Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The SJ Thomason Responses: Soap

By now I was starting to suspect that S.J. Thomason would keep dodging my points and mask my objections in a morass of unrelated talking pointsLet's see how she handled my second objection. This was the absence of instructions on soap.  The keyword here was instructions as knowledge of soap was present in the ancient world. 

The Soap Test

My original- There are no instructions on using soap. ... With no technological barrier to making soap, there is no valid reason to withhold instructions on its use. Given the vast number of people whose lives would have been improved by providing instructions, it’s not a trivial issue.
When we used to visit (my very departed) grandparents, they always insisted we wash our hands with soap before every meal. For people who grew up without antibiotics, they had no illusions about disease spread.  Similarly, my work-organisation has a lot of people working together.  There are posters in every bathroom, explaining how to wash your hands properly with soap, how long to wash for, and why.  Even in modern societies we invest time and resources into providing instructions on using soap.

For a pre-Industrial society, there is not much else you could do to improve welfare than insist on the use of soap.  It's a known product, it's easy to manufacture, and it greatly limits the infection and the spread of disease.  And the OT reveals that their ancient deity was concerned preventing the spread of diseases.  Heck, even the instructions on treating mildew go on and on.  

Fishing for Red Herrings

S.J. Thomason responds:
While I agree that soap is important, I offer what organizations producing soap suggest is its history. According to the Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve Company, “Although no one really knows when soap was discovered, there are various legends surrounding its beginning. According to Roman legend, soap was named after Mount Sapo, an ancient site of animal sacrifices. After an animal sacrifice, rain would wash animal fat and ash that collected under the ceremonial altars, down to the banks of the Tiber River. Women washing clothes in the river noticed that if they washed their clothes in certain parts of the river after a heavy rain their clothes were much cleaner. Thus the emergence of the first soap – or at least the first use of soap. A soap-like material found in clay cylinders during the excavation of ancient Babylon is evidence that soap-making was known as early as 2800 B.C. Inscriptions on the cylinders say that fats were boiled with ashes, a soap-making method.”
According to Soap History, “An excavation of ancient Babylon revealed evidence that Babylonians were making soap around 2800 B.C. Babylonians were the first one to master the art of soap making. They made soap from fats boiled with ashes. Soap was used in cleaning wool and cotton used in textile manufacture and was used medicinally for at least 5000 years. The Ebers papyrus (Egypt, 1550 B.C.) reveals that the ancient Egyptians mixed animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to produce a soap-like substance. According the Pliny the Elder, the Phoenicians used goat’s tallow and wood ashes to create soap in 600 B.C. Early Romans made soaps in the first century A.D. from urine and soap was widely known in the Roman Empire.”
I like that the description above excludes the one ancient culture we're discussing. That is, Ancient Israel.  Nor is it relevant to finding either instructions on its use, or rationalising why those instruction are absent.
Biblical scholars have further referred to several passages to suggest that soap is indeed present in the Bible in the recognized form of its day.
Malachi 3:2: “But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.”
Jeremiah 2:22: “Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder…”
Except these aren't instructions on its use.  Jeremiah is actually disparaging! 

In summary, the people in Biblical times were using soap, though the soap varied in content from what we use today, just as medicines and vaccines available today were not available in Biblical times. Today’s soaps have come about just as God intended them to come about; no sooner and no later.

Yes, we know they knew about soap. Other cultures invented it!  It's easy to make. There's a reason I've highlighted soap and not say, penicillin or insulin. It was a product that actually existed in that era! 
There are no instructions on using it to hinder the spread of disease or prevent infection.  That was my objection.


Me: there are no instructions on using soap for health reasons
SJ: But a ha... they knew soap existed! I have defeated your objection by ignoring it completely!
Me: Do you know how rebuttals actually work?

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The SJ Thomason Response: Fantastic Deeds

The SJ Thomason response continues.

And What A Strawman She Made!

Kaimatai’s next arguments suggest that the world is lacking evidence of Jesus. 
 Actually my objection was "Other civilizations should have noticed the extraordinary events described in the bible.  That evidence is just not present."

