My Zunivers

28 June 2005

Should I Hike To Amherst?

Western Massachusetts would be much more fun if the weather would be a little bit cooler.

Otherwise, it's a charming area with cute little houses and overpriced everything. Typical New England.

24 June 2005

A Return

Yeah, so I got back from camp.

I'm quite tired now, and I'm also getting sick.

Hooray for Sunday's trip up to Massachusetts!

18 June 2005

Off To Camp.

This is post 99, so we'll be celebrating with post 100 sometime really soon... like the end of next week.

I'm going off to camp tomorrow! It's usually a very fun place. I'll come back physically exhausted but psychoemotionally refreshed.

Let's put it this way, the Thinking there usually isn't hard, although last year the kids found out I was a "scientist" (thanks to the assistant director telling them on Wednesday morning "And by the way, if you want to know anything about proteins go ask Nate. He's studies them."). They decided to seek a question that I could not answer. The result, after two days, was the following-- "What is the purpose of meaning?"

I was stumped.

So, when I return, we'll celebrate 100 posts that have wasted your time because you can't find anything better to do. I'm sure I'll have something to say.

17 June 2005

Just Geek Stuff

{Geek Stuff}

So the potential energy is temperature dependent. We normally use unitless temperatures. How do we make them unitless? We scale them to the depth of the potential energy. To use Kelvins to get the potential well, we need only know the conversion factor between the well depth, which we don't know until we make the well, and Kelvins. Grump.

My demensional analysis intuition may have a solution. We're setting Boltzmann's constant to be unitless, instead of with units of energy over temperature, and giving it a value of 1.00. If we then set unitless energy at 1.00, we have fixed a unitless temperature scale because we've fixed to unity both an energy and a ratio of energy to temperature.

Then again, I may have simply restated the problem.

{/Geek Stuff}

16 June 2005

Soaps, Senators, and a New Link

How many of you like soap operas?

I don't. It's too much like watching my parents.

I received a letter from Senator Santorum today. It was typed in modified block format on government watermarked paper made in 2005 from recycled materials (according to the watermark). It has hokey boldface type here and there, making it a form letter. Having one on the subject would not surprise me given that the Casey e-mail list and every scientist in America has been told about Bill S.786, the subject of my whining to Santorum (like a month before any of the lists mentioned it, I add). The signature appears printed, which is pretty much normal from the government these days except for Very Special Letters. I have yet to get a Real Politician to sign something for me. Quite frankly I like it that way. Anyway, one more note about Santorum's letter is that it has typist initials. None of my representatives have ever included those.

Perhaps sometime when I've had time to digest the litter, and run it thoroughly through my Bullcrap Detector, I will consider talking about its contents. It was about Bill S. 786. You can look up the bill for yourself on Thomas. The bill is in committee, and if my preliminary reading of Santorum's comments is correct I doubt that it will get past there.

I'm adding a link tonight. The new link is for the Metanexus Institute. They have a lot of interesting articles there, and I've decided it's worth dangling in front of you folks so that every time you read my blog your advertising-saturated minds simply ignore it like you do every other bit of visual clutter you see online.

15 June 2005

Geek Stuff, More Stuff

{Geek Stuff}

Well, I figured out what is wrong with my primary research program. If I try to simulate a crystal, I can't get the system to initialize as a crystal. This is zany, as it worked just fine a few months ago. My order parameter array was empty, and I've traced it back to noticing that, when I ask to start with a crystal, my initial configuration file contains fewer particles than I request. In fact, I get about half as many as I want. And the last one is a partial line of x, y, and z values. Not an x, then maybe a y, then maybe a z, but rather simply cut off somewhere along the line.

My order parameter is coming out empty because the simulation depends on having as many particles as I ask for. So if it thinks I have 256 particles and I only have 167, it cannot initialize the order parameter because it is calling non-initialized array positions. All changes in the order parameter are made to this empty value, so the changes give me an empty order parameter value. And then, when the program tries to save an intermediate or final configuration of particle positions, it crashes because it's looking for things to put in the file that don't exist.

God bless C++, as in Fortran there is no empty array value.

Now, what to do about it?

{/Geek Stuff}

Life's been busy.

