Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chuck Norris vs Jesus

Jesus. Inevitably, he comes up in any religious conversation with a Christian. They will often cite him as a historical figure who's existence is beyond question. Of course many atheist's do not believe there ever was a Jesus. Many, but not all. There are also those that feel that there was a Jesus, or someone that the character is based on. But just a regular man and/or teacher. Not divine, no magic, no virgin birth, not the son of any god. Just a figure who had followers, who's story has been embellished through the years.

Personally, I don't think that it's such a stretch to believe that there was an inspirational figure who
later became legend. But I'm certainly not buying any of the supernatural claims. Trouble with being honest is, that if I admit that there could have been a human 'Jesus', that many a theist will then just claim victory. They instantly equate Jesus' existence to being the divine son of God. But the fact is that existence would not automatically equal divinity. The amazing claims that are attributed to him come from one, and only one source... the Bible. There aren't even any solid sources for his existence. But you can not cite the text that introduces him as authoritative if it is not backed by external and reliable evidence. That's the simple fact. Sadly, some don't see this clear and obvious truth.

What if in some post apocalyptic future, future generations are able to recover www.chucknorrisfacts.com, and this is the only source they have for the existence of Chuck Norris? If this is their one and only source for the existence of Chuck Norris, would they be justified in believing that his tears could cure cancer? Would it be fair to assume that he can swim through land? Would it be true that Death is afraid of Chuck Norris? Would it be assumed to be factual that Chuck Norris does not sleep, but waits. Does Chuck Norris not have a reflection because there can only be one Chuck Norris. Did he roundhouse kick the Earth into rotation?

 Some of those future people may find the claims amazing, yet unbelievable. Some may even believe it and deify him. But what if they later unearth photographic and historical evidence that a Chuck Norris really did exist? Would that instantly validate that Chuck Norris has another fist behind his beard or that when he does a push up, he pushes the Earth down? Or does it leave us pretty much right where we started? The existence of Chuck Norris may have been confirmed, but that in itself does not confirm the other spectacular claims.

The same is true of Jesus. Even if his existence were to be proven, that would only prove that he existed, not that he was the divine son of God. That would require a whole new set of specific evidence. As Carl Sagan once said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". Extraordinary claims are what are present for both Jesus and Norris. But the evidence aspect is deafening silent. So if you agree that our future selves wouldn't be justified in believing Chuck  Norris was a superhuman deity. Then it would be wrong for believers to claim certainty for the divinity of Jesus.

-Brain Hulk

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Curiousity piqued.

By now we've all heard that NASA's JPL Martian rover 'Curiosity'  may have found something big. Data came back from the SAM kit on Curiosity after it had tested some of the Martian soil. In an interview, John Grotzinger (lead scientist on the mission) had this to say:
This data is going to be one for the history books, it's looking really good
Obviously  his statement does not tell us what they think they've found, but this much we do know... SAM is designed to detect organics (among other things) if they are present in the soil samples. So the smart money is that Curiosity has in fact found organic material in the soil. This actually wouldn't be a huge surprise, given that scientists believe organic material falls to Mars regularly. However, the earlier Viking lander tested for organics and surprisingly came up empty. Though, with that in mind, I would call the discovery of organics on Mars would be important, but not really 'one for the history books' in my opinion. Obviously the internet is a-buzz about what they may have found that would be that big of news (assuming followup tests confirm results and rule out Earthly contamination). The leading thoughts are 1) NASA exaggeration, and 2) Curiosity has found evidence of past or present life on Mars! Personally, I am hoping for the latter, but we'll have to wait and see what is announced. They've said it may take several weeks to confirm their findings. But there are rumors of a possible announcement in early December. While I am hopeful that they have found some evidence for life, I wouldn't be surprised if it is just the confirmation of organics. But is that really a total let down. One could argue that the finding of organics might be a good thing for the past Viking mission. One test that Viking ran, actually looked to have found evidence of metabolism in the Martian soil. Something that would confirm still living bacteria. But then the test for organics came up empty. No organics equals no life. The same test was later ran on soil from a similarly dry place on Earth, and that test also came up empty. So there has been some dispute that the Viking tests may have found organics and the test was flawed, and that the metabolism test may have been valid as well. So if Curiosity has in fact found proof of organics, that means that the ingredients of life should be present, and that Viking may have found life all those years ago. But let's assume for a moment that Curiosity itself has found evidence for life on Mars. If it has, that would be amazing news. It would prove that we are not alone in the universe, and that life on Earth is not even unique in our solar system. The implications would mean that life is actually widespread throughout the cosmos. Additionally, it could give humanity the kick in the pants needed to get serious about real and far reaching space exploration.

