Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Solar power without solar cells: A hidden magnetic effect of light could make it possible
[ Scientific paper: Optically-induced charge separation and terahertz emission in unbiased dielectrics ]

Basically, this is a possible way to generate electricity directly from light.  It's one of those exciting findings that may not pan out for 100 years or could prove to be impossible to harness in a useful way at the large scale.

My guess is that it will find application in the field of optical computation LONG before you are powering your house with an empty coke bottle and some duct tape.  But it's something to keep an eye on closely over the next couple of years as it COULD be a game changing discovery (IF they can find materials that do not require light that is 100000000x times stronger than sunlight).

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Modern Secular Movement and YOU

It has been suggested that some atheists are only about making others feel insecure and unhappy. And while it is impossible to speak for all atheists (because we are an extremely individualized and varied group, beyond lacking a belief in a god) I will explain my views.

For one, I really don't believe that this is the primary motivation of the modern secular movement at all, even if there are a few mean spirited people out there. There are plentiful examples of mean-spirited believers. Just go look at a list of Hate Groups (e.g., Southern Poverty Law Center: Ideology) and you will find plenty of hate groups based on religious tenants. I don't see a single group on that list that claims to or even appears to hate others simply out of their lack of belief in a god.

So, while some atheists may be openly hostile towards some religious beliefs, they do so on an individual basis -- whereas, there are ample sources of hate speech in the religious texts of every major religion. Atheism does not command, on pain of eternal torment for disobeying god, that someone sacrifice their own child (as god did with Abraham), that parents should stone their children to death, that because god has given us a parcel of land we must commit genocide and infanticide against every resident of that land that stands in our way, or that we should stone our wives to death if we find they are not a virgin. But the bible contains all of these things.

And while I'm glad that not every member of these groups do these disgusting things (any more; if the bible is accurate people USED to do them), the fact is that they are still used by others to fuel hatred. The fact that many religious adherents ignore or make excuses for these things doesn't make the resulting problems go away.

Can you imagine if atheists had a book that said to go out and murder people like the bible does? The hypocrisy and double-standards are just at ridiculous levels.

Most outspoken atheists are simply about protecting our rights and, in some cases, simply doing what IS right. Atheists generally take issue, not with someones private beliefs (again, I'm sure there would be an occasional exception), but primarily with their actions.

Far too many 'believers' want to use their beliefs as an excuse to deny rights to people they simply don't like or don't respect (most often lately, women, children, and gay people). They have spent billions of dollars fighting against scientific education in the schools (because they know what happens when children are well educated - they know what it means that 93% of the National Academy of Science members do not believe in a god). They have spent billions fighting against gay rights. They have spent billions brainwashing people to fear condoms (not just teaching the 'virtues' of abstinence but actually telling people that "Condoms CAUSE Aids") which has resulted in millions of people suffering and dying, primarily in parts of Africa (which is compounded there by other, unfounded, magical beliefs). They don't just try to help the poor -- they preach that being poor is a virtue, and they trade their help for allegiance to a flawed and evil doctrine. This is called exploitation.

Just compare the typical Atheistic billboards "You know it's a myth", "Millions are good without god", etc with these:





One claims that non-belief is Treason! They are suggesting we should be put to death because we find the idea of their child-murdering, slavery-endorsing, misogynistic god offensive to our sensibilities of decent behavior.

To me, there really is no comparison between those who are merely being outspoken against religion and the religious treatment of others (just look at the many wars fought between different 'Christian' factions - much less what they have done through history to non-believers and those of other faiths). I don't mean to only pick on Christians (the other major religions are absolutely no better), but they are the sect I know best because I live in the south and have to deal with their hatred, prejudice and nonsense on a daily basis.

They then parade around as if their faith is something to be proud of and I am not allowed to speak freely out of fear for my life and job because I have chosen not to believe things without substantive cause. For example:


If you don't face this kind of bigotry on a daily basis then maybe you don't understand what others are going through, but I assure you it happens, frequently.

