Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Did they find Jesus H. Christ's bones?

This is the dark side of science fiction; it's the lure of pseudoscience that sucks in some of science fictions most popular players. Remember Leonard Nimoy hosting a program called "In Search of," the supposed "investigations" into various mysteries like Atlantis, the Amityville horror, Bigfoot, ghosts and UFO Cover-Ups? Remember Jonathan Frakes narrating Alien Autopsy: (Fact or Fiction?) in 1995?

The science fiction magazines of the 1940s, especially Amazing Stories, were instrumental in creating today's UFO cults. Some writers and editors claimed that they had personal experience with UFOs. Look up Ray Palmer and "The Shaver Mystery." Find out what L. Ron Hubbard, creator of Scientology did for a living before he came up with Scientology. Learn where he first published his ideas, in a science fiction magazine that became "Analog." Remember the Nazis on the Moon in Robert Heinlein's "Rocket Ship Galileo?" That too was once a tawdry pseudoscience fad.

Now, Aliens and Terminator director James Cameron and "investigative journalist" Simcha Jacobovichi claim to have found the bones of the New Testament Jesus. If true it indicates that Jesus never was resurrected from the grave and ascended into Heaven, thereby debunking a core dogma of standard Christianity. Problem is that Cameron and Jacobovichi have already shot their credibility by making a documentary that claimed to have "proved" the Exodus. Here's a rottentomatoes.com review.

The evidence for the Exodus offered in their 90-minute History channel documentary, "The Exodus Decoded," was pretty wild and completely speculative. It was a CGI-spectacular in which they claimed that the Exodus took place in 1500 BC under the reign of the Pharaoh Ahmose, (no one knows when the Exodus took place, and many doubt if it ever did, and the Bible doesn't give us much to date the event with). That date allowed them to link the ten plagues of Egypt with the Santorini volcanic eruption which triggered a chain of natural catastrophes that vaguely resemble the 10 plagues that God supposedly visited upon Egypt and also made the "Reed Sea," not "Red Sea," part and then caused an enormous ‘backsplash’ of water seven miles inland to engulf the Egyptian army at just the right moment.

It's that link that was pretty wild and speculative but not completely outside the realm of possibility but still utterly far fetched. The waters were turned red by chemicals released by tremors and also heavier than air poison gas kills the first born because they slept closer to the floor. Weather conditions spawned by the eruption might have caused hailstorms and darkness. Frogs were driven from their natural habitat and producing the biblical plague of frogs. The frogs then died and were eaten by insects that would have bred and lead to plagues of locusts, fleas and lice etc. etc.. All that Biblical weirdness connected to a somewhat plausible chain of natural events.

Still, none of it has any backing by academic archeological or Biblical scholars. Most Biblical scholars say there isn’t any archeological evidence backing up the biblical story of the Exodus at all. Even many Jewish scholars would reluctantly agree that an episode central to their faith, and commemorated at Passover, may never have happened. If it did take place they date it three hundred years later than Cameron and Jacobovichi do.

It’s fun to listen to as alternative history, a kind of science fiction, and I'll probably review the new show here, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." The new show will air March 4 on the Discovery Channel in the United States and it will argue that 10 small limestone caskets, or ossuaries, discovered in 1980 in a Jerusalem suburb may have held the bones of Jesus and his family. Cameron and Jacobovichi claim that two of the ancient stone burial boxes contained the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. One box even bears the title, "Judah, son of Jesus," suggesting that Jesus had a son.

However, people involved in the actual archeology, like Shimon Gibson, one of three archaeologists who first discovered the tomb in 1980, are skeptical. Christians are obviously not going to buy into the kind of wild speculation that "The Exodus Decoded" was rooted in when it's turned against them. Unless Cameron and Jacobovichi have a solid connection to the Jesus of the New Testament the bones could be from another Jesus not related to the biblical story at all. Jesus and Mary are common names after ancient Semitic script gets translated into Greek. So, unless they've got something like a Semitic copy of the gospels in that tomb there's nothing solid.

The fact that these ossuaries have been ignored by archaeologists since the 1980s, 27 years ago, should tell us something. The Antiquities Authority who let them haul around the antiques don't agree with the filmmakers either.

It's a bit like pro wrestling, everybody knows its fake and they just play along except for the real suckers.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Amicus, Amicus, Amicus... (sigh)

Amicus wrote:
"If you *want* me to go away, just say so."

No, no, stick around if you want, I really don't care. I see you getting into debates with others here in the comments sections and you should feel free to continue them. But you're going to have to get use to me mocking you when you write things like:

"...perhaps their "religion" truly is to kneel at the alter of a rationality for which they presuppose too much (if it were so evident, why the stridency?)..."

I'm going to have to ask; just how many rationalities are there on your planet? Normally people on Earth talk about rationality as if there were only one, but you say "a rationality" like there is more than one rationality. How many are there and what do you call them?

I'm not going to bother debating that with you. I'll let others do that. I can't keep up with all the religious stupidity out there. Just today I found Deepak Chopra has his new blog post at the Huffington Post, Why Robots Love Music (Part 1), and I haven't even bothered to read it yet.

And conservative Christian Rev. Jerry Falwell is out there using his position as a religious authority to expose the nefarious secret agenda of the global climate changers; to economically destroy America, to distract attention from the fact that the whole world is morally bankrupt and from its core mission of hating gays.

And Guardian has that article on Faith. And the pope is bitching about genetic engineering.

It's all more than I can deal with.

I'm not sure my blog is going to do you much good. I'm going to continue to be as snarky, cynical and darkly humorous as I can manage in regards to religion. But if you want to hang around and write stuff like this:

"... so you say that 'love' is (not probably, but certainly) a chemical reaction, perhaps humility, too. On your rational accounting, love simply is, it exists (physiologically). But that doesn't answer the important question of whether it is valuable,..."

Be my guest. I might tell you a little, like how emotions are an important measure of most values because we value what makes us feel good. On the first foundational, selfish level value is all about feeling good. That is why drug addiction is such a hard problem -- the drugs make us feel good, so good they block out our ability to apply more rationally determined values. Feelings trump reason because reason is first and foremost a tool of our emotions and reason then gets used to find and sneak drugs into your rehab.

To apply rationally determined values you have to use reason to try to look ahead at where you are going to be in a year, a decade, and then at what you'll leave behind when your life is over.

And you ask:

"...what people should do about, particularly, if anything."

You should think about what makes you feel good and then look at what reason can tell you about where you'll be in the future and where the people and things you care about will be.

You say:
Hate has pysiological components, too.

And that's one of the reason's there are wars and crimes of aggression. Just look at many of the movies Hollywood produces, and at the violent video games. We like to hate, it's rewarding. We like the feel of using power. That too has evolutionary roots -- you tell me why it would have theological roots?

War and aggression have been fueling our societal evolution. A point made in a book called, "The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History." Why would a kind and lovoing Christian God give us such an emotion?

So, taking all that together, it wouldn't be so terribly odd to say that
'rationality' is silent on important questions.

Nope. You're wrong. It has a lot to say and I'm only scratching the surface.

...you also write this: "Evolutionary psychology views the mind (and mind is what the brain does) as a collection of evolved, domain-specific programs arranged in a fairly chaotic cognitive architecture. Each is functionally specialized for solving a different adaptive problem that arose during hominid evolution."

To your way of thinking, how does one disprove this 'theory'?

You find an anomaly that the theory can not account for. That's what Deepak Chopra appears to be trying with his new post on music.

I'm not saying that cognative evolutionary theory is 'bunk', altogether.
The reason I'm asking is that such theories are not quite the same as determining the melting point of a metal, are they?

You don't seem to know the difference between theory and data.

Determining the melting point of metal hardly takes any more theory than you need to get a metal to melt in a furnace and a way to measure the temperature. That's not really an example of a "theory." People started doing that back when they thought heat and cold were two different fluid substances. Theories about melting metal don't start until after you get that data point and note that different metals (and alloys) melt at different temperatures then you can really start establishing theories about the melting of metal. And it's not just that metals melt, it is also how they melt, what viscosities they have when they melt under what atmospheric pressures, etc..

Real theories about melting metal are complex, taking into account the very atomic structure of the metal. They'll talk about "phase transitions" because when sufficiently heated, and a metal melts at a certain temperature that can be called a "phase transition."

The people who would know about theories of melting metal are manufacturers of things like electrical solder, welding equipment, and metal casting plants. Melting in general might bring in food manufacturers, for example, Mark Mostoller, Ted Kaplan, and Kun Chen used computer simulations to describe how chocolate melts in our mouths.

The people who would know about emotions are marketing and advertising people, maybe movie makers and computer game makers who employ psychologists and neurophysiologists. Maybe, today, economists too. In classic economic theory, (in this oversimplified argument of mine), it was all about rational self interest, but many choices people make are irrational and inconsistent. Classical economists struggled to explain our irrational economic behavior: Why don't people save enough for retirement? Why do people smoke cigarettes when we have evidence of the long-term negative effects? Why leave tips for some strangers, like waiters and waitresses, but not others, like the cashier at 7/11 who doesn't make much more? Emotions play a larger role in explaining human behavior than classic economics acknowledge. We tend to choose immediate gratification despite larger longer term costs or rewards if we delayed gratification.

