toxic thought waste site

Theological whimsy, metaphysical larks, and other spiritually radioactive waste products.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Adventures in Enlightenment: Hunger (final thoughts)

So this month's experiment has come to an end. And this was a good one. In fact I think it would be hard for me to stop doing this now. I think any time you add a little discipline to your life and go off autopilot in some small way, you are better for it.

Am I more enlightened? Hell ya. Isn't it obvious? But I didn't lose any weight. This doesn't surprise me much since I think I'm already at the natural level that I can get down to without serious effort and deprivation. (Something that I will probably experiment with in a future installment of Adventures in Enlightenment).

So what does the average religious person expect they will find in hunger? I imagine it's an identification with those who are hungry involuntarily and perhaps a metaphysical experience of the spiritual hunger.

For me the most interesting thing was observing that hunger is something that is not very scary or powerful. It just comes. Sniffs around and then goes away for a while. That surprised me since I think I had somehow acquired a *very* low grade fear of hunger. As if being hungry meant my blood sugar levels had gone down too far and I wouldn't be able to think straight if I was too hungry for too long. (I had a firend who was hypoglycemic and used to get really moody and generally unpleasant if he skipped a meal so I may have been worried about becoming that persona). Furthermore I found that it cleared out my mind. Knowing that I just wasn't going to eat anything between breakfast and lunch just freed my mind from worrying about it and not focusing on what snacks I could be eating and worrying if I'm eating too many snacks. Etc. Instead I just had one less thing to distract me, and strangely I didn't find hunger distracting at all. Surprisingly so.

OK, new experiment starts tomorrow and it's related to the one just finishing up. I'm that much closer to enlightenment now.



Thursday, June 28, 2007

The decrease in violence and the rise in secularism

A comment from a couple of entries ago got me wondering how well established the two statements in the title are. Is there strong evidence for a long term decrease in violence in the world? Is there evidence that despite noise to the contrary, the world is becoming relentlessly secular.

My original exposure to the decreasing violence claim comes from Steven Pinker. Now, I'm an admitted Pinker fanboy so I may not being skeptical enough, but I'm curious if anyone knows of any actual evidence against this thesis? This is actually something I've discussed with my dad for over 20 years and we had basically come to the same conclusion, but not in any scholarly way.

I've recently seen a number of articles on the somewhat surprising increase in secularism. I've also linked to other articles recently in the same vein.

So I'm curious, am I just a sucker for everything that comes my way on the internet or, contra the above, is there any reason to believe that the world is getting more violent and less secular?

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On the virtue of never doing what you are told.

So apparently I've been tagged. But the problem is I'm morally, physically, spiritually and hermeneutically opposed to chain letters of any kind. And I'm lazy. But more importantly in the spirit of this blog I will experiment with metaphysically passing on the tag. So here is me not really following the rules:

1. All right, here are the rules.
2. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
3. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
4. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
5. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

8 facts:

- I used to be fluent in Chichewa
- I've literally travelled around the world (all the way back to my home in one direction)
- My wife has a PhD in microbiology
- I only sleep 5 and a half hours a night (but would gladly sleep more if there weren't so many interesting things to read and do)
- I was in mensa for one year just so I could say I was in mensa.
- I have trouble keeping my tropical fish alive, but I keep trying.
- I love the snow but I don't particularly care for skiing.

I hereby tag: ?

(here is the metaphysical part: I have sent the tagging (via spiritual channels) to 8 special individuals dispersed through time and space. Some of these people do not yet exist. Some of these people are already dead. Some don't even know they should be blogging. But each will realize in the fruition of time that they have been tagged and will respond here by a means appropriate to their spiritual and technological evolution. Godspeed!)


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"But we Christians believe that humans are basically sinful..."

