I’m moving! …Again.

Yeah, I know. There hasn’t been a lot of activity here. I recently bought some web hosting and will be moving my blog to my new website http://www.trentmenssen.com

I felt the blog here was a little too narrow in focus and I wanted to be able to write and make other types of content (thinking about YouTube videos and podcasts) and post all of it in a central place.

To any WordPress subscribers, you’ll still see my updates once the move is completed in your Reader, but you’ll have to resub for email subscriptions. It’s in the upper right on the new blog. I hope you’ll follow me as I get back into the swing of things. I’m excited about writing about all of my passions: Religion still, as always, but also video gaming, LGBT issues, TV/movies, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Lots of love,
Trent

Answers to the ’22 Messages From Creationists’ – Part 1

I know a lot of my blog deals with LGBT issues, so this will be an interesting turn (maybe uninteresting for some) towards my love of science, atheism, and being a skeptic in general.

Bill-Nye

You may have heard of a recent debate between creationist Ken Ham and Bill Nye. Someone at Buzzfeed asked some creationist viewers of the event to ask a question or send a message to Bill Nye afterwards.

Here are my answers and responses to their questions and statements. Obviously this is just my opinion and not that of the great Bill Nye. I just found it would be a good medium to expose my audience (all 10 of you 😉 ) to another side of my personal views. I’ll ask these as if they’re addressed to me, except for the first one because it was explicitly addressed to Bill Nye. Disclaimer: I’m not a professional scientist. There are better answers to these questions by people who study this for a living. I promise.

1. “Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?”
I don’t know if he means specifically in the debate itself, or in general, but the latter is definitely yes. The Science Guy is all about educating children and raising a generation that can meet the scientific problems of the future. In terms of the debate itself, if you believe science and the scientific method is the way to evidenced-based reason and truth, then absolutely. Exposing a child to reality is always better than telling them a comfortable lie.

2. “Are you scared of a Divine Creator?”
Are you scared of Sauron, Voldemort, or Glory(Buffy, Season 5)? Me either. I feel very sad for you that you are scared of something that has as much evidence for existence as do other literary villains.

3. “Is it completely illogical that the earth was created mature? i.e. trees created with rings… Adam created as an adult…”
Yes. Is it impossible? No. There is just no reason to assume it happened that way because of an ancient story. You’ll notice my answer to this question will start a pattern of sorts for evolutionist, atheist, and skeptic reasoning. Just because something is possible doesn’t make it true, and there’s no reason to believe something until you have justified evidence that it happened that way. Everything we know about human and tree existence is that they don’t suddenly appear as mature lifeforms.

4. “Does not the Second Law of Thermodynamics disprove Evolution?”
My super smart boyfriend shared this as a response when someone on social media asked the same question. The second point is the one you want for this question specifically. The direct answer to this question aside, I have to marvel at the reasoning behind the question. If Evolution was so easily disproved by what seems to be a very basic law of science… why would so many scientists and experts not have disproved it? I can almost guarantee that person would with a Nobel prize, at the very least they would get money from the Templeton Foundation…

5. “How do you explain a sunset if their[sic] is no God?”
Well… you see the rotation of the Earth makes it so that sometimes where you live is facing the sun, and sometimes it’s not. The transition into and out of those dark or light states, what we call night and day, are called sunrise and sunset, because it appears as if the sun is rising or setting from or into the horizon line. If you’re with me so far, the pretty colors we sometimes get with sunsets come from the way the light from the sun refracts off the atmosphere and the various particles in the air. Some colors like pink and purple are actually caused by pollutants. National Geographic describes it very well this way, “at sunset, the light takes a much longer path through the atmosphere to your eye than it did at noon, when the sun was right overhead. And that is enough to make a big difference as far as our human eyes are concerned. It means that much of the blue has scattered out long before the light reaches us. The blues could be somewhere over the West Coast, leaving a disproportionate amount of oranges and reds as that beam of light hits the East Coast.”

To turn off my sarcasm and address what I’m assuming your actual question is “How do we have natural beauty without God?” The universe is vast and mysterious. We as humans have an interesting connection to art and the social construct of beauty. We find certain things in nature to be beautiful, but even those aren’t universal. I had a friend once who found spiders beautiful much in the way you and I do sunsets. We…disagreed on that point. The point to come back to is that beauty and the emotions it evokes exist in our brain, something we are still in the process of mapping and understanding, but we do know that those warm fuzzy feelings you get when you see a sunset are chemical reactions in your brain reacting to visual stimuli. There’s no God required.

