Saturday, December 22, 2012

Guns


There are so many guns out there and no proven method to secure them. The people who buy them are mostly responsible gun owners but once they’ve jumped through all the hoops to purchase their weapons there is no way to insure that the guns are secure.  As in the most recent tragedy in Connecticut it wasn’t the owner herself who used the guns but her deranged son. How did he get at them? Society cannot guarantee that the guns out their won’t get into the wrong hands.

The NRA suggests more guns. Of course. Somehow if we are all armed we will all be safer. But this flies in the face of the basic premise that the more guns the more chance that a gun will get into the wrong hands. More just increases the odds of a bad thing happening.

Here are my suggestions

1. Ban all assault weapons. These are for armed forces. If you want one or think you need one then YOU have a mental problem. Buy a Corvette instead. If we ban assault weapons there will be a few owners who will feel put upon and that their ‘rights’ have been trampled. This in the face of the huge majority of us who would feel safer if these weapons were not around at all.

2. If you already have an assault type weapon the government should buy it back at double what you paid for it.

3. The only guns citizens can own are revolvers and bolt action rifles. All hunters will still be able to hunt. All target shooters will still be able to compete. Anyone who feels they are safer with a hand gun can still feel safer. Fancy weapons, large clips and semi-automatic weapons are reserved for police and military.

Will this guarantee that a tragedy won’t happen in the future? No. Will it reduce the odds? Yes - and the constitution is intact.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Final two thoughts from the political arena . . . for now.


1. There is so much ‘our way or the highway’ in politics now. People get in office and if they have a 1 person majority in the house think they’re going to make the country just the way they want. Any ideas from the other side or ideas that are not on their check list are BAD. Of course getting everything you want never happens in politics and of course it never happens in life. When you buy a house you have your wish list but then you deal and compromise and you get one that has most of the features you had in mind. Of course. Unless you’re part of the 1% that have unlimited resources and you just have the house of your dreams built for you. The rest of us are compromising with our house/apartments.

So to enter the complex arena of US politics and think you can just run roughshod over the rest of us is not reasonable. It’s not good politics and it certainly is NOT governing. And yet that seems to be the attitude, and I think mostly from the Republican party, but all share some of the guilt. This is crazy because listen . . .

Any politician at any level was elected by about half the people. Not many elections go 95% - 5%. So, now that you’ve been ‘elected’ it’s time to get to work and govern. To think that you’re in there just to beat the drum of your constituents and by constituents I mean the large corporations that got you elected is not in the spirit of, well, governing! Maybe every corporate donor should get a letter like this . . .

Thank you for your contribution for the re-election of Rufus T. Bilkem for US Congress. As you know the Congressman stands for motherhood, babies (all of them), and death to commies but.. . . should he get elected he’ll have to temper those main ideas and look to get done what he can in the face of the godless liberals. So, for example, you’ll understand it if the congressman has to trade an increase in your company’s taxes for a reduction in greenhouse gasses. The greater good and all that, right! So thanks again and stand by!

Hmmm...probably not going to happen.

2. Suspected Mind Set of the Republican Party.

The Republicans got their asses handed to them on election day and maybe it was partly for subtly promising things that they can’t deliver. I think the subliminal message from the Republicans is, “Stick with us, vote for us, and we’ll get things back to the way they were”. Now the way they were is a nebulous idea. Back to Leave it to Beaver -  when negroes had separate drinking fountains? Back to before the New Deal when we had 30% unemployment and no social safety net? Back to the frontier days when men were gun toting men and women couldn’t vote? (now they only can’t drive!).

I kid!

There is no time period that IS America. This is disconcerting to ALL of us sometimes but we marshal on. America is a crazy, ever changing amusement park. There is NO time when it was not changing. Always going from one thing to another. LIke music, we all think that the stuff WE heard when WE were growing up was the best music ever (well in my case (Beatles, Stones, need I go on?)  it’s actually true but you get the idea.). America is going to get browner. It is. America is going to have at least 2 languages. It is. America is going to have a variety of couples loving and raising amazing children. It is.

Other trends are less predictable. Is American going to sit and stew in an unproductive snit of fundamentalist religious zealotry? Are we going to lose our ability to be the innovative champions of the planet? Are we going to be so stupid to just go fucking broke? Are we still going to be the people who go into space? We’ll see.

One thing I think will not change is that we will continue to be the Jack Reacher country of the planet. The one that you really don’t want to mess with. We have a really scary military* while in general we are a pretty friendly people. That’s a good combination but you do NOT want to piss us off. Ask Japan. Ask Germany. Ask Osama.

So to govern in America now is to think not what America is nor, especially, what it was, but where it is going. What are the trends? What is the rate of change in all the various social and political areas where things do change.

Do we elect anyone who thinks this way?

* One US nuclear submarine is more powerful than all but about 3 countries on the planet (and none of them are Iran, N. Korea, nor Argentina) . . . and we have several of them, so . . .

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Election Hangover


Well, I guess I’m glad that my guy won. Do I think that somehow the government will start working? That real compromise will happen? That decisions will be made based on what’s best for most of the people as opposed to what’s best for the party or for the companies that donated millions to the campaign?

I have no thoughts like that. I expect that all Democratic ideas will be deemed messages from Satan while Republican ideas will be seen as the rise of the 3rd Reich. But one thing this election holds off for another 4 years is the freak show that would have been the Republicans re-entering Washington with a parade of the anti-science crowd, the anti-intellectuals, the global warming deniers, the moon landing deniers, flat earthers, evolution deniers, ect. Do you see the common thread here? The Republicans are just so fucking negative. No. NO, NO, NO! They depress me. They offer no hope. No ideas, just denial.  And their faith.

And there’s the thing that I still can’t wrap my head around. How is it that being a ‘person of faith’ puts you a rung up in the good guy club? Hell it puts you in the ‘capable of leading the country’ club. A person of faith believes something is true even though it cannot ever be proved to be true. If it could be proven to be true there would be no need to have faith in it and you’d have to find some other un-provable thing to have faith in or I guess you get kicked out of the good guy club.

So, what if Jesus Fucking Christ* showed up in a three piece suit at Times Square and said, ‘Yep I’m real. I exist and all the stuff about the trinity, the soul, the miracles, and life ever after is completely true. I can even demonstrate that it is true. Watch this. . . .’

And in an instant every TV on the planet switches to his image and him speaking in real time. As he’s talking his dad (he looks like Jerry Garcia) walks onto the scene, puts his arm around his son and also reassures everyone that it’s all demonstrably true. In fact he’s anxious to talk with the physicists at Fermi Lab and CERN as they are very close to discovering an ultimate truth with the Higgs particle the ramifications of which would explain the miracles and the current TV transmission. No laws of physics being broken just some unrevealed laws being optimized and used in clever ways. (Think showing TV to a cave man!). And the father says, "Really no need for all the praying and church going since our existence and power are true anyway so you can just simmer down. We kind of hate the music anyway."

So the supernatural becomes the mundane. You don’t have to believe. It’s true anyway! What would the faithful do? Would they turn away? Would they go back to worshiping the sun? Would they become New Jesus deniers? Go Muslim? Ha! Like when someone lifts the drape behind the magician and ‘ruins it’. A theist’s (wow, you sure need the space between the A and the t there!) little private world where things are true because they wish, hope and ‘have faith’, that they are true would become another part of our external reality.

I guess they want Jesus to be real. . . but not TOO real!

Well, anyway for the coming time I guess it’s best to keep asking tough questions. When someone wants something to be true because it makes them feel better or helps their bottom line you have to politely ask for the data, the research, the REASON. And really, let’s do be polite because if there is one thing the Republican party is not it’s polite. It’s not that hard to be polite. You’re mom and dad taught you this. Use it.

*Wouldn’t it be cool if Jesus’ middle name really was Fucking?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Life Ever After

Wow, after reading snippets of various religions views of the after life I come away with these observations.

1. Different religions have different ideas of the afterlife... Think about that but hurry.

2. Most of the versions of the afterlife are based on interpretations of some bible reference. Again, if this is THE word from the creator why does it have to be interpreted and if so why no clarifications or re-writes for the last 5000 years or so. Hello. We have internet now!

