Why God? Why?

Smart people I know and love frequently pop out with some sort of “I believe in God” statement. If it’s not God, it’s some other gods or goddesses or numinous something-or-other(s), or an unspecified spiritual component to the universe. It’s like people can’t conceive of an existence without the supernatural.

I used to be that way. I have distant memories of that desire to find the entity behind it all, to relate to something far larger and smarter than me. I remember thinking I’d never want to live in a world without magic. I wanted to believe. Needed to. Desperately.

And then… I didn’t.

It just went away. It gradually faded out. I got busy with other things, set the existential angst aside, stopped seeking the Divine so ardently and then not at all. And my need to believe, my certainty that some divine intelligence created this universe, vanished without me noticing. I had to have my attention drawn to the fact I’d become an atheist when I wasn’t looking. And I laughed, and shrugged, and went on with my life.

That need for the divine, for magic and mystery, has more than been fulfilled by reality. Nothing has been as phenomenal, nothing has given me a greater sense of awe, than this universe – and the fact that we tiny, insignificant products of mindless evolution are smart enough to figure it out. Sense of wonder: in hyperdrive. Mind: permanently blown. I can’t even imagine ever wanting, much less needing, religion or what most people mean by spirituality ever again.

Carl Sagan on the wonder of the universe, via Atheist Memebase.

Carl Sagan on the wonder of the universe, via Atheist Memebase.

 

 “Life is but a momentary glimpse of the wonder of this astonishing univers, and it is sad to see so many dreaming it away on spiritual fantasy.” – Carl Sagan

I know that people who tell me there must be something more to the universe feel compelled to believe it, but I can’t feel their compulsion anymore. It’s so distant I can only empathize on an intellectual level, relating to this as a fact, but part of me is continually astonished by that need. It doesn’t matter that I felt it once. It’s like thinking store-bought strawberries are delicious, and then tasting a luscious, sun-warmed, vine-ripened, hand-grown and carefully selected strawberry straight out of the garden: those store-bought strawberries will never taste so good again. Then someone tells me how much they long for good strawberries, looking on their smart phone to see if there’s a grocery store anywhere in the area, while we’re standing in a field full of the best strawberries ever grown. And they admit these are pretty good strawberries, but one of the stores must have better ones. I’m just boggled.

George Perkins Marsh, via Thinking, Questioning, Seeking.

George Perkins Marsh, via Thinking, Questioning, Seeking.

 Wherever modern Science has exploded a superstitious fable or even a picturesque error, she has replaced it with a grander and even more poetical truth. – George Perkins Marsh.

All of these concepts of the divine are so impoverished compared to reality. The gods are cheap trinkets, glass bead goddesses and tinfoil creators. When you approach myth and legend as stories people tell, they can sometimes be fun and inspiring and thought-provoking, even life-changing – but to claim them as capital-T truth destroys their value. This universe is so much more immense than any god could be. It doesn’t need magic, or a spirit force, or anything other than its blind, unthinking self to be magnificent. And those who think natural processes are worth less than a so-called intelligent designer haven’t given any thought to how much more awesome it is to realize that plain ol’ physical processes did all of this on their own. Every jaw-dropping thing you see needed no help from a deity. That, my friends, is the true magic.

Lynne Kelly via Science Memebase.

Lynne Kelly via Science Memebase.

Some believers accuse skeptics of having nothing left but a dull, cold, scientific world. I am left only with art, music, literature, theater, the magnificence of nature, mathematics, the human spirit, sex, the cosmos, friendship, history, science, imagination, dreams, oceans, mountains, love, and the wonder of birth. That’ll do for me. – Lynne Kelly

And once I realized that, the need for deities or any divinity vanished. Gone. Finished. Surplus to requirements and dumped like the dead weight it was. Contrary to previous concerns, the universe didn’t shrink when that happened. It expanded. It increases exponentially virtually every day.

I went from Why, God, why? to Why God? Why would we need such a thing? What good does it do? Why bother, when the universe doesn’t need it and we’re better off without it?

Realizing this set me free of the fear of God. Once that bond was loosened, the others unraveled.

Realizing this set me free of the fear of God. Once that bond was loosened, the others unraveled.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

-The Epicurean Paradox

Your turn, my darlings. If you feel so inclined, share your stories about leaving the supernatural behind for the natural. Tell us what filled that void so many are afraid will never be filled when one tips deities into the rubbish bin. What’s life like, now that you’re not convinced you’re missing the Divine?

Summer Reading That Will Give You the Secrets to Conquering Missionaries

I can’t wait for the Mormon missionaries to show up at my door again. Usually, I don’t have the patience to deal with people trying to sell me religion – I’ve got kittehs to play with, rocks to pound, posts to write, food to savor… Who wants to spend a glorious summer afternoon arguing religion with two scrubbed (in mind and body) young people when you could be lounging on the patio with book, cat, and drink?

Me!

After two books and a website, I’m eagerly scanning the horizon for those poor innocent folks. I might even invest in two extra patio chairs so we can lounge outside with the Book of Mormon, the cat (granted neither are allergic), and drinks (non-alcoholic, of course. See – I can be accommodationist, too!).

