Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bumper Sticker Ads

An anonymous New Yorker has forked over $25,000 in order to place ads in city subway stations stating that "A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?"

I think this is great, actually. It should afford numerous opportunities for intelligent theists to ask in all sorts of venues what such a claim means and to call attention to those who may not be aware of it the utter moral bankruptcy of the atheist worldview.

It would be great fun, for example, to ask someone who agrees with the ad what they mean by the phrase "good without God." What makes an act "good," anyway? Why, exactly, is kindness good and cruelty bad? Why, if atheism is true, is it good to preserve resources for future generations and why is squandering them on ourselves bad?

When all the smoke is blown away from the flustered and confused responses the atheist would make to these questions what remains is the claim that what's right is just whatever feels right to him or her. In a world without God there's nothing that makes kindness or conservation good and nothing that makes cruelty and profligacy bad. The preference for one rather than the other is simply a biochemical reaction occurring in our brains. It has no real significance and no authority. It can certainly impose no obligation upon us to live one way rather than another.

Listen to a few atheists on the matter of whether there's any moral good or bad in their world:

"If God is dead everything is permitted." - (Ivan Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov)

"One who does not believe in God or an afterlife can have for his rule of life...only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best." - Charles Darwin (Autobiography)

"Ethics is just an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate." - biologist E. O. Wilson and philosopher Michael Ruse

"Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear .... There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death....There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will...." - Will Provine, professor of biology at Cornell

"There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it." Voldemort (Harry Potter)

"There is no good or bad there is only the law." Inspector Javert in Les Miserables (Movie, 1980)

I rather doubt that the organization placing the ads in the Manhattan subway stations will put up any of these quotes among them. Better to stick to bumper sticker slogans and hope that no one thinks too deeply about them.


Collapsing Icon

An article in the Wall Street Journal documents the continuing collapse of one of Darwinism's favorite missing links. Ever since the 19th century the fossilized remains of a creature named Archeopteryx have been touted as an intermediate animal between dinosaurs and birds, but accumulating evidence is casting grave doubt on whether Archaeopteryx qualifies as a bird at all. Indeed, intelligent design advocates of various stripes, including both young and old earth creationists, have been saying for decades that Archaeopteryx could not have been the ancestor of modern birds, but so much had been invested in this creature as an example of a missing link that few in the mainstream press would listen. Now it seems that the scientific community itself is moon-walking away from their earlier claims of iconic status for Archaeopteryx:

The feathered creature called Archaeopteryx, easily the world's most famous fossil remains, had been considered the first bird since Charles Darwin's day. When researchers put its celebrity bones under the microscope recently, though, they discovered that this icon of evolution might not have been a bird at all.

When the fossils of Archaeopteryx were found in 1861, it helped prove Charles Darwin's new theory of evolution. The creature that had both bird-like and dinosaur-like features has long been thought of as the archetypal bird. But a new study shows Archaeopteryx might not have been a bird at all.

An examination of its bone cells revealed for the first time that the 150-million-year-old creature had the slow growth rate of a dinosaur, not a bird, an international research team reported this month. Comparing it with other early fossils, the researchers concluded that the telltale physiology of modern birds likely didn't emerge until 20 million years or so after Archaeopteryx flapped its broad wings across primordial lagoons.

Newly discovered fossils have prompted scientists to revamp their assumptions about Archaeopteryx's distinguishing features over the last decade. A cornucopia of fossil finds in China demonstrated that feathers coated many dinosaur species, not just birds. Other surprises still may be concealed in trays of unexamined museum specimens. The first and most complete fossil of Archaeopteryx, found in 1855, was misidentified as a flying pterodactylus for 115 years. The newest finding, though, demonstrates that our understanding of even well-studied fossils like Archaeopteryx -- scrutinized, measured, modeled for 150 years -- can still be upended.

The cell structure showed that Archaeopteryx developed one-third as quickly as a typical bird today, more like a normal dinosaur, the researchers reported. Bone cells from the two other bird-like creatures also showed a similar, dinosaur-like growth pattern. The researchers concluded that the first physiologically modern bird was a species called Confuciusornis, which lived about 130 millions years ago -- about 20 million years after Archaeopteryx. Unlike Archaeopteryx, this species didn't have teeth or a reptilian tail.

Modern birds usually mature in a few weeks, but it might have taken Archaeopteryx two years or more, the scientists said. When fully grown, it was the size of a raven and weighed about 900 grams, three times as heavy as previous estimates. "We are going to have to revisit a lot of things on this creature," says Dr. Erickson. "This is not the final word on rewriting its biology."

It might not be a bird, but Archaeopteryx remains a key exhibit in the history of science, as the first step toward understanding avian evolution. All told, researchers have identified 100 anatomical features that birds share with theropod dinosaurs, such as tyrannosaurus or allosaurus.

There are lingering doubts that birds today are descendants of dinosaurs. Researchers at Oregon State University recently argued that the distinctive anatomy that gives birds the lung capacity needed for flight means it is unlikely that birds descended from dinosaurs like Archaeopteryx and its kin (We wrote about this last June)

There's more to this article at the link, but the upshot is that a lot of the stuff you learned in high school biology about evolution ... just isn't true.