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Apr 09 2014

Revisionist History in “God’s Not Dead”

So… I was looking at something else entirely, when this popped up as something I might want to read. That’s right, an article at the Christian Post… so you know it has to be true. There are commandments (well, one) against bearing false witness, you know.

Anyway… seems part of “God’s Not Dead” (the movie) was inspired by true events. The asian dude in the movie who found Jesus… yup. Totes real.

It was during his time in college that Wang, then an atheist, built a relationship with a professor who began asking him questions about God and showing him evidence for the existence of a deity.

“A Harvard professor, a professor of pediatrics, and a believer, saw the status of mind that I was in, confused and in crisis,” Wang told The Christian Post in an email.

“He knew that because of his medical expertise, I would listen to him out of my respect of his medical knowledge. So he saw an opportunity, to guide and influence me, to broaden my understanding of life, to a broader prospective by introducing faith in my life which could help answer the questions that I had and for which I could not find answer in science.”

Note–his words, not mine. I am not bending this to say that a college professor saw a student in crisis of mind and decided to proselytize…I am merely reporting that this is what happened. Note: confused and distraught student, Christian professor.

Wang recalled a conversation where his professor asked him how he could believe that a car could somehow been created in the absence of a creator but yet assume that a brain had come about randomly.

“Right there and then, he opened a door, in my life, and I found God, found Christianity, that could provide the answers to the questions that I was asking.

Again, I hasten to say, these are not my words. It is Wang who is either mis-remembering, or accurately remembering incompetent faculty.

You don’t need my interpretation; you can read his story yourself.The story of a lost student who was pressured by a pushy faculty member… Pretty much the story of “God’s Not Dead”, right? Wait. lemme quote again:

Wang also said while Kwo, “the Chinese student character,” does portray part of his life story, the doctor also sees much of himself in the main character Wheaton.

“Some of the arguments that I made in the original book God’s Not Dead, with regard to the evidence of existence of God, was put into Joshua’s mouth, in his brilliant presentation of the evidence of existence of God. So, in essence, sort of half of me, in the original book, has gone into this main character Josh,” he explained.

Real life: insecure student from China is preached at by Christian prof.
Movie: Atheist prof challenges Christian student, Chick track ensues.

It’s based on a true story! Well… a story, anyway.

Apr 08 2014

In Defense Of The “Village Atheist”

The thing about a village is,
There’s nowhere you can hide
Cos everyone knows everyone
(A point of village pride)

And should you act distinctively,
That act becomes your role
A label thrust upon you—
Wholly out of your control

If your label as an “other”
Is too difficult a test,
You will monitor your actions
So you blend in with the rest.

It’s how villages keep order
And maintain the status quo
You can risk a village label
Or be safe, and just lie low

Thus we find the Village Idiot
(With luck, there’s only one)
And the nasty Village Atheist
Who argues just for fun

But for groups in the majority
Whose thoughts and acts are shared
There’s no “other” role required
So that label they are spared

It’s a simple sort of governance,
Enforcing right and wrong
The “Village X” may live here,
But they really don’t belong.

So my aggregator threw an article my way, “Why more atheists need to speak out against village atheism” (written, I probably don’t need to tell you, not by an atheist but by a Christian apologist just trying to be helpful):

Over the last five years that I have been blogging I have noted the extensive presence of village atheism within the infidel blogosphere. While the blogosphere also has its share of “village Christians”, what is particularly ironic about the proliferation of village atheism is the fact that the online atheist/skeptic community persistently tries to brand itself as being especially rational, critical, and objective. And yet, the widespread and vocal opinions of the village atheists directly contradicts this lofty branding.

His concern is noted. He goes on to describe “village atheists” in great detail, and mentions a second time that there is also such a thing as the “village christian”, but does not describe or give examples.