“Dana!” I hear you cry in my vivid imagination, “what can possibly lead to such a dramatic change?!”

I shall tell you. What’s more, I shall arm you with fascinating, often funny, reading, and questions guaranteed to make missionaries sweat more than the weather warrants.

Dwindling in Unbelief masthead, via the DiU blog.

Dwindling in Unbelief masthead, via the DiU blog.

It began because Steve and Phillip Wells are Blogging the Book of Mormon. They’re brave people. I haven’t attempted to read the BOM since our badass cat – you know, the one who could catch jackrabbits twice her size on the hop – took a serious dislike to it.* Look, when my mama cat tells me not to do something, you think I’m gonna argue? Kitteh knows best!

Besides, as the Doctor would say, it’s not holy writ – it’s atrociously writ. The ingredients list on a shampoo bottle is better than that book: it’s (probably) non-fiction and teaches me interesting words, plus some chemistry. The BOM causes my Inner Editor to have a complete nervous collapse, which process is painful to witness. Who wants to suffer all this? So I’m grateful to Steve and Phillip, who are sparing us much agony.

Thanks to them, I can now have a somewhat in-depth discussion of the BOM up through most of Mosiah. I can ask questions about things like how fast ancient Hebrews can walk**, and why God likes the phrase “and it came to pass” so much. I can explain that one of the reasons I’m having a hard time abandoning my atheism is that I can’t believe any god could be such an awful writer. And I can give them a handy URL (http://dwindlinginunbelief.blogspot.com/2010/07/blogging-book-of-mormon.html) to visit showing them how their holy book appears to skeptics. Heck, if I’m feeling really ambitious, I can direct them to the Skeptics Annotated Book of Mormon, lovingly edited by two brave blokes blogging the BOM.

It’s kind of like if MST3K did holy books. Hilarious!

But that’s pretty skeptical stuff, and only super-useful if a) the missionaries are already wavering in their faith and just need a loving push off the fence, or b) I want to see how long it takes to make the pair of them run away screaming. It’s a great way to read a really fucking stupid religious screech screed, but doesn’t give me the real dirt. You know, the stuff you can only learn by investigating the “making of” a religion.

The Mormons book cover via Goodreads.

The Mormons book cover via Goodreads.

Enter The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion: the Mormons, by David Fitzgerald. ZOMG, you guys! Now, mind you, I’ve been subjected to an hours-long rant about the fraudulicious origins of Mormonism by an enraged ex-Mormon who’d become ex by engaging his brain, and I’d picked up more bits and pieces hither and yon, but this book packages the juicy bits with premium snark. Like so:

So despite all FAIR’s [Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research] smug assertations, it would appear the Book of Mormon’s ancient Nephites had, in fact, not a barley-based, but bullshit-based economy.

Oh, snap. (By the way, barley didn’t show up in the New World pre-Columbus. You might want to ask your anxious young religious salespeople what God did with all the archaeological evidence of these ancient civilizations. Then, after they’ve stumbled through an answer on that, ask ‘em why God mucked up all the Native American DNA.***)

David’s book was as informative as it was entertaining. He’s got great useful factoids like the weight of the mysterious “Golden Plates.” Joseph Smith’s first wife Emma must have been superpowered, because she could lift the box they were in with one hand whilst dusting. Thing is, the buggers weighed more than 198 pounds (50, if God was a cheap-arsed barstard and let his scribes use mere gold-plated plates). I can’t wait to ask about things like that. And the discrepancies in Mormonism’s foundational stories (Jo Smith couldn’t keep his lies straight, poor bugger). And I’ll want to know why there’s so many corrections to “the most correct book on Earth” (62,000 words added or deleted, for instance). And so much more!

The whole book is a rollicking good read, but the most valuable chapter of all is Chapter 14: Talking to the Ex-Mormons of the Future – Today! This was like getting special Mormon-spectacles. They and their bizarre belief system had been sort of fuzzy and out of focus, despite growing up with Mormon friends. Now they’re in better focus. I never quite knew quite how sheltered, terrorized, and lied to, not to mention programmed and brainwashed, the poor things were. Chapter 14 gives excellent advice on how to talk to missionaries. That was worth the price of the book right there. And it quotes our own Greta Christina‘s fabulous Why Are You Atheists So Angry? Awesomesauce! There’s a whole list of things that will help you effectively talk to Mormons – and plant the skeptical seeds that may eventually help them grow out of a very destructive faith. Priceless!

But don’t stop there. Not when you can get Kay Burningham’s An American Fraud: One Lawyer’s Case Against Mormonism. Guilty!

 An American Fraud: One Lawyer's Case Against Mormonism cover art via Barnes and Noble.

An American Fraud: One Lawyer’s Case Against Mormonism cover art via Barnes and Noble.

Before I sing the book’s praises, a caveat: Kay’s a lawyer, not a writer. You will have to gird your loins (or thwack your Inner Editor over the head, slap some duct tape on their limbs and mouth, and bundle them into a closet for the duration). The first portion of the book, her autobiographical bit, does, shall we say, reveal that the author is not a polished prose professional. The flashbacks are more like switchbacks that include several detours, a blizzard, and an impaired driver. Throughout, there are spelling and grammatical errors that demonstrate that a) no professional editor got so much as a glimpse of the book or b) if one did, they were also grievously impaired. The violence done to the common comma will make you weep and perhaps start a charity fund. In other words: this book will win no awards for its literary perfection.