Let's consider what that might be- the Sun standing still, global floods, an entire nation's first-born being killed in one night, ancient Judaean carpenters coming back to life, the dead rising and visiting Jerusalem etc.

A conspicuous feature of this objection was no mention of Jesus by the way.  This doesn't augur well.

Such an assertion could not be further from the truth. Christianity, which 2.2 billion people currently practice globally, began with the humble work of the son of a carpenter, several fishermen, a tent maker, a tax collector, and others of little means. The very fact that such a group was able to convince millions to embrace Christianity and worship illegally and without any power or riches from 33 A.D. to 312 A.D. suggests something extraordinary is working behind the scenes.
 Right... because all the other major religions began when thousands and thousands of people just happened to start worshipping their god at the same time. Isn't 'small beginnings' the usual way for religions to start?  Also I'm unpersuaded that Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire for most of its history.

Onward- do we have any evidence other civilisations around Ancient Judaea and Israel noticed  anything extraordinary?

Oh boy...

I’ve paraphrased a story about Jesus by James Allan Francis (Turek, 2014) to demonstrate just how extraordinary the transformation of Christianity is.
He grew up in a village, the child of a peasant, and worked as a carpenter. He never had a family, owned a home, or went to college. He was only 33 when the tide of public opinion rode against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies and went through a mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.
“Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure of the human race. I am well within the mark when I say that all the enemies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned – put together – have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one, solitary life.”
I anticipate atheists will say at this point that I’ve violated the ad populum fallacy, which is the appeal to the popularity of a claim as a reason for accepting it. I therefore return to the initial reasons behind the growth of Christianity to refute this argument. The first martyr, St. Stephen, heads up this discussion.
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered Him – you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it” (Acts 7: 51-53).
“When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory and God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:54-56).
“At this, they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul (Acts 7:57-58).
While on the road to Damascus breathing murderous threats towards Christians, Saul encountered Jesus. “Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’” (Acts 9: 3-6).
Saul became Paul, who wrote at least six books of the New Testament and endured much persecution before being beheaded under the leadership of the Roman Emperor Nero. The book of Acts and 1 Timothy 4:6-8 suggests Paul knew that his death was imminent, though his death was not reported in the Bible.
Extrabiblically, in 1 Clement 5: 5-7 (c. A.D. 95-96), the writer notes that Paul suffered tremendously before being “set free from this world and transported up to a holy place, having become the greatest example of endurance” (McDowell, 2015). “Other early evidences for the martyrdom of Paul can be found in Ignatius (Letter to the Ephesians 12:2), Polycarp (Letter to the Philippians 9:1-2), Dionysius of Corinth (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.4), Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1.1), The Acts of Paul, and Tertullian” (Scorpiace 15:5-6) (McDowell, 2015).
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:25-26: “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.”
Some atheists claim Paul never saw Jesus, yet he makes it quite clear that he did. “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians15: 1-8).
The third example is Jesus’ brother James. While James didn’t provide us with evidence of his belief in Jesus’ divinity during Jesus’ ministry (Mark 3:20; John 7:5), he saw the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:7) and accordingly, became a believer and key leader in the early church (Galatians 2:9; Acts 21:17-26).
In Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus states that James was stoned. “Two other Christian accounts also confirm the martyrdom of James, even if they differ over the details. Hegesippus provides a detailed account in Book 5 of his Memoirs (Hypomnemata), which have been preserved in Eusebius. And Clement of Alexandria (c. AD 150-215) also provides an account of the fate of James in the seventh book of his Hypotyposes, as recorded by Eusebius” (Ecclesiastical History 2.1.4b-5) (McDowell, 2015).
Based on these accounts, we know that among many Christian disciples (1) Stephen, Paul, and James sincerely believed in Jesus’ divinity; (2) they knowingly risked their lives to preach His Good Word; and (3) they died gory deaths due to their beliefs and practices. 

Snoring sounds... wait, we're done...phew!


