Monday, January 30, 2012

Mark Driscoll's seven sex essentials from the bible.

A while back, Michael John Scott over at Mad Mike's America shared an article by Mark Driscoll on sex and the bible.  He did so for the sake of how absurd it was, not in support of it.  At one point in the article, Mark includes a list from his and his wife's book Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, & Life Together.  The list was about seven sex essentials from the bible.  Unfortunately it was not about the seven sexiest references in the bible (excluding the Song of Solomon bit).

In the comments I referenced that I hadn't had a chance to properly give a list a proper taunting in quite a while.  So here I am today to rectify that.  Let the snark commence!

1. God created us male and female in His image and likeness with dignity, equality, value, and worth. Men and women are different and complement one another (Genesis 1:27-28).
Male and female in his image?  Mark, you are already not getting off to a good start.  If your idea of females is that they are modeled around the image of males then I doubt you have the requisite expertise to be writing anything on sex.

As for the equality part, I wonder if he has even read the book he is writing about.  Unless being essentially property is his idea of 'equality'.

2. Love is more like a song than a math equation. It requires a sense of poetry and passion to be any good at it, which is why people who are stuck in their heads struggle and are frustrated by it, and lovers prefer songs to syllogisms (Song of Solomon, all of it).
Take that brainy intellectuals!  We know you all suck in bed and cannot possibly have any sense of passion or understanding of how to please your partner!  What do you mean there are actually people who are turned on by intelligence?  They couldn't possibly be Christians and therefore are evil.

Though I cannot really argue with his reference to the Song of Solomon, it is probably one of the few things worth reading in that dust old tome.

3. Marriage is for one man and one woman by God’s design. This is the consistent teaching of the Bible from the table of contents to the appendix and the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself (Genesis 2:24-25, Matthew 19:4).
Translation:  gay people are icky.

The fact that he is supporting his bigotry with a book that involves a guy who lives in the sky who created a naked man and then proceeded to give him everything he could desire and watch over him daily seems to have eluded him.  And don't even get my started about the part where the sky man grabs Adam's 'bone' to create a women from it, bad touch god, bad touch!

4. God created sex. God made our bodies “very good” with “male and female” parts and pleasures. When our first parents consummated their covenant, God was not shocked or horrified, because He created our bodies for sex. The reason that sex is fun, pleasurable, and wonderful is because it is a reflection of the loving goodness of God who created it as a gift for us to steward and enjoy (Genesis 2:24-25).
So what you are saying is that god created sex to be the way it is as the first porn flick?  Well in that case, I think I have a few 'holy visages' to observe myself...
5. Sex outside of marriage is a sin. Sinful sex includes homosexuality, erotica, bestiality, bisexuality, fornication, friends with benefits, adultery, swinging, prostitution, incest, rape, polygamy, polyandry, sinful lust, pornography, and pedophilia (I Corinthians 6:9-11,18-20, Hebrews 13:4).
So according to Mark, having dirty thoughts about someone you find attractive is one slippery slope ride away from going on a child and animal raping spree.  You know, perhaps we should let these people keep their holy book, it seems to be the only thing keeping them from destroying civilization as we know it.

Or perhaps this is the real rationale as to why the sheep always seem nervous in conservative areas...
6. Sex is to be done in such a way that there is no shame (Genesis 2:25; Proverbs 5:18-23). Many people experience shame in regard to sex. Sometimes shame is a gift from God in response to our sexual sin, sometimes it is the devastating feeling we bear because we have been sexually sinned against, and other times we have not sinned or been sinned against sexually but feel shame because we have wrong thinking and feelings about sex in general, or a sex act in particular.
Shame is god's way of telling you that he is actually kind of vanilla and would rather watch you in the missionary position as he gets his heavenly rocks off.  Either that or it is the affect of some kind of brainwashing done from being raised in a religion that sees sex as evil and dirty, but that couldn't possibly be the case now could it.
7. Your standard of beauty is your spouse. God made one man and one woman. He did not ask them if they wanted someone tall or short, light or heavy, pale or dark skinned, with long or short hair. In short, He did not permit them to develop a standard of beauty. Instead, He gave them each a spouse as a standard of beauty (Genesis 2:23, Proverbs 6:20-35).
Your god given standard of beauty is the person you are married to.  To marry someone you should, ideally, be attracted to them to start dating them and eventually marry them.  To find them attractive you must be married to them.*error*...rationality centers overloading due to circular logic...system rebooting.

Is this really some sort of argument to shut up the whinny believers who just couldn't do any better and settled for a spouse they have no desire for?  I'm kind of sad now...
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Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Copernican lie

I have been living a lie.  I have just realized that I have been indoctrinated by the evil sciences into believing the baseless claim that the Earth rotates about its axis and revolves around the Sun.

But thanks to the Fair Education Foundation, Inc, the truth has been revealed to me.  I now know such seeminly obvious facts such as that the Earth is the center of the universe and at a fixed point just as god intended. 

I now now that stars are not suns light years away but simply fixed points of light in the sky.  I can eschew such evils as 'occult mathematics' and the 'Kabbalist evolutionary mythology'. 

