Friday, January 13, 2006

Did Christ Exist?

This is an interesting (and quite legitimate) question. If you are, at this moment, feeling your blood pressure rise, thinking “this is stupid liberal guff” and getting ready to click away, I would ask you; why?

I have always thought the answer to this question, btw, was yes.

The other question, "Was Christ Divine?", would be more difficult to answer, but I have always thought the answer was "No", in part because I don't believe in divinity but mostly because I have a hard time believing that, even after 2000 years, Christ would let himself go like that.

Personally, so many of the elements of the Christ story resonated with my NDE that I have always believed he was a real, historic figure who had had a transformational experience and shared it with others.

OTOH, there is a lot of evidence that he was a creation, but together out of a blend of other mythological figures. The time between the death of Christ and the first books of the Bible is almost 300 years. Longer than the existence of the United States. Given that we can't consistently interpret the intent of the founders in the Constitution, I tend to doubt an oral tradition handed down over 300 years bears as much factual information as literalists and Catholics would have us believe

A new movie explores this topic. I plan to go see it this weekend and see what they consider to be evidence. So far I've never seen anything persuasive that said he didn't exist, but assuming something exists and looking for proof it doesn't is a logical fallacy.

More after I see the movie and

Thanks for reading this far down! :)

"his motive... remains unclear."

Read this clip to the bottom (I promise there is a payoff).

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Sam Alito

I had a chance yesterday afternoon to listen to the Alito hearings on NPR. Now I have to say up front I didn't care a whit about Roberts and after listening to the Robert's hearings, I cared even less. I put him in the old tradition of just blindly confirming the president's choice, which I generally support (with the exception of Bork).

Ailto said some things that really bothered me and, this was a surprise. I expected not to care, especially after a long soliloquy by Sen. Graham about what a decent guy he is. I even cringed a little at Shumer's no-nonsense cross-exam.

OTOH, he's clearly lying about the CAP thing. He might not want to admit it, but he purposely put that on a job application knowing the political sympathies of his bosses and is now pretending not to remember anything about it. It's clearly a lie. I compare this to Ginsburg who, while a flawed candidate in a hostile Senate, stepped up and owned her words.

I'm not saying that Alito is a bigot, or misogynist or anything, I don't really know and am willing to take the word of the many people who wrote in on his behalf that he is not.

That's not the point.

The point is either, he's lying and I don't like government officials to start their careers with a lie, or he's a fool. And I don't think he's a fool.

Also, he is painting a picture of himself as someone who is a "pleaser", i.e. who will tailor his opinions (like CAP) to get a job. The only conclusion I can reach from the man's own defense is that he'll gladly say things he doesn't believe in to get a job.

While this is common, I expect a higher standard of ethics from a SCJ. I find I have gone from not caring to, very concerned.

(non-sequetor: I've composed a song about Sam sung to the tune of Mona Lisa. I will not list it here, but every time I hear his name I start to sing the damn thing)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

NeuroPsych Results

I have been fearing this moment for a week. I almost blogged this morning about how nervous I was, but decided to wait and get the actual facts. The following reflects quotes from Dr. Mary Pepping at the UofW who ran my tests and interpreted the results. I’ll have my copy of them in about 2 weeks.

When I walked in, Dr. Pepping was smiling and extraordinarily friendly. “This,” I thought to myself, “bodes well. Unless she does that when she gives people bad news! Ut-oh!”

It turned out there was Good News/Bad News and the just ... unusual

Good News:
"These are phenomenal results. In 25 years I've never seen results this consistent in so many categories. Even in your lowest categories, you scored in the Superior range". There turned out to be one exception to this on the mental tests. Regardless, this is the nicest thing anyone has said to me in ages, at least about my mentation.

We went through each set of results, one-by-one. Ironically, some of the ones I thought I did the poorest on, I did very well. Generally at this end of the spectrum, they rate results in several categories according to how many standard deviations above the norm they are; normal, bright, very bright, superior and very superior (I know, it’s grammatically wrong to have a very superior category, but that’s what they use).

