Archive for December, 2007

The Mario Clone they Play in Hell

The game itself is apparently downloadable from here, but I haven’t gathered the courage to do it yet. Don’t know if I ever I will.

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Head tracking with a Wii remote

This is pretty cool. I’d be interested to see whether it creates noticeable depth perception (i.e. without using proper stereo effects).

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Northern Lights

…better known in the US, and now elsewhere on account of the movie, as The Golden Compass.

I’ve heard very little of the Christian furore over the movie that has apparently sprung up out of nowhere in the US. Possibly in Australia even the fundies are unwilling to say anything bad about a movie with Nicole Kidman in it. (Successful Aussie stars are few and revered, and Nic is one of the starriest.) Aaaanyway, I was unsure whether to see the movie, because it’s apparently not as good as the book (duh) which I hadn’t read, the allegedly atheist message is apparently a bit of drummed-up anti-hype, and there are so many other movies to choose from that came out on Boxing Day.

Then Tina’s sister got her the His Dark Materials trilogy for Christmas, which changes the equation completely. I have a full and growing reading list, so I wouldn’t have bought them on my own for a while otherwise, but having them right here is a different story. So I’ve borrowed and started on Northern Lights, and if I get through it in the next day or two, I’ll probably see the movie. And be disappointed in all likelihood. But hopefully either the Christadelphians or Baptists in the block opposite the cinema will whine about it, which will make it more fun.

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Merry Christmas

We’re in my parents’ place in the Blue Mountains. It’s raining very slightly, and there’s a mist over everything. There’s a tree outside that’s covered with a light-coloured moss, and the dew on that almost sort of makes it look like snow.

This is about the closest to a White Christmas we’re ever going to have in Sydney. :)

Merry Christmas everyone.

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No wise men, says Archbishop of Canterbury

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has picked apart the historical accuracy of the story of Jesus’ birth.

…including how a star rose high in the sky and stood still to guide the wise men to Jesus’s birth place.

Stars simply don’t behave like that, he told the BBC during an interview.

Dr Williams said there was little evidence that the three wise men had existed at all. Certainly there was nothing to prove they were kings.

He went on to say that while he believed in it himself, new Christians need not leap over the “hurdle” of belief in the virgin birth before they could join the church.

He said the virgin birth was “part of what I have inherited”.

And on the timing of Jesus’s birth, he said the son of God was likely not born in December at all.

“Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival,” he said.

This is kind of cool on the surface. The virgin birth is one of the obstacles (roadsigns?) I encountered during my deconversion, with the controversy around the translation of Isaiah 7:14. And he’s right that there just isn’t a lot of historical support for the story as described in the gospels.

But Dr Williams said almost everyone agreed on two things – that Jesus’s mother was named Mary and his father Joseph.

The archbishop said his approach was to stick strictly to what the Bible says.

But I have to interject with some minor concerns. Maybe there was a journalistic snafu here, but how is what he’s said so far “strictly… what the Bible says”? Wasn’t he just talking about how some of what the Bible says is probably a myth?

It sounds suspiciously like he’s trying to have a bet both ways. I’m not an all-or-nothing Biblical literalist (although if I was, I’d be in the “nothing” camp :) ), but it has to be said that once you start poking holes in the Bible’s credibility, the basis for a lot of Christianity starts to fall apart. Jesus’ resurrection, for example, is such an outlandish claim that I can’t see how you could take it seriously at all if your only source is a book that you’ve admitted is shaky in other places.

Ugh. Maybe I’m too much of an ex-fundamentalist. I know there are people who don’t see Christianity in those black-and-white terms. But I don’t see what else would convince you that it makes any sense. And I suspect that what Dr Williams is doing here (intentionally or otherwise) is inoculating Anglicans against the shakiness of the rest of the Bible. It seems like he’s saying “Sure, there’s some weird stuff in there, and some of it’s probably wrong, but don’t let that worry you that any of the important stuff is wrong. It’s okay to question some bits and still have unshakable faith that Christianity is still fundamentally right. Look at me, I do it every day.”

