Memes: Spreading False Ideas Since 1980

heisenberg

If you have spent much time on the internet, I am sure you have seen memes like the one shown above. They usually contain a picture and some sort of message. I really enjoy the funny ones, but I typically don’t like the serious ones. It’s not because I don’t enjoy being serious. It’s because you rarely know whether or not the information in the meme is trustworthy. Consider, for example, the meme shown above. It attributes a quote to Dr. Werner Heisenberg, a giant in the field of quantum mechanics. Indeed, his work continues to guide our understanding of the atomic world. I fully agree with the quote, and I deeply respect Dr. Heisenberg. There is only one problem: the meme is almost certainly false.

A Facebook friend posted it on my wall because she knew that I would agree with it. However, I had read a lot of Heisenberg’s work, and the quote didn’t seem to fit the person who I had come to know through my reading. Consider, for example, his main work on the relationship between science and religion. It is called “Scientific Truth and Religious Truth,” and it was published in 1974 (two years before his death) in Universitas, a German review of the arts and sciences. In that work, he seems to argue that science and religion each arrive at truths, but the truths are unrelated to one another. Consider, for example, his own words:

The care to be taken in keeping the two languages, religious and scientific, apart from one another, should also include an avoidance of any weakening of their content by blending them. The correctness of tested scientific results cannot rationally be cast in doubt of religious thinking, and conversely, the ethical demands stemming from the heart of religious thinking ought not to be weakened by all too rational arguments from the field of science.

This is a common view among religious scientists. It often called the “Nonoverlapping Magisteria” (NOMA) view, and it was championed by Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, an ardent evolutionary evangelist who died in 2002. I strongly disagree with the NOMA view, so when I read Dr. Heisenberg’s work, I was disappointed that he seemed to hold to it.

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Does science undermine human rights? No, But Materialism Might.

Image copyright Benjamin Haas via shutterstock.com
Image copyright Benjamin Haas via shutterstock.com.

If you have been reading this blog much, you probably know that while I am not smart enough to be one, I play at being a philosopher. As a result, I read a lot of philosophy, and I discuss it from time to time on this blog. If you have bothered to plow through what I have written on the subject, you might also know that I think the Argument From Morality is one of the worst arguments for the existence of God. Nevertheless, as any scientist should be, I am willing to change my mind on the subject, if I am presented with evidence that challenges my position. Recently, I stumbled across some of that evidence, and while it is not enough to change my mind on the subject, it makes me less certain of my derision for the argument from morality.

The evidence comes from Dr. John H. Evans, Professor & Associate Dean of Social Sciences at the University of California, San Diego. He wrote an article for New Scientist in which he summarizes his original research, published in an Oxford University Press book entitled, What is a Human? What the Answers Mean for Human Rights. In this research, he surveyed 3,500 adults in the United States, asking their opinions on humans and human rights.

He started by asking them how much they agreed with three different definitions for human beings:

I. The Biological Definition: Humans are defined (and differentiated from the animals) by their DNA.

II. The Philosophical Definition: Humans are defined by specific traits, like self-awareness and rationality.

III. The Theological Definition: Humans are created beings that have been given the image of God.

Here is how he describes the questions that followed:

I also asked them how much they agreed with four statements about humans: that they are like machines; special compared with animals; unique; and all of equal value. These questions were designed to assess whether any of the three competing definitions are associated with ideas that could have a negative effect on how we treat one another.

I finished with a series of direct questions about human rights: whether we should risk soldiers to stop a genocide in a foreign country; be allowed to buy kidneys from poor people; have terminally ill people die by suicide to save money; take blood from prisoners without their consent; or torture terror suspects to potentially save lives.

His results were quite surprising to me, but not to those who promote the Argument From Morality.

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I’m Not Surprised, But I’m Not Sure What It Means

One of the many results of a poll taken at 200 conservative Christian colleges and universities.  It indicates that the science faculty in those institutions are more likely to be young-earth creationists than their fellow religion faculty.  (click for credit)
One of the many results of a poll taken at 200 conservative Christian colleges and universities. It indicates that the science faculty in those institutions are more likely to be young-earth creationists than their fellow religion faculty. (click for credit)

In 2011, Answers in Genesis published a book entitled Already Compromised. It was based on the results of an interesting poll. The pollsters (America’s Research Group and Britt Beemer) attempted to contact four faculty/staff members (the university president, the academic dean, the head of the science department, and the head of the religion department) at 200 different Christian colleges and universities. Of those potentially 800 people, they ended up being able to interview 312. They asked a wide variety of questions, focusing on how those individuals interpreted different aspects of the Bible. The results are presented in the book, along with ample commentary.

