Monday, September 07, 2015

Lost Art of Reading

"Our culture has made a radical shift in the last century from a word-based society of readers to an image-based society of viewers. The media of our time are movies, television, and the Internet, not books. As a result, unlike our fore-bearers of just a few generations ago, we don't know how to read. To a large extent we have lost the art."

- Howard G. "Prof" Hendricks (Dallas Theological Seminary)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Faith

"Trusting God is not faith without evidence. 
It is commitment without reservation."

Thursday, July 02, 2015

God in the Beginning

Fascinating 5 minute monologue about origins from a guy with three degrees from MIT.

 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Story by Jimmy

I saw Jimmy Needham live earlier this year in Dallas, Texas. Very cool. Enjoy.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Is Theism Justified?

I find atheism fascinating, and while lurking about in a Google+ community for Atheism, I encountered Syne the Sage who wrote, "...a theistic perspective is unjustified, and so as are all the claims that such a perspective is meant to justify."

I wasn't quite sure what this statement meant, so I asked for clarification.

Me: Could you clarify what you mean? God or gods exist or don't exist. It is an open question. What determines which position one takes should be determined by the evidence, should it not?

Syne: Yes, and not only does the evidence consistently point towards naturalistic causes, and away from a deity being necessitated, but that lack of necessitation along with the fact that deities are manmade concepts used by primitive tribes to explain mysterious and unintuitive natural phenomena, only discredits the concept to the point of being asymptotically close to falsehood. And it is only not absolutely false, because it is still unfalsifiable - which really is a gap in absolute falsification which fills itself, because unfalsifiability is a sign of the weakness of a hypothesis, not its strength - hence why "not only are you not right, you're not even wrong" is a major insult to a hypothesis, as unverifiability and unfalsifiability are absolutely worthless from a scientific perspective, and are always a result of embarrassingly fundamental errors in the hypothesis itself.

This is all including the monotheistic deities, which are designed to be all-encompassing explanatory tools, which necessitates more assumptions being made, which further invalidates the assertion in the absence of validating evidence - thereby making paganism, while still unjustified, less invalid than the abrahamic religions, while they are still both asymptotically close to absolute falsehood.

Therefore, assuming a theistic perspective is not only unjustified, and not only is it not on the same level as the counterposition in the slightest, it is a logical absurdity of the highest possible degree, while the absence of validating evidence (which would have to be extraordinary to compensate for the magnitude of the collective assertion) stands.

When Occam's Razor is enough to invalidate a perspective, it's grossly unjustified.

Me: Naturalistic causes without appeal to deity do make sense, and great scientific minds like Newton followed that path of inquiry into how the universe works. However, empirical experimentation (i.e. the scientific method) isn't the only way to discover truth about reality. This is also where detractors of Intelligent Design Theory get it wrong. It is not a "God of the gaps" appeal or Creationism in disguise. There is evidence of design in nature, and ID seeks to understand that. And there are evidences of God through philosophical and metaphysical arguments, so I don't agree with you that theism is unjustified. To make such a claim leads me to think you've fallen for scientism rather than actual science.

Syne:  Science collects data from the environment, finds patterns, uses those patterns to create predictions, experiments to verify those predictions, and then repetition of those experiments by third parties under different conditions and variables, through which predictive trends can be further solidified. And regardless of the results we are bound to find some truth about reality in the results of an experiment. Even if that truth is "prediction x is not true", because upon that new information other new understandings can be built.

You say that intelligent design seeks to find truth, I say you need to show how.

Science is designed for self-correction, removal of all unnecessitated fluff and assumptions, and the maximized mitigation of human error through the collection of objective data and application of the scientific method to that data.

If you have a similarly effective method of finding truth about reality, I'd love to hear it. As far as philosophical arguments (metaphysics falls under this umbrella) for god goes, they're always inherently flawed, and not only that; they're insufficient to be solid evidence by themselves for anything, as we haven't pulled any objective data from the environment to validate the hypothesis.

That being said, I'd be happy to engage in a debate on the evidence of design and whatever philosophical arguments you find compelling evidence for a deity. But in order for me to properly address your position right now, I need to know what it's based upon. The rest of what I wrote above is only partially addressing anything, much less fully addressing your position.

(Just want you to know that my tone isn't intended to be cold or antagonistic or anything, that seems to just be how I write in text.)

Me: If all we could know about reality was determined by scientific experiment, then we could know nothing about love or consciousness (mind) to give two examples. It seems to me that you may be operating from a position of naturalistic materialism which is an ad hoc assumption that nothing beyond the material realm can exist. If by definition you ignore the possibility of soul, spirit, mind, love, deity, i.e. that which is beyond the natural realm - supra-natural, then there is no point in further dialog b/c you cannot discuss that which you have definitionally eliminated from possibility.

Syne: "if all we could know about reality was determined by scientific experiment, then we could know nothing about love or consciousness (mind) to give two examples."

But we can. Nothing about consciousness or love necessitates a supernatural explanation.

"It seems to me that you may be operating from a position of naturalistic materialism which is an ad hoc assumption that nothing beyond the material realm can exist."

ad hoc is a Latin phrase meaning "for this". It generally signifies a solution designed for a specific problem or task, non-generalizable, and not intended to be able to be adapted to other purposes... In other fields the term may refer, for example...or a purpose-specific equation. ad hoc can also mean makeshift solutions, shifting contexts to create new meanings, inadequate planning, or improvised events.

In science and philosophy, ad hoc means the addition of extraneous hypotheses to a theory to save it from being falsified. ad hoc hypotheses compensate for anomalies not anticipated by the theory in its unmodified form. Scientists are often skeptical of theories that rely on frequent, unsupported adjustments to sustain them. ad hoc hypotheses are often characteristic of pseudoscientific subjects such as homeopathy.

Not that nothing beyond material explanation can exist, and not an assumption. I want to be clear that I'm not injecting any premises into my logic.

1. Every phenomenon ever observed has had a naturalistic explanation. (this is an obvious first point of contention - you may offer an example against this if you wish and I'll do my best to explain why it doesn't necessitate supernatural elements at play)
2. No supernatural explanation has ever been verified, and they have almost always ended up falsified and replaced by alternative, more coherent and justified explanations. (I can't imagine the example you would give against this would not be applicable in response to the first premise, but if there is one that you can think of, or if you want to offer another example for the sake of thoroughness, feel free.)
3. Supernatural explanations always contain unjustified assumptions. Example: all traits of all deities, ever, have been, while usually due to [faulty] philosophical logic, assumptions, lacking necessitation save for in the presence of its presupposition - effectively, it needs to be presupposed to necessitate it and its traits.
4. Therefore it is unjustified to assume a supernatural explanation.

"If by definition you ignore the possibility of soul, spirit.. deity" 

I moved "deity" over here and separated my responses to these things, as they are different, and I object to their conflation on the ground that the next set of concepts have naturalistic explanations, and verifiable manifestations in reality, as opposed to these three, which have no necessitation, and are definitionally nebulous.

"mind, love, , i.e. that which is beyond the natural realm - supra-natural,"

These two are not supernatural concepts, and are entirely explainable by naturalistic processes.

"then there is no point in further dialog b/c you cannot discuss that which you have definitionally eliminated from possibility."

My current position is material determinism, because more than that has not necessitated more. It is a conclusion, not a premise. That conclusion is subject to change if my reasons for having it is successfully challenged. If there is anything that makes my position unfalsifiable, it's the unverifiability of the contrary position, not a weakness in that position, as that is how a default position works; the one making claims about reality has to justify them.

--------------- end exchange from Google+ -----------------

I'm encouraged by this exchange, and hopefully we can continue the dialog in the comments below. Syne the Sage seems willing to dialog on fact and evidence without the bluster I've encountered with Todd/Toad the Atheist, Jen Koontz, my Atheist friend who thinks I'm brainwashed. We'll see where it goes. Hopefully we both learn something in the process as that is always my hope.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Elon Musk

I predict Elon Musk will be the richest man on the planet within 10 years, and probably sooner. In fact, I would not be the least bit surprised if his eventual net worth exceeds that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett combined. The guy is amazing. He took his $165 million payout from PayPal, and leveraged that little nest egg into SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and Solar City. Last week he announced the Powerwall (see video below).

