Monday, December 24, 2007

Huckabee. . . what's the point?

You can find Santa at every mall. You can find discounts in every store," Huckabee said from the pulpit of Cornerstone Church. "But if you mention the name of Jesus, as I found out recently, it upsets the whole world. Forgive me, but I thought that was the point of the whole day." is the point of the whole day for about 33% of the world. The rest of the world are not Christian. . . only about 2% are atheist.

Huckabee, like a lot of fundamentalists thinks the whole world revolves around HIS religion. It doesn't. He is a prime example of a guy who thinks that if he wraps himself in piety people will draw the faulty conclusion that he is a man of quality. One does not follow from the other.

If I believe that a guy was born to a mother who never had sex, that he walked on water, that when I eat a piece of bread I am really eating his body, and that he rose up into the air after death. . . how does that make me anything but a NUT? For sure belief in this sort of thing doesn't make me think he is necessarily a good guy and shouldn't to anyone else.

If he wants to run for presiden, ok, but lets hear some plans. Lets get down to facts. Lets lay out what you intend to do. That fact that you believe in invisible people who live up in the clouds really has nothing to do with your ability to govern. Well, actually, to me it does. To me it means he can't be trusted. How can you ever know when one of these guys is going to say, 'the hell with the constitution. I listen to a higher power'. Wait that already happend with George W.! See? These far out religions nuts cannot be trusted in high government positions.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter.

Hofstatdter is the author of one of my favorite books: Godel, Esher, and Bach. published in 1979 and is a fascinating interplay between the works of the three men named in the title. Mostly, though, it is a long proof, and not and easy one, of Kurt Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem. In his current book, I am a Strange Loop, Hofstadter returns to the themes from GEB to better nail down how he thinks the loopiness described by Godel is responsible for our consciousness or our “I”. Heady stuff.

Before 1931 Bertrand Russel and Sir Alfred Whitehead thought they had totally nailed down the fundamentals of mathematics. They produced a system of axioms and rules to apply by which all the properties of mathematics could be systematically proved (or un true statemens disproved). In this system, and central to mathematics thinking, is that true statements are proveable and proveable statements are trure. The converse is equally correct, namely, unproveable statements are false and false statements are unproveable. The renegade Godel (only 25 at the time) produced a paper in 1931 which showed that not only this system but any logical system is doomed to failure. The essence of the theorem is the idea of self-referencing. Call the Russell/Whitehead system RW. Godel produced a theorem that basically said “This theorem is unprovable in RW”. Think about that. If you did prove it then it is true. . . but you already proved it! If it cannot be proved than it is false which means it should be provable.

Statements that contradict themselves have been an entertaining curiosity for eons but Godel’s theorem is actually deeper than that. Still, wacky sentences like that will give you the flavor of the problem. Here’s another example. There’s a game you can play (although not that fun) whereby you try to express numbers in english sentences in as few a number of syllables as possible. For example, 1024 could be expressed as ‘one thousand and twenty four’. 7 syllables. But you could also express it as ‘two to the tenth’. Only 4 syllables! So, I’ll make up a number, call it B. B is the first number that cannot be expressed in less than thirty syllables. Got that? But wait. I’ve now completely described this number in twenty syllables! But by it’s very definition it CANNOT be described in less than 30! Loopy.

It is this kind of self-referencing that Hofstadter is talking about. You can think of the operation of our brains in two ways. One way is at the basic level of atoms and synapses. At this level you will never come to any greater understanding of consciousness. Say you hear a song and it makes you remember a long lost girl friend. You’d be hard pressed to identify exactly which neurons (if any) are exactly responsible for either remembering the song or connecting it to the girl. Perhaps much more advantageous to work at the ‘symbol’ level of the brain. The brain retains an interconnected set of symbols for that song and that girl. The symbols are responsible for moving the atoms around and not the other way around! Now extend the idea of the symbols to being loopy and the loopiest of all in that it points to or references it’s own loop is the symbol that we call “I” - our consciousness or our soul. Hofstadter uses the word soul a lot but not in the Judeo-Christian sense. He uses it to mean that inner voice. That “I-ness”.

I should point out that these ideas are drawn out via a multitude of analogies and stories from his personal experience and I only offer a sketch of the big ideas.

The later part of the book goes into how the symbols of one person can be incorporated into another. Like when we adopt another’s mannerisms or shared memories. A jump is then made to perhaps even incorporating a grainy version of the other person’s “I-ness”. The question then comes up, if one person dies is that person or at least some of their brain symbols and perhaps even a crude “I-ness” still around in the other person’s brain?

Understand all of this is from a guy who is professor of Cognitive Sciences at Indiana University. While some of the ideas may sound mystical there is actually nothing in his writing to suggest that at all! This is an interesting but tough read and you don’t really have to read GEB as a prerequisite. He does a pretty good job of giving a shorter proof of Godel’s theorem in this book. You do need to read slowly and stop and reflect on occasion.

I have a few chapters to go and am interested to see how he wraps all of this up. In a strange loop I would guess!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Moving Forward

Sometimes I get tired being drug back into the muck arguing about religion. Also, the 'idea' of atheism is a negative. It is reactionary. It is a response to the overwhelming weight of theism in which we must live. Sometimes you just need to step away and think in a more positive way.

