Monday, October 28, 2013

The Great Debate

Streisand Estate (wikipedia)
I have declared in the past that I am bored with debates and will probably not be watching them anymore, but recently there has been a whole kerfuffle about a debate where the Christian didn't do very well and the church refused to post the video online. Well, they finally relented and released the video, and given the streisand effect, it's caught my attention and I'm going to check it out. You can watch the video here.

I watched this debate about a week ago now, and it has been sitting in the back of my mind a little bit. My first thought was that I don't see what the big deal is. I have seen plenty of debates where it seemed to me the Christian got destroyed way worse than this guy did here, and the other Christians all declared victory and went home. So what happened here?

Honestly, I was a bit annoyed at the atheist in the debate, I thought he agreed with the Christian's points way to quickly, all too often he said "I agree with that" while I was watching going "". But maybe that is the difference, instead of picking up and running with every point of contention that came up, he was willing to let a lot go by so he could make the points he really cared about, which just happened to be stuff that would resonate with that particular audience. Maybe by agreeing on some things that didn't really matter to him, he was able to get past the mental defenses of many in the audience and get them to really listen to what he had to say. (I wish I could go into more details, but I watched in a week ago, in the background while I was taking care of a screaming small person)

It also reminded me of the idea that we see floating around a lot that there isn't a "right way" to do these debates. There isn't a "best tactic", different things will be effective for different people, and the more diversity we have out there the better. I could never see myself arguing in the same way that he was in this debate, and yet it was clearly effective for some. If I was in a similar debate, I imagine the topics and tactics I chose to focus on would be effective (hopefully) for a completely different group of people in the audience.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

But I Want a Meatball Tree

This morning my wife was singing "On Top of Spaghetti" to my son, it was really fun to hear a song that I loved as a child but haven't heard in years. Neither of us could remember the last part and had to look it up. I found the ending of it interesting, in case you don't remember the ending like me, allow me to post the last 2 verses (for the whole thing, feel free to follow the above link).
The tree was all covered,
All covered with moss,
And on it grew meatballs,
And tomato sauce.
So if you eat spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
Hold on to your meatball,
Whenever you sneeze.
Wait a damn minute! The moral of this story is to not allow your meatball to get away? That's madness! If I could get a meatball tree simply by giving up one meatball I would do it in a heartbeat. Kids songs make no sense at all.

Oh wait a minute, this is an atheism blog, gotta bring this back around to atheism, think man, think. I got it!
Original pictures

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Exodus 8: The Entire Egyptian Population is Collateral Damage

Today's Podcast


God sent Moses and Aaron to ask Pharaoh to free the Israelite slaves, but God wanted to punish Pharaoh and the Egyptians, so he hardened Pharaoh's heart to keep him from releasing his slaves and then sent plagues into Egypt.

The Second Plague: Frogs (v. 1-15)
Handful of Frogs
Handful of Frogs (Photo credit: deanj)

God had Aaron use his staff to bring about a plague of frogs that would get into everything everywhere all over Egypt. Pharaoh's magicians were able to also being about frogs with their "secret arts". But Pharaoh pleaded with Moses and Aaron to beg God to take away the plague and he would let the Israelites go sacrifice to God. They talked to God about it and all of the frogs died and the land stank. Pharaoh's heart hardened and he didn't follow through on his promise.

Interesting that he's not asking for the slaves to be let free, he's still asking that they be allowed to go sacrifice to God. Also, is dead stinking frogs everywhere really better than live frogs?Perhaps he didn't keep his word because the from plague was taken away in a terrible way.

From Guzik
In His good mercy God gives Pharaoh another chance at repentance, but Pharaoh will not take it.
But not really, because as we saw before, God hardened his heart and prevented him from repenting. I think I will keep having this same disagreement with Guzik because he has tried to explain away God hardening Pharaoh's heart (which is central to this story) and I don't accept his explanation.
God threatened a plague of frogs for a specific reason. The Egyptian goddess Heqt was always pictured with the head of a frog. For this reason frogs were considered sacred and could not be killed.
Again, this is quite interesting, just as in the first plague, it seems that God is targeting the Egyptians gods more so than the actual Egyptian people. I think this really highlights the polytheistic roots of this book. If God was real, and the Egyptian gods were imaginary, why would God care that they are worshiping them? On the other hand, if the early Jews thought that multiple gods were real, then it makes sense for Yahweh to attack the other gods in their stories.

