Why I disagree with Cardinal Dolan’s remark that “no country is a ‘hole.'”

This is not intended as a post about President Trump’s recently reported remarks about “s**thole countries,” but about what a Catholic cardinal, Timothy Dolan, said in response to those remarks. The Cardinal tweeted that Martin Luther King Jr., were he alive today, would remind people that “no country is a ‘hole,’ no person unworthy of respect.” In this post, I’d like to explain why I think the Cardinal is perfectly right on the second point and absolutely wrong on the first. I’m also going to try to define a “hole,” and make a tentative list of countries which I think would qualify, at the present time. Readers are welcome to disagree, of course.

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Dr. Lydia McGrew on Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars (and how to avoid them)

NOTE: Some readers have asked me for a transcript of Dr. Lydia McGrew’s webinar. Unfortunately, I don’t have one, but the points she raised in her talk can be found at this link here. In her talk, Dr. McGrew was responding to an e-interview given by Michael Licona, a leading Christian apologist for the Resurrection who is an Associate Professor of theology at Houston Baptist University and who is also the author of Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017). In his book, Dr. Licona defended the historicity of the Gospels but endorsed the view, common among New Testament scholars, that the authors of the Gospels would have considered it perfectly legitimate to deliberately alter historical details of events, relating non-factual claims as if they were factual, because back in those days, writers of biographies were more concerned with Truth than with mere facts. Dr. McGrew is a conservative Christian writer but not a Biblical inerrantist. Nevertheless, she felt that by acknowledging the existence of what she terms “fictionalizing compositional devices” in the Gospels, Dr. Licona had conceded too much to skeptics such as Bart Ehrman (whom Licona debated on the reliability of the New Testament back in 2016), and that such a concession undermined his whole case for the historicity of the Resurrection. For this reason, Dr. Grew decided to respond to Dr. Licona by presenting the webinar shown below.

Dr. Lydia McGrew’s webinar is titled, “Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars and How to Avoid Them.” Her host for the webinar was Jonathan McLatchie, an Intelligent Design proponent who is currently a PhD student in cell biology and a contributor to various apologetics websites, as well as being the founder of the Apologetics Academy. I’m happy to report that Dr. Lydia McGrew’s Webinar is now available on Youtube. I commend it to viewers, and I can promise you it’s a very thought-provoking presentation, whatever your theological perspective may be. Comments are welcome from people of all faiths and none.

For the benefit of those readers who don’t know her, Dr. Lydia McGrew has a PhD in English from Vanderbilt University (1995), but nearly all of her published work has been in analytic philosophy, with specialties in epistemology and probability theory. Her curriculum vitae is here. Dr. McGrew is also a home schooling mother living in the Midwest, who is married to the philosopher, Dr. Timothy McGrew, Chair and Professor of the Department of Philosophy at Western Michigan University (C.V. here).

UPDATE: I’ve transcribed the first part of Dr. McGrew’s talk, which can be viewed below. This is going to take a few days to finish. I invite readers to have a look at Dr. McGrew’s remarks on Bad Habit #1: Failure to make crucial distinctions. Comments are welcome.

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Craniopagus twins revisited: A response to Professor Egnor

Professor Michael Egnor has kindly responded to my post, The craniopagus twins from British Columbia: A test case for Thomistic dualism (TSZ, November 25, 2017), in a new post, titled, The Craniopagus Twins and Thomistic Dualism (ENV, December 10, 2017). In my earlier post, I had argued that “the twins’ ability to share thoughts without speaking weakens the case for Thomistic dualism, and lends support to a subtle variety of materialism which incorporates top-down causation.” In his response, Professor Michael Egnor gets to the heart of our disagreement and explains why he does not think that the experiment I proposed would serve to test whether dualism or materialism is true. Egnor proposes another test of his own, relating to mathematical abilities. In this post, I’d like to explain why I object to Professor Egnor’s test, before putting forward another one, very similar to it, which I believe could experimentally resolve whether dualism or materialism is true. Finally, I offer a few reflections on the philosophical argument which, Egnor contends, makes materialism logically untenable.

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At last, an intelligent solution to the problem of global warming

Sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions from a thermal power plant

I’d like to draw readers’ attention to an excellent article in Quartz magazine (December 4, 2017) by Akshat Rathi, titled, Humanity’s fight against climate change is failing. One technology can change that. Dr. Rathi has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Oxford, and his article is based on lengthy conversations with more than 100 academics, entrepreneurs, policy experts, and government officials.