So, if someone seems too aggressive or outspoken on the subject maybe you should wonder what their reasons must be to have reached that point? I personally do not care what others choose to believe in private, but I do care about how they decide to practice it when it impacts my life.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ray Comfort fails at even basic science

Atheist Central -- Ray Comfort's Blog: Genesis on Trial

The continued rotation of the earth is caused by inertia as was observed keenly by Newton; understanding it more deeply requires ~8 years of university-level education in mathematics and physics. But, a mere inability to understand it is no excuse for making an argument from ignorance. If you want an example of the kind of thing you need to grasp to properly grapple with these questions try this equation: http://nuclear.ucdavis.edu/~tgutierr/files/sml.pdf

Your statement, "the reason for the 24 hour numbering is that it takes the earth 24 hours to spin on its axis", may be the worst circular argument ever made. First of all, a day is not exactly 24 hours, it is 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.091 seconds

And the actual reason we have 24-hours in a day is because the ancient Sumerians decided to divide the day/night cycle into groups of 12. They used base-12 and base-60 counting systems because they were easier for them to divide evenly since they lacked a decimal representation system (base 60 can be evenly divided by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, and 30). This is also why we have 60 minutes, and 60 seconds and because they also divided the year into 12 groups of 30, giving 360 'degrees' in a circle (they were wrong, about the length of a year of course). By using Base-12 to count on your fingers (using your thumb as a pointer to each segment of the fingers, 12 on each hand) allows you to keep a count to a total of 144 on your fingers.

To learn more, read up on the Sumerians, Akkadians, and Babylonians of ancient Mesopotamia. This is considered the birthplace of civilization and is where we trace the origin of writing, astronomy, and mathematics.

Furthermore, the rotation of the earth and our path around the sun are ANYTHING but precise, the earth wobbles on it's axis, the length of the day changes constantly (and is constantly slowing down due to tidal transfer of energy to the moon), our orbit varies our distance from the sun by 3.5 MILLION miles, there is constant solar pressure (of 4.5 µPa), energy radiated by the earth also causes constant variations, and convective forces within the earth also vary our rotation.

And this has NOTHING to do with evolutionary theory, you are conflating different theories together. Are you unable to understand the differences or are you just being dishonest about them?

You are also grossly conflating the beliefs of atheists with those of science. MANY religious people accept that these scientific theories are accurate and you do yourself a disservice when you do this.

I can reject the claims you make about god on their own merits - I do not need to know how the universe came into being in order to see through your sophism, your logical fallacies, your poor reasoning, and your errant 'facts'.

The whole of your issue is that you have setup your epistemic philosophy in opposition to that of science. You have accepted a claim as true (claims about the Christian god) - and you seek out only evidence which supports that claim and you reject a priori all evidence, facts, and reason which is counter to those beliefs.

Imagine that I said the sky was red - because I measured it with a meter sensitive to 620–750 nm light. And then I reject your data that you also measure light of other frequencies. I HAVE my evidence of red light in the sky and my faith is unshakable.

But I would be wrong - the sky has SOME red light but in terms of human perception it is blue. Arriving at this understand requires that we DO NOT seize upon presupposed conclusions and then proceed to seek out only data which confirms our conclusion.

Your approach is the antithesis of science.

Monday, April 18, 2011

All Atheists Are EVIL! (or maybe not)

Why aren't all atheists "EVIL" like Stalin or Mao?

It has been said, MANY times, and MANY different ways but the problem with this approach is that Atheism is only a SINGULAR position, on a SINGULAR claim.  Atheism (for most) says "I reject your claims about the existence of the god you are claiming".  Period -- that is it.  It doesn't say how you SHOULD behave or what else you SHOULD believe.  Most atheists do not claim to be able to PROVE, categorically that absolutely no god can even exist [which is NOT to say that Atheists do not have other positive beliefs in support of their position -- my point here is that ALL OF THOSE OTHER BELIEFS MATTER]

As any idiot should be able to trivially see, Atheism does NOT command genocide, the bible does so repeatedly and many totalitarians and fascists have done so and some of them have done so BECAUSE of the explicit commands to do so in the bible.

Atheism does NOT command the murder of ones own child EVER, but the bible says that god commands Abraham to do so - which means that it MUST be ok for your god to command people to murder their children and IT DOES NOT MATTER THAT HE DID NOT ALLOW ABRAHAM TO COMPLETE THE ACTION - the point is that god CLEARLY gave the command to do so.  That is not just EVIL, it is FUCKING EVIL.

Are ALL Catholics responsible for ALL murders committed by the byzantine empire JUST BECAUSE they both had a religion?  I do not claim so.

I don't lump ALL religions together so why do you feel justified in lumping ALL non-believers in religion together WHEN WE CLEARLY HAVE DIFFERENT VALUES, KNOWLEDGE, AND BELIEF SYSTEMS from other non-believers such as Stalin or Mao?  You just look like a raging moron when you do this.

