Monday, December 14, 2009

Atheism is... by Richard Coughlan

Richard Coughlan's channel is being threatened by false DMCAs:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Voices of the Damned

Want to become one of the voices of the damned?

Record your opinion of the concept of hell, post it on youtube, and then email or PM me with a link to your video.

I want to make this a series.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Vampires come full circle.

I've been watching "True Blood," if you haven't seen it - check it out because you're in danger of being spoiled. So, proceed with caution into the rest of this post because there will be spoilers.

I'll probably be blogging the series like I blogged the re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica," right up to its disappointing last show. So far "True Blood" is missing a lot of the elements that made Battlestar such a standout series. There is no character here comparable to Baltar. The music is okay, but it in no way compares to the fantastic music that Bear McCreary composed. The special effects are kind of cheap and the characters sometimes get stereotypical and cliche.

However, in spite of those weaknesses this show has some great writing, and in that department I think they might top Battlestar. The show also is yet another evolution of the vampire genre, a genre that just won't stop evolving. When Bram Stoker wrote "Dracula," the most popular of the first vampire novels, he wrote it for a Christian culture. Dracula was turned away by crosses, burned by holy water and communion crackers. A crucifix protects Jonathan Harker in the movie version when he cuts himself shaving and Dracula lunges for his throat but stops when he sees the crucifix around Jon's neck.

One measure of the way our culture has been changing is what has been happening with vampire fiction. In "True Blood" not only are the vampires (as in Anne Rice's books) not harmed by Christian symbols some of the villains seem to be fundamentalist Christians, in particular, televangelist Steve Newlin and his wife Sarah, and some of the vampires are the noble and moral heroes, in particular Bill Compton.

The explicitly Christian elements of Vampire fiction have been gradually draining out of the genre because more and more fans find that part of the story to absurd for even the willing suspension of disbelief. "True Blood" isn't unique in this, Alan Ball, exec producer, has only pushed the envelope a tiny bit farther, and only for television. If you really want to push the envelope you'd have a vampire con artist who was Jesus 2,000 years ago, and that was already done by J.G. Eccarius in his novel "The Last Days of Christ the Vampire."

One of the delights of the series for me is its mess of complicated subtexts and allusions. In the background of the series the Vampires are trying to "come out of the coffin" and become accepted by mainstream society (much like gays and atheists). This is possible because a Japaneses firm perfected a synthetic blood known as Tru Blood that was meant for transfusions but then vampires discovered they could live off of it and the company began bottling and marketing the synthetic blood for sale to vampires. This lead to vampires letting their existence be known to the rest of the world in an event that has come to be known as "coming out of the coffin" movement, or "The Great Revelation."

I'm not sure Alan Ball knows what he's done here, I think he meant to make gays coming out as a subtext for vampires (I predict there will be a character modeled after Ted Haggard who preaches against vampire sex but turns out to be a gay fangbanger who is addicted to vampire blood), but there's another group that fits the subtext too; atheists. Note some of the things the religious leaders say in the "True Blood" show and promos about vampires being immoral. That's something I've heard from youtube Christians talking about atheists, and it gets lots of responses.

Just take all those videos, Christian and atheist, and replace the word "atheist" with the word "vampire" and your halfway towards creating a scene for "True Blood." The idea of vampires coming out of the coffin would be the Nightvision Phantom's worst nightmare. It sounds like liberal "moral relativism" accepting pure evil because vampires of the Bram Stoker type really were spawns of Satan.

I've been toying around with the idea of doing a youtube video where I create a character who comes out as a "True Blood" type vampire. Think about it, there already is an atheist "out" campaign. They have this red letter "A" you could turn upside down to make a "V" once you got rid of the cross line:

Alas, I'll need a webcam for that, so, until then I'd like to pass the idea on to others. Let me know if you do such a video and I'll do a shout out for you.

There are also other areas of writing in this series that have some stinging criticism of religion. One of those areas is the character of Jessica. Instead of telling you, let me just show you. The first two vids are set up for a funny twist in the third video:

Note how in the first two vids Jessica claims to be "a good Christian girl" but then, after she becomes a vampire she is all "Whoopie! I'm a vampire" and "there are people I want to kill." Is that the original Jessica saying that, or something demonic inside her?

Eventually she does visit her parents:

Accepting gays and atheists into mainstream society looks far easier after you consider accepting demonically possessed killers. This brings up a bunch of issue I did not note in my "Where do rights come from?" video talking about abortion:

"True Blood" raises a lot of neat issues about moral relativism, rights and the limits of tolerance that would never come up in any other context, but yet the issues resonate to all the other contexts. Whether vampires should be accepted into mainstream society depends on whether that acceptance can encourage the vampires to change their ways. If it does, then such acceptance is a benefit to society. If they can't change their ways, then it will have a negative effect.

It's the best subtext for a TV show I've ever seen. No matter how the dice fall on what vampires are, those issues get raised. So, is Jessica going to be too much a prisoner of her own bloodlust:

You'll have to watch the show to find out.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A YouTube Creationist: Geerup - and a question for my readers near the end.

The fellow in the above video is called Geerup. He's the guy who took over VenomFangX's channel. Surprisingly, in this video, "The Lame Link Lemur," he says a lot of things I agree with concerning all the hype about the Ida fossil, Darwinius masillae, and the subsequent TV shows and book being promoted.

He's right, all the Ida hype is about making money with over inflated claims. Several of the claims made are clearly impossible to justify. For example, he captures a quote from some promoter/narrator saying: "She could re-write science... She could confirm Darwinian theory and debunk creationism. She could also question religion itself."

Re-write science? Well, maybe a tiny, rather uncontroversial, chapter in the huge story of primate evolution. Confirm Darwinian theory? I thought that theory had been solidly confirmed back in the 1950s when Francis Crick and James Watson discovered DNA? Debunk creationism? If anyone thinks Ida will get creationists or anyone else to question their religion they have seriously underestimated the stubborn ignorance of creationists and the hold of religion on people's minds.

