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12.29.2011

Human Evolution: Adapting to Adaptation

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I just finished watching a NOVA series about human evolution. It wasn't particularly well produced, but it was very informative. Pre-humans Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis (aka Homo heidelbergensis, because the ancestors of Neanderthals were found near Heidelberg, Germany) migrated out of Africa before Homo sapiens had evolved in Africa. Actually, to be clear, only Homo erectus actually migrated out of Africa, then the population that settled in Europe evolved into the Neanderthals as they adapted to the more temperate climate (they had to deal with winter). As an aside, a population of Homo erectus that made it to Indonesia evolved a smaller stature and today it is referred to as a species of "hobbit," although it is not the hobbit of J.R.R. Tolkien fame.

The remaining population of Homo erectus in Africa experienced dramatic climactic shifts (mainly drought) that reduced the population almost to extinction, but one small coastal population adapted to sea life and became the ingeniously tool using and enterprising Homo sapiens.

The Homo sapiens population grew and then also started migrating along the same geographic paths that earlier Homo erectus had taken up through the Middle East, then spreading into Europe, Asia, Indonesia, and eventually even to Australia (it's not clear that Homo erectus ever made it as far as Australia). Homo sapiens was a lot more crafty and technologically savvy. It would be nice to think that we interbred with Neanderthals and/or Homo erectus when we encountered them already living in Europe and Asia, but the available genetic evidence suggests we didn't (no shared genetic fingerprints to date).

So we probably either out competed them for resources or killed them off or drove them out, until they had no where left to go and died off. It sounds a lot like how humans act towards outsiders today. Maybe we can evolve ourselves away from that using our other great adaptation - CULTURE.

Because evolution is still going, and that means humanity can still evolve and adapt and improve. But it also means if we don't use the brains that nature gave us, we might go extinct from our own technological excesses. We are the first species that has ever had to adapt to its own adaptiveness.

As a distinct species, we are only about 200,000 years old, tops. Virtually embryonic. Granted, we have done a lot in the time allotted.

I think the human brain size is still growing. As an aside, I know that my own skull is gigantic, as evidenced by the rarity of hats that will fit my head. However, my individual Darwinian fitness is questionable. I may be too smart for my own good. But that's for the process of natural selection to decide (noting that it does not consciously decide anything in a rational way; that is but a figure of speech).

12.26.2011

Everything You Wanted to Know About Evolution and Then Some

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If you read "The Greatest Show on Earth" by Richard Dawkins and still don't believe in evolution by natural selection, you are without a doubt being willfully ignorant and self-deceiving.

If on the other hand you do not read "The Greatest Show on Earth" by Richard Dawkins BECAUSE you don't believe in evolution, then may God have mercy on your soul.

Regardless of your particular circumstance, I do not wish to debate you unless you have read it. For those of you in the category of having read the book and reached the conclusion that evolution by natural selection is obviously scientific fact, well, there is really nothing to debate (besides a few minutiae on the details) because we are in agreement.

This book is an in depth exploration of the scientific evidence for evolution, and it is airtight. It blasts every creationist fallacy out of the water with hard facts that are easily verifiable by anyone who cares to visit a natural history museum or even read a lay scientific journal every now and then.

Increasingly, I side with Dawkins that creationists are willfully self-deceiving and emotionally driven to elude the facts about evolution at all costs. Where it becomes really dangerous is when creationists, not satisfied to keep their religious beliefs to themselves, try to promulgate this scientific ignorance to others.

But anyone who reads this book will have the facts inescapably fire hosed into his or her face, eloquently and unapologetically. The outcome can only be one of two things - acceptance of evolution by natural selection as scientific fact or brutal self-acceptance of one's willful suspension of disbelief in creationism. The verifiable facts presented in this book leave no room for doubt. It is not speculation. He shows you the hard evidence for evolution (yes, even the fossils of the "intermediate species" that creationists refuse to acknowledge). You can, in most cases, touch the evidence and in all cases verify it with your own brain. To deny what Dawkins presents is to deny facts that Dawkins himself did not manufacture. He is just presenting hard scientific evidence gathered by many scientists over many years that irrefutably supports evolution by natural selection.

I was fascinated by the chapter on the evolution of humans. I already understood that humans did not evolve FROM chimpanzees (rather, chimps and humans both evolved from a common primate ancestor, no longer living, that had some features of both modern day species, but was not a chimp nor a human itself). Dawkins presented a fairly high level overview of the transitional species from Australopithecines (an upright walking primate with a chimp-sized brain) through primitive Homo species to modern Homo sapiens, but it clearly illustrated the concept of gradual change over time. Fossils "punctuate" the timeline between ancient primates and humans, because we do not have access to all the fossils of every primate that ever lived (if we did, we could see the gradual small changes from generation to generation). But the ones we do have are notable because even paleoanthropologists have a hard time classifying the fossils we have as one extinct species or another. This is because they have many features in common as well as some notable differences (largely in brain size, but there is overlap between the smallest brain of a more recent species and the largest brain of a more distant species, because of the natural variation, so sometimes it is difficult to decide).

One of the take home messages I got from reading the chapter on human evolution is that gradual change is very hard to discern. But we know that human beings have gradually changed just in the past few hundred years. We are generally larger in stature, and some might even argue intellectually more advanced as a species.

But when 40% of Americans still believe God created everything and the Earth is less than 6,000 years old, if the human species on the whole is really more intellectually advanced, then the other 60% of people must be REALLY intelligent to counterbalance the utterly ignorant.

In any case, all I know is that it is pretty miraculous and amazing that my evolutionary ancestors survived some 4.5 billion years from the first replicating organic molecules in the primal muck until now. You might think it is even more improbable and miraculous than some divine being putting everything together in seven days. But be that as it may, there is hard scientific proof for the miracle of evolution and that's good enough for my 1.3 liters of human brain matter.

12.24.2011

The New Testament Appears to be Largely Forged

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With the exception of some of Paul's letters, most of the books of the New Testament appear to biblical scholars to be forgeries by early Christian non-Apostolic authors.

There are a lot of good reasons for this, but the fact remains that most of the Apostles were completely illiterate and could not have penned the canonical books that bear their names. In addition, the originals were written in Greek, not Coptic or Aramaic, the languages that would have been spoken (but obviously not written) by Jesus and his Apostles. Often, they were anonymously authored and church fathers assigned the names of Apostles to them post facto.

It appears unknown Greek-speaking authors, 10-50 years after Jesus died, penned their versions of the events of Jesus' life (probably from traditional oral stories) and in some cases attributed them to an Apostle in order to give them "street cred." In other cases, church fathers attributed them to Apostles in order to allow them to be part of the Biblical canon.

