Saturday, June 7, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

I saw this documentary a month or so ago and just wanted to recommend it to everyone. Here are some insights of mine on it:

I may be mistaken, but I believe that the basis of the movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" is that the scientific community is not as objective as it should be on hot button issues. The Theory of Evolution is used as an example of how science has been transformed into a battlefield for a war between theists and atheists. Pride, politics, preconceptions, and political correctness have all turned the scientific community into a "hostile and subjective" environment for theories that go against mainstream thinking.

Even though this may be true to a certain extent, I believe that those that view science as attacking religion and vice versa are missing the larger point, "Truth goes beyond established facts." All our scientific knowledge is only a small piece of the complete "truth" of the universe, despite the fact that many scientists and atheists consider the scientific method the end all of epistemological methods. There are many other places where knowledge and truth can be found, such as in philosophy or the arts, and do I dare say it, the one true religion.

Finally, as far as ID goes, it fails as a scientific theory largely because people view it as another attempt by creationists to teach religion in our schools (as implied in the movie). It also fails as a scientific theory because it is not falsifiable, another curiosity of science that limits its ability to think outside the box and constrains it to truth in "observable reality" (which is only as good as the instruments we use). If it cannot be observed then it does not exist according to science and that is why science will never discover all truth.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Ridiculous Speed Limits

Now, by ridiculous, I mean absurd and meaningless.

The other day I was ticketed on Highway 59, driving out of Houston toward Beltway 8. I was going 79 MPH in a 60 MPH zone. Now, at first glance that may seem like excessive speed and maybe it was a little too fast, but the posted speed limit of 60 MPH is absolutely maddening!

First of all, this freeway is HUGE. 5 lanes wide, brand new as far as freeways go, and originally designed for higher speeds than 60 MPH (65 - 70 MPH). Since my ticket I've noticed that many speed traps are setup regularly on this stretch of highway. Every time I pass them now, I'm going, as well as everyone else, 70 MPH. I've discovered that the police will not bother with you if you are going only 70 MPH, even though it is 10 over the limit. I see many motorists that were pulled over like I was and I can't help but sympathize with them.

Now, the conclusion I have on this is that the cops understand that the posted speed limit is ridiculous. The freeway was designed for higher speeds and they know it too. That is why they will not bother with you until you've passed a threshold (I believe it is close to 73+ MPH).

Now, after receiving this ticket I did some research online to find out why the speed limit was set so low on this wide, straight, pristine freeway and I discovered that an environmental group was behind it (TCEQ - Texas Commission on Environmental Quality). Bottom-line, TCEQ pushed for the speed limit on all freeways in the Houston - Galveston area with 65 or 70 MPH speed limits to be changed to 60 and 65 MPH respectively, to "protect the environment" from American's evil SUVs and gasoline engines. In 2002, they convinced the Texas Department of Transportation to do this and didn't stop there, they pushed again to cap all speed limits in the area at 55 MPH.

Well, as you can imagine, there was such a backlash that the TCEQ relented and went back to their 5 MPH reduction scheme. Shortly thereafter, in 2003, the Texas Legislature prospectively banned environmental speed limits. Unfortunately for people like me, the wording of the bill allows environmental speed limits already in place to remain indefinitely; no new miles of roadway may be subjected to environmental speed limits, however.

In case you thinking, "Hey, lower speed limits are important for the environment," think about this:

Initial studies found that lower speed limits could bring the areas roughly 1.5% closer to compliance with the federal Clean Air Act. However, follow up studies found that the actual reduction is far less:

  1. The emissions modeling software initially used, MOBILE 5a, overestimated the emissions contribution of speed limit reductions. Rerunning the models with the next generation software, MOBILE 6, produced dramatically lower emissions reductions.
  2. Speed checks in the Dallas area performed 1 year after implementation of speed limit reductions show that actual speed reductions are only about 1.6 mph, a fraction of the anticipated 10% (5.5 mph) speed reduction.
With both of these facts combined, it is possible that the speed limit reductions only provide a thousandth of the total emissions reductions necessary for Clean Air Act compliance.
Isn't that worth reducing the speed limit and inconveniencing everyone?

Now, in case you are thinking, "Hey, lower speed limits are better for safety anyways, remember the National Speed Limit of 55? So let's keep them low!" Consider this:

It was believed that, based on a drop in fatalities the first year the limit was imposed, the 55 mph limit increased highway safety. Other studies were more mixed on this point, and a Cato Institute report showed that the safety record actually worsened in the first few months of the 55 mph speed limit, suggesting that the fatality drop was a short-lived anomaly that regressed to the mean by 1978. After the oil crisis abated, the 55 mph speed limit was retained mainly due to the possible safety aspect.

Furthermore, in 1986 The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, published a study claiming that the total fuel savings during the national speed limit was no more than 1% overall.

Other studies have shown that motorists generally pick reasonable speeds for conditions. For example, the 75 mph (120 km/h) speed limit in the U.S. State of South Dakota has good compliance: the average speed is less than or equal to the posted limit almost a decade after it was increased. When speed limits are set artificially low, tailgating, weaving and speed variance (the problem of some cars traveling significantly faster than others) make roads less safe.

