Saturday, May 28, 2011

Brain Gym. What the hell is a gyme?

Brilliant stuff.  Especially the first sentence: “If you can tear yourself away from Ryan Giggs' penis for just one moment, I have a different censorship story.”  Since my research is about privacy, I should probably care, I suppose, about this Giggs business, but I’m afraid I don’t.  I should probably explain why on my other blog, but I probably won’t. 

Privacy in recent weeks has become a matter of what powerful people want to happen with their tawdry information.  I will never be able to give the slightest fuck about that.  Privacy is more complicated – and far more interesting – than that.

We spend privacy as a sort of agency of social capital on data and services we want to be integrated.  The trick is knowing whether what we’ve spent is worth what we gained.

But back to the tediously silly Brain Gym.  Ben writes:

This week I got an email from a science teacher about a 13-year-old pupil. Both have to remain anonymous. This pupil wrote an article about Brain Gym for her school paper, explaining why it's nonsense: the essay is respectful, straightforward, and factual. But the school decided they couldn't print it, because it would offend teachers in the junior school who use Brain Gym.

The child saw the bullshit and was discouraged from talking about it.  This is a privacy issue, albeit in quite a complicated way.

For example:the child’s point was perfectly valid and wouldn’t have been dismissed so readily if from an adult. The association of age and statement with what was said and the actual outcome might well have been a violation of privacy.  What did the person intend to happen? Did it work out as expected or spiral out of control?

Apple topples the Catholic church

OK, I feel a bit guilty about posting this because it is obviously very tedious and silly. Witness CNN reporting on something a BBC documentary says for no apparent reason:

The [unidentified] neuroscientists ran a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test on an Apple fanatic and discovered that images of the technology company's gadgets lit up the same parts of the brain as images of a deity do for religious people, the report says.

What report?  No idea, because neither the CNN or BBC stories cite it.  According to CNN, these mysterious neuroscientists experimented on a single Apple fan, apparently without a control, and came to an unjustified conclusion.  I doubt very much that the ‘report’, assuming it even exists, reported anything of the kind.

And what if it did?  What if an experiment was properly conducted and found that Apple-heads’ brains respond to Apple products in a similar way to how faith-heads’ brains respond to religious images? Would this really imply that people have religious feelings about Apple products? 

Obviously not, but both the BBC and CNN articles baldly state that it’s true.  It’s pure fabrication.  Look at this:

A blog, aptly titled Cult of Mac, wrote on Thu….

Wait a cotton-picking minute?  Apt?  Exactly what is it appropriate to?  The connotation with religion was imagined in the first place, now they’re using the name of a random blog, which they’ve picked for the purpose as though it’s evidence of their fictitious conclusion.

The BBC is at it too:

The scenes I witnessed at the opening of the new Apple store in London's Covent Garden were more like an evangelical prayer meeting than a chance to buy a phone or a laptop.

Well, yes.  The opening of an Apple store is clearly more than the chance to buy a phone.  It’s an event.  It’s showbiz.  It’s bollocks, but it’s obviously well-crafted bollocks, which captures a lot of people’s attention.  The BBC has made a silly, unfair comparison made solely to emphasise the made-up conclusion they’d already come to. 

In rational circles, we call this begging the question.

And what did those customers - some who'd travelled from as far away as the US and China and slept on the pavement for the privilege - find when they finally got inside?

Well, all the same stuff as in the Apple store half a mile away on Regent Street. No special offers, no free gifts (a few t-shirts were handed out), no exclusive products. Now that's devotion.

Is it?  People flock to film premieres.  Do they see a different movie to everyone else?  Or do they go for the experience?  Do they go for the excitement and the sense of occasion and the sense of shared identity with people who have similar interests to them?  Is there ever the slightest comparison with religious belief?

I go to skeptical and atheist conventions.  There’s little to be learned from the speakers that I don’t already know from looking at their websites and reading their books.  That’s not why I go.  I don’t even go to see famous people in the flesh.  I’m a computer scientist for goodness’ sake: it pains me to admit people even have flesh.  I visit these events because the shared enthusiasm is enormous fun.  I go because the other minions like me have excellent and fun things to say between talks, are likely to be interested in the same kind of things I am and are often geeks like me.  It’s about the only place I’m guaranteed to fit in.  I have fun while I’m there and come back enthused.

I’m not a fan of Apple products or of Apple the company, but it’s not hard to understand that people might consider the opening of an Apple store an occasion and an opportunity to mingle with the like-minded.

So I’m not sure why the author “searched high and low for answers” (not that it’s clear what the questions were).  Nor can I explain this astonishing bit of text:

The Bishop of Buckingham - who reads his Bible on an ipad - explained to me the similarities between Apple and a religion.

And when a team of neuroscientists with an MRI scanner took a look inside the brain of an Apple fanatic it seemed the bishop was on to something.

The results suggested that Apple was actually stimulating the same parts of the brain as religious imagery does in people of faith.

W-why did they ask the Bishop of Buckingham?  It’s not a name that springs immediately to mind as a commenter on either branding or technology.  And what qualifies him to explain the similarities between Apple and ‘a’ religion (the ‘a’ part is hilarious – presumably he meant ‘every religion except Christianity’)?  And what is this much-vaunted explanation anyway?  The article doesn’t say.  We’re supposed to believe that the explanation exists and that it’s a doozy.  Honest.  On faith.

And then there’s the bit with the neuroscientists and the astonishing leap from this silly anecdote to the question-begging explicit claim that Apple is like religion.

But aside from the sheer incompetence of journalism (I should have saved this up for Thursday Unprofessionalism) notice how religion is once again unthinkingly placed at the forefront.  The article doesn’t say that religious brains respond to images of god like Apple brains respond to macs.  Notice the religious language and overtones employed.  Notice the last two paragraphs in the CNN article, where they invoke Ratzinger to say idiotic things, as he’s wont to do.  Notice the BBC article, which digs up a random bishop as though his opinion is somehow more worthwhile or informed than anyone else’s.

The pope quote is a hilarious one, though:

In speeches, Pope Benedict XVI has said technology consumption poses a threat to religion and the Roman Catholic church. The holy leader told a Palm Sunday crowd last month that technology cannot replace God.

This is a breathtaking non-sequitur.  Technology threatens religion because it greatly enhances communication.  We’re learning things about the dark side of religion that were simply unavailable to us before the Internet.  We can read and watch lots of different opinions about religion: ones that differ from those of our parents and the communities we grew up in.  Religion cannot exist wherever people ask questions and I’ve no doubt that technology will be the catalyst for the eventual demise of religion.

