28 February 2006

Et tu, Starbucks?

Perhaps you’ve seen this also. I was forwarded the following from a student of mine. It’s tempting to say, that if it were true, you won’t find me so much as urinating in the restroom of a Starbucks ever again.

Recently Marines in Iraq wrote to Starbucks because they wanted to let them know how much they liked their coffee and to request that they send some of it to the troops there.

Starbucks replied, telling the Marines thank you for their support of their business, but that Starbucks does not support the war, nor anyone in it, and that they would not send the troops their brand of coffee.

So as not to offend Starbucks, maybe we should not support them by buying any of their products!

As a war vet writing to fellow patriots, I feel we should get this out in the open. I know this war might not be very popular with some folks, but that doesn't mean we don't support the boys on the ground fighting street-to-street and house-to-house for what they and I believe is right.

If you feel the same as I do then pass this along, or you can discard it and no one will never know.

Thanks very much for your support. I know you'll all be there again when I deploy once more.

"Semper Fidelis."
Sgt Howard C. Wright
1st Force Recon Co
1st Plt PLT

Now, I’d like to think that this isn’t true because I really enjoy Starbucks. But it comes, apparently, from a Marine who feels confident enough to have provided his name, rank, and unit. If a Marine and I were hanging out someplace and he looked out the window and told me that he saw a flying donkey, I’d go to that window and have a look. I’d rather think that a donkey could fly than that a Marine would lie—especially about Starbucks. (For surely a Marine sergeant has better things to do than to sit around making up lies about Starbucks!)

But alas it isn’t true. I went to TruthorFiction.com to check it out. To his own admission, Sergeant Wright heard of this by word of mouth, and—as were all do from time to time—responded without investigating. (You could say that he trusted but did not verify.)

Sergeant Wright sent out a subsequent e-mail which reads as follows:

Dear Readers,

Almost 5 months ago I sent an e-mail to you my faithful friends. I did a wrong thing that needs to be cleared up. I heard by word of mouth about how Starbucks said they didn't support the war and all. I was having enough of that kind of talk and didn't do my research properly like I should have. This is not true. Starbucks supports men and women in uniform. They have personally contacted me and I have been sent many copies of their company's policy on this issue. So I apologize for this quick and wrong letter that I sent out to you.

Now I ask that you all pass this email around to everyone you passed the last one to. Thank you very much for understanding about this.

Howard C. Wright
1st Force Rcon Co
1st Plt PLT RTO

(Read it yourself,here.)

Whew! For a moment, I was really worried. You see I got this deal where I shop at Safeway and if my purchase is a certain amount I get a free Starbucks. I would sure hate to see that go to waste.

22 February 2006

The “House of War” and our war

The Dragon Master Gunner, who now posts at Tanker Brothers with his younger brother, CavTanker, has what I think is a fine post
(of course, I’ve already demonstrated my partiality to them) which you may file in both the “Know Your Enemy As Yourself” and the “This Is My War, Keep Your Whimpy Hands Off” folders. Here’s a sampling:

Here's what I don't get: Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Teddy Kennedy, and the rest of the Liberal Left will do anything and everything they can to undermine our efforts to win the War on Terror. They don't do it out of any genuine desire to lose, but out of hatred for the President.

They are short sighted, and fail to see "The Big Picture".

The weakness of Liberalism is what extremist Muslims hate about us the most. That is what makes us "degenerate and demoralized". Does anyone think for a moment that religious extremists would support something as horrific as Abortion? These people follow Muslim law, where a thief has his arm chopped off, and an adulteress is stoned to death! Do you really think for a second that they give any credibility to people that don't have the stones to enforce the death penalty?

By undermining our efforts at winning this battle of cultures, the Crazy Left actually validates the reasons people like Bin Laden hate us! They tell the world we are weak, indecisive, and so focused on hedonism and sin as to make them even more righteous (in their own minds)!

His larger argument is that this war is our generation’s war, our test. He wants to pass this test like the Greatest passed the WWII test, and not fail it like our immediate predecessors did with Vietnam. I could not agree with him any more than I do. I don’t think it would be a waste of time to read the post in its entirety.

