Archive for August, 2010

Daily Horoscope: Polaris Software- A Critical Analysis.

Posted on August 23, 2010. Filed under: Astrology and Related Bunk, Irony in the Title, Random, Science |

Note From George: Many of you already know that for the last several days I have been wading into the astrology debate over at Jason’s blog, Lousy Canuck.

During the original debate, we were invited by Jamie Funk to join in on the discussion at his astrology blog where I first encountered James Alexander and his brief explanation of Polaris; a computer software developed for “rectification”.  James has now joined the debate on Jason’s blog, and has once again brought up Polaris as evidence of astrology’s ability to make falsifiable predictions.  During this debate, I have offered James the opportunity to test Polaris as a proof of astrology and he seems genuinely interested in putting it to task.  In the interests of giving a fair shake to James, I would like to give him the opportunity to guest post his own interpretation of Polaris, which I will not edit save a disclaimer that the views are his, and post it on my site.  I welcome his comments about my interpretation, which I am offering here.  I would forewarn readers that this is a 4000 word post with no jokes and little pointed language, and will likely be a tl;dr for anyone not interested by astrology or with vested interest in our ongoing discussion.  Feel free to read my Summary  just above the fold to get a brief overview of this post.  Unless you are James.  Then you should read it and explain in some detail what parts are factually wrong, as well as proofread it for spelling and grammar.  (that’s my only joke folks, you have been warned)  All quotes or information attributed to James is available at the Polaris link or in comments on my blog and Lousy Canuck.  I will be happy to clarify the source upon request.

Jason has offered to post on his blog the parameters and eventual results of this test of Polaris on his site, once James and I have agreed on terms and begun the test.


  • Rectification can cause “warm readings” as opposed to “cold readings”, the potential for non-astrologically gained information and/or the discounting of information should be considered as fostering confirmation bias.
  • It is feasible to create a PRNG (Pseudo-Random Number Generator) that would perform better than chance without the aid of astrology.
  • The odds quoted by James are fundamentally flawed
  • Many of his corollary statements are misdirecting, flawed or incorrect
  • By widening the scope of what would pass for a “hit” for Polaris, the odds of the “uncanny” become far better.
  • Polaris is deserving of a test in spite of my basic criticisms (more…)
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The Question of Relative Morality

Posted on August 17, 2010. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Religion, Social Justice |

This subject, I know, will be a giant headache to cover in detail but it is one I believe needs to be addressed in my ongoing discussion with Kate .  Morality is an area of conversation between atheists and theists where much misrepresentation and miscommunication takes place.  For a good reference on this subject on the internet, as well as a guide to how I would argue on morality if I were half this brilliant, I suggest reading posts on the subject at my friend Dan Finke’s philosophy blog, Camels With Hammers. Here are a few relevant posts from him.  I also hope that Dan will make a guest appearance to point out some of his other musings on the subject.

As I previously alluded, this is not going to be a one post discussion.  Morality is likely the most talked about subject in the world of philosophy, and I feel like a child among giants when I start to contemplate it.  With a hat tip to my own shortcomings,and knowing that for many of you this will be a TL;DR post, here are my thoughts.

Morality As An Unarguably Relative Construct

That Christians continue to harp on about how morality is relative to atheists and is more similar to a divine or natural law for the theist is evidence enough that this issue is misunderstood by at least one party involved.  My two cents on the subject is that morality is not a fixed principle.  If you know a lawyer or a judge you could surely hear stories that would break your heart of “black and white” laws being applied to the most middling of “gray” circumstances.  That is why our legal system is designed to allow “self-defense”, for example.

An abortion clinic bomber has a very different construct of morality or justice as your average Catholic, whose moral construct itself is quite different from a pro-choice feminist. To make an argument that any one of those people is by necessity correct is to imply that your particular moral construct is the only correct one. Though I certainly would argue that one of them is particularly reprehensible, I can see the moral argument for the other two.

