Tuesday, August 6, 2013

twitter: slavery conversation

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Faith Healing... Child Murder...

Bible verses on Faith Healing

Luke 8:50
Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, "Don't be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed."

Psalm 30:2
LORD my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.

Psalm 41:3
The LORD sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness.

Psalm 147:3
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Isaiah 53:5
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 58:8
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Jeremiah 17:14
Heal me, LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.

Matthew 8:8
The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed."

Matthew 8:16
When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.

Matthew 9:35
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.

Mark 5:34
He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

Luke 5:17
One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.

One product of superstition and magical thinking, when people take it seriously, are things like Cases of Childhood Deaths Due to Parental Religious Objection to Necessary Medical Care.

See some more accounts of Faith Healing at What's the Harm in Faith Healing.

Rules of the Code

Throw The First One Away
You will understand the problem much better after your first attempt.
(corollary: they never let you throw the first one away)

Fail Quickly
This makes 'Throw The First One Away' less painful and improves testability

Minimize Coupling, Maximize Cohesion
It is better to reduce the amount of dependency between modules to make future changes and adaptations easier. Also, it is better to increase the relatedness of each function within a module.

Don't Be Afraid To Learn Something
And don't be afraid to 'Google' it! Many times people hesitate to move forward productively because they feel that they don't know something - a little hubris isn't always a bad thing, dive in and 'Fail Quickly'.

Make It Work First, Then Make It Fast
Goes with 'Fail Quickly', you won't have wasted that time when you have to backtrack.

Data Design > Code Design
Data Driven Design + Little Languages = greater expressive power
APIs are little languages too, so learn some language design

Document "Why"
i = 2; // set i to 2 <<< THIS IS NOT HELPING
i = 2; // first two elements of the array are reserved for...

Save Early, Save Often
Where did my code go? corollary: Learn how to use a source repository

Requirements! Requirements! Requirements!
Avoid spherical cows. Understand what is actually needed early on, don't code yourself into a corner either as Requirement can & will change.

"All problems in computer science can be solved by another level of indirection" -- David Wheeler
"except for the problem of too many layers of indirection" -- Kevlin Henney

Design in Error Handling
Don't leave error handling and reporting to the end, include it in the design and understand the Requirements.


If you can't answer these don't EVEN try to lie to me about Evolution...

(1) Which specific allele mutation(s) enabled transport of citrate under aerobic conditions in a strain of Escherichia coli? (name the allele(s) and give details of the exact mutation(s) observed)

(2a) What published, peer-reviewed scientific study looked specifically at the theory of universal common ancestry and what were the findings?

(2b) (trick question:) Where is the peer-reviewed refutation of the above study?

(3a) What species is the best candidate for the Most Recent Common Ancestor between Homo sapiens (humans) and Pan troglodytes (chimpanzees)?

(3b) How many millions of years is the best estimate for that Most Recent Common Ancestor?

(3c) How many years ago did that species die out?

(3d) When do modern Pan troglodytes first make an appearance?

(3e) Did human beings evolve from ANY member of Pan troglodyte? [Hint: the answer is no]

(3f) Repeat (3a-3e) above for Gorilla and Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus).

(4a) How many published, peer-reviewed studies are there that address Evolutionary Theory? (pick a rough order of magnitude: 10? 100? 1000? 10000? 100,000? 1,000,000?)

(4b) How many of those studies have you ACTUALLY bothered to read?

(4c) How many of those did you ACTUALLY understand?(please cite the study, give your interpretation of key findings, and there will be follow-up questions)

Feel free to contribute enlightening examples

See Also: Christian/Atheist pre-discussion questionnaire

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Response: What Do Non-Christians Really Think of Us?

RE: What Do Non-Christians Really Think of Us?

The things raised in this article only scratch the surface because these objections apply to all groups, pretty much at equal rates, not just to Christians. I do not, cannot, and should not fault Christianity for the mere behavior of adherents. I'm only concerned when it is the religious institution acting as a body or when the actions are condoned or commanded by the religion.

For example, I don't blame Christianity for priests who sexually abused children, but I DO blame the institutions that knowingly protected them. That goes for secular institutions as well.

Rather, I look at Christianity itself - the commandments to genocide, the acts of infanticide, the explicit endorsement of slavery, the admonishment to give no thought to the morrow. And the astonishing level to which Christians will either ignore or lie about the BIble in order to protect their beliefs -- that raises the red flag for me.

One example of this is William Lane Craig's appeal that we think of the poor Israeli soldiers who are having to slaughter the women and children of the Canaanites.

When God supposedly commands Abraham to murder his son Isaac and he packs up the mule and heads to the mountain - this is seen as a wonderful and glorious display of Faith. And then Christians dare to condemn Andrea Yates when she says God told her to kill her children? How can they possibly claim to argue God didn't?

I understand that we all have ideals of behavior that we fall short of upholding ourselves, I cannot judge anyone as anything other than an individual for that, but this is the kind of institutional hypocrisy that is bothersome to me because they are ignoring their common-sense moral compass that murdering innocent children is wrong when it comes to Biblical passages, which they excuse.

After all, for Christians, this scapegoating human sacrifice of a Son was later carried out in the name of Jesus. I know it's difficult to hear but you worship a human sacrifice. And if you truly believe Jesus is God and didn't actually die and now sits at the Right Hand of God then what was the sacrifice exactly? Wouldn't Jesus, being God, already know of pain worse than any human scourge?

Of course, we all know that Andrea Yates was delusional. And those of us who are now outside the 'belief structure' it is easy to see that either this story is allegorical or perhaps the acts of a delusional person who nearly committed a great evil.

But whatever else they believe about it, Christians cannot escape that they believe in a 'God' who supposedly did command a man to murder his own son. It matters not that he stayed Abrahams hand in the end, a fundamental corruption of our inner moral compass is implanted.

How many infants did Joshua slaughter with a sword at Jericho? Joshua 6 [but of course "All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury"]
How many infants were murdered in revenge of Amalek? 1 Samuel 15:2-3
How many infants drowned in the Flood? Genesis 6:1-9:17
How many children has god had torn into by bears? 2 Kings 2:23-24
How many infants & children has god had slain? Jeremiah 50:21-22
How many first-born infants died in Egypt so god could show off? Exodus 12:29-30
How many women were murdered, accused of being a witch? Exodus 22:18
How many children were stoned to death for breaking OT rules? Leviticus 20:9
How many people have been murdered because the bible commands it? 2 Chronicles 15:12-13

Deuteronomy 7: When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them...nor shew mercy unto them

Or the Holiness Code, Leviticus 25:44-46 in which non-Israelite slaves shall serve FOREVER - they were inheritable property even upon the owners death and could be beaten (Exodus 21:20-21) within the limit that they don't die within a day. If they suffer a few days and then die, that's ok, because they are just property.

Manifest Destiny and the Requerimiento where God says we own this land and we will drive out, murder, or enslave any who stand in our way and don't convert to our religion are other faces of Christianity that Christians should reflect deeply upon.

These are the aspects of Christianity that I find especially troubling (and most of these are in some way shared in other religions and even some non-religious movements). All calls to an exceptional identity share most of these issues - "join US and you'll be exceptional and will deserve and enjoy more rights and authority than outsiders".

Prejudice, Ideology, Exceptionalism, Credulity, Superstitions - these are the root causes.

I wonder if any Bible-believing Christians would be willing to be held to same standard the Bible holds others to in passages such as 1 Kings 18. If you cannot set Bull meat on fire with prayer should you be slaughtered? I find the very thought abhorrent but there it is in the BIble, again being promulgated as Glorious goodness itself, the very hand of God at work.

By the time God is done, just by the explicit numbers in the Bible, God kills 2,821,364 people - and this number does NOT include the unnumbered cases such as the Flood or First Born.

This is why I could not continue as a Christian, simply reading the Bible and being honest about the contents.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Mere Secularism?

