Sunday slide 28

thinstripe hermit crab Clibanarius vittatus portrait witrh barnacles
As badass as this guy looks with his knobby pincers and a couple of barnacles, hermit crabs tend to be pretty shy – thus, you know, the shell. This one even chose a particularly badass shell too, that of a crown conch, which I can tell you from experience you don’t want to step on.

Taken in either late 2004 or early 2005 during my time in Florida and held just long enough for photos within my aquarium, this was a pretty sizable specimen of the thinstripe hermit crabs (Clibanarius vittatus) that can be found along the east coast, at least; the shell that it occupied was a little smaller than my fist (which are yuge!) but don’t ask me how to get any kind of accurate measurement of the crab itself. I would have liked it if it had posed against the glass a little further from the corner of the tank so the silicone seam didn’t show in the frame, but that was easy enough to crop out for this dramatic closeup. And anyway, crabs don’t take direction well and this one soon moved on to a less photogenic position. Another that I captured at a different time was benevolent (or oblivious) enough to provide some entertainment for other species in the aquarium.

Podcast: Twps & Boros & USB

macro photography rig showing focusing light and softboxed flash unit
And so, at long last, another podcast… but, you know, don’t rejoice yet:

Walkabout podcast – Twps & Boros & USB

Let’s start with the good stuff: Carmen’s Deli in Bellmawr, NJ, where you can get authentic Philly-style hoagies. And other things, too, but who cares? Hoagies, man. Hoagies.

A Jersey jughandle – follow the blue arrows.

Google Maps illustration of an actual jughandle
If you’re traveling north on E. Black Horse Pike, you have to bear right to go left onto W. Nicholson. Notice, however, that southbound traffic has a (more or less) normal left-turn lane.

Here’s another:

Google Maps aerial view of another Jersey  jughandle
You see, I understand the idea of a traffic circle, which more-or-less regulates without the need for traffic lights (as long as people understand the very simple rule of “yield to those within the circle but not if you’re in it and not if no one is coming” I’m looking at you North Carolinians,) but there are lights at each of these junctions. So how does this improve matters over a simple four-way with turn lanes? Ya got me.

three main components of LED macro focusing lampOkay, on to more topical stuff. These are the three components of the macro focusing light that I constructed, for only a few dollars all told.

At top, the USB power pack, usually intended for recharging smutphones in a pinch, and the 18650 battery that it takes – all I purchased was an empty case, since I already had the battery. It might be best to buy the battery separately so you can get the best deal on the highest milliamp-hour (mah) battery you can find.

In the middle, the USB gooseneck extension, very stiff and easily aimed as needed.

At bottom, the light unit itself, not to the scale of the others but roughly twice as big in this pic – compare the wood grain to the image above it, which is the same stretch of floor. If it helps, the unit is 26mm across, about the diameter of a quarter. And yes, it is bright, and fairly tightly-focused, so ideal for my purposes.

The previous version, a homemade rig, can (kinda) be seen here; it worked, but tended to slip position even with hook-and-loop attachments or rubber bands. Some of this was due to the short gooseneck and the necessity to be close to the lens.

You can see everything in place with the entire macro rig in the opening photo, but highlighted below to point out the components clearly.

macro focusing light highlighted
The orange zip-tie is removable, and serves to stabilize that end of the gooseneck arm because it doesn’t fit as snugly as needed into the battery pack. But with it, the light remains pointing precisely where needed.

So, how’s it work? Well, the next two images were taken in a pitch-dark room with only the macro light to focus by (manually of course, with the reversed 28-105mm.)

juvenile assassin bug possibly Pselliopus
This assassin bug was less than 6mm in body length, making that proboscis 1mm or less, and you can see how short the depth is even at f16 by how quickly the legs have gone out of focus. The stem that it’s perched on is perhaps slightly thicker than a pencil lead.

tiny shell and sand grains
And this is a tiny shell found during the beach trip – those are grains of sand, fine ones mind you, in the foreground and adhering to the shell. The illumination for both of these images came from the flash unit, but the ability to see them and have the camera at the right focusing distance came courtesy of the new macro light. Yeah, it seems to work just fine.

