Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Predictions for 2012

It is my belief that, while prophecy is impossible, one can predict the future with some degree of accuracy if they simply pay attention. With that in mind, here are a few predictions for the year 2012.

1: The world will not end, it won't even come close.
The 2012 "end of the world" hype will come to a peak sometime over the summer, but by the end of December, we'll all be laughing at the fools who believed this. If I could make a prediction for 2015, I'd say that by then, everyone who fell for 2012 will pretend they didn't, much like they did a few years after Y2K.

2: SOPA will turn out to have nearly no effect at all.
As has been demonstrated by Firefox's DeSOPA add on, it's not hard to get around it. Also, all that the major search engines would have to do to get around it would be to move their bases to somewhere outside the USA. Most people will not be affected at all even without these workarounds (everyone outside the USA will be completely unaffected without any extra work). And this is assuming the bill even passes without significant rewrites and isn't stopped by the US Supreme Court.
Speaking of stupid government moves and courts...

3: The Canadian Wheat Board is here to stay.
Our government has almost passed legislation in Parliament that will end the Wheat Board, which regulates the sale and purchase of Canadian agricultural products. So why am I saying the Wheat Board's in no trouble? Our own courts have decided, through a complex process called "looking at the laws we have in place", that the bill the Conservatives are pushing is illegal and thus can't become a law. See, in 1999, a law was passed saying that Canadian farmers have to be consulted regarding all major changes to the Wheat Board. They weren't consulted, and if they are, the vast majority want it to stay around. So, the Conservatives will lose that battle. If they manage to pass the bill, it'll be (at best) unenforecable and useless.

4: Canada will become less free and democratic.
Well, that's already been going on for a while, so really it'll just be a continuation of a trend. Oh, we'll still vote and all that, but unless people stop voting for the Conservative party, we're doomed.
Speaking of lack of democracy and freedom...

5: NDAA will be shown to be a step in the right direction.
Hear me out.
People are freaking out over the fact that that bill, recently signed into law in the USA, allows the government to detain people suspected of terrorism without charge. Of course, these people have been asleep the last decade, since that has been happening for some time. In other words, this changes almost nothing. Now that it's a law, they aren't doing it illegally, and that's it. But laws can be changed or struck down, and when it's struck down, detaining citizens without charging them of a crime or giving them a lawyer will be strictly illegal. Given time, NDAA can end the Bush era's nonsense.

6: Obama will beat whoever the Republicans finally choose.
But then, that's obvious given what they`re working with.

7: Kim Jong-Un will be just like Kim Jong-Il.
By that, I mean he'll keep his evil confined to his own borders. There is talk amongst pundits and bloggers of him maybe bombing South Korea, but with China backing off its support of North Korea, the USA's support of South Korea, and South Korea's clear advantages in technology and military power, it would be beyond stupid and crazy to actually attack them. The last Kim did boast of his country's military, but since he never invaded anywhere, especially South Korea, I believe he knew exactly how much his ass would be kicked. I doubt the younger Kim is significantly dumber than his dad, especially given that all his dad's advisors are still there to tell him that.

8: The advance of gay rights will slow, but not stop.
Most of the world is still reeling from the multiple recent failures of capitalism (or rather, successes of Reagan/Thatcher capitalism) so social issues have taken a back seat to economic ones. However, I do expect a few more countries which already legalize gay civil unions to fully legalize same-sex marriage, and I actually expect California's Prop 8 to be fully annulled this coming year too. However, we won't see anything major, like the legalization of homosexuality in any country where homosexuality is illegal.

9: The Occupy movement will lose steam and dissipate, having done nothing.
Sadly, that's already happening, but some Occupy camps are still up. The ones that are left will continue for a little bit longer, but the banks will not be significantly harmed by them. By the summer, I expect the Occupiers to become disillusioned non-voters, hostile to all political parties yet unwilling to use their votes to force any of them to work for the people. In other words, this will end up doing more harm than good.

10: Thomas Mulcair will become leader of the NDP
Both parties have no official, permanent leader as of now, and both are holding their leadership conferences in 2012. The NDP does have other options, and picking Pat Martin might be more strategically advantageous in the long term, given his charisma and his Western roots. However, Mulcair, being the first NDP Parliamentarian in Quebec is the best choice if they want to keep their support in Quebec, where most of their seats currently are, and he's a safe bet in general.
I previously had a prediction that Justin Trudeau would win Liberal leadership, under the false assumption that their convention was in 2012 and that Trudeau was running. Oops.

There are a few things in addition to these that I wanted to weigh in on, but they're too close to call. Here they are:

Attiwapiskat (it's basically 50/50 whether we'll leave these people high and dry or help them out, sadly)

The decline of religion (the economic troubles we're undergoing may bring a resurgence of religion, as people may turn to god(s) for comfort or help, or it may help continue the downward trend, as people see that their prayers haven`t been answered. I also couldn't tell you if a recovery would lead to an atheistic revival or a religious one. Too soon to call)

The Republican nominee (it'll be impossible to tell who wins this nomination until about a few days after the nominee is announced)

How much better the Avengers movie will be than every other movie (I'm not sure whether it'll be the best movie of the year, the century, or all time)

Those are just my thoughts on how the new year will be. As always, feel free to leave any thoughts of your own in the comments section. Read more!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What I strive to become, and what I hope to NEVER become

I had an interesting night.
I went to a party with friends I've. It seen in a long time. Mostly writers and artists, people I'm fond of, who despite being old enough to be my parents (or grandparents) I feel I've forged a real friendships with. I was the youngest person there by over a decade and yet I never felt out of place. It was great catching up with these people who, despite their opinions often opposing my own, are intelligent and mature enough to have a casual debate and remain calm and, well...civil.

However (there's always a "however" or else there'd be little point to this post) there was one dude who sort of ruined it at the end. He just HAD to debate at every fucking point, and many of his opinions are what a good leftist, feminist and anti-racist dude like myself would find objectionable. A lot of anti-woman stuff, a lot of stupid religious stuff, and at the end, some racist stuff about the Attiwapiskat scandal that's rocking Canada (blaming them, at one point calling them "worthless"). He stayed until the end, barely spoke except to argue, did not listen to what was said, and used blatantly factually inaccurate and logically indefensible arguments. For example, he claimed the government gave $80 million to Attiwapiskat to fix their houses (they claimed to have given $700,000) and said prayer works because he knows some christians who have succeeded in their goals due to prayer (I pointed out that every study on prayer has shown it to be useless, and another person pointed out that the large "church family" works to help each other in every thing, and we all pointed out that those people work towards their goals as well as praying about them, thus it's just as likely the work they did that got them what they want. He just kept repeating his point with no counter)

This eventually devolved to a shouting match. There were four of us left, and I started a side discussion with the host after 2 or 3 subject changes were insufficient to prevent him from moving to some controversial subject that he was wrong on. Eventually, it got to the point where I had to leave, so I excused myself...and then he blamed the Attiwapiskat for their predicament and called them worthless. I had to lay into the bastard. After a quick couple of sentences, I realized there was no point. I went to the bathroom and the host eventually kicked the guy out. By some sort of coincidence, he was thrown out just before I left and he continued ranting and complaining in the hallway, no doubt for my benefit. He told me "you can't debate with a broad."

I never want to be like that bastard. At all. I've been told I'm an opinionated and argumentative person, and that's not necessarily bad...but I want to never be so opinionated that I'm incapable of seeing other points of view, nor so argumentative that that is all I can do. I definitely have to work on that.

It's interesting that this happened so soon after the death of someone I'd like to think of as the person I'd most like to emulate in my debating: Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens was strong in his opinion, but proved that he was capable of changing his mind after new evidence came to him (famously changing his mind on waterboarding and more famously going from Marxist to neocon to a sort-of mainline socialist) and he was always personable and civil in debates, even when he loathed his opponents. But more importantly: he was more than the sum of his opinions. He could (and often did) have interviews that had little to nothing to do with any of his pet issues, and every person I know who met him spoke of his friendliness. There is a time and a place and a way to argue, and he knew all these things.

We're much poorer without Christopher Hitchens. Until the general populace becomes more like Hitchens and less like the ignorant, bull-headed twat from last night, we will need to keep up the good fight. Educate people, encourage critical thinking, and think for yourself. If you can't do it for yourself, do it for Hitch. Read more!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Adsense Sucks

I know I’ve been off this blog for a bit, and for that I apologize. After my epic three part post, I had no time. I’m going to follow that up with something that may just get me in trouble. I don’t really care, though.

GOOGLE ADSENSE IS A SCAM.

That’s right, adsense is a straight up scam. It’s a great way to make money if you’re unscrupulous, but for the rest of us, it’s a great way to clutter up your site without giving any real benefit.

Perhaps you’ve noticed I currently don’t have ads on this blog. I may try to monetize the blog later with another program, but for now, it’s totally ad free, because on December 2, Google cancelled my AdSense account due to “invalid click activity”. I appealed, and I only write this now because I’ve become convinced that no one at Google will listen to my appeal. This won’t hinder my chances of getting my AdSense account back, not that I even know why I was banned. I minded the TOS in all ways possible.

