The language of humans

This is a response to Kyle's response to my review of the Language of God. Read those if you want to know what the first sentence of the next paragraph is about.

It's a good story. That kind of connection between people is beautiful and important and maybe even a clue to why we're here. It transcends race, nation, class and religion. Some people look at that moment and see God at work, and I can respect that. It certainly doesn't violate the rules of science and common sense like so many other attempts to prove God is real.

But I see it a different way. I see the connection between humans, the empathy, the struggle against meaningless and despair and ultimately the decision to find or create meaning through your life. Those things are very human and require no supernatural help.

The subtitle of the book is "A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief," but the principal reasons Collins believes are neither scientific nor evidence. That came as a surprise and disappointment for me. I was expecting a certain type of answer and got something very different. I know that Kyle finds the personal sources of faith to be the most convincing, but that just doesn't do the trick for me. Feelings can be explained in so many other ways. Evoking the supernatural seems like a much more unlikely explanation than many others.

If science answers some of the questions left after religion is gone, then humanism takes over most of the rest. For instance, in the story Kyle quoted, I think the value, kindness, empathy and searching comes from the people involved. I don't see them as proxies for those same attributes in a deity.

If we have flaws, they are human flaws, not the slings and arrows of the devil. If there's any hope for our salvation, then it comes from the goodness inside humans, not some rescue from outside. This view of the world means we take more responsibility for ourselves and we're less fatalistic. How many times have you heard someone end a discussion about the problems of the world by saying, "Once Jesus comes back, it will all be fixed"? If our problems are going to be solved, we'll have to do it ourselves.

In practice, this is not such a different view from many Christians. As much as I respect and agree with any Christian Humanist, I can't help but notice that they're making a great departure from the essentially apocalyptic teachings of Jesus and Paul. Just as Kyle asked why anyone would believe in God once science has answered certain questions, I wonder why someone would believe in God once they had accepted the humanist explanations for others. That's the point I finally arrived at before giving up religion. For me, all the explaining power of Christianity was gone and the only thing keeping me in it was inertia.

Creationist museum teaches superevolution

The Creation Museum, which opened this spring in Kentucky, teaches its visitors that the earth is under 10,000 years old and that the Biblical story of Noah is literally true. The museum claims that evolution could not have produced the diversity of life that we see today. But if you look closely at what they say, they actually believe in superevolution.

The story of Noah has several problems, but the one I want to point out is that the boat could not have fit two of every species on the planet today. It's safe to assume that there are over 1 million species of land animals today. The Creation Museum, using the most generous of estimates, claims that 10,000 species were present on the ark. Even they won't try to claim that more could fit. So, where did we get all the species we have today, then? Take a close look at this picture from the museum:

This panel from the museum assumes that the ark had one pair of apes and all the ape species that we see today are descended from this one species. One species splitting into multiple species, hmmm. That sounds an awful lot like evolution. But, it's more than that, it's superevolution. Remember, this is all supposed to have happened less than 8,000 years ago. Going from 10,000 species to 1,000,000 in 8,000 years is some pretty rapid evolution. It's much, much faster than scientists think evolution normally happens.

This video
goes into more detail.

Lewis Black on creationism

As only Lewis Black can say it.

iMovie 08

I just finished my first project in iMovie '08. I'm really trying to like it, but it's hard. Here's a quick run-down of the pros and cons as well as my idea for how to fix it.

Scrubbing - Move your mouse over clips and you scrub through the clip.
Selecting - Scrub to where you want to start the selection, click and drag, scrubbing to where you want to stop. Then drag the selection to your project. This is an improvement over iMovie 06.
Events - I like this feature in iPhoto and I like it in iMovie, too.
YouTube export - This is great. I've spent hours trying to export to YouTube and the quality was never as good as this. Easy and good quality.
Other exports - The export interface for just making a quicktime movie for iTunes or iPod or iAnythingElse is very simple and nice.
Importing from camera - There's a new automatic mode that rewinds the tape and imports all of it. Cool.

