Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Conversations with God?

Over at the web site Belief Net they have a survey on peoples' conversations with God. http://www.beliefnet.com/story/200/story_20001_1.html

Then the responder is permitted to leave a comment to the question: In your conversation with God, what would you ask him? What follows are my questions to God.

Regarding the Old Testament. Why did you kill the innocent first born sons of Egypt for the wrong doing of their fathers? Why did you order and permit the Israelites to slaughter innocents in war, leaving only the virgins to live and be taken as captive wives? Wasn't that totally immoral?

Regarding the New Testament. Why does your son say that because I simply don't believe in you, I am morally equivalent to people who do some of the most immoral things, and that I will go to hell for my disbelief? Why do you tell me to honor my parents in the 10 commandments, but then your son Jesus says that I should hate my mother and father, and other family members?

Why don't you really make any coherent sense about anything?

Hello! Innocent children are suffering and dying of AIDS and malnutrition in places like Africa. If you are the perfectly good God that supposedly exists, why don't you do something about it? Are you really just a liar and an evil God? ANSWER ME DAMN IT!

To my dear readers, I will let you know if I get any response to these questions from God. Check back soon. Well, no, wait. If you are really curious about God's possible responses take your time. I don't anticipate a hasty response. However, do check back soon for new posts.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Prager’s God of the Gaps, A Plea for an Exemption

This post is in response to an "Ultimate Issues Hour" segment entitled "Who made God" on the Dennis Prager radio show, September 12th 2006, and can be listened to here.

Dear Mr. Prager,
Recently on your program during the "Ultimate Issues Hour" you took the position that because the universe exists, then a creator God must have "made it". You claim that this is a very powerful argument for the existence of God. You assert that the claim that "the universe made itself" is absurd. Furthermore, you characterized the objection in the form of a question "Who made God?" as a non-sensical one.

I have several objections. First, is the language employed. The word "made" implies active, creative, and conscious activity. To say that the universe "made itself" is indeed non-sensical. IF God exists, and it created the universe then the word "made" is appropriate. An atheist should not propose that the universe "made itself". Indeed, nothing can "make itself". But of course your use of these particular phrases is a way to stack the deck in your favor. Instead the atheist should propose that the universe came into being by natural processes, or that the universe is "self-caused".

If the theist argues that the existence of the universe requires a creator, why should the skeptic grant the theist an exemption for the explanation of God's existence? Simply because the theist defines God as something that "just is" and always has been, not requiring explanation? Why is this necessarily superior to the assumption that the universe "just-is", self-caused and came into being through natural processes? I argue that the only things exempt from explanation are imaginary things that do not actually exist. If you claim this, then the exemption is granted.

The concept of God is a total mystery. Theists typically claim that God is a non-material being, but a conscious "spirit" being. The word "spirit" is used to speak of disembodied (non-material) consciousness. Nobody has demonstrated the existence of "spirit" or given an adequate account of the possibility of its existence. There is only speculation of the existence of "spirit" in theology and other forms of religious thought.

On the other hand, as it now stands, cognitive sciences have revealed that consciousness, "the mind", is dependent on the material activity of the brain. Although it is not well understood exactly how consciousness arises from the electro-chemical activity of the material brain, scientists are working on this problem. We should not assume that they will never solve the problem of consciousness.

Is it possible that a special being (a God) with conciousness, a mind, but without a brain can exist? A disembodied mind? I think it is doubtful, and there is no reason to assume it true.

As to how the universe came into being, a simpler hypothesis with fewer assumptions is preferable to a more complex hypothesis with more assumptions. The hypothesis that the universe came into being by means of natural processes, without an external cause requires the universe, and the assumption that it is self-caused. The God hypothesis requires the universe, the assumption of God, and the assumption that God is self-caused. The latter hypotheses is obviously more complex, and assumes the existence of a mysterious entity not demonstrated to exist.

One often hears the argument that something cannot come from nothing. Therefore, a God must be the source of the something, the universe. But why should we permit the assumption that a God can come from nothing? Or that God has always been?

You, Dennis Prager, object that science does not have an answer to what proceeded and caused the Big-Bang which brought the universe into being. Indeed, science does not have the answers to every question that can be asked, and it may never have ALL the answers.

However, that does not mean that religious answers to these questions are by default correct. This is the "God of the gaps" argument that pretends to answer these questions. The theists should not be able to set up the rules that support their desired conclusion, and then declare that these rules are not relevant when the same rules can be used to question their premises and desired conclusion.

