An Atheist Who Rejects Materialist Neo-Darwinism

Thomas Nagel teaching at New York University (click for credit)
Dr. Thomas Nagel is a Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University. He has a long list of academic publications, which include books and journal articles. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the British Academy. He has been awarded both the Rolf Schock Prize for his work in philosophy and the Balzan Prize for his work in moral philosophy. Oh…and he is an atheist. He recently wrote a fascinating book entitled, Mind and Cosmos:Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.

The book is fascinating on many levels. Probably the most obvious is the fact that while he is an atheist, he speaks very highly of the Intelligent Design movement. In fact, he credits the Intelligent Design movement for stimulating his thinking on the subject of origins. He disagrees with their belief in a Designer, but he has given them a fair hearing, and he says this:

Even if one is not drawn to the alternative of an explanation by the actions of a designer, the problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair. (p.10)

But wait a minute. Aren’t the Intelligent Design arguments fatally flawed? Don’t they rest on an incredibly poor understanding of the nature of science? Not according to this philosopher. He has read both the Intelligent Design advocates and their critics, and he says:

Those who have seriously criticized these arguments have certainly shown there are ways to resist the design conclusion; but the general force of the negative part of the intelligent design position – skepticism about the likelihood of the orthodox reductive view, given the available evidence – does not appear to me to have been destroyed in these exchanges. (p. 11)

But wait a minute, isn’t the only motivation behind Intelligent Design the desire to “prove” the existence of God? Nagel says that’s certainly part of the motivation, but not all of it. After all, he mentions David Berlinski as someone who is sympathetic to the negative claims of the Intelligent Design movement but has no desire to believe in a Designer. He also says:

Nevertheless, I believe the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion. (p. 12)

In the end, then, religious motivations exist on both sides. Some Intelligent Design advocates are motivated by their desire to lend evidence to their belief in a Designer, but some evolutionists are motivated by their desire to be liberated from religion. This even-handed observation is obviously true, but it is rarely made by those who do not believe in God.

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More Problems with Carbon-14 and Old-Earth Assumptions

A triceratops thigh bone being sawed in order to prepare it for carbon dating. (click for credit)

As I have noted previously, it’s a wonderful time to be a young-earth creationist. All sorts of interesting data are being uncovered that challenge the supposedly “rock-solid” idea that the earth is billions of years old. One of the more recent developments is the carbon dating of bones and other carbon-containing materials that are supposedly millions of years old. Carbon dating uses the radioactive decay of carbon-14 into nitrogen-14, which currently has a half-life of 5,730 years. This means that in old-earth terminology, carbon-14 decays “quickly.” Thus, if a bone (or some other material that is made of carbon) is really millions of years old and hasn’t been contaminated, you wouldn’t expect to find any carbon-14 in it. The carbon-14 should have long since decayed to the point where it is no longer detectable, even with the best scientific instruments we have today.

However, creation scientists have carbon-dated fossils, diamonds, and coal that are all supposed to be millions of years old. Nevertheless, they all have detectable amounts of carbon-14 in them. For example, this study shows detectable levels of carbon-14 in a range of carbon-containing materials that are supposedly 1-500 million years old. Surprisingly, the study includes diamonds from several different locations! Another study showed that fossil ammonites and wood from a lower Cretaceous formation, which is supposed to be 112-120 million years old, also have detectable levels of carbon-14 in them. If these studies are accurate, they show that there is something wrong with the old-earth view: Either carbon dating is not the reliable tool it is thought to be for “recent” dating, or the fossils and materials that are supposed to be millions of years old are not really that old. Of course, both options could also be true.

While these studies use several different samples, they represent the work of only a few scientists. As a result, it is always possible that they are not as reliable as they seem. However, as time has gone on, more people have been looking for carbon-14 in carbon-containing materials that are supposed to be millions of years old, and the results are becoming more and more convincing. The most recent set of studies was presented at the joint meeting of the Asia Oceanic Geosciences Society and the American Geophysical Union (AOGS–AGU) that was held on August 13-17, 2012 in Singapore.

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The Stories Behind A Few Hymns

Horatio Spafford, author of "It is Well with My Soul." (Click for credit)
While one of my favorite things to write about is science, I do touch on other topics from time to time. For example, I have written several Christian dramas. I posted two of them on this blog (here and here), and I hope to post more as time goes on. This is my latest addition. It’s called “Sing Those Old Hymns with Feeling,” and it presents the inspiring stories related to some of the classic hymns of the Christian faith. As these hymns get older and older, it gets harder and harder for many Christians to be inspired by them. In my opinion, that’s unfortunate. I find many modern Christian songs to be inspiring, and I enjoy singing them in church. However, I find many old hymns to be inspiring as well, and I also enjoy singing them in church. It was my hope that by presenting some of the stories related to the hymns, people in my church would find them more inspiring.

I started the play with one of my favorite devices: making the congregation a little uneasy. The worship leader got up and dropped her music so it spilled all over the floor. She muttered under her breath as she knelt down and gathered up the mess of music. Then, in a very unenthusiastic way, she asked the congregation to join her in singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The pianist started playing, but the melody was “I’m a Little Teapot.” The worship leader stopped the pianist and very impatiently told her that we were singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The pianist began to play, but she played it way too slowly. The song was allowed to go on for a few bars, and then someone from the congregation jumped up and started yelling for it to stop. He then went up front to tell the worship leader that this hymn is very important and should be sung with feeling. That’s when the meat of the play began.

Through the course of the play, the congregation learned the stories behind seven of the great hymns of the faith: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “It Is Well with My Soul,” “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” “When the Roll is Called up Yonder,” “All the Way My Savior Leads Me, and “Revive Us Again.” All of the stories are inspiring in their own way, but my favorite is the one behind “It Is Well with My Soul.” I have written previously about how Christians should deal with tragedy, and I think the author of that hymn, Horatio Spafford, is a perfect model for how it should be done.

Even though this script has nine characters, we used only six people for the performance. All three female hymn writers were played by one woman, with small changes to her costume for each character. Two of the male hymn writers were played by the same person, but in fact, all four of them could be played by a single man, if he is good at memorizing lines! Please feel free to use this play in any way that you like, but I would appreciate a credit if you use it (or a part of it) in any public presentation. Even if you don’t do dramas in your church, you might want to read the stories. As I said, they are very inspiring! The script is given in the following PDF file:

Sing Those Old Hymns with Feeling