That one spooky thing (wrap-up) October 14, 2014Posted by ubi dubium in Brain Glitches.
Tags: atheism, Cognitive Biases, critical thinking, evidence, JREF, Skepticism, supernatural
OK, time to wrap the series up.
When you’ve deconverted from religion and superstition, and decided to live a life based in reality, what do you think about that one strange thing that might have once happened to you? That thing that keeps you convinced that there’s a supernatural realm out there somewhere?
Before you can decide that it’s actually “supernatural”, you really need to consider the following alternate possibilities, which I’ve discussed in earlier posts:
- It’s a natural occurrence that’s rare or unfamiliar to you (Part 1)
- It’s technological (also Part 1)
- It’s somebody deliberately tricking you (Part 2)
- It’s a problem of faulty perception and/or faulty memory, perhaps combined with some of the above (Part 3, 3.1 and 3.2)
- It’s “supernatural”
So, when you are thinking of that thing you once saw, before you conclude it was an actual “impossible thing”, first you need to run through a serious thought process about it. Could you have mis-perceived it initially? Or filled in mental gaps based on what you expected to see? Did someone have something to gain by tricking you? And have you embellished your memory over time, to the point where what you remember now really might not be what you saw initially?
Suppose that you have run through all those possibilities, and still have not come up with a plausible explanation. Then you are left with two possibilities that I can think of. Either it actually fell under one of the above categories but you couldn’t figure it out, or it was ‘supernatural”. (Remember probability, which of those is most likely?)
So, finally, if you have still come to the conclusion that the thing you saw might actually be supernatural”, we have the problem of defining that term. Like “spirituality”, it’s a word that people throw around all the time, but when asked for a straightforward definition, they either can’t define it, or define it in terms of other vague undefined concepts, which isn’t helpful. Here’s my working definition of “supernatural”: We live in a four dimensional space-time universe of matter and energy, governed by predictable physical forces. That’s the “natural world”. “Supernatural” would be something that is not that, either wholly or in part.
For us to detect something “supernatural”, it would have to have the ability to interact with our physical world in some way. Even if that’s just deflecting some photons, or causing an EM disruption, or just planting a thought in somebody’s brain, all of those things are interactions with our physical world. Any being that is completely unable to interact with our world would be totally undetectable and therefore irrelevant.
To be sure that something is really supernatural, you’d have to examine it in a way that eliminates all of the other possibilities we have already discussed. Since the real world is so messy, the best way we can be sure is to do carefully controlled examinations, where we reduce the variables down to just the thing we are examining and eliminate cheating. Of course, a fleeting “ghostly vision” isn’t going to be easy to catch in a lab experiment! Lots of investigators have worked to pin down something “supernatural”, to where we could get a look at it, and actually say something coherent about it. Alas, the better the controls are on your experiment, the more the “supernatural” aspect goes away. The JREF has had a standing ONE MILLION DOLLAR prize to anyone who can demonstrate something supernatural under conditions controlled to eliminate cheating and wishful thinking. So far no one has even passed the first round of tests. Does this mean there isn’t any such thing? Well, no, but given the results so far, I’m not holding my breath.
Bring a Church Bulletin, get a discount! October 12, 2014Posted by ubi dubium in Humor.
Tags: atheism, bulletin, christianity, church, Church Bulletin, discount, FSM, Pastafarian, religion, stupidity, Sunday
Every so often, I’ll see a story about some business or other offering a discount or a free ticket on Sunday, if you bring your church bulletin. Of course this discriminates against people who don’t go to church. And every time I see one of those stories I think “There really ought to be a church bulletin that non-church-goers could just pull up online, insert their location and date, print out, and get those same discounts. I should do something about that”
Well, I’ve finally gotten around to doing something about that. I’ve created a Pastafarian Church Bulletin, and included as many of the regular churchy elements as I could think of, including cheesy clip-art and Latin mumbo-jumbo. This is a fillable .pdf form, so you can put in your City and State, and the date. Print it double sided (flip on short end if your printer can do 2-sided printing) and fold it in half, and you’re ready to go. (Use pastel colored paper if you have it!)
Fillable PDF: FSM Church Bulletin
Here’s a preview of what it looks like:
If you use this anywhere and get a good reaction, please let me know!
I love Cake Wrecks October 3, 2014Posted by ubi dubium in Humor.
Tags: balloons, Cake, Cake Wrecks, fun, Guilty Pleasures, pumpkin, Redskins, Wrecks
1 comment so far
OK, I have to admit something. Even with all of the serious blogs that I follow, every morning I have to see the new post at Cake Wrecks.
Whenever I feel inadequate, I just look at the parade of misspellings, ineptitude and bad communication there and I feel much better. So in loving tribute, I present a few wrecks I have found myself.
When I’m out shopping with my daughters in a store that has a bakery, they always make sure we stop by the cake display, looking for wreckery. And surprisingly often we find it! My phone’s battery is none too reliable, so I don’t always manage to get photos, but I caught a couple yesterday.