However, nobody is trying to replace god with technology.  That is a simply asinine thing to say.  Nobody gives up religion in favour of an iphone because you can have both, if you must.  Nobody actually worships technology in the sense of praying to it and being scared of how their tablet will judge them after they die.  And nobody – not even these idiot journalists – explicitly claim this.  Only someone as self-absorbed as Ratzi could come up with such a ludicrous collection of statements.  And only faith-heads could nod sagely and not point out the emperor’s wardrobe malfunction.  And – while we’re at it – only journalists could spin this crap into looking like evidence of their own made-up claims.

The truth – as is always the case with religion – is very much more interesting.  Technology is helping to show us that we don’t need gods at all and don’t need to replace them with anything. 

If Apple lust is similar – or even analogous – to religious adulation, this is pure coincidence. It’s adulation without the doctrinaire trappings, control, child rape and moralistic predation.  Now if the authors were to argue that Apple as a company displays some disturbing similarities to religion, we’d have something to talk about…

Good video

I’m not familiar with the song in question, but this is good stuff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p72UqyVPj54&feature=player_embedded

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thursday unprofessionalism

Genuinely awesome footage of Rod Stewart on Top of the Pops reading his own lyrics off a bit of yellow paper: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJo3w66JorM

Annoyingly, I love this song.  Stewart has never been very good at the old lyrics and in later years TORTURED them to fit the rhyme.  Here, he just doesn’t care: if he can’t think of a rhyme, fuck it: he just pretends one wasn’t required.  I can’t decide whether I respect that or not.

Great song anyway and some fierce bass playing.  And about a thousand people just milling about for no reason.

That was the year I was born.  I’m going to go ahead and assume it was the exact second I was born.

The Nightingale Foundation

Simon Singh has just reminded me of The Nightingale Foundation, which had kind off fallen off my radar.  It has some good stuff about how to complain about quacks.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Judgement day delayed, not cancelled

Harold Camping is at it again.  He’s apologised for the lack of a rapture, but he insists he wasn’t wrong about it.  It was just that it turned out to be a spiritual rather than a physical event.  Whatever that’s supposed to mean.  The world will definitely end this year though, he says, in October this time.

I’m sure his apology will cheer up the people he convinced to give away their possessions and disown family members.  It makes it all worthwhile.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I promise I’m not stalking Tim Stanley

But he’s followed up his article about raptures on his own site and you can find it here. Gutlessly, he’s disabled comments, so I’ll have to pull it apart here instead.  He seems annoyed and a little surprised that people complained about his article, especially Richard Dawkins.  Faith-heads just love it if they feel they have a legitimate reason to plaster Richard’s picture over their site and complain about him.  Tim certainly doesn’t waste the opportunity.  He quotes part of Richard’s comment, which I wrote about here.  For goodness’ sake, Tim, it’s a short comment, why not quote the whole thing?

Stanley’s article begins with a bewildering story concerning caged nuns who have to be hidden away from the public with a wooden screen.  We’re supposed to think that this is “wonderful".  I have my doubts about this but in any case I can’t see the point of telling the story.  I think he’s trying to contrast his own peaceful serenity with the assumed moral paucity of the people who disagree with him, but it’s entirely unclear.

Anyway, Stanley came home from his sadistic jaunt to “discover that [he] caused a minor storm in the community of politicized Atheists.”  By this, I think he means that a website (Dawkins’ website) linked to it and some people made some comments.  He really is a master of overstatement.

When [the rapture] didn’t happen, I flicked through the dailies to discover predictable joy at the embarrassment of a small group of religious-types.

I’m not convinced that “joy” is the right word. I think we mostly just find it hilarious that people believe such silly things.  I haven’t noticed anyone revelling in the disappointment of the un-raptured, but what’s not to laugh about when large numbers of people believe something wildly improbable for no good reason?  Besides, it doesn’t seem very Christian to deny someone joy just because some other people are probably feeling sad.

I wrote a piece for the Telegraph bemoaning the demonization of evangelicals.

How is mocking people who were convinced of the rapture ‘demonising evangelicals’?  Aren’t evangelicals exactly the people who gloat at atheists because they’re not invited to things like raptures and will end up toasting in hell?  Aren’t they the people who almost literally demonise atheists? 

All we’re doing is gently mocking people for what was demonstrably a monumentally stupid belief.  We’re not the ones ostracising family members or terrifying our children.

Sincerely, I meant to say this: “Yes, it is foolish to try to predict Armageddon, but these people are but one small segment of evangelical culture – a culture which is diverse, ever-changing, and of tremendous historical importance to America.” I concluded that it was mean-spirited to celebrate other people’s humiliation and that greater tolerance should be shown towards a movement that works tirelessly to improve people’s lives. I received one nice email from a gay evangelist; whose very existence I feel proves my point.

Its rather odd then that he didn’t actually get around to saying most of this.  Besides, the ‘conclusion’ wasn’t one.  It was a bald statement, not the inevitable consequence of reason.  And seriously, Tim: you’re really using the “some of my best friends are gay” argument? 

Then he lays, pussyfootingly, into Dawkins:

Grammar reveals a lot about a person. When it’s strictly speaking accurate but one still struggles to decipher the meaning of what has been said, you know you’re reading a sentence written by an academic.

OOOhhh, burn.  Oh, wait a minute, not burn.  For one thing, Richard’s grammar is correct.  For another, if ‘academic’ is an insult then Stanley is revealed as an idiot, especially since he’s an academic himself.  Why then the need for this ineffectual little ad-hom, especially since he goes on to (incorrectly) accuse Richard of that same fallacy?

Then there’s a weird passive-aggressive bit about Richard’s wife, Lalla, which is another strange, rambling tangent.  What’s he up to here?  Is he trying to suggest some discontent between the couple?  Is he trying to belittle Richard by emphasising Lalla’s greatness?  Who can say. 

Stanley mentions two other objections to his work, but he doesn’t deal with those or with Dawkins’ for that matter.  Except to make it clear that he doesn’t like their tone.  He dismisses one blogger’s accusation that he, Stanley, is immature by pointing out that the blogger had a Harry Potter avatar.  He seems to think this is a resounding victory, but he doesn’t address the substance of what anyone said in the slightest.  We’re just supposed to realise they were bad because they dare to criticise him.

