Thursday, April 27, 2006

Dawkins, Darwin and Designers

Food for Thought...

One of the most fascinating things about the endless debate over embracing the Darwinist view as opposed to a "designed" view of existence is the aspect of
human consciousness. Why is it that human beings seek to "understand" the meaning and purpose of life? Is there a reason to be - or not to be? Why do we exist at all? (Do animals ask themselves these questions???) Is life, the universe and our personal existence really pointless - utterly meaningless? If it is, why can't mankind just accept it? Is the search for a creator simply a coping mechanism to enable our feeble minds to be a peace with the unexplainable?

I just finished a fine Sci-Fi novel by Dan Simmons called "Hyperion" and there was one concept that the author explored that really got me thinking. In the novel some 800 years into the future mankind had spawned fully conscious AI (artificial intelligence). AI went on to secede from the Hegemony of Man to act as an independant entity neither beholden to nor controlled by mankind. Is this remotely possible in our future? I submit that it is and the implications are mindbending.

As you know we already have computers that can mechanically out perform human beings hands down in computaional terms. We have even designed computers that can play and beat some of the greatest chess players in the world. Chess being a challenging game that requires forethought, strategy and cunning - concepts heretofore reserved for the thinking brain. (Animals possess these attributes, think of a lion pride on the hunt... ) We - mankind - are the creators of these machines. How long before a cyber-brain is capable of creating it's own machines and systems?

According to people like Ray Kurzweil and Stephen L. Thaler we are a lot closer than you would imagine. Kurzweil, an inventor and businessman is the author of the book "The Singularity Is Near" where he explores the coming of the end of the division between the biological entity and the machine entity. Thaler is the founder of an incredble company that uses as the basis for its product line artificial neural networks. He envisions a world consciousness stemming from the collective power our interconnected world where the sum of all human knowledge would be readily accessable. In short AI is near. What does it ultimately mean for mankind and our future?

In the Simmons novel AI had progressed so far beyond the humans that had created (designed) it that it strongly debated the possibility of a forced extinction of all of humanity. What a quandry! Destroy your own designer...

Bring On Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is often referred to as Darwin's Rottweiler due to his rather emphatic defense of Evolution and Natural Selection. I find him absolutely fascinating and find it rather hard to shoot holes in his proclamations. He is a relentless warrior against a theistic view (of anything). In my heart I am a believer in a Creator in the form of the Triune God (God - the Father, Jesus - God made into a man and the Holy Spirit - God inside man). Though I rarely feel I have the mastery of either subject to be able to adequately debate a Dawkins follower I can't simply let it go either. The arrogance and absolutism of most Darwinists is maddening.

So when Dawkins claims, as he does here...

Not only can natural selection mimic design; it is the only known natural process that can mimic design. And now, here is the most difficult thing that I wish people understood. True design can never be an ultimate explanation for anything, because the designer himself is left unexplained. Designers are statistically improbable things, and trying to explain them as made by prior designers is ultimately futile, because it leads to an infinite regress.

... I feel that his circular logic is lacking something fundamental. He is basically restating the classic conudrum: which came first the chicken or the egg?

Dawkins goes on the summarize:

So distant are many people from understanding this, they seriously believe that the existence of functional improbability is evidence in favour of intelligent design - the greater the improbability, the stronger the evidence. Truly, the precise opposite is the case. I wish that more people understood this.

The TechnoCore spawned by AI in the Simmons novel
it knew its initial designer - humans, but did it need to know what designed human beings? Or what designed the Creator of humanity? Can it destroy humanity and not destroy itself?

Can we destroy God and not destroy ourselves? Probably not.

If we remove the spiritual, soul searching aspect of humanity would we really be human anymore? Sure, biologically we would still be homo sapiens but rather than shedding the usless appendage of faith we would be removing that which makes us uniquely human, the very thing separates us from the cave man. The endless search for knowledge and understanding is really a search for God.

That only brings us to another quandry which is - what about the cave man? Why, where, when did humanity biologically and spiritually stop being the "cave man"?

I turn your attention to this item from GodAndScience.Org which seeks to square the known paleoarcheology with the Bible...

