10 September 2006
The drive for improbability

"Mathematics," says Jason Rosenhouse of EvolutionBlog, "is unique in its ability to bamboozle lay audiences, which makes it well-suited to creationist ends."

Mathematician John Allen Paulos explains how this should be so.

Leaving aside the issue of independent events, which is too extensive to discuss here, I note that there are always a fantastically huge number of evolutionary paths that might be taken by an organism (or a process) over time. I also note that there is only one that actually will be taken.

So if, after the fact, we observe the particular evolutionary path actually taken and then calculate the a priori probability of its being taken, we will get the minuscule probability that creationists mistakenly attach to the process as a whole.

Misunderstanding this tiny probability, they reject outright the evolutionary process.

Not to mention the fact that when one path is taken, all the alternatives to that path are summarily erased and can't be counted in the aggregate. (If the first Powerball number is, say, 10, combinations that don't contain a 10 are out of contention for the Big Bucks; if you have a 10, your chances have just improved markedly.)

Besides, probabilities don't quite combine in the manner we tend to think. For instance, the chance of someone standing next to you having any particular day as a birthday is 4/1461 (which is easier to look at than 1/365.25), or 0.274 percent. The chance that two people in the room have the same birthday obviously increases with the number of people you have, but it becomes a better-than-even bet when the twenty-third person comes in. (Really.)

My own thinking here is that God understands the numbers better than we do.

(Via white pebble.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:30 AM)
12 September 2006
Smut as a wedge issue

No, not wedgie issue. Pay attention.

Eric Sapp sees the potential:

When I talk about "wedge issues," I'm talking about issues that divide the Republican religious base from the Republican Party leadership and force Republican voters to face the hypocrisy of the overly-simplistic (but heretofore extremely effective) approach of Republican strategists to electoral mobilization and policy development.

And what issue might do that? Why, pr0n, of course:

One in eight Internet websites is pornographic, and the on-line porn industry generated $12 billion in largely untaxed revenues in 2004, which equals the revenue of ABC, NBC, and CBS combined. If ever there was a family-values issue that affects our children, it is this one. And believe it or not, Dems have a brilliantly-crafted legislative solution: S. 1507/H.R 3479, which require credit card age verification before anyone would be allowed to view any on-line pornographic content. What makes this bill a work of legislative art is that it would pay for the substantial costs of enforcing these regulations by imposing a 25% tax on the internet porn industry.

Anyone figured out why this is a winner for us yet? You've got it, the Republican leadership has been holding up this legislation because they don't like the tax on business! It's hard to imagine a stance more counter to family values and anathema to religious voters than not protecting our children from internet porn because we don't want to tax the on-line porn industry. But that's the position the Rs have taken so far. The White House has also sided with the telecommunication companies and turned a deaf ear to evangelical Christian leaders who have pleaded with them to regulate streaming video on cell phones to prevent our phones from being spammed with streaming pornography. We all know what Jesus said about where one's treasure is, and since the R political machine is run on big-business and lobbyist money, it's no surprise that's where their heart is.

I've regulated streaming video on my cell phone: I've got a phone that won't receive it.

But Sapp has a point: when the big-bucks and the Dr. Dobson segments of the GOP base are in conflict, bet on Mr. Moneybags to win out.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
19 September 2006
Uh-oh, the D word

Editorial comment by the Telegraph:

The Pope quotes a barbed medieval criticism of Islamic violence in the course of a scholarly discourse, and Muslims all over the world go into uproar; churches are firebombed. The Prime Minister's wife delivers a playful slap to a cheeky teenager, and six detectives rush to question her.

We are living in a world that has lost not only its sense of proportion but also its ability to discriminate.

And the enablers of this loss chant in unison: "But discrimination is wrong!" As, of course, they must; having misappropriated the word for their own purposes, they must now enforce their trademark.

We suspect that Western public opinion is not displeased that Benedict has said the unsayable. Now it is time for other churchmen to tell their Muslim counterparts that, in addition to dishing out criticism, they must learn how to take it.

Islam has swords; Scientology has lawyers. Deprived of these, neither of them would dare pose as a religion, let alone demand a role on the world stage.

Yes, I've heard about those "moderate" Muslims. I think I've even met one or two. Until they figure out some way to shut down — and shut up — the maniacs in their midst, they're the exceptions that prove the rule.

(Muchas gracias: Scribal Terror.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:05 AM)
21 September 2006
Audio outreach

This morning I found a plastic bag by the front door. Being in a rush to get to work (yeah, right), I tossed it on the counter.

So the opening was left for this afternoon. Inside I found a 5.5-by-8.5 postcard and an audio CD, both bearing the indicia of Grace Covenant Church, about a mile from me on the other side of the Northwest Distressway.

