Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Feed Address for Over Coffee

Over the past several years, this Over Coffee blog has been available for subscription from my own Web site. I have moved the blog to Blogger.com's site for a number of reasons. The bottom line is, the old feed will no longer include any new posts. Please change your reader to grab the feed from:


Some have already been using the above feed source. If so, no need to change. For the others, sorry about the inconvenience.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Debating a Christian about God's Existence

It’s Christmas Eve. Tomorrow is Jesus’ birthday.

Well, no, not really. Nobody knows when Jesus was born. Nobody even knows for certain IF Jesus was born. There were lots of Jesus’ in those days. It was a common name. But I’m talking about THE Jesus. There is no solid evidence, outside the bible, that the Messiah Jesus existed, let alone what day he was born on.

The early Church adopted December 25 as a day to celebrate the birth of Christ because it was already being celebrated by the pagans as the day the sun starts turning back north in the sky.

Anyway, some might think this is the wrong time of year to be writing a blog on the subject of the existence of Jesus or even the existence of the Christian god, but what better time? The Christian god does not exist. Now, I’m not saying that God does not exist. I don’t know for sure either way. But the characteristics of God as given to him by Christians are impossible. That god can be ruled out by simple logic.

So, let’s assume I’m talking to a Christian who believes the bible is true. I’m trying to prove to him that his god does not exist. He, of course, is never going to cave in to my logic. But ignoring the truth doesn’t make it go away.

Here is how that conversation might go:

Me: Is it your belief that God created humans?

Christian: Yes, of course He did.

Me: Why did he create humans?

Christian: He is a god of love. He created us so that He could love us and so that we could love Him.

Me: Does he expect to love us forever, or only temporarily, until we die?

Christian: He is an eternal god. He wants to love us forever.

Me: So why doesn’t he just allow us all to go to heaven, regardless?

Christian: He wants us to decide for ourselves to accept him, through Jesus Christ. He gives us free will so we can choose.

Me: Is God omniscient? Does he know everything?

Christian: According to the bible, He is omniscient and eternal. He is Alpha and Omega.

Me: Does he know in advance what our decision will be in the end, to accept him or not?

Christian: He knows everything, even that. But he still allows us to decide.

Me: What if we decide not to believe in him or to accept Jesus?

Christian: Well, those who aren’t saved will go to hell.

Me: What’s hell?

Christian: Many Christians believe it is a place of eternal torture and agony. Others believe it is simply living forever in the absence of God

Me: So, what you’re saying is that we get to choose, but he already knows what our decision is going to be?

Christian: Yes. We are choosing for ourselves; He gave us free will. But since He is omniscient, he knows how we are going to choose.

Me: Since he is eternal, did he know before he created me that I was going to decide not to believe in him?

Christian: Yes, He knew before He created us what our decisions were going to be, but He still makes Himself available to all of us.

Me: So if god knew in advance of our creation whether or not we would decide to believe in him and whether or not to choose Jesus as our savior, then he already knew that many millions of people would not choose him, right?

Christian: Yes, He knew.

Me. And your main premise for god creating us in the first place was so that he could love us and we could love him forever, right?

Christian: Yes.

Me: Then if he already knew, before he created me, that I was not going to accept him, and if those who don’t accept him go to hell, then he knew in advance, before he created me, that I was going to be damned, yet he created me anyway?

Christian: Yes, but He gives us the chance to change our minds. His spirit works within all of us at one time or another and we get to choose to ignore it or accept it.

Me: The bottom line is, if he knows what we are going to do in advance then whatever we choose is already known to him. If we change our minds, he already knows that, too. Knowing what our choices will be, and knowing that many will not choose to accept him, even knowing who they are, He created them all anyway. He created them to be condemned. So your original premise, that god created us to love forever, is in error.

Christian: But, well, uh, the Lord works in mysterious ways. We don’t know everything. God is a god of love and he gave us free will, but it’s up to us to love him and choose him.

Me: So now you’re talking in circles. You have nothing new to say and no good answers. I win. Your god does not exist.

