Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bacteria make major evolutionary shift

Since evolution takes place across generations, it is usually difficult to observe it actually happening. This New Scientist article is an excellent example of speciation, although it occurs at the microscopic level. Because bacteria reproduce and die at a much faster rate than humans, scientists can observe major shifts in their genome when they occur. In this case, E Coli is distinguished from other bacteria in terms of its inability to use citrate. Biologist Richard Lenski has now shown that bacteria can evolve into a new species under observation in the laboratory. As the article states, "Lenski's experiment is also yet another poke in the eye for anti-evolutionists."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Free Will and the Impossibility of the Christian God

It may be impossible to prove the non-existence of gods or monotheism, but it is possible to prove the non-existence of gods that are defined with contradictory properties. For example, it is a logical impossibility for an omniscient being to create beings with free will. Here is an example of a logical disproof of the Christian God.

(1) If a being has free will, then no one can know how it will choose to act.
(2) An omniscient being knows how everyone will choose to act.
(3) God is omniscient. (by definition)
(4) God cannot create beings with free will. (by 1, 2, and 3)
(5) God has created beings with free will. (by most versions of Christian doctrine)
(6) Therefore, God does not exist. (by 4 and 5)

There are several ways around this argument. One is to abandon the notion of free will, but that calls into question God's judgment that people have disobeyed his will or willfully committed sins. The other is to claim that God somehow does not know how people will behave, but that negates his omniscience. Many Christians, in my experience, simply try to deny (1), but that makes a mockery of the concept of "free will". It is reminiscent of "Hobson's Choice", the story of the legendary stable owner who allowed his customers to choose any horse in the stable as long as it was the one standing nearest to the door. The choice was between that horse and no horse at all.

It is my opinion that this logical argument is a fairly ironclad argument against belief in a very popular conception of the Christian God--one that is both omniscient and capable of creating beings with free will. However, like many philosophical arguments, it does not address the real motivation that people have for belief in a god--the desire to survive indefinitely and control one's destiny. We did not invent gods just to explain the nature of reality, although most believers use gods to explain the mysteries of nature. We really invented them in order to give us leverage against nature. Supernaturalism is essentially that--the ability to trump our natural circumstances.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Teacher Burns Crosses on Children's Arms

Christian evangelicals often complain bitterly that they are not allowed to use public schools to promote their religious beliefs. Yet many public schools still lend themselves to evangelical teachers to purvey their own brand of Christianity at public expense. Here is a report of a public school teacher who has survived 21 years in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and he has survived at least 11 years of complaints according to Lynda Weston, the district's director of teaching and learning. Finally, this man was driven by his passion to burn crosses in the arms of his students, but still there is no serious talk of firing him. Oddly enough, he is certified only to teach science. That speaks volumes about the certification process.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Murchison Meteorites: New Evidence for Abiogenesis

Creationists and those who argue for Intelligent Design like to claim that complex molecules such as RNA and DNA could not arise spontaneously in nature, but most scientists who study such matters disagree. Even the erstwhile longtime atheist philosopher Antony Flew has been taken in by this argument from incredulity, and Christians have generally been delighted with his recent conversion to deism.

Now we know that fragments of meteors that fell near Murchison, Australia, in 1969 contained carbon-based compound precursors to the "raw materials of life". Scientific American reported on this discovery in a June 16, 2008 article. Although this does not prove that life was created from similar sources, it is the strongest evidence yet that RNA and DNA could have evolved naturally.