Again With The Dawkins Video

Question from Mido:
What is the response to this? Does this refute evoulution?
Please give me a detailed explanation.

Answer by SmartLX:
This crops up every now and again, as if we’re not supposed to have seen it before. Every time it’s an opportunity to shed light on it for more people.

Richard Dawkins let an Australian film crew into his home for an interview. When they asked the question in the video (how does nature create new genetic information) he immediately realised they were creationists in his home under false pretenses and stopped the interview. He let it resume afterwards, basically because they begged him.

The video has been edited by many different creationist propagandists to make Dawkins’ moment of realisation and quiet anger look even more like he was stumped. (Some even insert themselves as the interviewer.) When Dawkins got wind of this, he put out an article explaining what had happened and comprehensively answering the question, to dispel any doubt that he could if he’d been inclined to indulge the creationists that day.

Whether or not you believe Dawkins’ explanation, he’s given the question an answer which you must judge on its own merits by reading his article. If you don’t accept it, comment and tell me why.

Dunkin’ Babies

Question from Andrei:
A colleague of mine recently attended the baptism of a baby and she told me she noticed that before the immersion in holy water the baby was very agitated and was crying a lot, but after the immersion the baby became very quiet and calm. She attributed this behavior to the supernatural (she was probably thinking about the Holy Spirit). Please tell me: Why do you think the baby changed his/her behavior during the baptism?
Thank you.

Answer by SmartLX:
What temperature was the water? If it was a smart priest the water was very warm, as close as possible to 37° Celsius (~98° Farenheit) which is the recommended temperature for bathing very young babies. It reminds them of the womb and calms them right down. In fact, if it’s the kind of church that baptises babies by literally immersing them, it could be dangerous for the babies if the water is any cooler than that, in case they get hypothermia.

Even not knowing all this, a church that baptises enough babies will have learned through decades or even centuries of trial and error that there’s a lot less screaming over the rites if the water is pleasant for the poor kids.

Ouija Ouija Woo Woo 2

Question from Kamil:
I would like to ask you your opinion on Ouija boards.

Originally, I would have thought they were just peoples’ imaginations, but recently, I made one with my family and we played for fun. We were asking questions and getting answers. Apparently we were talking to some guy who lived during the 1500s in Qatar named Carvel. It was all fun and we got a good laugh. However, then something interesting (kind of spooky) took place. My parents asked for fun if I would ever get married (I am very young). The answer was yes. Then we asked, what country will she be from, and the answer was Sweden. Finally, we asked the name, and got “Hilvy”. A few months passed, and I didn’t think anything of it. However, I was bored one day and googled “Hilvy”. To my surprise, it came up as a Swedish name! I asked my parents and they said they had never heard of that name before. Now I am shocked that this was able to come up with an ethnically Swedish name when we didn’t know it. I don’t know what to think of that. My parents joke if I ever really do meet a Hilvy maybe it will mean something.

I have also heard a catalog of anecdotes where people claim they were playing as kids and objects around the house went flying, garbage cans, clocks, etc. Some people say they have seen strange things, and even some murder mysteries have apparently been solved with Ouija boards. My question is, do you think these anecdotes as well as my anecdote prove that spirits are around us communicating or no? I doubt all these people lie about having strange experiences after using these boards. Do you think this proves a life after death?

Answer by SmartLX:
No, the anecdotes don’t prove anything. They’re anecdotes, without a shred of evidence or corroboration, which is significant for an activity that is necessarily done in a group. Fortunately there’s an easy way to make ouija boards look silly, which I’ll get to.

When even one person with a finger on the pointer has an idea where to go while everyone else is aimless, everyone else will go with the strongest force without knowing where it came from. If one person at your session happened to know that Hilvy is a Swedish name (and it does seem to be a common one) they could have spelled it out, and even spelled “Sweden” to set it up.