And that doesn’t matter at all.

A flawed gem is still a gem, and a gripping story can survive an amateur storyteller. Kay gives you a raw, honest look at what it means to grow up Mormon: how even an intelligent and skeptical person can fall for a pious fraud. She kept me up all damned night – twice. And just about did for me the rest of the nights. It took a lot of self-control to keep from trying to finish in one marathon session.

Through Kay, you’ll get an inside look at super-sekrit Temple ceremonies (newsflash: they suck).You’ll see how the Church’s misogyny destroys women. You’ll learn why Utah is among the psychiatric medicine industry’s best customers. You’ll learn what it takes to break free of a lifetime of indoctrination. It’s harrowing.

I love the two-thirds of the book devoted to a lawyer’s assessment of the evidence against the Mormon church. You’ll discover the lengths the Mormon church’s elders have gone to in order to keep the flock ignorant. You’ll see the devastating effect the internet’s had on America’s second dumbest religion (you know what the first is). And you’ll learn how the Church could be prosecuted, without disturbing the First Amendment a bit.

This is the kind of book you mark pages in and keep by the door, ready for the missionaries’ next visit. It’s the one you go through, quoting original source material fatal to their religion, until they flee. And the beauty of it is, nearly every primary source Kay cites is or once was a devout Mormon. These are people who were privy to the secrets at the top, people who were there at the beginning, people who did their homework, desperate to restore their faith – and ended up killing it dead. These are people who are still trapped inside. All folks these poor missionary kids will find impossible to impeach. Learning this stuff may free them before they’re in far too deep to rescue themselves. And it’s certainly a book you should give to anyone in your life who’s considering converting.

So there you are. All you’ll need for a rollicking good time the next time the kids in white shirts and dark ties appear at your door. You’ll probably end up on the Church’s do-not-visit-this-house-under-any-circumstances list, but hopefully not before you’ve made inroads on church membership.

Freeing people of damaging dogma is one of the best things we can ever do. Take these keys and open some cages.

 

*One of my friends did give me the Book of Mormon once because she wanted me to understand her faith better. I tossed it on the couch and didn’t give it another thought until my big calico mama cat came in, looked at it, puffed up and hissed, walked waaaay way around it, and sat down staring me in the eye with a “What are you going to do about that evil thing?” look on her face. I trust my cats. I got rid of the book.

**The average human walking speed is roughly 5 kilometers per hour. Based on the length of time the BOM says Lehi and his family took to walk the 407km (straight line) from Jerusalem to the Red Sea, ancient Hebrew families could apparently hoof it at nearly 6 kilometers per hour, and never had to pause for food, water, restroom breaks, sleep, thorns in sandals, heatstroke, etc. for up to 72 hours. Now dat’s stamina!

***Mormons believe barley was introduced by Hebrew immigrants to the Americas long before Christ, and that Native Americans are descended from some of those immigrants. Alas for them, archaeological and biological evidence refuse to cooperate.

 

Someone’s Been Living in an Alternate Reality Again

Ho, hum, another day, another dumbfuck claiming atheists have no basis for morality. I see Avi’s given them a right proper fisking. Good thing he’s a good writer, because this shallow shite’s points look like they came off an apologetics-for-assclowns site. Oh, my heck, does our Avi have patience. I’d’ve chucked this garbage in the trash after the first paragraph. This is just so century before last – ooo, what’s this?

3. A Moral, Simple and Convincing Justification for moral compasses

But it may surprise the reader to learn that a universal and convincing justification does indeed exist. One that is grounded neither in the coercive power of fear of punishment in the hereafter (as offered by most religions), nor in man’s selfishness (as attempted by some secular ethicists). One that is already available to approximately a third of the world’s population. The secular inability to justify the various secular moral compasses is in stark contrast with this moral, simple and extremely convincing justification.

No hellfire-and-damnation? No eternal reward? But not secular? Omigosh, whatever could this magic justification be?!

im-intrigued-tell-me-more

Spill it!

What is this justification if not heaven or hell, you may ask?

I just did! What, you want it notarized? It’s already in writing. Sheesh.

What is able to thoroughly justify an unselfish moral message of neighbourly love? One that promises no selfish reward, yet seems capable of propelling many of its followers to selflessly disregard their own well-being in their efforts to improve the lives of the poor, the ill and the downtrodden in the most backward parts of the world?  What if not the fear of hell or the reward of heaven can propel one to act in this way? Why ever disregard your own wellbeing for the benefit of others?

What’s this reminding me of? Oh, right.

Heffer and Filburt encounter difficulties whilst dressing up as Mr. Bighead. Just one of the countless delights that awaits those who watch Nickelodeon's Rocko's Modern Life, now available on Amazon Instant Video! WOOT!

Heffer and Filburt encounter difficulties whilst dressing up as Mr. Bighead. Just one of the countless delights that awaits those who watch Nickelodeon’s Rocko’s Modern Life, now available on Amazon Instant Video! WOOT! Click the photo for the cartoon with a quote for every situation.