It is the utmost in ridiculous stupidity and ignorance to suggest that MY non-belief in YOUR god is, in any way, EQUIVALENT to the extreme forms of totalitarian regimes.  I assume you are JUST FINE with me rejecting Zeus (this was a God who supposedly ATE his own children so he wouldn't have any competition) or Odin or any of 30,000 OTHER gods?  So, why is your undemonstrated god so special?  Is it his lack of evidence?  Or maybe the fact that the stories were written 30 YEARS too late?  Or maybe it's the evidence of pseudepigrapha which means people have LIED about who wrote the books?  Or maybe it's the UTTER LACK of any historical documentation of events like the Saints rising from the dead?  Or the hundreds of errors, redactions, insertations and missing originals?  Or is it the FACT that the stewards of your 'religion' burned all evidence contrary to their claims, tortured and murdered people into converted, and ruled with an iron fist for 1700 years?   Tell you what, contact the James Randi foundation, get yourself a Bull carcass and get on TV with Randi supervising and you LIGHT that sucker on fire with JUST prayer (as it says in 1 Kings 18 that your 'god' can do) and I will convert -- how does that sound?

It is irrelevant that a FEW regimes from the past promoted or promulgated atheism BECAUSE some of the most PEACEFUL people in the world have also PROMOTED atheism (namely the atheistic Jains and Buddhists), as well as many western atheists.

I am not ONLY against religion, I am against ANY form of dogmatic system INCLUDING atheistic ones!  I don't judge people by "are they an atheist or not" I judge them by their words and actions.  And I judge beliefs by the EVIDENCES of their relative harms.

A belief that one should murder your children if you believe god tells you to IS HARMFUL.

A belief that you should believe nonsense IN SPITE OF evidence to the contrary IS HARMFUL.

A belief that you should murder, harm, degrade, devalue, or deny rights to classes of people for attributes which DO NOT HARM others (race, sex, sexual preference, food preferences, etc) IS HARMFUL.

A belief that threatening CHILDREN with eternal damnation in order to instill an utmost fear in them and indoctrinate them with emotionally charged rhetoric IS HARMFUL.

There are many others, these are just a few examples.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jellyfish life cycle / chicken-egg

Jellyfish life cycle (Scyphozoa)

The life cycle of the Jellyfish is extremely complex and fascinating.

If you think the old chicken-egg problem is a stumbler (it isn't, see below) try to figure out which came first, the scyphistoma, or the strobila, or the ephyra, or the medusa, or the planula :)

Chicken-Egg problem
This has a very complete and elegant answer, just realize there is an equivocation in the use of the word 'egg':

a) An egg that CONTAINS a True Chicken - the egg which contained the first True Chicken would have come from an Almost Chicken; with some mutation marking the difference in the species (probably related to one of the egg-shell related genes). This is the most generally correct answer.

b) An egg FROM a True Chicken - then the chicken must have come first, evolutionary-speaking. This is only true an usual sense of 'Chicken Egg' (in common usage a Chicken Egg would contain a Chicken and thus answer 'a' would apply).

c) Any type of egg at all - eggs in general are much much older than chickens. I don't think this is what anyone means when they pose the question but is included in the interest of completeness.

I go into much more detail in: The Chicken-Egg problem, an evolutionary parable

Monday, April 11, 2011

Is-Ought dilemma & morality

The Is-Ought problem is a fairly famous philosophical dilemma explored famously by Hume, Searle, Huxley, and many others. It is also sometimes used as an argument against atheism with the excuse that you can't get an "ought" from an "is" and therefore atheism is without any foundational moral basis (a Non Sequitur). Nevermind that the dilemma is NOT resolved, it is a still an open question as to exactly how Humans form Oughts - but theists are nothing if not famous for declaring victory at any gap in the scientific knowledge base.

Recently, Sam Harris has argued that a good foundational basis for secular morality is well-being, with the axiomatic presumption that the world with maximal suffering for all conscious beings is NOT the most desirable state to all of said conscious beings. In what amounts to the social sciences, this is about as self-evident a statement as you can get. I can tell you, with some confidence, that *I* do not wish for maximal suffering for all conscious beings, Q.E.D.

But, in the recent Sam Harris-William Craig debate (Does Good Come From God?), Craig asserted that axioms are equal to taking something on faith, this seems a rather desperate statement for him to have made but he did. Axioms are NOT taken on faith - they are TESTED and proposed, axioms can and have been rejected. This is true in logic, it is true in mathematics, and it is true in every field of science. The primary axioms in those fields are universally accepted (and where they are not, additional axioms/presumptions would be stated up front) AND they have been extensively tested for contradictions. They are not, in any way, shape, or form, equivalent to accepting that a god exists, merely on faith.

