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The Big Picture

'Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons.' -- Vizzini from "The Princess Bride"

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Bizarre Poker Hand and a Math Puzzle

Ed Brayton shows a YouTube video of a very unusual hand. For fun, I'll include the video as well.

My puzzle is this. Obviously -- do I even need to say that? -- we in Vegas have thousands of video poker machines. If you've never played them then this may be unfamiliar to you. But there are two methods of handing cards based on the cards held out of the five original cards. With each of those methods comes a prababilistic model one can use to establish the probabilities of a winning hand. But the really interesting mathematical question is how to determine which of the two methods is used by the poker machines. Or can it be determined?

First let me briefly describe the game (we'll limit it to straight poker, but joker poker is essentially the same problem but with one wild card added to the deck -- deuces wild is the same as straight poker). You are given five cards, anything including or better than a pair of jacks wins. You can keep any cards dealt or dump all five cards. Replacement cards are then dealt, and you win or lose based on those final five cards. Thus, at most ten cards in play from a deck of 52 (or 53 with the joker). The question is how are those ten cards handled by the machine? The two methods of dealing those cards are:

1) five cards are dealt and then five replacement cards are used based on the number of cards discarded. Thus at most ten cards are in play, and the replacement cards merely move forward in the stack to replace the disdcarded cards. For example the ten cards are numbered (unrelated to their actual value) 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. If the player keeps two cards, let's say in position 3 and 5, then cards 6,7,8, move into positions 1,2,4.

2) five cards are dealt and five replacement cards are underneath the five original cards, as if there were actually five stacks of two cards, with the second card hidden underneath the first card. Going back to our example: 1(6),2(7),3(8),4(9),5(10). If the player keeps the same cards, 3 and 5, then cards 6,7,9 are revealed.

Now in case one, it is obvous that it would be impossible for cards 9 and 10 to be revealed, but in case two it would be impossible for cards 8 and 10 to be revealed.

So herein lies the mathematical interest. Which situation would give a player (or the house) a stastical advantage? And more importantly, without knowing how the cards are dealt out, can one determine which method is used, even if no advantage is conferred by either method? Your knowns are what I sketched out above, plus the fact that no hand can be replayed to see if different cards are given out in the exact same situation.

The answer to the first question is faily obvious I would think, it is the second question that makes this puzzle interesting.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Christian Exodus: Christians Shoot Selves in Foot With Gun

I have always maintained that the most fundametal christians tend to be the least logical, knowledgeable, truthful, and intelligent people. I think this "news" post from Christian Exodus proves it.
The US Supreme Court is hearing debate about the meaning of the 2nd Amendment - specifically whether it protects a "collective" right to keep and bear arms or an "individual" right. What seems to be missed is the fact that ALL rights are individual and NONE are collective. We do not assume unto ourselves more "rights" simply by increasing our numbers. More numbers results in more "might" but not more "rights". The best treatise on this subject is The Law, by Frederick Bastiat, which can be ordered from CE's online store here: Online Store

I will ignore the sound of shooting oneself in the foot here. For if this is a country of completley individual rights, then there can in no possible way be a collective right of Christians to call this a "Christian nation" since the collective nature of this country being Christian in no way overrules this superior "individual" rights rule, and more importantly, if individual rights rule, then Christian views, morals, and majority has no "collective" right to tell "individuals" what they can do, say, believe, or practive as individual rights.

Christian Exodus has just proved beyond all doubt that this is not a Christian nation, and Christian ideals have no place being used as rules for all individuals in this great nation.

One thing this "news" article proves, there is no limit to stupidity, individual or collective.

Update: Here is the email I sent to Christian Exodus. I wonder if they will reply or not...
Recently, your president of Chrsitian Exodus wrote: "What seems to be missed is the fact that ALL rights are individual and NONE are collective. We do not assume unto ourselves more "rights" simply by increasing our numbers. More numbers results in more "might" but not more "rights". "

Now I have a problem with this. If what he wrote is true, and what he wrote, he truly beleives, then there can be no "Christian nation" and there can be no laws against abortion, stem-cell research, euthenasia, or any other anti-Christian stance because all American rights are individualistic and not collective. Thus your president has just argued that the collective Christian morality is invalid in this country, and individualistic rights and values take supreme precedence over any Christian value.

In other words by saying, and I again quote, "What seems to be missed is the fact that ALL rights are individual and NONE are collective. We do not assume unto ourselves more "rights" simply by increasing our numbers. More numbers results in more "might" but not more "rights"." that there is no Christian nation, and the entire existence and purpose of Christian Exodus is a fraud, because even by moving to South Carolina, if there is even just one non-Christian resident they have each and every single identical right as the Christian Exodus Christians and have every right to live their lives as they see fit.

With this one statement by Christian Exodus, the entire premise of christian conservatism has been completely unfounded and without any merit at all.

Every single liberal, pro-choicer, gay and pro-seperation of church and stater thanks you for finally coming around to agree with them. You have just admitted that they are right and you are wrong.

And you did this all for guns. May you and Jesus enjoy your guns while liberals enjoy the country you just handed them.

Thank you,

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Still Waiting for that Fabled Christian Love of Enemies

Jesus said:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighborand hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. [
Matthew 5:43-45 NKJV]

As an atheist I only guessed that I was an "enemy"... But I have to wonder now. For I have gotten no love from any Christian at all. Not one person took the trouble to send me any of the pro-Christian apologetics materials I requested in this post. I can only guess that either spreading the gospel of Jesus is a false canard for Christianity, or virtually all of today's Christians are not actually Christ-like and all are just as hell-bound as I am.

