19 March 2008

Moving to WordPress

I know I've only been blogging here for about a month, but I've decided to move over to WordPress. I think it allows you to do a little more with everything and the templates are more professional looking. I'll be emailing the people at Planet Atheism, The Atheist Blogroll, and The OUT Campaign to switch the url over. Until that happens I'll be posting at both locations.

The Onion

Report: 32% Of Prayers Deflected Off Passing Satellites

HOUSTON—According to an official NASA report released Saturday, nearly 32 percent of all prayers exiting Earth are deflected off satellites orbiting the planet—ultimately preventing the discharged requests for divine intervention from ever making it to the Gates of Heaven. "After impact with the satellite, these diverted prayers typically plummet back into the atmosphere, where they either burn up or eventually land, unanswered, in a body of water," the report read in part. "Of the remaining prayers, research confirms 64 percent fail to make it past the stratosphere because they aren't prayed hard enough, 94 percent of those with enough momentum are swallowed by a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and 43 percent are eaten by birds." The report concluded that, of the 170 billion prayers issued last month, one made it to God, whose reply was intercepted by a hurricane and incorrectly delivered to a Nigerian man who reportedly did not know what to do with his brand-new Bowflex machine.

They Say Such Silly Things

I always love (in a sort of weird mixed up way) when I run across people claiming to have some sort of scientific evidence for the exists of God. Particularly when I was a little kid, I always jumped at an opportunity to read such proofs because, well, I was grounded by logic and evidence as a child and if I could find evidence for this God that it seemed everyone else I knew believed in, I figured I would be able to stop doubting and it would make everything much easier. Even though know, in my greater wisdom, I know before reading them that they must be absolute BS or they would likely have already turned the scientific community on it's head, there's always that little part of me left over from when I was little that gets curious. But alas, every time I read one of them I am left overwhelmingly disappointed.

The most recent one I've stumbled upon doesn't fail to disappoint in providing huge logical fallacies, completely unfounded assertions, and quotes from respected scientific works that are taken so far out of context as to make the original meaning almost unrecognizable, not to mention the fact that it annoyingly requires you to sign up to receive a series of five emails over the course of five days, which apparently will reveal what …the very best information from science tell[s] us… with regard to the question Where did it all come from? If you're really eager to waste your time reading all five emails from a man by the name of Perry Marshall, you can sign up here. Otherwise you can read my opinions on it below.

The first target, as usual, is Albert Einstein. In the first email, Marshall writes:

That's right -- time itself does not exist before [the big bang]. The very line of time begins with that creation event. Matter, energy, time and space were created in an instant by an intelligence outside of space and time.

About this intelligence, Albert Einstein wrote in his book The World As I See It that the harmony of natural law Reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.

Notice that Marshall is the one making the claims about an intelligence outside of space and time, not Einstein. He then applies Einstein's quote, out of context, to his unsubstantiated claim. Einstein's quote in full is as follows:

The scientist's religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.

Einstein, despite all the creationist attempts to claim him for their own, is well known to have been a pantheist, as the above indicates. The statement doesn't even have anything to do with any sort of creation event. Marshall severely distorts the meaning of Einstein's statement for his own purpose. I think that takes care of the first email, lets take a look at the second.

The second email is spent talking about the essentially accidental discovery by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of the cosmic microwave background radiation in 1964 that helped to prove the big bang theory. From what I understand, they got lucky and stumbled on the discovery. Our creationist quotes one of them, Wilson, for his argument:

Certainly there was something that set it all off. Certainly, if you are religious, I can't think of a better theory of the origin of the universe to match with Genesis.

Well, this is our second argument from personal opinion of a single scientist in just as many emails, and frankly, it's not impressive. For one, Wilson, to me (cosmology isn't exactly my field so I can't say I'm knowledgeable of the historyL) doesn't seem to have been extremely prominent in the field except for this discovery (which I'm not trying to downplay the importance of, he did win the 1978 nobel prize for it), and secondly, our writer promises us the very best information from science and instead we get a personal opinion: hardly scientific.