The Third Plague: Gnats (v. 16-19)
Gnats (Photo credit: Andrew Coulter Enright)

Note: it seems that in some other versions it is lice instead of gnats.

Aaron then used his staff to turn all of the dust in the land to gnats, gnats were on everything. Pharaoh's magicians tried to replicate the trick but couldn't, and declared that this must be the work of God, but Pharaoh's heart was hardened and he refused to listen to them.

They really seem to be jumping to the conclusion that it is God really quickly. "That other guy has a magic trick that I can't do, it must be God!"

Again, from Guzik
The hardness of Pharaoh's heart is shown when he will not even heed the analysis of his own advisers. There is no rational reason why he insists on resisting the LORD God.
Why would there be a rational reason? God hardened Pharaoh's heart! Pharaoh isn't just refusing to listen to God because he's a dick, God has prevented him from doing so. 
The Egyptian priesthood was extremely scrupulous about hygiene and ritual cleansing and an infestation of lice made them unable to worship their gods. 
The plague of lice was also upon every beast. The gods of Egypt would not receive the sacrifice of lice-infested animals, so this stopped their sacrificial system.
Again, we see that the real purpose of the plagues seems to attack the Egyptian gods rather than the Egyptian people.

The Fourth Plague: Flies (v. 20-32)
English: A bug zapper
They needed a few of these (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then God sent swarms of flies into the land of Egypt so they would be covering everything. But he would set aside the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived so that it would be obvious that they are set apart and not being hit with the plague.

It seems like a good idea to set apart God's people from the plagues and therefore God's wrath. Why is this starting at plague 4?

Pharaoh said that Moses and his people could go sacrifice to their God as long as he took away the flies first. Moses said they needed to go 3 days away, otherwise the guards would be upset at them sacrificing to a God they don't believe in. Pharaoh said fine, so God took away the flies, but then Pharaoh changed his mind and didn't let them go worship.

Again, we have this ambiguous language about Pharaoh changing his mind. It says his heart was hardened, but the way it is written it seems as if he just changed his mind and he's an asshole. But, as we saw previously, God is the one hardening his heart. Given that we know Pharaoh's mind is being manipulated, it's pretty hard to blame him for the bad things he's doing right now.
the point of this plague was probably the same as the plague of lice. The Egyptian gods could not be worshipped amidst this uncleanness.
Again, the real purpose is to attack the Egyptian gods.

Moral of the story:
Unfortunately, this doesn't seem like it's terribly interesting yet, it is the same moral as last time as far as I can tell, worship God or else. So I guess it all boils down to obedience, Moses and Aaron are obeying God and doing horrible things to the people of Egypt, they will be rewarded. Pharaoh is not obeying God (although he's not being allowed to) and him and his people are being severely punished.
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Is X-men Bad for Science Literacy?

This image shows the coding region in a segmen...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Comic book characters often have super powers, which come from a variety of sources. Sometimes they are just aliens powered by our sun, sometimes they were bitten by a radioactive pest, sometimes they have been bombarded with cosmic rays. To me, these explanations essentially boil down to magic, it's a way for the writers to say "don't worry about it, just enjoy the story". But with X-men it is different, they try to make the explanation a little more credible by throwing in some science. X-men are the next stage in human evolution, homo-superior. They have some gene that has mutated and now they can fly, heal really fast, use telepathy, teleport, or whatever.

The problem is that this is completely different from how evolution actually works. Evolution is the accumulation of very small changes over a large amount of time. You don't have a regular human have a random mutation that makes their kid have powerful beams shooting out of their eyes. Those big jumps just don't happen. Of course this is further confused by somewhat controversial idea of punctuated equilibrium where large jumps in evolution happen in a short period of time. Of course, this is on an evolutionary time scale, in the range of 50,000 to 100,000 years. This is a far cry from a normal human having a child who has the ability to walk through walls.

Unfortunately, many people never learn what evolution really is. This type of thing is their only real exposure, is it really a wonder that they think evolution is ridiculous? Is it a wonder that we get questions like "who did the first wolf mate with?" They expect that there are these huge jumps, what are the odds that an incredibly rare jump will happen to two individuals at the same time so that they can mate and carry on this new species? "The odds are astronomically low!" Of course the odds are low for what you are describing, and that's not even close to how it works, so don't worry about it.

