Why are there lightning rods on churches?

There’s a phrase that never fails to piss me off and trigger an episode of violent facepalming.

If God exists, why are there lightning rods on churches?”

Because this world is not ruled by God, but by Satan (Matthew 4:8; John 12:31, 14:40, 15:11), because belonging to the church that celebrates the true God puts you under all kinds of hazards due to Satan’s vitriolic hatred of him (John 15:20, 16:2; Matthew 10:16-25) and his Church (1 Peter 5:8), and because Jesus himself made moves to protect his students against Satan’s wrath (John 17:15), so following his general advice is very wise, because the prince of this world would like nothing better than to have the Church carelessly tempting God (Matthew 4:5-7).

Christians don’t believe that believing in the true God is a “get out of jail free” ticket, something that can allow you to break the natural laws because you have divine protection. They actually believe that being faithful to Christ is closer to a death sentence than a protective shield in this world, but without accepting the possibility of martyrdom they are not really following Jesus. However, they are also advised not to tempt fate carelessly by doing things against natural laws that are likely to result in harm, and are especially advised against thinking that they are protected by God because they are his chosen people, because, as John the Baptist said, God can take a piece of rock and turn it into his chosen people if he so wishes (Matthew 3:9). If God allowed Jesus to be slandered, ridiculed, spat on, flogged and crucified, and his disciples and apostles persecuted, tortured and murdered, why would he prevent lightning from hitting a church building? God’s existence doesn’t preclude the existence of evil in this world, because this world is ruled by God’s sworn enemy. If God could use his power to vanquish evil this world wouldn’t even exist, and how it was allowed to exist in the first place and fall under the domain of Satan is a mystery. Instead, God can only provide an alternative to this world, and he can point to it, show the way. Salvation of the soul does not mean immunity to physical harm; in fact, it usually invites physical harm.

So yeah, I’m not a Christian and I know all this. And atheists pride themselves with being smart? My-oh-my.

Addressing the recurring Planet X doomsday theories

My younger kid is playing with an astrophysical simulation called “Universe Sandbox 2”. Of course, he’s using it in his own way, which is to crash things spectacularly, but it made me want to try some ideas of my own.

First of all, I must say I’m very impressed with this software, since the n-body physics seems to work very accurately. That this kind of software is available outside of NASA, ESA and other space agencies’ supercomputers and can be used by the general public is outstanding.

What I wanted to test were two things. First, how sensitive the solar system is to modifiers; essentially, if you add something significant, does all hell instantly break loose, and second, I wanted to test the Nemesis hypothesis, basically I wanted to test what would happen to the solar system if I added a red dwarf star outside the Kuiper belt, to see if we would get a radically different state of the solar system, which would preclude the Nemesis hypothesis, or if the state would remain more-less as it is, making the hypothesis viable.

You see, every other day we get those “sky is falling” characters rambling about how there’s a Nubiru planet X on the outskirts of the solar system and how it’s going to wreak havoc on the inner solar system and usher the Apocalypse. So I wanted to make it even more extreme and radical than their scenarios. I inserted a copy of Neptune between Mars and Jupiter, right outside the asteroid belt. My expectation was that a gas giant in this sensitive position is going to at least disrupt the orbits of Ceres and Vesta, if not the entire inner solar system.

Then I accelerated the simulation to 52 years per second and waited some 10000 years to see what happened.

This is the control, the inner solar system at year 11600:

normal solar system 11800 Universe Sandbox ² - 20160811-150007 UI

This is the solar system with a Neptune added between Mars and Jupiter, year 11800:

inner Neptune 11800 Universe Sandbox ² - 20160811-142210 UI

The four planets of the inner solar system are basically unchanged, except for the slight “tug” Mars experienced. Jupiter influences orbital eccentricity of the “inner Neptune” to some degree, but it appears to go back and forth. Everything else looks unchanged. Let’s go forth in time to year 15000:

inner Neptune 15600 Universe Sandbox ² - 20160811-144651 UI

No significant changes. Nothing collided, nothing had its orbit significantly disrupted, nothing fell into the Sun or was ejected from the solar system. Basically, business went on as usual for 13000 years of my simulation.

