Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Now you're gettin' nasty


   You've done it. You've gone and scared off Dan. And I was looking forward to reading his answers to these questions. So it's time to put an end to it.

 You and I have had this discussion before. This time, however, you made me laugh out loud. Why is it always the engineers? I don't understand why you think that just because you took a couple of mechanical engineering courses, you're suddenly able to converse intelligently on cutting edge theoretical astrophysics, or evolutionary developmental biology. You're not. Engineering isn't science. It's math. The two might momentarily brush each other's elbow in the fluid dynamics area, but other than that, they are not related.
  Raven, your knowledge of science is about as extensive as my knowledge of motorcycle maintenance; and there's nothing Zen about either one of those. And girl, you do know how to wield an argument from personal incredulity! I've never seen so many, it must be this way because I cannot conceive of it being otherwise's stuffed into one argument before. Bad news: your conceptions of what the universe is like are just that; your conceptions. Nothing else. The more you speak, the more it becomes apparent that the two (your conceptions and the real world) bear little resemblance to each other. You should stop, because even Jennyp51 is embarrassed for you.

 Of all those who have disagreed with me here, I have the most respect for you. You have attempted to engage in discussion without being preachy (for the most part). You also seem to want to have a somewhat intellectual interaction with your religion, and have attempted to do some research into some of the things we have discussed. It's not your fault that your primary sources are knowingly lying to you. This is one of my biggest pet peeves on this topic. The best-known Christian apologists out there, people like Dr. Dino, Kent Hovind, and Answers In Genesis' Ken Ham are liars. They are knowingly and wilfully spreading lies and half-truths about the science of The Bible. Last I checked they hadn't reduced the number of commandments to nine.
   When it comes to many of the old testament bible stories, like Noah's Ark, there are only two ways of dealing with them. Either one accepts that they are just stories (moral teachers have been using parables, fables, tales and stories to educate their tribes for thousands of years; why should The Bible be any different. One prominently featured character did it all the time, in fact), or one must believe that "with God, all things are possible" and that He has done impossible things and covered his tracks on many occasions, because it is impossible to reconcile the science to the book. Either the world really is 4.6 billion years old, or else God has deliberately attempted to fool us into thinking the world is 4.6 billion years old. There is no other option available to believe. Oh, wait. You could take Raven's position that all science and secular human understanding of the world is DEAD WRONG, and we are just typing to each other via this wondrous electronic medium because God arranged it, because we certainly couldn't have invented this stuff all by ourselves.

   So, I'm moving on to other things for a while. Y'all can keep chattin' it up in the comments, but I probably won't be paying much attention. I do thank you all for the impressive blip on my statcounter.

Raindogs howl for the century
A million dollars a stake
As you search for your demi-god
And you fake with a saint
There's no sex in your violence
There's no sex in your violence
Try to see it once my way
Everything zen
Everything zen

I don't think so

Sunday, July 29, 2007

More on the same subject (is the horse dead yet?)

   Wow! Eighty comments so far on the last three entries. I can't keep up. I'd love to respond to everybody, but I'd be typing for a week solid, and somehow I can't see Mr. and Mrs. Ho letting me take a week off to blog. I do want to cherry pick some comments to address, though.

   Thank you for the comment. The questions you ask are ones that I have never really addressed in detail, but should have. You are correct in stating that it is impossible for either of us to know for sure if God truly exists or not. The skeptical viewpoint is one of asking for evidence to support what seem like extraordinary or highly unlikely claims.
   Consider this example: You are walking along the street and come across a twenty dollar gold coin lying on the sidewalk outside a bank. "I wonder how that got here?" you ask out loud. Two people offer you possible explanations. The first says, "I work in the bank, and I know we recently received some of those coins that a customer had specially ordered in. I don't know if that customer has been here today, but it is possible that they were, and accidentally dropped one of the coins on their way out."
   The second person says, "well, it's common knowledge that leprechauns carry around gold coins, that they get from the pots they hide at the end of the rainbow. Obviously, a leprechaun has passed this way, and dropped the coin. If I were you, I'd put it back down, before he comes back looking for it. He might be mad."
   Now, without doing any further investigation, it is impossible to say for sure which one of those scenarios is true. Personally, I don't believe in leprechauns, but I don't *know* for sure that they do not exist. However, I can examine the available evidence. I have a credible source telling me that the coin resembles those made by the US mint, and that several of those coins are know to have been in the bank. On the other hand, no one, anywhere in the world has ever presented any compelling evidence suggesting that leprechauns really exist. No, I can't know that the second person is wrong, but unless that person can produce some actual evidence, does it make sense for me to believe option number one, or number two?
   In the eyes of an atheist, the likelihood that God exists is about the same as the likelihood that a leprechaun exists. I cannot discount the possiblity, but absent any actual evidence, I have to stand on the "nay" side. I am willing to examine any evidence presented, but to date, no one has been able to do so.

   That answer to Krissy also touches on a comment of yours. My position is one of skepticism. That position has me defaulting to a naturalistic world view, and requiring evidence from anyone who claims to espouse a supernatural world view. I gotta say, though, that whichever early religious thinker came up with the whole 'faith is required, God will not be tested' schtick, he was a genius. He gave the perfect out to every single believer in God to follow. Evidence will not be forthcoming. That's just not the way God rolls.)

   I always get a chuckle when someone asks how human bodies could be so perfectly formed without a God. Because they really aren't very well formed at all. There are several things about the human body that work poorly, or could easily be improved upon. The human knee, for example, is suprisingly poorly designed for the task it has to do. Engineers could improve on it easily. And the appendix. What's up with that? Let me ask you a question. If you were God, designing your ultimate creation, would you put in an organ that doesn't actually do anything, that your creation could live without and never miss, and that is likely to explode and kill him completely at random? Does that sound like good design to you?
   These things do, however, make perfect sense in the light of evolutionary theory. Our knees are exactly what one would expect to see in a biped who had only recently evolved above quadropedal locomotion. And our appendix strongly resembles an organ in the gastro-intestinal tract of ruminants, that helps them digest all the grass they eat. As humans no longer eat a diet of primarily cellulose, we no longer need to use that organ, and so it has atrophied and become vestigal.
   Can all this just be chance occurence? Well, no. It can't. But evolution is not a random process. It is directed by the pressure of "natural selection." It is, in fact, very strongly non-random.