You, (Prager) claim that the question "Who made God?" is a non-sensical question. Perhaps so; but only to the extent that the concept of a God that is outside of time, space, and nature is equally non-sensical.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Gore is a Hypocrite! So What? Fallacious Tricks of a Conservative Pundit

Peter Schweizer, Author of Do as I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy, and a "research fellow at the Hoover Institution" recently had a column published in USA Today (8-10-06) entitled Gore Isn't Quite as Green as He's Led the World to Believe. The article is available here http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2006-08-09-gore-green_x.htm at least for the time being.

As might be expected from the titles of Schweizer's book and column, the piece is devoted to exposing Gore for being an environmental hypocrite. Schweizer opens with paraphrases and quotes from the web site and film An Inconvenient Truth. (I have yet to see the film so I can't comment on their veracity). Apparently Gore is imploring his fellow U.S. and world citizen's to embrace a "carbon-neutral lifestyle" like he has allegedly done himself, so as to help slow down and hopefully reverse the trend of global warming. That is we should drive less, drive more fuel efficient cars, use less energy in the home etc..

Citing public records Schweizer goes on to claim that Gore is not living up to his recommendations. He has three homes, and has not signed up to pay a few extra pennies to use and support wind generated power. Gore also owns large stock holdings in Occidental Petroleum and receives royalties from a zinc mine. So there you have it, Gore is an environmentalist hypocrite. And maybe he is.

Schweizer states, "The issue here is not simply Gore's hypocrisy; its a question of his credibility". If he believes that global warming is the threat he says it is, why has he not taken the measures he recommends to the rest of us?

Perhaps he is a little to set in his ways? While yes, it would be better if Al Gore followed his own recommendations, it really doesn't matter.

To illustrate, imagine you are a 40-50 year old overweight male. You smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, eat donuts for breakfast, fast-food for lunch, and for dinner frequent your favorite steak house for a thick juicy T-bone, baked potato, and you don't skimp on the butter and sour cream. You don't exercise and are out of breath after one flight of stairs.

You go to your doctor for a check-up. He alerts you to the fact that you are in big trouble and on the road to a heart attack. He advises you to quit smoking ASAP, urges you to go on one of those "heart healthy" diets, and to start a very light exercise regimen. Anything more strenuous would likely provoke the heart attack you hope to avoid.

That evening over dinner at the steak house you tell your friend what your doctor told you. Coincidentally, you spy your doctor at the other side of the room. He sits there reclining while taking a long drag from his after dinner cigarette. Your friend, whose name is Peter Schweizer, exclaims, "that doctor is a hypocrite and his credibility is in question, if he thinks that your diet and smoking are slowly killing you, why does he do the same? I wouldn't worry too much about your health".

Now you should ask yourself, did your doctor base his assessment of your health, and recommendations for improvement on the best available medical science? Probably so. Is your doctor a hypocrite? Does it even matter? No it does not. I would worry more about both the moral integrity or reasoning skills of your nay-saying friend.

As for the case of Al Gore and the film An Inconvenient Truth we should ask the following questions. Are the claims of the film an honest portrayal of the consensus of the scientific community who study climate change? Is global warming an empirical fact? If it is, does the theory offered by climatologists to explain this global warming seem plausible. That is, has the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities within the last one-hundred and fifty years produced excessive green house gasses, that have in turn raised average global temperatures? What are the predicted consequences of global warming? How grave are they? Are they serious enough that we should take measures to slow down and hopefully reverse the global warming trend?

It is true that there are scientists, apparently a minority, who claim that it is uncertain the extent to which human actions are causing global warming. They may also be skeptical of the predicted consequences. There may be uncertainty around various issues of global warming, but that is a poor excuse for not taking action. In fact, the existence of uncertainty gives more weight to the argument for action on global warming.

There are many questions that we need to ask about global warming and its consequences. We should not be distracted by the issue of Gore's hypocrisy. It simply doesn't matter. If you can't stomach Al Gore, and even if you can, better to further investigate the issue from popular science magazines like Scientific American, American Scientist, Discover; or read books written by climatologists, or ones by science journalists who interview these specialists. And if you're really hardcore, go to the peer reviewed journal literature. Allegedly this is what Al Gore has done. His arguments should not simply be dismissed because he does not live up to the standard of a "carbon-nuetral lifestyle" that he promotes. Furthermore, while individual lifestyle choices may help to address the problem of global warming, what is needed are changes in national and international policy.

