Sunday, January 28, 2007

Another Lourdes disconfirmation

Wonder how decomposed the corpse was when police found it.

The body of a British woman was kept secretly for four months by her mother, who hoped that because their home was near to the Catholic sanctuary of Lourdes a miracle would lead to her resurrection. Marian Kearney, 46, died from cancer in September, while staying at her mother’s home near Lourdes, in the foothills of the Pyrenees.... Kearney and her daughter left England five years ago to travel to the remote shrine in the hope that the reputed holy powers of the spring water would cure her cancer. She had refused all conventional medicine and the French Catholic sanctuary was thought to be a last resort in her battle with the disease.

Not only did she not receive any miracle cures from from the famed shrine, no miraculous resuscitation of her corpse occurred either. Perhaps the grandmother's religious convictions have been shaken a bit? Or has she rationalized these events away already?

But I'm more interested in how all this will affect the granddaughter. According to her teachers she was quite withdrawn during the holiday season. (I don't know whether it's more the loss of her mother or the fact that her granny kept the corpse in a room that distressed her.) It isn't known yet whether she knew of her mother's illness. I'm wondering how this 11-year old's religious beliefs (if any) will be affected when she does find out her mom had cancer and that Lourdes didn't help her at all and realizes that her grandmother had hoped she would resurrect. The loss and the undeniable lack of any miracles just might tip her over to nonbelief (or make her more confident of her stance if she's already doubtful of religious claims to begin with).

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Wishing for a genie

When I was a child, I used to pray to God for a bicycle. But then I realized that God didn't work in that way--so I stole a bike and prayed for forgiveness

--Emo Philips, comedian

Whatever a man prays for, he prays for a miracle. Every prayer reduces itself to this: Great God, grant that twice two be not four.

--Ivan Turgenev, novelist

Supplication has got to be the mostly widely practiced superstition in the world. Millions of adults believe that murmuring some words or even silently saying them in their head has the power to make their wishes come true. I think one reason why prayer is so prevalent is that it's a vast "improvement" over the childhood belief that what I want to be true will become so simply because I wish it to be so. In this "new improved version" of that infantile belief the agent that makes one's wishes come true is no longer the "I," rather it is a transcendent "I", an anthropomorphic being who has been vested with far greater powers or even (peri) omnipotence. What started out as "what I say will be so" has been transformed into "a superagent who is outside of me hears my thoughts/words/desires and will make my wishes come true." In effect one has conjured up a personal (invisible) genie.

As with other superstitions one mechanism (but not the only one) that keeps the belief in prayer alive is the existence of actual positive correlations, even if such correlations are sporadic and infrequent. Given the millions of prayers uttered in the world each day there will be a number of entreaties that will apparently be answered. Because the correlation is interpreted as a causal relationship it is a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. (Even very strong correlations do not necessarily imply causation. Suppose every time after clipping my nails I implore a certain god to make them grow back in a week. Does the perfect positive correlation between prayer and nail growth mean that prayer works and that there exists this particular deity that causes nails to grow a couple of millimeters every week?) The questions and experiments that don't get asked and done are: What if the prayers hadn't been transmitted? Would the results have been the same/different? What if we want K but prayed for the opposite? Would K still have transpired?

Given the law of large numbers it would be most miraculous if no coincidences (apparent successes) occur. Such coincidences are to be expected (not least because, among other things, what counts as success and the time frame within which it's suppose to happen are not clearly specified). This is similar to the occurrence of supposed precognitive dreams. With the billions of dreams per night, it is certain that a few of these dreams will "come true." Again, what would be most incredible is the situation wherein there are absolutely no matches between what are dreamt of and events thereafter in the real world

Throughout our life we have heard over and over implicitly or explicitly the claim that prayer works, that this or that deity hears and answers prayers. The biggest problem with this ubiquitous claim however is that there is no good evidence that it's true. On the contrary, there is a litany of anecdotal evidence and a host of scientific studies that show the opposite is the case--that prayers don't work. But because we don't receive news reports of the millions of prayers that weren't answered and given that what we do hear from media or from friends and family are the few stories of wishes that were supposedly granted, the availability error kicks in. There is the tendency to think that the effectiveness of prayer is real because we hear (and remember) the success stories, but hardly hear of the much much larger number of stories of failure.

