Saturday, June 24, 2006
I have a psychic prediction: Years and decades down the road all of them (at least those who haven't kicked the bucket by then) will still be waiting for their respective messiahs to either drop from heaven or pop up from a well (Saddam?). And they will be offering yet more excuses and rationalizations for why the end has been postponed yet again.
I wonder what the Jehovah's Witnesses are doing and predicting these days.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Belief in hell is going to you-know-where. And belief in heaven is in trouble, too.
That's the concern of some Christian thinkers, including Jeffrey Burton Russell, an emeritus professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of the new book "Paradise Mislaid: How We Lost Heaven and How We Can Regain It" (Oxford).
So, Prof. Remus, I mean, Russell, please edify and tell us what in fact are heaven and hell.
"For Christians, basically, heaven underneath all of the decorations means living in harmony with God and the cosmos and your neighbors and being grateful," said Russell, who studied hell and Satan for 15 years before turning his attention to heaven in a 1997 book.
I guess those who arrive in heaven have all been sanitized, whitewashed, brainwashed, and end up just exchanging namby-pamby, touchy-feely hogwash. While 99% of the time they're sucking up to and kissing His Holeliness' you know what.
What about hell and its fire and brimstone? "There is a tendency to overdramatize hell in order to get [it] across to people," he said. But it's simply "the absence of God, the absence of heaven."
So hell is like, umm, uhh, the here and now. Like being on earth and having not a glimpse or whiff of Big Daddy while obsessively fantasizing about meeting and being with him, and all the time having to pray just to gain his ear but not getting any registered mail of what the fuck his reply really is. Yeah, I bet that's hell.
And can you dig that? Russell studied hell and Satan for a decade and a half. What a vacation that must've been--flitting off to fantasia for that long. Well I'm taking my cue from him. I'm filing for a 10-year sabbatical and when I come back I'll be the world expert in Dementors. You see, I've been meaning to correct your false understanding of what they really are. Right now what you think you know about them borders on superstitious. So watch out for my book: Demented: How We Lost Our Brains and Misunderstood the Dementors. (Advance credits: My thanks to A. Dumbledore for the encouragement to embark on this project and for setting up the invaluable interviews with the Dementors.)
Unfortunately, she didn't say whether the priest and his congregation had a feast and cannibalized the very holy fare du jour. She also failed to mention whether they stir-fried Jesus' body parts and boiled his blood or whether they ate and drank them raw. From the scholar's point of view, it certainly would be most fascinating to find out using that sample what Jesus' blood type was (type AB in the Lanciano miracle. Hey, I'm AB too!). And who knows, we may even be able to find viable DNA in the tissue sample. Heck, someday we might be able to use the DNA to clone the Son of God. And so, as divinely preordained, science will ultimately and unwittingly prove The Resurrection.
So there it is folks. Irrefutable, incontrovertible, unassailable, indubitable evidence that those wafers they serve on Sundays only look and taste like bread (and yes they are made with flour), but in fact and without question are really body parts of Jesus--specifically, his muscles. And that liquid the priest gulps by the mouthful is blood freshly squeezed from Mel Gibson's idol. These guys certainly put Dracula to shame.
Oh, I almost forgot. The crackers and grape juice become Jesus' biceps, triceps, myocardial tissue, ... and red blood cells and plasma only after the right words are chanted over them. And only when uttered by specially licensed blokes (it's a sexist clique you see). Apparently the magic trick takes many years of training in cloisters to master.
Now I'm wondering how Divine Dinuguan tastes like. Mmmm, I'm already drooling.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
A “neurotheology” researcher called Dr Michael Persinger has developed something called the “God Helmet” lined with magnets to help you in your quest: it sounds like typical bad science fodder, but it’s much more interesting than that.Some months ago Persinger strapped his "God helmet" onto Richard Dawkins. Apparently, Dawkins is immune to electronic-electromagnetic hallucination-inducing devices. Except for some slight physiological effects the contraption did not trigger any religious experience in Dawkins. One wonders how much susceptibility to these neurological effects has a bearing on whether a person becomes a believer in the paranormal/supernatural.
