It’s a silly book, but at times it’s very funny – I liked it and gave it three stars on goodreads. It’s quite short – ~170 pages or so – and it takes a very short time to read (I finished it in a couple of hours I think), so if you like the excerpts below I don’t really think there’s a good reason not to just read all of it. A few quotes from the book:
“Extending the science tool metaphor further, shouldn’t we endeavor to give scientists the largest collection of tools possible? No one is saying that they have to apply a supernatural explanation to any particular phenomenon, only that the supernatural be available if nothing else works, or if it is convenient for deceptive political purposes. And remember, this is not a radical new idea. In terms of years in use, supernatural science—SuperScience, if you will—has the edge on conventional science. Conventional, or empirical, science has been in use for only a few hundred years. Obviously there must be a reason supernatural science lasted so long, before this empirical-science’ fad began. Could it be that supernatural science is more productive than empirical science?
Consider the discovery and development of new land, an important scientific pursuit by anyone’s standard. If we compare a period of time in which supernatural science was the norm—say the years A.D. 1400 to 1600, to a period of time in which empirical science was preferred – say the years 1800 to 2000—we can get a clear picture of just how detrimental empirical science can be. [...] Even with satellite imagery and GPS navigation, scientists bound by the chains of empiricism have been unable to discover even a paltry 3 percent of the amount of new land that their supernatural-science counterparts found in an equal period of time. Scientists and explorers in the years 1400-1600 had few maps, only a compass, cross-staff, or astrolabe for navigation, and no motorized transportation. Yet even with these setbacks, they still managed to discover more than 14 million square kilometers of new, developable land. Clearly their openness to supernatural forces had something to do with their success [...]
It’s only logical to assume that returning to balanced methods of science—natural theories and supernatural theories both—would allow us to find more land, something we greatly need for our growing population. More land means more resources, and more resources means fewer starving children. I can safely say, then, that anyone against the inclusion of supernatural theories into science wants children to starve. Such people obviously have no place in policymaking, and so I suggest that they get no say on the issue.” [...]
“Like ID, we use a slightly nonconventional scientific method, whereby we first define our conclusion and then gather evidence to support it. Not only does this allow for a more congruous and fluid study, but it has to be said that research is much easier when you’ve already chosen your conclusion. In this regard, the ID proponents should be congratulated for their ingenuity. Where before scientists were forced to grapple with unknowns for months, or even years, they will now be able to simply choose a convenient conclusion and find evidence to support it.” [...]
“BORN AGAINS present a different set of challenges. While technically belonging to the Christian faith, they are a separate entity unto themselves. We are hesitant even to refer to them as Christians, because their behavior reflects badly on the majority of Christians who are not insane.” [...]
“A Final Note from Bobby Regarding Midgets
I can honestly say that I’ve received much more flak over the term midgets from fully grown (oftentimes fat) people than from “little people” themselves. One could make the argument that the little person community1 3 itself is not concerned with such petty matters of political correctness. And while that is a valid and probable explanation, in the name of full disclosure, I would like to note that my hearing is not the best, and that if an angry little person has ever confronted me over the term midget, I may not have noticed, as I generally look straight ahead. At any rate, until such time as a little person himself asks me to stop,1 4 I will continue to use the term midget as often as possible.” [...]
“”In my scientific opinion when comparing the two theories, FSM theory seems to be more valid than the classic ID theory.” —Afshin Beheshti, Ph.D.” [...]
“obviously we need more evidence of His existence, and so we have established the Enlightenment Institute—a think tank devoted to proving our a priori assumption that He exists, using all available specious arguments and circular logic to do so. In case you haven’t been paying attention, this approach is totally legit in matters of religion, and has gained increased legitimacy in politicized science.” [...]
“Antarctica, the cursed, is the continent that is the Pastafarian equivalent to Christianity’s Hell. The Beer Volcano froze over millennia ago, the strippers wear big bulky parkas and snow pants, and the place is covered in ice and snow. The only native inhabitants are the ones cursed by Him. He has cast out those who have forsaken Him, the penguins. The short stout penguins are the direct descendants of the original midget. The midget got mad at the FSM for making him short and out of anger cursed the Great One loudly and profanely. In retaliation, the vengeful FSM cast the reject to the coldest part of the world, and morphed the degenerate into a penguin. The penguin is the opposite of all that is godly. It has wings, but cannot fly. It has flippers instead of hands, so is unable to pick up noodles. It eats naught but fish, which makes nasty fishy meatballs. He created a land that is incapable of growing anything worthy of pasta creation; krill, the only thing the penguins have to make noodles from, tastes disgusting. Thus Antarctica is the land of rejected creations. Learning from this mistake, the next thing He made after the midget was a dwarf, which turned out pretty hilarious when it got drunk from the volcano and started simultaneously swearing at and hitting on the strippers. So the FSM kept dwarfs as an amusing distraction. He was so distracted he forgot the next thing on His to-do list, “make penguin-eating sharks.” [...]
“This world, which is infinitely more complex than cake, even if the cake is both German and chocolate, cannot occur out of chance: It must have a divine Baker. There are levels of form and purpose that will not rise without the intervention of a Baker, and the world is full of such mixed and layered forms. The most striking of these forms is that of a Pirate. Nothing but the divine could have created such a glorious creature as the Pirate …” [...] No! That explanation [evolution] is far too complex to be accurate, and moreover, I don’t understand it, so it must be wrong.
What I do understand is cake. Cake, especially German chocolate cake, is scrumptious and was made by a Baker. [...] Scientists claim that the creation of the earth was something involving math or chemicals. I find math and the physical sciences to be irritating, and those scientists, none of whom have ever lent me a ten-spot, are stuck-up jerks who are blind to the truth of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. How many elephants had to die to make their ivory towers? Jerks.
Evidence of a Holy Baker is in our world, in cake and in chocolate. Scientists tell us that the world was a stew, when I think it is clearly a layered cake.” [...]
Various Pirate activities contribute to upwelling. These include involuntary crew resignation, intervessel interactions, and acoustically transmitted oscillations (Bligh, 1789; Stevenson, 1883).
