Riker's Mailbox

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The truth value of a scientific principle is nothing more than the measure of its predictability. If you test it, you get a result. Next time you test it, how likely will it be that you get the same result? The more precise the results, the 'truer' the principle.

Imagine you've never seen a calculator before. Someone shows you how to use it. You type in 2+2. It provides an answer: 4. You try it again. It answers 4 again. You try other equations, and they all return correct answers. After enough repeated attempts you become comfortable with the expectation that the calculator will return a correct answer, ergo, "the calculator knows math." This is your principle, which has been experimentally proven true.

Note that this is not axiomatically true; all calculators have a known bit-error-rate. Let's say, one in ten million calculations, you can type in 2 + 2 and it will answer, I dunno... twelve. Does this make the principle invalid? NO. It just makes it imperfect and still remarkably useful.

If you want to investigate why the calculator works, you might start with the hypothesis, "math elves live inside the calculator, awaiting your instructions. They then construct the answer and display it on the screen." Repeatedly using the calculator suggests that the elves do in fact come up with correct answers. But if you investigate further and take the cover off the calculator, it becomes apparent that there are no elves inside it. All you find is plastic and metal. You throw out the math elf hypothesis and form a new one regarding the materials you did observe. Let's say you eventually discover that the circuit board operates on the manipulation of electricity and the individual components behave consistently when voltage is applied to certain contacts.

The scientific method has a failure rate of zero. Not very small, not miniscule... ZERO.

How can I claim this when history documents all sorts of naive and incorrect scientific theories (i.e., phlogiston, ether, Lamarckian evolution)? Because the scientific method has nothing to do with identifying absolute truths.

It's about obtaining the most accurate model possible.

Functionally true according to the best information available at the time.

I can say the scientific method has a failure rate of zero simply because no scientific theory has ever been replaced by a competing theory that didn't fit the data as well.

Now imagine somebody comes up to you and proposes that it's not electrical interaction between the calculator's components, but that the calculator is actually a container that holds the mathematical spirit of the universe. All your electrical experiments still work. Is there any reason at all to throw those away in favor of a generic and vague explanation that ignores your data and has no explanatory power of its own?

Food for thought.

Friday, October 26, 2007


The exterminator over at No More Hornets wrote a post earlier this year, in which he claims to have pioneered a new creative art form: Google-oetry.

A Googl-oem is simply a poem constructed solely from the keywords people type into google that end up sending them to your website. You are allowed to add punctuation, but not to add or change words.

What follows is my first Googl-oem, entitled 'Verse Justice'. Each line appears in the order it did in my keyword log. Some punctuation has been added... no other changes.

Verse Justice

There are one hundred students who open lockers,
Perfect squares... odd number of factors.
Technology and prose:
Perfect square, odd number of factors.


Huntington harbour boat-parade 2007,
Insomnia film post production?

Debate formats: rebuttal and re-rebuttal;
The only real justice is the justice you take.

Novels which incorporate back story...
Average bed time of a highschooler...
Remaining humble when becoming education.

Why do perfect squares have an odd number of factors?

Ear tampons.

24 hour insomniac film contest;
Exploding crap,
Shit, jury summons,
Gas leak! Front yard!!

Another word for prose?
Black prose?
Supernatural justice?

Justice pro-se.

It's friday... say a prayer to freyja.

...prayer to freyja.
...prayer to freyja.
...prayer to freyja.


- kevin savino-riker

Now, I didn't write my name at the end of the poem... the last search keyword in my log was actually my name, which was remarkably convenient.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I learned today that I do not like being discriminated against.

After hearing some good words about Blogrush, a relatively new traffic-generating widget, I signed myself up in an attempt to generate traffic*. It worked remarkably well, to an extent**. I did get a few new readers (which brought my total readership up to 'a few'), a couple of whom left positive commentary on my work; I was indeed performing up to Blogrush's standards by actively contributing materials deemed valuable to the service's readership.

