Thursday, December 25, 2008

Fuck You Dogmatic Atheists

You disgust me. I’m sorry I wasted my time reading your blog, but I’m never coming back again.

Although I truly can’t fathom how someone can go from being a skeptic to believing that a deity poofed things into existence, and a guy rose from the dead after three days, based on a single book of dubious origin, more power to you if it makes you happy.

Well – congratulations on burying your head in the sand. I wonder what horrific even in your life pushed you running screaming into the waiting arms of your invisible friend.

Your religion is about as believable as that picture of an Anglo-Jesus comforting a group of racially diverse children……as of course the Bible says he often did.

oh my goodness. i’m so sad to see this. farewell, you were once a force for good and reason on the internet. i’m sorry to see your mind stolen away.

What happened to you? You used to have a brain, or at least seemed like it. Since the de-enlightenment has apparently occurred, I will no longer frequent. Perhaps some time in the land of ignorance will turn you around.

I see you’ve started this thread with a picture of a paediphile priest and four of his victims. I hope you’ve given their names to the police.

It’s sad so see someone who’s too tired or scared to keep thinking. Have fun with your death cult.

Did death scare you that much?

Is it April 1st already?

Swapping cold reality for a comforting myth is something of a tragedy. Celebrating ignorance is not something I’m comfortable with. Nevertheless, you gotta do what you gotta go, so good luck!

You took the blue pill. Understandable, but sad.

Dear me, how pathetic. You used to think for yourself, and now you’ve let a bunch of Christians brainwash you. Hope it was worth it.

any reason you’ve put up a pic of such a historically silly european jesus? or is the idea of a non-white middle-easterner somehow scary?i guess you’ve already sacrificed rationality, a little side of racism should get things good and finished.

oh yes and merry christmas: the holiday where christians celebrate the impregnation of a 14 year old by a murderous diety…who then lets a king slaughter all the under-2-year-old males in town! yay!

If I ever get an abortion, I’ll dedicate it to you. Enjoy the vapid, glassy-eyed company, moron.

Without even meeting you I can tell that you have the personality construct of an addict which is evident in your see-sawing from one extreme to another. You were a crappy atheist to begin with. Enjoy your mindless devotion to Jebus and the Deathcult.

I hope you find you way back to logical thinking someday! Good luck though if it makes you happy.

Welcome to the make-believe world of jewish, dinosaur-riding zombies who, despite creating the universe, just cannot seem to handle money.

This is the most pathetically hilarious thing I’ve ever seen. Anyone claiming to be an Atheist who later recants was never an Atheist. Doubt and fear of damnation still lingered deep in your psyche. The mind control of religion is a deep scar that often never heals.

You stupid fuck. How can you do such a thing, worship a being that doesn’t exist and doesn’t give a fuck about any one of us. Dumb fuck.

You always were a bit unhinged.

That picture RT posted of the white Jesus surrounded by a racially diverse group of pawing children speaks volumes. Notice how adoringly they look up at him, and how lovingly he looks back. He appreciates that sort of wide-eyed and ignorant adoration. Little kids will believe practically anything. No wonder Jesus wants to surround himself with them.

What a tool you are….get a life. No, join the other losers of the God Cult and leave the URL to someone more deserving, tool.

I can understand vacilating between atheism and some form of deism, but straight to believing that God in a dead jewish carpenter is extreme. hope it works for you.

Congratulations on making your way into the intellectual pig sty I took so long to get out of.
As for your name, when you dropped the “a-”, you should have also dropped the “-aving”… and replaced it with “-etarded”.
Enjoy your new-found ignorance. It’s bliss.

You are scared of death, scared of other people’s death, and rather than confront this you have decided to run away. This is understandable, it is human. But your own cowardice does not give weight to Christiobollox any more than it would to Hinduism if you happen to have been brought in India.

Congratulations. You’ve abandoned reason for madness, clarity for obfuscation and freedom for bondage. You’ve bought into the greatest con of the ages, and willingly support all manner of inhuman and degrading tenets of that faith, all in the name of a celestial white male who’s giving you a carte blanche to rape, pillage and molest the planet.

This reminds me of, “I have given up on reality and am now looking for a good fantasy.” Have a nice fantasy. Just remember, if you ever let yourself doubt again, that religious experience is generated in the brain by physical processes.

I can’t believe someone who hosted an atheist site has converted. The ignorance is stronger than I thought. I don’t blame you for personally converting. That’s your business. But I think the fact that you, of all people, converted is sad. WHY? How did this happen?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas, Economy and Life

Hey Bill O'Reilley, if you want to battle the "war on Christmas" why not start with your own network? I was watching NFL on FOX earlier this week (Cardinals vs Patriots) and all I saw everywhere was "Happy Holidays" with barely a mention of "Merry Christmas". I thought it was too funny. Clearly someone didn't get the memo. A war on FOX I tell you!

Larry Kudlow, of CNBC fame, is a right wing loon. Despite Obama winning the election he wont stop pestering the viewers about how Obama should employ the same failed right wing economic policies which started this mess. He misses the bigger picture by saying "gas is so cheap" and "interest rates are so low". (He calls these things mustard seeds from the bible...) These are of course BAD SIGNS for the economy. No one cares about the price of gas when they don't have a job. For those who don't want to hear the usual rubbish from CNBC there are some gems out there in YouTube land, such as Don Harrold. (Don likes to get stuck into flip-flop economic "advisor" Jim Cramer)

Obama's presidency could either be bad news or good news for Republicans. On one hand if the economy does not recover in two years, in time for the mid-term elections, the Republicans should control the house, ready for an assault on the White House in 2012. If Obama really makes a mess of it, forget seeing a Democrat in the white house until 2020 at the earliest. On the other hand if messiah Obama pulls a miracle and saves the economy (forgetting that the economy usually goes in cycles) then the Republicans are in big trouble - barring a Clinton...

Every time I get the desire to contact my Catholic ex-girlfriend to mend the bridges, something happens which makes me facepalm and not want to deal with any of that. Last time was the Webster Cook crackergate affair, this time is the Pope's anti-homosexual spiel.

Early February I have beamtime at Sincrotrone Trieste in Italy to do some experiments on DEED (Delayed electron emission detector) as part of my PhD. This will be the third synchrotron visit for us with DEED. In terms of my PhD, the past two visits were unsucessful in that we did not see any "physics" but obtained useful instrumentation data. I'm running late to finish my PhD in three and a half years (I'm about two and three quarters years through), so I need to have a good run, or a good year in the lab here in Perth.

After the visit, I plan on staying in London for a week. I will also make a trip to Southend via Basildon (where my Dad came from). Damn its going to be cold!

