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31 January 2011

Why are YOUR ideas too precious?

So there is this thing going around the intertubes where some muslim will post a koran passage that supposedly proves some scientific principle.  I have been amused that not only do skeptics and atheists totally tear the passage apart, but so do christians!  For instance, take this page (just the first google page I found, no specific reason for choosing it) that claims things like:
1. For example, in the Quran, Allah mentioned about many many scientific issues that no man would know at that era of the Prophet. Among these facts, is the origin of the human infant? In the Quran, it was mentioned the first that is formed after the spermal fluid is the bone. Then the flesh created to cover the bone. When the theory of the scientists for hundreds of years, was that the first that is formed of the infant was the flesh, then the flesh strengthened and became bone. That theory was recently falsified, when the Quran told us about it hundreds of years ago.

So it's known the theory that has been used for hundreds of years that claimed that the first thing that is formed in the human was the bone than flesh... It's a fact that the scientists discovered recently what the Quran told about hundreds of years ago.

How the fetus is developed and how the leech changes to an embryo and goes through the different stages and nourishes. You may refer to the verse in Quran [in Chapter al-Mu'mineen verse 14].

2. The Quran also talks about water barriers, and how it does not mix. Sweet water does not mix with salty water. This was also discovered recently in the seas and oceans.
Hence, Prophet Muhammad told more than 1400 years ago about a barrier between two bodies of flowing water and that they don't mix. When was such information discovered and known to the People?
Such issues prove to those who want the pure truth, that the Quran is a true message from Allah, and not the word of a human or an angel; rather it's the speech of Allah, the creator of the creations. And it's the true book that calls to the true Religion.
Refer to scientific researches about this issue.

3. Another fact, the Prophet himself told about fire (by revelation from angel Gabriel). He said that the last state of fire is dim black when scientific theory was that the fire's last state is red color. Scientists discovered, that fire if heated strongly, it will become dim black, that fact was discovered also recently and had falsified their previous theory, and Prophet Muhammad had told us about that about 1400 years ago in al-Quran.

4. And many issues like this that the Quran told about, which proves certainly that the Quran is a book revealed by Allah onto Prophet Muhammad, and cannot be made by human or angel.

In the year 1910, a chemist known as "Madam Cory" she proved that the atom when bisected, forms energy. This had refuted the Theories that were in effect and used for over 2000 years, by the scientists of that field.

From this, the chemists invented the atomic bomb, and proved that after the explosion of the bomb, they observed that the fire at 5000 Fahrenheit is red, and at 12500 Fahrenheit and above, it turns to white, and at one million Fahrenheit the fire turns to black.

Muhammad the Prophet, that is unlettered, the Arabian, said more than 1400 years ago that: "hellfire was fueled for one thousand years to be red, and one thousand years to become white and one thousand years to become black, and now it's dim black". Who would have knew and confirmed that what the Prophet said was true or even had a meaning among the scientists hundreds of years ago?! Till around the year 1910, the scientists discover and observe what Prophet Muhammad told about, and that it was true.

Now to anyone outside of Islam, you can see it for what it is.  Rationalizations and interpretations, like a horoscope, made to fit your pre-conceived notions of what is true without anything else to draw on.  As I have already said, I have no problem per se with religion, it's the irrational thought that seems to be at the root of religion.  If someone critically examines a foolish belief held by someone else, whether it be islam, christianity, homeopathy, bigfoot, whatever, yet they can't see that they have a silly belief that is exactly the same level of silliness, is it a wonder that reaching them is a Herculean effort?

So, if christians can criticize and debunk muslim claims, why is it  that they have fits when those outside their world-view do the same to them?  Are they so hypocritical that they can't see the exact same behaviour?  Sometimes I wonder how they manage to go through the world without having their heads implode from the sheer weight of their self imposed stupidity about themselves, let alone the rest of the world.

30 January 2011

From the genius of Richard Feynman to the idiocy of Sarah Palin

I have a particular weak spot for education, and its dire state in the US.  Especially in the area of evolution, we seem to be getting dumber and dumber.  Which is amazing to think that we used to be a nation that was known for our great achievements in science, and that we had mental giants that symbolized to the world our greatness.  Now we are known for our fucktards and idiots.  On behalf of all Americans with an IQ that is above 100, I must apologize for these mental midgets that somehow got a hold of a microphone and camera.  It seems that we have a signal to noise ratio problem, and now we are becoming known as a nation of ignorant, red-neck theitards.  I'm sorry.

Bad science education in the US

I am completely unsurprised by the recent report on the state of evolution in the American science classroom. It confirms entirely my impressions from years of freshman college students and from previous studies of the subject, and puts specific numbers and issues to the problem.

The short summary: public schools suck at teaching basic biology. You already knew this, too, though, didn't you? The question has always been, "How bad?"

We can now say how many high school biology teachers do a good job, teaching the recommendations of the National Research Council and also, by the way, obeying the requirements of most state science standards: 28%. About a quarter of our biology teachers are actually discussing the evidence that evolution occurred and using evolution as a theme to integrate the components of a good year of biology instruction. And since most school curricula only include one year of life science, that effectively means that only about a quarter of our high school graduates are even exposed to evolutionary biology.

There's also another problem. 13% of our biology teachers are openly and unashamedly creationists who teach creationism in the classroom. That number varies, by the way, with the political leanings of the citizens of the school district: 40% of the teachers in conservative school districts reject evolution entirely, while "only" 11% in liberal areas do. This is a disaster. This is active, ongoing miseducation and misrepresentation of science by the teachers we entrust with our children.

What about the rest? 60% of our teachers do nothing: they teach the bare minimum of evolution that they can get away with, focusing on details of genetics and molecular biology that allow them to avoid the more obvious implications (which shouldn't happen, either; the molecular evidence for evolution is powerful stuff), or they allow it to slip off the schedule of lesson plans. They're afraid, and rightly so, of aggressive, nasty, privileged religious parents who will make their life hellish if they do their job properly.

The paper did surprise me in one way. It made a very strong statement about those timid teachers in the 60%:
The cautious 60% may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists. The strategies of emphasizing microevolution, justifying the curriculum on the basis of state-wide tests, or "teaching the controversy" all undermine the legitimacy of findings that are well established by the combination of peer review and replication. These teachers fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts, and legitimize creationist arguments, even if unintentionally.

29 January 2011

Thomas Paine: Age of Reason

So a discussion happened about Thomas Paine.  For those who went to school in Texas (or any other fundy dominated part of the US), Thomas Paine is considered a "Founding Father" and a pretty smart guy.  He wrote many works that were considered the bedrock upon which this country was founded on.  One book he wrote was called Common Sense, which could serve as a warning to our modern political system. Common Sense is worth a glance, if anyone is interested. Although it isn't as heavily focused on religion as Age of Reason, it has a few gems.
It is of the utmost danger to society to make it (religion) a party in political disputes.
Mingling religion with politics may be disavowed and reprobated by every inhabitant of America.
Anyway, Age of Reason should be part of everyone's library, especially as a counter to the "US is a Christian Nation" drivel that people seem to want to go on about here in the Theitard States of Amrika.  Thankfully, it should be easy for anyone to get their hands on this book now.  It is part of the most excellent Gutenberg Project.

From the Age of Reason Wikipedia page:
The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology is a deistic pamphlet, written by eighteenth-century British radical and American revolutionary Thomas Paine, that criticizes institutionalized religion and challenges the legitimacy of the Bible, the central sacred text of Christianity. Published in three parts in 1794, 1795, and 1807, it was a bestseller in the United States, where it caused a short-lived deistic revival. British audiences, however, fearing increased political radicalism as a result of the French Revolution, received it with more hostility. The Age of Reason presents common deistic arguments; for example, it highlights what Paine saw as corruption of the Christian Church and criticizes its efforts to acquire political power. Paine advocates reason in the place of revelation, leading him to reject miracles and to view the Bible as an ordinary piece of literature rather than as a divinely inspired text. It promotes natural religion and argues for the existence of a creator-God.

