Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Establishment Clause

This is a placeholder post on notes/quotes related to the Establishment Clause and the Separation of Church and State:

Thomas Jefferson's 'Notes on the State of Virginia' where it talks about Religion (which you can get free online):

Jefferson wrote in 1802 on the CHURCH AND STATE, Wall of separation: Believing that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions. I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof thus building a wall of separation between Church and State R. to A. Danbury Baptists viii, 113. (1802)

William F. Jamieson writing in 1873 'The clergy a source of danger to the American republic':
Notwithstanding the Constitution affirms that no "religious test" should exist, its framers were still fearful that some loop-hole remained through which danger of a religious character might come to the nation. Hence, at the very first session, of the first Congress, the first amendment to the constitution was made:
"Congress shall make 'no law respecting an establishment of religion, of prohibiting the free exercise thereof," etc.
With what jealous care did the Fathers of this Republic guard against the interference of religionists with the affairs of the State? With what solicitude did they lay the foundations of this Nation? They were aware of the despotic power of Religion, whenever, and wherever, it assumed control of human affairs. They apprehended danger to the Republic by the ever meddlesome clergy. They feared the very calamity that has come upon us—religious dictation in civil affairs. Is it not suggestive that the first amendment^ to the Constitution of our country should be on the subject of religion 1 The clergy never accepted the situation, and throughout our whole history have labored to inculcate opinions at variance with the principle of Self-Rule. In order to get the reins of government in their own hands they propose to blot out this first amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances," and put the following, which I copy from the aforementioned pamphlet, in its place: "The free exercise of the Bible-revealed Christian religion, the observance of the Christian Sabbath, and everything requisite to the promotion of gospel Christianity, without denominational preference, shall be congressionally sustained and supported; and the freedom of the press and of speech, unless in matters of obscenity and profanity, shall not be abridged, or the rights of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Let that principle be carried out, and freedom of speech and of the press would be at an end in this country, as they are in nearly all lands in the old world where Christianity and other equally despotic systems of religion bear rule.
The author of the pamphlet entitled, "Christian Amendments of the Constitution of the United States" reports Dr. Bushnell as saying, "From the Atheistic error in our prime conceptions of government has arisen the Atheistic habit of separating politics from religion." But that sagacious and noble Statesman, Thomas Jefferson, rejoiced that religion and the state were completely divorced in the new nation.

Lief H. Carter's 'An introduction to constitutional interpretation: cases in law and religion' (1991), which contains an entire chapter on this subject.

And, further, ask yourself how a Nation who had declared man was "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" could then enshrine into law the slavery and utter possession of one man by another. One is an ideal, the other is the reality. This Nation has failed AGAIN, and AGAIN, and AGAIN, and AGAIN, to uphold the ideals upon which it was founded. That is no excuse for failing to right those wrongs.

There have been MANY instances were the government has been involved in the establishment of Religion - but those past transgressions are no excuse for continuing them into the future.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Festivus 2011: Airing of Grievances: Christianity Edition

I was posting on another issue elsewhere and I ended up listing my primary 'beef' with Christianity from a political viewpoint.

  1. Violent and Hateful Christian Identity movements, pro-slavery Christians, KKK, etc
  2. Christians attacking Women's Rights (on nearly every front but predominately their reproductive rights to their own bodies)
  3. Christians attacking gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other Rights (including their RIGHT to marry and enjoy the SAME SECULAR benefits heterosexual couples do; also their right not to suffer hateful discrimination)
  4. Christians attacking science and pushing absolute nonsense like I.D. which is nothing more than Biblical Creationism; this includes stem cell research, evolution, abiogenesis research, research funding in general.
  5. Christians attacking the separation of church and state (and yes I know EXACTLY those words aren't in the constitution, they are the EFFECT of the establishment clause and Jefferson made this extremely clear in his writing - this amended EXISTS because Christians were KILLING EACH OTHER over their religious squabbles, forcing religion OUT of a matter of state proved vastly superior).
  6. Christians LITERALLY brainwashing their children by sending them to these absolutely horrific 'Christian' camps where the kids are subjected to tortuous levels of emotional abuse that cause the children to break down emotionally and force them to 'accept Jesus and confess that they are sinners' (a horrible thing to force upon a child, FORCING them to believe that they are irredeemable sinners who aren't worthy of life except by Grace - it is just inexcusable - Child Abuse of the worst sort, willful and intentional.
  7. Christians who believe God wants them to war with other nations or justify their war, hatred or prejudice on God/Christianity/Bible
  8. Christians who attack sex education and birth control, which directly results in increased unwanted pregnancies, abortions, STDs, and numerous other health and social problems.

These are some of the major areas where I see Christian beliefs causing real emotional and physical harm in the US.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Religion, useless or lifebelt?

RE: The Evolution of the God Gene

For atheists, it is not a particularly welcome thought that religion evolved because it conferred essential benefits on early human societies and their successors. If religion is a lifebelt, it is hard to portray it as useless.

This is a false dichotomy and, in fact, Daniel Dennett has repeatedly spoken about how well-adapted Religion is for the human mind. Hitchen's speaks of religion as man's early attempts at Science and Philosophy, which it almost certainly was. FACTS never pose any problem for those who care about the truth. In fact, I have studied ancient, animistic, and shamanistic religions for some time because I am deeply interested in this process myself. I also think that these insights can be beneficial to modern humans - our desire to experience the Awe of the cosmos is a drive we share very much in common with all ancient people.

Religion also was and is celebration, community, politics, control, and a consolation to suffering. It plays the role of many different things, to different people, at different times. But this article commits the fallacy of composition when it attributes the beneficial attributes to the Religion and not the component parts, such as philosophy and science. Those are the elements that gave our ancestors a leg up. It was their study of the cycles of nature that enabled them to better predict the future and develop agriculture & cultivation, animal husbandry, navigation, weaponry, fire, and some measure of control over their environment. They simply tied everything together with a celebration of Nature.

The article also incorrectly assumes that all things produced by evolution are automatically and eternally beneficial when this is clearly not the case. Changes that increased survival at one point can be the very change that results in the extinction of a population at a later date. One example, far too many religious people these days are seeking a culmination into the end times - this was not a feature of ancient religions which were based more around the cycles of Nature.

It is this feature that concerns atheists today. We want to keep the community, ethics building, comforting, charitable, philosophical and scientific components and dump the no longer useful parts, which have millions clinging to false and demonstrably harmful beliefs (that condoms CAUSE AIDS, that gay people are evil, that women are not equal to men, etc).

Friday, December 9, 2011

Finely-Tuned, an inconsistent claim on Christianity

William Lane Craig (and other Christian apologists) often present a Fine-Tuning argument which basically alledges that the universe is so incredibly fine-tuned for life that the only way to explain this is to appeal to a God-creator of the Universe.

Never mind that actual physicists, such as Victor J. Stenger, strongly disagree with this assessment, in A Case Against the Fine-Tuning of the Cosmos.

But as we know from Genesis 9:12-13, it is claimed that God establishes the Rainbow as a sign of his covenant:

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

But, as we have discovered through modern science, the rainbow is intimately tied to the precise laws of physics at the Quantum level that produce the precise refraction and reflection properties of water droplets which produce a Rainbow. So, for God to have established the Rainbow in the age of Noah as a sign of his covenant with the Earth, the laws of physics would necessarily have had to have been substantially different prior to this event. And since life existed prior to this time, on Christianity, the laws of physics we observe today cannot be so Finely-Tuned as life apparently existed in a world in which water droplets had neither refraction nor reflection, the propagation of photons must have been profoundly different than we find today.

So this claim is internally inconsistent (or must resort to Special Pleading), as well as failing to be established as factual as Stenger, et al. have shown. And furthermore, until we have a well established final theory of Everything, such claims are extremely tenuous at best because they extrapolate WELL beyond the realms in which current theory has actually been tested.

This is the intellectual equivalent of someone in 1850 observing how well Newton's Law of Gravity fits the observations (in the energy realm in which it had been tested to that point) and concluding from that, that Nature was non-relativistic. Nor today can we assume that the premises of Relativity are PROVEN by the success of the Theory when there are unknowns (how to integrate the theory with the Quantum, and what happens at extremes of energy that are inaccessible to us). These extrapolations from the Theory serve as TESTS of the theory; to misinterpret them commits a very grievous error.

