Monday, December 29, 2008

Personal Identity

There's a movie out there called "The Ghost In The Shell", about a futuristic world where people regularly get cybernetic enhancements. Some people go so far as to replace their entire bodies, having their consciousnesses, whatever that is, moved into android bodies.

The logic behind this world is interesting. It states that there was a scientist who asked at what point a human stops being a human. If you lose an arm and have it replaced, are you not human? What about both arms? How about the torso? Eventually, he reasoned that there was never a point where a human would stop being human as long as it retained its consciousness.

But what is that? What is that thing that is transferred? Let's take this example out of the realm of fiction and move it into reality. How would such a process work? What, exactly, is "downloaded" into the android body? Most would say "thought patterns", but that begs the question - why would that remove the thought patterns from the original host? From everything we know, the information would be copied into the new form and deleted from the old. That means that, while it is functionally the same in every way, the android is not the same person. The original person died when the old thought patterns were deleted. That is, unless there's some kind of soul that you could move. I don't think that there is.

That thing that makes you who you are and differentiates you from an exact duplicate of yourself I will label Personal Identity. Soul carries too much baggage. When that personal identity ceases to exist, you are dead. That we will call "breaking the continuity".

This sort of thing happens all the time. If you're old enough to read and understand this, you don't have a single atom left from the body in which you were born. In many ways, you are a duplicate of your original. The continuity never seemed to break, though. There was never a moment where you ceased to be you and became a duplicate. Is it simply the gradualness of a process that determines if your personal identity remains or is lost?

I don't think so. That seems arbitrary. Illusory. I think that we do, slowly, over time, lose one personal identity and develop another. And another. But it's so gradual, so insignificant, that we'd never know. We are functionally the same. I have memories of myself as a little boy, but can I really say that I was that boy in the sense that I discussed? I don't know. Wouldn't an exact duplicate of me think the same thing, whatever the means of its construction?

Volumes of science fiction could and probably have been written about this subject. What about teleportation? Can we disintegrate a person and reconstruct her, atom by atom, in another place without breaking continuity? I doubt it. Wouldn't it be just as simple to analyze the atomic structure of that person and reconstruct her in that other place without disintegrating her? If you did, that other her would be functionally the same without sharing that same personal identity. Why, then, would we think differently if the first was annihilated? Because there's no one to claim otherwise, I suppose.

Going back to the first example, with cybernetics, let's say that you replace part of the brain with an electronic duplicate. Is it still the same person? Functionally, yes, but is the personal identity the same? I don't know. What if you gradually replace the entire brain with electronics, bit by bit over a period of years? Is the end product the same person you started with? While he or she may be exactly the same in every perceptible way, I would think not. I would think that this is a duplicate.

If this is the case, then why would we think differently of ourselves just because our brains are replaced atom by atom with organic material? There is no clear point at which continuity is broken, and yet it seems that it has been. What, exactly, is happening here?

All of these may very well be impossible to answer truthfully. This is one of the great laments of the rationalist. Because we refuse to use the easy, likely untrue answers, we often have to settle for no answer at all. If I do not allow for a soul that sits in the mass of atoms that composes my body and drives it the way I might drive a car, I can't know whether the child I see in old pictures of myself is actually me or if that's just how I remember it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Arguments Theists Can't Win

Clever, clever. It would seem a fellow named Doug Eaton has distilled several atheist arguments that beat him regularly and used them to populate a list called "Pitfalls For Atheists To Avoid".

His reasoning, I can only assume, is that atheists will believe that he truly has their best interests at heart and will indeed stop using these arguments. I'd love to return the favor for theists, but I can't think of any arguments they have that can't be taken apart on their own merits.

Anyways, let's see what he has to say, shall we? I apologize for the length, but I think it's worth understanding why these arguments actually work.

Doug Eaton believes that we should not:

1. Assume that because you compare theism to believing in pink unicorns or fairy tales that you have made a good argument.

Okay... so, maybe you were going to refute that argument to show why it's not good? What we're doing here is making an analogy, Doug. We have no good reason to believe in pink unicorns. We see drawing of pink unicorns everywhere. Children love them. We can imagine them. We can discuss their habits, desires, wishes, dreams and accomplishments. Despite all this, we have no legitimate evidence for the existence of pink unicorns. That's a lot like God. It's a good argument until you can refute it to show why the analogy is flawed.

2. Become hostile and use degrading vulgarities while maintaining that Christianity is an immoral religion.

Alright, I'm not sure if you mean that it would be hypocritical to be hostile and use vulgarities while calling Christianity immoral, because it wouldn't be hypocritical at all, or if you mean that it just won't be taken well. You're probably right, it generally won't be taken well. That doesn't mean it's not still deserved or, in the case of the latter point, true. Christianity is, after all, an immoral religion. What else would you call a religion that allows for slavery, child abuse, murder and eternal torture on the basis of an incorrect guess? I would also encourage your side to avoid becoming hostile, using vulgarities or accusing atheists of immorality. We can refute the latter, you can't.

3. When you are having trouble answering an argument posed by a Christian theist, simply say, “well even if this were true, it doesn’t prove the existence of the ‘Christian’ God.”

So an example would be, let's say, the Big Bang argument. What set the Big Bang in motion? Were I to, for the sake of argument, grant that it could have been some sort of God, why should I then concede that it would also have to be the Christian God? Sorry, Doug, this is still a valid point. The burden of proof is on you not only to show that there is a god, but that it's your god. Otherwise it could very well be the deist god, who started the universe and buggered off, or a pantheist god who started the universe by being the universe. It could be Atman, Ymir, Nox or any of a billion other gods we've seen on this planet, or something else altogether. Those are pretty poor odds, Doug. You still have a lot of evidence to present, and you're not off the hook just because you think yours is the best.

4. Assume that simply because you explain a phenomena from a naturalistic perspective that it constitutes an argument which must be true.

Here's where we get back to Occam's Razor. It is possible that the Black Cherry Soda in my mouth is actually an illusion perpetrated upon me by a mischievous boggan, who has stolen my soda and is drinking it himself. Or it could be that I'm actually drinking the soda. Let's take a look at which one is more likely to be true.

With Occam's Razor, we look at how many assumptions each argument makes. The first is that the supernatural is possible, that such things as boggans exist, that they are capable of illusions involving taste and touch, that they would be motivated to perform such illusions on humans, and that they like Black Cherry Soda. Assumptions in the second argument are that I can trust my taste buds to reliably describe what I'm eating or drinking and that the flavor of the soda in the can is correctly described on the can's label.

By definition, Doug, a supernatural explanation is less likely than a natural explanation. That's what makes it supernatural. We have yet to see any sort of precedent whatsoever for legitimate supernatural explanations. Fewer assumptions are made in natural explanations, therefore those arguments are to be preferred. That's not to say that they are definitely the truth but, until we get compelling evidence to the contrary, we can safely assume that they probably are. Again, the burden of proof is on you to show otherwise.

5. When arguing against the Christian God, simply say that you only believe in “one less god” than most people, as if that does not require you to defend an atheistic understanding of cosmology, anthropology, ethics, philosophy of history, philosophy of politics, philosophy of science, and epistemology.

It... doesn't require me to defend all that crap. In fact, the two are so unrelated that I don't even know how you put this together.

First, the "I believe in one god fewer than you" argument isn't really an argument; it's an illustrative tool. The goal is to get the theist to consider all the reasons that he or she disbelieves in other gods and then consider why those reasons are dismissed in the case of his or her own god. It's to show that we agree on most stuff, it's just this one point where we think you're being inconsistent.

Second, none of those things requires a theistic mindset. None of them contradicts an atheistic mindset. We don't have to reimagine every field of knowledge to confirm our beliefs, Doug. We just have to check to make sure that our beliefs are consistent with existing knowledge. So far, yeah, that's been the case. Anthropology may not have anything to confirm or deny the existence of a god (though I would suggest it does deny all gods pretty strongly, for the sake of argument let's say that it doesn't) and that doesn't matter. That only means that it contradicts neither of our beliefs, so we can both have the exact same views in anthropology. No contorting must be done. So far, we haven't had to contort at all with any of these subjects. I can't say the same for theists. That whole evolution thing really threw you for a loop.

6. Make metaphysical statements that suggest that metaphysics are a useless waste of time.

Rrrrrrrright. Contemplating the nature of reality is fine. The problem with metaphysics is a very low bar for entry. It all too quickly becomes a masturbatory enterprise for people who don't really know what they're talking about or what metaphysics even is. Saying that all metaphysics are a useless waste of time is incorrect, yes, but massive, massive segments of it are exactly that. Metaphysics has become a new word for people who like to sound "enlightened". Like "spirituality". They are buzzwords. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

7. Argue that we should only believe things proven by empirical evidence without proving it with empirical evidence.

Proven by empirical evidence? No. Shown as more than likely by empirical evidence? Yes. And I can prove that.

