The End Of GodKillzYou [An Atheist Matures]

Wednesday October 28, 2009 3 comments

Introduction

For anyone who’s at all familiar with my writing, this blog or me personally, you’ll know that I’ve used the name GodKillzYou for pretty much all of my internet activity. Any account I’ve ever registered basically had that screen name associated with it.

So where did that name come from? Well, when I first de-converted from Christianity I was angry. I slowly began to realize that everything I believed was founded upon my own faulty reasoning, and that God was something I wanted to exist – not something that could be shown to exist. And because I’m a person who tends to take things to extremes, the result of my apostasy was my new screen name: GodKillzYou.

Good or bad, I went with it. I tended to adopt a point of view and portray an image that a name like GodKillzYou would put forth. I became the snarky, cynical, condescending, skeptical atheist that a name like GodKillzYou would fit.

Of course, I wasn’t like that all of the time in my writing. As my writing, as well as my personal journey into Atheism progressed, I found myself growing more and more understanding and sympathetic toward believers; not only of Christianity and other religions, but also of those who believe other things (ESP, Dowsing, Astrology, Psychic Abilities, etc.).

But my sympathy and understanding does not translate into acceptance of those claims. I simply understand more clearly how we arrive at those conclusions, and my attitude has come to reflect that. My intentions are much more driven by the desire to reach a common understanding with those whom I disagree with.

Re-Branding Myself

So, in this attempt to re-brand myself I’m hoping that my new screen name, TheSkepticalAtheist, will bear a closer resemblance to my worldview. “TheSkepticalAtheist” doesn’t carry with it that angst-ridden, spiteful, cynical tone that I’m looking to get away from.

I also realize that doing something like this is akin to changing a phone number. I will still leave my http://godkillzyou.wordpress.com/ (In Case You’re Interested…) blog up. There is a lot of useful information there, aside from my writings on religion – tech stuff, iTunes fixes, etc. I’ll also still respond to comments on that blog, as I still get plenty.

And with that, I’m saying farewell to GodKillzYou and any stigma the goes along with it. I am branding myself TheSkepticalAtheist.

My new blog can be found here: http://theskepticalatheist.wordpress.com.

Categories: All

Lying For Jesus [Part III – The Sneak-Attack Baptism]

Thursday September 10, 2009 3 comments

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

That’s Mark 16, verse 15 (KJV). It also happens to be the impetus behind Christians going out and knocking on doors at 9:00am on Sunday mornings. As bad as that is, I don’t have a problem with it. I think if they’re that compelled by an ancient book that can’t even maintain internal consistency, then bring it on.

What I’m not ok with is lying to gain converts. Deceiving children, no less. Lying to parents and the children in order to get a few more baptisms under your belt. I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t keep a scorecard, or a running tally on what church gets the highest number of baptisms or converts.

Last month (August 26, 2009) Breckinridge County High School (Kentucky) football coach Scott Mooney led a group of players from their school’s football team to see what he told the parents and children would be a “motivational speaker” and a steak dinner. What Mr. Mooney failed to mention to anyone was the fact that this “motivational speaker” was the pastor of his church, Ron Davis (Franklin Crossroads Baptist Church). And the “steak dinner” was, in fact, a mass baptism and the teammates were to accept Jesus Christ as their “Lord and Savior” as a way to, as coach Mooney said, “bring the team together.”

So coach Mooney used peer pressure to get all of those teammates baptized in his church. He lured them under a false premise of going to see a “motivational speaker.” Not only this, but he used a public school bus, with the expressed permission of superintendent of the district, Janet Meeks.

What seems to be at issue here is the fact that believers take Mark 16:15 and use it as an excuse to do whatever is in their power to force their religion on everyone they can, honestly or not, willfully or not. If you have to lie, cheat and deceive to get a few more converts, then all the better for the receiving church.

Thankfully, one of the teammates parents is considering legal action against the school district. A lawyer, Bill Sharp, from the ACLU was contacted and he said that…

The message conveyed to the students is there’s an official endorsement.

And also that…

There’s certainly a coercive element. He’s in a position of authority.