Thing is, there really isn’t a “village christian”, not in this culture, not meaningfully. I did a search for “the village atheist”, “the village idiot”, and “the village christian”, and in the words of Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the others. You can go for pages and pages of “the village christian school”, or “the village christian daycare” or find the phrase “…the village. Christian…” as the juxtaposition of two sentences in a story. I have not found it used in the same sense as “the village idiot” or “the village atheist” yet.

And that’s because “the village X” is a designated minority role. It’s a way of othering, of dismissing with a label, of designating someone to be both part of the village and apart from the village.

We have village atheists because we have people who are eager to speak up, but not terribly well versed in the topic they are speaking of. We have a great many more Christians who are eager to speak up, but not terribly well versed in the topic they are speaking on (we don’t have to look far). These are not “village Christians”, though–they are wholeheartedly welcomed members of the community. They are the village. It is not the fact that someone doesn’t have all the facts that makes them the “village atheist”; it is the fact that they are the atheist.

Interestingly (well, to me, at least), I did not run across any suggestion that “the village atheist” was meant to evoke comparisons to “the village idiot”. I really expected that the link was intentional and meant to disparage, but it appears that the terms are independent (I would, of course, defer to someone who can show otherwise, but I found nothing), both naturally occurring instances of an in-group labeling an out-group.

Lastly, to my mind the finest treatment of the village idiot ever (but see comment #4 below for a well-argued alternate choice)… though it never actually uses the phrase. The Beatles, with “The Fool On The Hill”:

Apr 05 2014

The result of an unbelievably convoluted trail…

With luck, I will eventually be able to tell you. But since it may never happen, I do want to share the eventual destination…

Apr 04 2014

“A Greater Fool Than The Atheist”

There’s fools and then, there’s greater fools
Like those who went to fancy schools
For silly stuff like Kepler’s rules
And other science stuff

The planetary hows and whys
Show God at work—that’s no surprise.
You need to back your case with lies?
The bible is enough

So my aggregator threw a site at me I had not seen before. It put me in mind of arguments I have not heard since grade school (about which, more below). It began by slapping two groups with the same bible verse (how economical!):

In the Bible, Psalm 53:1 says “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good”. We last spoke of the willful blindness of the atheist, who refuses to acknowledge his Creator. They believe in the ridiculous concept of evolution, which has no explanation for the beginning of life, and how fruits, nuts, vegetables, vitamins, minerals, and herbs for our health were provided. As foolish as the atheist may be, there is a group that’s even more foolish: they are the Muslims.

So, yeah, we’re fools. This guy is gonna teach us.

Let’s start with the Moon, for it is what the Muslims worship. It is the largest relative satellite in the solar system. From when the renewed Moon (lower crescent) is sighted in Jerusalem, to the next sighting of the renewed Moon, is about 29.53+ days. During the months of October to March, the Moon is closer to the Earth, and has a shorter (smaller) orbit around the Earth.
During April to October, the Moon is farther away from the Earth, and has a longer (larger) orbit around the Earth, and increases its velocity. It does this in order to remain in sync with the Earth’s distance from the Sun,maintaining its apparent equal size with the Sun, as viewed from Earth. The Atheist thinks that happened by random chance. [italics mine]

No, the atheist thinks what you just said is not true. It reminds me a bit of a bit of God-evidence I heard as a small child. We could trust the Genesis account of Eden, you know, because of biology; it is a medical fact that men have one fewer ribs than do women.

Now, this was easily checkable, thought not so much for a pre-internet kid. Encyclopedias did not actually outright say that men and women had the same number of ribs (because their writers evidently never considered the possibility that someone might actually need that bit of information spelled out for them!), and the claim was verified by at least one teacher (who, in hindsight, I can see was more religious than scientific in background)

And Mr. Cummings’s claim about the moon’s orbit is likewise wrong. Not only is it wrong, it actually contradicts observations that had been made since well before Christianity began. The moon and stars were important; they were carefully observed. The moon was larger and smaller, the planets moved, sometimes apparently slowing down and speeding up, even moving backward (as observed by us, anyway–thus “mars in retrograde”–a claim that the moon goes faster the further it is from earth would not be made based on the observed moon. Rather, the attempt to have the moon prove God’s existence has actually forced us (well, Mr. Cummings, anyway) to actively ignore evidence and make shit up.

