A Bit of Atheist Foolishness

Not all atheists are foolish of course. There are atheists who have many interests other than not believing in God and if they come across new ideas they are very interested. There are atheists that engage in rigorous arguments and may even test their ideas with surprising results. But just as there may be plenty of American tourists at places of interest who are quiet and self contained and mingling as just another person in the crowd, these are not the ones you will notice. You will notice the enormous, loud and boorish ones. Similarly with atheists, the ones you cannot ignore are the ones who seem monomaniacal in their need to tell you about atheism. If such a person is also a vegan, it must be an absolute nightmare for them to decide which to shoehorn into a conversation first, the atheism or the veganism. Online you will find them. Any article with anything conceivably God related, they will turn up in the comments to indulge in some clumsy evangelising for their dogma. Generally coming over as a pound shop version of one of their atheist idols.

In common with their idols, they may misrepresent either the topic at hand or the theology they are mocking. Apparently any stick will do to attack God, even though they often seem to have grasped it by the wrong end. You may think that these radical atheists only exist in the virtual world, like Pokémon, but I have met them in the real world too. I want to deal with a line of attack I have been confronted with on multiple occasions, not because it is a strong argument, but because the flimsiness of it demonstrates how little thinking a radical atheist will do.

In the 1980s, people investigated using magnetic fields to induce electrical currents in the brain and therefore affect brain behaviour. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been tried for a variety of disorders and may have a place in the treatment of major depression. A team was experimenting with lower power magnetic fields and found some people experienced a feeling like the presence of God. This equipment became known as the “God helmet” and got a lot of press. The fact that other investigators have struggled to reproduce these results is almost irrelevant. I have had several atheists independently tell me that this proves God is not real. That He is a hallucination, because He can be faked by magnets. Similar statements have also been made because some people have a comparable experience under the influence of psychedelic drugs. It’s just something happening in the brain so all religious experience can be dismissed.

This is so silly an argument that I can’t be bothered to refute it. I’ve invited Bruce along to explain it to you instead. You may know him better under another name.

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Robin: Ow!!!

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Robin: Ow again! That hurts.

Batman: Yes and why does it hurt?

Robin: Because you slapped me in the face.

Batman: Yes. But what happens after I slap you? Nerve fibres in your face send signals via your trigeminal nerve. They end up feeding into your somatosensory cortex on the opposite side of your brain. I could interfere with your nerves or with with your somatosensory cortex to give you a rough approximation of a slap in the face. The fact I could give your brain an experience like a fake slap to the face, does not mean real slaps don’t exist. In fact, the fact your brain has the wiring to experience slaps suggests that your body expects a real slap in the face now and then. So what does the fact that your brain can feel like God is there, actually tell you?

Robin: But if God is real, shouldn’t he just speak to your soul?

Batman:I don’t see why we would expect him to, because you are not just your soul or spirit. The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. It’s not like I’m a Hindu. I’m Batman, not atman.

Robin: OK. I get it now. Ow!!

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So there you have it. If an atheist ever tells you that the brain’s response to drugs or electricity disproves the existence of God, you know what to do.

PMT. What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing? That’s pretty unlikely. Look how common it is. By PMT I’m talking about the crabbiness that some women exhibit in the run up to their period. If you ask women if they suffer from this, then quite a few will say yes. If you ask their husbands or partners, they will probably agree. If you ask them out of their wife’s earshot, you may well get a “Hell yeah!”

YMMV of course. Women vary enormously in their monthly behaviour. Some seem to have little personality change, while some women are  fairly described by PMT memes. Evolutionary psychology suggests that if a behaviour is not in the interests of you passing on your genes, it will become less common over time. Surely crabbiness would impair your ability to reproduce?

There is a very straightforward evolutionary explanation to PMT. It allows people to escape infertility. Infertility is often a result of problems in just one partner. People can also be relatively infertile with one partner, but have no problems conceiving with another. For this reason, prior to the advent of expensive medical interventions like IVF, one of the most effective treatments for infertility was to get a lodger.

If a woman does not get pregnant, she will then experience the hormone shifts which trigger PMT. The mood altering effects of this make it more likely she will behave in a way that either drives her partner away, or makes her want to leave him.  One of three things can then happen. They can find someone else, they can get pregnant, or they can repeat the cycle of mood swings month after month. Because the purpose of this mood is to get people who are infertile together to move on, the vast majority of a woman’s anger will be directed at her partner. Other people are relatively safe.

