Analogies aren't, I'm aware of that. Still I want to present one that describes the feeling I get when I hear counter-arguments from young-earth creationists. For the record, the following two stories are fictional though the latter is based on true stories.

Imagine a warm afternoon in Spring. Jack took half the day off because he made really long hours the day before. His wife is still at work, his son should be home from school anytime now. It's 4 PM, Jack is sitting in the living room watching the afternoon soap series on TV. He's tired, but he refuses to go to bed - he's awaiting his wife to come home. His eyes feel heavy and he start nodding his head. The last time he nodded his head he almost fell asleep so he jumps up.

Jack looks outside and he see it's dark. ``What?'' he thinks to himself, ``How come it's dark? I wasn't aware that there would be a solar eclipse today!'' He looks at the clock hanging on the wall and it shows 8 o'clock. He assumes the clock is broken because he was watching the soap at 4 PM, it just can't be 8 o'clock by now. He looks at the clock on the VCR and it also shows 8 PM. ``Oh!'' he thinks, ``I think there must have been a power failure I wasn't aware of, that's why both clocks have the same erroneous time.'' The TV is still turned on and the 8 o'clock news starts airing. And Jack thinks ``And I thought I was looking at today's airing of the soap while all this time the VCR was playing.'' Jack goes upstairs and sees his son playing a game of Little Fighter on the PC. He says ``Hey, I didn't see you coming in. Did you take a shortcut home?'' And his son replies ``No dad, I went by Jimmy first. His dad sends greetings.'' ``Yeah right'' Jack mumbles, ``Do you take me to be a fool?'' Then he walks past the bathroom and hears his wife taking a bath. He shouts to her ``How come you're home early?'' She shouts back ``What do you mean early, sleeping beauty? I made half an hour overtime before coming home and I've already had dinner.''

I think by this time the signs on the wall should be screaming loudly that Jack's assumption that he only nodded but didn't actually sleep is, well, wrong! Let's compare this story with Joe Creationist's opinion on the age of the earth.

You tell Joe that the earth is around 4.6 billion years old and that the universe is around 13.7 billion years old. ``No!'' says Joe, ``you've been lied to. God told us in his word, the Bible, that he created the heavens and the earth around 6000 years ago and since it is His word is is the truth.'' So you ask Joe to explain how it's possible that you're seeing stars that are more than 6000 light-years away. He replies something like ``I don't think they are really that far away''. So you explain the whole shebang about stellar parallax, Cepheid variables, Doppler red-shift etc. He then replies ``God is all powerful, He might have created the universe in it's present form.'' ``OK,'' you reply, so God created the universe with an appearance of age. When we saw Sanduleak going supernova at a distance of 170.000 light-years back in 1987 it was just an appearance of a star exploding, he created the light of an exploding star that never really existed, is that what you're saying?'' He replies that he cannot understand God's motives so he doesn't make an effort to do that. So you ask him why Argon dating shows a meteorite to be around 4.5 billion years old. And he replies that radiometric dating makes too many assumptions, it might be possible that the parent isotope was a lot less present than you assume. You tell him that there are a number of other methods like Uranium-Lead that all show an age of 4.5 billion years within a small margin of error. He goes on to say that God created the rock with an appearance of age to test our faith. You say ''I got one more clock for you. If you calculate the mean mutation rate of DNA and take the difference between human and yeast DNA, it counts up to a couple of billion years.'' ``Evolution is just hogwash'' Joe replies. ``God created all kinds separately and the only evolution that happens is changes within the kind.'' So you ask why we don't find don't find human remains in Cretaceous and Jurassic strata along with the dinosaurs, why the non-coding DNA like retro-virus insertions appears more alike as species are closer to each other in the phylogenetic tree, why tree rings can be composed to more that 11000 annual rings, why ice cores can show a minimum age of the earth of 160.000 years.

Shouldn't Joe by now see all the simultaneous signs on the wall screaming loudly that maybe his assumption that the Bible is literally true is, well, wrong?


