Monday, July 30, 2012

GroupThink Makes Objectivity Difficult

Take Climate Change for example: A story in the MSM that ballyhoos the "conversion" of a sceptic to a CACC(GW) believer is way overstated. Not only does he have a clear (Google-able) trail of belief in GW but at least one scholar seriously disagrees with the conclusions of his study.

With this kind of rah-rah journalism how do we sort out the conflicting claims? That the earth is warming is more or less given. How much is the earth warming and to what degree is this warming anthropogenic are the questions that need a sober, scholarly answer.

*More on that Global Warming "Convert" and his paper proving:

More on that Global Warming "Convert" and his paper proving Global Warming.

Like I noted yesterday, there is solid research that the temperature data for ground warming is systematically biased in favor of the "warmist" conclusion.

But - wait! - there's more:

I’ve reached Dr. Judith Curry of Georgia Tech, who was a co-author of the first four BEST papers but who declined to be listed as an author of this one.

Read the whole thing.

(Via Lex Communis.)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Muhammad: Man or Myth?

Here is a more balanced and sober assessment:

Muhammad: Man or Myth?:

Muhammad: Man or Myth? | J. Mark Nicovich, Ph.D. | Catholic World Report

A review of Robert Spencer's Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins.

In recent decades it has become common in certain circles—often academic, sometimes popular—to challenge the historicity of famous figures and seminal events. The most well-known expression of this trend can be seen in those circles, skeptical and sometimes openly atheistic, that have taken the “search for the historical Jesus” to an extreme, calling into question whether a historical Jesus existed at all. The “Jesus Seminar” is a perfect example of this skeptical and even sensationalist approach. The general argumentation of this sort is centered on attacking the early Christian sources, citing the temporal distance of the Gospels and other writings from the early first century and the heavily biased nature of these texts as reasons to doubt the very existence of Jesus and to suspect he was merely a character invented to justify a particular theology, rather than the actual progenitor of it.

The skeptical cacophony has reached enough of a crescendo that Bart Ehrman, a leading New Testament scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill, recently published Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (HarperOne, 2012), a defense of the historical existence of Jesus. Ehrman is certainly no fundamentalist—in fact, he has publicly identified himself as an agnostic—and in this new work he is fully aware of the biases and pitfalls inherent in the early Christian sources. Yet despite these obvious issues he still demonstrates the overwhelming evidence for the historicity of Jesus, even if he does portray a rather different figure than the one depicted in the Gospels.

A similar series of works have appeared that attempt to work the same kind of radical historical revisionism on the early history of Islam, focusing on the person of Muhammad and the text of the Qu’ran, including Karl-Heinz Ohlig and Gerd-R  Puin’s The Hidden Origins of Islam, Hans Jensen’s Mohammed: Eine Biographie, and an entire body of work by Ibn Warraq. The present work under consideration, Robert Spencer’s Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins (ISI, 2012) is the latest and perhaps most provocative of these books. 

Continue reading at

Read the whole thing.

(Via Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog.)

If the Mind and the Brain are Identical

who will judge what is true and what is false? It still fascinates me that people can argue persistently that they have no mind except that biochemical factory between their ears. Neuroscience is a fascinating area of study but sometimes you wonder if it's either attracting or creating bad philosophers, i.e., people who can't think straight.

This article attacks the neuroscience issue from a different perspective, asking the question does neuroscience disprove the mind-brain identity hypothesis?

Mike Flynn has an absolutely fascinating piece…:

on the problem facing materialists who insist on saying the mind *is* the brain:

In The Instrumentality of the Brain, we noted a boy born without a cerebellum — the part of the brain that controls motor skills, balance and emotions — and who “has the MRI of a vegetable”; yet who has learned to walk and interact. He is also missing his pons, the part of the brain stem that controls basic functions, such as sleeping and breathing. And yet he breathes and sleeps just fine.

Other cases are known, such as the French civil servant, whose brain was virtually absent, reduced to a thin layer around the skull, a condition known as Dandy-Walker syndrome. Pause here for jokes about civil servants. Or Frenchmen. But he functioned more or less normally in society despite having water where his brain should have been.

The British neurologist John Lorber reported on the case of a slightly hydrocephalic math student with an IQ of 126, who also was almost lacking in brains (cf. Is the brain really necessary).

The current sexy thing among the cognoscenti is the use of fMRI to “prove” that there is no free will, a topic which, for some reason seems to obsess the likes of Jerry Coyne. Or at least the brain atoms collectively known as Jerry Coyne. It seems that at least some of these folks believe that by attacking free will, they are attacking religion; but they are actually attacking humanism.

Read the whole thing. Amazing stuff.

Read the whole thing.

(Via Catholic and Enjoying It!.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Did Muhammed Exist?

(subtitle: "An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins") a book by Robert Spencer. A quick review with just a couple of observations.