Psychologists test this stuff, they do experiments; they come up with complex theories. We see that the emotional human brain has a hard time imagining the future, even though our logical brain clearly sees the future consequences of our current actions. Your emotional brain wants to max out the credit card and order a banana split with whipped cream. Our logical brain knows we should save for retirement, go for a bike ride and quit eating so much ice cream.

Our behavior is not always motivated by reason; our emotions play a huge role in determining our behavior--that emotional drive to chose a banana split compels us to choose that over doing sit ups, despite being aware that sit ups provide a greater reward in the long term.

Marketing groups and advertisers know we want immediate rewards and they study which parts of the brain are activated when we do it. They also study decisions people make that are associated with abstract reasoning. Evolutionary psychology might help them get a grip on what's happening.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Amicus refuses to leave Hell and reveals yet more ignorance

Amicus just won't go away, he's back writing this, here in the comments section:

"... what has your reportedly rational mind brought you, in your opinion on the things that matter most in life?

Really, on great issues like love, friendship, caring, humility - the rational mind seems either slient or weak ... based both on the evidence, which rationalist seem to emphasize, and more generally."

Your rational mind gives you only silence? That's probably because you don't listen to other rational minds; you only listen to your own ignorant mind and those preachers that lie to you. If you care to know what rational minds think you might want to click the links below:

Evolutionary Psychology and the Emotions

Evolutionary psychology views the mind (and mind is what the brain does) as a collection of evolved, domain-specific programs arranged in a fairly chaotic cognitive architecture. Each is functionally specialized for solving a different adaptive problem that arose during hominid evolution. These programs sometimes conflict with one another. For example, sleep and flight from a predator require mutually inconsistent actions, computations, and physiological states. It is difficult to sleep when your heart and mind are racing with fear.

Emotions, which lead to love, friendship, caring, humility, are such programs. They're the most primitive of our programs and the cerebral cortex evolved as a tool for their use, meaning reason is the tool of the emotions.

Love really does come down to a chemical addiction and the chemicals are oxytocin and vasopressin.

This doesn't invalidate observations made by artists, poets and playwrights who have made some progress in understanding of love, it adds another layer and a new and dangerous control over our emotions. Scientists are challenging some notions, and they are learning a lot about how and why people love each other.

Understanding the neurochemical pathways that regulate social attachments may help to deal with defects in people's ability to form relationships. Our relationships rely on an ability to create and maintain social ties. Defects can be disabling, and become apparent as disorders such as autism and schizophrenia and even noremal depression that can result from rejection in love. Research is also shedding light on some of the more extreme forms of sexual behaviour.


Mirror neurons and imitation learning as the driving force behind "the great leap forward" in human evolution.

More neuroendocrinology

Christians say the darndest things

UPDATE: This letter to the editor was proven to be a hoax. Thank A Whore in the Temple of Reason for the news.

When God sanctions killing

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Problem with Stupid People is…

…they're too stupid to figure out that they're stupid. It doesn't matter that you point out to them how what they're saying is wrong, they, like George W. Bush in Iraq, just continue saying the same stupid things and then complain about the fact that you've called them stupid.

Consider this example: After I pointed out what was wrong with Amicus' last statements, this is what Amicus wrote in his next entry into the "pillow fight" comments section:

"I have no idea, honestly, why so many atheists feel that they must assert their intellectual superiority at the outset and throughout the debate.

It suggests that perhaps their "religion" truly is to kneel at the alter of a rationality for which they presuppose too much (if it were so evident, why the stridency?), if only because the sheer contempt, condescension, and disregard for any who seem to them not to have the intellectual capacity, the rationality, to understand them and their superior viewpoint."

Amicus, if you and Martin didn't write the obviously stupid and ignorant things you write I wouldn't call you stupid. In fact, I didn't call you stupid, I called you brainwashed, but now I have to call you stupid for, as Forrest Gump said, "stupid is as stupid does," and what you've done now is really stupid. Instead of admitting to your errors and owning up to them, you ask me why I think you're "intellectually inferior" and claim that I "kneel at the alter of a rationality" – and that's stupid as I shall now prove.

Let's start with the little things, Amicus, you want to say "altar" not "alter," an 'a' not an 'e' because alter is for like, "to alter the dress." That's kinda stupid, but it's minor.

Next, consider this whole concept of "kneeling at the altar of rationality." Reason is a tool, not an altar. To use a tool to figure things out is not worship. Would you also call using math to figure out the path of a rocket "knelling at the altar of mathematics"? Would you call going to the doctor "knelling at the altar of biology"? Yet when I use evidence and logic to figure out what kind of world I live in or show you how Amicus is clearly wrong I "kneel at the altar of rationality."

Then you claim that we "presuppose too much" but that's exactly what I demonstrated to you that you do. It was you who ignorantly presupposed what atheism meant and you who presupposed that Sam Harris' measure of religious insanity used only the jihadists. I demonstrated those claims were wrong by showing you the definition of atheism and listing the insanities of religion that were not jihadists.

You come with no evidence or claim of what we have presupposed; you just make the claim without offering either example or evidence. And you do this with stolen, empty rhetoric. (I say stolen because that phrase "altar of rationality" gets hits on google.)

If religionists didn't tend toward utterly ignorant beliefs, like believing in a fixed Earth as Georgia State Rep. Ben Bridges of Cleveland and Texas State Rep. Warren Chisum do, I wouldn't assume such stupidity generally in the religious. And it's also untrue to say that I think all Christians are stupid. For example, I don't think Peter Popoff is stupid, no, I think he's a charlatan who preys upon the stupid.

I don't think Pat Robertson is stupid, I think he's insane, he's completely psychotic, koo-koo for coco puffs, he has gone totally Katherine Harris looney-tunes. I don't think he is stupid because he obviously figured out how to make lots of money off of stupid people.

You, however, are unable to even comprehend the mountainous evidence of your own stupidly stupid stupidity. You claim my "stridency" is evidence of the fact I presuppose these things? But let me tell you, friend, stupidity is no joke. It needs to be taken very seriously. Most major, life and death, problems in the world today have their root causes firmly planted in sheer human stupidity. It has caused the suffering and death of untold millions of human beings throughout history.

Consider George W. Bush and his administration, they stupidly think America is stupid and either try to create their own reality (perhaps they buy into some stupid Deepak Chopra theory?) or simply lie like there's no tomorrow. This was testified to by Ron Suskind who claimed a Bush official told him, I paraphrase, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you in the reality-based community are studying that reality--judiciously, as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Your talk of those of us who "kneel at the altar of rationality" is just as bad as that phrase "reality-based community." It's already been taken up as a badge of honor by some atheists. It's your confession that you're not rational.

When the Bush administration goofed up in Iraq, starting a civil war and not finding the WMD they claimed was there, the mistake was blamed on a "failure of intelligence," which is another synonym for stupidity but one that allows stupid people to maintain the delusion that they actually have intelligence and that it merely failed temporarily. I would suggest that if you fail to understand how logic and reason are used, you will fail dramatically at other things - perhaps important and serious things.

In yet another mystery of stupidity the leader who had this failure of intelligence, George W. Bush, was re-elected. “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?” was the headline on the British newspaper, the Daily Mirror, the day after Mr. Bush was elected to his second term. Newspapers around the world expressed similar sentiments including, of course, the New York Times. They were, like me, wondering at the stupidity of people like you, Amicus.

Those with evangelical Republican sympathies, judging by reactions I'd read, took all of this condescension personally. On the last show of the season for HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" the former Senator from Montana, Alan Simpson, shook an angry, accusing finger at Bill Maher after Maher had told a condescending joke pointing out the stupidity of fundamentalists. Simpson then blamed Maher, and people like him, for John Kerry's defeat. Simpson thus demonstrated that he might be mentally qualified for handicapped parking. He was saying the Republican voters voted not for "moral values," or a tougher war against terrorism, or "character," or anything like that, but against being made fun of by people who weren't running. Now they must witness the cost of their own stupidity.

Your stupidity is like that when you accuse me of "kneeling at the altar of rationality."

If Simpson is going to say that about Republican voters he might as well say they're the kind of people who take a ruler to bed to see how long they sleep, or that they send faxes with stamps on them, or that they think TuPac Shakur is a Jewish holiday. Getting angry at people who call you stupid isn't going to convince them that you're sharper than a bowl of Jello. No, you've got to prove you're not stupid by explaining why your positions on the issues make more sense than trying to arrange your M&Ms alphabetically.

If you're a Christian or a brain dead fundamentalist Republican then be glad those damned intellectual elitists still make jokes about you because it means they don't think you're as dangerously stupid as the Islamic extremists who killed Theo van Gogh. Worry when they stop making fun of you and stop challenging you to a dialog because that means they really have given up on you and are too scared to speak. Fear is a dangerous emotion and it makes people do stupid things, even atheists.

Of course, intellectual elitist Democrats should rethink calling George W. Bush a moron because saying that amounts to saying, "That moron outsmarted us twice." Besides, you're not going to be convincing many stupid people to vote your way when you call them stupid. Nor am I going to convince you that you're stupid merely by presenting you with evidence of your ignorance. You're probably not smart enough to make sense of it. It's just not a smart thing to do even when you are stupid. Pointing out the obvious stupidity of stupid people just makes them angry.