Rather than the label of atheism I'd prefer to think of myself and many others as rationalists. People who in the face of no evidence of magic in the universe take a rational approach to their world. Having been largely caught up in the now boring arguments about religion vs atheism I'd like to try to 'move on'. I'm pretty done arguing with theists and by the way I won. Now maybe it's time to think more deeply about the truly pestering thoughts about existence, consciousness, and what the hell are we doing here anyway? Those kinds of questions can and should be approached in a reasonable way.

Lately, I've been printing religious nuttiness and then responding to it. In retrospect most of this is a re-hash of my main rant that started this blog. I'm a little tired of it but may come back to it when there is something especially funny (that's not hard!). Instead, I hope to take a slight turn in this blog to the more interesting and positive ideas that truly boggle our minds. I intend to start by writing notes/reviews of the new book by Douglas Hofstadter, I am a Strange Loop. He is the author of Godel, Esher, and Bach which is an immensely fascinating book from 1979.* He wrote that when he was 27 (by hand on lined paper). Now he is 62 and is still working on what might be the key ideas to the nature of consciousness. I've only just begun and will be writing my impressions and ideas along the way.

So, stay tuned. I'll try to write more often and you try to comment!

*Interesting to us rationalist is the key idea from this book which is really a long proof of Kurt Godel's icompleteness theorem which proved that no matter how logicial of a logical system you create there will be a way to create crazy 'sentences' that contradict themselves without breaking any of the rules of logic. Heady stuff and perhaps a key to our consciousness. . . ?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Nobel Prizes

Do Nobel Prizes tell us anything about a country and perhaps its' educational foundation? Upon looking back at Nobel prize winners for the 20th century I find only 4 prizes to Japan in Physics, Chemistry, or Medicine. We are constantly hearing how Japanese kids are killing our kids in test scores and they are. I've always contended that good test takers make good worker bees (Japan loves those) but are bad at original thinking which is exactly what is needed for Nobel Prize winning work.

Furthermore there are NO Nobel Prize winners from any middle eastern, Muslim state. None. Not surprising as original thought is deemed heresy by these knuckle heads. Not to mention all the time wasted in prayer 6 times a day! When some of these idiots scream that they want a government that is based on the Koran I always ask what successful model they are looking at? Give ONE example where this has worked. Of course like all religious arguments, they are not based on data or facts but rather emotion . . . especially anger.

So, to advocates of No Child Left Behind (or as I like to call it, All Children Held Back) and all the standardized testing that goes with it, be careful what you are trying to "fix".

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Prayer in School

Twenty-nine states have now enacted laws requiring a minute of silence, quiet reflection, or meditation. That's right REQUIRED. It is the current round in the age old fight of prayer in school. In 1964 The Supreme Court correctly banned prayer in school as an obvious violation of the separation of church and state. Of course the religious right can't leave anything alone (Roe vs Wade?) and have been trying to sneak prayer back in ever since. This leads to several questions.

1. Why? Why do so many people think that this is important? Why can't they pray at home? They could even go for more than a minute at home. They could pray until their brains fell out if they want. Why must they have EVERYONE somehow hooked into prayer in SCHOOL?

2. To what end? What are they trying to fix? What evidence would you look at between 1964 and now and be able to isolate a measurable effect that is ONLY attributable to the lack of prayer in school that these new laws would then fix?

1. Because the religious right is probably the most reactionary and paranoid bunch of people on the planet. They only feel OK with their own beliefs if everyone is doing it. I am all for freedom of religion but even more so I'm for freedom FROM religion. Do what you want but leave me out of it and keep it out of my elected government.

2. This group doesn't make decisions based of facts or evidence. If they did they'd quickly find a better way to spend their Sunday mornings. They make decisions based on "feel good" phrases. "Support our troops, God loves you, Jesus died for our sins, etc." So they want prayer in school because it feels better than to not want it. Feelings are what they are. They are different for everyone but powerful for all. But, are they the trigger by which we should be making decisions about the school day?

Now you might be thinking that they are NOT requiring prayer - just silence with which the kids can do whatever. How many crazy parents out there are instructing their kids to pray their asses off (hands folded and mumbling) during that silence to 'show' those bad kids what it is all about. There is nothing better for a Christian than when he can really wear his religion on his sleeve for all to see. Can Catholics haul out their rosaries during this minute? Can the Muslims get up, kneel and face Mecca? Can the Jews throw on a yarmulke? What is the line as to what a kid can do with his minute?

This is just another reason why reasonable and intelligent parents are saving their money and sending their kids to private schools.

BTW. The link above is a religions one but outlines the history of the prayer in school pretty well. On the other hand one of the links there is really choice. Check it out. Turns out sometimes prayers aren't answers because you just don't do it right! This site can help you out with 'proven prayer methods' (a $147 value FOR FREE). I won't comment on it line by line. It stands by itself as a model if idiocy. But really, where do you get the number $147?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Well, do they?

