Category Archives: Reasons to be cheerful

New Shoes

I fancy doing a bit of this bloggery malarkey again but I’m a bit out of practice. I’ve got a new (well not that new) hobby and so I’ll be posting about it on my other blog that I’ve called New (Running) Shoes which is about me and running.

Why not pop over a comment when I get something up. That is assuming that anyone even has this old blog in their feed still.

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Problem editing XPages in Designer

So I’ve gone back to XPages after being particularly swamped at work for several months and having not really touched it. I’ve gone to edit an XPage with a lot of custom controls on the form (at least 20, I think) that I didn’t design. I cannot even open the XPage without Designer crashing.

Obviously this is very frustrating but Google is my friend. After several hours of searching (and possible getting distracted by kittens or Doctor Who) I finally found a fix, I hope.

From John Jardin

Do the following:

1. Open one of your Custom Controls in Designer, and in the Properties Tab, navigate to the “Design Definition” Tab.

2. Add the following Code to the empty Box in this Tab. (All this does is create a div, style it, and add some text inside the Div)

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<xp:view xmlns:xp=”;
<xp:div style=”background-color:blue; color:white; padding:3px;”>Some identifying Text</xp:div>

3. Save and Close your Custom Control.

4. Open your XPage where the Custom Control exists. If you haven’t added a Custom Control yet, create an XPage and do so.

You’ll see that instead of your Design Elements appearing in the XPage as it would look in the Custom Control, you now have a Blue Box with white Text inside it. If you double click in the Blue Box, you’ll be taken to your Custom Control, where you can view the original Design.

Not only does this keep your XPage tidy when it contains multiple Custom Controls, but it also stops the XPage from having to load all the Design Controls in your Custom Control for viewing in your XPage, which dramatically increases the speed of opening your XPage in Domino Designer.

So now I’m going through 50 or so custom controls and adding this code into the Design Definition. Hopefully it’ll all work out.


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Reasons Part 3 – Necessity

I had no need of that hypothesis. (“Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là”, as a reply to Napoleon, who had asked why he hadn’t mentioned God in his book on astronomy.)

– Pierre-Simon Laplace

Leading on from last week where I tried to provide an explanation for a lack of belief due to a lack of compelling evidence, this week it is a lack of necessity.

I’m sure that anyone who has kicked around religious debates for more than a few months will be familiar with William of Occam and his eponymous razor.  The principle of Occam’s Razor is to explain a phenomena with as few assumptions as possible and to remove those elements that make no difference to the explanation.  “Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity” is one of his ideas.

So, when we examine a phenomena, we do not count God in the hypothesis.  Not because God is or is not there but because the presence or absence of God makes no difference to our examination. It has been said that you cannot put God in a test tube but the nature of an infinite being is that you cannot keep God out of a test tube either.  By not counting God into hypotheses we are left to other devices to explain them.  An atheist like me extends the idea and discounts God from all things as unnecessary.

Perhaps one day I will be confronted with a question that needs God to explain it.  Science is such a satisfactory way of explaining things in the universe that it has no need for God and I am happy to accept that sometimes I don’t have enough information to provide an answer.  Yet, since we can explain so much with the tools of science then we don’t need to call on God to explain things.

Does this prove God doesn’t exist?  Not at all.  What it shows is that the assumption that God exists isn’t needed.  If the assumption isn’t needed then why not abandon it?

William of Occam, a Franciscan monk, would not agree.  The presumption of God was the very best way of explaining the universe in the 14th century.  In the 21st century we have other tools at our disposal.  Tools that make the God hypothesis unnecessary.

Whenever you have more than one hypothesis, only one is necessary. You could always throw the others out on that basis as ‘unnecessary’. The question is, how do you decide which to throw out and which to keep?

The god hypothesis involves more assumptions.

However a) fewer assumptions aren’t necessarily correct even though William of Occam preferred them and b) theists disagree that my assumptions that make God unnecessary are better/fewer/more tenable than their assumption of God which make my alternate assumptions and ‘no God hypothesis’ unnecessary.

That is where the null hypothesis comes in.  The alternative hypothesis is that god(s) exist and the null hypothesis is that the alternative hypothesis is false.  Unless sufficiently compelling evidence and reason exists to support the alternative hypothesis then the null hypothesis is preferred.

I originally wrote this for Off The Map – Atheist in 2009 as part of a series explaining why I lacked belief in gods.


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Reasons Part 2 – Lack of Evidence

The late Christopher Hitchens wrote:

“What Can Be Asserted Without Evidence Can Be Dismissed Without Evidence”?

