New Post Up on Ye Olde Writing Blog

For those of you interested in following the writer’s progress, I’ve started blogging my winter writing project. Yup. Time to get serious.

Those of you desiring an invite so that you may view my screaming and the occasional excerpt as this thing progresses, shoot me a request at dhunterauthor at yahoo dot com. And if you’ve requested before and not got an invite, I swear it’s not because I dislike you, but because I lost your email. Ask me again.

I’m off to stare at a blank page and start sweating blood now.

Los Links 10/28

It’s Halloween, otherwise known as NaNo’eve, and this may be the last big linkfest for a considerable time. Oh, there will be Los Links, don’t get me wrong. I’d never deprive you of them. But I likely won’t have much time for reading. Which is a shame, because people keep writing intensely interesting stuff.

Exhibit A below the fold.

Van Earthquake

Highly Allochthonous: M 7.2 earthquake near Van, eastern Turkey.

History of Geology: Paleoseismology of the Anatolian and Caucasus Region.

In Focus: Deadly Earthquake in Turkey.

Scientific American: A Geologist’s-Eye-View of the Van Earthquake.

 

Occupy Wall Street

Truthout: Some Unsolicited Advice to the Democratic Party: Cave to Occupy Wall Street Movement.

AlterNet: Occupy the Boardroom: 9 Angry, Heart-Breaking Messages to Wall Street’s Elites From the 99%.

My FDL: Unable to Get Simeone Fired, NPR Drops “World of Opera”.

Almost Diamonds: Approaching 99%.

Lousy Canuck: On the Role of the Middle Class in Occupy Wall Street.

The Daily Beast: Occupy Wall Street’s Age Divide.

Gizmodo: How to Be a Citizen Journalist Without Getting Killed.

Rolling Stone: Wall Street Isn’t Winning – It’s Cheating.

Daily Kos: A Voice From the 1% and Fellow Kossack Jesse LaGreca (a/k/a MinistryofTruth) Destroys Fox News Reporter.

Camels with Hammers: Taxes, Employment Rates, and Deficits Explained In Less Than 2 Minutes.

 

Blogging Research

Notes & Theories: Brian Cox is wrong: blogging your research is not a recipe for disaster.

Clastic Detritus: Why I Won’t Blog Unpublished Results.

 

Global Warming

BBC: Global warming ‘confirmed’ by independent study.

ThinkProgress: Hot Dog Bites Skeptical Man: Koch-Funded Berkeley Temperature Study Does “Confirm the Reality of Global Warming”.

Bad Astronomy: New independent climate study confirms global warming is real.

Talking Points Memo: Climate Change Deniers Abandon ‘Befuddled Warmist’ Physicist Who Came Around On Global Warming.

 

Science

Highly Allochthonous: Friday Focal Mechanisms: the Hayward Fault shows up to the Shakeout Party and Scenic Saturday: Minnesota, Land of Lakes.

Superbug: 25 Dead From Melons: FDA Points to Packing Facility.

Oscillator: What does this smell like? Wine snobbery made easy.

Context and Variation: Mate magnet madness: when the range of possible explanations exceeds your own hypothesis.

Wooster Geologists: How Fossils Saved Civilization: A National Fossil Day Talk.

The Last Word on Nothing: Embracing My Hubble Moments.

Uncovered Earth: Sunday Science Photos, September 25–October 22.

Culture of Science: Playing “Scientist”: How The Public Is Misled By Paranormal Investigators.

Oddee: 7 Most Extreme Paths.

Science Sushi: Time – and brain chemistry – heal all wounds.

The Biology Files: Huffington Post: Irresponsible mouthpiece for the World of Woo.

White Coat Underground: A pox on your house? How fighting one disease brought back another.

The Planetary Society Blog: Science from Vesta at the Geological Society of America meeting.

New Scientist TV: Underwater volcano spews exotic lava.

Nothing in Biology Makes Sense: Double, double toil and trouble: a tale of two infections.

ETH Life: Geology for wine lovers.

Scientific American: Lessons from Sherlock Holmes: From Perspective-Taking to Empathy.

Respectful Insolence: Six medical “myths” that aren’t.

The New York Times: Bees’ Migration Holds Clues to Geologic History.

Wired Science: Mass Species Loss Stunts Evolution for Millions of Years.

