Dear Billy Graham: I tried cocaine

July 15, 2014

I don’t know about you, but I’ve missed Billy Graham. I’ve been reading his mail for years. I fell off while I wasn’t blogging, but now that I’m back in the swing of things, I thought I should look up the old guy and see what advice Billy Graham’s ministry is giving away these days. I’ve gotten this from his answers website:

I don’t know how it happened, but I’ve gotten hooked on cocaine. My wife is threatening to leave me if I don’t stop, but I don’t know where to turn. You’ll probably tell me to turn to God, but what good will that do?

A blogger friend of mine once noted the likelihood that these questions are posited by Graham’s staff rather than actual people is very likely, but let’s pretend this is an actual guy in this situation.

“I don’t know how it happened..”

Well, I expect you must have tried some and liked the feeling you got because of it. Same goes for me and Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Pick your addiction.

Graham’s “advice” in this case: Read the rest of this entry »


Would you consider this a pro-creationist dinosaur game?

February 11, 2012

I would. (edit Feb 12/2012 laugh and a half: read the first comment.) Regular readers know I never do game reviews but I felt like remarking on this one. The game’s called Dino Panic and it’s from GodSeeD Studios, a company so new it hasn’t got much of a website yet nor does it have many Facebook followers. 82 at the time of writing. There they advertise themselves as, “GodSeeD Studios.Delivering Godlike fun web gaming experience!” (edit Feb 12: this is no longer accurate) Well, grammar is hard for some and fun is relative, but I thought I’d try playing it anyway. It’s hosted on a number of sites but I originally found it via OneMoreLevel.com, my work day getaway.

From the get go, I can see what I’m in for: a game misrepresenting history and science. Flintstones aside, humans and dinosaur did not co-exist. Dinosaurs kicked it over 65 million years ago and the first hominids appeared at least 20 million years later. Already reading too much into it? Yes and no. It depends on what kind of history lessons the kids get beyond the game. Are they destined to grow up believing people had dinosaurs for pets? Do their parents believe that? But anyway, the fun begins.

We’re introduced to the characters through a series of storytelling panels. A “red dragon” has killed the man who was supposed to marry a woman from a neighbouring tribe and now it’s up to our hero Barog to finish the ritual and keep his people from going extinct. What a responsibility to throw on someone’s shoulders. It’s all up to you boy… Barog is given the task of finding the wedding gift the groom dropped where he died, a stone necklace. The game itself starts once Barog has that ritual relic and bumps into the dinosaur that will chase him for the duration of play. As for other obstacles to avoid, our hero must leap over rocks, logs, tar pits, other pits and also slide under floating rocks. Why? I check the tutorial:

Things don’t have to make sense here, clearly. Lodestones are naturally occurring magnetized minerals, but as far as I know, they don’t defy gravity with their existence. They aren’t magical nor proof of God’s existence. (Other theory: that line’s merely a reference to Insane Clown Posse) Barog is controlled with the keyboard and to add another level of difficulty (or to give one’s little sibling a role to play in this?) Barog’s pet pteranodon is also maneuverable by mouse. Fly him around the game screen to collect the floating gems. Not being a skilled gamer, I found myself ignoring Tora Pteranodon’s position on screen.

It’s not like he’s flying into anything that will damage him, whereas Barog faces possible doom every few seconds. Tar slows him down and everything else makes him trip or fall to his death. Tora can carry him if you time the jump right and hold the left mouse key down. This becomes an important skill to master once the game gets further along and Barog can’t leap pits in a single bound anymore. That’s as far as I got. When it comes to multitasking, some of us are shittier than others.

It’s a beautiful looking game, though. The cartoon quality of it is very nice and pretty to look at. No expense spared as far as that goes. I guess play would get easier with more practice, too.

Honestly, I find myself craving a less sophisticated, yet more “realistic” game experience, available in the form of Dino Run. The giant asteroid has broken up in the atmosphere (presumably) and burning chunks of rocky death are landing everywhere. It’s up to you to help the little dinosaur escape the fate of his brethren.