   I kind of lost you when you started your second comment, Krissy. I don't consider Jesus to have been a BIG LIAR. In fact, it was always my understanding of scripture that he never actually came out and called himself the son of God.He alwayscalled himself "the son of Man." As for how he could have affected so many lives, and how his impact could still be felt so many years later, one might ask the same questions about many historical figures. How about Hitler? How about Mohammed? Surely, as a Catholic, you do not believe Mohammed was a true prophet of God, yet he took an established religion (Islaam) and competely overhauled it to the point that it no longer even remotely resembles what it began as. Jesus did no more or less.
   Why would twelve men - indeed thousands more since - be willing to be tortured and killed for one man? I don't know.Why would 19 men be willing to kill themselves and thousands of others for one man on September 11, 2001? I still don't know. But it happens.

   After that, you just got preachy. All that stuff about a God shaped hole in my heart? Sorry, Krissy, but there isn't anything like that there. My heart is full, of my son and my wife, of my family and my friends. It is the perfect shape for that. I feel no emptiness or need for a God. You must have been talking about yourself.

     ~~**~~     ~~**~~     ~~**~~     ~~**~~     ~~**~~     ~~**~~     ~~**~~    

 You’ve picked up on the Noah's Ark debate with Alec and Brent. Yes, there have been some people who have done some work that they claim shows a feasible ark design. The best known of these is John Woodmorappe (A.K.A. Jan Peczkis, an Illinois high school teacher). Woodmorappe claimed that the ark, as described in The Bible, could have held the animals it was claimed to. There are, however, some problems with his work.
   First of all, his interpretation of the biblical description of the animals as being "two of every kind" is questionable. You may know that animals are classified by science in a ladder format, the last three (or most specific) rungs being 'family,' 'genus,' and 'species.'  Most people, when they think of the biblical ark story naturally assume that the "kinds" of animals that were housed in pairs onboard were all the different species of animals on Earth. Not so, says Woodmorappe. There are too many species, and a boat big enough to hold them all could not physically be built. It would not float. However, he reasoned, if one were to count only the different genera of animals, it might work. So the "kinds" were not species but genera, and the calculations show that the ark, once packed with all the animals, and all the food they'd need, would be about 90% full. Which is all well and good, providing nobody moves, or has to go to the bathroom.
   Oh, wait. When questioned further, Woodmorappe admitted that his calculations depended on most of the larger animals (bigger than say, twenty pounds) being juvenile species. OK. Sure. But what about this "kind" thing? I mean, there are four or five different species of Ibex. I can see that maybe Noah took just one example. How about the Markhor, or the Caucasian Tur? The common goat? Well, all the above named animals are of the genera capra, so only one pair from among them all would be on the ark.
   Certainly, the ark contained a horse. And a donkey. Probably a zebra, too. But wait. All three of those belong to the same group. Pick one to go on the ark. The others two weren't there. There was a pair of foxes, a pair of coyotes, a pair of wolves. Did Noah have a dog? But those four are all of the genus canis, so three of them have to be left off according to Woodmorappe. Does that make any sense to you?
   So what we have is Noah, with a boatload of baby animals representing about one third of all the animal species in the world. That's not how I remember the story. And there's more. Woodmorappe completely ignored the invertebrate kingdom of animals. A group that includes over 97% of all the world's animal species. If Woodmorappe were right, there wouldn't be any insects of any kind today. They'd have all died in the flood, for there was not room for them on the ark.

   Now, as if all that wasn't bad enough...the guy got his math wrong. He made a fundamental error in his calculations of the volume of the ark taken up by animals. Even with his tight restrictions, it would have been completely impossible to fit the animals on the ark, if it was the size that was described in The Bible.

   I have included the above arguments because you were already discussing them. However, they are not the most compelling arguments against the flood story being literally true. Not even close. The biggest problem facing ark supporters is thefact that science can demonstrate, pretty darn conclusively, that there was never a universal flood. There has never been a time - at least in the last several million years - when the entire surface of the Earth was covered with water. It never happened. It's just a story.
   It's a good story. A rip-roaring tale. But a story none the less.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Answers, expansions, and clarifications

   There have been some really great comments made on the last entry I posted, wherein I answered some common questions posed by the religious to the irreligious. I wanted to reply to some of them, and to expand on some of my answers in response to requests by a few people.

   Thanks for the compliment re: the "is sobriety an addiction" line. When I wrote my first draft of those answers I had the old "if atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby" adage penciled in, but I have never really liked that statement's use of the word 'not.' I preferred to make a more actively positive statement, and after a little thought I hit upon that. I'm glad you like it. Use it unattributed and your ass is grass.
   Regarding my answer about the world being better off (or not) without religion, I have to point out that there have been dark periods in the history of the western world. There have been times when the church has acted as a guardian of knowledge against a rising tide of barbarism. I believe it was called 'the dark ages.' During the long crawl out of that pit of chaos that peaked in the rennaissance, the church acted as a driving force in both education and scientific inquiry. There have been periods in our relatively recent history when the only people who knew how to read and write were the priests and monks of the Christian church. People who wanted their children to get an education, sent them to the seminary, or to live in an abbey somewhere.
   At some point that all changed. I suspect the tipping point was the increasing politicisation of the Catholic church during the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century. The whole inerrancy of The Bible idea was set in stone at about that time, and we all know what happens to things set in stone. They stay put. For centuries.

