Friday, 31 December 2010

In summary... (or should that be "in wintery"?)

Goodbye 2010! Goodbye forever. This has been a major year for me, probably the busiest my life has seen so far.

Planning a wedding and getting married dominated the first seven months, somehow during that time we also managed to buy a house. Working part-time is useful. Also I passed my English Language course and moved to a new church. Changes all over the place.

This Christmas holiday has been great too. Despite problems in the heating, plumbing and vehicular departments we've had a good time with our newly-extended family. Here's a photo I took on Boxing Day while me and Lis were waiting for a neighbour to jump-start the Clio:



















I haven't been as active on the blog recently, but in 2011 you can look forward to...
- A summary of my new year's resolutions
- The conclusion of my "Deep Thought" series (hopefully)
- My report on the annual Youth for Christ staff conference
- Fiding out whether we manage to eat all of that chocolate in the cupboard. It makes me feel full just looking at it. Boxes and boxes of the stuff. Golly.

And more exciting events are bound to happen in Baggleswich.

Cheerio for now.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Exciting word usage graphs!

I am aware that I started a series of posts a while ago. I'll continue that shortly, but I decided to make a few changes to it and in the meantime I've found this very very interesting tool...

Google and some other organisations with too much time and money have put together a digital database archiving millions of books (in fact they think it's 4% of all books ever published). Using this website you can search all those books for a particular word or phrase, and it will display a graph showing you how the frequency of that word has changed from 1800 - 2000.

For example, if you search for "fish pie"...









You can see how everyone was writing about fish pie in the 1940s, then it trailed off, but is starting to increase again. "Blunderbuss", however, has just been going downhill since 1820.









And then you find sudden changes, like the explosion of "pink pyjamas" around 1914.









Fashion designers commonly refer to this event as the "pink pyjama awakening".

Have a go, it's great fun.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The world is getting more corrupt

So says a recent survey taken by Transparency International (not the company that makes acetates). Apparently one in four people have paid a bribe in the last year, and here's what they paid for:

Why pay a bribe?

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, 67%of bribes were to avoid trouble with the authorities
  • In the Arab world and Latin America most bribes were paid to speed things up
  • In Asia-Pacific, 35% of people bribed to get a service they were entitled to
  • In North America and the EU, most bribe payers say they could not remember why they had paid
Read the article on the BBC here.

So any suggestions on how to reverse this trend? I assume that most people's first response will be to place the blame squarely on "the authorities" who are behind all corruption in the world, thereby avoiding the idea that all humans are naturally selfish creatures.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Science and spirituality

This is the second in a series of "Deep Thought" mini-essays. They're a bit longer than my usual posts.

In the previous post in the series I said that people should believe what is reasonable to believe, and these are the things that are evidence-based and observable. I think a lot of people make a huge mistake by subconsciously adding “... and material” on the end (‘material’ as in physical, I’m talking about the material worldview, where nothing exists that isn’t physical). There is a really common argument that a surprisingly large number of people rely on, which goes a bit like this:

- Science does not concern itself with spiritual things, only material

- Therefore science explains the universe in a physical way

- Therefore the universe is entirely material

- Therefore there is no spiritual aspect of the universe

I want to quickly say that I love science. A girl I met at a youth group once proudly declared “I don’t believe in science!” and I cringed so hard I almost flattened my eyeballs, because she thought she was being a determined Christian. Science is amazing! It teaches us astounding things, and gives us understanding and appreciation of the wonderful way in which the world works.

But science does not address spirituality, and it makes me mad that people think by not addressing spiritual things, science has proved that there are no spiritual things. Ok, so religious people used to think the sun went around the earth, science proved them wrong. There are probably lots of examples of religious thinking being refuted by scientific enquiry, but somewhere along the line the idea arose that therefore all religion and spirituality must be tosh, which is, ironically, tosh.

Then we developed this notion that science and religion are opposed to each other, which again is nonsense. But we do tend to separate the two along these kind of lines:

- Science is about finding out the truth through testing and observing the world.

- Religion is about taking a blind leap of faith in something for which there is no evidence.

I think a more accurate definition would be:

- Science is concerned with how the material world works.

