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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Psychosis, Miracles And Catholic Frauds

Blogger "Rosa Rubicondior" whose real name is Esther Harrison recently published a post conflating psychosis with miracles and Catholic visionaries. She attempts to use the journal article, "Psychotic-like experiences in a community sample of 8000 children aged 9 to 11 years: an item response theory analysis" to support her case. However, in doing so she has shown her complete ignorance regarding psychology and the Catholic religion.  Esther's original words will be in quotations """".  My response will be centered.

 "Psychological Medicine - Psychotic-like experiences in a community sample of 8000 children aged 9 to 11 years: an item response theory analysis - Cambridge Journals Online It seems that hallucinations are far more common in children that was previously thought, and in fact are fairly frequent. In one 2011 study of nearly 8000 children, two-thirds were found to have had at least one psychotic-like experience (PLE) which was more than a simple childhood play fantasy. Do we have here a simple, and above all natural, explanation for many of the supposed miracles, very often involving young girls, of visions of, in Catholic countries, the Virgin Mary?"
Esther attempts to make a connection between the child visionaries found in the Catholic square with the findings of this study.  The problem with this assertion is that the majority of visionaries were adults, not children. The apparitions that had children involved in more "recent" times are the following: 
The Apparition at La Salette, France Mary appeared to two children, Maximin Giraud, aged 11, and Mélanie Calvat, aged 14, in 1846, one afternoon while they were looking after the animals high up on the mountain. She appealed for penance and an end to Sabbath breaking and blasphemy in the region. This apparition is credited with a major revival of Catholicism in the area. 
The Apparitions at Lourdes, France Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, aged 14, a total of eighteen times at Lourdes in southern France, at the Grotto of Massabielle. She asked for penance and prayer for the conversion of sinners, and described herself as the "the Immaculate Conception." Lourdes is most famous for the miraculous spring which has been responsible for many cures accepted by the Church. 
The Apparition at Pontmain, France Mary appeared in the sky over the small town of Pontmain in north-western France to a group of young children for about three hours in January 1871, as the Franco-Prussian war was threatening the area. Her message appeared on a banner under her feet, and encouraged prayer while emphasising Jesus' love and concern. The village was spared invasion. 
The Apparitions at Fatima, Portugal Three children, Lucia de Santos, aged 10, and her two cousins, Francisco Marto, aged 9, and Jacinta Marto, aged 7, saw Mary six times between May and October 1917. She described herself as "Our Lady of the Rosary," while urging prayer, and particularly the rosary, as well as penance for the conversion of sinners, and the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. 
The Apparitions at Beauraing, Belgium Mary appeared thirty-three times to a group of children in the winter of 1932-33 at Beauraing in Belgium, in a convent garden near a hawthorn tree. She described herself as "the Immaculate Virgin" and "Mother of God, Queen of Heaven," while calling for prayer for the conversion of sinners. 
The Apparitions at Banneux, Belgium Mary appeared eight times to Mariette Beco, aged 11, outside the family home at Banneux, a small village, in Belgium. She described herself as the "Virgin of the Poor," and promised to intercede for the poor, the sick and the suffering. - "Apparitions" by Fr. Michael Carroll's Theotokos, A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, p.47 Esther then posts the abstract of the journal article she is distorting in order to present her sophism:
"One of the arguments for, for example, Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes and Lúcia Santos of Fatima experiencing more than a simple childhood fantasy was the tenacity with which they stuck to their story when questioned, (although Bernadette Soubirous' memory of the event seems to improve with age). So, could these children have had a PLE?"
Esther describes the experiences of both Bernadette Soubirous and Lucia Santos as "childhood fantasy," but fails to support this claim. She fails to acknowledge that the events surrounding these two individuals are heavily documented.  Many have witnessed the miraculous events in which both Bernadette and Lucia were a part of.  This includes and is not limited to, healing, prayers answered, sensual perception that defies the laws of physics and so forth.  Esther then asks the question, "could these children have had a PLE (Psychotic-like Experience)?  The answer is no.  It is normal for children to fantasize and use their imagination.  The article's abstract describes this as, "constitut[ing] part of a spectrum of normative development."  Those who have studied child psychology as I have are familiar with the term "animism" which comes from psychologist Jean Piaget who formulated his "Stages of Development" which rivaled that of  atheist Sigmund Freud and is considered more scientific and accurate than the latter's contribution.
Stages of Development: 
  • Sensory Motor Stage(Birth - 2yrs)
  • Pre-operational Stage (2yrs-7yrs)
  • Concrete Operational Stage (7yrs-11yrs)
  • Formal Operations Stage (11yrs-16yrs)
During the Pre-operational Stage, children begin to use semiotic function, or the ability to use symbols which are assigned to actions or tangible objects cognitively.  This brings about "Egocentrism" or the child dwelling within him/herself, especially during play.  They tend to create a world within themselves and get lost in it.  This is often characteristic of young girls playing "tea time" or boys making explosive sounds with their mouths as they play with toy soldiers and the like.  This is completely normal. However, this is unrelated to Catholic-approved visions by children. 
