Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Funny Searches: February 2007

Got kind of drowned out by a Pharyngula spike for a while, but here's some stuff after that, when I felt like checking (haven't been as regular about it).

bipedal* desire: Stand and deliver.

dog limp nodes map: Just because I get all that Viagra spam, it doesn't mean anything.

what is it when you stop doing something and do something completely different mean?: (Caps lock removed) Does that question mean that you don't always shout nonsense questions into Google?

how 2 stop jealousy: Clc here 2 lrn rl English. gtg

chris dufresne testimonials: Here's one.

"the red sox were in town, but i didn't care": Neither did I.

skunks in the westend vancouver: They weren't skunks. They were badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger. Mushroom! Mushroom!

oreo bag label: I believe it says "OREO" somewhere on there.

you tube - man tripping of sylvia: I'd like to see that... Maybe include the pieing of Ann Coulter with it... Odd: Is "pieing" really a word? Firefox isn't giving me the red on it.

how an oreo cookie is like a christian: Interesting question. I'll leave the answer up to my readers.

pregnant bigfoot photo: Uh, not to go on about your kinks, but I don't think you'll be finding any worthwhile ones.

The Myriad Moralities of God

I'm sure plenty of you fellow atheists out there get pretty annoyed whenever some fundie claims that we have no basis for our morality. I know my old blog partner feels that way, and I get pretty foamy myself. So, I feel like posting something to hopefully convince the fundies to get the plank out of their own eyes before claiming there's a speck in ours.

The fundie claim usually stems from divine command theory and ignorance of other ethical theories out there. One dilemma I have yet to see a reasonable answer for is the Euthyphro dilemma: Do the commands of the gods define morality, or do the gods command what is already defined as moral? Let's take a look at all the answers I've seen thus far (Please note that this will focus largely on Christian fundies, since I haven't had as much experience with others. I'm sure they've got their own equivalent nastiness):

Possibility #1: God defines and redefines morality whenever he wants.

This is probably one of the worst scenarios: First, many fundies out there interpret this as 'anything goes': They can claim whatever they do is "God's will" and thus, the alleged moral high ground.

One really nasty example I'm aware of: The Christian stance on human sacrifice: First, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, and steps in at the last second to tell him the whole thing was a test of his obedience. Then, in Judges 11:29-39, assuming God is omniscient, goes through a roundabout method of commanding Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter. I don't think I need to get into all the nastiness about whole Jesus story. Yet today, most Christians would probably say, without equivocation, that human sacrifice is wrong, relying on apologetics to rationalize away the pro-sacrifice portions of the Bible.

Under this system, the phrase "God is good" is essentially meaningless: "Good" changes according to whatever capricious whims God has. It's also impossible for us mortals to determine good and evil: Without a direct, real time feed from God's mind, we can't know, since he might define not informing us of changes to be good.

Possibility #2: God defined morality only at the beginning of the universe and kept it the same.

If this is the case, there's a lot of explaining to be done:

Possibility #2a: God defined certain things as evil, and chose to do them anyway. God seems like a rather nasty character to me. He isn't afraid to let innocent bystanders get in the way of his personal "glory," dabble in genocide, or promote slavery. Most Christians (I would hope) will not hesitate to call these things evil. This leads me to wonder why they would respect, much less worship, such a being.

Possibility #2b: God defined morality in a consistent manner that allows him to perform all the items in 2a and still be "good."

If this is the case, someone should be able to specify what conditions and circumstances allowed those acts. If it's beyond human comprehension, then morality is a bureaucratic, circumstantial nightmare we can't navigate without a supreme being. The end effect is no different than possibility #1: Anyone can say that God gave them the go ahead, and we can't judge them.

Possibility #3: God defines morality differently for humans and for himself.

Why the double-standard? The general vibe I get from this scenario is that might makes right: God's all-powerful, so he can do whatever he wants. Not much different than 2a, is it?


Of course, all of the above suffer from the same central problem: What enables God to define morality? What specific characteristics give him that ability, and where'd the relevant rule come from?


Possibility #4: Morality defines God. For whatever reason, God is inherently constrained by preexisting moral law.

