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Comment Let's send it to /., they'll post anything (Score 1) 17

... including readily available toys.

If it is on wikipedia, it is not news, and there is absolutely nothing different from controlling a ball (1 D) and controlling 1 D of the motion of a toy shark. There are even more complex mindflex games out there that suggest that one could probably rewire one to allow a single person to control the shark. There is a mind controlled UFO (drone) on the market already that is probably much cooler, except oh wait! It isn't an inflatable shark!


Comment I guess /. is short of Sun Tzu readers... (Score 2) 241

[03.02] Therefore, to achieve a hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the highest excellence; to subjugate the enemy's army without doing battle is the highest of excellence.

What more is there to say? The fundamental problem with the US is that we lack excellence and elegance in our entire apparatus of foreign policy and the military. Even with clear targets -- like Iraq in wars one and two -- we could not manage to win without doing battle, and we are failing over much of the world right now.

Of course, we (Americans) live in a country with a large military-industrial complex, with an enormous shadow government funded by organized crime (primarily the importation of drugs that have carefully been kept illegal for decades) that has been around so long that it has turned the money-laundered corner into legitimacy, and with a substantial fraction of elected public officials who think that the world is 6000 years old and is going to end in a battle with Satan Himself any day now (and another substantial fraction of elected public officials who mysteriously exit public life far, far richer than they entered it). In such a system if we aren't fighting a government, taxpayer subsidized war for buth and treauty nearly all of the time, be it a "war on drugs", a "war on the commies", a "war against ISIS", a "war against Carbon Dioxide", our corporations simply fund new politicians that will start one, manufacturing facts and portraying them convincingly to the masses as required.

In a sense, war is the secondary consequence of a failure of diplomacy and the political process. That isn't to say that it isn't effective -- naked force, successfully applied, is responsible for most of the structure of the geopolitical world in which we live. But there have been a few small successes that suggest that we may be able to eventually transcend war and surpass even Sun Tzu's highest degree of excellence. If it is good to achieve one's political, economic, and social goals without doing battle in a conflict between two powers, it is surely better to achieve those goals without doing battle on a global basis. As Sun Tzu also says:

Generally in warfare, keeping a nation intact is best, destroying a nation second best..

The best way to fight all wars would be to keep all nations intact by winning them with diplomatic, social, and economic weapons, by fighting them so that everybody wins. This is the best way to sap the will to fight. This is the highest skill.

In modern times, this has never been truer. The US could at any time win any war or any battle. We have nuclear weapons and technological advantages that are truly unstoppable by any other nation, quite possibly by any other confederacy of nations working together. But we cannot win those battles, or wars, leaving the nations we fight intact, so we refrain from using our full power in almost all conflicts. We have also learned what Sun Tzu probably did not know -- that to win a war against a determined enemy, it is sometimes necessary to exterminate them, and we (thankfully) haven't the stomach for this. In wars of this sort, one must be prepared to fight for lifetimes of not-quite-war, of cold war, until the world changes and enemies become friends and allies without force.

Truly, this is right up there with the highest skill.


Comment And in still other news... (Score 1) 282

... the Pope announces that from now on all religious observances in monasteries will be adopted from those of the Unitarian Universalist sort-of-religion. "Hey, it's completely in-house -- our monks will get a lot more work and meditation in not having to waste so much time chanting and going to mass all of the time," he is quoted as saying. "In a few cases it is just plain easier to use the rituals of other religions where using our own would involve a major expenditure or loss of efficiency."

Meantime, President Obama has admitted that he gets most of his best ideas from the John Locke Foundation. "It isn't like their ideas are proprietary," he explained to the press in a surprise announcement. "Besides, every blind squirrel finds an acorn."

There is no word yet upon whether or not ISIS has subcontracted their intelligence service to Mossad as rumored, largely because it has proven nearly impossible to determine whether or not ISIS is aware of the concept of intelligence at all. The Israeli government is playing coy with the issue, refusing to confirm or deny the possibility that ISIS was impressed with the efficiency with which Mossad had infiltrated its ranks. An unnamed ISIS jihadist, when approached by a journalist, was rumored to have whispered to the journalist that they were actually an Israeli intelligence agent right before they cut off the head of the journalist, but the logical contradictions inherent in the rumor make it likely that it was deliberately planted by ISIS...

Comment Re:Theory (Score 1) 591

My copy of scripture does not say G-d did not use evolution to create Life.

Oh? So you are a Christian Socialist who rejects Genesis, which pretty much states that God did not use evolution to create life (along with countless other absurdities)? What about the parts of the New Testament in which Jesus endorses Genesis and the supposed existence of Noah and his Fabulous Ark? That puts some pretty serious constraints on evolution, I do declare! Not to mention the problems with collecting a few million species from all over the Earth, putting them inside a wooden boat the size of a Wal Mart at the outside ventilated by a single window less than 1 meter square in area, and keeping them fed and alive for 40 days and nights of rain falling at a rate of an inch a minute, and then replacing them in all of their diverse ecosystems all over the planet right down to small Pacific islands, all using wooden boats that lacked so much as a compass and in a single human lifetime with the labor of a single human family.

So sure, if you are a Christian Socialist who just makes stuff up to avoid the problems with the supposed scriptural basis of your belief set, then your scripture might well say that God created the Universe out of Legos or cubic blocks of stuff mined out of a virtual place that doesn't objectively exist (because places that objectively exist are already part of the Universe) and nobody can ever prove you wrong, but you are mistaken when you claim to be a Christian. You are the believer in a religion you just made up that steals some of its ideas and beliefs from the Abrahamic religions but is a formal heresy in all of them.

Just to be picky.

As for both how and why -- scripture is of course far from silent on both of these points (unless it is scripture you wrote for yourself, of course, when it can contain anything -- or not -- that you like) but no matter what, religion can do no more than make unprovable and usually ethically absurd claims as to why as well. They are precisely equivalent in both provability and reason to asserting that we are all power units in The Matrix and that's Why -- because some higher order being needs the power and provides us with a dream world to live in while we do. It's impossible to prove any such claim false in spite of the utter lack of evidence that it is true. All a believer has to do is assert that the Matrix is too well run to ever let you take a capsule and escape it. So sure, we could all be here to participate in a bizarre game that puts reality TV to shame in which if we believe just the right things without evidence (generally as a consequence of the accidents of our birth and how we were raised before we developed the ability to think critically) then we get to go to an invisible place and live there forever in a state of guaranteed happiness, insulated from entropy and evil for eternity, with the optional but commonly accepted adjunct that if we fail to hold just the right beliefs, we are "voted off the island" and believe me, off of the island is not a place you want to be... or, we could use common sense and observation and conclude that the "why" question is unanswerable and hence meaningless.


