Tag Archive: links

June 12 2011

Determining our fates with cold, apathetic, wonderful math

Minnesota is currently debating how to redraw our state district borders, as we do every 10 years, with new census data to guide us. Creating fair, impartial boundaries seems impossible, because it’s always tempting for the party in power to gerrymander everything to give themselves more power. I’ve long been critical of the shape of our 6th district, home of state shame Michele Bachmann. It conveniently bends around liberally-leaning downtown areas and grabs many of the richer, fiscally-conservative parts of the state and merges them with rural, socially-conservative parts of the state.

But how the hell do you draw fair, unbiased district boundaries? On the one hand, people don’t want their communities split down the middle. On the other, it’s really easy to lump certain communities together to create districts that are easy for one party or the other to control.

Here’s one way that’s pretty interesting: math.

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April 27 2010

Some old crap, for your amusement

I just imported some of my blog posts from my old blog, “Bevans Rants”. It was mostly just a bunch of opinions I thought were clever at the time, graphic design projects I thought were good at the time, and observations I thought were insightful at the time. In other words, not much different from Dubiosity.

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April 18 2010

This is nature’s way of reminding us who’s the boss

If you haven’t heard already, there’s currently a volcano acting up in Iceland. It’s called Eyafallajökull, which is almost entirely unpronounceable by American tongues.

Apparently, (according to that unending font of human knowledge, Wikipedia) Eyafallajökull has erupted 3 times in all of recorded history. And each time, its eruption has been a mere precursor to the eruption of another nearby volcano, the much more active Katla. Eyafallajökull has already caused a lot of disruption, especially in European air travel, and I can just imagine what kind of chaos Katla might cause.

Eyafallajökull has also provided us with an incredible show over the past few days. It’s not just ash and lava, as if that weren’t cool enough already. As you can see at the link below, it’s also causing an incredible lightning display. This is the raw power of nature, on display for all to see.

These images come from another site, which is currently down due to excess traffic. I don’t know if the person who runs this site is associated with the other site, or if they just took the images and reposted them. Once I find out for sure, I’ll update this link accordingly.

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July 6 2009

Who doesn’t like Communism and Atheism?

A couple months ago, the Atheist Talk radio show (by Minnesota Atheists) aired an episode where their guest was Sunsara Taylor, a member of the Communist Party here in the US. It was really interesting, if for no other reason than because I don’t think I’ve ever heard an actual communist speak their mind, explain their platform, and defend their position. That’s just something you almost never see, even decades after the Cold War.

However, they recently had an episode which featured biologist Massimo Pigliucci, who came on the show specifically to rebut many of Taylor’s claims. And what he has to say is just as fascinating, if not moreso, although that may just be personal bias.

Anyway, I just wanted to post links to these two episodes to get people to listen to them, since they are so interesting.

If anyone was wondering, my own political views are essentially liberal, with a bit of libertarianism and a dash of socialism. Yea, I know that doesn’t make sense.

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June 8 2009

Damn you, Twitter!

I’m a Twitter-hater. I admit it.

I just haven’t been able to figure out why Twitter is so popular, or what use it is to anyone who doesn’t already have e-mail, text messaging, Facebook, RSS newsfeeds, blogs, and message boards. I’ve read about it plenty, I’ve heard people gushing about how great it is, and in the past month or two, I’ve noticed that nearly every person on the internet whose opinions I care about (podcasters, bloggers, reporters) has been pimping friggin’ Twitter. Gah.

So, I give up. I’m tired of fighting it. I’ll give this fad a try. I thought the blogosphere was stupid (even though I’ve been blogging since before the term “blog” existed”) and it obviously grew on me – I now have 4 blogs and have set up numerous others for other people. I thought text messaging was stupid, but I’ve found that it’s often quite useful. I thought podcasting was absurd, and now I’m subscribed to like 30 podcasts. I thought MySpace was for teenagers starving for attention, and I was right. But, I thought similar things about Facebook, and now it’s the site i use the most. E-mail was something I grew up with, so no problem there.

So maybe I’ll be wrong about Twitter. I’m willing to find out.

If you want to follow me on the goddamn Twitter, I’m @dubiosity. I think that’s how it’s written. I also added a box on the right.