6. “If the Big Bang Theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, why do the laws of thermodynamics debunk said theories?”
The easy answer is that they don’t, and you don’t understand the laws of thermodynamics. For a better explanation, ask a scientist. We covered evolution and these laws earlier. I don’t know what part they apparently debunk, but the Big Bang Theory doesn’t prescribe the creation or loss of mass, energy, heat, or matter, just that they used to exist in a ‘hot dense space’ and then they weren’t anymore.

7. “What about Noetics?”
What about them? To be honest I’ve never heard of it before, but Google and Wikipedia tell me that, “The Institute of Noetic Sciences proposes noetic sciences as an alternative theory of “how beliefs, thoughts, and intentions affect the physical world.” So… we use our brains to will things into or out of existence? I mean, that’s what people did with God… so…

Heh, I kid. Kind of. Anyway, as soon as there is sufficient evidence that I can Neo the world with my brain, I will be happy to believe it, and will immediately learn Kung Fu and bend spoons. Until then, I don’t see any reason to worry about it.

(Yeah I realize my entire answer to this question was a sarcastic straw man, but I put it at the same level of astrology or anthropomancy.)

8. “Where do you derive objective meaning in life?”
Ah, excellent! Finally a good philosophical question. This topic could fill many, full blog posts all by itself. To give a very inadequate, short answer: I would say I find meaning in life through experiences, relationships and legacy. Experiences can be anything from watching a great show to bungee jumping. Relationships from romantic to platonic, professional to personal, I enjoy interacting with the other fantastic human beings who share this planet. Finally, legacy: what will my life add to the lives of those around me? Will I have contributed to the betterment of humanity because of my brief life. See, I don’t think that a lack of an afterlife makes my life less important. I think the opposite happens. Every second of every day becomes that much more important and valuable, because when I’m done… I’m done.

9. “If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate? By chance?”
Let’s define, “By chance,” real fast. Google tells me, “the occurrence and development of events in the absence of any obvious design.” If that’s what you mean, then yes. However, often in these questions there is the implication that such an event was just completely random and unpredictable. Everything we currently know about abiogenesis (the process of getting life from non-life) tells us that it is a natural process, just like evolution (and no they’re not the same scientific theory). Natural processes are anything but random or unpredictable. Given the right circumstances, and given the vastness of our universe, they are inevitable.

10. “I believe in the Big Bang Theory… God said it and BANG it happened!”
Oh, good for you. Really, I’m happy for you and your belief. I don’t. There’s no reason to assume that God is the answer for the things we don’t fully understand.

11. “Why do evolutionists/secularists/huminists [sic] /non-God believing people reject the idea of their [sic] being a creator God but embrace the concept of inteligent [sic] design from aliens or other extra-terestial [sic] sources?”
Numerous spelling mistakes aside and forgiven, the flat-out answer is that ‘we’ don’t. I put ‘we’ in scare quotes there because I’m sure some atheist evolutionist somewhere for some reason believes we were created by aliens, but there is just as much scientific evidence for that idea as there is for creationism, which is to say none. Many people believe the right thing for the wrong reasons and because they don’t have good critical thinking skills they can then go on to believe some other non-evidenced, also ridiculous thing. Once again, it’s not impossible that we were created by aliens… but there’s no reason to believe it until we have evidence to do so. Claims require evidence, and really big claims require a lot of evidence.

I’m going to stop here for now, because this is already getting long. I’ll do the next 11 in my next post. What do you think? Agree, disagree? Leave your comments below, I’m happy to answer questions, discuss or provide clarification.

Have a great week!
– Trent

Why I Care About What the Duck Guy Said

homophobia

I’ve seen a lot of reactions on social media from my moderate or conservative friends, and even some allies and liberal friends, wondering why we in the LGBT community and our allies are making such a big deal out of a random celebrity, a stranger who we most likely don’t know, and what he has said. I cannot speak for everyone in the community or for our allies, but this is my reason.

Somewhere in the US, or anywhere in the world with the internet, there is a young gay, bi, or trans teenager who is trying to come to terms with their sexuality or gender identity and could be dealing with all kinds of self-worth issues. This kid has just read the statements from this famous person, from one of the most watched shows on TV.

This famous guy has equated this kid, and something tied into their very identity, to a deviant who has sex with animals. Duck guy then also tried to stand behind God and his religious teachings as an excuse for that statement.