Fail

Delayed fail

Run like hell. Leap over slower dinos, duck into caverns. Hitch rides with pterodons, grab your energy snacks and save as many eggs as you can. If you survive from level to level your egg collecting and snack eating earn you points that can be used to boost your speed and other abilities. I’m not sure how many times I failed before I discovered that. And then I failed again and had to start over with a new little dino to save… Poor little dinos…


Darwin Day Saskatoon updated info

February 3, 2012

From the Saskatoon Freethinker’s meetup site:

The University of Saskatchewan Freethought Alliance, Saskatoon Skeptics and Centre for Inquiry Saskatchewan are proud to host the fourth annual Darwin Day celebration in Saskatoon on February 12 from 1:00-5:00 pm.

Come and help us celebrate Darwin’s 203rd birthday with 2 presentations followed by discussions. Speakers this year are from the U of S Biology department: Prof. José Andrés and Prof. Dick Neal (Emeritus). Birthday cake and coffee will be available and the Museum of Natural Sciences is nearby for touring and working on a scavenger hunt.

Schedule of Events (subject to change):

1:00 pm Introduction & 1st Presentation

2:45 pm Birthday Cake & Coffee; Museum Touring

3:15 pm 2nd Presentation

5:30 pm Pub Discussion (anyone interested can join us for further discussion & cheer – probably at nearby Alexander’s)

Cash donations are optional, but welcome all the same. Tax receipts are available for any donation over $10. Head for the Biology building (112 Science Place) and look for room 106. That’ll be us.

Hopefully we get a good turnout this year. Last year seemed kind of poor but I think there were a few other things going on around town, too, and maybe we didn’t give ourselves enough time to advertise the event and really plug the value of attending. It was interesting, thoug. One of the speakers took us through some human history from an archeological standpoint and I remember being enthralled by the talk but I never took any notes to blog from later, alas.

I’ve heard that one topic getting discussed this year will be altruism, a facet of humanity that religionists like to co-opt as their own special god-inspired trait (like this dude who merely falls back on Pascal’s Wager as if that could ever good enough reasoning) but I think the audience for that particular lecture will learn how that’s not quite the case.

So, if you’re in the area and can find a little time that Sunday, give this event a try. Like it says above, there will be cake. Always worth the calories, cake… And you can feed your brain at the same time. Also worth it.


Creationist propaganda matters more than education in Kentucky

January 25, 2012

Based on were they want their money spent, at any rate. From Forbes:

In one of the most spectacularly mis-prioritized state budgets in recent memory, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D), is suggesting over $50 million in cuts to education – while preserving $43 million in tax breaks for the Ark Encounter, a creationist amusement park centered around a life-sized Noah’s Ark. The park is sponsored by Answers In Genesis, a non-profit organization that promotes a “literalist” interpretation of the Book of Genesis while promoting an anti-evolution (and other sciences) agenda.

There are a number of reasons why this is a bad idea.

Oh my non-existent god, are there ever. The author, Alex Knapp, hit on a few. Cuts to education only work if previous work has been done to reform the system first so standards can still be met even with less funding. Apparently that’s not the case here. Plus, the park is a luxury more than it is a necessity.

in a time of austerity, surely it makes most sense to eliminate wasteful subsidies first, rather than essential public services. Especially subsidies that are of dubious value to begin with, whether its this “Ark Park” or a football stadium.

I add a link because I didn’t know what he meant. Austerity is an economics term, a policy intended for cutting spending and increasing taxes in order to decrease debt. Public services often face cuts when governments go this route and education falls under that, unfortunately.

I agree on the “dubious value” of a creationist theme park (anywhere, not just Kentucky), but I suppose Kentucky is assuming the tourism dollars will make it worthwhile? Knapp notes that the move to give them a tax break is close to crossing a line – maintaining separation of church and state. P.Z. Meyers notes that a further $11 million is going toward infrastructure: “highway improvements for the Ark Park” itself. Hopefully properties other than the Ark Park benefit from that little windfall. That cash isn’t going towards their personal driveway and parking lot, right? Right?

