Saturday, August 29, 2009

Petitionary Prayers

Prayer and Magic - Science & Religion - Beliefnet Community:
common sense alone says that most people wouldn't go to the trouble of asking if they didn't think it would work.

"Arguments based on common sense are generally false. Sense is not common and when people are using what sense they have about things that they don't understand the chances are that their sense is misleading them.

In my experience petitionary prayers that are a part of a liturgy or a religious ritual are not expected to be answered. The rituals and liturgies have a powerful unifying value for those who choose to believe. Whether this unity is with God or with their religious fellowship is really unimportant. But the petitionary prayers are integral to the ritual and liturgy not because of expectation of fulfillment but as a promise that God or the religious fellowship is listening and paying attention. Prayer circles have the same function. It is not that God will respond if a lot of people care, it is the fact that a lot of people care that is important.

I have spent thousands of hours studying and singing liturgical works not because I believe that any of the prayers contained therein will be answered, obviously since I do not believe in the referent God, but I learn much about how people respond to things like death and tragedy that they cannot understand. The prayer for peace Dona Nobis Pacem that ends the mass is at least ironic as Beethoven reminds us in the Missa Solemnis with the martial interlude. Do people really believe that God will give us peace in our time or in our lives? If not why have they been praying for just that every Sunday since the Nicene Creed was adopted? What does common sense have to say about that? "

Friday, August 28, 2009

Yosemite rockfall forces Ahwahnee evacuation | San Francisco Examiner

Yosemite rockfall forces Ahwahnee evacuation | San Francisco Examiner: "Park spokesman Scott Gediman said a series of falling rocks, some as large as microwave ovens, tumbled at least 100 feet from the base of the cliff and into the valet parking lot, where several cars were damaged. No injuries were reported."

As one who wondered about that when I had the valet park my car at the Ahwahnee, all I can say is Duh! They had to move boulders bigger than microwaves to make the parking lot in the first place. Surprise, surprise, there are more of them up there.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Atheist Prayers

The supernatural??? - Science & Religion - Beliefnet Community:
yet as we know, knowledge doesn't increase by becoming more and more vague, and ending up with a heap of improbable possibilities to pick and choose from for the sake of personal meaning.

"Do you worship knowledge, or the increase of it? Does knowledge provide personal meaning for your life? Does the heap of improbable possibilities surrounding the origin of the universe or the development of humanity and other existing species help you pick and choose for the sake of personal meaning?

I have spent a lifetime of hard work creating a coherent philosophy to provide personal meaning and moral guidance for my self and by extension those I share it with. For many good reasons some people choose a prepackaged version of both. I see no good reason to argue with them about it. I don't particularly like dark chocolate. Is my preference for caramel worth arguing about? If God answers questions others don't want to deal with why not say 'God bless you?' It doesn't hurt a bit. It is not even an admission that God exists. Ever since a very good Catholic friend of mine in a time of devastating trouble asked me to pray for him with the admonition that God even listens to atheists, I have prayed for theists when requested. I even pray for some without being asked when I think they could use a prayer. It costs me exactly nothing. I am thinking of them anyway and of ways I might help. The prayer was not in lieu of more realistic help, but if they felt better because of it, why would I deny them the comfort of a familiar placebo.

If God tells them to impose their beliefs on others that is a totally different matter. They will find I am a rather formidable opponent, with no scruples about destroying their beliefs if possible. Due to my study of religions I am well equipped to do so. The destruction of a pernicious belief is beneficial to society, and in accord with my personal meaning in life."

Aller Menschen werden Brüder

Heroes - Religion and the Human Mind - Beliefnet Community:

I'm interested to see you describe your heroes in terms of teaching you how to wrestle with the angel.

"Not so much how to wrestle with the angel, but how to deal with the victory. The Nicene God provides believers with a way to deal with a life in which lots of bad things happen and death is inevitable. Kill the God and you need to deal with a life in which lots of bad things happen and death is inevitable. Trying to do it alone is to deal with Neitzscheian nihilism or the existential angst of Sartre. In his Freude, Freude, Aller Menschen werden Brüder Beethoven gives his triumphant answer. Joy! Joy! All humans are siblings.

We can look to our fellow humans for all the answers to meaning and purpose, and how to deal with the bad things in life and its finite duration, with courage, optimism and joy. We don't need God with Herm pie in the sky after we die. We don't need God to make us feel good that there is something out there that cares if bad things happen. Or even to thank when good things happen. Aller Menschen werden Brüder and they care when I make their lives better. They care when I hurt. I can thank them for their help and support. And when my contribution ends if I have done well, they will remember me with pleasure and joy."