I was sitting around trying to not kill myself over the 07 Cubs when I thought, Do animals have souls? Well, through the 'magic' of the Internet (actually it runs by "electricity") I found this article from the ARK which speaks directly to this question but also brings up some other tid bits from religious thinking. My comments are interspersed in green.

Do Animals Have Souls?
By Deborah Jones

'Only humans matter: they have souls. Animals don't.' This has been said, millions of times. People often use it as a mantra, not because they are necessarily helping to alleviate human suffering, but to justify their lack of concern and compassion for the suffering of animals. Of course humans matter - but so do animals: and animals have souls too.

Catholic teaching has never actually denied this, following St Thomas Aquinas in this as in most things, although it has not yet developed a fully positive understanding of the place of animals within the order of salvation. This is a subject being grasped by some of the best theologians of our time, as they realise that this lack of understanding results in an untypically muddled response from the Catholic Church over an important contemporary issue - that of animal welfare.

I remember having this scary message being delivered to me by our pastor when I was a kid. We had a great dog, Shep, and I asked if he was going to heaven and was told no because animals don't have souls. I cried.

The first thing to unravel from the various strands of tradition is the meaning of the word 'soul'. It is not really helpful to talk of people or animals 'having' souls - as you might 'have' a wristwatch or brown eyes or curly hair. Body and soul are not simply two factors existing alongside or in each other, but form an indivisible whole. A person, or an animal, is wholly body and wholly soul and both are at all times the whole being. In other words we do not only 'have' a body, or 'have' a soul - we are both body and soul. The Hebrew language does not talk of the two as separate entities, as we shall see in the Scriptures. Pagan Greek and Roman philosophers, whose thinking played such a leading role in influencing Christian theologians through the ages, did make the separation between spirit and matter, placing reason and soul in the higher, spiritual sphere, and according body and matter a much lower status. We shall see how this came to effect the way in which animals, and the rest of the nonhuman creation, came to be viewed.

Well, it sounds nice to say that we are both 'body and soul' but on what do you base such a statement? If I say, no, I think we are only a thinking organism, what evidence could be brought to the table to say that we are both? I'll listen to it what ever it is.

Living souls

In the beginning of our Scriptures, we see God creating 'every living creature' (Genesis 1:21, 24). The Hebrew words (transliterated) are 'chay' (living) and 'nephesh' (soul). 'Nephesh' is mentioned over 400 times in the Old Testament signifying soul. The words 'chay nephesh' are used from chapter one, verse 20, when the waters are filled with living creatures. The close translation from Hebrew is: 'And God said: Let the waters swarm [with] the swarmers [having] a soul of life …' and in the next verse: 'And God created the great sea animals, and all that creeps, [having] a living soul …' (The words in square brackets are not used in Hebrew, but are understood.) In verse 30, God provides food - purely vegetarian - to every living thing, in which, the Hebrew adds, '[is] a living soul'. There is a definite separation here between 'every green plant', which of course are living things, and every creature possessed of a 'living soul'. In chapter two, the second, and older Creation account, the first human being was created from dust, then God 'blew into his nostrils [the] breath of life and man became a living soul', a 'chay nephesh'. Here we have the real sense of 'nephesh', or soul, as a being animated by the breath of life. This reminds us of the glorious invocation of psalm 150, where 'everything that breathes' is to praise the Lord.

Surprise! The whole argument for the existence of a soul is based on it saying so in the bible. By the way, when 'God said. . . .", to whom was he speaking? Oh, I know that is just a metaphor, right? Well, then where does metaphor stop and actual information begin in the bible. I feel that people draw the line wherever it helps them the most to make whatever argument they like (gays are bad, abortion is bad, smite your enemy is good, etc.)

Oh, and I do like God having the waters swarm with swarmers. That seems like a good plan.

Pope John Paul II: 'animals possess a soul'

When Pope John Paul II declared in a public audience in 1990 that 'also the animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren' some people must have thought this was a new teaching, unaware of the Holy Father's scholarly familiarity with the authentic Hebrew texts. When he went on to state that all animals are 'fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit and merit respect' and that they are 'as near to God as men are', animal lovers in the audience were ecstatic! The Pope mentions the special relationship of mankind with God as being created in His image and likeness. 'However,' he goes on 'other texts state that animals have the breath of life and were given it by God. In this respect, man, created by the hand of God, is identical with all other living creatures. And so in Psalm 104 there is no distinction between man and beasts when it reads, addressing God: " … Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth." The existence therefore,' the Holy Father reminds us, 'of all living creatures depends on the living spirit/breath of God that not only creates but also sustains and renews the face of the earth.'

OK, now animals have a soul because the Pope said so. Being pope he doesn't have to provide any evidence. Of course since he stated exactly what the author wanted to hear she doesn't question his statement. This is in direct contrast to real research. When a real searcher of truth gets a result that agrees with their hypothesis they immediately try to shoot it down. You question your own result even though it would maybe help you out. That is a real and valid approach to shaking a little truth out of the world.

This could be a slippery slope for the church. I think when this author says 'animals' she is only thinking of 'Shep' and other cute, furry creatures. What about snakes? How about spiders? Did the good lord only mean mammals? Does a cock roach have a soul or are they just minions of Beelzebub? Coral? Bacteria? Where does it end. . . or start? 90% of all animals on the planet are extinct? Did they all have souls and if so are they ALL in heaven?