But as I am a kindly soul, I am willing to offer second chances. You can make up for your sins against Jesus' teachings here and now. Here is the list of Christian materials I desire to read and learn from:

First up is this tome from Coral Ridge Ministries. Who Is This Jesus; Is He Risen?- Book and DVD

Next is the book by Norman Geisler, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Paperback)

Otherwise I would love to have copies of Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ and C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. Both of which I have read before but were not my copies and I had to give them back.

Please email me for my mailing address. If you have ideas for some other books in the apologetics vein which you think would be useful, please let me know in comments.

P.S. I certainly appreciate more comments along the vein of Rhology's as they just do more to show how hollow, deceitful, and hypocritical many Christians truly (or should I say 'T'ruly) are. Rhology makes me proud to have given up Christianity and in its place embraced humanism.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Rapture Ready pt II -- Heathen Rapture Debunked

In my last post, I identified a two part series of posts by Wilfred Hahn over at Rapture Ready. I will focus on part II in this post. We have already seen how he ignores fact and reality to twist current world events into "proof" that rapture is imminent. Only he showed that in reality it is nothing more than a self-generated series of events that have no relation to anything supernatural -- i.e. God. In spite of this plain and simple fact, he proceded to expound on his thesis that somehow, someway, nonChristians can see these events and recognize that the coming of Jesus is indeed a certainty in short order. In his opening paragraphs of part II he writes:

Therefore, the simple question we pose is this: If Christians, who supposedly possess the Bible and therefore are without excuse to hear what God says and means, would at least non-Christians have a legitimate excuse for their blindness? The Bible answers this question clearly in the negative. Unbelieving humanity will have no excuse.
While Christians also “have the word of the prophets made more certain” (2 Peter 1:19) the entire rest of the world still remains without excuse. This indictment is even more valid today. Why? The first verified appearance of the prophesied Christ has already occurred. If He “[…] had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.“ (John 15:22) Moreover, God “has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:31)

Any time a fundamentalist Christian uses a Bible quote in their argument, I know that I can easily defeat their argument. For there is not one single quote in the entire Bible that proves anything at all. even the moralistic quotes only show that the Bible writers were aware of moral tenets that others had also learned through non-God-revalatory methods (trial and error). But lets look at this passage from Wilfred.

The first verified appearance of the prophesied Christ has already occurred. If He “[…] had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.“ (John 15:22)
Well then, wouldn't we all be better off if we had never heard anything of God, Jesus or his message, because then we would be free of all guilt! But we know that is false. Even the Bible denies this. For look at the very first book of the Bible. The story of Noah should be enough to prove this false. Innocents who had never heard of God were all summarily killed off, even animals. So this is a lie. It is certainly not a good start to convince non-Christians of the accuracy and supremacy of the Bible. and if this blatant falsehood is protrayed as proof of Jesus, then there is no reason to believe at all. (or maybe telling lies is how proof is given; See Paul in his epistles to the Romans, "For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner?" [Romans 3:7 NKJV] )

Moreover, God “has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:31)
Excuse me, but no proof of anything is not the same as proof of something. Prove that Jesus was raised from the dead first. That is a pretty extraordinary claim, and somebody merely saying it happened is not enough. If it were, then all Christians should be Mormons, since the claim of Joseph Smith should be enough proof that it really happened (The visit by the angel Moroni). Besides we have already seen that the founding Christians, like Paul, were willing to lie to further their evangelical goals, so how can we take a statement by another "Paul" as truth, if it is established that they lie?

So let us continue and examine just what the next five end-times signs Wilfred has lined up to prove to us heathens that the rapture is real.

6. World Energy Supplies

At first you may wonder just what our world energy supplies has to do with rapture and the Bible.. That is an easy one to answer; nothing at all. But, as I am sure you could have guessed by now, the obvious is not what Wilfred wants to discuss:

In recent times, energy prices have been soaring. What could this have to do with the endtimes? It certainly speaks of an eventual end at least of one type — the end of the Oil Age. Our secular observer of this development — whether an energy expert or geopolitical strategist — would agree that oil assuredly will run out some day based upon present-day trends. Moreover, they will also surmise that this will have a destabilizing effect upon the world. But, from the evidence, could they also conclude something more apocalyptic even without reading the Bible?
The answer to his question is: No. Of course everyone agrees that oil will run out. It is a finite quantity after all. But science and almost everyone who is not an insane conservative also knows that new alternatives to oil are possible and should be researched. Science wants to solve the Oil problem -- the energy problem -- by finding new sources of energy, but that requires money. Liberals and heathens want to give them this money, conservatives want to invest in finding new places to drill for oil. ANWR anyone? So no, there is no evidence of "something apocalyptic" coming in terms of energy except that Cheney and Republicans do not want to change from oil. So the problem is the stubbornness of conservatives, not the supply of energy. So, again, conservatives cause the problem and then these end-of-the-world religious nutjobs claim this means something that it does not. What they fail to realize isthat they are only setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Consider these facts: Roughly three-quarters of world oil reserves are found in countries that are either predominantly Islamic or members of the 57-country member Organization of the Islamic Conference. Muslim nations have 3.4 times as much oil per person than the world average and almost 7.7 times as much as major Christian nations — what I call the Top-10-X countries
So what? Oil is found in a region that has also traditionally been Islamic. Let's see what Wilfred says:

These facts and many improbable others relating to the world’s hydrocarbon situation today, beg incredulity and statistical probabilities. Observing all of these improbable facts (For a full list of more than 20, please see the article series in Midnight Call, Final Combustion: Oil, Islam and the Christian West — April to July 2006), a geopolitical analyst today would be alerted to a cosmic time plan that is indeed headed for a flash point.
Improbable? How is it improbable that a valuable resource winds up being discovered in a region that nothing else at all to offer -- thus making that region poor and backward. I would counter with the example of diamonds in South Africa. That region contains many resources other than diamonds, and yet it is still poor. The injection of diamond wealth still did not affect the overall population. And their predominant religion? Christianity. So Wilfred is just chasing a logical fallacy here, trying to equivocate two unrelated facts into one cause and effect.