Digits: 9 forward, 7 backwards. Very Superior The average is 5 forward 4 back.
Word Pair Lists: Very Superior. 10 correct pairs in 4 tries on recall after 30 minutes. Average: 5 in 4 tries. I mentioned that I thought I blew this one. "No, it's designed to be unmemorizable. The word pairs were chosen to they have little or nor relationship to each other without you inventing you're own system. It's also interesting that you had no false positives, i.e. you didn't identify any words that weren't there when you were quizzed and got all 12."
Spatial Reasoning: Perfect scores.
Tactile and kinetic reasoning, 1 perfect score, 1 in the very superior range.
Mathematical reasoning: Almost perfect. "You made one error where, although you got the right answer, you didn't reduce the fraction far enough". damn!
Verbal fluency: Superior
Executive Tests (cards and the "diamond dogs" machine). Very Superior. "almost perfect". I was right about the meta-rule, but, "it's designed not to be detectable by the subject. It's unusual for you to have noticed it at all."
Abstract Reasoning: Very Superior
Determination and Mental energy (apparently some of the tests, like the "diamond dog" one, can test how hard you are actually trying to solve them): Very Superior.
MMPI-2: Normal personality (notes below)

Conclusion: "If you have a cognitive deficit, it's coming down from such a level that these tests can't detect it." My mind is fine, including to my surprise, my short term memory. My general IQ is "north of 160"

Bad News:
The neurology tests (finger movement, eye movement), were not as good. My right hand, which should be the stronger of the two, was noticeably weaker. "It looks like, in the absence of other factors affecting the peripheral nerves, that there is motor neuron damage". This supports the MS or ALS theories, but tends to reduce (but not eliminate) the Huntington’s/Cerebral Ataxia theory.

Unusual: My answers to the story questions and interpreting a to a set of general facts was, "not wrong, everything made sense, just not what we were expecting. You only got in the 50th percentile on the stories. Normal, but odd given the high scores everywhere else. It's the biggest factor bringing your IQ down" Down to the 4 sigma level that is. It's weird that I scored this low on the inference tests since I would have thought I would do well, being fairly based on intuition and inductive (vs. deductive) logic.

Personality: Normal, but “you are only a hair over the extrovert line. This gives you a flexible set of tools for dealing with different social situations." Psychosis, no. Sociopathy, no, Dissociative disorders, no, Neuroses, no. "There is some indication you are worried about your physical health and, while not nowhere near clinically depressed, this does seem to have you upset."


"You have the kind of personality that generally handles stress well until, suddenly it doesn't, at which point you probably obsess or collapse." I tend to collapse. Ask any of my friends from grad school who watched me after my divorce. Definitely a non-linear collapse.

"You're generally self-critical, self-effacing and tend not to speak your mind even when you know others are wrong or misguided". True, at least the last part.

Conclusion: I'm doing okay cognitively. I was flattered by her closing remark, "I really have never seen scores this consistently high across so many domains. You should be prouder of yourself then you actually are."


So it really is motor neurons and not something which will take my mind. I can't tell you how relieved I am.
And, the quotes are all real. I am flattered (and more than a little uncomfortable) by the results.

If I Were God

well, just absorb that for a second.


anyway, if I were, this is the kind of thing I would do more often.

Luciano Mares, 81, of Fort Sumner said he caught the mouse inside his house and wanted to get rid of it.
"I had some leaves burning outside, so I threw it in the fire, and the mouse was on fire and ran back at the house," Mares said from a motel room Saturday.
Village Fire Chief Juan Chavez said the burning mouse ran to just beneath a window, and the flames spread up from there and throughout the house.
No was hurt inside, but the home and everything in it was destroyed.
Unseasonably dry and windy conditions have charred more than 53,000 acres and destroyed 10 homes in southeastern New Mexico in recent weeks.
"I've seen numerous house fires," village Fire Department Capt. Jim Lyssy said, "but nothing as unique as this one."

Double points for the correct grammatical use of unique.

It's worth pointing out that, statistically, you (yes, you!) witness about 3 events of probability 1:1,000,000 a year of 10 seconds or less.