Quote of the Day: Reason

Those who invalidate reason ought seriously to consider whether they argue against reason with or without reason; if with reason, then they establish the principles that they are laboring to dethrone: but if they argue without reason (which, in order to be consistent with themselves they must do), they are out of reach of rational conviction, nor do they deserve a rational argument. -- Ethan Allen

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Mere Assertions - Part One

When my ex-girlfriend gave me an extract of C.S. Lewis' notorious apologetic book "Mere Christianity", I wasn't impressed with his arguments based on what I knew. One year on, long since I have talked to my ex, and after a year of almost constant study, I've decided to read the entire book and investigate the claims made in detail.

Preface

Lewis sweeps under the carpet all the different denominations of Christianity as if this difference were not an issue. These differences are an issue with those who do not believe. The argument from incoherency is a problem for both exclusive (only our denomination is saved) and non-exclusive (all Christians are saved) branches of Christianity.
the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology or even of ecclesiastical history which ought never to be treated except by real experts.
Unfortunately this isn't good enough Mr Lewis. How then are we supposed to know which is the "true path" when even the "real experts" cannot tell us? If certain interpretations are to be believed, the incorrect Christian religion has ones soul at danger. This is merely embarrassing.

I will leave this issue alone for the moment, until it pops up later.

Book I. Right and Wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe.
1. The Law of Human Nature

The chapter heading reveals Lewis' bias. He doesn't pose it as a question but merely asserts it. He doesn't argue this chapter from the point of view of a sceptic, but from someone who is already familiar with Christianity and how Christianity answers these questions. This presumptuousness gets in the way of Lewis argument and turns it into preaching.
None of us are really keeping the Law of Nature.
This is the old tired Christian chestnut that we are all sinners and deep down we know it.

Lewis' moral argument is merely an argument from ignorance.
Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him.
If Lewis knew about evolutionary theory he would know why these countries would be less successful than countries with the opposing characteristics. The urge is therefore nothing but characteristics honed through evolution. Countries of cowards would be overrun by those who are violent and double-crosses could not form a society where people work for the benefit of all. He is merely highlighting those innate characteristics that have been formed over millions of years of tough struggle - survival of the fittest.

It is no wonder that Christians like to ignore or deny evolution. It answers the moral question sufficiently. For those who believe evolution was guided by God, apart from being a concession to science, it also posits a cruel God whose method of honing a moral law is sufferring and survival of the fittest.

2. Some Objections

Lewis attempts to answer the skeptic who hasn't fallen for his mere assertion.
Now I do not deny that we may have a herd instinct: but that is not what I mean by the Moral Law.
This sounds promising. He accepts that many of our behaviours are instinctual but claims the Moral Law is not - he will of course have to prove that this isn't special pleading.
But feeling a desire to help is quite different from feeling that you ought to help whether you want to or not.
I see no difference between the two. A desire biases our decision making towards either "do something" or "do nothing". This desire produces the ought. If Lewis is arguing that somehow the physical feeling produces a metaphysical ought, he has a lot of work to do to show this is the case!

To use Lewis' argumentative style I am going to argue by analogy. A desire to eat is the same as the feeling that you ought to eat because the desire is (abstractly) sending the message "eat or die". A human who did not have this desire would mistakenly die! This is why evolution has honed the desire to produce the ought.
You probably want to be safe much more than you want to help the man who is drowning: but the Moral Law tells you to help him all the same.
Interestingly if you set up an experiment where two monkeys are in two cages adjacent to each other and the act of one monkey eating produces a shock in the other monkey - the first monkey will refuse to eat (to the point of almost dying) rather than let his fellow primate suffer. The monkey ought to eat, which would be in its best interest - but does not act on this compulsion. Clearly an example of selflessness. The Christian would need to conclude that God gave the monkey a moral law too!

If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilised morality to savage morality,
This statement is rather infuriating. There are countless examples in the past where "civilised" people felt justified in killing "savages" and even taking their children from their parents for "their own good". Recently the Australian government apologised to the children of the "Stolen Generation" because the "civilised" Australians took children away from their "savage" parents. What were the Australian's apologising for? Lewis claims they were justified in doing what they did because they were morally superior! This is merely mite versus right dressed up as morality.

If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something-some Real Morality-for them to be true about.
I agree with Lewis here. Except we differ on what this "something" is. The Nazi's were missing information. The real tragedy of the holocaust was due to absolute morality and the inability to apply reason and inquiry.

If Hitler were a rational human, we could bring him to a table and show him the information that
a) The Jews are human
b) There is no such thing as an ideal race (its arguable whether races exist or not)
c) Homogeneous races (or sets of populations) are bad for genetic diversity

He would therefore agree with us and believe his plan was not the correct thing to do. This is applying scientific conclusions to show that we were right in our condemnation of Hitler and his actions.

But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things.
Another infuriating message from someone who believes in a bible which says that a man should not suffer a witch to live. (Exodus 22:18)

if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather, surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did.
Lewis is saying that if we believe witches exist then it is correct to kill them. Lewis has hit the nail on the head as to why absolute morals lead to witch burning and Nazism - but he uses this as an argument FOR absolute morals! Incredible.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Books, Books, Books!

It takes me about ninety minutes to get to university in the morning and sometimes two hours to get back if I end up staying late in the lab. I now use this time to read, rather than the previous tactics of zoning out, sleeping or checking out females. As much as I enjoy immersing myself in books of fiction, I currently have had a hankering for books which make me think.

The first four books I got from Amazon.com were

V.S. Ramachandran : Phantom's In the Brain
Daniel C. Dennett: Consciousness Explained
Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time
Daniel C. Dennett: Breaking the Spell - Religion as a natural phenomenon


Phantom's In the Brain
I couldn't put this book down. Each page was a fascinating journey into the mind and how, when things go wrong, we can work out, almost as if by reverse-engineering, how the brain works. Ramachandran is a fantastic public speaker who has captured my imagination numerous times and presents his work in such a way that even non-experts in the field can understand what is going on. (Some of his works can be found on YouTube and Google Video's)

This was the first time I actually got to demonstrate to myself where my blind spot was and the associated phenomeon behind how we fill it in so we don't notice it.

The best story in the book for me was asking people who have large blind spots if they could still "see" despite no conscious recalling of events. It turns out they have a better than chance of "guessing" whether stimulus occured. This implies that although our consciousness may not see something - unconscious processes in the brain can still "see".

Consciousness Explained
False advertising! Having just read Phantom's In The Brain - my mind was geared into thinking about the mind and consciousness which is why I picked up this book. It was a tough read, on one hand the wording seemed geared to those who already had an inkling into this subject area yet I believe it was aimed at the lay person. I started to get into the book about 1/3 of the way in - and there on in, I was entralled. Sometimes I had to put the book down and spend the last part of the bus or train journey thinking about what was just written.

The most poignant memory I took from this book was the question on when consciousness occurs in a causal chain of events.

Let's say there is a woman who walks by who does not have glasses on.