 What a waste of time.  Another complete fail.  A fantastic strawman fallacy is constructed and not once, is my objection addressed. 

The SJ Thomason Responses: Genetics

I've had a lengthy response to my objections to Christianity from SJ Thomason. Rather than analysing it in one go, I'm going to break this down into smaller (and hopefully more readable formats).

The Red Herring

S.J. Thomason responds:

Let me begin by noting his reference to the flavor of Christianity. I draw attention to this statement because atheists often ask Christians to identify the “correct” Christian sect. I am of the opinion that so long as the Christian sect draws its knowledge from the Bible, embraces Jesus Christ’s divinity, and encourages people to live by the example of Jesus Christ, then the sect is correct.
This is a red herring. It would be relevant to state whether the belief in Adam and Eve in the sect the reader belongs to, are supposed to literally exist, or exist as allegories instead.

People have varying needs in the ways they grow closer to God. 
 The rest of this paragraph has nothing to do with the genetics problem. It's a description of SJ Thomason's beliefs. This suffers the defects of being irrelevant to my objection, and is boring. 

Some prefer liturgical, ritualistic churches in which the congregation sings hymns and develops an appreciation of sacraments and traditions, such as the Lutheran and Catholic churches. Others might prefer contemporary sorts of churches in which the congregation sings contemporary Christian songs and listens to informative sermons on the Bible, such as the Baptist church. Other churches blend these options and offer various interpretations of the Bible based on variations of adherence to literal interpretations of the Bible. No matter the door, all ultimately lead to Jesus. “The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will be open at last” (Lewis, 1949).

The Strawman Fallacy

To answer Kaimatai’s next issue, which speaks to the origins of the universe, earth, and life on earth, I draw from Hugh Ross and his book Improbable Planet.
And straight to the strawman fallacy.  I gave as a specific example that genetics refuted that a literal Adam and Eve existed.  These are examples of an absence of evidence where there should be evidence.

“The Milky Way Galaxy, the Sun, the Moon, and the configuration of the solar system’s planets and asteroid belts reveal how Earth obtained its unique stockpile of elements and minerals that enable Earth today to sustain such an enormous biomass and biodiversity. The fossil record, isotope records, geological layers, sediment cores, ice cores, and biodeposit (biological decay products embedded in Earth’s crust) inventories provide biologists and ecologists with a chronicle of Earth’s life. Earth’s preserved record of past physical and biological events reveals an unanticipated synergy (p. 16-17).”
The conspicuous feature of the paragraph is the absence of any mention of genetics.  It's irrelevant.

“Charles Darwin presumed that the development and transformation of life throughout Earth’s history was gradual, smooth, and continuous. 
 That was in 1859.  And it was a hypothesis, that even some of his supporters (like Huxley) remained unconvinced by.  By the early 1950s, the development of population biology and speciation modes like allopatric speciation, had undermined this gradualistic view.  It persisted longer in paleontology however. 

The Appeal to (False) Authority

However, in landmark articles published in 1972 and 1977, paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould pointed out that the fossil record is typified by species remaining in extended stasis (little or no net evolutionary change) interrupted by quantum jumps where species suddenly disappear and then are followed quickly by sudden appearances of very different species
Correct, as a necessary consequence of speciation beginning from small populations, where the odds of leaving fossils behind are very unlikely because the populations are too small! Not because evolution works by jumps.   And we have plenty of good examples of gradual change occurring in the fossil record.

This argument is completely fallacious. Ross isn't an evolutionary biologist, or geneticist, or paleontologist.  He's a physicist. He doesn't have a clue what he's talking about. 
…It is not only at the species level where quantum jumps are observed but also at the level of families, orders, and classes of organisms (p. 19).
I'm sorry, but what did I just read!?  Pretty much all terrestrial animals are just one thing. A segmented worm-like creature with optional appendages.  We're bilateral triploblasts.  There aren't "quantum leaps". Just some tinkering with an animal with a feeding tube that runs down the centre.