Almost all stupid people are in denial about their stupidity and the dumber you are the more likely you are to be in denial about your stupidity. This was demonstrated scientifically by Dr. David Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell and Justin Kruger of the University of Illinois.

The results of Mr. Dunning's and Mr. Kruger's research was reported in the Denver Post some time ago in an article called, "Why the ignorant are blissful: Inept individuals ooze confidence, study finds." It described research proving that stupid people are too stupid to realize they are stupid. The results also appeared in an issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Test subjects were given tests in logic, English grammar and humor and then asked to estimate how well they scored. Those who scored lowest on all three tests were most likely to overestimate how well they scored. The lower the score, the greater the overestimation. Later the test subjects were shown the tests of other subjects and higher scorers revised their estimate of their own performance to reflect reality. Those with low scorers did not and sometimes they even raised their estimates upward. Truly stupid people cannot be clued in to their own stupidity. People who test badly, Dunning and Kruger found, are usually supremely confident of their abilities -- more confident, in fact, than people who are smart. Not only do stupid people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.

Kruger and Dunning also found that intelligent people were likely to underestimate their own intelligence. This was attributed to the fact that, with no information about how others are doing, intelligent people assumed that others were performing as well as they were. This is called a "false consensus effect." What smart people are stupid about is just how stupid the rest of the world is.

In short, stupid people are too stupid to realize they're stupid and too stupid to learn to recognize their incompetence and learn from their mistakes. And we let them vote and run our country because we don't realize how stupid they are until it is too late.

This, of course, must lead you, dear reader, to ask the ultimate question of yourself; are you stupid? Is there a way to tell?

Yes, there is. One way to measure your stupidity is by how angry and enraged you felt while reading this post. If you felt insulted at all by it, then the odds are that you are a stupid person. This is because you realized, on some level in that confused and irrational brain of yours, that when I was talking about stupid people I was talking about you. If that last sentence enrages you still further then you are probably hopelessly stupid and now want to kill me or vote for George W. Bush again.

For those of you who are somewhat angry but not presently foaming at the mouth and chasing after me with baseball bats what you need to do is admit that you are stupid. It's the first stage in any recovery. If you can't admit that you are stupid at least admit that you might appear stupid to people who don't understand in what ways you're not stupid.

You see, I'm sure I appear stupid too. At least that's what I've been told by people who have radically different views of reality. What I've done that you may not have done is admit this to myself. I am stupid about a lot of things and I know that the things that I call stupid are really just things other people do that make no sense to me. The way you argue your point actually works against you. There may indeed be smart reasons for doing these apparently stupid things but I don't understand what those reasons are. Stupidity is thus relative to our frame of reference. However, getting angry about being called stupid is always stupid and counter-productive and a sure sign of true stupidity. Curb that angry desire and you'll do a lot to smarten yourself up.

So, Christians who complain about being "bashed" when they're called stupid or ignorant are just compounding their problems. You should be asking yourself why you seem so stupid to us. And all I'm doing is explaining why you come off as a moron.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

No religion zones? .... Hmmmm

David Horton at HuffPo had an interesting idea:

"But I digress. It occurred to me the other day, while standing, gratefully, in a no-smoking zone, some distance from where smokers were polluting their lungs and the world around them, that this principle could be carried further. It was also a few days ago that I was last buttonholed, while going about my business in town, by happy smiling fellows in dark suits and ties wondering if I knew the lord (no, one of them wasn't Mitt Romney).

"And it suddenly struck me - what about no-religion zones in our towns as well as no-smoking zones? Can't ban religion altogether of course, that has proved about as effective in various countries as Prohibition was for alcohol. Libertarians come out, guns blazing, demanding that religion not only not be persecuted but be favored. But it would be great to limit where they can carry out toxic activities that damage the non-religious. I don't care what they do in the privacy of church and home, but, just as with smokers, I do object when they come and do it in other places."

Intersting idea, but it has problems -- for example, will the religious arrest women who go to the no-religion zone for an abortion after they come back out? I remember from a long time ago hearing about a woman getting arrested for murder upon going back to Florida after having had an abortion in another state.

And some of us atheists do talk a lot about gods.

First came the brain dead, now come the brainwashed

First I had Martin, the brain dead, now I've got someone calling themselves Amicus commenting in my post about Sam Harris' and Andrew Sullivan's debate turning into a pillow fight. This is what Amicus wrote in his first comment, among other things:

"As for your post here, quite a lot of doctrine or dogma can win the form of rationality."

Does anyone know what he is talking about? What exactly is "the form of rationality"? Is that some kind of pseudo-rationality? Like rationalization?

Well, I asked Amicus what he meant and he came back with a long reply in which he never really gets to the original question. It illustrates the thinking of someone who has been brainwashed and lied to most of their life. It illustrates many Christian flaws -- a lack of scientific knowledge, a lack of social data or blinders, a lack of moral development (He basically asks: "If there is no god, why should we be good?"), and lack of imagination. Here's my first example, he wrote:

"I think agnostics have a more defensible position than do atheists, because atheists actually posit a truth that ultimately looks like a religious truth - a belief IN something, i.e. "no God" - rather than agnostics, who don't go so far, but just recognize the limits of rationality on the matter."

The first thing wrong with that is that he obviously doesn't know the definition of atheism and according to Austin Cline the particular definition he uses is attributed to Christian lies:

"Most disagreement over this comes from Christians who insist that atheism must be the denial of gods, or at least of their god. Mere absence of belief in gods is, they claim, properly labeled agnosticism — even though agnosticism has it's own definition and is about a different concept entirely."

Amicus gets that even more wrong by saying this:
"belief IN something, i.e. 'no God'"

That would mean that Amicus' non-belief in Zeus, Allah, Amen Ra and Shiva are all various religion-like beliefs to Amicus. Or will Amicus claim to be agnostic about Zeus? If he's going to be consistent, he'll have to claim he is agnostic about Zeus and Shiva.

To be fair, it is a muddy issue this definition of atheism and it ultimately divides into weak and strong versions of atheism. Austin Cline and Wikipedia both offer explanations.

I am a strong atheist of a type, it has to do with two things, 1) the Christian concept of God as usually defined is contradictory and 2) there is strong evidence that the anthropic intelligence people want to attribute to God must evolve and cannot exist before there is a universe.

There is justification in believing the Christian God does not exist based on current evidence. I'll get to that in a different post, but for now more huge examples Amicus' brainwashing, like this:

"For me, the 'insanity of religion', as you phrase it, is too broad a characterization (and unbalanced because it ignores the ideological excesses of non-religious 'insanity'). If Islamic Jihad is Sam's yardstick (first letter), then that 'insanity' is de minimus compared to the large number of self-describe religious people who are NOT involved in that."

Jihad is neither Sam's yardstick nor mine, it is but one small (numbers of people wise) symptom of religious insanity. Other more prominent symptoms are:

1) It's the fact 47% of Americans believe God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.

2) Women treated as second-class citizens or even slaves.

3) Pentecostal snake-handlers

4) Persecution of homosexuals

5) Sometimes fatal exorcisms by priests believing they are removing demons.

6) The requirement of theism in order to stand for public office.

7) Religion represents a huge financial and work burden on mankind. Imagine how that effort could be better spent.

8) Faith healers and plenty of instances of ill people being "healed" by a priest, ceasing to take the medicines prescribed to them by doctors, and dying as a result. Some people have died because they have refused blood transfusions on religious grounds.

9) Opposition to birth control, and even condoms and embryonic stem cell funding by the Fed.

10) Ted Haggard

11) Mel Gibson

12) People who claim to be Jesus:

13) Pat Robertson's contradictory theology

14) Swami Prabhupada

15) Scientology, Scientology

16) The Salem Witchcraft Trials

17) The European Witch Craze

18) When God sanctions killing

And that's just a quick surface scratch, I could keep going on. In fact, I've found other people doing similar lists that don't repeat mine, like here.

And then comes the clincher that proves how brainwashed Amicus is:

"As an atheist, how do you reject murder (homocide) on an exclusively rational basis?

"That would be one example, one of a 'moral truth' that might be evidenced *both* by rationality (whatever your own atheist argument might be), but also by dogma/doctrine (derived solely from various religious texts thought to hold the truth on such matters)."


Third, I might offer faith as a viewpoint, a perspective, not altogether arbitary in the way Sam (and Dawkins) suggest, but as ways of ordering the world as far as individual ethical questions. Arjuna, at the opening of the Gita, as best I recall, learns about duty, amid the mind-numbing destruction of war. Christians, Jews, and Muslims have an injunction to Honor they Mother and Father. This is a viewpoint, one on which moderates, extermists, and atheists might all have widely different interpretations, but, notwithstanding, it is a general point of departure that pure rationalists (or "truth now" people) do not have, arguably."

This question has been dealt with often so I don't have to answer it, here's one answer:

And some more, and one more.

As for the practical dimension, survey's have shown only one major difference: That church members are more charitable than non-members. Probably because churches get some social pressure going that atheists aren't yet exposed to.