One reason that people have for being non-believers in God is a lack of evidence to support belief in God.  This is obviously a different thing than positive evidence against something.  The burden of proof, as they say, is on the claimant.  Many times I have talked about evidence with theists and non-theists and always we return to the issue of faith. A theist must have faith that their god is the true one despite a lack of supporting evidence.  An atheist may dismiss the theist’s claims because the evidence is weak or, at the very least, unreliable.

I would suggest that we must start from the presumption of disbelief.  I do not believe in unicorns, dragons, cosmic teapots, talking animals and a whole plethora of others things not because I have evidence that they do not exist but because I have no evidence that they do.  The same holds true for belief in gods of any kind.  Furthermore Christians feel precisely the same way about Odin, Ra, Quetzalcoatl, Oghma and all the other gods that human beings have believed in throughout history.

There are reasonable objections to this.  People accept many things as true without insisting on good evidence and even in the face of contradictory evidence sometimes.  I accept that a coin toss will have exactly a 50% chance of landing heads or tails even when I’ve managed to throw ten heads in a  row.  Empirical evidence suggests the coin will land heads on each toss but I do not accept this because I know that this is simply a statistical abnormality.

Sometimes the evidence to prove a point is very complicated or difficult to understand.  Nobody expects you to understand how to read DNA to appreciate that it contains the building blocks of living things encoded within it.  Sometimes claims are not intuitive and seem to work against reason.  The speed of light is fixed in a vacuum.  If you were to sit at the head of a beam of light while light travelled towards you it would arrive at the speed of light and not twice the speed of light as you’d expect if you were sitting on a baseball heading towards another.  This is counter intuitive but nevertheless true.  Many of the “truths” of complex science are based on “evidence” that follows a convoluted chain of reasoning.  The Theory of Evolution itself is not provable in the classical sense but is simply the most reasonable path that the evidence suggests.  Good evidence supports it but does not provide absolute certainty.  Good evidence serves to make it highly probable.

A key problem that I have with claims of theists is with the issue of authority.  A scientist can demonstrate their logic through experimentation, an economist through modelling.  Reliable authority is claimed by a good success record.  We trust the conclusions of science because the conclusions are good in general and can be implemented in helpful ways and are supported by evidence.  Scientists are good authorities who can “show their working” and freely allow others to repeat their tests and draw their own conclusions. When scientists are wrong they do change their minds.  Perhaps not right away but when their position is untenable they have a mechanism in place to change tack.

Theologians are not such good authorities.  No mechanism exists for changing tack.  Members of the same religion disagree, sometimes violently.  There is no possible way to test the assertions of one faction.   The evidence for their claims are vague or missing.  Sometimes these claims are logically consistent or based on intuition or popular assent but there is not evidence, good, testable, repeatable evidence, that supports the claims.  Even the claims of probability that some science relies upon (abiogenesis, Big Bang theory, chaos theory) are open to refute with evidence.  Probability works if it is the best you have based on the evidence but the evidence isn’t sufficient even to make God probable.

There is, of course, a counter argument to this.  Perhaps the presumption of atheism is false.  We can accept that unicorns, dragons and cosmic teapots don’t exist based on lack of evidence but why should this be true for God?  Shouldn’t the atheist make the case that God does not exist before claiming disbelief?  Isn’t the position of agnosticism intellectually more honesty?  How should we go about putting a reasonable mechanism in place to test our reason in this situation?

We should apply both assumptions to an untestable idea.  Space aliens or the Loch Ness Monster for example.  What do we imagine that an alien or Nessie is?  What constitutes an alien life form visiting our world or a prehistoric suvivor living in a near frozen in-land lake?  What is our idea of these things?  Then we try to find evidence that supports these ideas.

As an unbeliever it is not up to me come up with the idea of what God is and find evidence for it.  It is up to the theist to define God in testable terms and present evidence to support the idea.  If it were up to me I could simply define God as a great, bearded man who lives on top of the dome of the sky and then claim that he does not exist because the sky is not a solid firmament for God to walk upon.  This would be unreasonable and more than a little rude.  I must work with the definition provided to me and then counter the claims of evidence with new interpretations or better evidence.

The theist, in short, must provide an idea of what constitutes God and provide support for having reasons to hold to this idea.  Failure to do so leaves God as an incoherent ideal, a half formed concept that could feasible fit any definition, even a changeable one, ever shifting to escape the attacks of evidence and reason.  This is intolerable for an honest explorer.  We must have something to work from if we are to make sense of an idea.  If there is no sense to the word “God” then there can be no God.

I originally wrote this for Off The Map – Atheist in 2009 as part of a series explaining why I lacked belief in gods.

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Promoting moral growth

This is a response to a comment on Google+ that really turned out too long to post there.