The other thing you see here is that the Pope is INTERPRETING the bible. You see it has to be interpreted because it is such a crazy collection of ancient thinking that no intelligent human being could take it literally. But why does the word of GOD have to be interpreted? Why can't he just come out and say what he means? And, after about 5000 years, how about a 2nd edition?

This discourse caused a stir around the world, and was especially encouraging to Catholic animal welfare groups which had begun to despair that anything 'animal friendly' would ever be heard in Rome. The then professor of theology and dogma at the University of Urbino, Carlo Molari, called it 'very important and significant. It is a "sign of the times" because it demonstrates the Church's desire and deep concern to clarify present confused thinking and attitudes towards the animal kingdom. There should be no need, but the Pontiff, in reiterating that animals came into being because of the direct action of the "breath" of God, wanted to say that also these creatures, as well as man, are possessed of the divine spark of life and that living quality that is the soul. And are therefore not inferior beings or only of a purely material reality.'

The image of God

In the ten years that have passed, not a great deal has changed in church-goers' understanding of the souls of animals. Could that be because so little is ever taught or preached or prayed about them and their undoubted suffering at human hands? More is known about mankind being 'made in the image of God' and about having 'dominion' over the natural world. That is too often used as justification for treating the world as one great natural resource for human benefit, and all the other creatures in it as designed for mankind alone.

But what did 'image' really mean? Statues, or images, were and are used to represent kings and rulers. Think of the number of statues of Queen Victoria there are scattered around the former Empire. Human beings are living statues, living representatives - in much the same way as ambassadors represent the head of state of the country they come from. We human beings are to represent the rule of God in the created world, using delegated powers to see that the world continues to function and flourish in the way the Creator intended. To be shepherd-kings, not 'as those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them', but as 'slave of all' (Mark 10: 42-45). St Francis came close to this model in treating all other created beings as 'brothers and sisters', rather than as most people do today, as disposable things whose only value is in their usefulness to us.

You can see in this paragraph that there is still an implied hierarchy. We are clearly the top of the heap because of our large brains. This is very wrong thinking. . . I think. Every creature is at the current pinnacle of its own evolutionary thread. An osprey is a great flier/hunter as all the lousy ones have been sorted out. An osprey will never be a computer programmer but that doesn't put him somewhere below us. ALL the creatures are on the top of their own heaps. I AM pleased that as crazy as the thinking in this article is it does tend to lead to an idea of all the creatures being ONE thing as opposed to man vs beast. The north American Indians (luckily having NOT been indoctrinated with Christianity) spoke of the streams and the beasts as their brothers and we thought they were waxing metaphorically. They were NOT. They were very literal and thought of themselves as part of the whole rather than lords over it.

Also, does being made in the image of God mean he has form like us? He's a guy like half of us? Again, a pleasant Sunday school story but based on what? This thinking leads to so many crazy questions as to be laughable. Where was God before creation? Why would God need legs if there was no firmament yet? Moreover, if God was just God by himself and he looked just like any other guy why would he need a. . . well, YOU know? What would he do with it?

We have elevated the human being beyond all other creatures until he has even taken the place of God. Secular rationalism would do away with the concept of soul altogether. The French philosopher, Descartes (1596-1650), divided the human person into the 'thinking part' res cogitans and the body res extensa. He saw the body as a machine, which had to be governed by the self-awareness of human rational thought. He dropped the word for soul 'anima' and replaced it with the word for mind 'mens' What animals lacked, so he said, was the human rational thought, therefore their status was purely that of machines - and machines cannot feel. The screams emitted by tortured animals were no more, he said, than the squeaking of mechanical parts and of no consequence. That attitude to some extent still exists, even though scientists are now discovering that even relatively simple life forms are capable of feeling pain and stress.

The Age of Reason was typified by Descartes and by Kant, who wrote that 'So far as animals are concerned we have no direct moral duties; animals are not self-conscious and are there merely as a means to an end. That end is man.' For them might have been written those chapters in Job in which God asks: 'Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?' (chapters 38 and 39). However, they had been influenced more by Aristotle and the Stoics than by Scripture. These ancients held that animals, while possessing 'animal souls' (as distinct from 'vegetable souls') lacked reason, and demonstrated their lack of reason by lack of speech. They were not to know of the complex communication abilities of many of the primates, dolphins, whales, etc. What is worse is that they considered that lack of speech gives us the right to exploit them! Stoics also thought that animals cannot learn by experience - but then, they never watched 'One Man and his Dog'!

I'm not sure what the author is going for here. It is true that the rational thought of Kant and Descartes put animals at some lower level than man based on the idea of consciousness. Certainly it is true that we are the only conscious creatures on the planet. We are conscious because we possess language. The fact that these guys may have done harm to the status of animals was not by their lack of religious training but rather their lack of understanding of how ecology/evolution work. Both of these guys lived up to a century before Darwin.

What is definitive in Christian understanding of animals in the order of salvation, is that, with the incarnation of Christ, with God taking flesh, there is a new connection between all that shares the matter of flesh, of bodies: as the Holy Father said, a 'solidarity' between us and our brothers and sisters, the other 'living souls', the animals.

