Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mark Kessler, America's dumbest police chief

Uh, oh. Someone gave Barney Fife ammunition!

Actually, that's unfair to Barney Fife, isn't it? Barney Fife wasn't a whole lot smarter than this guy, but he wasn't a deranged lunatic.

But crazy isn't on the fringe anymore, not in America. The Republican Party always had its crazy fringe, even before it was taken over by the Dixiecrats. But the fringe normally stayed on the fringe.

Not these days. Now the crazy fringe is the Republican Party. It's certainly the GOP base. Well, that's what you get when you deliberately set out to woo lunatics, for political advantage. Sometimes, you reap what you sow.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Confederacy rises again in North Carolina

Much as I hate to post two clips from the same show, Stephen Colbert was really on a roll last night. This was pretty funny, wasn't it?

But, oddly enough, he didn't even show the worst from North Carolina Republicans. For that, we need TYT:

North Carolina has been slowly turning blue. Barack Obama actually won the state in 2008, and he lost to Mitt Romney by only 2% in 2012. Well, North Carolina Republicans are determined to stop that by... keeping Democrats from voting.

And they can do this thanks to the five Republicans on the Supreme Court, who just recently threw out the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had been renewed in 2006 by Congress - 98 to zero in the Senate and 390 to 33 in the House of Representatives. (Yeah, Justice Scalia had no problem overriding the will of Congress in this case, did he?)

The Confederacy is rising again. Or really, really trying, at least.

After the Democratic Party took a stand for racial civil rights (starting with Harry Truman, actually, but especially when Lyndon B. Johnson pushed through the 1964 Civil Rights Act), the Republican Party started to deliberately woo white racists in their notorious 'Southern strategy.'

And it worked. It was a huge success, as all those old Dixiecrats joined the GOP. But now, those people are the Republican base. Now, they control the party. Parts of it are still Republican (after all, the GOP already had the John Birchers and other fringe elements), but this is essentially the Dixiecrat Party now.

And they've gone into complete hysterics with the election of our first black president. Well, they would, wouldn't they?

They're also losing young people, women, and Hispanics, among others (by deliberately wooing Southern white racists, they'd already lost African Americans), and the supply of elderly white men - elderly white bigots, at least - is dwindling.

So their solution - certainly in the Deep South - is to prevent Democrats from voting. Or, at least, to make it as difficult as possible. (If you make it hard to vote, fewer people will vote.)

In 2012, many Democratic voters in the South faced long lines at their polling places - much longer than corresponding Republican precincts. That was deliberate. But there wasn't too much Republicans could do to suppress minority voting until their colleagues on the Supreme Court threw out the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Instantly, they started up their old tricks again.

The Republican Party just can't convince enough of us Americans to support their loony policies, especially after the complete and utter failure of those policies during the Bush Administration. So what do they do? Do they change their policies? Ha! Do they just work harder at convincing people they're right (despite the evidence)?

No, they just work harder at keeping Democratic-leaning constituencies from voting. (Don't worry. If you're a white billionaire, you won't have any problem at all.)

Disgusting, isn't it?

Burn your Obamacare card!

Funny, huh? And the reaction by these right-wing loons is just hilarious!

Do they realize how funny they are? Or are they completely oblivious to that? You really have to wonder, don't you?

PS. Even the "young and healthy" need health insurance, because some of you are going to get sick. Some of you are going to have accidents. And without insurance, the rest of us will have to pay for that.

(No, we're not going to just let you die in the street. That would really stink up the neighborhood.)

Saint Anselm's Proof

I thought this was great. But you already know what I think about philosophy, right? :)

Recently, I was having an online discussion - in my local newspaper -  with a guy who claimed to have "plenty of evidence" for the existence of God. But when I pressed him for the details, it turned out to be something he called "logical evidence," which was pretty much entirely an argument from ignorance (and its close corollary, the argument from personal incredulity).

So he wasn't just calling logic 'evidence,' he was calling known logical fallacies 'evidence.' But he continued to insist that he'd provided "plenty" of evidence that his god exists.

Well, these kinds of arguments are very common. (I've mentioned some of them in my Non-Belief series.) With professional religious apologists, it can be difficult for us laymen to point out the logical fallacies in their practiced, polished arguments. But using that same argument in a different context, as this cartoon demonstrates, can often show its complete absurdity.

And give us something to laugh about, too. :)

PS. If you really want a more boring argument, maybe we could look at the "best possible" human being.

Now, how you define "best" is hard to say, since we all have many good qualities. Intelligence is certainly better than stupidity. Health is better than illness. Strength is better than weakness, etc.

But it's hard to imagine that the strongest person in the world is also the smartest - and the fastest, the kindest, the most generous, etc.  Even if that person is the strongest human being who could possibly live, he wouldn't be the best in everything. So you could imagine a person who was just as strong, but perhaps slightly more intelligent or slightly faster.

That would be a "better" human being, by our definitions, but he still wouldn't exist. So it seems pretty clear that the "best possible" human being does not exist. Does the "best possible being"? Not if humans are the only beings, certainly.

