Archive for November, 2008

Thanking who?

November 26, 2008

Here in the States, Thanksgiving time is upon us. The implications for this blog is that I’ll be gone from tomorrow until Monday, as I’ll be spending Thanksgiving in various planes for family business. So, after today, no new posts until Monday.

Traditionally, of course, Thanksgiving is that day when we Americans are supposed to honor that old tradition celebrated first by the Puritan settlers of feasting and giving thanks to a god for all of our blessings. So, aside from turkey, football, and 2 days off, what does this mean to those of us who are godless? Whatever you want, of course. Celebrate it whatever way you want or not. But I actually do think that, in case we’ve forgotten, it can be beneficial to step back, appreciate what we have and be thankful.

So, thankful for what and to whom? Humanity has come a long way. Only relatively recently have women achieved the social equality with men that should have been theirs all along (still work to be done, of course). In spite of the expressions of racism displayed by a few in the last election, significant progress has been made here as well. Scientific and technological advances have increased our average lifespans, allowed us to live lives in greater comfort than our ancestors had known, and revealed to us wonders of the cosmos that our stone age ancestors could not even have dreamed of. In fact, one of the benefits of the age in which we live is that we can dream larger than ever before. One of the benefits of modern science to the modern mindset is to be comfortable with uncertainty. We know there are things we do not know and that’s fine. We know we have the tools to progress.

To whom would I say I am grateful for this progress that has allowed me to live in some measure of relative comfort and to have opportunities to seek out intellectual stimulation? I guess I could be thankful to the universe for existing in such a way that it can, in some sense, be comprehended. Of course, the universe is indifferent, not caring whether or not I appreciate its grandeur. I am certainly thankful for those who came before, who, whatever their motivations, worked to advance medicine, improve our understanding of nature, improve the social fabric of humanity, to, in general, advance the Enlightenment. Most of the people who have been involved in that process are no longer with us, Isaac Newton, Max Planck, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony, and so many more. As they are gone, they also can not care about any appreciation I have. It may seem kind of pointless to be thankful, unless one examines the operational properties of thankfulness. In physics, one of the foundational questions is how things such as length or time are defined (This has important implications for the special theory of relativity..perhaps for future posts…). One school of thought hold that they are defined by how they are measured.

So, how is thankfulness measured, or shown? Perhaps one way is to continue the work.

Oh yes..for Dr. Who fans out there, I guess the title of this post implies I am thanking the Doctor.

Advertisements

As the U.N. takes action against freedom of speech

November 25, 2008

In a stunning setback against humanity and the Enlightenment, a United Nations committee has passed a Combating Defamation of Religions resolution that will restrict speech critical of or mocking religions. This passed 85 to 40 with 42 abstentions.

But while the draft’s sponsors say it and earlier similar measures are aimed at preventing violence against worshippers regardless of religion, religious tolerance advocates warn the resolutions are being accumulated for a more sinister goal.

“It provides international cover for domestic anti-blasphemy laws, and there are a number of people who are in prison today because they have been accused of committing blasphemy,” said Bennett Graham, international program director with the Becket Fund, a think tank aimed at promoting religious liberty.

“Those arrests are made legitimate by the UN body’s (effective) stamp of approval.”

Passage of the resolution is part of a 10-year action plan the 57-state Organization of Islamic Conference launched in 2005 to ensure “renaissance” of the “Muslim Ummah” or community.

Also discussed at Katzenjammer and Pharyngula, this resolution, spearheaded by Islamic countries largely fundamentalist in nature, seeks to protect religion from criticism. So now ridiculing somebody’s imaginary friend can be considered a crime? This whole resolution is totally at odds and incompatible with the notion of free speech and the open marketplace of ideas.

I’m all for international cooperation, which we do need more of, but this latest blunder by the United Nations is ill considered. I hope that if I do end up in jail, there’s a good secular library and cable t.v.

The tsunammi begins

November 25, 2008

By now, the news is out that Bush has started issuing some pardons. A modest start at only 14 individuals, I expect we’ll be seeing more later on. Surprisingly, “Scooter” Libby, convicted for his involvement in the treasonous act of betraying a CIA officer, did not make the list, although his sentence was commuted earlier.