And that "cosmic time plan"? Well it seems to be that nothing here on earth in terms of resources is infinite and will run out. It is up to humans to either conserve that resource or find alternatives to it when it runs out. Wilfred is an idiot.

7. Populations and Pensions

Can I just skip this with merely the observation that Wilfred is an idiot? No? Ok. I guess it is true that ad hominins do not suffice as logical argument. So the world's population is growing. I can only reiterate that all the world's resources are limited, not just oil. Food and land are limited as well. But increasing the world's population is solely within the religious doctrine of conservative Christianity. Abortion and contraception are bad things to them. They are the ones pushing for a larger population. The problem is of their making. But guess who has the solutions? That's right, the non-Christian heathens, the liberals, and science.

But the obvoius is not where Wilfred goes:
What kind of crisis is expected? Not a population explosion as has been feared in recent decades, but rather an implosion. Where it once was feared that the world would soon be overburdened by too many people, world population growth has since slowed dramatically from the peak rates of the 1960s. Demographic experts are already predicting that the world’s population may actually decline 25 to 50 years from now. Crucially, world population trends have moved from one extreme to another in less than one century — a relatively short span on the human timeline.

What?? I don't know what dope this guy is smoking but I want some. We have added almost a billion people since 2000. And what experts are predicting a decline? All I can find is that there are some who think that we have already overtaxed our resources and thus we cannot sustain our current population. But that is an unproven hypothesis. Other --equally as valid -- experts say that the earth can sustain a human population of 10 billion if our resources are properly managed. The problem with their estimate is that it requires liberal leaders willing to exploit new ideas and new resources instead of conservatives who want the same ol' same ol'.

As it stands today, all our problems are fixable, but only if a new, progressive, leadership is in place to push for it. The environment will not survive if tired old conservative ideals are continued. The oceans, our energy, our farmland all will collapse unless new ideas are used. So the conservatives that Christians push to lead us are the source of the problem facing us all as a population. This means Christianity is the problem, not the actual sustainability of our planet. (I realize I am oversimplifying here, it is religion in general, in other regions of the world the religion for the same attitudes is different, but the general attitudes proffered by religion is the same no matter what the religion or where it is.)
8. Geopolitics and Human Conflict

Ah yes, the war and complete nuclear annhilihation argument. We certainly have that power now in this point of human history. It would also be nice if we had cooler heads prevailing when it comes to war. But as always it is the ultra-conservatives who push for war. Liberals always are on the side of peace. Haven't we had this argument now here in the U.S. since 2003 when Bush and his hawks invaded Iraq? I can only guess that Wilfred was hibernating in his religious cavern during this time.
To some, it appears certain that it will be “religious fundamentalism” that brings the world to this state. Or, it could simply be the warlike characteristic of man in an age of advanced weaponry and geopolitics that must lead to such an outcome. Recently, comments about a possible World War III have been popularized in relation to Iran’s purported nuclear build-up. World wars are a modern invention, the first two of which have only occurred in the last 100 years. Whatever the case or the cause for a WW III, the secular analyst must conclude that it could soon hold dire implications for the world.

Well he has me there. I certainly think it will be religious extremism that ends us as a race. Be that religion Christianity or Islam it does not matter. Religion, as a whole, is the most likely source of our demise. That means religion is the evil among us. So how is this an argument for believing that religion is our savior?

Oh, and for what its worth, Wilfred is completely ignorant of actual world history. There have been a number of world wars before WWI and WWII. They just weren't labeled "world war". The Romans, the Huns, they were warring parties that engulfed the entire known world (at theor respective times) in war. Technology changed but that is about all.
9. Environmental Concerns

Haven't we already covered this many times? Does Wilfred not realize that these things are all intimately connected? Oh, that's right the "environment" to the right means nothing more than "glabal warming."
Is the earth wearing out? Despite the fact that there is a contested debate about global warming and various other environmental issues today, the Bible says that the world will run down. “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies.” (Isaiah 51:6) No matter that globalists might want to use such issues as global warming to further their humanist agenda, it is factual that the world is being indelibly changed in our day. Pollution has had an indisputable impact in many ways. Forests are disappearing at a rate that is not sustainable. Fish stocks in the world’s oceans are being gradually depleted. There are a large number of similar developments that are observable in the world, as the wearing out of a garment. Indeed, some effects can be reversed. But all the same, the logical analyst
would still be faced with this question: How long can such trends continue before deeper crises impact the world?