By the way, order of salvation is no easy topic. Check out the 'flow chart' from the 16th century!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Politicians and Faith

I read recently that a whopping gazillion percent of the voting population 'think' it is important for a candidate to be a person of faith. That is, they want their candidates to believe in invisible people, miracles, ancient texts, etc. I'm sure the requirement for faith indicates to the theist that this person is then also a person with a moral center. A "good" person. Right. Let's not even go down the path of the religious who have committed atrocities. I'd like to focus more on the very idea that belief in impossible things somehow (ok, wait I get it...via even MORE magic) gives you a leg up in the moral competition.*

But how would that work? Why couldn't a candidate refute belief in crazy, invisible things and come down hard on being for such things like fairness, justice, beauty, the environment, etc. These concepts do NOT require belief in a Deity. The golden rule itself is the golden rule because it makes SENSE. Common sense and rational thought can be a great guide to making decisions. Perhaps the ONLY guide?

Tell me, do you really want a person in a high office who believes that no matter how high his or her office is, there is REALLY a higher one? Would that be fair to all. Our freaking president right now, what's his name**, says that he speaks directly to god (I think through Cheney on a conference call though). Well then no problem going to war if you got the message right from the big guy himself. Plus, there's no way to even check this. I could say the same thing. Are you telling me that god does not speak to atheists? Damnit!

To hell (or wherever) with 'does it make sense'? Is it the best for everyone involved? Is there another way? Can we wait and collect more data? Who needs THAT kind of convoluted, brainy thinking? Got the message already from the big guy. As Richard Nixon said, "Don't confuse me with the facts"!

Americans love quick answers to their questions. Good school? Show me a test number. Good morals? Show me a picture of some dope walking out of church. OK, check and check! Where's my TV clicker.

*Here's another thoughtful take on the concept

**Here's an excerpt from an article by Jim Hoagland at the Washington Post:

Let me rephrase that: In contrast to its foreign policy, the Bush agenda at home is a collection of smoldering ruins. The administration has illogically dismissed deficits and balanced budgets as decisive economic factors, alienated Congress on every conceivable issue, left its tax cuts vulnerable to reversal, and enveloped Social Security reform in a poisonous political atmosphere.

Bush's most durable support comes from a coalition of social conservatives who usually define their politics in religious terms -- whom Bush has pleased or placated by nominating John Roberts and Sam Alito to the Supreme Court -- and the pro-democracy activists of the right who agree with him on pushing democracy in Iraq, Ukraine, China and elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Get This

Turns out the evangelical Christians in the US (read, 'nut balls') support giving money to Israel. Why? BECAUSE GOD IS TELL THEM TO (Yes all of them) to do so to the tune of several million dollars. Here's some quotes from the CNN story.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates 85 million evangelicals believe God tells them to support Israel -- more than six times the world's Jewish population.

Back in church, Baras told the congregation: "We need to stand together so that our governments will believe that the land of Israel, the entire land of Israel, belongs to the Jewish people."

OK, here's my question. If that land historically belongs to the Jewish people then doesn't the good old US of A belong to the American Indians. Why don't they jump on this one and give away their property to the first Indian they can find and F-ING MOVE TO ISRAEL. Then we won't have these millions of nut cases voting!

God tells them? Where was god when we were wiping out the American Indian. Where was god when we played that little game of Shock and Awe. How about the bombing of Dresden. Or, my favorite, Hiroshima.

How come these people's antennae are so finely tuned so that god tells them exactly what they would have wanted to do anyway without god interferring?

Let's not even get into the whole, "How does the communication process work" thing right now. I just think it is very self-serving and pious to say, "God told me to do this or that". You know that won't keep you out of jail if god tells you to go kill someone. People have tried it. Doesn't work. But why? If the judge and jury all are good christians and some guy says god made me do it, why DON'T they let him off. They must not believe that god speaks to us directly.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

This says it all....

A classic comic in Non Sequitor. Check it out...Nuff said

Monday, July 16, 2007

$660 million?

The Archidioces of LA just settled out of court with 508 cases of sexual abuse for $660 million. That's dollars. That's 508 cases. $660 x 10^6. I'll give you that a number of these people are probably jumping onto the ox cart for a payout. Still...Let's say it's only 250 cases. THAT IS WAY MORE THAN ZERO!!!!! OK a number of questions come up...

1. Where does a body based on the vow of poverty come up with $660 million? OK, they have to sell some land and liquidate some holdings and borrow but they CAN come up with it. Could you? $660 milliion?

2. What is their souce of income to compile a portfolio that would allow even a chance of putting together $660 millon. Who's dropping the big coins in the plate?

3. Maybe it's time to let priests marry. Aparently polishing the candle isn't doing it for them any more.

4. BIG question....why doesn't the creator see this coming and DO something about it before it happens. This isn't any old chuch thrown together by some cracker in South Caolina with a microphone and a couple of snakes. This is THE church created by HIM. Upon this rock St Peter built THE church.* Well, what the hell? Is this working or not?


*The pope says that the Catholic church is the only real church but that other christians still get to go to heaven. . . .Sure, but I bet they have to go to the end of the line on the really cool rides.