Involuntary crew resignation (ICR, aka “walking the plank”) involves a Pirate or captive being forcibly ejected from a vessel at sea. This results in upwelling from displacement of water by the ejectee (Archimedes, c. 250 B.C.E.).
Intervessel interactions (IVI, aka “sea combat”) consists of transmission of projectiles between vessels, resulting in destruction or boarding. Upwelling is caused by scattered projectiles and by sinking of vessel elements. [...]
We have modeled Pirate-induced upwelling using the PARROT (Piratic Activity Realization Rate of Oceanic Tendencies) oceanic circulation model (Haqq-Misra et al., 2006). [...] We averaged Pirate activity from 1605 to 2005 for each ocean grid cell. While recent Pirate activity is weak and concentrated off the Somali coast (BBC, 2005), historically Piracy has been concentrated in the Caribbean (Bruckheimer, 2003). This is consistent with our model results, which produce significant Pirate-induced upwelling in the Atlantic basin (Figure 2b). [...]
We have demonstrated that decreased Piracy contributes to increased tropical cyclone intensity. The only viable solution is to increase Pirate activity, especially in the Atlantic basin.”
“This study analyzed the romantic content of a sample of 40 romantic comedy films using a basic grounded theory methodology. Analyses revealed that such films appear to depict romantic relationships as having qualities of both new and long-term relationships; that is, to be both novel and exciting, yet emotionally significant and meaningful. Furthermore, relationships were shown to have both highly idealistic and undesirable qualities but, for any problems or transgressions experienced to have no real negative long-term impact on relationship functioning. The potential for viewer interpretations is discussed and the need for future research highlighted. [...]
Of the 107 [romantic] gestures coded, male characters performed 90, they gave 35 of 37 gifts, performed 14 of 17 favors, and took more steps to initiate relationships (63 of 84). Such a proportion of effort could lead to the distinguishing of gender roles, identifying the man’s role to ‘‘take the lead’’ when it comes to relationships. A further implication could be female adolescent viewers’ forming of somewhat idealized relationship expectations. With films depicting male characters as frequently performing exaggeratedly romantic gestures [...], female adolescents may be led to believe that such behaviors are the norm. Furthermore, by preferring to focus on behaviors between couples such as the aforementioned, it is possible that such films may make these gestures more salient to adolescents as an indication of the extent of partners’ feelings for them and the quality of the relationship itself over factors such as communication and trust.
Although there were 61 coded instances of ‘‘open about feelings and intentions,’’ there were only 4 incidents coded pertaining to trust, with 3 of these demonstrating a character’s lack of trust in their partner. [...] The lack of depiction of trust becomes particularly notable when looking at the number of incidents of ‘‘deception’’ coded. There were 82 such incidents, occurring across all 40 films, ranging from white lies so as to spare partners’ feelings, to more serious acts of deception such as ulterior motives and direct lying for personal gains. These far outweighed characters confessing their lies and deceptive acts to their partners (9), with lies being discovered by partners typically by chance or indeed not at all. [...]
Another category to emerge at this stage of coding that may have the potential to influence viewer perceptions was ‘‘being single.’’ Although this was one of the smaller categories, each coded incident (15) was consistently negative. Individuals who were single were depicted as either lonely and miserable [...], frustrated [...], or made to feel insecure [...]. Two films [...] even suggested that being single might interfere with career progression. Such a consistently negative representation of being single could, therefore, have the potential to negatively influence viewers’ feelings toward being single themselves. [...]
It should be further noted that of the incidents of affection coded, a vast minority occurred between married couples. Married couples were typically portrayed as either unhappy with their spouse [...], or were implied as happy but did little to reflect this [...]. Of the depictions of affection between married couples that were coded, many were interspersed with episodes of arguing [...], and most were limited to gestures such as brief kisses or standing with an arm around one other. Such a representation of marriage may leave adolescent viewers to see marriage and romance as disparate entities and with affection between married couples as an exception instead of the norm. [...]
What is interesting to note about the behaviors comprising this category ['relationship issues'], however, is that, irrespective of seriousness, there appeared to be no real consequences for characters’ transgressions in their relationships. [...] Such depictions do not accurately reflect the actual emotions individuals typically experience in response to acts of deception and betrayal in their relationships, which can involve feelings of hurt, anger, resentment, and relational devaluation (Fitness, 2001). As a result, with characters’ negative behaviors either going undiscovered or having no long-lasting impact on their relationships, adolescent viewers may underestimate the consequences their behaviors can have on their own relationships.”
“This paper investigates, theoretically and empirically, a possibly fundamental aspect of technological progress. If knowledge accumulates as technology progresses, then successive generations of innovators may face an increasing educational burden. Innovators can compensate in their education by seeking narrower expertise, but narrowing expertise will reduce their individual capacities, with implications for the organization of innovative activity – a greater reliance on teamwork – and negative implications for growth. I develop a formal model of this “knowledge burden mechanism” and derive six testable predictions for innovators. Over time, educational attainment will rise while increased specialization and teamwork follow from a sufficiently rapid increase in the burden of knowledge. In cross-section, the model predicts that specialization and teamwork will be greater in deeper areas of knowledge while, surprisingly, educational attainment will not vary across fields. I test these six predictions using a micro-data set of individual inventors and find evidence consistent with each prediction. The model thus provides a parsimonious explanation for a range of empirical patterns of inventive activity. Upward trends in academic collaboration and lengthening doctorates, which have been noted in other research, can also be explained by the model, as can much-debated trends relating productivity growth and patent output to aggregate inventive effort. The knowledge burden mechanism suggests that the nature of innovation is changing, with negative implications for long-run economic growth.”
iv. Beyond Guns and God, Understanding the Complexities of the White Working Class in America. I haven’t read it and I don’t think I will, but I thought I should put the link up anyway. The link has a lot of data.
v. Some Danish church membership numbers. The site is in Danish but google translate is your friend and there isn’t much text anyway. Where I live almost 5 out of 6 people are members of the church. Over the last 20 years the national membership rate has dropped by ~0,5 percentage points/year. 4 out of 5 Danes are members of the national church, in 1990 it was 9 out of 10. Approximately 90% of the people who die are members, whereas ‘only’ approximately 70% of children being born get baptized. Children of non-Western immigrants make up less than 10% of all births (9,1% from 2006-2010) – so even though population replacement may be part of the story, there’s likely other stuff going on as well.
vi. Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns. I may blog this in more detail later, for now I’ll just post the link.
vii. Theodore Dalrymple visited North Korea in 1989. The notes here about his visit to Department Store Number 1 are worth reading.