Take a simple example from mathematics, the identity axiom states that "a = a" - you can try other axioms but they immediately run into absurd and contradictory conclusions that clearly conflict with reality. The only accepted axioms are those which are either accepted as self-evident (some are tautological or true by definition), demonstrated to be absolutely necessary, or are only conditionally accepted (if this, then that).

In the case of the physical sciences (including logic and mathematics to the extent they are used to draw conclusions about reality) we also test the axioms against reality. If an axiom can be shown to yield conclusions that conflict with reality then it MUST be rejected (in that context). This is another vital step that is utterly missing from the god-proposition.

Let's apply this same standard in the context of the bible. If one takes the bible literally it asserts that the prayers of the faithful would be answered, that they could literally move a mountain with only the tiniest grain of faith. And yet, even the most faithful are unable to effect change in our world by prayer. It has been tested and demonstrated that prayer is not effective. Therefore, the god proposed by the bible has therefore, by any scientific measure, been demonstrated to be a false proposition. But Christian's refuse to reject their hypothesis based on this evidence - it is this presuppositional bias that is the difference between religion and science. Science is prepared to reject ANY conclusion, ANY hypothesis, ANY axiom, ANYTHING that can be shown to be unreasonable based on the evidence alone (even if, in reality, biases and human nature creep into the process in individual cases - on the balance, science has been the most objective route to truth ever known to have been devised - and as we find problems with the system they are corrected, which is to say, the sciences have improved over the ages).

In fact, Christopher Hitchens has argued that religion is our first attempt at philosophy and science. It is just unfortunate that so many have clung to the extremely flawed version for so long, but apparently, such is human nature.

And finally, presuming the existence of a god does absolutely nothing towards establishing the objective existence of some moral foundation. God could simply not care what humans do, in such a world humans would be left to make their own choices, evil deeds would be allowed to continue, and I cannot imagine a SINGLE thing in our world that would argue against such a god.

Craig makes two assertions to support his claim, let's see if they are worthy of axiomatic status.

1) that the crucified and risen Christ is evidence - and he asserts that the fact of the crucifixion is (all but) beyond reproach by the mass of scholarly support - but SURELY Craig is familiar with Schweitzer and MANY others who reject this claim?

"The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the kingdom of God, who founded the kingdom of heaven upon earth and died to give his work its final consecration never existed."
Albert Schweitzer(1875-1965, Nobel Prize 1952), Ph.D, Christian theologian and Dean of Theological College of Saint Thomas at the University of Strasburg
The Quest of the Historical Jesus: First Complete Edition, trans. W. Montgomery, et al., ed. John Bowden (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), page 478

For Craig, educated as he is in biblical studies, to make such an outrageous claim demonstrates the danger of this type of cognitive bias. Hiding contradictory or conflicting data is not tolerated in science.

Just a quick review of the issues with accepting this assertion: There are no contemporaneous accounts by independent scholars of the crucification or the redirections (or the saints rising from the dead). The gospels are written 30-60 years after the supposed events took place. We have not a single autograph. There is evidence of tampering & redaction (to the point of destruction of documents and murder) and NO amount of textual criticism can PROVE that the copies we have are even close to the ORIGINALS - only that the copies of the copies we have are relatively close to the oldest VERSION that survived the stewardship of the early church with its bias, self-interest, and willingness to destroy and murder in order to preserve itself.

If we listen to the bible, and judge them by their fruits, the church does not fair very well for it's first ~1800 years.

2) that God is, by definition, a god of maximal goodness as it is conceived (by some) to be such. It is patently absurd to expect this to be granted presumption as it is neither self-evidence, nor supportable by rational evidence, nor even widely accepted as true (much less the consensus, as much as Craig wishes it to be so -- but you can't get an IS from a wishful OUGHT Mr Craig).

My take on is-ought: OUGHTS exist in our minds because of the ability of our minds to perceive the IS of others. I'll go against Huxley and others here and argue that our morality exists as a PRODUCT of evolutionary processes. This is NOT the Naturalistic Fallacy because I'm not saying that because things happen in Nature they are moral or good.