We will create two categories: one favoring evidence, one against.

In the "For" Column, we'll list Things Which Have Evidence And Are True, and Things Which Have No Evidence Which Are Untrue.

In the "Against" Column, we'll list Things Which Have No Evidence But Are True, and Things Which Have Evidence But Are Untrue.

You might have spotted the trick already. The fact is that it doesn't matter how many examples we can come up with for the "Against" Column, because the second category in the "For" Column is literally an infinite list. There is no end to things that are untrue and which have no evidence.

Therefore, it can be established that evidence is at least a better guide than flipping a coin. Until you can demonstrate a better system, we'll go with this.

8. Use logic like it is a universal, transcendent, unchanging reality when atheistic naturalism cannot account for universal, transcendent, unchanging realities.

Logic is unchanging? Says who? As we learn more, we refine logic to fit reality and more accurately predict the truth. Doug, you're really putting the wagon before the cart here. Not to mention that your people invent new logical fallacies constantly, so we get to figure out why they're fallacies, using analogies as demonstrated in #1, and add them to the Big Book Of Logic. You do have a Big Book Of Logic, don't you?

Also, take a look at #7 again. I can demonstrate in the same way why logic works. Let's count out how many illogical assertions are untrue.

9. Argue that there is no evidence to believe in the existence of God because all the evidence that is produced fails to pass the standards of evidence which have been constructed from the belief that God does not exist.

You believe the standards of evidence were formulated around the idea that God does not exist? What happened to all those genius scientists who were believers? You know, the ones your side loves to trumpet as though they were walking proof of God's obviousness? Newton and the like?

The standards of evidence were not stacked against God. They were constructed to predict reality. They've been working pretty well so far, see #7. God has yet to show up.

10. Argue that human beings are robots, puppets, and machines programmed by natural selection in a closed system of cause and effect, and then argue for free thought and moral agency.

Fair enough. I'm not a big fan of physical and chemical determinism, either. We're certainly shaped by our experiences and our genes, but within those frameworks we do have the freedom to choose. I assume that's what you mean by free thought.

Moral agency is a stickier issue. Can we blame people like Jefferson for owning slaves when that was just the zeitgeist? The answer is yes, though our blame is tempered with the knowledge that he was not the general commanding atrocities, merely the soldier carrying them out. He can be blamed for his lack of courage, conviction, perception, perspective and reason, but it is the zeitgeist itself we must blame for the atrocities of slavery.

I have no doubt that our generation will be similarly condemned for issues we do not see as obviously moral questions in our times. My money's on eating meat. Give it a few hundred years and a different perspective, I suspect future generations will wonder how each of us ever justified the casual murder of thousands of animals to feed ourselves, much less the number societies murder as a whole. The more I think about it, the harder time I have finding ways around it. We might very well be wrong.

But I digress. God isn't necessary for free thought or moral agency, sorry. Experiences and genes shape us, and there is no external absolute moral authority, but the former does not remove our ability to choose and the latter does not negate accountability for our beliefs and actions.

11. Place your ultimate trust in human reason while believing that man’s mind evolved from lower animals such as monkeys and will continue to evolve until we become the monkeys from which the minds of the future will have evolved.


Oof. Not an English major, were you, Doug? I see where you're going, though. We have to acknowledge that we're flawed, and trusting a flawed system is a bad idea. That would be the case, except that no better system is known to exist. There are degrees of accuracy, Doug, and as our ability to perceive, digest, understand, comprehend and predict the truth, reality, the universe, or whatever you want to call it, we seem to be moving farther and farther away from supernatural explanations. We have no reason to suspect that a more developed mind would turn back and embrace superstition.

Also, just so you know, there's no guarantee that humans will be any smarter, biologically speaking, in the future. Natural selection and evolution only reward breeding, not intelligence. If anything, we're more likely to backslide as the future approaches. There's also no reason to think we're any more biologically intelligent than our ancestors going back thousands of years. Our knowledge has grown sociologically. It's not that our brains are better at discerning information, it's that we have more information available. Though I really could go for a banana right now.

Seriously, though, you know we didn't evolve from monkeys, right? That's like saying that your cousin is your grandfather. We share an ancestor, monkeys are not our ancestors.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Art Of War On Christmas

I love Christmas. Halloween is more fun, but Christmas feels more important. Everything's shut down, everyone just takes some time out. I'm almost surprised when I see people driving around, and I always assume that they're just on their way to some gathering with family or friends. I don't like the idea of anyone trying to do anything productive on Christmas. Take the day, man. Have some nog.

One of my favorite parts of Christmas, however, is a shining little light tucked away in the long, dark, irritating tunnel that is the month leading up to the holiday. (Also, the tunnel plays Christmas music all the time.) That light is the War On Christmas.

Oh, it's like an early present every year. People I suspected of insanity earlier in the year confirm my suspicions and go completely bat-shit over something stupid like "Season's Greetings". Jesus lollerskating Christ, and you people say the liberals are too sensitive.

That said, this year's war had a pretty interesting skirmish. The Washington Legislative Building in Olympia allows for holiday displays, even those of a religious nature. The catch is that they aren't allowed to discriminate, so anyone can put up their little display. The Freedom From Religion foundation decided to do exactly that.

"At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail.
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."


Oof. That's a little rough. Also, it doesn't rhyme. That probably won't get people to think twice about their beliefs. Touchy as they are, they'll be too busy being offended (though, of course, this sign doesn't even distantly imply that they'll be tortured for all eternity for the crime of guessing wrong). As a PR move for atheists, it's probably not that great. As a catalyst to demonstrate the silliness of allowing these sorts of displays in a public building? Oh, it's pretty damn good.

First came the protests.

"The No. 1 thing is, we want the state of Washington and the governor to represent everyone in the state," said the Rev. Kenneth Hutcherson, the pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond. "But just because you must represent everyone in the state doesn't mean that you put up with intolerance from the people that you represent."


Hey, good call Reverend. That's why we're not going to listen to the protests. The sign stays.

Republican State Representative Jim Dunn, you had something to add?

"It is time to chase out of the house of God all the unbelievers and evildoers," Dunn said.


Great, thanks for the input.

In a stunning display of religious tolerance, the sign was stolen.

The sign, which was at the Legislative Building at 6:30 a.m. PT, was gone by 7:30 a.m., Gaylor said.

The incident will not stifle the group's message, (Freedom From Religion co-founder Annie Laurie) Gaylor said. Before reports of the placard's recovery, she said a temporary sign with the same message would be placed in the building's Rotunda. Gaylor said a note would be attached saying, "Thou shalt not steal."


It didn't last for twelve hours. That's how crazy people get about Christmas. Mark my words, it won't be long until we see signs reading "CHRISTmas!!" to match the "One Nation, UNDER GOD!!" bumper stickers. Hey, did anyone else notice that the first line of that CNN article says the sign criticizes Christianity? That's weird, I don't remember the sign saying anything about Jesus.

The story doesn't end there, though. I wouldn't waste your time. Everyone's favorite IRL-troll Fred Phelps and his crew have decided to get in on the action. Here's what their sign will say:

You'd better watch out, get ready to cry, You'd better go hide, I'm telling you why 'cuz Santa Claus will take you to hell. He is your favorite idol, you worship at his feet, but when you stand before your God He won't help you take the heat. So get this fact straight: you're feeling God's hate, Santa's to blame for the economy's fate, Santa Claus will take you to hell.


Man, that's awesome. Sometimes I'm actually thankful for the Westboro Baptist Church. They illustrate points so well.

Bill Donohue, a crazy bastard who I suspect lures children under bridges and then eats them (and he has yet to prove otherwise), has some especially confusing logic to explain why he should have freedom of speech, but other people shouldn't.

In other words, hate groups have a First Amendment right to freedom of speech, but they have no right to set the time and place. Moreover, freedom of speech is meaningless unless it can prevail unobstructed by attempts to stifle it.


Yes, he really did follow that first sentence with that second one. Yes, that really does completely contradict his first sentence. No one's speech is being violated by the atheist sign, Bill. You still have your display. Atheists just get to say something, too. That's how freedom of speech works - everyone gets it.

But wait! Everyone? Yes, everyone. That means that they actually do have to put up the Festivus pole. That means that they actually do have to put up the Flying Spaghetti Monster display. This has become a complete circus.

