The History of The Levant in 3:30

July 24th, 2014

Very well done. I particularly like the fact that the lyric is by Pat Boone. Not my doing, but I admire the work.

ChristanMingle (or Since When Does God Have Internet Access?)

July 23rd, 2014

Christian Dating website ChristianMingle.com uses “Find God’s match for you” as their tagline in advertisements. Do they mean to suggest that their god is in direct communication with their date-arranging computers? …or that their computers ARE god(s)? In any case, they definitely appear to be making some kind of positive claim about a god influencing, in an unambiguous way, the outcome of CM’s date arranging process.

ChristianMingle is a web property of Spark Networks, which is a for-profit corporation, operating JDate.com, ChristianMingle.com, LDSSingles.com, BlackSingles.com, SilverSingles.com, Gospel Media Group (Believe.com, DailyBibleVerse.com, Faith.com), and others. As such, the slogan, coupled with the company’s profit motivation, seems to me potentially problematic, since ChristianMingle advertises so prolifically with it’s sunny little slogan (”Find God’s match for you”), and since the Federal Trade Commission states, in part, on its website:

When consumers see or hear an advertisement, whether it’s on the Internet, radio or television, or anywhere else, federal law says that ad must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence. The Federal Trade Commission enforces these truth-in-advertising laws, and it applies the same standards no matter where an ad appears – in newspapers and magazines, online, in the mail, or on billboards or buses.

So, (and this is only speculation - I am not a lawyer - I can read English, though) it seems to me that ChristianMingle is right in the thick of advertising which potentially runs afoul of the FTC’s requirement that it be “truthful, not misleading, and … backed by scientific evidence.” I mean… where’s the scientific evidence that there is a god, let alone that ChristianMingle has a direct line to him/her/it? What evidence can Spark Networks, Inc. provide that the results a user gets on ChristianMingle are in fact God’s match(es) for those users? I’ve never used ChristianMingle, but I’m guessing when you run a search, you get more than one result. How can that be, if the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful creator of the Universe, and planner of its Perfect Plan, without whose approval and direct action NOTHING HAPPENS, has ONE match for you? …as in “Find God’s match [singular] for you”

… And what if you lie in your profile? Does ChristianMingle’s computer KNOW this? Does God? Do you get back the search results you should no matter what you put in your profile? Is there a disclaimer on the profile form that says “Lying on this form constitutes bearing false witness before God, and will subject you to an eternity in Hell. Please complete this form bearing that in mind.”?

…and, really, if God wants to put Bert and Jolene together, can’t he just put Bert and Jolene together? What’s with all the online dating nonsense?

All this goes without mentioning that ChristianMingle only offers “Man seeking a Woman” and “Woman seeking a Man” as relationship options. Didn’t similarly themed eHarmony.com get dinged a few years ago for not having any LGBT-compatible relationship options, and a court ruled they had to offer LGBT options? Yes, I believe it did. I’m pretty sure there are LGBT folks out there who consider themselves Christian (irrespective of how many noisy Christians treat them like crap).

Then, there’s the hypocrisy of J-Date (and to a lesser extent LDSSingles) being a stablemate of ChristianMingle. Last I heard, the Jews don’t think Jesus was really the Messiah (to be fair, neither do I), and LDS folks think they have a NEW-New-Testament… neither of which sits well with Christians. When you look at the rest of the Spark Networks menu, there’s a clear bias toward Christianity…. so J-Date and LDSSingles seem to amount to hamburgers and chicken fingers at a seafood restaurant. The presence of J-Date and LDSSingles among Spark’s broad range of strictly Christian offerings suggests a sort of cynicism and profit (but not prophet) motivation to which I cannot relate.

Funny, too, that among all the websites listed in Spark’s 2014 10-K filing with the SEC, there isn’t a single Muslim-oriented site. Same Abrahamic god. I wonder what’s up with that.

Do Us Both A Favor

July 16th, 2014

If you’re a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Scientologist, Mormon, or Hindu, and you’re thinking that it would be swell to tell me about your religion or your god or your heaven… do us both a favor, and skip it.

