Feb 27, 2010

pro abortion article fails to successfully oppose life

-In response to an article in a certain O-week magazine, p.43.

Dear Kathy

Many 10 year olds are, no doubt, annoying brats who, while we can give it cute names like “providing the necessities of life”, essentially leech off their gullible parents. Many elderly folk are similarly dependent upon others for various aspects quite fundamental to their continued life. And yet, some members of society would perhaps find it morally problematic if viable 10 (or 100) year old members of the human species were approached in their thousands by medical professionals and destroyed with the aid of chemicals or a process of cutting their limbs off and/or removing their not-fully-competent brains with a shiny kind of suction device. (That, my friends, was what I like to call understatement.)

Such expected respect is though, frequently not accorded to members of the species who have not yet proceeded from the birth canal or through a C-section. I appreciate there are various complicating factors in discussions on abortion, including the means by which pregnancy was achieved and precisely how intentional it was. However your article fails to mention such issues and skips straight to confusing a few important distinctions whilst failing to explain why the above anomaly, about whom we may kill in our society, exists. Further, you even claim that the foetus, according to science, that hallowed source of all true knowledge, is not alive. I realize that biology sometimes isn’t treated as a full science by, say, mathematicians; but it deserves a little more respect in this discussion. I note that you yourself correctly refer to a fertilized egg as an “organism” – in case you haven’t yet got my point, this would entail that the zygote and hence embryo is alive.

What’s more, we actually don’t need to discuss the soul, let alone substance dualism, to place some value on human life. Most atheists and other soul-deniers will hopefully agree with this; unfortunate history of the 20th century aside. Which all brings me to a second failure of your article: the foetus and embryo are in fact biologically human – given their genetic and cellular make up, what else could they be? A more relevant question in the literature is whether they are a person and in particular, whether they are the same person as the one who might later go to university and oh-so ironically argue for abortion. The debates continue (and it seems to me that most criteria other than the biological for granting personhood fail abysmally morally); but one position that is surely untenable, Kathy, is yours, for it is incoherent. An extra fun debating point for those of you who are particularly fond of female members of the species might be to consider the phenomenon of sex-selective abortion and infanticide in the majority world, including China. Do the maths; women have lost big-time through the popularization of abortion-on-demand (and especially by demand.)

Does this all mean that I oppose contraception? No and yes. The majority of students at Auckland who are having sex of whichever kind with each other wouldn’t be in the ideal world, for it works out best in a marriage relationship; but you don’t need to buy that to reject Kathy’s concepts, as the argument against abortion isn’t in the same moralistic boat. For if it is indeed true that, say, the morning after pill (sometimes an abortifacient drug) prevents the development of a potentially viable human life then we have a problem, divine revelation or not. And it actually doesn’t follow that individual gametes are worthy of the kind of respect accorded to people – briefly because, prior to joining up with a suitable partner, they’re not going anywhere – but after joining and implantation, unless something interferes quite drastically, they’re probably going to eventually pop out and one day be enjoying lives like ours; walking and talking and arguing about abortion. Sure, they need some help in the form of nutrients and the like to get where their biological programme is sending them, but as suggested earlier, the same is true of all developing humans. And unlike 10 year olds, they're pretty cheap to clothe.

The murder of abortion provider George Tiller may help to stir up the troops, but is not worthy of the central role given it in your pro choice drama. The murder has been condemned by major pro life groups all over the world. The term “pro life” may help to explain why this might be. Perhaps a cynical utilitarian argument could be mounted, suggesting that pro life logic results in Christians and their pro life friends killing those who ‘murder unborn children.’ But you would find that not many of us are in fact utilitarians; and I suspect the societal consequences of such a militant move would render any arguments in its favour moot. Killing people is generally a bad idea, which is the whole point really, isn’t it? If the realm of abortion is in fact the middle ground, it is an overly-dangerous place to be for young human beings and if you ever face the awesome responsibility of caring for such a person, I sincerely recommend looking into their little face with ultrasound technology and joining the side where life remains.

Kind regards,

defending Islam

Many prominent defenders of Islam do a spectacularly bad job of it. I won't go into the details, as there are thousands of sites out there with people who've looked into it all way more closely. But, if anyone thinks they've found really awesome arguments for Islam over against Christianity, you're welcome to let me know. My main issues relate to the highly selective (e.g. out of context) quoting of the Bible, Quran and hadith and quoting various dubious writings from Christians over the centuries as well as acts by Christians and people in the old testament as if all these were normative (e.g. King David's adultery. Anyone who thinks this was advocated needs some help in the analysis of literature; i.e. reading.) Also, attacking one supposed Christian argument, say for Jesus' divinity, as if it were the comprehensive case, seems to repeatedly occur.