To compound the problem, that teenager also might have just seen a good friend, or a sibling, or even a parent go on Facebook and loudly proclaim how such a statement isn’t hateful, that he should be celebrated for ‘answering honestly’ and how dare anyone disagree or make a big deal of it?!

When the average, non-LGBT kid, is dealing with prejudice in a lot of areas, be it based on gender, race, religion, body size, intelligence, anything that a young person is often bullied for, almost always, NOT always, but almost always, they come home to a family of the same race, religion, similar body size or intelligence, people that can relate to their experience. They can confide their pain in their friends and family.

Many LGBT teenagers either cannot or feel that they cannot confide in their friends or family when they hear statements like this in the media or elsewhere, especially if they are yet to come out. Often these kinds of damaging statements can be echoing out of the mouths of their friends, their family, their parents or their church leaders as well.

Many LGBT many kids have to find their only support from what they hear in the media from organizations like GLAAD and from liberal allies and friends who make a stand in their own personal social networks.

Statistically it is likely that I have gay friends and family in my social network that have yet to come out and might be struggling with their own self-worth and acceptance like I was just a few short years ago.

So when things like this blow up on the internet, you better believe I am going to be yelling as loudly as I can how ignorant, idiotic, and hateful these kinds of comments are in the hopes that someone sees it and knows that there are people on every level fighting for their acceptance who cares about them, that their attraction is not evil and says nothing about their character.

My reach and influence may be small, but I’m going to use it anyway, because I have to. I cannot be silent about it.

Family-Rejection-Suicide-Attempts

Productivity, Fear, and Change

Hello everyone! Sorry that I haven’t posted since August. I kind of want to address why in today’s post, and not so much with any specific examples or excuses and more unpacking the underlying issues.

Those of you who know me know that I have a love/hate relationship with productivity and other related areas like organization. Every now and then I will do house work for seven or eight hours straight, other days I’ll stare at a sink full of dishes and my brain will work out some perfectly reasonable vindication to put off doing them… much to the boyfriend’s chagrin.

I’ve also lately been thinking a lot on various creative projects I want to do. You know the saying that when it rains, it pours? That’s been my brain lately and creative projects. I want to revive my video game podcast, I want to continue to run more video game tournaments for my increasingly growing group of online gaming friends and maintain the website and scheduling tied to it, I want to start a YouTube channel (though I have no idea what about, ideas welcome), I want to see if I can teach myself graphic design and photoshop so complement my web building skills, something that truly terrifies me because I’ve never been very visually creative.

On top of all of this, the one thing that I’m moving forward on is that I’m going to be a writer, assuming everything pans out, for Pride PAC and their new blog. More info on that as it comes! 🙂

All of these ideas in my head, and no real barriers to doing any of them, and yet… day after day goes past, and the ideas get more and more numerous and my routine stays the same.

I am a creature of habit and necessity. I’ve always had the same problem, and it lives near the ever elusive realm of procrastination. In school I would often do my huge projects in some epic all-nighter but the finished product would still be high quality.  The problem is I’m still dealing with the why. I mean, I can’t say that it’s just delayed gratification, because I get an odd sense of relaxation and accomplishment from doing tasks like ironing or doing the dishes. In fact it’s often while doing these activities that I get some really great creative thinking accomplished and a bearing on life.

Part of the reason is a weird sense of priority. My brain tells me, “Trent, you can’t start a podcast when you haven’t folded your laundry from yesterday yet, go do that, or at least clean your kitchen or something.

I had an epiphany today while watching YouTube videos on self empowerment and productivity (yean, yeah, I know, definition of irony right there): I realized there was another big component to putting off starting these ideas is fear… and not even a fear of failing though that is certainly a part of it.

I’m kind of afraid of succeeding and what it would mean for my life. I’m not the biggest fan of change and things messing up my routine, what if I end up doing one of these things so well that it becomes a much bigger part of my life and causes some big changes? World knows I have had enough major changes in the last few years between dropping out of school, leaving the LDS church, coming out, getting a career that I’m super proud of, meeting and falling for my awesome boyfriend, all the while trying to maintain relationships with the important people in my life.

That was the second part of my epiphany though! It’s why I also felt inspired to write here for the first time in four months. Change is terrifying and frightening and sometimes painful and usually stressful, but change can also be incredible! I wouldn’t trade my current life for anything, certainly not what my life used to be. My life is a thousand times more awesome than it used to be, and I have those sometimes painful moments of change to thank for it.