I’m guessing you’re probably thinking that you’d be doing me a favor by passing the “good news” along to me… especially if your some stripe of protestant Christian… but you wouldn’t.

You’d be doing both of us a favor by keeping it to yourself (or at least keeping it confined to your “in group”). How? Well, I’m glad you asked.

You see, by not telling me about your invisible superfriend, and his cool crib, you’d be doing me the favor of not wasting my time with the same old unsupported assertions and faulty arguments I’ve heard more times than I can probably count. Your stories are not convincing, therefore, I will not be convinced by them. Yes, I’ve heard the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and “look at the trees” thing, and Pascal’s Wager, and the Irriducible Complexity assertion… something can’t come from nothing, blah, blah, blah… if your information comes from (or through) the likes of William Lane Craig, Kent Hovind, Dinesh D’Souza, Ray Comfort, Ken Ham, Eric Hovind, William Dembsky, John Morris Pendleton, Frank Turek, Sye Ten Bruggencate, or any one of a legion of similarly “credentialed” and/or “respected” theologians/”thinkers”/”scientists”, you are not bringing anything new to my table. Their “materials” have been thoroughly, exhaustively debunked, and they will not convince me, especially considering the stupefying amount of evidence which supports much more cohesive, consistent, harmonious, and parsimonious hypotheses… like… gravity, and quantum mechanics. I’d appreciate it if you’d do me this favor.

Here’s the real win for you, though. If you refrain from telling me about your sky daddy and his sky cake, you’ll be doing yourself the favor of not having your professed belief system mercilessly demolished with craziness like facts, evidence, and real, reasoned arguments. If you fall into one of the previously mentioned categories of religious believers, I’m going to spare you the details here, but just know that the foundation, upon which your “faith” is built is the flimsiest gossamer tissue of self-deception, reinforced by other similarly self-deceived folks, and/or conscious frauds. It’s a pretty strong assertion, and one I feel pretty well prepared to support. If you want to go down that road with me, OK, but know that you’ve been warned.

So, see? You don’t have to tell me the “good news”. In fact, you’d be doing us both a favor if you didn’t.

Indirect Evidence and Miracles

July 5th, 2014

I saw this blog post, and read it out of morbid curiosity. It missed a few points, so I commented with the following:

…and then, of course, there’s the nagging little issue of the stupefyingly absolute dearth of verifiable objective evidence for the existence of a god. Another issue is the how one justifies claims that religion A is a/the “true” religion, but religion B is just made up. How about the matter of why anyone needs a church or clergy to engage an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent god? Another challenge is that a good chunk of what’s wrong with human society on the large scale (and the small scale) is that people who believe X without evidence are willing to fight, kill, and die to oppose people who believe Y without evidence. Then there’s the matter of all the “supernatural” claims of every religion ever is both unsupported by confirming objectively verifiable evidence, and, in most cases, contradicted by mountains of corroborating objectively verifiable evidence.

Why aren’t millennials interested in church? No idea, really.

…and, inevitably, that drew a comment….

which shouldn’t be surprising at all considering that God is outside of time and space and therefore cannot be measured by any of our existing physical scales or measures.

As to why one would think that God is outside of time and space?

If there is an entity (God) which created everything - including time itself, then that entity is outside of time and space.

As to who created this entity - God? That is a circular question. If one goes by the reasoning that nothing pre-existed God, then God wasn’t created.

That got me thinking about indirect evidence, which led me to the scene in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which I wrote about exhaustively here. Then, I decided to apply that same reasoning to my commenter:

Indirect observation should still permit us to determine SOMETHING is acting to impart energy to a system which did not previously have it. For example, if you were to say that a god caused an earthquake, that would mean that the shaking would either have to be caused by imparting additional energy to the geological structures, which should leave a signature, or the god directly shook the rocks without imparting energy (somehow… seems implausible, but…) which would mean that the rocks moved without any physical cause. You might have been able to fool the Mayans or ancient Egyptians with talk like that. Not me.