Persinger is a proper scientist. The temporal lobes have long been implicated in religious experiences: epileptic seizures in that part of the brain, for example, can produce mystical experiences and visions. Persinger’s helmet stimulates these temporal lobes with weak electromagnetic fields through the skull, and in various published papers this stimulation has been shown to induce a “sensed presence”, under blinded conditions.
There is controversy around these findings: some people have tried to replicate them, although not using exactly the same methods, and got different results. But however improbable or theologically offensive you might find his evidence, because it is published and written up in full, you can try to replicate it for yourself and find out whether it works. In fact, you really can try this at home: the kit needed to make a God Helmet is fabulously rudimentary.
You can order a commercial product online for just $220 (£119): it is basically eight magnetic coils that fit over the relevant parts of your skull; the signal is generated by your computer’s soundcard, and then played through these magnetic elements, instead of through the magnetic coils of your speakers.
More excitingly, you can go to the open source development forum Sourceforge and check out “Open-rTMS”, where designs for the necessary hardware and software are being developed collaboratively and openly, and by the same people who brought you “OpenEEG”, a surprisingly effective EEG system that you can also make at home.
Since we know that such things as sensing "a presence", so-called communiques from supernatural entities including spirits and deities, and other alleged paranormal/supernatural phenomena can be caused by quite ordinary means including electrical stimulation, sensory deprivation, hypoxia, pharmacological substances, we therefore must rule out all naturalistic explanations (but how do you exhaust them when we aren't omniscient of the natural world?) before we can begin to entertain the various proffered supernatural explanations. If I hear a voice in my head telling me I have been specially elected by my deity to be spread his word and be his spokesperson here in the Philippines, it is an epistemic error to say that just because I believe in the premise that angels talk to people, that indeed the voice in my head was one of my god's angels. More parsimoniously, I'm hallucinating, or simply delusional or psychotic, just like that Philippine judge Florentino Floro. So how do we know that ancient sacred text writers and prophets from around the world who claimed to have been communicating with their gods and to whom spirits, angels, and deities have revealed various things had not in fact experienced nothing more than natural neurological phenomena?
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Among known methods of evaluating surroundings is Feng Shui, an ancient Chinese art of creating a harmonious environment. Recently, Feng Shui has increased in popularity in many societies around the world. Feng Shui principles are widely applied in the fields of interior decorating and real estate. Despite the increased popularity of Feng Shui, its complexity detracts ordinary people from using it to improve their overall lifestyle and associated environment.
Handheld electronic devices, such as cellular telephones and personal digital assistants, have also become more prevalent in recent years. Some handheld electronic devices today can include the capability to measure environmental characteristics.
Ergo, the Motorola Feng Shui PDA. So what does their product do?
[It] evaluates a property’s Feng Shui rating by measuring positive and negative chi and awarding plus and minus points accordingly. “Feng Shui principles are widely applied in the fields of interior decorating and real estate,” a company spokesperson explains.
The device houses a camera that checks the colour of the property, a microphone that listens for noise from nearby roads and factories and a compass to find north – a crucial factor for Feng Shui enthusiasts. It can also measure the strength of AM and FM radio signals from local radio transmitters and connect to the nearest mobile phone base station to check for indications of cellphone signal strength.
Weak radio signals indicate positive chi but strong signals mean negative chi and lead to a poor Feng Shui rating. Ironically, Motorola’s new gadget seems to help people avoid the signals that they need to connect their cellphones. It looks like city dwellers' chi may be in dire straits.
This is very serious stuff--just like astrology. Entails lots of analysis of a host of factors and a good deal of number crunching you see.