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May 14 2009

Recommended Podcasts

I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts while at my computer (especially while playing WoW) and also on my MP3 player in the car, and when out for a walk, and whenever I have the time. I listen to a LOT of podcasts, and I’m always looking for more. Here are my favorites, and if you know of any others that I’d probably like, please post a link.

What the hell is a podcast?

It’s like radio, but on a computer. Most podcasts are published via an RSS feed that links to the files on the podcaster’s server. You can just download them manually if you want, but there are programs out there that will let you subscribe to the podcast feed and automatically download new episodes when they become available. The program I use is MediaMonkey, which is probably the greatest audio program ever. Other people use iTunes, though I don’t know why. I think WinAmp can handle podcasts too, and I’m sure there are others. Anyway, on with the show.

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March 4 2009

Richard Dawkins returns

Richard Dawkins, biologist, retired Oxford professor, writer, and the most well-known atheist in the world, is back in Minnesota to do a lecture at the U of M. That’s today, so obviously I’m not writing this to break the news. In fact, I’ll be there tonight; I bought my ticket the day it was announced. I’ll also probably write about it here in the next few days.

But anyway, I wanted to point to an interview he did just this morning on MPR (Minnesota Public Radio, the local branch of NPR) that I think was pretty good.

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One thing I’ve noticed about Dawkins, and I’ve heard/watched many of his interviews, debates, and discussions online, is that he sounds almost exactly the same regardless of his mood. He often sounds irritated, and he may very well be, but I think that’s mostly just the way he talks. He’s also very careful with what he says, and for good reason: there are lots of people out there who are looking for him to slip up somehow so they can take his words out of context.

I think the best way to hear the “real” Dawkins is to listen to his audiobooks. I’ve read both The God Delusion and The Ancestor’s Tale, and both via audiobook, and he’s much more relaxed in those. You get a much better sense of the wonder he feels about science, and he doesn’t come off as the angry fundamentalist atheist that many of his opponents seem to think he is.

Of course, what he’s talking about goes against what many people believe, and Dawkins doesn’t sugar-coat anything.

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February 11 2009

Correlation isn’t causation, but…

I saw an interesting chart today.

Gallup recently released the results of a poll they conducted, in which they asked people how important religion is in their lives. The results are pretty interesting.

I was pretty surprised that the USA is listed as “less religious”, but I guess that shows just how extreme many other countries are. I’m sure we’re at the high end of “less religious” anyway.

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October 7 2008

Addressing the religious claims of a guy I’ve never heard of

james-macmillan_1002045c "James MacMillan said that that embracing spirituality is now one of the most radical and counter-cultural moves a musician can make." Kinda like having eggs for breakfast is a radical and counter-cultural move.

A friend of mine, whose religious views are basically exactly opposite to my own, but whom I nevertheless have a lot of respect for, recently posted this story on Facebook. I tried to think of a way to come up with something to say about the story in less than 3 paragraphs so it would fit in Facebook’s comment field, but I finally realized that there was far more that needed to be said.

I have no idea who this MacMillan guy is, but what he’s saying needs to be addressed. This kind of intollerant thinking needs to be confronted as soon and as often as possible, because inevitably somebody will believe it.

The best way for me to comment on this article is to just cut-and-paste it here, and address its contents paragraph by paragraph.

James MacMillan, one of the conductors of the BBC Philharmonic orchestra, claimed in a speech last night that the "ignorance-fueled" hostility to faith shown by "metropolitan arts, cultural and media elites" risks making society bland and uniform.

First, the most obvious: hostility to faith. He’s probably not talking about religion in general, but the one that he believes in.

He also accused pop culture of inhibiting musical curiosity in the young and leading to greater conformity.

No arguments there.

MacMillan, regarded as the pre-eminent Scottish composer of his generation, added that embracing spirituality is now one of the most radical and counter-cultural moves a musician can make.

So, doing what most other people are already doing is radical and counter-cultural? I think he’s got this backwards.

In a lecture at the Royal Institute of British Architects to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Sandford St Martin Trust, a charity which promotes radio and television programmes about religion, he said: "The ignorance-fuelled hostility to religion, widespread among secular liberal elites, is in danger of colouring society’s value-free ‘neutrality’ in ways that are both bland and naïve.