Here's a couple of starters, just the home pages -you're welcome to follow whatever links:


I apologise for conflict in some areas and some broken links. You will appreciate that I am not the creator of these sites! If you find something that destroys faith in Jesus as I claim to have, again, let me know.

Feb 26, 2010

candy from strangers

I have spent some time in recent days handing out flyers and candy on behalf of a certain collection of Christian groups on campus.

People's reactions intrigue me. Perhaps I should be studying psychology:

There are many keen for free candy from a stranger. Some are 'keen' to be polite, but others are, it seems, actually keen. I imagine I can pick some from private schools by their clothes, expressions and the fact they are too good for heart shaped lollipops (and/or religion) - but I'm quite likely wrong.

There are some folk who lower their eyes and scoot past, in the hope of not being accosted by a Christian; or maybe just potentially talked at for 1/2 a second by a fellow human being; apparently a dreadfully scary or probably-painful experience.

Some expect a 'catch', beyond being expected to take literature (flyers; info on the groups, hardly gospel tracts)

Some Christians aren't interested at all. I can sympathise, though I don't really get it any more.

Many politely reject, for whatever reason, smiling at our attempt to benefit them.

Many are confused at the number of keen Christian groups on campus and/or say things along the lines of 'oh, these are Christians.' Nah duh. Though I guess we could be a little more clear, like have large flashing neon crosses, Brian Tamaki on a loudspeaker etcetera...

A few are openly not interested, saying things which strike me as simply immature like "not a chance" or "definitely not", whilst striding past in their superiority. I almost find these people amusing, but really it's a bit sad, as if they did actually dare to pause, their confidence might be deflated a little. People in my group have heard exactly what you've heard and they're still more impressed by God. Oh and their grades are often better, in case you wondered.

Many are similarly not interested (a couple of science lecturers I noted) and just stride past wordlessly; they are on important errands and are well aware of the wiles of the religious. "Your candy embarasses me; I shall ignore it, or if it's in my face, wave it aside."

People who know me and are a little more interested than usual in avoiding me. Such people entertain me slightly; as if I, the introvert, would accost them in any individualised way anyway.

The Christians interested in the groups - often so hesitant; with you I empathise - it is a dangerous world out there, with all kinds of dodgy religious groups and places you won't fit in. The groups I am promoting don't fit into these categories, but how are you to be sure?

Intense non-believers who really want to know now what this group is about and what we would offer them. Rare but fascinating. Should I give you the gospel in 1 minute? Please let me know somehow.

Friends and acquaintances who aren't too ashamed to walk up and say "hi" - you people have guts! Don't you know that Christians are irrational, freaky and extremely dangerous when they gather together?

shelf space


I wish I had such a collection. I would read the books once; or possibly, just possibly twice, but that's not the point. Instead I have small portions of various popular geeky children/teenagers' series and too many random nonfiction books to fit on the shelf. And yet I order new boxes of books with my non-existent income (yay for the government) whenever possible and find it difficult to sell old textbooks, many of which I hardly even looked at... You can't sell books, you have to make a horde of them, or hoard them, for when all the libraries inexplicably close and you're suddenly needed by the universe - or maybe just for the sake of owning more stuff. So then I lend out books, which is too frequently about the same as selling them, you just don't get paid for it. Or I admit the futility of it all and just give them away.

Feb 25, 2010

" It depends what you mean by 'is' "

-Bill Clinton, on trial

But such phrases ("it depends what you mean by ...") were also made famous in the WWII era by the fascinating british philosopher and broadcaster CEM Joad (one of those philosophers who were ahead of Anthony Flew in terms of both time and level of commitment, in the realm of religious conversion. )

I S ?

But what does "is" mean anyway? If it means something like "exists" as I assume off the top of my head, then given the number of related words, it is amazing how often we talk about ontology in everyday speech, chatter and gossip. Philosophy is in fact for everyone, it's just that everyone doesn't know it.

10 poems in one

I'm not too interested in sorting them out into separate pieces, so read them at your own risk
Apparently poems should have metre or meter or somesuch. I'll try and keep it in mind for the next time.
I don't think I was on drugs when I wrote it; amoxycillin aside.


That all important ‘ego’
has up-and-gone
In the face of all the world’s scorn.
Perhaps it’s time to let the rest go too

The I is not eternal; not aimed at eternity
If its current destiny is burning; in entirety
Yeah, that’s right.
Check it out my reader

You say, “but G; it’s how I choose to roll”
Yet I say “bro, it’s Jesus who is in control”,
Those 'I’s ain’t gonna ‘roll’ no more
When they hear that knocking on their door
He coming yo way, tis time to get ready

You say “I’m into science - and reality”
“Stop pushing your impossible fairies at me”
But fair’s only fair, let’s say we talk about fear and evil
Then your Weltanschauung is going, right down the hill.

