Archive for February, 2008

five months

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

(Warning: extremely biased reporting to follow – I think I’m justified though)

Dara is five months old today, and doing just great so far. She’s growing well, and seems healthy and very happy. She’s continuing to be very alert and interested in her surroundings – even when she was just a few days old she didn’t like to lean on to my shoulder when I was holding her, preferring instead to try to lift her head and pushing on me with her little arms. Since then she’s decided she doesn’t like to be reclined when she has a bottle – she insists on sitting bold upright so that she can see everything that’s going on with her wide open, blue eyes. Lately she’s been getting even more engaged in her house-mates – she still seems to think that Toby is the most fantastic resident of the house, and squeals with delight when she sees him, but she’s also taken a recent and strong interest in the cats. She loves to watch them as they go about their offices, with the consequence that if one is running around while she’s having a bottle she doesn’t get much eating done because she keeps needing to turn her head to watch the action. They’re being really good with her, and let her feel their fur with a certain amount of grimness, but patience too.

The biggest development with her is just in the last few days, which is that she realized on Thursday that by moving her mouth at the same time as making sounds, she could make brand new, much more interesting sounds. So almost constantly while she’s awake we’ve had a little voice going “Aaraaadaada aadoiyaaadaaaghhhaaararoh” etc, with occasional ear-splitting squeals of happiness. She’s quite content to lie on her back singing at her toes, or sit singing to her bottle for ages at a time. Feeding her, therefore, is not a quick operation – last night she was getting cereal and spent longer singing to her spoon than using it to eat.

tidings of misuse and woe

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

A sad, sad story from local Twin Cities News: The Prosperity Gospel church is facing cutbacks of between $40,000 and $70,000 per week, and their pastor is having to sell his plane. Plus some of their contemporaries are under investigation by the U.S. Senate on uses of their budget, and there are allegations that some ministers may have improperly solicited funds for presidential candidate Mike Huckabee during a conference at which their head pastor spoke (it is illegal for tax-exempt organizations, such as churches or charities, to solicit for presidential candidates, which is why Focus on the Family head James Dobson was speaking as a private citizen when he endorsed Mitt Romney).

The full story is in our local paper; if they remove the link you can also see it here (with some extra commentary). Key lines:

“Prosperity Gospel” churches are based on the notion that success in business or personal life is evidence of God’s love.

Hammond [the pastor] told other ministers that people “gradually become disillusioned” when their prayers are not met promptly or when promised riches don’t come.

“They have needs to be met, and when they don’t get it they leave,” Hammond said. “They get their hands put on them, they don’t get cured, then the disillusionment sets in.”


Monday, February 18th, 2008

Toby was hard at work over the weekend finishing off his thank you letters for his birthday presents. We did what we did for Christmas – he wrote one template letter, which Emma photocopied, then he filled in the details: individual names, and his signature. He does pretty well on it for a five-year-old, although it takes quite a lot of coaching to get him to stay focused, but he made it in the end.

When he was writing to a couple (Uncle and Auntie, or Nana and Grandad) we had suggested that he did a plus sign instead of “and”, to keep it simple. However, he learned the concept of percent a few weeks ago when we got the new TiVo – while the software was updating it showed the % complete, and we spoke about what percent means. It clearly must have stayed with him, because yesterday he insisted on writing percent signs wherever he could, including instead of a plus sign. So if you get a letter from him which includes % you now know why.


Monday, February 18th, 2008

I ended up working from home most of Friday – Dara was not well at school in the morning (mostly diaper-related) so we took her home and I kept her company while she got back to her regular self. On Saturday Emma was laid low by whatever it was – largely digestion-related – and she was in bed pretty much all day. Sunday she was better, but it hit me so I was not on top form. Went to bed about 4pm, which is where I stayed till this morning. I made it to work but certainly not 100%, although sometimes I find that a good thing when I have a lot of basic admin stuff to do.

it’s all academic

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Warning: many sarcastic uses of quotation marks ahead. You may roll your eyes at each one:

Today in Slate, their Hot Document is the style guide and “reviewing” guidelines for the Young Earth-endorsing journal the “Answers” “Research” Journal. I could call them on pretty much any aspect of the document – to pretend that it is academic or properly peer reviewed if they have to do things like allow pen names is pretty low, and to me suggests that what they’re trying to do is a pile of – how can I put this politely – complete and indefensible fabrication. If you have to go sneaking around and to such extreme lengths to try to get people to accept what you are saying, maybe there’s something wrong with the message. Ah, the joys of mixing religion and science.

from the archbish

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

This posted on Of Course I Could Be Wrong…


science/religion discussion

Friday, February 8th, 2008

I read the Of Course I Could Be Wrong… blog fairly regularly – it’s written by a rather cynical Anglican priest, and is usually interesting and challenging. Today I read a post on it about science and religion, and for the first time was moved to respond. It turned out to be one very long and one medium response (so far) and is quite an interesting thread, although I think some people aren’t really speaking the same language. If you don’t feel like following the links, here is my comment:

Science is not a construct where anything is ever “accepted as a complete and proved theory”. Any scientist who does this is basically a charlatan. There’s no such thing as a “scientific fundamentalist” – a true scientist will always allow his or her theories to be undermined by further scientific findings.