The first 2 from the above posted link are:

—Leslie Owen Collier of Charleston, Mo. She was convicted for unauthorized use of a pesticide and violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

—Milton Kirk Cordes of Rapid City, S.D. Cordes was convicted of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, which prohibits importation into the country of wildlife taken in violation of conservation laws.

There are 12 others, of course, but why am I not surprised to see environmental offenders on the list? Admittedly, I could not find very much on the specifics of these cases online, but it is consistent with the anti-environment stance Bush has long held. Was he offended by something he saw on a nature hike as a child, I wonder? Have a look at the record. As this shows, the modus operandi has often been as follows.

The Bush Administration shows more finesse than previous Administrations in disguising its anti-environmental agenda. The “bait and switch” method has been used repeatedly. They promise one thing, then a month or a year later quietly do the opposite, often with little media explanation of the turn-about. Examples: wetlands, carbon dioxide, ANWR, mining, roadless areas, and air pollution lawsuits.

Wonderful. My dear Menon, is virtue a thing Bush must yet be taught, or is it something forgotten?

Having a clean space

November 25, 2008
Power of the Schwartz

Needed: Power of the Schwartz

Launchspace is asking for suggestions on how to clean up space trash, a topic which I had written about previously. So, if you have any ideas on how to begin to alleviate this serious problem, be sure to visit the above links and send them in. Launchspace may want to consider prizes for winning ideas, perhaps a trip to the space station or something. But so far, I have seen no mention of that. Still, the undeniable pleasure of seeing them run with your idea should be reward enough, shouldn’t it?

To illustrate how dangerous this is, imagine the proverbial screw loose. For the sake of this back of the envelope calculation, we’ll assume the mass is about 1g. By equating centripetal acceleration to the gravitational force divided by the mass, we can calculate the velocity at any given height, as v = sqrt(GM/r), where G is the universal gravitation constant, M is the mass of the earth , and r is the distance from the center of mass of the earth to that of the object, and sqrt means to take the square root of the paranthetically enclosed quantity. I’ll assuming a distance to the international space station, which is about 350Km. Given that, I get a velocity 7696 meters/second. That works out to 17,216 mph. For our loose screw (and neglecting rotational energy), that’s about 2961 Joules of energy, which is equivalent to a 2000Kg car moving 4 mph. You know how when you are driving behind a truck on the highway and your windshield gets hit by one of those little rocks? That, in contrast, going maybe on the order of only 40-60 mph. If this hits a satellite (or worse, an astronaut), it is going to be worse than a cracked windshield. Now assume the collision is inelastic, meaning it just doesn’t ricochet off. That 2961 Joules of energy is going to go somewhere, and it is not going to be pretty for whatever it hits. Granted, we haven’t taken relative velocities into account, but we are not guarantied to be moving in the same direction anyway.

So, as you get to work on your solution, these are a few of things you should be keeping in mind. Let’s save space by cleaning up space debris.

D’Souza and design

November 24, 2008

In a bold step I’m sure no elitist scientist before has contemplated, Dinesh D’Souza has recently invoked the strong anthropic argument. In fact, he goes further and argues that the reason atheists have been using “sound bites”, or should I say, “sign bites”, is that we are losing the scientific argument. In his words:

But of late atheism seems to be losing its scientific confidence. One sign of this is the public advertisements that are appearing in billboards from London to Washington DC. Dawkins helped pay for a London campaign to put signs on city buses saying, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Humanist groups in America have launched a similar campaign in the nation’s capital. “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake.” And in Colorado atheists are sporting billboards apparently inspired by John Lennon: “Imagine…no religion.”

What is striking about these slogans is the philosophy behind them. There is no claim here that God fails to satisfy some criterion of scientific validation. We hear nothing about how evolution has undermined the traditional “argument from design.” There’s not even a whisper about how science is based on reason while Christianity is based on faith.

In other words, we are losing the argument and so in a last gasp to convert everyone to our hedonistic lifestyle rebelling against God, we are resorting to catchy signs. I suppose it would have been better to put 150 years of scientific evidence for evolution on a billboard? Predictably, he attempts to invoke argument by design. Again, in his words:

If you want to know why atheists seem to have given up the scientific card, the current issue of Discover magazine provides part of the answer. The magazine has an interesting story by Tim Folger which is titled “Science’s Alternative to an Intelligent Creator.” The article begins by noting “an extraordinary fact about the universe: its basic properties are uncannily suited for life.” As physicist Andrei Linde puts it, “We have a lot of really, really strange coincidences, and all of these coincidences are such that they make life possible.”