Most of Paine's arguments had long been available to the educated elite, but by presenting them in an engaging and irreverent style, he made deism appealing and accessible to a mass audience. The book was also inexpensive, putting it within the reach of a large number of buyers. Fearing the spread of what they viewed as potentially revolutionary ideas, the British government prosecuted printers and booksellers who tried to publish and distribute it. Paine nevertheless inspired and guided many British freethinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and his influence and spirit endures in the works of contemporary writers like Christopher Hitchens.

So, while Paine's above-described work was deistic, and presented various arguments purportedly in favour of a supernatural entity, it apparently contains a wholesale rejection of all the ideas expounded by religious fundamentalists today, such as the assertion that the United States was founded as a "Christian nation", the assertion that the Bible is "inerrant", and numerous others.

For those who want to access this work, not least in order to slap down fundies who assert that the United States was purportedly founded as a "Christian nation", the relevant Gutenberg Project link is this one.

And it would seem Bill Maher agrees:

27 January 2011 Scientific Links Between Homophobia and Repressed Homosexuality

All I can say is that this is in the "no surprise" category.  And having actual data back up an opinion is always nice.  I do wonder, what would a study reveal about straights who support gay rights?  My guess would be that there would be nothing statistically significant to be culled from that data (except perhaps a humanist viewpoint).  It always bothers me that the raging against homosexuals uses the same rhetoric as the raging against interracial marriages, or against civil rights for African-Americans (or any other minority for that matter).  It's like these bigots haven't thought of a new argument during the entire history of human rights struggles...  Oh yea, they haven't!

Anyway, enjoy the article.  I found it sort of funny in a sad kind of way.

Scientific Links Between Homophobia and Repressed Homosexuality

It often said that people who are loudest in their condemnations of homosexuality are probably hiding their own homosexuality. Anecdotes aren't data, however, so no manner how many homophobic bigots come out of the closet that wouldn't prove that there is a link between homophobia and repressed homosexuality.

Fortunately, we do have data -- real scientific data. There have been scientific studies which reveal strong links between being homophobic and harboring repressed homosexual urges or desires. This doesn't mean that every homophobic bigot is trying to repressed their own homosexuality, but it does make it a legitimate possibility and might be more common than is currently believed.
One of the most important lines of work in this area dates back to a 1996 article published in The Journal of Abnormal Psychology. In this empirical paper, researchers Henry Adams, Lester Wright, Jr., and Bethany Lohr from the University of Georgia report evidence that homophobic young males may secretly have gay urges.

In this study, 64 self-reported straight males with a mean age of 20.3 years were divided into two groups ("non-homophobic men" and "homophobic men") on the basis of their scores on a questionnaire measure of aversion to gay males. Here, homophobia was operationally defined as the degree of "dread" experienced when placed in close quarters with a homosexual--basically, how comfortable or uncomfortable the person was in interacting with gay people. (There is debate in the clinical literature about the semantics of this term, with some scholars introducing other constructs such as "homonegativism" to underscore the more cognitive nature of some people's antigay stance.)

Each participant then agreed to attach a penile plethysmograph to his, well, "lesser self." According to the authors, this plethysmograph device is "a mercury-in-rubber circumferential strain gauge used to measure erectile responses to sexual stimuli. When attached, changes in the circumference of the penis cause changes in the electrical resistance of the mercury column." Previous research with this apparatus (the plethsymograph, not the penis--well, actually both) confirmed that significant changes in circumference occur only during sexual stimulation and sleep.

Next, the participants were placed in a private chamber and presented with three 4-minute segments of graphic pornography. The three video snippets represented straight porn (scenes of fellatio and vaginal intercourse), lesbian porn (scenes of cunnilingus or tribadism), and gay male porn (scenes of fellatio and anal intercourse). Following each randomly ordered video presentation, the participant rated how sexually aroused he felt and also his degree of penile erection. Can you guess the results?

Both groups--non-homophobic and homophobic men--showed significant engorgement to the straight and lesbian porn and their subjective ratings of arousal matched their penile plethsymograph measure for these two types of video. However, as predicted, only the homophobic men showed a significant increase in penile circumference in response to the gay male porn: specifically, 26 percent of these homophobic men showed "moderate tumescence" (6-12 mm) to this video and 54 percent showed "definite tumescence" (more than 12 mm). (In contrast, for the non-homophobic men, these percentages were 10 and 24, respectively.) Furthermore, the homophobic men significantly underestimated their degree of sexual arousal to the gay male porn.

Source: Scientific American
There have been some attempts at alternative explanations for this data but the author is able to argue that they aren't very convincing. It's hard to find fault in the reasoning here: if you find something attractive which you also believe is evil or disgusting, then not only will you repress it but you'll act to eliminate it from view. You can't be tempted by something you both love and hate if you can't see or hear it anymore.

This connection between homophobia and violence is extremely disturbing. Being homophobic isn't just linked to repressed homosexual desires, it's also linked to an increased willingness to use violence against people for no other reason than that they are gay:
Some of the most startling data I've come across lately involve a 1998 survey of 500 straight males in the San Francisco, California area. Half of these men said they had acted aggressively in some way against homosexuals (and these were just the ones who admitted to such acts). And a third of those who hadn't struck out in this manner against gay people said that they would assault or harass a "homosexual who made a pass at them." If you missed the irony, this was in San Francisco--arguably one of the most "gay-friendly" places in the world!
In one experiment described by the author, homophobic men delivered electrical shocks of greater intensity and longer duration when they thought the victim was a gay man than when they thought it was a straight man -- and this was simply "punishment" for answering a question wrong. The homophobic men essentially lashed out against gay men they didn't know and had no connection to. The fact that they were gay was the sole reason for hurting them.

26 January 2011

Unweaving the Rainbow: Lottery of Life

Say what you will about Richard Dawkins, he does have a way with words.  I came across this passage from his book Unweaving the Rainbow, and found it a beautiful passage.  It's this sort of wonder and romanticism that debunks the oft referred to canard that knowing and understanding science leaves one unromantic or jaded.  If anything, it heightens one's amazement at how lucky we really are, and paints a much more grand view of the universe than some primitive bronze age fable.  Anyway, I highly recommend the book.  And look at how wonderful, amazing, and rich the universe is without the need for some petty, unimaginative, impotent sociopath lording over us.
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. the potential people who could have been here in my place, but who will, in fact, never see the light of day, outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets then Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds, it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth, against all odds.

We live on a planet that is all but perfect for our kind of life: not too warm and not too cold, basking in kindly sunshine, softly watered; a gently ...spinning, green and gold harvest festival of a planet. Yes, and alas, there are deserts and slums; there is starvation and racking misery to be found. But take a look at the competition. Compared with most planets this is paradise, and parts of earth are still paradise by any standards. What are the odds that a planet picked at random would have these complaisant properties? Even the most optimistic calculation would put it at less than one in a million.

Imagine a spaceship full of sleeping explorers, deep-frozen would-be colonists of some distant world. Perhaps the ship is on a forlorn mission to save the species before an unstoppable comet, like the one that killed the dinosaurs, hits the home planet. The voyagers go into the deep-freeze soberly reckoning the odds against their spaceship's ever chancing upon a planet friendly to life. If one in a million planets is suitable at best, and it takes centuries to travel from each star to the next, the spaceship is pathetically unlikely to find a tolerable, let alone safe, haven for its sleeping cargo.

But imagine that the ship's robot pilot turns out to be unthinkably lucky. After millions of years the ship does find a planet capable of sustaining life: a planet of equable temperature, bathed in warm starshine, refreshed by oxygen and water. The passengers, Rip van Winkles, wake stumbling into the light. After a million years of sleep, here is a whole new fertile globe, a lush planet of warm pastures, sparkling streams and waterfalls, a world bountiful with creatures, darting through alien green felicity. Our travellers walk entranced, stupefied, unable to believe their unaccustomed senses or their luck.