- Religion is concerned with how the material world relates to the spiritual world.

Materialists will disagree with my definition because they will certainly claim “there is no such thing as the spiritual world”. But how have they found that out? Through science? Can exploring the human body show that humans do not have a spirit? The statement “there is no such thing as the spiritual world” is nothing more than an assumption.

But... It’s a reasonable assumption, because the default position should be non-belief. By default I do not believe in talking jam, and I won’t until I am convinced otherwise. So it’s fair enough to be a materialist, until someone provides evidence to the contrary. The big question, therefore, is; is there any evidence that a spiritual world exists? Yes. Here are some examples;

Miraculous healings

Unexplained illnesses

Out-of-body experiences

Particularly abnormal dreams, visions, trances

People’s experiences of Jesus

People’s experiences of the occult

The huge majority of the world’s population that recognises a spiritual force of one sort or another

I’m not saying that any of these prove that the spiritual world is there, but it’s evidence.

Most materialists, upon hearing about a miraculous healing etc. will probably claim that there ‘must be a logical (a synonym for scientific/material) explanation’, which is a handy way of addressing the uncomfortable issue without actually supplying any explanation at all. The thing is, a lot of the time there is no scientific explanation whatsoever, and the materialist must comfort him or herself with the knowledge that ‘science has disproved religion’, which is bunkum.

Lets create a scenario, or better yet use a real one. A girl has an illness, someone prays for her to “be healed in the name of Jesus Christ” and afterwards she finds that the illness has gone. The materialist makes ridiculous claims such as, “she wasn’t really ill in the first place” and “it was all psychological”, but why are those claims being made if the materialist is aware that he/she was only assuming the non-existence of the spiritual world to start with? Surely it’s logical, that faced with such an example, anyone would say “ok, maybe it’s reasonable to believe that Jesus really healed her.”

The reason that doesn’t happen is that most materialists are not just assuming that the spiritual world doesn’t exist, they’re determined that it doesn’t, despite there being no evidence that it doesn’t.

Here’s the contradiction: A materialist will often admit that they can’t disprove the spiritual, that the burden of proof is on the believer – the ‘religious person’ needs to come up with a good bit of evidence. But when the believer shows that evidence to the materialist, they react as though it has already been disproved. They will find a reason to utterly reject a spiritual explanation, when they really have no reason to at all, unless spirituality has already been disproved, which they admitted at the start can’t be done.

Can we please redefine ‘logical explanation’ to mean an explanation that is logical, not an explanation that is fundamentally scientific?

Friday, 19 November 2010

The philosophy of truth

This is the first in a series of "Deep Thought" mini-essays. They're a bit longer than my usual posts.

What do you make of the concept of personal truth; the idea that what is true for you might be different from what is true for me? The classic case for plurality, tolerance and general chumminess rests on the fact that what you believe is your truth, but what others believe is true for them. There is no absolute truth. When I first came across this reasoning I dismissed it as absolute r*bb*sh (excuse my strong language but I think it’s fitting).

I think I have slowly begun to understand the thinking behind this way of thinking. When you look at the sky you see that it is blue, but how do you know that someone else doesn’t see it as puce? We understand the world based on our perception of it. I perceive an elk, therefore I believe that the elk exists, but what if someone else looked at the same thing and perceived a toaster?

Well, you say, there must be a way to test, to find out once and for all, whether this thing is an elk, a toaster or anything else! But however many tests and observations you carry out you still rely on human perception – we perceive the tests and the results, and how do we know that the test results are true? We have no way of knowing for sure that what our eyes tell us is real is actually real, that what we hear with our ears is an actual sound or a figment of our imagination. The only thing we can be 100% sure of is “I think, therefore I am.” Even if 27 million people all identified the object to really be a piano, how can we prove that those 27 million people actually exist, and aren’t just a creation of my over-active mind?

So this is how people end up deciding that what a person perceives is their truth, because there is no such thing as a “fact”, since nothing can be proven, there is only perception.

There are two main points that I would raise to address this kind of reasoning.