   Ours is a corporeal existence. "Ugly bags of mostly water," we are little else. I touched upon this in two different answers yesterday, but only in passing, and not explicitly. When we die, that thing which we percieve as "us" ceases to exist. We have no non-corporeal segment of ourselves. No part of our consciousness survives our bodily death. This I believe. When I die, "I" will be completely gone, except in the hearts and minds of those who remember me. So it goes. (I was going to tap your chestwith a glowing finger and whisper, "I'll be right here," but I thought that would be over dramatic.)

   Did you have no exposure to religion in your childhood? Did you never attend church with your parents, or grandparents, or the Girl Scouts? Were you completely absent any kind of belief in God before you "met the living Jesus?" Somehow I doubt it. (By the way, what's this Jesus guy like? Tall, short? What colour are his eyes? Is he clean shaven or does he sport a little soul patch? What colour is his hair? What was he wearing? What does his voice sound like? I know you think these questions are flippant, but I ask them in all seriousness.)
   I have to say I found your resources interesting. I also found your angle of approach fascinating. When you talked about evidence supporting The Bible, I naturally assumed you meant evidence supporting what The Bible is about - the existence of God. I didn't think you meant evidence supporting the accuracy of what is essentially background information.
   I have never questioned the historical accurracy of The Bible. I'm sure some of the personages and events described therein are highly fictionalized. I also accept that a great many of the people and places mentioned actually existed. But this is all beside the point. The fact that archeological evidence supports much of the historical background of The Bible in no way supports its prime claim - that there is an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent being directing our lives. Where is your evidence supporting that?
   Your comments also bring to the fore one of my biggest pet peeves: the intellectual dishonesty of religious apologetics. Those websites to which you provided links are lying to you. Sure, every single piece of information they provided is factual. Their falshood is one of ommission. By presenting a list of things in The Bible that can be shown to be accurate, or 'true' if you like, they are, without ever saying so, implying that the rest of The Bible is true as well. Even though they know this is not the case, when they are called on it, they can feign innocence by saying, "we never said everything was true." They are lying just as surely as those who claim there is strong evidence to suggest humans and dinosaurs coexisted.
   Regarding myth. Many mythologies have factual elements. In fact, adding factual elements to a story to lend it an air of "verisimilitude" is an age-old literary technique. For example...
fact: A fellow named Yeshua (Jesus) was executed by the Romans by means of crucifixion during the early first century.
myth: He rose from the dead three days later and walked around showing people the holes in his hands, feet, and side, then bodily ascended into the sky.
fact: The Israelites conquered, sacked and demolished the city of Jericho with a mighty military force.
myth: They blew their horns and the walls all came spotaneously tumbling down.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Answering questions about atheism

   Yesterday, I posted a series of questions I found at the blog The Friendly Atheist. Below are my answers to those questions, as well as some response to the discussions in the comments thread of that entry.

Why do you not believe in God?

   I recognised very early on that all of the Bible stories were no different than any other myths, legends and fairy tales we were told as children. Just as I knew that there really wasn't ever a witch with a house made of gingerbread, I knew that there really wasn't ever a seven hundred year old man sailing a boat containing two of every animal in the entire world.

Where do your morals come from?

   Exactly the same place yours do. You just don't recognise where that is. Morals are a construct of society. They evolve over time and are based entirely on empathic understanding of ourselves and those around us. How many times did your mother say to you, "how would like it if...?" She was imparting moral lessons to you. Did you learn them? I did. Weren't no god involved.

What is the meaning of life?

   Why do you feel life must have a meaning? What is the meaning of potato? What is the meaning of happy? On a more serious note, life holds what meaning you give it. You don't need any outside agency to give your life meaning. You can do it for yourself.

Is atheism a religion?

   No. Is sobriety an addiction? Atheism is a freedom from religion. It is a casting off the psychological bonds of oppression religious thought imposes upon us. It is a sudden revelation (sorry) that one is a good person in and of oneself, not out of fear of divine retribution. It feels good.

If you don’t pray, what do you do during troubling times?

   Just because I don't pray doesn't I mean I don't hope. I just don't rely on a magic man in the sky to solve my problems for me. I rely on myself, and I rely on my loved ones and my friends and family for support. If I need help, I ask for it. From real people.

Should atheists be trying to convince others to stop believing in God?

   Should religious people be trying to convince others to start believing in God? Goose, meet Gander. As an atheist, I believe I am doing good by attempting to help spread the "word" that God doesn't exist. I believe that if people are able to let go of the illusion of God's existence, they will be happier and healthier. Isn't that an admirable goal?

Weren’t some of the worst atrocities in the 20th century committed by atheists?

   All of the worst atrocities of the past thousand years were committed by human beings. Do you want to play 'Top That Atrocity'? You name one committed by an atheist, then I'll name one committed by a believer. Who would run out first? I don't know, but I think we'd both be at it for a good long time.

How could billions of people be wrong when it comes to belief in God?

   The same way billions of people could be wrong when it came to belief that the Sun revolved around the Earth. Many years ago it was supposed that the Sun, the stars, and each of the planets were affixed to the surfaces of immense crystal spheres surrounding the Earth. There was never any evidence that this was so, yet the idea was dreamed up, and presented, and many people believed it for a long time. Why did they believe it? Simply because they were told it was so by someone they looked up to as an authority. However, there are no crystal spheres holding up the stars and planets, and never were. The belief of millions of people did nothing to change that fact. The fact that no one believes that today is due entirely to the workings of science, in spite of the resistance of religion to abandon the idea.

Why does the universe exist?

   Because it does. See answer to meaning of life question above. I mean, really, why is it so important to you?

How did life originate?

   I don't know, and neither do you. It is possible that I might one day find out, but as long as you accept the fictionalized account presented in The Bible, you never will.

Is all religion harmful?