Too many “coincidences,” however, imply a plot. Folger’s article shows that if the numerical values of the universe, from the speed of light to the strength of gravity, were even slightly different, there would be no universe and no life. Recently scientists have discovered that most of the matter and energy in the universe is made up of so-called “dark” matter and “dark” energy. It turns out that the quantity of dark energy seems precisely calibrated to make possible not only our universe but observers like us who can comprehend that universe.

So what is the big picture background here? Religious myths have long sought to explain things in nature. How the world started, how we started, how lightening works, what stars are for, and so on. One by one, these explanations fallen for more rigorous and more useful descriptions via the scientific method. Religion falls back to try to fill in another gap with each new advance. Specifically, if we look at the Bible, we see much there that is contradictory to what we have learned via the scientific method. Leviticus, Chapter 11 states that insects have 4 legs. Simple observation suffices to falsify this. Most famously, science contradicts the literal story of Genesis 1. In the New Testament, we have the story of Jesus in Mark 9 confusing devils with a classic case of epilepsy. We certainly don’t know everything about the cosmos, but the use of evidence, experimentation, and reason has brought us quite a long way and there seems to be no reason why application of the scientific method will not lead to resolving other mysteries. So, based on the inherent difficulty of detecting multiple universes and the difficulty of explaining why universal constants are the way they are, D’Souza has taken his last refuge here.

The most basic problem with that is, of course, that simply not being able to explain something yet, does not necessarily lead to the conclusion of a god. In fact, if one wants to define this god as a personal ultimately good being who cares about us, a little critical thinking makes this god vanish in a poof of logic. Consider the problem of theodicy, as discussed at EbonMusings. This type of a god is totally incompatible with the type of world we see in which there is and has always been unfairly distributed justice and far too much random evil, suffering, and misery. It is not clear how useful any other type of God would really be to us, but that alone does not rule out some Ultimate Designer behind the universal constants. I would bet that D’Souza thinks it is the Christian god however.

So, yes, if there is an Ultimate Universal Constants Tuner, we would hope to eventually uncover the fingerprints via the rigors of the scientific method. But, as Laplace told Napolean, we still have no need for that hypothesis. It doesn’t get us anywhere. It is simply a call to stop thinking. There could be any number of reasons the constants could be as they are. There is always the possibility that at a fundamental level they are not independent but had to be the way the are. Another point to be made is that we don’t really know for sure what a universe would look like with a different set of constants. A paper I saw a while back (can’t find the link at the moment, but I’ll keep looking) did tweak one of the constants and was able to obtain stellar evolution in the new model. We don’t really know what kind of life, if any, could evolve in one of those alternate universes. We do, as the weak anthropic principle states, happen to exist in a universe that is compatible with our existence. A universe so vast in scope, that if the whole thing was designed to bring us about, it is about the most inefficient design one could conceive. A true miracle would be our existence in a universe incompatible with our form of life.

Instead of surrendering our quest to more deeply understand the cosmos to an Ultimate Universal Constants Tuner, perhaps it would be more beneficial to continue, as we have before, to question, to probe, and to actually further our knowledge. I would also submit that to leap from ignorance of a solution to the assurance of faith, without corroborating evidence, is a display of arrogance.

Liberty Counsel and the war on Christmas

November 23, 2008

I was sort of hoping not to touch so much on the “On War Christmas” this year. The whole thing is patently absurd and I suppose I had a secret wish that most Christians would realize that they were being played with the standard methods of fear mongering to which they often seem to be all too susceptible. Everybody is free to celebrate Newton’s birthday as they wish, even if they get it confused with mythological figures or stories from 2000 years ago. The latest round from this one sided war comes from the Liberty Counsel which has decided to waste their time by compiling a Naughty and Nice list. This list is a feeble and pathetic attempt to divide companies into us vs. them combatants. Companies that use the word “holiday” are sorted into the “naughty” bin, and those who say “Christmas” into the “nice” bin. For example, Disney has a “Holiday Shop”, so they are “naughty” (and so Micky will presumably get coal in his stocking). ComputerGear.com mentions Christmas, so they are “nice”.

