“IT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM!”

There isn’t that much difference between a trained archaeologist and a professional wrestler, is there? Look at the new depradations encouraged by reality TV:

There’s nothing more exciting than digging for treasure, and that’s just what SPIKE TV’s new unscripted original series, American Digger is going to do when it premiers on March 20 at 10/9c. Former professional wrestler Ric Savage and the American Savage team have the tools, knowhow, and instincts, and are ready to show everyone what could just be hidden beneath your backyard if you give them the chance.

American Digger will showcase Ric Savage and his crew trekking across the country each week, from Chicago, IL to Jamestown, VA and everywhere in between. Once the team identifies an area they think is ripe with high-value artifacts and relics, they’ll have to convince the current homeowner to give them permission to dig up their backyard. If American Savage is persuasive enough, they’ll get a chance to dig up the tenant’s backyard using their state-of-the-art equipment, and divide the cash they get from selling the artifacts they find there with the tenant.

Savage and his crew definitely have an eye for artifact-rich areas, and will seek out historic sites as a result. These areas are home to great finds, as the team uncovers old relics in the show such as a 5 million year old Megalodon shark’s tooth. American Savage is the top artifact recovery company in the United States and is made up of Ric Savage’s wife Rita, who manages the business, battlefield historian Bob Buttafuso, recovery expert Rue Shumate, and Giuseppe, his 25-year old son.

Shark’s teeth aren’t a big deal, but having a team of hacks charge into a historical site to dig up and sell everything they find sounds like a horror story.

Why I am an atheist – Steven Ahern

Humanity, despite existing in discrete units (which we call people), is really one grander entity which breathes and behaves in peculiar manners. The casual modern anthropologist can easily witness the human machine’s idiosyncrasies, though often these details go unnoticed for being too ingrained into the quotidian lifestyle. Why most subway-car riders, for instance, deign not to speak nor make eye contact, or why these creatures by the thousands prolong internal discomfort by withholding offensive gaseous emissions can be understood as an adaptive response to living in close, interactive proximity with one another and living to certain established social standards which evolve over time. Without consciously considering why or how these responses came to be as they are, many millions passively act them out on autopilot.

The human autopilot transcends actions and delves into thoughts and beliefs. I have wanted to perform an experiment whereby a handful of assorted passers-by would be propositioned to agree or disagree on the statement that consumption of sugar causes hyperactivity. Without a doubt the response would be a staggering ‘yes’, and my experiment would demonstrate a general understanding of this concept in the populace. The interesting quirk of this exercise is that in truth, this understanding is unfounded, and is instead the result of many generations of hearsay and anecdotal evidence. Why, then, is this non-truth so prevalent?

How does the singular human machine operate? It has up-time and down-time, ill days and well days, nutritional needs, waste removal systems, mood swings, shaving needs, clipping needs, washing needs, and dirty deeds. On the molecular level, its nuance surpasses anything Steve Jobs could have dreamed of, and it always hangs in a tenuous balance between health and death. Naturally, the ways of sustaining the singular human machine must be conservative; that is, whatever worked the day before could and should work again today. One foot in front of the other, and so on, leads man to his mate and home, and puts bread in his mouth, and allows him to breathe through the night to see the next day. He cannot afford to dramatically alter his schedule lest he neglect his body’s urgent requirements for refreshment.

By understanding that the autopilot which guides man through his living-chores also guides his assumptions and understandings, one can see the main reason for why I am an atheist. The gods are the giddiness of children after they eat too many cookies; the gods are understanding that illness is due to humour imbalance; the gods are knowing that the left-handed are evil. Without evidence to sustain it, the god-concept is the co-pilot to the autopilot of the human machine – it was there yesterday, and is therefore true today, all things coming from god, post hoc ergo procter hoc. I do not believe in gods because the concept is a human response to a lack of information about our bodies.