Comment Re:Theory (Score 3, Insightful) 591

Besides, we cannot positively exclude the possibility that we are all power units in The Matrix, and everything we think we know is false. There is no good reason to think that this is true, but that is not sufficient (especially under the circumstances) to prove it false. The same is true for the religious explanations -- there is no evidence worthy of the term to support them, but provided you are willing to believe in an insane deity who built a deliberately deceptive Universe and who runs it strangely like a reality simulation for absurd purposes, you can't rule them out logically or empirically, you can only state that they are very unlikely to be true, in a very precise statistical sense. Evolution, on the other hand is very likely to be true in general even as almost any given particular theory of evolution is likely to be false, or at least incomplete. Not as likely as it is that gravitation is a true theory to a much, much higher degree of approximation, but still enough to be casually referred to as "fact", part of the self-consistent network of mutually supported scientific beliefs that represent a system that is at least nearly completely consistent with observational data across the board.

Solipsism cannot be logically or empirically ruled out. Magnetic monopoles cannot be ruled out. Absence of evidence is not sufficient evidence of absence, but it can be used to set probability bounds, and when there is no empirical support for a hypothesis that stands in the company of a near-infinity of alternative equally unsupported hypotheses, the comparatively small family of hypotheses that have reproducible empirical support and that are consistent with other observationally verified and mutually consistent hypotheses have a huge, huge edge in the probable truth game.


Comment Windows... (Score 1) 889

... as a VM. Then you can run anything you like (but high end games) from under Linux.

This is by far the best solution. I've been using it since early (still free) vmware days. It also lets you keep functional images of multiple versions of Windows and run WINDOWS software that doesn't run on Windows (any more). I have XP-Pro frozen and encapsulated, virus free, ready to run should I need it or anything inside. I have Windows 7 frozen and encapsulated ditto. I can laugh at broken Vista, my-laptop-is-not-a-tablet Windows 8, and preserve all the work that went into making them semi-functional.

But I've been using Linux as a primary desktop since SLS and Slackware (somewhere in the late 90's?), and I personally almost NEVER boot a Windows VM unless it is to run some very specific application that simply doesn't exist under Linux. Do this and you don't NEED to port Windows apps (except for high end games) to Linux -- they are already there!


Comment Re: Naw, it's Doctors (Score 1) 696

No snakes have been injured in my bike encounters so far as I've been able to avoid them, but I do ride over a bridge over a wetlands creek and NC is lousy with copperheads and all of the North American poisonous snakes have sustained populations in the state, including coral snakes. I've driven around live copperheads (and one unidentified snake that could have been a water moccasin but I didn't stop to look carefully) several times, so I haven't been injured yet either, as you can pretty easily throw them up into your pedals or worse, into your wheels and thence onto your legs in a highly irritated mood from what I understand from reading bike forums. It sounds like actual bites of humans as opposed to tires are pretty rare, though.

The biggest copperhead I've ever seen living or dead was one roughly four feet long that had been run over by a car and was lying dead right in the lane I was riding to work in, right on the edge of Duke's campus and across from a forested swamp. You could see the crushed part where the tire had gone over it very clearly. The snake itself was as thick as my calf, and the head was easily the size of my clenched fist, maybe 3.5" or 4" wide. I've kicked myself for years for not picking up the body and putting the head out on an anthill to clean off the undamaged skull -- it would have been spectacular -- but it was literally too big to easily carry on my bike and I was on my way in to teach a class and had nowhere to put the corpse in the meantime. It was pretty close to the upper limit on the size of Southern Copperheads (reported to be 53"). But needless to say, since that day I watch CAREFULLY when I ride in the gutter or next to the shoulder in wooded or swampy areas (I ride through Duke Forest and wetlands when I ride into Duke from my house). Copperheads in particular are crepuscular hunters and lie on the edge of paved roads in the evening or early morning for the warmth and as pit vipers, they strike at anything warm and possibly edible in the twilight. They aren't particularly venomous and they often won't even treat a bite for anything but tetanus, but a large snake like that can pump a lot of venom into you if it is annoyed because you step on it or ride over it. This thing had enormous venom glands pooching out its triangular-shaped head.


Comment Re: Naw, it's Doctors (Score 1) 696

Sure, but that doesn't mean that they know even elementary things about riding a bike safely. Starting with things like "On the road, a bike is a vehicle and hence should follow all of the rules that pertain to vehicles" such as riding on the right hand side of the road (with traffic, not facing traffic), using signals for turns (and knowing what the signals for turns are!), slow traffic keeping right, being VERY cautious passing any vehicle on the right as a) they don't expect you to be passing them; b) you are probably driving up through their blind spot; c) they can easily e.g. cut you off unexpectedly with an unsignalled right turn or by pulling over towards the curb or shoulder. And so on. Bikes follow the rules of vehicles, but not exactly the rules of vehicles, because common sense has to play a role too and bikes cannot go fast enough to keep up with cars, can be difficult to see or keep track of when one is driving a car or truck, can easily be cut off or forced into a parked vehicle or pothole or road hazard and are particularly vulnerable if hit. Even things like wearing a bike helmet or using some sort of rear view mirror need to be taught because some people think commuting on a bike down a busy street as a brittle-boned adult with your head six or seven feet above the ground is the same as riding it as a bendy-boned kid in a quiet neighborhood cul-de-sac with their head four feet above the ground (and the kid should be wearing a helmet TOO because closed head injuries can ruin your whole day -- for the rest of all of your brain-dead days.

And don't even get me started about riding at night. The closest I've ever come to killing somebody -- lifetime -- was driving my car across Duke's Campus Drive (a road that connects East and West Campus). I was crossing it on a dirt road, and at that time there was a stop sign but no nearby street lights so it was completely dark except for my headlights, which were very slightly angled up as the cross-road was on a gentle slope relative to Campus Drive. I stop. Look left -- nothing but black. Look right -- stygian dark. Glance right again, left again, and start to accelerate. JUST as I start to punch it forward, looking straight ahead, a bike flashes directly in front of my vehicle. No lights. Driver wearing dark clothes and no helmet, face turned towards me, terrified eyes wide open as he realizes that I'm moving straight at him. My foot moving faster than thought to mash the brakes so I missed him by a whole foot. And he vanishes into the night.

And the worst part of it is -- I'm sure that he thinks he was in the right, had the right of way, bikes can do anything they want, the laws of the road or mere laws of common sense don't apply to bike riders. If I'd hit him and by any miracle NOT killed him (he was booking, the collision would have thrown him ten or twenty feet in the air with no helmet) I'm sure he would have sued me and of course who knows what would have happened to me in the hands of the law regardless of the letter. At the very least I would have had to live with killing/maiming some other human, my fault or not.

I'd say that you can't fix stupid, but stupid wasn't the problem if the kid was a Duke student (as was very likely). Ignorant, yes, stupid, probably not. One hopes that the numb-nut learned from the experience and invested in a BIKE LIGHT, as even riding between campuses on a road that IS the moral equivalent of a neighborhood cul-de-sac down an unlit stretch shared with cars and then running RIGHT IN FRONT OF a car that is stopped at a stop sign and about to go when they cannot possibly see you can kill you just as dead as an ISIS IED.