Show me evidence that a god exists and we'll talk again.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Chris Hayes destroys racist Bill O'Reilly rant

You can find the whole transcript here, but let me just quote one small part of this:
I don’t know if Bill O’Reilly is aware that everything he’s saying is easily debunked with about 20 minutes of Googling, but that’s not really the point. The real reason Bill O’Reilly peddles this stuff is because it gives a cheap, crack-like high to the old fearful white audience that watches Bill O’Reilly and gives Fox News its power—also known as the Republican base. These are the folks Bill O’Reilly is feeding when he laments not being able to criticize black culture.

Yup. Chris Hayes hits it right on the button. And if the hysteria since the election of Barack Obama hasn't been enough to demonstrate that racism is still alive and well in America, the response to George Zimmerman shooting an unarmed black teenager has confirmed it.

Well, Bill O'Reilly knows his audience. But whether Fox 'News' causes this kind of thing, or simply panders to the lowest impulses of our society - for money and political power - it's all pretty disgusting.

(Borrowed from Daily Kos)

Friday, July 26, 2013

"Medicus" by Ruth Downie

(cover image from

Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire (2006) by Ruth Downie is a sort of historical mystery, with lots of humor.

I've seen complaints online that the book isn't historically accurate, but I neither know nor care about that. I'm not sure how much we know about everyday life in Roman Britain, anyway.

And I'm not a fan of historical novels. I don't even care much about the mystery in mysteries. I read these books for the characters, and I loved the characters here. And the humor.

Gaius Petreius Ruso is a doctor with the Roman Legion - a divorced doctor who's struggling with money problems. So the last thing he needs is to get involved with an injured slave girl. But his compassion gets the better of him, and he's soon stuck with her.

At the same time, he tries to avoid investigating the death of two prostitutes - at least one a clear case of murder. But he can't seem to put that out of his mind, either.

There is a mystery here, but for me, the characters make the book. Ruso is a decent guy who's always in trouble. He has money problems - family problems, basically - which he keeps trying to focus on. But everything else keeps getting in the way.

Tilla, the native slave girl, has a very different point of view. The Romans are her enemy - not to mention being nearly incomprehensible, especially the doctor who rescued her. Of course, Ruso doesn't understand her, either. (For one thing, he thinks he bought a cook, but she doesn't know the first thing about that.)

Ruso's attitudes are almost certainly too modern for his time. But then, we might not like him so much, otherwise. He sees nothing wrong with slavery, but he's still a compassionate guy. So he struggles to do what's right, given that his society's idea of "what's right" conflicts with his general good nature. And all of this is presented not just sympathetically, but humorously.

I loved it. It's just light-weight entertainment, sure, but the book was lots of fun. And although I'm not a fan of historical fiction, the details of medical care in Roman times are fascinating. (Yes, the author claims in an afterward, the Romans did do cataract surgery.)

This is the first book of a series, so I'll definitely be continuing with the sequel. If your tastes are similar to mine, I'd recommend the book. If you're really into historical fiction or mysteries, I really don't know if you'd like it or not. Again, to me, this is all about the characters and the humor.

PS. More book reviews are here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Three urban fantasies

(cover image from

I've been reading a lot this week, so I'm going to combine brief reviews of three urban fantasies into one post. These are listed in the reverse order of which I read them, and in roughly the reverse order of my preference, too, although I enjoyed them all.

All three are set in the present day, where magic - and magical creatures - exist, unknown to most people.

Jim Butcher's Storm Front (2000) is the first in his popular Dresden File series. Harry Dresden is the only wizard listed in the Chicago phone book and is on retainer with the Chicago Police Department. Nevertheless - somehow - magic stays hidden from ordinary people, even when an evil wizard commits murder by causing his victims' hearts to explode out of their chests.

Pretty soon, everyone thinks that Dresden has done it,... for absolutely no reason at all, that I can see. Apparently, the police think it was him because he's the only wizard they know personally. And the White Council thinks that it was him because... they just don't like him, I guess.

Clearly, no one in this book seems to be very smart, and that includes Harry Dresden (who takes a very long time to put two and two together here). And although advertising as a wizard in the phone book is a clever hook, I suppose, that really doesn't make much sense, either.

Sure, Dresden is a good guy, and as light-weight entertainment, this book is fun. But I wasn't overly impressed. I'll read the next in the series, but I liked the other two books here much better than this one.

Fated (2012) by Benedict Jacka is a very similar kind of urban fantasy - so similar that he acknowledges the earlier book in the first few pages of this one: "I've even heard of one guy in Chicago who advertises in the phone book under 'Wizard,' though that's probably an urban legend."

The hero, Alex Verus, owns a magic shop in London. But he doesn't sell stage magic, just real magical items and potion ingredients. (Since this is also a world where magic is hidden from most people, he doesn't get many customers.)

Verus is a mage, himself - a diviner, which means he has the ability to see the future in terms of probabilities. By looking at the results of making different choices, he can select the one with the best outcome. He's basically the thinking man's wizard.

