Archives for : November2010

Love-Hate Java

During my experiences programming (which, at 19, isn’t really that much, but still 5 or so years) I’ve come across Java a few times, but always passed on using it seriously. The first time I seriously tried it, the book I was learning from taught the Swing interface (read: ugly,) it’s compiled and interpreted (read: slow, but can have some perks such as been cross-platform.)

So the other day I thought I’d start to get into Android development (for real this time.) I had a few false starts, partly just getting really annoyed at the interface designer (I’ve since got over that,) and am on my way to releasing my first (not hugely complicated, but quite useful) Android application. Of course, this meant re-learning Java to be able to write the app (I could have done some hackish implementation with a cross between Java and C, but since my app isn’t memory or processor hungry, I didn’t really need the extra speed. Generally you would reserve doing that for games.) As someone who likes to program all my Windows applications with a GUI in C#, I was aware Java and C# are quite similar in their syntax, and after a little while I did start to notice big similarities.
One plus that I have found whilst programming for Android is that threading is very elegant. A lot easier than I remember threading to be, and is definitely important for a program that fetches data from the net (which can take upwards of 10 seconds, which is too long to lock up the UI thread for.) I don’t know if to commend Google or Sun (erm, Oracle.)
So, prejudice aside, I did start to get used to programming Java quite quickly, and to my surprise, was able to start making a working application fairly easily. I still have a heap to learn, but I’m learning as I go, and I really look forward to starting to make a lot more (and complex) Android applications in the future.

An Alternative

This question contained in this post will get many people fired up. It is a topic that people have very strong opinions about, and there are definitely many people who are both numerous and very vocal with their views on either side of the argument. What I am trying to have happening is a good dialogue between Christians and atheists, not a flame war. Please, if you comment on this post, be civil and respectful to everyone else, whichever side you’re on. If you aren’t civil in your posting and are just tolling, don’t expect me or anyone else to consider responding.

I will state from the top that I am not a biologist. Nor am I trying to undermine the work of biologists, since as I’m not a biologist my comments wouldn’t be taken seriously at all if I were trying to do so. I am just trying to reason, based on the arguments that have been thrown at me, why the alternative I will propose afterwards isn’t just as plausible as the argument.

The argument that I have heard a few times goes like this:

Evolution is able to explain ethics, especially when it comes to murdering people. If we went around murdering each other, then there would be no humans left and we would go extinct.

Looks good upfront, doesn’t it? Well, maybe. The gripe I have with the theory of evolution is that it is so losely designed that it can be molded in any way, shape or form to fit what is observed. Rather than the observed conforming to a theory (such as Einsteins Theory of Relativity) in order to validate the theory, the theory is molded to the observed no matter what happens. The Theory of Evolution generally isn’t too good at predicting what is likely to happen… well, isn’t as good as, say, relativity.

What I want to do is propose an alternative to the argument above. Now, I want someone to demonstrate to me why this is any less pluasible than what is written above, and the only source they are allowed to use is explain the differences with the Theory of Evolution, and not about what is observed. For a theory to be a good model, it should be able to explain why one thing happens and another thing doesn’t, and also predict what is going to happen: this is why you can’t refer to what the world is like now (the fact that there appears to be universal morals) to validate your point, as the way the world is now can be explained using other theories and hypothesis (such as the Hypothesis of God, which Edgar Andrews does a good job at examining in “Who Made God?“)

From the Theory of Evolution, and survival of the fittest, it seems as though humans shouldn’t have any issue with murdering one another. The fittest and strongest human’s overall will win, especially when it comes to fighting over resources such as food. Why should a fit and strong human have to work together with other humans if they are going to make resources such as food potentially scarce? A fit and strong human can do this by him/herself.

To me, that seems like just as valid according to what the theory of evolution states that this could have happened. So, why is the first one used to explain morals, when there is a perfectly good alternative explanation?

As a side note, so people know where I’m coming from. I’m from the standpoint that evolution has happened, to an extent. More or less, micro-evolution, or the evolution within a species. For example, I have no problem presuming that dogs, foxes, wolfs, dingos all came from one biblical canine species, there is evidence to support this kind of evolution. From what I have found in my research, there is in fact a lack of evidence to support cross-species evolution (for example, if species crossed over, then we should find fossil evidence of hybrid species.)

Which would be better: Atheist or Christian Prime Minister

I recently read this article from The Punch and thought it was an interesting take on a topic. Their argument in a nutshell is: an atheist prime minister is better because he (or actually, she) is more rational. Of course, I don’t want to get started on the massive bias that it has, as you can tell by the way it’s worded (“myths” and “Chinese Whispers”* for one,) but I’ll let it slide, as I understand everyone, especially me, is bias to at least some extent.