   "The same case can be made for the Medjugorje 'miracle' of 1981 in Bosnia-Herzegovina in what looks remarkably like a re-run of Fatim, where the main instigators were a sixteen year-old girl, Mirjana Dragicevic and fifteen year-old Ivanka Ivanković and where, once again, the Catholic Church had a very strong political motive for wanting a 'miracle' to keep control as the political situaltion deteriorated as former Jugoslavia degenerated into inter-religious civil war, anarchy and eventually disintegrtion, following the dath of Tito a year earlier."
If you have paid attention to my previous critique of Esther's claims, you will notice something stand out.  Esther uses the alleged visionaries Ivanka and Mirjana from Bosnia as examples.  These two individuals claim to have had apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the 1980s and I believe into the present.  These apparitions are known as the "Medjugorje" apparitions.  If you notice what Esther wrote, you will see that she gives their ages which are sixteen and fifteen.  The problem here is that these two individuals had already passed the pre-operational stage as described by Piaget when the alleged apparitions begain in the 1980s.  Ergo, they would not exhibit animism or resort to semiotic functioning.  Moreover, this apparition is NOT approved by the Catholic Church.  As a matter of fact, rumor has it that the Vatican will be deciding on it soon, see: Once again, Esther is showing her ignorance of Catholicism and Psychology. 
"In all these cases these 'visions' were then elevated to the status of miracles by first the local Catholic Church, then, when it realised the potential, the Vatican itself, and in all cases with a clear political motive and now a financial one, but what we probably have is essentially a childhood PLE, nothing more and nothing less. Other supposed 'miracles' usually associated with the appearance of figures, normally Mary, to children, usually young girls, several of whom appear to have had a troubled childhood, include:"
None of these 'visions' were elevated to the status of miracles as Esther claims.  The local ordinary or bishop may have not objected to Catholics participating in any events surrounding the alleged 'visions;' however, there is a big difference between a bishop showing indifference and actually approving an alleged apparition.  The claims of using apparitions for political motive and financial gain is unsupported by Esther and is completely false. If the Church were interested in political motives and financial gains from allege apparitions, then she would be approving them all of the time. We know the Church will not do this because: 
1) She has to remain faithful to the teachings of Christ. 
2) She cannot turn into a superstition business. 
3) Any discovery of fraud or true psychosis will effect the credibility of the Church. 
"The Church needs to put aside it's own greed and avarice for once and start recognising the fact that these hallucinations could be a symptom of psychological, even neurophysiological disorders requiring medical attention, in the interests of the children involved, rather than seizing on these possible, even probable, examples of psychotic episodes, as miracles and using them to enhance the Catholic Church's income and influence, and often effectively taking over the lives of children who then get caught up in their own legend and tied to a treadmill they can never get off. But without these fake supernatural events to fool the masses with, what would the Catholic Church have to promote it's evidence-free superstition and dogma with?"
Once again, Esther makes a bare assertion fallacy by calling these apparitions, "hallucinations" without showing evidence.  We are left to adopt her inferences as factual.  As I have shown, Esther has no knowledge of Psychology nor Catholicism, therefore, her opinions on the aforementioned are moot.  What Esther fails to mention in her post is that those apparitions which are approved had some supernatural element to them which was witnessed by many and found to be credible by the Church which used both science and methods of investigation to investigate claims. In the apparitions of Fatima, there were many supernatural events which were captured on the cameras of the time.  Many skeptics, atheists, scientists and others witnessed the "dancing sun" miracle. Here is an excerpt from a post I wrote on the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima: "Moreover, as expected, many skeptics denied the apparitions at the time.  They considered the children to be either making the apparition up or completely delusional.  Our Lady would promise a miracle in October that would give substance to the claims of the children.  When the day arrived on October 13, 1917, the people gathered in the rain at Cova da Iria.  They were expecting a miracle in the skies and instead saw rain. Crowds over 70,000 gathered including reporters of different media outlets, atheists and scientists.  They grew impatient and began to heckle the children believing them to be charlatans.  However, the rain stopped suddenly.  The sun became visible behind thin clouds and its rays did not hurt the eyes of those looking at it.  Lucia cried out, "the sun! Look at the sun!"  All looked and saw the sun begin to spin and change into different colors.  Others saw the sun actually moving or "dancing" in the skies and seemed to come close to the Earth; so close that those present could feel an increase of heat.  As a result, the drenched clothing of the people were completely dried.  This event was witnessed by others miles away from the site.  Till this day, no one has been able to explain this event. Some have tried to explain this as a mere hallucination; however, it is not possible for 70,000 people to hallucinate in the exact same manner.  Moreover, people miles away who had no idea what was going on in regards to the gathering at Cova da Iria, witnessed the solar phenomenon.  As a student of physics, there is no explanation in physics that takes into account this event. Yes, the sun is "spinning" or rotating in space, but on its axis like the Earth.  