I no longer have to rely on tools of Satan such as the telescope and computer models.  Apparently the website uses a god approved computer though, I'll have to look into where I can find one of these holy relics.

I can see how every lie of science from psychology to evolution to quantum physics to modern cosmology rests upon the the fact-less claims of a heliocentric solar system model.  As soon as this lie is removed, the whole houses of cards collapses around us and we are left with the only truth.  The truth that a magic man in the sky waved his wand and poofed everything into existence because a book written by a bunch of desert nomads written ages ago tells us so.

All this was shown to me thanks to the ramblings of someone who created a website back in 1997 and refuses to update the design of the webpage despite still writing it to this day.  So in between the confused looks and having to wipe away the blood streaming from my eyes I was able to learn god's truth. 

I'm still not entirely sure what these 'obvious facts' are that the author is so certain of.  I know it has something to do with the bible and more crazy then you can shake a straight jacket at.  The author jumps from point to point so quickly that I never had chance to comprehend one set of ramblings before he moves on to the next

I do know that he is in a Ph.D. program for "Advanced International Studies" somewhere.  This apparently gives him the necessary education to see through the lies of science, NASA and the modern education system.  Why he thinks being in a doctorate program is a good thing when he believes that the education system is nothing more than a brainwashing system based upon 'Copernican lies' I have yet to discern.

I do know that he hates NASA.  From the moon landing 'hoax' to the evil instrument that is the Kepler Telescope, he foams at the mouth at the mere mention of any of them.  He goes on quite a bit about how telecopes cannot possible work and that they are nothing more than the tools of satan.

For satan, you see, is the source of science.  At least non-bible based science, whatever this may be.  satan is everywhere and he hates the truth of the bible.  Apparently it is like sun light to vampires to him.  He hisses and runs away cursing you in the way befitting a cartoon villain.

But now with the facts in hand (I think), I can begin to combat scienceless science and openly tout the true bible based science.  I now know that all I have to do is open a bible and just read what it says and stop thinking there.  That if I question further I am being mislead by satan and my soul will burn forever because god loves me.  I hope that my suffering through horrible page design and rambling crazy has enabled me to save your soul and shine the light of the Truth (TM) upon you.
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2012 the 'year of the bible'?

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has decided that it wants to get in on the useless crazy bill train.  I was as shocked as you were that there was still room on said train to begin with.

In a unanimous 193-0 vote, the Pennsylvania House declared 2012 "The Year of the Bible".  No word as of yet as to whether they plan to retire this outdated book of crazy after the year has ended.

In describing House Resolution 535 (pdf), the sponsor of the bill, Representative Rick Saccone (I won't even bother mentioning what party he belongs to) states that:
“As not only Pennsylvania, but the United States, continues to face great tests and challenges, House Resolution 535 serves as a reminder that we must look to our faith in God and the Holy Scripture to provide us with the strength, wisdom and courage to conquer these great trials,”
 His statements mirror the contents of the bill itself which concludes with the line:
“[The] House of Representatives declare 2012 as the ‘Year of the Bible’ in Pennsylvania in recognition of both the formative influence of the Bible on our Commonwealth and nation and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures,”
This non-binding resolution (read: utter waste of taxpayers money) does absolutely nothing other than pander to the religious voters as well as violating the 1st Amendment to the Constitution.

To show how deluded the creators of this bill were, the bill was labeled as "noncontroversial" in its own text.  While it seems the House has agreed on this, it makes one wonder about the kind of understanding they have for Constitutional law if they found this noncontroversial.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has already responded by stating:
“Our constitution grants sovereignty not to a deity or a ‘holy book,’ but to ‘We, the People.’ There is no reference to God, the bible, the Ten Commandments or Jesus in the U.S. Constitution, just as there are no references to ‘consent of the governed,’ ‘civil liberties’ or ‘democracy’ in the bible...Those who have truly studied the bible realize that it is a moral quagmire, a behavioral grab bag, which has been used to justify automatic rule, tyranny, slavery, the degradation of women and gays, child abuse, war, atrocity and mayhem.”
The FfRF have also provided a downloadable sample letter in .pdf form for any Pennsylvania resident who wishes to contact their Representative and speak out against this idiocy.

So who will be next to introduce or even pass useless bills while on the tax payers dollar?  I cannot be sure, though I can guarantee that it will lower my respect for humanity just a little bit more.

With thanks to The Raw Story and The Friendly Atheist.
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Friday, January 27, 2012

Keep fetuses our of our food!

Senator Ralph Shortey has introduced a bill in my state of Oklahoma that moves to bad the use of aborted human fetuses in food.  Apparently he thinks the film Soylant Green was a documentary.

Bill SB 1418 states that:

"No person or entity shall manufacture or knowingly sell food or any other product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human fetuses in the ingredients or which used aborted human fetuses in the research or development of any of the ingredients."

So where did Sen. Shortey hear about this frightening occurrence?  The anti-abortion group known as the "Children of God".  Back in March of 2010 they called out a for a public boycott of biotech firms that used embryonic stem cells to test their artificial food preservatives.  A claim that has left everyone just a little bit confused.

The claims of the religous group were backed up by the Senators own internet research.  Where he found such information, one can only speculate.  Though he does admit that he has never heard of any instance of this actually occurring, but wants to be sure that it never does.