I read it today. Aside from the recent Pratchett novel and ‘work’ reading, I pretty much haven’t touched any ‘book-stuff’ in something like 3 weeks – a very long time. I paused the book reading at the start of the semester in part as a strategic ploy to try to improve work efficiency (I also did it because I ran out of books I had at home which I actually wanted to read, but the other aspect was the reason why I didn’t just order some new ones a lot sooner than I actually did), however I don’t think that strategy works so I’ve given up on it by now; instead of studying more I just manage to find other even less productive ways to waste my time. So when I received some books from amazon this morning I decided to go right ahead and start out by reading this little thing today. Razib Khan has mentioned it quite a few times on his blog so I figured I’d check it out.
It’s somewhat interesting but not super great; I’d probably give it a 3/5 or 4/5 on amazon (closer to 4 than 3). I’ve left more than a few critical notes in the margin and I didn’t find all the components of the framework laid out by Slone equally convincing, but on the other hand some of the good stuff is, well, not bad at all. There was a lot of stuff in there I didn’t know.
The book is not about why religious people believe (in) things which aren’t true – you know, like gods and stuff. There are some relatively well known explanations for that stuff included in the book as well, but that’s not the main focus. No, the book sets out to explain why religious people believe things they’re not supposed to believe, according to the tenets of their own beliefs. I’ll quote from the introduction:
“Why is this problem important? It is important because, for one, it teaches us the lesson that theology doesn’t determine people’s actual thoughts and behaviours. In fact, the ideas that one learns in one’s given culture, such as theological ideas, play only a partial role in what people actually think and do. This book offers an explanation for how and why.”
The book uses insights from cognitive science to explain how religious people make sense of the world and how religion impacts decisionmaking. It also deals with how (and which kinds of) religious ideas (are likely to) spread, again linking observations about these matters with observations from cognitive science which are then used to explain the dynamics. It’s also a book which deals with how the study of religious beliefs and religious behaviour has changed over time; I didn’t know anything about this beforehand so I believe that I learned a lot from those sections.
I found it a bit interesting that if you live in a random European country, you’re five times as likely to be living in a country where anti-blasphemy laws are enforced than if you live in a random country in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are lots of reasons one could come up with that might help explain that difference and of course not all the laws in question are similar, but no matter how you set out to explain it, I still think it’s thoughtprovoking. The figure is from Pew.
More stuff from the brilliant book:
1. “‘The captain just said something odd. He said the world is flat and has an edge.’
‘Yes? So what?’
‘But, I mean, we know the world is a ball, because…’
The tortoise blinked.
‘No, it’s not,’ he said. ‘Who said it’s a ball?’
‘You did,’ said Brutha. Then he added: ‘According to Book One of the Septateuch, anyway.’ [...]
‘I told you I never made the world,’ said Om [the tortoise]. ‘Why should I make the world? It was here already. And if I did make a world, I wouldn’t make it a ball. People’d fall off. All the sea would run off the bottom.’
‘Not if you told it to stay on.’”
2. “A few Ephebian citizens watched idly from the roadside. They looked surprisingly like the people at home, and not like two-legged demons at all.
‘They’re people,’ he said.
‘Full marks for comparative anthropology.’
‘Brother Nhumrod said Ephebians eat human flesh,’ said Brutha. ‘He wouldn’t tell lies.’
A small boy regarded Brutha thoughtfully while excavating a nostril. If it was a demon in human form, it was an extremely good actor.”
3. “‘Ask them about gods,’ Om prompted.
‘Uh, I want to find out about gods,’ said Brutha.
The philosophers looked at one another.
‘Gods?’ said Xeno. ‘We don’t bother with gods. Huh. Relics of an outmoded belief system, gods.’
There was a rumble of thunder from the clear evening sky.
‘Except for Blind Io the Thunder God,’ Xeno went on, his tone hardly changing.
Lightning flashed across the sky.
‘And Cubal the Fire God,’ said Xeno.
A gust of wind rattled the windows.
‘Flatulus the God of the Winds, he’s all right too,’ said Xeno.
An arrow materialized out of the air and hit the table by Xeno’s hand.
‘Fedecks the Messenger of the Gods, one of the all-time greats,’ said Xeno.
[A little later in a tavern Brutha asks a barman the same question:]
‘Gods don’t like that sort of thing,’ said the barman. ‘We get them in here some nights, when someone’s had a few. Cosmic speculation about whether gods really exist. Next thing, there’s a bolt of lightning through the roof with a note wrapped round it saying “Yes, we do” and a pair of sandals with smoke coming out. That sort of thing, it takes all the interest out of metaphysical speculation.’”
4. “The Ephebians believed that every man should have the vote.* Every five years someone was elected to be Tyrant, provided he could prove that he was honest, intelligent, sensible and trustworthy. Immediately after he was elected, of course, it was obvious to everyone that he was a criminal madman and totally out of touch with the view of the ordinary philosopher in the street looking for a towel. And then five years later they elected another one just like him, and really it was amazing how intelligent people kept on making the same mistakes.
*Provided that he wasn’t poor, foreign nor disqualified by reason of being mad, frivolous or a woman.”
5. “‘Your missionary had said that people who did not believe in Om would suffer endless punishment. I have to tell you that the crowd considered this rude.’
‘And so they threw stones at him…’
‘Not many. They only hurt his pride. And only after they’d run out of vegetables.’
‘They threw vegetables?’
‘When they couldn’t find any more eggs.’”
6. “‘Slave is an Ephebian word. In Om we have no word for slave,’ said Vorbis.
