Thursday, July 19, 2012
Thursday, December 08, 2011
I was raised Lutheran. Lutherans are like Catholics in many ways. There are obvious similarities between the two, but they are fundamentally different, and of course as a young Lutheran, I felt that Lutherans were clearly superior. I was taught that the Lutheran Church split off of the Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Germany and Scandinavia (many of my ancestors were Danish). But I didn't really believe my teachers; that was a long time ago and I wasn't there when it happened, nor was anyone else alive today, nor anyone else I've ever known, nor anyone who was ever known by anyone else alive today. It's clearly evident that the Lutheran Church has always existed in its current form ever since its creation.
So answer me this - if the Lutheran Church truly came from the Catholic Church, why is there still a Catholic Church?
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Recently, the ABC news magazine, Nightline, aired a, well, let's call it a debate, between Kirk Cameron and his guru, Ray Comfort, and The Rational Response Squad. Prior to the show, Cameron claimed that it was actually pretty easy to prove, 100%, without calling on faith or the Bible, the existence of God. Their proof? The same, tired old argument from design. That argument has been refuted time and again, so maybe that's why the Nightline editors didn't bother to show the Rational Response Squad's response in full. Or maybe I should say, I hope they didn't show it in full, because what they did show was pretty weak. Not as weak as Comfort's argument mind you, but certainly lacking in the sort of scientific rigor one should expect from someone willing to debate a creationist on national television. If the 'Squad's web site is any indication, ABC's editing was heavily biased in favor of Cameron and Comfort. <Sigh>
What I had really hoped to see was a challenge to define God. After all, if you can't define a thing, how can you prove that the thing exists? It has long been my contention that those who argue that the existence of God is provable have failed simply because they can not, or will not, define what they mean by God. No such challenge was made, but then I really didn't expect it to happen. But it was my hope.
But that's not what's gotten me writing again after over 6 months of silence. During the so called debate, Cameron pulled out a picture, announcing "this is a picture of something that doesn't exist, something that evolutionists have been looking for, but will never find." The picture was a composite painting of a crocodile and a duck. "This is a crocaduck," Cameron claimed proudly, smug smile on his face, convinced that he'd sealed the argument. "... a transitional form. They don't exist, because evolution is a lie." Now, to be fair, the show was several weeks ago, and I haven't found a complete transcript of it, so I'm paraphrasing. The words are, if not precisely accurate, at least representative of the statements made by Cameron during the debate.
This one, brief statement of Cameron's is pretty much what has brought me out of semi-retirement (at least as far as this blog is concerned). First, his use of the term "evolutionist", which taken with other statements make it clear that he equates it with the word Atheist, as if the two were interchangeable. He even refers to himself as a former "Atheist, an evolutionist" early in the program. I'm sorry, but they're not the same. His treatment of them as if they are is cynical and unproductive; a sort of a pre-emptive ad-hominem on those who would support evolution, as Atheist has negative connotations to some, particularly those in the audience whom Cameron was pandering to. Face it, he wasn't going to convert anyone that evening, and he knew it, so what he was doing was pandering.
But even that subtle bit of manipulation isn't what drew my ire - it was his claim that such a thing as a "crocaduck" would be the target of a serious search by evolutionary biologists. Such an idea clearly labels Cameron either as ignorant of what evolution actually means (remember, he referred to himself as a former evolutionist), or as a blatant liar. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say he's just ignorant - trust me, in my book it's much worse to be called a liar. You can't help being ignorant, but lying is a willful act, unethical, immoral, and beneath someone who has, as he claims, been born again.
So allow me to educate you, Mr. Cameron. I'm not an evolutionary biologist. I'm not any kind of biologist. I'm a mathematician. My formal education in biology ended after my freshman year of high-school. What I know of evolution I learned despite an educational system that was discouraged from presenting unadulterated facts about evolution (my 7th grade life sciences teacher actually concluded a film about evolution by stating that God could, if He so chose, to create the universe in its current state, with all of the evidence for evolution existing as if the earth really were 4.5 billion years old, but that wouldn't make evolution real.) So what I'm about to say I want you to pay careful attention to. It's not a bunch of scientific mumbo jumbo, or jargon that you won't understand. It is but one piece of knowledge I have garnered from the minuscule fraction of evolution I have learned on my own.