So yes, the Senator wants to waste tax dollars to protect the public from something that sounds like the drug addled rantings of a conspiracy theorist.

And in case you couldn't figure it out by now, yes, he is a Republican.

With thanks to the LA Times and the Republic of Gilead.
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Thursday, January 26, 2012


I encountered this over at Picture Is Unrelated and I am confused and a little bit scared.  I have no idea exactly how I'm supposed to react to this.  I think it should be filed under 'nightmare fuel' but I'm not sure if it is not secretly genius.  I am so confused right now...

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So A guy finds himeslf in a flood

A guy finds himself in a food but refuses to leave his house because he is certain that "God will save him." Eventually he is forced up to his roof to avoid the waters. A bus comes by to evacuate the townspeople, but he says he won’t go because he’s certain that “God will save him.” As the waters begin to rise a boat comes by his house. Boat comes to his aid but he declines because he’s certain that “God will save him.” When the helicopter comes by to try to scoop him up from the chimney he again declines because he’s positive that “God will save him.” When his story is mentioned on the news, atheists let out a collective “what a fucking idiot.”
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Monday, January 23, 2012

Deepak Chopra thinks physicists stole quantum from him.

Deepak Chopra is a name that gets exasperated sighs from the scientifically literate whenever it is heard.  He is one of the most profitable names in the world of newage (rhymes with sewage) and his ability to misuse words is legendary.  His personal favorite is the word 'quantum', much to the chagrin of actual physicists.  To quote Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

He relies on the fact that most people are utterly baffled by the world of quantum mechanics to sell his particular brand of snake oil.  He understands that your average person knows that quantum is a word used by scientists and nothing more.  As such he knows that if he throws it and other equally exotic sounding words around, he can convince the credulous of anything.

Recently, in a short interview by Richard Dawkins for his recent documentary "Enemies of Reason", Deepak Chopra took his hijacking of the scientific terminology to an even greater depth of depravity.  During a segment (which can be viewed here), Chopra claimed that:
"the aficionados in the world of quantum physics have somehow hijacked the word for their own use"
This is a rather amazing feat by physicists considering that the word first entered the scientific literature in 1841, 105 years before Chopra's birth.  Apparently quantum theorists have mastered time travel in their spare time.

The word quantum was first used by Julius von Mayer in a letter on the formulation of the first law of thermodynamics.  The word comes from the Latin "quantus" for "how much".  It is generally used as a short hand way of writing a 'quantum of energy', meaning a single unit of energy.  A good example being how a photon is a single quantum of the electromagnetic force.

The term quantum has since gone on to refer to the area of physics that involves the very small.  It is renowned as being an area of science that is both counter intuitive and hard to grasp.  This was summed up perfectly by Richard Feynman when he stated "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics".

This quote, along with the myriad bizarre concepts of the quantum realm have fed an ever growing number of charlatans who profit off the ignorance of the general public when it comes to the various fields of advance science.  They know that such words as quantum lend an air of respectability to their otherwise meaningless ramblings.  In doing so, they further mislead the public away from the discoveries of science, not to mention out of their hard earned cash.

Despite sounding authentic and wise to laymen, Deepak Chopra and his ilk earn nothing but ire and perpetual face palms from the scientific community.  His stance on 'quantum' can be summed up by this clip from the ever poignant "Futurama", enjoy.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why our species might depend on GMO.

This is the second, and concluding piece on GMOs.  The first can be found here.  In this article I want to point out what is and what is not good ideas for GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).

A prime example of the success of GMOs can be seen in various experiments conducted with a group of fish known colloquially as Tilapia.  Due to an ever increasing population, some tried to shape the fish to meet  the demands.  Certain genetically modified Tilapias were released into West African lakes to counter the ever increasing decline in catch.  These fish grow faster and reach sexual maturity at a younger age, allowing for them to contiue their line while adapting to the increase in human population.

In a way, this is a perfect way to show what we can do with GMOs.  It allows us to modify various features though the process of hindering or reinforcing the expression of certain proteins This can lead to all kinds of issues if one were to intentionally mix genes together with the sole purpose of creating some sort of super organism that could survive in nearly any environment.  It seems most of the fears surrounding such 'Franken-foods' are just this, which is nothing more than the howling of those who are mad at corporations that want to exploit their customers as much as possible.

There may come a time, in the not to distant future that we as a collective species have to use GMOs for our very survival.  With GMOs we can engineer a plant to produce food items in the amounts needed and at the nutrient densities that are vital for everyone's health.   Not only this but we can create organisms that are naturally resistant to all kinds of stressors.  Stressors such as fungi, insects, competing or parasitic plants, or even viruses.

They can be modified to thrive in differing environments.  This will open up wide areas of otherwise unusable land to be used for crop production.  It will also increase the production per acre per

By creating such organisms, we will have to use less fertilizers, herbivicides and pedsticideds.  This, oddly enough, actually makes these organisms safer.  The irony can be found when organic growing practices can actually lead to fewer crops, both in size in nutrient grade.  Not only this, but they still require all of the old treatment that all other plant strains require.