Scientists are confident that black holes (or objects matching reasonably well with the description of a black hole) exist. The possibility of their existence was suggested from various mathematical models long before we were able to make observations of sufficient precision to detect their effects on their surroundings.

Even now, we still cannot directly observe a black hole, but we have confidence that something with the properties of a black hole exists, because we can see light bending around it in a predictable way, and we can see objects falling toward it in a manner consistent with there being a non-luminous object with a particular mass and radius at a particular spot.

For a miracle to be truly miraculous, there would have to be no evidence that it happened, because any evidence of its occurrence would lead to an investigation of its cause, and any evidence, even indirect evidence, could demonstrate a god, or a thing matching the described attributes of a god, should exist, and that would obviate faith.

Of course, if there’s no evidence (direct or indirect) that a miracle has occurred, how do you know a miracle has occurred? If the whole universe appears to operate in a manner consistent with some set of natural laws, and there are no anomalies (only indications that we may have misunderstood the laws previously), how do you arrive at the conclusion that a god acts in the universe at all?

…wondering if there’s any more gas in that tank.

A Shaggy Stardog

July 5th, 2014

Let’s assume for a moment that the passage of time in the Star Trek universe tracks more or less year for year with the real world, i.e. from 1969 (when the original series ended) to 1979 (when ST:TMP was released) was about ten years, and about ten years had passed within the Star Trek universe. Kirk was an admiral, McCoy was retired, Chekov had risen only one grade, Enterprise was due for a major refit. Kirk even says he’s been head of Starfleet Operations for two and a half years, which would be plausible… from 1969, Kirk spends two more years on the Enterprise (the five year mission), pulls a shore billet, and over the course of five years, makes it up to Head of Starfleet Operations.

The passage of time in the other Original Cast movies can be tracked through various hints, bringing us to 1991, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, whose events are posited to have occurred roughly 25 years after the events in the first season of the original series. Everybody’s retiring, Sulu’s a captain now, blah, blah, blah.

In ST6, General Chang (a Klingon) is flying a Klingon Bird of Prey with a cloaking device (technology the Klingons stole from the Romulans at some point in the intervening history). As the Enterprise is being battered by Klingon torpedoes, Spock has an epiphany, and realizes that, under impulse power, even while cloaked, Chang’s ship expends fuel, and, therefore, emits plasma as waste. Uhura then puts the pieces together for us (and Kirk), and indicates “…the thing’s got to have a tailpipe.” (a metaphor which should be lost on everyone aboard the Enterprise with the possible exception of Scotty, who had just bought a boat.)

If we assume the Federation was aware of Romulan cloaking technology beginning at least in the first season of the Original Series, that means that Starfleet scientists and engineers have had 25 years to consider the implications of, and possible defenses against, a Romulan (also Klingon) cloaking device.

How is it, in all that time, with all of Starfleet’s resources, and all of the clever people in its employ, who came up with a way to circumvent the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle for crying out loud…(!) …How is it that it occurred to exactly no one… not a single individual … in the shower… walking the dog… dropping a deuce… No one thought, “hey… starship power systems all generate waste of some sort or another. Cloaked or not. …I wonder….”

The Dread Pink Ouija

June 28th, 2014

the dread pink ouija

What follows is a distillation of a Facebook conversation that followed a high school friend of mine (who does “paranormal investigations”) posting the above picture with the caption, “Think it can’t happen to you? I’ll probably get to meet you as a client soon.” For brevity, I have cut out some material, which I felt didn’t pertain to the thrust of the conversation I was trying to have. I have not edited the spelling, composition or grammar of the posts (except to mask their identities); theirs or mine. In the interest of simplicity, I have collapsed the individuals participating from the “science can’t speak to this” side of the discussion to “THEM”, and since I was the only dissenter, dissenting comments come from “ME”

ME: “Possibility of summoning a demon” ? Really?

