant.

Except when it comes to Christianity. I can't speak for other religions, but Christianity is simply no longer an organization that would attempt to control the Holy Land at all costs, hunt down and kill witches, or torture and execute dissenters. Nevertheless, we are clearly practicing a sort of double standard by picking and choosing which terrible atrocities we're willing to forgive.

Am I arguing that Christianity is perfect? No. Just as BMW and Mitsubishi still produce machines that kill 35-40,000 people annually, Christianity has it's flaws, too.

But if we are going to forgive other organizations for the terrible things they've done in the past, then we must forgive Christianity, which hasn't even been the most destructive of the bunch. Otherwise, we're just being biased, bigoted, and irrational.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Book of Mormon Challenge

The existence of the Book of Mormon is a serious puzzle if it is not an ancient text, translated into English, as it claims. We are often told the Joseph Smith concocted and wrote the story himself. However, if he did write it himself, it would almost be no less amazing that a 21 year old farm boy in 1830 with only two years of formal education could produce such a book.

The following text is taken from the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 8, Ch. 11, pp. 221-2:

"Since Joseph Smith was younger than most of you and not nearly so experienced or well-educated as any of you at the time he copyrighted the Book of Mormon, it should not be too much to ask you to hand in by the end of the semester (which will give you more time than he had) a paper of, say, five to six hundred pages in length. Call it a sacred book if you will, and give it the form of a history. Tell of a community of wandering Jews in ancient times; have all sorts of characters in your story, and involve them in all sorts of public and private vicissitudes; give them names--hundreds of them--pretending that they are real Hebrew and Egyptian names of circa 600 b.c.; be lavish with cultural and technical details--manners and customs, arts and industries, political and religious institutions, rites, and traditions, include long and complicated military and economic histories; have your narrative cover a thousand years without any large gaps; keep a number of interrelated local histories going at once; feel free to introduce religious controversy and philosophical discussion, but always in a plausible setting; observe the appropriate literary conventions and explain the derivation and transmission of your varied historical materials. 
"Above all, do not ever contradict yourself! For now we come to the really hard part of this little assignment. You and I know that you are making this all up--we have our little joke--but just the same you are going to be required to have your paper published when you finish it, not as fiction or romance, but as a true history! After you have handed it in you may make no changes in it (in this class we always use the first edition of the Book of Mormon); what is more, you are to invite any and all scholars to read and criticize your work freely, explaining to them that it is a sacred book on a par with the Bible. If they seem over-skeptical, you might tell them that you translated the book from original records by the aid of the Urim and Thummim--they will love that! Further to allay their misgivings, you might tell them that the original manuscript was on golden plates, and that you got the plates from an angel. Now go to work and good luck! 
"To date no student has carried out this assignment, which, of course, was not meant seriously. But why not? If anybody could write the Book of Mormon, as we have been so often assured, it is high time that somebody, some devoted and learned minister of the gospel, let us say, performed the invaluable public service of showing the world that it can be done."

Hugh Nibley never expected any of his students to accomplish this task. Even with the use of modern information technologies, the assignment is almost impossible. For a 21 year old farm boy to produce a 500+ page "ancient text" in two months which would cover every aspect of ancient life, yet not be conclusively proven false by the world's scholars for almost 200 years is a daunting task.

But if, as critics say, anyone could do it, then why haven't we seen it done, or even attempted?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Dawkins Gets Nailed, So To Speak

"We are machines built by DNA whose purpose is to make more copies of the same DNA. Flowers are for the same thing as everything else in the living kingdoms, for spreading 'copy - me' programmes about, written in DNA language.

That is EXACTLY what we are for. We are machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a self sustaining process. It is every living objects' sole reason for living..." - Richard Dawkins

"You are merely handing on to him a problem you dare not settle yourself. It is as if a man were asked, "What is the use of a hammer?" and answered, "To make hammers"; and when asked, "And of those hammers, what is the use?" answered, "To make hammers again". Just as such a man would be perpetually putting off the question of the ultimate use of carpentry, so... all the rest of us are by these phrases successfully putting off the question of the ultimate value of the human life." - G. K. Chesterton

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Science Flies You To The Moon. Religion Flies You Into Buildings.

The graphic above has been circulating around the internet for some time now, but I saw it recently and started really thinking of the implications of it and how ridiculous the thought process behind it is.

