Saw this, want one...
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
The problem with books, arguments and ideas that claim to explain everything is that they invariably explain nothing. I can't remember who said that originally but I remember Christopher Hitchens using a similar line in a debate with a religious apologist once, it was a powerful quip in that debate and certainly rings true with my experience of life so far.
The cartoon above illustrates this problem nicely using the Bible as the source of the "explanation of everything" but the same can equally be said of the Koran, the book of Mormon and many other so called "holy texts". As concious beings who have evolved to seek reasons for experiences, we crave the quick fix, the silver bullet or the fast-buck, life is short and most of the time we recognise the difficulty in finding the real solutions to hard questions; on the whole we would rather outsource stuff like that so that we can get on with the business of surviving, thriving and investing in our selfish genes.
Unfortunately for us Humans the best (as in most successful in history) way of finding answers to things is Science, but science is hard; it's also complicated, time consuming and sometimes very expensive and by definition incomplete. Because of this a lot of people view it with indifference and sometimes even resistance, they prefer the easy route, they "outsource" their answers if you will. Of course for some people the unexamined life works out just fine (in an evolutionary sense), for the rest of us the feeling of dissatisfaction with not knowing and more importantly not knowing how to get to know for ourselves is unacceptable and overwhelming.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 1:30 pm
Monday, October 28, 2013
Overall Gender Equality
Religiosity (dark = less religious)
The top chart shows overall gender equality by country, green is good (equal) and orange is bad (i.e. unequal); the bottom chart shows religiosity by country, dark = less religious and light = more religious. Obviously these kinds of generalisations can only ever be generalised by definition and clearly correlation doesn't prove causation but it's pretty unlikely such strong correlation is a complete coincidence either, I'm left asking why do religious men in power distrust women so much?
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 1:40 pm
Surprisingly I made it to work this morning in record time, my route was deserted and looked like a post zombie apocalypse movie with leaves, rubbish, road signs, branches and the odd tree strewn around the place (fortunately no zombies). The Atlantic storm that passed over the UK early this morning peaked for us at around 6 am and the wind was loud enough to wake the whole family, luckily nothing was damaged.
There are lots of pictures of fallen trees and smashed cars in the media this morning it would seem that we were lucky although I did spend a useful hour yesterday securing loose fencing panels and tidying away kids junk in our garden, I even got some new batteries for our torch which was unusually forward thinking for me. It must be said that the 2-3 days of pre-warning for this storm has been reassuring, clearly those computer models are getting better and better all the time.
I couldn't resist a quick look at the Met Office WEB site on the subject of computing power and the data there would suggest that the computers being used to run the models today are roughly a million times faster than they were in 1987 when the last big hurricane-strength storm blasted through the UK, then no one had the first clue it was coming.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 1:32 pm
Friday, October 25, 2013
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
I saw a tweet today that read, "Congratulations, the universe is 6017 years old today!", after a bit of Googling I discovered that Bishop James Ussher, a 16th Century theologian worked out "based on an intricate correlation of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean histories and Holy writ" that the universe was created by God (presumably Yahweh and not Zeus?) on 23rd October 4004 BC. This is an interesting calculation not only is it incredibly precise it seems that Yahweh never bothered to tell the Chinese who were busy building community centres, cemeteries, and kilns around this time, he also neglected to inform the Sumerians either who by 4000 BC had already invented beer, writing and multiplication tables, essential ingredients for student life ever since. For a supernatural being who can create universes by willing them into existence Yahweh would appear to be a hopeless communicator on all other fronts.
Thanks to some rather more rigorous work done by generations of scientists living since Usshers time we now know that the universe is around 14 billion years old and our own planet some 9.5 billion years younger than that. For the first billion years of planet Earth there was no life at all, then for the next 2.9 billion years there was nothing but bacteria, then, around 600 million years ago things got a little more interesting and the slime started to evolve legs, teeth and fins. Since then we've seen cycles of expansion and extinction, many times over across billions of generations of creatures; modern humans only appeared on the scene a few hundred thousand years ago and recorded history started a mere 70 centuries ago all of which make the Christian creation myth believed by intellectuals of his time like Ussher considerably less interesting and awe inspiring than reality, I wonder what Ussher would have made of it?
