Monday, December 31, 2007

Quote Of The Day

When patterns are broken, new worlds can emerge.

Tuli Kupferberg

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Quote Of The Day

When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said Let us pray. We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.

Desmond Tutu

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Punch-up in Bethlehem

This is funny: priests of two Christian sects got into a brawl over how to clean the church which is suposedly built over where Baby Jesus Lay Down His Sweet Head.

Even funnier, this is apparently not the first time this kind of thing has happened:
It is not the first time that a ladder has led to fisticuffs among priests in the Holy Land. In the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem’s Old City, a ladder still stands as a reminder for all priests to watch their tempers.
Could you ask for more perfect exemplars that religion is inherently divisive?

Christianity - it's a religion of peace, you know!

(hat tip bOINGbOING)

Quote Of The Day

"If you were taught that elves caused rain, every time it rained, you'd see the proof of elves."

Ariex

Friday, December 28, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"Faith is a cop-out. It is intellectual bankruptcy. If the only way you can accept an assertion is by faith, then you are conceding that it can't be taken on its own merits."

Dan Barker.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"Based on the number of 'tards who 'find' him, I suspect Jesus really sucks at hide'n'seek."

Marc Wolfe.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Quote Of The Day

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.

Philip K. Dick

‘Mistletoe: A Poison’

The silence of that Yuletide
Lies sick in me. Poison-numb
From mistletoe is my pride
For I have let my sullen tongue
Swallow the darkness
And add to the starkness;
My love’s love’s love has died.

I would not reach, so could not touch
The stifled soul who lay in pain
And though it need not cost me much
Did nothing give, did nothing gain,
Would not the gelling silence stir
That lay with him and me and her
But let cold kisses stay as such.

I might have been a truer friend
I might have been a bridge to cross
I should have been a thread to mend
A garment tearing into dross
But I would not relate
And so could not create
But only helped to end.

B.T. Murtagh

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Quote Of The Day

Whenever a poet or preacher, chief or wizard spouts gibberish, the human race spends centuries deciphering the message.

Umberto Eco

Monday, December 24, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"Instead of Jesus, we have Santa Claus, who could be described as 'What God would be like if he had a sense of proportion.' He brings gifts instead of eternal life and coal instead of eternal hellfire. He has magical powers as ridiculous as those of Jesus, like the ability to climb chimneys and make ruminants fly, which are much more useful than Jesus' 'casting out demons into pigs' kind of thing.

He's clearly what Jesus would be if he was real. Nobody would ever consider nailing this omnibenevolent deity to anything, would they? Nor does he hold anything against you longer than a year. Of course, only the very young or foolish actually believe he exists. And a mark of maturity is the admission that he doesn't. People who believe are ridiculed...just as it should be."

Steve James*

* Who beat me to the blog title "Unscrewing the Inscrutable" but I like him anyway!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."

Buddha.

Assessing likelihood, part 2


It's an inescapable part of being a parent that you worry about your child's health, physical and mental and emotional.

Being a freethinking parent in a society currently so saturated with Christian propaganda, I sometimes worry about whether my child will be able to keep his head clear of it. On the one hand I don't want to propagandize him myself, and on the other hand his mother prefers to take a noninterfering agnostic approach, but on the gripping hand there's never a shortage of people here in South Carolina willing to preach at the drop of a hat, or even just a pause in the conversation.

Anyway, my son and I were driving along and chatting. He was telling me about a video game he likes cslled Psychonauts, and mentioned that the lead character is named Razputin. (He's ten, and video games figure largely in his world.) Being the kind of Dad I am I took it as an opportunity to regale him with the tale of Rasputin. I explained how he became powerful in old Russia by convincing the Tsar and Tsarina that he could help their little boy survive his haemophilia (I explained what the disease was, and that it was incurable for the poor kid who'd been born with it) by using magic powers.

He wasn't having any of it. "Daddy, are you saying that was for real? You must be joking with me, right?" I assured him that it was true, and I could show him photographs of the people involved in my history books when we got home. He ruminated for a while, then told me he didn't care if it was in the history books, he still didn't believe it. "Magic isn't real, how could he make that boy better?"

I explained that I hadn't said that Rasputin really helped the boy, only that he claimed he could and the Tsar and Tsarina believed him. He thought about that a bit, then said, "Daddy, I still don't believe it. How could he even pretend good enough to make them believe him? The boy would still keep bleeding. It's ridiculous!" I shrugged and admitted that it seemed a bit hard to credit, but that the Tsar and Tsarina were so desperate and worried about their boy that they just believed Rasputin when he said he could help.

"Well, Daddy, I think that's wrong. I think maybe they just pretended to believe him, to make their little boy less scared."

A parent always worries about something, but I think I'm going to stop worrying about my boy's ability to think for himself! He certainly seems better equipped to assess relative robabilities than the average Christian.

Assessing likelihood, part 1


A new Barna group survey on how literally American take their Bible stories just came out.

To combine with the last Barna survey, amongst Christians:

75% believe a virgin got pregnant.
75% believe a dead guy rose from the grave.
69% believe water transformed into wine.
68% believe 5 loaves and 2 fish fed 5000 people.
65% believe a man overnighted with lions, uneaten.
64% believe water covered every mountain on Earth.
64% believe a sea opened to allow foot passage.
63% believe a boy killed a man using a slingshot.
60% believed a man walked on water.
60% believe the universe was created in 6 days.
56% believe in smooth-talking snakes.
49% believe strength can relate to hairstyle.

Two of these are easy enough even for a rationalist to believe; David used an unexpected weapon and was maybe a bit lucky, and maybe Daniel just didn't smell good to the lions.

A couple more could be considered 'stretchers' with a grain of truth; granting preternatural strength in the first place, it's possible to assign a psychological explanation to Samson's couture concerns, and a lot of people could be satisfied with a little food and a lot of goodwill on a one-time basis.

With a great deal of magnanimity, probably best obtained with the aid of large doses of ethanol, and a suitable disregard for the fine details of the stories, similarly obtained, one can allow for a couple more; talking snakes, while they don't appear to exist now, aren't actually incompatible with the physical laws of the Universe, and the antiquity of the Universe could be fudged a bit - rounding, you know.

That leaves seven stories which contain elements any normal rational person would consider flat-out violations of the natural laws of the Universe.

The odd thing is that the level of belief seems to have very little to do with the plausibility of the story. The Ultimate Catering Triumph of feeding five thousand people with one platter of fish sandwiches is considered less likely than pregnant virgins, ambulatory corpses, and an alcoholic's wet dream. It's considered more likely that a man could split an ocean with his mind, than that a boy could split a man's skull with a well-aimed rock.

I suppose we should be grateful that these people do consider that last story, about the superiority of ranged weapons, as being more likely than the one about guys perambulating the surface of large liquid volumes, but I still have to question their ability to assess relative probabilities.

Bear in mind that these are the folks who consider evolution by natural selection unlikely and difficult to believe.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

For Those Who Doubt The Axial Tilt Theory

Don't consult oracles...


... consult an orrery!

Quote Of The Day

Religions change; beer and wine remain.

Harvey Allen

A Happy Winter Solstice To All!


Today, December 22 2007, is the real deal. Break out the brandy and firesticks!

And a big, big welcome to my brand new great-nephew, Iggy Fiorello Spetrino-Murtagh! Yay!!!!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Frog

Co-QUI! Co-QUI! This little fellow isn't shy at all, shouting his name out from dusk till dawn. And why should he be? Eleutherodactylus coqui is, after all, the official animal of Puerto Rico, where this small tree-dwelling frog primarily makes his home... and yes, it's the "him" who is the homemaker here! After the female lays the fertilized eggs, the male coqui frog shoos her away and then faithfully stands guard until the eggs hatch into froglets - unlike most frogs, coquis don't go through a tadpole stage but hatch out already in pretty much their adult form. Quite a distinctive frog, eh?

Quote Of The Day

If God kills, lies, cheats, discriminates, and otherwise behaves in a manner that puts the Mafia to shame, that's okay, he's God. He can do whatever he wants. Anyone who adheres to this philosophy has had his sense of morality, decency, justice and humaneness warped beyond recognition by the very book that is supposedly preaching the opposite.

Dennis McKinsey

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Quote Of The Day

Every prayer reduces itself to this: "Great God, grant that twice two be not four."

Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"Religion invents a problem where none exists by describing the wicked as also made in the image of god and the sexually nonconformist as existing in a state of incurable mortal sin that can incidentally cause floods and earthquakes."

Christopher Hitchens

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Quote Of The Day

There is not enough love and goodness in the word for us to be permitted to give any of it away to imaginary things.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Monday, December 17, 2007

Quote Of The Day

There is no harmony between religion and science. When science was a child, religion sought to strangle it in the cradle. Now that science has attained its youth, and superstition is in its dotage, the trembling, palsied wreck says to the athlete: "Let us be friends."