I’ll be a mere ‘secularist’ when, In The Name Of And Justified By Religion people STOP:
  • burning men and women to death as witches
  • beating gay people to death
  • pushing for legislation that would see gay people put to death
  • eschewing proper healthcare in favor of prayer and faith-healing
  • beating their children to death
  • flying planes into building
  • blowing themselves and others up
  • working to deny women or gay people rights
  • working to have the state violate women’s bodily autonomy
  • pushing their religious agenda into public schools or trying to take public funds to fund religious activities
  • justifying their wars

Or pushing for other types of violations of bodily autonomy or empowered and informed consent in the absence of prior aggression (and given due process of law).

Not a moment before then.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Philosophy Off The Rails

The self-proclaimed 'college professor' over at their BLOG Philosophy Out of the Box (Why Atheism is Illogical. Part One: Atheism is a Belief and a Truth Claim) has decided that, rather than lose the debate, they will just delete last response and block me, so I am reproducing them here for posterity (the first two as thumbnails, the last embedded as an image along with the referenced post that was also deleted by them).

And a fourth post they delete on another page that is referenced in the third post above:

The ????? is ἄθεος -- apparently his blog cannot handle Unicode.

I welcome feedback on my arguments.

When asked about the arguments presented by 'college professor', Massimo Pigliucci (Professor of Philosophy at City University of New York, @mpigliucci) responded:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Stepford Heaven?

'The Stepford Wives' is a novel by Ira Levin in which the women in a suburban town are all unusually subservient to their husbands, with a sinister twist.

And if we look at the Christian Bible we find this claim about Heaven:

Revelation 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away.

Now, for Christians who also believe that unredeemed 'sinners' will be put into Eternal torment in Hell this raises the specter of someone (say a parent) having a dearly loved one (such as a child) suffering eternal torment in Hell while they are without mourning or sorrow or tears for their loved one.

This is why I sometimes refer to Christian Biblical Heaven as Stepford Heaven.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Are we 'wired' to believe in God?

Popular stories like Belief and the brain's 'God spot' overstate what the evidence actually suggests.

Yes, people have experiences of the ecstatic, the noetic, and the ineffable (I have had these experiences personally) but they are NOT sufficient to induce a belief in a God unless you are already primed through cultural inculcation towards that belief.

We know this because we have a vast history, amongst nearly EVERY native people, they had their shamans (pardon the misnomer) who would induce these experiences in themselves and sometimes in others through ritual, ascetic practices, drumming, dancing, meditation, breath control, fasting but far more frequently through the ingestion of various psychoactive substances such as Iboga, Peyote, Teonanácatl (magic mushrooms), Ska María Pastora (Salvia divinorum), Ayahuasca, Cannabis, Ololiuhqui (Morning Glory seeds), Kykeon (unknown, from the Eleusinian mysteries), Soma (unknown, from the Vedas) and claim to speak with 'spirits' and ancestors. These inventions did not have the properties of 'gods' until later as the concept emerged.

People compete and 'mine is bigger than yours' is a game that goes far back, probably beyond the origin of the homo sapien, and the spirits of the water, the land, the air, the volcano, the earthquake, the thunder, and the rain grew with the telling. Well my volcano spirit and beat your water spirit and I'll prove it by defeating you in war... we win, our god escalates. It's not hard to imagine that someone along the way, like a schoolchild argument, claimed "mine is bigger to infinity".

These things are experiences that people interpret in different ways depending on their culture. Not hardwired for God, but hardwired for fallacious thought, poor inference, false positives, and the misattribution of agency. These are the things that are scientifically confirmed.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Objective vs Subjective and Miscellaneity

There are a few common misconceptions I would like to address...

This objective/subjective confusion is rampant, but they are not a dichotomy, they are not opposites, they are not mutually exclusive, they are two different levels of description.

The subjective exists, it has an objective reality. We can observe it and measure it to varying degrees. Not perfectly but our tools are rapidly improving. The difficulty or even impossibility of teleporting your brain states onto my brain so I can experience them is just a physical difficulty (and one of complexity).

Sure, Pain IS subjective, your brain takes in your entire sensorium and makes a calculated inference if it should signal pain or not - it can also be easily fooled. But this process is taking place in an objective reality, we can trace the signals into the brain and see the brain processing them and responding to them. 'Blue' is a description of a brain state that exists in objective reality, it doesn't even matter if our experience of 'blue' is different, it points to the same underlying physical phenomena and it takes place in an objective sense. Just because brains can be in states that do not point to some physical phenomena doesn't mean the experience isn't objectively taking place. One is the Map, the other is the Territory. The Map also exists, but we shouldn't confuse the two.

The 'addition' taking place in the following video is objective, despite the dominoes not knowing anything about mathematics themselves:

Scale that up a trillion fold and that is exactly what your brain is doing, physically and electrochemically, it is performing computation.

The evidence suggests that, for neuro-similar people, our subjective experiences are very similar -- and for neurologically divergent people, their subjective experiences are different. Someone with tetrachromacy has a subjectively different experience of 'color' than people with 2 or 3 pigments. But for trichromates, with otherwise similar brains, their experience of 'blue' and 'happy' and 'pain' are correspondingly similar both in terms of brain states and as described subjectively. When someone is neurologically dissimilar their descriptions of experiences differ from others (e.g., reports of synesthetes). Incidences of brain damage give us sometimes profound insights into the subjective impact of the physical brain. Our sense of empathy presumes and works because of these correspondences, it picks up on a multitude of cues and can closely reproduce the brain states of another person in the subject, giving us some ability to 'know' what others are experiencing.

But this doesn't mean that what you 'feel' maps to objective reality, that isn't a necessary property of existing objectively.

The link that @GSpellChecker gave is evidence of this ability to measure the 'subjective':

Fine-tuning is an appeal to ignorance (we don't know the range of possible physics so this cannot be measured), but we're going to conclude God did it anyway.

Objective morality hasn't been established and Euthyphro represents a huge challenge to the presumption of a God, even if we could establish Objective morality. This claim is especially funny coming the person who denies the objective reality of our subjective experiences of 'pain' and 'blue'.

Cosmological arguments are a combination of begging the question and arguments from ignorance and, at best, only establish a 'first-cause' for our universe. This is typically followed by a long line of fallacies and appeals to claim this cause is willful, intelligent, loving, and every other property they wish to attribute to their god, but it's Philosophical garbage. But the fundamental issue is that the premises of the Cosmological arguments are presumed on ignorance.

First of all, @GSpellChecker said it was 'not a credible scientific claim'. This is correct and the later claim that this doesn't mean something isn't true is a complete non sequitur to the point made. This goes back to the whole fundamental purpose of scientific investigation. Yes, there could be a China Teapot in orbit around Mars but our conclusions are not better off for having made them up. If you want to demonstrate that the China Teapot is actually there you need to make a series of falsifiable claims that establish this (they would need to give a signal characteristic of a teapot and be sufficient to distinguish the measurements from other possibilities). Until you can do this then the claim remains in contention.

The problem is that there are a infinite number of completely absurd claims that might be true, we must have some filter.

I address the second prong of this in my post Where do you find 'love' in the brain?

No, it was indicated as a necessary component of a physical model that predicted it would exist and if it didn't exist then the model was wrong.

But again, there are an infinite number of possible absurd 'gods' and 'teapots', there is no predictive model that suggests one is necessary.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why a Good Person MUST Vote for Same-Sex Marriage

re: Why a Good Person Can Vote against Same-Sex Marriage
Changing the definition of marriage is bad for society.
By Dennis Prager

[Note: a more appropriate name is gender-neutral marriage, as there is a spectrum of gender expression at the biological level as well as gender and sexual identity at the personal level]

Prager dissembles when he accuses both sides of not addressing the questions of the other side, yet he first creates a strawman of the "proponents question" (which he also incorrectly assumes is a singular question) and then fails to even adequately address that.