This dirty rhetorical trick by Schweizer is one of the informal fallacies called "poisoning the well." http://www.fallacyfiles.org/poiswell.html Arguments should be assessed on their merits regardless of the personal faults of the person making them. And Schweizer should know better. Schweizer is a "research fellow" http://www.hoover.org/bios/schweizer at the Hoover Institution. On his biography page it states he received his Master of Philosophy from Oxford University. It is astounding that a person with a background in philosophy from any university, let alone Oxford, would openly employ such elementary fallacies such as these. This is evidence of a complete lack of intellectual integrity and honesty.

The Hoover Institution is a well known conservative think tank, and allegedly a scholarly one http://www.hoover.org/about/ which is based at the very prestigious Stanford University. It appears that what the Hoover Institution at least in part does is support trivial research for use as propaganda. Further investigation of their web site reveals that they sponsor "media fellows" http://www.hoover.org/bios/mediafellows. These "media fellows" are from a broad range of news media institutions, including those characterized by the right as "the liberal media." Is this further evidence of the Hoover Institutions support and education of propagandists?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Some thoughts on what I heard on Catholic radio

Occasionally I like to check out what is being said on religious radio stations, and here in southwestern Colorado there are plenty of them, Mormon, Evangelical, and Catholic.

Yesterday on Catholic radio (EWTN) I heard a commentator scolding listeners for the habit of some Catholics who only abide by the doctrines of the church which they think are worthy of following. "Ripping pages from the catechism" is the way he characterized it.
One item that grabbed my attention was the statement:

"It says right there in the catechism, contraception is an intrinsic evil!"

Contraception an intrinsic evil?! The commentator didn't offer any attempt to justify this statement. It just is. "Contraception is an intrinsic evil." Can any rational person not see the absurdity of this DOGMA? Could any rational person defend this so-called teaching? The intrinsic evil is that the Catholic Church has been teaching and enforcing this doctrine in African countries where it has parishioners! This in turn has contributed to the spread of AIDS and the tragic suffering of millions people!

But wait it gets better. Today there was a commentator, an Archbishop, who said something like the following (I am paraphrasing):

"What is authoritarianism? Communism was authoritarian. It promoted dogmas, and it enforced obedience to them through fear. Our church does nothing like this."

It doesn't? The church doesn't enforce obedience to dogmas through fear?! What is it then when the Catholic Church says that one must be a believer and obey the catechism or suffer eternal torment in hell? And talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

Some people wonder why many atheists insist on their adamant criticisms of religion. Why not just let religion be? Permit me to speak for at least some atheists. The commentaries on Catholic radio summarized above are good examples of why we must criticize religion. Not only is dogmatism absurd, it also kills! We hope for and argue that people should be free from the dogmas and absurdities of religion because they are harmful. This doesn't necessarily mean that we think all people must "convert to atheism". What we would like to see is that religious institutions and individuals be less dogmatic about their religious beliefs. It would make for a better world if people would be more skeptical about all sorts of claims. Religious claims, political claims, medical claims, etc.. Skepticism is a virtue and can make the world better.

On a personal note. Believe it or not, I have been married to a Catholic woman for many years. And we have one child, not several. Fortunately for me and my wife, and fortunately for many other Catholics, they ignore this anti-contraception doctrine of the Catholic church. This is because people do have some basic common sense when it comes to such practical matters as choosing how many children to have. The prohibition on contraception is ridiculous and should be one of the first pages Catholics rip out of their catechism.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Darwinian Archaeology?

I want to review and criticize here a chapter on "Darwinian-evolutionary-selectionist" archaeology by O'Brien and Lyman in an edited volume entitled "Social Theory in Archaeology" edited by Michael Schiffer. Bibliographic information and Amazon links are at the end of the post if interested.

The overall book’s purpose is to present an overview of some of the various social theoretical schools of contemporary archaeology with the goal of searching for some common ground among them. Some of the chapters are quite good and those that are present the author’s theoretical perspective in reference to particular substantive and empirical problems in the dicipline. My understanding of the term theory, at least as it pertains to archaeology, is that it is a conceptual framework for the explanation empirical facts of the archaeological record and of the societal changes that produced that record.