The Feng Shui analysis, for example, includes determining whether a particular measured characteristic is positive, neutral, or negative according to Feng Shui principles. Chi can be considered a measurement of Feng Shui. FIG. 5, for example, is a table illustrating criteria which can be set for positive, neutral, and negative chi for each environmental characteristic according to the principles of Feng Shui.Can the Motorola EVP Spirit Channeler cell phone series be far behind?
In Feng Shui, there is a desirable order of colors. The most favorable order of colors is that corresponding to the enhancement cycle, which is a cycle well known in Feng Shui. The enhancement cycle is shown in FIG. 6. The colors associated with the various parts of the enhancement cycle are known. Colors such as red, orange, burgundy, pink, purple are associated with fire. Colors such as brown, yellow, off-white, gray are associated with earth. Colors such as white, silver, gold, bronze are associated with metal. Colors such as black and blue are associated with water. Colors such as green and jade are associated with wood. When colors occur in the order of the enhancement cycle of FIG. 6, the Feng Shui rating of that image will be high.
When you have for the first time in front of you this 3.1 billion-letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind, you can’t survey that going through page after page without a sense of awe. I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of God’s mind.
I see God’s hand at work through the mechanism of evolution. If God chose to create human beings in his image and decided that the mechanism of evolution was an elegant way to accomplish that goal, who are we to say that is not the way.
C.S. Lewis--that atheist who mutated into another of Yahweh's sheep--is one bloke who convinced Collins about God's existence. But what finally drove Collins to dive into the black hole was something else.
His epiphany came when he went hiking through the Cascade Mountains in Washington state. He said: "It was a beautiful afternoon and suddenly the remarkable beauty of creation around me was so overwhelming, I felt, 'I cannot resist this another moment'."
Resistance was futile, eh?
Collins finally surrendered and became a theist because he experienced a high. How rational. Hey, I'm sucker for beauty too. I can't get enough of beautiful places, beautiful works, particularly beautiful moving music, beautiful women even. But in those rare moments that I'm in the midst of something really awesome I don't suddenly fall on my knees and accept Jesus and his dad as my delusion. It's also rather stupid to reason that just because we perceive and interpret various things (in nature) as beautiful means that a deity exists. Or maybe Collins wasn't even reasoning. As Pascal would say, his heart had reasons of its own.
Collins tells us that, "If one is willing to accept the existence of God or some supernatural force outside nature then it is not a logical problem to admit that, occasionally, a supernatural force might stage an invasion."
If you believe that the Incompetent Designer exists and if you believe that he waves his magic wand (or his fingers) from time to time, then sure you can believe that miracles pop up from time to time. The thing is, it's also logically valid to believe that Superman regularly foils bank robberies as long you believe in the "right" premises. There's nothing in Collins' statement but speculations. Is there any event at all that's been confirmed to be a miracle? Are we going to get showered with more arguments from awe and ignorance?
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
However, I just checked Amazon UK and it seems that not only do they have the above but also another version that's going to be released by Bantam a month earlier.
So why may I ask is The God Delusion coming out in two flavors at the same? Both are hardcovers. But the one by Houghton is 288 pages long, the Bantam edition, 372. What could possibly be included in the latter that isn't in the former, making it balloon by 30%? Or is that the Bantam edition is printed in a font size for the visually impaired?
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Since Jesus was very much a fellow Homo sapiens, we can presume that he had a colon and intestinal flora pretty much like ours, and that the second person of the Trinity, the Savior of mankind also moved his bowels and farted as the rest of us do. Now what do you think is the probability that in the time it took you to read to this point you've already breathed in at least a molecule of the last couple of farts of the Son of God (perhaps those expelled soon after the last supper or during his crucifixion)?
Let's assume that the expelled gas molecules, given the twenty centuries, have become uniformly distributed all over the world. The estimated number of air molecules in the atmosphere is around 1 x 1044. While at rest a single breath contains about 1 x 1022 molecules of air. For ease let's assume that the volume of Jesus' last couple of farts was equal to one breath.