Closely allied with the availability error is the biasing condition of vividness. When we hear success stories of prayer resulting in such wonderful miraculous events we tend to remember these highly inspiring/motivating/emotional stories. The more vivid the anecdotes the more they tend to get imprinted in our memory, and the more they serve as among the bases for judging the efficacy of prayer. Furthermore, an ardent believer will be biased toward selectively remembering his/her own personal anecdotes of successes while brushing away or even forgetting instances of failure. Confirmation bias then becomes a way of supporting their belief in prayer.

Like having a lucky rabbit's foot or lucky shoes, the intriguing thing about prayer is how rationalizations are immediately sought and manufactured when the desired result fails to materialize. If the horse I bet on loses the race then perhaps I didn't shine my lucky shoes well enough today, or maybe the chain wasn't slung around my neck just right for the amulet to be centered on my chest. As for petitionary prayers, when cognitive dissonance is experienced (i.e., when prayer undeniably fails to result in what is desired) rationalizations of sorts are offered to explain away the apparent failure. And to me the following (illicit) ad hoc explanation wins hands down: "God always answers prayers, but sometimes he says no." This is a "win-win" rationalization since whether praying results in success or failure, the core belief in the supernatural and in the power of prayer remains intact. With this ad hoc explanation the claim that God hears and answers prayers becomes nonfalsifiable, irrefutable. It conveniently explains away all failure and is thus a most effective way in keeping the belief forever immune to disconfirmation. Of course, when asked how they know that there is a deity (and is the kind they believe in and not the deity of another religion) and one who sometimes doesn't grant what is wished for, some believers may use the fact that some prayers fail to result in what is wished for as their evidence. When it's pointed out to them that that's circular reasoning, they might then start a frantic search in their sacred text. When pointed out to them that there is no evidence that any of the theological claims in their text are true, they sooner or later fall back on the ultimate back door: "You must have faith!" And when pointed out to them that belief however strong does not make something true they just might ...

I don't expect belief in prayer to disappear anytime soon. It frequently is a last resort for people. Desperation can drive us to the edge. We can become irrational and clutch onto anything, even a delusion. But as in the case of amputees, the whole world can pray everyday for the next thousand years but no lost limbs will ever be restored.

Here's what Heather MacDonald has to say about entreaties to the one on high.

...I had started noticing the puzzling logic of petitionary prayer. What was the theory of God behind prayer websites, for example: that God is a democratic pol with his finger to the wind of public opinion? Is the idea that if only five people are praying for the recovery of a beloved grandmother from stroke, say, God will brush them off, but that if you can summon five thousand people to plead her case, he will perk up and take notice: "Oh, now I understand, this person's life is important"? And what if an equally beloved grandmother comes from a family of atheist curs? Since she has no one to pray for her, will God simply look the other way? If someone could explain this to me, I would be very grateful.

I also wondered at the narcissism of believers who credit their good fortune to God. A cancer survivor who claims that God cured him implies that his worthiness is so obvious that God had to act. It never occurs to him to ask what this explanation for his deliverance says about the cancer victim in the hospital bed next to his, who, despite the fervent prayers of her family, died anyway.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Muslim fashion statements

This is an interesting and encouraging development. It seems that not all (male) Muslims approve of the veil.

The Egyptian minister of religious endowments [Hamdy Zaqzuq] has forbidden his ministry's religious counselors from wearing the face veil, or "niqab," the press reported on Monday.... [Zaqzuq said,] "The niqab is a matter of custom and not the faith -- it has nothing to do with the religion."

