Archive for April, 2012


Empathy, cooperation, fairness and reciprocity — caring about the well-being of others seems like a very human trait. But Frans de Waal shares some surprising videos of behavioral tests, on primates and other mammals, that show how many of these moral traits all of us share.

The Chinese have them. Muslims have them. Russians have them. Africans have them. Pacific islanders have them. Hindus have them. The Inuit have them. The Greeks have them. The Romans had them. The Vikings had them. Egyptians have them. And primates have them. And other mammals have them.

But morals come from the Christian God? Really?

BLAM. Feel the science awesome!

Always! Be awesome.

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman - Your certainty amuses him.

Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

– Richard Feynman

Here is a picture of an awesome llama.

Because it’s Friday. And you deserve an awesome llama picture.

Awesome hipster llama

Awesome hipster llamas are awesome.

Everybody, be awesome.

Always! Be awesome.

(That’s 5 awesome’s in a 26 word post. 6 counting this one. It’s called a high awesome density post. That’s 7.)

Ethics and justice

Ethics and justice, the Bible will teach you it...

There are many lovely tales of love and justice found in the Holy Bible. “What, pray tell, is the Holy Bible”, I can almost hear you ask. Excellent question! Let’s have some devout Christians tell us (emphasis mine):

Despite what the world would like to say, there is such a thing as absolute truth, coming straight out of the Word of God, and people ultimately act on what they really think is true, whatever they may say. At Antioch, we want to lay it out up front. Our doctrinal statement declares what is really true, straight from God’s Word, and our Philosophy and Mission statements flow out of our desire to act on that truth.

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And:

We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the verbally inspired Word of God, the final authority for faith and life, inerrant in the original writings, infallible and God-breathed (II Timothy 3:16,17; II Peter 1:20,21; Matthew 5:18; John 16:12,13).

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And:

I. Biblical Authority

Example Verses: II Timothy 3:16-17; I Peter 1:23-25

Baptists hold to the belief that the Bible and its clear, literal teachings are the final authority for faith and practice. We at least attempt to back up everything they believe with “Chapter and Verse”, and hold that anything that is contrary to the clear teaching of the Bible is not true. Such things as church councils, church leaders, tradition, and other books are often hold some authority for other Christian groups.

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And:

For the Catholic, what follows will make clear the harmony of Scripture and tradition: truth cannot contradict truth. Whether God speaks to us through the Bible or through the voice of tradition, the word spoken is always a true and steadfast guide.

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In short, the Bible is God’s Own Truth.

And, just so we don’t forget, God doesn’t change. “What do you mean God doesn’t change”, I hear you cry. Good that you should ask! Let us get some guidance from ‘the final authority for faith and practice’, God’s Own Truth, The Holy Bible (emphasis mine):

Psalm 102:

102:26 They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed:
102:27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.

Hebrews 1:

1:10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:
1:11 They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;
1:12 And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

Hebrews 13:

13:8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.

So, God never, ever changes and the Bible is the inerrant, literal Word of God. Got that? Right, with that out of the way, I have a story I should like to tell. A parable if you will.

Not too long ago there was a gentleman by the name of Rush “Randy” Limbaugh (all characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental) and he was very close to God. As a conservative man, Randy went to church every Sunday (see, I told you it was a coincidence) and prayed to God several times a day and he read the Bible which he firmly knew was the literal Word of God. Randy was as close to God as a good, God fearing Republican could be.

Now, Randy being Randy, he got involved with several women during the course of his life. He was at various stages married to Roxy, Michelle, Marta and Kathryn and he had several sons. Notably, by Marta he had a son called Adam.

Tragically, Randy couldn’t control his… er… love for woman and the one day he saw a very attractive intern at the broadcast corporation where he worked called Betty. Now, Betty was in a relationship with Uri who worked for Randy. Randy was pretty well connected and quite devious. Through some sneaky scheming he got Uri re-assigned to a foreign office on the very day that – incredibly conveniently – incriminating photo’s of Uri were delivered to Betty. Betty broke up with poor Uri and Randy provided a convenient shoulder to cry on. He quickly managed to seduce Betty and have… er… carnal relations with her – which was cheating on his current wife Kathryn. Betty fell pregnant almost immediately – Randy was sure his God didn’t approve of birth control you see.

God didn’t like this one bit – he was incredibly pissed off – so He cursed the child that Randy and Betty had created.

Some time after Randy started cheating on Katheryn with Betty, God spoke to pastor Rick ‘Nathan’ Warren (purely coincidental fiction, I assure you) personally and told him to go and punish Randy. He gave explicit instructions on how Randy’s punishment was to be carried out.

