Friday Frivolity: Terry & Jed in "Listen"

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Why I am not a scientist

Well, simply, it’s because I don’t have the patience, attention to detail or academic skills – or even the desire – to study it in any formal way. Biology was one of my favourite subjects at school and my understanding of it was helped by my father, himself a senior biology teacher (at a different high school), both through his direct assistance and indirectly through his large collection of scientific books, most of them dealing with natural history in some way. However, for many reasons I was not a good student (let’s face facts, I sucked) and my marks in no way reflected my true understanding of the material.

But you don’t have to be a scientist in order to know that science works. The results are all around you, from the breathtaking photos and information given us by the Hubble telescope (and the insane mathematics & engineering that designed, built and launched the thing) to the technology I’m using to write and publish this post; the tram & train that will take me home tonight; the medical technology that’s more than once quite literally saved my life and the lives of some of my friends and family (more than likely yours too) to the mobile phone that’s next to me with Puzzle Bobble installed on it that’s ringing and being ignored. You don’t have to have faith that it works because it’s right there in front of you, working the way it’s designed to, proving itself time and time again, billions of times a day, every day of our lives.

Some people accuse others of worshipping science as a replacement for God; some, oxymoronically, call it a “secular religion” or an “atheist religion”. Science is not a religion, a belief system or even a philosophy. Science is a tool. It is a method of gaining understanding of something you’re looking at which you can’t as yet understand. You can then test & confirm your new knowledge and explain it to others, not only showing what you know, but – more importantly – how you know it. This exposes your methods to testing & critical evaluation by others: if your methods are flawed, it may be that your data may be equally flawed. This is science. Not blind faith or unfounded, ingrained, habitual belief but verifiable fact, testable truth, and real knowledge of our universe.

Science is a tool as much as a pen or a chisel is a tool. With a pen you can write Don Giovanni or Mein Kampf; with a chisel you can carve marble into David or stab someone in the head. With science you can inform the world as to the origin of species, the age of the universe, treat cancer or you can design an atomic bomb or nerve gas or napalm. Form & function do not & can not dictate the intent or morality of the user. So it goes with religion: it can be a force for good, inspiring people to great charity, love and self-sacrifice; it can also be the bane of man, inspiring oppression of sexual, political or artistic natures, sectarianism and associated violence & murder, blind faith in superstition and suspicion of scientific knowledge, distrust of any who ask difficult questions and double standards & hypocrisy when it comes to free speech and public discourse.

Some religious people even cry and protest when a new scientific discovery is made, rather than celebrate a new brick in the temple of combined human knowledge. Creationists, for example, demand transitional fossils to show speciation, however when they’re discovered (Tiktaalik being a great example) they insist that it’s not transitional enough or in some way doesn’t meet their stringent criteria (which in fact seem to change according to the nature of whatever discovery they’re protesting, curiously and coincidentally in such a way as to always, without fail, render the new discovery illegitimate in their eyes).

It used to be that creationists would limit their protestations to the earthly sciences too; particularly anything to do with the age of the earth and divergence of lifeforms, including but not limited to biology, geology, archaeology and palaeontology. In recent months though, I’ve noticed a lot of religious commenters on scientific blogs & websites attempting to disprove or debunk the physics of astronomy and cosmology itself by using scripture or, more often, simply cherry-picking whatever science seems to agree with their biblical worldview and ignoring the rest of the body of knowledge. A prime example is the comment thread at this old post from The Angry Astronomer, which got itself hijacked by an obvious creationist (named, as usual, “Anonymous”) whose ham-fisted, ignorant attempts to disprove Angry’s science using – hmmmm – well, science is really quite laughable. I hooked into Anon. myself quite a bit – can’t resist sometimes – and some of the smackdowns he received from Angry and other astronomers (including The Bad One himself, Phil Plait) are pure awesomnity. Anon’s stone-age ignorance of the topic is on display for all to see in high definition and this breathtaking ignorance of the topic he assumes he’s an expert in is only eclipsed by his steady, unceasing ignorance of his own damnable ignorance!

