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Showing posts from February, 2012

Grand Ayatollah or GOP?

Here's a fun little article showing the hypocrisy of the religious right – or how much they really have in common with those they claim are their enemies. Can you guess who said things like, "We believe in democracy and we also believe in freedom, but we do not believe in liberal democracy." Was it.....

Grand Ayatollah or Grand Old Party?

Go read this

Tristan's done a great post on "ignosticism", and has delivered a pretty powerful argument against faith. A snippet:
When the purported experience of God is assumed real, as theists so often profess, we are faced with the challenge of describing that experience, which according to the theist is impossible because that would require us to give a definition of God, but as the sophist theologians love to harp, we cannot pretend to understand God--he is beyond our understanding. 
So in order to first communicate the experience of God, you have to know what God is, or at least describe God, in coherent terms which are comprehensible otherwise you cannot talk of having an experience of "God." This is a great angle to take against people who claim that their faith is based on the experience of God – like, I dunno, William Lane Craig. Or shoot, even me circa 1997 or so, when I was certain that I had felt God's presence many times.

I don't know if it'…

Probably not

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I'm not a fan of the use of probability arguments regarding the existence or non-existence of God. Richard Dawkins says that God's existence is exceedingly improbable; theologians say that the organization of the universe, with all its precise physical laws, are too improbable not to be the product of design.

The problem is, ascertaining the probability of something requires you to know the range of values that are possible. For example, if I ask you what the probability is that you'll pull any one particular card from a deck, you'd (hopefully) answer that it's 1 in 52. You know that because there are 52 cards in the deck. But if I had a trick deck with several identical cards, you wouldn't be able to accurately determine the probability of a particular card unless you already knew that I had a trick deck, and which identical cards it had. That's the flaw in theological questions like, "What is the probability that our universe would be the way it is?&…

The Trinity and the law of non-contradiction: a question for Christians

I just sent in a question to William Lane Craig via the Reasonablefaith.org Q&A form, and I wanted to repost it here in case anyone else (Christians, that is) wanted to take a crack at it. Except, for some reason, after I copy & pasted it earlier today, it didn't save so I'll just have to paraphrase what I sent in. It was inspired by a post by Massimo Pigliucci over at Rationally Speaking, and it has to do with the law of non-contradiction. I thought it was interesting because the law of non-contradiction was brought up in a recent comment thread discussion on logic.

Christian apologetics is essentially the use of logical arguments to deduce the existence of God and make inferences about his nature. This would seem to imply that God himself is subject to, or perhaps embodies, the laws of logic, which is why we could use such laws to make inferences about God in the first place (i.e., if God is exempt from the laws of logic, we'd have no grounds for using those laws…

An ode to Rick Santorum

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Rick Santorum is one of those people whom I'm surprised actually exists. He's every stereotype of a conservative religious fundamentalist rolled into one convenient package. He consistently says things that you don't think anyone is really stupid enough to say, and better yet, he believes what he says. Most of the time, people like him are on the fringes. They're the Ken Hams of the world, making lots of noise but not really being familiar to anyone outside of certain circles. Rick Santorum, though, is running for President of the fucking United States, and even though polls show that Obama would beat him soundly, he's doing quite well for himself in the primaries.

Santorum's....uh.... surge (eww)... in popularity reveals a dark truth about our country: a lot of people are really stupid. Santorum hits every low-point on the "how to be a science-denying, bigoted, misogynistic fundie" checklist. Among other things, he thinks that:
American policy should …

Sex+ Questionnaire

Courtesy of Laci Green by way of the effervescent Sarah Bee:

Sex+ Questionnaire For: Mike D
Age: 32
Sex: Sure!
Location: Tulsa, OK

Sexual Awakenings
1. How did you learn about sex?
Television, friends, Playboy magazines, and my older brother.
2. Were you able to talk about sex with your parents?
Not really. They never made it a point to talk about it with me, and my dad's never uttered a word while my mom has awkwardly attempted to dole out practical advice from time to time in the form of "be sure to use protection!"
3. Do you remember your first kiss?
Yup. I remember it being really awkward and that I was really self-conscious about doing it 'correctly'.
4. Tell us about an embarrassing moment you’ve had with sexuality/a partner/etc.
I've never been walked in on or anything, so I don't know that I've ever been embarrassed during sex aside from being extremely drunk and/or exhausted and not being able to finish.
5. How old were you when you made your se…

Quoth the Amazing Randi...

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Faith in science?

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When we science-loving atheist types point out that faith-based epistemologies are unreliable at best and invalid to the point of being comedic at worst, it's often countered that science itself is based on certain axiomatic assumptions that can't actually be proved; they have to be taken... drumroll... on faith.

Physicist Paul Davies, writing for the New York Times, opines:
All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified. Coming from a scientist, this is pretty embarrassing. I've heard similar such arguments, including the notion that science assumes that an objective reality exists at…

The Discovery Institute: science rebels or comedy troupe?