You report after seeing her that she did have glasses on. (You only saw her fairly quickly and you remember seeing someone like her at a party who was wearing glasses)

The question is - did you "see" her wear glasses and recall this event (a so-called Stalinesque show trial) or did you "see" no glasses but recalled her with glasses (so-called Orwellian because the of the rewriting of history)

The answer to this sets the stage for Dennetts Theory and explanation of consciousness, which attempts to finally dethrone the circular notion of the Cartestian Theater.

A Breif History of Time
I cannot really comment on this book as I already knew everything that was in it! I actually thought there would be something more - but I suppose this book really is aimed at the average Joe. Still - there were some pretty pictures and if I could explain things in the way Hawkings does, then I will be very pleased.

One critisism is the loose use of the word "God". The last sentence says it all really
"If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason - for them we would know the mind of God." If you want to know what the question was - get the book!

Breaking The Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
Daniel returns with the question "Should we break the spell of religion?" Most atheists would spontaneously react with an emphatic YES to this question but Daniel want's to investigate this scientifically lest we regret it!
The answer is obviously yes, otherwise this book would not exist. (An anthropic principle of sorts...)

Again Dennett has a habit of being tediously boring to start with (to be fair, its tedious because it's thorough) before delving into the interesting and thought provoking questions. The most interesting chapter for me was on "Belief in Belief" where Dennett makes the bold claims that many religious people only belief because thats what they are instructed to do and it makes it hard for researchers to find out what they really believe because this differes from what they are told they need to believe.

---

The following arrived in the last two days:

Economics
Freakonomics: Economics of the unusual

Animals and People
Alex & I : A story of a bond between a talking parrot and a scientist
Next of Kin: Conversations with a chimpanzee
The Selfish Gene: Richard Dawkins' Classic

Politics
Noam Chomsky on Anarchism

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Creationism Discussion (cont.)

Kel (of Kelosophy fame) was nice enough to respond to my critique of his critique of creationism.

Nothing like a good heated debate but I'm sure we agree more than disagree. I believe our differences lie in tactics.

As a "wannabe contrarian" I want to try to look at it from a different point of view, i.e. the creationists point of view. There are some fantastic articles on the facts of evolution. From talk.origins to YouTube videos (cdk007, Thunderf00t, DonExodus2, etc) and blogs (such as Kelosophy, Pharyngula).

I percieve these as being effective on one front (getting the facts of evolution out there into the infosphere - spreading memes) yet ineffective at tackling the root cause of creationism and this is what I am calling our "Fallacy Against Creationism" - the fallacies lies not in the logic (which is sound), but in the methodology - which may be flawed.

Good Mockery

One way mockery has been used for good effect is on Scientology. By exposing their bizarre claims to the masses we effectively "immunise" the population to this meme. Unfortunately this ridicule wouldn't work on someone who is already trapped in this delusion as Kel notes
As far as ridicule goes, it may simply put those being ridiculed further into their shells and feed their persecution complex.
I suspect that because we got in early with Scientology, it should not gain traction as anything other than a fringe cult. *fingers crossed*

Locational Context


In Australia we are lucky that we can laugh and mock those who believe in creationism (even Christians get in on the act). For some communities in the USA, this is not possible. Apart from the possibility of getting lynched, you will never win over these people with ridicule. I wouldn't even risk mocking people at Graceland because there might be a sizable proportion who believe Elvis still lives - but perhaps that makes me a coward.

Kel writes,
Hypothetically, think of a scenario involving a discussion on the holocaust. On one side, there is a world war 2 historian with decades of research into the field. On the other, there is a holocaust denier who has never even picked up a history book. Now the debate starts and the historian lays out all the evidence for the holocaust, dispels the myths that are around, and generally gives a convincing historical analysis of what happened. Now the denier stands up and says "If the holocaust happened, why don't we see the ghosts of dead Jews haunting children of Nazis?"

This sounds absolutely absurd and the holocaust denier would be laughed out of the debate hall.
Although I agree with Kel, imagine if this debate hall was in Iran? Suddenly, the holocuast denier isn't laughed out of the debate hall and the crowd agrees with the off-beat question. It's vitally important that the debater make inroads to those in the crowd lest the holocuast denial meme spread.

Professional Creationists

When it comes to professional creationsists such as Kirk Cameron, they know they are onto a good thing with the crocoduck! Not because it is a correct representation of evolutionary theory (whether they understand this or not isn't the point) but because it strikes a chord with folk-biology (how lay people view evolution) and gets a chuckle from those whose jaws are not agape. As a marketing ploy - it's really quite impressive!

Kel is correct in his approach to these people,
Pointing out the ridiculous nature of creationism with the evidence that's available makes for a far more convincing case.
However there is also a chance that using science to prove science may be like using the bible to prove the bible in the minds of those who are unable to appreciate the difference and who distrust science.

Conservapedia

I hate to use this as an authoritative source for the mentality of conservatives who believe in creationism but they make a number of parroted claims which reveal how they view the debate.
Creation scientists tend to win the Creation-Evolution debates and many have been held since the 1970's particularly in the United States. Robert Sloan, Director of Paleontology at the University of Minnesota, reluctantly admitted to a Wall Street Journal reporter that the "creationists tend to win" the public debates which focused on the creation vs. evolution controversy.

...

In an article entitled Are Kansas Evolutionists Afraid of a Fair Debate? the Discovery Institute states the following:

Defenders of Darwin's theory of evolution typically proclaim that evidence for their theory is simply overwhelming. If they really believe that, you would think they would jump at a chance to publicly explain some of that overwhelming evidence to the public. Apparently not.

Given the recent debacle and dishonest tactics a "Christian" radio station took when dealing with PZ Myers, they got their wish now that he does not want to debate with them. Making them act as if he has no argument. Devious, isn't it!

What is Mockable


Mockery can quickly be turned around to the absurdity of the claims of evolution whether we hold that position or not. An entire intellectual discourse can be muted with a "but it's only a theory". How can we compete with that?

How many times have we heard zingers which require a complicated explanation to explain why they are in error, from "goo to you" or "monkey's uncle" or "you believe an explosion caused this" or "It's just a theory" (this is a favourite of my Dad's - he mentions it every time the topic comes up)?

For those who followed the presidential race, there was a fundamental difference in approach to discourse: feelings vs facts, zingers vs intelligent discussion, Republican vs Democrat.

Worse still I feel theistic evolutionists can be found theologically wanting and have yet to hear a good explanation as to why a conservative should believe in theistic evolution. In a game of knock-out this puts the atheist on the other side of the debate.

It all boils down to this
provided we can maintain society
RAmen.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Fallacies against Creationists

I enjoy reading Kelosophy, but I believe he, and many others miss the bigger picture when it comes to Creationists and why they are wrong. Creationism is a symptom of an underlying disease and to cure the disease, you need to get to the root of the problem. By pointing and laughing at the Creationists (because, lets face it, based on what we know - its an untenable position) we are actually playing into their persecution desires and thus further entrenching their beliefs.