Creationists using science to debunk science. Will wonders never cease?

It’s just so damn troubling, counter-intuitive and arse-backwards. Science and the scientific method are self-regulating tools for discovery & explanation; for verifiable (and falsifiable) results; for reliable methodology and for logical, rational, reasonable and impartial knowledge of the processes and phenomena of the world and its surrounding universe. How is it possible that in the 21st century there are still biblical literalists shouting down every new discovery as lies or heresy? How can anyone take their claims of scientific conspiracies to kill religion or suppress religion-supporting facts seriously? How can these people keep a straight face as they attempt to use science (well, the bits of it they think gel with their interpretation of ancient fables, anyway – much as they sift through their bibles for grains of wisdom) to debunk science?

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Open letter to Ratzinger: lift birth control ban

The coolest thing about this open letter to Pope Ratzinger (I refuse to call him Benedict) is that it’s written by a coalition of Catholic groups! From the HuffPo story:

The initiative was spearheaded by Catholics for Choice, a Washington based pro-choice advocacy group, but the letter was signed by organizations from countries across the Americas and Europe.

Taking a half-page ad in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the groups said Friday that the Church’s ban on artificial birth control has had “catastrophic effects,” particularly in the fight against AIDS.

The ban on contraception “has had catastrophic effects on the poor and weak of the whole world, putting in danger the lives of women and exposing millions of people to the risk of contracting HIV,” the letter published in Corriere said.

The Vatican’s response: predictably, mind-numbingly arse-backwards.

[Vatican capo Reverend Federico] Lombardi denounced the ad “as paid propaganda for the use of contraceptives.” “Policies against AIDS based mainly on the distribution of condoms have largely failed,” Lombardi said in a statement. “The answer to AIDS requires deeper and more complex interventions, in which the Church is active on many fronts.”

“Paid propaganda for the use of contraceptives” eh padre? Well, I guess noone would know propaganda when they saw it better than a Vatican PR operative. I’ll tell you what the answer to AIDS requires, you pompous fucker: an effective preventive measure other than abstinence – the very kind of measure you and your hoods have actively been opposing since the respective inventions of the condom, The Pill and every other method out there that doesn’t involve a vow of celibacy (which, by the way, you guys suck at). I’ll tell you why policies against AIDS based on condom use have largely failed too: it’s because black-robed morons like yourself in those areas have been actively spreading bald-faced, anti-science & fucking lethal lies for years, such as the one about condoms having tiny holes, through which the HIV virus can pass through, which still makes my jaw drop to read.

Well, chalk up another retarded remark to the stormtroopers of Herr Ratzinger! It blows my mind that this organisation can continue to get away with this shit. Imagine if the Health Minister or Surgeon General of any civilised country said something like “chemotherapy doesn’t affect cancer, it just makes it stronger!” – that’s the order of magnitude of Pure Wrong we’re talking about here. Imagine the head of pretty much any organisation other than the Roman Christian Empire saying something that retarded! Not just retarded, but potentially fatal to any follower who believes it. This continuing and baffling desecration of human free will is as precise & glaring an illustration of the danger of organised religion that you could ever see – not the danger of a particular belief itself, as many people believe in Jesus’ divinity and don’t listen to Vatican idiocy – but of the effect blind faith & blind trust can have on a person, his family, town or whole country or continent, when that faith & trust is abused by people who should damn well know better.

So what’s behind this Vatican wrongheaded stubbornness anyway? Does it really say in the Bible “thou shalt not spill thy seed” or “thou shalt always conceive with thy booty calls”? If it does – unambiguously, that is, with no wiggle room for interpretation – then why are Papists the only ones who insist on enforcing it in such a lethal manner? So they can ensure a constant flow of believers to continue to fill their pews & coffers? The arch-cynic in me says a big, fat “yes”. The less cynical part of me is still in the dark about it. Is it scriptural? Then why are Catholics allowed to work on Sunday, eat meat on whatever day they want, skip Lent, have graven images in their temples (what’s a Catholic church without a bunch of statues of Jesus, Mary and selected saints standing around looking down on you), wear high heels or whatever else they’re allowed to do now that they couldn’t not so long ago?