Of course X-men isn't completely at fault for these kinds of misconceptions, the real problem is the giant gap in our education system and the people actively spreading disinformation. But it seems to me that X-men plays a role, it gives people who haven't been presented with the real information an excuse to dismiss it out of hand. I was in that group when I was in high school, I never learned even the absolute basics of how evolution works and was told in church that it was nonsense.

Now don't get me wrong, I love the X-men, and I often enjoy other shows that are basically just X-men by another name (this post was actually inspired by The Tomorrow People). But it irks me when they explain the powers as evolution, because it is not evolution at all. I wish they would make up an explanation that involves things that don't exist, a science experiment that went wrong, a flying saucer that somehow gave random people these powers, or hell, just say it's mysterious where these powers are coming from.
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Friday, October 11, 2013

Exodus 7: Let the Plagues Begin

Today's Podcast


God sent Moses and Aaron to Egypt to ask Pharaoh to free the slaves, armed with a few neat sounding powers. Pharaoh responded to this request by punishing the slaves harshly. Moses was discouraged and wanted to give up, but God assured Moses that his people would be freed from Egypt.

Moses and Aaron Before Pharaoh (v. 1-13)

God says he has made Moses like God to Pharaoh and Aaron is like a prophet.

I'm not sure what this means, but I have two guesses. The first is that the powers that Moses was given in chapter 4 are what makes him like a God. The problem with this thought is that Moses had those powers in chapter 5 and Pharaoh didn't look at him as a God then (although I guess Moses didn't use those powers then, what's up with that?). The only other thing I can think of is the genealogy thing in chapter 6, since that happened right before this declaration perhaps it is related. My understanding is that genealogy played a big role in their lives back then, perhaps God telling Moses his true family line is supposed to make a difference to him and also to Pharaoh. Hopefully the commentaries will weigh in on this.

Guzik says that this means God will be talking to Pharaoh through Moses. Does that sound wrong to everyone else? It could just mean that I'm completely misunderstanding what is written in the bible (wouldn't be the first time), but shouldn't being like God to someone mean you have power over them, or perhaps that they are in awe of you? Not just that you are a conduit for God to talk to them. 

Guzik goes on to say that if Pharaoh rejects Moses, that Moses shouldn't take it personally, because this will just mean that Pharaoh is rejecting God. He then makes the connection to Christians of today by saying
In the same way, God will make us "as God" to people we encounter who are rejecting God. If they harden their hearts or reject us, we shouldn't take it personally.
And there we go. Christians shouldn't take it personally if they can't convert people, they aren't rejecting you, just your God. I suppose I could put that in the morals of the story section if I didn't think Guzik was so far off base here.

Matthew Henry seems to agree with Guzik here somewhat, although he clarifies that it is not just that Moses is speaking for God, but that he has godly powers. This lines up with my first guess, and it also seems to mess up Guzik's moral of the story. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown have a similar interpretation to Matthew Henry.

God says he will tell Moses and Aaron what to say and ask Pharaoh to release his people, but God will harden Pharaoh's heart so he won't comply. Then God will multiply his signs and wonders throughout Egypt and bring his people out with great judgement.

So basically, God is going to prevent Pharaoh from releasing his people and then punish him for not releasing them. I thought God was supposed to respect free will. And how the hell is this just? It would be like holding a gun to someone's head and forcing them to commit a crime, and then punishing them for that crime.

We see the same nonsense about this from Guzik as in chapter 4
We remember that God will not harden Pharaoh's heart against Pharaoh's own desire. It is not as if Pharaoh wished to have a tender heart towards Israel but God would not allow him. God confirmed Pharaoh in his wicked inclination against Israel.
Instead, Pharaoh revealed his heart when he refused the humble request of Moses back in 5:1-4; now, God will merely strengthen Pharaoh in the evil already chose.
This just makes no sense, if it is already Pharaoh's own desire, then God wouldn't have to harden his heart, his heart would already be hardened against God's people. Guzik then quotes from the text and continues
"So that I may lay My hand on Egypt … and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD": This explains why the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart - essentially, to bring righteous judgment upon Egypt: Pharaoh and the Egyptians said they didn't know who the LORD was; God is going to let them know.
Even if we give Guzik his ridiculous premise, it says that Pharaoh was coming around and God put him back on his original path, for the purpose of punishing him and his people more. Who in their right mind would classify this as "righteous"? Guzik also applies this logic to our lives
God can do the same today. In our rebellion, we may reach the place where God will strengthen us in the evil we desire
Why is this acceptable? Let's say I want to do something evil, (Oh I don't know, let's say my older brother died before he and his wife had a kid and I don't want to have sex with his wife so that he can have an heir). But then after some reflection, I realize that it would be something that God would really want me to do, but just as I am about to make the decision God "hardens my heart" against the idea and I don't wind up doing it. Then later, God punishes me for not changing my mind. Is that fair? God prevented me from doing the "right" thing here, how can he punish me? Even interpreting this in Guzik's way, the way God acted is still reprehensible.

