A quick quiz

Unicorn design on Canadian Parliament Building(It's actually sandstone – I modified the colour to make the clue a little clearer.)

If you watch "Jeopardy!", you will quickly discover that most Americans know almost nothing about Canada. In case you are already puzzled, Canada is the nation north of the US border that is widely blamed for any cold weather that hits the US. (We blame the Arctic.)

Now that our current political crisis has made it onto CNN, Americans might know more.

I'll stop joking about America by revealing that most Canadians know very little about Canada's system of government.

Just for fun:

Who is the Head of State in Canada?
a. Prime Minister
b. American President
c. Governor General
d. British monarch

Canadian form of government?
a. Direct democracy
b. Republican democracy
c. Constitutional monarchy
d. Theocracy
e. Dictatorship

Do Canadian voters directly elect the Prime Minister?
a. Yes
b. No

Can the Governor General to refuse to call an election after a non-confidence vote?
a. Yes
b. No


Martian Ontology Revisited 2

I'm reposting this because I have revised the video twice. This a more complete, hopefully easier to read, longer version of Martian Ontology Illustrated.

Higher quality version of this:

Do you believe that the planet Mars exists? Of course you do.


Abundant good evidence for Mars' physical existence is to be found. So, even though you have not visited the planet or watched it rise behind Elephant Rock (right), you believe that it exists.

Belief simply signifies the mental state of holding something to be true. Stating belief demonstrates no more than the personal possession of a mental state. Even a passionate or long-held belief is not necessarily a realistic belief. It boggles the mind, but some people believe that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

Do you believe that electrons exist? I can't show you a photo of an electron. With a rest mass of only 9.109 x 10 -31 kg, you could never see an electron. However, the activities of electrons are detectable as electricity, and you could not be reading this post without the benefit of electricity.

Do you believe that little green men live on Mars? Let's call them Martians. Here's a picture of one.


One could argue that they would have to be green, as are plants, because there is no available energy except for sunlight.

Do you think that you do not have enough evidence to rule Martians in or out? After all, human missions to Mars have not scoured every nook and cranny of the planet.

How could one disprove the postulated existence of something that does not exist?

It is not logically possible to categorically prove that something non-existent does not actually exist. The logical inability of disproof would not indicate that the claim for existence necessarily had any validity. To insist otherwise is illogical. Fallacious arguments from ignorance erroneously insist either that lack of proof must render a claim false, or that lack of disproof must render a claim true.

Lack of proof could result from practical difficulties in obtaining evidence for a true claim, just as lack of disproof could accompany a false claim. The point is that it is illogical to extrapolate from proveability to insistence.

Should atheists respond to demands for proof that deities don't exist? No. To do so is to submit to the theistic fallacy of shifting the burden of proof. The theists make the claim for existence of deities, so it is their burden to provide proof. Their failure to date is not for lack of trying.

Back to the little green fella.

I'll assume that there is no need to send any men in white coats to collect you, because you undoubtedly are not fooled by the picture of the Martian.

No doubt, you realize that someone before me invented the fantasy of Martians, and you further realize that I doctored the image. (Need proof? I admit to doctoring the image twice.)

Since it is known that Mars has no liquid water and almost no atmosphere, not to mention inhospitable surface temperatures, the physical data suggest that Mars could not support such life. Toss the physical data together with your recognition of the fantasy element, and you probably think that you can make a decision concerning Martian ontology.

Since it is logically impossible to prove non-existence, do you think that even though you don't believe, you must be a purist and declare yourself agnostic about Martians?

Agnostic means “cannot be known”.

T.H. Huxley coined the term agnostic to suggest that one should not profess to a belief in something that cannot be proven. (Atheism: Huxley on agnosticism, Huxley And Agnosticism)

Huxley did not use agnostic to suggest that one should believe a non-existence that cannot be disproven.

If you have even a smidgen of belief, then you are a believer and not an agnostic. Even a smidgen of belief is equivalent to Faith in Martians, no matter the evidence. After all, faith is belief despite absence of evidence. Specifically, absence of evidence – or absence of correctly interpreted evidence. Since belief is merely a state of mind, so is faith.