‘So I understand,’ said the Tyrant. ‘I imagine fish have no word for water.’”
7. “‘I know about sureness,’ said Didactylos. [...] ‘I remember, before I was blind, I went to Omnia once. This was before the borders were closed, when you still let people travel. And in your Citadel I saw a crowd stoning a man to death in a pit. Ever seen that?’
‘It has to be done,’ Brutha mumbled. ‘So the soul can be shriven and -’
‘Don’t know about the soul. Never been that kind of a philosopher,’ said Didactylos. ‘All I know is, it was a horrible sight.’
‘The state of the body is not -’
‘Oh, I’m not talking about the poor bugger in the pit,’ said the philosopher. ‘I’m talking about the people throwing the stones. They were sure all right. They were sure it wasn’t them in the pit. You could see it in their faces. So glad it wasn’t them that they were throwing just as hard as they could.’”
8. “Gods are not very introspective. It has never been a survival trait. The ability to cajole, threaten and terrify has always worked well enough. When you can flatten entire cities at a whim, a tendency towards quiet reflection and seeing-things-from-the-other-fellow’s-point-of-view is seldom necessary.
Which had led, across the multiverse, to men and women of tremendous brilliance and empathy devoting their entire lives to the service of deities who couldn’t beat them at a quiet game of dominoes.”
9. “‘And there’s some barbarians up towards the Hub,’ said the mate, relishing the word, ‘who reckon they go to a big hall where there’s all sorts to eat and drink.’
‘Bound to be.’
The captain frowned. ‘It’s a funny thing,’ he said, ‘but why is it that the heathens and the barbarians seem to have the best places to go when they die?’
‘A bit of a poser, that,’ agreed the mate. ‘I s’pose it makes up for ‘em … enjoying themselves all the time when they’re alive, too?’ He looked puzzled. Now that he was dead, the whole thing sounded suspicious.”
Link. Read it yesterday. Pure escapism, I needed that. Wonderful book.
1) “what gods need is belief, and what humans want is gods.”
2) “The trouble with being a god is that you’ve got no one to pray to.”
3) “Many feel they are called to the priesthood, but what they really hear is an inner voice saying, ‘It’s indoor work with no heavy lifting, do you want to be a ploughman like your father?’”
4) “He knew from experience that true and obvious ideas, such as the ineffable wisdom and judgement of the Great God Om, seemed so obscure to many people that you actually had to kill them before they saw the error of their ways, whereas dangerous and nebulous and wrong-headed notions often had such an attraction for some people that they would – he rubbed a scar thoughtfully – hide up in the mountains and throw rocks at you until you starved them out. They’d prefer to die rather than see sense. Fri’it had seen sense at an early age. He’d seen it was sense not to die. [...] for Fri’it, not dying had become a habit.”
‘How should I know? I don’t know!’ lied the tortoise. [...the divine tortoise. The tortoise in question is a god. But a small one. To be quite frank, it's only about the size of a tortoise.]
‘But you … you’re omnicognisant’´,’ said Brutha.
‘That doesn’t mean I know everything.’
Brutha bit his lip. ‘Um. Yes. It does.’
‘Thought that was omnipotent.’
‘No. That means you’re all-powerful. And you are. That’s what it says in the Book of Ossory.’
‘Who told him I was omnipotent?’
‘No I didn’t.’
‘Well, he said you did.’
‘Don’t even remember anyone called Ossory,’ the tortoise muttered. [...] ‘Ossory. Ossory,’ said the tortoise. ‘No … no … can’t say I -’
‘What! If you didn’t give them [the Discworld version of the Commandments] to him, who did?’
‘I don’t know. Why should I know? I can’t be everywhere at once!’
‘What says so?’
‘The Prophet Hashimi!’
‘Never met the man!’
‘Oh? Oh? So I suppose you didn’t give him the Book of Creation then?’
‘What Book of Creation?’
‘You mean you don’t know?’
‘Then who gave it to him?’
‘I don’t know! Perhaps he wrote it himself!’ [...]
‘Blasphemy? How can I blaspheme? I’m a god!’”
6) “On the whole, Vorbis discouraged red-hot irons, spiked chains and things with drills and big screws on, unless it was for a public display on an important Fast day. It was amazing what you could do, he always said, with a simple knife…
But many of the inquisitors liked the old ways best.”
7) “Gods don’t like people not doing much work. People who aren’t busy all the time might start to think.”
8 ) “‘He tortures people,’ he said coldly.
‘Oh, no! The inquisitors do that. They work very long hours for not much money, too, Brother Nhumrod says. No, the exquisitors just … arrange matters. Every inquisitor wants to become an exquisitor one day, Brother Nhumrod says. That’s why they put up with being on duty at all hours. They go for days without sleep, sometimes.’”
9) “‘He turned me on to my back,’said Om [the tortoise mentioned above].
‘Yes, but humans are more important than animals,’ said Brutha.
‘This is a point of view often expressed by humans,’ said Om.”
10) “People said there had to be a Supreme Being because otherwise how could the universe exist, eh?
And of course there clearly had to be, said Koomi, a Supreme Being. but since the universe was a bit of a mess, it was obvious that the Supreme Being hadn’t in fact made it. If he had made it he would, being Supreme, have made a much better job of it, with far better thought given, taking an example at random, to things like the design of the common nostril. Or, to put it another way, the existence of a badly put-together watch proved the existence of a blind watchmaker. You only had to look around to see that there was room for improvement practically everywhere.
This suggested that the Universe had probably been put together in a bit of a rush by an underling while the Supreme Being wasn’t looking [...] Koomi’s theory was that gods come into being and grow and flourish because they are believed in. Belief itself is the food of the gods. [...] When the Omnian Church found out about Koomi, they displayed him in every town within the Church’s empire to demonstrate the essential flaws in his argument.
There were a lot of towns, so they had to cut him up quite small.”
11) “Om listened to the sailors. They were not men who dealt in sophistries. Someone had killed a porpoise, and everyone knew what that meant. It meant that there was going to be a storm. It meant that the ship was going to be sunk. It was simple cause and effect. It was worse than women aboard. It was worse than albatrosses.”