Another interesting thing to see would be the reaction by the religious. To many, the discovery of life outside of Earth would have serious implications. Sure, there are those that are already open minded to life elsewhere. But they tend to be the ones that are the more generic forms of followers or are not as literally religious. There would also be those that would say that life on Mars simply wasn't mentioned because Earth was what was important, or that 'God had a plan for them as well', or that the Bible doesn't explicitly say that there is no other life. But the most interesting ones would be those that will claim that the Bible always has the truth about everything, and that life on Mars is included as well. I have a feeling that it would go something like the following... The story of Adam of Eve would suddenly become less literal then they usually claim. Mars would be Eden, and Adam & Eve would be the microbes in the Martian soil. Then a meteor impact carried them to Earth to seed it. 'The fall' would become the literal fall of the meteor to Earth. Finally, the life of work and toil that followed after Eden/Mars would be the life that then flourished on our wet globe. Obviously there are still terminal problems with such a claim. But we can worry about those later. If Curiosity truly has proof of past or current life on Mars, that will be amazing and important news. So, like everyone else not lucky enough to be part of the inner circle on the Mars mission, I'll be waiting with great anticipation to learn what Curiosity may have unearthed on our planetary next door neighbor irregardless of what the announcement is.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An atheist grace.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow here in the USA. Many of us will be gathering with friends and family. If you are like me, you've had to sit through family talking to themselves in devotion to whichever god they subscribe. I just sit there, keep my head up and wait for the superstitious formalities to be over with. My non-belief is know, so I am never asked to 'say grace'. But what if I was asked to 'do the honors'. Obviously, I would not falsely espouse any belief in thanks for divine gardening. Instead I wrote my own version just in case...

We sit here today, with this wonderful feast before us. It did not come of its own making though. For that, I am thankful to my wife, the men and woman who reaped the harvest, and those who cared for and raised the livestock. But I’m also thankful for a star. Not just any star, but a star that is long since gone... Whose remnants we see every day. I’m thankful to that ancient high-mass star, whose death fortified our place in the Milkyway. I’m thankful that the law of gravity caused those ingredients to coalesce as they did, forming our small local star and the planetary system that we call home. I’m thankful to the dawn of the first self replicators who started off a long and unbroken evolutionary train of ancestors that lead to all of us. I’m thankful to my parents, who gave me all the love and support I needed. All the way from a single cell to the person I am today. And I am thankful for my beautiful wife. Yes she gave us this wonderful meal before us, but she also gave me the gift of her love. But the thing that I am most thankful for? It has to be that NONE of this had to happen, but it did! And I think that is something to be amazingly thankful for. Here’s to longer, brighter days!


The chances that I'll ever get to use that are slim, but I keep it at the ready just in case. Anyone reading this is more than welcome to use this or modify it to fit their needs. Here's hoping everyone has a nice Thanksgiving.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Hard > Easy

Sometimes I hear it said that I'm only an atheist because, "That's the easy thing to do." That people are non-believers because they are lazy. These people will claim that the faithful are the ones walking the hard road... That belief means that you can't sit idly by. It shouldn't be too hard to guess that I disagree with these thoughts wholeheartedly.

