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Comment Re:I dunno... (Score 1) 776

Yeah, like that, assuming you have the ? operator.

Fun but dumb. This is the sort of thing I assign as one of the first few programming assignments in any language I'm teaching a student (usually in an independent study, since I generally teach physics and not programming except to select students). I'm about to teach a student matlab (not my first choice, but a decent thing to choose to be first for a total programming novice) and I'll be sure to include this right after I have them do the "count to 100" exercise that is just the loop itself.


Comment Re:I dunno... (Score 1, Informative) 776

Inelegant. You really only need three conditionals and no else. Fewer lines of code (including the terminating LF).

for i in 1 to 100 loop

      if mod(i,3) == 0 then print 'fizz';
      if mod(i,5) == 0 then print 'buzz';
      if(mod(i,3) || mod(i,5)) print i;
      print '\n';

end loop

Comment Re:Survey with "Jedi" option available (Score 1) 262

What a taunting "invitation". You say "come over to my house and watch the game" then leave the door locked, the knocker gone and the doorbell disconnected because you're sure your invitee won't show.

Piffle. How can you lock the door on God? You have inflated Jesus in your mind into some sort of arrogant bastard, to help reduce the cognitive dissonance caused by the unsolvable problem of theodicy: case you haven't worked through it. None of the proposed "solutions" are at all logical or appealing, and they are infinitely less appealing with the hell meme, which makes God infinitely unjust for punishing a finite offense committed by a flawed character for an eternity.

No, I'm merely assuming for the sake of the argument that you are correct, that Jesus is real, but I'm insisting on applying the exact same rules I used to determine the reality of everything else to verify that. You have a vague feeling in your mind and say "Aha, Jesus!" I insist on rather more. My mind is certainly capable of generating a feeling of Jesus, or Ganesh, or Buddha, or The Great Spirit watching over me, because my mind is complex, far more than just my interior dialogue or current focus of attention. So is yours. As I'm married, I'm perfectly aware that my mind is capable of synthesizing entire fantasies and substituting them for a memory of reality (if you are married, I'm sure your wife or husband has successfully demonstrated this to you as well). When I teach, I often say one thing but my hand writes something else at the board. Who wrote that? Jesus? Satan? Or is my brain just more complex than what's going on in my verbal centers and sometimes confused, sometimes feeding garbage from one part into the sensory channels of another?

Also, why do I even need to ask? Why does anyone? If you believe that the contents of the Bible are factually correct -- God knows how you possibly could, given the vast collection of internal contradictions and contradictions with simple known facts, but if -- then you agree that Jesus revealed himself to certain people "in person". Saul/Paul was my example, but according to SPaul "hundreds of others, some of whom are now asleep" (dead). Spaul wasn't inviting Jesus at all; nor was he taunting. He simply thought that Jesus was yet another false messiah and that Jews that thought otherwise were blasphemers, which is not, actually, an unreasonable proposition given the straight up beliefs of Judaism at that time. In persecuting them, he was simply following the rules laid down in the Old Testament for dealing with blasphemy and idolatry.

One has to assume that SPaul would have gone to hell had Jesus not intervened, completely uninvited, personally. One has to assume that nearly everybody on Earth will end up in hell if Jesus doesn't intervene, uninvited, personally since it is still the case that 2 out of 3 people living are not even nominally Christian (and one has to assume, as you seem to agree, that many of those that claim to be Christian on a sheet are not, although that's a No True Scotsman logical fallacy for anyone to assert about anyone else). So here I am, surely no worse thatn SPaul on the road to Damascus. As I've pointed out, probably better -- I hardly ever persecute anybody but undergraduates who are flunking my course. My disbelief in Jesus is utterly reasonable and completely honest disbelief, just as your belief is completely unreasonable as you've never actually seen Jesus, touched Jesus, or had any of the usual sensory experiences associated with things that are actually objectively real (forgive me for speaking for you here, but you know this is true -- you've never shared a glass of wine with Jesus in the real world and chatted about theodicy to see how God explains the solution to the problem).

I believe -- mostly -- in the laptop I'm typing this reply into because I'm physically touching it and the sensory experience is the sort I've learned to associate with "things that very probably really exist", while I don't believe in Yetis so very much because I've never seen one, nor are there any of the sorts of things that I've learned to interpret as reliable reports of their existence. It's not that there might not be an animal that corresponds to the myth/legend of the Yeti; it's that nobody has managed to catch one and study it and do the sorts of things that definitively prove its existence. I'm sure that if they do exist in the wilds of Tibet, and somebody who lives there has seen one up close and personally, they'd be inclined to believe in them at lot more than I do, but because humans are so often mistaken even about what they see, even they would be well advised to avoid egregious conclusions about just what it is that they are seeing, which could range from a genetically deformed ordinary human to a new species of primate.

As I've said before, I believe because God has revealed himself to me.

Really? What did God look like? Did God explain hell, or why he lets all sorts of awful things happen to people when he could easily prevent it? Or do you mean that you have a feeling of communion with God, a mental sensation with absolutely nothing in the external world that corresponded to it? If so, how in the world do you know that you experienced God "revealing himself to you" as opposed to a rush of oxytocin released in a positive feedback loop? God has to be more than a mental high that might or might not be self-induced. Let me know when God communicates actual objective information or any sort of evidence to you that can be objectively checked.

Imagine what the world would be like if everyone acted as Jesus taught. No more war, no more poverty, no more hate.

Jesus taught that the world was about to end, and that he was going to come back within the lifetime of his immediate followers to establish the Kingdom of God. The Bible states this quite unambiguously in several places. Later, when it was clear that this was not going to happen, the Bible itself was rewritten to soften this prophecy so that it can never be falsified, no matter how long one waits. Jesus preached things like selling all of one's wealth and giving it away to the poor, which sounds very compassionate but is appallingly bad economics, economics that would in no time at all lead to world poverty the likes of which the world has only seen back in the Dark Ages in Europe, when in fact everybody was a Christian -- or else. So your "no more poverty" assertion is simply false if one literally follows the teachings of Jesus.