I think one of the biggest tragedies of all wasn’t even the fact that these kids were corralled into a big baptism fest. The biggest problem for me was the fact that when one of the kids was asked by his parents, after returning from the trip, what baptism actually means, he hadn’t a clue. This entire process was nothing more than a “getting saved” assembly line. Pump ‘em through the system and get them into the fold as quickly as possible, before they realize what’s happened to them.

I think this is a big problem with the mentality of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. They’ve got this mindset that they have to get everyone saved as quickly as possible. They just need to get as many people  as possible to say a certain prayer as quickly as possible, regardless of whether or not they understand what’s going on. The important part is that the person says the words just right.

Anyway, if all goes well and the parents follow through with their legal action, hopefully any faculty involved in this incident will be fired, including the coach and the superintendent.

The public school system is not a place to push your religion on children. And more importantly, without permission from their parents – and that means ALL of the parents… not just the Jesus lovers of the group.

My conclusion? Believers, stick to knocking on doors at 9:00am on Sunday morning. Keep your religion out of the school system. Also, Mark 16:15 doesn’t condone lying, cheating or deceiving in order to follow through with that verse. Remember the 10 Commandments? Bearing false witness?

iTunes Crashes On “Determining Song Volume” [Fixed]

Sunday September 6, 2009 2 comments

Introduction

Today I downloaded a couple podcasts into iTunes (QuackCast and Psychology Podcast). After completing the download, I ran into a problem. iTunes crashed when the “Determining Song Volume” process started.

iTunes determines the song volume when “Sound Check” is enabled. This ensures that all your songs play at the same volume.

So, not only did iTunes crash when I completed downloading the podcasts, but it would immediately crash as soon as I tried to start it up again. It would attempt to determine the song volume of the new podcasts and immediately crash.

I tried restarting the computer, and still nothing. Instant crash as soon as I opened up iTunes.

It turns out that iTunes isn’t entirely stable on multi-core processors. A quick search online revealed exactly what the problem was. iTunes needs to run on 1 processor core, at least when running the “Sound Check” process.

The Solution

It turns out that it’s possible to set individual programs to only use a certain number of processor cores. And that’s what I did with iTunes.

Here’s how you do it.

  1. When iTunes attempts to start up, try to hit the little ‘x’ next to “Determining Song Volume” to cancel that process. It may take a few tries to click it before iTunes crashes.
  2. Next, in iTunes, go into Edit/Preferences/Playback tab. Disable “Sound Check.”
  3. Open up the Task Manager (CTRL + Shift + Esc). Open up the “Processes” tab and right-click on iTunes. Select “Set Affinity…” And be sure only 1 core is selected (CPU0, 1, 2, 3, etc – depending on how many cores your computer has.).
  4. You can now go back into iTunes and enable “Sound Check.”

That’s it. iTunes should determine the song volume of your newly imported music and you’ll be all set.

You can also find these instructions here.

What Is Wicca? [An Atheistic Perspective]

Saturday August 22, 2009 9 comments

Introduction

I actually had a request to write about this topic. It’s not exactly my area of expertise, but I thought I’d give it a shot.

Now, I could go into a bunch of history, specifics as to what Wiccans believe and whatnot, but I think it would be a little redundant. There are plenty of sources for that on the internet. Wikipedia has a great article on Wicca.

My main purpose here is to give an Atheistic, or, maybe the more appropriate term might be Naturalistic, view of Wicca.

Nature-Based

Nature Wicca is referred to as a “nature-based” religion. What seems apparent are the common themes in Wicca that span many different religions. The idea of a trinity, for instance. Many Wiccans worship the “Triple Goddess;” the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. We see this idea in Christianity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We also see this in Hinduism (the Trimurti); Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. (More info on various other trinities can be found here.)

Taking into account the very symbolic nature of these trinities, it’s worthwhile to mention that in its basic form, religion seeks to explain the world around us. As opposed to science, religion seeks to explain our world with decrees and absolute statements through divine revelation.

With that in mind, we can see that the Triple Goddess is symbolic of things such as the phases of the moon and stages of life. Attempts to anthropomorphize the world around us.