I think my adviser is pissed off at me about going away next wek to camp. I can tell you this, the mean volunteer service time among my department's graduate students is something like 8 hours per year but the median is 0. I'm responsible for a good chunk of that mean.

People should be able to understand that in graduate school your primary work is to do classes and research. They don't understand that, though. "Primary" is somehow replaced by "Only." There isn't supposed to be anything else. Everything besides classes and research gets piled into a big ol' dung heap. Going to camp for a week to help with kids? One might as well take the whole week off to watch movies, from the reaction given. They both have zero value because they are both not on the list of the "only" things that we should be doing.

Let them be pissed off. I will enjoy watching them wet themselves.

14 June 2005

Time, Decimals, And More About French

Life is just insane right now, which is really too bad. I have lots of Thinking I would like to do, and I can't Think when I'm busy doing physics all day. I also have Interacting that Iwoudl liek to do, but, as usual, I can't find people to Interact with me. I have a few people I'd like to Interact with, but either I can't or they won't.

No, honey, I'm not leaving subliminal messages about our sex life. I mean Interacting with people. Although I hate half of the world, and ignore another 49.9999996% of it, I do like Interacting.

(Speaking of interacting, I was recently told by someone that "we live better than 99.9% of people in the world." That means, if I'm moving decimal points correctly, that we're living better than all but 6,000,000 or so people. We could argue that maybe it's as high as 6,500,000, but I would still have my doubts. The US population alone is around 280,000,000. I find 95% more convincing.)

Now, to clarify, yesterday's post was meant only to reference the French system of starting the week on Monday. I'm not giving the French great applause, but I did spend most of my evening walk talking to myself in French, which becomes amusing as I try to revive my limited vocab. J'ai une parapluie. Est-ce que tu veut une parapluie? J'aime ma parapluie. Elle est bonne. J'espere que ma parapluie sait mon amour. And so on.

My French sucks, and on my walk I asked myself in French if I wanted to learn better French. Yes, I answered in French, because instead of the quesiton I think I'm answering I'm probably deciding something about breakfast with his breasts enough great to panties
fill your.

13 June 2005

The Week Ends

I believe that the French have it right. The week starts on Monday and ends on Sunday.

12 June 2005

Bats... And Then the Real Post

Tonight I saw two bats. This bears nothing on the rest of the post.

Tonight I had a conversation with my wife about pessimism and optimism. She pointed out that I'm stubbornly pessamistic, always focusing on negative things. She's right.

The specific thing that bothers her, methinks becuase she said so, is that when I think about church and such I tend to focus on what's wrong with Christians. I don't have any problem binning what's wrong with Christians and cultural aspects of Christianity (two big bins, for me) separately from what's wrong with the non-cultural aspects of Christianity (a tiny, empty bin, for me).

Some people can't do that, though, and might mistake me saying "Christians act dumb" for "Christianity is dumb." I believe the former because I believe that all people, me and non-christians included, act dumb at least once in a while. Although I talk about it much less, I don't believe the latter. I would like Christians to realize that those who wholeheartedly believe that latter quite often, in my experience, believe the former. (This is dispite the fact that non-christians acting stupidly often is not counted as a problem with non-christianity, but today I'm here to talk about other things).

My hope is to motivate Christians to see that they should try to be Thinking Christians. People like C. S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantiga, George Ellis, Denis Alexander, and others show us that there is such a thing as a Thinking Christian. Sure, there are some people I have met who say that's not good enough and that Christians are acting dumb just for being Christians. They've made their choice, just as I have made mine. As much as I'd like them to believe what I believe (and vice versa, I'm sure), a wall is a wall from both sides.

In my experience, however, there are many more non-christians who respect Thinking Christians. These respectful people dislike Christian Interference and any Christian Hypocracy, but they are otherwise quite happy to know and be around Christians. Often they are even open to learning things about Christianity (especially, I add, when I am willing to graciously give them an ear and hear what they think). We don't share fundamental beliefs, but, for example, we are in school taking classes together, sharing meals, and doing science side-by-side. Our fundamental beliefs are different, and even detestable, to the other, but that does not make us hate each other. We are both, to pluralize an evangelical catch phrase, in each other's worlds but not of them. I call it "Tolerence without acceptance." It's a two-way street.

