Monday, January 22, 2007

"Flat Earth" Myth

I recently discovered that some Baylor biology professors were having their students read papers and articles where evolutionists put forth the analogy between the flat earth theory and intelligent design. The idea is that flat earth theory is not scientific--even though Christians once believed it for theological reasons, just like intelligent design is not scientific--even though Christians believe it for theological reasons. (Wait...I thought evolutionists didn't like analogies!)

Bill Dembski blogged about this at Uncommon Descent a while back and I posted on this at Overwhelming Evidence previously as well. But because this issue keeps coming back, I will post on it again. Here is the truth about the "Flat Earth" story:

THE FLAT EARTH MYTH

“The earth isn’t flat - end of story.” So says Case Western Reserve University physicist Lawrence Krauss, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “We don’t have to have classes or be sensitive to the issues of those who believe that, because they’re wrong.”

Defenders of Darwinian evolution sometimes compare their critics to believers in a flat earth. According to the standard story, Christians used to believe for theological reasons that the earth is flat. When modern science demonstrated that the earth is actually a sphere, most Christians acknowledged their mistake, but a few continue to persist in their outmoded belief. Since modern science has likewise demonstrated the truth of Darwinian evolution (so the story goes), its critics are like people who still believe in a flat earth.

But the story is false. It began as fiction, and it was elevated to a historical claim by late-19th century Darwinists who used it as a weapon to ridicule Christians.

The spherical shape of the earth was known to the ancient Greeks, who even made some decent estimates of its circumference. Christian theologians likewise knew that the earth was a sphere. The only two who are known to have advocated a flat earth were a 4th-century heretic, Lactantius, and an obscure 6th-century writer, Cosmas Indicopleustes. [These were really second stringers. The leading theological lights of that period were Origen, Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers, and Augustine — none of these thought the earth was flat.]

A major promulgator of the flat earth myth was the 19th-century American writer Washington Irving. In his fictional History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828), Irving wrote that flat-earth churchmen had opposed Columbus on the grounds that he would fall off the edge of the earth if he tried to sail across the Atlantic. In actuality, Columbus had been opposed by people who not only knew the earth was a sphere, but also had a pretty good idea of how big it was - but who knew nothing of the Americas and thus thought a voyage to the Far East would take too long and cost too much.

The flat earth remained clearly in the realm of fiction until after Darwin published his Origin of Species in 1859. Two of Darwin’s followers then elevated it to a historical claim in books defending Darwinism and attacking Christianity: John Draper’s The History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (1874), and Andrew Dickson White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896).

So defenders of Darwinism who ridicule their critics for being like believers in a flat earth are being misled by a myth that Darwinists themselves helped to create.

************

For an objective and very readable account of the flat earth myth, see Jeffrey Burton Russell (Professor of History, University of California at Santa Barbara), Inventing the Flat Earth (New York: Praeger, 1991).

Saturday, January 20, 2007

[Off Topic] My Apology

Dear friends,

In 2004, as predictions for the 2008 presidential election were being made and the name "Hillary Rodham Clinton" was being thrown around, I predicted that she would not run for president. As 2005 and then 2006 rolled by, I made the same prediction for the up and rising star of the Democrat Party: Senator Barack Obama.

For Senator Obama, the landscape of America was not enough to support him into the White House. By 2008, he would have been a senator for a mere 4 years (less than Senator John Edwards served when he ran in 2004). In addition, I didn't feel that the South was ready to elect a minority president. This was not to say that America wouldn't or shouldn't elect a minority as president (I, myself, am a minority), but rather, the South wasn't ready to do so (something that could be counted as a fault).

For Senator Clinton, the landscape in America was also not fitting for her presidential bid. Many voters still recall (not fondly) the days when it appeared as if she ran her husband's presidency. In addition, the South also didn't seem ready to elect a woman president. For that matter, women didn't seem ready to elect a woman president.

Running for president does not mean one will win and my analysis of the landscape of America may still hold true. However, I felt that Senators Obama and Clinton (and I still feel this way) were brilliant and understood the nation's voters well. I felt that for their own political good, they would choose not to run for office.

Given, the 2006 mid-term elections were good for the Democrats (winning both houses of Congress) and can often give a "high" to the party that wins. I didn't think, however, that those elections would change their mind about running for president. From the beginning, I promised to be the first to apologize and admit my error if Clinton and Obama decided to run for president.

Today, I am apologizing for my error in calling the candidates of this next presidential election. A few days ago, Senator Obama opened his exploratory committee and today, Senator Clinton declared her candidacy for president. This, no doubt, came as a surprise to me, but true to my word, I am issuing my admittance of error.

I have made many solid predictions of this sort in the past and I hope I will continue to do so. This simply wasn't one of them.

Thank you and God bless you all.

Sincerely,
Samuel Chen

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"Incompetent Design"- All Hail the Church of Darwin!

Last April, while attending an intelligent design conference, a friend gave me a copy of this song, "Incompetent Design," which is sung to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Geologist Donald Wise (not to be confused with Kurt Wise) led some 300 professionals at the 2005 meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in singing the song during his presentation.

A rendition of the song "Incompetent Design" (though not being sung at the GSA) can be found here.
An interview with Donald Wise about the song and the 2005 GSA conference can be found here.
The abstract Wise presented at the 2005 GSA conference can be found below:

INTELLIGENT (INCOMPETENT ?) DESIGN VERSUS EVOLUTION: NEW TACTICS FOR SCIENCE

WISE, Donald U., Geosciences, Univ of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, dwise@geo.umass.edu

Recognition is long overdue by the scientific community that creationism/ intelligent design is a well-organized, very effective political movement attempting to strike at the very heart of Science itself. Traditional methods of polite debate need to be replaced with rough and tumble political rules. (1) Don't waste time defending your position. (2) Focus on a few weak points of the opposition. (3) KISS (Keep it simple, stupid). (4) Stick to irrefutable facts with obvious relation to evolution and close relationship to individual voters. (Yes, voters are our real audience.) (5) Relentlessly repeat a few critical soundbites.