THEM: yes, really

ME: Like real actual demons? Are they alive? From where are they summoned? By what means?
What reason do we have to believe this is any more dangerous than any other screen-printed hunk of hardboard?

THEM: If you are being so sarcastic and skeptical I wont waste my time..GOOGLE IT

ME: The evidence points to the reported movement of the planchette being due to ideomotor response.

THEM: what evidence? Scientific? When it comes to the occult, science plays no part. They dont have to summons a demon, but they are asking to speak to the dead. Human spirits (family etc) do not communicate like that. Low life dark entities do because they can, and they pretend to be loved ones which draws the people into it, so they play it more and more. Ive never ever heard of a happy story from anyone who messed with a Ouija

ME: But how do you know spirits and “low life dark entities” are real? Like objectively real…. Like gravity, and chemistry, and electromagnetism, and so on. Those are phenomena we can all observe, measure and confirm. In that context, I know of no phenomena or evidence for phenomena which has stood up to measurement and scrupulous and dispassionate confirmation.

THEM: Paul, I realize you don’t believe, and that’s ok. Your my friend and I love ya, knowing this, I know that any explication I give to you will not make a difference. As you are entitled to your non belief, I am entitled to my belief.

ME: But, see, that’s the thing. I want to understand what is so compelling about this that you believe it. It’s not that i don’t want to believe… Or that i do want to believe… It’s that i reserve the right to withhold acceptance of a claim until there is sufficient evidence to support the claim, and no evidence falsifying it. I’m not trying to take away anyone’s belief, I’m trying to understand why they hold it.

THEM: Things of a spiritual nature are just that. There is no science behind it. Sure we can use scientific equipment to detect emf, voice recorders to hear different frequencies. But, faith is different. If I hold an apple in my hand, it has weight, mass, smell, ect. I can prove it is there. I can’t do that with God, or spirits. If I could prove scientifically God and spirits exist, I wouldn’t have to have faith they exist. There is no science in faith.

ME: But you said you can measure real-world effects.

THEM: Scientists in recent history didn’t always know what light was or how to measure it. They could observe it’s behavior and measure changes and conduct experiments. They could see it feel it touch it and manipulate it. But they supposed that light was made of particles and tried to measure it as such - yet came up with inconclusive results. Because they weren’t able to measure it, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist, it just means that they didn’t fully understand it. The spiritual realm may be similar.

ME: Yes, but if you look at the history of the scientific understanding if light, it’s a cycle of measurement, statistical analysis, hypothesized predictions based on the analysis, testing the hypothesis through measurement, analyzing the results, lathering, rinsing, and repeating. By following the evidence where it leads, rather than leading the evidence to a foregone conclusion, scientists have arrived at a description of light which permits detailed and accurate predictions as to its behavior.

ME: I don’t assume there is a spiritual realm. I don’t have access to any reliable evidence that such a thing exists. If i was to make an outrageous claim that flew in the face of good sense, and everything you understand about the universe (such as, “rainbows are caused by unicorn farts”) you would be perfectly justified in at least being skeptical… calling me a loon would not be unwarranted. Further, “rainbows are caused by unicorn farts” smuggles in the idea of unicorns, on which the claim is contingent, and which is completely unsupported by the available evidence.

THEM: Seeing is still not believing. I just didn’t want to believe it. It’s largely a culture thing, too. We aren’t brought up to think like that, and we ridicule people who do. I felt like a crazy person, experiencing the oddities without traditional explanation and yet being terrorized by something I didn’t believe in. Serious cognitive dissonance there. I don’t wish that mess on anybody.

ME: …but that cognitive dissonance is exactly what I’m talking about. If science is generally unreliable, then why would you use a computer, drive a car, eat cultivated crops, or seek the assistance of a medical professional? If you say science works in these areas, but not in those, how do you make that distinction? …based on what justification?

