F Rosa Rubicondior: July 2012

Tuesday 31 July 2012

Creationists Fooled By Hoaxes

You have to pity the poor creationists.

Living in a world in which there is no known physical evidence to support their beliefs, they are prey to almost any conceivable hoax and will eagerly pay out to read about it, listen to a charlatan talking about it or to go and see it in a 'museum'.

The irony is that at least one of the hoaxes they use to try to discredit science is itself a hoax on them. 'Nebraska Man' was never claimed by scientists to be a man. The hoax is that a highly imaginative article written in a popular magazine - The Illustrated London News - was a scientific publication and represents a serious claim by science to have discovered an archaic hominid.

The God Of Low Standards

The God of Low Standards is a utility god. It can be whatever its followers want it to be and it can excuse anything its followers want it to excuse. It's a tailor-made god, perfectly fitted for its followers needs and infinitely adaptable for any purpose.

You find it in the Kalam Cosmological Argument where everything must have had a beginning and nothing can happen without a cause but The God of Low Standards doesn't have a beginning, so doesn't need a cause.

You find it in the Teleological Argument where the God of Low Standards can be defined into existence by humans and becomes real by fiat.

You find it in the Ontological Argument where any gap, real or imaginary, can be filled by the God of Low Standards with no evidence at all.

You find the God of Low Standards in holy books where writing about it is enough to make it real, unlike science where hundreds of books full of evidence are never enough.

Sunday 29 July 2012

Humans On The Ark Must Have Had STDs

The problem started when the Bronze-age pastoralists who decided to fill the gaps in their knowledge and understanding with some invented narratives, didn't know enough about the real world outside their small part of it, so made a lot of silly mistakes. For example, they knew nothing of germ theory so one of their tales is implausible unless the characters in it were riddled with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Noah, or at least one member of his family, must have had one or more venereal diseases and must have had extramarital sexual relationships.

We can be sure of this because humans, like many other species, are hosts to a number of obligate, species-specific, parasitic pathogens, i.e., parasites which are obliged to live in or on their host in order to survive.

For example:
Chlamydia trachomatis
Chlamydia trachomatis is an obligate intracellular pathogen (i.e., the bacterium lives within human cells) and can cause numerous disease states in both men and women. Both sexes can display urethritis, proctitis (rectal disease and bleeding), trachoma, and infertility. The bacterium can cause prostatitis and epididymitis in men. In women, cervicitis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy, and acute or chronic pelvic pain are frequent complications. C. trachomatis is also an important neonatal pathogen, where it can lead to infections of the eye (trachoma) and pulmonary complications. C. trachomatis is the single most important infectious agent associated with blindness; approximately 600 million worldwide suffer C. trachomatis eye infections and 20 million are blinded as a result of the infection.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum pallidum.T. pallidum pallidum is a spiral-shaped, Gram-negative, highly mobile bacterium (see electron micrograph - left). Three other human diseases are caused by related T. pallidum subspecies, including yaws (T. p. pertenue), pinta (T. p. carateum) and bejel (T p. endemicum). Unlike T. p. pallidum, they do not cause neurological disease. Humans are the only known natural reservoir for T. p. pallidum. It is unable to survive without a host for more than a few days. This is due to its small genome (1.14 MDa) and thus its inability to make most of its macronutrients. It has a slow doubling time of greater than 30 hours.
Gonorrhoea is a common human sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It is unique to humans.

The infection is transmitted from one person to another through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Men have a 20% risk of getting the infection from a single act of vaginal intercourse with an infected woman. The risk for men who have sex with men is higher. Women have a 60–80% risk of getting the infection from a single act of vaginal intercourse with an infected man. A mother may transmit gonorrhea to her newborn during childbirth; when affecting the infant's eyes, it is referred to as ophthalmia neonatorum. It cannot be spread by toilets or bathrooms.

So, each of these sexually transmitted diseases is entirely dependent on humans both for their existence and for their transmission and, if you believe the account given in Genesis of Noah's flood, you believe every living substance outside of the Ark was destroyed by God and everything alive today is descended from those few who were on the Ark.

And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.

If this were true, it would mean that members of Noah's family were carries of these venereal and sexually transmitted diseases.

Would any creationist like to speculate on who they might have been?

The same question can be asked of the species-specific ectoparasites such as lice, especially the sexually transmitted pubic louse, of course, but the human head and body louse are unique to humans too.

And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. And Noah begat three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

So that's four men and four women. Did just one of them carry all three sexually transmitted diseases or were they spread around? We can be fairly sure that their partners would have been infected too so at least two and maybe as many as six of the humans on the Ark had sexually transmitted diseases normally, though not always, the result of having several sexual partners. One thing we know is that you can't catch them from virgins unless they had a congenitally acquired form acquired from their mother, so, if the tale were true, we can be fairly certain that one or more of the people on the Ark must have had extramarital sexual relations of some sort, to acquire the STDs they carried.

So, is this yet another example of an unintelligent god who hasn't thought things through? In a fit of pique it decides to destroy everyone and everything because they are sinners, then realised it needs to save sinners too in order to save the diseases it's also created, so negating the entire purpose of the whole multi-ethnic, multi-species genocide, but it does it anyway.