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 2:07 pm
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
It interests me what Atheists of the past thought about the idea of God and religions, their rationale I suppose. Across the historical surface of theoretical physics there lies the formidable indentation of Paul Dirac, a modest man who came up with an equation that unified previously impenetrable fields of quantum mechanics and special relativity, and here it is..
These are subjects I do not begin to understand but from from what little I can fathom from reading about his solution to this problem I can appreciate the superhuman feat of reasoning that it took to crack it. The following passage is what he thought about religion early on in his life, apparently he mellowed slightly in older age as we all do. I find it fascinating to read his thoughts and reassuring in some ways that more and more people seem to hold with such views or at least are less concerned about expressing them openly.
I cannot understand why we idle discussing religion. If we are honest—and scientists have to be—we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. But nowadays, when we understand so many natural processes, we have no need for such solutions. I can't for the life of me see how the postulate of an Almighty God helps us in any way. What I do see is that this assumption leads to such unproductive questions as why God allows so much misery and injustice, the exploitation of the poor by the rich and all the other horrors He might have prevented. If religion is still being taught, it is by no means because its ideas still convince us, but simply because some of us want to keep the lower classes quiet. Quiet people are much easier to govern than clamorous and dissatisfied ones. They are also much easier to exploit. Religion is a kind of opium that allows a nation to lull itself into wishful dreams and so forget the injustices that are being perpetrated against the people. Hence the close alliance between those two great political forces, the State and the Church. Both need the illusion that a kindly God rewards—in heaven if not on earth—all those who have not risen up against injustice, who have done their duty quietly and uncomplainingly. That is precisely why the honest assertion that God is a mere product of the human imagination is branded as the worst of all mortal sins.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 7:40 pm
Monday, October 14, 2013
I read this little gem today; apparently Malaysian Muslims are upset that people of other faiths are using their word for God "Allah" to refer to Gods that aren't "Allah". You'd think that since any word by definition is an abstraction, a reference to something and not the actual thing itself they would be quite pleased that other people found one of their words useful, apparently not.
No doubt this court ruling will prompt all kinds of church burnings, stone throwing and general mayhem until something else distracts the mob. In my experience religious apologists of every shade bristle with indignation whenever secularists and atheists poke fun at religion, on this occasion such a ruling deserves ridicule plain and simple, haven't these people got anything more productive to do with their time? Then again, I suppose it beats working for a living and in the "pointless ways human beings harm themselves" stakes probably doesn't trump getting crushed to death whilst contemplating similar invisible beings.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 1:16 pm
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
I read today that the scouting association has finally relented and offered an alternative pledge for people that don't want to swear allegiance to someone else's anthropomorphic ideas about the creator of the universe. Although what the origin of the universe has to do with helping old ladies across the road is another question entirely, probably something to do with woggles. I suppose this is progress of some kind, an tiny change to syntax and a big step in semantics, a slight movement in the zeitgeist, much like how we hardly ever say things like "man-days" and "coloured people" any more, such distinctions don't add any value to most conversations.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 9:11 am
Friday, October 04, 2013
Wednesday, October 02, 2013
I was listening to radio 4 this morning in my car on the way to work and there were a couple of religious stories in the news and the usual "thought for the day" which is always religious in nature, one of the stories was about the Al-Madinah school in Derby being shut down by Ofsted because of concerns about over-jealous implementations of fundamentalist Islamic principals like segregation of girls and strict dress codes etc. I was pondering these things and the following analogy came to me,
What religious people around the world (the main ones) believe is like having a school where all the kids turn up everyday (in fact it's mandated they do) but there are no teachers. All that's there are piles of books and ancient (half erased) scribblings in a language no one speaks any more left on the blackboards. Over time the children align themselves to particular books and particular classrooms (mostly depending on which street they live in), fierce arguments and debates ensue about which are the "correct" books and which particular books and scribblings must be interpreted in which particular ways in order to enter particular classrooms. On the last day of school a teacher finally turns up, he (because it's obviously a he) praises the kids who have picked the right interpretations and 2 kids out of hundreds get to go home and have endless ice-cream and Xbox time; the teacher then dowses the remaining pupils and the school in petrol and sets the whole lot on fire.
Who'd want something like that to be true?
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 10:52 am