Saturday, October 22, 2011

Embryonic Solar System

Uncommon Descent tips us to an article by Kate Taylor in TG Daily on the discovery of an embryonic solar system in a distant constellation in our galaxy. The significance of this discovery is that the system contains enormous amounts of water:
The star TW Hydrae, 176 light years away in the constellation Hydra, is surrounded by enough water to fill Earth's oceans thousands of times over.
TW Hydrae
"This tells us that the key materials that life needs are present in a system before planets are born," says University of Michigan astronomy professor Ted Bergin, a HIFI co-investigator.

While warm water vapor's previously been found in planet-forming disks close to the central star, this is the first time that such a vast quantity has been discovered in the cooler, far reaches of disks where comets and giant planets take shape.

"The detection of water sticking to dust grains throughout the planet-forming disk would be similar to events in our own solar system’s evolution, where over millions of years, these dust grains would then coalesce to form comets," says said principal investigator Michiel Hogerheijde of Leiden University in the Netherlands.

"These would be a prime delivery mechanism for water on planetary bodies."

Comets are believed to have delivered a significant portion of Earth's oceans, with comet Hartley 2 recently found to have the same chemical composition as our oceans.
UD closes their post on this discovery with a provocative question: "If many phenomena like this turn up, but life is not detected, would that set of circumstances be taken to mean anything?"

The question arises because naturalistic evolutionists have been predicting for decades that life is almost inevitable wherever the physical prerequisites exist. However, if those prerequisites turn out to exist commonly throughout the galaxy but no life is discovered that would have devastating implications for the view that natural processes and forces are adequate by themselves to produce life.

On the other hand, if life is discovered elsewhere it would not necessarily have a serious bearing on the belief that intelligent agency is necessary to bring it about unless it turns out that the chasms of biochemical improbability that need to be traversed in order to produce life are not as prohibitively wide as they are on earth.

Rationale or Rationalization?

We here at Viewpoint have been following the refusal of prominent atheist Richard Dawkins to defend his attacks on theism in debate against philosopher William Lane Craig. Dawkins has now written a column for The Guardian in which he gives his rationale for ducking Craig. It's vintage Dawkins, arrogant, insulting, and lame, but perhaps the silliest part is where he seeks to justify his non-appearance at the debate by citing Craig's views on the Canaanite massacre:
But Craig is not just a figure of fun. He has a dark side, and that is putting it kindly. Most churchmen these days wisely disown the horrific genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament. Anyone who criticises the divine bloodlust is loudly accused of unfairly ignoring the historical context, and of naive literalism towards what was never more than metaphor or myth.

You would search far to find a modern preacher willing to defend God's commandment, in Deuteronomy 20: 13-15, to kill all the men in a conquered city and to seize the women, children and livestock as plunder. And verses 16 and 17 are even worse:

"But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them"
You might say that such a call to genocide could never have come from a good and loving God. Any decent bishop, priest, vicar or rabbi would agree. But listen to Craig. He begins by arguing that the Canaanites were debauched and sinful and therefore deserved to be slaughtered. He then notices the plight of the Canaanite children.

"But why take the lives of innocent children? The terrible totality of the destruction was undoubtedly related to the prohibition of assimilation to pagan nations on Israel's part. In commanding complete destruction of the Canaanites, the Lord says, 'You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons, or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods' (Deut 7.3-4). […] God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel.

[…] Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God's grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven's incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives."
Do not plead that I have taken these revolting words out of context. What context could possibly justify them?

Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn't, and I won't. Even if I were not engaged to be in London on the day in question, I would be proud to leave that chair in Oxford eloquently empty.

And if any of my colleagues find themselves browbeaten or inveigled into a debate with this deplorable apologist for genocide, my advice to them would be to stand up, read aloud Craig's words as quoted above, then walk out and leave him talking not just to an empty chair but, one would hope, to a rapidly emptying hall as well.
If this were really Dawkins' reason for not debating Craig why didn't he say so months ago? It has about it the odor of a rationalization discovered ex post facto and pressed into service to turn Dawkins' timorousness into moral virtue. Why not, if Dawkins thinks this is such an execrable position for Craig to take, get Craig on a public stage and make him defend it?

Moreover, even if it's granted that Craig's justification of the genocidal passages in Deuteronomy is inadequate, why is that a reason not to debate him on the completely separate question of the existence of God? The two issues have nothing to do with each other. Whatever the proper understanding of those horrific Old Testament events may be they have nothing to do with the topic of God's existence. They may bear on the question of whether the Old Testament is correct, whether the relevant passages are being interpreted properly, or even on the nature of God, but not at all on the question of whether there is or is not a God.

Dawkins is using what rhetoricians call a red herring to draw attention away from the fact that he simply doesn't want to engage in a debate he realizes he might well lose. It would be as if a vociferous critic of President Obama's economic policies, say, Sean Hannity, was challenged by Obama or a prominent surrogate to a debate, and Hannity declined because Obama supports partial birth abortion and voted as a state senator to keep infanticide legal in Illinois.

I think if Hannity were to decline the challenge on such grounds it would look to most people very much like he was simply afraid of suffering the public humiliation of being made to look like a buffoon. Many would conclude that he was just an egotistical gasbag, an intellectual fraud, and it'd be hard to gainsay that conclusion.

The difference is it's hard to imagine Hannity shrinking from an opportunity to debate Mr. Obama, but it's not hard to imagine Dawkins shrinking from a debate with Craig. That's what, in fact, he appears to be doing.