Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dealing with "Things Unseen"

Science deals with unseen things like black holes by developing a testable hypothesis, which essentially describes what we would expect to see if there were black holes. When we observe behavior which matches the prediction, the hypothesis is confirmed. If not, it is rejected. Same for microwaves. When we observe behavior (thermal excitation of water molecules) consistent with energy transfer of microwaves, we confirm the theory! Religion on the other hand, takes an unexplained thing and blindly asserts #GodDidIt.  When the tests for god's existence fail, believers make up excuses for *why* it failed rather than reject the hypothesis. You're likely well aware of this method. The Bible provides many objective tests for the Christian god's existence, all of which demonstrably fail: - Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and it will be given to you seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. - Matthew 21:22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” - Mark 11:24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. - John 14:13-14 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it So as a devout Christian, the first time you pray for something and it doesn't come true, you can know that the Bible is wrong. However, instead of admit their assumptions might be wrong, religious people blame themselves ("I must not have enough *faith*!") or make empty platitudes ("God works in mysterious ways.")

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Geometry and a Flat Earth

We're told that the sun disappears over the horizon for the same reason that airplane contrails reach the horizon (which ironically is due to them following the curvature of the earth).  So let's consider perspective at night.  According to a Flat Earther I asked, Australia is about 10k miles from the US in a Flat Earth model.

We know that:

  • $ \theta_{ele} = atan(h/d) $ Where h is the height of the sun off the flat earth and d is the distance to the sun's nadir point (directly below the sun). 
  • When the sun is over Australia, it's dark in the united states.
  • It's 10,000 miles from US to Australia.
Flat Earthers generally report that the sun is 3000 to 4000 miles in elevation. This is probably because if you tried to triangulate the sun (at approximately infinity miles away) from a curved surface you erroneously believed to be flat, you'd find that it appears to be about $ r $  miles away.

But how can that be?! $  atan(3000/10000) = 16.7  \degree $ !!. That's a pretty good elevation. About one and a half fists above the horizon! That would be pretty obvious! 

Hand Angles
Making the small-angle approximation, these angles and distances scale approximately linearly.  To get as low as half of a fist above the horizon, we need 1/3 the height (let's say 1000 miles!). To get as low as one degree (still 2 sun widths) above the horizon, we'd need to be just 100 miles up. That's just at the edge of space. The sun could be hit with an amateyr  rocket!! 

With that, I've got no way to try to rescue this theory. The angles don't make sense.  Anyone got a way to make this problem work?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Collection of Satellite Images and Videos

I keep getting asked for pictures of satellites by #FlatEarthers I'm talking with. Rather than find them each time, here's a collection. The gif was from reddit.

Amateur Videos Showing Satellites

I'm not sure which satellites these are, but they're geostationary over Switzerland.  This sort of imaging is surprisingly easy to do (this guy does it VERY well!).  Just get a camera, a tripod, and take  5-10 sec exposures all night of the plane where the moon, sun, and planets pass.  Stitch them all together and you'll notice that some don't move.  Those are geostationary satellites.  You can figure out which ones they are with a bit of extra math.
Geostationary satellites in the Swiss Alps from Michael Kunze on Vimeo.

This guy wasn't even really trying, but when he co-adds frames (go make the streaking effect), it jumps right out.There's a clear GEO satellite near the top of the frame, about 40% in from  the left.

A Starry Night of Mt.Kilimanjaro from kwon, o chul on Vimeo.

This photographer isn't taking exposures long enough and has too much city light to see the satellites clearly. The "flashes" are likely glints off the solar panels or an aliasing artifact in his video conversion.  Longer exposures could cause streaking, but would bring the satellites out more clearly.
Geostationary Satellite Flashes, Night of March 7-8, 2013 from Ken Musgrave on Vimeo.

The folks at ExoAnalytic have some great professional videos through robotic telescopes.

Why not from other satellites?

I'm also often asked why we don't see satellites take pictures of other satellites.  To someone naive about otbits, this might seem like an easier task. You're closer, right? No. Space is very big, and satellites moving 17,000 mph, not all in the same direction!  Nevertheless, It's been done. An imaging satellite named Pl√©iades 1A took a picture of SPOT 5

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Comparing Flat Earth Models to Reality

I finally found a video which helped me understand the flat-earther model of a sun circling a flat earth. Thanks to p-brain for helping me out here.
Setting aside his disastrous misunderstanding of perspective, he has a decent point regarding how distant points converge at long distances.  The "plane" that the sun would orbit within would indeed appear to approach (though never quite cross) the horizon.

I suspect this claim falls apart when we start examining distances necessary to accomplish this.  Clearly the Sun isn't flying along at 30,000 ft like the contrails p-brain uses as an example.  Rather, it would need to be flying a minimum of 2-3x higher. My intuition is that the angles will come closest to working if we set the sun at an altitude equal to the radius of the earth (4000 miles) .  

So let's compare the two approaches. For the sake of simplicity, I'll assume the curvature of the sun's path is so slight that we don't notice it curving northwards. That's right, I'm going to give the Flat  Earthers a pass on the fact that we don't see the sun curving to the north! No "Where's the curve?!" from me.  
So anyways, the distinction is really easy to make. If you believe in a Flat Earth, simply measure the angle to the sun throughout the day and compare the following plot of arctan(1/x): 

If it's straight, the angular rotation is constant, which matches the spherical earth model:

  1. If the solar angle matches the plot of $ arctan(1/t) $, then it's a flat earth. 
  2. If the solar angle is a straight line, it's a sphere.
Note: The angle you need to measure is called the "Right Ascension" (RA).  Align a pole to point to the North Star at night. Measure the angle to the sun about this pole.  This could be done with a protractor oriented perpendicular to the pole on the back side (away from the sun). Note the angle where the shadow is cast.  Here's my attempt to draw the experimental setup.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Flat Earth Misconceptions

I'm so tired of repeating myself to Flat-Earthers. It's like they revel in doing their math wrong, but there's not enough characters in twitter to send them the proper equations. So I'll address a few classic pics here to explain how it's done.