17 February 2006

On the scientific credentials of ID theory

[Note: I had hoped to post this much earlier, but work and family commitments (imagine!) just had to intrude.]

In my previous post I asked which religion is supposedy “endorsed” by teaching the so-called Intelligent Design theory of origins. Now I will take up the matter of its science credentials.

One key to understanding the controversy over Intelligent Design is the role played by worldview. Much as evolutionists like to pretend the contrary, worldview does play a role. One part of one's worldview is one’s theory of knowledge, what it is and how to get it. This is involves a decision as to whether supernatural explanations are permitted in science, or rejected. The decision, either way, is an arbitrary one.

One reason Judge Jones had for his decision was that "ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation." This may be a "centuries-old ground rule," but that doesn't make it any less arbitrary. It also means that the outcome of any scientific investigation is a bit determined at the outset: if you start by requiring what your results cannot be, you have gone a way toward determining what your results will be, especially if the options are greatly limited. This "centuries-old ground rule" requires that the results of any and all scientific research accord with the philosophy of naturalism, or ontological naturalism. Now, of course, we shall be told, "No, we are not requiring ontological naturalism. We are requiring only methodological naturalism." But this distinction is a bit disingenuous: whether the requirement is ontological or methodolocical naturalism, the results of scientific research still--always--accord with ontological naturalism. The assertion that the requirement of methodological naturalism in the process of doing science is not a tacit requirement of ontological naturalism in the results of doing science is a ridiculous one, if not also a dishonest one. When it comes to the doing of science there is not a bit of difference between the two: Methodological naturalism assumes that observable events in nature are explained only by natural causes without assuming the existence or non-existence of the supernatural. Ontological naturalism is the metaphysical assumption that the natural world is all that exists. Methodological naturalism in science means pretending that, for all practical purposes, ontological naturalism is true. And so, it comes as no great surprise that this "centuries-old ground rule" just happens to accord well with ontological naturalism, the worldview which gained the ascendancy after the Enlightenment.

Because ID violates this "centuries-old ground rule" it is untestable and therefore not science. This is the point at which I can honestly say that I don't have a dog in the show because I don't believe that a properly scientific theory of origins is possible. The origin of a species, however it may occur, is not repeatable. No experiment can be performed. (Evolutionists, of course, have a solution to this problem, which I shall deal with below.)

I know that evolutionists constantly tell us that the evidence for their position is so overwhelming as to make evolution almost an incontrovertible fact. And supposedly, this involves some testability. But does it really? Obviously, I can’t do an exhaustive study here, but I can at least take a cursory glance.

When I do so I find a bit of speculation, which differs from Intelligent Design only in that it is naturalistic speculation. The evidence for evolution
comes from four sources: (1) morphological; (2) genetic sequence; (3) ancestry of organisms; (4) history of life. A brief word about the first three:

1. Part of the role played by fossils is the so-called transitional form. The most well-known of these is probably Archaeopteryx, a primitive bird, similar in size and shape to a magpie, with short, broad wings and a long tail. Its feathers resemble those of living birds, but Archaeopteryx was rather different from any bird we know of today because it had jaws lined with sharp teeth, three fingers ending in curving claws, and a long bony tail. It is supposed to be a powerful piece of evidence that birds evolved from dinosaurs. All of this is rather interesting, but in the end evolution has to be true in order for there to be “transitional forms”. Using the putative existence of “transitional forms” as evidence of evolution, requires assuming the very truth of evolution in the first place. If evolution does not explain origins, then the existence of something like Archaeopteryx must have another explanation. (For example, it may have been nothing more than a winged reptile with feathers. The fact that it was a reptile with feathers would not mean it was a transitional form.) When the fossil record is viewed as a record of evolution it does precious little good to talk about it as evidence of evolution. This is like viewing the Bible as the record of God’s revelation to man and then using it as evidence of God’s existence. At any rate, an interpretation of a fossil is no more testable empirically than an interpretation of T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.