Craig is hiding his semantic game behind numerous implicit premises that are not at all sound assumptions.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Separate but Equal, Together but Apart

I posted this as a comment on the following blog... it's still "awaiting moderation" so I'm going to toss it up here for safe-keeping. Feel free to join in the fray :)

Re: http://potluckbloggers.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/obamas-america-a-place-divided/

“We need to stand together to solve our problems. / Is it election day yet?”
Your vision of “standing together” is interesting. What it seems you mean from these words is that everyone needs to believe as you do and if they don’t, they must be marginalized by voting them out. Can you even see the hypocrisy in these two statements?

Most all want fair and free elections – the issue is not the mere requirement to show ID, it is how it can be used as a tool of disenfranchisement and you KNOW this is the issue being debated but you choose to ignore the facts and instead resort to fallacious and emotional appeals.

I mean honestly, terrorism means we have to show ID to vote??? Your argument is completely without merit, it’s not logical in the slightest. All you’ve done is strewn a few facts here and there and pasted them together with random talking points.

And your facts are extremely skewed and biased; I challenge you to post these facts in comparison (if you can produce RELIABLE sources for data post 2007 that’s fine with me, but I don’t believe that such exists, even the CDC has not finalized 2009 data).

(1) number of US deaths from Domestic terrorism (non-islamic), 2001-2007
(2) number of US deaths from auto / slip&fall accidents, 2001-2007
(3) number of US deaths from Tylenol, 2001-2007
(4) number of US deaths from heart / cancer / Tobacco / alcohol, 2001-2007
(5) number of US deaths from Islamic terrorism, domestic and foreign, 2001-2007
(6) total US deaths, 2001-2007
(7) percent of US morality attributable to Islamic terrorism, domestic and foreign

I want to know just exactly how severe this “Islamic threat” is here in the US, so give me ALL the data and let’s see where it stacks up.

[and I'm not suggesting we ignore it either, the point is that you and others distort the facts all out of proportion -- you ask me to give up constitutional rights on a threat that is smaller than that presented by Staircases, Bathtubs, and pain relievers]

You can pretend to minimize what you believe the effect of such a Bill will be in the US but you CANNOT deny that this has been exactly a tool of disenfranchisement used in the past – the concern is very real. What you failed to do is justify a belief that this cannot and will not be used as such a tool in the US. And you would have to make this case in light of clear evidence that people ARE trying to disenfranchise voters (on BOTH sides to be fair).

The charge is not that YOU personally are a racist, but there are those who are pushing for these policy changes who ARE doing so purely out of prejudice and hatred.

and if we just leave it alone it will make the proper corrections” — a lovely denial of the plain facts of history.

And if you seriously think Obama is a socialist then you need to get a dictionary… not ONCE has he proposed that the means of production be turned over to the government. Regulation and social support systems are NOT, in and of themselves, socialism. You are guilty of the slippery slope fallacy here.

democrats are racists too” — lol you are joking right? Prejudice is hardly a unique property of Republicans. OF COURSE democrats are racists too. Democrats used to be THE racists, the Republican party practically began because of the racism of Democrats who were pro-slavery (predominately southern Christians who used their Bible as a justification for slavery).

And Abraham Lincoln is a personal hero of mine. The Republican party of the time FREED the slaves. But that all changed over time and by the election of 1912 there was nothing left of the Grand Old Party. A mass exodus occured electing Thomas Woodrow Wilson as the 28th president of the United States. From that date forward the Democrats have greatly diversified and adopted more liberal and progressive policies. And it is exactly this effort AGAINST prejudice that appears in the Democrat movement that has pushed the Religious Right over to the Republican party.

So yeah, there is still a LOT of racism and prejudice everywhere – but it cannot be denied that a heavy concentration currently lies with the Religious Right in the Republican party. They are practically frothing at the mouth over the idea that two people of the same sex might get the same civil rights as two people of opposite sex. Why are they so preoccupied with the sexual activities of others?

Where do you see this level of open hatred anywhere else? It’s not ALL republicans to be sure.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


adverb. not only that but also
noun. denial or refusal

I've decided that I don't like the traditional terms agnostic (because it has been co-opted and distorted from the original) nor atheist (because it is too variant in meaning; it is too narrow - it doesn't really define a positive position).

I've been looking around for a new term for some time and I think I like Naytheist (used in Dogland by Will Shetterly), so I'm going to try it on for a while. Consider it a joke or social experiment; I don't know.

Urban Dictionary, that paragon of authoritative definitions, defines 'naytheist' as "someone who claims no affliation with any religion. this does not preclude the belief in god" but screw them; consider this a hostile take-over.

At a high-level my Naytheism is not just a rejection of theism, but a positive belief in the utility of empirical data combined with a metaphysically conservative epistemology.

In more detail, a Naytheist:

(1) Does not hold a positive belief in the ontological existence of any God (creator, pantheistic or otherwise) or metaphysically dualistic concept (soul/spirit), on the principle of parsimony.

And not only that, but also...

(2) Holds a positive belief that ontological propositions are best held to be true based on methodological naturalism (empirical observations, tests, replication, and verification).

And not only that, but also...

(3) Rejects prejudicial belief systems as demonstrably divisive (including Religion, Nationalism, Tribalism, Ethnic prejudice, Colonialism, Caste, or any prejudicial ideology).

Got any other very broadly held positions? post a comment

Before you suggest The Golden Rule please note that the underlying principle of the Golden Rule is to "love thy neighbor as thyself" - and I believe that avoiding prejudice is a more objective way to accomplish that goal.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011



First, let's look at this article on Time: Hypertime -- why we need 2 dimensions of time and Physics with Two Time-like Dimensions

The question is not, is THIS specific case true or not. The point is that we cannot eliminate such possibilities because we LACK knowledge. Can you demonstrate conclusively that Time is a single-dimensional and linear property of the Cosmos having all and only those properties that would support the Kalam argument?

So, WHAT is Time? What causes "Time"? What do we really know about Time and Simultaneity?

It HAS been demonstrated that there is a Relativity of simultaneity.

How are these issues accounted for in the Kalam when it draws conclusions that would be deeply dependent on such facts? It seems to very much gloss over everything technical and its supporters like to quote scientists who make statements favorable to their position but those opinions are not yet facts.

So what they present as a 'simple' premise is actually a complex series of premises with dozens if not hundreds of presumptions.

Time is still very much a deep mystery so right off the bat we're dealing with an argument that depends on our ignorance rather than our knowledge and instead presumes to insert our common sense notions of Time in place of actual understanding. Nor can we conceive of what it means to "exist outside of time" or be immaterial. You can't just assume something CAN be immaterial, you have to PROVE it (or at least demonstrate it to a reasonable level of satisfaction).

This same 'common sense' notion failed spectacularly in both the case of Quantum Mechanics and Relativity and we know for a fact that the current Standard Model is incomplete. How much more evidence of the limits of our knowledge do we need?

If you are measuring the spin orientation of electrons in a Graphene matrix then the Standard Model is the best model we have at present. Theories are only accurate within the Realms in which they have been tested. Extrapolations are proposed TESTS of the Theory, not scientific fact. There are at least 20-30 ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE of phenomena yet to explore below where we can currently probe. If we thought the Standard Model explained it all we wouldn't be building LHC's to try to probe these domains.

Hypotheses about M-branes, colliding universes, multiverses, Many Worlds, String, Spin Loops, etc abound - they remain hypotheses because we have NO empirical data that can point the way forward. Funny thing that empirical data, eh?

So any premise based on these notions which exceeds the realms in which we have tested these theories is patently absurd. We might excuse Kalam for he wrote at a time when we had a profound lack of knowledge about these realms, but that is no longer an excuse. We are aware of where our ignorance lies. M-Theory sits on VASTLY firmer ground than Kalam.

It seems a nasty little bit of word play, nothing more.

Hume wrote:
[T]here is an evident absurdity in pretending to demonstrate a matter of fact, or to prove it by any arguments a priori. Nothing is demonstrable, unless the contrary implies a contradiction. Nothing, that is distinctly conceivable, implies a contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as non-existent. There is no being, therefore, whose non-existence implies a contradiction. Consequently there is no being, whose existence is demonstrable.

