Do we have a duty not to procreate?

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald recently, Australian journalist Ruby Hamad explained her decision not to have any children. Ecological considerations proved to be a “very compelling factor” influencing her decision, leading her to conclude that for her and her partner, having a child would be “the more selfish decision.” Ms. Hamad details her reasons in a passage that makes for disturbing reading:

Our planet is in trouble. We all know this. The Amazon is depleting so rapidly, we have already lost 20 per cent of it and will lose another 20 in the next two decades – just as children born today are coming of age. Lucky them!

The Great Barrier Reef is as good as dead, as everyone who is not Pauline Hanson will admit, but deforestation is also happening in the oceans, thanks to the rise in global temperatures. Meanwhile, the oceans will be commercially extinct by the middle of the century, and the entire Arctic is living on borrowed time…

For lay people, the knowledge that one child born today will add 9,441 metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere is enough to turn them off procreation. “You can never take it back,” said one American woman. “That stopped me in my tracks.”

So, is Ruby Hamad right? In today’s post, I’d like to explain why I believe her logic is profoundly mistaken.

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Why David Madison’s Slam Dunk Isn’t One

David Madison is a minister-turned-atheist, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. Madison was raised a liberal Protestant, but he gradually lost his faith while serving as the pastor of two Methodist parishes in Massachusetts. He went on to pursue a business career, but he’s recently written a book titled, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (see here for one critic’s review and here for a more favorable review).

However, what put me off Madison’s book is what he’s written on his own Web page. His recommended reading list of 200 books, put together for people who want to “find out how Jesus, Christianity and theism have all been so convincingly slam dunked,” includes dozens of books by authors defending the kooky view that Jesus never even existed (a view not shared by any reputable historian – and no, Dr. Richard Carrier doesn’t count as one; nor does Dr. Robert Price, who got trounced when he debated Dr. Bart Ehrman last year on the historicity of Jesus, as Carrier himself admits), and only a handful of books addressing the traditional philosophical arguments for the existence of God, of which Raymond Bradley’s God’s Gravediggers: Why No Deity Exists (Ockham Publishing, 2016) and Michael Martin’s The Cambridge Companion to Atheism appear to be the most substantive. (There are other books attacking Intelligent Design on Madison’s list, but these are beside the point, as ID proponents don’t maintain that their arguments, taken by themselves, prove the existence of any Deity.) And believe it or not, H. L. Mencken, whose credibility on religious and moral issues I have demolished here, here, here and here, makes the list, too. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion is on the list (has Madison ever read John Lennox’s response, I wonder?), as well as Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian, which has been refuted ably by David Snoke.

For the benefit of his readers, Madison has also kindly provided chapter summaries for his book, which (I am sorry to say) do not inspire confidence. A few excerpts:

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Worse than Watergate? Bias in the mainstream media

With the mainstream media mocking what they describe as President Trump’s delusional claim that former President Obama ordered Trump Tower’s phones to be tapped, I thought it would only be fair to invite readers to look at the other side. In a 12-minute video, Mark Levin, a lawyer who was a chief of staff for Attorney General Edwin Meese during the Reagan administration, has laid out what appears to be overwhelming evidence that backs up Trump’s wiretapping claims. Newt Gingrich offers his take here. Matthew Vadum’s article, Obama’s Wiretaps?, in FrontPage magazine, makes for very disturbing reading. Vadum doesn’t pull any punches:

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The Christian God and the Problem of Evil

Both Mung and KeithS have asked me to weigh in on the question of whether the existence of evil counts as a good argument against Christianity, as KeithS has maintained in a recent post, so I shall oblige.

It is important to understand that the problem of evil is not an argument against the existence of God or gods, but against what KeithS calls the Christian God (actually, the God of classical theism), Who is supposed to be omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. KeithS succinctly formulates the problem as follows:

Let’s say I claim that an omniGod named Frank exists — omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Suppose I also claim that Frank regards seahorses as the absolute height of evil. The world contains a lot of seahorses, and Frank, being omnipotent, has the power to wipe them off the face of the earth. Why doesn’t he? Why does he countenance a world full of seahorses?

