November 11, 2010

The state of American education

Posted in Personal Ramblings, Sociology at 8:46 am by Bram Janssen

Revealed: The student howlers that show our dumbed down exams are still too much for some pupils | Mail Online.

OK, I realize that many of these are simply smart-ass answers, but still… The state of American education is actually in dire straits. (case in point: click)

There’s a cool documentairy coming up about this issue, “Waiting For Superman.”(From the director of: “An Inconvenient Truth.”)

Check their website

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May 28, 2009

Fitting advertisement on American Thinker dot com

Posted in Conservatism, Curioso, Personal Ramblings, Philosophy & Politics, Sociology tagged , , , , at 9:16 pm by Bram Janssen

Here’s just something for a quick giggle. Notice the extremely cleverly placed advertisement on the right side of this page on AmericanThinker.com

Fitting ad on americanthinker.com

Fitting ad on americanthinker.com

December 15, 2008

Fox News Mocks Atheist Bus Campaign: “Need a hug? Go to church!”

Posted in atheism, christianity, Personal Ramblings, Philosophy & Politics, Sociology tagged , , , , , , at 2:53 pm by Bram Janssen

Here’s a toe-twister for you. Once again, this makes me so happy we don’t have anyhing like Fox News here in The Netherlands.

Apparently, the Christmas spirit should extend only to fellow Christians:

December 4, 2008

Proposition 8: The Musical

Posted in atheism, christianity, Personal Ramblings, Philosophy & Politics tagged , , , , , , at 1:04 pm by Bram Janssen

Usually, I hate musicals.

November 28, 2008

How to equate gays with the KKK, Nazi Germany and intolerance in one short sentence

Posted in christianity, conspiracy theory, Personal Ramblings, Philosophy & Politics, Sociology tagged , , , , , at 12:21 pm by Bram Janssen

From Conservapedia‘s news blurb column:

Further evidence that the homosexual agenda threatens a free society is demonstrated by the continued assault by homosexual bigots against many churches, including “Forty to 50 signs supporting Proposition 8 were found arranged in the form of a swastika on the front lawn of a Roman Catholic church.”[21]

1: Homosexual agenda?

I wasn’t aware that homosexuals all over the country gathered in a sinister secret society (or rather like the Ku Klux Klan seeing as how they love the swastika). I thought homosexuals were just human beings with a sexual preference for the same sex- period. Which brings me to the next point, namely

2: Threatens a free society

Oh yes, homosexuals want nothing more than the destruction of free society! A dark dystopia where people don’t have the liberty to love and live with whom they might see fit, where harmless personal values are suppressed by a minority in society based on what religious doctrine decrees.

Which brings me to the next issue, namely

3: The continued assault by homosexual bigots against many churches

Because it’s an outrage to protest against a church that decrees you will burn in hell for all eternity by default – whatever good or evil you might actually do in your lifetime. That your homosexuality is a mental disease. That you are an evil perversion of the human race. If you protest against this pillar of wisdom and justice… sure you’re a filthy, mean, low-brow bigot. And lastly:

4: Forty to 50 signs

What do you mean, forty to fifty? Nobody cared to count them? Maybe there were sixty-nine or 666! Oh my God the evidence is mounting! We are so good at preserving evidence [insert satisfied sigh]

Furthermore, maybe (just maybe) the swastika was meant to signify the church’s nazistic tendecies. Not that I agree with putting swastikas in people’s backyards, but you gotta get creative with reality to make this out to be a nazistic, homosexual plot against the free world. Actually, homosexuals were killed en masse by the Nazis, with full support from the Church, so these guerrilla protesters actually have a valid point of protest there. Oh well…

Ahhh Conservapedia, always good for a hearty laugh. Too bad so many people actually believe that crap.

November 20, 2008

How To Start Life Without Miracles Or Huge Improbabilities

Posted in creationism, darwinism, evolution, intelligent design, Personal Ramblings tagged , , , , , , , at 12:04 pm by Bram Janssen

I’ve been wondering about the origin of life on Earth for a while now. We all know that there are many theories, including some that are pretty far-fetched if you ask me (things like panspermia or creationism.)