NEWS FLASH: Monkey becomes Shakespeare

No... wait. Make that Monkey Shakes a Spear.

Here's the article:
Spear-wielding chimps snack on skewered bushbabies

It's at newscientist.com and here's the first paragraph:
"In a revelation that destroys yet another cherished notion of human uniqueness, wild chimpanzees have been seen hunting bushbabies with spears. It is the first time an animal has been seen using a tool to hunt a vertebrate."

Everyone, be on the look out for a large black monolith. It is rumored to look like this:

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Is "Conservapedia" a joke?

A huge group of people over at ScienceBloggers are mocking "Conservapedia," but are they mocking a joke?


PZ Myers expects the parodists to sneak in to edit articles to make them subtle (or even not-so-subtle) parodies of far right wingnuttery. It's already happened:

Check out the entry on Jesus:

This is what it said:

"Jesus had sex with Mary Magdalene and they had kids. Also, he was a bit gay."

Not any more. They changed it quick.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Harris versus Sullivan: The battle becomes a pillow fight

I just read, at beliefnet.com, Sam Harris' newest response to Andrew Sullivan and it is surprisingly gentle. Considering Andrew viciously attacked a straw man and then instead of telling Sam why he believes Jesus was the son of God, born of a virgin, risen to heaven as declared in what Andrew acknowledges is an error filled book, and as is his responsibility in such a debate, he asked Sam why so many others have believed for so long. We don't know, Andrew, that's why we don't believe it, you have to tell us. Is that all you've got, "ah, Mom, everybody else is doing it." Andrew's response was pathetic.

I've argued with fundies that could describe their born again experiences in emotional detail, I've heard C.S. Lewis' arguments about universal morality and I have heard the argument from Biblical prophesy. I have never seen a Christian come back to the debate with their hands as empty as Andrew's. And I think Sam is starting to feel sorry for him. Sam doesn't throw any real bombs which would have been easy to do. Remember the old Sam of the earlier debate who could come up with lines like:

"You simply wrote to inform me that you have never doubted God's existence, cannot account for how you came to believe in Him, and are well aware that these facts will not (and should not) persuade me of the legitimacy of your religious beliefs. I now feel like a tennis player, in mid-serve, who notices that his opponent is no longer holding a racket."

Such lines got quoted and cheered here: on richarddawkins.net

Maybe they're digging them out now and I missed it? In basic substance, however, Sam's answers were not all that different than mine, (which is here).

Sam used different examples and different phrasing but covered some of the same points, and answered the same questions as I did. He had a couple better examples, I confess. The South Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba is one example. Sathya Sai Baba claims to have been born of a virgin, walked on water, raised the dead, flew without the aid of technology, materialized objects, read minds and foretold the future.

"He has literally millions of followers, many of them educated westerners. You can watch some of his "miracles" on YouTube, performed before credulous throngs of spiritually hungry souls. Prepare to be underwhelmed. And yet, you are suggesting that tales of similar events emerging from the pre-scientific religious milieu of the 1st century Roman Empire (decades after their supposed occurrence) are especially credible."

So, how can I critique Sam if he's done that better? It's the things he's not doing that bother me. For example, Sam doesn't use the word "dogma" as I did. Instead Sam is still using the overly broad and off the mark word, "contingency." Sam uses other euphemisms for religious dogma, like "cultural prejudice" when he says:

"I merely asked you to imagine what it would be like if our discourse about ethics and spirituality were as uncontaminated by cultural prejudice as the discourse of science already is."

That doesn't work because I have lots of cultural prejudice to bring to bear on talk of ethics. As an American male who has grown up with scantily dressed women in advertising, at the beach, in my entertainment, and having "no means no" drummed into my psyche I am just way to use to my culture. I can only barely imagine what it would be like to grow up among those black, amorphous blobs of cloth where you only see their eyes and knowing them as women. Similarly, I would feel vaguely uncomfortable in a nudist colony – at least for awhile. So much of our morality is really just ingrained habits our culture makes us get use to.

The phrase "cultural prejudice" just misses the mark because dogma like "the bible says homosexuality is an abomination" is not just "cultural prejudice," it's something more. It claims not to be a cultural prejudice, it claims to be God's law.

This is dogma:
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NIV):
"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters, nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

Actually, the whole buy-bull is dog-ma.

Maybe dogma is a word that would require definition for Andrew, and perhaps Sam too. Here you go guys:

Dogma: a religious doctrine that is proclaimed as true without proof.
Dogma: a doctrine or code of beliefs accepted as authoritative; "he believed all the Marxist dogma."
Dogma: (the plural is either dogmata or dogmas) is belief or doctrine held by a religion or any kind of organization to be authoritative. Evidence, analysis, or established fact may or may not be adduced, depending upon usage.
Dogma: a religious truth established by Divine Revelation and defined by the church.
Dogma: a blind belief in things often without a material base.

"Dogma" gets closer to the heart of the matter than "cultural prejudice" or "contingency." Those two phrases are vague and fluffy pillows, but the word "dogma" cuts to the bone. And some of Sam's claims aren't entirely on the mark, for example:

"...the discourse of science already exists, and it already functions by norms that are quite alien to religion. If applied in religion, these norms would leave very few traditional doctrines still standing. But contrary to your fears on the matter, this would not make religious music, art, or architecture any less beautiful."

If beauty is the enjoyed emotional reaction to a work of art then I indeed do feel an emotional change in my reactions to art after dropping my religious beliefs. I don't think an atheist and a Christian are going to have the same emotional reaction to a film like Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" or "2001." Atheism drags all possibilities down to a human level with only human possibility and with science fiction being the closest thing to transcendent hope. It would be dishonest to say one's response to art, beauty and religious metaphor remains the same. Contemplating God or heaven isn't done with some warm, vague and fuzzy expectations of eternity. Eternity becomes a colder, more distant and indifferent idea. But the human side of art takes on a new depth and clarity, but the clarity isn't always pretty. Music and architecture are pretty much the same I guess, they're abstract - but not literature, movies, painting and sculpture.

Maybe this will give you a little taste of the human side: What do you see when you look at Michelangelo's David? Do you think about the fact that he's not circumcised as the real David probably would have been if he really existed and that he has a rather modern haircut for a biblical figure? And why is he nude -- did biblical figures walk around without clothes? Do you ever think maybe the old Greek and Roman scupltures were better? What was that statue to Michelangelo? A biblical figure or a pretty boy? A pretty boy that Michelangelo spent a lot of time on lovingly smoothing out those muscles? What makes that statue religious besides the name and the fact it was commissioned in 1501 by the Cathedral Works Committee?

When I was religious I might have accepted the idea that Michelangelo was trying to depict a biblical figure, but he couldn't have really tried hard to do that. Now I see something else.

And to make Sam's point perhaps, the picture below is an ancient classic marble sculpture, the Trojan priest Laocoon is attacked by a sea serpent sent by the goddess Athena. It's not Christian, does that make it any less marvelous than Michelangelo's work? Michelangelo would have grown up around such ancient imagery and so his influences were pagan, in part. If you can respond to the art of a religion not your own, then why would atheists like your art less than you like ancient Greek art?

Wait a minute... "why would atheists like your art less than you like ancient Greek art?" What am I thinking?! Not all Christian art is classic sculpture and classical music. Have you heard Christian rock? Have you seen those sappy pictures of clouds and sunsets that Andrew Sullivan heads his religion posts with? I hope people's tastes change.

And, I'm not sure, but I suspect Sam may have stumbled into his own straw man with this comment: "Your [Andrew's] comments seem to invoke a stark opposition between reason and emotion that I do not believe exists (and which now seems quite implausible at the level of the brain)." Well, if I read Andrew right, he doesn't think so either. Maybe I missed something.

A bit of what Sam wrote is baffling. For example, Sam says: "I did hear some bomb-blasts in the distance. They were magnificent." Huh? What exactly are "bomb-blasts in the distance"? Could he mean things like my previous blog entry? I don't even know if either of them know I exist.

Monday, February 19, 2007

What makes Deepak Chopra so stupid?

Deepak is back with Part 2 of Why Evolutionary Biology Embraces the Bogus.

It's short and shallow and utterly stupid. It's so shallow it's barely worth commenting on so this time I'm going to take a different tact and explain why Deepak Chopra is stupid and not just ignorant. I can sum it up for you right now: Deepak Chopra's preconceived notions of "non-physical" causes and "non-physical" consciousness blind him to all potential physical, brain level, explanations for human behavior and render him grossly incapable of learning anything new in the areas of neurophysiology, evolutionary psychology, quantum physics and related scientific subjects. If you get that, you can stop reading now (unless you want to know my secret big mistake in my last post on Chopra). The rest is detail and argument supporting the view you already understand.

We're all ignorant to some degree and I put my ignorance of Prozac and clinical depression out there in my first post on Deepak (that post is re-written now, so take my word for it or read the comments section on my fist Deepak post). However, unlike Deepak, I caught my error, thanks to you guys commenting on my post and pointing it out, and so I learned. But Deepak can't learn what I learned. That's why he is stupid and not just ignorant.

