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alChandler's Halls

Serving dozens since 1999

Science and God

The title of this article is Science doesn't disprove God: Where Richard Dawkins and new atheists go wrong.

Here's the thing, humans do have agendas. That's why historians strive to be objective, even when writing about Nazis. And scientists have their own personal view that they try to leave behind when they're actually doing science. It doesn't always work because they're human but they do the best they can. Which is a rather long winded way of saying that Stephen Hawking is not about to go on a quest to scientifically disprove the existence of God.

A scientist may disprove a belief about God, that's why I have an issue with scientific creationism. If you believe in the biblical story of creation as a matter of faith, I'm not going to argue with you. But there's no evidence supporting it and a ton of evidence disproving it. Faith, in the case of the biblical account has to, and for that matter should be, enough. And hell, if you're claiming that God started the big bang and planned out everything in advance, science can't argue with you. There's no way to test your belief.

Which brings me to the crux of Amir Aczel's article:

Dennett and his collaborators consider the human mind from two problematic viewpoints: looking at the brain as a kind of computer, and looking at the brain as the result of animal evolution. The human brain is far more than a computer: computers have no consciousness. And to think of the brain as simply something that has evolved out of animal ganglia and primitive brains is also a mistake: there is a giant leap from the brain of a monkey or a dog to the brain of a human being.

Neither approach explains Leonardo's Mona Lisa, Picasso's Guernica, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, or the palaces on Venice's Grand Canal. Neither do they explain Einstein's general theory of relativity or Freud's invention of psychoanalysis. Both the mechanistic and animalistic views of the brain fall flat in their attempts to explain any of these great historic achievements of the human mind. We are not machines, and we are not simple animals, either.

His thesis seems to boil down to: We can't explain consciousness, therefore there must be a god. And it's true, our understanding of consciousness is limited at best. And we can't create a computer that's as smart as my cat, much less a human. But that doesn't prove the existence of god.

Look at it his way, humans achieved nuclear fusion in 1952 when we created the hydrogen bomb (go team human, rah). To date we've been unable to initiate a sustained fusion reaction. It's not for want of trying, it's just that the problem is far more complicated then scientists thought it was back in 1952. I suspect we'll figure it out but I acknowledge the possibility that it might be beyond us. But while acknowledging that, I don't think that our inability to create a fusion reactor today has any baring on God's eistence or nonexistence.

I don't know if we'll ever create a computer that's self aware. I do know that a lot less money is being spent on that problem then nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion would be an unlimited source of power. A self aware computer would be cool and all but probably a lot less useful then the stupid computers we have today. And then there's the Edsger Dijkstra quote, "The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim."

I suppose I go on about this not because I'm surprised that for so many people, faith isn't enough. Or as John 20:24-29 puts it:

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.

25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"

27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

Nary a word about scientific proof.

April 20, 2014


That's Thoth, god of wisdom and patron of scribes. He's recuperating in post op after an encounter with Newton. Newton knocked off his arm, hand and writing stylus.

You know, when I got Cadbury in 2012, Chris Best suggested I didn't have the patience for a kitten. Perhaps not but look! In spite of the anger I felt when I heard Thoth crash, Newton is still alive!

And all four limbs are still attached and working. This is not shopped!

And yeah, I was pretty pissed a Newton is clumsier then I would like but he spent most of his time in a small cage so I make allowances. I've moved my Lord of the Rings statues to a bookshelf and, much as it kills me, I'll move Thoth to the bedroom next to the Buddha.

And there we have them, the household gods, from left to right there's my father's dog and it is sacred to his memory, Thoth, the perfect god for a bookish fellow, Buddha, founder of the only religion that an atheist can follow, if one feels the need for it, and finally my can of change which, I suppose, is sacred to Plutus. Perhaps Thoth will like it there.

April 20, 2014

Today I Learned...

My cousin took that picture of Aunt Ann. She held my phone upside down when she took it. A lot of phones will automatically turn the picture right side up if it's taken upside down but the iPhone doesn't. So I used Paint to turn it to the proper orientation and then sent it to my website.

Moon called me and told me it was displaying upside down. I looked at it in Firefox, Chrome and Opera and I saw it as right side up, so I assumed it was something on her end. But a little later I went to the Halls on my phone. It could be that because I was viewing the site on Kosh and I had flipped it on Kosh my computer was somehow remembering that and correcting for the change, if that makes any sense. Anyway, when I looked at the site on my phone the picture was still upside down.