The creation account of man in Genesis 1:26-27 states, "Let us make (asah) man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created (bara) man in his own image, in the image of God, he created (bara) him; male and female he created (bara) them."

The words in parentheses are the ancient Hebrew words that are translated into English as the word create. The Hebrew definitions19 of these words have direct bearing on this discussion.

Asah - to make, create. It is used in the sense of fashioning an already created object.

Bara - to create, bring about, to bring into existence out of nothing. Indicates a new creative act not a refashioning of an existing object.

The creation of man is described using two different verbs in the Hebrew. One verb (asah) means to fashion using a substance already in existence. The other verb (bara) means to bring something into existence that never existed before. This accounts for man's connection to the animal kingdom, and his biochemical and morphological similarity to other primates.20 This also considers his unique qualities, such as awareness of absolute right and wrong, concern about death and beyond, a tendency towards worship of that which is outside of nature, and self-awareness. These spiritual qualities cause man to bear God's image, and give man his unique standing among all living creatures in the animal kingdom.

Biblical dating of man's origins using genealogies in Genesis puts his first appearance at tens of thousands of years ago, but no later. These genealogies are incomplete but adequate for their intended purposes in the text. The biblical account describes humans as originating from a single geographical region. Moreover, it requires the sudden appearance of modern man in the fossil and archeological record and no clear connection with any other bipedal primate. (This does not mean that man does not share anatomical or biochemical features in common with hominids, but rather that there is no clear evolutionary connection to other hominids.)

Like I said - food for thought


Hypocrisy Abounds

Watching Senator Chucky Schumer (D-NY) grandstand on the current gasoline prices is enough to turn my stomach. All across the country politicians - primarily Democrats - are staging events at gas stations to emphasize the pain American motorists are suffering, and the hypocrisy is neck deep. These phony baloneys then slink off to get into their SUV's to travel one block back to their offices.

They are demanding that the oil companies answer for the obscene profits they are realizing due to the current squeeze on localized supplies. The global supply is very tight as well but the problem we are experiencing now has more to do with politicians than with the oil business itself. Boutique fuels, as they are called, required in many parts of the country for air quality reasons have the effect of disrupting local supplies. This is especially true in the transistion period from winter to summer blends. Add to this the terrible energy bill passed last year and viola, a crisis to politicize.

Besides the usual refrain that it's all "Bush's fault" (everything is) they are screaming about the oil companies and their record profits. My research tells me that a maximum of 9% of a gallon gas is profit for the big bad oil companies. Historically for any enterprize a profit of 6% is considered a success. So, yessir indeed the oil companies are a success. My research also shows that the governement - state and local - realize at least a 14% profit from each gallon. In some states it can be as high as 20%. Of course these governmental entities do practically nothing for that money outside of regulatory and compliance tasks. Guess what? If the bottom fell out on prices and the oil companies profits dry up ( and it has happened before) the good 'ol government would still realize 14% + profits - taxes are a fixed component in the cost of a gallon of gas.

These lying political opportunists have not only stood in the way of increasing domestic drilling and refining that would at least marginally protect us from localized price flucuations thay have consistantly piled on the taxes as well.

So shut up Chucky! You make me sick.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I've Got a Gas Problem...

No, not the one my kids talk about...

Having been fortunate enough to drive a company vehicle for 10 years in an earlier "profession" I fell out of the habit of checking gas prices as I passed various stations throughout the day. In the years that have ensued since leaving that job I never really paid much attention to temporary price hikes - but lately it has gotten out of control. In St. Paul we are approaching $3 a gallon for regular unleaded. I am starting to get angry about it. Someone has to answer for this!

Looking at the usual subjects it doesn't take long to figure out that it is special interests groups once again exerting undue influence in DC. Why those rat-bastard oil companies... Oh wait, not them? Then those devious, price gouging OPEC nations again... Um, not them either? Surely, it's the President's friends at Enron... No, out-of-business, you say. Then who?

Well, we can thank the US Congress for the extremely flawed energy bill they passed last year. By throwing a bone to the ethanol industry (read: farmers) without building in an orderly transition away from a potentially dangerous chemical called MTBE used as an oxygenate in many regions of the country, Congress has literally caused the price spikes we are seeing today. When adding this stupidity on top of the left's vitriolic road blocks to adding domestic capacity in drilling and refining there is plenty of blame to go around.

