Well duh

From the That Answers That Department: I was coming back from the store and flipping the dial on my radio, and came across this (paraphrased):

… that ETI could actually be responsible for the destruction of all life on this planet. Now think about that. Aliens. Who would create them? (*chortle*)An alien god?

Isn’t this just another case of science run amuck?

Silly old me. I forgot: our God is the only God anywhere. That means that they—the aliens—can’t have a God of their own. And if they haven’t got a God, then there’s nobody to create them. Therefore, they do not exist.

More state-sponsored malware discovered.

Having problems with your computer? You may have a virus paid for by taxpayer dollars.

A newly uncovered espionage tool, apparently designed by the same people behind the state-sponsored Flame malware that infiltrated machines in Iran, has been found infecting systems in other countries in the Middle East, according to researchers.

The malware, which steals system information but also has a mysterious payload that could be destructive against critical infrastructure, has been found infecting at least 2,500 machines, most of them in Lebanon, according to Russia-based security firm Kaspersky Lab, which discovered the malware in June and published an extensive analysis of it on Thursday.

The spyware, dubbed Gauss after a name found in one of its main files, also has a module that targets bank accounts in order to capture login credentials. The malware targets accounts at several banks in Lebanon, including the Bank of Beirut, EBLF, BlomBank, ByblosBank, FransaBank and Credit Libanais. It also targets customers of Citibank and PayPal.

via Wired.com.

Thank goodness we can rely on Russian heroes to defend us from the predations of democracies like the US and Israel.

Dawkins and Mormons (follow-up)

Looking over the comments from yesterday’s post, it seems that some people understood my point about Dawkins’ Mormon quote, and others didn’t. It’s an important point, though, so I want to follow up and try to make it clear for everyone.

The problem I see is not that Dr. Dawkins is impugning the sanity of people who would seriously consider voting for Mitt Romney. That’s fine, that’s fair game. Romney is a candidate for the US presidency, and it’s perfectly reasonable to discuss his expected behavior as president if he were elected. The problem is that the quote, as originally phrased, does not address Mitt Romney’s qualifications, it addresses the qualifications of “a Mormon.” Not any specific Mormon, but just “a Mormon”—and thus, by implication, any Mormon.

That may seem like a quibble, but it isn’t. There’s a hugely significant difference between saying you’d be crazy to vote for Mitt Romney because he makes important decisions based on irrational beliefs, on the one hand, versus saying you’d be crazy to vote for “a Mormon,” on the other. One is a specific assessment of a specific individual based on observed patterns in his behavior, and the other is prejudice against an entire class of people, based on religious affiliation, regardless of individual qualifications for the position. The former is fair game; the latter is prejudice based on religious affiliation.

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Well darn.

PZ Myers has a post up that has my feelings a bit mixed. It’s a quote attributed to Richard Dawkins:

Yes, America STILL manages to reach Mars despite half the country preparing to elect a man who believes he’ll get a planet when he dies. It is all the more to the credit of the sane, rational half of America that it manages to achieve so much despite being positively held back by the other half, the half that believes the universe is 6,000 years old, the half that seriously contemplates voting for a Mormon.

I have tremendous respect for Dr. Dawkins, but I have to say, this is an incredibly bad quote, and I hope he didn’t really say it. As phrased, it is an appeal to religious bigotry, plain and simple. I think I know what it’s trying to say, and I definitely agree that (a) Mitt Romney would be a terrible choice for president and (b) the anti-science activism of fundamentalist right-wingers is a serious detriment to America’s ability to thrive and progress in a modern technological world. However, the suggestion that it would not be “sane” and “rational” to consider voting for a Mormon is just plain bigotry. Merely having a denominational affiliation does not dictate how qualified a candidate might or might not be to serve, nor does it even reliably indicate how strongly or weakly he or she upholds the tenets of the denomination. There are plenty of valid criticisms to be made of Mr. Romney; we do not need to stoop to this.

I do not regard Dr. Dawkins as a religious bigot, and I believe that this quote, if genuine, is merely an unfortunate and ill-considered choice of words. But if someone said that it would not be sane and rational to vote for an atheist, I’d make the same protest. Candidates stand or fall on their own qualifications, and should not be arbitrarily dismissed based on religious affiliation. I hope that if this quote is legit, Dr. Dawkins retracts it or at least clarifies it.