The third email consists largely of the cosmological version of the argument from design, the idea that the physical constants and rules of the universe are too fine tuned to the sort of conditions that allow for the formation of stars, planets, galaxies, and, by extension, life. I have never bought this argument for one second. The chances of a universe with the certain rules and parameters such as ours existing, as opposed to any other sort of universe, are infinitesimally small. The logical conclusion that we can draw from this is simply that we do live in such a universe, and thus such conditions must have arose, no matter how small the chances. If we take into account some of the fringe ideas of theoretical physics, positing that there may be an infinite number of universes, all existing parallel to ours, then it because incredibly likely, even necessary, that a universe such as ours should arise. We can further apply this to the arguments about the earth's position relative to the sun and other similar claims made by creationists that the position of the earth in the Goldilocks zone relative to the sun indicates that there must have been a divine being which guided such positioning. But because we do exist on this planet, and it does orbit in that particular Goldilocks zone, we can conclude that the odds were kind enough for such conditions favorable for life to arise at least once somewhere in the universe. When we begin to take the scope of the entire universe into account, it becomes virtually certain once again that intelligent life should exist. This, of course, is a very unscientific and tautological argument based largely on the anthropic principle. For the purposes of answering a scientific question it is useless, but that does not diminish its worth in demonstrating why the argument from design is flawed.

Marshall also in this same email commits a fairly atrocious bit of quote mining. He sites a paper titled Disturbing Implications of a Cosmological Constant, claiming that the two atheist scientists who authored it come to the conclusion that An unknown agent intervened in cosmic history for reasons of its own. A quick google search pulled the article up and revealed that Marshall is flat out lying. The quoted words do indeed appear in the paper at the bottom of page twenty, where the authors posit creation by a higher intelligence and then dismiss it as unhelpful in answering the question central to the paper.

The fourth email centers around the argument that DNA is built on a language of nucleotides and that a language only comes from a mind, and therefore DNA must have been created by a mind. Yes, I'm serious, that's his argument. Simply one of the worst logical fallacies I have ever heard. That's akin to saying all the houses in my city are painted yellow, and even though I've never left my city, I can conclude that all houses everywhere are painted yellow.

This fifth email is essentially a buildup for a link to a presentation some undoubtedly loony creationist gave in 1994. By this point I'm extremely tired of dealing with this subject (can you tell) so I don't think I'm going to subject myself to it. If anyone is curious and does listen to it and wants to rip all the arguments to pieces please provide a link in the comments.

Obama Speaks It Like It Is

No politician running for office, especially that of president, has ever said anything like this to the American people. I just hope it doesn't backfire.

The Atheist Apocalypse

Eh, my html skills aren't good enough to shrink this down so if it doesn't fit on the screen just click on it and you should get to a page where you can see the whole thing.

18 March 2008

Why I Hate Major News Networks

This would figure. This is on CNN's front page. Look at the link directly below the one about Obama's speech concerning race. And regardless of the irony...um...no shit, white men decide every election in this country.

Cool Design

17 March 2008

Why I'm Opposed to Hillary Clinton

As this nomination process in the Democratic Party wears on, I become more and more angry with Hillary Clinton. Despite my angry post from a few weeks back, I wasn't always so opposed to Clinton. Back when she was inevitable she seemed quite likable and civil, and while I knew she was capable of shrewd political calculation, I had no idea just to what extent. Now that she's been backed into a corner she is showing her true colors, and frankly, it's a wee bit scary. Considering that the delegate math has only gotten worse for her since I last posted on this subject, it's becoming extremely evident that the only chance she has is if the superdelegates move en masse to overturn the pledged delegate trend towards Obama. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, the system was setup to allow the superdelegates to do just that in a situation like this if they wanted to, but I would be extremely disappointed with the Democratic Party if that is how this ends.

