Now there's a correlation I hadn't thought to examine.
Look at what Romans 11:25 is actually saying will happen: as long as there are Jews around, they will not see the divinity of Jesus and will argue against it. Well of course this was going to happen. In practical terms, Jesus didn't do what they expected the Messiah to (standing up to the Romans would have been a good start), and it was the Jews whose representatives supposedly got the guy killed. To acknowledge Jesus as Lord is downright un-Jewish.
I refer you again to my piece on prophecies, and suggest #1. High Probability of Success as a far more likely explanation for the accuracy of this prediction. In other words, it was a no-brainer.
Meanwhile, the cultural background of these atheists is irrelevant to the soundness of their arguments and counter-arguments. If you want to call them Jewish atheists, go ahead, but it doesn't invalidate a thing they've said or written.
One atheist writer who certainly doesn't fit the supposed pattern is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian ex-Muslim. Possible other exceptions are Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins and Brian Sapient as you say, plus Daniel Dennett, James Randi, Michael Shermer and Victor Stenger. I haven't got a single Jewish ancestor as far as I know.
I find your defenition of a Jew interesting. It's in line with that of the many religious Jews who essentially declare Judaism hereditary. By this logic not only is it impossible to stop being a Jew (from your list, only Hitchens self-identifies as a secular Jew), but one is born a Jew. Thus you needed to call yourself a gentile as well as a Christian, to emphasise your lack of Jewish ancestry.
Importantly, for the prophecy to even be accurate, the above definition must be the case. Do religious Jews (or does anyone else) have the right to label those who would otherwise be known as ex-Jews?
The scientific approach has thus far been very good at finding alternative and, importantly, useful explanations for the supposed actions of gods. Once these explanations are known, to reject them completely without contrary evidence is unsupportable, and not just childlike but childish. (I'm not suggesting that you've done so, Celia.)
Which is easier: for nature to be shaped over millions of years just to be superficially pleasing to a single future species, or for that species itself to develop an appreciation of nature at its calmest and least threatening?
We find scenes of blue skies, green plant life and twittering birds pleasant because they usually indicate a non-threatening state of affairs. We've learned to distrust grey skies because they might sweep us away in a flood, or snow down and freeze us to death. If the plants are anything but green, something is killing them (drought, fire, disease, etc.) and might kill us too if we don't move away. Birds don't sing if they think there's anything around which might want to eat them, so their song tells us certain predators are absent and gives us a deep down feeling of security.
There is a certain harmony to mostly untouched ecosystems, and it is indeed fascinating, but it's based upon a set of life forms each of which has developed ways to survive the others. As you thought I'd mention, and as Darwin wrote, "Nature is red in tooth and claw," no matter how green it appears. That's why I used the word "superficially" above; many levels of violence are always just below the surface image.
You've got plenty to work with, never fear. There are so many different kinds of evidence that even the Wikipedia article is monstrous.
I'll let you read that to get yourself started, but here's a rundown of the basic categories:
- The fossil record, of course.
- The genomes of all living things, especially the similarities and specific differences between given species.
- Comparative anatomy: common features, new features and vestigial features.
- Comparative physiology and biochemistry: like comparative anatomy, but more in depth.
- Geographical distribution of apparently related species.
- The steady decline in the effectiveness of any given antibiotic or pesticide against rapidly developing organisms like bacteria and insects.
- The success of recent attempts to recreate the process of evolution virtually.
- Observed events of beneficial mutation and even complete speciation.
- Interspecies infertility, another indicator of important differences between creatures.
Go chew on that lot for a while. There's a wealth of information for each online. Have fun.
Living creatures can adapt radically to suit their environment during their lifetimes, but such adaptations are not reflected in their DNA and therefore are not passed on genetically. Only recombination (during sexual reproduction) and mutation cause genetic change.
The idea that deliberate adaptations become hereditary is the central idea of a rival theory to Darwin's, namely that of Lamarckian evolution. This theory actually is the way creationists tend to think of Darwinian evolution: unsupported by the evidence, discredited by contrary evidence, and almost entirely dismissed by the scientific community.
That said, Darwinian evolution does allow for some developments that might appear Lamarckian in nature. While deliberate adaptations are not passed on genetically, they can be passed on by instruction and example. If a new skill is deliberately taught to the young for many generations, it may actually affect the selection process; mutations which benefit that skill may be favoured. Therefore it's possible for adaptations to eventually be reflected genetically, but only in a roundabout way.
I felt like weighing in on this issue after seeing the new campaign and site by the National Organization for Marriage in the US.
The lobbies and congregations that make up the Christian Right have realised that those who are less religious than they are (i.e. the majority) will not accept the dogmatic arguments from Scripture with which they have convinced themselves, and are using broader approaches. This is reasonable, and is the best way for religious organisations to pursue their interests in a secular society, if the replacement arguments are actually valid. If not, it's a form of deception.
I'm about to summarise the non-Scriptural arguments against same-sex marriage (SSM) by paraphrasing the site above. I'm doing my best not to create any straw men with this approach, but if I do so anyway, tell me off.
1. Same-sex marriages deprive children of either a mother or a father.
This is true, but that mother or father is replaced with either another father or another mother. In principle, the number of adults caring for the children is the same, and the proportion of men and women raising the children depends very little on the parents themselves. Children without mothers for example can have aunts, grandmothers, big sisters, cousins, nannies, friends of the parents and so on.