A woman with severe PMT will not scream “you didn’t get me pregnant you loser!” She may well not consciously want to have children at this point, or even at any point in the future. But evolution has selected for behaviours that do lead to reproduction. So she is experiencing an irrational emotional state which she will then rationalise into a reason to be angry.

If you do not cause her belly to swell, she will find a casus belli to give you hell. She may complain if you don’t get promotion and in the next breath complain you are always at work. She will complain if you are not nice enough to her mother, and if you sleep with her mother. If she’s got it bad, you are not going to win.

If this is the purpose of PMT, what is the solution? Pregnancy is the obvious one. Anybody have any alternative suggestions? Just asking for a friend.

Is This What a Shadowban Looks Like?

On Twitter, one of the people I follow is Mike Cernovich, the author of Gorilla Mindset.

Recently he has been posting about Hilary Clinton’s health and the people who seem to be rendering her assistance when out and about. This morning this came up.

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I screen captured the image for the crop of Mike’s tweet with Fay Wray above it.  Once I had done that and posted it in reply I went back to my timeline.

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No sign of Cernovich. How odd.

Shadow banning is a method of silencing posters by not allowing others to see their posts. You can set up a forum so the shadowbanned person still sees all their posts, but no one else does. It has been suggested that Twitter, if they don’t want to outright ban someone, may be just “losing” a proportion of their posts. This is less likely to be noticed than a complete shadowban, and if it gets noticed can be put down to a software glitch. Of course, a software glitch may be the issue here. We shouldn’t assume malice when the facts can be explained by incompetence, but whatever the cause, when my timeline reloaded, Mike’s post was gone.

One more thought. Mike’s book is called Gorilla Mindset. If this is evidence of a shadowban, it was shown up when I took a picture of King Kong! Maybe there’s something to all these Harambe memes after all.

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Trolling Cold Callers

PPI now has some competition. I had a call today from Swansea.

Call Centre: Hello, am I speaking to Mr Redacted?
Me: Who is this?
Call Centre: Good morning! I’m calling on behalf of Company Name. It’s just a quick call to let you know you may be entitled to a tax refund. If you have to wear a uniform at work or if you take your work clothes home and wash them yourself. Do you take any of your work clothes home?
Me: Sorry. I don’t have any work clothes.
Call Centre: Do you have to launder any of the clothes you do wear for work?
Me: No. I work at a nudist colony.
Call Centre: (clearly not listening properly yet) This includes overalls, jackets, …….
Me: Sorry. It’s a nudist colony. I don’t wear any clothes at work.

Fair play to him. He didn’t give up.
Call Centre: Oh. (pauses to think) Well what about protective footwear? Work boots and so on?
Me: No. Our employer has a strict uniform policy. No clothes at all. The only exception is the chef. He has to wear a hat for hygiene. It’s a bit more pay, but I don’t want his job. It’s barbecue season now. You don’t want be a nudist chef at a barbecue.
Call Centre: OK then. Thank you for your time.
Me: Thank you. Bye.

Solar System. Book Review

Solar System. By Marcus Chown.

When he was four, my son became very interested in everything about space. This was to such an extent that almost of his birthday and Christmas presents ended up being space related. When he was given a cuddly toy he named it Enceladus.

He devoured all the books he was bought, then after about a year, he moved on to other interests. Now aged seven, older and wiser, he is re-entering his space obsession. This book was one of the favoured ones when he was four, and it is a regular part of our evening reading now. At the moment, our routine is to read a section of Solar System and follow it up with ten minutes or so of Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Solar System.

Marcus Chown’s book appealed to him previously I think due to it’s very attractive layout. It is illustrated beautifully. Many of the discoveries in the book happened within my lifetime, and I can remember some of the featured images on news reports, or on “the Sky at Night.” There are however many pictures in here I had not seen before. The pictures are almost uniformly spectacular. That the visuals work so well is probably a consequence of this book starting life as an iPad app.

The non photographic illustrations and diagrams are clear, attractive and understandable and follow a consistent look throughout.

Thematically the book follows a grand tour of the solar system. After an overview of what the solar system is and it’s likely origins, we travel from the sun to all the major bodies. Plus a lot more you may not have heard of.

The text is also excellent. There is a good balance between historical context, authoritative explanations and descriptions, and where appropriate scientific uncertainty. This is not a kids book. My son enjoyed it and has learned a lot from it, but so did I. The attractiveness of the overall product allows it to scale very well according to the ability of the reader to understand, from curious child to amateur astronomer.