I "don't believe in" versus "I believe not to exist" is the same thing expressed differently, right?

"I don't believe in the existence" is logically equivalent to "I believe in the nonexistence."

A strong conviction that we “know” something does not count as knowledge. The conviction is merely belief passed off as knowledge unless it coincides with reality. We require both logic and unbiased evidence, even that aquired by others, to make any claim to knowledge. Knowledge is defined as having a true belief – accurately holding something to be true, even if you have not personally encountered the reality. (Pulsars exist. I've never met one.)

Circular "evidence" is not unbiased evidence. The Bible tells us God exists. Why do theists believe this? Because they also believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Why do people believe this? After all, the Hypothetical Entity didn't sign it. Theists believe because they are instructed to believe under threat of eternal punishment or loss of eternal rewards. In face of religious repetitis, they cannot conceive of, or entertain, a more realistic explanation for the written recording of myths.

Back to Mars.

Given that conditions on Mars are inhospitable to life and that we know that human imagination is responsible for the concept of Martians, we are quite justified in saying that Martians do not exist. We do not have to never meet a Martian to know that there are no little green men running around Mars, no matter what Disney cartoonists or Hollywood producers would have us believe. The fantasy does sell tickets, though.

See the point?

What is Life?

Bacteria are alive, viruses are not.

(Click on the image if you want to understand bacterial motility.)

The term 'life' embraces the notion of utilization of energy sources to drive biochemical self-replication.

Viruses are not alive because they cannot self-replicate. They reproduce only by usurping the machinery of live cells.

Abiogenesis simply required that an assembly of molecules and macromolecules acquired the ability to convert energy into growth and self-replication (directed by informational macromolecules).

Terrestrial life arose through abiogenesis and was solely bacterial for billions of years. Biological evolution acted upon the malleable product and the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis enabled greater biological complexity.

If it were not for religions, all intelligent, moderately educated people could agree on the facts.

Martian Ontology Illustrated

I decided to make a video to illustrate an earlier post on Martian Ontology. I found some great photos of Mars, and had fun, in the process.

Higher quality version of the video here.



On TED talks: Jared Diamond: Why societies collapse.


I’m reading a book about sex.

Well, let’s just clarify that the book is about “sex and the evolution of human nature”.

The writing is packed with information, is a little rambling, and could be confusing to someone with no education in biology, but it is interesting nonetheless.

I found the following particularly interesting – given my utter disdain for the manipulative underbelly of religion.…...

Bad Ideas

Bad ideas.


Be thankful that someone had invented a movie camera before these failed inventions.

I particularly enjoy the "humping bed".


I never thought that I'd say there was a worse idea than this:


But there is.

Those who would vote for the dangerous ideas floating around in these heads are the people who give democracy a bad name.

For some comic relief from those horrible thoughts – mishaps do happen.

Bad Ideas - The funniest home videos are here

Good Riddance

A friend gave me this article from a local paper and I could not resist posting it because I can't resist attacks on Dubaya:

"“To delight in war is a merit in a soldier, a dangerous quality in a captain and
a positive crime in a statesman.” – George Santayana

“I must say, I’m a little envious. If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines . . . it must be exciting for you . . . in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks.” – President George W. Bush, to troops in Iraq

We are living in historic times, you and I. The most hapless, obscene and globally destructive American administration in living memory and probably of all time is about to be swept into the Hefty Bag of history. We don’t know what’s to come next, but for much of the world it could hardly be much worse.

Ironically, George W. Bush probably won’t be remembered for the thousands of lives and trillions of dollars he squandered, the international goodwill he frittered away or for the environmental degradation he enthusiastically green-lighted."

The article continues with more horrifying Bush bloopers, a couple of my favourites are:

"I am mindful not only of preserving executive powers for myself, but for my
predecessors as well."

"It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in
our air and water that are doing it."