The story asks for too much luck; it would never happen. And yet, isn't that what has happened to each one of us? We have woken after hundreds of millions of years asleep, defying astronomical odds. Admittedly we didn't arrive by spaceship, we arrived by being born, and we didn't burst conscious into the world but accumulated awareness gradually through babyhood. The fact that we slowly apprehend our world, rather than suddenly discover it, should not subtract from its wonder.

Of course I am playing tricks with the idea of luck, putting the cart before the horse. It is no accident that our kind of life finds itself on a planet whose temperature, rainfall and everything else are exactly right. If the planet were suitable for another kind of life, it is that other kind of life that would have evolved here. But we as individuals are still hugely blessed. Privileged, and not just privileged to enjoy our planet. More, we are granted the opportunity to understand why our eyes are open, and why they see what they do, in the short time before they close for ever.

After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn't it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? To put it the other way round, isn't it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?

25 January 2011

More Catholic Protection of Pedophiles (No Surprise)

Well, who would have thunk that the catholic church went out of their way to hide pedophile priests?  Colour me (NOT AT ALL) shocked...  I have never made any beefs about my dislike for the catholic church, but this is just totally despicable.  Of course, apologists and deluded sycophants will defend this despicable institution that would rather have people die from AIDS, or live in abject poverty and ignorance, or basically make them the subjects of a dictatorship run by a douchebag in a funny hat...  What the fuck does it take for people to see this so called religion for the total sham that it is?  Or as George Carlin said, BULLSHIT.

When it comes to bullshit, big-time, major league bullshit, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!

But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!
Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed. Results like these do not belong on the résumé of a Supreme Being. This is the kind of shit you'd expect from an office temp with a bad attitude. And just between you and me, in any decently-run universe, this guy would've been out on his all-powerful ass a long time ago.

Anyway, on to the story that got me totally pissed off.  And if you aren't pissed off by this sort of blatant violation of humanity (let alone the so called moral authority of the church), I think it's only right to dismiss you from humanity and catalog you as a sociopath and possibly an unintelligent drone...

Vatican warned Irish bishops not to report abuse

    This image shows a copy of a newly revealed 1997 letter from the Vatican, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to The Associated Press, war AP – This image shows a copy of a newly revealed 1997 letter from the Vatican, obtained by Irish broadcasters …
    DUBLIN – A 1997 letter from the Vatican warned Ireland's Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police — a disclosure that victims' groups described as "the smoking gun" needed to show that the church enforced a worldwide culture of covering up crimes by pedophile priests.

    The newly revealed letter, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to The Associated Press, documents the Vatican's rejection of a 1996 Irish church initiative to begin helping police identify pedophile priests following Ireland's first wave of publicly disclosed lawsuits.

    The letter undermines persistent Vatican claims, particularly when seeking to defend itself in U.S. lawsuits, that Rome never instructed local bishops to withhold evidence or suspicion of crimes from police. It instead emphasizes the church's right to handle all child-abuse allegations and determine punishments in house rather than give that power to civil authorities.

    Signed by the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, Pope John Paul II's diplomat to Ireland, the letter instructs Irish bishops that their new policy of making the reporting of suspected crimes mandatory "gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature."

    Storero wrote that canon law, which required abuse allegations and punishments to be handled within the church, "must be meticulously followed." Any bishops who tried to impose punishments outside the confines of canon law would face the "highly embarrassing" position of having their actions overturned on appeal in Rome, he wrote.

    Catholic officials in Ireland and the Vatican declined AP requests to comment on the letter, which RTE said it received from an Irish bishop.

    Child-abuse activists in Ireland said the 1997 letter demonstrates that the protection of pedophile priests from criminal investigation was not only sanctioned by Vatican leaders but ordered by them.

    "The letter is of huge international significance, because it shows that the Vatican's intention is to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities. And if that instruction applied here, it applied everywhere," said Colm O'Gorman, director of the Irish chapter of human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

    Joelle Casteix, a director of U.S. advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, described the letter as "the smoking gun we've been looking for."

    Casteix said it was certain to be cited by victims' lawyers seeking to pin responsibility directly on the Vatican rather than local dioceses. She said investigators long have sought such a document showing Vatican pressure on a group of bishops "thwarting any kind of justice for victims."

    "We now have evidence that the Vatican deliberately intervened to order bishops not to turn pedophile priests over to law enforcement," she said. "And for civil lawsuits, this letter shows what victims have been saying for dozens and dozens of years: What happened to them involved a concerted cover-up that went all the way to the top."

    To this day, the Vatican has not endorsed any of the Irish church's three major policy documents since 1996 on safeguarding children from clerical abuse. Irish taxpayers, rather than the church, have paid most of the euro1.5 billion ($2 billion) to more than 14,000 abuse claimants dating back to the 1940s.

    In his 2010 pastoral letter to Ireland's Catholics condemning pedophiles in the ranks, Pope Benedict XVI faulted bishops for failing to follow canon law and offered no explicit endorsement of Irish child-protection efforts by the Irish church or state. Benedict was widely criticized in Ireland for failing to admit any Vatican role in covering up the truth.

    O'Gorman — who was raped repeatedly by an Irish priest in the 1980s when he was an altar boy and was among the first victims to speak out in the mid-1990s — said evidence is growing that some Irish bishops continued to follow the 1997 Vatican instructions and withheld reports of crimes against children as recently as 2008.

    Two state-commissioned reports published in 2009 — into the Dublin Archdiocese and workhouse-style Catholic institutions for children — unveiled decades of cover-ups of abuse involving tens of thousands of Irish children since the 1930s.

    A third major state-ordered investigation into Catholic abuse cover-ups, concerning the southwest Irish Diocese of Cloyne, is expected to be published in the next few months documenting the concealment of crimes as recently as 2008.

    Irish church leaders didn't begin telling police about suspected pedophile priests until the mid-1990s after the first major scandal — involving the Rev. Brendan Smyth, who had raped dozens of children while the church transferred him to parishes in Dublin, Belfast, Rhode Island and North Dakota — triggered the collapse of the Irish government. That national shock, in turn, inspired the first victims to begin suing the church publicly.
    In January 1996, Irish bishops published a groundbreaking policy document spelling out their newfound determination to report all suspected abuse cases to police.

    But in his January 1997 letter seen Tuesday by the AP, Storero told the bishops that a senior church panel in Rome, the Congregation for the Clergy, had decided that the Irish church's policy of "mandatory" reporting of abuse claims conflicted with canon law.

    Storero emphasized in the letter that the Irish church's policy was not recognized by the Vatican and was "merely a study document."

    Storero warned that bishops who followed the Irish child-protection policy and reported a priest's suspected crimes to police risked having their in-house punishments of the priest overturned by the Congregation for the Clergy.

    The 2009 Dublin Archdiocese report found that this actually happened in the case of Tony Walsh, one of Dublin's most notorious pedophiles, who used his role as an Elvis impersonator in a popular "All Priests Show" to get closer to kids.

    Walsh was kicked out of the priesthood by a secret Dublin church court in 1993 but successfully appealed the punishment to a Vatican court, which reinstated him to the priesthood in 1994. He raped a boy in a pub restroom at his grandfather's wake that year. Walsh since has received a series of prison sentences, most recently a 12-year term imposed last month. Investigators estimate he raped or molested more than 100 children.

    Storero's 1997 letter — originally obtained by the RTE religious affairs program "Would You Believe?" — said the Congregation for the Clergy was pursuing "a global study" of sexual-abuse policies and would establish worldwide child-protection policies "at the appropriate time."

    Today, the Vatican's child-protection policies remain in legal limbo.

    The Vatican does advise bishops worldwide to report crimes to police — in a legally nonbinding guide on its website. This recourse is omitted from the official legal advice provided by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and updated last summer. That powerful policymaking body continues to stress the secrecy of canon law.

    The central message of Storero's letter was reported secondhand in the 2009 Dublin Archdiocese report. The letter itself, marked "strictly confidential," has never been published before.