People have taken offense in two prime ways. First, they don’t agree with my reading of history that evangelicalism has shaped American democracy.

I’m not going to deal with this.  I’m by no means a scholar of American history and not that interested in it either.  Like most of what Stanley says, however, I find it hard to work out why he’s saying it.  Supposing for a moment that – as he claims – Puritans influenced the forging or present day America, what does it tell us about whether we should respect evangelists today?  The Ancient Greeks believed lots of thoroughly ridiculous things, but their influence on democracy and law can’t be doubted.  Does that mean we should automatically respect anyone who happens to belong to, say, the Greek Orthodox Church?  This is the kind of argument Stanley is making and it is beyond stupid.

The positive role played by evangelicalism was felt during the 1960s Civil Rights movement and is still there today in campaigns for prison reform and debt relief. True, some denominations opposed all those things. But my argument was never that evangelicalism was everywhere and always good – just “complex and nuanced”.

This is disingenuous at best.  The entire point of his original article is that evangelism does good stuff and so should be respected.  He dismisses the bad stuff evangelists have done – and he does it again here – and yet expects us to take the good stuff some evangelists do as reasons to resect all evangelists.  His message is not about complexity, it’s about evangelists being good and atheists being bad.

Second, some readers have inferred – disingenuously – that I think religious people are charitable but atheists are not. Again, the point of the piece was not to attack atheism as a philosophy but to defend evangelicals as human beings. I do think it is in poor taste for some atheists to celebrate the misery of those who thought they’d be raptured but weren’t. (That said, I’m quite glad I wasn’t. I’m not ready to face my bank manager or my priest, let alone God.)

This is a horrible mess of a paragraph.  Let’s deal with it one point at a time.

1. Second, some readers have inferred – disingenuously – that I think religious people are charitable but atheists are not. This is by no means disingenuous.  It’s what the article seems to say.  It might, I suppose, not be what Stanley meant to say, but people can really only react to the words on the page, can’t they?  He baldly states that atheists sit around in hot tubs doing things that he presumably considers reprehensible while evangelicals tirelessly work for the good of the vulnerable.  If this isn’t what he meant to say, then it’s more appropriate to apologise for being unclear than to criticise people for reacting to what he actually wrote.

2. Again, the point of the piece was not to attack atheism as a philosophy but to defend evangelicals as human beings. Not even close.  His article says that we should respect evangelicals because they are evangelicals and because some evangelicals do good things.  There really is no other message I can see to take away from the article.  This is not defending evangelicals as human beings, it’s saying no one is allowed to attack them because they are a member of a particular group which Stanley happens to favour. 

3. I do think it is in poor taste for some atheists to celebrate the misery of those who thought they’d be raptured but weren’t.  I agree that this would be in poor taste, but I haven’t seen it happen.  Stanley (needless to say) doesn’t provide any examples.  The (likely very few) atheists who had rapture parties probably weren’t celebrating the misery of others so much as having a bit of a laugh.  It’s an excuse for a party.  It’s an excuse to highlight how much time and money has been wasted on promotion of this bullshit.  And it’s an excuse to point out how religion can make people believe anything, regardless of how insane it is. But I’m willing to accept that some people might be revelling in the misery of others, so if Stanley can provide me with actual examples, I’ll document them here.

Stanley continues:

This second point goes to the heart of a lot of the criticism my piece received: my critics hadn’t actually read it. At least, they read it myopically – picking out a single sentence (or even a couple of words within a sentence) and extrapolating from a handful of syllables that I favor witch burning and table-wrapping.

Again, he provides no evidence for this at all.  How does he know his critics didn’t read the piece?  He hasn’t actually told us anything about the substance of the criticism he’s received and where he bothers to mention it at all, he doesn’t address it in the slightest.  And it’s rather hyperbolic.  Has anyone really accused him of witch burning or table-wrapping (whatever that is, presumably he meant ‘rapping’)?  Or did they accuse him of saying ‘evangelicals good, atheists bad’, which is what, in fact, the original article said?

True, I wrote a piece that had an obvious agenda. But it was filled with equivocation and cowardly sub-clauses, things that I always put in my writing because I’m careful not to reduce everything to an idée fixe. Yet the anger of the debate about religion seems to have blinded some people to subtle argument, and the instantaneous nature of blogging means that – rather than sit down and construct a thoughtful letter as in days of yore – they are able to type “Fuck you, you posh twat”, press return, and publish it within seconds.

OK, this is a claim we can examine.  Remember when he wrote:

Across the United States, atheists are gathering at Rapture parties to celebrate another day of life on this corrupted Earth. Their joy as Camping’s error is plain mean. While they knock back cheap imported beer and make-out in hot-tubs, thousands of evangelicals will be providing care and love to prisoners, homeless people, drug addicts and the poor.

Where is the equivocation here?  Where are the sub-clauses?  Where, for that matter, is the subtle argument (or any argument at all)?  The paragraph couldn’t be more clear.  He’s patently saying that atheists are vacuous and selfish.  He’s obviously saying that evangelicals are selfless and saintly.  I can’t think of another way to interpret it.  If that’s not what Stanley meant, then he was staggeringly unclear in his exposition.  And he should admit that, rather than accusing people of not reading his article.

To my satisfaction, Stanley finishes on a note of total nonsense:

But I am disappointed that Prof. Richard Dawkins – a professor of Oxford, no less – is capable of similar yobbery. He is a fellow academic after all, and he probably knows just how highly we prize our “respect”. It is our economic and emotional sustenance, and I would never deny it to anyone as easily as he has refused it to me.

What ‘yobbery’ has Richard committed?  Disagreeing with Stanley, nothing more.  Being unable to sympathise with a group of people doesn’t constitute an attack on them or on anyone else.  And whatever else it might be, Richard’s comment was – and this is pretty important – just words

As for academics valuing respect, are you fucking joking, Stanley?  I think what we prize above all is intellectual honesty. This is certainly the case in the sciences and hopefully the same in the humanities.  Respect would never prevent an academic from attacking a faulty idea, perhaps tenaciously and possibly with some vitriol.  We value respect precisely because it is afforded for good reason.  That’s what makes it valuable.  ‘Respect’ isn’t our sustenance, doing consistently good work is.  Stanley’s accusation that Richard has somehow denied him a livelihood is beyond astonishing.  It’s batshit insane and reveals much about Stanley’s integrity.

