Not to flagellate Behe, but…

In response to my reference to Behe’s subtractive approach to science a commenter writes to ask for proof that science has a detailed, step-by-step proof that bacterial flagella evolved naturally.

In other words if there had already been detailed, specific accounts already published in the peer reviewed literature, Mr. Matzke would have felt no need to come up with a model himself. Which means that prior to 2003 the Neodarwinist facile, hand-waving assurances the that BF evolved were nothing but empty bluster.

If that was the state of the scientific knowledge of the origin of the BF in 2003, what has happened since then to justify your assertion that such natural processes have been discovered and the Behe is merely denying what we do know about such processes, and trying to discredit those who have discovered them. But where are the articles in the published literature? Why don’t you provide the cites? Or is it enough for you to simply assert, “It is so!?

What the commenter forgets, and what Behe would like us all to forget, is that it is not scientists who claim to have proven that the flagellum evolved naturally, but Behe who claimed to have proven that no such evolution is possible. The scientific issue, therefore, is not whether or not the flagellum evolved, but whether or not flagellar evolution can be conclusively ruled out.

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Lord of the Sabbath?

Though I’ve already addressed Dinesh D’Souza’s most recent apologetic, there’s a point I’d like to return to for a more thorough discussion. A key point in D’Souza’s argument, and in the arguments of many apologists, is that Jesus was entitled to violate the Sabbath laws because they were his laws.

Neusner notes that Christ violates the old law, as when he says that actions are permitted on the Sabbath that were regarded as forbidden on the Sabbath. This is the basis of Neusner’s rejection of Christ as a fulfillment of the old covenant.

What gives Christ the right to change the old law? Neusner notes that Christ is not another liberal rabbi, seeking to bend the rules of the orthodox to make life easier for people. Rather, “Jesus’ claim to authority is at issue.” In effect, Christ claims to be “Lord of the Sabbath” and this provokes Neusner to ask, as if conversing with one of Christ’s disciples, “Is your master God?”

There are two points I would like to make here. The first is that Jesus’ violation of the Sabbath is more consistent with the conclusion that he is not God; and secondly, even if he were, it would be wrong for him to violate his own laws and thus set a bad example for the rest of us to follow.

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Darwin Day the Colson Way

Chuck Colson, like many other people yesterday, decided to celebrate the 199th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday. Unlike most of the other celebrants, however, Colson observed Darwin Day not by praising him, but by lying about him.

To a Darwinist, you see, there is no distinction between human beings and animals. We all came about by chance; we are made of the same “stuff,” and we all end up as nothing more than dust. Instead of recognizing humans as bearers of God’s image, Darwinism sees us as nothing more than competitively successful bipeds with opposable thumbs. Forget any talk of human dignity.

Oops, little slip there: it wasn’t Darwin who said man was made of the dust of the earth. That was Genesis 1. But that’s not the Big Lie.

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TIA: Argumentum FUD hominem

After trying to raise doubts and mistrust against the vital scientific principle of falsifiability, Vox Day’s book The Irrational Atheist moves on to the definition of science. It’s a pretty good definition, taken from PZ Myers, and Vox promises to use it. Before he shows us how he intends to use it, however, he takes a few moments to insinuate that scientists are opposed to pseudoscience out of mere greed, selfishness, and lust for power.

But before proceeding, it is intriguing to at least consider the possibility that it is not the threat to science as process that so offends scientists, but rather the potential threat to science as profession that has whipped some scientists into an angry lather.

After all, scientists understand better than most how their bread gets buttered, and no one, not even the most dedicated idealist, is ever pleased with the possibility of the butter being taken away.

Naturally, this is a completely spurious ad hominem, as is shown by the fact that the efforts of the pseudoscientists are not threatening the jobs of anyone. Science teachers would still teach science even if the creationists got their way—it’s just that the science would be watered down with superstitions and supernatural “explanations.” Researchers would still be able to do research, they just wouldn’t be allowed to get government funding for projects that might explain how life arose from non-life, and would have to focus their efforts elsewhere. So the “butter” wouldn’t really get taken away, only the quality of science would be compromised. And even Vox admits that this is so.