Of course he taught that way. He himself -- if he really ever existed at all and isn't an amalgam of the many apocalyptic preachers who, like John the Baptist, wandered Judea at the time -- expected the apocalypse any day now, so there was no point in holding on to wealth or even a means of making a living. Look to the lilies of the field, right? Riiiiight. Sure path to starvation.

Naturally, you're going to pick out and interpret other parts of the Bible or what he said to justify continuing to hold a job and not selling all of your personal possessions and giving them all to the poor and walking out your front door, leaving your family and life behind and devoting everything for the rest of your life to Jesus, but the clear fact of the matter is that this is precisely what he said you, and everybody else, should do. Not a pretty picture, actually, because God really doesn't take care of the lilies in the field, and he doesn't take care of humans or visibly interfere in human affairs or the mechanical operation of the world in any way that we can detect, looking very hard.

Now, imagine what the world would be like if everybody acted as the Buddha taught. No more war, no more hate, and -- for real -- no more poverty, because Buddha only insisted that people not make a living at things that hurt others, not that they don't make a living at all. Buddha is, word for word, concept for concept, far wiser and more compassionate than Jesus up front, where it matters, in the explicitly stated major precepts of Buddhism, where with Jesus you have to puzzle over cursing figs that are unproductive out of season or understand why Jesus is deliberately preaching in parables to deceive the people he wants to send to hell.

And Buddha wasn't perfectly correct, either. What in the world is wrong with using your mere common sense and living a "good life" not to get into heaven or avoid hell after you die, not because "God wants you to", but because it makes sense to do so, because it minimizes the hell we all must endure in this real world, because it minimizes your own suffering and the suffering of others while maximizing at the same time your comfort, security, and happiness? I manage it just fine, and stopped believing in Jesus some 40 years ago, and stopped believing in a personal god decades ago. My wife is a physician, an enormously compassionate individual. She manages it. Being "good" or being "bad" has nothing to do with belief, and absolutely nothing to do with Jesus unless you carefully cherrypick the verses from the NT you want to use to make Jesus good in accord with your own intuition of the good.

Finally, whether or not life would be great if everybody were a Christian doesn't affect in any way whether or not Christianity is true. You really need to separate the two in your mind, as they are entirely separate questions. You also need to acknowledge that it is just barely possible that basing your life decisions upon false information, whether or not that false information is a deliberate lie or merely a mistake, might lead you to perform acts that you yourself would consider to be bad acts if you were in the possession of the true facts.


Comment Re:Survey with "Jedi" option available (Score 1) 262

Not athiestic, polytheistic. I spent a year in Thailand while in the USAF and knew a LOT of Bhuddists. They burn incense to various gods, and have ornate little "spirit houses" outside their homes so the spirits will inhabit the beautiful little spirit houses and not their homes.

Since Buddhism is not a religion but a philosophy, one can certainly incorporate the religion into other spiritual or religious practice. Hinduism, for example, just made the Buddha into an avatar of Vishnu (and hence a bona-fide Hindu god). Thai Buddhism is derived from this branch of the family tree. In China and Tibet it often was mixed with Taoism or various forms of spiritualism, giving rise to e.g. Zen and still other flavors. In a similar way, Quakerism is sufficiently broad that there actually exist atheistic Quakers and Buddhist Quakers. However, the words of Buddha himself, to the extent that one believes that e.g. the Pali Canons preserve them, do not teach of God or Gods, but rather the contrary:

To put it more literally, Buddha argued that believing in Gods is not useful. It is pointless. Even if they exist it is pointless, because they too are bound the the wheel and must seek enlightenment, and then, there is no evidence that they exist. To the spiritually enlightened in Hinduism and Buddhism alike, the gods are viewed as metaphors, as crutches to aid human understanding by personifying traits both desirable and undesirable. A perhaps better summary is here:

which also explains the minor differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, where Theravada is more abstract and less religious. Buddhist "devotion" should not be confused with theism, and Buddha explicitly stated that he was not a God and that the entire idea of God is a distraction from the path to Enlightenment. Of course, Jesus explicitly stated in the New Testament that he wasn't God as well, but look how well that worked.

People want to believe that the Universe is personal, not impersonal. They want to believe that there is a point to it all. They want to believe in cosmic/divine justice, because there ain't no justice here on Earth in any living being's actual life. They will invent Gods or deify innocent philosophers given half a chance, if that's the only way they can have them.

This is not clearly presented even by Buddhists. They often prefer to present Buddhism as "non-theistic" but not atheistic without recognizing that "non" is the literal meaning of the "a" in atheistic. They also often present atheists as people who assert that they can prove that there is no such thing as God. Neither of these is true. Atheists don't assert that there definitely is no God. They assert that there is no good reason to think that there is. On a really good day, a really famous atheist like David Hume might go so far as to logically prove that there never can be good reason to think that there is, any more than some finite observation can prove the existence of something infinite. Buddha asserted both that there is no good reason to believe in a God, and furthermore, that worrying or arguing about it is equally pointless, establishing himself as both an atheist and a reasoner who anticipated Hume's argument 2100 years earlier.

A Christian doesn't NEED a church. Any Christian can perform a baptism or communion. Christ himself said "whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I will be there."

Depending, of course, on what kind of Christian you are. Christianity isn't a religion -- it is many. We could also go down a list of what Christ is supposed to have said -- For example: "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: 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." In other words, Jesus preached in parables to deliberately confuse people so that they wouldn't understand him and thereby be converted, so that they could be damned. Thanks, Jesus!

Or "And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God." -- Kinda hard to interpret this in any other way but Jesus acknowledging that he is neither God, nor good. Unless he's doing parables again, trying to confuse us. Wily guy!

Or a verse or two later:

"Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me."

This one is particularly interesting. Jesus, we have to presume, is still alive, not yet crucified. The cross is not, in fact, a symbol of Christianity -- there is no such thing as Christianity, not yet. Jesus has, in fact, just overtly stated that he is not God (an appropriate thing for a good Jew to do, by the way). Yet he tells his listener to take up the cross, and follow him!

