Chapter 1-5 notes

Fair warning, these are just my notes from The Divinity of Doubt and aren’t really meant for public consumption, but feel free to read and comment.

an agnostic is one who believes that the existence versus nonexistence of God is “unknowable.”

This is nonsense; if we define the word “God” in any way that it is possible to test (i.e. “answers prayers” and “does no wrong”, then yes, it is knowable. If you move the goalposts from what “God” has always meant, then of course it can’t be knowable because “God” can constantly be shifted into the unknowable. Similarly, I can say “I have seen aliens” so long as I use the definition “a foreigner,” without specifying “extraterrestrial.” Also “agnostic” means “without knowledge.” It is always possible to imagine something we can’t know yet, and this is where gods have and likely will remain. People have searched for “the mind of God” for millennia with no results; imagine the funding nightmare for any scientific search that went on for more than two decades that produced no results.

When it comes to theology, I am too confused to be anything but an agnostic. But if there is a God, as there may very well be, the deist philosophy, which holds that after creating the universe, God bailed out, indifferent to that which he created, would seem to do less violence to the accepted principles of logic and common sense. At least the deist philosophy is free of inherent contradictions.

Since when does common sense reflect reality? Ever heard of relativity? It goes COMPLETELY against “common sense.” So too does the nature of matter (as a distortion of spacetime) and that empty space is actually boiling with virtual particles. It also goes straight against common sense to think that a Great Dane and a teacup Yorkshire Terrier are the same species and can, in theory (although maybe not in practice), breed. With every mention of common sense, this is what I’m thinking.

What I am saying is that what I do know has convinced me that by and large the religious beliefs about God are a rich and intoxicating brew of myth, superstition, and nonsense.

Wow, it is true, even false premises don’t always lead to faulty conclusions. I also notice here that most of Bugliosi’s argument here consists of simply claiming entire books aren’t valid without ever really explaining why.

I’m an agnostic only on the issue of whether there is a God, a supernatural being who created the universe.

Ok, so the deist “god,” fair enough, thanks for the clarification; the “first cause.” I’ll deal with this bit of nonsense later.

*endnote 1 from chapter 5

Dawkins was parroting what one frequently hears that “it is impossible to prove a negative.” But this, of course, is pure myth. In many situations in life it is very easy. For instance, in a criminal case where a defendant says he did not and could not have committed the crime, say a robbery or burglary, because he was somewhere else at the time, the prosecutor routinely proves the negative (that he was not somewhere else) by establishing through witnesses, fingerprints, DNA, or sometimes even film that he did commit the crime and was not where he said he was at the time it happened.

This is still not proving a negative; it is disproving the claim that the individual was elsewhere and at the same time proving that the individual was at the location. Prove, empirically, that something does not exist, then we’ll talk.

Just because man evolved from a bacteria, flatworm, or what have you, obviously doesn’t negate the possibility that God created these original life forms.

Ahh, what a splendid response, your lack of evidence supporting this assertion is deafening.

So if you want to find out what justification there is for atheism, don’t you go to the main books written by the current leading lights of that belief?

Atheism is a belief now? “Without theism” or “without belief in gods” is a belief? Ohh, I see what you’re doing, equating atheistic with a belief system to make it unfounded. Rather than what it really is (at least to me); defaulting to the null hypothesis in the absence of evidence.

In this case, because the core belief of these three atheistic authors was so intrinsically unsound—not their belief God does not exist, which is a conclusion that is not unsound and may very well be correct, but that they knew, or just about knew, that he didn’t exist—I likewise just about knew that they could not present any solid evidence or even make any persuasive arguments (my valid premise) for the proposition that there is no God.

Again harping that it is a “belief that God does not exist.” In the absence of evidence, after a prolonged search for such, one should not conclude “it’s still possible,” but concludes, practically, “probably not.”

We all know that there is no automatic correlation between intelligence and common sense.

Considering how “common sense” is often wrong, I’m surprised to see him assuming common sense to be true so often.

A quote he takes from Hitchens that has always pissed me off.

“this fine beast [pig] is one of our fairly close cousins. It shares a great deal of our DNA, and… if recent advances in cloning [can] create a hybrid, a ‘pig-man’ is the most probable outcome.”