   At its most benign, religion is still asking people to believe in an imaginary, invisible, magic being. We are taught from an early age to stop asking the tough questions and just accept what we are told. "Yes, I know you can't see him dearie, just take my word for it, OK?"
   At its widest demographic, it exists to entitle a ruling class, and subjugate others - foreigners, women, scientists...
   At its worst, it allows acts of terrorism, like shooting doctors, just because one disagrees with how they practice medicine. (You thought I was going to say something else, didn't you?)

What’s so bad about religious moderates?

   See above. By their very existence, they allow religious extremists to exist. Usama Bin Laden (however the hell you spell his name) could not have convinced all those people to give up their own lives in the destruction of others if they didn't believe in Allah. They were religious moderates before they became religious extremists.

Is there anything redeeming about religion?

   I can't think of a single thing religion offers that we cannot have without it.

What if you’re wrong about God (and He does exist)?

   Which one?
Maybe they all exist. What if you're wrong about whichever God you worship, and some other God is going to shit on you for all eternity because of it? Why do you think there are only two alternatives?
   I have to say that I was amused by Barbara's comment about Pascal's wager in the comments of my previous entry. She said that if she was wrong about the existence of God, she'd be disappointed. That statement shows that she is incapable of truly comprehending my point of view. Barbara, if you are wrong, you will never know it. The other part of Pascal's wager that is a problem is the suggestion that it's Ok to believe just to "hedge one's bets." Anyone who is conversant with Christian theology will recognise the fallacy in that statement. If there is a God, there's no way he's going to accept that kind of provisional belief.

Shouldnt all religious beliefs be respected?

   Do you respect other religions' beliefs? Why should I respect yours? Should I respect a teacher who tells my son that 2+2=5? Should I respect a doctor who refuses to treat me unless I admit that the world is flat? I respect other people - individuals - unless, and until they give me reason to withdraw that respect. That's all.

Are atheists smarter than theists? 

   No. However, I do think that in general - though there are always exceptions - religious people have willingly handicapped their critical thinking processes. They've put blinders on to cover one little area of doubt, and many of them don't notice that those blinders are prone to slowly grow over time.
   It's like a man who claims there is no moon, then steadfastly refuses to look at the sky at night. Eventually, he stops looking at the sky during the day as well. At some point, he fails to notice the sun, the clouds, an occasional rainbow...
   The other thing that occurs to me here does so because I am reading the Harry Potter book right now. My sister is very religious, and there was much discussion, thought, and concern in her household over whether her children would be allowed to read these books. Some of her friends were appalled that she was even considering it, and I don't understand why. For me, it's easy. I simply sit down with my child, and explain to him that these are works of fiction, and that magic, and witches and wizards don't actually exist in the real world. But if one believes in a God, one - almost by definition - must believe in magic. It's silly, really.

How do you deal with the historical Jesus if you don’t believe in his divinity?

   There was this guy named Jesus. He pissed off a lot of people. They nailed him to a tree. He died. Life's a bitch. Why must there be a problem there? I have no doubt that a man named Jesus rallied a great number of people behind him, and completely changed the world. I see no reason to assign him divinity.

Would the world be better off without any religion?

   Would the world be better off if religion had never existed? No, I don't think so. Would the world be a better place today if the majority of the religious came around to reality? I do believe that to be the case.

What happens when we die?

   People grieve for us. (Actually, they grieve for themselves, don't they?) We don't notice.

   I touched on Barbara's comments above, in my reply to the whole Pascal's wager question. She also asked, "why try so hard to convince others there is no God, if indeed there is no God?  Why fight something imaginary?"
   Well, Barbara, you are right that it would be silly to fight against something imaginary. However, we are not fighting against "God," because we do believe him to be imaginary. What we are fighting against is belief in God. The God is imaginary, but the belief is real. Just as I fight against belief in Homeopathic medicine, which is imaginary, or belief in psychic phenomena, which are imaginary, because I believe them to be harmful to people.

   Jennyp51 asked a few questions as well. First, she asked, "Why do athiests say that science and the bible are incompatable?"
   Jenny, I can't pretend to speak for all atheists here, but this is my take on the subject. I don't claim that science and The Bible are incompatible. I claim that they are unrelated. It doesn't make any sense to talk about them in the same discussion, just as it wouldn't make any sense to talk about dessert recipes and toenail cleaning strategies in the same discussion. The two have no impact upon one another.

   "How do you explain archeological finds that consistently go along with what the bible says?"
   Jenny, I am unfamiliar with any such finds. Perhaps if you pointed to a specific example we could discuss it.

   "Lawyers have studied the evidence of Christ's trial, death and resurrection and said it would stand up in court as true.  How would you answer them?"

Jenny, on this question I must claim stupefaction. I have no idea what you mean by it. Can you point me to a website that describes this particular claim, so I may better understand it?

   There you have my answers to the questions provided by Hemant Metha, as well as others asked by commenters. I look forward to further discussing these topics, as well as answering any other questions you may come up with. This entry is now thrown open for comments.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Questioning Atheism

   I have seen these questions answered in a few blogs, now. Most recently, I came across them at The Uncredible Hallq. They originate at the blog of Hemant Metha, author of I Sold My Soul On eBay. He lists them as examples of questions atheists get asked by religious people. I am preparing my own answers, but first I want some input on the questions themselves.
   Do you think they are authentic? I mean by that, are they questions religious people really would ask of atheists? Can you think of any other questions that might be added to the list? I'm looking for input from both sides of the issue. So if you are an atheist or a believer, chip in with your opinion. Kick it around in comments for a while, and I'll be back presently with my answers.