This morning, however, I received an email from the Blogrush staff indicating that my blog has been removed from rotation. The full text of the email appears here, but the critical elements are replicated below:

We regret to inform you that your BlogRush Account has been made INACTIVE because your blog did not pass our Quality Review criteria. You will find instructions below for making your account active again.


We determined that your blog did not meet our strict quality guidelines. Please do not take this personally but realize that we must abide by a very strict set of quality guidelines. (They are listed below.)


The primary reason(s) your blog(s) did not meet our guidelines: Inappropriate Content Or Advertising: Hate Speech or Anti-Racial (emphasis mine)

Hate Speech or Anti-Racial*** content...


I guarantee you will not find one racist idea in all of the 127 posts that appear on this blog, for the same reason you wouldn't expect someone blind since birth to speak of a mental image; thoughts of that nature simply don't occur to me. So it must be hate speech they found.

Have I perpetrated an act of hate speech on any of these pages? I certainly don't think I have, but maybe 'hate speech' has swelled into such a broadly-defined word that 'criticism' falls within its blanket definition.

I have no illusions about this blog's critical views on organized religion, but I don't believe there is anything truly hateful spoken about any person or group of people, with the exception of Ann Coulter****, of course. To be clear, I passionately detest organized religion due its direct cause of so many personal and societal ills. I do indeed hate all the bad things religion causes, and I hate their cause equally. It is not wrong for people to have hated Hitler and Nazism; he caused tremendous undue human suffering. We should hate things that actively harm people.

Most importantly, though, is that when I speak out against religion I am not perpetrating hate speech. True hate speech is directed toward a person or group of people, not toward an institution. If you scour the pages of Prose Justice, the worst you will find... the thoughts that are as close to hateful as can be found here, will all be directed toward institutions, not toward people. It is not hate speech; it is just editorial opinion and information.

Just for fun, I myself looked for instances of hate speech. Using the search bar at the top of Prose Justice, keyword 'hate', Here's what I found:

"I love the English language for being so flexible and organic, but I hate when those attributes are exploited to supplement the argument being presented." - BLASPHEMY - EXACTITUDE

"Phones are as natural to gens X and Y as are toilets, and toilets are as natural as butts in this part of the world. We understand phones already. We understand their associated technologies as easily. Even the complicated ones like automated customer service. We hate that one, but we certainly understand it." - IDIOSYNCRATIC

"My roommate Tom's mugging - Tom was attacked by a handful of kids as he was riding home on a bicycle. They ran off the porch and chased him down, attacking him and taking the ten dollars he had on his person. I hate Brooks Ave...

...the massive standoff in my neighborhood, complete with lunatics holed up in a house with shotguns, and thirty-odd cops on the scene throwing around terms like 'kill zone'. I hate Brooks Ave." - PERTURBATION

"You may like foreign cars. You may like small cars. You may hate either, as a matter of fact, but with complete disregard to the preceding, you will love this commercial for this small foreign car. The Citroen C4. That is all...

...It's kinda like a gentlemen's club, really: Those who know about it love it, and everyone else hates them for being involved with it." - JOCOSE

"I HATE seeing great musicians wasting their talent playing other peoples' music." - INTERREGNUM

"I HATE the word 'holla' but will knowingly and willingly use it in jest to promote the disrespect of the word. I suggest you all do the same." - ORATORY 1

Any hate speech in there? Didn't think so.

But to be fair, let's try to look for instances where I actually have a chance to slip into hate speech. First we're going to use the term 'Christian', then we're going to use my frequent catch-all phrase, 'the religious'. If I'm going to say anything hateful about a person or group, those words will be there. So here we go:

"An example of this phenomenon is that Muslims are less likely than Christians to be killed in automobile accidents. When worded this way, it implies that Islam makes one a better driver than does Christianity. But it's much more likely that since Muslims generally don't drink, Muslims drive drunk far less frequently than Christians do, resulting in fewer enough drunk-driving fatalities to skew the results" - BLASPHEMY - ESPIAL

"This one goes out to all the good Christian people out there who mistakenly believe atheism is nihilism...

