Friday, December 5, 2008

UNC Chapel Hill Library: No Christmas Trees

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I just found this news item. This year, the library at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill campus will not have any Christmas trees in the lobby although in the past they have done so.

Tomorrow (Saturday) we'll probably see more news on this, but here's a link to the story:

UNC-Chapel Hill Library Drops Christmas Trees

(Just for clarification for those not familiar with the university, Chapel Hill is the name of the town. This is not a private or Christian school.)

It should be interesting to see how people react to this, but it's important to realize that this was their own decision to do so -- no "militant atheists" sued them or anything like that. Sphere: Related Content

The Uprising: Conversion to Christianity?

Last night, Nighline did a story about religious reality TV. There are apparently at least three shows now that feature a group of Christians as they try to spread their message, including one called The Uprising. As I watched this show, I was reminded of something I've seen many times as people have tried to convert me back to Christianity and to convert others to Christianity. I've heard stories of how Jesus can change your life and how wonderful Jesus is, and why wouldn't I want to be a part of that?

Sure. I'd love to. Sign me up. I would love more than anything to know that I could live forever after I die in a beautiful, loving place called Heaven with wonderful people like God and Jesus. Where do I sign? Except there's a fundamental problem that these people seem to miss: I don't believe Jesus is real. So before I can possibly accept Jesus into my heart, first they better figure out some way to convince me that Jesus is real. And sorry, most of the testimony I read of how Jesus did this for somebody and Jesus did that for somebody can be chalked up as pure coincidence. While reading the comments to a story on a local newspaper site, a woman said that Jesus healed a sick relative of hers. Well I've been healed many, many times, and so has everybody. News flash -- the body has a way to heal itself. When I get cut, my skin regenerates.

What I'd be curious to hear from this woman who responded to the newspaper story (not that she's reading this post, unfortunately) is how many times she's prayed for people to heal and how many times it has actually worked. Don't get me wrong; I admire the fact that she cares so deeply about these people and I wish everybody cared so much. And so I would venture to guess she has prayed for others many, many times. Does only one or two incidents of the person getting better prove to her that God did it and that God is real? That doesn't cut it for me.

This becomes especially true for me when you start to factor in the fact that this "God" character as described in the Old Testament bears remarkable similarity to the other gods of the time -- gods that nearly all of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, agree that didn't exist.

And so if people want to convert me, first they'll have to convince me that Jesus is real. I don't believe it. I used to, but not anymore. Jesus isn't real; God isn't real; the Holy Spirit isn't real. How can I "come back" to Christianity when I realize that these three things don't even exist?

Most people I know who are former Christians are in the same boat as I am: We were incredibly reluctant to leave the religion. After believing and for so long, we tried and tried and tried to find Jesus, to find some sense that he's real. But after time we started to realize that he doesn't exist. Many of us have shed a LOT of tears over this. It's not a happy thing. It's not an angry thing. It's a SAD thing. Ask any former Christian if they felt sad and alone, and they will almost certainly answer YES. It was a horrible, horrible thing to start to realize that this God and this Jesus and this Holy Spirit that we had worshiped and believed in with all of our heart for so many years simply isn't really there.

So people can tell me I'm going to go to Hell, but it won't work, because I don't believe in Hell. They can tell me I obviously wasn't a real Christian because I didn't have the Holy Spirit in me (which I've been told more than once), and I agree: I didn't have the Holy Spirit in me, and neither do you, because the Holy Spirit doesn't exist. They can use all the means they can come up with to convert me, but at a most fundamental basis, none of it will work, because there is no Jesus. Sphere: Related Content

Missing atheist sign found in Washington state


Missing atheist sign found in Washington state

Amazing. This makes me think of all sorts of questions about why somebody would steal the sign. They were certainly angry that atheists are getting to have their say. (Yet so often we hear that Christians are the ones being silenced.) And they apparently felt atheists *shouldn't* have their say in this.

According to the article, Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation said, "I guess they don't follow their own commandments." Indeed. Did they pray for forgiveness for breaking one of the ten commandments?

But even more so, do they believe in the punishments the Bible gives for breaking the commandments?

One has to wonder.