In my opinion, frankly, Hillary Clinton is a cold, calculating, vitriolic, stubborn and spiteful bitch. I haven't always been of this opinion, and many of you may think that this is no way to pick a president, but stay with me till the end here. Many people held this opinion of her long before this race ever got started, but seeing as I was only 3 when Bill took office, I wasn't really old enough to form an opinion of her while she was first lady, and since Bill left office, she hadn't really been in the news enough for me form one until this past year. My opinions are not based on some long held hatred for the Clintons such as many Obama supporters are often accused of, but rather on the disgusting win at all costs campaign tactics that have been used just in the last few months. Many have wondered in the past weeks and months just how the Clinton Camp can possibly keep making so many mistakes. Well, that's just the point, there's no way politicians as shrewd and experienced as the Clintons could make so many mistakes. Have you ever noticed that whenever Hillary does something that makes the media uneasy she winds up pulling through in the end with a victory. Hillary can afford people like Ferraro making statements like she did because she can claim to denounce them, and then after that Ferraro is free to go off as a loose cannon, unattached to the Clinton Campaign, and continue to plant the seeds of doubt concerning Obama. It doesn't matter if Ferraro's statements may be slightly harmful to Clinton, the damage she does Barack by making them is far greater. Another, perhaps stronger example is the famous change of heart she had the weekend before Texas and Ohio. Hillary let everyone know about how it was such an honor to even be on the stage with Barack and everyone was ready to declare the bitter feuding over and figured the campaign would come to a nice, peaceful ending with a unity ticket between the two and an inevitable run to the White House.

Well, Hillary had other plans. The whole thing was a setup for the weekends attacks. She knew that by contradicting herself so strongly over the last three days before the primaries she would create a media frenzy. The television pundits said she'd lost control. They said she no longer had a consistent message, that she was burying herself in a muddle of contradictory statements. The fact is, she knew these inconsistent remarks would cause a stir, and this helped her accomplish her goal, which was making sure the voters of Texas and Ohio heard the words Shame on you Barack Obama over and over for the last three days before they went to the polls. And do you know what the best part of it was? She didn't even have to pay to put it on the air; the cable news networks did it all free of charge. I think we'll see much of the same as we move closer to the convention. We'll see Hillary say and do things that seem to be as damaging to her as they are to Barack, but in reality it's all part of a calculated plan to create as much havoc as she can. This is because the plan is twofold. I've already described the first part, which is to pick up as many votes as she can in the primaries to make the number of superdelegates she needs to come out on top as small as she can. The second part concerns the superdelegates themselves. I think we'll continue to see missteps qutie similar Ms. Ferraro's statements and Hillary's not as far as I know comment regarding Barack's religion in the aim of causing mass confusion within the Democratic Party. She wants as much doubt about Barack Obama out there as she can get, no matter how much it damages her as well, because she knows that when the superdelegates actually go to cast their votes at the convention, with so much utter chaos in the party, the name Clinton will be familiar and safe, and the name Obama will be new and untested. This is how Hillary Clinton intends to win the nomination. She's intentionally tearing the Democratic Party apart, so that she can be the nominee.

Now, my objection isn't some sort of lame pathetic cry that what she's doing is unfair or that she's trying to steal the nomination from Barack and therefore he deserves it. Frankly, this is politics, and I think it's safe to say that there are absolutely no rules, and absolutely nothing is sacred. This doesn't mean however, that we can't judge Hillary's merit by her actions in this campaign. I think Hillary's actions indicate that she is exactly the sort of person we don't want in the White House to clean up this mess. She is truly a disgusting person, and would really rather not have to call her my president. I don't really care about who has a better health care plan or who thought what when about the Iraq war; we all know that on January, 20th 2009 everything any of them has said becomes absolutely meaningless. This is why, all other things being equal (which, lets face it, with Barack and Hillary they pretty much are), you have to just vote for whoever is the better person. Barack may have his skeletons, and he may not be quite all that he seems, but he's certainly nothing like Hillary. And that's damn good enough for me.

