It all depends on your starting point.

 Uh…God 0, Descartes 1

If you ever visit the Creation Museum in Doucheberg, Kentucky, one of the surprising things you will encounter is that throughout the museum’s displays, the young-earth bible-thumping curators of the museum fully submit to the idea that by using “Man’s Reason” you will end up with a view of the world promoted by the scientific consensus (old, evolution holds, etc.)  In other word’s, they are not insisting their perspective is a more reasonable perspective of the universe. Instead, they claim that their vision of reality is based on placing intellectual emphasis not on human reason, but instead on the tenets of God’s word. In display after display, the museum purports to show us the perspectives on reality as viewed from “Human Reason” as opposed to viewing it according to “God’s Word.” In the case of the Creation Museum, of course, ‘God’ would specifically refer to the supposed word of the Christian god.

As you launch through the museum, every bizarre pseudo-historical perspective you will be subjected to is pre-conditioned in a strange exhibit about how our presumptions about starting points affect the truth that we see. In the “Starting Points” room which the museum itself describes as among the most important displays in the museum, a video presentation highlights the perspective being embraced: Human Reason is worth nothing until you embrace God’s Word. (This, of course, doesn’t bode well for gays, or women, or the rich…uh…unless they’re using their money to build Creation Museums.)

(If you want to watch the whole paleontology video featured in the the above video, enjoy!)

“We come to different conclusions because we begin from different starting points.”  uh…or, you come to different conclusions because one of you is delusional.

Of course, there is little difference between this odd view being promoted by Ham’s museum and the post-modernist rantings of one arguing for a relativist reality in which the truth is subject to the beholder’s frame of reference. The difference, of course, is that the absolutist believers do not think the reality revealed by Human Reason is legitimate. To hell with the idea that this same faculty provided just about everything that made the Creation Museum possible (including the ability of ignorant followers to find the museum and get there.) In fact, the museum would have you believe that it is a wholly different kind of physics that gives us computers and an animatronic Eve than tells us about life or the age of the earth. There is no compromise on God’s Word, and if it requires us to believe something laughable to maintain it, so be it.

Darwin’s reaction pretty much holds for any thinking human.

You must embrace the notion that no matter how something looks from the perspective of scientific inquiry, the Bible must hold in matters of truths about the natural world to embrace the premise of this museum. But as we’ve covered so many times on this blog, embracing this notion comes with far too much baggage for this perspective to be a sane one. So while it is indeed true that the different conclusions resolve from different premises…as always, this does not imply the conclusions are equally tenable.

In next week’s Creation Museum segment, we will explore what exactly happened to the dinosaurs.

jk

1% of the people are doing 99% of the bitching.

1% of the girls get 99% of the beads. 

The thing about movements such as “Occupy Wall Street” is that the people tend to just bitch about stuff rather than state and defend proposed changes. After watching the news stories for several weeks, I had to actually go out and search for what these folks were bitching about, other than the generic, timeless complaints of the have-nots (that’s how fuzzy their message is.) “There’s too much economic disparity!” say the placard-holding 99%. “There’s too much government corruption!” they say. “There’s too much corporate greed!”  The protesters rattle off a list of social ills which may indeed have legitimate foundation, but their demands to “Fix it!” seem to imply a basic misunderstanding of where these ills come from.  As George Will aptly put it:

Hence [the OWS] agenda… is opaque. Its meta-theory is, however, clear: Washington is grotesquely corrupt and insufficiently powerful.

In other words, “Government is corrupt; we need more government!” As my brother remarked a few weeks ago, Monty Python couldn’t lay out the absurdity of the demand any better. Look, I don’t care if the mega-rich take a hit and have to buy the 20 million dollar yacht instead of the 30 million dollar one, or can’t afford the new place in Maui unless they sell the townhouse in Tuscany. I really don’t care at all because that’s so far outside the realm I operate in. You might as well try to get me to care about a ceiling placed on some king’s harem. Boo-fucking-hoo. In the same manner, of course, I expect some family crammed into a small apartment doesn’t really care if I have to pass on the shiny sports car and buy something a little more economical.