You play your Xbox & playstations while we see the collapse
of genuine nations; from poverty and corruption
But we’re only interested in our own stupidness
And this egotism, is gonna have consequences

Yeah, I’m talking about evil, screwed-up lives and sin
For that’s the kind of crap that we are all in
It’s actually about rebellion - against God. You say it’s
“not important”, but I suggest you’re damned wrong.

We’re not talking here about spilled drinks
It’s not about subjective opinions or what some fat white guy thinks
It is about the facts, which matter – like what kind of
relationship do you have with your Creator?

So, back on track let's talk about this 'science' – my question for you
Is not just how, but why it all works? Wherefore ought what we discover be true?
You assume certain axioms to get into this game
Well wake up and work out whose name these proclaim;
I say it all spells quite clearly, G-O-D; while yo' presuming so much
Only to gain inconsistent systems of so-called ‘rationality’

Such things do not hang in mid-air; that would simply look stupid
Someone bought this conceptual apparatus
But concerning these ideas, it wasn't you who paid for them
There is a far better grounding in the Person who made all this

So now, if I may briefly conclude:
Maybe yo' thinking that me talking bout this is kinda rude;
well, you chose to read it, so reap the results.
That's the way the world works; if you don't like it, you can revolt
Be another of the millions of prodigal daughters and sons
Yet if you do find yourself running, just continue to run;
Into the arms of the only forgiving one.

Feb 23, 2010

rap art - rapport - secret - support - 'sup?

When I publish an album of up-to-the-minute societal critique in the form of neo-90s-rap-rock, the title may very well be as above. Keep it on the down-low, if you don't mind. If I had more time, I could make the "I dude" look more like a microphone as well; or I could pay someone to come up with better ideas.

I'm in the process of working on some tracks; lyrically in any case - everyone knows the music can be chucked in later, using some standard formulae.


Why a tree, Lord?

We see explained in
Deuteronomy (21: 22-23)
Whosoever be
Hung on a tree;
They are curs-ed

This is a harsh statement. Appropriate for the harshness of rebellion against God.

Whosoever in
Son of Man believes;
Raised for all to see (Num 21:8-9, John 3:14-15)
Above Calvary;
They are sav-ed

Our wrongs and sicknesses taken on, by choice; by the only one who could so choose.

Sin in first garden (Gen 3:6)
Washed from beyond walls (Num 15:35-36)
Of Jerusalem
Passover time now salvation for all (Exo 12:27, 12:43, 34:25, Psa22:27, Is43:6)
Bringing in shalom
The river still flows (John 7:38)
From God’s town, come down (Rev 21:2)

This is ridiculous. Appropriate for the ridiculous creatures we are.

From small seed can grow
A tree of great worth (Matt 13:32)
The Church has been such
And covers the Earth
They are bless-ed.

“Crooked souls trying to stay up straight… the shadow proves the sunshine” - Switchfoot

‘side city’s River
Sprouts the tree of life
Leaves of which provide
Healing for nations; (Rev 22:2)
They are lov-ed

This is the gospel; the whole story works together, scribed by the master author

Feb 19, 2010

today's news

Headlines from NZ herald. I spent way too much time on this. I also had one of my Christian poems from a while back to post with this, but it didn't work, so I'll save it. Turns out I have a couple. I haven't even looked through my scraps of paper yet - this blog could live on just those for a few months I suspect. But, back to the news - isn't it great?

odious little argument, breathtakingly fallacious

I have cut pieces from this short article from Feb the 3rd. Sorry for any copyright issues. I’ve had it around for a while and now I have time to insert my responses in a nice shade of blue. I apologise for the nastiness – Richard’s, that is. The main point is that it's more complicated than allowed for in the brief article from RD and his exaggeration is offensive. His article is in response to what seems a very mild pro-life advert screened during the "Superbowl" in the US.

Richard Dawkins:

I gather that Tim Tebow is extremely good at football. That's just as well, for he certainly isn't very good at thinking. Perhaps the fact that he was home schooled by missionary parents is to blame. ...
Versions of the Great Beethoven Fallacy are attributed to various Christian apologists, and the details vary. The following is the version favoured by Norman St John Stevas, a British Conservative Member of Parliament. One doctor to another:
"About the terminating of pregnancy, I want your opinion. The father was syphilitic. The mother tuberculous. Of the four children born, the first was blind, the second died, the third was deaf and dumb, the fourth was also tuberculous. What would you have done?" "I would have terminated the pregnancy." "Then you would have murdered Beethoven."
It is amazing how many people are bamboozled by this spectacularly stupid argument. The claims are indeed false and I apologise for the gullibility of some well-meaning Christians in perpetuating it. There are however many cases with names and achievements less impressive than that of Beethoven, whose lives were/are nonetheless important. Richard reads his heroes’ (e.g. Peter Singer’s) writings on the topic uncritically and then amps them up; perhaps as he would have his fans do regarding his own. Setting aside the simple falsehood that Ludwig van Beethoven was the fifth child in his family (he was actually the eldest), the falsehood that any of his siblings was born blind, deaf or dumb, and the falsehood that his father was syphilitic, we are left with the 'logic'. As Peter Medawar, writing with his wife, Jean Medawar, said,
"The reasoning behind this odious little argument is breathtakingly fallacious . . . the world is no more likely to be deprived of a Beethoven by abortion than by chaste absence from intercourse."
If you follow the 'pro-life' logic to its conclusion, a fertile woman is guilty of something equivalent to murder every time she refuses an offer of copulation. If you made a habit of following Richard’s logic … well, first you’d be some kind of logic denier, second you presumably wouldn’t care hugely about meta-societal issues like this and thirdly you wouldn’t think much of the value of humanity over and above, say, chickens (our-man-(previously)-at-Oxford's actual speciality, originally at least; not, strangely enough, that his promoters make much of it.) Incidentally, 'pro life' always means pro human life, never animal life although an adult cow or monkey is obviously far more capable of feeling pain and fear than a human fetus. Oh, right, so it's the ability to feel pain and/or fear that indicates moral worth. If you're ever sedated Richard, just keep one hand locked-down tight over a kidney or your liver or whichever other body part seems most likely to be snatched; your future interests or capabilities will not be of concern. But the profoundly un-evolutionary (it’s a bit like being un-American, unhelpful or maybe unchristian, just way worse) –he actually means non-scientistic, but I’ll set that upside down and laugh at it later nature of this terminology is another story and I'll set it on one side.

Religious apologists are unimpressed by this kind of argument as, it seems, are most with brains and training who have thought about it, they say, there is a distinction between snuffing out a life that is already in existence (as in abortion) and failure to bring life into existence in the first place. It's not a distinction that survives analytical thought, however. Richard is an expert in analytical thought. Unlike (nontheist) Don Marquis. Look at it from the point of view of Tim's unborn sister (let us say), who would have been conceived two months later if only Tim had been aborted. Admittedly, she is not in a position to complain of her non-existence. Coming into existence in the first place is a usual prerequisite for being wronged. But then nor would Tim have been in a position to complain of his non-existence, if he had been aborted. You need a functioning nervous system in order to complain, or regret, or feel wistful, or feel pain, or miss the life that you could have had. This makes little sense. How can any dead person “miss the life they could have had,” given Dawkins’ views? Further, what counts as “functioning” – is minimal function sufficient? Presumably not, or else abortion would be kinda problematic! But if we want more, we’ll probably have to exclude some people; neonates, those in (even very temporary) comas (or perhaps those asleep or unconscious when murdered, as they couldn't mind at the time) and those with brain diseases or mental disability. Dawkins and his friend Singer might not care, but most ethicists seem to, perhaps because they’re aware of the history of central Europe in the 1930s and beyond. Unconceived babies don't have a nervous system. Nor do aborted fetuses. As far as anything that matters [ooh, ooh – I know this one; wasn’t that ‘the selfish gene’?] is concerned, an aborted fetus has exactly the same mental and moral status as any of the countless trillions of unconceived babies. This is bullshit. Not only is it extremely offensive to me (which could have some relevance, as it indicates that I at least place a value on these lives), but very few ethicists would accept this hyperbole. An aborted foetus has the exact same status as nothingness? No moral status? So I can use a stock of them in engine fuel or floor or toilet cleaners and no-one’s allowed to get upset? (An unnamed secular ethicist apparently listed the first two as things which foetal tissue could not be used for; not sure of reference) As mental status seems to equal moral status, your dead Grandma is out of luck too; the gold teeth are coming out and then we can auction off whatever’s left, along with plenty of people (oops, I mean ‘objects’) in rest homes and the like. At least, that is true of early abortions, which means the vast majority. Later ones are generally only (at maximum) allowed to be eaten, e.g. fried in butter – but the developing intestines can be used to clean the floor if you like.
The fact that the Tim Tebow advertisement is a load of unthought-through nonsense is no reason to ban it. Imagine the consequences of banning unthought-through nonsense. Just imagine! That would infringe our valued principle of free speech. All the result of atoms jiggling around in the brain of a ‘higher’ ape. The best that the rest of us can do is point out, to anyone that will listen despite our lack of money The RD Foundtn for Reason&Science had a spare ₤180k last year. Yes, I checked. to pay for such advertisements, There are others not short of money when it comes to promoting abortion; Planned Parenthood in the US for example that it is nonsense. As I have just done.