What I'd like to know is why there are women choosing (rather than being forced) to wear the niqab, the face veil. What could be their reasons for doing so? Could it be that for some there's an anxiety reducing factor in hiding one's face? I could relate to that (but then donning a paper bag over my head would attract even more stares!). Are some of these women embarrassed of their looks (find themselves homely)? Do some of them get a kick out of going out as masked women? Have some been brought up believing that women should not be seen (in public)? That they are second rate citizens? That it is shameful for them to expose their faces? What are the (various) reasons that drive them to remain hidden/anonymous in public?

And while on the subject of female attire, here's the latest on female Muslim swimwear--the Burqini.

Looks to me that with it women can go jogging and then dive right into the pool.

I'm not into swimming but I bet having such loose clothing is an inefficient way of moving through water.

Monday, January 15, 2007

This Superman can't make sacrifices

In a public forum an adherent of the Members of the Church of God International shared the following quote which he said comes from Batman:
Superman isn't brave. You can't be brave if you're indestructible. It's everyday people like me and you who are brave, knowing we can easily lose but still continue forward. That's true bravery.
I did a little googling and my search traces the quote, or at least the first part of it, to the movie Angus.

But who in fact came up with it isn't what concerns me. What immediately popped into my head when I read it was that it must've escaped this Christian that similarly the supposed sacrifice of God wasn't a sacrifice at all because God didn't die. He (that includes all three of him) is indestructible.

We can't talk of God's bravery or selflessness or about God giving himself. How can the father have given his only son when no such thing ever happened? [1] God didn't get terminated. He can't. Or are believers saying that the Trinity was, for 3 earth days circa 30CE, whittled down to a Duo? Are there theologians who say that while Jesus lay dead the Second Person of God was nonexistent?

Some may say that Jesus did die. But God isn't a human being, notwithstanding the doctrine of incarnation. And what does it mean to say that he became a terrestrial creature? Surely, theologians and believers aren't saying that while Jesus was alive there was no god out there anymore. Or are they saying that part of God became human? What could that mean? Or are there Christians out there who believe that a supernatural entity literally impregnated a human female, a la Greco-Roman mythology, resulting in the birth of a hybrid--a cross between a deity and Homo sapiens?

Being perfect and all-powerful God can recreate the human Jesus and have him crucified a trillion times, and God would still be God. He wouldn't be any less or more than before this exercise. Being omniscient God knew everything even before he created the universe. Being outside time saying he knew all this before the creation doesn't even do justice to the timeless nature of his knowing. Being omnipotent and having perfect knowledge, it really boggles the mind why God even created this universe--this vale of tears. It can't be by necessity--it can't be that God couldn't have but created this universe--since that would imply he isn't omnipotent.... The problems are legion. The point here simply is that given the presumptions about this particular deity, God couldn't possibly make sacrifices.

We humans are able to make sacrifices because we're mortal, because we can suffer, because we necessarily have to expend energy and resources and exert ourselves in order to attain our objectives, because we're finite in all respects. A being who is perfect, eternal and omnipotent can't be harmed, can't die, can't change, can't suffer, can't make sacrifices. Christians can't have it both ways. Either their deity is just finitely more intelligent, powerful, evolved/developed than we are and thus can still possibly suffer and die and make sacrifices--give something that will diminish it in some way--or it's omni-everything and simply too perfect such that it's impassible and immutable.

Now amongst humans who are those who (in some sense) make a greater sacrifice when they lay down their lives for some cause? If you think about it, it's those who don't have any belief in or deny outright an afterlife. When these people put themselves in harm's way they believe (or know) they're risking the only life they will ever have. On the other hand, those who believe they're going to wake up even after they've breathed their last are of the mindset that even though they put their lives on the line and end up dead they'll still rise up once more like some phoenix (and from then on live forever), with their egos, memory, personality intact. [2] The fear of annihilation is assuaged by the belief that death is merely the dissolution of the body, that the self, one's "essence" if we may call it that, does not die. So how one understands death makes a difference in how the sacrifice is felt.


1. And what does God being "father" and "son" mean? They're biological concepts and can hardly apply to something immaterial. Even "giving" and "sacrifice" are anthropomorphisms.

