March 2007

Here is a very nice photo flipbook video featuring the unmistakable music of Alan Vega.

Multi-touch interfaces (a la the iPhone) have reinvented the DJ turntable.

Old-school anti-piracy PSA: Don’t Copy That Floppy!

Video of a full orchestral performance of perhaps the most revolutionary work of music from the 20th century, John Cage’s infamous 4’33” (1952).

10 Most Magnificent Trees in the World; even cooler than I was expecting.

Google is imitating Ted Talks with the thus-far excellent Google Tech Talks. Highlights: Kevin Kelly on the scientific method and Luis von Ahn on human computation.

I use Wikipedia every day, but it does have serious quality problems. Citizendium looks like a vast improvement, with editorial control and no anonymous editing. For examples of quality potential, see “approved” articles like Biology, Barbara McClintock, and Vertebral subluxation. See the news coverage.

From The Value of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell:

It cannot be maintained that philosophy has had any very great measure of success in its attempts to provide definite answers to its questions… It is true that this is partly accounted for by the fact that, as soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible, this subject ceases to be called philosophy, and becomes a separate science. The whole study of the heavens, which now belongs to astronomy, was once included in philosophy; Newton’s great work was called ‘the mathematical principles of natural philosophy’. Similarly, the study of the human mind, which was a part of philosophy, has now been separated from philosophy and has become the science of psychology. Thus, to a great extent, the uncertainty of philosophy is more apparent than real: those questions which are already capable of definite answers are placed in the sciences, while those only to which, at present, no definite answer can be given, remain to form the residue which is called philosophy.

This is, however, only a part of the truth concerning the uncertainty of philosophy. There are many questions — and among them those that are of the profoundest interest to our spiritual life — which, so far as we can see, must remain insoluble to the human intellect unless its powers become of quite a different order from what they are now. Has the universe any unity of plan or purpose, or is it a fortuitous concourse of atoms? Is consciousness a permanent part of the universe, giving hope of indefinite growth in wisdom, or is it a transitory accident on a small planet on which life must ultimately become impossible? Are good and evil of importance to the universe or only to man? Such questions are asked by philosophy, and variously answered by various philosophers. But it would seem that, whether answers be otherwise discoverable or not, the answers suggested by philosophy are none of them demonstrably true.

I’m feeling silly today, so I’m going to list… my favorite gospels!

My favorite gospel is Luke‘s. First, because of it’s historicity. I’m fairly certain it actually was written by Luke the physician, companion of Paul. The author uses “we” when describing his journeys with Paul in the second half of the work (Acts) and shares much doctrinal phraseology with Paul’s letters. In addition, all extant 2nd century theologians agreed on Lucan authorship. It is also the easiest to date of all the gospels. Second, because of its content. It is Luke’s gospel which contains the beautiful parables, the socially radical Jesus, and the unusual attention paid to women.

My second favorite gospel is Matthew‘s. Though not as historically sound as Luke’s, this gospel does portray a socially radical Jesus and contains the best version of the momentous Sermon on the Mount.

My third favorite gospel is Mark‘s. The writing is poor and the story bare-bones, but Mark’s gospel is a breeze to read and also likable as the earliest extant gospel.

My least favorite canonical gospel is John‘s. It’s much later than the others and far less historically sound. But also, it shares little with the other three gospels and spends far too much time on theological diversions. It’s also a bit anti-Semitic and Gnostic. And, no parables or exorcisms!

Other gospels are less interesting, except in pieces. For example, the talking cross in the Gospel of Peter and the entertaining stories of a young, rascally Jesus in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

Fun, fun, silly willy!

If God exists in a similar form to most Gods that have been proposed, his existence is certainly the most important reality of all. Therefore, perhaps the most important question of all is “Does God exist?”

The existence of God is among the most lively debates in philosophy, though investigating the problem is difficult. Since no scientific proofs of God exist, philosophical arguments must be used. John Polkinghorne‘s analogy is that the existence of God is like quantum mechanics: neither can be measured directly, both are paradoxical, but they can make sense of disparate data.

Arguments for the existence of God are usually metaphysical (purely philosophical), empirical (based on evidence), inductive (probabilistic), and subjective (arising from personal experience). Arguments against the existence of God are usually empirical, inductive, and deductive (logical).

I did not investigate polytheism because there are no serious theories on how polytheism could explain the universe we know, and virtually no serious thinkers accept polytheism as more than a set of archetypal metaphors. I also did not investigate pantheism because if God is all, then God is merely a redefinition of God to mean “existence.”

Before getting into the arguments for and against God that I have studied, let me address Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal argued that it is a better bet to believe in God than not, because the expected value of theism (eternal salvation) is better than the expected value of atheism. Taken by itself, though, this is valueless wager, because there are hundreds of mutually exclusive claims to methods of salvation. How is one to choose between all the different religions that offer salvation or other benefits? The wager itself does not address this problem. Of course, Pascal proposed the wager in the context of his own arguments for the Christian God, and we will deal with those types of arguments separately.