Early Earth

Early Earth

One of the things that always bothered me about creationist arguments is that they always need to point out how improbable life is. They like to say things like: “you can put all the ingredients for a living cell in a jar, but no matter how long you shake the jar you will never get a living cell.” (An example from a popular youtube video) Well, that would indeed be pretty improbable! But the first lifeforms weren’t single-celled organisms. They couldn’t have been, because even the most basic simple-celled organisms found on Earth today are still amazingly complex, as creationists correctly point out. In fact, I’d like to take this one step further and say that even the simplest DNA-strand is still too complex to have come about by chance- let alone the amazingly intricate mechanisms that surround the strand.

So what’s my idea on how life started? Since I am a materialist, in my opinion there can’t have been any form of “miracle” like a deity or aliens involved. I don’t think we need that to explain the origin of life. I don’t  think the first form of life came about in an event of staggering improbability (though calling it “commonplace” would be an exaggeration too, I think.)

All that was needed were the correct ingredients in the right place and time, plus an external factor inserting a healthy dose of energy to get things kick started.

… Ok, I think this needs some further explanation, doesn’t it?

Here’s how I think it might have went:

Phase 1: Grandma’s Organic Soup.

pea soup

Dutch Pea Soup

It’s one of the oldest takes on the origin of life, and I think it still holds merit. Simple and complex organic molecules are found everywhere mankind looks, whether it’s on Earth (duh!), deep space or planets in our solar system- especially planets (and moons) that are geologically and/or atmospherically active. Titan, one of the many moons of Saturn, got big headlines in 2005 when the Huygens probe landed on it and detected enormous quantities of organic molecules. It was amazing that so far out from the Sun there could be a heavenly body with an active atmosphere, let alone contain such a rich amount of organic chemicals as well.

Now to clarify: ‘organic’ in this context doesn’t mean strands of DNA or RNA, or haemoglobin, or insulin. It means many kinds of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids, including forms of sugars, alcohol and fats. These are still pretty complex, however, and it was somewhat of a surprise to scientists at first to find them outside of the Earth’s biosphere, let alone in so many different places in such quantities.

In this context, it is only logical for them to have been on the early Earth too. If they are found everywhere else, it only makes sense they were here too. However, the main difference between Earth and the rest of the solar system was that here there was water in liquid form, which is perfect for dissolving all manner of substances, including organic ones- and what would not dissolve would still be moving around with the flow of water. Downpour, rivers and glaciers would supply a steady dose of organic substances to the oceans which were formerly stuck on dry land or in the atmosphere, et voilà, one big bowl of organic soup pour Vous.

Phase 2: Grandma’s Pressure Cooker

Sargasso Sea

Sargasso Sea

The  next step was to get the soup stirred up so that the ingredients for future life could interact and end up concentrated at what I will conveniently call ‘hotspots.’  Ocean flows are essential for shaping these ‘hotspots.’ A modern parable for this might be the Sargasso Sea, which is a patch of ocean in the middle of the Atlantic with almost no flow of water but which houses a huge concentration of biomass. Columbus encountered the Sargasso which slowed down his journey so much as to almost inspire mutiny. I am not saying life came to be in a Sargasso Sea-like environment per se, rather I am saying that you can have concentrations of biomatter in a larger body of water, including on the ocean floor, which I think is a better environment for the start of life than the ocean’s surface.

The next ingredient would be applying a high concentration of energy to the ‘soup.’ The popular image here is a jolt of lightning, however I think this can be safely dismissed. There are many more reasonable ways to apply energy. One of them might be a big asteroid impact. This is somewhat more reasonable, but it’s still quite improbable. Remember that I don’t like too many “improbabilities” in the theory of the origin of life.

Likelier sources of energy might actually have been pressure, whether on the bottom of the deep sea, in the fissures underneath an underwater volcano or perhaps deep in the Earth’s crust close to the upper reaches of the Earth’s molten magma mantle. An added advantage is that with pressure usually comes heat, which keeps the ‘soup’ warm and the substances dissolved in it reacting. This is where I have to claim some ignorance though, and I’d like people to correct me if I am talking jibberish, but it seems to me that simply applying heat to a container of biological molecules (like pea soup actually, or when cooking whatever), these molecules will immediately start reacting and forming new bonds. Now, normally, when you’re cooking the amount of heat you apply is very great, but I am proposing a situation where the heat is well below the boiling point of water, but still fairly warm.

