Sunday, November 28, 2010

Re-reading the Bible

I started to re-read the Bible recently, with a more critical eye than in decades past. I've tried this exercise within the last several years, but always peter out because - honestly, no hurt feelings intended - it just doesn't seem like it was written by very smart people. Now, this is probably due to 1) my extreme skepticism, 2) the wealth of physical knowledge that an average Joe like me has in comparison with the writers and their works, 3) the random nature of the books of the Bible.

Addressing point #2 above - The first few verses of Genesis set the context for the whole schmear, as it were. The description of the six days of creation is unquestionably a primitive attempt to explain the world - absent, as you would expect - of most of the physical knowledge of the universe that mankind has accumulated in the millenia since this was written. That makes the first book of the Bible interesting but unreliable. A harsh interpretation would be that it marks what follows as unreliable as well, but I won't make that claim, because there are some historical tidbits that are worthy, even if the final picture is a mess. I can see where Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy paint a picture of the Israelites that is effective. Where I have a problem is that the God presented here doesn't seem worthy of consideration, let alone worship.

My point #3 is where I'm focused today ... after the first five books of the Bible, my interest is to turn immediately to the New Testament, since, being raised in a nominally Christian family, I want to revisit the foundational text. To this end, I've discovered some valuable resources that are going to get a lot of use.

First, there is the problem of what to read first. The canonical order is: gospels first, followed by Acts, then by the Pauline epistles, general epistles, and finally Revelation. The problem with that is that it doesn't serve my present goal - which is to review them in a (somewhat) historical context. Taken chronologically, some writings attributed to Paul will come first (circa 50 CE), then Mark, followed by Matthew and Luke, then Revelation (c. 90 CE), then John (c. 90-120), with various other epistles sprinkled throughout - from as early as 50 CE (Colossians - which a slight majority of scholars feel is not Pauline) to as late as 160 CE (Peter?). For the moment, I will be using the timeline at Early Christian Writings to help me order the books. For biblical text, I will refer to the Biblos Online Parallel Bible (for example, go directly to Genesis 1:1 here).

Undertaking a chronological reading will be helpful, but a second alternate method could also be employed - parallel reading of the gospels. This is suggested by bible scholars to obtain a sense of the commonality and differences of the four gospels. I won't be doing that immediately, but it's not out of the question down the road.

Lastly, a note of appreciation to Ebon Musings - particularly the Atheism Pages and Dating the Good News for getting me motivated AND organized on a holiday weekend.

Converted or Liberated?

I've seen the phrase "converted to atheism" in more than one atheist web site ... I prefer the phrase "liberated from theology". If I was a theist previously, and now I'm not, I am currently "without theism". Being without theism does not entail the acceptance of a substituting belief system that has the narratives, traditions, superstitions, rituals that are somehow on a par with the theism that one has just discarded. Atheism does not have those things. "Conversion" in this sense is a misnomer. You've just liberated yourself from magical thinking and have reacquainted yourself with reason. The rest is up to the individual - it's part of the journey.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The advent of my skepticism?

Sometime prior to 1976, I must have developed my skeptic's backbone - at least regarding religion.

I remember getting a phone call one evening at work (I worked the night shift) from an ex-girlfriend who wanted to witness to me about Christianity. The conversation went something like this:

She: Do you believe that another person's beliefs have validity?
Me: I believe your beliefs are valid for you, but aren't a reason for me to believe the same thing.

This may sound like a mundane verbal exchange, but I had been previously born again; had previously felt that a certain book in the Bible was addressed specifically to me, and had been proselytized on my parent's front lawn by Jehovah's witnesses. Being able to say "that's nice for you, but isn't relevant to me" was a watershed moment. [BTW, it was clear that this woman was trying to create an opening to discuss religion - but her indirect approach allowed me to anticipate and shut down the conversation effectively - much to my satisfaction.]