I for one want to argue, from an attempted neutral standpoint, that a Christian Prime Minister would be better, and whether I were Christian or atheist, been a Christian politician would still be a plus in terms of deciding who to vote for.

Now, when I try to do a neutral standpoint, I’m going to not take the presumption that God does exist (as I would from a Christian standpoint,) nor am I going to take the presumption that God doesn’t exist (as an atheist would.) Now, I will be clear from the front that as a Christian, I do believe God exists, and I know that a little bit of bias will sneak into my argument even when I’m trying for it not to. I also want to make it clear that if I say something in an attempted neutral argument that suggests I may be varying from my stance that God definitely exists, it is because I am trying to be neutral. I will try to avoid language that affirms a view of God existing or God not existing.

From a onlookers viewpoint, it would seem as though there isn’t anything irrational with believing that there is a creator to this world. Just because you can’t see this creator doesn’t mean that it can’t be there. There are many things we can’t “see” but we trust are there regardless. It isn’t irrational to take a look at this world, see design, and consider the possibility of a designer.

Why do I say this? The original argument implied very heavily that a Christian Prime Minister would be an irrational person. I want to argue that this is not in fact the case. As described in the previous point, the idea of a creator isn’t all of a sudden irrational if we go by the true definition of irrationality and not the one promoted by anti-theists.

As it is possible to be Christian and rational, then trying to argue say that an atheist Prime Minister is more rational isn’t necessarily true. For the sake of neutrality, I’m going to presume that both ideas have some rationality behind them (and not try to dismiss atheism as irrational in this particular post), so for the sake of argument we can presume that either kind of Prime Minister would be rational.

Now that rationality isn’t really a concern with who we have as a Prime Minister, let’s take a look at the quite obvious differences between a Christian and an atheist.

  • Christian: Believes in absolute morals, therefore has a moral grounding for 

(Clash of cultures when it comes to the Chinese Whispers claim. If you want to know more, ask in the comments.)

Sentenced to Death: Clear Violation of Human Rights

This week I got an email from a friend about a Christian woman in Pakistan, Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam. Whether you are a Christian, atheist, or of any other religious view, you should be outraged by this injustice and clear violation of human rights. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states the following:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Let me put it this way: if you’re an atheist, you would likely be found guilty of the same thing in Pakistan or any other Islamic based countries, if you deny the existence of Allah and stick to it. That is why it should outrage not only Christians, but atheists as well. It is a violation of human rights, and if people start getting the death penalty for exercising their human rights for freedom of thought, conscience and religion, then this world isn’t going to go anywhere but down.

I urge everyone to join in prayer for Asia, as it is one of the few things we have left. I also urge people to lobby governments, and the UN to enforce human rights, because we can’t let clear violations of a basic human right to continue in this world.

If you are interested in reading more, please read the following posts on the Voice of the Martyrs website 13:3:

Which is more likely?

This question contained in this post will get many people fired up. It is a topic that people have very strong opinions about, and there are definitely many people who are both numerous and very vocal with their views on either side of the argument. What I am trying to have happening is a good dialogue between Christians and atheists, not a flame war. Please, if you comment on this post, be civil and respectful to everyone else, whichever side you’re on. If you aren’t civil in your posting and are just tolling, don’t expect me or anyone else to consider responding.

There are many questions in this world today that are definitely worth asking from time to time. One that I genuinely think is worth asking, because of it’s potential implications, is where did we come from? Were we designed, or were we simply the result of an accident. As I mentioned above, people can have very strong views either side of this debate, and can be very vocal with these views. I am posting what I am genuinelly working through myself. Trying to force an opinion upon me by abusing my current view isn’t really going to make me view that opinion with any respect.

I look around at this world today and see design. I don’t necessarily support the Intelligent Design movement (notice the capital I and capital D,) as it has too many things associated with it that I don’t necessarily agree with, but I do support the notion that we have been intelligently designed. The reason I see that in this world? I am a person who looks at something and thinks the most likely solution to something is also most likely to be true. Let me start with an example of Young Earth creationists (I’m an Old Earth creationist.)

Many arguments that I have heard from the Young Earth creation standpoint is the idea of “apparent age.” That is, God made the Earth some 10,000 years ago and, when he made it, made it look old from the start. So, when it was created, it looked as if it were a few billion years old already. Why can’t I support this view? It is taking a well accepted scientific theory (I’m always hesitant to say fact with anything that isn’t a law, but it pretty much is a fact) that the Earth is ~5 billion years old and taking it to fit their current viewpoint. If something looks old, what is the most logical explanation? I’m not going to say God couldn’t make the world look old, but I don’t see why he would. To me, the most logical explanation is what it appears. It appears the Earth is old, so therefore the most likely scenario is that the Earth is in fact old, rather than just showing apparent age.