I really need to stop listening to so much Christian radio news. But it's addicting I tell ya! Today they were interviewing (starts at 1:20) a guy who wrote about about the indisputable fact that violence has been on a massive decrease for the last millennium (e.g. 99% drop in the last 100 years for instance). It's pretty subtle (but priceless) to hear the confusion in the voice of the interviewer as he tried to reconcile this fact with the notion that man is inherently sinful.

I'm sure it has nothing to do with the relentless march of secularism. Probably a trick of Satan!

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Infidel Links - 2007-06-24

Beautiful commercial for a monument to stupidity

God-Man: The Hero with omnipotent powers!

God Hates the World - The Musical (last 30 seconds are especially creepy/heart breaking)

Christian Condoms

Sam vs. dude making up his own definition of religion and god

Finally a simple, easy to follow chart for understanding your sins in detail

Jesus loves dinosaurs

Bush vs. Jesus

Well, that's just an eensy bit redundant

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Friday, June 22, 2007

So who is this Bart Ehrman character any way?

If you happened to listen to the radio link I pointed to recently on "Misquoting Truth" and you want to know more about Bart Ehrman's view of things, you could do a lot worse than this debate as an introduction.

I have to admit I'm a sucker for a good apologist vs. skeptic debate. It never ceases to amaze me the artistry of the apologist for making insane ideas sound almost plausible.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Misquoting Truth (yes you are actually)

I love books that inadventantly describe themselves ironically. On Prime Time America today (at 1h:31m) (Christian news show) they respond to Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus". It turns out that we *do* know that the bible is the perfect word of god. Well, I'm glad that's been resolved....



Does the new mega-church being built down the road have you worried?

Don't sweat it. Just the last throes of the beast as she goes down...


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Behe and Astrology

One of the common criticisms of Behe is that he claimed that Astrology fits his definition of science. And of course he claims he was taken out of context. And you know what I agree with him. In fact I have to wonder how many people have read the transcripts to see what he actually said. This seems like one of the cases where a marketing opportunity ("Behe says that astrology is science!") has gotten out of hand and just gives him a justified opportunity to claim that he's being taken out of context. I have no sympathy for the man, but let's not hand them ammunition. Am I missing something? Here's the relevant part as far as I can tell:

Q And using your definition, intelligent design is a scientific theory, correct?

A Yes.

Q Under that same definition astrology is a scientific theory under your definition, correct?

A Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences. There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that -- which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is in fact one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other -- many other theories as well.

Q The ether theory of light has been discarded, correct?

A That is correct.

Q But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?

A Yes, that's correct. And let me explain under my definition of the word "theory," it is -- a sense of the word "theory" does not include the theory being true, it means a proposition based on physical evidence to explain some facts by logical inferences. There have been many theories throughout the history of science which looked good at the time which further progress has shown to be incorrect. Nonetheless, we can't go back and say that because they were incorrect they were not theories. So many many things that we now realized to be incorrect, incorrect theories, are nonetheless theories.

Q Has there ever been a time when astrology has been accepted as a correct or valid scientific theory, Professor Behe?

A Well, I am not a historian of science. And certainly nobody -- well, not nobody, but certainly the educated community has not accepted astrology as a science for a long long time. But if you go back, you know, Middle Ages and before that, when people were struggling to describe the natural world, some people might indeed think that it is not a priori -- a priori ruled out that what we -- that motions in the earth could affect things on the earth, or motions in the sky could affect things on the earth.

Q And just to be clear, why don't we pull up the definition of astrology from Merriam-Webster.

MR. ROTHSCHILD: If you would highlight that.


Q And archaically it was astronomy; right, that's what it says there?

A Yes.

Q And now the term is used, "The divination of the supposed influences of the stars and planets on human affairs and terrestrial events by their positions and aspects."

That's the scientific theory of astrology?

A That's what it says right there, but let me direct your attention to the archaic definition, because the archaic definition is the one which was in effect when astrology was actually thought to perhaps describe real events, at least by the educated community.

Astrology -- I think astronomy began in, and things like astrology, and the history of science is replete with ideas that we now think to be wrong headed, nonetheless giving way to better ways or more accurate ways of describing the world.