Other advantages of a license -- right now in NC, if one reads through chapter 20 (the vehicular laws of the state) one discovers that bicycles are considered to be vehicles and subject to all of the laws of the state except where they cannot be applicable. However, this just makes the laws themselves inconsistent, as small children can ride bicycles on city streets where they cannot operate motor vehicles. It also creates a serious problem with how precisely to treat alcohol and bikes. Is a bicycle rider guilty of DUI if they ride a bike with blood alcohol over 0.08? If they are stopped and convicted, do they lose their license for a year, four years, forever? Oh, wait, they don't HAVE or NEED a license to ride a bike! Indeed, people who have lost their license because of DUI often ride bikes to get places because it is the only legal means of transportation! (One of my sons is riding out his first-offense year and while he can drive to or from work in the town of his residence during the day, he cannot drive at night, but he can certainly bike anywhere, anytime).

Then we could talk about insurance. Bicyclists are perhaps the most vulnerable people on the road, or at least are in a close race with motorcyclists for the honor. NC state law does require helmets for bike riders under 16, but AFAICT does not require it for adults, and what motorcyclists risk in speed, bikers can easily make up in legal risk by not wearing a helmet or by driving on heavily travelled, dangerous roads without bike lanes during dusk or dawn rush hours, where even a light is difficult to see and everybody on the road is tired and cranky. ANY accident on a bike is likely to result in substantial injury to the biker, no matter who is at fault, and may well result in substantial damage to the vehicle(s) involved in the accident even if nobody is hurt. Bikes nowadays can easily cost $1000 (or even more) -- my commuter bike cost around $800 before I tricked it out and added safety or convenience gear. Bikes are a common target for thieves. Yet there is a big legal hole in insurance requirements for bike riders. If a bike runs into the side of my STATIONARY car and dents in side panels, throws the rider through a window or onto the roof, leaves them injured and my car with $2000 or more in damage, anything can happen with legal liability and who pays for what. The biker is de facto an uninsured driver until proven otherwise, and if they are indigent or simply very poor, I can be left holding the entire bag, quite possibly including their medical expenses or even long term compensation if there is even a HINT that I was stopped "improperly". Note that it is by no means clear that, definition of a bike as a "vehicle" notwithstanding, a bike rider will be held to the same standards for "fault" and responsibility for braking that a car driver would be, especially with only one set of insurance-backed deep pockets to be pilfered for the substantial expenses incurred. If it gets in front of a jury, anything can happen.

So it is not at all surprising that deaths and damages in bike accidents are on the rise. More people are biking, which is good and healthy, but they are doing so in ignorance of both law (I had to spend 45 minutes reading the actual statutes to learn as much as I indicated above, and I'm semi-responsible and have READ through at least common RULES for the road for bikes even though they are not uniformly implemented as LAW, state by state) and subject to laws that in most cases are simply ancient, dating back to a time when people accepted a lot more personal risk, on roads that are terribly designed in terms of bicycle safety. Most of our streets were laid out with widths and curbs and gutters and parking rules and lanes that simply ignored their POSSIBLE use by a mix of bikes and cars, assumed that bike usage would be limited to a handful of kids or hobbyist riders at rates of a bike or so a week, not at rates relevant to commuter biking where bikes pass at the rate of a bike every few minutes. The risks and consequences are enormously amplified by the multiple opportunities for disaster on roadways that simply aren't designed for bikes at all or are retrofitted with a "bike lane" as an inconsistent afterthought, and where drivers of ANY kind of a vehicle receive basically zero education about how to safely operate a bicycle on a public roadway, what the laws are that apply to a bike, and the need to insure bike riding the same as one insures any other substantial risk to life, health or property that takes place on a shared commons.


Comment Re: Naw, it's Doctors (Score 5, Insightful) 696

Yeah, one major part of the problem is that even in supposedly "bike friendly" towns where they have a "bike lane", that lane ranges from 8 inches wide to less than a meter wide. Sometimes several times within a stretch of 1/3 of mile. There is often crap in it -- branches, leaves, rocks, bottles -- or open grates over storm drains. In the summertime south they can even have middling large poisonous snakes in it, especially early morning or late evening.

I'd love to ride my bike to work, and sometimes do in spite of the fact that the "bike lanes" I ride in have all of the features on the list above -- averaging around 18 inches in width (but actually disappearing altogether without warning as the road passes under an overpass where the pylons come down right on the edge of the road so there isn't any shoulder either). I've been blown past by full-scale dump trucks going 55+ mph and missing me by whole feet.

I lived in Durham for decades without hearing of a single bike fatality and few accidents. In the last few years, friends of mine have been killed or been dumped in the ICU for weeks, all because of precisely the conditions you list above -- you're damned if you ride in the lane because it provides the illusion of having enough room but when it is 8" wide, it doesn't, and you're damned if you ride out in the lane because there are folks on the road you don't think you should be there or are drunk and are driving massive vehicles at unsafe speeds even before you show up in their sights.

Personally, I think that if official policy is "riding bikes is good, reduces energy consumption, promotes good cardiovascular health" then government needs to make a serious commitment to making safe bikeways. In my opinion, that means unobstructed, clean bike lanes at least 1 meter wide NOT including gutter/grate or curb if present, and not borrowing from the road shoulder. It also means providing protected dedicated function bikeways that parallel things like 4 to 6 lane roads where biking will NEVER be safe, so you aren't forced to ride on roads that are dangerous to cars, let alone bikes, to get from point A to point B.

Finally, yeah, it wouldn't be crazy to license bike riders who plan to ride on non-neighborhood streets, even if it is a one time license that you get after you prove you understand the rules of the road and how they practically pertain to bikes. Accidents are often caused by bikers, not just by car or truck or motorcycle drivers. I've watched people biking down the road on the wrong side, thinking that they are some sort of pedestrian.


Comment Re:Another possibility (Score 1) 622

Look, it doesn't make sense to believe that an entity exists that created a Universe whose visible extent is 28 billion light years across, whose inferable extent is perhaps ten times that (at least, there is no upper bound that can be established), that contains at least order of Avogadro's number of stars. On the basis of the available evidence, on the basis of our knowledge of things like information theory and the principles of causality and how "intelligence" works, the assertion is absurd in the extreme. So let's start with that.

However, I'm referring to the Standard Model of (Abrahamic) God:


or if you want a less polemic definition:

Note that one standard attribute is omniscience. Of course, you are free to wrestle with the inconsistent concept any way you like to avoid the serious problems with consistency created by the standard model, but then you can hardly blame others if they brand you heretic and tie you to a metaphorical stake surrounded by kindling (or, in the case of modern Islam, cut your head off). It is not impossible to construct a moderately consistent picture of God -- Pandeism or Panendeism come very close -- but the problem with either one is sentience and theodicy. The Abrahamic faiths are explicitly dualistic, as well (although Vedantic Hinduism, fundamentally a monist pandeism, is not).