And here's the point. This is why secular government is the way to go. This is why you don't allow nativity scenes on public property. You aren't allowed to discriminate. If you let one group do it, you have to let all the groups do it. The result is exactly what you see. This is one-upmanship run amok. Half the participants are laughing their asses off, the other half are losing their minds, and I can only imagine that Washington's poor governor is buried in a deluge of angry letters from people with delusions of relevance.

Wasn't there some sort of holiday coming up or something?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

God Only SEEMS Nonexistent

Warning for the sensitive: There are a couple pictures of birth defects that are a bit disturbing. They don't last long.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dang it.

Someone came up with the same thing I did and put it on a t-shirt. You can get a stick figure Muhammad t-shirt. I'm tempted to buy it, but I don't know that I'd ever actually wear it. Not because I fear repercussions (I'd be happy to get on the news), but I'm not a fan of the design. There are some pretty good shirts on that site (such as the "I'd verb her noun." shirt), but I just don't want to be the goofy t-shirt guy.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Roger Ebert Attacks Expelled

He's a bit late to the party, but Roger Ebert decided to weigh in on Expelled, Ben Stein's anti-Evolution and pro-Intelligent Design film. He's not very kind to it.

I liked this bit:
This film is cheerfully ignorant, manipulative, slanted, cherry-picks quotations, draws unwarranted conclusions, makes outrageous juxtapositions (Soviet marching troops representing opponents of ID), pussy-foots around religion (not a single identified believer among the ID people), segues between quotes that are not about the same thing, tells bald-faced lies, and makes a completely baseless association between freedom of speech and freedom to teach religion in a university class that is not about religion.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Rational Moms

Just a link for my few readers who are parents. Rational Moms is exactly what it sounds like. Moms talking about rational thought and how it relates to parenting.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sometimes, life is just awesome.



Proof of God's Benevolence:
No one had anything sharp or explosive.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Why atheists are mean and depressed.

Hold on, stick with me for a second.

I just got done reading this article on Slate and I thought it made some pretty good points. I don't know how mean and depressed I actually am, but they do quote some hard numbers and show some scientific results that indicate that atheists are more likely to be unhappy than the religious.

The religious like to say that this is because atheists have a god-shaped hole in our lives. Turns out, it's just because we don't go to church. We don't get that community that the religious have. The way to fix this, of course, is to find a community.

I might suggest a book club.

Personally, though, I think I'm doing just fine without a community. Though I've never given blood (mostly because I really dislike not having all my blood), I give to charities and the homeless whenever I can - which is pretty frequently. I might get lonely every now and again, but that has more to do with being a shy, single guy than it does with being an atheist. I'm not depressed. I'm not angry.

I might be mean. I don't know. Am I mean?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Not Good Enough

I'm happy with the results of the presidential election last night. America showed that most of us have moved past the bigotry of earlier generations against black people in our society.

We did, however, strongly affirm that we have not moved past all bigotry. In California, Proposition 8, an initiative to ban gay marriage in the state once again, passed by about 4%. The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization known for beginning the movement to add the phrase "Under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Mormon Church both donated millions of dollars to the campaign to once again breach the wall of separation between church and state and violate the rights of a reviled class of citizens.

In Arizona, Proposition 102 passed by 13%. Proposition 102 adds to Arizona's state constitution a definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. This follows a 2006 initiative, which was defeated, seeking to outlaw both marriage and civil unions for same sex couples. Apparently, my state believes in the separate but equal principle. I've read history, so I do not. Gay marriage was already illegal in Arizona, the fear was that the law could be challenged and struck down as unconstitutional by the courts. This was a preemptive movement to stop that from happening. It succeeded and set back the next great civil rights movement by years.

Amendment 2 in Florida passed with a 62% approval, two percent more than needed to clear the margin required to amend the state's constitution.

In Arkansas, a Initiative Act 1 was passed preventing unwed couples from adopting children. Same sex couples are unable to wed in Arkansas, but in this particular state they decided to alienate unwed straight couples as well. Regardless, the intent was to prevent gay couples from raising children. They have the gall to claim that it is about the welfare of the children, not the rights of adults. Nevermind that no study has ever indicated that being raised by a same sex couple is in any way harmful or inferior to a "traditional" childhood.

Gay marriage isn't like abortion. There is no argument to be made for banning it except on a religious basis. There can be no discussion that does not appeal to religion or tradition. Every one of these examples is a violation of your rights. Whether you are gay or straight, religious or not, you have an interest in maintaining a clear line of separation between church and state.

Last night was a good night. However, our nation is still not delivering on its promises. The next four to eight years might make our work easier, but do not let yourself be fooled into thinking that we don't still have a great deal of work to do.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Razor's Edge

Our planet orbits in what is called the Goldilocks Zone. It's called that because scientists have weird senses of humor. The idea is that the planet is not too hot and not too cold, but just right. The determining factor is whether the planet can have liquid water. From what we know, that is the primary requirement for life. No liquid water, no life.

Our planet also happens to have one moon to help stabilize its orbit, normalizing the climate to some degree. We have an asteroid belt that serves to shield us from many incoming, potentially damagings Rock Of Death From Outer Space.

There are a number of other factors that make our planet particularly suited to life. Some theists see this and say, "It can't be a coincidence that we just happen to show up on the one planet that has all this. We are balanced perfectly on the edge of a razor."

Well, no, not exactly.

This argument supposes that we were somehow destined for Earth, that life couldn't have appeared on another planet if it was equally suited. The argument seems to say that, were Mars equally suited to the genesis of life, it still would not have appeared there.

The entire suggestion puts the cart before the horse. It's like arguing that the shape of the Colorado River is proof of the existence of God, because it happens to fit perfectly into the Grand Canyon. If either the Grand Canyon or the Colorado River had a different shape, there would be constant flooding all through Northern Arizona. It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the mechanics behind the operation of water.

Life, with evolution and natural selection, is very much like water. It seeks a niche and continues to work at that niche until it dries up. If it doesn't dry up, it creates the Grand Canyon.

It's not a coincidence that the Colorado River happens to fit perfectly into the Grand Canyon, but nor is it proof of design. That's just how it works.

Also bear in mind that our planet has only been able to support life some of the time. It also isn't a coincidence that we happened to show up in that time. Nor is it proof of design.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Contempt For Science

Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just "people of faith" but theocratic bullies.


If you've been paying attention, I expect you will have no difficulty determining to whom this quote refers. If you know me, you can probably guess that it is by Christopher Hitchens.

I wanted to avoid being overtly political, because that is not this blog's subject. When politics cross with science and skepticism, however, it falls within my jurisdiction.

Firstly, the three million dollar overheard projector that McCain continually brings up is actually a star projector for a planetarium. You can't argue that we need more students entering scientific study and at the same time argue against the very things that inspire students to enter scientific study. That's not wasteful spending, that's investment.

Second, McCain likes to joke about the millions spent on research bear DNA, but if we can about preventing the species' extinction it's actually a pretty important matter.

Third, Palin made a joke about wasteful spending for fruit fly research. It's more important and useful than you might think. Fruit flies go through very quick generation cycles and have fairly high rates of mutation. For studies of DNA and evolution, they are excellent subjects. DNA studies are fairly important, as they give us things like flu vaccinations. You know, the kind that Jenny McCarthy says will give you autism.

Quite simply, this year isn't about political affiliations any longer. It's about fact versus rhetoric. It's science versus religion. Obama has time and again shown himself to be aware of even the nuances of the latest scientific information. Imagine that. A president who isn't hostile to scientific inquiry and will even adjust his policies to align with fact.

Friday, October 24, 2008

It Won't Stop.

Chances are that Barack Obama will win this election. That's fine by me, but a lot of people are very upset about this. Fortunately for some of these people, a number of them are very good at ignoring reality. Conspiracy theories about Barack Obama have proliferated on the Internet for a few months now, and this little article does a fantastic job of cataloging the most delusional.

I'll bet you didn't know that Obama's book, Dreams from My Father, was actually written by Bill Ayers and that Obama had a homosexual relationship with his father-figure "Frank" when he was 9 years old.

I assure you that these claims are all based on the soundest evidence. Go look for yourself.

Don't expect this sort of thing to end when the election season is over. The conspiracies will change from questionable history to questionable present as Obama takes the blame for every modern development. Even good results will be questioned as the insane, fringe conservatives imply that a devil's bargain was struck with the Illuminati, or terrorist cells, or potentially the actual devil. The Internet is a wonderful thing.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Blogger Harassed Into Anonymity

A mother, blogger and atheist, Possummomma was known for her popular blog "Atheist In A Minivan". Thanks to harassment from decent folk she closed down her blog. The stress of dealing with their harassment, both online and in real life, exacerbated the symptoms of her chronic disease. See the posted link for a more in-depth summary.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Friendly Atheists

This has been bugging me for a while, and it's something my own crowd is doing.