The courts have defined Creationism as religion so Science's past battles were commonly seen as attacks on sacred cows. Now ID has freed Science from these constraints by arguing very narrowly that intelligence exists in nature's designs but makes no mention of theological implications. Thus, Science need only show lack of intelligence in nature's designs, the human frame being a prime example.

One's frame is certainly close enough to the individual voter and contains obvious design defects easily explained by evolution but embarrassing for IDers. (1) Our pelvis slopes forward for knuckle dragging like all the great apes. Only by an extremely sharp bend of our spine can we stand erect: an evolutionary artifact or a design weakness obvious to any first-year engineering student? (2) Our mouths have too many teeth: either the result of an evolutionarily flattened mammalian muzzle or a design plan that couldn't count accurately above twenty? (3) Our facial bones are squashed by an expanded brain case to produce a sinus drainage system that would embarrass the local plumber: evolution or just plain stupid design?

Branding ID as Incompetent Design involves both humor and grit but avoids direct insult to the opposition, a mistake to be avoided in any political campaign. All the tools of political campaigns should be used: slogans, songs, bumper stickers ("Human skeletal errors: Incompetent Design or Evolution ?"), IDers will attempt to take us off-message with debates on origins of life, thermodynamics, etc., but instead we must continue to pound simple themes of obvious design failures. Science can win this battle only if we recognize this is not a Sunday school debating match but a deadly serious political contest.

From: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 37, No. 7, p. 195


It is ironic, given the song and the tune to which it is sung, that both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on February 12th. And it is more ironic that a newspaper column some time ago argued that Darwin should be celebrated more than Lincoln because Lincoln only freed a few slaves but Darwin has freed our minds. I'm not sure that even my southern friends would agree with that.

Monday, January 15, 2007

[Off Topic] Forget the ID Game...These are Funnier


This may just beat out the ID game mentioned in my last post (on the level of hilariousness). A good friend introduced me to the game "Mega Church" (on the left) where, as she said, I could beome the next Joel Osteen. In a bookstore the other day, I came across Mr. Osteen's response--his own game, based upon his best-selling book, Your Best Life Now. All this is just too amusing.

For "Mega Church," go here and for "Your Best Life Now" go here.

ID--the Board Game


Somebody get me this for my birthday or Christmas, this is just too funny. Go here for more information. (And yes, I was joking about the birthday/Christmas part).

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Plantinga Reviews Dawkins

The great Notre Dame philosopher Alvin Plantinga has recently released his review of Richard Dawkin's newest book, The God Delusion. Here is an exert from Plantinga's review:

Now despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy, Dawkins is not a philosopher (he’s a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside) many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class. This, combined with the arrogant, smarter-than-thou (‘thou’ being believers in God) tone of the book can be annoying. I shall put irritation aside, however and do my best to take Dawkins’ main argument seriously.

Dawkins' book makes you wonder about all the times we've heard that science should be completely set apart from other disciplines. If we really took this advice and drew such lines dividing the disciplines, then why is Dawkins (a scientist) writing a philosophy book? That aside, the book made many poor arguments and, despite its best-selling status, is only worth reading to understand Dawkins' thought process.

As for Alvin Plantinga, he is highly regarded as one of the top philosophers history has even seen. His areas of focus are epistemology and philosophy of religion and it has been said of him that he is the greatest philosopher of religion since Gottfried Leibniz and possibly even since Thomas Aquinas.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Why Does Richard Dawkins Care About Souls?

A short while ago, the self-declared "Rational Response Squad" began a new campaign called the "Blasphemy Challenge." The Bible states that the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29) and while what this really means is debated among Christian circles today, the "Rational Response Squad" has the answer for us (of course they do, they are rational, after all!). The Blasphemy Challenge is asking people to videotape themselves denying the existence of the Holy Spirit and upload the tapes to YouTube. Participants receive a free copy of the video The God Who Wasn't There.

While this is disturbing in its own right, it becomes more interesting with an apparent endorsement from prominent evolutionist Dr. Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, who posted news about the challenge on his website, is the author of many books, including his latest, The God Delusion. He is an outspoken atheist and evolutionist and join others such as Daniel Dennett and E.O. Wilson is arguing evolution as evidence against the existence of God.

This raises a few questions. First, if Dawkins, Dennett, and Wilson are correct, then what does that say about Eugenie Scott, Robert Pennock, Kenneth Miller, and all those evolutionists who have been arguing the co-existence of religion (especially Christianity) and evolution and also that evolution has no investment in religion? Second, as an academic, what is Dawkins' investment in the souls of humans and why is he so active in promoting their condemnation?

The Blasphemy Challenge's support from Richard Dawkins now seemingly establishes the tie (potentially strong tie) between evolution and religion.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cobb County Case Dropped

The case that was developing in Cobb County, Georgia over a sticker placed in biology textbooks (reminding students that evolution was not a fact and asking students to keep an open mind and critically analyze all information) has now ended.

The sticker in question was originally ruled unconstitutional by a district court, but that ruling was later thrown out by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the case was sent back to the lower court. (See my previous post here). However, the Cobb County School Board recently decided to drop the case. They did maintain, however, that the disclaimers were constitutional.