“Primitive life, that is unicellular bacterial life, is but the simplest form of life on Earth. There are three other general divisions of purely physical life: (1) differentiated multicellular organisms (for example, fungi); (2) plants; and (3) animals. 
 Oh the stupid just burns now. There are three domains of life. The three divisions mentioned here make up just one of them. I know Ross is old, but it looks like he learned his biology from Darwin himself.

In addition to purely physical life, Earth today contains two kinds of life that possess distinctly nonphysical attributes. One of these kinds is a group of animals that possess a mind…that is capable of experiencing and expressing emotions, exercising intellectual analysis, and making decisions in response to that analysis and the animal’s emotional state. All mind-possessing animals share in common the attribute of parents providing sacrificial care for their offspring. Animals in this category include all mammals and birds and a few of the more advanced reptilian species such as the crocodile and the alligator” (p. 21).
 Sigh, "advanced" is not a thing in biology.

Putting the Cart before the Horse

“Another kind of life-form possessing nonphysical attributes is the species Homo sapiens sapiens. Human beings not only possess a mind, but they are also endowed with a spirit…(which) enables humans to engage in philosophy and theology and to address questions of ultimate meaning and purpose” (p. 21).
 The claim we have a spirit is a religious one. As it is embedded in the god-belief, which is disputed, the argument is a fallacious 'affirming the consequent'. Ross is putting the cart-before-the-horse. 

Again, this is irrelevant to my objection, and is resorting to an appeal to (false) authority. 

Argument by Assertion Fallacy

In other words, the earth today contains diverse and abundant species in multiple levels of advanced life, many of which appeared suddenly via quantum jumps. Such an explanation helps to explain the way the most advanced life forms possess consciousness (i.e., awareness) and spirituality, while less advanced life forms do not. Such an explanation further suggests that the first humans appeared suddenly.

  1. 1. There's no such thing as more or less advanced in biology. Organisms can have basal or derived characters.  The idea of 'advancement' is a religious relic based on the Scalae Naturae. It does not exist. 
  2. 2. Molecular evidence shows that species don't appear in sudden leaps. Fossils are a function of population abundance. Species that originate with low populations leave few or no fossils. Molecular evidence shows that we don't see leaps. 
    1.  The decoding of the mouse genome showed that over 99% of the coding genes in a mouse and a human were the same.  A 1% change of 65-75my isn't a jump.
  3. Humans didn't appear suddenly.  That's what the genetic evidence tells us. 

Final Score

So as far as a rebuttal goes, it's a complete fail. 
  •  The genetic evidence against a recent human origin from two individuals was not addressed. No evidence from the field of genetics was even produced!
  • A strawman argument was conjured in its place
  • An appeal to authority was attempted, but the authority was ignorant of the topic at hand!
  • Assertions were frequently just wrong.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

That Kalam argument

Sooner or later as an atheist on the web, you're going to run into the Cosmological Argument.  This often comes in the form of the "Kalam argument" or its modern form promoted by William Craig.

It's typically presented as a syllogism. This a logical argument that used two related premises to reach a conclusion.

  • P1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause;
  • P2: The universe began to exist;
  • C: The universe has a cause
A Rapidly Inflating Singularity Explains Many of the Attributes of this Universe
(Figure via Shutterstock as Stock illustration ID: 489781135)

As the argument does not include any deities, it is imputed that this cause, must itself be uncaused.  Conveniently theists knew what this cause was all along. This is their favourite deity, which by fiat is eternal, existing outside time and space and, uncaused.

The popularity of the syllogism doesn't disguise its flaws.  It is these flaws that have prevented a stampede of atheists toward Christianity.  Let me elaborate.

A syllogism depends on the its premises being correct.  It is not good enough for them to be possibly correct.  And there are reasons to suspect the premises are not.

Let's look at the first.

How do we know that everything that begins to exist has a cause?