...I know that you're expecting to be tricked, but honestly pretending that you weren't... would you have been compelled to say 'Christian'? Well, the fact is, I left one item off the bottom of that list. If that last item was "Believing that the character of Jesus Christ was the son of God and died for our sins," then and only then would you be correct in describing him as Christian." - BLASPHEMY - ALTERITY

"And in case there was any misunderstanding about the context of Mark 3:29, let me unambiguously state that the acts performed by Christians to spread Christianity represents the absolute worst of human nature. If any of our human behaviors deserve to be called demonic, it's the fear-mongering critical to successful religious indoctrination.

"The 'Family Values' ticket, which you can find on your garden variety voters' ballot, really means 'Undercover Christian'." - EPHEMERAL

"Any sufficiently radical scientific study engenders passionate outcries from the religious: 'We must stop playing God before it's too late!' 'Playing God' to them is inherently bad; my guess is because of its violation of some deadly sin or another. Pride, vanity, hubris. Whatever it is... we can't puff ourselves up and presume to know what we're doing. We can't take God's place. We're violating natural order...

...It wasn't until our technology began yielding godlike capabilities that the religious got squeamish about it all." - BLASPHEMY - DESIDERATUM

"Blind faith removes the verification process something has to endure before you can have faith in it. This is the kind of faith the religious have; the problem is that they mistakenly believe that their faith is the unblind kind." - BLASPHEMY - EXACTITUDE

"We've been labeled that way by the religious for so long that we've gotten used to it. It's probably our own fault that we haven't done so much to correct the misinterpretations of what it means to be atheist." - BLASPHEMY - ATTESTATION

"Interestingly, the fact that the universe exists is a source of unspeakable awe and 'reverence' to me. It drives me to never stop learning. This is the kind of awe the religious could only dream of experiencing." - BLASPHEMY - REJOINDER

"The religious and the agnostics draw a circle, within which is the natural and explainable, outside of which lies the supernatural. The religious populate this external region with God...

...Because if it was worth it to you to ask about the universe's complexity, wouldn't it be more worth it to ask about God's greater complexity? That's only a rhetorical question because the religious would never dare to ask that...

...The pyramids were, with the obvious exception of their geometry, pointless. How many hours, how much raw material, how many lives were consumed in the building of these religious monuments? They serve well as a poignant example of the resource-sapping by the religious that occurs even today, though to a thankfully less drastic extent." - BLASPHEMY - SATIETY

"When the religious organizations lobby for teaching of intelligent design in schools, they often accompany this with a statement encouraging students to be cautionary in their thoughts toward evolution...

...If the proponents of ID want to be skeptical about evolution because it is just a 'theory', they should be raising as much opposition to relativity as well. But the religious community has no quarrel with relativity, because they do not believe support of relativity is equal to a renunciation of God." - BLASPHEMY - MODICUM
I left out instances in which the search term yielded hits for phrases like 'Christian organization' or 'the religious organization', again because regardless of what I say afterward, it is not true hate speech. If you want to look for them yourself, you'll see that what I say falls far short of hateful anyway.

Looking through all that, there is only one passage that comes close to denigrating Christian people, and even then I explicitly aim my attack at the specific practice of fear-mongering for the purpose of indoctrination. Everything else there is statement of fact or constructive critiquing. Nowhere else will you see even a hint of bile or spite or flat-out insult*****.

After spending only a short while following links via the blogrush widget, I came across several websites with far more caustic language and direct attacks on groups and individuals, from atheistic blogs, from religious blogs, and from blogs that have no theological slant whatsoever.

So I guess this post is both a cry for help from my fellow atheist bloggers, and also a caution to my fellow atheist bloggers who use Blogrush. Their website indicates that they manually inspect every blog that signs up... I'd really like to know if this has happened to anybody else.

I realize this is a very modest instance of discrimination; nothing has happened to me, only to one avenue of distribution of my digital presence. But it's validation just the same that a blog about positive atheism and about religious criticism is viewed as hate speech, at least in the eyes of the constituents of Blogrush. Thank you, Blogrush, for proving to me that we atheists still have work to do.