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Two-million-year-old Adam and Eve still possible: Dr. Ann Gauger’s model remains viable

A few weeks ago, I wrote a short post titled, Adam and Eve still a possibility?, in which I drew readers’ attention to the work of geneticist Richard Buggs, Reader in Evolutionary Genomics at Queen Mary University of London, who thinks it’s still theoretically possible that the human race once passed through a short, sharp population bottleneck of just two individuals, followed by exponential population growth. Biologist Dennis Venema, professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, has recently written a two-part reply to Buggs, titled, Adam, Eve and Population Genetics: A Reply to Dr. Richard Buggs (Part 1) and A Reply to Dr. Richard Buggs (Part 2). But in a comment in response to a query of mine, Professor Venema conceded that at the present time, science cannot rule out Dr. Ann Gauger’s hypothesis that there was a severe bottleneck around two million years ago, with the emergence of Homo erectus, whom she identifies as the first true human being. When I pressed Professor Venema, saying, “In plain English, what you’re saying is that science can’t rule out an original couple, if they lived more than 1 million years ago,” he replied:

I guess it depends on how reliable you think PSMC methods are as they approach this time frame. The data looks smooth to me out to around 1.5 MYA or so, plus or minus, but the method loses its power as you go back further and further.

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The craniopagus twins from British Columbia: A test case for Thomistic dualism

The story of Krista and Tatiana Hogan, 11-year-old twin girls born in Vancouver, British Columbia, who are joined at the top, back, and sides of their heads, will doubtless be familiar to most readers. Here’s a documentary that was made about the twins:

Over at Uncommon Descent and Evolution News and Views, Denyse O’Leary, David Klinghoffer and Michael Egnor (who is a Professor of Neurosurgery at State University of New York, Stony Brook), have argued that the Hogan twins constitute a living refutation of the materialistic notion that mind and brain are one and the same thing. Each twin has her own distinct mind and personality, despite the fact that they share parts of their brains.

In this post, I’m going to argue that while these three authors are perfectly correct in insisting that each twin does indeed possess a mind of her own, their claim that this fact refutes materialism is profoundly mistaken. On the contrary, I will argue that the twins’ ability to share thoughts without speaking weakens the case for Thomistic dualism, and lends support to a subtle variety of materialism which incorporates top-down causation. And on this point, the mother of the Hogan twins would probably agree with me: she sends her children to a school run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which teaches that the human brain is the seat of thought, language, creativity, morality and even our consciousness of God. Could this Christian version of materialism be correct, after all?

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Science, not theology, should decide the merits of Intelligent Design

Over at Biologos, an evangelical theologian named Robin Parry has written a hit piece titled, God is More Than an Intelligent Designer. Now, I have no problem with someone criticizing Intelligent Design. But I do have a problem when someone criticizes it without getting out of his armchair and taking a look at the evidence for and against it. My own position is that Intelligent Design theory should be evaluated on strictly scientific grounds. Parry, unfortunately, criticizes it for all the wrong reasons, which can be summed up in a single, dismissive phrase: “Your God is too small.”

Is Parry right? Let’s have a look at his arguments.

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ENV’s shockingly bad argument that humans are products of intelligent design

If you were going to argue that any species on Earth is the product of intelligent design, then humans would be a pretty logical choice – after all, we’re the only species that’s capable of knowing whether we’re designed, and if so, of inquiring as to who our Designer might be. That makes us a pretty remarkable species. In a recent unsigned post, Evolution News and Views attempts to summarize the evidence for humans as products of intelligent design. Unfortunately, it does such a poor job that it ends up shooting itself in the foot. In this post, I’d like to highlight the questions which any halfway-decent case for humans being design products needs to address, and suggest a few answers.

Briefly, the questions which any theory positing that humans were designed needs to answer are as follows:

(1) What exactly are human beings?
(2) Which physical and mental attributes of human beings can we confidently say were designed?
(3) Did these attributes all appear at once? And if not, what are the implications for human equality?
(4) Which hominins in the fossil record qualify as human?
(5) Can we identify the point in the fossil record at which human beings appear, as products of intelligent design? If not, why not?

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Adam and Eve still a possibility?

Geneticist Richard Buggs, Reader in Evolutionary Genomics at Queen Mary University of London, has just written an intriguing article in Nature: Ecology and Evolution (28 October 2017), titled, Adam and Eve: a tested hypothesis? Comments on a recent book chapter. It appears that Buggs is unpersuaded that science has ruled out Adam and Eve. He thinks it’s still theoretically possible that the human race once passed through a short, sharp population bottleneck of just two individuals, followed by exponential population growth. Buggs disagrees with the assessment of Christian biologist Dennis Venema, professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, who forthrightly declared in chapter 3 of his 2017 book Adam and the Genome that it is scientifically impossible that the human lineage ever passed through a bottleneck of two, and we can be as certain about this fact as we are about the truth of heliocentrism.