  • The reason we have the qualification "begins to exist" is to exclude deities with eternal properties.  If it was just 'exists' then the syllogism would net in gods too.  In short, it is a special pleading fallacy introduced right at the start.  How do we know deities are able to exist without a beginning?  We don't.  No evidence is attached to prove this.  It's just one more thing we have to believe about gods on faith alone.
  • It's an uncertain premise.  From what we understand about quantum mechanics, the quantum world behaves stochastically.  It's a random world at that level. Negative and positive sub-atomic particles wink in and out of existence. 
    • The above means that P1 is not self-evident
    • Induction is not strong enough to prove that P1 is correct. We've sampled a tiny fraction of the universe and our observed sample size of universes is still stuck at 1. 
  • It makes the term 'cause' do a lot of work. Here the syllogism tries to conflate causality (in the sense of purposely caused by an agent) with other causality in other contexts (e.g. occurs naturally without intercession because of environment and natural laws). As a term, causes are not really part of the conceptual toolbox of Fundamental Physics.  I'm not convinced at this level, cause is an appropriate term.
  • It is also a category fallacy. Universes don't fall into the same category as phenomenon within the universe.  
  • Similarly, it's not clear what we mean by 'begins to exist'. If time is an emergent property of the universe, then it becomes difficult to talk about a point where the universe 'begins to exist' (see the Hawking-Hartle no-boundary condition).  
In short, P1 is a barely coherent and fallacious premise that has significant scientific objections to overcome.

How do we know the universe began to exist?

We don't. The standard model of the universe converges to a singularity, where the regular laws of physics as we understand them don't apply.  This could be a genuine beginning, or it could be just the observable part of other ways the universe evolved. 

Alternatives include a bouncing universe (our universe originated on another one that collapsed, before bouncing back from a singularity), cyclical (the various ekpyrotic models), reproducing from others etc.  

P2 has yet to be proven to be true.

Does the Universe Have Cause?  


In the sense that some event occurred that initiated an inflationary period for the universe? That seems plausible. For instance, some quantum event is potentially able to cause this.  Does that mean we know that this is how it happened?  No.  But there are natural explanations.  We don't have to invoke gods, and I'm not sure why we would.  What falsifiable hypotheses could we test? What predictions does this make?  The scientific model predicts a flat, homogeneous universe with Cosmic Background Microwave radiation. The divine model predicts a bloodgod who is outwitted by a talking snake, so that he has to mate with a virgin to kill his own offspring because two people ate some fruit.  It's not a good way to build credence.

Gods have a problem as they're not mentioned in the syllogism, and as the syllogism is attempting to prove gods exist, it's not an independent proof of said gods. We do know say, that quantum perturbations do happen. The syllogism for gods starts becoming a little circular at this point.

This lack of evidence for gods makes the whole syllogism unconvincing.  

Summary: Syllogisms aren't Evidence

Syllogisms are interesting logical arguments.  We can say if the premises are true or not, and we can say whether the conclusion follows from these premises.   But they're not evidence, they're either logically true or false.  In this case, the Kalam or first cause argument suffers a plethora of philosophical and scientific flaws. 

Let me conclude with my own syllogism to illustrate this point:

P1: Everything that exists has a natural cause (by induction)*
P2: Gods are supernatural 
C: Gods cannot exist or cause anything that does exist.

* E.g. We've replaced many supernatural explanations with natural, and never a natural explanation with a supernatural.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Fumbling Apologetics

Is it possible to be an honest apologist?

Recently on twitter an apologist (S J Thomason) has been arguing with atheists.  An odd tactic is to post a blog (see link), claim it defends Christianity, then claim victory on dissenters on twitter.  As it's difficult to deal with this within 140 characters, I'm posting a response to one of her arguments here.  It is on the topic of evolution, which I can at least claim to be familiar with.

SJ Thomason writes:

Atheist challenge: Christians don’t believe in evolution, which is proven by science.

 This is false and disappointingly dishonest. Atheists don't claim that.  Many Christians accept that evolution occurs.  Many of the scientists who have contributed to the theory are Christian. Dobzhansky for instance, was one of the founders of the modern synthesis, provided the first gene-based definition of evolution, and was Christian.  The problem occurs when evolution conflicts with the doctrinal beliefs of some Christians.  Thus some Christians won't accept that species are mutable, or that humans evolved from a species that was the common ancestor to all other ape species. .