The CD, which ran a little over eight minutes, featured a pitch by Pastor Lance Gutteridge and a couple of songs by Worship Pastor (I leave it to someone with more expertise than I have to explain this term) Kyle Cantrell. It was definitely a professional-sounding package, up to the last couple of seconds, where things cut off a bit abruptly; as outreach methods go, this strikes me as a pretty good one. Oh, and according to the card, they're having a Good Ole Tent Revival and Ice Cream Social this coming Sunday at 6 pm.

Amusingly, CDDB reads this CD as Barry White's Just for You.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:06 PM)
12 October 2006
God hates blogs

Especially blogs by teenagers. Here's why, from the Restored Church of God:

Here is the definition of a blog from a highly popular blog provider: "A blog is a personal diary. A daily pulpit. A collaborative space. A political soapbox. A breaking-news outlet. A collection of links. Your own private thoughts. Memos to the world. Your blog is whatever you want it to be. There are millions of them, in all shapes and sizes, and there are no real rules…blogs have…enabled millions of people to have a voice" (emphasis ours).

Ask yourself, "Do I have a tendency to want to have a voice?"

This has grown so out of control it is routine for a person to start a daily blog entry with a single word that details his or her mood. A blog entry will start: "Current mood: ____" The level of shallowness and emotional immaturity this represents is astonishing! In the grand scheme of things, why would the world at large care?

People naturally want to make a mark in this world; they want to make a difference, and many believe blogs will allow them to do this. However, most blogs, especially by teenagers, serve as nothing more than public diaries. (Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with a personal diary, as long as it is kept private.) Although certain professional weblogs can make a positive difference within some elements of society, teen blogging does not.

Current mood: chortling.

And how dare those little...those little...non-adults have a "tendency to want to have a voice"! Who do they think they are? Us?

Oh, wait, we're not allowed either:

Should teenagers and others in the Church express themselves to the world through blogs? Because of the obvious dangers; the clear biblical principles that apply; the fact that it gives one a voice; that it is almost always idle words; that teens often do not think before they do; that it is acting out of boredom; and it is filled with appearances of evil — blogging is simply not to be done in the Church. It should be clear that it is unnecessary and in fact dangerous on many levels.

Let me emphasize that NO ONE — including adults — should have a blog or personal website (unless it is for legitimate business purposes).

My luck, that asshole Moloch will be late with the frigging checks again.

(Link and title swiped from Cruel.com.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 PM)
10 November 2006
Meanwhile, Job waits for his rebate check

Under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, he who provides a "full warranty" (anything less is a "limited warranty") must include all of the following:

  • must, as a minimum, remedy the consumer product within a reasonable time and without charge;
  • may not impose any limitation on the duration of any implied warranty on the product;
  • may not exclude or limit consequential damages for a breach of any written or implied warranty on the product, unless the exclusion or limitation conspicuously appears on the face of the warranty; and
  • if the product, or a component part, contains a defect or malfunction, must permit the consumer to elect either a refund or replacement without charge, after a reasonable number of repair attempts.

I'm sure Frank Moss and Warren Magnuson, way back in 1975, never envisioned this:

The word "tithe" is derived from the Hebrew word ma’aser and it literally means a tenth. Ten percent of everything belongs to the Lord. In Malachi 3:10-11, God says, "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house." The 'storehouse' is the Old Testament picture of the New Testament church. So as New Testament believers, we worship the Lord with the tithe; or the ten percent.

But giving away 10% of your income can be a big — and often frightening — commitment! That's why we created the Three-Month Tithing Challenge: a money-back guarantee of sorts. Essentially, it's a contract based on the promises of God in Malachi 3:10-11. We commit to you that if you tithe for three months and God doesn't hold true to His promises of blessings, we will refund 100% of your tithe. No questions asked.

"Good afternoon, One Brimstone Place." The voice was unusually dark.

"You're answering your own phone now?"

"It's hard to get good help these days. Was there something You wanted?"

The Lord God read the paragraphs above. "What do you think? I'm tempted to send a plague of toads."

The Prince of Darkness whistled. "That's some slick guarantee there. Maybe You should just sue them or something."

"Oh, right. Where am I supposed to find a lawyer?"

"Hey, I'm just doing my job," Satan complained. "There's always Google. I hear they're trying not to be evil these days."

"Thank you, Lucifer, you've been as much help as ever."


(Via Church Marketing Sucks.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:42 AM)
23 November 2006
Obligatory Pilgrim story

One of the first things on the agenda after the arrival at Plymouth was the establishment of the Parish Church, and as we are reminded today, its membership was a fairly strait-laced bunch.

