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8 October 2000

Dear Ross,

Thanks for your response to my letter of 29 September 2000. I, too, hope somebody is reading these exchanges. This is my answer to your letter of 6 October 2000.

Preliminary Comments

We could easily devote an entire letter to just one of the 10 topics on my web site. Unfortunately, addressing all of them, as we have done, means that we have to spread ourselves very thin. I'll try to address some topics more fully at the expense of others.

Ross: Faith is a commitment, based on the best evidence, which motivates me to act in a certain way.

Tom: This definition is missing a lot. Commitment to what? What kind of evidence? Motivated to act in what way?

I use the words reason and faith in the commonly defined sense of "two distinct ways of arriving at the truth," so my definitions are:

REASON: The acquisition of true knowledge with as high a degree of certainty as desired (short of absolute certainty) by making observations of physical evidence (directly or with artifacts), identifying a problem by induction and deduction, forming an hypothesis to explain the problem, and repeatedly verifying predictions implied by the hypothesis using physical tests (double-blind tests if either experimenter or subjects can influence the results). Reason has been effective in making accurate predictions and providing practical solutions to problems.

FAITH: The acquisition of true knowledge with absolute certainty by using revelation (a private communication with a supreme deity) to confirm directly the existence of the deity and the truth of holy scriptures, and to provide further confirmation by making predictions (prophecies). The only constituent of faith that is accessible to verification is prediction, the testing of which has so far produced only the results expected by chance.

Free Will

I'm glad that this topic comes first, because you have a fundamental misunderstanding of my position on free will that pops up repeatedly, as follows:

Ross: Don't tell me that the Christian is fatalistic -- your view is fatalistic. If all things follow natural laws, then there really IS nothing that can be done.
Ross: How can anything be nurtured in a deterministic universe? You can't do anything that is not predetermined and neither can they.
[Afterlife 1]
Ross: Remember, you said that all your own thoughts and actions as well as mine are predetermined?
[Afterlife 2]
Ross: We would be like pre-recorded messages broadcasting past each other.
Ross: If is determined, it is not free.
[Free Will 1]
Ross: If a person could not help doing what they do, then the criminal is not responsible. And the ones that act altruistically deserve no credit.
[Free Will 2]
Tom: What exactly do you mean by "free will"? Free of what?
Ross: I mean that a person could have done something differently.

Tom: You didn't tell me specifically what free will is free of. However, by saying that a person cannot "help doing what they do," I assume you believe that free will means free of restraint or control by someone or something. Now, if a person made the best decision possible, based on his experience, morals, goals, etc., what is the relevance of your claim that he "could have done something differently"?

Claiming that all decisions are strictly determined does not mean that a person's behavior cannot be changed for better or worse, with or without the help of others. I hold criminals responsible for what they do, and I praise altruistic acts. Suppose I talk a friend into quitting smoking by pointing out the harm he is doing to his health. Both the causes of my concerned intervention and the causes of the cessation of my friend's smoking are strictly determined. It is not a contradiction to say that the causes of changing one's own behavior (or another's behavior) are strictly determined. The mind-boggling number of variables in making any decision prevents us from predicting its outcome accurately, if at all. Nevertheless, we know from experience that we can affect the behavior of others, so we act as if a decision will have a desired effect, regardless of causes of our decision.

We could, in principle, uncover all the causes of any decision. Let us say that Oscar looks back on a decision to buy a new coat for his grandmother. He could make as long a list of causes for that decision as as he could find time for, such as: His sister informed him that Grandma's birthday was circled on the calendar for 10 Feb, Grandma had written that she will visit on 5 Feb, Mom had mailed her a plane ticket, Grandma had always been very kind to him, a new coat would be an appropriate gift because the coat she wore on a visit last Christmas looked threadbare, the weather man forecast a colder winter, Dayton had a clothing sale on 20 Jan, Dad finished getting the car fixed on 18 Jan, etc., etc. Saying that Oscar was "restrained" or "controlled" by any or all of these causes contributes nothing to the understanding of his decision. One might say that Oscar was strictly determined to do what he wanted to do all along anyway.

[Free Will 3]
Ross: Therefore if there are not random changes then there would be no evolution and if there ARE random changes, then they occur in the transmission of memories.

Tom: The beauty of neural networks is that they are highly resistant to degradation. Memory is distributed throughout the brain. Just as cutting small chunks out of a hologram render unrecognizable the image it holds, cutting small chunks out of the brain may not noticeably diminish stored memory, overall performance, or personality. Regardless of so-called random events at the atomic or molecular level, the personality remains remarkably stable and intact. Only massive, ubiquitous damage, as in Alzheimer's disease, destroys memory and personality.