Some have made the argument that bits of the new genes could get out of the crops and into human cells causing harm.  Besides being a rather silly idea (how likely is it that you take on the DNA of the corn you ate last night?), it is based on rather felonious sciences.  It uses the fears of the average person who, rather often, does not know how to go about researching such concepts.  While there might be some gene swapping amongst our gut bacteria, if they take up any of this new, modified DNA, it wouldn't be any different than if they took up some of the DNA from non-modified.  It is not as if the modified has bits of metal sticking out of it, it is just a natural genetic code, just spelled out right.

As more and more strains of diseases and parasites become  more resistant to traditional chemicals.  As mores species of plant form immunity to herbicide and species of insect form resistance to insecticides; what  are we to do?   We could always do as previous generations have done and hope for newer and more potent toxins.  Or we could look to nature for hopes in finding better evolved resistances to use.  Perhaps we can even start to adapt specises to our specifiying needs.

These specifications can come in organisms with more nutrients in them.  They could be organisms that are better adapted to their environment, after taking into account modern humanities affects.  While it is possible for such organisms to escape and start our breeding natural species, there is a safety net for this as well, just make all the organisms sterile.  A practice that has actually worked to the advantage of companies such as Monsanto where they have to sell their seeds back each year.

With an environment that is bound to change, either by our own hand or through the slow machinations of the wandering tectonic plates. The environment will change.  Not only that, but the organisms surrounding it will continue to evolve and compete with our 'domestic' strains.   So if we hope to feed the ever growing masses, we must stand behind GMOs, when used right, to better the living condition of millions.  If ever such things come to be a problem, you will know that these very scientists will be the first to admit it and the first to figure out how to counter the situation.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What are genetically modified foods?

I recently had a stimulating conversation with fellow Mad Mike's America writer Erin Nanasi in the comments section of her piece "Obama and Monsanto".  The conversation revolved around whether genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should be allowed to be used in things such as agriculture.

There were a couple times during the conversation when I wanted to write an article based on the conversation.  The first being a more in depth explanation of what GMOs actually are (which this piece shall be).  The second being a realization that I, and many others, have come to.  That the future of our species may very well depend upon GMOs.  For breviaries sake, I shall leave the second part for a follow up article to be written soon.

I would first like to point out that this article is in no way supportive of Monsanto or any of its business practices.  I am rather critical of them myself for a few reasons, including their desire to patent certain lines of genetic code.  A concept that is both absurd and detrimental to scientific inquiry.

So what are genetically modified organisms?  GMOs are any organism that has had some of its genetic material artificially and purposely altered.  The words 'artificially' and 'purposely' are key in this definition as if they were not present, GMOs would define all life on this planet.

The process of evolution can be seen, essentially, as nature's way of creating GMOs.  The process of mutation creates novel genetic codes that affect the organism in question in varying ways.  Those mutations that are beneficial may allow the organism to propagate its genes just a bit better and out compete other, less successful genetic codes.  Life is, essentially, a never ending struggle between collections of genes trying to replicate themselves the most.

Humans have been harnasing these mutations for millenia through the process of domestication and selective breeding.  We have breed plants and animals in ways that allow for the dominant expression of key traits that we find desirable.  Until recently, we had no idea that what we were doing was fiddling around with their genetic codes.  Once we discovered this, we have started moving towards stream lining this process.  The latest incarnation of this is genetic engineering.

We look at the very genes that create the traits that we desire and place them in the organisms we are interested in affecting.  This has allowed us to quickly and effectively modify organisms in ways that would have taken decades at the very least, if we could do it at all.

Previously, if a trait was observed in one species of domestic plant or animal, it would be limited to that species.  If we wanted that trait to be in another species, tough luck.  We would just have to hope it would evolve all over again in the species in question.  But now, with genetic engineering, we can simply take the desired gene and move it to the species we would prefer it to be in.  All life is made from the same genetic code, we all evolved from the same stock billions of years ago, so we can copy and paste where we see fit.

This is actually a trick that nature stumbled upon first, not us.  A prime example can be found in bacteria.  Bacteria trade bits of genetic material back and forth all the time.  The individuals doing the trading don't even have to be of the same species.  Genetic material is genetic material, it is the universal currency.  If a novel gene allows for better survival, you can guarantee that it will spread.

It was after observing such bacterial genetic promiscuity that we humans got the idea.  It seems that without nature to guide us, we would, quite often, be more then a bit lost.  We adapted this and techniques borrowed from certain retroviruses -- viruses that can embed themselves into the genetic codes of their hosts -- and have used them to insert the desired genes into the place in the genetic code of organisms that we want them.

Most of the time, scientists take genes that have arisen in other organisms in the first place.  We might modify it a bit for simplicities sake or to improve upon things a bit, but it is rather difficult to do much more.  We are getting better at building genes from scratch, but why go through the trouble when there is the giant genetic laboratory that is the natural world?  Just like how we look to nature for new chemicles and medicines, we are now looking to it for new genetic information.

These new genes, if used right, can increase the fitness of the modified organism.  Such increases in fitness may include things such as natural resistances to diseases or parasites.  It may allow the organism to survive in climates and environments it otherwise would not thrive in.  It may increase the amount of nutrients found in a particular part of the organism.  It can affect how quickly an organism grows or reaches sexual maturity.  