It is said that the origins of Wicca stem from various pagan beliefs which may have been around since before the Abrahamic religions came into existence.

These religions were developed long before scientific inquiry was the standard for proof of a claim. Before we understood as much as we do today about physics, Newtonian mechanics, relativity and even that the world is round. The standard explanation for anything in those times was that a god was in charge of the workings of nature.

We can see how these symbols of Wicca reflect that idea. Things such as the phases of the moon symbolized by the phases of life of a goddess.

Essentially, by “nature-based,” this means that everything in nature is anthropomorphized and brought to a level where everything around us is somehow expressive of some human quality. It gives everything a more personal quality, and where the feeling of “connectedness” stems from.

We can’t relate with trees, or the moon, or any other species on this planet outside of a human context. But, when we attribute human qualities to them, they soon become more relatable and filled with a certain “energy” which is, in its most basic sense, an emotional attachment.

Magic

Book Of Shadows A large part of the Wiccan religion is magic. Be it White or Black magic, Wicca centers around this practice.

As with any claims of paranormal activity, be it ghosts, ESP, dowsing, or magic, there is a huge burden on those who make these extraordinary claims to show evidence that these claims are real.

The problem with magic is that there is absolutely no evidence to support the idea that it actually works. The people who propose that magic works use vague terms such as “energy” and “intention” or “will.” These terms are meaningless, for several reasons.

The most basic of these reasons is that “energy” is nothing more than the potential to do work. This can be either kinetic or potential. Energy is not an invisible cloud floating around waiting for someone to tell it what to do.

If the proponents of magic intend to claim that it is anything more than kinetic or potential energy, then it is up to them to provide the mechanism for how it works. To simply say that it is mysterious, or that science cannot understand it is meaningless. Let me explain a little further.

To claim that magic can have an effect on the physical world intrinsically means that this “magic” must consist of something physical. I liken it to when people claim that ghosts can move objects in a room, or that ghosts can walk through walls. If a ghost can walk through a wall, then it obviously does not interact with the physical world.  This is also the same reason why ghosts cannot be visible. If it were visible, it would have to consist of some physical medium which could reflect light back into the eyes of the perceiver.

A ghost cannot walk through a wall, then in the same instance knock a cup off of a table. Those are two contradicting phenomena. It’s not just that I think it probably couldn’t happen. It is physically impossible, no matter what excuses you use. It violates the laws on which this Universe is based.

In this same way, magic cannot perform work and at the same time consist of something that is not physical. By necessity, any energy able to perform work is detectable by scientific instrumentation. At the end of the day, it all boils down to friction.

In order to perform work, or to actually affect the physical world, there must be friction. One surface against another. To open a door, there must be friction between your hand and the doorknob. To push a cup off of a table, there must be friction between your hand and the cup and the surface of the table. Even, as some magic spells claim, to affect emotions such as love, there must be friction in the brain, causing electric activity in the brain to be sparked by a transfer of electrons.

Any other use of the word “energy” outside of the realm of physicality and friction is simply a ruse to make a claim sound mysterious and beyond our comprehension, to bring the claim beyond the realm of questioning. The word “energy” used in this way is, again, meaningless.

Conclusion

While I am far from an expert on Wicca, there are some glaring similarities between it and many other world religions. The anthropomorphizing of nature, the idea of a trinity, forms of magic and spells and an overall manifestation of mystery around normal, everyday phenomena.

From a Naturalistic or Atheistic perspective, Wicca really is no different from any other religions except maybe for the fact that personal control over the environment is deemed possible through the influence of magic. In most other religions, this control over the environment is only possible through the influence of the godhead, or in the case of monotheism, the god of that particular religion.

Essentially, Wicca is another attempt to explain the world through supernatural means. A way to get easy answers to the complicated questions, such as the origin of the Universe.

Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You [A Review]

Wednesday August 19, 2009 2 comments

Introduction

Is it possible to know what someone is like simply by looking at their stuff? I’ve learned quite a bit about that very distinct possibility after reading Dr. Sam Gosling’s book Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You . From organizational habits, to the music they listen to, to the posters and pictures they hang on the wall (and how those pictures are hung), you can learn a lot about someone’s goals, their personality, and even their hopes and dreams.