When his friend - a young woman who suffers from a hereditary curse - discovers a powerful magical item, Verus finds himself caught between extremely powerful Light and Dark mages, both willing to kill him if he doesn't help them,... and quite likely to kill him even if he does.

Dark mages are really nasty people who consider power to be all-important. All too many Light mages tend to be seduced by that idea, too. But even when they're not, they're too timid and/or too ineffective to fight back. (Hmm,... doesn't that really remind you of partisan politics here in America?)

This is a very similar idea to the Dresden Files, but I guess I just liked Alex Verus better than Harry Dresden. His friend, Luna, was really appealing, too. When they get trapped in a seemingly impossible situation, it takes some clever thinking - and teamwork - to get them out again. This is definitely a series I'll be continuing.

Midnight Riot (2011) by Ben Aaronovitch (also published as Rivers of London) is also an urban fantasy set in London, also in a world where magic exists, but is unknown to most people. But it's quite original ("vampires" in this book, for example, are very different from anything you've seen before).

Peter Grant is a probationary constable in the London Metropolitan Police, and while his attractive and capable friend is headed to the Murder Investigation Team, he seems destined to a life of data entry. Until he interviews a ghost who's witnessed a murder.

It turns out that Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale investigates crimes involving magic, and Peter becomes his only apprentice. There's plenty of danger involved, as they try to stop a vengeful ghost who causes people's faces to fall off (among other things), and the book gets more suspenseful than I expected. But it's also chock full of humor.

Plus, it's very different. Peter Grant is just a beginner at police work and magic, both. And although he's an appealing character, he's not especially skilled at either. The magical creatures he meets are quite unique, too. I was impressed by that. (My biggest problem with most fantasy is that it's so derivative, so much like other fantasy.)

The book isn't perfect, but I loved the humor in it. I also liked the fact that the situation went further into tragedy than I expected. Peter can't miraculously fix everything. Combine that with an appealing hero - indeed, a number of appealing characters - and I have to say that this is my favorite of these three books.

Of course, I read this one first, so maybe that has something to do with it.

PS. OK, no one reads a fantasy novel and thinks that it's real. I know that. And plenty of fiction tries to justify the setting, pretending to be something other than fiction (even though it's not actually meant to fool the reader).

But I'm allowed to have pet peeves, right? :)

Here's Fated:
You can think of magical talent as a pyramid. Making up the lowest and biggest layer are the normals. If magic is colours, these are the people born colourblind: they don't know anything about magic and they don't want to, thank you very much. They've got plenty of things to deal with already, and if they do see anything that might shake the way they look at things, they convince themselves they didn't see it double quick. This is maybe ninety percent of the adult civilised world.

Next up on the pyramid are the sensitives, the ones who aren't colour-blind. Sensitives are blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with a wider spectrum of vision than normals. They can feel the presence of magic, the distant power in the sun and the earth and the stars, the warmth and stability of an old family home, the lingering wisps of death and horror at a Dark ritual site. Most often, they don't have the words to describe what they feel,...

OK, obviously, that's complete bullshit. 99% of people reading that would be certain that they're one of the sensitive ones, when they'd just be gullible, suggestible, and very eager to think themselves special.

Of course, as I say, this is just fiction. People don't actually believe this. But they might spout such nonsense as "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." You see, most people want to believe in magic, even if it's not actually this magic, which they know is just fictional.

But that's not so bad, not compared to this, from Storm Front:
The end of the twentieth century and the dawn of the new millenium had seen something of a renaissance in the public awareness of the paranormal. Psychics, haunts, vampires - you name it. People still didn't take them seriously, but all the things Science had promised us hadn't come to pass. Disease was still a problem. Starvation was still a problem. Violence and crime and war were still problems. In spite of the advance of technology, things just hadn't changed the way everyone had hoped and thought they would.

Science, the largest religion of the twentieth century, had become somewhat tarnished by images of exploding space shuttles, crack babies, and a generation of complacent Americans who had allowed the television to raise their children. People were looking for something - I think they just didn't know what. And even though they were once again starting to open their eyes to the world of magic and the arcane that had been with them all the while, they still thought I must be some kind of joke.

OK, obviously, this is complete bullshit. Yes, I know I said that before, but this is really ridiculous, isn't it?

Again, it's just fiction. It's simply used to justify the situation. Fiction frequently does that, and it really doesn't mean anything. No one is going to read these books and think that magic is real. No one. But it still gets my goat, I guess.

Another thing I liked about Midnight Riot is that it doesn't do this. It doesn't even make a fictional attempt to justify itself. It is, after all, just fantasy fiction, so why should it? Even a skeptic like me can enjoy fantasy. And even the most gullible person in the world isn't going to confuse these books with reality.

PPS. Check out my other book reviews here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I'm back

Yeah, I'm here. I've had my computer in the shop - nothing major, just an intermittent problem I've been trying to track down. No big deal.

Of course, I haven't been posting much, anyway. It's summer, and I've been busy. But yesterday, it rained (finally!), so I got some reading done. I've read four books in the past few days, in fact. Now if I can just find the time to write reviews.