These changes can have dramatic affects when they are done to plants and animals that we as a species depend upon.  Crops may suddenly need less fertilizer to grow or even be capable of growing in soil that was previously deemed unusuable.  The part of the crop that we use may grow larger while the 'extraneous' parts may be reduced.  They may no longer be as susceptible to the ravages of disease and insects or the various weeds that we would otherwise be dousing with pesticides and herbicides to eliminate.  They may produce food products of larger size or even with greater nutrient and mineral levels.

All of these factors allow for the GMO in question to be cheaper, more efficient and even healthier for consumption.  Unfortunately, this is an area that few truly understand and is seen as a frightening new technology to many.  Some see it as 'playing god' where as others see it as distorting natural processes.  But these are things that we have been doing since early humans first realized that by breeding different strains together, they could create even more useful organisms.  

Because of such fears, human consumption of GMOs in the states and other countries has been limited.  Despite there not being any reliable evidence to suggest that GMOs pose a health risk for humans, they are still limited to being used as animal feed only.  By doing so, opponents can further state that GMOs are just taking up space that could be used to grow crops to feed people.  Besides being an underhanded tactic, this ignores the fact that we need animal food crops if we hope to continue raising animals for various uses.

The time will soon be upon us when we will need GMOs for our own survival.  That without them, we could face mass starvation, or worse.  But that is a story for my next article.
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Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Sound Of Freethinking #14: Alibi

I know it has been a while since I have done one of these segments, but I could not resist doing one over Cindergarden's Alibi. The song was released on their 2008 album The Clandestine Experiment.

I was immediately drawn into the sound of this song when I first heard it. But while I enjoyed the song, the lyrics kept nagging at me. One time I would listen to it and I would pull away one meaning, another time a different one. I wasn't sure if I was just not understanding the lyrics properly or I was trying to create a meaning that I preferred despite what the lyrics actually said.

But the other day, I really took the time to listen to the lyrics coupled with how they were sung. I realized then that part of my problem came from the song being sung from multiple different view points within the same person. Quite possibly while remembering different view points from her life. Once I started thinking in the way, the lyrics started to slip into place.

Before this, the first verse was a bit confusing, but after considering this new possibility, things made perfect sense. The song starts out being sung from the point of view of someone who is critical of science. Someone who sees it as a destructive force that is willing to shred even the most deeply cherished of views in the name of 'progress'.

The second chorus, however, is sung by the same person but as she realizes that those she is criticizing do not need any excuse. "You don't need an alibi, I'm the one that lives a lie." The person knows she is wrong, that her views are based upon faulty thinking. But that doesn't make her clinging to old ways of thinking any easier. They may be wrong, but she don't have to like it.

The progression of choruses continue in this fashion, with each iteration of the 'anti-science' view becoming more accepting of the fact of things, if with a sense of bitterness at first. Lines such as "Confess your sins to a crippled god" show a sense of anger and hopelessness at their views being torn apart around them.

The final two lines of this verse "Lie detector test tube morals, Face the truth compromised" suggests the common view that many hold. The idea espoused by those who see science as cold and without 'human' morals. But that this person already realizes that such views are just looking to reality and hoping for a compromise with their own particular brand of faith.

Again the chorus takes on the resigned tone of someone who knows that they are in the wrong. But with the line "Resistance level fading" they find themselves losing the desire to fight back against reality.

The final 'anti-science' verse seems to me, in light of the previous verse to have one of two possibilities. Either it is more of the angry rhetoric they had previously spread, possibly in a resurgence of faith that many have. Or, as I prefer to think, it is them singing their previously held beliefs in a tongue-in-cheek way. That she has accepted reality for what it is and sees her previous rage at scientific inquiry to be absurd.

Not only this but the wording it essentially accurate. She had hated such ideas for the fact that they did exactly what she thought it did and it horrified her. People actually saw material things a beautiful and worthy of contemplation and 'worship'. Worship because that is what she and others did, they worshiped, they never understood as science requires of us. But this idea no longer revolts her, instead, she find it to be the beautiful truth that she was missing all along and doesn't mind pointing out her previous absurdity in taking such a negative stance.

While the middle of the 'accepting' verses first introduced the line "Where I am to here I come", the final verse reiterates it with a bit more intensity. When it was first used it was the view of a person right on the edge of understanding and seeing where it might take her. With the addition of the word 'from' to this line in the final verse, it reveals that she has moved further ahead. Not just to furthering her understanding, but towards tackling the very views she once held so vehemently. That she now sees the error of her ways and doesn't want anyone else to suffer as she did. Not to mention the idea that others are attacking such a beautiful thing as scientific understanding as she once did in her ignorance and fear.

Am I reading too much into the lyrics? Am I misrepresenting them? Perhaps. But when looked at from this point of view, every line makes sense and it becomes a much more inspiring song. The slightly disturbed and aggressive sound of the music lends itself to this viewpoint as well. From the anger she felt at the start to the increasingly resigned 'accepting' verses. The music progresses just as one might expect for a mind in transition from bitterness and ignorance to one that is ready to take on the misguided masses that she once belonged to. Seen in this light, it becomes akin to Plato's Allegory of the Cave, but done from the personal perspective of a freed mind as it is pulled out of its ignorance.