Are you ready?
Hang on to your hat...
Every living thing, that is every plant, animal, bacterium, fungus, everything that is alive today, or ever was alive, is a transitional form.
No evolutionist is out there looking for the ever elusive transitional form. Transitional forms are all around us; there's no need to search for them. Everything, all living organisms, participate in the process of evolution. The Evolutionist himself is a transitional form. So wipe that smug smile off your face and try to understand this before you make another stupid comment like that again.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
As an atheist, you might think that I wouldn't observe Thanksgiving, but you'd be wrong. It's not simply a matter of continuing a family tradition of over-eating and watching football, but that happens too. As a living, breathing, productive and moderately successful member of the human race, I have plenty to be thankful for, I simply don't find it sufficient to thank an imaginary deity for these things. There are plenty of real people and institutions more deserving of my gratitude.
So, what do I have to be thankful for? Plenty:
I am first thankful to my parents, for, well, me. And for instilling in me a healthy sense of humor, ethics and responsibility, but not necessarily in that order.
I am thankful to my wife's parents for, well, her; and to her adoptive parents for raising her. And to my wife for being funny, loving and supportive, and for putting up with me. It can't be easy.
I am thankful to people like my brother, a former Marine, and current firefighter, who do jobs that are clearly necessary, but that most people, for obvious reasons, don't want to do.
And of course, to my brother, for being my life-long best friend.
I am thankful to my doctors, and to the medical community in general, for saving my life on at least two occasions, probably many more.
I am thankful to the state of Texas, the University of Texas system and to the University of Texas at Arlington for making available to me an excellent education at a manageable cost.
I am thankful to the founders of my church and to its members, for restoring in me the sense of community I feared I had lost when I became an atheist.
I am thankful to Abraham Lincoln for countless difficult decisions, which ultimately not only preserved the Union, but made it stronger than it had been prior to the Civil War.
I am thankful to the 1st Congress of the United States, and particularly to James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, for the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which all at once allows me not to profess a belief in a supreme being, and also gives me the right to write this blog without fear of political reprisal.
I am thankful to the 80th Congress of the United States for the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
And finally, I am thankful to you, reader, for reading this far.
Monday, October 02, 2006
How am I weird? I'm glad you asked. First, I knew the first definition of weird. In fact, I have an enormous capacity to remember useless trivia of all sorts and recall them at the most inopportune moments. For instance, just last week, I remembered that "Gremlins" was the first film ever to earn the rating of PG-13. The question at hand was whether or not "Ghostbusters" had been rated PG-13, so remembering that "Gremlins" was the first served no purpose other than to baffle those within earshot as to why I would bring it up.
In contrast, I have a lousy memory for names. I'll eventually remember one, but usually not until I'm about to nod off to sleep, when it won't do anyone any good. This incapacity is probably due to the same cause as my capacity for understanding mathematical concepts. One particularly important principle in my preferred field of algebra (and others of course) is called "isomorphism" (Greek for "same shape") - the principle that the name given to a thing doesn't have any bearing on what that thing is. Shakespeare knew the principle as well and stated it pretty clearly in "Romeo and Juliet". So names fall low on the importance meter for me, making them easily forgotten. I even forgot my own name once, ultimately causing the US Navy to miss out on one of the best math and physics instructors they could have gotten. My bad. I made up for it later, but I'm not at liberty to write about that.
My memory, in general, is just plain weird. Ever hear of photographic memory? I have phonographic memory. I can remember with uncanny accuracy how things sound. In fact, that's typically how I remember things, by how they sounded when I learned them. When I read, I hear the words, and when I remember the words, I'm remembering how the words sounded when I read it.
I never know what to do on a vacation. If I can find a quiet place to sit down and read, I'm happy. In fact, I'm a lousy tourist. I'm actually a decent photographer, but I don't really care to go anywhere interesting enough to need a camera. I did, however, travel to Germany and surrounding countries several years ago, and had a (mostly) great time. But someone else did 95% of the planning.