  • Why do you not believe in God?
  • Where do your morals come from?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Is atheism a religion?
  • If you don’t pray, what do you do during troubling times?
  • Should atheists be trying to convince others to stop believing in God?
  • Weren’t some of the worst atrocities in the 20th century committed by atheists?
  • How could billions of people be wrong when it comes to belief in God?
  • Why does the universe exist?
  • How did life originate?
  • Is all religion harmful?
  • What’s so bad about religious moderates?
  • Is there anything redeeming about religion?
  • What if you’re wrong about God (and He does exist)?
  • Shouldn’t all religious beliefs be respected?
  • Are atheists smarter than theists?
  • How do you deal with the historical Jesus if you don’t believe in his divinity?
  • Would the world be better off without any religion?
  • What happens when we die?

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

La, la, la, I can't hear you.

   If I'm not around very much it's because I am desperately trying to avoid spoilers while I read the new Harry Potter book. I exercised phenomenal restraint yesterday when I clicked away from Jaquandor's blog without reading his post on the subject. (Warning! Extreme spoiler alert. Don't click that link if you don't want to know.) Thanks for the spoiler warning going in, Jaq.

   It arrived Saturday. Matthew, who has been rereading all of the books over the last few weeks, panicked. He had not, it seemed, made a start on book six yet. He took the Amazon.ca package, placed it firmly under his left arm, and left it there. He would allow no one to touch it while he plowed his way through The Half Blood Prince. He wouldn't even show me the cover.
   He managed to finish book six, and get almost 200 pages into The Deathly Hallows in a single day. He finished it the next morning. It was sitting on my pillow when I came home from work Sunday afternoon. For the last three days, every time he opened his mouth to say anything, I've put my fingers in my ears and recited the title of this post as loudly as possible.
   I'm approaching that two hundred page mark myself, but don't worry. No spoilers here. I promise not to tell anyone that Harry bites it in the first chapter. Oops. I probably shouldn't have said that.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The God Delusion

   I received the Richard Dawkins book, The God Delusion, for Christmas last year (heh, heh, for Christmas - the God delusion, heh, heh) and finally finished reading it last week. Not that it was a difficult read - quite the contrary, it was written in an easy to digest conversational tone. I'm just reading infrequently these days, so it takes me a while to get through anything. Also, the new Guy Gavriel Kay novel came out, so I had to read that first. But, I made my way through it, and I have to admit, I'm underwhelmed.
   Dawkins sets out, he announces in the preface, to convince, via reason, those on the fence about religion, that there really is no good reason to believe. All the way through the book, I found myself nodding in agreement with the things he was saying, but hey, I'm not on the fence, am I? I already agree with the guy. And I couldn't help thinking that he was preching to the choir. (Is it allowed to use a religious metaphor to describe an atheist book?) It brought to mind the Jon Swift quotation: “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.” Belief in God cannot be arrived at through the use of reason. It is irrational, and unreasonable by definition. No amount of reasonable dialogue is going to convince a believer that God doesn't exist.
   And those on the fence? As far as I'm concerned, those who are balancing on the fence are working fairly hard to stay there already. Seriously, it's not an easy place to stay. I expect people on the fence to stay on the fence as a matter of principle. It's not that they can't see and understand the arguments. It's just that they have decided to not listen to them in an attempt to keep their balance. Good luck to them.

   That said, I do think Dawkins' book is an excellent piece of work, and recommend it highly to all - especially the religious. Not because I hold out any hope of it converting you to reason (I know that's not possible), but because it explains the atheistic mindset in plain, easy to understand language. I think that many religious people don't really understand how atheists think, and this book can at least open that curtain.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


   Monday was corporate audit day at the Kwik-E-Mart. The bean counters from downtown were scouring the store, searching for errors and omissions, white gloving the shelves, and date checking the breads. Mr. and Mrs. Ho spent the morning scurrying around filling shelves, washing windows, and generally being miserable while Mr. Downtown made little ticks on his clipboard, and "hmmm'd" and "oh'd" (I think just because he liked the effect it had on them). Mrs. Ho made me Windex the windows on the Popsicle freezer three times before I finally escaped for my lunch break.
   Things, I understand, went well. I returned from my lunch break to a beaming Mr. and Mrs. Ho. It seems we set some kind of record for corporate audit success. It was big kisses all around. Well, from Mr. Ho, anyway. I didn't let Mrs. Ho near me.

   The doorbell rang at one point today, and Shadow didn't go nuts. "That's odd," I thought. When I got upstairs I discovered that it was a couple of Matthew's friends at the door, and Shadow was in his glory being petted and played with. I had to tell the boys that Matt was in Ottawa visiting his cousins this week, and they left disappointed. I'm still not sure why one of them was wearing a hollowed out watermelon on his head. 

   Dawn noticed that I alluded to Shadow's medical status without explicitly explaining it. That was simply to allow for further blog entries like this one. Don't want me to blow my wad all at once, do you Dawn?
   So, how is Shadow? Shadow is good. He's got epilepsy, of course, but aside from that he's well. He'd had a seizure here and there, but nothing frequent and regular until last month, when he had two in two days. "That's the end of the waiting game," the Vet announced. We had to medicate him. So,he's on 60mg of Phenobarbitol twice a day. A measly dosage for a dog his size, I am told.
   At first he was a wreck. He staggered about, bumped into walls, fell over trying to scratch, slept a lot. Then he got diarrhea, and stopped eating for almost a week. Durning that time, he became so weak that he had days on which it was almost impossible for him to heave himself to his feet to go outside.
   And we're at the Vet's, and she's talking about sending him to Guelph for a doggie MRI to find out if has an inoperable brain tumor, and we're, like, why would we do that? If he has an inoperable brain tumor, how will knowing (at a cost of $2500 by the way) help us at all?
   And then, he gets better. Like he had just been a newt for the weekend, or something, and he's all dancin' and a prancin', like he was never sick. And even the medication isn't making him dopey right now. Except that they're going to increase his dosage tomorrow, and then we'll see what we shall see. Again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

How a blog entry gets made these days

Friday, June 29, 2007 (a beginning)