In practice, no significant difference in development, social life or even sexual tendency has been found between children with same-sex parents and children with different-sex parents. Anti-SSM literature appears to focus entirely on studies of children of single parents, who are missing a mother or father for very different reasons. Such research, while important, is irrelevant to the issue of the gender of existing parents.
2. Public and legal acceptance of same-sex marriage will reduce religious freedom. Believers, churches and religious charities such as the Salvation Army will be unable to practice unless they endorse same-sex marriage.
Individual religious freedom and that of churches will be unaffected. It's already illegal in the USA to discriminate against homosexuals, but the right of evangelical Christians and their pastors to believe, announce and advertise that homosexuality is sinful is protected by free speech and, importantly, "freedom of religion".
What will be curtailed is individual freedom to discriminate in practical ways, as has already happened with progress in racial equality and gay rights. The central example is the staff at artificial insemination clinics and adoption agencies: some of them don't want to be forced to give kids to gay couples. If their reasons for this are religious, their faith is about to conflict with their current jobs, but they are free to find work elsewhere in their respective industries. If instead their reason actually is reason 1 above, it's not a good reason.
Finally, religious charities and other organisations have nothing additional to worry about. They're already in trouble if they discriminate against gays. I don't see why they would discriminate against children of gay couples, because
a. the kids' upbringing isn't the kids' fault, and
b. if they really think same-sex parents are worse, they would conclude that the kids need more help.
3. If we change the definition of marriage, what's to stop us from changing it further to allow polygamy, marriage to animals, underage marriages, etcetera? (Paraphrased from a point on the site's .pdf handout, Why Marriage Matters. To be fair, these guys only mentioned polygamy.)
There is indeed an extremely small minority which would like marriage to be further expanded in these ways. Some, like those in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, go ahead and practice polygamy without looking for endorsement. Many others have less formal "open marriages".
The difference is in the practical benefits of each change. Once same-sex marriage is allowed, every adult will be allowed to marry a consenting adult of their choice, with whom they can have a happy intimate relationship, and raise a family in accordance with their common human desires. This gives everyone an ability that was once only available to some, and so negates a now-arbitrary piece of discrimination.
Other changes to marriage do not confer similar benefits, and carry additional drawbacks. Polygamy does not extend the chance for marriage and a family to anyone who doesn't already have it. Underage marriage and marriage to animals are cruel to the partner who is unable to consent.
This is why it most benefits humanity to extend marriage so far and no further, and why no one need be afraid that the floodgates will open, so to speak.
Since it does appear that the secular arguments presented by the anti-SSM movement have little value, the only reasons left are the Scriptural ones they are so eager to keep in the background. Once those are the remaining line of defense, they have no place in the political sphere, at least in a country which has declared church and state separate. For the rest of the world, though, it's a bit muckier.
Is it possible that you had a supernatural experience? Sure. We'll never rule them out completely, because there are an infinite number of mechanisms we can and can't imagine by which they could happen. Is it likely, though? Probably not, because the number of possible natural explanations is just as large.
You heard a screech, and then saw your cup flying across the room as if thrown. My first thought is that it was thrown, or at least struck, by a wild animal who got into your room. If you didn't have the fan or the air on, you probably had the window or the door open. If not, perhaps it got in earlier, and escaped when you ran out to your father. Would you have noticed as you freaked out? (Possible test: describe the squeal in detail on a wildlife forum as if you heard it outside, then listen to the suggested animals on YouTube and see if they ring a bell.)
Coming up with natural hypotheses is fun, but considering the supernatural alternatives is fun too. Say the cup was deliberately thrown by a ghost or other ethereal entity. (Note: the "aether" is actually a long-discarded scientific concept, not just a story.) Why? And why only once? Did you manage to discern some sort of message from the action? Did the cup have any significance, or the place it flew to? Since the entity would probably realise you didn't get the message, why didn't it try again?
I applaud you for the wealth of good skepticism you've already applied to this event. I know it's frustrating when you're still left without an explanation, and the prospect remains that you'll never really know. I hope I've made you a little more optimistic that there is a natural explanation to be had, even if you don't find it.
Good luck in any case.
I think what you actually mean is human consciousness. If not, let me know and we'll talk about conscience.
Just because all fathers are men doesn't mean all men are fathers. Likewise, just because all life is chemical reactions doesn't mean all chemical reactions are life. The complete consensual definition of life uses several advanced processes as criteria, for example metabolism, growth and reproduction.
Consciousness in the materialistic view goes beyond the chemical, because it's augmented by the bio-electrical. Thoughts literally zap around the brain when they're active. The rest of the time they're stored chemically in the brain cells. The rest of the body also uses small amounts of electricity (there's a reason we need to consume electrolytes), but it's doubly important to the brain.
The nature of the universe does not appear to be to create life wherever possible. Firstly, there are very few types of place in the universe where life is possible, so it's not easy. Secondly, since all known life shares genetic material and is therefore related, it appears that even here on Earth life only emerged once, and never again. I'm not saying we're the only life in the universe, but life seems so rare and unlikely to arise in any given place that the next occurrence of it is probably several galaxies away.
It does seem pointless to create a universe with nobody to experience it. It seems almost as pointless to create a universe and put nearly all of it completely out of reach of the observers, so our presence isn't exactly a masterstroke in the efficient use of the cosmos. It's exactly as if we are just here, and we can see what we can see simply because it's close.
Hope that lot is food for thought.