3. I very much like the Catholic deal of Limbo (which the church may or may not cop to). This invention allows for Jesus to still be the son of the creator but takes care of the billions of souls born before him (proto-man too? Lemurs?. . .don't ask!). They just have to wait. NEXT! AND it takes care of those who die without being baptized. You see they  have the stinky sin on them even if they died at the age of 7 days. "Take a fucking number shorty"!

4. Let's keep in mind that the Egyptians had elaborate afterlife scenarios and rules about 4000 years before the invention of Christianity. Not a new idea.

5. There is not one example of anybody or any creature living on after the death of the body. Not one. There is no reasonable mechanism for how this would work. There is no identifiable place where these souls (if they indeed take up space) would occupy. Life evolved on this planet because it did. It is the logical direction that self replicating systems take. The fact that those systems are currently self conscious and frightened by staring into the abyss does not change the facts.

We live. We die. Just like every creature, plant and tree has done for billions of years. So, try to be nice for the short time you're here. We'd all appreciate that.

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Earth Goes Around the Sun

It does. But, it certainly doesn't look that way. It is and it was reasonable to build a system in which the sun goes around the earth. This was the view for thousands of years supported by the likes of Aristotle and then the catholic church. Even suggesting that it might be the other way round could get you into deep trouble with the church.

A geocentric model of the universe


From our lofty position in the 21st century we might wonder why the church cared which celestial object went around which. The church didn't really care on a scientific basis. They didn't have a scientific ax to grind it was just that it had been taught the other way so long and 'change' is just not in their vocabulary. This coupled with the idea that the earth is special and created by God and all heavens are just a light show for our evenings' entertainment. If we are special  then we ought to be at the center (not the third rock out) with everything going around us and the data be damned.

Now, from a purely scientific point of view it is not unreasonable to suggest that the sun (and everything else for that matter) goes around the earth. Like I said, it certainly looks that way. A hypothesis that says this is certainly a testable hypothesis. It can be well formed and it was and many models that tried to fit the data to the model were tried. In the end they all fall away at the beauty and simplicity of a sun centered system. The simplist explanation is usually the correct one (Ocam's Razor) and this is a fine example of it.

Why don't we teach students that the sun MIGHT go around the earth? It's a reasonable suggestion. Shouldn't ALL possible explanations be presented to the students? Isn't that fair?

Well it might be fair on some planet but it's not what is done in science class. As a history lesson it is and should be taught. As a good example of a well formed hypothesis that ended up being wrong* it should be taught. But it is certainly not taught as a possible reality that should be seriously considered.

The proponents of Creationism would like you to believe that they have a viable and well formed hypothesis and therefore it must be taught along with any other hypothesis that explains speciazation and basically how things got this way in our biosphere. The problem they have is that their hypothesis is so poorly formed. You can't have a scientific hypothesis that basically says that things were created out of nothing by a magically being. Why? Because it is untestable. There is no experiment you can do to SEE if the creator works or worked this way or whether or not he (or she) even exists. PLUS, we don't teach anything about a magical being in public school because that is the equivalent of teaching religion and of course that is the Creationist goal all along. They really don't have a science ax to grind. They only have a religion ax to grind and apparently teaching crazy shit on Sunday and as much as they want in their own home isn't enough for them. They want the magic rammed down everyone's throat whether they are believers or not.

We don't teach that the sun goes around the earth because, although this is reasonable, it is also testable and turns out to be wrong. We don't (at least we shouldn't) teach that the species we see on the planet were formed as is by an un-seen magical hand because for one it fails to cover all the facts and is just a bad model but more to the point of this article it is un-testable and has no place in the science class room. Teach it in religion class. Teach it in history class. Teach it in a class about different cultures but let's keep it OUT of the science classroom unless you need an example of really bad scientific method!

*By the way, there is a sentiment out there that says things to the effect that theories come and go. They work and then they are proved wrong. It is important to know that there virtually zero examples of a working theory being proved 'wrong'. It's already working, see? A hypothesis can be proved wrong. That's why it's called a hypothesis. People think that Newton was proved 'wrong' by Einstein. That's not the case. Newton's laws of gravitation work just fine and got us to the moon and back. Einstein extended the ideas to include crazy fast speed and crazy huge masses. Einsteins work reduces to Newton's if you let speed and/or mass be small. Evolution is way past being a hypothesis. It is a firmly established theory that explains how things got this way. It already works. To argue its veracity now is to just be very annoying and frankly transparent in your true goals (prayer in school). 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Oh Hell

This is from the Sept 23 CNN religion piece.

My snarkiness in red.


My Faith: Hell is for real and Jesus is the only way out
Editor's Note: Mark Driscoll is founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

I like that in his head shot he needs a shave and is wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Nice.

By Mark Driscoll, Special to CNN
As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth. Your job is to make a decision.
When controversies over biblical doctrines arise, it’s a humbling opportunity to answer questions about what the Bible teaches without getting into name-calling and mudslinging. Near the very top of the controversial doctrines is hell.
What happens when we die?
Human beings were created by God with both a physical body and a spiritual soul. When someone dies, their body goes into the grave and their spirit goes into an afterlife to face judgment.

Here's why theists and atheists cannot have a rational conversation. The theist begins with a completely unprovable statement with no supporting evidence and then just takes off from there. No evidence that we were created by God. No evidence of a soul. No evidence that we go to an afterlife. So any 'discussion' now about  the existence or the nature of hell is bogus.

But death is not normal or natural—it’s an enemy and the consequence of sin.

I can't think of a truer statement than the exact opposite. Everything dies and that is completely normal or we'd run out of room on this spaceship.

Think of it in this way: God is the source of life. When we choose to live independently of God and rebelliously against God it is akin to unplugging something from its power source. It begins to lose power until it eventually dies.

All metaphor with no content.

The Bible is clear that one day there will be a bodily resurrection for everyone, to either eternal salvation in heaven or eternal condemnation in hell.

The bible is anything but clear. That is why people have entire PAID careers 'interpreting' it.

Christians believe a person’s eternal status depends on their relationship with Jesus and that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Our lives are shaped by the reality that “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

 Ok, just now I said to myself that I believe in Jesus Christ as my savior. Am I in? Do I have to say it more? Do I have to say it out loud. Do I have to say it in a church. Do I have to say it 'in my heart'?
 
What does Jesus say about hell? 

Note: There is not one document from Jesus' time quoting him nor did he write anything himself. So when we say, "Jesus said. . . " you don't really know who the speaker is.


Jesus was emphatically clear on the subject of hell. He alone has risen from death and knows what awaits us on the other side of this life. A day of judgment is coming when all of us — even you — will rise from our graves and stand before him for eternal sentencing to either worshiping in his kingdom or suffering in his hell.
The Bible could not be clearer: (come on!) “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (ouch!)
These are not just obscure Bible verses. (Oh no I'm sure they're not) In fact, Jesus talks (maybe) about hell more than anyone else in Scripture. Amazingly, 13% of his sayings are about hell and judgment, and more than half of his parables relate to the eternal judgment of sinners.

Amazing to me that someone has enough time on their hands to figure out how many times a mythical figure referred to a mythical place. Of course I read the Cubs website everyday. . .

Keep in mind that Jesus’ words come in the context of the rest of Scripture, which says that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Furthermore, he “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
God is far more loving, kind and patient with his enemies than we are with our enemies.

Well, now I see how clear the bible is. If we're bad we go to hell. Well . . . maybe not.

What does the rest of the Bible say about hell? 

Again, this is all conjecture!

You can read on but I think you get the idea. You make up an entire structure of creation, omnipotence, goodness, evil, gods returning to earth, impregnating virgins who remain so and people rising from the grave all with not a shred of evidence and then expect people to listen to arguments about the nuances. Well, sadly,  they do don't they.