Quoting Friendly Atheist now because he’s so succinct:

In summary, Governor Beshear has basically used $54,000,000 of taxpayer money to help the Biblical Ark Park. And he took $50,000,000 away from the education budget.

In other words, the Governor just took away $100,000,000 that could have gone toward educating people.

There’s no real education to be found at Ark Encounter. Mythology treated as fact is
what they offer. Mythology as entertainment is one thing, and probably a fun thing, but this gets sold as if it’s more true than anything science has taught humanity about our origins and existence. Add to that a government essentially encouraging this business to continue unabated and it equals a very serious problem for the future. It’s a pity education has to take a hit just so this junk heap can stay afloat.


Old news: why atheists celebrate Christmas

January 3, 2012

For the next few weeks I’m going to be catching up on some links I’d saved throughout December on account of my broken wrist; that, coupled with general laziness and craving more quality time with the Man, made updating this blog something of a low priority. First up, a December 5th article out of Live Science. It focuses on a study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Researchers used results from an earlier survey of elite U.S. universities and their science departments and pulled 275 of the 2,198 respondents to be their sample. In the original survey, about half of the scientists had declared themselves religious but they noticed that some of the ones who declared themselves atheist were still willing to spend time in church and the like.

The atheist parents surveyed had multiple reasons for attending religious services in the absence of religious belief. Some said their spouse or partner was religious, and encouraged them to go to services as well. Others said they enjoyed the community that attending a church, mosque, temple or other religious institution can bring.

Perhaps most interesting, Ecklund said, was that many atheist scientists take their children to religious services so that the kids can make up their own mind about God and spirituality.

“We thought that these individuals might be less inclined to introduce their children to religious traditions, but we found the exact opposite to be true,” Ecklund said. “They want their children to have choices, and it is more consistent with their science identity to expose their children to all sources of knowledge.”

I don’t know if I would have thought that was “most interesting” but whatever. I can see it as making sense, though. To limit kids and never expose them to the other side of the belief coin would make an atheist parent just as out-of-touch and fundamentalist as the worst of the religionists. In order for a person to make a real choice, choices have to be made available. In the article they use an example from the study of a man who’d been Catholic. He later decided religion and science weren’t compatible enough to keep that up but has chosen to let his child experience Catholicism, Islam and Buddhism, too. He’d rather she be equipped to make an informed choice later rather than insist only his way is right.

I’ve wondered how I’d deal with that were I in a parenting position. I think I’d wind up modifying what my dose of religious studies taught me in terms of the sheer variety of belief out there. Some people think this way, some think that way, these ones don’t get along at all because they each claim the same slab of rock as having religious significance and nobody is entirely sure who found it first. Here’s what seems to be the best of what they have to offer and here’s the stuff that made me question why…

I don’t recall asking my parents about this thing called God when I was a kid. I went to Catholic school and mass every week with classmates but there wasn’t much at home to encourage more than the bare minimum in terms of that business. They let me spend many Saturdays with my cousin and her church-going parents but I don’t recall many Sunday school excursions with her so I don’t think I was allowed much in the way of overnights. (Not necessarily for that reason, mind you. My early morning habits started pretty damn young and most of my cousins were weekend layabouts by preference.)

I don’t know if I’d want to set a kid up by saying, “There absolutely is no god and anyone who tells you different is deluded.” I see the overall value of believing in something bigger than we are, but I’d quibble on the need to name that inner need “God” and anthropomorphize it into a vast supernatural creature capable of giving a damn. The universe is already bigger than we are and most of us don’t stand around expecting it to notice us and give out hugs. No treats expected for the best behaved — unless you count those who still buy into karma.

Maybe it’d be worthwhile to transform the god crap into a belief that compassion truly has the power trump greed and villainy. That winds up being a basis for some of the better beliefs already out there anyway. Promote the belief that most people do want to be good and helpful instead of selfish and arrogant S.O.B’s all the time. Maybe they just never learned how and could benefit from a new approach. Maybe they learned the wrong lessons from their past actions or failed to get encouragement when the opportunity arose to make the more humane decision. Plus, some people get a skewed idea of what a reward for effort ought to look like. Sometimes it ought to look like a smile instead of dollar sign, for one thing. More could be done to support that outcome, I think, and in better ways than “You’ll go to hell otherwise.”