So, after I absorbed the shock of this, I set up another simulation – I placed the Wolf 359 red dwarf star on the outer rim of the Kuiper belt, 439 AU from the Sun. To make it clear how far that is: Pluto is at 29.8 AU, but Pluto is a relatively well behaved Kuiper belt object with low orbital eccentricity. Eris, for instance, has a perihelion of 37.6 AU, and aphelion of 97.6 AU. Sedna, the most eccentric of them all, has a perihelion of 76 AU, and aphelion of 860 AU. That is 119.2 light hours, or 0.0136 light years, or, in more scientific terms, it’s in the kingdom of far far away. 🙂

So, I placed a M-type star with 0.15 solar masses well within Sedna’s orbit and let things run.

Things started looking interesting at year 10000, when our red dwarf was about to cross Sedna’s path:

wolf 359 about to cross Sedna orbit Universe Sandbox ² - 20160811-134927 UI

Oh yeah, that’s going to be very bad. It sent Sedna right into the inner solar system, where it is going to wreak havoc.

wolf 359 disrupted Sedna Universe Sandbox ² - 20160811-134941 UI

That’s about the worst thing that could possibly have happened and very much along the lines of Nubiru-type doomsday prophecies.

wolf 359 sedna returning Universe Sandbox ² - 20160811-135003 UI

Year 11925, Sedna went through the inner solar system on the way in, passed around the Sun, went through the inner solar system on the way out, missed everything, and went out into the outer solar system, approaching the point where it encountered the Wolf, which more-less became its new aphelion. This process was repeated several times until the 18000s, when it had the misfortune of encountering the Wolf in the same place, and it was slingshot away from the solar system forever:

wolf 359 sedna slingshot Universe Sandbox ² - 20160811-135219 UI

I let the simulation run for a while, till the year 32751, and checked the state of the inner solar system:

wolf 359 inner solar system disruption 32751 Universe Sandbox ² - 20160811-140046 UI

Sedna’s rampage wasn’t without consequences. Venus was seriously disrupted, its orbital eccentricity is significantly changed and it now apparently intersects Earth’s orbit. I say “apparently” because this is an artifact of 2D projection; in 3D, they miss each other by quite a margin, due to the offset from the ecliptic plane.

“Wait a minute”, you’ll say. “You want to tell me that you turned the solar system into a binary star system, with Sun having a red dwarf companion in the outer Kuiper belt, that this star disrupted the orbit of a dwarf planet, flung it into the inner solar system, this repeated several times until the dwarf star finally kicked the dwarf planet out the solar system, and the result of all this knitting in-and-out through the inner solar system, after 30000 years of simulation, is that Venus had its orbit disrupted enough for us to have a very close look at it every now and then, but without other consequences? Nothing even collided?” Yup, you got it right. Nothing even collided. We just had the worst possible combination of the Nemesis hypothesis and Nubiru hypothesis, where a companion star flings a small planet into the inner solar system, and nothing even collided.

The solar system is so incredibly difficult to fuck up, you need to resort to completely extreme shit in order to do it, such as having a neutron star or a black hole traverse through it. In short, I heartily recommend the Universe Sandbox. You’ll never look at the “something big disrupted the Oort cloud and we are going to immediately all die” theories the same way. 🙂

On the other hand, this makes the Nemesis theory, of Sun having a dim stellar companion somewhere out there, completely plausible, as this possibility wouldn’t result in a solar system that was much different from what we know. It just has to be well outside Sedna’s orbit.

False dichotomies: religion

You know those atheists who assume that anyone who disagrees with them is a Christian? The guys who automatically respond to any legitimate criticism of their ideas with some stupid bullshit that makes no sense whatsoever unless it is aimed at someone who believes in Adam and Eve and Noah’s ark, and they don’t actually bother to make sure that the person they are talking to even belongs to that group, nor do they change their rhetoric when they find out that it’s not the case?