Nathan went forth has God had commanded and hired a great stage to be constructed on the National Mall in Washington DC with all the bells and whistles – big screens so everybody in a large crowd could see the action, fancy lighting, huge sound systems, the works. Nathan then invited every devout Christian in the country to come and witness Randy’s punishment, to be carried out exactly as required by Yahweh – the creator God of the universe.

On the day of the punishment, Nathan’s henchmen brought Randy to the stage and put him in a chair off to the left of the stage where he could properly witness the events of the day. After Randy was seated, Nathan’s people brought out Roxy, Michelle, Marta and Kathryn to the stage followed by Randy’s son, Adam.

Next, Randy’s wife and ex-wives were stripped naked in front of the crowd of millions and Adam proceeded to rape them where everybody could see, so that all in attendance knew the justice of the Lord.

Later, Betty gave birth to Randy’s son but since God had cursed the child, he died a week later. Randy went on to live a long and illustrious life, sleeping with literally hundreds of women.

The end.

I will leave you to figure out the moral of that parable on your own. Now, strangely, some people might be upset by that story and I am not sure why. It is a beautiful depiction of how the justice of the Christian deity works, how much he loves people and how much he loves and respects women in particular. It is a beautiful thing is it not?

What? You don’t believe me? Come on now, you give me too much credit. I couldn’t come up with a gem of a story like that on my own – I simply don’t have the skills. Nay, I did but paraphrase a story directly from the unchanging, inerrant word of the almighty creator of the universe. I shit you, in fact, not.

The beautiful tale is found in 2 Samuel 11 and 2 Samuel 12 with the delightful conclusion in 2 Samuel 16.

Let me quote some of it, I do insist (emphasis mine):

2 Samuel 11:

11:2 And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.
11:3 And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?
11:4 And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.

11:15 And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.

2 Samuel 12:

12:1 And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor.

12:11 Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.
12:12 For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.
12:15 And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.

12:18 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died.

2 Samuel 16:

16:21 And Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Go in unto thy father’s concubines, which he hath left to keep the house; and all Israel shall hear that thou art abhorred of thy father: then shall the hands of all that are with thee be strong.
16:22 So they spread Absalom a tent upon the top of the house; and Absalom went in unto his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

And there you have it. Divine love and justice. It does make me wonder though, what kind of person – who in their right mind actually – would want to worship the being that figures that having several women raped in public by the son of their husband (I believe that’s a stepson…) and an unborn child killed for the adultery of a man is good and just? Who, in their right mind?

I figure its pretty freaking terrible to be a female Christian. Just think what it must be like to live in a world where, should your cheating bastard husband find himself a bit on the side, you get raped in public for his crime and sweet nothing happens to him. Couldn’t happen? Why not?

And Christian men? How would they feel if dear Jesus had to come down out of the clouds and had to instruct them to rape their stepmother (and possibly their own mother) in public because their father cheated on his wife with another woman and arranged for her husband to have an ‘accident’? I have to ask Christian men the following:

Yes or no: would you happily rape your stepmother in public if God told you to?

Won’t happen? Can’t happen? Why not?

If it can’t happen… then one or both the following is true: God changes and the Bible lies or – more simply – there is no God and these tragic horror stories are entirely man-made.

Seriously, there is something very, very wrong with people who believe in this horror, want to worship the monster who thought it up and who are not utterly repulsed by the thought of this travesty.

God is love? Christian morals? Right. Tell me another one.

Always! Be awesome.

Professor Brian Cox of the University of Manchester presents an educational walk, through the fundamentals of Particle Physics.

Bam! Feel the awesome!

Holy hairy llama heads but I love science. Brian Cox, also, is pretty damn awesome.

Always! Be awesome.

Christopher Hitchens on faith

Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.” - Christopher Hitchens

Today, April 13th, is the first birthday of Christopher Hitchens after his death on the 15th of December last year. Today is Christopher Hitchens day.

Happy birthday Hitch.

The Dirac equation in the form originally proposed.

The Dirac equation. Science, winning.

I care about what is true. I care very much about what is true.

One of the things about myself that frustrates me the most is how I am often not skeptical enough. I tend to make snap truth judgements in the moment – due to excitement or distraction or whatever – and later I end up feeling like I didn’t properly evaluate the situation before accepting something as true. This is why I prefer written over verbal discourse: it allows me to properly consider my response, evaluate my position and avoid rash acceptance of claims. I recognise confirmation bias in myself and actively work to overcome it. I realise I am essentially an illogical creature and I try hard to overcome it because I care very much about what is true, about what is in accordance with fact and reality.

Fact and reality.