When I got the notification, I was mildly concerned. I was hoping that when/if the blog got popular, I could get a little money from it, but I’d not been paid and had only earned about $16 all time. (I know of others who had the same thing happen to them as happened to me while having $2000 or more in unpaid earnings, so this does have a real possibility to hurt people who need money) The primary concern was the fact that those who paid to advertise on my blog had their money refunded in full. There were over 100 clicks, and all that traffic was 100% free due to a bogus claim of invalid activity. Someone with more traffic than I could give these people much, much more free traffic if they got similarly banned. If the people who clicked the ads on this page actually bought something due to the ad(s) they clicked, that’s even more free profit. And that, I simply can’t abide.

The real point of this is simple: don’t use AdSense. I only had an account because I was a YouTube partner for a brief amount of time before getting banned on that site for more obviously fraudulent reasons (I had 3 videos taken down, one of which was found to not violate TOS and reinstated after an appeal, and one of which had no offensive material at all, which was the “third strike”) so I wasn’t too attached to it. But if you actually want a real money-making website, don't bother with AdSense.

It would have been nice to have that $16, though. I still haven’t seen the new Muppets movie.


UPDATE: A while back, Google offered me $100 US free to advertise on AdWords. I signed up for it, never putting in any other money into the program, and as soon as my free money was gone, my AdWords account was disabled for not having any money left, and the ads I put up vanished. I never even gave them a way to get more money from me. The day after I wrote this, I got an e-mail updating me on how my AdWords ads were doing and telling me how much I was being charged. It was a tiny amount, and it can't possibly come out of anywhere, but still...what the hell is wrong with this system?

Read more!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Answering Christian Answers Part 3 (includes questions for christians)

Part 3 in a series. Part 1 is here, part 2 is here. Hit the "read more" link to see this entry.

29. Have you ever considered the fact that Christianity is the only religion whose leader is said to have risen from the dead?

Have you ever considered the fact that Islam has the only leader who is said to have split the moon in half? That's more impressive than coming back to life, given that doctors bring people back to life regularly without any divine intervention. Why don't you go
Muslim?

30. How do you explain the empty tomb of Jesus in light of all the evidence that has now proven essentially irrefutable for twenty centuries?

Literally all the evidence comes from the bible, and it is contradictory. Also, the first mention of any resurrection was added by someone else later on. So your evidence is not incontrovertible.

31. If Jesus did not actually die and rise from the dead, how could He (in His condition) have circumvented all of the security measures in place at His tomb?

This question is like asking "if the Tick didn't stop Chairface from carving his whole name in the moon, why are the letters C, H and part of A carved in the moon, but nothing else?" The only evidence of any of that happening is in an old comic book series and an old animated TV show (it never happened in the live action show). Likewise, your only evidence this event happened comes from the bible. Our objection comes from this fact, and now you're using another part of the bible to support your claim? This shows a clear lack of understanding the objections to the story.

32. If the authorities stole Jesus' body, why? Why would they have perpetrated the very scenario that they most wanted to prevent?

See above.

33. If Jesus merely resuscitated in the tomb, how did He deal with the Roman guard posted just outside its entrance?

See 31.

34. How can one realistically discount the testimony of over 500 witnesses to a living Jesus following His crucifixion (see 1 Corinthians 15:6)?

That's like saying "if Spider-Man isn't real why did so many people see him saving that train from flying off the tracks?" Those 500 people were part of the same book we don't trust! Give us some reason to believe this part of the story happened.
I could also say "the same way I explain the thousands of yearly reports of UFO/Sasquatch/Yeti/Loch Ness Monster/Bunyip/Mokele Mbembe/Elvis/etc. sightings" if I so desired.

35. If all of Jesus' claims to be God were the result of His own self-delusion, why didn't He evidence lunacy in any other areas of His life?

How do you know he didn't? The biblical narrative covers his birth, a story or two about his youth (before the age he’d have his bar mitzvah), and a few stories from his early thirties. Most of his life is a mystery to us. But even so, cursing a fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season is slightly mad, wouldn't you agree?

36. If God is unchanging, wouldn't it be true that one who changes by suddenly “realizing” that he/she is “God” therefore isn't God?

That is a good question. Didn't Jesus suddenly realize he was god? Does that not mean he actually isn't god?

37. Is your unbelief in a perfect God possibly the result of a bad experience with an imperfect Church or a misunderstanding of the facts, and therefore an unfair rejection of God Himself?

Some have interpreted the story of my leaving Christianity as the result of bad experiences with the church, but I assure you, my bad experiences pushed me towards god, not away (I think I explicitly stated that in the linked blog post. For the second part, that is possible, but the facts as presented by believers don't make much sense.
My counter question here is this: how do you know that your belief isn't based on a faulty understanding of the facts?

38. How did 35-40 men, spanning 1500 years and living on three separate continents, ever manage to author one unified message, i.e. the Bible?

As clearly evidenced by the many textual contradictions in the bible and the various interpretations of the text, they didn't. Also...3 continents? I'm pretty sure most of those books were written in the lands currently known as Israel, Palestine and Iraq, with a little bit possibly being written in Greece. Sure, Egypt was a location used, but it’s not known if any of it was written in Egypt. If there's an African location that any of the bible was written in, please let me know.

39. Would you charge the Declaration of Independence with error in affirming that "all men are endowed by their Creator..."?

I'm not American, so I don't care about your declaration of independence, but this is a particularly bad attempt at an emotional manipulation that's aimed at Americans. Given the amount of reverence that that most Americans seem to give that document, this is close to saying "do you think your grandma's an idiot because she's christian?" with a hint of "atheists are Un-American" which is pretty low if you ask me.
Regardless, it obviously didn't work on your own founding fathers. A good lot of them were skeptical deists, including Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and both John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams. Deists don't think god did anything after he created everything, so clearly they wouldn't think that he made everyone equal. And given the Treaty of Tripoli, well, I'm pretty sure this "creator" wasn't meant to be your god at all. Also, they sort of kept slaves, didn't let women vote and didn't let poor people vote, so they didn't all support the other half of that sentiment.

40. Because life origins are not observable, verifiable, or falsifiable, how does historical 'science' amount to anything more than just another faith system?

Since we can and have tested the origins of life (see question 17), your question is based on a false premise.

41. What do you make of all the anthropological studies indicating that even the most remote tribes show some sort of theological awareness?

It means that we are a curious species, that we like the idea of an afterlife, that we hate feeling helpless, that we like having someone to blame for bad things without an apparent human or animal perpetrator (a demon, an evil god, or perhaps punishment from a good god) and, most importantly, if there is any sort of deity or deities, they don't care about us. Think about it: the various creation myths range from gods speaking things into existence to having them craft things by hand to us living on a deity's carcass to us living on a pile of god vomit. The various moral codes of various religions have outlawed consumption of various foodstuffs that other religions are OK with (or even count as sacred) and have mandated things such a human sacrifice and genocide, while others have mandated against that.
So, my counter question here is why would a god that wants us to know him only reveal himself to one small desert tribe, and not to everyone?

42. Why subscribe to the incredible odds that the tilt and position of our planet relative to the sun are merely coincidental?

You're getting it backwards. Life adapts to its environment. Of our current collection of species on this planet, most would not be able to survive if the earth was a few thousand km more away from the sun, or a few thousand closer, but the rest would adapt, just like we adapted to the current way the earth is in relation to the rest of the solar system.

43. If every effect has a cause, and if God Himself is the universe (i.e. is one with the universe, as some non-Christians suggest), what or who then caused the universe?

Interesting question. I personally think the universe has always existed in some form or other, but I'm open to other ideas. However, the core of this question is the Kalam Cosmological Argument For God, whose fatal flaw is the fact that something has to have created any hypothetical god. You may wonder why I think that "the universe always has existed" is more logical than "god has always existed" and the simple answer is this: we know the universe exists, it's blatantly obvious; you had to invent this concept of "faith" to believe that a god exists.

44. What would be required to persuade you to become a believer?

First, I have to be with a fairly large group of people, none of whom are prone to hallucinations or on any mind-altering substances. We can't be in an area where fumes or something else may cause some sort of hallucination. At least one of them has to be an amputee, or someone else suffering an incurable and visible malady of some sort. One must also be a scientist if some sort. A video camera must be present and recording. This god must appear in front of us and we'd all have to see the same thing, which we'd verify later via the camera. He/she must claim to be god, must heal all the amputees or otherwise afflicted people, then tell the scientist some fact relevant to their field that hasn't yet been discovered, but when tested will be found to be completely accurate and Nobel-worthy. Furthermore, this being must be able to tell each of us one thing about ourselves that no one else could possibly know, and it must produce something that has never existed before from thin air, like kryptonite or something, that when tested won't be found to be a manufactured item. This would be a fairly compelling experience that, due to the evidence that would be left, I couldn't dismiss as an hallucination.
If your god can do that, then I'd believe.
Or, you know, if you came up with a compelling argument for your god that doesn't demand faith to believe it. That might work too.