I can't remember what spurred it, but for some reason I was curious about how well-educated the people behind the Discovery Institute are when it comes to matters of science. Formally, I mean. So I hopped over to their list of Discovery Institute Fellows and just started going down the list. Turns out very few of them are actually biologists, and most of them aren't scientists at all. That shouldn't come as a surprise, really, but... well it still sort of does. Because why would you think that you can spearhead a radical upheaval of the unifying theory of all modern biology when the overwhelming majority of the people in your little organization have no formal education in any field of biology whatsoever?

Here's a list of Discovery Institute Fellows, with their actual degrees (note - a few had no bio, so I didn't include them). I bolded the ones who hold various biology degrees:

Program Director
Stephen C. Meyer - History, Philosophy of Science

Associate Director
Jo…

Oklahoma Senate passes "personhood" bill

Man, what a week in fundie stupidity. We've got fundies saying that employers should be able to restrict women's access to contraceptives, fundies attempting to reinstate DADT, fundies trying to give high school credit for creationism, and the motherload: a backdoor attempt to outlaw all abortions.

It's no secret that many republicans do not understand the difference between a zygote and a living, breathing baby. Or hell, even the difference between a viable fetus and a mass of human cells. No, to them, any fertilized egg is the exact same thing as a human living outside of a womb, and they think that even unviable human tissue deserves the identical rights as everyone else even if that means ignoring the rights of the mother.

So they've been trying to overturn Roe V Wade for nearly 40 years now. But they can't, and they know they can't. So instead, they've been trying to increasingly limit women's access to family planning. They want to strip funding f…

The Matrix for chickens

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There's a fascinating article in Wired about an architecture student in the UK named Andre Ford who has proposed a "headless chicken" farm, where chickens have their cerebral cortex removed so that they are essentially vegetables (well... figuratively). They would be raised in vertical grids, oblivious to the macabre reality of their existence. Says Ford,
“There are numerous differences between the current dominant production systems and the one I am proposing, but the fundamental difference is the removal of suffering. Whether what I am proposing is an appropriate means to achieve the removal of suffering is open to interpretation." I'm not a vegetarian, but I'm not oblivious to the conditions to which animals are subjected and I have to admit this is an intriguing solution. It doesn't look like our demand for meat is going away any time soon, and the idea of humane industrial farms, with chickens and cows prancing around happily like in the romantic…

Holytape

I don't remember how I found this website, but it's hilarious. Well... it's hilarious if you have a warped sense of humor like I do. Basically, this guy makes blasphemous art with duct tape. Then he pens these bizarre, Bible-like stories to go along with them. It hasn't been updated much recently, but there is plenty of entertaining stuff there. This site being what it is, I thought this excerpt was fitting:
Unicorns are evil – pure unadulterated evil. Most people don't know it, because they have been fooled. Do you know about those pictures of beautiful unicorns bringing happiness to the world and dancing under rainbows? Well, those picture are all lies – unicorn propaganda -- meant to hide the truth, the awful truth -- that only thing on this green earth that is more evil than one unicorn is two unicorns working together.  “How evil?” you might ask. Well, there was this unicorn that once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. You might say, “That’s…

QFT

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Religion asks questions like "What is the nature of God?" and "What is his plan for our lives?", but they never answer them. Such answers are impossible for three reasons: God doesn't exist, there's no way to find out the answer to those questions except for the unreliable method of revelation, and those revelations have given different answers to different faiths (and to different people within a faith). Religion doesn't answer any questions. — Jerry Coyne

William Lane Craig: not even a pretend physicist

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If you've ever sat through one of William Lane Craig's academic essays on physics – and I have – it's easy to be impressed so long as you don't actually know that much about physics. This isn't to say that Craig doesn't know anything about physics; he actually knows a fair bit. But the difference between a physicist talking about physics and a theologian talking about physics is that the theologian obviously has an agenda. It's in Craig's personal interest to find information that appears to support his beliefs, and to be highly skeptical or even outright dismissive of anything that contradicts his beliefs.

Physics is complicated stuff, and even physicists are often hesitant to talk about its implications. There's so much we don't know, so many unanswered questions, that it's highly presumptuous to use our current state of knowledge as a boon to one's personal beliefs.

Which brings me to my frustration that started over in the "Apol…

Verbosity (or, the ontological argument part deux)

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Philosophy is a mixed bag for me. I ate up (not literally) Dan Dennett's excellent book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, which talks about the philosophical implications of evolution. But I'm also sympathetic to Stephen Hawking's controversial quip from The Grand Design: "philosophy is dead". Hawking's being hyperbolic, especially since his books tend to deal with philosophical implications of physics. I think that what he means, though, is that it is science which is on the forefront of human discovery. We can talk about how science is changing our view of the universe and our place within it, but philosophy cannot reveal any new truths.

I'm convinced that a lot of philosophy – especially religious philosophy – exists only for masturbatory purposes, so that academics can feel impressed with themselves. Remember my criticism of the ontological argument? Well, an alert reader brought to my attention an even more verbose wording of the argument – William Lane C…

Deep thoughts

Kirk Cameron just gives me kind of a foul taste in my mouth. One only cured with some good Scotch. I almost feel bad for the guy, and I admit that's partly because he looks like a teenager. But what a waste, to spend one's life spreading teh stupid with the likes of Ray Comfort.