F = number of gas molecules in Jesus' flatus = one breath's worth = 1 x 1022
B = number of gas molecules in a specified number of breaths = (1 x 1022) x number of breaths
N = total gas molecules in the atmosphere = 1 x 1044
P(f) = probability of breathing in at least one molecule of F
F/N therefore is the relative frequency of the Jesus' flatus molecules in the atmosphere. It's also the probability of breathing in one molecule of F we were to breathe just one molecule of air. Its complement is (1 - F/N), the probability of not breathing in a molecule of F.
Since we don't just breathe in one molecule but 1 x 1022 of them, the probability of not inhaling a single molecule of F is (1 - F/N)B. This is the probability that the first, second, third, ..... , and Bth molecule are all non-Fs. Its complement is therefore the probability of breathing in at least a molecule of F. And that's what we're looking for:
1 - (1 - F/N)B
If we use various values for B--one breath, two breaths, etc. (B, 2B, 3B,....)--we obtain the following results (see Note 1 for computational details):
|Number of breaths ||P(f) = probability of inhaling at least one molecule of a specified historical person's flatus |
|1 ||63.2% |
|2 ||86.5% |
|3 ||95.0% |
|4 ||98.2% |
|5 ||99.3% |
|6 ||99.8% |
|7 ||99.9% |
In just half a dozen breaths you're practically certain to have inhaled at least a molecule of the Savior's last farts.
What this also means is that every hour, everyday we are inhaling rather odious molecules of practically everyone who's ever lived in the past. And remember we were computing the probability of breathing in at least a molecule of the flatus of one particular person. Consider how many humans have lived over the hundreds of thousands of years and how much gas they've expelled. The probability that we are taking in at least a molecule is 100% for every one trillionth of a breath we take--that's much less than a whiff (see Note 2).
And you wonder why halitosis exists.
1. If you plug in the values of F, B, and N into a calculator or even a spreadsheet program you'll exceed their limits and you won't get a result anywhere close to accurate. F/N for instance is an infinitesimal figure, while raising a number to the power of B is almost unimaginable. Even resorting to logarithms won't help much. One way around this is to use smaller values of F, B, and N. For example instead of 1 x 1022 use F = 1 x 106 and N = 1 x 1012. Note that the exponent of N must be twice that of F since it is so in the original values. For one breath B = 1 x 106. Try using other values for F such as 1 x 104 for instance (and corresponding appropriate values for B and N). You should get practically the same P(f) values.
However, a more graceful way of doing it is to use a different equation altogether. If you examine the above problem you'll see that it is basically a binomial probability distribution and can be solved using the general equation
nCrpr(1 - p)n-r
where nCr is combinatorial notation for n taken r at a time. For our problem above n = B, r = 0 (since we're computing for zero flatus molecules), and p = F/N. Because r = 0 , BCr = B! / [r! (B -r)!] = 1 and pr = 1. Therefore, the equation reduces to (1 - p)n. Substituting, we have: (1 - F/N)B, the very equation we have above.
Because p is very small and n very large the conditions are satisfied for using the Poisson distribution as an accurate approximate for the binomial probability. The Poisson distribution is given by the equation
(np)re-np / r!
where e = 2.71828. Since r = 0 the equation reduces to e-np. Substituting, we have e-BF/N. This can be easily handled by a scientific calculator. Because this equation gives us the probability of not having a single flatus molecule in B, we are interested in its complement: 1 - e-BF/N.
2. To estimate the amount of flatus molecules ejected by humans throughout the ages, I assumed 1 x 1022 gas molecules expelled per person three times a week, with each person having an average lifespan of only 30 years, and a total (deceased) human population of 10 billion. F then is = 4.68 x 1035. For 1 x 1010 molecules inhaled the P(ftotal) = 99.9%. 1 x 1010 is one trillionth of 1 x 1022.