So, for my Christian friends who are reading (and anyone else, I guesss), my negativity abotu Christians isnt' a sign that I'm dropping Christianity. Just as many people I know are committed to what they believe, whatever it is, I am committed to what I believe... even if I don't talk about it much.

I struggle day to day to learn to be a more positive person, as it would make me a better husband, a better friend, and someday a better father. For now I'll tell you what I was trying to get across to my wife tonight. My hot air is hot air, my pessamism is my pessamism, and my brooding is my brooding. My poor wife spends the most time with me so she gets a lot more net negativity out of me then most of you get. But there's shiny stuff on the inside. Some of you see more of it than others. I don't completely open up much. I'd like, however, to show more of the shiny stuff to everyone. Give me some time, and I'm sure it will happen.

10 June 2005

My bad!

Blogger Brent Rasmussen over at Unscrewing the Inscutable took note of my post on atheism (June 1, 2005), and pointed out to me that I made an error. In fact, he posted about it on his blog because he couldn't leave a comment here. You can read the post, and the comments made about it, here.

I agree that I goofed. Since I've enjoyed some of Brent Rasmussen's thoughts in the past, dispite not always agreeing, I figured it was appropriate to let you, dear readers, know about my error.

The first mistake was that atheism, like theism, is not a philosophy in itself, as I asserted a few times. Religions (often) incorporate theism, and likewise those two things should not be confused. Atheism is embodied in some philosophies, just as theism is embodied in philosophies that are accepted by followers of theistic religions.

The points remain that atheism isn't a religion, atheists are not following a religion just because they follow an atheistic philosophy, and philosophies like "secular humanism" (whose scope and definition we could collective argue over all day, I'm sure) are not religions.

The second mistake I made, and almost missed, was that I wasn't clear near the end of the post that I was addressing fellow Christians. I chose words that make it come out sounding quite broader than what I intended.

I originally said, near the end

"The problem here, though, is not just that the dialogue with atheists breaks down from failing to see atheism as philosophy."

In new light (saying the more specific thing I meant to say and correcting atheism .ne. philosophy), what I meant to say is more like

"The problem here, though, is not just that the dialogue Christians have with atheists can break down from Christians failing to see that atheism is not a religion."

No offense was intended or taken, by the way, and I sent Brent Rasmussen an e-mail thanking him for pointing out the mistake. Go flip through his site and some of the ones that you can access through the links. Even if you disagree, you can learn about what people think and maybe even have some fun doing it. It's weight training for the brain.

Tenuring a Vegitative Bird

I spent this night writing e-mails to a couple of people, and I spent the afternoon working on physics, so I'm too beat to make a long post here.

I will point out to you that I have finally included her ein my blog a link to Lark News. Think putting the fun into fundamentalism, a la The Onion. Then go somewhere else becasue you think I'm a liberal rat-bastard for finding it to be funny.

One final note, I have been given some undergradaute and graduate student slaves. Between zeal, language, and lack of communication skills (one trait to each), whoever wants them can have them.

Seriously, don't worry. They're an okay bunch. They just don't seem to realize that I'm only a few months ahead of their knowledge of what we're doing. I'm sure that getting them to do the grunt work for my research for me will coem to be enjoyable. It's all just training for when I become a provost and eliminate the tenure policy.

09 June 2005

Breast Feeding and Me

I am here to take a public stand on two matters. The first is breast-feeding in public. The second is cattiness about the matter (which, although hyperbolic, expresses my experience).

I don't mind public breast-feeding. There are two reasons.

First, many women do try to be discreet about it. It's not that there is a problem, in my mind, with any sorts of exposure, but I include this point because it's not like we have a rash of half-nude women walking around saying "I'm feeding my baby, stop looking at my naked bod." Women tend to respect others enough that they draw the line well before complete nudity, which would bother me.

Second, there isn't, in my mind, anything remotely sexual about the event. When I see a woman breast-feeding a baby, the first thing on my mind is not "Look at the titties." Rather, I think about nurture, comfort, food, and the way the wonder of how for a baby all of those things are being combined in what it is experiencing. The process I am witnessing is not for the purposes of sex. To say it another way, my wee-wee doesn't make a stand when I see it, so neither do I.