A couple of examples: a scientist would believe that water boils at 100C. That seems like a fact. Then another scientist points out that a different air pressure would change the boiling point of water, so the theory of water boiling is altered accordingly, results are published and peer reviewed, experiments are repeated to ensure that the results can be replicated, and the theory is taken as a solid working theory with the understanding that new findings, or more accurate measurements, could change the theory. And that’s good, because this is science and we want to find out more about our wonderful universe, and use our scientific theories to drive more exploration.

Similar things were seen with Newton’s theory of gravity. This theory was poked at and tested and supported for many years. But when Einstein suggested his refinements, his ideas were again published, peer reviewed and eventually tested and re-tested and found to be a better understanding of the mechanics of gravity. Even the theory of gravity – you’d think this would be untouchable from a factual standpoint – can be upended due to new scientific findings.

OK, so those are two physics examples. How about evolution? Remember that Darwin wasn’t the only person to be working on theories of inheritance. Lamarck was a famous scientist who altered understanding of evolution by suggesting that organisms pass on characteristics which they have acquired during their lifetimes. This was a widely held scientific belief, to the extent that Soviet scientist and agriculturists followed the theory, attempting to breed hardier crops by subjecting them to cold, with the result that the Soviet Union suffered massive crop failures. The point of this example is that Lamarckism was a widely held understanding of evolution which turned out to be basically false, so the theory of evolution was refined accordingly.

We’ll come back to evolution in a moment, but in passing I want to address what you said about the “can’t be anything outside the universe” statement. I agree, very unscientific, and I’m sure you know that there are theoretical physicists who are examining the many-universes theory – Richard Dawkins mentions this in The God Delusion.

So what about evolution? Why is it picked on more than other scientific theories? It’s because there are creation stories in the Bible. I’m sure if there were electricity stories in the Bible we’d be having the same discussions about that. So: for the science, the theory of evolution is broadly agreed upon by scientists, with subtly different interpretations, because the theory has been tested and tested and refined and re-tested and refined and re-tested and can be used as a tool for understanding the way organisms work, with solid predictive results, although where the predictions turn out to be false the scientific community refines the theory accordingly. So for example the theory of evolution can be used to predict where in rock strata you can find certain types of fossils, or even reconstruct the proteins of a bacterium which was around 3.5 million years ago. But here’s the thing: the theory is always open to refinement and even negation if the challenge is supported by scientific reasoning. In this way we can see that there are new theories which suggest that virus genetic material may actually become part of the genes of another organism, providing leaps in the host organism’s evolution. This is quite a change from the standard understanding of evolution, but because it is a scientific theory, in that it is testable and refutable, it can be accepted by scientists. Saying “I don’t understand” or “it doesn’t add up” just isn’t science, I’m afraid.

One more point/clarification in closing: Dawkins doesn’t say that there is no God, just that if you use scientific reasoning it is highly unlikely that there is a god. This means that he uses a scientific method – testability and probability – to suggest that if we accept broadly evolution/natural selection over time, and we also accept that a creator created the universe (and even disregarding how we could ever test for discovering that creator), we need to come up with a theory for where the creator came from and how it came into being. And so far nobody has been able to explain where that creator came from, or how you would design a test to prove, or at least suggest, the existence of a creator. So you could argue that science in this way has been used to suggest that it is highly unlikely that there is a creator. However if someone could ever suggest a way to test for this beyond “I think that there must be a creator and you scientists are just being close-minded” I’m sure that scientists would be all over it – would there be a more amazing and revolutionary scientific finding? Who wouldn’t want to test that? It’s not science’s job to prove the non-existence of something, science is used to theorize how something works and test that theory.


super tuesday reaction

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

Emma and I watched the Super Tuesday results last night. CNN High Def was all very well – graphs all over the place – except for how scary former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer looked in HD. He even admitted that the Republicans are salivating over the prospect of facing Hillary later in the year.