Robert Green Ingersoll

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Quote Of The Day

Our society is in the grip of a perverse mindset... The conscientious nonbeliever, incredibly noble in courage and in will power to follow reason through to its ineluctable conclusions, is shunned rather than lauded.

Edward Tabbash

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pointless rambling, with backache


So here I am, sprawling half crippled in what passes for my easy chair because a bout of seasonal cleaning and decorating has put my lower back into continual spasms. Did my Creator design my spine badly, or is it an appropriate punishment for the lack of religious motivation in my decorations, or did evil enter my sacral vertebrae when some ancestor nicked an apple, or am I just an ape not totally evolved for the postures involved in mopping floors? I have my suspicions that it's the latter, so rather than begging for forgiveness or whatever I'm just carefully lying as comfortably as possible and slurping down rum and eggnog while I watch Matrix Revolutions.

Could the best question of all be why am I watching that particular waste of celluloid? Doubtful, but it's probably the best one I currently have the concentration to answer with anything approaching coherence. That's amusing, in a small way, since a certain lack of coherence is one of the primary defining characteristics of this category of film. That, in turn, is because I'm the one who is categorizing the films, and I chose that as a defining characteristic of Fetish SF (tm) films.

The reason I'm watching this turd third Matrix movie is more or less the same reason I forced myself through the sickened second one: I need the references. My primary cultural milieu is techno-geek, and for better or worse this trash is a primary source; I don't have to like it, but not having seen it is a bit like being a cultured upper-class Englishman of the Great War era who didn't know his Ovid or Homer. (Those guys wouldn't have had to look up the meaning of the "Temet Nosce" sign in the Oracle's house for example, and I'm glad my old Latin master wasn't anywhere near my ear just now.)

Ow ow ow ow... that's it, it's Mr. Cousins tormenting me from beyond the grave because I never could translate my Cicero, non gradus anus rodentum .

The rot set in right from the farced first one in the series. The initial concept, that all we see is a computer simulation and we're actually slaves to a machine civilization, was cool. It's a schtick that in its roots goes back millennia (with illusionist gods like Mara or Lucifer providing the simulation rather than machines, obviously). Philip K. Dick based his entire oeuvre on the question "How do you know what's real?"

It's a great question and can lead to all kinds of wonderful plot devices, plus it lets you pull iin the echoes from all the similar stories where heroes discover strange worlds behind the everyday one - down the rabbit hole we go, you're not in Kansas any more. Young man aided by an older Mentor travels to a strange world outside the known, braves dangers, comes back to save his home from the previously unseen danger. Classic Joseph Campell stuff, like much good science fiction, and giving it a plausible mechanism makes it compelling.

So why, oh why, oh why, did they have to give the machines such an utterly boneheadedly wrong motivation? Humans are being used as batteries, power supplies for the machines? What retarded dipstick somewhere in the process failed to understand basic physics? The damn people are consuming food, organic fuel administered via tubes; it would have been much more efficient for the machines just to burn the fuel to generate electricity. Besides, it fails even to provide a motivation for what the machines essentially do; why would they have to provide the elaborate artificial environment of the Matrix if that's all the humans are supplying?

What would have made more sense, and been just as ironic, would be if the machines were using the people in the vats as information processing units, taking advantage of our brains having evolved to recognize patterns even in incomplete data. That's a difficult thing to simulate in a computer, it would explain why the machines needed to maintain (and constantly modify) such a computationally expensive illusion, and there could be endless fun building analogies between what is happening in the real war and how the machines represent it in the Matrix.

Machine vulnerabilities could be mapped to problems facing the vat people in their eternal dreams. Hackers messing with the Matrix model could subvert the machine strategies, perhaps by making the machines overlook their own vulnerabilities by taking the pain out of the vat people's simulated backaches...

Ah, but that would have involved trusting the audience to understand a subtlety or two; I'd almost be willing to bet that something along those lines was in the original plot, but when it got Hollywood-ized some producer lost the nerve to do it that way. Maybe the same one who got all excited when the idea of tapping universal mythic structures partially penetrated, and felt compelled to throw in the utterly unnecessary and deeply boring prophecy subplot.

I should give style points, I suppose, for the powerful oracle being portrayed as a frumpy middle-aged housewife, but hell, style is the one thing these movies do have in abundance. In the Matrix everybody's obliged to wear designer sunglasses and fetishistic leather coats, and there's always a lovely shine on the rain of brass casings that fall from the guns which can't actually hit anyone if their choreography skilz are strong enough to overpower the local physics simulation. Be sure to pinwheel across the open space, and don't forget to hover for a second before that big kick! Fashions are pretty sizzlin' in Zion too, and great care is taken with the presentation of the huge variety of tasty treats our heroes are presented with there. It's downright odd how it's only on board the ships everyone wears threadbare rags and eats undifferentiated gruel.

I suppose in the end that's what so deeply disappoints me about this series of movies, and about the love my fellow technogeeks shower on it; it's the unworthy veneration of style over substance, and of emotion over reason, and the way my techie brothers and sisters eat that sad and threadbare techno-woo crap up as avidly as they do, just as long as you dress it up a bit. I always hope for a bit more skepticism; I don't know why, I so rarely get it. I just want the fanboys to wonder for a moment why the software program Agent Smith has such intense emotions. (Is it a simulation routine gone bad?)

At least they mostly do know it's fiction, unlike the morons who read that "Left Behind" shite.

And there goes the end of the movie, with the Oracle responding to the the Last Exile Child:

"Did you always know?"
"No, no I didn't. But I believed."

Oh, yeah, chalk one up for foundationless belief, that's a good moral for the story. Much better than "No, but great ends require taking great risks" or something like that. Ow.

Great, now I have a backache and a headache. I definitely require a reboot, if I can get my futon unfurled without deeper injury.

Quote Of The Day

Often it does seem a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.

Mark Twain

The Two Geneses (?) explained

I was discussing the first of many contradictions in the Bible - two inconsistent accounts of Creation in Genesis, with two incompatible timelines. She hadn't seen that one before, and insisted on being given the verses. If anyone else hasn't seen it, here they are:

Genesis1:11-13
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so .... And the evening and the morning were the third day.

Genesis1:25-27

And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let us make man in our image.... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
(Notice that men and women are created simultaneously, and only after all the other plants and animals.)

Genesis 2:4-9
These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth ... And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil..
Genesis 2:18-22
And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them....
And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
(First God creates the man,, then the plants, then the animals, then the woman.)

My friend is nothing if not fair, so she did her own research and came up with the explanation for how this muddle came about:

Friday, December 14, 2007

Quote Of The Day

To no form of religion is woman indebted for one impulse of freedom.

Susan B. Anthony

Friday Frog


Today's frog is the western Chorus Frog, or Pseudacris triseriata a tiny but lovely little songster. If you want to catch a concert of these preepers I expect Garrison Keillor is bound to have them on sooner or later; they tour from March through July, in Minnesota mostly.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Quote Of The Day

It requires only two things to win credit for a miracle: a mountebank and a number of silly women.

Marquis de Sade

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Quote Of The Day

If you believe in a rain god, you're more likely to make bad decisions in times of drought.

Greta Christina

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories, and you say that we are the ones that need help?"

Dan Barker

Monday, December 10, 2007

What I hate about Christmas


Hint: If you're thinking it's Christ, you're way off base.

No, actually I've always rather liked the Baby Jesus bit. The idea of the King of the Universe manifesting as a helpless baby, with parents of modest means, being born amid the farm animals... yeah, it's mawkish, but it's also the good half of the God-becoming-Man myth, the All-Powerful self-humbled to share our travails... well, it's mawkish and flamingly illogical to boot, fine, but at least it's not yet the psychotic guilt-trip the story morphs into later on. It'd be a harmless and somewhat cute myth if it wasn't for all the baggage associated with it.

I'm not one of those who dreads the obligatory getting together with family either. I don't often get the chance, actually, as scattered as my family is, but in any case we're not a dysfunctional lot and we genuinely enjoy each other's company - even the in-laws, within reason. I wish we could do more of it.

I love ham, and turkey, and stuffing, and cookies, and brandied pudding... (/me wipes drool).

Christmas music... meh. I could use a little more variety and I wish it didn't start at Halloween, but I can hang with it.

I don't even hate the present hunt. Sure, I cringe at the money I find myself spending by times, but then I do that around most paydays. (I'm a spendthrift before and a cheapskate after, sadly.) I enjoy the thinking about what I can get for my loved ones, the anticipation of their pleasure. It's fun. Sure, it gets a bit manic, but that's what commerce does, and I can even enjoy the rush of the crush when I gets me sales boots on.

No, what I really hate and resent is the commercialization of Santa Claus.

When I was a kid he was a cute and harmless myth (harmless because unlike Jesus no one actually expects you to carry it into adulthood). I remember listening enthralled to the reports on the radio of his sleigh being spotted... I really did lie awake listening for sleigh bells and hooves clopping on the roof. I was spellbound at the idea of the jolly old guy who lived at the North Pole and spent all year with his elves making toys, then flew around the world in a single night in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer (and I knew all their names) bringing toys to all the children. (We didn't dwell much on the lump of coal in my family.)