Intellectual property - contradictio in terminis

I am a fervent listener of podcasts, especially skeptical ones. I came across the Logically Critical podcasts, which I would suggest to anyone. The podcaster has a unique and funny presentation which makes it very pleasant to listen to. That said, I do not agree with everything he presents.
In his third episode, Musical Theft, he equates copyright infringement with theft. This seems to be common thinking nowadays, but it is wrong. Stealing implies taking something away, i.e. the rightful owner no longer has the property. This implies that theft is only possible for scarce goods. Both US code 18 and the Dutch penal law make an explicit distinction between theft and embezzlement which makes clear that the taking away is an essential part for something to be called theft. This is not the case with copyright infringement.

Let's make one thing clear up front - in no way do I wish to justify copyright infringement, or for that matter, patent infringement, trademark violation or infringing any so called "intellectual property" law. But I do think they should be placed in proper perspective. Let's continue a little while with copyrights. Infringing on someone's copyright is not a property violation, since the copyright holder still has her own copies available. Copyright also is not an intrinsic right. Yes, you read that correctly. The purpose of copyrights were originally to "advance the arts and sciences" by granting a limited monopoly to the creator of such content. After expiration the content becomes part of the public domain, by which, finally, the collective arts and sciences have progressed. The purpose of copyright law was not to make some content creator stinking rich, but to make the society rich. But since people have coined the term "intellectual property", people tend to equate rights that are gained by intellectual creation with property rights and this is IMO a major contributor to the paradigm shift of the latter decades.

What is intellectual property?

It is a loose collection of laws that have little to nothing in common, specifically copyrights, trademarks and patents. The most important similarity in all those laws is that the government grants the holder of such rights a limited monopoly and thus refuses the same right to others. Copyright is granted automatically to all content creators, trademarks and patents have to be registered specifically. I hope it is now clear that if I do not request a patent for something I actually invented, that I have no way of preventing anyone else of manufacturing my invention. This should be a clear sign on the wall that such right is not inalienable, but that is exactly what the term "intellectual property" suggests. I also hold the strong opinion that humanity has progressed mostly by not treating intellectual advancements the way we treat property. By the latter change of policy, with only the financial gain of multi-billion dollar corporations in mind, I think we will slow down our progress immensely - if that is not yet the case.

Which brings me to the last part of my rant: patents. In the days of Tesla and Edison, patents were necessary to prevent mega-corporations to piggy-back on small inventors who would be left with nothing to gain from their invention. But society had to finally benefit by a proper description of the invention, so after expiration anyone could manufacture the invention without the need to pay royalties to the inventor. Patents were a means to encourage the continuation of inventing, especially for the small inventor. Nowadays a great subset of innovation is incremental and this is where patents fail terribly. Software is the prime example in this regard. About a century ago inventions were clearly distinguishable - think of the telephone, the light-bulb etc. Nowadays a programmer of some piece of software of a couple of thousand lines of code will easily and unknowingly violate a couple of dozen patents. Also the original purpose of the patent - to protect small inventors from mega-corporations - is now working in the exactly opposite way, namely shielding mega-corporations from small innovators. Mega-corporations have enough funds to create large patent portfolios, literally thousands of patents for anything in their field they can imagine. These mega-corporations then make cross-licencing agreements with each other, leaving the small innovator in the dark. The only small companies that are benefitting from this scheme are the so called "patent sharks". These are companies that do not produce any product but only collect patents. Their entire employee corps consists of patent lawyers. These companies sue both large and small corporations and cannot be counter-sued because they have no product with which they can violate patents themselves.

I think it is time to re-evaluate the fields of endeavor where we want to use patents as a means of enhancing the total knowledge base of society because currently it is only stifling innovation. The first step should be that we collectively seize to use the term "intellectual property".


Introducing myself

Hi there,

I would like to introduce myself and give any prospective reader an idea what one could expect on this blog.