The author's avowed aim of subjecting Muhammed and the Quran to the same sort of rigorous analysis that Jesus and the Christian and Jewish Scriptures have been experiencing for more than a century intrigued me. Given that, as a believing Catholic Christian, a lot of this so-called analysis seems tendentious and poorly grounded in reason, I was curious to see what the author would make of Islam's founder and principle scriptures based on his survey of scholarship.

To recap the classical Muslim understanding of the events: Muhammed is called by Allah from the middle of Arabia to preach a re-purified message to everyone. His locutions are given to him by the Angel Gabriel in perfect Arabic which sayings, stories and pronouncements are gathered together a few decades after his death into the Quran as we now know it. It is perfect and complete and there are no variant versions, such as Christians deal with. And it is perfectly comprehensible.

This is roughly parallel to some Protestant systems of thought that treat the Scriptures as if they were dictated by God, word for word. While Catholicism has the highest regard for the Scriptures (Inspired and, therefore, Inerrant) it doesn't regard the authors of Scripture to be mere transcriptionists. Nor does it deny the thousands of variant versions from the ancient world.

The author aims, in part, to contrast the facile view that Mohammed, the Quran and early Islam happened in the "clear light of history" with his view that, in fact, we know very little about any of them and have little reliable information to base any firm conclusions on.

I was particularly struck by the author's dismissive attitude towards oral tradition, comparing it to the children's game of telephone. First of all, scholars have been and are continuing to study oral tradition in relation to history. In cultures where oral tradition predominates, such as First Century Judea, it can be a highly developed system for reliably transmitting information from one generation to the next. If scholars were to turn their attention to the first three centuries of Islam and study the oral transmission they might come to more meaningful conclusions than the author. The Quran, the biography of Mohammed and the Hadith might all be analyzed in a sober manner. From these studies we could then talk about what we can and can't know about early Islam, its Scripture and it's founder.

Alas, the threats of violence will probably keep most scholars away from any such project. At least for raising these issues, albeit in a flawed manner, the author deserves credit.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Science and God

A formal materialist is forced to deny his own personal existence. If a purely physical description of events could explain *everything* then we only experience the illusion of choice and responsibility. In fact our actions only appear to be decided on by ourselves but, in fact, are determined by natural processes over which we have no control.

Certain amusing results can be observed from espousing materialism: a materialist believes himself not to be free and must logically deny freedom (and therefore responsibility) to everyone else as well. Yet they frequently will work hard to *persuade* you that your belief in freedom is false. How does *persuasion* work in a materialistic world?

And if it were theoretically possible to actually describe the process of a *decision* being in completely materialistic terms *who* would be making this description and to whom would they be describing it? How would *we* know that description was *true*? If being *convinced* that something is *true* is just the result of physical forces how does one distinguish *true* from *false* beliefs? Who or what stands outside this circle to pass judgment?

Enter Quantum Mechanics. In trying to describe and predict events in the atomic and sub-atomic universe it has unexpectedly introduced a severe problem for the materialist:

Does quantum physics make it easier to believe in God?:

Quantum mechanics, however, throws a monkey wrench into this simple mechanical view of things. No less a figure than Eugene Wigner, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, claimed that materialism --- at least with regard to the human mind --- is not “logically consistent with present quantum mechanics.” And on the basis of quantum mechanics, Sir Rudolf Peierls, another great 20th-century physicist, said, “the premise that you can describe in terms of physics the whole function of a human being ... including [his] knowledge, and [his] consciousness, is untenable. There is still something missing.”

Read the whole thing.

(Via New Advent.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Science and Sports

Science proves there are limits to progress, even in sports. Take baseball for example:

What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?:

The ball is going so fast that everything else is practically stationary. Even the molecules in the air are stationary. Air molecules vibrate back and forth at a few hundred miles per hour, but the ball is moving through them at 600 million miles per hour. This means that as far as the ball is concerned, they’re just hanging there, frozen.

Read the whole thing.

(Via New Advent.)

The God Particle

There was an interview on CNN with physicist Michio Kaku about the Higgs boson particle (the so-called "God Particle"). The some debatable pronouncements are slipped into this discussion.
The most egregious leap is made by Dr. Kaku when he seems to agree that this discovery could "disprove God". The HIggs Boson particle does nothing to advance the cause of atheism, ok? When qualified scientists start talking about philosophy you should be prepared to deduct 50 IQ points.

This and other misapprehensions are admirably dissected by William Lane Craig in his podcast "Reasonable Faith". One point that he makes fascinated me. The Borde Guth Vilenkin Theorem seems to invalidate appeals to an endless universe in physics whether through infinite regressions or endless expansions and contractions. A Google search shows that Dr. Craig's reliance on this theorem has sparked a mini-industry of atheist rebuttals. A more scientific and current evaluation is here. The summary is "Did the universe have a beginning? Probably yes."