Laelaps: American Lion, or Giant Jaguar? – In Search of Panthera atrox.

Not Exactly Rocket Science: March of the titans: fossil teeth show dinosaurs heading for the hills.

Research at a Snail’s Pace: Transformative works at the intersection of art and science.

Not Necessarily Geology: Up Close and Personal.

Mountain Beltway: Strained Timiskaming-type metaconglomerates from Ontario and Pavement outcrops of strained Seine conglomerate.

Metageologist: Sediments and shiny shoes.

Mike Brown’s Planets: And the answer is….

Bad Astronomy: A cosmic Halloween gallery: things that go BOO in the night and The long shadow of Mt. Rainier.

National Association of Science Writers: On science blogs this week: Trust.

The Guardian: Serious claims belong in a serious scientific paper.

The Life Scientific: Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell.

Written In Stone…seen through my lens: Part I: The Tectonic Genesis of the Champlain Thrust Fault at Lone Rock Point.

Looking for Detachment: Tremolite-Actinolite Skarn.

Magma cum Laude:  “Translating” descriptions of the 1902 eruption of Santa Maria .

 

Writing

The Passive Voice: Kindle Format 8 Just Announced – The Earth Continues to Shift Under Publishing.

Google Blog: Designing an Infinite Digital Bookcase.

The Conscience of a Liberal: But, And, Why.

Underwire: 9 Essential Geek Books You Must Read Right Now.

Alternative Hypothesis: Ten lessons about writing that every scientist should learn…

The Last Word on Nothing: You’ve got mail, you idiot!

Writer Beware: A Small Press Implodes: The Inside Story of Aspen Mountain Press  and Victoria Strauss — Precautions for Small Press Authors.

The Open Notebook: Ask TON: dumb questions.

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: The Most Intriguing Ebook Market in the World.

The Business Rusch: Believe In Yourself.

 

Women’s Issues

Context and Variation: Rachel Maddow Man Cave’s Not-Too-Upsetting Guide to Down-There Parts.

MSNBC: 285 girls make fresh start in India by changing their names from ‘Unwanted’.

Happy Place: Poster explains how to not rape.

A Leaf Warbler’s Gleanings: Miss Representation: How do I raise strong, independent daughters when the media tells them they can’t be so?.

Just Another Electron Pusher: Successful women chemists and the importance of role models.

The Biology Files: Women know something you don’t.

The X Blog: A Rape in Progress.

Pharyngula: Mississippi’s shame.

Salon: The next front in the abortion wars: Birth control.

Alas! A Blog: No, You Aren’t Amber Cole’s Father.

 

Atheism and Religion

Almost Diamonds: Halloween Is Popular; Therefore, God.

Slate: Walking Santa, Talking Christ.

Butterflies and Wheels: Shoving people off the sidewalk, again.

Greta Christina’s Blog: We’re Telling Them They’re Wrong: Why Coming Out Atheist Is Inherently Oppositional and Coming Out Atheist Is Different from Coming Out Queer — But Still Sort Of The Same.

No Longer Quivering:  Me? Obey Him?

The Friendly Atheist: Now, the American Cancer Society is Just Lying…

This Week in Christian Nationalism: U.S. Military Program Teaches Foreign Military Students That Liberals Subverted America’s Judeo-Christian Heritage.

MU SASHA Blog: Guest Post: Damon Fowler – Adventures with Indoctrination.

Assassin Actual: Aww, Your Hate Group Is Hurting for Money?

 

Politics

Paul Krugman (The Conscience of a Liberal): Party of Pollution and Say Anything.

Grist: EPA chief tells GOP to STFU.

 

Society and Culture

Skepchick: Psychic Kids at DragonCon: A Report.

Vancouver Sun:  Why the West should not abandon Afghanistan.

WWJTD: Life Lessons In Odd Places.

TN Newspress: TSA Checkpoints Now On TN Highways.

Teen: Dreaming: #talktoteens talking no more.

Hyperbole and a Half: Adventures in Depression.

 

Nymwars

Epicenter: You Are Not Your Name and Photo: A Call to Re-Imagine Identity.

