Sunday, July 05, 2015

Capturing Miracles

Recent post from Friendly Athiest...

I think this article really cuts to the heart of the difference between healthy skepticism and blind belief. The World Religion News assumes that miracles MUST be happening so just go out there and use social media to capture them. What would this even look like? How do you show/capture that something happened miraculously?

Miracles you hear about:

Face of Jesus or Mary (sorry Joseph) appearing in toast, tree roots, pizza, etc.

One time in Chicago a stain appeared on the side of an underpass on the Kennedy Expressway that looked like the Virgin Mary. It was a fucking stain! Sure enough people started bringing candles, building a makeshift shrine,  and praying to the stain.

This is a well known phenomena: Pareidolia. We are wired to look for people. We naturally see faces where there are none. I always find it interesting that the images of these holy people are recognized even though no one actually knows or had recorded what they looked like. How sad if the real image of Jesus was popping up on toast the taco shells all over the world but no one recognized the short bald Jewish guy!

Someone recovers from a serious illness. It was a miracle. 

The theist attributes an unexplained event as miraculous. The skeptic says, not explained yet. The lack of an instant logical explanation does not then automatically point to the divine. Sometimes people do just get better. However as  Hemant points out, no one has yet grown back a limb or had a tumor magically disappear.

Escape from a disaster

This one should really piss more people off. A tornado goes ripping through a town leveling houses and killing numerous people. But not all. A survivor staggers out of his crawl space with neighbors houses flattened all around him. He looks around and says, "Well I guess God was just watching over us". Asshole. What about your dead neighbor? Are you so pathetic that you have to look at your survival as evidence that somehow you are more special than your dead neighbor?

Why is it so hard to understand that the highly random violence of a tornado is going to kill some and leave some alive. Period. No miracle is needed to explain what you are seeing.

An expert does what they are trained to do and it is called a miracle.

"Miracle on the Hudson".  Sullenberger actually trained hours for just such a landing on water. He knew the key was keeping the wing tips out of the water and did just that. I think the fact that some would call this expert performance a miracle because they are not expert at anything. They can't understand what it means to dig in and really master something. When you keep explaining the world by saying a miracle happened you just show your lazy thinking. This turns another way. Feeling so inept and then covering that with a blanket of theism forces a whole group of people to even deny that a really clever thing happened. Namely, the moon landings. The fact that people got together to be THAT clever is upsetting to the uneducated believer so deny, deny, deny.(1)

The whole thing about looking for miracles, ghosts, Big Foot,  or the Bermuda fucking Triangle is that they all represent a-priori thinking. That is, one assumes that there are (ghosts, miracles, etc) up front and then sets out to find them and find them you will because you already assume that they exist. A track in the mud - could be Big Foot. A bump in the night - could be a ghost. This is the opposite of skeptical thinking where you have no reason to assume that a thing exists until evidence presents itself. A bump in the night - Let me list all the things it could be... If it turns out that a phenomena can have several logical explanations and one miraculous one then there is no reason to jump to the miracle.

I used to live on a sailboat which means repairing the damn thing on a daily basis. When the water pump wouldn't pump water to the galley sink here was the process:

Is the pump running? If so will it pump water out of a bucket. Yes? then why won't it pump water out of the water tank? Tank empty? NO? OK, is the pump trying to pump water up too high? Lower the pump nearer the water source? Work now? Yes! Install pump in this position.

Notice that it would have done me no good to posit, "Maybe there is an invisible gremlin living in the pump that magically forces it to not work". What would I do about it anyway? Magical thinking is a dead end. It can make one feel smug and secure as if they had actually figured something out. It's lazy thinking and it is encouraged and taught by the church.

Another tack - Let's assume that a miracle had occurred. Let's say that Jesus actually brought Lazurus back from the dead. If it happened there was a WAY that it happened. What is the process by which the Lord performs miracles? How did he rearrange the atoms in Lazurus to get them going again. How were dead cells reactivated? Does he emit some sort of ray? Could this curing ray be detected independently? Could we then build a deivice to duplicate this process and bring everyone (ick) back from the dead? Moreover what extra organ does Jesus possess that he activates to perform the miracles? Is Jesus' body different from ours? If you say, no, he just channels the power of God, then you get to ask how THAT works. What is that process.? Is there a communication? Can we detect it independently and so on.

The whole idea of a miracle though is that it doesn't have a process. It just happens. We skip over any step by step and just blink (like I dream of Jeanie) or wiggle your nose (like Bewitched) and reality itself is just changed. That would be a miracle! 

(1) I don't know that the moon landing hoaxers are also theists. I'm speaking more to the idea of being intimidated but someone being more clever than you so you deny that they even did it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Death and Dying

The Christian faithful believe in heaven. They, and all of us, miss people and are sad when they die. I certainly still miss my mom and expect I will until I too leave this mortal coil.