No timeline - I like seeing a visual representation of how much time each clip takes up. The iMovie 08 project area isn't impossible to get used to, but it's not ideal.
Audio controls - The audio rubber band is gone. It allowed you to edit the volume in a clip.
Can't mute all the original clip audio easily - If you drag a bunch of clips to your project and add some music, you may want to mute the original clips and just have the song. You have to edit each clip and move the volume to 0%. In the old iMovie you could uncheck the audio track and mute it all at once.
Can't delete multiple clips from project - Add a bunch of clips or photos to your project, then change your mind? You have to delete them all one by one. WTF?
Less control over transitions - Add a transition and want to make it a little longer? Sorry, you can't.
No slow-mo or time-lapse - You used to be able to speed up or slow down a clip. No longer.
Less control in general - Maybe that's nice for novices, but I got used to some of the things you could do in iMovie.

My solution:
Most of the problems are in the timeline area. One solution would be to scrap the new timeline and go back to the old way. Here's what that would look like:

Digg it

Geography of faith

Here's an interesting animated map showing the territory of several religions over time:

Histroy of Religion: The Geography of Faith and Its Wars Across History

There are several other interesting maps of war, including the The US Wars and The Imperial Occupations of the Middle East.

See the Dragon (Hardback)

I just got my proof copy of Don Arndt's See the Dragon: One Wolfhound's Vietnam Story in hardback and it looks great, so I made it available for purchase. Now we have three versions available: PDF download ($9.99), paperback ($14.99) and hardback ($26.99). If you're interested in learning about the Vietnam War from the perspective of a Missouri farmboy that was drafted, then you might enjoy this book. If you like the book (or if you just take my word for it) then you can help us promote the book. A quick link to on your site would be a big help. And we'd love to have someone read the book and write a review on

How old is the Earth?

I don't know how many of my readers think the Earth has only been around for 6,000 years. I would assume it's a small percentage, but I might be surprised. I've got a poll running now about that, so feel free to cast your vote. I'd also like to hear from you in the comments. If you think the Earth is young, please explain why. I've looked at young Earth creationist ideas like those on the Answers in Genesis website and the Creation Museum. They seem to go to great lengths to avoid generally accepted science.

I know there are some very intelligent believers that read this page. Maybe some of you can explain the relationship between your faith and your views of science.

See the Dragon

Don Arndt, a friend of mine wrote a book about the year he spent in Vietnam in 1966. I helped to edit and typeset it and then we listed in on, a print on demand self-publishing site. You can read more about the book and find the links to order it on The paperback version is available now and we should have hardback ready soon, too.

Cheney was right


Dick Cheney was talking a little bit of sense when he was considering a run for the White House in 1994. Too bad this guy wasn't our Vice President in 2003.

Q: Do you think the U.S., or U.N. forces, should have moved into Baghdad?

A: No.

Q: Why not?

A: Because if we'd gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn't have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq.

Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what are you going to put in its place? That's a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it -- eastern Iraq -- the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years. In the north you've got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey.

It's a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.

The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families -- it wasn't a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth?

Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.


Until recently it has bee commonly thought (again, even among scholars) that oral cultures could be counted on to preserve their traditions reliably, that people in such societies were diligent in remembering what they heard and could reproduce it accurately when asked about it. This, however, is another myth that has been exploded by recent studies of literacy. We have now come to see that people in oral cultures typically do not share the modern concern for preserving traditions intact, and do not repeat them exactly the same way every time. On the contrary, the concern for verbal accuracy has been instilled in us by the phenomenon of mass literacy itself; since anyone now can check to see if a fact has been remembered correctly (by looking it up), we have developed a sense that traditions ought to remain invariable and unchanged. In most oral societies, however, traditions are understood to be malleable; that is, they are supposed to be changed and made relevant to the new situations in which they are cited.

(The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 45)

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