And simply because an idea is old, and simply because in our time we see it to be foolish, does not mean when it was being discussed as a live possibility, that it was not actually a real scientific theory.

Q I didn't take your deposition in the 1500s, correct?

A I'm sorry?

Q I did not take your deposition in the 1500s, correct?

A It seems like that.

Q Okay. It seems like that since we started yesterday. But could you turn to page 132 of your deposition?

A Yes.

Q And if you could turn to the bottom of the page 132, to line 23.

A I'm sorry, could you repeat that?

Q Page 132, line 23.

A Yes.

Q And I asked you, "Is astrology a theory under that definition?" And you answered, "Is astrology? It could be, yes." Right?

A That's correct.

Q Not, it used to be, right?

A Well, that's what I was thinking. I was thinking of astrology when it was first proposed. I'm not thinking of tarot cards and little mind readers and so on that you might see along the highway. I was thinking of it in its historical sense.

Q I couldn't be a mind reader either.

A I'm sorry?

Q I couldn't be a mind reader either, correct?

A Yes, yes, but I'm sure it would be useful.

Q It would make this exchange go much more quickly.

THE COURT: You d have to include me, though.


Q Now, you gave examples of some theories that were discarded?

A Yes.

Q One was the ether theory?

A Yes.

Q And the other was the theory of geocentrism, right?

A That's correct.

Q And what you said yesterday was that there was some pretty compelling evidence for observers of that time that that was good theory, right?

A Yes, sure.

Q Look up in the sky, and it looked like the sun was going around us, correct?

A That's right.

Q And we know now that those appearances were deceiving, right?

A That's correct.

Q So what we thought we knew from just looking at the sky, that's not in fact what was happening, right?

A That's right.

Q So the theory was discarded?

A That's correct.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

You want me to build a what?

I always find it humorous that Noah's ark is one of the favorite "kid" stories from the bible. Yes, let's celebrate a genocidal deity that encourages a second repopulation of the planet based on incest. But, ahhhh, look at the cute wittle wions and giraffes and hippos on the ark. Two by two....

Any way, I've been increasingly interested in the myths of the surrounding cultures that were plagiarized in the bible. This web site is a little lo-tech, but it has some interesting info for you flood lovers.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Infidel Links - 2007-06-17

It's simple, the lions kept the Bible dinosaurs in check on the ark

Jesus and the Argonauts

Tough Guys for Jesus

The Creation Museum Revealed

Could Archie comics suck more? Apparently.

Mostly this link is here because I wanted an excuse to use the name Sir Fuxalot

Evolution e-cards

Questions your pastor will hate

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Fallible Sensors

Ever since I read Mind Hacks I've been a connoisseur of just how bad we are at observing the world around us. Here are some good reminders of this fact: (the second link is really awesome)

Genuine or fake smiles? (via Brian Flemming)

Magic trick related to this book.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Jesus Project

Interview with Joseph Hoffmann on Point of Inquiry. I remember a couple of years ago when I first heard the theory that there was not even an actual historical Jesus (let alone all the miracles and what have you). It sounded so crazy. Now I have trouble even entertaining the idea that there is *any* historical kernel in the gospel account. In any case the Jesus Project will be completed in 5 years and we'll settle the historicity question once and for all. And then we can all move on with our lives.... :)



Friday, June 15, 2007

The Church of Awesome

So I have a number or religion projects I've been developing for a while. I both create new religions from scratch and update old tired ones (you're gonna love Christianity 2.0). Today's offering is one of my "from scratch" creations. I am still playing around with a suitable name, but currently it's going by the name of The Church of Awesome, but some other potential names I am kicking around include: Awesome-ism, The Church of Awesome (Latter Day Awesome-ists), The Church of Awesome-ology, and the Seventh Day Awesome-ists.