Once again, as a message to Liberty Counsel, even I, as an atheist, don’t care if you say “Merry Christmas” to me. I am not offended. Neither I nor anybody I know is out to take it away. I do think it is important to recognize and be aware of the fact that the holiday does mean different things in different traditions. Solstice days have been celebrated by human societies for years, before the advent of Christianity. There is also considerable doubt that Jesus (if he ever existed, which is extremely doubtful already) was actually born on Dec. 25. The date Dec. 25 was not chosen until the 4th century CE, and was chosen primarily because the birthdays of other pagan gods were already being celebrated on that day. They were simply incorporating existing traditions.

Whether you want to call it Christmas, Hannuka, Kwanza, Saturnalia, Bhodi day, or whatever, to me it will still be a time of festivity, Christmas trees, family gathering, and honoring whatever traditions belong to your own family. As this is also the time we arbitrarily label as the ending of the year succeeded by renewal, it is also a time for reflection.

But what is this Liberty Counsel anyway? I decided to take a quick look at their web site. They claim to be a standard bearer for protecting religious freedom. As nobody is advocating getting rid of religious freedom in this country, that immediately rouses suspicion. In their “About” section, they mention, in brief, some of the actions in which they were involved. Several of them were about banning same sex marriages and they tout their success in those efforts. I suppose this has to do with the religious liberty of enforcing their own religious views of marriage on others. Apparently they fought in Kentucky to say the the Ten Commandments were historical documents contributing to American law and thus it is constitutional to include them as such in public documentation. In fact, the Ten Commandments have nothing to do with American law as eloquently discussed here. To include them as official documents is divisive as it officially favors certain religious traditions to the exclusion of others.

There were some other cases I would actually have to agree with them on, regardless of how uncomfortable I am with them. Students do, I think, have the right to meet after school or distribute religious literature, as long as it is not disruptive to the learning process. Teachers and administrators, however, must not give any type of sanctioning or have the appearance of condoning or favoring any religious tradition. In the particular instances mentioned in their web site, I’m not sure which of the above factors may have been in play, but those are the principles with which I would view those types of cases. The “Graduation Prayer” link under “Projects” is obnoxious, but I don’t know enough about the legal aspects to say much more. Certainly for a student speaker at a graduation ceremony to invoke his or her own religious traditions is tactless and excludes, by definition, any of the student body who do not follow those traditions.

Voice in Ramah

November 22, 2008

Continuing along with the “Matthewetic” prophecies, in which we last left on in Bethlehem here, we are again in Bethlehem. The writer of Matthew is really packing in these prophecies and they so far have been failing so miserably that it is left to wonder why he keeps going. In fact, they’ve been so trivial to dismiss that it is a wonder how anybody still takes them seriously. But, seriously some people do take them, and so trudge on we will.

Not too much background to fill in on this. We’re back with Herod who has decided to whack the competition by killing all babies in Bethlehem. Which brings us to the verse in question in Matthew 2:17-18.

Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they were no more.”

(Revised Standard Version)

Finally, the writer of Matthew (what the heck, let’s call him Matthew even though we know better) has helpfully provided something resembling a reference. We know the prophet in question is Jeremiah. Specifically Jeremiah 31: 15

Thus says the Lord:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are not.”
Thus says the Lord:
“Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord;
and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
There is hope for your future, says the Lord,
and your children shall come back to their own country.”

I tacked on verse 16 to add a little more context. This is referring to the exile of Jews from Jerusalem to Babylon under King Nebuchadrezzar (spelling in my RSV). Two chapters previous, Jeremiah was talking about how he delivered them to Babylon because, well, essentially they made God upset again. Then in chapter 30, he starts in with how he’s heard their cries and will bring them back from captivity. Chapter 31 is a continuation of this theme. In subsequent chapters, the story has them returning.