One of the things that happened in Deepak's first post on why he thinks evolutionary biology is bogus is that comments on his post pointed to a huge error in his implied assumption that losing one's job could cause a person to have an "imbalance of serotonin" and possibly needing Prozac. What he had said was simply; "Let's say a man loses his job, becomes depressed, and wants a prescription for Prozac. What made him depressed isn't the imbalance of serotonin in his brain but the loss of his job." There was confusion there about two uses of the term "depression." On one hand there is clinical depression which needs to be treated with a drug like Prozac, at least for awhile, and then there is the street use of the term "depression" which can mean you're a little sad, worried or blue in a completely normal and healthy way. The error is gross because in the case of clinical depression where you can get a prescription for Prozac it really is the imbalance of serotonin that's causing it. Normal sadness is still in balance.

If you're blue about losing your job you may have somewhat lower serotonin levels, I assume but don't know that and normal sadness may not even alter serotonin levels, but you certainly do not have an imbalance of serotonin in normal sadness. No doctor who knows what he is doing is going to give you Prozac for the kind of normal, in balance, sadness. Prozac is meant only for the chemically imbalanced, clinical depression and related serious conditions. Now, maybe losing your job might trigger a susceptibility to having your serotonin levels go out of whack but losing your job can not be called "the cause" simply because it's too normal an experience to lose a job and most people don't go clinical as a result. I have no experience myself with clinical depression. I've never used Prozac. I've never needed psychiatric help for depression in any way. But I have gotten fired from two jobs – that certainly made me sad, and eventually I re-thought my entire approach to life as a result, so the sadness was useful for me. Deepak was just dead wrong to imply that losing your job will cause clinical depression of the kind you need Prozac for.

In his new post, Deepak writes about how, in materialistic science, "associations will be mistaken for causes," and that is exactly what Deepak did with his comment about a man losing his job and getting depressed. We can prove job loss does not cause clinical depression and prove Deepak wrong. Deepak says, materialistic science, evolutionary psychology/biology, is using, "quite invalid reasoning, because it always winds up proving one's own preconceptions." But again, this is what Deepak is doing. He can't even acknowledge the provable errors he has already made. Deepak's own conclusion precedes the investigation.

He's guilty of everything he accuses evolutionary biology of and worse. One thing Deepak does that no evolutionary biologist would do is come to the table with no specific evidence and examples at hand. Deepak quotes no papers on the evolutionary biology he attempts to criticize but only makes vague assumptions about what evolutionary biologists do and assumes they do what he does – make bogus arguments and not examine evidence. It's pure projection.

Like I said earlier, I made a mistake in my first Deepak post and didn't take into account this confusion about the different meanings of "depression." I actually thought you might get Prozac for a little mood brightener after losing a job. I was ignorant. No doctor would prescribe Prozac for you unless he thought you were clinically depressed. I acknowledge this and I have learned. Deepak has learned nothing he admits too. In his recent post he totally ignores his past mistakes and moves on to build on his past ignorance and make a wall that guards him from "Materialist" scientific understandings. (Or maybe he's building a wall to guard his marks from understanding the science that would destroy his ability to con their money from them?)

Deepak says: "Evolutionary biology isn't a magic science or a privileged one. It brings a preconceived model to a problem." As far as I can tell, that's half correct, evolutionary biology isn't magic – magic is what Deepak pretends to sell along with his own preconceived (several thousand years ago) notions. Chopra goes further off track very soon by adding: "It applies that model without looking to the right or the left. It has a strong bias in favor of material fact instead of abstract philosophy."

Abstract philosophy? What's really lacking isn't abstraction or philosophy, what is not "allowed" in science is theological teleology and supernatural causes, something Deepak identifies, vaguely, with abstract philosophy.

Deepak claims: "Human beings do lots of non-physical things." Like what? Thinking? Feeling? Getting depressed – even clinically depressed? If there's no physical cause for clinical depression, then why does Prozac have any effect at all? Does Deepak think it is all placebo effect?

The assumptions Deepak claims are ignored or flouted by evolutionary biology are also "ignored" by neurophysiology and neuropharmacology and every other science out there. Deepak claims that "We intuitively know how to select a cause as opposed to an association." But the failures of Deepak's own intuitive attempts in this area prove that relying on intuition, and "religious-like" notions about souls, produce gross errors. Deepak says "evolutionary biology tends to forget intuition" but that will change as soon as someone writes a paper on intuition and where it really comes from and how Deepak gets things so clearly wrong using it.

Like everything else Deepak writes about, materialistic science produces results, even evolutionary science. And it is Deepak who produces only words.
And Deepak lies. This is what Deepak claims evolutionary biology is like:

"So what if two explanations arise in evolutionary biology? Assume that the gene for music is isolated. As an evolutionary development, the cause for this is that one gene pool didn't contain music and died out, while another gene pool did contain music and survived. If explanation A holds that prehistoric women were attracted to men who whistled while explanation B holds that prehistoric men ran away from men who whistled, there's no valid way to choose. In the absence of physical data, evolution is a highly dubious model to apply to behavior."

No Deepak that is your straw man version of something you have no understanding of. If you want real evolutionary psychology, go here:

Max Planck researchers have used psychological research techniques to successfully reconstruct primeval cognition.

And here:

Let us know why you think the Max Planck group failed to "reconstruct primeval cognition."

Or, here's something easier, Steven Pinker on the evolutionary psychology of religion.

Deepak says "I realize that this kind of critique frustrates and even infuriates materialists…" Yes, being constantly lied about is frustrating. So, stop lying, Deepak and next time you want to criticize evolutionary psychology instead of making up a straw man version of an evolutionary psychology paper, read a real paper on it and criticize that.

Get me off this crazy planet!

There is a really bizarre and crazy story on Panda's Thumb about Georgia State Rep. Ben Bridges of Cleveland, Texas State Rep. Warren Chisum, and a memo to members of the Texas House of Representatives. The memo called for the end of “tax-supported evolution science” because it has a religious agenda. Since the courts have ruled that “creation science” has a religious agenda and so violates the “Establishment Clause” Ben Bridges set out to prove that Darwinian evolution and the big bang theory were religious. Rep. Bridges claims it is the alternate “creation scenario” of the Pharisee Religion, derived concept-for-concept from Rabbinic writings in the Kabbala dating back at least two millennia and it has a very specific religious agenda thus it cannot legally be taught in taxpayer supported schools. The memo then invites lawmakers to visit FixedEarth.com, the "non-moving Earth & anti-evolution web page of the Fair Education Foundation, Inc."

Is reality ripping off The Onion? Just how crazy and ignorant are our government representatives and the voters who elect them? We're talking "fixed Earth" here people, they can't believe in that little scientific factoid that got Galileo in trouble with the Catholic Church. They don't believe it after NASA has sent probes to Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. We couldn't do that if we were wrong about a heliocentric solar system. It prompted Panda's Thumb writer, Reed A. Cartwright, to say this:

"What Texas needs is not another anti-evolution bill, but a bill that would give politicians the Bridges-Chisum-Hall test. If the politician actually believes that there is any merit to the rantings of a fixed-earth creationist, then he fails the test, is declared legally stupid, and required to stay five counties away from any child."
-- Reed A. Cartwright

I wish. There are civil servant tests, almost every country has them, (there are scandals about them in China because their tests are so hard) and it seems that our elected representatives are civil servants so shouldn't they have to pass such tests before they run for office? Maybe we should learn from China?

Here's a general outline for a two phase plan; phase one – petition and write congress so that all people who want to run for office have to pass a basic civil service exam with a mild intelligence test included before they can campaign for any such representative position. Phase two – keep pressuring congress to make the test harder so we get the best people and also pressure for more scientific awareness and general intelligence.

What we would have to leave out, for the moment, is anything about evolution. In a different world maybe that would be included, but we're working with an electorate here in the U.S. where, according to Gallup polls, most people don't believe that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is supported by the evidence. The results have been similar since 2001, the first year in which Gallup asked the question.

Only 1.2 percent said they believe the scientific theory of evolution and "God had no part" according to some polls.

With poll numbers like that it's utterly amazing that we're winning the court cases. So, I'd be reluctant to push too hard. However, a simple bit of intelligence testing could weed out some of the real morons, like Rep. Ben Bridges of Cleveland and Rep. Warren Chisum.

So, get thinking people, how do we word a petition for testing would-be elected representatives before they can run?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Martin, you're a delusional idiot with the reading comprehension skills of a turnip.

My apologies to any other Martins out there, by Martin I mean the idiot who wrote this in the comments section of my first Deepak post, "Deepak Chopra gets stupid again.":

After reading this i must conclude once again that evolutionists can´t argue philosophically, and that they are as blinded by belief as their religious opponents. I mean:

"There's a reason evolution gave us depression and sadness and pain – it's supposed to motivate you to do what you have to do to get back to a state where you feel better."

What excacly is the evidence of this? Am i right that the only reason to believe in this is that it is taken as a given due to the infallability of the evolution hypothesis?

And the comment about consciousness is also nonsense, very little can be said with security about the nature of consciousness and its connection to the body.

So why attack Chopra when he makes claims in areas that are far from proven to be the other way? Are you interested in the truth or just the dogma of evolutionary thinking?