It is not making erratic movements.  Others have claimed that the sun blinded the people and their eyes compensated for this; however, if the photoreceptor cells or "cone" cells of the eyes absorb too much light, they simply will just shut down and one will perceive darkness. While it recovers, the eyes will begin to perceive other neon toned colors as the cones regulate themselves.  This is not what the people saw.  They saw the sun spinning, moving and changing colors in the sky.  They felt the heat increase as well as the sun moved closer.  There was no blindness or any attempt by the eyes to regulate the amount of light entering the cones. As stated before, people could look at the sun and did not feel any discomfort.  Reporters were present, as well as atheists and men of science.  They all have given account of this event and did not brush them off as hallucination or ocular regulation when too much light is absorbed.  It was truly a miracle."  - 
Moreover, the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes witnessed by Bernadette was also documented extensively. Miracles that take place today are also studied and investigated by the Lourdes International Medical Committee which is an organization with a board of skeptics, scientists, medical doctors and clergy.  Esther's claim that the Church uses miracles to promote its dogma is unfounded and based on her ignorance.  She is clearly not well read on this topic and many others as well.  It is interesting to note that not once does Esther cite from the "Psychotic-like experiences in a community sample of 8000 children aged 9 to 11 years: an item response theory analysis" to support her case.  She simply posts the link and abstract in order to deceive her readers into thinking her post is well researched and supported by the article.  As a student and graduate of the sciences, I have access to numerous articles and journals.  It is obvious that Esther did not have full access to the article.  However, I do.  
This article does not even mention the word 'catholic.'
Neither 'religion' nor 'visionaries' are mentioned in this article, nor are they variables. Esther simply used a journal article she did not read and attempted to conflate it with her uneducated inferences. 
 As you can see above, the introduction clearly states the factors that lead to hallucinations and schizophrenia.  Notice that religion, apparitions, Catholicism etc are not listed.  The claims from Esther are unfounded and shows her dishonesty.  
The method of the study was as follows:  children ages 9-11 were taken as subjects from 73 elementary schools in the Greater London area.  An n sample of 7966 children were used with 49% of them being female.  They were taken from both state and religious schools based on enrollment size.  According to the statistics, the mu of the sample size was 10 years and 5 months while the standard deviation was 9.  96% of the children sampled were between 9 and 11 years old.  The students were asked the following questions below. The chart shows the descriptive statistics found based on responses.
Please take note that none of the questions asked by the researchers were about apparitions of God, Mary or anyone else related to Catholicism.  The questions are geared around the typical symptoms of schizophrenia and hallucinations.  The correlation Esther tries to make in her post is based on her science illiteracy.  The APA (American Psychological Association) has clearly stated in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) that religion has nothing to do with delusions, psychosis and the like.  
According to the paper entitled, "Differentiating psychosis and faith: the role of social norms and religious fundamentalism," it states that "Catholic beliefs were rated as significantly less delusional than Mormon beliefs.."  When compared to the Nation of Islam, the researchers found, "catholic beliefs as the least delusional and with Nation of Islam beliefs as highlydelusional."  This paper relied on the typicality of delusional beliefs and how they relate to religion. Delusional beliefs that are deemed as a psychological disorder are often irrational, pervasive, cause preoccupation and can lead to severe self-mutilation (Applebaum, Robbins, & Roth, 1999; Siddle et al., 2002; Culliford, 1987; Waugh, 1986).
There are several other studies and research papers available which clearly disqualify religious beliefs as delusional based on the typicality and prevalence of symptoms, many times comorbid with other conditions. Esther's attempt to conflate the article studying children and testing for "PLE" with Catholic visionaries is poor scholarship and a pathetic attempt at reason and scientific inquiry. As demonstrated, Esther's intent was to deceive her readers into thinking that the article she linked supports her warped inferences and conclusions.  The latter are simply based on her atheistic cognitive bias which fails to see evidence and scientific research that contradicts her irrational ideas and conclusions.  Those apparitions that are approved by the Church passed that bar because they met the criteria.  The Church employs ever effort and asset against any claims of the supernatural.  This includes the use of the scientific method, skepticism, scientific professionals, theologians and the like. In many cases, it takes the Church nearly centuries to decide on an alleged miracle or apparition.
There is no psychosis or fraud involved in Catholic Church approved apparitions.  In reality, the real psychosis is demonstrated in Esther's post vis a vis her conclusions.  The fraud here is her attempt to pass off her inferences and ignorance as scientific and supported by the article, "Psychotic-like experiences in a community sample of 8000 children aged 9 to 11 years: an item response theory analysis."  This post on my blog exposes her ignorance and bias.  If you wish to have the article Esther links in her post, a fee of $30 USD must be paid here: .  Use the paypal button and be sure to write on paypal's check layout the name of the article.   