And when I cottoned on it wasn't a bitter thing, because above all Santa was a generous myth, one where parents and grandparents were willing to give up the credit for gifts they'd bought in order to make the season a bit more magical. What's not to love in that?

Now? Santa's huckstering for every retailer out there. Ho-ho-ho, Santa suggests you spend your money buying this cell phone, that television, the other bit of jewelry. Coca-Cola. Feh! He's not giving anything away, he's selling shit, and it isn't the least bit magical no matter how many CG twinkles and sound effects they add.

I miss the old Santa. Maybe he wasn't 'real' in other than the "Yes, Virginia" sense, but this new guy is just depressingly fake through and through.

Carnival Of The Godless #80

Almost forgot, the latest Carnival Of The Godless is up at The Jesus Myth, where faith and logic collide!

One day soon I'm going to write something worthwhile and submit to COTG again! I Swear!

Quote Of The Day

The savage prays to a stone that he calls a god, while the Christian prays to a god he calls a spirit, and the prayers of both are equally useful.

Robert G. Ingersoll

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Quote Of the Day

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.

Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Quote Of The Day

Without a winking smiley or other blatant sign of humorous intent, it is impossible to make a parody of fundamental religion that someone won't mistake for the real thing.

Poe's Law

Surely The Winning Idiocy

It's always a tough field to pick from when you try to pick out the stupidest or most pandering comment made by a Presidential candidate in any given election season. With the stellar* quality of some of the candidates, especially on the Republican side, it may seem hubristic to declare a tentative winner with so long left in the ever more interminable contest, but it really is difficult to see how anyone could top "Mitt" Romney's idiocy from yesterday's speech:
Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. [...] Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.
I have followed politics reasonably closely for all my adult life, and therefore bear little respect for any politician, and certainly the toxic meltdown** of the Republican party over the last few decades has produced many a jaw-droppingly stupid soundbite; I have also made a lifelong study of religion, and therefore bear little respect for any given religion, and certainly the Mormons are second only to the Scientologists in the jaw-dropping stupidity of their precepts.

Still: what the FUCK? Did that consummate ass just manage to out-stupid Shrub? I believe so.

I recognize that the kind of simple-minded unreasoning faith that Shrub espouses*** is sadly endemic to much of American culture; the proportion of voters who consider the ability to believe in pregnant virgins and re-animated corpses to be an asset in the person who gets to control the nuclear (or even nucular) weapons is truly retch-worthy.

I also recognize that the word 'freedom' is valued by politicians, particularly American politicians and most especially neoconservative Republican politicians, more for its value as a knee-jerk trigger to jingoism than for any actual semantic content. Still, I thought the blatant misuse of the term pioneered by Commander Codpiece would set the standard for some time; after all, justifying the rapid-fire reduction of actual American freedoms by claiming an existential threat from "those who hate our freedoms" takes an appalling level of chutzpah.

His would-be successor may well have outdone even that hypocrisy, though. Look at it again:

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. [...] Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.
By this logic repressive theocracies simply don't exist; how could Iranians, for example, lack freedom when they are so deeply religious? Obviously the complete lack of open homosexuality noted by President Ahmadinejad is a completely free choice coincidentally shared by all Iranians, and the draconian prison sentences inspired directly from the hadith are simply an amusing cultural irrelevancy.

There must also be a terrifically inconspicuous subculture of strongly religious people hiding in countries like the Netherlands, to enable their manifest freedom. The easy attitudes toward drugs, sex, and political activism in Amsterdam, for example, must surely be the result of deeply committed (and deeply hidden) religious zealots.

You may wonder why the Founding Fathers, being the fans of freedom they were, were so perverse as to make a big point of separating church and state; didn't they know that religion and freedom are inseparable? Perhaps they simply lacked the perspective of being members of the Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints, a creed which was forced to abandon a major precept of their faith (polygamy) by force of law - backed up, as always, by force of arms - because it conflicted with the religious precepts of their more numerous and powerful neighbors.

No, of course not. It is simply that they were by and large rationalists, products of the Enlightenment who weren't in those days impelled quite so strongly to pander to the demented fuckwits who prefer faith to reason no matter what the cost in thwarted scientific progress, in domestic disharmony and division, and in endless needless wars abroad.

It's 2007, and here in America (the land that likes to consider itself the vanguard of the future) we can't even consider the idea that it might not be necessary or even desirable for our supreme leader to believe in millennia-old agrarian myths. No, we have to spend our time debating whether we can accept an overlay of transparent deception from a more recent era on top, or whether we must insist on leaders who acknowledge only the purest of old hokum in this age of science and reason.

That is the actual issue which grips what passes for minds amongst the great American public; not whether we can accept as a leader someone who espouses lunatic idiocy, but only whether the particular style of lunatic idiocy is sufficiently mainstream. The inertia of popular irrationality is all that saves us from an acolyte of L.Ron Hubbard getting hold of the levers of power. and I still don't doubt the sheeple would pick a Scientologist over a rationalist.

After all, what's 'free' about examining the evidence the world presents you with, applying your best reason and logic to it, elucidating for yourself how it all works, then independently deciding what to do about it?

No, 'free' means you believe in a religion; that unity lies in believing your church is right and the others are wrong, heretical; that freedom lies in submitting to the inabrogable commands of a supreme being; that truth lies in accepting the precepts of your faith despite any evidence.

War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.

Feh.


* For this purpose, 'stellar' includes black holes; strange beyond reason, dense beyond belief.

** Of course, the "Grand Old Party" has tended generally downward since Lincoln's tenure or thereabouts, but the rate of descent has markedly accelerated in recent times.

***Shrub's sincerity is known only to himself; I've never been able to decide if he's a shrewd bastard who pretends to stupidity for tactical advantage, or possibly through sheer love of duplicity, or if it's simply that his idiocy is so profound as to mimic genius.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Quote Of The Day

The idea of an incarnation of God is absurd; why should the human race think itself so superior to bees, ants, and elephants as to be put in this unique relation to its maker?... Christians are like a council of frogs in a marsh or a synod of worms on a dung-hill, croaking and squeaking "For our sakes was the world created!"

Flavius Claudius Iulianus (Roman Emperor Julian 'the Apostate')

Friday Frog

Mmmmm tomato... no, Homer, stop! That's not a tomato, it's a Madagascan tomato frog, Dyscophus antongilli, and as with most brightly colored frogs it's not so good to eat. While not actually toxic, these guys secrete a nasty white mucus which irritates and can cause allegic reactions to people. Anyway, they're endangered, due to habitat loss in the dwindling forests of northeastern Madagascar, and also due to excessive collecting for pet stores before that became illegal. Well, they are cute... but not tasty, Homer! Have another tomacco instead.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent — it says so right here on the label. If you have a mind capable of believing all three of these divine attributes simultaneously, I have a wonderful bargain for you. No checks, please. Cash and in small bills."

Robert Heinlein

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Quote Of The Day

Randomness scares people. Religion is a way to explain randomness.

Fran Lebowitz

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"The world holds two classes of men — intelligent men without religion, and religious men without intelligence."

Abu'l-Ala-Al-Ma'arri (973-1057), Syrian poet.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Quote Of The Day

When the philosopher's argument becomes tedious, complicated, and opaque, it is usually a sign that he is attempting to prove as true to the intellect what is plainly false to common sense.

Edward Abbey

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Quote Of The Day

Natural selection is not like monkeys simply hitting the keys and, if wrong, starting again from the beginning. Selection is cumulative. Once one has made some progress, that stays on as backing for all subsequent tries. And selection does not demand one particular predetermined play, and that the best ever written. In evolution, there is no already-decided end point. Any play will do - an appalling farce, for instance - and all it has to be is better than any rival.

Michael Ruse

Saturday, December 1, 2007

You Are A Genius

A good friend submitted my blog for this readability test. Apparently, my writing requires genius to read:


This blog's reading level: Genius


Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean it takes genius to write it; maybe if I was smarter, I could be clear without making my readers work so hard for it. Ah well, I yam what I yam!

Quote Of The Day

"Their judgment was based more on blind wishing than upon any sound prediction; for it is the habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not desire."

Thucydides

Friday, November 30, 2007

Quote Of The Day

God used to be the best explanation we'd got, and we've now got vastly better ones. God is no longer an explanation of anything, but has instead become something that would itself need an insurmountable amount of explaining.

Douglas Adams

Friday Frog


Today's frog is a very cool customer, the only frogs found north of the Arctic Circle. Wood Frog is the common name of Lithobates sylvaticus, the amphibian formerly known as Rana sylvatica. In winter, as much as 35-45% of their bodies can freeze. Ice crystals form beneath the skin and interspersed among the body's skeletal muscles. The frog's breathing, blood flow, and heart beat cease when they freeze. Special proteins prevent intracellular freezing and dehydration. Now is that cool, or what?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Quote Of The Day

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.