Perhaps Wisely, the other Christian commentaries that I read didn't even address this as a problem. They just mention that God hardened Pharaoh's heart as a matter of fact.
The Rods of Moses and the Magicians Turned int...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When they went to Pharaoh, Aaron proved they were with God by throwing down his staff and having it become a snake. Pharaoh then summoned his wise men and magicians and performed the same trick with secret arts. Aaron's staff/snake swallowed the rest. Pharaoh's heart was hardened and he still didn't listen to them.

The snake trick is pretty cool, what is the deal with Pharaoh having people who are able to do the same thing? I guess that Aaron's snake eating the others shows his is more powerful, but you would think God would be more original. This really just boils down to being a better version of a trick the Pharaoh has already seen.

Of course, it was Satan (again Guzik)
In the midst of an unmistakable miracle, Satan provided Pharaoh with a reason to doubt - and Pharaoh seized on the doubt and hardened his heart.
Notice what he does here with Pharaoh's hardened heart, the way Guzik writes this, it sounds like Pharaoh hardened his own heart. He must have been reading ahead to the next section.

The First Plague: Water Turned to Blood (v. 14-25)

God tells Moses that Pharaoh's heart is hardened, and he refuses to let the slaves go free.

I noticed a bit of a change of tone here, previously God kept talking about how He was going to harden Pharaoh's heart, but now he's just saying that his heart is hardened. Compare these older verses:
  • v3: I will harden Pharaoh's heart
  • ch4 v21: I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go
to these verses
  • v13: Still Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them
  • v14: the LORD said to Moses, "Pharaoh's heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go
It's like God goes from "I will keep him from releasing your people" to "Hey look, Pharaoh's being a dick and not letting your people go". 
Aaron changes the water of the Nile into blood
Aaron changes the water of the Nile into blood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God had Moses turn the water in the Nile (as well as all water in canals, ponds and pools of water) into blood in the sight of Pharaoh. All of the fish in the river died, and the Nile stank, so the Egyptians couldn't drink the water. They had to dig along side the Nile to find water to drink instead. But Pharaoh's magicians were able to do the same trick so Pharaoh's heart was still hardened.

Where shall I start? I suppose I'll ask why it was necessary for God to ruin all of the other water in the place. Doesn't turning the Nile into blood prove your point? Why ruin water that people had collected the day before? 

Won't tons of people die here? Not only did they lose their water supply, but if all of the fish died I imagine a lot of people lost their food source as well, not to mention the fishermen's livelihoods. 

Pharaoh's magicians could do the same trick? Who the hell are these guys, and why did God do generic tricks that any random magician can do? Also, how did they do the same trick? Moses turned all of the water in Egypt to blood, then the magicians also turned the water to blood? But all of the water is already blood, so that makes no sense. Are we to believe that the magicians had done this previously? Why the hell would they want to do that?

And finally, verse 22 says that Pharaoh's heart was hardened because his magicians could do the same trick, not because God hardened it. So which is it?

A few interesting things from Guzik here
God did not plague Egypt because Pharaoh would not let the children of Israel go; but because Pharaoh refused to recognize and honor God
Why do Christians find this kind of reasoning acceptable? Bring it down a few levels, suppose we have a father who has a couple of kids who are getting beat up in school. What if he was upset at the bullies because he felt disrespected instead of the simple fact that his children are being attacked? What would you think of that father? He's a piece of shit right? But for some reason it's acceptable when it is God.
Specifically, this first plague was directed against the numerous Egyptian river deities. The Nile itself was virtually worshipped as a god by the Egyptians, and the LORD God shows that He has complete power over the Nile, not some river god.
Now that is actually really interesting.