* - and to win the lottery; well, one out of two ain't bad...
** - See footnote #1.
*** - which I think, etymologically speaking, means 'against differentiation by race'... so maybe all those people using the term 'anti-racial' should use a correct and
unambiguous word like 'racist' instead. Because I'd like to be able to use the term 'anti-racial' for what it really means without having to stop and explain myself like I did here.
**** - about whom I didn't even speak hatefully... only critically, and I did so within the framework of stand-up comedy (which is ALL ABOUT exaggeration), which wasn't even that funny. OK, fine, you want to drag it out of me? I HATE ANN COULTER BECAUSE SHE IS A HATEWORTHY PERSON, WHO LIVES QUITE WELL OFF PROFITS THAT COME DIRECTLY FROM THE PROPAGATION OF HATE SPEECH. YOU LISTENING, BLOGRUSH? READ ONE OF ANN COULTER'S BOOKS, TAKE NOTES, AND THEN COME BACK TO ME AND TELL ME THAT MY BLOG CONTAINS HATE SPEECH. I fucking dare you.
***** - See footnote #4

Monday, October 15, 2007


What if we were all secular humanists?

Imagine a world where every human being understood that there is no afterlife. Every single one of the six-billion-plus of us realized that this life is the only one we get. And moreso, we also realize that there are people suffering. There are the unfortunate who are still lacking the comforts and givens of the developed world.

Assuming a comparable* number of good-willed and proactive people populating this imaginary world, they would all be involved in a universal and dedicated effort to improve the quality of life for as many of the world's neediest people as possible; there would be no nobler cause to support. We would all work as hard as we could to help. Imagine how much we could accomplish if after taking care of our personal needs, we all labored cooperatively toward creating a greater world for humanity.

There is no need to fear the old-fashioned bogeyman of communism, in which I know many will detect a similarity to my scenario. Notice I said 'after taking care of our personal needs'. By 'personal needs' I mean every last thing that we choose to make important, whether it be feeding and clothing ourselves and our dependents, or if it's planning an expensive vacation to Hawaii. We can still be as capitalist and self-serving as we want to be. But many of us will have resources leftover after taking care of our personal interests.

So all I'm saying is: with the time and resources that the fortunate have leftover, what if they all applied them toward providing basic needs to the most needy of our global family? Eventually clean water, adequate shelter and sufficient food would be provided to everyone on the planet who lacked it before.

And then a remarkable thing happens: the most needy people on the planet will no longer be defined in terms of the hardships of starvation and general poverty; instead they will be defined by a lesser need. Perhaps lack of educational infrastructure. So, what if the fortunate peoples of the world didn't stop giving? Eventually everyone in the world would have a reliable education at their fingertips.

As the progression continues, the needs of the neediest will one by one be eliminated according to their severity, until those remaining needs slowly come to resemble the desires of the average. Allow the trend to continue long enough, and we approach the goal that more and more of our needs are accommodated for, and more and more of us can spend more time striving toward experiencing the luxuries of life. As more people ascend to lifestyles that allow them to yield their own surplus, the resource-base for charity expands exponentially. Needs eventually become extinct and the worldwide population comes as close we ever have to experiencing heaven on earth. A real paradise the human family can experience together.

Now, imagine that one-tenth of the people in this scenario had an additional drain on their resources. Something that took a significant portion of their time and money, and wasted it on an empty promise of a better life than could ever be experienced on this world.

This has a twofold effect: 10% of the population automatically has less time and money available to contribute to bettering the world, and that same 10% come to develop a complacency toward wanting to better the world. "Why bother working on this one when the REAL prize is in the world to come?" Those 10% are no longer working as hard as they can toward bettering the world. Now, all of the sudden it takes 10% longer to achieve paradise on the planet.

