Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How well did I do?

On September 5th I courageously (foolishly?) put down my predictions for the 2008 NFL season fully expecting to be totally humiliated in December. I wasn’t disappointed.

NFC East: I said Cowboys, the winner was Giants. That’s 0 right and 1 wrong
NFC North: I said Vikings, the winner was Vikings. That’s 1 right and 1 wrong
NFC South: I said Saints, the winner was Panthers. That’s 1 right and 2 wrong.
NFC West: I said Seahawks, the winner was Cardinals. That’s 1 right and 3 wrong.
AFC East: I said Patriots, the winner was Dolphins (!?). That’s 1 right and 4 wrong.
AFC North: I said Steelers, the winner was Steelers. That’s 2 right and 4 wrong.
AFC South: I said Colts, the winner was Titans. That’s 2 right and 5 wrong.
AFC West: I said Chargers, the winner was Chargers. That’s 3 right and 5 wrong.

So I did an eyelash better than a goat randomly selecting the winners by stepping on cards with the team logos. The goat would be expected to get 2 out of 8 right.

Of my four Wild Card picks, Jaguars, Jets, Packers and Eagles, only the Eagles made it. I’m still alive for AFC Champ because I picked the Chargers, but I’m dead for both NFC Champs and the Superbowl Champs because I chose the Cowboys and they didn’t even make the playoffs.

I did say I would get a second chance to make myself look foolish once the playoff picture was set. I’ll mull it over and let you know.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Don’t you ever get tired…

I sent one of those “are you kidding me” e-mails to a fundy Christian site.

“Don't you get tired of peddling the same old nonsense? I had to stop going through your site because I was laughing too hard. Keep up the good work. Its sites like yours that will guarantee the death of Christianity because the misrepresentations are so obvious.

A law is stronger than a theory? LOL, laws are a part of theories. A scientific law is simply a mathematical description of some natural event such as a falling rock or the rate of zygote mutation.

Evolution is a fact. Live with it. There are no fulfilled prophecies in the bible. Live with it. Jesus didn't die for your sins. Live with it. You're NOT going to heaven when you die. Live with it.


They weren’t thrilled and sent the following reply.

“history has proven that Christianity is growing and will continue to grow.

the philosophy of evolution is already crumbling.

life from non life?


have you ever studied information formation theory in dna?

i'm sure you have not.”

I couldn’t resist replying to their reply.

“You'd be surprised at what I've studied.

Life from non-life? That's not even part of evolution, that's the province of Abiogenesis. At least get your branches of science straight. I make no claims about Abiogenesis, but if you're interested in the origins of life, allow me to refer you to Fox's experiments with protocells

I might point out that evolution isn't a "philosophy." That would be a promotion. It's simply the best explanation we have for the evidence that exists. If new evidence popped up tomorrow, such as finding the remains of a bunny rabbit in the Jurassic, science would gleefully scrap it for something better. Of course that's not very likely. For 150 years every piece of new evidence has simply refined and strengthened the basic theory.

As for its "crumbling," that lie has been around for a hundred years. It wasn't true a hundred years ago and it's not true now. It's just wishful thinking on your part. Visit the science departments of any of the great universities of the world and see if you can find any evidence of the Theory of Evolution "crumbling." There are lots and lots of questions in evolution about when, where, why and how. There is no question about "if."

You guys just keep recycling the same old tired Points Refuted A Thousand Times (PRATTS). Can't you come up with anything original? Let me clue you in on the 2nd law while I'm at it with an excerpt from an article I did that happened to address it.

'Let’s talk about the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics also sometimes called the law of entropy. The 2nd law simply states that the entropy of an isolated system which is not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.

In other words, left to themselves things get more chaotic and not more ordered. A broken down building doesn’t repair itself it gets increasingly broken down until it collapses.

Creationists point to the second law and say it proves that evolution, which Creationists view as calling for increasing order, cannot be valid.

Well, they’re wrong. The reason they’re wrong are the two words 'isolated system' in the definition. An 'isolated system' cannot import energy. But the earth’s ecology imports energy constantly from the sun. Therefore it is not an 'isolated system' and the second law doesn’t apply (it might apply to the universe as a whole but that’s a whole different issue).'

I'm sure this has been pointed out to you on numerous occasions yet you continue to push the same tired old claims about the 2nd law. Do you honestly believe that the 99.99% of reputable scientists that accept evolution don't understand the 2nd law of thermodynamics?

Christianity preys upon the young, the ignorant and the freightened. The cure for Christianity is education. Whenever the light of education shines upon ignorance and superstition, the ignorance and superstition melt away. Like slavery and segregation before it Christianity is already dead. It just doesn't know it yet. Knowledge will win over ignorance. The only questions are how long will it take and what will be the cost.”

You'll notice I ignored the question of DNA information formation. I'm not about to get into a discussion about information theory and Kolmogorov complexity through e-mail with folks that don't understand the relationship of a law to a theory.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Rick Warren?

I’m not happy about Barack Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inaugural. Then again, I’m not all that happy about an invocation in the first place.

I hear the defense that’s this is the “reaching out” Obama talked about during the election. But there is a limit. One wouldn’t “reach out” to an anti-semite or KKK supporter so what we're talking about here is where is the line and is Warren over it?

Warren's over the line. He is a bigot pure and simply. For some bizarre reason the fact that he’s bigoted against gays rather than Jews or Blacks somehow makes it ok. A part of our society is willing to accept gay bashing and especially when it’s done by a Christian minister.