Proof positive that a degree from Yale can literally be bought for any idiot.

Head or Heart Atheism

Nebulae collide in graphics software - head and heart nebulaeWhy do some rise above the flood of supernatural claims that inundate most humans? I’d categorize the rationales for atheism as being predominantly intellectual or predominantly emotional.

Clearly, some atheists combine heart and head reasons for disbelief, but the arguments against supernaturalistic delusions fit into emotional or rational categories. This division probably explains much of the reason for politico-philosophical disparities between atheists.

In the image, I've tinkered with two nebula – dubbed the head and heart nebulae.


The following is from a book review entitled Bipolar Disorder that was written by a professor of American Religious History and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University:

The premise of Head and Heart is clearly stated in the introduction. From colonial origins to the present, American thought and values have oscillated between the poles of “head” and “heart.” Sometimes one is dominant, sometimes the other. But regardless of which happens to prevail at any given time, the other never goes entirely away. This leads in the best cases to a creative dialectic in which each needs the other in order to sustain what we now call the United States of America. At worst, the tension between head and heart emerges in witch hunts, violent nativism and racist hatred. Although these tendencies are primarily identified with Protestantism, Wills argues that they can be found in many churches and, in fact, are better thought of as “force fields” or strands that figure in all the major Judeo-Christian traditions. Assessing the two poles, Wills concedes some positive achievements of the heart impulse (usually labeled “evangelicalism”), but his heart lies clearly with the head tradition (usually labeled “enlightened religion”).

I have not read the book, and nor do I plan to (my "to-read" list is already too long). However, the book apparently touches on a phenomenon that will not go away – emotional thinking.

The faith in the political (LAT review) |
Interview with Garry Wills (PBS) |
City on a Hill (NYT review) |

The book's author, Gary Wills, talks about Head and Heart on FORA.tv:

Rorschach Toast

Ian posted the following image of non-Jesusian toast (reproduced with thanks but without permission) over on irReligion.org and immediately saw a face.

You might see something different than I did. Click on the toast to compare your Rorschachian impression.

Show me anything with irregular markings and I usually see faces. Our brains have evolved to recognize patterns and faces*, so this phenomenon is hardly surprising.

A new poster for Burn Again?: Jesus is Toast

* The rare inability to recognize faces is called prosopagnosia.

Personal Diss

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines personality disorders as "an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the culture of the individual who exhibits it".

That “markedly from the expectations of the culture” protects many individuals from being appropriatedly classified as having a personality disorder. This exclusion results in omission of a large number of individuals whose thinking is characterized by rigid belief systems that involve fixed fantasies or dysfunctional schemata. The inflexibility and pervasiveness of their dogmatic delusions often causes serious personal and social difficulties to others.

This category is intended for the DSM-IV R (Dastardly Stubborn Mean IV Revised) category. I’m calling this cognitive/character/personality disorder Conservative Antisocial Disorder (CAD)

****. CADs are characterized by three or more of the following:

_1. Insistence on believing in fantasies for which there is no evidence in preference to, or exclusion of, realistic explanations for which abundant empirical and experimental evidence exists.

_2. Convinced by emotional propaganda in preference to, or exclusion of, logical arguments.

_3. A marked tendency to quickly turn to lies and/or fallacies of logic and/or unimaginative personal insults and/or violence/threats of violence when faced by any opposing opinion or logical argument.

_4. A firm conviction that use of UPPER CASE makes a claim TRUE.

_5. Discriminatory, moralistic thinking characterized by adherence to unfounded dogma, and manifesting as insistence upon dictating the behaviour of liberal-thinking individuals or nations.

_6. Preference for, or adulation of leaders, including politicians, with patently inferior character or ability.

_7. Slavish willingness to obey the authority of anti-humanitarian, anti-liberal, or anti-science leaders.

_8. Internally inconsistent belief systems; for example, being pro-war and pro-death-penalty while opposing a woman's right to choose abortion.

_9. Tendencies to arrogance, hypocrisy, selfishness, and greed.