Prager ignores critical questions such as the constitutionality under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment; he ignores that marriage in the United States has been repeatedly found to be an Individual Right, a personal right founded on the rights of privacy (to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects), association, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Prager ignores that the foundation of our Rights are the understanding that sometimes Individual liberty is greater than societal concerns, the societal interest has to be legally 'Compelling'.

Prager argues that the comparison to anti-miscegenation laws (against mixed race marriages) is unfair, because "Because racial differences are insignificant and gender differences are hugely significant" which is just flabbergastingly backwards, read it again carefully. Mixed races CAN marry because their differences are 'insignificant' but only opposite-sex marriages are allowed because 'gender differences are hugely significant'. I think it is safe to say that logic isn't his strong point.

Prager's "Opposition to racism was advocated by every great moral thinker" is a blatant lie & slap in the face to those who suffered under some 1400 years** of Christian slave owners.
** For how many years were Christians slave owners?

Do we count back to the time of Paul when he returns the slave Onesimus to his Master Philemon, the wealthy Christian?
Should we begin the count after the imposition of Christianity on Rome under Constantine (~312CE)?
And when should our count end? We could pick the Emancipation Proclamation 1863 (but that didn't end Christian slave ownership).
Or should we use 1902, when the Rev. and Mrs. Hunter died, having never told their slaves about the Civil War or that Lincoln had freed them.
Or should we use 1981, when Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery.
Or should we continue the count to this day because people are still kept in slavery, despite it being illegal?

I don't care how you count it, it was many hundreds of years. And yes, to their individual credit, a few Christians through the years tried to argue that Slavery was wrong, but they did so against their own Bible and were largely unsuccessful as a result. And in the 19th Century it also true that many Christians came to the side of the abolition of Slavery (as did secular thinkers and activists of the period such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, Ernestine Louise Rose, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, and Robert Ingersoll). But it is also undeniable that the Christians of the time were slavers and argued strenuously against the abolition of the institution and committed much violence against the African slaves in their care.

Biblical slavery also cannot be excused as mere indentured servitude (which it ALSO has, but only for the fellow Israelites, not foreign slaves):
Leviticus 25:46 foreign slaves are yours forever
Exodus 21:20-21 slaves are property & can be beaten

Let's look at the type of equality offered in the Bible. In Exodus 21:12 we see that if you 'Murder' (the Hebrew word for 'Murder' is not the same as the word for 'kill', you may 'kill' in self-defense or when ordered by God such as carrying out God's Law; while 'murder' pertains to killing an innocent party) someone it says you are to be put to death (Hebrew: מוּת (muth), put to death). However, in Exodus 21:20-21, when a slave, who is your property, is beaten to death there is to be נָקַם (naqam) Avenged for כָּ֫סֶפ (keseph) Silver (a fine is to be paid).

Also, in Genesis 9:25-27 Noah says, of his own youngest son, 'Cursed be Canaan' and condemns his family line to be the lowest of slaves to the lines of his brothers, Shem and Japheth. This will resurface as a command to commit genocide against the seven nations in Deuteronomy 7:1 When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou

Our own Declaration of Independence reads 'all men are created equal' yet we institutionalized slavery. Because, as the Rev. Fuller would later argue against the abolition of slavery "What God sanctioned in the Old Testament, and permitted in the New, cannot be a sin".

Prager asks "Second, if opposition to same-sex marriage is as immoral as racism, why did no great moral thinker, in all of history, ever advocate male-male or female-female marriage?" This is nothing but an appeal to tradition, as vapid as the SAME appeal to tradition many Christian slavers made "If slavery is immoral, why didn't God or Jesus speak out against it; why has it been around for so long...". These appeals ring empty and false.

If we look back through history we actually find numerous cases of same-sex marriages "thirteen out of the first fourteen Roman Emperors held to be bisexual or exclusively homosexual". It wasn't until after Christianity came into the culture that this practice was outlawed, followed shortly by the fall of Rome (and Gibbon attributes this fall, in part, to the rise of Christianity). So Prager's thesis here fails on the facts.

Prager argues "To argue that opposition to same-sex marriage is immoral is to argue that every moral thinker, and every religion and social movement in the history of mankind prior to the last 20 years in America and Europe was immoral", haven't these societies failed in just about every other way possible anyway? People considered Menarche (a young girl's first period) the proper 'Age of consent' for ages, know we know that this is not an appropriate age and that forcing these young women into sexual intercourse and marriage at young ages does them lifelong emotional damage. Slavery was tolerated and often praised ("oh look at us, we're saving the poor savages from themselves and giving them a proper 'Christian' education". Wars of aggression, deceitful politics, ... how haven't these societies failed? But it's one thing to fail out of our ignorance - the past we know of, the last 6000 years or so - has plainly been a long, painful, slow crawl out of ignorance with many missteps along the way. That's not an excuse to PURPOSEFULLY perpetrate another.

Prager says "the question is whether redefining marriage in the most radical way ever conceived", other people getting married doesn't affect your marriage in the slightest and I think I've shown that this is a plainly false claim because same-sex marriages very clearly existed in our past.

Prager then goes into a slippery slope argument about how there is a war on gender "render meaningless the man-woman distinction". I'm sorry but this is just pathetic.

Goes on to say "those who, for religious or other reasons, wish to retain the man-woman definition of marriage will be legally and morally as isolated as racists are today", utter hogwash. I'm a father of a wonderful son and two guys getting married doesn't affect me in the slightest.

In conclusion Prager repeats himself, "There are reasons no moral thinker in history ever advocated same-sex marriage"... Well, Mr. Prager, the great moral thinkers of our age disagree with you.

So I now ask, is it 'good for society' when bigotry is allowed to define loving relationships for other individuals?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Epistemic Faith

How do we come to beliefs and knowledge? Faith you might say? You have but to look at the list of failed deities and religions to understand that this kind of Faith is a failed methodology. 33,000 sects of Christianity, thousands of religions, thousands of 'gods', gods we find utterly absurd today such as the gods of the water, the moon, the air, and thunder. All were created in a Faith that wasn't based on evidence but on superstitions and presumptions.

So what has worked? Science? No, more fundamental -- removing known sources of factual error, removing known sources of cognitive biases, and removing known sources of illogic from our conclusions. Evidence is the only way we have to distinguish between competing claims. And it must come from our collective efforts - no single individual can know enough or be careful enough, this is the foundation of Peer-review, without which we fail (demonstrably) in the fundamentals of removing error, bias, and illogic.

It is out of these things that science is born. No effort is better for leaving in error, ensuring bias, and applying illogical constructs. Indeed, it would be a self-defeating proposition to assert that it would be.

That's my epistemic foundation. And from that I can tell you about a different kind of Faith, a Faith that demands it be held to the highest possible standards of evidence and scrutiny of methodology. A Faith that has proven itself successful in the advancement of knowledge when it is applied with rigour. A Faith that produces a convergence of belief on the evidence rather than a bifurcation of belief based on imaginary musing. It doesn't promise all answers nor pretend to certainty nor guarantee a false emotional security.

That's the kind of Faith I follow. And from it we have walked, not on water, but on the moon; cured intractable diseases, not by a laying on of hands or a casting of demons into pigs, but by laying on of knowledge about the true underpinning of disease and mental illness (genetics, prions, viruses, bacteria, poisons); and fed the multitudes, not through magical incantations, but by applying our understanding of offspring selection, genetics, and evolution to our food supply.

Disbelief: On homosexuality, heaven, and epistemology

This is based off a forum post where I asked about how a Mother can be happy and tearless in Heaven while her homosexual son (intended just to give an example) is suffering eternally in Hell. I was asked:
Are you claiming there are no (former) homosexuals in heaven?
I'm not making that claim but a vast number of Christians (and especially Catholics) do.