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Bush foreign policy “a bomb”: Chuck Colson

George W. Bush, America’s born-again Christian president, with God’s help and conservative Christian support, is pursuing a foreign policy that has even staunch conservatives like Chuck Colson dismayed and alarmed:

Last month, the president announced his intention to sell Saudi Arabia some of our most sophisticated weapons. This is a bad idea, and you should let your representative know it right away…

[T]he Saudis do not need this kind of “persuasion.” They already have a good reason: Their oil is controlled by a Shiite minority that Iran, also Shiite, could exploit.

Then there is the nature and actions of the Saudi regime. Defense expert Frank Gaffney, Jr. reminded Washington Times readers this week of what the deal’s proponents hope they will forget: The Saudis are not a “reliable ally” of the United States.

The Saudi government funds and operates “mosques, madrassas, and Islamic centers” in the United States and elsewhere. These institutions spread the Salafist, or Wahabi, version of Islam practiced in the kingdom—the same kind that prohibits the practice of Christianity, that lets girls burn to death rather than letting them exit a burning building in their pajamas.

What’s more, it is the version of Islam that inspires bin Laden and other extremists and seeks to dominate other, more moderate, versions of Islam and destroy non-Muslim nations like ours. Without Saudi petro-dollars, Salafism would be confined to the Arabian peninsula.

We ought to recall also that Saudi Arabia has never recognized Israel’s right to exist. While it is difficult to imagine what good JDAMs would do against al Qaeda or the kingdom’s restive Shiites, it is easy to imagine how they could be used against Israel.

Or us, for that matter. It is common knowledge that Saudi security and intelligence forces contain al Qaeda sympathizers. Saudi intelligence files were found on al Qaeda computers in Afghanistan. It is not a stretch to imagine some of these weapons finding their way into terrorists’ hands and not unreasonable to fear that these weapons might one day be used against us.

But what’s a little terrorism between oil buddies like Bush and the Saudis, eh?

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The D’Souza Shuffle

The more I read Dinesh D’Souza, the more it seems to me that he has one basic trick which he pulls on everybody: he takes their words, twists them around so they sound like they’re actually agreeing with him (even though they don’t know it), and then puts them back in the mouths of his opponents. I call it The D’Souza Shuffle.

It’s a neat trick, in its own way, because it allows him to declare victory without directly addressing the points raised by the other side. His most recent column at gives us a good example. He takes the book A Rabbi Talks with Jesus by noted Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner and re-frames its denial of the divinity of Jesus into a declaration that Jesus really is God. Along the way, he sneaks in a little jab at Richard Dawkins.

[R]ecall atheist Richard Dawkins’ famous claim that we are all atheists when it comes to other people’s gods. For instance, I am an atheist when it comes to the gods of the ancient Greeks and Romans. By the same token Neusner is an atheist when it comes to the Christian notion of the divinity.

Even so, Neusner’s treatment of Christ could not be more different than that of Dawkins. One of the main differences is that Dawkins is a biologist and Neusner is a scholar of ancient texts and history. Consequently Dawkins’ historical and literary understanding is at the eighth grade level, while Neusner brings to his work a depth and sophistication worthy of a man regarded as perhaps the greatest living scholar of Judaism.

Ordinarily, I’d give D’Souza points for a slick application of The Courtier’s Reply, except that Dawkins and Neusner agree that Jesus was not divine. It’s all well and good to claim that Dawkins lacks expertise in the field of ancient texts and history, but that’s irrelevant if his conclusions are the same as those of a noted expert in the field. It is D’Souza, another “eighth grade level” scholar of history, who is disagreeing with Neusner. But thanks to the D’Souza Shuffle, it doesn’t seem like Neusner is really disagreeing.

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TIA on falsifiability

I’m up to chapter two in Vox Day’s e-book, The Irrational Atheist. This chapter deals with defining science, how to distinguish science from non-science, and the relationship between science and religion. After some introductory material, we find this little gem:

The need to separate real science from non-science can also be seen in the way that the phrase “studies show” has become a secular form of making a vow, a useful means of reassuring the skeptical listener that the speaker is swearing to the truth of his words despite any doubts that the listener might harbor.

