Monthly Archives: March 2012

Duncan’s Ditty of the Day #6

Another shameless filler. As I mentioned in the last ditty, I think that the most influential musician since the 1960’s is Lou Reed. I can see Reed’s influence all over indie, industrial and even 80’s stuff. So it’s only right to include some Lou Reed now. This from his ageless 1989 album, New York.

An attempt at a short post

In my career as a forum antagonist, I know that I was guilty of, shall I say, going on a bit. I used to have a bit of envy for one poster, called oh_once, who was much better than me at getting a point across succinctly and economically. Also, arguably, the best blogs are the ones that keep it short and sweet. Bruce Gerencser, from Fallen from Grace, is asking for guest contributors, and he says:

…keep your post short. Usually, less than 2,000 words is best. Years ago, I wrote Op-Ed pieces for a local newspaper. The editor told me that it would be best if I kept my articles to about a thousand words. When I objected he told me, Bruce you can make it as long as you want. However, if you want people to READ it, keep it to a thousand words. Years later, I have found this to be good advice.

I didn’t start this with the intention of getting anyone to read it, but as it grows in content I will open it up. And 4600-word posts probably aren’t the best way of doing it.

So I’ll keep this one short.

When a post is published in wordpress they splash a screen telling you how many posts you’ve made, what your next target is and include a quote from some great.

The last one I thought was really good. It was from Blaise Pascal, of fascinating triangle and daft wager fame.

I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.

Sums me up, I suppose.

Prayers work, say British politicians

I admit to being the world’s worst advocate of democracy. It’s 38 years since I became of voting age and in all that time I’ve managed to put my X in the box twice in general elections. I do think that honest abstinence is a legitimate position, though.

I see that David Cameron is on the defensive after his former party treasurer was forced to quit after offering access to the Prime Minister and senior colleagues for money. This is only the latest in a string of scandals going back many years, and only a couple of years ago Parliament’s reputation suffered the biggest blow it has ever probably suffered in the so-called expenses scandal, as MP after MP was exposed systematically cheating or at best breaking the spirit of the law. My own MP, Bill Wiggin, claimed mortgage payments on a “second” home after buying a cheaper property outright.

This is one of the problems with democracy – you have to be very careful who you vote for. Actually the low esteem in which politicians are held is an argument for democracy, insofar as we can get rid of them, albeit sometimes it might seem akin to cleaning out the Augean Stables.

One can see that I’m not particularly enthusiastic about our legislators.  But if I lived and voted in South West Devon, South Luton or Westmorland right now it would just be too embarrassing. The members for these three constituencies are active in the “Christians in Parliament” group, and have written to the Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) attempting to get the authority to change its adjudication on a Christian group that claimed that God heals illnesses. As these claims were highly specific, naming particular illnesses, this could well be the easiest adjudication that the respected ASA has ever had to make. Continue reading

Creationist drivel – Thermodynamics

Having a little time, I thought I’d pass a few comments on remnant’s next supposed scientific disproof of evolution, although it’s a bit tricky, because remnant’s source doesn’t actually offer any.

First Law of Thermodynamics (1847). Heinrich von Helmholtz stated the law of conservation of energy: The sum total of all matter will always remain the same. This law refutes several aspects of evolutionary theory. *Isaac Asimov calls it “the most fundamental generalization about the universe that scientists have ever been able to make” (*Isaac Asimov, “In the Game of Energy and Thermodynamics You Can’t Even Break Even,” Journal of Smithsonian Institute, June 1970, p. 6).

“Evolution Handbook”

Obviously Asimov himself didn’t sympathise with the view that the law refuted “several aspects of evolutionary theory” because he was himself a non-believer and a committed supporter of evolutionary theory.

It looks like we’re not going to be told what the “several aspects of evolutionary theory” that have been refuted actually are. Pity. Continue reading

A universe from nothing?

One of the tragedies of religion (and there are many) is that by attempting to explain everything, it actually explains nothing.

Which is a shame because, for all the talk of “inner (or outer) reality”, the reality that we have is invariably much more fascinating. It’s just incredibly stupid that anyone would seek to deny, for example, the reality of evolution for the dogmatic reasons that some of the religious do. Giving up on that fascinating reality is so much of a shame, and ultimately to the detriment of future generations if allowed to thrive.

As with evolution, so with cosmology. Creationists, with their 6000-year-old Earth nonsense, would take us to a new dark ages given half a chance. “Teach the controversy”, they say. Which means nothing more or less than allow nonsensical dogma into classrooms. No doubt they’d allow the argument from divine hiddenness into Bible class – not.

Alternatively, we could increase our knowledge by taking reality and understanding it as reality. Scientific theories are by definition tentative and always subject to disproof and revision in a way that religious dogma isn’t. But this adds to their veracity, because they’re based on what we can sense and what we can measure. It might be that there was no evolution, no big bang, no quantum mechanics, but one thing is surer than most – if they aren’t true, they’ll be disproved by science, not by apologetics.

So for those with the time, the patience and the unlimited broadband, I’d like to share a talk about cosmology from Lawrence Krauss. Krauss has written a book recently that apparently is not only based on actual observation, but answers many of the spurious philosophical comments of the creationists. I look forward to reading the book when the paperback edition comes out in the UK.