In our world, it is not one-tenth of the population afflicted by this misconception. In our world, most of us... in fact enough to be able to say almost all of us... behave like the 10% in my scenario above. Most of the people on the planet are complacent about suffering on earth... to some degree their own suffering, and to a much greater degree that of others far removed from them. Most people don't give a damn and don't give a dime to make the world better because they're not too worried about it; there's heaven to prepare for.

So in our world, how long will it take, how many lifetimes when it's only 10 percent fighting the unrelenting tide of majority? How many generations will continue to suffer while the dismal minority are the only ones left trying our hardest to move toward heaven on earth?

And on a totally unrelated note - It bothers the hell out of me that 'sub-par' and 'under par' have opposite meanings.

* - to this world

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Found on the Blogroll*:

Matt McCormick, author of Atheism: Proving the Negative, has written some really nice articles addressing, among other things, some of the difficulties of atheism we don't often think about, what with all the 'disproving Christianity' that keeps us busy.

This particular article of his caught my attention. It stopped me dead in my tracks, since at the time, the idea he presented had never once crossed my mind.

The idea came from recent studies that suggested religious people were generally happier and healthier than their nonreligious counterparts, and really amounts to "Okay, we know religion is not true... but if it turns out that being religious really is good for us, then what do we atheists DO with that information?"

After some vigorous pondering, here's what I came up with:

The first thing we have to do is analyze the merits of the statement above. As Mr. McCormick noted, most atheists would jump to the conclusion that the studies were not properly constructed or were otherwise compromised so as to provide some degree of bias in their results. Off the cuff, I think that's true.

But I'd like to frame my response without having to invoke a flaw in these studies themselves**, and instead appeal to general knowledge about studies of this nature, and what we can infer when we think critically about them:

Studies like this often fall victim to 'tunnel vision' wherein the item they're focusing on (in this case, religiosity) is inadvertently credited for all deviations and contrasts between the subjects of the study, when other influential factors are undoubtedly present. Religiosity is often accompanied by complimentary*** behaviors and/or belief structures that may be nonreligious in and of themselves, and which may influence the subject just as strongly.

An example of this phenomenon is that Muslims are less likely than Christians to be killed in automobile accidents****. When worded this way, it implies that Islam makes one a better driver than does Christianity. But it's much more likely that since Muslims generally don't drink, Muslims drive drunk far less frequently than Christians do, resulting in fewer enough drunk-driving fatalities to skew the results.

As it pertains to the studies above, I'd be shocked not to discover the same kind of effect taking place.

But... that's not the only mitigating factor in my assessment. If we disregard my argument above and assume that the studies were constructed to eliminate those external factors, and that they accurately measured a difference in wellbeing based solely on religiosity, there is this to consider:

These studies are essentially positing religion as a giant placebo. This is actually a great explanation of religion - A placebo is an inert substance/operation that has a positive physical effect on the subject; it literally 'hacks' the brain into generating relief because the subject believes he has received a genuine***** treatment. As you might expect, placebo can be effective... but genuine medicine is usually much more effective. Similarly, there are probably many other things in life that can be more beneficial than religion. Real things. It is naïve to think that religion's placebo effect is singular among all we can experience. Remove religion from a population and replace it with something rational and real (like higher education, for example) and what benefits were lost in removing religiosity may be replaced or restored.

Of course, there is probably a cumulative effect of these benefits, and it's fair to say, in following my example, "Well, if we have higher education and religion, then we'll be even happier!" I admit I do not have an argument against this. I will say though, that there are probably dozens if not hundreds of distinct rational alternatives that many of us to not yet employ in our lives****** that hold similar potential benefit without all the negatives that inherently accompany religion*******. All we have to do is pick one. That shouldn't be too hard.

But wait!! There's more!

Finally, there's the dilemma of disbelief itself. Again, we'll disregard my arguments above, and now assume that the studies are definitely correct. Religious people are better off than nonreligious people. Okay. But we still run into an issue.