12) “The captain, whose face now looked as if sleep had not been a regular night-time companion” [...] – Pratchett makes sure that there are always wonderful sentences like these all over the place in his books. I love stuff like this.
Probably more later, I think this is one of his best books I’ve read, though it is actually quite hard to compare them. I’ve started on Soul Music today, have read the first 100 pages. I’ll not start studying again at least until I’ve finished that one as well.
1. Why you should take Conservapedia seriously. They actually link to this piece from the front page right now.
2. -ll-, part 2. A quote:
“A mountain is a mass of land that is taller than its surroundings. While there is no technical definition distinguishing between the two, a mountain is generally regarded to be much larger than a hill.
There are different theories about the origin of mountains.
All mountains, at every elevation, have limestone deposits reflecting that they were once under seawater. The Great Flood accounts well for the presence of this limestone and the smooth, eroded surfaces found on most mountains.”
3. -ll-, part 3:
“Bishop James Ussher calculated the universe was created on October 23, 4004 BC. While this is not the only biblical chronology which has been developed, almost all chronologies give a creation date near 4000 BC.
This gives rise to the “starlight problem” for some Christians, although there is nothing inherently illogical about the creation of light in situ to inform humanity of the existence of objects farther away than 6000 light-years. Believers in relativity have constructed a number of models which explain the age of the universe as being affected by the time-warping effects of gravity as predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, so that the age of the universe as measured by a hypothetical observer at the edge of the universe might be 14 billion years, but as measured by an observer on Earth is only 6,000 years.”
4. -ll-, part 4. The beginning of the article: “A liberal (also leftist) is someone who rejects logical and biblical standards, often for self-centered reasons. There are no coherent liberal standards; often a liberal is merely someone who craves attention, and who uses many words to say nothing.”
…and here’s an illustration from the article:
The second image in the article is a picture of a serial killer. The article also has a list of ‘Infamous liberals’ further down which includes Stalin and Mao.
5. -ll-, part 5. Funny enough, only half of those signs are useful if you don’t have a girlfriend. Only two don’t mention female partners/relations in any way. Let’s just say those signs aren’t particularly useful if you’re a heterosexual female worried that you’re about to become a ‘lonely atheist nerd’.
It’s easy to laugh at stuff like this, and don’t get me wrong, of course I do that as well. But then again, imagine for just a moment that you were raised by fundamentalist Christian parents and considered Conservapedia to be a far more trustworthy source of information than wikipedia and relied primarily on the information available on this site to make sense of the world. That kind of thought doesn’t exactly make me laugh.
‘If you know someone in southeastern Uganda who is having a baby next year, you should hope with all your heart that the baby isn’t born in May. If so, it will be roughly 20 percent more likely to have visual, hearing, or learning disabilities as an adult.
Three years from now, however, May would be a fine month to have a baby. But the danger will only have shifted, not disappeared; April would now be the cruelest month.
The economists Douglas Almond and Bhashkar Mazumder have a simple answer for this strange and troubling phenomenon: Ramadan. [...] Islam calls for a daytime fast from food and drink for the entire month of Ramadan. Most Muslim women participate even while pregnant; it’s not a round-the-clock fast, after all. Still, as Almond and Mazumder found by analyzing years’ worth of natality data, babies that were in utero during Ramadan are more likely to exhibit developmental aftereffects. The magnitude of these effects depends on which month of gestation the baby is in when Ramadan falls. The effects are strongest when fasting coincides with the first month of pregnancy, but they can occur if the mother fasts at any time up to the eighth month.’
From chapter 2 of Superfreakonomics, a book I as previously mentioned on the twitter am currently reading. Do note that the largest risk is at the point in time where the woman is least likely to be aware that she’s even engaging in risky behaviour that might hurt her child. There’s both the likelihood that she doesn’t know that she’s pregnant and there’s the timing issue; a pregnant woman say in the third trimester has probably known for a long time that she’d be pregnant during the fasting period and she’s had plenty of time to seek medical advice, whereas a woman who’s just gotten pregnant is far less likely to know all the relevant risks relating to her pregnancy, of which fasting is but one of many. And yes, I am well aware that this is far from the only relevant effect of Ramadan – it also ie. increases the risk of traffic accidents.
Unfortunately I don’t think mentioning these things to a female muslim will make her much less likely to choose to fast – however maybe I’m wrong. My ‘gut feeling’ is this: The higher the perceived costs of this practise, the more the female will feel like a ‘pure muslim’ when doing it; the more reinforced will be her conviction that she’s a better person than people who do not fast. I mean – if fasting is just a stupid ancient practise devoid of any meaning, you’d be a bloody moron to do it, right? So you make up stories to make the behaviour look ‘reasonable’. Also, if you don’t defend the madness, you’re not part of the group, you can’t be trusted, and the madder the madness is, the better it works as a selection mechanism because it gets easier to tell the difference between the truly mad and the posers. There’s a reason religion is still around. One of the more efficient ways to make people believe stupid things is to make doing stupid things seem like the smart thing to do. Once you get used to doing stupid things, believing stupid things will come completely natural to you. That’s why god invented prayer. No, wait…
“Many of our critics also worry that if we oblige people to choose between reason and faith, they will choose faith and cease to support scientific research. If, on the other hand, we ceaselessly reiterate that there is no conflict between religion and science, we can hope to cajole great multitudes into accepting the truth of evolution (as though this were an end in itself).”
“Mooney and Kirshenbaum are confused about the nature of the problem. The goal is not to get more Americans to merely accept the truth of evolution (or any other scientific theory); the goal is to get them to value the principles of reasoning and educated discourse that now make a belief in evolution obligatory. Doubt about evolution is merely a symptom of an underlying problem; the problem is faith itself—conviction without sufficient reason, hope mistaken for knowledge, bad ideas protected from good ones, good ideas occluded by bad ones, wishful thinking elevated to a principle of salvation, etc. Mooney and Kirshenbaum seem to imagine that we can get people to value intellectual honesty by lying to them.”