In light of this, my first initial criticism of O’Brien and Lyman's chapter entitled Evolutionary Archaeology: Reconstructing and Explaining Historical Lineages; is that the chapter makes no reference to a specific archaeological problem or set of data. Thus it does not make a case for how the theoretical approach can be employed in archaeology. Other chapters on the other hand do, and the other chapters that do not are of a post-modern/post-processual nature.
I read this out of a genuine curiosity in the application of Darwinian or "Selectionist" theory to archaeological problems. For the lay reader not knowledgeable about debates in archaeological theory you should know that Darwinian archaeology is not about human biological evolution, nor does it appear to be about evolutionary psychology. It also doesn’t appear to be about explaining the evolution of societies and their socio-political, economic, and cultural institutions, which is what I think archaeology should be about. Instead this theoretical school in archaeology I think is more about explaining the evolutionary change of material culture.

So that my comments will not be misconstrued let me make one thing clear. I think Darwinian theory rightly deserves its dominant position as the organizing framework for biology, and that includes the fields of physical anthropology and the study of human biological evolution. While skeptical of some claims of Darwinian evolutionary psychology, I do think it still has many insights to offer on human behavior. Therefore, I am prepared to hear a good argument for the utility of Darwinian-selectionist theory as applied to the archaeological study of human societies and culture change. The chapter under review here however was a great disappointment and worthy of vigorous criticism.

The chapter takes the tone of having been written for an audience of scholars already committed to the so-called selectionist or Darwinian theory in archaeology; not for a volume meant to communicate the utility of the Darwinian-selectionist archaeology to the un-converted. The paper is a series of musings on what Darwinian theory is in biology (gee-whiz, thanks Mr. science!), along with some very general and vague statements as to what "evolutionary archaeology" should be. Ironically O'Brien and Lyman state "Proponents of the evolutionary approach have not been as clear and concise as they should have been in setting forth what it is that makes evolutionary archaeology... different from other theoretical approaches." And they don't correct the problem here.

For example, they reiterate the selectionist proposition that artifacts are "phenotypic features" of a "cultural genotype" that should tell us about evolutionary processes in the past. Undoubtedly this idea has been greatly explored in the selectionist literature. Why not review the concept for the un-converted? How exactly is it that a potsherd or a stone tool is a phenotypic feature as my blue-green eyes are a phenotypic expression of my genotype? How is culture like a genotype? Artifacts as phenotypic expressions of a cultural genotype imply some vague and imprecise analogy, not an actually existing phenomenon. How is a cultural artifact, intentionally made, designed, and modified by conscious and intelligent human agents really like a phenotype as a morphological structure is the phenotype of an organism? What is Darwinian-selectionist archaeology really about? O'Brien and Lyman leave us in the dark in this article. One can only glean a suggestion from this piece that it is about the evolutionary change in artifacts. I would suggest that perhaps this is not really that interesting in itself.

Quoting the late paleontologist Stephen J. Gould that "history matters" they appropriately argue that Darwinian biological evolution is about how and why particular organisms come to be what they are at particular times and places. Fair enough. We can understand this idea of a random, undirected, and historically particular genetic mutation that raises the reproductive success of an organism. This behavioral or morphological feature of an organism is selected for in a historically contingent and particular ecological context. How is this notion of history in biological evolution transferable to that of human sociocultural evolution and history? Are we to believe that human cultural variations and innovations are not the result of conscious human action and propagation?

It is valuable to remind ourselves that the Darwinian theory of evolution is non-teleological. Biological evolution does not proceed as a result of the intent of an organism to consciously develop an adaptive morphological structure or behavior. Instead, variation is randomly produced by mutation.

I do think it legitimate to think of sociocultural institutions, technological innovations, and other human sociocultural behaviors as subject to social and natural selective forces. However, these selective forces do not evade the conscious awareness of human agents who respond to both the social and natural environment. Human agents respond to selective forces consciously to create technological innovations, new behavioral patterns, and sociocultural institutions. Humans can also act to consciously create selective forces that shape the behaviors of other human actors.
For example, in many parts of the world under particular circumstances complex sociopolitical institutions evolved to form what archaeologist refer to as chiefdoms and states. A valid evolutionary psychological argument can be made that in all human populations there are people who seek to expand their wealth, power, and status. This can be considered part of an evolved human behavioral biogram. Less socio-politically complex societies keep these behavioral tendencies in check both by social leveling mechanisms. Environmental constraints also play a negative selective role in inhibiting social, political and economic inequality. In other circumstances there are the social and natural environmental possibilities of a socially produced surplus, which makes possible the transcendence of these leveling mechanisms and the development of hierarchal socio-political institutions. However, none of these processes take place behind the backs of human agents. Human agents consciously develop cultural innovations and strategies to increase their wealth, status, and power, while others agents might employ strategies to resistance.