So, the context in which this little verse is embedded, concerns the Hebrews, and their children, being carried off into captivity and then returning. It has absolutely nothing to do with the murder of children. There’s not even a legitimate parallel with Matthew’s story to even make this a so-called far fulfillment. We don’t even need to get into Ramah not being Bethlehem. That may be the only thing that almost works since there does seem to have been a Ramah in the vicinity of the Bethlehem Matthew may have had in mind. But the geography is such that if all children in the vicinity of Bethlehem were murdered up to and including Ramah, that would have also included Jerusalem. This is discussed here. The argument made at that link is an attempt to justify why Matthew would pick this particular prophecy but ends up just showing that Matthew may have been trying to draw a literary parallel. That he was trying to evoke symbols of hope in time of suffering. Fine, but it still doesn’t work as prophecy. It is thus not valid to argue that this was a prediction made in the Old Testament that confirms Jesus as a savior. Matthew just can’t stop failing.

To make matters worse for Matthew, there’s no historical record for the massacre he describes, and he is the only gospel writer to mention it. Flavius Josephus documented several of Herod’s atrocities in his Antiquities of the Jews. Among the acts attributed to Herod: He executed three of his sons for conspiracy. He executed his brother-in-law, Joseph. He murdered his own wife, Mariamme. He murdered the Jewish High Priest, Aristobolus III along forty five members of the Sanhedrin for their support of the Hasmoneans. This is consistent with the character Matthew describes, but somehow nobody other than Matthew seems to know about the children massacre.

A Very Merry Christmas to Wall Street

November 22, 2008

A quite amusing little article has been unearthed in the Opinion Section of the Wall Street Journal. Apparently, we atheists, what with our War on Christmas and all, are responsible for the current financial meltdown. From the article:

What really went missing through the subprime mortgage years were the three Rs: responsibility, restraint and remorse. They are the ballast that stabilizes two better-known Rs from the world of free markets: risk and reward.

Responsibility and restraint are moral sentiments. Remorse is a product of conscience. None of these grow on trees. Each must be learned, taught, passed down. And so we come back to the disappearance of “Merry Christmas.”

It has been my view that the steady secularizing and insistent effort at dereligioning America has been dangerous. That danger flashed red in the fall into subprime personal behavior by borrowers and bankers, who after all are just people. Northerners and atheists who vilify Southern evangelicals are throwing out nurturers of useful virtue with the bathwater of obnoxious political opinions.

The point for a healthy society of commerce and politics is not that religion saves, but that it keeps most of the players inside the chalk lines. We are erasing the chalk lines.

The pseudo-reality in which Henninger seems to live seems like a scary place. Without God there to draw in the chalk lines, people just go all willy-nilly, no personal responsibility, no sense of morals, cut the brakes, no restraints in place! If the only thing keeping Henninger from a murderous rampage and defaulting on his loan payments is his belief in God, I’d be worried. When my wife and I bought our house, we made sure we had adequate down payment and would be able to meet the monthly payments. It was that strong faith in God I have that made me able to behave in a responsible fashion. Oh wait, I’m an atheist. In China, there is a strong cultural attitude towards saving money and not spending beyond your means. It must be that strong Christian heritage in China. Wait just a minute.

I’m also quite curious what are these useful virtues that Southern evangelicals are espousing? Was it the divisive attacks against atheists by Elizabeth Dole? Is it the perennial attempts to undermine science education by including creationist nonsense? Is it allowing business interests to overrun the environment?

It strikes me that the deregulation that helped fuel this mess was brought on in part by politicians from both sides of the aisle, who by the way, are declared Christians (one of whom said Jesus was his favorite philosopher). Since the majority of Americans are Christians, it also stands to reason that the many of the people who took out these subprime loans were also Christians. It also stands to reason that many of the bankers and financiers writing the horribly complex investment products containing the bad loans are also Christian. I don’t say though that their Christian beliefs caused them to behave in an irresponsible manner (indeed, there are many home buyers who were not aware that they were getting into bad loans). I don’t recall the Bible saying anything about hedge funds. It was simple human greed. A fairly well known trait that has been around since homo sapiens first evolved and probably even before that.

That’s the reason for government regulation. To help keep the playing field level for competing companies and to keep the chalk lines drawn. Critical thinking is also a necessary component for a well functioning society. At the time many of these bad loans were going through, housing prices were going up. Not a good assumption, but many blithely assumed this trend would continue. Better regulation that kept up with the latest financial instruments would have kept such gambling in check.

Oh yes, it’s still too early for it, in my opinion, but Merry Christmas! We’ll be putting up a Christmas tree again this year, visit family, and generally have a great time celebrating Newton’s birthday.