The foundation for this science of snooping is based upon the “Big 5″ personality traits, commonly referred to as the “OCEAN.” These are: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Wikipedia has an excellent article laying out what exactly the “OCEAN” is all about and what the exact properties of each of the 5 traits are.

Stereotypes

When we think of stereotypes, we think of judging people based on their appearances. Dr. Gosling teaches us in this book that we are constantly using stereotypes to judge our surroundings and that, in general, stereotypes are a good thing. If we didn’t use stereotypes, every experience we had would be brand new.

In chapter 7, “In Defense of Stereotypes,” he says…

Imagine you are walking along a path in the jungle and you hear the roar of a tiger. You turn and, behind a nearby bush, you see the tail of the tiger. Although you have yet to see the whole beast, it’s a good bet that you’re in danger of encountering a tiger, not a hitherto undiscovered species of shrew with the tail and roar of a tiger. You would be wise to make a run for it, or do whatever you are supposed to do when encountering a tiger (although, of course, if it really was a tiger-tailed shrew you might have just missed the biological find of the century). The example shows that we use stereotypes to fill in the gaps when we are unable to gather all the information. And most everyday opportunities for perception are riddled with gaps. If you didn’t use stereotypes, you would be overwhelmed, because every item, person, and experience in life would have to be treated as though it were a totally new experience, not part of a broader class.

Music

Gosling tells us that music is also a huge part of what defines us. More specifically, there are certain types of music for which, if you notice CD from particular genres laying around someone’s apartment, will be more indicative of someone’s personality, religious or political views.

For example, Gosling says that studies have shown that Contemporary Religious, Country and Classical music are fairly accurate at determining personality as compared with Soul, Pop and Rap.

Gosling also provides some interesting data charts involving what music people listen to and the drug preferences they have, what values they hold, physical characteristics and more.

More

I don’t want to give away too much about Dr. Gosling’s book, so I’ll just briefly touch on some other points made throughout.

Dr. Gosling talks a lot about people’s personality traits and how these traits are reflected in their living spaces. They leave a “residue” behind. Is this person disorganized? Conscientious? An active person? Are they trying to deceive you with the appearance of their living quarters?

He talks about things such as personal webpages, email signatures, blogs, etc. These things can say a lot about a person. He also touches on the fact that in some cases, facial features can say something about the person (the “snoopee”).

A big part of people’s lives, Dr. Gosling says, are what he calls their “feeling regulators.” Objects they keep around themselves to remind themselves of past accomplishments, family or loved ones, famous people, idols, etc. These serve as motivation, calming elements or any other type of way to regulate feelings.

Homes Built To Fit Your Personality

In the final chapter of this book, Dr. Gosling talks of how an architect by the name of Chris Travis builds homes to suit the inhabitant’s personality. He calls the process of determining the layout of the new home the “Truehome Method.” A very unique idea, and ironic, because much of what Travis had been doing with architecture was right in line with the research that Dr. Gosling was discovering with his “snooping.” People with different personalities, and especially among couples, have different spacial wants and needs.

When I visited Travis and looked at some of the plans he had created for his client’s houses, I quickly saw how his understanding of the functions of a living space differs from that of a conventional architect. One plan was stretched out on a long table. Whereas a conventional architect might use labels such as family room, back porch, and master bedroom, Travis’s labels denote the feelings each space must evoke for the home’s owners.

Conclusion

Dr. Sam Gosling’s book, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You is a great read. Not only does it show how you can learn a lot about others just by looking at their stuff, but you can learn a lot about yourself in the same way. You can be your own “snoopee.”

What does your workspace look like? Is your desk a mess? Does it look like no one has ever used it? Do you have pictures hanging on the walls or on the desk? Which way do they face? Toward you, or toward your vistors? Your stuff says a lot about you.