Or is it just a nonsense tale made up by people who were in complete ignorance of bacteriology and microbial causation of disease?

Friday 27 July 2012

What A Waste Of A Life - Grovelling To God!

What's with this idea that somehow belief in gods gives your life a purpose?

What is it that induces otherwise normal people - at least I'll assume they are in the absence of evidence to the contrary (though I concede that these tweets may indeed be that evidence) - to tell the world this sort of thing?

Thursday 26 July 2012

Prophesying A Powerless God

Ancient of Days, William Blake
A god which can accurately prophesy the future is an utterly powerless god and a powerless god is no more worthy of worship than a pebble.

Leaving aside debate about whether gods exist or not, and whether the absence of evidence for them is evidence of their absence, like it is for just about everything else, neither Christians nor Muslims seem to know what sort of god they believe in. They will often cite as 'proof' that their favourite holy book was divinely inspired by quoting some passage or other which can, usually at a stretch, be presented as some sort of prophesy of the future.

These 'prophecies' normally fall into three sort:
  1. Imaginary prophecies: Those they claim have been fulfilled, for which they normally have to ignore the context of the 'prophecy', make claims about history which are not born out by the facts, and/or stretch reason beyond breaking point to map the 'prophecy' onto real events. Prophets of these events never manage to foretell the exact year.
  2. Retrospective prophecies: 'Prophecies' written after the events they supposedly prophesied. A bit like prophesying what you ate for dinner yesterday or who won World War II
  3. 'Gunner be' prophecies: 'Prophecies' which have not actually been fulfilled, but we are assured are 'gunner be', at some point, and often "real soon... you'll see!"

Like the 'prophecies' of Nostradamus, Biblical and Koranic prophecies seem particularly good at predicting the past but are singularly inept at predicting the future. For example, Muslims will tell you that the Koran predicted all the scientific discoveries, yet they can never look in it to find out what the next discovery will be. As always, it's usefulness as a predictive tool seems to have ended last week.

But there is something which proponents of these prophesying gods don't seem to have worked out, despite having 2500-3000 or more years to think about the problem. You see, to prophesy the future you need to know not only the future, but everything leading up to that future, and nothing at all could change, or the future would be different and the prophecy would fail. This is no less true for a god than for a person or a computer. You can only prophesy the future if the future is absolutely fixed and unchangeable and that means the present is also fixed and unchangeable. A god which lived in a universe in which everything is fixed and unchangeable is a powerless god, indistinguishable from an absent one.

A universe with a fixed, unchangeable future is indistinguishable from a universe with no god in it.

I'll let former evangelical Christian Dan Barker, author of 'Losing Faith In Faith' and founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, say it far more eloquently than I ever could hope to in the transcription of a radio interview phone-in he did on a Christian radio show hosted by creationist loon, Jason Gastrich. It's a bit long but worth the read, as is the even longer transcript of the complete interview:

Dan: You're saying that there is a god that knows the future, and that this god is a personal being with free will who can make decisions, right?

Jason: Hmm . . . I'm sorry, I'm sorry, we're getting away from the question, but let's go ahead. Go ahead and tell me . .

Dan: Well, you're talking about prophecy, right?

Jason: I was talking about a specific prophecy, but let's talk about what you're saying. Go ahead.

Dan: Well, if this god exists . . .

Jason: Uh-huh.

Dan: . . . and if he knows the future, like you pretend he knows here, . . .

Jason: Right.

Dan: . . . that means that the set of future facts is fixed. It cannot be changed. If God knows it in advance, then the future is fixed and unchangeable. Otherwise, God wouldn't be omniscient. He wouldn't be able to predict the future.

Jason: Um-huh.

Dan: If the future is fixed, then that sets some limits on God's power. And also, how can a personal being with free will have any ability to make any decisions if the future is already fixed. God Himself cannot even make any decisions, because he can't do what he knows that he's not going to do. Therefore, if this kind of god exists, philosophically, this god is not a personal free being. He's more like a robot or something.

Jason: I think you jump from God knowing the future to the point where you asserted that God controls the actions, all the actions of human beings.

Dan: No, I'm talking about God's own actions, not human beings.

Jason: Ok.

Dan: I'm talking about God . . . If God knows what he's going to do . . .

Jason: Ok.

Dan: . . . tomorrow at twelve noon, right?

Jason: Uh-huh.

Dan: Then God can't change in the meantime what he's going to do between now and then. He knows it.

Jason: Well, I think there's an instance in Jonah, where God had told Jonah to tell Nineveh that Nineveh is going to be wiped out because of their sin. And then Nineveh decided to repent with weeping and fasting, and God decided to exercise his perfect mercy on them.

Dan: Yeah, but that was clearly conditional. That was a supposed conditional prophecy. I'm talking about these prophecies that are supposedly clear prophecies of something that will happen.

Jason: I don't know if that was conditional. In Jonah there's only four chapters, but um, as far as I could tell, it was God telling them judgement will come on you. And some people have said that looks like God has changed his mind, or changed. How could this happen with a changeless god? But in reality, he decided to use his perfect mercy instead of his judgement.