But do I think the solution to all our cultural problems involves getting money from the yacht owners to the jobless? Hardly. I think its a pretty safe bet that by this time that socialist solutions don’t do anything but mask the symptoms (if that) for a brief amount of time. Cultural change is indeed needed, but take a few pages out of the Martin Luther King, Jr. playbook–take some responsibility for making the changes needed rather than putting a 99% sign in the hands of a sad child. Note, his was not equivalent to Herman Cain’s naive and insulting ravings about it being your fault if you are poor (tell this to an Enron retiree.)  Alas, the hard work vs. luck dichotomy is as fictitious as the nature vs. nurture one. It is just as idiotic to tell someone who caught a bad break, “You’re lazy!” as it is to tell someone “Hard work won’t get you anywhere in this world, you have to be lucky or know somebody.” So what the Right describes as taxing the hard-working and giving to the lazy and what the Left describes as moving from the lucky to the unlucky are neither one accurate generalizations.

And seriously…99%?? If you are truly the 99% yet you can’t drive any sort of change…wow, you really need to rethink your platform. But I suspect the metrics are inflated as the Occupy movement seems to generate far less numbers than the “stop fucking taxing us” Tea Partiers. Hell, you can’t even match the numbers of the John Stewart Rally to Stop the Insanity that was the ultimate Seinfeld cliche – a rally about nothing. So they’re going to have to come back with more convincing statistics. And quit bringing the Hollywood elite along as mouthpieces. Last time I checked, there was as more disparity between Oprah and her boom-holder (or Michael Moore and his snack-boy) as there is between an entry-level employee and a CEO. But much like a GOPer (and there are actually several like this who I personally know) who bitches endlessly about a government program and then finds some back door to sap it for all it’s worth (essentially saying, “This system will never work because of people like me!”) we tend to be completely blind to our own advantages–we are the ‘special’ case. As a result, it is usually the rich CEO and business owners who see those lower class dregs as lazy, and it is the toiling laborer who works his ass off to make ends meet who sees the spoon-fed, wealthy douche bags as over-privileged, greedy, corrupt thieves. For the human mind, perspective is everything, and if you expect someone on the opposite end of the spectrum (pick any spectrum you want, religious/atheist, conservative/liberal, black/white, male/female) to be able to empathize completely with the plight of your station (e.g. shouting from the back of the limo – “Do you know how many jobs I create??!!) – well…that really lacks an appreciation of reality.

Looking at the patterns is important. But even here, we tend to emphasize the patterns that support our own perspective. So, yeah, it is a bit troubling that the top %1 have a disproportionate amount of  influence, power, and total wealth. A troubling aspect of this is that this balance is part of what keeps the mob from storming the Bastille. But as this mob swells in discontent, they feed the frenzy with statistics like this one:

Which kind of paints the misleading picture of one guy who is hoarding everything. Sure are there greedy people who are working the system and getting richer. But hell the top 1% includes, actors, singers, athletes, authors, innovators, shrewed investors, and those we reward by virtue of our collective behavior…these aren’t people who are hacking into your bank account…you (collectively) are determining what their value is. It’s not a conspiracy of finger-wringing Mr. Burns-like villains doling out money. It can’t happen without the endorsement of the 99 percent!!!

Subsequently, the mob never really emphasizes other interesting statistics…like this one:

Which shows, among other things, that the bottom 80% of the population pay only about 35% of the total collected tax. Of course, these numbers can be (and have been) spun in different ways. For one, since it is a graph that tends to project favorably upon the upper percentages, the definition of ‘income’ can get a bit slippery among the super-rich.

But what energizes the very core of the argument, of course, is a sense of fairness, which is skewed very much toward the subjective state of the one who is evaluating what is fair. When you tell a kid the fable of the Ants and the Grasshopper, for example, and use the standard scenario of the lazy Grasshopper who spent the summer smoking pot and scoring with loose grasshoppettes who comes banging at the door the minute it gets cold, most get a sense for the injustice. First time I saw the story, I immediately thought, Fuck the grasshopper. He deserves to freeze his ass off. But one doesn’t have to change the story up much to generate enough sympathy for the grasshopper where, if the ants turn him away, they suddenly seem like the dicks. Maybe the hard-working grasshopper got his wings clipped by a lawnmower. Or maybe his winter stash got pilfered as he was driving an ant-eater away from the anthill in a act of insect heroics.