Christian rebuttal: Many theists support the idea of evolution, yet we must distinguish precisely what “evolution” means. We have witnessed and have archeological data indicating the evolution of humans, yet we don’t have any data bridging the gap between the primordial soup that ignited life on this planet and the earliest forms of life that contained consciousness.

 Evolution means a change in the allele frequency (heritable) traits in populations over generations.  This can manifest as both the increases in antibiotic resistance in bacteria up to the changes that caused a small terrestrial artiodactyl to become a whale. 

We have plenty of data linking the earliest life-forms to extant amniotes like us.  All cellular life shares a basic tool-kit of genes, it uses the same genetic code, cell walls are bilayer lipids, we all use ATP as the currency of energy.  Many molecular phylogenies show convergence to a single, universal ancestor. Not multiple ancestors that arose at different times. A single one. To claim we don't have any data linking us to the earliest life is brazenly ignorant and dishonest.

The evolution of the unconscious to the conscious is unexplained by science, suggesting the presence of a guiding force – an intelligent design.(11)

There are many things we have yet to explain in biology.  That's not evidence of an intelligent designer, or specifically a Judaean bloodgod with a penchant for mating with virgins.  Intelligent design has produced no research, nor even proposed testable hypotheses on consciousness.  There is nothing rational about inventing a deity to explain what you don't understand.

Given consciousness does seem affected by biochemical pathways, and emerges gradually as embryos develop, your alternative explanation is neither evidenced nor reasonable.

“Because of the way earth was and now is, it affords habitats for three radically different kinds, or categories, of life: (1) physical; (2) physical and mind-possessing; and (3) physical, mind-possessing, and spiritual.”(12)

 These arbitrary categories aren't statements of fact, but religious claims. Humans, birds, plants and fungi are not radically different kinds of life.  They occupy the same domain. A spiritual dimension cannot be invoked without evidence.

Until atheists can bridge the gap between the physical and the physical, mind-possessing and spiritual, Christians will disclaim the form of evolution that they propose, which is the form that claims that everything evolved from a pond of primordial soup.

 Molecular evidence already provides strong support that all life is related to a common ancestor (LUCA).  That it conflicts with your religious beliefs isn't a valid rebuttal of the evidence.  Please note that the phrase 'primordial soup' is eschewed by most researchers who work on the origin of life.  It is rather, a creationist shibboleth

Monday, 5 December 2016

10 Reasons why I'm not a Christian

Internet Christians seem fond of the "list approach" to proselytizing.  This comes in various forms. Like "10 reasons Christianity is true" or "10 questions atheists can't answer".  So with that inspiration, here are 10 objections I have to the existence of the Bronze-age Deity Yaweh and his magic carpenter son.

1. The absence of evidence where there should be evidence

Depending on your flavour of Christianity, this particular deity is supposed to have created the Universe, formed the earth, begun life, created humanity from just two individuals, intervened frequently in the affairs of a Near Eastern Tribe, and made a personal appearance for approximately 33 years.  Many of these events should leave compelling evidence. Genetics should confirm we descended from just two individuals. Other civilizations should have noticed the extraordinary events described in the bible.  That evidence is just not present.
Genetics confirms that modern human species never originated from just 2 individuals

2. The Soap Test

There are no instructions on using soap.  Soap is a product that is easy to make.  It also has benefits for hygiene as well as reducing infections and limiting the spread of disease.  These effects on disease were not realised until the germ theory of disease was established.

Any deity that is supposed to be benevolent, all-knowing, and interceding to benefit a chosen tribe or people, would give instructions on its use.  Instructions on its use however are weirdly absent.  This neglect would have increased needless suffering (through illness and disease) as well as premature deaths. With no technological barrier to making soap, there is no valid reason to withhold instructions on its use. Given the vast number of people whose lives would have been improved by providing instructions, it's not a trivial issue.