All it took for Bill Gates to become the richest man in the world was a little software: DOS, Windows, and some Office tools riding the wave of the PC revolution. I don't think Warren Buffett ever engineered or created anything, and he got to the top of the rich guy list. Imagine the wealth potential of someone simultaneously conquering space, ground transportation, and solving the problem of no electricity in places far away from power generation stations. Trifecta! Hat Trick Extraordinaire!

This 18 minute video is well worth your time to see the future this man is creating for all of us. I hope all the power (pun intended) doesn't change him for the worse. So far I like what I see, and I'm glad Elon decided to immigrate to the USA to make his fortune. We are still the land of opportunity.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Biological Evolution: Did It Happen?

A Personal Perspective by Thomas Pittman, PhD
(full essay here, this excerpt posted with permission)

I do not have time to review here everything that has been published on the question of whether biological evolution (as understood by those who accept the notion, namely universal descent from a common ancestor) actually happened. Instead I will concentrate on what I found to be the compelling arguments for and against it.

I grew up in a Bible-believing Christian family, but despite my parents' best efforts I was exposed to a high-school teacher who promoted the idea of evolution without disclosing its problems, and I bought into it. I received a logical, scientific, mathematical education, and scientists believed in common descent, so it must be true. That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the strongest argument I have ever seen for biological evolution: "All the scientists believe it."

Not all.

Twenty years later, in grad school, my thesis advisor invited me to take another look at the evidence supporting evolution versus fiat creation. I noticed a curious phenomenon: nobody had any evidence of their own; they always pointed to some other discipline as compelling. Ask a paleontologist how he knows how old these fossils are, and he tells you it's from the rock strata; ask a geologist how he knows how old the rock strata are, and he tells you it's from the fossils. Really. Yes, they have radiometric dating, but radiometric dates are all over the map, so they calibrate them from the fossils. Really. Check it out.

So for twenty years I have been asking The Question of anybody with a terminal degree in any field at all:
What evidence in your own area of expertise supports the common-descent evolution model over fiat creation?
In 20 years, not one qualified person has ever even attempted an answer! One person with only a Masters degree offered the observation that there is only one species of Cretacious fossil cypress tree, but there are seven species today. I asked him how different that one species of Cretacious cypress was from a hybrid of the seven today -- in other words could all seven modern cypress "species" be derived from that single Cretacious parent without any evolution at work at all? He did not reply. I asked this same Question directly of a high-ranking evolutionist member of the Southwest Baptist University Biology department faculty. He did not reply. Or rather, he did reply, but declined to address the scientific question with scientific data. There's a reason for that: There is no evidence for evolution.
 
The reason for insisting on a terminal degree in this Question was impressed on me by a grad student in entomology, which is an important (biological science) department at Kansas State University, where I taught for three years. He said that undergraduates and masters level students are not told the whole truth about the problems with evolution, but they don't keep it from the PhD students because they cannot do original research without knowing all the facts.

Entropy and Information Science

In my own area of expertise (my PhD is in Information Science), I can tell you for a fact that the accumulation of random chance events does not and cannot lead to greater specialization and new features; it only corrupts what gains have already been made. Otherwise, every supercomputer in the world would be busily grinding away at simulated evolution to create new software, because software is incredibly difficult to design and get correct, and supercomputer time is relatively cheap by comparison. We do have what are misleadingly called "genetic programs" that "evolve" and become better at the task for which they are programmed. This is somewhat of a misrepresentation, because these programs never evolve beyond the bounds of the task for which they are programmed, and never in ways unanticipated by their programmer. They are designed to adapt themselves in limited ways in response to known stimuli. This is not the kind of evolution that biologists tell us happened to life on earth.

The November 1987 issue of Scientific American was devoted to Entropy, and all the schemes that scientists have come up with over the years to create a perpetual motion engine, and the technical reasons why each idea failed. Some were quite clever, like involving little trap doors to let hot molecules collect on one side only of a two-chamber box. One of the reasons it failed is that you cannot measure the temperature of the molecules without added energy.

One of the interesting findings of Information Science is that the same formulas for Entropy in the energy domain apply also to the information domain. And like the failed search for perpetual motion energy sources, there cannot be any success at all in achieving "perpetual motion" information sources. Our experience in Artificial Intelligence (AI) research supports this finding. Serious new AI research is no longer attempting to make self-intelligent learning machines, but only mimicking human intelligence in the computer. Unlike the energy domain, where the earth is not a closed system (it continuously receives energy from the sun), the earth is a closed system in the information domain. Therefore the Second Law of thermodynamics (in the information domain) applies and proves that the origin of species by biological evolution is physically impossible apart from an external information source. At any point in time (today, or 1,000,000 years ago, it doesn't matter which), all the genetic code in the world is a fixed (albeit very large) body of information; but it cannot increase in a closed system -- in fact it will tend to decrease. That means species and genera and phyla will die off (go extinct), but nothing new will come that is not merely a reshuffling of the information already there. This is a prediction from the theory, and it is supported from all the evidence. In the 140+ years since the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species, there has not been a single documented novel feature evolved, but hundreds of species and entire genera have gone extinct, carrying into oblivion their entire genetic code. Information has been lost, but not replaced with new information.

For evolution to work, the small variations that we see in organisms today -- including the various beak sizes of the finches on the Galapagos islands and the coloration of the peppered moth in England -- must continue unbounded to the creation of novel forms. It simply does not happen. When the climate changes, the finches in the Galapagos start to grow a different size of beaks, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, but they are always still finches. Race horses have been carefully bred for speed (survival of the fittest, enforced by careful breeding) for centuries. If evolution worked, they would continue to get faster and faster, but they don't. Races are now won by hundredths of a second, because all the horses run as fast as a race horse can run. The evolution (if you can call it that) is bounded and limited to what horses were designed to do, just like the genetic programs in computer software which are limited to what the programmer designed them to do.

Read the rest of this essay here.


Friday, April 24, 2015

The Greatest Generation

If you're an American - or even if you're a European - take 5 minutes to watch this and be thankful for The Greatest Generation. I'm thankful for the men and women in uniform who serve our country, past, present, and future. My youngest son graduates from high school in just a few weeks, and he's already going through the enlistment process with the US Air Force.  I'm so proud of him following in the footsteps of great men like Jerry Yellin. (View original video.)

Capt. Jerry Yellin, from Fairfield, Iowa, flew the final combat mission in World War II. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Theory and Law in Science

Recently, I found myself in a Facebook debate regarding science and truth. I made the comment that "...there is not unanimous agreement that Darwinism is true or it would be promoted from theory to Law such as the Laws of Thermodynamics." Todd, my atheist nemesis in this debate, castigated me with the following rebuke:
A theory graduates into a Law---Again, no, no, no... If I could just get Dennis to admit this one, terrible mistake, I could feel like our dialogue had been good for something. Dennis either missed this in science class, or just chooses to ignore it. And I will admit that early in my science education, I too erroneously thought this as well; boy, I was so glad of the day I learned that I had been wrong!
Well, Todd the Atheist can be happy now because our dialogue was good for something. I'm pretty careful about the statements I make in an online debate, but I'm not infallible. So, I spent some time thinking about what Todd the Atheist wrote, and why we had a failure to communicate. After some consideration, I realized my use of the word "promote" was a poor word choice, and my actual argument needs further explanation.

First, I need to give Todd the Atheist points in our debate for his insistence on definitional clarity. He wrote: "In science, laws are simple facts and formulas that are so basic that they apply universally." Yes. We both agree on this. And by definition, a theory is "a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained." Scientific theories are supported by scientific laws, and we are in perfect agreement on that. Todd the Atheist also posted this:
How much proof does it take for a theory to graduate to being a law? Because the words theory and law have such different meanings in the language of science, it is often a difficult question to answer, so instead, I'll start by giving you a few similar questions to answer. How perfectly do you have to build a house so that it will become a single brick? How well do you have to write to change an entire dictionary into a single word? What would you have to do to change an entire symphony into a single note?
If you are thinking that those questions don't make much sense, then you are feeling very much like a scientist who has been asked "How much proof does it take for a theory to graduate to being a law?" A house is made up of many bricks, boards, nails, windows, doors, concrete, etc. A dictionary is made up of thousands of different words, and a symphony can easily have thousands of notes that all fit together in just the right way to produce pleasing music. In the same way, theories are based on a variety of scientific laws, facts, testing, and other evidence, all fit together in a way that offers an explanation of how some part of the universe works.
These cute questions make a worthy point. But if you dig a little deeper, the way science progresses in the real world really is from laws to theory, and then to more laws. Laws describe things. Theories explain them. The theories themselves may not be promoted or "graduated" to laws, but the laws that describe things do go into theories that explain things which in turn lead to better laws and theories that describe and explain things more simply or completely when science is working as designed. That is the point I was trying to make, albeit poorly. Here's an actual example from the real world.