In short therefore. I heartily recommend this book.

Winter Part 1

The blind man speaks.

“Winter is the form which the Earth takes now.
But the way it is now is not the way it was.

We came this way by heat.
The strivings of mankind heated the world.

Ice which had lain on the great southern continent before man walked the world, flowed into the sea. The floods came quickly then. The southern Earth now free of the press of ice was lifted up. The rest of our world moved in sympathy. It groaned and it split and it spilled it’s own hot blood in pain.
Smoke and dust came with it. The dust filled the sky and stole from us the stars. The dust surrounded us and hid us from the sun.

The world began to freeze and convulsed once again as it did.

Winter is the form the Earth takes now.
But the way it is now is not the way it will be.”

I’ve got a Little Black Book

Apparently Jean Claude Juncker has a little black book on his enemies, so in his honour, to the tune of Nobody Home by Pink Floyd;

 

I’ve got a little black book with my foes in
My favourite restaurant they serve hoisin
I’ve got a fish spa to dip all of my dainty toes in

I like to quote from Pascal’s “Pensées”
While I eat out on expensées
Entertaining the worlds dictators and excellencies.

I’m in the commission
And I’ve got a mission
I’ve amazing powers without election
And that is how I know
When you want to be through
With me and the EU
You’ll never take your powers home

I’ve got the obligatory elite scorn
And as inevitable as the morn
In the book of my enemies I hold all of the dirt
I’ve got alcohol damage to my liver
Twenty eight countries on a chain
I’ve a conference table to prop up my mortal remains

I’ve got wild staring eyes
And you have a strong urge to fly
But you have no where to fly to
Ooh babe. You can pick up the phone
You’ll never take your powers home

Bubble of Bubbles

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
    vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

Ecclesiastes begins with these famous words about vanity. Most English Bibles translate the Hebrew word “hebel” as vanity. Vanity is also used as the translation of several other Hebrew words into English, so can another English word be substituted which fits the intended meaning as well as vanity? Hebel can be read as a breath, vapour,or emptiness. Consider what is left when a bubble bursts. A bubble is emphemeral and filled with emptiness, yet amuses and distracts till it’s inevitable end. All vanity shall vanish. So albeit that traduttore, traditore, a bubble is an ideal vessel for the concept of vanity.

Bubble of bubbles, says the Preacher,
    bubble of bubbles! All is bubbles.

Does it work if we reverse the process? Using the word bubble in phrases in place of the word vanity demonstrates a good linguistic fit. The South Sea Bubble, a house price bubble, or any other market bubble, is a pursuit of vanity. The Westminster Bubble; well, it is appropriate that today Ecclesiastes is the first reading in church as we discover the likely recipients of David Cameron’s resignation honours.

The author of Ecclesiastes seems dismissive of the value of striving and achieving. Hebel, bubble, for all your toil and trouble? Nothing but froth. Is this an old man who has become disheartened? Are all achievements small and fleeting? Is the author’s problem one of too much perspective, that he sees the scale of our achievements minuscule compared to God?

Thomas Aquinas lived a life steeped in thought, knowledge and wisdom. His output was enormous. Requiring four scribes to keep up with his dictation. Probably the most  learned man in Christendom in his day. He had written in detail of the meaning of the Eucharist. Towards the end of his life, Domenic of Caserta observed Aquinas alone, praying before an icon of Christ crucified. Dominic heard a voice from the icon saying, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labour?” Aquinas replied, “Nothing but you Lord.” After that, whatever it was he then experienced, Aquinas considered all he had written to be no better than straw.

The best we can do. The best that even the best of us like Aquinas can do, is, with that perspective, less than the clumsy daubings of a toddlers painting. And yet, if it is intended well, offered with a good heart, it is received gladly by our loving Father. Nothing can compare to God, but God changes everything.

I was going to write this piece earlier today. I was stopped as soon as I began. My daughter who had no idea what I was thinking about, asked me to come into the garden and play with her and blow bubbles.

Limericks

The beauty of using a spade
Is a pleasure that never will fade
I dig up my garden
But I do beg your pardon
Poor worm that I’ve sliced with the blade.

 

A smooth talking swine from upstate
Convinced he could evade his fate
Spoke with great charm
To the man on the farm
But he still ended up on the plate.