The Bible gives us many descriptions of hell including (1) fire; (2) darkness; (3) punishment; (4) exclusion from God’s presence; (5) restlessness; (6) second death; and (7) weeping and gnashing of teeth in agony.
A common misperception of Satan is that he’s in a red suit, holding a pitchfork at the gates of hell. But Satan will not[j1]  reign there. Hell is a place of punishment that God prepared for the devil and his angels, and it’s where those who live apart from God will, according to Revelation:
. . . drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb [Jesus Christ]. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night.
At the end of the age, the devil will be “thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Hell will be ruled over by Jesus, and everyone present — humans and demons and Satan alike — will be tormented there continually in perfect justice.
Jesus says, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. ... And these will go away into eternal punishment.”
Is there a second chance after death?
The Bible is clear that we die once and are then judged without any second chance at salvation. As one clear example, Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”
We live. We die. We face judgment. Period.
How long does the punishment last?
Some argue that the punishment of sinners is not eternal, a view called annihilationism. This means that after someone dies apart from Jesus, they suffer for a while and then simply cease to exist.
Annihilationism is simply not what the Bible teaches. Daniel 12:2 says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Jesus speaks of those who “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
Grammatically, there is no difference here between the length of time mentioned for “life” and that for “punishment”; rather, there is simply eternal life and eternal death.
Am I going to hell?
The good news is that the closing verses of the Bible say, “Come!” Everyone is invited to receive the free gift of God’s saving grace in Jesus. Jesus is God become a man to reconcile mankind to God.
He lived the sinless life we have not lived, died a substitutionary death on the cross for our sins. He endured our wrath, rose to conquer our enemies of sin and death, and ascended to heaven where he is ruling as Lord over all today. He did this all in love.
The stark reality is this: either Jesus suffered for your sins to rescue you from hell, or you will suffer for your sins in hell. These are the only two options and you have an eternal decision to make.
My hope and prayer is that you would become a Christian.
Have you confessed your sins to Jesus Christ, seeking forgiveness and salvation?
If not, you are hellbound, and there is no clever scholar who will be of any help when you stand before Jesus Christ for judgment. You’re not required to like hell as much as you need to believe in it, turn from your sin, trust in Jesus, and be saved from an eternal death into an eternal life.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Driscoll.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Rock me Jesus

Well, there you have it. Now its happened to me. Innocently walking around the Lincoln Square neighborhood the other day I spot this rock. It seemed to call to me. When I got down and looked closer I see the image of Christ on it. See it? Is that not the lord on said rock. Of course it is. If I see it and I get this idea then it must be the truth. Networks will be flocking to this rock soon. Pilgrims will come and light candles and pray at the Lincoln Square Miracle Rock. The blind shall see and the lame (but not me) shall walk.









Jesus Christ (alledgedly)
Fred Mertz
What's that you say? You say that this rock guy doesn't look like Jesus Christ? I say it does! And, since Jesus had no portraits of him painted while he was alive NO ONE knows what he looks like. He could look like Fred Mertz for all we know. But I do now what he looks like. I have been chosen.

So, since my sighting is clearly divine (No I don't have to "prove" it! The lord spoke to me and MADE me look at this rock so just SHUT IT!) my rock is holy and worthy of your worship. Also if you like to make a small donation to the Rock Me Jesus Grandchildren College Fund a tax deduction letter will be generated.

Of course there's this annoying research that shows that our brains are wired to look for faces. Research cited here shows that it doesn't take much for a bell to go off in our brain and 'FACE' to be transmitted to our cerebral cortex. Let that face even remotely resemble someone famous (Jesus, Mary, Ernie Banks, etc) and more bells go off as the 'face' matches an already stored image.

Nothing like an ugly fact to ruin a perfectly wonderful miracle. Rock on!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Heaven Help Us!

Thinking about heaven today. . .

Now I'm no expert since I don't think there is such a thing. . .no evidence anyway.

NONE!

But fun to play devil's advocate and ask, what if?

What if there was a heaven and what would it be like? One of the standard models is that you are there and happy but can 'see' your friends and loved ones. You "look down from above". That's nice. But really think about that. You can see your friends and loved ones but you cannot interact. At first they're miserable (or somewhat bummed) because you're dead but you can offer no solace. As you watch them and the years wear on you see them heading for trouble maybe but you cannot do a thing to warn them or help them. You might watch them die in a firey crash. Burning slowly in great pain. This is heaven?

Or just consider time itself. If you are conscious and I guess you're supposed to be or heaven is just binge drinking then you'd sense time. Right? You get to 'live' like this for eternity.  You exist frozen in amber? Endless bliss? If you are still YOU then wouldn't you want, I don't know, a hot dog? A ball game? Sex? Just endless bliss and contentment but no books?

And eternity is a long time! Do you go on after the end of the universe?

My point is that I think the whole idea of living on eternally has not been well thought out! Sounds good since we are wired to avoid being dead but maybe not workable. 


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Wal-Mart

I am so sick of the Wal-Mart commercials during the Olympics. They all feature a breathless American just about squirting her shorts over the fact that she could have saved $7.25 if ONLY she had shopped at Wal-Mart. Oh.....Fail!

Two points....

1. Wal-Mart has single handely destroyed small town America. They did this by just undercutting small local merchants. They did this by buying boat loads of shit made in China by workers making 25 cents an hour. I hate Wal-Mart but I'm equally depressed about America the consumer that ONLY looks at price and not the effect. Yes you can save a couple of bucks by shopping at Walmart but at what real price? The price is having a really ugly box in your town (actually just outside by the interstate)  with a giant black top parking lot. The price is having no small shops or neighborhood merchants. No walking down the street and window shopping. No expertise. No real choice. You're going to have to buy the Chinese shit that comes on the giant Walmart truck or nothing since all of your downtown shops are now closed. Wal-Mart did this but we went along.

2. Shopping at Wal-Mart is not a fun thing like it shows in the commercials. Much like how they show casino commercials without any oxygen bottles. It's a depressing place with shitty merchandise, dirty floors, uncaring, uneducated, minimum wage help if you can find them, and a depressing, flourescent display of tattoed Americans.

You have to decide if the money you save on buying a fucking bag of Cheetos is worth what a Wal-Mart will do to your neighborhood. Last Christmas I shopped at all small shops in my home town of Chicago. I shopped on Broadway and on Lincoln Ave in Lincoln Square. I had pleasant conversations with merchants and bought interesting little things for people. It was a Christmas shopping experience that I really enjoyed. Can you say that after doing an hour at a Wal-Mart during the holiday season?

People will say that Wal-Mart generates jobs. Sure, minimum wage, retail jobs with no skills needed while the Wal family is currently worth over 100 BILLION dollars. Yes, I had to check that myself - B I L L I O N S.  So your joy at your $7.25 discount is laughed at by the Wal family as they enjoy their BILLIONS and fuck small towns.

Oh, forgot the blog. . . There is no God either!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

CNN Religion column with comments

The usual Sunday religion article. My comments are embedded....

By Timothy Keller, Special to CNN

(CNN)–When I was diagnosed with cancer, the question “Why me?” was a natural one.
Later, when I survived but others with the same kind of cancer died, I also had to ask, “Why me?”
Suffering and death seem random, senseless.

Suffering and death ARE random.

The recent Aurora, Colorado, shootings — in which some people were spared and others lost — is the latest, vivid example of this, but there are plenty of others every day: from casualties in the Syria uprising to victims of accidents on American roads. Tsunamis, tornadoes, household accidents - the list is long.
As a minister, I’ve spent countless hours with suffering people crying: “Why did God let this happen?” In general I hear four answers to this question. Each is wrong, or at least inadequate.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

The first answer is “I guess this proves there is no God.” The problem with this thinking is that the problem of senseless suffering does not go away if you abandon belief in God.

Actually, no one has to prove there is no God. You can't prove a negative. It is on the faithful to prove there IS a God.

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said that if there was no higher divine law, there would be no way to tell if any particular human law was unjust. Likewise, if there is no God, then why do we have a sense of outrage and horror when suffering and tragedy occur? The strong eat the weak, there is no meaning, so why not?

If it takes higher laws to validate lower laws then how is there not an infinite progression of higher and higher laws? Also, the argument assumes that there SHOULD be meaning but who said that was true? Maybe there is no universal meaning to all of this but each person finds his own or  not. The argument crumbles then.

Friedrich Nietzsche exemplified that idea. When the atheist Nietzsche heard that a natural disaster had destroyed Java in 1883, he wrote a friend: “Two-hundred-thousand wiped out at a stroke—how magnificent!”
Because there is no God, Nietzsche said, all value judgments are arbitrary. All definitions of justice are just the results of your culture or temperament.

My Take: This is where God was in Aurora

As different as they were, King and Nietzsche agreed on this point. If there is no God or higher divine law then violence is perfectly natural.