With greater frequency you see blogs springing up titled, in essence, "The Friendly Atheist". Often a synonym for friendly is used.

Look, your heart is in the right place, but you're not doing anyone any favors with a name like that. What do you think that says about the other atheists?

Let's compare. What are your reactions to the following fictional sites?

The Honest Republican
The Masculine Democrat
The Harmless African American
The Tolerant White Man
The Open-Minded Christian

All you're doing is taking a stereotype and reinforcing it by saying, "I'm the exception." Stop it. Most atheists are friendly. We're normal people.

We are perceived as unfriendly, or arrogant, because we ask uncomfortable questions. The questions themselves aren't that uncomfortable, but the answers that people know they have to give to be logically consistent are embarrassing. So, rather than recognize the belief for the silly thing it is, they assume criticism on our part and feel insulted.

The tone of the debate doesn't matter. You can do nothing but ask questions and still receive this reaction. That's a problem.

It's not because we're being mean.

Not always, anyway.

Monday, October 6, 2008

World Ending Tomorrow

Apparently, there's this thing called a Web Bot. This thing predicts the future by looking at web sites. It predicted a lot of things. Don't ask what those things are. I don't have to prove myself to you.

Yeah, it was important stuff. How important? Stuff like 9/11. Yeah, that's right. Bet you're sorry you questioned it now, huh?

Well, yes, of course it managed to predict that by scanning the web. It was in the collective unconcious, man. The collective unconcious knows its stuff.

Anyways, the collective unconcious, through the Web Bot, says something's going down tomorrow.

Something big.

Well, according to these guys it's going to be bigger than you can possibly imagine. Remember the first ten days after 9/11? Remember how you felt then? It's going to be like that, but it's going to last until late February.

Because the Web Bot says so, that's how I know!

So, anyways, when 10/8/08 rolls around expect to see headlines along the lines of:

GIANT SQUID DEVOURS NEW YORK

or

ATLANTIS INVADES JAPAN

or

LEX LUTHOR BLOWS CALIFORNIA INTO OCEAN USING PROPELLERS DISGUISED AS WINDMILLS, KILLS SUPERMAN, EXISTS

or

NANO-AIDS BOMB DETONATED AT 2ND PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE-
Palin Only Survivor With Inexplicable Immunity

Also, you should go to the grocery store right now and buy water. Lots of water. And medicine. And close all your bank accounts. Seriously, if you know how to survive in the wilderness you might just want to leave now to beat traffic.

Jesus Is Missing.


via videosift.com

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Court To Moron: "You're a moron."

They told him to shut up and go home.

You are probably aware that a lot of people who don't really know what they're talking about keep saying that the Large Hadron Collider is going to devour everything (literally - everything) in a black hole.

It was everywhere just a few weeks ago when they were getting ready to power up the LHC to test it. Even in the grocery store I heard people talking about it. I resisted the urge to yell at them. Barely.

Scientists have said a lot about this. For instance, that the LHC doesn't have nearly the amount of power to create a black hole. Even if it did, such a black hole would be incredibly unstable and instantaneously vanish in a puff of Hawking radiation. Even if all that didn't happen, it would be so small that our sun would have turned into a red giant and obliterated the solar system well before the black hole could devour a single gram of matter.

The probability of this being an actual threat has been compared to the probability of your car spontaneously turning into a horse due to random quantum fluctuations.

What the LHC is likely to do is answer a lot of our questions about physics, and it will lead to incredibly advances in our technology. The LHC puts out over a gigabyte of data per second. Scientists created a new thing called the Grid to deal with that. Wonder if that'll find its way into the world at large.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Thrice Raped

This post is outright political. I've tried my best to keep things at least related to skepticism in some way, like with my energy post debunking the lies about Obama's stance on energy, but this is just something that everyone needs to know.

We already know that, if Sarah Palin has her way, rape victims would be forced to carry the child of rape to term. One could certainly argue that this is like a second rape, one that continues for at least nine months and culminates in a supremely painful experience.

Now, this news story from the year 2000 shows that she continues to be a maverick in her attitude toward rape victims. In 2000, the Democratic governor of Alaska signed a bill ensuring that victims of rape would not be charged for the rape kit procedure. Most cities in Alaska already agreed with this, providing the service for free. One little hamlet was vocal in opposition to this.

I think you know where I'm going.

Yes, Wasilla, while Sarah Palin was mayor was the one town to object.

Imagine living in Sarah Palin's world. You can be raped, forced to pay over a thousand dollars for a chance to catch the offender, and then forced to carry the child to term. Maverick indeed.

Well Done

See if this rings a bell:

The theory of childhood, also known as child origin, is a damnable, loathsome and indefensible lie. How can any thinking person suppose all humans used to be babies once? There is no development path from babies to adults, no transitional forms between these two species. Show me even one baby with the head of a grown man on his body. Can you? No? Not even a bearded toddler? No adults with unfused skullbones, outside unfortunate disorders? Not even a tiny little newborn girl suddenly sprouting a respectable bosom? You can't find them, because they don't exist. There isn't a single transitional form between children and adults, and you will never find one because the theory simply is an unscientific lie.

The development of children has been well-researched in our six-month study following a sample of one thousand children and adults of various ages. We have conclusively proven that while there are minor changes in features like height and body fat, and replacement of deciduous teeth with permanent teeth, incontravertibly still every creature in the study that started out as a child had only slightly more adult features at the end of the observation period than at its beginning. Children and adults are separate kinds and there will never be sufficient changes to change one into the other. We reject any evidence from longer-term studies as we believe the laws of physics have changed within the last year.

To claim people come from children is demeaning and morally degrading. We have observed how children behave. If we acted like small children we'd all be demanding and impatient, and we'd be cheating, lying, and stealing from each other all the time. If the theory of childhood were true there would be no morality, and with no morality to build one on, no society. Childhood is a wicked lie used by charlatans to justify evils such as public schools.

There is no consensus on the theory of childhood in the scientific community. We should teach the controversy. Our children will be served well to learn that the prospect of them becoming adults is merely a theoretical idea. Many children come from families that do not subscribe to the theory of childhood, and they could be disturbed if the theory were taught as fact.

Energy

The harnessing of energy is one of the key problems facing the next administration, and there's been a lot of debate about it.

McCain says, for instance, that he'll allow domestic drilling for oil, encourage use of our natural gas supplies (insert joke about Republican party here), challenge automotive companies to make more efficient vehicles, all the while investing in clean coal, nuclear power, wind, solar, and hydro energy.

He's blasted Obama's policies on this, accusing the Democrat of relying on technologies that are years out of our reach and offering no solutions for now.

And that's true, as long as you base your opinion on Obama's energy plans entirely on assumption and ignore what he's said on it. He does accept some offshore drilling may be necessary to carry us through until we have sufficient technology to support ourselves.

Another complaint leveled towards Obama is the suggestion that he lacks specific plans. Science Debate 2008 was initially intended to be a live debate between the two candidates, but that never materialized. Instead, 14 questions were sent to the candidates. Both said they would answer them. The link above contains Obama's answers, but McCain has yet to send his in.

Here's his answer regarding energy:

America's challenges in providing secure, affordable energy while addressing climate change mean that we must make much more efficient use of energy and begin to rely on new energy sources that eliminate or greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. My programs focus both on a greatly expanded program of federally funded energy research and development and on policies designed to speed the adoption of innovative energy technologies and stimulate private innovation.

First, I have proposed programs that, taken together, will increase federal investment in the clean energy research, development, and deployment by $150 billion over ten years. This research will cover:

• Basic research to develop alternative fuels and chemicals;

• Equipment and designs that can greatly reduce energy use in residential and commercial buildings – both new and existing;

• New vehicle technologies capable of significantly reducing our oil consumption;

• Advanced energy storage and transmission that would greatly help the economics of new electric-generating technologies and plug-in hybrids;

• Technologies for capturing and sequestering greenhouse gases produced by coal plants; and

• A new generation of nuclear electric technologies that address cost, safety, waste disposal, and proliferation risks.


I will also work closely with utilities to introduce a digital smart grid that can optimize the overall efficiency of the nation's electric utility system, by managing demand and making effective use of renewable energy and energy storage.