"Apparitions" by Fr. Michael Carroll's Theotokos, A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, p.47

 Child Animism: What the Child Means by "Alive" S. W. Klingensmith Child Development. Vol. 24, No. 1 (Mar., 1953), pp. 51-61 Borke, H. (1975).

Piaget's mountains revisited: Changes in the egocentric landscape. Developmental Psychology, 11(2), 240. Piaget, J. (1951). Egocentric thought and sociocentric thought. J. Piaget, Sociological studies, 270-286.

Psychosis or Faith? Clinicians’ Assessment of Religious Beliefs Shawn O’Connor and Brian Vandenberg University of Missouri—St. Louis

 Differentiating psychosis and faith: the role of social norms and religious fundamentalism Shawn O’Connora* and Brian Vandenbergba St. Louis VA Medical Center, St. Louis, MO, USA; bDepartment of Psychology, University Missouri-St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, USA (Received 2 June 2009; final version received 22 August 2009)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Science Closes Another Gap - God Still Not Found

Edited by rosamystica 

Science Closes Another Gap - God Still Not Found

Macrauchenia patachonica (Artist's impression)

News that evolutionary biology has closed another gap and found no gods in it, left creationists totally uninterested again today.

  There’s a reason they were yawning. See below.

The gap was one that Darwin pondered over - the origin of two of the recently-extinct (geologically speaking) South American ungulates. They seemed to be a mixture of hippopotamus, rhinoceros, rodent, camel, and even elephant in that they appeared to have a small trunk. Some biologists had suggested they may be related to African species such as elephants or aardvarks while others thought they may be related to South American species like armadillos and sloths.

We have resolved one of the last unresolved major problems in mammalian evolution: the origins of the South American native ungulates.

Ian Barnes, molecular evolutionary biologist
Natural History Museum, London

Now scientists have succeeded in using a new analytical technique on collagen recovered from the bones of Toxodon and Macrauchenia and shown them to be related to the mammalian group which includes horses, tapirs and rhinoceroses.

Collagen is a fibrous, structural protein which is even more stable than DNA. It is found widely in a mammalian body including skin, hair, horn, hooves as well as bone. This new technique allows samples of collagen to be compared to that of other animals and, just as with comparing the DNA in the same gene from different animals, arranging the degree of difference in a family tree, showing their evolutionary relationship.

As with every other 'mystery' in science, the answer turned out to be something perfectly natural with no magic and no gods involved.

The gap between ungulates may have troubled Darwin, but it hardly qualifies as a mystery. If you want mystery, try the origin of the universe, or the origin of “nature” itself, which you call upon as your explanatory agent. There’s a mystery.

The gap which creationist have to close now is how come two species which went extinct some 4,000 years before the Earth and life on it were created by magic just 6,000 years ago, were related to animals that hadn't been created yet? If any creationist can close this gap with evidence, please feel free to show it here.

You appear to be aiming your critique at young earth creationists. They don’t agree with your dating or estimates of molecular clocks. So your 10,000 year age for the extinction is something they would dispute. I'm just pointing out the flaws in your argument. If you are going to argue with someone you should always present his/her position fairly.

BTW, I am not a young earth creationist, so I don’t dispute your dates and your argument still fails completely. Why shouldn’t we find sequence similarity among animals with similar morphologies and/or histories?

Since we are on the topic, all the paper presents is sequence similarity. The authors assume evolution as a fact, just as they assume common descent as a fact. They use those assumptions as a means of interpreting their data, as an explanatory filter. But the paper doesn’t do anything other than claim a new evolutionary ancestral relationship between modern ungulates and these extinct ones. It certainly doesn't prove evolution is true.

Just saying.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

God's Inerrant Omniscience Revisited

Someone tweeted to me this blog post from the deranged agnostic "Rubicondior."  As usual, the post is full of many fallacies and misconceptions.  I will debunk it.  My words will be in black and the original content in blue.