What cross? Can this possibly be an actual quote of Jesus? Of course not. His listener wouldn't have had any idea what Jesus was talking about. Even if you are enormously generous to the point of extreme gullibility, and insist that this is an example of offhand prophecy by Jesus instead of Mark putting words into Jesus' mouth fifty or sixty years later (by which time maybe the cross had become a symbol) or some nameless redactor even later, in the second or third century, this is right up their with:

        Chosen One: But I don't understand. Who are the evil council?
        Mushufasa: The answer you seek resides in the stars above.
        Chosen One: I don't understand.
        Mushufasa: Of course you don't. I'm speaking in riddles. That's kind of the point, like a clue, so when you figure it out you'll say "Oh, that's what he meant! Stars above!"

So that later, the dude would go "Oh, so that's what he meant by take up the cross..."

A more sensible approach would be to just acknowledge that we have no real idea what Deliverer the Anointed Deliverer might have said, if he actually existed, because one can be pretty sure that a lot of what it is claimed that he said is overtly self-contradictory or obviously an (in this case an anachronistic) insertion.

Christianity itself isn't declining, but the various denominations are. The church I attend (a very large, rich church) is nondenominational. I think the reason for this is that many denominations have beliefs that aren't really backed up by scripture, such as the Mormons and Southern Baptists who think drinking is a sin, despite the fact that Jesus was a drinker.

They also tend to have beliefs that aren't really backed up by scientific inquiry or mere common sense, such as the belief that there was a world-spanning flood that covered Mount Everest to the tippy top (9000 meters up) in only 40 days of rain, while all of the species in the world that would have been killed in such an event were preserved pairwise in a wooden boat the size of a Wal-Mart ventilated through a window the size of a doormat. Oh, wait, Jesus himself believed in this: "But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." Of course, none of this ever happened, and just maybe that is really why Christianity is in decline.

As to critical thinking, once God has shown himself to you, no amount of critical thinking is going to make you not believe. Elephants are pretty unbelievable untill you've gone to the zoo. If it weren't for people actually knowing God, religion would have died out centuries ago.

You will never find a hidden thing that you don't believe in.

It would be difficult to find a more succinct statement of anti-science in all of, er, Christendom. And it is one of the standard apologia, one that (of course) applies just as perfectly to belief in Shiva and Parvati and Ganesh, or the Trimurti, or Zeus and Athena, or Odin and Thor, or the Great Spirit, or Yahweh, or (goodness, how many "hidden" Gods are there that I have to believe in before I can find them?)...

My standard reply to this sort of nonsense is twofold. First, let's invite Jesus to show himself to me, like he promised he would do, when asked nicely. Usually I ask for Jesus to show up in my den where I'm typing this reply, would that do? OK, I just issued the invitation yet again, let's see if it works!

It should -- after all, we can carry out the following reasoning:

God/Jesus loves me (this I know, for the Bible tells me so... yes, I too sang this as part of my early indoctrination).

We do not wish to torture things we love in a fiery furnace for eternity. For example, I'm very fond of my dogs and I therefore do not douse them in gasoline and set them on fire, even though one or the other has chewed one of my books to pieces or pissed on my carpet. Nor have I tortured and killed any of my three sons (although there were days it was close, I admit:-). Usually I'm actually nice to the beings I love, although we all know that God is not, not if your standard of Godly "nice" means anything like what the word actually means.

Sadly, according to "the rules", Jesus/God is going to consign me to a fiery furnace for eternity because I do not -- in the very best of faith -- believe in him. This in spite of every unfair advantage given to Jesus early on -- raised a Christian, sang in the choir, grandson and uncle of Methodist ministers, a boy scout. Nor do I think much of the Bible. It is an inconsistent mess, utterly useless as a guide for ethical behavior and worse than useless as a standard of knowledge about the real world. In fact, I think the whole thing is a lot of mythical malarky designed from the beginning to separate fools from money (to create "rich churches") and political power, mixed in of course with some very sincere self-delusion, all inherited from dark, ignorant times. Now we know better, or should.

However, I'm an empiricist. Jesus can at any time -- like right now, for example -- save me from eternal damnation as we are both certain that -- if he exists at all -- he wishes to do (see above). All he has to do is what he did for Saul of Tarsus and "hundreds of others" -- appear in my den, change ordinary water into a couple of beers, and sit down and chat with me a while over a cold one. We can discuss ethics and the Bible and he can explain the bit about cursing the fig for not giving him figs out of season, or why he would actually appear with Moses when Moses ordered the murder of tens of thousands of women and children (the Midianite captives), excepting only the young female virgins in the lot, whom he gave to his soldiers as playtoys.

Jesus certainly can do this, right? I mean according to John, he created the Universe, the alpha and omega and all that, cured blindness with spit and mud, brought back dead people and came back from the dead himself. He did it for Saul, and hey, by his own admission Saul at the time was a rabid anti-Christian who actually hunted down Christians to hurt them while I'm a mere highly ethical, gentle, and kind apostate and am not even mean to my own niece, the minister when I think that her beliefs are a pile of crap that damages the world in countless ways. He did it for "hundreds of others" in Saul/Paul's time. What's good enough for Saul/Paul -- or for that matter, Thomas who didn't even believe that Jesus came back from the dead when he was supposedly standing in front of him (or so they say, although this sounds more than a bit odd to me, doesn't it sound odd to you?) -- is good enough for me. Jesus must want to do this, because I'm at least as deserving as Saul; because he loves me besides; because doesn't want me to burn, surely (the Mark quote above notwithstanding, let's go with the ideal Jesus-of-your-dreams not the Jesus of your nightmares who is also described effectively in the NT); and finally he must be able to do this or he's no deity and yet... ...for the umptieth time, he's a no-show. Why is that, one wonders? Too busy? Doesn't love me as much as he loved wicked old Saul, the Christian-persecutor? Is he even now chortling and stoking the fire because he gets a kick out of damning people to hell for disbelief alone?

Or, could it be, just maybe, because he doesn't, actually exist, and if he ever did exist he is dead and not at all divine?

