Why the Supernatural (Probably) Doesn't Exist

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Thursday, July 30, 2009 | Published in

I know this is ambitious of me, but I'm going to do it anyways. I can prove with a very slight sliver of doubt that the supernatural does not exist. I know what you are saying, "Humans have believed in the supernatural for nigh on 10 millenia now. How can you just disregard all of that evidence?" Simple, there is no evidence for the supernatural and there never will be.

I'll back up a tick though. First let's agree on what we mean when we say "supernatural". Webster's defines it as "of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe". Basically this means stuff that we can't measure scientifically. And that is where I start to have problems with this supernatural business. If something exists and has an effect on the natural world then it can be measured. If it can be qualified then it can be quantified. The problem with the supernatural is that there is no consistently reliable way to gain knowledge about it. People always end up with wildly different results (or no results at all). Humans have a funny habit of finding false signals in noise. Furthermore if do find a way to consistently gain knowledge about a subject, then by definition it is natural.

If you stop and think about it, what the word "supernatural" really means is "stuff that I don't understand right now". It has always been a placeholder until a better natural explanation comes along. The sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening wasn't because of some giant scarab rolling it across the sky. It is because of the way the earth rotates on its axis. Lightning isn't created by an angry god on a mountain, it was created by ions in the atmosphere. The weird noises you heard in the night weren't caused by disembodied spirits who got lost on the way to the Other Side. It was the stray cat knocking over a trash can. Everything always ends up having a natural explanation in the long run.

But there is one other very very slim possibility. This is always the off chance that Eris (or some other Trickster God) really does exist and enjoys royally fucking with us. Perhaps She is constantly changing evidence on us. She is changing the molecules in our test tube. She is making us see things out of the corner of our eye. She is making us hear voices that aren't there. She is knocking over our vases and moving our chairs in the middle of the night. Why? Because she is in it for the lulz.

Discordian Hymnal #012

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Monday, July 27, 2009 | Published in

Let us all rise and open our Discordian Hymnal to Page #012: "I'm Happy" by Ivor Cutler:

The Rap of Evolution

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Saturday, July 25, 2009 | Published in

Meet Baba Brinkman, a Canadian rapper and pioneer in a relatively new genre called Lit-Hop. A genre that takes the hard grittiness of Political Rap and adds a PhD to it. Or in Baba's case a Master's in Medieval and Renaissance English Literature with a thesis comparing hip-hop to literary poetry. He followed that up with a theater show called "The Rap Canterbury Tales" where he rapped Chaucer's work with a hip-hop beat.

This year he switched it up a bit. He decided to celebrate Charles Darwin's 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of "On the Origin of Species" by doing an entire show on evolution. It's not often that you will hear a rapper sampling a bit of a Richard Dawkins' speech but Baba pulls it off nicely. He also does a great job of reappropriating other rap songs like Mobb Deep's "Survival of the Fittest" to explain evolutionary psychology and Biggie Small's "Hypnotize" to explain sexual selection. If you want a sample of the show, check out the Naked Scientists podcast from July 16 when they recorded his performance at the Cambridge Darwin Festival.

Or hey look, I finally figured out how to embed MP3s:

Please Deface This Bible

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Thursday, July 23, 2009 | Published in

Yeah, I lied about no more British-based stories. This one is too interesting to pass up though. The Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow has put a Bible on display and asked people to write down their thoughts on its pages:
Next to the Bible lie several pens with a note saying: "If you feel you have been excluded from the Bible, please write your way back into it".

Several visitors have already taken up the offer, choosing to leave messages of abuse and obscenity rather than support for the words of God.

"This is all sexist pish, so disregard it all," one message read.

Another scrawled over the first page of Genesis: "I am Bi, Female & Proud. I want no god who is disappointed in this".

Others wrote: "The Gospel According to Luke Skywalker", "F*** the Bible" and "Facist God".
Not very creative, if you ask me. Surely you could come up with something funnier to add to the Bible. Personally I would have just written [Citation Needed] over and over again.

MC Frontalot

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Wednesday, July 22, 2009 | Published in

Yes, I'm still alive. Yes, I'm still on vacation. The crappy weather is making my head feel like it is in a vice grip so I can't think straight enough to actual write anything. I hate having a big time gap in my blog though so here, watch this video from MC Frontalot:

British Week Over

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Friday, July 17, 2009 | Published in

By some weird coincidence I managed to do five posts in a row about Jolly Ol' Britannia. It wasn't on purpose but I retroactively dubbed it British Week on ChaoSkeptic. Well, guess what? British Week is officially over starting now. I don't ever want to do a blog post about Britain any more. So take your boiled meat and Mini Coopers and poor dental plans and fish and chips and shove them. This blog is now All-American. Don't Tread on Me, Brit-Spags!!

PS. I'm on vacation next week, which means I'll either do zero posts or a lot of posts depending on how the mood strikes me. Follow me on Twitter to see what shenanigans I get up to.