My comment there, just in case…

Mr Cummings, you might want to check your science.

Any satellite (including the moon) in its elliptical orbit does not move faster when it is at its apogee (furthest distance); its fastest speed is actually at its perigee (closest distance). This is, you will note, the exact opposite of what you claim here. So… which is wrong? Science, or you?

You might also want to take a look at the beautiful phenomenon of the annular eclipse, in comparison to the total eclipse. The sun and moon do not, as you claim, maintain an apparent equal size, but vary enough for a spectacular variation in eclipses, depending on whether the sun or the moon appears larger (for annular and total eclipses, respectively). Again, you will note, this is the exact opposite of what you have written here. Will you change your claim? Or will you deny the evidence of the very sun and moon themselves?

If I cannot trust you to speak the truth about these simple, obvious things, why on earth should I trust you on anything else? For instance, it is easy to check your “I have been told” story about Obama (http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/weddingring.asp). If you are so gullible when the evidence is easy to see, is there something about 2,000-year-old information that somehow makes it *more* reliable?

If I sound harsh or impolite here, please understand, I am responding to a post that A) calls me a fool, and B) does so based on clearly false information, which C) is very easily checkable.

The title of the post is The Truth of Genesis: The Muslim Is A Greater Fool Than The Atheist – Part 1B No, really.

Two days late to be an April Fools Day joke.

Apr 02 2014

As Read By The Author…

So, yeah… April is (US) National Poetry Month. And I have a potential project, which may or may not see fruition this month or ever (simply because grading has to take a higher priority at this point), for which I could really use your input.

No promises–I try very hard not to make promises I can’t keep–but… which of my silly verses might you want to hear read by the author? Long-time readers may have their choices–I would ask new readers to feel free to speak as well, but also to feel free to look over to the left side of this page where there is an “archives” tab, and have fun exploring the early Cuttlefish offerings.

Now, I’ll say right up front that there are verses I have outgrown–there are some I would not recite even if they were the favorite of every other reader here–and there are some that I would decline because they need to be sung (others, I might actually sing), or require two-part harmony (for one, at least) or four-part harmony (for another).

But if you ever wondered what a particular verse sounded like to me… this would be your chance to point that out. Cos it’s part of my master plan for taking over FtB, and eventually the world. Or maybe I just want to show people how the verses sound to me. And I can’t very well just do them all.

No hurry–take your time. Look through the archives; try reciting them yourselves. The one thing about rhymed and metered verse is, it is intended to be read and heard aloud. There are hidden treasures there that will never be appreciated by those who read them silently, I promise you.

Anyway… I have grading to do. Dive deep, look around, and let me know. (New readers, you can start from the very first months if you like–the archives go back to 2007, and it astonishes me how many of my own favorites are among the earliest!)

ok, back to the salt mines… later…

Apr 02 2014

There Will Be Light

One of the great things about today’s technological infrastructure (well, until the whole thing collapses and we revert to banging rocks together) is that you can have your favorite local radio station somewhere on the opposite side of the planet. Which is the case for me. Which means I get to hear stuff that will likely never make it to American radio (which still exists) or my students’ mp3 players or phones (my other source of new music recommendations).

I liked this one enough to buy it, to support the band. I recommend listening late at night, in some deserted parking lot or seldom-travelled back road. Extra points if you have someone there to dance with.

Mar 31 2014

PZ Gets Demoted

You should make a major issue
Of incinerating tissue
If you don’t, we’ll make you wissue
Had a different point of view!
Cos abortion can’t be easy
And the doctors must be sleazy
So the comments made by PZ
Are a special sort of woo!