Heffer: This guy’s asking too many questions! What do I do?

Filburt: I don’t know… mmmmmm… Punch him!

Nah. Awesome episode, but one must not take (many) life lessons from cartoon shows, no matter how great. Violence isn’t the proper response to a pompous arsemunch. My moral compass is pointing due-Exit. These flip-flops are made for walkin’, which is what I’ll do if Doofus doesn’t get to the point soon.

This non-coercive, moral, simple and extremely convincing justification seems unique to none other than the Christian message and faith.

Bwah-ha-ha!

The primary justification of the moral compass from the Christian message seems neither to be fear of God nor that of hell.

Stahp! STAHP! Owowow my ribs!

*snifflesnortwheeze* Woah nellie, you sure are a hoot! That’s some premium comedy right there, I mean, wow, I can’t even – what, what, you’re serious?

This makes Christianity quite distinct from other religions that usually hold this coercive type of justification only.

Um.

skeptical cat

You know, that’s an interesting interpretation of the subject, but the founders of Christianity would like a word with you.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” - Matthew 3:11-12

 

“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” - Matthew 7:19

 

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” - Matthew 10:28

 

“Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” - Matthew 13:40-43

 

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” - Mark 9:43-48

 

The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. - Mark 16:16

That Jesus Christ fella was a real shit, always running around and threatening non-believers with eternal torture, and dangling a nice, shiny Heaven in front of the sheeple who’d swallow his shit whole. He’s clearly got nothing to do with Christiani – oh, dear. Apparently he does.

Also, too, and furthermore, it looks like a lotta Bible-believing churches didn’t get the memo about “grounded neither in the coercive power of fear of punishment in the hereafter… nor in man’s selfishness.”

Church sign: Where will you be sitting in eternity? Smoking or non-smoking

Image via Postkiwi.

Billboard: Without Jesus Christ (image of pitchfork) You'll spend eternity with Me! (image of Satan)

Image via Mindspring.

Church sign: I kissed a girl and I liked it. Then I went to Hell.

via Lucien Maverick’s Blog.

Church sign: Son screen prevents sin burn.

via Jonathan Sigmon

Billboard: It's your choice... heaven or Hell. Read John 3:36

via Friendly Atheist

Ah. Right. John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” Yes, very… “grounded neither in the coercive power of fear of punishment in the hereafter… nor in man’s selfishness,” that.

Gee. I wonder what Jesus would say about those signs?

Buddy Christ via eBaum's World.

Buddy Christ via eBaum’s World.

Considering the dude was always on about “fire” this and “wailing and gnashing of teeth” that, I don’t imagine he’d have any concerns.

Look, I could go on for the rest of the year with the awful Bible verses and shit Jesus spewed – believe me, it wouldn’t be difficult to find Christian after Christian who’s firmly convinced that we’ll get rewarded or punished by Big Skydaddy depending on whether we slobber on Junior’s sandals adequately or not. Plenty more who’ll tell you there’s a hell and a heaven, and your good and bad acts determine which you end up in. People have been converted to Christianity, kept trapped in it, by that particular carrot-stick combo. So don’t try to sell me this bullshit about Christianity having some amazing unique non-coercive moral rationale, because it’s coercive as shit. I can’t help it if you happen to be an assnugget with severe reading comprehension problems and a talent for convincing yourself that up is down and strong-arm is gentle persuasion. But don’t come around to atheists and try to sell that rancid pile of rotten fish, unless of course you like having your nose rubbed in it. Capisce?

Here endeth the lesson. Have a nice day.

New Geokittehs Post – Plus Cute So Powerful It Could Result in Mutually Assured Cat-astrophe.

Another Saturday, another infusion of beyond-weapons-grade cute. You lot have no idea how hard it is to concentrate on an afternoon’s MMA fights* with a kitten reducing you to incoherent mush every fifteen seconds. But at least I can write it off as bidness: got a Geokittehs post out of Luna once again. She’s good at this stuff!

Luna doing her debris catalanche impression.

Luna doing her debris catalanche impression.

She even knows what my current project is. That’s talent!

It was nice to relax with happy kitties playing and sleeping, and athletes beating the tar out of each other, considering I’d been up until 3 in the ay-em working on research, and then up a further three hours because my brain refused to shut down. I suffer for you, my darlings. Look at how I suffer!

Luna having a nap after lotsa playing.

Luna having a nap after lotsa playing.

I have to sit there torn between making helpless squeeing noises at the kitten, and watching someone manage a knockout with a very nicely-timed kick to the head.

Today was rather hot by Seattle standards, but B and I ventured out for some daylight adventure with kitten. She’s getting good at stalking the feather-and-bell thingy.

Luna getting her stalk on.

Luna getting her stalk on.

That ear hair of hers cracks me up. She’s turning in to a beautiful cat with some offbeat features. Hopefully Misha will find her as charming as we do – we plan to introduce the two at some point because Misha could use some excitement. Rather than having a leisurely bathroom read this morning, I had to fend her off with the book. She was bored enough to gnaw my ankles. My fault, really: I closed the back door to keep the neighbor’s cigarette smoke out, and was too lazy to reopen it on her schedule. Bad kitty mommy!

