22 December 2006

Merry Cephalopodmas to All!

It's getting late in the season and I'm heading back home for (fictional deity)mas. I won't be back until January, so enjoy your presents below.

Here's something I drew a few years back at a grad/faculty Christmas party:

And here's what Christmas looks like in the structural engineering department where I work (Note: This should be one drawing but blogger compresses the image funny, so I had to split in two to make it smaller). Click to enlarge:

May you be touched by His Noodly Appendage, may you receive an aardvark giftwrapped under your tree, and, most importantly, make sure you protect your nuts!

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21 December 2006

Frank Gehry, meet my foot in your nuts

I'm a proud civil engineer. I design buildings for a living, and for me, nothing is more important that producing a safe building in a reasonable time frame for a reasonable chunk o' change. And, as a self-respecting civil engineer, I share a common trait with my colleagues: I think architects suck.

There are many reasons for this. First, the simplist reason is that we are under their command whenever we design a structure. But the problem is that they keep changing their minds so that we'll finish the design for something only to be told of a "small architectural change" that requires us to redesign the whole thing the day before the submission date. And they often want really stupid things for aesthetic purposes, like no columns in a wide atrium, or funny curved things.

Second, is they can just be too functionally useless. I hate Frank Gehry. Why? Because he designed one nice thing (the Guggenheim Museum) but followed up with countless uninspired blobs, which are damn hard to design, by the way. I actually worked on a Gehry-designed building recently, for shame.

Third, and lastly, I hate architects because of this:

Merry Freakin' Christmas!

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20 December 2006

Alpha Course Christmas Craptacular!

My wife dragged me to a Christmas party thrown by her Alpha Course (for those who don't know, Alpha is a popular introduction to Christianity course that runs for about 4 months - each session includes a meal, a lecture on video, and discussion).

She claimed it was a just a celebratory dinner because it's Christmas and the course had just ended, that families were welcome, and that it was just dinner, no Alpha lesson.

I suspected better: that it was going to be an attempt to advertise the program and try to get family members and friends to join next year. Alarm bells started really ringing when I got there and I overheard someone mention that they had been encouraged to bring as many family and friends as possible. Maybe my wife just didn't put 2 + 2 together there.

It was an ambush...

Dinner was good and the people were friendly, but, after dinner, there were instructions about how to join Alpha next year and they played a half-hour lecture by Nicky Gumbel, the head Alpha Course guy. It was an early video, from 20 years ago, about the meaning of Christmas, ie. Christ. I won't get into details, but there are a few things I would like to address below.

Firstly, I never had any experience with the works of C.S. Lewis before my interactions with Christianity; I just had the impression that he was supposed to be this famous and influential author. In the short amount of study I've partaken, led by sources from both the atheist camp and the theist camp, I can only come to the conclusion that the guy was a freakin' moron of the highest order. In the video, Gumbel paraphrased Lewis, saying, "If Christianity is true, then it is the single most important event in the history of the Earth. If it is untrue, then it is of no importance. There is no inbetween: Christianity can't be of medium importance." This guy must get off on false dichotomies (trichotomies? - see the Liar, Lunatic, or Lord "argument"). What about if it's partially true but overblown/exaggerated, as the Muslims believe? Then it is of medium importance. I think it is untrue, but even so, what about historical and cultural importance?

Second, the next logical step, given the argument of the craptacular C.S. Lewis, is to show that Christianity is indeed true. That is what they attempt to do, though "attempt" should be used loosely. Very loosely. Instead of summarizing evidence, Gumbel goes on to list a dozen or so famous scientists who were Christians, without noting of course that the majority listed were from 16th and 17th century Europe (like Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Boyle, and Newton) while the more recent ones got more and more obscure. This was followed by quoting some guy (who was supposed to be famous but his name didn't ring a bell, so I promptly forgot it - sorry) who said, "there is at least as much convincing evidence for the birth, life, and resurrection of Christ than for any other event in history." Of course, after wasting a good five minutes listing scientists and quoting obscure people, they list not one single piece of evidence.