Categories: All, Books, Psychology, Science

Reflexology Is A Science? So Says “The Citizen” (Auburn, NY)

Thursday July 23, 2009 81 comments

So I was browsing through “The Citizen,” the online local paper from Auburn, NY and stumbled upon an article about reflexology. You know, the “holistic,” alternative mode of treating basically any disease by rubbing your feet? Yeah, I was caught off guard, too.

According to this article, reflexology is a science. Oooh. Sounds scientific… until you get into what reflexology really is.

Reflexology (zone therapy) is an alternative medicine method involving the practice of massaging or applying pressure to parts of the feet, or sometimes the hands and ears, with the goal of encouraging a beneficial effect on other parts of the body, or to improve general health.

Improve general health? Wait a minute. That sounds pretty vague. I think I’ll need some more information before I buy into something like that.

The article says that…

It is a science because it is based on physiological and neurological studies…

Really? I’d be curious to read about those studies. Where will I find them? The New England Journal Of Medicine? The Journal Of The American Medical Association? A quick search on PubMed doesn’t reveal any studies concerning the efficacy of reflexology, or that even address the claims that reflexology makes. So much for that claim.

What I want to direct your attention to is the following statement from this article

…but the art of reflexology must not be confused with a basic foot massage. It is a pressure technique which works on precise reflex points of the feet. This is based on the premise that reflex areas on the feet correspond with all body parts.

Reflexology

Put simply, this whole “science” of reflexology is based on a false premise. There are no “reflex points” on the feet which correspond to any other body parts. This is simply New Age, woo woo, nonsense.

Dr. Stephen Barrett, M.D. points on in an article on QuackWatch that…

The pathways postulated by reflexologists have not been anatomically demonstrated; and it is safe to assume that they do not exist. Similar rationales are used employed by iridologists (who imagine that eye markings represent disease throughout the body) and auricular acupuncturists who “map” body organs on the ear (a homunculus in the fetal position). The methodology is similar in both of these; and some commentators consider pressing on “acupuncture points” on the ear or elsewhere to be forms of reflexology, but most people refer to that as acupressure (“acupuncture without needles). The Reflexology Research Web site displays charts for foot and hand reflexology. The fees I have seen advertised have ranged from $35 to $100 per session.

Strange. This supposed “science” has not been anatomically demonstrated. Not much of a science, if you ask me.

Now, the author of this article, Diane DelPiano gives a decent, although short, account of the history of reflexology. But, the article is altogether credulous of the claims made. She goes on to say that…

Reflexologist’s believe that granular accumulations of waste matter called uric acid crystals concentrate around reflex points. With training, you can feel these accumulations. The goal is to break these accumulations down to open the energy pathways and improve the blood flow to the reflex organs. It is also intended to open blocked nerve pathways and helps to flush toxins out of the body.

The good ol’ “toxin” gimmick. Nobody wants toxins in their body. But, what toxins? You’ll never hear a reflexology, or any New Age, alternative medicine practitioner mention specific toxins. Just the general term. Even the term “uric acid crystals” is bunk. Here’s some information about uric acid from a Wikipedia article on the subject.

In humans and higher primates, uric acid is the final oxidation (breakdown) product of purine metabolism and is excreted in urine. In most other mammals, the enzyme uricase further oxidizes uric acid to allantoin.[2] The loss of uricase in higher primates parallels the similar loss of the ability to synthesize ascorbic acid.[3] Both uric acid and ascorbic acid are strong reducing agents (electron donors) and potent antioxidants. In humans, over half the antioxidant capacity of blood plasma comes from uric acid.

Don’t alternative medicine practitioners go on and on about how important antioxidants are? This is simply an example of stupid. Or FAIL, if that’s your favorite pejorative term. Not only is uric acid not a toxin, but it’s also necessary for the human body.

The stupid!! It hurts!!

There are no toxins in your feet, or anywhere else in your body. The kidneys, the liver… they’re purpose is to remove those things automatically. And how much more natural can you get than that?

I found an interesting quote from a blogger on the Fighting Spurious Complementary & Alternative Medicine (SCAM) blog that speaks well to the “detox” myth.

Detoxification is a common feature of alternative medicine, but I have yet to find anyone who can name the toxins that need to be removed from the body or explain how each treatment will remove these toxins.