Whoa! What else if left for me to say. I could write something very similar to this to prove Wilfred wrong. "Humanist agenda." Yeah, that is the agenda where we humans want to protect and preserve our world and our environment so that it endures well beyond our own meager lifetimes. It is the religionist agenda that selfishly abuses every single resource we have with no thought for tomorrow or much less a century from now. It is the religionist agenda that craves war and conflict. It is the religionist agenda that sucks up all the wealth from every other sector of humanity. And in answer to Wilfred's question, those trends can only last until religion as a whole is dropped from the human collective. Then things can begin to improve. The end-times that Wilfred envisions is one solely and wholly created by religion. "Humanism" is the only rational and reasonable solution.
10. Technology Signs
One would expect that this would be a diatribe railing against all modern technology which has caused as much harm as good. But you would be wrong. In fact Wilfred goes in the exact opposite direction. His claim is that all our modern technology should be seen as showing even more proof that God created everything. How this fits in with his main thesis -- that these are the top ten things a heathen would recognize as being signs of the end-times is beyond me. This seems to prove the exact opposite..
But there is a paradox in all this. Consider that two thousand years ago Apostle Paul could write this: “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
If Paul at that time — pre-technology and pre-modern-science — could deduce that God must exist based upon knowledge about the physical universe known then, why not more so today? That should be the logical conclusion. Yet, modern man has taken the opposite posture. He chooses to worship mankind itself rather that the original Creator of all this know-how in the first place.

I think that today's known human knowledge shows the exact opposite of what he claims. The size and nature of the universe is the exact opposite of what the bible teaches. The age of the universe contradicts what the bible claims. And these are simply facts, we are not even considering the theories which arise from these facts.

Oh and just what knowledge of the universe did Paul possess? That the sun revolved around the earth, that the earth was flat, that the stars could fall to the earth, that demons caused disease and prayer could cure said disease. There is no knowledge at all in that which could be said to be useful in understanding the universe, or even God, for it was all wrong. If the knowledge used at that time to create a god was wrong then there could have been no god at all, if the knowledge we have today shows there is no god then this is not somehow tristed proof that there really is a god, as Wilfred claims.

From there he has a few closing comments. Here is one:
Christians have even less excuse. There are 2500-year old Bible prophecies that can only take place in an advanced technological age such as today. For example, the statement about the two witness that “for three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial” (Revelation 11:9) has obvious implications. This could only occur as of this last half-century — the era of communications satellites. What nation, language or kindred people’s today would not have access to the internet or television over a 3 and ½ day period?

Could there possibly be any more of a ridiculuous statement? The inclusion of three and a half days proves that the Bible writers knew of satellites and the internet? How absurd is that? I guess the fact that the known world at that time was all contained within a small area, and the other areas, Africa and Asia were considered off-limits and not-essential. (consider this statement regarding Paul: "Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia." Here is the quote in context: Acts 16:5-7 [New King James Version]. ) Ignoring huge chunks of the world certainly makes it a smaller place don't you think?

But even more importantly, look at that passage again. What does it have to do at all with all tribes knowing about all other tribes at all? What does it saying about knowing anything at all about everything going on in the world at all? It takes a warped mind to read the internet and satellite communication into that passage.

But I have to say this, and I cannot stress this strongly enough. I have to thank our good friend Wilfred. For he has proven to me that without a doubt Christian thought and the foundations of current Christian thought are fully without any merit or validity at all. Wilfred has done more to strengthen my disbelief than all the atheist writers I have read, combined.

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Democrats and Religion -- Obama Edition

Before I begin, I want to apologize for drifting off on tangents in this post. But I think it will all tie together nicely in the end. That good ol' shuck and jive meister, Charles Krauthammer, has a column up concerning Barak Obama. (For the record, I think it is about time we had a president with a curiously foreign-sounding name...) Let see what Chuckles has to say:

Wright's assertion from the pulpit that the U.S. government invented HIV "as a means of genocide against people of color"? Wright's claim that America was morally responsible for Sept. 11 -- "chickens coming home to roost" -- because of, among other crimes, Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Now first, we have this HIV myth. It has about all the merit of the rightwing myths of the banning of DDT or the fluoridation of our drinking water supply. In other words it is complete bunk so that can be written off by anyone with half a functioning brain (alas our poor Mr. Krauthammer does not measure up to this level of functionality.) But notice the second statement, that We, as Americans, deserved 9/11 becuase of our moral failings. Considering that Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell said exactly the same thing, I don't see how this guy can be singled out for this "crime" of anti-Americanism. If Wright is guilty then so is the entire Religious right -- There is not one single conservative/fundamentalist preacher in existence that hasn't blamed America for its lax moral attitudes towards gays, abortion, and sex in general. But we will see this is the very thing our good buddy Krauthead focuses on..

Obama condemns such statements as wrong and divisive, then frames the next question: "There will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church?"
But that is not the question. The question is why didn't he leave that church? Why didn't he leave -- why doesn't he leave even today -- a pastor who thundered not once but three times from the pulpit (on a DVD the church proudly sells) "God damn America"? Obama's 5,000-word speech, fawned over as a great meditation on race, is little more than an elegantly crafted, brilliantly sophistic justification of that scandalous dereliction.

God Damn America is the point that really gets Chuckles' panties in a bunch. But what is the difference between saying that God damned America using 9/11 as the tool, which is what the Religious Right did, and saying "God Damn America" which is what Wright did? But the sinkhole of illogic does not stop there. For the Religious Right never stops once it goes too far. That bottomless pit of a hole it digs can certainly be dug deeper. They go on to say the same thing about Katrina and New Orleans -- God punished Americans because of moral failings. They protest funerals of American soldiers because these soldiers are defending America, and America deserves any punishment it gets because of its moral failings; so says Pastor Fred Phelps.