Jeff Mark
Author, Christian No More
Says Guy P Harrison of this book: "an intellectual broadside to the world’s most popular religion" Sphere: Related Content

Escaping Christianity: "Atheists take aim at Christmas"

This article made the top stories on CNN this morning:

Atheists take aim at Christmas

(Dan Barker, head of the Freedom From Religion Foundation is interviewed in it.)

As the author of Christian No More, I thought I'd provide my take on this. I hear people saying that we non-believers are trying to attack Christmas and even take it away. But that's not the point here. The point is that a government agency should not have the right to single out a religion (in this case, Christianity) and use taxpayer money to fund any kind of sign or symbol--unless they also provide equal time to other religions and beliefs (or non-beliefs as the case may be).

And yet, I am always hearing how Christians feel attacked. If you're curious for more on my take on this, check out my book! I talk about how Christians feel persecuted when in fact, they're the majority in the US, and how atheists are all to often quieted. I also talk about this supposed "attack" on Christmas.

Jeff Sphere: Related Content

Friday, October 31, 2008

Logic in philosophy is meaningless without scientific data

When I wrote my book Christian No More, I only occasionally stepped into the realm of philosophy to briefly describe why an idea doesn't work. But for the most part, I stayed away from philosophy. The reason is all too often people resort to wordplay to make a logical conclusion, and then claim it's fact -- when it isn't.

Consider this example:

(a) It's impossible to cover an infinite amount of distance in a finite time.
(b) There is an infinite amount of numbers between any two real numbers. (If you don't buy this, see below where I explain it.)
(c) Therefore, the distance between me and the television across the room makes up an infinite number of steps, and thus I can never reach the TV set no matter how long I walk.

I would hope that most people would agree that that's a bunch of nonsense. But logically it makes sense. How can you cover an infinite number of steps that exist between me and the TV? Yet we seem to do it every time we move so much as an inch or less. And, in fact, I *can* walk to the TV.

The problem here is that I'm using just wordplay disguised as "philosophy" and not bringing in any actual measurable scientific facts and data. And that's the problem I see with a lot of philosophical arguments. People can make all the philosophical arguments they want either for or against the existence of God. But in the end, if there's no correlation to real, live scientific data, then it's meaningless.

For example, one can say that everything must have a cause, and then use this throughout a "first-cause" argument. But that's not even true. In Quantum Mechanics (which we have scientific data to know is real), pure randomness is real. Quantum mechanics tells us that there is a tiny, tiny, tiny possibility that I could suddenly find myself on the other side of a brick wall, having transported instantly for no reason whatsoever. The likelihood of this happening is so low that we probably would have to wait longer than the lifetime of the universe to see it happen, if ever. But at the subatomic level, such strange things happen quite regularly, and this, in fact, is how radioactive decay happens. The particles suddenly move to a place where it seems it would be physically impossible for them to do so as they are projected outside of the atom, resulting in radioactivity. This is measurable, testable fact, not just wild speculation.

In other words, radiation takes place without a prior cause. It just happens. It seems to defy logic. But in the scientific world, especially at tiny levels (quantum mechanics) and huge levels (relativity), things don't always happen the way our minds expect them to. Things seem to defy logic. Yes, we could give a pure logical argument of why Quantum Mechanics isn't real (e.g. "one object can't occupy two spots the same time" -- yet it happens when studying waves; logic fails).

That's why, without any connection to real, live scientific data, the philosophical debates about the existence of God are meaningless. Show me some actual scientific data and I'll listen. But explain to me through just wordplay why God exists or doesn't exist, and I see little reason to listen. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My response to Pascal's Wager

In the past when presented with Pascal's Wager, I've given this argument: Why would somebody consciously "choose" to believe in a God "just in case"? If God is real, wouldn't he see through such a hypocritical belief?

Most people I've talked to -- Christian and atheist and everything in between -- like this response. But today in conversation with a Christian friend of mine, I thought of the following. Here's my new response to Pascal's Wager:

It's a moot point. I live my life as best as I can, donating to charity and helping people simply because I want to, because it's important to help people. Since I don't believe in an eternal reward or eternal punishment, I'm doing these good deeds from my heart, NOT out of some warped desire to impress a deity to earn everlasting salvation. The goodness is in my heart.