Dan: So, before he exercised his mercy, did he have one idea of what the future would be like, but after he exercised his mercy, he changed his mind and had a different idea of what the future would be like? In other words, was he not omniscient to begin with? Was the set of future facts changeable or fixed? [Do] you know what I'm saying? If it's changeable, then God doesn't know the future.

Jason: Why is that?

Dan: Because he doesn't know how the ball is going to bounce. He doesn't know. He's like you and me, right?

Jason: Um-huh.

Dan: So if God doesn't know the future, then he can't prophesy anything, because anything can happen between now and then. Do you see the philosophical problem here? He's either a free being that can make decisions openly, or else he knows a fixed future that cannot be changed. He can't have it both ways. He might be omniscient, in which case he's not omnipotent. Or he might be prescient, in which case he's not a free being, and he's not worthy of my worship if he's like a robot or a computer program or something.

Jason: Ok, I see what you're saying, I think. And um, I think that the rub is just because God doesn't step in and do the things that you do think he should do if he were to exist. That doesn't necessarily mean that he's not there, or not powerful or couldn't do something.

Dan: I'm not saying that at all. That wasn't my point. My point was that if your definition is right, then something's got to give. You have a mutually incompatible definition of a god: one who knows the future, and yet is also a free personal being. I'm not telling him what to do. If there's a God, he can do what he wants to. But I'm just saying that you have a problem with an incompatibility in your definition of what God is like. According to you, Ezekiel 38 tells, predicts a future which will happen, right?

Jason: Uh-huh. Right.

Dan: And there's no way that you or I, or even God can change that.

Jason: Um-huh.

Dan: Right? It's predicting something. And if God can't change that, then God has limits on his power and on his freedom.

Jason: Ok.

Dan: Therefore, he is something less than the being that you claim to worship.

Jason: Ok, well yeah, the argument that you're using is much more tied into what I said than you realize, because it's the same kind of argument that atheists have used before to say, "if God can't lie, if God can't steal, if God can't do evil. If he can't do these things, then we're not worshipping an omnipotent god." But um, it's just I think how much this argument stems from a lack of understanding.

Dan: I'm not saying that either, but -- I've heard atheists say that, and I disagree with it -- because if there is a god, he has a nature, right? And he would want to act in accordance with his nature, so I'm not saying that.

Jason: Right.

Dan: I know enough about theology and the Bible to know that this god that Christians worship has a particular nature that he usually acts in accordance with. Not always, but . . .

Jason: That doesn't mean that he's not omnipotent, it just means that he's not doing the things that you, or someone else, would see as a complete, powerful, all-powerful god.

Dan: Well, [Laughs] then it's not just omnipotence, but it's freedom. If, if . . . in order for you to make a decision . . Let's say you're going to make a choice about who-knows-what. Let's say you're going to have coffee or tea, or you're going to chose a mate, or whatever. In order to have freedom, or the illusion of freedom, you have to have at least more than one option available to you, each of which could be freely chosen or rejected, and there has to be a period of time during which there's an uncertainty during which you could change your mind, right?

Jason: Yeah, all humanly speaking you're correct, I think.

Dan: Yeah, and so that's the definition of "free will" and freedom.

Jason: Um-huh.

Dan: If there is a god who is a person, and [being a] person requires this freedom to make decisions, then this also applies to God. He also has to have the freedom during a period of uncertainty to be able to change his mind and to exercise mercy or justice or to change . . . Do you know what I mean? Otherwise, he's not a free being, right?

Jason: Hmm.

Dan: He has to have that period of potential, but . .

Jason: I think God has just bound Himself to the promises he has made to us. If you want to say that that makes him less omnipotent than some other god, then maybe you could say that.

Dan: I'm not saying [less] omnipotent. I'm saying less of a person, less of a free person. As a personality, he's more like a robot than . . He might be totally omnipotent, but he's not the kind of person that I would find admirable to worship as a person. He's more like this force of a huge computer program or something. Do you know what I'm saying? He's not a being. He's not a personal being if he knows the future. He can't be because he has no freedom, no choice, no period of potential to change his mind and be and to be merciful or warm or friendly. Do you know what I mean? He's not like you and me. He's some sort of a weird creature up there who's running things in a colder kind of impersonal way, and that's the kind of creature that I could not worship or respect.

Jason: But on a human level, it's possible to know the future and then, I mean, to an extent, and still be loving, or . . . Isn't it?

Dan: Well, none of us knows the future. We get lucky a lot.

Jason: Yeah, I just mean like I'm going to go to [laughs] to work today, or I'm going to do this, or I'm going to do that, or my kid's going to do this tonight . . .

Dan: Yeah, but on the way to work you still have the option, you probably wouldn't exercise it, but you could still change your mind and go somewhere else, right?

Jason: Yeah.

Dan: That's what makes you free.

Jason: Um-huh. Dan: But if you did not have that option, you wouldn't be free. Your hands would drive to work no matter what. You wouldn't be, you wouldn't have free will. You wouldn't . . .

Jason: I suppose it would give me, it's given me even more of a respect for God, realizing now, that he has laid down his omnipotence in order to give humans comfort by promising them things.

Dan: So he's not omnipotent, you just said?

Jason: Well he's surely omnipotent, but his type of omnipotence is different from the type of omnipotence that you want him to be, apparently.

