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God's subtle message? a shout.

originally posted in response to this slate article.

the fine-tuning of physical constants is perhaps the most overwhelming evidence science offers in favor of an intelligent designer. here the writer gives the example of the seemingly "arbitrary" value of the gravitational constant and how it and numbers like it could potentially hold subtle clues from the creator.

"arbitrary" is a fair description in the sense that nothing in the known laws of physics decrees that one value should be preferred over another, but it's horribly unfair in that the fundamental physical constants do hold clues left by the creator--and there's nothing subtle about them.

let's stick with the author's example of gravity. the fundamental particles shot out from the big bang first coalesced into hydrogen, that is, protons. great clouds of the stuff then converged, and as they became more massive, the force of gravity, which tends to pull all particles in such a system towards the center, compressed the gas into a dense ball. the pressure grew with each additional hydrogen atom until it became so great that pairs of its nuclei were fused into helium in a process identical to that within the fireball of a thermonuclear bomb. (to give you an idea of how much "gravitational self-energy" is needed to light the fires, a modern "two-stage" nuclear weapon uses the equivalent of a hiroshima bomb as the fuse to kick off the fusion reaction.) the helium nuclei could then be recooked into heavier elements such as carbon, and this cycle would continue throughout the life of a star. if the star was sufficiently massive, it would end its existence in a supernova, seeding its corner of space with heavy elements. in this way, all of the elements necessary for the emergence of life were produced and distributed.

the funny thing about gravity, though, is that if it were a tiny bit stronger, the nuclear furnace within a star would be stoked too hot. an irregular flash burn would ensue, and the emergence of heavier elements would be prevented. similarly, if it were too weak, there wouldn't be enough energy to spark the fusion reaction, and we'd be left with a universe of hydrogen, completely inadequate for life. it turns out that life-giving elements need to be slow-cooked, simmering away in a stew that's not too hot, not too cold.

stranger still is the fact that the precision with which the gravitational constant seemingly sprung up of its own accord is far from exceptional. the strong nuclear force--the counter-balancing force within a star's core that acts against gravity--would yield similar problems if its value were tampered with to the slightest degree--and by "slightest degree" i mean 1 part out of a number that would make the national debt look like chump change. you find the same thing with the rate of expansion of the universe, the ratio of electron/proton mass, the cosmological constant, and so forth. pick a value, make an ever so subtle change (1 part in 10 to the 120th power for the cosmological constant--a number so vast it defies description) and poof! no life.

time and again, the "arbitrary" fundamental constants of the universe all have one thing in common: they are exactly what they need to be to permit the emergence of intelligent life. this overwhelming convergence of impossible coincidence has come to be known as the "anthropic principle," and i must say that i'm surprised it wasn't mentioned in this article.

the anthropic principle comes in two flavors, "strong" and "weak." in its strong form, it posits that the universe is a machine built to produce life. in its weak form, it merely observes that since we know intelligent life--us--exists, we can anticipate that the values of all physical constants must be such that they would have led to the emergence of intelligent life. the weak form has vast utility--some believe it should serve as the very basis of scientific inquiry--but is an equally vast cop-out. it's as though someone left us a manual on the universe. handy, true, but shouldn't we be more interested in the author? given the difficulty with which life was evidently produced, he must be worth meeting. further, although the weak anthropic principle tells us what to expect for the values of physical constants, it doesn't tell us why those values should require such mind-bending precision. no one anticipated this--nor could they have. after all, we're here, aren't we? it's therefore logical to assume, thought most scientists, that the emergence of life must have been a high probability event. there's no reason to suppose a priori that we were the winner in a cosmic lottery of unimaginable odds, right? well, right, but it turns out we are exactly that, and the odds are a bit too long for comfort. the strong form of the anthropic principle, in brief, is as compelling an argument for theism as any i know.

it may be, as the writer suggests, that any schlub with a bunsen burner and a thimble full of matter could cook up a new universe. but to cook one up that actually did something, one that was capable of producing intelligent life, requires nothing less than a super-intellect.

locdog doubts even he could have pulled it off



locdog book review: the case for a Creator

i'm nearing the end of lee strobel's third "case for" book, the case for a Creator. it seems crazy to review a book i haven't finished, but the structure of Creator actually renders that a minor detail: the book is a series of interviews arranged in no particular order. besides, i'm eager to get going.