“For the last damn time, pal, I’m not giving you anything until you
invite Jesus into your heart.”

The same goes for “The Little Red Hen.” Screw the damn pig who wouldn’t help with the bread, but instead just surfed porn all day. But what about the veteran pig who was drafted into some bullshit war and totally mind-fucked by a platoon of Iraqi bakers? Maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on the pig. Importantly, when we think about fairness and redistribution, it is impossible to look at who has what and make a determination about what should be taken from whom and given to whom. It doesn’t even make sense to try. What we should be doing is making the rules fair (which they are not), giving more people below the mean more opportunities (rather than bribes or hush money.) It simply astonishes me, though, when I hear folks arguing that it’s somehow unfair to require someone to actually work when they need assistance. The mentally ill and severely ill or disabled excepted, it seems the epitome of unfairness that you take money from people who are working and simply hand it to people who are not. Admittedly, I’m susceptible to the same blindness of bias as anyone, but establishing a system where it is common for one to earn more by not working than by working (by giving me money that ultimately comes from those who ARE working) seems absolutely insane to me. But what do I know from my ivory tower?

jk

Occupy Sesame Street

The best thing about the “Occupy Wall Street” movement?…the parodies!

jk

I used to be like you.

“…until I discovered the truth about red.”

One of the most common tactics among debaters is the reformed defector. A master debater will frequently take the stand that he (or she) at one time held the perspective of the opposing position but recognized the error of his view and made the appropriate correction. In the debate around a belief in God (or in some particular god) this strategy is frequently used as a tactical ploy to sway the audience: “I’ve seen both sides of the debate and I am choosing the better one.” This tactic is frequently used by both sides of the debate and thus we have faithful-turned-heretic (like Dan Barker) and heretic-turned-faithful (like Francis Collins or Dinesh D’Souza) who want you to believe they were just like you until they saw the light (or saw that the light they thought they saw was more of a wil-o-wisp than a light.)

I’m sure some of these legendary turncoats are quite genuine in their reporting while others are simply utilizing a gimmick, and typically its quite easy to tell. The strategy is not a terrible one, because it immediately generates intrigue as listeners naturally begin to wonder what exactly broke (or saved) them. However, it usually doesn’t end up having much pull if the debater starts rattling off the same, familiar talking points as his old team writes him off with a quick, “Yeah, you were never like me, buddy, or you wouldn’t even try that same shit.” If done correctly though, and the speaker manages to establish genuine empathy to her supposed previous perspective, and can relay a migration that its members can relate to, then there is much more hope of opening new neural channels. Often, though, an individual needs to personally care about the individual who makes such an appeal before opening that channel which will even bring the possibility of change to the arena of “no chance in hell.”

Of course from the beneficiaries of the new perspective, this humility typically comes with a feast for the prodigal son, and the strategy often does more to rally the speaker’s ‘team’ with an up-close-and-personal anecdote to bolster the credibility of their position than it does to bring others along the same path of migration. This, of course, comes with the unavoidable animosity from the abandoned group.

These movements from group to group are less common than they seem. We are largely committed to our beliefs on the big questions, often in ways tied inexorably to our genetic makeup and the burned paths of neurons that crawl endlessly in our brains. Of course, it is naive to suppose that we are either bound helplessly to our genetic composition or we can be easily molded into better forms through the artful application of policy, and this nature/nurture dichotomy has long since been swept away as a foolish and unproductive template that says very little about reality. We know from observation that as incredibly flexible and creative the capacity of the human brain, it is also markedly rigid and predictable when it comes to certain patterns of behavior.

“I’ve always been misunderstood.”