And that's because of something called exchangeable image file format. It's a universal standard for digital pictures. Every digital photo has it but most websites strip the EXIF data out of the photos you post. I'm assuming it's a privacy thing. And here's the cool part, even though I flipped the picture before I posted it, the EXIF data had the picture's original orientation and Safari, and Firefox on Moon's computer, were displaying the picture according to the EXIF stuff. Paint didn't change that. I learned that I had to use a real photo editing program like Photoshop or GIMP. Fortunately, I have GIMP and I flipped the photo with that and now it should display correctly. And I think that's cool.

Oh, there's an EXIF viewer for Firefox. It won't work for photos on, say, Facebook but if you're curious you can use it on your own photos. Chrome and Opera have similar tools available. There are programs that will strip the EXIF data out but the only thing I might be worried about is the GPS data and that's turned off in my phone's settings.

So that's what I learned today.

April 19, 2014

Newton Does Hit the Bottle on Occasions

April 19, 2014

Thief's World

With apologies to Thieves World of course. I'm still playing Thief and there are moments when it reminds me of, well, Thief. But the rest of it is so dissatisfying. If you want to know why, PCGames has summed it up.

April 19, 2014

Aunt Ann

From left to right that's my sister, my Aunt Ann and me. She's 96 years old and while she's not one of those 115 year old Russian guys who still ride horses, she's not doing badly at all.

April 18, 2014

From the London Times

April 17, 2014

The Fighting Level Part 2

After nine days I finally got through the last part of the mission The Forsaken, aka the fighting level. I think I've gotten my second wind with this game. With longer games, and I've been at this one for 27 hours, I've been known to step away for a month or more. To be honest, I'm not sure if 27 hours qualifies as long but in the case of Thief 4 it sure seems long.

April 17, 2014


When I got Kafka (23 years ago!) it turned out I was allergic to him, so I took a lot of Allerest. I wasn't allergic to Jack or Cadbury. It turns out it's not cat's hair that causes the reaction, it's their dander.

Newton has a lot of dander as it turns out, and as it also turns out, I have problems with most over the counter allergy medications these days. I see my urologist later, which will give you an idea of the problems, and hopefully he can suggest a brand that I can take. If not, I'll deal.

You might be wondering why I'd invite an animal into my home knowing that it might lead to 15 years of discomfort. It seems like a pretty stupid thing to do, doesn't it?

Here's the thing, I'm not a terribly social person and I tend towards a certain amount of, shall we say moroseness. Cats, I've discovered, are a wonderful way of combating moroseness. They're incredibly self involved terminally myopic creatures that still find you fun to hang out with. Because they don't have the social consciousness of dogs their gestures of affections are all the more touching. The way they lighten my mood, not that most folk would notice, outweighs other considerations.

Hopefully Dr. Steixner can suggest a something but if not, Newton's place is secure. And, as was the case with Kafka, after a couple of years my overloaded immune system will just throw in the towel and stop producing antigens to his dander. So there's that to look forward to.

April 17, 2014

The Goldfinch

Donna Tartt has written three novels, The Secret History which I've read a couple of times and will read again. And which, now that I think of it, shares its title with The Secret History by Procopius which is a tell all history of the court of the emperor Justinian.

The Secret Friend which I've read once, enjoyed but never felt the need to reread

And The Goldfinch, her latest novel. I was going to get around to reading it but it just won the fucking Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. So that settles that.

April 15, 2014

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Just because I'm in a bookish mood, the thing that got me into Tolkien was this cover:

I'd been a reader before encountering The Hobbit. As a kid dad loved the Tom Swift books and one day he came home with a copy of Tom Swift and His Ultrasonic Cycloplane:

Dad created a monster and I devoured the Tom Swift books. But the cover of The Hobbit was something new to me. I've no idea why I wanted that book so badly, but I did and my parents bought it for me, and The Lord of the Rings afterwards.

By the way, while there really is a Tolkien, there never was a Victor Appleton II. The Tom Swift Junior series was created by Harriet Adams in 1954 and the books were written by guys like William Dougherty and John Almquist. I had a lot of the books but I gave my mom permission to sell them in a yard sale. And to be honest, while The Hobbit holds up, Tom Swift doesn't. But it was fun for a 9 year old. And for some strange reason Tom Swift and The Visitor from Planet X is on Gutenberg.