You see folks, you can believe whatever you want. Maybe there is a god. Maybe there isn’t. But the god of the bible cannot exist because the premise for his creation is faulty. Maybe god is not omniscient. Maybe he knows a lot but not everything. Maybe he’s powerful, but not omnipotent. Maybe he can’t create a rock so heavy that even he cannot move it, because I just created such a rock in my logic above.

Whatever you choose to believe, it would be nice if it could be supported by rational thought. The god of the bible cannot be.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Atheist Signs Annoy Believers

You can drive down almost any street in any small town, big city, or along any country road and sooner or later you will see a sign proclaiming “Jesus Loves,” or “Jesus is Lord,” or listing a bible verse, usually “John 3:16.” You’ll see Christian messages on church placards or read some bible verse on a bumper sticker.

But when someone puts up a sign that says something as innocuous as “Reason’s Greetings” people get all bent out of shape. It happened recently in Las Vegas, of all places. One resident of that city said, “If I had a ladder I would have climbed up there and pulled it down myself,” speaking about a billboard, funded by a local atheist, that read, “Yes Virginia, there is no god.

“I'm a Christian, I believe in God, and I didn't like it,” the angry resident added.

Well, tough. I don’t like all the Christian crap I have to read every time I go for a drive. That offends me, too. But I acknowledge that people have a right to their beliefs and they have a right to put up signs (assuming they’re put up legitimately; many are not). So if Christians have to read the occasional secular message put up by those who value reason over superstition, well that’s just too bad.

Christians do not own this country. This country was not founded as a Christian nation, despite rumors to the contrary. And atheists have just as much right to put up secular messages as Christians have to put up their drivel.

Across the country, in Asheville, North Carolina, a newly-elected city councilman was sworn in without using the phrase “So help me God.” He didn’t put his hand on the bible either. Some residents don’t like it and say that he was seated unlawfully because the North Carolina constitution requires officeholders to believe in God.

Even if that it so, state law permits officeholders to affirm rather than swear by God. And such state constitutional requirements are a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution which prohibits any religious test before taking office. The Supreme Court reaffirmed this in a 1961 case.

So regardless of who it offends or makes uncomfortable, secular humanists have every bit as much right to express their beliefs, or lack thereof, as Christians. It’s just that Christians have had carte blanch control over so much of this country for so long, they are loathe to share that control with non-believers.

Following the 9/11 terrorist strikes, which were religiously-motivated, many Americans have re-examined their religious affiliations. The attacks were horrendous. But if any good has come from their aftermath, it is that Americans are more secular than ever. Religion is a boil on the ass of America and it needs to be lanced.

Many, if not most religious folks are honest, decent citizens and I hold them no ill will. But I detest anyone who tries to undermine the freedom of speech of those who are non-religious. Too many religious people have a sense of superiority because of their religion. I’ve seen and heard it too often.

But non-believers are the fastest-growing group in America when it comes to a belief system. Atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, or whatever label you want to give them, they are becoming more numerous as most Christian denominations see their ranks dwindling. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Christians are still in the majority and they still want to control the flow of information.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Golfers are not Athletes

My son and I were having lunch at the Slippery Noodle a couple of days ago when our discussion turned to Tiger Woods. No, we didn’t discuss his philandering. The ramifications of his marital fidelity should be between his wife and him.

Both of us agreed, however, that the decision by the Associated Press to name Woods as Athlete of the Decade was quite a reach. Personally, my choice would be for Peyton Manning. Yes, I live in Indianapolis and am biased that way, but come on, Tiger Woods, really?

First of all, I will stipulate that Woods is probably one of the greatest professional golfers of all time. He personally has brought golf into the public limelight more than any of his contemporaries and probably more than any of the historical golf champions, including Arnold Palmer. That said, we’re talking about golf, not tennis, not football, not even pole vaulting, but golf. Are golfers really athletes?

I personally do not play golf, except occasionally on Wii. And I do not wish to disparage anyone who does play the game. All I’m saying is that it is a game, not a sport and its participants are not athletes.

I know; maybe I’m getting caught up in semantics. But I don’t think so. Let’s take a look at what an athlete is and what a gamer is, shall we?