What I suspect sustains the non-truth concept of god or gods is a shared quasi- understanding of similar yet distinct psychosomatic phenomena. Another way, it can be understood as such: two parties who can at least minimally agree on having experienced some similar conscious feeling can more easily misappropriate the cause of that feeling to an external agent than can either of them alone. A thousand parties who can at least minimally agree on having experienced the same phenomena increases the apparent truth even more. Through generations of snowballing, the assumptions which underlie the god-concept have been taken as granted without warrant, and the result is the rainbow of devotions that exist today. They are the product of (and targeted at) mens’ minds, in order to make sense of shared sensations and feelings. Cognitive psychology and an emerging neuroscience will expose nuances of the human condition that gods once were so useful to explain.

Steven Ahern
United States

A Telegraph poll of remarkable inanity

A better poll question would be, “Is the Telegraph always this horribly and incompetently written?” We could also ask, “Are Christians always this stupid?”

There was recently a public discussion between Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Look what surprised the audience and the article’s author:

There was surprise when Prof Dawkins acknowledged that he was less than 100 per cent certain of his conviction that there is no creator.

The philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who chaired the discussion, interjected: “Why don’t you call yourself an agnostic?” Prof Dawkins answered that he did.

An incredulous Sir Anthony replied: “You are described as the world’s most famous atheist.”

He’s a scientist. We’re never absolutely certain of anything, and one thing you’ll hear over and over from any competent scientist is that all knowledge is provisional, subject to revision if better evidence is brought to bear on it. What Dawkins said was not novel — and if anyone had actually read The God Delusion, they’d know that this explanation was right in there.

And what kind of philosopher is unaware that you can be both agnostic and atheist at the same time? I don’t have knowledge of any gods, but my knowledge of the universe and the absence of evidence from proponents of god-belief, as well as their inability to provide an adequate epistemology of belief, has convinced me that the existence of such beings is so vanishingly unlikely that I reject all gods. I will continue to do so until the believers bring out reasonable, compelling evidence for a clearly stated hypothesis. What’s so hard about that?

Unfortunately, here’s the flamingly stupid question the Telegraph chose to run instead.

Does God “clutter up” explanations of how the universe began?

Yes, there is no place for religion in science 26.69%
No, a theory of creation is compatible with the Big Bang 73.31%

I don’t give a flying fart whether a fairy tale is “compatible” with a scientific theory; that usually just means the fairy tale says nothing about the phenomenon. What matters is whether the story provides any testable evidence, and no, the Bible does not, therefore it is irrelevant.

Friday Cephalopod: Squid in flight

It had to by flying squid today, because of this story in Nature about squid locomotor energetics. Scientists measured the velocities of flying squid in air, and noted that they can move five times faster in a less dense/viscous medium (as we say in our technical discussions of this issue…no duh.) So they are proposing that maybe these species of squid do it to travel long distances efficiently.

Querulous voices were raised to point out something equally obvious: then where are they all? Photos of squid in flight are extraordinarily rare — they don’t do it routinely, it seems. It’s more probably an escape behavior only used when predators are attacking.

I’m going to side with the nay-sayers. The observation that squid move through air much faster than they do through water is utterly trivial; the real problem with the interpretation that it is a common locomotor behavior is that it sure doesn’t seem to be all that common. Show me lots of movies of squid schools leaping in a prolonged series and maybe I’ll change my mind.

(Also on Sb)

I…whut?

First thing you notice is the breakdancin’ Jesus, and then the eye moves to Catholic priests clapping politely, and then the brain shuts down. What is this alien event? Why…huh…ack…processor failure. Overload, overload, overload.

(via Movin’ Meat, appropriately titled for the image)

How to handle criticism

You may have noticed that all the choices in the Readers’ Choice Awards for favorite atheist blog are white, so it’s not very diverse (two women out of five candidates, though, is pretty good — a few years ago it was a struggle to even get women noticed in this movement). A few people have been criticizing the awards for that, and I noted that this is a problem that plagues online popularity contests — they tend to be ruled by the majority and exclude all minorities.

To his credit, Austin Cline has responded to the criticisms, and he didn’t dig in his heels. Instead, he’s looking for suggestions to improve the breadth of the sample next time around. That’s the way to do it!

I’m still insisting that you go vote for the old white guy every day anyway.