April 13, 2014

The Third Episode of Vathek

In the 18th century, 1786 to name a date, William Beckford wrote an Arabian Nights tale called Vathek. It's very gothic and very decadent and if you're into such things it's available for free right here. Now get ready because I'm going to spoil a 228 year old novel.

The main character, the Caliph Vathek, ends up in hell. In the time allotted to him before his heart burns he swaps stories with several other damned souls. The stories aren't actually in the original edition of Vathek because they hadn't been written yet when the book was published. In fact they were lost until a guy called Lewis Melville discovered them in 1909. They were published in 1912 but even then nobody thought to insert them into the novel as Beckford had planned. Nobody until 1971 when Lin Carter did it his edition of Vathek for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy edition, long out of print.

But you can buy the Episodes of Vathek or read them online. Now let's move on to what I really want to talk about.

The last episode, The Story of the Princess Zulka´s and the Prince Kalilah was never completed by Beckford. But Clark Ashton Smith took it upon himself to complete the story. And I'm currently reading The Maze of the Enchanter volume 4 of the complete Clark Ashton Smith. And that book contains Smith's version of the last episode. And that, if you're so inclined, you can read here.

These days Beckford, or for that matter Smith, is considered rather tough going, even by horror fans. And yes, they are a little dense compared to Stephen King. But if you can get through the King James Bible, then Beckford, Smith, Lovecraft and a whole lot of other stuff is within your range, if you like horror that is.

And I suppose I bring this up because I'm old enough to remember when getting out of print books, even those in the public domain, required a lot of time and money. My copy of the Ballantine edition of Vathek disappeared at the commission booth in Tropicana and it cost me $35 to replace a 95 cent paperback. The fact that all this stuff is available for free just staggers me, and brings out a certain evangelist streak as well.

But don't worry, if it doesn't impress you we can still be friends. Besides, I can't get through Ulysses and that's available for free too.

April 13, 2014

An Observation

The other day Newton watched Gravity with me. The movie was made for cats, it had lots of tumbling things on the screen. Today I watched Hannibal and Newton ignored it, which is not surprising. From a cat's point of view, and judging by its ratings from the point of view of a lot of people too, it's just people standing around talking. What's so interesting about that?

But then Will Graham came home from the mental institution he's been in since the beginning of the season and Will's dogs started barking with joy. That peaked Newton's interest but he ignored the screen and stared at the left speaker instead. That's where the barking was coming from. The images of happy dogs on the set meant nothing to him.

And yet cats will notice animals on television sometimes. Jack once spent some quality time with me watching a nature program about hippos. But, in the case of Newton, sound definitely trumped images. It may be because my neighbor walks her dog a couple of times a day. Newton is used to hearing barking without actually seeing the source of the barks. Come to think of it, in the shelter he could hear a lot of dogs without ever being able to see them. The only logical conclusion for him to make is that dogs are invisible.

April 12, 2014


Next month Tolkien's translation of Beowulf is being published. I'll do the man the honor of buying a physical copy of the book.

The translation is a big thing. In the 30s Tolkien wrote an important essay that changed the way critics thought about Beowulf. It was called Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics. If he'd never written his fantasies, he'd still be remembered for that essay, at least among Anglo-Saxon scholars. But nobody knew about his translation until it turned up in 2003 in the Bodleian Library.

While I'm on Tolkien, I just finished Dream London. I don't know if you guys have heard of Arthur Machen, but if Arthur Machen's version of London did some really good acid and then hung out with Michael Moorcock for a bit you'd get Tony Ballantyne's London. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I'm glad fantasy has crawled out from the Morris-Dunsany-Tolkien shadow.

By the way, as long as I'm talking books, new Stephen King in June, Mr. Mercedes. And, if you're a fan of the show, Under the Dome returns in June too.

April 11, 2014

Still Life

After a day of manic energy, Newton is finally settling down and he has claimed Jack's ottoman as his own. On Monday they neutered him and released him to me yesterday. He was supposed to keep calm post-surgery but I suppose it was too much to ask a kitten to be mellow when he's got a new world to explore. He's much calmer now. Well, relatively calmer, anyway.

April 10, 2014

Newton Arrives

And that's the best picture you're likely to get of him for a bit, he doesn't really pose. So far he's taken a running leap into the refrigerator, knocked over a floor lamp and done some damage to my speaker wires. On the other hand he's discovered his litter box and understands the word no, at least he understands it when food isn't involved.

