The point of viability

The day job is getting a bit intense right now so I only have time for a quick post. I’d like to address a comment made by NotAnAtheist on yesterday’s post. (The bold text is an excerpt from my post, to which NotAnAtheist is responding.)

The earliest point at which it makes sense to draw a legal line would be viability—the point where the child is formed enough to survive on its own outside the womb. At that point, if the woman wishes to terminate her pregnancy, then she can do so without killing the child, and nobody’s rights need be violated.

Well, that’s only true if the fetus is a “nobody” up until viability then afterwards its now suddenly a person, a “somebody” with rights to be violated. It can’t be both ways. If you say that before a certain point, you are certain that “nobody’s” rights are being violated and afterwards you declare abortion to be wrong, then you are drawing a line at viability.

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New study shows measurable bias against women in science

Inside Higher Ed. has an article about a new study that betrays the existence of a not-so-subtle bias against females in the sciences. The study involved sending hypothetical student resumes to scientists to evaluate as potential new hires. Qualifications were identical except that half the resumes listed a female name, and the other half listed a male name. The results were anything but equal.

For instance, the scientists were asked to rate the students’ competence on a 5-point scale. Male faculty rated the male student 4.01 and the female student 3.33. Female scientists rated the male student 4.10 and the female student 3.32. On salary, the gaps were also notable. The average salary suggested by male scientists for the male student was $30,520; for the female student, it was $27,111. Female scientists recommended, on average, a salary of $29,333 for the male student and $25,000 for the female student.

I wonder what Christina Hoff Sommers will say?

Five years ago today

Over at Evangelical Realism, I’m taking a break from Justin Martyr due to a time crunch at my day job. To fill in the hole, I’ve reposted one of my earlier encounters with presuppositional apologetics, which didn’t turn out at all the way the apologist had hoped. It’s the first two of a series of back-and-forth exchanges I had with that particular group, but after my second post, they dropped presuppositionalism and tried the “Darwinist conspiracy” tactic instead, so my first two posts ended up being a good, quick, self-contained rebuttal.

The cockroach babies

It’s been a long time since I’ve visited the crew over at William Dembski’s abandoned blog Uncommon Descent, but this post by scordova caught my eye. He’s wrestling with the problem of malicious “designs” in nature, and gets right to the heart of the matter.

Can the Intelligent Designer of life create malicious designs? If the flagellum and other parts of bacteria are intelligently designed, it would raise the question whether microbially-based diseases and plagues are intelligently designed. It seems the best inference from the evidence is that even malicious designs are also intelligently designed.

Always the ID dilemma. Once you start confusing function with purpose, there’s no reasonable way to stop inferring design for everything, even the nasty stuff. And since ID, apart from superficial lip service to polytheism and panspermatism, is just window dressing for good old-fashioned fundamentalist creationism, the presumed design of the more “malicious” aspects of nature poses a theological problem of no small proportions.

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Circumcision makes sexual promiscuity healthier

The American Association of Pediatrics has released a report that favors male circumcision on the grounds that it reduces the spread of sexually-transmitted disease among promiscuous heterosexuals.

Perhaps the most powerful evidence in favour of circumcision comes from randomized controlled trials in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda. These found that, for men who have sex with women, circumcision reduced the risk of infection with HIV. (No protection was observed for men who have sex with men.) The South African and Ugandan trials also found that circumcision reduced infection rates for human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes.

So if you have a sexually-active infant, you should talk to your pediatrician about getting him circumcised.

How do we know?

Picking up where we left off yesterday, we’ve seen that Pastor Stephen Feinstein would be ill-advised to propose that there are any material preconditions for the universe, “reasonable standards,” and epistemology. That which exists in the same form at all points in time is necessarily uncaused and uncausable, since there’s no point in time where it was not already what it is now, and therefore no opportunity for it to be changed from “non-existent” to “existing.” The laws of physics, the laws of logic and reason, the fundamental material aspects of the space-time continuum, and so on, are all uncreatable and have no material preconditions.

That leaves logical preconditions, i.e. the relationship between A and B that allows us to say B cannot be true if A is false, and thus if B is true then we know A must be true also. Given that there is no possibility that the universe, “reasonable standards” and epistemology could have supernatural causes, can we nevertheless reason our way from B (the universe, reasonable standards, and epistemology) back to some A that must also be true? Can we, in other words, find Pastor Stephen’s logical preconditions for the existence of the universe, reason, and epistemology?

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Miracles and the power of suggestion

According to a story in the New York Times, the placebo effect isn’t just limited to a drug’s expected benefits. People can and do suffer negative side effects as a result of believing they are taking real drugs. It’s called the “nocebo” effect.

In a curious study, a team of Italian gastroenterologists asked people with and without diagnosed lactose intolerance to take lactose for an experiment on its effects on bowel symptoms. But in reality the participants received glucose, which does not harm the gut. Nonetheless, 44 percent of people with known lactose intolerance and 26 percent of those without lactose intolerance complained of gastrointestinal symptoms.

In one remarkable case, a participant in an antidepressant drug trial was given placebo tablets — and then swallowed 26 of them in a suicide attempt. Even though the tablets were harmless, the participant’s blood pressure dropped perilously low.

Is it any wonder that people have reported similarly astonishing effects produced from things like God, or demons? Influencing the imagination can and does produce measurable physical effects on the body, even in the absence of the things that are supposed to be causing them.

Something to think about the next time you’re flipping through the channels and find some shiny clean evangelist “healing” people.

Primitive Creationism

One thing I think Ken Ham and Kent Hovind do rather well is to remind us how primitive young-earth creationism really is. They know, even without looking at any evidence, that the primitive God of Genesis 1 and 2 hasn’t got a chance of coming up with anything as advanced as our modern, scientific understanding of biology. Being a primitive invention Himself, He is limited to using only the techniques available to the imagination of unscientific and illiterate people.

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Bearding the lion

A long time ago, I heard a story about how young men in ancient times would prove their courage and manhood by sneaking up to the den of a lion, giving the lion’s beard a good sharp tug, and then running away without harming the lion. If I remember correctly, the bravest of the young men would do this without even bringing any weapons for self defense. The whole point of the exercise was to prove how bravely you could face a superior foe, and (ideally) to show that you were fast enough and agile enough to escape unscathed from such an encounter.

I can’t help but think that similar bravado lies behind creationists who try to take on people like Aron Ra, even though they’re going to get eaten alive, metaphorically speaking.

Texas scientists: It could have been us…

It seems I’m not the only one to notice this aspect of the Higgs boson story.

Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) have unveiled the discovery of a tiny particle Wednesday that may help them understand the nature and even the origin of the universe. It’s a breakthrough Texas lost its chance to try for almost two decades ago, when Congress defunded the costly project…

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