If you really want to test the power of a Ouija board then get the same group back together, blindfold every participant, and have an observer capture video of the board. People might still have an idea of where “yes” and “no” are, so ask questions that require answers to be spelled out. You’ll probably find that the pointer doesn’t just spell garbage but frequently lands in the spaces between characters, giving no valid answer at all. It’s already happened on camera.

I’m not suggesting that every legible answer or even letter has been forced on the pointer by cheating participants. Ideomotor effects can drive people’s muscles to make countless tiny adjustments without them realising if they know what they expect to happen, say if the pointer looks like it’s going to narrowly miss a letter, or if half of an obvious word has been spelled out. The more people “at the wheel”, the more difficult the specific moves are to attribute.

Even if ouija boards did work with all “drivers” blindfolded, attributing the information to real ghosts would be the next near-impossible task. You’d need to treat the board the way a skeptic would treat any self-proclaimed psychic, asking specific questions about the future that can be unambiguously proved wrong, and similar questions about the past and present that not only no one in the room could know, but only a specific deceased person would know.

Incidentally, how would “Carvel” even know who you’ll marry? In whose model of the afterlife do ghosts exist and know the future, on top of their own past?

We Finally Tackle The Sunrise/Sunset Question You’ve Seen on Posters

Question from Brianna:
How do you look at a sunset and not believe that there is something out there greater than you?

Answer by SmartLX:
There’s plenty out there which is greater than me on many levels, and a lot of it comes to the fore in a sunset. The wealth of physics at work in the spectacle of a sunset does not diminish its beauty, nor obviously fail to account for it.

– The Sun itself is bigger than we can fathom even if we know the numbers, and provides nearly all the energy we’ve ever seen used.
– The atmosphere between us and the Sun is comprised of a huge amount of different chemicals (some more than others) each of which has an effect on the colours we perceive in the sky. Even scientists in the relevant field have a hell of a time explaining all the different factors, as Cliff Stoll once wrote.
– A decent-sized cloud in the sky has millions of gallons of water in it, again calculable but more than is comprehensible. Its precise effects on the sunbeams that pass through it could fill a book if you went into detail.
– Our eyes and brains not only register all this, but find subjective beauty in it. The processes that led to this being possible, not least evolution, have toiled for billions of years to get us to this level.

A good word to sum up all of this is sublime. This literally means a sense of something larger or greater than oneself, and atheists have plenty of opportunities to feel this living in the world we share with believers. The big difference is the absence of the assumption, even unconscious, that something greater than humans in any sense must have been designed or otherwise deliberately brought about by an intelligent entity, and this indeed makes all the difference.

When you believe in a god, you see amazing things and automatically connect them to the god; when you don’t, that doesn’t really happen and everything does not look like a self-evident monument to any god. It’s largely a difference in perception based on preconceptions; in short, non-believers don’t see the world the way believers do precisely because of their lack of belief. So (and here’s your takeaway, Brianna) to convert someone you need to instill some belief before pointing out the sunset.

The Turin Tests

Question from Bubsy (submitted in 3 parts):
William Guy gave an outstanding presentation, and while he gave many decent points for proof of the shroud, these six were the best (in my opinion)

1) Joseph Kohlberg, a geologist, actually studied some of the remnants of the shroud and found limestone. Later, it was found that this limestone was common in Israeli tombs, but not just any Israeli tombs, Jerusalem tombs. Therefore, if it was not real, how could the shroud have some remnants from Jerusalem tombs?

2) Guy researched crucifixion history, and found that while the Persians invented it, the Romans perfected it. It can be seen in the shroud itself that there were thorns in this individual’s head, which was never used before in Roman or Persian killings, therefore, it strongly hints it was actually Jesus

3) The shroud accurately depicts the nails going through the wrists of the individual for crucifixion. In many middle aged drawings, Jesus is depicted as having the nails go through hands, and this is scientifically impossible. Therefore, it couldn’t have been a forgery

4) the shroud was measured in cubic units, something they didn’t do in the middle ages, but did in ancient Palestine or Israel

5) plants and pollen examined on it were found to also be native to Palestine/Israel

6) the blood examined on the shroud had some chemical compounds in it that a person’s blood would have under extreme stress, which is what Jesus would have gone through, and a forgery would not have had that.

therefore, it has to be Jesus, how can it not be? The thorns, the Jerusalem limestones, the blood, the plants/pollen

How does it feel to know it is true lads?