Moral of the Story

Apparently the moral of this story is recognize and honor God or you could face God's wrath. Essentially worship God or else. I'm sure it will come as a surprise to no one that I find this completely unacceptable.

For the Verses of Note post:

--Free Will--

Exodus 7:2-4 God hardens Pharaoh's heart to prevent him from following God's command

", and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you..."


Exodus 7:3-4 God punishes the Egyptians because God prevent Pharaoh from listening to him

"But I will harden Pharaoh's heart...Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment."


Exodus 7:10-11 Aaron and Pharaoh's men all turned their staves into snakes

"Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts."

Exodus 7:20,22 Moses turned all of the water in Egypt into blood, as did Pharaoh's men

"Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood....But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts."
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Friday, October 4, 2013

Things Not to Say to a New Parent

As many of you probably know, I'm a relatively new parent as my son is 3 months old. Things are generally going quite well. He's happy and healthy which are the most important things. I've read some stories about babies who cry for hours on end, who won't sleep through the night going on a year, or other difficulties that don't seem to be coming up for me. Which is great, on the whole I feel very lucky. On the other hand, having a baby is extremely difficult, and sometimes I complain about things. I'm generally looking for a "wow, that sucks man" or possibly some real advice if I'm searching for solutions to some problem I'm having online somewhere. More often than not, I seem to find answers that just tick me off more than anything. Here are a few of the highlights that just really get under my skin.

1. Just enjoy this time with him

This is the number one response that pisses me off, and I see it everywhere regardless of the question that is being asked. Most recently I found it as an answer to what to do to get your baby to take naps. My son very rarely takes naps during the day, but he needs naps and since he's not getting them he gets crankier and crankier throughout the day. I am enjoying him, but not right now, because he's crying, because he doesn't understand that he's tired and I am having trouble getting him to sleep. I'm asking for help to learn how to get him to take naps, why is this non-answer here? (BTW, we are starting to figure out his cues better, I don't get it right every time, but he usually gets at least 1 good nap a day, things are improving here)

2. When he starts talking he'll just start talking back

This was at about 1 month, I was lamenting that his only form of communication was to cry, regardless of the problem. Whether he's hungry, tired, cold, hot, bored, or has a wet diaper, all he can do is cry. I was wishing that he could tell me what was wrong. I find this answer thoroughly unhelpful. Yes, there will be difficulties later, that doesn't negate difficulties now.

3. Think about how much sleep you'll lose when he's driving

It's no secret that new parents don't get that much sleep. As someone who has insomnia and therefore has spent a lot of his life on insufficient sleep, I thought I'd be pretty much okay. I'm not, it's really hard. The problem is you never get the chance to catch up. It's almost impossible to catch a nap during the day, and he wakes up every night to eat (my wife feeds him and I burp him). We can cope, but it's hard. I'm just looking for a "dude that sucks" and possibly "it will get better soon once he gets a bit older". Fuck you people who think you're being clever who say "just wait until _____, you won't be sleeping at all, hahaha". After we are getting regular sleep again and we are looking back these jokes will probably make me chuckle, right now keep it to yourself.

4. What did you expect?

One of the most difficult things has been lack of time to do...well...anything. It's hard enough to keep up on everyday chores (of which the baby contributes a lot, babies go through a ton of laundry, and washing bottles and pump parts takes more time than you would think) let alone something recreational like a blog (I've been working on my Exodus 7 post for almost 2 weeks). But don't complain about it to the wrong person or all you'll get is "babies are hard, you should have known that, what did you expect?" I expected to have no free time, but this is worse than I thought it would be. But even if I had expected exactly this, it doesn't make it suck any less to be constantly working your ass with no end in sight.

I think people just don't know what to say or they are trying to be funny, but seriously, all you need to say is "dude, sounds rough" or perhaps "yeah, that first part is hard, but it gets better" or "soon you'll be able to read him better and it won't even matter that he can't talk". These answers have made me really want to tell some people to fuck right off.

[Note: Yesterday (when I started writing this) was a really shitty day. Today was actually a pretty damn good day, and it feels a bit weird to post this. Meh, I'm sure I'll be grumpy again in a few days and this post will seem appropriate again]

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


I have been very unsuccessful in finding time to get my Bible posts written. Exodus 7 is just sitting in my drafts half written. For now, here are a few one-liners I liked in the last few weeks.

A great line from Sheldon in a great post about abortion

This one is from geeks without god ep 63 at around 29min. 

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