An athlete has to be in top physical condition. A gamer might be in top physical condition, but it’s not really necessary. When an athlete competes, his normal pulse rate increases to at least 120 beats per minute during the peak of his physical exertion while playing his sport. A gamer can play just fine with a pulse rate of less than 100.

And then there are the differences between sports and games. Sports require athletic prowess. Games do not. An 80 year old man with a pot belly can play golf if he is in reasonable health. I’d like to see him play four quarters of football.

Most sports also have another factor. They have an opponent trying his or her best to stop you from reaching your goal. Team sports have the opposing team members. Tennis has the person on the other side of the net trying to return the ball where you can’t reach it. But golf has no external opposing forces, at least none caused by those against whom you are playing.

In that sense, golf belongs in the same category of physical games as bowling and billiards. Sure, you have opponent players, but none of them are allowed to disturb your play. While playing pool, your opponent is not allowed to grab your stick while you’re making a shot. You bowling opponent shouldn’t scream in your ear while you’re sighting your ball. And in golf, your opponent is not allowed to even make noise, let alone do something as drastic as knock the ball off course while it is heading for the hole.

Compare that to a true competitive sport such as basketball, where opposing players are definitely allowed to knock the ball out of your hand or steal it away from you. Even in a sport as mild as baseball, the pitcher tries his best to pitch you a ball that you can’t hit, and the outfielders grab the ball out of the air so you can’t advance bases.

While it’s true that sports such as downhill skiing or pole vaulting do not have rival forces working against them either, competitors are still considered athletes because they would be unable to compete if they were not in top physical condition. And participating in those sports still requires strenuous physical exertion. Not so with golf.

I can’t imagine the AP announcing a top-rated bowler or billiards champion as athlete of the year. And if they did, I would probably be writing this blog complaining about who they plan to honor with that title next – a golfer maybe?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mayan Shmayan; Go Ahead and Plan for 2013

Are we doomed in a mere three years?

On December 21, 2012, the earth and all its inhabitants will cease to exist. Well, that’s if you believe the hype surrounding one interpretation of an ancient calendar constructed by the Mayan civilization. That calendar follows a very precise cyclical pattern. And the cycles end on the first day of winter in the year 2012. That’s December 21.

The Mayans had a number of calendars. They are mostly based on their religion and deity. And when each of those calendars ended, they would begin again, even though in the Mayan culture, the end of a calendar often signified some kind of religious miracle or rebirth. The longest calendar is what we call the Long Count. It lasts 5,126 years.

The Long Count Calendar will run through its entire cycle and end on December 21, 2012. So there is no shortage of modern-day soothsayers who predict something dire will happen on that date, perhaps even the end of civilization. And with the Internet and all, the word gets around fast.

But I have a calendar hanging on my kitchen wall that will end on December 31 of this year. Should I be afraid? Of course not. I’ll just get another calendar to start off the new year.

But unlike our annual calendars, at 5,126 years long, the Mayan calendar has never ended before, at least not since it was conceived. So the Winter Solstice of 2012 will mark the first time the Mayan calendar will end. But why should anything special happen just because it’s an unusually long calendar?

Some claim that the end of the Mayan calendar happens to coincide with a cosmic event that only takes place once every 26,000 years – the Galactic Alignment. That is where the Winter Solstice aligns with the sun and the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. The Maya may have been predicting just such an alignment with their Long Count Calendar.

But we are already in the alignment for the current 26,000-year cycle. The alignment takes about 32 years to complete. It started around 1980 and will continue through 2016 (assuming we will actually make it past 2012!). The most direct alignment with the Winter Solstice took place in 1998. So there is not much special happening on a galactic scale in 2012.

While it’s fun to speculate about such things, a few people seem to be obsessed with it. There are plenty of millennialists out there who long for their “Second Coming” to usher in a new age. But the fact is, there is nothing extraordinary predicted to happen in 2012 that would end civilization as we know it.

That’s not to say it can’t happen. There could be an undiscovered asteroid on target for Earth. There could be an eruption of a supervolcano. So, although it is possible that something could happen that would threaten or even end society in 2012, the probability is infinitesimal.