The distant mountain picture

This is a favorite among flat-earthers, and it's pretty easy to show they get the math wrong.  Someone told this guy that he can use a simple linear fit for earth's CURVED surface (8 inches per mile or some such tripe). I'm not sure where this approximation came from, but it obviously doesn't fit a curve very well. Anyhow, here's an example:

Here, we have the classic flat-earther example of a "mountain that's too far away to see." First, let's check the facts. After a bit of digging, I figured out that they're claiming this is Mt. Denali.  That's 140 miles away, with an elevation of roughly 20,000 ft.

It's actually 700 ft at the summit of the Hilltop Ski Resort, but it turns out that won't matter in the end.  
Anyhow, let's assume they're right and it's Denali.  First, calculate the distance and angle to the horizon from an elevation of 700 ft.  I'll let WikiHow explain how to do it. I'm using the arccos formula: 

$ d = r  \arccos(\frac{r}{r+h}) $

The horizon from Hilltop is calculated here at 32 miles.
The horizon from Denali is calculated here at 174 miles.

Suppose the picture were taken from the parking lot of Hilltop instead of the top.  The horizon is still 27.5 miles away, well within the range of Denali's summit. 

32 + 174 means you can see the tip of Denali from as far as 206 mi at an altitude of 700 ft (assuming there's no mountains in between and neglecting atmospheric lensing, of course). This is obviously not a problem for observation from 140 miles away.

Just for convenience, we could figure out how tall an object needs to be to see it from a distance, x. We simply add the horizon distance to the solution to our first equation for h:

$ \cos( \frac{d}{r} ) = \frac{r}{r+h} $

$ h = \frac{r}{cos(\frac{d}{r})} - r $

d = 140-32 = 108
h = 7700 ft tall. 

This means we should be able to see the top 12,300 of Denali. 

Time Zone Solar Models

This is another flat earther hand-waving explanation for time-zones.  

Even the most casual thought regarding this picture and you'll realize that since the sun is above a flat earth, you'll be able to see it at all times from any location on earth. Turn this model on its side and draw a vector from any point on earth to the sun and you'll see that it never sets.  The figure below shows this and explains the problems.

If there's some other way to interpret the animation above, I sure can't think of it.  Send me a comment or tweet to help me understand.
I'm left wondering if flat earthers lack all spatial reasoning. It sure seems that way.

Pilots Would End up in Space!

This one is so bizarre that it takes a little work to wrap your head around.  Essentially, the argument is that airline pilots would need to adjust their elevation by 1 degree every 6 or 7 minutes to keep from climbing higher and higher and crash into the firmament or flying into space.  There's some specious assumptions here:
  • That airplanes fly along laser-like straight lines
  • Airplanes will continue climbing at the same rate for a given angle of attack even as the air thins.
  • That the pilot has the sensitive equipment to recognize one-degree drift over 6 minutes
In the same way as you might make minor course corrections along a straight road to keep your car centered in your lane, the autopilot (or the real pilot) is constantly adjusting to maintain a reasonably constant altitude and heading.  These corrections are happening at a rate of tens to hundreds per minute.  To the pilot or autopilot, this feels like maintaining altitude.  In reality, it's conforming the flight to the curvature of earth.  This publication described the typical roughness of a commercial flight.  I've pulled out the "rough cruise" section because the constant readjustment of altitude is more clearly apparent.  Same thing happens in "smooth cruise", but more gradually.

Simple computer models can help us understand when and where we'll be able to observe curvature of a sphere.  The key factors which affect the appearance of curvature are:

  • Altitude above the surface
  • Camera Focal Length (or field of view)
  • Radius of the sphere
I'm sure someone could write an expression  for the apparent curvature versus these parameters, but it's easier to just show you. I'm using an open-source tool called Celestia which accurately presents the position, sizes, and velocities of celestial objects.  I highly recommend it. It's fun to play with.

Changing the Field of View

Here's the  same view as the Field of View is altered.  This is like zooming out on your camera.  The FOV is reported in the bottom-right while the location (constant) is presented in the upper-left.

Changing the Altitude

This one is a little more obvious.  As you move to higher and higher altitudes, the curvature becomes more apparent.
Note that the Distance is 30 km. That's a decimal place, not a comma.

Radius Matters Too

This one is just for fun.  Here's some spheres of different radii from the same distance.

Mythbusters are shills?

Well, as we've shown, the curvature isn't expected to be visible at low altitudes. Here's Adam Savage  at a 12 mile altitude witnessing the curvature for himself.  So I suppose he's got to be a liar now, eh?

The Moon / Spinning Earth can't be felt!

Moon: The gravitational acceleration of the moon on the surface of earth is given by $ a = G m_{moon}/r^2 $ or roughly $ 3.6 \times 10^{-5}  m/s^2  $ compared to the $ 9.8  m/s^2 $ I measured in high school for earth's gravity.  That's less than one part in a million.  A hard thing to measure.