Second, it is essential that we create a strong, predictable market for energy innovations with concrete goals that speed introduction of innovative products and provide a strong incentive for private R&D investment in energy technologies. These concrete goals include:

• Increasing new building efficiency by 50 percent and existing building efficiency by 25 percent over the next decade, and taking other steps that will reduce the energy intensity of our economy 50 percent by 2030;

• Increasing fuel economy standards 4 percent per year and providing loan guarantees for domestic auto plants and parts manufacturers to build new fuel- efficient cars domestically;

• Extending the Production Tax Credit for five years and creating a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard that will require that 10 percent of American electricity be derived from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025; and

• Ensuring that regulations and incentives in all federal agencies support the national energy and environmental goals in ways that encourage innovation and ingenuity.

I will also encourage communities around the nation to design and build sustainable communities that cut energy use with walkable community designs and expanded investment in mass transit.

How much more specific does he have to get?

The fact is, Obama has time after time shown that he understands current scientific issues. Whenever confronted with these questions, he always gives the right answer. He is remarkably informed on the matter in a time when most politicians aren't.

As for McCain, he still hasn't answered. It's hard to gauge his opinion on any of these questions. All we do know is that his VP thinks we should teach the Adam and Eve theory of life in schools.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Good Point

McCain's VP pick answered a questionnaire during her gubernatorial campaign in Alaska. You can find the whole thing here.

One of her answers was of particular interest to me.

11. Are you offended by the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?

SP: Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.

Interesting that she chose to phrase it that way.

The founding fathers didn't have a Pledge of Allegiance. It was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, who was a Baptist minister. Incredibly enough, it didn't say anything about God in its first draft. The "under God" bit was added in 1954 after several failed attempts to get it in earlier.

God, in fact, is very specifically not mentioned in the Constitution and it's very unlikely that, had the founding fathers been around when the Pledge was created, that they would have added "under God" on their own.

So I suppose the question to ask her, when she mentions the founding fathers in defense of our altered Pledge of Allegiance, is what, exactly, she's talking about. The fact is, they really have nothing to do with anything.

The entire argument is simple enough. Would it be acceptable to these people to have "under no God" in the Pledge if the majority of the nation was composed of atheists? An answer in the negative is bigoted, an answer in the affirmative shows a very strange interpretation of truth and the role of the majority government.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Genius

Just a quick plug for this site, The Brick Testament. It's the Bible illustrated with Legos. It's at least as fantastic as it sounds.

Duck And Cover

Monday, August 25, 2008

Death

An unavoidable side-effect of atheism is lack of belief in an afterlife. There exists no scientific reason to believe that any shred of self-awareness or thought remains of us after death. This is what scares so many people away from atheism. They don't want to die. Not for real.

I don't exactly want to die either, but I no longer fear my own death. I fear the pain that may lead to death, I am saddened at the thought of the pain that my loved ones might suffer because of my death, but the thought of death itself is simultaneously a comfort and a motivator for me.

I like living in a universe where the only constant is change. I like knowing that everything dies eventually. No matter how messed up things get, it's only temporary. Everything changes. Everything dies. Once I learned to accept that concept instead of struggling against it, I found it oddly soothing. My own insignificance and transience reminds me to just live and experience life in the best way I know.

At the same time, it motivates me to do it. I'm on the clock, as it were. There is no Heaven where I'll see all of my dreams come true. If I want them to come true, I have to make it happen. And I have to make it happen sooner rather than later.

But my own paltry offerings aside, some other thinkers have given us excellent perspectives on death in a godless universe.

Dale McGowen, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, tells the story of explaining death to his children. He does a fine job, using terms they understand to express a quote attributed to Mark Twain: "I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it."

George Hrab wrote a song about it when his dog died. His sentiment was that, even though he felt immense pain and sorrow at the loss of his friend, he was thankful that his friend would be spared that same pain and sorrow. His dog would never miss him the way he missed his dog. Often, a husband or wife will wish for their own death before that of their spouse in fear of their own weakness in the aftermath. This is the reverse of that, taking the burden of surviving from the loved one as an act of true and noble affection.

Death causes pain, without question. At times, it seems unfair that we are denied eternity. The fact is, though, that we are mortal. No matter how deeply we feel that pain, there are honest consolations for a rational mind to help soothe the grief. We needn't lie, even to children. Over time, one's own death seems almost inconsequential compared to the death of loved ones. Greater love hath no man.

The Strange Case Of Rev. Samuel Krouse

You can read the story over at Friendly Atheist.

The extremely short version is that this Reverend has taken stock of the "New Atheist" movement and analyzed it pretty honestly.

He acknowledges that intellectuals are far more likely to be atheists, that atheists are very knowledgeable about religion and are completely aware of what they've rejected and, most importantly, he agrees with Sam Harris in saying that there's really no good reason to believe anything but Biblical Literalism or Atheism. I think there are one too many options in that last bit, but it's not my opinion we're talking about.

The confusing part is that he has seen atheism for what it really is, he seems to understand it, and he seems to laud all of its strengths... but he's still a pastor. He seems determined to fight against this movement with everything he has. It's another example of fighting against the evidence to preserve one's existing beliefs, taken to a very strange place.

That said, it's refreshing to see an honest attempt at rational thought from the other side. Perhaps we could even have an honest debate between intelligent people. I don't agree with his conclusions, of course, but the Reverend does deserve some applause for stepping outside the party line. I hope to hear more from him.

For a more in-depth analysis of each of the Reverend's points, visit the Black Sun Journal.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Captain Disillusion

I realize that this can sometimes be a very negative blog. So, in an effort to make it a little brighter around here, I wanted to share this with you all. I hope it makes you smile.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cat And Dogs Living Together

Chances are, if you're here, you support the right of gays and lesbians to marry. I do, too.

But let's talk about this a little bit.

What is the logic that leads us to the conclusion that they should be married? We can figure that out by trying to draw some parallel examples.

One example that the bigoted like to use against these rights is the suggestion of bestiality. Calling those who suggest this as a parallel example "bigoted" is, I think, very accurate. One creature is capable of reflective and abstract thought, the other isn't. That is, of course, assuming that the bigots do believe gay people are capable of thought on the level of ordinary people.

A comedian, whose name I'm sad to say I cannot remember, made an interesting observation on this subject.
They like to say that next people will want to marry box turtles. I'm a vegetarian. By that logic, I can say that you all are only one step away from eating gay people.

So, obviously, the animal comparison is right out.

That said, there are other taboos on marriage. We don't tolerate polygamy. We don't tolerate incest. How do we differentiate these?

Incest is a tough one. Assuming that both of the participants are consenting adults, how do we say that they have no right to be together? Certainly, they risk genetic abnormalities with their children. However, gay couples can have no children. The production of children isn't the purpose of marriage. It's neither necessary to it, nor sufficient for it.

This is the toughest one for me, because I do feel that it is rightly illegal but I cannot explain why. Perhaps my feelings on it are simply a matter of societal conditioning. Osiris and Zeus married their sisters. Without the assumption of harm to potential children, whose conception cannot really be linked with the marriage in question, there is no victim.

Polygamy I find less challenging. It should be legal.

Before you disagree with me, consider that every negative thing we associate with polygamy is wrong on its own grounds. Marriage to a minor, for instance, we find just as repugnant in monogamy. A forty-year-old married to a fifteen-year-old is disgusting whether or not he has another wife. We can make that illegal by itself, with no need to stigmatize polygamy with it.

Often, polygamy is associated with arranged marriages. Women are assigned to a husband and expected to serve him. This is wrong, because it is a violation of the woman's rights. But, again, it is still wrong in a monogamous example. We can make arranged marriages illegal, though such a law is perhaps unenforceable when the victims refuse to believe that their rights have been violated.

There is nothing inherent in polygamy to suggest that it values men any more than women. Simply because we never hear stories about a woman choosing to have three husbands does not mean it does not and could not happen. That it always seems to be a man with many wives is just a reflection of the gender bias that still runs through our world's societies. Nothing about polygamy is sexist unless sexism is forced onto the topic.

Separating polygamy from its unsavory associations, it makes more sense. Adultery is not illegal. We do not demand fidelity as a society. Orgies are even legal. In our society, people are free to love as many people as they will. Polyamorous individuals become more common as people start to question the validity of the "mate for life" tradition. There is no reason that any consenting adult should be forbidden to marry as many other consenting adults as he or she wishes. There is nothing to force a spouse to stay in a polygamous relationship if that is no longer what that individual desires. There is no harm and no victim.

That said, I still think the vast majority of us prefer monogamy. I believe, very fiercely, in fidelity to one person. But that doesn't mean that everyone has to live the same way. I have no reason to believe that my way of life is any more justified or reasonable than the above examples.