First of all, it's a logical fallacy. It's an appeal to emotion. It asks you to suspend the thinking part of your brain and just focus on an emotion (anger or sorrow over 9/11) rather than an actual idea. Then it ties the scapegoat, religion, to that emotion.

Second, it's too simplistic. It equates "science" with space travel, and "religion" with 9/11. It completely ignores all the terrible things science has done (Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Napalm, Chem Warfare, the invention of firearms.) Even the automobile kills more than what this graphic calls "religion". In the United States alone, 35,000 to 40,000 people are killed by automotive accidents every year. That means that since 9/11, cars have killed about 385,000 people. Thank you, Science.

In addition, it ignores the good done by religion. The LDS church alone, in 2008, provided aid to 3.3 million people in 122 countries, and since 1985 help has been given to 23 million people in 163 nations. From 1985 - 2009, $327.6 million in cash and $884.6 million in commodities of aid was given throughout 178 countries. These services include, Emergency response, wheelchair distribution, The Clean Water Service, the Neonatal Resuscitation Program, and the Vision Treatment Training program.

2011 was also a big year for LDS disaster relief and humanitarian aid.

In addition to these efforts, the LDS Church also has over 300 job development and placement centers around the world. In 2001, the LDS Church began the Perpetual Education Fund which provides money to cover tuition and other school expenses to people in developing nations. As of 2007, tens of thousands of individuals had been given assistance. So far this program has operated primarily in South America and Oceana. The LDS Church has also begun producing a nutrition-rich porridge named Atmit to help during acute famines. The LDS Church Welfare program owns farms, ranches, canneries, and other food producing facilities to provide temporary food relief for families and individuals. LDS Humanitarian Services frequently works with other charities and NGOs such as the Red Cross, Catholic charities and even various Islamic charities for which the LDS Church has produced halaal food.

Clearly, there's more to consider than aviation.

Third, even if we were to equate "science" with spaceflight and "religion" with commercial airline disasters, then Science's record still wouldn't be too good compared to Religion.

For example, there about 15 million commercial flights annually, worldwide. That means that since 9/11, there have been about 165,000,000 flights. How many of these has religion flown into buildings? Four. Two into the WTC, one into the Pentagon, and I'm counting the failed attempt that ended up in a Pennsylvania field.

That means that your odds of having "religion" fly your plane into a building is 0.000000024%.

"Science" has flown 291 manned spaceflights since 1961. As of November 2004, 439 individuals had flown on spaceflights, and 22 astronauts had died.

That means that your odds of having "science" kill you and your entire crew is about 5%.

That means that "science" is 208,333,333.33 times more likely to blow you up in the air than "religion."

"One of these days, Alice! One of these days!
 BANG! Straight to the moon!!"
 - Ralph Kramden on Space Travel

And that's not counting non-astronaut fatalities during spaceflights. 305 civilians have been killed as the result of spaceflight accidents, including up to 100 dead in Xichang, China, where the Intelsat 708 Satellite, a Long March rocket, veered off course immediately after launch, crashing into a nearby village only 22 seconds later, destroying 80 houses.

So even if religion flies you into buildings, science flies you into whole villages.

We've killed 327 people to get 439 into space. That means that every time a shuttle launches, there's a 74% chance that someone will die for each crew member on board.

Some may be thinking, that's only true because you're looking at percentages, not death tolls. 9/11 killed more than 3,000 people, spaceflight has only killed 327.

That may be true, but I still don't think you want to take that route, because as pointed out earlier, science is responsible for a lot more than our few trips to the moon. But even if we were confined to aviation, we could also say that shoddy engineering, maintenance and design (Mechanical Failure) has killed more in commercial airliners than religion.

According to ACRO, between 1999 and 2010, there were about 2,000 airplane accidents, resulting in around  15,000 deaths.

But look on the bright side,
at least they're making money off you.

Religiosity and High IQ?

I recently wrote about a study done in 2008 which allegedly connected religiosity and low IQ. In other words, you're more likely to be a believer if you're stupid.

I mentioned a few problems with the study, including the testers reputation for falsifying and concocting data and the fact that the conclusion is unsupported, even if the data is accurate.

Then I stumbled upon this 2011 article, by USA Today, about a study showing that you're more than twice as likely to abandon religion if you are uneducated.

"Since the 1970s, religious service attendance has declined among all white Americans, but the rate of decline among those without college degrees has been more than twice that of college graduates, according to the researchers."

Read the full article here!

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