[Free Will 4]
Tom: You paraphrased me as saying that "if God knows the future, then He controls it," and concluded that my understanding of knowledge and control is "foggy." I said the precisely the opposite, that, "if God knows the future, then he is powerless to change it." That means God is not in control of it. Therefore, omniscience contradicts omnipotence.
Ross: I understand it this way: God created us with the ability to make choices and allows us to often face the consequences of those choices, although He sometimes rescues us from our self made messes. He knows the choices we make although they are indeed our choices.

Tom: Your statement is a complete non-sequitur. I was talking about God's knowledge and control, not about our choices.


Ross: The problem for you is that you have to look at the same evil that I do, but you have no ultimate hope.

Tom: You are so wrong. Although mankind seems to take one step backward for every two forward, in my lifetime I have witnessed a gradual progress. I have lived to see the end of world war, the fall of the Soviet Union and its communist states, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the European Union, the spread of the free press, the free market, and democracy worldwide (the latest being the encouraging popular uprising in Yugoslavia), the discovery of the structure of DNA, the spelling out of the genetic code, and amazing advances in the cure and prevention of disease. Maybe I'm just an inveterate optimist, but if we can minimize civil wars, terrorism, and environmental pollution long enough for the flowering of freedom, the free market, and technology in all the world's countries, then there is great hope for the future. What do you see in the future of mankind here on Earth? Relentless deterioration from original sin ending with Armageddon?


Ross: You have set up a perfect "Catch 22." It is the design that proves the designer.

Tom: I keep telling you that we have no experience recognizing any design other than that done by humans. Your extrapolation of experience with human design to supernatural intelligent design is just a rough guess at this point in time.

Ross: The Bible says that all creation became subject to decay and death because of human sin.

Tom: This statement is YOUR "Catch 22"! No matter what I could possibly point out as an example of poor design, you would explain it as "decay and death because of human sin." One wonders how you can find ANY examples of good design amid all this deterioration. I suppose you are going to tell me next that my example of external testes is an example of decay and death!

Ross: Stars are using energy and running down. An ultimate universal "heat death" (burn out) can be predicted. All this is confirmation of the Biblical hypothesis.

Tom: Old stars are "running down" but you ought to know that new stars are being born all the time, or is that one of the things that creationists deny?

Ross: Why are apes and humans similar? Well, I don't know, but we can say that common descent is not the only viable hypothesis. If God decided to do variations on themes, then the physical similarities could very well be mirrored by genetic similarities (and indeed they are) which might mean that certain locations on the DNA might be similarly vulnerable to mutations. In fact, this phenomenon is known.

Tom: In fact, there are pseudogenes (copying errors) in the same relative locations in the genes of apes and humans. If God designed both animals independently, why would he put the same errors in the same places in both animals? Oh, don't tell me, it must be the the old "decay-and-death-from-human sin" syndrome!

Ross: Also, there are some studies that show a measurable effect of prayer, for example, the heart disease study by Randolph Byrd ("Positive Therapeutic Effect of Intercessory Prayer in a coronary Care Unit Population," Southern Medical Journal, July 1988, Vol. 81, no. 7, pp. 826 - 829.) The patients did not know they were being prayed for and all got the treatments their doctors felt were most appropriate, but the "prayed-for" patients did better.

Tom: This is probably the study in which (1) a chaplain's secretary was responsible for the assignment of patients to the two groups, according to whether their chart numbers were odd or even, a task that, to ensure objectivity, should have been handled by a computer, and (2) the patients were expected not to know for an entire year which were being prayed for -- a difficult feat even if the investigators were honest. Harvard University is now conducting a similar study with 1800 patients admitted for heart surgery, and results are expected later this year. If the controls on information leakage have been tightened up, it will be interesting to see the results.


Ross: I don't condemn [altruistic behavior] but just point out that it will not be sustained. All it takes is a few bad apples to bring down a civilization.

Tom: Yeah, civilizations have toppled on God's watch, and he did nothing to help. Maybe he was too busy killing innocent women and children.


Ross: But, where in the world did [the] idea of immortality even come from?

Tom: Everyone can tell in daily experience that what goes on in the mind seems to be made of a different stuff from that of bodies, chairs, and mountains. Ergo, we have the philosophy of the immaterial mind in the material body. The conclusion is that when the material body dies and decays, the immaterial mind lives on. I dispute the premise that the mind is immaterial.

Ross: I believe that a person can be trapped inside a body that does not function well, just as a person can be relatively immobile when a leg is broken.

Tom: So do I.  A damaged body is one thing, and a damaged mind is another. Ronald Reagan, who no longer recognizes his wife and daughter, is fast passing the stage of being just a person trapped inside a damaged body.