I know this doesn't many people who are reading, but I'll say it anyway. Please don't feel ashamed to breast-feed when I am present. Even if I do take a look, seeing what is happening it is not going to turn me off of you or onto your body.

Some of the responses that women will have to my saying this are probably abominable-- standard cat-fight stuff. Hormonally imbalanced women who wonder how some man dares have an opinion on the subject because breast-feeding is a woman thing. Women who think I must be wrong because I don't experience breast-feeding a baby and so I don't understand it's function or its proper place in society. Women who think it's stupid to breast-feed and will just find some reason to spew their distaste at me for not thinking the way they do. Women who want to be angry because they never would have had the awful experience of having those stupid babies come out of them if it wasn't for some guys getting them pregnant.

Take any buzzword about pregnancy, childbirth, or motherhood and these same people act the same way. Epidural is one of my favorites. I've met few pregnant women who don't have a strong opinion about this word, don't assume that others must have the same opinion, and don't think that differing opinions are necessarily a personal attack. As a man, if you want to quickly be killed by a mob of pregnant mothers attacking you and each other, just show up at a baby shower and mention your opinion about epidurals. You don't even need to have an opinion-- make one up. It doesn't matter whose side you're on. Say it out loud. Near a door. Pray that you can get out alive.

To the female reader who Understands me, and I know you are out there in this world, I commend you. Thanks for not being petty. Let's be friends.

08 June 2005

Busy, Busy, Horribly Busy

Doing research programming in the evenings has left me with little time to post here. That makes me sad, because I can't waste as much time voicing myself, but it wastes less of your time, so I don't want any complaints, okay?

I love you people.

I don't love C++.

Specifically, I don't love templates.

07 June 2005

Air Shows and Sunburn

So I went to bed early for the air show, and then I went to bed early after I got home.

The air show was fun, by the way. The ground displays included a B1 and B52, and I was quite giddy to see them in person. When you climb in, the bomb bays on both look quite small. Getting into the B52 bay, in fact, involved climbing under the rear landing gear and then into the bay, as the open doors were only about two feet off of the ground. But when you compare those "tiny" bomb bays to the bay on a B17 or B24, the B52 and B1 seem enormous. We also got to walk through a KC10, and watch the Golden Knights as we waited in line.

There were P51, F15 and F16 flight demonstrations. The F15 was loud with its afterburners pointing at us. Very loud. The F16 and F15 can turn quite tightly. Of course, I forgot to mention the C17 demonstration. Folks, this isn't your usual flying garbage barge. That thing could dance!

Blue Angels delighted us with acrobatic feats and daring... or something. It's oooh and ahh and all that. Just like auto racing, there's no way to make it interesting to someone who isn't already interested, and it's much better in person than on TV. You should at least be impressed by people flying high powered fighter jets within feet of each other.

I did get a bit of sunburn, and I'd like to point out something about that. It's not that bad! I am quite red, but it's not that bad. It does not hurt, it does not itch, it does not feel damaged when touched, the oil emissions are not abnormal, and it will peel minimally... if at all. I won't get skin cancer from it. So why, then, is it so fricking red? Let's remember something about Nate's skin. Nate is a rather pink person. In the winter I occasionally have people ask me how I got sunburn in the winter. My second worst case of sunburn actually was in the winter, but I'm talking about other times.

If you look carefully now, the reddest of the sunburned areas correspond to the places where my face is usually pink (which is much of it). Let's think for a minute about colors. What happens to pink frosting when you add a few more drops of red food coloring? If you said "The frosting gets more red" then you don't win anything, although you are right. Now consider skin that is normally quite pink. If you add a bit more red, you get skin that it more red. If you start with skin that sometimes makes people think you are sunburned at your lightest, then certainly a minor case of sunburn will look quite bad.

And so it does. So subtract off the normal cheery red face and shut up about my minor sunburn.

04 June 2005

Posts and Planes

This is post number 87 or so. If any of you want a list of the "more important" posts, let me know. Before you think I'm an arrogant butthead, I'll point out in advance that nobody will be asking, and I know that. But I'm offering, to be nice.