Hill William Musicality

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia]
A fair amount of mainstream stuff is being sourced from the garages of the quaint rural huts where Christians are to be found living with their 30 children (and general lack of knowledge and fun.) Some of it hardly needs naming, but: One Republic, The Fray, Owl City, Paramore, Jordan Sparks, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Daughtry, POD, Switchfoot, Stan Walker, as well as Miley and the J-Bros of course. Classics like U2 and Dave Dobbyn remain and may have got more openly Christian. In NZ, little bands like Kingston, the Frisk and Late 80s Mercedes all have followings. Then there are the nominals like Kanye and Scribe, which make things interesting. I love how Scribe used his thanks speech at the Tuis (I think) to say something like “He took the machete out of my hand and replaced it with a mic and I’ll always be grateful” while Prime Minster H-C stood beside him on the stage baffled. And “Jesus Walks” is awesome.

My point? I’m not sure. It’s not like many of the radio-played songs from these artists push Jesus, or even the other songs on their albums (exceptions POD, maybe Switchfoot & U2), it’s just a pleasant surprise to eventually hear an artist being played somewhere, after having been playing on Christian radio for a while – a few NZ ones come to mind. With a couple of unfortunate exceptions, the messages in these songs are different to what would be found elsewhere. There’s another stream out there, way too hard out for MTV or C4, which is also improving in quality. This seems to include all Christian rap. Check out, on you tube, “Lecrae”, “Trip Lee” or from NZ, “Rapture Ruckus”. A good example: Real Vision - Trip Lee ft. Tedashii

Feb 18, 2010

a product of mild delirium and ghosts of philosophy exams past

Dear Mr Clock

Too much time on your hands?
I often see you hold
Right on 3:33
It soon becomes quite clear:
You’re softly mocking me.

If we could understand
The passage of our time
We might control your run;
Force some explanation

Tick, tock; the clock stops. Dead.
Just threatening. This time.
I’ll happily take ‘slow’;
At least with that you know
Exactly where you’re going.

Feb 11, 2010

very apt

Snow art from Calvin & Hobbes

"You don't like my "snowman house of horror," do you?!"

Feb 10, 2010

Post 100

This is the 100th post of this blog.

I intended it to be spectacular and perhaps include the results of the informal survey I mentioned earlier, but that will have to wait.

The blog will have a little break as exams approach and as traffic has increased quite a bit with a little perhaps-unwise advertising on my part, I will quite probably slowly go back through and check that my posts weren't too much like a diary, don't mention specific people who might be offended etc.

Cheers to the faithful few and the newbies too.

proscribing a cure?

Is the bad spelling 'epidemic' truly endemic; is it intrinsic or only epiphenomenal or surficial?
(Is that something to do with surfing?)
Is it as contageous and outrageous as I have 'bean lead too beleive?'
Foreshore/ for sure I haven't got immunity and neither/nor has/have my community

Firstly, there is a distinction between "your" and "you're"
as well as differences between "there", "their" and "they're."
We all know the old to/two one too; or do we really?

Prescribe and ascribe are not the same. Apostrophes matter; to me anyway.
Purpost and purposed are not both words; 'tis particularly sad when "purpose"
is the one that would make sense. If you can't spell, you cannot write. Simple.

Where/were/we're in trouble weather/whether or not we personally accept
that for/four right/write/rite and wright only one is correct in most contexts.
Read books, my readers - lettuce start a trend!

Feb 7, 2010

for all the doubters - don't mess with the quoll

There are reputed to be, somewhere out there, people who don't believe that God exists.

Meet my friend. (Don't mess with the quoll.)

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Yes, he(she) is a quoll; probably a Tiger Quoll. I'm pretty sure he(she) is Australian too, but we won't hold it against him(her), cos God made this little fellah(dudette)! God exists and is awesome.

For the analytical philosophers amongst you, this is the argument - I assure you it is idiot proof:
(There are suppressed premises and stuff, but it's all pretty obvious)

P1: Quolls (exist.)

Therefore probably: God (exists.)

Feb 6, 2010

Happy happy fun fun – a cogent philosophy of life or failed self-worship?

Perhaps no-one seriously holds such views comprehensively; that’s ok, for straw men tend to be the easiest to demolish; nevertheless it remains a strand through society worth severing if in fact false. If I'm wrong, tell me why.

What’s the meaning of life (granted, this a problematic question)? To have fun!
What ought moral theory to be about?
Maximising fun.
What is a good death?
A peaceful end to an all-round fun time(?)