Here’s Buggs’ take-down of the three methods employed by Venema to discredit the possibility of a single primal couple. As a layperson, I have to say it looks as if Buggs has done his homework:

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PVS patient regains consciousness after 15 years, thanks to nerve stimulation

From The Guardian (September 25, 2017): Nerve implant ‘restores consciousness’ to man in vegetative state by science correspondent Hannah Devlin:

A 35-year-old man who had been in a vegetative state for 15 years has shown signs of consciousness after receiving a pioneering therapy involving nerve stimulation.

The treatment challenges a widely-accepted view that there is no prospect of a patient recovering consciousness if they have been in a vegetative state for longer than 12 months.

Since sustaining severe brain injuries in a car accident, the man had been completely unaware of the world around him. But when fitted with an implant to stimulate the vagus nerve, which travels into the brain stem, the man appeared to flicker back into a state of consciousness.

He started to track objects with his eyes, began to stay awake while being read a story and his eyes opened wide in surprise when the examiner suddenly moved her face close to the patient’s. He could even respond to some simple requests, such as turning his head when asked – although this took about a minute…

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Would you call it murder?

SPECIAL UPDATE: The priest has answered my queries by email, and the story is even more horrifying than I had imagined. Readers can find out the latest news by scrolling to the end of my OP.

STOP PRESS: I have just been sent a copy (which I won’t be publishing, for privacy-related reasons) of the complaint filed by the wife. The priest’s story is true. Readers can find out more in the comments section.

People have various opinions about end-of-life decisions. The issues are complex, and reasonable-sounding arguments can be marshaled on both sides. However, few people would deny that a doctor who not only refuses to treat a patient with a life-threatening condition, despite his and his family’s explicit request for treatment, but administers a lethal dose of a drug to the patient, with the intention of hastening the patient’s death, is morally guilty of murder. Recently, I read of a case in Canada which might fit this description, if the account given is accurate. In this case, the account comes from the blog of a Catholic priest, Fr. X, a parish priest in Quebec. Catholic writer and social activist George Weigel, author of a best-selling biography of Pope John Paul II who also happens to be a member of Fr. X’s congregation during the summer months, has written an article in the religious journal First Things which discusses the case (It’s a Culture War, Stupid, August 22, 2017). Here’s an excerpt from Fr. X’s blog entry. I would invite readers to weigh in with their opinions on whether this case is morally equivalent to murder:

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Save them, smash them, relocate them or critique them?

I’m not going to write about the tragic events in Charlottesville in this post. I think the VICE News video says it all. It should be obvious that in this particular march, the violence that occurred came overwhelmingly from the alt-right, many of whom came to the march armed with pepper spray and hidden assault weapons (see the end of the video), although I note for the record that a few protesters on the Left did as well. I am frankly mystified by President Trump’s reluctance to condemn the white nationalist marchers en masse and by his bizarre assertion that there were some people “protesting very quietly” at the torchlight march on the night before the rally (which has been debunked by Paul Blake of the BBC), but I doubt whether racism is his underlying motivation: after all, the marchers shouted Nazi slogans against the Jews, and the President’s own daughter and son-in-law are Jewish. Perhaps the man is morally timid, and reluctant to condemn even bad people who might vote for him. Or perhaps the President views racism as self-evidently absurd, requiring no further comment in the 21st century. Or perhaps he fears that by demonizing the 500 or so marchers who took part in the alt-right rally in Charlottesville, he will only succeed in making them look more appealing to alienated juvenile delinquents, thereby consolidating their base of support. I don’t know. In any case, this is not a post about Trump, whose White House seems to be facing a meltdown of its own making.

Instead, what I’d like to write about in this post is the question of what Americans should do with the 718 monuments and statues (709, according to the BBC) situated on public property throughout the country, mostly in the South, although there are also a few in former Union States, including Iowa, Kansas and Pennyslvania, and there’s even one in Massachusetts. The Southern Poverty Law Center has published a paper calling for their removal, and a summary of their responses to counter-arguments can be found on pages 38 to 39.