One could complicate the concept of ‘truth’ and discuss correspondence, coherence, constructivist, consensus or pragmatic theory or the opinions of Fromm, Hegel, Nietzsche or Kant. Or one could just stick to the simple definition of:

truth:

  • The quality or state of being true
  • That which is true or in accordance with fact or reality

What got me started on this post was seeing a picture of Penn Jillette with a quote that says something to the effect of: if every trace of every religion had to be removed from human consciousness, something similar might be recreated in its place but it would never be exactly the same. If every trace of science had to be removed from human consciousness then it would still be true and it would be rediscovered again and the discovered truth’s would be exactly the same.

I think that is pretty profound. Remove everything we know about science and find it all out again from scratch and it would be exactly like it was. The truth discovered by science will not have changed. Remove religion and the facsimile which could replace it will never be exactly the same – other than the fact that it will also be nonsense. Religious ‘truth’… changes.

The Christian God by all accounts is unchanging and eternal. From the Christian Bible:

Psalm 102:

102:26 They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed:
102:27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.

Hebrews 1:

1:10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:
1:11 They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;
1:12 And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

Hebrews 13:

13:8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.

Deuteronomy 33

33:27 The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them.

To me, and I’m sure to most people, unchanging would mean that what I hold true today is what I will hold true tomorrow. If you ask me a question, whether it be today or tomorrow or in 20 years from now, if I was unchanging my answer would be the same, unchanging. Not changing your opinion or answer to the same question is the very embodiment of ‘unchanging’.

This alleged property of God being ‘unchanging’ poses a bit of a problem for Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It causes two problems in particular:

1. The Bible condones some pretty horrific things such as genocide, slavery, infanticide, rape, murder, child abuse and so forth.

If God does not change then he must still condone these horrible things, yet his current batch of followers decry these horrors when they happen today in the third world. I find it terribly strange how devout followers of a God who commanded genocide get outraged when the same thing happens in Africa. Take the recent obsession with Joseph Kony as an example. The man is the leader of the “Lord’s Resistance Army” (no extra points for guessing the ‘Lord’ referred to there) and he has done things – terrible things – but they are pretty damn similar to what a man called Moses did in the Bible in Numbers 31:

31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
31:18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

How do these outraged middle class first worlders know that Joseph Kony isn’t following explicit instructions from his God, their God? Because God wouldn’t command it? Is God not ‘unchanging’?

2. For reasons that no religious person has ever adequately explained, religious people almost always get different answers to the same question from the same deity.

Why is it that when people pray to their God, the same God, they can get different answers to the same question? Take the issue in Auckland a while ago where one church put up a billboard and thought it great while another group of Christians thought it was blasphemy. How could two Christians ever disagree over the opinion of the God with which they both have a personal relationship? Is God not unchanging or does he give a different opinion to ever person who prays?

These two issues together pose a massive problem to religious investigation into what is true and what is not. How do you know what is true if your only source of shared knowledge (The Bible for example) contradicts its self in very many places and each person’s personal ‘revelation’ is factually different from virtually every other person’s personal ‘revelation’? On what basis can you decide what is true and what is not?

Science on the other hand has the scientific method.

From Wikipedia:

Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge.[1] To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.[2] The Oxford English Dictionary says that scientific method is: “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”[3]

The process that science follows to arrive at what is true and what is not:

Scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experimental studies to test these hypotheses via predictions which can be derived from them. These steps must be repeatable, to guard against mistake or confusion in any particular experimenter. Theories that encompass wider domains of inquiry may bind many independently derived hypotheses together in a coherent, supportive structure. Theories, in turn, may help form new hypotheses or place groups of hypotheses into context.

The scientific method has built-in safeguards – such as peer review, repeatable experiments, independent reproduction – against the many psychological properties of humans – such as confirmation bias, belief bias, bandwagon effect – that make us fundamentally illogical beings. By following the scientific method we are most likely to arrive at what is ‘really’ true, at what is in accordance with fact or reality.

When a fact has been proven scientifically it can repeatedly be proven scientifically. It is a cornerstone of the scientific method for results to be independently reproduced – every person who properly conducts an experiment should get the same results.

This is in complete and utter contrast to religious revelation and the way prayer is alleged to work. No credible evidence is ever provided by religious revelation. No second person can independently verify that a person who has allegedly had a ‘revelation’ is telling the truth or is mistaken or is completely delusional. When people pray to the same God for some reason they get different answers. The answers so different there is reported to be over 38,000 denominations of Christianity and they all claim to have personal relationships with the same deity.

What could explain this diversity within Christianity (let alone Islam and Judaism which supposedly worships the same deity…)? The answer is unsurprisingly simple: there is no God. When people claim to know what God wants they are making it up. There is no God. People who claim to know the mind of God are mistaken. It is not coincidence that God almost without fail has the same biases and prejudices as those who claim to know what he wants.

