I read a lot of atheists, but the range is limited. I mostly focus on the writings of atheists who have a scientific bent (like Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, etc.). However, I ran across a review of Philosophers Without Gods (edited by Louise M. Anthony), and I noticed that I recognized only a couple of the contributors. Thus, I purchased it two years ago, and on the trip home from New Zealand, I read it. I am very glad that I did.
This book is a collection of essays from twenty atheists. The editor contends that atheists are a very misunderstood lot, and her hope is that these essays will help provide a more “just understanding” (p. x) of those who reject religious belief. I essentially agree with the editor’s premise. Most people who do not share a given group’s beliefs tend to misunderstand that group. Since most people in the world believe in some kind of “god” or “gods,” it is not surprising that most people in the world really don’t understand atheists. Of course, most atheists don’t understand those who believe in God, so the misunderstandings go both ways.
Obviously, I fundamentally disagree with the main premise of each of the authors, but that is no reason to avoid reading them. Indeed, early on in my scientific training I learned that some of my most enlightening discussions were the ones I had with scientists whose views were quite different from my own. Not surprisingly, then, of the books I read over vacation, this was my favorite. Mostly that’s because the editor has done a great job of bringing together a very diverse group of atheists, most of whom have coherent things to say.
The trip to Milford Sound was amazing, but it was a really full day. So our next day was just a quiet, relaxing day. Kathleen went into town, and I went fishing on the lake. I actually caught a nice rainbow trout.
Simon Conway Morris is a Professor of Evolutionary Paleobiology at the University of Cambridge. Some would call him a “theistic evolutionist,” while others would simply call him an evolutionist who is also a Christian. I would call him an evolutionist who thinks the laws of chemistry and physics were “set up” (by God) to produce evolution, which would end up producing people. While I have never met him, that is the impression I get from reading his book, Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe.
The book presents his rather unique views on evolution in an interesting, entertaining way. Even though he says early on:
…if you happen to be a ‘creation scientist’ (or something of that kind) and have read this far, may I politely suggest that you put this book back on the shelf. It will do you no good. (p. xv)
On the contrary, this book did me a great deal of good. For example, it helped me see how uncertain virtually everything in evolution is. Some of it comes from Morris’s own frank descriptions of just how little is understood in the field of evolution. As just a sample, he says things like:
One such ambiguity is how life itself may have originated. As we shall see (in Chapter 4), there is no reason to doubt that it occurred by natural means, but despite the necessary simplicity of the process, the details remain strangely elusive. (p. 4)
“Incredible” just isn’t enough to describe our experiences over the past few days. We left Hastings and flew to Queenstown. Once again, there was no security on the plane. We just walked up, gave them our names and bags, and off we went. I will definitely miss this kind of flying.
Kathleen was looking forward to this part of the trip more than any other, and it is easy to see why. We are staying at a place called Blanket Bay. It is on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, which is just amazing. It is New Zealand’s longest lake (about 50 miles long), and it is nothing short of spectacular:
When I ended my previous “travelogue,” we had just arrived in Hastings, which is in the heart of one of New Zealand’s best wine-making regions. As I said, we stayed in a lovely lodge that regularly treated us to sights like this one.
Now that I have caught up on the scientific journals that I read, I am reading some of the books that have been on my shelves for a while. There is, after all, a lot of opportunity to read when you are on a beach or under a shady tree! More than a year ago, I purchased The Design of Life by William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells. Dembski has a Ph.D. in mathematics (University of Chicago) and a Ph.D in philosophy (University of Illinois at Chicago) and is known for developing the mathematical underpinnings of Intelligent Design. Wells has a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology (University of California Berkeley) as well as a Ph.D. in religious studies (Yale University). Their mix of expertise makes for a wide-ranging discussion that is very enlightening.
