Sunday, January 30, 2011


Here's a link to How Homeopathy works. The comic is funny, but the author - Hector Lowe - describes his inspiration for the comic in the comments section below it. Effing Priceless! Here are the relevant bits without further editing:

So this might seem to make very little sense at all. Fair enough, it’s sort of supposed to. But this did actually happen to me at work – A guy came in to buy some homeopathic tablets, and was quite insistent that I not let them touch the large tub of ice-cream that he was also purchasing. Assuming that it had something to do with astronomically minute quantities of poison that such remedies are reputed to contain (they don’t, by the by – it is entirely water,) I assured him that there was no threat of contamination.

He then proceeded to explain to me, as a primary school teacher would an infant, that homeopathy works due to molecular vibration. Being a mere layman, I will try to explain this process to the best of my limited ability. The water molecules vibrate with the same resonance as the poisons that give them their efficacy. This in turn causes human molecules to vibrate upon ingestion, curing one’s ills. Close contact with the tub of ice-cream will cause the vibrations to shift to the new medium, resulting in an ineffective medicine.

He fucking believed this.

I asked him politely why such problems didn’t occur when simply handling the box, as the human hand also contains molecules. Or why havoc did not arise when different remedies are stored on the shelves next to one another (as they are in our store). To this he had no answer. Perhaps ice-cream is the only fluid capable of destabilising the molecular rhythm. Perhaps it is the kryptonite of homeopathic medicines.

Bottom line: if you think that homeopathic medicine is even slightly credible, you’re a fucking idiot and you need to help yourself to a god-damn chemistry book.

Everyone is crazy

I'm beginning to suspect that everyone is crazy

Dysteleological Physicalism

Sean Carroll shares his Edge World Question Center post on Dysteleological Physicalism. The crux is that the world cannot be explained in terms of design or purpose, but in terms of things and rules - so that what happens today relies on the state that existed before it started happening, so to speak.

The comments are an excellent read - and engender this train of thought:

We are creatures that are fortunate to have consciousness - the ability to be aware of ourselves. Our mental subsystems are a) the ability to reason; b) emotion; c) motor impulses such as the fight-or-flight response.

Science, in this view, is the triumph of the reasoning layer of our consciousness - an ordering of observations on the way the world appears to work, with a high (but not absolute) certainty, based on experimentation, observation and refinement. These observations may be modified or discarded as new information becomes available.

Religion, in this view, is the triumph of layers b) and c) in explaining the world, due to a deficit of a). Thousands of years ago, this world view was all that humans could achieve, since the struggle to subsist made the time available to examine the world in a systematic way a low priority; the tools and concepts to do this in a meaningful way had not been invented yet; and the tools to record, share and modify the observations and interpretations in an efficient way were millennia away.

Now that we have hundreds of years of experimentation and observation under our belts, and we have better systems of reasoning about the observations, and better systems to communicate about them, the old ways of explaining the world should be discarded. That is not to say that universal truths should be discarded along with them - the Golden Rule exists in all cultures, and predates organized religion. It has stood the test of time, and will continue to do so.

Those who can reason, should.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

X O Diss

The first 15 chapters of Exodus lay down one of the foundational stories for the Israelites - of course, their exodus from Egypt. Moses is introduced at the start, grows to manhood within several chapters, has the encounter with god at the burning bush, is told by god that he should implore Pharaoh to let his people go while being told at the same time that god will harden pharaoh's heart so that he will deny Moses' request - thus setting the stage for plagues, pestilence and darkness.

It is some seriously pagan shit.

I mean it, this is just awful. If god (YHWH or Yahweh) as described in the Old Testament is the heaven and hell creatin', all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe, this YHWH character is his mutant, deformed, bastard step-great-great-great-grandson. He might be something to be feared in the near-term - say, until you can get out of his sight - but not something that is worthy of respect and devotion lasting thousands of years.

On the flip side, religion (ANY religion) offers some social benefits. Seriously, for most people, having a stable, firm, deep bond with other human beings is good at an emotional level, and was essential at a subsistence level in the stone, bronze and iron ages, from whence these social structures arose.

I can see deep into the future ... and I can see that 20 percent of humanity will always be susceptible to this kind of magical thinking, no matter how far we advance as a species and a society. I'm afraid that it's just human nature.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

More "The King and I"

Wow - can't believe it's been nearly 3 weeks since I posted! I've been happily distracted by The King and I project ... which has just started reading the book of Exodus this week. On Tuesday, Bruce wrapped Genesis with some concluding thoughts, which I didn't get to until today. Before I reflect on the first book of the Old Testament, I have to say how respectful and thoughtful the commenters on the blog are - it really helps make this a learning and sharing environment. On to my summarization:

First, I approach the OT as person who was once-upon-a-time "born again". The reason I lost that "born-againness" was primarily my attempt to read the OT from start to finish as part of immersing myself in Christianity. When I was born again, I started by going to a full gospel Pentecostal Church - plenty of speaking in tongues and folks full of the spirit. I carried around a copy of the New Testament, which I probably read 80% of - from start to whenever-I-petered-out. I peeled off once I got deep into the NT (which is a good read when taken on its own) and decided to undertake my first systematic reading of the OT. It was that first systematic reading that really undid my belief in the Bible. That's a long way around saying that I didn't expect to be convinced by a second systematic reading of the Old Testament - and I haven't been, but because the atmosphere is so peaceful at The King and I, it feels more like a reading circle, and hardly at all like a gaggle of godless atheists.

Second, subsequent to my un-borning-again many years ago, the proposition that there is an omnipotent God as most believers of the Bible hold, has become just unsupportable. There never seemed to be a point (after my de-conversion) that the concept of god was necessary to the existence or functioning of the universe. If I were to give credence to any idea of god, it would be that god created the universe and then went on his way, never to return again. So clearly, a religion that has as its basis for the universe an entity whose whole existence seems so unnecessary and implausible has a lot of convincing to do to win me over. It hasn't happened.

Third, Genesis itself is a weapon against belief. The creation story starting in Gen 1:1 doesn't make sense - god makes heaven and earth before he makes the stars? God makes light before he makes the sun and the stars? Also, Gen 1 is a broader "cosmic" creation story, while Gen 2 is a human-centric story that immediately contradicts Gen 1. Then, there's where do wives for the sons and grandsons of Adam and Eve come from? Then there's Noah and the flood story ... how do you keep two (or seven - depending) of each species alive in a boat for 40 days (or around half a year, depending) without some serious food-chain chaos? Other incongruent ideas are presented - god is impatient - why? He's not so perfect that he can create perfect humans; he's not so powerful that he can make man obey his laws; when he becomes unhappy with man, he decides to kill them all and all other life except those on the boat as punishment; Once the passengers on the boat disembark, where do other tribes that are later introduced come from? We thought everyone was wiped out! This story has more holes than cheesecloth does.

On the bright side, reading the OT over has spurred my thirst for ancient mid-eastern history and mythology. So, overall, this is good! It's just like being in junior high school again and learning about the Greek and Roman gods again!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

More on Genesis 1:1

Yesterday I posted the following comment about Genesis 1:1 on the
Project: The King and I web site:

My first concern is always Gen 1:1. Three problems: "God" - the proposition "God" is not proven or established; 2) "created" - the need for creation is not established (the cyclic (eternal) universe is not a dead issue, nor is the hypothetical multiverse); 3) "heaven and earth" - this actually troubles me a lot. It's WAY out of order with what the observations show. The "inerrant word of God" assertion is immediately called into question before we ever get to the self contradictions, many translations and versions of the Bible.

It probably sounds hyper-critical to the believer to raise these three questions about a single verse - but I **was** "born-again" once upon a time, and I **did** stop believing the Bible as a result of that experience. It was re-reading the bible itself, combined with a general sense that mob psychology was at work in the congregation, and a specific set of observations of my immediate co-believers, that encouraged me to look at my belief with an analytical eye and ultimately reject Christianity - and the concept of God in general - as useful belief systems.

In Genesis 1:1, we are presented with the assertion that, in the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. The concept "God" is not explained - but we assume it to mean "the creator" (pretty obvious in this context), and likewise might assume that God has the qualities of omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, "eternal-ness" and "infinite-ness". These are qualities that the Bible **may not claim** (I owe it to myself to find this out) but that I have always perceived to be part of God's resume.

The literary person that this first verse is written in gives the reader the impression that the author is human, and that "God" is external to the author - otherwise, you might expect the verse to read something like "These are the words of me, God the Creator, that I have given to my faithful scribe Joe Sixpack. In the beginning I created the heaven and the earth." Now that I think about this, God could be more explicit by saying something like " ... I created a place to put all things that are not the earth, which I will call "Heaven", then the earth, which I placed below it". I'm already getting twisted up about this verse just trying to reconcile the way that the Bible is presented with the simple things that the average junior high school kid knows. Ultimately, a better reading would be "In the beginning I created time and space, then filled them with matter and energy. It came to pass that the matter combined to form stars, which further gathered to create galaxies. It then came to pass that dust around one star combined to form the earth upon which you stand". Not poetic, but it's a start.

That re-imagining of Genesis 1:1 leads me back to the other problems I have always had with the verse. "In the beginning" is unknowable to us - science largely holds that the universe started with a Big Bang, but it's entirely possible that event is just a transition from an earlier form to the one that we experience today. The other problem is with the order of creation (heaven and earth simultaneously) - but I "solved" that with the re-imagining that I spelled out in the previous paragraph.

The take-away from this is that the Bible is not inerrant. Any attempt to argue that it is fails, because the known facts (ignore the big bang and just focus on matter, star and planet creation) contradict Genesis 1:1. God would surely know about this if he did author the Bible and he is the creator. Add to this the existence of hundreds, maybe thousands of different versions of the bible over the millennia, and we see that God did not take care to write the bible in an unambiguous manner that does not require interpretation or alteration. The sane believer is left with accepting the bible as allegory, which is more understandable.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

More Genesis snark

I'm going back through Genesis for the second time in a couple of months, just to stay in sync with Bruce and his pals at the Bible Project.

Since I need to read what the King James Version says, I've picked the King James Bible Online as my source, since you can scroll through it chapter-by-chapter.

Fun fact: When God creates "the man" - he doesn't explicitly name him. The name "Adam" doesn't appear until Gen 2:19 after God starts creating animals and wanting them named. So ... if you want to have some fun with the firm believers, tell them that Adam was just hanging around having a few beers, enjoying the creation thing when he got mixed up in it. Whatever happened to the original "man", we never find out.


The Bible Project

Bruce on Blogger has started the Project: The King and I blog, where he plans to read the King James Version of the Bible.

Since I'd already started blowing through the Old Testament in November, I thought I'd stop and play along. My first comment can be found here.

Please join us - this sounds like fun!