If this is how morality and God work, what's the basis for claiming that atheists have no basis for morality? We just don't believe in the middleman. Of course, the problem with this is that the Biblical God is still a rather nasty character as written, unless someone would like to argue that slavery, human sacrifice, and genocide are morally permissible.

There are probably plenty more possibilities, but I don't currently see any reason to elaborate. I will if someone brings them into relevance.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Another Skeptiplomacy Update

It's been a while, so I should let you know how things are coming along, since I got an update from Brendan and baldywilson not too long ago:

The map (2/19): Terrain and territories are done. What's left: Assign starting nations and distribute supply centers. Scan and clean up.

The code (2/22): baldy's got the relevant stuff for move/attack, hold, and support down, last seen coding for the convoy command. Once he's got all that working properly, he'll put the code up, and customization for Brendan's map will apparently be no problem.

The player list: Unchanged since the last update:

1. Bronze Dog
2. Austin Atheist
3. Rev. BigDumbChimp
4. JackalMage
5. xiangtao
6. Infophile
7. baldywilson
8. Brendan
9. Bourgeois_Rage
10. Akusai
11. Greedy Algorithm
12. Nes

EDITED TO ADD: Oh, almost forgot: Everyone, send the email address you want to use for negotiation and sending commands to my email addy. You can probably guess it, if you haven't already. Gmail invites for anyone who wants them.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Doggerel #62: "Stop Complaining!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

This is one very diverse piece of doggerel, especially since it also has legitimate uses, such as pointing out a certain kind of fallacy. Contrary to what the woos would have people believe, it's okay to complain about the evils that quacks and con artists do. It's okay to complain about the lack of passion woos have for proving their point. It's okay to complain when someone lies about your point of view. (I'm looking at you, Hollywood!)

When this phrase becomes doggerel can be tricky to define precisely, but it usually accompanies other doggerel. Like "I've got better things to do!" it attempts to trivialize legitimate criticism, rather than address it. One example I'm quite familiar with: An altie keeps touting a personal anecdote, claiming that his experience trumps all epidemiological studies, despite the fact that he performed no controls, blinding, or any effort whatsoever to eliminate his bias. When I bring up those objections, he attempts to trivialize them.


Doggerel Index

Doggerel #61: "But [Woo] Doesn't Work 100% of the Time!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Whenever a skeptic points out a spectacular failure of some psychic, altie treatment, or whatever, there's always some woo who leaps to the defense by spouting this doggerel. This, however, completely misses the real skeptics' stance on woo: We don't demand that it operate at 100%: We only demand that it operate better than chance, placebo, or whatever baseline measurements are available.

There is a point behind popularizing spectacular failures: It means that psychics and quacks can fail in a manner that can't be easily ad hocked away. These failures often reveal the type of trickery involved, which can lead to a questioning believer to examine the lesser failures, and maybe even realize that their successes are meaningless and explainable without invoking magic.

Most woos who invoke this defense don't seem to realize that it's a bit of a backfire: If psychic powers always worked 100% of the time, there'd be less demand for a test. The fact that they don't work all the time is a good reason to perform a test: "Subtle" effects require rigorous experimental standards to measure, and it's not the skeptics who are afraid of that rigor.


Doggerel Index

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Someday, I Will Have a Mech

These are much cooler than that other mech I showed you a while back. Anyway, just thought I'd get some advice: AC4 is coming out for Xbox 360 and PS3, and I don't know which system to get.

The difference between the game versions from From's end: The PS3 version isn't going to have voice chat during online play (at least not initially: Rumors suggest they might release a patch that'll enable it), so that's a point in favor of the Xbox.

The PS3, however, seems like it'll have more games that I'll be interested in, so it'll probably be my longer-term interest, unless you, dear readers, can suggest some Xbox games I might like. Please, don't bring up Halo: I'm not really interested in FPS games.

Tease out my interests in the comments, where we can geek out in our comparisons.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Quote of the Time Being #9

A classic:
In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.

[Galileo Galilei]
Needless to say, I get annoyed at arguments from popularity.

Conversation of the Time Being

Between Matt the Heathen and iGod:

where is the evidence?
The evidence? Where is it?
you tell me
What do you want me to tell you?
where the evidence is
Where do you think?
you tell me
What do you want me to tell you?
about the evidence
Oh yeah, we were talking about the evidence.
Give me a break.