It’s the season for bad pumpkin cakes, and this one did not disappoint:
I think it’s trying to escape over the side. Are those tentacles?
And balloon cakes so often come out badly. They look like sperm, or deflated sacks, or just blobs of icing. But this is the first time I’ve seen balloons with nipples:
And my spouse caught a few photos for me last fall. These might be good enough for the real Cake Wrecks, so I sent them in. (Fingers crossed that they get used someday.)
Rah Rah Rah! Go Washington’s local NFL team! The name’s not so offensive if you spell it this way, right?
Is this the direction their season is going to go? Am I looking at this right?
And check out those yard lines – how hard is it to pipe a simple line?
And my favorite:
This just has so much going on. It’s shaped like a football, nice touch, but how old is this cake that the icing could crack open like that? And then of course the team name is misspelled twice, just in case you missed it the first time. And I think that those stripes on the end are supposed to be the team colors of burgundy and gold, but all I see is bacon. Cake with bacon.
None of these quite make me laugh as hard as Falker Satherhood, but they’re not bad considering the sample size I have to work with.
Dorothy and Buzz August 29, 2014Posted by ubi dubium in Responses.
Tags: atheism, Buzz Lightyear, christianity, Dorothy, Evangelists, Godless in Dixie, Neil Carter, Toy Story, Wizard of OZ
For a long time I’ve used this movie scene as an example when discussing deconversion:
Once Dorothy has seen through the humbug, she can never go back to believing in the “Great and Powerful OZ”.
But Neil Carter, over at Godless in Dixie, has posted another movie reference that I really liked:
As good an example as The Wizard of OZ is, Toy Story and its sequels might be an even better (and more current) example. Please go read Neil’s excellent post, it’s really a keeper.
I especially like this scene from Toy Story 2, when Buzz encounters a “true believer””
Buzz Lightyear #2: Buzz Lightyear to Star Command. I have an AWOL Space Ranger.
Buzz Lightyear: Tell me I wasn’t this deluded…
Buzz Lightyear #2: No back talk! I have a laser, and I will really use it.
Buzz Lightyear: You mean a laser that’s a lightbulb?
Buzz Lightyear #2: Has your mind been melted? You could have killed me, Space Ranger! Or should I say, “traitor?”
Buzz Lightyear: I don’t have time for this…
Evangelists, when you show up trying to tell me for the umpteenth time how special your relationship with god is, that’s exactly how I feel. You aren’t a
Space Ranger messenger from the almighty, you aren’t locked in an epic battle with the Evil Emperor Zurg Satan, you don’t have a laser magic book with all the answers, you can’t fly heal people through prayer, you are a TOY regular person like the rest of us!!!!
That One Spooky Thing (part 3.2) July 17, 2014Posted by ubi dubium in Brain Glitches.
Tags: Bicycle, Cognitive Biases, critical thinking, Elizabeth Loftus, memory, reason, Skepticism
I’ve been writing on the topic of how to think about that one thing lingering in your mind that might still make you wonder about the supernatural. As before, the possibilities that I have thought of are these:
•It’s a natural occurrence that’s rare or unfamiliar to you
•It’s somebody deliberately tricking you
•It’s a problem of faulty perception and/or faulty memory, perhaps combined with some of the above
So this time I’d like to talk about memory. We like to think of our memories as video recorders, perfectly recording what happened and playing it back the same way every time. But, sorry to say, this is not the case. Our memories are buggy, subject to change, and just not very reliable, especially about details.
As I discussed in the last two posts, the first problem with memory lies in perception. If we have misunderstood what we saw or heard, then we are remembering it incorrectly from the start. So that’s one strike against us to begin with. Let’s try a simple memory exercise before you read the rest of this post; take a pencil and paper and draw a simple line drawing of a bicycle. Should be easy right? Take a minute and give it a try.
10 Questions for Every Atheist July 16, 2014Posted by ubi dubium in Responses.
Tags: atheism, bible, christianity, critical thinking, Evangelists, evidence, Greta Christina, Hemant Mehta, Matt Dillahunty, morality, Questions, reason, religion
This list has been floating around the internet for a few days. I did a response to a similar list of 15 questions awhile back, and you can find my answers to that one here: 15 Question Atheist Challenge (Edit – and another fairly stupid 10-question set I answered here.) But I suppose I’ll join in and answer these too.
The list recently appeared here: http://todaychristian.net/10-questions-every-atheist/#_
But was lifted from a post by Robert Neilsen, an atheist, here: http://robertnielsen21.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/10-questions-for-atheists/
The first thing that caught my eye is this lead-in on the TodayChristian website:
Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions…
And you will never hear any of those conclusions from their website, because commenting was not allowed on that post. Because throwing out an assertion like that wouldn’t be any fun if the real atheists were actually allowed to show up and refute it by truly and honestly really answering them. So here’s my shot at truly and honestly really answering them. I’ll try to keep each answer succinct, since I tend to ramble sometimes.