THEM: Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort a person feels when reality doesn’t line up with their beliefs. So in my case, I didn’t believe in an afterlife or spiritual realm, which made things very disconcerting when reality presented otherwise. Anyone can experience cognitive dissonance over any of their beliefs, political, ideological, etc. This does not prove nor disprove science. The other thing is about science itself. The method of inquiry that we use to keep science from becoming unreliable also imposes limitations. First, it is limited by the fact that science only sets out to disprove theories, not prove them. Even thought experiments, such as Maxwells Demon or Shrodingers Cat set out to disprove theories on entropy and quantum physics. Scientific laws aren’t even immune - they became law because they stood the test of time, but as time and technology and our ability to perceive evolves, scientific laws become mutable. Second, science is limited by our ability to perceive, measure and imagine. If we cannot do at least two of those, it is outside the realm of science.

ME: One can also experience cognitive dissonance when one tries to maintain two incompatible ideas in their head at the same time. When that occurs, both ideas should be tested against objective reality. The idea which comports best with the objectively verifiable facts is the one which should be granted provisional acceptance.

THEM: It is not always that easy. [My paranormal investigator friend] might remember and may explain to you what I experienced in my home, things that defy explanation and scientific inquiry. Actually, heck, I’m sure [he] has stories to make your skin crawl… Yet you don’t believe him?

ME: Stephen King has stories that might make my skin crawl… Maybe… My skin is pretty sedentary… But i don’t believe them.

ME: …and getting back to ouija boards… What is it about a ouija board that makes it operational? It it the board? The printing? The planchette? The choice of materials? I understand, at least on a block level, how a cellular phone works. I have a background in electronics, specializing in RF communications and computers, and at least a hobbyist-level grasp on a variety of other sciencey topics. If the ouija board is actually involved in sending messages, it seems to me there should be a way of interfering with it sending messages. if one could reliably summon spirits witha ouija board, on should then be able to methodically alter the board and the technique, step by step, to see what improves or degrades the success of contact.

ME: … you could call it a “ha ha board”. Would that make a difference? If you printed Cyrillic characters on there, would you only get spirits who spoke Russian when they were alive? What if you took the “Yes” and “No” off the board, and asked a spirit a “yes or no” question? Would they be able to spell out their answer? What if the spirit you contact is a politician? you ask a simple yes or no question and get back a 25 minute answer that includes references to the founding fathers and the need for a strong military and low taxes on “job creators”? If that did happen, could you cut them off? These are all real world scientific tests you could do. You could blindfold “experienced” ouija board operators and do things like flip the board around so it’s oriented backward from what they expect, or face down, or just plain blank, or the letters and numbers arranged differently, and see what happens. Log the results. Try again. Log the results. Analyze the results, and see if anything more compelling that chance outcomes are apparent. Change the conditions and do it again. I don’t know if ouija boards “work”, but I strongly suspect that they don’t, in large part because there is no demonstrated mechanism of action, there is no demonstrated evidence that human consciousness survives biological death, and …think about it… if a disembodied spirit did exist, and could manipulate the ordinary matter of a ouija board planchette, what would prevent it prevent it from manipulating the ordinary matter of a piece of chalk or a dry erase marker or a chainsaw?

A few hours after I posted the last comment, it appears the original post and all comments were deleted. Fortunately, I was able to capture the conversation before that happened. In reviewing the conversation, I realize I missed a lot of opportunities to question a lot of other things the other participants in the conversation said. I guess we all have regrets

Some Thoughts on the New Cosmos

April 7th, 2014

I’ve heard a fair amount of disappointment with the new Cosmos from fans of the original Cosmos.

I’ve been a fan of the original Cosmos since it first aired. I have the 20th Anniversary DVD set, and I watch them periodically, even today. I don’t watch the original Cosmos now to learn new things, or even to refresh things I’ve already learned. I watch it because it has a visceral, emotional draw. The music, the imagery, the way the ideas are presented.. the shape, the texture… I find the original Cosmos to be a beautifully produced piece of media, especially given the resources available. The WAY the story is told is at least as important as the story. I enjoy the story of the original Cosmos, but I also enjoy the way the story is told, and that contributes to its “rewatch value”.

