I vant to share my blood

It is easy to assume that sucking another creature's life's blood is the simplest way to obtain necessary nutrients. Problem is, most creatures don't like their blood being sucked, but moreover, as anyone doing mass spectrometry on serum will tell you, blood is around 95% water. The remaining 5% contains proteins and amino acids, electrolytes, and virtually no fat. The New York Times has this interesting piece on bloodsuckers. Because blood is really a poor diet and mostly water, bats quickly expel it through urination. If they do not feed within 60 hours, they will die. Since they pretty much feed at night, they must feed at least every other night. But what if they don't?

Vampire bats exhibit reciprocal altruism. The successful hunters will share some of their blood with the unsuccessful ones. There seems to be the recognition (at least behaviorally) that bats in need today may be the successful hunters tomorrow, when the successful ones today might become the needy.

For more info, check
http://www.bio.davidson.edu/people/vecase/Behavior/Spring2002/perry/altruism.html and http://courses.washington.edu/ccab/Wilkinson%20on%20vampire%20bats%20(small)%20-%20Sci%20Amer%201990.pdf

First she was just cute

... but now I'm scared. What an idiot.

The evil twin

I have an identical twin brother. Our parents treated us equally, though I would say he was given more the vibe that he was the business one, and I was the creative one. We went to the same small Christian school from fourth grade through high school, and then the same small Christian liberal arts college where we shared adjoining dorm rooms all four years. He dated one girl all through college and married her the year out. I dated several and then also married the girl I happened to be dating at the time, a year out from college.

During college, I rarely attended church and worship services unless they were required. (We had a quota of worship services we had to fulfill each quarter. I also worked as the church custodian, if being present by cleaning it counts!) My brother attended more services, but not consistently. After college, my wife and I attended church about once every month or two. It was more of a social thing, because I had already by that time turned about 50% agnostic -- I thought God probably existed, but the God of my fundamentalist upbringing was inconsistent with what I could see in the world. I was grappling with trying to figure out just who this God figure was if he wasn't who I'd been raised to see.

Meanwhile, my brother's wife had become the sole teacher in a one-room Christian school, and she played the organ. The church was about 50 people, and with her being the teacher and knowing all the families, they quickly became leaders in the church. My brother even began preaching.

After a year of looking like a momma's boy while working with gangsters in '89-'90, I tried to find myself through the study of music in San Francisco. That then led me into the silicon valley doing music recording software development. Maybe it was that liberal cosmopolitan air, but I became more open to other people and lifestyles during that time. Then my wife and I divorced. No kids. Call it a starter marriage. We both realized we made for great roommates, but that life could probably be more. (And while we were the ultimate ones that made the decision to get married, we recognized the culture we were brought up in that pushes you to use college to find a Christian spouse certainly had an effect on our actions.)

You really can't go through a divorce without coming to terms with who you are and what you need. It was during this time that I used the term "atheist" to describe myself. It felt dirty, embarrassing, and most of all, empty. The decision to turn atheist at this time, socially, was stupid. Divorce feels lonely. It's easy to imagine yourself alone and unlovable forever, so why not turn to God who is love? Why not find a nice church girl to start a family with? After all, what would my options be in an atheist woman? Having not met too many atheist women, I had no idea what I was committing myself to by choosing atheism for myself and also demanding it of some (hopefully) future spouse. I don't think marriages can really work when the religions are different.

And that's one point I want to make. With my divorce, I was not in a marriage that constrained my decision to choose atheism. Certainly my ex-wife, because she operated rather agnostically herself, could have permitted me to pronounce my atheism, but had she been more devout and our relationship more permanent, then I probably would have played along going to church, enjoying Christian friends, and hearing the messages. I would imagine the kids (if they were to have come along) would also have practiced. But because I was unencumbered, I took a rather objective approach to the theology, and even though I wanted to believe, I could not (and still can't) make a theology fit. I am not bitter about my religious upbringing. Certainly I can recognize a lot of petty, ridiculous things from the past, but my parents, friends, teachers, and preachers were all operating with generally good intent. It's just for me, it's speculation that is often contradictory or false and I won't build an ideology and try to coerce my children into believing what I myself doubt. I'm not a good liar.

Of course I was naive about atheist women. I found a pediatrician who is all about helping underserved and uninsured kids who finds me lovable and loving. Shortly after we were married we went to S. America to do some volunteer work. That as well as other travels made me realize the tiny culture I was born into that proclaimed it had received The Truth was ignorant and pompous, a dangerous combination. And it made me see every other religion operating similarly. So, a broad exposure to culture can also be a support to atheism.