3. The gospels are problematic

Not only are the gospels written well after the alleged events, they contradict each other in key details.  The nativity of Luke and Mark Matthew describe entirely different events.  Unlike Julius Caesar there are no writings of Jesus. No contemporaneous historian, of which there were several in this era, noticed any of the fantastic things described in the gospels.

One feels an omniscient (all-knowing) deity would know this would reduce the confidence non-believers would have in the Jesus-mission. Even Julius Caesar left stuff he wrote. And an all-powerful deity might have ensured the records of the Jesus-mission weren't so dependent on the contradictory, hearsay accounts we have.

4. Prayer doesn't work

Enough children have died in faith-healing cases to show that prayer only succeeds in mundane cases with a high likelihood of occurring anyway. There is no evidence at the population-level that Christians are healthier, live longer or recover from cancer more frequently.

5. How about those slaves then?

Right, Christianity has always been against slavery. Even in the first 1800 years when it wasn't.  And as the American Civil War showed, for many, not until the Federal Army reached Richmond.  The problem is that Jesus never said to abolish slavery. Neither did anyone else in the bible. Indeed, Exodus 21:20-21 said it was permissible to beat a slave so badly that they would die 2-3 days later.  The slave-owner wasn't punished in this case as the slave was his property. A chattel. Not a human being, but property.
Black Slaves (Wikipedia Commons)

This is a very simple test. Moral beings don't sanction this horrific behaviour.  Christianity perpetuated slavery. It's failed to reach a credible standard of morality that would corroborate a loving, moral supreme deity.

6. A peculiar dislike of poor black people

One appreciates that life on this planet is a little chaotic.  That means natural disasters happen.  I'm not quite sure how a loving deity allows people to die in natural disasters, as the freewill argument seems moot in these cases.  The deaths and suffering are not caused by human agency.

Tent City- Port au Prince (Wikipedia commons)

Nonetheless, the real point is how unjust these disasters are.  They impact the poorest and most vulnerable communities the most.  In 2010 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti.  The death toll was somewhere between 100,000-300,000 people. The same year a 7.1 earthquake hit Christchurch in NZ.  One person died of a heart-attack, that might have been caused by it.  The effects are not equal.

If we're going to propose any kind of argument that humans have to put up with natural disasters, at the very least, these should not be so manifestly unjust.   Having a system that harms those communities least able to cope contradicts the alleged characters of the Christian deity.

7. Baby I call Hell

Like everything to do with the afterlife, Hell is difficult to pin down.  Is it a place of heinous torture as described by Dante and other evangelical pastors?  Or is is an eternal separation from this deity?  Given the wide-spread dogmatic belief that it is torture (and I've been threatened often enough with it), then it's irreconcilable with a just and loving deity.

 The infraction against this god is transitory in nature. All I have done is not believe it existed. That merits an infinite punishment- one that is unusually cruel, barbaric and inhumane.

Hell- Wikipedia Commons

Hell and a loving, just deity cannot both exist.

8. She blinded me with science

I appreciate that ancient people could not have had with their knowledge, the language of concepts to describe the world in scientific terms.  Nonetheless, it seems odd that many ideas about the world are simply and blatantly wrong.  The microscopic world, the scale of the universe, that earth is not its centre, that life originated billions of years ago and then evolved are in conflict with many religious dogmas.  It's not a good advertisement for these beliefs to be true.

9. It's a small world

It is inescapable that the events of the bible are restricted to a tiny part of the world.  Most of Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania are excluded.  For a universal deity, this is suspiciously parochial.  It is according to the Abrahamic religion capable of communicating in all kinds of ways.  There are burning bushes, talking donkeys, angels etc.  But only a small tribe of pastoralists are selected for this direct communication.  In particular, a tribe that whose accomplishments were so minor, they had little ability to communicate their god to others.  While civilisations around them developed maths, astronomy, engineering, democracy and philosophy, ancient Judea developed, well, penis modification.