The answer often comes back to control. The Vatican has let a lot of things slide over the centuries (noone’s getting burned for heresy or buying Indulgences anymore, for example), but they’ve always held onto two things tighter than Tarzan: the bans on divorce and on contraception. Two of the most private things concerning any human on the planet. So many other Vatican edicts and restrictions have been dropped like hot rocks, yet they continue to refuse to allow their followers to run their own sexual & family lives. Stinks like a control thing to me. It’s a classic control ploy actually: bear a child into a Catholic family, marinate that child in shame-inducing, fear-mongering dogma until its identity becomes inextricably wrapped in its religion, then impose upon it restrictions that could mean excommunication should the eventual adult wish to use its own judgement in deciding on two of the most important decisions in its life: whether to have children of its own or end a marriage that’s beyond saving, or perhaps was a mistake in the first place (we’ve all heard of young Catholic girls forced into marriage to avoid the shame of a bastard child).

What the Papacy says & does about contraception is thought control of the worst possible kind and I’m glad it’s a group of concerned Catholics that have raised this issue. Non-Catholic Christians, non-religionists and anyone concerned with human rights in general have been raising this issue contantly for years, but we now know it’s far from reasonable to expect anything but the usual, half-witted bullshit from the Vatican (and from many Catholics). Hopefully, the fact that quite a few Catholics themselves are having serious problems with the Vatican’s counter-intelligent stance on contraception and are speaking out about it will get some discourse going between other Catholics. Dissent in the ranks is likely to be the only thing to change the Vatican’s tiny mind on any issue – God knows appeals to reason, science and basic human freedoms do jack shit.

I’m still staggered that this debate continues to go on in the 21st freakin century, the third millenium of the Christian Era. We’ve landed men on the Moon (last century!), sequenced the human genome, looked backward in time 13 billion years to the birth of our universe and still we’re having a debate over whether condoms work. But hey, this argument’s with the Vatican: these people believe wafers turn into Jesus (mmm, a savioury treat!) – but only if a magic spell special prayer is said over them first. They still practise exorcisms for Chrissakes! And we’re having serious conversations with them! Would you have a serious chat with the psycho homeless guy on the corner screaming at the demons in his pocket? No! But hey, the poor homeless guy hasn’t been around for 1500 years and he doesn’t have a billion followers. That doesn’t mean the Papists are right, but it does mean they have a strong game it’ll take a lot for them to see sense. Shit, these people took 500 years to pardon Galileo.

It’s not just religionists that get upset by billboards

It’s monarchists too, as this ABC News report demonstrates:

A pro-monarchy group says a billboard advertisement is bordering on political advertising in support of a republic.

The Australian Monarchists League says two billboards in Sydney have urged consumers to “Forget the monarchy, support the publicans”.

League national chairman Philip Benwell says the wording of the ad by South Australian beer company Coopers is an attack on the constitutional monarchy.

“This particular advertisement is designed to get people to support publicans, but it’s also saying ‘Forget the monarchy’, and that’s what we object to,” he said. “Why couldn’t they say ‘Forget the Republicans, support the publicans?’ Why do they have to attack the monarchy?”

A spokesman for Coopers says the advertisement ran on billboards for just a short time and is not a major issue.