Are you familiar with Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development?  Too many people, particularly the right wing religious people who make up a very influential bloc in North America are stuck on the obedience and punishment stage. Perhaps it is the idea of obeying religious covenants that have been firmly ingrained into their psyches or perhaps they are simply deferring moral growth to their pastors.

To take an idea from Marx; religion is the opiate of the masses, it holds back moral development.  I should say it can hold back moral development rather than that it does.  If we want humanity to reach a post conventional level of morality where we at least engage in a mutually beneficial social contract (that open minded and permissive morality where we don’t judge those who are different based on our own preferences) then we need to work past the restrictions that religion places on growth.

My dissent with regard to Marx’ assessment of religion as a limiter leads me to say that I’ve known a few highly moral religious social commenters but that religion per se does not promote this kind of development (neither does its absence in all fairness).  I can see it in some aspects of Buddhism and if you read almost anything by the Dalai Lama you’ll see how acceptance and understanding are key to his view of personal and social happiness but you still find bigoted Buddhists.  I can see some fantastic moral lessons in Roman Catholicism too.  Charity for example is key to many Catholic endeavours, unfortunately the Holy See and the Bishop of Rome hardly seem to exemplify this quality.  There is also an idea in Islam that encourages the questioning of dogma and its constant reassessment.  Again it is something that we tend not to hear about these days but it did help Islam to advance scientifically, medically and culturally over its neighbours until our European ancestors crushed them.

I’ve said many times how I view religion as a Curate’s Egg with both good and bad parts.  Every religious person cherry picks their scripture and takes from it what lessons best suit them.  I think that this is a good thing and we, I mean society in general, should encourage it.  We need to encourage them to cherry pick the parts that promote a better society and to explain away or ignore the parts that limit or harm society.  We can do this by making society more moral and promoting humanist ideas.  As something of a utilitarian I think that we should examine moral questions from the principle of the least harm caused rather than from the viewpoint of an authority who dictates moral considerations but as long as those moral considerations that are dictates are to the benefit of all then we can certainly adapt them.

The Ten Commandments dictates prohibitions against murder and theft and promotes the idea of accepting that what others have is theirs.  The Eight Fold Way promotes wisdom, ethical conduct and mindfulness of others.  The Sermon on the Mount promotes compassion for the poor and hungry and condemns greed and violence.  I think that we can agree that these are good things that we could readily adapt into every day social contracts of morality alongside other ideas.

Let me know what you think.


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Good vs Evil

I’ve taken this from a comment by Quesita on a forum that I frequent and changed a few minor things so that it sits well better in isolation.
I am genuinely baffled by the concept that a belief in a deity would help me better distinguish between good and evil, and whatever falls in between. I really spent a great deal of time last night and today thinking about this very question, and trying to make sense of the concept.
I mean no disrespect, but I would really appreciate it if you theists could walk me through one, specific historical example, and help me understand some questions:  “If God doesn’t exists, what is good and what is evil? Who decides them?
Dozens of interesting examples come to mind, but let’s just pick one, and take slavery in the US. 
A mere 15 decades ago, many adherent Christians in the US believed that kidnapping, torturing, and raping people, in order to exploit their labour for financial gain, was completely consistent with the teachings of the Bible. Now maybe it is because I am a heathen atheist who does not really understand good and evil, but for me, kidnapping, torturing, and raping in order to benefit financially really sort of falls into the evil category. In fact, if we were to have a scale of good and evil, I’d put that sort of behavior pretty far down on the evil side.
So help me understand. I know that there was slavery in the Bible. Do Christians really believe that kidnapping, raping, torturing and then benefiting financially is consistent with the teachings of the Bible? Did Jesus forgive those kidnapping, raping, torturing folks because they accepted him as their savior, and therefore had a better understanding of good and evil than I do? Did Jesus let those kidnapping, raping, torturing folks into heaven because they vocally proclaimed that Jesus was the best deity ever? And did Jesus subsequently condemn my beloved parents to an eternity of hellfire because they were too busy helping humanity to sing Jesus’ praise? 
Is it possible that slavery was ok then, but isn’t ok any more because Christianity’s understanding of the concept of “good” has, for lack of a better word, evolved?
Or is Jesus the kind of deity who buys into “the end justifies the means” as a reason to turn a blind eye to some sins? Was Jesus really a bit put off by the all the nasty stuff that went along with enslaving millions of human beings for so many generations, but decided it was ok because many of those slaves, (and an overwhelming number of their decedents), ended up being Christian? 
Or did those kidnapping, raping and torturing folks who called themselves Christians, really misread the scriptures? And if so, why did God write scriptures that are so easily misunderstood? I mean, there are a bunch of references to slavery in the Bible. I can see how they might have gotten it all wrong. And if they were really so seriously misreading the scriptures, how do you know that you and your pastor are not seriously misreading the scriptures as well? 
You see, for me, kidnapping, raping, torturing and enslaving other human beings for financial profit is evil, under any circumstances. But I am not a Christian, so I don’t really understand good and evil in the Christian way. So when I work my way through the above example, without the help of a skilled Christian to help me really understand it, these are the possible conclusions that I draw:
Kidnapping, raping, torturing and enslaving other human beings for financial profit;
A) Is ok and consistent with Christian teachings on good and evil.
B) Was ok in the past, but isn’t ok anymore because Christianity changes with the times. 
C) Is ok and consistent with Christian teachings on good and evil if the people being kidnapped, raped, tortured and enslaved end up learning about the Bible. 
D) Isn’t really ok and consistent with Christian teachings on good and evil, but folks who engaged in those practices get to go to heaven anyway because they accepted Jesus. (Sort of like the way that people who say “God damn it” when they stub their toes get to go to heaven because, after all, we are all sinners but if we accept Jesus our sins get forgiven.) 
E) Is not ok and is not consistent with Christian teachings on good and evil, and the folks who engaged in those practices in the name of Jesus already went to hell for all of eternity because they misunderstood God’s confusing scriptures as they apply to slavery.
F) Another explanation which I am missing because I don’t understand good and evil and because I don’t have Jesus to guide me and help me understand.
I would really, really appreciate clarification from some of our Christians friends.