Yeah. It’s as if their brain has a “case” statement with only two options and unhandled exceptions. If you agree with him, he assumes you’re an atheist. If you disagree with him, he assumes you’re a Christian. If you tell him you’re not, his brain crashes due to an unhandled exception, but he never stops talking, it’s just that nothing that comes out of his mouth makes any sense whatsoever.

So, those people assume some kind of a dichotomy between science and Christianity, where you need to choose one and are not allowed to even touch the other. I see it differently.

First of all, opposition to atheism isn’t Christianity. Opposition to atheism is any form of transcendentalist thought. Atheism is a fringe belief, espoused by fanatics who arbitrarily reject any evidence they don’t like, in a way quite similar to that of the “Moon landing hoax” or “flat Earth” believers. I know that to be true, because I once was an atheist, but unlike them, I was honest enough not to reject the evidence I couldn’t shoehorn into my favorite model. Instead, I was tortured by the evidence I couldn’t explain and this drove my thinking further. I didn’t choose the easy way of cherry-picking evidence so that my pet theories look great. I had to deal with the stuff that broke my models. This hurts, but it’s a healthy kind of pain. The fact that I chose to suffer the pain of knowing that my theory doesn’t explain the real world well makes me despise people who opt to stone themselves into oblivion by simply dismissing everything they don’t like, choosing the euphoria of imagined omniscience and omnipotence in the face of all intellectual competition, obtained merely by dismissing every piece of evidence that brings them out of their euphoric state.

The false dichotomies we have here are creationism vs. evolution, science vs. transcendentalism, chaos and chance vs. the will of God.

Honestly, if the atheists who kidnap science and hold it hostage weren’t the crazy cult that they are, those issues would never arise. I don’t actually see the reason why those viewpoints would even be contrasted in the first place. It would be normal for science to be aware of the limitations of its scope and not to extend its conclusions beyond that, and it would also be normal for religion to listen to what science has to report on the world, this being a form of insight into both their scripture and their understanding of reality. For instance, the fact that we now know that there were ice ages not that long ago, and that this ice melted away for the most part, should be taken as a confirmation of the general concept of the story about Noah. Mankind was almost swept away by the meltwater, but managed to survive, albeit with losses, and rebuild its civilizations. Of course the story itself is a myth; it was probably told, retold, changed and adapted for thousands of years and throughout dozens of successive civilizations, until only traces of the actual story remained, but something remained, and it’s our only semi-historic recollection of the onset of the current glacial minimum. It’s probably the oldest memory of mankind. And why is it a false dichotomy, because “science” for the most part argued against the story by pointing out that it would be unlikely for the situation on Earth to change radically and it’s more likely to assume that things just were this way forever. Also, the scientists pointed out that it would be impossible for all that water just to appear “out of nowhere”. Really? Are you fucking kidding me? But yes, the science up until recently didn’t know shit about the ice ages and the Bible was actually the better version of history, for all its flaws. At least it remembered there being a big flood. That’s what I meant by saying that religion should listen carefully at what science has to say and how it casts new light onto their scripture, because science can tell them what that flood was: the ice age ended and the ice melted. It happened suddenly and violently, according to newest findings, and if we use our imagination to visualize what must have happened to the humans who lived at that time, it becomes obvious that it was a memorable event for the survivors, and a mystery that required some explanation. People tried to make sense of it – oh, God got angry at humans because they grew wicked and corrupt, and he regretted ever creating them and decided to drown them all in water, save few who for some reason were more acceptable to him. Will that happen again? No, God decided not to repeat that. So, no fear.

So, obviously, I can appreciate that the Bible got the main concept right, but that science is the way of gradually getting the more complete version of the story. Why is that so difficult for some people to accept? The atheists hate the Bible so much they refuse to accept that it could have a better version of the story than the early science, and the religious Christians refuse to interpret their scripture as anything but the literal truth. From my perspective, that marginalizes both groups and makes them unfit to accept the truth.

The next issue is the age of the Universe. Science dates the Earth to some 4.5 BY, and the Universe to around 14 BY. The fundamentalist Christians who derive their ideas from the Bible put those numbers between 6 and 10 KY.