Actually, I think I need to digress a little more at this point and explain why I think energy from pressure is important in the formation of life. The first lifeform would have been a reasonably complex molecule formed from a combining of less complicated molecules. The manner in which combining of elements and molecules usually happens in the natural world, apart from applying heat, is by applying pressure. A good parable of this might be the ways in which helium and nitrogen –  simple molecules – are forced to fuse into more complex molecules in the depths underneath the surfaces of stars. Not only is there a lot of pressure from the sheer weight of a star’s mantles, there is also immense heat from the chain reaction of nuclear fusion that occurs in the interior of stars. Furthermore, when a star goes into supernova, the pressure and heat from the explosion are so immense even more complex molecules form. This accounts for a lot of elements on the periodic table, even though the really heavy ones cannot be explained by supernovae. Eek, geeky tangent alert!

The point I try to make is that in order to fuse simpler molecules into complexer ones, it would be a safe bet to argue that pressure and heat had some role to play in it. That’s why I propose water-filled fissures in the deep ocean floor, slowly filling up with organic substances trickling down from the surface, close to the heat of the inner Earth, might be a good candidate for generating the first life form.

Anyway, whether it was a sudden event or a long, gradual process (more likely in my opinion), something caused the brine of organic and inorganic molecules to collapse in on itself, forcing them to fuse into increasingly more complex combinations. And out of all the many trillions of molecules that interacted and fused, all it took was one of them to behave like a self-replicator.

Phase 3: A bug in grandma’s soup

Now, if you are skeptical, you should think at this point: “ok… now that last sentence was kind of off-hand, but I think you just described a chance event to forget all other chance events.”

Well, you would be almost right, but I think we are are playing a game of large numbers here. Remember that ‘grandma’s pressure cooker’ contained an insanely huge amount of molecules, and that it had the luxury of ‘cooking’ for possibly many hundreds of millions of years on end without worrying about running out of water or ingredients. I think if you look at the problem at that scale, chances for forming a self-replicating molecule increase dramatically.

And this is what I think the first life-form looked like: compared to DNA or even RNA, this molecule was extremely simple and small. All it did was stick to molecules it happened to bounce into, until it got too big for its own good, lost structural integrity, and broke into two or more pieces. Said pieces then would combine again with suitable molecules they would chance into, at which point they broke into pieces again, etc. This must have been an extremely sloppy process in my opinion, and I’d say that there must have been many kinds of molecules suitable for attraction available to these first forms of life, including ones that would pollute and damage their ability to replicate after a certain number of these divisions.Since I am talking about a place where the first lifeform might have been formed, and that this might have been a gradual process, I think it’s fair to assume that their habitat contained all manner of molecules, from the simplest naturally occurring, all the way through the intermediary stages to the first self-replicator. A veritable jungle of different kinds of organic molecules.

I don’t think it’s wrong to assume that in their sloppy ways, maybe more than 99% – a number I have no way of verifying, of course, but please play along and theorize with me – of these self-replicators would have died off within several generations. But even after, say, 50 successful replications, there would still have been an impressive amount of self-replicators in the ‘soup.’ So much, I’d argue, that even that 1% of survivors would constitute a very large numbers of creatures. Remember that we’re still playing a game of large numbers.

Phase 4: the pot boils over!

This would have been the start of natural selection and evolution. As simple as the self-replicators would have been compared to today’s lifeforms, due to their untidy game of attracting and dividing, the first differences in form would have came to be almost immediately- which as said for the majority of them meant certain death, but a few of them might have chanced upon patches in the ‘soup’ with particularly suitable molecules to attract.

The next step might have been direct competition amongst themselves, as some of the lesser polluted self-replicators might have had a better chance at getting at ‘food’ than the more polluted ones. Then again, a more polluted self-replicator might have had the luck of being polluted in such a way that it could actually grow larger than the competition before breaking up into pieces, which meant it could ‘eat’ more molecules than the competition, thereby effectively out competing them.