But I've also got to start netting my grapes - especially the early ones. Just as soon as I can get my raspberry canes tied up. And, well, lots of other stuff, too. What can I say? It's summer.

I can't wait for winter! :)

Friday, July 19, 2013

President Obama speaks on Trayvon Martin

I wanted to post this, because it's got right-wingers frothing at the mouth. Yeah, this. Incredible, isn't it? If someone like Barack Obama can generate this degree of hysteria, what must ordinary African Americans face every day?

For example, here is what Todd Starnes, a Fox 'News' host, posted on his Facebook page:
President Obama is now our Race-Baiter in Chief. His remarks today on the Trayvon Martin tragedy are beyond reprehensible.

Did he even listen to the speech? But the racists are cheering him on. Indeed, they're out in force on YouTube, as well. It's really pathetic.

I get frustrated with President Obama because he always bends over backwards trying to appeal to Republicans. But can you imagine the hysteria in this country if he didn't? Can you imagine how frantic the racists would be if he actually came across as the "angry black man" of their imaginations?

Remember when Clint Eastwood debated an imaginary Obama at the Republican National Convention? Well, they all do that. They all fill that chair with an imaginary black man. And they're all scared to death of that figment of their own imaginations, which bears no resemblance to the real person.

They're doing it again here. When this kind of speech gets the lunatics this worked up, when the haters throw tantrums even at something this mild and balanced,... well, clearly we have a long way to go when it comes to racism in America.

Elizabeth Warren kicks ass

Elizabeth Warren: "Well, let me put it this way: If you don't fight for it, the chances are zero."

I wish more Democrats thought like that!

And here she is talking about student loans:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How black people get away with everything

Racists claim that blacks, unlike whites, can get away with anything. Oh, we poor, poor white people, huh? (Frankly, that whining gets really embarrassing for most of us.)

And yes, Zimmerman supporters are actually claiming that he wouldn't have been charged at all if he'd been black. Can you believe that? How can they say something like that with a straight face? They have to know they're lying, don't they?

Or are they just that stupid? I know that faith-based people can believe anything if they really want to believe it, but aren't there any limits at all?

Forget about the anecdotes here. Anecdotal evidence isn't really evidence at all. But even without that research Ana Kasparian mentions, how could you be dumb enough to believe that black people are advantaged in a majority white nation?

Here's how Fox puts it:

I had to post that, just because it's Fox 'News.' But I've seen that here in Nebraska, too. The media are just desperate to show rioting black people. Yes, they have a narrative they're trying to push, but also, sensationalism sells. Fear sells.

Fox 'News' makes loads of money pushing irrational fear. Do you think that other media companies - corporations all - don't notice that? It's not just the NRA making money - from the gun and ammo manufacturers who back them - by pushing fear. Fear is very, very lucrative for many people.

And it's very useful for right-wing politicians, too - especially when we have a black president. Note that this isn't a conspiracy, because you don't need a conspiracy when everyone can see the benefits of pushing fear for themselves.

Tweeting your way out of Purgatory

Jesus and Mo has really been on a roll lately,... but you can't make this stuff up. Here's Ophelia Benson with the background on this:

Vatican offers ‘time off purgatory’ to followers of Pope Francis tweets

[gasp] On the one hand purgatory, on the other hand tweets.

In its latest attempt to keep up with the times the Vatican has married one of its oldest traditions to the world of social media by offering “indulgences” to followers of Pope Francis’ tweets.

The church’s granted indulgences reduce the time Catholics believe they will have to spend in purgatory after they have confessed and been absolved of their sins.

Reduce the time Catholics believe they will have to spend in purgatory? What good is that?? Surely the believers want the indulgences to reduce the actual time Catholics have to spend in purgatory. I wonder if that’s the actual deal, or if it’s just the reporter’s clumsy attempt to say that some people don’t believe in purgatory. ...

Oh dear god, how can anyone take them seriously? It makes as much sense as taking Sylvia Browne seriously.

No kidding! Indulgences? I remember reading about them in history class, but I thought that ended with the Middle Ages (as the Catholic Church should have ended then, too).

But I guess you can believe in anything when you've been raised to believe it, huh? The sad thing is that non-Catholics will eagerly laugh at this, while believing similarly insane things when it's their own religion.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

George Zimmerman... acquitted

I wasn't greatly surprised by this verdict, given Florida's loony, NRA-sponsored gun laws. As long as you make sure to kill the person you're shooting, so there are no eye-witnesses, you can claim anything you want.

And sure, George Zimmerman might have been scared. So what? Trayvon Martin was probably scared, too - with a lot more reason, as it turned out.

Zimmerman tracked down an unarmed teenager who was minding his own business (or, as it's called in the criminal world, 'walking while black'), got out of his vehicle, accosted the unarmed kid and shot him dead.

Without a gun, Zimmerman would never have done any of this. Without a gun, he would have obeyed police orders. Without a gun, he would have stayed in his vehicle and never confronted Martin at all.