In the Bible, Jesus even said that it's important that we have goodness in our heart, that we don't behave hypocritically. (It's late, and tomorrow I can find some exact verses.) So if I'm living a life of goodness from my heart, just as Jesus taught us, then I have nothing to worry about. I don't believe in the Christian God, nor do I believe in Jesus. But in the highly unlikely event that after I die I suddenly wake up and find myself sitting before Jesus for some kind of judgment, then I'm not worried at all. I was a good person and had goodness in my heart.

That's my new response to Pascal's Wager. I don't believe in God, and I'm not worried, because if there is a God, he'll see the good person that I am. (Incidentally, does that mean I'm leaving open the possibility that there's a God? Nope. I don't believe one bit in the Christian God. He's not real. But at least I don't sit around dreading it either way.) Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Atheist's Riddle

There's a guy who claims to have proven that Intelligent Design is real. He makes this claim:

1) DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a code, a language, and an information storage mechanism.
2) All codes are created by a conscious mind; there is no natural process known to science that creates coded information.
3) Therefore DNA was designed by a mind.

(The whole page is here.)

He then defies anyone to prove his claim wrong by providing an example of a code that is not created by a mind. But this argument is filled with holes and problems. For example, he's making a rather outrageous claim and then demanding that the claim hold unless anyone can prove him wrong. That's not how science works. I've used this argument before: I could claim there is a guy named Frank sitting in the center of Jupiter controlling the universe. Prove me wrong. And until you do so, I DEMAND that you accept my claim as fact. Is that realistic? Of course not. Will all scientists of the world drop to their knees and suddenly believe in Frank? No. Science doesn't work that way.

And speaking of science, this guy's claim has absolutely no basis in science anyway. Even if it were true, what use is it? Does it help scientists solve some problem of technology? Evolution and thermodynamics both help scientist solve problems.

Using Google, I've found several pages that basically dismantle this guy's claims. But here's my take on it.

First, he's making an enormous assumption by defining the word "code" as he sees fit and forcing that definition into the argument. What is a code? Well, that depends on who use ask.

Consider this: What is Hydrogen? It's an element, and the first one in the periodic table. Its atoms consist of a single proton and a single electron. Virtually all scientists agree on what Hydrogen is. (Tomorrow will Hydrogen still have a single proton and a single electron? Yes. Because scientists have created a specific definition: An item that has a single proton and a single electron and no neutrons is called Hydogen. It's a definition, and it doesn't go the other way. Tomorrow Hydrogen won't suddenly consist of two electrons and two protons, because such a thing wouldn't be called Hydrogen.)

But what's a "code"? In order to bring this argument into the realm of science, we better have a solid definition of code. If "code" is a physical means used to transmit information from one mind to another mind, then DNA isn't a code. If it's a physical means of duplicating data, then DNA is a code, but language isn't. See the problem? This guy is using wordplay. He's making up a definition of "code" and then trying to use it in the realm of real science, where his argument doesn't belong.

In fact, he's leaving out the aspect of human observers. It appears that in his definition, a code is simply something that contains information. But does anything contain information? The letter H by itself contains no information. But in the context of a word, it has meaning to you and me, and I can use it to transmit information from my mind to your mind. It's the first letter of Hello. But it's not always used that way. It could be the symbol for Hydrogen. Or it could be a traffic sign showing there's a small connector between two parallel roads. By itself, this "code" has no information. In order to be useful, there must be two parties who agree on the meaning of the code. Otherwise is it even a code? If you find a tribe of people who have never had contact with any other humans, and you hand them a piece of paper that says, "Look out! There's a bear coming!" then certainly such a "code" would not transmit any information at all, since they don't speak English.

Yet this guy seems to equate "code" to the very thing that is being used to transmit my thoughts as I type this blog into your mind as you read the blog. But to make this happen, I'm using many different technologies: I'm using letters and punctuation to form words, sentences, and paragraphs that are part of the English language. Further, beyond the letters and grammar, I'm using careful choices of words to at least make a valiant effort to try to duplicate my thoughts into your brain, but at the same time I'm aware that that's impossible. (You'll hopefully come away with an understanding of what I'm saying, but certainly your thoughts on the subject won't be identical to mine in every possible way.)