Can someone explain to me how you can doubt the accuracy of the Bible and still believe in, say, the resurrection, or Jesus’ miracles, or… whatever you do believe in that is still identifiably Christian? I know I’ve asked this before, but I’m doing it again, ’cause I’m thick and I still don’t get it.

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Wavatar artwork

Wavatar montage

For now, I’ll just put the alternate Wavatar artwork here. To use it, replace the wavatars/parts directory from the original plugin with the directory in that zip file. (Or if you feel so inclined, rename the old one and make parts a symbolic link to parts-funky.)

You’ll also need to edit the plugin; in wavatars.php, change the avatar size to 100:

define("AVATAR_SIZE", '100');

And if you’ve had Wavatars running already, you’ll need to clear your cache.

If the moons are aligned correctly, an easier way to do this will be in all our futures.

UPDATE: I’ve made one or two minor changes to the art since yesterday. The latest version is here. In general, this link will always be to the latest version. Might still be some little tweaks as I notice what eyes don’t line up with what; if I ever get around to releasing it in an easy-to-plug-in way I’ll try to make sure it’s final first.

And one other thing; I’ve changed the Wavatar plugin slightly to draw eyebrows on top of eyes. It makes things more expressive with the new art because the eyes are bigger and overlap the eyebrows reasonably often. The relevant change is to find and swap these two lines:

wavatar_apply_image ($avatar, "brow$brow");
wavatar_apply_image ($avatar, "eyes$eyes");

The one that comes last will appear on top.

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Wavatars – Now with New and Funky Art

Okay, here’s an insight into how my mind works.

I set up WordPress this afternoon. All good. One of the first things I did was install Wavatars. Cool. They look aweso-tasta-riffic.

Then I read Shamus’ post on how Wavatars are generated. And my first thought was… it’d be really easy to make custom artwork for that. Then my site’s Wavvies would have their own unique feel.

My, wouldn’t that be a productive way to spend an entire evening.

So now, thanks to my obsessive nature, this site has funky custom Wavatar art. The new Wavvies have the same general characteristics as the original art, so you’ll still recognise your face, but it has more of a freehand feel to it. For example, compare my Wavatar on Shamus’ site with the new one on my site:

Original Wavatar art New funky Wavatar art

I haven’t done extensive testing on how well the eyes and stuff line up, but I figure that’ll all come out in the wash.

If there’s any demand for it I can make the new art public. However, I kind of have a dream where every site with Wavatars does their own custom look and feel that matches the rest of the site. I realise that not everyone is insane enough to put in that amount of work… but hey, I can still dream.

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WordPressTastic

It’s been in the back of my mind for a while to throw out the disgustingly hacky pile of homebrew PHP crud that was my old blog, and switch to WordPress. I’m sort of attached to the idea of having complete control over how it works, but I also didn’t want to spend any time cleaning it up or adding features.

And then Shamus Young implemented Wavatars. And I had to have it.

So now this site is beautiful and WordPressy, while keeping a hint of the old colour scheme and such. There were some issues in the switchover (I’ve still gotta fix up the categories), but it feels so much nicer now.

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Wine tasting

It only occurred to me this morning what good marketing wine tasting is…

“Here, try some free samples of our inhibition-reducing drug. Now… how many cases would you like to buy?”

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To the test

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. - Verbal Kint, The Usual Suspects

The greatest trick God could ever pull would be convincing the world he does exist. - Me

Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew. - Judges 6:36-40, ESV

Okay, here’s the thing. I’m an atheist. (Yeah, I know, big surprise.) It is my considered conclusion, based on what I’ve seen so far in my life, that there’s no such thing as a god or gods.

But that could change at a moment’s notice. If I saw something that I could only attribute to the intervention of God, then I’d become a believer again.

Some people would say that I shouldn’t be expecting that; that I need to make the first “leap of faith”. Matthew 4:7 and Luke 4:12 (quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, although it means something completely different in that context) say “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”. But here’s the thing. He’s not my God. It’s all very well for God to want me to trust him enough to not need proof of his existence, but then how do I come to trust him in the first place? It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem.