At the shelter they told me he was a year old. That seems to be a considerable exaggeration, I'd say he's about six months. Add he spent at least a couple of weeks in a small cage in a shelter. Now he's got a condo to run around in and he's enjoying himself. While I'm not energetic myself, I have beer, sleeping medication and a laser pointer. We'll get along fine.

Kidding aside, Newton is the beneficiary of Cadbury's stay with me. Cad would bite and draw blood if you approached him the wrong way. I'm not patient by nature but Cad's last chance for a home was me so I forced myself to deal with his, uh, issues. Newton is a little ball of psychotic energy, as are all kittens, but he worships me, so far. After Cad a psycho ninja kitten seems easy, well easier.

At any rate, he can stay for a bit.

April 10, 2014

The Fighting Level

In the original Thief there was a level that involved killing skeletons. The game was a stealth game and it went out of its way to remind you that you die very easily in combat so naturally there was a place where you had to kill skeletons.

And, again naturally, Thief 4 has a level where you have to kill ghouls, or anyway that's what I'm calling them. On the other hand I pick up the cat tomorrow so there's that.

April 8, 2014


There's a group called the Counterforce and they're rather upset with the tech industry, the alienation technology creates and the high cost of living in San Francisco. So they demonstrated in front of Kevin Rose's house today and handed out leaflets denouncing him as a parasite. Rose works for Google and Google in bad, almost beyond redemption apparently.

Counterforce published a little manifesto. At the end of it they present their demands:

To this end, we now make our first clear demand of Google. We demand that Google give three billion dollars to an anarchist organization of our choosing. This money will then be used to create autonomous, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist communities throughout the Bay Area and Northern California. In these communities, whether in San Francisco or in the woods, no one will ever have to pay rent and housing will be free. With this three billion from Google, we will solve the housing crisis in the Bay Area and prove to the world that an anarchist world is not only possible but in fact irrepressible. If given the chance, most humans will pursue a course towards increased freedom and greater liberty. As it stands, only people like Kevin Rose are given the opportunity to reshape their world, and look at what they do with those opportunities.

I'm sure Google is cutting the check even as we speak.

I've never had much use for anarchism. There's a wonderful play by Robert Bolt called A Man for All Seasons. You can watch the movie and if you haven't seen it you should do so. There's a passage that sums up my view of would be anarchists very nicely:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

I tend to like living in places with laws because I don't believe that if given the chance, most humans will pursue a course towards increased freedom and greater liberty. Some will, I suppose, but all it takes are a few assholes to fuck up your course towards increased freedom and greater liberty. Then you sorta want to call a cop.

"No one will ever have to pay rent and housing will be free," my ass.

April 6, 2014


So, it's been about six months since Cadbury died. After six months I start hankering for a cat. In fact I hankered for a cat two months after his death. It was the first Christmas without a cat in 20 years.

Cadbury was chosen for me, at my request I hasten to add. This time I took Moon's advice, went to the Atlantic County Animal Shelter and waited for a cat to catch my eye.

Oreo was a small, year old cat near the entrance, placed to move, as it were. When I went by he meowed and stuck his paws out through the bars of the cage. The attendant took him out and Oreo demonstrated his tractability and his friendliness. Yeah, I know he doesn't look too friendly in the picture but he was very outgoing. You know, the old dog meme, "Hi. I just met you and I love you."

So he's going to be neutered and I pick him up later this week. Then, once he stops hiding I'll get him checked out by my own vet. Oh, Oreo is not going to be his name. I'm going to call him Newton, Sir Issac at formal occasions.

April 6, 2014

The Latest Godzilla Trailer

April 6, 2014


In short order I finished Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea: Episode 2 and Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls. Of course, Once you beat the Diablo expansion it goes into adventure mode so there's life to the game yet. In the case of Bioshock, well that's it. Irrational Games is no longer with us and Ken Levine is going to make smaller games. Life goes on.