I hear this all the time, it’s annoying and wrong. The reason pigs and humans are such a good match as far as parts are concerned is one of size and availability. Also, “cloning” doesn’t create a hybrid, it creates a clone.

Regarding religiously motivated suffering and death mentioned by Hitchens

He fails to add, however, that secularism and science don’t do too bad a job in this area either.

I note a lack of examples; care to mention any? Please be specific, citing motives where the pursuit of a secular or scientific agenda resulted in the deaths of people.

When I hear theists and atheists pontificating on how they know God does or does not exist, I can only smile at the irrationality and, yes, vanity of the notion.

Do atheists really claim to know, with absolute certainty, that no gods exist? Am I certain that the gods of all religions yet invented do not exist, yep; am I certain NO god(s) exist? Well, of course not, because it depends upon how one defines “god.” Let me clarify, if an entity created the universe in the “first cause” way, it need not be supernatural by any means. However, just because you can imagine it doesn’t make it plausible.

To illustrate the weakness of the atheistic philosophy and putting the shoe on the other foot, what would their reaction be if theists said to them, “Since your belief that there is no God is based solely on faith, not evidence, this is complete justification for our belief that there is a God”? They’d think the theists were crazy.

Actually, I hear this quite a bit. The rejection of a claim that something exists based upon shoddy evidence or a complete lack thereof is not the same as making those claims in spite of the lack of evidence or evidence to the contrary. It’s been said many times before. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Blah, blah, blah, Darwin was agnostic, blah, blah, blah…

Referring to The God Delusion

You know, wouldn’t it have been sporting of the Englishman [Dawkins] to have found the space somewhere in his 416-page book to mention this uncomfortable truth?

I sure thought he did, but I was thinking of another book. In any event, how is it supposed to be uncomfortable? So, he was an agnostic? So was Sagan and many other scientists. Darwin also died well over a century ago, and if we can’t exactly talk to him, we can’t know exactly what he meant by this.

Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that there is evidence of Darwin’s theory of evolution (as most but not all biologists agree),

We don’t have to assume there is evidence, there IS evidence, would you like to see fossils or molecules? Living organisms or long since dead ones? The most startling examples exist within the domestic breeds of animals; also >95% support among ALL scientists (including those that study fields outside of biology) is pretty telling. Among biologists active in their fields, it approaches very close to 100%. It may be theistic evolution (as with Kenneth Miller) or real evolution, but it still isn’t any flavor of creationism.

It is well known that there are certain immutable laws of physics—usually referred to as “fundamental constants” dealing with things like oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide levels, and stated in numbers (e.g., 0.007 hydrogen)—the slightest deviation from which would end life as we know it.

I’m assuming he’s talking about the fine-structure constant (α); it is about 0.007, although he gets it all wrong. All evidence to date indicates that it has changed, by a small percentage; more observations are needed to confirm this, but the “fundamental constant” isn’t really constant, everywhere and everywhen in the universe.

Take computers as just one example. I don’t have a computer.

This has been painfully obvious…

You defeat the notion of God’s existence in the area of intelligent design by accepting, for the sake of argument, the Christian belief that God is so all-intelligent and all-powerful that he is capable of designing the universe; indeed, being transcendent, he is capable of doing anything. And then you point out that if God is that intelligent and powerful, he never would have done what they claim he did.

This is precisely one of the things Dawkins did. I’m pretty sure you read the book, pulling quotes from it like you did, or did you just quote mine? Dawkins’ point was that the proposition of gods can be taken as scientific hypotheses and treated as such, which he went on to do, albeit missing a few points he could have used.

[I thought the dictionary definition of universe was everything that exists, the totality of all things, known and unknown. Hence, there cannot be multiple universes.]

There are a great many ways in which multiple universes exist (or may have existed). I suggest avoiding definitions until you understand their scientific usage.

Let me begin this discussion by briefly examining English naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, the cornerstone of modern biology.

Wow, so, the theory hasn’t changed at all? Darwin’s theory has changed considerably from what was first proposed; for starters, genetics is now a focal point.

Concomitantly, the struggle for life caused the organisms to mutate, to change, to adapt to their demanding environment, the changes making them more complex.

The struggle for life doesn’t cause mutations, mutations influence the winner, and the winner disproportionately influences future generations. I feel like I’m explaining this to a toddler.