Note well that you too can try this experiment in the privacy of your own home. Accept no substitutes! Not a "feeling of presence" that you could be making up in your own mind, ask for the real deal, physical manifestation. Too easy to fool yourself the other way, too easy by half (and more than enough to explain the ongoing persistence of religion).

As for finding a hidden thing one doesn't believe in -- we clearly have very different ideas about the objective nature of reality. I personally think that one finds real things when one looks for them -- or not! -- quite independent of whether or not one believes in them. For example, I think that the reason very few people find elves, fairies, or pink unicorns when they look for them is not because they lack belief in them, it is because they don't, really, exist. They might exist -- I'm open minded -- but I'm not about to believe in them in the absence of evidence because that is stupid. If you want me to believe in a pink unicorn, produce one! I'm easy to convince! The same is true of elephants -- your own example -- I didn't first believe in elephants and then find one, I actually first saw an elephant (and shortly afterwards, rode on one) and then had no difficulty at all believing in them "hidden" though they were by an entire world in between beforehand.

Also, why in the world is Jesus hidden? You do realize that this makes no sense! What useful purpose is served by hiding himself? What compassionate purpose is served by this? What loving purpose is served by this? You imply that Jesus is hidden, but if I believe I will find him, but why is he hidden so I have to believe first when everything else in the realm of my experience works the other way -- where we believe in it because we found it.

I'd strongly suggest that you get your cognitive priorities straight, with observation first, beliefs afterwards. It just works better that way.

In the meantime, science is the process that often leads to the discovery of many hidden things, quite independent of whether or not one has prior belief in them. Indeed, it is safe to say that understanding and belief are strictly posterior events compared to the observations and discovery, although at some point they entwine together with new understanding leading the way to new discovery, that in turn leads to new understanding. I strongly suggest that you reconsider the scientific worldview, and believe in things that can be observed and verified, rather than antique, inconsistent, unbelievable world-myths.

I, in turn, will continue to wait on Jesus. I mean it now, he has an open invitation. My door is always open to the son of god (not that it could ever be closed, right?). He can even strike me blind (like he did Saul) if he really thinks it necessary, although that seems like a bit of bad stage magic compared to (for example) overwhelming me with the logic and beauty of his perfect knowledge and perfect ethical sense. But in the meantime in the very best of faith I will no more believe in an invisible and unlikely Jesus than you believe in the equally invisible and unlikely Ganesh or either one of us believes in the absurdity of Zeus, or Krishna, or Cthulhu, or (fill in the blank with the God or Gods of your choice). After all, a typical atheist believes in just one God fewer than a typical theist, and for exactly the same reasons.

Comment Re:Survey with "Jedi" option available (Score 1) 262

No arguments. I fully agree we have plenty of splinters in our own eyes. And without the monarchy, what would the tabloids do? I don't know that plea bargaining is the problem you make it out to be, but there are plenty of other problems that are so who cares?

The sad thing is that in both our countries there is a huge gap between people who profess to be Christian and those that actually practice some aspect of Christianity e.g. attend church. 70% in the US profess to be Christian currently -- way down from previous years, but still well short of 43%. In the US this matters, because it misrepresents the political leverage of the religious right. But that too is changing, slowly. Give it a few more decades...

Comment Re:"Alternative" to what? (Score 2) 262

Historians have a strong consensus that Jesus of Nazareth, Mohammed, and Gautama Buddha were real, historical people, and it's on their words major religions are based. So even if you don't believe in the Divinity of, well, anything, to put these major religious figures on the same level as a green rubber puppet is just ignorant of history and culture.

Dear Sir Garlon,

Please read: Misquoting Jesus, by Bart Ehrman. Or Forged, by Bart Ehrman. Or Jesus, Interrupted, by Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is an apostatic ex-born-again Christian who is currently a professor of religious studies at UNC-Chapel Hill (who happens to live about a mile away from where I'm sitting right now at Duke, where his wife works). He started studying the Bible thinking it was God's word, but the facts (as he will exhaustively and clearly teach you, if you bother to actually try to learn) did not support this. In fact, his conclusion after years of devoted study was rather the opposite.

Regarding the historical reality of Jesus -- there is no contemporary evidence -- outside of the obviously suspect writings of the Church itself -- for this. None. Not one word, one relic, one corroborating fact. The earliest mention -- and only first century mention -- of Jesus is in a probable second or third century insertion in Josephus (the language is infinitely improbable for a man who was a devout Jew). It was also written around 90 CE, which would mean that even if it were written by Josephus, he could not possibly have been reporting events from circa 30 CE as an eyewitness. Note that at this time adult life expectancy was pathetic -- there were probably no surviving humans who even might have witnessed any of the events recorded in the gospels by the time one single historical word about Jesus was written anywhere.

There are no Roman records or Jewish records that confirm a single one of the events reported in the Gospels. In most cases they directly contradict assertions made in the Gospels, such as the idea that the Jewish priesthood had no law to put a man to death. Puh-leeze, they did it all the time. Remember, Jewish Law called for people to be stoned to death for an appallingly long list of "crimes" including adultery, blasphemy, disrespect of your parents. One can go down quite a list of these problems (and of course, many people have done so).

Turning to Christian writings (automatically suspect given their vested interest): The gospels that speak of the birth of Jesus (Matthew and Luke) cannot be reconciled -- one (Matthew) places the birth of Jesus firmly in the time of King Herod the Great with the supposed slaughter of innocents and flight to Egypt. The other (Luke) places the birth of Jesus firmly in the time of Herod Antipas, when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. These two times are separated by at least fifteen years. Clearly neither Matthew nor Luke had ever met Jesus or had the foggiest idea when or how or if he was born. Mark, considered by most serious Bible historians to be the primary document from which both Matthew and Luke were later derived (that is, the earliest document actually written) was a) almost certainly not written until after the Jewish revolt and fall of the temple and b) was absolutely not written by an eyewitness. It doesn't even get the geography of Palestine right, and many of the cities it describes -- such as Nazareth -- literally did not exist at the time Jesus was supposed to have come from them (making your reference to "Jesus of Nazareth" interesting in the extreme). The Romans were excellent record keepers and kept excellent tax rolls, and Nazareth was founded no earlier than late in the first or early in the second century, primarily to exploit the increasing numbers of Christian pilgrims.