    24 January 2011


    Something that I have heard quite often from theitards is that science, and scientists are arrogant.  This pisses me off, not only because it's totally wrong, but is also an incredibly hypocritical statement by theitards.  First a couple of Carl Sagan quotes:
    Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?
    In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.
    Now, who is more humble?  The science that not only bases itself on reality, but also allows for change, and understands that science doesn't actually know everything.  Whereas the theitard KNOWS all the answers based on bronze age fables that are immutable over thousands of years, despite contradicting evidence...  Oh yes, how "arrogant" of scientists to listen to reality instead of mythological blind assertions. How "arrogant" of scientists to dare to contradict the wibble contained in Bronze Age mythology, because their experiments tell them that said wibble is a crock of shit. How "arrogant" of scientists to provide real, substantive knowledge that has done more for humanity in 300 years than supernaturalism has done in 5,000.

    When your mythology can provide something even remotely akin to the elimination of smallpox, manned spaceflight, successful life saving organ transplants, teraflop supercomputing and elucidation of the secrets of organismal genomes, we'll take notice. Until then, we'll sit by and notice how science has provided all of the above, and that mythology is an intellectual eunuch by comparison.

    23 January 2011

    Observation and Instruments

    Over at Rational Skepticism, I found this post and it was a very nice analogy.  Keep in mind that it IS an analogy, so therefore it will break down at some level, but it's a good thing to think on.  It also goes that self-declared authorities on the nature and desires of logically inconsistent imagined entities should not be afforded the right or privilege of defining the conditions by which claims for the existence of such entities can be disproved.  Which then gives rise to all those rules that justify continuing to use a flawed set of tools for some things - like the contemplation of "the divine" - while simultaneously using a completely different set of tools (which actually work) when one needs to interact with the world in a reliable way.

    Imagine you are a carpenter's apprentice. One day, the carpenter gives you a ruler and tells you to go find a four-inch long piece of stock in a large bin full of cut wood. Your boss insists you must use only the ruler he has given you to measure pieces of wood until you find one that the ruler measures as 4 inches long. However, upon inspection, you discover that the ruler is flawed. Sometimes it reads one measure, sometimes it reads another. It becomes clear that, using the provided ruler, you will never be able to be certain that a given piece of wood has any particular length, 4 inches or otherwise.

    You go back to the carpenter and show him the flawed ruler. He disagrees with you. The ruler has been passed down to him from every master carpenter since the first master carpenter ever, and it cannot be flawed. But since you have told him you cannot find a 4 inch long piece of stock, he now charges you to prove - using the same ruler - that there exists no 4 inch piece of stock in the bin.

    It ought to be clear that this is an unreasonable demand. Your criticism of the instrument did not make any claims about the pieces of stock, so your boss has misrepresented your claim. And, given that the instrument is not sound enough to prove that any piece of wood has any particular length, it is totally unreasonable for anyone to demand you use it to disprove the existence of anything.

    Next, suppose your boss tells you to go back to the now-hated bin of wood stock and bring him the most perfect piece of stock in the bin. You bring him piece after piece, but each time he shakes his head, sighs at the ineptitude of his apprentice, and sends you back to the bin to look again. Finally you ask him exactly what he means by perfect. He tells you that you must find the piece of wood that is the essence of wood stock, the piece that is in every other piece of wood, but stands above and outside of them all.

    At this point, it becomes clear that the carpenter has once again given you an impossible task. The piece of wood he has asked you to find is not, in fact, a piece of wood at all, but an idea. But he has also charged you to bring him back an object. An abstract idea that is also an object defies basic logic, because it cannot be itself. No objective piece of wood can be the ideal piece of wood, because objects have definite physical proportions, but idealizations of entire categories of objects by definition do not. Idealizations of objects have had the incidental details such as the specifics of their physical dimensions removed in the process of abstraction.

    However, in this case, the carpenter has not given you a flawed physical instrument. He has given you a flawed logical instrument. Whereas, in the first case, it might have been possible to create a reliable ruler, because the theory of measurement of length is logically sound, in this case it is not possible - even in principle - to create a physical instrument that can find the ideal piece of wood, because the logical instrument - the theoretical description of the object sought - is not logically consistent. At this point, it ought to be clear that there is no point in returning to the wood bin and looking for the ideal piece of wood. In this case, the apprentice would be justified in claiming, without any further investigation, that the ideal piece of wood does not objectively exist.

    So it goes with any claim about the empirical existence of logically impossible beings. Without a well-defined logical instrument to define it, a being cannot exist objectively.

    22 January 2011

    Anti-theist / atheist / science videos I enjoy

    Over at Rational Skepticism, there is a thread about different types of videos that folks enjoy.  I really enjoyed the thread, and it had a lot of great videos highlighted in it.  Here some are for your enjoyment.  Of course, these are only a few of the videos from the RatSkep forum.  Also, don't think that just because I enjoyed them that I am in total 100% agreement with them.  I just happened to enjoy them.  That's an opinion (I think I may have said a few things about that in the past).  Also, there are tons of other great videos out there (ZOMGItsCriss is also one of my faves.  Her style is something that I never get tired of, and face it, that accent...).

    21 January 2011

    Viking DID find Organic Compounds

    Science is cool.  But sometimes we do something wrong, or look at it the wrong way, and mess things up.  What is cool about it is that science is repeatable, and you can perform more experiments as you learn more things, or get new tools.  That's why it may seem like science is constantly changing, because it is!  But the reason it changes is that it's getting better.  So I am puzzled by some people's resistance to those changes (maybe they prefer leeches and barbers to real hospitals and things like that?).

    So this is one of those instances where we really didn't know what we found based on the fact that we didn't know what the surface of Mars was like.  Subsequent missions, rovers, landers, and observations have given us more data, and now we can do some tests to better understand what was really happening.  Read the article carefully though.  Organics are totally different than life.

    Viking Found Organics on Mars, Experiment Confirms

    Viking 1 LanderMore than 30 years after NASA's Viking landers found no evidence for organic materials on Mars, scientists say a new experiment on Mars-like soil shows Viking did, in fact, hit pay dirt.

    The new study was prompted by the August 2008 discovery of powerful oxygen-busting compounds known as perchlorates at the landing site of another Mars probe called Phoenix.

    SEE ALSO: To Mars! Zambia's Forgotten Space Program

    Scientists repeated a key Viking experiment using perchlorate-enhanced soil from Chile's Atacama Desert, which is considered one of the driest and most Mars-like places on Earth, and found telltale fingerprints of combusted organics -- the same chemicals Viking scientists dismissed as contaminants from Earth.

    "Contrary to 30 years of perceived wisdom, Viking did detect organic materials on Mars," planetary scientist Christopher McKay, with NASA's Ames Research Center in California, told Discovery News. "It's like a 30-year-old cold case suddenly solved with new facts."

    "If the Viking team had said 'Well, maybe there's perchlorate in the soil,' everybody would have said they're crazy -- why would there be perchlorates in the soil? It was only by having it pushed on us by Phoenix where we had no alternative but to conclude that there was perchlorate in the soil … Once you realize it's there, then everything makes sense," McKay added.

    SLIDE SHOW: Remember one of the most successful Mars missions by browsing Phoenix's first photos just after it landed in the Martian arctic.

    The Viking team's verdict that Mars lacked organics was the lynchpin argument against another Viking experiment that looked for signs of microbial life. In the experiment, a bit of nutrient-laced water was added to a sample of Martian soil.

    The air above the soil was then monitored for signs that the nutrients had been metabolized. The instrument detected tracer gases the first time the experiment was done, but subsequent runs did not. The results were considered inconclusive and remain contested.

    New evidence for organics on Mars does not mean Viking found life, cautions McKay.

    SEE ALSO: Travel to Mars in 3 Hours

    "Finding organics is not evidence of life or evidence of past life. It's just evidence for organics," he said.

    But if NASA had realized there were organics on Mars, there might not have been a 20-year hiatus in sending landers for follow-up studies, said Rafael Navarro-González, with the Institute of Nuclear Science at the National Autonomous University in Mexico.