Huxley rejected evolutionary-based morality (Evolution and Ethics, 1893) arguing that evolution only produces what is, but doesn't define how we Ought to behave towards one another (see also the Naturalistic Fallacy). I think that this is based on an overly simplistic and limited view of evolution, limited by the knowledge of Huxley's time. Huxley was not aware of Strange Attractors in dynamic equations, he was not aware of genetics as we understand them today (they had only a very basic idea that traits could be inherited), he was not aware of neuroscience, he was not aware of cellular mechanics or development, and he was unaware of the level to which genetics, epigenetics, and experiences form and shape human behavior and thought.

So it is not evolution alone that defines morality, but the fact that it created brains which are capable of taking in information about their surroundings, forming memories of those events, executing processes which effect decisions, modeling the environment with predictive algorithms.

Imagine if you will a normal human, your good friend perhaps. A more self-less, giving, loving person you cannot imagine knowing. That person is in a car crash and tragically suffers extensive brain damage. After their physical recovery they are not all the same person. They might not even recognize you, they might be angry or even dangerous - perhaps they harm someone else in a fit of rage. Surely, their actions are beyond the control of the loving person you once knew and loved? Are they as fully morally culpable as the person you once knew and loved? Surely not, the structural changes in their brain have clearly resulted in changes in moral culpability.

But why should some change in mere physical structure of organic matter magically decouple us from (at least some level of) moral culpability?

The combination of our mental faculties, which I described above, means that a normal human being can form objective conclusions about the needs of others by a process of observation of what IS, combined with a projection of the consequences of actions. If these abilities are lost then that person can no longer make those decisions and, as Craig correctly points out, OUGHT implies CAN.

And THAT is the critical realization of moral understanding: we either CAN or we CANNOT. And every bit of neuroscience points to the fact that our ability to do something is based on Natural processes within our brain. If we did not have literally millions of facts that point in this direction you might be excused for assuming otherwise (say, in the late-1800's). We understand (computers evidence this) how aggregations of physical processes can learn, store memories, and make decisions. We also, interestingly, do not require computers to assume moral culpability. The idea almost seems ridiculous (at present), but why should that be so?

I would argue that computers currently do not have a fully closed-loop system, they cannot make observations and project the consequences of actions and make decisions based on that data. They have not been wired up to do so, once they are they would and should become culpable for their actions even though they are STILL exactly the same lump of computational dynamics they are today -- therefore the difference is something that is emergent from the specific dynamics.

Some dynamics CAN, and some CANNOT. Normal human brains CAN, damaged human brains CANNOT.

If Harris is correct, and maximal suffering would be an undesirable state for conscious beings (and that seems self-evident to me as *I* know that I prefer not to suffer), then actions which we CAN take that will lessen suffering and move us towards well-being would be OUGHTS. Harris argues that those actions would objectively (and measurably) move us towards well-being even if mindless actors were performing them.

The question is, can Natural evolutionary processes (reproduction, modification, and selection) generate entities which can deduce these actions - and I find the arguments in favor of evolution to be overwhelmingly positive. That is, have amoral physical processes yielded a computational system capable of observation, memory, prediction, decision, and action and should such systems objectively converge on the same core principles of action of right & wrong actions.

Even more problematical for the god-premise would be the existence of moral dilemma's and that, to the extent that ethical systems attempt to be logically complete and consistent they will necessarily fail pray to Gödel's incompleteness theorems. Harris touched on these issues in the debate and in his book as well.

But perhaps a better question is, does it even matter if morality is objective or subjective? I don't think that it really does. If it IS subjective then it is so because we are merely made of physical stuff following physical rules and we really HAVE no choice any way. Science is replete with examples of observations that have flown in the face of the common wisdom. You cannot make a logical argument from first principles that Nature MUST contain an objective moral foundation. It either it DOES or it DOES NOT, and if it is knowable then that knowledge can only come from the most careful of observations of Nature itself.

This is just my quick, rambling, take on it - my apologies for what I'm sure will be many typos.

Friday, April 8, 2011

DISCUSS: How can we help religious people better understand & accept science?

How can we help religious people better understand & accept science?

Please discuss in comments.

I feel that one major issue we face is a fundamental gap in epistemic foundations.

Non-believers almost universally demand empirical evidence for claims, while the very idea seems to be rejected out-of-hand by many (perhaps most) theists (when it isn't taken as an act of personal persecution). Others assert that various objects from the lowly banana to "everything" are brimming with said evidence - and ponder profusely as to why the atheists don't/can't see it.