Stanley somehow doesn’t understand that respect has to be earned, particularly in academia.  Perhaps this is because of his apparently unthinking assumption that religion and the religious should be respected automatically by everyone for no particular reason.

Dawkins on the unraptured

On this page of the Richard Dawkins Foundation site, commenters respond to the article I wrote about here.

Richard himself left a comment:

I'm struggling to find a reason why American evangelical Christians deserve even a little respect, and I'm not struggling at all to discover that Tim Stanley merits no respect at all. I do feel sorry for the children of Camping's deluded followers. But for the adults, including those who have ruined themselves financially, and those who now feel 'bewildered', or who need 'counselling', I find myself unable to feel anything but withering contempt. Especially when I think of what the hundred million tax free dollars could have been spent on instead of ridiculous advertisements; and when I think of all the good things the 66 radio stations could have been used to broadcast instead of Christian bollocks.

No, no respect, not a crumb of respect, not a grain of pity. Just contempt for utterly stupid, worthless people.

Richard

My views differ a little from Richard’s, although I’m strongly sympathetic to what he says.  I thought I should explain why.

First, I agree entirely with Richard on the case of respect for both evangelists and the whining Stanley.  But I am more inclined than Richard to feel sorry for the deluded.  Or perhaps its more accurate to say that I pity them.  If this seems condescending then good, because that’s what I intended.

I guess there are two main categories: people who haven’t been much fazed by their disappointment and who cling to the idea that there’ll be a rapture one day and the problem was down to someone getting his sums wrong; and people who have been troubled enough to ask serious questions about their faith.

I have no sympathy at all for those whose faith has not been shaken by the debacle.  If they listen to the next crackpot who turns up with a prediction, then there’s no hope for them.  We atheists have done all we can and all they have to do is listen.  I can’t feel much sympathy either for those who sold all their stuff or split up their families.  The former case looks like ridiculous ostentation: there was no need to sell their stuff, they did it to prove how pious, holy and sure of their faith they were.  This is not a virtue and they deserve to be mocked.  The latter case, where families have ostracised members who they thought wouldn’t be raptured, is less deserving still of sympathy, for reasons too obvious to explain.

I’m pleased, of course, that some people will have had cause to doubt their faith and would be delighted if the fuss leads a few to struggle away from their faith and live without it’s burden.  But in the meantime they’re going to be lost and bewildered.  It’s not a happy state and I don’t particularly wish it on anyone.  I said ‘struggle’ for a reason.  For many people, giving up faith is a dreadfully hard business.  It can cause much personal angst and problems within families.  I personally know people who have seriously contemplated suicide when they found they could no longer believe.  The message is eventually an upbeat one, however.  I’ve no doubt at all that people are better off without the shackles of religion than with.  But I do sympathise with them over that difficult transition time. 

I have sympathy because these people are beginning to realise that they’re victims: victims of charismatic preachers; of pernicious religion with highly effective barbs; and of child abuse.  Religious indoctrination can so skew a person’s perspective that they destroy their families and livelihood at the flimsiest encouragement.  And there’s no shortage of people around to offer that encouragement and reward them for piety.

My message to people who are losing their faith is to hang in there.  it gets better.  A life lived in reason will be better than one lived for a lie.

No they don’t

Tim Stanley argues that American evangelicals deserve some respect.  Actually, no he doesn’t.  He just states it as a fact.  His article is rather confused.  For instance, he says

Evangelism is complex and nuanced.

I’m afraid I can’t quite see the nuance.  Stanley says there are lots of different types of evangelicals and seems to mistake this for nuance.  Everyone’s different, but what unites evangelicals as a group is that they all believe more-or-less the same core of silly things for no reason at all. That some believe slightly different silly things to others while having differently-coloured skins or different political opinions doesn’t seem like nuance to me, but rather the normal state of affairs with every group.

Evangelicalism cannot be summarised in one glib column, or damned by the actions of one misguided branch. And while the federal government continues to break down and capitalism only entrenches divides, evangelicalism is a motor of social change. To give one example, the church I went to runs an outreach program for prisoners. Sweet little old ladies give up their time to meet and pray with rapists and murders.

This anecdote is the one piece of evidence Stanley provides for evangelicalism being a ‘motor of social change’.  This is rather a grand claim, especially when based on such scant evidence, but that’s not the point I want to argue.

Of course some evangelicals – perhaps many – do charitable things.  So do lots of non-evangelicals.  It’s people who do good things that are worthy of respect, not people who happen to be members of a group which is associated with doing good things.  This is true even if the group really does more good things than other groups.  I’ve no idea whether this is true of American evangelicals or not.  Stanley wants it both ways.  He doesn’t want evangelicals to be damned by the likes of Phelps and his cohorts.  He doesn’t want them to be laughed at because of some idiot in California.  But he does want them to bask in adulation on the basis of some group members’ charity.

Across the United States, atheists are gathering at Rapture parties to celebrate another day of life on this corrupted Earth. Their joy as Camping’s error is plain mean. While they knock back cheap imported beer and make-out in hot-tubs, thousands of evangelicals will be providing care and love to prisoners, homeless people, drug addicts and the poor. It is a noble calling worthy of a little tolerance.

Curse those atheists with their IMPORTED BEER!  Stanley is painting a preposterous picture here.  He portrays atheists as shallow and insular pleasure-seekers while evangelists are of course pious and saintly.  And he calls this Guardian article glib!

Is our joy (I’m not sure ‘joy’ is the right word, although I don’t see anything wrong with having a little fun) mean or unjustified?  Camping has frightened a lot of people and tried to frighten a lot more.  Specifically, he tried to frighten the world into believing the same things he does.  And guess what?  It turns out that neither he nor anyone else has special insight into the mind of god.  Before you start frightening people, it’s a good idea to know what you’re talking about.  Breathtaking arrogance isn’t enough.  A little happiness at the downfall of this fool seems quite appropriate. 

I wouldn’t laugh in the faces of the people who believed him though.  I feel sorry for them.  They’re probably feeling either rather embarrassed or lost and confused.  Hopefully, it’s damaged some people’s faith sufficiently that they’ll abandon it.  For those people, I have admiration: they’ve changed their mind about the world based on evidence rather than clinging to a silly belief with trembling hands as the evidence for it is stripped away around them.  In the long run, I think they’ll be happier, but for many right now, it will doubtless be a terrible shock.