Rotation: The acceleration of an object on the equator due to circular motion from the rotation of the earth is given by: $ a = \omega^2 / r $.  This also tiny at $ 0.034 m/s^2 $. This effect (0.34%) MIGHT be measurable by exceptionally sensitive equipment and a skilled scientist, but these are the sorts of people the Flat Earth crowd seems to consider untrustworthy.
Edit: I fixed my math above. Rotation is actually much more important than I originally calculated. Thanks to @TheOlifant for catching my error:


The mentality of flat-earthers seems to be very similar to that of anti-vaxers and deeply religious.  The believer thinks they've figured out that most of humanity is wrong, and that their answer is the right answer. They often tell you to "research it," and couple commands with insults "stupid" or "dummy" or "sheep." 
These believers think they've figured out what "they" don't want you to know.  The "they" varies between people, but it seems to be illuminati, the government, or the Free Masons. For devout Christians or Muslims, the "they" is Satan, heretics, or demons.  
These believers pride themselves in being different. They think they're visionaries for knowing the truth when everyone else has it wrong.  Despite having no formal training in the specific scientific claims they reject, they feel sure that all the professional scientists have been deceived by the "they."
What's particularly interesting is that these people seem to blindly follow (IMO obvious) quacks. Some guy with a YouTube channel is seen as more reliable than all the world's scientists. They wave off these brilliant scientists by presuming they've never actually TESTED any of the claims they learned in science text books without seeming to notice that:

  1. The YouTube quack has never tested his flat earth claims. At best their "evidence" seems to be that they find actual physics hard to understand or inconsistent with scripture.
  2. Scientists actually do verify the basics. They build more complex experiments on top of them, so if the basics weren't right, nothing would work.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A quick review of the usual apologetics

A Christian apologetic video called "10 INCREDIBLE BIBLE FACTS to blow your mind" was posted to the "Philosophy of Religion" G+ Group.  Bible click-bait is not "Philosophy of Religion."  But I took the time to respond anyways.

1: So what? Harry Potter sold a lot of books too.  Doesn't make it true.

2: Lots of authors, but "the Bible does not contradict itself" Yes. It does.  Lots. There are whole indices of the contradictions. http://infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html
But even if it were, a cursory understanding of how the Bible was formed (by committee, from a much larger set of texts) shows that it could be just good editing, not good writing.

3: Again. So what? This is just false. Book of Mormon says that god said things too. https://www.lds.org/ensign/1988/01/the-book-of-mormon-is-the-word-of-god?lang=eng

4: What a cute legend.

5. We're going down-hill here. This is pretty wildly speculative and vague. I wrote a blog about how this sort of post-hoc rationality works. The prophecies of Dr. Seuss
"Jesus is Coming Back Soon." This has been the Christian claim

6. The Bible is true?! LMFAO. Where are the four corners of the earth? Stop pretending a circle is the same as a sphere.
Wow. Look under the water and you can see rocky formations that resemble what's over the land.
You're doing science just like the Muslims do it!
   Step 1: Look at what's real.
  Step 2: Find places where the Bible can be interpreted to suggest those things.

7. Ha ha ha. So there's some facts which agree with history? I'll defer to the usual "Spider Man happens in New York, but it doesn't make Spider Man true."
The Biblical writings are "viable"?  Might not be false isn't a very good basis.

8. Accurate to what?!  Oh. The disagreements between different scribes are "minor" in the opinion of some biblical historians? The 31,000

9. Methamphetamine has also changed people's lives.  People who use it are transformed. They become committed to methamphetamine.  Does that make it true?  The video goes on to cite a few anecdotes about people who were born and raised Christian, then happened to do good things anyways.  Lots of people find Jesus at their lowest -- because that's when they're most vulnerable to indoctrination.

10. There's a corrupted Bible? God hasn't protected "his word" very well, eh?  Imagine if that happened EARLY in the Bible's history. The result would be an unreliable Bible today!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

I Don't Understand What You Think God Is. And Neither do You

What is God?

This is definitely not God.
Ask google, and you'll be flooded with thousands of sites which exude confidence. But dig a little deeper and you'll see that they're peddling platitudes.
God is the creator of mankind and He loves you.
You were created by Him and He knows everything about you.
Note: Some of them seem to have identical content: http://myranchlandchurch.com/god-is-real and http://mastersmen.com/who-is-god-answers-about-life-and-god/ haha.
The site contains claims about the things we ought to credit god with, but not a single observable property of this god.
  • “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6).
  • “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
  • “You have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-16).
  • “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18).
  • “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27).

These are presented by one of the more credible articles as "very logical answers to what is God, and what is He doing." Yet even the most cursory review and it's clear that they're empty dogmatic claims, not observable properties of a anything.

You don't know either

So here's the hard point. Not only are Christian apologetics and ministries unable to articulate any tangible properties of their god, but neither are you. Most Christians think of god as a personality they can interact with and a place-holder for the unanswerable questions of the universe.  But can you identify any tangible properties? Before you get angry, consider some practical questions:
  • If a person introduced themselves as god, how would you know if they're lying or honest? 
  • When a fortunate event occurs to you or a loved one, how can you tell if it's an action  of a god or just good fortune?
  • Suppose find yourself in a place devoid of features. There's a person-like entity there which knows your name and speaks to you. The implication is that you've died and are in some sort of afterlife. The usual cues are missing.   No puffy clouds and halos, no firey pits and horns.  How do you determine if the entity is a god or a demon?
  • That voice in your mind seems to always know what you need to hear. How can you tell if it's a god or just your own imagination?
In short, there's no good way to tell whether these characters are gods or someone else. I don't understand what you think god is, and neither do you.


