Sep. 24th, 2009


Sep. 24th, 2009 12:05 am
joreth: (Misty in Box)
I am humbled, amazed, and awestruck by the beauty and the technical expertise of an extraordinary photographer and technician. This man built every piece of equipment, except the camera itself, used to take this shot. It required weeks of planning and work. It involved infared sensors and several slaved flashes (flashes that are controlled by remote from the camera itself), among other things.  

Images like these have never been taken before.  This is a rare look into bat behaviour that even the experts have never seen.

And all I can say is ... wow.

Click the image below for more pictures and an explanation of how this was accomplished.

joreth: (Super Tech)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

Atheists have meaning, hope, and joy in our lives. We simply focus that meaning, joy, and hope in this life, not in a hypothetical afterlife we think is implausible and have no reason to think exists. Pass it on.

It just drives me batty when people think that atheists have meaningless lives, are angry and depressed and are "missing something" because we have denied our connection to a god.

To me, the idea that we are created for the sole purpose of worshipping a tantrum-prone, narcissistic, and vengeful god who hired a better PR firm and is now trying to pretend that he's all loving and stuff while still sending people to be tortured for eternity simply for saying "I don't like you", THAT is enough to make me feel angry and depressed. That's enough to take away all the meaning my life has.

In a universe without a god (which this one is), there are no boundaries to what we can become, and no way of knowing what we will become, which makes the journey even more fascinating. There are only the boundaries of physics, and as we understand more about what those boundaries are, what we can do with them increases in number. A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from "magic".

The meaning in my life is to try and make this world a better place, to help people to understand themselves and each other, and to hopefully change society so that these lessons continue on after I'm gone.

The joy in my life is my work and my intentional family, including my pets. As Greta Christina says, atheists can have "transcendental" experiences, we just know that there's nothing supernatural about them. The joy of relating to such wonderful, fantastic people, the growth I experience through my relationships with them, and observing (and perhaps participating in) their own growth, and just the fun of being with these special people, how can anyone say my life has no joy?

The hope I have is for a better future. And the reason I have that hope is because I have evidence that it's possible. Over time, society has consistently gotten "better". Of course there have been bumps along the way, of course not every society has equal footing. But the overall trend has been for the quality of life for humans (and even the rest of the planet) to improve, to get easier and yet more enriching and fulfilling, over time. Today is better than 10 years ago. 10 years ago was better than the Victorian age. The Victorians had it better than the Medieval age. They had it better than the hunter-gatherers.

I have meaning, I have joy, and I have hope. I feel happy with life and I can't imagine ever getting bored with it or tired of it and wanting it to end. Putting a god in this reality takes all that away from me. I know that I have only this life to live, so I have to make it count. I know that the consequences of my actions will affect me today and I have no chance at forgiveness afterwards, so I have to be consious of what I do and how it affects other people. I do not need a god to tell me to be an ethical person. If I did ethical things because I was afraid of punishment, that doesn't *actually* make me an ethical person. I believe people should be treated with dignity, and I believe that all without a sky-daddy telling me to behave myself.

I know I seem like the quintessential Angry Atheist for those who only see me ranting about religious stupidity online. But that's because you are only seeing me while I am ranting. Everyone has something they get angry about. But, in life, overall, I am happy. And the happiest people I know are atheists. God does not give me meaning, joy, or hope. He takes it away.
joreth: (Super Tech)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

Atheists have morality, as much as religious believers. We just don't think our moral compass is planted in us by God or supernatural forces, and we don't think fear of God's punishment is necessary to be a good person. We base our morality in this life: our empathy with others, and our observations about what causes suffering and happiness. Pass it on.

Here's another one that pisses me off.  I'll make my commentary short because so many people have said it so much better than I can.  Atheists are "moral", ethical people.  We care about others and we try to do good for society.  Why?  Because we have to live in it.  Anyone who says that, without god, there would be no morality, has just told you that the only thing stopping him from raping, pillaging and killing you is that he's afraid he'll get a spanking in the afterlife.  It's not because he actually *cares* for you.