But then if you go to heaven do you also miss the living? You can’t talk with them. No, really, you can’t. You can’t comfort them when they’re sad or hurt. We can watch them they say. The dead ‘look down from above’. Does that mean the dead get to watch the bus coming around the corner that the live loved one does not see and then not be able warn them? Hmm….maybe that’s hell and I need to start over!

I guess I don’t see the bonus of being out of touch with a loved one and being alive or being out of touch and being the dead one.

Of course when both are dead everything is hunky dory. . . for eternity. . .

Do days pass?
Do we together watch (watch real light rays?) friends and family die.
Eternity? Really? Everyone would get annoying eventually! But even if you got a break from them. . . it’s ETERNITY!  Eternity - (we were on a break!) = Eternity!

I don’t think any form of heaven could work if it included the sense of time. Only an eternal bliss state, frozen in time, would do it. Is that so great? Can you even be in any ‘state’ if time doesn’t pass for you to reflect upon the very state you are in and reflection requires time to pass while you reflect?

Wow this is g r e a t!
It’s still great!
how long is this ride?
it is great though. . . really great.
can I get off now?

And then there’s the problem of eternity itself. Does time itself go on forever. It started (probably) with the big bang. Does it have an end too? The big crunch? OK, heaven ride is over (finally) everyone off. Watch your step.

If time passes in heaven the greatest thing in the world would become boring and passé. Except, well, you know, or maybe playing the drums. And if it’s the drums will my dad be telling me to give it a FUCKING REST!

Sunday, October 26, 2014


One of the things that makes magical thinking, such as any religion,work is that the realm itself from which the magic comes is unreachable. It is by its very nature ‘supernatural’. The faithful walk a fine line here. The magical world is real for them and yet we cannot fully fathom it. On the other hand the magical world does intercede on occasion and we can request that the magical world enter our world to help us or give us comfort which as we all know may or may not actually work. This is all very convenient. When something good happens FOR YOU you might happily ascribe that goodness to a higher being who cares for you even though it might also be explained as what happened in the natural course of events. And, when something bad happens you get to say that exactly how the magical world works is unknown and unknowable so it only seems really bad without seeing or being able to see the entire picture or that you are being punished by a harsh (yet all loving) being. I guess similar to the really big picture into which the holocaust fits in nicely. This is all very similar to the gods who lived on Mount Olympus who only occasionally decided to interact with mortals for good or evil or the occasional impregnation of a virgin.

Surprisingly there is a seemingly similar motif in physics.

As we venture downward to the microscopic to the atomic level and beyond we reach a state where the actual ‘view’ is by its nature unattainable. It’s not that our machines are not clever enough it is that seeing itself does not work with the ultra small. The simplistic version is that to see something you have to bounce light (photons) off of it but that very process disturbs or ruins that which you were attempting to see. That’s the uncertainty principle (I think). In even simpler terms think about trying to detect something with waves. Water waves come to mind. At a beach you could detect the changes in depth using the behavior of the water waves. You could detect the location of boats and wharfs by the reflection of water waves. Maybe even a swimmer. But could you detect the existence of a 1” diameter pole (like the ones that hold up Martin houses) sticking out of the water by the behavior of the waves? Probably not. The pole is too small compared to the size of the waves (wavelength). With smaller waves you might though and so it is with light and seeing. The smaller the thing you’re trying to see the shorter wavelength light you need to see it. But, darn it, when I try to use smaller and smaller wavelength light I am automatically using photons of higher energy which disturb the object I’m trying to see even more.

So, by its very nature, the sub-atomic world is un-seeable. You might be tempted to think this is just like a magical world then where there is a built in stop-gap to prevent you from knowing all.

But no. The difference is between un-seeable and un-knowable. I venture to say that at this time we know just about everything there is to know about the atom and the nucleus and we’re never going to ‘see’ it. Knowing means to be able to predict the behavior of a system given initial conditions. We have no holes in our knowledge about the atom and nucleus at this time. We have models of behavior and at times it helps to actually draw those models such as the classic atom with a nucleus and electrons orbiting. We’ve never actually seen that and we’re not going to! But the atom behaves like that and when I use that image (mathematically) to make predictions I get verifiable results that agree with my model.

And so it goes adding bells and whistles to the model as more and more hypotheses and experiments come in and our KNOWLEDGE of this un-seeable world increases.

There is nothing you can do to increase your knowledge of a magical world by its very nature - a nature that has been made up in the minds of humans. It must be unfathomable or it wouldn’t be magical.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Does God Exist?

It doesn’t really matter. For one thing, you can never prove the existence of a magical entity nor can you disprove the existence. (You can’t disprove the non-existence either!) What’s more important than questions of existence or non-existence is the fact that God does exist in the minds of about 98% of the world’s population in one of her many manifestations. To argue the case is pointless. The believers will never be convinced that their god does not really exist nor can the believers ever supply the needed evidence that the few rational people among us require to accept a rather provocative world view.