This guy’s lashing out at a boogeyman that doesn’t exist.

Something that this guy doesn’t seem to understand is that atheists don’t just wake up one day and say "gosh, I hate God and Jesus and I’m going to make everyone else hate them too". Atheists, by and large (there are exceptions to every rule, of course) have simply come to the conclusion that God does not exist, after years of considering the idea. And when an atheist says "God does not exist", that’s basically a short way to say "there’s no compelling evidence that God exists, and I see no reason for him to exist." Most atheists were brought up in one religion or another, and have chosen to stop believing that their religion is true by examining their religion, and other religions, carefully. If there’s one thing that atheists are not, it’s ignorant. In some ways, we want to be proven wrong, and if anybody could do so, we’d gladly convert.

I also find it interesting, and telling, that he’s using the term "elites". First, what’s bad about being elite? Would you want an average doctor, or an elite doctor? An average president, or an elite president?

"They are also impractical, unattractive and, I suggest, oppressive. A true sense of difference, in which a genuine pluralism could thrive, is under threat of being reduced to a lowest common denominator of uniformity and conformity, where any non-secular contribution will automatically be regarded as socially divisive by definition."

Most atheists don’t want to stamp out religion, just as most Christians don’t want to overthrow the Constitution and replace it with literal Biblical law. It’s hard to even address such ridiculous fantasies.

MacMillan said surveys have shown only one in five people who work in TV consider themselves as religious, compared with seven out of 10 among the general public.

"If this is the case with the TV industry, you can be sure it is the same for the metropolitan arts, cultural and media elites," he said. "These are people who speak only to themselves and have convinced each other that the rest of the country thinks just like them. They are wrong."

This guy sounds like a conspiracy theorist. He saw a relatively unrelated poll and is connecting it to other branches of society. There isn’t a cabal of elite liberal atheists running the media, making sure that religion is stricken from everything the public sees. Besides, people watch, listen to, and read what they want to. Nothing can ever change that.

However, the composer, who is Roman Catholic, claimed that atheists have not succeeded in "beating religion into a pulp".

Nor do we intend to. We criticize religion, certainly. But we do so as a way to learn more about it, and to get people to think about religion more, rather than just accept it blindly. The worst thing you can do to a mind is not use it. Besides, if a religion can’t stand up to criticism, what good is it?

"The campaigning atheists, as opposed to the live-and-let-live variety, are raising their voices because they recognise that they are losing; the project to establish a narrow secular orthodoxy is failing."

That’s an interesting phrase: "campaigning atheists". Usually it’s "militant atheists" or "angry atheists". He prefers the quiet, do-nothing atheist over the uppity ones who won’t let religion walk all over them. Atheists aren’t trying to establish a "narrow secular orthodoxy", we’re trying to keep religious zealots from making a religious theocracy out of our secular society.

Secular doesn’t mean "Godless", it means "non-specific in regards to religion".

I can’t speak for the UK (which is where MacMillan is from) but here in America, our government and constitution were set up specifically so that no religion is favored over any other. Despite the revisionist history being spouted by many in the Religious Right these days (including John McCain), the Founding Fathers were staunch secularists, and the fact that no religion-specific statements are found in any of our founding documents was not an accident.

The First Amendment guarantees the separation of Church and State, because we don’t want a theocratic government (that’s why people came to America to begin with: to escape religious persecution) and we don’t want the government interfering with religion.

Some religion has snuck into government (such as the Pledge of Allegiance, which I’ve previously written about), but it’s unconstitutional, and people who are concerned about maintaining a secu
lar society that is fair to all people have been working to overturn such things for decades.

He added that the religious must carry on expressing their beliefs in the face of growing opposition.

Go for it. There are few things that atheists agree about, but freedom of speech is almost always one of those things. Just don’t be surprised if we argue with you if we feel you’re mistaken about something. It’s your job to be informed about what you believe.

"A smug ignorance, a gross oversimplification and caricature that serves as an analytical understanding of religion, is the common intellectual currency. The bridge has to be built by Christians and others being firm in resisting increasingly aggressive attempts to still their voices."

