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.

Richard Dawkins is Coming Here!!

Richard Dawkins is going to be coming here to speak in Madison at the Union Theater next Tuesday!! I've already got my ticket and I'm so looking forward to it. *gloats*

A friend I'm going has a former math tutor that is an old friend of Richard Dawkins's so there's a very good chance I may get to meet him and hopefully have him sign my copy of The God Delusion. He's also speaking at a smaller dinner from what I understand with only residents of the Chadbourne Residential College here on campus. Fortunately for me I've got a friend who lives there who might be able to get me in.

Updates will be forthcoming

03 March 2008

My Favorite

George Carlin gets it right as usual:

Update: Here is another section of the same special which is also quite relevant. Although I haven't seen it all yet I recommend watching the whole thing, which starts here with part one (I certainly plan to when I find the time) because George is the best. Please don't ever retire George!

02 March 2008

Bill Clinton Endorses Obama

Bill Clinton: October 25, 2004

(just kidding)

29 February 2008

Baby Bible Bashers

Caught this posted on a few of my regular haunts. What is incredible to me is the obvious intelligence of these children, particularly the first. He is so incredibly articulate for a seven year old and was also evidently brainwashed from a very young age (considering he gave his first sermon at the age of three) that he'll never use it for anything other than spreading dangerous myths and legends as truth.

The brainwashing thing what is so depressing to me. Many of the extreme right wing evangelical Christians with whom I disagree so strongly were taught what they now believe when lacked the intellectual capacity to defend themselves from it by parents who endured the same.

Living in a Dream

Great comic at Cectic today.

28 February 2008


Does anyone else ever just sit and stare at their fist and clench…unclench…clench…unclench?

I'm just thinking about everything that is involved in such a simple action: the oxygen required and the immense delivery system that gets it there, the bone structure, the muscles that move the bones, the neurons that tell the muscles how to move, and the complex workings of the brain that tell send the message down the neurons. To think that such a complex system evolved by natural selection over the course of millions of year…absolutely incredible.

Goods Sign for the Godless

Well, everyone has been taking a look at the latest Pew Report on American Religion which came out a few days back and which I've been too busy to comment on until now. PZ Meyers at Pharyngula offers a pretty good analysis of it here and I recommend you take a look if you get a chance.

I think the most encouraging thing is the fact that the protestant population is shrinking. This seems to be a common misconception among people I talk to. Most seem to think because of the recent (and fortunately failed…at least thus far) attempted takeover of American government by the religious right that evangelical protestant religions are growing out of control and going to take over America. What evidently is actually occurring is that the extremely religious that do exist are just getting louder. I would even contend that this is happening specifically because of the shrinking numbers of the protestant population. What we are seeing is a movement that is lashing out and using the typical scare tactics to stop the flow of people out of the pews. We saw this in the 17th and 18th centuries in response to the Enlightenment with the advent of the Great Awakenings.

I think this time though it's different. I think we are far better armed with scientific evidence and we can easily make the debate about that evidence. In the 1800s it was hard to counter any sort of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" nonsense. (The full text of which can be found here) That sort of thing pretty much scared the shit out of everyone and sent them into a frenzy. I think now we have made enough scientific advancement that we can refute empirically most all of religion's other claims to the degree that even the burn in hell stuff doesn't as many people as it used to, even if we can't empirically refute the idea that you're going to spend the rest of eternity in hell for not believing. Then again, the burden of proof doesn't lie with us, it lies with the one who makes the claim.

Anyways, this trend is extremely encouraging and I think it will likely continue into the future. The far right will scream and holler itself into oblivion in the face of rising evidence against its claims. Then again, maybe I'm being extremely and uncharacteristically optimistic.

Think a Moment Before You Turn on Your iPod

The professor for my Intro to the Modern Middle East class today asked us the question:

To what extent do countries, governments, or national & multinational corporations have the right to the resources of other sovereign nations?

and asked for us to discuss it.

The discussion was quite revealing of the huge conundrums you run into when you look at the practical application of the answer to that question. The answer of course, is no. A sovereign nation alone has rights to its own resources. This, unfortunately, is not the way it is. We here in the United States certainly have our own ideas on this matter. It reminds me of a bumper sticker a friend of my father has on his car which reads What is our oil doing under your sand?

I contemplated the subject a little longer on my walk home and the following little thought experiment sort of conjured itself up in my mind. I was listening to my iPod, and I started thinking about how much oil it took for that music to reach my ear through that iPod. It takes oil to manufacture the electronics. It takes oil to ship the electronics from the factory. It takes oil to ship the iPod to the store. When I turn it on, it takes electricity to make the music play in my ear. This electricity comes from a wall outlet, where I plug it in to to charge it up. The electricity from this outlet comes from a power plant, which most likely uses oil or coal, in which case the coal requires the use of oil to transport it to the station.