Stanley’s final sentence is revealing.  He doesn’t mean ‘tolerance’, he means ‘automatic, unjustified respect’.  Gentle mocking isn’t a sign of intolerance.  Refusing people goods or services on the basis of race, sex or sexual orientation is.  Evangelicals are more than tolerated, especially in America.  Their churches don’t pay tax, they get unjustified exposure in every medium, they are actively sought out to comment on practically every issue of the day.  It’s hard to view this as intolerance. 

Respect people who do charitable things for the fact of their charity, not because they believe some of the same things as charitable people. And if you insist that evangelicals deserve respect solely because they are evangelicals, then I’m afraid you have to lump in embarrassments like Phelps and Camping too.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Daily Mail vs Graphs

The Daily Mail hates graphs even while publishing like a dozen of them.

The last one is outstanding.

Enraptured

Well, I watched the skies in vain for flying naked people, but hardly anyone seems to have got raptured.  We’re all laughing at the idiot Harold Camping, but it’s not really funny.  This woman tried to kill herself and her two daughters because she was afraid of the coming rapture.  This family dashed itself apart because of the imaginary end of the world.  The mother left her job so she could spread the news about Judgment Day and they stopped saving for their kids’ education and told one of them, aged 16, that she was going to be left behind.

Camping is an attention whore.  Well, he was until last night: no sign of his smug face today.  He is directly and without question largely responsible for these tragedies.  He is entirely responsible for fleecing people out of a great deal of money which was used to promote the woefully idiotic not-rapture and thereby himself, which I suspect was his aim.  Those people ought to sue him.  But they won’t.

We’ll eventually get excuses from Camping, I expect.  Probably when he’s figured out what went wrong with his calculations this time and he’s come up with a new date.  But we won’t get an apology.  We won’t hear him say he’s sorry for frightening people.  We won’t hear him admitting that he’s an irresponsible idiot who should learn to stay quiet.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Worst. Rapture. EVER.

Sigh.  I suppose I ought to say something about this tediously silly rapture business.  I’m going to limit myself to complaining about the BBC Breakfast show, which gave considerable airtime to this random, attention-seeking crackpot.  They weren’t taking his prediction particularly seriously (although neither were they openly laughing in his face).  But what business have they giving airtime to this idiot at all?

I won’t hold my breath waiting for the rapture.  And in the meantime I’ll be telling rapture jokes like there’s no tomorrow.

It’s all about moderation

Update: Hemant Mehta has posted about the business here and set up a scholarship fund for Damon. I think this is a good and thoughtful idea. It's been said that Damon's mother has disowned him because of his atheism, which is a terribly sad prospect if true. And - you'd have thought - unchristian.

PZ has a rather sad story here about a student, Damon Fowler, due to graduate from high school in Louisiana.  The law forbids the school from imposing prayers at this event, but the school planned to do so anyway.  Damon felt that the school should obey the law and shouldn’t creep out or alienate non-Christians with their magic spells.  The school had little choice but to obey the law and remove the prayer from the graduation.

Now the whole town hates Damon.  Here’s the story in his own words:

My graduation from high school is this Friday. I live in the Bible Belt of the United States. The school was going to perform a prayer at graduation, but due to me sending the superintendent an email stating it was against Louisiana state law and that I would be forced to contact the ACLU if they ignored me, they ceased it. The school backed down, but that's when the shitstorm rolled in. Everyone is trying to get it back in the ceremony now. I'm not worried about it, but everyone hates me... kind of worried about attending graduation now. It's attracted more hostility than I thought.

My reasoning behind it is that it's emotionally stressing on anyone who isn't Christian. No one else wanted to stand up for their constitutional right of having freedom of and FROM religion. I was also hoping to encourage other atheists to come out and be heard. I'm one of maybe three atheists in this town that I currently know of. One of the others is afraid to come out of the (atheist) closet.

Though I've caused my classmates to hate me, I feel like I've done the right thing. Regardless of their thoughts on it, basically saying I am ruining their fun and their lives, I feel like I've helped someone out there. I didn't do this for me or just atheists, but anyone who doesn't believe in their god that prayer to Yahweh may affect.

Moral of the story: though the opposition may be great, majority doesn't necessarily mean right. Thank you for reading. Wish me luck at graduation.

EDIT: Well, it hit the fan a couple hours ago. They've already assembled a group of supporters at a local church and called in the newspaper. I've had to deactivate my Facebook account and I can't reason with any of them. They refuse to listen. The whole town hates me, aside from a few closet atheists that are silently supporting, which I don't blame them looking at what I've incited here. Thanks for the support though.

If anyone would like to offer support, the superintendent is who I emailed and the school's website is mpsb.us

Thanks for the support. It's really helping. This has just gotten sickening.

Edit: I've had requests for my Facebook info... I don't mind giving that out at all. Damon Fowler - Bastrop, LA. I could use all of the support I can get. Not sure if this link will work:http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001146281052

As a Brit, it’s hard to believe that such things happen. It’s thankfully inconceivable in the UK.  It’s sometimes shocking to realise that what a country we have so much in common with sees as moderate, we see as completely batshit insane. 

There are several sinister parts to this story, from the school’s desire to force people to pray in the first place to the whole town’s ostracising Damon for disagreeing with them.  But the most sinister part is the reason people are angry.  Damon hasn’t stopped anyone from praying at the event.  Providing they’re not disruptive, anyone can pray as much as they want.  What they’re cross at is the forcing part.  They’re upset that they’re not allowed to insist that everyone is subjected to prayer.

Friday, May 20, 2011

From the past

I saw this a few years ago.  I’ve wanted to post it on several occasions but I’ve completely failed at finding it.  grunxo over at RDF found it for me about a year ago but I didn’t check my messages.  Sorry grunxo.

Anyway, it’s as funny as it is horrifying, enjoy.

The Magnet Boy of Croatia

Here he is:

mb003.jpg

All sorts of metal objects stick to him, from the cutlery shown here to irons and – bewilderingly – what seems to be a Samsung Galaxy Tab:mb001

and various non-magnetic things.

Also check out what is undoubtedly the world’s most insane bicycle.

There are more pictures here: http://www.boingboing.net/2011/05/19/magnet-boy-of-croati.html

Aside from Magnet Boy’s oddly belligerent countenance, the pictures all have one thing in common.  Let me make a suggestion.  Take a magnet and some ferrous material that sticks to it. Wrap the magnet in a thin piece of material, such as a t-shirt.  You’ll find it still works: t-shirts don’t block magnetic fields.