    "We might have had continuing missions," Navarro-González told Discovery News.

    NASA plans to launch a follow-up mission to look for organics on Mars in November.

    SEE ALSO: A Blue Sunset On Mars

    The research appears in last month's Journal of Geophysical Research.
    I also recommend you go to the page itself. It has tons of links to other cool stories about Mars and science. Well worth a visit.

    19 January 2011

    Bad Astronomy: How deep the Universe

    So Dr. Plait had a great post about perspective that I just had to share.  I swear that I heard Douglas Adams reading from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy when I read this.  You know, like:
    “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the drug store, but that’s just peanuts to space.” – Douglas Adams.
    Of course, looking at things like this can certainly make you feel small and insignificant if you aren't prepared for the grandeur of the universe.  On the other hand, this is something that should be incredibly awe inspiring.  As a matter of fact, it reminds me of another quote, this time by Carl Sagan:
    In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed"? Instead they say, "No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way." A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. - Carl Sagan
    Anyway, on to Dr,. Plait's excellent post and beautiful pictures.  And please, click through to his post, I cut off before some really mind blowing pictures that were taken out of the main one.  You'll see what I mean!

    How deep the Universe

    The Universe is a big place.

    I mean, really big. Big everything for anything. Literally, big enough for everything. Everything you see, everywhere you go, it’s all inside. And there’s room for all of it, with space to spare. I get used to it sometimes, and then, suddenly, I’m thrown into a state where I’m forced to remember just how much of the Universe there is.

    Let me show you something:

    [Click to galactinate, and while it may take a little while to download the entire 3500 x 2000 pixel image, it will definitely be worth your time.]

    This is the nearby spiral galaxy NGC 1345 as seen by Hubble. Lovely, isn’t it? You wouldn’t even think it’s a spiral at first; the arms are so faint compared to the sprawling core and inner regions. But it so happens the galaxy is close to our own, making fainter parts easier to observe.

    Now there you go. Did you see that? What I said? "The nearby spiral…". "The galaxy is close to our own…". But it isn’t.

    Look. Let your eyes move to the top of the galaxy, just to the right of center. See that bright star? You can tell it’s a star because it has those spikes going through it, an artifact of how point sources are seen by some of the Hubble cameras. Given how bright it is, that star is almost certainly in our own galaxy, and not some luminous giant in NGC 1345; it’s just coincidentally superposed on the more distant galaxy. That means it’s no more than a few thousand light years away, and given its deep red color, that means it’s most likely a very cool and faint red dwarf, and therefore in all likelihood much closer even than that.

    But even if it’s only a thousand light years away, that’s 10 quadrillion kilometers! That distance is impossible to imagine: it’s more than 60 million times farther away than the Sun… and the Sun is hardly close. If you could fly an airplane to the Sun, it would take 20 years. Twenty years! And that star is millions of times farther away.

    … and that star is the closest thing in that picture. I said NGC 1345 is nearby, and on a cosmic scale it is; it’s part of a small cluster of galaxies a mere 85 million light years away: 850 quintillion kilometers. That’s 850,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilometers.



    16 January 2011

    Theitards that want the end times are bad guys!

    So I keep seeing all these theitards out there proclaiming the end of the world is near.  Birds falling out of the sky (or could that be because of the repeal of DADT?), floods in Australia, or even just disagreeing with anything Israel or other theitards do.  Of course, that gets to the root of WHY a Christian has so much trouble with governments or individuals not providing enough support for Israel - they need Jews in Jerusalem to fulfill Biblical prophecy and bring about the end of the world. I've heard there are even some fundamentalists attempting to breed some magic red heifer. These people actually want the world to end. They think that's a good thing. And they're deluded enough not to realize that the end times prophesies have already failed, since it was all supposed to happen while some contemporaries of Jebus were still alive. But really, they're immanentizing the eschaton. According to many doctrines, that's how you could tell who the bad guy was. So Christians (and other religionists) of the world take note, if you're religion actually desires the end of the world, that makes them bad guys.

    What do you think?

    14 January 2011

    Bad Astronomy: Voorwerp

    Dr. Phil Plait had a great entry on his blog today.  A very inspiring sotry of an ordinary citizen contributing to science in a unique and special way.  I wish these sort of stories got more coverage.  The universe is full of wonder, beauty, and inspiration.  It's these sort of things that make me laugh at the idiots who proclaim that people of a scientific mind don't see beauty, or are so rational that things don't amaze them.  The depth of beauty and wonder in the universe is so much more than what any human imagined, and sometimes it just makes my heart swell when I look at it, and contempalte how much we really DO understand, as well as how much we have left to figure out.  It's just amazingly cool stuff to think about, and be blown away by on a regular basis.

    As Carl Sagan said:
    How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?' Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.

    On to Dr. Plait's post on this:


    Looking at this Hubble image, you might think it’s another run-of-the-mill yet spectacular spiral galaxy, nearly edge-on, with a pretty spiral in the background. But then you let your eyes scan down to the bottom…

    Hey, what the heck is that giant green thing?

    That, me droogs, is Hanny’s Voorwerp. Click the image to, um, to… envoorwerpenate.

    OK, you ask, what’s a Voorwerp? Well, it’s Dutch for "thing". Doesn’t help much, though, does it?

    All right then, let’s back up a bit: Hanny van Arkel, who discovered it, is not an astronomer. But she was reading a blog entry by Brian May, who is the guitarist for Queen as well as an astronomer. He had written about Galaxy Zoo, a project where you can classify galaxies on your computer. Being a Queen fan, Hanny checked it out, and started looking at galaxies… which is how she found this weird green smear of light. She asked about it, and astronomers took interest… and the result is this amazing Hubble image of a very odd object.

    What is it? Well, the green color is a dead giveaway that it’s a giant cloud of gas; the green comes from glowing oxygen, spread ethereally thin. The nearby galaxy must be involved, as there’s no other source of illumination, which in turn means this thing is pretty big. In fact, it’s the same size as our galaxy, 100,000 light years across!

    The thinking is that there is a supermassive black hole in the center of that galaxy (which is named IC 2497). For a long time, that black hole was swallowing down material, and it turns out to have been a sloppy eater: as material falls in, it piles up in a disk outside the Final Plunge. This disk heats up, and various forces can combine to create huge jets of energy and matter that scream out in opposite directions.

    At the same time, well outside the galaxy, there is a stream of gaseous material hundreds of thousands of light years long that was basically minding its own business. Then one of these beams of energy from the center of IC 2497 slammed into it, lighting it up and making it glow like a neon sign.

    But there’s also matter in those beams, and that has apparently compressed the tip of the Voorwerp on the side facing the galaxy (facing upwind, if you like). In the image, you can see how the tip is yellow; that light is coming from stars that are forming as the gas is compressed. These stars are being born well outside the galaxy itself! What a view any potential future civilizations will have: an almost entirely black sky, with a giant galaxy hanging there looking down on them. They’ll have interesting mythology, I’d wager.

    Anyway, at some point, maybe 200,000 years ago, the material going into the black hole at the heart of IC 2497 choked off. Maybe the material just ran out, the last of it falling into the hole. When that happened, the searchlight beams shut off. The Voorwerp is still glowing, because it takes thin gas a long time to lose its glow, but eventually it’ll stop glowing too.

    When I first saw the image, I thought the Voorwerp was cone-shaped, like a megaphone pointed a bit away from us. That circular hole was what gave that impression, but my old friend Bill Keel, an astronomer involved with this observation, speculates it may be a shadow of some object near the black hole, like "a fly on a projector". There’s material there, but we don’t see it lit up because it’s in a shadow. Bill thinks this may be the case because there’s no other obvious way to create a big hole like this in the material itself; an explosion or wind from a star would have to be titanic to create such a hole, and there’s no apparent streamers or filaments you’d expect to see.