Now, for a moment it may seem as thought I’m defending the atheist viewpoint. No, I’m dismissing the Young Earth viewpoint, but that still leaves the Old Earth viewpoint, which is where I come from.

Now, let’s have a look at another example of what the most likely scenario is. It has been written by many Christian, and more importantly, non-Christian and non-religious scientists that they can’t escape the seemingly apparent design of this world. The world is so perfect and works so well that, at first, it appears as if it is designed by an intelligent being. To quote a non-Christian (to me knowledge) scientist, Paul Davies, “There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all….It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe….The impression of design is overwhelming” [1]

Just as what happened with the Young Earth creationists, where they took their current view and made an observation fit the view, rather than their view fit the observation, I think atheists may do this a bit. By no means am I saying atheists are intentionally doing this, nor am I saying Christians don’t do it as well. The thing here, especially with this topic, is no one can escape any bias (if you’re a hammer, you see everything as a nail.) Let me explain.

I have a hard time comprehending the view that if it appears to have design, that it then must in fact be a result of random mutations and chance. To me, that is a possibility, but not the most likely possibility. Just like it is possible an intelligent being could have made the world appear old when it is relatively young. It is possible, but I don’t necessarily think likely. The first conclusion that someone should come to when they see apparant design isn’t that it was randomly generated without any design what so ever.

From a personal standpoint, it is a view that I struggle to understand. Just as a quick disclaimer, I’m not saying any world view is perfect, including mine, but I don’t have any problems with raising questions about other world views and throwing it out there for discussion, nor do I have a problem with people doing the same for my world view. The comments are there to be used.

[1] Davies, P. 1988. The Cosmic Blueprint: New Discoveries in Nature’s Creative Ability To Order the Universe. New York: Simon and Schuster, p.203.

AFES: Entrusted with the Gospel

If you attend any Australian University, there’s a good chance that there is an AFES (Australian Federation of Evangelical Students) sponsored group hanging around somewhere (UWS has CBM.) A really good event that I want to promote if you are involved with your Uni’s AFES group, or even if you aren’t and want to, is Entrusted with the Gospel.

I’m promoting it partly because I won’t be able to go, but it looks really good and informative, so if you are involved with your AFES group, why not think about it?

Timetable Manager 2.1 with UWS support (custom build)

A heads up if you attend the University of Western Sydney and want to manage your Timetable more efficiently. I’ve just added support for UWS timetables to a program called Uni Timetable Manager by Jack Valmadre (from University of Queensland.) When I first saw the program, I was very impressed, and quickly went away to try and add support for UWS.

Quick Tutorial
  1. To use it, download the .exe, launch it and select “Import.”
  2. When prompted, select UWS. You will be presented with a page that allows you to enter your unit code.
  3. Enter the FULL unit code (e.g. 300167.2  the decimal point is essential) and click “Fetch Unit.”
  4. A list of different sessions and campus will be presented (e.g. 2011 Spring Penrith Campus.) Click on your preferred session.
  5. Click on “Use Selected” to add this timetable to the list of timetables.
  6. Repeat the previous 3 steps for every other unit (subject) that you want to use in your timetable. The program currently supports up to 4 units.
  7. Click next.
  8. You don’t need to make any changes at the “Preview Stream Data” stage. Just click next if it looks alright (right subjects and right number of lectures and tutes)
  9. Initially, all the classes are set to required (UWS doesn’t specify in the handbook whether they are required or not, so all UWS ones are automatically set to required. May be different for other Universities.) If there are any particular classes you want to ignore, move it over to ignore.
  10. Click Finish.
  11. Your timetable is now loaded into the program. Any classes/lectures with only one session are automatically loaded. Any classes/lectures with multiple options are in “Remaining” and can be dragged onto the timetable.
Known Limitations
The program is known to crash if, when using the UWS web import function (as described above,) the timetable hadn’t been filled out properly (i.e. the timetable exists but it is too early before the start of the unit, so the precise times of classes haven’t been loaded) or if an invalid unit number is selected. If this happens, quit and try again. Make sure that every session you select has a valid timetable associated with it.
There may also be other issues. If you come across any, please report them in the comments.
This version isn’t an official release, rather a custom build, as I don’t control the official releases. Support for UWS is likely to appear in the next official release. This is a custom build of the current release (2.1) with the additional support for UWS.
In true open source fashion, the changes in this custom build have been committed as Revision 12 on the Google Code page for this program. The only difference between this and the committed copy is I have added the text “with UWS Support (Custom Build)” in a few locations, and my name in the About Box.