So why has Magnet Boy got his shirt off in every photograph?

It’s because he’s not magnetic, he’s just sticky.  His shape and posture probably help matters along too, but the objects are sticking to him because of of a sticky substance, likely sebum. Or it might be glue for all we know.

James Randi dealt with this kind of thing in 2004 (and no doubt way before then): http://www.randi.org/jr/082704gluton.html#7.  A bit of talcum powder seems to play havoc with magically-induced magnetic fields.  It doesn’t seem to inhibit actual magnets though.

So on the downside, it’s tedious to see the media embrace stories like this that have been so thoroughly debunked and it’s genuinely sad that Magnet Boy is being exploited in this way.  On the upside, it gives us the opportunity to ask fucking Croatians, how do they work?

Update 1: Unsurprisingly, I was beaten to the fucking Croatians joke, it turned up just about everywhere long before I excitedly banged it out.

Update 2: Randi has commented on this, linking to the previous article I pasted above

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stop copying my homework, Hawking

I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.

-- Stephen Hawking

This seems a remarkably straightforward and ordinary statement, but it’s whipped an awful lot of people into a frenzy, for some reason.  Benign-seeming middle class people aren’t supposed to say gods don’t exist, which I assume is also why so many people get so frenzied about the supremely genteel Richard Dawkins while worshipping the fuzzy-headed thinking of people like Robert Winston.  I say the same sort of thing as Hawking every day and hardly anyone cares.  About gods not existing, that is.  I probably don’t say much else that Hawking says, most days.

Most of the complaints seem to be that Hawking isn’t qualified to say whether heaven is real or not, whereas they – the people complaining – obviously believe they are. 

As far as I can tell, Hawking is the more qualified party on this matter. He knows what evidence is, when and why it’s needed and he’s used it to come to a qualified conclusion: that there’s no good reason to believe in a heaven.  He’s sharpened his teeth for decades in an environment where evidence – and only evidence – matters and where you can’t get away with unqualified – by which I mean made up – claims. 

His detractors have just decided they know – and are therefore somehow qualified to know, in a way that Hawking is somehow not – that they’re right and he’s wrong.  And that his certainty is a bad thing but their certainty is good.

Damn you Hawking, you’re as bad as Dawkins.  You can persecute thousands of Christians at once, whereas I have to do it one at a time.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Look at me, I’m latsot

There’s been some backlash lately about people posting under pseudonyms with some prominent people either disliking the idea (such as Jerry Coyne) or downright despising it (such as Ophelia Benson). 

I get the point to some extent.  Pseudonyms can be used to protect people from the courage part of having convictions.  They can be used to sock-puppet.  I understand why people might prefer real names.

I don’t really agree, though.  I’ve been posting on dozens of forums using the nym latsot for more than 15 years, I guess.  I’ve posted things I’ve later regretted, sometimes.  I’ve been rash and stupid on occasion.  But almost always under the same name and I guess those cringeworthy posts are there for anyone to find if they want to.  I’ll fess to them all.  Latsot is the identity I’ve developed over many years and I think it’s the identity I’m going to continue posting under for the time being. 

But I was never hiding.  Latsot was just a username to begin with and something I got used to.  The nature of forums kind of changed slowly and subtly until integrity across multiple sites began to matter.  Logins became usernames became display names became identities.

I think a lot of people recognise me as latsot and I’ll stay latsot for now.  But I was never hiding.  It was always rather easy to track down who I really am, if anyone wanted to. I never hid.  But in case it was ever confusing to anyone and in case anyone really wanted to find me for any misbegot reason, here I am.  Find me at http://www.lookatthestateofthat.com as ever.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Crow behaviour

Last year we were menaced by crows.  Or possibly a single crow.  It or they kept pecking at our windows and we were genuinely worried that it would one day burst through.  We dared not speculate what it might do if it gained access.  Identity theft was a given, but whether it would keep us (barely) alive, writhing in pain for all eternity or kill us outright was not known. 

Eventually it gave up, proving that humans are superior to crows, but in the meantime we researched crow behaviour a little.  Some people said that crows peck windows because they are trying to get at the putty for some reason.  Not true in our case since our windows don’t have putty.  Some said they were pecking at their reflections because they figured it was another crow that needed to be taught a lesson.  This seemed slightly more plausible but not very convincing.  Are crows territorial outside breeding season?  I’ve no idea and didn’t find out.  They have good eyesight and excellent reasoning abilities.  Would their nervous systems be so fooled by a shadowy, pale reflection on a window pane in broad daylight that they’d systematically attack it?  Could be, I’ve no idea.

This year we’ve had only a very few window attacks from what I’m sure is just one crow.  I’ve seen it attacking other windows around the neighbourhood.  But more importantly, I’ve heard it.  I’ve also heard a drumming noise with about the same frequency as window pecks.  It’s a noise that sounds for all the world like a crow pecking on something metallic, like an oil drum or a barbecue or something.  I’m reasonably convinced that this is what’s happening since episodes of drumming are always followed by cawing.  Then in a few minutes, I’ll often hear or see the crow banging on someone’s window.  Then cawing again.

My question is this: might crows attack windows because it makes noise?  Is noise part of territory defence and have some crows learned that they can make more noise or more efficiently make noise by pecking stuff?  Has our crow learned that pecking whatever metal object it is is even more effective?

It’s pure speculation on my part, but it would be really cool if it turns out to be true.  A hell of a lot more fun and satisfying an explanation than instinctive reflection-pecking.

Update: one of the things the crow has been pecking on is next door’s greenhouse roof, which is plastic, corrugated and not very reflective. This suggests that the crow isn’t pecking at it’s own reflection in the mistaken belief that it’s a rival crow. It’s looking more and more like it’s just trying to make noise.

Has it really been 25 years?

Around 25 years ago, I bought something amazing.  It was a Psion Orrganiser II.  The world had never before quite seen its like.  The Psion II was a pocket (if you had pretty big pockets) computer, touted mostly as an electronic fileofax.  It was a lot more than that, though.  It had a programming language (OPL) and there were lots of nice things you could plug into it.  It had a two line display but a couple of years later I traded it in for the brand new four (count them) line display model.

imgres

The best thing about the Psion II was that it was obviously built by people who felt that what they were doing was really cool.  There was never the slightest doubt that everyone who worked on that machine woke up barely able to believe their luck that they were building something so awesome.  And it showed.  You might think ipads are beautiful objects (I’m not so impressed myself) but the Psion II combined beauty and functionality in an age where nobody had really thought of making technology look cool.