Isaac Newton succinctly unified Galileo's theory of falling bodies with Kepler's laws of planetary motion in his Principia published in 1687. Newton's laws of motion and universal gravitation replaced the Copernican heliocentric theory which had been around since 1543. The laws of Kepler and insights from Newton changed our understanding of the physical world by giving rise to a new theory of gravity which was more encompassing than what Galileo proposed following his apocryphal falling body experiment from the Leaning Tower of Pisa in 1589.

More than three centuries after Copernicus and more than two centuries after Newton, Einstein came along with his Theory of General Relativity. Einstein unified Newton's law of universal gravitation with his own Special Theory of Relativity. Einstein's theories led to new laws and falsifiable empirical tests. Einstein proposed three tests of General Relativity. In a letter to the London Times in 1919 he wrote: "The chief attraction of the theory lies in its logical completeness. If a single one of the conclusions drawn from it proves wrong, it must be given up; to modify it without destroying the whole structure seems to be impossible."

The three tests Einstein proposed were not falsified, and to this day the General Theory of Relativity provides the most complete description of gravity we have. This is an example of science moving from law to theory to new and better laws and theories regarding gravity. I appreciate Todd the Atheist for insisting on clear definitions, so I retract my statement that a theory is "promoted" to law. Instead, I will restate that laws lead to theories which in turn lead to new and better laws and theories. The example of gravity being case in point.

My point in the debate with Todd the Atheist is that Darwinism hasn't been so successful. Granted gravity and the physical sciences are less complex than biological life sciences, but Darwinists like to make the comparison implying their theory is on par with our knowledge of gravity. That is hopeful wishing, but I believe a comparison between Darwinism and gravity can be instructive if we consider the striking differences as well as the slight similarities.

Darwinism tries to explain biodiversity by the random, undirected mechanism of natural selection over "millions of years" which essentially makes Darwinism non-reproducible and non-observable. In this way it is completely different from the scientific work within the field of gravity (pun intended) since we cannot devise or run reproducible and observable experiments in a meaningful way as we have with gravity. Further, Charles Darwin himself proposed a falsifiability test of his theory. He wrote, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."

Examples of "irreducible complexity" have been proposed by Intelligent Design Theorists for organs down to the sub-cellular components of biological life such as a Kinesin, and Darwin would probably admit his theory as he conceived it did "absolutely break down." In fact, I doubt Darwin would have ever proposed his theory if he could have seen the incredible design inside a cell, but he didn't have a microscope powerful enough to see sub-cellular design. Darwin's test for falsifiability has been falsified over and over again through examples of irreducible complexity. Yet Darwinism is patched up and persists. Why? Shouldn't Darwinism be tossed out as it "absolutely break(s) down"?

As I stated before, the life sciences are much more complex than the simple concept of gravity, so falsifiability tests as clear cut as those for gravity are much harder to devise. Darwinism, and the patched up version of NeoDarwinism, are basically claims about history more than theories about observable, reproducible phenomena we can measure in the physical sciences. So, why do the Darwinists think their theory is on par with those of gravity? And, why do atheists like Todd believe it has predictive value?

I think the answer has more to do with faith in scientism than it does with good science or critical thinking. Based on what we know about probability, information science, and sub-cellular design, it is pretty clear that Darwinism is 19th century thinking that needs an overhaul and frame of reference shift like Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. Darwinism has no reasonable answers for the complexity of sub-cellular design and programming of life in DNA. But, so far the Intelligent Design Theorists have been unable to unseat the entrenched belief system of science today which is rooted in Darwinism.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Truth Trumps Tolerance

Forward: I posted an essay similar to this in December 2008 called Truth Trumps Nice. This rewrite was inspired by the increasing cultural divide between secularists and Christians which has grown substantially over the past 7 years. I hope this essay contributes to raising the level of civil discourse by clearly articulating why Christians seem so "intolerant" of political correctness, and sometimes each other. So, here is the revised Truth Trumps Nice Tolerance.

In our post-modern culture of moral relativism, tolerance has been elevated above truth as the highest social value. In these post-modern days of political correctness, intolerance has become the unforgivable social sin. I realize I've committed this social sin when someone accuses me of "shoving my morality down their throat" when I'm not even trying to coerce the other person into doing anything at all. I've also been called a "fundamentalist" (many times) and "hater" for revealing my strongly held convictions. I'm quickly labeled "intolerant" because my convictions run counter to political correctness. Freedom of speech has deteriorated into sound bites and shouting matches with seemingly no desire to truly understand one another or really communicate.

The interesting irony with the post-modern doctrine of tolerance is how intolerant it is of other viewpoints. You can observe this in the culture clash over the redefinition of marriage and homosexual rights. You are immediately considered "intolerant" if you don't accept the redefinition of marriage or the political efforts of homosexuals to position discrimination against them as a civil rights issue. Diverging from the politically correct opinions on these topics will make you a lightening rod for hateful, discriminatory action from the radical LGBT community and their sympathizers, the very same people who desperately seek acceptance and tolerance for their beliefs and behaviors. It is weirdly Orwellian.

In our post-modern world of political correctness, the doctrine of tolerance is exemplified in the avoidance of civil confrontation and rational dialog on issues of substance. People believe it is "not nice" to discuss sex, politics, or religion in polite company. Why? Probably because you might have a disagreement that highlights the hypocrisy in the doctrine of tolerance. In the event of disagreement, parties in conflict often choose to "agree to disagree" rather than seek unity in truth. They mistakenly believe this is the nice way to behave. It may seem nice, but it is dishonest if the parties in conflict have a common set of core beliefs or facts on which to work out their differences.

So what goes wrong? Why can't we all just get along? I think it has to do with truth being replaced by tolerance and its cousin "affirmation" as the highest values in society. This subjective standard cannot be lived out consistently. The well-meaning do-gooders, these "social justice warriors," seem to think they are being fair and nice to everyone by their insistence on tolerance, but they are actually hypocrites. They are not nice or affirming to people, like me, who believe in free speech and who disagree with their political correctness. Tolerance only means tolerating their views about social justice which are mostly about LGBT rights, abortion, and gender non-specific marriage. The niceness and affirmation only lasts until you disagree with a social justice warrior.

As far as Christians are concerned, Jesus was all about objective truth which is measurable, and none of us measure up. Jesus wasn't always "nice," and neither were the Apostles or the Prophets when it came time to confront error and evil. They all preferred telling the truth about wrongdoing, even (or maybe especially) when it hurt. Read the Bible if you don't believe me. It is there in the text where anyone can read it for themselves. We need more Christians who can think critically and rationally, and who can politely articulate -- and more importantly live out -- those beliefs in humility even if they don't seem "nice" in our politically correct post-modern culture. Setting an example of thinking and living as Jesus did, and repenting when we get it wrong, will help other people who want to be Jesus followers experience the abundant life and unity in the truth.

Tolerance is a virtue to a point, but not beyond the point of truth. Truth trumps tolerance, and sometimes there is no way to be nice about it. Some people are wrong, evil, and immoral. They fly airplanes into tall buildings, and kill people in the name of their "god." Or, they hate others in the name of Jesus, which is totally ridiculous because Jesus taught charity and self sacrifice, not hate. When people make sinful choices, repentance is the only path for reconciliation with God who gives life. Repentance needs to begin with those who claim the name of Jesus. But, if we are merely nice to wrongdoers, and afraid to tell them the truth, they will never find the forgiveness offered through Truth himself, Jesus Christ. Telling the truth is the only loving way for Christians to behave. Jesus followers need to learn how to live and speak the truth with gentleness and respect, but sometimes this tough love is not nice or tolerant.