Beyond the letters, symbols, words, and paragraphs, there an enormous thing that's helping transmit the information: My computer, your computer, and the huge Internet in between. And on each computer is, presumably, a keyboard and a screen; I'm using a keyboard to get the letters and symbols into the computer; and you're seeing a screen display the letters and symbols. Is that a code? Maybe; maybe not. It depends on how you define code.

But it appears this guy's own personal definition of "code" somehow includes DNA. But DNA has very little in common with the language you and I are using as I map my thoughts into your brain via this blog. DNA, rather, is a means of copying genetic information from one cell to the next and there's not a human mind on either end of it.

And so you can see what's happening here: This guy has chosen the word "code" and has DEMANDED that we accept his postulate that both DNA and written language are both "codes" by this definition. Yet, in fact, DNA and written language are two drastically different items.

Ultimately, though, this guy isn't talking about codes themselves; rather, he's talking about who created the codes. English, if it's a code, was created by many, many people over multiple generations. And it continues to change. Was it created by a single mind? No. And so, we could change his argument into something that I'm sure even he would say is nonsense, yet could be forced onto people by the same dishonest means:

1) DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a useful language.
2) All useful languages are created by a large group of people spanning multiple generations.
3) Therefore DNA was designed by a large group of people spanning multiple generations.

In a blog posting, somebody who adheres to this guy's beliefs said that birdsong is a similar language like that spoken between humans. Who created birdsong? The birds? I suppose one could try to make that argument, although biologists would likely disagree, bringing instinct into the picture. But let's humor that and suppose that birdsong was created by the conscious minds of the birds. If that's the case, then are birds capable of creating human language? No. They're limited in their capabilities. So one could make this argument in the same dishonest vain:

1) DNA is a code just as human language and birdsong are.
2) All codes were created by beings just smart enough to create the codes, but not smart enough to create more sophisticated codes.
3) Thus, DNA was created by a God who was only smart enough to create that one code and no other codes.

I'm sure the guy would agree that that's absurd as well.

So let's get right to the real problem: This man's flawed argument is nothing but an assumption. He's inventing definitions and forcing his own mind to see it one way, and trying to force others to see it his way. He has no reason to write it as fact. Instead, the best he could do is write it like this:

1) It seems to me that DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a code, a language, and an information storage mechanism.
2) It seems to me that All codes are created by a conscious mind; there is no natural process known to science that creates coded information.
3) It seems to me that DNA was therefore designed by a mind.

And that, my friends, is not a very strong argument. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Homeschooling and atheists

Well, my sister is in a bit of a predicament. Her daughter is very advanced -- in 5th grade she's reading at an 8th grade level; she's doing pre-algebra; and is excelling in many other areas as well. My sister recognized that she was being dragged down by the schools, so when her daughter was in 1st grade, my sister pulled her out and began homeschooling her. (My sister is also very intelligent, and certainly capable of teaching her daughter.)

Well, now that a few years has passed, her daughter was really missing the social aspects of school. So they tried re-enrolling her. This worked for about two weeks. The teachers were on her case, not letting her read the advanced books she wanted to read, and refusing to teach her the advanced stuff she was ready for. Basically it was a disaster.

I just found this out last night, and I'm not sure if my sister is pulling her back out or not, but I suspect she will.

What she really needs is to find a group of other homeschoolers who get together so their kids can work together with other kids. This is actually quite common in the homeschooling community.

But there's a problem: The majority of such groups are Christian groups. By and large, the homeschooling community is largely Christian. In fact, it's hard to find materials that aren't of a Christian nature. My sister would tell people she's homeschooling, and people would automatically assume she must be Christian!

At this point, I'm not sure what my sister will do. But I can say that one thing is clear: The homeschooling community is mostly Christian, and it's unfortunate that people who want to raise their children as atheists and freethinkers don't have access to the benefits of combined homeschooling that the Christians do.

If anyone has any suggestions and ideas, I'm all ears!

p.s. I'm adding my blog to Planet Atheism. You should check it out; lots of great blogs there. See the link on the left. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Thursday, August 28, 2008

God: The Great Communicator?