This Is About Where I Step Off the Train

It looks like a school in California is taking up the challenge of teaching ID as religion, and people are suing to stop it. I have to kind of step off here as I don't really have a huge problem with this. I definately have a problem with teaching pure religion-as-truth, and it seems they might be skirting the border here, but I don't see this as a science issue.

OTOH, I lot of ID opponents do. Here's a good example.

There is an old adage that good physicists become bad philosophers in there old age, but I really don't see this as a science issue here. ID is an idea and, in general, ideas don't get supressed well. The onyl cure for a bad idea is exposure. I think the left here is emulating the worst book-burning instincts of the right and trying to close down a concept. That never works. Bring it up, teach it as philosophy and I bet the majority of kids realize how silly it is despite their teachers pronouncements.

That said, I'm not *encouraging* this, but if that's how they want to spend their philosophy dollars, well... as the saying goes, "god love'em"

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


I was reading the AAS updates at the Bad Astronomy blog and came across this entry on Heim Quantum Theory for propulsion. I haven't read the paper yet, so I can't comment a curosry glance makes me highly skeptical.

Red Flags:
violates conventional conservation of momentum
proposes "new physics" which has not been observed yet
brings 2 new concepts in one paper (as opposed to the more traditional way of one breakthrough per paper)
new terms for new physics
renames existing terms or older physics
posits existance of parallel universe with covarient physics (2 assumptions there)

Ideas to which I am sympathetic:
quantized space

The basic idea is to create a vaccum pair with one partner having an interaction with baryonic matter and the other having a vanishingly small cross section for itneraction. This would have the net effect of transfering momentum to the baryons but leaving overall universal momentum seemingly conserved. It's a clever variation of Hawking Radiation, but it's not clear that any gravitophoton pair product would actually have this property. If it were true, I would expect to see something similar at higher energy with axion production which has not (to my knowledge) been observed.

Still, it's clever.

Update: I've read it twice now. A lot of the bits are correct on their own, I just don't know that they form a coherent framework. It's like a wall where each brick is solid, but upon closer inspection the wall is held together by vanilla frosting instead of mortor. There are a number of leaps between various ideas here, but I don't think it's overall correct.

It could be:
a) a sophisticated joke
b) a troll
c) the legitimate end product of a creative but slightly flawed piece of reasoning, each step moving a little further out on the branch of implausibilty
d) a paper written by a brilliant couple of guys at the end of a truely legendary bender.

Don't know. I'll read it again. I happen to have most of their references in my library and can check up on some of the middle pieces.

My hat's off to these boys. I may steal this bit for the propulsion mechanism in Looking Backwards. My ideas were a little along these lines, but nowhere near this detailed.

A First Time for Everything

Glenn Reynolds has an interesting debate on Polyamory on his site and I basically agree with his core point: the state really has no business in marriage. Yes there are welfare and support issues, but those are not actually marriage issues.

But why does any relationship produce an obligation on the part of the government to provide recognition or support? It's certainly true, as some other readers pointed out (and as Clayton's linked Mormon story reports) that some polygamous arrangements now are basically welfare scams. But that's a welfare issue, not a marriage issue.
Kurtz, on the other hand, says that Western marriage is based on "companionate love." I certainly hope so, but I wonder whether the cultural concern that he describes forms an adequate underpinning for legal requirements. (And wouldn't that, in itself, be an argument in favor of gay marriage, so long as it was based on companionate love?)

I'm a little surprised to be linking to Instapundit, mostly becuase I generally disagree with Glenn. However, I try not to consume only a steady diet of things I agree with, that leads to inflexibility and (occasionlly madness). Often that strategy is annoying or frustrating, but it does occasionally yeild little interesting nuggets.

They Call Him Goldfinger

The inspiration for the James Bond villian came from a really bad architect:

As he was a neighbour in Willow Road, author Ian Fleming's dislike of the design of the house (and the demolition of the previous Victorian properties) prompted him to name the James Bond adversary and villain Auric Goldfinger after Ernő. Goldfinger consulted his lawyers when the book was published in 1959 (which prompted Fleming to threaten to rename the character 'Goldprick') but eventually decided not to sue; Fleming's publishers agreed to pay his costs and gave him six free copies of the book. Goldfinger was a serious man and sometimes sacked his assistants if they were inappropriately jocular.