To end, to end.. how to end. I guess I end by saying that we need to do whatever is necessary in terms of bettering ourselves and our children. If making room for religious experiences helps with that a little, then make a little room for it. And we can all hope that at some point maybe people won’t need that step anymore.


“Scientists say Turin Shroud is supernatural” — what kind of scientists…

December 20, 2011

…would suggest something like that? The Independent has the story:

Italian government scientists have claimed to have discovered evidence that a supernatural event formed the image on the Turin Shroud, believed by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.

After years of work trying to replicate the colouring on the shroud, a similar image has been created by the scientists.

However, they only managed the effect by scorching equivalent linen material with high-intensity ultra violet lasers, undermining the arguments of other research, they say, which claims the Turin Shroud is a medieval hoax.

Good gravy. Two years ago it was other Italian scientists that proved it could be duplicated a lot easier than that. Curse those bloody scientists! Can’t they see that all this waffling confuses a public already tending toward lower scientific awareness? Who are they supposed to believe?!

Which begs the question, why the desire to prove their faith can be backed up by scientific evidence? I thought the whole point of faith was to believe without needing proof.

Another question comes to mind, why get “government scientists” involved with that kind of ridiculous make-work project? Aren’t there better uses for government money that would result in.. well, useful results for the world at large, or at least Italy? Why piss around trying to prove the shroud’s validity? It’s such a waste of time and resources. And money. So much money.


Religious Canadians distrust atheists, too…

December 2, 2011

… going by results of a recent study published in the Vancouver Sun, at least.

Religious believers distrust atheists more than members of other religious groups, gays and feminists, according to a new study by University of B.C. researchers.

The only group the study’s participants distrusted as much as atheists was rapists, said doctoral student Will Gervais, lead author of the study published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

That prejudice had a significant impact on what kinds of jobs people said they would hire atheists to do.

“People are willing to hire an atheist for a job that is perceived as low-trust, for instance as a waitress,” said Gervais. “But when hiring for a high-trust job like daycare worker, they were like, nope, not going to hire an atheist for that job.”

The antipathy does not seem to run both ways, though. Atheists are indifferent to religious belief when it comes to deciding who is trustworthy.

“Atheists don’t necessarily favour other atheists over Christians or anyone else,” he said. “They seem to think that religion is not an important signal for who you can trust.”

I’d agree with that last line. Ideally one’s religion (or lack of) won’t even come into play when it comes to deciding who you can count on. Morality and ethics are not the sole (soul?) property of one particular group, religious or not. I wonder if people who are religious get cause and effect mixed up a bit sometimes. Their religion might not be the reason they’re good, just, honest people. They might have been that way even if they didn’t have a religious explanation to fall back on. Can’t turn back the clock and send them down a different future to test that, sadly, but exposure to religion might not be the main reason a person’s decent anyway. What if it has more to do with who their parents were and knew and what sort of upbringing and education they were able to get besides that? I think it really comes down to the kind of person you are, regardless of the kind of beliefs you hold. It’s hardly the only trait with merit.

Gervais was surprised that people harbour such strong feelings about a group that is hard to see or identify. He opines that religious believers are just more comfortable with other people who believe a deity with the power to reward and punish is watching them.

I’d bet a cookie that it has to do with the same fear that Invasion of the Body Snatchers preyed upon back in 1956. Communists were feared not just because of their ideologies but because you couldn’t tell just by looking who was a commie. They could be anyone! Some probably would like it if every atheist stamped themselves with the big red A and relieved the confusion. That would almost be useful though; then when atheists inevitably stop getting served at various restaurants, or get fired, they could argue in court that it’s account of their atheism. And perhaps win. But anyway, on with the article.

“If you believe your behaviour is being watched [by God] you are going to be on your best behaviour,” said Gervais. “But that wouldn’t apply for an atheist. That would allow people to use religious belief as a signal for how trustworthy a person is.”