in the first two "case for" books, "Christ" and "faith," strobel, an award-winning journalist, former legal editor of the chicago tribune, and ex-atheist, explores the historical evidence for the authenticity of orthodox Christianity's claims concerning the nature of Jesus of nazareth, and answers some of the most frequently raised objections to Christian theology. the format for all "case for" books is the same: strobel, now a devout evangelical Christian, plays the skeptic as he interviews leading Christian scholars in various fields, probing for the best arguments and subjecting them to the strongest objections he can muster. although strobel only questions Christian scholars, and although he himself ultimately agrees with them, his formidable journalistic talents lend the books an air of authenticity: he's not trying to pull the wool over your eyes, he's simply trying to show you the best his side has to offer, take it or leave it. the credibility of strobel's investigation is also bolstered by the fact that it isn't just for show. when his wife converted to Christianity, strobel was dismissive of her new-found faith. after noticing unmistakable changes in her attitudes and behavior, he began to wonder if it was possible that she had experienced something real. he embarked on a two-year investigation into the evidence for Christianity's claims in which he employed his legal and journalistic training, and his resulting conversion has served as the inspiration for these highly successful books.

in the case for a Creator, strobel deals with evidence for the existence of God, relying most heavily on recent scientific discoveries which shed new light on the astonishing complexity of everything from a single cell to the universe itself. a plurality of pages are occupied with refuting neo-darwinism, as darwin was most influential in school-age strobel's own journey into atheism, an all-too-common experience among students taking their first biology class. the rest are devoted to various other areas of scientific or philosophical endeavor, each getting its own expert and chapter. chapters deal with such topics as the informational content of DNA, "irreducible complexity" and the problems it poses to neo-darwinists, the origins of life, and the supernatural nature of the mind itself.

while many parts of this book will doubtless be interpreted as anti-darwin screed, it should not be viewed on balance as another entry in the metaphysical hatfields/mccoys that is the creationist/evolutionist debate. for one thing, most creationists operate in bold defiance of science. strobel hand-picks experts who make their case from science. for another, strobel doesn't operate under the common delusion that dealing darwin a fatal blow will somehow establish Christianity as the One True Faith. he's much more interested in attacking the underlying worldview that's caused science to embrace darwin with a fanatic's zeal, that is, naturalism, or the belief that all that is, was, and ever shall be is the result of physical processes alone. if science sees intelligent design as "stealth creationism," an attempt to smuggle Christianity in under the radar, then darwin is seen by strobel and many of those he interviews as stealth atheism.

there's not much to say for strobel's prose. what little there is is written in an efficient, journalistic style to no one's great surprise. there are fewer personal anecdotes in this installment than in its two predecessors, but the few offered are worthwhile. of particular note is strobel's retelling of a journey he made as a young reporter to a rural west virginia community where an attempt to introduce evolution into local schools had prompted armed revolt. although he was already a card-carrying atheist, the experience went a long way towards confirming his beliefs, and shaping his just-the-facts approach to apologetics today. he has a tendency to over-emphasize the academic credentials of his subjects, but then, most people aren't even aware of the existence of published Christian scientists, so this is perhaps understandable. he also relies too heavily on big numbers to prove his points. you can only see figures like "ten million billion billion billion billion billion billion" so many times before diminishing returns kicks in, however staggering the probabilities they describe may be.

the case for a Creator, like all the "case for" books, has been a commercial success. none of them have been runaway smash-hits like the vapid "left behind" stories or the prayer of jabez, but there's something encouraging in the warm reception evangelical Christians (particularly those who would ordinarily be dismissed as "fundamentalists") have offered strobel's work. there is a notorious, seemingly all-pervasive anti-intellectual bias in this community that has doomed most apologetic offerings to the discount bins of Christian bookstores, but strobel is a perennial religious-themed best-seller who can be easily found in any barnes and nobel's. about 95% of what passes for literature in Christian circles today is mindless pap. here's hoping that strobel's collective work can make the case for a renaissance.

locdog has recently seen troy and may or may not review it in the coming days



just curious: is bush still a liar?

let's review.

liberals: we have not yet found weapons of mass destruction in iraq, ergo no such weapons ever existed, ergo bush lied.

i've written probably a dozen posts exploring the exquisite stupidity of this argument in detail, so there's little need for further rebuttal. what i will do, for the sheer hell of it, is stipulate the above and ask whether two WMD findings in the last two weeks have finally vindicated the white house.

if the response to dale swingle's post on the same topic is any indication, the answer is a resounding "no!" at least as far as liberals are concerned.

why? various pretenses are offered, most of which are warmed-over versions of butterscotch's "crumb" argument:

I think it was supposed to be MASS destruction.

That one shell was not a threat to the USA.