Many of the complaints I’ve heard about the new Cosmos center on the use of animation to present historical events and hypothetical events of human pre-history. I’m not a huge fan of the artistic style of the animation… the broad lines, the sharp angles, and so on… but I certainly see that animation has a place in the Cosmos framework. It did in the original, and it does today. The difference is that in 1980, Cosmos portrayed things like the troubles of Kepler and the triumphs of Huygens in live action, where the re-imagining of Cosmos tells those stories in animation.

I can certainly see the benefit of animation over live-action… first, it’s WAY cheaper to produce than, say, a live-action seventeenth-century vatican scene, followed by a live-action burning at the stake. Second, animations like those in the new Cosmos are part of the modern media landscape. Twenty years from now, they may date the Cosmos we’re watching today, but the same can be said for Sagan’s turtleneck, and the styles of animation on offer in 1980. …and, yes, the original Cosmos was fraught with animations and miniatures photography which would be handled in CGI today. If you don’t believe me, watch it again.

I really think this new Cosmos is fighting far more of an uphill battle than its predecessor. In 1980, the Apollo program was still fairly fresh in the modern consciousness, and science was a more respected field of endeavor in the United States. Today, fundamentalist Christianity has gained a sizable plurality in the political arena, and its adherents are extremely vocal and unduly indignant. They have reshaped America’s intellectual landscape to a point where 40% of American adults claim to believe that the Biblical creation story is more or less factually true, and discount biological evolution out of hand. Cosmos faces a far more hostile audience with a far weaker grounding in fundamental scientific ideas than the original did.

For me, if the modern Cosmos team can grab and hold an audience, and not pass along false information, then I call that a win. I am in no position to cast stones. The new Cosmos is polished, clean, consistent, engaging, and, I think, not at all condescending.

…also, I think the animations provide a certain, “This is allegorical and/or hypothetical… it may contain factual truths, but don’t take the whole of this as literal fact.” cue. This is one place where a great many of the new Cosmos’ contemporaries fall flat. Other science shows use inflated language, Hans Zimmer-esque music, and overblown imagery, and leave the viewer, I think, with a distorted view of what’s actually happening in the universe.

There’s another thing that separates Cosmos from practically all other popular science-oriented media… Cosmos is aimed at the individual. The intent is to engage the individual audience member on a personal level, rather than shooting over her or his head with endless facts, or blinding them with over-the top flashy CGI and hyperbolic narrative. At every step along the way Cosmos says, “This matters to you because…”

And, to the folks who are disappointed that the new Cosmos hasn’t brought up this or that… the latest complaint I’ve heard is that Hubble was not mentioned in the episode centered on light… I think you’re making a mistake in denigrating the completeness of the new Cosmos without having seen it in its entirety. The writers may have decided Hubble matters more in another context. We’re only 5 episodes into a 13 episode series. Please cut them a little slack.

All in all, I think this re-imagining of Cosmos stands firmly on its own, while being respectful to the Cosmos “brand” so many of us know and love. I keep in mind, however, that this is a re-imagining, and not a shot-for-shot remake. I also remember that I am not the target audience. Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey is made for people very much unlike me. People who don’t get gravity and light and simple chemistry and biology… People who may have been told, for all of their brief lives, by people they trust implicitly, that they were put here by an invisible superfriend with a special purpose, as part of a perfect plan. I ask my fellow Sagan (and Tyson) fans to do the same.

NewsUndies - 20130920 (NU1337)

September 20th, 2013

All the news that shouldn’t be news for September 20, 2013, including…

HEADLINES
Turpentine: For the eyes, For the soul!
What to do when your teacher is dumb…

NewsUndies - 20130913 (NU1336)

September 20th, 2013

All the news that shouldn’t be news for September 13, 2013 including:
- HEADLINES
- George Zimmerman. Oh, good.
- We fought Mexico for THIS?!

NewsUndies - 20130906 (NU1335)

September 7th, 2013

All the news that shouldn’t be news for Sep. 6, 2013 including…

- HEADLINES
- Stop Making Sense!
- No Matter Who Says It