Morality in a nutshell

All moral decisions can be accused of being moral or immoral based on the scope of how we weigh the benefits and consequences.  Each benefit, each consequence, each affected individual person or group is afforded a different yet quantifiable weight in a moral judgment.  How groups or individuals will judge the relative morality of any singular or set of decisions will therefor always be relative to the weight assigned to each variable.  To claim that there is a divine or natural law which tells you how much weight each involved party should be afforded is specious.

That societies require a religion to inform or mold this moral construct is ridiculous.  That in any moral circumstance, one would surely weigh not just their own interests, but that of their immediate family, their close friends, their community, or any other group that that person can be reasonably be expected to foresee being affected is certainly a given.  Some of these weights are selfish, some are selfless, some lie between.  Morality is the direct consequence of being a social species, and this holds true even among the “lesser” species.    That religion, as a pseudo-philosophical construct is very specifically concerned with morality is not surprising.  Religions of all stripes take rational moral constructs and pepper them with additional prohibitions and consequences that are hardly necessary for that moral principal to stand or fall on it own merit.  No religion coined the Golden Rule, for example.  It is a logical conclusion of a social species.  That religion redundantly carves it in stone this inevitable social construct is moot.

Every group of people, from Fundamental Christian to militant liberal is going to have their own concept of an ideal moral decision, yet one very rarely presents itself.

How To Best Understand Relative Morality (more…)

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Daily Horoscope:Mars May Be Conjunct Jupiter, But Your Head Is In Uranus.

Posted on August 17, 2010. Filed under: Astrology and Related Bunk, Irony in the Title, Science |

Edit:I changed the grammar of the title in response to James’ criticism.

Note From George: There is a more lengthy criticism of Polaris in my follow up post Daily Horoscope: Polaris Software- A Critical Analysis.

After a month long hiatus, Jamie Funk is back for round 2 over at Lousy Canuck.  Well, sort of.  He has re-joined the fray now that Robert Currey has come in to defend astrology with something resembling a real argument.  I do not by any means agree that Robert’s argument is anything short of trying to obfuscate the debate, but he at least came to the fight with a weapon; even if it is just pepper spray at a gun fight.  I can summarize the new flavor of the debate like so:

1. Astrology doesn’t need a mechanism.  It also apparently doesn’t need to have a quantifiable effect.  In fact, it doesn’t seem to need anything other than a 3000 year pedigree and some nifty anecdotes.

2. Astrologers are not responsible to give any evidence to prove that astrology works.  Science needs to prove a negative so that astrologers can critique these studies as faulty.  Scientific method be damned.

3.  Skeptics continually disregard “hits” out of hand.  Even if those hits are based on ambiguous guesswork that could be viewed as a “hit” no matter which way the winds blow.

4.  Astrologers like to insist that we divulge our personal information rather than subject their “field of study” to any semblance of a scientific assessment.

Why I Am Not Convinced.

Not suprisingly, Uranus is a Gas Giant- What effect that has on me, I don't really know...

Astrologers, in my mind, need to show that their “field of study” has some measurable effect in the world we live.  Before we can postulate a mechanism, we first need to see the need for a mechanism.  There has to be some phenomenon that can best be explained by astrology, and this would make a mechanism necessary.  Astrologers do not seem to agree with this.  They think we should prove that astrology has no effect, at which point they can decide if our proof is sufficient to discount astrology or not.

Then, out of the blue, James Alexander comes into the discussion.  Those of you who have read my Daily Horoscope series would be familiar with James, both as the poster I referenced from Jamie’s blog and the author of the Polaris link I gave in DH: You’re in a Circle Jerk With The Confirmation Bias Fairy.  You might also remember the open offer I gave him in DH: There Will Be A Test.

Polaris: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

To reiterate what I said before:

Polaris is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor, but likely not the brightest computer program...