Again, an imagined conspiracy. And I wonder why he thinks that the atheist viewpoint of religion is an "oversimplification and caricature" when there have been thousands of books written over the centuries examining every aspect of religion. I recently attempted to read Daniel Dennett’s "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon", and he spends the first 95 pages examining the question "Should we study religion scientifically?" Atheists certainly aren’t guilty of oversimplifying religion. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that religious people often DO oversimplify religion.

He concluded by saying that our lives will become meaningless unless the "mists of contemporary banality" are penetrated and the idea of the sacred is restored.

This is basically the idea that atheists lead bland, pointless lives. Ho hum. If anyone actually believes that, I recommend reading "50 reasons people give for believing in a god" by Guy P. Harrison (which I reviewed just today).

"I believe it is God’s divine spark which kindles the musical imagination now, as it has always done, and reminds us, in an increasingly dehumanised world, of what it means to be human."

There doesn’t seem to be any difference in imagination for those who are religious versus those who aren’t. So either God favors the religious and non-religious equally in terms of imagination, or imagination is "distributed" equally, regardless of religion.

 

MacMillan’s thinking is rather intolerant, and shows an apparent hatred and obvious ignorance of those who do not think as he does. But I feel like I’ve already said enough, and to say more would just be beating a dead horse. So I’ll close with a quote.

Some believers accuse skeptics of having nothing left but a dull, cold scientific world. I am left with only art, music, literature, theater, the magnificence of nature, mathematics, the human spirit, sex, the cosmos, friendship, history, science, imagination, dreams, oceans, mountains, love and the wonder of birth. That’ll do me."
          – Lynne Kelly

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September 21 2008

Health care debate

I had a hell of a time finding this. MPR really needs a better search engine.

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Last Thursday, as I was riding home from class, I turned on NPR to listen to the news. I don’t do this very often, because I normally have my MP3 player with me, so I listen to podcasts. But, I’ve gotta replace its hard drive, so I was forced to listen to whatever happened to be on the radio at the time. On-demand media has spoiled me.

I’m glad I did though, because NPR was broadcasting a debate on health care between E. Richard Brown and Daniel Kessler, advisors to Obama and McCain (respectively) on issues relating to health care (possibly other issues too; the beginning of the audio is cut off).

Sounds really boring, but it was actually pretty fascinating. Brown calls out Kessler repeatedly on his distortions, and generally flogs him. The audience even began to turn on Kessler too – when he says that nobody actually wants single-payer health care, the audience actually boos him. This is the type of audience who would go and watch a health care debate, and they booed someone.

Needless to say, I think Obama has the superior health plan. I firmly support universal health care (not just because I’m broke and healthcareless), and he’s planning to take steps in that direction.

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September 21 2008

Sam Harris vs. Sarah Palin (and, what I’m up to)

I feel like I haven’t been posting much lately. Probably because I haven’t. I could offer up excuses like “I’ve been really busy with work” or “it’s the end of the quarter and all my classes have final projects I’ve had to work on” or even “I’ve been racing rams in WoW so I can get a subscription to the Brew of the Month Club”.

I’ve been working on two pretty big articles for this blog, actually. The first is a pretty thorough examination of the Quinquae Viae, which are St. Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs for the existence of God. The second is simply titled “Why John McCain must not become president”, and you can probably guess what that’s about. But those are both pretty detailed articles, and hopefully I’ll have the time to finish at least one of them in the next couple days.

In the mean time, I strongly urge you to read this article from Newsweek, published on their web site just yesterday. It’s written by Sam Harris, and he talks about why elitism is considered a bad thing in politics, and specifically how it relates to the simple-minded Sarah Palin, who makes Bush look like a rational and scientific person.

One especially nauseating thing spoiling this otherwise brilliant article is the headline that Newsweek gave it (“When Atheists Attack”), which basically tells people that these are the opinions of a damn dirty liberal atheist who thinks he’s better than you, and are therefore not worthy of your consideration. Once again, sensationalism trumps quality journalism.

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September 14 2008

Dubiosity via RSS and Facebook

I just wanted to point out that I’ve set up a page for Dubiosity on Facebook, if anybody is interested in adding it to their profile. It should inform you when I make a new post (which can be turned off if you want) which is handy if you don’t do RSS.

