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Archive for December 2007

Evolutionary Foolishness

Lincoln Cannon recently made me aware of Our God Truly Is God by Elder Douglas Callister of the LDS church. He devoted a portion of his talk to the subject of evolution.

The LDS church is officially agnostic regarding organic evolution, at least according to a 1909 First Presidency message reprinted in the February 2002 issue of the Ensign, the official church magazine. Yet I have never read a single article in the Ensign in favor of organic evolution. It’s much easier to find those which are opposed to it, Callister’s being one.

Naturalism’s explanations of the origins of life and the miracle of our bodies often appear convoluted when placed side by side with the simple truths of the revealed word and divine scripture.

Evolution is complex, certainly more complex than bumper sticker creationism: “Big Bang Theory: God said it, and BANG! It happened!” Simple ideas don’t equate to true ideas. Just because evolution can be relatively hard to understand, that doesn’t justify seeking easier to understand theories which don’t reflect our experiences well. As Einstein is often paraphrased, “Theories should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

With its 107 million cells, connected to the brain by over 1 million neurons, the eye is more perfect than any camera ever invented. It caused Charles Darwin to humbly admit, “That the eye with all its inimitable contrivances … could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest sense.”

It is a sign of Darwin’s scientific honesty that he admitted the existence of data which seemed to him to contradict his own theory. Callister ignores that scientists have evidence which suggests that the eye was in fact evolved.

The Psalmist wrote, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 53:1). Such a foolish disbeliever ought to look at his hands. Seventy muscles contribute to hand movements. Much of the rest of the body is devoted to optimizing the complex function of the hand. There are no muscles in the fingers. The sole purpose of the forearm, its muscles and bones, is to move and position the hand.

I’ll excuse Callister’s playground taunts on the ground that he’s just mirroring the questionable behavior exemplified in his sacred texts.

However, he makes a fundamental assumption that all highly complex systems must have a designer. This assumption is understandable because most complex systems in our everyday lives (e.g. cars, computers, and Congress) have human designers. There is no evidence, however, that this relationship holds for natural systems, eyes and hands notwithstanding. His argument boils down to something like “I just can’t understand how complex human beings evolved without the intervention of a Designer”, an argument from either incredulity or ignorance. His inability to accept evolution is probably partially rooted in a lack of familiarity with the details of evolutionary theory.

Sir Isaac Newton is reported to have said: “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.”

Newton was a very interesting genius. His contribution to our understanding of natural laws cannot be overestimated. Yet he had his own blind spots. He spent a significant portion of his time pursuing alchemy, a pseudoscience on par with astrology. This illustrates why we shouldn’t appeal to authorities in order to base our beliefs. I wonder if Callister would give equal credence to Newton’s views on alchemy as he seems to give to his thoughts on the thumb.

One of my brothers is a physician. During medical school he was assigned to study anatomy in companionship with an agnostic. Their education eventually required that the two of them carefully examine and dissect a cadaver. They studied the incredibly complex yet harmonious systems of the body.… My brother and his friend became silent as they contemplated the miracle they were examining. Sensing the moment was right, my brother challenged: “Coincidence is a marvelous thing, isn’t it?” His agnostic classmate responded, “You win.”

This anecdote might make the creationist feel good to see the opposition conquered, but it also shows me that Callister doesn’t properly understand evolutionary theory. To call it “coincidence” demonstrates that he believes evolution to be a purely random process. It isn’t. No one aside from creationists believes that evolution is purely random.

This earth departs from its orbit of the sun by only one-ninth of an inch (2.82 mm) every 18 miles (29 km). If, instead, it changed by one-tenth of an inch (2.54 mm) every 18 miles, we would all freeze to death. If it changed by one-eighth of an inch (3.18 mm), we would all be incinerated. Did this all happen by accident?

I don’t know how true this is, but this statement seems a little misleading because the Earth travels 18 miles every second. That distance is therefore an insignificant part of the Earth’s orbit (i.e. 1 part in 31.5 million). Any small deviation over that tiny portion of the orbit would accumulate to huge deviations over the course of a year.

But allowing that what he says may be true, does this show that there is a Divine Designer? What are the odds that a habitable planet would happen at random around the average star? To be overly generous, let’s just guess that the odds are one in one billion billion (i.e. one star in every 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 stars has a habitable planet). There are believed to be 1021 stars in the universe. That still leaves 1000 habitable planets in a universe based on pure, dumb luck.