There are variants; but quite visible is a twisted situation where everything is made fungible or at least liquid if only viewed through the lens of the true universal currency, Fun or ‘utility’ for the more sophisticated. Some things of course make little sense when spoken of in these terms, but, following in the footsteps of the ontologically/metaphysically-minimalist logical positivists before, maybe we just shouldn’t talk about such things (as duty, responsibility, cancer, God, others' rights, a full well-going life and the like) if they cannot be fudged to fit the funfair universe. Of course there are deficiencies to such vapid hedonistic utilitarianism, or so I would like to claim. One would be that it fails to provide an internal account for why we should accept it, so if we want a justification of the concept as part of the theory, it clearly cannot be all-embracing.

JP Moreland, before refuting them, expresses such ideas rather nicely in an article on euthanasia:

“I do not exist for morality; rather, morality exists for me. The whole point of
morality is to protect my individual rights, preserve my individual happiness,
and maintain a well-ordered society within which I can seek happiness in
whatever way I define happiness (provided, of course, that I do not harm
others). The main purpose of life is happiness, and pain and suffering
are to be avoided whenever possible. My own goals and purposes are what
give my life meaning, and when I cannot pursue those goals and purposes
in a way that satisfies me, my life is no longer meaningful.

... my loyalty to my community is a much lower priority than is my loyalty to
myself. Communities exist for the individual, not vice versa. And when
community loyalties require me to sacrifice personal pleasures in a way that is
not in my own self interest, then I have no obligation to the community."

Haiti's troubles

This blogpost from an Australian left-wing female who happens to be some kind of atheist (I know, I know, maybe it seems like I'm abandoning The Cause, whatever that is) says some interesting things. I don't have huge sympathy for things like the World Bank, but I didn't realise they had such high interest rates or could be painted as such a rip-off! Perhaps a lesson to learn is that corruption and poor standards breed corruption and poor standards and if outside intervention is self-interested (and their goals don't magically align with those of the locals as economists would love to assume), the results can be ugly. Of course, it doesn't follow that trying to promote the economic development of a majority-world nation is evil; just that discernment wrt motivation may assist in true value creation.

What makes us human?

An interesting question.
Intriguing possibilities.

Feb 4, 2010

here soon (I think this could be the biggest contribution yet made by ME)

"An informal survey of biochemistry lecturers at a major research University" (on the use of "designed", "evolved" and cognates, in stage one lectures, illustrating the approximate prevalence of teleological language in this field.)

10 things you don't know about me (can any1 tell I'm meant to be writing a tutorial exercise??)

Removed while I consider the nature of this website and what it's actually about.

Feb 3, 2010

Behe bites back

An update on my previous post "in the E Coli of the beholder"

I think this, here, provides confirmation for my main intuition (independently garnered), that the long-range research added additional empirical evidence for some of the statistical claims in "the Edge of Evolution". Michael Behe wrote his amazon post half way through 08 in response to the Lenski paper, so I was a bit behind; but that's ok.

I should clarify that the change we're talking about only concerned the transport of citrate rather than its use for energy per se. The 'wild' E Coli cells could already use citrate in the cell (as anyone who has studied the Krebs Cycle should know!) but could not normally get this kind of molecule across the membrane from outside. Also, Behe suggests the mutation was more than a point mutation - I did note the likelihood of multiple mutations pointed to in Lenski's paper, but MB implies there are other classes of possible mutations too (I think these would include larger deletions.) I'm not sure that I originally quite understood the point of the paper in other ways too, particularly in that the trait had actually already been found previously in a couple of different studies - it was the long-term 'historical study showing contingency in evolution' aspect that was meant to be particularly interesting; however, I'm learning.

Picture: Wikipedia

origami mol-bio style

I'm a fan of proteins and folding and suchlike. This is not hugely sophisticated, but the picture is nice and it's interesting. I'd have to look up some of the phylogenetic stuff and see about possible precursors before fully endorsing, but the importance of chaperonins particularly for large proteins is, well, so far as I can tell, large. (I'll let you know more if I manage to squeeze in the course on proteins I have been hanging out for for a while next year - not looking the best timetable-wise so far, but we can hope.)

Feb 2, 2010

the waning of the dyed-in-the-wool faith-head society?

I can't be bothered searching for statistical analyses, so I shall rely on anecdotal evidence. A favourite quote of mine (which I just invented) is "anecdotes beat statistics." This would seem to be true in that word-of-mouth travels faster than those facilitating the NZ Census etcetera.

Let us accept that the Church (say, for example my home-by-choice of the Anglican Church) has declined significantly in the West, including NZ. Apparently this has "implications, no?" I write this in response to a request; let me know how I fare.

Let us break it down.