That church exists today: as a Unitarian Universalist congregation. No one is likely to accuse them of being strait-laced, and Alexandra suggests how things might have changed over four centuries or so:

The UU's are now the most liberal of the Judeo-Christian religions, welcoming Christians, Pagans, Buddhists, Jews and everyone in between into their congregations. And yet the church in Plymouth was founded by people we have always considered to be one of the most straight-laced, narrow-minded and rigid sects in Christianity. How did this happen?

It's actually not so far-fetched. The Separatists came over here because they wanted the freedom to worship in their own way. In that is the seed of liberal religion. Yes, they believed their way was the only way, but over the years, they grew and their ideas on religion expanded. It may have started with letting a Methodist join, and then perhaps a Baptist, then learning that the Unitarians had some good ideas, so they officially became Unitarians (believing in unity of a singular God, as opposed to Trinitarians, who believe God appears in three forms). Universalists believe that everyone will receive God's grace, that there are no "chosen ones." Unitarian Universalism in its present state was not born until 1961, when the Unitarians officially merged with the Universalists.

Were I in the mood to be snarky, I might characterize this as "evolution in action," but not today.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:12 PM)
12 December 2006
He prayed, she prayed

If there's a religious gender gap, what's behind it? Bryan Caplan takes a stab at it:

1. Men and women have different cognitive orientations — a difference that is in large part genetic. As the Myers-Briggs personality test powerfully confirms, men are more Thinking, and women are more Feeling. (Or if you prefer the Five Factor Model, men are less Agreeable).

On a deep level, then, men are more inclined to want some hard proof that religious claims are true, while women are more willing to take religious teachings on faith because they sound nice. Burn me at the stake if you must, but it's true.

2. As the great Timur Kuran persuasively argues, social pressure leads to "preference falsification." If other people hassle you for lacking piety — as they do in traditional societies — people will pretend to be pious even if they aren't. The weaker the social pressure, the more sincere people become.

In traditional societies, then, men keep their irreligion to themselves and pretend to be as religious as women. (As Kuran emphasizes, preference falsification also inhibits communication, so men who would be open to irreligious arguments are less likely to ever hear and adopt them).

As traditional mores break down, however, men feel freer to be themselves — and share their doubts with others. In contrast, since their piety was relatively sincere from the start, women don't respond much to the fall in social pressure.

I'm not inclined to go hunt down a stake and a bag of Kingsford just yet, but something about this seems a little disquieting, despite the distant echo of the ring of truth.

(Via Michael Katsimbris.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
15 December 2006
God hates figs

For one thing, there's that business about those leaves in the Garden of Eden.

(Courtesy of Mike's Noise.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 PM)
26 December 2006
The love you take

"It's okay to let go."

You wouldn't think five words would require a lot of rehearsal. I kept saying them, and saying them, and saying them, and never once did I sound like I knew what I was talking about.

The night nurse let me in and directed me to the sign-in sheets. Even the ones with a lot of names on them seemed awfully empty.

He was sleeping, or trying to; the machine was running full tilt trying to keep up with the demand for oxygen by two long-since-worn-out lungs. And he was small, barely the size of a ten-year-old boy, hardly the Superman who loomed over us when I was a ten-year-old boy. The cycle, I thought, is nearly complete; were there a scepter, it would now pass to me. And, dear Lord, what would I ever want with a scepter?

I thought of his wife. She is my age: fifty-three. She has spent half of those years, half of her life, at his side. She has been preparing for this moment for many months now. Her voice is soft, measured, deliberate. Are there screams inside of her, waiting to take her by surprise, to knock her down while she tries to stand? I do not know. It is not for me to ask.

I couldn't bring myself to wake him: what if the sudden appearance of a large, dark figure in the room beside him should be the last thing he would ever see? No. Better this way. Let him rest. He's fought more battles than any of us ever dreamed of, in this, his eightieth year; better that he should just slip away, away from this world, into the peace that lies beyond. I bowed my head, then looked off into the distance for a moment.

"It's okay to let go," I said, and I realized that I wasn't saying it to him at all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:36 PM)
27 December 2006
And the Lord said, "Now"

Nothing further need be said.

Later: Well, there's this:

In Loving Memory Of
Ged "Chief" F. Hill

June 2, 1927
Stillmore, Georgia

December 27, 2006
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Place of Rest
Resthaven Memory Gardens
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Arrangements by
Advantage Funeral & Cremation Services
Branstetter Chapel

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." — Revelations 21:3-4

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:38 PM)
12 January 2007
Pratfall from grace

God, as Albert Einstein noted, does not play dice with the universe, but I suspect He's not above short-sheeting some of us now and then, jokester that He is. And when I get a packet from