Pew Poll Pablum

When you study religion in college, your knowledge
Goes straight to your memory, missing your heart;
For people who lack the emotion, the notion
Of putting down faith makes them feel really smart.
Unless it’s a testable question, suggestions
Of heavenly forces are mocked and ignored;
The good-hearted folks who find kneeling appealing
Are held in contempt by the atheist horde.

The godless remain where they started, cold-hearted,
While god-fearing people’s emotions are moved;
They’re different from real human beings, I’m seeing,
So clearly it’s shown, I consider it proved!
The godless are never excited, delighted,
Feel love unrequited, or sorrow unplanned;
They’re robots! Their whole human backing is lacking—
It’s clear as a crystal–they don’t understand.

The battle of Pew Poll is being spun in multiple directions. Atheists are smarter; atheists claim they are smarter; atheists know more trivia; the test was general, not specific; does knowledge cause atheism or vice versa; knowing about something is different from knowing something… and more. Atheists reject religion because they do not know it in the same way as the faithful… except that so many of us were once among the faithful, and have not forgotten what it felt like. At the time, my religious conversion experience was perhaps the most overwhelming thing I had ever felt. I was a part of that community, too, and would never deny that part of the appeal. I have since had more overwhelming experiences (hey, I am a parent, after all), and have been part of different communities.

I am slightly insulted by the insinuations in the argument. I am not arguing out of a place of ignorance, either in the trivial knowledge part or the emotional, community, spiritual, etc. part. It is not that I do not know that view. Rather, it is that I know that view and so much more.

There is definitely misunderstanding going on. I just don’t think the fingers are pointing in the right directions.

Cuttlecap tip to PZ, again.

Blasphemy Day Again?

Calloo, Callay! It’s blasphemy day!
When we tug on the beard of the prophet;
When we say to the pope, “you’re a miserable dope;
That ex cathedra chair? Just get off it!”
We point out that god is an impotent sod–
If indeed we assume god exists–
Just a vanishing fable, forever unable
To step from mythology’s mists.
Here’s your chance to express what you think of this mess;
If you haven’t before, you should try it!
If you try just one bite, just one blaspheme, you might
Find a welcome new dish for your diet!

The Miracle Butterfly!

I thought I saw a butterfly,
Of all unlikely things,
Pure white against the utter black
An angel’s fragile wings
It led me on to safety
Through the darkness of the mine—
A messenger from Heaven, it
Was God’s Own Holy Sign—
A tiny little butterfly
To show His Will Divine.

It fluttered in the mineshaft
A half a mile below,
Though how it could have gotten here
I think I’ll never know;
It must have been a messenger
Sent down by God above
As a physical reminder
Of the mercy of His love
While He chose, with His omnipotence,
To give the rocks a shove.

Though He could have stopped the rockfall
And could thus be held to blame
We will marvel at His mercy
And sing praises to His name.
Let our voices rise to Heaven;
Let a joyous noise resound!
Let us praise our God, almighty,
For the butterfly we found
In the middle of the chaos
Half a mile underground.

It must be boring. Boring, that is–boring a hole half a mile down to reach the trapped Chilean miners. So we get human interest stories, rather than “yup, the drill is still progressing.” The latest human interest story seems to have some people excited and others embarrassed–it is the story of “the miners and the butterfly“.

Copiapo, Chile (CNN) — In Chile’s dry Atacama desert, folklore mixes with superstition and superstition blends with religion.

Just like, oh, pretty much everywhere else.

The story has morphed with the retelling. The original, best as I can tell, was written by Jorge Galeguillos, one of the trapped miners:

“We had been up to the workshop and as we were driving back down, a slab of rock caved in just behind us. It crashed down only a few seconds after we drove past. Just ahead I saw a white butterfly,” Galeguillos wrote in the two-page letter to his brother Eleodoro, also a miner.
“After that, we were caught in an avalanche of dirt and dust. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. The tunnel was collapsing and the rocks buried a backhoe. A water tank lower down was almost completely buried too,” he continued.

By the time the story is told around firesides (the CNN reporter tells us), the butterfly was a guardian angel, bringing the miners to safety. In the comments to the CNN piece, we see that the miners stopped to watch the butterfly, and by doing so were saved from the collapse. Note that Galeguillos specifies that the cave-in was behind them, and the butterfly ahead, such that if they had stopped to watch, they’d have been crushed, but let’s not let that get in the way of a good story.

Details are irrelevant when it comes to miracles. And isn’t it miraculous that, as rock fell around them, eventually trapping them underground (where good planning of emergency shelters–not prayer–saved them), they saw… an insect?

Holy Compost!

As we bury these books full of hatred
We notice that nobody mourns
And we wonder, though roses were planted,
Might it only grow briars and thorns?