Dan: I don't want him to be anything. I'm just trying to make sense of this Bible. I don't want God to be anything at all. If he exists, he can be whatever he wants to be. I mean, that's not up to me to decide. I'm trying to decide whether or not I think he, first of all, exists at all, and secondly, even if he did, if he is worthy of my admiration. Because I have the free will to choose, don't I?

Jason: Right.

Dan: I don't have to like him do I? But I don't have to respect him. You know, I could denounce him if I choose. That's part of my freedom, right? And so it's my choice whether or not I find this kind of a being worthy of my respect. And I find him unworthy of my respect. I mean, what's wrong with me exercising my judgement, based on moral intellectual principles, to say such a thing?

Jason: Ok.

See 'Barker Tears A New One' for a full transcription.

Love that different type of omnipotence, Jason!

So, as Dan Barker so patiently explained to the hapless Jason, "You have a mutually incompatible definition of a god: one who knows the future, and yet is also a free personal being." Not for the first time do we find religion requires it's believers to hold two or more mutually incompatible views simultaneously.

So, Christians and Muslims, and anyone else who has an omnipotent, omniscient god who makes accurate prophecies, how do you square that circle and have both an omnipotent, omniscient god who is bound irredeemably by his own inerrantly omniscient foresight and so is utterly powerless?

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Tuesday 24 July 2012

How Creationists Lie To One-another

There are few spectacles in the world of fraud quite so satisfying as watching two snake-oil salesmen arguing over who has the best scam, especially when one is complaining that the other has pinched all his lies and so shouldn't be trusted.

Anyone who has ever tried to engage a creationist in meaningful debate knows just how difficult that can be. It's as though the normal meaning of words like 'evidence', 'reason', 'logic', 'fact', 'science' and 'integrity' have been temporarily suspended and replaced with something resembling exactly the opposite.

If you've never done it, imagine playing a game of tennis with someone who demands the net be lowered to the ground whenever the ball is in their court, but wants it raised to an impossible height when in yours, and of course, the boundary lines can change at will, and points will be declared won without regard to the normal rules of the game, and normally just after you've served an ace or they've double-faulted yet again.

So, it was with some anticipation that I came across this little spat between two well-known creationist frauds over which 'arguments' should still be used and which were too embarrassing even for them. It dates from 2002.

Saturday 21 July 2012

No Faith In The Bible

Why was faith not good enough for the Bible's prophets?

Every single prophet or apostle of Jesus, when they bothered to explain why they believed in a god, quoted evidence. It seems they were never expected, and never expected themselves, to rely on faith alone.

Here's a random sample:

Thursday 19 July 2012

How Creationists Lie To Us - Karl Popper

"When you show the world you know you need to lie for your faith you show the world you know your faith is a lie".

What they say:

Thus the notion that evolution is a scientific theory while creation is nothing more than religious mysticism is blatantly false. This is being recognized more and more today, even by evolutionists themselves. Karl Popper, one of the world's leading philosophers of science, has stated that evolution is not a scientific theory but is a metaphysical research program. [My emphasis]

Duane Gish, Ph.D, Former Vice-president, Institute for Creation Research
The Nature of Science and of Theories on Origins

The truth:

And yet, the theory is invaluable. I do not see how, without it, our knowledge could have grown as it has done since Darwin. In trying to explain experiments with bacteria which become adapted to, say, penicillin, it is quite clear that we are greatly helped by the theory of natural selection. Although it is metaphysical, it sheds much light upon very concrete and very practical researches. It allows us to study adaptation to a new environment (such as a penicillin-infested environment) in a rational way: it suggests the existence of a mechanism of adaptation, and it allows us even to study in detail the mechanism at work. And it is the only theory so far which does all that.2

When speaking here of Darwinism, I shall speak always of today's theory – that is Darwin's own theory of natural selection supported by the Mendelian theory of heredity, by the theory of the mutation and recombination of genes in a gene pool, and by the decoded genetic code. This is an immensely impressive and powerful theory. The claim that it completely explains evolution is of course a bold claim, and very far from being established. All scientific theories are conjectures, even those that have successfully passed many severe and varied tests. The Mendelian underpinning of modern Darwinism has been well tested, and so has the theory of evolution which says that all terrestrial life has evolved from a few primitive unicellular organisms, possibly even from one single organism.

I still believe that natural selection works in this way as a research programme. Nevertheless, I have changed my mind about the testability and the logical status of the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation. My recantation may, I hope, contribute a little to the understanding of the status of natural selection.1,3

Karl Popper

  1. Miller, David. 1985. Popper Selections.
  2. Popper, Karl. 1976. Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography Glasgow: Fontana/Collins.
  3. Popper, Karl. 1978. Natural selection and the emergence of mind. Dialectica 32: 339-355.


One is tempted to ask why creation pseudo-scientists need to use these methods if they are so sure the facts support them, but the answer is probably too obvious.

Further reading:
Claim CA211.1 (The TalkOrigins Archive)

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How Creationists Lie To Us - The Paluxy Hoax

Paluxy River dinosaur tracks, Glen Rose, Texas

When you show the world you know you need to lie for your faith you show the world you know your faith is for fools who'll believe falsehoods.