Let me explain.

Of Premises and People

Creationism is based on a number of flawed premises.

The first premise is that God exists and He is/was Jesus. (Sometimes taken in faith, sometimes taken pseudo-rationally)
The second is that the Bible is the word of God and is without error.

Based on the second premise, if science concludes differently than (a certain reading of) the Bible, then clearly the conclusions of science are flawed.

This is a logical (but not rational) conclusion based on the flawed premises!

One of the things that stuck in my head when learning formal mathematical logic at the start of my university degree is the statement that goes something like this
a false premise can prove anything
This can be seen in the truth table for the implication operator.

So what does this mean?

Well to put simply, IF God exists and IF Jesus is God and IF the Bible is the inerrant word of God, then when science concludes that we share a common ancestor with all animals, science MUST be wrong. This fits well with those who proudly display their "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it." bumper stickers.

Science Works, Bitches!

Science has convincingly chipped away many false beliefs which can be found in the Bible including a flat earth and an earth-centric universe. These conclusions are fairly uncontroversial only because the Bible can be read in such a way where these beliefs can be conveniently swept under the carpet (i.e. interpreted in another way).

Side note: I refer to these things as null arguments. They neither prove nor disprove the Bible. Arguments can be made on both sides ending in d├ętente.

This of course does not extend to all Judeo-Christian-Islamic beliefs. There are some Islamic "scholars" who will try to convince us that the Earth is indeed flat. (YouTube...) But I need not go into it here.

Evolution on the other hand is not an immediately realisable phenomenon. When Ian Plimer disgracefully requested a creationist touch live wires in a debate (can be found on YouTube) to show he believes the theory of electricity, the creationist reasonably rebuked this by pointing out how evolution is not repeatable in the same sense that electricity is. Although evolution is not repeatable in the classical sense, it still conforms to the scientific method and thus is science.

1. Form a hypothesis
2. Gather evidence
3. Analyse evidence/ revise hypothesis, etc

Evolution has a harder time with point 2. You can rarely do an experiment to gather the evidence and sometimes have to rely on digging, luck and pouring over previously discovered fossils to perform 3.

Science is a religion too!

I chuckle when people say that science is a religion. Mainly because they say it as if it being a religion is a bad thing.

Lay people do have a point that a majority of science needs to be taken (at least initially) on faith. I have a difficult time explaining to my parents what I do in the lab (how do I even know I am really dealing with electrons?) and even I as a scientist in training admit that there are areas of Physics which I am woefully equipped at evaluating (string theory, etc).

Any person of reasonable intelligence should be able to follow at least a rudimentary amount of science. If a person wishes to pursue how scientists arrived at their conclusions or wish to learn more about a particular subject, it is open to all and requires no statements of faith or presupposition about what the results need to show.

So here are the differences which make Science and Religion part ways.

Even if Quantum Mechanics is unfathomable to the lay person the results of it are not. We are all familiar with the results of Quantum Mechanics when we use computers and most modern technology. When a bunch of complicated mathematics can reproduce experimental values which are as accurate as measuring the distance between LA and New York to the width of a hair, you know you are onto something good! The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Given 2,000 years of religious thought - what has come of it? Do we even have a consistent message?

Faith or belief in science is irrelevant. Your TV will switch on whether you believe doped Silicon can become a conductor of "holes" or not (and if it doesn't, it means the TV is broken, not that you need to have more faith!). Faith and believe in religion on the other hand is (generally) a requirement for salvation or even to make prayer work.

Science at best can offer a more comfortable and perhaps longer life, but religion offers eternal life.

What is the lay person to do?

Professional Creationists

The job of professional creationists is to give the impression to the lay person that science agrees (or at least is starting to agree) with the Bible. Some even go as far as to claim that there is a conspiracy of "Big Science" to silence "the truth". In a previous blog entry I highlighted how there is a real creationist agenda to infiltrate science and change culture and that they have miserably failed.

Professional creationists truly believe in those false premises I outlined at the start and this clouds their ability to be objective. The lay person then has some "positions of authority" to appeal to and the waters get muddied.

Their PR campaign is working too. When I talk to Roman Catholics who do not believe in evolution, I smack my hand against my head. When a marginally and average religious person says science is starting to show creationism as true I start to lose hope. When the moderate religious do not speak out - or even bother investigating the claims, who can you turn to for a rational response? When the moderates are woefully out theologized...well you get the picture.

Education

I must admit that when I first started studying Kitzmiller vs Dover I was stunned by the evidence there was for evolution. Stunned, not because there was substantial evidence, but because I didn't know of it!

How come I had never heard that our 2nd Chromosome is the result of a fusion of two ape chromosomes?
How come I have never heard of the hundreds of ERV's in our DNA?

I had always knows of the striking amount of DNA we hold in common with our nearest common ancestor (chimpanzee) and I knew of the various fossils that had been found (of course I didn't know there were thousands of times more than I thought existed). I had always found those to be relatively convincing, but I did not know of the recent advances which make evolution not merely convincing but damn near irrefutable.

Failure of education plays into the hands of those who benefit the most from misinformation. If the local nerd doesn't even know of it - how is the lay person supposed to even have an inkling. This in a country which has an education system free from the influence of the religious?

Full Circle

The lay person:
The lay person is the victim of a PR campaign by the professional creationists who have convinced them that the Bible is true (scientifically, etc) and therefore God exists. These are the reasonable people who are open minded but misinformed. It's not their fault they don't care about the intricacies, sometimes there's just too much to work out, and its hard to know who to trust.

The lay "Jesus freak":
Even though they are not an expert they will point to the professional creationists as proof of their position. No amount of evidence will ever convince them of evolution because they base their lives around the flawed premises. These people are not stupid but are the victims when the atheist talks about "dem dum creationists". We all know who these people are - they are the ones we are likely to encounter as apologists.

These people are stuck in an epistemological black hole and require deprogramming before they can join the rational majority. (Which includes the misinformed lay person)

The professional creationist:
They dedicate their lives to spreading rubbish and are bankrolled by rich stupid Christians. If God rewarded those who seek the truth, these people would be headed to hell.

I do not classify Behe as a professional creationist. He is merely a Christian who thought he found a way of proving, using science, that Intelligent Design was involved in the evolution process. If he dogmatically sticks to the bacterial flagellum as being Irreducibly Complex despite being proved wrong - then he can be lumped with the other professional creationists.

I do not have anything against those who believe that science will one day justify their beliefs, or even those who actually do the research to try to prove their beliefs correct - I do have a problem with those who believe that science already justifies their belief in creationism. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Wrong Right

I'm not lying. I'm trustworthy. There's no spin here. Fair and balance. You decide!