 

The triumph of Henry the King
Began when he started to sing
His foes plugged their ears
And fled home in tears
From his voice did his victory spring.

 

A baldy man his name was Higgs
Tried a quack cure, a diet of figs
It made him quite pale
And was destined to fail
For the one cure for baldness is wigs.

 

Oh when will I discover peace?
Tomorrow or mabye next week?
I stand and I strain
But always in vain
With this prostate I can’t take a leak.

 

The mighty King Numenides
Said “Death to all my enemies
Who brought me stale Gouda
With a strong pungent odour
And I’m just not a big fan of cheese.”

 

The artist he showed of his work
But then he felt oh such a berk
“It’s been hung upside down.
I feel such a clown.”
But he still took the cash with a smirk.

 

A man with the strength of a bull
Left the china shop ’cause it was dull
But he couldn’t get out
’til someone did shout
“Can’t you see that that door is marked pull.”

 

There once was a lady from Spain
Who had breath like a foul stagnant drain
She breathed on a wood
And then where it stood
Was a barren and featureless plain.

 

Lady Macbeth had a daughter
And she sent her to fetch her some water
The reason is clear
But only a tear
Can wash clean the stain of the slaughter.

 

A dark King was laid in a barrow
With treasure laid in the way narrow
But the rain washed away
The soil in a day
And his bones were picked clean by a sparrow.

 

At a quiet and intimate venue
My girlfriend said to me “When you
Are eating with me
Don’t other girls see
And please keep your eyes on the menu.”