I'm suspicious of anyone who gets their morality from a god, particularly one whose "god" speaks to them through a centuries-old book written by ignorant, backwards, misogynistic, patriarchal, old men who had absolutely no way to comprehend today's society.  I'm suspicious because they think their sense of morality comes from outside themselves, and is regulated by someone other than them.  What holds them back from being immoral is not an internal sense of right and wrong, but someone else telling them what to do. 

That means that, if that someone else ceases to tell them what to do, they'll revert to having no morals whatsoever.

That also means that if that someone else tells them to do something atrocious, they will.

I, on the other hand, understand that there is no one who will punish or reward me for my behaviour and all my consequences will be felt in this lifetime, without a way to "undo" them.  I also understand that I have a built-in sense of empathy that encourages me to feel compassionate towards people, not just for the sake of rewards and punishments.  

I remember as a kid being told to do something that I didn't understand and didn't want to do.  But if I was either promised a reward for it afterwards, or threatened with a punishment for not doing it, you can bet that I'd do it.  But without that inherent understanding of why I should, or without that internal belief that I should do it even without rewards or punishment, I was susceptible to the temptation that I should not do it, or I should skimp out on the details, or I would not do something similar because I didn't understand the motivation underlying it and therefore couldn't recognize the connection between the two actions.

This is not a "moral" person.  This is a child, with a child's sense of narcissism and lack of empathy.  This may also be a sociopath.  And this is who those religious people who use their god as the motivation for all their "moral" behaviour, are admitting to when they make this claim.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
I'm very hostile towards strangers who compliment me. No, it's true! I fly into rages at even the simplest of compliments on my physical appearance. My OKC profile is so intimidating that even people who have known me for years have thought twice about dating me because of it. And yet, when my sweeties tell me that they think I'm hot, or admire me in a particular outfit, they do not get blasted into oblivian through the sheer rage in my eyes and anger in my words. I blush, and I am flattered.

So why am I so antagonistic towards physical compliments? Read the following article. It's a letter written by a young black woman whose subway card wasn't working and sought help from a black man who worked at the subway, and who hit on her instead of assisting her with her card. The sentiments of the letter to this man reflect my experiences, totally regardless of race. I suspect that a lot of women have similar experiences, based on the number of men everywhere asking "why aren't there any women online?", "why aren't there any women gamers?", "why aren't there any women atheist activists?", and "why aren't there any women in this bar?".

I'm sure there are men who feel this way too, but I can only truly write from my perspective, and in this case, the relevant factors are being a caucasian/mexican female. So please, men, read this and understand what you're up against and what you are inadvertently contributing to with your behaviour. Women, read this and be sensitive to whether or not you are doing the same thing to men and then pass it along so that others can understand.

Letter archived here in case you don't want to follow the link )

I don't get hit on very often. I have been told that I have this invisible sphere around me of Don't-Fucking-Come-Near-Me-Or-I'll-Tear-Your-Dick-Off. But when I do get hit on, it's with complete insensitivity to my own feelings and position. There's always an attached expectation that I should be flattered by the compliment, and that I should reciprocate. Why should I be flattered?  My physical apperance is not something I value very highly and only puts you in the same category as all those other men who resort to the cheapest and easiest thing to say, which does not make you stand out or paint you in a favorable light.  

And when I don't reciprocate or act flattered, the complimenter turns on me. Sometimes it's privately, as he whispers to his buddies "she must be a lesbian". Sometime's it's very publicly, as in the kinds of things in this letter.  Often, compliments about my physical apperance are connected to a belief that someone has the right to have access to me.  I may be dressed attractively, flirtatiously, sexy, and I may even be sexually available.  But not to you.  Talking to me as a person first, not seeing my gender, not seeing me as a potential date, that will give you the clues as to whether or not I am "available" to you.  Without those clues, you should assume that I'm not, regardless of what I'm wearing or how I'm behaving, until otherwise notified.  I am not here for your amusement, or your appreciation.  I am here for mine.

I've written about attaching expectations before, and [personal profile] tacit talks about things are "not about you". The world would be a less hostile place if these two concepts were better understood.

joreth: (social events)
So last night I went line dancing in Orlando at a club called the Jesse Black Saloon. I Twittered about it and sent out text messages, but due to the late notice and the fact that none of my friends like country music, I could only get one person to show up and he doesn't dance or like country.

