Archive for January, 2008


Once every couple of years or so, I start playing around with POV-Ray again. It’s usually triggered by discovering some simple but elegant effect, something I stumble across by accident while trying to do something else.

Here’s the catalyst for my latest round of obsession.

Crystal balls

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His Dark Materials

Finished Philip Pullman’s trilogy a couple of nights ago.


Just… wow.

On the anti-religious aspect of it – it does come down pretty hard on religion in general, and Christianity in particular, in places. I can see where the controversy comes from. Haven’t seen the movie (and not sure whether I will), but I’ve heard that the religious aspect is heavily toned down; having said that, I can see how you could take the stabs at religion out of the first book and still keep the story intact. If they go on and film The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, it’s going to be nearly impossible to keep it out.

But, on the… fifth hand, it is fiction. And the weird thing is that it reads more like a Christian heresy than an atheist polemic. I don’t think a Christian would ever have written anything like it; but it is set in a universe where Christianity is much closer to the truth, in some ways, than it is in reality (from an atheist perspective).

Anyway, read it. All of you.


Falling off a building is a miracle

Okay, I know this isn’t the most original observation, but I promise this is the only time I’ll do it… How is it an example of divine providence when two people fall from a building, one dies, and the other only suffers massive injuries?

From the SMH, Miracle man falls 47 floors:

Alcides Moreno, 37, plummeted almost 152 metres in a December 7 scaffolding collapse that killed his brother.

Emphasis mine. Note that his late brother is not named or mentioned for the rest of the article.

Somehow, Moreno lived, and doctors at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Centre announced today that his recovery has been astonishing.

His wife, Rosario Moreno, cried as she thanked the doctors and nurses who kept him alive.

“Thank God for the miracle that we had,” she said. “He keeps telling me that it just wasn’t his time.”

At least it does mention that she thanked the medical staff. Why she then thanks God, who could have stopped it happening altogether, is beyond me.

Dr Herbert Pardes, the hospital’s president, described Moreno’s condition when he arrived for treatment as “a complete disaster”.

Both legs and his right arm and wrist were broken in several places. He had severe injuries to his chest, his abdomen and his spinal column. His brain was bleeding. Everything was bleeding, it seemed.

In those first critical hours, doctors pumped 24 units of donated blood into his body – about twice his entire blood volume.

They gave him plasma and platelets and a drug to stimulate clotting and stop the hemorrhaging. They inserted a catheter into his brain to reduce swelling and cut open his abdomen to relieve pressure on his organs.

“If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one,” said the hospital’s chief of surgery, Dr Philip Barie.

No. A miracle would be if he and his brother had gently drifted to the ground on a beam of light from the sky, and landed unscathed. This is a disaster, with a brief moment of luck where it could have been worse, followed by hours of intense medical treatment. There’s a big difference.

I hope he makes a solid recovery. He obviously has good doctors, if not enough to make up for his incompetent deity.


Scarlet ‘A’

Still think unlinked rings would look cooler, but I concede. The scarlet ‘A’ is hereby adopted.

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Jacoby-Shermer debate

I’ve been meaning for some time to watch the debate between Michael Shermer and Douglas Jacoby about the existence of God.

I know (or knew) Doug – he’s a Teacher in my former church, and he and his family lived in Sydney for a year or two while I was helping with the teen ministry, so I knew his kids reasonably well. On the other hand, Michael Shermer’s book, Why People Believe Weird Things, was what led me to wonder whether what I believed was real. (Or, at least, I was reading it at the time that I started questioning my faith. Correlation ≠ causation and all that.) So there’s a whole historical and emotional context here for me.

Should be fun. And by fun, I mean gut-wrenching. The one thing I won’t be able to do while watching it is dismiss one side as obviously wrong – the way you do when you listen to, say, Kirk Cameron.

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God good, demons bad

From a conversation at lunch today… Why is it that when someone says they believe in god, you think “fair enough, that’s what you believe, I respect that”; but when someone says they believe in demons, you think “you’re a raving lunatic”?

Of course, not everyone is as critical of the latter, and certainly many of us are less forgiving of the former. (No one involved in the discussion believed in either.) But it’s interesting – there does seem to be some kind of line between tolerable and weirdy-ass beliefs. I guess that’s part of what Dawkins et al have been saying all along – there shouldn’t be a line short of which we tolerate irrational stuff like that.

This was partially inspired by the announcement that the Vatican is training more exorcists to crack down on demonic possessions. I have to admit, I’m in awe of the sheer momentum of a delusion where an institution with members in the billions supports its uppermost leaders discussing, issuing press releases about, and giving its clergy lessons in the best methods to deal with shit that does not exist.

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