Violence is perfectly natural is a very hot button sentence. Is there violence in the world? Yes. Is it 'perfectly natural'? Hmmm..., when a lion takes down an antelope that's very violent and perfectly natural. When a crazed gunman takes out a movie theater that is very violent and perfectly UNnatural. OK, what does either say about a possible God?

So abandoning belief in God doesn’t help with the problem of suffering at all.

And keeping a belief in God doesn't change the suffering either. What's the point?

The second response to suffering is: “While there is a God, he’s not completely in control of everything. He couldn’t stop this.”
But that kind of God doesn’t really fit our definition of “God.”

How convenient! 

So that thinking hardly helps us with reconciling God and suffering.

The third answer to the worst kind of suffering – seemingly senseless death – is: “God saves some people and lets others die because he favors and rewards good people.”
But the Bible forcefully rejects the idea that people who suffer more are worse people than those who are spared suffering.
This was the self-righteous premise of Job’s friends in that great Old Testament book. They sat around Job, who was experiencing one sorrow after another, and said “The reason this is happening to you and not us is because we are living right and you are not.”
At the end of the book, God expresses his fury at Job’s ”miserable comforters.” The world is too fallen and deeply broken to fall into neat patterns of good people having good lives and bad people having bad lives.

Yes but then it is much more easily and better explained to have no invented God at all than a disinterested one.

The fourth answer to suffering in the face of an all-powerful God is that God knows what he’s doing, so be quiet and trust him.
This is partly right, but inadequate. It is inadequate because it is cold and because the Bible gives us more with which to face the terrors of life.
God did not create a world with death and evil in it. It is the result of humankind turning away from him.  

So, we all get continually punished for someone or ones 'turning away' 5000 years ago? At which evolutionary stage did we 'turn away from God'. Australopithecus? Java Man, Lucy?

We were put into this world to live wholly for him, and when instead we began to live for ourselves everything in our created reality began to fall apart, physically, socially and spiritually. Everything became subject to decay.

So I am to accept an egotistical God who wants me to wholly live for him. . . what ever that means. Why does God need me to do this? And, the instruction book is a little sketchy! I won't get into the problems with the bible but just mention treatment of women and slaves. 

But God did not abandon us. Only Christianity of all the world’s major religions teaches that God came to Earth in Jesus Christ and became subject to suffering and death himself, dying on the cross to take the punishment our sins deserved, so that someday he can return to Earth to end all suffering without ending us.

But you don't really KNOW that. There is no way to KNOW that God came to earth in Jesus. You were taught that. If Jesus was a complete nut ball and made the whole thing up. . . the story would be exactly the same. 

Do you see what this means? We don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be.
It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he doesn’t care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths of suffering himself.

Stating that God allows evil and suffering to continue implies that he could stop it if he wanted to. So he gets himself nailed to a cross to show he cares while suffering and random violence continue unabated.  I guess I'm just unimpressed with this effort.

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Someone might say, “But that’s only half an answer to the question ‘Why?'” Yes, but it is the half that we need. If God actually explained all the reasons why he allows things to happen as they do, it would be too much for our finite brains.

How do you know? We have pretty good brains. What a smug and convenient answer!

What we truly need is what little children need. They can’t understand most of what their parents allow and disallow for them. They need to know their parents love them and can be trusted. We need to know the same thing about God.

Sure they trust us. . . that's why you can infect their minds with religion at a young age but not after they've reached the age of reason. 

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy Keller.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Luck?

A Megabus crashed yesterday due to a blown tire with many passengers injured and one fatality. Here's one person's story:

Siegal said she believed she was uninjured because her father gave her a dollar to give to charity, a Jewish tradition that helped protect her en route.

"I believe it was that money that kept me out without a scratch," said Siegal.


How can any sane person believe that? First off.. . . how does it work? What's the mechanism by which money given in one place turns into some sort of protective shield for you in an entirely different place? How does that even sound plausible? And, if you're so protected why didn't this bit of sorcery prevent the bus tire from blowing in the first place?

What about the other people who got off the bus without a scratch? Did they all give a dollar to charity? If not isn't it more reasonable to 'believe' that the nature of the crash was that not everyone was being maimed and you happen to be in that group? What if you had given 2 dollars? Maybe you get off the bus without a scratch and you're teeth are magically straightened.

Why do we rush to the unreasonable scenario? 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Oh it BURNS!

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins recently got a number of idiots to walk on a bed of hot coals. Apparently if you really believe in yourself and release your inner power you won't get burned and if you don't....well, then you get what's coming to you NANCY!

I listened to an interview with one of the believers who did not get burned and he basically blamed the victims. If they don't believe in themselves properly, well, then that's what happens!

From another participant: Carolyn Graves, a 50-year old real estate agent from Toronto, claimed that those who were injured “were out of state,” and thus not in the correct frame of mind to walk painlessly across the fiery floor. She glamorized the event to the New York Times, noting that the fire walk “transformed people’s lives in a single night,” serving as a “metaphor for facing your fears and accomplishing your goals. [Note to self: why am I still so poor when there are so many cretins willing to give away their money? Oh yeah. . . scruples. Damn!]


Now here are two possible explanations for the walking on coals deal.

1. If your feet are sweating or damp you have a layer of that moisture between you and the coals. If you keep moving fast enough the heat won't get through the moisture to your feet. That's pretty simple high school physics. In fact I've seen physicist perform this very demonstration to show how it works.

2, If you "believe in yourself" or are "in state" then I guess this suspends the laws of physics for you. In other words everyone would get burned wet feet or not but belief in yourself suspends that. OK, by what mechanism? If it is a real thing then it works in some real way. How? Explain it. Demonstrate it in a repeatable way.

Well you can't do a controlled experiment and Tony Robbins and others like him (Kevin Trudeau) don't want to do or say anything that CAN be tested empirically.  In this case you can't really measure 'believing in yourself' so as to make two sets of people, those who do and those who don't, and see who gets burned. No, the zeolot lets the phenomena itself, which they made up, determine who has the required level of belief or not which is completely ass-backwards.

Does any of this sound familiar? How about going to heaven. Or hell? Or god sparing a life during a tornado? Or just the all encompassing - God works in mysterious ways. Yeah, so do all snake oil salesmen!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Rainbow

According to the bible the rainbow is God's sign of his covenant with man. That is God's promise that he'll try to control his temper and never again destroy every living thing on the earth except for a few lucky ones. Interestingly, I read a religion blog that seems to think that this is the essence of hope. That God loves us sooooo much that he will only kill 99.999% of us but always leave a remnant of hope. That's the kind of hope that keeps state lotteries going by the way. Forget all the logical problems with Noah and flood myth (Where did the water go? Where did it come from? Really? ALL the animals? How many do you suppose that would be? Only 2 of each. . .that ain't going to work!) and let's just talk about the promise itself.

We were very wicked and had to ALL be destroyed. The animals too for some reason. Seems harsh. Why not invent radio 5000 years ago and get your message delivered a little more efficiently? Wait, are you just crabby because you don't like they way your own creations are behaving? Maybe you should have created them a little differently then. NOPE. They all (save lucky Noah and Mrs Noah who thought she could have married a doctor. Who knew?) have to be destroyed. Were there any good people that got destroyed? Where there any innocent animals that got destroyed? This is the behavior that is supposed to inspire hope? Richard Speck murdered all the nurses in that apartment save one. Thanks Dick!

Now to the rainbow. The rainbow is God's sign of the covenant. Question: were there no rainbows before the flood? It had to rain. The sun had to shine. Given that you're going to get rainbows once in awhile.

When I look at a rainbow (and I do love them) I enjoy those bright primary school colors and the perfect shape of the bow. Through my study of physics and geometry I understand where the colors come from. I can recreate the phenomena in my lab. I understand why they are in the order they are in. I can show why the rainbow occurs at an angle of 42 degrees from the line of the sun. I even can explain why there is a secondary (and even a tertiary) bow. On and on. At no point do I run into a problem where the only path left open is . . . God did it. It just doesn't happen.

And all of this just makes the rainbow more amazing to me. The beauty that it has in itself plus all the layers of understanding that it incorporates when I observe one. Layers and layers of beauty and awe. I don't see this sort of layering if all you got is, "God made it". Done. I guess many among us are drawn to the short simple non-explanation.