Speaking of RSS, if you like that sort of thing, the Dubiosity feed is right here. Most browsers will show that there’s an RSS feed associated with this blog automatically, but in case yours doesn’t, there you go. (You should probably get an update or a different browser if it doesn’t.)

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September 7 2008

Searching for Douglas

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Lately I’ve been taking walks at the local nature center. It’s free, it’s within walking distance (I still drive though), there are very few people (and usually none on the unpaved trails), and it’s so nice and peaceful that I can sometimes even stop being a nervous wreck.

I carry my MP3 player (the classic iRiver H120) so I can listen to audiobooks and podcasts as I walk, and I’ve recently been listening to The God Delusion. There was a part where Dawkins mentioned an interview with Douglas Adams, where Adams explained why he called himself a “radical atheist” and mentioned that part of the reason why he became an atheist in the first place was that he read two of Dawkins’ books.

Dawkins also mentioned that this interview was reprinted in The Salmon of Doubt, a collection of Adams’ miscellaneous magazine articles, interviews, and even the first couple chapters of his last, unfinished book. That got me thinking. I’d purchased Salmon of Doubt back when it first came out in 2002, and at the time I probably read the interview without thinking about it much (I was still a semi-believer). I suddenly had an urge to dig it out and read it again.

Since I moved out for college, all of my books have been stored in large Rubbermaid containers. I’ve got at least 4 of them, and they’re all full of books, textbooks, and comics. They’re all in my garage right now (I’m leaving them in the boxes until I move again) and they’re all stacked underneath other huge boxes full of other stuff. But I really wanted to find that book, so I went digging.

Well, after going through all those books, I didn’t find it. I’ve got several boxes filled with miscellaneous crap, but I didn’t feel like going through all those. I did find my copy of Last Chance To See, which I’m going to start reading instead.

But…I really wanted to read that interview. So I looked it up on Amazon, and thanks to the “Look Inside” feature, was able to read the first couple pages, and I eventually found my way to the interview’s source publication’s web site, American Atheist magazine. They still have the text of the interview online, even after all this time. (They mention that Disney and Jay Roach are working on the HHGTTG movie, with the goal of having it out in 2000.)

I read all of Douglas Adams’ books in high school. At the time, I just thought he was a clever and funny writer, and his books were some of my favorites. (And actually, most of the books I read in high school are still some of my favorites.) But as I get older, his books mean a lot more to me, and the fact that he was an atheist makes them even more relevant to me now. I go back and read them, and I see a lot of stuff that I missed back in high school; lots of witty criticisms and commentaries on topics I knew little about back then.

I read my 812-page copy of the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy once every couple years, but I haven’t gone back to read any of his other books since high school. It’s actually been over a decade since I read the Dirk Gently books or Last Chance to See! I’m sure they’ll seem almost new to me next time.

(I was going to write about the time I actually got to meet Douglas, but it’s getting late and this post is getting long, and it’ll make a pretty good post on its own at a later date.)

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September 6 2008

A poll on the differences between atheists & Christians

Yesterday, I found Sam Harris’ web site, and I’ve been going through it reading all the articles. As I mentioned (or at least alluded to) in my review of his book “Letter to a Christian Nation”, I think he’s a great author, and he seems able to explain even hard-to-understand issues in ways that everyone can follow. One of the best articles I’ve read explaining atheism to the religious (besides Harris’ actual books) is “10 Myths – and 10 Truths – About Atheism“.

But what I really want to point out in this post are the results of a survey he conducted in preparation for an experiment to examine the brains of atheists and Christians using fMRI, which should be quite interesting when it’s completed.

Following the 3 links at the bottom of the page will lead you to graphs showing the results of the poll, which are quite fascinating. Some statements, such as “I am in very good physical health” show pretty much no difference between atheists and Christians (or at least, their opinions of themselves). However, some show some very telling differences, such as the graph that shows political stances – atheists are mostly liberal, while Christians are mostly conservative. Not a big surprise, but it’s interesting to see just how true it is.

The first link’s graphs are a mix between statements that both groups think the same on, and statements that they differ on. The second link is almost entirely statements that both groups agree on, like “I’m worried about the state of the world” or “I am very honest with myself”. The third covers religious beliefs, and there’s where the huge differences come in. Most of the graphs display most atheists on the far side of an issue, while most Christians come in on the far opposite side of the graph. These are questions like “it’s important to raise children with a belief in God”

If you’re a graph junkie like me, you’ll probably spend at least half an hour going through this stuff.