At the end, the author pastes a popular e-mail forward from the dawn of the Internet where a university philosophy professor claims there is no god because we can't sense him, and a student uses this to prove the prof has no brain. I minored in philosophy and I can tell you, no serious professor would use that line of argument. They may say there's no compelling argument for any god, but never "we can't see him!" That argument is good enough for high school, not university.
Even so, the proper reply to the student's argument would be "if you took an MRI of the professor's skull, you'd find a brain, [bonus points if he had had such a procedure done] however, no such test can show us that any god exists." He could also say "no human can live without a brain, and the professor lives, therefore he has a brain. We still can't see god and there's nothing that depends on his existence, so he doesn't exist." The student who uses that argument with any degree of seriousness would get a well deserved F in any philosophy class.

Anyway, here are my counter-questions for this author and any other christian, gleaned from these questions. If you aren’t the author, only answer the ones that apply to you.

1. Explain how you can reconcile the First Law of Thermodynamics with the Genesis account, or with creation in general?

2. Why and how has the Talmud survived and even flourished in spite of centuries of worldwide attempts to destroy and ban its message?

3. If God is unchanging, and it’s true that one who changes by suddenly “realizing” that he/she is “God” therefore isn't God, how do you think Jesus is god?


4. Why would a god who wants to know us only reveal himself to one small desert tribe, and no one else?


5. Some questions you’ve asked, like number 13, and the unnumbered question stating that the bible is the #1 best selling book every, shows an appalling level of ignorance. Why do you not know your religion more well?

Read more!

Answering Christian Answers Part 2

This is part 2 of a short series that was broken up for easier readability. Part 1 is here. Click the "Read More" link to see the whole post.

12. Explain how personality could have ever evolved from the impersonal, or how order could have ever resulted from chaos.

Personality comes from our brains and hormones, both of which are strongly linked to DNA. As soon as complex lifeforms emerged, personality came forth. Anyone who's worked with animals would tell you that they have "personalities" as well.
For the second half of that question, you're assuming that there is "order" right now. If anything, order ended the moment life emerged. Planets, stars, etc. behave in predictable, completely orderly manners. Living things are unpredictable. A dog may play with the squeaky toy or may be afraid of it. A monkey may run from another creature, approach cautiously, fling poo at it, or any number of other possibilities. Inorganic things don't really do anything, & if they do, it's due to a completely predictable force like gravity. In other words, chaos came from life, not order.
A good counter-question is if either chaos or order is inherently good. I'd say neither is. After all, the most ordered of societies are dictatorships, and the most chaotic are anarchistic. Neither of those is a desirable outcome.

13.If Jesus' resurrection was faked, why would twelve intelligent men (Jesus' disciples) have died for what they knew to be a lie?

Did they now? Firstly, we have conflicting lists of the 12 disciples, secondly, not all were martyrs. Judas either hung himself or exploded, and Levi, Thaddeus, John brother of James and Simon the Zealot all died in their sleep. (Note that my source is actually a christian website) So that's five out of twelve, or almost half who can't have died for a lie. That said, the earliest textual support for the resurrection was added to the end of Mark
(oldest of the gospels) long after the book was written, and the teachings of Jesus alone were heretical enough for execution under Mosaic law. So presumably, they didn't even believe in the resurrection and got executed for heresy.

14. How do you explain the fact that a single, relatively uneducated and virtually untraveled man, dead at age 33, radically changed lives and society to this day?

He didn't. If it wasn't for a rather powerful man named Constantine (the last of the "great" emperors of Rome) christianity would have likely ended up like all other messianic cults of that era. Even so, most of the world isn't christian and most of the christian part disagrees wildly on what Jesus actually said, so to say that he radically changed lives and society is inaccurate.
15. Why have so many of history's greatest thinkers been believers? Have you ever wondered why thousands of intelligent scientists, living and dead, have been men and women of great faith?
Up until recently, there was no good explanation for the origin of the universe aside from some sort of god. That didn't stop great thinkers like David Hume, Epicurus and Siddharta (Buddha) from being atheist or agnostic. That said, after the theory of evolution and the big bang theory, most of the great thinkers have been nonbelievers. Marie Curie (first female Nobel Prize winner), Mark Twain, Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein (who was rather angry that people took his quotes out of context to make him look religious), Stephen Jay Gould, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Ayn Rand (whose philosophy I fond deplorable, but she was influential), Karl Marx, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Carl Sagan, Neil Degrasse-Tyson and many more.
What great and influential scientists or philosophers of the last hundred to hundred-fifty years have been theists? Dr. Francis Collins (who accepts evolution) is one, Dr. Kenneth Miller might qualify as great...and that's all I can think of.

None of that means atheism is true, however, any more than the opposite would mean theism is true.

16. Isn't it somewhat arrogant to suggest that countless churches and people (including men like Abraham Lincoln) are all radically in error in their view of the Bible?

It's odd that you cite Abraham Lincoln as a christian, given that he never formally joined any church and attended at least one seance in the White House. That said...there are 7 billion people in the world. 1 billion have no religion, 2 billion are christian in some way or other. 5 billion people agree with atheists that the bible is NOT the word of god. So, if I'm arrogant for calling 2 billion people wrong, you are more than twice as arrogant to call 5 billion wrong.
But we can cut that further. Of those 2 billion christians, 1 billion are Roman Catholic. 300 or so million are Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox, the rest are Protestant. The Orthodox bible has more books than the Catholic bible, which has more than the Protestant bible. Are you so arrogant to call so many people who claim to be christian "wrong"? After all, at least 2 of these main branches of christianity have to be wrong.
The fact is, if you have good reason to believe something and can back it up, you aren't being arrogant when you call people who disagree "wrong".

17. How do you account for the origin of life considering the irreducible complexity of its essential components?

Dr. Kenneth Miller (a Catholic) already disproved irreducible complexity. Urey and Miller (another one, not Kenneth) proved abiogenesis, something the University of Manchester later confirmed. So that's how.

18. How can the Second Law of Thermodynamics be reconciled with progressive, naturalistic evolutionary theory?

The Second Law of Thermodynamics doesn't contradict evolution. It only applies to closed systems, which arguably don't exist. Our planet is not a closed system, we get energy from outside sources, like our sun.
A good counter question for you is how you can reconcile christianity with the First Law of Thermodynamics which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, merely altered. That seems to fly in the face of creation in general.

19. Why does the Bible alone, of all of the world's 'holy' books, contain such detailed prophecies of future events?

It most certainly isn't the only holy book with detailed prophecies. One need only look at the Qur'an to dispel that notion.

20. On what basis can the Bible (interpreted as per historic Christian orthodoxy) be challenged as a sole, final truth-standard (Galatians 1:8)?

See, that's a loaded question. If we interpret the bible according to christian orthodoxy, meaning that it's the true inspired word of god, then OF COURSE we can't dispute it! That's why we don't do that. I mean, if you were asked the same question about the Qur'an you'd balk too.

21. Is it absolutely true that "truth is not absolute" or only relatively true that "all things are relative?"

Clever. No. Truth is absolute, our understanding of it is incomplete. If we're speaking about morality, then there's a necessary grey area, however, it's still generally universal and absolute. Some atheists disagree with me, fine. Morality is what keeps society, and humanity as a whole, healthy, functioning and alive

22. Is it possible that your unbelief in God is actually an unwillingness to submit to Him?

No.

23. Does your present worldview provide you with an adequate sense of meaning and purpose?

I give myself purpose. I have a worldview, I don't need it to find a purpose.

24. How do you explain the radically changed lives of so many Christian believers down through history?

Radically changed lives? For better or worse? Either way, every religion and several philosophies can change the lives of new followers, sometimes radically. I've known Muslim converts who used the power of Islam to get off drugs, new Objectivists who turned into unbearably selfish people nearly overnight (completely in line with that philosophy), and newly deconverted atheists who essentially gained a new lease on life. None of this proves anything aside from "making a change in your life can change your life" which is a borderline tautology.

25. Are you aware that every alleged Bible contradiction has been answered in an intelligible and credible manner?

That's just not true. The aforementioned different lists of disciples is handled by arbitrarily saying that some went by other names at different times. Another great one is the death of Judas. Did he hang himself, as Matthew 27:3-10 say, or is Acts 1:18-19 true when it says Judas ran and fell headlong, then exploded? The standard explanation is that he hung himself then fell headlong when the rope snapped, and his guts fell out then. However, that's impossible. A hanging victim whose rope broke would fall straight down, the knees would bend, and they'd almost certainly fall to one side. It's very remotely possible he'd fall headlong, but the other factor is this: why were there guts left? Rope doesn't erode quickly, and by the time he'd be bloated enough to burst upon falling, scavenger birds would have probably pecked him fairly clean.
And that's two just off the top of my head.

26. What do you say about the hundreds of scholarly books that carefully document the veracity and reliability of the Bible?

There are close to as many trying to prove the Qur'an, and I'd say the same to them as I'd say to your bible scholar books: they're wrong.

27. Why and how has the Bible survived and even flourished in spite of centuries of worldwide attempts to destroy and ban its message?