From the LA Times:

The deal settles all 508 cases that remained against the archdiocese, which also paid $60 million in December to settle 45 cases that weren't covered by sexual abuse insurance.

The archdiocese will pay $250 million, insurance carriers will pay a combined $227 million and several religious orders will chip in $60 million.

The remaining $123 million will come from litigation with religious orders that chose not to participate in the deal, with the archdiocese guaranteeing resolution of those 80 to 100 cases within five years, Hennigan said.

The archdiocese is released from liability in those claims, said Tod Tamberg, church spokesman.

The settlements push the total amount paid out by the U.S. church since 1950 to more than $2 billion, with about a quarter of that coming from the Los Angeles archdiocese.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

God's never too busy...

OCEAN CITY, New Jersey (AP) -- Miss New Jersey can keep her crown despite photos that show her acting "not in a ladylike manner."


Miss New Jersey Amy Polumbo blew kisses to audience members during the announcement.

Hours after a nervous Amy Polumbo went public Thursday with photos of herself that had been sent anonymously to pageant officials, those officials decided the pictures did not merit stripping her of the title.

"I'm very happy about this decision, and I look forward to resuming my agenda* as Miss New Jersey," said a smiling Polumbo, who blew kisses to audience members during the announcement.

The beauty pageant winner apologized for the trouble the pictures had caused and thanked the pageant board for its support.

"I want to thank the public," Polumbo said. "I also want to thank God for getting me through this."

The pictures include one showing what Polumbo said was her boyfriend apparently biting her breast through her shirt, another of Polumbo in a limousine wearing jeans with her legs spread in the air and another of her in what appears to be a Halloween costume dress holding two small pumpkins up to her breasts.

"It's not in a ladylike manner. I'm not a robot. I'm a human being," Polumbo said.

OK, I like to imagine God sitting in a huge control the one at Fermi Lab only bigger and with even more buttons and things that go 'boooop'. So, he's sitting there and it must be action packed... "Let's see I got that plane with mechanical trouble, Osama is still hiding somewhere, still can't quite get rid of No Child Left Behind, there's that kid playing on the train tracks...what the. . . hold the phone! CODE BLUE! CODE BLUE! Someone is being mean to Miss New Jersey. Shut down ALL the prayer lines EXCEPT her's. Roger.

Yeah, the creator has time for your tough life as a beauty queen. (This is where we need Sam Kinison) Starving people just wait a minute will you? sheesh. Some people.

(Oh and I hate her hair! and her giant front teeth!)

*Don't you really want to see this agenda: Get up, comb hair, take nap, comb hair, check make-up, blow kisses, act bitchy to my aids, comb hair, buy a dress, repeat.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Which came first the bible or the religion?

I haven't written much about the bible itself in this blog. Suffice it to say that there are numerous problems with it. In general, if it was written via divine inspiration (and how does that work?) as the official word of God then why are there so many inconsistencies? One simple example: In Genesis (rife with inconsistencies) we find that God separated the day from the night and then a couple of days later created the sun. Hmmm...You see the problem.

Of course the bible has been written and re-written many times over the years and scholars agree that there are numerous 'authors' work in the bible. So, why doesn't God fix this? No big secret that copies of copies and re-telling of stories ends up with huge distortions. So, come on. Divinely inspire someone and let's have a re-write.

Come to think of it, if you are God and want to bring God's word to people, why use multiple authors at all. Couldn't God see that that was going to lead to problems?

Also, why is the bible so wrong about so many things that we now know to be true. There is no question any longer about the age of the universe and that it all started with the Big Bang about 13 billion years ago. If God was the cause of the big bang why isn't it mentioned in Genesis? What we have instead is a reflection of the thinking in the day of the nature of the universe including a lot of flat earth references and no freaking idea as to how big the earth or space is in general. Could it be that these authors weren't so inspired after all? Could it be that the bible is a collection of tales that were formally passed on by word of mouth and then at one point put down on paper? Could it be that LATER people got the idea that this book was holy and must have come from God?

What seems more reasonable?

Finally, to people who say that the bible is just metaphor and not meant to be factual I say you have the cart before the donkey. Religions started getting organized and split into various groups AFTER the bible. The bible is the reason that there are religions. So you can't hang your hat on your favorite church on Sunday and they pooh pooh the bible. If it's not the divine word of God then where does that put your church and religion? As usual, the thoughtless theist wants it both ways and avoids this sort of thinking.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Newton not an Atheist!

Recently it seems there has been a flare up in the religion vs. Science discussion. In a recent article on CNN some of Newton's papers are being displayed in an exhibit in Jeruselam. Apparently some are finding it shocking that Newton was, well, a nut! He believed in all sorts of mystical things and looked for clues to the end of the world (~2060 according to Newton) in the book of Daniel. Here's an excerpt from the article:

Yemima Ben-Menahem, one of the exhibit's curators, said the papers show Newton's conviction that important knowledge was hiding in ancient texts.

"He believed there was wisdom in the world that got lost. He thought it was coded, and that by studying things like the dimensions of the temple, he could decode it," she said.