<<I wonder if Christians can do any better now. 
Almost three years ago I wrote a blog pointing out the logical impossibility of an omniscient, inerrant god coexisting with free will - see On The Logical Fallacy Of God's Inerrant Omniscience. Despite several comments varying in absurdity, and many comments demonstrating a lack of logical thinking, no one has yet managed to refute the logic of my argument.
>> Sacerdotus replies: I will refute it with ease on another post. <<It might be worth recapping the salient point again, to see if any believers can explain how these two central tenets of Christian dogma, which appear to be mutually contradictory, are logically consistent. Failing that, perhaps an explanation of how holding two mutually contradictory beliefs simultaneously is not indicative of intellectual dishonesty and of the self-deceiving nature of the mental process involved in religious faith.
To recap:

  • An omniscient (all-knowing) god would know every detail of your future, including the outcome of all decisions you will ever make. It will have known this for eternity. If not, then it isn't omniscient.
  • An inerrant god would never be wrong so it cannot 'know' something which turns out to be untrue.
  • Given these two conditions, it is not possible for you to make a decision which this god has not always known you will make.
  • Given these two conditions, such a god can not 'know' a decision which you do not in fact make.
>> Sacerdotus replies:
  • It is possible for an All-Knowing entity to exist while at the same time allowing free will.  I think this is what Rubicondior is trying to state but did not do so eloquently.
  • I am not sure what Rubicondior is trying to state here.  However, being inerrant does not mean one does not know what is wrong or untrue.  I can be perfect at baseball, that does not mean I am not aware of errors in it when the game is played.
  • It is possible for one to make any decision freely and at the same time God having awareness of it. 
  • This is exactly why God IS God.  Only a being of this magnitude transcends time and space in a manner that we cannot comprehend.  
<<To apply this to a trivial, every-day example: suppose this god have always known that you will have eggs for breakfast tomorrow. Can you chose not to have eggs and have cereal, or toast or waffles, or anything else instead, or even decide to skip breakfast altogether? If you do, this god cannot be omniscient. If you can't, you do not have free will.>>

                                                                                     Sacerdotus replies:
This makes no sense.  What Rubicondior fails to understand is that God is not bound by the laws of physics.  God is outside of space, time and matter.  Our perception is limited within our existence dictated by the laws of physics.  Think of it like a video game.  We all know about Super Mario bros.  It is a famous franchise about 2 Italian plumbers who are in a parallel universe called "The Mushroom Kingdom."  The 2 plumbers, Mario and Luigi are human.  As humans, we know that we can die easily.  We are subject to our regulated existence in this universe.  However, when Mario and Luigi are in this parallel universe, they have an extended amount of lives.  They also obtain special powers via particular items in the game.  Both Mario and Luigi can exist in this parallel universe because they are subject to the rules and laws of it.  Similarly, we are subject to the rules and laws of physics in this universe who has God as author.  We can live and exist to a certain extent.  God is not bound by this.  Rubicondior and others throughout the centuries make this mistake.  They apply the laws of physics to an entity that is not bound to them.  So while we may perceive time as a constant moment, God does not.

 <<Remember, this god can't, as some have argued, 'know' all your possible decisions so whichever you chose will be right. This would mean that whatever decision you make, the god would be wrong about all the others. In fact, given that there are masses of possible 'right' answers for every real right one, it would be far more often wrong than right - which is never good for the reputation of an 'omniscient' good.
But, if you believe in a god like this and also believe you have free will, how can you do something your god hasn't always known you will do? If you can't, in what sense of the word 'free' do you have free will?Simple, eh? All you have to do is to give a single example of something happening that is central to your faith, and which you have probably taken for granted.
Why is this important?
Because, if the Christian god isn't omniscient it doesn't know what's going on and is not in control of the Universe. Such a god is not worth praying to because, to change events it would have to be aware of them and in full control of them. This god would be a mere observer, having no more power than the spectators at a ball game have.>>  

  Sacerdotus replies: Again, here Rubicondior is thinking in a linear sense.  Let me explain using Physics: Free will exists while God knows and sees all at the same time because we are subject to space and time, not God. What does this mean? It means that God can know every outcome and every decision we make because He is outside of space and time. Being that He is God, His perception will be extremely advanced. We are in space and time, they have an affect on us. We exist in 4 dimensions and are limited to them. We cannot perceive the others. Because of this limitation, we are only aware of those 4 dimensions. String theory is interesting when comparing it with free will and an all knowing God. To sum it up, string theory is the idea that particles are strings existing within and interacting with different dimensions. For example, string theory posits that what I am doing now is just one of the many outcomes within "reality." In this dimension I am blogging, in another, I could be blogging but chewing gum, etc etc. All of this can happen at the same time or in different times. In light of this, God who is outside of space and time can observe the many variations in the "strings" of reality. Therefore, He can see all and we can be free in our respective dimension because we are part of that dimension and are subject to its laws. You can test this with something that refracts light and a flashlight. When you put the beam on it, the light will "split" into parts pointing at different points. It is the same light, but they are in different points in space and time and in different dimensions. You can observe this because you are outside of that light, but if the light were conscious it would not be aware of this and would only be aware that it can exist in its respective point.