I go through this tedious list simply to point out how just how much oil it takes to listen to 15 minutes of music on my way home from class. Now, undoubtedly, we can assume that at least some sizable portion of that oil came from conflicted regions in the middle east. Essentially, someone died because of that oil. Hypothetically, if it were possible to know the figures, we could figure out how many gallons of oil it took for me to be able to listen to those 15 minutes of music. We could also figure out how many lives were lost over those particular gallons of oil and compute specifically the number of deaths I am complicit in simply for turning my iPod on for 15 minutes. Now think about all the things in your life every day that require oil. The numbers explode when you take everything in the whole day into account. Now think about a week, a month...a whole year? It quickly becomes rather horrifying. The number of murders I am associated with is simply boggling.

But next time I want to listen to my iPod, I'll likely take it out of my pocket, pause only a moment while thinking about some distant soul who lost there life senselessly so I could listen to John Paul George and Ringo, put the earbuds in and head on home to write a blog post about the senseless killing in the middle east.

25 February 2008

Out Campaign

Anyone who isn't aware of it should check out the OUT Campaign. It's an initiative run by Richard Dawkins to let closet atheists out there know that they are not alone and there are others like them all around. The truth is that there are far more atheists in this world than there are those who admit to it. Most are simply too scared of the backlash they will receive from their family and friends. I think it is essential that it be made known to the world (particularly America) that atheism is not some sort of obscure group of misanthropic nihilists but rather a vast shift towards the realization of reality as it actually exists and not as we have been brainwashed to believe it is. I display the scarlet A on the sidebar (for which I have been added to the OUT Campaign blogroll) and I wear my Out Campaign t-shirt proudly to let closet atheists out there know that we are here, we are good, moral people, just like you, and we hope that one day reason and rationality will be the guiding principle behind human society.

24 February 2008

About 'Where We Make Our Stand'

I feel it necessary to do an actual full explanation of this blog because my first post didn't do a very good job.


The name comes from a line out of a very long quote from Carl Sagan concerning this photo, the pale blue dot. The quote can also be read at the above link or watched right below:

This photo really says a lot to me, and I think Carl echoes my thoughts exactly right at the end there:

"...it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."


The fact that we as a species have survived ourselves this long is somewhat shocking in itself. Most likely we've lasted thus far because for the majority of our existence we simply haven't had the capacity to utterly and completely destroy ourselves such as we have now. We only get one shot at this, there is no reset button, no mulligans. Today's fast paced high powered world is already accelerating far beyond the bounds of what we are at the evolutionary level to handle. I don't claim to be an expert on the subject, (hopefully one day I can though) but I think it would be safe to assume that we have not as a species undergone any very significant evolutionary change in the last two millennia. Think about where we what society was like when Jesus was "curing lepers" and "walking on water," and then think about what society is like now. We live in a world where the line between man and machine is being blurred incredible advances in nanotechnology and between man and animal by genetic engineering. Our mathematical understand of universe is already far beyond what our brains have evolved to understand. I am not saying this is not a good thing, not at all, but just that we are far past the point where our species can survive by adhering to bronze age superstitions and attempts at philosophy in order to understand the world around us. We must as a global society overcome our evolutionary limitations and work for the betterment of the human condition. That is why this blog will focus primarily on the advocation of reason and rational thought to solve the problems that confront us today. If we don't, and we continue to squabble over our petty differences and attempt to confront our problems with our age old superstitions, we simply will not make it.

This will not be the only function of this blog though, as that would get a little boring, both for me and for you. I'll also focus a great deal on politics, particularly because politics and religion's trespasses against liberal society seem to have become intertwined lately, and on any other random things I find interesting.


My name is Jeremy Jackson Berg. I am a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison pursuing a double major most likely in biology and religious studies. I am a chronic overachiever who has way more goals than are possible to accomplish in one lifetime and also a procrastinator (most likely when I write blog posts, it's because I'm procrastinating), so, as you can imagine, that works out really well. I am very into competitive running, and run cross country and track with the Wisconsin Track Club, because I haven't realized the glory days of high school running are over and was too stubborn to go to a school where I had a legit chance of making the team. I grew up in po-dunk little Marshfield, WI, where there just plain isn't much to do. To be fair, it's a great place to raise a family, but a terrible place to be seventeen years old.

I plan on living out the rest of my life on a college campus (or various ones) somewhere, as there really is no better place to be, learning for probably the next 8 years and eventually teaching at some point. I typically have strong criticisms of the way we do things here in American and a sort of delusion that I may some day just skip the country and head to a more civilized Europe. (It's a good thing I don't plan to run for political office as that would've just about killed any chances there, someone'll dig that up if I ever try.) That'll probably never happen though because there's just something about the familiarity of this mixed up country that would be hard to leave behind.