I am a 44 year old male who grew up in Suriname, S.A. and living in the Netherlands since 1990. I am married and have 3 kids ranging from 11 to 17 (at the time of this writing). I am not a fast typer so my blogs will generally not be very long and often, but I think this is a wonderful medium to put ones mind to writing. Possibly that can be of value to someone. If it's not, all that is lost is my time doing that. But if it is, even in the slightest for just one person, that would make this blog very worthwile.

What can be expected here?

I am a recently deconverted atheist, so quite a few blogs will consider that topic. Related topics that may be touched are skepticism and pseudo-sciences in general, astronomy, evolution and molecular biology. Another passion is freedom in the digital environment (GNU/Linux, free software, opposition to software patents and the like). Those might also be subjects for blogs.

As a last note, I would explain the name of this blog space. According to astrologers, my "sun sign" is Aries - the Ram. Since astrology is the one pseudo-science that I considered junk before all others, I like piggybacking on it. Hamal is the name of the brightest star in Aries, it is therefore also referred to as "Alpha Arietes". To me, Aries is just a constellation, a grouping of a few stars that so happen to be radially close to one another as viewed from the earth, but which have absolutely nothing else in common. Hamal is just a yellow star (similar to our Sun) at a distance of 66 lightyears - i.e. appr 625 trillion km (or 390 trillion miles) and with that it's one of the closer stars. An object that far cannot possibly influence the personality of anyone. The "musings" reflect my awe and wonder for the vastness of the visible universe. It is so empty, yet so beautiful at night. Only if you start to get a grisp of the workings of the universe, without any need to invoke a supernatural entity, only then will the wonder of the universe really make a real impact and will the significance of our "pale blue dot" as it was once called by Carl Sagan, be put in the proper perspective. Using the word "musings" has been inspired by Ebon Musings which was a fundamental asset to my deconversion.

As a final note, if I make some glaring errors in either my spelling or grammar, I would appreciate being notified of this. English is not my native language.

Why I became an atheist

This is a repost of my earlier "extimony" at exchristian.net with a few minor edits and some additions. At the time (february 2006) I considered myself an atheistic agnost (i.e., I have no idea if there is a God but I consider it unlikely). Nowadays I consider myself an atheist. I don't believe in any supernatural entity because I lack evidence for them. Of course I can't prove the non-existence of a supernatural entity, so I am still pretty much agnostic to the subject as is any atheist who really considers the question. Regarding the Christian God I go a step further: I believe in the non-existence of the deity, descibed as Yahweh from the Christian Bible. I think Yahweh, given the attributes assigned to him, can be proven not to exist by means of contradiction, just as a square circle can be proven not to exist.

This is my extimony from last fabruary.

I was born and raised in Suriname (South America). My father was an inactive Catholic who experimented with different kinds of spirituality (or so he told me) and my mother was Lutheran. I have one brother who I grew up with (I have 2 more half sisters and a half brother, but I wasn't raised with them). We grew up as Catholics, went to church every Sunday but at home we weren't very active w.r.t. religion. We also went to Catholic primary and secondary schools. While in primary school (up to the age of 11) I accepted the gospel like hook, line and sinker. Still, it was during this time that the first act which would drive me away from Christianity occurred. At age 10 (1972) I got myself a kids book about astronomy and space travel. The sheer beauty of the Universe got a hold on me then and never again left me to this day. I remember most fondly that that book described Halley's comet and that it would return in 1986. I promised myself I would see it and I did :)

While growing up as a teenager I stopped believing in the creation myth, but I considered it a means to an end. In my opinion back then, if Moses would have told the ancient Jews of evolution and the size of the Universe, he would be stoned to death. I still considered myself a Christian without actually considering what that meant. I was as dead a Catholic as my father was. My mother still went to the Lutheran church but religion wasn't really a topic of discussion at home. Aside from her Christianty she was (is) also a firm believer in astrology and loads of cultural based superstitions. I never really bought those, but as a young teen I did believe in astrology. If my mom said it's true it should be, shouldn't it? After I studied more astronomy as an older teen I disregarded astrology as anything viable. By the end of my teen years my parents went into a very ugly divorce and they are still not on speaking terms after appr. 25 years. I kinda flunked school in this period but I still managed to get into a bachelor-level study (4 years) to become a police lieutenant. This is the second event to drive my current opinion about Chritianity. The study included large amounts of penal law, and two of the most basic principles of penal law happen to be the principles of proportionality (punishments should match the crime) and "subsidiarity" (is that the correct English word? I.e. you cannot punish someone for someone else's crimes). In my opinion both are violated by Christianity.