Ok, let's try this game. I'll look at the life of Christ juxtaposed to a well-regarded historical event, say, World War 2.

Birth - No government record of birth. Only two of the Gospels mention where he was born.
Eyewitnesses - Many eyewitnesses are recorded in the Gospels, including those who witnessed miracles: crazy things such as raising dead, magically multiplying food, and Jesus himself getting executed and rising again. However, the Gospels themselves didn't begin to be written down until a generation or two after Jesus. The most prolific spreader of Christianity, Paul, was not even an eyewitness. Essentially, no one wrote of Christ except by reporting what Christians told them. Arguably, that even includes the earliest Christian writers, as the attribution of writings to Peter and John are suspect.
Death - Again, the only documentation comes from Christian sources. The typically very diligent Roman record keepers do not mention the execution of Jesus.

Birth - The countries involved formally declared war on each other through legislature, with specific dates for each declaration.
Eyewitnesses - Currently, we have many people alive today who claim to have fought in WW2. These claims are corroborated by the service records kept by their respective governments. These people, and others affected, often kept their own writings during WW2. We have film footage, in colour, that shows the events of WW2 occuring. We have archeological evidence in the form of graves, bombed and bullet-holed buildings, and leftover tanks. During the war, and in the decades afterwards, many books were written by people involved in WW2, as well as scholars and historians studying preexisting documents. These documents and witnesses came from all sides of the conflict, not just the victorious side.
Death - The formal surrender agreements were signed by both sides, and the signing was even broadcast around the world.

WW2: 1
Christ: 0

It would be nice if eminent Christians weren't retarded. It would help even more if people considering Christianity did not buy into such crappy arguments.

After the video, the group leader had two of the course participants come to the front and give testimonials. They were both relatively young and said roughly the same thing: that they started out doing the course as atheists but had both become Christians. Though, from what they said, they were more atheists out of apathy than serious thought, it does show that these Alpha Courses are effective at evangelizing. And that's not a good thing.

Finally, though he probably can't help it because he does seem happy, in the video, Gumbel has an annoying perpetual smile that shows way too much of his upper teeth. It makes me want to kick him in the nuts just to wipe the grin off his face. It's okay to not be super-happy all the time.

Christmas was better celebrated at another party we went to immediately after the Alpha dinner - where we feasted on greasy pub food, drank ourselves silly, and reveled in the light of novelty glowsticks. And Jesus was only mentioned as a curse word.

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19 December 2006

It's Like My Life Sometimes

From TheBrummell at Brummellblog:

Things my girlfriend and I have argued about.


18 December 2006

A sort-of meme: Inside the Atheist Studio

From Mike's Weekly Skeptic Rant:

1. What is your favorite word? Aardvark. It starts with a frickin' double 'A'. How is that not cool?
2. What is your least favorite word? Tie: Naive, Righteousness.
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? A quick evil wit. Or a kick in the nuts.
4. What turns you off? Really, really mentally thick people.
5. What is your favorite curse word? Damn.
6. What sound or noise do you love? The deep purr of a fine European sports car's engine revving. Think Jaguar V-12 from the '70s.
7. What sound or noise do you hate? Windchimes.
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Biology professor.
9. What profession would you not like to do? Lawyer.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? "The stripper factory is right over here..."


14 December 2006

I Am Turning Into a Land Whale

The past couple of days have been an extraveganza of culinary overindulgence.

Tuesday brought the company potluck lunch. People always bring a little too much and they always bring good stuff, so I ate way too much there, including perogies, fried noodles, Swedish meatballs, Indian meatballs, chicken in white wine sauce, devilled eggs, a samosa, stuffed pasta shells, pasta salad, potato salad, bean salad, spicy chicken wings, nachos with refried beans, potato wedges, chocolate macaroon, rum ball, egg tart, slice of chocolate cake, and some clementines.