…hello again,
did some further research on the Shroud of Turin, and William Guy made an outstanding documentary about the it. He gives proofs for its authenticity, or at least that it wasn’t a forgery including:

he said that crucifiction was invented by persians and perfected by romans. He said at that time, no one wore those thorns on their heads other than Jesus, therefore it proves it was him, and that it couldn’t have been a forgery as real blood was used which had some chemical balance demonstrating the person was suffering. He said a forger wouldn’t have put blood into the shroud, and he said pollen was found there that is native to ancient palestine. The most recent carbon dating seemed to suggest it was from a time period from about 1000 years BC to 1000 years after, so the timeframe could be right.

He also said that one geologist actually studied the shroud and found remnants of tomb stone on it. He tested it, and found that it matched with Jerusalem lime stone in tombs, not even limestone in other parts of Israel.

These seems really hard to refute.

…Did more research and found a link between the Sudarium of Oviedo and the Shroud.

There have been connections with the two including: both have same blood types, both have the same plant and pollen remnants, if you do a face overlay, both faces are equivalent. Blood is found in the same places. Therefore, it seems it was used on the same individual. I just think this proves Jesus existed, and if he didn’t rise from the dead, how could all of these people have reported seeing him? It seems like this may prove Christianity.

Answer by SmartLX:
Sorry for the delay Bubsy, I’ve been sick among other things.

First set of points first, assuming for the sake of argument that the analyses by two theologians (one of which happened to be a geologist) were carried out scientifically:

1) Even if the limestone residue is really proven to be unique to Jerusalem, the shroud can be from Jerusalem and yet not genuine if it was made as a fake in Jerusalem, as were a great many false relics. (For instance there are about 30 “holy” cross nails floating around, so at least 27 must be fake.)

2) Thorns in the head would be an essential element of a fraudulent Jesus shroud. If you had the real shroud of a crucifixion victim to begin with, that’s exactly the detail you’d add to make it look like Jesus.

3) Sadly, there were plenty of people in the Middle Ages who knew exactly what happens when you drive nails through people’s hands. Even if not, that would leave it as a possible forgery from the age when crucifixion still occurred.

4) If the shroud is a round number of cubic units (do you mean cubits?) long, that doesn’t mean it was measured in those units. It may have been longer until it frayed or shrank, or another measurement type may sync up at that length. It’s not like there are marks on it like a ruler.

5) Again, if it was forged in Jerusalem with the other relics, no problem.

6) There’s a long way between the Shroud belonging to a real execution victim and the Shroud belonging to Jesus Christ. A real shroud from a random victim, as I’ve been implying, is the perfect base material for a Jesus shroud.

The documentary covers much of the same material. The farthest all of it gets you is that it may well be the genuine shroud of a man who died horribly in Iron Age Israel, and quite possibly the same man the Sudarium was used on.

Even if it’s Jesus, though, this is no evidence for the resurrection or even his supposed disappearance from the tomb. I think you realise this, because right at the end you switch to an argument about witnesses of the risen Jesus. As I’ve written before, the number of Biblical first-hand accounts of Jesus between the crucifixion and ascension is very small, and the bulk of the supposed many who saw him is accounted for in one line of 1 Corinthians regarding an appearance to 500 people. Accounts of witnesses are not accounts by witnesses.