The "blame America first" crowd is certainly the entire collective Religious Right. Yet who gets spanked for taking their religion too seriously? Barak Obama. Not McCain, not Bush, not any Republican leaders in Congress, and not a single Republican politician across our great nation. No, it is Obama.

I can only find one distinguishing factor, that pesky 'D' after Barak's name. Apparently only Republicans can subscribe to fire-and-brimstone Christianity. No Democrats allowed.

Unfortunately, I am just a wee bit sympathetic to that sentiment. I am a believer in seperation of Church and State. I would like to think that my party, the Democratic party, also wants to adhere strongly to the Constitution, as well. Let the Republicans piss all over our founding document while simultaneously describing it as honoring the Constitution by "showering it with gold."

Democrats can be religious, I have no problem with that (yet I will still mock their religion, but they are free to believe anything they want.) I just wish that they would make their religion a personal and private thing; not incorporate it into their political character they play on TV.

Krauthammer is a vile human who has contorted reality to such an extent that if one is a conservative Christian who claims God damned America because of America's morality, that is ok, because it is the strong Christian morals speaking, not hatred of America. But if a liberal Christian utters "God Damn America" forget all about the underlying Christain morals, focus on the hatred of America.

I can only surmise that if you make your bed with Christian morality, then wherever that morality leads is fine, no matter what the consequences (America deserved it). but if you make your bed with the Constitution and holding dear the idealism that is America, then Christian morals lead you to violate your first, true calling, that is America.

Democrats need to remember this. Leave religion, like sex, at home in their personal lives. Let the Republicans force their religious views and sexual appetites into the public. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Republican's sword is sex and religion. Democrats sword is the U.S. Constitution.

Thanks to Sadly, No! for the heads up.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Time To Pick on Rapture Ready Again

This is a post I'd been thinking about for a while. Rapture Ready has two articles up showing that even us heathens can recognize the signs of this imminent rapture by famed global economist/strategist, Wilfred J. Hahn. Here is part I and here is part II. In this series, he outlines ten points that even a heathen like me should be able to recognize as being the signs of Jesus' coming (I would have to agree with the Apostle Paul and say first coming -- but that is a different story).

This situation is really more incredible than it seems. Why? Because one doesn’t have to be a Bible-reading Christian to recognize that the world is heading for troubles and that many of today’s trends are simply not sustainable. If Christians stand accused of ignoring the Bible and obvious world trends and events today, would then a non-Christian have any excuse for ignorance? No.

At first I would have to say, "Well no duh!" Yes the world is headed for troubles. But I would ask the obvious question, who is causing those troubles? On the one hand it is conservative Christians causing all our problems here at home and our problems abroad. On the other hand it is conservative Muslims causing problems elsewhere. In any sense it is religion that is making this world a worse place. Even in the smaller sense of Hinduism and Islam in India and Pakistan, or the provokative message of peace of Buddhism. I would even say the philosophy of China, some sort of pseudo-religion of supremacy-of-state over the individual prefectly matches the message of all religions, albeit cloaked in some faux-atheism sheepskin.

Secondly, it seems patently obvious that these trends cannot be sustained. But again who is pushing to keep these trends going and who is trying to reverse them? Environmentalists want to reverse the unsustainable ewnvironmental damage we are doing to our planet. And guess who argues against global warming and other environmentally destructive things we are doing? If you said Christains you would be correct. Energy? Again it is the Christians who block the scientists efforts to move us forward towards a more responsible sustainable energy policy. War? Christians want it. Torture? Again Christians. And what about overpopulation? Oh, yeah, Christians say have more (white) babies, no abortions or same-sex marriages, no education for safe-sex, no contraception, no access to morning-after pills. No to Christians, more people and less food is good (it is also the christians who want this to be an "ownership society" where everyone owns their own home on a piece of land.. Just where is that land going to come from? Farms.. Farms.. Farmland.

Now I am not saying that we atheists and scientists are perfect and only provide the "right" answers, but one thing we always have done is to provide the solutions to the problems that have been created by distinctly religious sources.

This is only a thumbnail sketch of this "sustainability problem." To really look into it, we need to see what Wilfred identifies as the ten sustainability issues, and compare them to their sources, and the sources of their solutions. (oddly enough -- or should I say understandably enough -- he never identifies population and food supply as an issue. That is one I'd list as number one, religious wars being number two, and rich-centered energy supply as number three... But that's just me.)

He lists them in no particular order. While I find that particularly odd, I will run with it and respond one-by-one. His number one:

1. Skewing of Wealth Between Rich and Poor
That is certainly a valid concern. Oddly enough it seems to be a distinctly liberal issue. Liberals want to fight this skewing but conservatives want to broaden it. Again is it any shock that Christians who want to make this chasm wider are wildly conservative? Maybe we have an opening here to turn many Christians into bleeding-heart liberals so that this unsustainibility problem could be aleved.

Wilfred seems to concur:

Secular analysts would surely wonder where these trends are heading. At the present rate of this development, any one of two outcomes, or both, could occur — either a world controlled by small cabal of rich overlords or anarchy and societal breakdown. It would not be overstating the case to say that today’s wealth imbalances in the world exceed that during the late stages of the past Roman Empire. It is not a positive outlook.

That settles it, vote progressive and save the world from destruction!