Whew! Okay, I know this has been a long rant, but are you starting to get the point? I believe that a vast majority of the drivers on the road drive at a speed that they honestly believe is safe and comfortable depending on traffic, weather, and other driving conditions. Most people are smart and considerate in this regard. It is difficult for me to honestly believe that cops that pull people over for going 70 or 75 MPH on this stretch of the road because the "speed limit" is 60 MPH are making the roads safer. It seems to me that they are simply conducting revenue enforcement for the city. You want to ticket the really unsafe drivers? Ticket the ones that are tailgating, swerving and cutting, not using their blinkers, etc. Those are the truly unsafe drivers, not those going 75 MPH when everyone is going 70 in an absurd, artificially low, 60 MPH zone.

Now don't get me wrong, if the speed limit were say 70 MPH on this stretch of road (as I think it should be, or at least 65), and someone speeds by going 90, then yes, that is unsafe. The road was not designed for that speed and more than likely, neither was their car and the speed variance is too great.

Anyway, I'm done with my rant now.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Empirical evidence of God

There is no evidence that God exists, period. Now, some say that creation itself is irrefutable evidence that God exists, but this does not satisfy science or atheists. They claim that it is just an illusion, that seeing design in the universe is a falsehood, just a pattern recognition function of the human brain.

Personally, I couldn’t disagree more and see this argument as a futile attempt to deny the possibility of God’s existence. However, the fact remains, there is no empirical evidence that God exists.

What about the testimony of 95% of the world you say? Well, that’s just a classic example of argumentum ad populum (If many believe so, it is so). Like saying the earth is flat because everybody believes it to be.

Again, I think it’s a mistake to immediately discredit the testimony of so many especially when there is no evidence to the contrary. I believe that people may have their own personal revelation that God exists, but God is not going to give them empirical evidence to scientifically prove his existence to the world. That is not how the plan of salvation works. It's all about faith and acting on that faith, if it weren’t so, then the whole point of mortality vanishes. The meaning of life is destroyed and you are left with the hope of an atheist that science or technology will save us. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy doesn’t it?

Again, there is no empirical evidence that God exists. This holds true if you only believe in the Bible, or if you believe in both the bible and Book of Mormon. God has not revealed empirical evidence of the Exodus, or Mount Sinai, the Flood, the Garden of Eden, King David, Kind Solomon, and many other parts of the Bible. There isn't any evidence even that Jesus Christ really existed other than a short reference from Josephus. The same thing is true of the Book of Mormon, no Zarahemla, no swords in America, etc.

Now, there may be scattered pieces of evidence found through archaeology, but one cannot connect the many dots objectively to prove God’s existence or the absolute veracity of the Bible and the Book of Mormon. It is just too easy to interpret the evidence differently. This may change in the future as the Millennium approaches, but who knows.

Bottom-line, as with all things spiritual, it is all about faith. Even if you have had a fantastic personal revelation or vision, you will not be able to convince anybody else demanding proof. Only through faith can one come to know the truth byway of the Holy Ghost.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

What is "official" LDS/Mormon doctrine?

My question that I present to all of you is, where do you draw the line on official church doctrine?

This is the line that I draw and it is my opinion that official church doctrine is:

1) a much smaller encompassing "circle" when compared to the gospel as a whole, which is in turn a smaller encompassing "circle" when compared to the complete truth (revealed and unrevealed).
2) any statement published by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and ratified by the body of the church
3) any statement published by the First Presidency and ratified by the body of the church
4) any statement published by both the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and then ratified by the body of the church
5) any statement made by the living prophet to the body of the church when "moved" upon by the Holy Ghost (he is not constantly "moved" upon by the Holy Ghost even though he has the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost), which is then ratified by the body of the church
6) Canonized scripture (Bible, BoM, D&C, PoGP, Declarations)
7) the only measure by which members of the church will be judged on at the last day

For example, I would accept the Proclamation to the World as "official" doctrine. I believe the Gospel Principles handbook closely mirrors the official doctrine of the church, but is not in itself official doctrine. Besides not meeting the criteria I set forth, they occasionally make changes here and there to bring it closer to what is official.
Another example is Jesus the Christ. It is not official doctrine because it failed the ratification by the body of the church test when presented for canonization.

It is also my belief that many people "stumble" when they stray outside this defined scope of official doctrine and begin to include journal of discourses, anything a prophet said during his entire life, opinions and speculation of prophets and other church leaders, something an Elder somewhere in Albania once said, or the Book of Lehi (you can google it these days). Those opposed to the church love to include all of this as "official" doctrine of the church and use it to tell members what they REALLY believe in. There are truths to be found, in my opinion, in some of these sources, but it is not official doctrine, merely opinion and speculation which everyone is entitled, including church leaders. Refer to Alma 40:20 if you think prophets cannot have their own opinions.

So where do you think the line is drawn?