Statements like "Either matter is created or it is eternal or self-generating. There are no other alternatives" are false dichotomies (trichotomies?). YOU DON'T KNOW is the only honest and intelligible thing we can say.

Let me give you an example that illuminates a KEY issue this person is missing. We exist INSIDE the Cosmos, we can only see it from the INSIDE. We have no (known) way to access a deeper mode of viewing and understanding our Cosmos (which could provide limits on how much we're able to actually know about it). How bad is this "inside view"? Imagine that you actually existed inside a computer simulation - you would have access ONLY to the sensory data the computer provided you. You could "see" atoms pushed around by forces exactly like the forces we observe. But beyond the reality of your senses and instruments you would know NOTHING about the computer upon which the simulation was running. Much would be hidden from you. mass-energy would be an illusion, not what it seemed to actually be. The conservation laws would be a mere consequence of circumstance. Your entire understanding of the universe could be shifted, but you would never be able to know it. We're limited to describing the observed forces.

So you cannot honestly say that these are the ONLY options, they are the only options YOU can think of. You don't have to imagine that the universe actually IS a computer to understand that there could be a deeper level of understand that isn't 'visible' from the inside. This is not solipsism either - it is a discussion about the limits of our knowledge.

One last point (for now), Kalam also contains a very serious equivocation fallacy on the nature of 'begins to exist'. The things that 'begin to exist' in our experience do not necessarily 'being to exist' in the same sense that spacetime itself would. All we observe is the shifting of already existing patterns. So we're speaking about TWO very different levels of phenomena.

We do not know what the implication of quantum virtual particles are on this question. In some senses they MAY just be further shifting of existing spacetime. But we have absolutely ZERO knowledge about what would happen outside of a spacetime so we cannot say much about it. What we do know is that universe APPEARS to have ZERO total energy - which could indicate that the origin of spacetime was something LIKE a quantum fluctuation that was sufficiently large to leave behind the universe due to some asymmetry in the laws of physics outside our spacetime.

Kalam hides behind a very classical view of causation and time that is not strongly supported by the physics and there are a large number of implicit assumptions that are highly questionable and unresolved. And though it pretends to rest on 'simple empirical observations' it extrapolates far far far beyond any reasonable expectation of their applicability.

Ockham would not be amused.

(Also posted by me as comment on DebateGod)

No Evidence? (bad science, bad!)


I found this article because it was being cited as "proof that Evolution is false" so I wanted to give my usual rant about poor science journalism.

Dr Eric Bapteste, an evolutionary biologist at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, said: "For a long time the holy grail was to build a tree of life. We have no evidence at all that the tree of life is a reality."

Really? So... I didn't come from my parents? That doesn't constitute a certain amount of evidence?

Any genius can tell that where it takes two to tango then it's not a LITERAL and STRICT tree, but to say there is "No evidence" is rather absurd.

Are there additional complexities? Sure, we know more about things like lateral/horizontal gene transfer, retroviral changes, epigenetics and all sorts of things but those don't change the fundamental observation that things come from their parents in critically important ways.

Dr Bapteste said: "The tree of life was useful. It helped us to understand evolution was real. But now we know more about evolution it's time to move on."

This is a more accurate statement but even then, there is no denying the inheritance. The 'tree' doesn't go away here, it just is filled in with more details.

I get what they are saying but this nonsense is incredibly misleading. It sounds like they are perhaps pandering for publicity. [one of the evils produced by poorly funded science]

Why can't they just say "the tree of life is growing more complex with X, Y, and Z additions"? And we've KNOWN this for over 80 years!! "First discovered in 1928 by Frederick Griffith, lateral gene transfer is the process by which bacteria can pass genetic material laterally." Why are they acting like this is a revolution?

The article should have begun: "Since 1928, when Frederick Griffith discovered lateral gene transfer in bacteria, scientists have known that..." Do you feel the difference in tone and level of accuracy about reality that makes? But this wasn't mentioned AT ALL. Instead, this article basically lies (perhaps out of ignorance or lack of time) but certainly omits many extremely relevant facts. And these are supposedly quotes from competent biologists? I wonder if their views are being fairly and accurately represented but some of the quotes seem difficult to take out of context. Perhaps there are language barriers?

And on the flip-side of that Gonorrhea has picked up human DNA (and that’s just the beginning) also points out that some of the gene transfer studies may have actually been contaminated (and also discusses the role false contamination has played in some studies).

Here are a whole bunch of studies on gene transfer. So clearly science isn't ignoring this although it may be underestimated how important of a role it could play - and being a Human could also mean more than just your genes; we also rely on the bacteria that inhabit our body (symbiotic on many levels).

This statement pulls the article out the frying pan a little bit - but I still think it's very misleading:

Both he and co-researcher Dr Ford Doolittle stressed that downgrading the tree of life doesn't mean the theory of evolution is wrong just that evolution is not as tidy as we would like to believe.

Anyway, we learn more, our knowledge grows -- this is a good thing.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Check my math but...

One of the primary reasons people took slaves was to work. Why would they do that? Because the cheap, extracted labor of others produces enormous wealth for the individuals who control the labor market. Obtaining and keeping slaves entailed certain costs but they were minuscule compared to the wealth produced by each individual.

Obvious right? [even as it is equally ethically despicable]

So why isn't it equally obvious that when you work for substantially less than your VALUE you are an economic slave [I mean this in no way to take away from the horrors and abuses of physical slavery], you have simply outsourced the cost of obtaining and keeping slaves as a nominal fee now paid to you.

My point here is that we have to fight to ensure that our labor is not undervalued.

Meanwhile, corporations are posting a continuous stream of record profits: http://www.economicpopulist.org/content/corporate-profits-q3-2011-21

If corporations are sitting on ~1.8 trillion dollars, that would fund 25 million jobs at $72,000/year - the vast majority of which would flow Right Back into the economy, fueling economic growth, boosting the flagging GDP, remove dependence for millions on social support structures (unemployment, health care) thus lowering the social burden. But we seem to be taking every possible action to ensure the exact opposite processes are engaged.

Are they just fearful, stupid, or evil?

What I'm absolutely certain of is that the GOP have blockaded the recovery of the economy every step of the way. The stimulus was a clear win for economic policy, now what is holding us back is partly the fear-mongering of the GOP combined with their refusal to allow anything even remotely resembling sane policy to pass the Congress.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Illogical Cosmology

Why can't we just argue God into existence based on Logic?

Because a small error in the beginning is a great one in the end ~ Aristotle

Let's take an example of something we know at least a little bit about the universe, the properties of quantum mechanics and relativity.

Can you form a LOGICAL argument, completely absent ANY premise grounded in empirical findings, that supports the conclusion that the universe will have either of these rather surprising properties?

I sincerely doubt that you can for the reason I stated, conclusions must be based on facts, not on logical propositions which merely alledge facts.

When we propose that we can, through pure reason and logic, conjure what are rightly factual premises that demand supporting evidence out of our conclusions we make a grievous error from the very beginning.

And neither can a LOGICAL argument, in the absence of facts, discern the origin of the cosmos. For any conclusion of LOGIC to be valid the premises have to be grounded in fact. Mathematics and logic themselves are grounded in an observation of the universe, not the other way around. 1 + 1 equals 2 based on observation, not arbitrary fancy. We then made further observations and (over a very long period of time) discerned a set of rules (axioms) that appear to be self-evident (which demands that they correlate with observation) from which all other conclusions follow. The same goes for the axioms of logic. If we adopt axioms which are directly contradictory to observed fact then we will reach absurd conclusions. Now sometimes we might 'try' out an axiom on a what-if basis and conclude that the results are entirely consistent with reality (what-if the square root of a negative number is a valid concept? well that allows us to use mathematical notations that are isomorphic with observed reality so we conclude that it is a valid axiom).

There is a saying in computer programming that applies here: Garbage In - Garbage Out. If you feed Garbage In like "that which begins to exist", then you get Garbage Out. You have absolutely no observational knowledge about what "begins to exist" *really* means, you just assert it because it sounds nice. But you simply cannot extrapolate from our observations from WITHIN the construct of the Cosmos that mere rearrangements of things (mass-energy and spacetime) - which is what we are talking about when we say a pencil "begins to exist" - must necessarily follow the same rules as the origin or eternal existence of the mass-energy or spacetime itself. That is the equivocation at the heart of these arguments. These are entirely different categories of phenomena. You cannot assert based on any actual knowledge that mass-energy or spacetime (aka a universe) begins to exist in the same way that we observe mere rearrangements of pre-existing mass-energy and spacetime (aka a pencil). The more logical conclusion is that there is something deeper to the Cosmos in which these universes exist or come into existence that we have absolutely no knowledge about at this time.