A lot of things could kill off our civilization, such as religious fundamentalism. But the Mayan calendar isn’t one of them. You can breathe easier.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Adventures in Windows 7

I finally purchased and installed a copy of Windows 7 on my desktop computer. But the whole process was not a very pleasant one. It started at Best Buy about three weeks ago when I saw a Windows 7 Family Pack box on the shelf. I have a desktop and two laptops in my house and the three-license family pack seemed like a good bargain. Unfortunately, the store was out. The box was for display only.

So a week or so later I checked online and it said the store in my area had the family packs back in stock. I thought that’s fine, I’ll just go down Saturday and pick one up when I have time. So I went back over the weekend, picked up the display box, and waited for 15 minutes in line. When I got to the counter, the lady said they had sold out that morning. So why didn’t they remove all the display boxes from the shelf?

Anyway, I trudged back home and started an Internet search to see if I could find a copy in my area. The Best Buy site didn’t even list them anymore. I saw that another e-store had them in stock for $143 so I placed my order. About three days later I got an email stating that they were also out of stock and they had no idea when they would be getting any more in.

I looked on Microsoft’s Web site and finally found a page that said the offer had ended. Ended? I didn’t realize it was a special offer. I thought Microsoft had finally come to its senses and started offering what Apple does with its operating system: A multi-user license at a discount price. I should have known better I guess.

Even on eBay, the cheapest I could find the family pack was about $225 and I was not going to spend that much. I wanted Windows 7, but if it meant settling for just a copy for my desktop, that’s the way it would have to be. So I found a new one on eBay for $84 and I ordered it.

A few days later it came in the mail. I installed it that evening. It took more than two hours for it to install. But first I had to uninstall several game programs from my HP games collection. They were interfering with the install. I didn’t mind; I don’t play games on the computer anyway.

After it installed, it wanted me to configure some options, which was difficult because my wireless mouse didn’t work. The wireless keyboard worked fine, but not the mouse. I rebooted after the options were finally entered and the mouse still didn’t work for a second or two, then it started. I was relieved.

But Windows 7 so far hasn’t been the panacea I had hoped for. I was having problems with Vista. I use the Media Share feature so I can listen to music on my AT&T U-verse television in my bedroom and I also use it to look at photos from my computer on the widescreen TV. But the photo function always caused an error message on the TV and the music would stop every so often to buffer itself.

But at least it was working somewhat. I spent two days on the phone with Microsoft technical support a few months ago. I couldn’t get it to work at all. The technician finally uploaded a patch to my registry that worked, but according to Windows Media Player 11, there was still an error somewhere.

I thought Windows 7 might fix it. But, even though I no longer get error messages when viewing photos, the pictures show up very tiny on the TV screen. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another. And the music still has to pause to buffer, so that wasn’t fixed at all.

I will have to get used to the new taskbar layout. I guess it is ok. I did have to take the time to re-pin all my favorite programs to the start menu. And Windows Media Player isn’t exactly intuitive when you have to configure it to do anything other than play a music file, but the old version wasn’t any better.

The main problem with Windows, any Windows, is that it has not reached the level of user friendliness that makes it workable for everybody. I have been using computers at home for more than 30 years. I started with the TRS-80. So I know a little about computers and software. If I were computer illiterate or a novice, I might never have been able to configure Media Share to work on Windows 7 at all. My U-verse unit wouldn’t recognize the computer as being online until I decided to eliminate my connection to a Home Group, which I didn’t need anyway because it apparently allows easier media connections among all your computers that use Windows 7. And since I was too late to buy a family pack, only one of my computers got the upgrade.

Windows 7 might be better than Vista. I’ll find out soon enough. But Microsoft still seems to be a long way from a truly “plug-n-play” operating system. It would be nice if they could figure out how to build an operating system that could automatically recognize any problem and fix it without any user intervention. You could plug in any device and it would automatically find the right driver, and if none existed, it would somehow work anyway using some currently-mythological universal driver that could make anything run even if not optimally. The best operating system is one that you could talk to in regular English and it would understand what you wanted it to do. But, alas, that kind of operating system is probably decades away.