Recall that the New Testament did not exist during the life of Jesus. It was compiled from 27 books of early Christian writings that came into existence after Jesus (and most of the Apostles) were long dead.

I have never liked publication bias. I do not like it in modern scientific research and I do not like it in the Bible, although there is very little I can do about it in either case.

Stay informed. Don't believe the hype.

12.19.2011

Common Ancestors

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My dad handed off his copy of Richard Dawkins' "The Greatest Show On Earth" to me yesterday. Naturally, I busted into it right away.

When you think about evolution (but first you need to know about it), you realize that any God worthy of the moniker would create and fully endorse a process like natural selection. It is so wonderfully simple and elegant and powerful.

One of the greatest points of confusion for unscientific and religiously deceived people is the idea that we evolved FROM chimpanzees. The fact is, we didn't.

Creationists try to use this argument to refute evolution, but it's a moot point, because no evolutionist claims we evolved from chimpanzees. Chimpanzees and humans exist today, so they could not have evolved from each other.

They evolved from a common ancestor that resembled a human and a chimp, but was actually neither. There was some point in time, millions of years ago, when a chimpy humanish looking beast branched into two lines of descent. One descendant population gradually changed over time, little by little, to become today's chimps. The other population of descendants gradually changed in a different way over time, to become today's humans. Today, the most human looking chimp and the most chimp looking human do not resemble each other very closely, but for some period of time after the point at which the populations branched from the common ancestor, the two evolving populations had a proportion of individuals that looked quite a lot alike (and a proportion that didn't).

Once you understand mathematical proportions and the idea of forks in the evolutionary road over long periods of time, evolution becomes almost common sense. At least I think so.

If you are a creationist or some other kind of non-believer in (or misunderstander of) evolution, I'd like to know what you think and what, if anything, still confuses you.

There's the false notion of random chance leading to the complexity of life, again largely used erroneously by creationists to refute evolution, but I think this is a non-issue. Natural selection is not a random process (although mutation can be). Natural selection is very non-random and biased. It "selects" for advantageous traits and kills off disadvantageous traits. That's not random. If it were, trait A would have no advantage over trait B, and evolution would not occur.

But since natural selection is "selective" by definition as a process, it is not random. So I really hope you are not one of those people who has been mislead into thinking evolution is a random process. If so, think about what I just said for 30 seconds and completely dispel the idea.

Better yet, read a Dawkins book (anathema!). He's quite knowledgeable on the subject, even if you don't care for his patronizing attitude toward creationists.

11.24.2011

Belief vs. Behavior

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When it comes to Christians, most will probably say I shouldn't have an opinion, because I am not one.

But I do have eyes and ears and other senses, and I am entitled to reflect on my observations.

I have observed that there are different kinds of Christians in practice.

One kind is the "do as Jesus did" kind. They try hard to adhere to the teachings of Jesus, and pretty much pick and choose their Old Testament behaviors. For example, Jesus would have kept kosher. Most Christians don't.

Another kind is the "what would Jesus do?" kind. These people are similar to the above, but they accept that they are pond scum in comparison to Jesus and can never hope to be as awesome as him. So they kind of do what they want and loosely consider in the back of their minds what Jesus would have done in this situation.

Then there is the "accept Jesus into your heart" kind. These are the ones who think that as long as you accept Jesus into your heart, you'll go to heaven, and what you do here on earth is pretty much irrelevant. It's kind of like "accept Jesus into your living room" but keep the skeletons in the closet so he doesn't see them.

Then there is my favorite kind of Christian, the "good samaritan." These people see Jesus as a teacher and they try to learn from him (or what we can know about him from the very biased New Testament). They don't try to be him or do what he would do, and they don't so much accept Jesus himself as accept his message. They go around being really good to others and trying to make the world a better place to live.

I think this latter group, with a little bit of insight, could make the leap to realizing that the Kingdom of God is right here at our fingertips. There is no actual heaven. We have to make it, right here on earth. And after we are dead, our eternal life is defined by all the good things we did. Or bad things.

For example, Martin Luther King lives on in people's minds, hearts, and even deeds.

Adolf Hitler also lives on, despised, hated, and "eternally damned" by almost everyone (except White Supremacists, who I think we can all agree live in their own self-loathing hell on earth...we might say they are the minions of Satan, demonic, evil, destructive, and hateful).

11.07.2011

Biblical Publication Bias

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I started the second of two books about the Bible that my parents sent me. This one is called "Lost Christianities" by Bart Ehrman. In it, the author explores early Christian writings and how it was that the current 27 books of the New Testament came to be the chosen scriptural canon, while hundreds of other Christian documents were labeled heresies, and either banned, destroyed, or forgotten.

Set aside whether the books of the NT are inspired or inerrant, and you still have the fact that powerful HUMAN individuals in the church chose which writings were to become the NT canon.

How did they decide? On what authority?

In science, this is called "publication bias." Usually it is driven by stakeholders with a vested interest in the truth not getting out. Many political players are involved. Sometimes scientists themselves do it. They often are funded by powerful stakeholders and if they publish unfavorable papers, their funding can dwindle.

When I worked at the vitamin company, my corporate overlords were explicit that we would publish no papers or articles that reflected negatively on the products. It makes sense from a profitability standpoint, but it is anathema to scientific truth and ethical behavior. For example, doctors need to know the benefits of drugs and vitamins to their patients, but also the risks.

So, are we to believe the leaders of the early church had no stake in what books were selected to be in the NT for all eternity? Clearly they did. If so, were they able to ethically and objectively decide what to make canonical and what not to?

That is what this book is about - all the many Christian writings that were available and why some lived on and others disappeared.

It is interesting that only in the past 200 years or so have all the other Christian writings started to be discovered, re-discovered, and examined.

Is it possible that God now thinks people are ready and open minded enough to contemplate and appreciate the views of the early, formerly "heretical" Christians?

Heresy literally means "choice." The wrong one, in the opinion of followers of the current canonical dogma. But perhaps God has decided that humans are once again worthy of free will and choice. It's a test.

Or is this the heretical work of the Devil?

I always like to think knowledge, not ignorance (publication bias is essentially ignoring work that does not agree with your views), is what God wants for humanity. Otherwise, is She a God worth having? And yes, many early Christian writings viewed God as a female deity.

You tell me, by commenting below.

10.31.2011

Ancestors

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I finished reading "Jesus Interrupted" by Bart Ehrman, a fascinating historical analysis of the Bible and the life of Jesus. I am not a person of faith, but it seems to me such truth seeking can only serve to strengthen and contextualize one's beliefs in the 21st century. Unless you are a 1st century Palestinian Jew, the literal contents of the Bible don't make a lot of sense today. But it has some good moral messages, when properly contextualized. It was also a well written book and easy to read (Ehrman's book that is...the Bible is a chore for me, anyway.).