This math problem is a variation of the Caesar's-dying-breath example by mathematician John Allen Paulos (Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences. 1988. New York: Vintage. p. 32.). However, Paulos does not offer the reader the use of the Poisson distribution. The idea of substituting flatus for breath comes from The New England Skeptical Society's podcast (2006).
Friday, June 09, 2006
Today, we are seeing hundreds of years of scientific discovery being challenged by people who simply disregard facts that don't happen to agree with their agendas. Some call it "pseudo-science," others call it "faith-based science," but when you notice where this negligence tends to take place, you might as well call it "political science."
You can see "political science" at work when it comes to global warming. Despite near unanimity in the science community there's now a movement - driven by ideology and short-term economics - to ignore the evidence and discredit the reality of climate change.
You can see "political science" at work with respect to stem cell research. Despite its potential, the federal government has restricted funding for creating new cell lines - putting the burden of any future research squarely on the shoulders of the private sector. Government's most basic responsibility, however, is the health and welfare of its people, so it has a duty to encourage appropriate scientific investigations that could possibly save the lives of millions.
"Political science" knows no limits. Was there anything more inappropriate than watching political science try to override medical science in the Terry Schiavo case?
And it boggles the mind that nearly two centuries after Darwin, and 80 years after John Scopes was put on trial, this country is still debating the validity of evolution. In Kansas, Mississippi, and elsewhere, school districts are now proposing to teach "intelligent design" - which is really just creationism by another name - in science classes alongside evolution. Think about it! This not only devalues science, it cheapens theology. As well as condemning these students to an inferior education, it ultimately hurts their professional opportunities.
Hopkins' motto is Veritas vos liberabit - "the truth shall set you free" - not that "you shall be free to set the truth!" I've always wondered which science those legislators who create their own truths pick when their families need life-saving medical treatment.
There's no question: science - the very core of what you have been living and breathing these past several years - is being sorely tested. But the interesting thing is this is not the first time that graduates of the School of Medicine have faced such a challenge. When the institution was founded more than a century ago, medicine was dominated by quacks and poorly-trained physicians. In that world, Johns Hopkins and its graduates became a beacon of truth, and trust and helped to revolutionize the field.
Can you Americans have this guy as your next president, please?
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
A MAN shouting that God would keep him safe was mauled to death by a lioness in Kiev zoo after he crept into the animal's enclosure, a zoo official said on today.
"The man shouted 'God will save me, if he exists', lowered himself by a rope into the enclosure, took his shoes off and went up to the lions," the official said.
"A lioness went straight for him, knocked him down and severed his carotid artery."
(via God is for Suckers)
Monday, June 05, 2006
Modern time vehiclesI wouldn't be surprised if not a few Christians will be nonplussed as to why that passage does not prove the bible is speaking of space shuttles and submarines.
2 "Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. 3 Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search out and take them; and though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.
The Bible describes a space shuttle and a submarine long long before it was invented.
Why would anyone run off with only the appendages?
There are reports that the stolen parts of statues are being used as "anting-antings" (amulets).
On the other hand, [police chief Rudy] Bico said the stolen parts of Blessed Virgin Dolorosa in Brgy. Inayauan and poblacion Cauayan, may have been used by fishermen to ensure an abundant catch of fish, or by members of a cultist group as amulets.
How amusing. The superstitious stealing from the supernaturalist. (Not that they're mutually exclusive. On the contrary.)
There's supernaturalism and there's superstition. There's the belief that invisible preternatural superheroes and supervillains exist and there's the belief that certain objects/rituals/events can bring about good/ill fortune. Both are devoid of evidence. Both are delusory.
Saturday, June 03, 2006
Ah! But look. It's plateauing. God's got it under control. For an almighty, all-powerful, perfect creator who transcends time and space he sure doesn't work like one.
So how in fact can we know whether prayer works or not?