Anyway. Back to the kitten, because who can focus on adult cats when there are bebbe kittehs around, amirite? One of the funniest moments was when we heard rustling outside the basement window, and looked up expecting to see Kirby. It wasn’t. Can you see past the adorable kitten to the flummoxed observer beyond?

The funniest thing was, Luna never even noticed it. Even after we put her on the window ledge, she was oblivious.

The funniest thing was, Luna never even noticed it. Even after we put her on the window ledge, she was oblivious.

Try going to the photo and viewing the larger sizes on Flickr if you’re having trouble seeing past the glare and the spider webs. Wot a larf, eh?

Aaaaand more sleepy kitten. Look at those little pink toeses!

Luna naps a good portion of the time in order to be ready to torment her brother when he returns in the evening.

Luna naps a good portion of the time in order to be ready to torment her brother when he returns in the evening.

In between naps and playtimes, Luna decided she would like to add herself to the cheese-cracker-and-apple plate we were nibbling on. It’s very hard to convince a kitten to stay out of your food. However, I have not spend much time watching sweaty people put other sweaty people in judo holds for nothing.

I didn't even have to hold on very firmly: she decided this was the best position from which to be killer cute, and milked it.

I didn’t even have to hold on very firmly: she decided this was the best position from which to be killer cute, and milked it.

She crossed her little paws and stared up at me with melting eyes, until her daddy started taking pictures and she transferred her ZOMG-nuclear-cute! gaze to him. Show-stopper, that cat. Can reduce anyone to a gibbering fool in a nanosecond.

But the best moment of all was after dinner that evening, when I scooped her up and flopped her on her back, expecting her to do her usual squirmy-kitteh thing and wriggle off to go play. It’s a service I try to do Kirby on occasion: tire her out so he can have noms and a nap when he gets back from his expeditions. But you know how kittens are: when they wanna sleep, they sleep.

Luna having happy fun nap times in my arms long enough to make them go numb.

Luna having happy fun nap times in my arms long enough to make them go numb.

That’s when the catalanche happened.

Later, when we had her in the yard, Kirby came home. I hadn’t brought the camera out because fast kitties + nighttime = unhappy exposures, but damn, I wish I’d had it when they did the little nose-kiss greeting. Those two adore each other. Coulda had another catalanche, too, when Kirby pounced on her from atop a rock and they went tumbling down. People, you have no idea how bloody cute that is unless you’ve got kitties who play well together. Argh.

There’s your kitten fix. Should tide you over for a while. And I’ve got some proper blog posts just about ready for ye, including some book reviews that will hopefully have you howling. It’s already scribbled, just have to read it into the machine. Deprived myself of a kitten for an evening to get that done, I’ll have you know, and I think you can see from the above how difficult that is!

 

 

*Yes, we had MMA on the DVR, so we could replay. Only took us eight hours to watch three hours worth of fights.

Not So Good For a Laugh, Actually

Skepticism matters, but it’s not enough. This is what happens when we stop at skeptical:

The other day in the break room, I got into a brief banter with coworkers about people who believe they can live without eating. One person brought up a guru in India who claims to have lived without food for decades.

That’s a fraud,” I said. “The people who claim that are always caught sneaking out for food.”

Which lead to laughter, and one person saying, “Yeah, but it’s still funny.”

“Not for the people who believe them and die,” I said.

Silence. No one had thought of that.

People are not plants. We're animals. Animals haven't got chlorophyll. You need chlorophyll to live off of sunlight and water. Therefore: don't try to live like a plant unless you want to die like a starving person.

People are not plants. We’re animals. Animals haven’t got chlorophyll. You need chlorophyll to live off of sunlight and water. Therefore: don’t try to live like a plant unless you want to die like a starving person.

Being a skeptic is a good thing: we should be skeptical enough not to get sucked in by patently ridiculous claims. But it’s not enough to merely point and laugh. When we stop there, we forget the cost. We miss the opportunity to prevent a fellow human being from losing their money, their family, their life.

Anyone who believes in that stuff is stupid, amirite? How often have we thought that? There’s a subtext of superiority, of “It can never happen to me, and fools get what they deserve.” But we can all be fooled. Give us someone who seems confident and sincere, in a situation where we don’t know enough about the subject to easily detect bullshit, and given information that, no matter how bizarre it seems, appears to be plausible, and we can easily become the fools. Do we deserve to get hurt because we were unaware? If you’re not skeptical enough about one thing, do you deserve to lose everything? Should skeptics who know the truth just point, laugh, and abandon you, or would you want them to make an effort to help you realize the truth?

It’s not enough to recognize erroneous and/or irrational ideas that are so factually incorrect as to be absurd. Sure, some dude trying to tell people he can live like a plant is funny – but stopping at a belly laugh without addressing the real harm such a person can cause does no one any good. We can point and laugh – but we should also be pointing out the harm. We shouldn’t be leaving those ideas unchallenged. We need to lift the curtain so everyone can see. We may not be able to rescue those who have already fallen too far into the bullshit, but we can prevent onlookers from stepping in it. And we can change this attitude so many seem to have, that these bizarre frauds are harmless, that we can just let them get on with being fools.