2. Here, of course, I'm excluding those who believe that individuality doesn't survive death. Christianity is pretty egoistic in its conception of the hereafter. If I were in the market for an afterlife I'd choose the Hindu version--when we die we will be like raindrops returning to the sea, losing our individual identities, merging with the ocean and becoming just one body of water.

Just don't pull the plug

Mary has made an appearance. This time as a stalagmite, in the meat section.

The Virgin looks pretty phallic in this apparition, doesn't she?

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Just sighted the following bumper sticker (white fonts on red background) on the car in front of me. Took a picture of it using my phone's camera but its resolution is just too low and the image too blurry to make out.


In case of rapture

this car will be unmanned

There's a little stylized Christian fish symbol on the bottom right. Without the fish this could easily be satire. With it, I don't know how seriously it was intended to be. Nor what the owner of the car was thinking when he stuck it.

Here's one that leaves no doubt as to its creator:

And no, the children won't be raptured since they're of Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, and Zoroastrian parents.

Maybe I'll stick the following on mine:


In case of alien abduction
this car will rematerialize in my garage

Beam me us up, ET!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Going bananas

Psychics and fortune tellers cost money. So why not consult a tree instead?

People in Thailand have been flocking to visit a banana tree which is said to be able to predict winning lottery numbers.... They rub a mixture of powder and water on the tree's trunk, then wait to see what number the solution resembles as it dries.

Would that be a 3, 4, 5 or 6-digit lottery? How distinct are the numbers? Are they in Arabic numerals or in some other language?

It isn't a matter of if you can win the lottery by this method. It's just a matter of when. Rub the mixture over and over and over, read/interpret the results as you wish, and sooner or later (I'm betting on later) you'll get some/all of the digits correctly. I'm wondering how many have bet and haven't won a single Baht.

Peachy friend

Carole Peach is a South African psychic. Unfortunately for her she failed to see that she was going to be robbed.

She had no forewarning that a mugger would reach through the open passenger window of her husband's car, punch her in the face and grab her bag containing two wallets, R2 500 in cash, bank cards, her telephone and ID books, two cellphones and her heart tablets.... Peach, a medium who does predictions on Radio Lotus, said that she was a "transreader" who helped people through a Red Indian guide. "He talks through me," she explained.

She should have a nice long talk with her invisible Red Indian friend. Surely, this kind of incompetence is unpardonable.

Monday, January 08, 2007

How do we know it's true?

Among the differences between an epistemology that actually works, i.e., one that gets us (closer) to the truth, and one that's bogus--a pseudo-epistemology--is that there is convergence of understanding in the former and divergence in the latter.

At the start, when we have yet to understand the nature of phenomenon X, there will be various possible, plausible, competing hypotheses/explanations for X. Our goal is to prune and throw out those which are wrong. We want to know which ones are false so we can reduce the number of feasible hypotheses. And this can only be done if there is a methodology for doing so.

In the epistemic realm nothing beats the methods of science for understanding reality. While there may be an infinity of possible, explanations for X, the methods of science allow us to rule out a massive amount of hypotheses. What remains are those that best explain the phenomenon in question and those that have the best predictive capacity. This is what I mean by convergence. Via science we converge toward the best/right explanation.

Theology (not limited to the Semitic traditions), on the other hand, is one prime example of a pursuit that results in divergence. Theology is pseudo-epistemology; it does not lead to any knowledge of reality. The number of theologies in the world is still increasing. And one reason for this is because theological hypotheses can't be tested. Unlike in science, they can't be disproved.1 This feature of nonfalsifiability is the Achilles heel of theological claims. It implies that they can never be known to be true.

Because science leads to epistemological convergence, we don't have a Xiamen chemistry that's different from Mumbai chemistry that's at odds with Manila chemistry that disagrees with Nairobi chemistry that's irreconcilable with Tehran chemistry that's .... And as far as we can tell the laws and theories in chemistry are the same on the Moon, Mars, Neptune, or for that matter, celestial objects a million light years away.

