Category: "family/personal"

Brian in Iraq

My brother-in-law, Lucas, did two tours in Iraq and now one of my very good friends is in the process of being deployed. He's keeping friends and family up to date at http://brian-in-iraq.blogspot.com/. (As I'm writing this, I typed in http://brianiniraq.blogspot.com/ to see if I remembered his url correctly. I was wrong, but it's a real site, too. That's kind of depressing.) Brian is an awesome guy. Regardless of how he feels about politics and the war, he's honoring his commitment and serving bravely. We're going to miss him while he's over there. Following the election this year won't be the same if I can't trade links with him and chat about strategies, issues and life in general.

I think the world of Brian, Lucas and all the others like them who serve our country. But I wish they didn't have to go. I wish the war was over and our troops could come home and stay home.

Be safe, Brian.

On nation indivisible

A Perspective on the Pledge is a story set in an alternate universe where the Pledge of Allegiance was changed in the 50s to read "one white nation, indivisible" instead of the 1954 change that added the words "under God." It's an interesting way to look at the issue. What do you think? Is the analogy apt or not?

Reading this prompted me to get familiar with the history of the pledge before and after the 1954 change. It was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892 to help sell flags. It quickly caught on and was being recited in schools within months.

The effort to add "under God" started in the Knights of Columbus in 1951, was rejected by Congress in 1953 and then accepted in 1954 after President Eisenhower backed the effort. Ike was convinced by DC Presbyterian minister George Docherty who preached a sermon on the subject with the President in attendance. Docherty said, "There was something missing in the pledge, and that which was missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life."

It started as an advertising gimmick, how much more American can you get? But seriously, I disagree with his statement. I think that liberty and justice are more important to America than religion.

Here are some questions I'd like to ask to my readers.

1. Is the "one white nation" analogous to "one nation under God"? In what ways are religion and race similar and different?

2. Which is more important to the American way of life, liberty or faith?

3. Does the pledge imply that non-believers are second class citizens?

4. What do you think of loyalty pledges in general and our Pledge of Allegiance in particular?

(via Bay of Fundie)

Happy birthday, DBC

It was four years ago today that I was presumptuous enough to think the internet needed one more web site of personal yammerings. Danny's Blog Cabin was born on LiveJournal on May 30, 2003. Eight months later I moved to Brendoman.com at the generous invitation of Brendan. It would be appropriate to stop and reflect on what we've all learned in the last four years, how much things and people have changed and what the fifth year and beyond might hold in store for this safe haven of personal expression and exploration. But instead of any of that crap, I'll post this picture of monkeys riding bicycles.

Book review: The Language of God by Francis Collins

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Image from AmazonFrancis Collins is an eminent scientist who, as head of the Human Genome Project, led the monumental undertaking to sequence the entire human genome. Collins is also a Christian and he explains why he believes and how that relates to his life's work in the 2006 book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence For Belief.

Collins sets himself apart from most Christian apologists in a few ways. First, he doesn't see science as an opponent of religion; he insists that they answer different questions. Second, Collins agrees with the scientific consensus about evolution and he doesn't see it as a threat to religion. He spends a great deal of the book presenting the evidence for evolution and arguing in its favor. A third thing that makes Collins' apologetic different from the likes of Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel is that his case is not built on the Bible. He includes illustrative quotes and makes passing reference to the textual reliability of the Bible, but it's far from being central to his argument.

Collins dismisses a few other reasons for believing before getting to his evidence. The origin of life, long believed to be a question that science cannot answer, has been commonly claimed as evidence for God's existence. How did self-replicating life forms come into existence if God didn't breathe life into them? Science has made inroads toward solving this cosmic riddle, and Collins refuses to hinge his belief on a gap in our knowledge that may be closing.

He deals similarly with the claims of irreducible complexity by Michael Behe and other intelligent design spokesmen. Behe claims that certain structures and processes are so complex that they couldn't have evolved because if they were any less complex then they wouldn't provide any advantage to the organism. Nearly all scientists, including Collins, have seen the problems with Behe's idea. The examples that Behe gave have been debunked and there are no known irreducibly complex structures in biology.

After dealing with the origin of life and irreducible complexity, Collins turns to the more general reason for believing in God, called "God of the gaps." This phrase is used to describe a view of the relationship between science and religion. There are gaps in our scientific knowledge, like how life originated and how certain structures evolved. Believers often want to credit God for doing things that we don't yet understand. Humans have taken this approach for time out of mind. Before we understood rainbows, many cultures assumed they had a supernatural explanation. Those who take this view of God find that as scientific knowledge grows, God shrinks. For decades, thinking believers have discarded this view of God. Collins roundly rejects any evidence for God that is based solely on gaps in our knowledge.

So, scientifically, ID (Intelligent Design) fails to hold up, providing neither an opportunity for experimental validation nor a robust foundation for its primary claim of irreducible complexity. More than that, however, ID also fails in a way that should be more of a concern to the believer than to the hard-nosed scientist. ID is a "God of the gaps" theory, inserting a supposition of the need for supernatural intervention in places that its proponents claim science cannot explain. . . . Ultimately a "God of the gaps" religion runs a huge risk of simply discrediting faith. ID portrays the Almighty as a clumsy Creator, having to intervene at regular intervals to fix the inadequacies of His own initial plan for generating the complexity of life. For a believer who stands in awe of the almost unimaginable intelligence and creative genius of God, this is a very unsatisfactory image (Collins, 193).

So, after passing over the claims of creationists, intelligent design proponents, "God of the gaps" evidence in general and Biblical literalists, Collins presents his evidence for belief. It can be narrowed down to two reasons: 1) The universe had a beginning which seems to have been fine-tuned for life, and 2) humans all share a sense of morality.