Maybe if the Church is God's people on earth it should always be visibly growing. This is not a biblical claim and I don't see much reason to believe it, but it would not be a problem if it happened! Well, a problem for some perhaps; like those engaged in trafficking children, warmongers, those who exploit the environment, those who rely on secular humanism (yet also God) for selling their blasphemous books and those who like their sins to be acceptable. Anyway, a claim I do see in the good book is that the Church shall always exist. No sign of it dying completely yet, so all good so far. Perhaps in the next few decades, the Church will though die in the West and the primitives in other countries shall gratefully inbibe our medicine of hopeful hopelessness as well. Perhaps.

The signs aren't good so long as passionate evangelical and charismatic Christianity continues to explode (in a good way) in places like Nigeria; while the Chinese middle classes and academics convert to the point where Jesus is bigger than The Party; and signs-and-wonders show up in South America such that the God of Christianity is given the glory.

But am I not just distracting you from where the real wisdom is to be found - secular New Zealand and perhaps Europe (the States; economic and scientific superpower, is an aberration clearly not worthy of mention)? Yes and no. In Europe (& North Africa and S-E Asia) Islam is doing pretty well, partially through high birth rates (as well as, in a different place, conversions in US prisons; but perhaps that particular phenomenon has decreased.) OK, sarcastic/ironic asides aside, obviously I'm still just trying to hide that my Church/religion is dying and isn't worthy of your time (catch my little rhyme?) Well, the pentecostals and non-denominational evangelicals are actually doing pretty well numerically (e.g. Life, Arise, Harbourside, GCC, WCCC.) In the Anglican Church in Auckland, a number of my friends' churches aren't doin too bad either IMHO, most clearly St Pauls, having increased about 10fold (or more) in 6-ish years to a roll of ~1000. We do have issues with theological liberalism, which can kill churches. The Presbyterians at least, I have heard, have managed to turn around to a significant extent wrt this and there is hope yet! More obviously problematic are our demographics - apparently the average age at churches in the UK (I assume the CofE) is 61 and I guess we're in a similar boat. There is a baby boomer bubble in the population-at-large and so as this ages and deceases, a bit of reduction is to be expected in churches which aren't able to engage more recently formed generations.

There is also a general decline of the prominence of the established churches in society; I suppose the growth of the state in providing welfare may have something to do with it as the instigator of this post suggested, but in recent years it seems more attributable to growth in immigrant populations and consequently, adherence to other faiths. Christianity also loses many young people, often in their 20s - sometimes they come back to a church when they have children. Clearly Christianity is not inherited like the wrinkly trait in peas (note: actually, since the trait is recessive (and most churchgoers are wrinkly) maybe there are some similarities!) A cultural shift away from taking Jesus seriously is truly concerning for someone who cares about people - but is not necessarily any kind of defeater for religious belief. The Church has continued to see many conversions in recent years. I can think of a couple of handfuls of friends and associated hoi polloi who've left the non-faith or luke-warmish-agnosticism of their parents; long may it continue! Even in the small youth network of the Anglican Church, perhaps even more so than elsewhere, I have met a few such critters. Academics too retain, accept, or return to faith; even on these skeptical shores. As our culture's media and other structures are secularised (not sense of becoming completely atheistic, just less Church-friendly), Christianity polarises as it did not so much in the 50s. Nominal adherence drops (surprise!), but does the number who actually believe in the salvific death and resurrection of Jesus and live accordingly? Atm for me, that's an open question. It will be affected by; amongst others; you, the readers of this blog!

The Church is an unpopular minority force in our culture, but it continues to impact lives for good. Good does in fact exist, as God does - and His people, for better or worse, remain the Church.

spreading the good word

I don't frequently read "Canvas", the glossy insert in the Weekend Herald, but I couldn't resist the glowing cross on the front cover of last week's edition. The research for the article thusly advertised (on contemporary Christianity) was bad. In the sense of not-good. So, not because there wasn't enough of it - a few people were talked to, in an attempt to show division within the Church, including Asher Bastion and Nathan King, who are both worth the time of day. But what about NZ's expert on this kind of thing, Peter Lineham; or the quite-young incoming bishop of Auckland, Ross Bay, or someone like psychologist John McClure (Victoria) or academics from Laidlaw? Oh, right - Christianity isn't allowed to be shown as particularly intelligent, lest it appear true.