In researching this post, I came across this post, which starts out surprisingly well. It's not the usual hateful misrepresentation of atheists. But it makes the usual mistakes regarding their own beliefs. Once they start describing the Bible, the claims quickly go from "the authors said" to "it's true."  Here's the paragraph where it happens:
There is a book that has existed longer than the philosophies of materialism and humanism. Those who wrote this book claimed that they were personally in contact with the one, true Creator God. They say, in fact, that this God actually inspired what they wrote, and they claimed to know Him personally. Furthermore, they wrote that God has a plan—a purpose—for each human life. They claimed that what they wrote in this book called the Bible is truth—from the God of truth. They staked their lives on it! 
Another way to understand God is to be willing to take a close look at what He reveals about Himself in the only book that can be seen as a legitimate source of information about Him. Most people own a Bible, but most people—even Christians—have never really honestly or thoroughly examined the Bible to see what it reveals about God. You will likely be very surprised to see what God says about Himself!
Oh well.  It's  a train-wreck from there.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Response to: Proof That The Bible Is True

@InspiredWalk posted the following: http://www.inspiredwalk.com/1804/proof-bible-true
So let's disassemble it point by point.

1. Written By Different Men Over 2000 Years

This got complicated in a hurry.  I'm going to color-code it for you.
Green will be for lies or baseless speculation.
Red will be for fallacies.
Purple will be for non-sequiturs.
The Bible is a collection of 66 books which were written by about 40 men over a period of 1500 years or more. Most of these authors had never physically met but yet their message in what they wrote is structured, consistent, accurate, inter-related and perfectly unified throughout. Though these writers physically penned the 66 books, the individual writers, at the time of writing, had no idea that their message was eventually to be incorporated into one single Book, that we know today as being The Bible.
Interestingly (as we keep in mind the accuracy & consistency of their writings) these writers believed and claimed that they were writing or transmitting the very word of God – or that their writings were as a result of the inspiration of ONE single Supernatural Author – God Himself.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
All we need to is notice that the premise of this claim is laughably false.  The volume of work by Christian apologetics necessary to  "homogenize" the wildly inconsistent and inaccurate books of the bible show just how inconsistent it is.  The wide range of beliefs held by disparate groups, all of whom consider themselves Christians reinforces this fact.
But even if it were as consistent as the author of this blog claims, later authors clearly knew of earlier authors and shared a common religion with them.  Consistency is not without plausible naturalistic explanation.

2. The Scientific Accuracy of the Bible

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ow my sides hurt.

Another striking evidence of divine inspiration is found in the fact that many of the
principles of modern science were recorded as facts of nature in the Bible long before
scientist confirmed them experimentally.
A sampling of these would include:
  1. The Earth is round, not flat as once believed (Isaiah 40:22).
  2. Atmospheric circulation (Ecclesiastes 1:6).
  3. Field of Gravity (Job 26:7).
  4. Biological importance of blood to life (Leviticus 17:11,12).
  5. The Bible refers to dinosaurs. Job 40:15 and Job 41:1 speak of two such creatures.
 I've converted the original article claims to numbers so that I might taunt them one by one.
1. Isaiah 40:22 says nothing about a spherical earth.  Indeed, it puts "God" above the earth the heavens like a curtain over it.  If you understand basic geometry of a spherical earth, "above" is an irrelevant concept for a spherical earth. It ONLY makes sense for a flat earth.
Edit: original author implied that "God sits above the circle of the earth," a point long since refuted. http://www.crivoice.org/circle.html
2. Wow. Winds blow.
3. "He stretches out the north over empty space; He hangs the earth on nothing."  has nothing to do with gravity as the author claimed.  I'm sensing a trend here.
4. I think ancient people understood that if you let the blood out of something, it dies. This is not modern scientific discovery.
5. Or … it speaks of monsters. See how that works? It didn't describe fossils, it described non-existent creatures just like other fairy tales.

3. Over 100 Prophetic Accuracies About Jesus Christ

This is called a Gish Gallop, and since the author doesn't bother to lay them all out, I'll simply point out that the Jews sure don't think that's true, and the Torah is their book so they should know.
The one consistent theme of the Bible, is that from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible consistently refers and prophesies about Jesus Christ who ultimately is mankind’s Lord & Saviour. There are over 300 specific prophecies in the Old Testament that are fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

4. The Bible Is Endorsed by Jesus Christ

So we're to believe that Jesus endorsed a book which wouldn't exist for another 300 years after his death? LOL. 
Matthew 5:17-18 – (Jesus speaking) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”When Jesus was on earth at the time, only the Old Testament existed. Jesus read and quoted from the Old Testament. Therefore if the Bible was inaccurate or untrustworthy, Jesus would have not quoted the Old Testament. When Jesus was tempted by the devil, Christ overcame the devil’s temptation by responding with Scripture quoted from the Old Testament. This was a clear indication not only of the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible but also that Jesus Himself was willing to be obedient to do what The Bible teaches.
READ Matthew 4:1-17
First, need to demonstrate that:

  • Jesus never quoted anything which contained any falsehood
  • Infallibility somehow provides a protective power against "devil temptation."