I still wear a headlamp when out at night just to find my way around and do the initial spotting of subjects, but the macro light comes into play when I’m focusing; as I said, it can be positioned close to the flash unit itself to throw light from the same direction, to give a better indication of how the light will model and where shadows will be thrown. Later on, I might affix another LED directly within the softbox itself, aimed where the center of the flash burst will fall – that way, I know precisely how the lighting will be, and will know when the flash might be blocked by leaves or aimed a little off (which happens more than occasionally.) There are always refinements that can be made.

Oh, what the hell. Here’s another example of Jersey boulevard blight. And yes, I drove through each of these – this one was even under construction. I added arrows to help illustrate directions of travel.

ridiculously engineered road junction in south Jersey
Once again, all of this in ground level, and every place where the lanes cross has a traffic signal – at least twice as many as would be needed for a routine intersection. When the power goes out, this would require a squad of police officers to direct traffic through.

Okay, okay, I’ll get back to nature photography or trashing religion shortly.

Sunday slide 27 (and not)

North American river otter Lontra canadensis tracks on sand in sunbeam
I am not 100% certain of the maker of these tracks, but it’s one of two species, and I’m pretty confident that it’s a North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) – the other possibility is a raccoon. There are subtle differences between the two, and some obvious ones like size, since an otter can be many times the mass of a raccoon, but my memory of the exact size is gone and I have nothing in the image for scale. This week’s slide was taken in 2003 in Florida, on the banks of the Indian River Lagoon, where the early morning sunlight played across the trail in a dramatic way. Both species would use the lagoon to find food at night, but raccoons would forage on the shore and in the shallows while otters would dive in and chase fish right in their element. Let’s just say ‘otter’ and be done with it.

Low-angle light is best for capturing things like animal tracks, as well as other textures, and the yellow sunrise beam provided a nice dramatic element. Of course I had to take this one.

Now, typing all that reminded me of some other images, and I went looking, but they’re not slides and don’t have the optimum light angle. At some other point in time in the same location (I ventured out to the area a lot,) I found an unmistakable otter trail, this one showing clear evidence of a sizable capture. It has to be a pretty big fish for an otter not to be able to carry it, and drag it along instead.

Trail made by North American river otter Lontra canadensis dragging large fish across sand
This was, in fact, taken at the same location as this series, so you can see that big fish were certainly available. The trail disappeared into a thicket impenetrable to me, and there was no chance of following it to see if the lucky otter was still working on its meal. Or passed out from gorging.

The obligated abstract

tight crop for abstract because I suckOkay, no, it’s really still June, and not eight hours into July, so my month-end abstract is still on time. It’s was just… server issues, yeah, that’s it, server issues that prevented this from posting when I told it to.

[No, I am not going to back-date a post just to look like I’m maintaining a schedule.]

And, as might be gathered from the previous few posts, I’ve been doing little shooting and exploring this month, so I didn’t have a whole lot of choices for abstract compositions that were taken in June, and I cheated a little by tightly cropping a “normal” shot (for me) to create an abstract. Maybe I should just stop the monthly posts if I can’t fulfill them properly…

But then I’d miss the opportunity to present an image that you’ll suddenly remember when you’re trying to fall asleep. I can’t take away my fun like that.

If you’re flummoxed by this one, all you need to know is that it’s a variation of one of these, not far enough back that it even looks unfamiliar; a variation that had too deep shadows on one side and so I cropped it very close to try and make it confusing. A cheap trick, I know, but you already understand that’s not beneath me at all, so keep quiet. You knew what you were getting into when you came here again.