I would have had more, but I had to save room for Tuesday night.

On Tuesday night, my wife and I went to her Alpha course year end Christmas party (more on that crapiness will follow), where we were served a dinner of ham, yams, some really well done mushrooms, broccoli, and cake. We got there late, so there wasn't as much food left for us, but it was ok; we had to leave quickly...

...To go to another party. This one was the Christmas party for our badminton club, held at a pub. We were about an hour late, so some of the wonderfully greasy pub food was gone, but we still had some chicken wings, slices of greek-style thin-crust pizza, garlic bread, these deep fried things that were similar to spring rolls but weren't, fries, and lots and lots of ribs. There were so many ribs left over that we took four takeout boxes home with us (We aren't that piggy; we gave most of them away).

I was so full, I could still feel food in my esophagus the next day. Which was too bad, since the next day, my department at work had our Christmas lunch, and we went to the best Chinese buffet around. I ate 2 plates of food, including pepper beef stir fry, curry chicken, chicken teriyaki, egg roll, shrimp stir fry, devilled egg, curry chicken salad, onion rings, bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin, roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, a dumpling, and fried chicken. I also had 2 plates of dessert, including a waffle topped with ice cream, whipped cream, strawberry sauce, and syrup, a brownie, some cake, fruit triffle, Jell-o, some mango ice cream, and a chocolate sundae. It was very good. I didn't think I could eat that much with how full I already was, but I somehow managed it - just because it was so good. I did this while sitting next to the company president and my department head. Good impressions there, I'll bet. I had to unbuttoned my pants and opened my belt one more notch.

That's a good start to the Christmas season. I ate way too much, so I'm feeling pretty low now. My stomach is weighing down the rest of my body.

Isn't getting fat a much better reason to celebrate than the arbitrarily-selected birthday of some dude who may or may not have existed 2000 years ago?


13 December 2006

No Conversion Story

I see so many others out there in blogdom talking about their conversion stories: the events or thoughts or teachings that made them re-examine their respective faiths and decide, "Hey, this isn't all it's cracked up to be," and become atheists or agnostics.

Sadly, I'll never be able to join in this particular genre of story telling, since, from the time I could first reason, I was always an atheist.

I do remember a time when I was very, very young, where I was a mental sponge. I believed everything I was told to: Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and yes, even Jesus and God.

I did have a leg up; my parents were never religious, and they never said anything about believing in Jesus and God. I don't know if they really are atheists, agnostics, or what - we never talked about it - but I do know they despise organized religion. Any God 'belief' (I say 'belief' in quotation marks because I never had a real, conscious belief, rather, I just didn't know I could disbelieve things yet) wasn't due to them. It was a cultural thing. North America is mostly Christian; even in the Ontario public school system of the mid '80s we still had an old substitute teacher who would read Bible stories, like Samson and Delilah, David and Goliath, or Joseph and the Coat of Many Colours.

But this was before I could reason. Being that this was only up to around grade 3, I was still in the irrational phase of childhood. That soon changed. Once I got old enough, I started to be able to think. Very quickly, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy were out the door. Santa and Jesus still remained, though I was no longer sure.

As I said, my parents were always anti-religion. My father had this really annoying saying that he voiced whenever he beat anybody at anything (fortunately, a very rare occurrence; no offense, dad =P): "Once again, skill and science triumphs over ignorance and superstition." And that struck me as true, as well as being damned annoying. They never talked about religion really, just the occasional snide comment about the occasional stupid thing done in the name of religion. Science, on the other hand, was prevalent. There were old geology, history, biology, medicine, paleontology, and astronomy books lying around for me to find. Realizing the work that had been done by scientists and historians to discover these things, I soon recognized that reason and hard work were the keys to understanding.

By around age 9, I had determined that Santa is real. Or rather was, and he's dead now, while the modern Santa is mythology that grew up around him. Religion also joined Santa as mythology.

