Evolution of the eye, disgruntled Mormons, and more

5/27 - 6/8/98 Messages

The most recent messages can be found here.

received 6/11/98
Can you point me to some good atheist/pagan words to traditional carols? I know Jerry Phillips'
Humanist Hymnal has some, but with just a few exceptions (the latter including Dan Barker's "Solstice Tribute"), the lyrics are likely to offend the Christian relatives I hope to influence toward being able to give up the religion they've always known. If they can continue to enjoy just about all the trappings of the festive season -- including carolling -- without the Christian trappings, then they might not have such a hard time giving up Christianity.

I'm not sure if carols will be a major sticking point with someone giving up Christianity. Speaking from experience, the holidays can still be very enjoyable without any Christian motives. After all, the holidays weren't originally started for Christians anyway. A portion of the Christmas songs have little to do with mythology surrounding the supposed birth of Jesus anyway. (Deck the Halls, O Christmas Tree, etc.)

Back to your main question though. I don't know of any substitute words available that will not be (at least a little) offensive to Christians. The fact that they have been changed, alone, will offend the orthodox.

I enjoy much of the new Unitarian Universalist Hymnal entitled "Singing: The Living Tradition" which features many 'alternative' songs of the season.

received 6/10/98
Thanks for your great site!
A quote which I think will interest you -

Who is supposed to have said:

"Do not believe in anything (simply) because you have heard it.

Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.

Do not believe in anything because it is spoken and rumored by many.

Do not believe in anything (simply) because it is found written in your religious books.

Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.

But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conductive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it." ?


- one of the things Buddhists think we're entitled to be proud of!

(This is usually called the Kalama Sutta or Kalama Sutra. There are dozens of variations of this sermon available in print and on the Web.)

I read a book on the Buddha about a decade ago. It indicated that he actually wrote nothing, and all of his so called teachings weren't written down until long after he was dead. I say this not to indicate that his supposed teachings are 'bad' or invalid--but to point out that things ascribed to him should be taken (as to the historicity) with a grain of salt. Just as Christianity is probably more Paul's religion (and that of those who later assembled the Christian Bible) than Jesus's, Buddhism in its primitive form is probably more his disciples' religion than his.

I am a skeptic/rationalist/materialist, and a Buddhist, and don't see any contradiction between these positions. (There's at least one website specifically devoted to this intersection - The Refuge: A Sangha for the Skeptical Buddhist [by an ex-Mormon, btw])

Keep up the good work!

Thanks. The above quote is certainly one to be proud of. Eastern religion, in many ways, offers more humanism than those religions developed in the West which tend to rely too heavily on some sort of personal god and salvation in another life.

received 6/9/98
I mailed a message a year ago or so and just thought I'd respond again. Your site has certainly become
large! My suggestions are to keep things text-based, Java applet and console free, frame free and low on graphics ... in other words much like it is!

You are certainly on top of all the messages and links. (You must have your own UNIX box with several terminals so you can keep up with all your typing!)

Actually, I just have a boring job, but this may be changing. If it does, then the updates will decrease. :( I shouldn't forget to mention that many of the links, articles, etc. come from site visitors like yourself. Without feedback, suggestions, etc. the site would be much smaller and incomplete. Thanks to you all!

I hope you don't suffer from depression from reading messages from those who cannot reason, spell, and use grammar as it should be used!

Depression? No. Boredom of hearing the same irrational arguments over and over again? Yes.

Anyway, this is just a short note to say what a GOOD JOB you're doing and I could not imagine doing it myself! Carl Sagan was very gracious and understanding to those who did not understand science and had difficulty with reasoned arguments. I am most definitely not. I'm a bit ashamed to admit I resort to the "believers" level at times and use the "ad hominum" attacks. Oh well .. as our need for greater public understanding of science increases because of current technologies, I must be easily frustrated. You can never really change peoples' minds or discuss logically that which is isolated from discussion through centuries of control.

On a global (and short-term time) scale, you are correct. Individuals are continually changing their minds though. Those are the folks I'm hoping to occasionally reach.

received 6/9/98
My hat goes off to Frank Zindler and you for
publishing his comments. To go into the lion's den as Frank Zindler does and "debate" and respond to any idea, no matter how farfetched (based on imagination and faith, not evidence) in front of a stacked deck of true-believers, takes a lot of conviction and courage. (Your site exhibits the same courage.)

