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Comment Re:I Almost Hate To Say This (Score 1) 263

Only a few quibbles. First, it doesn't explain a known issue with the models. It is a potential explanation for one of many known issues with the models that remains to be demonstrated as an explanation. Second, it may well invalidate the overall predictions in the specific sense that altering the circulation patterns enough to affect weather -- the assertion of the article -- is more than enough to alter heating and cooling efficiencies, albedo variation, cloud distribution, and more. In a highly nonlinear general circulation model, this is more than enough to alter the actual predictions for e.g. climate sensitivity.

Furthermore, if it alters the UHI data and corrections made thereof, it alters the data that goes into the models. It also alters -- and from the sound of things lowers significantly, over a widespread area -- the claimed amount of observed warming, as a function of time as urbanization itself is a time dependent trend. This actually has secondary support in the form of UAH and RSS satellite observation, which has differed from GISS and HADCRUT (especially after ongoing "adjustments") by a time dependent positive trend. Correcting for this (by effectively cooling the present relative to the past) would actually put the major temperature sets into better agreement over the last 33 years.

The waste heat production of humans is absolutely irrelevant compared to solar heating as a direct source of global warming, but it is a well-known and consistently underestimated source of local warming in the weather stations used to create land temperature estimates (as has already been shown in peer reviewed publications, if a glance at e.g. the Weather Underground local weather station maps surrounding any urban center isn't enough to convince you). This suggests that the effect is not as spatially confined as previously believed and to accomplish long range effects at all has indirect effects that exceed the local ones. This is not impossible -- I've read papers that suggest that the mere presence of the turbulent air downstream coming off of the vanes of a windmill farm cause significant mixing of the air near the surface that would otherwise be stratified over an area of tens to hundreds of square kilometers, affecting the mean nighttime temperature over all of this area.

The proper issue regarding global warming is not whether or not it has occurred or is occurring -- the world has definitely warmed on average since the LIA, with almost all of that warming occurring without the help of carbon dioxide. Nor is it whether or not increased carbon dioxide will all things being equal cause more warming -- that's simple physics, although the net warming expected from carbon dioxide alone is not particularly alarming. It is whether or not we know enough about the nonlinear feedbacks in the chaotic system to be able to build general circulation models at all with predictive value ten to a hundred years into the future. It is about the climate sensitivity.

Any negative adjustment in current temperatures simply exacerbates the already serious problem those models face -- there has been no statistically significant warming for the last 14 to 16 years, roughly half of the entire reliable RSS/UAH record. The warming visible over the entire record is at the moderate rate of 0.1C to 0.15 C per decade, in almost perfect agreement with the warming expected from CO_2 alone, with neutral feedback. Almost all of the warming occurred in a single spike of warming that is precisely correlated with the 1997-1998 "super El Nino" -- effectively flat before that, effectively flat after that. Carbon dioxide, in the meantime, has inexorably crept up.

Personally I don't think this falsifies assertions of possibly catastrophic global warming, because we don't know enough about the timescales, the chaotic dynamics, the feedbacks, neglected effects like the extended UHI effect discussed above, neglected effects from solar-driven stratospheric atmospheric chemistry, the fractional contribution of black soot and more (there have been papers on all of these recently). I think that this is a damn hard problem, and that far from being settled science, it is absurdly unknown science -- we don't have good global data even now for the 70% of the Earth's surface covered by ocean, and while ARGO will in a few decades improve this, it is decades away from having enough buoys to give us an accurate picture of temperatures and currents and heat content down to the thermocline globally. And while the satellite records for the last 33 years are good, consistent, and global, they are far too short -- they don't span even one whole cycle of the major known global decadal oscillations, oscillations that are known to significantly affect heat transport and global heating/cooling patterns and efficiencies.

In a few more decades we might understand the climate system well enough to make reliable decade-scale predictions. At the moment, every year without discernible warming post 1998 increases the divergence between the predictions made at that time and the present. This doesn't falsify global warming (which really is beyond question anyway), anthropogenic global warming (still a somewhat open issue), or high-sensitivity catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, but it certainly doesn't support the latter (catastrophic) prediction, and is gradually lowering the upper bounds of any sort of reasonable estimate of the climate sensitivity. That doesn't mean that temperature might not spike up this year or next year to rejoin the high sensitivity predictions, as well. Personally, I rather hope not. If climate sensitivity is basically neutral or even net negative as far as feedback is concerned, that is rather good news for humanity, and either one is well within the error bars of satellite observation. If one views the ocean as a rather large global thermometer (which it is) then the SLR record should also be very reassuring in that regard.