    Scientifically, this is a fantastic object. Nothing like this has been seen before, so everything we learn about it is new. But the other story is equally wonderful. I’ve shown a picture of Hanny here, because I want you to see that she is what is known in the über-geek world as "a normal person". She’s a school teacher, and liked music, specifically Queen (a woman of excellent taste). Because she liked Brian May, and Brian wrote about Galaxy Zoo, she discovered this object. You can read about it in her own words on her website, in fact.

    The thing is, she liked science. She wasn’t an astronomer beforehand — I suspect she has a pretty good grasp of it now! — but decided to try her hand at identifying galaxies. And now she’s deservedy famous; she discovered something no one had ever seen before, and even with Hubble observations still leaves quite a bit to be understood.

    I love citizen science projects like Galaxy Zoo and its offshoots. It doesn’t always take a degree, or years of training, to make an impact of science.

    All it takes is interest. That can lead to love, and a degree, and training… or just to more interest. But clearly, that can be enough.

    13 January 2011

    Bill O'Reilly is a fucking moron

    Okay, saying Billo is a fucking moron is like proclaiming that water is wet...  But with him on air proclaiming that sunrises and tides are somehow divine, he is bordering on being a Poe of himself.  Seriously, did he miss 7th grade science?  And furthermore, his assertion that the sun goes up and goes down is contradicted by his very own book of fables...

    Yes, in Joshua, the genocidal gawd bastard decides that Joshua needs more daylight to murder all the Amorites.  In this section, of the fables, the primitive, illiterate goat herders treat the sun like a local object.  They have no idea that the sun is a giant ball of gas that is approximately 93 million miles away.  Furthermore, they have no idea that the motion of the sun is actually caused by the motion of the earth beneath their feet.  So to them, it's not at all odd that no one else on the planet noticed this event.  Yet, in the real world, even if somehow the gawd delusion managed to stop the earth from rotating, why didn't anyone else on the whole planet notice?  And don't even bother with the whole made up aspect of the story, since the Isrealites never defeated the Amorites, since they had left the region long before.  But that's another inconsistent aspect from the book of fables that is also conveniently ignored by the delusional...

    Anyway, Stephen Colbert is a genius, and Neil deGrasse Tyson is even more so a genius.  So this clip amuse me, my wife, and also my daughter.  We couldn't believe Billo's idiocy, but Stephen and Neil take it on with comedic brilliance.  Although, to be fair and honest, I think Neil's explanation left a lot to be desired, but then having Stephen ringing a bell and proclaiming you holy can be rather distracting.

    The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
    Bill O'Reilly Proves God's Existence - Neil deGrasse Tyson
    Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>Video Archive

    10 January 2011

    A Proposal to End Religious Arguments

    I found a list someone had posted on a forum that amused me. I don't fully or wholly agree with it, and some of the statements made are rather weak (to say the least), but it does speak to a rather New England attitude.  Mind your own business.  I think that's the biggest reason why I speak out so much against religion.  For too long religion has been so used to getting its way, and being deferred to all the time that they think that they own the place.  That's not, nor has it ever been, the truth.  Now they get upset and cranky when someone points out that they are bing bullies, or lying, or are just plain wrong.

    So, given that the list isn't the best of all, but still says the basic gist of minding your own business, what do you think?

    A Proposal to End Religious Arguments:

    For Christians

    America is not a "Christian country."
    First and foremost, 100% of the United States population doesn't believe in Christianity. Until the day that this statistic is achieved, kindly shut the hell up.

    The Constitution comes before the Bible.
    "I have a problem with people who take the Constitution loosely and the Bible literally." - Bill Maher
    Regardless of what the Bible says, while you live in this life, you will follow the rules of the country you live in. Secular law is sovereign. If you have a problem with this, you're more than welcome to hurry yourself to the next life so you can follow Biblical law exclusively.

    Keep your nose out of other peoples' business!
    Simply put, your ethics and political views don't license you to dictate the personal lives of other people.
    If you're anti-abortion, don't get an abortion. If you're opposed to same-sex marriage, don't marry someone of the same sex. If you don't want other people to have abortions or same-sex marriages, TOUGH SHIT! It's their right to do those things; like it or not.

    Religion is not a basis for enforcing a policy.
    This one goes out to a number of political figures (Mike Huckabee, George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, et al.):
    Your personal beliefs, in a democracy or a republic, should never restrict the rights of others. Since we live in the United States, which is a federal constitutional republic, the justification of unconstitutional laws with the religious views of one person is a threat to freedom and should not be allowed.

    Keep your religion away from the throats of others.
    Before you discuss religion with anyone, ask them if they're interested in hearing your bullshit. If they say, "No," it doesn't mean you are authorized to continue forcing your beliefs down their throat. Forcing your beliefs onto others is the equivalent of theological rape.

    Research unverified claims.
    A large majority of Americans would not vote for a qualified Atheist President. This is because of an unverified belief that atheists are immoral; which is utterly unacceptable.
    Instead of basing your votes on superficial qualifications (religion, gender, political party, race, age, etc.), why not base your vote on something concrete? I'd rather have a competent President than a Christian president of lesser competence; would you disagree?

    For Muslims

    Stop trying to enforce Sharia law.
    As I just finished saying to the Christians, secular law is sovereign. You're free to follow whatever laws you wish, but don't force them onto other people. To do so is a violation of their basic human liberties.

    Stop blaming everything on the Jews.
    There are more Muslims than Jews in the world; you can't blame all of your hardships on them. Shut the fuck up and take responsibility for your own predicaments. (This only really applies to the radicals.)

    For the "Church" of Scientology

    No compromise for you. You aren't a religion, you're a cult. Crash and burn, you fascist bastards!

    For Atheists

    Let History remain intact.
    I am in support of laws preventing new court houses from displaying the Bible's 10 Commandments, but I am adamantly opposed from removing existing ones. Why?
    Two words: Historical value.

    Unless your rights are being stepped on, shut the fuck up.
    If Congress ever passed a law requiring all students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, then I might relate to removing "Under God" from the oath. Since that is not the case, and you are not required to recite it, stop wasting our time with irrelevant bullshit.

    08 January 2011 Critiquing Arguments - How to Evaluate & Critique Logical Arguments

    A lot of people have trouble with logic.  Not only theitards and denialists, but smart people too.  We are after all the product of evolution, and have brains encumbered by many roiling emotions and contradictory signals.  However, most smart people are able to overcome the weaknesses of our biology and logically trace an argument to the most correct solution or position.  Well, unless it's about religion or politics...  Then it's like going to the Monty Python argument clinic.

    Anyway, Austin Cline has a small essay on logical arguments.  While it may not really work against the people who really need it, at least you can weild it as a weapon against them.  I figure, if they use the "Pigeon Playing Chess" method of argument, we can make them appear even more foolish than they already are (and yes, I realize that is a much more emotional and illogical method than this article would approve of.  But I do not tolerate idiots very well, and think they should be mocked and dismissed to the fringe they belong in...).

    Critiquing Arguments - How to Evaluate & Critique Logical Arguments

    Can You Spot Flaws & Fallacies in Logical Arguments?

    Knowing what an argument is and how it is structured is only the beginning. You can't properly evaluate and critique logical arguments without understanding the ways in which those arguments can go wrong. These problems are generally known as flaws and fallacies: a fallacy is a specific kind of defect in an arguments reasoning or inferences while a flaw is some other background defect in attitude, presentation, or reception. Can you recognize flaws and fallacies in arguments you see?

    1. How do you Critique an Argument?

    Assuming that we have established that we have an actual argument, the next step is to examine it for validity and soundness. There are two points on which an argument might fail: its premises or its inferences. Because of this, it is necessary to distinguish between valid arguments and sound arguments.

    2. What is Occam's Razor?

    Many people have heard of 'Occam's Razor,' but not everyone understands how it is supposed to work or why it is useful when evaluating claims and arguments. That is a pity, because it is one of the most useful tools available in a skeptic's toolbox.

    3. What is a Fallacy?

    Fallacies are defects in an argument — other than false premises — which cause an argument to be invalid, unsound or weak. By understanding what fallacies are, you can avoid making them and more easily detect them in the work of others.