Belief without evidence is a mistake. Faith…

Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.” — Christopher Hitchens

Simply using modern technology, using modern medicine, even eating modern food is tacit acceptance that science works and finds truth. Useful truth. Religion will try to convince you that the shape of a banana, shaped by generations of human directed artificial selection is proof that a supreme super being designed it for you. The irony is that it’s not too far off – the current shape of the banana is due to science and human intellect. I bet Ray Comfort didn’t have this particular truth in mind when he tried to sell his ‘banana revelation’ but fact is fact and empirical evidence trumps religious opinion every time.

Has a specific religion – such as Christianity – ever arisen spontaneously without the intervention of it’s adherents, in a remote part of the world? No, not one time. Copies of religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) never arise spontaneously in other parts of the world because religions are made up by people. They can’t spontaneously arise because the deity that each alleges to worship doesn’t exist and so can’t inform people elsewhere of the religion. If Europeans had arrived in Australia (or pick any remote people in the world, Amazon, Pacific islands, China…) and found that the Aborigines were devout Christians even though they had never had contact with Europe or the Middle East it would have gone a long way towards showing Christian beliefs to be real. This has never happened. Not once. And don’t hold your breath, it never will.

Revelation is baseless opinion and it is disturbing how many people will accept a person’s word that his opinion is true without questioning or demanding verifiable evidence. You’d think by now, through the manifold scandals by church leaders that have been exposed, that people would be a bit more skeptical about the motives and truth espoused by those who claim to know the mind of God. It’s not even hard to test: ask three different church leaders what their God thinks about a subject – blasphemy is usually a good subject – and my money is on three different answers. They all claim to have a personal relationship with the almighty. It shouldn’t be a difficult thing to ask your personal friend his opinion. Three different answers, which one is telling the truth? Ask 30. Which one is now telling the truth? Ask 300? Ask 38,000. Who is now telling the truth? All of them? 38,000 different opinions and they are all truthful? Unlikely.

There is a much simpler truth: there is no god.

Science strives to find actual, empirically verified, useful truth while religion tries to sell baseless – often contradictory – opinion as truth. Give me science any day.

Always! Be awesome.

Fermilab scientist Don Lincoln describes the nature of the Higgs boson. Several large experimental groups are hot on the trail of this elusive subatomic particle which is thought to explain the origins of particle mass

Blam! Feel the awesome!

Sweet merciful Christopher Hitchens, I love science. That is all.

Always! Be awesome.

(PS. Don is such a freaking hard-core science-meister, he studies huge particle accelerator data while, he, speaks. True story.)

Jesus and the Easter bunny.

Jesus. Because believing in the Easter Bunny is just silly.

So. Easter. I wasn’t going to bother writing about it but here I am. The idiocy is so thick in the air I just can’t help myself.

Easter. What is it?

It’s a mid-spring pagan festival co-opted by Christianity, pretty much like every other Christian holiday and ritual. Yea, Christians, followers of the most unoriginal creator of the universe imaginable, might (or might not) be surprised to know that the whole death and resurrection thing is in fact quite a bit older than the badly recorded travesty that they’re fawning over this weekend – where I am forced to see it. And be reminded of just how much ridiculousness people actually claim to believe. (Edit: check out Easter isn’t a Christian holiday either at Atheism Resource)

So, the plagiarism aside, what’s Christian Easter about? Let me tell you.

Easter is the celebration of the torture, execution, temporary ‘death’ and resurrection of the human incarnation of the creator of the universe. The omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent creator of the universe, God if you will, needed to have himself tortured and temporarily killed by his errant creations so that he could be convinced to create a loop-hole in the rules he created himself so that he could be convinced to forgive his creations for being the way he created them, having known how they would turn out before he created them, so that he wouldn’t be forced by himself to torture them for eternity.

Seriously. It’s THAT ludicrous. I have some questions:

  • God is omnipotent – why didn’t he just forgive people without having himself tortured and temporarily killed?
  • God is omniscient – if he knows everything to be known, he knows he’s going to be resurrected less than 72 hours later. How is that a sacrifice? It’s not even an inconvenience for an almighty super being.
  • God is omnibenevolent – why does he torture people for eternity?
  • God is omnipotent – why not just unmake Satan?
  • God is omniscient – if he knows a person is going to be bad before he creates them and that he will be torturing them for eternity… how is that unlike breeding cats for the sole purpose of burning them alive?

Dear merciful Christ, why are people so incredibly stupid? But thanks for the public holidays, appreciate it.

Always! Be awesome.

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