Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What would make me believe (in Jesus)?

George posted a link to a theist website that asks three questions of atheists. I assembled this post in my head before I read George's (and anybody else's) reply, so that it wouldn't colour my own response too much.

Question one: What would it take, or what would have to happen for you to abandon your position of atheism and come to a theistic view; not just an agnostic possibility of God, but an actual belief that a Deity does exist?

Good, reproducible evidence is pretty much the only thing I can request here.

I can't really consider unexplained phenomena as evidence for God, because history has shown us that events humans used to consider as only explainable by premising deities turned out to actually require no divine interference. Unfortunately, the more we seem to examine the universe in detail, it seems that any version of a god, other than the nebulous "prime mover" that originally sparked the creation of the universe, seems completely unnecessary and more and more unlikely.

For the same reasons, I consider miracles to be poor manifestation of a God's existence. Ignorance of the cause of a certain unlikely occasion is not evidence for anything other than... ignorance.

I'd like to say that personal revelation would be nice - maybe the clouds parting, and a booming voice announcing to me that it was the creator of the universe. But I'm too aware of the weaknesses of the human mind, and that such a thing would most likely be a result of a psychotic episode. Otherwise, how could I be sure that my experience was more realistic than that of Mohammed, Joseph Smith, or any run-of-the-mill schizophrenic?

Question two: What would it take for you to believe Christianity is true?

Which version of Christianity? There are over five thousand different sects of Christianity, which makes this question a little too simplistic to answer accurately.

For instance, whatever evidence that might convince me that Jesus was an actual historical figure that was able to come back from the dead after a couple of days of actual death and and decomposition would have to be coupled with a enough evidence to overthrow pretty much all of modern science to show that the universe is less than 10,000 years old and that the myth of Noah's ark actually happened for me to believe in any of the myriad of young earth, biblical literalist Christianities.

Question three: Why would your answers to the above be sufficient to convince you theism is true, and that Christianity was true?

Like gravity, wavelengths of radiation outside of our ability to detect them with our natural senses, and dark matter, it all comes down to the evidence.

As an atheist, I have a natural inclination to require more evidence for religious claims (not just Christian claims, mind you, but from all religions) than might be fair. Because of this, I figure the most reasonable I can be would be to require the same kind of evidence that I'd request before I believe that intelligent aliens are visiting Earth in technologically advanced spaceships.

If a UFO landed on our planet and the inhabitants of the vessel made contact with a large swath of humans, including media and scientists, and gave us a reproducible explanation of their origins, how they arrived on Earth, etc., I would have a difficult time denying the existence of intelligent aliens.

If God wants to visit us, making himself available to the media and scientists, giving us a scientifically valid and confirmable explanation for how the universe works, the origins of life, and human history, then it would also be difficult to deny his existence.

I appreciate what seems to be a non-judgmental request for information from atheists about their beliefs, but these three questions seem to me to be missing one very valuable point: the Christian God is all-powerful and all-knowing. Even if I don't know what would convince me that He exists, Yahweh does, and he supposedly has the power to make me aware of his existence. That He has refused to do so, even though I actively sought Him out for a number of years in my life, is among the best evidence that God doesn't exist. At the very least, He doesn't seem interested in spending eternity with me, and, in return, I couldn't care less about Him.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why democracy is ultimately doomed

On Saturday I went in to work for the seventh day in a row in order to finalize our Cisco telephony inplementation (short story: it went well, everything looks to be working well, thus far).

While eating our butter chicken, rice and Naan bread we ordered for lunch from the best Indian restaurant in town, I overheard two of my coworkers chatting about one of the candidates for local office. One guy said, "he seems like a pretty good guy." The other responded, "dude, he taught my nephew karate. I'd totally vote for that guy."

Since I can't keep my nose out of discussions that don't necessarily concern me, I interjected, "What are his policies? Is he conservative, liberal, or what?" My inquiry was met with embarrassed silence, so I pressed further, "So you're telling me you'd vote for a guy when you don't know anything he actually plans to do if he grabs the reins of power? It's enough to think you'd want to drink a beer with him?" A different coworker tossed in the helpful comment, "Why not? It worked so well for the Americans with George W!"

Sadly, this seems typical for most people. They can tell you the intimate details of the latest indiscretions of dozens of celebrities, but they don't know the policies of a politician they'd be willing to vote for.

I guess the one saving grace is that neither of those coworkers are likely to actually vote. Still, it's no wonder that sociopathic assholes are able to dominate in politics the way they have these past few years.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Irish Day!

It's on this day, March 17th, that certain parts of the world celebrate everything Irish. Mostly for an excuse to drink alcohol, since that's apparently the most Irishness of activities.