What they say:

In the last ten or fifteen years, however, many scientists and laymen alike are waking up to the fact that much solid scientific evidence exists that contradicts evolutionary notions. One of the most shattering pieces of evidence comes from the Paluxy River basin in central Texas, near the town of Glen Rose, where fossilized tracks of man and dinosaur appear together.

John D. Morris, Ph.D., President, Institute for Creation Research.

The truth:

My grandfather was a very good sculptor... During the 1930s and the Depression, Glen Rose residents made money by distilling moonshine and selling dinosaur fossils. Each fossil brought $15 to $30. When the supply ran low, George Adams just carved more, some with human footprints thrown in.... My dad [Weldon Eakin] and my grandfather decided one day — I don’t know if it was to make money, or what — to start carving man tracks alongside the dinosaur tracks. They poured acid to make the fossils look like aged limestone. They showed one "all over town" until they heard that a researcher from the Smithsonian Institution wanted to see the track. That worried my grandfather because he didn’t want anybody ever passing it off as real, so he and Daddy took it out and buried it.

Zana Douglas
Granddaughter of George Adams, discoverer of the Paluxy River dinosaur tracks
Glen Rose, Texas.
Interviewed by Bud Kennedy, Fortworth Star-Telegram

It's not nice to laugh at the people who are fooled by creation pseudo-scientists, but you may want to refer them to this when they accuse science of being fooled by hoaxes like Piltdown.

Ungodly Complexity

Which of these are designed and which are natural?
You see, the thing about good design is its simplicity.

Something well designed is as simple as it's possible to be whilst still performing the function it was designed to perform. It would be possible to make spear points out of something other than flint - metals, bone, even wood - but you would be hard-pressed to come up with a better shape than those made by neolithic people. The humble garden dibber is hard to better for design. You can take a decent knife or hand-axe to any hedge and probably find a piece of wood which you can make a decent dibber from in a few minutes.

Both the spear point and the dibber are perfectly designed for a purpose and the purpose is obvious. There are no moving parts and minimal maintenance needed.

And this, of course, is how we can, at a glance, tell they were intelligently designed. Their lack of unnecessary complexity gives that away.

Compare that to the design of the human body (or any other living organism, for that matter). The human body is immensely complex compared to a spear point or a dibber.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Foxing Creationists.

Domesticated 'silver', i.e. melanistic, red fox
Here's a fascinating story which gives an insight into how man may have domesticated wolves and which illustrates a basic principle of evolution - how apparently unrelated characteristics can be linked so that, with the right pressure, a feature evolves for no obvious reason, dragged along with by the evolution of something else, and sometimes unavoidably.

Look at this picture on the right. Is it a dog? A wolf, maybe?

Well, no. It's a fox, Vulpes vulpes.

That's right. That uneatable sentient 'little gentleman in a red jacket' that unspeakable people enjoy pursuing to exhaustion then watching being killed by being torn apart in a tug-o'-war between dogs. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that. I think people who enjoy the suffering of a sentient animal are amongst the lowest forms of human life).

Foxes come in a rare 'siver' (actually, melanistic) form which was prized for its fur, especially in Russia and China. It was in Russia, during the Soviet era, that a program was started to domesticate the silver fox and breed it for its fur.

This video tells the story:

Sunday 15 July 2012

Evolution At Your Fingertips

If you want to understand evolution and the appearance of design, you have the answer at your finger-tips. Understood the right way it will tell you why turtles still breathe air and mammals don't lay eggs.

The history of the qwerty keyboard - almost certainly the one you are using to access this article, and the one I'm using to write it with - is great example of a design which becomes fixed for reasons which have nothing to do with why it is the way it is in the first place. But you will never be able to work out why that keyboard has its basic layout by examining your computer or smart phone, no matter how detailed your examination is or how completely you understand it.

Understanding why this is so helps understand how groups of species, whether families, phyla, orders, or kingdoms - whatever level - get saddled with certain unchangeable basic body plans. The history of the typewriter can he read in this Wikipedia article and of the qwerty keyboard in this one.

Briefly, typewriters were designed for producing a small number of written copies quickly, unlike printing which used type to produce a large number of copies and which needed the type to be set in blocks ready to go into a printing press. You might think that there would be some obvious logic in the way the keys are arranged on the keyboard and yet this appears to be almost random. However, there is, or rather was a logic, though not an obvious one.

Typewriters work by moving the paper past a fixed position where the metal type, mounted on a hammer, and operated by levers fixed to keys, can strike an inked ribbon, which also moves past the print position. The problem is that each piece of typeface has to move into position, hit the ribbon with enough force to transfer the ink to the paper, and clear the way for the next piece of typeface. Typing at 60 words a minute, with an average of five characters per word, a typewriter must cope with five hits per second. This creates a potential for jamming which increases as the typing speed of the user increases and especially if the user happens to hit two keys together.

One solution would have been to lock the other keys as soon as one was pressed but, apart from the hugely complicated engineering this would have needed, it would have slowed typing down to such an extent that any advantage in using a type-writer in the first place would have been mostly lost.

Saturday 14 July 2012

Another Ten Commandments

Continuing the Judeo-Christian story of the 'Ten Commandments'...