The Psion came in a sliding case that covered the keyboard making it look very, very Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  This is one of the reasons that the things were about as indestructible as it’s possible for anything to be.  You know when you pick up most bits of modern kit and feel slightly disappointed at it’s plasticy or flimsy feel?  The Psion II felt like it was hewn from solid rock.  I wrote an office suite for the Psion II and I actually managed to sell about 10 copies.  My first bit of commercial software!  And possibly the software I’m most proud of having written.

Psion was an amazing company.  It followed the Psion II with the imaginatively named Psion 3.  This was very much the same kind of thing, but in a lovely clamshell design with (for the time) a great big screen.  It had a touch-sensitive button bar that folded away behind the screen when you closed the machine.  This kind of design would become a hallmark of future Psion devices.  Hilariously, you could hold the machine to a phone receiver and use the contact application to dial the number by playing the tones through the speaker.

There were variations of the basic Psion 3 and then there was the Psion 5.  To my mind, this machine has never been surpassed as a PDA.  The various Palms were pretty awesome, but the Series 5 had that same quality of design and cool that the II had.  It was just a wonderfully exciting thing to look at and touch.  It doesn’t look dated even now, apart from the mono screen.  The batteries lasted for about ever, it was as responsive as hell, the keyboard was genuinely excellent and it was hard not to squeal with delight when you opened or shut the clamshell: the keyboard extended from the case as you opened it and then locked into place alongside the screen in a breathtaking bit of design.  

There was later a Psion 7 and variants.  This was yet another innovative product, being the first netbook-style machine.  It had a colour, touch-sensitive screen, an excellent keyboard and a battery life of weeks.  It was also, for some reason, finished in leather.  I used one of these for a long time instead of a more conventional laptop.  It was lighter than any laptop at the time, did everything I needed it to and I could use it all day without worrying about having to plug it in.  I was travelling a lot at the time, so this was ideal.  I could even plug it into my phone and get hilariously slow Internet access, hooray!

Sadly, my Psions 5 and 7 mysteriously went missing after I lent them to a friend who, I suspect, simply sold them.  It’s a shame, because they were such cool, fun things to play with.  As wonderful as all my modern kit is, there’s never been anything like the Series 5 for jotting down quick notes.

Unfortunately, Psion no longer make devices like this.  It’s such a shame because as well as being innovative and having appeal that hugely outlasted the currency of their technology, the machines just oozed quality, elegance and superiority of design.  They never lost that sense that the people who designed and built the machines were the kind of people who wanted to use them and who lived every day in a tingle because they were making such cool stuff.  Apple products are often lionised for their design, but they don’t feel like they’re designed by people so much as by a corporation.  They only ‘just work’ if you want to do exactly what the designers decide you should want to do and are bewildering otherwise.  Psion kit just worked and Psion didn’t feel it had to use this as a selling point.  Because it just worked.

Companies change and die, technology moves on.  But I really hope those amazingly talented people who worked for Psion back then are still doing something that makes them excited to get out of bed every morning.  They deserve it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Or you could try being actual humans

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/13/iran-blind-criminal-acid

I absolutely condemn the ingrained contempt for women that led to this and many other attacks.  And I condemn just as much the self-satisfied way some people equate justice with punishment.

Not the same thing. Justice is a strange idea, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t served by people choosing punishments for the people who hurt them.  In fact, isn’t that exactly the sort of thing the nebulous idea of justice was entirely supposed to prevent?

We should try to prevent this punishment because it is barbaric in itself. But we should also try to prevent it because it’s barbaric in principle. If the idea of harming someone because you think they deserve it doesn’t horrify you, then you’re probably a victim of exactly the sort of thing I’ve been complaining about all these years.  Don’t let  your victimhood harm other people. Let sentences be about protecting the vulnerable.  Let’s cling to the probable fiction of redemption if it means fewer people get harmed.

And Saeed Kamali Dehghan, writing this article for the Guardian: if you insist on putting the word ‘inhumane’ in scare quotes, be aware of what you’re doing. You’re suggesting that there might be some humanity in blinding a blinder, raping a rapist, killing a killer.  If that’s truly a position you wish to defend, by all means bring it on.

Monday, May 09, 2011

How we used to live

My grandad lived in a time where cars were rare.  He didn’t see one until he was an adolescent.  It’s an astonishing thought.  But then I was born in an age where there were three TV channels and no such thing as VCRs. Computers were exotic things nobody could really justify or afford and phones were monoliths of polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride chained to a wall.  In fact, when I grew up, we shared the phone line with our neighbours.  We had to press a button on the top of the phone to reserve the line for us, otherwise the neighbours could just pick up their phone and participate in our calls.  Periodically, the phone would stop working and the BT engineer would come round and with great ceremony pour a bucket of water over an earthing spike outside, which really did seem to fix it for reasons I’m still unable to explain.  Our phone number was THREE DIGITS.  THREE.  It was quite exotic when we moved to a larger village and had to have a four digit phone number.  We were worried that we’d never be able to remember it.

It’s hard to imagine growing up without an Internet.  The Internet is as much a part of me as my knees or my kidleys and I’m immensely proud to have played a small part in its development over the years.  But even someone like me, who was there when it happened, already finds it difficult to imagine how things ever got done without it.

I’m kind of on a computer science kick at the moment.  I think we as computer scientists are regarded as less than scientists by scientists and less than engineers by engineers.  And yet we’ve changed the world in a few short years more profoundly than any other group in history.  We’ve stripped away all sorts of human limitations and redefined what’s possible. 

I have the greatest possible respect for the classical sciences.  Understanding how the universe works is our greatest priority.  But increasingly, computer science is redefining what it means to live in a universe and what it means to be human.  Physics, chemistry and biology tell us what we are, but only computer science will help us reach our potential.

Zombie Marie Curie

This disquiets me. Marie Curie is one of my favourite scientists of all time and I keep trying to make the point that her achievements were pretty much the pinnacle of human endeavour and not ‘not bad for a woman’.  She was the first woman to receive a Nobel prize and the first person to get two.  It’s hard to imagine a greater achievement.