Four Questions, Four Answers (No Jesus Necessary)

Some of my readers may not know Callan Bentley. This is a shame, because he’s a brilliant geologist, a fantastic teacher, and one of the two people who makes me seriously consider moving to Virginia in order to attend college. If you knew how I felt about passive margins, you’d know why this is a big deal.

While Callan tends to focus on geology, he occasionally takes off after politics, pseudoscience, and religion. He’s not afraid to be honest. And that honesty extends to people he respects. People like Bill Hooke, who is a scientist blogging about climate policy, a Christian man who has four questions he thinks only Jesus can answer.

Today, Bill wrote a post entitled “Environmental scientists as Christians.” In it, he describes his own Christianity and how there is only a little overlap between “Church Bill” and “Work Bill.” My long-time readers will know that I do not subscribe to any religious ideology. I find religion superfluous to the reality that I find around me on a daily basis: it’s what a philosopher would call “philosophical naturalism” (as opposed to science, which operates under “methodological naturalism,” which doesn’t necessarily preclude the possibility of supernatural beings; it just can’t detect them). So it really struck to me to read Bill’s ruminations on that topic. This is a gentleman and a scholar, and he apparently has given a lot of thought to these issues.

In the post, he “quotes” (paraphrasing from memory) the evangelical preacher Billy Graham, who says

There are four reasons we need Jesus… four questions we can’t answer without Him.

1. Does my life matter? Is it possible for my life to have meaning?

2. How can I handle my loneliness, the loneliness I feel even in a crowd, or even (or perhaps especially) when with people who are close to me?

3. How can I bear my crushing burden of guilt? And by that I don’t mean as measured by some external standard such as the Ten Commandments, but rather my own judgment of myself…that I have fallen short of my potential.

4. What happens to me after I die?

Callan answered them handily, no Jesus required. I shall do the same. And I don’t know if Bill will ever read either post. If he does, I don’t know if anything will go *click*. But I hope it does, because I find it tragic that a brilliant man can’t imagine answers without Jesus.

Here we go.

1. Does my life matter? Is it possible for my life to have meaning?

Yes.

Suppose I should expand on that a bit. My life matters intensely. It matters to my family, more than I expect sometimes. I got reminded of that one memorable Christmas, just after I moved up here, when I’d forgotten about the time difference between Arizona and Washington and my stepmother called because I hadn’t yet called them and my dad was not only worrying, but missing me fiercely. He’s not a sentimental man, and he’s not prone to panic, but there we were: I was an hour late calling on Christmas day, and he was so torn between letting me live my life without him clinging to it and freaking out because it was his first Christmas without me and he was terrified something may be wrong that my stepmother had to step in and sort the situation out. My life matters to them, and to my mother, and to my friends, and my readers, and certainly to my cat.

My life has meaning. I used to think it didn’t. There was a long time, when I was losing my religion, that I couldn’t see the point of it, and that bothered me. I felt I had to justify my existence. And if I wasn’t justified by some god or other, then what? Meaningless. Waste of resources. Right?

Then I discovered that meaning isn’t something imposed from without. It comes from within. What meaning did I want my life to have? What was the point of me? That’s when I got serious about becoming a master wordsmith, because good writing has inspired and challenged me and carried me through some very dark times. Words matter. I’m good with words. And there’s no god or goddess who can give me the boon of immortal words. It’s just me, the excellent writers I’ve learned from, and devoting myself to telling the story.

I got involved with making this world a better place, because it’s all we’ve got, and we’ve got to take care of each other because there’s no one else.

I’ve not worried about meaning since. Meaning: I haz it. And it’s far more stable than it ever was when it was supposedly God who gave me meaning. The universe doesn’t give two shits whether I exist or not, and I don’t need it to. Got all the matter and meaning I need right here, thank you ever so much. Bonus, it means I actually do something with my life rather than rest on the laurels supposedly bestowed upon me by some god. Nice goad to ye old ambitions, that!

2. How can I handle my loneliness, the loneliness I feel even in a crowd, or even (or perhaps especially) when with people who are close to me?

I thrive on that loneliness, actually. I’m a writer. Writers work in solitude (well, most do). Writers work with solitude. It’s not often a problem, and the few times I’ve gotten all mopey about being lonely, I’ve quickly gotten distracted by lots of interesting things and forgotten all about it. Besides, a writer is never actually alone. There’s always a character around to pester. Although it’s usually them doing the pestering….