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August 14 2008

Protesting, within reason

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When you imagine that this is a top-down view of the elephant, it looks like it’s been crushed to death by a tank, complete with treadmarks.

I’m trying to find a word that describes how I feel about the Republican party that isn’t "hate". Loathe? Sure, that’s good. I loathe the Republicans. They’ve consistently shown that they don’t give two shits about this country, and seem to be actively working to destroy it.

Ok, that’s a bit harsh. But needless to say, I want to do whatever I can to make sure that "Bush Light" McCain isn’t elected. Shockingly, he’s currently tied in the polls with Obama, which just goes to show that there are a lot of people who still haven’t learned from their mistakes.

Well, "good" news: the Republican National Convention is being held here in Minnesota, in St. Paul, which is only 15 minutes away from where I live. So, maybe I should join one of the protest groups!

Well…maybe not. Here’s the thing: there aren’t really a whole lot of level-headed, reasonable protest groups out there. Where they say "get out of Iraq NOW", I say "come up with a sensible plan to get out of Iraq while at the same time stabilizing their government, helping their citizens, and preventing full-scale civil war". That’s not something that fits on a protest sign very easily.

There’s another protest for immigrant rights. I’m certainly in favor of treating people like people! What a novel concept! Except…there’s a whole lot of Spanish on the information page. I don’t mind Spanish (I even know a little bit of it) but I think providing non-English translations for everything is the wrong way to go. It basically allows for a language-based caste system. People who don’t know English in this country don’t get nearly the same benefits and opportunities that English-speaking people do. And part of the reason why there are so many people in this country already who don’t know English is that our immigration system is currently pretty poor, which is why I support immigration reform in the first place…

And then there’s a music festival of some sort. In other words, HIPPIES. I guarantee that’ll be nothing but white people with dreadlocks, people wearing hemp necklaces, dirty people poorly playing poorly-written songs on cheap acoustic guitars, and drum circles.

But the worst part? All of it will probably be completely ineffective. For one, the police don’t seem to be allowing anyone near the Xcel center in any meaningful way. Second, these are Republicans. They don’t care what the common people have to say.

So…I’m probably not going to go to a protest. I’ll probably wind up sitting at home and blogging about it. And honestly, making fun of the Republicans is fun. I just wish they didn’t have any control over our country.

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August 10 2008

The Dawkins Belief Scale

As I’ve been writing, it seems to me that it’s a good idea to explain a “tool” I’ll be using at certain points to describe degrees of theistic belief, or lack thereof.

In his book “The God Delusion” (which I highly recommend), Richard Dawkins lays out a 7-point scale that defines degrees of agnosticism, from 100% belief to 100% non-belief.  In this case, I’m going to cut-and-paste a slightly easier to understand version adapted by Christopher Sisk on his web site.

  1. Strong Theist: I do not question the existence of God, I KNOW he exists.
  2. De-facto Theist: I cannot know for certain but I strongly believe in God and I live my life on the assumption that he is there.
  3. Weak Theist: I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.
  4. Pure Agnostic: God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.
  5. Weak Atheist: I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.
  6. De-facto Atheist: I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable and I live my life under the assumption that he is not there.
  7. Strong Atheist: I am 100% sure that there is no God.

I consider myself to be a 6: De-facto Atheist. Dawkins himself claims to be 6-7. Personally, I think 7 is just being unreasonable, at least right now. It’s true that there’s no proof that God exists, but there’s also no proof that God doesn’t exist, and unfortunately there never will be, because it’s impossible to prove that something doesn’t exist (if something doesn’t exist, it can’t exactly leave evidence of its nonexistence). And, a #1 is just insane. Those people are delusional.

Anyway, I’ll be referring to this scale in future posts, because it’s a lot easier to just point to a number on a chart and say “that one” than try to define a degree of belief in relation to other degrees of belief

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August 4 2008

Wheel of Morality, Turn Turn Turn

This just popped up on Digg today, and I thought I’d share it. It’s a fascinating (and long!) article about where morality comes from. It’s written by Steven Pinker, who I think is brilliant. I’ve heard about him and his books from several different sources lately, and he always seems to be studying something interesting.