1. How Did You Become an Atheist?
Short version: I read the bible, just like my youth leaders said I should. Twice, cover to cover, two different translations. And then in college, I ran headlong into people who were crazy fundamentalists of one sort or another, and the nutcase preachers like Brother Jed, each totally certain that they were right and everybody else was going to burn in hell. And I started thinking about whether it made sense to believe any of this, and I realized that it didn’t. And I thought about whether the stuff I had been taught had any more solid basis in reality, and it didn’t. By the end of college I was functionally an atheist, but didn’t adopt the word until later. That was around 30 years ago now, and I’m still not believing any of it.
2. What happens when we die?
We decompose, and the brain that produces the activity that we call our “conscious mind” stops doing that.
3. What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!
Then I’ll have a wonderful time at the Beer Volcano, while all you christian infidels have to settle for flat beer and ugly strippers down in Hell Lite. Oh, did you mean YOUR version of heaven and hell? Why are those any more likely to be true than all the other versions?
4. Without God, where do you get your morality from?
Same place everybody does. My own sense of empathy and compassion, plus rules devised from the need to live together with other people in groups. By trial and error over thousands of years, we’ve worked out some pretty good rules for co-existing. Not that there still isn’t room for improvement.
Some people think they get their morality from ancient books or supernatural beings. But I think that’s just religion taking credit for something it didn’t invent.
5. If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?
How would there being a god make you not free to do those things? Plenty of religious people do those things all the time, the fact that they think there is a god watching doesn’t stop them.
But I’m not free to murder and rape if I want to live as part of a community of other people.
6. If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?
I create my own meaning in life. Being told what my life is supposed to be by some superbeing would be awful.
7. Where did the universe come from?
I don’t know. But we are developing some good ideas about what happened right at the start, and those come from looking at the evidence and following where it leads. I don’t pretend to know stuff that I don’t, that’s what religion does.
8. What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?
Look up confirmation bias. Humans are really good at paying attention to the things that match up with their preconceptions and ignoring everything that doesn’t. And we’re really good at fooling ourselves.
9. What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?
You left out Dennett! I agree with some of the things they say, and disagree with others. There are other atheist writers and speakers I find more often in line with what I think, including Greta Christina, Matt Dillahunty, and Hemant Mehta.
10. If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?
If there were a god, then why do we have thousands of mutually contradicting religions? If there were an all-intelligent super-being who wanted people to know what he wants from them, why has he done such a lousy job of communicating it?
People are superstitious, due to patternicity, agenticity, confirmation bias and credulous childhoods. From that beginning, religions coalesce and grow and compete for followers, and those that are the most successful endure and spread. (OOOOH- there’s that Darwin again!) The other, less successful ones die off, which is why nobody is still worshipping Marduk or Osiris anymore. Nowadays most people are stuck with some form of the mental malware of religion, but some of us are recognizing it for what it is and getting rid of it.
There, that’s enough for now.
Territorial June 18, 2014Posted by ubi dubium in Humor, Rants, Responses.
Tags: atheism, christianity, church state separation, dog, pee, prayer, religion, school, territory
With all the “brave” school officials and legislators insisting on courageously inserting prayers from their overwhelmingly majority religion into every public event, I felt the need to make this meme today.
(Apologies to the dog in the photo. I’m not implying that he’s christian.)
Inspiration June 5, 2014Posted by ubi dubium in Wow.
Tags: Art, atheism, DeWitte, Inspiration, Lauridsen, O Magnum Mysterium
A few months ago I had an opportunity to spend a long weekend participating in musical events with composer Morten Lauridsen.
In the choral world Lauridsen is a really big deal, but I rarely run into non-singers who have heard of him. So for reference, here’s his most famous work (go take a listen):
He’s really quite a mystic, and over the weekend he spent a lot of time talking about where he gets his inspiration. For O Magnum his inspiration came from a painting, Francisco de Zurbarán’s “Still Life With Lemons, Oranges and a Rose.” (more…)
That One Spooky Thing (Part 3.1) April 7, 2014Posted by ubi dubium in Brain Glitches.
Tags: Cognitive Biases, critical thinking, priming, reason, Skepticism
Continuing with the way our brains impose patterns on random noise…
I want to discuss an important idea called “priming”
First, fill in the blank to make an English word: S O _ P
That One Spooky Thing (part 3) February 13, 2014Posted by ubi dubium in Brain Glitches.
Tags: Cognitive Biases, critical thinking, illusions, Madonna on toast, Mars face, pareidolia, patternicity, perception, priming
OK, back on the subject of “You no longer believe, but there’s this one thing that happened that you can’t explain, and makes you think there’s something to all this supernatural stuff”
My list of suggested explanations looks like this, and I’ve covered the first three entries in the prior posts (linked below):
- It’s a natural occurrence that’s rare or unfamiliar to you
- It’s technological
- It’s somebody deliberately tricking you
- It’s a problem of faulty perception and/or faulty memory, perhaps combined with some of the above
- It’s “supernatural”
The fourth item on the list, faulty perception and faulty memory, is such a big topic that I’m going to write more than one post on it.