Afterword: The focus of this article is primarily for professing Christians in dealing with other professing Christians. When a true Christian, i.e. a Christian who is submitted to teachings of the Bible, is engaging with a non-Christian, they should lead with grace, not judgment, in most cases. The non-Christian has not yet submitted their behavior to the Lordship of Jesus, and such a person should be treated with charity and kindness as Jesus teaches. The most charitable and kind thing you can do for someone is to lead them to repentance so they can experience true life in God.

Credits: My observations and many of the ideas contained in this blog entry were developed through extensive email discussions with my friend Dr. Tom Pittman. For more information along these lines, check out his evolving online book: God of Truth: Reforming the Feminized American Church

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Objective Truth or Jesus?

"I believe people are saved not by objective truth, but by Jesus. 
Their faith isn’t in their knowledge, but in God." 

Brian McLaren

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Privileged Species

Dr. Michael Denton is a British-Australian biochemist with a PhD from King's College London. I first read of Dr. Michael Denton some twenty years ago when I was questioning the credibility of Darwinism. I had discovered Darwinism and Intelligent Design (ID) could not both be true. Either one or both of them are wrong. In other words, Theistic Evolution is pretty much an oxymoron -- although I held that view while I was in college since I didn't know any better at the time. Darwinism certainly has the most advocates among the atheist intelligentsia running the scientific communities and institutions of higher learning, but truth isn't determined by majority opinion or a court of law, although the Darwinists like to trot out the Dover Trial as evidence their theory is correct. Court cases don't determine scientific truth, and sometimes not even truth at all as the O.J. Simpson case seemed to indicate.

Majority opinion changes in science. Not too long ago, the majority of the scientific community favored the steady state theory of the universe (i.e. no beginning), but today any scientist who doesn't agree with the "standard model" of Big Bang cosmology is marginalized out of the mainstream, or outright mocked as a fool. I believe within 75 to 150 years we'll look back on Darwinism the same way we do today on steady state theorists. Darwinism has been under increasing fire since at least 1985 when Denton first wrote Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.

The video below and its companion Privileged Species website is part of the ongoing work of Dr. Michael Denton to help Darwinists out of their delusions. Denton might not use that sort of language, but I do. The Theory of Evolution as Darwin proposed it has been altered by the NeoDarwinists to try and patch it up, but even that is insufficient to make it solid. Intelligent Design just makes more sense, and has more explanatory power. But as we saw in the Dover Trial, the Christians promoting Special Creation as a scientific approach through the wedge of Intelligent Design are doing a disservice to ID. Properly understood, Intelligent Design Theory is not a "God of the gaps" argument, nor does it speak to abiogenesis or what the intelligent agent might be. It is an honest recognition that we see actual design in nature, not just apparent design that must be explained away through the magic pixie dust of "millions of years" of unobserved evolution.

If you're a NeoDarwinist who believes ID is not a scientific theory, I challenge you to show me observable evidence of Darwinism happening. Darwinism is no more scientific than ID unless you define "scientific" as "what scientists believe." I've never seen Darwinism happen, and neither have you. Nobody has. Ever. Darwinism is essentially a claim about history. It is a proposal about what allegedly happened over "millions of years" of random variation in biological life where unguided Natural Selection preserved organisms most fit for survival. No new life forms have ever been observed to appear in an experiment proving the Darwinian hypothesis. Adaptations, yes. New life forms, no. Not one. Never. Last I checked, science was about observation, not history. The dogma of Darwinism is merely one story about how to explain the billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth. It is the story most scientists believe about how that stuff got there, but it isn't the only story, and arguably not even the best or truest one.

Humans have used "directed evolution" in dogs and other domestic animals to create incredible diversity within those kinds of life forms by selecting traits intentionally, but there is no evidence the diversity of life we see today in nature has "evolved" by descent from a common ancestor through the unguided aid of natural selection. The idea that micro evolution (adaptation) results in macro evolution (new life forms) given enough time is an unproven hypothesis supported by data fitting of the fossil record.

What we actually observe in experiments and through experience is bounding within types. Today, horse races are won by hundredths of a second because through selective breeding we've made horses just about as fast as they can go based on their biological design. The observable evidence shows natural selection is bounded, unless you appeal to magic pixie dust of "millions of years" where nobody was there to observe it.

So, I take the position of the atheist when it comes to Darwinian evolution. I don't see it, so I don't believe in it. Show me, then I'll believe. In fact, I believe the evidence for the existence of God is more compelling than the evidence for Darwinism, and that is where worldviews collide. Darwinism is what atheists need to be intellectually fulfilled, at least according to Richard Dawkins. The atheists know this which is why they argue so vociferously for Darwinism and use political power and the courts to keep dissenting opinions quiet to the detriment of scientific progress. You can tell how committed an atheist is to atheism by how vigorously they defend Darwinism. They quickly move away from the scientific approach of detached incredulity and move toward a passionate diatribe often seen in religious battles. Just try talking to an atheist about origins, and you'll soon see what I mean. Darwinism is ultimately the religion of atheism. It is a religion in the sense that it answers the same questions as other religions.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Beyond Atheistic Perception

In materialistic terms, human beings can be described as carbon-based biological life-forms with five highly specified sensor systems on board. Our highly developed meat computers, a.k.a. the human brain, manage these five sensor systems (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) which allow us to perceive the cosmos around us while we think, will, emote, and act. This is what we are from the perspective of scientific naturalism. However, this description is still grossly lacking in explaining the human experience.

While the human biological machine is truly amazing, it is incredibly limited and finite. We exist on the razor's edge of a tiny piece of rock hurling around a small star out in the corner of a single galaxy in a very fine-tuned universe. If gravity was much greater (or less), or if the temperature range on the surface of the planet was more drastic due to even relatively small changes in the atmosphere, or if any similar small changes in the dozens of factors in the fine-tuning of the universe were different, we could not exist at all. The fact that we do exist seems incredibly improbable if this universe is all there is, and as far as we know from a materialist perspective this universe is all there is.

And that is the rub: As far as we know. We simply don't know a whole lot, at least not until very recently. Our built-in sensor systems are simply not that robust. Just take human sight, for example. The human eye can only see light between the wavelengths of 390 and 700 nanometers. We call this the "visible spectrum" because it is the only portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that a human eye can detect. Humanity didn't even know about non-visible electromagnetic radiation until 1800 when William Herschel discovered infrared light, so it is only in the last two hundred or so years that we were even aware of things like gamma rays, x-rays, ultra-violet light, microwaves, and radio waves. Before Herschel, all that stuff was beyond our perception.

This article would be too long if I got into the discovery of quantum mechanics, general and special relativity, and the DNA double-helix which are extremely recent discoveries, all pretty much in the last one hundred or so years. These four discoveries alone totally and radically changed our understanding of matter, space, time, and biological life. If you consider the last 100 years in the overall course of recorded human history of roughly 5,000 years, it has only been in this most recent 2% of recorded history that we learned about all this stuff. (If you believe the Darwinists, this is in the most recent 0.05% of human history since Darwinism might argue humans have been around for 200,000 years, but I digress.) Bottom line is for all but the most recent few years of human existence most of what we know today about physical reality was beyond our perception.

So, if all this stuff has been beyond our perception, what makes an atheist so sure that there is no God (or gods) out there beyond their perception? How can someone be so sure that God does not exist when for 98%, or 99.95% for the Darwinists, of human history we didn't know much of anything about the physical reality around us? What blows my mind is that otherwise intelligent people (a.k.a. atheists) disbelieve in the possibility of discovering God (or gods) when their supposedly scientific world view is based on discovery! The atheist mind does not welcome the possibility their human sensor systems have been unable to detect a God that transcends the natural realm. That level of inquiry is carefully carved out as off limits by an ad hoc assumption that the material realm is all there is of reality, and that (false) assumption is easily disproven. When it comes to the idea of God, the atheist mind snaps shut like a steel trap.

And that trap snap is just at the mention of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God. If you happen to venture into the topic that a philosophically possible God has been revealed in the best selling book of all time, pretty much every atheist will weave and dodge that evidence like a professional dodge ball player. That doesn't seem too "free thinking" to me. If you want evidence, dig in. Christianity is different from every other belief system. There is nearly 2,000 years of scholarship to examine, give or take a couple centuries for the dark ages where it was Christian monasteries that preserved knowledge. Take a look at the cartoon below to see how Christianity differs in simple terms from every other religion.