We may look askance at polyamorous groups and have our doubts about the nature of their relationship. We may look at an incestuous couple and privately feel disgusted.

But then, that's exactly how the bigots feel about homosexuals. Maybe we still have some tolerance to learn.

Lucky for me, I'm planning to die alone so none of the above is really my problem.

Good Ol' Texas

If you live in Texas, you should probably join a church as soon as you can. After you've done this, feel free to break any laws you want. That is, as long as you can say you broke them religiously.

That's the logic behind this case that recently regained some publicity.

Here's the short version. This 17-year-old girl was a member of this church. She was acting weird one day, so they tied her up and beat her while she begged them to stop. They held her captive for two days. They called it an exorcism.

After the event, she dropped out of school. She tried to slit her wrists.

Now, twelve years later, the Supreme Court of Texas is saying that they can't do anything for her. It's a First Amendment issue, can't interfere in the practice of religion.

You wonder how these people sleep at night.

If a crime is committed, the religious reason doesn't matter. At no time or place in our society should religion supersede the law or government. You aren't allowed to beat someone when they don't want to be beaten, especially not a child. You aren't allowed to hold someone prisoner for two days if they don't want to be held, especially not a child. Religious law is supposed to be the lowest authority in the land.

The court claims that they can't do anything because the harm inflicted was emotional, not physical. So it stands to reason, then, that as long as you keep someone in reasonable health, you can imprison them indefinitely in your church. As long as you're convinced that you're helping and you don't cause any physical harm (except for bruises, which the young lady suffered from being pummeled by church members), the Supreme Court of Texas has your back.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Grand Wheatgrass Finale

I'm tired of it, you're tired of it, but I'm too stubborn to quit, so here we go. The remaining lies.

26 Drink Wheatgrass Juice for skin problems such as eczema or psoriasis.

Lotion does it better.

27 Wheatgrass Juice keeps the hair from graying.

Dye does it better.

28 Pyorrhea of the mouth: lay pulp of wheatgrass soaked in juice on diseased area in mouth or chew wheatgrass, spitting out the pulp.

I think the people who wrote this have pyorrhea of the mouth. Wrong -rrhea, I know, but work with me here.

29 By taking Wheatgrass Juice, one may feel a difference in strength, endurance, health, and spirituality, and experience a sense of well-being.

Or one may not. In fact, probably will not. One is more likely to feel a shudder of disgust as one tries to gulp that garbage down.

30 Wheatgrass juice improves the digestion.

Uh. How?

31 Wheatgrass juice is high in enzymes.

Enzymes. They're what plants crave.

32 Wheatgrass juice is an excellent skin cleanser and can be absorbed through the skin for nutrition. Pour green juice over your body in a tub of warm water and soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse off with cold water.

Nope, I didn't make this one up. They're seriously suggesting that you bathe in wheatgrass juice. Personally, I'd recommend water and soap. I hear those are great at cleaning skin.

33 Wheatgrass implants (enemas) are great for healing and detoxifying the colon walls. The implants also heal and cleanse the internal organs. After an enema, wait 20 minutes, then implant 4 ounces of wheatgrass juice. Retain for 20 minutes.

I promise I'm not making these up. They really did tell you to hold 4 ounces of wheatgrass up your ass for 20 minutes.

34 Wheatgrass juice is great for constipation and keeping the bowels open. It is high in magnesium.

Sometimes, you want the bowels shut. It's hard to hold down a job with permanently open bowels. That said, you can probably nail two birds with one stone and just solve this problem with one of those wheatgrass enemas!

35 Dr. Birscher, a research scientist, called chlorophyll "concentrated sun power." He said, "chlorophyll increases the function of the heart, affects the vascular system, the intestines, the uterus, and the lungs."

Do a Google search for Dr. Birscher and count how many times that sentence, slightly mutated, appears. Check out the article about his findings written by... Dr. Ann Wigmore! I remember her! Wow, this is awesome. She's quoting the Bible to prove how healthy wheatgrass is. Truly scientific.

36 According to Dr. Birscher, nature uses chlorophyll (wheatgrass) as a body cleanser, rebuilder, and neutralizer of toxins.

Your body uses protein (BigMacs) to rebuild muscle! See what I did there? (Of course, my initial statement was actually true.)

37 Wheatgrass juice can dissolve the scars that are formed in the lungs from breathing acid gasses. The effect of carbon monoxide is minimized since chlorophyll increases hemoglobin production.

First of all, they misspelled gases. Second, is there any real indication that chlorophyll increases hemoglobin production? I see lots of talk about one having to do with the other, but it ranges from this to the molecules simply resembling each other.

38 Wheatgrass Juice reduces high blood pressure and enhances the capillaries.

It enhances the capillaries? What does that mean? Do they become admillaries? (Captain... Admiral... give me a break, I'm sick of this subject.)

39 Wheatgrass Juice can remove heavy metals from the body.




















Immortal challenges that assertion. Be careful, they have weapons and look like scary pandas.

40 Wheatgrass juice is great for blood disorders of all kinds.

Sufferers of everything from anemia to AIDS will be thrilled.

Done! Next subject: 75 facts about astrology.

Consider yourselves lucky I didn't pick the list that suggested douching with wheatgrass.

Seriously.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Why Am I Being So Hard On Wheatgrass?

I just got this comment in my last post on the subject. I've provided a handy link to a website called "What's The Harm?" that will show you why I care about this stuff.

However, in an effort to get this horse to drink some water, I guess I'll have to do more than just lead it to the lake. Consider this the metaphorical equivalent of holding water to the horse's mouth:

The 13-year-old, the youngest of four children, has a genetic disease that interferes with her kidneys and breathing. Two of her brothers also have the condition, which has only been documented 39 times in the past 50 years.

She was taken from her mother by a youth court judge in February because her mother had placed her on a regime of wheat-grass juice and raw foods and was withholding a medication. Judge Judith Landry found that the mother had watched her daughter's health deteriorate over a period of months and ruled that custody be temporarily transferred to the teen's father.

I'm hard on wheatgrass because it leads to situations exactly like this. People think they can use this snake oil instead of real medicine and it causes harm and death. If you want to do shots of wheatgrass that's your business, but stop telling people that it does anything except provide a fraction of the nutrition of a spinach salad until you can prove otherwise.

And on the subject of raw food...

Natural Selection

I had a conversation with a friend last night about religion, and he asked me why it is that the prominent religions seem to be based on the idea of wiping out any other religions.

We can't ever know for sure, but natural selection certainly seems like a plausible reason. Richard Dawkins has suggested that memes follow a similar pattern to genes in this respect.

When one religion preaches passivity and tells its followers not to evangelize it will eventually die out as its followers are killed by more aggressive religions. Its culture is soon wiped out in favor of the religion "designed" with multiplication in mind- specifically, the religion that says to kill the infidels and to convert unbelievers.

It helps, of course, if your holy text can be interpreted to say both. That way you can multiply at the expense of others while still managing to avoid being perceived as a threat.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

YET MORE WHEATGRASS

Oh my god, it keeps going.

21 Wheatgrass Juice cures acne and even help to remove scars after it has been ingested for seven to eight months. The diet must be improved at the same time.

Okay, so wheatgrass causes this effect as long as you do this other action that is known to cause the same effect. Hey, if you buy my lucky pennies you are guaranteed to win the lottery. You must have a winning lottery ticket for them to work.

22 Wheatgrass juice acts as a detergent in the body and is used as a body deodorant.

If you like smelling like mud, I suppose. Hippies. And again, they're harping on this detoxification thing. Detoxification is a myth. You don't need it. It doesn't fix or improve anything and it costs you money. Give me money if you want to be rid of it so badly. I'm at least honest.

23 A small amount of wheatgrass juice in the human diet helps prevents tooth decay.

There's that word again. "Helps". You kind get the feeling it helps like a three year old helps his dad fix a car.

24 Wheatgrass juice held in the mouth for 5 minutes will help eliminate toothaches. It pulls poisons from the gums.

GOOD LORD YOU HAVE POISON IN YOUR GUMS, RUN! Come on, seriously? What poison? Name it. Again, note the use of the word "help". One begins to wonder why, if this stuff cures toothaches, acne and parasitic vaginal infections, on top of granting immortality to rabbits, we don't bathe in it daily. Which is more likely: that there's a vast conspiracy of evil doctors desperately trying to hide this elixir of life from us in protection of their own pocketbooks, or that this stuff really doesn't do anything?

25 Gargle Wheatgrass Juice for a sore throat.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that would give me a sore throat. That stuff is nasty.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Stubborn

Oh man, I can't believe I let this thing sit here this long. I'm a horrible blogger.