Contrast that with theology. Chinese, Indian, Philippine, African, Iranian, ... theologies have not in the past hundreds/thousands of years ever converged toward one theology. There has been no pruning of what isn't true. On the contrary, the opposite has been the norm. And to go beyond our little home, is it really believable that on planets dozens/hundreds/thousands/millions of light years away, where intelligent life forms have arisen as well, that any of their religions (if the organisms are genetically/psychologically/culturally predisposed to religion in the first place as we are) would be the same as any of the ones we have here? Will their deity and theology uncanny likeness to, say, Christianity?2 On the other hand, can you imagine a technologically savvy civilization on any planet that teaches physics that contradict ours? Can you imagine those extraterrestrial science professors teaching that atoms don't have protons, neutrons and electrons, that carbon cannot produce double bonds, that x-rays have a frequency lower than visible light, that the mass of an object remains constant even as it approaches the speed of light? 3 The findings of science are universal. The claims of religions are provincialist and culture-bound.

You know your epistemology is worth it if there's progress in your fund of knowledge, when what you say is true is in fact in accord with reality. And this can only be known if there is an objective way to test the claims. Theology has no such methodology. Its claims are mere speculations.


1. Some may think that this property of disprovability implies that the claim must therefore be true. But one example should suffice to illustrate how this certainly is not the case. Let's say I claim that there is a planet located 500,000 light years away. On this planet--which like ours revolves around a nearby star--lives a certain advanced species. By some technology they have been able to gather the works of various civilizations in star systems including ours. At this very moment a member of this species is writing a synopsis of Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. Now I cannot prove this series of claims. But it also cannot be disproved. Even if there is a planet in the location in space where I say it is and even if we have a telescope powerful enough to resolve objects the size of mice, we still have to wait 500,000 years for the light from that planet to reach us. For all practical purposes the above claims are immune to disconfirmation. But it doesn't mean they are therefore true. On the contrary, we're apt to consider them implausible and give them a low probability rating.

2. You get a feeling of the provincialism and shortsightedness of, say, Christianity when you ask whether on other planets God had also incarnated and died and resurrected. It becomes comical once God stages the drama of incarnation-death-resurrection on every planet with pre-scientific civilizations. Moreover, Christianity tells us that humans are made in the image of their deity, but if life exists on other planets, given how evolution works, extraterrestrials will look pretty different from us and may even have very different personalities/psychologies. For the religions of the Earth better if intelligent life has and will never develop elsewhere in the universe. And better if the law of large numbers are not operative--given the huge number of planets in the billions of galaxies it is almost ridiculous to even suggest that the conditions for life existed and will exist only on Earth.

3. And even in those areas of scientific knowledge where indeed there is a discrepancy, human and extraterrestrial scientists can and will eventually converge on what is true. We--humans and aliens--can and will find out which of the hypotheses/explanations is the right one or the best one. The methods of science, whoever practices them, lead to testable, intersubjectively verifiable knowledge. Science works.

There is of course the question whether alien scientists would be employing some other methods which they call scientific but which we have not discovered/invented. As with "our" scientific method if it works it is naturally selected.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Xerox copies are just that

Stories from the GiTMO closet:

In October 2002, a U.S. Marine captain allegedly squatted over a copy of the Quran during intensive questioning of a Muslim prisoner, who was "incensed" by the tactic, according to an FBI agent.... After an erroneous report of Quran abuse prompted protests overseas in 2005, the U.S. military conducted an investigation that confirmed five incidents of intentional and unintentional mishandling of the Quran at the detention facility. They acknowledged that soldiers and interrogators had kicked the book, had stood on it and, in one case, had inadvertently sprayed urine on a copy.

Ethical issues aside, I'm intrigued by the fact that humans can get really provoked and enraged by the vandalism of a book, that they perceive this as desecration.

Let's examine the incidents for a moment. A copy of the Quran had been doused with (human) urine, another squatted upon (it doesn't say whether the officer had pulled his pants down), one was booted, and yet another had been used as a foot stool.