And, at any rate, I spent six (or twenty-four, depending on your definition) years as a Christian. I’ve done my leap of faith. God didn’t do anything to back up the trust that I put in him. I’ve already made the first move, and God didn’t respond.

Of course, many people are convinced that God has shown himself, but of the stories that I’ve heard, each fails to be convincing for some combination of two reasons:

  • They are too far removed from me for the story to be reliable. Either they happened too long ago for reliable accounts to have survived (starting from the “creation” of the universe and going through to Jesus’ miracles and a few scattered stories after that); or it was never examined in detail, and has passed through enough retellings to make it indistinguishable form myth (an angel appeared to the brother of a friend of a guy in Italy whose mother I met once).
  • They can be explained through the actions of people, or natural events, or chance. Someone changing their life for the better after finding God is not a miracle, because people are capable of doing that without finding God. Surviving a car crash is entirely possible without divine intervention. Recovery from an illness, even a serious one, is not proof of anything unless it’s at the level of, say, regrowing a limb.

It amazes me that people think it’s reasonable to expect God to use people to spread his message and encourage others to believe. I already believe that people exist. I don’t want to hear it from them, through things that I already know they can do (like talk a lot, and distribute pamphlets). For it to make any difference, I need to hear it from God.

Now, I can come up with plenty of things an omnipotent god could do that would easily convince me of his presence. Burning bushes, disembodied hands writing on the wall, talking donkeys, water into wine – there are any number of Biblical precedents for things that I’d readily accept as evidence for God. But it doesn’t have to be anything fancy like that. Any small thing, that I could verify as being impossible by natural means, would at the very least force me to reconsider things very carefully.

There’s a standard argument against this, that I wouldn’t really reconsider anything; that my dark atheist soul is too far gone, and that I don’t want to believe in God for my own evil reasons, and wouldn’t change even if Jesus himself appeared before me. Apparently such people have some special insight into my mind and soul that I don’t have, because I’m pretty sure that I would change my mind.

But we could argue that point back and forth all day. There’s an easy way for me to demonstrate that I’m serious.

Two ring-pulls

I have here two perfectly ordinary ring-pulls from drink cans. I’m going to keep them at home and check them every day. If I ever discover that they’ve been linked together, without being broken, like this:

Linked ring-pulls - SAMPLE ONLY

…then I promise to:

  1. Post a photo here immediately.
  2. Start attending church again, that week if at all possible. In the absence of any other factors, I’d probably go back to my old church, but I’m willing to be directed to other alternatives. (For example, if it happens when a friend prays for it, I’ll go to church with them instead. Similarly, if the context suggests it, I’ll look at religions other than Christianity.)
  3. Tentatively accept the existence of God. I won’t close my eyes to other explanations (at the absolute least, I’ll check very closely to see if the ring pulls have been tampered with), but I would take the existence of God very seriously indeed.

I’m doing this to put my money where my mouth is, and show that my atheism is nothing to do with not wanting to believe in God, but rather not having the evidence to believe in God. This is my way of saying what it would take to convince me, and to lay out the red carpet for an omnipotent God to show me that he’s there, if indeed he is. (Or she, or it, or they. I’m not narrowing my scope here.)

I’d also encourage other atheists to do the same, if they think this is meaningful. This isn’t about being arrogant or smug; it’s about showing that we’re ready and willing to be shown that we’re wrong. Atheism is a hypothesis, and a hypothesis that can be disproved. You can even do this if you’re not sure what you believe, or if you’re looking for a sign or a spiritual experience. The ring-pulls are just what I happened to have on my desk; find something that would convince you. (Although it would be kind of cool if two unjoined ring-pulls became some kind of atheist symbol. It would be more meaningful to me than the scarlet “A” at any rate.)

To theists reading this: if you understand and accept what I’m doing, then pray for the rings to link together. If you think I’m totally misguided, leave a comment and explain why. Also, let me know if there’s a simple, verifiable event like this that has the potential to challenge your beliefs.

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