Am I equally skeptical about UFO's? I hope so ... I HOPE SO. I admit that I'm a big science fiction fan - loved Star Trek, love Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, Heinlein, William Gibson, Richard K. Morgan, Orson Scott Card. I loved the U.S. space program - the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs really had my rapt attention. I'm predisposed to dreaming about what's possible, so it's not a revelation to say that I laid in the front yard at night and looked up in the sky and wondered if I'd see a flying saucer. Once, with friends, I thought I saw a tiny orange dot traversing the sky in a geometric pattern - although it was not something that I thought was alien. Even as a child, I could say to myself, that's probably just a flaw in my vision. I liked books about UFO's - loved Chariots of the Gods? and Communion ... but I never thought "this stuff is REAL". I always thought more along the lines of "this is fun to daydream about".

Homeopathy? Honestly - my 80-something Mom has been into homeopathy - but I haven't. Can't say it's worth anything - can you? Show me the evidence.

For me, life is complex, beautiful, wonderful, and is not spoiled at all by the lack of magical things.

I think most good skeptics can explain their world view by repeating Neil DeGrasse Tyson's humorous adage about proving the existence of flying saucers: "show me an ashtray".

Friday, November 26, 2010

Book Review: Life Ascending

A follow up to a previous post - I finished reading Life Ascending by Nick Lane this morning. As I expected, it was fascinating. Subtitled "The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution" - the book is divided into ten chapters, each one focusing on a different great invention. The book was thus logically organized, making it easy to follow, with each concept following the prior one chronologically. There could be some difference of opinion on whether those ten aspects of evolution are truly the greatest, but for a layman such as myself, it made a great read. For those that are interested, the chapters are

  • The Origin of Life

    What interested me most: The general description of early Earth, and the focus on sub sea thermal vents as a likely location for the growth of first life - as opposed to the widely promoted "primordial soup" view of primitive Earth.

    Bonus: The first four chapters tie together the most fundamental concepts for those of us that like to contemplate biogenesis.

  • DNA

    What interested me most: Knowing how cells began to replicate is essential for understanding life.

    Caution: Keep wikipedia handy - there are some chemistry terms and complex concepts that may make you take a break, or may require a second reading.

  • Photosynthesis

    What interested me most: The general ability to convert free matter and energy into usable forms

  • The Complex Cell

    What interested me most: This is really the nut of biogenesis - the evolution from bacteria to cells without nuclei to cells with nuclei, and the surprising role that bacteria may have played in the formation of eukaryotic cells.

  • Sex

    It's not what you think: The theme is "why sex instead of cloning". The answer may be: "protection against detrimental mutations"

  • Movement

    What I liked most: The focus shifted quickly from simple motility (cool word) to how muscles work.

    Surprise Factoid: Cells have skeletons!

  • Sight

    I liked all of this chapter ... it directly addresses the old Creationist saw that "half an eye is useless".

    Surprise Factoid: Half an eye is quite useful - there are deep sea shrimp that have retinas on their backs!

  • Hot Blood

    What interested me most: I liked the further discussion of individual cells ... and really enjoyed the discussion of bird lungs.

  • Consciousness

    What interested me most: This was the most philosophical chapter in the book, as you might guess. The discussion of the frequency of the brain, the locations of the senses, and the coordination of all of these to form perception was a head full.

  • Death

    Money quote: "Only death makes multi cellular life possible"

    Dream on: Life extension is possible

Highly Recommended!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

How do we know that something is true?

How do we know that something is true?

Other than the fact that "knowing" and "true" are topics that can take volumes to discuss - that's a fairly simple thing. ... just joking people ...

The simple answer is, we really don't "know" anything with absolute certainty. We **can** personally have a high confidence that some things are the way we think they are - but that is still more of an emotional state (we "feel" certain) than it is a statement than is testable and will yield the results that we expect.

Therein lies the problem - as human beings, we "know" things based on a combination of personal experience, reasoning, education and sometimes, less formal avenues.

Personal experience is reliable to a point. We know that we "stick" to the ground - more or less - that tells us gravity is real. We know that when we walk through a door, there is something on the other side. We know that night comes at the end of day, and day at the end of night. We know not to run with scissors.