What is needed, I think, is just an acceptance. I don’t care that someone chooses to believe in magical people. I’m surprised that they make up a giant majority but such are the times in which I live. They in turn shouldn’t care that I don’t share their belief. Certainly their world view does not hinge on little old me. Or, at least it shouldn’t or how strong is that belief?

In America we have freedom of religion. We really do! You can damn well worship just about any way you want and I’m with that. The much bigger question then to the faithful is, why isn’t that enough? Why?

Why must you push for religion in school?
Why must you push for the 10 commandments to be posted on the court house?
Why must you jam a ‘creation museum’ down our throats?
Why must you invade peoples bedrooms because due to some vague references in a 5000 year old document?
Why must you single out YOUR magical belief as the ONLY proper magical belief.
Why must you equate belief in magic with high moral standing?

Why isn’t what you already have enough?

When an Atheist says, I’m not comfortable with your bringing religion into the (courthouse, classroom, board room. . .) they are not attacking your faith. Frankly they don’t care about your faith at all. They’re just asking you to keep things in there proper place. No one is asking you to NOT believe and I’m FOR that!

As an Atheist I do fear for the lose of reason that the over doing of religion represents. The only thing that stands between us and chaos is reason. Prayer and faith may give an individual solace in hard times but it’s no way to run a country. You can’t pray new roads. You can’t pray your way to the moon or Mars. You can’t learn chemistry or physics by hoping for it. You can’t pray the climate change away. It takes measured reason and real discourse to solve real problems.

So keep your faith (baby). Pray away because you have the freedom to do so. But please don’t take that extra step in thinking that your way is the high way and reason be damned.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Being Insulted

A group of Sufi Muslims took to Chicago’s streets Sunday to say an emblem used by Italian perfume-maker Roberto Cavalli smacks of insensitivity and is an affront to their faith.

Oh really. So you have some sort of higher ground because of your 'faith'. Your belief in magical people the the power of prayer gives you a right to be affronted.

How about this. . .

I'm affronted by your dragging 5000 year old behaviors and thinking into the 21st century. I'm saddened by the constant grumbling of one religion or another thinking that people using science and reason are attacking their magical position. Look, if your world view can be shattered by logic, observation, and reason maybe don't be so insulted...just drop the religion! It's taking us nowhere. 

Look, whether or not the perfume maker uses some symbol or not, your day to day life does. not. change. If you believe in magical people or not . . . nothing in our reality actually changes.

Could we please just enjoy freedom of religion and work on some real problems - together?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

LIfe is Cheaper Than Ever in the Sudan

The Sudanese 'government' has sentenced a 8 month pregnant woman to death for being a christian but really being a muslim. Or maybe it's the other way around. In any case, what she did is against Sharia  "law"  (Hey, I got a sister named Sharia) and she must be put to death. (The actual crime is called apostasy)

NOTHING but religion can get people to be this crazy to think that this is somehow 'right'. NOTHING. I have a good friend who is a multiple black belt and he'll tell you that he'd much rather be attacked by a murderer, drug dealer, assassin then a religious zealot. There is no good way to protect yourself from c r a z y.

But this story has an even more depressing twist. Here's a quote from the woman's husband:

"I'm so frustrated. I don't know what to do," said her husband, Daniel Wani. "I'm just praying."

Praying? Praying? YOU DUMB FUCK THAT'S THE REASON YOU'RE IN THIS SHIT!   Praying for help is like being in hock up to you eryeballs with a loan shark and asking to borrow another hundred bucks! Although, in his defense they'd probably be in way MORE trouble if they happened to be atheists*. Maybe praying is a good way to keep his own ass out of the fire. Just be sure to pray to the right pretend/dead person.

We're doomed.

*Actually, in fact, we're all atheists and when we die we don't get to know that.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The End of People

I don’t think we’re going to make it. Of course that only means that we’ll join the ranks of the other extinct creatures which make up about 99.9% of all the creatures that ever existed.

And good riddance.

We won’t make it for the same reason that our brethren didn’t make it. Creatures go extinct because they cannot adapt to changes and out they go. Now you’d think with our extremely large craniums we’d be able to see change coming and get a leg (or flipper) up on adaptation. Like, OH . . . , noticing climate change.

But no . .

No, we have to listen to people who deny global warming, deny evolution, deny that science actually works. Deny the idea that wiping out other species (whales, Bambi) might come back to bite us in our collective asses. Deny, deny, deny. We’re doomed by our own stubbornness to stick to our guns and especially those who actually own those sticky guns. We’re doomed by our continued marching to tunes that were written 5000 years ago. Doomed by a cave-man-like belief in magic and miracles.

We have every capacity and enough cleverness to go on and on as a species but we ain’t going to make it. That will be sad but ….

No one will be around to actually be sad*.

The planet will recover from our brief invasion and be much happier down the road.

*How weird would it be to be the last human and KNOW it?!