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Comment Re:The key question becomes (Score 1) 163

OK, seriously, let's try doing some arithmetic. The energy cost per kilogram of lifting something into low Earth orbit is half of it's escape energy. Escape speed is roughly 11,000 meters per second, so that energy is 1/4 x 121 x 10^6, call it 30 MJ/kg. Multiply that by something like 1000 (maybe more) due to rocket inefficiencies where you have to lift the fuel to lift the fuel to lift the fuel that lifts the payload. But it doesn't matter -- lift it at 100% efficiency and you're already dead. So lifting sand into orbit to melt it is enormously stupid. One might as well melt it in solar furnaces here on Earth, except that this is silly, joule for joule you'd be far better off collecting a megajoule of solar energy and converting it into a hundred kilojoules of electrical power. Even cheap low efficiency solar can manage that, and the return is at least twice that of silicon nanoparticle energy. Indeed, you'd be far better off taking the silicon you purified and turning it into solar cells -- those are already close to break even with at least some sources of energy in some locations, and a kilogram of silicon used that way can generate at least tens of watts (probably order of 100) for at least 20,000 seconds of an 86,400 second day. That's order of two megajoules a day, for a projected lifetime of 20 years. And note well, that is still not an economic win without exception in all locations when its amortized cost is compared to the value of commercial coal or nuclear or natural gas generated power, and it is only available when the sun shines, because kilowatt-hours of commercial electric cost anywhere from 6 to 16 cents in most locations, and at 6 cents it takes effectively forever to recover the cost of $1/watt solar cells. At 16 cents it breaks even to wins a bit with a seven to ten year amortization, and hence is a not unattractive investment. At 10 cents it is marginal (call it 5 watt-hours a day, 200 days to get a kw-hour and thereby earn 10 cents, 2000 days to break even on the solar cell itself, 4000 days to break even on installation, inversion, and the cost of the money. That's eleven years before you start to turn a profit, more if you install a battery to store the energy instead of resell surplus back to the grid. 16 cents drops it to under seven years, which starts to look attractive.

Saddest of all, in seven to ten years, solar cells will very likely go down to 50 cents a watt or even less, at which point they'll become attractive at 10 cents a kW-hour, a no-brainer where electricity is more expensive, and still it won't be a suitable solution for powering civilization, not without a serious storage and transportation technology to back it up. Otherwise it is at best a load leveller for conventional plants.

As I said, I can't really see any good reason to invest in silicon nanoparticle generated hydrogen gas powering fuel cells to make electricity except -- perhaps -- for exotic "one off" problems like a military application or a space application with nonlinear constraints or benefits. And even for the military, if they think this is a winning solution I think they're out of their minds. Somewhere in there common sense has to come into play.

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Comment Re:The key question becomes (Score 2) 163

Because Obama hasn't given me a call yet to make me the offer, I suppose. I'm not sure I accept it if he did -- it has to be a thankless job these days and I'm enough of a climate skeptic to think that energy resources need to have net positive present cost-benefit before implementing them on a broad scale. Until then research and even prototyping is lovely and worthwhile, but no large scale implementation at a loss until it results in something at least cost-competitive with existing fully developed resources.

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Comment Re:The key question becomes (Score 5, Informative) 163

Where does silicon come from? Silicon dioxide, a.k.a. "sand". How tightly is it bound? Very, very, very tightly. Indeed, a whopping 910.86 kJ/mole. So it requires at LEAST this much energy to turn sand into silicon and oxygen, except that one cannot electrolyze or reduce it until it is molten, so add to this enough energy to melt sand, after raising its temperature to some 1500 C. Then, one has to engineer "nanoparticles" out of the purified silicon metal. At a guess -- only a guess, of course -- this involves heating the silicon to the vaporization point and either vapor depositing it on a suitable substrate and scraping off the nanoparticles or spraying silicon vapor into a suitable medium that causes it to condense out small particles and then filtering or otherwise separating out the 'nano' particles from those that are merely small. Sounds like more energy to me.