Since God told George Bush to kill Saddam Hussein, and God told Saddam Hussein to kill George Bush, why didn’t we lock the two of them in a room filled with weapons and let them fight to the end, since that’s obviously what God was trying to tell us?

And speaking of what God was trying to tell us, you have to admit, God’s a pretty bad communicator. I mean, here we have this guy who wrote this massive book called the Bible, but it was apparently so badly written that he had to then hire millions of people called preachers and priests who spend every single Sunday, week after week, year after year, trying to tell us what God really meant when he wrote the Bible.

Geez, you would think that if he’s a god he could do at least more than a half-assed job at writing a fucking book. For God sake. Sphere: Related Content

Christ Crackers: Get them while they're holy!

A year ago, I found a website where you can order those communion wafers they use in Catholic church services. I ordered a big bag of them and printed up a label on my computer and stuck them on the bag. Now whenever I have Catholic friends over, I can break out the Christ Crackers and serve them up with a bit of wine. The Catholics love it! Why, one of them even broke out his own item (holy water) and sprayed it at me. Damn did that burn.

So I took the idea to a marketing expert, and he helped me find a place to manufacture the crackers ourselves and turn it into a huge product. He felt the name didn’t stick, and instead suggested Jeezus Peezus for the smaller wafers, and for the bigger wafers, Chunks-O-Jesus.

Once we grew the company, we started noticing a common complaint, that the Chunks-o-Jesus and the Jeezus Peezus were not staying crispy when dunked in various liquids such as wine or milk (or a mixture thereof). So we reformulated the product and then introduced our latest brand that stays fresh even after wine-dipping, called Crispy Christ-ees.

And what can I say, these are a huge hit. People everywhere are trying to get their hands and tongue on the yummy tasty body of Jesus.

Chrispy Christ-ees. Save Yourself (a trip to the grocery store and order them online today)!

(c) copyright 2008 Jeffrey Mark. Copy at your own risk, as ye shall burn in hell, oh heathen.
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Jesus Fallacy: A Parable

The principal sat down with the high school seniors and explained the way graduation would work. He said:

"Some of you worked very hard in school and got all As. Some of you were on the varsity basketball team and helped take our school's team to the national championship, where we won. Some of you worked hard in the after school programs where you went to the local homeless shelter on the weekends and helped feed the poor people and tutor their children in math and English so they could one day be productive, happy members of society. Some of you led paper drives to help raise money for charity. Some of you went to the scholar competitions and took first and second place, demonstrating how much you learned. A couple of you even got perfect scores on both the SAT and ACT! And now, graduating is upon you."

The students who accomplished all these were smiling.

"But," said the principal, "there's more to life than that, my students."

Susan, the valedictorian and president of the honor's society, asked, "What else is there? We definitely want to know where else we can excel in life. After we graduate, we want to be the best citizens our country has ever seen. Please tell us. We want to grow."

The principal smiled and said, "I care so much about all of you, I want to give each and every one of you a chance to succeed in life. And therefore, I am making this one final requirement for graduation. With this one final requirement, any student who did not perform well in school will then have the opportunity to graduate with high honors. And anyone who did well still must complete this final requirement, or he or she will not graduate at all."

"And what is that?" asked Bill, the straight-A student who led the paper drive and was also the star pitcher on the baseball team.

"Simple," said the principal. "My son graduated from this very school, and in order to graduate, you must simply think my son was pretty cool."

The class was silent.

"But sir," said Susan. "We never met your son. How can we think he was cool? And why would that matter?"

"Indeed," said the principal. "My son graduated five years ago and so none of you met him. But you must think he was pretty cool or you won't graduate."

Some students decided to accept the gift of graduation and agreed that the son was pretty cool. Others questioned whether the son even existed, and, even though they got perfect grades and performed well in all activities and helped the community, were denied graduation.

Now come on. Does that REALLY make sense? But that's EXACTLY what Christianity is claiming: All the good deeds in the world won't help you; in the end, all that matters is that you accept God's son Jesus as Lord. Sphere: Related Content

Creation implies WHICH creator?

I have a question for the creationists. Please explain this to me.

You like to use the argument that a creation implies a creator. If you see a watch, the watch must have had a creator. If you see a painting, the painting must have had a painter. Thus you claim, "The universe exists, so clearly there must be a God who created the universe."

