King Aardvark's Kick in the Nuts
Turgid ideas about science, engineering, religion, and politics. Turgid because I'm too lazy to do research or write a complete essay. If you have a problem with that, well, I don't care.
27 November 2006
Evolution of Belief
22 November 2006
I haven't been following the whole religion/atheism thing or even much science in recent weeks/months. For the past little while, I've been indulging in one of my other nerdly loves: medieval history.
In the past little while, I've read Terry Jones' Medieval Lives (debunking the myths surrounding our view of the Middle Ages), Norman Cantor's The Last Knight (looks at late Medieval society using John of Gaunt as a reference), and I'm just finishing Brian Clegg's The First Scientist (about pioneering friar Roger Bacon). On the side, I'm reading the large and very general Ancient History by J.M. Roberts. I also got a book on Medieval military techniques for my birthday, and I know that I'm getting a book on the Normans for Christmas.
It's been nice to get away from the constant onslaught of religiosity that I get when I go to church with my wife or even talk to her at home. I get enough of the religion-bashing content from Pharyngula. Even reading Carnival of the Godless has become a chore of late, so a little history is a good diversion.
But even then I cannot escape. The Ancient History book contains chapters on whatever religions make a historical impact. Both Terry Jones' book and Norman Cantor's book contain some reference to the church and religion. It makes sense: religion was a huge factor in the lives of Europeans. One could say that without Christianity there would be no Europe. But in these books it was a small part.
Not so for The First Scientist. Like CotG, this book has been a chore. That's what happens when the subject is a friar and works for the pope. It's been an interesting, though frustrating, read; it really makes you wonder how much the church held back intellectual development.
For those who don't know (and I'm sure most don't), Roger Bacon (no relation to Francis Bacon) was an Oxford-trained scholar back in the 1200's. He was deeply interested in the natural world and was arguably the first to combine purely theoretical natural philosophy (a la Aristotle) with the demand for experimental proof - hence the title "the first scientist." Among his topics of study were optics, cartography, astronomy, alchemy, and languages. However, early in his work, political turmoil resulted in the loss of his funding as his family lost their wealth. Always a deeply religious man, he joined the friary as a way to continue his studies, and even arranged a deal to produce a scientific treatise for the pope. Unfortunately for him, the pope he was working for died and the one who replaced him instilled a culture that allowed no dissent from accepted theology; no challenging authority was tolerated. Bacon, always a disturber, was locked away for over 10 years, though this was probably over his religious rather than scientific views. He was eventually released but did not accomplish much else before his death.
His life story just makes me angry.
In a more free intellectual time, Bacon himself might have sparked a scientific revolution 400 years earlier than what actually occured. He was not a very good scientist, and, although he advocated empiricism, he himself was a poor experimenter; nevertheless, his works show a new way of thinking and a new way of skepticism that could have led the way to real scientific discovery had the culture of the time not been rooted in mysticism and religion.
As for Bacon, that mystical and religious culture perverted his memory into that of a magician and alchemist. It was not until the dawning of the scientific revolution that some scholars looked back on Bacon's works and said, "Hey! This guy was on the right track 400 years ago."
Mojoey's Atheist Blogroll...
...All the cool kids are doing it.
Well, I'm doing it, so it must be cool ;-) This blogroll of atheist/agnostic blogs, started by Mojoey at Deep Thoughts, is tres cool. It currently contains about a hundred links. I've only visited a few of these, mainly from CotG postings, so of course getting to know more bloggers is a good thing.
You can get the atheist blogroll here.
20 November 2006
This Atheist Sure Is Friendly...
I was just contacted by Hemant Mehta at the Friendly Atheist, wanting to know if I'd blogroll him while he returned the favour. Well, I checked out his site, and, apart from being a very nice site indeed, he shares my disdain for Lee Strobel. Big score in my books, there. So welcome to the blogroll, Hemant!
14 November 2006
Some people still have some sense...
A company that sells Bible-quoting Jesus dolls said it was surprised and disappointed that the Marine Reserves’ Toys for Tots program turned down its offer to donate 4,000 of the talking dolls.Of course, the damn evangelical running the toy company is quite miffed that Toys for Tots would dare turn down Jesus dolls, and has no idea why anyone would do such a thing:
“I believe as a churchgoing person, anyone can benefit from hearing the words of the Bible,” said Michael La Roe, director of business development for Valencia-based Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co. and its one2believe division, which makes the line of Bible character dolls.The Toys for Tots program has a good reason for turning them down: they can't guarantee that the children receiving the toys would be Christian. (Just because it's a Christmas-season program doesn't mean that they give toys only to Christians. Imagine a Muslim child getting a talking Jesus doll. Yikes.)
I'm reminded of the music teacher in my highschool, who, during the school musical production of Godspell, said, "I love this musical. I think every school should do it."
Do these people lack all capacity for common sense? Do they want to cause problems? Can't they see the obvious trouble here?
07 November 2006
Alpha is for Suckers
My wife was talking to me a bit yesterday about the retreat she went to for her Alpha course, and we started discussing the contents of the course itself. I think I blew her mind that I already knew about all sorts of this stuff, like C.S. Lewis's crappy "God, liar, or madman" argument. I pointed out that I read too much, and went to a catholic highschool for 5 years, so I've heard all this stuff before. Anyway, I'm sure she's still trying to convert me. She started telling me about Nicky Gumbel, the lawyer turned vicar who started the modern version of the Alpha course back in England in 1990. She explained how he was as serious an atheist as possible, but had a Christian roommate in university who he liked to debate religion with. According to Gumbel's story that he tells in the Alpha videos, in doing all this research into the claims of the bible to argue with his roommate, the evidence he found convinced him that Christianity was true so he converted, and later became a vicar.
Now, because a) he's an evangelical Christian, b) he's sold over 750000 books, and c) he's a former lawyer, I figured I probably couldn't trust him as far as I could throw him (Looking at the picture of him on the back of one of his books, he looks like a decent-sized guy. I'm average-sized without any fighting training, so I probably couldn't throw him very far.). I challenged my wife with the following question, which she didn't come close to answering:
Given that Alpha is intended as an introduction to Christianity with the desire to convert people, and that Gumbel has alledgedly researched historical data that proved to him that Christianity is true, then why do the topics of discussion in Alpha stick to fluffy topics like "How does God guide us?" and "Why and how should I pray?" and almost entirely avoid issues of proof?
You hear it out of almost every evangelical with something to sell, how you were a militantly atheist sinner who looked at the facts and found Christ. Throw in random comments about how you used atheism as an excuse for all manner of moral depravity, like sex and drugs. I don't know if Gumbel ever claimed wickedness as a result of his atheist, but others like Lee Strobel come to mind.
How many ever really were atheists? How many found a persuasive talking point that they could use to help sell books to the easily impressed?