In any case it works like this: whatever you are doing, any time, any where, just ask yourself: "What could I do right now to most personify Awesome-ness?". Whatever the answer is, do it! Lather, rinse, repeat. Awesome-ness awaits you.

Pretty straight forward, but I've tried to anticipate a few questions:

Q: Is this just hedonism?
A: No, because that is not true awesomeness. When you are in tune with awesomeness, you will know it. The awesomeness that is not awesome is not the true awesomeness.

Q: Is awesome just being used as some lame substitute for Tao?
A: Is the Tao awesome? If yes, then yes. If no, then no.

Q: I want to be awesome but I'll be killed if I leave my current religion (really)!
A: That's *not* awesome. Fortunately Awesomeness is like an Emacs minor mode and is fully functional by itself or in conjunction with other religions. For instance if you are a Christian then just ask your self: "What would Jesus do to be awesome?".

Q: How does one address another member of the Church of Awesome?
A: Dude! The longer the "u" sound the better. But let the vowel be held for only an awesome length of time and no longer!

Be awesome one to another!

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Conversion Economics

How much does a soul cost anyway?

As my family and I were walking through a street fair recently a man walked up to my 4 and 2 year olds and handed them a pair of shiny coins. This made their day of course. Yeah, shiny! Later I got a look at one of the coins and it had John 3:16 on one side and the sinner's prayer on the other. Since our kids can't read and really have no interest in how they will be spending eternity, I'm assuming that this was just a simple minded attempt to "trick" me and my wife into reading his message. I considered his message and am waiting to hear back from Jesus, but so far I'm not convinced. In the meantime, I can't help but wonder if the people who hand out such coins have worked out the soul conversion economics.

First of all is there any chance that any one at any time has been converted by such a coin? It's probably not zero, but it's hard to imagine why it would be much higher than zero. If we are to believe the polls, most of the people that would receive such a coin are already believers in which case the coin is not going to change their hearts. If the coin ends up in the hands of non-believer such as myself what are the chances that this is going to have any effect? To be generous let's say that 1 in 1000 non-believers would be swayed by this coin (this is a *really* generous assumption in my opinion). Then if we assume there are 10% non-believers in the general populace Then they would have to hand out at least 10000 coins to reach one new soul.

How long does it take to hand out these coins? There are only so many people at a street fair and you'd probably quickly saturate the crowd but let's say for an order of magnitude estimate that he can get 100 handed out an hour. So it would take 100 hours of handing out coins at street fairs to reach one new soul. Of course the street fair only goes on for a couple days on a weekend so it's going to take a lot of weekends at different street fairs to get those hours in. All for one soul.

Presumably this guys time is actually worth something. Let's say at minimum that his time is worth $10 an hour. So this guy could've made $1000 dollars that he could have spent on other evangelization effort, instead of walking around street fairs. How many souls could you get for $1000?

And maybe that's the problem. To me it seems like a hugely ineffective way to reach new souls, but maybe the market is already saturated and getting new customers (like me) is an extremely competitive and expensive business and the coin trick is really about as good as they can do. Some enterprising chiristian MBA out there needs to work out the soul/dollar ratios and determine the best way to spend soul winning dollars. (Just for the record there is a dollar amount for which I will exchange my soul, please make an offer!)

I wonder if god cares at all about efficiency? Is it just the number of hours that you are pounding pavement he's following or does he care about results? Will there be a president's club in heaven for the high earners (with front row seats for watching sinners burn below)? I just wish there were some book that was had all the answers to my questions....

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Blogging the Bible

The OT is all done.

If you have any interest in what the bible is *really* like when it's not being being carefully filtered to make it seem quasi-sane, you could do a lot worse than this series. I'm especially happy to see that they are planning on doing the NT as well. Go Jebus!


The End of Faith

I've owned the End of Faith for quite a while but I figured since I have limited time and I've seen most of Sam's online debates and read most of his online essays that there wasn't much point in reading this book. Life is too short to sit in the choir and be preached to. Well I recently discovered the time saving world of audio books and I decided to listen to the book while I did dishes and other puttering.