There hasn't been all that much effort to truly destroy the bible. Yes, there was a point prior to Constantine that the Romans tried to end christianity, but that was short-lived, and followed by having Christianity become the state religion of the most powerful empire of its time. Yes, there was some effort in the USSR to end your religion, at least before Stalin re-opened the churches, and there was a time when communist China did the same, before sponsoring their own christian church. Neither of those were “worldwide” however, and both were fairly short lived. While there still are some countries where openly practicing christianity is illegal, and where converting from Islam to christianity is a capital offence, it's not illegal to simply be a christian or own a bible anywhere now, and hasn't been for some time. However, even if there was worldwide persecution of christians on the scale you claim, it'd be the resilience of the believers and their craftiness in hiding their books that would preserve it.
I'll pose another counter question: the Talmud, a rabbinical book that is almost as important to Jews as the Tanakh (the old testament plus a few other books) actually HAS had the type of prolonged persecution and censorship you claim the bible has, yet it endured. Why? I'd bet your answer is similar to mine: resiliency and craftiness, but I am still interested as to why this isn't proof of Judaism.

28. Why isn't it absurd to try to speak or even conceive of a non-existent 'God' when an existing God would, by definition, be greater?

That is the single most incomprehensible question I've ever read. I'm not trying to be rude or sarcastic, I literally cannot figure out what is being asked here. As such, I'll ask for clarification and move on.

Continue on to part 3!
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Monday, November 28, 2011

Answering Christian Answers part 1

My brother in humanity and atheism, @DevoutApostate, tweeted a huge article full of questions for us atheists. It’s titled “44 Questions For The Not-Yet-A-Believer” despite the url, which is strange given that there are more than 44 questions here, and most of us aren’t “not-yet-a-believer(s)” but “former believer(s)”. Regardless, I saw this as a challenge. I have decided to answer all these questions as fully and comprehensively as necessary, and in as professional and friendly a manner. After all, while I disagree when the writer says that it takes more faith to be an atheist, I do agree that it’s only fair that we answer questions the religious ask us. Now, some of the questions are clearly loaded, but since I don’t think that was totally intentional, I’ll answer them honestly while pointing out that it’s loaded. Also, I’m going to break this up into multiple posts, since otherwise this would be at least as long as my last post. They’ll all be under the tag “Answering Christian Answers”. I’m also going to issue my own counter questions, though nowhere near 44.
Oh, before I get going, Devout Apostate did answer these questions here. He brought up a few points I didn’t, so do check him out, eh? And his other articles too.
Click the read more link to read more.

1. How do you explain the high degree of design and order in the universe?

Simple put, there isn’t any, as I explain here.

2. How do you account for the vast archaeological documentation of Biblical stories, places, and people?

When Dostoevsky wrote Crime and Punishment, he claimed that he mapped the city of St. Petersburg out so well that one could literally follow in Raskolnikov’s footsteps throughout the book and find everything he observed on the way. Assuming it’s not been burned or demolished and nothing’s been built over it, we may well be able to find the building where Raskolnikov killed Alyona Ivanovna and her sister, Lizaveta, the tavern where he met Sonia, or the tiny apartment Raskolnikov lived in centuries from now. Furthermore, the novel references and is affected by real life events, such as a massive heat wave that hit St. Petersburg during the time the novel’s set.
Does any of that mean that Crime and Punishment is true? No, it just means that it recorded some aspects of history correctly. It’s important to look at the parallels between the bible and this Russian classic. For example, Raskolnikov, Petrovich, Svidrigailov, Marmeladov, Sonia, and almost all other characters in the book didn’t exist, and thus the actions in them didn’t happen. We can actually look through St. Petersburg’s records and find that there’s no mention of a Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov committing double homicide of a female pawnbroker and her sister in St Petersburg in the early 1860s. Likewise, the Egyptians took good care of their records and, well, there weren’t any Hebrew slaves. Oh, sure, there were slaves who built the pyramids, but none who were Hebrew. That’s simply one example of a clear failure of the bible’s historical record.
So basically, the bible has some historical truth, like Crime and Punishment does. However, it’s not a complete history by a long shot.

3. Since absolutely no Bible prophecy has ever failed (and there are hundreds), how can one realistically remain unconvinced that the Bible is of Divine origin?

Firstly, yes, some bible prophecies simply have failed. YouTuber ProfMTH has documented some of the more important ones here, and has cited his argument very, very well.
Secondly, most prophecies are so vague that anything can fulfill them, essentially, biblical prophecies included.
Thirdly, the new testament writers had at least some access to the old testament. They could have easily written Jesus’ life story in such a way that it fit better with a supposed group of prophecies to solidify his claim to Messiah-hood.
Fourthly, uh, the entire book of Revelation is a series of prophecies that haven’t come to pass.
Fifthly, well, if it was true all biblical prophecies, including the new testament ones, came to pass, why haven’t the Jews all converted?
So, that’s why I can realistically remain unconvinced that the bible is of divine origin.

This is the first of many unnumbered questions. I won’t answer all of them, but some deserve an answer. This is one of them.

Explain David's graphic portrayal of Jesus' death by crucifixion (Psalm 22) 1000 years previous to crucifixion being established as a form of capital punishment?

Firstly, the best dateline of David’s life has him dying around 970 BCE, while crucifixion was a very popular form of execution circa 600 BCE, though it possibly began before then. So, at best, there’s just under 300 years difference. Secondly, the verse in Psalm 22 that suggests crucifixion is verse 16. The oldest versions of this text says they maul, dig at or gouge the speakers’ hands and feet like a lion meaning that, well, this is another example of one of your prophecies failing. That one, amongst others including the others you listed between questions 3 and 4, is covered in the video series I linked. I implore you to watch it all. It’s roughly 40 minutes long with an additional 9 minute reply to an attempted rebuttal of his first video, and it’s too important to miss.

4. How can anyone doubt the reliability of Scripture considering the number and proximity to originals of its many copied manuscripts?

The number of manuscripts means nothing but that they were multitudinous at one point, and well preserved, though there really aren't that many copies left and no original manuscripts. Proximity? Sort of. Nothing was actually written within Jesus’ lifetime, and the closest we have is roughly 20-30 years after Jesus’ death, and those are Epistles and not the more important Gospels. Those shouldn’t be given much credence given the timeframe and recording capabilities of the time. They only had their memories, and human memories are notoriously unreliable, especially a generation or more removed.

5. Are you able to live consistently with your present worldview?

Yes.

6. Wouldn't it make better sense, even pragmatically, to live as though the God of the Bible does exist than as though He doesn't?

No. I’m guessing what your implication there is that we can’t really have a decent moral compass without some sort of religion (specifically, yours) but I can and do follow a very strict moral code without any religion. It’s a moral code based on my own conscience, and logical reasoning regarding what is best for society. And frankly, since my moral code allows for accepting people unconditionally if they don’t do anything to hurt others, it means I’m fine with people of different belief systems, as well as LGBT people…meaning I’m actually easier to get along with than most christians. Pragmatically, it makes sense to live as I do, which doesn’t harm anyone and in fact helps many people. When I was a christian, I judged as most christians do, and I know for a fact my words and actions, which I thought were helping people see the light, actually hurt people very deeply. So no, it makes no sense to live as though your god is real.

7. In what sense was Jesus a 'Good Man' if He was lying in His claim to be God?

Firstly, we don’t know what he really said about anything for certain. It’s quite possible he never said that, despite what’s written. In fact, in Mark 10:18, Jesus asks a man why he calls him “good,” stating “no one is good-except god alone.” That seems to suggest Jesus wasn’t really god…but even so, plenty of good people have done horrible things. Within your own bible, you have Moses the murderer and David the adultering murderer who might have been gay. But even in more modern times, our saints have skeletons in their closets. Abraham Lincoln wanted to forcibly ship all black people back to Africa, Martin Luther King Jr. cheated on his wife and plagiarized a part of his doctoral thesis, Gandhi was a raging racist against black people (at least at first), Winston Churchill was a drunk and a bit of a warmonger…I could go on. None of that truly diminishes the fact that these flawed men were good people. So yeah, Jesus could have lied about his claims to godhood and still have been a good person.

8. Do you think that Jesus was misguided in affirming the truthfulness of Scripture, i.e. John 10:35, Matthew 24, Luke 24:44?

Sort of. “Misguided” isn’t the right word, really. He lived in a more primitive time, so he didn’t know what we now know about the world. He presumably held many of the false beliefs at the time, like geocentrism, that were entrenched in the bible but that science in his region hadn’t been able to challenge. I guess he’d be misguided now, but in the context of his time, he’s just wrong.

9. If the Bible is not true, why is it so universally regarded as the 'Good Book'?

It isn’t. In fact, almost no non-christian would call it that with any amount of seriousness, unless they were afraid of repercussions for slighting the bible in some way.

Here are 2 more unnumbered questions, answered at once!

Are you aware that the Old Testament alone claims to be God's inspired word at least 2600 times?
Did you know that the Bible has been the number one best-seller every year since the 1436 invention of the Gutenberg printing press?

For the first: So what? That doesn’t make it true.
For the second: Not quite. While there’s a probability that, due to its longevity, it’s the best selling book ever (or at least close) it certainly hasn’t been the #1 best seller in recent years. In fact, as wikipedia puts it, “Religious books, especially the Bible and the Qur’an, are probably the most-printed books, but it is nearly impossible to find reliable sales figures for them. Print figures are missing or unreliable since these books are produced by many different and unrelated publishers. Furthermore, many copies of the Bible and the Qur'an are printed and given away free, instead of being sold. The same goes for some political books, such as the works of Mao Zedong or Adolf Hitler. Thus it is impossible to determine either the number printed, or the proportion of those printed that are sold.”But even if it is the best selling book ever, it only means it’s popular, not that it’s true.