Sam Harris, the link has a lot more. I don’t btw. like the way Harris talks about the case of James Watson, ie. he states that: ‘Watson’s opinions on race are disturbing’. Anyway, there’s a lot of good stuff as well.
The above ‘is a scanned page from a Christian science textbook published by Bob Jones University.’ Not a book for 2nd graders, this is actually a book that has been written for people above the age of 12. Here’s the link. Here’s wikipedia on the subject.
When I was a young child, I envisioned heaven as an eternal guided tour through the universe, unconstrained by time and distance. One could check out planets, galaxies, and nebulae as much as one wished. See what killed the dinosaurs. Feed trilobites.
That would be my heaven. And I’ll admit to looking down on people whose idea of heaven is ‘seeing Gran again’ as terminally dull and without imagination.
Link. There’s at least a dozen potential ‘quotes of the day’ hidden in that post – about the implausibility of the traditional religious constructs of Heaven and Hell – and the comment section. To people who feel that way, you should try watching the Doctor Who series (2005-) – in all likelihood, you’ll like it.
Also, to those who don’t already know; eternity is a long time. I mean, like, a very long time. Think about it!
Trying to imagine eternity is the same thing as trying to imagine infinity. People who know a bit about mathematics know how hard this is. Most people thinking about how an afterlife might look like primarily think about the first five years after death. That’s not ‘the afterlife’, that’s like the afterlife-equivalent of less than 1 nanosecond in this life. If you had to imagine all the stuff you might do in the eternal afterlife, your current life would by definition not be long enough to even begin doing it.
“Jesus cheats. We’re supposed to believe that he’s saving us from an imaginary ancestral sin, and that he’s doing so by dying…but he doesn’t! He comes back three days (OK, actually a day and a half) later, perfectly healthy except for a few holes which don’t seem to perturb him much, and he gets to magically zoom up into the sky and live forever in his dad’s palace. This is no sacrifice at all.”
“…the Easter story is the tale of God giving his only begotten son in a blood sacrifice to propitiate himself and grant us forgiveness for having crossed him once in 4004BC.
It doesn’t work logically or emotionally. It’s the action of a psychopath with a grudge over a petty slight; it’s what a demented monster would do. We don’t regard as heroic the soldier who throws the fellow next to him on top of the grenade, and we especially condemn the soldier who first pulled the pin on the grenade, then smothered the explosion with his bunkmates body.
This is how you should think about the holiday today.”
Pharyngula. I disagree with Myers, a little bit – it’s not the silliest story ever told. But it is pretty damn stupid.
This stuff is just hilarious:
Yes, it’s also sad, but I choose to laugh. As PZ Myers puts it, no scientist gives much credibility to the ancient Peanut Butter Earth hypothesis (I couldn’t stop laughing after having read that sentence, it really made my day!). If I had intended to create a strawman to beat up in order to make people like these look bad, I couldn’t possibly have come up with something even remotely as moronic as this stuff. Or as the first commenter at Pharyngula notes: I don’t even know how Creationists come up with their bullshit. It’s like they’re trying to look stupid on purpose.
Kom lige til at tænke over det spørgsmål. En simpel tankerække:
“Gud er alvidende og almægtig.”
Standardsvar: “Enten findes Gud ikke, eller også er han et dumt svin.”
Standardsvar 1 (nogle kristne): “De forfærdelige ting, der sker, sker pga. djævelen, ikke pga. Gud.” (“Gud er ikke almægtig. Han kan ikke styre djævelens handlinger”)
Standardsvar 2 (andre kristne): “De forfærdelige ting, der sker, sker fordi Gud ønsker at teste vores tro”. (“Der er ingen djævel, kun Gud, og Gud er almægtig. Gud er i øvrigt også et dumt svin”)
Hvis man tror på djævelen eller noget i den stil, så tror man på en impotent Gud. Det er i min optik en mere sympatisk forestilling end alternativet. For hvis man ikke tror på djævelen, så tror man på en aldeles afskyelig Gud. At tilbede Gud i en verden uden djævelen er lidt ligesom at tilbede en fyr i læderjakke, der bruger hele sit liv på at brænde nyfødte kattekillinger levende, bare værre.
Jeg har ikke læst Hitchens’ God is not Great, men det behøver jeg heller ikke for at nå den logiske konklusion, at Gud enten er en impotent vatnisse eller et dumt svin. Så hvor mange kristne tror på djævelen? Og der hvor jeg gerne ville hen med det spørgsmål: Hvorfor ser vi med mildere øjne på de kristne, der ikke gør, end på de mennesker, der tilbeder Adolf Hitler? De har ikke tænkt så langt? Det havde Traudl Junge heller ikke – og hun mente ikke engang selv, at hun var uden ansvar for det, der var sket.
I was robbed of a few days of reading due to unforeseen family matters I had to attend to, so I haven’t had as much time to read as I’d hoped during the last days. However, I have completed Twain and started Shakespeare. I am still undecided as to whether I shall post a fourth post on the book after this one or not, there’s so much good stuff in there I really have a hard time not sharing some of those wonderful quotes. Ok, here goes:
“We wish to learn all the curious, outlandish ways of all the different countries, so that we can “show off” and astonish people when we get home. We wish to excite the envy of our untraveled friends with our strange foreign fashions which we can’t shake off. All our passengers are paying strict attention to this thing, with the end in view which I have mentioned. The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become, until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass. If the case be otherwise, I beg his pardon and call him my brother. I shall always delight to meet an ass after my own heart when I shall have finished my travels.”
(this is how that specific page in my book looks now:
I (almost) always destroy my books like this. If I quote something from a book on this blog, you can be pretty sure I’ve outlined the passage in the book too. You can also be sure that there are a lot of passages that I didn’t quote in the blog post which I outlined when reading the book.)
“In Venice, to-day, a city of a hundred thousand inhabitants, there are twelve hundred priests. Heaven only knows how many there were before the Parliament reduced their numbers.” [...] “As far as I can see, Italy, for fifteen hundred years, has turned all her energies, all her finances, and all her industry to the building up of a vast array of wonderful church edifices, and starving half her citizens to accomplish it. She is to-day one vast museum of magnificence and misery. All the churches in an ordinary American city put together could hardly buy the jeweled frippery in one of her hundred cathedrals.”