HOLY CRAP is this book good. This man can write. Not only are his examples and logical flow crisp and tight, he really has a way with words. I wish I *had* been reading the book so I could have underlined choice turns of phrase.

But I do know that I will be reading (or listening) to this book again. I get a little nervous in my old age when I can't find *any* logical flaw in an argument or I agree completely on every page. It's always possible that he is simply a very smart and persuasive man with whom I should agree on every point. Or maybe I'm just easily led to any conclusion. In any case it will be enjoyable to review this book in the near future and see how it survives a more skeptical pass. Anyway, 2 enthusiastic horns of Satan up for this book.

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Monday, June 11, 2007


So this is truly off topic, but it cracks me up, so here it is anyway.

We were visiting some friends this weekend who have 3 children 4 and under. They were telling us how they sometimes let the kids pick a theme and then they try to find some videos on the interweb for them to watch on this theme. Now as chance would have it a few weeks ago the theme was unicorns and they came across the video below. Now usually they watch the video with the kids but for this particular one the phone happened to ring just as it started. So they walked away for a second. Lets just say they were kind of surprised when they came back and heard the chorus (audio is NSFW is your boss and co-workers are totally lame):

And speaking of unicorns, here is the best unicorn appearance in a comic hands down.



Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Common sense, don't fail me now!

When a new ID book comes out I always love to follow the savaging that it receives from some of my favorite experts - PZ, GM/BM, Panda's Thumb, etc. And yet it's also an occasion to ponder just how reliant I am on the opinion of experts. I find I'm in the intellectually muddy situation of being pretty sure this book is crap, because *my* experts tell me so.

Can I read the book myself? Of course, but I probably won't since I already believe the conclusion is wrong, I'm trying to minimize the nonsense I put in my head and there are only so many hours in a day. Can I follow debates from both sides on the merits of the arguments in the book? I can and have. But the fact that people who believe one way or the other read a book such as this and come away more convinced that their side is all the more correct reeks of confirmation bias. (Of course *my* experts don't suffer from this, just the other guys.)

How do you inoculate your self against confirmation bias? One way would be to become an expert in the field. Am I going to become an expert in both evolutionary biology and intelligent design and then make a fair and balanced decision? Probably not. I've got lots of other things to do. So I read "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" and lots of other books, I am swayed by their arguments and don't really give the ID guys that much attention since my common sense tells me they are full of it. Then I just go on with my life.

But then occasionally I have to face reality. I don't really *know* (with a capital K) who is right. I have placed my bet on one side but to a greater extent than I'd like I'm just trusting experts. How did I choose my trustable experts? I just find that some people make more sense to me. Then in a temporary moment of clarity I realize this sounds exactly like a reply that someone could give to justify *any* appeal to common sense.

I think the thing that bugs me the most is I'd like to be the guy who could argue the fine points of bible apologetics or ID with anyone and win the argument, convert them to my views and also anyone else who is listening in. The thing is, even the experts almost never succeed at this, so why should I worry about trying to even come close to this goal of being a perfectly informed and convincing debater? It's just a huge time sink. I've already convinced myself. I don't have a responsibility to make everyone believe the same as me (or do I?).

Personally, my common sense is satisfied. I know that I've read up on the topic and I'm not worried about being shown to be fundamentally wrong. The chance that the majority of the world's scientists are deluded or in a secret cabal under the orders of Satan is too silly to contemplate. Yet somehow the mere existence of people who confidently and vocally disagree with what my common sense tells me is true bugs me. Just knowing they are out there (with or without compelling reasons supporting their beliefs) seems wrong to me. My capacity for second guessing myself knows no bounds.

On the other hand people who deny the moon landing don't bother me at all. They are clearly idiots (though their arguments are a little intriguing when you first hear them). Bible apologists and ID advocates are also delusional but I think that as a former christian it's harder to completely turn off the sensitivity to those arguments. I don't worry about whether the Koran might be right, for instance. (Except the part about flying horses. Pixar, contact me about my script).