Unmasked portals
Still connecting
Uncover the ending till it bleeds till it bleeds

You don't need an alibi
I'm the one that lives a lie

Ritualized fictionalize
Confess your sins to our crippled god
Lie detector test tube morals
Face the truth compromised

You don't need an alibi
I'm the one that lives a lie
Resistance levels fading
Who can turn me around now
Chemical defacing
Where I am to here I come

Hypno science
Trapped inside
Worship matter
Praise the whore

You don't need an alibi
I'm the one that lives a lie

Who can turn me around now
Who can turn me around now
From where I am to here I come
Who can turn me around now
From where I am to here I come
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How Isaac Asimov helped me embrace my atheism.

I am an atheist, out and out. It tooke me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrepectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I'm a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that god doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time." --Isaac Asimov

I have admired Isaac Asimov for many years.  I knew of his fiction for years, first being introduced to him through his brilliant short story Nightfall (which, if you haven't read, I have included a link to the entire story, it is one I strongly recommend to everyone).

It wasn't until a few years later that I encountered one of his books on religion.  The book, In The Beginning, pulled me in and I soon found I could not get enough.  In it, Asimov took the book of Genesis and looked at it from three different angles: how the religious see it, how such writings came to be as they are now, and what science says about the idea in question.

I had known for a long time that something was seriously wrong about religion and that it didn't fit quite with reality, but I was still something of a deist bordering on agnostic.  But this book helped me along the road to leaving belief in the past.  Finally someone else who saw what I did and didn't try to give some lame excuse as to why religion didn't match up with reality.

Years later I discovered that not only was the whole thing ridiculous, but it could actually be damaging and rather terrefying.  Not just for the harm it does to the vulnerable mind, but how it views those who do not believe in their specific brand of magic.  Not to mention the often downright rage they would express to those who dared to actually doubt the concept all together!

These people had made not believing in an invisible man in the sky such a terrible thing that to consider it openly was one of the deepest of taboos.  It was so strong that someone who had such a powerful mind and, through much of his life, was such an open atheist, was pushed to hide his own views.  Views that he knew made sense, that were the only ones that really did make sense in light of the evidence.  But still he hid them because they were frowned upon.

If someone such as Isaac Asimov could be bullied into such a belief then what does it mean about so many others, including myself?

But instead of the 'dangerous' view that far too many often claim it is, atheism is, to me, as it was to Asimov, freeing.  It was the universe laid open for us to scrutinize and wonder over.  It was finally no longer being afraid of ones lack of belief and openly saying "there isn't enough evidence to support the view and it isn't one that is important enough to waste any more time considering further".  It is finally being able to look at religious belief in the same way one does believers in the Loch Ness Monster and not think that ones has to suppress such views.

The quote that I started this article is a prime example of these views.  It is his looking back and realizing that he had been silly the whole time and should have just been open with himself the whole time.

To be clear, when Isaac Asimov says that he is an "emotional atheist", he is not meaning what so many theists claim.  He is not someone who 'believes' atheism is accurate like a theist believes in their particular patented version of a deity..  It is the feeling of elation you feel when you realize that the universe works without the need for a 'man behind the curtain'.

It is seeing the workings of a cell or the life cycles of stars and realizing "I can understand this!"  followed soon after by "Wait...what?  I can understand this?  A critter that evolved as an overly complex way of replicating strands of amino acids can look at the universe and say, ok, I see how that works!"  If that does not instill within you a sense of awe then I pity you to the point of sadness.

Some theists may cling to the end of the quote where Asimov says "I don't have the evidence to prove that god doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time."  They point their finger and go "Aha!  You don't have any evidence and you still believe there is no god?  Where is your science now!" and then, I imagine, go feel rather pleased with themselves and bet Jesus would give them a high five.

To which those of us go on to ask them, at least those of us who have patience for it, whether they have evidence that the tooth fairy does not exist.  Our imaginary theist might respond saying the idea is absurd, they have never seen a tooth fairy and that parents are the ones who have the absurd tendency to hoard discarded dentition.

"Exactly" is the only needed response.  The believer might not see it, but I do.  It is obvious to the point of absurdity and to waste any further time with it seems meaningless.  The only reason myself and others must is because we are surrounded by people like those we have such conversations with and some of them seem to think we should just sit back shut up or get what's coming to us.

So here is to you religious extremists.  You are the reason we have to step away from the adult conversations and deal with such silly ideas as invisible sky daddies.  I would much rather be doing what Asimov and many of my others heroes have done and still do today and get to excitedly talking about things like evolution, stellar formation, the big bang, quantum physics, and the possibilities for xenobiology.

Not to mention other things more important then whether their deity exists such as what I'm going to have for breakfast or where my jacket is.
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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Envisat captures image of a phytoplankton bloom

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Envisat satellite captured a stunningly gorgeous image of a phytoplankton bloom in the southern hemisphere.

This compressed version of the image is beautiful enough on its own, but is nothing compared to the full size image, which can be found here.

