Browsing Archives for October 2010

Dear Charles –

How do you know when to cease using a plain old regular comma and begin using the much fancier, vain and hoity-toity semicolon, which – as you probably know – is really just a comma with a high falutin’ top notch? Is there a simple way to remember? One of those mnemonic devices? Maybe a funny song or a cute little rhyme? Could you make up a funny song or a cute little rhyme? Sometimes I quake at how horribly I have neglected the use of the semicolon. I am sure that I have opened psychic sucking semi-colon wounds that will never heal.

You don’t even want to know how bad the dinner was that I just cooked,

Rechelle

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That’s exactly where you’re wrong, Rechelle; I very much do want to know how bad the dinner you just cooked was, and I’ll do anything to find out, even put an example of a correctly used semicolon in the first line of this message. As you can see, the semicolon is used chiefly to connect two independent clauses. You can remember this rule with the following convenient mnemonic device:

Tamara Slept In Until Cornwallis The Curious Tinhorn Interrupted Clumsily

You may be startled to realize that the first letters of the words in this entertaining and easy-to-remember sentence are also the first letters in “the semicolon is used chiefly to connect two independent clauses.”

And as you’ve no doubt figured out by now, an independent clause is a clause that can stand on its own as a sentence (mnemonic device: Anna Incinerated Cookbooks In A Cult That Considered Sawdust One Ingredient Of An Apple Strudel).

You also might find this cute little rhyme useful:

Before you type that comma, pause; is that an independent clause?

As you can see, the rhyme (which you may recognize as a key component of my ambitious but largely ineffective “Pause Before You Punctuate” campaign a few years back) contains an example of a correctly used semicolon. Here’s another such example:

Sylvia noticed a dried substance on the Ouija board; it looked like turkey tetrazzini.

As we can see, the clause before the semicolon can stand on its own as a sentence, as can the clause following it. In fact, you could make this sentence into two sentences:

Sylvia noticed a dried substance on the Ouija board. It looked like turkey tetrazzini.

However, the two thoughts are so closely linked that many folks wouldn’t want to cleave them apart quite so drastically.

The second independent clause can also begin with a transitional phrase or a conjunctive adverb (mnemonic device: This Scab Is Crustily Coming Apart Because We Aren’t Through Picking On A Cut Arm):

Let’s get it on; however, let’s not get it too far on.

Again, we could make this into two separate sentences, but we won’t this time. Instead, we’ll replace the conjunctive adverb (“however”) with a coordinating conjunction (“but”), thereby enabling us to use a plain old comma to separate the two clauses:

Let’s get it on, but let’s not get it too far on.

You will notice that “but let’s not get it too far on” cannot stand on its own as a sentence very well. As you can see, coordinating conjunctions can come in handy for people who fear semicolons and would just as soon dispense with this punctuation mark altogether, although you are presumably no longer among these people after having read this edifying information.

To solidify what you’ve learned and to refresh your memory of it at a moment’s notice, feel free to use the following song, which can be sung to the tune of “Marines’ Hymn” (“From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli,” etc.).

When two independent clauses
In one sentence must appear
This is not a thing that causes
Us to cringe or quake with fear
No, we merely keep on strollin’
Past the commas and the rest
For we know the semicolon
Is the object of our quest

Semicolonically,

Charles

I recently attended a debate on the topic of intelligent design versus evolution at Washburn University in Topeka.

William Dembski, a research professor of philosophy at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Fort Worth, Texas, and a senior fellow of the Discovery Institutes’s Center for Science and Culture took up the cause of creationism… I mean intelligent design.

While Michael Shermer, Editor in Chief of Skeptic Magazine spoke for evolution… I mean blind evolution (as Dembski prefers it to be called.  It’s BLIND evolution folks.  BLIND!)


The debate quickly got mired on the subject of where the intelligence in intelligent design came from and who intelligently designed the intelligent designer who designed intelligent design.

In a nutshell (emphasis on nut) Dembski’s answer to ‘who designed the intelligent designer who designed the intelligent designer’ is that you can’t ask that question.

According to Dembski, no one looks at a beautiful painting and asks who created the painter who painted the painting!  So why would you ask who designed the designer who designed the design!

Which is a fine argument except that it is an extraordinarily stupid argument.

Because lots of people spend their lives asking who created the painter who painted the painting.

It’s called ART HISTORY DUDE!

ALSO!

I happen to have a little something that I like to call Exhibit A…..

This is our family quote board.  It hung on our bathroom wall for years until it got ripped and then I took it down and folded it up and put it in a drawer to prevent further destruction.  On this poster board, I have written down some of the stranger things I have heard my kids, husband, and various house guests say while they were visiting us.

Here are a few examples…

While stargazing with his dad when he was only two years old Ethan said…

“I can see the man in the moon, there’s his nose, there’s his eyes, there’s his mouth and there’s his gun!

While discussing our national currency with one of our boys, my husband said…

“They make sure you are really dead before putting your picture on money.”

And then one night, while chatting with his grandmother, Drew asked the following un-askable (according to Dembski) question…

“Grandma, have scientists figured out yet how God invented himself?”

If my six year old son can ask this question, I think the rest of us can too.

Besides!  Isn’t science supposed to be about asking questions?

