February 28, 2008

My Magazine Habits

Posted in Reading, Skepticism tagged , , , , , , , at 11:03 pm by lifelessonsfromwriting

I think magazines (all magazines) have gotten an unfair reputation for being ‘low-brow’ or not worth the time of more intellectually minded people. I love magazines, and buy quite a few of them. Like many people, I think, I don’t like to scramble around looking for news or information from a lot of disparate sources. I like having everything in one place, in a format that I can carry around with me for a while.

¬†Earlier today I bought a copy of Micro Mart, a magazine about computer hardware, and New Scientist, a magazine about…well, you can probably guess. I get both of these fairly regularly.

I was particularly drawn to this week’s New Scientist because the cover story was about transitional fossils, a topic that’s capable of generating (to be charitable) ‘some friction’ in internet debates. That article, and the debates I’ve been engaged in recently, have convinced me to try combatting some of the total bullshit that’s floating around about evolution in a more serious way. Given the way science education is in most countries, people aren’t going to learn this stuff in school, and I applaud the efforts of magazines like New Scientist in attempting to fight back against religious whackjobs.

But they’re pretty much preaching to the choir. Few if any creationists (and I include IDers in that group) are going to read it. The more vocal voices there are on the internet, where people do actively search for information on this stuff, the better.

To that end, I’ll be starting a¬† new blog solely about religion, science, and why we need a lot less of the former and a lot less of the latter. This blog will only be about writing, which is what it was originally made to be about.

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February 27, 2008

Atheism: More Antagonistic Than Homosexuality and Evolution Combined!

Posted in Skepticism, Writing tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 1:25 pm by lifelessonsfromwriting

At least, that’s the way it can seem. As someone who keeps tabs on all three topics, I’m always stunned at how much people can get riled up by an atheist (even one who isn’t particularly argumentative or offensive!). I’m also bemused at how an otherwise friendly, rational-seeming Christian can end a conversation with ‘Oh and by the way, you might not want to go to heaven, but I sure do. So you’d better repent quickly!’ – or something to that effect. What? Threats? I thought only God was allowed to do that!

Anyway, I thought this cartoon was priceless. I’ve also noticed that no Creationists took a shot at the challenge in one of my previous posts, so to reiterate: I was being entirely serious with it. Come on, you guys love to take shots at evolution, right? Surely you can put that much effort into building a case for your own theory hypothesis quackery.

I’ve been re-reading ‘The Subtle Knife’ because the parts at the beginning of the book, where Will finds himself in Citagazze, are quite similar to a lot of stuff in my own book (in terms of mood, not content). It always amazes me when I re-read an author who I last checked out before I started to write seriously. I think that if you write enough, and particularly if you read a lot of what other amateur writers put on the internet, you inevitably become a critic. I had always thought that there was something unusual about Pullman’s style, but it’s only now that I appreciate what.

Basically, he writes with an extraordinary richness that has nothing to do with the words he’s using. He tends to use short, even simple sentences, and is quite direct. The depth comes from the story itself, and he conjures detail and life out of a few ordinary words. I’ve always much preferred this approach than using a lot of eloquent adjectives and long-windedness (I’m looking at you, Tolkien), and it’s what I’d like to get with my own writing. Not now, obviously, but at some point in the future.

I have a very odd phobia that I’d like to write about here. If you don’t like self-indulgence, just skip on past to whatevr it is I ramble about next (I’m using this as a ‘warm-up’ for my writing for the day, which is why it’s probably only half-coherent). You know those nature shows about sharks and fish and whales? I can’t watch those. In fact, I wanted to get a picture of a basking shark here to illustrate what I maean (because of their size they tend to be photographed with a lot of empty blue ocean in the background, which is really what freaks me out), but I literally couldn’t look at the picture long enough to get the URL.

Now, this isn’t too much of a problem unless someone ever puts a gun to my head and tells me to go scuba diving in the pacific, except that it’s not just ocean pictures that do it. I was reading about the Cassini space probe yesterday, and decided to take a look at some of the Jupiter photos. And wouldn’t you know it, but there tends to be a lot of black space in the background? This picture was even worse. It’s a picture of Eta Carinae, a massive double star, surrounded by the Homunculus Nebula. Fascinating. Beautiful. So terrifying that it had me hyperventillating when I accidentally opened the large version.

This irrational fear has gotten progressively worse in recent years, to the point where I start to get nervous if I’m reading something with a possibility of a picture that will freak me out. If I get a National Geographic, I read the contents page meticulously to make sure there are no stories about ocean wildlife, lest I accidentally find myself on a double-spread photo of a shark floating in the blue void.

Rest-assured, though, that I’m not crazy in any other ways, unless you count trying to write a novel as a mental illness.