Although they may be right, I can say that viscerally I find it difficult to conceptualize the notion of bacteria evolving into Mozart, or, for that matter, any human.

…yes, he really says that…I’ll continue reading when I pick my jaw up from the floor.

What I’m about to say may not be correct, but doesn’t the very word “evolution,” by definition, mean that the previous life form no longer exists?

Actually, if you want to play the definition game, it means “to unwrap.” This stems from the early notion of modern life being teleologically determined and is an example of a legacy word, just like “universe.”

Is the answer that the statement should be that “man evolved from some monkeys”? But if so, does that not beg the question, why not from the others?

Not really, populations become isolated, genetic drift and selection with differential pressures result in populations incapable of producing offspring, at this point, any genetic changes in one group cannot spread to the other group.

It is said that evolution is a continuing process. What?! You mean, a billion or so years from now we humans may evolve into some form that is as far removed from who we are today as we are today from monkeys?

A billion years from now, if the human lineage still survives in some or multiple ways, it will be as far removed from us today as we are from all other multicellular life, perhaps he meant the human-chimpanzee LCA, 7 million years ago; about 1/150th the length of that time.

Although the traditional view is that humans are a finished product in the evolutionary scheme, the trend today among evolutionists and anthropologists (though there are many in these two disciplines who are skeptics) is the belief that, as Ohio State University anthropologist Jeffrey McKee says, “every species is a transitional species.”

Evidence for that parenthetical? And if he’s talking about punctuated equilibrium, he really doesn’t have a clue; every species is still transitional.

For instance, there will never be an improvement, other than cosmetic, to television, which was invented in 1929. Why? Because the next step would be to transport you, and millions of others, to the fifty-yard line at a Super Bowl game instead of watching the game on your TV set at home.

Color? Cable? Satellite? HD? Surround sound? Projectors (and pico-projectors) CRT, LCD, plasma, LED, 3D? These are just cosmetic? I can think of some future improvements, too; true holographic displays, screenless holographic video (using low powered lasers or implants to directly stimulate the retina). Yes, they can improve, just because you don’t think they have means you aren’t looking hard enough. He makes the same argument about radio; digital radio is completely different, as is satellite radio.

There is no question that we are an exceedingly imperfect lot in so many ways, mostly moral,

Mostly moral? Has he taken any biology classes…ever?
1) Our retinas face the wrong way
2) Bipedalism results in lots of lower back problems for many people in later life
3) Hiccups? They are pretty much useless.
4) Osteoporosis?
5) The long list of genetic disorders
6) Severe allergies
7) Our immune system sucks, this is bad when you have high population densities and international travel
Need I continue?

THERE MAY BE ONE PROBLEM with evolution that requires no knowledge of Darwin’s theory to discuss, only a modicum of common sense.

OH NO, NOT COMMON SENSE AGAIN! I need a drink to get down to his level…perhaps a mild neurotoxin?

One article […] will say that the fossil record shows transitional or intermediate forms, whereas the next article will aver that the fossil record,[…] does not show any transitional forms, that there is a “missing link”; as pertains to humans, missing pieces in the fossil record between humans and lower animals. I have no idea which view is correct.

We know he has no idea which view is correct, this is because he probably hasn’t read any scientific literature since the early 1900s. He might want to start here.

But it has been argued that if, indeed, the fossil record is devoid of transitional forms, this itself would seem to defeat the whole theory of evolution.

Actually, it still doesn’t, the genetic evidence is astounding, ranging from endogenous retroviruses to pseudogenes (DNA fossils which were passed down from ancestors).

He also thinks the rarity of fossils is somehow a strike against evolution; we understand precisely how fossils form. It requires very specific circumstances which are fairly rare. This is precisely why we can find tons of shoreline and river-mouth fossils.

“The known fossil remains of man’s ancestors would fit on a billiard table. That makes a poor platform from which to peer into the mists of the last few million years.”

A newspaper, really? This is somehow expected to be accurate? How about going to this INCOMPLETE list and get back with me.

The origin of humans is no longer a mystery; our evolutionary cousins, the chimpanzees, yes, but our evolutionary history is very well documented in the fossil record. Chimpanzee fossils are likely much more rare due to the habitats they stayed in.