The unwavering faith the faithful disbelievers (a.k.a. atheists) have in Darwinism is stunning. The average Christian pales in their faithfulness as compared to the average atheist. According to perhaps the most famous atheist on the planet today, Richard Dawkins, "Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." [The Blind Watchmaker (1986), p. 6] If you discount atheists who have a predisposed penchant for the dogma of Darwinism, which includes a large portion of the scientific community which is disproportionately atheist, pretty much every other thinking person on the planet understands what Intelligent Design looks like. If you see a wrist watch laying on the beach, you don't think all those parts just randomly came together out of the primordial ooze of the ocean by chance over billions of years. You know there was an intelligent watchmaker involved in designing and making the watch. Even a five year old understands this without any formal schooling.

You have to be a highly trained scientist like Richard Dawkins to unlearn this human intuition, plus you have to go to extraordinary lengths to explain away reason with the pixie dust of "billions of years" and fairy tales about amoebas evolving into higher life forms which eventually evolve into the lower primates and then finally homo sapiens. It goes against all rationality considering the complex design of the inner workings of a single cell, much less the highly developed carbon-based biological life-forms with five highly specified sensor systems on board. But, I guess if you need a reason to not believe in God, any silly reason will do. Never mind the possibility that perhaps God is just beyond the perception of the atheist like pretty much all of modern scientific understanding for 99.95% of human history, to use the Darwinists' numbers.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why I Remain a Christian

I was raised in a Christian home. My parents took me to a Southern Baptist Church. I believed what I was taught because the people who cared about me had no reason to lie to me, and I had no good reason to not believe them. I asked a lot of questions, and many times that led to frustration as I didn't get satisfactory answers. However, the lack of satisfactory answers from the church and my family wasn't sufficient for me to kick God to the curb permanently. Fast forward 18 years from my birth.

When I was a freshman in college my parents got divorced. That shattered my worldview. I basically walked away from God and the church for a number of years. I didn't become an atheist. I just stopped asking the hard questions. I preferred hedonism, so I followed the advice of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 8:15. For the most part, I didn't have anything to do with God or religion as that would have interfered with my party lifestyle. I didn't bother reading Solomon's conclusions in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 because I was selfish and wanted to do whatever I wanted to do without some Cosmic Killjoy getting in my way. Fast forward another 10 years.

I got married, and I got divorced. I was raised in a loving home, and I'm very thankful for that, but I managed to unconsciously reproduce the same dysfunction modeled in my parents' 25 year marriage into my own four year "starter" marriage. What can I say? I'm a fast-track overachiever. When I remarried, my childish party life came to a halt because my wife had two sons from a prior marriage, and then we had a son of our own. My boys are 18, 21, and 24 now, but back then I had a bun in the oven, a two year old, and five year old. All of a sudden I had a lot of responsibilities that limited my selfish behavior. Growing up tends to do that. I learned a lot of painful lessons, and I'm still living out some of those consequences. But my most important discovery back in the mid 1990s was I had no idea what to teach my boys about God.

Did God really exist? What did I really believe? After living as a hedonist (i.e. selfishly) in one of the top ten most materialistic cities on the planet (Dallas, Texas), I realized I had no idea what I really believed other than the so-called "American Dream" which is to get a good education, get a good job, make a lot of money, and teach your kids to do the same thing so everyone can have an ever increasing standard of living. In a nutshell: (1) get all you can, (2) can all you get, (3) and sit on the can.

When you don't know what to do, a lot of times you go with what you know. I knew Christianity. I was raised in it, but I mistakenly believed I had to check my brain at the door to be a Christian. My college major was physics, and I thought I had learned critical thinking skills in college, but the truth is I had been thoroughly indoctrinated with Darwinism and secular humanism at the Presbyterian liberal arts college I attended. I had to unwind a lot of nonsense to really figure out what the facts were when it comes to issues of origin of both humanity and the universe itself.[1]

What I discovered is that I am passionate about the truth. Truth is my highest value. If Christianity is not true, I don't want any part of it. So, I set out on a quest to figure out if Christianity could be trusted as being truthful. I asked a lot of hard questions. I did a lot of study. I read the Bible carefully from cover to cover for the first time, and I looked into some other worldviews as well. After evaluating the evidence, it became clear to me that Christianity's core claim that Jesus was God was either the biggest lie ever foisted upon the human race, or it was true. The evidence as I understood it stacked in favor of Jesus being who he claimed to be, so to this day I am still a Christian.

Over the last 25 years, I discovered I don't have to surrender my brain or my physics degree to maintain a Biblical worldview. That doesn't mean I don't have any questions or that everything makes perfect sense. And I'm far from perfect. I'm a work in progress as is my understanding of who God is, and what that means. There are still a lot of areas where I have questions like the age of the earth, but I believe Intelligent Design (ID) has better explanatory power than Darwinism when it comes to the origins of life, and the Big Bang proved scientifically that the Bible was right all along that the universe had a beginning. At the risk of my atheist friends saying "I told you so," it is only a small step from ID and a universe with a beginning to theism. The step from theism to Christianity is relatively simple once you conquer the Biblical text, which I admit is no small thing. It is over 750,000 English words, and if you want to do some deep digging you need to do at least a little spade work with ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek. But it has been worth the effort in my experience.

I still live in one of the most materialistic cities on the planet, which ironically is sometimes considered the buckle of the Bible Belt. It is an interesting juxtaposition of worldviews. Many people who live around me claim to be Christians, but only a small number of them actually submit their lives to Jesus Christ. Even fewer have their belief anchored by evidence to the point they can give a reasoned answer for why they believe what they claim they believe. I don't think there is anything necessarily wrong with someone who professes to be a Christian based on a personal experience, but I remain a devoted follower of Jesus Christ for primarily one reason: The evidence is clear Jesus is who he claimed to be. If that one fact is objectively true, then anyone who follows any other man, method or manner is a fool. And I don't want to be a fool. 

[1] My alma mater was established in 1849 and is the oldest institution of higher learning in Texas operating under its original charter and name. Austin College was modeled after the colleges and universities established before the Civil War in the United States, and many of these institutions were initially set up to train ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today those same institutions are bastions of progressive liberalism with primarily atheist-leaning faculties, so this isn't just an indictment of my alma mater. It is just as bad or worse at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the rest of the old Ivy League.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bible Languages

Source:  http://www.biblica.com/en-us/bible/bible-faqs/in-what-language-was-the-bible-first-written/

The first human author to write down the biblical record was Moses. He was commanded by God to take on this task, for Exodus 34:27 records God's words to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." And what language did he use? He wrote in his native language, called Hebrew.

[DiscoverTruth Comment:  Personally, I believe Adam was the first person to write down the biblical record, and Moses probably compiled prior writings based on the textual evidence.]

Hebrew is one of a group of languages known as the Semitic languages which were spoken throughout that part of the world, then called Mesopotamia, located today mainly in Iraq. Their alphabet consisted of 22 letters, all consonants. (Imagine having an alphabet with no vowels! Much later they did add vowels.)

During the thousand years of its composition, almost the entire Old Testament was written in Hebrew. But a few chapters in the prophecies of Ezra and Daniel and one verse in Jeremiah were written in a language called Aramaic. This language became very popular in the ancient world and actually displaced many other languages. Aramaic even became the common language spoken in Israel in Jesus' time, and it was likely the language He spoke day by day. Some Aramaic words were even used by the Gospel writers in the New Testament.

The New Testament, however, was written in Greek. This seems strange, since you might think it would be either Hebrew or Aramaic. However, Greek was the language of scholarship during the years of the composition of the New Testament from 50 to 100 AD. The fact is that many Jews could not even read Hebrew anymore, and this disturbed the Jewish leaders a lot! So, around 300 BC a translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek was undertaken, and it was completed around 200 BC. Gradually this Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, was widely accepted and was even used in many synagogues. It also became a wonderful missionary tool for the early Christians, for now the Greeks could read God's Word in their own tongue.

So the New Testament authors wrote in Greek. They did not, however, use really high-class or classical Greek, but a very common and everyday type of Greek. For many years some scholars ridiculed the Greek of the New Testament because many of its words were strange to those who read the writings of the great Greek classical authors such as Plato and Aristotle. But later many records were uncovered of ordinary people, and amazingly there were the same common terms used in everyday speech! The ridicule dried up accordingly.

