Archive for April, 2010


I thought I’d give NonStampCollector a break this week and post a great video that goes about demolishing creationist arguments with class. I love it and it’s interesting and you should watch it. Now.

Any questions?

A little back story: while my wife and I are atheists, our respective families, well, they are not atheists to put it mildly. I don’t actually know the full extent of the religiosity of my entire extended family but suffice to say, most of them go to church most Sundays and they pray before they eat. Typical white, middle class, suburban Christian people you could say. We live in South Africa where, due to too many reasons to explain or debate, unskilled labour is performed mainly by black African’s who have their own culture and (from my perspective) their own peculiar set of beliefs.

To get on with the story: my wife and I attended a family gathering several months back where a cousin of mine was telling a story about some events that occurred where he works. He told of how a watch was stolen from the locker of one of the supervisors. The supervisor and my cousin came up with a cunning plan to convince the thief to return the stolen goods. They loudly proclaimed, well within earshot of a number of the workers that they were going to bring an African witch doctor (a sangoma) to the office the following day, to perform black magic and curse the thief who had stolen from the supervisor. Presumably this would end in a very unpleasant way for the would be thief. Obviously hearing of this plan and fearful for what was to come next, the thief returned the watch to the locker where it was found the next day, negating the need for the witch doctor.

The story was told to the gathered family with much mirth and laughter aimed at the simple thief who would fall for such a ridiculous ploy. A witch doctor and black magic indeed; some people will believe just any old thing.

Now, there are two things about this story that I found interesting. The first is that clearly there are still many simple people who are willing to believe basically anything, magic and witchcraft included, in this day and age which is a little disturbing but not altogether surprising.

As interesting and disturbing as the belief in witchcraft is, the story in general is a great illustration for how the minds of the pious religious work. I would venture to replace ‘religious’ with ‘humanity in general’, since everybody is prone to this, but I’ll leave it for the sake of illustration.

My family, cousins, aunts, parents, had absolutely no problem with laughing at the simple believers in ‘witchcraft’. Believing in ‘witchcraft’ is ridiculous, only primitive people believe in it, obviously? Right?

They had absolutely no problem following that conversation with one about the local minister at the church involved in something or other. They could not see that were laughing at people for believing in something with no evidence while at the same time believing the exact same thing in a different package.

Clearly, Christianity is not as ridiculous as believing in magic? Surely not! Christianity has… well, IT HAS A BOOK! Yes, those primitives who believe in the dark arts, well, all they have is an oral history stretching ten thousand years further back than Moses, no cold, hard, indisputable evidence like ‘the good book’.

I would now like to take this opportunity to quote a passage from ‘the good book’, Matthew 7:3-5:

7:3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
7:4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
7:5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Truer words were never spoken. Possibly, these words were never spoken in the first place either, but you get my point.

Let me recap this for you: Christians (or Muslims, or Hindus, or Jehovah’s witnesses) who laugh at people of other belief systems are hypocrites. Christians believe in magic and so they don’t get to laugh at other people who also believe in magic, albeit in a slightly different kind.

“A lie is a lie even if everyone believes it. The truth is the truth even if nobody believes it.”
– David Stevens

In South America llamas are still used as beasts of burden, as well as for the production of fiber and meat.

Your religion is the one true religion right? And not completely opposed to evolution (micro evolution, obviously) right? And those barbarians and their witch doctors are just misguided, right? And you take science seriously (some science at least), right? You take your particular sect of your religion seriously (because all the other sects are just misguided), right?

Of course, of course. Now watch this wonderful Sunday video and write me a comment, no less than 150 words, on how you justify all of this in your head and don’t immediately commit harikari out of sheer embarrassment.

Your logic fail is embarrassing. LOGIC. FAIL.

Rember to check out NonStampCollector’s other, very awesome videos at:http://www.youtube.com/user/NonStampCollector

You’re a media producer, music say, and you don’t want people to pirate your stuff, you want them to pay for it. You’re an author, you want people to buy your book so you can make money from the ‘fruits of your labour’. Fair enough, I get it, I understand and I agree with you. I also want to be paid for my work.

However, if you are the RIAA, MPAA or Macmillan books, for example, it’s time that you wake up and face reality. The internet is here, it’s not going away and there is nothing you can do about it.