You cannot even begin to talk about it because have no concepts to even begin to speak about such things.

Explain magnetism to me. Deeper. Why? Why? Why? How far down can you go? You think you understand it? I can assure you with some certainty that you do not understand it, you only pretend to understand it at some high level. Our very best physics only gives a mathematical description of the forces and force mediators. There is no physical description you can give that will account for magnetism and be accurate. It simply isn't known. We know even less about spacetime, it is extremely difficult to measure such things and our sciences are only just starting to scratch the surface. There are possibilities that describe MULTIPLE DIMENSIONS OF TIME. What does that even mean? How can you pretend to talk about the origin of the universe when you don't know what time is, you don't know if it's an independent thing or part and parcel, or even for certain if there is only one of them. Furthermore, Einstein destroyed even our notions of simultaneity within time - we can't even necessarily say two things happened "at the same time". In my reference frame A happened before B and in yours B before A.

And yet, you want to pretend to know enough to say that you know everything "came into existence" at the Big Bang? That isn't even what the Big Bang *actually* states. Prior to that there was possibly a singularity or something - we don't really know. We don't possess even the mathematical description that will account for this supposed singularity state. It's a handle we use to talk about this unknown state. We only posit it exists because we measure the universe as expanding today, and rolling time backwards the logical conclusions is that it was smaller and smaller as we go backwards in time. Now we do have a very accurate description of the physics of OUR universe - it's not perfect, we know that, but it IS accurate enough (based on measurements from things like the LHC, and the energies involved) to roll back the clock a very long ways. And then our present model of physics ceases to be applicable - but that only happens when the "everything" that we know, was in a tiny microscopic little bubble of spacetime and at least near infinite energy and density. Before that? We Don't Know. And on our ignorance it's entirely UNreasonable to conclude that it magically all popped into existence due to the will of some being who wants to watch us Masturbate and send us to eternal punishment if we get about it too often. That is an absolutely, fatous, insane leap of illogic.

We Don't know that spacetime or mass-engery was created, as I've already argued. There are some hints that it wasn't per se. One such hint is that if you take the totality of energy that we can measure in the universe today, it sums to JUST ABOUT Zero (and the error bars of that measurement allows for a Zero value). Now just imagine, what if the total energy of the universe turns out to actually BE Zero? If that's true then there is one phenomena that we observe today that might be relevant to the discussion and that is the Quantum foam of virtual particles that we MEASURE as necessarily existing for the measurements of QM to work out properly. These virtual particles necessarily sum to Zero total energy and they burst briefly into "existence", leaving only their fingerprints on the Quantum field and then ultimately annihilating and ceasing to exist (for lack of our deeper understand and the words to express it).

You might read this and shrug it off but it is a rather astonishing result, possibly the most astonishing in all of human history.

There is no theoretical limit to the size of these fluctuations but QM theory does presume that the greater the energy of the event the shorter the duration. That generally holds true (this result is built-into the equation of QM field theory) but there is a possible loop hole. If there are certain types of symmetry violations that are possible (and we're just today beginning to reach the energy levels required to measure them) then a fluctuation of unimaginably large proportions could leave behind a tiny remnant, a "new universe" that explodes "into existence", ripping spacetime itself out of the quantum plenum (as it were) and then expanding, at least in the case of our universe, as per modern inflationary Big Bang cosmology has been able to discern.

The scientific theories will stand or fall based on the strength of the evidence we discover going forward, either supporting them or rendering them untenable.

Ultimately, the only thing I see these types of Cosmological arguments demonstrating is that we are limited by what we can measure of the universe from the inside. There is almost certainly a greater construct within which the entirety rests but I think it is unreasonable to assume that greater construct is outside of the universe rather than merely being that part of the universe that is inaccessible from the inside. Imagine a cellular automata executing on some hardware system, carrying out the instructions that form the laws for that 'universe'. Those laws might result in patterns that store and process information about their surroundings and those patterns might eventually discern the patterns that define the apparent 'laws of the universe' that act upon the cellular automata. But NOTHING is revealed that represents the instructions running the cellular automata itself, nor anything about the computer system upon which it is running. But the cellular automata is not external to nor independent from the totality of the system. It's just that from within the construct you CANNOT access the information that would be necessary to truly understand the whole - that is, you cannot jump up a level. No amount of logical reasoning from inside the cellular automata could deduce the proper conclusion.

The 'beings' existing inside this cellular automata could ponder the origin of their universe by presenting these SAME fallacious arguments, but they would be entirely wrong in their conclusions. They would be making arguments from ignorance about the very nature of their own universe.

So I PROFOUNDLY doubt that we can say anything at all meaningful about the kinds of beginnings necessary to say anything meaningful about the origins of either our Universe or the greater Cosmos as a whole [which does NOT mean we cannot say ANYTHING meaningful about the universe either, it means that we must use the strongest observable facts when we draw conclusions - and where we lack knowledge we can only postulate a vast array of possibilities which we then must test against reality, not just pretend that one of the more absurd of them is true]

The Cosmic Triangle: Assessing the State of the Universe

(Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy on the Babel fish) Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes something like this:
"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.
"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

Douglas Adams

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nonbelief In A Nutshell

A Work In Progress - I think this is a good rough draft, I'll refine it over time, add references, links, and citations. In the meantime, feel free to help me by pointing out any errors or defeating arguments (or even just linking to other resources in the comments).

But here are a few foundations for my Nonbelief:


If "objective moral values and duties exist" then the question of god is irrelevant because, being objective, they cannot depend upon god. They would have to exist as facts of the matter, independent from any god, or else they are not objective. This argument is the same as saying 'if matter objectively exists, then god". It is a non sequitur.

Nor do I grant that objective morals exist. All evidence is that we follow something closer to empirical consensualism (the proposition that, I and others have a say in the nonsense you try to pull on us which we can legitimately base on the facts of the matter). I believe that GIVEN THE HUMAN CONDITION (which by definition means we're not talking about the objective - a human who, for example, lacks a sense of empathy would not likely share our values) that there are moral imperatives that we can discern through observation. I believe there are good, empirical arguments to be made for such imperatives but ultimately they depend on shared values. If we cannot agree on a value position then we will not agree on the conclusions regarding ethics or morality. Nor does a morality existing necessarily imply that there is some arbiter of them. They are JUST principles of behavior. Some behaviors we don't always like, but we tolerate in others (belief in religion, free speech, non-belief in religion, blasphemy). Other behaviors we find so contrary to human existence that we're willing to enforce them upon others, even when we're not directly affected (murder, theft, assault, rape, fraud, child abuse, slavery, etc).


Slavery is one of the best arguments against the Bible as a source of moral authority. I will let Marvin Wheat make that point for me: "emancipationism [or] abolitionism is atheism" 'The progress and intelligence of Americans', Marvin T. Wheat. Bravo Mr. Wheat, I couldn't have said it better. The rejection of slavery is the rejection of the Judeo-Christian values that underlie it (neither group invented slavery, they merely codified as if it was the will of god). This Atheism is the claim that we have grown beyond the narrow-minded claims of iron age, theocratic despots asserting their power and exploiting the ignorant/uneducated/undereducated masses of the time. Yes, I Very Well understand the draw - for a finite payment today, and draw from infinite perfection tomorrow - you know, after you're dead so we don't have to actually prove anything. And the bad people will get punished (since we failed to hold them responsible) and the "good people" (defined invariably by EVERYONE as those on YOUR side, it's always the other guys who are evil) will be rewarded. Oh, and it's conveniently undetectable and unprovable (despite 1 Kings 18), so you'll just have to take their word for it. I mean, nobody would Die for a false belief would they? (*cough* 9/11 *cough*, Opps, deploy the Special Pleading police to clean that one up). And let's ignore the fact that it's not REALLY the bad people who are punished, they merely have to confess their sins and accept Jesus and get a Free Pass. It's those evil atheists who want to take responsibility for their OWN sins and not scapegoat them through a Human Sacrifice that will receive infinite punishment for their finite transgressions against the make-believe. What god really hates is someone who thinks for themselves, not the murderer, or the rapist, or the child abuser.