I think that's enough about me. This post will undoubtedly change in the future as I update it to reflect present conditions.

23 February 2008

I'm on the Atheist Blogroll

I've just been added to MoJoey's Atheist Blogroll. I've added it in scrolling marquee form on the sidebar and posts regarding religion and atheism will be forthcoming.

Late Night Browsings

I should be getting sleep because of my track meet tomorrow, but instead I'm watching this:

I Feel Like a Real Blogger Now

I've now have a total of one comment on one of my posts. I feel a hundred times more legit, thanks to "Anonymous". Although by reading it, I have a pretty good guess of who it is.

A Few Links to Some Interesting Stuff

Barack's story checks out: further failings of the pentagon to support our troops

Plagiarism? Puh-leeez

And Barack doesn't have legislative accomplishments?
Demonstrating that Hillary's purported advantage in "legislative accomplishments" is just that...purported

So, what your telling me is that one in 500 American citizens has terrorist connections?

And of course, the latest rantings of one of my favorite atheists

19 February 2008

Yes, Using Steroids to Recover From Injury is Still Cheating

I saw an part of an interview with Andy Pettitte tonight and I very strongly disagreed with something he said. It's well known that he used HGH only to recover from an injury, and not to "gain a competitive advantage." But isn't using steroids (and I use the term steroid to refer broadly to all substances not acceptable in competitive sports) to recover from an injury in essence gaining a competitive advantage? Some of us are bigger, faster, and stronger than the rest of us, and if I use steroids to become bigger, faster, or stronger by using steroids, that's cheating. Essentially, we each have a certain amount of talent, and using any method to alter or increase the amount of talent you have, is out of bounds. The very spirit of the competition relies on this difference of talent. If every player on the basketball court can play like Michael Jordan, the game becomes pointless. Now, lets look at the injury situation. As far as I'm concerned, injury is part of the game. No athlete is immune from it. If you twist your knee a certain way, you are going to tear your ACL, no buts about it. The rules don't suddenly go out the window when you get an injury. You aren't suddenly allowed to use whatever means you wish to recover from the injury as fast as you can. Some athletes will recover faster than others, and that is part of the game too. Sports are about pitting the fitness of your body and the sharpness of your mind against that of your opponents on the other team. Fitness of the body incorporates the intrinsic talent one possesses that I mentioned earlier. Some are more capable of recovering from injury at a faster pace than others, and that's the way it is. Andy Pettitte, using HGH to recover from an injury is gaining an unfair competitive advantage, and you are a cheater.

17 February 2008

My Letter to President Bush

Another thing I decided to do last night was write an email to President Bush. Hope no secret service show up at my door...

President Bush,
It seems to me as of late you have forgotten the role in the government afforded you by the constitution. I am speaking of course of the FISA legislation which the House has thankfully finally decided to stand up to you on. You seem to think that congress has failed to pass your law. But anyone who has read the constitution knows that the president does not determine or make the laws. Congress passes the laws, and you enforce them, not the other way around. If congress passes a law you disagree with, you are bound by the constitution, the highest law in the land, to enforce it. And if they do not pass a law that you want passed, you must respect that. I haven't even touched your blatant lying about the situation yet. How about we go there, shall we? You have claimed that failure to pass this law will inhibit the ability of the government to protect American citizens from the threat of terrorist attacks. Yet you refuse to sign it unless it includes retroactive immunity for the major telecom companies. If it was really the case that failure to pass this law would result in decreased safety to American citizens, you would have to sign it. You would not have a choice Mr President, because the alternative is unthinkable. The alternative is that because of our decreased ability to track terrorists, some major attack might occur on American soil. You, Mr President, would be responsible for that. History would look back on you and say "he could have made the compromise, he could have given up his demands, in order to do what was right and protect American lives, and he failed." And frankly Mr Bush, that is something that not even you could bring yourself to do. You have attempted (and failed) to build your entire presidency around your strong record against terrorism, and the one thing you absolutely would not allow is for it to become blatantly and irrefutably obvious that you failed miserably in the respect. Therefore Mr President, we are left with the undeniable fact that you are flat out lying to us, the very people you were elected to serve. Your conduct is inexcusable and unfortunately the political landscape in Washington is too rocky to allow a real chance of your impeachment, because that is what you deserve.