This post by Naveet Alang : http://www.techi.com/2010/04/the-riaa-and-mpaa-have-failed-to-understand-a-cultural-shift/ lays it out nicely.

What I have to add to that, is this: If you want me to buy your stuff, you have got to make sure that:

  1. It’s easier and more convenient to get it from you than to pirate or download it.
  2. Paying your price must feel like a better deal than the effort I need to go through to pirate it. Most people (including me) don’t have the inclination to spend time searching for a pirate version of your stuff in the first place.

Books are a good example; Apple and authors, pay attention. I have a Kindle and I buy 3 or 4 books a month. I buy them because Amazon has made it REALLY simple for me to get the books and they have made them a REALLY good price. At $5 to $9 for a book it’s not worth the effort of pirating those books and I prefer not to pirate things in the first place.

Apple and some publishers on the other hand, feel that this is too cheap for a digital book with absolutely no distribution overhead. Let me put it to you simply, I will not pay $15 or $20 for that book, I will pirate it. Accept that fact now and move on, it is not going to change anytime soon. You cannot control the internet so why spend the time and money to try to get control over something you can not and fight what is obviously right?

Another thing, authors: if your book is not available digitally, easily, I will not buy it. There may be few like me right now, but soon we will be many. If I cannot find your book on my Kindle, I am not going to buy it. If I find your book on my Kindle and it is a ridiculous price, I will not buy it but I will read it anyway, it’s really your choice how I go about it.

As far as I can tell, Amazon has done their part of the deal, they have made it very, very easy for me to buy your stuff so now all you need to do is make it the right price.

If you want people to pay for your stuff, make it the most convenient way for them to get your stuff, people pay for convenience, all, the, time.

If a llama is agitated, it will lay its ears back.

The central tenet of christianity is blame divergence. Believe in jesus and all your sins are forgiven. In fact, you HAVE to believe in jesus, it is the ONLY way to not suffer eternal punishment, because you were born a filthy sinner and then things got worse; you were a bad person way before you even committed your first sin and the ONLY way to get past that is for jesus to forgive you, or so the story goes.

So basically, christianity is based on three things, ‘You’re bad’, ‘innocent jesus got himself murdered so you can be forgiven’, ‘or else’.

While it’s a classic carrot and stick scenario that is in my opinion evil in its self, it is not the most troubling part of this belief.

I have recently been thinking long and hard about what the idea of this christian redemption from jesus entails and how it works for the human psyche.

My first observation is that the road to redemption that christianity offers is fundamentally easy. It’s very, very simple to attain this redemption which plays completely into our instant gratification, consumer society. Christianity is the McDonalds of religion. Getting in is quick, easy and uncomplicated. Compared to converting to judaism, christianity is a veritable walk in the park.

This makes christianity an easy sell. A small child can grasp how to attain redemption and I believe that the inventors of christianty explicitly made it so.

Keep that point in mind while I digress a little.

Recently I have had the privilege of working with a person who has had to overcome significant problems to get where he is today. Granted, the problems were mostly self-inflicted but were in the end huge and insurmountable none the less.

He used to be a drug addict in his teens in a very bad way. He did incredibly bad things to very many people, including his parents and family. Things got severely out of control in his life due to his rampant drug abuse (which drug? All of them.). It was tragic and it nearly ended in tragedy several times. He tried to kill himself several times (but failed, luckily).

Eventually, his family fed up with the drama, stealing, worrying and pain, gave him a final ultimatum. They were sending him to one last rehab for the sake of their own conscience, but regardless of the outcome of that last rehabilitation attempt, they no-longer wanted anything to do with him.

He went to this rehab and, somehow, it worked this time. He was rehabilitated, he left the drugs, worked at the rehab for a couple of years, turned his life around and is now a very successful business man and an excellent human being. He now helps tens of drug addicts and their families every year, by paying for rehab, organising them jobs afterwards, counseling families and so on.

The catch is this: the last rehab he went to was a very strict, almost militarily strict, christian rehab. At this rehab, he ‘found god’ and through ‘his faith’ managed to turn his life around. Now, ten years later, he fervently holds on to this belief and from what I can tell, for good reason. He is by no means a fool and he could probably see the problems with what he believes, but he was and still is, desperate. Letting go of this belief is letting go of the one thing he believes saved him and his family. Changing the mind of somebody like this will be very difficult, if not impossible and I feel, may actually be immoral.