CJ, Reggie and Milo

At a social media company in a nearby alternate reality. The boss, known to all as”CJ” is chairing an early morning crisis meeting in his private office known as The Nest.
CJ: OK team. Are we all here? I didn’t get where I am today by having meetings starting late.
Reggie: (Arriving late) Sorry I’m late CJ. Slow puncture on Nob Hill.
CJ: Sit down everybody.
Yes Men: Great. Super.
Everyone sits at the same time. Air is pushed out of seat cushions causing their chairs to emit a cascade of beautiful bird song. Reggie’s chair appears to be faulty and makes a Bronx cheer.
CJ: Thank you all for coming in early. We have had a lot of complaints about hate speech. It is clear that we need to find a way to make our platform a safe space for the vulnerable.
Yes men: Great. Super.
Reggie: Right Ho CJ. Who are these poor fragile flowers who need our protection? Are they ethnic minorities, the disabled, single mothers?
CJ: Many vulnerable individuals have contacted me recently. Sony and Disney just this week.
Reggie: Pardon CJ? Sony and Disney?
CJ: Why yes Reggie. These poor vulnerable corporations have spent a fortune on our platform, promoting their products, and then some of our users start saying these products are rubbish.
Reggie: Is that not just because they are rubbish?
CJ: Well of course they are, but they don’t appreciate their potential customers being told they are. Honestly Reggie, the reason we headhunted you from Grot industries was your experience in selling absolute rubbish to the public.
Reggie: Right you are CJ, but I thought the core of your business model was free speech?
CJ: Of course it is. But free speech must not get in the way of paid for speech. I didn’t get where I am today by turning down money.
Reggie: In that case CJ there’s a few steps we need to take. Tech have gone through the statistics for me. Although independent voices on the platform are numerous, they are generally amorphous and unimportant if we exclude nodal posters. This handful of people have large numbers of followers and so have disproportionate influence.
CJ: Of course! We pay them off!
Yes men: Great. Super.
Reggie:  Sorry CJ. We’ve bought off the ones we could, but most of them seem to either enjoy trolling their enemies too much to stop, or actually believe in something. Sometimes both.
CJ: They believe in something! I always find it hard to believe such people exist. I didn’t get where I am today by believing in things. So what do we do about them? Ban them?
Reggie: Hopefully not necessary. We can make their presence less visible. Software ‘errors’ so not everyone sees what they post. Automated accounts who reiterate opposing viewpoints. But we may need to ban now and then. So we will need for it to look like we have standards.
CJ: Don’t worry about standards. Have you met Anita here?  She is a harassment and diversity expert, so she tells me. I’ve appointed her to a committee on free speech standards. Isn’t that right.
Anita: (Stridently) Yes CJ!
CJ: Did you tell me what the committee’s been named? (laughing) You haven’t chosen anything too Orwellian have you.
Anita: (mumbles answer)
Yes men: Great. Super.
Reggie: There is a risk however. If people are on our platform for free speech they may leave it if we censor too much.
CJ: Reggie, you really shouldn’t worry. Advertisers don’t care what free thinkers think anyway. They will work out for themselves what they need. The most important market is the one that passively accepts being marketed to. Dumb people is where the smart money is.
Reggie: In that case CJ we have a few more ideas.
Yes men: Great. Super.
Reggie: The Alt-right we plan to ignore and sideline. The left just need a bit of a nudge using the right people. They generally follow the herd. For this reason they are in fact the audience which will be most attractive to our advertisers. We can program automated bot accounts to like the things we are promoting. These bots are surprisingly sophisticated. We are ready in fact to replace your yes men with a software simulation.
Yes men: (Hesitantly) Great. Super.
Reggie: We can’t replace all accounts with simulations unfortunately. We have tried and failed to produce a convincing SJW bot. It’s extremely difficult to program a computer with that degree of irrationality. Although those bots have got more accurate since we added Voxday’s three laws to the algorithms.
(There is a sharp screech. The sound of nails being dragged down the surface of the conference table.)
CJ: Yes Anita? Is there a problem.
Anita: (Who has been triggered by the utterance of The Name That Shall Not Be Named speaks through gritted teeth.) CJ. I think we do need to set an example.
(She slides copies of a user file to all on the table. A photo of silver haired young man is clipped to the front. )
Reggie: Ah yes. We have been watching him. We discussed him at a previous meeting. I thought we agreed that as a gay man he had additional free speech rights?
Anita: Not necessarily. Have a look at this.
She brings a series of graphs up on the conference room display monitor.
Anita: This is the latest data from the SJW100. That’s a summation of the opinions of the current 100 most influential social justice warriors. It’s a bit like the FTSE100 or the Dow Jones is for shares, but it’s far more volatile. Here is the chart showing us the current victimhood league table. As you can see, taking account of him being gay, but being male, right wing and not portraying himself as a victim, he would currently be outranked by a black woman. So that’s where we hit him. Call him racist.
Reggie: Is that dog going to hunt? I hear he is quite fond of black men. Plus, how come I’ve never heard of this data “the SJW100.” Did you just make this up.
Anita: Sexism! Harassment! Don’t you believe a woman can do…
CJ: That’s enough Anita. That won’t work here, and I need Reggie more than you. I didn’t get where I am today by letting people throw their weight around in my boardroom. That is my prerogative.
Anita: Sorry CJ.
CJ: Anita, I can see you carry a grudge against this man. (tapping the photograph on the desk) And I am not prepared to let you use my firm for your grudges.
Anita: Sorry CJ.
CJ: However, in this case we are going to go ahead and ban him. This is why I called you here today. Our colleagues in Sony have been on the phone complaining constantly to me about this man. We have been promoting one of their new products heavily recently, for which we have received a considerable sum and this, (Tap tap tap), person, has posted an atrocious review. Sony have made it clear, that if we cannot police our social network properly for the good of the advertisers, there are other social networks that will.
Yes Men: Great. Super.
CJ: Reggie, when can we replace those two with bots?
Reggie: This afternoon CJ.
CJ: Great. Super. Now here’s the plan. One of the ladies who worked on Sony’s latest piece of crap is going to start complaining about her treatment. As per Anita’s recommendation she is a person of colour. Hopefully if she is vocal enough, this will stir up more trouble. If it doesn’t get bad enough, it’s your job Reggie to set some attack bots to insult her.
Reggie: Yes CJ.
CJ: Then she will quit the network, but not before contacting me for help. I will white knight it in and take compassionate charge of the situation. We will ban this character here as a warning to all and demonstrate how virtuous and anti-racist we are. Our advertisers will recognise that our priorities are correct and continue to spend their money here. That’s the plan. It’s the job of the team here to make sure it works. Any questions?
Anita is playing with the photograph on the desk. Prodding it with a manicured nail. She is smiling. It is not a smile which makes her attractive. Reggie shudders inwardly as he looks at her, but reminds himself of the mortgage he has to pay. At least his life can’t get any worse he tells himself. He turns back to CJ.
Reggie: Oh yes. Questions CJ. Since I came to work here, I’ve wondered what the reason is for all the bird themed paraphenalia here. What’s it all about?
CJ: Well Reggie, funny you should ask. I’ve always wanted to be a super villain. Specifically the Penguin. Stay behind after the meeting and I’ll show you my costume.