A poster named James mentioned Polaris, a computer program that he described as being indisputably predictive in calculating birth times.   I should have caught on when the process was referred to as “rectification”, but the temptation of a program that was testable and falsifiable blinded me to its obvious flaw.

The process is called “rectification”, I know now, because it uses your built in confirmation bias to re-jig your birthtime based on past events in your life.  The idea is this:

Subject A either has no registered or confirmable birth time or feels that his/her birth time was miscalculated by timepieces at the time of their birth.

With the foreknowledge that astrology is more accurate at calculating birth times then, say, a clock or watch which was invented solely for the purpose of time keeping; Subject A gives a list of significant events from their lives and a list of probable birth times and Polaris extracts the most likely one based on a points system.

How eminently scientific!  I can still see how this program could be used to disprove itself though.

Let’s say someone bought the program, gathered birth time information on several individuals using clocks that are accurate to the millisecond, witnessing and documenting firsthand the indisputable birth times.  Wait say, 20 years and input events from those individuals lives and a wide range of birth times and voila, the indisputable birth time must surely emerge!

Not Fair?

I’d like to know why, without any confirmation bias “that was the time they were supposed to be born” bullshit that I can hear already spewing from the credulous assholes mouth.

I’ve already proposed how to use this program in a less scientific way to at least lend weight to it’s credibility.  I’m still open to takers:

From James’ comment at Funk Astrology.

Hypothesis: That the time of a persons birth can be calculated with better than average accuracy using the dates of a series of unrelated events in their lives.

Experiment:  Provided with a list of ten (10) unknown subjects information including date of birth, place of birth, and several important events in their lives, the astrologer will be able to calculate their known birthtime within an insignificant margin of error.  These calculations are to be statistically more accurate than the guesses of 5 non-astrologers.

James didn’t want to address my concerns with Polaris a month ago, and certainly has not seemed to keen to address them now.  He claims that the odds of Polaris working are 1 in 1440 yet when I look at his example on the Polaris link I find this information:

She sent me over 40 events from her life, mostly with exact dates. I took 38 of these events (the ones where the dates were most accurately known) and entered each of them into Polaris. I gave the software a search range of an hour on either side of the supposed birthtime. This entering of events goes quite quickly. In about a minute (time dependent on computer speed), Polaris examined every 8 seconds in birthtime throughout the range and gave the following table:

Don't know you're "real" birth time? That's why we invent astrology software!

With an hour on either side,and examining every eight seconds, you’re chances look like 1 in 900. But if we consider the fact that many people don’t have birthtime to the second, we must consider what range of “hits” would be considered uncanny to the person who has a rough birth time. Let’s suppose its just ten minutes either side of their birth time. By my math that equates to 1 in 6.
So I question the method, not the significance of it’s results.

I am left with the impression that his statistical skills are a bit lacking.  He has succumbed to his own confirmation bias.

I still leave my original offer open though.  I would gladly offer him the chance to set up a rigorous blind test of Polaris’ efficiency at calculating birth times.  I’ll even allow him to help shape the parameters so that his program can get a fair shake.  I doubt he will take the offer though, I just thought I would give him the chance he says every other skeptic won’t.

What Will I Do If You’re Right?

This sphere exerts more gravitational pull on her than Jupiter- It also is just as likely to give her useful information about her life...

James, if you win, if Polaris can be seen to fair better than chance at calculating birth times, I will gladly take up your cause.  I will stand behind you 100% on Jason’s site, and I will admit to everyone that astrology is plausible.  I will give Jason and Glendon and Stephanie all the data we gathered together, and defend it as more than mere coincidence, proof that there is SOMETHING to astrology.

I will also post a retraction on my site saying that I was wrong to criticize astrology, outlining all the evidence I collected from our study, and you could link to this post with reckless abandon every time a skeptic questions astrology.

So let’s have a go then.  Let’s put your program to the test.