    4. Index of Formal & Informal Fallacies in Logical Arguments

    Known logical fallacies listed in categories and explained as to why they are defects in arguments as opposed to valid reasoning. Multiple examples are included so that you can see what is happening in the sorts of arguments you may encounter in real life.

    5. Logical Flaws in Reasoning: Flawed Reasoning, Arguments, and Attitudes

    When a person's argument is flawed, usually those flaws can be traced back to identifiable fallacies. Not all flaws, however, can be technically labeled as fallacies. Some of these flaws might represent very specific errors in the reasoning process while others are better described as flaws in a person's attitude or how they approach the subject matter generally.Logical Flaws in Reasoning: Flawed Reasoning, Arguments, and Attitudes

    06 January 2011

    Theitard Debate Flow Chart

    Just a humerous little flow chart I found at a blog called a blog called Atheist Movies.  Granted, they don't have only atheist movies there, but it's a fun collection site for a bunch of other stuff as well.  I must say that if one were to strictly apply this to most theitards, you couldn't get past the first block on this flow chart...  And the chances of them getting to blocks two and three are incredibly slim...  I think that there are some things in the flowchart that the creator of it missed, but since they are further down on any list of actually having an intelligent discussion, I can see why he would leave them off.  It's not like you would ever get there.

    05 January 2011

    My Favorite Webcomics

    I just thought I would post links to the web comics that I enjoy, and sort of describe why I enjoy them.  Generally, these are comics that get updated on a somewhat regular basis.  And I know that I am missing a few, I have bookmarks for comics spread out all over the place, and most days I just don't have the time to check them out.  Anyway, here is my list:

    AF Blues - This is a comic started by a SSgt Justin May (or is a Tech by now?).  He started this way back in the day as a cartoon called AWACKer.  It mostly appeals to military folks, but anyone should be able to "get it" if they have any exposure to egotistical people.

    Order of the Stick - This is a comoic by Rich Burlew about a classic D&D adventuring party on a giant quest.  The two things that really make this comic for me is the art (stick figures, but you gotta see them to believe them), and that the characters are actually aware of the rule set they live in.  Okay, and the halfling ranger makes it really fun too, but you just have to read to understand that!

    Scandinavia and the World - A comic that has anthropomorphized countries into little people (and their sisters).  My daughter found this on DeviantArt, and it had me rolling!  Not only because I was born in Scandinavia, but also because some of the observations the artist makes about the rest of the world.

    Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Very regularly updated.  Both intellectual and juvenile in a perfect mixture that makes me laugh.  Also, make sure to put your mouse over the red button!

    Treelobsters - Um, hard to explain this one.  It's a comic for skeptics and people who are amused by some of the stupid stuff people will glom on to.  There is a not so secret message with the comics as well.  Remember, you can't prove they don't exist!

    XKCD - What self respecting geek doesn't read XKCD?  The stick figures, the science, and the alt-text.  What is there not to like?  And remember, this is the whole Science.  It works, bitches! comes from (one of my favorites).

    Cyanide and Happiness - Um, not really sure how to explain this one. It has to be experienced to be understood.

    Penny Arcade - If you want your gaming news in a blunt and forthright manner, this is the place for you.  These guys really have managed to make quite a go of this endeavour!

    CTRL+ALT+DEL - Another gaming comic that not only has gaming commentary and news, but a fun set of story-lines.

    GU Comic - This will always be just /gu to me!  This started out back in the EverQuest days, but now has expanded to many other games, and gaming news in general.

    Looking For Group - Although not particularly about a game I play, the storyline is fun, the art very good, and the characters enjoyable.  For Pony!

    Calamities of Nature -Thanks to Sean for reminding me about this great skeptical comic (and Dr. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy as well).

    I also like checking out things like Russel's Teapot, Jesus and Mo, The Stonemaker Argument, and probably too many more to list here.  So, which ones do you like?

    02 January 2011

    Heaven is a Selfish Idea!

    First let me start off by reposting (for lack of a better term) "The atheist creed" such as it is.  This was written in 1963 by Madalyn Murray O'Hair:
    An Atheist loves himself and his fellow man instead of a god. An Atheist accepts that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth – for all men together to enjoy. An Atheist accepts that he can get no help through prayer, but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and to enjoy it. An Atheist accepts that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help lead to a life of fulfillment.
    Bolding is mine. That right there sums up why I see the idea of heaven as a selfish idea.  And the behaviour of xtians seems to confirm that they really aren't all that concerned about what happens here on earth as they are about getting their imaginary rewards once they die.  With the bible telling them to subdue the earth and take what they think they are entitled to, they are behaving like a 2 year old that is in their "mine" phase, without really considering the consequences of their actions.  Heck, some of these theitard idiots think that this is all a sign of their imaginary friend making good on his 2000 year late promise of coming back...  And all too often I hear from theists that what happens on earth is not important when compared to eternity.  Heaven is just an imaginary playground where you don't let anyone else in, and it belongs to just you and your special club.

    That right there is selfish.  As an atheists, my main concern is leaving this world a better place than I found it.  Especially because there is absolutely zero evidence what so ever that there is anything after I die.  Sure, I'd love to find that I am wrong in some way, but let's face it, it's just a natural reaction to the fear of the unknown and non-existence.  So while I am here, I figure it's important for me to do what needs to be done.  I won't have a chance when I am dead.  Besides, has anyone ever seen anyone from the dead have an actual effect on anything that was driven by sentience?  Ever?  Of course not.  They are dead!  The most that they are doing is decomposing, and perhaps affecting the memories of those around them.  But there is absolutely no sentient guidance or any sort of spirit.  Throughout all of human history, and all scientific endeavours, there is no proof of this.  That right there is a hit.  If you want to have an impact on the world, do it while you are here.  That is the only thing that you will actually be remembered for.

    So that's why I think that the entire idea of heaven is a selfish idea.  I would rather actually DO something that is of real, and actual, good in this world.  How about you?

    01 January 2011

    Support Polaris Academy for Gifted Education

    EDIT:  At a recent meeting, the only feedback they got was the name of the school really ought to change due to the connotations with a popular science-fiction series.  I have changed the blog post to reflect this.

    Just doing a favour for someone doing something that I think is very worthwhile.  As a matter of fact, to me, education is probably one of the most noble endeavours mankind can undertake (as long as that education adheres to reality and facts, but that's another story).  Sadly, many policy makers seem to take a much too shortsighted view on this.  And although there are many very good things about the state of New Hampshire, one of the things that is glaringly absent is the attention to education the truly exceptional.  I just recently joined a group on Facebook that is looking to change that.

    Polaris Academy for Gifted Education

    Please consider joining them, and lending whatever support you can.  From their page:
    Currently in NH there is no mandate or funding for gifted and talented education. We are excited to announce that a new charter elementary school for gifted and talented students is under development. In order for NH Department of Education to consider this application, they have to see that there is a need for this school. We are seeking NH residents interested in supporting a school dedicated to this unique and diverse community of children. The charter application will be submitted on Monday Jan 3, 2011, but we need your help. Parents and others, who are interested in supporting a school of this type are asked to email Tia Fogarty at with your name, address and contact information. Thank you for your support!
    Another way to support this is to  contact the Department of Education in NH:
    Roberta Tenney
    101 Pleasant Street
    Concord, New Hampshire 03301-3860

    Happy New Year (Bad Astronomy Style)

    Today is an arbitrary point on our calendars that a lot of people celebrate with various superstitions and other formalized rituals.  And I forgot to hang up a new calendar, so if I went by all the hysteria of the 2012 idiots, I suppose the world would have ended today (or something).  Well, instead, I think it would be appropriate to post something from Dr. Phil Plait about how it is that we measure time, and the astronomical phenomenon behind our calendar.

    EDIT:  I had to add a couple things from the comment section that I really enjoyed.  Most people just don’t realize that the universe makes a TERRIBLE clock. Nothing is evenly divisible by anything else, and it’s always changing.  If the universe was created by chaotic processes, rather than by intelligence, it would look pretty much like this.