I don't really care for Ernő's buildings, but man, that's a grudge!
I've actully seen Goldfinger's Trellick tower. I was on the train from London to Reading and as we passed it by I remember thinking, "what kind of awful Cthuhulu mind would design that kind of beast. It's all wrong"

Now I know.

Also, there is a link between Goldfinger and the always regretable Boston City Hall (and presumably the UMass, Amherst campus as well).

Christianity, Greeks, and the Public Schools

From Geoff:

Heres an interesting question:

Why is Greek mythology permitted to be taught in schools and yet modern religions, especially Christianity are not. This isnt a "me too" arguement, I'm just curious. I can see Egyptian religion being discussed from a historical standpoint to give better insight to the culture thereof, as has been my experience. Greek mythology has been offered as its own course in many public high schools. Again I'm not looking to say "they can do it, we should be allowed to also", just curious.

Excellent question.

Christianity can be taught in schools in exactly the same way as Greek mythology can be taught, as part of a non-denominational program of social studies or comparative religion. That doesn't violate the First Amendment since the government body, the school, isn't advocating, establishing or endorsing a particular religion. The problem only comes when public funds are used for teaching religion as a true set of facts, i.e. proselytizing. That’s why there is such an uproar over creationism and intelligent design. The transparent goal there is to teach religion out of content as a set of truths.

Often you see a similar version of this argument about the 10 commandments or town nativity scenes, i.e. they are okay as part of a larger context but unconstitutional on their own.

BTW, I had an excellent social studies teacher in high school who made us study Islam and read the Koran in 11th grade. He seemed to think it would be important for us to be familiar with it in the future. We also studied the shit out of India including Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucism. It was done exactly this way and was extraordinarily help.

As a general rule, many Christians are insulted when you put their beliefs in the same context as Greek mythology and so schools just generally avoid the whole subject, much to the detriment of the students education. Christianity has a lot going for it as a religion and does pretty well when compared to others. The problem is that many Christians don’t know that, think comparative religions are a kind of meta-physical beauty contest and are a little afraid they’d lose. If I were religious and a Christian, I’d be a strong proponent of these kinds of classes, done in a fair and objective way.

What sparked this:Work boredom, a thread on somethingawful about what people have done at work, the word mythology, and me remembering a conversation with you where you referred to the Bible as "a book of myths"

The bible is a set of allegories, stories which are probably not true in detail but make a philosophical or moral point. Generally when I've had enough "even steven"-ing from a religious advocate (non-beleif is a kind of belief, science is a religion etc.) I'll point out out that the Bible is a book of myths and stories.

Don't be fooled though, myths are very powerful. Nothing can strengthen or weaken a people as quickly or as throughly as myth and I would argue it's at least as important as philosophy in understanding the history our the human race.

But, calling the Bible a "book of myths" is technially correct.

The best *kind* of correct!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Rapture Letter

One of the most common "even steven" arguments made by people of faith is that a lack of a belief of god is also an unprovable faith, i.e. you have have faith that he doesn't exist. This is shown to be a fallacy pretty simply because the postive and contrapositive reach the same same conclusion: believe in god-> faith, don't beleive in god-> faith. Everything is faith and there is no null hypothesis.
A Fallacy, and a pretty junior one.

OTOH, some folks, like to hedge their bets:

I especially like the Heaven is Hell line. It's got an armchair economist's logic to it.

In His Image

A god familiar to any Penn State fan:

Anyway, the real motivation was to point out the foolishness of thinking you won the big game because God was pulling for your team (if you can imagine the classic image of God sitting on his couch with a beer in one hand, a remote control in the other, and a bowl of popcorn in front of him yelling at Mrs. God to shut the hell up, there's less than two minutes left, and the Packers are driving down the field).

Note: The rest of the article isn't nearly this funny.