Like the placebo I mentioned before, religion only has its assuaging powers when people believe in them. Atheists cannot will themselves to benefit from religion when they are aware that it is not true. Thus, you can only cross the line from belief into disbelief. Atheism is a one-way ticket; once we know better, we are no longer capable of experiencing the benefits of religiosity.

With this in mind, the question at hand no longer applies to atheists. Now it applies exclusively to atheists' behavior toward believers.

And the question is not whether we should keep dragging people across the line from belief into disbelief... it's whether we are obligated to keeping others from crossing on their own.

Thinking rationally about such a dilemma, it becomes a matter of Ignorance versus Bliss. I believe the conclusion we'd inevitably come to is that the benefit of removing that bit of ignorance would not outweigh the benefit of leaving said ignorance intact. Would we ever have a reason to tell a patient that the medicine we gave him shouldn't have worked??

The least course of action that would be morally acceptable would be to swear one's self to secrecy. To actively promote the greater good, atheists would actually have to shoulder the burden of maintaining belief in the masses.

Think about that. We would literally become the shepherds to the flock. Ergo, atheists would be destined to become the new clergy.

How wild is that?********

* -
** - especially since I'm not privy to the details of how the studies were done. No unsubstantiated allegations coming from this mouth.
*** - as in, 'complementing each other,' not 'free of charge.' Because the latter wouldn't make any sense.
**** - This is a fabricated assertion. I have no idea whether it's true or not, but it is a great model for what I'm trying to explain.
***** - In this sense, I mean 'genuine' to indicate an active medicine rather than an inert one. Many doctors will attest that placebo are a genuine treatment, since they do provide a measurable benefit when properly implemented.
****** - Yoga comes to mind for some reason. I offer no explanation.
******* - I guess I
do have an argument against it, then, don't I?
******** - This post definitely holds my personal record for most footnotes.

Monday, October 01, 2007


This one goes out to all the good Christian people out there who mistakenly believe atheism is nihilism.

It's not just a rhetorical question I'm about to ask you, it's an entire rhetorical quiz*.

The Rhetorical Quiz

1. What is the first word that would come to mind if you were asked to describe someone who believes in the following?

Helping others in need

Treating others as he would wish to be treated

Making personal sacrifices for the benefit of others

Honoring and respecting elders

Believing in the 'good' in people

Remaining humble

Practicing honesty

Loving unconditionally

Championing against the immoral and oppressive

I know that you're expecting to be tricked, but honestly pretending that you weren't... would you have been compelled to say 'Christian'?

Well, the fact is, I left one item off the bottom of that list. If that last item was "Believing that the character of Jesus Christ was the son of God and died for our sins," then and only then would you be correct in describing him as Christian.

Well, the fact of the matter is, I was describing myself. The last item that I left off the list was "Does not believe in the existence of the supernatural."

Lo and behold, I do not believe in the existence of any gods, and I still try my best to be a good person.

I brought this all up for two reasons: first, to disambiguate the term 'atheist' (or at least differentiate it from the word 'nihilist'), and second, to address the concept of 'Christian virtues.'

Every time I hear someone refer to certain qualities as Christian virtues, it gets my dander up. If you don't understand why, I suggest you find a rock n' roll aficionado and tell them that 'All Along the Watchtower' was the best song Jimi Hendrix ever wrote. Watch their reaction.

You see, 'Christian virtues' is a misnomer. Christianity did not author those concepts. They are not Christian virtues... they are virtues. Every moral** instruction espoused by Christianity preexisted in prebiblical culture. Not only that; people of all backgrounds can accept them. Even people that don't believe in any gods.

The items on that list are all things I believe in. And yet if I add to the bottom of that list "Does not believe in the existence of the supernatural," all I'm viewed as is "atheist!" It's a perfect example of the prejudice that this society is laced with that it bothers you to hear the idea that 'atheist' and 'virtuous person of high moral character' are not mutually exclusive.

* - Okay, so it was still just one question, but didn't it feel big enough to constitute being called a quiz?
** - I don't mean every instruction that's identified as moral... I mean every instruction that actually IS moral. There aren't that many.