4th Amendment protections officially moot

Wired magazine reports the depressing news that we now officially have fewer constitutional rights than we did under Bill Clinton.

The federal government may spy on Americans’ communications without warrants and without fear of being sued, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in a decision reversing the first and only case that successfully challenged President George W. Bush’s once-secret Terrorist Surveillance Program.

In other words, the government can freely and secretly violate the Constitution, with absolutely zero accountability or oversight, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. They can watch everything we do, and we cannot watch what they do.

Violence and lack of belief

With the recent shootings at the movie theater and the Sikh temple, a lot of people are pointing fingers at unbelief, and saying that the reason we have so much violence today is because we’ve lost the faith that used to guide us, that sense of supernatural reward and punishment that helped us resist evil and do good.

You know, they might have something. I mean, there’s a pretty definite pattern here. Not just the two most recent gunmen, but any number of violent criminals before them, are men who have lost the simple faith they once had in Santa Claus, who “knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” I’m sure that if they had only held on to their original, childlike belief in an all-seeing Father Christmas, making a list and checking it twice, they’d have never done anything so terrible.

It just goes to prove that Santa actually exists, doesn’t it.


Plants vs. the Gospel

Via PZ Myers at Pharyngula comes this delicious tidbit from veteran creationist Henry M. Morris.

Obviously, animal and human life are different from plant life. In fact, the Bible uses the Hebrew word chay (life) and its derivatives 763 times in the Old Testament, never applying that term to plants or vegetation. No place in Scripture attributes chay to plants; only living creatures possess life.

Plants are indeed marvelous, beautiful, complex, and able to reproduce “after their kind,” but they are designed by the Creator to be a source of energy to maintain life. Plants are food—they are not alive.

Now, let’s all turn in our Bibles to the Epistle of Saint Paul unto the Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 35 through 38.

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.

So to understand the resurrection of Jesus, we need first of all to understand that plants are not alive, and therefore can never be said to “come to life.” Therefore what Saint Paul is telling us here is that when the dead are “raised,” they are raised in bodies that are not alive.

Wow, that explains a lot. Creationism sure makes the Bible a lot clearer. Thanks, Dr. Morris! But wait, it gets better.

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Taking God at His Word

A while back I pointed out one of the sayings of Jesus that seems to put him firmly in the hell-is-eternal-suffering camp, because he said it was better to go to heaven blind or maimed than to go to hell with a whole body. That’s an advantage that only makes sense if you stay in hell forever, because otherwise he’d be saying it’s better to be blind and maimed in heaven for all eternity than to be whole in heaven for all eternity after a relatively insignificant time in hell. Since the latter alternative is nonsense, it’s a lot more reasonable to count Jesus as someone who believed in eternal punishment.

Someone named brenda offers the following rebuttal:

“Obviously, that’s nonsense.”

Yes, it is nonsense. That is why only atheists and fundamentalists interpret the Bible literally. Atheists and snake handlers make a such loverly pair of clowns.

Oo, that one hurts, eh? It’s a good thing she never interprets the Bible literally, by believing, say, that Jesus is literally God Incarnate and literally rose from the dead. But what’s missing from this response? That’s right: she hasn’t told us what the correct/non-literal interpretation is supposed to be. And for good reason—the result is the same whether you take the story literally or not. Kinda takes the punch out, doesn’t it?

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Magic Story Syndrome

Back in the good old days, I once watched an episode of Candid Camera in which Alan Funt gathered a bunch of people with a sub-par sense of humor, told them a joke, and then recorded them trying to re-tell the joke to other people. The bit was pretty comical, because the people tended to mangle the punch line so badly that you could tell they never really understood the joke in the first place. And yet they told the joke anyway, and expected people to laugh.

I’ve been reading some accounts recently of unbelievers trying to have a discussion with presuppositionalists (e.g. Russell Glasser and Aron Ra), and something about presuppositionalism reminds me of Candid Camera. It’s almost as though the presuppositionalists are just repeating a story, with no real understanding of how that story is supposed to work, in order to obtain an expected response. And in fact, I think for many believers, that’s exactly what is happening. The Gospel isn’t just a story, it’s a magic story. Maybe there are things about it that you don’t understand. Maybe there are things that don’t make sense. But never mind. Just tell the story, and sooner or later it’s going to produce a magical result, and people will be saved.

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