1)1) Just because no one can be absolutely sure whether a thing is true or not, doesn’t mean that there is no absolute truth. Even if no one can be sure whether it’s an elk, a toaster or a piano, there still can only be one reality. Either it is one thing, or it is another, or it doesn’t really exist at all. Nothing can simultaneously exist and not exist, so no matter how much you emphasise that the religious groups have one truth and the atheists another, one group really must be actually wrong. God cannot both exist and not exist, regardless of what different people perceive.

2) 2) People should believe what it is reasonable to believe. In the case of, well, nearly everything, we have ways of ascertaining what is, if not absolutely true, then at least a safe assumption. For example, in reality it is very easy to tell an elk apart from a toaster, and if it was a large brown furry thing with antlers everyone would agree that it’s a safe assumption, it’s reasonable to believe that the thing is an elk. If 27 million people thought it was a piano, it’s almost definitely a piano. No one argues about these things in real life. Not that you can prove it’s a piano, but who would disagree with 27 million people?

Just to illustrate this, here’s a list of things that you (according to the reasoning above) cannot prove to be true, but that I would say are reasonable to believe:

My name is Andy

Gravity exists

The world is round

I could not survive without water

E=mc2

I was born

I will die

If I jump into the sea I will get wet

Hopefully you agree that these things are safe assumptions. Some are safe to assume because they are commonly observed (such as being born), whereas some are safe to assume because they have been tested (E=mc2).

Here’s the thing; why, when it comes to spiritual things, do people completely ignore the idea of reasonable, evidence-based, observable ‘truths’ and say that it’s ok to believe absolutely anything? Just because you can’t be sure that what you perceive is true does not give you a licence to believe any old piffle, like “I am a pineapple” or “my dog used to be the king of Nepal”.

When it comes to religious beliefs, like the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you can’t just suddenly switch to different goggles and claim that it’s “up to you.” That Jesus rose from the dead is either a reasonable thing to believe or it is not. And, in reality, it is an event that either definitely happened or definitely didn’t. You can’t go all fuzzy on the facts just because gravity is “science” and Jesus is “religion” – that’s a false dichotomy.

Basically, the safest approach to ‘truth’ is to forget the whole argument about not being able to know what is absolutely true and pursue the thing that is most reasonable to believe, IMO.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Deep Thought

I've just finished writing a few mini-essays. They're going to form a series of posts here, which is a new venture for me. My only other series is Ultimate Twister Destiny Duels! (Which reminds me that it's about time I did another one of those).

Anyway, here are the posts I'll be uploading in the near future:
-The philosophy of truth
-Science and spirituality
-Morality in the human race
-Determinism, predestination and free will
-Why culture is obsessed with the story of Jesus Christ

I could do with some posting advice though. When uploading longer posts (the longest is 858 words), is it better to seperate into two shorter parts? That would make it easier to digest but I'm wondering if it would be better for people to read the whole thing at once?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

How to honour Christ

I can think of a few better ways than this











The above is now apparently the world's tallest Jesus. That's only if you include the mound he's standing on though, so I'm not convinced. Nor am I convinced that it resembles Jesus, or that it pleases Him much to see the crowds gawking at it and then going home to carry on living unchanged lives.

The saddest thing is this quote from a local priest: "I have never been as happy as I am today," Rev Zawadzki, aged 78, said. "This is the culmination of my life's work as a priest."

If everything Mr. Z worked for was building up to the construction of a very large statue, then I'm worried for the Polish church. The annoying thing is that no-one will ever be able to knock it down without being labelled the anti-Christ.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Turning chewed gum into art

I was just going to share this and say how cool it was, but I think there's something a bit more I can draw out of it.

Like Ed, I've noticed a good metaphor in a news story (which, if you're not in the habbit of clicking on every link that appears in a blog post, is about an artist who paints pictures on pieces of discarded chewing gum trodden into the pavement).

God knows the extent of all the filth that the human race wallows in. He sees people who are stuck, helpless, dirty and downtrodden, and yet he stoops down into the dirt where we are, and by his amazing power makes us a new creation; alive and beautiful.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Radioactive

Kings of Leon have to be one of my favourite bands at the moment. There aren't many songs that I instantly like (by instantly I mean after listening to for 10 seconds), but it happened with Notion, and now Radioactive. So, naturally I had to have a play for myself. This is the result:



If you want to hear the original, much better version, click here. Embedding has been disabled by request apparently.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

What's so wrong with Comic Sans?