2. Islam, Europe and the Catholic Church

Remove religion and things would improve. Funny how a fundie Christian and some lowly atheist like me are in total agreement. The money quote:

Some prophecy scholars in fact think that Islam will be part of a world-wide religious ecumenicism at some point in the future. This, however, seems unlikely. True Islam does not compromise and never has, other than for short-term advantage. In fact, Arabs (Islam, after all is an Arab religion) cannot even agree amongst themselves, a characteristic that the Bible itself documents.

Sound familiar? It you thought that the exact same thing could be said for Christianity then you get a point. Why are all Christians not Catholic?? Does not the Bible not also document that as well? Oh, and ask a fundamentalist Christian to compromise on same-sex marraige or abortion and see what answer you get. I think it is obvious at this point that ol' Wilfred has his head up his ass.

3. Materialism and Financial Pyramiding

Oh and I guess Christians, say all those who control gorvernment thanks to Bush and the Republicans, are not personally responsible for this? Isn't it liberals who want to spread the wealth (through "socialism") and conservatives who want an ownership society where each person keeps what they earn to detriment of all others (unless they default on their home loans, then those same conservatives want all other Americans no matter how poor to help them pay for their McMansions via a public bailout. The same goes for the bailout of Wall Street who made this happen.

But let's see what Wilfred has to say:

However, none of these factors are more vulnerable than the last two of the 5P list — Productivity and Pyramiding. These relate to the economic and financial explosion over this period, involving globalization, technology, the increasingly invasive role of money, and the unstable system of monetarism. It has created a lustrous, intoxicating apparition of wealth … albeit mostly false wealth. While the advance of technology itself likely will not be lost, the huge financial colossus that has emerged in recent years is extremely vulnerable to collapse. Even secular analysts can see this. One does not need the Bible to understand this, though the Scriptures surely are in line with this view. Given the greed, corruption and rapaciousness that are part of this trend, it is only a matter of time. In fact, this collapse may already have started. It can happen quickly and suddenly.
Again, tell me who is responsible for this? Ah, yes, conservative Republicans who are wholly supported by conservative Christians. Yes, they have created the very problems they now proclaim as proof of their vision. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecy. The money:

Actually, of all the 10 Endtime Signs for Heathens, this one is the most imminent. While it is possible that the world monetary authorities and governments can buy some time by way of temporary manipulations, it remains very possible that the worldwide financial problems that began to unravel as of July 2007 are in fact, the start of the deteriorating conditions that will culminate in the final disasters in the Tribulation period. The sad truth, however, is that while many non-Christian analysts can see the writing on the wall, a large part of North American Christianity remains deluded, clinging on to their prosperity theology and the idea that God will not judge the materialism and greed that are the very underpinnings of our society.

Has Wilfred actually sat down and read about who and what caused all this? Bush and Co are the root. But even before that it was the Newt Revolution contained within the "Contract with America" that was the root. All us heathens look at this and shake our heads and say to ourselves you guys (conservative Christians) caused all these problems, but don't you worry, for we progressives (and atheists included) will come up with solutions to all the problems you caused. For we want to save the world and all you guys want is to bring about its end so that you can (in your wildest desires) bring about the presence of your mythical sky-god.

4. Diseases, Pandemics, Biodiversity

Again, Conservative Christianity despises science because it includes evolution and other evidences that require proof. All science has its root in fact and theory, theory is built upon fact. Science offers the possibility to cure diseases. But religion and Christianity in particular puts up a huge barricade: Do not teach evolution, do not do research on stem cells. Do not go in the directions that the facts lead, if those facts lead away from God. Who is it that limits research dollars for science and medicine that could lead to cures? Oh yeah, conservative Republicans based on the opposition of fundamentalist Christians.

There are some disturbing developments that suggest that the advances of medicine with respect to germs and microbes may only be temporary. One of these is the emergence of the superbug — bacterium that have mutated to become resistant to multiple types of antibiotics. Infectious disease physicians are becoming increasingly alarmed that the development of new antibiotics will lose pace with this threat. They have good reason for their concerns. For one, pharmaceutical companies are falling behind in the development of new antibiotics. Secondly, antibiotic resistance spreads fast.
Can anyone say evolution? And who fights evolution? Oh that's right, conservative Christians. Science can stay ahead of the curve as long as science is not hampered by Christian dogma stating that evolution is not to be taught and science can only proceed if it is God-supporting. Maybe if religion kept its perverse worldview out of the purview of science, then sciece could continue to cure disease. But that will not happen as long as there are fundamentalist Christians out there protesting evolution and science discovery, if it may disprove their limited views of "God."

Ouch! This may be the most painful point Wilfred brings up:
5. Israel & Jews in the World
His point is totally muddied, but it seemsto be:
For one, it would have been noticed that for the first time in over 2500 years, the world’s largest population of Jews now live in Israel. That is a recent bellwether. Up until 2006 or so, the US held this distinction. (See Midnight Call issues of November and December 2007 for a broader discussion of this condition.) An understanding of probabilities and world history would further highlight the significance of Jewish developments in the world today. What people has ever been restored to their homeland after 2500 years? In fact, what people has ever survived that long with their identity intact once they have lost their country? What probabilities are defied by the fact that Hebrew, a language that fell out of common usage, would again become a spoken language?.

So just a quick question, why does the concentration of Jews in any part of the world, not just Israel, matter to anyone? How is that a distinctly secular concern? The only possible explanation I can come up with is another religious excuse. More Jews in Israel means more reason for Muslims to attack. But that is not secular at all, it is religious. If religion went by the wayside, then there would be no problem at all with this "Jewish buildup". Again, it is religion that is the source of the problem. And speaking of Jews and persecution, who is it that have killed more Jews... Oh yeah, Christians; Christians hate the Jews for "killing their God." P.S. Can I mention the "dead" language of Latin which has survived in both science and the Religion of Catholicism. Does that count??