My suggestion, when you find yourself engaged with a speaker representing an opposing position who claims “I used to be like you,” first make them convince you that this is actually the case, and then, second, try to understand the route they took to get there. A lot of times, one finds, the welcoming effect of the group to new members blinds one to the possibility that she simply dropped one position and adopted the other without a real migration path other than, “These people understand me.” This might be enough for them, of course, but it is hardly convincing to one who stands amongst a sea of peers who understands him. And finally, if you choose to exercise this strategy, do so not as a gimmick, but as a means of demonstrating your process of transition in a way that can be understood and evaluated.

jk

Reports of his theism are greatly exaggerated.

One of the oddest phenomenon in theistic debates is the post mortem fabrication of allegiances. There seems to be an inordinate fondness to make the geniuses appear as if they resided firmly on ‘our’ side of the debate and the lunatics appear as if they resided firmly on ‘their’ side. Most familiar, perhaps, is the effort by theists to make Hitler into an atheist and by atheists to ensure us that he was a believer. (I addressed the atheist dictator problem in a previous post.)

There seems to be a sort of game in claiming heroes for your own side while forcing villains on the other team (as if the characters and not the underlying evidence and reason established truth.) The hero I want to discuss today is Albert Einstein, a figure clearly dedicated to reason and science who regularly peppered quotes with references to ‘God.’ It is somewhat amusing to watch theists claim Einstein as one of their own when his concept of God was clearly completely incompatible with their concept of God. This manifests itself in several ways, such as with this completely fictional fable which became quite popular several years ago.

Of course, this was complete nonsense; however, the use of a young Einstein in the parable seems to offer credibility to an analogy that seems to allow it to pass as logical proof to some. Obviously, this is a clear logical fallacy not to mention a dubious analogy. A similar skit which replaces Albert with a young Kirk Cameron (perhaps of the ‘Growing Pains’ era as he stands up in class with his pal ‘Boner’) would likely not have quite the convincing pull of Einstein. Clearly, Einstein did not identify with atheism; however, he repeatedly disavowed any credibility toward a personal god, as the following video clarifies.

The ways in which Einstein’s mind could map reality into mental concepts was so astonishing that it leaves us wondering what patterns he imagined in the mysterious unknown that could be considered his religious ideas; however, we do know, though, that none of them could be identified with the traditions that so desperately want to claim him.

jk

Happy Birthday, Universe!

It is, of course, on this day (October 23) in 4004 BCE on which the universe was created, as calculated by Bishop James Ussher in 1650. Although even many who buy into the infantile young earth paradigm dispute that the calucation can be pinpointed to such precision, allowing for reasonable errors and false assumptions, an interpretation of the Bible as the ultimate history book limits the age of the existence to a maximum of about 10,000 years. Can you think of a better day on which to begin our tour of the Creation Museum?

One of the first obstacles that must be addressed following the creation of man is the problem of progeny from a single pair (Adam and Eve.) Although the Bible doesn’t address it with explicit detail, it seems pretty obvious that the first several generations are going to require a lot of incest to get the species going. Even Abraham was married to his half-sister so obviously God approved of incestual relationships. In fact, it was only with the accumulation of genetic mutations (a direct effect of “The Sin”) that the general entropy of the human gene pool required God to unveil a ‘new’ law forbidding incest. Here’s the museum’s display which clears the issue right up for us.

Click on the image to see a readable image. (Quite funny.)

So, you see, “marriage between close relatives was not a problem in early biblical history!” In rebuttal to the strange looks from rational visitors to this exhibit, Ham added point (6) which tells us “God is the the One who defined marriage in the first place” so he is the only valid standard. “People who do not accept the Bible as their absolute authority have no basis for condemning someone like Cain marrying his sister.” Like most YECs, however, Ham totally misses the point of laughing at this story – skeptics aren’t condemning Cain (a mythical person) but rather are pointing out that the idea of a traditional marriage lacks coherence in the silly creation paradigm because it requires that the rules change along the way. Same thing presumably holds for multiple wives (see King Solomon.)