In the case of Diablo 3 things are a little different. The original game was released in 1996. After 18 years memories grow a little fuzzy but I believe it was designed to be a graphical version of Nethack, which in its turn was a version of Rogue. Rogue was released in 1980 and was a very primitive dungeon crawling game:

The thing about Rogue was that it was never the same game twice, the dungeons were generated on the fly. That's the innovation Diablo brought to the table. It's dungeons would be regenerated if you started a new game. Of course the visual assets would be the same but you might get a couple of play throughs out of it. With adventure mode Diablo 3 is trying to extend the shelf life of the game too. In its case adventure mode is more of a quick fix rather then a campaign, you know, "alChandler, the Butcher has broken out of hell again and only you can put him down."

Sort of like Batman, you know, "Batman, the Riddler has broken out of Arkham asylum, the police are helpless." "I'll get right on it Commissioner."

I've always felt that the original Diablo had a certain errieness that the sequels couldn't match. But I'm aware that most of that feeling comes from nostalgia for an 18 year old game and not from any intrinsic quality Diablo possessed. It's a little like Star Trek. It's hard to imagine an 11 year old today having the same reaction I did back in 1967.

So that's it from the gaming front. I still have a lot of Thief 4 left, next month Wolfenstein: The New Order arrives and I still have Shadowrun on my system. With the new patch it might be playable. Because Nostalgia only gets you so far.

April 1, 2014

Bert the Chimney Sweep

I've seen this rooftop scape for some time now. It gets old but I'll miss it when I'm gone. Shamus Young over at Twenty Sided pretty much sums up my feelings about the game. But I'm still playing.

And yeah, I'm probably going to break down and get the Diablo expansion too. I never said I had a strong will.

March 30 2014

Twenty Four Hours Into Thief

Playing style two weeks ago:

Ok, I have to get across this heavily patrolled square. I'll creep to this wagon, hide, wait for the guard to pass, creep to the alley, use a rope arrow, climb to the roofs and drop down to the other side. With luck they'll never know I was here.

Playing style tonight:

Ok, I have to get across this heavily patrolled square. Fuck it, I'm just going to run across the square to the other side.

And yet I'm still playing.

March 29 2014

This Is a Trent Reznor Song

March 27 2014

California State Senator Leland Yee

Senator Yee has been trying to ban the sale of violent video games to minors for some time now. He has other problems to deal with today, he was arrested for conspiring to commit wire fraud and traffic firearms.

I realize Senator Yee's arrest has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of his cause but still I feel like shouting, "You'll get my pretend guns when you pry my mouse out of my cold dead hands."

March 27 2014

And Thus An Entire Trend Is Encapsulated

A Reddit ad for their r/bitcoin subreddit.

March 27 2014

Dance Cards!

At one point in The Beetle the lovely Dora Grayling approaches the rather grouchy Sydney Atherton to remind him that he's the next dance on her dance card. Now I've heard the expression, you're next on my dance card but always assumed it was just that, an expression. Bt Dora pulls out her dance card and shows it to Sydney.

They were real things and were really used. I did not know that.

March 23 2014

One Day All Exotic Dancers Will Be Like This One

March 23 2014

Enter The Beetle

And that, my friends, was a Marvel Comics riff if ever there was one.

I'm reading a book called The Beetle by Richard Marsh. It was published in 1897, the same year as Dracula and, according the Wikipedia, was a bigger seller then Dracula. It remained in print until 1960. And in 2014 you can buy copies on Amazon or just go to Project Gutenberg and download the book for free. And I have no idea how I found out about the book.

It's mentioned in passing in Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature. I've read the essay and if you're into the history of horror it's worth checking out but I doubt a one line reference in a book I read some 30 years ago was the impetuous that led me to Marsh. In fact, I never really heard of him until last year. And it's somewhat frustrating.

I suspect the book was mentioned on Goodreads, or it came up there as a suggestion for me. At any rate I was there last night and The Beetle was mentioned again and since it's in the public domain I downloaded it. So far it seems to be about an Arab man with a vendetta against a rising English politician named Paul Lessingham. I've read Dracula and agree with the sentiment of the readers of 1897 that The Beetle is better.

And with that I'll content myself. But I am going to link to two resources, with a caveat. The resources are Project Gutenberg and the University of Adelaide. Both have easily downloadable editions of public domain books. The caveat is that you'll probably need a tablet or an ereader to actually read the books. I've known about Gutenberg for some time but until I got my Kindle I wasn't able to use the site. Reading on a computer is simply a pain in the ass.

But if you do have a tablet or an ereader and are a book lover you should go to those sites and do some rummaging. And, of course, if reading from a monitor doesn't bother you, you can start right now.

March 23 2014