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Dissecting a “Healthy Delusion”: Why I Don’t Talk To Volleyballs…and You Shouldn’t Either

Posted on August 11, 2010. Filed under: Atheism, Personal, Religion |

Note from George: This is a response to a comment over at my friend Kate’s blog Just Another  Inkling. She asks me why I want to take away her God, even if he is imagined.  What is the motive for attacking personal belief?

First To Dispense With The General Answer

I can understand the frustration felt by many theists when they encounter anti-religious sentiment on the internet:

“Even if I am wrong about God, what harm does it cause?”

“Why does it matter so much to you if I am a Christian?”

“Why do you need to question my personal beliefs when they do no harm to you?”

The answers to these questions are simple.

If it were as simple as a personal, internal belief system it would not really matter.  If you were suffering a delusion (and you may not be) that had no bearing on how I or others lived our lives then I would be less inclined to question it.  The simple answer is that it does have an impact on the lives of others, and we’re not just talking butterfly wings here.

The belief in a dogmatic religious system leads to an Us vs. Them dichotomy, where religions sow the seeds of xenophobia and moral superiority.  I am not moral, or less moral, because I lack a personal relationship with your God.

My feeling is that this comes from religion’s assertion that it has a monopoly on truth.  If a theist believes that theirs is the greatest truth, then anyone not accepting that truth must be faulty in some way.  When you agree that someone is faulty, it naturally leads to trying to describe those faults.

You can't argue with logic....

If someone had an “imaginary friend” but lived their life in such a way as to not let that interfere with their interaction with others, it is doubtful that they would find themselves in a mental hospital.  If your imaginary friend insisted that you shout obscenities at anyone who could  not see her, then you would likely find yourself in the care of medical professionals.

I am not saying God is necessarily imaginary, and I’m certainly not saying that God impels theists to shout obscenities at atheists.  I am implying that religion is not strictly “personal”.  It forces its own beliefs into the world I live in.  It asks that as a society we afford it special privilege in spite of expansive evidence to the contrary.  It asks us to maintain archaic moral judgments so as to not offend its believers.

The reasons to fight back are twofold: (more…)

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Does God Have To Be Perfect?

Posted on August 10, 2010. Filed under: Atheism, Personal, Religion |

Note from George: This is a response to a comment and new post over at my friend Kate’s blog Just Another  Inkling. For a reader seeking the full context of this discussion between our blogs, it will be necessary to read these posts in this order.  I will attempt to give context where possible.  I want to seize on a few things Kate has said recently….

The central theme of our discussion has revolved around the following questions:

(Kate should indicate if I stand corrected or need to expand this list)

  1. Is there a difference between the way in which a theist and atheist think which predisposes someone to that line of thought?  Does the theist gain some advantage in trusting intuition more than the atheist?
  2. Is it possible to be both a skeptic and a Christian?
  3. Is there a valid argument for a personal God in the Christian tradition? For any God period?

I believe we are at a bit of a logjam at question #3.  I would like to hone in on a few points made in posts on her site.

Her newest post is Let’s Objectively Imagine the Perfect God where she begins to lay out a case for her personal God using an allegory.  This stems from my comment of whether a case can be made for a personal God that is divinely inspired as opposed to man made.

I want to first question why her God need be perfect, and whether “perfection” is a state that can be gleaned from the evidence at hand.

From my comments:

Jesus' hopes to win election were ruined when he flip-flopped on slavery. That and he was against term limits....

I think that religious folks are always seeking a “perfect God”, and I don’t find that philosophically tenable. If there is one constant in the universe, one that has never been shown to have exception, it is the lack of “perfection”. In fact, I would say that the religious concept is partly born of the dichotomy between right and wrong, good and evil, moral and amoral and the lack of any semblance of perfection within those systems. We only have an abstract concept of perfection as a “lack of fault”, yet this state cannot exist.
What decision could be perfect? Is there not always a trade-off? I can make a decision that is better than another one, but we must always assume that there is some shade of gray to every choice. Perfection is an abstract, it does not exist. (more…)

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Apologetics & Apostasy Pt.4- My Christian Friend Kate Takes Me To Task: Imagination and Deism Edition

Posted on August 5, 2010. Filed under: Atheism, Religion, Science |

Note From George: This is part 4 in my series on Apologetics and Apostasy.  It is a bit of a tangent from my other posts on the subject, posted in response to a conversation I have been having with Kate over at her blog.So this post is both part of my series and also a response to her post “In Response To My Atheist Friend“.  Please visit her blog to get the full context of quotes used.