Bleeding Virgin Mary

It's been awhile since we've had a good crying/bleeding Mary story and this one, not surprisingly, comes from our friends down south in Baton Rouge, LA. There, a man has a very nice Virgin Mary statue in his front yard (I got to get me one of those...oops, no front yard!). The statue suddenly started bleeding out a hole in the side of Mary's head. It kind of looks like a bullet hole but perhaps not. Of course 'the faithful' are flocking there to pray and to sit on some uncomfortable looking chairs under a little tent to . . . well I guess they're staring at the bleeding virgin. And not surprisingly, the news media are flocking there as well just like they can't resist going to Punxsutawney PA for groundhog day. I've written about these 'miracles' before so lets jump to the bulleted questions.

  • How is this a miracle? What does it really mean to the faithful?
  • Does this support your faith somehow?
  • Has anyone tested it to see if it really is blood? 
  • How is blood coming out of a plaster virgin's head connected to anyone's faith? 
  • I suspect the statue has a metal inner structure and some cracks in the outer facade. That could be rust leaking out of the old girl's head. Does anyone want to know if that's the case? How old is the statue? Was that hole already there and only recently started leaking? Did anyone from the news media suggest that it might be a normal rust event and not a miracle? Is this incisive reporting? 
 Compare this with the recent report of the discovery of the Higgs boson. After years of research, tons of data, peer review up the wazoo, and not reporting until they were more than 99.9% statistically confident, THEN they go ahead with their pronouncement. Gosh that's a lot of work.

But here one dope looks at his statue and says, "That's blood", and there is no follow up question! No testing? No . . . no nothing! What is the virtue in taking wild claims like this on faith?  And let's just stop and fucking THINK for a minute. . . THIS is how the creator of the universe lets you know he (or she) is still on the job? This is a sign from above? Really? This is the best he can come up with. Isn't that a little disappointing if you're one of the flock?

It makes me cringe when they interview the dopes that show up for this kind of event. And, it frightens me when I remember that these same dopes probably vote and they probably vote Republican!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

I'm Not in Norway

What's it like to not be in Norway. This is an odd question. I've never been to Norway. I can't answer by describing how things ARE in Chicago. For all I know they may be exactly the same in Norway. I can't describe what it's like to NOT be in Norway. I only know the positive statements about what it is like to be in Chicago, Indiana, Puerto Rico, . . . the places I've been.

So, what's it like to not be . . . here?

At all.

Well, I've only been here and have no knowledge of not being here so there is no way to answer a question like this. To suggest an answer because the question itself frightens you (ok scares the shit out of you) doesn't mean your answer carries any weight.

Jesus promises everlasting life for those who believe. He rose up out of the grave (allegedly) but no one has ever seen anyone else do it.

No one.

You see it's a faith thing. If you are willing to sacrifice all of your logic and good thinking you'll be rewarded by living for ever. Question: What does Jesus get or not get for our faith? Why does he need that to save you? Why are we 'good' people if we believe the fantastic and 'bad' people if we are skeptical? If we are somehow cursed by having logical brains that can't wrap our minds around crazy thinking about angles, demons and heaven, and hell why not just save us. Hey, who gave us these brains in the first place?

Well, I'm happy to be here and when I'm not here maybe that will be like not being in Norway.

Strange Encounters of the Chicago Kind

Walking down Halsted street today just south of Diversey. What's that booming noise I hear? There's a fire station across the street from me and outside of the fire station there is a young fireman pounding on a giant tire (off a fire truck I presume) with a sledge hammer. This looks very hard and I guess this is how firemen workout. Or receive punishment.

Having made my purchases at the Home Depot I'm walking back the way I came. A new noise but the same tire. This time a fireman is lifting the tire onto one edge and flipping it over again and again like a giant coin. This also looks hard and that it would be quite a work out. I'm dying to say, "Looks like you're getting TIRED - get it"? I refrain, for once listening to the little good sense voice in my head. However, there is another civilian ahead also watching the workout. When I reach her I deliver my oh so clever line, "That looks TIRING, doesn't it? Get it?" I smile.

"I think he needs a psychiatrist", she responds and she is not smiling

"Looks like a pretty good work out to me."

"He probably can't even touch his toes." Is she getting angry with me?

"Well, as long as he can carry babies out of burning buildings", I counter. She is getting actually pissed at me now I can tell. Why?

"Babies aren't that heavy anyway". She's oh so clever but I'm up to the task.

"Ok then, I want him to be able to carry ME out of a burning building". Check and mate?

"He'd probably hit your head on a door and you'd need stitches" - visibly pissed at me now.

"But I'd rather have stitches than burn up, right?" MATE!

She gives me the talk to the hand signal and shaking her head she continues north on Halsted while I head down Diversey. What the hell just happened? Was it the substance of the argument itself or the fact that someone kept shoving logic in her face and it countered what she was already thinking.

Sound familiar? I think we've all had the experience of presenting perfectly logical arguments to a theist (in this case maybe a crazy person but what's the real difference?) and have those arguments get nowhere AND really piss them off. Sometimes it makes me feel bad but most of the time I just figure that that is a price you're going to have to pay for hanging onto magical thinking. You cannot support it or defend it with logic and actually I'm ok with that. If it helps you get through that scary dark night I say use it. But, when you're challenged to defend it maybe just say, "I can't use logic. I just prefer to think this way".

Hey, it's America and you think think anyway you want but just don't expect the entire country to be with you. Don't expect all of America to believe in your invisible friends just because you think it's such a great idea. Keep it as your own little secret and enjoy your freedom. Why isn't that enough?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Supernatural vs Rational

This link to the top ten reasons why God does not exist is from the book, Why Are You Atheists so Angry. It's a good list and brings to the forefront the crux of the major arguments FOR the existence of God. My favorite is #1 which I guess I knew but never really thought about all that much - the fact that there are thousands of examples of things that were once 'explained' via the supernatural that then moved over to having a rational explanation. Floods, lightning, evolution, eclipses, etc. You could make a really long list here. But there are exactly zero examples of anything that was thought to have a rational explanation but then went supernatural on us. NONE! And for things like consciousness (a favorite of the theist) which is a better thought: That consciousness is imbued in us by a creator or that we haven't exactly figured it out YET. The theist likes to pick at things that aren't explained YET (What caused the Big Bang?) and say that's where God is. A Spackle-paste God that only fills in the gaps I guess. The odds now of needing a supreme being to explain ANYTHING are essentially zero.

So, let's just drop all the posturing, hand wringing, and praying and get busy fixing things and feeding people!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Ten Comandments

We have a small consulting business providing support, resources, and training for teachers of young children in the areas of science and math. Check us out - S&S Collaborations. But that's not important.

We recently ordered some marbles from glassmarbles.com. Good price and we were looking forward to more business with them for some things we're working on. We received our first shipment today with the enclosure you see to the left.

Yeah those would be the Ten Commandments.

What the H. E. Double toothpicks?

I think this is rude. I think this is as rude as knocking on people's doors and asking them if they are saved. It's as rude as the guy on the corner with the bull horn preaching hell and damnation. It's just simply rude to insert your philosophy in a place where it is not asked for, needed, nor appropriate.

Here's my letter back to them.

Dear Gary Saltsman,


We received our marbles today. Thank you for the quick service. Strangely we also received a copy of the Ten Commandments in our order. In case this is one of your workers doing something behind your back I thought I should let you know. In any case we consider this bit of proselytizing rude and unnecessary. As a rational humanist I'm offended by being reminded that a large percentage of my fellow humans seem to be stuck in iron age mysticism. This sort of thing being inserted in my shipment is as annoying as people knocking on my door trying to sell me bibles or asking if I've been saved. Notice that I didn't insert any quotes from Daniel Dennet, Richard Harris, or Christopher Hitchens when I placed my order. And by the way, since you've opened up this door, those are all real people who have actually written things while there is no evidence that Moses actually wrote the Ten Commandments.


So, if this was a mistake and you intend on correcting it that's fine. If this is your normal way of doing business I'm afraid you've gotten your last order from us. 


Sincerely,


Scott Welty
S&S Collaborations

I'm wondering what the take is out there? Am I over reacting? How's the letter? C'mon. . .COMMENT!