At the end of the day, you can get at most the 250 or so kJ/mole back from the hydrogen gas produced after the silicon nanoparticles steal the hydrogen back from water. I think it would be an absolute miracle if it this is as much as 10% of the energy invested in making the nanoparticles, and the energy costs are probably at most half of the total manufacturing costs. Down to 5%. Multiply by roughly 50% again (efficiency of fuel cell).

This "Fermi estimate" of the probable economic efficiency is on the order of 2.5%, then, compared to the cost of just buying electricity or any other form of concentrated energy. Even if I'm too aggressive in my pessimism, 10% is a pretty safe upper bound. I'm not seeing this as a game changer. Gasoline or other hydrocarbons are still the gold standard for readily available energy density at ballpark 35 MJ/liter, and don't require investing 20 times the energy eventually recovered in their preparation.

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Comment Re:Rare Earths (Score 2) 100

There is a major difference between talk and prototyping. We built small scale prototypes of liquid thorium salt reactors forty or fifty years ago, but politics shut down the development when money was requested to go the next step and build a prototype to scale. We could pick up where we left off in less than a year if money were committed not to paper research that delays the project indefinitely but to prototyping and practical engineering, actually building one or more of the damn things and tinkering as we go to solve engineering problems in situ, not in theoretical analysis.

We could revive the last working thorium design in at most a year or two -- it didn't take that long to build the first time. We could be working on scaling it up in parallel, so that we had a working scale model in four or five years tops. We could be building working full scale LFTR power plants by 2020, and could solve both the "carbon problem" and the world's energy poverty problem by 2030 to 2040 and coast to world peace and abundance by 2050. The cost through the working scale model is on the order of a few billion dollars, tops. We used to spend that much in Iraq every week.

Or we could continue to dick around investing billions into wind power that requires the rare earth magnets that come from processing Thorium rich salts somewhere and that don't generate power when the wind doesn't blow, which is most of the time. We could continue to drop billions down the rat-hole of defending "free" access to major oil deposits under the guise of defending national security or promoting personal and religious freedoms for people living half a world away. We can make bankers and corporate interests rich with complex 'carbon trading' schemes that so far have had zero effect on global CO_2 levels at enormous annualized costs, costs so great that they probably single handedly caused the European banking crisis (or could have ameliorated it in any event). We spend more money on long-shot always a decade away fusion energy than we do on LFTR, and burned more federal money on solar cells in one failed company than it would cost to get started on LFTR.

There is a singular lack of urgency in thorium based energy research and investment. Too many people make too much money within the status quo.

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Comment Re:the USA has it too (Score 2) 100

Hell yes! Sapphires too. Even gold mines (one of the largest gold mines in the world prior to the California gold rush is a few miles from where I'm sitting). But you do have to watch out if you want to mine any of this stuff, or you'll catch hell.

North Carolina has Uranium as well, but there is so strong a NIMBY movement that any politician that suggested that we mine it and achieve energy independence in the state would find himself going to hell in a handbasket. Thorium too -- in the form of Monzanite Sands, which are -- surprise -- around 24% lanthanum, about 17% neodymium, and full of other useful stuff as well. The minute somebody realizes that national "rare earth shortages" are complete bullshit caused almost entirely by our reluctance to treat Thorium as a potentially useful nuclear fuel instead of as a pollutant, there will be hell to pay, but in the long run North Carolina has more than enough heaven in it to compensate.

Personally, sitting as I am a mere fifteen or twenty miles from Shearon-Harris (a pressurized water nuclear plant with one of the largest nuclear waste cooling pool facilities in the world) I'd be thrilled if our state took a hell of a risk and directly invested in the promotion of rare earth mining with the deliberate extraction of the associated Thorium and in the further investment in Thorium based nuclear reactors that produce "no" nuclear waste in comparison with Uranium Oxide, but between NIMBY and corporate interests that currently make shit-piles of money providing UO fuel or coal based energy, it will be a cold day in Half Hell, NC before that happens.

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Comment Re:"continue to search for and find other deposits (Score 1) 100

Now, finding rare earth deposits with almost no thorium in them is a real feat, and getting the US government to find ways to store thorium would a world-class miracle.