Rather ironic, considering that Vox just got done claiming that “Low Church Atheists” are worse off than believers because “[s]tudies have shown that those without religion have life expectancies seven years shorter than the average churchgoer, are more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol,” etc., etc. But where he really gets himself into trouble is when he tries to tackle the notion of what falsifiability is, and what it means for science.

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Controlling truth

The Pope seems to have an interesting theory of knowing. According to remarks made recently to a meeting of university professors, truth needs to accommodate itself to the wishes of the people, and not force people to accommodate their understanding to the truth.

Ok, he didn’t phrase it quite exactly in those terms.

Pope Benedict XVI has told a gathering of academics that science should serve rather than enslave humanity, warning that the reduction of human beings and nature to mere ‘objects’ is not good for the spirit of reasoned enquiry….

“It’s more important than ever to educate our contemporaries’ consciences so that science does not become the criteria for goodness,” he told the audience.

Scientific investigation should be accompanied by “research into anthropology, philosophy and theology” to give insight into “[humanity]’s own mystery, because no science can say who [we are]s, where [we] come from or where [we are] going”, Benedict declared.

A human being is not “a bundle of convergences, determinisms or physical and chemical reactions,” the Pope added, and should not be treated as such.

In other words, we know what sort of answers we intend to find, and science should not be allowed to interfere with us reaching those conclusions. Objective, rational scientific investigation into the truth must not be allowed to discover who we are, nor should it be permitted to learn where we come from or where we are going. Those domains are reserved for more dogmatic and less-verifiable disciplines, like theology.  If we approach the real-world facts without a firm commitment to reach a predetermined conclusion, it’s “not good for the spirit of reasoned enquiry.”

In other words, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. I am Oz, the Great and Powerful.

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Vox Day’s Statistics

Before we move on to chapter two of TIA, I want to go back and spend a little more time on the issue of what statistics tell us about the relative morality of atheists versus theists. In a footnote, Vox writes:

There are some silly bits of information floating around the Internet claiming to prove that Christians are fifty times more likely to go to prison than atheists. Of course, by cherry-picking this data, one could claim that English and Welsh Christians are 315 times more likely to go to prison than atheists and be superficially correct. One would have to be an intellectually dishonest ass to do so, though.

In the section on the “Low Church Atheist,” however, Vox spends a considerable amount of time discussing this same British study, and concludes that

when one compares the 31.6 percent of imprisoned no-religionists to the 15.1 percent of Britons who checked “none” or wrote in Jedi Knight, agnostic, atheist, or heathen in the 2001 national survey, it becomes clear that their Low Church counterparts are nearly four times more likely to be convicted and jailed for committing a crime than a Christian.

So even though you “would have to be an intellectually dishonest ass” to use these statistics to draw conclusions about the relative morality of theists vs. atheists (if you’re concluding that theists are less moral), it “becomes clear” that these same statistics allow us to draw conclusions about the relative morality of theists vs. atheists (if you’re concluding that atheists are less moral). Sweet, eh? He’s using these carefully chosen statistics to conclude that “Low Church Atheists” have “criminal proclivities” that “strongly suggest that they are less intelligent on average than theists and High Church atheists alike,” but if anyone calls him on it, he can claim that he already said such conclusions were intellectually dishonest, and you must just be misreading him. But let’s look at those statistics a little more closely.

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The shallow seas of the Christian pro-life movement

Writing for, Chuck Colson runs aground whilst trying to navigate the shallow seas of the Christian pro-life movement.

A few years ago, novelist Anne Rice, famous for her vampire stories, recommitted herself to her Catholic faith. She then announced that she was dedicating her writing talents to Christ. One result was the wonderful book, Christ the Lord, a story that imagines the childhood of Jesus.

It is apparent that Rice’s beliefs are deep and genuine—which is why I was so surprised to learn she is endorsing a staunchly pro-abortion presidential candidate.

A sincere Christian celebrity who doesn’t endorse Colson’s conservative Christian political views? Imagine that! Colson is aghast. Doesn’t Rice know she’s betraying Christianity itself?

Christians did not leap into politics five minutes after Roe v. Wade was decided. Christian doctrine on the sanctity of life, coupled with the Church’s involvement in politics, began 2,000 years ago.

But then Colson says a very strange thing.

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