Fist of all, most any atheist can tell you that being a non-believer is not 'the easy thing to do'. This is
doubly true depending on where you live. I can tell you that in many places in the United States, simply being open about your atheism can be a very bad idea. I've heard no shortage of stories about people being disowned by their families, dumped by friends, have a boyfriend or girlfriend suddenly leave them, be passed over for jobs or professional advancement, threats, or simply have people's attitude change for the worse. I ask you, what is 'easy' about risking ones relations and social circle? Meanwhile, the easy thing to do would be to espouse to belief in the Christian religion. Say you're Christian, and no one bats an eye. But be honest and your world could be turned on it's head.

Then there is the thought that we are 'just lazy'. Often this is a dig at the supposed thought that we're just too lazy to wake up early, get dressed up and go to church on Sunday mornings. While it may be true that we don't get up and go to church, that doesn't mean we are eternal sloths that sit around and waste our days away. Maybe I prefer to sleep in on the weekends, but after a long work week, who doesn't? One thing for sure is that I'm far from lazy. I constantly have projects, and even though I like to get those elusive extra hours of sleep on the weekend, I'll still find myself rising early to catch a live Manchester United game, get a start on my day, or just to surprise my wife with breakfast in bed.

 But I certainly wouldn't say that the lack of dragging myself into church makes me lazy. But again, if I wanted to play the easy card, I could've just pretended to still be a Catholic. You know that type. The type of Catholics that don't ever go to church except for maybe Christmas or Easter. It seems that this isn't very uncommon among many generic Christians as well. Oh, they don't go to church, but they aren't labeled as lazy since they still believe... So let me get this straight. An atheist that doesn't go to church = lazy, but a believer that doesn't go to church = a-okay?

Another area where it is clear that being an atheist is not the easy road or lazy mans choice, is those of us that really look into and research things. I'm one of those people who loves facts. The more I know, that happier I am. But knowledge does not come easy. When you really sink your teeth into figuring something out, trying to understand it, or simply trying to understand yourself, it can take dedication and a very real investment of your time. Reading books, thinking about things, discussing with others, maybe taking classes. These are not the actions of someone being lazy or looking for the easy way out.

Actually, I'd wager that religion offers the easy way out, and a way that leaves you plenty of opportunity to be lazy. Why bother with all the hard work of trying to learn about something, or to understand something when all you have to do it 'have faith'? Don't research a question, simply pick a side and stick with it on faith alone. No need to back up your stance with facts or research... it's just your faith, and who am I to question it? And what of prayer? Surely, that's the easiest excuse in the world to be lazy. What's that? Your cat got out and need help finding her? Do I get my coat, walk the neighborhood looking for kitty, or do I just hold my hands together and talk to myself for a minute or two? Which one sounds lazy to you? The person who helps put up posters, or the one holding a conversation with the ceiling?

The late president John F Kennedy once said:
"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."
 We don't do these things because they are easy, but because they are hard... I think that can be said of many atheists. No we don't broadcast our non-belief to purposely make ourselves magnets for
potential hardship. But we do ask ourselves the hard questions. What do I really believe and why? What is the truth, and do I want to know what it is no matter what? I feel that asking that second question is a hard thing for some people to do. And I thing it takes a brave person to answer that same question in the affirmative. I am an example of such a person. It would be all too easy to just accept the stories I was told and never question them. It would be easy to assume that the warm fuzzy tales of eternal life, forgiveness and Heaven are not just stories, but actual unquestioned truths.

Yes, cheating death does sound like an attractive proposition. But it's the easy way out, and I'd wager, not intellectually honest. Instead I choose to know the truth for what it is, no matter what it is. I'd rather know the uncomfortable truth for what it is, than to live a happy lie. While the truth may not promise me never-ending bliss, it does give me understanding and mountains of appreciation. It wasn't the easy path, but knowing what I know, it would be an easy choice to make if I had it all to do again. I cast aside the manufactured assurances and false security in favor of something better... the truth. It may not all be happy, and it may not always be pretty, but it is mine, it is yours, it belongs to all of us.

