Happy Blasphemy Day! Up your god’s arse!

Today is International Blasphemy Day. Atheists everywhere are insulting your invisible deity, whomever he or she might (not) be, in protest of the stripping of rights, in certain countries, to publicly and vocally disbelieve in anything that someone might find offensive. These countries include Canada, in a limited fashion thankfully, but the fact that Canada — one of the most progressive and modern countries in the world — has a blasphemy law is unreal.

Let’s make this perfectly clear. Blasphemy is anything up to and including publicly doubting the existence of a supposedly omnipotent, wrathful and jealous deity. The merest fact that such a deity would be well capable of punishing doubters (and in every religion’s foundational texts, does so!), obviates the need for a blasphemy law as not only redundant, but usurping your deity’s divine right to exact vengeance for slights against him.

And we’re not protesting just because it’s a ludicrous and gross violation of human rights. We’re also protesting because some people have been attacked, or had to go into hiding, because they once drew a picture of a prophet who may or may not actually care about drawings.

Interestingly, in Canada, there’s a proviso that, according to Wikipedia, ‘is not an offence against this section to express in good faith and in decent language, or to attempt to establish by arguments used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, any opinion whatever on any religious subject.’ That, coupled with the fact that atheists are demonstrably better informed about religions than the religious, means only that I have to avoid swearing when debating religion in public in order to have a decent defense against a charge of blasphemy.

Fuck that shit, though. As far as I’m concerned, gratuitous swearing is good enough for television, so it’s good enough for me. There is not a shred of fucking evidence for the deity your dumb ass has postulated, and the burden of proof is on you motherfuckers. Anyone that thinks I should be put in jail for writing that sentence can go fuck themselves.

Potentially Earth-like exoplanet found, and other science bits

The most Earth-like planet yet has been found orbiting a red dwarf star within the Goldilocks zone (wherein liquid water can exist at the surface). It is tidally locked with its star, and it has gravity enough to maintain an atmosphere, being a mere 20%-50% larger than Earth.

A paper detailing the find by Vogt and Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, along with colleagues, is in press at the Astrophysical Journal. It is based on 11 years of data acquired by the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey, using the Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, in combination with an equivalent number of observations made over a four years period by the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planetary Search (HARPS) project at the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile.

Details about the planet, dubbed Gliese 581g are limited. Because it does not transit (i.e. cross in front of the star) there is no way to independently establish its size. However, the planet’s 36.6 day orbital period can be inferred from a slight back-and-forth wobble of the star, induced by the planet’s gravitational pull. The period translates into an orbital radius that is just under 15% the distance between Earth and the sun. In our solar system such a planet would be broiled by intense heat. However, because Gliese 581 is both smaller and cooler than the Sun, the planet’s “equilibrium” temperature is a balmy 228 K. That is below the freezing point of water, but if the planet has a substantial atmosphere the resulting greenhouse effect could bring that up to Earth-like conditions.

This is wonderful. The more planets we find, the more potential candidates we find for Earthlike planets, so even if this one isn’t our new future home, or can’t even support life at all, it is an inevitability that we will find one.

Meanwhile, back here on Earth, some other interesting tidbits might pique your interest.

A scientific survey has discovered extant, surviving seals of a species long thought extinct.

POM’s claims of massive health benefits for drinking pomegranate juice may actually turn out to be bluster and false advertising, suggests the FTC.

Physicists may have observed Hawking radiation from a lab-created black hole, kicking LHC doomsayers right in the junk.

Meanwhile, the Large Hadron Collider is producing some interesting and novel results in some very hairy areas of particle physics.

Some measurements of the background magnetic field generated by the Big Bang have been taken for the first time.

And this is another link to another science news article, with a layman’s explanation of why it’s interesting and a pithy and sarcastic remark.

Colbert actually has a point on immigration

I have to say, I absolutely love the way Stephen Colbert constantly injects himself into the political discourse. Even though he’s making fun of the Republicans, he’s able to stick the shiv right under their ribs by pretending to be one of them. And over this particular comedy routine, making fun of the blanket Republican stance against foreigners, the Grand Old Party has absolutely lost their shit over the fact that he was invited to deliver this five-minute counterargument to the committee on immigration directly by the Democrats in charge.

