Sunday, March 25, 2007

"Mind" -> I'm Ticked


I had an interesting conversation with an atheist tonight on Richard Dawkins. He was trying to tell me that Dawkins wasn't all that bad of a person.

The subject, under discussion, was a quote from "The Root Of All Evil" a documentary type piece that features Richard Dawkins.

As mentioned previously in my blog, in this documentary, Dawkins talks to disgraced Pastor Ted Haggard. What grabs me is how he compares Haggard's church service to something. What is that something?

Here are his exact words, as best I could capture Dawkins:

Well it is certainly very effective, what you do. I mean, It seems to have all the arts, I was almost reminded, forgive me, of the Nuremberg rallies. Such incredibly..Dr. Goebbels would be proud.


Now mind you. Dawkins is saying that Goebells would be proud. This is Goebells as in the architect of Nazi propaganda and one of the most evil men that ever lived. But perhaps your aren't familiar with Goebells. What did Goebells do?

A nice short quote from Wikipedia:

He was one of Adolf Hitler's closest associates and most devout followers. Goebbels was known for his zealous and energetic oratory, virulent anti-Semitism, and perfection of the so-called Big Lie technique of mass propaganda.

Goebbels earned a doctorate of philosophy from Heidelberg University in 1921, on the basis of a doctoral thesis on 18th century romantic drama; he then went on to work as a journalist and later a bank clerk and caller on the stock exchange. He also wrote novels and plays, but they were refused by publishers. Goebbels came into contact with the Nazi Party in 1923 during the French occupation of the Ruhr and became a member in 1924. He was appointed Gauleiter (regional party leader) of Berlin. In this position, he put his propaganda skills to full use, combating the local socialist and communist parties with the help of Nazi papers and the paramilitary SA. By 1928 he had risen in the party ranks to become one of its most prominent members.

After the Nazis seized power in 1933, he was appointed propaganda minister. One of his first acts was to order the burning of books by Jewish or anti-Nazi authors at Bebelplatz and he proceeded to gain full control of every outlet of information in Germany. Following his appointment, his attacks on German Jews became ever fiercer and culminated in the Kristallnacht in 1938, the first open and unrestrained pogrom unleashed by the Nazis.


How anybody could defend Dawkins and his talk of Goebbels, is completely beyond me.

The title of the "documentary" should tip you off. In the film, Dawkins basically states that religion is the root of all evil.

"Spirit and Mind" -> The Last Banquet

From Atheist.org:

The follow-up study reported in "Nature" reveals that the rate of belief is lower than eight decades ago. The latest survey involved 517 members of the National Academy of Sciences; half replied. When queried about belief in "personal god," only 7% responded in the affirmative...

I think that I've written about this before. Evidently there is a battle between religion and science because if you are a bright scientist, you will find only a 7% chance of believing in God. The real question is "why is this?" The second question is "what does the Bible say about this?"

When you are smart, you run the risk of knowing it all. You are superior to the other people. You are strong, and they are weak. The Bible warns us that when we are a "know it all," God will not speak to us. The more that we are rebellious and self assured, the more that we become a god in our own mind. Thus we are told in the Bible:

1 Peter 5:5 "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

As I reflect on the words of the gospel. I start with a song by Daniel Amos:

Banquet at the World's End


The beautiful people, all send their excuses:
(Real estate and sex lives, livestock and ex-wives)

But the poor are coming, the lame are running
In their sleazy clothes and orthopedic shoes
There's a harelip spokesman shouting out the news

"Come to the banquet at the world's end!"

There's a string ensemble, and the King's court jester
Telling parables and big jokes, to mongoloids and old folks

The blind are seeing, the dead are breathing
And the mummies dance in geriatric style
The amputees are rolling down the aisles

"Come to the banquet at the world's end!"

Candlelight and party hats, duck and pheasant under glass
Aluminum walkers, thin white canes, caviar and pink champagne
The bride and the groom waltz on
Club foot lane at the banquet at the world's end
The banquet at the world's end
The banquet at the world's end

Say the beautiful people (the poor are coming)
"We'll live with the lights out (the lame are running)
Leave us alone now because (the blind are seeing)
Hell feels like home now" (the dead are breathing)

Meanwhile...

But the poor are coming, the lame are running
In their sleazy clothes and orthopedic shoes
There's a harelip spokesman shouting out the news

"Come to the banquet at the world's end!"
"Come to the banquet at the world's end!"
"Come to the banquet at the world's end!"

What is the above? A dumb song that never got much play during the early nineties. And yet, in this stupid song that is weird in composition, I get shivers up my spine. There is something that God hates in those that call themselves wise and smart. Those that think that they are better.