Let's take that short message apart, shall we. First line: "After reading this i must conclude once again that evolutionists" The use of the word "evolutionists" clues me into the fact that Martin is not an evolutionists himself, which probably means he is a creationist. The use of the phrase "once again" clues me to the fact that he has read arguments for evolution and learned nothing.

Also, I don't even make an argument for evolution in my Deepak post. I argued against Deepak's position on what he calls "Evolutionary Psychology" simply by pointing out Deepak doesn't know what the term means, I say "he's not out of the starting gate." There is no argument for Evolution or Evolutionary Psychology needed in my Deepak post or used because Deepak doesn't even know what the term means. Deepak actually argues, badly, against neurophysiology thinking it's the same thing as Evolutionary Psychology.

Martin thinks "evolutionists can´t argue philosophically" and that clues me into the fact that Martin is a pretentious poseur.

What exactly does it mean to "argue philosophically" as opposed to argue generally? It means to argue philosophical points. I don't actually do that. I argue definitions and logic. I point out that Deepak doesn't know what Evolutionary Psychology is and then I demonstrate that his example of the drunk driver means the opposite of what he thinks. What I wrote was a logical argument, not a philosophical one. It was about Deepak Chopra's phoniness, a phoniness Martin shares. Those are points only loosely related to the underlying philosophies involved.

Martin then claims "we" are as blinded by belief as our religious opponents. To call an acceptance of a scientific theory a "belief" and comparing it to religion shows a gross misunderstanding of what religion and science are. He then quotes me saying this: "There's a reason evolution gave us depression and sadness and pain – it's supposed to motivate you to do what you have to do to get back to a state where you feel better."

That was a mistake, but not the mistake Martin thinks. Here's what happened; in Deepak's blog he had said "Let's say a man loses his job, becomes depressed, and wants a prescription for Prozac. What made him depressed isn't the imbalance of serotonin in his brain but the loss of his job." There is confusion here about two uses of the term "depression." On one hand there is clinical depression which needs to be treated with a drug like Prozac, at least for awhile, and then there is the street use of the term "depression" which can mean you're a little sad, worried or blue in a completely normal and healthy way. If you're blue about losing your job you may have somewhat lower serotonin levels, I assume but don't know that and normal sadness may not even alter serotonin levels, but you certainly do not have an imbalance of serotonin in normal sadness. No doctor who knows what he is doing is going to give you Prozac for the kind of normal, in balance, sadness that would be caused by nothing more than losing your job. Prozac is meant only for the chemically imbalanced, clinical depression and related serious conditions. Now, maybe losing your job might trigger a susceptibility to having your serotonin levels go out of whack but losing your job can not be called "the cause" simply because it's too normal an experience to lose a job and most people don't go clinical as a result. Deepak is just dead wrong to imply that losing your job will cause clinical depression of the kind you need Prozac for.

In my rush to get to my point about the drunk driver example I took on Deepak's confusion about these two uses of the term depression and said "There's a reason evolution gave us 'depression' and sadness and pain – it's supposed to motivate you to do what you have to do to get back to a state where you feel better."

Yikes! My bad! I did not mean there is that kind of evolutionary psychological explanation for clinical depression. Evolutionary psychology, as I understand it, is about what is adaptive, not what is maladaptive. Papers on Evolutionary Psychology that I have read, which is not many, have all been about the mystery of the normal not the abnormal. Why is religion normal, why do we like movies and art, why are we altruistic, etc..

More than an hour before Martin's comment was recorded I edited what I had written because mark, making another comment in my Deepak comments section, pointed out a mistake I made. I then edited my post, correcting and clarifying, by adding quote marks around the word "depression." Mark was right, I had let Deepak's confusion of the meanings of "depression" stand. However, Martin didn't understand mark's post. That's why I say he has the reading comprehension of a turnip.

The point of my saying; "There's a reason evolution gave us depression and sadness and pain…" was to be an example of the kind thinking Evolutionary Psychology deals with. I did not mean there is that kind of evolutionary psychological explanation for clinical depression. I meant "depression" in the street sense of feeling sad or blue.

However, like I originally said, Deepak isn't even out of the starting gate when it comes to Evolutionary Psychology. Deepak seems to confuse Evolutionary Psychology with neurophysiology. He is so ignorant he doesn't know there is a difference between the two. It's all science and materialism to him. He probably makes this "mistake" because there is a lot more academic criticism of Evolutionary Psychology and no criticism of neurophysiology. The legit criticism of Evolutionary Psychology gives Deepak's attack on neurophysiology more of an aura of credibility. Yet it is neurophysiology which really deals the most crippling blows to Deepak's world view. He benefits from any confusion he can cause here and that's why I put quotes around "mistake" here.

There is a remote possibility that Deepak is not really ignorant and stupid, but rather "evil." The confusions he wants to give his readers are not his own, but simply the tools of his trade, used for his con job that require him to have ignorant fools, like Martin, as his marks.

Evolutionary Psychology and neurophysiology are linked. Neurophysiology asks how our brains work right now while Evolutionary Psychology asks how did our brains become what they are, how did they get to this present state from past states through evolutionary steps. This distinction is never made by Chopra.

And I also slip and get confused by the link between them which is another level of error on my part. When I said "There's a reason evolution gave us 'depression' and sadness and pain – it's supposed to motivate you to do what you have to do to get back to a state where you feel better," that was a very shallow and half-assed example of a kind of theory in Evolutionary Psychology. Simply and more generally, we have aversive experiences so we will learn to avoid the things that cause them. It's the history guessing that distinguishes Evolutionary Psychology from psychology and neurophysiology. Again, note that Deepak doesn't seem to know that.

Evolutionary Psychology is distinct from neurophysiology because it guesses at our evolutionary history. It's an attempt to use our knowledge of evolutionary biology to answer the why questions about the structure of the human mind. It is not about how things work now, not about how an imbalance of serotonin causes depression, that's neurophysiology.

Evolutionary Psychology assumes something Deepak Chopra doesn't want you to believe in (and Martin is one who doesn't believe it). It assumes we have an evolutionary history made of gradual, contingent, evolutionary steps. In both neurophysiology and Evolutionary Psychology there is the assumption that the mind is a set of materialistic information-processing machines. Evolutionary Psychology adds the assumption that our mind was "designed" by natural selection to solve the adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors living on the African savannahs.
There is evidence for it. But I was not writing about that - yet.

Martin wants to know "What exactly is the evidence of this?" Well, Martin, why don't you Google "Evolutionary Psychology" and find out? Are you still here? Do you want to argue about it? Or are you just a drive by creationist spilling your stupidity into my comments section and leaving?

Martin then asks "Am i right that the only reason to believe in this is that it is taken as a given due to the infallability of the evolution hypothesis?" No, Martin you are not right. And it's spelled "infallibility" note the "i" not an "a."

Click here to learn the difference between how science and religion answer questions.

Martin next reveals he has the reading comprehension skills of a turnip by saying this: "And the comment about consciousness is also nonsense, very little can be said with security about the nature of consciousness and its connection to the body." Note that the only thing I said about consciousness was this: "What Deepak is really talking about here is "souls," the "Thetan" in scientology, Deepak's own bogus ideas about 'consciousness.' It's the homunculus, the ghost in the machine." And in that sentence the word "consciousness" has quotes around it and I specifically refer to Deepak's ideas about consciousness, not my own. It's much easier to know what Deepak is talking about when he uses the word "consciousness" than to know what consciousness is because Deepak has gone on and on about it before.

As for me, I think consciousness is produced by the "material" processes of the brain. I like what Marvin Minsky said about consciousness, that it's a suitcase term. Google it.

Then Martin delivers the clincher which proves he's an idiot, he writes: "So why attack Chopra when he makes claims in areas that are far from proven to be the other way?" Dude, my whole point was that Deepak Chopra doesn't even know what Evolutionary Psychology is! He's got it confused with neurophysiology. My point is he's an idiot – just like you. So, you're obviously going to miss that.

There's a difference between being ignorant and being stupid. Ignorant people can still learn. Chopra has proven that he can't learn (not obvious from one post by me but Deepak has a history of this, people comment on his blog and he never learns from them). You can't learn either until you improve your reading comprehension skills.


I goofed, I got sucked into the vortex of Deepak Chopra's ignorance. It turns out Deepak was more ignorant than I first noticed. I have since edited the post where I made my mistake so it's not there any more. I owe the guys commenting here for the correction. This was a learning experience for me.

So, keep commenting and correcting me guys. I'll give you credit when you get it right. I can learn, unlike Martin and Deepak.

If you want to know more about my attitude towards Chopra, look here:

I'm taking over for PZ Myers on Chopra

I'll have to send him an apology for not living up to his standards of clartity since he was kind enough to link me.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Deepak Chopra gets stupid again

Deepak Chopra, after a long period of relative calm, has erupted again into another rant full of scientific ignorance in his new Huffington Post blog entry, "Why Evolutionary Biology Embraces the Bogus (Part 1)."


Why Evolutionary Biology Embraces the Bogus (Part 1)

Mr. Chopra is upset over some pop science articles that have appeared in "the media" touting new explanations for things like altruism, generosity, and music. He doesn't like such complex matters being traced to the brain, which is dependent upon genes, and genes dependent upon that evil-ution.