That anti-intellectual Santorum

Rick Santorum really hates universities.

On the president’s efforts to boost college attendance, Santorum said, "I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country."

He claimed that "62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it," but declined to cite a source for the figure. And he floated the idea of requiring universities that receive public funds have "intellectual diversity" on campus.

Universities are places where one goes to experience diversity and learn about reality, so we already have opportunities to experience "intellectual diversity" — the problem is that they are places where diverse views are questioned and criticized. What he wants is not diversity, but that his fundamentalist/evangelical Christian views can be presented in a protected environment on campus, where they won’t wither under the scathing light of reality-based scrutiny.

Oh, and I don’t know where his 62% figure came from specifically, but it’s in the ballpark of numbers often thrown around by conservative Christians. It’s total nonsense. 62% of our students don’t graduate as atheists (I wish!); what it means is that large numbers of students come to the university and change their minds. They arrive with a very narrow, very specific version of evangelical Christianity which the antique purists insist they must hang on to, or go to hell…and they leave, usually still entirely Christian and even mostly church-going Christian, but they tend to soften and have more inclusive, liberal views. That constitutes apostasy to these culture warriors like Santorum.

Ken Ham is big on beating his breast over all the defections from literalist Christianity that go on in the colleges. He’s even got a book on it called Already Gone in which he blames it all on “millions of years” and the abandonment of a strict interpretation of Genesis.

(By the way, you can tell an evangelical Christian has a book when they plug it by telling you you can order them in “cartons of 48″.)

Why I am an atheist – Krasnaya Koshka

From Krasnaya Koshka – an American living in Saint Petersburg, Russia — and Professor Myers, you are better than pelmeni! I thank you for being you.

My grandparents on my father’s side were “lapsed” Mormons but they were very adamant I–being the first grandchild–be unlapsed Mormon. Maybe to make up for their unbridled smoking, drinking and gambling. I so loved playing craps and poker with my 21 great aunts and uncles and my grandparents I had no choice but be plopped into Primary. They made it sound great!

My mother is from Germany and was lapsed Lutheran. She told me when I was quite young that it was all stories but maybe I should adopt it to make my father’s family happy. “Gemütlichkeit.” I was mostly concerned with Mom’s feelings. Okay then, off to Primary I go! By myself.

It was strange being four/five years old and in church alone. I got my PTL ring and was really quite proud. I was a lonely “sunBEAM” but there are worse things to be. I saw popcorn poppin’ on the apricot tree. Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the waaaay, teach me all that I may learn to live with Him one day. Mormons have super catchy children’s tunes, I’ll admit.

I was honestly quite bewildered by the Mormons but I loved the attention. A small child dumped off alone is bound to cause a stir. One day, Bobby Ball smashed my face into the drinking fountain and I bled all over my yellow dress. It was the day after someone ran into the fence of the Temple so I went home with bloody dress, spouting, “That drunk who hit the sacred Temple is going to hell!” My mother yanked me right out of Primary. I never went back. I traded my PTL ring for a Dolly Madison chocolate pie.

I never understood what religion was for. My mom told me when I was 12 and curious, “Go to all the churches nearby and see if anything fits.” So I did. It was all very interesting but still made no sense to me. That’s when I first read the entirety of the KJV. I read it the same time I read “Roots” by Alex Hailey. I must say, the two side by side made me sick. I was horrified.

So religion never made any sense to me. It made me a post-kindergarten bigot and made me ill, but it never made sense.

The Church of Latter Day Saints being right across the street from my high school and the fact that they had basketball tournaments for young women and the fact that I was a jock in high school brought me right back to the place where I’d ditched Primary, ten years earlier. All my friends were Mormon. I was in the church more in high school than I had been ever before.

I was asked to be a “Special Counselor” (“special” meaning I was half-born Mormon but horribly lapsed) at Camp LoMia the summer of my sophomore year, and I agreed. Camp LoMia was the all girl Mormon summer camp and my humongous crush would be there (who was a notorious lesbian) so I’d be idiotic to refuse. (I was also quite a notorious lesbian at my high school at that point.) Before I could go, however, there was the necessity of a private counsel with Deacon Bigler. Okay.