The Yes Men Strike Again

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Thursday, July 16, 2009 | Published in

Looks like I'm riding this British Week thing out. The Yes Men, who I have written about before, decided to pay a visit to Dow Chemical's London headquarters. They brought with them a little present:
A new, beautifully-designed line of bottled water - this time not from the melting Alps, nor from faraway, clean-water-deprived Fiji, but rather from the contaminated ground near the site of the 1984 Bhopal catastrophe - scared Dow Chemical's London management team into hiding today.

It's been 25 years since the Bhopal disaster and Dow (who bought Union Carbide in 2001) still hasn't done anything to clean up their waste. The Sambhavna Trust recent did a study showing that local groundwater, vegetables, and breast milk are still contaminated by toxic quantities of nickel, chromium, mercury, lead, and volatile organic compounds. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions Dow ran away, again.

The Yes Men have set up a separate website for B'eau-pal Water and you can read about their other projects on their website.

Godless Comedy

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | Published in

Since I seem to be on a British theme this week, how about a little bit of British comedy. Here's some godless comedy from the show "That Mitchell and Webb Look". The very last line is pure comedy.

Ireland Passes Blasphemy Law

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Monday, July 13, 2009 | Published in

Speaking of British countries with shitty laws that infringe on the freedom of speech, Ireland decided to pass a very backwards anti-blasphemy law on Friday. The law makes effectively makes it illegal to criticize any religion. Anyone who dares to speak out against religion could be fined up to 25,000 Euros ($30,000 in real money). The Blasphemy Clause reads as follows:
Section 36

(1) A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000. [Amended to €25,000]

(2) For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if (a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.
The Irish police force is also allowed to enter into someone's home and confiscate any material that is critical of religion.

Of course, the entire thing is bullshit. It doesn't give a clear definition of what is considered "blasphemous" or even who gets to decide that? This kind of vagueness could end up hurting people of all religions. It could kill all serious religious discussions since it is almost impossible to make a positive claim about one religion without blaspheming every other one. Catholics would not be able to say that Jesus is the only way and everyone else will burn in hell. Christians would not be able to say that Catholics aren't Really Real Christians. Muslims would not be able to say that Jesus wasn't really the son of God. Atheists were basically have to tape their mouths shut or acquire very deep pockets. Irish Discordians would be in an extremely difficult position since Discordianism was founded on blaspheming every other religion as often as possible. Many philosophers, writers, musicians, and stand-up comics would be barred from Ireland forever.

No one knows how the courts will actually enforce this law but there are several people out there already fighting this law including Atheist Ireland, Richard Dawkins, and the creators of the Father Ted tv show. It is a bit of an uphill battle because the Defamation Act of 1961 would have to be amended. I'm not an expert at Irish law so I have no idea how hard that would be. Until then there needs to be clearer guidelines on what can and can't be said.

Discordian Hymnal #011

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Saturday, July 11, 2009 | Published in

Let us all rise and open our Discordian Hymnal to Page #011: "There There" by Radiohead:

Keep Libel Laws Out of Science

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Thursday, July 9, 2009 | Published in

If you follow any other Skeptic's blogs then you have read enough about it by now about the Simon Singh libel case since absolutely everyone has covered it to death by now. Here's a synopsis if you don't want to click all of those links: Simon Singh is a science journalist for the Guardian newspaper. Several months ago he wrote a column about the British Chiropractic Association and some underhanded advertising techniques used by some of their members. Here is a direct quote from the article:
The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.
Seems rather tame doesn't it? It can easily be proven that several chiropractors are making claims that they can't back up and that the BCA has done very little about it. Now instead of reprimanding their members for writing checks that their ass can't cash they decided to sue Simon for libel.

In America (and most sane countries) this would get laughed out of court. However, the libel laws in Britain are pure shite. The burden of proof is completely backwards from most other legal systems: the defendant is considered guilty until proven innocent. As you might guess this makes it very easy to squash someone else's freedom of speech. If someone says something about you that you don't like all you have to do is drag them to court and engage them in a long legal battle where they are at a disadvantage before they even walk in the door. With the added advantage of everyone else thinking twice before they criticize you.

Thankfully the Guardian has stood Simon so far and has paid all of his legal fees. He's already lost one cause because the judge decided to completely redefine the word "bogus" to mean "knowingly fraudulent" instead of the dictionary definition of "counterfeit". He's appealing that ruling to a higher court though where he will hopefully have a better judge.

He has also started a campaign called "Keep Libel Laws Out of Science" to help prevent this from happening to anyone else. Maybe something good will come out of this yet.

Faerie Convention

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Wednesday, July 8, 2009 | Published in

It's really a shame that I don't live on the Left Coast because it looks like I missed the opportunity to go to a super awesome convention 2 weeks ago:
About 250 people came to the Methow Valley [Washington] June 26 through 28 from as far away as Europe and Hawaii to participate in the ninth annual Fairy and Human Relations Congress, an outdoor festival in a secluded mountain meadow called Skalitude.