The whole of gospel is the idea that God, through Christ, calls to those "In their sleazy clothes and orthopedic shoes." The idea is that the Lord wants those that obey. He does not want those that "really, really smart or really, really rich." Every movie producer knows that the audience pulls for the underdog. In the Bible, God pulls for the underdog. And those that have it all? They get ignored.

The appeal of the gospel is to put the fine theory and thought behind you and simply taste and see.

Mind you, I don't think that this means that we are to get all emotional and caught up in any stupid idea. I have seen this turned to the opposite extreme. I have seen some that have stated that they will just have blind faith. Blind faith is just as stupid. The point is not to have blind faith. We are not called to be stupid or put rationale thought behind us.

The point is to try it out.

It was as if we were standing outside a banquet hall. You and I are starving. A man comes to you and I. He says that there is food inside, and all we need to do is come and eat.

Now, if you were my friend and an atheist, or a disbeliever, you may say, "I'm not sure that there is a banquet. I have been doing a lot of research on this, and I've heard that a lot of people that have been offered banquets find out that there really isn't a banquet. As a matter of fact, I've heard that believing in a banquet often causes people to kill each other. As a matter of fact, evolution has proven that we have created banquets to make up for the fact that we are hungry."

You can say this all you want. I am going to walk into the hall and try out the food. Don't stand outside.

Just try it.

Luke 14:

"A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' "Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.' "Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.' The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame." 'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.' "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

"Mind" -> Intellectually Honest?

Recently in a conversation that I had with an atheist, he stated that there wasn't enough proof for God. It would "intellectually dishonest" for him to believe in God because of this lack of evidence.

However, what would be enough proof for an atheist?

What would I need to do to prove that God exists? If I performed a "honest to God" miracle in front of him, would this be "proof enough" and would he convert? If I did several, and he couldn't figure it out by means of instruments, would he say, "well there is a God" or would his world view cause him to say, "Theo is a sly devil, and a good fooler."

We all know that it would be the latter.

This is one of the reasons why the story of Jesus rings so true. The stories told in the gospel seem to mirror how we know people would react. Some will believe and some will doubt. Even in the light of evidence.

The human race seems to be wired to ignore what they don't want to hear. This is true for Christians and well as atheists. The point on this is not to say "well the atheist is an easy fool." The point is to say, "we are all easy to fool."

If you are a Christian and if you have no doubt, then you have no faith. And without faith it is impossible to please God. Christian that say they have no doubt are contradicting the Word of God, and they are self-delusional. As a follower of Christ, God knows that we are made to have doubts.

Do not hide from your doubts. Be honest and admit them. Then overcome them.

Now, we must really ask ourselves: What does it mean to be intellectually honest?

I see it as follows:

1. Honesty is pursuing data, and be willing to have your mind changed about anything
2. Then acting on this data, no matter where this path leads you.

Now, what keeps humans from being intellectually honest? I believe, in 9 out of 10 times, it have lack of discipline in doing research and in follow-up on what you find.

a. You have to seek for the truth
b. You have to act on it

Example: If we are overweight, which we know is bad for us, we need to not only say "I need to eat less" but also actually stop eating so much.

Example: If we want to live more productive and secure lives, we need to do things like saving and working out.

Example: If we find out their is no God, then we need to leave our old religion behind.

Example: If we want to live longer and healthier, we need to research the data on nutrition, and follow up on what we learn.

Let's us look at the last example more in depth:

For a number of years, I have been following nutrition. In college, I would sneak down to the University of Washington medical library and read the journals. One epidemiological study that grabbed my attention was by the Clinical Journal of Nutrition in 1996. They found out that populations that took Vitamin E and Vitamin C would drop their chance of dying by 44%. (Interestingly, a multiple vitamin does not seem to help.) The more you'll research the combination of C&E (dirt cheap at any Walmart), the more you'll see overwhelming evidence. This evidence has been around for years, and only grows with time.

Did you know that C&E can lower your rates of Alzheimer's desease?

Epidemiological studies in Cache county, Utah, show that taking Vitamin C and Vitamin E will drop you chances of getting Alzheimer's by some thing like 40-60% (I saw a lecture on this, and I can't remember the exact number.)

The other substance of great research is Omega-3.

If you cruise Pubmed on Omega-3, the beneficial effects are just like science fiction. It lowers depression, whacks your triglycerides, and looks to stop dysfunctional behavior in prison populations.

The fact is that by taking a few pills you can do wonders for your life.

But:

1. Why don't people do this?
2. Why doesn't the press talk about this?
3. Why don't people research the evidence for themselves?