2. The universality of the genetic code is generally regarded by biologists as definitive evidence in favor of the theory of universal common descent (UCD) for all bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes. Analysis of the small differences in the genetic code has also, supposedly, provided support for UCD. Another important piece of evidence is considered to be the fact that it is possible to construct a detailed phylogenetic tree for all three domains (i.e., bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes) based on similarity. Why universality of the genetic code may be regarded as evidence of universal common descent but not evidence of the work of a single designing intelligence is beyond me. Note that there is nothing properly testable here either. You look at the genetic code and note that it is universal. Without performing (without even being able to perform) a single experiment you conclude Universal Common Descent, not Intelligent Design. Of course, we shall be told that everything in science does not require experimentation. Sound extrapolations can be made from what is known to what is not known; happens all the time. Of course this requires the further assumption of the principle of uniformitarianism (contrast with catastrophism), which allows natural scientists to infer causes through their empirical effects. But note that reliance upon this principle constitutes an assumption regarding precisely what is at issue. Specifically it means starting with a tacit denial of Intelligent Design in order to present an argument against Intelligent Design. No wonder they end by concluding no Intelligent Design! (And they say that it is Intelligent Design that tries to overcome science with philosophy of science!)

Now, it isn’t that ID adherents deny that causes can be inferred through their empirical effects. That isn’t much of an issue. At issue is whether the same laws which govern the present operation of the universe also governed its origin. This is what can not be known; it can only be assumed at the outset--before you even start your scientific investigations. You do not discover whether the same laws which govern the operation of the universe also governed its origin; you decide. And once you have (arbitrarily) decided that “science” is to be identified with atheistic explanations, you have also (arbitrarily) decided the issue.

To then turn round and assert that some equally arbitary, but contrary, decision is not “science” really isn’t playing fair. (Although it does remind us that, as Michael Polanyi has pointed out, in Personal Knowledge, “science” is really nothing more than what a majority of “scientists” say it is.) At any rate, nothing prevents the conclusion that the reason for the universality of the genetic code is simply that there is a single code-maker.

2. The ancestry-of-organisms line of evidence used to make use solely of traits shared by all living organisms. Now it makes use of the genetic code. As we know, every living cell makes use of nucleic acids as its genetic material, and uses the same twenty amino acids as the building blocks for proteins. All organisms use the same genetic code to translate nucleic acid sequences into proteins. The universality of these traits strongly suggests common ancestry, because the selection of these traits seems somewhat arbitrary.

But the only reason for accepting common descent is, again, a prior commitment to natural (i.e., atheistic) explanations, as well as the (arbitrary) assumption of the principle of uniformitarianism. The existence of universal traits can also be explained by a single designing intelligence who designed diverse creatures with universal traits precisely because these diverse creatures would be living in the same world. Note something else. We have been told that science doesn’t just accept a supernatural explanation over another simply because, no natural answer to a given question is immediately apparent. But when we come to inquire about the selection of these univsersal traits we are told that it seems to be arbitrary. In other words, we don’t know the reason for the selection of certain traits; therefore, common descent. Any explanation will do, no matter how unfounded, as long as it is merely natural. (NB. Saying that selection of traits appears to be arbitrary is not the same thing as providing supporting evidence for common descent. If you will pause briefly, it will strike you that common descent is not supported by the evidence [i.e., universal traits]; it is being used to explain the evidence. And again, the only reason for preferring common descent to some function of Intelligent Design is that prior commitment to natural explanations, requiring the assumption of the principle of uniformitarianism.)

Those three items all have something in common: they are not subject to testing; there are no experiments to perform which will tell us anything about origins. (Again, it is usually about this point we hear about the principle of unifomitarianism.)

My point here is not to defend the scientific credentials of Intelligent Design. I’m not a scientist; but I do know a thing or fifty about language, logic and philosophy of science. As I said above, I do not think that there can be a properly scientific theory of origins. Therefore, I deny the scientific credentials of evolutionary theory and Intelligent Design, along with Creationism. The only thing that makes evolution a scientific theory is a commitment to defining science as naturalism (bearing in mind that the distinction between methodological and ontological naturalism is a false one when it comes to doing science). If you reject this arbitrary equivocation, evolution has no claim. As a theory (of origins) compared to other theories (about present operations) like relativity, it provides no experimental confirmation, makes no predictions that can be verified, and is not subject to testing--like Intelligent Design.

What evolution does do, however, is provide the non-theist with his very own creation myth.

About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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