“There are more Princes than policemen in Naples – the city is infested with them.”
“After browsing among the stately ruins of Rome, of Baiæ, of Pompeii, and after glancing down the long marble ranks of battered and nameless imperial heads that stretch down the corridors of the Vatican, one thing strikes me with a force it never had before: the unsubstantial, unlasting character of fame. Men lived long lives, in the olden time, and struggled feverishly through them, toiling like slaves, in oratory, in generalship, or in literature, and then laid them down and died, happy in the possession of an enduring history and a deathless name. Well, twenty little centuries flutter away, and what is left of these things? A crazy inscription on a block of stone, which snuffy antiquaries bother over and tangle up and make nothing out of but a bare name (which they spell wrong) – no history, no tradition, no poetry – nothing that can give it even a passing interest. What may be left of General Grant’s great name forty centuries hence? This – in the Encyclopedia for A.D. 5868, possibly:
‘Uriah S. (or Z.) Graunt – popular poet of ancient times in the Aztec provinces of the United States of British America. Some authors say flourished about A.D. 742; but the learned Ah-ah Foo-foo states that he was a cotemporary of Scharkspyre, the English poet, and flourished about A.D. 1328, some three centuries after the Trojan war instead of before it. He wrote ‘Rock me to Sleep, Mother.’
These thoughts sadden me. I will to bed.”
“Circassian and Georgian girls are still sold in Constantinople by their parents, but not publicly. The great slave marts we have all read so much about – where tender young girls were stripped for inspection, and criticised and discussed just as if they were horses at an agricultural fair – no longer exist. The exhibition and the sales are private now. Stocks are up, just at present, partly because of a brisk demand created by the recent return of the Sultan’s suite from the courts of Europe; partly on account of an unusual abundance of breadstuffs, which leaves holders untortured by hunger and enables them to hold back for high prices; and partly because buyers are too weak to bear the market, while sellers are amply prepared to bull it. [...] Prices are pretty high now, and holders firm; but, two or three years ago, parents in a starving condition brought their young daughters down here and sold them for even twenty or thirty dollars*, when they could do no better, simply to save themselves and the girls from dying of want. It is sad to think of so distressing a thing as this, and I for one am sincerely glad the prices are up again.”
*This is, according to info provided in a section I left out of the quote, appr. equal to a tenth of the current rate, which is around 200-300 dollars/girl.
“In the morning we sent for donkeys. It is worthy of note that we had to send for these things. I said Damascus was an old fossil, and she is. Any where else we would have been assailed by a clamorous army of donkey-drivers, guides, peddlers and beggars – but in Damascus they so hate the very sight of a foreign Christian that they want no intercourse whatever with him; only a year or two ago, his person was not always safe in Damascus streets. It is the most fanatical Mohammedan purgatory out of Arabia.”
Later on Twain mentions in passing a “mausoleum of the five thousand Christians who were massacred in Damascus in 1861 by the Turks” – that was 6 years earlier. Not exactly hospitable territory, it would probably be safe to say.
“Magdala is not a beautiful place. It is thoroughly Syrian, and that is to say that it is thoroughly ugly, and cramped, squalid, uncomfortable, and filthy…”
With the recession, shoplifting is on the rise, according to booksellers. At BookPeople in Austin, Tex., the rate of theft has increased to approximately one book per hour. I asked Steve Bercu, BookPeople’s owner, what the most frequently stolen title was.
“The Bible,” he said, without pausing.
Apparently the thieves have not yet read the “Thou shalt not steal” part — or maybe they believe that Bibles don’t need to be paid for. “Some people think the word of God should be free,” Bercu said. As it turns out, Bibles are snatched even at the Parable Christian Store in Springfield, Ore., the manager told me, despite the fact that if a person asks for a Bible, they’ll be given a copy without charge.
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Jeg har altid fundet det lidt spøjst, at mange individer som finder traditionelle religioner latterlige ikke desto mindre tillader sig at signalere åbenhed overfor ideer, eller ligefrem finder dem plausible, som er absolut lige så tåbelige og fjollede. Genfødsel er en af den slags ideer. I fht. til et genfødsels-scenarie er der pænt mange spørgsmål, man kunne stille sig selv. Nogle få af dem følger herunder.
1) Antag modellen er en ‘dø her på jorden, bliv genfødt som et andet væsen her på jorden’. Selv hvis det er sådan, tingene fungerer i dag, så ved vi med sikkerhed, at det ikke altid har været sådan. Jordens samlede biomasse har ikke været konstant over tid, og har oplevet voldsom variation over relativt korte perioder. Hvor blev der af den ‘overskydende’ biomasse? ‘What changed’?
2) Hvorfor sker genfødsel på individ-niveau? Dette spørgsmål er et af dem, der afslører mig som en art ‘materialistisk reduktionist’ eller hvad de religiøse nu ville kalde det. Hvis en form for ‘genfødsel’ finder sted, hvorfor finder denne så ikke sted på celle-niveau eller på replikator-niveau? Fortjener bakterierne, der lever i dine tarme, som har en ret kort levetid men uden hvilke du ville dø af sult meget hurtigt, ikke også en anden chance? Hvad med den/de celle/r, hvis ‘ikke-konventionelle’ deling resulterede i Morten og Peter’s Mongolisme – fortjener den/de ikke også en chance mere? I øvrigt: Hvis genfødsel finder sted på ‘lavere’ niveauer, ville det være meget upraktisk, hvis det også fandt sted på højere niveauer (mere om dette ndf.).
3) Det sædvanlige problem: Hvornår indtræffer døden? Hvis et menneske får et hjerteanfald, og al cerebrovaskulær aktivitet efterfølgende ophører kortvarigt, men individet efterfølgende ‘genoplives’ ved hjælp af elektrisk stimulation af hjertemusklen, er det så det samme individ, der ‘kommer tilbage’? Hvilken medicinsk dødsdefinition arbejder genfødselsmekanismen ud fra, og hvorfor?