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National Blood Week

It’s National Blood Week. I’m not due to donate for another month but if you’ve been thinking about donating your time for a good cause then giving blood is a good cause.


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Wot. No Rapture?

Wot.  No Rapture?
For those of you who missed it yesterday was the Rapture. At least according to Christian radio fruitcake, Harold Camping. This isn’t the first time that he’s predicted the rapture of course. The first time was for September 1994. It didn’t happen then either.

Funnily enough the Jehovah’s Witnesses four predictions for the End Times haven’t come true either. Nope, not in 1914, 1918, 1925, or even in 1942. There are dozens of others from dozens of different Christian sects and cults. Not one of them has come true.

It isn’t just loony Christians who have predicted the end of the world. Islam has the Qiyamah and the two main divisions, the Sunni and the Shia, have whole lists of events that are supposed to happen first. All crap of course. Hindus have a cyclical destruction\rebirth thing with suitably long times but there are still some nutters who think that the end of the world is coming next Thursday, just after tea. Pick any of the religions and some nutter will find something in their holy books that tells them that doom awaits just round the corner.

What is it about these, admittedly extreme, religious people who either want the world to end, look forward to it, or just want to depress people by making such spurious claims? No gods will swoop down on a white steed to take you off to heaven, no Valkyrie will carry you to Valhalla, the Ninki Nanka won’t eat you, the dead won’t rise to live in paradise. It’s all crap. You’ve got one life. Be nice to people and make the most of it, you don’t get a second chance.

Anyway I’m all set for 2012, the Mayan’s predicted that we’d all snuff it then too. I predict that it won’t.


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Irish Friends and Bad Parents

A bit of fun to start off with because this story made me laugh out loud. Anachronism Queen Liz will be visiting the Irish Republic next week and she’s taking along her Prime Minister, David “Call me Dave” Cameron. That wasn’t what made me laugh though. This was:

Mr Cameron has described her visit as a symbol of the “strong partnership and friendship” between the two countries.

Yeah. Right! All those jokes down the pub about Paddy and Mike that we English don’t tell are certainly not returned with a general feeling of discontent with the English that has pervaded Ireland for well over two centuries. No, we’re the best of friends.

The thing is that the Irish and English aren’t enemies and we aren’t an occupying force in their country any more (OK, maybe a little bit) so there really is good reason to strengthen political and economic ties for both our benefits. Pretending that we’re all chummy is just silly though. Like Dave.

Bad parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, are courting the media again with an open letter in the Sun asking David Cameron (him again) to please do something about finding poor Madeleine McCann. Curiously Kate McCann’s book was released on the 3rd May but let’s not be cynical about this. If it were up to me these neglectful parents would be lamenting the loss of their innocent daughter from behind bars but we don’t prosecute people for abandoning children in a foreign country so that they can get pissed with their mates, do we?


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You know what?

I was an adult, at least in my twenties, before I found out that Easter had anything to do with Christianity. About a decade later I found out that it doesn’t have much to do with it at all. Yeah, it was ripped off. Can you believe it?

That’s because I’m a godless savage. Watch out or I might eat your brains…or something.


Filed under It could be bunnies, Reasons to be cheerful