If the weather is nice on Sunday, a friend and I are going to an air show at McGuire AFB. Admission is free, as this is a U.S. military joint branch outreach event (a.k.a. "Let's put on a show for the good citizens!"). The Golden Knights and the Blue Angels will be the highlights of the show. There will be plenty of good stuff on the ground,. like big airplanes and fast airplanes and dangerous airplanes. In fact, there are a few planes scheduled that I have never seen in person before. It's all very exciting. And best of all, if there's any local social activities on Sunday night, I'll be home in time to participate.

03 June 2005

Cross-sex friendships again.

Hey, sociology fans and haters! I promised a quick overview of Heidi Reeder's paper, the one that she was so kind as to send to me.

Reeder's main contribution, in my opinion, is introduction in language to describe attraction between people. She groups attraction into four categories-- subjective physical/sexual attraction, objective physical/sexual attraction, romantic attraction, and friendship attraction.

These categories were not simply formed ex nihilo and then stuffed with experimental results. For you sociology fans, Reeder used an open coding process followed by categorizing through interpretive theme criteria. I can give you the references to the techniques. For you sociology haters, this means she interviewd people and made boxes based on what the people said. Later she did a more detailed study that put people into those boxes. The results fit nicely because the boxes were formed from responses rather than just dreamt out of nothing.

The reason this study is important, by the way, is twofold. First, most cross-sex friendship attraction studies that include "attraction" have focused on sexual attraction. Second, most studies of attraction focus more on what makes people attracted to one another rather than comparing the modes of attraction.

What exactly are these four types of attraction? I think the names say it well, but I'll go over them just in case.

Subjective physical/sexual attraction is when someone has a physicalor sexual desire for another person. Objective physical/sexual attraction is when someone does not personally have a desire for another person, but does acknowledge that the other person is indeed physically capable of making people become physically or sexually attracted. Romantic attraction is when one person feels that the other person would be wonderful in a more "advanced" relationship, such as a dating partner or spouse. Friendship attraction means that one person is drawn to another person for socialization, counsel and support, relaxation, and the like-- normal "friends are friends" sort of stuff.

Some interesting results are worth noting.

First, friendship attraction was the most prominent form in the study. Expected, I say, because the demographic was exclusively cross-sex friends. It's notable, however, that when a physical/sexual or romantic attraction form was present, there was almost always an active desire to place the friendship attraction above the other forms of attraction. Whether or not the romantic attraction changed the friendship is discussed below.

Second, in the discussion of symmetric versus asymmetric attraction (which answer "Is this form of attraction mutual or does it only go one way?), the most detrimental thing to a friendship was asymmetric romantic attraction. In these cases, for the sake of remaining on good terms on a friendship level, the two people usually found a need to distance themselves, weakening the friendship but not necessarily the friendship attraction.

Third, in the same discussion of symmetry, asymmetric physical/sexual attraction was usually of no consequence to the friendship because the friendship was worth enough to prevent attraction from turnign into action. This makes sense, but the counterintuitive result was that symmetrical physical/sexual attraction had the same result. The only difference noted was that for those with symmetrical physical/sexual attraction, there was an understanding that the nature of the relationship was open to future change.

Fourth, the most common change in attraction over time was the dissipation of romantic attraction. This was much more common than increasing romantic attraction.

In a survey-based qualitative study in the same paper, one based on the emergent categories in the first study, we find a few highlights.

First, only three kinds of attraciton appeared in over half of the surveys. First was friendship attraction (96%), second was increasing friendship attraction over time (71%), and third was current objective physical/sexual attraction (56%). (The surveys tell current and increase or decrease of all kinds of attraction except for objective physical/sexual attraction, which was only measured currently).

Second, those who were not currently subjectively physically/sexually attracted had longer friendships.

Third, those who had physical attraction in the past but do not have it now had the longer friendships than those who responded "false" to the question of once having physical or sexual attraction but no longer having it.

Fourth, a large number of respondants said that their subjective physical/sexual attraction had turned into objective physical/sexual attraction (82%).

Fifth, those who became more subjectively physically/sexualy attracted and those who became more romantically attracted also became more friendship attracted.
There was no significant correlation, however, for the same forms mutually decreasing.