Athests vs. Christians

Something we can all agree on.

(via Ishy)

14 March 2008

Dawkins on Alan Colmes Talk Radio

I know this will make the subject of three of my last four posts Richard Dawkins, but he really did an excellent 45 minutes on The Alan Colmes Show yesterday and I think anyone who is not familiar with how brilliant this man is should check it out. I should also add that while I've never seen Fox News's Hannity and Colmes (why would I want to), I've always heard that Colmes is just a big doormat for Sean Hannity, but hearing him argue with some of the callers and hearing how positively reverential he was towards RD, I might have to give him a little respect. (He might even be one of those secret atheists RD talks about, then again, this is America.)


Two great webcomics from Cectic and xkcd today. One dealing with creationism nonesense and the other is just funny.

12 March 2008


Here are the pictures my friend took of Professor Dawkins signing my copy of TGD:

I Met Richard Dawkins!

Ok, well, maybe it would be more accurate to say that I did my best to mumble hello and thank you very much, but in my book that counts. I should start at the beginning though.

Richard Dawkins spoke, this evening, about his book, The God Delusion, here at the University of Wisconsin as part of the Distinguished Lecturer Series. Doors were to open at 7:00, and I got in line at about 6:25 and was probably about the 100th person in line. We (me and my friend Vora, who is probably as big of a Richard Dawkins fan as I am) got in and Vora arbitrarily picked the left aisle. It turned out to be a very good decision because we wound up with the closest seats you could possibly have that weren't reserved for volunteers. This was incredibly fortunate as the theater he was speaking in, the Wisconsin Union Theater, houses ~1300, and some poor souls had to sit way up in the balcony. He spoke for about an hour and fifteen minutes about a number of topics from The God Delusion. The majority of his speech related to Chapters 3, 4, and 9 titled Arguments For God's Existence, Why There Almost Certainly is No God, and Childhood, Abuse and the Escape From Religion, respectively, and I'm not going to spend a great deal of time recapping it. I can't write nearly as well as Professor Dawkins so I'm not going to try. What I will say is that you really have to read the book yourself. It truly is a very convincing (and I believe accurate) argument against the existence of God, the usefulness of religion, and the idea that religious belief deserves unconditional respect. Reading the book however doesn't really do him justice though. There's something unique about listening to Richard Dawkins talk. He's not the most prolific speaker by any means, and he is obviously reading essentially from a script, but as my friend Vora put it (and I paraphrase), he has a certain way of talking to or about someone with a tone of voice that politely says you're an idiot, while remaining civil. In all seriousness, anyone who has ever seen any clips of Professor Dawkins speaking will know what I mean when I say he really is unique. It was truly one of the coolest speeches I've ever heard.

The lecture was followed by an open book signing upstairs in the Inn Wisconsin Room. We high-tailed it out of the Theater as soon as the Q&A session was over and got in line for the book signing. It only took about ten minutes for us to get to the front of the line (five of them taken up by some guy who went on this big rant to him about god knows what). Vora made sure I got a picture of him signing her books (I'll post them as soon as she gets them to me and I figure out how to do it). I had thought a bit about what I was going to say to him when I finally got to the front of the line. What I had been afraid I would just sort of blurt out was something along the lines of you're my hero. I had made up my mind that I was going to say I just want to let you know that this book is what pushed me to ‘come out of the closet’ about my atheism and really declare with confidence and pride that I, Jeremy Berg, am an atheist. When I was actually standing there in front of him the only words I could get out of my mouth were hello when I handed him my book and thank you very much when he gave it back.