It is also a simple fact -- as Ehrman reports, if you ever read any of the above -- that we have nothing but a handful of fragments of any of the books of the Bible from the first century -- we're talking literal scraps of parchment with barely enough text on it to be recognizable as coming from a part of a Gospel (say). None of these is from the early first century. A large part of the New Testament is the series of Pauline letters/books (e.g. Romans, Corinthians). Paul, of course, was not a disciple, never met Jesus, mostly spoke of Jesus not as a real person but rather as a spiritual being who appeared to the favored when they were in a sufficiently frenzied state of worship. Although he is strictly reporting hearsay (and again, has almost certainly been subjected to multiple redacting and insertions, gives us almost no actual details concerning Jesus as a real person rather than as an avatar of a spiritual deity, and has a clear interest in having people accept his version of Christianity) Paul is the best we have as far as reasons to believe in a historical Jesus.

Nowhere is there any particularly good reason to think that we have faithfully recorded any of the actual words of Jesus. None of the documents that record words ascribed to him were written down (as far as we know or can verify) within fifty years of his death, and were written by people that never met or heard Jesus. At the very best they are recording a verbal tradition of his sayings, one that is (as such things always are) enormously variable and unreliable. It is entirely plausible that there was never any single person that corresponded to a historical Jesus. There were many apocalyptic preachers, many groups of teenage Jewish rebels who hated Rome and viewed the Roman occupation as a punishment for sin, and "Jesus" could easily be a confabulation of legends derived from them all, carefully written and tuned so that they would win over followers of competing apocalyptics (like John the Baptist).

So stating that there is a "strong consensus" among historians fails to account for the fact that most of those historians are Christian, and/or have been raised in a Christian culture where it was and continues to be simply taken for granted that Jesus was not only a real being, but the actual Son of God, God incarnate as human, and so on. But the actual evidence that Jesus existed is as thin as a wisp of smoke.

If he did exist, what was his name? Jesus is a Roman corruption of Yeshua, which is Hebrew for "the Deliverer". It is not a name, it is a description of a role. The term Messiah merely means "annointed", and again is traditionally held to refer to an anointed deliverer. Christ is the Greek translation of Messiah, again annointed deliverer. So when we speak of how real the Messiah, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, our Savior is, bear in mind that we are really talking about how real the Anointed Deliverer, Deliverer Anointed Deliverer of Nowhere Real, our Deliverer is -- a person whose name we do not know, born sometime within a decade and a half wide window of a woman who was almost certainly not a virgin (this was a complete second-century abuse of an out of context story from Isaiah plus a mistranslation of the Hebrew even there), who almost certainly was not "of the house of David" (the two competing lineages given in the Gospels don't agree and are both obviously just made up) who appeared more or less as an adult (ignoring the obviously fictional stories of his birth and childhood) on the road preaching for a whole year, maybe two, working out of an entirely fictional town whose very name appears to be a symbolic pun, before he disappeared, possibly killed as a political or religious dissident. The oldest copies of Mark do not contain a resurrection -- even that is a second century or later insertion, necessary for Jesus to be able to compete with e.g. Mithras or Osiris or Hercules and the rest of the Pagan gods.

Julius Caesar is a historically real person. We know when he was born, when he died. We have some of his actual writings. We have multiple reports of his historical reality from contemporary scholars. We know a rather lot about him, given that he lived even earlier than Jesus supposedly lived. Jesus might -- and I do mean might -- be the posthumous title awarded to an actual human apocalyptic preacher (who could have been named Yeshua, as the name was not uncommon) but our certainty of any of this is far, far less. If you disagree, then you tell me! What was his actual name? When was he actually born? Where did he live (given that "Nazareth" at the time was a Jewish burial ground used as a place to herd goats)? Quote one single reliable line that he might have said. Tell me how, where, and even if he actually died.

But you cannot do any of these things. Nobody can.

Mohammed I have little beef about -- he almost certainly existed as a historical figure, and it is even rather likely that we have reasonably reliable copies of his actual writings.

Buddha is somewhere in between. Our direct evidence for Buddha's existence is little better than that for Jesus -- no contemporary historical evidence (difficult, given a nearly illiterate culture) but in the Pali Canons what purports to be a remarkably reliable oral tradition that persisted by dint of mandated word-for-word memorization until it could be written down, whose reliability can at least somewhat be assessed by the accuracy of the transmission through multiple pathways, which make it clear that it was "rewritten" far less than the New Testament along the way. It seems plausible that he might have existed, or he too could be a confabulation or a particular selection out of the rebel mystics who were in relative abundance in north central India in the fifth or sixth century BCE (e.g. the ones who created the Upanishads, the Vedantic spiritual updates of the earlier Vedas that portrayed a religious focus remarkably similar to that of Buddhism).

However, it is important to remember that Buddha did not found a religion! Quite the opposite -- Buddha was himself an atheist, and his teachings were openly atheistic teachings. He reportedly bashed the hell out of the Hindu priesthood as bloodsuckers who lived on the back of the common people while terrorizing them with threats of unlucky rebirths and contemporary bad magic (curses and so on). He admonished his followers not to worry about, or argue about, God (or Gods) and asserted that even if God(s) existed, they too were bound to the wheel and in need of Enlightenment (a common theme with the Upanishads as well, although there Enlightenment is portrayed as reunion of the individual Atman (soul) with Brahman, the oversoul, where the latter is not a personal god but rather a pandeist transcendentally self-aware Universe!

The only aspect of Buddhism that is "theistic" is -- sadly -- the survival of the contemporary accepted meme of serial rebirth -- it was that which one was to be liberated from in both the Hinduism of the Upanishads and Buddhism (in somewhat different ways). In Hinduism and Buddhism alike, this rebirth process is directed by spiritual progress during each life. This is the great failure of Buddha's otherwise admirable prescription for a social ethos -- by embracing this almost certainly false, empirically unsupported piece of the prevailing contemporary religion he justified the support of Buddhist monks by the peasants, something that is just as ethically unsound (if more gently done) as it is in any mythical fabulous belief system or religion. By working to support a monk so that they can achieve enlightenment, one lessens the time one has spend trying to achieve one's own. In a serial rebirth scheme, that is an investment in an imaginary future. In the real world according to Buddha's own basic philosophy it would be a wrong action to ask another to make this sacrifice for you at the expense of their own chance at peace.