James Madison

Badass Bible Verses

Cracked.com has an article about badass Bible verses, including my personal favorite, II Kings 2:23-24, with the pithy moral nicely summed up too!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"I regard monotheism as the greatest disaster ever to befall the human race. I see no good in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam -- good people, yes, but any religion based on a single, well, frenzied and virulent god, is not as useful to the human race as, say, Confucianism, which is not a religion but an ethical and educational system."

Gore Vidal

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Quote Of The Day

I believe in the religion of reason, the gospel of this world; in the development of the mind, in the accumulation of intellectual wealth, to the end that man may free himself from superstitious fear, to the end that he may take advantage of the forces of nature to feed and clothe the world.

Robert G. Ingersoll

Monday, November 26, 2007

Quote Of the Day

Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.

Bertrand Russell

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us, that we are the reason there is a Universe, does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits?"

Carl Sagan

Astonishing Lack of Comprehension

A theist named Scott Caan opened a ridiculous strawman argument on the Atheism, Logic and Truth forum on Facebook:

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth” -- Genesis
1:1.
“The cosmos is that that is, or ever was, or ever will be. ” – Carl Sagan.

The two statements above are both statements of faith. Neither can be experimentally verified and both make assumptions. The two statements also offer a remarkable contrast. The first statement indicates:
1. There was a beginning.
2. The beginning was caused.
3. The cause was God.
The second statement indicates:
1. There was no beginning.
2. The cosmos is self-existing and thus uncaused.
3. The universe was not created and thus is the product of non-intelligence.

Amazing, isn't it? As I said in my reply,

The Sagan quote does not support any one of the three things you claim it does. It is simply a definition (not a "statement of faith") of the word 'cosmos' as being inclusive of all phenomena throughout all time; it does not even address the existence or not of an origin point, nor does it address causation or processes of the cosmos.

It's a pretty astonishing feat of reading incomprehension to so totally misread so short a quote you selected yourself, or indeed even to select a quote from someone whose body of work so totally fails to match the position you want set up in opposition to your preferred conclusion.

To give you the citation, the Sagan quote you used is from the first textual page of the first chapter of 'Cosmos' - page 4 of the book. Had you made the scholarly effort to read the remainder of that chapter - all the way to page 21 - you would have found this:

"We now know that our universe - or at least its most recent incarnation - is some fifteen to twenty billion years old. This is the time since a remarkable explosive event called the Big Bang. At the beginning of this universe, there were no galaxies, stars or planets, no life or civilizations, merely a uniform, radiant fireball filling all of space."

Needless to say, this is in total opposition to the viewpoint you chose to attack, that the universe has always existed in its present state - a viewpoint Sagan never held, and which no astrophysicist of any stature has supported since the COBE cosmic background measurements in 1964 at the very latest.

You make really shoddy strawmen, my friend, and you should work on your quote mining too. Granted that you don't really understand basic physics (Hint: the Second Law of Thermodynamics is a *statistical* observation), it still behooves anyone with pretensions to intellectual honesty not to totally misrepresent another person's stated positions.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"If God were alive today, he'd be an atheist."

Kurt Vonnnegut

Friday, November 23, 2007

Quote of The Day

"The very concept of sin comes from the bible. Christianity offers to solve a problem of its own making! Would you be thankful to a person who cut you with a knife in order to sell you a bandage?"

Dan Barker

Thanks

When it comes to the emotional bases of religious belief we atheists tend to talk most about the theist's attempts to avoid disasters, especially that whole death thing, by sucking up to the invisible superbeing(s). (Then there's the piling on of the imaginary after-death disasters, but that's another issue.)

There is a somewhat less puerile reason for wanting there to be a Big Sky Daddy who made it all, though. This is a pretty amazing universe full of totally cool phenomena, and many feel a strong need for someone to thank for it all.

You have to admit, that's kind of cute, if naive - downright adorable in a child, in fact. In an adult it's a little callow, but essentially harmless and springing from a good impulse. The universe is definitely something to appreciate, and I suppose it's easy to blur the line between that and gratitude. Giving thanks to nothing for everything is probably not a satisfactory substitute, emotionally speaking.

Still, it's not as if there aren't plenty of places to put gratitude. Family, friends, teachers, pets... why try to add gods or honest politicians? No need for it, really.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Quote Of the Day

A dogma is the hand of the dead on the throat of the living.

Lemuel K. Washburn

Quote Of The Day

Some of the nicest people I have ever known have been human beings, and some of the nastiest people I have read of were gods.

B.T. Murtagh

Missing and Maintaining

So yes, kids, I did indeed miss another Quote of the Day. Since at this stage I have a readership of maybe two or three, I doubt that anyone's world foundation is rocked by my failure, but who knows?

After all, as I was just reminded today by one of those million dollar bills which Way of the Master devotees use to get out of leaving real tips (and, less intentionally, for demonstrating that even the most classic of jests can have all the humor sucked out of them by ideologues), if one has ever even once in the course of a lifetime lied or stolen or had an impure thought about a woman who 'belongs' to another man, then one is a LIAR and a THIEF and an ADULTERER, and can only be redeemed by the One Who Mastered Sin, yadda yadda yadda.

(I've noticed, by the way, that WoM-men always lay a huge emphasis on on how they are particularly prone to the latter sin. Even in their rejection of what they consider sin, they want to borrow the cachet of that one to deflect any perception which people may have that they are girly-men - apparently there's something about declaring one's self utterly pwn3d by a virgin pacifist who got his ass nailed to a tree two millennia ago which threatens the machismo. It's always phrased unashamedly as "lusting after another man's woman" too, not "disrupting a relationship" or anything modern like that. The unconscious troglodytism is truly appalling.)

I can understand the appeal of this line of thinking, truly. When I was studying for my associate's degree I got all A grades up until my final semester. The pressure I put on myself to maintain the 4.0 was intense and only grew more intense with each passing semester. I finally blew a B in my last semester and screwed the whole thing up... because half my credits were transfers it meant I could only graduate magna cum laude instead of summa cum laude. Oh, the Humanity! (The Science? AS, not AA.)

Then I went on to work on my baccalaureate degree. There I got a B in Data Structures in the first semester (by virtue of wiping my entire final project with a misconfigured makefile after making no backups), and the relief was enormous! The As I got afterward were by virtue of enjoying the learning rather than in order to maintain an artificial and unsustainable (by me) perfection. Note that I did get As, I wouldn't want you to miss that even though I don't consider it a sin! Oh, I got laid too, honest I did! Really!

So I do understand the trick, but I also see through it. Makeout artists, I'm told, use a similar technique called 'negging' to get women to have sex with them ('score'); they begin the evening by insulting the targeted woman, preferably in connection with whatever aspect of themselves the women consider most attractive to men. The idea is that the women are then compelled to prove to themselves that they are, too, attractive, by pursuing the dickwad who insulted them. Apparently it works quite well on women who have been emotionally wounded to the point of being temporarily or permanently crippled (sadly a not uncommon state in our society), and hucksters from the Way of the Master or the Church of Scientology are trained and eager to exploit that kind of weakness in men and women alike.

Guilt is a tremendous, out-jutting handle on our psyche, and one which can be exploited easily by any ruthless bastards with insight into its workings. Poor, sick, can't look after your kids? It's because you didn't follow the teachings of the Church, or the Party, or your Mother. Life's good? Well, you know you don't really deserve it, and a hard rain's a-coming if you didn't follow the teachings of the Church, or the Party, or your Mother...

That's not to say that guilt itself has no uses; the very reason I instituted my regular features of the Daily Quote, the Friday Frog and the Monthly Poem was to guilt myself into maintaining this blog. It has more or less worked, too; I've been much better about keeping this thing alive since I instituted those. Several QOTDs piled up makes me nervous; two FFs too close together are a Big Red Flag; if I get two MPs separated only by quotes and frogs, Parliament likely wants dissolving (and then where would the country be?).

Guilt is not in itself a bad thing, then; it is a tremendously useful neurological reminder that we have not met goals which we consider important. (The important thing is not to let others decide what is important!) If we don't keep to our diet, exercise, take out the trash on time, recycle, refrain from theft, let a person handicapped by age or pregnancy or simple tiredness take the free seat on the bus, forgive our cat for testing his claws on our air mattress... guilt.

That last - you may have guessed, you clever minxes - is one I recently experienced personally. Oh I was mad! I was steaming. I fumed pretty badly, until my boy reminded me "Don't be too mad at her, Daddy, because she does love you, after all." He's confused about the cat's gender, of course, but his instincts about the cat's wrongdoing and my reaction were spot on.

The saying goes, "To err is human, to forgive divine." Bullshit, says I; forgiveness is entirely human also. The impulse to call it divine is only a reflection of this absurd idea that we have no inherent goodness in ourselves, that the good in us comes always from some divine Master - not our selves which are, and can only be, sources of weakness and evil. What utter crap! Some of the nicest people I have ever known have been human beings, and some of the nastiest people I have read of were gods.