Geerup wasn't the only one slamming these guys for over-hyping Ida. Some of my favorite atheist and scientist bloggers were saying similar things, that includes Carl Zimmer, PZ Myers (twice), and John Wilkins.

All of the science bloggers attacked the idea that there was a single fossil that was THE missing link. There is no missing link. There are missing branches. The link metaphor is all wrong. To have a missing link you must think of evolution as a chain. If there's a gap in the chain, then you have a missing link. But evolution is more of a tree. However, reporters and television producers are obsessed with the link idea. Newly discovered fossils help to resolve the order in which traits evolved, and how groups of species are related, and the more fossils discovered, the clearer the picture becomes, but no one fossil can tell the complete story.

The most Ida can tell is about going from a Lemur-like primate to a more monkey-like primate and that is not going to mean any more to a creationist than claims about whales having once been land animals. When it comes to human evolution the creationists have a problem with other fossils of which there are plenty:

We have hundreds of fossils of pre-human, near human, primates: Australopithecus robustus, Australpithecus boisei, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, etc. etc.. If Ida is so important, then what are these fossils, chopped liver:

Consider what we know about the Paleolithic and Neolithic age just from the stone tools. That's the prehistoric period when people made stone tools only by chipping and flaking rocks, before they moved to polishing and grinding. There is a contradiction with Genesis right there. In Genesis chapter 4 we are told that Eve, who knows how long after they're out of the Garden of Eden and its Idyllic conditions, bore Cain and his brother Abel and that Abel became a keeper of flocks, and Cain a tiller of the soil. Remember, Cain's offering to God was "from the fruit of the soil," while Abel brought one of the best of his flock. The overwhelming evidence of anthropology clearly contradict this story. The first proto-humans didn't have farming, they were hunter/gatherers with very crude stone tools. There is even some serious doubt as to whether early humans had a controlled use of fire for those altars and the "offering up a sheep on an altar of sacrifice."

The Paleolithic Age, when the development of the first stone tools took place, covers about 99 percent of human history. It starts with the introduction of stone tools by hominids such as Homo habilis, about a million years ago, and ends with the introduction of agriculture. Genesis would have us believe man had farming and controlled use of fire soon after Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden.

During the Paleolithic, humans grouped together in small societies and subsisted by gathering plants and hunting or scavenging wild animals. They had only crude stone tools, with perhaps a bit of wood and bone used also. Humankind only gradually evolved from early members of the genus Homo, such as Homo habilis, who used simple stone tools and into the fully behaviorally and anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, depicted in Genesis.

Homo habilis lived in tribes entirely by hunting and gathering, before plant and animal domestication were introduced. The time interval between the earliest appearance of stone tools, more than 2 million years before present and the end of the last glacial period, 12,000–10,000 years ago is longer than recorded human history. But Genesis depicts a time when man had domesticated both animals and plants. There are also altars with fires. Yet the first evidence for human use of fire comes from the Peking man at Zhoukoudian in north China, 500,000–240,000 years ago.

If there was ever a "most important" fossil find that should have gotten creationists to question the Genesis story it was Lucy. But where was the big hype and news story when they found another Lucy-like fossil?

Lucy was discovered in 1974 by anthropologist Donald Johanson. She was an Australopithecus afarensis that lived only about 3.2 millions years ago and almost half of her skeleton was found. That find really did transform our views of how we became human. Like a chimpanzee, Lucy was small in size and had a small brain, long, dangly arms, short legs and a cone-shaped thorax with a large belly. But the structure of her knee and pelvis showed that she walked upright on two legs, like us. That is an important difference between humans and apes, making Lucy part of the human family. A transition between an earlier monkey-like species and man. Thus bipedalism became the most distinctive, apparently earliest, defining characteristic of humans.

If Lucy or other fossil evidence of Ausrtalopithicus afarenis and africanus don't convince creationists that humans evolved from a more monkey-like primate then how can anyone expect the lemur-like fossil of Ida to convince them?

So, how do creationists deal with this kind of evidence? Well, one creationist on youtube simply declared that Lucy and all the Neandertals were frauds and hoaxes. I wonder, does he also think the moon landings were faked? Another youtuber creationist said "scientists are just atheists." And what happens when a youtube creationist reads a scientific journal?

All the over-inflated hype for Ida was just fuel for the creationist propaganda machine. If you want to change minds you're not going to do it that way. In fact, that hype is going to erode some necessary trust it takes to change minds.

What I don't know is if the hype worked for selling books and TV shows. How were the ratings on that show "The Link." I don't know. I didn't bother to watch it. That's not the area of evolution that interests me. What I fear is that the hype did work and made these guys a lot of money and they're not going to stop using it until it stops working.

My guess is that it works precisely because it does get all the creationist sites buzzing and that stimulates conversations here on my blog and others. Thus were all talking and curious enough to see what they've got. No publicity is bad publicity.

Here's my question for my readers:

What convinced you that Darwinian evolution was true?

I'll answer that question for myself in my next post, but I can sum it up by listing the essentials: 1) Deep fossil evidence. 2) Genetic algorithms and evolutionary programming point to the mathematical inevitability of evolution. 3) Our DNA has ancient viruses in it.


I made a video response to Geerup:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

some pictures from my trip

I expect this will bore most of the readers who come to my blog. Sorry about that. This is just a fairly random collection of pictures taken on my trip to Washington DC with a long stop over in Atlanta.

Currently I don't have the time to blog or work on the Kompoz music. I have access to a computer, but not to my musicc software. I may download some tonight however.

Right now I can't get to sleep so I'm going over the photos I took on the trip.

For some reason, tonight, this seems to be my favorite picture:

An attractive girl sleeping in the chairs at the airport terminal in Atlanta.

This next one features a weird book I was tempted to buy just because of the title: "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies."