Dualism has serious problems -- and I mean mathematical, semantic, ontological, conceptual problems, problems that I do not think can be consistently resolved. One of the very simplest is the problem of "creation", something that we literally have never observed to occur (the physical law in question is "Conservation of Mass-Energy" in case you were wondering). All we have ever seen happen in the real world is for stuff to move around and change form. We never ever observe creation. The human concept of creation is itself an inconsistent myth without any evidence -- when we "make" something, we make it out of something else, invariably and without exception. A second problem is mere set theory. Suppose there is a God (set) and a disjoint Cosmos (set) where I use the term Cosmos to describe a spacetime continuum as distinct from "the Universe" a term I reserve for everything that has objective existence. The Universe, for example, could contain multiple Cosmi, and some theories of quantum mechanics suggest that it does, although personally I think that the evidence supporting this so far is weak in the extreme. But it could also be that our visible Cosmos exists, as does a Lord of the Rings Cosmos or a "Christopher Stascheff Cosmos", with potentially different physics or where magic works. God is supposedly unitary (or again, it Is Not God) in anything like a standard model religion, so clearly:

Universe = God U \sum Cosmi

Stating that "God created the Universe" all by itself is inconsistent -- this is the ontological argument run backwards. Since God (if God exists) logically must be a subset of all things that exist, God did not create all things that exist. If you imagine God and a disjoint Cosmos, the union of the two is strictly greater than God, so the God you have imagined is not God.

This is a small taste of the problems you encounter when you try to figure out how God can think, or how God can experience time or be sentient. Time in physics is a dimension. Experiential time, the time that orders your sentient thoughts, is strictly based on entropy. This is straight up stuff -- quantifies it and sets limits. Combine this with information theory and encoding, since knowledge in the mind is a process derived from a (very!) imperfect encoding of reality, and thought itself is a process directly connected to an enormously complex switching system inside our skulls.

How, precisely, does God think? What does God think with? When, where does God think? How is it even vaguely reasonable to argue that a structured, ordered Cosmos (but one where the First Law and Second Law of thermodynamics clearly hold and where very simple rules can give rise to enormously complex structures) requires a creator/designer of infinitely greater complexity that spontaneously exists without a creator? In my opinion -- you are welcome to your own -- there is no consistent answer to any of these questions. You can only turn your back on them and pretend they don't exist and make assertions of God that are fundamentally and deeply inconsistent, that you not only couldn't explain because God is a "mystery", but that cannot be explained because any explanation would be inconsistent and hence false, or would describe a being that is less than "God" and incidentally enormously improbable!

Finally, the simple ethical principle that our decisions should be supported by truth and not lies demands that we do our best to believe things for reasons, reasons that are not obviously contradictory and hence false, and reasons that -- when our beliefs intersect the real world -- are supported by, and not contradicted by, evidence. You can argue from ignorance that even though neither you nor I can construct a non-contradictory model of God, that is not in and of itself a proof that one cannot exist (or you can generate a Manichean loophole of some sort or other, or assert that this is the "best of all possible worlds" to avoid theodicy and retain omnibenevolence) -- although personally I think that it is possible to prove that all dualist conceptions of God are inconsistent and did so above -- but in the end, just as is the case for "beautiful theories" in philosophy or physics, it is senseless to actually claim them true without evidence!

And there is no evidence for the existence of God. It is as simple as that. I think magnetic monopoles are part of a beautiful theory. Most physicists would be happy to welcome them into our model of nature. However, according to the rules of rational discourse and science, however much fun we have playing around with field theories with monopoles in them, until some experimentalist comes along and sprinkles salt on the tail of some monopoles, reproducibly, we leave the magnetic monopolar component of Maxwell's equations blank. Why? Because it is the best thing to do. We do not -- morally we should not -- believe in things without evidence. As soon as we do, we open the door for all kinds of evil and error. As soon as we do, idiots start chopping off people's heads or burning their pianos (possibly with them on top of the pianos) or imposing their scripture-derived "moral" views on us even though the scriptures themselves are literally demented, mental illness made manifest, when objectively compared to the real word or subjectively compared to the most elementary ideas of human morality.

So you believe we don't have free will; that we're merely biological billiard balls, inevitably careening down whatever path was determined by the Initial Conditions? That's depressing and demotivating.

So, is your notion of truth that it has to be something that is not depressing and demotivating, or that it is what it is? Because you have perfectly illustrated part of the dementia of religious belief. It is a way of coping with cognitive dissonance. It is wishful thinking. It is a simple fact (by the usual definition of "fact", which is something that is very, very probably true as far as reason and the evidence are concerned, even though it is never certain because sure, we could all be power units in the matrix and mistaken in all of our beliefs, blah, blah) that when humans die, they die. Every single piece of even halfway reliable evidence we have suggests that consciousness is supported by neurons in the brain. We can drug them and turn the consciousness off, reversibly, like a switch. We can dose them and completely alter its function into hallucinatory madness. We can observe what happens when accidents like strokes or having railroad spikes driven through your brain (but not killing you) destroy part of the matrix of neural matter upon which awareness is supported. We can watch as it drifts away in our elderly as increasing parts of their brain shut down due to e.g. amyloid deposits. We don't just watch this in others -- if you look closely you can see it in yourself, and we fear much of this because of the rightful horror of having our "selves" slowly deteriorate to nothingness.

Billions of humans have lived back in a chain that goes back through trillions of non-human ancestors, and all of them have died because of the simple progression of entropy. They are simply gone, gone to the same place the light goes when you turn off a light bulb (nowhere and everywhere). It is an objective truth that we as aware entities with a continuous memory did not exist for half of "eternity" (all the time before our birth), and it is an observational truth that at some point in the not distant future our awareness will cease, just as most of us have already experienced it ceasing (perhaps when anesthetized during an operation or after being hit very hard in the head) and have lived through the disorienting disjunction in time that occurs when we do. Every reasonable theory of human thought predicts that in fact when we die we will die dead, irreversibly losing the sensory apparatus, internal organization, memory structure and thinking apparatus that is our "self".

But this causes severe cognitive dissonance! How could the Universe exist without Us in it? Our awareness is so immediate, so complete, and so infinitely self-centered that we find it easier to think that it is the Universe that disappeared when we are unconscious rather than our Selves, that our Selves are eternal and there can be no existence of anything without them. The only thing to fight this is the simple observation that gee, time does keep on going, the Universe does appear to be objectively real, and that it does not appear to give a shit whether or not we are in it any more than it cared about our great-great-great-great-great grandmother, long deceased and entirely forgotten.

The solution? Invent an entire, complex mythology wherein the inconvenient truth revealed by our observations could be consistent with our continued existence. Suddenly, death is not what everybody can clearly see that it is, it is "just the beginning" of still more good times, still more sentient awareness. Pure cognitive dissonance. But one that is so seductive! As you so aptly put it -- accepting the fact that you have one single life to live and that when you die you will die dead, permanently, as even the most cursory examination of the evidence and all of the experience of your life so far has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that you do, is depressing and demotivating. So much better to believe that you won't die. It's therapeutic!