Sunday slide 26

wheel bug Arilus cristatus hatching from egg cluster
And so we reach the halfway point in the year, at least as far as Sunday slide posts go. This week’s offering comes from April 2006, as a collection of wheel bugs (Arilus cristatus) hatches from an egg cluster affixed to the branch of a tree. I credit this capture to James L. Kramer, who has made a few appearances on this blog – he didn’t take this image (he got plenty of his own,) but had the egg cluster in his yard and was monitoring it closely, notifying me when the hatching had started to take place, and luckily I was available at the time. To give a idea of scale, the entire egg cluster spanned about the width of a dime, so these guys are pretty small. The extraction from the egg case, unlike (for instance) the emergence of adult parasitic wasps from their cocoon, takes place over several minutes with little visual activity – occasionally a leg breaks free, and at the very end the action is breathtaking as the insect draws completely free from the case (I’m being sarcastic, since it still appears to be in slow motion,) but a candidate for video this ain’t; even time lapse photography would show long periods with minimal movement.

With all the macro work I do now, I look at this and shrug, not terribly impressed. The Sigma 105 macro was a fine performer, but at this magnification it was pushing the limits, and I can achieve a whole lot better now with some pretty esoteric equipment. Ah, the difference eleven years will make…

For comparison, some pics of a juvenile wheel bug can be seen here, and an adult here – at hatching, they are perhaps 5mm in body length, while the adult at that link was 35mm, so there’s quite a bit of difference in just a few months, much like the mantids. Which reminds me that we need an update on them soon, lest I tarnish my reputation.

Fill frogs

Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis sitting on fenceI have been trying to get to a couple of posts, including possibly a podcast, for quite a while now, and just haven’t been able to get my shit together. So for now, because I feel guilty and inadequate, I’m going to do a quickie to feature a few of the amphibians I’ve found in the past few weeks.

This particular image goes back to the beginning of May, before the beach trip, and wont even be the oldest one. A Copes grey treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) was found one evening perched atop a fence post, and even though I have a lot of such photos in my stock already, I went slightly fartsy to use the line of posts in the composition. Such efforts, I know. I could only easily get to this side of the fence, the other being a bit overgrown, and initially the frog was facing the other way and thus continuing the emphasis of the fence posts to the right, but it turned around as I was locking focus, because of course it had to.

On a brief visit to the NC Botanical Garden in late April, just about everything that I saw (that wasn’t vegetation) was frogs, toads, or lizards. In a small pond liner, a pair of American toads (Anaxyrus americanus) were busy producing the 2018 models.

American toads Anaxyrus americanus producing egg strands in pond
I can’t believe I was unaware of this until recently, but frogs and toads do not reproduce through penetration, since the males have no penises; instead, they mate much like fish do, with the female throwing down a few dozen/hundred eggs and the males basting said eggs with sperm – yeah, right in the same waters I tend to wade in (rumor has it they poop there too, but this could simply be a filthy lie.) There really isn’t a reason for the male to latch on like this, but I suppose the proximity greatly increases the chance that his own sperm will be the ones to fertilize the eggs, though I’ve seen stacked males more than a few times in the past, so if you’re a tadpole it’s probably best not to ask who your father was.

Which leads to a more recent shot, taken back on the 16th during heavy rains, of which we’ve had out fair share and then some. Hearing the grey treefrogs once again calling in the backyard, I ventured out and found not just a lone specimen on the fence posts like above (though probably not the same individual,) but also this pair, with the male at the ready to do his duty once the female actually decided on a place to deposit her brood.

coupled Copes grey treefrogs Hyla chrysoscelis perched on fencepost before reproduction
Given their proximity to our own backyard pond liner, it’s likely the female was considering this as a place to deposit her eggs, but near as I can tell she didn’t decide favorably, because I have seen no evidence of such within.