The earliest copies of parts of the Hebrew Old Testament were discovered in 1947. They are part of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls and actually date back to the first century BC. Even though they are at least 900 years older than any parts of the Bible we had before this, they are not the originals. They are copies. The originals have all been lost or destroyed. But we are not at all doubtful that we may not have the original text. Copying by scribes was done with great care in those days and because the text was regarded as sacred, the copyists were extremely painstaking. Today some 5000 hand-copied documents exist of all or part of the Bible, and they agree in 98% of the text! No other ancient writing has this amount of underlying support with such amazing agreement as to the text.

Yes, we do have what God wanted us to have! By way of translation, we now have His revelation in our own language and in 2300 other languages, too. Today we have the very Bible that comes to us from the three languages used in the original. Truly we can say, "God speaks my language, too!"

Manage, Lead, or Coach

I'm in the software development business. Software development in corporations is a team sport, and most teams aren't very good. For the past 25 years, here in the Dallas, Texas, area I've seen the same companies and organizations (at least the ones that are still in business) flounder around while trying to build better software. A lot of the companies I worked with 15 and 20 years ago are gone. Bankrupt. Obsolete. Merged. Acquired. They became irrelevant, or simply couldn't keep up with the pace of change in the technology marketplace. The few companies that are still around aren't doing that much better at building software. Building large software systems is incredibly complex.

Over the past 10-15 years, a new way of thinking has emerged in software development. This new way of thinking is frequently called "Agile" which is an umbrella term for building software in a manner different from the traditional "Waterfall" style. I'm already in the weeds here, so let me back up. The principles of Agile software development are just that - principles. Solomon was right: "There is nothing new under the sun." Agile isn't new, as much as it is taking good principles and applying them differently. Some of the distinctives of Agile thinking are around management, leadership, and coaching. I read this in a LinkedIn post, and thought it was insightful enough to put here so I can go back and reference it. I know some of the industry jargon below might not make sense to those not in the Agile world, but the principles are still applicable. (Note: Scrum is a style of Agile practice.)

Question: So, How does a Scrum Master coach and not Manage?

Answer:

When I get asked this question, I usually respond:
  • A leader tells you what we're doing and why we're doing it.
  • A manager tells you what to do and how to do it.
  • A coach shows you how to do it and why it's important.
In most organizations, people are under-led and over-managed. That is to say, they get told a lot of what to do and how to do it, but not given the benefit of context (the why). The result is people feel demotivated and may not fully engage with the task at hand. Also, the micromanagement style (I know how to do this better than you, so I'm going to tell you how I want you to do it) is a problem that prevents Scrum from taking hold in many organizations.

When you think about coaching, it's not just teaching the how and the why. It is also offering support. The biggest difference between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager is that the Project Manager works for the stakeholders, and the Scrum Master works for the team. The Project Manager says, "We're behind schedule guys, we're gonna need to work extra hours" then gets a pat on the back for "cracking the whip." The Scrum Master says, "I will relentlessly own anything that is in the way of us reaching our goal, and I will do anything to help make the team more successful."

Servant Leadership is not the same as Management

Answer courtesy of Tirrell Payton.

Criticism

"No one so thoroughly appreciates the value of 
constructive criticism as the one who is giving it."

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Open Letter

Mr. Achenbach,

I just read with interest your article on "Why Science is So Hard to Believe" from the Washington Post, which was sent to me by a friend who works for the National Science Teachers Association.  The comments were closed. I thought I'd send my comments directly to you since I couldn't comment on the article online. I very much appreciate your perspective, but one reason why science is so hard to believe is all the unscientific propaganda that is passed off as science - particularly Darwinism. 

The so called "Evolutionists" have had a grip on science since the early 1900s, and better theories have not received the proper attention. We know from information science, probability, and micro-biology that the incredible design inside a cell defies self-created order through random chance. Darwin couldn't see inside a cell, but if he had been able to see all the machinery, I doubt he would have proposed his theory. However, the (neo) Darwinists still promote a fairy tale that the pixie dust of "billions of years" and complete random chance of "natural selection" explain what we see as "apparent" design today. Nonsense. Go here for details:

http://elenburg.blogspot.com/2014/12/intelligent-design.html

Intelligent Design (ID) Theory is maligned as some sort of "God of the gaps" argument from creative Creationists. That simply isn't true. It is a lame guilt-by-association ploy by Darwinists who are loathe to give up their broken theory for something with better explanatory power, usually because giving up Darwinism would prevent them from being intellectually fulfilled atheists as Richard Dawkins said in his book The Blind Watchmaker (p. 6).

As we've seen with other scientific paradigm shifts, the old guard needs to die off in order for the new and better science to replace it. In the mean time, we're left with lousy science posing as truth. I guess in that sense the Darwinists are right that survival of the fittest (idea) will eventually prevail, but their grip on the power structures and political positions in the scientific community is harming overall scientific progress. The division over Darwinism vs. ID is just as bad as the controversy in climate science and just as harmful to real scientific inquiry. Rather than let the best ideas surface, the Darwinists file law suits trying to keep ID out of schools. What are they so scared of?

Best Regards,
Dennis Elenburg
Sachse, TX

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Daylight Savings Time Kills

I'll admit upfront that I think daylight savings time is silly. However, I now have observable evidence that it is deadly. I live in suburbia. We have a lot of little critters that live in our neighborhood. Mainly squirrels and rabbits, but also the occasional snake, skunk, and opossom. These little neighborhood critters are out and about in the morning dawn as I drive to the gym for my early morning workout.

The last couple of days I've noticed more than the usual amount of road kill, and then twice this week I've had near misses on a squirrel and rabbit. It then occurred to me. Nobody sent a memo to the animal kingdom about the foolishness we call daylight savings time! All of a sudden, the animal kingdom is invaded with hordes of suburbanites driving along the animal crossing zones on their way to work an hour earlier than they were the week before. The insanity! Did Mr. Squirrel set his clock ahead? What about Mr. Rabbit? So, all you clock tinkerers, call your congressman! Let's get rid of daylight savings time if for no other reason than to save the little creatures who don't get the memo and forget to set their clocks ahead only to get run over on their morning routine.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

BibleTrans.info

I've known Dr. Tom Pittman for more than 20 years. Tom is slightly famous for his $5 TinyBasic Interpreter, which was used by computer hobbyists in the 1970s, and for his book on the The Art of Compiler Design, which has been used as a text book at colleges and universities. For the past 20 years, Tom has put a lot of thought and effort into solving the problem of speeding up the process of Bible translation.

Problem: There are roughly 1,500 languages in the world representing about 180 million people who have no Bible in their native tongue, not even one single verse! Bible translators map the concepts and meaning from the original source texts of the Bible into the target languages to create a readable translation. Doing a Bible translation into just one unreached language is a huge commitment, and it often consumes the majority of the working career of one or more Bible translators. Tom came up with a better way.

Watch the 2 minute video below for the quick summary. 

Solution: Bible translation is a unique translation problem because there is a single source text. Tom's insight is that we can do the difficult task of understanding that source text *once* by encoding the Greek concepts in a computer using the Louw & Nida Semantic Domain Lexicon, which is essentially a dictionary of all the concepts in the New Testament. Once this semantic encoding is done, we will be able to quickly produce first cut translations of the entire New Testament once the mapping of the grammar is done by a translator that knows the target language. You can learn more about this working technology at BibleTrans.info.

Details: Tom's approach uses a computer to do what it is good at doing (repetitive stuff) so translators can do what they are good at doing, which is thinking and interacting with other human beings in mapping meaning and concepts. We believe BibleTrans can take 1,000 years off the effort necessary for getting the Bible translated into all the remaining languages on Earth, and we have working software to prove the concept is viable.

BibleTrans significantly shortens the time it takes to get a first cut translation to the place where native speakers with minimal training can then fine tune it into a readable translation for languages that have no Scripture today. BibleTrans can do this with much better quality and accuracy than brute force manual efforts using large teams of minimally trained translators, and it can also fill the need for languages where finding more than a few competent translators is difficult. We believe this a project worth doing, but we need help getting the semantic database encoded.  