But if he'd still done all that, without a gun, no one would have died.

And now that an innocent teenager is dead for no reason, now that his killer has been acquitted - because he claimed to have been scared - that killer can get his gun back and continue to confront unarmed kids again, if he wants.

This is absolutely incredible, isn't it? It's just mind-blowing!

Well, I suspect that Trayvon Martin will be the last black teenager to walk Florida sidewalks without a gun of his own, don't you? Then, you'll just have to make sure you get scared before the other guy does! (Of course, as the NRA always tells us, that will just make us all safer.)

But note, as John Oliver points out, when you're in Florida and you pull a gun, make sure you kill the person who scares you, even if he's unarmed. Because if you just shoot to scare him, you're going to be in big, big trouble!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Viscera Cleanup Detail

Sorry I haven't been posting lately. As you can see, I've been busy. :)

Nah, that's not me. In fact, that makes most of the jobs I've had seem pretty good (not all of them, but most).

But, sometimes, all jobs get to feel like that, don't they? And, sometimes, we all get a little crazy. I can sympathize with this janitor, I really can.

But he's definitely going to get fired. No doubt about that.

PS. Here's the game. It's still in 'early alpha,' apparently, and I don't know what they've got planned. It's pretty funny as is, though - at least, if you're a gamer.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why can't you leave religion alone?

Jesus and Mo offers a hat tip to The Thinking Atheist, who notes, in part:
It's everywhere. Religion is a pounding drum that has gone mostly unanswered for a long, long time. And religion is not satisfied with merely existing quietly in the homes and hearts of the faithful. Its very nature compels the believer to proselytize, preach, promote, convince, convert and prevail. If you play on the team of the religious, your game plan is to stay, always, on offense.

Throughout our history, those who raise a simple hand of protest against these advances have been portrayed as the real problem. Religion has attempted to marginalize and defeat legitimate questions and concerns by indignantly portraying any resistors as misguided, immoral, rudderless, angry, miserable, lost and alone.

And when skepticism challenges wildly improbable (or impossible) stories found in the bible, the Qur'an and other holy books, the religious wail, "Why can't you just leave us alone?"

The irony is thick.

PS. And lest you think it's just Christianity and Islam which are the problem, check this out:
In 2009 Hindu extremists attacked women in a fashionable bar in the nearby city of Mangalore, accusing them of “debauched behaviour” for drinking and smoking.

They followed up with a warning that any couples courting on Valentine’s Day risked being frog-marched to the nearest temple and forced to marry.

Of course, it's the extremists in every religion who are the big problem. But moderates, who also believe by faith, provide cover for the crazies - those people who really believe, instead of just giving it lip service.

Don't get me wrong. We can live with religious believers who strongly support freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. Absolutely!

But faith is still a vice, not a virtue. And faith-based thinking is a terrible way to determine the truth of anything.

We're social animals, and most of what we do affects other people. So accepting reality, and trying to make sure our beliefs are actually true, has a big impact on society, not just on our own lives. That may be especially the case in democracies, but it's true everywhere.

This is why we can't leave religion alone. Certainly, religion won't leave us alone, especially when it gets the political power to do what it wants.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Non-Belief, Pt. 12: Proving God through Philosophy

I commonly ask religious believers if they have a good reason to believe that their god - or any god - actually exists. I'm a skeptic, so by "reason," I normally mean evidence. And by "evidence," I mean something which can't easily be explained as delusion or wishful-thinking.

So far, the answer has been "no." But I keep asking, because I'm always interested in the replies I get.

Frequently, I'll get an argument from ignorance: "Well, where did everything come from, if not from God?" But just because we don't know everything, that doesn't mean you can just make up your own explanation.

Centuries ago, we didn't know what the Sun was, so people decided that it must be a god - perhaps driving a golden chariot across the skies. The big theological question back then was, "Where does the Sun go at night?" Yes, that was a... burning theological question (if you'll excuse the pun) for centuries.

Well, if the Sun wasn't a god, what was it, then? Proto-scientists couldn't explain it, therefore it must be a god, right? Wrong. That's an argument from ignorance.

Often, I'll get 'evidence' that's not really evidence at all. The Bible, for example, isn't evidence. Nor is the Koran, or any other 'holy book.' If you think that one of them is evidence, do you think that all of them are evidence? I doubt it.

Feelings aren't evidence, either. Feelings exist, certainly, but they can be easily explained as delusion or wishful-thinking (and simply as human nature, since believers of all religions feel that their religion must be true).

Unusual events aren't necessarily evidence, either, even if they can be documented and independently verified (which is rare). In a world of 7 billion people, with uncounted numbers of events happening every second, unusual events are the norm. Learn statistics.

So if you can't use evidence - because you don't have any - to back up your beliefs, what can you use? Well, there's always philosophy, right?

(Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)

OK, you can probably see what I think about philosophy. :)  I tend to agree with PZ Myers when he says this:
What’s missing in philosophy is that anvil of reality — that something to push against that allows us to test our conclusions against something other than internal consistency. It means philosophy is excellent at solving imaginary problems (which may be essential for understanding more mundane concerns), while science is excellent at solving the narrower domain of real problems. Science has something philosophy lacks: a solid foundation in empiricism. That’s a strength, not a weakness.