A giant crop circle depicting a pinwheel-shaped sun had been cut into the high grass. An open-air tent pavilion stood at the lower end of the meadow. Farther up, white peace banners fluttered in a circular array.

"The purpose of the congress is to encourage communication and cooperation of the fairy realm," said Michael "Skeeter" Pilarski, the event's founder and organizer.

I couldn't find a follow up article but I'm going to assume that the representatives from the Fairy side of things didn't quite make it there.
The human world is in crisis and can use all the help it can get, Pilarski said, so why not form alliances with those in other realms?

Since 2000, the Fairy Congress has been held all but two years at Skalitude, a retreat owned by Lindsey Swope and Will Buchanan. For two years, it was held near Hood River, Ore.

Asked whether she believes in fairies or is merely sympathetic to those who do, Swope said, "I believe in it. Life is way more complicated than what we can see, hear and touch."
Translation: Life is too hard for me to deal with so I'm going to go live in a fantasy world full of unicorns that poomp rainbow ice cream!
Skeptics might mock the participants or dismiss them as New Age hippies, but they say their belief system is not much different from Native American animists or even Christians who believe in angels.
Well, yeah. But I openly mock and dismiss those people too so you aren't doing yourself any favors by associating with them.
Many people of mainstream faiths believe angels watch over them, he said.

"God's love does not just extend to humans, but to all of nature and to all the species on Earth," he said, so why should these spirits not watch over all of creation?
We aren't New Age, we just coincidentally use the exact same language as New Agers.
Revelers donned wings, horns or colorful attire suitable for a euphoric Saturday night romp around the bonfire, but there was no evidence of drugs or inebriation. Voices raised only in song or laughter. The sound of drum and flute carried on the wind. Children frolicked. Adults gathered around a communal outdoor kitchen.

Following morning circle, a hand-holding gathering in the meadow, participants ate fruit and grains, then washed their own dishes. Later, they wandered off to play or attend workshops with titles such as "The Paradigm of the Faery Seer" and "Communicating with Devas" taught by notable New Age teachers from across North America.
So pretty much this was a group of dirty hippies doing dirty hippie things and talking about how to see magical fairies without the use of acid. Loverly. The only thing that actually bothers me about the article is this:
Participants who paid $250 for three days of spiritual workshops, vegetarian food, song and dance brought with them varying degrees of belief in fairies, but all appeared willing at least to accept the possibility.
Damn! So all I have to do is rent out a farm, cook up some vegetables, provide music and invite people to talk bullshit about unknowable things for a couple of hours and I too could be riding on the gravy train. Where do I sign up?

Daniel Dennett on Dangerous Memes

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Tuesday, July 7, 2009 | Published in

I know that I've posted one of Daniel Dennett's speeches at TedTalks before but this is too good not to share. Here he gives an amazing talk from 2002 about dangerous memes. It's a bit on the longish side at 15 minutes but watch it anyways!

(Hat tip to Disinfo)

Intermittens 7: Operation Mindfuck

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | | Published in

Oh happy day! A new issue of Intermittens has been released. This one was edited by Sheered Völva and focuses on Operation Mindfuck. There's a fun activity page for kids, a cyclopedia of fun ways to mindfuck yourself, an interview with original Erisian Richard Marshall, an awesome break up story by Nigel and much much more!!! As always you can go read it at Intermittens.org or Scribd. (Warning, this issue is very NSFW. Read at your own risk!)

(EDIT: I took out the iPaper version of it because it was acting funky in my browser. You can still read it at usual spots.)


Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Friday, July 3, 2009 | Published in

Here's a interesting little bit of stop animation using nothing but Post-It notes. As the artist, Bang-yao Liu, says, "This is my senior project at Savannah College of Art and Design. Where my idea comes from is that every time when I am busy, I feel that I am not fighting with my works, I am fighting with those post-it notes and deadline. I manipulating the post-it notes to do pixel-like stop motion and there are some interactions between real actor and post-its."

The 114th Skeptics’ Circle Blog Carnival

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Thursday, July 2, 2009 | Published in

I thought that I had turned my submissions in too late but I was actually included in the current edition of the Skeptics' Circle. So, head on over to Homologous Legs and see all of the Skeptasticness. Looks like my posts about Moses and Creationists questions both got included this time.

Sex-Religion Chart

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Wednesday, July 1, 2009 | Published in

In case you were wondering, here is a handy little chart that shows where a couple of different religions stand on certain sexual practices. I'm honestly surprised that Judaism is so lenient. Not so surprised at the Catholic column. That's what happens when you force your spiritual leaders to practice something as unnatural as celibacy. If they wanted to add any of the secular belief systems on there they would need to add another color to the scale, "None of my damned business".

(Hat tip to Disinfo)