No, a world class miracle would be getting the U. S. government to fund the development of an LFTR that would provide the world with essentially unlimited cheap electricity, provide us with ample supples of rare earth elements and other exotic but useful isotopes as a side effect, generate almost no nuclear waste (LFTR consumes nearly all of the meso-scale "waste" like plutonium and turns it into energy), in a process that cannot melt down (the reaction just stops) in a reactor vessel that is not pressurized, using fuel that does not have to be hand assembled and delivered only by the company that made your reactor originally, at a small fraction of the cost of solid Uranium Oxide fuel, using reactions that make it relatively difficult to build bombs undetected, while eliminating world (energy) poverty without the use of carbon (whether or not you happen to think CO_2 is a problem, carbon fuels release more radioactivity than all the nuclear plants on earth combined times 100, soot, a variety of known carcinogens, teratogenic mercury, and acid precursors).

But no, we have to protect General Electric and Westinghouse and our ability to scavenge plutonium from expended and enormously expensive fuel. Big oil or coal is happy to invest all sorts of chump change in solar and wind projects because they know that they are not viable without subsidy and the subsidy is always enough to make them break even or win a bit economically without threatening their main profit stream. Thorium would disrupt the entire energy delivery system and drop the cost of energy in all forms dramatically, at the expense of huge recurring profits for some huge players that make equally huge contributions to the entire political establishment. So while storing thorium would make enormous sense, we will neither store it nor invest in using it until the need to do so exceeds the price of votes in Washington. Which, sadly, will be around a decade after the Chinese perfect the technology and market it to the entire world, including us, while maintaining a virtual monopoly on the heavier rare earths (as noted, almost always found with Thorium as a "pollutant"). Hell, even fusion might happen first, and that is an uphill battle all the way.

It's actually an excellent bellwether of the Green movement. At the moment, it is perfectly happy to condemn two billion plus of the world's population to continue to live in energy poverty so profound that they burn dung to cook on, wash clothes (if at all) by hand, and use oil lamps (if anything) to light the night while pushing enormous sums into technologies (like wind) that are visibly a major fail and will remain so into the indefinite future. They trumpet the dangers of CO_2 and catastrophic global warming in the distant future while perpetuating the ongoing real time catastrophe that affects over a third of the earth's population right now, while playing into the hands of the very agents that provide the carbon based power they demonize as the alternatives they push are not technologically or economically feasible (yet).

The one existing technology that "could" permit the continuation of civilization and reduction of global poverty while reducing CO_2 production at a feasible cost is nuclear (which is not a single technology but a many technologies, some of them the subject of research and development). Thorium based reactors are in a sense proven technology -- they were built back in the 60s and 70s and successfully run long enough to verify that they are indeed almost certainly a safe, meltdown-proof nuclear technology with far lower risks and far greater benefits in every category from cost to waste to nuclear proliferation -- but they do require four or five years of intensive research to complete an engineering cycle to scale. The day the Greens recognize this and take their foot off of the backs of the world's poorest people, the day the US government wakes up to the idea that Thorium could actually provide the energy needed to run a global civilization on a millennial time scale at an acceptable cost and without producing CO_2 as a side effect, that's the day I'll believe that CO_2 is something other than a complex scam by people who hate civilization -- except when it benefits them personally. You don't see many Greens washing their clothes by hand on river rocks, going to bed when the sun goes down, and cooking their food on dried dung.

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Comment Re:Doomsday clock (Score 1) 301

And how pitiful it is that this prediction is by people that should know better. I'm a physicist and better than average at predicting social and political events (I predicted the fall of the Soviet Union and reunification of Germany several years before they occurred, much to the surprise and amusement of my colleagues when they actually happened, for example) and yet I know better than to make long term predictions of doom in highly nonlinear, nearly unpredictable systems with enormous feedbacks acting against catastrophes of all sorts. And then there are Black Swan events, where the catastrophe that occurs isn't the one you expected.

It's all the more pointless given that the world has never been safer, healthier, wealthier, or freer. Not that we are "there yet", but it is far more plausible to assert that our risk of some sort of global disaster is decreasing, not increasing or remaining constant. The end of the cold war all by itself should have moved the damn clock back by a few hours if it where anything other than a complex political statement.

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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.

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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:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodicy ...in 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.

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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:

http://buddhism.about.com/od/basicbuddhistteachings/a/buddhaatheism.htm

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:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_in_Buddhism

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.

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