Science is evidence-based, which keeps it grounded in the real world. That's why science advances. That's why we've seen such incredible progress in science, because each step is built on a firm foundation of evidence.

Philosophy doesn't have that. Philosophy can build an imposing logical structure, but if it's all built on sand, it's just imaginary, not real. Sure, if you want to admit that your god is just imaginary, you'll get no argument from me. But if you want to claim that he's real, that's different.

I'll admit right from the start that I don't know much about philosophy, so that's not going to be my main argument here. However, when people tell you that they can prove God exists, they're normally talking about philosophical proofs.

Science is about evidence, not proof. In science, nothing can be "proved" to the extent that contrary evidence would be disregarded. In science, everything is open to further investigation.

I go further and claim that we can't actually "prove" anything when it comes to the real world. Can we prove that the Earth is round? How do you know that the Earth exists at all? We could all be living in a computer simulation. Or you could be a brain in a bottle, just hallucinating all this.

And if you accept the possibility of an omniscient, omnipotent god, he could do anything - by definition - including convincing all of humanity that the Earth is round, rather than flat. (Maybe God just has a weird sense of humor? At any rate, "God works in mysterious ways.")

No matter how much evidence we have, there are always other explanations which could be true. It's very unlike that they are true, though. And as a practical matter, if you expect to live any kind of rational life, we really need to go with the evidence.

So when religious apologists claim they can "prove" that their god exists, they're usually talking about philosophical proofs. Professional apologists produce slick videos and use clever patter in practiced debates, where they use arguments which sound very impressive to the uninformed. Well, how many of us know much about philosophy? Not me.

You can research the most common arguments - the ontological argument, the cosmological argument (and a variant, the Kalam cosmological argument), the transcendental argument, etc. - if you find that sort of thing interesting. Iron is a good resource for this.

As these arguments are refuted, they tend to get revised by apologists who simply believe what they believe and are desperate to convince you, too. If their arguments are proven wrong, they'll just find new arguments. But the old arguments never go away, because they remain useful to convince the ignorant. (They still sound impressive if you don't know where the logical fallacies lie.)

And believers - including anonymous commenters here - will often cut and paste arguments which they, themselves, don't understand. They've seen it elsewhere, and it sounded impressive. More to the point, it seemed to back up what they want to believe (almost always, what they were raised to believe).

Sure, you can check out Iron for reasons why a particular philosophical argument is wrong. You can even study philosophy yourself, if that's what you want. But I'm not particularly interested in philosophy, and it seems to me that there are easier ways to refute such nonsense.

As I noted, I prefer science, rather than philosophy, because science is evidence-based, and that keeps scientists grounded in the real world. One of the big results of that is that scientists regularly come to a consensus on scientific issues.

We don't see different conclusions depending on whether a scientist was born in India, in Italy, in Russia, or in Mississippi, but rather a consensus among scientists worldwide who've all been convinced by the evidence.

This doesn't mean that every single 'scientist' agrees (they're still human), and there's not a consensus on everything (if there were, we'd already know everything, so there'd be no need for further scientific research). But scientists do come to a consensus, because they're evidence-based.

So when it comes to questions of science, I don't have to be an expert in everything (which is impossible, anyway). I just have to understand the scientific method well enough to accept the scientific consensus, if there is one. (If there isn't, I simply reserve judgment.)

But what about questions of philosophy? Philosophy isn't evidence-based, so it's not grounded in the real world. And the result? Look at this poll of philosophers. Do you see a consensus on anything? They can't even get a simple majority to agree on many of those issues, and rarely much more than that.

So if you're going to 'prove' something using philosophy, you first need to explain why philosophers can't even agree among themselves, don't you think? Philosophers are the experts when it comes to philosophy. So what does it tell you when they can't even convince other philosophers?

And the really funny thing, when it comes to using philosophy to 'prove' God, is that one of the biggest areas of agreement among philosophers is that gods don't exist. That poll indicates that nearly 73% of philosophers are atheists (a very high percentage, compared to the lack of agreement among most other issues, don't you think?) versus only 15% who are theists. (Those theists, of course, include believers in all sorts of different gods, not just the Christian one, let alone the particular god of a particular Christian sect.)

So when a Christian apologist claims to be able to prove that God exists - his own god, of course - using a philosophical 'proof,' do you really need to refute that argument? Or can you just ask why, if what he's saying is true, that philosophers themselves overwhelmingly disagree?

Similarly, I'll frequently hear Creationists claim that they can disprove evolution. And if you don't know much about evolution yourself, maybe you'll believe them. But biologists - the experts in that particular field of expertise - overwhelmingly disagree.

When the people who know the most about a particular scientific issue are the least likely to agree with you, what are the rest of us to think? When you can mostly convince people who don't have a clue - people with little education and no background in that particular field - what does that say about your argument?