But no–we’ll see beautiful blossoms
And the reason (it seem so, to me)
Is, the carbon long bound to this folly
Is delighted, at last, to be free

And the earth could be covered with flowers
And the world could be given a chance
If we hammer our swords into plowshares
And recycle our myths into plants

Cuttlecap tip to PZ, of course.

The Ballad Of Christine O’Donnell

One Saturday morning, a beautiful day,
With nothing much better to do,
I thought I’d examine a question I had,
So I went off to visit the zoo.

The monkeys were swinging on bars in their cage—
I watched, the entire day long—
But not one of the monkeys evolved to a man;
That’s how I know Darwin was wrong.

Empirical study (like mine) has disclosed
That a theory is never a fact;
Since we never see monkeys evolve into men,
It’s time “evolution” was sacked.

With Darwin defeated, it’s time to explore
What they claim is the age of the earth;
“Tectonics” makes mountains and continents move
If the theory retains any worth.

So I hopped in the car, and I drove to the shore
With the cliffs overlooking the sea;
I watched the day long, while they moved not an inch—
The question is settled, for me!

When scientists tell me their method is best,
I agree—cos I’ve used it myself!
And I’ll take what I see with my very own eyes
Over dusty old books on the shelf.

And since monkeys are monkeys, and people are people,
And mountains are solid as stone
I’ve falsified science, and better than that,
I figured it out on my own!

Cuttlecap Tip to PZ, here.

The Minds Of Machines

My telephone wants my attention;

I can tell by the way that it yells.
It announces these things by the way that it rings
Its annoying cacophonous bells.
My car wants to see the mechanic,
And says so by flashing a light;
I’m quite apprehensive–it’s always expensive
When something goes wrong (and it might!).
My laptop computer, it hates me
(And the feeling is mutual, jerk!)
No warning light flashes, just ‘click’ and it crashes
And vanishes all of my work.
When I don’t understand their construction,
And their actions are hard to explain,
There are times that I find I just call it their mind
And the same thing is true for my brain.
This comment over on the confabulator brain post at Pharyngula has not quite got it right. We do infer inner causes–wants and desires–in our machines, but not in the circumstances he uses as examples. “My lawnmower wants to mow the grass” is, I agree, not the way we speak of “want”. But my lawnmower does not want to start on cold mornings–it wants to be warm. It wants a new oil filter–it tells me in smoke signals. My computer wants me to back up files. My car wants an oil change. My kids want ice cream. I want a job that pays.
“Wanting” implies that, given the opportunity to do X, we will. I cannot know the internal state of my computer’s desire for backup, but I also cannot know my kids’ internal state. Nor do I know the internal state of those who taught me the word “want”, so I have no way of knowing if my feelings are the same as theirs–I only know that my behavior matches. “Want” works just as well–in the appropriate situations–for machines as it does for people or animals.
We use inner cause words in other situations, too–those situations in which causality is not easily determined. If my computer crashes because of a power surge that also takes out the transformer down the block and puts half the town in the dark, it is clear what happened; if my computer crashes for no apparent reason, it is because it has a mind of its own. Or it hates me.
Which it does.

On Hallucinogens As A Path To Enlightenment

I’ve seen the light–the other light–
The real one! Really seen it!
It’s more than real, it’s really real,
(That’s how you know I mean it)
It’s more than just “agreed upon
By others who observe it”–
Your thinking’s far too linear;
Take lots of drugs and curve it.
I know it’s real, despite the fact
It violates your “laws”;
And when you ask me how I know
I’ll simply say “because.”
So take some pills, and try this new reality I’ve tasted–
And if, by chance, you disagree… so what? We’re fucking wasted!
The comments on this thread were infested by a troll of a particular variety, the sort who has had more experience with drugs than with science, and is therefore convinced of the superiority of the former as a path to knowledge. I’ve run into this sort before (in a previous life–ha!); they are openminded to virtually every possibility in the universe, except that they might be mistaken.

The War On Christmas Comes *Really* Early This Year

(cuttlecap tip to BlagHag) (sorry about the formatting)

No, really. It’s apparently real–not a spoof. And it’s got a Baldwin brother! Extra points to anyone who made it through the whole trailer without either laughing or facepalming.
No wonder people look at me strangely when they find I’m an atheist; this movie presents what they think atheists are, and I am not at all like that. Come to think of it, nobody is like that.
This is a beautiful piece of propaganda; in the trailer alone, the revisionist history about both the holiday and the country shine through. As most of us know (except, of course, the people who need to the most), the beginnings of Christmas in America (home of The War On Christmas, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fox News) were not festive in the least. The Puritans had better, purer things to do on December 25th (for a couple of decades in the 1600′s, Boston even had a law prohibiting the celebration of Christmas!); a Christmas holiday as we know it did not begin until the 1800′s. Interestingly, celebrating Christmas (as opposed to observing it) spread with the notion of Santa, “The Night Before Christmas”, and commercial connections to stores and products, not with the story of the birth of god’s human sacrifice.