They Poked at the Shroud Again

Question from Bubsy:
I suggest you watch this video, which is a summary video that shows all the relevant articles from 2009 upwards instead of going to the articles one by one. It’s faster and easier. [2018 UPDATE! SHROUD OF TURIN REVEALS SECRETS | STRANGE END TIMES SIGNS ( Within it at the 3:25 minute marker it has information on: The ultraviolet light necessary to do so “exceeds the maximum number release from all ultra-violet light sources available today” and It would require “pulses having durations shorter than one-forthy-billionth of a second, and intensities on the order of several billion watts” ***********

Back to my point: * The evidence they have found is that the image is no oil painting and it is caused by light in the UVB range at burst of several million micro seconds and energy release of everal billion kilowatts. * Science has literally confirmed it is a crucified man and that the image has been produced by no natural light but a light that is several billion kw of energy and bursts of light as short as a millionth of a second. * It was highly superficial but strong enough to cause an imprint. * Christian imagines what Jesus looks like and this comes indirectly from the Shroud image that was responsible for most of the early portraits of Jesus from 300 A.D. Therefore: Since our greatest minds can not conceive of how the image was made except by supernatural means, perhaps logic dictates the Shroud is physical evidence of a supernatural event – the resurrection of Jesus.

Answer by SmartLX:
This article by MSNBC puts this claim into perspective very well. The finding of the recent study is that if the image on the Shroud was created by UV light (as per one existing hypothesis) then it had to be the unearthly burst you describe, which is an extreme hypothetical circumstance which merely debunks the idea that it was faked with this specific method. The researchers separately argue against the idea that it was painted. It might instead have simply been an actual shroud for someone’s dead body, from anywhere and any point in a wide timespan.

My favourite part of the article is where lead researcher Paolo di Lazzaro had to email the journalist to say, “Sadly, we have seen many claims spread in the Web made by journalist/bloggers that discuss the content of a paper they never read.” I think the same applies to YouTube preachers.

Big Ol’ Bang

Question from Call Me Static:
So, I found this looking for an answer for the Law of Biogenesis (I’m on the younger side) for school and came across this. This interested me and I thought I’d ask a question to you about what you believe with an atheistic point of view.

Do you believe in the Big Bang Theory and if not, what do you believe created the universe? I’m curious to see what you believe on this.

I’m doing this for pleasure, not anything for school. Just thought I’d ask out of simple curiosity.

Answer by SmartLX:
Lucky you, I just revisited the “law” of biogenesis the other day. But hopefully you found the earlier piece referenced therein.

Anyway, I do think the evidence supports the Big Bang, so I accept the theory and I just plain think that it happened. This leaves some pretty big questions, like what existed beforehand and what caused it (if time was, “at the time”, in a state where either question even makes sense) and what it implies for the future of the universe (heat death? Big Crunch?) but that particular moment in cosmic history is looking pretty solid right now.

Back to the Origin of Life

Question from Kenneth:
The answer by Truk regarding the Law of Biogenesis is extremely simplistic. Pasteur is not the only one to come to this conclusion. Many eminent scientists since have tried but failed to disprove it, but have had to admit that spontaneous generation as virtually impossible. The complexity of a cell, the smallest self-replicating unit of life, is so overwhelming that regardless of the amount of time it is impossible. Truk’s answer that we know it happened because life exists, does not speak of science. It speaks of faith! The very thing Creationists are always ridiculed for. The whole of Evolutionary Biology rises or falls on abiogenesis. If you can’t show that to be true, it all collapses like a ‘house of cards’.

Answer by SmartLX:
The question by Truk is here and it may have more comments than any article on this site. Religious and particularly Christian apologists make much of the fact that there isn’t an established scientific theory of abiogenesis like there is for evolution. It’s the answer atheists just don’t have. What they never seem to realise is how little this matters to the god debate.