During my police study I met my wife to be. She was (still is) a reformed Christian who came from a pretty conservative Christian family. After knowing her for four years we married. We married in a reformed Christian church but we agreed to have our (then future) children to be baptised Catholic. The reason for that was that in those days there was IMO a pretty big quality gap between Catholic and non-Catholic schools and I didn't mind which Christian believe system they would be thought as long as they would get one. Still religion didn't play a big role in our lives, apart from the occasional church visits on Christmas or for baptism of my first son. One aspect of religion that I had very strong feelings about back then was that I refused every culture-based superstitious act to be used on me or my family. For example, there was this blue stuff that was used in laundry for giving white clothes a "whiter" appeal. In (negro) culture-believes one should apply this stuff visibly on the forehead of babies to keep envy away. When my mother (ethnic mixed but mostly negro) wanted to apply this to my son I freaked out and I think she got the message regarding where I stood on the subject.

In 1990 I had to flee my home country for political reasons, leaving my pregnant wife and 1.5 year old child behind. I wouldn't see them again for 14 months. After short stays in French Guyana, the U.S. and Canada, I received a visa for the Netherlands and that's where I still am today. Many years passed and my considerations regrding Christianity didn't change. I was still the dead Catholic calling himself a Christian etc. What did change is that in the meantime my brother became a born-again Christian. At first he didn't know where he fitted in, but by now he's found his homebase at the Baptist church. I don't really know what drove him, but it wasnt some life-changing event that might bring some people to hold on to Christianity. He slowly grew into it. By now he is a full blown reborn Baptist creationist. Though I personally think he deludes himself, I respect his opinions and I think he respects mine. He would like to talk about his religious convictions. This would make me start to think about the subject a little. I didn't really know the bible back then (I still don't actually) but it seemed clear to me that the creation myth was persented in the bible as a historical fact. Since this was in direct contradiction with what I knew of astronomy, I considered the bible wrong on that account and I started to wonder what else the bible was wrong about. I slowly started drifting away from what I used to believe regarding Christianity and I became something between a deist and an agnostic. I still considered it more likely than not that there should be some "driving force" that kept Nature and the universe from going haywire.

About a year ago I was apporached by a few "strongly reformed" Christians (in dutch "gereformeerden" which is a lot more fundie than the reformed Christians which is in dutch "hervormd"). These guys were passing out flyers and I started discussing Christianity with them. I laid out my argument why I considered myself an agnostic and stressed that I knew a bit (hobby-wise) about astronomy but little about evolution. Their arguments were of very mediocre quality and only capable of strengthening the belief of someone who was already convinced of Christianity, not for someone who isn't conviced at all. Still the word of one of the Christians present struck a nerve. He said quite literally: "You claim to know little to nothing of the evolution theory, still you defend it". The guy was right! I had to know more. It was the trigger to start digging on the internet. I discovered sites like TalkOrigins and the Secular Web. I also read much from the Skeptics Annotated Bible and a few articles from the Institute for Creation Research who IMO sometimes at least try to be a bit honest (see e.g. Danny Faulker's "The current state of creation astronomy"). Well, in high school I wasn't very interrested in Biology. During the Computer Science study that I once started I was confronted with elements of evolution in a seminar of Bioinformatics and in classes on Genetic Programming. But it wasn't until reading Chris Colby's "Introduction to Evolutionary Biology" and something as simple as the april 2005 "post of the month" at talk.origins that I was really swept away with the beauty of evolution. A simple conclusion I came to is: if a chimp is a type of an ape, as is a gorilla and an orangutan, then so is man. The chimp has more genetic similarities with humans than it has with the orangutan. For me, this placed the position of humanity in a completely different scope. We are not special.