The image was taken on December 2nd and was just released by the ESA.  The location of the bloom was approximately 600 km east of the Falkland islands.  Blooms such as this happen frequently around the globe during spring and summer.  They are caused by an abundance of nutrients and minerals that have been dredged up from the deep ocean.  As the deep and shallow waters mix, the populations of varrying species of phytoplankton explode in responce.

Phytoplankton are vital to the health of both the oceans and the planet as a whole.  In the oceans they form the basis of most of the ocean's ecosystems.  They are also vital in oxygen production and CO2 sequestration, producing over half of the world's oxygen.

Phytoplankton is a collective term for a multitude of microorganisms that are photosynthetic.  Nearly all are exclusively autotrophs (produce their own food) but a few examples of mixotrophs exist (those that can be either autotrophs or hetertrophs).  They are composed of a mixture of a range of organisms, including, but not limited to, cyanobacteria, dinoflagellets, and a wide variety of algae.

Phytoplankton form the basis of nearly all the oceans food webs and, as such, are of vital importance for understanding the effects of human activity on the planet.  While this is a fully natural bloom, some blooms occur from fertilizer run off and can be devastating to the environment as certain species produce deadly toxins.  The 'red tide' is a famous example of the damage such blooms can wreck on an ecosystem.

Individual kinds of phytoplankton reflect light at slightly different wavelengths, giving each their own unique color (even if this color can not be resolved without certain instrumentation).  This gives the image the greens and blues and can be used to determine which organisms are at what densities in this image.  This information can then be used to tell what the environmental conditions at the site are, as different organisms require different conditions to flourish.  Such blooms give a wealth of information as to the condition and health of the world's oceans.

The Envisat satellite was created for the purpose of monitoring environmental processes from space, including the affects of human accelerated global climate change.  This image was taken with Envisat's MERIS (MEdium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer) instrument, a device that measures light reflected from the Earth and its oceans at a range of 390 to 1040 nm.  Envisat was launched in March of 2002.

With thanks to the ESA for the original story.
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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Epomis beetle So you happen to find that you have suddenly turned into an toad.  Not only that, but instead of being at your computer you seem to have been transported to the coastal plains of Israel.  Normally you might find this to be a slightly unusual set of circumstances.  But you are now a toad, and toads, as a general rule, are not known for their mental prowess.  So instead of having a mental breakdown at the discovery of being transformed into an amphibian, you go about your new life as if it is all you have ever known.

Before long you come across a beetle larvae that looks rather tasty.  As you approach it in hopes of getting your munch on, it starts waving its antennae and mandibles at you.  Your instincts to attempt to eat anything small and twitchy kick in and you are drawn towards what is sure to be a succulent meal.

The closer you get the faster and more frantically the little morsel waves about.  At this point, you cannot resist and pounce on the beetle larvae and just as your tongue darts out to grab your first meal as a toad, the larvae quickly dodges your attack and sinks its mandibles into your soft flesh.

Somewhere in the back of your toad mind, you realize that this shouldn't be.  You are the predator.  Insects are merely crunchy snacks to the likes of you.  Yet despite this, you can't ignore the fact that what you thought was to be your meal is now feeding on you.

You feel your blood being drained as you flail about frantically trying to dislodge your attacker.  As you begin to weaken, a glimmer of hope returns to your tiny brain as you feel the larvae dislodging itself from you.  Could you have finally fought off the surprise attack?

As you attempt to crawl away, the larvae repositions itself on your back and bites down with surgical precision.  You feel its sharp mandibles biting through the muscles of your back, leaving you effectively paralyzed.  Whatever hope you had is now gone as the reality of your situation sinks in.  You are about to be eaten alive.

Now that you can no longer fight, the larvae can eat at its leisure until there is nothing left but a pile of bones that used to be your new toad self.

Had you not been transformed into a toad, you might have realized that the flailing of antennae and mandibles was a cunning ploy of the beetles and their larvae of the genus Epomis.  These beetles, whose relatives are all preyed upon by amphibians, have turned the tables upon their once predator.  Using the instincts of amphibians against them, Epomis beetles actively prey on any and all amphibians that still believe themselves to be the predator.

The larvae feed exclusively upon amphibians, while the adults feed on a variety of prey items, including amphibians.  When observed, the beetle or its larvae win the match close to 100% of the time.  Even after being eaten, the beetle or larvae will thrash about until the amphibian is forced to regurgitate it.  The beetle, seemingly unharmed, will start feeding on the would be predator right away.  Even after staying in the stomach for two hours, the beetle will not be beaten and once regurgitated, will attack its choice prey item.

Epomis is the only known natural instance of a prey item using its one time placement as a predated upon species as a means to evolve into the predator.  Since the beetle wins essentially every match it finds itself in, there is little hope for the amphibians to evolve a proper counter, nor are the beetles numerous enough to damage amphibian populations significantly.  Thus leaving the species of Epomis in what is sure to be a rather comfortable position as one of the most unexpected of predators.