I was very familiar with Deacon Bigler because he had lived across the street from us since I was two years old. He was the rat bastard who beat my little brother with a baseball bat (plastic, but still) for accidentally knocking over a cat litter box. I had babysat his five children many, many times. The last time I had not gotten paid because I’d brought a Coke can into his house. I’d forgotten about his “root beer only” thing. I disliked the guy. Well, no, not really “dislike”, I just thought he was a hot house flower (my mom’s term for anyone who can’t make it outside of their own controlled environment).

I met with Deacon Bigler in a tiny office at the church after school. He asked me, “Why do you want to be a Special Counselor?” I was not daft enough to answer, “Because Marla Denim will be there”, of course, so I said, “To commune with nature.”

“I presume you mean ‘to commune with God’.”

“Oh yeah, sure.”

“I’ve heard things about you. Maybe you’re not on the righteous path. Maybe I shouldn’t let you go.”

Criminy, hot house flower, do you know what high school lust is? Marla will be there! I just remained quiet.

He then proceeded to tell me the story of his deep love for his deacon, as a teenager, and how they slept together many times, in really vivid detail. (This was not a first for me–after coming out, I was inundated with adults spilling their homosexual exploits out to me. Deacon Bigler’s “news” to me was really old news.)

“But I chose God’s path. I think you will, too.” So I was allowed to go.

If I’d ever fancied a god of any sort, it was knocked out of me by the rampant hypocrisy all around me.

Since then, religion makes me laugh, except when it pisses me off. That the Mormons forked so much money over to “defend marriage” when I know of two gay Deacons in the church really fucking infuriates me. Maybe Deacon Bigler wasn’t gay? I ran into him in the airport of my hometown not one year ago. This is what transpired:

“I see you haven’t changed.” His words to me.

“I am who I am.”

“I regret everything.”

“Okay.”

“No, I regret it.”

“Okay. I have to pee before I get on my plane.”

“I made a mistake.”

“I understand. We all do at many points in our lives.”

“My… friend Deacon __________ died.”

“Ah, I see. I’m so very sorry to hear that. I know how much he meant to you.”

“And… I think you know, I think you understand….”

“But you’re still Mormon and still tithing?”

“Of course.”

“I have to catch my plane.”

I’m not sure why NOW, when he’s over 60 and I’m over 40, I should just allow him to be regretful—to me.

Mormons made my being an atheist essential and then ‘sealed’ it many times over. I really feel sorry for the people ambered in religion who cannot break out. You have one life and you live it in regret?

I am proud to be an atheist. To be moral. To be honest. And to have few regrets (my regrets are tiny in comparison). There is nothing better in this world than living true to yourself.

Krasnaya Koshka
Russia

Isn’t the US supposed to be over this now?

A good ol’ boy named Gordon Warren Epperly has filed a lawsuit in Alaska to keep Obama off the ballot. The reasoning behind it is…well, see for yourself.

As stated above, for an Individual to be a candidate for the office of president of the United States, the candidate must meet the qualifications set forth in the United States Constitution and one of those qualifications is that the Candidate shall be a "natural born citizen" of the United States. As Barack Hussein Obama II is of the "mulatto" race, his status of citizenship is founded upon the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Before the [purported] ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, the race of "Negro" or "mulatto" had no standing to be citizens of the United States under the United States Constitution.

What a charming reminder of the United States’ racist history and current strain of virulent racism.

I have a plan for faster-than-light travel now

Both Phil Plait and Sean Carroll and Mano Singham are tentatively reporting that they may have an explanation for the recent anomalous report of neutrinos traveling faster than light: it may have been a case of a faulty connection in a timing circuit. If that bears out, it may be a bit embarrassing.

But it does suggest an important possibility. When we get around to building the first starship, don’t have those fussy, punctilious physicists wire it up. Gather a gang of sloppy slapdash biologists to stick it together with spit and chewing gum. We’ll have it going a heck of a lot faster than light than those experts can even imagine.

(Also on Sb)