I’m afraid those looking for non-writer ways of dealing with that loneliness will have to turn to Callan and others.

3. How can I bear my crushing burden of guilt? And by that I don’t mean as measured by some external standard such as the Ten Commandments, but rather my own judgment of myself…that I have fallen short of my potential.

I can see the scars of Christianity in this. Always being told we’re not worthy, always being told we’re worthless sinners undeserving of love, always being told we’re never good enough. And it’s awful.

Here’s the thing: falling short of your potential isn’t the problem. Never striving is. Are you giving it the old college try? Yeah? Then you’re good. You’re a little bit of all right. You don’t have to be superhuman, just human, and being human means we don’t always reach our full potential. That’s okay. It happens.

This phrase is what gets me through those times when I’m beating myself up over my own (perceived) failures: quantum in me fuit. Loosely translates as “I did the best I could.” I hated myself for not being a child prodigy. Then I decided that self-loathing wasn’t going to rescue the situation and took a more realistic look at what I could accomplish with my life. Yes, I’m going to fall short of what I thought my potential should be. But I’ve got quite a lot I can be justifiably proud of, I’ve done the best I could and continue doing that, and even if I fail utterly, the journey’s been quite a reward.

The guilt’s been reduced to an impotent little squeak, just enough to be a useful goad, not enough to crush. And I’ve fulfilled much more of my potential since I quit beating myself to death with guilt.

All Jesus ever did was made me feel guilty. That question couldn’t even be answered when I believed in him. I just didn’t realize it at the time.

4. What happens to me after I die?

There will be no “me,” and no self there to realize that “me” is over.

“I” will cease to be. My atoms will get recycled. My consciousness will no longer exist.

That, I do have to say, used to terrify me. All of the things I wouldn’t have had a chance to do or know or see, all the people I’d never see again, if there was no heaven, no afterlife. And this life, what a joke! The afterlife had to be sooo much better. I needed it to be.

When I lost my religion, I spent a little bit of time horrified by death. Didn’t want to think about it. Awful. But I’m human, and I know that this life of mine is fragile and finite, and I can’t help but think about it.

And one day, as I was obsessing over the impending end of my life, and fearing that I wouldn’t get done the things I felt I needed to do before I died, and paralyzing myself with fear, something went *click*. Because I realized: death is the end. I’ll never know all the things I wanted to know, do all the things I wanted to do, see all the things I wanted to see, but I won’t know about it. Where’s the problem, then? What is there to fear, when there won’t be a mind left to regret?

This is probably the closest I’ve ever come to Zen. It’s allowed me to live more in the moment. Oh, I still have plans and ambitions and plenty of stuff to do before that end. I want to fill my days with awesome, as much as possible, because time is short and life is precious. I want to leave something behind when I go that people will enjoy. It would be nice to be remembered long after all those who knew me are dust. But immortality in any form isn’t necessary anymore. I haven’t felt any need for it in some time.

It’s hard to explain. When you believe in an afterlife, you’re desperate for that afterlife, and live in abject fear of getting it wrong. Strangely, many people who believe they will go to a place filled with rainbows and unicorns after they die are far more terrified of death than those of us who believe it’s just over. Maybe it’s because they suspect some god or other will tell them U DID IT RONG when they perish, and bung into the fires they’ll go.

I’m at peace with the end of me. It doesn’t make me maudlin or nihilistic to believe death is final, and that there is no eternity for my identity. It just makes me determined to enjoy this one spin on the wheel I’ve got.

See? Four answers, no Jesus necessary. I know it doesn’t seem that way for Christians. It didn’t seem that way to me, long ago, when I used to haul a Bible around. Indeed, I was taught that any answers that did not have Jesus in them were invalid. You’re not even allowed to imagine there could be answers that haven’t got Jesus in them.

But there are. And you can find them.

I’m Sending You to the Salt Mines

This. Is. Amazing.

If somebody wanted to send me to work in this salt mine, that would be totally fine. I’d be all over that. It’s one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. Who would have ever thought that a bunch of salt miners would have spent extra time down in the mines to create something so perfectly magical?

Who would have thought plain ol’ salt could be the medium in which such beauty could be expressed?

I’m going to show you a glimpse of the whimsical part of it.