Well, this is the same way. Philosophers don't come to a consensus the way scientists do, and that's one reason to be wary of philosophical 'proofs' in the first place. But when you can supposedly 'prove' that God exists using philosophy, please explain why philosophers overwhelmingly disagree with you.

What you'll find is that these Christian apologists only convince the ignorant. Rather, they only convince people who already believe in that particular god. None of those people have been convinced by the argument itself, because they already believe for other reasons (normally, because they were raised to believe it, so they really, really want to believe it).

For the rest of us, it's hard to take a philosophical argument seriously when philosophers themselves overwhelmingly disagree. Until you can explain that, there's really no reason to investigate further, don't you think?

Note: the rest of my Non-Belief series is here.

Hitchens vs God (no contest)

This is from 2010, but... I still miss Christopher Hitchens.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Catholic Church shielded pedophile priests

Yeah, this certainly isn't a surprise, but it's always good to get additional documentation:
Roman Catholic Church officials in Milwaukee vigorously shielded pedophile priests and protected church funds from lawsuits during a decades-long sex abuse scandal, according to hundreds of newly released documents.

The documents include letters and deposition testimony from Cardinal and Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan who, during his time as archbishop of Milwaukee from 2002 to 2009, appealed to Vatican on numerous occasions to help address the ongoing fallout from the scandal.

The 6,000 pages of documents related to eight decades of abuse cases showed in great detail the Milwaukee archdiocese regularly reassigned priests who were accused of sexual molestation to new parishes and Dolan himself asking the Vatican permission to transfer $57 million to a trust fund to protect it against court action.

So we can't be moral without 'God,' huh? Well, maybe churches should demonstrate that they can be moral with God. I'd stack my own morality up against that of the Catholic Church any day of the week!

If a priest can behave like this, you have to wonder what their god can do for ordinary people, don't you? But more than that, this demonstrates that Catholic officials care more for the church itself than for the church's members.

Well, those celibate old men have given up everything for the Catholic Church, haven't they? They don't have families, and they're not supposed to have a sex life. The church is not just a job, but their home, their family, their everything. What are someone else's children compared to that?

This is the problem with valuing an organization over people. If you'll move pedophiles to unsuspecting parishes in order to protect the institution, not caring at all about raped children, what won't you do?

Yeah, I know. This isn't your religion, right? (Or maybe it is. For some reason, Catholics stay Catholic, despite all this.)

But even Christians can't all agree on what Christianity is. Christians can't even come to a consensus on their own religion, let alone all the other religions in the world. That's because religion is faith-based, not evidence-based, so you just believe whatever you want to believe (almost always, what you were raised to believe).

If Christians had a good reason to believe what they believe, they wouldn't need faith. (And if they had a good reason - even one - they'd be quick to point it out to us atheists, too.)

So don't try to tell me that I can't be moral without God. And before you try to convince me your religious beliefs are true, maybe you believers should first get together and agree on what's true and what isn't. If you can't even come to a consensus among yourselves, why should I take you seriously?

Time to face reality, Darwinists

Yes, Ray Comfort has a new video out which will "shatter the faith of the average believer in evolution."

Really, Banana Man? Like how you proved 'God' based on how perfect a domesticated fruit is? You see, Ray Comfort is so ignorant about science he didn't even realize that the wild banana is not what you find in your grocery stores.

But this is the guy who's going to disprove evolution? I'm sure the Nobel Prize Committee is paying close attention. :)

From the Christian News Network:
A major evangelistic ministry is preparing to launch a 30-minute documentary that Christian leaders say will offer a “devastating,” “lights out” challenge to the evolutionary worldview. ...

The main premise behind “Evolution vs. God” is that top evolutionary scientists cannot convincingly support their theory, and instead rely heavily on unfounded assumptions. Even when Comfort personally interviews influential evolutionists from major universities in the film (such as well-known atheist PZ Myers), they are unable to satisfyingly answer Comfort’s prodding questions.

“As you will see on “Evolution vs. God,”” Comfort stated, “not one of the experts could give me a whisper of evidence for Darwinian evolution. The movie is going to shatter the faith of the average believer in evolution, and strengthen the faith of every Christian.”

There's a reason why this talks about the opinions of Christian leaders, rather than biologists, because biologists actually know something about evolution.

Here, for example, is "well-known atheist" - and biology professor - PZ Myers:
I was one of those scientists. NO, I did not disagree with Dawkins about evolution or the evidence for evolution; NO, nothing I said provided any support to creationist claims; NO, there is not a lack of evidence for evolution.

What actually happened is that I briefly discussed the evidence for evolution — genetics and molecular biology of fish, transitional fossils, known phylogenies relating extant groups, and experimental work done on bacterial evolution in the lab, and Ray Comfort simply denied it all — the bacteria were still bacteria, the fish were still fish. I suspect the other scientists did likewise: we provided the evidence, Ray Comfort simply closed his eyes and denied it all.

And, of course, Comfort took those interviews, selected a few sentences out of context, and put them in his video to back up what he already believed - and has been trying to convince others his entire adult life.