In What The 'Ten Commandments' Really Tell Us we saw how the story was almost certainly an attempt to create a convenient 'history' or at least to rewrite it by the winners which had then been grafted onto another invented origin myth.

Here we see yet another attempt to stitch another set of rules into the same narrative. Curiously too, these are the only 'ten commandments' the Bible refers to. Maybe they'll be more useful as the basis of law and morality for a civilised nation than the earlier lot.

We'll take a look a bit later but first a little background.

As we saw in What The 'Ten Commandments' Really Tell Us, the story went that when Moses turned his back on the Israelites, despite all the things they supposedly saw Yahweh do, and despite the fact that they heard him (they weren't allowed to look for some reason) giving out some rules from the top of Mount Sinai, they decided to follow Aaron's new religion. Apparently, Aaron, despite actually going with Moses to see Yahweh on top of Mount Sinai, has set up a new religion based on worshipping a golden calf made out of the women's ear-rings, to which the Israelites had transferred their loyalty (seriously!).

This takeover bid had happened when Moses was away talking to Yahweh on top of a mountain, during which Yahweh had allegedly written the commandments he had earlier announced, on some stone tablets.

Now, Yahweh had noticed this going on and told Moses he was really going to show those Israelites a thing or two, having lost his rag with them.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

Friday 13 July 2012

What The Ten Commandments Really Tell Us

In this post I'll look at the story of the so-called 'Ten Commandments' to see how well or badly the Bible's authors managed to connect them with their god and so give them the weight of divine authority. It supposedly took place during the mythical escape from Egypt of a tribe of slaves. What we find is perhaps not what the authors intended us to find and certainly not what today's priesthood would like us to see. What we see is just how radically history was re-written, by whom and why.

There is no extra-biblical historical or archaeological evidence for this Israeli origin myth but that's another matter. Leaving that aside, let's look at what the Bible has to say and see what sense can be made of it, if any.

Firstly, there are strong clues about the beliefs of the person or people who were writing this stuff, and they go some way to explain some of the 'Commandments'. Before we get to the tale proper, we have this interesting little snippet:

And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. And Jethro said, Blessed be the Lord, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.

Exodus 18:9-11

This is said by Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, 'the priest of Midian' (Exodus 18:1) who was presumably wise in these matters, so we can be fairly sure that the Hebrews were polytheistic and just saw Yahweh as maybe the greatest god, but certainly not the only one on offer. It's rather touching that Moses has to be reassured by his father-in-law that he has chosen his god wisely.

Jethro had happened along to offer Moses some advice, which Moses took. Basically, Jethro told Moses he was doing too much and was going to wear himself out if he didn't take things a bit easier. What he needed was a set of rules, and people to enforce these rules then he wouldn't have to make all the decisions, so why not ask Yahweh for some ideas.

And Moses' father-in-law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.

Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.

Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.

If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace. So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said.

Exodus 18:17-24

Moses had a direct line to Yahweh and talked to him on almost a daily basis, yet turned to his father-in-law for advice... Hmmm...

And what does his father advise him to do? Institute democratic, consensual government? Not a bit of it; this is to be a highly centralised, autocratic state where authority spreads downwards from the high priest, who claims to have been appointed by Yahweh himself!

Moving swiftly on...

What Is It With The Ten Commandments?

To hear Christians talking about the 'Ten Commandments' you would think they imagine they form some sort of framework for morality and law and the foundations of Western civilisation. Of course, apart from a few basic rules which are common to just about all societies, and general ideas of good neighbourliness which no urbanised society could succeed without, there is almost nothing in them.

They read more like the diktat of some insecure, petulant little despot who feels he needs to reinforce his authority.

The full lists (there are two slightly different ones in the Bible - God seems to have had a rethink on one of them later) are:

Wednesday 11 July 2012

The Darwin Creationist Twit Award 2012

The coveted Darwin Creationist Twit Award is awarded annually for the Twitter tweet by a creationist which, by it's utter ignorant stupidity, is judged to have done most to reduce the incidence of the creationist meme in the human meme pool, so improving the overall fitness of human culture.

Judging will be by popular vote early in October 2012. If no clear winner, there will be a vote off of the top two or three contenders.

Add your candidate tweets in the comment section. They'll go into the body of the blog in due course.

Please supply
  • Your name or Twitter user name
  • User name of creationist tweeter
  • Date and time of tweet
  • The tweet
  • A sentence or two in support of your submission (optional).
Self-promotion will not be accepted (well, it IS about creationists so some of them might think nomination is an achievement).

Closing date: 10th October 2012

Last year's worthy candidates may be enjoyed here: Darwin Creationist Award 2011

2012 Growing candidate list:
EntryDetailsCandidate Tweet
1 Candidate: @BassimaAlamii

11 July 2012 23:39
RT @MsGrumpy: RT@BassimaAlami: @MsGrumpy @rnistuk u guys are proving YOUR uneducated. I'm gaining the best education. Thanks to God.