This brings me to the issues I am discussing. I believe the reason that the christian rehab worked, was because of three things:

  1. His family made it clear there were no more choices or discussion, this was their last effort and he was, effectively on his own from that point.
  2. The rehab was harshly disciplinarian.
  3. Christianity offers an easy way to get rid of the MASSIVE amount of guilt that addicts experience over their behaviour and actions

Point 3 is crucial. By the time an addict ends up at his very last chance (succeed or die) at a facility, that person has done some very, very bad things for which they feel very, very guilty. In fact, the guilt may very well be one of the reasons things deteriorated to this point in the first place. Guilt requires an escape, drugs offer the escape which causes guilt which starts the vicious circle again.

Enter christian rehab. The first thing you find out is that some dude with super powers, your REAL father as it were, who loves you regardless of anything, has DIED, HORRIBLY, to forgive you ANYTHING you have done. And you can have this forgiveness, this redemption, if only you want it. Easy (comparatively). A ‘get out of guilt, free’ card. Whether or not this it true, is irrelevant to the situation. Offering a desperate addict redemption from the almighty creator of the universe, removes a deep-seated need to get that redemption from the people they have harmed. No doubt the addict is sorry but since god has forgiven you, it doesn’t really matter if anybody else forgives you. Or, from another angle, if god as forgiven you, and he bloody well has, who are other people to decide to not forgive you?

In my mind, this facility already has a head start on anybody else since their first step is so simple but accomplishes so much in the mind of the addict.

Christian redemption then, is like homoeopathy, as long as you believe it works, it works often enough to be believable to the desperate.

Is it healthy to be able to get rid of a lifetime’s guilt that easily? In some cases, it looks like it may be.

What disturbs me so much about this scenario is this: I know christianity is as true as the story of father christmas, I know the redemption that an addict feels he gets from the story is, at least in some cases, a good thing because it enables recovery in other areas by removing guilt that would otherwise retard progress.

However, believing a lie is never a good thing and ignoring reality, for whatever reason, is disingenuous at best and a disaster at worst. The question is really then, which is worse, believing a lie that enables one to turn around bad behaviour and end up doing good or accepting stark reality and being unable to productively move forward because of the enormous guilt you feel?

Now, I’m not saying that there are no other ways of dealing with guilt but to be fair, any other way is a lot more painful and protracted and I think that is possibly one of the reasons why rehab in general has such a low success rate. It’s damn difficult to get clean and anything that makes it easier must be a good thing, right? I have done no research into the matter but from what I hear, this particular christian facility has a reasonable rehabilitation success rate, possible even better than average.

I think what concerns me the most is that I cannot think of anything that atheism can offer, other than the XX step programs in use anyway. Perhaps my concern lies in that cold logic is very difficult to apply in the case of drug abuse, which is inherently illogical; let’s face it, logic is the furthest thing from a heroin junkie’s mind.

How then, would one go about building an effective, non religious, drug rehabilitation facility? I think that finding an easy, constructive way to deal with guilt would probably be the first thing to come up with. I may be wrong.

How do you convince the desperate religious to embrace humanism or atheism in general? You find a way to attain simple personal redemption… and I don’t know if that is possible.

In other studies, over half of guard llamas completely eliminated losses due to predators. Dogs and coyotes have been injured and even killed by llamas. Respect guard llamas.

Miracle Marmite

I always knew there was something powerful about Marmite… but seriously.

Any less idiotic than toast, walls, cloth or trees? Pareidolia.

Sunday video #3

Another video from you-know-who. Debating evolution with a creationist… what can I say, the video is the god’s own truth (heh). Watch it, love it, try not to get too upset.

