Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What's Occam's Razor & can you shave with it?

Occam's Razor is not a shaving device owned by someone named Occam. No! It is a logical instrument whereby one can distinguish between hypothesis in order to arrive at a more reasonable solution.

Occam's Razor states that all things being equal, we should choose the hypothesis that does not "multiply variables" beyond necessity. For example, if you wanted to guess at who stole your lunch out of the refrigerator, you wouldn't guess that it was a Labrador Retriever who unlocked the front door, opened the refrigerator door, grabbed your grub and disappeared without leaving a trace. You would assume it was your hungry roommate. But Why?

If you would guess it was a dog, you would be "multiplying variables" beyond what was necessary. Why would it be a Labrador Retriever? Both your roommate and this mysterious dog are hungry. But your roommate knows how to unlock doors, dogs usually don't.

Likewise, if you want to talk about the origin of matter, don't multiply variables, just look for a natural explanation.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How Did Life Begin?

A simple question with an amazingly complex answer.

I'm not a chemist or a biologist, but I will venture an explanation based upon what I have read. According to Ian Musgrave (1), first there were simple chemicals, then those simple chemicals formed polymers, then replicating polymers, then protobiont then bacteria and the rest is history.

In your question you asked if I believe in "spontaneous generation." I believe in abiogenesis, not "spontaneous generation." Spontaneous generation was the idea that life, namely fully formed organisms, emerge from meat, and other decaying matter. That hypothesis was falsified by Pasteur a long time ago. Abiogenesis, on the other hand, is a different hypothesis which states that inorganic matter, given time, will generate organic matter, the difference being time and conditions. No, maggots do not crawl out of meat, but chemicals will form polymers which lead eventually to bacteria.

OK, so what does that mean? Through a directed, natural, process of chemical reactions, a chain of events occurred such that a simple set of chemicals were able to slowly and progressively advance to a more complex system, leading inexorably to a living organism. The Creationists mis characterize this process by saying that chemicals POOF turned into bacteria in one step (that is "spontaneous generation"), when in fact, that is not what the abiogenesis theory suggests. Indeed, it would be impossible for chemicals to magically form organized living organisms in one single step, such as maggots crawling out of meat, but that is not what happened. Other strawmen arguments follow a basic pattern. Some common ones are;

1) If you lock a closed room and come back a million years later, it will not be organized. (Assuming the house is still standing, no, you would not. Just another "spontaneous generation" example.)

2) If you leave a bathtub full of water for a million years, it will not have a fish in it. (The water would have evaporated in the first week.)

The picture to the right, which outlines the two conflicting assessments of the origins of life, was taken from an article written by Ian Musgrave. Musgrave outlines 5 of the most common misconceptions of the abiogenesis debate;

”1) They [creationists] calculate the probability of the formation of a "modern" protein, or even a complete bacterium with all "modern" proteins, by random events. This is not the abiogenesis theory at all.

2) They assume that there are a fixed number of proteins, with fixed sequences for each protein, that are required for life.

3) They calculate the probability of sequential trials, rather than simultaneous trials.

4) They misunderstand what is meant by a probability calculation.

5) They seriously underestimate the number of functional enzymes/ribozymes present in a group of random sequences.” (1)

After the first Miller-Urey experiment, abiogenesis moved out of the realm of hypothesis and into the realm of testable science. They found that if an evaporated solution of H2O, CH4, NH3, and H2 were subjected to electricity, organic compounds formed after only one week. According to the theory several million of these "experiments" were conducted by natural processes to form the first polymer. Current theories suggest that these compounds must be shielded from UV light, perhaps near a deep sea vent. Feldspar, the most common rock on earth, may have been a catalyst as well.

In conclusion, there is a difference between spontaneous generation and abiogenesis. Spontaneous generation was falsified, whereas abiogenesis is robust area of scientific investigation. Creationists, in a straw-man argument, try to criticize abiogenesis, when in fact, they are arguing against the already falsified hypothesis of spontaneous generation.

Thank you, Matthew, for the question.