As far as I can tell, this is how it happened:

   My understanding is that
Jodi tagged Chris. Chris, I am led to believe, tagged Ari. I have it on good authority that Ari tagged Heather. And Heather, who for some reason thinks I don't suck, tagged me.
   This is the meme. Write about 5 or 10 (or so) songs that had an impact on your life, and tag five people to carry on (my wayward son)(but wait, I'm getting ahead of myself). That's all (as if that was so really simple to do). I've got a good idea who I'm going to tag at the end of this post, but first I have to get there. And that means thought and introspection, and we all know how much I hate that. Plus, if I finish this meme before I do Dawn's book meme, I'm pretty much a dead man. So, Heather, I'm sorry if you had to wait a while for my response, but here it is:

Thursday, July 12, 2007 (picking up the thread) 
   Wow! I wrote that, what, two weeks ago? Before I finished Dawn's book meme, certainly. And then it languished in my test journal - as things are wont to do these days it seems - until a random thought brought it back to the forefront of my mind today. Funny how these things happen.
   I was walking Shadow. As it was immediately after dinner, we took our regular path through the park, and past the Starbucks, so I could indulge myself with a horrifically over-priced coffee beverage. Then back along the main drag (longest street in the world, dontcha know) which took us right past the vet's office. Of course, Shadow wanted to go in for a visit. He didn't understand that nobody was there after six.
   That got me thinking about Shadow, and our many recent conversations with the vet about his condition. Some of you may remember that he's been ill. He's been put on medication, had an adverse reaction to it, compounded by another, apparently unrelated problem a few weeks ago. And I thought to myself (as if I were in conversation with the vet at that moment), "he's certainly back to his old self right now. Just look at him, dancin' and prancin' along."
   Which phrase, naturally, made me think about music. So I came home and got back to writing this entry. Quick, can you spot it?
   It took me a while to get my head around this meme. Songs that have had an impact on my life? Can't really think of any. Not impact, as such. I don't think men, in general, get as emotionally moved by, or attached to songs the way women do. At least I don't, so just agree with me so's not to burst my little bubble, and make me feel like I'm, you know, different.
   The best I could come up with was a discussion of which music might have been instrumental in guiding my developing musical tastes oh, so many years ago.

   My father was a huge fan of music. It's from him that I inherited my love of Jazz and Blues. One of his great sadnesses is the loss of that enjoyment due to his current hearing loss. He was twenty years old in 1957, so was already almost too old to be in on the birth of rock and roll, but he did collect a few gems. I remember youthful days of sifting through his boxes of 78s, listening to sounds of a (to me) bygone era.

Sunday, July 15, 2007 (unsuccessful continuation) 

(opened test journal - clicked 'edit entry' - stared at screen - decided I was too tired - went to bed)

Monday, July 16, 2007 (finally get to the music)

   Among the Perry Como, Paul Anka, Glen Miller and such instant classics as Why do Fools Fall in Love, by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and Standing on the Corner (Watching All the Girls Go By), by The Four Lads, one record grabbed me, and to this day has not let me go. I still, on a regular basis, hum the tune to Be-Bop-A-Lula, by Gene Vincent.
   'Lula, released in 1956, was an instant hit - arguably among the first major "rock 'n' roll" hit songs - and inspired a generation of music, including later favourites of mine; 1973's Rock On, by David Essex, and Cheap Trick's 1979 breakout hit, Ain't That A Shame. In hindsight, it is easy to call Vincent an Elvis Presley knock-off, but in truth, they both developed at the same time, from the same early rock-a-billy roots, and their first big hits - Be-bop-a-lula, and Presley's Heartbreak Hotel - were released the same year.
   The first ever album of my very own I remember owning was by The DeFranco Family. Their "hit" was called Heartbeat (It's A Love Beat), and these days resides mostly in the memory of Toronto DJ, John Derringer, and gets referred to whenever he wants to imply the lameness of an artist by comparison. To be fair to the DeFrancos, their second single, Abra-ca-dabra, while still silly early seventies teen pop idol fare, featured some pretty heavy rock 'n' roll guitar work, and is less lame by far than anything ever released by...

   The Bay City Rollers. Yes, I'm serious. Yes, I'm embarrassed. C'mon, it was the seventies. I was really young. And they were huge. I mean huge. For a while. The Bay City Rollers were probably the first actual 'rock band' I liked. And Saturday Night was the first rock 'anthem' I glommed onto. Everybody pump your fists in the air. S - A...T - U - R...D - A - Y night!
   Also: Keep on Dancin' (see, you knew your patience would be rewarded).

   At some point, I received a little transistor radio to listen to in my room. I can remember sitting it on my bedside table, and listening to it - oh, so low - when I was supposed to be sleeping. With a little bit of dial twiddling, I eventually found 1050 CHUM, Toronto's first rock and roll station. With dozens of songs popping unbidden from my memory of those evenings, one (an odd one to be sure) sticks out. My clearest musical memory of my early teen years is a little known song by former Mott The Hoople band leader Ian Hunter, called We Gotta Get Outta Here.
   Did you click through to watch the video? See that beautiful blonde with the vaguely familiar looks and voice? Yeah. On a hot summer night I always liked her better than Markie Post.

   I came late to Led Zeppelin. John Bonham was several years in the grave when, influenced by some older friends of a friend, I first listened to the concert album The Song Remains The Same. It remains a strong favourite to this day, and contains what I consider to be the definitive performances of several of their most popular songs. The centre piece of the album, a rambling, twenty seven minute rendition of the song Dazed And Confused, is something I can listen to over and over again. Way back in high school (heh, heh, 'high' school), I was blown away by the Jimmy Page violin bow guitar solo - 'cause it was, like, totally rad, y'know? Today, other parts of the song blow my mind, unaided by herbal supplements, for the pure virtuosity they display.