We have covered the first five points that are to be found in part I of Wilfred bizarre screed. In my next post I will cover the second five points.

Oh -- and they do not get any better. Our friend Wilfred seems to prove that what passes for Christian thought is not that at all

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Friday, March 14, 2008

More on Smog -- Our President

In my last post regarding smog and pollution, I referred to nameless "conservative Republicans" as being the source. Today we have a name.. And that name is Bush.

The Environmental Protection Agency agreed to weaken an important part of its new smog requirements after being told at the last minute that President Bush preferred a less stringent approach, according to government documents.

I guess this is consistent with the Bush Doctrine: Make you safer by making you less safe (so many of you die and then there's less of you to make safe, making it easier -- or something like that. Yeah, I don't understand it either). Here's how it works:

The memos and documents indicate that EPA officials had wanted to make the public welfare standard more stringent than the health standard, although still not as protective as some scientists had recommended.But the White House insisted on making both standards identical, according to the documents. When EPA officials balked, the issue went to Bush, who sided with his budget office.
The White House defended Bush's action.
"This is not a weakening of regs (regulations) or standards," White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said Friday. "But it was an effort to make the standards
consistent. There's no question we have an interest in how federal regs impact communities."
Fratto said the new standards are the "most stringent smog standards in history" and that communities will have a hard time meeting them. He described the area where Bush intervened as 'a technical matter' and said he acted on the advice of the Justice Department.

So I see, the Justice Department and the budget office are making final decisions about public health and science. I guess they all stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. ...Not.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Atheist Morality

A while back I had an email conversation with a commenter (ok, it was Rhology) here who refused to accept that it was possible that a person who lacked any god-belief could be a moral person. I thought I had answered his questions completely in these posts I had written. (and later in this post.) He had a specific question posed:
Resolved: Any system of morality within an atheistic worldview can be based on nothing more than personal or at most societal preference for its value judgments.

Now when I had written in my posts that all morality actually has its root in society, and that morals which help any given society survive and thrive were considered useful and therefore kept, but those which were destructive either ultimately killed off the society, or those morals were discarded before the society died off. Virgin offerings to gods, cannibalism, incest are all things which had been practiced in the past and because they made the society as a whole unstable, they were subsequently considered "bad" moral guides. In that if they were continued to be practiced, the society would suffer and die off. Then those "bad" moral guides later became immoral.

In the same way "good" moral acts became morality. Such as not murdering, not stealing, etc.

But what about intermediate moral acts? For example having many wives, concubines. Those moral acts of millennia (or even centuries) ago are today now immoral. But just how much impact on society did those acts ever really have? Sure many other immoral acts occurred as a result (murder, for example), but their impact on society was not significant. For those civilizations continued to grow and thrive. It was only later when those intermediate moral acts became burdonsome in some way -- maybe financially, that they became, over time, immoral acts.

Even in today's society we have brand new issues which can go either way, they can be moral or immoral. Stem cell research, abortion, medical technology keeping a body alive long after the mind dies (Terri Schiavo), assisted suicide, same sex marriage. All these issues hang in the balance today.

So now we have a historical perspective with which to judge morality, specifically the morality of these types of issues. Let us take probably the easiest example, same-sex marriage. What is there that makes it appear to be immoral? Nothing. In no way does a man marrying another man harm anyone. It does not harm the children of that marriage in any way. It does not harm the marriages of the couples who live next door to that married couple, and it does not harm their children either. So if there is no harm caused to anyone, then how can it be construed at all to be immoral? If morality is defined to be that which strengthens society, then it is completely moral. If it neither harms nor hurts society, then it is intermediately moral, but still moral based on its effects on society. If it is immoral, then it harms society.

Marriage has changed drastically throughout history, we all know that is a fact. Plural marriage and concubines have been very common in history and have been accepted as moral. But that attitude has changed many times through history to where it is today, no multitudes of wives and the acceptance of concubines, just one woman and one man. But that is not the only way marraige has changed. Consider how just a few decades ago, even the one man-one woman structure had its limits as well. Both had to be of the same race, both white or both black. In many southern states (I refer you to Virginia v. Loving) there were laws against interracial marriage. This was only decades ago. Then the moral concept of marriage changed once again to allow for that new addition to the family of marriages -- interracial marraiges were now moral. So why can't the definition of marraige change once again? Why cannot men marry men and women marry women?

What is at the core of marriage after all? What makes marriage moral? Well love is the most obvious thing. But is it really the foundation of marriage after all? I think not, because even today there are many marriages that are "arranged" that is the parents of the couple decide that they should be united in marraige and the couple has no input in that decision -- they are essentially forced to marry. The foundation of marriage must be more basic than that. It must deal with providing a nuclear unit within a society that society can trust will act for its own best interests without intervention from the society. A family then is a marriage and offspring. The family acts as its own micro-society. Thus many of the duties and responsibilities of that larger society are offloaded onto the family and the marriage at its center. Thus the structure and scope of the marriage is irrelevant to its morality as long as it fulfills that duty and obligation: take responsibility of the offspring and the family unit from society and place it within the confines of the marriage. All marriages throughout history meet this requirement. MArriage types that do not are therefore immoral (i.e. the infamous Rick Santorum man-boxturtle marriage comment). So a same sex marriage would only be considered to be moral in this framework.