Sumitted by: @RosaRibicondior

This candidate has blocked me. If anyone can supply an image of the original, please tweet me a copy @RosaRibicondior
2 Candidate: @fxmikey

28 June 2012 1238
Why is woman the weaker sex (physically) than men? Why should it be like this? Refutes Evolution!! #atheist #atheism #atheists

Submitted by: @logicalnarwhal

Supporting statement: This was the icing on the cake of one of the more ludicrous twitter accounts. It resulted in a very educational, as i'm sure you can imagine, chat with fxmikey and yecistruescience (or whatever he calls himself these days)... Joy.
3 Candidate: @SolasCpc

7 July 2012 20:18
@anarchic_teapot @CV4UK @drpaulmorgan Try reading the BIble.Which says that God is eternal, outwith time etc.Read before you assert.

Submitted by: @drpaulmorgan
4 Candidate: @SolasCpc

7 July 2012 09:31
@drpaulmorgan @KeesEngels @CV4UK @anarchic_teapot Try again.He is self-existent. Not dependent on universe.

Submitted by: @drpaulmorgan
5 Candidate: @SolasCpc

7 July 2012 09:08
@drpaulmorgan @Crumbsm8 @anarchic_teapot @CV4UKSomething is eternal.We say God - you say matter or nothing.God is more rational.

Submitted by: @drpaulmorgan
6Candidate: @Absird

14 July 2012 10:33
@RosaRubicondior Incorrect. Many interpret the fact that the universe is shaped like an atom as (cont) tl.gd/iapb9r

(@RosaRubicondior Incorrect. Many interpret the fact that the universe is shaped like an atom as evidence of God. You see it as mere probability. I can't prove something to you that you don't want to believe)

Submtted by: @RosaRubicondior
7 Candidate: @Absird

14 July 2012 22:50
@VorianK @RosaRubicondior which? A galaxy or Boron? twitter.com/Absird/status/…

Submitted by: @RosaRubicondior

8 Candidate: @Absird

15 July 2012 01:05
@RosaRubicondior You sir male yourself appear foolish

Submitted by: @RosaRubicondior
9 Candidate: @ConversionRadio

17 July 2012 19:07

Darwin earned his living by oppressing black people. @RosaRubicondior

Submitted by: @RosaRubicondior
10 Candidate: @loadsofducks

17 July 2012 11:11

I find it strange how people give evolution an intelligence as if it decides to grow wings because it decided to fly

Submitted by: 'Wayne'

(@loadsofducks may be a troll account. Seems to have re-surfaced after deleting an earlier account.)

11 Candidate: @loadsofducks

17 July 2012 11:06

@scouse_dot but how do you grow an ear if you don't know there is anything to hear?

Submitted by: 'Wayne'

(@loadsofducks may be a troll account. Seems to have re-surfaced after deleting an earlier account.)

12 Candidate: @JesusEbook

20 July 2012 19:34

@GoldenGoonaz @rosarubicondior There is a universal dating system. #JESUS is so unique that time is reckoned BEFORE and AFTER Him 20-07-2012

Submitted by: @rosarubicondior
13Candidate: @txlnghrns80

21 July 2012 15:58

@RosaRubicondior @lavoisier_gthu so did you "evolve" from a monkey?And if so why didn't all monkeys evolve into people? #NoLiesNeeded

Submitted by: @RosaRubicondior
14 Candidate: @AndrewRNixon

22 July 2012 20:18

@RosaRubicondior You are a temporary cosmic accident, your life is valueless, you have no future - what are you afraid of? #atheism #Honesty

Submitted by:@RosaRubicondior

15Candidate: @MMMikeA

02 August 2012

@rosarubicondior Ark of the Covenant and the Commandment tablets, for two. And show me some respect and answer my Q: Science or religion?

Submitted by: @RosaRubicondior

Tweeted after repetitive requests to provide evidence for his god which he claimed to have. Apparently this may be seen in Ethiopia. It almost goes without saying that he could not explain how this evidence was authenticated and by whom, and found an excuse to break of the conversation shortly afterwards.
16Candidate: @Yiosue (Joshua Mattocks)

06 August 2012 22:05

@stooshie @j_mills116 Physical evidence of Noah's ark has been found in Turkey. Great vacation spot.

(@yiosue @j_mills116 Totally debunked. Even if that were true there wouldn't be enough room for the food for the 14 pandas alone.)

@stooshie @j_mills116 Lost their appetite in awe.

Submitted by: @@stooshie

(A couple of tweets taken together make this an outstanding candidate)

17Candidate: @QahtaniAziz

18 August 2012 10:53

In order to sense #motion, you must be away from the moving object #Soul #Life #Death #People #Atheist

Submitted by: @RosaRubicondior

(This must explain why we know a vehicle we are in is accelerating/decelerating then)
18Candidate: @Women_Of_Jannah

01 September 2012 16:13

You believe that we evolved from fish/ape and you think I'm insane! Don't make me laugh!!! #Atheist

Submitted By: @RosaRubicondior

No comment could give any more support to this candidate that the tweet itself hasn't already provided.
19Candidate: @DebunkEvolution

08 October 2012 17:58

#Evolution is obviously nonsense. Does air make creatures invent wings? LOL! http://t.co/IbRS4psp #science #atheism #truth #Jesus #fact

Submitted by: @RosaRubicondior

Two things to note here:
  1. The total lack of any understanding of what evolution is or how it works, which, with the wealth of information available, can only be wilful or feigned.
  2. The lack of confidence necessitating the inclusion of the magic hashtag '#fact' which Creationists believe turns a doubtful claim into a real fact.
No link to the actual tweet as @DebunkEvolution is so confident in his/her claims that his/her account is protected. Instead we'll have to make do with a screen clip from my Tweetdeck.
20Candidate: @jtrubo

12 October 2012 15:39

athiest u are such idiots. u believe intellgent desine by monkys but notGod ??