Am I guilty of pointing out her achievements partly because she happened to be a woman?  Fuck yeah.  It’s a point that needs making.  In my own field of computer science there are heroes that are unsung because of their chromosomes.  Ada Lovelace tends to be cast as something of a dilettante when in truth she was a talented and insightful mathematician.  But just look what Wikipedia has to say about her:

Her interest in mathematics dominated her life even after her marriage

Even after her marriage?  Like she was supposed to fucking stop doing sums because it made her husband look like an idiot (he was a member of the Royal Society, but I don’t know of anything he actually achieved)? Remember that this is a supposedly modern comment. 

And would anyone say that physics dominated Einstein’s life, or that he dominated physics?  Was Darwin dominated by his work on evolution?  Well, arguably he was dominated by his barnacles and his earthworms.  There’s a charming story (I don’t know if it’s true: who exactly documented it?) about Darwin’s children visiting a friend and demanding to know where the friend’s father ‘did his barnacles’.

But we don’t talk about Darwin being dominated by his work, we quite rightly talk about him being its master.  Nor was Lovelace dominated by her prodigious abilities.  She just did sums because she was good at them and kind of liked it.  Same as the rest of us.

There are other unsung heroes in computer science. While my admiration of Alan Turing cannot be overstated, there were lots of women working at Bletchley Park and they did all sorts of important work.  I mean, of course they fucking did.  It’s an outrage that I have to point this out, but here we are.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Yes it is your religion I object to

Faith-heads often object to Gnu Atheist criticisms of religion.  What we’re complaining about, they say, isn’t their religion.  We’re objecting, they say, to a version of religion they don’t believe in either.  Of course they don’t support the abuse of women.  Of course they don’t wish death to infidels.  Of course they don’t believe in a bearded, sandled man in the sky or a literal Adam and Eve.  What we’re criticising, they say, is an unsophisticated reading of their holy book and the few bad-apple extremists who pervert their religion’s message.

This is all rather odd because extremists tend to be the ones that take whatever holy book it is at it’s word.  From the creationist idiots in Kentucky to the Jihad-addled mullah in Saudi Arabia, these are usually the ones who refuse to compromise the words of their magic book in the face of a shifting zeitgeist.  A ‘sophisticated’ religious view seems to be a mealy-mouthed one.  Sophisticated religion is there to justify personal prejudice.

Well it turns out that I do object to your personal religion. Whatever it is, I don’t care about the details. Your view is either demonstrably wrong or so rarefied that we can’t say anything meaningful about whether it’s true or not….. but neither can we derive any moral or instructional message. 

I don’t care if you’re a bible-bashing southern Baptist, a fanatical Muslim suicide bomber, a fire-and-brimstone old-skool Catholic priest or a strait-laced English country Methodist.  I object to your religion because it isn’t true. 

Father-Dougal-McGuirerowan

(Note: there are no comedy acts featuring Muslim religious leaders)

And because religion is responsible for such horrors, of course.  I don’t care whether you agree with some of those horrors.  I don’t care how liberal you are.  I don’t care how much you frown on the abuse of and discrimination against women, homosexuals, atheists or apostates.  I don’t care how many cheeks you turn or how persecuted you think you are.  Moderate religion enables extremism.  Nobody would listen to crackpot extremists if religion didn’t enjoy such a privileged place in so many societies.  Nobody listens to raggedy-bearded old men raving about Cthulu, but when a nice vicar advocates Sharia law or discrimination against homosexuals then there might be some murmurs of disapproval, but if anyone exposes this behaviour for the horror that it is, we’re told off for not showing enough respect for religion. The majority of Muslims surely deplored the ideas of Osama bin Laden, but you only ever heard them saying so when people got killed and it’s hard to forget those ordinary citizens who couldn’t bring themselves to publicly decry such actions.  We see archbishops outraged at manufactured stories of campaigns against Christmas or the wearing of religious iconography in the workplace. We see them enthusiastically supporting discrimination against women and homosexuals.  We see senior priests commanding everyone on Earth to eschew condoms even though they could save millions of lives, combat the severe problem of overpopulation and reduce the misery of unwanted children.  We see the whole lot of them campaigning against medical treatments that could save millions of lives and improve quality of life for millions more because they feel slightly uneasy about the manufactured idea of ‘playing god’.

I don’t care about your thoughts on these subjects.  You keep these people in jobs and the horrors they perpetrate or support are on your head. 

I object to your specific religious belief, whatever it is.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The annotated bible

What I’m doing

Let’s see how far I can get with this before getting sick of it.  Probably not very far, it’s highly ambitious.  I’ll use the King James version. Although it’s not always the most accessible, it’s beautiful in places and it’s a version many people are familiar with.  I’ll start at the beginning, quote some verses and then make some comments.  Sometimes, cross referencing will be necessary, such as in the gospels, I expect.  I’m not looking forward to those parts, assuming I ever get that far.  Perhaps I’ll just stick to Genesis for now.

I’m hoping is that people will add further insights in the comments.

Why I’m doing it

I’m probably more familiar with at least parts of the bible than many Christians are.  But when I was taught Bible stories as a kid, there was a lot missing.  In fact, this was one of the things that convinced me that religion was nonsense.  Why pick out particular stories? Why sweep contradictions and other worrying material under the prayer mat?

Parts of the Bible are shocking, parts of it are bewilderingly contradictory, parts of it are just plain batshit insane.  It seems valuable to remember what the Bible actually says without the luxury of cherry-picking.

Let’s see how it works out.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Jesus vs Batman

This is hilarious.  What is it about religion that robs people of every speck of a sense of humour? 

(clicking should embiggen)

What we’re looking at is a discussion about who would win in a fight between Batman and Jesus.  The faith-heads seem befuddled at best, almost as though they’re not used to having to defend their rote-learned arguments…

It’s a superb example of trolling by a master.

h/t PZ Myers

Update: I wanted to highlight Julie’s post which includes:

To come to think of it, He is a merciful God which explains why He’s still letting us live until this day.  He has the power to take away our life anytime, any day. But it’s because of His grace that we our given a chance to carry our cross and follow the Lord.

Could anything be more devastatingly indicative of a religious mind-set?  It’s mercy that allows us to continue existing under the capricious, arbitrary smallprint that we agree to by virtue of being born.  This one quote from Julie pulls the teeth from Pascal’s Wager all by itself.  I will not live a life of servitude as a slave to stave off the miniscule chance that one of a multitude of religions happens to be right despite all the evidence to the contrary.  I wish you didn’t feel you have to waste your life, Julie.