I like almost all kinds of music, but not Jazz Fusion or most C&W. Opera, Dixieland, Ragtime, Celtic, Classic Rock, Progressive, Metal, Industrial - it's all in my catalog. Fusion isn't in the list, never has been and it never will be. But I really like Johnny Cash. And get this - I'm an atheist, and I even like some Gospel music. It doesn't make much sense to me either.
There are a handful of television shows I like to watch, but I don't watch any of them with faithful regularity. If I miss it, I miss it. I don't own a TIVO or anything like it. The VCR burned out a couple years ago and I haven't bothered to replace it. If I'm awake and at home, I watch The Daily Show when it comes on. But I'd rather turn off the TV than watch a reality show. Or a talent show. Or a talent show disguised as a reality show. And don't get me started on award shows. I just don't get the attraction, and I don't want to, so don't think you're helping by trying to explain them to me.
I don't like ketchup on my french-fries, unless they're too hot. I prefer them plain. And I prefer Wendys' fries to McDonalds'. I like ketchup, but I'd rather put it on my burger than my fries. And speaking of food, I'm not particularly fond of pizza. Or ice cream for that matter. I don't dislike them, mind you, I just wouldn't be heart-broken if my doctor told me that I had to eliminate those two foods from my diet. He hasn't (yet), but he could and it wouldn't bother me a bit. I like a good beer or a whiskey now and again (and I make the meanest margarita you've ever tasted), but if I was told I could never drink alcohol again, I'd have no problem with that. I think I actually prefer a virgin mary to a bloody mary anyway, so no problem there, either.
And I actually like vegetables. I'm weird, go figure.
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Now, my wife will do one of two things when this happens to her. Most times she'll just say she's not interested and hang up. I try to do the same, but I really have a hard time doing that if I feel I'm being rude. I'm not saying my wife is rude, mind you, it's just a quirk of my personality that I find it difficult to interrupt someone. I'd rather just not answer the phone in the first place. If it's someone with a long sales pitch, she just might set down the phone and let them talk until they figure out she's not listening and hang up on their own. I've only once done anything like that. I decided to let the guy talk until he hung up on his own, but the first thing out of the guy's mouth was "This credit card will not cost you anything if you never use it." That was, to me, a challenge to find out how many more stupid things he would say before I pointed out just how ridiculous it would be for me to take on a new credit card and never use it. It was a long conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Back to last Saturday. Marketers are one thing, pollsters are completely different, and that's what I had on the other end of the line. They've got a job to do, and I don't envy them that job. For the record, I believe public opinion polls are thoroughly useless as an indicator of public opinion. I come by that belief simply because I understand a little bit more about statistics than the average high-school graduate. I'm no prodigy or anything, I've just studied it more than most. Unfortunately, most pollsters haven't. Most pollsters believe that a poll is as statistically valid as any other, objective, statistical sample, but they are not. Not by a long-shot. Polls require careful crafting in order not to bias the results. They require careful interpretation in order not to read anything into the results that isn't there. Both of these steps require someone skilled both with statistics and psychology, and, to tell you the truth, most pollsters are familiar with neither. What they are familiar with is politics. They know the message that they want to get across with the results of their surveys. They may even sincerely believe that their polls are not biased, and prove exactly what they set out to show. But check the polls two weeks before what promises to be a close election and you'll find each candidates' polls showing them clearly in the lead. Soon forgotten is the fact that the only poll that matters (that's the election, son) shows all prior polls to be far off the mark. So, as I said, I really don't like public opinion polls as an indicator of public opinion.
On the other hand, public opinion polls can affect public opinion, even if it's only to confirm to members of marginalized groups that they are not alone. After thinking about it for about 1.5 seconds (they don't give you much time to think about it), I decided to go ahead and answer this guy's questions. He was polite, which goes a long way with me, well spoken, and at least claimed that his organization, the name of which I can no longer remember, was non-partisan. As a member of a marginalized group, (I am an atheist), it was time for me to represent.