We (Emma and I) decided on a few things: firstly, Huckabee is a good speaker and looks all honest and folksy but he’s mad. Romney probably isn’t going to get too far. McCain’s wife was the most glam of the Republican wives but started to look like an alien when she was trying not to cry.

On the Dem side we’re still not seeing eye to eye. If she doesn’t mind me paraphrasing, I think she’s going for the experience of (the) Clinton(s), and doesn’t feel that Obama really has that. I accept that Hillary probably could get some things done right off the bat but I’m still not buying it. I admire her, but there are some things going on which are making me feel very uneasy. The Daily Show played some clips from her one hour Hallmark special which just seemed so icky (the clips featured her standing on a stage while people gave testimonials about how great she was) and her speech last night was pretty bland. Emma doesn’t deny that Obama is a great orator – I have to be honest that my emotions totally get the better of me when I see him deliver a speech – but feels that there’s a lot of ego going on without much realism or concreteness behind it. I can totally see that, and have sometimes had the same feeling. However if you take a step back and consider his experience in community organizing, in the Illinois legislature and the way he leveraged this to get to the Senate and now being on the cusp of having an African American presidential nominee, I can’t help feeling that there has to be something there beyond oratory.

What I mean by that is that he must have picked a super-hot campaign team (which you would hope bodes well for cabinet selection) and must have done something to be able to stand up to the Democrat old guard of the Clintons and their friends. He has also stayed fairly true to his word of keeping dignity in his campaigning – what a concept. I know I’ve linked a few times to Andrew Sullivan’s writing lately, and while I’ll note that there are many times I don’t agree with him, he is also capable of being considerably more succinct than me (he’s a pro of course) and his posting today sums up a lot of my impression of Obama, so I think it’s worth linking to, and worth reading.


Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

Toby has been listening to the Beatles a lot lately. He got into it via Yellow Submarine (which for a while he called Yellow Sumbarine), then Octopus’s Garden, and now he likes more and more songs. He asked for Come Together for the car a couple of days ago, and while he and I were building Lego that evening he sang along with Let It Be, with soulful face and everything.

Tonight as I was putting him to bed he started singing Strawberry Fields Forever, and was doing it pretty well. When I commented to him how much I was enjoying it, he said “Yes, that’s because my voice is just … unreal.”

danger: word of god

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

Even long before I started feeling ambivalent towards religion I was made to think about the Episcopal Church’s practice of ending a reading with the words “The word of the lord” and the congregation’s response “Thanks be to God.” Knowing that the Bible comes from many sources, and was compiled by even well-intentioned people, made me think twice about whether it could really be directly from God. I tended to prefer words along the lines of “the word inspired by God.” Apart from the scholarly aspect of it all, I found it very presumptuous for humans to believe that they understood the will of the creator of the entire universe.

Yesterday listening to the news I heard two headlines, which were right next to each other. The first was about the horrific suicide bombing in Baghdad, where two women blew themselves up in a pet market where many children were visiting because they had the day off school. Just evil. The second headline concerned the funeral of the recently deceased head of the Mormon church (AKA the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints). The news item mentioned the afterlife beliefs of the LDS faithful. That, along with this article on how the LDS Church will choose its next prophet, made me think further about the use and abuse of people who claim to hear or understand the word of god. From the Mormon article:

Like the adherents of many religions, Mormons believe their president to be more than merely an administrative head. The president’s unofficial title as “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator” speaks to the quasi-divine nature of the role. As prophet, Hinckley was (and Monson will be) regarded as God’s human representative on earth, capable of receiving revelations to direct the church. “A growing church … that is spreading across the earth in these complex times,” Hinckley explained in a 2005 article for a Mormon publication, “needs constant revelation from the throne of heaven to guide it and move it forward.” Monson will now receive those revelations as he leads the Mormon Church into the years ahead.

Now clearly the Mormon Church is not a terrorist organization and would not advocate anyone to commit violent acts. But many people say that about the Muslim faith too, yet a few twisted leaders of that faith exhort followers to do just that. And it’s not just there – fundamentalist Christian leaders tell their followers that it’s OK to hate gays, attack abortion clinics, even hope for nuclear holocaust as a sign of the End Times, because that’s what God wants.

I asked the Dean of St. Mark’s a few years ago how come fundies can be so certain of beliefs which directly contradict the peaceful, reconciling version of Christianity which he preaches at the Cathedral, and how it works that people can be so sure that they hear god telling them to persecute other people of god. His answer basically said that there are often false prophets. But, surely they would say the same thing about him. So how do you know who is right? And where would an actual god fit into this? How would a benevolent, all-loving deity allow this state of affairs to happen?