It's also so very seductive that it becomes a horrendous tool for manipulating individual humans to commit unsane acts in the hands of the unscrupulous or merely demented. It is a drug, one that renders human reason itself incapable of rational or ethical function, because the minute you start motivating decisions not by a rational appraisal of their consequences here and now in the visible world we are certain of but by an irrational appraisal of their entirely imaginary consequences in a mythical secondary or tertiary reality we cannot observe, senseless behavior is a given. Garbage in, garbage out.

The sad thing is, we could do so much better if we could just get over it and admit that there is no point in believing absurd stories without far better evidence than we have, that there is little point in believing in supernatural entities of dubious consistency on the basis of ancient mythologies. Sure life is short and then you die. So what! Grow up! All this is is motivation for constructing the best ethical system we can, one that makes the one life we are certain we get the best possible one it can be for the largest number of us. All it takes is compassion and common sense and we could build a far better world than the superstition-driven world we live in now, where morality is judged on the basis of belief and not action, where we cannot even apply reason to any question addressed in some interpretable way in a scripture written thousands of years ago and ruthlessly manipulated and rewritten ever since to preserve an entire power and money structure with an enormously inequitable distribution of wealth and power and benefit.

It doesn't matter if your actions are "fundamentally" predetermined. You probably do have far less "free will" than you imagine that you do -- at age 60, based on observing and teaching thousands of people (and watching and thinking about my children and my self) I have long since concluded that humans do not have a lot of free will. A whole lot of what you do is determined by your brain structure, your neurotransmitters, your hormones, the accidents of your birth and upbringing. Raise a dog who was beaten as a puppy versus one that was loved as and cared for its entire life and tell me that dogs have free will -- and so it is with humans as well. Try to quit smoking! Or stop eating ice cream. But whatever, a lot of our mental activities feel like "we" are in charge, as if we have choices. And even if we can understand how being sexually abused as a child can turn an adult into a sexual predator in turn, and that it isn't necessarily their "fault" that this is how they turned out, that doesn't mean that the rational and ethical thing to do with such a person is to render them, one way or another, incapable of perpetuating the chain of evil thus represented and protecting our own children from them. Does this person really have the free will to be able to deny or alter their own, carefully forged nature? I don't know, and in the end, it doesn't matter.


Comment Re:Another possibility (Score 1) 622

There are some possibilities that you missed. This one, for example:

* God is a good experimentalist, and like all good experimentalists, he rarely intervenes with the way things play out in his creation/experimental system. He sits back and passively observes, for hundreds or thousands of years at a time, and Jesus is the product of "Ok, I'm tired of the dynamic that the most intelligent carbon units have gotten into; let's see what happens if I have one of them teach some ethical principles to the others."

I didn't miss it, because this is an inconsistent possibility (not that it is possible to come up with a coherent and consistent theory of God, but that's a REALLY long discussion) Let's see. How could God be a good experimentalist? Well we usually perform experiments to learn something where we don't know the outcome. But God is omniscient, and cannot NOT know the outcome (and remain God), at least not unless you want to become a Hindu monist pandeist and imagine Mahavishnu/Brahma splitting its omniscient universal self (Brahman) into all of the many sparks of life (Atman) that have forgotten the perfect knowledge of Brahman. However, this view is generally opposed by most Abrahamic theologists because it destroys the essential dualism required to have a God to worship who can punish and reward and make the whole system work (not to mention that it contradicts pretty much all of the sacred texts of the family of religions).

Now, God could also be an experimentalist by playing dice with the Universe -- just rolling out a big, unknown Universe with no idea how it will all come out, a big reality simulation, just to see what happens, and then he could sit there blaming the lifeforms that emerge for being precisely what the dice he used plus the ruleset he used produced and invent ANOTHER pair of realities, one in which those lifeforms can live forever being tortured by demonic merciless robots, one in which those lifeforms can all sit around and chant praises for eternity to make him feel Really Important. But I hope that we agree that this is a rather ugly picture of God as well.

Besides, you're contradicting a number of essential statements from the Gospels, notably John, and your comment stinks of the Arian heresy that was stamped out post Nicaea (with fire and steel). Jesus is the alpha and omega, dude, and was there at the beginning and will be there at the end. So God cannot decide to send us Jesus to teach us ethical principles because there is no real difference between Jesus and God. Jesus/God sent himself, as he knew he would at the beginning, to produce precisely the outcome he predestined at the end. If you are damned, you have no choice in the matter as you were damned from the beginning of time. Not that the Gospels are consistent on this point. But let's have a look:

Mark 4:11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
4:12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

Mark 10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

Matthew: 11:25 At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.

So, apparently, Jesus and God are different, Jesus is not God and doesn't even claim to be good! He deliberately teaches those predestined to be saved in parables so that ordinary people won't get it and WON'T be converted and saved. Thanks, Jesus! I'll adopt his methods in my physics class, I guess, and teach physics using metaphors instead of equations just so I can flunk all of the students I confuse. Hey, it's OK! It was predestined! But it is Matthew that directly contradicts your assertion. God has come up with a scheme that he hides from the wise and prudent and reveals only to the young who are stupid and foolish!

You might think about this (this is hardly the only time this is stated in the NT). Even at that time, Christianity made no real progress with people who weren't idiots, because even 2000 years ago, sensible people could recognize a charlatan when they saw one. Look earlier in this same chapter! Not even John the Baptist, who supposedly baptized Jesus to the accompaniment of many miracles, is certain Jesus is the messiah -- he doubts it from inside his prison cell as he supposedly awaits execution! But not to worry! Jesus proves it by rubbing spit in a blind man's eye:

Mark 8:23 And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.

or was it mud, made with spit?

John 9:6 When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,
9:7 And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

This, apparently is a record of how Jesus cured things like blindness. With spit and dirt from the ground in a country where all non-foot transportation is provided by animals and where there is nothing like a sewer system or sanitation, dirt that has been urinated on and shat upon by animal and human alike since time immemorial. The mouth, you might recall, is literally the dirtiest part of the human body as far as dangerous bacteria are concerned. But not holy spit! That cures anything!

Interestingly, this story is in both a synoptic and in John. If you take the gospels seriously, that makes it rather more likely that this is an authentic account of how Jesus worked his magic in the crowd -- take the person out of town (away from the crowd), "heal them" with a show of traditional magic (because it certainly wasn't medicine) where only a few people could see, and then let the rumor spread. This is how he tried to convince John the Baptist that he really was the messiah over his apparent doubts. And since just a bit further down, he disparages John to the crowd and makes himself and his listeners out to be much greater (if they follow him) it doesn't take much imagination to think that just maybe he was trying to replace John and take over John's disciples and followers.

You can go to many third world countries and watch witch doctors work exactly this kind of "miracle" today. They even still frequently use, and used in the past, spit:

(see e.g. page 229). Holy spit isn't limited just to Jesus:

or even only to humans:

Holy Horse Spit! Or if you are willing to "believe", you can join a contemporary cult that uses this sort of technique:

Oh, wait, SGI doesn't do this. This was used as the archetype of cult fake medicine.