Posted by: Matt the heathen | February 20, 2007 11:21 AM

Seems the Discovery Institute was made in his image.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

More Pointless, Though Often Mindless in This Case, Fun

Deflector: Death Star Jr. is under attack. You don't have any weapons, but you do have a deflector shield.

Box Head: More Rooms
: You're in a room steadily filling with rectangular zombies and demons. Good thing you've got a pistol with unlimited ammo and a lot of other guns you can pick up.

Castle Smasher: Will be much easier when they get around to inventing gunpowder.

Armor Cube: Glad they stuck in a continue option. It's the not-mindless one here.

Doggerel #60: "But [Famous Scientist] Believed in [Woo]!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

One point that must sometimes be made over and over again is something quite simple: Science isn't some sort of ivory tower. It's a method. Scientists aren't all that special: They're just human beings who are supposed to have more experience with the scientific method. The fact that they're human means that they can make mistakes. They're subject to all the foibles of being human, which can include blind faith and wishful thinking.

That's why science focuses on the evidence: If you're going to say, for example, that Newton believed in alchemy, God, or whatever, you'd better be prepared to present his evidence. In fact, you should probably save some time by not bothering to mention Newton: The person who makes an argument is irrelevant to the validity of the argument. Newton's got a lot of well-deserved prestige, but that doesn't change the fact that he's made some poor arguments in his time.

Because I do my best to stay focused on the evidence, I typically remember experiments more readily than the scientists who performed them. About the only time I care about the scientists is when they've earned a reputation for sloppiness or dishonesty.


Doggerel Index

Saturday, February 17, 2007

What I'm Drinking Right Now

It's a cane sugar Dr Pepper, made with cane sugar, not corn syrup. Got it from a co-worker earlier this week. Got some KFC to build up my thirst.

If you're wondering about the numbers: It comes from the 1920s and 30s: Dr Pepper had some experts do some studies and found that blood sugar tends to lower at 10:30 AM, 2:30 PM, and 4:30 PM, hence their slogan: "Drink a bite to eat at 10, 2, and 4 o' clock."

It's 6:32 over here, and crackin' it open!

...Dang. Not as good as I hoped. Got a weird twang to it, kind of like Splenda. Might have gotten a bad one. Oh well. If it happens next time, I guess that'll mean I just prefer corn syrup.

Let the flaming commence.

UPDATE 6/27/2007: I think this can got overheated in a car or something: Office has a case of regular DP today that was left out in the summer heat for too long, and it tastes exactly like this did.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

54th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Action Skeptics.

Open thread as usual, except voice-overs of your internal dialog/monologue are FORBIDDEN!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Shocking News! Vox Day is an Amoral Jerk!

Brent Rasmussen goes over it in detail. PZ told me about it.

Snippet from Brent's page:

It's obviously a thought-experiment, written in response to one of his readers' (a person who uses the handle "Jefferson") emails:

If your god revealed to you in a set of flawless communications you could not dispute that you should kill every child you see under the age of 2, would you?

Day's response is at the very least truthful.

[Vox Day] I don't see what the problem is, or why people were avoiding this last night. I mean, of course it's supposed to be a trap but it's a toothless one of no concern to any sufficiently intelligent individual. The answer is yes, and how would you possibly take issue with that position regardless of whether you believe in my god or don't believe in any god?


Of course, I think we can say without hesitation or equivocation that killing all the under-2-year-olds is wrong. Whether or not you created them is irrelevant to the issue. Contrary to what the biblical literalists would say, I doubt there are any realistic scenarios where it'd be okay to stone your children to death.

Vox says:
If I am correct that my God is the Creator God, that we are all his creations, then killing every child under two on the planet is no more inherently significant than a programmer unilaterally wiping out his AI-bots in a game universe. He alone has the right to define right and wrong, and as the Biblical example of King Saul and the Amalekites demonstrates, He has occasionally deemed it a moral duty to wipe out a people.
Must be convenient to define right and wrong according to random whims. No responsibility. Of course, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have moral qualms about deleting Jackal from my PS2 memory card, but about the only thing it knows about is how to dodge and fire dual rifles. If it started showing signs of self-awareness, then I'd have moral qualms for reasons that should be obvious to anyone except Divine Command Theorists.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Happy B, Darwin!