I’ve addressed Pasteur in the other article, so we’ll speak generally here. Spontaneous generation, which came to be called abiogenesis, need only have happened once to produce all known life. It is evidently unlikely in the present day, because it is not happening all around us. (The existence of established life may have a lot to do with this; see this other article.) In the ancient world 3-4 billion years ago, perhaps it was slightly less unlikely or perhaps it wasn’t, but that you felt you had to include the word “virtually” belies that there’s no way to unambiguously say it was impossible. And if it was possible, it could happen once as a fluke, which would explain why it’s only happened on Earth as far as we can see.

That said, there are detailed and quite old rebuttals to the claim that the formation of the first proteins, enzymes, etc. were impossibly unlikely, which focus on the assertions and assumptions inherent in such claims. See whether that particular link addresses a point or two that you’ve read. Regardless, to argue that it’s impossible because we don’t know how it happened is the standard and ubiquitous argument from ignorance.

We know that before an undefined point in time there was no life, and some time later there was life. If one does not believe in a god to begin with, one does not seriously consider a god as a reason for the emergence of that life, though one cannot rule it out entirely. All possible natural mechanisms of abiogenesis would need to be ruled out before a designer could be established by elimination, and that includes mechanisms not yet thought of so you won’t get far there. Science may give one confidence that a theory of abiogenesis will emerge, but even if it doesn’t in our lifetime it remains nothing more than an unanswered question, with a hard but present road to possibly finding the answer.

Finally, even if abiogenesis didn’t happen and life was deliberately created, that may have been the last point the creator intervened. Evolutionary biology needs nothing more than an imperfect self-replicator, which perhaps a creator provided, to explain the entire diversity of life. Therefore it does not fall like cards or anything else without abiogenesis, but you think it does because you think all of evolutionary biology has been erected solely as a barrier to the certitude of divine creation, and a gap in it represents total failure in that regard. Science does not require that we be as certain of a particular hypothesis as you are of your god in order to compete with that god.

From Infinity To Certainty?

Question from Blake (lost, then recovered – sorry Blake!):
If there is an unlimited number of universes with an unlimited number of possibilities, then would there be a universe in which there doesn’t exist other universes?

Answer by SmartLX:

Unlimited possibilities do not necessarily mean every possibility. The set of multiples of two (2, 4, 6, 8…) has infinite numbers, but no odd numbers because odd numbers are not multiples of two. The question uses the premise that there is an unlimited number of universes, and with that established the infinite universes you are not in are not negated by the one you are in, no matter what kind of universe it is. The basic qualities of the set of universes make a solitary universe impossible.

A similar argument is sometimes used to establish the existence of a god. See the piece that just went up. (That piece is the reason I found your question, due to similar subject matter.)

A Universe With A Mission?

Question from The Devil’s Advocate:
This question is going to be different. That is to say, I’m inclined to think that it should be interpreted and processed in a somewhat different manner than most of the emails you receive. It’s about what might be, rather than what is. In my experience, a significant minority, if not the majority, of atheists tend to take the position that there’s no point in exploring a possibility unless there’s evidence in support of that possibility. Most of the time, that makes a lot of sense. Are reptilian fairies from the seventh dimension kidnapping homeless people and prodding them with rectal probes? Well, if there’s no scientifically credible empirical evidence in support of the possibilities, why even pursue that possibility?

However, there are conceptual frameworks in which what might be can be almost as illuminating as what is. Science fiction literature is all about what MIGHT be, as opposed to what is or what will be. Exploring what MIGHT be (with the rigor and scientific literacy of someone like Issac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke) can be extremely illuminating.

I’m going to make this as brief as possible on the assumption that you’re smart enough to appreciate the full implications of the possibilities that I’m alluding to here.

Consider the power of technology. Consider the exponential rate at which that power has grown over the course of only a few generations. If we don’t kill ourselves off as a result of our animalistic instincts, consider the power that human technology will wield a thousand years from now. Imagine a civilization that has been fully technological, as we presently are, for a hundred thousand years. Or a million years. Can you grasp that intuitively? The scale at least? The mind-numbing scale?