Nonetheless, Professor Dawkins is by far the most famous person I have ever met, and I have to say it was really surreal to meet one of my heroes in real life. I just want to tack on the end here the paragraph regarding fear of death from his book Unweaving the Rainbow that he ended the evening with:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

Update: I went in to the University Bookstore after class today to see if they had any copies of The Selfish Gene left over from the signing. The guy said they did, walked me back to a box of various different Dawkins books left over from the signing that they had not put on the shelf yet, and asked me if I wanted a signed copy. Needless to say I took it. So I now have a signed copy of TGD and The Selfish Gene and am currently resisting the urge to go back and buy a signed copy of every other book they have.

11 March 2008

British Humor is Great

Even an Obamaphile like me can find this amusing.

10 March 2008

One Day Left

Richard Dawkins is speaking here tomorrow and I am very excited! I have my ticket laying right in front of me and it appears as if I may have an opportunity to meet him, have him sign my copy of The God Delusion, and get a picture with him. I will post the pictures if I can get them.

Pat's Latest

Pat has a new video up and is angrier than ever. You tell 'em Pat!

08 March 2008

The Atheist's Creed

PZ Meyers posted this at Pharyngula to explain to those with gods who mistakenly believe the atheist's life is empty just exactly what we believe in. I find it very accurate.

An atheist's creed

I believe in time,
matter, and energy,
which make up the whole of the world.

I believe in reason, evidence and the human mind,
the only tools we have;
they are the product of natural forces
in a majestic but impersonal universe,
grander and richer than we can imagine,
a source of endless opportunities for discovery.

I believe in the power of doubt;
I do not seek out reassurances,
but embrace the question,
and strive to challenge my own beliefs.

I accept human mortality.

We have but one life,
brief and full of struggle,
leavened with love and community,
learning and exploration,
beauty and the creation of
new life, new art, and new ideas.

I rejoice in this life that I have,
and in the grandeur of a world that preceded me,
and an earth that will abide without me.

07 March 2008

Why, oh Why, Hillary?

08This from the Chicago Tribune:

"I think that since we now know Sen. (John) McCain will be the nominee for the Republican Party, national security will be front and center in this election. We all know that. And I think it’s imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander-in-chief threshold,” the New York senator told reporters crowded into an infant’s bedroom-sized hotel conference room in Washington.

“I believe that I’ve done that. Certainly, Sen. McCain has done that and you’ll have to ask Sen. Obama with respect to his candidacy,” she said.

Calling McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee a good friend and a “distinguished man with a great history of service to our country,” Clinton said, “Both of us will be on that stage having crossed that threshold. That is a critical criterion for the next Democratic nominee to deal with."


Ok, let me just cool down for a second here before I comment…

breath in…breath out…breath in…

WHAT THE FUCK HILLARY!! What in the world do you hope to gain from this? You've played the experience card against Barack Obama since the beginning of this campaign and where are you now? You're campaign is in shambles and you're only a viable candidate because the democratic party and the media wouldn't dare proclaim a Clinton campaign over until a Clinton says it's over. Think I'm biased or putting a spin on the truth? Jonathan Alter at Newsweek backs me up with the facts.

Regardless of the effectiveness of the tactic (minimal), I simply fail to see what the good can come of this at all. Does Hillary Clinton really think that claiming that John McCain, the only candidate on the Republican side who ever had a chance to cut into Obama's appeal to independents, is more qualified to protect america than Barack Obama can be anything but damaging to Democratic chances in November. Can she really be misleading herself so much as to think that if she somehow received the nomination it would be anything but a pyrrhic victory. The numbers in the Jonathan Alter article indicate that the only way for Hillary (or Barack for that matter) to win is with superdelegate help. Citing the Alter numbers again, even assuming Hillary absolutely cleans house for the rest of the campaign (which she won't) she would still trail Obama in pledged delegates. Clinton currently holds a small lead in superdelegates who have pledged allegiance, but about 33% (according to the Wikipedia article on the subject) still remain uncommitted. Does Hillary really believe these uncommitted party elders are sitting around waiting for the convention to come so they can all declare for her and overturn the will of the people? (cause that's what it would take) They will almost all go the way the wind blows, for fear of angering constituents and destroying the passion that has been so lacking on the democratic side for so long. Whatever she believes, it's simply not going to happen. Senator Obama will receive the nomination of the Democratic Party. Then only question now is when will Hillary step out? Her continued use of the sorts of campaign tactics of late can likely only bring about two possible outcomes. The first is that her reputation will be badly damaged as history will not look back on these events favorably. History will show a woman driven solely to win who was incapable of setting down the sword at the right moment and frankly incapable of recognizing the truth when it was staring her straight in the face (not a good characteristic for a president as we've learned in the last seven years). Or, her attacks will either convince independents that McCain is tougher on national security than Obama of their own accord, or the line even Hillary Clinton said so will become a staple of the McCain campaign come October. (I bet both)And while Senator Obama thus far seems to have been able to shake off everything his opponents have thrown at him and even frequently turn the attacks into a plus, I somehow think we don't need to test that strength against a bipartisan attack.