That's the title of this intriguing article, which pointed me on to this more intruiging website. I never knew that so many people shared my loathing of the terrifying font (although if Blogger let you use Comic Sans, I would definitely be applying it here because I can't resist a good heaped spoonful of irony).

You can buy mugs and t-shirts with the "ban Comic Sans" slogan, and they're even making an anti-Comic Sans documentary. Wow. Now heed this warning:

Friday, 15 October 2010

Medal of Dishonor

A while ago I blogged about the release of controversial game Call of Duty; Modern Warfare 2 (see here and here). Now there's more controversy over a very similar game - Medal of Honor - which is set in Afghanistan in 2002. In fact, this game offers the player the chance to play as the Taliban as they fight against the invading coalition forces. Following early complaints, the developers chose to change the name of the Taliban in the game to "The Opposition".












Quoting from a BBC article:
In August, Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox called for the game to be banned after it emerged that users could fight as The Taliban. Dr Fox described the game as "un-British" and said it was "shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban against British soldiers".

Note that he does not say it's unacceptable to recreate the acts of British soldiers against the Taliban. I wonder what games Afghanistan would be producing if it had an industry...

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Blogger & the ampersand



















I haven't really questioned it so far, but every time a blogger I follow uses the '&' symbol in a post title (for example, "Humility & how I excel in it") it appears in my list as "Humility & how I excel in it".*

I always wondered where the 'amp' comes from, until I learned that the name for the symbol is an Ampersand. You can read about the etymology of the name here (it's not a wikipedialink). But that doesn't explain why Blogger insists on displaying it wrongly. I'm curious, does this happen to anyone else?

*[Update: this bit makes no sense, because when I typed what appears instead of '&', Blogger changes is to '&'. Which is what it should do in the post titles I guess. It actually comes out as &_amp_; without the underscores. Sorry for confusion]

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The ethics of ad blocking

A while ago someone persuaded me to switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox, a decision which I haven't regretted, although I do wonder how some people get so crazy evangelistic about a program that essentially does exactly the same thing in a slightly better way.

Anyway, one of the biggest draws is the ability to add on add-ons to enhance your browsing experience. Last week I installed Adblock Plus, a nifty piece of programming that stops pretty much all adverts from appearing on websites you visit. So instead of this...




















you get this...


















which is much better. But there's an ethical question here. The income that supports websites and keeps them in existence comes from the advertising space that they sell off. Companies pay good money so that net surfers see their ads. So if all web users installed Adblock Plus then the companies would stop advertising and the websites would go bust.

So if I want to use a website, should I just expect to see adverts as a kind of payment for the service I'm receiving? Not that anyone's going to make much money from advertising dating for the elderley to a married 22-year-old anyway.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

I'm back!

I would love to start this post with a very drawn out "well", but that would have to be spelled "weeeeeeeell" and you'd think it sounded like a very drawn out "wheel" instead. Actually, now I've told you that I can probably do it...

Weeeeeeeell then, I have been away from my blog for a while. That's not to say I haven't been reading yours though! Yes, that's right, I read all about that. Anyway, while I've been cruising around the blogosphere periphery I've been doing all sorts of other things, so much, in fact, that I will have to spill the beans in quite a reduced form. More like drop the beans in a very orderly fashion.

I got married. Wedding was amazing. Wife is beautiful.

We went on honeymoon. Italy was amazing. Food fantastic. Thunderstorm in Venice.

School started again. School for me is work - playing games with kids in drama studios, presenting assemblies in front of kids in school halls, talking about Jesus to teenagers.

Bought a Shure SM58 mic. Started recording songs.

And got internet at home now, which involved quite a bit of phoning, waiting, paying, drilling, screwing, unscrewing and moving computers around.

It was all very necessary.

Also, I've launched a new blog! There's not much there yet but feel free to check it out:
Baggleswich Parish Council

You'll want to live there, seriously.