It's also a day that those of us with any amount of Irish heritage can pretend that we're 100% Irish, so long as there are no actual Irishmen around to point out we're not really Irish. I'm fully aware that I can't live up to the Irish stereotypes of having the gift of gab, being able to remain coherent standing semi-conscious after consuming massive quantities of liquor, and being willing to fight over the tiniest of minor insults, but that doesn't mean I can't heft a pint of stout and hail the old Emerald Isle tonight!

The best thing about St. Patrick's Day, however, is that it also gives me a chance to show off a picture of my grandfather who gave me my Irish last name, and since I'm his only grandkid that shares that name with him, it makes me his favorite by default. I'll be celebrating the heritage he granted to me by imbibing a little whiskey and the last bottle of my first stout that I brewed and bottled last February.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Under the trailer park lights

I have a personal anecdote to add to George's post about what seems to be a common pastime for some people: being discovered passed out in their cars from alcohol overindulgence in places that are relatively distant from where the driver obviously departed from (especially McDonald's drive-thru lanes).

Dude, I grew up in low-income apartments and trailer parks - these stories are fucking common.

Seriously, about a month ago, I was leaving for work and discovered a car parked across the small road that leads from my local neighborhood to the main road. I was forced to drive around this Dodge Caliber that was idling in the street, almost getting stuck in the two feet of frozen snow that had been plowed onto the sides of the road the night before. As I pulled up close, I realized that the vehicle that I'd thought was empty was actually occupied. I could see the driver leaning way over into the passenger seat.

I drove past and turned to head up the street on my way to work, when I figured I'd better check to see if this guy was actually okay. I pulled over to the side of the road, got out and walked back to the car to make sure the driver wasn't hurt. I looked in the open driver door window to see the driver had his seat belt on and was doubled over into the passenger seat. His left hand was hanging out his window with an empty Nestle Crunch wrapper held in it, while his right hand was wrapped around a generic gas station paper coffee cup in his lap.

I asked him if he was okay, with no discernible response. I yelled at him and received more silence in return. I grabbed his arm and shook him very strongly, and he barely even flinched. I didn't notice the smell of alcohol, so I was worried that the guy might have had a heart attack, entered a diabetic coma, or had some other health issue. I should have remembered that I was inside a trailer park.

I called my wife (since he was only 50 meters from my house) and asked her to contact emergency services to check in on this guy so that I could head off to work. My wife came out to watch over the driver while the fire department and an ambulance made their way to the scene. She pinched him hard and he flinched a bit, but didn't stir. My wife grabbed the coffee cup to keep the man from spilling it on himself and immediately noticed the strong smell of booze. The cup had a small amount of what was probably whiskey in it.

Interestingly enough, as soon as the flashing lights from the emergency vehicles arrived, the guy came fully alert. I guess police arriving to assist when you've passed out while drinking and driving has a way of sobering a person up quickly. Especially after the BC government recently passed some of the harshest DUI penalties in Canada.

At first I was worried that the guy would be okay, because I hadn't realized he was merely drunk. After I found out he was driving hammered, I began hoping that the cops would nail him to the wall, since he was obviously so inebriated that he could have killed somebody and not even noticed.

My only regret? I should have snapped some photos of the dipshit to spread around the internet.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My teen years distilled

In a Lance Mannion post about him attempting to educate his young boys about comic books and lessons about life, he made a comment that I think perfectly represents me in my Christian teenage years:
I wanted to tell them that the world is full of young men who are afraid of everything. They are afraid of women, of sex, of their own urges and desires. They are afraid of other men. They are afraid of what they might be themselves. They are afraid they are weak, useless, powerless. And when people who are this afraid dream, they dream of not being afraid, but their dreams aren’t of achieving self-command and of gaining mastery of over their fears. Their dreams are of instilling fear. They dream of gaining power over what makes them afraid.

I hate to take a quote out of context but I'm a terrible writer, which is why I have to find people who are good at the wordsmithing trade, so that I can steal their descriptions of the world around me. This is a perfect distillation of how I remember my teenage years: being afraid of fucking everything.

Oh sure, like most teenagers I had attitude, snark, and more than a hint of belligerence oozing out my pores (which really hasn't changed in the sixteen years since), but as most adults can admit at some point in their lives, it was all youthful bluster. Keeping everyone else at arms length, seeming at the verge of a violent outburst at the slightest provocation, and making fun of anything and everything was a coping mechanism - a method of covering up inexperience, ignorance, fear, and a little bit of stupidity by offending anyone and everyone around you, in the hope that they don't examine you too closely, lest they discover the child hiding in the flesh of a young adult.

Christianity, at that point in my life, offered some solace. After all, if your invisible friend is the creator of the entire universe, the deity that drowned the entire populace of the world save for eight of his chosen people, and the galactic emperor that will soon slay all those who oppose him, it helps to alleviate some of the apprehension about stepping out to make your mark in the world.