Collecting - A Concours of Misfits (Hold the Élégance) -

Collecting - A Concours of Misfits (Hold the Élégance) - "Standing proudly beside his sparkling 1971 Ford Pinto, which is festooned with thousands of tiny square mirrors to create a disco-ball effect, he added: “No matter what, it will always be a Pinto.”

He said that as if it were a good thing."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Designed Universe?

The supernatural??? - Science & Religion:
Show your evidence, not your belief.

"There are many things that might indicate a creator. Just the asymmetry of the matter anti-matter in the universe, for example is explained just as well by God sorting it out as by the scientific theories of the beginning of matter. There are many constants that have been defined that keep the universe working the way it does. It can certainly be argued that the universe is as it is because it conforms to those constants. But it cannot be disproven that God designed those constants because Hesh likes to watch the gravitational dancing of the galaxies. I know I do. I waste much of my time on my APOD bookmarks of colliding galaxies. Frankly I cannot conceive of anything or even any God that could do such things, so I favor natural explanations myself. But ask me to prove that God didn't put those APOD photos up for my enjoyment, other than a weak 'I am not that important,' I couldn't prove God didn't do it. With very little effort I could prove that a specific God e.g. any of the primitive Mesopotamian Gods didn't do it. It is easy to prove they couldn't be that smart. But some Deist Creator? I wouldn't even try."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Personal Evidence

Antitheism? - Discuss Atheism:
But faith, as such, is blind - not reasonably justified by evidence...
I don't think that is true. Whilst there may be debate about the 'reasonably' bit of 'reasonably justified,' my faith (and I can only speak for my own) is not without evidence.
I fear you are misled by Richard Dawkins and his ilk. Faith, says Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, 'means blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence.' He is mistaken.
Actually Lavengro, I thought this independently of Dawkins, but how is he mistaken? I take it you agree that it is not reasonable to believe in things independently of evidence, and that a belief can only be rationally justified by sufficient evidence. How then is your faith rationally justified ?
Dawkins is mistaken by the common fundie mistake of assuming some=all. He compounds that by the common atheist mistake of refusing to consider personal evidence. If I am convinced I have had a (Kantian) transcendental experience, and have examined that experience dispassionately as the scientist I am and found evidence that it was indeed transcendent, there is no possibility of reproducing that evidence for another. It happened to me. It was based on the integration of all of the mental and psychological factors that make up my mind which cannot be imposed on another. But if you trust my judgment as a scientist why can you not trust my evaluation of my experience as transcendent. "

Changing Destiny.

Pessimism v. Optimism - Discuss Atheism:

So your optimism is based on how other people act that are in your local world. Is that a fair statement? So say you were ... would you be optimistic there,
"The fact is that we choose our local world, at least by the time we grow up. Our choice will be heavily influenced by the world we grew up in. So say you were a fundie and lived in a Southern small town away from a cosmopolitan area. Would I be optimistic that you could learn to think for yourself about important areas of your life? A few years ago I probably would say no. But these days with mandatory email as a window to the world, it is all too easy to sneak a peek on the internet and be corrupted. You might have to worry about your parents as the common ad here suggests, but if you are really pessimistic about being anything about being a couch potato spending free time from that in church there is a way out. Don't get me wrong, it won't be easy, your determination to change your destiny must be strong, but these days it will be possible."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Heroes - Religion and the Human Mind

Heroes - Religion and the Human Mind - Beliefnet Community:

Who are your heroes? What makes them heroes to you?

To stay with the theme of the board, my lifelong hero has to be Beethoven. By studying his Masses, and indeed all of his music I learned what an atheist can learn from God. Indeed his war with God, which in my opinion he won particularly in the Ninth Symphony taught me more about being human than anyone else. But in my mind the Missa Solemnis is the definitive comment on the relationship to man and God, God being defined as the Nicene God of the Anglican, Catholic, Eastern and Orthodox liturgy. Mahler followed in his footsteps and turned the path to humanism into a highway. But Mahler was not at war with God, he took Beethoven’s victory as a given and built on it, as did many others, too numerous to mention as heroes. Bach might be included in the pantheon, but it wasn’t until I had thoroughly studied his music and Masses that I realized that he too was on the humanist path, but so constrained by his employer, the Church, that he couldn’t be obvious about it. But it is no accident that he introduced the tritone (The devil’s interval) into music even, God forbid on the pain of death, to church music. Although in my view the tritone is an intensely human interval with its eternal questioning and questing.)