KeithS emphasizes that it is not enough for the Christian to show that God is on balance benevolent. Rather, the Christian needs to defend the claim that God is omnibenevolent:

The Christian claim is that God is omnibenevolent — as benevolent as it is logically possible to be. Finding that the items on the “good” side of the ledger outweigh those on the “bad” side — if that were the case — would not establish God’s omnibenevolence at all.

Finally, KeithS provides his own take on the problem of evil:

The problem of evil remains as much of a problem as ever for Christians. Yet there are obvious solutions to the problem that fit the evidence and are perfectly reasonable: a) accept that God doesn’t exist, or b) accept that God isn’t omnipotent, or c) accept that God isn’t perfectly benevolent. Despite the availability of these obvious solutions, most Christians will choose to cling to a view of God that has long since been falsified.

He even suggests how he would resolve the problem if he were a theist (emphasis mine – VJT):

Suppose God hates evil and suffering but is too weak to defeat them, at least at the moment. Then any such instances can be explained by God’s weakness.

It addresses the problem of evil without sacrificing theism. I’m amazed that more theists don’t seize on this sort of resolution. They’re too greedy in their theology, too reluctant to give up the omnis.

I think KeithS is onto something here. In fact, I’d like to ditch the conventional Christian views of God’s omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence. It’s time for an overhaul.

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Gay atheist media star interviews bishop: what do you think?

I found this interview on the Website of Brandon Vogt, a Catholic blogger and speaker who’s the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Allow me to quote from Vogt’s introduction:

A few months ago, a man named Dave Rubin reached out to us at Word on Fire to ask if Bishop Barron would be open to an interview. (Apparently lots of Dave’s Twitter followers suggested the idea.)

To be honest, we didn’t know much about Dave at the time. But after some Googling, we discovered he’s a well-known comedian and host of the super popular “Rubin Report”, a show that airs directly through YouTube. “The Rubin Report” has over 350,000 subscribers and 100 million views. It’s one of the most popular YouTube channels in the world…
Dave is an interesting guy. One website describes him as a “rising media star” and “the voice of liberals who were mugged by progressives.” It says he’s “a 39-year-old pro-choice, pro-pot, recently gay-married atheist with a strong allergy to organized religion.”
In other words, the anti-Bishop Barron…

I encourage you to watch both parts of the interview. Bishop Barron did such a marvelous job. He was smart and eloquent, even when Dave pushed the discussion toward hot-button issues…


So, what do viewers think of this interview? Does anyone feel that the bishop made an interesting case for belief in God?

Two kinds of complexity: why a sea anemone is not a Precambrian fossil rabbit

The British biologist J.B.S. Haldane is said to have remarked that the discovery of fossil rabbits in the Precambrian would falsify the theory of evolution. Over at Evolution News and Views, Dr. Cornelius Hunter has argued in a recent post that the sea anemone (whose genome turns out to be surprisingly similar to that of vertebrates) is “the genomic equivalent of Haldane’s Precambrian rabbit – a Precambrian genome had, err, all the complexity of species to come hundreds of millions of years later.” Apparently Dr. Hunter is under the impression that many of these ancestral genes would have been lying around unused for much of that time, for he goes on to triumphantly point out that “the idea of foresight is contradictory to evolutionary theory.” RIP, evolution? Not by a long shot.

An unfortunate misunderstanding

Dr. Hunter seems to have missed the whole point of the report that he linked to. A sentence toward the end of the report would have set him right, had he read it more carefully (emphases and square brackets are mine – VJT):

It’s surprising to find such a “high level of genomic complexity in a supposedly primitive animal such as the sea anemone,” [Dr. Eugene V.] Koonin [of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in Bethesda, Md.] told The Scientist. It implies that the ancestral animal “was already extremely highly complex, at least in terms of its genomic organization and regulatory and signal transduction circuits, if not necessarily morphologically.

That’s right. Genomic complexity and morphological complexity are two completely different things. That was the take-home message of the report. It was also the message of the other report cited by Dr. Hunter:

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Trilobites: the dangers of too little reading

Over at Evolution News and Views, an article by Dr. Cornelius Hunter titled, Irony Alert: Michael Shermer on “When Facts Fail”, accuses evolutionists (and especially Shermer) of intransigence in the face of awkward facts which spoil their case. Shermer recently authored an article in Scientific American, in which he noted that “people seem to double down on their beliefs in the teeth of overwhelming evidence against them” because revising these beliefs threatens their worldview. Dr. Shermer proposed that the best way to persuade people to revise their erroneous beliefs is to convince them that dropping these beliefs will not require them to change their worldview. When people are reassured that their fundamental worldview is not at stake, they can them examine the evidence dispassionately. Dr. Hunter was not impressed: he maintains that evolutionists are leading offenders, when it comes to refusing to revise their beliefs.