I wouldn't make such claims because I don't believe in a 'heaven' nor a 'hell' nor a 'god' - I used to believe such things because I was inculcated with those beliefs as a child. Then I learned about Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Hellenism, Hinduism (esp the case of Sri Sathya Sai Baba), Sikhism, Shinto, Jainism (I really liked that one), Bahá'í, Cao Ðài, Cheondoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca, Rastafari, Scientology, Eckankar, Raëlism. I learned about how divided even just Christians are on hundreds of important theological points (with some 33,000 some-odd sects of just Christianity, thousands of those are very deep divisions). They can't even agree on the Trinity (see Arius, et al.). Yes, you call them Heresy and they call your beliefs Heresy and there is no evidence upon which to decide << this is the fundamental issue.

I learned about history and the role religion often plays in promulgating prejudices -- such as those today against those who don't share your normative sexuality or aren't gender binary; our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, (and many others on the spectrum) fellow human beings who suffer emotional damage, physical violence, and a denial of fair and equal treatment under our laws, all at the hands of the small-minded. All based on ignorance and a fear that appeals to scripture as did Reverend Richard Fuller when he summed up the Christian position on Slavery in 1845: “What God sanctioned in the Old Testament, and permitted in the New, cannot be a sin”.

I read Martin Luther's "On The Jews And Their Lies", I read about the racism, slavery, and violence of the Vatican (and Islam, and many others) and I saw the result that played out as human populations rose, our technology for mass murder advanced but our ability to communicate and to know what was happened lagged behind -- by the end of it, some 200 million people enslaved, slaughtered, their culture destroyed and the 'survivors' emotionally destroyed. Africans and the natives through the islands of the Americas, the Aztec and Mayan people in South America, and the natives of North America. Virtually wiped out, not merely decimated. And it was largely a Christian people who did that, largely under the 'authority' of the Spanish Requerimiento and doctrine of Manifest Destiny.

But let me be clear, I DO NOT BLAME religion, per se, (see link)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Perspective on World Violence

People often wonder where we are and where we are going, are things getting 'better' or 'worse' in the world?

If we look at recent history in the United States we see a very sharp drop in the rate of violent crime, down about 50% from 757.7 per 100,000 in 1992 to 386.3 per 100,000 in 2011. Aside: There are some very good arguments to be made that a component of this drop is credited to an environmental reduction in lead [MJ] [Forbes] [NBER] [AlterNet]

But I think that, even as bad as some places are globally, on the whole the world is a better place today.

First Cause and other Creationist Lies about the Big Bang

It is a common creationist trope to assert that 'something can't come from nothing' and they dishonestly assert the Big Bang is a 'creation' event. [wiki]
The Big Bang is not an explosion of matter moving outward to fill an empty universe. Instead, space itself expands with time everywhere and increases the physical distance between two comoving points.
There are several issues with these claims...

Foremost of the issues is that the Big Bang doesn't even CLAIM to be a creation event (nor an 'explosion'), it is an expansion - often characterized by an Inflationary period that evidence suggests began within those early moments.

The Big Bang theory CANNOT address events prior to about 1 Planck second because we have NO direct or indirect knowledge of that period. So these assertions are just grossly and plainly false.

So I want to be very clear - when creationists make these claims they are 'BEARING FALSE WITNESS'. Furthermore, when they are making these claims publically they have purposefully abandoned their duty of due diligence. In my book this makes you a LIAR. Not merely mistaken, a flat out LIAR. There is no excuse for purposefully misrepresenting science. You Are A Liar. Period.

Now, if you have any Intellectual Honesty (even that of the size of a grain of mustard seed), you will admit your error and work to correct it. If you don't do this then I find you not only a Liar but a Fraud in my book. And if you are stuck at this stage in your intellectual development you might as well stop here.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Debunking: Gene duplication doesn't increase the information in DNA

Numerous creationists have made claims along the lines of 'Gene duplication doesn't increase the information in DNA', I would challenge them to show their math.

First, let's begin with some definitions:
  1. Entropy is NOT a measure of 'disorder' (a very common misstatement) but of the dispersal of energy in a system (this dispersal makes it unavailable to do work)
  2. Shannon Entropy quantifies the information content of a message, it is a quantitative measure of the average unpredictability, given by:
    H(X) = -∑ P(x) log₂ [P(x)]
    P(x) probability X is in state x [P log₂ P = 0 where P=0]
    see: Mathematical Foundations of Information Theory, Khinchin
  3. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is composed of two long polymers of simple units called nucleotides, with backbones made of five-carbon sugars and phosphate groups joined by ester bonds; attached to each sugar is one of four bases: thymine (T), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and adenine (A). A group of three bases, taken together, represent a codon (which map to Amino Acids or control Codons) It is the sequence of these Codons that compose the bulk of the 'informational' content of DNA.
Now let's look at the math.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

On Tihomir Dimitrov's 'Fifty Nobel Laureates Who Believe in God'

I ran across this website that mentions a self-published "book" called 'Fifty Nobel Laureates Who Believe in God' by Tihomir Dimitrov, which is also available via his website: http://nobelists.net/

This just screams *argument from authority*, so I had to take a look.

First of all, many of the people listed are from hundreds of years ago (or even in the 20th century in some ways) when the Churches promulgated and enforced Christianity at the point of a sword. You couldn't be in a professional position during most of the past two millennia and not profess a belief in a God. You would have been put under tremendous pressure from family and intimidation from the authorities, quite often under threat of torture or a forfeiture of life and property and the destruction of your family. Most of the 'Christian persecution' in Roman times was because Christians refused to accept the 'real' Gods (the Roman Gods), afterall, how could you be a good person and reject the REAL Gods? It seemed to clear to the Romans of the time. And then in the fourth century when Christians rose in power they seemingly forgot this and repeated the error, persecuting the pagans and even other Christians such as Arius and his followers:
"In addition, if any writing composed by Arius should be found, it should be handed over to the flames, so that not only will the wickedness of his teaching be obliterated, but nothing will be left even to remind anyone of him. And I hereby make a public order, that if someone should be discovered to have hidden a writing composed by Arius, and not to have immediately brought it forward and destroyed it by fire, his penalty shall be death. As soon as he is discovered in this offence, he shall be submitted for capital punishment" — Edict by Emperor Constantine
As well as other many other Christian sects such as the Gnostics (various), Marcionites, Manicheans, etc.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gun Rights in the United States

I'm not an expert on Guns or Gun Rights, I have a vast array of other things that consume my attention. But I do have a few considered observations and questions.

  1. US gun rights are derived largely from the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution with the language:
    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
  2. I stipulate that there is a Natural right to self-defense, but I hold that this must be carried out in the most ethical manner, as we hold in the balance the power to violate the Right to Life (which is certainly the greater Right) of others with this power
  3. I stipulate that this self-defense applies to the people against tyranny of government (not imagined tyranny)
  4. I stipulate that the militia referenced is of the Va. Declaration of Rights §13 (1776), in 7 Thorpe 3812, 3814 (referring to “a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms”)
  5. I stipulate that this right extends to the 'whole people' (one way in which this Right has already evolved, as it used to be only 'men')

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Science says Life begins at conception...

"Science says Life begins at conception..."

No, that isn't what 'science' says. The evidence is that life began ~3.6Gya and that HUMAN life BEGAN about 200,000 years ago.

Since that earliest life there has been a continuous chain of decent of one cell to another generation of cell with constant mutation:

The variable somatic genome

Extensive genetic variation in somatic human tissues

From the above, we see that every cellular descendant is somewhat unique, not just at fertilization. You are merely making an arbitrary special pleading case.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

It's ON! Another fool makes a specific prediction

Here it is folks:

To which I accepted so mark your calendars! April 9th apparently (I think it started several days ago or this is a case of 'Gospel math').

I just LOVE it when they make specific predictions, they just fail over and over and over - this helps break some people out of their ingrained beliefs and it helps to discredit them in the eyes of the public.

Deuteronomy 18:20-22 says:
20 “‘However, the prophet who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded him to speak or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die. 21 And in case you should say in your heart: “How shall we know the word that Jehovah has not spoken?” 22 when the prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and the word does not occur or come true, that is the word that Jehovah did not speak.