But I could do this all day. If you simply applied precisely the same common sense to Christianity and its scriptures and claims that you have absolutely no problem applying to Hinduism, Shamanism, the Great Spirit, Islam and Muhammed, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Heaven's Gate, and so on you would not conclude that sending Jesus to the Earth to model healing techniques based on rubbing muddy spit into the human eye is an ethically defensible practice for an omniscient omnibenevolent being. You would also just possibly have to face up to the true magnitude of the problem of theodicy.

Finally, Jesus is hardly the first, or the best, of humans who have supposedly taught ethical behavior to carbon life forms. The teachings of the New Testament, looked at objectively, fall far short of a perfect ethos for human existence, with or without the God component. And yes, I can quote the NT all day on the issue because, unlike most "believers", I've actually read the damned thing, multiple times, especially the Gospels. As well as a lot of the OT (I get bored too quickly to properly finish it). As well as the Quran, the Upanishads, the Puranas, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Book of Mormon. I would strongly recommend reading it, carefully, and asking yourself "is this the consistent record of anything LIKE perfection on earth?" Sure, Jesus has some decent ideas, although pretty much all of them are not unique to him and are common threads in the moral system of many religions or philosophies. But give him some credit. But don't blind your eye to the crap! Cursing a fig tree? Preaching in parables so many listeners will stay damned? Curing blindness with spit and mud? Telling his followers they have to hate their parents and relatives and love only him or they cannot be saved? This stuff isn't even consistent with the half-assed "morality" of the ten commandments (some of which are OK, or would be if the prescription for breaking them weren't to be stoned to death by the tribe, and others of which are sheer nonsense)!


Comment Re: Well, that's embarrassing (Score 3, Interesting) 622

You might want to read something like Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus", or look at some historical examples of the game of "telephone" and how easily it can generate spurious information, as opposed to church propaganda. I agree that it is probably more likely than not that a unitary Jesus existed, but it isn't more likely than not as in 99% likely, it is more likely than not maybe 60-40 or 70-30, and it is certain that we know nothing reliable about Jesus' life outside of -- maybe -- his sayings. Luke and Matthew disagree categorically about his birth and don't even have it occurring during the same decade or the reign of the same Herod. Mark (the oldest synoptic and likely source for the material in the other two) starts with Jesus fully grown, appearing more or less out of nowhere (and ends, in the earliest extant manuscripts, with Jesus dead and in the tomb and with no resurrection -- the last 16 verses of Mark are later additions). None of the synoptics were written by eyewitnesses (obviously), all were written (probably) after the fall of the temple, and there is a clear progression in "miraculousness" with their probable age, as one would expect from people embellishing and adding new myths and legends to support a newborn cult against all of its competitors. And we have nothing like original source material. The Bible you know is the result of copies of copies of copies of... copies of manuscripts ultimately leading to some poor mistranslations that were transformed into dogma once the printing press was invented. Ehrman began as a born again Christian who studied the New Testament because he wanted to learn the word of God as it was actually written down, and is now an agnostic who ultimately concluded that there is no such thing in this world, that its original content is lost forever and is irretrievable. Which is inconsistent with the usual "true believer" belief in its infallibility, in the idea that it is a gift from God to guide us, that it is a reliable guide to life or even merely a true account of the Jesus who might or might not be documented there.

As for Josephus -- quite aside from the fact that he is not an eyewitness, writing in the mid-90's CE, he mentions Jesus three times. All three are subject to very serious doubt. For one thing, we have nothing like a reliable chain of transmission for Josephus any more than we do the Bible. Do you have any idea at all what the oldest copy of Josephus extant is dated back to? Let's guess that the answer is no. The answer is (IIRC) the twelfth century for the Cyriac copy. Again, we have copies of copies of copies, usually written in languages that aren't even the original language of the manuscript, copies of translations of the manuscript that were copied and preserved by the very church that post-Constantine found it useful. Nearly all scholars who study Josephus agree that at least part of the references to Jesus in Antiquities are insertions. But which ones? There is widespread belief in there being an "authentic kernel" that was his original text, but the problem with extracting it is (aside from the fact that it is literally impossible to do because we cannot at this time differentiate forgery from original by anything but guesswork and cannot even be certain there IS any original left) that at best, the result of such a process is open to considerable doubt. It is a matter of guessing, and of course any guess would be subject to enormous personal bias on the part of the guesser -- there is no objective way to determine the truth.

I would suggest that you read this:

and note that there is pretty good reason to think that all of the references to Jesus in Antiquities are insertions, or at least have been corrupted irretrievably, and there is at least some reason to think that the entire Testimonium is a forgery deliberately inserted by Eusebius. It is important to remember that the Church itself controlled almost all transmission of knowledge and provided most of the educated scribes who made manuscript copies of historical works across critical parts of the first four or five centuries, and some of them, Eusebius in particular, were demonstrably corrupt and willing to make textual alterations to support their arguments to convert the heathen and suppress the heretic Arians and gnostics.

So sure, maybe 70-30, tops. Maybe Josephus does have an "authentic kernel". Maybe he referenced a Jesus, or even more than one, and later Christian forgers altered the manuscripts in the transmission chain(s) that survived to eliminate arguments from doubters of that time that Jesus existed, because if he did why didn't Josephus talk about him. Note well the "argument from silence" -- there isn't a single word in Christian apology referencing the Testimonium before 324 CE and Nicaea even though 12 different Christian scholars referenced Josephus for other purposes. Really? There is this glaring "proof" that Jesus was real in Antiquities, arguments going on to try to convince skeptical outsiders that he really existed and was crucified, and nobody bothered to point to a history textbook written not too long afterwards that seemed to confirm all of these things?

Finally, although it isn't anything like proof, there is the remarkable case of Paul/Saul. Paul is the source of most of the earliest writings of the church, well before the Gospels were written (although he is also the most imitated as many letters were forged and attributed to Paul). Paul refers, frequently, to a Jesus that is clearly a spiritual being, not a real one. And he makes no reference to pretty much any events from the supposed life of Jesus.

If Jesus is real, he had to have been born. But when was he born? We have no idea. He had to have an early life. But what was it? Did he flee a slaughter of innocents at the hands of Herod the Great BCE, or was he born during the reign of Herod Antipas a full decade or more later and live undisturbed in Jerusalem. Was he born in Nazareth (a town that archeologically did not exist until the second century), or was reference to him as a Nazarene a complex pun? Was he baptized by John the Baptist, or is he the leader of a small cult that competed with John's cult after John died, that used this claim to try to win adherents? Was he even actually named Jesus, or was that a title, or a pseudonym he adopted for preaching apocalyptic Judaism on the road?