It is, therefore, entirely appropriate to put Jesus on the same footing as a green rubber puppet -- you can judge them both by the words other people have put into their mouth. It is less fair to equate them to Mohammed, but then, all one has to do is read the actual Quran (presumably Mohammed's own words, depending on whether or not you think that he was taking dictation from an angel) to realize that this is a mythical and highly unethical religion, built on spiritual extortion and sustained by an unending threat of direct personal violence against the unbeliever, both in this world and the entirely imaginary next. Of them all, Buddha's words sound the sweetest, but of course, his words did not define a religion, they defined an atheist way of ethical life, and sweet or not, they are also horribly flawed by Gautama's misconceptions about the metaphysical basis of reality.

To conclude, if putting a rubber puppet down as a religious figure is a statement of ignorance of history and culture, let he who is without sin in this regard cast the first plastic Jesus. I've worked pretty hard to overcome my own state of ignorance with regard to religions in general, the better to discredit them, and it is a bone simple fact that most Christians have not read, let alone critically studied, the Bible. If they ever did, they'd be appalled to learn that Moses was a mass-murderer war criminal who commited acts of genocide every bit as horrific as Hitler, for example, hardly fit company for Jesus during the Transfiguration, see Numbers 31.


Comment Re:I for one (Score 1) 262

Or, note that giant or not, the semolinic deity in question is hurtling through space, hence flying. Also that any flying noodly mass capable of creating a Universe must, in fact, be giant. Pastafarianism is therefore identical to megastafarianism in all ways that matter, provided only that they share the same general beliefs about the finer points of the faith -- in particular about pirates.

So Arrr, mateys! Do ya now, or do ya not accept as yer true creed and faith that global warming was caused by the decline in piracy from the golden age of piracy (which took place, by no coincidence at all, very close to the peak of the Little Ice Age) to the present, with pasta-scorching heat only recently being narrowly averted by the heroism of pirate clans in Somalia and the Carribean and the South Pacific (who are clearly responsible for the recent flat interval in the lower troposphere temperatures)?

If not, yer no no true worshipper, touched by His Noodly Appendage. Ye probably are subgenius heretics who consider J. R. "Bob" Dobbs to be the human avatar of Fettucini and Meat Balls, served with a white sauce. But beware, a pot of boiling, slightly salted water awaits those who reject the smallest caper...

Comment Re:Survey with "Jedi" option available (Score 1) 262

Do you have any hard evidence of that? A survey, perhaps? I mean, Americans drink a lot. This is a possible explanation for why England apparently has only 2148 Scientologists while the US has over 25,000 (still). I suspect that it is absolutely impossible to become a Scientologist if you're both sane and sober. Of course, this could just reflect the prevalence of mental illness in both countries instead.

The good news is that -- according to ARIS, the US religious census last conducted in 2008 -- Scientology is seriously on the wane (as are most of the lesser Christian denominations and some of the major ones) to the point where in only one or two decades more it could completely disappear. More good news from ARIS is that a full 15% of Americans are atheist/agnostic and another 5% are "don't know" (which translates into agnostic, question answered by somebody who sadly doesn't know what the word means) and another 5% or so on top of that are non-scriptural deists who believe in a non-personal higher power but not any sort of personal god associated with an organized religion. And this still doesn't include the Buddhists (where Buddhism is not a religion, it is an atheistic philosophy and ethical practice that fulfills many of the same social rituals as a religion).

That makes a whopping one American in four who does not buy into any of the scripture-based antique mythologies, with Christianity down from 90% or so of the population several decades ago to 70% today (and falling!).

The survey goes further. Even among those that formally identify as being Christian, many no longer attend any sort of church or participate in any of the primary religious rituals; a substantial fraction don't even plan to have a religious funeral should they die. It is difficult to assess this accurately, as people do not always tell the truth about this sort of thing when they perceive of something being an "accepted" social norm (as "being Christian" has been in America for a very long time) but it is quite plausible that another 10 to 20% of the US population that are nominally Christian are really socially Christian but have little to no actual belief in the Christian creed, do not attend Church or do so only very rarely or to attend weddings or funerals, and (perhaps most importantly) do not give money to a Church. I haven't read the breakdown by age, but I suspect that young people who have been taught critical thinking are failing to enter their parents' religion and over time, the older members of the Churches are dying off unreplaced.

The survey strongly suggests that many of the church denominations are more or less in crisis. Since they are funded by donations, a decline in membership cuts off the funds required to sustain the top-level infrastructure and leadership that gives the denomination its named identity. As numbers drop below critical values in various communities, they can no longer sustain or support a priest or minister and a church. Christianity in the US is heading for a financial crisis due to declining membership that could wipe out a number of smaller denominations or lead to some sort of consolidation, and the numbers of non-religious Americans is already large enough that it is no longer impossible or risky to openly acknowledge that one is atheist (although it is sadly still probably political suicide to do so).

I do feel for you in England, though. Having a national religion is a clear violation of established human rights (and this isn't being smug or superior -- having "In God We Trust" on US currency is also a clear violation of established human rights). It makes us no better than countries seeking to establish Sharia and entrench Islam as a state religion. Religions should receive no tax advantages and no special treatment whatsoever by any government; if anything, governments should continue to aggressively teach critical thinking so that belief in antique mythologies continues its well-deserved slide into oblivion. But then, having a "noble" class and things like kings and queens and dukes and lords is equally silly (except as a tourist attraction). The two seem tightly tied together in England -- perhaps when you finally get rid of the one, you'll lose the other as well. Maybe in another century.