Image Source

Then go gape at the rest. While you’re at it, the geology of that mine is pretty wonderful, too.

I will never see humble old salt in the same way ever again.

“You Want Something Old? Pick Up a Rock.”

There’s this thing that happens, sometimes, when a blogger’s busier than an overstocked daycare center whose charges have gotten into the coffee supply and disregarded the decaf. You post a little throwaway something: a video, some photos, a few thoughts. You think nothing of it. You were just filling a gap, sharing something of passing interest that tickled your fancy, and made you think a bit, but didn’t take you more than an hour to slap together, even with having to dig through an external drive for old photos from your craptastic former camera and trying to wrestle something presentable out of them.

You move on to the things that were occupying your attention to start with. Then you notice you’ve caught a few people’s fancy. There’s a comment thread filling up with people sharing their own experiences, and one great and glorious moment where a geology professor wants to filch your post for classroom use. The thing got retweeted around a bit. You delighted the geotweep who’d found the super-awesome video to begin with. And, best of all, you inspired someone else, who riffed off your little post and wrote something utterly wonderful. It’s something that celebrates science, and puts us in perspective. It asks why we’d ever waste our tiny fragment of time with religion when reality is so much more incredible. It goes deep into deep time. And it contains one of my favorite paragraphs ever:

Once my parents were visiting the proprietor of an antique shop in New England.  He said; “You want something old?  Pick up a rock; that’s old.”  And in fact science has revealed just how old, and the resulting figure beggars our evolved imagination.

Pick up a rock. Hold a few million years, perhaps even a few billion, in the palm of your hand. I love an antiques dealer saying that. I love George remembering it, all these years later.

Go read “Our place in time.” It’s just nine short paragraphs, but those few grafs encompass life, the universe, and everything.

I think you’ll see why I always open the links to his posts with the same sensation I got as a kid, tearing the wrapping off the most intriguing present under the tree. George is, in objective fact, a fantastic writer. This one proves it beyond reasonable doubt.

And when you lot see me posting more videos with extras, it’ll be for two reasons: because I’m bloody insanely busy, and because I can’t wait to see what catches your fancy next.

Cantina Quote o’ The Week: Naguib Mahfouz

The real malady is fear of life, not of death.

-Naguib Mahfouz

All I knew of Naguib Mahfouz was this quote. These words, this simple sentence, reminds me of something very important: people have a tendency to waste their one precious life by clinging to a pathological fear of it. This quote reminds me to live, and not be afraid to live.

Mahfouz was an Egyptian writer and a bureaucrat who was never afraid to stir up a little controversy. He wrote what he felt moved to write. His books may not even stand a chance of being published in his native country, but he didn’t write with that in mind. He wrote what needed to be written. You don’t need to know more about him than a brief description of his novels and what happened to them to know that.

He pissed off fundamentalists, not only by not following their narrow interpretations of acceptable behavior and thought, but by standing up for Salman Rushdie even though he didn’t like his book. They put him on a death list as well. He called Khomeni a terrorist. He said, “no blasphemy harms Islam and Muslims so much as the call for murdering a writer.” They tried to kill him: he lived. A long life, a brilliant life, a life devoid of wife and kids for a long time because he was married to his writing. A life in which he won a Nobel prize for the words he wouldn’t compromise.

He didn’t fall prey to the malady of fearing life.

Accretionary Wedge: Deadlines Fast Approaching!

The Accretionary Wedge carnival’s starting November with two back-to-back kinda-Halloween-themed, um, themes. Posts are due soon, so you’d best scramble if you’re planning to wedge yourself in.

(Please forgive that last little joke. I know it wasn’t funny. I’m functioning on fractional amounts of sleep just now, and I think my sense of humor went to bed without me.)

Deadline November 1st: Dress Barbie Like a Geologist! Or any sort of scientist, really. And it doesn’t have to be a Barbie. In fact, since I haven’t got a doll, I might be doing a doll’s house sort of thing, if I can get my crap together. Those of you with children, or who have friends or relatives with children: steal a doll away from their toy chest. Rip it from their chubby little hands if you must! Sure, they’ll weep now, but wait until you return their dolly all scienced up. They’ll not only have the most awesome doll on the block, they’ll have inspiration for a future career doing something much more interesting than standing about in implausibly high heels in a shocking pink house with a horrid pink car in the driveway.