I’d like to begin by asking viewers how they feel about this video, showing a statue of a Confederate soldier being pulled down in Durham, North Carolina, on Monday (courtesy of World Viral Videos):

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Granville Sewell’s argument for Intelligent Design

Over at Evolution News, mathematician Granville Sewell has written an article titled, From Barren Planet to Civilization — Four Simple Steps (July 27, 2017). My intention in writing this post is not to critique Dr. Sewell’s latest argument, but to clarify its premises. Sewell’s own comments reveal that it is ultimately a philosophical argument, rather than a scientific one. Although I agree with Dr. Sewell’s key intuition, I contend that his argument hinges on two assumptions: that unguided processes have a snowball’s chance in hell of giving rise to factories, and that mental states do not supervene upon physical states.

The bulk of this post will be devoted to what Dr. Sewell has written in his latest Evolution News article. At the end of my post, I will briefly comment on the thermodynamic arguments in his accompanying video, which I see as peripheral to Sewell’s main point.

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How ENV muddies the waters on the evidence for human evolution

Recently, Evolution News and Views published an article titled, The Human-Ape Missing Link — Still Missing (July 18, 2017), which attempts to cast doubt on human evolution by quoting from a recent BBC article which highlighted the massive uncertainties that still remain over the identity, appearance and date of the last common ancestor (LCA) of human beings and chimpanzees, and which even questions whether the chimpanzee is our closest relative, after all. The Evolution News and Views (ENV) article also revives the myth of an unbridgeable gap between Australopithecus and Homo.

Here’s my two-sentence rebuttal: uncertainty as to who the last common ancestor of humans and chimps was, what it looked like, and when it lived, in no way diminishes scientists’ certainty that it existed. And while the fossil record of human ancestors is very meager and patchy until about 4.4 million years ago, from that time onward, we have a veritable hodgepodge of hominins – and no unbridgeable gaps.

Well, that was quick, wasn’t it? Now for a more detailed rebuttal.

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Suffer the children

During the past few days, there has been much discussion of philosophy professor Gary Comstock’s spirited defense of infanticide, in the case of a severely handicapped newborn baby who is likely to die (New York Times, July 12, 2017). Such an infant, argues Comstock, lacks “the things that make a life: thoughts, wants, desires, interests, memories, a future.” And if did have thoughts, its dominant thought about being kept alive on a respirator would surely be: “This hurts. Can’t someone help it stop?”

Bioethicist Wesley Smith has pointed out that the case described by Comstock (who is not a doctor), of an infant suffering excruciating pain as its life is needlessly prolonged, is totally fictitious: “When life support is removed, doctors do not just let patients twist choking in the wind. They palliate — as necessary to alleviate pain and agitation.” The testimony of palliative care physician Ira Byock (whom Smith mentions in his article) is well worth citing: “In more than 35 years of practice I have never once had to kill a patient to alleviate the person’s suffering. When other measures fail, palliative sedation for alleviation of physical suffering is reliably effective. Alleviating suffering is different than eliminating the sufferer.” (Maryland Medicine vol. 17, no. 4; January 2017.) And Dr. Michael Egnor, commenting on Comstock’s article for Evolution News and Views, writes: “The notion that handicapped children intractably suffer is a lie. I’ve treated thousands of these kids. Most of the conditions that cause severe neurological impairment aren’t painful and don’t inherently cause physical suffering. Spina bifida, holoprosencephaly, various trisomies and anencephaly don’t ‘hurt,’ and in fact the children afflicted are often quite content babies. They are loved by their families, and they can enjoy life in accordance with their physical limitations.”

Wesley Smith and Michael Egnor point out that infanticide is a crime against humanity, for which doctors were hanged at Nuremberg. Some of these doctors had euthanized handicapped children. Both authors make a telling point; nevertheless, the question needs to be addressed: exactly why is infanticide wrong?

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Credulous PLOS One publishes evidence for body trauma on the Turin Shroud image

Mystic Post is a Website which publishes articles on Catholic visions (especially Medjugorje). It would be an understatement to say that its coverage tends to be rather uncritical, but from time to time, I take a look at it anyway. One thing I like about visionaries is that they make prophecies which are falsifiable, and Mystic Post has been throwing out very broad hints that something big may happen this year. A few hours ago, I came across an article on Mystic Post, titled, Breaking News – New Prestigious Study on Shroud of Turin…”There is blood of a man tortured and killed” (July 11, 2017). The article quoted extensively from a story by Andrea Tornielli, published in the printed edition of the Italian daily newspaper, La Stampa (July 1, 2017). To my great surprise, the opening paragraph cited a study which recently appeared in PLOS One (emphases are in the original):