Like I said, I also stumbled upon the Skeptics Annotated Bible (http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/) and I learned things about the bible that I really didn't know, e.g. Numbers 31, 2 Kings 2:23-24 and Psalm 137:9 (why didn't Boney M finish the psalm in their song?). I must say I was and still am quite horrified by reading this. Take note that as I child I received quite an anti-islamic upbringing. I read personally the following verse from the Quran: "As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty, Wise." (Sura 5:38). I thought to myself, what terribly cruel religion will want to put something like this in their holy scripture? At least Christianity states: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (John 8:7). I was unpleasantly surprised to read of the terrible cruelties in the holy scripture of the religion that I considered just and loving (sort of) for most of my life.

So currently I came to the conclusion that I have a few major hurdles with Christianity, hurdles that I doubt I will ever overcome. First and foremost are the violations of proportionality in the teaching of eternal damnation. Granted, a few Christians believe in annihilation of the damned and if this would be the case I would have a lot less of an issue with it, but a punishment that would last eternal, however light the punishment, is disproportional to whatever temporal sin someone would have commited. Secondly I have issues with the "omnimax" features that are attributed to the Christian God. An omniscient being who creates object of which it foreknows that those beings will act against some rule and punishes those beings for it, is not omnibenevolent. I read a nice discussion between two Philosophers (Dr. Bradley and Dr. Craigh) regarding the compatibility of human free will and devine foreknowledge, and I side with Dr. Bradley that they are not. Thirdly, the more I read about scientific explanations of natural processes that were formerly only explicable by devine intervention, the more I see the unlikeliness of the existence of a God. It seems humans are very eager to want to explain everything and where they fail to do so the invent this unprovable entity to fit the gaps. I find the world around me to make a lot more sense without a God than with one. Lastly there are these specific issues I have with Christianity, some of which I didn't know to exist previously. I already explained the cruelties in the bible, but there's also the many inconsitencies in the bible and the monotheistic nature of the devine trinity. This just doesn't make sense. I read a response on this in "Answering the Atheist" where they compared Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit to be distinct entities but all God to person A, B and C to be differen persons but all being human. This still makes no sense because we don't claim that persons A, B and C are "one human".

Where do I stand now? I would still consider myself an agnost but an atheistic one. I don't think that the existence of a God can be proven or disproven but I see no need for any God. My wife knows that I have lost my faith but still has many difficulties accepting it. She still hangs on to her faith and the fact that her father passed away last year seems to have a lot to do with that. Personally I don't mind that even if she would become a strong believer, as long as we respect each others position. She did request that I "do not influence" our children and I made that promise. If they once decide that the Christian doctrine is not where they are happy they will come to the same conclusion as I did. I think this road should be a personal one. My parents and brother know how I feel and especially my father, the former dead Catholic who is now very involved in the Catholic church, has great difficulties accepting my views. For my in-laws I am still in the closet. They are a lot more conservative so coming out, especially to my mother-in-law might do more harm than good. They always knew that I did not hold conservative views and that is sufficient for the mean time.

OK, that was last february. What changed in the mean time? I no longer have a difficulty assigning the term "atheist" to my worldview. I now also lack belief to anything supernatural, especially the common concept of the soul. The reason for this is primarily this wonderful article at Ebon Musings, which systematically shows evidence for mind/brain dependencies for anything that we would regard "self awareness", anything that is commonly attibuted to a soul. I recommend this article (and most other articles at Ebon Musings) very much to anyone who wants to investigate their worldview. I am still in the phase of wanting to start discussing religion with anyone willing to listen and/or argue. I suppose that will iron out with time. But, even though I still hold the opinion that anyone should be entitled to their own religious views or lack thereof and not be hindered in the practice thereof (unless it does harm to others of course), I now side with Sam Harris that we should stop treating religious views with such careful approach and fear of hurting someone's feelings. We wouldn't treat an adult this carefully if she still believed in the tooth fairy, would we?