Think about it. Those book are copies of some original. They were probably printed in the last couple of decades. They're just copies. They're nothing but pulp and ink. If we burn a thousand copies of the Quran (or the Bible, or Vedas, or the Pali Canon, or the Tao Te Ching, ...) there would still be thousands of the same exact volume around the world. Vandalizing a few (in the Guantanamo case) isn't at all the same as shredding extant ancient manuscripts/codices.

Some would turn the table and say, Won't you--a rationalist and an atheist-- become incensed were dozens of copies of Darwin's Origin of Species or Dawkins' The God Delusion or Sagan's Varieties of Scientific Experience ripped/burned/spitted on/defecated upon/etc.? Well, no. I've tried to imagine exactly that and while it's true that spit and sh*t per se are quite off-putting to me I find myself watching the whole thing with amusement as well as scientific detachment, observing how the perpetrators are trying to light my fire so to speak and perhaps even getting a kick out of what they're doing (as the Guantanamo soldiers probably did). I'd gladly vandalize and tear up any book I treasure--if you'll just reimburse me (and highlight the exact same passages). I simply have no problem with it. I don't venerate 9 x 5 x 1" sheaves of paper. I don't deem them sacred. For me there isn't such a thing as desecration of copies of a book. I don't fill my shelves with all that paper for the cellulose and ink. It's the ideas therein that are precious to me. The medium by which it arrives to me is just that--a medium. If I can get the same thing via a less tangible form such as the Internet, then it's pretty much the same to me (and in some cases I prefer digital copies since I can do a computer search on them--which of course makes finding specific quotes such a cinch).

What I do take issue with and feel quite strongly about is the destruction of originals, of one-offs, of things that are irreplaceable. Whether that be the giant Buddha stone statue blown up by the Taliban, or the Nag Hammadi manuscripts/codices, or the palimpsests of Archimedes, or the various ancient "originals" of the Quran--I would be one of the first voices to be heard if these were intentionally vandalized/destroyed for any reason at all. These are precious historical records. This is human history. They're portholes into the human mind. What we lost when the Library of Alexandria was gutted is unimaginable. What went up in smoke then (as far as we know) is forever lost. Even original religious texts are invaluable in this historical, archaeological, psychological, scientific, humanistic sense.

On the other hand, it does get my goat when a book is vandalized or destroyed for no reason at all, since it is a waste of materials, human labor, and fuel. I may not agree with what's in the book, I may not have even read it at all, but I am against destruction for destruction's sake or simply for kicks. Burning a thousand copies of the Quran would elicit nothing from me if not for the fact that it contributes to pollution and greenhouse gases, is a waste of the energy that went into making them, and forever precludes the reuse of nearly a ton of paper. In such a case I would rather that those thousand volumes had not been printed at all in the first place.

And need it be said that if destruction of a certain copy results in a person's loss of access to that particular version of the text, that too would be something that I'd think of as improper.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Robertson hears voices in his head ... again

Psychics get their tips from spirits. Robertson receives his from an invisible sky daddy.

Pat Robertson predicted Tuesday that a terrorist attack on the United States would result in "mass killing" late in 2007. "I'm not necessarily saying it's going to be nuclear," he said during his news-and-talk television show "The 700 Club" on the Christian Broadcasting Network. "The Lord didn't say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that." Robertson said God told him during a recent prayer retreat that major cities and possibly millions of people will be affected by the attack, which should take place sometime after September.

So what's Robertson's out when this 2007 forecast of his falls through? Here's one: The mere fact that this information had been made public was enough to alert the authorities or frustrate the perpetrators.

Robertson also said, I have a relatively good track record. Sometimes I miss." Is he referring to those predictions he received from God? If so how can an omniscient being have misses? Was God playing a trick on Robertson? Was there static, interference, a heavy accent, or a translation error such that Robertson misheard/misunderstood what his deity announced to him? Did Robertson's short term memory fail to record everything faithfully? But then why didn't the deity rectify these faults and dial up Robertson again? And for that matter since it's omniscient it knew even before it created the universe that Robertson would relay the prediction erroneously and should then have done something about it even before it whispered into Robertson's ears.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Athorism is chic

Here's Richard Dawkins' contribution to the On Faith series by Newsweek and the Washington Post.