The Newton papers, Ben-Menahem said, also complicate the idea that science is diametrically opposed to religion. "These documents show a scientist guided by religious fervor, by a desire to see God's actions in the world," she said.

Let's look at what Newton did NOT do. . .

He did not stop doing excellent physics just because he had a mystical side. He did not, I don't think, deny any piece of data even if it would have been at odds with a belief. In other words he kept the two separate and probably understood that those two worlds HAD to be separate since there was no real common ground.

Galileo was also a believer. He believed that science was a fine way to study and appreciate "God's good work".

The only problem I have with today's theists is when it is their way or the highway in ALL manner of human endeavour. No studying evolution because it is at odds with you belief system. In fact just let me invent some science to replace it and then I'll study that! (Creationism). No big bang either.

There is only a battle between science and religion when the zealot tries to infuse a belief system into the rational world of science. As an atheist/scientist I have nothing to prove. I don't claim that invisible people exist. I have no business mucking about in the workings of the church. I could care less. So, let's not have the faithful mucking about in science!

By the way. . . don't you think Newton looks a little like Roger Daltry of the Who who is also ENGLISH! Coincidence???????

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Two Easy Pieces

Nothing Lasts

If you look around and pay attention to this old world one thing that becomes obvious is that nothing lasts. I don’t mean this in a negative or pessimistic sense. But, rather, as a bald observation about the universe. No living thing lives forever. There is a copying and recopying mechanism involved in all life and copies of copies of copies ultimately break down. It is true of the construction of cells to the mega-construction of sequoias and elephants. Life itself replenishes itself but not an individual life. Life goes on as they say. . .

Of course the idea can be expanded. The day ends. The season ends. The year ends. Game over. The fat lady sings. And more! Stars themselves don’t live forever. There is a natural progression to the burning that goes on in a star and, as conservation of energy would dictate, it simply runs out of fuel one day and explodes. Our sun will do this in a few billion years. We see the remnants of exploded stars throughout the sky. Of course there is star birth as well. From the remnants and dust left behind gravity will sculpt a new star. And so it goes.

The universe itself certainly had a birth about 13 billion years ago and perhaps it too will die as the galaxies stop their expansion and turn around and race to each other in a hyper universal demolition derby of the entire universe. And then a re-birth? Or, perhaps the galaxies will race away from one another until the universe dies a cold death where each galaxy thinks it is the only one. We’ll see...well, we won’t will we?

By simple observation and a little thought and study we learn that individual things (cells, plants, animals, people, stars) do not last but their off spring and their larger environment goes on. The atoms of the deceased recycled from finger to flower, worm to eyelid, flower petal to sloth lips.

How on earth did christianity get the idea then that an individual somehow gets to continue on in some other dimension after death? This idea is contrary to every possible observation we can make about our universe. You cannot look anywhere and find examples of this. You can’t find any theory on which to base this sort of process. We can only be taught this outlandish idea at a very young age while we still depend on the elders to speak the truth. (We have a biological, evolutionary wiring for this for very good reasons. Humans take a long time to develop. During those formative years the child needs to depend on the adult for support and information. We are naturally, biologically susceptible to the teachings we get at a very early age from our parents. It is then extra hard to change or challenge these lessons.) If one were allowed to be taught by nature itself with the support and critical, logical eye of the adult (master learner rather than teacher) would that individual come to the conclusion that there must be an afterlife and a heaven?

Certainly because we can think, ‘I am’ we all can then think, ‘What then when I am not’? This is the curse of our being sentient. Now just because we are frightened by that thought doesn’t mean that we get to make up an answer that helps to allay our fears. Well, we can and we certainly have but SHOULD we? Should we teach the children an answer that we have only made up which does not come from observation?

“There’s always a reason”

Reason: A justification or power or process of thinking

There is a saying among theists and probably mostly Christians when something bad happens they say, “There’s always a reason”. The implication is that God has a reason but we don’t see it. Interesting.

To make this statement is to walk on both sides of a fence. On one side you live in a world where magic is possible. Water turns into wine, people come back from the dead, cures happen via prayer. These events and others are deemed outside the normal flow of the natural laws of nature. That’s a good thing for a theist because god should be more mighty than the very laws that he invented.

On the other side of the fence we apparently still want the operation of the god to be reasonable. See? We try to make the unreasonable reasonable by simply saying that it is ... but that we can’t know it. How can you have it both ways? How can you invent a god that does unreasonable things (things that are physically impossible) and yet somehow works in a reasonable or logical way?

And what is there to make a reasonable plan unknowable? Is this not just more proselytizing that we are mere mortals and cannot possibly know (we’re not worthy to know) the workings of the god? But if there were a grand plan that the creator was using and if that plan were reasonable what would there be to stop a reasonable creature from understanding it? It could be long. It could be convoluted. It could have hard math in it. OK. But what could make it unknowable by its very nature?

Is is not MORE reasonable to look around this world and conclude that there is no sentient plan and that events are unfolding naturally - to conclude that we are independent and free thinking beings that make our own way or not. Sure the world is big and complicated but to bring in a creator with an unknowable yet reasonable plan only complicates matters more. Nothing is answered. Nothing is gained.