I got the typical questions about what's most important to me in my federal and state representation. I was a bit annoyed that the questions were all multiple choice, and limited choices at that. It's a shame, but probably half of my answers were disallowable because they didn't come from the pre-selected set. "I'm not a Democrat. No, I'm not a Republican, either. I prefer to think for myself. I don't support parties, I support candidates. yada yada yada..." At the same time I understood the rationale behind the limited multiple choice answers. It's that bias thing, again. Eliminate points where interpretation can be subjective in order to ensure that interpretation of the results is objective. Yes/no answers would have been better.
It really wasn't until the last few questions, though, when they collect demographic information, that I really began to get annoyed. Asked my race, I was given no fewer than 10 choices, with the last being other. When asked my religion, however, the question was "Do you consider yourself Catholic, Protestant or Jewish?" Um, that's it? That's not a very comprehensive list there, Chester. Your bias is showing, and it ain't pretty. I proudly answered that I am quite happily an atheist. As if the first question weren't presumptive enough, the next was "How often do you attend church?" By now, the interviewer has realized how stupid these questions are and stumbled through this one, but to his surprise, I answered "once a month." Silence. I think I may have invalidated the entire questionnaire with that answer. So be it. Had the questionnaire been crafted properly, 15 minutes of my day, and of my interrogator's day would not have been wasted.
But at least the package turned up later that day. I love fruitcake.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
I make the above statement not to be funny, but to illustrate a point about large numbers, particularly how people generally tend not to be aware of how large numbers used in everyday conversation can really get. What does it mean that the earth is 4.5 billion years old? The oldest trees on this planet are the slightest fraction of that age. The age of the average human is a slight fraction of that. It's not surprising that comprehension of just how long 4.5 billion years is comes with some difficulty.
Allow me to try to illustrate just how large 4.5 billion is. 4.5 billion nanoseconds ago, you started reading this paragraph. 4.5 billion microseconds ago, photons in the light now reaching the earth from Jupiter were still miles below the sun's corona. 4.5 billion milliseconds ago, the planet Mercury was on the opposite side of the sun from where it is now. 4.5 billion seconds ago, Abraham Lincoln was still president. 4.5 billion minutes ago, farming was invented. 4.5 billion hours ago, Hawaii was formed by volcanic accretion, and early human ancestors had just learned to use charcoal to maintain fires, but probably didn't know yet how to start a fire. 4.5 billion days ago, early hominids had emerged, but did not yet walk upright. 4.5 billion weeks ago, sharks evolved, and 4.5 billion months ago, the Appalachian mountains were formed from the collision of the North American, African and European tectonic plates.
4.5 billion people make up 75% of the world's population.
A stack of 4.5 billion standard sheets of typing paper would be 279 kilometers tall, 31 times the height of Mount Everest's highest peak, and could easily reach completely across the English Channel at its widest point.
A stack of 4.5 billion one dollar bills would balance the US federal budget for nearly 3 days. A stack of 4.5 billion thousand dollar bills would eliminate over half of the US national debt.
Starting to get the picture yet?
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
NPR recently revived its popular essay series called "This I Believe". I have no ambition to read aloud my beliefs for the NPR audience, but hearing those who have had their essays accepted for airing each Monday morning has gotten me thinking less about what I don't believe, and more about what I do believe.
I believe ...
- ... my wife, when she tells me "I love you."
- ... that a good person is not necessarily religious, and a religious person is not necessarily good.
- ... that freedom from religion is necessary before you can truly have freedom of religion.
- ... that there's a balance between quantity of life and quality of life, and that the optimum may be different for everyone.
- ... that there is no afterlife, so we must make the best we can of this one.
- ... that grief, in part, is the manifestation of regret for things left unsaid.
- ... that science does not have all of the answers, and that religion has far fewer.
- ... that solipsism is a waste of time and effort.
- ... that fearing mathematics is as silly as fearing ghosts.
- ... that the lottery was not intended for people who are good at math.
- ... that if you go to Las Vegas expecting to lose, you will not come home disappointed.
- ... that you should split a pair of 10s once in your life, just for the thrill of it.
- ... that Abraham Lincoln was our greatest president, not because he was perfect, but because he was aware of his faults.