Tuesday, July 17,2007 (edited and added links, including embedded video)

   Now, I'm pretty sure the performance on the soundtrack album is not exactly the same one as is featured in the movie clip above. The movie performance suffered from tempo problems, and Robert Plant's voice was a bit raw sounding. The album version is much cleaner, and Page's guitar work is more even, confident and authoritative. Also, a source no less trustworthy than Jimmy Page himself has said that the performances on The Song Remains The Same were not his favourite. In fact, much of the driving force behind the recent release of How The West Was Won was based on Page's feeling that the California tour on which those recording were made was Led Zeppelin at their apex.

   As I have been writing this, the 'classic rock' station on my satellite TV system has been playing (it pretty much plays all day-every day in my house), and I keep hearing more songs I could add to this list. I could go on for ever, you know. Instead, I'll just point out that the early work of Bruce Springsteen first opened my eyes to the fact that pop music and serious poetry can - and does - coexist.
Beneath the city two hearts beat
Soul engines running through a night so tender
In a bedroom locked
In whispers of soft refusal
And then surrender
In the tunnels uptown
The Rat's own dream guns him down
As shots echo down them hallways in the night
No one watches when the ambulance pulls away
Or as the girl shuts out the bedroom light
Outside the street's on fire
In a real death waltz
Between what's flesh and what's fantasy
And the poets down here
Don't write nothing at all
They just stand back and let it all be
And in the quick of the night
They reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand
But they wind up wounded
Not even dead
Tonight in Jungleland

tagged: Simain Farmer, 42yearoldloserorami, Byzantium's Shores, bigheathenmike, and Adventures in Juggling

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The long wait is over

   It's been several weeks in development (the posting date in my test journal for this entry reads May 31st), but here is Dawn's book meme:

Recommend 3 books you believe everyone needs to read and say why people should read them.

The Bible...but not the way your preacher would have you read it, a verse here and a verse there. The Bible is a collection of 'books' each of which is a stand-alone piece of literature. Each of which have their own specific message. Those messages can only be understood by reading each book as a whole, carefully, and with much thought given towards what each book is trying to say. Picking a few verses out of context and trying to assign them meaning is impossible, and those churches where that kind of chapter and verse daisy picking is advocated are doing you a disservice. The Bible is an impressive piece of literature and it needs to be read as such.

The Fionavar Trilogy...I looked at a few lists of "must read" books, and many of them included Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (not really a) trilogy, but I think if you want to read a fantasy series done right, Guy Gavriel Kay is the place to start. Kay's literary approach to the classic fantasy genre was prompted both by what Tolkien didn't do, and by what everyone else writing in the genre did do...ad nauseum. This is how these books were introduced to me twenty-odd years ago: "if you liked The Lord of the Rings, you'll love The Fionavar Tapestry!"

Slaughterhouse Five...This book is as important now as it was when it was published in 1966, for exactly the same reasons. For me this book was an epiphany of sorts. When I got to the end, I had to go back and read the entire thing over again with an entirely new kind of understanding. Besides, the title page reads:



Kurt Vonnegut


I mean, how can you not?


Name three books you’ve never been able to finish and explain why.

The Bible. Yeah, uh, I kinda skimmed the begets. Because, you know, they do go on a bit. At some point, one's eyes just start to glaze over. You know those warning signs that the email you're reading may be an urban legend? Lots of extremely specific, yet completely unverifiable detail that serves to lend veracity? Yeah, the begets. I've read all the rest of it, though.

The Island of the Day Before. I've read several other novels by Umberto Eco. I had no trouble with The Name of the Rose, and quite enjoyed Baudolino, but for some reason I just can't get into this one. It may be because this one, at least to begin, is more political in nature, and less focused on religion. The other two novels I mentioned are rather satirical of the early Catholic church, which caught my fancy. So far, this one seems to be less so. Or, maybe the story just isn't clicking with me. Whatever the reason, it has been parked on my shelf with a bookmark planted at page sixty-one for almost two years now.

The Lions of Al-Rassan. I'm cheating a little bit with this one, as I have read it once. I just can't seem to get through it a second time. This is considered by many Guy Gavriel Kay fans to be his best work, but it never worked for me. For reasons which would be spoilerish to go into here I found myself feeling manipulated by the author while reading this novel. This has been discussed in some depth on the forums at Kay's official website, Brightweavings.com, where my commentsprompted a rather spirited reply from the author himself. While I will allow that authors do, to some extent, manipulate their readers in an effort to provoke a specific emotional or intellectual response, I felt that what Kay did with Lions broke the willing suspension of disbelief wall between he and I, and pulled my awareness out of the narrative, and I didn't enjoy that. Few agree with me. In fact, I can't think of one person who does on this issue.
   I've tried, over and over again, to reread the book, but always abandon it well before the instance of so-called 'manipulation' occurs. I think that I am so aware that it is coming that I can't allow myself to slip into that suspension of disbelief that is so important for a reader to adopt.
   Now, if the movie ever gets made, I'll definitely see that.

Name three books you want to read, but haven’t yet.

The Bible. Just kidding. I thought the repetition would be funny.

Pattern Recognition. William Gibson has been on the leading edge of examinations of "cyberspace" (heck he coined the term) since he published his first novel in 1984. Pattern Recognition, written over five years ago, presagedthe importance ofInternet viral video as a marketing tool long before it became a universally understood concept. This book has been sitting on my shelf since it came out, waiting for me to "get around to it."

Kiln People. I'm hot and cold on David Brin. I have loved some of his novels and been  rather blasé about others. I have heard nothing but high praise for Kiln People, and bought the book some time ago. It sits on the shelf immediately beside Pattern Recognition, waiting.