I found it at this bookstore I'd never heard of before, Buckhead Books. Is it some new chain? It was in the Atlanta airport:

Next, well, I've seen clouds from both sides now, top and bottom, and still somehow it's cloud's illusions I recall.... cotton candy ice bergs floating in a milky blue sea.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pop Fest in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina

Just letting you know, there's a Pop Fest in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina:

They are donating their proceeds to The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science to support rational and scientific education, and to oppose the subversion of scientific education, for example by the well-financed efforts to teach pseudoscience in science classes.

I found some of the grounps that will be performing on youtube, here's the video I used:

Night of the Zombie -- Cut Me Now

I seem to be starting a Black Metal group on Kompoz. This is a little thing I did with one other collaborator, known as wyrdness1 on youtube.

If you would like to audition go here:

Join Kompoz, then upload your audition here:

The project is called "Zombie movie score."

My Kompoz site is:

You can be anywhere in the world, just as long as you can upload your music.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I have a video on YouTube

Well, three videos, but the first two are just goofing around and trying to learn what I can do without a web cam or mike.

The third one, however, actually got a half-way decent rating, about 4 stars after 3 reviews but it may not stay there.

The tiny group of people who have read more of my blog might remember a couple of old posts I did called "If Hitler was an atheist..." and "If Hitler was a Darwinist..." If so, you might remember seeing some of these pictures before:

The music comes from a Kompoz group, it's called "Powertrip."

Yes, I'm on Kompoz and Youtube. Blog posting may suffer in the future because of that.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Banana Man still wants Dawkins

Ray Comfort is still pushing for a debate with Richard Dawkins:

I wish Dawkins would take Ray up on the offer. It would be a rather devious way to make Christianity look bad by letting Ray Comfort be it's voice.

I already dealt with Ray Comfort's claims about his banana video here, in "Pretending to think like Ray Comfort" and in "Ray Comfort's continuing sex problems."

There's really nothing new in the video.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Pat Condell and NonStampCollector youtubes

Since I started this "atheists on youtube" shtick I'm going to finish it. So, here are some Pat Condell and NonStampCollector youtube videos that were recommended to me:

The two videos above are thematically linked. Pat Condell talks about what a murderous bastard the God of the Old Testament was and NonStampCollector gives you some Bible verses where that violence happens, and they did all that without bothering to mention Numbers, Chapter 31, which was about how the Midians are killed, all of them except the virgin girls.

On God's instructions, Moses sent soldiers against the Midianites in response to some of the Israelite men having had sex with some of the Midianite women. Moses then ordered them to slaughter all the captives, saving only female virgins. The latter were apparently kept for purposes of rape. Verse 35 talks about 32,000 virgin captives; this implies that there were probably about 32,000 young boys killed (but I don't think fundy Christians would give it that interpretation).

Ah yes, the obscure art of Biblical interpretation. The Bible, like a person, will say anything you want if you torture it enough. Christians can pretty much dump all the bloody Old Testament insanity by saying Jesus changed the game plan, but it's hard to get around some of the things Jesus said, as NonStampCollector points out. If you really want to be saved you're supposed to give all you have to the poor and follow Jesus. Lucky for Christians Jesus isn't around any more. These days they only have to tithe ten percent of their income (not all) and from the looks of things a lot of that money goes into the local churches and salaries for local functionaries. Then they send missionaries, saving souls being more important than saving lives, and then finally a bit of money does wind up in the hands of the poor, and yet, amazingly, in a world where 2.1 billion people are Christian, the largest religion on the planet, we still have a huge problem with poverty. All that economic power seems surprisingly ineffective.

When it comes to those New Testament verses about wives submitting to husbands, commands about hair length, and verses condemning homosexuality, liberal Christians will find another way of translating the original Greek. For example, some have claimed that Paul doesn't really condemn homosexuality, because in the original Greek he's really only talking about pederasty. Yet other Greek-reading Bible scholars will say they are just twisting an ancient text to fit modern values. If you can choose any passage that says one thing and say it means the opposite by backing up your reasoning with a Greek lexicon then how badly was the Bible translated the first time?

I usually like most of what Pat Condell has to say, and for the most part I agree with it. However, in the above video I think Condell is being a bit too optimistic. The polls don't show any big shift away from religion.

Style-wise the above videos sound angry, irritated and ranty. I suspect that turns a lot of people off, and those would be the ones who most need to get his message. I wonder what he's really after. Is he out to change the world, or is he just trying to get an atheist audience to buy DVDs and tickets to his comedy shows?

Maybe all the religious bullshit is getting to him as it’s starting to get to anyone with an ounce of common sense in them.


I guess my little dig about the response to my request for atheist youtube videos being pathetic must have motivated J Random Atheist to come up with a great youtube atheist I'd not yet heard of, ZOMGitsCriss. She's playboy bunny hot and she's funny and creative:

And for those who have suggested Edward Current, well, you haven't been reading my blog, I've got his youtubes embedded already, see "Pretending to think like Ray Comfort."

As for ThunderFoot, I'll get to him later. I haven't decided yet what to say, nor have I made it through enough of his videos yet.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A youtube atheist: coughlan666

The response to my request for atheist youtube videos was pathetic. I got only one comment, so far, from John Morales who suggested Non-stamp collector's youtubes. Compared to the response I got from my request for music, which got 27 comments from 15 different people commenting on the post, and more importantly some very interesting music, it was pretty lame. The atheist youtube videos I've been linked to were not as interesting as the music.

I've now given people about an equal period of time and made roughly the same number of announcements on other forums and blogs (PZ Myers' site, James Randi's site and Richard Dawkins site), to justify the comparison. It perhaps indicates that more atheists are interested in sharing their favorite music than in sharing their favorite atheist youtubes? Either that, or no one, not even other atheists, are all that impressed by atheist youtubers.

Next time I'm going to ask for atheist blogs. I suspect I'll get a better response. Atheist arguments work better in writing than in videos. If you're going to do videos, especially ones where all you do is look into your camera and rant you're going to need something more. My featured youtuber, coughlan666, has it.