I always giggle on the inside when I see those things written or said by people. The fact that you need to say it makes me think something is up. Just give me the facts okay?

The motto of the Poe's law Conservapedia is "The Trustworthy Encylopedia (sic)". It's anything but trustworthy unless you want your right wing biases reinforced. Reading through pages such as Atheism and Evolution makes me realise that reality really does have a well-known liberal bias.

I was watching Fox News (which always makes sure to remind you that they are "fair and balanced") this morning when Bill O'Reilley had a cheap shot against some school children singing, dancing and supporting Barack Obama. He said they were brainwashing them! If thats brainwashing then so too is singing and dancing and worshiping Jesus. I suppose it depends which side you are on right?

What really bugs me about Fox News isn't that it is right wing propaganda, but that people actually buy into it. Its the same with the views on Atheism in Conservapedia. I'm not offended by what was written but I am offended by the fact that there are people out there who honesty think this, and that these people are potentially numerous.

Intrade has Obama almost 2:1 to win the election.

Although I am no longer a fan of Obama, I still want him to win because the opposite is unthinkable. Eight years of Bush was bad enough and McCain offers nothing different despite calling himself a Maverick (if he was one why does he need to remind people...)

Four years ago the support for Kerry was minimal. There wasn't the feeling of change, of belief and passion that Obama brings - and best of all, its organic! This makes me think that the future isn't as bleak as it might possible be. Perhaps people out there are sensible and will make the right decision.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Am I Worried About Creationists?

No
From a scientists point of view I am only interested in the truth, not what I want that truth to be. Let's imagine there is a scientific discovery which turns the world of science on its head and suddenly a young earth isn't merely a nutjob idea but is actually supported by mountains of evidence. (Such a scenario would almost be impossible) I don't know many people who wouldn't jump on it! For one thing it would validate the three great monotheisms and for the first time there would be a good reason to believe in their god. I could imagine there being a huge sigh of relief that yes it was all true all along and now we can all join in and go to heaven...well apart from those like Carlin, Sagan, Russell, etc.

For many centuries it was the case that all and sundry, scientists included, believed this - of course it wasn't based on evidence but merely a lack of evidence to the contrary. As the scientific onion has peeled back more and more understanding of the universe and our origins, its becoming more apparent that our origins are from a naturalistic basis (this is not to discount a supernatural intervener) billions of years ago rather than a special creation event some 6,000 years ago.

Faced with this dilemma, Christians have chosen to re-read Genesis as an allegorical story rather than a literal historical account. For those with a literal and unsophisticated view of the bible they chose the other route, that is, to tell God how He created things! Such arrogance isn't surprising from those who worship the bible as a God unto itself and who believe they already have the answers. They would be right if God Himself wrote the bible - but we know this is not the case.

Creation scientists do not bother me in the slightest. To gain credibility they go into orthogonal or adjacent fields instead of the field itself. One person I know of who is in the same Physics department as myself is John Hartnett. He is a well respected scientist in the field of Frequency Standards and Metrology but shows his ineptitude when venturing into a field he is ill equipped to evaluate, that is, astrophysics. His ineptness comes from his presupposition that the universe is 6,000 years old and the big bang is wrong. He also enjoys spamming the Physics mailing lists with anti-global warming op-eds. (I've always failed to understand the correlation between GW deniers and Christians)

Another who is currently trolling the Facebook Group "Two Chix Apologetics" is Jonathan Sarfati. If I needed to know something about chess or Raman Scattering in Chemistry then he would be the guy to ask, but when it comes to his pet subject evolution he enteres with his bias that evolution cannot be true and thus reveals his ignorance. Until he, and other creations are willing to enter the fields they deride and publish in reputable scientific journals, they remain merely a side-show.

So long as the game is played according to the rules of science, I suspect creationists will always lose. Some have made it obvious they want to change the rules. Behe was laughed out of court in Kitzmiller vs Dover when his "redefinition" included pseudoscience such as astrology. Science has enjoyed many fruits from its materialistic presupposition - this isn't something that those of faith should be worried about, it should be orthogonal to their central claims.


Yes

The battlefield isn't really the field of science, its actually the public and the classroom. Evolution is a complicated field and I could imagine for the lay person it could be too bamboozling to understand. Phrases such as "if evolution is true then why are there still monkeys" and "evolution is only a theory" (my Dad's favourite) are attractive sound-bites which require answers which take five times longer to explain. Of course this is simply an education issue.

The problem becomes one of authority versus authority. On one hand we have something complicated, Evolution, taught by materialistic scientists and on the other hand we have something complicated, theology, taught by God fearing preachers who are promising heaven! It's hard to compete with that. They are both, to the lay person, positions of power. The difference of course is that theology is not open whereas science is. Over time theology fractures, science converges.

So the religious make it appear as an "us versus them" and create a "holy war" where anything goes for the glory of God, including lying...

Another problem is that the middle ground people (such as the Catholic Ken Miller) are drowned out by the atheist scientists who tout evolution as the lynchpin that holds non belief in God viable. As true as it might be - its a PR nightmare! So long as the average person sees Dawkins as the poster-boy for evolution instead of Miller or Pope John Paul II, then they will continue to see it as "us versus them".

Getting the young is their best strategy. Young minds are the most malleable and they will believe almost anything their parents or teachers tell them. I've never heard any religious person advocating that people should be given a well rounded education and then at the end they use their reasoning skills to choose a religion they believe to be true. It would of course be a more "true" faith - but as we know they are about "protecting" the young from "straying", even if this means lying or supressing information.

Kitzmiller vs Dover was important because it exposed how the motives were purely religious and not secular. It also showed how it "wasn't science" and worst of all, those in the "Intelligent Design" camp were lying on the edge of purgery. The rest of the world sighed in relief!


The Failure of the Wedge Strategy
The Wedge Strategy was a five and twenty year plan (started in 1999) to change science and the publics opinion to get America back to a biblical way of life because "the social consequences of materialism have been devastating." and "in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism."

Well its nearly ten years on and they haven't even gotten to their five-year goals.

Governing Goals

  • To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.
  • To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God.

Five Year Goals (2004)

  • To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory.
  • To see the beginning of the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science.
  • To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda.

Twenty Year Goals (2019)

  • To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.
  • To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its innuence in the fine arts.
  • To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.
To anyone outside of their delusion its easy to see why they have failed. They have started on false assumptions about how the world works. This is why science will never be replaced by "intelligent design theory" because it doesn't appear to be true! Science won't bend to fit into a narrow field of view and if you don't like it take it up with God who designed the entire thing to look like he wasn't involved and inspired a book to incorrectly state He created things in 4004BCE.

Dare I say it, while they have been focusing on the United States the rest of the world has been retreating from their goals. I am unable to tell if their "cultural and moral" life has been affected - clearly the politics is. (Sarah Palin anyone?)