Did I miss any?

**** I contemplated the acronym-driven designation "Bigotted Illogical Greed-driven Obsessive T***" but abandoned the idea when I could only think of a single, unacceptable term for the T.

Illogic Alarm Bells

I alluded to this in "What is the Matter with Americans?"

Illogic alarm bells clanged when I stumbled across this (brown) verbiage by a prejudiced individual whom I'll call "caveman" (his own words).

I feel that "anti-discrimination" provisions are always discriminatory & bestow special priveleges. (e.g the ability to unleash the government against someone who opposes them, or bestow marriage bennies on a HS couple but not on, say, close platonic friends) And I don't want such to be bestowed on what is almost certainly a chosen lifestyle rather than an embedded attribute of the

I'm against the verbal tricks / dirty pool tactics used by mainstream gay activists (unlike mainstream activists against homosexuality.), and discriminatory "anti-discrimination" laws. I'm neutral on gay marriage.
First, the word "feel" immediately signals that the statement will likely be heavily emotion- rather than logic-based.

Clang .

Second, the word "always" suggests that the writer is a categorical thinker. Emotive thinkers often tend toward making categorical statements because they think in absolutes and because absolutes feel potent. This is poor ploy because any exception blows the argument out of the water.

Clang . Clang.

Third, we have an unsubstantiable claim that "anti-discrimination" provisions are always "discriminatory" and bestow "special privileges". This claim contains a chunk of illogic to which I will return.

Clang . Clang . Clang.

Fourth, we have more emotional and unsubstantiable claims that [gay marriage legislation] would unleash the government against individuals . . .

Clang . Clang . Clang. Clang .

Fifth, we have selfishness-motivated comments about "bennies" that are irrelevantly compared to non-bestowal of benefits on platonic friends. Is this caveman not what he appears to be, but a heavily disguised champion of platonic rights? (I'll explain why he called himself "caveman" in a later post.)

Clang . Clang . Clang. Clang . Clang .

And all these clangers occur within the first rather unwieldy sentence. This person is certainly efficient when it comes to packing emotional illogic into a sentence!

Next, we hear more of his emotional desires about what he irrelevantly and inaccurately claims is a non-embedded attribute. No doubt, he knows virtually no science.

Things go from bad to worse when this illogical, language-manipulating caveman claims he is against "verbal tricks" and "dirty pool politics", which he erroneously attributes to gay activists, but not to "mainstream activists against homosexuality". In other words, if he doesn't like the contents of the message, then the message's language must be corrupted. "Mainstream activists" indicates that he gives anti-homosexual messages the Bigot Stamp of Approval.

Returning to the illogical complaint about "discriminatory "anti-discrimination" laws" – note the quotation marks around anti-discrimination that are intended to convey that such laws would not be anti-discrimination.

This argument runs:

P1 ................ : Anti-discrimination laws are always discriminatory

P2 (implied) : All discrimination is bad.

Therefore.....: Anti-discrimination laws are always bad.

The problem, of course, is that anti-discrimination laws, by definition, have the sole purpose of reducing discrimination, which by premise 2 should be not-bad. Someone pointed this out to the anti-gay-marriage person, and he either could not follow the logic, or refused to acknowledge the inconvenient-to-his-prejudiced-argument reality, or both. Either way, his performance was less than impressive.

Finally, just in case we have jumped to any accurate conclusions about this caveman's prejudices, we are assured that he is "neutral" about that which he is clearly attacking.

I hate illogic and irrationality, but I do find irony highly amusing. This last sentence had me in stitches.

I presume that he thinks that everyone is at the same level of irrationality as he, and that his readers will be credulous enough to believe this extraordinary denial of the obvious. In essence, he is lieing in a vain attempt to look good, presumably so that his argument will be more acceptable and will slip under readers' illogic radar. Since he is pumping out a message that fits with religious prejudices, then he can probably be confident that those who would accept this ploy are equally credulous, illogical, and bigoted.

What is the Matter with Americans?