Think he'll agree that to that? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA No way, they will NEVER put their money where their mouth is - this is nothing but a 'make me Richer' scheme, and it will undoubtedly serve that TRUE purpose. If this fails will he admit he is a false prophet? Or will he make excuses?

I even go the extra mile:

But, despite my excited state of anticipation, nothing supernatural happened:

Maybe it didn't work because of my typo?

UPDATE: It is now April 12th and absolutely nothing happened. Another failure, another false prophet, another liar, another hypocrite.

Oh, the Irony:

A Challenge for Jehovah's Witnesses

I can't promise this will yield any specific result or outcome but it might be entertaining...

If Jehovah's Witnesses come calling, ask them in and go over a few things with them.

They tend to use their own 'New World Translation' but you can use any version of the Bible, I've taken these quotes out of their own Bible to help avoid arguments about 'translation'.

(1) Ask them if they believe they speak in the name of Jehovah, they should say they do

(2) Read and discuss Matthew 24:3-5,11,24:

3 While he was sitting upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately, saying: “Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” 4 And in answer Jesus said to them: “Look out that nobody misleads ​YOU; 5 for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.
11 And many false prophets will arise and mislead many;
24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will give great signs and wonders so as to mislead, if possible, even the chosen ones.

Confirm that this is saying that misleading people with false information makes one a false prophet.

This is a repeated theme in the Bible, as in Jeremiah 23:25-29:

25 “I have heard what the prophets who are prophesying falsehood in my own name have said, saying, ‘I have had a dream! I have had a dream!’ 26 How long will it exist in the heart of the prophets who are prophesying the falsehood and who are prophets of the trickiness of their own heart? 27 They are thinking of making my people forget my name by means of their dreams that they keep relating each one to the other, just as their fathers forgot my name by means of Ba′al. 28 The prophet with whom there is a dream, let him relate the dream; but the one with whom my own word is, let him speak forth my word truthfully.”

(3) hopefully they have agreed with you about false prophets, how to identify them, and that they claim to speak in the name of Jehovah. If so, then ask them about their religions repeated failed prophesy (see details at linked page) about the end times.

I'm sure they will hem and haw about it... move on

(4) and ask them about Deuteronomy 18:20-22

20 “‘However, the prophet who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded him to speak or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die. 21 And in case you should say in your heart: “How shall we know the word that Jehovah has not spoken?” 22 when the prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and the word does not occur or come true, that is the word that Jehovah did not speak.

Have the Jehovah's Witnesses not spoken in the name of Jehovah?

Have their predictions not failed to come true?

Are they not then false prophets?

But because you don't believe that nonsense, you refuse to demand their death for simply being wrong because that would be evil!

(5) If you aren't bored yet ask them about 1 Kings 18 and ask if they can provide you with such a demonstration that THEIR claimed god is real.

If they protest that you can't "test god" quote E‧li′jah from section [27] and say: “Call at the top of ​YOUR​ voice, for he is a god; for he must be concerned with a matter, and he has excrement and has to go to the privy. Or maybe he is asleep and ought to wake up!”

Point out that excuses weren't accepted on behalf of other gods and the consequence was (according to the Bible) the mass murder of hundreds of priests.

1 Kings 18:40 Then E‧li′jah said to them: “Seize the prophets of Ba′al! Do not let a single one of them escape!” At once they seized them, and E‧li′jah then brought them down to the torrent valley of Ki′shon and slaughtered them there.

Ask them if that seems a fair punishment for people who claim speak for a god that refuses to set bull meat on fire when prayed to?

Demand an answer to that and they will have to say that it was God's will and so it was right and just, and then point out what hypocrisy it is to refuse to be held to the same standard you're religion claims it has held others to.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Identifying the Problem: Prejudices

I wanted a checklist to look over periodically to check my cultural biases, so I'm making a list (and you can help me check it twice).

What is a prejudice?

A prejudice is a preconceived opinion which is not based on reason or experience. All prejudices are based on errors of fact and/or logic. If a property of some class is valid and the consequent is sound and it doesn't make or imply a value judgement based on these properties, then it isn't a prejudice.

This is NOT ranked or ordered, but here are some of the predominate types of prejudice I was able to identify. Please feel free to point out more in comments!
  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Gender-identity, sexuality, intersex (including LGBTQ*)
  • Religious discrimination (including against those who choose not to have a religion (especially in the military) and minority religions)
  • Ableism (discrimination against the disabled)
  • Mental Illness / Neurotypicalism (multifaceted)
  • Intelligence (people across the spectrum suffer discrimination & bullying)
  • Appearance (height, weight, looks, dress)
  • Linguistic discrimination
  • Ageism
  • Classism/socioeconomic discrimination
  • Nationalism
  • Rape, Abuse, & Violence stigma
  • Political discrimination
  • Discrimination against former felons
  • Prohibitionist prejudices (assuming that all people who wish to explore altered states of consciousness are 'drug fiends', etc)

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Embarassingly Poor: proofthatgodexists.org

Someone pointed me to this site so I thought I would post a review.

Let's walk through it.

(1) it asks about Truth, I agree that 'Absolute Truth Exists' - in the simplest case things are true by definition or tautology; the three logical absolutes (identity, non-contradiction, excluded-middle) being the root cases of things that seem absolutely true. Note that I don't assert that I know this to be absolutely true, but rather I think these are irrefutable candidates (refuting them would undermine the very logic you need to refute them).

(2) it asks about Knowledge, I agree that 'I Know Something To Be True' or I just contradicted myself, violating the law of non-contradiction from (1)

(3) it asks if 'Logic' exists, well yes, or I again contradict (1) -- but this term 'exists' is the beginning of their ultimate failure

(4) it asks if 'Logic' changes or not... our understanding of logic changes but it seems to be a valid concept even without a human mind so no, 'Logic doesn't change'.

(5) now it asks if 'Logic' is made of matter or not... This is a category error because logic is based upon how the state of matter changes, so we've already gone off the rails here and this 'proof' is invalid.

But let's explore their false dichotomy.

Logic IS 'made of matter' because it is the physics of matter that implements logic (see video). Without matter and the physics of our universe, logic wouldn't 'exist'.

(6) it then asks if matter 'changes' or not. This depends very deeply on what you mean by 'changes'. Matter itself doesn't really change, the STATE of the system changes, the configuration of the matter changes. But they didn't really put anything meaningful at all in for 'matter doesn't change' (ignoring many possible cases where that might be true).

So going with 'Matter changes', it responds "You have admitted that logic does not change, and say that logic is made of matter which changes. This is a contradiction"

Well that is just utter nonsense. LOGIC is BASED on how the state of matter changes (go watch the domino video again, the dominoes are DOING logic). Matter is changing (state/configuration) but the LOGIC it implements is unchanged.

Let's look at an analogy in a computer. The Central Processing Unit (CPU) in a computer implements an instruction set that doesn't change (the 'logic' of the computer, even in microcode architectures where we can write new macro 'instructions' the fundamental instructions in the CPU still do not change) - you would NOT then be so silly as to say that the state of the computer cannot change or else the instructions would change because computers DO change state without changing the instruction set.

Here you hit a dead-end because they refuse to acknowledge that their 'proof' is nonsense.

So, we go back up and look at 'Logic is not made of Matter'

(7) it then asks if Logic is universal or relative, say 'Universal'

To reach this page you have admitted that absolute truth exists, that you can know things to be true, that logic exists, that it is unchanging, that it is not made of matter, and that it is universal.

Truth, knowledge, and logic are necessary to prove ANYTHING and cannot be made sense of apart from God. Therefore...

Um, no. This wasn't 'proven' by this ridiculous exercise in stupidity. They asked a bunch of questions and, without the slightest deductive justification, inserted their conclusion.