5. Its Survival

This whole claim doesn't even make sense.  Why would survival imply truth?
The Bible starting from Genesis has survived for over 1500 years. No other book has been so consistently studied, bought or quoted by mankind. Its teachings are still relevant even after 1000 years, a clear proof that God’s word is authoritative and does not change. No other book has been loved or hated as the Bible but yet it still survives and remains the highest seller among all books.
Matthew 24:35 – Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Yup. Meaningless fluff that has absolutely no relation to the alleged conclusion (the Bible is True). I suppose we're to believe that its longevity implies some sort of magical protection from Yahweh, but even if that were true, it wouldn't demonstrate that Yahweh authored it or endorses it.

6. Archaeological Evidence

A number of archaeological and geographic evidences exist to prove the accuracy and historic truthfulness of the Bible. Archaeological discoveries have been made which verify the various Biblical stories and events mentioned in scripture.
Romans 1:20-21 – For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
This is the Composition / Division fallacy -- the belief that because some aspect of the Bible is true that this truthfulness somehow applies to the whole. Let's consider the following excerpt of mathematical equations I just made up.
  • 2 + 2 = 4
  • 2 + 2 = 4
  • 2 + 2 = 4
  • 2 + 2 = 4
  • 7 + 7 = 12
  • 2 + 2 = 4
  • 2 + 2 = 4
We observe that nearly all of the equations are true, but it's not at all safe to assume that this applies to all of the equations. 

7. Life Changing Power

For thousands of years, the Bible has changed countless lives and has provided a means by which mankind can know and understand who God is and what God says about every life situation that we face on this earth. The Bible also is one huge story about God’s relationship with man. The Bible speaks of God’s love and plan of salvation from sin through Jesus Christ. People of different backgrounds and beliefs can testify of the life changing experiences that God’s word has brought to their lives.
Hebrews 4:12-13 – For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Yup. Just more baseless speculation and dogmatic claims. No real substance. Even if the claims being made were true, it wouldn't demonstrate the truth of the Bible. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

God Doesn't Exist. Here's why.

Theists often ask me for proof that God doesn't exist. As if that's my claim or even a relevant question from an epistemological perspective.
One of my favorite memes when
theists ask for proof there's no god.

This is one of my favorite memes for such instances because it attempts to highlight the absurdity of their request. As Bertrand Russell showed with his celestial teapot thought experiment, it's not possible to falsify an unfalsifiable claim. Still, some particularly stubborn believers chose to focus on the choice of a unicorn rather than the logical failure it demonstrates.

So let's set formal epistemology aside.  These people clearly aren't asking for an epistemological demonstration of an unfalsifiable assertion. Let's just stick with colloquial usage. Consider the following simple questions:

  • Do fairies exist?
  • Do zombies exist?
  • Do elves exist?
  • Do vampires exist?
  • Do unicorns exist?
Most people have no problem answering these questions with a flat "no."  (I offer several in case you answer "yes" to one of them.) The basis for that "no" is the fact that there's no convincing evidence that one of these creatures exists and absent that evidence, it's almost certain that they don't actually exist.

From this point, it's pretty darn simple: 
God has all the same evidence as fairies, zombies, elves, vampires, and unicorns. 

Most people say no to any or all of those mythological creatures above. I say "No" to the question of god for the exact same reason.  

Does this mean I'm actively opposing evidence for god or spiritually blind? Not at all. I engage with discussions online openly and honestly looking for someone -- anyone with:
  • A clear definition of what their God is
  • A reasonable explanation of how they know it's real
Unfortunately, many people just get mad that I have the nerve to ask hard questions and challenge fallacious responses. But my interest in knowledge and  truth is sincere. That's why I had the courage to question Christianity and discover that my basis for belief was untenable.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Response to Evolution "News"