Even within that context, only a small part of the population is considered worthy of this message.  This part being men, of course.  For a universal deity that considered all to be equal, this incredible favoritism does not make any sense.

10. Free Fallin'

The problem with an all-knowing (omniscient) god is well known.  It makes free-will a fantasy.  If a deity knows everything I'm going to do and say over my life-time, there's nothing I can do to change that.  If Abe's god knows I'm going to have sushi for lunch, then I cannot choose anything else.  That extrapolates to every other action I take, to very word I utter.  I cannot choose anything, choice is an always following a single course of action.  I can only say the lines I was given.  I can only play the role I was destined to play.

Life in this case, is meaningless.  If I am going to hell, then, nothing I do over my life will change that.  I can only undertake the actions this deity already knows I'll take.  All life is, is a brief moment where I can change nothing, followed by an eternity of hell.  There's no point to this life at all.  This god may as well put those destined to hell, straight there.  Because nothing will change that destiny.

Monday, 6 June 2016

How improbable is it that proteins can form by "chance"?

A common trait of scientists who work on the origins of life, is not to attempt to estimate the probability macromolecules (like peptide chains) will form. A common trait of creationists who don't, is estimating such probabilities.  This typically produces astronomical odds against such macromolecules forming.

For instance, suppose we are told there is a 50:50 chance that two amino acids will bond.  A peptide-chain (protein) 150 amino-acids long, will thus have the probability of (0.5)*(0.5)^2*(0.5^3)*...(0.6)^150.  This gives a cumulative probability of well, a really really big number against (1 in 1045 IIRC).  Thus the number of trials needed to make this peptide seem up there in many billions of trillions.

The problem above is simple. It ignores the fact that macro-molecules form in a modular fashion. (There's also some assumptions about the chemistry also, but we'll put those aside).  Macromolecules don't form one molecule at a time, in one go.  If we just add one correction to the calculation above- that the peptide chains form in a modular way, it takes just 5 trials to make a chain 150 amino-acids long.  That's right. Just 5.  The Creationist result above are entirely produced by unrealistic assumptions.

Let me demonstrate.  We start with a large pool of amino-acids.  There's a 50:50 chance in the first round, they bond to another amino acids (using SIPF chemistry, dipeptides are found within a week).  This is merely the assumption from the creationist maths above.

So after trial 1:
Half the amino-acids have formed dipeptides (a chain of 2 amino acids)

Half the amino acids are still unpaired to anything.

We then carry these into trial 2:
Some of the amino acids will still not have bonded.  Some will form dipeptides.
Some of the dipeptides will bond to one other single amino acids (making a tripeptide)
Some of them will bond to another bipeptide, or to two single amino acids.  (Bonding can occur at either end of the chain, it doesn't have to be at just one end).  That's an oligopeptide 4 amino-acids long.
Importantly, some of the dipeptides will bond to two other dipeptides.  After two trials, we will find peptide chains 6 amino-acids long.

On to trial 3:
Some of the peptide chains 6 amino-acids long, will bond to two other 6 amino-acid peptides.  Some of the peptide chains are now 18 amino-acids long.  The distribution of peptide chains in the pool will range from 1 to 18 amino-acids long.

On to trial 4:
Some of the 18 amino-acid chains will bond to two other 18 amino acids.  We will find in the sample, anything between 1 amino acid to chains 54 amino-acids long.  

On to trail 5:
If 3 peptide chains that are 50-54 amino-acids long bond, then we've got our 150 amino-acid peptide chain.  We didn't need trillions of trials. It's that simple.

Ok.  This is a gross simplification.  The chemistry of peptide formation is a lot more complex than just two molecules randomly bonding.  That's why people who actually work in this topic, don't try to calculate probabilities.  There are too many variables and too many permutations to make any estimate meaningful.  The point is to show how utterly devious and dishonest it is, to drop the modular assumption of macro-molecule formation.  And why you actually need to use a Markov probability function, not an IID.  What happens in each trial is not independent of previous trials. The reason creationists use an IID is because it's the one function everyone knows, and it wildly inflates the improbability of anything happening.