Squinting At Sperm

In the 17th century, Nicolaas Hartsoeker, after squinting though his microscope at ejaculate, became so convinced that each sperm was actually a little man (homunculus), he produced detailed drawings as shown on the right.

When his imaginative drawings were brought into question by those suggesting that such a notion leads to an infinite regress as each little man himself must possess sperm that also held other smaller little men ad infinitum, bible believers defended the drawings by invoking scripture. The sin nature was able to pass from Adam to all humans since all humans once swung in the testes of Adam.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. —Romans 5:12-14

Incredibly, scientists today have rejected the theory of Mr. Hoarsoeker. Scientist now claim that sperm do not at all resemble little men. But the track record of biblical insight into natural phenomena has suffered very few setbacks as fundamentalist will attest. It was simply Continue reading

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Flipping Coins

Imagine you and your friend find a coin on the street, and without either of you examining the coin carefully, you make a bet. If a flip of the coin turns up “heads”, you must pay your friend a dollar, and every time it turns up “tails”, he pays you a dollar.

You flip. A “heads” turns up. You pay your friend a dollar.

You make the same deal again, and again a “heads” deprives you of another dollar.

Not wanting to cut your losses, and certain that there are at least a few “tails” ahead, you try again. “Heads”.

You sigh as you hand over a 3rd dollar, but then challenge your friend to a 4th flip. Again you lose.
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Skepticism And The Web

I would like to argue that, as the world becomes more global, it will also become more skeptical. Let me first give a bit of background before I argue the reasons for this prediction.

Skepticism is an epistemological disposition. It is a commitment to disbelief until a certain threshold of evidence has been provided. It disparages faith and credulity.

What would humanity look like were skepticism not the default disposition towards new propositions? It would look exactly as it does now with -isms of every imaginable sort, all competing with specious but majestic assertions and other emotional weapons to trespass the barriers of evidential warrant and created bloated ontologies of mythical entities and proportions. Waiting for the proper evidence to arrive that would substantiate a wonderful concept is not very agreeable to the impatient human psyche that is constantly seeking more existential validation than is ever available. But this longing for existential validation is no warrant for violating the barriers of evidential warrant, and any mind that trespasses in this manner must constantly self-delude. This is the rate of exchange; self-delusion for a bit of existential comfort.
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Asymmetric Science Camp

spinning

There is going to be a science fair in Kentucky! It’s always great to see kids interested in science, and to see adults interested in their children’s intellectual development. Before we take a closer look at this science fair, I’d like to remind us of an important lesson in the history of science.

Back in the 14th century, there was considerable controversy over whether the Earth was spinning, or whether the Earth was actually stationary while the Sun and planets circled the Earth. A man named Nicole Oresme decided to assess this problem by critically examining all the arguments.

First, Oresme lists 3 of the strongest arguments of his day for a stationary Earth..

  1. Our senses experience the Sun and the planets rising and setting as if the Earth were the center of the universe. It is therefore most reasonable to believe our perceptions and conclude that the Earth is, in fact, spinning.
  2. If the Earth were actually spinning eastward, we should experience a constant wind from the east. We do not. Hence, the Earth is not spinning.
  3. When a man on a fast-moving ship shoots an arrow straight into the air, it will fall behind the ship close to point where it had been released. In the same way, if the Earth were spinning, an arrow shot straight into the air should fall at a point west of the point it was released. This does not happen, and therefore the earth is not spinning. (This argument was borrowed from Ptolemy.)

Next, Oresme Continue reading

Is DNA Code?

dnaIs DNA code? This question has been answered affirmatively by some in an attempt to argue that DNA requires an intelligent author. Therefore the more fundamental question is “Did DNA arise from a natural process or from an intelligent designer?”

This is a legitimate question, but not a unique one. Throughout history, millions of similar questions have been asked, all having the basic form of “Does X have a natural or a supernatural cause?” Plug pandemics, lighting or psychotic behavior into X as examples.

For most of these millions of questions of causation throughout history, there have been 2 basic approaches.

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The Expectation Of Material Causation

inductionThe following is a modified excerpt from an e-mail exchange I had with a theist over the earned position of superiority that material causes have over hypothetical immaterial causes.


Imagine back when there was far less of a precedent for material causation, say around the time of Benjamin Franklin. Imagine the conventional understanding of the phenomenon of lightning. There was no conceivable way that this phenomenon could neatly fit into the existing web of material causation that was at that time quite limited to physical objects within the exploratory reach of humans. Were not humans justified in believing that lighting was caused by a supernatural entity?

It was perhaps not until around the time of Benjamin Franklin that the expectation of wholly material causation was warranted. The precedent for material causation had indeed been strong due to discoveries by Newton and others, but I think I would have been inclined to admit the possibility that the supernatural was still a possible candidate for the explanation of lighting. This might have been reinforced by anecdotes of “sinners” who had been struck by lightning. (In fact, the catholic church had been claiming just a few centuries earlier that the actual type of sin could be ascertained by the location of the strike on the body.) There was also the biblical claim that Satan was the prince of the power of the air, a claim that also lead to the slow adaptation of the radio later on among some Christian communities.

However, through the experiments of Benjamin Franklin (though the key on a string story was almost certainly apocryphal) and others, electromagnetism was slowly teased out as a force that did indeed fit neatly into the web of material causation. This was not an overnight process. It took a host of various scientists contributing candidate theories, then modifying or abandoning those theories until electromagnetism emerged as the coherent theory we know today.

Were the incompatible material theories being debated an indication that a material theory was not forthcoming? No. Could the claims coming from the various camps of scientists have been co-opted by amateurs to claim that the concept of electromagnetism was in disarray and in decline? Yes, and they were.
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