But the club was fantastic! Wednesday nights are a tough night to find things to do. Nothing is open. But this club offers line dance lessons at 7 PM (apparently intermediate lessons are first, and beginner lessons are later?), $5 cover charge, and no cover charge after 10 PM on Wednesdays!

They played music that a fan of country would consider "good" for clubbing, and the place was empty. It's a fairly large club, for a country bar, and has a decent sized dance floor. But there were only about 10 or so people there! There was enough space for 2 different line dances to happen concurrently, plus a couple who two-stepped around the outside.  The instructor from the earlier lesson was there, plus at least one other woman who appeared to also be an instructor, so I had a chance to try out a bunch of dances I didn't know.  

And, there were no drunk rednecks hitting on me! (Not that this happens very often anyway).  One older guy came up to tell me that they had lessons earlier in the evening, since he saw me trying to learn some of them, and he was very friendly and genial, and everyone on the dance floor was considerate.  But with so few people there in general, anyone who would have come with me could have just enjoyed the dancing without any worry of being molested or accosted or even talked to if one didn't want to interact with others.

I think I'd like to go on Wednesdays more often.

Tonight, though, Jesse Black Saloon is closed, but it's Ladies Night at Cowboys.  I hear that's a bit more raucous, but maybe there will be enough people there that I'll get asked to dance?
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
There is an awful lot of misunderstanding about the words "atheism" and "agnosticism". I see a lot of atheists hide behind the word "agnostic" because they "don't know for sure" or don't want to piss anyone off. And that's incorrect. They are still atheists. People also like to claim that atheism is a "belief that no god exists" and is therefore the same as a religion. As someone once said (and I wish I could remember who), to say that atheism is a religion is like saying not collecting stamps is a hobby.

Let's look at the words themselves.

Gnostic: from the Greek word "knowledge".
Theism: belief in a deity or deities.
A (prefix): without.

First, the prefix "a" means only "without" or "absence of". It does not make any assertions, claims, or statements as to the presence of anything. I don't have a stamp collection. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about not collecting stamps and I don't do anything in particular to avoid collecting stamps. I just don't collect stamps. I am atimbromanic (without stamp collecting). No reasonable person would then say that I have a hobby of not collecting stamps. It is an absence of collecting stamps, not an active not-collecting activity.

An atheist, is simply lacking a belief in a deity.

An agnostic is simply lacking *knowledge* of something.

I can be agnostic about the conflict in the Middle East. It doesn't mean that I don't believe there is a conflict. It means I don't know anything about it. Maybe I don't believe there is a conflict, or maybe I do, but I don't have knowledge about it. Many people are agnostic about urban legends or conspiracy theories. They don't *know* because they don't have any evidence, but they can believe anyway because it somehow "makes sense" or makes someone "feel" something they want to feel.  Ever hear someone say "well, I don't know for sure, but I *heard*__ and it makes sense to me"?  That's agnosticism.

One word is about knowing something, and the other word is about believing something. These are two different concepts. To know something is to be aware of the truth or factuality of it (where "truth" is empirical and either is or is not true - none of this "my truth" bullshit that refers to personal opinion or subjective feelings). But to believe is to accept a claim without necessarily having proof, evidence, or even plausibility, without "knowing" the truth. One word relies on empirical evidence, outside of oneself, and the other relies on one's *feelings*, an internal sense.

And because these are two separate concepts, they are not mutually exclusive. One can have belief without having knowledge, or one can have belief because one has knowledge. One can lack belief because one lacks knowledge, or one can lack belief because one has knowledge of that belief's falsehood.

People can also be atheistic about some deities but theistic about others, and people can be agnostic about some things and gnostic about others.

For example, Christians are atheistic about the Greek gods. They do not believe in them and consider them "false idols". They do not believe they ever existed. But they are, of course, theistic about their god. This person would be gnostic about, both, his theism of his god and his atheism of other gods.  He would "know" that his god exists and others don't.