Furthermore, I do NOT agree that 'logic is not made of matter' but they don't seem to have a "congratulations, you just disproved God" page. Can you prove it or does it just 'seem' that way? How does a concept 'exist' outside of a mind to hold it as a concept? There are a lot of things that COULD exist. Magical Unicorns COULD exist, does that mean they have some transcendent existence that makes them 'real' like 'logic'? Yeah, I don't think so.

Religion offers only morality by assertion

This brief exchange demonstrates:

I find it sad (but not at all surprising) that this person is unable to give an intelligible response or just admit that we're in the same boat, and we ARE in the same boat despite his original arrogance. But even if he had responded it would have just been an appeal to the Bible, which doesn't establish anything but poor reasoning skills. A Muslim would have appealed to the Qur'an, a Hindu to the Shastras, and a Zoroastrian to their Avesta.

I don't believe in an absolute or objective morality NOR do I accept blanket moral relativism. I would rather proclaim my ignorance on the matter. There might be such a thing as 'objective morality' which we can come to understand someday on the basis of neurological studies and the distinct concept of morality (which I have written about elsewhere), but I have no argument or evidence that this IS the case today.

But just because something is difficult (deciding on universal rights and wrongs for humanity) IN NO WAY implies that all positions are valid or that we must tolerate injustice in the name of ignorance. That is not, in fact, how society works. I also REJECT the idea that morality is only 'one' thing, indeed it seems to be a whole collection of different things all mixed together.

Our Empathy strongly compels us to interfere when an innocent person is being harmed (physically or emotionally). When it comes to human interactions, one of the areas we now better understand, is that relationships need to be based on Informed and Empowered Consent - relationships that are not based on informed and empowered consent are abusive. This is a beautiful set of fairly objective criteria that we can use to evaluate complex relationships.

What we DO have evidence for is that humans are exceedingly poor at sussing out how we ought to treat one another - and that Religion is more than passingly competent at corrupting what little empathy we have for one another (see image).

What we can do is argue, debate, and create laws to try to ensure that our lives are as safe, prosperous, and equitable as we can make them.

But there is a lot of complexity, even in the seemingly 'obvious' areas.

For example, look at the concept of 'murder'. Thou shall not murder. Pretty simple right? What about when god commands genocide and infanticide?

"Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." (1 Samuel 15:2-3)

What about self-defense? What if it's an accident? What if it was a reasonably foreseeable and preventable accident? What if the person has brain damage and isn't in control of themselves? What about protection of an innocent life from imminent danger? Even religious opinion differs somewhat on all of these positions.

Early law on murder (such as the Code of Ur-Nammu and the Code of Hammurabi) had little subtlety and meted out the ultimate punishment in retaliation (with the state acting to murder the guilty, often using horrific methods). As we have slowly progressed and learned our laws have evolved along with our understanding, modern law on 'murder' is extremely complex and nuanced as a result (and still has a long way to go IMHO).

How about Slavery? Surely treating another human being as your property whom you can beat at will (so long they get up 'within a day or two') is something blindingly, obviously, categorically, WRONG? Right? Surely... Well, no, humanity failed at that one for thousands and thousands of years, eventually encoding it into their religious texts as endorsed by their respective 'god'.

I don't think there is a clearer or more obvious failure of religious appeals to authority than the calls to slaughter infant children and the endorsement of slavery.

These complexities are why a SECULAR morality that presumes our IGNORANCE and strives to grow based on actual knowledge, rather than asserting ABSOLUTE rules, is the superior methodology.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Relativity & GPS

GPS satellite atomic clocks must be adjusted by about 38µs/day to stay in sync with Earth-bound clocks due to the effects described by general & special relativity.

The time slowing effect of a stronger gravitational field described in general relativity means a clock on Earth runs about 45µs/day slower than the clock in the satellite. While the time dilation effect described in special relativity, due to the relative motion, accounts for the satellite clocks falling further behind by about 7µs/day. The net effect is 45 - 7 = 38.

When discussing this in these terms of tiny numbers it might seem like so small of a difference as to be irrelevant to navigation but tiny errors add up. Without taking these effects into account your GPS would be next to useless in a matter of hours and off by about 10 kilometers by the end of the day.

Both effects have been experimentally confirmed in numerous different ways with a very high degree of accuracy, giving us an extremely high degree of confidence that the effects are real and not measurement errors and that the theory accurately describes the observed effects and that Classical Mechanics alone cannot account for the observed data.

GPS satellites travel at roughly 4000 m/s, you can compute the exact daily cumulative effect on time using this Wolfram Alpha calculator:

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Genetically Confused

This was a first for me but I realized this is probably a common misunderstanding about genetics:

Let's unpack this a bit so we can see where this has gone wrong:

"Monogamy is biologically absurd", this must be news to the species that are largely monogamous and this person is clearly unaware of the costs of 'sperm competition' (if you are sleeping with lots of mates then, often, so are your competitors). There are also relationships between the vulnerability and cost of rearing young and the behaviors of parents of a species. Vulnerable and costly young tend to have long-term paired parents (probably no simple causation exists there, many factors are likely involved).

"To survive the species have to diversify their DNA", no, species tend to survive difficult events when they support a diverse population. That doesn't mean that species DO anything to ensure they diversify their DNA (indeed, most species have gone extinct). But the greater difficultly here is the implication that sexual promiscuity is a route to this genetic diversity.

It might sound plausible if you aren't aware of one extremely important aspect to our genetic diversity (which I wrote about previously), the process of DNA Recombination. This happens during meiosis (the special cellular replication process of gamete cells that produce ovum and spermatozoon) where allele's can get mixed between the parents chromosomes in prophase I when the homologous chromosomes pair up and trade small pieces of the chromatid. So the offspring are not stuck with merely getting a copy of either the fathers chromosome or the mothers chromosome, the chromosomes of the offspring is actually a unique mix of alleles from those between the two parents. This rapidly overwhelms any minuscule individual benefit as novel alleles spread through a population.

Let's also remember at this point that evolution doesn't take place within an Individual, it takes place in populations over time, with each step being dominated (in complex, multicellular sexual species) at the point of reproduction; so we need to consider long-term, population behaviors of genes. And between our meiotic processes and genetic recombination, sexual reproduction provides ample opportunity for novel genetic diversity rapidly spreading through populations regardless of the mating solution for a given species (which is dominated by asymmetric reproductive behavioral interests between the sexes).

Instead of number of mates, the impact of an individual on the future evolution of a population is largely determined by the number of SUCCESSFUL (keyword) offspring they have.

In the modern age, in a developed country, with ample resources, and an assumption that this will continue into the future (probably a bad assumption) then you *might* be able to argue that sleeping around could yield a greater number of surviving offspring than you could have in a purely monogamous arrangement -- but this could hardly have been selected for in the few short years we have enjoyed such circumstances (and the fact is, we see promiscuity used far more for pleasure than for reproduction). In the harsh, pre-enlightenment world that lasted 250K-100K years (just for anatomically modern humans, and millions of years for our primate ancestors) selection pressures yielded larger (and more costly) brains, and produced more vulnerable and costly young that required ever more sophisticated parentage to ensure success.

But I think our modern reproductive Monogamy was driven more by cultural pressures as societies grew in size and needed to manage things such as inheritance. But it certainly does not harm genetic diversity in a population.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Can't we all just get along?

>>> What do we gain from arguments like this wouldn't it be better to have a belief in god?


But thanks for asking, your forerunners used a sword to make their point. So I am TRULY grateful.

>>> we should be working together to stop world hunger, aids, war, homelessness, cancer

I agree, so why do you need religion for those things? I don't need a carrot (Heaven) or a stick (Hell). Even if there is a God, I absolutely REFUSE to accept any kind of scapegoating Human Sacrifice on my behalf. Where I have done wrong, punish ME for it, I will own my failures.

And if anything seems to hold promise for resolving these types of issues it would seem to be science, and not religious faith.

I find ample reason to try to be a positive force by examining my own existence and observing Nature. Nature rewards cooperation, symbiosis, interdependence, flexibility, action and foresight.