Now, a lot of people assume that, since I'm a science-minded person (engineer with interest in biology, astrophysics, etc), the reason I deny faith in a god or gods is because of things like biological evolution, age of the earth, stellar evolution and planet formation, and the big bang. That is simply not true. Back then, I certainly did not know enough about science or religion to know where religion makes nonsensical, contradictory, or physically impossible claims, or that science explained so much. What I did know was culture.

My parents are from a diverse background; my mom is Asian, my dad is a British Loyalist. I traveled a lot as a child and saw Christians of various denominations, Buddhists, and Muslims. I noticed orthodox Jews in the streets. I saw people of various religions on television (often waging war against each other). I read books on ancient Egypt and Greece and saw that they worshipped a slew of different gods.

As a young child, I realized that not all of these religions could be true, yet all were firmly believed by somebody at some time. Other than a few Bible stories, I knew little of Christianity, but I could tell well enough that it was just one of many religions: all behaving the same way, all equally grounded in reality, and all disbelieved by all the others. And if not all of them could be correct, yet all were on equal footing, then none of them could be correct.

All it takes to grow up atheist is a lack of indoctrination and an openness to all the varied cultures of the world. Simple as that. And that's why I was an atheist from the start.

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06 December 2006

Is God responsible for my hard work?

Last night, my wife and I finally broke down and did the cleaning that we should have done a month ago. I had to clean the bathroom (always my job) and that took about an hour (yes, it had been so long that it actually required that long to clean it). Plus, I had to fold all the laundry, which took about 40 minutes (yes, there were about 4-5 loads worth of unfolded laundry to be folded). And, I had to cook and wash pots last night as well, since my wife was away at her last Alpha class. We also got around to sorting out all our old receipts, mail, and other papers which cluttered the apartment. My wife replaced all the full garbage bags around the apartment (always her job; just as gross as the bathroom but a bit quicker). All these things take time, time, time, and lots of effort on both of our parts.

Later on as we're going to bed, my wife is praying, "Thank you, God, for helping us to clean up our apartment."

WHAT THE F*CK! I didn't see God lift a damn finger to clean up the apartment. Did God get down on his hands and knees and scrub the bathroom floor? Did God endure rotting meat smell to throw out the garbage? Did God root through the laundry to find matching socks?

No freakin' way.

Did God help us endure the cleanup? Not really. It was still an awful, tedious, backbreaking evening of work.

Did God even inspire us to do the cleaning? No - it was the biological sense of revulsion and claustrophobia arising from how dirty and piled-high everything had gotten. It had reached the point of being unhealthy, so urges kicked in to get it done.

Like the car crash victim who thanks God for her survival, she completely disregards the skills and hard work of the caring people around her. The firefighters and the paramedics saved the crash victim; likewise, we cleaned our own damn apartment.

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04 December 2006

Think Fast!

At church yesterday, the topic of the sermon was temptation. The pastor gave the example Christ's temptation by Satan. I've never read that section of the bible, but from what the pastor said, the story goes that, soon after being baptized, God directs Christ to wandering the wilderness for 40 days, fasting, to be eventually tempted by Satan by food and unlimited earthly power. The pastor explained that this was a test from God to find out if Christ was indeed all that God wanted him to be, that is, he could resist the temptation that his humanity experienced. One has to wonder why God would need to test Christ, who is also 100% God, when he himself already knows everything.

But the important part of the story for the pastor was that intense prayer and fasting should be a regular part of every Christian's life; it will toughen them up so that they can resist the temptation to sin that inevitably arises from time to time. Personally, even if I were a Christian, I wouldn't do it; I just enjoy food way too much to fast.

My concern is that the two main pastors at the church don't appear to be practicing what they are preaching. Or if they do fast, they more than make up for it between fasts. It's not that they are fat, per se, but they sure as hell aren't skinny!