<<If you don't have free will, then everything about the Universe is pre-determined. It makes not one iota of difference what you do or say and you cannot be held responsible for anything you do, let alone be accountable for the 'original sin'. There is no 'sin', no need for you to seek 'redemption', no need for forgiveness of sin, and so no reason for Jesus. Whatever you do or say was merely what you were predestined to do or say.

In other words, unless you can meet this simple challenge, you have no basis for your faith because your faith has no basis and the Bible has lied about one or the other, or both.>>

Sacerdotus replies:
Determinism is not taken seriously by most philosophers, more less physicists.  Here is a piece from philosopher Huemer:
A related idea is that the practice of reasoning is implicitly governed by the rule that one ought to form only justified (rational) beliefs and avoid unjustified beliefs; if one in no way accepts this norm - for example, if one regards arbitrary beliefs as no less to be preferred than rational beliefs- then one is not engaged in genuine reasoning. If this is right, then the determinist, insofar as he attempts to rationally defend his position, must accept at least some normative principles governing his assertions and thoughts. These normative principles may prove difficult to reconcile with determinism (indeed, the acceptance of any normative principles at all may be irreconcilable with determinism). The following deduction shows one way of bringing out the problem: 1. We should refrain from accepting unjustified beliefs. (Premise; presupposition of reasoning.) 2. To say that one should do something implies that one can do it. (premise) 3. So we can refrain from accepting unjustified beliefs. (From 1, 2) 4. Assume that hard determinism is true. Then what we actually do is the only thing we can do - that is, what can be done is done. (Assumption, definition of hard determinism.) 5. Therefore, we have no unjustified beliefs. (From 3,4) 6. Many people believe in free will. (Premise.) 7. So the belief in free will justified. (From 5,6) 
As for physics, sub atomic particles behave in a random manner.  There is nothing "set" in the universe in this level of existence.  As stated above, string theory proposes that there are multiple scenarios of time being played out as I write this and as you read it.

<<The other little problem for Christians (and Muslims and Jews for that matter) is that if the presence of an omniscient god means there is no free will, then that also holds true for gods. An omniscient god must also exist in a predestined Universe and so would have no free will either. 
A god with no free will is no god at all. A god with no free will cannot have decided to create anything.
Another little problem for Christians of course, is that if they can't answer these questions they are admitting, if only to themselves, that they know their 'faith' is phoney. >>

  Sacerdotus replies: Perhaps a "deist or pantheist type of God," but not the one God that has revealed Himself to us.  Rubicondior obviously does not understand "God."  Rosa's fallacious logic is only applicable to a god from folk religions in Africa such as "Nyame."  In African folk religions, God or gods are part of the universe, not outside of it. The only thing phony here is Rosa's logic and presentation of God's attributes.  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Favourite 'Intelligent' Design Argument

Rosa Mystica

This post is in response to one by Rosa Rubicondior of atheist fame. I have reproduced her post entirely and inserted my responses in blue. 

Favourite 'Intelligent' Design Argument

Of course, all 'Intelligent Design' arguments are simple variations on the argument from ignorance and incredulity. Basically, the argument goes, "I don't know how this works and I can't believe it wasn't done by a god, therefore it was done by a god, and don't expect me to spoil my lovely argument by learning and understanding stuff."

The first rule of honest argument is to represent your opponent’s position fairly. Intelligent design does not argue from incredulity, as you say. Rather, the argument goes as follows: “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.” ( There is no mention of God or incredulity in that definition.

What are the features of living things that are best explained by an intelligent cause? We know from our uniform experience that things like complex molecular machines, or digital code in the DNA require intelligent agents to produce them. Even DNA itself could never have arisen by chance, let alone the information it carries. Taken together with the extreme improbability of finding anything by a random search that is genuinely a new biological function, and the even greater problem of the origin of life from non-life, one has to wonder why anyone would deny design.

There are a large number of people who make a handsome living supplying people with that level of reasoning ability and intellectual (dis)honesty, especially in the USA where fundamentalist Christianity is a multi-billion dollar industry.

That’s no argument, just ad hominem attacks with a bit of libel tossed in. No evidence adduced either.