Friday, May 04, 2012

Everyone has a Right to their Own Opinion

"Everyone has a right to their own opinion". This is an oft used euphemism that I think has gotten twisted all out of shape. I think this popular phrase used to be reserved for taverns as in 'You can ignore the loudmouth at the end of the bar but he has a right to his own opinion".  Now it seems like if you have an opinion, no matter how crazy or lacking in factual support it is, you get to demand respect, time on tv and equal standing with those who actually know what they are talking about.

How did this happen?

Of course the drum I like to keep beating (my horse died) is evolution and science education. There is nothing to support the idea that the world is 5000 years old. Nothing. There is a LOT of scientific evidence that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. It is so crazy that the discrepancy can be that large and people (non-scientists) can have standing with their young earth theories.

Actually, they have standing and they don't. If you only watch tv and read papers and magazines it would seem that they have some standing. But, if you read scientific journals you'll find . . .

nothing.

In the actual world of science and technology, the people who are pressing for real answers and driving our culture forward, you'll find no mention of any of the crazy stuff from the religious right. They can holler, bury CNN in letters, gnash their teeth, and real learning and rationalism marches on without them. I wish there were a way to have them step back and see what an insignificant flea all that posturing is in the actual and real world of searching for truth.

On the other hand if you look at who is running school boards and making decisions about textbooks and curriculum it gets a little scary. I'd like to think that that is a local effect that will lose out in the end. . . 

There are no evil cabals
There are no conspiracies
There are no gods

It's just us here on this tiny mote but we are smart as hell and don't need to be held back by centuries-old superstitions.

And I'd like to think we won't be and that this turbulent chest thumping time between those who would keep us in the dark and those who would calmly lead us to real enlightenment will be just a semi-interesting blip in the ultimate history of the planet. 

Thursday, May 03, 2012

National Day of Prayer

Well there you have it. The national day of prayer has come and gone. Like a lot of pretend things like Valentines Day, Ground Hog Day, Christmas...some people were in involved and many were not. I read a thing that asked if maybe it was political.

PA leeeeese!

Of course.

If you were truly a devout person of faith you wouldn't need a national day of your personal convictions. Not to mention that there is NO evidence that prayer has any more effect than crossing one's fingers, wishing, or hoping.

So sure let's celebrate a national day of saying stuff that has no effect and no way of being shown to be an actual communication with a deity. Well, that's a little beyond cumbersome. How about we call it . .

Thursday.

A day in which nothing out of the ordinary happened.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

God SPEAKS!

This is from CNN. Their  Sunday religion column. This one is so funny I had to reprint the entire thing. My snarky insightful comments are embedded

By Karen Spears Zacharias, Special to CNN

I hear the audible voice of God. No, not in the same way that the Bible’s Eve did (allegedly) when God asked her outright and out loud: “Woman, what in my name have you done now?”
Scriptures don’t tell us specifically, but I suspect at that particular moment in eternity God must have sounded a lot like Perry Mason: “C’mon, tell the truth. You know I’m a specialist on getting people out of trouble.” (Is this for real? This person got printed at CNN? What's happening?)
Bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry is a pastor’s daughter in Alabama. You’d think if God spoke to anybody, it would be a pastor’s child, but Patti swears she has never heard the voice of God. The only time God speaks to her is through the written word.
I find that odd since God talks to me all the time.

Here's the problem with God speaking to people: 1. How can you tell the difference between an actual transmission from a diety and your own brain making you THINK you are getting a transmission from a diety? 2. Do you mean actual audible sound waves impinging on your ears? If so, why can't someone standing next to you hear him too? 3. Of course hearing happens in the brain so God skips the ear part and goes right to the part of the brain that interprets information from our ears. But like all of this stuff. . . how does it work? Is it REAL?  Now, back to the fun . . .


Certainly God knows I’m an auditory learner, so if he wants my attention he has to talk to me. How do you know what God knows? When God speaks to me, he sounds a lot like Garrison Keillor, (uh oh. . .) host of the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion." In other words, he’s engaging, often very funny, and almost always an absolute joy to be around. Even when God’s mad with me (more often that I care to admit), he’s fairly good-natured about it. Theologians who study this sort of thing (and get paid???) say that our image of God is formed by our relationships with our fathers. That image is formed in part by how our fathers speak to us. If they bark orders at us all the time, we might hear God as a crank. But if our fathers speak to us in instructive, encouraging tones, we may hear God as our best coach. My father died when I was young, so I don’t remember his voice, but I’ve listened to Garrison Keillor pretty regularly for 25 years. Doesn't this support the idea that God is a figment of your imagination and your indoctrination as a child. Why wouldn't a real being appear and sound the same to everyone?

When my husband and I were raising our children, we banned television from our household. (Child ABUSE!)"A Prairie Home Companion" (Actual child torture!!) was our primary form of entertainment on Sunday afternoons. With Sundays as our Sabbath, I suppose it is natural for me to associate God with Garrison. Oh sure, this all seems completely natural . . .

Many people don’t even speak to God, much less listen to what he has to say. (Because we're not crazy.) I imagine for some the thought of a God as Garrison Keillor would be pure hell, what with all that Guy Noir Private Eye nonsense and those saccharin sweet ketchup commercials. Perhaps (What, not sure?) like a good mother, though, God resorts to a variety of different voices to reach all of her children. Do you identify any of the following?
Spock, from “Star Trek,” is the defining voice of God. Spock is half-mother (human) and half-father (Vulcan). Who could be more egalitarian, more Godlike than that? Anyone who thinks of God as arbitrary and capricious needs to have a chat with Mr. Spock, who once so rightly noted, “Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical humans.” Amen. Amen.
Anyone who thinks of God as NOT arbitrary and capricious should visit the aftermath of a tornado. Or could it be that the world has a randomness to it and the unproveable God doesn't exist?

More movie stars as God ensues and it is pretty depressing from a writer's point of view that this pap gets published and distributed and probably paid for makes we want to nearly give up as a writer. Go on if you dare. . .
James Earl Jones. If I heard that baritone voice calling to me from a burning bush, it would stop me in my tracks. Who cares that Jones couldn’t cut the muster at Fort Benning’s legendary Ranger school? That’s nothing more than boot camp for a bunch of hellions anyway. There is something about the thundering power of Jones’ voice that naturally evokes trust from us. And if we can’t have a God in whom we can trust, what’s the point?
– Surely, Jeff Bridges is the voice of God for all the remnant of Jesus Freaks now seeking refuge as Episcopalians. “I am not Mr. Lebowski,” Bridge’s says in Coen Brothers’ “Big Lewoski,” in one of the oft-quoted lines in that cult classic. “You’re Mr. Lebowski. I am The Dude, so that’s what you call me. That or His Dudeness or uh, Duder, or, El Duderino, if you're not into the whole brevity thing.” Of course, aging Jesus Freaks and Episcopalians alike are all about that brevity thing, so they happily go along with “the Dude abides,” another classic line from the film.
Yoda, of “Star Wars,” is the voice of God for Zen-seeking, yoga-loving Emergent Christians. Emergents are the melting pot of Christianity, the place where hipsters who want to be spiritual but not religious go for community - typically a local brewery or Starbucks. “Luminous beings are we,” says Yoda. “Not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere!”
– Writer C. Terry Cline Jr. says when God speaks to him, it is in the scolding voice of Pee-Wee Herman - “What did I tell you?” In Cline’s latest book, "The Return of Edgar Caycee," Cline claims he was channeled by the previously deceased reincarnation guru, whose fan club has rivaled that of God’s. Is it any wonder God is miffed with Cline for conjuring up Caycee again?
– Your momma. Sonny Brewer, a Navy veteran and my editor at San Francisco’s publishing house MacAdam/Cage, says that the only voice he’s ever associated with God was his mother’s. Sonny’s mom has been nearly mute for nearly 20 years, the result of a stroke. “She can sing hymns but she can’t talk,” Sonny says. “When I think of God speaking to me, I think of my momma. Like God, she always loves me, even when I’m a bad boy.”

Whatever the cause, nobody enjoys getting the silent treatment. It is a particularly troubling matter when God goes silent on us, when we can’t hear his voice at all, whether it’s a tender whisper of encouragement, raucous laughter, or a thundering rebuke, it is then that we are most keenly aware of God. Silence stills us. We pause and listen, ear pressed, waiting, anticipating, hoping for just a word of assurance that we have not been abandoned. Or no one is talking. Why can't this be the logical conclusion of not hearing anything?