Not just the thought of God watching, though. Other studies have been done showing how behaviour varies no matter what people think is watching, be it eyes by the “On your Honour” tea kitty or an invisible princess who might see you cheat at a game and report you.

Religious belief is known to have a variety of social functions. Past research has found that common religious beliefs can promote cooperation within groups.

Sure, but humans aren’t the only creatures on this planet that know how to cooperate in a group. Ants and termites can do it. Birds do it every day when they take wing suddenly, seemingly on cue. Many animals act as a team to take down their prey. Prey will often cooperate to avoid that. It might be possible to make the case that cooperation is simply an evolutionary by-product of herd/group living. Some might be better or worse at it, of course, and maybe in humans it made sense to further encourage cooperation by adding religious thought-processes into the mix. Animals don’t always cooperate, either. If you have two bulls after the same cow, neither will yield gracefully. Maybe religion has more to do with creating a means to combat our selfish instincts. Maybe the bigger pity is that it does take the fear of hell to make some people do the right thing.

Gervais started his line of inquiry about the exclusion of atheists after seeing a Gallup poll that suggested the majority of Americans would not vote for an atheist presidential candidate. Gervais and his colleagues conducted a series of six studies on a group of 350 American adults and a group 420 UBC students.

But even in more secular Canada, distrust of atheists ran high.

“We see consistently strong effects,” he said. “Even here in Vancouver, our student participants still say atheists are really untrustworthy.”

I got this story from friend and fellow Freethinker koinosuke, who’s made the point at various Sask Skeptic‘s pub nights that it’s always better to find the actual study and read it, but not all of us have that kind of dedication to the truth, I guess. Or the time. Or the ability to parse what’s hidden in there, for that matter. What I’m curious about with this is where these respondents got their information about atheists being untrustworthy. Not from actual/known-to-be atheists, probably. Where did they develop this bias? In terms of the students in Canada, where were they born? It’s probably the same everywhere, but universities in Canada are notorious for luring foreign money students over. I don’t know where I’d find the statistics on it, but I think Vancouver has a pretty high ratio of immigrants to “natives”, as well. If most came from countries that are typically anti-atheist, that’ll skew the results. If most were born here, where exactly? Some areas of the country are a lot more religious than others. Hell, some towns are super devout compared to a town 20 minutes away. There’s a lot of variation.

It definitely points to signs that atheist groups need to work a bit harder in the Vancouver area, and the rest of the country, too. Even though people like to say the opinions of others shouldn’t matter, I don’t particularly like the idea of strangers making that kind of assumption about me without evidence for it. It’s a stereotype that needs a serious shooting down.


I feel kind of bad for Reverend Peter Anamo

November 9, 2011

Maybe he’s getting more press locally in Ghana, but there’s not a lot to be found online about him and his predictions for the end of the world this month. Harold Camping and his followers certainly knew how to stir the waters and got a hell of a lot more press. I can’t find much about Anamo’s predictions beyond this article from April.

Promising to do better than biblical men of steel, Prophet Anamo said he was relying on numerology to make his prediction. “Numerology is the mystery of numbers which the Church does not know but that is unfortunate because our divine God is God of numerology that is why the Bible has a whole book on numbers.”

“I am a prophet; my job is to make sure God is able to redeem a lot of people in November.” Grounding his argument, Prophet Anamo cited Japan which was hit by a disastrous earthquake on March 11 and also on April 11, and that that was a prelim to what will happen to the world on 11 November (the 11th month of 2011).

There is this interview, though.

He uses the Book of Daniel as the basis for all his goofy numerology math, and 5/6 minutes in he uses some other funky number trick on the woman doing the interview. She adds up 80 (1980 being the year she was born) and her age (31) and gets 111 for an answer. He tries to sell this as a sign the end is nigh because everyone who tries the same thing will get the exact same number and the longer he goes on, the more loony he starts to sound. I’m almost surprised he got to speak as long as he did but I suppose everyone’s allotted a certain number of minutes for their segment no matter how ridiculous they may get.