One of the originators of the under-cover wing of the Creationist industry, 'Intelligent Design' was biochemist, Michael J. Behe, who wrote a book called Darwin's Black Box which claimed that there are certain structures which are 'irreducibly complex' and therefore could not have evolved by the small steps proposed by Darwinian Evolution by Natural Selection. Michael Behe is a devout Catholic and talks almost exclusively to right-wing conservative Christian fundamentalist groups but denies his argument is merely biblical Creationism cloaked in a scientific-looking disguise which is intended to get round the First Amendment of the Constitution of the USA.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That’s no argument either. You state categorically that intelligent design is an undercover wing of the Creationist movement. It’s not, and you have given no evidence that it is. You have not defined what it means to be irreducibly complex and made a case against it, you have simply moved on to guilt by association (it’s a crime to be a Catholic, especially a devout one?).

And you keep using that term fundamentalist. I do not think it means what you think it means. It is generally meant to apply to people who take the Bible literally, especially with regard to the age of the earth. Behe is on record that he accepts the standard age of the earth, and allows for the possibility of limited unguided evolution. He also has no interest in overthrowing the government or undermining the Constitution. So if you are going to make such accusations you ought to produce something as evidence.

'Intelligent Design' and 'Irreducible Complexity' are major planks of the 'Wedge' strategy whereby right-wing fundamentalist groups continually try to insert their religion into schools and other government-funded bodies in order to subvert the Constitution and overthrow the safeguard of separation of church and state which underpins freedom of speech and freedom of conscience in a secular society.

Once again that term “fundamentalist”. Intelligent design is not about “fundamentalist” religion, it’s about examining the evidence for design in the universe and in living things. Supporters of intelligent design are of all faiths and no faith. In fact, the famous atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel said in his book Mind and Cosmos that that we owe a debt of gratitude to Stephen Meyer, William Dembski and Michael Behe for raising the issue of intelligent agency. For a wonderful review of the book, go here.

As for any desire to overthrow the government (again with that accusation), that’s an old canard. ID advocates don’t even advocate the teaching of intelligent design in classrooms, just that evolution be taught more fully, with evidence for and against.

Behe's book was, of course, refuted within days of publication by proper biologists and he has never presented his ideas for peer review or to a conference of microbiologists, never-the-less it sold millions to creationists and is still widely quoted as if it were genuine science.

Reviews were no doubt posted, but as to whether they refuted him, I doubt it. otherwise, why would they still be trying to do so ten years later?

Proper biologists I take to mean those you agree with, which is not a recommendation.

It’s hard to get published when the academy is arrayed against you, or when you have a radical new idea. Nonetheless, Behe has published two books  and a few articles that advance his thesis in peer-reviewed journals:

Michael J. Behe, “Experimental Evolution, Loss-of-Function Mutations, and ‘The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution,’” The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 85(4):1-27 (December 2010).

Behe's two books haven't sold millions--there aren't that many biology geeks in America, and young earth creationists would not approve of it. 

Ironically, one of the main structure he relied on was the flagellum of the motile bacterium Escherichia coli. This is ironic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the precursors of the 'proton motor' which powers the flagellum, and which is the nearest thing to a wheel known in nature, albeit it's the 'axle' which spins round, not the wheel, are known, so very plausible mechanisms for its evolution can be described. See also Evolution of the Bacterial Flagella.

Plausibility is in the eye of the beholder. It requires that numerous proteins be recruited to new functions and adapted to new binding partners. The difficulty of such recruitment has been shown by Gauger and Axe, who examined how hard it would be to get one of two very similar proteins to adopt the function of the other. Despite a greater degree of similarity than many of the supposed flagellar precursor proteins, the shift in function was beyond reach of purely unguided processes.

Here’s an image of another molecular machine with a rotor and stator (the stator is represented by a grey bar). It’s called ATP synthase, and like the flagellum, it’s a complex of multiple proteins that have to work together. The complexity and the interactions of the various component proteins are more obvious here than in the cartoon illustration of the flagellum.

But Behe's claim falls down in another area: the necessary 'complexity' to produce a flagellum is not in the component proteins and how they are assembled but in E. coli DNA. There is no record of Behe having investigated the 'complexity' of E. coli DNA to determine if it is indeed irreducibly complex in respect of the flagellum because he has never carried out that study.

OK, this is just wrong. DNA performs no functions in the cell except to store information. Proteins carry out all the heavy lifting. The proteins are plenty complex. You saw the picture of ATP synthase. The proteins have to be folded into precise shapes to be able to fit together, and there’s only one way to fold them right. For a review of the difficulty of evolving new proteins or adapting old proteins to new functions, go here.

The irreducible complexity of the flagellum can be easily demonstrated. Remove any number of its components and it ceases to function. To go the other direction, from a simpler Type III secretory apparatus, to a more complex flagellum, requires the simultaneous solution of multiple problems. Half a flagellum is the same as no flagellum at all to the cell.

