God, Joseph Smith, Carl Sagan, Creationists, and other fun stuff

10/2 - 12/4/98 Messages

The most recent messages can be found here.

received 12/4/98
I want you to know that I have recently found your web site and I am in awe of you. I have recently begun my search for truth in the LDS church and it's history. This has, in turn, led me to question all of my beliefs in my traditional Christian God. I thank you for providing me with one of the few unbiased sources of information. Most of my research has started out here and more than a little has ended up here. Thank you again for this wonderful resource.

Thanks for the kind words. It is always good to know that the information is useful to others. I wish I had access to all this information about a dozen years earlier in life. ;)

A writer expressed interest in having your pages on CD. I would be extremely interested in having this information also. If you kept it in shtmlL format, there is no reason that you can't keep the links to off-site pages. If you made off-site links a unique color a person who is online could click and go at their whim.

I will talk to my buddy who has a CD burner to see how easily we can put all the files on a CD. Perhaps Deseret Books will also want to include the site on their next LDS CD collection. ;) Thanks again for the feedback.

I found out later that a CD-ROM of the site is not going to be feasable. Sorry.

received 12/1/98
Have you read the book "
Forbidden Archaeology" by Michael A. Cremo and Richard L. Thompson?

No, and I don't plan to.

It is published by the Bhaktiveda Institute. The book is over 900 pages. The intention of the book seems to be to show that man has existed on earth for millions of years, according to Vedic tradition, but Creationists cite the book as proof that the earth is young. Philip E. Johnson has a review on the back cover.

That alone should make anyone wonder whether it is worth reading. No man can talk out of both sides of his mouth, ignore evidence, and stretch the truth better than Johnson.

The authors may have compiled the material by quantity rather than quality.

This is a common approach when you want to prove a case and don't have quality evidence to support your conclusion. It is also used when your audience is the non-scientific public. If you're submitting to a scientific peer-review journal then you will be rejected if your focus is on quantity and not quality.

That would make it more difficult to refute. Refuting a case takes more time than collecting an example. Like The Three Stooges, who apparently never rejected a script because it was too silly, Cremo and Thompson accept anything a lay person can't evaluate off the top of his head.

I am struggling to read the book but I am skeptical of their methods.

As you should be. Any methodology which requires you to ignore 99.99...% of the evidence and instead focus on poor interpretations of a few possible outlying facts is flawed from the start. Big picture focus is always important to remember. This is why I seldom spend the time to read books that sensationalize a subject like this. They ignore the mountain to sale to the masses a piece of sand. The scary part is the masses are buying. This kind of stuff really makes money. I think they even made it into an NBC TV program.

Do you know of any sites that discuss this book?

See this link.

received 11/18/98
I just read your
"thinking" page and most of it resonated with me. I struggled a little with what you said about faith. I believe in God. Of course my faith is much different than it once was and I have rejected a fundamentalist approach to religion.

My questioning of faith in the essay is merely to ask whether or not it is a valid methodology. I'm not trying to disprove god(s) by questioning whether faith is a good source of finding truth. Perhaps I've left the door too far open for people to read too much into the essay.

I personally don't think there is anything wrong with a non-fundamentalist approach to god(s) so long as it doesn't get in the way of a person's search for truth. It is when a person thinks they have the 'answers' and then stops questioning that they can damage themselves and sometimes the wider circle of life around them.

I still have more questions than answers. I do rely on faith, but I have also applied thinking and reasoning and even science to my belief.

This is exactly what I'm encouraging. I'm not discouraging any certain beliefs per se. I'm hoping to get folks to apply thinking and reasoning to their beliefs (which tend to be mostly inherited from their environment) just as you have done.

I am not interested in debating or proving God with anyone, but I am interested in your position that there is no God.

That isn't my position. I'm an atheist/agnostic--not a 'strong atheist' (as they carry around an untenable burden of proof). And I'm only an atheist with respect to certain gods. I have no problems, for instance, with believing in the god of pantheism. With respect to say the Christian God, I'm an atheist because I lack a belief in such a deity. My reasons for lack of belief are that I haven't seen any evidence, there are inherent contradictions with the Christian God, and the findings of scientific methodology don't jive with a literal reading of the Bible.

Since science has not answered all questions about the universe, isn't there some leap of faith so to speak in your belief that no higher intelligence exists.

Again, this isn't really my position. There certainly could have been a 'higher intelligence' that created the universe, but I haven't seen any evidence that this higher intelligence has intervened since then.

Do you ever have any experiences or moments of reasoning that cause you to doubt your position?

Phrased another way... Have I seen any evidence that I had to figure out how to dismiss in order to retain my lack of belief?


My lack of belief isn't really something I need to 'cling to'. I get no rewards out of defending a position merely to avoid having to change my mind. I welcome change. I've changed my views on many issues when the evidence persuades me.

Back to your question though... I frequently have moments (for instance when I look through my binoculars or telescope at a clear night sky) that cause me to be amazed at Nature's vastness and beauty.

received 11/17/98
Journal entry from the personal journal of Joseph Smith concerning the remarkable Leonid meteor storm of 1833. From
The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith edited by Scott H. Faulring.