Those who wish a return to the traditional values of Christmas, away from the secularization, are welcome to stay inside, draw their curtains tight and stick their noses in their bibles. I will expect them to show up at work on the 25th (as, indeed, Congress did in 1789, the first Christmas under our constitution). Myself, I will gladly take the opportunity to celebrate with Cuttlefamily and friends. We will probably feast, and may even sing–such decadence would surely have been frowned upon, even fined, by the founders of our Christian Nation (TM).

Good.

A repost, from earlier wars on earlier christmases:
From the Cape of Good Hope to the Newfoundland islands,
The sands of Iran to the Panama isthmus;
From Outback Australia to Inverness Highlands
It’s time to take arms in the War Against Christmas!
My weapons are mistletoe, Christmas trees, holly,
A yule-log, and caroling out in the snow;
Sleigh-rides and snowball-fights, eggnog and Jolly
Old Santa Claus, laughing his loud “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
We’ll make them forget all the Truth of the season—
The sacrifice planned by a god up above—
And have them believing some bastardized reason
Like giving, or kindness, or caring or love!
I’ll cruelly and callously help out a stranger
Who’s down on his luck or has suffered some loss,
I won’t even speak of the babe in the manger
Whom God sent to Earth to get nailed to a cross;
When the winds of December conspire to freeze us
I’ll help collect sweaters and coats for the poor,
Neglecting to make any mention of Jesus,
Whose torture is really what Christmas is for.
My hatred of Christmas will focus my labors
On weaving an atheist fabric of lies—
For instance, I’m giving to all of my neighbors
Gift baskets, cookies, and fruitcakes and pies!
I’ll say “Merry Christmas!” I’ll say “Season’s Greetings!”
I’ll say “Happy Holidays—Joyous Noel!”
Intending of course, that with each of these meetings
The Truth About Christmas can just go to hell.
The truth is that Christmas is not about presents
It’s no time for songs, It’s not time to be nice
It’s not time for feasting on turkeys or pheasants—
It’s sin, and redemption by blood sacrifice.
No time to be jolly; no time to be merry
It’s time to be solemn, and grim, and devout!
The heathens might find it depressing or scary
But that is what Christmas is truly about.
Yes, Jesus is really the ultimate reason
And Christmas is really redemption and sin;
The war against Christmas is early this season—
For God’s sake, let’s hope that the atheists win!

I Got Yer Tentacles Right Here, Guy!

“Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul.”
–Guy Consolmagno, Vatican Astronomer

I have no soul; I have no spirit,
No quintessential vital force;
That subtle voice? I cannot hear it;
My life has no unearthly source.
I have no god; I have no angel,
Devil, pixie, sprite or elf;
I don’t believe that prayer for change’ll
Do more than I do myself.
I have no need for benediction;
Follow no religious creed;
Holy Books are ancient fiction—
Reality is all I need.

In the pomp and circumstance of the pope’s visit to Old Blighty, a vatican astronomer (thus, nominally, a scientist?) tells us authoritatively that aliens might have souls, and that he would be willing to baptize them, if they asked. The money quote, of course, opens this post.

Guy Consolmagno tries to puff up his scientific street cred by dissing Intelligent Design, and by demonstrating an understanding of the long odds against actual alien contact. But when it comes to the existence of something far more incredible than aliens, his true colors show:

Responding to Hawking’s recent comments that the laws of physics removed the need for God, Consolmagno said: “Steven Hawking is a brilliant physicist and when it comes to theology I can say he’s a brilliant physicist.”

oooh, burn…

Well… I can tell you, when it comes to the ensoulment of tentacular entities, Consolmagno doesn’t have a leg to stand on, let alone eight. Although it is certainly true that the tentacled are his equal when it comes to souls, it is a simple equation: 0 = 0.

Hey, BTW, I’m looking for a Thule fit kit # 151. The local store sez they don’t carry it, cos it’s obsolete. So if any of you are junking your old car and have a #151, let me know…

Prolate Spheroids

A physicist may be described
(to first approximation)
As a simple prolate spheroid
Of infectious obfuscation.
Attempts to oversimplify
Reveal their odd propensity
To speak of spheroid cattle
Which are uniform in density—
Their perfect planes are frictionless;
Collisions are elastic;
They’re rarely seen acknowledging
The random or stochastic.
The chaos of the world outside
May leave them full of fears;
Such terra incognita
Might be filled with… Engineers!

(Of course, in XKCD, physicists are not prolate spheroids, but lines and circles, in two dimensions. Even easier!)