Brains serve two amazing purposes:

(1) to be able to model the world in order to make better predictions (giving us the benefit of a very flexible foresight without requiring any magic) - this requires memory and a whole host of other nifty computational tricks

(2) to enable us to act in the world with greater complexity than simpler organisms, it is a command-and-control center that gathers data via our sensory organs and allows us to 'act' in the world on the basis of our foresight by controlling motor functions

To be able to do such things, Brains require the cooperation of trillions of cells, working together -- and let's be clear, this is TRILLIONS of cells who have GIVEN UP their near-immortality (their progenitors survived for ~3.6 BILLION years!!! but this will be their last generation with a near certainty [with notable but rare exceptions]). The ONLY cells in your body that have any chance of producing maybe one or a few of the next generation of cells are your gamete cells. So every generation, hundreds of trillions of cells sacrifice their billions of years of continuity so that a few can pass through that narrow genetic keyhole.

How amazing is that? Why isn't that in the Bible? Why doesn't it describe genetics, and viruses and bacteria and diet as the sources of our diseases instead of 'casting out demons' into pigs? Where are the antibiotics to help compensate for our lacking immune systems? Where are the anesthetics that could have alleviated hundreds of thousands of years of horrific suffering due our very necessary but completely uncontrollable sense of pain?

[[Aside: And we know that pain is COMPLETELY, 100% illusory. There is no such thing as pain, there is only the EXPERIENCE of pain. There is no pain in the body that is experienced. Brains CREATE the experience of pain purely based on sensory data (often getting it wrong! failing to signal pain sometimes when it should and often creating false pain) because simpler organisms who lacked this sense destroyed themselves (even humans with our greater intellect cannot do very well without a sense of pain, look up videos of kids with this disorder where they cannot feel pain AT ALL).]]

But once we've taken care of the root cause of our pain, anesthetics enable us to heal more quickly and retain our sanity. And our collective mental state is EXTREMELY important for our individual morality as well. Childhood abuse is very harmful to ones innate senses of Empathy and Compassion that are the very basis of our sense of morality (a sense that is successful BECAUSE it enables those things I spoke of earlier like cooperation). This is why it is so critical for us to fight to end physical and emotional abuse of every human being.

The only way to make sense of this reality is that we're a deeply ignorant species, crashing our way through history, and slowly growing out of this ignorance. Not a SHRED of evidence for a God that I can see.

I can make peace with a universe that simply IS, and our suffering is an unavoidable by-product of that process (and our responsibility to manage it). But I cannot fathom how someone can look at the reality of the world and go 'Wow, what a design! Clearly made by an all-loving, all-just, all-forgiving being!'. Just boggles my mind because there is so much wrong with it. 2.5 million children will starve to death this year, while 10 million people total will suffer horrifically before their deaths of starvation and untreated, painful diseases.

I USED to believe in God. But only because I was indoctrinated as a child with lies that took me decades of careful study to overcome. A state of affairs that I can now see is nothing but emotional child abuse. I don't harbor any resentment over it, but I would love to see it change.

I also don't wish to make Religion illegal, that would be stupid and harmful and accomplish nothing positive at all. But I am here to give my small voice to a reality that, for thousands of years, wasn't allowed to have a voice or defend itself.

A reality I approach based upon a deep and profound concern for Truth.

Not an easy or comforting faith, of which there are hundreds of thousands of variations, but one grounded in evidence and logical reasoning.

Not one that claims ultimate truths but one that rejects the unsound and only cautiously accepts supportable conclusions.

One in which KNOWN sources of errors, bias, and illogical are systematically removed from our conclusions.

One in which demonstrably unsound methodologies (such as Faith) are rejected.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Charles Darwin: Survival of the Fittest?

The intellectually dishonest, who seem to fail to do any research in the matter, often misrepresent Evolutionary theory as promoting 'survival of the fittest', which they misinterpret as 'anything goes'. This evidences a thorough misunderstanding of Evolution and the evidence before us.

First off, this phrase, 'survival of the fittest' was coined by Herbert Spencer only after reading 'On The Origin Of Species' (it doesn't appear in Species until the fifth edition where it was used as a subtitle as a metaphor for 'differential preservation of organisms that are better adapted to survive to reproduction in changing environments'). Charles Darwin wrote:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.

And here he is really talking about populations, and not individuals. Because it is not the individuals that 'evolve' through their life (generally speaking, there are things such as horizontal gene transfer in bacteria) but rather populations evolve through the genetic variations that occur in each generation and the resulting differential reproduction that occurs.

If you actually look at evolution you see a profound interconnectedness of all things. A human being simply could not live without a vast network of supporting organisms and also things like water, sunlight, and so forth. And those things wouldn't exist without the physics that produces some kind of chemistry in which computational processes can be expressed.

Not to mention our common ancestry with all living things, bacteria and bees and flies and humans all share this history and sometimes the scars. Our eukaryotic cells show evidence of a symbiosis formed between at least three, originally independent, organisms - without which human beings couldn't exist (energy demands, etc). Everywhere we look in nature we see cooperation, symbiosis, interdependence, altruism - why? because they work to the benefit of the organisms.

Nature is a profoundly beautiful dance. Yes, nature is also brutal in some ways, but we Homo sapiens are the only known organisms that have a sufficiently powerful organ of thought where we can compute possible futures and select among them in a way that just might eventually allow us to extricate our future-selves from that cycle.

As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. ~Charles Darwin

This is the message of Evolution, we are all connected and we share a common ancestry with ALL life here on Earth...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Where do you find 'love' in the brain?

This is a general concept post because such questions come up pretty frequently in discussions about epistemology and ontology.

But where DO you find 'love' in the brain?

First, I want to step back from the problem a bit and look at a much simpler question, how does something like addition happen?

This question is interesting because we know that computers do addition, brains do addition, and less well-known, dominoes can also do addition (watch video)!

Where is 'addition' happening in those dominoes? Does any individual domino know anything about addition?

No matter if the addition is taking place in chemical reactions, electronic switches or dominoes the fundamental principles are identical - the process is a cascade of causes and effects and the result is INTERPRETED as addition. Other calculations performed using exactly the same kinds of logic 'circuits' produces a tic-tac-toe game, image interpretation, or could produce language by driving muscles using calculated outputs to muscles.

There is no magic here, what is happening is there is some structure upon which some state is represented.

So the key concepts here are that the structure is important. Without some appropriate structure (be it organic chemistry or dominoes) there will not be the kinds of state changes that map to computational behaviors. You just get 'noise'.

The state changes can be conformational (changes in the shape of the the thing), or based on chemical or electromagnetic potentials. As long as these potentials can 'move' they can be transmitted and affect the states of other structures.

In our brains, neurons and glial cells (along with a cadre of organic molecules that compose them) provide the structure upon which the state changes chemically, bio-mechanically, & bio-electrically.

Some of these neurons are driven by external stimuli that provide our sensory mechanisms (for example, neurons in your eye have pigments that are light sensitive, which triggers those neurons to fire when they sense light, and they can misfire when you apply even slight pressure to your closed eyelid). We only just recently decoded the algorithm (the set of calculations) the neurons in your eye use to encode the visual information from your retina for transmission over the optic nerve, it doesn't just send the data like 'video', it has to be compressed and encoded because there aren't enough nerve fibers going from your eye to your brain to send all the information directly! But now we know for sure, all those neurons are exactly performing a calculation.

Other clusters of neurons in your brain do other types of calculations. A detailed run down of what we know about these regions in the brain would take 1000's of pages but one very interesting region you might want to look up is the Amygdala, which has to do with the processing of memory and emotional reactions.

We can, to some extent, 'measure' a brain in love by looking at activity patterns in the neurons. This is a very gross, or high-level, view and it doesn't tell us much in detail at this point in time but we do indeed find neuronal correlates to love in the brain. And using ever improving tools we can study the brain in love:

Helen Fisher: The brain in love

Love's all in the brain: fMRI study shows strong, lateralized reward, not sex, drive

Neuroimaging of love: fMRI meta-analysis evidence toward new perspectives in sexual medicine

How Two Brain Areas Interact to Trigger Divergent Emotional Behaviors

Rebooting The Cosmos: Is the Universe The Ultimate Computer?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Isn't it time for a more Transformative Justice?