In literature, Steinbeck stands tallest in the God wrestling business. If there is a humanist bible East of Eden (1952) has to be near the top of the list. The interpretation of the verb timshel from Cain’s charge as “Thou mayest triumph over sin” is brilliant. Not you will. Not you can. Not you must. But you may choose to triumph over sin is profoundly humanist and taught me how to deal with the serious mistakes I made that I couldn’t nail to the cross like my religious friends. Most of the Science Fiction/fantasy authors following Asimov and Heinlein wrote some great humanist novels, with not so incidentally some of the best humanist moral discussions to be found anywhere, most are on my reread list when I need some moral support as a humanist. Niven-Pournelle, Card, Clark, Tall, Tolkein, the list is too long to remember them all. Omissions are memory failures not intentional.

Interestingly philosophers are not on my hero list, although their contribution to my life has been immense, if only by providing the challenge to my thinking to make it what it is today. A few of them were religious philosophers (theologians) and one Jesuit that made major contributions to my intellectual growth as an atheist.

I would agree with many of the scientist and mathematician heroes but they are not so much in the God wrestling business as in the advancing human knowledge business. Incredibly important in the mind part of the title, but not much in the religion part. Their quest is not religious but the intensely human desire to become omniscient, not by definition, but by hard work."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When Gods Crash

"When a child first catches adults out -- when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just -- his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child's world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing."
— John Steinbeck (East of Eden)1952

And the second is like the first. When a believer finds out that herm God, whatever it is, or the portrayal of it is not always wise, or true or just, and the god crashes, and shatters, the rebuilding is an interesting process as God cannot be unwise, unjust or untrue. Some put the shattered God back up on its pedestal, pastes the gold leaf back in place and denies the God ever fell. It does no good to point out the cracks, those cracks are not the cause of the fall and therefore do not exist, frequently with vehemence.

Others look at the ugly mess, and decide it is not worth even picking up the pieces, or find a few pieces that look OK and try to rebuild their life without God or perhaps with a new one built of the shards. Inevitably the wisdom, trust, and justness of the new God is tentative, and the failure causes reliance on the human resources for wisdom, trust, and justice inherent in all of us.

Those who have rebuilt their life after the fall, whether with a new God or none, are almost always good people to be around. Those who rebuilt their God are not.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Insults with class

“He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”
–Winston Churchill

“I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.”
–Clarence Darrow

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”
–William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)
"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"
—Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”
–Groucho Marx

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”
–Mark Twain

“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.”
–Oscar Wilde

“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend... if you have one.”
–George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
“Cannot possibly attend first night; will attend second, if there is one.”
–Winston Churchill’s response to George Bernard Shaw

“I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here.”
–Stephen Bishop

“He is a self-made man and worships his creator.”
–John Bright

“I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.”
–Irvin S. Cobb

“He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.”
–Samuel Johnson

“He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.”
–Paul Keating

“He had delusions of adequacy.”
–Walter Kerr

“Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?”
–Mark Twain

“His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.”
–Mae West

“Winston, if you were my husband, I would poison your coffee!”
–Lady Astor to Winston Churchill at a dinner party
“Madam, if I were your husband, I would drink it!”
–Winston Churchill’s response to Lady Astor

"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it."
—Moses Hadas"He has the attention span of a lightning bolt."
—Robert Redford

"They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge."
—Thomas Brackett Reed

"He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them."
—James Reston (about Richard Nixon)

"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him."
—Forrest Tucker

"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any one I know."
—Abraham Lincoln

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts — for support rather than illumination."
—Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.”
–Oscar Wilde

"You, Mr. Wilkes, will die either of the pox or on the gallows."
–The Earl of Sandwich
"That depends, my lord, whether I embrace your mistress or your principles."
–John Wilkes's response to The Earl of Sandwich

"A modest little person, with much to be modest about."
—Winston Churchill

An edited collection from somewhere on the web.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Scientific Illiteracy in America

Scientific Illiteracy in America - Science & Religion - Beliefnet Community:
science writers Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum argue that America's future is deeply endangered by the scientific illiteracy of its citizens

"The scientific illiteracy of American citizens is a self correcting problem. Scientific illiterates will not be able to compete in a modern technological society and will follow in the fossil footsteps of other non-competitive species. This is known as bad luck."

Thanks to RAH for the bad luck quote. The complete quote is relevant here
Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded -- here and there, now and then -- are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as "bad luck"
From the Notebooks of Lazarus Long,1973.