So my question is: If you claim that argument to hold for the existence of God, then please explain to me why, logically, the "creator" must have been specifically the God described in the Christian Bible and not, for example, some other creator that we have no knowledge of, or something equally random like one of the Egyption gods?

Further, here are some things to consider: If two molecules in outer space randomly bump into each other and a chemical reaction takes place, do you feel somebody must have manually caused the chemical reaction? Next, do you have to consciously control the chemical reactions in your body, such as the potassium and sodium reacting inside and around your cells? Sphere: Related Content

Urgent warning to Rapture participants

This is an urgent warning to all Christians who wish to take part in the rapture!

I received a fax machine from God this morning with this dire warning. It turns out the process that will be used to lift the bodies of all good Christians away to heaven has a slight side effect. It turns out that it is VITALLY IMPORTANT that you DO NOT have any food in your body when the rapture occurs. You must make sure that prior to the rapture you have gone at least 12 hours without eating. Since the rapture could happen anytime now -- even while you're reading this or as soon as tomorrow, or it might not be for months or years, it is VITAL that all good Christians STOP EATING immediately.

The consequences of having food in your body are SEVERE. If there is any food in your stomach or intestines, said food will explode and your body will be ripped to shreds, and you will not complete your trip to Heaven. If you care about your eternal salvation, then, you will abide by this warning. PLEASE! Stop eating now and do not consume ANY food from now until the Rapture.

Below is the official press release. This was written by the PR firm in Heaven.


Sphere: Related Content

Christians and lies

I've noticed there are a lot of Christians who resort to flat-out lies to try to spread their message. If they truly believe in God and Jesus and the message that Jesus taught, how can they in good conscience use a LIE to try to convert people to their religion?

Here's what I'm specifically referring to. There are many stories like this floating around the internet. One talks about a young college student who puts an "atheist professor" in place during an argument over whether evil exists and whether God created evil. At the very end of the story is the line "That young man's name -- Albert Einstein."

The story never happened. It's made up. It's a lie. Somebody took time to fabricate this story, to carefully pen a lie. What was going through the author's mind when he or she wrote this? Were they consciously thinking, "I'm going to make up a lie and spread it try to convert people to my good religion." (Besides, the story indirectly implies that Einstein was a Christian, which he was NOT. He was of Jewish background.)

I've seen this in many places. I've seen it not just in reference to religion but in politics as well. Do people really believe they're being sincere if they have to resort to lies to spread their message to get people to buy into their religion? And what does that say about their religion?

One has to wonder what goes on in the offices of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum. When their backs are against the wall with some new scientific research, do they sit around trying to figure out how to bend it and twist it to make it look wrong? Do they have a team of people staying up late at night until one of them suddenly declares, "Aha! I got it! Here's how we can make it look like the research is flawed! And with the vast majority of Americans having no training in science, they'll easily buy into this totally made-up story!"

We also have examples in portraying people's characters. I've seen many Christians try to demonize non-believers, suggesting that we're trying to turn the world into an evil place where sex abuse and drugs are rampant, with children having sex with animals is commonplace and everybody does harmful illegal drugs. Again, they're spreading lies. Is that what their religion is all about?

Surely there are people who are preachers or bishops or priests or whatever who are aware of the deception yet doing nothing about it. (Remember, a lot of people high up in the Catholic Church consciously covered up the sexual abuse that was going on. Clearly there IS dishonesty taking place.)

If their message is so real and good, then why would they have to resort to lies? Sphere: Related Content

Worshipping God vs doing good deeds!

If this universe was indeed created by an all-knowing God that is greater than us in every way including morals and selflessness, why is he so bent on us worshipping him? To me, that's a pretty solid argument against the existence of God. Why should such a creator care whether we even believe in him? What difference does it make? Yet, when push comes to shove, "believing in Jesus" seems to be the absolute most important thing to a Christian, even more important than doing acts of good.

I saw a sign outside a church that said:

"Good without God is Zero"

Why? You mean if I spent my life working at a food bank, busting my butt to make sure the hungry get fed, but I don't accept Jesus as my personal savior, all that good, in fact, didn't come from God but rather Satan? That's pathetic. Sphere: Related Content