So I missed a QOTD again; admit it, the previous sentence isn't a bad quote in itself, if I say so myself! ;) So I'll put that one up to stand in for yesterday, and a real one for today, and I trust you'll forgive me - because I really do love you, after all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Birth Of Anger

a cold dead drift of dust
across my unfeeling shoulders
is your life, my heart, my
failed dream of human warmth.

I thought I could feel you
or your breath, at least,
across my face, warm and sweet,
blood-warm breath, sweet life,

but no. You left me, left me
cold and empty and alone,
left me breathing your breath
that you left behind, empty

of warmth, empty of you,
of me, of love, empty, oh love,
my heart my heart, where did
you go, why does your sweet

slender body no longer touch
mine, why am I so alone
with your memory? Where the
fuck are you, bitch? Huh?


--
B.T. Murtagh

Quote Of The Day

We would be 1,500 years ahead if it hadn't been for the church dragging science back by its coattails and burning our best minds at the stake.

Catherine Fahringer

Monday, November 19, 2007

Quote Of The Day

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Quote Of The Day

I believe in the religion of reason the gospel of this world; in the development of the mind, in the accumulation of intellectual wealth, to the end that man may free himself from superstitious fear, to the end that he may take advantage of the forces of nature to feed and clothe the world.

Robert G. Ingersoll

Friday, November 16, 2007

Quote Of The Day

Belief in the supernatural reflects a failure of the imagination.

Edward Abbey

Jesus's Poor Communication Skills

Jim Benton, guest-blogging over at Aardvarchaeology (winner of the coveted "Most Difficult To Spell Scienceblog" award), has put together an absolute barn-burner of an article on the above subject, expanding on an earlier piece by an ex-minister named Joseph writing at Debunking Christianity.

As Jim says in the comments of the latter,

If Jesus was who Christians say he was, he must have been boneheadedly dumb, totally without foresight, and addicted to doing things the most inefficient and least sensible way possible, someone totally incapable of getting his ideas across, and delighting in contradicting himself right and left. Some God!
The real Jesus, as far as we can tell, would have thrown a table at these idiots, not just for calling him divine, but for so insulting the God he believed in.

Nothing I haven't thought and written about before, but I'm in awe of the clarity brought to bear on the issue, and don't really have anything to add at the moment beyond saying that both articles are well worth the read. Go enjoy!

Friday Frog

Can you tell exactly what species this is from the picture? Well, no, not even if you're a real herpetologist, and not even if I tell you it's a Cope's Gray Tree Frog. You'd have to hear it to be sure whether it was an example of Hyla chrysoscelis or Hyla versicolor, because they're identical in appearance but have different songs. Both kinds actually come in a wide variety of colors, but always have a grayish cast and camouflage pattern.

The linked song mp3s are from the Cope's Gray Tree Frog page of Frogs and Toads Of Georgia, where you can also find a lot more pictures and information about these lovely frogs.

(Oh, and if the suspense is killing you, the one pictured is actually a Hyla chrysoscelis! ;)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Quote Of The Day

We despise all reverences and all objects of reverence which are outside the pale of our list of sacred things and yet, with strange inconsistency, we are shocked when other people despise and defile the things which are holy for us.

Mark Twain

A Child Can See It

Theists are fond of claiming that morality can come only from an absolute overlord laying down the law; that there is no other possible source for moral behavior. My ten-year-old son proved them wrong.

It's not, of course, that he came up with some brilliantly convoluted theological argument; he's bright and all, but he's just an ordinary kid, and far from being steeped in theology, he's been kept well clear of it. He has a variety of religious viewpoints around him, from a quite religious sister to a strongly atheistic father, but none of us proselytize him - we are all letting him be until he expresses an interest, and then he will be free to make up his own mind.

No, what he did was demonstrate the basis of morality, by insisting that he wanted to invite all the kids in his class to his birthday party, even the ones he didn't know, because "it's no fun not to be invited." Simple as that.

That, my friends, is where it all comes from. Not from Big Sky Daddy standing over you with a cat-o-nine-tails in one hand, a ticket to Candyland in the other hand, and a stone-clad rulebook in the gripping hand, but from simple human empathy for how others will feel.

"But-but-but... What's to stop an atheist from doing anything, raping and killing included, if there's no Cosmic Cop? How can you have absolute morality without an absolute master telling you what's moral?"

The answer's right there; my son did the Right Thing not because of any fear of punishment - he was actually being encouraged to limit his guest list, not expand it - because he empathises with his fellows, and cares about how they feel. That's not new, or deep, or unusual, by the way; every normal human child cries when hearing crying, laughs when hearing laughter. Most of it's inborn, and a judicious application of reward and punishment (saying "What a good boy!" and "I don't like it when you act that way." is sufficient in most cases) produces human beings who
behave morally without the necessity of either coercion or reward.

As for absolute morality - there isn't one, if by that you mean a set of absolute rules which, if followed absolutely, are absolutely always moral. Absolute rulebooks usually end up causing misery and resentment and hatred, and by their fruits are therefore evil. Guidelines are a
much better way to go, and every normal child understands the most important one instinctively; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Am I using enough Biblical language to get through here? There's good stuff in there too, you don't have to get stuck on the
sexual hangups and bigotries of the authors.) It's no fun not to be invited, so invite everyone you can; that's a good moral decision, reached by a kid applying a very simple principle - not blindly
following a rule, but using his empathy and common sense to decide how to behave. If resources were too limited to invite his whole class (luckily not the case), then he'd have to figure out a fair compromise, but again, he'd be figuring out a realistic moral choice without the need for supernatural supervision.

If people concentrated less on trying to divine some absolute set of stone rules, and put more effort into figuring out how best to be kind and fair, even if that involved adapting their responses to fit specific cases, this would be a happier, more harmonious and yes, more moral
world. Perfect, no; people will always find a way to talk themselves into mistakes, even if you do try to predetermine their every allowable move. And no, I am not recommending anarchy; a society needs rules, laws, and enforcement mechanisms for them, and the decision of what to
allow and what to outlaw always involves moral as well as practical concerns.

None of that requires a ghostly overlord, though; simple human empathy and common sense are all that is needed. Don't hurt people. Make their lives better and happier where you can. If they're not hurting others, leave them alone.

Is that so hard?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Quote Of The Day

Pray, v.: To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.

Ambrose Bierce

Praying Weather




Modern Christians talk a good game about the ineffable (vague) qualities of their God, and the sophisticated (sophistic) nature of their theology, but when push comes to shove what they do is the same old fashioned praying for rain (mewling for help from their invisible friend).

Not to single the Christians out too particularly, mind; Muslims were praying for Allah to keep the rain of Cyclone Sidr off Bangladesh just as hard, with no doubt even greater urgency but to equally little effect. There's a significant CHristian minority there too, of course.

As a commenter on Pharyngula pointed out, the call for prayer went out after the forecasters, using their heathenish science, had already predicted some light showers - not enough to significantly affect the drought conditions, mind, but no doubt enough to let the ignorant fools think that their wishful thinking had had an effect.

Too bad about Bangladesh, though. Obviously God chose to test them, rather than hear their pleas. He's a funny old bugger that way, God is. Unpredictable. Except maybe by heathenish scientists, and they only predict and encourage preparation; they can't affect the outcome, because they aren't the chosen ones of Big Sky Daddy.

(when, oh when, is the rest of the human race going to grow up and face reality?)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Quote Of The Day

In Christianity neither morality nor religion come into contact with
reality at any point.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Monday, November 12, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"Geology shows that fossils are of different ages. Paleontology shows a fossil sequence, the list of species represented changes through time. Taxonomy shows biological relationships among species. Evolution is the explanation that threads it all together. Creationism is the practice of squeezing one's eyes shut and wailing: 'does not!'"

Dr. Pepper

Carnival

Carnival of the Godless #79 is up at Aardvarchaeology. That is all.

(I swear, I'm going to find time and energy for a proper post soon. I am!)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"What, me worry about the historical Jesus? The gospel writers made up their story; the church fathers invented the virgin birth on the winter solstice; the pope thought up the immaculate conception; so I can imagine any damn thing I please about Jesus, or the Spook, or about the big guy himself."

Theologian Franz Bibfeldt

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration--courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth."

H.L. Mencken

Friday, November 9, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"The people who are regarded as moral luminaries are those who forego ordinary pleasures themselves and find compensation in interfering with the pleasures of others."

Bertrand Russell

Friday Frog

Anyone who uses the very nice bittorent client Azureus will recognize today's frog, the lovely and talented - ah, toxic, that is - Dendrobates azureus, the blue poison dart frog. Serenely confident in a "you don't dare eat me" kind of way, this blue diamond is a native species of the Sipaliwini Savannah of Suriname, South America (say that seven times suddenly). As the name implies, its skin secretes toxins which can paralyze or even kill predators and are eminently suitable for poison darts with which to shorten the queue at the Post Office.