This small minority, is much bigger now. It is still opposed by the majority, but there are enough of them now, and they gravitate to positions of importance in the society due to their skills, and the opposition, being stupid if organized, cannot effectively oppose them any longer. The majority will stand on street corners waving signs and honking horns full of noise and fury signifying nothing. The minority will be on the internet, the phones and making life better for all that care to participate. Unfortunately participation takes brains and the ability and willingness to use them. It will be interesting to see how long those with neither the willingness nor ability can hang on on in their service and manual labor jobs that are rapidly disappearing. The economy is improving but unemployment is approaching double digits. Are the resulting couch potatoes going to get off the couch even to breed?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Gene Mutation Tied to Needing Less Sleep -

Gene Mutation Tied to Needing Less Sleep - "What distinguishes the two women in the study and other naturally short sleepers is that they go to bed at a normal time and wake up early without an alarm. The two women, one in her 70s and the other in her 40s, go to bed around 10 or 10:30 at night and wake up alert and energized around 4 or 4:30 in the morning, Dr. Fu said."

Sounds like I carry the gene. Although 6 hours seems a bit excessive. The 10pm crash time sounds about right, but socially midnight is better, and getting up at breakfast time is important.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

from mother to gypsy - Meg Barnhouse : from mother to gypsy: "My love and I are walking down the road. That house is not for us right now. We carry what we can lift and no more. It’s time for a new perspective. Out of my back pocket peeks a small white sock."

All you need to know is in that short paragraph, but you will read the whole sermon again and again as I will. Meg Barnhouse is good people.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hosephus shows his ass

Beliefnet Discussions -
A very useful phrase that has been lost in the beliefnet archives.
Thank you "ReasonOverFaith"

"I am shocked that you are unfamiliar with the parable of Hosephus and the ass:

Hosephus was a shepherd known for his piety. One day Hosephus was leading his flock across a shallow river, on his way to the market to offer them for sale. God decided to test Hosephus, and caused a mighty flood to sweep the flock away, never to be seen again. Hosephus, safe on the far shore atop his ass, watched helplessly as his livelihood disappeared in a pitiful, bleating frenzy of foam and fleece. He silently beseeched God for guidance.

After the last lamb had disappeared, Hosephus spurred his ass forward, all the way to his marketplace stall. As the other vendors watched in amazement, Hosephus dismounted from his ass and offered the animal for sale.

As word spread in the village, people came from miles around to see if what they heard was indeed true--That Hosephus the shepherd was showing his ass.

So, as time went on, the phrase, "He's showing his ass," was used to describe a situation where a person forges ahead after the unexpected loss of his revenue or resources. Originally meant as a compliment, over the centuries the use has evolved to describe a person who insists on standing by a principle after all of his proofs and evidence have been "washed away." It is now synonymous with "pigheaded," or "stubborn to the point of foolishness."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

FOXP2 and the Evolution of Language

FOXP2 and the Evolution of Language: "The molecular evolution of FOXP2

Now let's move on to 2002 when Enard et al (authors include Svante Paabo & Anthony Monaco) (6) published a paper describing work that investigated the evolution of FOXP2. The first thing they note is the extremely highly conserved nature of FOXP2. We have already seen that in all cases, in all species investigated, the amino acid mutated in the KE family is identical. The major splice form of the protein encoded by the gene (it has a pair of alternatively spliced exons) is 715 amino acids long and the protein is identical with no differences whatsoever in chimpanzee, gorilla and rhesus monkey. The mouse FOXP2 differs in just one amino acid from these three species. However, human FOXP2 differs from gorilla, chimp and rhesus macaque in two further amino acids (and thus differs from mouse in three amino acids out of 715). So, in 75 million years since the divergence of mouse and chimpanzee lineages only one change has occurred in FOXP2, (and that equates to 150 million years of evolution as we don't know whether the mutation occurred in the mouse or the primate lineage) whilst in the six million years since the divergence of man and chimpanzee lineages two changes have occurred in the human lineage.

Fig 1: Silent and replacement nucleotide substitutions mapped on a phylogeny of primates. Bars represent nucleotide"

I posted this mainly for Fig 1 which shows very clearly the stability of FOXP2 until the Chimp Homo divergence.

Science and God

Why does anyone believe in G-d? - Discuss Atheism - Beliefnet Community: "Science and many religious people are unable to explain God because they both are looking in the wrong places to find God. Both science and some believers are looking for external evidence for a supernatural omnipotent alpha humanoid that exists outside the minds of believers. Those who are able to find God are those who are willing to look where the only evidence exists that is in the minds of believers.

Science has a hard time even finding experiments to do although the God Helmet at least is trying to establish a data point of where God exists in the brain. Science and skeptics in particular simply refuse to study the most important evidence for God that is available, that is the anecdotal testimony of what a believer is experiencing in church especially but whenever a believer feels hesh is in contact with God."