There has, however, been evidence that other species have been doing the nasty there, since we had several sizable tadpoles hanging out. They would dive for the bottom and out of sight whenever I came into view, so I would get only a brief glimpse at most, but I was fairly certain that at least one was sporting the full complement of legs. Eventually, I captured one that showed this transitional stage, and did some portraits at the same time that I was getting confused by the water beetle eyes.

green frog tadpole Lithobates clamitans with four legs
This one, a green frog tadpole (Lithobates clamitans) was still largely convinced to remain aquatic, but from time to time during the session it seemed to recognize that maybe, just maybe, it didn’t have to stay in the water. It was active enough that getting the quality shot was a bit challenging, and even interfered with the beetle images that I was attempting by blundering through the frame once I finally got the beetle to hold still near the glass, so there’s a little tip for you when using a macro tank: one specimen at a time, especially if they’re active.

green frog tadpole Lithobates clamitans porudly showing off its new limbsNaturally, after I finally got these shots, then one of the quadrupoles decided it would bask at the pond’s edge in bright sunlight and completely ignore my presence. I like this because it shows the full-length tail, something that would soon begin to shorten before vanishing entirely.

Not very long after getting these shots, we had torrents of rain over a period of several days, and the tadpoles seem to have all vacated the pond now. There are some curious detail shots that I got before this occurred, again taken with the macro tank, that may show up here sooner or later.

Just yesterday, as I was catching up on some garden work, I found this tiny toad in the yard and brought it up to the porch for a quick couple of pics. It was determined to face away from me and head towards the edge of the shallow pan that I used as housing, so I had to almost-continually keep spinning the pan to try for the head shot, and I couldn’t tell you which of us was getting more frustrated, but it worked eventually.

unidentified tiny frog or toad
Now, I say toad, but I’m not absolutely sure about that – it remains unidentified, and I’m judging only from the texture of the skin and lack of other identifying characteristics, but it was also quite small, a modest percentage of the size of an adult American toad, so might have been one of the chorus frogs or ‘peepers’ that inhabit the area. I was smart enough to introduce the millimeter scale for some of the shots.

unidentified frog or toad with millimeter scale
So, about 12mm in overall body length, which as The Girlfriend pointed out, is literally thumbnail size – she’s always delighted to see the tiny cute ones.

She was also delighted to see the next, which I forwarded to her while she was at work, and she promptly made it her computer background image – I think it closes the post quite well. For a few days, a green treefrog (Hyla cinerea) chose to perch on the pokeweed plants in the backyard, finding a plant with a sturdy stem and the closest hue to its own natural coloration. Despite the macro flash effect, which always makes the backgrounds dark, the clues that this was taken during the daytime are the small pupils and the generally sleepy appearance of the frog, which are of course nocturnal.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea dozing on pokeweed plant Phytolacca americana
By the way, I have to point out that I’m pleased with the simplicity of lines in this image. While I was concentrating on the portrait angle like usual, the stems worked very well in the composition, helping to focus attention. Not like you’d miss the frog anyway, but it still works, in my opinion. We all know what that’s worth, so let’s not go there…

Sunday slide 25

This week has been pretty demanding, in multiple ways, so while I had several things that I was planning to tackle for the blog, I couldn’t even bring one to completion, and only shot a handful of photos as it was. I am hoping things will get better soon, but I know it’s likely to be another couple of days. More content is coming, I promise.

This one comes, again, from the very early days of slide shooting, and so it bears no date and no film stamp on the slide border (something that I started adding a little later on.) However, since it’s a variation of this one, I can confidently say that it’s Fuji Provia 100 at least, and probably shot in 1999.

tall trees in Duke Forest showing variety of fall colors
This is a section of Duke Forest, and I got lucky in finding a small clearing bordered by a variety of autumn colors framed by a brilliant blue sky, so I shot both horizontal and vertical compositions. There’s a faintly different feel to the two choices, which is why I often try a couple of different approaches to subjects – if there comes a demand for something that emphasizes the height of the trees or even a feeling of insignificance, I would choose this version over the other.