But a bare and unsupported assertion that ones moral claims are grounded in their god is fatuous and empty. You must provide and argument or demonstration as to why your claims of moral ground in YOUR God are substantial, whereas all the other tens of thousands of such claimants are in error.

The fact is that the religious methodology (be it revelation, gnosis, or otherwise) is wholly unreliable and demonstrably leads to mutually exclusive conclusions. I might as well be a Scientologist or Mormon or follower of Jim Jones or Sai Baba as all such claims rest on the same, deeply flawed, methodological footing (that of making things up and deciding to believe in them ON the absence of evidence and contrary to all rationality).

What Passes For Biblical 'Morality'

On Christianity, what one must accept is that commanding someone to murder their own child is a moral action (if not, then god is immoral; or if it's moral for god to do it and it's not moral for you then it is NOT an objective standard). And if you argue that it was ok because God stayed Abraham's hand then you fail to account for the thousands of infants murdered by and on account of God: The first born of Egypt; in the presupposed flood; by the Israeli soldiers against the Amalekites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; or amongst the 100,000 Syrians; or the 1 million Ethiopians; etc (2,476,636 in total explicitly numbered in the Bible, which doesn't account for the flood or first born or many other mass murders and genocides in the bible). God doesn't care much about the lives of humans, infant or otherwise.

Even if you presume the Canaanite (et al.) adults deserved genocide (which is a prejudiced and abhorrent conclusion to begin with, and is baseless in fact), there is no argument by which you can convince me that it was thus a good and moral action for the poor Israeli soldiers to also slice open the children with a sword. Such murders (presuming they actually occurred, which also fails the factual history test) would be immoral. Period. Inexcusable. I DARE you to pick up a sword in your hands and hold it over an infant and even CONTEMPLATE bringing that sword down with force. If it doesn't make you ill just thinking about it then you need mental help because you are abnormal.


The Bible shows every evidence of being plagiarized from older mythologies and events from history (e.g., from Gilgamesh, Judas the Galilean, Egyptian sources, etc).

The utter lack of contemporaneous corroborating historical accounts is also devastating to the claims. Nobody else thought to mention the graves opening up and the dead walking among the living? Josephus was far too late (and either plagiarized or dishonestly modified), Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were TOO late, written anonymously, and we have every reason to suspect them (ask any Jewish scholar for their opinion of Christian re-interpretation of their own works). The Church's violent suppression of dissenting voices (just ask the Arian's) and destruction of contradictory evidence likewise condemns them. And then the Church, as further evidence of their systemic (commanded by the authority of the Church) immorality, for the next 1700 some-odd-years rules via murder, torture, and intimidation and destroys innumerable cultures around the globe under the pretense that it is God's Will (Manifest Destiny, Requerimiento, etc).

And please do not try to pretend like Protestants escape any of this, read Luther's 'On the Jews and their Lies' and 'In Bondage Of The Will' for starters. Then we can move to the Thomas More / William Tyndale screeds against each others respective religion. Calvin's vicious theocracy is likewise well documented (cf. Michael Servetus).

In the end it doesn't matter if there was a historical personage that the character of Jesus was based on or not. It is irrelevant to the question. I think the best evidence argues for an amalgamation (especially the evidence for Judas the Galilean). You can legitimately disagree because there is no conclusive evidence. Claiming the Biblical texts as prima facie evidence for Jesus buys you no more than the prima facie evidence for the gods in the Hellenistic texts. Once again, the religious methodological failure is fantastic and profound.

Scientific methodologies converge on answers while religious methodologies obfuscate, diverge, and bifurcate.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Magic Mushrooms & Caveats

re: http://www.livescience.com/14606-magic-mushrooms-treat-depression-addiction.html

First, thanks to @RachaelRettner for even covering the story. Don't take my criticism as being unappreciative. I'm trying to be constructive here - as well as point out the facts that I'm aware of... [and I understand that, unfortunately, your ability to state facts may be limited by politics]

So I guess I feel like this is pushing some of the myths a bit far, from the referenced article on LiveScience:

However, use of the substance, called psilocybin, is not without risk. Its side effects include paranoia and delusions

and then later quoted a researcher as saying:

"Someone having an adverse reaction might be so scared they might run across a highway and be hit by a car,"

Seriously? And exactly how many times has that ACTUALLY happened? What is the ACTUAL risk? 1 in a billion? Sure, it COULD happen, in theory... but come on. You could also watch a sad movie, have a tear in your eye, and not see a car and get hit by it. That's a risk, it COULD happen - how often is that Risk highlighted in a movie review? The problem is that they present this like you are completely out of your gourd or something, that simply isn't even in the ballpark. You would have be very sensitive and take an absolutely massive dose and just be really unlucky to reach that point.

What is risk of an overdose and complications associated with Acetaminophen? According to http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=an0NgFGyErgU&refer=worldwide

Acetaminophen overdose was linked to 458 deaths and 26,000 hospitalizations annually from 1990 to 2001

How many deaths from psilocybin are there annually? 0.1 maybe? if you stretch the facts a bit. By some accounts it is Zero.

150 people die from food allergies every year in the US. There are maybe half-a-dozen TOTAL cases in the world where psilocybin mushrooms MIGHT have been related to cause of death. An investigation into one of them found issues: http://www.erowid.org/plants/mushrooms/mushrooms_journal5.shtml.

National Survey on Drug Use & Health, 2009 data suggests that 8.1% of the population had used psilocybin - that's 24.9 MILLION people in the US alone (and potentially over 500 MILLION people world-wide). And we know use of these mushrooms is MUCH higher in South America where they have been used for centuries as medicines.

The vast, vast, vast majority of dangers associated with psilocybin ONLY exist BECAUSE it is illegal (proper identification, purity, etc). It is an absolutely absurd situation in my opinion.

The risk of death from psilocybin overdose is virtually nonexistent – there remains no conclusive evidence of any fatalities despite ingestion (often accidental) of dosages greatly exceeding the effective amount. No apparent physiological damage from the use of psilocybin has been observed from the limited research conducted to date (Grinspoon and Bakalar 1997; Stamets 1916)

I'm NOT saying it's harmless (here comes my own CYA), a trip can certainly be extremely intense (I would say for a majority of people, a full dose trip would likely be THE most intense experience of their entire lives) and the person should be aware of what is going to happen and take appropriate precautions. Yes, it is prudent to have a "sitter".

These are the kinds of cautions and facts that should be given as a reservation or caution. Real facts, not the propaganda. As always, check out http://www.erowid.org/ for detailed drug fact info.

Human beings have used psilocybin for at least many thousands of years (direct evidence of use as far back as ~9,000 BCE), if not tens or hundreds of thousands (paleolithic, shamanistic cave paintings in Chauvet Pont d'Arc, Lascaux, Altamira, Chauvet, Magura, et al.: http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/clottes/page7.php). Yes, there is risk - but we don't need hyperbole or propaganda that seems rampant in this line of research and reporting today (no doubt due, in part, to the racist and politically motivated "Drug War").

Beyond that, let's be honest - the hallucinations not a "side-effect" they are the effect.

If you have never "been there" (an apt metaphor) it would probably be wise to speak with someone who has so they can give you a better/deeper explanation.

It is always amusing (in a sad and disappointing sense) to read the clinical list of 'effects' of these types of substances like "increased heart rate, disorientation, lethargy, giddiness, euphoria, joy". That's like describing an orgasm as "muscle spams". These capture nothing of the essence of the experience.

How often to do you see ecstatic, noetic, unity, ineffability, awe, astonishment in the list (The Johns Hopkins studies actually do)? You can be utterly transported to 'elsewhere', you can feel the greatest joy or greatest sadness, or greatest fear or sometimes all three at once. It is incomprehensible to someone who doesn't have the experience against which to compare notes. It's like describing color to a person blind from birth - the description just doesn't replace the "felt presence of immediate experience" (to borrow a phrase from McKenna).