If religionists pray for B and B happens how do we know that the occurence of praying and B weren't just coincidental? If yesterday farmer Pedro prostrated himself and beseeched God to flood his encrusted rice paddy so that he may have a harvest to feed his wife and 12 children, and if it's raining outside right now, how do we know whether his deity had caused the downpour or whether it's been brought about by the monsoons (well, June is the start of the wet season you know)?
On the other hand, if these supernaturalists pray for B and B does not occur and because of such failure they churn out ad hoc explanations such as "God sometimes answers yes, sometimes no," "God works in mysterious ways," or "God knows best and this is his will," how do we know these explanations are true? How do we test their veracity? Pointing to an ancient text only passes the buck to ancient writers and pointing to their ministers, priests, bishops, popes ... just passes the buck to the living deluded. Such fallacious arguments may strengthen these believers' belief, they may give us info on how many believe and how long the belief has been around, and they may tell us how ignorant the believers are of logical fallacies and epistemology, but they do nothing to suppport the case for prayer.
If prayer is not or cannot be subjected to objective testing, if non causa pro causa / post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies cannot be ruled out when prayer apparently works, and if nontestable/nonfalsifiable ad hoc rationalizations are resorted to when prayer apparently fails, then how can prayer ever be known to work? Mere belief (faith) in the power of prayer cannot in any epistemologically valid way lead us to the conclusion that it works. Cherry-picking cases that confirm the belief and ignoring those that contradict/refute them, on the other hand, is subjective validation and selection bias (and outright cheating--either cheating themselves or duping others as well).
If there is no way of objectively testing, verifying, and knowing if prayer is indeed efficacious then those who claim that it works are guilty of ignorance, bias, or prejudgement. It is extremely pitiable. And it is so because such a belief (meme) is passed down to their progeny. It is the children's intellectual future that I care about. I have no regard for adults past 30 who still literalize mythology. It is their progeny and their descendants that I care about. It breaks my heart to see and hear parents telling their children not to forget to say their prayers, to be good because YahooJuju up above is watching them, that grandma is now living with Him. Lies! How do they know any of these is true?!
We teach our children to be honest. But we break this rule every time we imply by our example and by our imperatives that prayer works. When we pray and when we tell them to say their nightly prayers we lie to them. My own brothers lie to their children, Christians lie to their children and grandchildren. If we are going to be honest with those who inherit our genes then there is only one lesson we can pass on about supernaturalism: We don't know if it is true. We don't know if deities exist. We don't know if prayer works. There simply is no good, compelling evidence for any of these. We may believe but we don't know if any of these things we believe in are true. And that my sons and daughters is the truth.
So Christians are liars. Whether it is Eli Soriano, Pat "one ton leg presser" Robertson, Manalo, Ratzinger, ... --they're all liars. Not one of them has incontrovertible evidence for their theological claims, nor do they provide the methods for testing the same, tests which would provide us intersubjectively verifiable results. They claim to know when they in fact don't.
Worried about the safety of her family during a stormy Memorial Day trip to the beach, Clara Jean Brown stood in her kitchen and prayed for their safe return as a strong thunderstorm raged through Baldwin County.Look, the only reason she got hit is because she was praying to the wrong deity. And so He zapped her to teach her a lesson. Lucky for her He remembered the real god must show not only justice but also mercy, else He would've turned her to cinders with her soul burning eternally in hell.
Suddenly, lightning exploded, blowing through the linoleum and leaving a pockmarked area on the concrete. Brown wound up on the floor, dazed and disoriented by the blast but otherwise uninjured.
"I said, 'Amen,' and the room was engulfed in a huge ball of fire," she said. "I'm blessed to be alive."
"Never in my life did I think something like this could happen," James Brown told the Press-Register. "I always thought if you're in a house that you're safe. That's not the case."
Who said you can hide from the all-seeing god?
Moral of the story: Make sure you pray to the real McCoy. And who is he? Thor.