The thing is, science can’t actually tell us jack shit about the actual age of the Universe, because it simply assumes that the Universe is real (as I would say, reality level 0), and that by observing the physical phenomena such as the Doppler effect on the increasingly distant cosmic objects and the radioactive decay of isotopes, we can find out how long it took for the rocks on Earth to reach their current isotope composition, how long it took for the stars of high metallicity to form and evolve, and basically we can turn the mental clock backwards and calculate a point in time where all the matter in the Universe must have originated from one point. The problem with this logic is that if this entire Universe is a simulation, similar in kind but more sophisticated in implementation than our best videogames, we can’t really know for how long the thing existed before we plugged in. For all we know, it could have really been turned on a few kiloyears ago when the first souls accepted Satan’s offer and entered the simulation. The simulation could have appeared exactly like a Universe that was 13 BY old, with population 1 stars, isotope composition typical for a 4.5 BY old planet, and with fossil remnants of extinct plants and animals, but we have that in modern video games. In fact, I recently finished playing Witcher 3, and in the game I actually traveled between several parallel worlds with different histories and lifeforms. Tell me, how old are those worlds? They appear to have at least thousands of years of history embedded in them, ancient ruins, all kinds of life that appears to have naturally evolved, artifacts of erosion, some life that plane-shifted during the conjunction of the spheres, but really, how old is the world in Witcher 3? Thousands of years, millions or billions of years? Or did it just come into existence in 2015 and it’s a completely “young Earth”?

“Young Earth” is not a stupid theory at all. It’s only stupid if you assume that this world is the reality, and this assumption has less evidence for it than against it, since people who are reanimated from near-death consistently report waking up in a higher-reality world. If that is a higher-reality world, and this is a lower-reality world, there’s another word for “lower reality”. It’s “illusion”. And if it’s an illusion, it’s obvious that it can be as old as the memories of the first observer who joined with it. Before that point, its entire “history” could have been just something that some computer was left to iterate until it came up with a law-set that produces the desired conditions for the simulation, which explains the incredibly tightly fine-tuned fundamental constants. The explanation that someone let the computer run the simulation and tweaked the parameters until it got the desired results is actually the most parsimonic one, because everything else requires such crazy leaps of imagination it all becomes ridiculous. There are some aspects of this Universe and Earth in particular that look so incredibly unlikely, and their absence would result in us not be here to talk about it, the simulation theory actually became my favorite a few years ago, because the probabilities within the alternative explanations are utterly insane. I talked about this a bit in other articles, but mostly in Croatian so I’ll probably go through it again in English at some point, but I digress.

The craziest thing is, science can’t disprove any of it. Science can tell you a great deal about the ratio of isotopes of Potassium and Argon in rocks, but it can’t tell you whether the Universe itself is real or simulated. Paradoxically, the only way to tell is to see if one can plug in and out, and if so, ask them what happened. That’s exactly what happens in case of saints who had mystical experiences of unplugging from the simulation and into reality of higher order, and in case of dead people who were medically resurrected. None of what they tell us makes any sense if we assume that this world is the reality, level zero. However, if we accept the possibility of it all being an artifact that runs on some super-advanced computer, such as we ourselves could conceivably make in a few decades or centuries, it all makes perfect sense. It’s not weird, nor contradictory, nor impossible. In fact, it’s what you would expect to happen. The miracles, too, start making sense, because if it’s a simulation, and someone can get in touch with the higher reality, it’s conceivable that he could tweak the simulation, or ask someone in the higher reality, with the adequate level of access, to tweak the simulation. Pause gameplay. Lookup character Lazarus, timestamp t–6 hours. Delete current state of the character, insert snapshot in its place, re-interface soul with the playable character. Resume gameplay. Voila, raising the dead. Walking on water, even simpler. Detect water surface position, modify substance behavior to allow playable character to walk on it. Voila, miracle, walking on water. And the trick is, Jesus actually said that’s how he did it. He didn’t say he’s doing it, he said he asked God to do it for him.