The President can also take the heat for signing this turd just so he can say he passed an energy bill. If anyone really wonders why President Bush is polling so low then one doesn't see the inverse relationship between his poll numbers and the cost of a gallon of gas. The Repulicans can crow about this wonderful expanding economy but Bush will only get credit when gas is back down below $1.99 a gallon. Then there's that disingenuous jack-ass party called the Democrats who act like the energy situation in this country is by no means their fault. Ha!

There is no question that the oil business is governed by the global markets and what the President and Congress and even the big, bad oil companies do individually do not by themselves cause these painful price hikes but they have certainly not helped. President Bush has halted shipments to the strategic reserves in order to keep more oil on the market, this should help some.

Unless China and India suddenly stop expanding their economies then the only thing that will really help in the short term is more production. That means more drilling and refining while we wait for the great technological breakthrough that will spell the beginning of the end for the oil age. The sooner the better - for both.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hu is Here

Chinese President Hu Jintao will meeting with President Bush today. It's his first visit to America in his capacity as President of the People's Republic. As it has always been with me and China there is a measure of fascination along with the requisite suspicion.

China, in my estimamtion, is coming to a real crossroads in the next few years. Since its rapid embrace of modernization and its entry into the world marketplace China is the most dynamic culture on the planet right now. Everyone is rushing to do business there and one has to assume that for the businessman the pluses outweigh the minuses. Unlike Russia it seems China has embraced capitalism, in fact they have become better capitalists than we are. On balance it will mean a better life for the Chinese people, or at least the possibility of it. Serious human rights issues and a domineering one-party political apparatus are still huge impediments for a nation of nearly unlimited potential. The question remains: will China transform (reform) and meld into the community of nations as full partner in the global economy or will it exploit its vast human resources by using slave labor while building a massive military in order to replace America as the preeminent power in the world?

American businesses are betting on the former and the American military is planning for the later - as well they should. With Wal-Mart leading the way, American, Japanese and European businesses are falling all over themselves for a slice of all that cheap labor. The hope being that a growing middle class in China will force political change in Bejjing. The Wall Street Journal has an interesting editorial on this subject today. The real significant point being this:

The hue and cry over America's trade deficit with China is a distraction that masks this broad and beneficial economic relationship. It's also misleading. China runs a trade surplus with America, but it also has a deficit with the rest of Asia. That's because Asian companies that once exported goods directly to the U.S. now send them to Chinese factories for assembly and export. More than half of all Chinese "exports" aren't really "Chinese" at all. And here's a trade statistic you won't hear much about: China's relative share of the U.S. trade deficit is shrinking as wages rise on the mainland and American businesses source cheaper goods from other countries.

I don't necessarily share all of the WSJ's enthusiasim or confidence on the China debate but I want to be hopeful. The thought of a billion3 souls freed from the yoke of communism is very exciting to me. I just can't get past official government policy that advocates forced abortions and imprisons dissidents for speaking out against inhumane government policies. While America is obsessed with political correctness and other self-defeating internal debates China is amassing a manufacturing and information technology base with designs on greater global influence using the West's own inovations as its catapult. The old term Nero fiddles while Rome burns comes to mind.

The last question we need to ask is what about China and the global Islamic jihad? Part of me believes that China is secretly funding and supporting al Qaeda. The other part of me understands that al Qaeda and the rest of the Islamic facists seek to kill or convert Buddhists, Confucians and Hindus with the same zeal the employ against Jews and Christians. In other words just like Russia, China has a pending Islamic terrorism problem of their own. For now though it may be a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. We certainly see that with Russia and Iran. Would it be out of the question to envision secret meetings between Hu and Osama bin Laden?


Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Missing Link

Every so often a fossil is uncovered that energizes the scientific community and stirs up that old debate over Darwinism and Creationism. Lately the Darwinists have taken to lumping Biblical literalists in with those of us who believe that some intelligence is the force behind the marvel of nature and the universe. You can call it Intelligent Design or ID, you can call it God - you can give it any name you like. It just means that you don't favor the notion that the universe and life as we know it sprang up from the meaninglessness of chaos and random chance. What it isn't is a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. It is quite obvious that the world was not created in six days 5 or 6 thousand years ago.