It’s stated in the article that he’ll turn himself in if his predication fails so I’ll make sure to check if anything gets written about him later on. Statistically speaking, he may wind up right by accident about an earthquake hitting this weekend, especially since he isn’t being very specific as to where it’ll be. The National Earthquake Information Center registers at least 50 a day with their sensitive equipment and it’s also noted that if it seems like we’re having more earthquakes these days, it’s mostly because we have a lot more equipment around the world tracking the earth’s constant shifting.

In 1931, there were about 350 stations operating in the world; today, there are more that 4,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by telex, computer and satellite. This increase in the number of stations and the more timely receipt of data has allowed us and other seismological centers to locate many small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years, and we are able to locate earthquakes more rapidly.

Another factor has to do with just how many humans are on this planet (we’re nearing or past the seven billion mark already) and the fact that some of us can’t help but live in regions where earthquakes have a higher probability of being large enough to be damaging. The site lists more explanations than these, too.

Bottom line, I think the bulk of us will be able to rest easy on Friday and spend the day however Remembrance Day tends to be spent. I expect mine will go quietly; I’ll be away to Dial Up Land for the weekend since it works out to be a long one. Aside from getting my fix of Canasta and Hoarders, I have no plans.


Richard Dawkins VS William Lane Craig – who cares?

October 21, 2011

Lots of people, probably. Dawkins recently admitted the reason he won’t debate the guy and it has to do with the apparent condoning of child massacre in the bible. Lane Craig claims it’s because God had the right to do it simply because he was God. QED. This blog out of the Guardian shits all over Dawkins, calling him “either a fool or a coward” over his unwillingness to debate the guy using theological arguments.

We are left with two possible conclusions from Richard Dawkin’s flimsy sick note. The first is that he doesn’t understand Christian apologetics, which is why he unintentionally misrepresents Craig’s piece [regarding the deaths of Caananite children and conflicts with that morality then and how we think today]. The most frustrating thing about the New Atheism is that it rarely debates theology on theology’s own terms.

The second is where the cowardice comes into play. Dawkins is just plain scared of going to battle against someone that intelligent and well spoken. He’d rather spend his time mocking the stupid ones… The last part is possibly true, but the first part?

William Lane Craig makes appearances in Saskatoon once in a while. One of our Freethinker members debated him at the University of Saskatchewan in January and it was fun to watch, but brutal to watch at the same time. George did what he could against the guy but Lane Craig makes his living off apologetics and all its bizarre arguments to justify God’s existence and behaviour. It’s hard for an ordinary philosophy professor to compete with that. That’s hardly been his area of focus. Plus, it wouldn’t matter what kind of theological arguments George might know and could have brought to the stage because he’s aware that theological arguments have no basis in reality. They’re just thought experiments and there are far better ways to use one’s brain than contemplating what a god might do and why.

That’s why I think Tim Stanley missed the point with his post. Dawkins has a good reason to skip debating a guy like Lane Craig. You can’t get anywhere doing it. Lane Craig could never best him in a science debate about biology and evolution because that’s not where he’s focused his education and career – except in terms of what he can point at and claim God had a hand in. (Usually with a smarmy smile on his face while he does it.) Debating him accomplishes nothing. I wish everyone would turn him down, frankly. Of course, he’d likely count them all as debates he won by default, but what can you do.

For one thing, you can put the time into battles that have a better chance at being won for real. Keeping science in schools. Teaching critical thinking skills and encouraging skepticism. Stopping teachers from overtly preaching in public schools via prayers or posters. Stop employers from employing similar tactics. Making waves when people want to put up monuments that are meant to speak for all but only seem to apply to a specific religious group. Seriously questioning politicians about their belief systems and what those beliefs might mean for the climate change debate, gay marriage or women’s rights to abortion.

Put the emphasis on the things that matter most in this world and fuck William Lane Craig.


I’d do better if I studied

October 20, 2011

JustSayHi - Science Quiz

Created by OnePlusYou – Free Dating Sites

I found the link on an old blog I haven’t used since 2007 and then I scored a C.

And thankfully you don’t have to sign up with the free date thing in order to get your test score.


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