Before I begin my next book, "Lost Christianities," which is about all the Christian books that never made it into the Biblical canon, and why, I am going to make some headway on Richard Dawkins' tome, "The Ancestor's Tale." In it, Dawkins take a backwards journey through evolutionary history, stopping at each branch point on the evolutionary tree that led to humans.

I just finished reading about rodents, one of the most adaptable groups of mammals. They evolved during the time of the dinosaurs, living nocturnally to avoid predation. After the dinosaurs went extinct, the rodents were able to explode because of the decreased predation and all the ecological niches left vacant by the dinosaurs.

But here's the crazy thing. There are mammalian ancestors more primitive than the ones that gave rise to rodents. These were called Laurasiatheres, and eventually gave rise to today's bats, polar bears, pangolins, and other creatures. I had kind of always thought rodents were very primitive. But their ancestors are pre-dated not only by Laurasiatheres, but also marsupials and monotremes, among others. These are predated again by mammal-like reptiles that far pre-date the dinosaurs.

I am not sure why Dawkins includes these reptiles, because they are extinct today, and he said at the beginning of his book he was only going to cover extant groups of animals (those whose descendants are still around today). But I am not to that section yet, so maybe he has a good reason, or covers them just as an aside.

10.21.2011

Cosmic and Geological Time

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"With the Lord a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day." (2 Peter, 3:8)

As best I can figure, God works on a geological time scale.

Think about it. Humans relate to everything on really short time scales of a few decades or so. This is because we are mortal and have life spans of only a few decades.

But God has been around for billions of years, if both scientists and most major monotheistic religions are to be believed. (Not that they should, but that is the assumption here. Skepticism is best, even for science.)

To Him, human time scales whiz by in the blink of an eye. Statistically, 10 years is not significantly different from 1000 years or millions of years.

Compare...

10 (human)
1000 (culture)
10000000 (evolution)
10000000000 (cosmos)

Now, humans wrote the Bible stories. They may well have been inspired by God. Who knows? All we know is that humans relate to things on small scales.

If they believed God created the earth in 7 days, it might really be 7 billion days. That's approaching 20 million years. Seems like a reasonable amount of time to let the forces of nature (God's creation, after all) have their effects on the matter and energy in the cosmos, eventually yielding a small lonely blue world with His creatures on it.

This is just an idea. I am not saying it is this way or that we need God in order to have the forces of nature. I'm just saying, you can think up a lot of scenarios that are a lot more plausible than the earth being created in 7 days, which would defy everything we know about nature.

Sure, God can violate the laws of nature if he wants to, because He is God. But for the most part, and probably all the time, if scientists are to be believed, He doesn't. Why is that?

I think it is the same reason he doesn't interfere with humans - free will. The same cosmic forces that created all the harmony in the universe are the same forces that give us our free will and our ability to appreciate it.

Indeed, as I alluded to above, if we are God's ultimate creation and he created the cosmos (in 7 God days) with the intent to eventually create US, then he almost by definition had to choose to let the whole darn thing unfold naturally. All he did was set the laws of nature in motion, and they worked like a charm.

What do you think?

Next, let's talk about Jesus and the apocalypse. Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. He said to his disciples and others, if the New Testament is the be believed, that the Kingdom would come within the lifetimes of those listening to him. He believed salvation was around the corner.

But Jesus was also human (even if he was also God). So perhaps it is possible that he was speaking in terms of time that his followers could understand. But what got lost in translation was that a human lifetime (say, 40 years tops in circa 30 AD Roman controlled Galilee) was really several powers of magnitude longer than that.

That would certainly explain why the apocalypse didn't come as soon as he said, and still hasn't come. If this is true, then we have like billions of years before the apocalypse. This coincides well with the predictions science has for the eventual demise of our planet and the solar system.

Theoretically, we might have left the earth far behind by then. But there is another dilemma with this idea...the laws of nature support the idea of evolution, and it's required for the above creation plan to eventually generate God's creatures, if that idea is right.

The problem is that evolution (and all the laws of nature) doesn't stop with us. It's all still going full speed ahead, and in a few billion years we will have theoretically evolved into a much more advanced species (if we don't go extinct). This would mean we humans are not even God's ultimate creation, but that our future descendants are.

That's not a horrible thing, given a little massaging of the above ideas. Indeed, what if the apocalypse is really nothing more than the gradual evolution of our species into a God-like species (by today's standards...I am sure those future beings will probably think they are sinful wretches too, even though they are AWESOME!). We will eventually evolve into the children of God.

Here's the clincher. Jesus said this - THE SON OF MAN would eventually descend to rule the earth. He didn't say THE SON OF GOD, as you would logically expect him to, but rather the son of man. Translation...the descendants of MANKIND.

Just saying...

If geological time scales are at work, and things really take hugely long times to unfold, this seems plausible.

I mean, given a lot of assumptions that are clearly speculative and improbable, like the existence of God, and loose translations of things actually said in the Bible.

Yeah, it sucks to be a stepping stone on the path to God's ultimate creation. But consider how glad we all are that our past ancestors (say, the lemurs) survived 3.5 billion years of evolution to eventually produce US. Our descendants will feel the same way, I am sure.

So we are important, and it is important that we live our lives in ways that do not harm other humans or destroy our species or planet. Jesus said this too - Treat thy neighbor as yourself (better known as the Golden Rule). This is a strong argument for behaving morally and ethically, and protecting life and the planet Earth as best we can (at least until we can get off this rock!).

Because if we don't the SON OF MAN (our descendants) doesn't come. No Kingdom of Heaven. You see where I am going with this? Jesus knew that actions speak louder than words. He knew that humans had to act together to clear the way for the coming of the Kingdom. It's just that what he called a Kingdom was in the far distant future. Whether he knew this or not, we can't be sure. But we do know that PEOPLE, not Jesus, wrote the Bible and people, no matter how inspired, write things in people words, sharing people ideas.

Jesus and the apostle Paul (from the 7 books we know he actually wrote, not the other forgeries bearing his name) both emphasized the value of doing good deeds, and that accepting Jesus' death and rebirth was not as important as accepting his message to do good. The SON OF MAN depends on it.

This also jibes well with the idea of salvation for good people and damnation for sinners. If sin can be defined as not living a good life, and not living a good life is correlated with Darwinian survival (the wicked die earlier), then over geological time scales, the good will eventually prevail by the time the Kingdom comes.