Monarchist: BAAAW
Coopers: LOL
An attack, my dear monarchist, is an action designed to inflict some kind of damage or injury. Coopers Brewery (makers of the finest damn ales in the country, perhaps even the universe, the last family-owned brewery in the country and perhaps the one thing that could make me patriotic about my home state of South Australia) was making a blindingly obvious pun on the monarchist/republican debate that’s been going on in this country at varying strengths for decades.
It frequently (very, very frequently) seems to me that conservative groups worldwide, be they religious, political or a combination of both, have minions everywhere, scouring the countryside like Ring Wraiths, searching for anything that could be construed as some kind of attack. They then scream “BAW, persecution!” in an effort to both publicise their cause and lend legitimacy to it, as if the very fact that people are having a go at you means you’re right (see: Galileo Fallacy). The monarchists in this story have failed epically at both, their spokesman just coming across as yet another overly-sensitive reactionary conservative, the kind any self-respecting republican, or any reasonable Australian, regardless of political persuasion, would and should rightly laugh out of the pub. I can hear several million Australians right now – if they have actually heard about this little foot-stomping tantrum, that is – chuckling to themselves and saying “Joyzuz Krawst, get ova yaself ya wankah, it’s a fucken beer ad!” In Victorian times it might sounded more like “Gawd, strike me pink. It’s only an advertisement, you flaminwowser. Pull your head in!”
This latest conservative dummy-spit (again, if it’s been noticed at all) has probably had an effect that’s the complete opposite of what the monarchists intended. Far from publicising the monarchist position, all it’s really done is given Australians two new things to laugh at: a new Coopers ad (in the laconic, typically Australian style we’ve all become accustomed to) and a new wowser.

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Not, not the pure awesome 1951 Michael Rennie film (the first scifi film to ever feature the now-iconic theremin in the score). I’m talking about the time that allegedly happened in the Bibble.

I started a bit of a debate with a chap on Youtube. Here’s the vid that kicked it all off:

You’ll find me in the comments thread there quite a bit, giving and getting a few spiky comments. But, gosh-darn it, there are some really bloody rude theists out there. And some really, really stupid ones.

Anyway, I got into it a bit with a guy called acenaspheru. We digressed from the topic of Satan and, eventually, the comment length stymied the exchange. A little later he sent me a message, which reads thus:

i’d have replied there but apparently i exeeded the comment limit.

i wasn’t aware that i spelled anything wrong. Though in my experience, most people at least in America, don’t spell perfectly.

I base my beliefs on scientific findings. The purpose of the bible is more for morals than it is an account of actual history, though there are sevral documented events that have been proven through science.

To believe there is a creator who brought everything into existance isn’t a stupid idea. To believe that the devil placed dinosour bones to make is think the earth is older than 6000 years, is. I don’t pretend that all religious ideas are right. I am not a follower of the catholic or any church for that matter. Dispite my spelling mistakes, I am a very intelegant person.

while a lot of the claims can be scientifically explained *the plagues, the parting of the Reed Sea, the destruction of sodom and Gamorah, the flood, ect…* how do you explain scientifically the sun standing still in the sky? This was documented by many civilizations across the globe, whom christianity had not yet touched. In China, they reported that sun didn’t set for many days while here in America my very ancestors tell of a time when the sun didn’t rise for several days. in order to conclude this a natural phenomenon, you have to assume the earth stopped rotating suddenly. If this had happened, what stopped it? what restarted it? if the accounts are even remotely correct the earth would have also revolved backwards a bit. That day is why we have leap year.

Now, can i say for sure that god stopped the earth? no. but i can also not find any other explenation for it. something obviously happened that has yet to be explained.

so you see not everyone who believes in a devine being is unintelegant.

My reply:

Hi, apologies for my lateness, RL etc…

Before I say anything else, I must point out that you keep spelling “intelligent” wrong 🙂

I’m pleased you’re not one of those who believe in a 6000 year-old Earth. I’ve found those that do are very frustrating to talk to about this stuff and I wouldn’t have responded.

As you would no doubt know, the Earth moves around the sun and not the other way around, which means that when the “Sun stood still in the sky”, it actually means the Earth would have suddenly stopped dead. Without exaggeration, such an event would have been catastrophic for every living thing on this planet.