Today I wanted to talk about a complaint I've seen a lot lately. That is the idea that atheists stubbornly ignore evidence for God.

The suggestion is ridiculous.

When you present evidence for God, we consider it. If it is found erroneous, we discard it. That's not us being stubborn, that's adherence to the facts. If you perhaps presented evidence that withstood the rigors of inquiry, we'd accept it.

Let me present the argument in another one.

Person 1: Y because Z.
Person 2: No, Y doesn't necessarily follow from Z and Z is only half true to begin with.
Person 1: No, Y because of Z. Why can't you accept that?

Who's being stubborn?

If you want to say you have legitimate evidence for God, it has to withstand inquiry. If you can't come up with a response for our criticisms, perhaps that indicates a problem with your assertion.

Truth has nothing to fear from inquiry.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Wheatgrass Part 4

This is when you start to notice one of the tactics that conspiracy theorists and psuedoscientists like to use. They overwhelm you with information. There's so much of it that you don't even want to begin to take the time to take it apart. Unfortunately, I'm just that stubborn.

16 Liquid chlorophyll washes drug deposits from the body.

Your body does that on its own.

17 Chlorophyll neutralizes toxins in the body.

Your liver does that.

18 Chlorophyll helps purify the liver.

Watch for those words that allow them wiggle room. It "helps" purify the liver? How does it "help"? On its own, will it purify the liver? Probably not, or they wouldn't have avoided saying it. Chances are, it doesn't do anything for your liver.

19 Chlorophyll improves blood sugar problems.

Improves them how? Does it raise your blood sugar or lower it? I'm pretty sure it has to do one or the other and can't do both.

20 In the American Journal of Surgery (1940), Benjamin Gruskin, M.D. recommends chlorophyll for its antiseptic benefits. The article suggests the following clinical uses for chlorophyll: to clear up foul smelling odors, neutralize Strep infections, heal wounds, hasten skin grafting, cure chronic sinusitis, overcome chronic inner-ear inflammation and infection, reduce varicose veins and heal leg ulcers, eliminate impetigo and other scabby eruptions, heal rectal sores, successfully treat inflammation of the uterine cervix, get rid of parasitic vaginal infections, reduce typhoid fever, and cure advanced pyorrhea in many cases.

Wow, that's a big one. Let's see what we can find about it. Here is a Time Magazine article about this research in which we learn that:

Dr. Gruskin is not sure how chlorophyll works.

Maybe it's a good idea to ask why they're quoting an incomplete study from 1940. Surely a more complete, recent study proved the results more effectively.

Or maybe not.

Wait, parasitic vaginal infections?! Holy crap! Seriously, I don't know how you women live with those things, but you're doing a yeoman's work.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Catastrophic Cracker Kerfuffle!

According to The Skeptics' Guide Rogues, the aforementioned Cracker Wars have officially upgraded to a Cracker Kerfuffle!

What a great word.

The specifics of some of the death threats being sent have come to light and they're just too amusing to not share.

This email was sent to PZ Myers, among many others, and PZ followed his policy regarding letters that threaten violence. Specifically, he posts them with all the identifying information attached. He even has a little item on his front page announcing this.

I do my best to avoid swearing here, but I won't censor anyone else's choice of language. All errors are the author's:

Subject: your short life

Paul,

what I would like to know is how did you even
get a job at a collage.

when you are obviously a moron.
How would you feel if nice folks starting ranting against
Fags, and atheist like yourself.

well sir, you don't get to blaspheme and walk away from this.
You have two choices my fucked up friend, first you can quit your job for the good of the
children. Or you can get your brains beat in.

I give you till the first of the month, get that resignation in cunt


What's interesting about this email is that it came from an address at 1800flowers.com. As it turns out, 1800flowers doesn't appreciate people sending threats from their computers. The owner of the email address was fired.

Unfortunately, the lady who owned the email address is not the psychopath threatening violence over a glorified saltine. No, she's just married to him.

For how much longer remains to be seen.

... I wish I had a job at a collage. It sounds colorful.

Convince Me

It's often said that an unfalsifiable theory is a useless theory. The best way, in my mind, to determine whether a theory is falsifiable or not is to ask what sort of evidence would convince its believers to change their minds.

I can conceive of no evidence to show that God does not exist. God is unfalsifiable. I can't disprove God, and that's its biggest weakness.

My beliefs, on the other hand, are falsifiable and I'll explain how.

All of the following must stand up to scrutiny in order to prove that a "natural" explanation is not plausible or possible.

If two civilizations with no contact (first, second, third or whatever hand) managed to produce identical holy texts of such length that happenstance would be impossible, that would be significant evidence to contradict my belief that there is no contact between mortals and the divine.

If any holy text produced knowledge that was beyond the possible understanding of the mortal authors, that would also be relatively convincing. For instance, if the Bible made mention of Strangelets, that would certainly shake me. As it is, the Bible gets the measurement π wrong. That sounds a lot more like a bunch of guys in the desert making their best guesses than it does the creator of the universe.

One thing that holy texts like to use is prophecy, and a legitimate prophecy would indeed convince me. Unfortunately, it needs to be very specific and verified. They aren't very good at that. I won't be convinced by the first part of the book making a prophecy about the second part of the book. That's called foreshadowing. Most books have it.
In all seriousness, let's say I wrote the first half of a fictional series with significant statements and foreshadowing about the second half of the series. I die and a fan of the series takes over. How likely is it for the new author to make sure the promises of the first half come true?
I will also require a 100% accuracy rate. I think that's fair to ask of omniscience.

Finding a ghost would be a significant step toward proving the existence of God. If we could find a ghost, a real ghost, we can learn about it. If it is visible, then it interacts with light and can be measured. If it makes sound, then its movement causes vibrations and can be measured. If it can be felt, you get the point. If we can measure the essence of a ghost, we can determine what, exactly, it is. If the ghost retains any intelligence, that is proof of an afterlife. If the same "ghost substance" can be discovered and measured in humans, that is proof of a soul.

If the claims of the religious are true, at least one of these should be producible. Please inform me if any of these happen. Once again, they must all stand up to intense scrutiny. If they are legitimate, they will only be reinforced by the effort.

The Correct Answer Is C

A friend sent me this article over on Slate.

The short version is that a multiple choice test in Saudi Arabia contains the following question:
Q. Is belief true in the following instances:
a) A man prays but hates those who are virtuous.
b) A man professes that there is no deity other than God but loves the unbelievers.
c) A man worships God alone, loves the believers, and hates the unbelievers.

Pencils down.

Offensive

I recently mentioned that I disapprove of going into churches with the intent of stealing Jesus' cracker-bound form. I wanted to clarify that the reason I disapprove is not out of respect for the ritual or the cracker itself, but out of politeness. Simply, you don't crash a party just because you can.

However, if they were handing out Nabisco Nazarene Nibblets on the streets, there'd be nothing wrong with tossing it in the trash. Personally, I'd probably try to feed it to birds so they become attracted to the spot and drive off the missionaries, but trash is acceptable.

That said, sometimes a group needs to be intentionally offended. This is sometimes the only recourse to force someone to either amend their beliefs to cope with society or appear and feel completely absurd. As has been said, sometimes the only effective response is ridicule.

So perhaps, in this case, a little Grand Theft Deity is called for.

In this debacle, I've noticed a huge number of Catholics and other Christians claiming that we wouldn't dare mock Muslims so openly for fear of violence. I fail to see what that red herring has to do with what's going on currently, but I suppose I can spare a bloodhound for that as well:






















Okay, get offended.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Atheist Blogroll

I've been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

In other news, I just learned that there's such a thing as a "blogroll". I'm good at this.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Cracker Wars

For those who are not aware, a cracker has been stolen.

To sane people, this may not seem like a big deal. Apparently, it is. This kid, Webster Cook, is receiving death threats over this. A lot of them. So is PZ Myers for supporting him.

I don't expect to receive death threats for a few reasons. Primarily, I'm not popular. Secondly, though, is that I actually do not support this kid.

The death threats are ridiculous and those people do need to be smacked. However, this was fairly disrespectful and rude. This is an attempt to irritate Catholics just for the sake of irritating them to show that we can. I do believe that, within the privacy of their churches, they have a right to practice their goofy little rituals undisturbed. That means that we unbelievers should stay out of their business and not try to do things like steal their Christ Chex and swapping out their communion wine for pig's blood.

This may separate me from some of the other atheist groups, who are suggesting that more people go through steps to steal The Holy Ritz. Most of them are specifically stating that they don't want church services disturbed, stating that subtlety is the first priority in these games, but I think the whole practice is really unnecessary.