In Darwin’s two main books, On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, remarkably, he doesn’t have one single reference to human memory.

Probably because the science of neurology wasn’t even invented yet and brains don’t really fossilize very well. Top that off with memory being a bit complex and even STILL poorly understood. Additionally, it really isn’t all that special.

Although much scholarly work has been done on human memory, curiously, virtually nothing has been written on the evolution and development of our memory as it pertains to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Because it’s still not well understood; you can’t understand how something develops until you understand precisely how it works. It is part of the process of science. Perhaps he, as a lawyer, has no clue as to how the process works.

He gives a few anecdotal reports about human memory; I’m waiting for the scientific studies demonstrating this “common sense” stuff. Oh, right, it blatantly contradicts it…

But although […] the development and interaction of the lens, retina, and iris of the eye are necessary for the vision humans need to survive, what environment was the human species ever exposed to that required, […] that it develop its memory to such an unbelievable degree of perfection that human memories can far surpass the most powerful computers in the world?

It’s far from perfect, but our fairly decent memory is probably due to the complexities of human societies and our need for a better theory-of-mind and to interact with these complex societies, however, it also doesn’t surpass the most powerful computers in the world; if you put the data in, the computer will be faster. We just have the sensors and processor integrated into a single unit. Look, it’s Watson, he won Jeopardy.

He then talks about his cat, I really don’t care, it’s another anecdote.

So at least theoretically a modus vivendi could be reached wherein God could create the universe and the original microorganisms of life, and evolution could take over from there.

No, it’s hypothetical, and a rather poor one at that as it lacks any evidence guiding one in that direction. Oh, right, “theory” to this guy means “just a guess.”

I don’t give a damn about Pope Pius XII or encyclicals he gave, it isn’t relevant to reality.

How is it that the human mind is so utterly unique and so superior to those of the other 59,811 species of vertebrate animals that it doesn’t even lend itself to comparison?

Pliny, you want to deal with this one? I mean, I could point out that:
1) dolphins have exhibited remarkable creativity, culture, language, very good memories, and self-awareness
2) chimpanzees are quite capable of remembering locations, individuals, and learning behaviors
3) many birds are quite capable of learning a great many things and retaining said many for their entire lives

Dogs haven’t changed in the past 2000 years? Are you fucking kidding? They have changed a whole lot since the formation of the English Kennel Club in the 1870s.

His ego is getting in the way of his lack of knowledge of biology…

Did evolution, or a divine being, select man for this singular preeminence?

Neither, many humans just think we were.

2 Responses to “Chapter 1-5 notes”

  1. 1 Pliny the in Between
    May 17, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    Man Jared – you are a better man than I. I couldn’t even finish the dust jacket…
    Lawyers should be banned from writing books about things other than the law. they work in a manner contrary to science. For lawyers arguing a case, it often seems to be about arguing a point of view while scientists have to address all the data not just the cherry picked ones that support their position.

    As for the parts about memory, we could go one for weeks on that one. Suffice it to say, our feelings of mental uniqueness seem to have more to do with our having only recently started t understand how we think and the fact that til recently we have completely ignored the minds of other animals and our own egos.

  2. May 17, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Don’t get me wrong, the book isn’t half bad when he deals only with the pablum which go for theological arguments, but as he says, these are “easy targets.” However, it goes from “wrong” to “wronger than wrong” to “not-even-wrong” when discussing matters of science and it even gets pretty wrong when he takes religious quotes (I don’t think he’s read more than one version–and one poor translation from Latin [not Greek] at that–of the bible, nor studied even as little as I have on this subject). I won’t even try to discuss memory or spacetime because I don’t know enough about it to really explain it well (to paraphrase Plato, “This man believes he knows something while knowing nothing, I–similarly ignorant–do not believe I know anything”) nor would I feel comfortable stating my limited knowledge as fact. As I’ve often said, “I don’t know everything about biology, physics, or computer science, but I know more than most and certainly more than almost anyone without a degree (from an accredited institution) in the subject—and probably more than a few with doctoral degrees in the subject**” I would be comfortable talking about evolution, genetics, and computer networking (in that order) and am still quite open to the possibility that I don’t fully understand something.

    **note: This isn’t me being megalomaniacal; I refer only to those that get degrees to say they have them such as cdesign proponentsists.

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