I will tell people about how good vitamins are. I will give them links to what is an overwhelming amount of evidence. And while some respond, most simply ignore the evidence. What is interesting to me is that I do have some that do respond. How do they respond? They go to Walmart and buy a bottle because I told them to buy a bottle. They start taking Omega-3 because they trust me.

None of them seem to dig in the evidence to explore the data for themselves. It drives me a bit crazy.

Worse than this, recently the newspapers reported that antioxidents could be bad for you.

My friend see one headline, and they are now wondering if they should be taking antioxidents at all. (The newspapers basically left out that the evidence for taking C&E in combination seems to have overwhelming evidence for a positive impact to quantity and quality of life. Taking E by itself, for example, increases Alzheimer's, which has been know for a while.)

If people can't believe in Pubmed and do a little bit of research on how to improve the quality of their life, why should I expect that they are willing to look at eternal life?

Now, how does this relate to Christianity?

Once you understand that we can be fooled as Christians or as atheists, we must ask ourselves about Pascal's wager. I have covered this before, but I will recap here:

Since both the Christian and the non-Christian agree that the truth is found after death...

1. If the atheist is correct, then both the Christian and the atheist are on the same ground. Nothing more exists.

2. If the Christian is correct, no matter how "unlikely", then atheist is in very big problems.

I am not surprised that we don't have real Christians in this life.

If I can't get my friends to do the research on Pubmed for them to gain hour upon hour of productive lifespan, I understand why it is difficult to get them to think about eternal life, where the study is harder but the impact is bigger.

I don't believe that most people--Christian or Atheist--are intellectually honest. In conversation with my friends, I use the above "vitamin test" to see if they are willing to act on fact. My thought is that if you are intellectually honest in small things, you will be intellectually honest in big things.

However, you may be a vitamin taking atheist that has studied Pubmed. In this case, I commend you for your convictions. Then I would ask

a. Are you saving $100 per month so that you can be a millionaire in 45 years?

b. Are you working out 3-4 times per week with weights and running to maintain mental acuity and push out sarcopenia?

If you are apply intellectual honesty to all aspects of your life (vitamin taking, saving for the future, physical activity) then I respect you tremendously.

I would then simply challenge God to show himself. If he doesn't, let me know. I'll have a talk with him.

While unfair because it is inductive logic, it has been my experience that the "intellectual honesty" argument is only used on things that we want to dismiss. It is not used as an effective principle that we allow to infuse into all areas of our life.

If you are intellectually honest, I believe that you will arrive at the following:

There is little to no downside in becoming a Christian:

1. You spend time learning the Bible, which may be a bit of a waste of time, but it is agreed to be a great piece of literature by everyone.

2. You spend time in prayer, which seems to lower stress

3. It would appear that you gain happiness

4. You give alms to the poor.

5. You forgive others.

Now, everybody can point to one example of "an awful Christian. However, when people bring this up, I think of the one headline on "vitamins being bad." The fact is that for most people, Christianity leads to at least neutral if not better behavior.

Therefore, you have everything to gain, and nothing to lose.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"Body" -> How To Make It Out of Narita

Somebody in my family is going to Tokyo, and hearing their instructions, I decided I needed to help them a bit. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a travelogue to help you navigate your way through Narita onto the trains.

The Japanese train system is a marvel. It is the one thing you must try if you go to Japan. However, the first time can be confusing. Just follow the pictures, and the confusion won't be too bad.

Let's say you just have landed at Narita, like my two friends here.









Exit the plane.

The airport has lots of glass. I like it.




Walk a long ways and keep your eyes open for the sign with a bag on it. You want to go there to collect your bags. Even if you only take carry on, like me, you'll still need to go this way.









You don't have to walk on the moving sidewalk. After flying for 8-9 hours, I like to walk. But if you go onto the moving sidewalk, make sure to stand to the side if you don't walk on it. There is a walker and a standing side.















After walking a while, you will normally come to an escalator. This takes you to another level. On this level you will need to go through passport control.








You'll need to get into the long line for passport control. Normally, the airline will have given you a landing card before landing. You will need to read it carefully and fill it out. They will take one half, and staple the other half to your passport. They collect this other half on the way out. If you lost your card, don't worry, you can get another one before passport control while in the line.

Make sure you have the address of the place you are going to stay at. You need to put this on your boarding card for entry into Japan.

Sorry, no pictures of passport control.



After you are through passport control, there is an escalator that takes you downstairs. As you go down, you can see the baggage claim info. If you have bags, pick them up here.















See the escalator? That at the top is passport control, and this is what you just came down. After you get your bags, at the bottom is also customs.