Chopra read some articles called "Are You a Giving Person? Your Brain Tells Why" and "Music on the Brain: Why We Are Hard-Wired to Rock" and they have upset the poor little charlatan. He's horrified by their great air of confidence and he feels his own world view has atrophied and is endangered. He wants human behavior explained in terms of culture, human values, religion, and philosophy – not evolutionary psychology.

Since Mr. Chopra doesn't link the articles he mentions and a Google search doesn't bring them up I can only rely on similar articles I've read. For example, "How Altruistic Is Your Brain?" which is linked here:

"How Altruistic Is Your Brain?"

Another example would be "Altruism 'in-built' in humans" which is here:

"Altruism 'in-built' in humans"

Deepak found some claims in his articles to be "thoroughly bogus" in his view, saying they step over the boundary of "believable explanations." So, what doesn't Deepak believe?

Deepak thinks evolutionary biology and genetics cannot deal with the philosophical order of explanation. He doesn't think the articles he has read deal with the proper category of explanation. He writes; "Let's say a man loses his job, becomes depressed, and wants a prescription for Prozac. What made him depressed isn't the imbalance of serotonin in his brain but the loss of his job." Actually, it's possibly both. The loss of his job affected an imbalance of serotonin which then caused depression. It's also possible it's just a chemical imbalance caused not by job loss but by a virus, a bad diet or any number of causes. Deepak simply presumes to know the cause is the guy losing his job.

In the case of losing his job, the Prozac might make him "happy" again, but he'll be a happy bum on Prozac -- if he can get the prescription that is.

As some commentary on Deepak's own blog already notes, Chopra mistakes the common meaning of depression for the clinical condition that will get you a prescription for Prozac. People who are a little down because of losing a job don't usually get prescriptions for Prozac from a reputable doctor. I looked up Prozac on Google and it is used for treating major clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, including panic associated with agoraphobia (a severe fear of being in crowds or public places) and under the brand name Sarafem, the active ingredient in Prozac is also prescribed for the treatment of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

So, that guy who is feeling down about losing his job, well, he's going to have to go to the websites I went to and fake it to abuse Prozac because if his depression was caused just by losing his job he ain't going to get it if he's honest.

There's a reason evolution gave us "depression" and sadness and pain – it's supposed to motivate you to do what you have to do to get back to a state where you feel better. And when I say "depression" here I don't mean the kind you need Prozac for. I mean the way you naturally would feel if you lost your job. Clinical depression is when the brain system goes wrong for chemical/biological reasons, as it too often does.

The philosophical order of explanation that evolutionary psychology deals with might identify a normal amount of sadness as a motivation to get to a better state, but there is in all probability no real evolutionary role for clinical depression. It is just the system going wrong. So, Deepak isn't even out of the starting gate when it comes to understanding evolutionary psychology, and then it gets worse.

Deepak claims, based on pop science articles he apparently doesn't understand, that science offers a "kind of wrong explanation all the time. It mistakes agency for cause." This, according to Deepak is because "the brain is serving as the agent of the mind, it isn't causing mind."

What Deepak is really talking about here is "souls," the "Thetan" in scientology, Deepak's own bogus ideas about "consciousness." It's the homunculus, the ghost in the machine.

This comes through only slightly when he offers an example of how explanations can be correctly arrived at:

"A car driven by a drunk driver swerves off the road in a blizzard. Several kinds of people show up at the scene, and each one is asked 'What caused this accident?' A car mechanic points to the steering wheel and the drive train, which turned the car off a straight line. A driving instructor says that the driver lacked the skill to negotiate a slippery road. A doctor says the driver's reflexes were impaired by alcohol. A psychologist says that the driver had a fight with his wife at a party and therefore drank too much out of anger. The driver himself says that he must have dozed off for a moment.

"It's obvious that all these answers fit the worldview of the person answering. They each occupy a different order of explanation. Theories power perceptions. But it's also obvious that the car mechanic is furthest from giving a cogent answer. By confining himself to the steering wheel and drive train, he can provide an explanation that is mechanically correct but totally wrong-headed. In our hyper-technical world today, we can add some experts at the accident scene who are wrong-headed in a more impressive way. A neurologist holds up an MRI of the driver's brain and locates impaired activity in the motor cortex. A cell biologist detects minute alterations in sugars and enzymes in the liver. A quantum physicist calculates the amplitude of the probability curve that collapsed to produce neurotransmitters in the synaptic gaps of the driver's cerebrum.

"Does the addition of ultra-specificity on any of these planes offer an answer better than the driver's 'I must have dozed off'? Actually, no."

And that is where Deepak is dead wrong. Everybody but the driver has a level of explanation that can change the results for the driver in the future.

The car mechanic might design cars that prevent drivers from going off the road:


The driving instructor can teach the skills needed to negotiate a slippery road.

The doctor can design tests (which already exist) that help police get drivers impaired by alcohol off the road, help cure his alcoholism and other things.

The psychologist can help the driver resolve issues with his wife and teach the driver better ways to deal with his frustration than drinking too much out of anger.

The driver on the other hand can not keep himself from "dozing off for a moment" until he confronts why he did doze off in the first place. Does he even acknowledge to himself that he drank?

The car mechanic is not the furthest from giving a cogent answer. However, it is an answer that ignores the issue of the driver. This is not totally wrong-headed. However, it does represent a danger in the way our technology can remove our responsibility, but that's for another blog post.

The other explanations Deepak thinks "wrong headed" are: "A neurologist holds up an MRI of the driver's brain and locates impaired activity in the motor cortex" and "A cell biologist detects minute alterations in sugars and enzymes in the liver." These explanations have even more power to change our lives. Consider the "The Hedonistic Imperative":



You'll see a comment by "miken" in my comments section and he saw something I missed. I was baffled as to what the point of Deepak's example was about and miken noted that it seems to be an attempt to apply the old 'blind men and the elephant' allegory to describe science. It's even more bogus than I first thought! The blind men argued about whether the elephant was like a snake, a tree trunk or Deepak Chopra's ass, but none of the scientists, or rather the mechanic, the doctor and the psychologist would argue about it. They'd agree with each other that the causes advanced by the others were both valid and contributory.

Deepak says we must "intuit the correct order of explanation" before you can sensibly offer the correct answer. That has more to do with whom you're explaining things too and what you want the explanation to accomplish and it can be reasoned out rather than "intuited" by taking into account who you're explaining things to and why.

Deepak ends with:

"When a devout Christian asks God to heal her instead of going to the doctor, rationalists feel frustrated because in their eyes she is stubbornly relying on the wrong order of explanation (i.e., attributing disease to sin and cures to God's mercy), but they rarely see the same flaw in themselves."

Maybe the flaw here is in Deepak Chopra and not in the scientists, or even the pop science writers?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Harris versus Sullivan, the battle continues

Andrew Sullivan's latest response to Sam Harris, called "The Unclean Glass," is up.

Andrew begins, of course, by distorting Sam's position because if he didn't Andrew's head would explode. The longer this goes on, the more insane moderate Christianity seems. Andrew Sullivan does a great job on politics, he seems clear and rational, but when it comes to his faith we can begin to see how his thoughts have been befogged.

Sam asked Andrew to "Imagine a discourse about ethics and mystical experience that is as contingency-free as the discourse of science already is." Andrew distorts that into being "completely contingency-free" (meaning contingency in an absurdly ultra-broad way) rather than "as contingency-free as the discourse of science already is." There's a difference, because, as Andrew correctly notes, science is not "completely contingency-free." Science, is however, far more free of contingency than any religion is. Everything in science is open to question. There is, contrary to creationist claims, no dogma in science and "dogma" is the word Sam should have used.

Sam slipped. He didn't specify the kind of contingencies science is free from (it is dogma you meant, Sam. Don't throw Andrew's language back at him, it's loaded). Normally Sam wouldn't have to bother with such specificity and it should be obvious from context. However, when you talk to someone as deeply in denial as Andrew is, you have to speak with so much specificity that one's language becomes leaden and dull.

Andrew then goes on and on to preach to Sam things I'm pretty sure Sam already knows, such as about David Hume and faith in our own senses and memory. That helps Andrew feel superior to the assumed ignorance of the atheist. However, having faith in my senses isn't the same as having faith in dogma, and by dogma I mean stories passed down for generations that can't be checked on. My senses are me and what I seek to explain (even if they're the known illusions of itchy phantom limbs) the Christian dogma is a hand me down (I was raised Christian and rejected it).

Andrew, yet again, avoids answering Sam's questions about this dogma/contingency simply and directly. This was Sam's question: "...the specific beliefs that would make you a Christian and a Catholic, as opposed to a generic theist. Do you believe in the resurrection and the virgin birth? Is the divinity of the historical Jesus a fact...?" As I said, dogma is the contingency that Andrew's previous post was avoiding and Sam was asking about the clearest cases of Christian dogma. Andrew continues to avoid being direct about this. However, the implied answer is that, yes, Andrew believes in the resurrection and the virgin birth of Jesus as well as the divinity of the historical Jesus. (Why does Andrew avoid saying it directly? Does just saying it sound too dogmatic even for him?) Andrew's "rational, empirical explanation" for his belief in that dogma is that those whom saw Jesus saw something "so astonishing, so utterly unlike anything that had ever occurred before, that they became on fire with this new truth."