10. From whence comes humanity's universal moral sense?

Evolution. Being in a group is beneficial for survival, thus the species more prone to gathering in groups (social animals) flourished. Rules are needed to keep the groups functioning. We see a basic set of rules and morality in all social animal species. Ours has developed more due to our more complex and powerful brains, but essentially, every rule we’ve ever come up with supports, maintains and strengthens social cohesion. Thankfully, our “group” is becoming the whole of humanity, and thus it’s even become immoral to harm people of other “tribes” without just cause.

11. If man is nothing but the random arrangement of molecules, what motivates you to care and to live honorably in the world?

I am one of those arrangements of molecules. I depend on the other random arrangements of molecules for my well-being, and they depend on me. So, if we all care and act honourably, and all of us flourish. The fact is, stating it the way you do tries to diminish our humanity, which is actually a wonderful and beautiful thing. I honestly don’t know why you’d do that.

Part 2 is here.
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Thursday, November 24, 2011

My journey to atheism...

I wrote this a few years back on www.rationalresponders.com, and I figured you'd be interested. I'd like to add that I'm not really a Jesus Mythicist anymore. I don't think Jesus was a mythical person, however, the Biblical Jesus was clearly a mythical being based on a real preacher. If you want to get to know me better read the whole (long) thing. If not, well...it's up to you. Click the "read more" link to read more.

I was raised in a fairly secular home, though my mother, raised a Catholic (but she fell away from the church because of the Latin masses and the "Mary worship"), would pray with me every night before I slept. I never understood it, though. My first church service was a funeral for my maternal grandmother. All I remember of it was me, as a kid, screaming "open that box, my grandma's in there!" but mom recalls me speaking "like a chipmunk" for about a year afterwards. [likely due to stress] One thing you should know is that rejection and racism occur often in my life, especially early on. My mother's family, outside of her mother, opposed the marriage of their Connie to my half native American father (we thought her adopted brother, Kent, accepted the union as well, but it turned out he was trying to break them up by causing fights between them and sowing seeds of distrust when alone with one of them). The reason was purely racist, didn't want to dilute the bloodline with us damn mixed breeds. As a kid in preschool, I was rejected by other kids, mostly due to my attitude. I was a bit of a jerk, to say the least, which I believe is behaviour I took from my father, an emotional mess and a bit of an abusive person, emotionally. Occasionally physically too. And I'd of course abuse my poor little mentally handicapped brother in turn.

When I began kindergarten, my first (and only) friend was a well-to-do Christian kid named Danny who lived down the block. This was the first time I felt accepted and appreciated by someone other than my mother, so the association between Christianity and Acceptance was forming, and becoming strong. We watched a lot of his Christian videos like Gospel Bill, McGee and Me and Hanna Barbera's bible tales show where three kids went into Bible times...the name escapes me. He also took me to church once, but I came back obsessed with blood. That night when Mom ran my bath I said "No, mommy, not water, blood! I have to be bathed in the blood of the lamb!" or some such, and mom thought it unhealthy (it was!) Plus, Danny's mom did something that took colossal cojones. When preparing a guest sermon on Remembrance Day (November 11, I think Americans have a corresponding holiday) she called dad and asked him, since he was a Vietnam Veteran, a few questions about the experience of war. One of them was "what's it like to kill people?" I wasn't told WHY I wasn't allowed to see Danny after that, but I found out about 10 years later when Dad had accepted that Danny was a cool guy, but his mom wasn't. The religion stayed with me, sort of. I even had a prophetic dream that year, where I "predicted" my sister's birth, 6 weeks before mom knew she was pregnant. Jesus led me through a gingerbread house with assembly lines of angels manufacturing babies, and at the end gave me a beautiful little sister named Cyndal. Of course in the dream she was taller than she is now, much more sweet and kind, and has long blonde hair. The fact she was BORN with blonde hair seemed to confirm the prophecy, the fact it fell out soon afterwards due to Alopecia didn't deter me at all, I prophesied something.

I didn't have any other experience with religion at all up until the age of about 8, when dad was re-united with his foster mother (one of about 30 foster homes he'd been in was a Salvation Army minister's house, and it was the only one that treated him well. Ironically, when he was sexually abused by a clergyman a year or two after leaving that house, it was a Salvation Army minister.) He'd been taken away after her first husband died, due to a law barring single mothers from having foster kids, and hadn't seen her since the 1960s. I started going to Sunday school, and church, the former of which was fun, the latter of which was boring. I was picked up every Sunday, rode in the old Salvation Army van, and had fun learning about Jesus. I was not serious, though. Meanwhile, kids at school constantly picked on me partly for nerdiness, partly for being a bit darker, and mom urged me to start participating in sports, because I was too "bookish". Well, OK, because she and dad thought I was gay. So of course, with the racism and bullying, I was totally into anything that would make me stronger and more tough. At age 10 I hit puberty, and things really turned around as I was now bigger, more developed muscularly, physically fit, and in karate and boxing. So I started kicking a lot of arses, became a schoolyard bully, while still having my Sunday fun. Juniour Soldiers (mid week Sunday school for pre-teens) started in the middle of the week, and I joined. I was the "rebel" kid there, and thought I was the shit. They actually gave me Jr. Soldier of the year once, which was awesome.
This kept up for a year or so, until Grade 7, when a kid from Vancouver named Skylar moved here. I befriended him at first, but we had a falling out. Long story short, it was the first ever attempted murder on a primary school playground in British Columbia, probably first one in Canada. He brought a hunting knife to school (his reasoning being that I once said I'd kill him, which I probably did, but in no way meant it) and we had our daily word-war. That time it turned into a fight between me, Skylar and his one friend, Mark. Teacher broke us up, made us wait outside the Principal's office (actually outside the school, next to the flagpole) and Skylar spit on me a few times. I spit back, he said "I don't care how much trouble I get into for this" brandished the knife, and I jumped back while Mark held him back and talked sense into the 13 year old who was about to kill someone over a soiled jacket. They walked away, I told the teachers what happened, Skylar got suspended for several months (though not expelled until a little later). The fear of death was in me, I accepted Jesus for serious, and actually started caring about religion.

I got "saved" at church, and mom saw the new devotion to Christianity. Knowing that another kid from my school, named Steve, would be going to an A.C.E. (Accelerated Christian Education) private school named Praise Fellowship next year, she signed me up to protect me. Of course, I was in no danger as a restraining order prevented Skylar from attending the same school as me, but mothers are rather overprotective. Praise Fellowship was a very odd time in my life.

Despite having lower numbers, Praise Fellowship actually had a better ratio of non-white to white students (including me, 7 out of the 39 students were something other than white, compared to about 5 of 300+ in my other school). In the previous school I'd attended, Highlands Elementary, I'd experienced racism in minor forms (a few racial slurs here or there, one kid not being allowed to play with me because I was a "stupid indian" but nothing more), in Praise, I'd encounter my first White Supremacist, and my first taste of class warfare. He was a rich kid whose father was donating a lot to the school, so the administrators turned a blind eye to his jackassery. When he assaulted me in gym class, severely bruising my thigh and breaking a hockey stick...nothing. Didn't even have to replace the stick (his dad was paying enough to more than cover it). When he wrote an alternate version of the Book of Revelation, where the Angels of the Lord came down to wipe out the native Americans and grind their children into dogfood (in reference to a horrendous act of brutality the Americans committed against a tribe in the Appalachians) and force their parents to eat it "like the dogs they are", he was made to apologize to me personally. After the apology, when he showed me the pictures he drew of the events depicted in his alternate Revelation....nothing. When he physically assaulted one of the other native kids, nephew of the local chief, member of the only influential native family at the time, immediate expulsion. I was kind of sad I wasn't there that day.

Despite the racism and classism I experienced in Praise, I went radically conservative Christian, in accordance with their beliefs. I hated Communists and Evolutionists (VERY ironic, considering that I'm now a socialist and a believer in evolution), felt passionate about Santa Claus trying to take over Christmas, knew all the words to the Canadian Pledge of Allegiance (which they said was banned in public schools here in the 60s, but in reality was never in public schools in Canada...it was a direct plagiarism of the American pledge of allegiance, with "Canada" instead of "United States of America") hated gays, hated the British (because of what I found out they did to the Mohawks...conversely, dad loved the British for how nice they were to us, and hated the French for what they did to the Mohawks, though I didn't mind what the French did as their persecution of us was less severe, and the British were pretty nasty to them here too), hated catholics and atheists and abortionists and people who had pre-marital sex as well as people who didn't put stock in the KJV (yes, it was a KJV only church). While opposing racism, I was becoming a bigot myself. This is around the time the Aryan Nations moved into my area (the bully who got expelled for hitting the rich native kid went and joined them).