In this general scenario, culture as analogous to a genotype, and artifacts as phenotypes, can only be thought of as a very loose and indirect analogy because human agents actively and consciously produce both a cultural "genotype" and a material cultural "phenotype". It is hard to fit this fact of human agency into a framework that is faithful to Darwinian evolutionary theory.
O'Brien and Lyman devote a good portion of their chapter to a critique of neo-evolutionary and ecological anthropologists (not to be confused with the so-called Darwinian approach) such as Service, Sahlins, Fried, Steward, White, Harris, and the adoption of their theory by the New Archaeology. Few now would disagree with their criticism of the misapplication of the search for "general laws" of cultural change and the overly generalizing framework of cultural-evolutionary stages. However, O'Brien and Lyman tell a fictional story of how processual archaeologists adopted this non-Darwinian, naive, essentialist, progressivist "cultural-evolutionary" theory that was so untenable that it ossified and virtually disappeared. According to them it was only the selectionist-Darwinian archaeology founded by Dunnell that kept alive an evolutionary approach in archaeology; suggesting that the selectionist-Darwinian approach is the only evolutionary archaeology.

They ignore a significant sector of processual archaeology that matured and kept alive an evolutionary approach focused on socio-political change. This theoretical school can be traced to the present in Charles Spencer's 1997 review article Evolutionary Approaches in Archaeology, and in the excellent volume entitled Cultural Evolution: Contemporary Viewpoints in honor of Kent Flannery who along with Joyce Marcus and others (such as Earle, Drennan, Stanish etc.) have developed a processual evolutionary approach that acknowledges the important factors of human agency and ideology into their analyses of the evolution of human societies.

Spencer in his 1997 article by the way does not simply wipe Darwinian-selectionist theory off the map, but gives a fair review of the core concepts and premises organizing Darwinian-selectionist archaeology. Yet O'Brien and Lyman clearly illustrate how theoretical practitioners redline rival approaches out of awareness. Even those that share some of the same key language, that of evolution.

O'Brien and Lyman suggest that archaeologists should look to the methodology of paleontology. How might we do this? Paleontology deals with the evolution of biological organisms through their fossilized remains. However, archaeological features, artifacts, and architecture, are the remains of human creation, activity, and design, which archaeologists use to infer about past human behavior and social institutions. While there are certainly superficial similarities between the discipline of archaeology and paleontology, the objects of our study and what we hope to learn from them are quite different. Until Darwinian-selectionist archaeologists can provide a precise argument as to how societies are actually like biological organisms, and how paleontological methods can actually be applied to archaeology, I predict their approach will go nowhere. We should not hold our breath because societies and biological organisms are ontologically distinct.

The "New Archaeology" of the 1960s and 70s attempted to make archaeology more scientific by arguing that our goal should be to look for general, deterministic, and universal laws of culture. Laws such as these may work well with physics and chemistry; but as philosopher of social science Daniel Little has argued, social processes operate under "laws of tendency", not deterministic ones. Part of the failure of the "New Archaeology" was to not respect the ways in which human sociocultural phenomena are shaped by the intentional choices of human agents -- in addition to the social structures and natural environment that is their stage. I believe the so-called Darwinian-selectionist archaeology is making similar mistakes. They attempt to create a more scientific archaeology by invoking theoretical tools that have been very successful to the field of biology, but are not quite appropriate to the task of understanding the evolution of sociocultural and political institutions.

Their chapter would have been greatly improved if they could provide us with a detailed discussion or review of Darwinian-selectionist theory as applied to actual archaeological problems. They squandered a good opportunity to make their case in a volume dedicated to a survey of contemporary social theory in archaeology. If I misconstrue O'Brien and Lyman's argument it is because they don't make it well. Instead they spend far too much time lecturing the reader on what Darwinian theory is in biology, which virtually no archaeologist would disagree with, and not making a case for it in archaeology.