Further reading;

Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origin. By Robert M. Hazen

Easy-to-Read article by Hazen;

more difficult article by Dr. Robert Hazen

Talk origins section on abiogenesis

Monday, May 26, 2008

It's Easy as a Rubiks Cube

Creationists often ask how something as complex as the human eye can just form itself. They look at complex structures, which are supposedly "irreducibly complex" and extrapolate that there must have been a creator. They criticize evolution on the grounds that nothing can be created with such perfection in the way described by natural selection. This criticism stem from their fundamental misunderstanding of the processes behind natural selection.

A Rubik Cube will illustrate this point clearly. The human eye, and every other example offered by Creationists could be considered the "completed" Rubik Cube at the top. How could it ever have POOF! burst into existence already completed like that? WOW! There IS a creator.

They confuse the process of natural selection with their own conception of a designer. A human, in this case, has solved the Rubik Cube. I myself could never hope to solve one, unless I took it apart and stuck it back together (which shows you what a terrible designers I would be). Nevertheless, the human who spent many hours and frustrations to solve this Rubik Cube was using a process of natural selection to weed-out mistakes which impaired the solution to the problem.

It is in this process of weeding-out that is so "miraculous" about natural selection. By using a directed force, the human was able to find a solution to the problem. Likewise, each generation of life is like a turn in the Rubik Cube. Each generation gets closer to being "solved" so-to-speak.

We are still missing one piece of the puzzle. The Rubik Cube example, although explanatory, is not all together accurate. Each generation doesn't need to be a solved Rubik Cube, that is, it doesn't need to be perfect. Each generation only needs to be "good enough." Which is fine for me, because I could never solve a Rubik Cube. Suppose the second Rubik Cube, which isn't "solved" could be perfectly "adapted" to the environment in which it existed. In that case, the mismatched Rubik Cube would in-fact be "Solved." It would be "solved" until the environment changed and made it once again, unsolved, in which case the process would start over from the last generation in the puzzle.

William Paley was one of the great minds behind this whole misconception. He hypothesized that if he found a watch on the beach, he would have to assume, due to its complexity, that it had a designer. Unfortunately, watches undergo the same process of natural selection as living organisms do.

The watch to the left started out, many years ago, as a Grand-Father clock. Grand-Father clocks were much to big to carry around, so they were "naturally selected" out of use. Even before the Grand-Father clock was the Sun Dial, made of stone, and before that, Stonehenge which was made of 3 ton boulders.

So Paley, like the modern day Creationists, choose bad examples for the irreducibly complex forms. We can see that very complex mechanisms, such as the Rubik Cube or Watch can be naturally selected for using a directed process of elimination. And such is the process for natural organisms.

Ray can't Make Up His Mind

"...Your stumbling-block [atheism] isn't intellectual as you maintain. . . it's moral."

Ray Comfort, 12:57 PM May 26, 2008

"However, the reason your conscience has nothing to say about your atheism is that atheism is not a moral issue. It’s an intellectual issue."

Ray Comfort, 3:46 PM May 18, 2008

(This was taken from Captain Howdy)

My response, it's BOTH!


With all due respect Ray,
I myself don't resort to the fallacy of appealing to authority, such as the website you quoted, or that you echoed in your Voltaire example.

For example, exactly how do we "reason badly"? No examples are given, just ad-hominem attacks such as we are "pernicious" and "impudent."

On your very own website, livingwaters, in the evidence bible section, I found this quote*;
"The French philosopher Voltaire, a skeptic who destroyed the faith of many people, boasted that within 100 years of his death, the Bible would disappear from the face of the earth."

So was Voltaire, according to you, a Christian? Which is it Ray?

*link on my blog

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cool site

4:22 Pm. Just found a cool site about keeping Mud Skippers.
Mudskippers are living pieces of evolution, and their funny looking as well. They are notoriously difficult to keep because they are both fish and amphibian (requiring twice the tank maintenance (duh)), and are also territorial.

Theys Sumfin WRONG witcha!

If you believe people should burn alive for eternity, there is something wrong with you. There is something broken inside your head.