- ... that patriotism is more than just flag waving.
- ... that you can support the troops without supporting the policies that put them in harm's way.
- ... that there is no greater liberty that can be exercised in civilized society than to vote, and no greater waste of that liberty than not to do so.
- ... that the foundation of an ethical lifestyle is answering the question, "what difference would it make if everyone behaved the way I do?"
- ... that to take the attitude that "it's someone else's problem," can be a crime against humanity.
- ... that a job worth doing is a job worth doing well.
- ... that honor is, as much as anything else, the ability to admit that someone else might be right when you are wrong and having the courage to say so.
- ... that extra credit should be awarded for creative use of alliteration.
- ... that a simile is like a babbling brook next to a metaphor's roaring rapids.
- ... that irony is not at all like rain on your wedding day.
- ... that dogs make better companions, but cats are pretty OK, too.
- ... that a sense of gravity is as important as a sense of humor, but the sense to know when each is called for is far more important than either alone.
- ... that I have many friends, but never so many that I could afford to lose even one of them.
- ... that of all the things you can collect, friends retain their value the longest.
- ... that I have some of the best friends in the world, and I hope that they can say the same.
- ... that you don't really know someone until you've observed them sleeping.
- ... that a life doesn't have to be driven by purpose to have worth.
- ... that in the game of Life, no one sits on the bench.
- ... that homilies and platitudes are overrated.
- ... that the dot races during the 7th inning stretch at the ballpark are rigged.
- ... that the designated hitter is bad for baseball.
- ... that driving is a privilege, not a right, and that we would all be safer if that privilege were revoked more often than it is.
- ... that handicapped parking is for handicapped people, not for people who merely have handicapped tags hanging from their mirrors.
- ... that language is a social contract drawn up over hundreds of years, and that to take offense at words not meant to offend is as much a breach of that contract as are words that are meant to offend.
- ... that the news should be about the news, not about the talent show that concluded its season less than 30 minutes before.
- ... that I'll have another beer.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
You will find a link to her web site in the sidebar, where you will see that Gail was an artist. I'm happy to say that I am the proud owner of 3 Gail DeLay originals, all birthday cards made just for me. I could have had a fourth had I thought to take home the tablecloth from Macaroni Grill one night last spring after dinner.
Gail was also a musician and singer. She was talented, and the little she lacked in talent, she more than made up for with a boldness I wouldn't care to attempt myself. She sang with gusto and emotion that brought smiles and laughter to her audiences.
Gail always made me feel that she was happy to see me, and at the risk of sounding like a sappy Elton John lyric, she even cried when she thought that she had hurt me.
Gail loved animals, my own dogs included. I've never seen her happier than sitting on the floor with my three labradors licking her face, unless it was when she watched me with her dog, Indiana Bones, giving my face a good cleaning as if I didn't have three of my own who regularly do that job.
My wife and I will miss the laughter, the birthdays and the music. My dogs will too.
Thank you, Gail, for being a friend.
Oh, sure, gay and straight couples alike don't have any legal obligation to get married, and civil unions are not unheard of, so why get married at all? It costs more than simply living together. Since getting married, my wife's and my combined taxes have only gotten higher. We're not religious, so we had no qualms about living together outside of marriage. We didn't need a marriage certificate and ceremony to prove to ourselves or anyone else that we loved each other. We can't have kids, so whether or not we believe that married parents make for a better environment in which to raise children, that's no reason to get married, either. We would have been just as happy, and arguably financially better off, to live together without being married, as we are now as a legally married couple. So why did we, and why do thousands of other couples across this country just like us, bother to get married? For the same reason that thousands of gay couples want to get married.
I have gay friends who are, in all but legal terms, married. I think that's great; I'm happy for them. When I think about it, I can't help but remember how happy it made me feel to hear my wife say "Yes" (actually, it was more like "Of course!" but who's counting?) and I take a little comfort knowing that my friends were able to experience that same happiness. But it bothers me that I have something that they legally are not permitted simply because they are gay and we are not. By law, my wife has my medical power of attorney. She can speak for me when I can't speak for myself. My wife, someone in whom I have confided my deepest desires and secrets, things I would never tell anyone else, can make the decisions that I can not. I know that she would carry out those wishes as I would were I able to. As her husband, I have a right that my gay friends do not have, the right to have my spouse make decisions for me when I am unable. Or do I?