Of course, this assumes "goodness" is genetic and often times it is learned. But that just supports the value of good moral and ethical education, and critical thinking.

The problem is that the wicked often don't do terribly badly in this world. They exploit good people and disproportionately consume resources and wealth (remember what Jesus said about the ability of rich men to enter the Kingdon of Heaven - requiring putting a camel through the eye of a needle?). This is why we must be vigilant and disenfranchise wickedness as a society.

I know I pulled this totally out of my arse, but I think it has some merit and maybe builds an albeit flimsy bridge between the moral/ethical atheist and theist. It allows for evolution and the laws of nature to not only exist, but be largely left alone by God, so he can enjoy the show on a tropical island somewhere. He hopes we make it, and in fact He relies on us to make it happen. When Jesus came, humanity graduated from the Old Testament laws to the New Testament guidebook. The latter says humans don't have to follow the Jewish Laws anymore, but we still shouldn't make total asses of ourselves. Use our better judgment and make good moral and ethical decisions to protect the Earth and humanity and whatever else (all things are related, this is why science is a great gift).

Share your thoughts on this.

10.14.2011

Who Wrote the Bible Stories?

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I am reading a book called Jesus, Interrupted by Bart Ehrman.

My sense is that fundamentalist Christians don't like him, even though he used to be one.

All he does is critically (scientifically) analyze what we know and don't know about the Bible.

Everything in his book is taught in every Protestant seminary school in the world, because ministers need to be educated in depth on everything Biblical. But most ministers don't take this message to the people, for a simple reason.

Membership.

If the truth were told as it is, a lot of people would get a rude awakening. Religious people would probably continue to be religious, but they would start to see the corruption in the institutions of religion (the very human power holders in the church). Then they would quit going and tithing to the church, and that wouldn't be good for business.

But that doesn't change the facts. One of which is that the Gospels of the New Testament probably were not written by the atrributed authors (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). In addition to being rife with contradictions both within and between Gospels, the apostles themselves were very unlikely to have been literate.

Literacy was about 10% back then and among that 10%, most could only read, not write. The literate class was also generally wealthy and had time to spend. The apostles were clearly not members of this class - they were poor and working class, unschooled. In addition, the geographical descriptions in the Bible, according to Ehrman, indicate the Gospels were written anonymously by people in foreign lands many years later, then attributed back to the apostles by church "fathers," who clearly had a vested interest in the church's marketing image.

One of the giveaways that the Gospels were not actually written by the authors they are attributed to is the simple and obvious fact that they are written in the 3rd person. That is highly unusual for any eye witness writer to do, even in these modern times, when composing an autobiographical work. So it is believed that other people wrote about the apostles based on secondary sources, word of mouth and other writings by eye witnesses.

Now, does this mean we should discount the Gospels? Of course not. I could write a book or a blog post like this one on my INTERPRETATION of another work, such as this book I am reading. It is processed by my considerable intellect and what you read is the distillation through my brain. You may not like what I have to say, or agree, but it's worth reading (I think).

By the same token, we need to be intellectually honest that the real authors of the Gospels were not the atrributed authors and whoever they really were, they had a literary message to convey about the life of Jesus (a point of view). Thus, they are not absolute truths, but inspired works.

Perhaps they were inspired by God. But in as much as these were not apostles, but rather (wealthy and literate, most likely Greek) humans with imperfections and no first hand knowledge, I think we have to accept that they are literature, not fact.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

10.05.2011

The Quandrous Geneology of Jesus

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Houston, we have a problem.

In both the book of Matthew and of Luke in the Bible, the authors make a point of tracing Jesus' prestigious geneology back from his father Joseph through King David to Abraham, the father of the Jews, and (in Luke) all the way back to Adam.

Here's the problem...

Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary (via the Holy Spirit), and Joseph wasn't ever his biological father. Fact. So the geneology of Joseph, awesome as it was, is quite irrelevant to the geneology of Jesus that these authors praise. It is the geneology of Mary that should matter.

But neither Luke nor Matthew have anything to say about Mary's ancestors. Indeed, these are the only two Gospels that have anything to say about Jesus' geneology, and they both trace it through Joseph to Jewish ancestors.

They ignore his (relevant) bloodline through Mary completely.

Do you find that odd?

I do.

Set aside the fact that the two Gospels give different geneologies for Joseph, if Jesus, the Messiah, was (according to the Bible) supposed to be a descendant of David, Israel's greates king, then he isn't. Or, at least there is no evidence in the Bible that he is, since we don't know Mary's ancestry.

If we assume Mary and Joseph are both descendants of David, that could work. But it's an assumption, not supported by the literal Bible.

So while the Bible may be the INSPIRED word of God, it certainly does not appear to be inerrant.

SOURCE: Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)

9.16.2011

Modesty vs. Chastity

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In "Mere Christianity," CS Lewis (unnecessarily) describes the difference between MODESTY and CHASTITY. I already knew the definitional difference, but Lewis' main point was that many self-proclaimed Christians confuse the two in practice, behaving modestly in public as a proxy for chastity, but really ignoring the latter in public.

As a rock-n-roller, I generally can't practice modesty in my live performances, and I don't think there is anything wrong with that, since chastity is really the goal of unmarried christians.

Some would say a lack of modesty encourages promiscuity, but that would be like saying heavy metal music encourages violence, and the courts have been quite decisive in saying there is no correlation. I think of titillating music as being more cathartic, allowing people to fulfill urges in a constructive way. Like killing people in video games, for example.

8.31.2011

I Am Reading "Mere Christianity" by CS Lewis

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I am about 60 pages into CS Lewis' "Mere Christianity." It reads well and explains Christian belief in a clear but general way that is easy to understand.

That said, I have a lot of questions and issues with some parts, largely the assumptions and leaps of logic Lewis makes.

I started reading the book as part of a book club type discussion with a friend of mine who is Christian, to gain some understanding of her frame of reference.

In turn, she agreed to read Richard Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker" to get the atheist perspective.

My friend went off to school and we haven't discussed either text much. I haven't pushed the issue, mainly because I know she is busy with school and other things. She might have lost interest, because she told me she really dislikes Dawkins. And this is the sweetest, nicest person I know. So if she says she does not like Dawkins, that might be translated as close to hate for most other people.

I have no idea how far she is in the Dawkins book, if at all. I thought that was an easy read too, with a little bit of technical reading here and there that required some extra thinking. I raced through it really fast and got it back to the library before it came due, which is rare for me. I did have to renew "Mere Christianity" though, because I had it checked out at the same time as "Blind Watchmaker" and I am really only good at reading one book at a time. If I try to do more than that, I end up not finishing either.