The family couldn't afford to keep me in Praise, which was OK by me, I had my faith and was growing displeased with the administration for their complete jackassery. I went to the public school system again next year, was behind a bit because unlike most private schools, Praise was a lower standard than the public schools. Luckily, Skylar had mellowed out a lot so I didn't need to renew the restraining order, and I hooked up with a bible study. I also went to a Foursquare youth group called Hiz House, led by a black guy from the U.S.A. named Ron P (the very first night I was accepted like a brother. One of the leaders said to me that night, "in the body of Christ we're all a different part, and I feel like you're a leg, someone we can lean on. I think that if you didn't show up next week, we'd notice your absence," which for a kid who had almost no friends was the best type of message he could get.) I was going to Corps. Cadets (Jr. Soldiers for teenagers) on Wednesdays, Hiz House on Fridays, Hiz House leadership meetings on Saturday afternoons (seriously, this youth group of 170 made me one of their leaders a month after joining, partly because of my intense dedication and partly because Danny was one of the other leaders) bible study during lunch hours on Mondays, church on Sunday, putting on a service for the senior citizens home with the other corps cadets Sunday nights. Then a guy named Ron S from the Salvation Army wanted to start a weekend youth group for Saturday nights, and wanted me to help in leading it, as I had already decided to be a youth pastor at age 14. This Salvation Army Youth Group turned into a Youth Drop In Centre every night outside of Sunday, and I was there every night except Friday, barring homework. Church, and god, had become my entire life. At the age of 15, it suffered some setbacks, as both Ron P and Ron S had to leave their positions (P, married with 2 kids, had a "mutual crush" with a 15 year old girl, which apparently never amounted to anything more, but he was run out of town; S was caught stealing money from the Sally Ann). Hiz House continued under a different name with different leadership, but it went from 170 to 100 to 70 to 50 to 30, and the Salvation Army Youth Group and Youth Drop In Centre were closed down. I filled the void with Nights Alive and Young Life, but it wasn't the same, I didn't feel as accepted. So, of course, I doubted. It didn't last long after some intense prayer and a Franklin Graham revival tour, but I did doubt.

When I made it to High School, I started going to the Christian Centre youth group with Danny, Adam, and a bunch of other friends who were of varying degrees of faith, and kept up the Foursquare and Nights Alive and Young Life and Corps. Cadets. but in my grade 12 year, I moved out of Cranbrook, to Kimberley, so I had to leave all of those behind. I was quite sad, I figured I had lifelong friends at long last (though in fact only Adam is still a friend) and was thrown into a place where no one liked me (Kimberley's a racist hick town and they hate Cranbrook kids more than they hate minorities). I found, however, the closest knit church and youth group ever (there was a co-op between the Pentecostal and Presbyterian church) and I was in heaven. Friends, Jesus, and all that jazz. I kept going to it, and switching between the two churches, all throughout my first 2 years of college. However, in college, I met some intelligent atheists, and actually studied philosophy, so I actually analyzed my faith, and found many, many questions. Where did Cain's wife come from? Why is it that "God always existed" is a fine argument, but "matter and energy always existed" is not? How could Moses have written the Law when he DIED in the second book? If Jesus performed all those miracles, isn't it logical that everyone would have followed him? Why does a loving god still punish us for sins Adam and Eve did, and why was acquiring knowledge a sin at all? Some had adequate answers, most did not. After a year, I'd also come to the conclusion I'd never date Jen from the now-solely Presbyterian youth group. She said she'd never date a non-christian, and overlooked a perfectly good christian (me) for....a non-christian. By this time I was also mellowing out a lot on my hate, watching it dissolve, and in fact, becoming a liberal via Student Government and activism, and education (the more educated I got, the more liberal I got in my faith and in my politics. I convinced myself Jesus would do the same, and were he real, I bet he would). My political awakening opened my eyes to a lot of wrongs the church did, furthering my questioning and causing more doubt. And of course, getting a bit more in touch with my native American roots hurt my faith, as I saw all the systemic abuse the church put us through. But then I met Taylor.

I met her in 2001 online, and fell in love quickly. She helped me strengthen my faith a lot. Through thick and thin, we stayed together. Even when I had premarital sex (with someone else, after e-dating her for a while), she kept with me. Even when she, a staunch conservative, found out I was a lefty, we were close. I transferred to a christian liberal arts school in Edmonton (King's College University), and she followed. The school both strengthened my faith and weakened it (being around christians helped, but Tay turned out to be a complete nutjob, and no one could answer my questions satisfactorily, except one guy who thought demons were after him because he turned down the job of being the Antichrist. Oh, he and Tay are now married and expecting a baby. Funny how life turns out.) My grades dropped because I stayed up until 5 every goddamned morning convincing her she was a good person and she shouldn't kill herself and blah blah. But we got engaged. She and her mother met my family, and her mother determined that my by now very christian (thanks in part to me) family was all going to hell for...some reason, don't know what. Her whole family hated me because I was a liberal, and liberals must be evil. But she still loved me, and I loved her. I had another prophetic dream, where we got married and lived in the Philippines and ran a missionary hospital, and it turned out to be false, as you can probably guess by her getting married to the Antichrist. So I went totally depressed, and suicidal. I didn't do it, obviously.

But then I began thinking...Tay and her family are more godly than I in almost every way, and they said god didn't want us to be together, and I KNEW that god told me were were to be together forever, so why would god lie to one of us? I had my knee "healed" by a guy from Tay's church, and then I went to the Healing Rooms in Spokane, Washington, then
I had to get one more operation on the knee that god supposedly healed, so why didn't I get really healed? I started questioning everything, even more so than I ever had, and even questioned my questions. Was I trying to prove or disprove christianity, rather than find the truth? Were my questions really important, or red herrings? Were the answers I came up with right or wrong, was there a right or wrong answer? Then, a few months after my faith in the institution of the church crumbled completely, since it was man made, I discovered many, many similarities to other mythologies in the OT, and the NT as well. There other myths that shared details with biblical stories predated the bible by centuries, and were from the same area as Israel, so there's a high chance the Hebrews would have known about them. Borrowing from other mythologies was a common thing back in those days, but if these other myths were false and the bible is true, how does it make sense? It doesn't. it was the straw that broke the camel's back. If you want I can show you some of them. Since then I found a few other problems (gross scientific errors that even ancient Hebrews should have seen, evidence of massive amounts of forgery and interpolation, especially in the new testament, historical errors in the bible....but you know all of that).
Anyway, when I came out as an atheist to my friends, most of them, treated me quite horribly, which caused some bitterness. When I even hinted at having more faith in evolution or the big bang theory, and when it was discovered that I was reading the holy books of other religions, my family acted very poorly. Much like the crazy catholic mother, though I maintained the lie that I was christian. So, basically, christians in general made me angry, and I was very angry at myself for falling for a lie for so long. I'm over it, mostly. But I'm still critical of the religion. Seriously, its holy book is so very flawed...anyway, that's my history of belief, and why I left the religion. What I believe now? I basically believe that no religion is true. Each one has serious flaws. As such, none work for me. If there is a creator, it doesn't matter, since it never made itself known to us. That's my belief, in a nutshell. Thank you for your patience.
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review: Demon Knights issues 1-3

Most people in the nerd community, and everyone in the comic book fandom, heard about DC's "New Universe" (aka the New 52) long before it happened in September. I was cautiously optimistic. To me, DC has always been Marvel's goofier, stupider older cousin. While Batman is pretty awesome, all the rest of their main universe has almost always sucked, with a handful of exceptions (Swamp Thing and...well, that's about it). This was an opportunity to start fresh, bring in new readers, and revive the western comics industry. Same day digital comics was a huge positive. Another was the diversity they were injecting into the line. "Finally," I said, "something other than superheroes from one of the Big 2!" In addition to superhero comics, they were bringing in westerns, war comics, horror, and at least one sword & sorcery fantasy book, Demon Knights.

I'd heard much praise for Demon Knights, however, I wasn't sure how genuine it is. People regularly praise subpar shows and books just because there's nothing else like them and we want more shows/books of that genre. I call this the Walking Dead Effect. The first season of the Walking Dead was half good, at best, and the show hasn't turned around yet, but people want more zombie shows, so they watch and heap praise on this lackluster program. This made me skeptical of Demon Knights, the first ongoing fantasy series from either of the Big 2 since DC's failed revival of Warlord in 2005 (last one before that was in the early 90s). Regardless, I finally relented and bought the first three issues.

This series is, wisely, self contained. It centres around 7/8 warriors, though its real star is the demon Etrigan, who's permanently bonded to Jason Blood. My only previous experience with this character was in one memorable story during Alan Moore's run of Swamp Thing, but from what I can see he's much more of an anti-hero (almost a villain) here. The other 6 characters are Vandal Savage, Madame Xanadu, "Sir" Ystin the Shining Knight, and original characters Exoristos, the Horsewoman and al Jabr. I had no prior connection to any of the other pre-existing characters, so if they're radically different from their previous incarnation, I have no idea.