The conclusion of the book is that many Christian colleges and universities have “compromised” their theology, subordinating the teachings of the Bible to the scientific consensus. In other words, they have decided that they must force their interpretation of the Bible to “fit” the scientific consensus, which includes flagellate-to-philosopher evolution and a billions-of-years-old earth.

Now please understand that I do not agree with the conclusion of the book. I don’t think that those who believe the earth is ancient or that God has created through evolution are necessarily “compromising” their theology. Non-literal interpretations of various parts of the book of Genesis can be traced all the way back to (and before) the beginning of Christendom, and there are literal interpretations of Genesis that result in conclusions other than young-earth creationism. Thus, the whole idea that people who disagree with me when it comes to natural history are “compromised” is absurd.

Despite the fact that I disagree with the book’s conclusions, I am interested in the results of its poll, especially the one highlighted in the graphic above. According to the poll’s results on this issue, the heads of the science department in these 200 Christian colleges and universities are nearly four times more likely to be young-earth creationists than the heads of the religion department!

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Watch Your Assumptions: They Can Lead To False Conclusions!

Poor assumptions can lead to myths instead of facts (image from shutterstock.com by Thinglass)
Poor assumptions can lead to myths instead of facts (image from shutterstock.com by Thinglass)
I am always on the lookout for experiences that can be turned into a “teachable moment.” Over the past two weeks, I have had two such experiences, so I thought I would write about them. The first one was a result of my article entitled Reflections on the Ark Encounter, which is a positive review of the latest attraction produced by Answers in Genesis. The day after it was published, I got a Facebook message from someone who had shared my post with a friend of hers. In reply, this friend asked if I was a “real” scientist. She assured him that I was and shared my Facebook page with him. She was rather taken aback when her friend sent her the following reply:

A mimeographed “PhD” from whatever fundamentalist “college” he sent his box tops to is not qualification to shine a real scientist’s shoes, let alone make claims about the natural world. Further, any parents who buy into this complete fiction, and indoctrinate their kids in this manner, are guilty of emotional and mental child abuse, and in my opinion should be prosecuted. I cant think of a better way to sabotage a child’s future in a modern, scientific and technological society.

This didn’t surprise me, of course. I am used to having my credentials questioned and being insulted because I don’t slavishly “toe the line” when it comes to today’s scientific consensus. That comes with the territory. Indeed, Dr. Dan Shechtman was asked to leave his research group because he dared to question the scientific consensus. Of course, the data eventually proved him to be correct and the scientific consensus to be wrong. However, that was until after being ridiculed as a “quasi-scientist” by one of the greatest chemists who has ever lived!

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Reflections on the Ark Encounter

A view of the Ark Encounter (click for a larger image)
A view of the Ark Encounter (click for a larger image)

Yesterday, I toured the Answers in Genesis Ark Encounter with my wife and a friend. I wanted to visit the encounter as soon as it opened, but because of trips to Italy and China, yesterday was the first opportunity we had. I didn’t know what to expect, so I went in with an open mind.

I originally thought the Ark Encounter would be like the Creation Museum, with a parking lot close to the entryway. I was wrong. When we parked and got out of the car, we could see the ark, but it was a long way off. A building in the parking lot served as a “bus terminal,” where we were picked up and taken to the Ark itself.

When we got off the bus, my first thought was, “Wow. That’s big.” I have seen many models of the Ark over the years, and they all attempt to give you an idea of how big it was, usually by having scale models of trucks or elephants beside it. However, there is simply no substitute for seeing the massive structure built to its actual dimensions! Answers in Genesis bills the Ark as the largest timber-framed structure in the world, and I can believe that. *

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A Real-Life Example of The Prodigal Son

"The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Italian artist Pompeo Girolamo Batoni
“The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Italian artist Pompeo Girolamo Batoni
Over the many years since I became a Christian, I have heard hundreds of sermons. Some were given by impeccably-credentialed theologians, others by intellectual philosophers, others by experienced scientists, and others by regular people who were honestly sharing what God had laid on their hearts. Most of them, of course, were given by pastors who have dedicated themselves to studying and explaining the Word of God. While I have learned from many of those sermons, only a precious few made such a lasting impact that I can remember them to this day. The sermon I heard yesterday, however, is one I will never forget. It was given by a student from Anderson University who has been leading the children’s ministry at our church. This young lady, who is still in the midst of finishing her undergraduate degree, shared a powerful message that brought me (and many others in the congregation) to tears.