I'll admit, I am a bit more interested in the topic of evolution, which is probably why I chose to read that one first. But I am upholding my end of the book club bargain now, and "Mere Christianity" isn't a dull read. It's interesting. Unconvincing, to date, but interesting. I like that the chapters were originally written as short radio plays in the 1940s. They are short and concise and to the point. He doesn't waste any time getting into the meat of things. That's alright in my book. Dawkins is pretty parsimonious too, but has the leeway to go into more technical details.

My friend and I will probably never see eye to eye. She's a Biblical literalist and my strict adherence to reason and belief in the universality of the Laws of Nature prohibits me from accepting blatant contradictions to the natural order of the universe. But that leads me back to my original question that started this whole discussion between me and my friend. Are SCIENCE and REASON the Devil's work, if they cause someone to deny the truth of the literal Bible? Because, logically, they must be. Certain things just can't be reconciled, starting right off the bat with the Creation story in the Bible. And then there's the mathematical fact that Christians are no more good or bad than other people, so it sure doesn't seem like you can only be good if you are chosen by Jesus. At what point do we say that the likelihood is no different from random chance, thus neutralizing the need to be chosen by Jesus? Lewis talks about being a good person inside and out, requiring Christianity. Really? I'm a good person inside and out. Have I been chosen by Jesus and I just don't know it? Folly.

But maybe through learning we can at least appreciate each other's world view. I still think atheists are the more open minded group, because we can generally accept people of any faith as friends and relatives and lovers, whereas some religious people are kind of closed minded and strict and unfriendly about such things. I sometimes feel like atheists know that all people are equal and have the same likelihood of being good or bad. But some religions treat atheists as inferior and thus less human, and Christianity is no exception. I could be wrong. Christians say they accept everyone, including atheists, but they certainly don't want just anyone to date their daughters, especially dirty atheists.

You know what I'm saying. Off to read some more CS Lewis.

p.s. Another friend called CS Lewis a "Christian apologetic." I am not seeing it. He writes in a very unapologetic way, as I see it. Unless I don't understand what people mean by "apologetic." Lewis is brazen about the superiority of Christianity to everything else.

8.24.2011

I Finished Reading "Blind Watchmaker" by Richard Dawkins

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I have a hard time finishing books if I am not really engrossed by them.

I cranked through Richard Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker" though.

In addition to stuff I already knew as a student of biology, I learned a ton of new stuff while reading it.

But the main take home message I got out of it was that even though I might well be an Average Joe who sucks (though I tend to think not), what really matters is that my ancestors of the past 3.5 billion years were amazingly kickass.

That is to say, from the hellish, sulferous volcanic oceans of the early earth that spawned the first living molecules until now, there is a direct line of descent...to ME.

That's pretty cool (note that I wouldn't be here to think so if it wasn't the case...). It kind of makes me want to keep up the "family values" and try to improve my Darwinian fitness in honor of all my awesome ancestors who avoided death long enough to have offspring, whose genes were good enough to get them to reproductive age.

Evolution is pretty cool, although the roadside through time is littered with the corpses of those that didn't make it...the dead ends.

Of course, I have to give some credit to my currently living contemporaries in the species known as Homo sapiens. After all, without the ingenuity of many of my kind (which far surpasses mine), and their genetic predisposition for altruistic and cooperative behavior, I might not have made it this far. Vaccines, medicine, a relatively safe food and water supply, technology, and the list goes on.

WHO'S YER MAMA?

An Open Letter to God

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Dear God,

A Christian friend recently told me that Heaven is wide open to anyone who accepts Jesus, and that such acceptance is sufficient to get in.

Is this true? If so, I'd like to NOT come.

I really don't want to spend eternity with the likes of Hitler, Timothy McVeigh, George W. Bush, and any number of gay haters and abortion clinic bombers.

A good day to you, Sir.

JSL

8.20.2011

Where Are the Intermediate Species in Evolution?

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Sometimes people who don't believe in evolution ask, "Why aren't there any intermediate species?"

I always used to think they meant why aren't there any intermediate species in the fossil record. And that was usually followed by the thought that where a good fossil record exists, there are intermediate species (now extinct). And so the question always seemed silly. Not to mention that the fossil record is very incomplete in most places and so the path of evolution does seem gappy, set aside the fact that related but different species often didn't live in the same places (geographical separation is in fact one of the factors that CAUSES speciation).

But then I started reading Richard Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker" and it occurred to me that this question, usually from people with a creationist biblical perspective, is really better interpreted as, "Why aren't there any intermediate species alive today?"

Set aside the fact that "intermediate species" is a relative term (could not chimps be considered an intermediate species between humans and orangutans, for example, from a morphological perspective?), the reason that we don't see too many intermediate species alive today (and there are some, like many kinds of plants that can hybridize), is because the evolutionary tree branches in TIME.

Chimps and humans have a common ancestor. But when that ancestor lived, perhaps 5 million years ago, there were not yet any chimps or humans. When that species branched, both branches began to CHANGE from the ancestral species, one becoming chimps and one becoming humans.

But once the split occurred and the two species could no longer interbreed, the ancestral species ceased to exist.

But fossils of the ancestral species do exist, dated between 5-7 million years ago. In fact, there are three possible candidates - Ardipithecus, Sahelanthropus, or Orrorin.

Such fossils are rare and incomplete, which makes determining which may have been the closest ancestral common ancestor of chimps and humans difficult. In fact, none of the fossils found is probably THE common ancestor (mathematically, there can only be ONE actual individual that serves as the branch point for the evolutionary tree).

So I hope this helps to answer the question about where are the intermediate species. Where they exist, they are probably incomplete and still buried in rocks. In plants, we know that related subspecies can still hybridize, such as maize and corn, as well as numerous varieties of flowering plants. That's good, because plant fossils are even rarer than the fossils of bony animals.

On the distantly related question of how could a single celled organism eventually lead to the multicellular complexity of a human being...you need look no further than this very occurrence during embryonic development from a single-celled fertilized egg to a new born baby.

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

8.14.2011

God Hates Country Music (or Maybe Just Indiana, Hard to Say)

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Why does God hate country music?

Or maybe Indiana pissed him off?

Actually, probably none of the above. Random weather.

But that doesn't stop televangelists from cursing the sinfulness of people when disaster strikes them.

So why not?

8.09.2011

Making Wind Power 10x More Efficient (With SCIENCE)...

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Could wind power ever compete with fossil fuels?

I don't know, but CHECK THIS OUT: www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14452133.

Right now, in America, we not only DON'T subsidize alternative energy, we also do subsidize fossil fuels, based on a logic I have never understood and probably never will.