Understanding our lives, what they could be, what they might be, and that we will eventually cease allows me to live my life to the full. Doing what I feel needs to be done, putting nothing off that I would later regret, trying to make change in this world here and now. No waiting around just waiting for the supposed 'next life' to get here. No, I don't think the search for easy street or laziness are inherently atheistic. In fact, my experience has shown that the inverse is often true. So keep asking those hard questions, continue making a difference, continue helping out, and maybe, just maybe this silly fable of the lazy atheist will go the way of the Dodo.

-Brain Hulk

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sore losers?

The election is just over a week behind us now. Luckily most of the election signs have gone away... most, but not all. Sure, there are two houses in my area that are still displaying the signs of those who won. But most I still see up are for the failed ballot measures. There are a couple for question 7, which was the gambling question on the ballot that passed. But the majority of signs that are still on display are those that were in opposition to question 6. This was the question that passed to allow same-sex marriage in the state of Maryland. Obviously this is an issue that people are passionate about, but you lost, it's time to get used to it and get over it. I see these signs remaining up as a form of silent protest. Do these people secretly want a re-vote? Or perhaps they just want it to be know that they didn't vote for question 6 and are proud of that fact. Okay great, you're proud to stand in the way of equality and fairness... It will be interesting to see how long these signs will remain erect. Will they reduce in numbers as the days pass? Will they stay up until marriage equality goes into effect? Time will tell. I can tell you that they should have pulled their signs in about a week ago. At least within a few days after the election. I had a sign up in favor of question 6, and even though it passed, I took it down after the polls closed on election day.

It's not just signs though. Just one day after the election... cue a local pastor. That's right, no sooner than same-sex marriage was approved, a local pastor went on record for a local paper saying that the passage of question 6 would bring 'God's judgement' on the state... Seriously? Yup, he was serious. He claimed that this result would bring Maryland more earthquakes, hurricanes, and blizzards. First of all, these are all natural events that are understood, not the magical smiting of a ever present divine big brother. Earthquakes are actually pretty rare in Maryland. Hurricanes are usually the remnants of these storms rather than a direct hit. Blizzards... Some years we have a good bit of snow, and others we hardly have any at all. Way to step out on a limb with that one. But lets play his game for a moment. Lets pretend that these natural events are actually a god dishing out punishment. If that is so, then lets look at the 'Bible belt'. Curiously, the coastal areas in the 'Bible belt' are more likely to get hit by hurricanes than we are. The southern and western states in this block are also hit with more drought and tornadoes than the rest of the country. But if these natural disasters are truly the acts of a angry god, shouldn't the 'Bible belt' be the most disaster free area in the country? Of course this isn't what we see. So not only do the local pastor's comments appear laughable on their face, but they fail even more when you look at the fact closer.

Finally, I heard something funny yesterday. They reminded us that the Bible says that if a man lies with a man they must be stoned. But then Washington state went and legalized same sex marriage and marijuana use to show us that churches have been interpreting it wrong all along.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election results!

Well, the election results are in, and as we all know, President Obama has been re-elected 332 - 206. Quite a dramatic difference from the unreadable race that most outlets were desperate to invent. They said we probably wouldn't know the result for days, and instead we knew the victor prior to midnight. Personally, I'm pleased with the result. Not because I was an outright Obama supporter... there's plenty I disagree with the president on. But Romney was just that much worse, and in my opinion a Romney presidency would have been a disaster. I am pleased with the outcome, although the candidate I voted for didn't even come close to winning. I voted for Rocky Anderson because I agreed with his platform so much more than the others. Luckily I live in Maryland, so I had the luxury of voting per my opinion rather than the lesser of two evils. Had I lived in a swing state, I would have begrudgingly voted for Obama just to make sure Romney got one less vote. Luckily I got to vote my mind though.