Check out his other, very awesome videos at:http://www.youtube.com/user/NonStampCollector

Look, I’ve been practising to pronounce that bloody word so I am going to use it at often as possible. Australopithecus Sediba. For those of you who don’t know what Australopithecus Sediba is, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australopithecus_sediba and here:http://www.maropeng.co.za/index.php/news/entry/the_story_of_the_australopithecus_sediba/ and see the photo’s below:

(The quality of the photo’s aren’t great because I took them on my crappy K850i, uploaded them directly to my photo blog and subsequently stole them back from there)

Hamish, a good friend of mine (THE Hamish, The One I thank for Fridays, THIF) messaged me on Friday wondering if I would like to go see Australopithecus Sediba that was, briefly, being exhibited at Maropeng, the official visitors centre of The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. Since the Australopithecus Sediba fossils would only be on display for two weeks there, I don’t think there was much of a choice in the matter, we would go.

So today, Hamish, Hamish’s girlfriend Suzette, my wife and I went and had a browse through the exhibits at Maropeng, which includes a water ride, a history of earth (right back from 4.5 (ish) billion years until today), several science exhibits as well as an original fossil exhibit. We thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and I have a couple of observations.

The exhibits in general

I’ve been to more than a couple of science exhibits in several countries and I have to say, Maropeng is very well done. It’s definitely on par with world facilities of a similar nature, possibly better than most. The exhibits themselves are interesting and visually appealing (and they all worked), the walk trough is logical, makes sense and I think kids would enjoy the process as much as us adults did. It’s clean and it also doesn’t take all day (which I believe is a bonus for people with short attention spans or persons afflicted with screaming smaller versions of themselves).

The science

The displays and explanations are put in such a way that a five-year old can understand it. Seriously. I may be a bit biased, but to be brutally honest, if you walk through Maropeng and still come out the other side believing that the earth was created 10,000 years ago, humanity in-tact and at the pinnacle of creation, then you, sir, are a knave and a fool.

The exhibits are clear enough that a casual walk through will be interesting but there is also enough information to satisfy people with an interest beyond casual. The topics are well explained from several angles and on a whole, I think the science portrayed there is of a high standard.

What I didn’t see

There were no humans and dinosaurs in the same space. There were no Adams or Eves (with or without belly buttons, how we laughed). No exhibits about 600 year old men building floating zoos big enough for a million or two species (we laughed some more). There were no fairy tales of ghosts in bushes or vindictive columns of cloud, no unicorns or flying horses (we weren’t sure about the unicorns, since ThinkGeek sells canned unicorn meat). Sadly, there were also no llamas.

But what about ‘transitional fossils’?

Get off your ever increasingly large, dough like behind and go and look at the damn fossils. They are there. They are many and wishing them away isn’t going to make them any less real.

And Australopithecus Sediba?

I wish I could say it was a ‘religious experience’ but it was not. The fossil is fascinating, beautiful and interesting and I am very happy it was found in what is currently my back yard. It may be one of the most important palaeoanthropological finds ever but unless you’re actually a  palaeoanthropologist, it may not be as awe-inspiring as one would like it to be. I am happy though that I took the time to go see it in person, it and the rest of the facility certainly made it worth the time and money.

While walking through the exhibits, the four of use mused and came to the following conclusions:

1. One would have to make an awfully large number of apologies to be able to discard and ignore the mountain of evidence for macro evolution that exists there for anybody to see (and Maropeng is hardly the largest facility of its kind)

2. We would love to actually go and see the ‘Creation Museum’ for some additional edutainmusement™

3. We were very sorry that we missed visiting the facility mentioned in point 2 with PZ Myers

4. Evolution is true, no amount of foot stamping and closed-eye wishing is going to change that fact

5. We are overjoyed at the number of people at the facility and even happier at the number of children we saw there.

If you have the opportunity to visit Maropeng, do it, it is worth the effort.

A female llama will only produce about 60 ml of milk at a time when she gives milk.

Sunday Video #2

Another video (a personal favourite) from NonStampCollector. I love how he manages to simplify things so even the mildly retarded can grasp the point. Happy Sunday.

Check out his other very awesome videos at: http://www.youtube.com/user/NonStampCollector

Happy Happy Friday

To celebrate Global Blame Shifting Day, I feel that everybody should watch this video from NonStampCollector (yes, yes, I know, I’ve been posting piles of his stuff recently, but he’s a genius and that makes it OK, OK? OK.)

Watch it, think about it, laugh a little, get on with it.

Check out his other very awesome videos at:http://www.youtube.com/user/NonStampCollector

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