This scientific discovery provides a major "subsidy" to wind energy, in the form of efficiency (aka, AWESOMENESS).

Now if we could just stop the government handouts to big oil...

8.06.2011

A 3 Point Argument for the Idea that God Does Not Interfere in Our Lives

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1. God made the Laws of Nature

2. God follows the Laws of Nature faithfully and without exception.

3. If God interfered with the world, He would be violating his own Laws.

When God created the universe, he knew that the current Laws of Nature were the perfect harmonious model to set things into motion and let them take their course, eventually leading to His greatest creation, Humans.*

He doesn't mess with the model, because He knows if he did, it would throw it off balance and F it up (Humans sometimes F it up though, by failing to appreciate and understand the Laws of Nature...like with global warming).

As a result of His creation of the Laws of Nature, we have this stable universe and these cool fleshy vehicles to carry us around, thanks to a molecule called DNA that is a perfect blueprint for all life on earth.

DNA is the perfect example of the above. God made a perfect molecule for giving rise to life. There is no living thing on earth that is not made from it, without exception. And it behaves perfectly predictably, producing the expected end result based on the sequence of base pairs it contains.

Similar organisms like chimps and humans share most of the same blueprint and as a result we are very similar to chimps. Bananas and humans only share about 25% the same DNA (which always seemed like a lot to me, but remember that all organisms have a lot of vestigial DNA that is junk DNA from our prior common ancestors).

God has never in history created a life form that wasn't based on DNA. Puppets never come to life magically. I'll even bet that Jesus was made from DNA, parthenogenic birth notwithstanding. I mean, think about what a job it would be for Mary to carry around a life form based on something alien to the human developmental biology. God doesn't want to work that hard to maintain something so deviant from His Laws.

DNA is a strong piece of evidence that God does not interfere. He just sets things in motion.

So why aren't scientists considered to be prophets of God? They are the ones who spend most of their time studying God's plan in the form of the Laws of Nature. So scientists are closer to God's creation than any of us.

*Note: Only humans think this. Bluefin tuna think they are God's most awesome creation, the way they can effortlessly ply through the oceans eating mackerel and other manna from heaven.

7.25.2011

A Teachable Moment - Norway Bomber Was a Right Wing Christian Extremist

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I think it is my moral obligation to take advantage of this teachable moment.

The Oslo Norway bomber was driven by his extremist fundamentalist Christianity and zealous hatred of multiculturalism. Yet, we don't condemn all of Christianity because of one sicko.

Think about how it makes you feel when someone condemns your entire religion for the acts of one or a few. What if, because of this nut case, the Norwegians began rounding up fundamentalist Christians spouting hate speech and imprisoned them off the coast of Denmark for years on end, with no Habeus Corpus rights.

If you are a fundamentalist Christian, ask yourself, what if police came for you in the middle of the night, verbally abused your family and dragged you off to jail indefinitely.

I'll bet you wouldn't like it.

But that is how Muslims feel when you demonize their entire religion and culture because a handful of murderers affiliating themselves with that religion do acts in the name of it.

Now shut up and leave Muslims alone.

7.18.2011

Why Humankind is Doomed: The Population vs. Individual Conundrum

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There are a lot of smart people in the world. There are a lot of people who know what we need to do to avoid global climate change and its destructive impact on the human race. I am not one of these people, but I know they exist, and I read their books.

We have the intelligence, ingenuity and technology to create a sustainable earth.

The problem is, even though there are smart human beings, the population as a whole is largely ignorant. It is the dichotomy of the individual vs. the population.

In any species on earth, there is a range of variation of traits. Some individuals are exsquisitely adapted to their environment and some aren't. Over time, the less adaptable die off. The problem with humanity is that the population willfully destroys its own habitat, so adaptation becomes irrelevant. The most adapted members find themselves in an environment that is changing and they have no where to migrate to. In the human population, the less fit individuals from an adaptive standpoint help to drag everyone down.

Collectively, we either don't know, don't give a damn, or have given up. And this is to the great detriment of our species. Unless someone can convince the large majority of the world that we need to change our ways when it comes to the environment and sustainability, the human population is going to drag everyone down, intelligent scientists and global warming skeptics alike.

That's my prediction and I'd love to hear your thoughts, so please comment.

Scorched Earth Policy

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Update: UW only cooling essential buildings; chillers under repair http://bit.ly/qz3hih.

The earth is cooking itself in its own man made juices. Water supplies will dwindle and crops will wither. War will ensue as humans compete for limited resources.

It is not "if" it is "when?"

6.22.2011

The Coming Deluge

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I've talked before about the return of the INLAND SEA that will deluge the central United States in the next 100 years.

Increasingly, we will see these kinds of record floods happening every year - http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110623/us_nm/us_flooding_plains - as more and more water is transferred to land due to global warming and increased evaporation from the oceans.

They will last longer and longer, until eventually the water just stays year round, turning to ice and snow in the winter, which will keep the water land-bound.

I don't expect anyone to believe me, but it is a fact of pre-history that an inland sea once divided what is now the United States. It was located farther west, because the rockies had not yet formed and the crust of the earth was lower in that region.

Today, much of the midwest is only a few hundred feet above sea level.

Comment.

6.11.2011

Bible vs. Science (A "Gut" Feeling)

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I read an interesting article about gut bacteria this morning.

As I was reading about these "new findings" from intestinal biology, an idea occurred to me as to why some people fancy faith over reason, the Bible vs. Science.

Perhaps some people are made to feel uneasy (queasy?) when they are not 100% certain that the world is as it seems. Science can explain a lot of things, but scientists admit that their work is dynamic and changing as new facts come to light...this can be unsettling for some people.

That is to say, there is a certain comfort in believing that the universe in unyieldingly consistent.

The Bible provides that sense of comfort. Science, though a much better explanation of reality and the universe, is never 100%.

In fact, science can't "prove" anything. All it can do is "fail to disprove" some things. It is the nature of science that it can only disprove the disprovable. A theory and it's subsequent hypotheses are only as good as their ability to be tested.

Conversely, God is neither provable nor disprovable. It is the nature of Faith that the existence of God is simply accepted and held to be rock solidly true.

Believers like the unyielding consistency* over time of the Bible's take on things (however unprovable they may be) vs. the seemingly daily and often unsettling "change" of Science.

When I have queried religious people about their "core values" (a simple psychological exercise where you get people to think about something that if they did not have it life would not be worth living, followed by a visualization of how that thing makes them feel), I always get a similar response. Their core value is peace, calm, tranquility, and the like. Conversely, non-believers are less consistent, reporting core values like knowledge gain, excitement, adrenalin, discovering new things.

