Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah

Christianity Today's Stan Guthrie tells us about the cool new summer camps for young atheists:

While tens of thousands of kids head out to Christian camps, Camp Quest is offering an alternative for those who take their summer recreation without God. About 150 young people attend Camp Quest programs in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, California, and Ontario, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.

The founder, Edwin Kagin, is legal director for the group American Atheists. He said the atheist camp was founded after the Boy Scouts barred atheists and gays from leadership roles during the 1990s. "We wanted a camp not to preach there is no God," said Kagin, "but as a place where children could learn it's OK not to believe in God."

The Tribune interviewed several young campers in Ohio about their beliefs, or lack thereof. I don't think Christians have a lot to worry about. Here is a sampling:

"[Sophia] Riehemann notes that a secular perspective takes away childhood joys other kids have, such as Christmas. But that doesn't bother her. 'They have Santa Claus,' she said, 'and we have Isaac Newton.'"

Actually, Sophia, I hate to break this to you, but you have Santa Claus, and we have Isaac Newton.

Then there is Allison Page, who is described as a 9-year-old only child. Reflecting on the biblical story of Cain and Abel, Allison opines, "It just doesn't make sense. A brother wouldn't kill his brother."

Ah, the innocence of children. Just wait until you have siblings, Allison.

I wonder why parents would send their children to such a camp. Are they afraid that unless they innoculate their children against the disease of religious belief that their children will grow up to think it more reasonable and plausible than atheism? And who's telling these kids that it's not okay to disbelieve?

I wonder, too, about what sorts of activities the children engage in during their outings. Perhaps there are campfire discussions about why the youngsters' life doesn't have to have meaning in order to be meaningful and how they can be moral even though goodness doesn't exist. Maybe the young atheists are instructed by their counsellors on how human beings can still have dignity and worth even though they're nothing but sacks of blood, bone and excrement. Or perhaps there's a session on how to make up human rights when there really is nothing upon which to base them. This session is probably combined with one that explores how the universe emerged out of nothing all by itself since the two ideas are so similar.

Anyway, the camp sounds like enormous fun, and I'm sure the tykes come home excited about facing the world as atheists.


Morphing Myth into Truth

Bruce Chapman catches The New York Times in a bit of a fib about the power of Darwinian evolution to accomplish its alleged miracles:

On June 26 The New York Times ran an article by Douglas H. Erwin, senior scientist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, in which he stated as demonstrated fact the power of natural selection to create the eye. We now can see (forgive the pun) that natural selection "is the primary agent in shaping new adaptations."

His example? "Computer simulations," he declares, "have shown how selection can produce a complex eye from a simple eyespot in just a few hundred thousand years."

Really, Dr. Erwin? Where is your proof of this important fact? What computer simulations, published where and when and by whom? Just a citation or two will do.

One also might scoff at the exaggerated faith shown computer simulations in general, since they frequently cannot even predict next week's weather accurately. But leave that topic alone for now. Let's just have the evidence of published computer simulations referred to by Dr. Erwin.

One suspects that the Erwin claim is based on Dan Nilsson & Susan Pelger's study, "A Pessimistic Estimate of the Time Required for an Eye to Evolve,".... However, as Dr. David Berlinski pointed out a few years ago in Commentary, that paper contains no computer simulation whatsoever, a point obvious to anyone reading it and confirmed in writing by its senior author. It was Richard Dawkins who conveyed the widespread impression to the contrary, both in River out of Eden (1995) and The New Statesman of July 16, 1995. The thesis that there exists a computer simulation for the development of the eye is an urban myth that has built upon Dawkins' uncorrected error.

Details may be found in Volume 115, Number 4 of Commentary, April 2003, under the title "A Scientific Scandal."

The New York Times should retract Dr. Erwin's claim or substantiate it. So should Dr. Erwin. This isn't hard to research and the reply should not be fudged with the name-calling and hand waving that has become standard Darwinist dialogue. Either there are actual computer simulations that back the Dawkins/Erwin/New York Times assertion about evolution of the eye by natural selection, or there are not.

If a myth is repeated often enough, the Freudians have taught us, it soon becomes an accepted truth, even if it's false. But setting aside the lack of veracity to the claim that their are computer simulations that show the development of an eye from a simple eyespot, the even bigger problem, it seems to me, is that even if such simulations existed they would prove nothing about the power of undirected, purposeless, unintelligent, mechanistic forces to produce a structure like the eye.

A computer simulation is itself the product of an intelligent mind acting purposefully with a preconceived goal and purpose. If a computer can simulate the production of an eye, all that demonstrates is that an intelligence is capable of designing a complex organ. It demonstrates nothing about whether such an organ can result from blind natural processes.


Who Knows?

Amidst all the talk of global warming one question that needs to be asked more often is, if the planet warms would that be necessarily bad? If so, why?

Indeed, much evidence shows that the earth was significantly warmer in the past than it is now. If a warming panet should make the equatorial regions uninhabitable it may open up vast areas in Canada, Siberia, and Greenland to human habitation and agriculture. It may also increase rainfall and increase food production in other, currently more arid, lands. Who knows?

It's interesting that Al Gore, who famously screamed that George Bush had "played on our fears," is doing precisely that with his film An Inconvenient Truth. The earth may be warming, or it may not be. If it is warming it may be due to human activity, or it may not be, and if it's warming, whether due to human activity or solar fluctuations, the temperature rise may on balance be a good thing, or it may not be. How does Gore, or anyone else, know?