Normally, they don't search your bags too often if you don't declare anything. And they will just wave you through.



Go through customs and through the sliding doors.







It can be pretty busy on the other side of the sliding doors.










Once into the main terminal, you will normally see places to buy bus tickets.

Here is the tickets for the buses. The buses are nice if you want to see the traffic into Tokyo. But they are very slow, you will get stuck in traffic. You are better if you can take the Narita Express.

To get to the express go down one floor. However, if you need to exchange money, do it on this floor. I suggest always having $100, because the taxis don't take credit cards!


Go down one floor. Sorry, I don't have a picture.




See the red in the distance. This is down one floor, and that counter is the train tickets. Normally, you can simply say 2 tickets Narita Express to Tokyo. Give them your American Express.


Walk past the counter once you are done.








In a very few steps, you'll see another escalator down.


Go down one more floor to the Express. You can see the signs are very clear.















This is my ticket.















See the red circle. I am in the 3 car. 14th seat. In row A.

When the train comes, you will see Narita express sign show up on the overheads.









Sorry, this isn't a picture of Narita, because I didn't have one. This is a picture of Shinjuku, but you can get the idea.

Downstairs in Narita, you will find a bunch of signs in LEDs. If you click on the picture, you will see the 11:42 LED signs has an airplane on it. The Narita express always shows an airplane. So, always look for the airplane.

The board will change from Japanese and then the English descriptions. One train comes after another, and they are never late and never early.








Get into your comfortable seat. In a little over an hour, you will be there!

At the end of the car, no picture, you will see and LED map that will show your progress on the trip. If you are traveling during the daytime, you'll see some farm land on the way. When you hit buildings, you are just starting into Tokyo. Tokyo central is maybe the second stop. Look at the LED signs over the exit door to make sure.

I hope that even if you aren't in my family, but stumbled across this while looking for stuff on Narita, that you'll find this helpful. Write me a comment if you like it!

Japan is a magical place.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

"Mind and Spirit" -> Does Religion Evolve

Man, do I like Scotty Atran.

I totally disagree with him, but at least he is thinking.

On the other hand, when I see Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, I wonder why anybody would read their interpretation of culture. (Dawkins and Harris are often put together with Daniel Dennett to be called the unholy trinity of evolution.) Mind you, Harris is hardly qualified to give comments, and I have no idea how he ever got noticed. Dennett has a massive mind, and should not be dismissed. Dawkins, well, Dawkins is just so Dawkinish. The man is not stupid in his field, but simply willing to bury his head in the sand when it comes to the observation of religion.

Atran is an atheist, but he is a thinking atheist. In one sense, this makes him the most dangerous person to my faith since he thinks so well. However, on the other hand, he has the most to offer me (and us) in observations. At least Atran isn't afraid to examine religion for what it is.

Recently, The New York Times ran a fascinating article on Atran and others like him.

A short snippet:

...sometimes he [Atran] presents students with a wooden box that he pretends is an African relic. “If you have negative sentiments toward religion,” he tells them, “the box will destroy whatever you put inside it.” Many of his students say they doubt the existence of God, but in this demonstration they act as if they believe in something. Put your pencil into the magic box, he tells them, and the nonbelievers do so blithely. Put in your driver’s license, he says, and most do, but only after significant hesitation. And when he tells them to put in their hands, few will.

The point is obvious. Even those that say "I have no religion" have fears of religion. I have spent a little time talking to atheists, and what always amazes me is the number of atheists that are so bitter toward God or have the desire to run others faith. This is the wooden box all over again.

I believe that they have a fear that they are damned and going to hell. Therefore, they have a desire to get others into the boat with them. After all, this is human behavior. If I am going to suffer, I want everybody else to suffer with me. Really, if you don't believe in Santa Claus, do you really spend a lot of time trying to prove to others that he doesn't exist? No, you simply walk away.

Atran has gone on to speculate that perhaps religion is an evolutionary trait that is actually required for human species. With his Ph.D. in Anthropology, he fully understands that all cultures at all times have religious artifacts. There have been a few cultures where religions was put to the side. Again, in the article he states:

“I started looking at history, and I wondered why no society ever survived more than three generations without a religious foundation as its raison d’ĂȘtre,” he says.

Three generations is not a long time. Sounds a little bit like the Genesis 20:4-6

4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

I suppose that even the sin of atheism cannot stay fresh for more than 4 generations before God moves in. (And to derail this post a bit, notice that goodness is visited for 1000 generations, but sin is only allows for 3 to 4 generations. This is not to say that a child should be punished for the sins of their fathers. This is to suggest that God is a God that redeems and will break the cycle.)