Also, I don't know why anyone cares about what Ann Coulter thinks about anything. I think people just invite her on their shows because they know there's a decent chance she'll say something colossally stupid and/or hateful that will make for some free publicity the next day.

Prop 8

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The question of Proposition 8's constitutionality is likely headed to the Supreme Court. As is usually the case when the court does things they don't like, conservatives blame it on "liberal activist judges". I watched the vile sub-human beast Ann Coulter on MSNBC the other day, and she opined that judges have no right to subvert the will of the people. Since a (slim) majority voted in favor of Prop 8, it's unconstitutional to say it's unconstitutional.

Funny. I always thought civil rights were the kind of things that aren't just up to the majority. I mean come on, lots of states weren't happy about the Civil Rights Act being imposed on them, and I think it's safe to say that if we'd let individual states decide through the vote whether to preserve segregation, lots of us here in the Southwest would still be drinking from "white only" drinking fountains.

The Constitution guarantees two very important things: first, the 14th Amendment…

William Lane Craig defends the ontological argument

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A few posts back I half-jokingly said I wished someone would really try to defend the ontological argument. It's just such a profoundly stupid argument that I really get a kick out of smart people dressing up its fallacies in fancy academic language. But then I randomly jumped over to ReasonableFaith.org (William Lane Craig's website), and it just so happens that a recent post finds him defending... you guessed it, the ontological argument.

I sarcastically summarized the ontological argument as:
God, by definition, existsTherefor, God exists That's really not a stretch – although the argument gets dressed up in masturbatory philosophical drivel (as you'll see in moment), it basically says that the "greatest conceivable being" (God) must have "existence" as one of its properties, otherwise that being couldn't be the greatest conceivable being. Let's listen to what Bill has to say on the matter:
A maximally great being is one that has, among ot…

Steven Pinker on the history of Christian violence

Props to my friend Harry for bringing this to my attention. Taken from the Q&A page over at Steven Pinker's website, bold emphases mine:

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Wasn’t the spread of Christianity the main historical force that drove down violence? Jesus preached love, peace, and forgiveness. The Spanish missionaries eliminated human sacrifice in Latin America. Abolitionism in the 19th century, and the Civil Rights movement in the 20th, were inspired by the morality of Christianity and led by Christian ministers. The two world wars show what happens when people depart from the teachings of Christianity. 
Jesus deserves credit for stigmatizing revenge, one of the main motives for violence over the course of human history. But things started going downhill in 312 when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the historical facts are not consistent with the claim that Christianity since then has been a force for nonviolence: The Crusaders perpetrated a century …

The US has a regressive tax system

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The rich pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes, right? Nearly half of Americans pay no taxes at all, right? Wrong. It's true as long as you're talking about federal income taxes, and ignoring overall tax rates that take into account local sales taxes, payroll taxes, state income taxes, property taxes, etc. etc. Some sobering statistics by way of Mother Jones:
... it's true that the federal income tax is indeed progressive. Conservatives are right about that—though it's not as progressive as it used to be, back before top marginal rates were lowered and capital gains taxes were slashed in half. But conservatives are a little less excited to talk about other kinds of taxes. Payroll taxes aren't progressive, for example. In fact, they're actively regressive, with the poor and middle classes paying higher rates than the rich.
And then there are state taxes. Those include state income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and fees of various kinds. …

Misquoting physicists

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The epic discussion in the comments section for the post "Apologetics 101" has gone, as discussions like that are prone to do, into pretty esoteric territory. The discussion has gravitated toward the First Cause arguments and whether the universe actually requires a beginning, which is kind of disappointing because just once I'd like to see someone really try to defend the ontological argument in a discussion like that. Oh well.

Anyway, the topic of whether the universe has a beginning is a thorny one, but it's a concept that's absolutely pivotal to belief in a theistic or deistic Creator (pantheists are off the hook). As Stephen Hawking so eloquently put it in A Brief History of Time back in '88, "So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?"

T…

QFT

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Sam Harris and fireplaces

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Sam Harris has picked an odd topic to blog about: the hazards of wood-burning fireplaces. Everyone knows they're a terribly inefficient source of heat, but people still enjoy lighting them up occasionally because it smells good. Sam wants to convince you that this is a terrible idea and an immediate threat to your health:
I am sorry to say that if you feel this way about a wood fire [a "wholesome pleasure"], you are not only wrong but dangerously misguided. I mean to seriously convince you of this—so you can consider it in part a public service announcement—but please keep in mind that I am drawing an analogy. I want you to be sensitive to how you feel, and to notice the resistance you begin to muster as you consider what I have to say. He then hits with this scientificish condemnation:
Once they have exited your chimney, the toxic gases (e.g. benzene) and particles that make up smoke freely pass back into your home and into the homes of others. (Research shows t…