The main text of her message was the parable of The Prodigal Son, which is given in Luke 15:11-32. I have heard many, many, many sermons that used this parable as its main text. This one, however, was different. It gave a personal, real-life example of a father, his prodigal son, and the rest of his family. More importantly, this young lady was the prodigal son’s sister, and her father’s actions taught her (and the congregation at our church) what it really means to show the love of Jesus.

When this young lady was 13, her brother had a sexual relationship with a foster daughter who was living with her family. The foster daughter became pregnant, but no one knew. Her brother and the foster daughter conspired to accuse her father of molesting the foster daughter. It was all done so convincingly that this young lady believed her brother’s accusation, despite her father’s protestations of innocence. She was taken away from her family because of the allegations, and a restraining order was put in place so that her father could not see her.

Because of many things that happened over the next few months, it became clear to her that her father was, in fact, innocent, and that her brother had done the unthinkable: he had betrayed their entire family for his own selfish reasons. She eventually got to live with her mother again, and her father fought to get the restraining order lifted. That was eventually successful, so she at least got to see her father, but in the end, her father went to jail (where he is to this day) for a crime that he did not commit.

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Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Is a Fake

The papyrus fragment that is now known as 'The Gospel of Jesus' Wife.' (click for credit)
The papyrus fragment that is now known as ‘The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.’ (click for credit)

I am in China right now, and I have been here for almost two weeks. However, internet access is sporadic (at best), which is why I haven’t added any articles recently. Things are a bit better today, though, so I thought I would share my thoughts on a story I recently ran across.

On September 18th, 2012 at the International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome, Dr. Karen L. King announced the existence of an astounding 4-cm by 8-cm papyrus fragment. It contained what she thought was a 4th-century Coptic translation of a gospel that she suggested had probably been written in the late second century AD. While the discovery of any ancient papyrus that has writing on it is interesting, this particular fragment was especially interesting because it contained the following phrase:

Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…”

As a result, this papyrus fragment came to be known as “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”

In a peer-reviewed paper that was later published in the Harvard Theological Review, Dr. King presented the results of several tests that had been done on the papyrus fragment. Those tests led her to conclude that it was from the 8th century AD and was not a forgery. In the same issue of the journal, however, another scholar wrote an article concluding that the papyrus was a forgery. The Vatican weighed in as well, dismissing the fragment as a “clumsy forgery.”

Since then, there has been a lot of discussion about the papyrus fragment, and a website was set up to provide all of the latest information about it. Based on subsequent tests done on the fragment and its ink, Dr. King became so convinced that the fragment is authentic that she told Time:

I’m basically hoping that we can move past the issue of forgery to questions about the significance of this fragment for the history of Christianity, for thinking about questions like, ‘Why does Jesus being married, or not, even matter? Why is it that people had such an incredible reaction to this?’

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No, Dr. Michio Kaku Hasn’t Proven God’s Existence!

Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and "futurist" (picture from his Facebook page)
Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and “futurist” (picture from his Facebook page)

The headlines are screaming it. Christian Today says, Top scientist claims proof that God exists, says humans live in a ‘world made by rules created by an intelligence.’ The Geophilosophical Association of Anthropological and Cultural Studies proclaims, Scientist says he found definitive proof that God exists. ChristianHeadlines.com says, Respected Scientist Says He Found Proof God Exists. At last! We now have definitive, scientific proof For the existence of God, right? Wrong!

I guess this story broke when I was busy getting ready to go to Salt Lake City to speak at a homeschool convention, because I hadn’t seen it until someone emailed me the Christian Today article and asked me what I thought of it. Since then, several other people have contacted me via email and Facebook to get my thoughts. Initially, I only glanced at the article, but even with that little glance, I was incredibly skeptical. The article claims to report on the work of Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist who had done some cutting edge research a couple of decades ago, but is more of a “scilebrity” today, promoting science and his ideas about the future on television shows, etc.

According to the article, Dr. Kaku was conducting tests on “primitive semi-radius tachyons” and decided that his tests told him that we live in some sort of “matrix” that was made by an intelligence. This bothered me a lot. Tachyons are theoretical particles. We have no idea whether or not they exist. If they exist, they travel faster than the speed of light, so it’s hard to know how in the world we could ever detect them, much less conduct tests on them. I have no idea how such particles can tell us something about the nature of the universe. I looked in vain for an article on the subject authored by Dr. Kaku himself. I then went to his Facebook page, which made no mention of this “monumental discovery.”