I think there is a high correlation between core values and whether someone prefers reason over faith. The Bible, for all its contradictions and defiance of the laws of physics, is a stable philosophy that appeals to those whose core value is stability. Mythology, by design, can be fit to any belief system. It only requires interpretation of abstractions that are untestable. Science though is pesky. It requires continual questioning and the end results do not always appeal to common sense and belief.

*Not to be confused with internal consistency from Statistics, which the Bible sorely lacks.

6.10.2011

Social Species and Doom

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There is a catch-22 with being a member of a social species.
Social behaviors like altruism and cooperation are excellent for the survival of such species, maximizing available resources and distributing Darwinian fitness more uniformly within the group.
But there is a down side. When the population exceeds sustainable resource consumption, the same social behavior distributes the resource exploitation among the group.

Think of the behavior of the overall population as an averaging of the behavior of all the individuals. When the resource infrastructure is sustainable, everyone benefits from some people doing more altruistic resource gathering and sharing than others. But when the resource support base is exceeded, the harvesting drive trait is still prevalent.

Such conditions begin to "select" for more modest natural resource consumption, but it takes a few generations for those traits to become dominant, and population collapse due to resource mismanagement often occurs first. Unfortunately, the demise of the population is not specific to the more exploitative individuals in that population, but is also distributed evenly.

Humans face this dilemma now, as we simultaneously reach and exceed peak capacity in both fossil fuels and water (both required for food creation).

The possible saving grace for the human population is culture, rare to non-existent in other social species. We have the intelligence and technical ability to change our behavior collectively, very rapidly. We could theoretically shift away from non-sustainable resources and do quite well.

Culture also allows us to rapidly spread ideas (often called "memes" to distinguish rapid cultural transmission of behavior from slower genetic transmission). We have the ability to spread protective memes throughout the human species. But as with genes, there is great variability in the available memes.

Science can help us figure out the most creative and productive memes for avoiding a population collapse. But science memes are in a struggle with ideological and mythological memes that have deep roots in human history.

And if said history is any indicator, in general our cultural memes will not act fast enough to counter our genetic drives. Most of the great civilizations that "disappeared" did so following a period of natural resource exploitation and mismanagement.

We may be doomed to repeat history.

Science gives us hope, but scientists have to be responsible and culturally aware and relevant. They seem to strugle with this.

REFERENCES

"World on the Edge" by Lester R. Brown

6.07.2011

Homo Sapiens: Individual vs. Population

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I think it is humanity itself that best illustrates the reality of Darwinism. I will expound on this more in future posts, but right now I have to go to work. At the level of the individual human, we can show examples of great intellectual development, creativity, foresight, and compassion. However, at the population level, humans show the same degree of variation in their traits, including reason and compassion and altruism and other "human" traits, as most other vertebrate organisms. Humans like to believe they are special. Some like to believe that we collectively have the "will" to adapt and survive in changing environmental conditions, such as global climate change. But that is exactly the problem. Individually, some humans have the degree of intellect and wisdom and reason to not only see us out of our self-destructive quandary, but to "prove it" with science. But at the population level, as a very consequence of random variation within our species, we are doomed by the fact that a significant portion of the population has characteristics at odds with our long term survival and willfully avoids scientific understanding in favor of mythology. When the chips are down, it is not our collective intellect or our reason that will save us (for it does not exist at that level). At the end of the world, it will be the sheer will of individual organisms to survive that matters.

6.03.2011

The Year of Living Biblically

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I am reading "The Year of Living Biblically" by AJ Jacobs.

It's hilarious and a very user-friendly way to learn about the Bible, it's contents and the religions that adhere to it.

AJ writes for Esquire magazine and for one year he tries to follow the Bible as literally as possible (without breaking any laws).

He is successful (or unsuccessful) to varying degrees, but in the course of his quest he exposes many myths (and truths) about the Bible and religion, and writes about it in a very entertaining way.

I would recommend this book for anyone who desires to learn about the Bible (to be literate about its content and the people who follow it) in a secular way, painlessly and without the dogma and preaching that, say, a Bible Study would manifest.

5.22.2011

Biblical Zombies

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The first occurrence of resurrection of the dead in the Bible occurs in I Kings 17:17-22.

In it, Elijah resurrects the dead son of a woman he is staying with.

Elijah is also the only human in the Bible ever to travel to Heaven (in a whirlwind) without dying. See II Kings 2:11.

Elisha, the successor of Elijah, manifests two zombie bears, one of the few wild animals susceptible to zombism. The bears maul some 42 small boys in the town of Bethel. II Kings 2:23-24.

Finally, a dead man accidentally buried in Elisha's tomb is zombified when his body touches Elisha's bones (II Kings 13:20-21). We can be fairly certain Elisha was living dead. A zombie.

The occurrence of zombies late in the Old Testament explains the approximately 400 year chronological gap between the Old and the New Testaments, as much of human kind was fighting zombie hordes and didn't have time to write Biblical stories.

The Romans appear to have gotten things under control around the birth of Jesus, the most famous of the Bible's resurrected dead.

Bible Revelations in Some Chapters

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In Deuteronomy 20:10-18, upon finding the Promised Land and discovering it already populated by people, the 12 Tribes of Israel are ordered by God to enslave or kill everyone.

Interesting.

After 40 years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites had become something of a zealous kill force, obliterating everything in their path at God's behest. If they disobey, God has horrors in store for them (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

In Judges 19:11-30, while visiting Gibeah, an Israelite priest and his concubine are invited to stay the night in an old man's house. The men of Gibeah surround the house and demand to have sex with the priest. The old man of the house offers his virgin daughter to the men instead, but they don't want her. Then the priest throws his concubine out of the house and the men of Gibeah rape and abuse her all night, leaving her to die on the doorstep of the old man's house.

So what does the priest do? He hacks the body of his concubine in 12 pieces and sends one to each of the 12 Tribes of Israel, so they will get angry and attack Gibeah.

Seems a bit passive aggressive.

But it works and in Judges 20:1-46, the ensuing war kills over 65,000 people.

These were bloody times...

No Rapture? No Zombies...

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Dang it. I was really looking forward to doing battle with legions of zombies for the next five months.

My hopes were lifted ever so slightly when some thunderstorms rolled through this afternoon, but they were meager by apocalyptic standards. No reports of any mayhem beyond the usual and customary from the rest of the planet either.

It's not too hard to imagine a global earthquake, actually. It could be a chain reaction of plate tectonics. We've seen more and more earthquakes in recent years. Bigger ones too. This is thought to be due to some tectonic shifting as a result of polar ice cap melting and releasing potential energy stored in the crust of the earth under the ice. The "Ring of Fire" tectonic plates are all connected and a major quake in one place could trigger more in other places.