Again, it’s all relative to the game of large numbers we’re playing. At this stage in the history of life, there would be chance and numbers, and that only. Since we’re talking molecules, there was still no conscious behavior to them. The only thing to even identify them as ‘life’ was their crude form of heredity. They had no senses of any kind, no means of moving around other than external forces (water flow, for example) and no ways of communicating. Yet already they would have started competing amongst themselves for resources, something which would have intensified when many millions of years later, the soup began to run thinner.

By this time, chance and big numbers might have transformed the lucky few (compared to the 99% of individuals that ever lived and that never made it) into something comparable to simple RNA today. They would still be naked molecules, but they would have been shaped by the slow process of evolution into ever more complex little ‘eating’ and dividing machines. They would have become less and less sloppy in their ‘diet,’ becoming increasingly efficient in choosing what was good for their long-term survival and what was detriment.

Perhaps they began to form crude colonies, thereby shutting out competition from outside, but which further concentrated competition from within: now they had to compete against close cousins for resources. The arms race had started in earnest, which would result in an ever increasing complexity in form.

In this way, after an incredible long time and a number of generations for which there is no word in the human language, the first true DNA strands might have formed, and then the first protective fatty outer layers, then the first membranes… all the way to the first true, yet primitive cells. And all this through the ruthless, unthinking force of the law of large numbers combined with a steady supply of nutrients from their habitat.

A long story, with maybe many logical or factual errors. Anyway, this is my idea of how life might have started. I really encourage some feedback on this, so if you spotted mistakes or patches of general ignorance, please point them out to me. I hope I managed to convince you that there’s no need to imagine either huge improbabilities or miracles to theorize about the generation of life here on Earth.

That, or you will never look at your soup the same way ever again.

April 10, 2008

Remembering The Mourre-Berna Proclamation

Posted in atheism, christianity, creationism, Personal Ramblings, Philosophy & Politics, Sociology, World History at 11:25 am by Bram Janssen

Verily, verily, let’s not forget the brave souls who rose against the Catholic Church in risk of their precious lives.

Actually, and in all honesty, I don’t believe this is the most proper or the smartest way to go about spreading the word of anti-religion, but you got to admire this man’s balls. Brass balls indeed. During the high Easter mass in the Notre-Dame and dressed in the garb of a Dominican monk, he waited for an opportunity to climb the rostrum and declare the following message to the hundreds gathered and many thousands more at home who watched it on television or listened to it on the radio:

Today, Easter day of the Holy Year here, under the emblem of Notre-Dame of Paris I accuse the universal Catholic Church of the lethal diversion of our living strength toward an empty heaven I accuse the Catholic Church of swindling I accuse the Catholic Church of infecting the world with its funereal morality of being the running sore on the decomposed body of the West. Verily I say unto you: God is dead We vomit the agonizing insipidity of your prayers for your prayers have been the greasy smoke over the battlefields of our Europe. Go forth then into the tragic and exalting desert of a world where God is dead and till this earth anew with your bare hands with your PROUD hands with your unpraying hands. Today Easter day of the Holy Year Here under the emblem of Notre-Dame of Paris we proclaim the death of the Christ-god, so that Man may live at last.

April 9th this was 58 years ago. The man had to be rescued by the police from an ensuing angry mob that would probably have ripped him to shreds if they got their hands on him. More on that whole affair here.

January 24, 2008

De Bond Tegen Het Vloeken (Maar eigenlijk tegen blasfemie)

Posted in atheism, christianity, Personal Ramblings, Sociology at 12:18 pm by Bram Janssen

vloek

Volgens de website van de “Bond tegen het vloeken” is dit de achterliggende gedachte van deze poster:

De Bond tegen het vloeken is deze week gestart met een nieuwe postercampagne. De campagne met de slogan ‘Als er een vloek valt, breekt er iets’ richt zich op het kwetsende karakter van vloeken.

Een vloek wordt vaak in een opwelling, onnadenkend geuit. Toch kan zo’n enkel woord mensen in de omgeving pijnlijk raken en meer teweeg brengen dan je je bewust bent. Doel van de campagne is mensen hierover aan het denken te zetten. De aanpak van vloeken begint bij bewustwording.