Deadline November 7th: Geo-Pumpkins! You were going to carve a pumpkin for Halloween anyway, right? Make it geo-riffic! You don’t even have to have a blog of your own for this one – Michael will host your pics for you.

Instructions for submissions are at the links above. Get crack-a-lackin’!

Why I Am an Atheist

PZ asked his readers why they’re atheists, and he’s been running their replies daily. Figured with a new readership and so forth, I might as well have a go and put it on me very own blog. Why not?

Here’s the short answer: because it’s sensible. Gods are surplus to requirements. Why carry round the extra baggage when there’s no need?

Right. There’s a somewhat longer answer, which I’ll place below the fold for interested parties. It includes me confessing I’ve not always been sensible.

My parents weren’t very religious. We didn’t go to church on Sundays. We didn’t say grace or do much more than the secular bits at Christmas and Easter. But they believed in God. It was a given, one of those facts about the world that just are: water’s wet, sky’s blue, God exists. I had a little children’s Bible of my very own, and I knew how to pray, and I believed God loved me and was watching out for me. I even went to a summer Bible camp, where I put Jesus in a walnut and on a spoon, and was never quite sure why these things were acts of devotion. There was a Bible verse involved: something about letting Jesus in if he knocked. My picture showed Jesus in a white robe knocking on a door. He seemed a nice enough fellow.

By the time I hit high school, I wasn’t much of what you’d call a believer. I believed in all sorts of things, mind you, all sorts of supernatural stuff. I thought religion was one of those necessary bits of being human, and when I started writing in earnest, I worked on belief systems for my worlds. Of course they’d be religious. But Jesus probably hadn’t knocked on their door. And by then, I’d met enough of the kinds of people who’d let Jesus in to seriously reconsider the wisdom of opening the door. They were severely annoying and painfully convinced they were right. I had doubts. Too many religious systems in the world, all in conflict with each other. And some of those other religions were way cooler. Not that I didn’t believe in God, mind, I just had this fuzzy idea that God might be a little grander than most Christian churches seemed to think he was.

I sometimes went to church with friends. I went to a Church of Christ service and discovered why musical instruments are a must in a church filled with severely off-key singers. Too bad they thought musical instruments had no place in a church service. These people claimed to believe in the Bible – so how did they miss the “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord” verse?

I went to a Catholic service and spent all of it pretty much fluctuating between confusion and mortal embarrassment. Nobody had told me only Catholics got to take Communion. And everybody was mortified when I stood up to have my bite of Jesus. That pretty much put paid to any desire to be a Catholic.

Two friends who belonged to the Assembly of God began duking it out over who’d tempt me there first. This was during my metal phase. I finally went with one friend because it was the only way to shut them both up, and I didn’t much like the one. I went in a Slaughter t-shirt and headband, with my studded vest and steel-toed boots and ripped jeans. My friend asked me if I wanted to change. I said no. If they couldn’t accept me as I was, I didn’t belong there.

Pastor Lynn Peters merely shook my hand, beamed at me, and told me it was good to see me there. Didn’t even blink at the getup. And he was a warm, wonderful person who made God sound like the best thing ever. I became a Christian. For a while. I was really in to it. Carried a Bible around and even read bits of it. Thought Christianity was great and God even greater. I got a warm fuzzy whenever I recognized a Christian theme in a book or show. And then Lynn Peters left the church because he had cancer and had to move closer to a treatment facility. What sort of way was this to treat one of God’s best servants? The guy who replaced him was fun (I’ll never forget the sermon where he’d set up a sofa and teevee in the pulpit, and was lying there in a t-shirt and ball cap eating Cheetos when we came in – his way of illustrating Sunday Morning Saints). His wife had a sublime voice, so you could forgive her Tammy Faye Baker wanna-be makeup. But there was a woman who stood up to tell us all that God had healed her radio one morning (yes, couldn’t save starving children in Africa, but totally there to solve your electronics woes, that was our God), and the youth group took off after M.C. Hammer as the root of all evil because he’d had some dude in a red devil costume in a music video. Yes, that would be Pastor M.C. Hammer, than you so very much.