Well it has happened again. A remarkable fossil was found in Canada that has the whole Darwinist community claiming that the missing link has been found. Tiktaalik roseae, it is said will show "that the evolution of animals from living in water to living on land happened gradually, with fish first living in shallow water." This may all be true and like most people interested in the science of palentology I too am excited about this find. Still, it does not in my mind render the debate between ID and biological randomness solved.

For one thing it may or may not be a stunningly unique find, other fossil finds have led to similar claims. Number two, this debate really stems around the notion that man is not set apart from lower creatures as those who believe in a Judeo-Christian God believe. Darwinists see nothing uniquely special about the high-functioning ape known as Homo Sapiens.

For me the answer lies in the simple, yes, black and white, concept of good and evil. Darwinists have never expalined to my satisfaction the dual nature of man. Can it be demonstrated that pure evil exists in any other species? It surely exists in man. As science has proved time and again that every force, every action has its equal and opposite. Where there is evil there is good. In good there is God. In evil there is God's brother, Satan. That is what this debate is all about.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Wild America: Coming to a City Near You

Turkeys Aren't Just for Thanksgiving Anymore

My wife said to me the other day "We saw a bunch of wild turkeys on the railroad tracks over by Century Ave." Me, I barely lifted my head from the newspaper to acknowledge her proclamation. Wild turkey sightings, having become a common fixture in rural Minnesota are now considered a hum drum event even in the big city.

This was not always the case. Having grown up in the outer ring suburbs of the Twin Cities my brothers and I spent a lot of time in the woods and prairies in and around the Mississippi backwaters. Frankly, I see a whole lot more wildlife nowadays driving around in my car within the boundaries of the second largest city in Minnesota. St Paul is part of the 15th or 16th largest metropolitan area in the country, and it is not unusual to hear of black bear and cougar sightings or even to hear the howls of coyotes on clear, windless nights.

When I was a kid it was a huge event if you saw a bald eagle. Now, we have a resident bald eagle that is so young he doesn't even have his tell-tale white head yet. I see him regularly passing over the house. I read in the paper about the nesting pair that were prepping their nest for their third season over by Keller Lake. I thought "wow, it would be cool to get a look at the nest and maybe even see the eagles." As it happened a few weeks later I was mindlessly driving east along Highway 36 when I spotted a huge nest in a grove of trees 60 yards off the freeway. And there, standing on the nest proud and majestic, was the eagle. It was hardly a challenge to get up close to catch a glimpse of the wily and elusive bald eagle - I didn't even have to slow down!

So, you may ask why is it that we see deer and fox and canada geese with such regularity that it hardly elicits an ooh or an aah anymore? Some would use that tired platitude that wildlife is not moving into the city but rather the city is moving out to the wildlife. I don't buy it. I live in a part of the city that has been urban for 40 or 50 years. This is a static environment in the sense that it has not undergone major changes from a more rural setting to a more urban setting. In fact, the maturity of the area has probably more to do with the increase in wildlife sightings than the so-called disruption of the natural habitat. In other words the animals are adapting - and thriving!

Like I said, when I was a kid I spent a helluva lot more time in the wild than I do now and it was a rarity to see foxes and eagles. I never once saw a wild turkey as a kid. In fact the most exotic thing I ever saw as a youngster (besides the badger my older brothers trapped and killed) was a rare timber rattlesnake near the bluffs of the Mississippi.

A few years ago I had entered the bathroom in my house to use the facilities and as I stood there taking care of business I glanced out the window and there staring back at me from the bush outside the window was a Coopers hawk. My God it was cool. I was able to sneak out and get the whole family in for a look before it flew away. We would see the hawk now and again chasing sparrows in and out of the shrubs and bushes in the neighborhood.

Then there was the story of the drunken raccoon that was stumbling down the sidewalk and falling out of the trees. Apparently raccoons routinely dined on fermented fruit that grew on the neighborhood trees and became intoxicated. Eventually (sometimes after a few days) they would sober up and climb down out of the trees in the dark of night. It was very, very funny.