That’s a mistake. The time has come to make it clear that it’s NOT ok just like it was made clear in the past that it’s not ok when it’s Jews, Blacks or some other ethnic minority being bad mouthed.

Until we make it plain, where is the bigot’s incentive to either change or, if they’re unwilling to change, at least to STFU.

I’m organizing the “Snowball Battalion.” The idea is to blast Warren with snowballs when he tries to open his mouth. E-mail me if you want to sign up.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The South Carolina “I Believe” License Plates

Remember those license plates with the cross over the stained glass window and the words “I Believe” on it that South Carolina decided to make available as a no cost option? Well, a federal court has issued an injunction against issuing them citing them as a violation of the 1st Amendment prohibition against the establishment of a religion.

Gee, ya think?

State legislators are encouraging the motor vehicle agency to appeal the decision to the 4th Circuit. The odds of the 4th Circuit overturning this ruling are about zero.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Atheist Plaque Disappears

CNN reports that a plaque bearing an atheist message, erected next to the Nativity Scene in the Legislative building in Olympia Washington, has gone missing. The plaque, provided by the folks at the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FfRF), read:

At this season of
may reason prevail.

There are no gods,
no devils, no angels,
no heaven or hell.
There is only
our natural world.
Religion is but
myth and superstition
that hardens hearts
and enslaves minds.

A substitute plaque, with a sign attached saying “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” is to be provided until the original is discovered. The sign is called a exercise of Freedom of Speech. Well I guess someone decided to exercise their Freedom of Speech by stealing the silly thing.

I sympathize with the rational content of the plaque; I consider its placement next to a Nativity Scene of questionable taste, funny perhaps, but of questionable taste.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Confusion with the Written Word

It never ceases to amaze me how easily the written word can be misinterpreted. Usually when you look at it again in the light of a misinterpretation it’s easy to see how it happened. Once in a while though you just shake your head and wonder where the hell they got what they got out of what was written.

Have four or five people read the same fairly complex page and it wouldn’t be unusual to get multiple opinions on the precise meaning associated with different parts of the page.

Make it something controversial, and bring in various partisans, and you could get widely varying opinions. No wonder we have so many lawyers.

And this is the case when the damn thing is written in the reader’s native language and by someone who is a contemporary of the reader. Now hop forward a little bit and consider something like the bible.

The overwhelming majority of people are reading a translation, and a translation very likely influenced by previous translations and interpretations. For instance, the New International Version (NIV) makes no secret about the fact that some of the Hebrew Bible translation choices that were made were intended to maintain consistency with interpretations in the New Testament. The most famous of these is the translation of Isaiah 7:14.

The NIV renders this verse as:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

This is consistent with Matthew 1:22-23.

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”

The problem is that Matthew is quoting from the Greek Septuagint which does in fact use the Greek parthenos which specifically means virgin. In the original Hebrew however, the word is almah, which some would argue simply means “young woman” and not necessarily a virgin. If Isaiah meant “virgin,” these folks point out, he would have used the Hebrew betulah which he uses elsewhere and which can only mean virgin. There are also some disagreements about tense.

In the Jewish Bible Yisheyah (Isaiah) 7:14 reads:

“Therefore the L-rd Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), claimed by some to be the most accurate English translation, and which doesn’t concern itself with maintaining consistency with the New Testament, translates the passage as:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

In the NRSV the woman is already pregnant which sort of eliminates any question about her virginity.

I’m not getting into which of the various translations is right but I think it’s pretty obvious that it makes a big difference.

Another problem is that the bible was written in a cultural context that most people, including myself, have absolutely no conception of. Even supposed experts can only have a vague understanding of a culture several millenniums in the past. Consider 2 Kings 23:10 from the NIV.

“He (King Josiah) desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice his son or daughter in the fire to Molech.”

Seems fairly straight forward right? The most common interpretation is King Josiah destroys a pagan altar to prevent it being used for the burning of children as a sacrifice to the pagan god Molech.

Perhaps that’s correct, but there are a few problems with that interpretation. The first is that the Hebrew text doesn’t actually say “sacrifice.” It says “pass through the fire.” The NIV is interpreting that to mean “sacrifice.” Others have suggested that it might actually mean having children pass through two lines of fire as a sort of consecration ceremony. Dangerous perhaps, but not intended to be fatal.

The other problem is the word “Molech” itself. While traditionally interpreted as the name of a god, what you actually get in the Hebrew are just the consonants mlk which in other places are interpreted to mean “Melek” or king. This is a term which can apply to Yahweh himself.

So what did King Josiah put an end to? A, perhaps dangerous, consecration ceremony to a foreign god called Molech, a, perhaps dangerous, consecration ceremony to the Hebrew god Yahweh, the sacrificing of children to a foreign god called Molech, the sacrificing of children to the Hebrew god Yahweh or something totally different that no one has identified yet?

I’m not going down this road either because my opinion is utterly meaningless. Whatever the practice was it is clearly identified as an “abomination unto HaShem” (Jewish Bible Devarim 18:10) or a “detestable practice” (NIV Deuteronomy 18:10).

But without the cultural context it’s not all that easy to say exactly what’s being described nor exactly why Josiah felt extreme measures were justified.

Yet we have so many people that claim to know precisely what every word and phrase in the bible means and they’re willing to shove that interpretation down everyone else’s throat. I find that laughable.