Personal experience is less reliable because we can't experience absolutely everything - so we personally can never have "complete" knowledge, if such a thing is even possible.We **can** however, become really good at some things. A carpenter with several thousand hours of experience is better at carpentry than the average man on the street. A carpenter with ten thousand hours or more of experience might be thought of as having mastery of his trade. The same holds true of plumbing, and car mechanics, and machine operation, and guitar playing. You can become good at a few things, really good at fewer things, and if you have an aptitude, you may become a master at something. Eric Clapton is a great guitarist, but he started as a schoolboy - spent hour after hour, day after day, year after year honing his craft. He's probably not worth a shit at plumbing, but he **knows** how to play a guitar.

That raises another aspect of knowledge - there is practical knowledge - "how" to play a guitar, and theoretical knowledge - "that" a guitar produces sounds based on string vibration and acoustic resonance. So "knowledge how" and "knowledge that" are two major forms of knowing - although others have been proposed.

Plato famously defined knowledge as "justified true belief". Just that statement raises the possibility that a person can believe something, but that something to not be true. That then devolves into how is something proven to be true.

For most of us, then, we know things that we have personal experience of, and we believe things with certainty, but with varying levels of real (formal) knowledge. Let me report the existence of the invisible fire-breathing dragon in my garage. I might not be able to prove this assertion - but I might be able to convince someone that I do have a dragon in my garage. What allows me to do this (assuming that someone really believed what I told them)?

I might be believable to my fellow invisible-fire-breathing-dragon believers because I'm a sober, reliable person who has never told them a falsehood. No matter that this is a real whopper, someone might actually believe this because I'm reliable. I might also be believed because that person respects me - I may have earned their respect through completely unrelated avenues, but this respect (and trust) might then transfer to accepting my assertion of a dragon infestation. My fellow invisible-fire-breathing-dragon believers might also believe my claim because they're pre-disposed to belief in dragons, and this confirms that belief. They might also believe my dragon claim because they're gullible, uncritical, lazy, not very smart - it starts to sound like I'm being critical of people, so I'll stop. My point is that there are many reasons that we believe things that aren't provable, and (I assume, from my limited experience) fewer ways to believe things that **are** provably true.

From here, we can take the fork in the road that explores ways we can be fooled (if we fall prey to verbal tricks and logical fallacies); we can take the fork that leads to how we can convince large segments of the population that things are to be believed (with and without justification); and we can take other forks into scientific method, probability, epistemology, marketing - it's a trip that could take a while.

I'll close with the idea that personal knowledge is those experiences and beliefs that serve you reliably in your day-to-day life, without the need to rigorously test their truth value. Job One is getting through the day successfully - the rest is the truly fun stuff!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Genesis or Abiogenesis?

Who knows where life comes from?

The Bible says God created man. Muslims believe that when God wants to create something, he creates it. Hindus believe that this is just one of an infinite number of "worlds" - created, preserved and destroyed by Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Buddhism doesn't consider such things. The Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Mayans and Native Americans all had different stories to explain the existence of the universe and of mankind. They are all extremely high-level - and let's be honest - suitable for an audience of young children.

It's more interesting to consider the question of how and where life originated from - and maybe some of the high-level mechanisms - if you're an adult with an above-average curiosity and an ability to understand complex concepts. Scientists have, over the years, had differing hypotheses about the origin of life on planet Earth. At one time, learned men thought that life spontaneously arose from nothing - although Louis Pasteur put the kibosh on that idea. There is also the "primordial soup", panspermia and its close cousin exogenesis, and other hypotheses. Now, an interesting article at the Daily Galaxy notes that bacteria has been found living close to a mile under the bottom of the ocean. They are "SAR11" ... the simplest and most abundant bacteria in the ocean. Interesting factoid: "a milliliter of sea water ... might contain 500,000 of these cells".

Some scientists think that life didn't arise from the primordial soup, but instead required clay, shale or other substrates in order to organize the components of what would then become cells - bacteria, for instance. This new discovery raises some interesting possibilities - could life arise deep in the earth?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Dick hierarchy

I just spent part of my Sunday morning watching videos of Richard Dawkins on Bill Maher, and Sam Harris on Lawrence O'Donnell's The Last Word.

It's easy for me to be impressed, even awed by the intellects of these men, and to be jealous of their ability to present ideas clearly, simply and without hesitation. It also leads me down the road of the "Don't be a Dick" "controversy" - Phil Plait's claim that being a dick in support of atheism is counterproductive when addressing people of faith. My own thoughts are these:

  • Outspoken folks who advocate atheism and ridicule woo are not going away - P.Z. Myers for example. P.Z. is worthy of respect because he is able to present facts in detail and with clarity. He's to be embraced, but most of us cannot emulate him because we are not smart enough, not informed enough, and are not secure enough in our job, family, social situations to be a dick.

  • Christopher Hitchens falls into the dick category - with a capital "D". On the other hand, he's grown on me over the years, he is consistent in his ridicule of religious institutions. He's a deep thinker, well spoken, a fabulous writer, and courageous in the face of a life-threatening illness. He's a dick, but a treasure. I sincerely hope he's with us for another 40 years.

  • Outspoken folks such as Dawkins and Harris, and Daniel Dennett are essential - the deep thinkers of the Atheist movement - it is a movement people. Honestly, both Dawkins and Dennett come off as wise uncles - charming, gently chiding, but having a deep and wide grasp of human nature and the unfortunate place that religion holds in our individual and collective lives

  • Less outspoken, but notable and respectable exemplars of atheism such as Phil PLait and Adam Savage (to name but two of thousands) - are also essential. We're not all going to be fire-breathers - and we need people we admire who are capable of a more common touch, or with we feel a closer kinship. I can imagine hanging out with Plait and Savage and having a friendly conversation, whereas a conversation with Dawkins might end up with me kissing his shoes or something utterly incongruous.

  • There are millions of us fighting the insurgency - the community on the web, and in local meetups and personal interactions is where millions of other hearts and minds will be won.

  • There are the passive and closeted folks who need to be encouraged to at least join the discourse

  • There are those people that can be enlightened

  • There are those people that cannot be enlightened

If this seems like an overly simplistic and even unnecessary categorization, I'll grant you that. I just need a mental picture to see where I fit in, and to be able to reflect on people within the context that they and we have chosen for them.

ipse dixit

ipse dixit sounds like it looks - "ipsy dick sit".

When I thought of all the ways that people try to convince you that something should be believed, I should have come up with this one first. It's also referred to as a "bare assertion fallacy" - making a claim without evidence. More simply: "it's true because I said that it's true".

Too often, we fail to ask why. Why is what you just said true?

Just saying it doesn't make it true.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Straw Man Fallacy

"Some people say that ..."

Thus begins my first in a (probably sporadic) series of musings about the way people, and the media, and even we ourselves mislead us. If you're a seasoned skeptic, then you probably don't need to be reminded of this, but the newly skeptical, and anyone wanting a refresher on critical thinking can always use a reminder - so I'm reminding myself, and you can tag along too!

As far as I can tell - this is a form of "Straw Man Fallacy". The "some people" is the straw man, in that they don't necessarily exist. Who are these people? Can the speaker be more explicit? Do the actual people behind the "some people" moniker represent a significant segment that is worthy of respect due to expertise or sheer size?

When discussing an issue, always follow up on the straw man argument - find out who "some people" are - ask why what "some people say" is relevant to the discussion at hand - determine whether what "some people say" is compelling ... or discard it. The rational argument of meaningful things deserve better than what "some people" say about them.

For more - see Top 20 Logical Fallacies at The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe

The argument from ZeroWing21

I'm not a "New Atheist", nor an activist atheist - more of a committed skeptic and atheist that loves the dialog. Behold the Internet - you can find all sorts of great dialog on the Internet, for example, while Googling the twelve basic arguments for God, I ran across ZeroWing21's posts arguing against them. A very nice closing statement is provided, which I quote here without further comment.

Consider for a moment that no amount of theological mastery seems to produce a consensus about the bible. Think about how different this is from [other] academic disciplines. We do not have different sects of astronomers, historians, or mathematicians. Subjects like these that draw conclusions based on tangible facts truly transcend the vagaries of our different cultures (there is no such thing as Christian chemistry vs. Islamic chemistry, for instance). We do not see that with the bible. Isn't it a little strange that god would give us all the information we need to reach a state of harmony in a subject like astronomy, but not for something infinitely more important like salvation? There are 34, 000 sects of Christianity on the world, and well over 250, 000 different religions. The average human lives about 22, 000 days - yet we are supposed to cover them all in order to find the one true faith? If that's the case, then it is quite a little crapshoot that god has set up for us, isn't it? And if they're all false, well, you just wasted your mortal life. Seems god could have made it a little easier for people like me, or you, who really want to know the truth, but who also don't want to be duped by apparent frauds.

Making sense of the world

Bee Hossenfelder at Backreaction discusses the reasons people are religious in response to Tim Crane's NY Times piece on the same subject. Essentially, Bee argues that Crane's thesis is "people choose to believe because it’s easier" - then makes a case for another view - of which my one-line summary is "science fails to provide buffers against existential fears, which religion does handsomely".

In the spirit of kumbaya and cosmic harmony, I can see both viewpoints as containing valid explanations for the prevalence of religious thinking - and offer yet another view. You've heard this, or thought this, many times before - that people both accept what they're lead to believe as children and fail to abandon those beliefs due to fear of divine, familial or societal retribution.

First, some money quotes from both pieces:

The human brain looks for explanations, tries to find patterns, and to construct theories. These are skills that have proven very useful to our survival. Inventing gods arguably serves as some sort of explanation. Yet, superstition generally serves that purpose too, and at the end of the road, if you carefully follow up on the explanations, if you construct correct theories, where you inevitably arrive is: science! And over the course of history, that’s the path we've taken: Starting from gods and superstition towards science by continuing to ask and to look for better and more useful explanations.

...while religious belief is widespread, scientific knowledge is not. I would guess that very few people in the world are actually interested in the details of contemporary scientific theories. Why? One obvious reason is that many lack access to this knowledge. Another reason is that even when they have access, these theories require sophisticated knowledge and abilities, which not everyone is capable of getting.

In both cases, and in the unoriginal argument that I've added, we see the millenia-old vestiges of primitive man trying to make sense of the world, then slowly modifying that understanding over time. The "modification of understanding", however, could be said to lag scientific progress by a nearly unimaginable amount. Ultimately, an atheist could rationalize the believer's stance as being a dead end, as the creation myth put forward in Genesis (for example) flies in the face of the most basic understanding of the universe. Read Genesis 1:1 and try to tell yourself "yes, this clearly matches the evidence - it is the inerrant word of God". It's not ... it's demonstrably not the inerrant word of God.

Not that the true believer (of whatever religion - not just the Abrahamic ones that I allude to above) should abandon their belief based on the inaccuracy of one verse, but over time, consideration of the whole of Genesis leads one to conclude that this was a primitive attempt to explain existence, in order to tie together creation and the preeminence of the deity that is claimed to be responsible in this myth and those that follow.

Surely, someday the book of Genesis and the religions that it spawned will be seen as just one of primitive man's early attempts at explaining the world, and of codifying rules for getting along in society ... and nothing more.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Biocentrism? ... really?

The Huffington Post has a new blog entry
Why Are You Here? A New Theory May Hold the Missing Piece
that I'm sure P.Z. Myers will excoriate as another bad example of woo.

Yeah - me too.

I love the idea that the observable universe is tailored for human existence - it satisfies my (our) high self-regard. But it doesn't make sense to imply that the universe is "tailored" as if the intention was to bring us into existence. We are only able to observe in a universe that is amenable for beings like us to survive. It would appear that it's tailor-made for our existence, but if it weren't, we wouldn't be here - so the only place we can make this claim is a universe in which we can exist to make it.

The pantheon of gods

In the early eighties, I was in an emotional state that would have made me easy pickings for religious faith. I had experienced panic attacks and depression for over twenty years - their frequency and intensity was increasing over time. I drank like a fish - hangovers were torture. I did some speed and cocaine - and blew a lot of money in the process. I had no girlfriend - and it appeared that there were no prospects. I was ripe for being harvested by a friendly and welcoming religion,

During this time, I was unable to discover and correct the source of depression and panic - and I was unwilling to forego the drinking and drugs that I overindulged in. But at the same time, I had the closest thing to a revelation that I can claim. It didn't happen all at once - in fact, it might have taken a year or two - but I realized that religion did not provide answers to my problems, nor answers to the fundamental questions that I might have about my life. This realization did not come like a thunderbolt - as I said, it came gradually. It was a combination of conscious reasoning and a core belief that I could persevere to see a better day. When the picture finally became clear, I was able to say with confidence that, if God exists and plays an active role in the world, he wouldn't allow so many religions to claim to be the "one true religion".

The realization that the abundance of religions, and the gods that they purport to represent, indicated that a hypothetical God has no preference for one religion over another, was liberating. I was able to dispense with magical thinking - which leaves room for more critical thinking. I could say that I no longer had a theistic inclination. As many friends would say, I was spiritual, but not religious.

Over time, my non-theistic inclination slowly transitioned through a deist perception; a "neo-pagan"* perception; an agnostic perception; and finally to a skeptical perception of the world. Like a good empiricist, I'm unwilling to wholly discount supernatural explanations for existence, but humanity's current religious menu does not provide any choices that I would call even remotely plausible**. If God was here, the evidence that he's left us says that he wasn't here. Humanity's knowledge is incomplete - its epistemic projects are still works in progress, but the physical evidence increasingly explains that which we experience, leaving less room for supernatural explanations. We are left to ponder "purpose" as one remaining realm that rational inquiry can probably never make a judgement on.

I'm comfortable knowing that I cannot be certain about many aspects of life. I am comfortable defining my purpose in life as being one that focuses on my family first, then friends, neighbors, co-workers, then on outward to community and society.

It's a great life.

* the "neo-pagan" label is not something that I consciously applied to myself, but thought I'd include in the list of transitional states. I took an on-line test on BeliefNet one time, and "neo-pagan" was how the test graded me. I must have expressed an openness to the existence of spirits that were not God ... but darned if i can remember what they could have been!

** I'm partial to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, however

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bagging on science

I will bag on religion and weird beliefs enough over the years - but it's fair to turn the tables and bag on science for a moment. Let's look at Creation.

Religions almost always have a creation myth - Judaism and Christianity have Genesis ... the Vikings had Yggdrasil, the Greeks had Eurynome and Ophion. Science currently has the Big Bang. Now, the Big Bang is not technically a myth, but a theory. Labeling it "theoretical" gives the un-scientifically inclined an excuse to dismiss it. Just as Creationists will say that Evolution is "only a theory", so could they say "the Big Bang is only a theory". Okay. But wait, there's more.

Think about it, as a layman, as a mechanic, carpenter, plumber, caregiver, homemaker, shopkeeper. What are the things that you can reason about our world, without having the special knowledge and theoretical backgrounds that cosmologists currently have? Well ... the world sure looks like it's been here forever. A second observation - there are fossils in the ground. This is something that you'll have observed if you had the kind of childhood that I had, where you could walk in the woods and dig around in the ground and crack open rocks. There is evidence of older life forms. So, a little special knowledge tells you that the fossils have been there for a while - generally thousands of years, possibly millions of years. Then, when you look into it, you are presented with information that illustrates the gradual growth, elaboration and radiation of plant and animal types over millions and billions of years. So if you believe this, then the earth is millions and billions of years old. If you don't, then a creator put all of the evidence in the ground to make it look that way.

Look up in the night sky - you see stars. The light from those stars arrives at your retina after a journey of tens of thousands of years - the light that you can see, that is. The issue then becomes, do you accept astronomer's claims that some stars and galaxies are millions and even billions of light-years away? If you do, then the universe must be that old for that to have happened - or a creator put the light in motion to your eyeballs at the moment of creation. Which do you believe?

Getting back to the Big Bang - if you accept that the universe is expanding in all directions now, then you can mentally reverse the movie and imagine that the expansion becomes a contraction to a single point. A Big Bang.

So, what is my criticism of the Big Bang? It's not much of a criticism - it's just that the theory requires the reader to apply the logic that we just applied, given the evidence that neither the reader, nor I, has personal experience of. That's the criticism. So when a science writer is able to present evidence in an accessible and logical way, the reader can understand and hopefully, accept it. If not, then it's easy to reject. That's the problem.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Life Ascending - initial reaction

One of my favorite rebuttals against Intelligent Design comes from The Talk Origins Archive, and is titled Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, and Probability of Abiogenesis Calculations. You often see in print, or hear in conversation, how improbable life seems. This article does all of us a favor by pointing out some argumentative sleight-of-hand that is used by the ID crowd to reinforce this perception, and also shows how the "improbability" should really be considered.

Fast forward to this weekend, when I started reading Life Ascending by Nick Lane. It's already a fascinating read - but focuses on a more recent understanding of abiogenesis, initially the view that simple life forms (primarily bacteria) would be formed near deep sea thermal vents. This book is some good stuff - I'm already recommending it - and I'm only a quarter of the way through it!

... or not

You might have detected a note of sarcasm in my initial post. If so - good job. You're my kind of people. If not ... well, work on it. The appreciation of sarcasm can be learned.

My fascination with religion boils down to a general interest in strongly held beliefs and epistemology. The difference between knowledge and certainty; the practice of argumentation; truth; science; philosophy of science and philosophy of religion are all topics that have piqued my interest over the last year.

Today I'm thinking about religion - but it could be UFO's for that matter. Paraphrasing a favorite quote from Neil DeGrasse Tyson about the evidence for UFO's: "bring me an ashtray". My prior blog post embodies that same spirit, with a humorous example of how God might have unambiguously and eternally removed all doubt of his existence.

Evidence for God

I am God. I alone have written these words on this five mile diameter adamantium sphere and suspended it 100 yards above the equator for all time so that you may know that I exist without question.

You will notice that the sphere will not weather, scratch, dent, fold, spindle or mutilate - it will remain perfect so that my words are preserved for all eternity. The sphere is perfect in diameter as well - you will never develop technology that can measure any surface flaw or irregularity in its shape - despite its prodigious mass and size. Oh, and did I mention that it is suspended above the equator for all time?

Here are my words - learn them, live them, love them.

First - Stop being dicks. I can squish you into a gelatinous smear any time I want - so get along with each other.

Second - Help each other out. Life's a bitch, and then you die. Take care of yourself first so that you are able to take care of your family. Then, take care of your neighbors. When the neighborhood is taken care of, reach out to other neighborhoods. Keep reaching out until everyone in the world is taken care of. When that's done, everyone gets a free pony!

Third - Figure it out. The answers that you seek are within you and without you. Find them out. Learn. Investigate. Teach. Help others learn and investigate and teach. I hate dumbasses.

Fourth - Stop and smell the roses. Ferris Bueller was right.

Fifth - Don't be afraid. I've left life uncertain. I got tired of turning the knobs and flipping the switches every time some crybaby whined about hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and those pesky dinosaur-killing asteroid strikes. The universe is in motion, the laws of probability are in force, and if the shit hammer comes down on you, well, if you weren't following my first four pearls of wisdom, you blew the only chance you get.

Sixth - no religions. I hate butt kissers.

Finally - some of you will ask "who made God", a.k.a. yours truly. Hell, I don't know, but I'm smart enough and secure enough not to make up incredible stories about it. If somebody made me, I'll bet she's a sarcastic bitch.