What we can be pretty darned certain of is this. Jesus never changed water to wine, because that is impossible. If I made the claim, even if I did it on national television in front of a panel of expert eyewitnesses you would doubt the truth of that claim because you know that changing water into wine by any means other than fermenting watery grape juice is impossible. He never raised the dead, because when a human dies, entropy and infection cause irreversible damage to cellular tissue within minutes. The body may look like it could just "wake up" from the outside, but microscopically the whole idea is absurd. Again, you would instantly reject any such claim made on behalf of any cult leader no matter if there were "eyewitnesses" to the event -- you would assume, as would I, that the whole thing was a setup, done with smoke and mirrors and perhaps with a shill pretending to be dead or treated with drugs to appear dead to all but the most careful examination. He never cured blindness by rubbing somebody's eyes with filthy mud made from dirt and spit. That's a better way to cause blindness than to cure it. He never drove demons out of a woman into a herd of pigs. There are no demons, they don't cause madness, and why pick on some hapless pigs if you are all powerful and can make the demons just go poof and disappear? He never cursed a fig tree, because fig trees are not sentient and because God wouldn't act like a petulant child. If he was, in fact, crucified, and if he, in fact, died on the cross, he died dead and remains dead today, see above concerning irreversibility of death.

There isn't a single "miracle" performed in the NT that doesn't smack of charlatanry, of absurdity. You wouldn't believe any of these claims if they were made about a contemporary "messiah" with a cult following. You don't believe any of these claims when they are made by the equally "reliable" manuscript scriptures of other religions. Nobody can resolve the many direct contradictions between the supposedly divinely inspired accounts of his life and even his teachings -- is Matthew more "infallible" than Luke when they directly contradict one another? Chances are good that they are both wrong, that both are just telling stories that are made up to support a newborn institution run by a mix of wide-eyed believers and con artists who knew a good thing when they saw it.


Comment Re:Well, that's embarrassing (Score 2) 622

In order to be sentient beings that are truly free, one must be given a choice.

It would be interesting to discuss precisely what you mean by this, since in one sense I have a near infinity of choices I make instant to instant -- to strike the letter "*" in between the previous quotes, for example (where I had to think for a second about just which key would best make my point and so I involved my true sentient freedom, I suppose) and in another if the laws of physics are actually what they appear to be, in some fundamental sense I will never be free. But let's assume for grins that you mean "moral" choice. Leaving aside the absolute absurdity of the inheritability of sin and punishing people for something that in fact they did not do (as I personally was not there in the mythical garden you refer to, and neither was anybody else, because it is a myth, a metaphor, not an actual description of something that actually happened), let's see what the true moral choice before you is.

I think that we'll all agree that in general believing in a falsehood is a bad thing. If you disagree, then obviously we have little more to discuss. Furthermore, I certainly hope that you'll agree that our knowledge of the world around us is highly imperfect. After all, you are implicitly asserting that all of physics, biology, chemistry, astrophysics, genetics, and countless other pieces of evidence-supported knowledge are incorrect when you start speaking of a Tree of Knowledge as if it were something that actually existed in a strictly bounded timeframe that is nowhere near the length of the observational record we can infer from simple observations and physical laws and that is described in an absolutely absurd myth that is contradicted on every single assertion that it makes by scientifically observed fact. No matter what certainty you wish to accord your "knowledge" derived from a myth thousands of years old with no possible reliable provenance compared to simple matters you can verify with your own eyes and understanding, the mere fact that I in the very best of faith disagree means that at least one of us has imperfect knowledge of the world, and only a tiny bit of insight into the imperfection of our brains and senses should be sufficient to convince you that the only honest conclusion is that neither one of us can be certain of our knowledge of the real world around us. We have little choice but to doubt it.

We therefore have a moral responsibility to believe the most that which we can doubt the least, in some mathematically and logically defensible sense, given the entire body of our observational knowledge. So here is a simple, logical argument for you. Let's start with Thomas Paine:

"If we are to suppose a miracle to be something so entirely out of the course of what is called nature, that she must go out of that course to accomplish it, and we see an account given of such miracle by the person who said he saw it, it raises a question in the mind very easily decided, which is, is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course; but we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time; it is therefore, at least millions to one, that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie." (Paine 1794)

This is actually completely inadequate as a statistical statement. The First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics are what is meant by "nature going out of its course". We have never observed these laws to be substantively violated, in far more than milllions of observations. In addition, I think that we have to agree that in addition to being mistaken about imperfect beliefs, humans are prone to lie, to make things up, to con people, to tell them falsehoods for the fun of it, to hide guilt, or for personal gain. Human testimony is enormously unreliable. Hearsay testimony is so unreliable and so easily corrupted that it isn't accepted in a court of law to determine things that are far less important than what to believe about the Universe itself. It isn't millions to one, it is numbers like factorials of large numbers to one -- literally -- that miracles that violate the second law alone happen, where it isn't even likely that one can trust hearsay of hearsay of hearsay evidence supposedly reported by an untrained individual who was not even there when the events occurred and yet wrote them down as "fact". Even before examining the details, one should be deeply suspicious of Genesis, just as one should be (and, I'm sure, you probably are!) deeply suspicious of the creation myths of all of the other world mythologies. There is simply no more reason to believe anything in a given religious scripture than there is to believe that the works of Aristotle are correct when he makes statements pertaining to the real world. No doubt that they were made in good faith, and that he was a reasonably smart guy, but when he asserts that women have a different number of teeth then men, we would do well to count the teeth in the mouths of many men and many women to see if his assertion is correct rather than relying on his supposed authority. And Aristotle, at least, we can be reasonably certain actually existed and we have some provenance for his works.

From the point of view of pure probability, then, it is very improbable that any reported miracle took place. It is a lot more likely that the reporter is mistaken, is lying, is crazy, or was not an eyewitness and is reporting hearsay that is mistaken, lying, crazy. A lot more likely.

Now I ask, is it your moral responsibility here -- this is a moral choice -- to believe more in something unlikely, believe in it knowing that it is more likely false than true by any objective standard, or is it better to uncritically accept anything you are taught, anything you are told, especially if you were conditioned to believe it on pain of a threatened eternity in hell when you were too young to know any better?

Second, although we have no good reason to think Genesis is even likely to be true, even though we are nearly certain that it is false before we even read it carefully because it asserts multiple absurdities and miracles and we know that miracles are almost by definition less likely than mistakes or lies, a careful individual will naturally read it and do their best to assess individual claims in it to see if there are parts of it that are easily contradicted by modern observations and knowledge. One can look, for example, at its description and order of creation, and compare it to the evidence literally gathered with our eyes and electronic devices looking at distant stars and galaxies, compare it to the fossil record, compare it to radiometricly dated rocks (not dated with just one isotope, but dated with many isotopes, with overlapping ranges, consistently) and conclude that every single assertion in its account of creation is false! Or at least, is contradicted by evidence that you yourself can walk through and understand, if you purchase and work through a single college level textbook on astronomy requiring no more math than high school algebra to understand. Or a website explaining the radiometric dating used to date rocks. The Universe is far, far older than Genesis allows.