I accidentally cut off the display to the right which shows Cain pumping away on his sister as they used Abel’s dead body for a pillow. (Don’t worry, bodies that had such fantastic gene sets didn’t decay as quickly, so the scene wouldn’t be as gross as using a dead body to cushion sex would seem to us today.)

“Give in to the Force!”

You might notice that this idea of a deteriorating gene pool also seems to explain why the early patriarchs such as Abraham and Noah had lifespans that lasted for centuries. Now, of course, all the genetic decay in our pool leaves us barely able to last 70 years…well, except for the problem real history (the kind based on actual evidence) shows a lifespan decisively trending in the other direction. Here’s a short video where Ken Ham reveals the conceptual grasp he has on genetic theory.

This might seem problematic in the long run, but of course by the time our gene pool deteriorates to a state which leaves us producing deformed piles of chaotic human tissue (but presumably possessing eternal souls) God will have long ago returned with a vengeance. Again, this seems to ignore most of the body of knowledge of genetics (not to mention general biology), but this is only because the Nobel Prize winning scientists and Ken Ham are starting from different assumptions.

In next week’s museum post, we will take a look at the silly idea of “different assumptions” which lead 99.9% of scientists to date a fossil at millions of years and 0.1% of them to date the same fossil at 5000 years old.

jk

My foyer seems vastly bigger now.

View coming down the stairs.

Just got our awesome new paintings hung in the foyer. (The tapestry finally comes down!) Sorry, these one-of-a-kind, priceless renditions of various Hubble images are not for sale, but you can commission your own from the artist!

View coming in the front door (up & left)

Thanks, Dad!

jk

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

Another disappointing day for the profit who cried “apocalypse!” In spite of the fact that this long ago ceased being funny and has deteriorated into just plain sad. Though October 21st came and went with much fewer Rapture parties and fanfare, one can still find over a 1000 articles which report Camping’s latest failed prophesy. I’m not sure how many followers Camping has left for although his strategy has drawn much public attention, it seems to have the potential longevity of the Shakers whose policy for celibacy lacked both appeal and progeny.

But here’s a couple minor victories for those hopeful pessimists who feel letdown. First, a new climate study doesn’t look good for climate change skeptics. And second, according to USA Today, an “Imminent terror attack in Kenya is possible.” I’m not sure who edits the headlines at USA today but an ‘imminent’ attack is ‘possible?’ (This concept is right up Camping’s alley–“The end of the world is imminent…maybe.) Finally, the most disturbing news: REM broke up. (Maybe it is the end of the world.)

jk

Happy Birthday, Ken Ham!

Ken Ham turned 60 today. Or to convert that into Young Earth creationist years – he is just over 25 seconds old.  We all know, of course, that in 2007, Ham opened the Creation Museum in Doucheburg, Kentucky which last year saw its 1 millionth visitor, definitively demonstrating (contrary to previous hypotheses) that it is indeed possible to make this country even dumber.

Of course, as the visitor trend has been gradually dropping, last year the museum announced a significant expansion (controversially receiving tax dollars to aid with the expansion project because…well, unlike other forms of state welfare, corporate welfare is morally good, particularly when it ignores the principles of the establishment clause.) So in the not too distant future (excepting, of course, if God starts raining down fire before then) the museum will expand into a theme park based on the Noah’s Ark mythology…er history (i.e. ‘HIS’ – story)  Rumor has it that there will be an attraction for thrill seekers entitled – “A Brief Journey into Hell,” where kids can see what awaits those who stray off the path (and meet such terrifying figures as Galileo, Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, and an animatronic Christopher Hitchens is ready to go as well.)

“Let us into the theme park, Mr. Ham!”
“Drown…and then burn, doubters!…You too, children of doubters!”

I’ve often wondered if Ham can actually do any damage in the long-term as his bizarre museum has opened up New Earth Creationism to global ridicule. Acquaintances from the UK did not believe such a museum existed, and figured that if it did, it had to be some cheesy dump in an old barn. When they came back they were simultaneously amused and horrified and the ridicule that it inevitably brings seems like it will damage the perspective in the long term. But on the other hand, these folks are…well…take a look:

While this isn’t quite as nefarious as stealing or raping children, but, in a sense, I suppose it could qualify as mind rape.