Athorism is enjoying a certain vogue right now. Can there be a productive conversation between Valhallans and athorists? Naïve literalists apart, sophisticated thoreologians long ago ceased believing in the material substance of Thor's mighty hammer. But the spiritual essence of hammeriness remains a thunderingly enlightened relevation, and hammerological faith retains its special place in the eschatology of neo-Valhallism, while enjoying a productive conversation with the scientific theory of thunder in its non-overlapping magisterium. Militant athorists are their own worst enemy. Ignorant of the finer points of thoreology, they really should desist from their strident and intolerant strawmandering, and treat Thor-faith with the uniquely protected respect it has always received in the past. In any case, they are doomed to failure. People need Thor, and nothing will ever remove him from the culture. What are you going to put in his place?

Go read the rest of it.

When confronted by Xians/Muslims, whip out the Dawkins (and Stephen Roberts) retort: Do you believe in Ahura Mazda, Loki, Demeter, Vishnu, and the other 999 gods? Well then, congratulations! You're 99.9% atheistic.


ET was on his way to carve his latest crop circle design but his navigator screwed up and they ended hovering over a tarmac.

A flying saucerlike object hovered low over O'Hare International Airport for several minutes before bolting through thick clouds with such intense energy that it left an eerie hole in overcast skies, said some United Airlines employees who observed the phenomenon.

Monday, January 01, 2007


When I saw the clouds and color of the sky I grabbed my digicam and started shooting. Here are a couple of the shots I took.

I then noticed a fluff that stood out and didn't seem to belong. It's that round one there on the top right of the image above. So I zoomed in and took a closeup:

Mirabile dictu, it's His Noodliness, The FSM!

Science is naturalistic

I'm not particularly satisfied with the answers that Sam Harris put forth his 10 Myths — And 10 Truths — About Atheism. Maybe he fired off this piece in haste. Maybe he doesn't have enough space to fully develop what he has in mind. I don't know.

Be that as it may, I'd like to add my two cents to his reply to the 5th myth, that atheism has no connection to science.

At first blush, there is no apparent nexus between the two. Science is the process of objectively understanding the workings of the universe. Atheism, on the other hand, is merely the lack of belief in deities (just as--to take liberty in creating some temporary neologisms--"a-fairyism" is the lack of belief in fairies, "a-Nessieism" the lack of belief in the Loch Ness monster, "a-Odinism" the lack of belief in the god Odin, and so on. Needless to say, a large number of people in the world are a-fairyists, a-Nessieists, and a-Odinists).

However, if we look at the foundations of science, the tenets which explicitly or implicitly undergird the work of scientists, then we see that one of the principles which has been at work is that of methodological naturalism (MN). In part, MN entails the assumption that empirical phenomenon Y can be explained in naturalistic terms. When scientists propound hypotheses, write papers for publications to journals, they do not tell their colleagues that Y was caused supernaturally. That just isn't science.

While scientists may have personal religious beliefs (there are scientists who are also Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, ... ) science itself does not presuppose the existence of deities and the supernatural. The scientific enterprise is predicated upon an implicit atheism. It's naturalistic. Otherwise, every time researchers bump up against a complex, seemingly inscrutable problem, they can simply throw their hands up and exclaim, "Deity Z did it." And if it isn't obvious, such an explanation is no explanation at all since anything can be attributed to such (all-) powerful entities, just as we can take it as axiomatic that a superadvanced extraterrestrial exists and then attribute everything we don't understand to it: "An alien unimaginably more intelligent and more powerful than humans caused Y." As such, "God(dess) did it" is merely a substitute for "I don't know the nature of Y," i.e., merely a placeholder/euphemism for ignorance. As biologist Jerry Coyne notes, "If the history of science shows us anything, it is that we get nowhere by labeling our ignorance 'God.'"