But I think it is safe to say, this Rapture was a false alarm. Either that or very few people made the cut. It's kind of too bad. It seemed like it would be a win-win situation. The chosen get taken away to paradise and the remaining humans on earth could then go about creating a Heaven on Earth without all the violence, fear, and hatred put forth by a lot of the religious types.

On the other hand, I would definitely pity God for having to put up with some of those people for all of eternity.

Enough said.

5.20.2011

The Rapture and Subsequent Zombie Apocalypse.

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The Rapture probably isn't coming tomorrow. But I could be wrong.

If it does, those of us who are non-Christians or bad Christians will be left behind to face a very serious problem.

ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE.

You see, during the Rapture, every human grave EVER will open up. The true Christians will float up to Heaven and be reborn. But the remaining corpses will become walking dead. Satan's minions, if you will. And you will.

Those of us still alive will have to survive this massive onslaught of zombies for the next five (5) months until, as the prophecy has it, God will come destroy the earth entirely and we'll all descend into Hell.

I don't know about you, but I think it is kind of exciting. I've always wanted to fight and kill zombies. I just don't want to become one. So I am fairly well prepared. I have been watching a lot of zombie movies the past couple of years. I have a good supply of water and non-perishable food items. Gun + ammo, check!

I don't live near a cemetery either.

Are you prepared?

Visit the CDC's Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness Web Site at emergency.cdc.gov/socialmedia/zombies_blog.asp.

I actually found the zombie survival rules in the film Zombieland very useful, the main one being cardio. I am in good shape to outrun a fast zombie.

It's probably too late for you to get in shape, if you aren't already. But try to get your hands on a decent aluminum baseball bat for a fighting chance against the zombies.

Remember, Jesus wasn't the first zombie who returned from the dead. Lazarus was. Although some people argue that it was a bite from Jesus that turned Lazarus into a zombie. Scientists now think Jesus was one of the rare "carriers" of the virus, who don't get sick and therefore don't convert until after they die. Makes sense, considering the facts as we know them.

OK, have a good Rapture.

5.16.2011

The Year of Living Biblically

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Hi. It's Joe.

I got the book "The Year of Living Biblically," by A. J. Jacobs, at the Lake Mills Library. My excellent GF Caitlin lent me her library card to check it out. I am going to read a bit of it tonight, before bed.

The book was originally recommended to me by a co-worker. I thought it sounded interesting. Now that I am learning about things Biblical, I thought this would be a relatively painless way to get into it.

Don't worry, I am not converting or anything. I'm still just as much of an atheist as ever. But knowledge is power, and so who better to objectively learn about the Bible than an unbiased non-believer, such as myself. I mean, the thing was written for the general 8th grade educated masses, so how hard can it be (setting aside the mistranslations, and what not)?

I also got "Ken's Guide to the Bible," by Ken Smith. It's a bit more irreverent, focusing on the less focused on parts of the Bible (the mass killings, sex, insanity, etc., that you never cover in Sunday school). It's all backed up, chapter and verse, don't worry.

I already read this book once before, but I wanted to read it again and let my GF have a go at it. She can cross reference the Bible to confirm or deny Ken's claims. But it won't be objective, because she is staunchly in Jesus's camp. I have no intention of persuading her away from that camp, either. This is just educational. Learning is never a bad thing.

At one point, this Biblical guy Jacob has an all night wrestling match with God. I totally put my money on God winning that one. But no. He lost. And then blessed Jacob and re-named him Israel.

Weird.

5.13.2011

Are There Green Cards in Heaven?

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I am wired up via my Posterous for Android.

My dad has a green card. He is Australian. My mom is American, so my dad automatically gets a green card.

My girlfriend is Christian and she believes that non Christians and atheists such as myself cannot get into Heaven without accepting Christ.

If it turns out I am wrong, can I still get a green card for Heaven if my spouse is a good and faithful Christian?

It seems a bit cold hearted and anti family to split people up like that.

Please comment and share your views at http://atheistdebate.blogspot.com

4.29.2011

Bible Study

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I'm an aetheist, with a few Buddhistic tendencies and an appreciation for the Laws of Judaism (none of which I follow, except maybe a few of the basic 10).

My girlfriend, on the other hand, is a struggling WELS Lutheran. WELS is like the hardcore fundamentalist Lutheranism.

She struggles with it mostly because she is intelligent and thinks too much. Thus, her common sense and her reason and her quest for truth cause her to grapple with the apparent contradictions of her faith (although the latter are winning, as of now...).

We decided to go to a Bible Study together to discuss these deep religious questions and bond via our exploration of spirituality and science topics.

Our first attempt at this was with a WELS Lutheran pastor, and it was rather disappointing. What he presented was basic enough as to be insulting to our brains and he never asked us what we wanted to get out of it or what our backgrounds were. I guess he assumed we we both WELS Lutherans.

So of course he went into an unnecessary discussion of the weaknesses of evolution and Darwinism and how science is wishy washy and atheists are a bunch of assholes (he didn't use that word).

I wasn't actually offended. I understood his frame of reference. A WELS Lutheran minister can't very well go around telling people that Evolution is real and atheists might have a point here and there.

But it did make me realize that he would never be able to challenge me intellectually or field any of my philosophical questions.

Bummer.

Next stop is the Unitarian Church in Madison WI, where hopefully the spiritual basis is more intellectually rich and reason-based. We shall see.

Out.

P.S. I think me and my GF got more out of watching Jack Black in Nacho Libre than we did out of the Bible Study.

4.24.2011

Easter

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Some people would have you believe that Jesus was the first documented case of zombism.

But actually, if the Bible is correct, the actual historical "patient zero" would have been Lazarus.

Please comment.

4.22.2011

Is Heaven Homogenized?

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I was talking with my GF about Christianity and the idea that all you have to do to get into Heaven is accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

It raises a few questions. The main one is that I am not sure I can believe in a God that excludes from Heaven all but those claiming to be Christians.

There are a lot of good, non-Christian people in the world who would clearly contribute to making Heaven a better place. There is also George W. Bush, who would presumably be there, as a Jesus-loving self-proclaimed Christian.

I can't stand George W. Bush here and I certainly would not want to spend an eternity with him.

1.14.2011

If Leonardo da Vinci Says It's the End of the World, Then It's Fucking the End of the World, OK?

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I had a three day visit from a strange but cool medieval guest, one Leonardo da Vinci (time traveler, who knew?).

He told me 2011 is the final year of humanity, and thus the end of the world in a practical sense.

He didn't say if it was just humanity or the entire physical planet, but I think that is really neither here nor there, don't you?