Meanwhile, an Atheist can be gnostic about the Abrahamic god because the atheist has evidence that is incompatible with the definition of the Abrahamic god, but may be agnostic about the existence of a god of some sort - maybe one that hasn't been defined yet. The Atheist may be willing to admit that some sort of supernatural deity is possible because "we just don't know" while simultaneously rejecting the gods presented thus far because the definitions contradict what we know of the universe. So this person's atheism would be simultaneously agnostic about some gods and gnostic about others.

Here's a handy little chart to help illustrate the point:

Atheism vs. Agnosticism
 Atheism (without belief)Theism (with belief
Agnostic (without knowledge)Lack of belief in a deity or god, and lack of knowledge about the truth of the belief. This is a person who might say "There probably is no god, but we don't really know for sure". This person makes no positive assertions about the existance or non-existence of deities, but lacks *belief* in a deity.

Also called "Weak Atheism"
A belief in a deity, but lack of knowledge about the truth of the belief. This is a person who might say "I believe there is a god, but there is no way to really know for sure". This person makes no positive assertions about the existance or non existence of deities, but believes in one or some without that certainty.

Also called "Weak Theism"
Gnostic (with knowledge)Lack of belief in a deity or god but claim of knowledge that this is the truth. This is a person who might say "I *know* there is no god". This person makes a positive assertion about the lack of a deity.

Also called "Strong Atheism"
Belief in a deity or god and also a claim of knowledge that this is the truth. This is a person who might say "There IS a god, I know it for certain and nothing you can say will convince me otherwise." This person makes a positive assertion about the existence of a diety.

Also called "Strong Theism"

Now where this gets complicated, is that any good scientist or science-minded person very rarely makes emphatic, declarative statements.  Because the nature of science is that we don't have "the answers", we have a good working definition that is subject to revision if a better definition comes along.

So even most "Strong Atheists", people who claim to "know" there is no god, don't actually mean they "know" with 100% certainty that there is absolutely no god or supernatural being of any sort.  That's where the "atheism = religion" people get tripped up.  When a Gnostic Atheist says "there is no god", what he usually means is that all the evidence *so far* supports the idea that there is no god.  He also usually means that there is *enough* evidence to be "reasonably certain" that there is no god, certain *enough* to act as though there isn't.  He is also usually willing to change his mind with sufficent evidence and believe in a god, it's just that no one has presented him with enough evidence yet, and enough evidence to the contrary exists to continue on through life without a belief in god.

But when a Theist claims to "know" there is a god, more often than not, this is where you get dogma.  This is a person, usually, who absolutely will not change his opinion, even in the face of evidence, and who holds his unquestioning faith in the face of contradictory evidence as a virtue.  This is often a person who takes pride in the fact that his belief withstands contradiction, usually because his religion dictates that unquestioning obedience is required.  Pretty good population control, actually, to convince people that they *want* to blindly believe what this guy says even when presented with contrary evidence.

So when we have two groups of people using the same word in totally different ways, we end up with some religious people accusing Atheists of being dogmatic, having a "belief", and having "faith", because the Theist's definition of "know" incorporates those elements even when the Atheist's definition of "know" does not.

So, one more time for those who didn't get it the first dozen times.

Atheism means "without belief in god" and that's it.
Theism means "belief in a god or deity" and that's it.
Agnosticism means "without knowledge" and that's it.
Gnosticsm means "knowledge" and that's it.

Atheism does not mean "a belief that there is no god".  

Agnosticism is not a middle ground between Atheism and Religion.

For those who prefer visuals or audio, as opposed to text, here's a very cute girl explaining the difference in a video:

For the record, I am a Gnostic Atheist about all deities so far proposed, while I am an Agnostic Atheist about all supernatural entities not yet proposed.  I lack the belief in the supernatural because I possess knowledge that contradicts claims made by beliefs in the supernatural.  All deities so far proposed are internally inconsistent and cannot therefore be possible.  But I cannot claim to know ALL possibilities, even those not yet proposed, so I am "agnostic" with regards to those claims not yet researched but I believe them to be unlikely.  The evidence for a universe without supernatural elements is compelling enough for me to be reasonably certain that there is no god, and certain enough for me to live as though it were true.  


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