Sixth, not surprisingly, those who were romantically attracted were nearly all subjctively physically/sexually attracted, but not the reverse.

The biggest limitation of these two studies is the demographic, which was college students. The framework, however, may be very useful for cross-sex friendships involving one or two married persons. I'm particualrly interested in the romantic attraction results. Such as it is, we don't have those, though.

It is, however, interesting to see that it is possible for people to put friendship above physical or sexual attraction. It's also interesting to see how, for physical/sexual attraction, subjective attraction changes into objective attraction. The reason I find these things interesting is that the main arguments I hear against cross-sex friendship are the inabilty of friendship without sex and the inevitability of friendship increasing towards sex. I am willing, at least for college students, to say that these arguments are simply false. I'm also willing to project that the arguemts are false for other demographics.

If you want to read the paper for yourself, and get the bits I left out (a lot of it), you can look it up. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 17(3) 329-348 (2000). If you need to bug anyone for a personal copy for academic use, you can bug me and I'll help you get one.

By the way, don't ask me how I formatted that citation. Unless I have a manual that I am supposed to follow, I just make it up as I go along. You should be able to get the idea.

02 June 2005


Got your attention, didn't I?

Due to some unforseen circumstances, I'm not a very happy camper right now. I'm trying to decide how much responsibility to undertake in helping a family member make an important decision.

(See, I placed the word "circumstances" at a point where my mentioning the word penis would force half of you into thinking "circumscisions." That makes me giggle.)

Due to my nature, please leave me the heck alone about it. Everyone who knows me more than not-so-much will hear about it soon enough, so just give me some space to think, okay?


Oh, did I mention I'm bothered and preoccupied and depressed about how I'm so bothered and preoccupied that I can't get my work done? Yea, that's why there's no deep post today and I give you unfunny pee-pee humor. The depths are busy auditing their stocks, leaving the hands on deck to act like Freud was right even though the dickhead didn't really measure up.

You get pure angst today.

But I'm warped enough to still have a dirty sense of humor along with it.

Sorry to put you through it.

01 June 2005

By the Way....

I just thought that I shodul, in all fairness, actually give you this link. Remember howa little while back I harassed a few beliefs about origins and said that you can look up where creationists say those things (or at least one of those things) is wrong? Well, if you were really interested, or if you really were knowledgeble about the available resources, you would have looked it up on your own. Since most of you were too lazy, but you'll read it if I put it here, I give it to you. Click me.

I will point out this-- anyone who wants to discuss origins with me had better understand all of those points. Using one of them in a discussion will brand you as incompetent and I won't have any more from you. It's not because I want to be arrogant, it's because I can't waste my brain time having my ideas "challenged" by things that even accomplished creationists don't believe. There are a few more things on the list, and soemtime I might list them here for you.

By the way, I emphasize that the only thing resembling useful arguments that I find against "evolution" are the arguments about information. I find these to be useless at this point, however, because they don't define information clearly enough. See this article, for example, which I find to be the best on the subject, but still one that falls short of explaining accurate measurement of information (subjectivity, beyond the concept of measurement error, is inserted), or how any of this relates to a young earth, a universal flood, Darwin's friendship with Satan, or why I'm supposedly going to Hell for not believing the Bible.

You people have a really big bunch of ground to cover. If you even care, I suggest you get started.

The Two Aspects Of Any Religion

[Update: Make sure that when you finish, or before you start, I don't care, you read the post "My bad!" on June 10, 2005, where I acknowledge a valid of criticism, and make another correction. (6/12)]

I want to point out that atheism is not a religion. Secular humanism is not a religion. Evolutionism is not a religion. These are not religions.

When we apply the word "religion" to any cultural institution, be it a highly organized or a loosely affiliated bunch of people of people who claim that religion, we are implying two things. First, we are saying that the institution contains an underlying philosophy-- a belief system. This includes, by the way, moral beliefs. Second, we are saying that the system is embodied in rituals and ceremonies-- a culture.