But I still want to do these better, mostly because of the damn longneedle pines that litter the state. They’re the ones with the long straight trunks and the kind of threadbare look to the canopy, and this is typical; they’re ugly trees and all over the damn place here, next to impossible to avoid. While I have yet to find the ideal mix of tree species for a nice balance of colors come autumn, I’m always watching. Of course, unless you really know your tree species (and I don’t,) you have to wait for fall to see how the displays are going to turn out anyway. And you have to have a good season for display, and catch the right weather and skies and times, and of course have the opportunity to be out shooting, and so on…

Sunday slides 24

The sequence about to be seen here comes from our trip to Florida, back in the early days of the blog, and I mentioned then that I was going to scan in a few more images from that trip, so you can see how well I schedule things.

The season had been lean for rain, and this was most visible while we were at Big Cypress Bend down in the Everglades. While previous trips had netted some great shots, this time around many of the channels were dry and other pools were little more than mud and algae – not exactly an impressive setting for photos. An interesting trait about the Everglades is, despite the constant presence of water throughout hundreds of square kilometers, it usually maintains a good flow and is fresh and clear, not brackish or stagnant as you might expect. Usually.

American alligator Alligator mississippiensis lurking in murky soup
While some of the resident American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) might have been deterred by this, there were still a few to be found, though I imagine their subsurface hunting was limited a bit. One in particular was displaying a peculiar behavior that I have still not determined the purpose of, and it did so often enough that I captured two sequences of it.

American alligator Alligator mississippiensis raising its head and forebody from the water
Starting from the typical gator pose, it would raise its head and upper body out of the water, almost as if stretching, then lean over…

American alligator Alligator mississippiensis thrashing sideways into water
… and splash!, it would slap its head sideways back into the water quite forcefully. As you can see, the water wasn’t quite as muddy as it looked, but also was remarkably shallow, proven by both the brown mud trail that the gator stirred up in its passage and its ability to even raise out of the water in this manner. Chances are, it was driving at least a little bit into the mud bottom as it thrashed its head down.

I can only guess at the purpose of this. It had much the same appearance as whales breaching, and often they do so in an attempt to dislodge parasites. I might have favored this, especially something irritating within an ear, except that the gator seemed to be doing it in both directions. Stirring up potential prey, like turtles, from the mud? Bored silly? Pretending it was a whale? I really couldn’t begin to tell you what this was accomplishing. But it was at least more activity than I have often witnessed from alligators.

Now wait a second

Several days back I was trying to do some aquatic photos using the macro tank, and while I was working with the main subject (to be seen later on) I took the opportunity to photograph an aquatic beetle that had come along for the ride. This one was about 3mm in body length, just to give you an idea – nailing sharp focus at that magnification is challenging. Adding further to the difficulties was the sand I was using as a substrate, since it hadn’t been submerged for more than a couple of minutes and too many grains were still floating through the air adhering to them, just to be in the way. Naturally, it’s hard to tell a hyperactive beetle to move a little to the left…

unidentified tiny aquatic beetle
When editing the shots, I tend to go in to full resolution on the images to check for clarity, but this one made me pause. While I actually captured the facets of the compound eyes (no easy feat, this,) they don’t look right, actually seeming to extend beyond the edges of the eyes themselves.

200 percent resolution image of same beetle's eye
This is a 200% resolution inset, twice the actual resolution of the original image. The most prominent stuff is sand in the way, but I’m referring to the facet reflections at the top of the eye, which not only extend too far, they don’t even curve as you might expect them to. It looks, even to me, like I wasn’t very good at Photoshopping in the texture layer. But here’s what I think is the case.

Compound eyes tend to be sets of tubes all clustered together, with a little lens at the outside surface (top,) and reflective sides leading down to the retina at the bottom. Often the sides are camouflage-colored, but when you get a view straight down into the tube, you see the darkness of the retina and that’s what provides the ‘false pupil‘ effect. But this species, at least at this size, actually has clear-sided tubes that are completely transparent; the darkness is the retina cells themselves, while the eye as we typically see it is larger in diameter. Check the faintly milky outer circle that’s visible, mostly to the top and right a bit. The flash angle was responsible for even showing the upper facets in the first place.