Unfortunately, experience can slowly reveal to the observant that the great sky fairy doesn't have your back and, indeed, seems to be perfectly absent - almost as though he was never really there to begin with. It slowly began to dawn upon me that the driving force that helped me through the difficult times in my life were my own strengths, buttressed by support and advice from family and friends.

At any rate, Lance outlined possibly the greatest reason why I wouldn't ever desire to relive my teenage years again: since high school, I've learned that fear doesn't have to be the default reaction to change or uncertainty.

Oh, and if you're not following the writings of Lance Mannion yet, do yourself a favor and head on over there. I've stolen so many ideas from him that the least I can do is send one or two people to browse his writing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Google can be used for evil

I was reading a news alert in GMail regarding Rupert Murdoch placing a bid to buy a large UK media company, when this advert popped up:
The Ultimate Tea Party - - The Patriot’s Toolbox is the #1 source for Tea Party activists
Targeted advertising? Not working so well.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I second that motion

I was reading an interesting post over at Dispatches From The Culture Wars about a virulently anti-gay preacher who was arrested for masturbating in his vehicle parked next to a children's playground.

Hearing about the hypocrisy of people like that isn't much of a surprise, but what I really liked was one certain comment in the thread below Ed's post:

The only hostility I feel towards Christianity or any organized religion, is premised upon the fact that some are so arrogant as to believe they have the right to not only criticize law abiding citizens for being different, but the power to force us to conform to their ways. Gay people never show up at my house early in the morning trying to convert me to homosexuality. Gay people never try to take my civil rights away or my human rights away due to my gender as a female, Gay people do not assume the worst about me because I am not Gay, nor act as if I must have been born stupid because I do not accept their homosexuality as if that were the one true path to salvation.

Posted by: Seeing Eye Chick | March 1, 2011 11:32 AM

I have no idea who Seeing Eye Chick is, but the only response I can come up with is, "Amen, sister."

One secret to great home brew beer

Like many scientific breakthroughs, I've accidentally stumbled upon something that seems to drastically improve home brewed beer. It turns out to be something that is simple in theory, but very difficult in practice.

The tale of my discover goes thusly:

A couple of weeks ago my wife determined that she was sick and tired of the mess that I've made of our spare room, which she has so kindly allowed me to take over as my nanobrewery.

Of course, my first duty was to begin sorting through all my bottles which were scattered about rather haphazardly. Hidden under a desk to shield them from light (if you aren't aware, UV light is bad for beer - it breaks down hop oil and is responsible for the skunky aroma some beers get), I discovered three unlabeled one litre pot-stopper bottles. One contained a thick, black brew I easily identified as a stout I brewed last March. The other two contained what looked like light ales, but I have no idea which ones, since I've brewed about a dozen batches of "lighter" ales since I started this hobby in January of 2010.

My friend Lee came over, and as soon as I mentioned that I had a couple of mystery bottles, he demanded that we immediately open one of them to see what elixir was contained within. (Note: he's a British ex-pat, and so he has no compunction whatsoever of drinking a room temperature beer.) So to satisfy my friend's curiosity, I grabbed a couple of full pint glasses and pressed open the plastic cap on the bottle. It jumped open with a pleasantly loud "thump", and I poured out the contents into the two glasses. It was perfectly clear and beautifully carbonated, looking like a store-bought beverage crafted at a professional brewery.

We took a drink, and, all modesty aside (modesty? I've heard of it!), it was one of the best beers I've ever tasted. It turns out that bottle was from the third beer I ever brewed up, which was bottled last March: a honey blonde ale. What was surprising was that the rest of the batch (which wound up being drank within three weeks of the date I bottled it) had never fully carbonated. But over 10 months of aging, it had carbed up perfectly, and the flavour had become incredibly complex, with a strong, but not overpowering honey taste.

So the secret seems to be: age, age, age. Basically, you need to bottle or keg your beer and don't drink it for a long time. If you love beer the way I do, you realize how futile a task waiting can be!

NOTE: Okay, so I can't really take credit for this discovery - two of the most common rules about homebrewing I've found on many beer forums are: 1) Sanitize and 2) Be patient (let it age!) But who doesn't love adding their own anecdotal evidence to a body of data? Besides, the volume of posts on beer has been disappointingly sparse on this blog so far, so I had to do something to rectify the situation!

Also, Brew Your Own magazine has an interesting article, "The Effects of Storage Conditions on Homebrew Quality", in their current issue, stressing that how you store your aging beer is also very important. Unfortunately, the article isn't available online. Essentially, the point seems to be that aging beer in a fridge or dark, cool place (like a cellar) with a stable temperature is the best way to either maintain or improve flavour over time. A location with variable temperatures seems to negatively effect the taste of beer.