I don't know why I wasted my time. My edits are in bold italics. Response to 


Many (hardly any) scientists now recognize the insufficiency of the classic Darwinian story to account for the appearance of new features or innovations in the history of life. They focus on other theories to account for remarkable differences between genomes, the appearance of novel body plans, and genuine innovations like the bat's wing, the mammalian placenta, the vertebrate eye, or insect flight, for example (In the same way that General Relativity improved on "Newtonian Theory" and made Mercury's orbit work?). They realize (Inspired by their religion, they believe) that the traditional story of population genetics (changes in allele frequencies in populations due to mutation, selection, and drift) cannot account for "the arrival of the fittest" and not just the "survival of the fittest." (Hugo DeVries, 1904). <--  Wow, they're reaching DEEP into the historical academic work
One of the reasons many (this tiny fraction of )scientists acknowledge the insufficiency of Darwinism is because they know the refuse to admit that the accounting won't works. The mutation rate, the generation times, the strength of selection versus genetic drift, the population sizes, and the time available don't match up just fine.
Here's where they deliberately misinterpret journal results and compare apples to oranges to make the reader think there's something wrong with science. At its core, this is part of a larger argument from ignorance approach, paraphrased as: 'Science isn't right. Therefore God did it.'
For example, supposedly humans last shared common ancestry with chimps about six million years ago. Since that time, we have accumulated significant differences with chimps -- genetic, anatomical, physiological, behavioral, and intellectual differences, among others. The genetic differences between humans and chimps are much more than the (shrinking) 1.2 percent difference in base pairs that is so often quoted in the media. (Yes, there are different ways of measuring similarity.) Add small insertions and deletions and the differences climb to about 3-5 percent,depending on whose estimate is used. Add another 2.7 percent for large scale duplications or deletions, another 6 percent for new Alu elements (a kind of mobile genetic element) and some unknown number for rearrangements of the DNA, other insertions of mobile genetic elements, or new genes, we have more than 11.7 percent of our genome with unique features not present in chimps. (Only when you struggle to exaggerate moves and deletions. For reference, here is the preliminary analysis as published in Nature.) 
There is only so much time for these differences to have accumulated. Mutations arise and are propagated from generation to generation, so the number of generations limits how many mutations can accumulate. The estimated mutation rate is about 10-8 per base pairs per generation, and we have an average generation time of somewhere between 10 and 25 years. Our estimated breeding population size six million years ago is thought to have been about 10,000 (these are all rough estimates based on numbers currently in use -- see the papers cited below). Based on these numbers, one can estimate how many years it would take to acquire all those mutations, assuming every mutation that occurred was saved, and stored up. (Since the mutation rate is extremely small and uniformly distributed, this assumption is valid.)
But there's a difficulty -- it's called genetic drift. In small populations, like the 10,000 estimate above, mutations are likely to be lost and have to reoccur many times before they actually stick (WTF? It's not like a specific change keeps trying. Many are just lost). Just because of random effects (failure to reproduce due to accidental death, infertility, not finding a mate, or the death of all one's progeny), a particular neutral mutation may have to arise many times before it becomes established in the population, and then many more years before it finally becomes fixed (that is, before it takes over the population and replaces all other versions).
What a strange misinterpretation of the process! The author seems to think that the mutations which fail to reproduce keep trying until they stick. Bizarre! Clearly, lost mutations are simply lost. Just like the 99.9% of all species which have gone extinct. Very few succeed.
How long before a single, new mutation appears and becomes fixed? An estimate from a recent paper (by a Young Earth Creationistusing numerical simulations is 1.5 million years. That is within the range of possibility. (By assuming that there is only a single specific desirable mutation being considered by nature at any given time.) But what if two specific mutations are needed to effect a beneficial change? Their estimate is 84 million years. Other scientists have done this calculation using analytical methods, but their numbers are even worse. One report calculates 6 million years for one specific base change in an eight base target typical of the size of a DNA binding site to fix (In the abstract, the author points out that the sequence needn't be perfect to be valuable, reducing the time to 60,000 yrs), and 100 million years to get two specific mutations. (That work was later amended to 216 million years.) Extrapolating from other published data merely confirms the problem.
Astonishing dishonesty! A brief review of the linked article (100 million years) contains the following quote: "Fortunately, in biological reality, the match of a regulatory protein to the target sequence does not have to be exact for binding to occur. Biological reality is complicated, with the acceptable sequences for binding described by position weight matrices that indicate the flexibility at different points in the sequence. To simplify, we assume that binding will occur to any eight-letter word that has seven letters in common with the target word. If we do this, then the mean waiting time reduces to ∼60,000 years."  Why would Evolution "News" need to misrepresent the author's conclusions in their linked article? Did they think nobody would read it?

Durrett makes a good analogy to the mistake Michael Behe made to reach is 216 million year figure in the linked article: "Behe is not alone in making this type of mistake. When Evelyn Adams won the New Jersey lottery on October 23, 1985, and again on February 13, 1986, newspapers quoted odds of 17.1 trillion to 1. That assumes that the winning person and the two lottery dates are specified in advance, but at any point in time there is a population of individuals who have won the lottery and have a chance to win again, and there are many possible pairs of dates on which this event can happen. The probability that it happens in one lottery 1 year is ∼1 in 200 (Durrett 2009)  
Another paper came up with much shorter time frames by assuming that any 5 to 10 base pair binding site could arise anywhere within 1 Kb of any promoter within the genome. 
Yet in all likelihood many more than two binding sites would be required to change anything significant, and those binding sites must be appropriate in location and in sequence to accomplish the necessary changes. They must work together in order for a specific adaptive change to happen.  (Again, the authors seem to think that these changes are prescribed and can't be happening at random, in parallel, and at different sites.) 
Genes operate in networks, and to shift a gene regulatory network would require many mutations, and not just random ones. Remember there are anatomical physiological, behavioral, and intellectual differences to explain, multiple traits each requiring multiple coordinated mutations. Unless one invokes luck on a large scale, those traits would not have come to be. (Again, all this presumes humanity is the intended end-state. It is because it is.) 
I'm not betting on luck. (Of course you're not). 

Image: Homo georgicus, reconstruction, photo by 120 (Own work (photograph), model by √Člisabeth Daynes) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Well that was as much fun as beating my head against a wall. The basics mistakes are as follows:

  1. Cite ancient journals from 1904 as if they're still relevant
  2. Misrepresent the number of changes
  3. Cite letters to journals which explicitly refute the point you're claiming they make (oops?!)
  4. Presume that the genetic changes were prescribed
  5. Assume intelligent humanity was the universe's desired end-goal
  6. Ignore that a neutral genetic change will not survive without a second change that's necessary to the benefit. Indeed, we could have millions of such single-mutations waiting on a second mutation to confer a benefit.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Standard Phases of a Debate with a Theist

I've been debating with fundamentalist theists for a while now, and I've started to notice some interesting trends. In this blog, I'll describe the standard tactics theists use when attempting to squash dissent. I believe many of these illuminate pervasive beliefs among the more conservative believers. Many of them strike me as a defense mechanism or a childish black-and-white view where truth is established by authority rather than evidence.


This tact seems to me like the believer needs comfort that they couldn't become atheists. Every time I see it, it seems to me like the theist is desperately trying to hold on to a belief that's impossible to validate.  All these denialist tactics will come off as an accusation that you're lying. Try to remember that the theist just wants to feel better about the security of their own fragile faith.