While I don’t think the book lives up to the dust jacket’s claim that it makes “…the most powerful and comprehensive case to date for the intelligent design of life,” I do think it adds a great deal to the ongoing discussion in origins science. Specifically, there are three things it brings to the debate. First, it brings up certain facts that you generally don’t read in the evolutionary literature. Such facts are quite relevant to the overall question of origins, but most evolutionists ignore them (or sweep them under the rug) because they call into question many of the underlying assumptions of macroevolution. Second, it uses a very good blend of mathematics and biology to come up with a general means by which one can estimate the probability with which a certain macroevolutionary transition could occur. Finally, it gives a solid review of the current ideas regarding the origin of life and then demonstrates that they are utterly devoid of evidence.
Norwegian Shooter’s latest comment got me thinking about my journey from atheism to Christianity. As I look back on that journey, I realize how similar my experience was to that of Dr. Esther Su. As a scientist, I have to believe in things that are rational. As a result, when a girl who I wanted to date kept talking to me about Christianity, I dismissed it, because the brainwashing I had received from authors like Bertram Bertrand Russell indicated that Christianity was not rational. Of course, as is the case with most brainwashing, that turned out to be 100% false, but it took me a while to figure that out.
This girl eventually took me to a debate between an atheist who was a scientist and a Christian who was a scientist. The debate was interesting, but what was more interesting was that the Christian gave several references that I could read to learn more about the shocking idea that Christianity is rational. I reluctantly looked into some of those references, and eventually, I learned that atheists had lied to me most of my life.
I am not sure how much time I will have to write while I am in New Zealand, but I hope to post at least a few updates. So far, the only word I have for this country is AMAZING! Getting here is long, difficult, and expensive, but it is so worth it. I am just in awe. If you want to truly experience the grandeur of God’s creation, this is one of the places you must visit.
I flew from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur to Auckland. My lovely and far-too-patient wife, Kathleen, was there waiting for me. This is how we are celebrating 25 years of marriage. Well…I am celebrating. I suspect Kathleen is mourning. In any event, we stayed at the Auckland Hilton, which had an amazing view.
They have me working pretty hard at this convention. I have given three talks each day and have done several individual meetings with different educators. As a result, there hasn’t been a lot of time to see the sights. However, the hotel has a really nice view:
We went to a restaurant last night that is on the river that goes through the town in which the conference is held. It was very pretty, and because it is so warm here, we ate outside:
The restaurant did something very interesting. They brought a lantern that was covered by a thin fabric down to the river and lit the lantern:
As the lantern warmed the air in the fabric, it become like a hot-air balloon. Eventually, they released it, and it floated out over the river:
It then rose high into the air:
This is based on a Buddhist ritual in which the believer casts his or her bad luck, bad feelings, hurts, and stresses onto the lantern. As the lantern rises, those bad things are carried away from the believer. Nearly 95% of Thailand’s population is Buddhist, so most of what you see in Thailand has been influenced by Buddhism.
I am now in Thailand. The conference has moved to a new hotel, and it is gorgeous. I hope to post some pictures at some point. Right now, however, I want to write about another article that caught my eye while I was catching up on my reading during my 23 hours in the air.
Nevertheless, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air is rising, and it is most certainly our fault. If human emissions of carbon dioxide (not from breathing – from everything else) were one-third of their present value, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would actually start decreasing. Thus, there is no question that we are causing the buildup.
While the data indicate that so far, this buildup of carbon dioxide is not significantly affecting global climate, it possibly could at some point in the future. In addition, rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can make the ocean more acidic, since carbon dioxide reacts with water to produce carbonic acid (the same acid found in soda pop). So far, the increased ocean acidity due to increased carbon dioxide is rather insignificant, but once again, the effect could grow in the future. In addition, who knows what other things might be affected by carbon dioxide levels?
So while I don’t think that the rising carbon dioxide levels we are seeing now are any reason to take draconian steps to mitigate the issue, it is always worthwhile to find reasonable ways to lessen humanity’s impact on the planet. That’s why this article is so intriguing.