Photo graciously made public domain on Wikimedia Commons by Arpingstone.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."

Richard Dawkins

Truth in Fiction

The Catholic League has started an email campaign to promote boycotting the film version of Philip Pullman's book The Golden Compass - yeah, I know, Catholic censorship, contain your shock. The reasoning is as predictable as it is revealing:
The Catholic League wants Christians to boycott this movie precisely because it knows that the film is bait for the books: unsuspecting parents who take their children to see the movie may be impelled to buy the three books as a Christmas present. And no parent who wants to bring their children up in the faith will want any part of these books.
Yes, Heaven Forbid a child should watch any films or read any books which aren't perfectly respectful toward the Church. Introducing any alternate point of view during the critical years of childhood could result in independent thought, which would inevitably lead to questioning of the basis for the clergy's spiritual authority, and a perspicacious child might even come to rebel against a corrupt and tyrannical system.

Farfetched? Well, probably not; that's actually the central theme of the book. The Catholic League is quite correct in discerning that that message is implied in Pullman's dark little fairy tale. What's amusing, in a sad and bitter kind of way, is that by reacting this way they are actively demonstrating the truth of the accusations implied in the fiction.

They're probably correct, too, that exposure to these books is dangerous to a child's faith in the Church. What are the parents going to do, explain that in Lyrah's make-believe world of talking bears and daemons the priests are mostly domineering control freaks who think nothing of abusing children, while in the real world of pregnant virgins and resurrected corpses the priests are, uh, isn't it your bedtime sweetie?

Truth be told, the fundies who insist that their children read only Bible stories (and never, ever indulge in critical thinking about them, needless to say) have the right idea if the object to prevent their progeny from straying into the real world. All the other stuff is dangerous: The Golden Compass, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Once and Future King, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, The Wind In The Willows, even that Christian parent's favorite The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

That's right, even Narnia is a threat, however closely Aslan's character might be plagiarizing Christianity's plagiarism of Mithraism; after all, you can't seriously maintain that the Narnia books are nonfiction, so a bright child is liable to start wondering if the Noah's Ark story is. Even worse, such a child is then not only likely to conclude that the Bible is also fiction, but that it compares pretty badly to the others in plausibility and entertainment value.

So yes, the Catholic League really is correct in opposing the film, given their axiom that having children think critically about the Church is a bad thing. What's more I applaud the fact that they are boycotting the film; I hope they go further and picket the theaters as well.

You see, I loved the book, and even though it's reportedly been watered down a bit, I want the film to be a roaring success, in the hope that kids will indeed go on to read the series. If my own childhood experience with Monty Python's Life Of Brian is anything to go by, nothing could help that cause better than an attempt to censor the movie! :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"Let the good news go forth: we live in a cosmos, the vastness of which we can scarcely even indicate in our thoughts, on a planet teeming with creatures we have only begun to understand, but the whole project was actually brought to a glorious fulfillment over twenty centuries ago, after one species of primate (our own) climbed down out of the trees, invented agriculture and iron tools, glimpsed (as through a glass, darkly) the possibility of keeping its excrement out of its food, and then singled out one among its number to be viciously flogged and nailed to a cross."

Sam Harris

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Richard Dawkins at AAI

Richard Dawkins gave a rather compelling presentation at Atheist Alliance International:



As is customary, a Q&A followed:



The videos are discussed at Richard's site. I may comment on this later, but I'm a bit short on time right now.

Quote Of The Day



"Acceptance without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western religion. Rejection without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western science."

Gary Zukav

Religion, realty, reality - OK, scratch that last

The housing market is a bit tight at the moment. If you're having a hard time selling your house, what's a sensible way to increase your chances? Should you hold an open house? Repaint the exterior? Get your realtor laid? Spruce up the garden with a few new plants? Hire a model to sunbathe on the neighbor's lawn? Spritz cinnamon air freshener everywhere?

Bury a statue?

Oh, the stupid, it burns...

Look, I can see putting a statue of St. Joseph up in your garden; that might even help you sell the place to other religious idiots, though it might lower the price when they see your desperation made manifest in idolatry. But burying a statue of the Saint of Real Estate? If I was a saint (not gonna happen, Mum) I'd be downright offended, both by the disrespect toward my likeness and the dishonesty of hiding the evidence of my attempt to magic up a sale.

The funny thing is, I suspect most of the people doing this would, if it were a Voudoun priestess telling them to bury a chicken head with a house key in its beak, scoff at the silly superstitious idea. A three inch statue of a dead religious leader, though? That's gotta be effective, even if you're not Catholic:

"I wasn't sure if it would be disrespectful for me, a Jewish Buddhist, to co-opt this saint for my real estate purposes," says Luna, a writer. She figured, "Well, could it hurt?"

Only your mind, Luna-tic, only your mind...

Monday, November 5, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin."

Cardinal Bellarmine (1615, during the trial of Galileo)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful."

Seneca the Younger

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Help Thou Mine Unbelief?

One of the things that often puzzles me in conversations with theists (which, given my location, mostly means Christians) is their insistence that they can choose to believe in the face of all logic and evidence. Is that really possible?

A person can choose to profess a belief, and act on a presumption that something is true, and even predicate upon such an assumption a line of thought or an entire philosophy. Is that really belief, though, or only the trappings of it?

I thought at first that the answer was obviously the latter, but I'm no longer so sure. I think I have been misled by a quirk of my own personality, one which I seem to share with an inordinate percentage of my fellow nonbelievers; I place an immensely high relative value on factual truth and on the mental processes which reveal it. Applying logical analysis to statements, parsing out chains of inference, meting out and continually revising estimates of reliability to putative facts - these habits of mind are so deeply ingrained and of such long standing that I'm scarcely aware of using them anymore, unless I make a special effort.

Most people simply don't have those priorities built into the way they look at the world. If an idea is rewarding emotionally, that is more important than its truth value. Even people who are well trained in the threshing out of data from anecdota and sound argument from sophistry will simply refuse to apply such methods to the claims they are determined to believe. Such fundamental dishonesty toward one's own self seems to me to be nothing short of a mental illness. Fellow proponents of irrational beliefs will often try to use the legitimate authority which such split minds have earned in one field (by applying sound methods of thinking) to lend a spurious legitimacy to another field (to which they have not applied those methods). It is a signature thinking flaw of irrationality, of course, to think that the legitimacy derives from the person rather than the methodology.

That isn't to say that truth has no value to them, but that value seems to lie more in the perception than in the reality - naming it truth rather than proving it true. I often pass a church sign that says "Avoid Truth Decay - Read your Bible" and have to add mentally "But for God's Sake Don't Think About It." The Christian bible does in fact have a story which is directly on point, a quote from which forms the title of this essay.

The story in Mark 9:14-30 tells of a man who is filled with desperation over his son, a boy subject to seizures, and begs Jesus to heal the boy with his magic powers. Jesus responds with the standard faith healer's escape clause, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." (To those of us with a skeptical cast of mind it's a very neat way to make sure it's the victim's fault if the healing doesn't take.) The desperate parent cries through his tears "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!"

Jesus does see the boy through a seizure, of course, and some Christians are wont to take this and only this as the point of the story. More sophisticated Christian readers generally focus more on the same factor that commends the story to my attention; the fact that the father despite his declaration quite obviously wasn't really able to believe, but in his desperation was willing to try to believe, and asked Jesus to help him do so. He was basically begging Jesus, if belief was necessary to save his son, to help him believe.

Most Christians I've discussed this story with tend to take this in some mystical fashion, as asking for Jesus to use his Godly power to infuse the man with faith - a mystical brainwashing,if you will. I'm reminded of Winston Smith's exchange with his torturer in the novel 1984, when told that he must see that 2+2=5:
"Do you want to convince me that you see five fingers, or to see them?"
"To see them! Really to see them!"

One can certainly empathize with a parent willing to compromise the integrity of his thought, if the alternative is the continued torment of his child. It seems to me at least an equally compelling interpretation, though, that the man was expressing more a willingness to accept a hypothesis (that Jesus could help him) provided that a cure was actually forthcoming, in order to help his unbelief. It's notable, though, that like many a modern-day faith healer Jesus and his crew quickly and quietly departed the area. There is absolutely no indication that the boy was actually permanently healed, and one may certainly doubt that the father's 'belief' long survived the departure of Jesus if the boy subsequently continued to have seizures!

Given how many and deep are the contradictions between the claims of the bible and the observable evidentiary facts of the universe around us, not to mention the internal inconsistencies in the collection itself, I most certainly am not willing to accept the claims of Christianity at face value and without evidence. (Just to pre-empt, yes, Zombie Jesus supposedly said to Doubting Thomas Didymus, "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." Well, that doesn't say that Thomas wasn't blessed as well, now does it?) If my belief that God is other than imaginary is important, I'm going to need some serious help for my unbelief; given my firmly entrenched habits of thought, I'd humbly suggest that providing some evidence would be a simpler route than a mystical brainwashing. I'm unlikely to ask for the latter out of my free will.