De slogan ‘Als er een vloek valt, breekt er iets’ wordt gevisualiseerd door een kapot gevallen wijnglas.
“Breekt er iets”? Volgens mij is vloeken juist een uitvloeisel van potentieel kwetsend gedrag. Als een man tegen zijn vriendin zegt: “Ik wil je niet meer zien- ga weg en laat me alleen,” is dit volgens mij toch even kwetsend als: “Rot op, slet.” Het kwetsende hier is het gedrag en de wens van de man, niet de woordkeus van de man.

En dan dit:
lindavloek

Dit staat op de website van de Bond, onomwonden:

Doel: Uit diep respect voor de Naam van God wil de Bond een eerbiedig en juist gebruik van Gods Naam in de samenleving bevorderen. We stellen echter niet alleen vloeken, maar ook schelden aan de kaak. De Bond zet zich in voor respectvol taalgebruik in de meest brede zin van het woord.

Vloeken gebeurt vaak onnadenkend. Vandaar die papegaai in het logo. De Bond streeft ernaar dat mensen zich meer bewust worden van wat ze zeggen en wat ze hiermee God en medemensen kunnen aandoen.

Motivatie:

De motivatie voor ons werk vinden we in de Bijbel. Bijvoorbeeld in het Onze Vader, waarvan de eerste bede luidt: ‘Uw Naam worde geheiligd’. Liefde en hoogachting voor God zijn drijfveer voor ons werk. Maar we weten ons ook gesteund door opvattingen die breed gedragen worden in onze samenleving. Vrijwel iedereen vindt vloeken en schelden onbeschaafd.

 

Ik geloof niet in God. Ik geloof niet in “een” God en ook niet in aliens, engelen, telepatie of Sinterklaas. De Bond is echter een spreekorgaan voor Christelijk Nederland. Hun motieven zijn door-en-door Christelijk. Ze zeggen terecht dat iedereen vloeken en schelden onbeschaafd vindt, maar dat wil nog niet zeggen dat blasfemie onbeschaafd is. Er valt zelfs iets te zeggen voor blasfemie.

 

Christenen indoctrineren kinderen, ze discrimineren jegens vrouwen en homosexuelen en ze verkopen prietpraat. Dankzij de “verlichte” conclusies die ze trekken over normen en waarden zijn er op dit moment honderduizenden mensen een langzame dood aan het sterven door HIV, vooral in Afrika. Dankzij het Christendom hebben we duizend jaar “Dark Ages” gehad tussen nu en de laatste grote beschaving van de Romeinen. Voor Christenen is het belangrijker om kuis en nederig te zijn dan assertief en te werken aan je volle potentiaal.

 

Christenen proberen normen en waarden op te leggen gebruikmakend van een fundamenteel foute basis: een immens verouderd, bij elkaar geraapt en oneindig gereviseerd boek uit het stenen tijdperk- vol met tegenstrijdigheden, gruwelijkheden en klinkklare nonsens. Voor alle “wijze lessen” in de Bijbel staan er zeker twee maal zo veel “onwijze lessen” in.

 

Ben ik nu echt de enige die een godsgruwelijke hekel heeft aan De Bond? Ok, ik besef me helemaal dat het allemaal nogal onschuldig is, en dat de acties van de Bond nu niet bepaald verstrekkend zijn, maar ik vind het allemaal zo’n verspilling van geld en moeite.

 

Christenen verdienen geen speciale behandeling- ze verdienen respect en fatsoen net als iedereen dat verdiend. Ze hebben echter helemaal niet het recht om naar wij gepeupel te wijzen met een vermanende, patriarchische vinger over ons taalgebruik. Ze staan niet boven de rest, ze zijn deel van de rest en het wordt eens tijd dat ze zich daar naar gingen gedragen.

January 23, 2008

The amazing Kinoki footpads!

Posted in Curioso, Personal Ramblings, scamming, Sociology at 12:15 pm by Bram Janssen

I can understand how this commercial seems convincing to someone who doesn’t know the first thing about the human body– but I bet that last you checked, toxins weren’t exiting your body through your feet. Unless you were talking about my smelly feet, which are highly toxic, especially at the end of a busy day. Wait… maybe this thing does work! In which case I might start thinking about developing some highly effective Kinoki armpit pads.