Instead we hear it implied that newer expressions of Christianity are all hype and there's nothing behind the façade. Of course, if you want to say that, you can; and I am no big fan of emotionalism and motivational speakers taking over the pulpit; but the article just wasn't good quality. One presumably-secular marketing person was quoted about "selling Jesus" and this was applied as if it had come of the mouth of a representative of Christianity. Figures given for Parachute were false - unfortunately way too large. The tag line suggested that a new brand of Christianity wants to present itself as more liberal and exciting. There is some truth to both claims, but the pentecostal/charismatic churches to which most of the article refers are only "liberal" in a social sense e.g. rock music, smoke machines and jeans are fine (though alcohol generally not.) Theologically they are generally (tho I am no fan of what the more extreme prosperity wing a la Joel Osteen), in fact very conservative. To support the "liberal" claim of course St Matthews, that embarassment to mainstream Anglicanism, is referred to (in response to their new billboard, I ask "why stop at two?" - but I guess they're not into polygamy at St Matts, for it reeks of conservatism. Interestingly, the small 'community church' advertised by that billboard, that uses their building has some parishioners too conservative for the current waffly crew at the main service anyway.) The St Matts reference doesn't fit the article, but people are so ignorant about religious matters that few will care. Finally, twas also claimed (something like) "one day Jesus will have his own facebook page." ROFL-confusedly. He's had one for a while so far as I can tell, Canvas dude. Behind the times? Well I guess you'd know.

The Church is a multi-faceted creature, it is interesting indeed and in New Zealand it is not dead.


From the Maverick: for comment and/or edification

Residing in their utopian Wolkenskukuheim -- a wonderful word I found in Schopenhauer translatable as 'Cloud Cuckoo Land' -- radical leftists are wrong about religion, wrong about human nature, wrong about the terrorist threat, wrong about the ‘fascist theocracy’ of Bush & Co., wrong about economics; in short, they are wrong about reality.

They are delusional reality-deniers. Now that they are in our government, we are in grave danger. I sincerely hope that people do not need a 'nuclear event' to wake them up. Political Correctness can get you killed.

Feb 1, 2010

revelling in the rain

I am a fan of the Parachute Music Festival. I am proud that what is (it is claimed) the largest Christian music festival outside the U.S. and at least in the southern hemisphere, is here in NZ - even if it is near the Tron. I have spent enough time, money and potentially social capital promoting the festival to be reasonably sure that I'm not a hater.

However, even though it is a 'music' festival, I think trends there illustrate some issues the Church in NZ should face up to. The festival is a highpoint on the Christian calendar and in presenting the gospel to young people in this country, with many making commitments each year. (It is difficult to determine how many of these commitments have been long-lasting, but anecdotal evidence from similar events suggests not a really high percentage. One of the issues which is clearly recognised is a need for discipleship; basically, 'follow-up'.) Putting other issues aside, I'd like to call into question the focus/theme of such events - feel free to comment.

The theme is, it appears, "be excited about Jesus!" And this is fair enough - Jesus is exciting, which is particularly obvious in the cases of those who haven't really met him before. But we don't, it seems, really say why we should be excited apart perhaps from finding a verse or two that can illustrate the message; nor do we see much in the way of thinking about how it should really play-out when we return to the 'real' world outside a Christian-youth subculture. What is needed is, simply, good teaching.

The teaching at Parachute (I'm thinking of mainstage) is passionate and aims to give glory to God through Jesus, with the Holy Spirit also playing a prominent part - all good so far. But the music festival context particularly emphasises experiential or emotional aspects - and unless you dig deeper you may leave thinking that there is little substance beneath. The teachers could come from broader theological perspectives i.e. perhaps fewer from the AoG and associates and they could (should) also pack more meat into their talks. More Bible exposition, less "positive thinking" would not be of harm, methinks.

Anyway, the real-life example I shall give to illustrate this sermon is the comparative attendance at the events (which I paraphrase to make the context clearer) "Hillsong United at morning meeting" and "Mark Strom (principal of Laidlaw College [an evangelical tertiary institution]) speaks about St Paul and the Philosophers at Athens". They were at different times and the morning meeting event was more prominent - yet I'll guess that crowded into the Palladium building this morning (judging by the figures given by easter camp of ~6000) were up to 10,000 people. Venturing out to hear Mark Strom on Saturday were up to 100. The interesting thing for me is that if the messages of the principal of Laidlaw, about intelligent contextualisation of the gospel, were put into action or thought about seriously, the impact could be something like a tsunami compared with the (while important) relatively quantatively minor ripples from the morning meeting.

People I would like to see (teaching) at Parachute: Jesus (I was incidentally wondering on Friday, given the delightful red sky, about how appropriate it would be for the rapture to occur while Rapture Ruckus was on stage - but that's another issue), Tim Keller, John Lennox, William Dembski, DA Carson (or one of the host of people like him at places like Trinity Ev. Div. School, Fuller, etc), Ben Witherington III (have I mentioned that I've had an email conversation with him?), William Lane Craig (or one of many other philosophers such as Victor Reppert, Charles Taliaferro), Kelly Monroe etc etc - basically, hoping this doesn't sound too arrogant, the people directing Parachute should make a visit to my bookshelf and start making a list.