If you're interested in helping, please leave a comment. 


Friday, January 23, 2015

Perceving vs. Persuading

(Today is the 10 Year Anniversary of DiscoverTruth.com Blog)

I challenged a work colleague the other day on a "law" he quoted in a presentation.  I'd read about and heard this "law" quoted several times, and each time it came up it struck me as not being true while being routinely accepted as "conventional wisdom."  The disconnect was significant enough that I launched a friendly email to my co-worker regarding my concern that our collective technical community is operating with some bad code in our mental operating systems.  In other words, we are operating on bad logic which is very ironic in that we are all in the software business.  Software doesn't work without sound logic. 

What I found even more interesting than what appears to be buggy code accepted by a bunch of software engineers was how my colleague responded to my friendly challenge of this so-called "conventional wisdom."  He wrote:
"I enjoy a good debate with valid, sound arguments to understand philosophical points of view, so long as we don't get stuck in a rabbit hole. The key there for me is understanding other points of view, not convincing others of mine."
Not only are we in the software industry, but we are also sales engineers.  So, this idea of understanding without persuading was quite surprising to me.  I'm a professional persuader.  I operate on the premise that if something is true, then why would I not want other people to share this truth?  If there is empirical evidence that what I believe is not true, I hope my friends will not let me persist in a delusion!  I sincerely hope someone would care enough about me to help me debug my faulty mental model, even if it might create some relational friction.  I not only want bug free code in my electronic computing devices, but I also want bug free computing in my mental computing device.

What I believe is going on here is related to what I originally wrote about back in 2008 and revised in Truth Trumps Tolerance combined with the post-modern view of relativism.  If one adopts a relativist view of truth, then it is "not nice" to argue against another person's point of view because their "truth" is true for them, and any effort to disabuse them of that notion comes off as a power play.  This is the problem with the (mistaken) notion that truth is not absolute.

The very first blog entry on this web site which I wrote 10 years ago today links through what I call my mini-treatise on truth.  I've invested 10 years here in this blog format, and since 1999 on this www.DiscoverTruth.com domain, because Truth matters.  I get what my work friend is saying.  I want to understand the point of view of others, but only insofar as their point of view is helping correct errors in my own so that what I believe is in conformance with reality.  If I discover someone else is persisting in a delusion, then by the Golden Rule, I want to help them Discover the Truth since that is what I would want them to do for me.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Why My Best Days are Ahead of Me

My son wrote this essay for his High School English class. I am so proud of him!

Why My Best Days are Ahead of Me 
by Josh Elenburg

I was asked to write a paper on this topic for a college scholarship contest when I have a military career in mind. I took 3 years of AFJ ROTC to further my military plans, and I do not plan to go to college. My favorite class in school is construction. I know math and English are important. I do my best in those classes, but I have no desire to sit in a classroom for four more years and go into debt for a college degree like 2/3 of the kids in this school. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 65.9 percent of 2013 high school graduates enrolled in college. This means the other 1/3 of the kids are like me. We are the kids that aren't going to college.

While I really do believe that my best days are ahead of me, I have concerns about Wylie High School helping a large minority of our students find their best days. I’m talking about the 1/3 of us that aren’t going to college. We are not going to college, and we feel like second class citizens because it seems all Wylie High School cares about are the kids who go to college. I have nothing against college. My dad went to college. He has a degree in physics. Education is great, but the idea that everyone should go to college for an education is dumb. I think that all the students in Wylie High School should all spend one class period and have someone from a technical school or military branch educate the students on options other than college. This only happens for us kids in the construction and welding classes like those options are only good for kids who are not in the majority.

The world is full of college educated fools who are in debt and can't find a decent paying job because their college degree is worthless in the real world. I am going into the military to make a difference in this world, and I don't need college to do that. My mom didn't go to college and she is smarter than most people I know who did go to college. She takes care of my 86 year old great-grandfather, and she is making a difference in his world. She also went to a beauty school which gave her a real skill that she used to make real money without being in debt forever.

We need firemen and policemen and soldiers and welders and car mechanics and all sorts of people in this world who do not need a college education to make a difference. Making someone feel inferior because they are not going to college is wrong, and that is what happens a lot at Wylie High School. I resent the fact that teachers and principals in the school cater to the majority while preaching diversity and tolerance for minorities. It's hypocrisy. Having separate assignments for kids that are planning to go to college and those who aren’t is segregation. I thought that was outlawed a long time ago. Why can’t we just be taught how to read and write as a useful skill in English and do this in unity rather than creating a division between kids who are making different life choices? Why make a big deal about a college scholarship and then make me feel bad by having an “alternative” writing assignment later for the non-college kids? I really want to know.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Religion and Brainwashing

I was going to write an article on religion before talking about brainwashing, but I did a search here in my blog and realized I have already said most of what I intended to say about religion. You can click that link to read my blog entry from a couple years back on "Religion vs. the Gospel." Religion is a word that carries a lot of baggage, and the "religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." [Source: James 1:27] I think any moral person would agree that it is a good thing to help the helpless such as widows and orphans, and loving other people as you love yourself is the core message Jesus taught in the Bible after loving God totally. Once you start adding to that or straying from it, you're on a path to trouble.

So, why do secularists think Christians are "brainwashed" by religion? I had an atheist friend tell me I was "brainwashed" by my upbringing because I grew up in a family that went to church, and he didn't. He said he was allowed to "think for himself" and come to his own conclusions about truth and reality. I had a bit of a chuckle over that comment. Apparently, my atheist friend is unaware of his indoctrination into the secular humanist viewpoint.

The church I grew up in did a terrible job at any sort of intellectual rigor in their indoctrination efforts, and both me and my friend are products of the American public school system where we were thoroughly indoctrinated with the progressive liberal values of secular humanism, perhaps even more than the three "R"s of reading, writing, and arithmetic. There is no such thing as a values neutral education, and the march to secular humanism is only becoming more strident as culture moves away from the traditional Judeo-Christian ethic on which the United States of America was founded. This values shift is often couched in "scientific" sounding language in order to denigrate or at least marginalize religious people while ignoring that secular humanism is a faith based value system too.

I get weekly email messages from the principal of the high school where my son is graduating this coming spring. It seems all he can write are moralizing messages around how they are teaching my son to care about the community, and feel good about doing good things. As a parent, I appreciate positive moral messages from the school, but where is the intellectual rigor? Most of the kids graduating from his high school can't diagram a sentence and don't even know what the parts of speech are in the English language. It seems they don't teach that anymore. Instead, our kids are indoctrinated with "values based education."

But, my friend thinks *I* was brainwashed because I attended church which provided a different perspective on values than the values he was apparently unwittingly indoctrinated with in the government schools he attended. I guess someone who is brainwashed is someone who thinks different from you or holds to a worldview not approved by the secularists who have their own pet worldview and agenda to grind and shove down the throats of those of us who still hold to the traditional Judeo-Christian values on which this country was founded and by which it became great.

Theism, Atheism, and Agnosticism

"Theism is the belief in the existence of a god or gods, especially belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures." (Source: Google for "define:theism".)  When you put the letter "a" in front of theism, that negates the term. Another example of using the letter "a" for negation is the word "typical." When you put an "a" in front, you get "atypical." Atypical is "not" typical. An atheist is "not" theist.

Atheists often try to position themselves as neutral rather than admitting they believe God does not exist, but that is not definitionally accurate. The correct term for "a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God" is agnostic. (Source: Google for "define:agnostic.") The neutral position is agnosticism as shown in this helpful diagram.


Most atheists I've encountered seem to believe their position is neutral. One atheist I know even defines atheism as "resetting your mind to its default position." Atheists seem to believe that by not having a positive belief in theism they are free and unencumbered by the trappings of "faith" or other beliefs they enjoy portraying as superstition. That isn't true either. This is a category error of conflating supra-natural with superstition.

A more honest way of viewing this is to see atheists as anti-believers who have anti-faith. In absolute value terms, they do have belief and faith! And their arguments typically reveal that in short order. You don't have to spend much time with a self-professed atheist to see their neutrality argument is fallacious. Smart atheists are careful to stay away from the gnostic atheist position, but nearly every self-professed atheist I know will try to reposition the agnostic atheist position as being "free from belief" which is the pure agnostic position.