Submitted by: @Omnisvalidus

Nice line in spelling for someone who feels confident to pronounce an entire body of well-established science wrong and scientists idiotic.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Atheism - The Informed Choice.

How can belief be a choice?

Imagine you're crossing a road and a speeding car comes round the corner towards you. Do you have a choice whether to believe in it? Of course, you may believe you have some power over reality; that somehow it's obliged to conform to your requirements. It might be possible to persuade yourself that you can ignore it, but normally, such people wouldn't be out without responsible adult supervision. You might well have a choice whether to act on the belief or not, and to carry on as though there isn't a car hurtling towards you, but reality is likely to intervene in that delusion. Perhaps too you can choose to believe you're not really lying in the road with broken bones, if you still have the capability of consciously deluding yourself. But you're not disbelieving; you're simply refusing to accept a reality you know exists, otherwise how could you choose to ignore it?

Sunday 8 July 2012

Only A Theory

No one could ever accuse creation pseudo-scientists of not knowing their market or failing to follow the money.

"Evolution is only a theory" is one of their favourite slogans, aimed, as it invariably is, at a scientifically illiterate audience to whom they are selling their latest book or to whom they are pushing an extreme right-wing, anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian theocratic political agenda disguised as a moral crusade and intended to keep on side those whom they plan to keep at the bottom of the social peck-order.

It is intended to mislead by playing on the different meanings of the word 'theory' as used by science and by a lay person respectively. It is normally followed by ' - a guess with no supporting evidence', 'not a fact', or 'which has not been proved', all of which intentionally reinforce the misinformation with disinformation. In common parlance, lies.

The Theory of Evolution (which explains the fact of evolution) is of course, as has been repeatedly said, no less a scientific theory than is the Theory of Gravity which explains the fact of gravity. In fact, in the early part of the 20th century, Isaac Newton's Theory of Gravity was overthrown by Einsteinian Relativity. But never-the-less, the Theory of Gravity remains 'just' a theory with parts still waiting to be proven. No sane person would doubt gravity because the current theory has a few small gaps, yet the Theory of Evolution is actually more satisfactory than is the Theory of Gravity.

I came across this article on the superb Friends of Charles Darwin website. I'll let its intelligent designer, Richard Carter do the talking:
As with gravity, the effects of Darwinian evolution are all around us. We see them in the pigeons in our streets, the spiders in our bathtubs, and the opposable thumbs on our hands. Yet most of us hardly give them a second's thought. And, as with gravity, precocious young whippersnappers have amended and improved Darwin's original theory, but its original essence is still very recognisable in the latest thinking.

Nature red in beak and claw:
A sparrowhawk eating a sparrow
in my garden last April.
© Richard Carter
But here the comparison begins to break down. Where Darwinian evolution differs from Newtonian (and, indeed, Einsteinian) gravitation, for the time-being at least, is that we do not yet have an observable mechanism for gravity. What actually makes gravity work? Yes, physicists can hypothesise about gravitons and gravitational waves as much as they like, but they have not yet been able to detect either of them in the laboratory (and I will surely never be able to detect them in my bedroom).

Darwinian evolution, on the other hand, certainly does have observable mechanisms driving it: variations amongst the individuals of a species, heredity and—Darwin's big idea—Natural Selection (capital 'N', capital 'S'). We can see all of these mechanisms at work on a daily basis, if we take the trouble to look. We can see them in our streets and gardens, on our bird feeders, and in the cobwebs on our bedroom ceilings. Everywhere we care look, Nature is still red in tooth an claw.

Darwinian evolution does not rely on mysterious, unobservable particles or waves; its mechanisms are in action all around us in our everyday world. Which is why, although Newtonian gravitation has a certain attraction, it seems to me, Darwinian evolution is, in this way at least, a far more satisfactory theory.

Of course this was written before the recent announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN, which has gone some way to solving one of the mysteries in the Theory of Gravity by explaining where mass comes from, but the evidence for gravitons or gravity waves is still awaited. They remain 'just a theory'.

Strange then that creationist pseudo-scientists are never found trying to get away with casting doubt on the Theory of Gravity when they don't even need to tell lies; they could just point out the parts which are unproven and to the gaps in the theory which science has not yet closed and then rely on the parochial ignorance of their target audience to conclude that it must have been the locally popular god who did it.

Why don't they do so?

Because they would never get away with it. No sane person would dispute the existence of gravity, so casting doubt on the current scientific theory which explains it would do nothing to convince people that they can fly or jump off high buildings with impunity.

Besides, there is no claim from ancient mythology that gravity was magically created by a magic man who will cause unimaginably nasty things to happen to you if you don't do what the theologians tell you to do, believe what they tell you to believe, vote for those whom they tell you to vote for, make generous donations to those who promulgate these lies and misinformation, and buy their books.

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