If toxins accumulated in the body as is now suggested by practitioners of “natural medicine” then the human race would have died out centuries ago. There were no detox diets for the knights of the middle ages.

Before this post gets to be too long, I’ll just finish with addressing the final part of this article which deals with the “benefits” of reflexology.

Further benefits of reflexology include: relaxation and stress reduction, improved circulation and oxygenation, improved lymphatic flow and stimulation of the immune system. Additionally, by stimulating the immune system, reflexology helps the body take up more nutrients and helps to revitalize and energize the body.

While these seem to be evidence of an effective modality, a close look reveals something quite different. It’s relaxing. It “improves” circulation and oxygenation, “improved” lymphatic flow, and it “stimulates the immune system.” These claims are so vague and general that you couldn’t even begin to test them. What does “improved lymphatic flow” even mean, in a medical sense? How specifically does it “stimulate” the immune system? Does it inject foreign bodies for it to attack, similar to how immunizations work?

No, there is no mechanism. It’s just New Age, magical energy nonsense. The reason for such vague and non-specific claims is, as I said before, to avoid lawsuits for false medical claims. Reflexology is nothing more than a massage.

But don’t take my word for it. The next time you see your podiatrist, ask him about “energy flow,” “toxins” and “reflex points.” I bet you’ll get a little chuckle before he tells you that alternative medicine is dangerous to your health, simply for the fact that it doesn’t actually do anything.

If you’ve got something seriously wrong with you, and you go see a “naturopath,” or an alternative medicine practitioner before you see a real doctor, you could end up seriously injured, or dead. Just take a look at WhatsTheHarm.net. You can read all about people who have suffered (or died) at the hands of those practicing “alternative medicine.”

It’s not just a “different kind of medicine.” It’s wrong.

Again, here is the link to the article in question.

Virtual Pool 3 Has Stopped Working [Error 0xc0000005]

Saturday July 11, 2009 4 comments

Before I begin, I should mention that I’m using Windows Vista Home Premium, 32-bit.

So I’ve been dabbling in my old PC games as of late. Namely Virtual Pool 3 – a classic.

I’ve been playing it for a while. But, all of a sudden it stopped working. As soon as I click the game to start playing, I get a message popping up saying “Virtual Pool 3 Has Stopped Working.” After Windows checks for a solution it says…

A problem caused the program to stop working correctly. Windows will close the program and notify you if a solution is available.

With no obvious solution being found on the internet, I’m left with writing this blog entry; a plea for help.

For anyone who’s got some programming chops or has some deep understanding of the inner workings of the Windows Vista operating system, I’ve done a little bit of research on the problem.

Going into the Control Panel under Administrative Tools, looking at the Event Viewer, I’ve found a few logs with details about this error. It says I’ve encountered an “exception code 0xc0000005.” To be more specific, here’s exactly what the log entry says…

Faulting application vp3.exe, version 3.3.1.1, time stamp 0x47e6ca05, faulting module vp3.exe, version 3.3.1.1, time stamp 0x47e6ca05, exception code 0xc0000005, fault offset 0x003ecb0f, process id 0×1350, application start time 0x01ca028518c059e5.

And, for a touch more information, here’s a screen shot of the debugging information involved with this error. I don’t know if it helps or not, but more info is better than less. (Click the picture for a larger image.)

vp3debug

Each time I try to run Virtual Pool 3, I get this error in the Event Viewer. It’s quite frustrating. I’m usually pretty handy at solving computer problems, but this has got me hacked. I’ve tried all different settings in the “Compatibility” tab. I’ve tried all the options on the Virtual Pool 3 Support Page.

I’ve completely uninstalled the program via Vista Manager, with its Smart Uninstaller which removes all registry entries and any leftover files that may be hanging around after the uninstall procedure.

Still nothing.

So, if there’s anyone out there with more information about this error, I’d be greatly appreciative if you could leave a comment with your suggestions as to how to fix this error! I know this is an old game, but it’s the best pool simulator out there… as far as I know. I’d really like to be able to play it again.

Read a book! It’s good for you.

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