While I only got one blog comment I did get a few more responses on James Randi's forum and it was there where TX50 suggested Richard Coughlan, also known as coughlan666. After checking out only a few of coughlan666's youtubes I decided to feature him as my first find of interest. That doesn't mean I think he's better than Pat Condell or Non-stamp collector. It just means he's got something I can talk about, something intresting you might need if you're going to do rants on video. He has an emotional quality that makes him involving and empathetic to watch. On that level, his strongest video here is the last one in this post. His arguments aren't really that good, but they're far more emotionally involving than better arguments you might read on a blog where our emotional reactions are hidden. I'll point out some of Coughlan's lapses in reasoning and then show you where you can find a blogger making a more coherent argument to illustrate this point.

The first thing that struck me about coughlan666 was the thought, "Holy shit! It's a real life Baltar!" He looks a bit like Baltar, he sounds like Baltar and his attitude should have been that of the first season, or miniseries, Baltar. It would have made Baltar a more interesting character if he had some of these emotional reactions to people. So, Battlestar Galactica fans, think of coughlan666 as what the Baltar character could have been like.

Let's start with Coughlan's rant against other atheists, both TX50 and coughlan666 seem to be agreeing that atheist youtubers are not doing impressive work. In fact, calling coughlan666 a youtube atheist will probably piss him off. Here's his rant against atheists. Some of it would even apply to me:

I've been guilty of repeating that "if atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair color" line myself. The first time I heard it I thought it was a great line. It was, but now it's a cliche that does, indeed, get repeated too often. I will never use it again. However, the claim "atheism is just another religion" is made, sometimes by Christians who will insist that Christianity is not a religion, far more often than the retort. I've seen variations on that "bald is a hair color" retort too: If atheism is a religion, then health is just another disease, if atheism is a religion, then off is a TV channel, if atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby (also a cliche now), if atheism is a religion, then not playing football is a sport, if atheism is a religion, then a dolphin is a fish (won't work with most young Earth creationists who probably think dolphins are fish)...

It's not that you can't define the absence of something as simultaneously being the presence of that thing, because atheism is only the lack of god-belief not of religion. There are apparently atheist Buddhists. Not all religions require a belief in God. It's just sloppy thinking. They're using the word "religion" in a way that is too broad. You might say that atheism is another "world view" and get closer to the truth, but even then it's not a "world view" either, it's just an aspect of some world views.

Where I think coughlan666 goes off track is thinking that because someone introduces a comment with "well, as an atheist, I think..." or "I'm an atheist" it means that they define themselves in only that way. I am an atheist, yes, that's relevant to a lot of discussions if the subject being talked about is religion, gods, spirituality, transhumanism, Battlestar Galactica (it turned out to be a very religious show) or life after death, it's an important bit of information and very relevant. I'm also an artist and when I did my hub page on my art I never said anything about my lack of religious beliefs. When I recently set up a site on Kompoz for showing people some of my weird music and composing with others I never said anything about my atheism. It just wasn't relevant in that context.

A person's atheism or religion is only relevant when you choose to talk about certain subjects and it would seem to be those subjects that Coughlan talks about most. In fact, I've seen few youtube posts from him that don't talk about his atheism in some form. He has chosen to talk about it more consistently than I do on this blog. Atheism is important to both of us, it is the dark truth about this world that few people can face. It may not be scaling Everest, but accepting atheism is rare enough that it's noteworthy. However, I must note one remarkable exception where Coughlan puts the subject of his own atheism aside and there may be more (I haven't seen all his videos). But do any of his regular listeners have any idea what music or art Coughlan likes? As far as I can tell this is a typical example of one of his youtube videos:

What you'll see in the above video is the start of a recurring theme with Coughlan youtubes; he flounders and gets frustrated over a basic epistemology question. In this case Coughlan is reacting to Jason's "try to believe" and "chose to believe" statements and pointing out how he just can't chose to believe something, it doesn't work. He acts constipated and grunts as if he is trying to believe something. I liked it, it was kind of funny, but was it an effective argument?

Some more subtle and effective arguments, I think, would be Dan Sewell's "The Choice to Believe," Debunking Christianity's "Impossible to Believe," and Sam Harris used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to do an experimental exploration of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty at the level of the brain.

Harris found that the final acceptance of a statement as "true," or its rejection as "false," seemed to rely on primitive, hedonic processing in the medial prefrontal cortex and the anterior insula. That means that we do, as Coughlan said, have no choice in our reaction on first encountering a proposition, things thought true will please us, things we think false can disgust us and the reaction is involuntary. However, that's only in the short term.

Every atheist I know has dealt with the question and the clearest example of why they do is the popularity of "Pascal's Wager." A lot of Christians use the modern, stripped down and distorted version that goes something like this: "Since you can't know if God exists, you should believe God exists anyway because then you'll get the rewards religion promises and if you're wrong and God doesn't exist then you haven't lost anything." The problem with that statement is that you have to be insane to make it work. If not insane, you have to have zero epistemological ground rules and no standard of telling truth from lies and delusions. Sane people do not decide to believe things because they want to believe them or because they find some advantage in believing them. Sane people reserve judgment until enough evidence is found to be convincing.

If you want to trim Pascal's Wager down to essentials it would be better to say: "Since you can't know if God exists, you should act as if God existed anyway because then you might get the rewards religion promises and if you're wrong and God doesn't exist then you haven't lost much." That would be closer to what Pascal was saying. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal was a lot more sophisticated in his understanding of beliefs than the modern evangelicals and fundamentalists we deal with.

"Acting as if" is not quite the same thing as "believing," though it might lead to believing eventually. Pascal didn't tell people to just believe things, he told them to try and convince themselves. He wrote:

"Endeavour then to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. You would like to attain faith, and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief, and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, bless yourself with holy water, have Masses said, and so on; by a simple and natural process this will make you believe, and will dull you-will quiet your proudly critical intellect..."

What Pascal knew was that even our most rational convictions are build on flimsy foundations, limited human experience, trusted sources that might not be trust worthy, a history of ever changing scientific theory, and when it came to questions about things so far beyond our limited human experience as God, it would require either faith and trust in those books and people who made such claims, or an experience so far outside what we've already experienced that we might be convinced.

In this sense, Coughlan is a bit wrong in saying "I can't chose to believe something." Sure, you can't snap your fingers and change your beliefs, but you could start moving in a direction where belief becomes easier. That protesting bit of rationality and common sense is a lot easier to quiet than Coughlan lets on and his request for "something new" might be more dangerous than he thinks. I've seen it happen. Case in point, the Derren Brown "Messiah" youtubes linked here, or what happens to people on Sci-Fi Channel's "Scare Tactics."

Derren Brown was able to show how easily people can be fooled into believing things that aren't true by getting a group of atheists together and telling them he could give them an experience of God with just a touch. Sure enough, he touches a couple of them and they start reporting subjective experiences they think might be God. In a sense that was a "choice" those "atheists" made.

Fear will apparently override common sense as is often demonstrated on the Sci-Fi Channel show "Scare Tactics." On that show victims fall for the most absurd pranks, horror movie scenarios that they've certainly seen on TV by the time they're pranked. However, while the victims are indeed afraid, while they "act as if" it were true, no one ever commits to the belief entirely. No one picks up a club and tries to kill the murderer. They never make the extreme choices that someone entirely convinced would make. (It's a phenomena you'll see in many Christians.)

Next time you read one of my posts on Ray Comfort, imagine me reacting to Ray the same way that Coughlan is reacting to VenomFangX in this next video:

There's that recurring theme again, this time he floundered and got frustrated over the epistemology question implied by VenomFangX's claim that "naturalism refutes itself." He can't even decipher what VenomFangX means. It might help to know that VenomFangX stole that argument from Dr. William Lane Craig who stole it from C.S. Lewis, who stole it from G. E. Moore, and all three present it better than VenomFangX's garbled version but it is still flawed and it has been refuted.

Let's deal with this next video fast because I've saved the best for last. All the previous stuff has been a set up, and so is this one:

Just keep in mind that little insight from the above youtube about "why is it you guys always want to save us from the fire pits of hell and not the joys and wonders of heaven? You know what that tells me, it tells me you're a believer out of fear," it ties in nicely with this next video, the best of the lot:

Most of the anger and sarcasm has faded in the above video, and just like with Ray Comfort, what initially seemed funny suddenly becomes incredibly sad and tragic.

I think I'll shut up now and just let you think about what you've just heard.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Atheists on youtube

Just some almost random selections of atheists on youtube:

Use the comments section and send me your favorite atheist youtube link.

A good skeptic video is okay too:

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Some of Bear McCreary's Galactica music

Those of you who have read my posts on Battlestar Galactice might have picked up on the fact that I mentioned film composer Bear McCreary's blog and his music quite a bit. He's the young guy who scored the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica TV series. You may or may not have been impressed by what you heard on the TV show but take a listen to what's on youtube:

The youtube versions sound better to me.

Hear that electric violin? For me that was the sound I first started responding to. If I can remember Bear's blog on that correctly, that violinist is Paul Cartwright. Bear must have used some electronic trick to soften out the tone, in concert those violins wind up sounding like electric guitars or they're too harsh.

It was the first sound I tried to imitate.

These are some of my favorite, roughly in the order of how much I like them.

Does anybody think that without Bear's music setting the tone that Battlestar Galactica would have become the breakout hit it became? That's not a rhetorical question. I wonder about that, what influence music has on these shows. Would I have ever thought that Forbidden Planet or The Day the Earth Stood Still were sci-fi classics if not for Bernard Herrmann?

Ray Comfort's continuing sex problems

What is it about religion and sex? Catholic priests bugger choir boys, Ted Haggard got thrown out of his church for buying the services of a male prostitute and methamphetamine and now Ray comfort is having his own sex problem; he just doesn't get it. He can't grasp how sex evolved. As demonstrated in his most recent post, Keep it Simple. Ray again exposes his tiny intellect to the whole world by asking this question:

There are an estimated 1.4 million species on the earth. Each species has both male and female (not counting worms and a few others). Let’s believe that each species did evolve. Let's then zero in on the giraffe. After the big bang, there was a pre-giraffe animal. Millions (perhaps billions) of years pass until today, and now we have a male and female giraffe. Evolutionists believe that the two didn’t evolve separately. Such a thought is "bizarre."

I know that you think I am intellectually slow, so please be patient with me and explain to me in very simple terms where you believe the female giraffe came from, and then explain how and why the other 1.4 million species ended up with both male and female.

I once considered this kind of remark comedy gold, but it's not so funny any more. It's just sad. It has been explained repeatedly to Ray, but yet he cannot comprehend. No matter how well the people who comment on Ray's blog explain this to him he never seems to get even the basic facts right, like what the term "common descent" means. And then there is this inherently biblical sexism implied by Ray asking "where do you believe the female giraffe came from" and not the male.

There are also a lot of missing steps in Ray's timeline, it goes from the big bang, to a pre-giraffe and then millions or billions of years pass and then you get male and female giraffes. Some steps not included there would be the first simplest cells evolving, then complex cells and then sexual reproduction followed by every plant and animal on Earth being evolving descendants of those first sexually reproducing organisms. We're all family. We're all related. Giraffes, men and potato plants. The organisms that didn't use sex like we do got stuck at the single celled and/or worm level of evolution. They evolved too, but along a far different trajectory, and today they are germs, fungi, microscopic worms and virii.

One comment on Ray's blog noted that what Ray was saying was like saying: "Linguists would like us to believe that English and Spanish and French are all descendants of Latin, but that's absurd. Who did the first English-speaking person have to talk to? Isn't it convenient that he found an English-speaking mate so that they could have English-speaking children?" But then Ray probably believes in the Tower of Babel theory of language differentiation too.

Why is it so hard for some people to grasp the concept of "common descent"? Perhaps if every animal could breed with every other animal this wouldn't be a hard question, even for Ray. For example, according to Carl Sagan's "The Dragons of Eden" the ancient Romans didn't quite have a handle on this speciation thing:

In earlier times it was widely held that offspring could be produced by crosses between extremely different organisms. The Minotaur whom Theseus slew was said to be the result of a mating between a bull and a woman. And the Roman historian Pliny suggested that the ostrich, then newly discovered, was the result of a cross between a giraffe and a gnat. (It would, I suppose, have to be a female giraffe and a male gnat.) In practice there must be many such crosses which have not been attempted because of a certain understandable lack of motivation.

If a male gnat really could fly up into a female giraffe's uterus and spawn something like an ostrich it would be easier to see that we could all be related through common descent, but no matter how many dead gnats one might find in female giraffe parts this has never happened. Gnats and giraffes just don't breed together.

So, maybe a better way to approach this problem Ray has with sex is to point out how it is that speciation occurs, because that is why it is that gnats can't impregnate giraffes. And like many evolutionary changes, speciation happens gradually. As I pointed out some time ago in my post, "Dealing with the abysmal ignorance," Ray and many other creationists have a comic book concept of evolution, via X-Men and Spiderman. They don't grasp speciation as a gradual process and they don't understand what transitional forms are. They are under the impression that either adult animals can mutate drastically or they buy into some weird version of the "Hopeful Monster" concept.

Ray's concept of evolution, if he even has one, seems to be that some instantaneous-speciation event must occur and not small gradual changes. He seems to think there must be more rapid evolutionary change than what biologists think of as rapid, which is tens of thousands of years from a geological perspective. Perhaps some comic book style mutation where such a monster would have a hard time finding a mate. But evolution doesn't quite happen that way. First, what makes a monster different than a critter with only a slight mutation? The monster cannot be so grossly different that it cannot breed with anything else alive. If that were the case it would be an evolutionary dead end. Any change or mutation still requires a sexual animal to breed.

Consider dogs, are Chihuahuas and Great Danes really members of the same species? In theory, they are members of the same species and they should all be able to breed together (but I want to see what a cross between a Chihuahua and a Great Dane looks like before I'm one hundred percent sure of that). There you have a gross difference in size as well as fur length and other factors. If paleontologists came across the bones of specimens that different they probably would think they had two different species. So, in theory one could get major structural differences to occur as rapidly as they did in dogs without some series of intermediate species that can't breed together.

To a species of Chihuahuas a Great Dane might appear to be a hopeful monster. However, the creation of the Chihuahuas and Great Danes from some original wolf or fox stock wasn't caused by some sudden mutant genes producing monstrosities. Human beings produced those changes through many generations of dog breeding. That doesn't mean, however, that a small genetic change couldn't, if expressed in early embryonic processes, produce a large effect embodying considerable parts of the organism and yielding profound differences among adults of the same species. It is however, unlikely and evolution favors small mutations which are much more likely to be beneficial than large ones and are then built upon to produce an accumulation of small changes resulting in drastically different and well adapted forms.

We could tell Ray all about giraffe evolution. The giraffes branched off from the deer just after Eumeryx. The first giraffids were Climacoceras (very earliest Miocene) and then Canthumeryx (also very early Miocene), then Paleomeryx (early Miocene), then Palaeotragus (early Miocene) a short-necked giraffid complete with short skin-covered horns. From here the giraffe lineage goes through Samotherium (late Miocene), another short-necked giraffe, and then split into Okapia (one species is still alive, the okapi, essentially a living Miocene short-necked giraffe), and Giraffa (Pliocene), the modern long-necked giraffe.

There is fossil evidence for such evolution of the giraffe, but the creationists don't buy it. They still claim that there are not enough transitional fossils to prove that.

One of Ray's partners in ignorance, Kirk Cameron, once claimed that a horse cannot produce a non-horse. In at least one respect, as I noted before, that is a false statement. A horse can produce a non-horse if it mates with a donkey. Mules and hinnies are the offspring of horses and donkies. Hinnies are the offspring of a male Horse (stallion) and a female donkey (jenny). The hinny and mule are usually, but not always sterile. And that is how speciation gradually happens.

Horses and donkeys are closely related but they are different species. Their close relationship allows them to mate and produce the hybrid mule or hinny, but since they are not quite the same species the hybrid mule or hinny is most often sterile. Sometimes, though rare, a female hinny can still mate with a horse or donkey and produce offspring. That is an example of how species slowly separate. It is evolution in action and it is very gradual. There is no suddenly you can't mate aspect to it. Instead you get phenomena like ring species and parapatric speciation.

Alas, like the sex life of bananas these concepts will never register in Ray's brain.

Monday, March 23, 2009

It is finished: Battlestar Galactica: "Daybreak" - Part 2

And I am saddened on many levels, some good, some not so good.

The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica is now over.
Spoilers for Galactica's "Daybreak Part 2," follow:

Some of what happened in the last episode was great stuff. Bear McCreary's score and the tear jerking emotional moments were all good. There were such touching moments here, Bill Adama and Laura Roslin on Earth just before and just after Roslin died were beautiful and sad, that I can't just rant against this ending. However, in spite of the good stuff a lot of what happened in this final show was extremely disappointing in exactly the way I feared and predicted it would be in my previous posts. The journey towards the end was fantastic, but the destination sucked and it started sucking mostly in the last half of season 4. That's not just my opinion, but a general consensus I've been picking up in other blogs and forums. For example, PZ Myers, who didn't even watch the show, put up a "Battlestar Galactica open thread" where a lot of people are complaining about the ending but still expressing love for the show.

What a waste, the show was almost building up to be this great combination of Shakespearean tragedy and intelligent science fiction but then ultimately failed on both fronts. Instead we got some good music and expertly handled emotional manipulation and character development which are only nice ingredients but don't make a whole stew.

The roots of my disappointment on the science fictional content go back to some things I said in some of my earlier posts, "Six of One" : The disappointing part, being one example.