Note: written material inserted above the line in the original has been inserted into the text and enclosed in right-angled slashes (for example, /above line/ ). Current editor's correction of mis-spelled items are in [ ].

November 13th Nothing of note transpired from the 4th of Nove[m]ber u[n]til this day. In the morning at 4 Oh clock I was awoke by Brother Davis knocking at /my/ door saying "Brother Joseph come git /up/ and see the signs in the heavens." I arrose and beheld to my great Joy the stars fall from heaven. Yea they fell like hail stones. A litteral fullfillment of the word of God as recorded in the holy scriptures and a sure sign that the coming of Christ is clost [close] at hand.

Oh how marvellous are thy works Oh Lord and I thank thee for thy me[r]cy u/n/to me thy servent. Oh Lord save me in thy kingdom for Christ['s] sake. Amen.

November 19th /AD 1833/ From the 13th u[n]till this date nothing of note has transpired since the great sign in the heavins. This day me /h[e]art/ is somewhat sorrowfull but [I] feel to trust in the Lord the God of Jacob. I have learned in my travels that man is treche[r]ous and selfish but few excepted.

(continues on to remark on some weaknesses of Sidney Rigdon, does not record anything else about the meteor storm.)

I guess the second coming is close at hand yet again, eh? ;)

Joseph was a lucky guy. I saw nothing but a cloudy sky last night. :(

received 11/08/98 (This is a compilation of two messages and two replies)
I have been looking into both Mormanisn and Christianity and would like to thank you for your views on both... there was one question I had about a quote taken from one of the books you recommended.

I have never agreed with Christianity, yet have always understood it. I was wondering if agreement has anything to do with truth? The quote am wondering about is something like this...

"Christianity is convenient because it convinces it's followers that they are wounded in order to give them a bandage."

This is a bit inaccurate and out of context. I believe you are referring to the Dan Barker quote of "The very concept of sin comes from the bible. Christianity offers to solve a problem of its own making! Would you be thankful to a person who cut you with a knife in order to sell you a bandage?"

Basically the Bible calls a host of perfectly natural (and frequently helpful, useful, or good) deeds "sin". These include things like not circumcising a penis (Genesis 17:9-14), listening to women (I Corinthians 14:34-6), or maintaining peace in families (Matthew 10:35-6). Once one lets go of a guilt-fostering religion not only does the guilt disappear but actions tend to become less "sinful" in the sense that real "sin" (to quote Robert A. Heinlein) "lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily".

I read up on the verses you gave me; the circumcision, submission of women in worship, and also the strange passage about Jesus causing contention between different members of a family. The latter to me is the most understandable - mainly that you are to love the Lord above all else, and sometimes in doing this it means you might have to cross the paths of some of your family.

So much for groups like Focus On The Family or Mormonism's emphasis on families, eh? If someone's favorite superstition gets in the way, families seem to fall into the unnecessary (or at least less-necessary) category. The love seems to be a tad bit stronger when the non-Christian family member is a potential convert.

The other two bother me as well - although I beleive that part of being a Christian, as I understand, means being obedient whether the order is understandable or pleasant. Surely it was neither for Abraham when God asked him to sacrifice his son.

My point wasn't really to point out some of the many false 'sins' included in the Bible. The problem (and my point) with faith-based religions is that they can only pretend to speak for a god. They can only pretend to define what sin is. They can sometimes attract followers or keep followers by making up more rules, more guilt, etc.

I am not a Christian yet it is obvious that it does not take a religion to convince me that I am wounded (like the rest of the world) and indeed in need of some kind of help.

How are you and the rest of the world "wounded"?

You misunderstood me when I said I (with the world) am wounded. Maybe a better way to state this is that the present "evil" in the world is undenyable; and evil did not invent itself, it came from the heart of man. And working evil produces wounds... how can you not understand a "wounded" world, it is the one you are living in. The bible did not "invent" sin in order to cure it; sin or "evil" is in us all.

I agree to some extent although I think 'evil' did invent itself through very natural means. The 'heart of man', however, is what can help to overcome much of the natural evil out there. That is what Humanism is all about.

So a bandage is welcome in whatever form it comes in... the only scrutiny I have is that this bandage must be able to heal the wound. It cannot just cover it up so that it is now longer visible - I need truth, and I need it soon.

Truth is a never ending quest--not a quick and dirty answer or rigid dogma to be adhered to and never questioned.

received 10/14/98
Creationists have finally slipped one past the goalkeeper. Cambridge University Press has just published William A. Dembski's
THE DESIGN INFERENCE. In it Dembski acknowledges such neo-creationists as Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe. The anti-evolutionist David Berlinski wrote the jacket endorsement (see below).