I value my mind too much to willingly maim it by holding beliefs I can't honestly examine.

Quote of the Day

"It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence."

William Kingdon Clifford

Friday, November 2, 2007

Friday Frog


Today's contender is the delightfully named Waxy Monkey Leaf Frog, Phyllomedusa sauvagii. How can you not love that? Look how cute, too, and on top of all that its secretions apparently cause an altered state of consciousness. Now that's value for money!


Picture is courtesy of PetraK via Wikimedia, under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 Germany License.

Quote of the Day

"So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence."

Bertrand Russell

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Carnival of the Godless #78

Don't forget to check out Greta Christina's Halloween-themed Carnival of the Godless. Oooh! Scary!

Blood Passes to Shadow

There is a hole in the empty air
There is an ocean in the shell of air
A voiceless ocean cries to me

The world of stone is hollow
I am prevented from the heart
My hands wetly splinter
They are a softer rock

There is a hole in the empty air
My broken hands cannot open
Darkness stains the invisible air
Darkness spills on voiceless stone

Darkness pools under the sun
There is an ocean in me
Blood passes to shadow
Blood passes to shadow

--BT Murtagh

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Frog


Ha, you thought I'd forgotten the Friday Frog, didn't you, my vast hordes of silently devoted followers? But no, I was just waiting for a friend to get around to re-sending a mangled link in a video, which I finally got but which turned out to be a cruel hoax. Never mind, here's a pretty frog for you.

The Green and Golden Bell Frog, Litora aurea, is a ground-dwelling tree frog from eastern Australia. Sadly, it's what ecologists delicately call a vulnerable species, mostly I gather due to crass industrialists and deranged golfers. (Must watch that tendency toward redundancy...) Beaut, isn't she?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Seinfeld On Studying Scientology


There's an article in Parade which has been making the rounds and raising some hackles, wherein Jerry Seinfeld makes some comments about Scientology.

“You would just understand that there’s this kind of voice, and then there’s this kind of voice, and then there’s this kind of voice... Just a little thing like that, understanding that really helped me on stage to understand how you have to invade the space of the audience a little bit. I learned that early on. It was a very helpful thing to learn. You have to invade them just a little bit. Not too much, because then it’s obnoxious. But you can’t be short of them either, or you won’t control them."

Note that he's not a fan of Scientology the religion at all - there's an episode ('The Parking Garage') in which he takes a bit of a jab at it - he's just appreciative of some of the mind-control techniques they use, and how he's been able to adapt them to his comedy routines.


Given how effective those techniques seem to be at screwing up the brains of otherwise seemingly intelligent people, I'm not sure that's any less scary.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Frog


Yep, it's blog the frog day again. Today we have almost the opposite of the first frog I blogged - a simply enormous specimen of Lithobates catesbeianus the North American bullfrog. As you can see these guys can get pretty hefty, providing delight to small boys' hearts!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Conversation With A Theist

You detail some aspects of your philosophy, which seem to me to boil down to that your god made everything, including you, to the purpose of glorifying him, including giving you the power of rational thought for the limited purpose of enabling you to dominate and subdue the world in order to glorify him even more (presumably because, short of granting you rationality, he would be left unsatisfied by the amount of glorification the world he created could provide). In amongst all that you note that you believe he gave you moral standards to live by, and I think it reasonable to presume that if you live by them you will further glorify him, and that is a sufficient reason to do so.

You then go on to tell me and every other atheisr what our philosophy is, viz. “According to you, there is no God.” The first sentence is accurate; you could address it to any atheist without argument, since by definition an atheist is one who believes there is no god. Well done.

“According to you, all there is, is matter and motion.” The second is not so accurate; there may be atheists who would agree with the premise, once it was made intelligible by explication, but it doesn't form a part of the definition of atheism and needn't apply to all atheists. Any argument you follow with which presupposes that all atheists believe only in “matter and motion” fall into the straw-man fallacy; you are not arguing against atheism, you are arguing against a cartoon version of atheism of your own devising, one specifically designed for the purpose of being easy to refute. If there are some atheists who believe only in “matter and motion” then your arguments may well apply to their philosophy, but it no more applies to atheism in general than arguments against my local Christian snake-handlers, based on their beliefs about handling serpents, apply to Christianity in general.

“I realize that when I give you evidence of God’s existence, and the truth of Christianity, for instance; that a man named Jesus rose from the dead, his opponents couldn’t disprove it, those who believed it were willing to die for it, I give you evidence of those things, and I draw the conclusion given my philosophy of life, He has given historical evidence of who He is and that we should follow Him.” Give me some evidence and we can talk about that. There is no contemporary historical evidence for the existence of Jesus outside the Gospels; that doesn't necessarily mean he didn't exist, but it argues against it. The contemporaneous Romans kept pretty good records, as did the contemporaneous Jews, and a fair proportion of those records survived to this day; not only do they not note the death and resurrection of Jesus, they fail to note the earthquake, the curtain rending, and the opening of graves and subsequent perambulations of the dead. It seems terribly unlikely that only the followers of Jesus were astute enough to notice such things, or sufficiently struck by them as to make a note. That they alone were willing to die for it seems more likely, I'll grant you; it's not a normal reaction of rational beings to be willing to die for unsubstantiated rumors. I would note that the lunatic asylums are full of people willing to die for strange beliefs, though.

“I am going to argue now from the impossibility of the contrary. That is, within my worldview I can explain to you why there is logic... causality... moral absolutes, why I believe that human beings are free and have dignity. But in your worldview, there couldn’t be any logic.” Only the latter constitutes arguing from the impossibility of the contrary, actually. The attributes you assign your worldview, viz. logic, causality, moral absolutes, and human freedom and dignity, may be equally well attributed to an atheistic worldview or may be unnecessary to it. Still, let's see how you do with logic.

“Why not? Well, matter in motion, that’s your worldview, the logic isn’t material and its not in motion.“ You're arguing against your straw man, not against atheism. An atheistic viewpoint does not require that abstract entities don't exist, it doesn't even require that the abstract notion of gods should not exist; an atheistic worldview requires only the understanding that gods don't exist as genuine independent entities outside the imaginations of human beings. An atheistic viewpoint is entirely compatible with logic and other abstractions lacking materiality.

“On what rational basis, as an atheist, do you justify belief in the inductive principle?“ I don't need to justify it in order to be an atheist, any more than a theist needs to justify it in order to believe in a god. The inductive principle is a tool for thinking, not a god, and belief in it is entirely orthogonal to a belief in gods. As a tool the inductive principle is either useful or not, and whether it proves useful is determined by experience after the fact of its use, by comparison of the predictions produced by its use against the reality which exists independent of whether you use it or not.

“As you observe the life of a the atheist I want you to observe that the life of an atheist is riddled with inconsistency and thus has exposed it as being utterly irrational.” Well, again, I have no reason for doubting your assertion that you want me observe these things, but that really has no bearing on whether I actually observe them or not. I don't.

“Atheists will presuppose human dignity and attend the funeral of a friend or to honour a relative, but then they will turn around and argue that man has no dignity and he’s no different than any other product of evolution like a snail or a dog or a horse.“ Will they, indeed? Here we have another straw man for you to demolish, and a mistaken conflation to boot. Some atheists presuppose human dignity, others do not, but in neither case does this bear on the question of whether a god exists. While I have no doubt that somewhere out there there exist atheists who will argue that man has no dignity, just as there are theists who so argue (there being ample scriptural support for such views), that also bears not at all on atheism per se. Beliefs about the relative dignity of dogs and horses is likewise well distributed among both theists and atheists, as is attested to by the number of pet cemeteries out there.

“The atheist will insist that people are nothing more than complex biochemical factors that are subject to the laws of physics and yet he kisses his wife and his children as though there is something called love.“ Quite apart from the fact that not all atheists insist that people are nothing more than complex biochemical factors (more straw man arguing), there isn't even a contradiction for those who do. I observe a thing (or a disposition, rather) called love every day, both in myself and, by inference from their actions, in others; what explanation I give myself for it bears not at all on its existence.

“The atheist will argue that in sexual relations, anything goes there are no moral absolutes, don’t impose your views on others. They will even defend prostitution but then indignantly condemn child molesters or morally repudiate necrophilia.” Will you never run out of straw and cloth? Atheism is the lack of belief in gods; that does not necessarily entail a disbelief in moral absolutes, only a disbelief that gods are the source of them and/or the enforcers of them. Most (not all) atheists believe that mutual consent is the sine qua non of ethical sexual behavior, which is entirely consistent with not condemning prostitution but disallowing sexual congress with those too young to give informed consent; necrophilia would be condemned by most (not all) atheists because of the disrespect it shows harms the surviving family. In any case it really doesn't matter whether or why atheists or theists consider any behavior acceptable, sexual or otherwise; it's completely orthogonal to the question of whether gos exist.