Pleistocene Park

November 21, 2008

I saw on the news today an item concerning the possible resurrection of the mammoth. Fortunately, I was able to find the story online at The New York Times. Apparently, they found that the hair of the mammoth was a purer source than bone of the DNA, excluding bacteria usually found from other samples such as bone. The article states that it has been calculated that a mammoth’s genes differ from a modern African elephant at around 400,000 sites. What made the breakthrough possible was a newer technology of DNA decoding machines which looks like it is able to do the genetic analysis by using the small fragments usually found as starting points. I would also strongly suspect that the software, possibly like that developed at Marth Labs also played a role. So it looks like essentially the process would be to modify the genome of an elephant’s cell, make an embryo, and let an elephant carry it. See the article for further details, and any biologists reading this, please feel free to correct any misunderstanding I have. Also mentioned is that there is some skepticism this could work.

It would take only $10 million to maybe bring back a mammoth. That’s just pocket change for Bill Gates, and a drop in the bucket compared to the Iraq quagmire. The question is, should we do it? Should we bring back extinct species? There’s certainly room for discussion, but I for one, would love to see it.

Not to mention, we can finally get back to building pyramids again.

Construction at Pleistocene Park

Construction at Pleistocene Park

Positive Pillar

November 21, 2008

So, our release is over, and I’m on a desperately needed little vacation. So, let’s see what I can catch up with.

A recent editorial in USA Today put the focus on the efforts of Margaret Downey to put the focus on the positive aspects of atheism. This is right along the lines with which I’ve written on this blog, trying to offer a good story. From the article:

…consider the organizations that bar atheists from membership — the Boy Scouts of America and American Legion, to name two, as well as some local posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars — and the conspicuous absence of openly atheist politicians on the national stage.

Mindful of atheism’s reviled reputation, a new current in non-belief is intent on showing the public what atheists are for. You might be surprised by what’s on their short list. Because, save for the belief-in-a-deity part, it sounds a lot like what most Americans value. Care for one’s community and fellow human beings, love of country and cherished American principles, the pursuit and expansion of knowledge — these are the elements of the new “positive atheism.”

Commendable. It is also admirable that Margaret Downey has teamed up with theists for important issues. Again from the article:

In an episode earlier this year in the Philadelphia area, where Downey lives, the stage appeared set for an atheist-vs.-Christian billboards shouting match: Downey and colleagues had posted a billboard on Interstate 95 saying, “Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone,” prompting a local Christian congregation to erect signs with a counter-message promoting God. Instead of escalating the billboard battle, Downey and company asked those who put up the pro-belief sign to join forces and volunteer with them for a Philadelphia charity. The people from the Light Houses of Oxford Valley congregation accepted the offer and teamed up with the atheists to spend a half-day sorting and packaging food for the needy.

“My goal is to teach by example that we believe in the importance of helping improve the human condition,” Downey says. “We atheists simply add one more ‘o’ to our belief system — we believe in good.”

That is excellent work. Now the article does mention that the so-called more strident atheists, such as Dawkins (who I’ve never really considered that strident, actually), has damaged our reputation. I disagree. We need both approaches. Although we do need the positive aspects of atheism emphasized, there’s always a place for the mockery of silly and ridiculous ideas. Healthy and vigorous debate is another component of driving progress. We should not engage in argumentum ad hominem or attack the people. Indeed, I know and respect several theists, some of whom are dear friends and family. But I don’t respect the beliefs they hold. If religious ideas are out there in the market place of ideas, they deserve all the critical scrutiny and mockery to which any other idea may be subjected. That may even open up a few eyes or have people examine their own beliefs more closely for their defense.

I truly believe though, that when these religious beliefs are examined too closely, they are exposed for the emptiness they are. I think this is a fear among many religious people when exposed to this type of open air debate. They don’t want to dig further into it or be challenged. Many do want to simply create their own self contained world, or bubble. Ridicule is a sharp pin that can pierce that bubble. Yes, thin skinned religious folks not used to real debate may feel offended, but others may see the light.

So, yes, if you want to ridicule, say, my acceptance of the big bang or evolution, feel free. Go ahead and mock the fact that I don’t accept the existence of an invisible green gremlin grooving in my garage (or simply mock my pathetic attempts at alliteration). I won’t be offended, but if you want me to take your criticism seriously, you better have the evidence to back up your position.