If there was a direct correlation between insight and longevity, Charles Darwin would be 198 today.

I wonder what he'd think of modern synthesis. Evolution's been through a lot of changes as the data poured in. We discovered DNA, RNA, and a lot of the tricks they can do. We've found copious fossils that agree with Darwin's assessment, as well as genetic evidence.

We've also applied genetic algorithms based on Darwinian principles to practical purposes and used them to debunk old Creationist canards. With the advances in computing, it's becoming easier to model real life scenarios that involve very large populations.

What really amazes me about basic Darwinian evolution is that it's so simple, if not exactly elegant, in how it works. A few small changes can add up: Any slight advantage in a competitive environment can lead to great innovation down the line. Then add in all the do-the-hokey-pokey-and-turn-yourself-around gene transfers, and you've got a lot of mechanisms to produce those slight advantages. Evolution has its limits, but the fact that we can see where they come in is often good evidence for evolution. The same can't really be said about evolution's pure-hype competitor, Intelligent Design. The alleged designer often seems to flip-flop between incompetence and being so super-insightful that there must be something secretly good about each and every design flaw. I don't expect to understand it if they won't explain it.

Anyway, give the old guy the credit he deserves for articulating the hypothesis that's snowballed into core of biology. He may not have kept up with all the tweaks and evidence, but he had a great idea, and it turns out it worked very well.

Friday, February 09, 2007

From the "The Universe is Frikkin' Amazing!" File

If the woos had their way, we'd have never bothered learning about any of this stuff...
Now I just need to figure out just what's going on there. Pretty sure the green things with the ziplines going through them are coding proteins, and the ziplines are RNA chains. Anyone know what the walking critter is? (Via God is for Suckers!)

Here's a link with more info, which also has higher resolution videos. Thanks go to Heather.

Quote of the Time Being #8

I can't believe this came from Rick Perry:
"Providing the HPV vaccine doesn't promote sexual promiscuity any more than providing the Hepatitis B vaccine promotes drug use," the governor said. "If the medical community developed a vaccine for lung cancer, would the same critics oppose it claiming it would encourage smoking?"
Let's hope he makes a habit of this. (Via my bro)

Doggerel #59: "I've Got Better Things to Do!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

We've all got lives to live, hobbies to entertain, paychecks to earn, and so forth, but in my experience, the people who use this bit of doggerel typically don't seem to know how to use their time effectively. I suppose I should coin a term like "complementary doggerel," since it's only really abused when it goes along with a poster who uses a lot of other doggerel or bad arguments.

First, if you're taking the time to post, please make sure there's some substance behind what you type. If all you can do is post something without content, please be brief in doing so. Wordy piles of nothing can be quite annoying, and can serve to stifle discussion among the people who have reason to care about the issue. Going through several paragraphs in hopes of finding something meaningful takes time, and scrolling past blocks of text to get to people who are actually contributing something can become tedious.

Second, if your time is limited, please wait until you have nothing better to do to post and perform research as necessary to make fully-baked arguments instead of half-baked fallacies. Science takes work.

Third, don't use this as a blanket exit excuse. Lots of trolls have used this as a way to storm off when they're getting roasted. Give us at least some hint of what these 'better things' are, and it'll seem more plausible.

Fourth, don't post shortly after saying this. Such behavior is contrary to the phrase. If you run out of better things to do, make sure you spend some of your time researching before posting. We don't need you falling into another bit of doggerel.


Doggerel Index

Thursday, February 08, 2007

They Don't Just Live in Clocks and Hyrule

How to Spot a Cuckoo by Moonflake. (Via Skeptico)

WILD THREAD! (Experimental Prototype)

Thought I'd try a little experiment: Post anything you like in the comments. Unleash any really nasty trollishness you may have bottled up. I won't moderate comments all that much*... and I may not even bother reading all that much.

Just one important note: Don't expect any of the quotes to be seriously taken as evidence for some ad hominem later. This is intended as a place for people to vent about whatever, and will likely involve people saying things they don't honestly mean.