We all have had days when we feel like we’ve failed God. (I don't) If in such moments we would listen to the wind in the trees, the waves curling on the beach, feet crunching in sand, and the song of the mockingbird as the evening sun sets, (jeezus, pour some syrup on it while you're at it! What no kittens?) we would surely hear creator God singing hymns over us, his creation. Ah metaphor. . . why can't those sounds just be what they are and it's just us here.

Look, there are actual intelligent theologians that you can have intelligent conversations with about the IDEA of God, faith, science all of that. I had that experience when teaching for the Carmelites. This woman's idea of God has never progressed past an 8 year old's Sunday school version. It's not an unusual stance but I wonder again at how this simplistic, juvenile (and poorly written) load gets published.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tennessee- The Origin of the Specious Argument


Tennessee recently has allowed the teaching of creation science in their classrooms. That's nice. As written here before, you cannot legislate truth. There is no basis for creation science. There are several points that show that it is a flawed theory with many holes in it. That is is simply wrong. Why teach a wrong thing?

For example, back in Newton's day he had a contemporary, Robert Hooke, who discovered the simple math rule of how springs behave. So enamored with this rule he tried to apply it to the planets. He tried to show that the motion of the planets was caused by a force from the sun that was bigger when the planet was farther away just like a spring exerts a bigger force the farther you stretch it. This is a nice idea but it's wrong. It won't wash. You can't get the proper motion of the planets under the influence of such a force. So the idea just went away as bad ideas will do in the face of the data. You could have all the votes you wanted about that and you could even have a winning vote for Hooke's spring theory. You could even force teachers to teach it in school but the planets would still behave according to Newton's inverse square rule. And, if you voted money to send a probe to the moon or Mars based on a Hooke rule it would miss by a kabillion miles.

Now then. . . Trying to explain the variety of species, extinct species, and why we have a LOT in common with fish with intelligent design is hopeless. Intelligent design is just a pandering to what a bunch of religious zealots WANT to be true and because they are zealots it's not good enough for them to think it is true they want EVERYBODY to think it is true because somehow that will make it truer.

It won't. Why does this flawed theory of intelligent design keep getting resuscitated while Hooke's theory died peacefully in it's sleep? Because, Hooke's theory doesn't challenge anything in the bible.

I won't delineate the arguments here. I'm tired of that. The more you argue back and forth the more you give the zealots a platform. Let me just paint these broad strokes.

No university teaches Intelligent Design except for these. Notice there is no Big Ten school, no ivy league school, no school with a football team. If this is such a hot theory why aren't major research universities teaching it? You'll notice that all the schools have the word bible, baptist, seminary, etc in them. Not surprising and yet where is Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Georgetown, Loyola, St. Johns, DePaul, Duke, SMU, or Baylor?

When you read intelligent design crap the recurring theme is the old (and tiresome!) argument of 'incredulity'. Arguments that begin, "I just can't imagine. . . ", "Isn't it impossible. . . ", "How could it be . . . ", etc. These statements usually then go into some feature of the biological world that they find impossible to exist without a creator. The common example is the human eye.

The only problem with all of these arguments is that they've all been answered with a cogent, complete and simple theory of evolution. This is a common ploy. To CREATE controversy where none existed before they came along. To me THAT'S creation science - to create controversy by playing to the press as opposed to publishing peer reviewed scientific papers. But they don't do that. There is no journal or scientific organization that will accept any paper on intelligent design because . . . wait for it. . . IT'S NOT SCIENCE!

Then, see. . . it's all a conspiracy!!

And, if you're going to make incredulity a test of a theory let's pick anything from the quantum world or relativity. Why aren't those being attacked? For example, I can't 'imagine' an electron that has mass and yet no size. I can't imagine a photon of light and have light also be a wave. Why are teachers being allowed to teach crazy stuff like electron science or wave-particle duality to our youngsters? Why? Because the bible skipped over electrons and light (and the big bang by the way) so the faithful don't care. Oh, and that stuff about electrons and photons stands up to experiments. What experiment would you do to test intelligent design? There is none because the theory always ends up with . . . And then magic happened. You can't test for that. And maybe that's really the crux. The faithful are a group of people who somehow NEED there to be things that "just can't be explained". Somehow that is important to their world view so it is important that there is no experiment. This is better for them than an experiment that would come out in their favor. Unexplainable is somehow better.

Please read Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin. It's clear. It's interesting. In it he not only explains how evolution works but shows how intelligent design fails miserably in explaining anything and ends up being self contradictory. For example, according to intelligent design everything is perfectly designed for its environment. Shubin shows many examples of species that plod along while NOT being so perfectly designed due to getting separated from where they first evolved. Why would a creator do this? Another obvious example is our own appendix.

The other excellent book is Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne. Read it. Similar to the above it is clear, concise and cuts to the heart of the intelligent design flaws.

Also, Darwin's own Origin of Species is surprisingly readable if a little lengthy. Oh, and it's free on Kindle.

Better yet, if you run into an intelligent design person you might ask them if they've read any of these or what they have read about evolution. Be prepared for a 'no' and a bunch of arguments of incredulity. Remember, just because due to someone's lack of education, they can't 'imagine' something doesn't make it impossible. In fact, if you want an argument using incredulity? Due to my having made it through a couple of college degrees and being a skeptic I can't imagine a deity that somehow builds creatures using magic. Which is more 'incredulous'?

I swear to Newton, if I had a kid in school in Tennessee I would move and move NORTH. In true Atlas Shrugged style, what if all the smart people (there must be some) left Tennessee?

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Another Miracle

A navy jet recently crashed into an apartment building. It being mid day no one was home and no one was killed. The pilots ejected as per their training. Then this quote from the governor:

“I think it’s an act of divine providence,” Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.

Really? That's the first explanation that you can come up with? As if an explanation is even required. God saw to it to drive a plane into an apartment building but did so so that no one was killed. And his message was . . . . ? Or God was asleep at the helm and a plane was headed for the ground and at the last second God picked an apartment building with on one in it. This is the 'sorta-omnipotent' God.

Of course the obvious question by anyone with a brain is, if God is present for things like this why have the plane crash at all? Or why not have the plane just miss the apartment building and crash in the parking lot?

Why doesn't anyone come back on a statement like the governor's with a follow question or two? I'll tell you. Because we tip toe around statements of faith like that as if they are worth some extra respect and that is one of the small ways that myths continue to have life.

If the governor had said, " I think a giant squid stuck up a tentacle and pulled the jet down" he'd be driven from office within the month even though squids actually exist! We wouldn't respect or give the squid explanation ANY credence at all but we nod our heads and mumble something when someone says something equally stupid about 'divine providence'.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Voting Ain't Gonna Do It

If you vote for Mitt (are my eyes too close together?) Romney, Rick (Is that a rubber in your pocket young man?), or looks like any other Republican, that wont make evolution, global warming, the moon landings, nor gravity false. You can't vote/legislate truth. Only rationalism, logic and science reveal the truth. Let's have someone at the helm who understands how to solve problems regardless of their faith not someone who things faith will somehow magically solve problems.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Scientific Method

I had the good fortune today to sit in on a couple of presentations at Fermi National Laboratory. There are two large research groups there representing the two giant detectors they have in the Tevatron. Each group has data and analysis that may be suggestive of the existence of the elusive Higgs particle which would be very large news.















Understand that I understood NONE of the physics per se but here’s what I observed:

  • Calm and logical presentations
  • Polite and attentive audience
  • An almost crushing critical eye on their own data (more on this)
  • Respectively presenting results from the other detector and from the big machine at CERN without any high fiving or end zone dances (but that would have been kind of awesome).
  • Questions being asked and answered without any shouting or interrupting.

So, yes, all of this in direct opposition to what passes for public debate and intercourse these days (Republican “debates” or any asshole on FOX). I watched as each group looked very hard for ways their data could be WRONG. That’s right. That’s the real scientific method. You have a hypothesis, you collect data, it may be suggestive of the hypothesis but before you go there you check the 999 ways you could be wrong. They do a thing were they think they have a signal and then ask, “What are the odds that the background noise could have produced this signal”? They even have a thing called LEE which is the 'Look Elsewhere Effect'. I can only assume that that includes behind the sofa cushions. Stuff like that. They might not like the answer to those questions all the time but so it goes.