I hope this is helpful in some ways to someone.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


In 415 CE, the Archbishop Cyril of Alexandria has his monks incite a Christian mob to murder the last scientist/librarian of the Alexandrian Library, Hypatia. The Christians, led by Peter the Magistrate, strip Hypatia naked, drag her through the streets to the Christian church Caesareum, where they flayed her body with ostraca (while she is still alive, they stripped off her skin with pottery shards), tore her body into pieces, and then finally burned the remains.

It was only 391 CE when Emperor Theodosius issued his edict closing down all Pagan temples, which immediately resulted in the temple of Serapis in Alexandria being razed to the foundation. And from there, only 19 years of internal ROT until the Visigoths sacked Rome.

These are the same ideological, fundamentalist Christians trying to get into power in the United States today. This is our History and our near Future if we fail to pay attention to the very clear warning signs of rising Christian nationalism, claims of religious supremacy, and promulgation of theocratic leadership.




Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Science verses Religion

Someone wrote:

Science only concerns itself with empirical facts. Religion concerns itself with moral "facts": is murder wrong? how ought I lead my life? how should I prioritize education and community service?

No microscope, no matter how powerful, can tell you that murder is wrong, or how to lead your life. Yes, science is really really good at figuring at empirical facts, but these moral questions are not within its purview.

Science, I think, is best defined as the best process humans know for removing bias and errors from our data and our conclusions. To propose some alternative is to argue that it is better if we leave in some biases and errors. There are certainly different applications of the Sciences (physics is different from history, is different from biology, is different from cosmology, etc) but in all cases the goal is the same. Discerning Truth from Fiction.

I would agree that some questions are difficult for the Hard sciences to address directly, but that doesn't make Science irrelevant - very much the opposite.

And I would argue that a far better distinction would be Science and Philosophy, which is STILL founded on an application of Reason, Logic based in Empirical Facts. But even then, Philosophy can ONLY propose Oughts - it cannot mandate them because an Ought is only meaningful when measured against some value or goal.

Empirical Facts are absolutely relevant to any discussion about ethics or morals. For example, it is critically important to know how our treatment of children is likely to impact their later development before we can make correct statements about the morality of their treatment.

If constantly screaming at a child causes them emotional damage and results in harm in later adult then surely we OUGHT not to scream at children. But in absence of this Empirical Fact many parents do exactly this under the ERRONEOUS assumption that screaming at them endlessly will make them better adults. Without such FACTS you cannot make CORRECT moral or ethical choices in line with your actual values. You will instead make ignorant choices.

To assert that science has no place here is just patently absurd. It is EXACTLY here where science is needed most. How we treat children, how we treat each other, how we go about the business of building a healthy society is exactly where floundering about blindly has failed in the past. Science doesn't have to give a perfect answer to be valuable - it is a progression of better understanding.

OUGHT we feed the worlds population so 15 million children don't die EVERY year? OUGHT we find a way to give basic medical care to everyone? OUGHT we assume that those stuck in poverty, living absolutely miserable lives filled with abuse, hatred, and suffering is their own damn fault? Or OUGHT we recognize that they are born into a situation that very few are able to extricate themselves and perhaps take some of that responsibility for raising up every person on ourselves?

These are questions that science can absolutely help us answer.

Meanwhile, Religion seems far more concerned with discerning the will of the imaginary being of ultimate prejudice - not with facts.

OUGHT we hate gay and lesbian people? OUGHT we deny them rights? OUGHT we take it upon ourselves to control a women's body? OUGHT we lie to people and tell them condoms CAUSE AIDS so they don't use birth control? OUGHT we slaughter those different from ourselves? OUGHT we do what imaginary voices in our head tells us to?

Let's look at two of the so-called "moral" facts of the bible: 1) if god commands it, you should murder your own child, 2) if god commands i,t you commit absolute genocide - murdering every man, women, child, suckling infant, and ox - slicing infants open with a sword.

Even today we find people who (so they say) are commanded by "god" to murder their children and they do it.

OUGHT we continue to teach people such absurd and harmful stories? This is another question science can inform us about.

If all people heard that "If you hear voices telling you to murder your children and think it's God you need to seek help immediately" as often as they heard the story of Abraham and Isaac do you think that just perhaps, every once in a while, someone might just seek that help out instead of drowning their children? I wonder how we could find the answer to such a question? Should we A) Pray on it, or B) take the concern seriously and study the question using the best tools and methodology from psychology and related sciences? Which approach is likely to give us the most detailed and least biased answer?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Newton Was A Christian and other Fallacies

Newton was also an Alchemist and produced several volumes of alchemical works (if I recall correctly they far outnumber his scientific works) - does his contributions to science also prove Alchemy is true? Absurd of course. But tie him to Religion and all of a sudden people assume it has some bearing on the question.

Scientists of the past were largely religious because their culture demanded it on pain of death (primarily Christians and Muslims). Their willingness to spread their religion at the point of a sword doesn't make their religion true. I would argue very much the opposite in fact. Newton had to walk a very fine line with the Church to avoid problems. The fact is he was forced to censure himself. The Church was a force for scientific oppression - only in support when the science could be twisted to their own ends.

The maltreatment of Galileo Galilei in the hands of the Church is well known (despite their far-too-little-too-late and backhanded apology) but what may be less well known is that Galileo got off easy compared to Giordano Bruno who was murdered by the Church. Copernicus suppressed his research due to the church, Campanella was tortured by the church repeatedly for supporting Galileo, Rene Descartes suppressed his research due to Galileo's treatment, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Edmond Halley, Isaac Newton, Georges Louis Leclerc Comte de Buffon, William Buckland, Charles Lyell, Louis Agassiz, Adam Sedgewick, Robert Chambers, Charles Darwin... all scientists whose work was negatively affected by the actions of the Roman Catholic Church against the progress of science.

Scientists today are mostly still religious because of inculcation, indoctrination, and socio-cultural expectation. And many also live in parts of the world where religion-by-violence is still practiced.

And if it isn't the state pushing the religion now, then it's probably your family. My mom has been in tears begging me to rejoin the church because she cannot stand the thought of her son burning in Hell while she is in heaven (and honestly, what a horrible lie to have implanted in people's mind in the first place - pretending it's true to manipulate people into joining).

But even in the National Academy of Sciences in the US (which is an outlier for its preponderance of religious belief) some 93% of the members are NON-religious. As the level of education (or more accurately, the level of scientific knowledge) drops the likelihood that you accept the religion of your culture goes up. It's just a correlation but it shows a tension between scientific beliefs and religious beliefs.

If you accept even basic things like the Earth goes around the Sun, Earth is a spheroid which isn't likely to have "stood still" at any point, viruses and bacteria cause disease, life on earth evolved from simpler organisms (and must have started from a replicating molecule of some type, probably RNA-like, based on the heavy natural organic chemistry), there isn't a water layer above the "firmament" of the heavens, the universe is ~13.7 billion years old, the Earth is 4.5 billion years old - then the Bible is clearly and plainly false. There IS no other reasonable conclusion.

Just ask Pope's Paul V and Urban VIII - they knew this very plainly and with the full authority of apostolic succession. They knew what these verses meant and they knew well the implications of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo. It meant their Bible was fundamentally wrong.

But Religion is nothing if not well adapted to the human psyche, so it persists. It feeds off the easy belief that the bad will be punished and the good rewarded, that our life will have had cosmic significance and not have been wasted. It allays our fear of death and gives us false hope. It is a cost borne by the living, attested by the unseen and unknowable, with rewards only promised upon death, the ultimate ponzi scheme.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Necrometrics: Death Tolls in History

Aristarchus of Samos

Pretty cool guy

Evolution: As Simple As Possible

The modern definition of Evolution is:
evolution can be precisely defined as any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next. - Helena Curtis and N. Sue Barnes, Biology, 5th ed. 1989 Worth Publishers, p.974

An Allele is simply a particular gene variant.

When a genetic scientist speaks of "microevolution" or "macroevolution" (which is rarely the case) they are talking about the exactly same underlying phenomena over different scales of time. They are not making a distinction between the cause of those changes, as uninformed evolution-deniers often like to incorrectly imply (this is a common dishonest tactic).

Microevolution: allele changes within organisms or populations of organisms; studies that look at individual genetic changes, or allele changes within a population over small periods of time (up to roughly 100 years).