I don't know about this last point. I get tons of hate mail (only a small portion of which makes it to this section), but it doesn't take much courage to run the site. I can just hit my delete key when the flames and pure nonsense come my way. Frank, on the other hand, has to actually answer it in a live debate. If he doesn't (or if his answer isn't close to perfect) then it looks bad on him and his beliefs (and lack thereof). A live debate is probably not something I would volunteer for or wish to have the opportunity to participate in.

This may be an old, worn out point (and flawed), but assuming (as believers do) an all powerful creator is not constrained to the laws of nature (which according to believers he made and can break, i.e. the parting of the Red Sea and many other natural law breaking miracles!) Thus, I view the complicated and complex design of life and the universe as an indication of something other than an omnipotent creator numerous, random acts coming together (luck?) and not. Why would an unrestricted, omnipotent creator invent and require natural laws to animate humans and the universe? (The circular argument would be "He can do what he pleases!")

It is amazing that people (including myself until a few years ago) believe not just in miracles--but countless miracles--even though we have no evidence for them. Memes and wishful thinking can combine to be a pretty powerful force in society.

While science presently hasn't answered all questions of origin (I think they eventually will) it has explained and predicted much about us and the universe, therefore wouldn't a much less complicated and wholly inexplicable universe (void of explicable natural law) indicate an all-powerful creator instead of the opposite? (An example of true omnipotence would be creating and animating human beings with nothing on the inside!)

That would show evidence now wouldn't it. ;) I'm a bit of a pessimist with regard to science eventually giving us *all* the answers. I don't follow the naysayers who claim that scientific discovery is pretty much over and done with either though.

For instance, it will be exceedingly difficult to ever determine what happened in the first split second of the Universe (and before). It is amazing that particle accelerators can figure out what happened in the first few minutes, but to probe much deeper would require more energy than feasible. Even if it ever were feasible (say in the distant future), performing the experiments necessary could blow our Universe to shreds. This isn't an experiment I think anyone wants to see the results of merely to satisfy our curiosity. ;)

received 6/8/98 (in a message with subject line which reads "Poor, poor fool")
Go and believe what you will, and believe that science is a religion

I don't believe that science is a religion. Science is a methodology for determining truth. Religion is (usually and unfortunately) a means for dubbing your wishful thoughts "truth".

but you will find out after you die that you were wrong, and I do hope you will change before that occurs.

So you believe in a God who punishes those who think and rewards those who rely on blind faith? This is a strange God indeed and one I wouldn't worship even if its existence were real.

Anonymous Mormon.

You are hardly anonymous. Your name and email address were provided.

to which I received the following response:
To bad that that isn't my name! hahahahahaha! I never said anything like that at all. He rewards those who have faith on his name and who follow his comandments. Obviously, thinking to you is finding other ways to find the truth, other than asking our God. If he punished those who think, then the whole world would be doomed. So go and make up more lies about the true religion on Earth, and find some other way to "think," and see what happens at the end.

So your definition of 'think' is to have faith, follow someone else's 'commandments', and then talk to the air? My definition is a bit different. It involves critical skepticism, tangible evidence, and a willingness to question those who pretend to have authority in giving the commands.

received 6/6/98
My comment is on the
eye debate. . .

I was fortunate enough to see a creation/evolution debate between Dr. Kent Hovind (Creationist) and Frank Zindler (Evolutionist) at the Ohio State University. Frank Zindler brought up this topic as proof against an intelligent designer, as stated in his quote. Kent Hovind countered with an interesting point about this argument . He said that the retinas of squids and octopuses are that way because the water that they are in filters out UV light. The human eye however, is backwards because that is the way the eye is protected from the UV. He also went on to say that if the human eye were put together the way that the squid and the octopuses eyes are, that your retina would quickly burn out. Frank Zindler had no response to this argument.