Get this: our planet rotates at about 1100 miles (1770 km) per hour. If it were to stop suddenly, because of inertia our atmosphere would still be spinning at that speed! Imagine a global windstorm of over Mach 1.5 – it would scrub the Earth clean! Every ounce of topsoil, every plant, every animal and anything not anchored to the bedrock would be swept up into the atmosphere, turning into a massive cloud of deadly airborne debris. We’re talking a disaster a billion times worse than that tornado in The Wizard Of Oz.

That’s not even considering the gigantic quantities of water that will now be sloshing around as massive, continent-sized tsunamis, washing away what ever the wind doesn’t blow away. Think about how hard it is to drive or sit in a moving car and try to keep a bucket from spilling (or even just half a cup of water) and think about what happens when you stop suddenly. Multiply it by several trillion.

If the Earth had suddenly stopped rotating at any time in our history or pre-history, we would be able to see evidence in the layers of soil beneath us: the remains of displaced animals & people as well as plants and soil & rock types to name just a few indicators. No such evidence has been found by any scientific survey – I would go so far as to say that the idea of the planet suddenly stopping in its tracks would be much too ridiculous to contemplate for any scientist.

Basically, the Earth suddenly standing still – even for a moment – would be an unmitigated disaster for every man, woman, child and living thing on the entire planet. The fact that several cultures have legends about the sun standing still reveals something about their scientific knowledge – clearly, back in Jesus’ time people thought the sun orbited the Earth and not the other way around. I’m not sure what era of China that particular story comes from, or who your ancestors were, but that shows merely that such catastrophic stories – illustrating the enormous power of gods – are common in many cultures. Almost every culture ever discovered had stories about the world ending or being scrubbed clean in some way – Noah’s famous flood, for example, is a carbon copy of the much earlier global flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh from ancient Babylon. Stories and ideas spreading across boundaries of geography and culture are the biography of the human race. That some are ancient in origin or believed by many is no indicator of their accuracy.

Of course, if someone believes in a supernatural power they could say “Well, a god could have stopped all that destruction easily”. Well, sure. Why not? A god should be able to anything he wants. But for me and everybody else interested in verifiable fact, that’s not enough. It’s just an easy rationalisation for an event which didn’t happen, a way of convincing someone else (or yourself) of the truth of an ancient story.

Now, I certainly don’t believe all religious people are idiots – it’s not like I was raised in some sheltered atheist commune away from the rest of the world and I was a Christian myself in my teens. But when you open that door to superstition and miracle, your standards of evidence have to be lowered as a result. You’re much more likely to believe something for which there is – and can be – no proof & no evidence other than an ancient scripture or the world of a priest. That’s fine for some, but not for me.

If you’re a religious person, ask yourself why it is you believe what you believe. Then ask yourself why you don’t believe in all the other religions out there – then you’ll understand why I don’t believe in any of them.

Thanks for your message, hope my reply wasn’t too long


Afterwards, I realised I’d forgotten to address the leap year question so I sent him this link which spells it out pretty nicely (why is it so often that religious people don’t seek their own answers?):

I was really glad to continue our debate in private because it gave both of us room to move and spell out our positions clearly. This guy isn’t your common or garden anti-science comment-troll, but he certainly holds some misguided ideas. He seems like a respectful & smart guy, so I responded in kind (he’s no fundie – no CAPS LOCK fury for one thing). No point baiting the guy and getting all “you’re delusional & credulous, baaaw” when all he clearly needs is the right information (I’m just assuming it’s “he” – 99% of Youtube religionists seem to be dudes).

The right information: that’s all any person needs really, religious or otherwise – as long as they’re receptive to it. I hope acenaspheru is.

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Charliiiiiieeeee – Part Two!!!

OMG OMG OMG, nothing cracks me up like Charlie the Unicorn. Here’s the latest:

Stitches 😀

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