*Comment moderation I will limit myself to: Killing overtly commercial spam, killing duplicate posts, closing the thread if things get entirely too nasty in unprecedented ways, deleting or hiding the thread if someone is caught using quotes as evidence of something (since anything quoted here is inherently shoddy evidence). That goes for skeptics, especially: Don't quote any fundies/woos/whatever here. Anyone can send me an email to my gmail address (should be easy to guess) with a link to any such offense.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

My Vocabulary Word For the Day

Squink: v. [squid + ink] 1. to throw out clouds of goo to obscure an evasion of the topic in a discussion.

Ex: "So they squink mightily to amplify the magnitude of the error..."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Image Dogtoring #2: Not My Best Work

Well, finally got around to parodying Scott Adams for his IDiocy. Sorry if it's oversized. You should be able to click to see it by itself.

I still find the comic funny, but, at the moment, primarily because Dilbert disproves one of Scott Adams's baseless assertions: He's more intelligent than the unintelligent agents that led to his creation.

If you're wondering about applications of genetic algorithms, here's a few.

EDITED TO ADD: Feel free to save a copy and pass it around.

I Just Got Another Reason to Hate Montel

We all know he's not afraid to endorse con artists like Sylvia Browne. Now he's apparently part of the mercury nuts.

Calculon, I mean Prometheus, is Back!

A Photon in the Darkness got a new post. Thank Orac for giving us the good news.

Meanwhile, I think I'll be updating my blogroll.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Speaking of Censorship...

Matt's got some details about a nasty thing WordPress is doing to skeptical friends Janie, Kate and Lou.

Do Those Talons Make Her SLAPPs Extra-Painful?

Sylvia tries to take on Robert Lancaster from the shadows of frivolous copyright-related accusations. Gee, I wonder why she resorts to such cowardly means, rather than publicly prove her abilities by taking a simple test.

Edited to add: Cue "Imperial March"

Doggerel #58: "Get a Life!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Imagine a person is on trial for performing a scam. The prosecution has presented a pile of evidence and explained how the scam works. After that, the defense jumps up and shouts, "Get a life! The defense rests."

Now imagine that a news program covers the death of a person due to a medical treatment that was never proven effective. They probe into the organizations promoting it, but get the runaround instead of evidence that they actually bothered to test it. Imagine someone jumping up and shouting at the news anchor, "Get a life!"

Welcome to the world of the skeptic. We're constantly berated to get a life because we spend time caring about whether or not people are acting ethically, or whether or not people are actually able to perform the services they claim to.

Psychics, quacks, and so forth have been unable to prove the value behind their alleged services. A doctor's services can be verified because they can perform double-blind control studies to determine if there was an effect from the treatments being used, as well as a number of measurable indicators in individual patients. An investigator's services can be validated by the evidence and the results he collects.

Psychics and quacks, however, are given special exceptions: If they're right, they're right because of their psychic power, no other explanation entertained, but if they're wrong, their claims are re-re-re-interpreted until they might no longer be a failure. We just want woos to play by the same rules as the rest of the professions out there.

Besides, even if we are obsessed to the detriment of our social lives, does that make anything we say less true?


Doggerel Index

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Pointless, But Not Necessarily Mindless, Fun #2

Brain Drop: Very short, but nice concept.

Orbit: Something you might expect to see Phil Plait toying with in his spare time.

Gateway: Also short, but with great promise.

Comboling: They beat me to making a flash game out of it.

Tangled: Kind of like what you do with Decemberween lights every year, except it's fun.

The Package: [Insert your least favorite political group] has sent you da bomb. Now defuse it.

Paths: Don't slip! That little red circle is counting on you.

Gems: Color matching. You know the drill.

Orbox B: You know those box-pushing puzzles that always happen in the Legend of Zelda ice dungeons? Yeah. That's about it, only moreso.

QWERTY Warriors: Typing tutor meets Halo.

Invader 360: Aside from the geometric aliens, the biggest danger is accidentally clicking the "play game in full screen mode" button during a game. Might want to click it first.

Bullet Bill 2: I had no ideas those little guys had such exciting lives.

NoName Game: Dang imprecise trackball.

53rd Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Slicing with Occam's Razor. Mind the edge.

Open thread as usual, except jokes about Emo people are FORBIDDEN!