The chapter in question can be found in Social Theory in Archaeology edited by Michael Brian Schiffer

The book mentioned above that is an evolutionary archaeology, but not of the Darwinian-selectionist variety is Cultural Evolution: Contemporary Viewpoints edited by Feinman and Manzanilla which is a volume in tribute to Kent Flannery and is here

Friday, August 18, 2006

Welcome to my dead blog! Priorities, Priorities!

Dear awaiting reader,
Hello there! Welcome to my dead blog! As it happens, life has been very busy. I was in Peru for awhile doing archaeology, and visiting inlaws, and I had very sporadic and slow internet access. Now I am back at Mesa Verde, doing archaeology, and actually trying to knock down some writing projects related to, archaeology! And so the point of this post is to let my many anticipating readers (joke!) know that I need to be writing up papers and reports and research proposals on ARCHAEOLOGY. That is, I should only be thinking and reading only about ARCHAEOLOGY! At least for the immediate future.

So there you have it. No time to blog on contemporary ethics, politics, religion, philosophy or anything else that doesn't relate directly to ARCHAEOLOGY!

On second thought, I think I will post a review of Bruce Trigger's collection of articles entitled Artifacts and Ideas to this blog. Also I will soon post some thoughts and rantings on the failure of Darwinian/Selectionist Archaeology that was part of a larger review of the book Social Theory in Archaeology edited by Michael Schiffer. So stay tuned. This blog will remain alive, but will have to be focused on ARCHAEOLOGY! At least for awhile!

Friday, June 16, 2006

The existence of God as evidenced through the intelligent design of a banana

I have heard it once said that atheists are humorless. I don't know about that, I think alot of us have a really good sense of humor. Hell, you have to just to stay sane in a world of clashing religious fundies! Anyway, the blogger the Atheologist I think has alot of humor on his blog.

So thanks to The Atheologist: Evangelist Inadvertently Turns Christians Into Homosexuals who has posted a link to this hilarious video of evangelist Ray Comfort and his TV star friend Kirk Cameron arguing that we know god exists because the banana was perfectly designed for human consumption. Follow the link to the video at google video,
the banana argument is in the first five minutes or so. It has alot of homoerotic undertones and is hilarious.

The rest of the video is also kind of funny. They beat the intelligent design creator argument to death, and it revolves around some silly straw man arguments about atheism and atheists. First they argue that there really are no atheists, because nobody can claim to have absolute knowledge, so atheists are really agnostics.
Of course, I don't think I have ever heard any philosophically informed atheist claim to know without a doubt that that there is no God. Most atheists don't make absolute unsubstantiated knowledge claims, we leave that to the believers. Instead we, or at least I, argue that based on the lack of evidence for God's existence, and the weak arguments put forward by theists, God PROBABLY does not exist.

Another tactic they use is to interview alleged atheists on the street and on a college campus, submitting them to "the atheist test". They ask their victim "are you a good person?" the victim says "yes", and then they ask if they have ever stolen or lied, and the unwitting victim admits that they have. They then go on to argue that because the victim has lied, that makes them a liar, and if they have stolen, that make them a thief, and therefore they are obviously not a good person. This leads the interviewer into attempting to cajole the victim into admitting he is a sinner in need of salvation.

Obviously there are many problems with this line of reasoning. Most people have at least lied and have probably stolen at least once in their lives. This of course does not define their entire character. Then there are the notions of sin, salvation, and its alleged alternative, eternal damnation. Which is all poppycock that I won't get into at this time.

Anyway, it might be a good idea to watch the video just so you know what an evangelist might throw at you!

The Secular Outpost: Collins defends God

Ok, here we go, I guess this will be my first official post on my own blog. I actually left the following as a comment at The Secular Outpost: Collins defends God where Taner Edis linked to an article about Human Genome scientist Francis Collins and his belief in so-called "Theistic Evolution" http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2220484,00.html

Pasted from the linked article, my comment follows:

"Among Collins’s most controversial beliefs is that of “theistic evolution”, which claims natural selection is the tool that God chose to create man. In his version of the theory, he argues that man will not evolve further.

“I see God’s hand at work through the mechanism of evolution. If God chose to create human beings in his image and decided that the mechanism of evolution was an elegant way to accomplish that goal, who are we to say that is not the way,” he says. "

How are these views really any different from Intelligent Design creationism? They are clearly contradictory with the actual content of evolutionary theory.