I have, however, found most of them engaging and interesting. Actual conflicts have been set up in believable, organic ways: Xanadu is playing both halves of Etrigan/Blood and telling both sides she prefers them, Exoristos resents her for this, al Jabr has cursed at Etrigan for his evilness, everyone sees that Shining Knight is pretending to be male and a few have caught on to her haughty attitude, and the Horsewoman is clearly not a team player. However, the team has been forced to work together by the Questing Queen's siege of the village they've all (separately) stopped in, and there are obvious bonds forming, in addition to the conflicts within the group. Note to writers: this is the way to build a team. Even though they will have conflict, there's enough positive chemistry, and a big enough threat, that it's believable [what's left of] the team will stick together after the siege of the village.

All of the individual characters are interesting (save the Horsewoman who we haven't spent much time with) but none are strong enough to carry their own series. This is a good thing. When a breakout character emerges, team books suffer as other characters are pushed aside. If there is a breakout character, however, it will be the boisterous but brilliant barbarian bruiser Vandal Savage. Personally, I prefer al Jabr, the inquisitive Arab inventor, but then again I'm just that kind of lamewad. I'm also happy with the villains. They're appropriately threatening, and since the focus has been on their army and "dragons" (tyrannosaurus rexes, pterosaurs and robotic t-rexes and pterosaurs) we've enough distance from the Questing Queen and her right-hand man to still have an air of mystery around them. What is she really after? We don't know yet, and at this point that keeps us hooked.

The art is fantastic, the writing is crisp, and it actually ties into the DC universe well without being dragged down by it (4/5 of the 7/8 characters are immortals who will interact with future heroes, and Exoristos is from Wonder Woman's island). In addition to this, tying the whole thing to King Arthur and Camelot is a clever way to make this more accessible to new readers. The only real flaws are minor, really. A character with a permanent rhyming schtick only works if it's consistent, and aside from a bit of issue 2, Etrigan never speaks in rhyme, which makes the times he does rhyme awkward. The dragons being dinosaurs might end up being cited by creationists as a victory, which is never a good thing, and there's no good reason I can see that Shining Knight bothers with the charade that fools no one. It's good as a one-off joke, even as a short-term running gag, but I can see it getting irritating in the very near future.

Aside from those minor nitpicks, this is truly a solid book, and I implore you to buy all previous and future issues, either physically or digitally. Easy 9 roast t-rexes out of 10.


You can buy this series in digital format here, and you can probably buy it in physical format at your local comic store. Read more!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pro-Life Violence and the Trolley Problem

I’ve had a few responses to my latest article, on facebook, twitter, and one comment on the actual post. I’m going to concentrate on this article by The Anti-Abortion Gang (which is a pretty ridiculous name by any measure) and the comments made by the Gang. I’d like to start by saying it sort of cowardly to not tell someone that you wrote something about them. Were it not for Dolce commenting on my blog that someone reposted, I’d never have been able to reply to this as I’d never have seen it. I’ll post a link to this article on that post, and tweet the Gang.

I find that the Gang’s rather rude response completely missed the point, not to mention it’s factually wrong. I’m not a “clump of cells” and neither are you. I’m a complex organism. This is not. Also, pro-life doesn’t care about life. You a very large percentage of you guys support war and the death penalty. I would have linked a source to both of these, but one only needs to look at the Roman Catholic Church and every prominent conservative politician anywhere (especially in the USA) to see this.

What I alluded to in my article is similar to the Trolley Problem. There are many variations, but all are essentially the same: You’re presented with a choice to doom one person or 5 (it’s always 1 and 5, it seems) by either hitting a switch on a train track or pushing a very heavy person onto the tracks. This would be the “fat villain” variant, where the fat person you’d push on the tracks is the one who tied the group to the tracks. Yes, you’d be killing a person, but you’d be saving many lives, although it wouldn’t be even close to 1/5…it would be 1/several hundred. It would be immoral not to act to save the lives of those tied down to the tracks. But doing something that won’t do anything is the exact same as not acting, and as I said before, abortion won’t be illegalized in anywhere that it is currently legal, at least not in our lifetimes. Peaceful protests will not make a difference. All evidence has shown that you’re fighting a losing battle. There has never been a country, to my knowledge, that legalized abortion then illegalized it through democratic means. So, the only real way to save “babies” that will work is, essentially, terrorism. It’s an unfortunate truth that terrorism does often work, but it still is the truth. So, if you were really pro-life and opposed to abortion, you’d be just like Scott Roeder.

But you’re not trying to save lives. That is made abundantly clear by the end of Anti-Abortion Gang’s post. This has devolved into tribalism, at least for the Gang and a few others. Pro-choice types are the bad-guys, pro-lifers are the good guys. I’ve heard things about how it’s hypocritical for us to not want to speed through school zones and run over kids. I’ve heard many say they wish we were aborted, and that only sluts are pro-choice (women who put out easily, men who would fuck such dirty whores). But again, my comment stands. Perhaps individual pro-lifers are OK with recreational sex and legitimately think they’re not opposing women’s rights by supporting the pro-life lobby. However, the vast majority are sexually repressive and at least somewhat misogynistic (note that the most outspoken pro-life organization, worldwide, is the Catholic church, which as an organization is more misogynistic and prudish than anyone outside of al-Qaeda) and it shows in your comments. Note that “slut” “whore” “easy” and “loose” are regularly tossed at pro-choice women, and pro-choice women are regularly told that if they don’t want to get pregnant, they just shouldn’t have sex. That is an attempt to control women. And even worse than this are the various personhood laws that have been proposed that outlaw birth control pills and miscarriage. Does that sound like controlling, sexually repressive and misogynistic? To me, it definitely does.

Note that I’m not trying to advocate terrorism. I’m glad you guys don’t really think that embryos and zygotes and whatnot are people. I just wish you’d be more honest about what you really think.

Read more!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pro-Life: Why So Non-Violent?

I thought I figured out the pro-life side of the abortion debate...however, my solution only brought more questions, troubling questions that I hope some pro-life person will answer.

Most of us pro-choice types figure that "abortion is murder" & other such phrases are hyperbole. No one is really silly enough to believe that a clump of cells in a woman's body is a human being...right?

Well, as it turns out, these people DO think that a fertilized egg is really a person. Perhaps it's through brainwashing, simplistic logic, or just plain bad information, but they believe it wholeheartedly, as recent pushes towards "personhood" laws have shown. So that explains why they're fighting so hard to "save" these "babies". But that opens another question.

We all know that there are some amongst the pro-life crew who would use violence to get the message across. We also know that, in developed countries, legal abortion isn't going away. I'm sure they know it too. They have to. They've lost almost every battle to restrict or outlaw abortion, & even the worst ideologues start to recognize patterns.

Now, if it were me, and I literally thought there are people who are legally allowed to kill babies by the truckload, and all attempts to change the law were destined to fail, well...I'd be taking the law into my own hands right now. In fact, if the propositions "abortion is murder" and "abortion will not be made illegal in our lifetimes" are both true, abortion bombing is the only moral route.

So that leads me to the question: why are you not bombing clinics, pro-lifer? Why are you not assassinating doctors? What will it take to make you start doing so?

If you do believe that abortion is murder & life begins at conception but you DON'T support any violence against abortion providers, then I've another question: do you really believe what you're claiming to believe? Or is it that the "saving the babies" rhetoric is a smoke-screen for your desire to control women and your wish to enforce your repressive sexual views on society as a whole? Read more!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Proving Atheism...With SCIENCE!

A bloke named James Jordan asked me to prove god doesn't exist. Well, see, I already did that in a previous post, but I've a better argument up my sleeve. One that actually uses science, and is much more conclusive than my previous disproof of god.

The scientific method involves formulating a falsifiable hypothesis, then attempting to falsify it. Now, of course, the Christian god is unfalsifiable (as are all gods that have not been outright falsified) so we could stop there, but I'll be exceedingly generous to my opposition here.

Anyway, the null hypothesis (general default position) is tested against the hypothesis. This works for the existence of any biological species, natural phenomenon, causal or statistical relationship, etc. For example, if the hypothesis is that blueberries increase sexual potency, the null hypothesis would be that they don't. The null hypothesis is always a negative, the hypothesis is a positive, & the burden of proof is on the one making the positive claim. If the positive claim cannot be proven, the null hypothesis is the better one.

So, theism, the positive claim, is the hypothesis, and atheism is the null hypothesis. We could word the hypothesis in such a way to allow for any god or gods to exist. As an example: "The universe, and all energy in it, was created from nothing by an intelligent agent." Note that "energy" here includes all forms of matter. The null hypothesis would be something along the lines of "the universe and all energy in it always have existed".

OK, so now that that's set up, you, the one pushing the god hypothesis, have to prove there is a god of some sort. You can't. You've been trying for all of human history, and the best you can do is "well, something has to have caused everything, why not my god?" You even had to invent the concept of faith (believing what you don't have compelling evidence for, otherwise known as "the stupidest idea ever") then make it a virtue in order to preserve theism as a widespread phenomenon. And since you can't do this basic thing, atheism, the null hypothesis, stands as the dominant theory.

There. Atheism has been proved, at least until you bring some real powerful evidence to disprove it. Read more!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

An Atheist's Guide To Improving Religious Horror

I’m an atheist. I’m also a fairly big horror movie fan. Amongst my favourite movies are Nosferatu, Let the Right One In, all of Romero’s first trilogy, The Thing (Carpenter version, haven’t seen the new one) and the brilliant satirical horror flick Scream. However, there is a very atheist-unfriendly strain in many horror movies. In a good deal of movies, the supernatural, perhaps even the devil himself, is the villain, and if the protagonists are saved, it’s by their faith in Jesus and/or his father. That can make it hard for a non-believer.