Questioning why we happen to be on one of those habitable planets is like a puddle questioning how it happens to live in a hole that seems tailor-made to fit its shape precisely.

The doubter requires too much of us when he asks us to believe that the miracles of eyes and hands and DNA and order in the universe all happened by chance. The passage of time, even long intervals of time, is not a “cause” and provides no answers without an intelligent designer.

Further evidence that he doesn’t understand evolution.

It is not possible to contemplate the immeasurable vacuum and purposelessness that would exist in our lives if He were not there. We would regret the passing of every day and the passing of every loved one, knowing that neither time nor relationships could be extended. We would approach the autumn and then the winter years of life with crescendoing fear. Every day of our lives we should thank Him that He is there and that this life is not all there is.

It is possible. It is true that contemplating a world without a loving God can make our time with loved ones more precious and death more dreadful. I want to live in a world where chocolate makes me lose weight and the opposite sex is powerless to resist my charms. Too bad that’s not the world I live in.

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Keys to Drawing: Knowing vs. Seeing

Keys to Drawing has a very Zen lesson about the difference between seeing and knowing:

Seeing comes first. When rules conflict with seeing, forget them and draw what you see. This is what is meant by retaining an “innocent vision.” That is, to look at something as if you have never seen it before, and to be unclouded by assumptions about how a thing is supposed to look. The one simple rule to follow is: at each point of frustration or confusion, ask yourself, “What do I see?” (p. 17)

If you’ll excuse me for veering off the topic of drawing, this idea has been very important to me recently even though I didn’t think of it specifically as a conflict between knowing and seeing. One of the exercises illustrates the conflict. I first drew a green pepper from memory:

Then I drew a green pepper while looking at one (actually half of one) that I had available:

Our memories are only symbols. We walk around with preconceived notions that contain only a fraction of the information available in our first-hand experiences. Our memories are not our experiences. They are only derivative and shallow. Those prejudices based on memories get in the way of drawing because they separate us from what something really looks like. It is important to be able to suspend what we think we know in order to see clearly.

When I read this in the book, I immediately thought of my deconversion from Mormonism and theism. That process was driven in part by looking at my experiences with innocent eyes.

Anyway, back to drawing. This drawing is of my hand. The book said that if my drawing actually looked like a hand that I hadn’t done it right. Mission accomplished:

Then we have my eyes, or a crude approximation thereof. I really want to be able to draw human beings, but I have a long way to go:

A bottle laying on the table:

And an exercise bike:

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Keys to Drawing

Todd was my third-grade arch nemesis. For some unaccountable reason, all the girls in my class seemed to like him, including Jamie Conway, that dark-haired vixen with the black-magic voice that haunted me for years. Todd was taller, better looking, and probably smarter than I was, and he could draw. While I was overjoyed to learn to draw realistic cubes, he could draw believable dinosaurs, an infinitely sexier subject. He drew her attention away from me, and I cursed him for it.

For years I’ve wished that I could draw realistic pictures—perhaps to prove that Todd wasn’t that special after all. I’ve doodled. Sometimes I’m surprised by how well my doodles turn out. Most of the time, I hide them from critical eyes. I hate doing things that I’m not good at, being vulnerable in that way. When I realized how driven by fear I had become, I started to intentionally put myself in situations where I would probably make a fool of myself.

Today is a continuation of that quest to face up to my silly fears. My wife gave me Keys to Drawing for Christmas. I plan to post my drawings here to 1) allow myself to look foolish, 2) use your peer pressure to keep me going, and 3) chronicle my progress (I hope).

The first exercise was to draw my crossed feet using a simple line drawing with no erasing and redrawing lines where necessary. The key was to spend more time observing my feet than being critical of my drawing. I think the author expected me to be wearing shoes, but I spend most of my time at home barefoot, so you get a 2-for-1 embarrassment deal: my amateur drawing and my feet in all their long-toed, short-footed, hairy, knobby glory:

My Feet

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Overheard at Home

My daughters were deciding who got to play with which one of two dolls that they got for Christmas. The two dolls are identical except for their complexion.

Oldest daughter: No, I want the light-skinned one. I think she’s prettier.


I swear that I’m not teaching her to be racist. I blame the TV.

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Weekly Links: 24 Dec 2007

because I have nothing better to do on the eve of a pagan holiday




For Fun

Sex (also For Fun)

Drugs (Apparently Not That Fun)


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