So in the end I trust my common sense and get on with my life. I just personally don't like this reliance on common sense. Sadly, no matter how much I study, I can't be an authority on everything. I will be wrong sometimes and hopefully will have the flexibility to realize it on occasion and self correct as appropriate.

(I've been pondering the above off and on for a while and then came across this essay which resonated quite well with my own thoughts on on certainty and proof and such things. Glad to know that other people are bothered with how certain other people claim to be.)

ps. Just an afterthought. One reason why my confidence in my common sense is not much shaken by the ID crowd is exemplified by their response to GM/BM review. There may be more substantial replies there now but when I last checked it was just a bunch of people griping that he's not a mathematician. Dude, reply to the arguments not the person. That just stinks of bad thinking. Plus, here's a little secret for ya, PhDs in computer science know a shit load of math (in particular about information theory). And let me say for the record, M.S.s in computer science are super sexy and the life of every party.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Wow, there really is a Bible cow

but it's true, Bible dinosaurs *are* better:


Monday, June 04, 2007

Bible cow is good, but it don't come close to Bible dinosaurs


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Infidel Links - 2007-06-03

Against all my principles, I would pay to see this museum

Honestly, I've always thought the Triassic period was a little suspicious

Door to door atheists

Jesus was made of neutrinos. Why didn't I think of that? (Hint: I'm not retarded)

Who wrote the Bible? Probably not Moses, for one...

Animated stories from various religions. Can you pick out the true ones?

Horny for Jesus



Adventures in Enlightenment: Hunger (thoughts)

I just noticed that my site is the number one entry on google for "adventures in enlightenment". There is probably a way to make a million dollars off of that, but I'm too lazy. Of course I used to also have the top entry for toxic flatulence and where did that get me? Looking down the page on google for "adventures in enlightenment" is this strangely apropos youtube video.

I have high hopes for this hunger project. I don't have an eating disorder or anything and I don't think I'm over weight (but I'm certainly not skinny), but I *do* like food way too much, so this will be quite a challenge. Especially after watching that video. I *really* have an unwholesome love for chocolate.

I've heard that dieting is in many ways more difficult than breaking an addiction to drugs since with drugs you can go cold turkey and be physically separated from the addictive substance. With food you have to continue to face the beast everyday.

If you were wondering, I'm pretty hungry right now, but it's not too bad... And look at how enlightened I am already.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

What level of hell do Star Trek fans go to?

I've always thought it might be interesting to at least browse through one of the Left Behind books. But I guess I've spoiled that since now I've seen how the series ends:


Friday, June 01, 2007

Adventures in Enlightenment: Hunger

After the disappointment that was gratefulness we turn to an old school enlightenment technique: hunger.

Truth be told if I didn't have to hold a job and be a productive member of my family, I think I would like to try some good old fashioned fasting just to see what that is like. But as it is, I'm skeptical traditional fasting would go over so well with my employer, let alone my wife. The kids probably would find it pretty funny, no doubt.

From the purely pragmatic side hunger is interesting for several reasons. Apparently being hungry makes you smarter. In addition, restricting your calories makes you live longer. As it happens I both want to be smarter and live longer, so, yeah for that.

But honestly what I think this really comes down to, as will all the actually beneficial enlightenment experiments, is discipline.

I'll probably work out the rules as I go, but to start my idea is to experience genuine hunger at least once a day for some period of time. I don't need to restrict my diet in any special way, I just need to eat a little less at meal time and skip some snacks. But at least once a day I have to be hungry without being light headed or seriously uncomfortable. Just be hungry and let myself be hungry for awhile.

Anyway, I am hungry for enlightenment. Damn, all this blogging is making me hungry. I could really use a snack about now...

(If hunger were thirst and I was a dinosaur, then this might be relevant.)