Macroevolution: evolution on a scale of separated gene pools over geologic time; studies that look at the effects of accumulated allele changes between groups of organisms that are no longer biologically/genetically interconnected (over periods of 10,000 years or greater).

Here are the high-level facts regarding Evolution.

So, in summary:
  1. We know that DNA drives pretty much everything that makes us, well, us.
  2. We know how the genome can grow (gene duplication/chromosome duplication).
  3. We know how the genome can and DOES change (nucleotides inserted, deleted, or substituted), with great frequency (~150 mutations per individual).
  4. We know that the genome changes from individual to individual.
We observe all these changes happening in real organism. Microorganisms are the most studied because they replicate faster and generally have smaller genomes to study. It's all there - we see things changing over time with EVERY type of change necessary to change a bacterium into a human being - given enough time. And the amount of time you would estimate from the observables above (and in more scientific detail) are exactly what we find. The radiometric dates (from fossils) align with the molecular clock dates we would expect to an astonishing degree (remember this is a stochastic process so we do not expect perfect clockwork changes) over a wide range of phyla and different time periods.

Yes, it requires many steps - but remember, each of those steps are filtered through Natural Selection. Natural Selection is the key process.

Imagine you thoroughly shuffle a deck of cards and, without looking at them, deal them into 4 piles. The odds that you have 4 Royal Flushes is as close to impossible as we can imagine. But with a subtle change of the rule, imagine that you turn the cards over and simply Select the next random card into the right piles. 4 Royal Flushes becomes a mundane result. Natural selection is Nature looking at the cards and selecting them based on survival. Survival itself is an extremely complex subject and it is NOT simply survival of the fittest, organism often develop complex relationships with one another (food, predator, host, symbiotic, parasitic, etc). If one species depends upon another, it is not in that species best interest to utterly destroy the other species, at other times species may compete for common resources. But the interplay between all of these relationships cannot be so easily summed up.

Evolution is a fact, it's happening all around you in every single organism.

This is why results like Escherichia coli evolving the genes necessary to process Citrate is such strong confirmatory result (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0803151105)). If you read all the papers from Lenski and his team on this you can find the exact genetic changes that gave this result, so they know EXACTLY what changed in the genome to enable this new function.

Evolution is Happening. That is the undeniable conclusion from the above set of facts. There is no way to avoid it if you look at the facts and apply even a modicum of basic reasoning. If you want to deny it, show me exactly which genetic change cannot happen that would get us from point A to point B. Creationists want to claim 'macro evolution' can't happen -- well show me which step can't happen. At the genetic level there is NO SUCH THING as a species, species is an arbitrary category that humans apply because some set of things is "different enough" from another set of things. There are some 10 million species alive today. There is a fantastic series of gradations of life from the lowly bacterium to human. Hundreds of different kinds of eyes (including eyes that are no longer eyes at all, like our own pineal gland, which literally functions in some reptiles as a "third-eye").

There are many other reasons we could go into as well, eg., the observation that everything is made of similar cells (with a few major groupings) goes to common origins, we've observed single-cellular organisms evolve the ability to stick together and form multi-cellular clusters - and the beginnings of specialization, how more essential genes are highly conserved. All these factors just support the facts outlined above.

Another important thing to note is that bacteria have survived for billions of years, the genome of the modern bacteria is NOT the same as the ancient bacterium. It has stabilized itself as it adapted for survival in the environments in which it survives so it's not likely that a modern bacterium would suddenly turn into a squirrel. That just isn't going to happen, if it was that likely to happen we would probably have trillions of species and not merely the millions see today. You would need the EXACT genetics of the ancient bacterium and the exact conditions under which it mutated. But what we do expect to see is a continual, long-term evolution. Just as we've observed in populations where human selection has resulted in massive and sometimes incredible changes in just a few hundred or thousand of years (eg, in dog, horses, cabbages, pigeons, avocados, peas, lettuces, etc).

Think of the tiniest dog and the largest dog - HUMANS did that in just a few hundred years. Because of the limited time-period the claim that "it's still just a dog" is really irrelevant - you are missing the significance of the amount of actual change we know has occurred. Nature still has to provide the mutations (short of genetic manipulation of course).

NOTE: I'll enhance the references as time goes along (I would like to link to definitions for all the terms as well), feel free to comment and suggest key papers and articles to be added. Meanwhile, the reader is encouraged to do their own research to validate the claims. They are VERY simple claims and easily confirmed in numerous scientific journals and popular science publications. Hint: use Google Scholar

There are an estimated 5 × 10³⁰ Prokaryotes (bacteria and the like) on earth today, that's a lot of parallel mutation going on.

For tons more information explore the talkorigins site and this video:

Sunday, August 28, 2011


People often seem to define words in funny ways. To the right, liberal seems to mean "liberty hating", which is more pregnant with irony than a Palin-teen.

I've written in the past on the dangers of the ISM (ideology) - belief systems that ask us to shut down reason and rationality and believe something because it fits into some predefined system of thought. I reject such simplistic thinking because it denies the very real complexity of our world - there aren't many simple answers except to simple problems. What I do "believe in" is discussing things in terms of values.

To me, being liberal is primarily a statement about values. It means I value civil liberties, equal rights, rule of law, education, and a nonprejudicial society. We can disagree on how to realize those values in society but don't you dare suggest that I don't hold them.

Andrew Chrucky wrote "The aim of liberal education is to create persons who have the ability and the disposition to try to reach agreements on matters of fact, theory, and actions through rational discussions."

I'm a liberal because I don't believe people are fully culpable for the circumstances in which they sometimes find themselves (neurological studies have greatly questioned the power of our consciousness). I believe it is the imperative duty and responsibility of those who are capable of acting to help others, to do so. This is why I have no problem with taxation going to support such actions. It IS an imperative and it is part and parcel of our social contract.

We've seen what happens when we rely on charitable organizations, it didn't work, it doesn't scale (it can work in small enough social circles). We know for a fact that people will exploit others for their own personal gain - it's not a matter of rewarding their work. They took people as slaves, beat them, exploited them until they died, raped them, and even raped their children. This is what people, "good Christian people", did when they were not constrained by approprite social pressure. These were the people who ran the largest, most powerful organization of their day. It wasn't a few extremists - it was a dominate corporate enterprise.

It's not a Robin Hood plan either, it's enlightened self-interest. The greater the opportunity for those less fortunate than ourselves to receive education, medical, mental health, and economic assistance the better for our society.

I KNOW for a fact that I benefit from taxation in these ways.

I freely admit there is government waste (that's a huge "DUH"), I disagree that the majority of government is wasteful, that's irrational hyperbole. And I know for an absolute, unquestionable fact that the idea that capitalistic corporations somehow magically minimize waste is a gigantic load of horse shit. I've worked in corporations for nearly 30 years and I've seen massive waste. So try to tell me that companies do a better job, that has been conclusively proven false in numerous studies.

Hopefully this will spark some discussion!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Living Without God

What living without belief in a god means to me...

I didn't stop being generous when I stopped believing in Santa

It means that I value human compassion. There will be no redemption in the distant future. Each and every person needs to be responsible for improving our collective well-being. People are abused and murdered every day and we have to work to improve this situation. Those who survive the abuses heaped on them do not generally end up being better or stronger people for it, far too often they end up continuing the cycle of abuse and they need our help and compassion; first and foremost in prevention.

It means that I cannot rely on the non-existent supernatural to make everything right at some nebulous point in the future. Therefore I must take my share of responsibility for how things are now and how things will be in the future.

Where do morals come from if not from god? They come from human behavior processed by human thought. This answer should be obvious. But without god there can be no absolute right or wrong? Wrong, there is no absolute right or wrong with god. The god of the bible tried to get people to murder their own children. The god of the bible ordered the slaughter of every man, woman, and child at Jericho (Josuha 6). The god of the bible directly Murdered all the first-born of Egypt, including innocent infants. The god of the bible Murdered every man, woman, and innocent child on the planet (except Noah's family) as part of the flood. Doesn't any of that seem wrong to you? If so, why is your innate sense of right & wrong better than gods supposedly is?

There are better ways to deal with our problems.

If the Christian god existed, he has allowed billions of children to be subjected to abusive parents (emotionally and physically) and then proposes to punish those children with eternal torment once they grow up to be less than ideal human beings? Doesn't that just seem wrong to you?