Now I am ready to respond to the thesis presented me and how I would respond. I think that all morality, no matter what its current source, is at its very core based on the framework I have just sketched out; that it is always, and always has been, based only on what works for society. Even in the most religious of mindsets, it has always only come down to society. The bible, and its moral code is the perfect example. No matter how a Christian wants to explain it, the fact is that the bible was the result of cultural moral ideals and was written as such, that a god was tacked onto it is not relevant. That biblical society in those biblical times found moral guides which worked for them and they encoded those morals in the bible. So even if one wanted to claim that all morality can only come from God, all their evidence is societal -- i.e. the biblical society surrounding the times of the bible. It is still society that determines what is moral and the way they do that is by sticking with what works and changing what does not. Clearly murder does not work, so it is immoral. But marriage works and it works in many different incarnations, so it is moral.

Therefore the real thesis in the original statement: "Resolved: Any system of morality within an atheistic worldview can be based on nothing more than personal or at most societal preference for its value judgments." is that atheism has nothing to do at all with morality. Atheism is simply a lack of god-belief (it is not a religion). But if lack of god-belief and God belief are not the actual root of morality then the thesis statement is a moot question. Atheism has no more to do with morality than does religion.

Now all of you must be stratching your heads at this point and saying to yourselves, "Hey wait a minute, both atheism and religion impact and influence what is considered morality." Yes that is true. They both do influence or impact morality. They can both even change morality. But the catch is that if either one changes morals in such a way that those morals now harm society, the morals must either therefore be altered again to protect society or the society dies. Which brings us full circle to the incontravertable fact that morals are the product of a healthy society, and not the other way around; a healthy society is the product of morals.

Thus my thesis is this: Both atheism and religion can influence morals in one direction or another; but society, by its long term health and stability, alone determines whether those moral changes are good or bad. Society is the key to morality, not religion or atheism.

Please note: In this essay I have used the words "good", "bad", good, and bad. I would attempt here to define them quickly and easily, but I do not think that is possible. Religion has a specific way of viewing "good" and "bad" through the lense of some magical sky daddy handing down what is good and bad. Ironically enough, for the most part they happen to coincide with the more common definitions of good and bad. I think theists getting them mixed up with holy and evil is the only real departure between the definitions. but that is another topic altogether.

Postscript: Maybe you noticed, but if you did not, this post had nothing to at all with the morality of an atheist. But I hope that it was understood that morality has nothing at all to do with religion or the lack thereof. I concede that both theists and atheists often attempt to change moral standards, but the standards themselves are neither based in a belief in a god or a lack of belief in a god.

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Our Wonderful Environment

Don't you just love waking up in the morning and stepping outside to the wonderful aroma of fresh air, flowers and --well-- nature? I sure do. But like so many others --and there are millions of us-- that is not what we actually experience in the morning, or daytime, or evening, for that matter. We get the wonderful smell of pollution. I live in Las Vegas. You may live in Los Angeles, Houston, the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, or wherever. But it is all the same.. A brown cloud that you can see when you move above or beyond it. It just looks disgusting from that distance. But is made even worse when you know that you actually live in and breathe it on a daily basis.

My hometown of Chattanooga, TN is a perfect example of turning the country's most polluted city into its cleanest. It can be done; it has been done. Most importantly, it has to be done, everywhere.

But what happens if conservatives are in charge and a state wants to clean itself up? You get this. Chattanooga is a perfect example of where progressive ideals lead to cleaner air, water, land and a stronger economy. But conservatives will have none of that. Its the status quo or no quo. Even the most casual look into the automotive industry shows just how screwed up the conservative mind is. Toyota turned an environmentally sound idea into a very successful and profitable product; the Toyota Prius. But the Big Three fought it. It was the same tired business model for them. And what happened? They got left behind and were faced with playing that most infamous of games, Catch-up. But it was easier for them to lobby the government to prevent any changes in their business practices than to make the changes that were inevitable (and that they are now doing to catch up with Toyota). Unfortunately for all of us, they had a willing ally: The conservative Republican machine.

So we see that things can change for the better if progressive ideas are used to help the environment, it can be good for people like we see in Chattanooga, it can be better in products like cars, and it can be better in other areas as well, like energy. In all areas of the environment and the economy, prosperity can occur if change and new ideas are allowed to reign. We see solid, concrete evidence all around us every day.

Only one thing stands in the way of real and massive economic growth, real and sustainable environmental protection, and a more widespread sense of health and prosperity. That is conservatism.

Just how many times have very prominent conservative writers or pundits publicly derided "global warming"? How many times have they fought against any sort of environmental stewardship at all?

All this makes me wonder why.. Why do conservatives fight against any sort of environmental responsibility even if it means better economic growth and better general populational health? Do they fear that what happened with Chattanooga and Toyota might just happen with all other cities and car companies? Do they fear that it may spread to all other industries as well?

I don't know. I could never pretend to understand the idea that things are best the way they are and could never ever be improved upon by using new ideas.

The question then becomes why is conservatism beholden to old ideas which cause such obvious problems? That question, I think, is easily answered. Those who hold the most to be gained by changing nothing are the ones who guide conservative principles. The best proof of this is the area of conservatism I discuss the most, conservative Christianity. But that is a tangent I won't go into here.

So, the moral of the story is simple, if you want cleaner air, vote against any and all conservatives, no matter what their political party.

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