If They Win...
If they win then its the end of science as we know it. If they win because they are correct then so be it. If they win because they overhaul science or win by getting political power or convincing enough drones to follow them then we will all be worse off because of it. You can kiss goodbye to discovery and welcome back to the Dark Ages Version 2.0, this time with Nuclear Weapons. (In the hands of those who believe things need to get worse for God to come back...)

This is a fight for humanity. One that if we lose, we all lose. For those on "the other side", they don't care about this world - except to see the back of it as quick as possible so they can see us burning in hell. Joy!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Secular Education

Jane Caro is wrong when she claims that
If religious instruction is to be offered, it must be voluntary, parents must be told what it will preach and who will preach it (and who is paying for it), and it must not prevent students who opt out from doing something constructive. No one in authority, no matter what their own beliefs, should ever sanction - or even just turn a blind eye to - conversion by stealth. - WAtoday
Daniel Dennett et al. propose that we should teach Comparative Religion. That is to say we should teach all students, from both private religious schools to public schools different world religions including the three main monotheisms which make up a large proportion of the world population.

I believe such a model is appropriate if we are going to cope with the influx of Muslims into this country. The best way to nip racism, discrimination and bigotry in the bud is education of the young. It is better that people who come out of school get an education to what Islam (and others) is really about, otherwise their opinions might come from the media or church leaders.

Comparitive Religion also gives the students a broad horizon as to the different faiths systems that exist in the world, including how they started, their moral systems, world view, etc. This can also be a platform for those advocating Creationism so that this can be taught alongside Hindu creation stories, Aboriginal Dreamtime stories and others.

Such instruction should be free of bias and inclusive of all faiths without making truth claims one way or another. It should not be a platform for teachers or preachers to corrupt young minds with false claims. It is also important that all student be given this opportunity to learn. Why should we allow parents to selectivly choose who and which religion indoctrinates their children?

As someone who was raised for some time as a Jehovah's Witness, I consider myself lucky that I was able to get a proper education on such matters as science, evolution, sex education, etc. Should my upbringing have continuted on the path that my parents chose for me based on religious grounds, I would not have been exposed to a proper education and would have been disadvantaged for the rest of my life - my mind clouded with the falsehoods that evolution must be wrong and I could never have blood transfusions, etc.

It saddens me that some children will never get the opportunities I got in life because they have been indoctrinated by parents and preachers who believe they have the right to determine what the children are exposed to and cloud their minds. Looking back I now get what they meant when they spoke about some things as being dangerous to faith.

Surely a more genuine belief is one made with all the facts and all the options on the table instead of one which exists only because they were denied facts or threatened from even thinking about other options?

Imagine if Bob Hawke, our only openly atheist prime minister, had allocated $165 million for religious schools to have an atheist, agnostic or humanist counsellor, philosopher or ethicist to help them teach values and improve their pastoral care.

I didn't know Bob Hawke was an open atheist but it doesn't surprise me that we have had at least one. I feel more content knowing that our country allows atheist leaders, such a scenario would be impossible in the United States.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Evolutionary Economics

Imagine the following situation:

A society develops where the rich have more children which survive than the poor either because they can economically provide for them or because they can afford health care, etc. Imagine then that when the rich die, they give most of their money to their offspring (as opposed to their spouses, etc) thus giving their offspring a good headstart in life.

Such a society would, over the course of a number of generations, be populated by the genes of economically successful people. (That is, one could trace their linage back to someone who was wealthy) Now its not possible to isolate a "rich" gene as such, but purely from a survival of the fittest and evolutionary perspective we can imagine the characteristics which lend themselves to economic success would become refined in such a society where the rich have more "effective" children than the poor.

Such a scenario is not purely a though experiment but may be a causal contribution to the end of the period of human existence before the 1800 where on average the income and total infrastructural investment of the world was very low. (That is to say, there were no paved roads, railroads, airports, piped water, electricity, sewerage, etc)

The society in question was Great Britain in the Middle Ages (1400-1800) where they have studied the wills of the poor and rich and found that the rich were more willing to give to their siblings as opposed to the poor, but the poor were more likely to give to charities. The poor also had less surviving siblings than the rich too.

This is a field of research known as Evolutionary Economics which tries to explan from an economics point of view the rapid capitalisation and scientific development which has occured during the past couple of hundred years. (Gregory Clark at Beyond Belief 2)

If true, it has a few alarming consequences, but could also solve some pressing social issues...
Australians are familiar with the divide between the native Aboriginal Australian's and those of European heritage. Some Aboriginal communities are on par with Third World countries even though Australia is a First World country. Evolutionary Economics would explain why the Australian Aboriginals are unable to assimilate into a modern world. It may not just be a cultural problem, but could be due to genetic distribution problems which make Aboriginals more suited to their hunter, gatherer past as opposed to those genes which make people economically sucessful.

If true, we may be wasting our time in trying to force them to assimilate because they may not be able to. We are arrogant to assume that assimilation would be better because its not possible to show that our modern society is somehow more progressive, humane or better than a hunter, gatherer and sustainable society. Some have argued that we have done a disservice to humanity in moving to cities and forming civilizations because we have been tuned to be hunter gathers for the better part of 100 to 200 thoundand years.

Now I put the following situation on the table.
Imagine if smart people have less children than dumb people. What would happen to the population after a few generations?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Debate Summary: We are better off without religion.

We Would Be better Off Without Religion?
(http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2364493.htm)

"Lyn Allison" - Pro

Lyn's argument was a machine gun approach to explaining why religious is harmful. Without a moment to breathe she jumps from point to point picking apart the bible, the religious, the religious leaders, the expectations of rapture, on and on. Each point is worthy of more time being spent but I do not think this is what she had in mind. She would have been better suited to focusing on a few points rather than a lot. She finished by stating that we need to be concerned because the ideas of the end of the world is not compatible with the need to save the world from ourselves.

"Ian Plimer" - Con

Ian starts by arguing the anthropic principle and "fine tuning of the solar system" which has nothing to do with the question at hand (unlike Vic, he didn't state why this was important). He then explains why environmentalism is a new religion, hurting his case. He makes an argument which is essentially that we would be better off without an environmentalist religion - but I do not think this was his intention. As a former humanist of the year one might ask if he was playing devils advocate or perhaps attacking Lyn and the environmental movement, however this really wasn't the stage to do that.

"Richard Ackland" - Pro

Richard calls out Ian's tactic with comedic effect. His whole talk was fantastic, using clever humour and wit with good effect. He argues the scientific case regarding contraceptives and shows how religion perverted its development. "We have religion to thank for monthly PMT". He notes how religion perverts third world charity by requiring unreasonable caveats.

Its interesting to note that the SMH version of the talk censored his blurb about "The Jewel of Medina", a book highly critical of Islam and the prophet Muhammad, yet fortunately the ABC version didn't censor it, and I don't understand, having now heard the censored part, how it was controversial!