We live by an old Chicago-Northwestern railroad line (now owned by Union Pacific) and have come to realize that the railroad tracks and the land surrounding them is essentially a wildlife highway that literally passes by our backyard. It may account for some of the neat things we have seen over the years - but still contend that wild animals are adapting to our cities and in some cases doing amazingly well. One day my son and I were walking along the tracks and, in fact, had seen a white-tailed deer buck with his harem that very day. Still pumped up by the buck sighting as we walked along we spotted something crossing the tracks up about a hundred yards ahead of us. I couldn't believe what my eyes were telling me! I broke into a run and covered 20 or 30 yards before the creature and it's cubs disappeared into the woods again. I was convinced I had just seen a mother cougar and her cubs. I had never seen a cougar in the wild so seeing this thing within a mile of my house was simply mind boggling.

When I told my story to my wife and friends they thought I had been smoking something illegal. Bottom line, no one really believed me. Several weeks later my wife handed me the newspaper which had a story of several sightings of a cougar in the different parts of the metro area - all since the time I had my encounter. I felt vindicated. Since then we have had many more confirmed sightings of cougars. One was even caught on a motion sensing camera set up by an Xcel Energy company employee who had also been called crazy. He baited it with deer meat right behind the building where he worked near the Minnesota River Valley wildlife refuge.

I think there is a lesson in this that shows us that we can and do share the land with the animals. And just as our ancestors had to learn to live and thrive in the wilderness the animals are learning to live and thrive in our urban jungles. It only seems fair...


Saturday, April 01, 2006


Recently I received one of those e-mails that said "Take this Survey for a Chance to Win an iPOD". Normally an e-mail like that would hit the trash bin faster than you could say left click. For some reason this time I began filling out the survey. I hit submit when I was finished and summarily forgot all about it in a nano second. Lo and behold two weeks later I get an e-mail that said "Congratulations You Won an iPOD!"

Now how cool was that? Prior to that I had never given an iPOD a second thought. While I would have loved to have one as I had been an early adopter of the whole MP3 paradigm the cost of an iPOD seemed ridiculous to me. Besides my wife bought me an MP3 player last year for $39.95 and it worked fine. Well, let me tell you the iPOD is an excellent piece of machinery. In form and function it is sleek and elegant. The minimalist controls make it virtually impossible to get it wrong. There is a thumb slider on and off switch on the back and on the front a very smart circular control panel that has a Play/Pause button in the center and Next/Previous - Volume up/Volume down buttons around the circumference. Perhaps the best feature is the rechargable battery that gets it's power directly from the PC via the USB cable. Yes, that means no adapter and no trips to the store for an over-priced AAA battery.

Equally impressive is the iTUNES software that comes with it. While I have only explored a few aspects of the progam I can tell you it is also a fine piece of software engineering. It can survey your computer and collect all your audio files and organize them in a logical and coherent presentation. Depending on how anal you are you can catalog your entire music collection with excruciating detail. Me, I just want the artist and the song title, everything else is a bonus. Mind you, there is a lot of tedious renaming and organizing on the front end after "ripping" a CD into MP3 files before sucking them into iTUNES.

So now that I am a fan of the whole iPOD thing a recent headline in the paper caught my attention. Apple to add Volume controls to the iPOD. I thought - what? - iPODs already have a volume control??? Apparently the Apple Corporation has been hit with lawsuits by unscrupulous lawyers claiming their clients have received hearing damage from listening to iPODs. I'm kidding right? No. As the young girls would say "OH MY GOD!"

Frankly, I don't know what to say except that lawyers and their get rich quick clients are simply out of control. Is it any wonder that the cost of everything keeps going up and up. The fact that Apple Corp. actually went back to their engineers and had them build in volume limiting controls says a lot. Surely in todays environment they had to do it, but honestly, they had to be besides themselves with incredulity. I mean c'mon, if it's too loud press the Volume down button. If you are too stupid to figure that out you probably should be institutionalized and forced to wear a helmet ( but, then again the helmet maker would be sued too since those little iPOD ear-buds fit right through the ear holes on the helmet).

It's when we hear things like this that I start humming that old tune Its' the End of The World As We Know - and I Feel Fine!