You're not actually atheist

It's insulting when a someone accuses you of lying -- especially when they don't even know you.  Try not to take this tact personally. There are several factors at play here. First, the Christian Bible clearly states that all men know god is real. The most thoroughly indoctrinated fundamentalist believers are taught to accept the claims in that book regardless of the world they observe. Since the book must be true, you must be lying.
  • "You're just angry with God, you know God is real. You just want to sin without being punished."
  • "You know god is real. It says so in Romans 1:20."
    • Nope. I really don't believe it's real.
  • "You can't unknow something after you've known it"
    • But some of us can realize and admit that we were mistaken
  • "You just want to sin so you pretend God isn't real. But he's gonna getcha' in the end." 
    • OK. I added that last sentence. But the assertion is ridiculous. It's like saying I can rob a bank if I close my eyes and pretend the police aren't there. It's also a claim to know my mind and an accusation that I'm lying. This is treading awfully close to the block button. I don't take kindly to being accused of dishonesty by someone who doesn't know me.

It Can't Happen to Me!

  • "You were never really Christian if you stopped believing. 1 John 2:18-21 and Luke 8:13 predicted this"
    • As if people weren't leaving religions back then too.  It didn't take a genius to make that prophecy. Just look around.

Finding Bearings Without Absolutes

It's pretty disorienting to let go of a core belief. I once thought all my moral values were based in Christian doctrine.  When the Christian doctrine started to crumble, I was left wondering how I would make ethical choices in my life. Turns out this wasn't very hard, but before I thought it through it felt terrifying.


  • "For morality to be absolute, there must be an ultimate lawgiver."
    • Neither true nor a valid reason for an 'ultimate lawgiver' to exist. 
    • This whole line of questioning seems to imply that we are either guaranteed absolute morality or that "absolute morality" is somehow inherently obvious. 
  • "Where do morals come from in a godless universe?"
    • This question is obvious to someone who understands that genes are common within a tribe, so supporting the tribe reinforces the reproduction of genes. Successful tribes are those where the individuals within the tribe demonstrate  empathy for other tribe members.
    • Unfortunately, many of the Christians I talk with haven't got the first clue how evolution actually works, so short of a repeat of high school biology class, they're just not going to understand.
  • "Mere humans are not capable of understanding, but it's moral for God to XXX (insert horrific Bible story here)." This is the usual response to the assertion that a bible story is immoral. 

Good and Evil

  • "Without a reference of absolute good, there's no way to judge anything as good or evil"
  • "Evil must exist so that we can recognize good" (response to the problem of evil)

Science Is Unreliable

Many (not all) atheists accept that the scientific method is the most reliable method for knowing and understanding our world. Some theists feel a need to try to tear down science in order to feel like faith is somehow reliable or at the very least, just as good as science.
  • "Science isn't capable of detecting God"
    • Science is a process for measuring anything that's objective, verifiable, and logical.  Which of these is your god unable to satisfy?
  • 'Scientific "facts" are always changing '
    • A distortion of the truth. Interpretation of facts can change.  Repeatable objective measurements do not change.
  • "It takes Faith to do science!" Followed by an attempt to label imagination and foresight as the same as religious faith. 
    • This is equivocation, a sign of poor arguments. Imagination and creativity are an ability to envision that something might work or might be true.  Faith is concluding that a belief must be true.
  • "Great scientists believed in God". this is typically followed with specific examples of famous scientists who believed in God in ancient times. 
    • It's worth remembering that people didn't have a choice in what they professed to believe back then. The punishment for apostasy is death in the Bible. Thank God we've moved past that!


Sadly, many theists aren't really in it for the discussion. They are used to a preaching style of communication and they think it'll help you find Jesus. 

My Version of Christianity Will Fix You

  • "How many times have you read the Bible cover-to-cover"
    • This one is both a dick-measuring contest and a challenge to believe their special religion.
  • "You need to really READ the Bible."
    • Many of the atheists I know are former Bible scholars.

Quoting Scripture When Things Get Rough

This is like some sort of incantation.  The specific verses vary, but it's like they're trying to reinforce their own beliefs and ward of Satan when you say something that makes them doubt. It's rather amusing when it happens.  I tend to infer that I've likely struck a nerve.

Thinly veiled hell threats

I think these are a good opportunity to ask the believer if they think it's ethical for their God to torture people based on sincere beliefs. It's often a last-resort tactic when the believer needs to make themselves feel better about the fact that they're completely unable to justify their stated beliefs.

  • Every knee will bow
  • Some day, you'll be sorry for what you're saying

Begging the Question

When it's clear they can't possibly demonstrate any of their claims to be true, they'll start working their baseless assumptions as presuppositions to comments and questions. 
It's like they're incapable of even recognizing the places where they've made assumptions. Repeatedly asserting as if it's obvious doesn't make it real.

Genetic Engineering Algorithms

Why do I care?

In discussion with creationists, I'm often told that "randomness cannot design." 

That's utter bullshit. One of the ways I reply to these tweets is with examples of Genetic Design Algorithms, where random mutations coupled with selection and reproduction based on objective performance criteria can will always result in the appearance of design that satisfy the performance criteria.
In the course of these conversations, I've dug up quite a few resources and developed a few memes.

Evolution Works

It works so damn well that it can be used to design things when you're not sure what approach is best. I'm not just saying that, there's really good examples:
  • Field -Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA's) have been designed to distinguish sounds
  • There are commercial software products like Genetic Designer and Natural Selection which provide tools for genetic design
  • Open-source libraries are free and available, so you can study the techniques and evaluate the performance for yourself. Admittedly, most of the people don't have the technical expertise, time, or patience to learn how to use these tools.