Why would you listen to a religious leader about science, anyway? Why wouldn't you listen to scientists? Scientists at least know something - generally, a lot - about their own fields of expertise.

Western scientists were also overwhelmingly Christian when Darwin first proposed natural selection as the mechanism for an evolution they already could see in the fossil record. Christian churches, of course, all opposed it. Would 'God' choose such a horrible, bloodthirsty, wasteful process for his creation?

But scientists were convinced by the evidence, which has just gotten more and more overwhelming in the 150 years since then. How overwhelming? Well, overwhelming enough that most mainstream Christian denominations officially accept Darwinian evolution now, too.

Sure, they weasel around it. They claim that human evolution must have been "guided" by their god, despite the lack of evidence for that - and plenty of evidence against it.

But just as they were forced to accept that the Earth revolved around the Sun, despite what the Bible says (since arresting Galileo and threatening him with death didn't stop the progress of science), they were forced to accept the reality of evolution, too - though they don't like it much.

So you can accept science without giving up superstition, though you might have to modify your beliefs a bit. You'd also have to ignore the implications of evolution, and you'll certainly have to ignore the successes of evidence-based thinking, compared to the continuing failures of faith-based thinking, but you can do it.

But the really funny thing about all this is that, even if Ray Comfort could disprove evolution - and win a Nobel Prize, and become the most famous scientist since Einstein - that would do nothing to advance any belief in gods.

Evolution could be completely wrong, despite the abundant evidence, and it still wouldn't be evidence for a god. If evolution were proved wrong, the very best you could say is, "we don't know." In order to demonstrate that a god did it, you'd have to provide evidence backing up your claim. Disproving other claims - even if you could do it - wouldn't get you even one step closer to that.

But, despite what he says, Ray Comfort's video isn't designed to convince people who currently accept science. It's just designed to make believers feel better. And to get more donations from the faithful, no doubt.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Seth Andrews: Get them while they're young

Great, isn't it? This was a talk at the Oklahoma Freethought Convention in Oklahoma City a couple of weeks ago. There are others here. I haven't had time to watch them all yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

I've got Step One covered

I just can't figure out why I don't have more readers. Clearly, I've got Step One covered, right?  Hmm,... I must be falling down on Step Two, whatever that is. :)

Monday, July 1, 2013

That's interesting... blot stats

Yeah, I haven't been blogging much this summer, and my blog stats show it. Actually, they dropped last summer and never recovered much. But they're not looking great now, either.

No problem. I'm sure I repeat myself. And I write this for me, mostly - just a way to get things off my chest. A good rant never hurt anyone, right? :)

But I do glance at my stats each week, both from StatCounter and the internal stats here. And for the past couple of weeks, my post with the most 'hits' - by far - is this one, from a year and a half ago, about "Mitt Romney's Bain Capital problem."

Why? I have absolutely no idea. Has there been something new in the news about that? If so, I haven't seen it. And I did a search myself without finding anything recent, at least at the top of the results. Blogger also lists the "search keywords" which presumably led people to my blog, but there's nothing even remotely relevant there, either.

Weird, isn't it? I'm happy enough for that particular post to get hits, because it's a long post, drawing from a variety of sources, leading up to a point. But as I note there, it's mostly just an introduction to my follow-up post on "Our Bain Capital problem" - and that one hasn't had any hits at all (well, not many, at least).

This stuff isn't important, I know, but it's strange, isn't it? Normally - almost every week - my most popular post is the one I wrote about house sparrows. Yeah, that's one of only six posts I've written which are even loosely connected to birds (this isn't exactly a nature blog), but apparently a lot of people in the world are looking for information about sparrows and find themselves here. (I'll bet they're surprised by that!)

But not last week. That house sparrows post wasn't even in the top ten last week. I guess, for some reason, all those people who normally search for sparrows suddenly lost interest last week, instead becoming curious about a failed presidential candidate's past business dealings.

Or is Blogger just making all this stuff up? :)

One neat thing I discovered today was that a link to my post about "How to deal with sexism" was added to the description (at YouTube) of one of the videos I embedded there. I didn't get a ton of hits from that, but apparently 19 people clicked on that link last week. (I thought it was neat because the link was posted at all, not so much from the traffic I got.)

Week after week, most of the hits I get - at least when it comes to older posts - are about computer games. Mostly, people seem to be looking for information about less commercial games - Dwarf Fortress (always popular), Cataclysm, UnReal World, etc. That's understandable, and it's great, too.

Unfortunately, these are games which are still in development - and continue in development for years and years, in fact - so I'm not sure how much help my older posts will be. Still, that apparently leads to hits on my computer games page, too - at least, that tends to be the most popular of those pages - so it's all good. :)

OK, none of this is important to anyone but me. Actually, it's not even very important to me, but I find it interesting. When it comes to blog stats, I understand some of this,... but some of it makes no sense at all. Well, maybe if I knew why people were suddenly interested in "Mitt Romney's Bain Capital problem," it would make sense, huh?

Any ideas?