He finishes with showing how the religious look after their own even when they commit crimes and how he isn't convinced about the argument that there exists a god. His arguments were not water tight, but he presented them in a good fashion.

"Suzanne Rutland" - Con

Suzanne seemed nervous but gave an overall good case without presuming her particular faith was the correct one. She did focus on her Jewish beliefs but its hard to know if she was coming from a secular Jewish perspective or a religious Jewish perspective. She notes the bad parts of the bible and asks if we would be better off without the good stuff too? She uses the bible to claim our Judeo-Christian values were derived from them. She claims women *aren't* hard done by in the scriptures by using a proverb Jews sing on friday nights.

She notes the existence of reciprocal altruism that individuals need groups and that traditionally religion filled this role. She notes that without anything to take its place bad things will happen a so-called "Spiritual poverty". (Drug, alcohol, depression, etc). She claims people need religion just like they need air. She finished by asking a fallacious question, do we want to live in a irreligious society like Nazism or a religious altruistic society.

She actually answered the question and presented a sound outline as to the real reasons we should keep religion irrespective of its individual truth values. Unfortunately for her without if all religions are false then the argument is easily defeated.


"Vic Stenger" - Pro

Victor started with an appropriate quote from "The God Delusion" asking would we be better off without religion, without violence, etc. He claimed the only thing atheism and secular humanism cannot offer is heaven however a rational understanding is more appropriate for society than believing in fairy tales. Victor states that the real issue is about the existence of god.

He talked about the problem of evil and attacked the Kalam Cosmological argument and how it was based on a statement by Hawking and Penrose but was later retracted in the 80's. (No singularity occurs due to quantum mechanics.) The assumption that the big bang was the beginning has no basis in science. He talks about how everything that begins to exist does not need a cause, he states atomic and nuclear theory as an example. He then goes on to attack Ian Plimer's "fine tuning" argument to show that the universe isn't tuned to life and how constants can be varied by orders of magnitude to still produce long lasting suns, which can then support life.

Unfortunately he ends by rambling about "something vs nothing" and going over time, adding little to the argument.


"John Lennox" - Con

John's Irish accent makes him likeable but his entire talk reminded me of the "angry drunk Irish Christian" the type to go and bomb a cafe because his neighbour doesn't follow the pope. Perhaps rightly he started by attacking Victor's over-the-time-limit ramblings about nothingness and somethingness. He states that he is ashamed about the religious violence that has befallen Ireland and Northern Ireland because its not what Christ was about and then accuses the other side of confusing Christianity with the actions of Christendom.

That's about the end of the positive message from him perhaps wanting to distance himself and his beliefs from his upcoming vitriolic splurge. He likens accepting the proposition that we would be better off without religion because of bad religions to saying we would be better off without science because it can make bombs and poisons. He accuses atheism of the gulag, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao. He says that atheism = communism and immediately loses all credibility.

He attacks science for not answering "childish questions" such as "why are we here" and claims only religion can answer that. He claims Judeo-Christians gave the atheists science - showing his historical revisionist ineptitude. His answer to Victor's fine tuning argument was no argument at all - he just shows one scientist who believes it points to intelligence.

He believes science needs rational intelligibility to be able to do science at all. He says atheism gives no basis to this. He then goes on to talk about ethics and quote mines Dawkins to claim he supports no ethical system. He claims atheists have no moral base and worst of all has the gall to say that there is no ultimate justice without god! Apparently the "ultimate moral outrage" is that a terrorist will just die - and that's it. Christianity says justice will be done, by god. He finishes by saying we have dignity because we are made in the imagine of god.

The good ol' Christian's argumentative style can be compared to that of Suzanne. Suzanne was not presumptuous about the truth of her beliefs and stated things in a matter-of-fact way. John set up straw men and burnt them with crucadic glee.


"Audience Question Time" (Highlights)

"Margaret Rice" (Con)
- Those talking for religion did not offer an explanation for how so much war has been waged in the name of religion and how we can overcome it.
- Those for the affirmative who did not argue convincingly (or did not try to) that we can have moral systems without religion.

"Josh" (Pro)
- Religion is too willing to throw its tenants out the window when it starts to go against the moral zeitgeist of society.
- Just because we want terrorists to be punished doesn't make it so. Some would say they are rewarded.
- If we look at the bible and pick and choose (there are genocide in the bible) then we must reject everything because its not true.

"Max" (Pro)
- How can an accident of birth be used to divide people and causes violent actions against people?

"Crazy old bearded guy" (Con)
- We must answer the question is there a god because we will die.
- (Raised voice) "Someone has paid for his my sins."
- He wants justice of the blood of the lamb. He thanks god for blood and eternal life.

"Chris Johnson" (Pro)
- It was said we are unique. There are billions of stars, each atom is unique.
- What are we here for? Reproduce, because if we didn't there would be no one to hear us.

"Atheists Don't Car-Bomb T-Shirt Guy" (Pro)
- People approach him and say "neither do Christians", he rebukes them by saying "they invented the sport".
- The elephant in the room is militant Islam.
- "Its all well and good to define what is Christian or what is a Christian act, but we just cant keep defining those people who do not fit our specific religious morality out of the debate because they are and continue to be a rising force in history and will be a big part of what shapes the next 50 years."
- How do the religious tip toe around those who have a belief which leads to bad thing?

"Irreligious lady" (Pro)
- Being religious would be lonley, family and friends being heretics
- Personally I am better off without religion

"Francis Amaroo"
- Spirituality - the third option between the anti-moral religion and atheism.


Quick Response
Lyn Allison

- Atheists give no hope of justice? Laws of the land, justice here and now instead of waiting for a possibly non existent God.
- Atheists make trouble for the poor? The poor are the losers with religion - Vietnam as example, sucks wealth and exploits.
- Values: Ten commandments - can we name them? Most of them about god. Values from humanism, democracy, liberty, scientific method, human rights, etc not ten commandments.
- Values from common sense, its not rocket science, didn't need to come from God.

Ian Plimer

- Been to Mt Ararat, geological evidence that there was a global flood 7400 years ago the evidence is written in stone.
- Global warming tirade.
- Its not about god its about religion.
- We don't know much so far.
- The atheists are more dogmatic than religious people.
- Religion has brought us music.

Richard Ackland

- We are not voting to get rid of religion but that we would be better off without.
- Religion is bad for mental and spiritual help (sends and keeps people nuts).
- Makes snide remark that religion is good for obese and alcoholic.
- Religion is opiate, life at the hand of a higher being.
- Religion keep you from your true spirit.