It should be noted that I can do no justice to Dr. Hovinds' argument, and I may have some of the facts wrong. If you would like to speak to Dr. Hovind yourself and get an accurate view of his argument, he can be reached at: (850) 479-DINO or Fax (850) 479-8562. I have called Dr. Hovind before. He is reached usually on Thursdays or Fridays, (call before 4pm). Be prepared if you call though to wait generally 2-4 hours for him to call you back. He answers 100-200 calls a day, so call when you will be home for a while.

The reason I wrote you is that your website is called "Honest Intellectual Inquiry." If you truly are trying to be intellectually honest, then call Dr. Hovind and listen to his view on the subject to see if he is correct about his assessment of the eye. He is very well read and studied. He is one of the most intelligent persons that I have ever heard, because he knows science backward and forward. In fact, at the end of the debate, I was standing close to Zindler when Zindler said that Hovind was by far the best Creationist he has ever debated, even better than Duane Gish. I think that says a lot. Please do not simply dismiss Hovinds' argument because he comes from a Creation viewpoint. If you are honestly seeking truth, call him and see if he is right.

Frank Zindler responds:
As with so much of the nonsense "Dr." Kent Hovind had to say at our debate, the point about the eye was one of a long list of claims to which I had no opportunity to respond. Lies are so short in the stating, so long in the negating. Most of the points I was unable to reply to came up during the question and answer period, where the majority of questions were addressed to me (the audience had been stuffed with believers, as is usual for such debates), allowing Hovind to have the last word during his brief rebuttal.

The error of Hovind's claim concerning human retinas being on "backwards" as a foil to UV radiation is actually multiple. First of all, what good is it to protect the photoreceptors when the neuronal fibers coming from them are subjected to greater amounts of supposedly damaging UV radiation? (The neuronal fibers run in front of the photoreceptors.) The UV would be just as damaging to the neurons as to the photoreceptors. In fact, the major damage done by UV appears to be to the lens at the front of the eye. Why couldn't god have designed a cornea that reflected all UV, protecting all the internal parts of the eye? Now THAT would be a sign of design!

Secondly, the tiny difference in thickness between the photoreceptor layer and the anterior surface of the retina is of no significant importance with respect to UV protection.

Thirdly, and this is probably the most important point: If water absorbs UV so efficiently (and it does), why is it that fishes -- like all vertebrates -- have THEIR retinas on backwards also? Hovind, in trying to wriggle out of the problem of the human eye, gets into even deeper trouble with fish. Why would an intelligent designer god give fishes the wrong retinas?

Hovind also tried to answer my claims that pseudogenes, nipples on male creationists and tomcats, hair muscles, etc., were examples of bad design. His replies to these charges were just gobbledygook. I really would like to see a tape of the debate to reconstruct exactly what he said about pseudogenes. All I remember is that it was as preposterous as his comments about geological sedimentation.

Hovind certainly was more difficult to deal with than Gish. His lack of knowledge of even basic science (as compared to Gish, who has a real Ph.D. from Berkeley) allows him to make the most outrageous claims -- claims that require a synopsis of Geology 101 or Biology 101 to set straight. Combine this with an audience that also is largely ignorant of basic science, and you have your work cut out!

Hope this helps.

received 6/1/98
As an active endowed Latter-day Saint and an active freemason (life member franklin 123 New Sharon, Maine) I would like to provide a comment for
your page if I might.

The qestion is was Joseph Smith was infulenced by, some mightsay copied, the rituals of freemasonry in the development of the endowment. To which the answer is clearly yes. There is nothing either suprizing or sinister in this influence. Indeed Joseph and his brothers were freemason themselves. Further the teaching of freemasonry are in haromony with the teachings of the church.

That said no one was ever made a mason in an LDS temple and no one has ever recieved the endowment in a masonic lodge. In looking at the endowment one must seperate the ritual, which has under gone constant change, from what the ritual is teaching. It is that teaching which is the endowment just as it is the teaching of freemasonry which make up that institutions worth and not the rituals.

It is unfortunate that most temple endowed Mormons aren't aware of this. It will be progressive (and helpful) if the church ever makes this more clear in the endowment itself or just prior to the presentation. The change made in 1990, deleting the phrase "this, however, is simply figurative...", has made this aspect even more unclear. Too many members come out thinking that the endowment is a history of the world. They could benefit more (and be less confused by the experience) if it was made known that what happens is purely figurative.

received 5/30/98
I understand your criticism of Behe's mousetrap. You are right. There are no perfect analogies. They all break down. However, you did not in your review of
Behe's book, respond to any of his arguments.