Life is but a momentary glimpse of the wonder of this astonishing universe, and it is sad to see so many dreaming it away on spiritual fantasy. [Carl Sagan]

Thoughts on Christianity (part 2)

I left the last post of this series as a committed, yet indifferent, non-believer – indifferent in the sense that I recognised that both factually and morally, Christianity had nothing to offer me. Yet both facts and morals are inescapably features of the world, so something is true even if something else is believed.

As school students we were encouraged, commanded even, to accept as truth things which were obviously missing from our experience or conceptually dubious. The only thing one can say for sure about God is that he never shows up. People say he does, of course, and attribute all sorts of things to his presence, but all these things have other, more plausible, explanations. Of course we’re told that if we only believe in his existence and his function as a pre-requisite, then we will somehow understand it all in that light. It’s hard to think where to begin with this nonsense, save to say that if it was anything else that we were considering, then we would dismiss it with no more than a belly laugh. No test for God outside the subjective exists, and therefore there is no convincing or plausible evidence for the existence of such a thing. Theology – otherwise known as worthless drivel – and apologetics – otherwise known as dishonest dissembling – have for centuries duly engaged the minds of some of the smartest of scholars as well as some of the most gullible or most devious or most dumb. Continue reading

Duncan’s Ditty of the Day # 5

Yes I changed my name – see the “About” page.

But HBOG’s Ditty of the Day wouldn’t have any decent ring about it. So Duncan will live on to some extent. I have no idea what Big Dunc’s musical tastes are, probably not “laid-back”. Not Lieutenant Pigeon, either.

I digress. The last ditty recalled the early days of punk, and how the likes of the Sex Pistols were a sorely-needed antidote to both the clown-like excesses of the glam-rockers and the terminally dull ramblings of the prog-rockers.

In an America dominated by AM radio things on the surface carried on as usual, but they had their own new wave (as punk transmogrified into), and in my humble opinion it was even better.

They had an advantage. They already had the Velvet Underground. Lou Reed gets my vote for most influential musical personality over the last fifty years, and the Velvets’ influence was to be clearly seen in New York, centred around the CBGB’s club in the Bowery. Many well-known names started there and then, including Talking Heads, the Ramones, Patti Smith, Television and, not least, Blondie.

This was the time when I first met my future wife. Good times (still) and good music in the background. I could pick from several but one track in particular represents pure pop with an edge.

Dispatches from the Asylum

I thought I would share this from, and already P Z Myers and Jerry Coyne have picked up on it.

Any British viewers would unsurprisingly be quite amazed at the fire-and-brimstone speechifying of Pastor Dennis Terry – for me I think it’s hilarious. Even Ian Paisley in his heyday wasn’t this terrifying. Terry bemoans his lack of opportunity to state his beliefs and pray in public by…stating his beliefs and praying in public. And odious beliefs they are. He should feel lucky to live in a nation that allows him to tell the rest of his countrymen that if they don’t feel like signing up for his own particular brand of bigotry they should get out.

The momentous occasion for the speech was a public endorsement of the candidate for the Republican presidential nominee Rick Santorum. Santorum is seen quietly clapping away in the background. It beggars belief that someone who is seriously entertained as a future President would want anything to do with Terry and his ilk, but there you are. The Republicans are rid of the hapless Perry and the witless Bachman, for which they should be grateful, but we are left with the clueless Santorum. I suppose it would be a worry to think that such a person actually has a chance of winning this year, but realistically Santorum has no chance, except in the minds of the brain-addled. Personally I hope he wins the nomination for the comedy value.

Creationist drivel – Linnaeus

I have two long posts in various degrees of completion. But taking on such big tasks is eluding me today, so I’ll make this the third entry in 24 hours.

The FFF doesn’t work any more. It’s tiresome to try to make sense of it, there are all sorts of malfunctions, and the owner doesn’t seem to have a clue. That’s one reason that I abandoned it. The other main reason is to do with content. I have noticed that it’s just not worth interacting with Christians any more because essentially they have nothing to say for themselves, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re the Neanderthal fundamentalists or the sophisticated theologians – essentially there’s no difference. It’s all drivel. And furthermore, the tricks  they get up to…

I began to think that an honest Christian is almost impossible to find, in their dealings with their critics. Christianity, especially creationism, is the land of straw men and straw-clutching, of deception, of pure invention. This isn’t to say that Christians are bad people, far from it. Nor am I saying that as a person I’m somehow better than they are. It’s easy to be an atheist – I don’t have to pretend that something exists that never shows up and I don’t have to make excuses for the writings of ignorant bronze-age tribesmen, so I’m not tempted into dishonesty.

But I still read the FFF, and its spin-offs, on most days, and I’m sorely tempted sometimes to try and put the record straight. But then the better angel of my nature sorts me out.

I would like, however, to occasionally make comments here about the drivel to be found on the FFF, safe in the knowledge that I can have some control. Continue reading

Irrelevant, superstitious bloke in a frock resigns

So, farewell, Rowan Williams. Actually he still has nine months left as Archbishop of Canterbury, apart from the England manager’s job, the most poisoned chalice of all. But now he’s announced his departure, he’s on borrowed time.

In Britain we marvel at the excesses of American Christianity and pat ourselves on the back that it couldn’t happen here. But the position of Williams was such that his role  was to paper over the cracks. We expect intolerant ravings from the Catholics and the Muslims but the good old CofE is supposed to be above all that, and in the minds of many is supposed to reflect both our spiritual (whatever that is) and our national identity. This wasn’t Henry VIII’s initial purpose, to be sure. Continue reading