But, take your scraps and celebrate...gotta have a crumb of hope...might as well enjoy it.

before september 11th, few considered one 747 a threat to the USA, either.

take that one little "crumb" and detonate it in the mall of america and you could have thousands of dead on your hands--which was the whole point of iraq 2 in the first place: one little terrorist, one little bomb, one big mess.

i know, i know: that's not the point, locdog. bush said that there were tons of this stuff in iraq. so far we've found two bombs. bfd.

a week ago, dear pinko, you were saying that no such weapons existed. that it was all a ruse drummed up by a madman hell-bent on oil, vengeance, whatever. now we have hard evidence to the contrary and your reply, which would be funny were it not so predictable, is "well where's the rest?"

that's actually a fair question--er, it would be were it posed by serious thinkers motivated by genuine concerns rather than flocks of posturing boobs motivated by petty partisanship. if we've learned nothing else from the WMD findings, we've learned that weapons of mass destruction were indeed a false pretense...for liberal democrats who were never interested in anything more than finding the nearest stick to club a popular republican president fighting what was then a popular war. we've also learned a bit about desperation, the kind that says "finding iraqi WMDs isn't proof that iraqi WMDs existed, it's proof that they didn't're really small WMDs."

uh, right.

all in all then, i'd have to say the current liberal response to what should be--but won't be--the biggest story of the day is perfectly analogous to those libs who said the horror that befell nick berg actually made the abu ghraib scandal look worse vis-a-vis the comparison with terror. astonishing, i know, but there you have it. (by the way, drudge reports today that abu ghraib guards forced iraqi prisoners to wear maxi pads. whether these were winged, scented, or mini has yet to be ascertained. hopefully we'll get to the bottom of maxi-gate before too long, but in the mean time, i'm sure there's plenty of grist for the mill. tomorrow's NYT headline: PRISONERS PADDLED BY AMERICAN TROOPS. subtitle: forced to endure spankings while chugging a beer and reciting the greek alphabet backwards, bush directly implicated)

but never let it be said that i am not a generous-spirited man. and being the generous-spirited man that i am, i'd like to throw yinz liberals out there a little crumb of my own. where, you're wondering, are the rest of the WMDs? well, where there's smoke, there's fire--which means that i'd probably clam up if i were you. but we don't need to wait and see what the future will bring when the past is splayed out before us in all its glory.

for instance, shortly following the toppling of the hussein regime, the military is inspecting an iraqi weapons depot and comes across a camouflaged underground bunker containing barrels of a substance they find to be a chemical weapon. u.n. sponsored inspectors come in after words, retest, and say "nah. it's insecticide."


in a weapons depot.

in a camouflaged bunker.


a few weeks later you've got the same military, same u.n., different depot. they find artillery shells loaded with some mysterious liquid. the military tests the liquid and finds it to be a chemical weapon. the u.n. retests and says "nah. not a chemical weapon. we don't know what it is."

more bug spray, perhaps?

if so, maybe it was manufactured in the two mobile insecticide labs our troops subsequently found. the CIA has waffled on the reliability of these particular findings and as recently as this sunday powell himself termed the case for their authenticity "deliberately misleading." problem is, if those trucks weren't being used to manufacturer WMDs, then what were they being used for? few dispitue that they could have been used for that purpose, and, in the absence of a plausible alternative, i see no reason to extend saddam the benefit of the doubt.

a few months ago we have a shipment of scrap originating in iraq turning up in the netherlands. nothing weird there except, oh by the way, this shipment has been peppered with a sprinkling of yellow-cake uranium. yes, that stuff joseph wilson, husband of international wife of mystery valeri plame, said saddam never attempted to purchase. liberal response? "so what. it's a very small amount of yellow cake."

no one buys very small amounts of yellow cake, dimwits. it's not good for anything unless you've got tons of it because refining it into weapons grade material is an exceptionally wasteful process. has the united states stumbled upon the means by which saddam erased the last vestiges of his nuclear program? no one knows. liberals didn't seem to feel the matter required any explanation and the media was inclined to agree.

and just last night, fox news reports that lybia's nascent nuclear program was staffed by hundreds of iraqi scientists in the pay of saddam hussein. upon learning of this in late 2001, the administration decides that stopping saddam and the islamic bomb must be our nation's top priority. go figure.

there's lots of compelling info out there, but i see little reason to go on. if saddam walked out of his prison tomorrow, took bush by the hand, and personally led him to the location of his super-secret stockpile complete with thermonuclear weapons, weaponized anthrax, and ten million tons of serin gas, it wouldn't matter a whit. liberals would simply gripe about something else. "oh yeah," they'd say "how 'bout proving saddam actually intended to use this stuff." or perhaps "oh yeah, well, there was still no connection between iraq and 9/11." and so forth.

locdog bids you all a pleasant tuesday