While, yes, we do need to inform morons like Bill Donohue that he doesn't get to have people fired to supporting the theft of crackers, we don't need to go out of our way to mock the stupid things people do in private. What concerns us is the influence they have on the rest of society. They can privately cannibalize all the crackers they want for all I care.

Of course, when someone says something like this about it:
"It is hurtful. Imagine if they kidnapped somebody and you make a plea for that individual to please return that loved one to the family." -Father Miguel Gonzalez

Well, that does sort of give me that old cracker-thievery urge. Some people need a serious, serious reality check.

And it does make me wonder why, if stealing the cracker is kidnapping, eating it isn't murder. One might suspect that, given enough Sun(ofGod)Chips, you could rebuild the Messiah. Maybe that's why he hasn't shown up for that Second Coming yet.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Demanding Evidence

Freedom fighter PZ Meyers debated some theists recently. They tried to come at him with this idea that there is no empirical evidence for love, in an attempt to deflate his argument that belief in God is unjustified due to a lack of evidence.

He defended himself pretty well, pointing out that we witness empirical evidence of love every day. I just wanted to expand on his point.

We can imagine a world without love. We see examples of a loveless society in novels like Brave New World. It's a world significantly different from our own.

Now, close your eyes. Wait, open them. You'll need those to read this. But do whatever you need to do, aside from closing your eyes, that helps you imagine. Think about a world, or universe, without God. Think of the development of the universe and life on our planet as a combination of unlikely events, rather than the designed directive of a creative force.

How different is your world from the one in which we live?

In my mind, it's not different at all. That's the difference between needing evidence for love and evidence for God. The fact is that our world very much resembles a world without any interfering or creative God. Occam's Razor demands we avoid needlessly complicating the equation.

Arrogance

While researching something else, I stumbled on this quote by Stephen Jay Gould:

The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.

Absolutely. We are not the limit of the universe. We are not the center of the universe. Our solar system is not the center of the universe, or even our galaxy. How much further do we have to go, do you suppose, before we decide as a world that the universe was probably not designed for us?

Wheatgrass Part 3

I've been neglecting this blog and this feature, which is a shame because the best part is coming up.

On to the "facts"!

11 Chlorophyll can be extracted from many plants, but wheatgrass is superior because it has been found to have over 100 elements needed by man. If grown in organic soil, it absorbs 92 of the known 102 minerals from the soil.

Fantastic! Did we establish that chlorophyll is good, yet? I don't remember. Also, how much of those elements and minerals does it have? Is it enough to matter? Does it have 100 elements needed by man like a Snickers bar has protein?

12 Wheatgrass has what is called the grass-juice factor, which has been shown to keep herbivorous animals alive indefinitely.

You heard it here first! IMMORTAL RABBITS.


















Wish I believed in God, because I have a sudden urge to start praying.

13 Dr. Ann Wigmore and institutes based on her teachings has been helping people get well from chronic disorders for 30 years using wheatgrass.

First of all, your verb should be plural. Dr. Wigmore and institutes HAVE been helping. Secondly, who is this Dr. Ann Wigmore? Well, let's take a look. Oh, this is good. Dr. Ann Wigmore's studied for years to become a qualified professional holding a PhD in...



Divinity!

I wonder what her thesis was about.

14 Liquid chlorophyll gets into the tissues, refines them and makes them over.

So chlorophyll is like a deep tissue massage? Don't let the Swedes find out about this, their whole economy could collapse!

15 Wheatgrass Juice is a superior detoxification agent compared to carrot juice and other fruits and vegetables. Dr Earp-Thomas, associate of Ann Wigmore, says that 15 pounds of Wheatgrass is the equivalent of 350 pounds of carrot, lettuce, celery, and so forth.

And so forth? So, what, tomatoes? Broccoli? Spinach? Well, it doesn't matter anyways, because that's completely wrong. It's difficult to find information on Dr. Earp-Thomas, he doesn't show up on Wikipedia. All I could find was remarkably professional page that clearly isn't run by a crazy person with a very basic knowledge of HTML. What I just did there was a logical fallacy, but in this case I'm going to cut myself some slack.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hostility

Atheists are often accused of being hostile to religion and believers. Why do we think it's out place to destroy the belief systems of others? Why can't we just live and let live?

Well, most of us do. I suppose the existence of this blog could be convincing evidence that I, personally, don't, but there's a reason for that.

Religious people often forget that they worship a book that set the tone of hostility thousands of years ago.

1 The fool says in his heart,
"There is no God."
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.
Psalm 14


Those servants of His who refuse to believe in the soon-coming King, and live a wanton life, will be cut asunder, and punished as unbelievers. Luke 12:45-48


To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. Titus 1:15


Or thinkest thou that most of them listen or understand? They are only like cattle;- nay, they are worse astray in Path. Qu'ran 25:44


That's leaving out the lake of fire.

"You started it," may not work with parents, but it clearly explains the tone of the argument. You worship as divine truth a book that specifically insults me. It's only now that atheists have developed some teeth that you're feeling the hostility that's been around for millennia.

You don't get to hail Mein Kampf as a work of genius without angering Jews, and rightfully so. You don't even get to say, "You know, the Ku Klux Klan isn't all bad." without getting black people on your case, again rightfully so. The book that you claim is the True And Holy Word Of The Lord God Creator is deeply offensive. Get used to the hostility or find a new book.

I recommend De Rerum Natura by Lucretius.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Untouchable

Caste systems, it's generally accepted, are wrong. The reasoning behind this is simple enough: you're born into servitude with no chance social movement. You are born, essentially, in debt to a higher class. In free nations, we find the very idea of this abhorrent.

We believe, rightly so, that each person should be judged by his or her own thoughts and actions, not the circumstances of his or her birth.

That is, except religious people. They claim to support the ideals of equality, and they even live it, but according to their theology we are all members of a caste inferior to God. Born in debt to him because of the actions of ancestors so far removed that there's no hope of piecing together the genealogy, we are locked in our inferior, servile positions for not just life, but all eternity.

According to them, we are a world full of Untouchables, forever undeserving of love or respect but receiving despite our flaws because of the infinite benevolence of our loving, superior emperor.

It's truly amazing that America is one of the most religious nations in the world, given how the core concepts of religion are so incredibly un-American.

Why would we ever want to submit ourselves to a life like this?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Pascal's Wager

I recently saw this comment on another blog:
I am a pastor. I worked hard towards it and take it seriously. By the way I had to look Pascal's Wager up. That is what I was saying but I never read it before.

Forgive me, but at what point did it become acceptable for professional theists to be ignorant of the absolute basics of theology?

How can I possibly believe that you "worked hard" and "take it seriously" when you skipped over an argument you should have learned in Philosophy 101?

For those who don't know, Pascal's Wager is a very simple argument for belief in God. I specify that it's an argument for belief in God, rather than an argument for the existence of God, because it never actually says anything about whether God exists or not. It's important to separate the two, as theists so often enjoy confusing them. I believe the strategy there is to muddle the line between fact and opinion, because they can't win with facts alone.

Pascal's Wager, essentially, states that God either exists or does not. Each of those conditions has two possible outcomes.

If God does not exist and you did not believe he existed, you die and receive no reward.
If God does not exist and you did believe he existed, you die and receive no reward.

If God does exist and you did not believe he existed, you die and receive eternal torment.
If God does exist and you did believe he existed, you die and receive an eternity in Paradise.

Therefore, you might as well believe in God. What do you have to lose?

The false assumptions this argument makes are as follows:
Belief in God is something you can change at will because it suits you.
If you believe in God, you believe in the right God. One thing gods tend to be is jealous, so choose well.
A life lived in fear of God's punishment is equal to a life lived freely.
God is appeased by self-serving belief, for fear of punishment.

There. Now you know more about basic theology than a pastor.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Solipsism

I'm going to make an effort to make my posts much shorter, so that people can actually read them.

Theists often like to claim that atheists believe in nothing greater than themselves. I believe in many things greater than myself, I simply do not believe that they care about me.

I will go on record right now saying that I am not entirely certain that there is no God, though I'm fairly confident that is the case. I am absolutely sure that no being who created a universe as massive and vast as ours cares one bit what I do and what I believe.

It appears, from observing the rest of this truly awesome (like red and yellow socks) place that, if there was a Creator, it didn't exactly design around us. We clawed our way into life and consciousness on a tiny planet that can sometimes support life on some of its surface, warmed by a tiny star, in a tiny galaxy hidden away in a corner of the universe.

That's the miracle.