Consider the alternative, that we are animals who are slowly gaining greater cognitive abilities and we're now able to look back at our history and see the evils which we have propagated on our own. We are now capable of doing better but you have to take steps to be responsible for yourself and not scapegoat your own failings onto some mythical Christ.

And we are collectively guilty today for not immediately putting a stop to many of the evils that continue. Some will take longer but there are many things that we could end today if we all say, we're just not going to take it any more (cue rock music).

For example, it is not acceptable to stone people to death. It is not acceptable to put anyone to death, however horrible of a person they have been they are a product of our own collective failure to take action. I do not propose they be allowed to roam around free, but it is just not right to kill another human being unless it is absolutely necessary to prevent them from causing immediate harm.

500 million people live in abject poverty, without access to acceptably clean water, food, and shelter. and some 3 billion people live in unacceptable conditions that no human should have to endure.

15 million children die every year of starvation but for the cost of only ten Stealth bombers, every single child that starved to death over the past 10 years could have been saved. But these children will continue to suffer and die, every year, day in and day out, until we all stand up and say 'no more'.

Another major issue we face today is that the population growth rate is alarming (despite these problems which cause unacceptable levels of suffering and death). As we begin to fix the deplorable conditions our brothers and sisters are forced to live under we must gain control over our own reproduction rates. We have to be responsible and educate people so they can make better choices for themselves and others. And under these circumstances it is morally detestable to continue to preach this nonsense that god gets irate if you use a condom (or other forms of birth control).

I would love to see a world where abortions are not necessary but human-kind has not reached that level. If you are "pro-life" and want to end abortions then you need to go about it the right way.

First and foremost, by ensuring those who are alive and suffering have proper food and health care. If you cannot do that then you are not pro-life, you are just pro-suffering.

Secondly, you need to ensure that every child has a safe and happy home to grow up in with loving parents. And you need to accomplish this with compassion, not by forcibly removing children from their parents and shoving them into foster homes where they are abused further. If you want to "fix" a broken family move in with them and show them a better way. If that is too much of your time to bother with then you are part of the problem. Our current system of child protective services in the US is utterly broken and it wreaks havoc on everyone it touches. It is not based on compassion for the child although it pretends to be so. And through the rest of the world... well, we have a lot of work ahead of us.

It is irresponsible to assume there is supernatural safety net that awaits us. This is nothing more than a boorish excuse for inaction. So please, wake up and take some action to make the world a better place.

Quantum Mechanics in Plain English

Improve your knowledge of Quantum Mechanics with this excellent plain English series: http://www.quantumdiaries.org/2010/02/14/lets-draw-feynman-diagams/

(latest) http://www.quantumdiaries.org/2011/08/23/the-spin-of-gauge-bosons-vector-particles/

I'll probably add more going forward and use this post as a dumping ground for resources on QM.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Is-Ought Computation

Re: http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/08/23/lind_humanism/index.html

First, let me say that I am not a Secular Humanist (I don't like ISMs in general, I prefer to actually consider my thoughts individually). I personally don't like the connotation of "Human" in that equation. I think humans are petty, evil, nasty, little shitstains on the planet and I think the planet would be better off, on the whole, without us around. I love my family and friends but come on, be honest for about 30 seconds and think about it. However, I don't advocate wiping us all out either because that's exactly the kind of petty, evil, nasty shit I was talking about in the first place. So we're kind of stuck with trying to make the world a better place.

[the above is pretty laden with sarcasm - please do try to read between the lines]

Anyway, I don't hate Secular Humanism and I think it has some good ideas. What I do dislike very much are absurdly irrational diatribes so let's get back to the content of the article that I wanted to comment on.

The article primarily attacks secular humanism on the basis of this bit in the manifesto: In this way there is no impenetrable wall between fact and value, is and ought. Using reason and cognition will better enable us to appraise our values in the light of evidence and by their consequences.

His primary argument is to invoke Hume's Law: you cannot derive a moral "ought" from a factual "is.".

This is an appeal to authority which undermines the entire argument. It MIGHT be true, but all evidence is to the contrary. He doesn't at all address John Searle's 1964 "How to Derive 'Ought' from 'Is'" or other attacks on Hume's assumption, although that isn't necessary to punt Hume out of the drivers seat.

What Hume was unaware of was Quantum Mechanics, Attractors in non-linear nonlinear dynamical systems, and the computational nature of the universe (not that it can be modeled with mathematics but that it fundamentally forms computation).

The absolutely unquestionable fact (and you can do this with sand, tinkertoys, water, just about anything) is that certain arrangements of physical materials allow CHOICES to be made. Choices take input data (either stored or gathered from the environment) and make decisions about it. This is how computers work, this is how brains work. At the lowest level the data and the choices made are so incredibly deeply abstracted from 'reality' it seems difficult to understand how they relate to our experience but by building up millions of bits of data and making trillions of choices we build up ever more complex abstractions. We KNOW this with computers. The exact same 'bits' in the computer make up numbers, letters, words, documents, pictures, sound, movies, AND THE PROGRAMS WHICH OPERATE ON THEM.

It's that last bit I stress because the data IS the program and it's that knowledge that blows Hume's presumption out of the water.

We have 'oughts' built into our individual cells by billions of years of evolution. Oughts that we have absolutely no conscious control over (only at the molecular level are such decisions being made, should I produce more ATP? etc). Oughts that are absolutely fundamental to life existing.

We have 'oughts' that are built into our brains by 10's of millions of years of evolution. These Oughts we have no little or conscious control over either. "Should I contract this muscle? Yes, because CO2 levels are rising"

We have 'oughts' that we do have 'conscious' control over - I say 'conscious' because I don't assume that we have Free Will and indeed, the research is rather strong suggesting that our apparently conscious decisions are made subconsciously.

It is at this level that we begin to consider the consequences of our actions - "should I eat another slice of Pie?" is of absolutely no qualitative difference from "should I attack that person violently?" In BOTH cases our subconscious knowledge and biological factors we are utterly unaware of will drive trillions of choices to be made which will ultimately bubble up into our conscious and result in action or inaction. "Moral" choices aren't somehow magically different from choices that evolved as necessary for survival.

The presumption should be that human beings are (extremely complex) machines, following the laws of nature, performing computation until you can prove otherwise because those are the facts that we KNOW and other than specific details no fact of our existence is unexplained by those assumptions. And in that model there is no place for the magical formation of 'oughts', they form naturally.

And here is the bottom-line, I can write a fairly simple program that learns from its inputs and forms 'oughts' as a result. Not a priori oughts, but oughts that evolve naturally out the consequences of the execution of the program. They will not be 'absolute' oughts except in the sense that are likely to be some cases where there are no viable alternatives (when there is only one possible answer).

I'm sure it will take years to fully develop this such that the majority of people can 'get it' but it's rather obvious to me and I think this is at least a good informal start on communicating (in the ~30 minutes I had to write this) why I find this objection absurd.

Entropy and the 2nd Law

If you really want to understand Entropy better watch this entire lecture series from Yale, but especially this segment:

23. The Second Law of Thermodynamics and Carnot's Engine

But please at least learn this one thing.

Entropy is the energy in a system no longer available for doing work. This does NOT mean that localized entropy cannot decrease (e.g., this is exactly what an A/C unit does), as long as the entropy of the entire System increases.

When the localized Entropy of an RNA or DNA molecule is lowered by work done with energy released from process of ATP -> ADP hydrolysis the total Entropy increases (you can calculate this using equations for Chemical Entropy if you have a specific reaction in mind).

Sunlight is used by plants to convert water and carbon dioxide into LOWER entropy molecules (sugars, etc). This is all Very Basic Science - pre-101 and is extremely well-known, studied, and the entropy calculations have been carried out to Many decimal places in study after study after study. When your body re-energizes ADP back into the LOWER Entropy molecule ATP it is doing the exact same thing and it's no Miracle™ because again, while the entropy of ADP is lowered during the chemical change the TOTAL entropy of the system increases.

It is an absolutely absurd proposition to object to "evolution" on thermodynamic grounds - anyone doing so is either ignorant, incompetent, or just flat out lying.

More resources that look specifically at evolution and thermodynamics:

Does evolution contradict the second law of thermodynamics?

Talk Origins: Thermodynamics, Evolution and Creationism


Google Scholar Resources