The Stone Dance of the Chameleon Trilogy, Book 3. This as yet untitled novel (untitled because it is, to date, unpublished), is will be the concluding chapter to a saga that began in The Chosen in 1999, and continued in The Standing Dead in 2002. The author, one Ricardo Pinto, has been engrossed in writing the third book for five years. This past April he began work on the second draft. I kid you not. At this rate, I may not live long enough to see it published.

Are there any books that you’ve loved, but been disappointed by the film/TV adaptation?

   Well, most of them, really. Although, I must say that I was very happy with the Lord of the Rings adaptations by Peter Jackson. I know several people who were not, and their reasons are perfectly valid. But as films, those three are very well crafted, and I'm willing to allow the liberties PJ and crew took. Except for the whole Arwen storyline. That was just stupid.
   I also quite enjoyed the Narnia movie. However, never having read thebooks as a child, I had little emotional investment in it.

   If there is one movie I have seen that completely betrayed the spirit of the novel (or novella, in this case) from which it was drawn, it would have to be Enemy Mine, starring Dennis Quaid and Lou Gossett Jr. The book, by Barry B. Longyear, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novella of the year (the 1979 Nebula, and the 1980 Hugo, because of the dates those were held in relation to the date of publication). It is a moving story of hate, distrust, co-operation, understanding, friendship and love that Director Wolfgang Petersen beat about the head and shoulders with a big bag of rocks for several weeks until it resembled nothing more than the worst Star Trek episode you've ever imagined under the influence of tainted mind altering drugs, and bad Chinese food. Do me a favour. Look for the book, and read it, and skip the film altogether.

Which books (apart from the Potter books) do you re-read the most? 

I have to say that I am quite able to answer this question without using the Potter books as examples. While I find the Harry Potter series to be a pleasing distraction, and have reread several of them once or twice, they are by no means compelling novels, and if I was never able to read one of them again, I would feel no loss whatsoever. That said, I find it hard to narrow the field for this question. I have traditionally been a voracious reader, and will reread any book I enjoy many times. Just looking over my shoulder at the bookself, I can see more than twenty books that I have read four or more times. If I were to narrow it down to, say, three authors (I could never get it down to three books), I'd say the works of Guy Kay (with the notable exception mentioned above), the works of Frank Herbert (especially the Dune series), and the works of William Gibson.

Which books do you remember most from your childhood?

   Which books do I remember most from my childhood? Hmm... I thought about this one for a few days (sorry Dawn). My first thought was of my earliest memories of reading; the Little Golden Books, and Dr. Suess' early readers books. Discounting those, I kept thinking about it, looking for memories of other, more significant books, but very little presented itself. I think I was such a voracious reader at a young age that I ate up almost every book I picked up, and quickly went on to the next, with little retention. Which explains why I can reread a book so many times, I guess.
   I did, eventually (just as I typed this, in fact) come up with a couple of other examples. As child I had a large collection of Hardy Boys books, but what I remember more than those was another series of similarly published work, the Tom Swift series. It would have been one of my first experiences with speculative fiction, and I loved them. (To be accurate, what I read was the Tom Swift Jr. series). I think it is safe to say that they guided me into my love of Science Fiction and Fantasy to this day.
   The other read I remember very vividly was one specific book from among many. When I was a young teen, my uncle remarried. My new aunt was a divorcee herself, and when she married my uncle they bought a house together, and moved her out of the town house she had lived in with her previous husband. Among the things we moved out of her storage area were a couple of boxes of books left behind by her ex. I guess she saw me looking through them, and told me I could have them. Score!
   Now, I never met Ron Blanchard, and I know absolutely nothing about him, except this: the man had excelent taste in speculative literature. There were several books in those boxes that still reside on my bookshelf - a little worse for wear - ratty, if truth be told - three decades later, including The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame. The table of contents reads like a who's who of the "Golden Age" of science fiction. John W. Campbell, Letser del Rey, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Judith Merril, Cordwainer Smith, James Blish, Arthur C. Clarke, Alfred Bester, Roger Zelazny, the list goes on.
   That one book introduced me to real science fiction writing. Writing that wasn't about John Wayne in space, or James Bond in space, but was about the human condition. This was literature that used fantastic or futuristic settings as a way of disguising the fact that what it was talking about was us, here, now. That one book taught me a new way of reading, and influenced the books I chose to read for years to come. So thanks, Aunt Elaine, and thanks Ron Blanchard, wherever you are.

Are there any books that you are proud to say you have read?

   Uh. Well, yeah. See above - all of the above - for a representative sample. I'm proud to say I read. That is all.

Are there any books that you are ashamed to admit reading?

   No. Listen: there has been pulp in my past. There will be pulp in my future. Get over it.
   Well, OK. I did read the first three of Robert Jordan's Wheel Of Time series before I caught on. But I'm nowhere near as sorry as those who have read all eleven to date...multiple times...if my wife reads this I'm in trouble...

Are there any booksthat have had a big emotional impact on you?  List 2.

Things that can bring a tear to this Canadian's eye:
-The death of a kittten.
-The death of Macauley Culkin in My Girl. (Don't give me any of that spoiler crap, the movie's, like, sixteen years old. Oh, by the way, Bruce Willis is dead in The Sixth Sense. So there!)
-The death of ET.
-The ressurection of ET. (Again with the spoiler complaints! Dude, if you haven't seen ET by now, what's wrong with you?)
-The writing of Guy Gavriel Kay. I know. Some of you are rolling your eyes, and thinking, "enough with the GGK pimping." What can I say, he's that good. If you haven't read any of his work by now, dude, what's wrong with you?

Books that can evoke another emotion:
-Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. It's hilarious. Honest. Brought me to tears.

   OK, I'm done. It's been a long time coming - what, Dawn, five weeks, or so? But I wanted to do it justice, you know? I take my reading seriously. So, anyway, I'm not going to tag anyone, because I wasn't explicitly tagged. If it strikes your fancy, do this meme for yourself. If you do, be sure to drop a comment here, and let me know.