To the right is a picture of a crematorium from Auschwitz. People who believe people should be burned alive are no better than the people who perpetrated the holocaust. You should be locked up in a padded cell or something, because ( if you will forgive the redundancy) THEY'S SUMFIN WRONG WITCHA!

(Dangit Annie, I did it agains!)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Psychology of Ignorance

Some people are really "Slow." I almost feel bad pointing out obvious problems that seem symptomatic of their world view. On the other hand, I feel compelled to help these less fortunate people bare the burden of their own stupidity.

That being said, it occurred to me that with people as slow as the ones I typically deal with, often, humor and understanding go a lot further than simply trying to force them to understand. It astounds me how a person can speak on a subject of which they have absolutely ZERO understanding, and yet, be so utterly confident and self assured. Part of this phenomenon, of which I have recently become aware, can be attributed to what is known in the psychology field as the "Dunning-Kruger Effect." The Dunning-Kruger Effect occurs when a person, possibly a person with an insecure ego, will fain knowledge of a complex subject, whereas a person who ACTUALLY knows the subject tends to be humble and claim not to know very much about said subject.

With that in mind, I asked myself what type of psychological mindset would a person need to exhibit the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It occurred to me that they must be suffering some sort of personal crisis, or boredom, to which they are trying to compensate for. Possibly, they have not achieved any noticeable victories in their own area of expertise, and consequently, must reach out into other areas of investigation to make up for their own personal short-comings.

Granted, the idea of evolution, anthropology, mathematics, or any other area of science or logic can be daunting for an inhibited individual who has little more than an associates degree earned from a local community college. However, the majority of individuals posses the basic rule of simply claiming ignorance where it indeed exists. These people have a strong ego, and are willing to suffer the momentary humiliation associated with not knowing the answer to a given question. The pathology of a person suffering from the Dunning-Kruger Effect is the opposite. They will claim extraordinary knowledge of extremely complex subjects, to the point of being a pathological lier.

Now, I don't believe that the condition is terminal. There is still hope for people who have this unfortunate condition.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What is science?

Rebeca in TX,

Why can't you use the Bible to prove the validity of the claims of Christianity? Does this mean that you cannot use science books to prove the claims of science?

May 20, 2008 3:39 PM"

It's called "empiricism". One does not use a book to "prove" anything. BTW, scientists never claim to "prove" anything. Only ignoramuses who know nothing about the scientific method claim to "prove" things.

Here is the scientific method;

1) Make an observation
2) Form a hypothesis
3) Test your hypothesis
4) State your observations, which lead to more hypothesis

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Working Definition

Christianity - (Noun). A social disease in which burning people alive for eternity is perfectly rational.

See "Sociopath"

What is Wrong With You?


1) If you violate the law, you still have to pay the price. (if you do not accept the bible)
2) If you violate the law, you will not have to pay the price. (if you do accept the bible etc.)

1) violations are infinite. therefore infinite punishment is required.
2) You are not judged according to your father's crimes.

@ Brent
First, MudSkipper is my last name, so you can call me either. (J/K)
1) Still doesn't change the fact that I object to the punishment.
2) Dito.

1) That's silly. This doesn't fit the normal system of justice. A lapse of judgment for 2 seconds that it takes to steal a stick of gum, should not require an infinite punishment.
(BTW do you have quotations for this).
Here's an example;

Modern ( normal) Law;
Steal a stick of gum (As an adult) = $1,000 fine and 24 hrs in jail.
Murder someone = Go to jail for a long time.

Biblical Law;
Steal a stick of gum = Burn alive for eternity
Murder someone = Burn alive for eternity

By definition, your God has abnormal justice, which doesn't correspond to how I believe the world SHOULD be.

2) According to the bible, we have all commited a crime, because we are descendants of Adam. Ergo, we have to pay for the "crimes" of our "fathers."
Here I am using "Fathers" figuratively. We were all "born into sin" according to your Bible.
The fact that you try to get around this suggests that you are using your modern conscience to evaluate the Bible. There may be hope for you yet.

So my standard of justice is better than that of your God, because it is not what they call "Draconian." Draconian laws treat murder and stealing as equal crimes. It is more in line with the way justice SHOULD be handled.

