Thursday, March 21, 2013

And Another Thing

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Bill O’Reilly ever talk to anyone. At them, yes, but to them, no. As far as I can tell, his schtick is to talk faster than the person who’s sitting across from him. His technique is to only air his viewpoint and leave his guest sitting there bemused. It works, I guess, he has lots of followers, ones that can’t think very fast themselves.

I saw a clip of O’Reilly sitting down with Richard Dawkins who manfully tried to provide half of the conversation but was never allowed to do so by the O-Master. Needless-to-say, O’Reilly neatly defended his faith and demolished Dawkins in the process. Or so he thought. That Dawkins couldn’t get a word in edgewise didn’t matter.

When Dawkins was able to assert that O’Reilly was an atheist as far as anyone else’s god was concerned, O’Reilly tossed it off with, “I just saw Jupiter and he didn’t look so well.” That was a riposte?

His defense, other than the classic “He’s proved his existence to me, and that’s all that matters,” of Christianity was the equally lame, “Christ was a real person.”

Ergo, he was a real god? How does that follow?

Not to mention that he’s fallen into the trap of thinking his god is real while all the others aren’t. Well, of course, that’s the definition of belief, not a defense of it. Bill, evidently, doesn’t know the difference. Nor, apparently, does he realize that all gods are myths, regardless of upon whom the myth is hung. Call me a god, Bill, but it won’t make me one.

Little Known Fact:

Claiming a personal experience with god as proof of his (usually a “his”) existence is the equivalent of saying that there’s proof of aliens because you’ve been taken up to one of their spacecrafts and been probed. Lucky you. But if you get 5000 people in a room claiming they’ve all had a personal experience with god and that they’ve been probed, the odds of their being correct don’t go up a whit. Infinity doesn’t allow such odds to get to zero, but they can get pretty damn close.

There Are No Atheists in Heaven

I can never watch a show about religion for any length of time before I’m driven to retort the absurdities that are presented. I have no idea what these folks (usually guys) final arguments are; because, if I come across an uncorrected assumption and it remains, not only uncorrected but a pillar of their argument, I can’t go on. Nothing that follows will be correct, so why bother watching. 

That’s my excuse.

Case in point: a recently watched YouTube video on why there logically can’t be any atheists. I never got to the guy’s final argument as per above. The part I did see had him making a syllogism. He began by drawing a circle and saying, “For sake of argument, let’s say that all the knowledge in the universe is contained within this circle.” Okay, we can do that. He continued: “Then, can we make a dot in the center of the circle and agree that it represents your portion of the universe’s knowledge?” Sure, we can do that.

But before we go further, I’d like to point out that “knowledge” is never defined. Is knowledge the same as information? Is knowledge restricted to living things? Does the galaxy possess knowledge in the sense we use it? How would that manifest itself? Offhand, I’d restrict “knowledge” to living entities, although I wouldn’t rule out endless amounts of living creatures in the universe.

He should have stopped there. He went one step further; he said, “All that other knowledge in the universe, the stuff you don’t know, that had to have been put there by someone.”

Uh-uh. False. That’s the uncorrected assumption: the assumption that knowledge was “put” anywhere. Now, not only don’t we have a definition of “knowledge,” we don’t have a definition of “put.” Bill Clinton would be happy. I won’t even get to the rest of the syllogism.

Ergo, whatever followed in his argument, if it was relying on his proof to be correct, could not be correct. Undefined assumptions are no-no’s in debates, sorry.


I’d like to further point out that atheism is not the opposite of theism, as is commonly thought. Theism argues that there is a god. Atheism does not argue that there is no god; it argues that there is no evidence nor logical probability for a god.

Thank you, and good night.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Echos of the Black Plague

England is excited these days about having uncovered a cemetery most likely from the time of the Black Plague. The assumption had been that, because of the enormous number of deaths, the bodies would have been thrown into communal pits; but that doesn’t appear to be the case, it looks like each body was separately dealt with in a respectful manner.

A story by the lyrical French author, Marcel Pagnol, tells a story of a suburb of Marseille, during a later plague, disguising themselves as a cart-load of dead bodies in order to pass the guards that had been posted to keep the residents of the plague city quarantined.

I find the Black Death as a convenient marker of European history, coming as it did in the middle of the fourteenth century, roughly 1348-1352. The Black Death was a pivotal point in European history because the survivors were instantly rich. Good land was plentiful and cheap. One hundred years later, 1450, the discovery of moveable type made books available to the general public, setting the stage for the Enlightenment. Put those dates together with 1066, the Norman invasion of England, and you’ve got everything you need to know about European history. Oh yeah, the Vikings were 800-1000 CE. That may not be so important if you’re Italian, but for us Scandinavians it was huge.

But every time the Black Plague is trotted out, commentators are sure to solemnly intone, “The Black Plague, the most devastating mass death in the history of the world…”

Fifty percent. That’s the usual estimate of the death rate for those four years, fifty percent. That’s bad, but compared to the fate of the American Indians—admittedly over a longer time period—who were felled by disease at rates of from 80-90-plus%, it was a piker.

Going further back, it is commonly thought that at one time the entire human population dropped to a few thousand people. What caused that, we don’t know, but it was a more serious time for our species than 1350.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dead Neanderthals

The demise of the Neanderthals makes for very constant speculation. Two recent theories suggest: 

1) Their eye sockets were too big.

2) They didn't eat rabbits.

Another recent finding also suggests they liked to walk long distances. Possibly to avoid eating rabbits.