The world isn’t improved by smart people sneering at the duped. Skepticism can go beyond that. It must. And we can have a lot of fun teaching folks how not to get fooled. Everybody but the crook wins.

One Reason I’m Not Getting Any Bloody Work Done

So my darling Aunty Flow showed up right after I came over all optimistic and told you lot I’d be blogging moar. Also, reading a book that was a bit like a black hole. You know the kind of book. The kind that leads to this sort of exchange:

“Dana! The house is on fire! Flee for your life!

“Yeah, okay, after this chapter.”

Done now. Good thing the house never actually did catch on fire, because I probably would’ve forgotten to rescue the cat even if I’d managed to save myself and the Kindle.

And then, tonight, with dinner consumed, I schlep the folding table and mah chair into the bedroom, zip back out to the living room for my Coke, and:

Misha "helping" me blog.

Misha “helping” me blog.

Wretched wee beastie.

Then she wanted quality hair-tie time. Only toy she’ll play with, those. But of course, the moment I went to record her shenanigans for you lot, she up and left. Damn cat.

She’s gone now, and I’m settling in to begin work. So the drought shall end soon, cat willing. Until then, allow me to moon you:

Moon over basalt column fountain.

Moon over basalt column fountain.

Too dark to get a really good moonshot, alas – my camera was thinking it should gather as much light as possible and couldn’t be persuaded otherwise. Still. Pretty. The moon was ginormous and a lovely shade of orange. What do they call that – not the harvest moon, there’s another term for it, isn’t there?

Anyway. Shot through the trees that turned out somewhat interesting:

Moon through branches.

Moon through branches.

Kinda like that.

Anyway. Gotcher one post almost written that is a few thousand word monstrosity whichI think you’ll enjoy quite a bit, and we’re about to launch into some excellent geology, and if I can keep this silly feline from interrupting every ten minutes, I may even be able to actually post stuff for ye. I shall valiantly make the attempt. Thank you for your patience.

Discoveries and Delights, Including Kitten

Yes, I’ve been rather scarce over the last several days – a sorry state of affairs that should soon be changing, now that I’ve made a slight adjustment to my meds that allows me to stay awake for more than an hour at a time. Huzzah!

I missed FtB Conscience this year, but should this network pull off that insanity next year, I intend to take the plunge. By then, I should have Flood “geology” to talk about, and hopefully shall split your sides with laughter whilst teaching you how to read rocks in the apoplectic face of a creationist. Hee.

Haven’t lain idle this weekend, my darlings, despite the lack of blogging. I’ve been occasionally applying nose to grindstone, gone out for an adventure, and exercised ye olde upper body by swinging toys for kittehs. Even whilst laying idle, I haven’t been idle! Allow me to report:

1. There are a lot of very interesting books on the fraud that is Mormonism out there. I shall have a full report on two of those soon – finishing the second one now. The first I read was David Fitzgerald’s The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion Book One: The Mormons. Oh, my heck, people – it was hilarious. Frequently infuriating – I mean, these are real people being suckered, and I know from experience many of them are nice folks and excellent neighbors. But still, funny. David’s a wonderful writer and I’m dying for the rest of his guides. You can catch a podcast with him from Sunday’s Atheists Talk. I’ll be tempting you into buying the book later on.

Interlude with Kitten:

Luna with one of her all-time favorite toys.

Luna with one of her all-time favorite toys.

2. I did science! Well, science research. And got stuck on radiocarbon dating – for some reason, my brain couldn’t process the fact that there are two dates: 14C yr BP and Cal yr BP. Brought me to a complete stand-still, that did, because I knew the second one was the adjusted date to match calendar years, but I had no idea why there were two dates to begin with. I mean, why not just put the corrected date in and be done with it? So I scrambled off for a quick lesson on Wikipedia, and discovered it’s a consistency thing. Now it makes sense! And I found a handy little calculator for dealing with uncalibrated 14C yr BP. Simple! This has all made me inordinately excited, but it’s nice to have that stuff click, and get past the block. Even easy-peasy stuff like this is harder to do when you’re teaching yourself, but with the internet, all things are possible, frequently in about ten minutes.

Interlude with kitten.

Luna's next-favorite new past-time is attacking boxes. She really gets in to it.

Luna’s next-favorite new past-time is attacking boxes. She really gets in to it.

3. I found a wealth of sources on the geology of Discovery Park, including (drumroll please) a paper by our own Donal Mullineaux! Yes, that’s right – the man who, with Rocky Crandall, scrambled to keep up with Mount St. Helens’s antics and keep folks safe during a major eruptive phase worked on Discovery Park, too. Woot! Tie-in! Really, this got started simply because I was trying to correct an old post for republication on Rosetta Stones. It was supposed to be quick and easy. But you know me: I start small and it builds. I start rolling a little ball for a diminutive snowperson, and the next thing I know, the ball’s at the bottom of the slope, is about a thousand feet in diameter, and I still have to do the torso and head, not to mention find the largest carrot on earth for the nose. Good thing I know where to find some extra-large coal for the eyes…

Interlude with kitten.