Comment Re:Paren't point (Score 1) 306

Don't be silly. Any climatologist will tell you that's the first thing you have to take into account for the climate. We've had good measurements of insolation since the 1950's and very good satellite measurements since satellites started measuring it in the 1970's (or early 1980's). The simple fact is that the Sun's output hasn't varied enough to account for all of the temperature change. At best it can account for less than 10% of it. On top of that if the warming was caused by the Sun the whole atmosphere would be warming. But in fact the stratosphere has been cooling, a signature of greenhouse gas caused warming.

This is what I meant, actually -- that the insolation variation alone is too small to account for the warming. But that's also very likely true over the last 300 years post LIA, and it warmed nevertheless. And yes, I look at the thermal proxy and otherwise temperature records and reconstructions.

And I agree that CO_2 almost certainly causes some warming. Where I disagree is that I do not think that one can determine how much, and I vehemently disagree that the climate sensitivity is as high as has been asserted. I also think that our probable degree of knowledge and confidence is being overstated, although in the working group reports a lot more doubt is expressed than ever makes it out to the public.

Finally, I absolutely agree that the right thing to do is stick to the science. The GHE is certainly real -- clearly visible in TOA vs BOA spectroscopy. However, the CO_2-linked component of this is just one factor in a very complicated nonlinear chaotic system that is never quite in a state of dynamical equilibrium, with a huge degree of natural variability visible in the past that we do understand and cannot (retroactively) predict or convincingly explain. The net CO_2 linked GHE-driven AGW could range from basically zero (nearly completely cancelled in the long run by negative feedbacks or other bad habits like air pollution aerosols) to substantial, but I think its effect is probably being overestimated and certainly being overstated, and is likely to be less than disastrous, or less disastrous than some of the measures being urged to ameliorate or prevent it. I'm not completely alone in this, even among physicists interested in the climate.

My specific personal interest in the science is more in the statistics of it. There is an amazing series of papers by a guy named Koutsoyiannis who has been studying hydrology "forever" out of Athens (Greece, not Georgia). He long ago observed that water levels and periods of drought and flood follow patterns of "punctuated equilibrium" that are describable by what he calls Hurst-Kolmogorov statistics. Those same patterns are clearly visible in the thermal record, and indeed the 33 years of the satellite era are precisely that -- stable temperatures for 15 years, a sudden jump over 2-3 years associated with a single event (an unusually strong El Nino), followed by stable temperatures for 15 years (where by "stable" I mean specficially that there is a great deal of noise and oscillation, but that the linear trend is not resolvable from zero).

Two intervals does not a theory make, but it is very suggestive, especially when those temperatures are very likely to be (in some sense) a projection of a complicated poincare cycle around an occult multidimensional attractor. The interesting question from this point of view is what moves the attractors (and what keeps them locally stable!)

This is a macrodynamics question, not a microdynamics question. I agree that we know a lot of the components of the microdynamics, but there are macrodynamical features that I don't think can be captured in a detailed model because they represent large scale self-organization of the underlying heat flow. Even only within the Holocene, phenomena like the Younger Dryas suggest that there is some serious variability that can be triggered strictly out of internal non-linearity completely independent of CO_2. CO_2 could even cause the buffering of that variability and stabilize the climate in only, or mostly, good ways -- as Lindzen (and I, in other contexts) have pointed out, a uniformly warmer world is likely to be less stormy because storms are caused by thermal gradients, not absolute temperature.

Overall, I think there is a lot of science left to be done before literally betting the ranch on a single hypothesis, especially when there is remarkably little evidence supporting that hypothesis. Seriously. SLR will be extreme! But it isn't yet. Temperatures will go unrelentingly up! But they haven't, not compared to what they were doing anyway post LIA seeking some new "equilibrium" we cannot predict, describe, or even heuristically understand any more than we can understand why the LIA itself occurred. More droughts! Compared to the 30s? Not happening, at least not yet. Worse storms! We are in the longest interval ever recorded without a major hurricane making landfall in the US, an interval almost certain to extend by at least seven more months before there is any reasonable chance of one, and this year was subnormal for tornadoes (and really, pretty unremarkable except for one warm spell in the US with a specific and understood cause). With the ENSO meter currently precisely on neutral (down from a very short period of very mild ENSO conditions and falling), we could have a third La Nina in a row without an intervening ENSO. What does this even mean? What is its cause? Why does the world stubbornly refuse to warm (and maybe even cool a bit) in association with La Nina and warm in association with El Nino in proportion to its strength, and why does it ignore CO_2 as far as one can tell in between, at least as far as the LTT or SSTs are concerned?

Eventually some of the not yets may come to pass. Or not! In the meantime, there is little empirical reason to panic, and a lot of pure unadulterated hype that transforms Sandy into evidence of "climate change". One needs to be a skeptic with this sort of egregious manipulation of public opinion occurring unopposed by actual scientists who clearly know better.


Comment Re:Paren't point (Score 1) 306

By the thirty year standard, there has barely been enough time to resolve any climate variation in the modern post-CO_2 world, let alone ascribe the fractions to AGW and natural variation. Indeed, the entire satellite era comprises just one of these intervals, and IMO that is the only stretch where we have truly reliable global data mostly free from the possibility of a variety of biases that have to be estimated, often badly. In that stretch, nearly 100% of the warming can arguably be ascribed to a single El Nino event, as the UAH LTT data is basically flat from 1979 to 1997, goes steeply up in 1998 to overshoot a 0.3C total rise that more or less is flat thereafter up to the present. One could easily be tempted to conclude that "a strong ENSO causes global warming", based strictly on this data, were it not post hoc ergo propter hoc, like so much of the discussion on both sides (which also begs the question of "what causes ENSO and what modulates its strength", which is AFAIK rather unknown).

As to whether 16 years is too short, I'm sure that I don't have to quote the 2008 report to you, which excluded a 15 year stretch without statistically significant warming at the 95% or better confidence level. It is the stubborn perpetuation of this stretch that is requiring reconsideration of earlier, often egregious, estimates of climate sensitivity. They're coming down, and they'll come down more every year without warming. I know that it is physics-based dogma that solar variation cannot possibly affect climate, but historically there has been a fair bit of correlation between solar state and climate (and there are a few proposed plausible causal mechanisms, which I will not presume to judge) and we are very likely to be at the peak of the lowest solar cycle in 100 years, with the prospect of the next cycle being even lower or the sun entering a Maunder minimum. At the end of this we may know a lot more than we do today -- either warming will resume with a vengeance (as it has a lot of catching up to do at this point) or it will remain flat or even cool. Either of the latter two will force substantial revision of everything -- flat by gradually reducing sensitivity still more but perhaps leaving the GCMs alive, actual cooling might cause the GCMs to be thrown under the bus and rebuilt from scratch.