The evidence by design has been, I think, throughly trounced by the scientific establishment by now. We know, with mathematical precision, how a myriad of simple mathematical models can yield an appearance of design without any actual design being present, it simply emerges from the mathematics. The Mandelbrot fractal is a good example of this, how breathtakingly beautiful and literally infinite complexity from such a simple equation, and there are an infinity of such equations. We know the KINDS of chemical arrangements that must have come about for abiogenesis to have occurred (and progress is made almost weekly on the open questions with absolutely no hint that there is an actual problem with organic life having arisen naturally). We understand VAST amounts about genetics and have a deep knowledge of exactly what types of genetic alterations actually occur to explain the evolutionary process (the idea that macro evolution is impossible is patently absurd in the face of modern evidence, present in hundreds of thousands of scientific papers and many thousands of books).

At the time of Darwin writing the Origin of Species (a book a HIGHLY recommend you tackle - librivox has a free audiobook version) his arguments were circumstantial - he repeatedly and profusely confesses the limitations of his evidence at the time and gives numerous cases which present difficulty. What is amazing is that he came to his conclusions with only knowledge of basic inheritance - he had absolutely NO knowledge of what we today call genetics: DNA, genes, mutations, etc. One might be excused in the early 20th century of rejecting the claims as lacking sufficient evidence - but today, such evidence is as incontrovertible as the ontology of the Earth's gravity. It certainly can be denied, but you would look rather silly tumbling down a cliff-face.

Atheists do not grant theistic presumption, we don't have to 'disprove' your god, any more than we must disprove Ereshkigal. This line of argument is often dismissed by theists but I suggest you look into this question much more deeply.

Why are the claims about YHWH valid while the claims about Ereshkigal are presumed to be false? I know that you have accepted the version of god you happen to believe in, primarily by accident of birth, to be the one true god - but does that version of god REALLY align with whichever Holy text you happen to accept as truth (be it the Torah, the Bible, or the Qur'an or whatever)?

Usually not, most people end up having to excuse the actions of their god as "mysterious" which strikes me as avoiding cognitive dissonance from an honest reading of (e.g.,) the bible.

Science doesn't claim to have all the answers, that seems to be the major objection to it from some quarters -- but to pretend to have answers, many of which are ultimately harmful to human society, seems to me to be the greater absurdity.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

To Be Humble Before God? Or just Humble

This post arose out of a twitter discussion related to faith-based beliefs and being humble...

I know enough to know there are billions of things I don't know and many more that I cannot know. I know enough to know that a skeptical position is usually more correct that one constructed of unsupportable beliefs. And I know that even well-supported propositions can still be wrong in light of future evidence.

I know enough to be able to read scientific papers and make some little sense out of them so that I can evaluate the truth value of claims.

I know enough to know that I should NOT mutilate a child's genitals out of my own ignorance. Or murder people because someone burned a book.

Humble absolutely! Which, for me, includes a rejection of religious dogma as the tripe that it is. It is the claims of religions that utterly fail at being humble.

"I KNOW the mind and WILL of god and you will do as I say - murder your first born child (Genesis 22), commit genocide against the nations who occupy this land that you just happen to want (Deutronomy 7), scapegoat your sin by this human sacrifice of 'my only begotten son' (2 Corinthians 5, et.al.), subjugate women, don't allow them to speak (1 Timothy 2), beat your child into submission 'spare the rod, spoil the child' (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), believe Genesis even I give absolutely not a single technical detail that creation happened exactly like this"

Is this your idea of Humble?

The bible fails the humble test AND it fails every scientific test of its supernatural claims (prayer, etc) AND it fails the history test (no contemporaneous historians cover Jesus or the MANY claims of the bible like saints rising from the dead, all NT books written far too late, not even eye-witness accounts, etc).

All you have on the side of "God" is the argument from ignorance. "Well, you don't know how it started so let's believe in God" and oh my GOD did they ever - what happened after 'Christians' got in power in the 4th century? Was it all peace and love? - I don't think so. And we only JUST get the Christians to stop murdering everyone and then Islam comes along to take it's place.

There are some spectacular 'secular' failures as well but I suspect only for lack of numbers and technology on the part of the earlier Christians (maybe it's a GOOD thing they were so anti-science for so long).

So evil people will do evil things - but non-belief doesn't COMMAND that you commit genocide after genocide as is clearly in the bible.

And I'm not saying that religion CAUSES evil - only that it has CLEARLY supported them in some cases and not just allowed but COMMANDED some pretty horrible things to go on.