My interest in biology also started around my choice to become atheist. Because biology and evolution was the straw that finally deconverted me, it is also where I turn to fill the gap left by the hole that God-belief used to fill. Maybe you want to call it a false God, but evolution has obviously given rise to life, our behaviors, our cognitive capacities, and our emotions. When asking about the meaning of life, why not study life? The more I understand the roots of these things, like good science does, the more questions it raises, but the quest is what it is about. The same dynamic applies to God. The more you dive in, the more questions you have, and the prominent ideas of how the redeemed might spend eternity is that they keep discovering God.

This is where my brother and I have diverged. He turns to the Bible for everything, and he can find support. His social circle is his church family. He lives in a semi-pastoral setting surrounded by churches and Republican banners. He started a business 15 years ago that employs a lot of Christians and where charitable giving is a mantra (each of his 80 employees gave over $1000 last year to charity). He sold his business this year putting him into the category known as the ultra-rich. From his vantage point, his success in business and his happy social relationships with everyone he is surrounded by, is attributable to Christ, and evidence of the pleasures you get living the Christian lifestyle.

I used to be utterly confused at how my brother and I could be so different. We still laugh at many of the same jokes and approach things in the same way. He's even analytical and logical, but like the presuppositional arguments discussed recently at Cliff's blog, the butterfly effect for me resulted in changing my presuppositions. Alternatively, he's found more validation and has become more fundamentalist than the way we were raised.

You might say there is a twin thing going on where we struggle to be different from each other. Maybe we do. We have the closest thing that anyone can have in playing the "what if" game, wondering what our lives would be had we taken alternative paths. Given the same choice, one of us (usually him) could always evaluate the effects of whichever one of us was first to respond (usually me) before also responding. I think my brother saw my experimentation and thought he'd be better off towing the line. Now as a 41-year old student with a couple of kids who still doesn't know how I'll find a job in this economy when I'm finally finished, and what I'll really be when I grow up, it can be discouraging seeing the success and self-actualization of my identical twin, but then I realize, I'm self-actualized, too. Given particular sets of circumstances, I charted a path to atheism and the opportunity to be a scientist. I love being part of the discovery of what can be objectively known. I largely lived my brother's life for the first half of it, and it can be fulfilling, but boy is it insulating. There's so much more in a life without God.

At the movies

A recent theme from some of my Christian blogging friends, and where I go round with them a bit on their blogs, is the theme of "the meaning of life". The assumption of many Christians is that without God, life is meaningless and would lead to nihilism. To that, I have countered, obviously ineffectively, that many other animals appear to enjoy life and have a fear of death. They seek pleasure, avoid pain, and avoid death. That is, their purpose in life seems to be to plug on for another day, trying to make the most of it, and rearing young to do the same. They don't have an innate sense that all is meaningless, otherwise they would behave less purposefully.

Another counter that I have used is to say that the meaning of life is identical to the atheist as it is for the theist. I say that because the only thing any of us have access to is the material world, whether you want to say a supernatural interfaces with it or not. Therefore, we employ the same resources -- books, conversation, observation, emotions, thoughts, etc. to our definition of life's meaning.

The attempt I want to make here is to say that theists actually spend very little time in devotion to spiritual concerns despite calls to do everything to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Thoughts are seldom so dramatic as those listed in scriptures to avoid adultery, don't kill, love thy neighbor. Most of our thoughts are around doing our jobs pushing buttons, sorting things, driving here and there, smelling the air, needing to go potty, zapping things in the microwave, tasting home cooking, listening to tunes, reading a newspaper, yearning for an electronic gizmo, learning how to operate a piece of software, getting ready for bed, hoping for a laugh as we watch tv, catching a concert, staying warm, keeping cool, wanting to socialize, feeling flabby and frustrated when we exercise, wondering about our clothes and hair, and losing ourselves completely in another world as we watch a movie. Call it mundane, but all of that stuff is what we have to work with, and do work with, to make life interesting and compelling for us and our youngsters.

If God was the answer to make life meaningful, then to ascribe such a role to the mundane means that all of it is a false proxy, unless Christians at least want to concede that some meaning might be acquired through natural (even "of the flesh") means.

It leads me to my final question: Why do we all love the movies?