That’s my conjecture, but you are free to disagree if you like – I control this blog and your comments will be deleted anyway. I just thought I’d feature a curious thing that I stumbled across.

But how? Part 23: What would it take?

I’ve kind of covered this is portions of several different posts, but expanding on it seems warranted, as I change perspective a little just to highlight something. So let’s look at the question that religious folk often like to ask of atheists, “But what would it take for you to believe in god?”

I imagine that half of the time, it’s asked out of frustration, as the atheist displays a higher standard of evidence than the religious querist. They find it hard to believe that the factors that they found compelling could fail to impress someone else. Other times, it’s asked out of a deep suspicion that there really isn’t anything that the atheist would find convincing, that they’re emotionally or ideologically wedded to the idea of no god, and thus there’s no hope of having a rational discussion (which may actually be true, but not for the reasons that they suspect.) Both of these can be rather revealing in their nature.

First off, it should go without saying that when we’re talking about a being that supposedly created, not just a species or a planet, but the entire universe, proving such a thing is a remarkably tall order. In fact, it pretty much defines ‘impossible,’ but we’ll go ahead and grant that a simple demonstration of spontaneous vast creation would at least be a good start. It’s entirely a non-issue, however, because not one religious person can even come close to such a thing; often, they don’t perceive the huge and overriding difference between being personally convinced (or emotionally convinced, if you prefer,) and having something solid to work with.

While the second approach, the belief that atheists are being emotionally intransigent and not reasonable, is almost exactly the opposite, as if most religious folk have arrived at their standpoint through careful consideration of the evidence and all of the ramifications and possible misinterpretations – I know, I should have appended the ‘humor’ tag to this, shouldn’t I? Because, let’s be realistic, every reason ever put forth for belief has revolved around either weak personal convictions, flawed fundamental premises (such as, “Everything has to start somewhere,”) corrupt philosophical arguments, or the incredibly insipid. There really isn’t much point in engaging with someone that would use an inordinately fatuous argument such as, “The bible says it’s true!” It’s like they’ve never encountered a politician or salesperson…

But let me hasten to correct a potential wrong impression: the argument may be fatuous, but the people making it rarely are. They can, in fact, recognize questionable statements from politicians, most especially the ones they don’t like. And they can recognize weak and illogical arguments from scripture or philosophy – for all of the religions that they don’t follow. But yes, there’s virtually always a set of double-standards at work. While nearly everyone can attest to the value of extensive testing for new pharmaceuticals, or perhaps look critically at the labels of the food they buy, often their requirements for ‘proof’ of a god are remarkably thin, largely because they want such a thing to exist. And we cannot forget the simple human trait of taking one’s cue from others, not only responsible for even introducing the concept of religion in the first place, but establishing the One True Religion™ in their mind, without any need for comparing others or weighing the evidence.

There’s a certain level of humor and irony in the idea that atheists might just find that proving an omnipotent being would require some incredibly kickass evidence, and that the standards of evidence should be the same regardless of personal desire (and even that personal desire actually has nothing whatsoever to do with evidence.) Yes, this means we can be accused of being too emotional and not emotional enough while discussing the exact same topic.

I’ve addressed the personal belief angle numerous times in the past, but it bears repeating in this case. It is often argued that religion is a personal thing, akin to liking a particular food or music style, and that would be fine if that was the only way it manifested. No one, however, makes important decisions regarding how their children are raised, how they treat other people, what politicians and laws to support, and so on and so on, based on what flavor ice cream they prefer. If someone is forming a worldview, one that serves as a foundation for a large part of one’s life and decisions, how is it possible that the standards for selecting such a view are almost universally weak and facile? I’ve seen people do more research into where they’re going for vacation than the vast majority of religious folk have done when deciding on what mystical process governs the entirety of creation.