These two epiphanies received and processed in tandem today have given me the motivation to move forward and to continue changing. Life is a journey and while there are rest stops here and there, you don’t arrive at any finish lines until you die, and I have so much to do before then and I ain’t getting any younger, also as the boyfriend likes to remind me. (Completely unrelated side note, join me in mourning that spell check didn’t flinch at ‘ain’t’…) I certainly won’t change my life by not being productive and motivated.

So, here’s to new projects, productivity, change, healthy fear, and tackling new goals!

– Trent (Neznem)

Internet Debate Fails: Text

boromir-argument-internet

Hello again my wonderful blog friends. I hope you’re having a fantastic weekend. Here in Kansas City the weather is beautifully overcast in the low seventies, perfect for blogging on a Sunday afternoon. This summer is definitely turning out better than last year, and I’m grateful for that.

In my efforts to branch out my blog I immediately had quite a few ideas come to mind. The one I want to write about today kept getting more involved so I broke it up into a few different sections. I’m calling the ‘series’ Internet Debate Fails. As someone who has involved myself in my fair share of internet debates, and as someone who sees a positive side to them, I want to talk about different aspects of online debates and discussions and the pitfalls involved and why they often fail. First up is the failures of a text-only medium.

Any internet discussion or debate you enter into, unless you’re trading videos on YouTube, which would be awesome, is all done in a text-only format. There are certainly benefits to this level of online discourse that we have, but there are a number of failures. The easiest to see, or the one that frustrates me the most is the limited communication medium of text. Text is just insufficient to incorporate the full nuance and complexity that our language has evolved with.

I’m certain that I am not the only person who has entered into a discussion online and had the person I was talking to completely misunderstand what I was trying to say despite the fact that the words I was using were clear as day for everyone involved to see. The problem is that while intricate and powerful, words alone often fail to communicate exactly what we are trying to say. Whenever I see this is happening, I try to take people through the following mental exercise that I want you to go through with me, it might make you better at online communication. Take the following sentence:

I didn’t say that about you.

Most likely this is a response to an accusation. What does it mean? Well that depends entirely on how it’s said. I’m going to place an asterisk next to each word in the same sentence. Read the sentence out loud and emphasize the word with the asterisk and watch how it changes, or at least adds a whole new level of depth to the meaning of the sentence, when you emphasize that word.

*I* didn’t say that about you. – This implies that someone said ‘those things’ about you, it just wasn’t me.

I *didn’t* say that about you. – This doubles down and reinforces the original meaning that I didn’t say those things about you.

I didn’t *say* that about you. – …but I certainly thought those things about you.

I didn’t say *that* about you. – I said something else about you..

I didn’t say that *about you*. – I said them about someone else. (Yes this isn’t a single word, but emphasizing the preposition doesn’t really do as much and it’s kind of awkward, just go with it.)

Tone, inflection, and emphasis add complexity to our language and our ability to communicate. There are entire levels of speech and types of dialogue, like sarcasm, that are almost completely undetectable when written unless you know important context clues or have a really good relationship with the person doing the typing, which you often don’t have online. As a society we’ve tried to circumvent that problem slightly by adding emoticons (  🙂  😉  😛  etc.), but they’re not always effective, we haven’t agreed on how they should be used, and certain types of people still refuse to use them so their meaning is lost.

Speaking of meaning being lost, I want to address a common issue I’ve been seeing. For anyone older than forty or fifty, you might not understand the following, and yes I know this is kind of tangential, but it needs to be said. In common online usage, if you do something in capital letters, people are going to think YOU’RE SHOUTING AT THEM. If you don’t want that to be how you come across, find another way to emphasize your point.

That brings me to one of the failures in our current online predicament. How do you emphasize a word? Normally you’d use italics, bold, or underline. Yet you won’t find those options on Facebook or any online forums that I see on a regular basis. I’ve taken to adding asterisks as I showed you above, sometimes surrounding it with -hypens- but that sometimes creates formatting issues.

Next is mood, or tone. There is no way that I know of to paint the tone of what you’re saying except the words you choose and the punctuation (period vs. exclamation point). Not exactly nuanced, is it? Putting this into a real situation, let’s take it back to the 2012 Presidential Election. If you’re a democrat commenting on someone’s pro-Romney meme with what you feel are legitimate questions or concerns, the person reading your comments has exactly three things they know about you: They know you disagree with their position, they know the words you chose to use, and they know your profile picture, that’s all. Everything else is left up to them. Are you being sarcastic in your questions? Are you heated and inflammatory, or are you honestly seeking a discussion because you’d like to see their point of view? That is entirely up to them.