I do mean it, though I certainly am not referring to all Americans.

I am writing of those Americans whose narrow, bigoted, emotional, black and white thinking lags behind so much of the Western world. Not merely narrow. Not merely bigoted. Not merely emotional. But illogical, rigid, ill-informed – and religious in an unchristian sense.

These are the people who make atheists and humanists look extra especially moral and rational.

Several things brought me to this post:

First, was my stumbling purely by chance across a couple of interesting posts on "Letters from A Broad." (below)

Second, when I discussed these with a friend, I was directed to information about the recent decision by the California Supreme Court to strike down the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

Third, was a singularly illogical statement made elsewhere that led to a discussion about gay marriage. More about this later in the Caveman Series.

On the basis of our Constitution, gay marriage was made legal across Canada in 2005.

Frankly, I'm not entirely sure why anybody in Canada, straight or gay, bothers to marry in this age of common-law protections and obligations. Divorce, which strikes something like 40% of first marriages and 60% of second marriages is messy, expensive, and painful. As I understand it, marital break-up is equally traumatic in the US. However, I would wish everyone – be they straight or gay, married or unceremonial – the very best of luck and happiness in their love life. I did mean love life – people who are dating generally have a more active sex life than people who are permanently coupled. While I'm about it, I'd wish consenting adults of whatever combination the best of luck and happiness in their sex life too.

The Caveman Series:


Illogic Alarm Bells

Letters from A Broad :
Discrimination against homosexuals: why? why? why??? . Why? Why? Why??? II

Also worth reading: A nation of contempt .

Sasquatchean God

fake ceramic skeleton of SasquatchCreationists and religionists are hilarious . . . irritating, yet hilarious.

Matt: “Does it take more faith to disbelieve the claims about Bigfoot than it does to believe them?”
pause . . .
“Well . . . that’s an interesting point . . . but . . . I mean . . . even with Bigfoot . . . like . . . well, OK, I don’t like to compare God to Bigfoot”
Which translates as:
“That’s an excellent point, but I don’t want to admit that it’s just as ridiculous to believe in God as it is to believe in a large, hairy, clearly mythical, humanoid.”
The religionist's ultimate capitulation is typical and predictable.

Is nothing sacred?

No. Not when French & Saunders take the mickey.

Nothing New Under the Sun

"As the Christian communities became established, they sometimes faced opposition from Jews and pagans who saw this new faith as a threat and suspected its adherents of engaging in immoral and socially destructive practices (just as new religious movements today are often regarded with suspicion). This opposition sometimes led to local persecutions of Christians; eventually the persecutions became “official,” as Roman administrators intervened to arrest Christians and try to force them to return to the old ways of paganism. As Christianity grew, it eventually converted intellectuals to the faith, who were well equipped to discuss and dismiss the charges typically raised against the Christians. The writings of these intellectuals are sometimes called apologies, from the Greek word for “defense” (apologia). The apologists wrote intellectual defenses of the new faith, trying to show that far from being a threat to the social structure of the empire, it was religion that preached moral behavior; and far from being a dangerous superstition, it represented the ultimate truth in its worship of the one true God. These apologies were important for early Christian readers, as they provided them with the arguments they needed when themselves faced with persecution."

Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, HarperOne, 2005. 26-27
Miquoting Jesus - Edited Edition (playlist of lecture at Stanford University, 2007)

Burn Again

I have decided to supplement my income by creating posters for CADs - I'm thinking of calling it "Burn Again".

In case you think that I am making all of these up:
I have seen "burn in hell" and "God bless" in a single short statement.
I have seen a religionist conservative defend Haggard's hypocritical anti-homosexual comments on the basis that they were against homosexuals, so who cares if Haggard was being hypocritical?
Abortion doctors have been killed by religious nutters.

Where have all the followers gone?

Where have all the followers gone?


Largest groups:

Percentage of Deluded:

Eastern Christian:

Eastern Non-Christian:


My favorite – potential atheists:


. Inverse Correlations .