It was then that I noticed that there was a failing on the part of the writers to understand some of the basics of certain transhumanist themes that Galactica stumbled into but that had already been handled much more intelligently, sometimes decades before, by science fiction writers like Greg Egan and Bruce Sterling. Greg Egan's "Permutation City" and "Diaspora" would be good reads.

Apparently the writers absorbed some half-assed transhumanist ideas from the science fiction culture around them but did no research on transhumanism itself. You could start this research here on the Transhumanist Reading page.

One example of a half-assed understanding of a transhumanist concept was the idea of "uploading." That idea comes from some early science fiction (for a few early examples try Roger Zelazny's 1968 novel "Lord of Light," Frederik Pohl's 1955 story "Tunnel Under the World" and Philip K. Dick's "Ubik") and then it was refined by the transhumanists and futurists into something far more interesting than what the Galactica writers imagined. What the Cylons did in Galactica, when one died their memories were uploaded into a new body, they even called it "uploading," has dramatic implications the writers failed to grasp.

In most science fiction the uploading is done into virtual realities, like Star Trek's holodeck except there in no human body on the deck. For example Frederik Pohl's "Gateway" series (Heechee Saga) had a man uploaded into a virtual computer world in the 1976 novel, before William Gibson coined the word cyberspace in his novel "Neuromancer." Galactica's technology is necessarily more advanced than anything in either of those novel's. There was, however, the 1982 novel "Software", by Rudy Rucker, that got closer, in that novel a human mind is uploaded into a very human-like android body and the process was sold as a way to become immortal. If you read any of those works you were probably surprised by how badly the Galactica writers screwed up the concept and its implications.

In Galactica uploading is magical and undetectable, but in more sophisticated and scientifically literate SF the odds are that even our modern technology, like x-rays, could detect, though not replicate, many proposed devices that could be used to transfer memories, even if genetically constructed. (In Greg Egan's "Jewelhead" stories the human mind was transferred from an organic brain to a small, immortal backup computer at the base of the skull which could be removed and placed in an android body after death. It would have been something a doctor with our current technology could have found on an x-ray.) More damning is the fact that some heavy duty signal would need to broadcast those memories to a distant Cylon Resurrection Hub. Such a signal might have been detected and jammed, but such things were never considerations by anyone on Galactica, including Baltar the scientist. This is no doubt because the writers didn't understand that aspect of uploading, that it relies on physical substrates you can guess at without knowing exactly how to build them.

In order to have an undetectable stealth technology that is able record Cylon memories stored in a brain that the best people on Galactica can't tell from a human brain and then broadcast them across vast distances in space you must necessarily imply god-like technological abilities the existence of which would necessarily challenge many religious assumptions. (But in the Galactica universe no such conflict is ever implied and both their religions and technologies are so vaguely described that you couldn't tell if such a conflict would arise.) So god-like and astonishing are the implications the Galactica writers failed to grasp about such technology that many SF writers make these transhumanist technologies part of future religions. (For example, in the "Requiem for Homo Sapiens" novels by David Zindell there is a church that calls it soul-preservation technology.)

“It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God, but to create him.”
-- Arthur C. Clarke

Consider some other implications of such a technology, like the computer processing power that's implied. Today there is a Project Blue Brain that is struggling to create a biologically accurate, functional model of only part of a mouse's brain, a single neocortical column, using the most advanced supercomputers we now have. And Cylons can not only get all that kind of information from a brain and transfer it across space and into a body that a doctor (Cottle) and a scientist (Baltar) cannot tell from human.

When you imply technology that god-like you can't easily slip in actual gods because there would be no way to tell the gods from the Cylons except by whatever intentions and motives you can detect in their actions. And then you can only deduce those motivations, not whether the abilities are supernatural or technological. To quote science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” -- Arthur C. Clarke

That basic principle was missed by the writers of Galactica and in the end it was that basic ignorance that undermined the entire series as far as plot and theme go. One implication of understanding the brain at a level where one could transfer memories and make artificial Cylon brains in a goo tub is that such a level of understanding of what a brain is and how it works should make it child's play to create visions and mystical experiences.

When you go up against that kind of technology the last thing you should trust is vague visions and mystical experiences where the motives for the vision are unclear. Indeed, Baltar did not trust his head-6 early on and her motives were indeed suspicious. Keep in mind it was an "angel of God" who told Baltar not to tell Adama about Boomer being a Cylon and you'll begin to see the problem. But she also told him where to attack a Cylon base to destroy it. Baltar wound up merely not fighting her and not so much actually trusting her. She was giving him useful information which he used selfishly and he couldn't really fight her, just ignore her when he didn't like what she had to say. She could only manipulate him with that information it seemed, so it would always be information that seemingly served Baltar's own ends.

Neither Baltar nor I ever guessed her motives and we still can't. The Galactica God's "beyond good and evil" schemes remain as mysterious as ever even in the end. That brings up the next level of failure, the use of "God" as mere cheat to get around explaining the mysteries one has created. Again I saw it coming in my post, "The poo-barge mutiny begins." I'll quote myself:

... the hand of the gods made itself known in this episode and it was a bad thing because we all know who the real gods of the Galactica universe are, they are Ron Moore and his writers. That's the way fictional universes are, they all have gods and those gods are the writers who risk spoiling the illusion they want to create when they inject such plot driving miracles into their stories. And Starbuck's seemingly all too correct faith in Leoben's claims are just such an intrusive miracle.

There's a reason that even writers who preach their religious beliefs at writers conferences have shied away from the use of supernatural events and prefer psychological pain to demonic affliction, and dark nights of the soul to the voice of God echoing out of the whirlwind. They write about what they know. And they know they themselves and most other people don't really experience the voice of God like it happened in the Bible. They know that for every tear drop of wisdom to be found in religion there is a vast ocean of stupidity and insanity behind it. In our world people don't seem to come back from the dead like Starbuck and our miracle workers can often be caught using simple magician's tricks. Even Mother Teresa, a potential Catholic saint, was running on only a few weird experiences she had early in her life where she literally heard God’s voice directing her to go to in India and help the poor. However, as soon as she did start her mission, God's silence began and she spent the rest of her life feeling abandoned by God. Was it all just a couple potent brain farts that changed her life?