Hilter (who was no atheist) and Stalin (raised with religion, but later turned savage and brutal - of course, he was abused by his father which doesn't generally create happy adults) were certainly horrible people and did horrible things. But they didn't do those things BECAUSE they rejected some god-claim.

And more importantly, where are they now? But (for example) Catholicism does horrible things and is allowed, not just to continue but is ACCEPTED. THAT is why religion is more dangerous to me.

The neo-Nazi's and KKK still exist in small pockets - but imagine if they were widely accepted! That is EXACTLY how I feel about the major religions. They are just as revolting to me. Doing a few things to try to make up for the evil you have done doesn't cut it for me - that goes for the KKK, the Holy See, and Hamas equally in my book.

You just don't get to buy your way out of your past crimes.

I could care less if there is some unknowable/unknown power that created the universe. The Humble position is leave the unknown as the unknown - not pretend to know some answer that clearly has it's origins in blood, superstition, and ignorance.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Basis in Fact

The fundamental reason that I do not believe in the existence of a god lies in the fact that evidence for the existence of a god has not been forthcoming while there are many facts which argue against the existence of a god.

First, I admit that I am fairly ignorant about many of the specific claims that non-christian religions make about their god or gods. I used to be a christian and I have read more on christianity than I have any other religion so I have much more of a background in that area. So the majority of my arguments focus on that aspect of belief.

However, I have made at least some effort to know a little bit about these other religions. In all cases, the people of that religion or belief system have the burden of proof and I have not found any such proof forthcoming, nor do I find the claims to be credible on their face, and I have, in fact, found many fraudulent claims.

For example, in India there are many claims of miracles and many claims that such-and-such is a Guru who can produce vibhuti (sacred ash), who can levitate, who can produce objects from 'thin air', etc. Most often, these claims are not even allowed to be evaluated by outsiders by the guru's handlers, but when they have been tested they have been shown to be fraudulent. Most of them are not even good stage magicians. With many of them I can look at the video and SEE the slight-of-hand being used (I'm an amateur prestidigitateur myself). They aren't even trying very hard because they don't have to - the people WANT to believe and they see a miracle where I only see a scammer, a liar, and a cheat.

I do believe that people have certain types of deeply, and personally meaningful experiences as a result of either meditation or natural occurrence of these states of consciousness. However, there is absolutely no evidence that these experiences are anything other than brain states. For example, no amount of meditation has given us the mass of the Higgs particle.

Sure, these can be states conducive to creativity but nothing more than that is evidenced in thousands of years of practice.

Most christian claims of miracles are even worse. Found a job? MIRACLE! Pull some miners out of a Cave? MIRACLE! Doctor cures your cancer despite it seeming to be terminal initially? MIRACLE! Everything perceived as good is magically and automatically a MIRACLE!, no matter how much humans had to work and toil to accomplish something. And yet, nothing truly miraculous ever actually occurs - it is always within expected, normal statistical probability. This is Confirmation Bias and it does nothing to establish that some supernatural event is actually taking place.

So I dismiss these claims of miracles until something truly miraculous can be proven. You can read more in my entry But I Had A Personal Experience. If you can prove a miracle then please contact the James Randi foundation and claim your million dollar prize and THEN I will be willing to consider that your claim is valid. Until then, you can save your breath. I don't care that you found your lost dog, were cured of cancer by sneezing, survived a 30,000 foot fall, or any other ridiculous claim.

I similarly dismiss your claims that Prayer works. It's been studied (See Intercessory Prayer) and failed.

What about claims about the bible? Here are my issues with the Bible:

#1 The bible contains sections which are absolutely abhorrent to ANY sense of right and wrong and only a diseased mind can forgive them. God commands genocides and infanticides. No good god would order men to slaughter babies, period. And if you excuse this in your mind then you are sick and mentally deficient. And it undeniably does so, those people who deny the bible is commanding genocides are also clearly borderline insane.

God killing all the first-born of Egypt and god killing everyone in the flood are examples of these unimaginably abhorrent acts. The Old Testament is a tribute to a god of genocide and slavery. I cannot imagine a better book for what kind of god to REJECT than the Old Testament and the New Testament does not redeem this evil god that fails to clearly speak out against Slavery, or for equal rights for all, women are still spoken of as property and told to submit to their husbands and keep silent, and parents are told to beat their children for their own good.

Only diseased and immoral men would come up with such stories, attribute them to a god, and claim to be righteous for supporting them. The same goes for the idea of stoning people to death for things like dishonoring your Father and Mother.