The second irony is that E. coli and its related bacteria are a good example of evolution.
The genera Escherichia and Salmonella diverged around 102 million years ago (credibility interval: 57–176 mya), which coincides with the divergence of their hosts: the former being found in mammals and the latter in birds and reptiles. This was followed by a split of the escherichian ancestor into five species (E. albertii, E. coli, E. fergusonii, E. hermannii and E. vulneris. The last E. coli ancestor split between 20 and 30 mya.

Saying that something evolved, meaning it changed over time from one thing to another, says nothing about how it happened. Intelligent design does not deny that things change over time, or even that small scale change, like antibiotic resistance or finch beaks, are the result of mutation and selection. It simply questions whether Darwinian mechanisms are the cause of new information or innovation, or larger scale changes, like flight, or metamorphosis, or new kinds of animals.

Thirdly, there is the fact the E. coli is the subject of a long-term experiment in evolution which has already produced some interesting results after some 50,000 generations:
The E. coli long-term evolution experiment is an ongoing study in experimental evolution led by Richard Lenski that has been tracking genetic changes in 12 initially identical populations of asexual Escherichia coli bacteria since 24 February 1988. The populations reached the milestone of 50,000 generations in February 2010.

Since the experiment's inception, Lenski and his colleagues have reported a wide array of genetic changes; some evolutionary adaptations have occurred in all 12 populations, while others have only appeared in one or a few populations. One particularly striking adaption was the evolution of a strain of E. coli that was able to grow on citric acid in its growth medium.

Lenski’s long term experiments are my favorite example of the limits of unguided evolution. The vast majority of the mutations they found were energy-saving deletions or inactivations of unnecessary genes, to allow cells to grow more efficiently under starvation conditions (the growth medium had only a little glucose, which the cells could use, and lots of citrate, which the cells couldn’t use). Notice these were losses of information, not gains. They actually deleted genes that they could never get back when conditions changed and the genes were needed again. 

The one apparent exception was when a strain developed the ability to metabolize citrate. But even here, what happened was a reworking of existing information. The cells had always had the ability to use citrate under anaerobic conditions (that is, when no oxygen was present). When grown in the presence of oxygen they couldn’t use citrate, because the genes for transporting citrate into the cell were shut off. In this new strain that could metabolize citrate, it turned out that a bit of DNA was moved to a new position. This allowed the transport genes genes to now be turned on in the presence of oxygen. Ta da! A strain that now could grow on citrate was created. But no new information was created--existing information was simply used under new conditions.

But my favourite irony in Behe's choice of E. coli as his example of 'Intelligent Design' is in what E. coli can do. One strain is a normal, even beneficial part of our gut 'flora', i.e. the collection of micro-organisms which live in our digestive tracts, the dead bodies of which constitute a large part of the volume of our faeces. E. coli helps control some other organisms which, if they become too numerous may be harmful. However, some strains of E. coli are far from 'friendly' and even our 'friendly' ones are far from friendly if they get into our blood where they can become seriously pathogenic, even fatal. Some strains are highly dangerous and great care must be taken to prevent them getting into our food.

The supreme irony here is that this pathological tendency of E. coli is enhanced greatly by its motility, which depends entirely on its flagellum. If we are to believe Michael Behe we have to believe his intelligent designer designed a mechanism for helping a bacterium make us sick and even kill us, presumably, because it loves us so much.

How odd. Flagella are for swimming. Let’s not confuse secondary effects with primary ones. It seems to be a peculiarity of bacteria that invade our gut that they have to be able to swim. Developing the capacity to stick to epithelia (the cells lining the gut) is secondary. 

Flagella weren't "designed" to be toxic; lots of non-toxic bacteria have them.  They are designed for swimming.

Other pathogenic bacteria infect by other mechanisms. Y. pestis, the bacterium that causes the plague, enters through the blood stream. Such bacteria either lack flagella entirely, or turn them off when invading a mammalian host. There’s a good (bad from our point of view) reason for this. Our immune systems recognize and target cells that make and secrete a particular flagellar protein. To evade our defense system, the bacteria shut down their flagella, some of them permanently, because they don’t need to swim.

Untrammelled by little inconveniences like facts , Michael Behe continues to push his brand of fundamentalism to credulous Creationists and sell them books full of long-refuted argument and falsehoods. Such is the level of integrity we find pervading the Christian fundamentalism industry, particularly in the USA where it also promotes extreme right-wing politics and pedals its creed to those at the bottom of the social ladder, and which the Christian conservative right seeks to keep there by feeding them ignorant superstition dressed up as hope

Untrammelled by little inconveniences like facts, this paragraph is ad hominem and defamatory from beginning to end (highlighted in yellow). At least the previous paragraphs made an attempt at an argument. If you expect to be taken seriously by intelligent people, your level of prose will have to rise a bit. Behe has you beat hands down.