Tom: The "absurd notion" is that any one of the 24 billion potential persons be valued differently from the others.
Ross: It IS absurd, Tom, to equate a "possible fertilized egg" with a fertilized egg! The former is a possibility, the latter is a reality.

Tom: Who said I was equating a POSSIBLE fertilized egg with an ACTUAL fertilized egg?  Not I.  I have pointed out the practical equality of any one or more the 24 billion potential persons (POSSIBLE fertilized eggs). Every one has the potential to become a unique, special, valued personality, but only a handful will actually do so. When that sinks in, you will hopefully have a saner attitude toward one or another ACTUAL fertilized eggs, as in the case of a woman who is implanted with one disease-free fertilized egg, out of eight in-vitro fertilized eggs, the unused eggs being then discarded. If the other seven potential personalities are never actualized, the woman ought not to miss what she would never have.

Ross: Are you glad your mother "wanted you?"

Tom: Of course, as would have any one or more of actual persons from the 24 billion potential persons my parents could have had.

Ross: Most partial birth abortions are done on normal fetuses, and they are killed to avoid the dilemma of dealing with a crying infant which tends to be disturbing to the mother and certain of the clinic personnel.

Tom: This is a hateful, demeaning view of the problems of pregnant women. What studies show WHEN these abortions are performed and for WHAT reasons? Don't tell me; I'm sure you have some study in which the way the questions were asked and the way the data were interpreted support your view (see below).

Ross: The way questions are asked [in abortion studies] and the way the data are interpreted may miss significant pathology.

Tom: Yes, but the way questions are asked and the way the data are interpreted may just as easily falsely conclude there is pathology where there is none.

Tom: If you know that these drawings [of four mammalian embryos] are inaccurate, then please refer me to a neutral source that correctly shows the embryos.
Ross: To start with, see articles on Answers in Genesis Website.

Tom: I checked out this web page. The quality of the photos are too blurry to tell much, but the article says that Haeckel used the drawing of a 25-day-old dog embryo and that of a 4-week-old human embryo. Then, the caption on the bottom two images says that both embryos are 4 weeks old. This confusing discrepancy is very important. A dog's gestational period is about 62 days and that of a human is about 266 days. That means that the dog is developing four times as fast as the human. If the development in both embryos is linear, then I would expect that comparing one to the other at the same stage of development would require a 25-day-old dog embryo and a 15-week-old human embryo. If the growth is not linear, then the ages of Haeckel's embryos could be in the right direction. Certainly, comparing both at 4 weeks proves nothing. I'd like to see some decent photos or drawings of pig, cow, rabbit, and human embryos at the same stage of development.

Ross: People like you are taken in by assuming your sources to be honorable. Thus you still see Peppered Moths in the texts despite the revelation of fraud in the data (moths do not rest on tree trunks and dead specimens were glued in place for the photos.

Tom: Instead of using your creationist reference, I went directly to the article written by scientist Johanthan Wells ("Second Thoughts about Peppered Moths", The Scientist, 24 May 1999), from which I got the following quote:

Kettlewell did not use the normal resting places of peppered moths. In his experiments, Kettlewell released moths directly onto tree trunks, and acknowledged that they "were not free to take up their own choice of resting site.... I admit that, under their own choice, many would have taken up position higher in the trees." He assumed, however, that he could disregard this observation. Before the 1980s, most investigators shared Kettlewell's assumption, and many of them found it convenient to conduct predation experiments using dead specimens glued or pinned to tree trunks. Some biologists who used dead moths suspected, however, that the technique was unsatisfactory.

As you can see, scientists did NOT glue moths on the trunks of trees to fool the public, although they ended up innocently fooling themselves, and it was a mainstream scientist in a mainstream journal that rightly complained that the fact that Kettlewell's published results were still appearing in textbooks is a disservice to students. You expect science to be perfect. Some corrections take longer than others. In creationism, corrections almost never take place, and when they do it is under pressure from mainstream scientists.

Ross: Would you accept the presence of brain waves on a fetal EEG [as evidence of personhood]?

Tom: No, brain waves do nothing if the connections are not present.

Ross: The Old Testament rules you cite had to do with service in the Temple. The disabled were still part of the community of Israel.

Tom: The prohibition of the disabled and the ugly in the temple was most likely a reflection of the discriminatory attitudes in the community at large.


Ross: The population growth at 4% per year, starting with 8, would double every 17 years and in 19 doublings would have reached 8 million. How long is that? A mere 323 years. And the size of the families might have made it even greater. So, NO MORE FUZZY MATH!!

Tom: According to U.N. figures, the world population in 1650 was 508 million, up from 200-300 million in 1 AD. This corresponds to a growth rate, not of 4%, but only of 0.032 to 0.057% per year during much of recorded history. Now whose math is fuzzy!