Scientists have made reasonable explanations for what has happened in the history of the universe all the way back 13.7 billion years to mere microseconds after the big bang. But, it's true that science has been powerless to tell us anything about the universe before that. The singularity that must have existed before the explosion of the Big Bang defies all scientific laws. And as the universe expanded, conditions that would be friendly to life are a very unlikely outcome. This could be seen as evidence of a supernatural designer that brought the singularity into being and sent it out of the gate at the proper trajectory to ensure that life would be possible in a few billion years. Or it could be seen as another gap in what we know. Like other gaps, it's getting smaller all the time. And even if science never learns any more about the beginning of the universe, consider the implications of Collins' view. He says that God set up the conditions of the big bang almost 14 billion years ago, then didn't intervene until two or three thousand years ago, once humans had evolved fully and begun to found civilizations.

Collins second reason draws heavily from C.S. Lewis, who makes the universal human experience of morality his central reason for believing in God. Not only is this line of reasoning susceptible to the charge of finding God in another gap in our knowledge, but that gap has already all but vanished. Collins and Lewis are both correct when they claim that nearly all humans share an inborn sense of right and wrong. The next step in their reasoning is that if there's a moral law, then there must be a moral lawgiver. God is invoked as the absolute standard that our morality is measured against. I used to consider this a very convincing argument, but now I don't see how you get from the fact of shared morality to the conclusion of God's existence. It is one attempt to the question of where our sense of morals comes from, but is it the most probable?

The Darwinian evolution that Collins uses to to explain the complexity and diversity of organisms can also explain the behavior of humans and other organisms. As an example, take the maternal instinct. It's easy to see how any animal with a strong affection for its offspring would be more likely to pass its genes on. As much as I enjoy taking care of my daughter, I recognize that this paternal instinct is a product of evolution. That doesn't make my feelings any less significant to me. Morality could be seen in the same way. A group of evolving humans living a small group, as early humans did, would be more likely to survive than a neighboring group if they took care of each other. Kindness, generosity, forgiveness and bravery would all give a survival advantage. As humans spread around the world and diverged into different cultures, you would expect slight differences in this instinct to evolve but for the heart of the instinct to be shared by all humans. And this is exactly what we see. Does this make our shared morality any less real? I see no reason to abandon an instinct that has served us so well just because we've found out more about its origin.

Many people will find Collins' approach refreshing. Others will find it conciliatory or even blasphemous. For my part, I find it unconvincing.

Zoo trip

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Yesterday we took a trip to the Kansas City Zoo. It was rainy, but the weather was cool and the place wasn't crowded. We saw a pair of baby baboons, a great sea lion show and several free carousel rides.

Here are the pictures.

Dancing Bananas is back

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

We've posted Episode 4 at the Dancing Bananas website. I also put all of the episodes on YouTube and moved the subscribe links to the sidebar. As always, you'll find links to the high quality version. We've recorded episode 5 and it should be out soon.

In like a lion

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Yesterday 4pm: 70 degrees and beautiful
Yesterday 9pm: Tornado and hail
Today 10am: Snow

If we have an earthquake this afternoon, I'm moving.

Scratch

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Emma and I have been doing some programming together using Scratch, a visual programming language created at MIT. The image above shows the code blocks that you drag and drop to create your scripts. It's very easy to get started. You can have the basics of your idea working in a matter of seconds. I think Emma is actually understanding some of the building blocks of computer programming like conditional statements, loops and variables. She's able to come up with an idea, then I tell her what code blocks to drag in and she can run the first lines of code and see the images moving around the screen. Not bad for a five-year-old. I'm probably having even more fun than she is, though. Together Emma and I made two games: Turtle Hatchling and Man Finding His Dog. Scratch is available for free for Windows and Mac. Once you've installed it you should be able to open up our games and try them.

Emma has been saying that she wants a robot. We've talked about saving up for a Robosapien 2 or saving up even longer for a Lego Mindstorms NXT. I'm more interested in the latter. I've told her that first she needs to know how to read, do some math and some programming. So she's on her way to being a robotisist.

Geni - online collaborative family tree

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

I tried creating a family tree on the computer once, but I gave it up for two reasons. First, I only know so much, so there were lots of holes in the tree, and second, there wasn't an easy way for me to show it off to other people in the family. Geni.com fixes both of those issues. It's an online collaborative family tree. You can start out in about 2 minutes and quickly add your closest relatives. If enter a family member's email address when you add them, they'll be sent an invite to log in and work on the tree, too. Then they can add people and invite them to help. You can add all kinds of information for each person, including a photo that shows up in the main tree view.

In addition to solving my problems, this site is very easy to use. The interface may remind you of Google Maps. You can drag the tree around and zoom in and out. You can select any person in the tree and make them the center of attention so that it shows the people that are most relevant to them and hides the inlaws. This is all done gracefully and without requiring any input from you. It's very well done. Did I mention that it was free?

If you're related to me, even distantly, don't create your own account, contact me and I'll make sure you're in my tree, then I'll add you. Otherwise, I recommend trying this out. You can have your immediately family added and invited about 3 minutes after starting.

Thanks to Matt for telling me about this.

Pleonast RSS

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

My brother has a weblog at a site that doesn't provide an RSS feed for its blogs. I like reading what he says, but I can't be bothered to go look at the site periodically to check for new posts. That's so twentieth century. So, I wrote a screen scraping script that generates an rss feed for me. Subscribe to this feed and get Mike's posts without leaving your feed reader. You can change the url and get other users, too: Angie.

Regarding feed readers, I'm still using Bloglines and I'm very happy with it. A lot of people are switching to Google Reader and it is very nice, too. I've tried it, but I miss the way Bloglines lets me reorder my folders and feeds however I want.

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