Watch it Happen Yourself

There are some really great examples of genetic design algorithms which can be watched evolving in near-real-time. One of my favorites is called BoxCar2D. In it, you can watch randomly designed cars compete for speed and distance.  Successful cars reproduce with random mutations. You can even manipulate the mutation rates and number of top cars to breed. BoxCar2D is a pretty robust simulation,
There are other, simpler online examples of the same basic concept. Since they're simpler, they converge faster:

  • Genetic Algorithm 2D is a version that runs on pure HTML5 / javascript, so you don't need Flash.
  • Genetic  Cars lets you cross-breed your cars with cars from other online players.
  • Darwin Bots is a more comprehensive simulation that runs on your desktop
  • BioMorph is a simulator where the user interactively selects the successful child in each generation.
I'm sure there are more. If you have a personal favorite, please post a comment or tweet me.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Prophecy: On A Response to Islamic Apologetics

In a recent twitter discussion, I asked for evidence of a god and was presented with the following World War One – Centenary of the Fulfilment of a Great Warning". It was something of a Rickroll, because the article (excluding endnotes!) is 15,400 words long!  The link connects to "Review of Religions," which appears to be a deceptively titled Islamic apologetics journal dedicated to critical review of all religions except Islam.

The following was written before reading the article:

Having discussed with several Islamic apologists, I have expectations for the nature of the alleged "evidence." Rather than evidence as I requested, I expect to find the following:

  1. A single or a series of dogmatic, faith-based claims, likely coupled with a few select quotes from scripture.
  2. A description of how history or science  (probably history given the title) can be interpreted to be consistent with that dogmatic claim.
  3. The conclusion that since the history / science is consistent with the scripture that the scripture represents prophecy which can only have come from direct revelation by god to the book's author. I think this twitter user is Muslim, so I expect that to be Mohammed.
I'm not sure how long it will take me to get around to reading the lengthy Muslim apologetic, so I will go ahead and post this for folks who would like to check out my prophecy for themselves.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

You Are Not Spiritually Blind, The Emperor Has No Clothes

Have you been called "spiritually blind" or told that you "wouldn't believe in god if it stood in front of you?"  It's insulting, right? These phrases and tactics are common in religious and other cultures which Religious culture shames doubters. Whether the language and culture is intentionally designed in that way or simply arose out of cultural evolution can be debated, but the fact remains that it happens.

In some churches, the shaming is overt and explicit, but it's pervasive in the culture and language of even the most liberal and open churches. After over a year of debating on Twitter with theists, this tactic has stood out as a clear and consistent technique that's used in an attempt to shame those who question or doubt.

Responses to Questions

The shaming of in-group versus out-group doubt seems different.  Members of the faith are treated much more friendly than non-believers. The tactic is very effective at stifling open and honest discussion of the most fragile aspects of theism. Depending on their perspective and congregation, many theists will tell you that their church encourages questioning. 

However even in these cases, there exists strong and persistent shaming of a specific type of questions: Those which question the fragile foundation of theistic belief.  These are things like:
  • Does a god exist?
  • How can a just and loving God condemn anyone to hell for torture?
  • Why does God punish an innocent child for the sins of mankind? (A logical follow-up to an attempt to explain away the "Problem of Evil" by saying we live in a fallen world or man's free-will causes suffering)
  • Has God ever told you something you didn't already know?
  • Any challenge or doubt of the divinity of Jesus (e.g. How do we know jesus really did the miracles in the Bible? None of them left a trace.)
Common responses designed to shut down further questions:
  • You're overthinking it (one of my personal favorites)
    • Questioner's fault.
  • You just have to have faith.
    • Implies that the doubt or question is a failure on the questioner's part.
  • God has a plan which we are not capable of understanding.
    • Rather than specifically insulting the questioner, this one says all humanity is incapable of understanding God's perfect plan.
  • Trust the Bible. God wouldn't lie / is not the Deceiver (a reference to Satan)

Responses to Outside Doubt

The most common response to shut down challenges from someone outside theism is to attack their personal character or insult their to imply that god is so obvious that the nonbeliever must be handicapped (e.g. "spiritually blind").
  • You're unable to see your own bias against Christianity
    • Rather than address the question, the theist charges a doubter with bias and bigotry.
  • You must be struggling with faith.
  • You and those on your side are completely biased to oppose every argument for Christianity
  • You're not really an atheist. You're rebelling against a god you really know exists
    • This one is an insult to personal character -- calling the opponent a liar.  It's also based in scripture (Romans 1:20). To a believer who thinks the Bible is infallible, there's no way to even address this belief. You MUST be lying because no part of their Bible could possibly be wrong.

  • You are invincibly blind to your own arrogance, hatred and hypocrisy (all this for asking hard questions or expressing reasonable doubt)

  • You actually hate god. You're "swine" and I won't cast my brilliant "pearls" in front of you. 
  • Also: I'm a good person for attacking you now in the hopes my god won't torture you later.

  • You're just like the doubters and haters Paul described in Romans 1 & 18. So your doubt and refusal to accept my claims means my book made a prophecy and is therefore true in its entirety.

Stupid Challenges to Atheists

  • You have no morals
  • Without God, what is the meaning to life?
  • [Insert despot here] was atheist 
I'm not sure any of these even justify a response, but I've got a couple gems: