Saturday, July 31, 2010

Time to Remember-Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan fascinated us all with his musings about the universe and his advocacy of scientific and skeptical inquiry for many years before his death in 1996.
His impact on society at large was, in large part, because of his everyday man's approach to science and his intellectually honest opposition to pseudoscience.

He made the very difficult to understand, very easy to comprehend and in doing so he held us captive to the wonders of the universe every time he spoke.

To me, watching his series "Cosmos" was a singularly eye opening and awe inducing experience.
Each week he brought new parts of the universe into my living room in a way that I could understand and in a way that captivated me in a manner that no other show ever did.

So in his honour, I summon to our collective memories, "The Pale Blue Dot"
Enjoy his genius once again and smile as you remember all the wonder he brought to our childhood as we seemingly searched the cosmos together for new life and new understanding.

We miss you Carl.

"From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

-Carl Sagan in an excerpt from "The Pale Blue Dot".


and Thank you.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Endangered Species Alert- Christians?

Everyone has heard (and by “everyone” I mean “me”, but I have heard it a LOT) of the meme popularized by Ray Comfort’s book “God doesn’t Believe in Atheists”, that atheists don’t exist. Well I was reading the bible to find proof of this (because that is where Christians tell me that completely substantiated proof of everything can be found), and have discovered a troubling fact.

CHRISTIANS may not exist!

(or if they do, they should pay an IMMEDIATE visit to James Randi for their million dollars in prize money. But that is another story.)

I am not attempting trickery, nor a play on words, but a definition of what a “Christian” by Christ himself.

I figure he is the only dude that should be deciding who they are and how we can recognize them. Christians themselves very often say, usually in response to some extremist doing/killing/masturbating/abusing/ranting/taking money/or saying something hateful about something in the same of god.

“That person obviously wasn’t a true Christian.”
“No true Christian would do that”.

Sounds like pretty certain knowledge of the standard for membership into this exclusive club called Christianity. This sort of rejection of who is and who isn’t a Christian is bandied about pretty liberally (Christians, I apologize in advance for the use of the word liberal in reference to you) to exclude all those who don’t act according to what each person figures that a “Christian” really is.

So in the spirit of “WWJD” I decided to find out how to really tell who is, and who isn’t a Christian. To know this, we have to go to the only place where real knowledge exists, the club rulebook itself;

The Bible.

After a lot of “hence”s, and “thereto for”s, and reading all about how this one begat that one begat another one, I finally found that definition in the Gospel of Mark (16:17-18).

This is where Mark (if that IS, in fact, his real name) details exactly what Jesus said would be the mark of all Christians.

He says;

"These signs will accompany those who have believed: In My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."

Right from the holy horses mouth!

I would say that under this official definition of a Christian, not only are they be exceedingly rare in this day and age, but they would have been the most super cool and powerful men of their time!

This is the super hero of back in the day. Maybe every Christian didn't have super strength giving hair (Samson) but they didn’t all have an overzealous hair stylist either.

What they did all have were some pretty cool, and easily recognizable abilities.

Demons fear even their slightest word.
Snakes hide their fangs and save their venom at the sight of them.
They drink poison for breakfast instead of the pansy apple juice of TODAY’S “Christians”,
And with a spank of their ultra cool hands amputees grow legs and the blind grow new eyes!
Not everyone got the extra powers like Samson and Elisha, but since there is no explanation for that, we are forced to assume that they were the team leaders.


That is totally kickass.

So here you have it. A clear definition of that “true Christian” that we hear so much about.

(Sounds a lot like Wolverine. You go Christians!)

I mean obviously real Christians must all be able to do this. Jesus said so. So why don’t we ever see this anymore?

Clearly there are only two solutions to this dilemma.

Either they died off from some unknown disease and no longer exist (but obviously not from snake bites or poisons, because as we know true Christians are immune to such weak poisons. It must be some super intelligent ultra hyper mega toxin that kills them (which just appeared out of nowhere because it obviously did NOT evolve from something else)
they are in hiding, and they just don’t want to show us all the groovy superpowers that Jesus said they have.

Like secret identities used to protect their families from the baby eating atheists and from Fox news.

So if you are out there "true Christians",

If the non-evolved super intelligent ultra hyper mega toxin did NOT get you,

Please know that THIS atheist is intrigued by the impossible nature of your faith-power

And that I wonder…..

Can I have your autograph?

God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists, by Ray Comfort (the Banana Man)

James Randi Educational Foundation- Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge

Mark (16:17-18);&version=NASB

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


This is a first for me.

I am writing this episode of “Definitions” on request from a follower who recognized the very common misuse, misunderstanding, and sometimes intentional twisting of the meaning of the word “Theory”.

We are not talking about the colloquial “theory” as in “I have a few different theories about that” (educated guesses) or in the humanities as in “philosophical theories” (ideas) or political “theories” as in social “theory” or Marxist “theory” (ideologies), but empirical theory.

This is a major point to note. Scientific theories are decided by a completely different standard of evidence than the others and they are not to be conflated at the risk of, well, being completely wrong.

If you say, “It’s only a theory” about scientific theories, you would only reveal how little you understand what scientific theories really are.

Scientific theories are models for explaining the facts of reality. An important thing to remember is that for every theory there is a corresponding fact.

For example; The Theory of Gravity.

It is a fact that things fall when they are dropped under certain conditions. The theory of gravity explains that phenomenon.


The Theory of Evolution.
Evolution happened. Speciation occurs.

We know this.

The theory of evolution explains this natural fact.

They all begin as hypotheses but after being put through the rigors of the scientific method, they emerge as the highest form of science.


They are defined by the very standard of evidence that spawned them.

They are testable. As in you can verify the theory by experiment.

The test results are repeatable. As in they conform to the details of the theory every time.

These test results are predictable. As in you can predict the outcome of the experiments unfailingly

They are observable. As in they are back up by observable evidence and not hypothetical ideas.

The last and most critical thing to remember is that they NEVER FAIL.

They can not fail even once without failing to be a “theory”. Reality is constant, so too must the explanations for reality.

The moment that new evidence comes to light that does not conform to the tested theory, it ceases to be a theory and it must be tweaked to accommodate the explanation of the new evidence. If it cannot accommodate the new information, then the theory is happily thrown out the window and the scientists return to the drawing board.

This falsification is no less joyous than the verification of a theory. Each time something is proven false, scientists can cross off one more possibility and can say that they have learned one more thing about the universe.

A great example is Darwin’s original theory of evolution.

It was wrong.

Or, at the very least, not completely right.

He had no idea about how the allele was passed on from generation to generation. Natural selection was all well and good but Darwin could not explain the source of the heritable variations which would be acted on by it.

He felt that parents passed on those traits during their lifetimes.

Clearly advances in cellular biology and the discovery of DNA have brought us to a more accurate vision of evolutionary processes. But the fact remains that Darwin was wrong about how the traits were passed on. But the model itself was solid.

It still produced everything that was predicted, but now with a much more solid explanation as to why.

No one railed against the change; it was celebrated as a major breakthrough in science.

That is intellectual honesty, and the scientific method forces every scientific theory through that same grinder.

Scientists discovered new evidence. So they went back and tweaked the theory so that it was a more accurate reflection of the fact of evolution and so that it was backed by even more evidence.

Now it stands inviolate and verified in the face of all current scientific evidence and knowledge.

As does every theory.

If new evidence arises, then maybe that will change (although it is more likely a slight tweak of the theory that will be in order, rather than a wholesale change) but for now all known science backs up all accepted theories.

A theory is the highest form of science.

If you can remember that, then a lot of the “debate”, misuse, and misunderstanding will be stricken from the mouths of those who would spread them.





And never fails.

When people say "it is only a theory" what they are usually trying to do is discredit the theory in question by making it sound like fly by night guesswork, or an hypothesis to which we would be silly to attach any real informational authority.

So now that you know what a "Theory" really is, I hope that you all will know how to answer when next you hear "only a theory".

So is anything in science “Only a theory”?

Sorry Creationists (the usual culprits), but the answer is....


Monday, July 19, 2010

Rational Response of the Week- July 19, 2010

This week’s rational response will tackle another common theist accusation.

That atheism is a religion.

This is patently wrong, and on more than one level.

It fails as an argument first, and as truth second.

As an argument it is used to discredit atheists from taking a neutral position on theism. It is the “But you are the same as us” argument.

Not a very convincing statement, as it almost appears to concede the harms of religion but disallows you to comment on them, because of your investment in another religion (Atheism).

Not useful to either side really as it doesn’t address the issues, it only throws out straw-man arguments to distract from them.
It accuses us of dogmatic behaviour so as to excuse their own.

So it fails because it refuses to address the concerns head on.

The second level is the level of truth in the accusation.

Is atheism a religion?
Free Online Dictionary/ -Religion; (def) A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.

In order to be considered a religion you have to have three things;

Common Dogma
Common Doctrine
Common Practices

Can anyone name anything that all atheists have in common?

Is there anything that would preclude an atheist from identifying himself as an atheist other than his rejection of the theist claim?



I would love to claim that all atheists believe in the power of science, but that isn’t true.
There is even a group called atheists against evolution.

Or that atheists all “worship” reason and skepticism.

But, this would be a false claim. Many atheists fall prey to such snake oil sales tactics of homeopaths and other false “holistic” medicines.

Or even that all atheists eschew dogmatic thinking, because as much as I would love this to be true, it simply isn’t. Nationalism has brought dogma into many an atheist’s life.

You don’t even need to believe there is no god to be an atheist (although the evidence would certainly suggest this).

All you have to be is unconvinced.

Atheism is a religion?


There is no atheistic dogma, no doctrine that we must observe, no common belief system, and no institutionalized “atheist” morality.

In fact I would challenge you to find a single common thread between us other than our universal dismissal and unconvinced attitude towards your god claim.



Well lets consider that one settled then.

Friday, July 2, 2010