To assume that the creator has a plan and that he represents all goodness means that you have to somehow incorporate the holocaust, the sinking of the Titanic, and the popularity of American Idol into this ‘good plan’. Isn’t that much harder to swallow (ok, I guess it’s supposed to be) than to conclude that there is no plan?

When people began with the Greeks to make a model of the universe they naturally put the earth at the center. This is not stupidity nor is it necessarily arrogance but a very nice observation. If you watch the sun, moon and stars over the course of days, weeks and years they appear to make repeated circles around us. As the data got better things got a little more complicated. The motions were circular but the speeds were not constant. The circles were perfect but the earth wasn’t right at the center. To include the planets in this model you had to have a planet go in a circle around an empty point in space while that point went around the earth. More and more data produced more and more levers, cams, gears inside of gears until finally even the true believers (and that was nearly everyone since the catholic church had already burned the non-believers at the stake.) asked, “Why would the creator make it so complicated? If the heavens are so beautiful and supposedly so perfect, why are these motions so convoluted”? Of course the premise that the earth was at the center was wrong. There was no way to make an accurate model of the universe with the earth at the center. Step in Copernicus to put the sun at the center and all the bells and whistles fall away and you have simple (although not circular but rather on ellipsoidal) motion around the sun coupled with a spinning earth to explain all that we see in the sky.

This has happened more than once in the natural development of ideas. it happened with evolution, with the discovery of DNA, and with the quark model of the nucleus. The point is that when things get very, very complicated we start to worry and think maybe there is a way to simplify, ‘start’ over, and re-think our assumptions.

To assume that there is a creator with a complicated plan answers nothing and leads to further complications and conundrums. We want to pray to him for good things to happen knowing full well that he either allows or causes bad things to happen. This plan has to be hyper-complicated or...there is no plan. Again, this is a grand simplification into which all the known facts already fit.

I’m not kidding. We have a testable model for how the universe evolved from a few nano-seconds after the big bang right up to today. We get how protons and neutrons distilled out of the pure energy of the explosion. We understand how particles would have come together via gravity to form stars and entire galaxies of stars. On our little planet we have a very nice time line from self-replicating cells, RNA, tRNA, DNA and how mutation would lead to ever increasing complexity. We even understand where ‘goodness’ comes from. Since humans were no match for predators physically, they had to turn to each other and stick together in tribes to have a chance. The humans that evolved from those tough times are here today and still have the ability to care for and love other humans. We couldn’t have evolved otherwise. Into this already complicated yet reasonable story where do you insert god and to answer what question? Isn’t this complicated enough? Isn’t this beautiful enough?

What don’t we know? We don’t know if the big bang had a cause. We don’t know if it makes sense to even discuss ‘before the big bang’ as if it was truly the first thing then there is no before. If there is no ‘before’ can there even exist cause and effect? We don’t know the fate of the universe. It may expand forever or stop and rush back toward a center and giant crunch. We don’t know how our brains work or which part (or the whole thing) leads to sentience. I’m sure there are other burning questions in biology and maybe even chemistry. The fact that there are things we don’t know, though, doesn’t mean they are unknowable by their nature. Just don’t know them yet perhaps. One certainly shouldn’t take the giant middle ages leap that the unknown equals the work of the gods. Or of demons. Thunder and lightning used to be an indication that we had angered the gods. We don’t think that anymore, right? Maybe the questions for which we don’t have a ready answer are just not answered YET. Which path is simpler and more reasonable?

Finally, as Dennet would put it, maybe it is time to ask ourselves why we are still carrying around the burden of religion? There is a question truly worth investigating.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

God's Holy Wrath?

A few days ago tornadoes ripped through central Florida destroying homes and taking several lives. Additionally a church in Lady Lake, Florida was demolished. A couple of thoughts....

1. Why is the fact that a church was destroyed always a part of these news stories. What about the bowling ally, or city building, or Bernie's tavern? Why is this reported as if it were an 'extra' awful disaster. Comes back (as always) to some of the points in my main rant. If you believe in all this business what do you need the building for anyway? Sure you like getting together with liked minded people and the church building is where you do that but that's just a place. The VFW hall may have to be rebuilt too. Is that extra disastrous as well?

2. I was stuck in the airport during a CNN report on this and they kept repeating the same story about the church. Their little hook headline was, "Prayer couldn't save it but faith will rebuild it". First off... I doubt whether anyone was praying for the saving at the church at 3 AM when this storm hit. If I were praying it would be that my own ass didn't get blown into the Atlantic Ocean. Secondly, if "faith" rebuilds it what rebuilds the gas station, VFW hall, etc? What does a sentence like that even mean?

3. If Faith is 'strong enough' to rebuild it why wasn't it strong enough to steer the tornadoe a few hundred feet to the left or right and spare the church in the first place. Of course god do work in mysterious ways and it's not up to us to question.

But WHY can't we question? Is it because deep down the questions and the line that they will naturally take become very uncomfortable? The big underlying thought behind this and so many other stories is the theists are fond of saying that they "feel blessed" when something good happens to them but don't say "God's a bastard" when something bad happens. I guess bad stuff is the devil's work and God just doesn't get to win 'em all!