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Tamagotchi, J. K. Rowling and God: A Short Essay on the Problem of Evil

Catholic philosopher (and former atheist) Edward Feser might be many things, but he certainly isn’t dull. Nor is he afraid of grappling with the big questions. In the latest issue of First Things, he discusses the problem of evil in a wide-ranging interview with Connor Grubaugh, where he talks about his three favorite books in the field of contemporary analytic philosophy. Feser (who is Associate Professor of philosophy at Pasadena City College) is a Thomist, for whom the claim that the existence of evil and suffering constitutes evidence against God’s existence reflects a faulty conception of the relationship between creature and Creator. God is not just a Being who interacts with us on a personal level; rather, He is the very Author of our existence. And just as an author (such as J. K. Rowling) has no obligations to the characters in her stories, so too, God has no obligations towards us. Consequently there can be no question of Him ever doing us an injustice.

In today’s essay, I’d like to explain why I think Professor Feser’s solution is unsatisfactory, and why I think the problem of evil is much more serious than Feser supposes. I won’t be proposing my own solution, however. All I can do is briefly outline how I believe the problem can be defused, and why I don’t think it’s fatal for theism.

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Recycling bad arguments: ENV on the origin of life

During the past few days, Dr. Brian Miller (whose Ph.D. is in physics) has written a series of articles on the origin of life over at Evolution News and Views:

Thermodynamics of the Origin of Life (June 19, 2017)
The Origin of Life, Self-Organization, and Information (June 20, 2017)
Free Energy and the Origin of Life: Natural Engines to the Rescue (June 22, 2017)
Origin of Life and Information — Some Common Myths (June 26, 2017)

Dr. Miller’s aim is to convince his readers that intelligent agency was required to coordinate the steps leading to the origin of life. I think his conclusion may very well be correct, but that doesn’t make his arguments correct. In this post, I plan to subject Dr. Miller’s arguments to scientific scrutiny, in order to determine whether Dr. Miller has made a strong case for Intelligent Design.

While I commend Dr. Miller for his indefatigability, I find it disappointing that his articles recycle several Intelligent Design canards which have been refuted on previous occasions. Dr. Miller also seems to be unaware of recently published online articles which address some of his concerns.
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J. Warner Wallace’s eight attributes of design

Christian apologist (and former atheist) “Jim” Warner Wallace knows quite a lot about design, having earned a bachelor’s degree in design from California State University and a master’s degree in architecture from UCLA. Wallace also worked as a homicide detective for many years, in a job where he had to be able to distinguish deaths that were intentional from deaths that were not. Wallace writes well, and his Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (David C. Cook, 2013) is an apologetic masterpiece. So naturally, when I came across a post over at Evolution News and Views, featuring his views on Intelligent Design, I was very interested to hear what he had to say.

In his interview with Center for Science & Culture research coordinator Brian Miller, “Jim” Warner Wallace listed what he referred to as eight attributes of design. Wallace emphasized that a strong case could be made for saying that an object was designed, even on the basis of its possessing only a few of these attributes, but that when taken together, they constitute a case for design which is certain beyond all reasonable doubt. The cumulative nature of the case is what makes it so strong.

Without further ado, here are Wallace’s eight attributes of design: Continue reading

Dale Tuggy’s Trinitarian challenge – and a survey

Dale Tuggy is a Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York. He is also a podcaster and an enthusiastic blogger. Tuggy’s intellectual odyssey is an interesting one. He grew up as an evangelical who never seriously questioned the doctrine of the Trinity (that there are three persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – in one God), until he went to graduate school. After examining various rival Christian interpretations of the Trinitarian doctrine, he came to believe that it was profoundly unbiblical, and now calls himself a Christian unitarian, who identifies the one God of the Bible (YHWH) with the Father (and not the Son or the Holy Spirit).

It is not my intention in this post to argue either for or against the doctrine of the Trinity, or to explain precisely what it means. Rather, what I intend to do is evaluate a specific argument put forward by Professor Tuggy, which is deliberately targeted at certain evangelical apologists who have recently maintained that Jesus is God tout simple – in other words, that Jesus simply is God Himself, and that Jesus and the one God are therefore numerically identical. It should be noted that most Trinitarians do not say this: for them, the term “God” designates a being (or as some would prefer to say, Being Itself), whereas the name “Jesus” refers to an incarnate Divine person (God the Son). These Trinitarians would therefore agree with the conclusion of Tuggy’s argument, which is that Jesus is not divine in the same way that the one God is.

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