Even some of the stodgier Democrats are incensed that they got upstaged by a comedian. For some totally unexpected and unpredictable reason, making fun of the patently ridiculous stance that a country built out of immigrants should close the borders to immigration, is turning out to be a better strategy than taking their patently ridiculous stance seriously.

For those of you that don’t recognize Colbert as having an actual point here, let me boil it down for you. It’s really very simple.

1. Immigrants are working dirt-cheap jobs under terrible living conditions, and the fact that they are not citizens means they aren’t afforded protections.
2. Because they aren’t afforded protections, their employers can keep paying them next to nothing and treating them like shit.
3. If they were afforded protections, they might not be in such dangerous and shitty conditions working for next to nothing, so maybe “real Americans” would do those jobs again.
4. If that were the case, some of the artificially lowered prices for farm produce might rise again, spawning more farms to replace the millions of farm jobs that have been lost over the past few decades to big agribusiness and south of the border.

Take the invisible hand’s thumbs off the scale, and equality and sanity returns, at the expense of the bigger agribusinesses that are profiting hand over fist at the expense of the country, and at the expense of the immigrant labour they’re exploiting. By doing that, you might actually cure the illegal immigration problem.

But that’s just crazy bleeding-heart liberal talk!

The No True Scotsman fallacy

This video is an excellent breakdown of the No True Scotsman fallacy, which you’ll often come across while debating dogmatists of all stripes. I’m fairly certain that the whole “Hitler is an atheist” canard came directly from someone using a No True Scotsman fallacy that, through a game of telephone after being employed in debate after debate, gained a patina of verisimilitude such that theists think it’s not only a valid argument, but an outright fact.

Now that you’re better equipped to recognize a No True Scotsman argument, and how to dissect the argument, hopefully we’ll see fewer of them in the discourse of faith vs reason.

(A man can dream.)

Neil deGrasse Tyson on religion’s effect on scientific progress

It’s important to note that “naming rights” may not be the best way to gauge who has progressed the scientific frontiers in any one era, but it IS, at least, a good indicator as to who was looking for new information, and who clamped down on scientific progress in deference to scriptures. It’s also important to note the current state of scientific progress in the States, where potentially life-saving stem cell research is largely squelched for religious reasons.

Atheist Blogroll needs help

In case you weren’t aware, for the last week or so, blogrolling.com has been reported as malware, giving people errors when trying to view my blog via Firefox or Chrome. It turns out they’re actually in the process of shutting down (and rather unceremoniously at that!), sending a brief e-mail to their users saying “so long, and good luck”. In the meantime, Mojoey has been working on an alternate solution, but he needs help testing and hosting the custom-built application. I could never countenance hosting such a high-traffic app on my server, as it would get shut down in no time flat. If you have a hosting platform with some cycles to spare, or even if you just want to give Mojoey a clap on the back for his efforts, go do what you can.

How skeptics and the credulous differ

Youtube user C0nc0rdance discusses skepticism, “psi of the gaps”, and the difference in thought processes behind the scientifically minded and credulous “woo-believers”, specifically when confronted with anomalies in the data. You’ll find a lot of overlap between creationism, astrology, ghost-hunters, psychics, et cetera. This kind of thinking is what I, as a skeptic, have made it my business to fight.

All tied up in a neat little package. People believe strange things for a number of reasons, most of them to do with selection bias and some sort of emotional investment in having their chosen hypothesis turn out to be true. Any time you’re dealing with someone that believes in something very strongly, but has no evidence to back it up, you’ll get these creeping failures to analyze evidence in their proper context. You’ll get cherry-picking, or manipulation of the data, or even manipulation of the data-collecting methodologies. You’ll get the kind of knock-down, drag-out fight we get around these parts now and then, like the astrology dust-up. You’ll also specifically get the kinds of arguments about studies that Robert Currey attempted to make, about what studies showed what, and what studies were worth keeping, almost entirely on the basis of what proved and disproved what he was trying to say.