Wizen G, & Gasith A (2011). An unprecedented role reversal: ground beetle larvae (Coleoptera: Carabidae) lure amphibians and prey upon them. PloS one, 6 (9) PMID: 21957480
Read the original paper.
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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Beauty is truth, truth beauty

Back in 1819, John Keats concluded his poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn" with the lines:

'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'
 This is a line that has always held a place of deep importance within me, despite not always knowing the source (something I deeply regret as I now consider this one of my favorite pieces of poetry).

However, when it was first released, there was a significant debate as to the importance of this line.  T..S. Eliot was especially critical with his responce in 1929 of:
[T]his line strikes me as a serious blemish on a beautiful poem
Many might agree with Eliot by following along the belief that an existence that is limited to this universe is terrifying and restricted.  But to agree with this criticism is to miss the very purpose of this line.

The poem encompasses the thoughts of Keats of what historical events a Grecian urn might have 'experienced'.  But in the end, it takes all the hypothesizing and wonderment at the possibilities and tosses them aside.  It does not do this because it feels they are ugly or useless.  Instead, he does it because he realized that, not matter what we might believe, the truth of the universe will always be more beautiful than our beliefs, simply because it is the truth.

This is an idea that has become increasingly lost amongst many.  Instead of looking at the beauty of what is, many would prefer to believe the stories of the disenchanted.  While not always their fault and, at times, seeming more appealing than what is, this is the kind of thinking that can cripple a mind for life.

Many people feel more comfortable with thinking the universe was created by some deity thousands of years ago for the sole purpose of glorifying it (I will, for simplicities sake, ignore the sexism of the traditionally used pronoun 'him').  But this view is diametrically opposed to the final line penned by Keats.  Not only this, but it sets itself up as the opposition to reality and truth itself.

They will often stat that the facts revealed through rational inquiry using a tool known as science is, by its very nature, something that is incomplete.  That there must be more than just reality.  So they ignore the beauties and truths hidden within in favor of their myths.

I would like to think that they do so not out of spite, but out of ignorance and fear.  That they either do not truly know enough about the subject (or had it displayed to them properly) or that they fear it because it is different.

I am sure there are many who find the idea of being told what to do and think comforting.  But I doubt that they even realize many of the causes behind such beliefs.  It is simply what has worked best for them as they developed, thus they cling to it like a child does a favorite toy.

What such people do not see is that there is a beauty without compare just beyond their grasp.  That, for a potential myriad of reasons, they have held fast to their 'truths', instead of looking to the information itself.  They see a cold and unfeeling existance without the familair and calming embrace of their beliefs.  But this is just an illusion created out of ignornace.

For the universe as we understand it through the lens of science, is more beautiful than we could ever hope to comprehend.  Think for a moment that we know, with an incredibly high degree of certainty, the reasons for many things in our universe.

That, despite our various inner conflicts, biological failings and tendency for various forms of cognitive dissonance, we have started to understand the universe that we are a part of.  That we have looked into the molecular machinery of life and found an unbroken thread connecting us to every other organism that has, will or does exist.

That we have looked up at the seemingly permanent stars and uncovered an ever changing tapestry.  With every discovery, a new piece of the universe is revealed.  Enormous, fiery gas giants, devastating hypernoavea, black holes producing jets of matter and energy powerful enough to shred stars, organic molecules forming in nebulae, and an ever present echo from the formation of the universe itself.

Think for a moment upon the fact that, other than hydrogen, helium and a little bit of lithium, all other elements were made within or by stars.  That, all elements above iron can only be formed, naturally, by the explosive death of massive stars.  That we, and everything else that surrounds us, are made of these long dead stars.

These are but a few of the things we have begun to understand in our short time as a species.  Each day, new discoveries are made.  New connections form between seemingly disparate ideas.  Links forming towards a single unified view of what the universe is.

We have done this.  We, a group of primates that were forced down out of the trees due to an ever changing environment, have started to reveal these and other hidden truths.

Where once we relied on myths and superstition, we now rely on what we can prove.  And unlike the cold empty existence that many have feared, we find that Keats was right all along.  There is no greater beauty than truth.
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Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy (slightly late) New Year

I wanted to write this earlier, but between having to work and getting quite ill, I have had neither the time nor the energy.  Thankfully I think I'm moving out the phlegm factory zombie stage and into the quiet acceptance of what is certain to be a prolonged and agonizing death.  Like the seasons, I do not fear the reaper and will face down my own demise while attempting to celebrate a belated New Year.

As part of this, I would like to take on the humble role of thanking the entirety of existence for being too indifferent to humanities existence to annihilate us for yet another solar year.

Thank you for not hurling some large rock, allowing a massive plague to spread, nudging a black hole in our general direction or any of the myriad other ways you could make living somewhat difficult.  I would just like to state that I do enjoy living and have grown quite accustomed to doing so.  Though, since you are indifferent, I doubt it will matter much to you (not there is a you either, but it would be really hard to thank you without having at least the idea of a you to thank).

Thank you cosmos, for not having some kind of grand ruler or 'god', if you will.  As if this were true, I think the shit would hit the fan quite hard.  And by shit I mean a Gamma Ray Burst and by fan I mean the Earth.  So while I know you are incapable of anything that approaches understanding, I would still like to thank you for letting a silly group of hominids scurry about our little rock in relative peace.

I hope to see you next year.
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