Finally, in the interest of authenticity I must make a disclaimer that may, for some, invalidate my journey into truth. From the beginning, I have wanted to find a benevolent God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, because I find Jesus to be the most beautiful thing in earth’s history. And, I have been asking God to lead me into proper truth. But if he doesn’t exist, this will not have corrupted my search for truth. And, nobody can investigate the most important and affecting questions in the universe without bias. I do believe I have solid rational grounds for believing what I now believe. The rest of my story will expose this rationality.

The purpose of this new, epic post series is to tell the story of how I have come to believe what I believe about God; my journey into truth.

Each person has his or her own journey into truth. Some people “find God” through a personal divine encounter, some through a God-shaped void, some through religious indoctrination, some through science, and some through other means. I am a particular type of person who has found God through thought and reason. I do not pretend that my journey is superior to other journeys.

My journey began when I lost the faith of my Christian upbringing to a atheism. Though it was existentially stressful, I am grateful for this experience because it gave me a “clean slate” on which to write truth that I discovered as a thinking adult.

My journey into truth has been very rapid. I have not “paid my dues” as a historian, philosopher, logician, scientist, etc. I have not read the thousands of pages I would like to read about any one of the subtopics I will discuss in this series. I do not have a degree in any relevant fields of study.

But I do not have time for all that. I could spend an entire lifetime studying the veracity of one proposition of one of the formal arguments for God I will discuss later. I could spend an entire lifetime studying the gradual modification of the Bible by learning dead languages and personally reading all extant manuscripts. Etc. But then I would never have time to access the broader truths I seek. So, I am immensely grateful to the specialists who have spent their entire lives on such minutae, but I must read overviews and summaries and consensus estimations and at some point, I must decide what truth is most likely based on these alone.

In general, I am sufficiently convinced when (a) I have enough knowledge of a subject to understand that (b) a significant number of specialists concur on a point that is (c) logically and evidentially sound to me. Throughout this series I will give many examples of ideas that are convincing to me, and plenty that are not convincing to me for failing one or more of these personal criteria.

That being said, I always love to incorporate new data into my worldview. I fully expect to one day be unconvinced of some ideas that are convincingly true to me now, and vice versa. But I must soon accept some truths to the best of my understanding so that I can move on to other vital topics. Eventually, I would like to have “discovered” enough truth by these means to know the best way to live in all circumstances I encounter. I want to live in a fully realized, consistent worldview.

This does not mean that I expect to one day have a complete picture of the universe. I have never heard a consistent, believable conceptualization of how the universe (physical and metaphysical) works, and I never will. I just want to know enough that I can choose how to live in harmony and truth with existence.

My journey is rapid, and my coverage of it will be far more rapid. Though some readers may find this series long-winded, please understand that I will be cutting out a fuckton of material I believe to be necessary. I will be painfully concise to be easily readable, but I will certainly link to more complete materials for the interested.

In Part 2, I will begin to tell my tale and discuss the most important question in the universe.

The World Is Not Flat: a couple travels around the entire world in one year, blogging their experiences with copious photos, videos, and impressions. Here are their highlights and lowlights, here are their travel tips, and here are all the posts about how they could afford such a comprehensive trip! Similar: Vagabonding, Jon Rawlinson, and Old World Wandering.

Choose My Adventure: some guy lets his readers choose what adventures he takes next.

I’m only 10% stupid. Yay!

How many countires can you name in 10 minutes? I got 73 in 6 minutes, and then gave up. Pathetic. Africa and Eastern Europe are the hardest for me.

The etymology of “meh”.

The world’s most amazing cars. Sexy.

Wow. Have you seen these photos of a towboat literally rolling under an unopened bridge? And hey, how did a deer get atop a communications pole? And here is one way to sneak across a border. And corset body piercing; now that’s hardcore! And more.

Most awkward TV interviews ever.

By stoic philosopher Epictetus, from his Golden Sayings:

Are these the only works of Providence within us? Nay! What language is adequate to praise them all or to bring them home to our minds as they deserve? Why, if we had sense, ought we be doing anything else publicly and privately than hymning and praising the Deity and rehearsing his benefits? Ought we not, as we dig and plow and eat, to sing the hymn of praise to God:

Great is God that he has furnished us these instruments werewith we shall till the earth! Great is God that he has given us hands, the power to swallow, and a belly, and the power to grow unconsciously, and to breathe while asleep! This is what we ought to sing on every occasion.

And above all, to sing the greatest and divinest hymn that God has given us: the faculty to comprehend these things, and to follow the path of reason.

What then? Since many of you have become blind, ought there not to be someone to fulfill this office for you, and on behalf of all sing the hymn of praise to God? Why, what else can I, a lame old man, do but sing hymns to God? If indeed I were a nightingale, I should sing as a nightingale; if a swan, I should sing as a swan. But as it is, I am a rational being. Therefore, I must be singing hymns of praise to God.

This is my task. I do it, and I will not desert this post as long as it may be given to me to fill it. And I exhort you to join me in singing the same song.

Knowledge is my song.

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