On The Differences Between Lacking Imagination And Worshiping It

From Kate’s original post:

…..the skeptic limits reality to that which he can perceive with his current senses.

The theist, on the other hand, has a broader sense of reality, albeit the aspects of reality which lie below the surface of his sense perception, exist primarily in his imagination.

I have said before that I don’t believe that atheists lack imagination.  The key distinction lies in where we draw the line between our imaginations and our credulity.  It is not a lack of imagination so much as a careful effort scrutinizing what parts of our expansive imaginations can make a leap into our material reality.

I can, and have, imagined the principles behind a perpetual motion machine.  I have on many occasions tried to work through a concept for an energy multiplier.  I do this for fun, knowing full well that this concept could not possibly come to fruition.  Why?

Ray Comfort's lying mouth is the closest thing to a perpetual motion machine we can witness.

Because it is direct conflict with the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  Perhaps I might stumble across a new means to reduce voltage loss in my experimentation, but the concept of perpetual motion is off the table save my imaginations of it. (more…)

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On Misplaced Grace

Posted on August 4, 2010. Filed under: Atheism, Bad Poetry, Personal, Religion |

At the risk of turning this blog into George’s Poetry Corner, here is an explanation of my blog title.

It comes from a poem that I wrote several years ago.  I hate the poem, I find it goes all over the place and is slightly sloppy.  I don’t like all those bible references in the poem, but I suppose they reflected where I was at back then.  It is a religiously infused atheist poem, or about becoming “nearly atheist”.  I did however, love the concept of  “Misplaced Grace”, which I stole to give a title to this blog.

An explanation follows the poem:

Misplaced Grace

You sought me out in earnest


when searching for my Truth

did place my hand upon Your Word

and look to it for proof

I left not thine commandments

I made them my daily bread

the burden placed

Your Misplaced Grace

to place Him in my stead.

Jesus to World: "I'm kind of a big deal"

I sought you out for answers


I kicked against the goads

my knees were never grounded

though I travelled many roads

Though I left not thine commandments

when my heart began to lurch

I saw no trace

of your Misplaced Grace

to aid me in my search

You left me in the desert


to find my own way home

and in those forty days I walked

no mercy was I shown

I left there Thine commandments

in those countless grains of sand

the resting place

for my Misplaced Grace

I hope You understand……

That was the last real religiously themed poem I wrote.  I consider it one of my weaker works.  I sometimes consider re-writing it and keeping the title but trashing the rest but at the same time I keep every poem I write to remind me of where I was at that place in time.

Misplaced Grace holds a double entendre for me.  Originally it was a pun on its own redundancy, as by my Christian definition of grace it is by its nature misplaced or undeserving.  I liked to use the expression frequently in my religious days.

Abject Confusion- We've got an app for that.

When I started to “bend with the breeze” I also liked this term for its conjuring of the bible verses in Eph. 2:8 and Gal. 1:15 where we are afforded grace by God and charged with faith and works.  These verses are the basis for the doctrine of Sola Gratia, and I like the idea that I have misplaced my grace afforded by God.

I also felt at the time that Grace was a reciprocal relationship, in that by our taking of the faith we afford to God our grace- and as an atheist I would argue that grace afforded to God is misplaced as well.  No reasonable person should read the bible and arrive at the conclusion that grace to God is warranted.

So now you know how bad poetry and bad apologetics can lead to a kick-ass blog name.

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