I left the church. I didn’t leave God, at first. I started studying other religions, though, and watching the world, and God made less and less sense. Where was God, in all of these conflicting belief structures? If he existed, why couldn’t he sort this shit out? Why, if he was so cool, were other gods so much more awesome? I had doubts, and those doubts preyed on me, and I don’t clearly remember the progression, but I remember telling God one day that I felt drawn to different paths, and if they weren’t the paths he wanted me to walk, all he had to do was say so.

I turned my back on God, and never got a rap on the knuckles, much less a tap on the shoulder. I went haring off after other gods for a bit, trying to fill that religious need – I was really in to Odin at one point – and I tried out Buddhism (I suck as a Buddhist, but love the Zen philosophy), a bit of Taoism. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t anything supernatural in the world. I couldn’t live without magic. There had to be more.

Well, there was. It was called science, and it kicked religion’s ass. I started studying science for my fantasy writing, once I had a good handle on mythology and got interested in worldbuilding. I’d read quite a bit before, but now I started seeking out science on the internets. I found science blogs. And I found PZ.

I was calling myself an agnostic at this point. Atheists, after all, were those silly certain people who had no imagination and no soul. I found out that people who are atheists actually do have imagination and soul (in the metaphorical sense, o’ course – there are no actual souls). What’s more, they were funny, engaging, passionate firebrands who weren’t afraid to call out nonsense. They loved the things that I love. I liked them quite a lot, and they got me through the worst flu experience of my life by getting me all fired up about creationist antics, so they were a little bit of all right. Still, I knew I was an agnostic, not an atheist.

Then someone, possibly PZ, linked to this test inviting me to Calculate Your God Delusion Index. So I did. I answered yes to #5 and thus scored a five out of a possible 10,000+, and I’d only ever answered yes to that one because I’m a writer and writers do the “deeply contemplative act” thing that “can result in knowledge or understanding not attainable through ordinary thought.” Additionally, I partially misunderstood it and was thinking of the fMRI studies that show changes in the brain during meditation.

I looked at my bit of paper, and the score (Normal, no particular “God Delusions”) and laughed and laughed. I could only come to one conclusion: I’m an atheist, I’ve been an atheist for some time without realizing it, and it was time to own that scarlet letter A.

So that is why I’m an atheist: because I looked for gods, and found only human constructs; I looked for magic, and found science, which is far more magical than magic ever was.

As for why I’m a Gnu Atheist, that’s a story I’ll tell at a later time.

And That, Kids, Is Why You Shouldn’t Build on a Bluff

One of my geotweeps, CGKings317, once tweeted this rather remarkable video showing coastal erosion over the course of a year:

It gives you a sense of just how delicate coastlines can be. There’s the ocean, and storms; wind, water and gravity, all working to lay the land low. 17 meters (almost 56 feet) of prime seaside real estate now sleeps with the fishes.

And we build seawalls and groynes, pile riprap, terrace and wire and drain, do our damnedest to make these temporary landforms permanent, but good Mother Earth just sticks her tongue out at us, goes “Nyah-nyah!” and takes another few bites out of what we thought we could preserve.

I live in the Seattle area, where coastal erosion is a daily fact. The bluffs I see today aren’t the same ones I’ll see next year. They may look similar, but they’ve changed, and one day, they’ll be gone.

One of my favorite places in the whole of the Pacific Northwest is Discovery Park. I first saw it in 2007. It was, in fact, the first place I got a sunburn up here. And that bluff – my Arizona eyes had never laid eyes upon anything like it!

Discovery Park South Bluff, 2007

It feels rock-hard, but it’s just hard-packed glacial sediments, and the Sound wears away at it year by year.

Discovery Park, South Bluff, 2010

See the chunks of it being carved out? Every year, a little bit more gone; every year, it’s changed.

Discovery Park, South Bluff, 2009

Discovery Park, South Bluff, 2010

Geology feels rock-solid, at first. There’s nothing that gives the sensation of being forever quite like a rock does. And some changes happen so gradually we barely notice them. But the world changes all the time. Little changes, building up over time. There’s a bluff there now; someday, there will be only the water. Water will in its turn be replaced by land again, elements dancing, continents fussing with their appearance, gone traveling. Look at the world through a geologic timescale, and it’s a busy place, always different, always fascinating, frequently eroding.

Remember that when you’re considering that beachfront house.