Lad mig prøve at uddybe problemet: Efter en populær fortolkning af begrebet, som ganske vist ikke er den, der anvendes i anvendt medicinsk sammenhæng, fordi den er vanskelig at anvende i konkrete situationer, hvor en afgrænsning er påkrævet, men som ikke desto mindre korrelerer tæt med disse og sigter efter det samme, siges en organisme at dø, når de enkelte celler ikke længere arbejder sammen om at opretholde værtsorganismens biologiske struktur. Sagt på en anden måde, på det tidspunkt hvor et menneske i denne forstand er død, vil vedkommende stadig have rigtigt mange levende leverceller, meget levende kirtelvæv og masser af levende hudceller – for ikke at tale om antallet af ‘levende’ (DNA-)replikatorer -selvom de ikke længere arbejder sammen om at opretholde individets eksistens. Biologiske organismer dør, men hvis iagttagerens fokus er på celleniveau er en større organismes død en meget langvarig proces med forudsigelige endemål, ikke en pludselig indtruffet begivenhed. Mange danskere vil betragte hjernedødskriteriet som et validt dødskriterium, men vi mennesker er for det første meget andet end vores hjerner, for det andet er det et anvendeligt kriterium i fht. meget af den eksisterende biomasse: Planter har for eksempel ikke hjerneceller. Hvis ikke biomasse uden ‘intelligens’ genfødes, er der rigtigt mange spørgsmål, der rejser sig, udover dem jeg hintede til herover. Eksempelvis: Hvordan og hvornår startede genfødselsprocessen, givet at udviklingen af neurologisk aktivitet har været meget længe undervejs, og på de tidlige stadier minder meget lidt om det, vi forstår som ‘hjerneaktivitet’? Hvor er cut-off punktet og hvorfor er det der? Osv. 100 points hvis du kan ‘løse’ disse problemer uden at henvise til et ‘omnipotent væsen’.
4) Simultanitetsproblemet. Einsteins overvejelser er bestemt relevante her. Det ‘burde’ ikke efter de fleste menneskers intuition betyde det store for, hvornår og hvor en levende organisme ‘genfødes’, hvorvidt den pågældende organisme flyver med en rumraket med 0.9 c eller ej på dødstidspunktet – men de mennesker, der kender lidt til astrofysik, vil påskønne udfordringen spørgsmål som disse udgør for et ‘genfødselsunivers’ (sorte huller ville også virkeligt være værd at bruge lidt tid på i denne sammenhæng…). Udover disse forhold er det endvidere udelukket, at der altid er ligevægt i forhold til antallet af døde og antallet af levende organismer. Det gælder ikke her på jorden, har bestemt ikke altid gjaldt, se også 1, og hvis ikke det gælder på jorden, hvor sandsynligt er det så, at det gælder på et højere niveau, som eksempelvis over hele universet? I forlængelse af spørgsmålene i 1) – hvis ikke der er ligevægt, hvordan håndterer man så dette? Bliver døde individer/celler/replikatorer sat i venteposition et eller andet ‘sted’ (hvor?), indtil de kan komme ‘back in the game’?
5) Jeg har hidtil forsøgt at holde mig uden for alt for direkte overvejelser vdr. de metafysiske elementer i forklaringsmodellen. Men a) hvis ikke ‘vi’ udgør mere end vores fysiske bestanddele, hvis ikke der er nogen metafysisk ‘ånd’, der kan flyttes rundt med, så falder alt det her altså lidt til jorden, og b) en evt. model med dette aspekt vil næppe gøre meget for at løse den dødsangst, næsten alle mennesker lever med, hvis de tænker lidt over det. Individet er bange for det informationstab, døden indebærer – de fleste mennesker ville ikke være spor glade for at deltage i et scenarie, hvor de selv blev slået ihjel for efterfølgende at blive erstattet af en på alle fysiske niveauer identisk klon af dem selv, heller ikke selvom klonen måske ligefrem var ‘bedre’ end originalen. Men uden at bruge for meget tid på det må det i denne forbindelse påpeges, at den ‘ånd’, de fleste mennesker forestiller sig, netop er nærmest uløseligt bundet sammen med deres nuværende eksistens som intelligente individer, og dermed også deres fysiske sammensætning. Hvis bænkebidere eller RNA-elementer ikke antages at besidde samme ‘åndelige’ niveau, så får du, som jeg også har været inde på, en masse forklaringsproblemer. Og hvis de antages at besidde samme åndelige niveau, så løser det, som jeg også har været inde på, ikke ligefrem problemet – for hvad pokker gør den så godt for, den der ‘ånd’?
Nej, jeg er ikke 100% sikker på, at jeg ikke efter min død bliver genfødt i barken af et egetræ, eller som indbygger på planeten Sxgytusd-10-djg5, ligesom jeg heller ikke er sikker på, at Djævelen vil grine mig lige op i ansigtet, når jeg ‘vågner op’ efter min død. Men begge ideer er altså for usandsynlige og fjollede til, at ellers seriøse og intelligente mennesker på nogen måde bør tillade sig at bruge dem som flugtvej for deres dødsangst.
7 links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Read them all. HT: Razib Khan. If you don’t already know about his blog, follow this link and start reading; the scienceblog-gnxp is definitely on my current top five of all blogs I read.
You can of course, rather than following these links, also just read Darwin himself here (I have given you this link before some time ago, but in case someone missed it: Here you can find a Danish translation of On the Origin of Species…).
For the record, I value the opinions of people denying evolution’s views about the biological sciences about as highly as I value the medical opinions of people still subscribing to the miasma theory of disease. The parallel is not completely randomly chosen: On the Origin… came out in 1859, only 5 years after Filippo Pacini as the first man ever isolated a bacterium, the Vibrio cholerae bacillus which causes cholera, thus invalidating the miasma theory of disease. One of the main reasons why there aren’t many people who are convinced that the latter theory is correct anymore, is that that particular theory never made it into the churches.
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