Another point you confuse is that under Modern Law, you cannot simply ask the judge to forgive you (for either stealing or murdering). But according to Biblical law, you can in essence "Bribe" the judge. Does that make sense to you?
It doesn't make sense to me. I mean, if you are going to burn a person for eternity, at least inflict SOME punishment for murderers who cop a plea bargain. There is ZERO consistancy here.

It's kinda strange, how I can speak so rationally with a person who honestly believes that people should be burned alive for eternity. And you speak about it so calmly. That is just strange. I mean what is going on in your head?? What has happened in your life that you have become so detatched from your own FEELINGS that you would consider this as a logical end for ANYONE!!!?

Doesn't make sense. It DOESN"T make sense.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What's a Mud Skipper?

A Mud Skipper is a fish that can walk and breathe out of water. Amazing huh! Yep, the Mud Skipper is a cool animal. It is a cross between a fish and an amphibian. In fact, the Mud Skipper has both gills and an amphibian type breathing system.

You can own your own piece of evolution for only $7 plush S&H ! I'm serious!

Here's a link to a retailer of live Mud Skippers that you can keep in your own aquarium at home!

The Bible and Draconian Law

Here are two good reasons not to be a Christian;

1) People should not have to suffer infinite punishment for finite crimes.

2) People should not suffer for the "crimes" of their fathers.

The bible fails the basic requirements of law throughout the world. This type of punishment system is what they call "Draconian." Draco was an Athenian law scribe who passed outrageous punishment for the smallest crime.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Caucus-Race

Reading Ray Comfort's blog is very entertaining. It's even more exiting than watching a car accident.

I always wonder about the people on there, including myself. I think of Alice in Wonderland and ponder the deeper significance of what exactly makes Ray tick. Is he a magician, a lunatic, a cult leader, a high-pressure salesman? All of the above? The answer, as of yet, eludes me. It could be this is all an elaborate game he is playing to while the hours between breakfast and dinner. If that is the case, lets do a good job of it. There s more merry-making to be had.

I can draw parallels between Alice and her misadventures. Namely, The Caucus Race and a Long Tail.

After leaving the bottle, Alice lands on shore. The Dodo says everyone should dry off by running. They all start to run, and Alice asks, "Why are we all running? What is a Cuacus race?" The Dodo (maybe Ray) says "the best way to explain it is to do it." They are all running in circles. For the race, there are no rules and everyone is a winner. For the prize, Alice awards everyone with Comfits. But in this case, I think it will be barbiturate laced Kool-Aid.

The point of this game is to get out as many words as you can in a given amount of time. It doesn't matter if you are correct or not, because as I said, that is not the point. In any case, tomorrow will be yet another day in which we attempt to say even more words which are just as meaningless and fruitless (if more so) than the day before. We are all winners, so there is no need to keep score.

Does that make sense? Good.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ray, the cash machine

Following a post by Ray Comfort entitled, "Max, Take a Deep Breath," in which Ray says he gave the disgruntled lunatic a wad of money to pay his bills...

We have taken a dog hostage and will execute him unless our demands for money are met!

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Which picture represents the secular theory of the origin of organic life, and which one is the religious version?

Ray Comfort the next Jim Jones?

With all this talk about how the world is going to end, we'd better prepare soon, the end is nigh, I remember reading about a crazy Christian nut in America who had a little cult following. No, I'm not talking about Ray, I'm talking about Jim Jones. Jim Jones was a lunatic who managed to convince 900 people to commit mass suicide in Guyana, South American.

I don't know. Maybe Ray is planning is own exit strategy. With al the doom and gloom talk, I get kinda worried.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Used car for sale

I was perusing some of the stuff on the inter-web about some of the arguments against evolution and this new movie "Expelled."

It brought to mind a used car salesman trying to sell you a Jalopy. He says the other car lots are trying to run him out of business because his cars are so good! He says everything is fine with this model, clean title, no major work, he even changed the oil last week. But when you turn the key, there's no sound. In fact, there is no engine!