If a presumed God sets out create an organism, say a "man in his own image" then this is teleological and is not really different from intelligent design. It sees humans as the inevitable result and goal of evolution. One might then ask, why did God prefer modern Homo sapiens sapiens over the other now extinct hominids such as H.s. neanderthalensis?

Key to Darwinian evolution is that variation is produced at random, and that traits are selected for, or against, by historically contingent environmental conditions. I see no way that you can defend natural selection as the process of evolution, and then turn and argue that it is the mechanism of a purposeful designer.

This would be like arguing that God provokes some mutation in a particular individual, and then may tinker with various environmental variables to make a trait adaptive.

This would take any real meaning out of the term "natural selection," rendering it a only illusion because of supernatural intervention.

The only view of god that is reconcilable with what we know of actual biological evolution is that of a Deist god who fine tuned the universe for life, and let natural processes take their course. Then this god, still imaginary as far as I am concerned, retired to watch his grand experiment without further intervention.

If I am wrong in my reasoning, please anyone, explain to me where.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Introduction to my blog...Interests and issues to be dealt with.

Hello all,
Welcome to The Humanist Observer. It has been for several weeks now that I have been thinking about beginning a blog. This has been inspired by the many excellent blogs that I have been reading and occasionally posting comments on. Now I am trying to figure out how to create links to them on my blog page, but I digress.

First among them is Massimo Pigluicci of Rationally Speaking. http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/
I have been following the thoughts of Massimo for some time now in the pages of Free Inquiry, Skeptical Inquirer, Philosophy Now, his previous web site, and now his blog. Massimo has Ph.D.s in both evolutionary biology and philosophy. Wow! What an intellect! I really admire him, and I can't even finish my one graduate program (but again I digress!). First for his ability to balance all those different pursuits, as well as his intellectual commitments. Being a fan of Massimo can tell you a little bit about my interests.

However, my posts will certainly go in a different direction.

I am an archaeologist, and I hope to comment in the future on what archaeology can tell us about humans as socio-cultural and political beings in the past and present. Also another related issue is how archaeological topics are viewed from the perspective of the present. One of my pet-peeves is how things like aboriginal settlement of the Americas, or cannibalism, is often viewed through inappropriate ideological lenses of both the right and the left.

I have also been reading Alonzo Fyfe of the Atheist Ethicist.
Interest in his blog reflects another of my concerns. That of morality and ethics without God or religion. Alonzo is very lucid and puts alot of work and thought into his blogs. My posts on ethics and morality surely won't be as clear and logical as his, or as long! Maybe I can coax Alonzo over to my blog to post a comment to help me out on my moral reasoning. What do you say Alonzo? (However Alonzo, if you end up reading this, I surely understand that you put so much work into your blog you probably don't have much time to comment on others).

Well from the title of my blog and from the favorite blogs I have mentioned above you might infer that I am a skeptic, an atheist, and a humanist. And you would be right! I will probably post a variety things on criticisms of religion and defenses of atheism or more broadly a humanist worldview.

Also to be touched on are social and political issues. How can we ignore the big issues in America of today, the Iraq war and immigration? I will be approaching these issues from the left. Part of my humanist ethic is that of human universalism, and the anthropologist in me greatly respects cultural diversity as well. I refuse to see the "illegal alien" as less deserving of human rights and dignity. I think the rhetoric of the nativist right in this country indirectly, and sometimes more directly, sees your average Mexican "illegal alien" (or other nationality) as less deserving of human dignity based on nationality and legal status. Too little attention is paid to the larger economic structural issues of the world economy that compel people to leave their native country to risk life, limb, and racism in an attempt at bettering their human condition. Most "illegal aliens" are the salt of the earth in my opinion. Examples of the strength and dignity of the human spirit. Their recent demonstrations were inspiring!

Also related to this in the issue of Iraq is how we as Americans rather passively ignore the deaths and suffering of Iraqis. Forget Haditha (well don't actually forget it), what about the estimated 100,000+ that have died as a result of the initial air bombardment and subsequent invasion and occupation? Many on the right I think cry crocodile tears for the Iraqi victims of Saddam Hussein and now the insurgents. This is because it serves their emotional, political, and ideological needs to feel as morally superior American liberators. Honest attention paid to greater historical contexts would reveal U.S. government and corporate complicity in the crimes of Saddam Hussein. Not too much to be proud of there as an American.

Well there you have it friends, a little introduction to some of the issues I will be touching upon in The Humanist Observer. This should give you an idea of where I am coming from.