December 20, 2007

Arguments Against God

Posted in atheism, christianity, conspiracy theory, creationism, darwinism, evolution, intelligent design, Paleoanthropology, Personal Ramblings, Sociology, Zoology at 10:36 am by Bram Janssen

Of all the foolish things people believe, God is one of the most extraordinary. I think it’s alright to have the personal belief that your life is being guided by a divine being, but it’s not alright to fight about it to the death – or at least utter tediousness – without having sufficient proof for it.

And there is no proof for God, folks, it’s time to face up to that fact. The time when the world was an almost wondrous affair are all but gone, thanks to science. What came in place of God is the beauty of the real world. Isn’t the natural world amazing and breathtaking enough, do you really even need to throw a supernatural being in the mix to be awed by reality? Isn’t life on Earth incredible enough- just look at all the incredible shapes of life! What about quantum mechanics? Astronomy? Psychology? All that science uncovers in these fields inspires in me the same awe that miracles would- all without need of a God. In fact: don’t you agree the “revelation” that all of this came about without a maker is even more inspiring than explaining it away by means of a mysterious Creator?

That said, there are millions of people around the world who claim to have evidence of said Creator. One of the themes of this weblog will be presenting these various forms of evidence and dismantling them. Yes: dismantling. As yet, there is no evidence for the existence of God or even the suggestion of the existence of God, as I will show you. Until I get down to penning about this, I’d like to present one of the strongest arguments against God I’ve heard so far, by the great George Carlin.

Dutch Christian Committees “offended by blasphemous advertisements”

Posted in atheism, christianity, creationism, intelligent design, Personal Ramblings, Philosophy & Politics, Sociology tagged , , , at 2:00 am by Bram Janssen

Several days ago, the news got out that several Dutch Christian organisations filed official complaints at the address of the Dutch “bureau for codes of conduct in commercials” (honestly, I don’t know what the official translation ought to be, so here’s the literal one) due to franchised electronics warehouse “Dixons” disrespecting Christian faith.

The franchise distributed commercial prints depicting the Three Wise Men navigating by TomTom and baby Jesus listening to ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’ on an iPod in his crib. According to spokesman Bert Dorenbos these depictions are: “Dangerous, especially during Christmas time.” If you can read Dutch, here’s the original article.

Now, I’d like you to consider this and ask yourself how this is different from Islamic outrage over comic portraits of Muhammad in a Scandinavian newspaper. The only difference I can think of is the intensity in the revulsion felt by the offended religion. In fact, I think there is no difference at all. Both situations are equally outrageous and truthfully: the only “dangerous” thing in the whole situation is giving these Christian organisations credulity.

What’s more: where is the danger in these depictions anyway? What’s offensive? I don’t get it. Because it is blasphemous that Jesus might listen to a Christmas song on an iPod? Give me a break! It’s not as if he is trying to get friendly with the mule or anything. Now that would be a decent reason to take offense.

Why did I say it was dangerous to give these Christians credulity? Well, for the plain reason that they are trying to establish that Christianity needs to have a special place in Dutch society. Such a special place, in fact, that it is deemed to be a major breach of common decency to harmlessly depict a Shepherd playing a video-game. What these organisations are lobbying for in this manner, is that society should not be critical of Christianity, however trivially, because it would hurt their personal feelings. And hurting anyone’s feelings is bad thing, don’t you agree?

Well, Bert Dorenbos, you are hurting my personal feelings. Even though I am not too fond of Dixons, I feel offended by the organisations you speak for, for trying to insert small-mindedness into society. For trying to stop us from being critical of a religion that needs to be criticised like never before. For trying to promote Christianity as a clique beyond reproach and mostly– for playing on people’s fears by playing the card that says: “criticizing religion breeds hatred in society.” After all, people, wasn’t Theo van Gogh killed for his blatant critique on religion (Islam), wasn’t Ayaan Hirshi Ali forced to flee the country for the same reason?

For these reasons, I want to hurt your feelings. I want to be critical of you, so that hopefully, it will dawn on you that you are being small-minded and patronising. I don’t mind you and your Christian conviction, however, what I do mind is that you can not keep it to yourself. Instead, you try to tell me, an atheist, and any other person who might ever get the idea to say something “dangerous” about your faith should keep their “blasphemy ” to themselves. I will not shut up. I repeat: I will not shut up. I will never stop criticizing people with small minds and hypocritical agendas.

Amen.