I'm sure that Terri and Michael Schiavo thought that they had the rights of a married couple the day before her heart stopped and she lost the capacity to choose or refuse medical treatment for herself, but they are in serious danger of having those rights no longer. My wife and I, and all married couples in this country are in the same danger if a precedent is set that removes those rights.
The Florida courts have declared that Terri Schiavo's right to have her husband speak for her now that she can not still stands. The federal courts have twice decided that it's not a federal matter, and that the Florida state court's decision holds the force of law. But the Florida legislature, the US Congress, and the Brother's Bush have inserted their own noses into The Schiavos' private affairs and are attempting to nullify that right, ostensibly on Terri's behalf.
The matter of Terri Schiavo is not about the right to life versus the right to die. It's not about the State's rights to decide matters not specifically allocated to the federal government. It's not even about a parent's rights to make decisions for a child - Terri Schiavo is no longer a child. It's about a person's right to have matters of medical importance be decided by their spouse at times when they are incapable of making those decisions for themselves.
When Terri and Michael Schiavo married, they declared to the world that they were one, that each could speak for the other when the other was no longer capable. Michael Schiavo says that his wife told him that she would not want to be kept alive if she were to "become a vegetable." Is there any reason to believe that he would lie about this consistently for the last 15 years? No. Perverse accusations of a failed murder attempt notwithstanding, Michael Schiavo has nothing to lose or gain in the matter, unless it's the satisfaction that his wife's wishes are finally carried out. Does the fact that there is no clear and convincing evidence that she told her husband not to allow her to live as a vegetable make any difference at all? No. Clear and convincing evidence is required of the accuser, not the accused. Is there clear and convincing evidence that she ever said anything to the contrary? No, not that it matters any more than the above, but her parents' and brother's claims to the contrary are as much hearsay as Michael Schiavo's claim that she did not want to be kept alive in such circumstances. Absent any evidence that Michael is anything other than a loving husband who only wants the wishes of his wife to be carried out, Terri Schiavo's right to have her husband speak for her is being infringed upon by meddling, knee-jerk moralists and grandstanding politicians simply because she never took the precaution of drawing up a living will.
And it could happen to me. So let me say right here, this commentary is my living will. My wife already knows this, but until recently I never felt it necessary to make it formal because I always believed she would be allowed to speak for me when I could not. So, to all concerned - keep your collective meddlesome, moralist noses out of my business. I trust my wife, and she speaks for me. I trust the medical profession to know when recovery from a vegetative state is likely or not. If a competent physician declares that my life is maintainable only by persistent medical or hospice care, that I can no longer enjoy the company of my wife, family and friends, that I will never again see my niece look up to me and smile, that I will never laugh again because I won't hear or understand my wife's jokes, that I will never feel my dogs licking my face again, turn me off. That's not me any more, merely the body I formerly occupied.
Terri Schiavo's so-called defenders like to claim that the mark of a truly advanced society is in how it treats its citizens at the beginning and end of life. If so, then we are barbarians for the way we have abrogated Terri Schiavo's right to spousal representation, even moreso for exploiting her for political gain. The ancient Greeks were much more civilized than we, believing that a person's right to die with dignity if they so chose was paramount. The part of Terri Schiavo that was Terri died 15 years ago. It's time to set selfishness aside and allow her body to follow, as she asked her husband to ensure.
Note: Terri Schiavo's body died on March 31, 2005, 10 days after this commentary was originally written. May she finally rest in peace.
So how does Terri Schiavo have anything to do with gay marriage? Ask your friendly neighborhood religious rightist and you will get nothing more than confused, or more likely angry stares. But the Religious Right want gay marriage banned to "protect" traditional marriage. At the same time, they fought viciously to violate a married couple's single right arguably most in need of protection: that right of a married person to have their spouse represent them when they can not represent themselves. This hypocrisy is my problem with the term "Defense of Marriage."