#2 The bible was written 30-60 years AFTER the supposed events and there are no eye-witness accounts. Paul wasn't an eye-witness - he had a vision. The Gospel authors are anonymous and only attributed by Tradition, not by evidence of fact. For example, Luke explicitly admits he's not an eyewitness:
1 Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled[a] among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us

#3 The bible has been redacted and modified and there is not a single original autograph remaining where we can verify what it originally said. Textual criticism that argues the copies we have are fairly accurate is wrong because it denies the documented fact that the early stewards of the church destroyed everything they could find that contradicted what they wished the documents to say and they murdered people who disagreed with them. You do not get to tamper with the evidence to such extremes, with 1800 years of terrorism - and then claim things were not tampered with. I do not trust them, not even one tiny bit.

The Protestant branches of this abhorrent system are no less guilty. They did not protest to the church having tortured and murdered innocent people. They protested at being held to a standard of good works for salvation -- they prefered to just claim you love Jesus and you are magically saved by faith. That's hardly a ringing endorsement for a new religious movement.

And Martin Luther, after earlier attempts to peacefully convert the Jews to Christianity, turned towards being a violent racist against Jewish peoples who wrote in Concerning the Jews and Their Lies:
That we should set fire to their synagogues and schools, and what cannot be burnt should be covered over with earth, that no man may ever discover a stone or brick of it-we are to do this for the glory of our Lord and Christianity. Burn all their houses and lodge them in stables like gypsies, in order that they may know they are not lords in this land, but in captivity and misery. Burn all their prayer-books and Talmuds, forbid the Rabbis under pain of death to give instruction, deny Jews the rights of protection on the highways, for they have no business with the land. Being neither lords, farmers not merchants, nor anything of the kind, they are to remain at home: you Lords shall not and cannot protect them, unless you would take part in their abomination. Put a flail, axe, mattock or spindle in the hands of every young and strong Jew or Jewess and compel them to do manual labor

#4 There is not a SINGLE contemporaneous historical account that would support the claims about Jesus described in the bible. The FIRST historical MENTION of Jesus appears in Testimonium Flavianum, written 60 YEARS too late and even then shows strong evidence of having been tampered with. We've no doubt that Christians existed, it is their Christ that seems to be lacking in all evidence.

But Josephus goes on at some length about Judas of Galilee - and actually attributes several events to Judas of Galilee, which are claimed of Jesus in the bible. It seems very likely that the bible authors stole those events in order to give their false Jesus some historical basis.

There are some common Myths:

#1 Myth: People wouldn't die for a false belief? Then Islam must be the truth ALSO? This myth is so blatantly wrong it's not even funny.

#2 Myth: Finely Tuned Universe - This claim is based on false assumptions and ZERO evidence. Victor Stenger (Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii) ran simulations with varied physical parameters and found the claims of Fine Tuning to be false:  Is The Universe Fine-Tuned For Us?

And even if Stenger's results are wrong, everyone is basing these assumptions on models that we KNOW are flawed. Quantum Mechanics and Relativity have not been unified, therefore no extrapolations can be presumed to be valid. We can propose hypotheses and test them within our present limits but without a fully validated model we CAN NOT trust such extrapolations.

I also reject the validity of Black Holes on this basis and there is a LOT of evidence for them - but it is inconclusive. We know there are super-massive objects, that is an observable fact. But we do not know that those objects are 100% accurately modeled by our present equations - we only know things seem to fit to the limit of our current ability to measure.

#3 Myth: First Cause - Again, logic alone cannot prove reality as it does not, itself, provide facts. Logical conclusions must be based on factual observations. These types of arguments are all based on pure assumptions and if Quantum Mechanics and Relativity have taught us anything about the universe it is that our classical assumptions are wrong.

So, no miracles, no prayer, no personal experiences, no bible that is trustworthy, No empirical evidence supporting any logical arguments, and evidence that the early church was bloodthirsty and violent (Inquisitions, Indulgences, Crusades, Wars, Torture, Racism, Murder, Destruction of Contrary Evidence).

There are probably a thousand other reasons I have rejected theistic claims.

Epistemically speaking, Science does not prove propositions to be true but rather demonstrates which claims are false. The problem with the god-proposition is that it cannot even be formulated in a scientifically-valid, falsifiable form - because the fact is, nobody knows a single fact about god - they only have their own wishful thinking projected onto an idea.