Okay. Here’s the deal. It appears to me that there are no forces in the known universe even remotely as potentially powerful as technology (applied science). What are the most powerful natural forces we know of? A supernova? The mega black holes at the center of most galaxies? I don’t know if you’re a futurist or a science fiction fan, but if you are, you KNOW that a supernova or a mega black hole doesn’t even BEGIN to compare to the technological power that a civilization ten thousand years more technologically advanced than us could conceivably wield. So, here’s the paradigm that I hope to communicate…

Given the mind-numbing, breathtaking power of advanced technology… and by that I don’t mean Star Wars or Star Trek because mainstream science fiction only depicts technologies a hair’s breath more advanced than our own, for utterly pragmatic reasons. (If a mainstream science fiction film were to depict a technology ten thousand years more advanced than our own it, watching it would be like having an acid trip– nothing in it would be at all comprehensible– therefore there’s no financial motivation to produce such a film. The technologies in Star Wars and Star Trek are JUST BARELY more advanced than our own, by necessity.)

Given the mind-numbing, breathtaking power of advanced technology… and the fact that nothing that we currently know about anywhere in the multiverse can even begin to compare with that potential power— is it so outrageous to think that LIFE (which is the source of such technology) could possibly be an even bigger influence in the configuration of the cosmos as gravity? What if– and mind you, this isn’t random speculation– this is in the broader context of the mind-numbing potential power to which I am referring– what if LIFE (both biological and silicon-based) is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, forces defining the form that the multiverse takes?

That could very well include universes designed and created for a particular purpose (or something not completely unlike “purpose”) by intelligent entities. The particular (unexpected and rather surprising) delicately balanced configuration of natural laws in our own universe, which seems unexpectedly predisposed towards allowing for the evolution of life– could, in principle, be explained by such forces.

There is, to be sure, some speculation embedded in the above. But the mind-numbing potential power of technology, which seems to vastly exceed all other known forces in potential, isn’t speculation. That’s concrete, and unavoidable. Is there anything that we know of in the universe/multiverse at the moment that could conceivably compete with a technology 500, 000 years more advanced than our own? If not, wouldn’t that imply a possibility that entire universes might be purposefully and intentionally designed and created for a purpose?

Note, what I’m eluding to here is the empirical potential POWER of applied science, relative to the potential power of other, puny, natural forces like supernova explosions. That’s the empirical reality to which I’m referring. Not blind speculation– but that potential power, and how much greater it is than any other natural power we know of.

My Question: What do you think about the possibility, implied above, that we might live in a universe– or rather a multiverse– in which universes are created intentionally for a particular purpose or in a search for existential meaning? And, do you appreciate the EMPIRICAL reality of this paradigm? The EMPIRICAL foundational reality that inspires the speculation?

Answer by SmartLX:
Yes, there is a possibility that we are in a universe that was created for a purpose. Not really with you on the rest of this.

I’m a huge sci-fi fan, but the power of technology in science fiction is speculation by definition and very little about it is empirical. There are any number of potential roadblocks to the mind-boggling progress you describe. The seemingly most likely two are:
1. Some of the critical technologies common to futuristic stories, like faster-than-light travel, may simply be impossible to make practical according to the laws of physics.
2. Due to social and psychological factors, a civilisation may be incapable of maintaining a discipline of scientific advancement long enough (or even surviving long enough) to reach speculated levels. We may be fated to destroy ourselves with present-day technology, or to repeat a cycle of dark ages and renaissances.

Even if life and technology are as unthinkably powerful as sci-fi makes them look, just the possibility of creating a universe does not mean every universe is created. Life may have to evolve and develop technology at least once in a natural universe, and this may be it. Or there may only be one universe, or all universes exist concurrently, so that there was no “before” for a creator to exist in. Or the universe may not have begun to exist at all, if the Big Bang was merely a transitional event.

The more you imagine, just as sci-fi authors do, the more possible explanations you come up with, and the less likely any given scenario seems with the sole supporting argument that it seems plausible.