To anyone with a hint of an education, it should be obvious that atheism, secular humanism, and evolutionism are therefore not religions. Although they each have an underlying system of philosophy, that system is not embodied with any kind of rituals. Many Christians go to church at least once in a while. Atheism, no matter how you try to put it, has no equivalent. Christians have the Bible to interpret as the source of belief. Atheists don't have one single text of any size where they point to say "That is it! That is what we interpret to decide what we believe." (I don't want you atheists throwing fits about this, since such a fit will either be that Christians don't interpret that Bible the same way, which is beside the point right now because they at least all claim the Bible, or that atheists do have a group of texts, which will hurt, not help your cause, even if you and the next person and the next person really do have the same texts, which you don't. So pipe down, okay?) Christians, no matter what name they choose for their actions and how much those actions are necessary instead of simply encouraged, have sacraments. Atheists have no parallel to baptism, communion, healing rites, and the like.

I have made my comparisons above with Christianity, but I could have chosen any of a number of established religions and made the same case.

Lest you think the world is asymmetrical, there are so-called religious people who culturally follow a religion rather than actually believing in any of its underlying philosophy. I think here of French Catholics and cultural Jews, among others. Even your average Methodist or Baptist church has people who show up but don't really believe the presented worldview.

The biggest problem I have with incorrectly calling something a religion is that if it is missing one of unifying culture or unifying philosophy then people will, whether they realize it or not, still try to connect up the missing piece anyway. We end up with connections that are not really there. Worse, the more zealous people end up focusing their culture's energy on connections that are not really there.

Let me give you an obvious example. According to some people, evolution is a religion. We find things such as this, which states

"One can see a clear parallel between Darwin's death and that of the Lord Jesus. Darwin set the captives free from Biblical accountability and turned them over to human hands (humanism) to perfect his legacy."

Rubbish, I say, because Darwin's death was not what set the captives free, it was his ideas. What a pathetic attempt.

Or what about the commonly preached notion that atheists worship Knowledge or Man like Christians worship God? This one comes up when topics like abortion, prayer in school, or evolution arise. Again, it is rubbish, because atheists do not pray to knowledge, sing praise to knowledge, or anything like that.

Of course, similar backwards parallels can also cause clashes, for example, when it is assumed that cultural Jews are religious Jews. When I meet a Jewish person, I always ask up-front if they are practitioners, believers, or neither or both. I don't want to wrongly assume anything and thus jeopardize my friendship.

So atheism is not a religion because it does not have the cultural aspects of a religion. I could give even more ridiculous examples than the ones I offered above, but I'm too lazy.

Of course, atheists aren't letting themselves off the hook just by saying, truthfully, that they do not follow a religion. They still have a philosophy of some kind, and they still should be able to answer for that philosophy. I don't mean that they must be able to defend it as right or wrong, but they should at least be able to simply explain it. I can explain what I believe. I often don’t explain what I believe, because I don’t tell most people what I think about anything, but I know that, if someone I trust with my deepest thoughts were to ask, I have an answer.

Christians, however, don't get very far by using the label of "religion" when they should be using the label of "philosophy." I doubt, however, that evangelical Christians are going to do this any time soon. Christians are scared of philosophy. My pastor, for example, was once all happy with what I was saying, until he found out that the person to whom I was attributing the idea was a philosopher (Karl Popper). Upon the word philosophy turning up in the conversation, my pastor suddenly became a hostile to the idea. And I swear that I have heard more sermons talking about the dangers of being intellectual and, verily, even philosophical, than any other individual topic.

The problem here, though, is not just that the dialogue with atheists breaks down from failing to see atheism as philosophy. The problem extends to the fact that evangelical Christians do not see what they believe as philosophy. It is theology, doctrine, history... anything but philosophy. But philosophy it truly is. We deal with matters of being, knowing, and morality, which are the three main toys in the philosophical playground. If we do not acknowledge what we do as philosophy then we risk losing our connection with how to properly think about what we believe and how to fit what we believe with what other people believe. All hope of defending moral choices and the true nature of reality are then just gone.

In fact, when hard question come up, answers like "We believe that because that's the way it is" or "we can't think too hard about that because Christians can't become intellectual" demonstrate that, by and large, the connection is already lost.

Of course, once you deny that Christianity has a philosophy, you are undermining its status as a religion and turning it into a mere culture. Could the history of Catholicism in France tell us anything about this?

I'll let you think about it.