We can find other glaring errors. The moon does not light itself, it is lit by the sun. The Earth is not flat. It is not surmounted by a solid dome (the "firmament") hung with stars that can fall from the bowl to the ground, and through which rain is poured. Heaven is not "above" this firmament and there is no deep "below" it because it is approximately a sphere and down is into and up is out from, something the author of Genesis obviously failed to know or understand. Genesis has the order of species' appearance absurdly wrong, the time frame wrong, it completely fails to appreciate just how many stars there are or how vast the Universe really is when it assigns them the purpose of being "signs" in the heavens. If they are indeed signs, how much must you blind yourself to ignore what they tell us about the age and structure of the Universe?

However, it doesn't really require this many errors for us to conclude that Genesis is an unreliable witness, if it can be considered a "witness" at all. Just one is plenty. One suffices to show that the authors of Genesis were either mistaken or lied or told crazy stories about many of the things that they asserted as pure fact. When a witness in a courtroom is caught out in a bald-faced lie, or is even shown to be badly mistaken about something they testified about quite fervently, should we trust that witness more or less regarding all of the other things said that we cannot so easily check? Remember, we are morally bound to believe what it is best to believe, and we cannot find best belief by burying our metaphorical heads in the sand and ignoring inconvenient data, inconvenient scientific (highly probable) truths deduced from that data, the entire, reasonably consistent body of scientific knowledge that is constantly be extended and audited for errors in a process that automatically leads, over time, to best belief.

We can go further, and examine other obvious myths, such as the myth of the flood, in which it is asserted that the millions of species distributed all over the world in land, sea and air were all preserved in a wooden boat the size of a Wal-Mart that floated through a 6 inch per minute rain that lasted 40 days and nights in order to cover Mount Everest in that time frame and which was ventilated by a single window with an area of around a square meter. We can trace the flood myth to still earlier roots -- it isn't even an original myth, it is hearsay of a much earlier myth. We can try to verify statements of geography, or history. We can apply common sense to the problem of breeding an entire species out of only two initial individuals. We can look at the similarities between gorilla and human DNA. We can use our heads to determine best belief, instead of believing things that a child can see are just stories and myths and lies as if they are truer truth than what we can see with our own eyes, verify with our own reason and senses.

I would suggest that you seriously re-examine the basis of the one real moral choice you are making, which is to believe something that is -- seriously -- not very likely to be true, instead of believing things that you can verify are probably true many, many ways. Such as by typing your reply. I promise, your keyboard would not work to send your reply to the world if all of the physics that shows Genesis to be nonsense did not only work, but work precisely as we think it works. Your choosing a 6000+ year old Universe with obviously mythical gardens as the solution to the problem of theodicy isn't even morally defensible -- you believe in God the Monster if he would punish a single child for the sin of another.

Seriously. Would you do that? Walk into a room and observe Tommy pulling Suzie's pony tail in kindergarten, and walk over and smack Jimmy, Tommy's little brother, who is sitting quietly and doing his work? Would you spank your dog's puppies if your dog makes a mess on the floor? Would you take your own son and dump them in a vat of molten lead for an eternity if they refused to agree with your absurd assertion that the Universe is young and that all genetic tracks narrow to just two individuals per species a mere five or six thousand years ago? Because if you think that is crazy talk, a truly evil way to behave, then why do you think God (if God exists, something for which we have absolutely no evidence) would do such a thing?


Comment Re:Well, that's embarrassing (Score 5, Insightful) 622

So, Jesus sends a secret message to his followers to "prove" that he existed in a bizarre inverse image on a piece of cloth that appears to have originated long, long after he died in radiometric testing. This is the Alpha and the Omega, creator of the Universe itself, all powerful, who rose from the dead multiple times (according to Saul/Paul, and of course Saints cannot lie about something important like that) and who could easily save the souls of all the unbelievers in the world at any time by manifesting himself to them as he did to Saul/Paul and "hundreds of others".

He could, in fact, save my soul, as I am very, very certain that Jesus Was Not Magic, and that's if a single Jesus corresponding to the one in the inconsistent Gospels even existed and isn't a synthesis of a number of apocalyptic preachers of the time, dressed up with added myths and legends so that the religion itself could hold its own with the other prevailing "world" religions of the day (virgin birth, raised from the dead, raises the dead, sundry other miracles). There is, after all, absolutely nothing that any objective scientist would consider believable evidence to support the preposterous allegations of miracles of this or any other religion. So according to the Gospels, I am damned. According to Mark, Jesus deliberately set things up that way because I am preordained to be damned. Of course elsewhere in the Gospels, it is asserted that Jesus loves me, and still other places I would no doubt be identified as a "dog begging scraps from the master's table" as a Gentile and not a Jew.

But no matter. If Jesus is God, if God is all-powerful and all-loving, Jesus/God doesn't want to damn me or any other sentient being to hell. Of course as all-powerful all-loving Jesus/God, he/it can easily prevent it by just not doing it, but even if he/it establishes a rule that non-believers have to go to hell, he established a clear precedent with Saul that he can and at a whim will appear in person before them to take a Christian-persecuting wicked zealot sinner and convince him that he is real and thereby not only save them from damnation but convert them into a saint. It is an obvious theorem of these not too stringent observations and assumptions that either:

* Jesus is God, but is evil, and deliberately refrains from actions that would save sentient beings he presumably loves and who are capable of suffering from an easily preventable eternity of suffering.

* Jesus is God, but is not all powerful (which some would argue disqualifies him from being God, but whatever) and would love to appear before each sinner and demonstrate his reality and compassion and miraculous abilities, but lacks the time-sharing capabilities to do so.

* Jesus existed but was just a man who was born, lived for a while, perhaps made a bit of heavily mythologized and utterly non-supernatural ruckus, and then died, possibly by crucifixion, possibly of old age or disease.

* Jesus is a syncretic myth composed perhaps of John the Baptist legends and legends of some of the other apocalyptic con men/preachers of the age who went around preaching for a living and salted the crowd with shills to increase their following and donation/support stream. It is, not at all unreasonable that any such preacher would be named or even just titled Yeshua, which simply means god-redeemer, which happens to be the meaning of the word Christ as well which happens to be pretty much the meaning of Messiah (annointed savior). Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is "Annointed/Holy Savior" in three languages, Romanized Hebrew, Greek, and Hebrew. It seems perfectly reasonable that none of these terms is an actual name of the individual(s) involved (including, by the way, "Emmanuel", which comes from a completely irrelevant prophecy to King Ahaz and means "God is with us" and which nobody records as being one of his names but Matthew seeking desperately to tie Jesus to some kind of "official" prophecy).

If I am mistaken, Jesus/God can at any time correct me for my completely honest, good faith error by appearing in my den as he appeared to Saul and hundreds of others, turning a glass or two of tapwater into beer (a miracle I myself perform, but more slowly and with conservation of mass/energy and obedience to the second law of thermodynamics along the way) and having a chat with me about why Christianity appears to be nothing more than organized lunacy, a 2000 year old con, about as believable as Joseph Smith's "Gold Tablets" and anachronistic work widely recognized as the first science fiction novel written in the Americans, complete with integrated racism, the geography of an entirely imaginary middle east, and steel swords, compasses, and old world plants and animals in the new world.


The trouble with a lot of self-made men is that they worship their creator.