Language is so much more than the words we speak. It is nuanced with tone and emphasis, with body language (grinning, winking, rolling your eyes, leaning forward, leaning back, not to mention the amount of things people do with their hands while speaking) and  noises (laughing, dismissive snorts, sighs, gasps, grunts). Written language can relate almost none of that, and yet we use it in every person to person, or even phone conversations (body language not included of course).

This is all just scratching the surface, of course. I guess the main point I want to get across, is that online debates are usually very complicated, and we tend to have them on topics that are sensitive and complex, yet we do them in one of the least expressive ways possible, which is text. The best way to make this work despite the weaknesses in this forum, because I do still believe they are worth having, because I’ve had too many good ones to ignore, is to give the other person a break. Ask a lot of questions, until you have a really good handle on what they’re saying. Begin your posts with, “I think you’re trying to say ______, is that what you meant to convey?” I’ve been constantly amazed at the number of arguments where people actually are really close to agreeing with each other, or finding a compromise, but they’ve spent the last twenty comments or more just talking past each other’s real points at the assumptions they’ve made in their head. I’m definitely guilty of it, but I’d like to see everyone improve on it.

Thoughts, comments, questions, disagreements? Let me know below in the comments! Happy Sunday!

“What the deuce is Neznem?”

Alright, those of you who have followed me through my blog refresh and my handful of newer readers, thank you! I’m happy to have you along whatever crazy journey this blog takes me on. I have a lot of ideas planned for things to write about including one for this coming this Sunday, if my plans work out.

Because I’m awesome, and my boyfriend had to work late, I’m at home on my Friday night and in between games with my friends online, so I thought I would do a quick blog post while I was in the mood to, as well as address something I’ve been getting a few questions on.

Some of you, maybe even some people that have known me for a long time, like my friend Jeremy who asked the question that is the title of this post, might be curious about ‘Neznem,’ which is part of the new title of the blog. Also it allows me to showcase a bit of my nerdiness.

The story takes us back again to my LDS mission. On my mission, as I have pretty much all through my life, I gravitated towards a group of geek and nerdy friends. We played Magic the Gathering on our days off, board games (before they were banned), and just in general spent time together as much as possible and discussed nerdly things.

One of the things we discussed was playing World of Warcraft together after we were all done with the mission. We thought it would be cool and funny to all follow the same kind of naming pattern for our new WoW toons. I don’t even remember who thought of it, but we decided we would do our last names backwards. We knew each other by our last names because when you’re a missionary you’re known, to everyone, as ‘Elder Soandso” (insert last name.) All of our last names backwards actually sounded kind of cool, and at least one person other than me still uses theirs also.

My last name backwards is Nessnem. I wasn’t a huge fan of that, also I didn’t want people to think of the kid from Smash Brothers, so I changed the double ‘s’ to a ‘z’ and it became Neznem.

WoWScrnShot_080313_000151

(Neznem, first of his name)

In the past seven years since coming home and creating that WoW character, a Blood Elf Mage (though he started out as Undead, for those who remember) if you’re curious, but I’ve also just used that nickname for all of my online gaming and nickname-driven social media like Twitter. I know that with the advent of social media, we’re seeing the death of online ‘handles’ and nicknames in lieu of just your actual names, but I’m a sucker for that soon to be bygone era perhaps best idealized by The Matrix movies. So, in picking a name for my new blog where I wanted the scope of it to expand more than just my coming out and religious struggles, I thought it would be fitting to bridge it with a name that represents many of my hobbies and bring it all together.

So there ya go, almost 500 words on where my nickname of Neznem comes from. You’re welcome, and hopefully see you again Sunday!

-Trent / Neznem

Fresh Look, Fresh Direction

Hey all! After a very short internal debate with a few comments and perspectives, I have given the site a new name, address, and graphical face lift. After an hour and a half, no joke, of browsing free WordPress themes, because I’m cheap, I’ve decided on a look and have started to customize it. There are a few tweaks and changes to come, but welcome to the new site! Don’t worry, all of my old posts are here, and I’ll be giving them their own page (once I figure out how that works), and lots of experimentation with new kinds of posts to come. Expect to see posts about music, politics, sports (especially Sporting KC), religion/atheism, and whatever else my brain thinks up.

Opinions, comments, leave them below, tweet to me @Neznem, or email them to lifeofneznem@gmail.com

Happy Monday everyone!

– Trent / Neznem