DIIIEEE BOX DIIIIEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DIIIEEE BOX DIIIIEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4. I took B out to Richmond Beach, home of some of my favorite boulders in the Seattle area. I have no idea where this red sandstone came from, but it has personality and I love it.

Mudcracks, people! Fossilized mudcracks! WOOT!

Mudcracks, people! Fossilized mudcracks! WOOT!

Puget Sound has apparently been thieving from the rip-rap along the railroad tracks, because this boulder belongs up by the tracks, not down on the beach. Lots of great boulders up there, with mudcracks and ripple marks galore. And there’s a spot where the wave energy is so low because of the boulders that there’s this little lens of very fine sand that was a delight to bare feet. And then the tide came roaring in, and I got to play with liquefaction as I walked through the waves. Poor B didn’t have his flip-flops, so he was stuck navigating driftwood to stay dry. Still. Outstanding outing.

Interlude with kitten.

Luna and Kirby out playing in the yard.

Luna and Kirby out playing in the yard.

5. We spent a lot of our time stuck beyond the kitteh event horizon. I gave one of Misha’s old feathers-onna-string-onna-stick toys to Kirby and Luna, seeing as how Misha hasn’t so much as looked at it in at least two years, and when we waggled it at her to ensure she hadn’t changed her mind, got very angry at it. In the above photo, Luna looks like she’s stalking her brother, but she’s really after the feather toy. They’d chase that, then each other, and leap and run and collide, and it is a gigantic time suck that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

6. Kick Ass. Seriously. ZOMG I bloody love this movie and can’t believe I haven’t seen it before now. After I’ve seen it again, I may put together a missive about girls and superheroes and role-reversals and about how people lose their shit over that sort o’ thing, but for now, I’m just – wow.

Interlude with kitteh.

Got Misha this thing called Pulp Friction. Catnip infused. She seemed briefly high, which is a change from her past.

Got Misha this thing called Pulp Friction. Catnip infused. She seemed briefly high, which is a change from her past.

7. MMA. Silva vs. Weidman. I’d been in Oregon, busily getting chased by yellowjackets and having the time of my young life with Anne, Chris and Lockwood, so I missed it. Luckily, B recorded it. We’ve been working our way through to the main event for the last few weeks, complicated by the fact that the kitten keeps pulling our attention away, and there was a Cards Against Humanity game, and… Let’s just say, though, it was bloody well worth the wait. BAM. Yes, I do love MMA, especially when unexpected things happen.

8. Quality time with kitteh. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Misha these last several days. She’s been very snuggly, wanting to curl up against my arm and occasionally have a tummy-rub, and getting mad if I have to get up. Needless to say, been doing lotsa reading. And dozing off. And dividing time between bed and porch. We had an excellent long lounge in the sunshine and shade today. Then she got offended when I decided I wanted to sketch some stratigraphy rather than snuggle some more. Silly beast.

Another with her fake log. She's actually hunkered down with it at least once a day for several days - a new record for a cat toy.

Another with her fake log. She’s actually hunkered down with it at least once a day for several days – a new record for a cat toy.

9. Speaking of stratigraphy… I’ve been staring at the Olympia Interglacial sediments, trying to make some sense of them. A soft-sediment deformation expert I am not. But I did some poking round the intertoobz, looking at various and sundry, studying some photos of similar bluffs which have had their soft sediments explained, and part of the structure clicked. Could they be… ripple marks? Later, when doing my stratigraphy sketch from a diagram in Mullineaux et al, and copying down his observations of the different layers, I came across his interpretation of just that bit of bluff: ripple marks.

People, I hope you’ve all experienced little moments of triumph like that, where you’ve scrambled to pull together enough knowledge to make a somewhat-educated assessment of something, not sure you’re really getting it, and then getting verification from an expert that yes, indeed, you got it right. It’s not a world-changing thing. It’s something that other people can tell at a glance. But getting it for the first time, that’s a huge moment. Knowing that you did this, that you can do this… that, to me, is why learning is its own reward.

So it’s been a weekend full of discoveries, and Discovery, and food and fun and friends and furry critters who make it nearly bloody impossible to get anything done, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Especially since I’ll soon be able to share my discoveries with you, which makes them all the more exciting. Also, there will be videos of kittehs playing. Coming soon!

Gotcher a nice sunset. Took lots of photos of this one. I'm collecting lots of really beautiful pictures from here and there, the kind of things you see on inspirational posters. I'm going to make my own inspirational posters, complete with Bible quotes. You know, quoting the worst, bloodiest, most intolerant or bizarre bits of the Bible. Heh.

Gotcher a nice sunset. Took lots of photos of this one. I’m collecting lots of really beautiful pictures from here and there, the kind of things you see on inspirational posters. I’m going to make my own inspirational posters, complete with Bible quotes. You know, quoting the worst, bloodiest, most intolerant or bizarre bits of the Bible. Heh.

New at Rosetta Stones: Garnet Mica Schist! Plus Announcements

Sorry for the absence lately – between the black hole the kitten has created, research, work, field excursions, and the unending exhaustion caused by a new medication, I’ve been lax. But I did put together a delicious little post with some photos of the garnet mica schist we found at Icicle Gorge last weekend, and it’s got links to Elli’s awesome 3-part series on how garnet mica schist comes to be, so there’s something to make up for it!