Suzanne Rutland

- Lyn supports Suzannes argument because Judaism is the golden rule with commentary.
- There is an innate human need for belief whatever the religion.
- Richard said opiate - Karl Marx.
- More people died under communism. Therefore atheist.
- People still needed it, and still believed in religion even under communism.
- Richard shouldn't have made fun of those with mental disorders.
- Without religion its communism...(boos from audience)

Vic Stenger

- Stalin, Pol Pot being atheist was not the cause.
- No book of atheism which says go out and kill people.
- Old testament says stone those who disobey, kill everyone and keep virgins, etc.
- People don't follow scriptures for moral guidance.
- No new moral teaching in New Testament (all written centuries before).
- Religion adopted morality, not the other way around.
- Atheists and theists do the same thing, pick and choose.
- Can be agnostic and atheist.
- Atheist of theist god not deist god.
- God of Muslims, Christians doesn't exist.

John Lennox

- Rebukes audience member who liked him to Pol Pot.
- All are made in image of god whether he exists or not.
- Not all atheists are like Stalin.
- Can the atheists discriminate between religions?
- Claims New Atheists want to get rid of religions.
- Gets the impression contemporary atheism is soft atheism, want to get liberal freedom without asking where they came from.
- They want the values Christianity gave them.
- The "hard atheists" say its not possible - saying nihilism is the end result.
- Where is militant atheist taking us - how will they resist that humans are no more than slime?


The Poll

Pre debate
Pro 55
Neutral 11
Con 34

Post debate
Pro 54
Neutral 10
Con 36

Motion carried

Forget the polls!

When it comes to the latest polls on who will win the US Presidential Election later this year, I look no further than Intrade. Why? Because its not simply a case of people picking one or another - but its where people are putting their money where their mouth is.

Intrade works like the stock market where people can "Buy" or "Sell" a stake in the prediction that the candidate (or whatever their proposition is) will come true. If it comes true, then it pays off at $10 per "share". Another way of looking at it is a marketplace for bookies and gamblers. The bookies make the "Sell" market and the gamblers make the "Buy" market.

For quite some time Obama was leading McCain until Sarah Palin came along when McCain overtook Obama. The Palin effect seems to be wearing off at the same time the economy is going down the drain - putting a strain on the McCain efforts. Now the buy price for Obama is 50.4 and the price for McCain is 49.3. One can even see day to day charts of the price, which is an indication of the probability of who will win according to those who are willing to gamble over it.

As a side note - you will always make money if the totals were greater than 100 (commision to Intrade withstanding) thus ensuring the market remains efficient and liquid. The volume can top 30k in a day which is equivalent to $0.3 million on the table.

This is an interesting test to see if the money market is somehow hooked in to the publics feel and perception as to who is likely to win the election. Polls have samples of a few thousand. Intrade has a sample of tens to hundreds of thousands who are willing to put their money where their mouth is!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The God Delusion - One year on

Its been over a year now since I read "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins a book which some would argue has become the book on "new" atheism. (New in the sense that this movement has been as a result of 9/11) My first reading over a year ago was from a vastly different perspective. I was an agnostic with theistic tendencies (A 2.8 on the Dawkin's Scale). I didn't even entertain the notion that atheism was an option. Of course at the time I had a good education in science which some might argue helped skew my perception away from a supernaturalistic view.

Most learned people will not accept that "The God Delusion" is the book on atheism because in reality it doesn't deserve this title. If anything its the book which brings atheism to the people instead of keeping it in the domain of those in ivory towers. Far from being aesthetically pleasing, or comprehensive in debunking common arguments for the existence of God, the book is more about attacking the status quo that religion occupies and offers an alternative which argues that not only can you be good without God, but that you can live a fulfilling life finding as much beauty in both humanity and the universe.

So if this book isn't that good, one may ask why then has it become so influential? The answer is simple. Its rather provocative! It has the same regard for religon as Thomas Paine's "Age of Reason" - that is to say, not insulting, but it does not keep the gentlemens agreement that religion is out of bounds for critisism. Its provocative nature is good publicity and the religious responses to the book have also been provocative as a result the book's popularity has reached critical mass and turned mainstream.

This book will not change peoples minds. The stanuch religious person will be unimpressed and perhaps insulted, but this book is not targeted at them. I believe this book enables the multitude of open minded people an insight into alternatives to religion and may let them investigate "both sides of the issue". An apporach I took after reading this book and which has left my three year journey nearly at a close with the declaration that I am confident God does not exist nor that any human made god throughout history has any validation. This despite having much motivation to believe during my journey.

Here is an extract from "The God Delusion", this passage stood out to me on my first reading.

---

Tamarin presented to more than a thousand Israeli schoolchildren, aged between eight and fourteen, the account of the battle of Jericho in the book of Joshua:

Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout; for the LORD has given you the city. And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction . . . But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD.’ . . . Then they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword . . . And they burned the city with fire, and all within it; only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.

Tamarin then asked the children a simple moral question: ‘Do you think Joshua and the Israelites acted rightly or not?’ They had to choose between A (total approval), B (partial approval) and C (total disapproval). The results were polarized: 66 per cent gave total approval and 26 per cent total disapproval, with rather fewer (8 per cent) in the middle with partial approval. Here are three typical answers from the total approval (A) group:

In my opinion Joshua and the Sons of Israel acted well, and here are the reasons: God promised them this land, and gave them permission to conquer. If they would not have acted in this manner or killed anyone, then there would be the danger that the Sons of Israel would have assimilated among the Goyim.


In my opinion Joshua was right when he did it, one reason being that God commanded him to exterminate the people so that the tribes of Israel will not be able to assimilate amongst them and learn their bad ways.


Joshua did good because the people who inhabited the land were of a different religion, and when Joshua killed them he wiped their religion from the earth.

The justification for the genocidal massacre by Joshua is religious in every case. Even those in category C, who gave total disapproval, did so, in some cases, for backhanded religious reasons. One girl, for example, disapproved of Joshua's conquering Jericho because, in order to do so, he had to enter it:

I think it is bad, since the Arabs are impure and if one enters an impure land one will also become impure and share their curse.

Two others who totally disapproved did so because Joshua destroyed everything, including animals and property, instead of keeping some as spoil for the Israelites:

I think Joshua did not act well, as they could have spared the animals for themselves.


I think Joshua did not act well, as he could have left the property of Jericho; if he had not destroyed the property it would have belonged to the Israelites.

...

Tamarin ran a fascinating control group in his experiment. A different group of 168 Israeli children were given the same text from the book of Joshua, but with Joshua's own name replaced by ‘General Lin’ and ‘Israel’ replaced by ‘a Chinese kingdom 3,000 years ago’. Now the experiment gave opposite results. Only 7 per cent approved of General Lin's behaviour, and 75 per cent disapproved. In other words, when their loyalty to Judaism was removed from the calculation, the majority of the children agreed with the moral judgements that most modern humans would share. Joshua's action was a deed of barbaric genocide. But it all looks different from a religious point of view. And the difference starts early in life. It was religion that made the difference between children condemning genocide and condoning it.