I actually visited the museum with a coworker the year it opened (mostly out of morbid curiosity) and the place was unbelievable. If a bunch of skeptics came in with a huge budget with the goal of creating the ultimate ‘Poe,’ I daresay the result would be astonishingly close to what now stands proudly in Doucheberg, Kentucky.

Over the next few weeks, in a weekly feature, we’ll explore some of the hilarious (yet alarming) exhibits that decorate the halls of the Creation Museum.  In the first in the series, we will learn about why incest was okay in early biblical times as we get some insight into Ham’s vast expertise in the field of human genetics.

Ham understands, of course, we already know what’s true. The Bible tells us! Follow that logic out to its most absurd conclusions and that image will provide a nice preview of what to expect on our virtual tour of the Creation Museum!

Why indeed, Mr. Ham; why indeed!

jk

Two more shopping days until the REAL end.

Camping enjoys world’s end.
For more cool lightning pics – check it out! 

I doubt anyone, even his most convinced of maroons, are too concerned about this Friday. The Catholic Church is still pulling the same old shenanigans; Pat Robertson is still blaming the gays for stuff (like escaped zoo animals); the Republican candidates are lying at each other; Newt Gingrich is still sleeping with a woman who Jesus does not recognize as his wife. None of this would be going on if these folks really thought the end were near and cleaning crew was on the way…which is the perfect time for a real rapture. We all remember that fable of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” right? Well, swap out ‘boy’ for ‘senior mathematician/lunatic’ and ‘wolf’ for ‘Armageddon’ and what do you have? That’s right, a blood-thirsty deity who is ready to bathe the earth in the human misery we all so deserve because…well, just trust me, we’re all a bunch of evil fuckers who have earned ourselves an eternity of flesh-burning anguish. What…you don’t think so. Here’s a quiz.

What do you think when you look at this?

Lustful thoughts? (Or for the girls – thoughts of jealousy?) That’s because you’re evil and you just fornicated (in your mind) and deserve to have the flesh slowly cooked off of your bones for all of eternity for it. No bad thoughts? Well, then you’ll burn for being a liar. Gay? Duh…you’re gay…yet another burnable offense. You’re a woman with a nicer body? Then you’ll burn for your shameful vanity – especially if you don’t keep it covered. Ok…so you think you’ve woven through this maze of sins…no lust, no envy, no lies, no vanity, covered in loose robes? Sorry, reading this blog…burnable offense. There’s no esacape, pal. You deserve to burn…it’s a simple, obvious fact.

Keep in mind that the nerve endings that we all know you have in your immaterial soul won’t stop sensing the fiery demon-pain that hell has in store for you. And now, thanks to Camping, everyone is just laughing off this whole end-times gig and spanking away as if nothing changes this Friday. (That’s quite a gamble…yet another burnable offense, I should add.)

Well…this may trigger a bit of consternation in those who cannot resist wondering…what if J.C. stops by this weekend like he promised he soon would? Perhaps they are thinking, “I’ll be ready, but all those I love and care for will not.” Fear not, for Camping has let us know (presumably from an impressive set of calculations) that they will not suffer:

The end is going to come very, very quietly…probably there will be no pain suffered by anyone because of their rebellion against God…We can become more and more sure that they’ll quietly die and that will be the end of their story.

What a letdown that will be for the faithful who were counting on getting to watch the non-believers suffer…especially those like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and all the souls they tricked (who also deserve eternal torment…at the very least being forced to watch the Republican debates on an infinite loop for all eternity.)

One pastor from the Greater Grace Christian Fellowship couldn’t agree more and noted, “Guys like him can give Christianity a bad name.” Uh…yeah…guys like him.

I think we need Preacher Mark Driscoll to remind us how much we deserve to burn…don’t you?

See? Gandhi came up with that “Love the sinner; hate the sin” slogan and we know where Gandhi is, right? No? Well, keep living it up and you’ll see him in a couple of days and you can ask him yourself how much God loves the sinner.

jk