While they were arguing the question ‘who designed the designer’, Dembski and Shermer started batting around a word I had never heard before.  The word was teleology.  I tried to grasp the meaning of teleology by listening to the context of their arguments.  It seemed to have something to do with ‘implying an agent’ and ‘having a purpose’ but it was also ‘untestable’ so teleological arguments don’t really fit in with science, unless your science is intelligent design.

When I got home I looked teleology up.

I spent half an hour trying to grasp it’s meaning.

I still do not understand it at all.

If you can explain what teleology means to me in a succinct, simple manner, I will send you a book.  Beware!  It will probably be an atheist book.

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During the part of the debate when Shermer and Dembski were tossing around the word ‘teleology’ like their favorite chew toy, my upper brain ceased functioning and I turned to stare blankly at the two college-aged men who were sitting beside me.  One of the young men held up his cell phone and showed it to the other young man. Psalm 14 was displayed on the screen of the phone  The two men smiled and nodded and gave each other a telepathic high five while exuding a sort of subtly hostile ‘don’t mess with my Jesus, homeboy’ vibe.  Not knowing what Psalm 14 said, I made a note of it so I could look it up when I got home.  I assumed that the scripture would speak on the origins of God saying something about how God is the alpha and omega and is and was and is to come, but I was wrong.  The verse dealt with another topic entirely…

Psalm 14

The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.

The LORD looks down from heaven
on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.

All have turned aside,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.

Will evildoers never learn—
those who devour my people as men eat bread
and who do not call on the LORD?
There they are, overwhelmed with dread,
for God is present in the company of the righteous

You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,
but the LORD is their refuge.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

Needless to say I was very disappointed with the content of Psalm 14 as it did not specifically speak to the debate. Dembski and Shermer were not arguing whether or not atheists are corrupt cannibalistic fools. They were debating the origin of God (unless you were Dembski and then you were debating whether or not you could debate the origin of God).  So I googled ‘bible verse that says where God came from’.  This is the verse I found from Habakkuk 3:3…

God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.

So there we have it!  God came from TEMAM!

Should someone tell Dembski about this verse so he can reference it the next time some skeptical bastard starts going all ‘where did the intelligent designer come from’ on him?

Skeptic – And exactly where did your intelligent designer come from Professor Dembski?

Dembski  – According to the book of Habakkuk, God came from Temam. Next question?

A few other nuggets that I took away from the debate included…

The God of the Gaps Theory

Intelligent design hinges on the idea that ‘If science can’t explain something, it must be supernatural’.  This is called the ‘God of the gaps’ theory.  Unfortunately, science keeps making the gaps narrower and narrower and a lot of gaps have disappeared entirely. I suppose there will always be things that we don’t completely understand, fortunately, there will also always be people like Dembski who frantically point to the gap and say, ‘SEE!  I TOLD YOU!  IT’S GOD!!!  IT’S GOD!’  Thankfully a lot of very smart people ignore the Dembskis of this world and as a result, we continue to make progress towards understanding how things work which leads to longer life, better health, a safer environment and way cooler cell phones.

At one point Dembski acknowledged that evolution by natural selection is in fact a workable theory and most likely part of how the world came about, he just doesn’t think that it explains everything. At this point Shermer wanted Dembksi to tell him exactly which parts of ‘creation’ came about from design and which parts arose from evolution.  Dembski basically said that anything with fabulous design is from the designer and anything that is a haphazard mess is from evolution.  For instance the male nipple is clearly haphazard evolution- because that is some sloppy workmanship there buddy!  But the supremely complex bacterial flagellum of the sperm – now that is some supernatural intervention mojo at work baybee!

Bacterial flagellum

This is the little propeller on some cells that is so intensely complicated there can be no way (according to Dembski) it could ever in a million billion trillion years have evolved on it’s own.  The only way to explain it is ‘God did it’.

Sounds like good science to me!

Irreducible Complexity

This phrase was coined by Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and senior fellow of the Discovery Institutes’s Center for Science and Culture.   Irreducible complexity basically states that there are some things in nature that are just too freakin’ complicated to explain so you might as well just throw your hands up in the air, walk away and say God did it.

Behe has nine kids who are homeschooled by his wife.  He is a Roman Catholic. A poster to the message board REDDIT claiming to be Behe’s eldest son recently came out as an atheist,.  This poster said that he is ‘quarantined’ to the basement of his parent’s home in order to limit the contact he has with his younger brothers and sisters.  Sounds like Jesus love at it’s best!

The Reddit conversation with this young person who is very likely Behe’s son can be found here. It is fascinating reading.

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After the debate was over, people lined up in front of both men to get an autograph or to ask a question.

One child stood in line to ask Shermer a question. She wanted to know why God created the world. Shermer told her that it wasn’t really his field and to ask Dembski that question. He then performed a very bad magic trick for her and everyone laughed.

So the little girl moved over and stood in line to ask Dembski the same question.

‘Why did God create the world?”

Dembski explained to the little girl that God created the world for his pleasure.

He may not want to discuss where God came from, but he has God’s motivations all figured out.

Thus ended my evening at the Dembski/Shermer intelligent design vs (blind) evolution debate.

Cheryl posted this video on her blog and dang it! I had to post it too. My eldest son, Calder has been playing this song non-stop for the past few weeks, but I never really listened to it until tonight. I have no idea what the particular situation is that Sara Barielles is singing about in this tune, but I sure can apply it to the life of Rechelle right now.  It got me all choked up – especially on the bridge.  Hoo boy!

P.S. She got that crown ring on her middle finger honey.  That’s Right!