Yep, she's a used car alright. You can yelp, holler, jump around until you're blue in the face, but without an engine, nobody but a fool is going to buy that old thing.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Do you want to play a game?

In the picture below, there is an umbrella somewhere in the living room. Can you find it?
The picture may be too small to see for sure.

Give up?

Well you shouldn't. That's not what scientists do. Scientists don't give up when they can't find something. That is called "intellectual laziness." We hypothesize that it is likely that there is an umbrella in the room, it is a living room after all. Where do you think the umbrella could be? Could it be near the door? Well, look.

When someone tells you to give up just because you haven't found what you were looking for, keep searching. It doesn't matter if you didn't find the umbrella. That wasn't the point of this post. The point is not to give up just because you don't find something the very minute you start to look. Don't be intellectually lazy.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Who you Gonna Call?!

When you see a ghost,
out of the corner of your eye
Dont freak out!
Just pick up the Phone
And Dial 911-Ghost5 !

When there's
Something strange
Goin' on
Don't get deranged!
Just scream Ghost Busters!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

An "A" for effort!

I found a rather unique web page that presented some of the most oft cited arguments for Creation (via a deity?). I love the way the author, Wayne Jackson, purposefully attempted to avoid the usual pitfalls of conversations between theists and their opposite, atheists. He does it in a rather respectful way, even going so far as to acknowledge the works of a well known atheist/agnostic Bertrand Russell. It was refreshing to see a Christian publication be forthright when it comes to logical fallacies. So often, they are slung about, making it virtually impossible to have a productive dialogue.

I believe Jackson did a great job in the first half of the article. Leaving logical fallacies behind, one can then proceed to a case based on evidence or some sort of logical reasoning. He then presents 5 arguments which demonstrate that his god indeed exists.

Argument 1) Matter cannot be created or destroyed, thus god created matter.

How can anything create matter if matter cannot be created? Can a third option exist in which matter has always existed, but merely changed form through the Big Bang? It is difficult to tell since computations beyond the Plank wall yield results we are not familiar with in our everyday lives (i.e. the thermodynamic laws).

Argument 2) Entropy suggests an immaterial beginning.

Jackson contradicts his first argument when he suggested that matter cannot be destroyed. If it cannot be destroyed, it must be eternal. The way he worded his argument with loose language such as "eternal" confuses the subject. Matter indeed changes from matter to energy (and vis-versa) regularly (E=mc/\2). At any rate, how does this point to a deity? One needs to understand physics to be able to test this hypothesis. I think that is a little too much to ask of the average person.

Argument 3) Life cannot come from inorganic matter.

Its interesting to note how Jackson uses the word "incapable" in his argument. He states that inorganic matter is "incapable" of generating living organisms. How does he know this? He has not tried every possible experiment. He uses Russell's teapot to make an argument he could not possibly defend.

Argument 4) Morality comes from an immaterial source.

Jackson states, "All evidence indicates that no strictly material object has moral sensitivity, i.e., a conviction of right versus wrong." It is believed that what we consider "right" and "wrong" are products of the interaction among creatures under environmental constraints. What is good for the individual and the group becomes what is "right," because whatever was "wrong" hindered the survival strategy of that creature. Morality, loosely defined, is a product of evolutionary processes. There is no need for a immaterial explanation for what is culturally defined as "right" and "wrong."

Last but not least, Jackson hits us with the Pièce de résistance;

Argument 4) Everything looks like it was designed, hence, there is a designer.

Objects that appear "designed" do not necessarily warrant a designer. (Ah, William Paley, will he ever really die?) I wonder why Jackson chose to include this argument since it has already been established that there are serious problems with the logic. I'm glad he chose one which doesn't involve quantum physics, but nevertheless, he is incorrect. It is an assumption on the part of Jackson that things which appear to be designed need a designer, when that is what he was trying to prove in the first place (QED? I don't think so). With all the platitudes given to logical fallacies in the commencement of his article, it is surprising to find one in the latter half. In fact, his argument amounts to little more than begging the question.

Jackson, Wayne. Dec 5, 2006. "Bertrand Russell’s 'Teapot' Argument." Christian Courier. (Website)