Hmmm, if Andrew saw David Blaine levitate off the ground, handle a few poison snakes and turn water into wine would he think it logical to assume Blaine was born of a virgin? Would he believe anything attributed to Blaine? If Criss Angel seemed to teleport out of a locked chest and then guessed Andrew's card would it mean that Criss Angel was the son of God? If Penn and Teller could do the cups and balls trick with clear plastic cups would Andrew have to conclude Penn and Teller were divine beings? Born of virgins? Would he get on fire with whatever Penn and Teller told him?

Andrew turns the question around, instead of answering why he believes Jesus rose from the dead he asks Sam why Andrew himself and so many others believe Jesus rose from the dead. He asks "What is your explanation? How do you account for why one person out of the billions who have ever lived had this impact? How probable is it that all these countless followers were all deluding themselves completely?"

Well, contrary to Andrew's assertions, it's obviously quite probable that all those followers are deluding themselves. What does Andrew make of the believers in Islam, Hinduism etc.? Look at all the things people do believe, Andrew, and then think that through again. Aliens abducting people, faith healers curing people, John Edward talking to the dead, Sylvia Brown telling you where the body is buried, Elvis sightings, Nazi holocausts that supposedly never happened, white supremacy, Ouija boards, voodoo, penis enlargement pills, breast creams, real estate scandals, Scientology, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Ted Haggart becoming a heterosexual, the honesty and integrity of George Bush … and on and on and on. People's brains are apparently full to the brim with BS.

Andrew points to the "many" Gospels (including Gnostic gospels Andrew? The gospels of Thomas, Judas and Mary?) testifying to the "power of his message," noting that only one of the thousands of Rome's victims is remembered in this way…" (well, two if you count Spartacus are remembered by name by me, scholars might come up with more names) and not just remembered but "worshiped over two millennia later…" Andrew then asks: "Does this not intrigue you?" Have you never asked how on earth did this happen? He then says: "As a simple piece of historical inquiry, it's an astonishingly unlikely turn of events."

It's not really astonishing if we look at the bigger picture of human history, not just Christian history. Andrew is impressed because Jesus is not just remembered but worshiped over two millennia later. Let's compare that with Egyptian religion, with how long Isis, Osiris and Ra were worshipped. It kicks off sometime before the "Archaic Period" (3414-3100 BC) when there is the unification of all Egypt. By 3000 BC at the very least, people had already been worshipping Isis, Osiris, Ra, and the Amen but now it's big. Further south, the Kushites seem to have also worshipped them. This religion lasts for more than 2,000 years as a state religion, closer to 3,000 years, and that is longer than Christianity has lasted. It sort of, but not quite ends, as a state religion with the Persian Period (517-425 BC) I think. But if being a state religion is the rule, Christianity died after the Enlightenment (perhaps its own Persian Period?) and that makes Christianity's life span significantly shorter than that of the Egyptian religion. In some ways, however, Isis, Osiris and Ra get incorporated into some forms of Gnostic Christianity and they continue far into the first centuries of AD.

If Andrew is going to accept long endurance, great numbers of worshippers and huge temples as indicators of "truth" rather than "truthiness" he'll have to start believing in Isis, Osiris and Ra. He'll also have to consider Hinduism and believing in Zeus. The point there is that it's not just the Egyptians, it's the Babylonians, Sumerians, the ancient Chinese, Indian Hinduism and other religions that have had, and continue to have, long lives and that have shaped their cultures with their own dogma. Is Andrew going to have to give them equal belief?

Looking at the bigger picture we can see that religion evolves and dogma like that about the names of specific saviors and what they did to save us is the most ephemeral part of religion. The part that continues through all of them, from Sumerian sun gods to the Islamic Koran to L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology, is a belief in a life after death, belief in magic and of powers beyond man's feeble abilities.

Andrew also asks, "...if Jesus wasn't nothing, … what was he in your eyes?" What Jesus was to me (I don't know about Sam) was a man who twisted an old religious meme into a new and more viral form. I explained my views in two essays over a decade ago, those are here:


Also here:


"What secret did he hold that so many others haven't?" The secret was that into those gospel stories about Jesus got weaved the greatest religious mind-fuck yet invented. And also because his followers would kill and die for the religion because they got so mind-fucked. Read my essays and future entries in this blog for more detail on all that.

"That is an empirical question. And it merits an empirical answer." And there are such answers. But even if I'm wrong about Christianity being rooted in a mind-fuck we just have to consider that if you flipped a few million coins and get a specific number of heads up, the odds against the number you got would be millions to one. Only one number can come up on one throw and that's the way it is with state religions. One religion wins, the others die, and Christianity became a state religion that then persecuted others as they were persecuted for believing the wrong religion.

Andrew then goes on to cut his nose off to spite his face. He says; "No human society has ever functioned without the large faith that underpins all the little faiths: religion." Yes, Andrew, and prior to the Enlightenment no secular societies had ever existed. America was one of the first. Before then they all had state religions. You don't want that, do you? Your fundy friends would like it.

Andrew says; "No society has ever existed without the mature human acceptance of what we do not know and what is greater than we are. No civilization has ever been atheist at its core." America comes pretty close to being agnostic to its core by introducing freedom of religion and the two biggest competitors in governing the largest masses of people are officially atheistic, Russia and China. Are they somehow not atheistic to the core? What is the core here? If it's about what the majority believes I think Sweden is more than fifty percent atheist.

Andrew says; "No polity has ever been constructed in the absence of faith, or in the absence of a tradition of faith that makes belief in the present possible at all. Earth to Sam: Does this not tell you something?" It should tell Sam that Andrew is losing it. A lot of things have happened that have never happened before. Secular states, walls of separation between church and state, end of slavery, gay rights, women voting and this internet we're all using. We are certainly moving in a direction in which there will be a polity constructed in the absence of faith.

Andrew asks; "Or is it plausible that human beings tomorrow will become something that in all of human history and pre-history they have never, ever been?"

Yes! Andrew, yes! We are becoming something different; we already have become something that never existed before. If we hadn't changed and become secular gays wouldn't have any change of getting married and America would have a state religion. Already a majority of the worlds top scientists are atheists – can you account for that Andrew?

Andrew even commented on another aspect of it in his blog. Here:

Faith and the Universe

Andrew quoted Carl Sagan on the intersection of science and faith and said that what our generation has internalized is the utter insignificance of this planet and human beings, in the context of what we have come to know about the universe. Such knowledge was not only unknown to those who wrote the Bible, it was unknown to every human being before. It is brand-spanking new and it has changed everything. Andrew only noted, via Sagan, Galileo's push into the new ideas about our universe. What about Darwin, Freud and Turing?

Andrew says this new knowledge alters his faith. Alters it? It should have demolished it.

He says; "Denial of evolution, in my view, is a sign of weak faith, not strong faith. It's a function of terrible fear, not the confidence of a loving God." Evolution is somewhat compatible with some deistic notions of God, but evolution is not something a "loving God" would do to his creatures. Evolution needs a thousand dead failures for every incremental move forward. Evolution isn't going to stop because man arrived, so stop thinking of yourself as the crown of creation.

Christianity has some other core doctrines, like that of original sin, like that of "the fall," that evolution demolishes. If Darwinian evolution is true then there was no original sin, there was no fall after which man is thrown out of paradise. Murder, theft, deception, rape and more existed long before our first ancestors walked onto land. Man didn't fall into these sins because they were part of the survival strategies of prehistoric fish. God would have had to have invented and injected sin into the world before man emerged and that contradicts the core message of Genesis.

Evolution means there was no Garden of Eden and no original sin and no fall. Now, some would say that this Eden and original sin are being read too literally. They come up with allegorical meanings for Genesis' first chapters, like how man's original sin, really eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, was about man first becoming conscious. Oh, sooo, Jesus will save you from consciousness? Are you sure you like that interpretation?

Andrew then, poseur alert, poseur alert, writes: "Religion at its deepest is the attempt to reconcile this profound human predicament: that we exist in bodies but dream beyond them, that we are caught between the irrational instinct of beasts but endowed with the serene hope of angels. This paradox of humanity - which you would erase into a clean slate - is what religion responds to and has always responded to…" And this is from the guy who likes to expose others as poseurs. Then from some guy called Oakeshott; "…in the poetic quality, humble or magnificent, of the images, the rites, the observances, and the offerings (the wisp of wheat on the wayside calvary) in which it recalls to us that 'eternity is in love with the productions of time' and invites us to live 'so far as is possible' as an immortal."

Doesn't that narcissistic interpretation of religion sound grand! He calls it humility. He has the "serene hope of angels," and the gullibility of a child that believes in Santa Claus. He lives 'so far as is possible' as an immortal because he doesn't want to face his own imminent death. He writes so glowingly, so poserly, in wonder of his religious superstitions. What utter mush!

Sam, don't give this guy the clean glass, he is obviously the guy who shit in the last one.