Current word count for [untilted]: 20,010

Target word count for the end of the day: 22,000

February 25, 2008

Debate Topics

Posted in Skepticism, Writing tagged , , , , , , , at 12:39 pm by lifelessonsfromwriting

It’s a bit late, but here’s a run down of some of the debates/arguments I’ve been having on WordPress:

Evolution

Of course. This one seems to crop up everywhere, despite the fact that, in the scientific community, one side has completely destroyed the other evidence-wise (guess which one!). The main thing I’ve noticed is that, overwhelmingly, those who argue against evolution know almost nothing about it. A discussion with a Creationist might run something like this:

Creationist: Show me evidence that life formed spontaneously out of non-life!

Evolutionist: That’s…not evolution. It’s abiogenesis. And actually, that’s not even what abiogenesis says happened, so you’re off the mark even if-

Creationist: You can’t do it, can you?! I knew it! Until someone proves to me that life can come from non-life without Divine intervention, I’ll smugly wallow in my own overbearing ignorance!

I may have editorialized slightly there, but you get the idea.

Of course, Creationists demand the impossible. There is nowhere where the geological column is complete, and there will always be gaps in the fossil record (if only because any fossil found to fill a gap simply creates two more; for a truly ‘complete’ picture, we’d nee d a fossil of every organism that ever lived, which obviously isn’t going to happen). What’s funny is that Creationists like to demand evidence of a far higher caliber than they themselves are able to provide. I have yet to see any physical evidence that life was divinely begun. What’s that? If you disprove evolution, don’t you then ‘prove’ that God must have created the Universe?

Well, no. Evidence against one theory is not evidence for another. You will note that, when pressed for evidence for evolution, scientists do not immediately attack the evidence for Creationism (mostly because there isn’t any). Creationism, meanwhile, is built entirely on disproving evolution.

So, here’s a challenge for Creationists: show me physical, scientific evidence (in other words, not the Bible) for the idea that God created life on Earth that could not also be used as evidence for the idea that a giant, omnipotent space-shrimp created life on Earth. You may draw on any branch of science you wish, but the evidence must be physical (for example, a fossil or genetic comparison between two species), testable, and must adequately explain the process by which life was created and developed.

And before someone says ‘oh, we don’t make any claims about which omnipotent, divine creator started life, two points: firstly, nobody believes your bullshit. You’re talking about the Christian God. Secondly, if that was your stance it would fail utterly as a scientific theory unless it described the nature and mechanics of how a Divine creator worked; claiming to not want to describe the Creator would be like evolutionary scientists saying ‘Oh, we believe in evolution, but we can’t and won’t even hazard a guess as to what mechanism it works by. Natural selection? Nope, we’re not going to research that’.

The challenge will be open indefinitely, so if you come across this six months from now, feel free to leave a comment.

Homosexuality

I’m gay, but I don’t usually get into many debates about it with people. A lot of people who dislike homosexuality are religious, and there’s little point in arguing with them; they’ve got the Bible or the Qu’ran, they believe what it says, and there’s little anyone can do to change that. The other reason is that it’s just not that big a deal. We’re coming very close to the days when anti-homosexuality sentiment will be viewed in the same light as sexism or racism, but only in some Western countries. I’ve always felt that the area people need to be making a difference in is in the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia; let’s not forget that homosexuals in those places can be imprisoned or even killed for who they are. How many of us in ‘the West’ have that problem?

However, I’ve noticed that a few people have some odd ideas about homosexuality. I’ll summarize them here:

It’s all about the sex. Actually, it’s not. This one crops up most often among religious people, who seem to fixate solely on the actual act of having homosexual sex. That’s taking too simplistic a view of it; even if a gay man stops having sex with other men, he’s not going to spontaneously stop being attracted to them. He’s just going to be very frustrated at never being able to act on those feelings.

It’s a choice. The old chestnut. I don’t know how many times religious people have to be told that it isn’t before they’ll believe it. I’m willing to bet that some people actually do choose to be gay for reasons of their own, but the vast majority of gay people don’t. I mean, ask yourself how many people would have willingly chosen persecution and distrust in sixties or seventies? If it’s a choice, why do religious people then talk about people ‘struggling’ with it? Why can’t they just ‘choose’ heterosexuality?

The inevitable comparison to paedophilia. You’d think this one would have died off by now, but apparently the Boys Beware mentality is alive and kicking. This comes in two flavours: those who think that gay men are more likely to molest children (based on the reasoning that any man who molests a boy is gay), and those who, to discredit homosexuality, put it on the same leve as paedophilia (‘Paedophilia isn’t a choice either; why don’t we let them have sex with whoever they want?).

The first has been debunked by many people who actually work with sex offenders. The second can be debunked by anyone with more than a dozen pair of brain cells to rub together; I leave it as an excersize for the reader to complete in his or her own time.

(Incidentally, is that video actually real? Several people seem to think it is, but I really have my doubts.)