That is probably because I have not read his book or written a review of it. You are writing to the wrong person.

Please if you dare, present your hypothesis of the evolutionary history of the human immune system. Remeber, the mousetrap is just a tool, not the substance of his argument.

Read "Cells, Embryos, and Evolution" for the answer to your 'daring' question. The authors deal with the human immune system (and its evolution) beginning on about page 161. You will also want to read "Lamarck's Signature". Steele, Lindley, and Blanden spend several chapters on the evolution of the human immune system. The immune system has been studied in such depth in the 20th Century that it is now one of evolution's strongest evidences. What sort of 'intelligent creator' (who focuses on humans) would give rabbits better immune systems than humans and chickens and birds the most efficient system? Why would this designer provide humans with a frequently malfunctioning immune system--afflicting many (if not most) people with some sort of asthma or allergy, some people with acute immune defects (agammaglobulinaemics and athymics), and generally being a factor in the cause of death to most individuals?

Your tactics are similar to me ripping Dawkins apart because his computer biomorphs have no bearing whatsoever on true biological, biochemical and evolutionary processes. They are simply analogical tools, which, similar to Behe's, break down (and which seem to give him some extra income in the form of software sales). Instead I will spend my time examining Dawkins suggestion that all life forms have their common ancestor in the crystalline structure of minerals. Talk about an EMPTY BOX. Dawkins is living in one.

Where does Dawkins claim that "all life forms have their common ancestor in the crystalline structure of minerals"? I assume you are referring to the only Dawkins' book I have reviewed on the site. In "The Blind Watchmaker" (p. 150) Dawkins begins a discussion on crystals by stating that "Cairns-Smith's guess is that the original replicators were crystals..." This is not Dawkins' claim. Nor is it his conclusion or "suggestion". It is his explanation of someone else's *guess*. I've heard far better ad hominem assaults from other creationists. I wasn't impressed then either.

received 5/27/98
Regarding the very apropos listing of the various ways mormons choose to understand the temple to reduce cognitive dissonance...

First i must identify myself as a "postmodern mormon" for lack of a better word, I was a convert from the position of scientific atheism due to some undeniable spiritual experiences, but my conversion did not reduce my intellectual inquiry into the nature of the religious experience, within which the lds temple ceremony is an interesting topic.

Secondly, i cannot identify with the first few brainless approaches to comprehending the temple, but there is some salience to the last two (6 and7 i beleive). this is my conception of the issue: God is thrifty and values simplicity ( i.e., the simple elegance of a mathematical truth, etc). As such, in our religious narrative, HE did not create a new material out of which Noah should build an ark, HE did not send Christ in the form of a new creature (i.e., non-human or simply spirit, etc). The list could be lengthened, but the point is that a new event, concept, theory or ideology is always grounded in and created from the "old", or that which is already known or familiar. As thomas kuhn observed in the "History of Scientific Revolutions", anything not familiar to the prevailing paradigm is ignored, either consciously or unconsciously(....thus, science also progresses "line upon line and precept upon precept.") Further, he notes that when a new ruling paradigm is instated, all of the old elements remain, but are differently configured and therefore, differently understood than they were in the preceeding point of view .

The temple ceremony can be viewed from this perspective as well. If indeed a Diety planned to create or inspire a person to create a ritual which would have the purpose of transforming the paradigm of the participants, then would not HE/SHE use those social/emotional/intellectual elements that already existed within that individuals perceptual context, so that the person might be able to adequately relate to those elements, even if they are now in a new configuration? (this obviously addresses the issue of the masonic elements of the lds temple ceremony)

This of course leads into process theology, explaining why the temple ceremony might also change over time...it must be contextually understood by the participants based on their own era of sociological, psychological experience. Eternal truths if one beleives that indeed the temple teaches such, need not and should not be conveyed by a single, timeless, unchanging vehicle (that is of course ignoring Jungian theory of archetypes identifiable by all ages in the human conscience)

Thanks for allowing input...

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