This really got me when, recently, I bought a few Hammer Dracula films starring Christopher Lee. I only watched Horror of Dracula and Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, the latter being a sequel. When I saw that one of the primary protagonists was, in fact, an atheist, and in fact a likable and moral character. Given that the only somewhat prominent atheists in fiction in this more atheist-friendly day are a curmudgeonly asshole doctor and a serial killer, this is actually pretty progressive. I sincerely hoped that this would be a true positive portrayal of an atheist where the atheist didn’t end up converting at the end. However, the movie let me down in a very real way, especially at the end. Firstly, they changed the rules. In Horror of Dracula, Abraham Van Helsing, played by Peter Cushing, said that what’s needed to kill Dracula, played by Christopher Lee, is either sunlight or a stake through the heart, though crosses burn his skin. In the sequel, after the stake has been hammered into Dracula’s heart, a prayer has to be said. It’s a blatant change of the rules and a violation of continuity simply to put in a pro-christian message. Of course, the atheist converted at the end after outwitting and impaling Dracula. Up until the very end, Paul (the atheist hero) probably thought the giant cross he impaled Dracula on was something he feared for reasons aside from the actual existence of the god it represents. It took Dracula’s pet priest “redeeming” himself by saying the Lord’s Prayer in Latin and thereby ending Dracula’s reign of terror until the next time. Religion saved the day.

Perhaps I shouldn’t complain so much, but that did alienate me a bit, but more importantly, it made the film less scary. The idea of a persuasive and nearly all-powerful evil force trying to take power is what is actually scary about vampire fiction (and before you start with the “clever” dig at Twilight, it’s obvious that inducing fear isn’t the point of those vampires). When you add another clearly fantastical element that doesn’t exist in the real world (god) into the mix, it takes away from the fear, essentially defeating the purpose of a scary story.

The fact is, however, that many supernatural horror films can very easily be interpreted as atheistic, or even purely naturalistic, and this dramatically increases the quality of the film by making the fears more real. I first realized this with the classic horror film The Omen. [Note: There will be spoilers for a few older horror movies in the following paragraphs. I don’t care if it’s spoiled for you since it’s how the story’s told that’s most important, not how it ends, however, some of you might bitch without this warning. So, here it is.] Granted, this only works if you ignore the sequels, but that’s generally good advice for any horror movie whose sequels are not directed by Romero of Raimi.

The Omen, for those of you who’ve not seen it, is the story of a family. While on vacation in Rome, Katherine Thorn went into labour. Her husband, Peter, discovered that the child died shortly after birth and at the behest of a priest, arranged to have a boy whose mother had just died in childbirth take their son’s place, without Katherine’s knowledge. Later on, Peter was convinced the boy, Damien, was the Antichrist and decided to kill him. However, it is very easily turned from a story about the horror of having your (secretly adopted) child being a literal demon, to a story of the horrors of guilt, contagious insanity and cultism.

Let me explain. The first event of the movie combines several extremely stressful and scary situations. Vacations, counter-intuitively, are often scary, especially when visiting a country for the first time. Giving birth is a very scary thing, or at least I’m sure it is, and losing a child you wanted to have is infinitely more so. And lying to your spouse, especially over something so huge? That’s a massive amount of stress. Not to mention the issue of adopting a child, raising someone who isn’t your own flesh and blood? Peter has to bear all of that. And very shortly after the vacation ended, Peter got promoted to being the US Ambassador to the UK, which is yet another heap of stress. It would take a man made of iron to not let that get to him. But that isn’t all. On Damien’s birthday (I believe it’s his third) the babysitter committed suicide in a rather public manner. This event draws the attention of Father Brennan and Keith Jennings. Brennan is already clearly insane, claiming that Damien is the Antichrist. Keith was initially interested by the suicide, but when a freak accident killed the pastor, he was convinced of Damien’s demonic origins. From there, it didn’t take much to convince Peter, in his over-stressed and weakened state, that Damien was the Antichrist.

What it looked like to me, of course, was a series of improbably-yet-possible events that are easily explained without the supernatural. By the end, when Peter put Damien on the altar, ready to sacrifice, I was truly afraid-for Damien. He was a little boy pleading for his life while his crazed father tried to complete a strange ritual to kill the Antichrist. And how did he reach that point? The same way Heaven’s Gate, the Branch Davidians, Jonestown and the Westboro Baptist Church got to where they did: With a support network. He was breaking down from the pressure, and the theory that his son was the Antichrist held the answers. It didn’t take much from there…and the fact is that even the smartest of us can fall for some crazy shit. This is a real fear. Much better than some little kid being the Antichrist, something even Christians shouldn’t believe in (more on that at another time).

So The Omen is about madness and cultism. What about other popular religious or supernatural horrors? Well, not all can have this sort of treatment and still make sense (for example, the Exorcist) but here’s a quick and far from complete list of religious horrors that atheistic naturalism can improve.

The Sentinel (1977): A young woman develops a condition that, after several horrific hallucinations, leaves her catatonic-in other words, she develops catatonic schizophrenia, a truly horrific mental illness. Her past with her abusive father and suicide attempt only help this claim.

Hausu/House: The girls aren’t attacked by ghosts in a haunted house, they’re attacked (and devoured) by something more dangerous. Anyone who’s seen the movie would assume drugs were involved, given the strange things they see, but it’s really the ending that gives it away. These girls we just watched get killed are still alive, and “hungry”. After the crazy and terrifying highs, they are trapped in the “house” of addiction, presumably to some sort of hallucinogenic drug. Purely allegorical.

[REC]: The big reveal is that the zombies have contracted a virulent form of demonic possession accidentally developed by a Catholic priest trying to use medicine to cure demonic possession…I think it’s pretty obvious that there’s no need for a god existing in this case, despite the words of the filmmakers. However, it’s pretty easy to make it an allegory for religion.

Drag Me To Hell: As argued here, this movie is about a woman with an eating disorder. The film strongly hints at the events being either a dramatic representation of a woman killing herself to be thin, or hallucinations brought on by extreme hunger.

The trick is to find movies where there are no explicit supernatural events, or where those events can be explained (satisfactorily) as not being supernatural in nature. Given the creativity of those who read this blog, I’m sure you guys can come up with a few more examples. I encourage you to do so either in the comments section or your own blog.

Happy Halloween, everyone!
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Scene From A Corner Store

I had a bit of a fight with my family, based on one family member backing out essentially at the last minute from plans made earlier. I was angry and decided that rather than doing the wise thing and sublimating that anger into finishing cleaning and packing my apartment, I would visit the corner grocery and convenience store. I meant to pick up some energy drinks for the trip and a Haagen Däs bar for comfort.

There were three people behind the counter today. A nice young man, about my age or a bit younger, a middle-aged woman who was doing inventory, and a woman who looked older than 50. The young man was serving an older man who directed a veritable torrent of sexist "jokes" at the two women. All employees were clearly uncomfortable with this, but he was jovial and almost done paying for whatever he was getting. He then said something that I had to reply to.

"It's a man's civic duty to be an asshole to women." I am, of course, paraphrasing. He repeated the line because there were people in his "audience" who didn't let out some nervous laughter, so I'm sure of all the words except "asshole". He might have said "ass" or "prick" or maybe "jerk". My response was "if you say so," said with a smile. The aim was to subtly tell him he was not supported by this particular male, while keeping the tone light. The reply from him was "well, it might not win you any points, but it feels good." "Iiiiiiiif you say so," I said, in a more fauc-cheery manner, as if I was a sitcom character and that was my catchphrase. The 50something who was serving me piped in right then.

"Well that's why...never mind". This prompted a slightly less friendly "what?" from the sexist guy, and my cashier handwaved it with "nothing." His debit payment (everyone in Canada shops almost exclusively with Interac debit cards) completed, and he was gone a moment later. The woman clarified to us "I know him, his wife left him not long ago. I was going to say 'Well that's why your wife left you' but I thought better of it." The younger cashier said that he figured the guy was single, and she said "yeah, he is now, so that's why..." and she left it hanging. Did she mean that's why he was acting sexist? That's why she was nicer where she didn't need to be? I'll never know. After a moment, my purchase was done and I said "and there's a reason for that." Laughter. "Have a good day, sir." I nodded, left.

Knowing little details can change a situation greatly. Was that man really a genuine sexist asshole, or was he really hard done by his wife who left him? If the one cashier hadn't known him, I'd have simply assumed he was a distasteful person. Now, I know he at least has a reason to be angry at women. Perhaps not a very good one, and perhaps he did cause her to leave him, but I'd never even consider the possibility that he was anything aside from a total bastard without knowing that one detail.

How many other times have I judged a person poorly knowing nothing about them aside from a single thing they did or said? I know we've all done it. How many times do we similarly judge those we know only through work, school, etc. How often do rumours of bitchiness or other similar things get started because of one bad day?
What I'm saying is we ought to be less quick to judge others before we know anything about them. Read more!