If his scientific training
Contradicts what we’re maintaining
Does it really need explaining?
Why, the scientist is wrong!
When the issue is abortion
Then we must preserve proportion—
Give his title some distortion
Just a “blogger” all along

That’s right–PZ Myers got demoted from “Atheist scientist” to “blogger”. By a bunch of people who disagree with him but can’t actually argue with what he says.

Demoted? Yes! See, my aggregator alerted me to this post, but when I clicked, it told me there was no such file! This is what it used to look like…
Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 5.55.48 PM

See? “Atheist Scientist”. But if you look at the comments (protip: NEVER READ THE COMMENTS!!!), you’ll see that they quickly start with ad hom attacks on PZ. And at some point, the post itself changes. Now, if you look, PZ’s description has changed:

~ Blogger P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula, March 26, responding to news that the bodies of thousands of aborted and miscarried babies were incinerated at UK hospitals, some to provide heat –

Now, I’m not saying the description changed to minimize PZ’s credentials and to hype the actual story (despite the actual information in PZ’s post that exposed the hype as a lie)… ok, actually, I *am* saying that. Because, intentionally or not, that’s exactly what happened.

Now… just a thought… I’ve seen a handful of different numbers cited as the “average times a journal article is read”. I honestly have no idea which is correct (which is why I’m linking to none, rather than to a dozen that differ). I do know that every single one of them is shockingly smaller than I would have hoped (not smaller than I realize after thinking about it–many of these articles are of such hair-splitting particularity that I really can’t expect more than a handful or two of people to really care–but those are the people who should and do read them!). PZ’s blog gets more hits daily than the vast majority of academic journal articles. If we limit PZ only to the times he blogs on scientific topics, I suspect his blog is at least an order of magnitude greater exposure than the average paper he writes about. Different audience, certainly–different function. Still terribly important. (and yeah, thus far none of the commenters on that piece seem remotely willing to put their own publication records up against his.)

So, yeah, the commenters are wrong on that… and still, it doesn’t matter. They don’t address what he actually says. Their comments make that clear. But when you don’t have a good argument… rule of thumb… attack the presenter. That is, Atheist Scientist blogger PZ Myers.

Mar 29 2014

The Best Advice I Ever Got

I would write it in letters, eleven feet tall—
And how they would shine; they would glisten!—
The advice I once got, the most useful of all:
“Just shut the fuck up… and listen.

and hey, it applies across any number of different contexts!

Mar 29 2014

There Are Miracles, And Then There Are Miracles

Be careful what you pray for.

Mar 28 2014

Looking Under The Hood…

I just love statistics, and numbers, and such
Whether icy abstractions or warm to the touch
I’ve been told that, perhaps, I adore them too much—
That my feelings are more-or-less “weird”

Ok, “weird” I can see, but I have to confess
I’m put off by the too-imprecise “more or less”—
Is it greater, or smaller? And so, I obsess—
Which is pretty much just what they feared.

“Pretty much”? I shall have to do better than this!
My obsession compels me; there’s something amiss!
Like cars to the Germans or clocks to the Swiss
Are numbers to people like me

There’s too much to do, so I’ll finish up fast
“It’s the last verse”, I’ll say, so I’m strapped to the mast
I will want to write more, but that moment has passed
And—precisely—I’m now out to sea.

I won’t tell you what prompted this verse–I can’t; I don’t have time. I saw a comment, when I shouldn’t have been looking. I was (and am) grading; I have too much to do to be reading non-essential stuff, let alone writing.

But then, someone made a bad statistical argument. And it physically hurt to read.

It’s pretty much the same reaction that bad grammar or spelling gives me, except that it is rarer, so I have built up less immunity.

Anyway, I couldn’t get back to work until I addressed the situation. So… back to work. Right, then, as you were, move along, nothing to see here!

Or… do you have your own obsessions like this? Do you correct the grammar and/or spelling of signs? (I do) Do you physically feel it when you see a mathematical error? Do you turn the radio off (as I did yesterday) when someone starts reciting poetry that does not quite rhyme, or does not quite follow the appropriate meter?

Do you consider your obsession to be a blessing or a curse?

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