Some atheists play word games with terms like "hard" or "soft" atheism to try and make a distinction between the radical and outspoken New Atheist evangelists and the less enthusiastic variety that prefers to errantly claim freedom from faith. I've also encountered atheists who talk about "coming out" like homosexuals when they became more confident in their doubts, but just like a homosexual is not neutral about their sexual preference, neither is an atheist neutral about their belief in God or they would self-identify as agnostic. So why do atheists, whether unintentionally or surreptitiously, try to reposition as agnostics? I believe it is because atheism is indefensible.

Ask any intelligent atheist to prove God doesn't exist, and they will inform you the burden of proof is on the theist. An informed atheist might even mention Russell's teapot. Most atheists know it is very difficult to prove a negative, but as my friend Sarah explains here, this negative statement about God's existence doesn't shift the burden of proof to the theist, and asserting a positive philosophical statement is evidence the atheist does have a belief since you cannot hold a position without a belief.

An intellectually honest atheist must actively believe against every positive evidence for theism else they are not a rigorous atheist or not rigorously honest - take your pick. The atheist has a weak position from which to believe because one cannot prove nonexistence. In other words, there is no evidence for atheism, so the truthfulness and rigor of the atheist position hinges on negating every possible positive evidence of God's purported existence.

I had another atheist friend try to explain his "neutral" position by saying he didn't believe in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus either. I had a good chuckle over that one. If someone cannot discern between the intellectual rigor behind arguments for the existence of God and belief in the Easter Bunny, I have to question their seriousness as a discerning truth seeker. I've had other atheists tell me they don't believe in Zeus, Apollo, or the other pantheon of gods and goddesses just like they don't believe in the God of the Bible. This is further evidence the atheist position is not neutral. This atheist is claiming active belief against all these other gods, but the "I don't believe in the Pantheon of Pagan Gods or your god(s) either" isn't any more compelling than the Easter Bunny argument. This is an inverse of the No True Scotsman fallacy or what I sometimes call the "tossing the baby out with the bathwater" argument.

I find the historical and philosophical arguments for God's existence quite compelling even when adjusting for my birth bias of being born in a Christian home. Most atheists I've encountered haven't investigated this evidence rigorously, and they seem to believe the only valid evidence for existence is physical evidence. This atheist belief is generally connected to the atheistic religion of Darwinism. I prove elsewhere in this blog that the preferred belief system of most atheists is Darwinism which I also argue as being a materialist "religion" that tries to eliminate God by substitution of "billions of years" in order to explain origins. [1]

I'm amazed by how many atheists seem incapable of discerning between credible intellectual arguments for God's existence and silly superstition while simultaneously castigating theists for being superstitious. At least I differentiate between a superstitious belief and a credible logical or philosophical argument for existence! And I wish more atheists would be honest about their "disbelief" actually being a belief system. I'm still looking for intellectually honest atheists who enjoy polite discourse, but they are very hard to find. After a few rounds they generally stop communicating or do what I'm now calling "Spontaneous Atheist Combustion" [2] where they get incredibly furious at me and lose all reason.

Atheist thought fascinates me because I'm very nearly an atheist myself. Out of the hundreds or even thousands of "gods" atheists say humanity has invented, I only believe in one more God than an atheist. I continue to believe in that one God because of the evidence. If the evidence is shown to be false, I would be compelled to stop believing as I hold truth as my highest value. I only ask atheists to do the same. Evaluate the evidence and inform your belief in whether or not God exists based on evidence. We call this critical thinking.

So what about agnostics? Generally, agnostics are atheists who are smart and/or lazy enough to recognize atheism is indefensible. Agnosticism is a safer position. You can basically stay out of the truth seeking endeavor by sitting on the fence and feigning ignorance on the question of God's existence. But, most self-identified agnostics I've met can't keep up the charade very long if you really engage them in a substantive conversation. Quite frankly, I don't think the label of atheist or agnostic is all that helpful once you're past the point of recognizing someone doesn't believe in the God who has Revealed Himself in the Bible. The God of the Bible claims to be the only God there is, so someone who is an atheist or agnostic is in some ways closer to the truth than someone who believes in a god or gods who are no more real than the Easter Bunny. At least the atheist has moved past superstition even if he tends to project superstition onto the theism position out of ignorance.

Footnotes:

[1] For more information on origins go here.

[2] Spontaneous Atheist Combustion or "SAC" is generally accompanied by pejorative and ad hominem attacks when an atheist realizes their worldview is in jeopardy and can no longer defend it. But, I'm hopeful some of them will recover from those outburst before it is too late and they encounter Eternal Atheist Isolation which is what I interpret the Bible to mean about hell. It is the future existence of the immortal soul of those who do not want any part of the truth, beauty, goodness, and other characteristics of God. I don't fully understand the doctrine of hell, but I'm not taking any chances with foolish philosophy (see this and this) so I have looked into the many arguments for God and found some of them are quite compelling. This has led me to remain a Christian.

Unchurched in the Bible Belt

A friend I've known for 20+ years grew up here in the Dallas area without going to church.  I was surprised to learn this about him since we live in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and pretty much everyone goes to some sort of church on Sunday.  If they don't go to a place to worship God, then they likely go to a big arena worship service known as the NFL.  Those who can't afford the admission price for Jerry Jones's house of worship where the Cowboys play just watch along on TV.

My friend's father had a devout Roman Catholic mother who was "more religious than the pope," so when his dad and uncle left home they decided they didn't want religion to be part of their lives.  My friend's mother was nominally Lutheran, but she left the family when he was a toddler, so he was raised along with his brother and sister by his non-religious father.  Out of the 17 different "nannies" his father hired to help raise his three children there was one who took him to church a few times.  He said he remembered feeling out of place on those few occasions.  Now that my friend is in his 50s, he's taken an interest in the religion that surrounds him.  He acknowledges we live in a country founded by Christians, and he appreciates the good moral teachings of Jesus, so last February he embarked on a project to read the Bible.  He's making good progress.

The problem with a lot of professing Christians is they haven't actually read the Bible, which is a travesty.  I admire my friend for taking up the mantle that even many Christians haven't taken on, actually reading the Biblical text.  He's plowed through the books starting with Genesis and going straight through.  He's in Ezekiel right now.  We've had some brief exchanges about his reading experience, mostly through text messages, but I sat down with him for two hours this morning and was fascinated by his perspective.  It was interesting hearing how my friend viewed the Old Testament as a non-churched reader.

My friend views the God as revealed in the Old Testament as capricious and bloodthirsty, and he says most of the Biblical books he's read so far sound like an "insane" story cobbled together by a bunch of scientifically ignorant and mostly illiterate middle eastern Bedouins who have a God playing "war" with the various tribes and nations in the middle east.  My friend simply cannot imagine why the Supreme Creator of the Universe (if there is such an entity) would behave in the ways described in the Old Testament.  His view is that an all powerful God could do a much better job of revealing his identity to the human race he created.  If he were God, he said he'd do things much differently.  I look forward to more discussions with my non-believing friend.  Getting a perspective from someone who holds to most of the same core beliefs I do about politics, family, and morality, but who does not share the same beliefs about God, is fascinating to me.

Original Sin is a particularly sticky wicket because he says that pretty much casts all humanity in an impossible position of being without any options other than obeying this capricious tyrant.  He equated this to North Koreans who may know that their leader is a nut case, but they have to obey or risk being sent to starve in a work camp.  My friend also has what I believe is a very rational perspective on the horrors of the sacrificial system of the ancient Israelites.  I think a lot of professing Christians fail to grasp how bloody that was since most of them have never even seen a cow slaughtered so they can enjoy their steaks and hamburgers.

Our agreement is that we are engaged in a dialog to discuss the facts, evidence, and reasons for either believing in God or not believing.  We're not debating.  We're just talking.  I think that is a worthy pursuit for truth seekers.  My friend has had people tell him he is going to Hell for not accepting Jesus as his personal savior.  That wasn't a compelling reason for belief for him.  I can see why.  That pretty much makes God out to be who he is seeing in the Old Testament, a capricious God committing genocide and telling his chosen people of Israel that they better obey or die.  From his perspective, it is like God putting a gun to his head and demanding obedience.  It doesn't allow any sort of free will if the option is to obey or be punished for eternity in the lake of fire.