If we look at it this way, some religions suddenly make much more sense than all the science in the world, because science can explain how the simulation works, and that’s not very useful. It’s much more useful to know the purpose of the simulation, the purpose of our presence within it, and the conditions under which we can leave. And about those things science can’t tell us jack shit. The only way to learn those things is to ask someone who is in the position to know them. And that’s not called science, it’s called revelation.

And yeah, talking snake. Stupid story, eh? But if you combine that with another narrative from the same place and from the similar historical period, that of the Yazidi sect, and it’s very likely that they are both surviving fragments of something, and you realize that the “Peacock angel” who is basically the person in charge of this world, but is a very questionable individual, might very well be the “talking snake” from the garden of Eden. The story then might sound like this: the “garden of Eden” isn’t really in this world, it’s in the world nearly-dead people wake up to when they pass through a “tunnel” between realities, basically unplugging from the simulation. The “snake”, a disreputable dodgy character, tempted the souls and offered them a better way of spiritually evolving, to “be like Gods”, to know the difference between good and evil. There was no “apple”, the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is some kind of a metaphor for some kind of an experience, and let me guess what that might be: plugging into some kind of a virtual reality, very immersive, with very strange rules. This place. And then God saw what happened, and declared that we are oh so fucked now. God didn’t throw us out of Eden – we opted out of it by listening to the “Peacock angel”, the “snake”. And the role of Jesus makes sense from that perspective, too – God figured out a way to redeem those who were trapped here, because the ruleset is such that you apparently can’t live here without breaking some rule or another that puts you more deeply into “Peacock angel’s” power. What Jesus might have done is bought a deep level of privilege on the system with his sacrifice, and this allows him to reset all obligations to the system-owner, of all souls who accept his authority over themselves. Basically, yes, you can say that you accept salvation by the sacrifice of Christ, and the otherwise untouchable infinite loop of obligations to the world and its owner ends.

So none of it is even remotely stupid if you look at it this way. In fact, looking at it this way science seems kinda silly, like those geeks who study lightsaber combat forms from Star Wars, and can tell you all about the differences between Ataru and Djem-So, or people who can tell you the entire genealogy of Numenorean kings from Ar-Pharazôn to Aragorn II Elessar. Yes, it can all be studied, and scientific methodology can be consistently applied to all of it, but that doesn’t mean any of it is real, in the ultimate meaning of it not existing only in some book, movie, someone’s head or a computer.

False dichotomies: racism

There is an interesting type of a logical error, called ad hominem. I say “interesting” because it’s frequently misunderstood. Let me demonstrate.

A: The fundamental constants of the Universe appear to be finely tuned, because any variance would preclude the existence of the kind of Universe that would make our existence possible. Since this is too unlikely to be the result of chance, the explanation that the Universe was deliberately created with those properties and with a goal of producing us, is actually the most probable one.

B: This is all religious bullshit, you believe in a talking snake and therefore nothing you say should be taken seriously.

This is argumentum ad hominem, a logical fallacy that attempts to refute the argument by attacking the person that makes the argument. Since credibility of the person making the argument is irrelevant (if a known criminal says that 2+2=4, this is not false), the argument stands. But let me show a different example.

A1: There can’t be a space station in orbit because the Earth is flat.

B1: You can take an amateur telescope and observe the space station in orbit. You can also use a parabolic satellite antenna to narrowly constrain the position of telecommunication satellites in orbit.

A2: That doesn’t prove anything.

B2: You’re an idiot and further discussion with you is pointless.

This is not argumentum ad hominem, because it isn’t an argument, it’s the conclusion based on the displayed properties of the other party. If instead of B1 one immediately wrote B2, it would be ad hominem. However, since A1 was refuted by B1, this essentially concludes the argumentation loop – an argument was offered and it was decisively refuted. Since A doesn’t concede this, B2 is no longer an attempt to disprove A’s argument (because none remains), it is a conclusion about the state of affairs and is perfectly legitimate. For instance, if a person desires admittance into MENSA, is rejected because his IQ is tested to be 80, and someone tells him he’s too fucking stupid to join, that’s not ad hominem. That’s a legitimate conclusion that was expressed in a way he might find unpleasant, but is valid nevertheless. When you tell someone he failed at mathematics because he spent all free time playing Call of Duty on his gaming console instead of learning maths, and he responds that you’re fat and ugly and therefore your argument is false, that is ad hominem.