The author also discusses a lot of info from Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene, which I just added to my "To Read" list. (I’ve been considering reading it for a while now, since I’ve read The God Delusion and am currently listening to the Ancestor’s Tale audiobook.)

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April 19 2008

Playing with the Liquid Resizer image program

Update: This program was eventually bought by Adobe, and it’s now a part of Photoshop, from CS4 onward, as the Content-Aware Scale tool.

Some of you may have seen a few YouTube videos where a guy showed off a really cool new image-resizing program that actually shrunk/enlarged elements of the picture, rather than just the whole picture, thus creating a more or less realistic image without unsightly stretching.

Well, a few days ago, they released this program as a beta to the public (eventually they’ll be selling it as a Photoshop plugin), and you can find it here. I’ve been playing with it a bit, and here are some of the cool things I’ve been able to do with it.

This is the shot I started out with. Dan in the snow taking pictures. I decided to try resizing it so the picture was square. The original dimensions were 800×600, and I changed them to 600×600.

In Liquid Resize, I selected the area of the picture that I DIDN’T want resized (Dan and his tripod), and let the program do the rest. As you can see, it created an almost perfect "scrunch job" of the image. Most of the image loss came from the path on the left, and from the trees. The large tree in the upper-right corner was scrunched a bit too much for my taste the first time, so I protected it too. The rest of the trees are mostly narrower, but you can’t tell unless you’re looking at the original.

In this image, I thought it’d be fun to try to take Dan out of the picture completely and see what happened. In LR, you can either choose to "protect" or "delete" an element of the picture. Protecting an area will cause the program to completely ignore the protected area when it’s looking for elements to scrunch/stretch. Setting an area to "delete" will cause the area to be favored for deletion, so it’ll scrunch into the deletion area as much as possible.

The result is pretty good, though you can definitely see some seams, and the big tree in the foreground has seen better days. Oh well; this isn’t really what it’s supposed to be used for.

Here’s another fun shot. This is Kev, Dan, and Tim (and myself behind the camera) out golfing before Dan’s wedding.

…and here’s the square version. This one turned out really well. LR closed the gap between Kev and the other two, and brought in the left side. Remember that it’s not cropping out ANYTHING; it’s resizing the different elements so they all fit within the specified dimensions. The houses in the back do seem a little narrower, and of course the pond is a bit smaller, but you’d never notice that if you hadn’t seen the original.

There is one minor issue though: Kev seems like he’s a lot taller now, due to the change in perspective.

Hmm…why is Dan in every one of these pictures so far?

Anyway, this is Dan & Jenni after the wedding, when we were driving around on the bus through Stillwater. We stopped by an outdoor biker hangout and somebody let them pose for pictures on their bike.

Again, I had LR change it to be square. This one was tricky. I protected Dan, Jenni, and their motorcycle of course, and also Shelly on the right. I also protected the two motorcycles in the back, because they were too distorted the first time I tried this. I also had it delete the lady on the left. I may have protected the car in the back too; I don’t remember.

As you can see, it brought the two bikes in the back (and Shelly) closer together. Some problems, which I could probably fix if I wasn’t so lazy, are that the house in the back is kinda scrunched, as is the bike on the far left.

Now, let’s play with a vertical picture, at 600×800. Here’s a shot of some ducks on a frozen pond.

This time, rather than having the program scrunch the image down to a 600×600, I had it stretch it to 800×800. I didn’t bother to have it protect any elements, and just decided to see what it would do.

Mostly, it just stretched the less-detailed area on the left. It also separated the ducks a little bit. Good solution.

This one is pretty funny, actually. I went back to the original image, and resized it down to 600×600. LR chose to shrink most of the background lake element, and as a result the ducks look gigantic. I definitely wouldn’t have been chasing them with a stick that day if they were all 5 feet tall.

The horizon on the far right looks a little goofy too. It scrunched the skyline and treeline to make room for the branch.

Overall, I think this program/plugin is going to be a valuable tool in any photo manipulator’s arsenal. Obviously it’s not perfect for every situation, but it’s very easy to use, and usually pulls off some impressive feats.

Here are a few more images I created. The first one is the original in each pair.



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