    Happy New Year! Again!

    Yay! It’s a new year!

    But what does that mean, exactly?

    The year, of course, is the time it takes for the Earth to orbit the Sun, right? Well, not exactly. It depends on what you mean by "year", and how you measure it. This takes a wee bit of explaining, so while the antacid is dissolving in your stomach to remedy last night’s excesses, sit back and let me tell you the tale of the year.

    First, I will ignore a few things. For example, time zones. These were invented by a sadistic watchmaker, who only wanted to keep people in thrall of his devious plans. So for now, let’s just ignore them, and assume that for these purposes you spend a whole year (whatever length of time that turns out to be) planted in one spot.
    However, I will not ignore the rotation of the Earth. That turns (haha) out to be important.

    Let’s take a look at the Earth from a distance. From our imaginary point in space, we look down and see the Earth and the Sun. The Earth is moving, orbiting the Sun. Of course it is, you think to yourself. But how do you measure that? For something to be moving, it has to be moving relative to something else. What can we use as a yardstick against which to measure the Earth’s motion?

    Well, we might notice as we float in space that we are surrounded by zillions of pretty stars. We can use them! So we mark the position of the Earth and Sun using the stars as benchmarks, and then watch and wait. Some time later, the Earth has moved in a big circle and is back to where it started in reference to those stars. That’s called a "sidereal year" (sidus is the Latin word for star). How long did that take?

    Let’s say we used a stopwatch to measure the elapsed time. We’ll see that it took the Earth 31,558,149 seconds (some people like to approximate that as pi x 10 million (31,415,926) seconds, which is an easy way to be pretty close). But how many days is that?

    Well, that’s a second complication. A "day" is how long it takes the Earth to rotate once, but we’re back to that measurement problem again. But hey, we used the stars once, let’s do it again! You stand on the Earth, and define a day as the time it takes for a star to go from directly overhead to directly overhead again: a sidereal day. That takes 23 hours 56 minutes 4 seconds = 86,164 seconds. But wait a second (a sidereal second?) — why isn’t that exactly equal to 24 hours?

    I was afraid you’d ask that — but this turns out to be important.

    It’s because the 24 hour day is based on the motion of the Sun in the sky, and not the stars. During the course of that almost-but-not-quite 24 hours, the Earth was busily orbiting the Sun, so it moved a little bit of the way around its orbit (about a degree). If you measure the time it takes the Sun to go around the sky once — a solar day — that takes 24 hours, or 86,400 seconds. It’s longer than a sidereal day because the Earth has moved a bit around the Sun during that day, and it takes a few extra minutes for the Earth to spin a little bit more to "catch up" to the Sun’s position in the sky.

    Here is a diagram from Nick Strobel’s fine site Astronomy Notes that will help explain this:

    See how the Earth has to spin a little bit longer to get the Sun in the same part of the sky? That extra 4 minutes (really 3 m 56 s) is the difference between a solar and sidereal day.

    OK, so we have a year of 31,558,149 seconds. If we divide that by 86,164 seconds/day we get 366.256 days per year.
    Wait, that doesn’t sound right. You’ve always read it’s 365.25 days per year, right? But that first number, 366.256, is a year in sidereal days. In solar days, you divide the seconds in a year by 86,400 to get 365.256 days.

    Phew! That number sounds right. But really, both numbers are right. It just depends on what unit you use. It’s like saying something is 1 inch long, and it’s also 2.54 centimeters long. Both are correct.

    Having said all that, I have to admit that the 365.25 number this is not really correct. It’s a cheat. That’s really using a mean or average solar day. The Sun is not a point source, it’s a disk, so you have to measure a solar day using the center of the Sun, correcting for the differences in Earth’s motion as it orbits the Sun (because it’s not really a circle, it’s an ellipse) and and and. In the end, the solar day is really just an average version of the day, because the actual length of the day changes every, um, day.

    Confused yet? Yeah, me too. It’s hard to keep all this straight. But back to the year: that year we measured was a sidereal year. It turns out that’s not the only way to measure a year.

    You could, for example, measure it from the exact moment of the vernal equinox in one year to the next. That’s called a tropical year. But why the heck would you want to use that? Ah, because of an interesting problem! Here’s a hint:

    The Earth precesses! That means as it spins, it wobbles very slightly, like a top does as it slows down. The Earth’s wobble means the direction the Earth’s axis points in the sky changes over time. It makes a big circle, taking over 20,000 years to complete one wobble. Right now, the Earth’s axis points pretty close to the star Polaris, but in a few hundred years it’ll be noticeably off from Polaris.

    Remember too, that our seasons depend on the Earth’s tilt. Because of this slow wobble, the tropical year (from season to season) does not precisely match the sidereal year (using stars). The tropical year is a wee bit shorter, 21 minutes or so. If we don’t account for this, then every year the seasons come 21 minutes earlier. Eventually we’ll have winter in August, and summer in December! That’s fine if you’re in Australia, but in the northern hemisphere this would cause, panic, rioting, bloggers blaming each other, etc.

    So how do you account for it? Easy: you adopt the tropical year as your standard year. Done! You have to pick some way to measure a year, so why not the one that keeps the seasons more or less where they are now? This means that the apparent times of the rising and setting of stars changes over time, but really, astronomers are the only ones who care about that, and they’re a smart bunch. They know how to compensate.

    Okay, so where were we? Oh yeah– our standard year (also called a Gregorian year) is the tropical year, and it’s made up of 365.24 mean solar days, each of which is 86,400 seconds long, pretty much just as you’ve always been taught. And this way, the vernal equinox always happens on or around March 21 every year.

    But there are other "years", too. The Earth orbits the Sun in an ellipse, remember. When it’s closest to the Sun we call that perihelion. If you measure the year from perihelion to perihelion (an anomalistic year) you get yet a different number! That’s because the orientation of the Earth’s orbital ellipse changes due to the tugs of gravity from the other planets. It takes about 100,000 years for the ellipse to rotate once relative to the stars! Also, it’s not a smooth effect, since the positions of the planets change, sometimes tugging on us harder, sometimes not as hard. The average length of the anomalistic year is 365.26 days, or 31,558,432 seconds. What is that in sidereal days, you may ask? The answer is: I don’t really care. Do the math yourself.

    Let’s see, what else? Well, there’s a pile of years based on the Moon, too, and the Sun’s position relative to it. There are ideal years, using pure math with simplified inputs (like a massless planet with no other planets in the solar system prodding it). There’s also the Julian year, which is a defined year of 365.25 days (those would be the 86,400 seconds-long solar days). Astronomers actually use this because it makes it easier to calculate the times between two events separated by many years. I used them in my PhD research because I was watching an object fade away over several years, and it made life a lot easier.

    So there you go. As usual, astronomers have taken a simple concept like "years" and turned it into a horrifying nightmare of nerdy details. But really, it’s not like we made all this stuff up. The fault literally lies in the stars, and not ourselves.

    Now if you’re still curious about all this even after reading my lengthy oratory, and you want to know more about some of these less well-known years, then check out Wikipedia. They have lots of info, but curiously I found it rather incomplete. I may submit something to them as an update (like how many seconds are in each kind of year; they only list how many days, which is useful but could be better).

    I have to add one more bit of geekiness. While researching this entry, I learned a new word! It’s nychthemeron, which is the complete cycle of day and night. You and I, in general, would call this a "day". Personally, if someone dropped that word into casual conversation, I’d beat them with my orrery and astrolabe.

    Incidentally, after all this talk of durations and lengths, you might be curious to know just when the Earth reaches perihelion, or when the exact moment of the vernal equinox occurs. If you do, check out the U.S. Naval Observatory website. They have tons of gory details about this stuff.

    Hmmmm, anything else? (counting on fingers) Years, days, seconds, yeah, got those. Nychthemeron, yeah, Gregorian, tropical, anomalistic… oh wait! I know something I forgot to say!

    Happy New Year.