Something that has been bothering me for a very long time now is how our criminal justice system works here in the US (and around the world).

My impression of this system is that it long ago abandoned any component of rehabilitation and has become more focused on fear, intimidation, hatred and lately it has disturbingly turned these tools of destruction towards a profit motive.

So I'm going to throw something into the æther and see what sticks.

I don't claim to be an expert in any way -- I only claim to be a fairly compassionate human being (not that I'm perfect there either). I just want to have the discussion.

The current all-or-nothing criminal justice system we have now is destructive & largely ineffective—what I believe we need is a more nuanced & layered system.

There needs to be more options between a person who has done harm running around free to continue to harm others and full, institutional imprisonment.

Very roughly, one idea I had was to Occupy the person, not have the person occupy a prison cell -- people to sit with a person and watch, educate, assist, and protect others. Show the person a better way to live, and don't tolerate inappropriate behavior. Temporary incarceration certainly will be necessary with some people at some times, but we need to work to improve people, not JUST punish them. Love for humanity should be our guiding principle. And I don't think this would be 'soft' on crime either, I think it would be incredibly difficult on most people to be monitored like a 2 year old.

As it turns out, I'm not the first person to think along these lines (shocking, I know). Apparently the term 'Transformative Justice' has been used with ideas along these lines (thanks to this article by Mia McKenzie and this article at Feministe for introducing me to the term, I had previously written this entry calling it Loving Justice).

I would like to add one additional component to that mix beyond what I think most people would, that is the idea of psychotropic drug treatment. And I don't mean treatment for addiction, we already have that (and we need to do better there). I mean using powerful psychotropic agents such as Peyote, Ayahuasca, psilocybin mushrooms, Ibogaine, LSD, and MDMA under proper medical supervision (psychiatry combined with psychotherapy, see some of the MAPS research for background in this area, once again, I'm not making this up, just pulling things together).

Another component to all of this is to end the stigma and social out-casting that comes with being a damaged person. Just consider the current typical progression:

  1. person has a violent episode and/or does something stupid
  2. they are imprisoned for an extended period of time
  3. they lose most or all of their social support network
  4. they suffer further additional mental and often physical abuse in prison
  5. they are eventually released and usually cannot get a job or are only offered extremely undesirable jobs
  6. they lose access to government programs like education assistance and housing, things that might actually help them get back on their feet
  7. they are treated as a pariah by most of society
  8. they return to crime, WELL DUH
How about mandatory education to a 2-year-degree level before release for violent crimes? How about mandatory job training and psychotherapy? How about hope for employment in some capacity other than menial laborer?

This does NOT mean that people get away with anything they want to do, recovery is, at best, arduous and difficult. It doesn't mean I think criminals should go free, it means I would like to see a path where at least some criminals can get out of the cycle they are locked into by our current system of 'justice'.

Sometimes the honesty is just too much, POGO 211

I was reviewing the 2011 study Bad Business: Billions of Taxpayer Dollars Wasted on Hiring Contractors from the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and I came across this little gem of a 'review' AFL-CIO Struggles With Reading Comprehension by Geoffrey Lawrence.

It quotes sections of the study and gives them a 'proper' critical review, recasting the results in the light of being (1) completely unreliable because the study itself says so and (2) showing exactly the opposite, that government workers are overpaid compared to their counterparts.

Wow, if you just read that page and didn't actually bother to read the study you would be strongly inclined to side with Geoffrey. What a bunch of dishonest folks over at the AFL-CIO!

Just look at his evidence:

The authors explicitly admit:
POGO is aware that its methodology does not incorporate some governmental cost factors: i.e., non-directly associated overhead (e.g., executive management and administration, information technology, and legal support), material and supplies (e.g., insurance and maintenance), or facilities (e.g., depreciation, rent, insurance, maintenance and repair, utilities, capital improvements).
In other words, POGO admits that it is impossible, based on available data, to compare federal employee compensation to contract employees’ compensation and so they instead compare only federal labor costs to the total expenses faced by contractors.
That’s as apples-to-oranges as it gets.

What a shockingly POOR study! Bring out the torches and pitchforks!

Before we burn anyone... let's just look that up in the study:

POGO is aware that its methodology does not incorporate some governmental cost factors: i.e., non-directly associated overhead (e.g., executive management and administration, information technology, and legal support), material and supplies (e.g., insurance and maintenance), or facilities (e.g., depreciation, rent, insurance, maintenance and repair, utilities, capital improvements).[70] However, given the fact that POGO relied exclusively on GSA’s listed contractor billing rates for performance at government sites, many of those cost factors would essentially be canceled out.[71] In fact, when contractors perform work at contractor sites, POGO found that contractor billing rates were, on average, 15 percent higher than rates for work performed at government sites. In addition, POGO did not include in its comparative analysis additional costs that the government incurs as a result of outsourcing services to contractors. Those costs would only add to the costs associated with outsourcing documented in this report

Oh... my... it seems Geoffrey did a little quote mining there. I'm 'sure' that was 'just' an accident.

Now, I have no doubt that the folks at the AFL-CIO were willing to overlook these limitations when they decided to trumpet POGO’s report, given that their mission is far more political than academic. However, they might have thought otherwise had they paid more careful attention to the reports’ findings. Specifically, the authors acknowledge in a passing statement:
POGO confirms the results of studies that compared the public with the private sector, finding that federal employees generally make approximately 20 percent more in salary and full compensation than do their counterparts in the private sector.
Oh…so the report actually finds the exact opposite of what the AFL-CIO is claiming! Federal employees are overcompensated relative to their peers performing similar jobs in the private sector…which is also to say that there is a labor cost savings from federal outsourcing. Huh.

Damn, Geoffrey is on fire! I'll sharpen my pitchfork immediately! Wait... let's just double check this...

POGO confirms the results of studies that compared the public with the private sector, finding that federal employees generally make approximately 20 percent more in salary and full compensation than do their counterparts in the private sector. While POGO’s investigation adds some credibility to the government and private sector comparison studies, POGO has some concerns about those other studies.

For example, USA Today analyzed a sample of 40 occupations using BLS data for 2008 and found that the typical federal employee is paid 20 percent more than a private sector employee in the same occupation.[177] The study found that “federal employees earn higher average salaries than private-sector workers in more than eight out of 10 occupations.” USA Today used median salaries and did not adjust for any other cost factors, including health care and pension benefits. That study was refuted by National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley, who stated it “compares apples and oranges” because certain government work “has more complexity and requires more skill than…work in the private sector.”[178]

A similar opinion has been stated by former OMB director Peter Orszag:

…the truth is that a comparison of federal and private-sector pay, even by occupation, is misleading because the employees hired by the federal government often have higher levels of education than their counterparts in the private sector—even within the same occupations. When you factor in the education and experience of the federal workforce, there is no statistically significant difference in average pay levels.[179]

Now I'm just disappointed.

What I cannot figure out is, this gross mischaracterization by quote mining done out of ignorance or malice.

Surely a champion of the Truth and Reading Comprehension such as Geoffrey could have managed to read the very next sentences following his selected quotes?

Contrary to popular belief, many government services are not performed by federal employees, but by contractors. The government spends hundreds of billions of dollars annually on services—in fact, approximately one-quarter of all discretionary spending now goes to service contractors[209]—and POGO’s analysis found these contracts may be costing taxpayers, on average, 1.83 times more than if federal employees had done the work. In order to reduce those excessive costs, a government-wide system to conduct federal employee versus service contract cost analyses needs to be created. Instead of directly hiring service contractors without considering hiring federal employees—perhaps from a newly created pool of part-time or temporary federal employees—conducting cost reviews at the start of the process would allow the government to save billions of dollars annually.