I think the best I can hope for is that Obama crushes Hillary quickly in the coming states and we can move on to the campaign for the general election presently. The longer Hillary stays in the race the more damage she risks causing to her party's chances of winning the White House. The chances of her becoming president on January 20th 2009 are simply too small to justify these sorts of attacks. Hillary needs to get out of this race. Now.

05 March 2008

Planet Atheism

I've now been added to Planet Atheism as well. Planet Atheism is a really cool site that aggregates blogs concerning atheism, secular humanism and the like. Instead of scouring the internet for good blogs to read, you can get them all in one place, with tons of posts by many different blog authors all together on one page.

The Fact That I'm Pro Choice Does Not Mean I'm in Favor of Killing Babies

First off, a hat tip to my friend Alex, with whom I had the discussion that spurred the idea for this post.

Of all of the Democratic talking points, the position on abortion is the one I've always had the most trouble with. Don't get me wrong, I am pro choice, but I think we on the liberal end of the spectrum tend to attempt to paint ourselves as the complete opposite of whatever the right wing religious crazies want regardless of what is right. I think when it comes to abortion we should stress much more strongly than we in fact (or at least I) are not in favor of killing fetuses as a form of birth control. I think almost everyone agrees that procedures such as partial birth abortion are absolutely reprehensible and that there needs to be some sort definitive line drawn at some point in a pregnancy as to when an abortion should be allowable and when it should not be. I believe that it should be prohibited once the fetus has reached the level of mental complexity such that it is capable of suffering. We may not at the present time be able to identify that moment with confidence, so my suggestion is that we use the existing body of peer reviewed scientific research on the matter to find the best conservative estimate of when this takes place, and then draw the line an arbitrary amount, two weeks to a month, before that point to be certain we don't overshoot into what can be considered immoral. This line could then be updated to remain constant with the contemporary body of scientific knowledge.

I think from there we should attempt to encourage women to think very carefully about their decisions as I believe for some having an abortion probably does carry long lasting emotional effects. We are emotional creatures (particularly women…ok just kidding…well, not really) and even when reason may tell us otherwise there is an inclination to act with the maternal instinct to care for a child, even if at the point of abortion it exists as nothing more than a large mass of cells. Intentionally acting against this instinct may bare with it long term emotional effects for some women, and while I don't think it is the government's or society's job to protect them from themselves I think it is necessary that the fact that some women do undergo these feelings of guilt be made known to any woman considering having an abortion.

I think this fairly well summarizes my position on abortion, and I think if society continues on the path towards the emergence of reason and rational thought in public policy this will eventually become the law. With my beliefs I feel it is accurate to say that I am both pro life and pro choice. I am pro life because I believe that an abortion should be used as a last resort only. It should not be used simply for birth control or for sex selection, but only for cases where the mother cannot provide for the child and carrying it to term and putting it up for adoption would be for some reason not possible, or in cases of rape or incest. I am pro choice in that so long as it falls within the realm of what is morally acceptable, the final decision lies with the woman. It is her body and it is her choice.