Remember that there are substantial, poorly understood nonlinearities in the climate system, and that even very small non-CO_2 influences can be amplified. There has been a substantial and (as far as I know) unexplained reduction in stratospheric water vapor content in the current solar cycle, for example. This in turn can actually lower the troposphere (permitting escape from greater depth) and reducing ALR warming. Is this a chance fluctuation (quite possible) or evidence of a process we hadn't anticipated? There is a lot more science undone than done in climate science, because we have so little high quality instrumental data over such a very short time frame -- basically a single "minimum interval" by the very 30 year standard you cite.

Climate models are tested by hindcasting, sure. Can they hindcast the MWP and LIA? Can they explain why there was a warming trend from the beginning of the thermometric era until the present in the absence of CO_2? In other words, can they explain the baseline climate variation over geological timescales? I don't think so. They are attempting to fit/predict local anomalies without anything like certain knowledge of local baseline behavior and where they are literally incapable AFAIK of reproducing it outside of a very narrow time window. As I said, I love models and modelling. It's one of the things I do. But it helps to have a model that first works in the big strokes arena, getting the gross behavior right and THEN worrying about the details. I rather think that current models have this backwards, and are thus confusing signal and noise.

It is easy to fit nonlinear functions with an overcomplete basis in a completely "convincing" way, when one doesn't have anything like a property of uniform convergence to help you out. Is this what is happening? I don't know. It might be.

Regarding c) -- what made summer Arctic sea ice decline dramatically in the 1930s? It certainly wasn't CO_2. Would it be another "I don't know" in a long list of unknown things about past climate? What caused the dust bowl, also in the 1930s? In a lot of ways, the present resembles the 1930s (starting at a different baseline temperature, of course, given the ongoing post-LIA warming that we do not understand). Why?

Of course one can always turn the 1930s into anecdotal evidence and ignore it, because we didn't have satellites (we barely had airplanes). Antarctica was a great big question mark. Siberia was mostly wilderness. Radar wasn't even on the horizon (so to speak).

But that just emphasizes my point -- we have 33 or so years of moderately reliable satellite-based data. We might eke that out with soundings on a less global scale back another 20 or even 30 years, but it is also less reliable. Beyond that we have little that is reliable enough to do more than inform us of very general trends with huge chunks of the globe essentially unsampled. We have roughly 15 years of satellite sea level measurements (although I'd argue that tidal gauge data is likely to be adequate over a much longer time span because the ocean is basically isostatic so that -- unlike temperature -- going up any reasonable number of locations is a good measure of its mean height, and because tidal gauges are likely to be fairly mechanically accurate in their simplicity). We have even less than that of anything like global ocean temperature measurements at depth.

In other words, we have barely started to accumulate the kind of detailed information required to inform a global climate model, and to be frank, until we have modern instrumentation sampling the planet on a global basis through at least one full cycle of the major decadal oscillations, it is very, very doubtful that GCMs built without that data will be globally accurate on a longer timescale. This makes even the thirty year timeframe too short. ENSO is "easy", and yet it is exhibiting behavior that is difficult to understand with what looks like a triple El Nina without anything like a significant El Nino in between starting (at least the current El Nino is remarkably weak and keeps bouncing out of the El Nino zone). The PDO "just" changed phase for the first time in the satellite era. We still await phase change in the atlantic, where the oscillation is erratic at best. How can we possibly predict -- accurately -- what will happen to the climate when it does? Then there are SSTs and the THC.

Uncertainty in each of the major drivers of the climate is cumulative. A small uncertainty in the effect of the PDO or NAO or ENSO or THC each reduce the certainty of any given climate model that makes assumptions about what the entire, globally unobserved consequences of in some cases major variations in circulation might be. How does solar and/or orbital state couple to all of this? I am a "skeptic" simply because I think that the science here not only isn't "settled" -- it may not even be approximately correct. How can we know? We simply lack the data needed to be able to know, and aren't likely to get it in less than decades more of observation with modern instrumentation. At the moment, we're making inferences with egregious claims of certainty informed by data intervals that are absurdly short compared to the known timescales of natural variation (which we cannot predict or explain on a geological timescale within a factor far greater than the entire warming ascribed to CO_2 so far).

BTW, I appreciate the tone of the discussion. Usually when I post anything skeptical on /. all that happens is that people call me names or accuse me of being a shill of the oil industry, which gets tedious and encourages me to crank up logical fallacy bingo, with popcorn...:-)


Comment Re:Paren't point (Score 1) 306

Personally, as a medical researcher, I like to try it and see what happens, but the patients usually prefer we have some theoretical justification and do most of our experimenting in animals (imperfect models) first. In terms of altering global climate I can see how the experimental approach might also have a few issues.

Excellent point. So, for a disease that has never in human-recorded history occurred due to the causes ascribed to its future occurrence, for which there is no empirical evidence in recorded history or prehistory that it is occurring other than an unproven theoretical argument, you would, I'm sure, endorse the medical adage "do no harm" by not prescribing what may be quack remedies for a disease that might not actually exist, it only "theoretically" exists, when those remedies have many severe side effects.

I agree.

It's really rather like not prescribing daily antibiotics for the entire human population because we are pretty sure -- theoretically -- that some disease is likely to evolve that the antibiotics might -- or might not -- prevent. Or taking any other sort of extreme measure in response to Pascal's Wager, however it is formulated. By not placing the predictions of future damage far, far above any visible sign of damage now one justifies the human cost and side effects of any measure taken to combat it, and of course transfer a rather lot of political power into the hands of those we elect to take those measures without any possible mechanism for them being held accountable, either politically or economically.

A recipe for disaster.


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