You’ll never find this among the creationists because they don’t understand the first thing about science or the scientific method. They have a preconceived idea about how the world works (not a testable hypothesis) then they put together ideas and things that may be suggestive of that preconceived idea, ignore all things that contradict, and call that science. What they are missing is the critical eye that would ask, what else might cover these observations? Is that more or less plausible than where we started? But no. They cannot accept any explanation that contradicts the initial world view because the whole point is to have another way to preach the world-view. . . science be damned!

We’re swimming in relativism where everyone with an idea thinks his is just as good as anyone else’s because he tweeted it. Luckily, real research doesn’t work that way. It’s god awful hard work but step by step our understanding of this universe increases. Any opinion you have about some piece of research better be well formed and based on the relevant and accepted theories around. You don't get to have an opinion just because it suits you. You don't get to have an opinion just because somehow you got it into your head that all opinions are equal. They're not.

Basic research may not lead to a world view that is exactly what we had in mind but that doesn’t matter. Keeping an open mind is critical if you expect to find anything new. Wherever pure research leads we all get to share in our increased understanding of this (one and only?) beautiful universe.

If we keep an open mind . . . and quit shouting!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

What does the bible say about the bible . . and then I ramble.

I had this thought today. . . Does the bible itself actually claim to be 'the word of God' or written by God? If not then the 'good book' was handed down and at some point people started putting a magic cloak on it.

My research continues but I did find this nugget:

Christians believe that the Bible is from God, not because someone told them, but because the Bible claims it.

I'm guessing this won't be my last encounter with a circular argument. But then I guess I asked for it by asking if the bible referred to itself. Self reference, like time travel, always leads to difficulties.

The barber cuts the hair of all the people who don't cut their own. Who barbers the barber?
There are two indices in the library. One lists all the books that do not refer to themselves in any way and the other lists all the books that do. Which index is in which index?

Stuff like that.

Anyway, my bigger wondering was about the nature of the world and civilization at the time that we think the books of the old testament were assembled by Abraham and then maybe later by Charlton Heston.

From Wikepedia:
In historical archaeology, the ancient literature of the Iron Age includes the earliest texts preserved in manuscript tradition. Sanskrit literature and Chinese literature flourished in the Age. Other text includes the Avestan Gathas, the Indian Vedas and the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible. The principal feature that distinguishes the Iron Age from the preceding ages is the introduction of alphabetic characters, and the consequent development of written language which enabled literature and historic record.[1]

(jeez they sure underline a lot!)

Wow, Looks like the Hebrew Bible (old testament) wasn't the only writing laying around. Were any of these other pieces of literature given the magic cloak?

Here's the thing. I'm a rotten history student. I like it. It interests me but there is just so MUCH of it! Suffice it to say that the ancient books of the bible were written a LONG time ago. Now it is said that they were 'inspired' so that they are actually the word of God. OK.

However, would you allow that perhaps there were some misunderstandings? Would you allow that due to the temper of the times and the vagaries of passing things down that things like slavery, role of women, etc maybe got a less than
heavenly treatment? If so, how hard is it to get re-inspired and do a new edition? I'm half serious (the other half is all smart-ass). The religious get so much grief (and rightly so) about the atrocities that are promoted in the bible that I can't see a down side for them for a re-write.

They won't have to prove that the re-write was actually written by God since they can't prove that model 1 was either. It's a faith thing. Some modern 'inspired' writers could really have at it! They could get the age of the universe correct. They could have the modern bible jibe with evolution! You could teach the new bible in Bio class and all are happy! You could keep the old stories about Noah etc. but perhaps the flood was not world wide but local and he took some cats and dogs. You could put in some fancy language about the big bang and you get some traction there because to date nobody knows what CAUSED the Big Bang. You could have some newer stories that include such modern characters as Archimedes and Galileo, Martin Luther and Muhammad Ali perhaps. You could fill in things about dinosaurs, the Chinese, the Aztecs, and the Whig Party. Stuff like that. Why in the end you'd have a wonderful book that would be. . .


Maybe a very nice set of science/history texts! Praise the Newton and pass the ammunition!



Hand of God

Theists are fond of seeing the hand of God in such things as devastating tornadoes. The two obvious questions are:

1. How does it work? Really, how does it work? What is the mechanism by which an entity controls the weather. I'll give you that he has the power to do it. What is the mechanism by which it works?

2. I like to ask, ok, they how would it have looked different if it were just random weather and not the hand of God? Look about the same I'm thinking. A family huddled in their house praying their asses off got carted off to heaven. Hmmm...maybe that's what they were praying for and it DOES work!

In short you only see the hand of God if you already believe in the hand of God. There is no objective proof of the work of a deity. As my boss at the museum used to say, "If I hadn't believed it with my own mind I never would have seen it".

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Hoping and Knowing

There’s hoping and then there’s knowing. Religion is devoted to hoping and science and rationalism are devoted to knowing. When you pray you are hoping a LOT of things. You’re hoping that the lines are up, you’re hoping that the message will be answered. When you go to church and express your faith you hope that you are going to heaven. Even the faithful will agree that they don’t know any of those things but that they have faith. They’re hoping.

People are fond of saying that they know something “in their hearts”. This is put up as an unassailable position when in fact it's just a metaphor. Moreover, by saying you ONLY know something in your heart means that you’re hoping. Flowery language cannot be used against cold hard facts. You’re basing your premise on what you want to be true based on no information or research and probably via ignoring information that contradicts that which you are hoping.

When you know something (no matter how much you may wish it weren’t true) you know it based on research, facts, known theories, and testable and re-testable experiments. Your knowledge is firmly attached to reality. There is nothing between you and your knowledge that has to be accepted to move on. Nothing is based on hoping. Everything is open to examination and tests. That’s real knowledge. And if someone says to me, "Yes, but what about other realities or the supernatural", I say, well just show me an example and we'll take it from there. Experiments will continue and would frankly be fascinating!

I get the hoping part. It’s a scary world out there. Our lives are so short. We wish things were different perhaps. But hoping they were different doesn’t make it so. Every parent teaches their kids this pretty early on, right? You may wish your child didn’t have to go through the pain of a dying pet but making up a doggie heaven doesn’t change the facts. As kids grow they have a pretend world that meshes with the real world and that's great but we all know the difference, right?

None of this would be worth writing about nor would it be a problem except for the fact that hoping and reason are hoisted up on the dance floor as if they were on equal terms (because the former might actually be worth more votes). When it comes to the death of Bowser I could give a rats ass really what you tell your kid. But when it comes to how we operate something as complicated as the US of A I get a little nervous. Why should I care what invisible deity what candidate sends his hopes to. Why do we still say that someone is a “man of faith” as if that makes him qualified to lead the nation. If that were all it took we’d draft Tim Tebow and be done with it.

Examples abound. When the religious right tries to pretend that there is controversy regarding evolution they are putting their hope that the bible is true and accurate and that man is special up against tons of reality based research that says we are no more special than any other of our fellow creatures and that clearly there has been a plodding progression from simple organisms to more complicated. We’re part of that progression. How could we not be without being aliens from another planet? That these two positions are put up as if they were worthy debate contestants is ludicrous.

When people listen to congressmen instead of scientists when it comes to global warming it’s because they HOPE that it just isn’t true and that it’s really still 1957, gas is 29 cents a gallon, and Wally and the Beaver are on their way home from school. Sorry, the planet is definitely warming up and anyone who can read and think a little will agree with the thousands of SCIENTISTS who also agree that the planet is warming up and that it is industrialization that caused it. It’s a tough reality so just deal with it and let’s start working on solutions. There is nothing in the way of solving problems except denying that they exist!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

anti evolution

There’s still a anti-evolution bill pending in New Hampshire.

Do these people have the remotest idea of how science works? You don't get a bug up your ass about your pretend friends and then try to get a fucking bill passed in support of it. No. You do real scientific research and publish your results in a peer reviewed journal.

Why no anti-gravity bill? or anti-neutrino bill? Or why not just come out and write an anti-science bill because you just can't handle all that logic and want to live about 5000 years ago.

Enjoy the cholera?

Why do we insist on remaining so stupid?