Tom: . . . the creationist account [of the Temple of Karnak] . . . has the wrong position of the sun, the wrong solstice, the wrong alignment of the temple, and the wrong estimate of the axial tilt.
Ross: The Temple data needs correct dating and correct estimates of the change in earth's axis. In many cases dates are tied to expected changes so it is no surprise when they correlate.

Tom: That's an answer?

Ross: The missing neutrinos are not explained by the mainstream except to say that the nuclear furnace is intermittent (how convenient).

Tom: You probably got this explanation out of some creationist book. My information is that when neutrinos arrive and interact in our detectors, they do not arrive as the original weak eigenstate in which they were produced, but as a mixture of two or more flavors. This is a potential solution to the solar neutrino problem, since the experiments measure an apparent disappearance of electron-neutrinos, without measuring the other flavors. If the neutrinos oscillate from the 100% electron-neutrino that they are produced as in the sun, to a mixture with around 40% electron-neutrino and 60% some other neutrinos, we get a fairly good fit to the experimental data.

Ross: Aren't you glad we are allowing you, as a "popularizer" of evolutionary thought a place on our site?

Tom: Yes, but when you put it that way it makes me feel like I did when a friend, who was an architect, once told me that on a small lot I was looking at I should think about building two stories. Then he immediately added without a smile that he ought to send me a bill for that advice.


Ross: Genesis classifies created beings by where they live, whether in the sea, air or on the land. . . . Perhaps you have not had the opportunity to really learn a foreign language to the point where you realize that the words are not always cutting reality at the same points.

Tom: God either did not speak clearly to humans except in writings of their native languages or God did not inspire translators to write so that we could all understand.


Tom: The diversity of sexual behavior is widespread throughout all eras and in most species. In humans, diversity of sexual preference and attraction occurs whether or not it is accompanied by physical expression.
Ross: You still cannot conceive of affection and love without sex, can you?

Tom: What is there about the English phrase "whether or not" that you don't understand? It's no wonder we can't agree on the interpretation of biblical passages (see below). Also, I'm still waiting for you to explain why John reminded the reader five times that he was the disciple whom Jesus loved.

Tom: . . . the KJV says that after Jesus described the signs of "the coming of the Son of man," he said, "when ye [the disciples] shall see all these things, know that it is near, [even] at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This [your] generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." Jesus is obviously referring to the generation of the disciples to whom he is talking at that moment.
Ross: "Ye," is clearly referring to those who see all the signs of the end that He has been talking about (Matthew 24:15 - 31)

Tom: (RSV Matt 24:3) "As [Jesus] sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him PRIVATELY, saying, 'Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?" And in verse (9) Jesus said, "Then THEY will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death . . ." (29)"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; (30) then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and THEY will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven . . [etc.]." (32) "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, YOU know that summer is near. So also, when YOU see all these things, YOU know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to YOU, THIS generation will not pass away till all these things take place."

Jesus knew perfectly well to whom he was referring when he used THEY (the tribes of the Earth) and when he used YOU [the disciples]. Speaking to his disciples privately, Jesus predicted that THEY, the tribes, will deliver the disciples to tribulation and put them to death. He added that THEY, the tribes, will see the Son coming. He does not say whether the disciples will be put to death before or after the signs appear, but the reader is justified in assuming that their deaths will occur after seeing the signs and knowing the Son is near, because ONLY the disciples were present when Jesus told them "YOU" will see the signs and "YOU" will know the Son is near. Perhaps you will tell me that God intended the Bible to be understood only by believers. If so, how convenient!

Closing Comments

Well, where do we stand? Let's see; I have conceded that the backward wiring of the human retina appears to be an efficient arrangement, and you have conceded that apes appear to have morality. That's a start.

Ross: So I guess you are trying for some sort of "firmness" award.

Tom: I'm sure YOU could win some kind of award for the firmness of your faith in the afterlife and intelligent design. Am I not also entitled to a liberal dosage of firmness myself?

Tom: However, I am a realist and 99.9% certain that I will go nowhere after death, as will everyone else.
Ross: So you admit to a 0.1% chance that you are wrong? That is progress.

Tom: Don't read too much into the "99.9." Nothing in science is absolutely certain -- that's all the figure meant. I could have put 10 nines after the decimal, as you did, in Design, or I could have filled out the rest of the page in nines. Let's say that I'm more confident that there is no afterlife than I am that the sun will rise for all alive tomorrow as usual. When science fully understands the functioning of the human brain and/or invents a machine with consciousness and the ability to make decisions, then the implausibility of life after death ought to become eminently clear to you.




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