And that brings us to our false dichotomy: are you an egalitarian or a racist?

Do you believe that races are irrelevant and people are basically the same, or do you believe that racial origin decisively determines one’s properties?

My position is that I don’t know. People are obviously not all the same, or you wouldn’t have qualification exams at colleges and job requirements and interviews later on. It is obvious that if there is a bar defining qualifications, some will pass and some will fail. So, believing that this is right and proper, I am obviously not an egalitarian, but a meritocrat. In my opinion, all privileges are derived from personal qualities and contributions. In my opinion, if you have a difficult entrance exam, which consists of mathematics and physics problems, and the only students who pass on merit are Koreans, Chinese and Europeans, this is not racist against the Africans. It would be racist against the Africans if you’re disqualified from even taking the test if you’re black, or if you have points deducted from the final result if black. But if the test is same for all, and one race consistently fails, this is not racist. Furthermore, making conclusions about that race based on the displayed results isn’t racist either. If it’s OK to praise the Asians for demolishing the test, it’s perfectly OK to ridicule the Africans for failing miserably. What actually is racist is to make easier admittance conditions for the Africans, because it is assumed that they are too stupid to qualify on merit. This essentially amounts to conceding that they are inferior as a race, but saying that both superior and inferior races should be equally distributed among the students because then it’s somehow not racist.

Any kind of quota for employment or admittance into any kind of institution, based on criteria such as race, sex, sexual orientation or similar things, is racism (or sexism or whatever-ism). There is no difference between preferential quotas for blacks and “no niggers allowed here” rule. If you think blacks are equal, make equal rules for all. If you advocate preferential rules for blacks, it means you think they are inferior as a race but you happen to have a pet race and you want it to succeed. This just happened to be Hitler’s motive for committing all sorts of crimes – he had a pet race, aryan, and wanted it to succeed. Since it seemed to fail compared to the Jews, he decided to clear the way for the aryans by introducing the rules that closed the doors for Jews and opened them for aryans. The way to solve this is not to hate Hitler, it is to abandon the idea of trying to help some failing group by introducing special rules. Instead, we should make sure that the rules are just, and if someone consistently fails, allow him to. Don’t make rulings that define if races are equal or different. Make fair rules and allow people to either win or lose. You don’t even have to introduce preferential criteria for the particularly capable or talented individuals – if they are capable, they’ll manage just fine on their own. But certainly don’t try to prevent those on the bottom from failing, because that’s the worst thing you can possibly do. That’s the kind of thing that destroys societies, states and civilizations. In fact, if there’s anything we can learn from nature, it’s that a species thrives if a predator consistently kills the least fit specimen. You don’t actually have to reward the most capable ones – just kill the worst ones, and the species will thrive. Capitalism is actually the opposite – it has special rewards for being the most capable specimen, and that seems to work better for human societies. If a society allows the poor to simply die off, it creates a great incentive to not be poor, which creates incentive to master marketable skills, which then creates competition for the top places in everything, resulting in general improvement of the society. If there’s any lesson to be learned from history, it’s that providing free bread for the poor creates an attitude that it’s a perfectly acceptable option to be poor, and then the society dies. So yeah, if introduction of meritocracy shows that race and gender are irrelevant, great. If they show that races and genders are good at different things, great. If it shows that some group is consistently inferior, let it die off.

I have no problem with Jews ruling in finances, Africans ruling in basketball, Whites ruling in science, or Asians ruling in engineering. It’s not some racist conspiracy, it’s what happens when you allow people to succeed on merit – you learn that there actually may be a difference between the races, or you learn that there isn’t any. If there happens to be a master race that will consistently outcompete others, so what? I don’t see anyone objecting to our species out-competing the Neanderthals. I don’t see anyone objecting to the fact that those who were able to digest grains and milk survived better in the early Holocene than those who weren’t. So suck it up.