According to those that are studying religion, we are somehow wired for God. They try and figure out why this happens. Again, another quote from the article based on the fact of young children have an almost eerie sense of God, based on profiling experiments that are done with them.

The bottom line, according to byproduct theorists, is that children are born with a tendency to believe in omniscience, invisible minds, immaterial souls — and then they grow up in cultures that fill their minds, hard-wired for belief, with specifics. It is a little like language acquisition, Paul Bloom says, with the essential difference that language is a biological adaptation and religion, in his view, is not. We are born with an innate facility for language but the specific language we learn depends on the environment in which we are raised. In much the same way, he says, we are born with an innate tendency for belief, but the specifics of what we grow up believing — whether there is one God or many, whether the soul goes to heaven or occupies another animal after death — are culturally shaped.

They believe that man has evolved this belief in God, and it is a central part of how we were formed.

I have a simpler explanation for why young children seem to understand God so well.

God made it that way.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

"Mind" -> Can We See Stock Disaster?

It is very hard to get an adequate return from putting your money into a bank account or into a CD. Why aren't you in the stock market? Probably because you heard that it is risky. Maybe you've been watching the stock market melt down for the last couple of days, and you are insisting that you're really glad that you aren't in the market.

Although, I don't suggest driving while looking in the rear view mirror, I do think that being ignorant of history is being doomed to repeat it. So, perhaps, we should look at the stock market over time.

I want you to click on the first picture in this chart. This is the S&P 500. What is the S&P 500? Well, this is a longer story that our short post tonight, but you can just think of the S&P as 500 leading companies. And the S&P 500 is just these 500 companies stock value, for the last 60 or so years. We put these companies into an "index" then we watch them.

You can see that this index, when looked at from the aspect of time, does nothing but go up. Again, if you start putting away $200 per month when you are 20 years old, by the time you are 65, you will have $1,000,000 dollars if the trend continues. (You should count on about 7-8% CAGR out of the S&P 500 index unless you can get a handle on a couple trends.)

Why am I talking about the S&P 500? Because the vast majority of money managers can't do as well as the S&P 500. Generally, over time, the S&P 500 out performs 70% of professional money managers. If you only had one thing to buy, a special "summary stock" called an index fund, which was basically made up of the S&P 500, would be the best thing to get. A common way of getting these types of stock is called buying a "spider" which is traded under SPY on the AMEX, and you can buy it through any broker.

However, if you buy the SPY, you still have the problem of the market crashing. And the S&P did take a hit this week.

However, this wasn't the big crash. The last big crash started to happen around 2000. Can we spot when we are getting into trouble? Could we see trouble in 2000?

Now, there are some people that just trade on trends. These people are called "technical traders." I don't believe on trading just on the trends, but I do believe that we can see "big trends" in the market. I believe we could have seen trouble in 2000.

If you simply draw a straight line on the S&P 500, you can see that something "unnatural" was happening in the mid 1990's. The 70's were a horrible time, and the market had no reason to perform well. However, the 80's recovered, and the 90's were doing well. However, the line simply just became too steep at the end of the 90's. If you look at the chart it is very clear. A bubble is forming.

I remember this time well, and some of the people at my work were saying that the market just seemed a little out of control. Some people were talking about "the new economy." For myself? I was busy just trying to buy the most expensive piece of land that I could, and this was consuming me. Therefore, I didn't have a lot in the stock market.

Here is the percentage that the market changed from year to year:

2005 3.01 up
2004 9.00 up
2003 26.39 up
2002 -23.37 down
2001 -13.04 down
2000 -10.14 down
1999 19.51 up
1998 26.67 up
1997 31.02 up
1996 20.27 up
1995 34.11 up

So, if you look at the data, we can see that the market was taking off like a rocket from 1995 to 2000. it should be a surprise to absolutely nobody that the market couldn't continue to grow at 20-30% growth per year. Interestingly, Warren Buffet said that it couldn't. He was right.

Now, here is the interesting thing. At such a long strong pull upwards, many people didn't get out of the market when it started down in 2000. As a matter of fact, the market had its worst year in 2002.

Now, let us take a look at the recent change from 2002. The last crash that has come puts us back onto the local line that has been established from the recovery from 2003.

Yes, the market has seen a correction, but there is nothing "extraordinary" to suggest that the market is going to go into another extended down turn as from 2000. As a matter of fact, once the correction is over (down turns are called corrections), we should see another good opportunity to buy back into the market. The crash of this week really wasn't a happy time for many people, but go back a year, and you still would have made 7-8% on your money, which is better than putting it into a bank.

In a future post, we'll talk about how things call "options" can help to mitigate some of that risk.