Dec 2007 BLOG

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2007-12-10 White Palomar

Am up at P200 observing. Was supposed to come up yesterday but could not as the roads were closed. A foot of snow had fallen and the fire ravaged mountains had been converted in to ice clad mud slide zones. Anyway, high humidity and more showers predicted for the night ensured that there would be no observations anyway. The roads were clear today, thanks to the day crew, but the snow looked pretty over the last 8 miles of the drive.

Palomar is pretty no matter when you come up. besides the height, wildflowers, and acorns, and deers and just the solitude take your breathe away. It was a miracle that the fire came so close and yet the observatory itself stayed safe. Well, not really. It was the effort of a large number of individuals that ensured the fate. The monastery played host to the fire fighters while they fought fires all around making Palomar their base station. Thanks to the two sets of hardy individuals that the observatory still functions.

2007-12-09 Skeptical debate?

The debate between Dinesh D'Souza and Michael Schermer was rather disappointing. They were supposed to debate two things: (1) Is religion good or evil?, and (2) Can there be good without God?

Dinesh started on the wrong foot (not knowing his background enough may be I was naive to expect otherwise. He equated religion to Christianity, and that is where his back ground came from. Even though he was born in Bombay, at one point he almost said that India is not in Asia. He did say that compassion comes from Christianity, and in response to a question did accept that there were pockets of compassion before Christianity, but it was Christianity that institutionalized it. In fact, Christianity gave us everything good.

He made three points about the universe and then went on state that scientists accept these three on faith:
(1) The universe is rational [What the hell does that mean?]
(2) Universe is lawful/mathematical? [Well, it seems to follow certain laws, at least the part of the universe we understand, and at least statistically]
(3) Rationality out there is mirrored in us? [Is there rationality out there? Are we rational?]

A couple of interesting definitions:
(1) Militant agnostic: I don't know and you don't either.
(2) Agnostic: An atheist without balls.
Non-theist being of course the better alternative.

What went on in some churches was described as: "No child's behind left" (I think quoted from Christopher Hitchens). Interestingly, both speakers widely quoted atheists!

If afterlife is celestial North Korea, it is much worse than North Korea where you can at least die.

Three questions stood out:
(1) Given scarcity of resources, why is every human life considered important?
(2) How do you believe your sources?
(3) Why should one accept eternal judgment? [i.e. Does one have a choice?]

I think even atheists tend to be politically correct at least in public meetings. Dinesh just skirted some questions. All in all, it was not a deep debate that I had hoped it would be. So many new events, writings, reactions keep surfacing that most old sources are easily forgotten or neglected or even go unnoticed. Raymond Smullyan's "Is God a Taoist" would have been a dandy source to quote from. But it is not about quoting sources, is it? It is a miracle how religious texts continue to hold their sway.

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