“The atheist is just a bundle of contradictions. He can’t bring his worldview into harmony with itself.” Sorry, but this is simply laughable coming from a Christian. Your god issued a blanket prohibition against killing and in the same book both committed and ordered genocides, and that's one amongst a plethora of contradictions within your holy scripture..

“He’ll suggest that things that happen in the universe, happen randomly; that it just is that way arbitrarily. He’ll say it just happens but then he’ll turn around and he’ll look for regularities and law like explanations for events, he looks for uniformity and predictability in things that he studies in natural science. ” I'm developing a straw allergy here. An arbitrary universal genesis (which would cover even one initiated by a god), or even a random one, does not imply that all subsequent events are either random or arbitrary. It is equally justifiable to assume that all events from that point of genesis onward follow discoverable patterns, and it is reasonable to assume that those patterns ('laws') are universal and invariant. Theists normally assume that events can occur which are contrary to the patterns set down at the genesis (whenever their god sees fit), while atheists generally do not, but thus far no event has indisputably proven miraculous. The laws of physics seem to work indiscriminately for all, regardless of their personal belief structure and whether it agrees with said laws.

“The atheist doesn’t have a workable worldview.” See two paragraphs above.

“The atheist will simply say, ‘everyone knows there’s uniformity in nature, everyone knows there are moral absolutes. Everybody knows these things.’ And on that I agree with the atheist, everyone does know these things, but the problem is they don’t comport with atheism.” They do, at least as far as uniformity in nature is concerned, at least as a practical matter (when your iPod stops working, you assume it to be a due to a defect of some kind, not due to a change in the laws of physics pertaining to your particular iPod). Moral absolutes are another matter; there are some few (such as I) who deny that moral absolutes exist or are necessary for the continued existence of the universe. Certainly it's difficult to argue that the Moon could not exist if homosexuality were considered a harmless eccentricity.

“You can claim that events are just random, that there’s no personal plan or control or purpose in the universe. You can claim that reality amounts to nothing more but matter in motion but you can’t act, live or reason in that way.” Well, yes I can. Not that I do, mind, because I'm not made of straw, but I could. Whether I did or not would have no bearing on how the universe actually behaves, of course.

“Consider this parallel. Its like someone arguing against the existence of air yet he continues to breathe air all while he is arguing against it.” Okay, I've considered it, and concluded that it is a stupid analogy which has nothing to do with the question at hand. Let's move on.

“Atheists work hard to hide this intellectual poverty from themselves, that’s why they try to look up verses in the Bible and try to ridicule things rather than getting down to the basic issue of do you have a philosophy of life in terms of which you can reason about anything at all?“ Some atheists... (yawn). Sorry, straw allergy.... Some atheists, when arguing with Christians, will try and succeed in looking up verses in the Christian Bible which either contradict observable conditions in the world at large, or other parts of the Christian Bible, or both. It's an easy book to ridicule, because it is a compilation of stories sourced from ignorant agrarian peoples and insufficiently edited to weed out inconsistencies.

As for whether atheists have a philosophy of life which allows reasoning, I would say we do. All that is necessary to pass that small hurdle is to ask, “Can a person reason without believing in gods?” A single example will suffice: I do not believe in any gods, yet I am able to reason. I would add that it is also possible for one who believes in a god to reason; it may not be possible for such a person to closely reason about their particular god-related beliefs and retain them, but theism does not in and of itself preclude reasoning, It often does limit the range and effectiveness of the theist's reasoning, though.

“The response about the claims in the Bible is always that its just implausible. But remember that what you think is plausible is a reflection and a function of your basic conception of reality, your underlying worldview and how you know what you know and how you should live your life. Plausibility is rated by your worldview.” Well, yes, and whether it meets the test of agreeing with real-life experiment. It's a common idea amongst poker players that their luck will turn around if they turn around their hats; I've actually taken the trouble of writing down the results, and I can tell you that it did not work in the case of three poker players I looked at. Virgin births and dead people walking about haven't been claimed recently by Christians (not mainstream ones anyway) but given the dearth of evidence why should I believe they ever did? Why should I believe either ancient or contemporary claims of miraculous healing, given the lack of evidence?

It isn't simply a difference in underlying worldview, it's a difference in underlying evidence. I didn't believe in quantum physics, either; the idea that a single particle's path could be determined by whether there were multiple paths it could have taken is to say the least counterintuitive, but I came to believe it because the experimental results worked for me just as well as anyone else. I can do them again, with a doubter present, and they will work the same way, Plausibility is is rated by experiment.

“Atheists say ‘we can’t understand and explain every natural phenomenon’ Well you’ve missed my point. I’m arguing that you can't explain ANY natural phenomenon, and so every time you say I want natural proof, I want empirical verification, my point is your worldview can’t account for anything in the world; miraculous or not miraculous. My whole point is that all of our normal analytical procedures presuppose God in order to make sense of the inductive principle, moral absolutes, human dignity and all the rest.” Quite honestly, we've missed your point because you don't have one. Your analytical procedures may presuppose the existence of a god, but that doesn't mean that presupposing a god is necessary in order to effect an analysis. I might add that analyzing the implications of, say, a theory that the Sun's light results from the nuclear fusion of hydrogen into heavier elements does not depend upon moral absolutes or human dignity.

“I have shown that the atheistic presuppositions violate the conditions of rationality and that the Christian view does not.” No, you haven't, in either case.

“Atheists can’t show why they’re not being arbitrary when they condemn one thing and condone another.” What you mean is that when we condemn one thing or condone another, we cannot say “because God told me so.” Can you tell me why you are not being arbitrary in your belief that God told you so, or why God is not being arbitrary in his decision that it should be so?

I (an atheist) condemn theft, and believe that stealing should be punished by the community (rather than await divine justice) because it disrupts the orderly flow of commerce which benefits everyone; I will be upset if the system of justice lets too many thieves get away with their crimes, though I may allow for a few getting away with it in order to protect the innocent from railroading. I will also allow for exigent circumstance; if a poor woman steals to feed her children, reduce the sentence.

Contrast me with my neighbor, who believes that theft is wrong because her god says it is, and believes that no matter what happens here on Earth, the thief will be punished in an afterlife. Unlike me, my neighbor will under no circumstance elide the 'majesty of the law, which forbids rich and poor alike from stealing bread or sleeping under railway culverts' – my neighbor has her law directly from her god, and her god has set out moral absolutes which forbid stealing under any circumstances.

Oddly enough, even though my neighbor is assured that the thief cannot escape punishment in the afterlife, she is still determined that punishment is needed in this life – not restitution, mind, which anyone could see the justice of, but vengeance. Even though the thief is automatically going to be burned in sulfurous flames and poked with pitchforks for all eternity, it is morally necessary to throw her into a dank, rat-infested hole for years – or exile her for life from her family by sending her to Australia – or cut off her hand - or simply hang her from the neck until dead, prior to the aforementioned automatic punishment. Such is the power of moral absolutism.

“You can't coherently make moral judgments if people are nothing more than bags of biochemical stuff.” (Spelling and punctuation corrected.) Prove it. I just made a moral judgment. Can you prove (not simply assert) that I am not just a bag of biochemical stuff? Of course you can't, any more than I can prove that there isn't a god. Neither assertion is proved, nor is either likely to be any time soon. I'd have to say, though, that the evidence I can point toward the theory that we're all just bags of biochemical stuff is a lot deeper than the evidence that points toward a god – any god.

“Atheists spotlessly profess and they are emotionally committed to an underlying worldview that happens to render the reasoning science of ethics they want to do, unintelligible.“ That sentence, and the following paragraph, are what is unintelligible.

“The atheist is satisfied to ignore the need for intellectual justification and explanation, the need to gain consistency within his total beliefs and the need to demonstrate systematic cogency in his overall perspective on the world, man and values.” Actually, most atheist I know have come to that position because their religions failed spectacularly to justify assertions those religions were making – from cosmological assertions about the nature of the universe (such as that the Sun circles the Earth, or that the Earth is flat) to ethical assertion which were untenable (such as that it is desirable to stone to death upon her father's doorstep a bride who turns out not to be virgin). It is the theist who is typically disinclined to examine closely arguments and evidence which contradict the theist's viewpoint.

“'It’s the fool that says in his heart, ‘”there is no God.”’ Paul says, 'Professing themselves to be wise, those who are unbelievers, they became fools.' That is not name calling, it is description of what happens to reasoning when you will not admit the obvious.” By obvious do you mean things like “Not all animals lived within walking distance of Noah's house” or things like “It isn't reasonable to apply the death sentence to people who choose to work on Sunday”?

“You as an atheist are in a lot of company. But the fact that there are a lot of people who believe that sort of thing does not make your thinking any less superstitious or arbitrary. The atheist is simply taking his intellectual autonomy for granted.” I invite you to substitute the word Christian for the word atheist, and see how well it fits.