And we arrive at an interesting dichotomy. A lot of religious folk, in my experience, seem to feel that control is in god’s hands – the concept does not originate within them, of course, but is fostered by literally thousands of sources claiming such a state of affairs. And so their obligation, their onus to even make informed decisions, doesn’t actually exist; the one decision that they’re responsible for is simply to be religious, and there isn’t even a factor of which religion, because the only one that counts is the one they have direct experience with when growing up. Until and unless, of course, they run up against something that they don’t like. Then, they will manage to find (or twist) some aspect of scripture into justifying their preconceived notions, secure in the idea that they are following god’s path. All other passages, especially the ones that explicitly deny their notions or any other aspect of their current lifestyle, somehow don’t count. And while it’s easy to believe that I’m addressing a tiny subset of religious folk, the bare fact is that I’ve never encountered anyone that fails to fit into this category; I have yet to find someone devout enough to follow every tenet that their own scripture provides. In a lot of cases it’s impossible anyway, given the contradictions inherent in the passages, but it does mean that, to them, “religion” apparently means a set of guidelines specific only to themselves. Which makes it a lot easier I guess.

Admittedly, some of the blame must be placed on whatever religious leader or organization the ‘devout’ find themselves in the thrall of, since countless concepts originate solely through those. They’re responsible for so many of the ills that religions foster, now and at all times past: witch hunts and heretic purges, anti-evolution efforts and fretting over satanic whateverthefucks (it’s always something different,) what women can be stoned for doing and putting bombs in public places. The scriptural guidance towards these ranges from incredibly weak to completely nonexistent; instead, the idea of these being “god’s will” comes from voluntary conformity to whatever circle of influence someone chooses, not from anything remotely resembling divine provenance (which, as noted above, is impossible to establish anyway.) And the choice of these influential circles is made… how? Again, are we talking solid supporting facts, or liking whatever particular hotbutton of desire happens to be pushed?

It stands noting that none of this should have any bearing whatsoever, as I’ve said before. Opinion and personal satisfaction aren’t any kind of tools towards real and useful information; it doesn’t matter how much someone likes a particular idea, since this has no affect whatsoever on any actual existence. This is the entire point of evidence: we can form a solid worldview only on what we can establish and demonstrate, not philosophically, not through debate, not through personal satisfaction, but only through dependable, repeatable, and above all predictable behaviors or responses. We know the acceleration of Earth’s gravity by careful measurements, despite the overriding belief for so long that it was entirely different, and the connection to mass has been so dependable that we can put probes in orbit around other bodies in our solar system. Who really gives a fuck whether someone believes otherwise? What’s that going to do for them?

Which brings us to another dichotomy. What I suspect is a disturbingly large percentage of religious folk arrive at their surety through rather lax manners: mostly just following family and friends, occasionally some rather lame theological arguments, and at times buttressed with something personal like a dream or a curious coincidence. And this is fine for circumstances that bear little to no consequences – I like birch beer largely because it was the soft drink of special occasions when I was growing up, and not because it’s so much better than other choices. But then, having established their choice through such banal means, many religious folk then derive the confidence that it’s remarkably supportable and robust, and use it to dictate how others should behave, or what values are useful, even (and if you get off on irony you’re going to need a lie-down,) what tenets of science established through countless experiments and measurements should instead be considered outright lies. I mean, thanks for that guidance, you certainly seem to know how to spot them…

Another just for shits and giggles: I don’t think I’ve come across a religion yet that doesn’t have humility as a virtue, or at least a commendable trait, and treating one another with respect and kindness appears very frequently too. Now, I won’t say that these are the most frequently ignored tenets of faith, but they certainly rank extremely high on the list. Even funnier is that these are two of the values that just about everyone, atheists included, actually support. Arrogance is, of course, welcomed by no one.

So we come back to the question of, “What would it take to get you to believe?” Earlier, I’d said that my favorite response is, “What have you got?” knowing that the answer is, always and dependably, superficial. But now I think I’m favoring a more elaborate response: “An omnipotent and omniscient god that created the entire universe and is remarkably involved in what we do as a species above all others? Wow, it would take a lot – give me a week or so and I’ll provide a list. Why, what did it take to convince you?