Since I couldn’t find anything written by Dr. Kaku, I decided to investigate these “primitive semi-radius tachyons” myself. I had never heard that term before, but then again, I am not a particle physicist. So today, I tried to find the term in my reference books. I could not. When I did an internet search on the term, the only hits I got were to articles about this supposed discovery. As a result, I seriously doubt that primitive semi-radius tachyons exist, even in the minds of theoretical physicists.

However, searching for that term did lead me to some Spanish websites, which show that this is actually an old story. This website posted the same story more than a year ago. Through the magic of Google Translate, I learned that this website decided the story was a hoax more than two years ago. Apparently, the hoax started on Spanish websites and has now made its way to English websites.

I think science offers a wealth of evidence to support the belief that God exists. However, as far as I can tell, Dr. Michio Kaku has not offered any.

What Drives Young People to Atheism?

Minnesota Atheists in the 2012 Pride Parade (click for credit)
Minnesota Atheists in the 2012 Pride Parade (click for credit)

I have written about Larry Alex Taunton before (here, here, and here). I don’t think I had heard his name until I read his book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. I enjoyed his writing style and his intellectual approach to Christianity, so I read another one of his books, The Grace Effect. I have since moved to his works found on the internet, and I ran across an excellent piece entitled “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity.” I strongly recommend that you read it.

In the article, he discusses the results of a project created by his organization, Fixed Point Foundation. The project’s participants simply asked young atheists to tell their story. They wanted to hear what caused these young people to become atheists. What they learned was no surprise to me, but I think it is worth discussing, especially for those who do not have a lot of experience with atheists.

In my opinion, the most important result that came from the project was:

Most of our participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions at all, but in reaction to Christianity. Not Islam. Not Buddhism. Christianity. (emphasis his)

This is certainly consistent with my experience. Most of the atheists I know were raised in the church and became atheists in reaction to what they perceived as the church’s failings. What were those failings? I suspect that most Christians will be surprised to learn them.

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The Power of Grace

Larry Taunton and his Ukrainian daughter, Sasha. (color version of s photo that is in the book)
Larry Taunton and his Ukrainian daughter, Sasha. (color version of a photo that is in the book)
A couple of weeks ago, I posted a review of a book entitled, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. I had never heard of the author (Larry Taunton), but I enjoyed his writing style and his obvious intellect. As I mentioned in a different post, part of the book deals with Sasha, his daughter who he and his family adopted from the Ukraine. As an adoptive father, his loving words about his daughter touched me deeply, and when I found out that he had written a book specifically about her adoption, I had to read it. It’s called The Grace Effect, and I have to say it is probably the best book I have read since Quivering Daughters. The Grace Effect isn’t nearly as emotional as Quivering Daughters, but it is very meaningful on at least two levels.

The first level is obvious. This is primarily a story about a family who followed God’s leading and ended up radically changing a young girl’s life for the better. The simple version of the story is that Larry’s wife and three boys went on a short-term mission trip to the Ukraine. They went there to improve the facilities at one of Ukraine’s many orphanages: #17. There, they met a young girl named Sasha, and they all fell in love with her. They felt the Lord leading them to adopt her, not knowing anything of the challenges that they would face. With the help of some incredibly generous Christian brothers and sisters, they convinced Larry to adopt Sasha. As a result, Larry, his wife, and two of his boys traveled back to the Ukraine to get her.

The long version of the story, however, is much more interesting. They knew that such adoptions were expensive, but they had no idea how expensive. Not only are the legal costs high, but the Ukrainian government is so intensely corrupt that pretty much every step in the lengthy adoption process requires a bribe. Judges cancel hearings, orphanages delay appointments, etc., and the process comes to a halt. In order to get the process back on track, the person in charge has to be given a “gift.”

While Taunton never indicates the total cost, he mentions discussing Sasha with some well-to-do Christian friends, which resulted in two incredibly generous donations of $10,000 each. In addition, he discussed Sasha with Frank Limehouse, dean of the Cathedral Church of the Advent. He only discussed Sasha to get some wisdom regarding her health issue (she is HIV positive), but a few days later, Limehouse handed him a check and simply said:

That’s from the people of Advent. You get that little girl and bring her home. (p. 184)

So we know that the adoption costs were well over $20,000, much of which went to the bribes that were necessary to get greedy people simply to allow someone else to help a little girl.

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