God in Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene is more often a significant absence than a presence. Actual encounters with the divine or the demonic in literature, such is in Philip K. Dick's last books, are usually the product of a writer who has actually become subject to what they think are paranormal visitations. And Dick had been abusing amphetamine for years before that.

There's just something incredibly arrogant (not necessarily a bad thing) about making God a character in your story because the real gods in these fictional universes are the writers (or in television, perhaps its the producers). You can pull it off if God himself is actually a character and you have something to say about the nature of godhood, but not if that God remains utterly mysterious and just advances the plot when convenient for the writers. Starbuck's trust in Leoben may yet be explained by whatever force brought her back, but right now it doesn't feel like it.

In the end the use of God was a big cheat on the mysteries they set up. God's motives and abilities remained utterly mysterious and did nothing but advance the plot when convenient for the writers. The meaning of the Opera house vision was merely that it was a vision hinting vaguely and opaquely at the future. Baltar is thus inspired to give the worst speech ever given on Galactica. Here's Baltar's speech, copied from some other blog, it sounds right:

Baltar: I may be mad, but that doesn't mean that I'm not right. Because there's another force at work here; there always has been. It's undeniable. We've all experienced it. Ever one in this room has witnessed events that they can't fathom, let alone explain away by rational means. Puzzles deciphered in prophecy. Dreams given to a chosen few. Our loved ones, dead, risen. Whether we want to call that God or gods or some sublime inspiration or a divine force we can't know or understand, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. It's here. It exists. And our two destinies are entwined in its force.

Cavil: If that's true, and that's a big if, how do I know that this force has our best interests in mind? How do you know that God is on your side, doctor?

Baltar: I don't. God's not on any one side. God's a force of nature, beyond good and evil. Good and evil, we created those. Want to break the cycle? Break the cycle of birth, death, rebirth, destruction, escape, death. Well, that's in our hands, and our hands only. It requires a leap of faith. It requires that we live in hope, not fear.

There's a lot I object to in that short speech, more than I'll go into right now. But let's take that claim that they have all "witnessed events that they can’t fathom, let alone explain away by rational means." That, my dear readers, is nothing but what Professor Neil DeGrasse Tyson would call "a philosophy of ignorance":

Well, yea, the viewers did experience things they supposedly could not explain away by rational means (not necessarily characters like Cavil) because the writers, the real gods of the Galactica universe, set it up that way. I feared exactly this in my last Galactica post, Battlestar Galactica: "Daybreak" - Part 1, and I'll quote myself again:

... but worse, maybe we won't get an answer for how it is Starbuck got resurrected in a new body and viper because some writer thinks that sometimes incredible things happen for no good reason. (That omission I won't forgive them for. How Starbuck came back demands an explanation.)

That is essentially what Baltar's "let alone explain away by rational means" says to us, that sometimes incredible things happen for no good reason. So shove the reasons off on some inscrutable God and claim that you have an explanation when all you really have is merely a philosophy of ignorance. This is only partly about being an atheist. I am not always turned off by the supernatural or spirituality in fiction, but this ending was a cheat, a way to explain away things they really had no explanation for. The whole point of setting up mysteries is to have rational explanations of some sort for them in the end, otherwise no one is ever going to trust your mystery set-ups again.

The problem is, I can still imagine rational explanations in the context of transhuman technologies. Baltar's God could still be a Cylon mainframe that didn't like Cavil's plan. So Baltar's claim is false, the mysteries are not beyond potential rational explanations. Granted that is only speculative, but that's how critical thinking about such mysteries begins. And what else is there beyond reason and critical thinking when it comes to dealing with such mysterious events? Without reason and critical thinking to lead you then one has nothing but visions or if not that people who claim to have visions to lead one. Just keep in mind what kind of people in our world actually do claim to be guided by visions, mysticism and the voice of God and you'll see the problem. They include people like Pat Robertson, Sherri Shepherd, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, Jim Jones and other leaders of a thousand other doomsday cults.

And when Cavil asked how could he know this force had our best interests in mind? How do you know that God is on your side? Well, Cavil, of course, like me, doesn't know that. He wasn't given any visions that led him. So, where does Cavil fit into God's plan? Well, Cavil, you're the evil villain who gets blamed for wiping out the human race in spite of other Cylons, like Caprica-6, playing a part and the real God of the Galactica universe is Ronald D. Moore, so you're just going to kill yourself for no good reason. You're like Pharaoh in the Moses story (you know that other work of really bad science fiction, the Bible) and you don't even have the free-will it takes to use common sense. In the Moses story Pharaoh had his heart hardened by God.

But don't feel too slighted Cavil, God's plan also involved nuking several billion innocent humans out of existence (and you were okay with that). Was that god's plan? If so, that God seems like a monster and the real villain in the show.

So, maybe the writers are setting up another story that will correct these errors? Not likely. Ron Moore talked about his writing process on his last pod-cast, about how he trusted his instincts and was really proud of how he handled Baltar and religion. Yet it is exactly those elements of the show that I thought were just awful and that reflected the full failure of what was wrong with how this show ended. Ron was proud of how the Opera house visions worked out and then, what they led too, Baltar's speech about "God." Proud of the fact that he didn't do any real critical thinking or research.

With that attitude on Moore's part, don't expect things to improve on "The Plan" or on "Caprica" in those terms.

I've hardly scratched the surface of what was wrong with the ending, but this would go on too long if I talked about how bad an idea it was to ditch the ships and go all Luddite, or how like most Trek villains, the Cylons may have been set up to look impossible to defeat, but they were really paper tigers with glass jaws. None of that will matter to Ron Moore now that his series has spawned two new spin-offs. I may give them a shot, but I won't expect much.