February 24, 2008

Sunday Tradition

Posted in Skepticism, Writing tagged , , , , , , at 12:11 pm by lifelessonsfromwriting

Even though the Catholic Church’s hook-like claws are slowly being pried away from Ireland’s collective psyche (to surprisingly little fanfare), people still treat Sunday as the day where you don’t do all that much. I’ve decided to make full use of that noble tradition, so I won’t be writing anything at all today (except perhaps in argumentative comments on here – more on that later).

On days when I don’t write, I usually spent a lot of time thinking through storylines in my head and making sure that everything flows well (and that there aren’t any glaring contradictions or holes; sadly, there often are). I also plan out the next few scenes I’m going to write in detail, during which I usually end up either changing them fairly drastically or adding subplots that I hadn’t intended on using at all. Just yesterday I had one of my characters become something of a renegade because I realized it would get her involved with everything else that’s going on in a much more satisfying way.

Strangely enough, doing everything ‘on the fly’ like this is quite satisfying, especially when it all meshes together into a coherent whole. When it doesn’t…well, that’s slightly less satisfying.

I’ve been having a few mini-debates here on WordPress over the last few days. I like a good debate more than most people, and they’ve been quite interesting. I’ll post some thoughts on that later today, but for now, here’s an interesting blog I found in the course of my browsing:

BuelahMan’s Redstate Revolt

A blog with the catchy tagline ‘A Redneck’s Guide to Reversing the Rightwing Brainwashing’. That pretty much sums it up, and the author discusses a wide variety of topics in a witty (and often scathing) way that’s quite refreshing when compares to some more heavy-handed political blogs.

February 23, 2008

A Heavenly Rain of Angelic Bullshit

Posted in Skepticism tagged , , , , , , , at 12:03 pm by lifelessonsfromwriting

There’s a thriving (and worrying) ‘angel’ industry in Ireland at the moment, and I have no reason to think that it’s not happening in other parts of the world, too. Walk into any bookstore and look for the ‘Gullible’ section (usually called something like ‘Paranormal’ or, my favourite, ‘Mind, Body & Spririt’). You’ll find all of the usual crap that you’d expect — tarot cards, astrology books, books about psychic pets — as well as many, many books about ‘angels’.

They aren’t what you’d think. When most people hear ‘angel’ they think of some form of Christianity, at least here in the West. What I’m talking about, though, is more of a New Age free-for-all. I’ve seen angels mixed in with crackpot UFO conspiracy theories, psychic healing and ‘magick’. There are even ‘angel cards’, which seem to be tarot cards given a veneer of the religious. You can tell this stuff is BS just by glancing at it, yet there are actually shops over here devoted to nothing but ‘angel’ paraphanalia.

On the off chance that you’ve never come across this, here are a few choice exampls from Amazon:

Psychic Healing with Angels and Spirit Guides by Diane Stein. The title is pretty self-explanatory; according to a commentor on that page, it contains information about ‘clearing cords and psychic attacks’. That sounds like the kind of handy, practical information everyone should know!

Emotional Healing With Angels: A Spiritual Guide to Knowing, Healing, and Freeing Your True Self by Rekha Vidyarthi

The title of this one is a bit of a mouthful. Apparently it’s ‘A complete guide to emotional and spiritual healing and self-liberation by working with the Angels to understand and heal the hidden causes of long-standing emotional patterns and traumas.’


Angels & Spirit Guides Healing Meditations

An audiobook by Sylvia Browne, queen of claptrap. If you’ve never heard of her, count yourself lucky.

And, to give you some idea of what this stuff is all about, here’s what I found after a quick search on WordPress:

“Remove hate from your life. Become neutral in your thoughts, without ego judgments or opinions. Both are obstacles that literally keep you from being a centered being. They create static in your connection to Spirit.

As long as obstacles block clear communication, you limit your ability to connect with your highest calling. Blessings will also be limited because of their inability to navigate freely to you. The power that creates blessings travels through the beams of light unfettered when the channel is clear.”

I couldn’t agree more.

That’s from Solaryium Analytika, a blog that seems to be filled exclusively with bullshit. The author actually does mention things like God and hell, but I’m not sure how many mainstream religious people would agree about the ‘beams of light’ stuff

There’s nothing in itself all that wrong with the ‘angel’ phenomenom. It’s basically a religion for people who aren’t religious, something that’s true of a lot of these New Age beliefs. What irritates me, though, is how unlikely its proponents are to question it. What, angels and spirit guides? Of course they’re true. I’ve actually heard people on the bus be introduced to this kind of thing by their friends, and not once have I heard someone say ‘Hang on, how do you know all of this is actually real?’ That would be rude.

I’m glad that Catholicism is losing its grip on Ireland. God knows it gave us enough problems that this angel stuff couldn’t hope to reproduce. But it’s not a good indicator of society when anything, no matter how idiotic or unlikely, is taken at face value simply because some jackass wrote a book about it. I don’t particularly want to live in a society of credulous children.