Dr. Hunter points to trilobites as his star example of “facts that fail” to square with the alleged “evidence for evolution.” However, a recurring failing of Dr. Hunter’s criticisms is that they reveal a lack of familiarity with the scientific literature – especially the most recent writings on the issues he raises.

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Cool it

In popular parlance, “child abuser” is just about the worst thing you can call anyone. So you can imagine my shock when I read the latest comments on one of my own recent threads and found one commenter accusing another of child abuse – a charge he repeated in the Moderation thread. My astonishment grew when I read of a proposal in Moderation to ban child abusers from The Skeptical Zone, on the grounds that people who post porn are already banned, and child abuse is much, much worse.

And what was the alleged offense? Here it is: “admitting to using strawman arguments, fallacious reasoning, and false claims to destroy childrens’ ability to think rationally about certain scientific topics. That’s child abuse.” Except that the person accused made no such admission. Regardless of whether the arguments were fallacious or not, no deceit was involved. It was the accuser who attacked the arguments as fallacious and illogical, not the person he accused.

And what were the arguments about? In a nutshell, abiogenesis. The arguments were presented to a group of six-year-old children and their parents, in an attempt to make them see that the origin of life from non-living matter is astronomically improbable, that macroevolution (e.g. fish to bird) is also vanishingly improbable, and that Intelligent Design is the only rational inference. A detailed description of the presentation can be found here.

I’d like to make a couple of very brief points. First, the term “child abuse” can be defined in three ways. First, could be defined very broadly to mean behavior which actually causes severe and/or life-long physical or psychological damage to children. Second, it could be defined more narrowly to mean behavior which is intended to cause severe and/or life-long physical or psychological damage to children. Third, it could be defined as behavior which the vast majority of responsible people, at the present time, would agree causes severe and/or life-long physical or psychological damage to children.

The first definition is clearly ridiculous, as it would make all of our parents or grandparents child abusers. Think of passive smoking. Or think of spanking: fifty years ago, it was quite common for naughty children to get their little bottoms hit with a belt and sent to bed without supper. The second definition is also unsatisfactory, as it would exonerate parents who refused to take their dying child to a doctor, but took her to a quack faith healer instead: here, the parents didn’t mean to harm their child, but any sensible person would say that they should have known better. That leaves us with the third definition.

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Early embryonic mutations: a problem for evolution?

Dr. Stephen Meyer and Dr. Douglas Axe were recently interviewed by author and radio host Frank Turek on the significance of November’s Royal Society Meeting on evolution, in London. The two Intelligent Design advocates discussed what they see as the top five problems for evolutionary theory:

(i) gaps in the fossil record (in particular, the Cambrian explosion);
(ii) the lack of a naturalistic explanation for the origin of biological information;
(iii) the necessity of early mutations during embryonic development (which are invariably either defective or lethal) in order to generate new animal body types;
(iv) the existence of non-DNA epigenetic information controlling development (which means that you can’t evolve new animal body plans simply by mutating DNA); and
(v) the universal design intuition that we all share: functional coherence makes accidental invention fantastically improbable and hence physically impossible.

In today’s post, I’d like to focus on the third argument, which I consider to be the best of the bunch. The others are far less compelling.

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Two hundred years of global warming and the failure of the Precautionary Principle

I’d invite readers to have a look at this two-minute video, titled, “Humans have caused climate change for 180 years”:

Here’s an excerpt from an article in the ANU Reporter, dated 25 August 2016 (emphases mine):

An international research project has found human activity has been causing global warming for almost two centuries, proving human-induced climate change is not just a 20th century phenomenon.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Nerilie Abram from The Australian National University (ANU) said the study found warming began during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution and is first detectable in the Arctic and tropical oceans around the 1830s, much earlier than scientists had expected.

“It was an extraordinary finding,” said Associate Professor Abram, from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.

“It was one of those moments where science really surprised us. But the results were clear. The climate warming we are witnessing today started about 180 years ago.

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