Jeremy Berg
Young American Citizen who's future you have spent away in Iraq

16 February 2008

I Love Madison

ok, i gotta break my vow cause the most hilarious thing just happened in the hallway, it went a little like this:

Random drunk chick in my hallway at 12:30 on Friday night/Saturday morning: Hey man...
Me: hey, what's up?
Drunk chick: 'dyou know Ben?
Me: Ben Shapiro? (who's room we are currently standing right outside of)
Drunk chick (who obviously either didn't know, or had forgotten Ben's last name): Ben. He's from Wisconsin
Me: Yeah, that's his room right there.
Drunk chick: 'dyou know where he is? 
Me: no, I don't
Drunk chick: you mean, like, you legitimately haven't seen him all night *looks for a moment as if about to puke*
Me: nope, sorry, don't know where he is
Drunk chick: (stumbles down the hallway hiccupping)

Hypocrisy at its Finest

Ok, last post for the night. (I'm telling ya, home on a Friday night is incredibly boring)

Bill Clinton came to town on Thursday (actually, just about everyone associated with the presidential campaign has been in town during the last week, save Hillary herself, who will be here Sunday) and said one thing during the hour that he talked that I really really agreed with (not to say there weren't others).  He was talking about nuclear weapons, and the ridiculous hypocritical positions that our government currently takes.  Few people ever question the authority of the United States to tell other countries whether they can or cannot have nuclear weapons, but the fact is that we have approximately 10,000 nuclear weapons ourselves.  In case your eyes didn't do a double take like mine did the first time I saw that number I'll type it again.  10,000 nuclear weapons!  According to Bill's speach yesterday (and I haven't researched this myself, so I can't claim to know that its true with certainty), the United States is currently attempting to develop two new varieties of nuclear weapons (my guess is something tactical, but I could be completely wrong).  To quote Bill "There's probably a better salesman than me in here, but I think that's a pretty tough sell.  We don't want you to have one of what we want two new of."  Aside from the wordiness and the fact that Bill was undoubtedly the best salesman in the room, that statement is completely true.  The idea that we in the United States somehow have the right to tell other countries whether or not they have the right to have nuclear weapons or not is preposterous.  And until we show some resolve to get rid of our own nuclear arsenal, which poses nothing but a threat to global security, we have no legitimate right to tell other countries what they can and cannot do with regard to nuclear weapons.

Concerning Candidates

Alright, my first actual post.

The current presidential race is obviously occupying a large chunk of America's time right now. In fact, that may be the understatement of the decade. And why shouldn't it, after the last 7 years we've had I think this country is desperate for something new, something different. This isn't going where you think. This isn't going to be a "Barack Obama is the only one who offers that change" type of rant. I think even John McCain would be a welcome change from what we've been stuck with lately. The thing is, with all the publicity this race has gotten, it's hard to know what's the truth about any of the candidates anymore. I can't resist being attracted to Obama. Listening to him speak stirs in just about anyone a feeling that we really can change the world. My question is whether he really plans to or not. I read a great article I found on onegoodmove that I really agree with. Obama has the sort of speaking talent that could convince half the country that giving naziism another go would probably be a good idea (seriously). So then why doesn't he use that talent to really take a hard progressive line on a lot of issues and really get something done. Then again, with the type of excitement he has created among liberals in this country, I think we all better get in line and see where this takes us. He has created the kind of following, and the kind of expectations of drastic change, that I think people will hold him accountable if he doesn't deliver. And that is exactly what we need to bring back to the oval office, accountability.

Clinton, on the other hand, just does not generate the same feeling. I feel that if she were elected President much of the grass roots excitement that Obama has generated would be absent from the movement and when things don't start looking up (as they might not, the next president has perhaps the tallest order in the history of this country save maybe FDR and Lincoln) the same mix of anger and apathy we have seen the last 7 years would return. Don't get me wrong, I think Clinton would make a great President, but I think that in this case the excitement that Obama has generated really is of consequence and ought to be considered.

*sigh* I wish Edwards had managed to move to the front...

15 February 2008


Hello all,
This is (quite apparently) my first post here. It's friday night, I'm sitting in my dorm room, and I've got a terrible cold. What use is attending the #1 party school in the nation if you're too sick to go out. Ah well, I guess there's always next weekend. Aside from the random angry outbursts such as the preceding, this will primarily be a place for me to talk about whatever more serious matter is on my mind for the day, whether it be politics, science, or its ever-present foe, religion.

Concerning the title, I initially wanted to name it "Pale Blue Dot", after the famous Voyager 1 photo, but more specifically the speech delivered by Carl Sagan (my hero) concerning the photo and its significance. Unfortunately, that name was already taken, as was the second choice that occurred to me, "Suspended in a Sunbeam", also from that speech (which can be heard here). So I settled on another snippet of that speech, which I find incredibly relevant to my feelings towards the overall situation the human race currently faces.

This is the only home we have, and whether it's the threat of global warming, or thermonuclear holocaust, we only have one chance. We don't get a do over when we make a colossal mistake and wipe out all the progress we've made. We need to stop killing one another in droves over who's imaginary friend is bigger than the other's (I'm talking about God(s) in case you missed that) and we need to start working together to preserve this little gem of a world from who's tidal pools we're lucky enough to have arisen. Things don't look too bright in that respect.

I think I'll end on that depressing note for now.