Also, I just tonight finished preliminary work on a set of posts I think you’ll love quite a lot. Coming soon! Also coming soon, moar kittehs!

For those of you who never venture into the wider world of FreethoughtBlogs, we’re having our first-ever convention this weekend! Here’s a welcome from PZ, and Jason’s link to lanyards. Unfortunately, I can’t be there – see above excuses (especially kitten black hole), but there will be science galore, and thought-provoking talks, and you can torment me by telling me what I’m missing! I’ll catch up by watching it all on YouTube later, probably while editing 10 billion photos from this summer’s adventures.

Right. Off you go. Enjoy! And check back soon for moar kitten!

Beginnings: Where will you begin?

You can’t always see where things began. For instance, where did geology begin? In Greece, with Theophrastus and his On Stones? In Rome, with Pliny the Elder? He’s got some claim to it, with his work Natural History and his death by volcano whilst observing the eruption of Vesuvius.

Did it begin in the Islamic empire, with Abu al-Rayhan al-Biruni, who studied the geology of India? Or Avicenna (Ibn Sina), famous for other things, but who also speculated on mountains, earthquakes and other topics of geological interest?

Or China, with Shen Kuo and his ideas on land formation? He was a careful observer. He’d seen the seashells on mountaintops, and had natural explanations for them.

Did geology begin in Italy with the word, coined by Ulisse Aldrovandi in 1603? Or did it begin with Nicolas Steno, when, during his studies of the Italian countryside, he formulated the principles of stratigraphy: superposition, original horizontality, and lateral continuity?

Arguments can be made for geology beginning with them all. But most geologists stick the pin in the timeline by James Hutton‘s name. He developed the Theory of the Earth. He found that famous uncomformity at Siccar Point. He gave us deep time, one of the most critical insights, the one that allowed us to begin thinking in the millions of years necessary to understand how the Earth has come to be the way it is. Modern geology owes something to all of its grandparents, but Hutton can make an excellent claim to be its father.

Then again, so can Charles Lyell, whose Principles of Geology were profoundly important: to Darwin, who may never have come up with evolution had it not been for his love of geology and the thoughts spurred by Lyell, and to all the geologists down through the years who found Lyell’s uniformitarianism to be the key to unlocking the geologic past. His principle, that the processes acting today were also the ones acting in the past, is one of the most important. It has helped us gaze into deep time, and understand what we see there.

There are many beginnings in geology, many places where you can stab your finger down and say, “Here! Here’s where it began.” It has many possible beginnings.

Out in the field, I often pause to consider those first geologists, the ones whose names we remember and the ones we’ll never know. Stand in front of an outcrop, and think back to the beginning, before anything was known.

Sandstone sea cliffs at Shore Acres, Oregon. Can you spot the unconformity?

In the beginning, before anything is known, how do you explain that? How do you even begin to piece it together, from the type of rock to how it formed, got tilted, eroded… so many pieces, pieced together with infinite patience and curiosity by many geologists over hundreds of years, allow me to say it’s marine sandstone, raised and tilted by the antics of the subduction zone offshore, now being reclaimed by the relentless waves of the sea. Countless geologists, making sense of the confusion of countless rock types and geologic processes, allow me to tell the stories of stones.

Thing is, I never intended to. What I meant to be doing was writing SF, and I chose fantasy originally because (don’t laugh), I hated doing research. Fantasy’s easy – you just make stuff up! Then I realized the best fantasy doesn’t make stuff up from whole cloth, but bases it on careful research. Sigh. Then I discovered research is fun. Then, I discovered science is awesomely interesting. Then, I started digging into geology in order to build better worlds…

But did my path as a geoblogger begin there? Or in childhood, with the first-prize rock collection I pieced together while surrounded by world-class geology? Did it begin with Jim Bennett, the outstanding geography professor who reignited my passion for rocks, took it to whole new levels, and showed me how to figure out how the world works? Did it begin with PZ Myers, who prompted me to start science blogging?

All of those things were beginnings, necessary steps along the way. But I think I know where this began: with reading an outstanding book by Ellen Morris Bishop that sent me on a geotrip down the Oregon Coast, the subsequent series I wrote on it, and that series getting discovered by the geoblogosphere, which chanted “One of us!” and immediately assimilated me. Here. Here is where I began as a geoblogger, and I haven’t looked back.

Someday, I hope to be someone else’s beginning. I doubt that I’ll discover something new in geology, not unless something freakishly lucky happens to this amateur, which possibility one can never discount in science. But I know what I can do. I can place a rock in a child’s hand and tell a story. That will be a beginning. That may be the moment a geologist traces their origin as a scientist to: the moment they discovered stones tell stories, and a long line of geologists have spent thousands of years figuring out what those stories are.

But the story isn’t finished. We’re still in medias res, and there are far more stories to tell. Stories that will begin with new scientists, long after we are gone. Stories that may begin with you, holding a new rock, wondering what it says.

Where will you begin?

 

Previously published at Scientific American/Rosetta Stones.