If you really want to see what neo-creationists are up to, compare this book with Dembski's blatantly theological MERE CREATION: SCIENCE, FAITH & INTELLIGENT DESIGN (an edited collection from the evangelical Christian publisher InterVarsity). In it Dembski lays out the theological agenda behind the so-called "intelligent design movement." Most of the contributors to this volume are "fellows" of a thinly-veiled creationist think-tank called the Discovery Institute.

This neo-creationism is a lot more sophisticated and slickly packaged than the creationism that lost in the courts back in the 80s (for instance, they scrupulously avoid the Bible in their public discussions). Given that 50% of Americans are creationists, this new-style creationism may not only slip past the academic publishers (as it has here), but also past the courts. The threat to science education is real. I urge you to take this threat seriously and meet it head on.

the inside dustjacket reads:
"How can we identify events due to
intelligent causes and distinguish them from events due to undirected natural causes? If we lack a causal theory, how can we determine whether an intelligent cause acted? This book presents a reliable method for detecting intelligent causes: the design inference. The design inference uncovers intelligent causes by isolating the key trademark of intelligent causes: specified events of small probability. Just about anything that happens is highly improbable, but when a highly improbable event is also specified (i.e., conforms to an independently given pattern) undirected natural causes lose their explanatory power. Design inferences can be found in a range of scientific pursuits from forensic science to research into the origins of life to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. This challenging and provocative book shows how incomplete undirected causes are for science and breathes new life into classical design arguments. It will be read with particular interest by philosophers of science and religion, other philosophers concerned with epistemology and logic, probability and complexity theorists, and statisticians."

"As the century and with it the millennium come to an end, questions long buried have disinterred themselves and come clattering back to intellectual life, dragging their winding sheets behind them. Just what, for example, is the origin of biological complexity and how is it to be explained? We have no more idea today than Darwin did in 1859, which is to say no idea whatsoever. William Dembski's book is not apt to be the last word on the inference to design, but it will surely be the first. It is a fine contribution to analysis, clear, sober, informed, mathematically sophisticated and modest. Those who agree with its point of view will read it with pleasure, and those who do not, will ignore it at their peril." --David Berlinski, Author of The Tour of the Calculus

I'm not sure if Dembski (and the dishonest Berlinski) have really pulled a fast one. Anyone remotely interested in the topic is well aware of Dembski's agenda. I would guess that Cambridge published it for several reasons. One being that any book that talks about or theorizes about God sells well. Witness the sales of Cambridge's own Stephen Hawking who gets people not interested in science to read him by pretending to talk about God. Another reason for publication is probably that the book isn't very different from other books they routinely publish like Bibles or other books on theology like The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine. Cambridge University Press isn't exactly Prometheus Books when it comes to making sure that what it publishes is at least scientifically plausible.

There isn't much need to worry about Dembski pulling the wool over everyone's eyes. Those who are capable of thought can easily see that he (and others like him) are merely calling their own ignorance "God". As these folks delve deeper and deeper into the sciences they pretend to critique, their previously held beliefs dissolve and evolve. Witness Michael Denton whose first book was solely a critique on evolution and whose second book (written more than ten years later) accepts evolution but takes Behe's apologist stand that a God still must have started the whole thing up. It's tough for these folks to objectively look at the facts when they have to squeeze their presupposed God somewhere into the picture.

received 10/4/98
Sagan page is great. I just wanted to express my appreciation for the effort you do to spread a little clarity in the web through your wonderful site on rational thought. Keep up the good job.

Thanks for the kind words.

Do you have any idea if there's a biography book on Carl Sagan? I'm aware there isn't one currently, but are there plans to publish one, has someone showed interest in doing it?

I'm a bit surprised a biography hasn't already been written. There was one for kids and young adults called "Carl Sagan: Superstar Scientist" but it is rather old. I wouldn't be surprised if John Gribbin writes one. Larry Klaes could also write a fine biography on Sagan I'm sure.

Are there any publishers reading this? Maybe I should write one? ;)

Congratulations again and always as long as you keep providing the internet community with a shaft of light amid a forest of darkness..

received 10/2/98
Your page is a treasure trove of information. Is there any way that I could buy a cd rom of this info.? I can't bear the thoughts of all these pointers to information, and the thought processes outlined ever being gone.

First of all, thanks for the positive feedback! There is no need to fear this stuff ever disappearing (although you are at least the 10th person to express this concern).

I check the what's new page often, I'm looking forward to your new site. What if you lose interest with the old site? I guess its that that has me worried. Anytime I want this info, I can hit your page, I'm spoiled, I would rather hit the live, often updated pages, but is a back up available-in the case that the site was no longer provided by you?

I have lost interest in many of the religious items on this site. However, the pages aren't going to go away. The new site will have a less-religious focus, but it may include a mirror of all the old site pages so that they are available in two places. Even if I eventually switch ISPs (which isn't likely) the "Honest Intellectual Inquiry" site will go on in its current format somewhere else.

I do have access to a CD-R machine. I suppose if there was enough interest, I could cut CDs of the entire site so that people could load the information faster. Without all the links to external sites, however, I think the information would be far less valuable. The linkability is part of the beauty of internet publishing.

Thanks for the interest!

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