The district I live in also unseated long time representative Bartlett. The election map was redrawn, and that surly played a role. Even though I can't say I agree with the new map 100%, I can say that it feels good to know that Roscoe has been showed the door.

Ballot measures... I'm happy to say that They did very well in my state. Question 7 was approved to expand gambling in Maryland and build a resort casino. This is great because it will mean more money for the Maryland budget (possibly more for education), jobs for Marylanders, pull money back to Maryland from out of state casinos, and will also drive a positive economic benefit to the surrounding community where the new casino is to be built. The other big one was Question 6. Despite being well outspent by the opposition, Maryland took a stand for marriage equality. Now same sex couple is Maryland will be able to marry the person they love, just like I married my wonderful wife. Furthermore, three other states also voted in support of marriage equality.

There were other local races, and they all went wonderfully as well. All-in-all, this election went about as well as I could have hoped. Obviously, in a perfect world I would have loved a Rocky Anderson presidency. But that was never going to happen. So I'm happy, and it looks like things may be going in the right direction. Lets hope it is.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Election eve observations.

Tomorrow is election day here in the United States. Political adds and phone calls have been never ending. But as bad as they have been, the political signs are getting out of hand as well. Private citizens posting 18" x 24" signs in their front yards is fine. But this year, I've seen people putting 48" x 96" signs in their yards this year. I feel that's a bit excessive, but at the end of the day I'm fine with people and businesses displaying who they support so long as it's on their own property. The biggest problem I've seen has been signs at busy intersections and on state land. In the past few days, some candidates have been blanketing areas with their signs. This morning I came across a stretch that was about a mile of busy highway. One candidate had placed signs approaching each intersection at a spacing of about every ten or so feet. All told, there had to be at least one hundred signs in that one mile stretch. Then there are the busiest corners that are filled with every manner of political sign imaginable. Not only does it look like a sign farm, but it makes the area look like a mess and can often cause visibility problems for motorists. I'm all for people advertising who they are voting for, but I feel it should be confined to your own property or business. I wish that the states would disallow posting these sings along the road on state property, and would just remove all these signs no matter who they are for. It would certainly make the roadways look a whole lot nicer during election season.

Another thing I can't stand is when people that you get along with year round, suddenly turn on you due to a differing of political opinion. This happened to me just the other day. There is someone I'm close to that I get along with all the time. But I knew that we wouldn't see eye-to-eye on some of the issues, so I've been avoiding politics in general when I spoke with them. Well, yesterday we spoke and they kept pressing and asking about politics. I had no choice but to tell them my stance on the issues. The main issues we ended up talking about were questions 4, 6, and 7 of the Maryland state ballot. On question 4, they thought that one small aspect of the law was the whole law since literature provided by one candidate only talked about that one part of the proposition. After a while we finally got that one sorted and moved on to question 7. I talked about that one previously. They claimed that there is no proof the money would go to education and said it would be going to 'pet projects'. I mentioned that there was no proof that the money would go to education, but that there was also no proof to back up the claim that it would go to these mysterious 'pet projects' either. More money in the state budget is a good thing, and it means education should be able to keep their money (which would act like a budget increase), as well as fund other areas. The big one we got into was question 6. To anyone who read my series of posts on 'gay marriage' will have read every tired , empty and false argument that was issued in our exchange. I tried to set the record straight (when I could get a word in), and in the end the only reasons they were left offering were "because" and "it's not right". Obviously very compelling and well thought out arguments... The sad part is that I know that this person is smarter than this, yet they get caught up in the partisan politics that have become far too common. The get a list in the mail telling them how to vote, and they do. It's sad really, and I wish more did like me, and looked at all the issues and came to a conclusion that truly reflected who we are and what we think. I fear it will be a while, but I hope to see a day when people cast political loyalties aside and vote on the issues and nothing but the issues.